Writers Off The Grid

PCVs and RPCVs going ‘off the grid’ (where electricity is either missing, or sporadic) will be interested in this gizmo, the ‘NEO Writer’. NEO is the modern equivalent of a light-weight portable typewriter that is easy to pack around (less than 2 pounds) and runs seemingly forever on 3 AA batteries. Better yet, after returning ‘to the grid’ you can download your writing to your PC in seconds and get on with editing, blogging, or emailing it off to your editor or to the folks at home. Since many RPCV writers need something quick, light and easy to pack around where computers fear to go, Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963–65) thought that his account of “Neo and Me” would interest you. Bear in mind, however, that it cannot distract you with access the Internet (which is nice, sometimes!).

This article was originally published in the June 2009 issue of ECS Nepal magazine (Kathmandu), where Messerschmidt  is the Associate Editor. “Spilled Ink” is his regular monthly writers’ column in the magazine.

Trekking and Writing, Neo and me

By Don Messerschmidt (Nepal 1963-65)

Yaks grazing, pony and mule bells jangling, sore knees and writer’s cramp greet me daily on trek. I can deal with the messerschmidt-d-smphysical exhaustion by a good night’s rest, but for writer’s cramp I turn to my friend Neo for help…

“Who is NEO?” you ask…

Meet NEOTM, a type of word processor, but not a computer or conventional clickety-clack typewriter. He’s a light-weight (under 2 pounds), battery- powered Writer with a small screen, variable font size, and conventional keyboard (no cramped fingers). The company webpage (neo-direct.com) touts Neo as “simple”, “flexible”, “affordable”, with an “incredible battery life”. All true. Neo is a powerfully convenient device that serves writers superbly well while traveling far from home, and any time you are away from modern conveniences like electricity, ‘off the grid’. And, he can never tempt you to check your e-mail or surf the web. Instead he focuses you on your writing.

I first heard how well Neo performs a few months before I set out on trek. So, I brought one with me – the first in the Himalayas? – to try out under some truly austere conditions, off road, on rough and dusty mountain trails and in humid jungle camps. At the end of each day for almost two months Neo’s simple interface and standard keyboard worked better for me than scribbling illegibly in longhand.

“Take notes, brainstorm ideas, generate reports, keep a journal, compose an article, dash off a poem…” says a Neo advert. Now, add the ultimate: “Write while trekking the Himalayas”. The Neo is so simple, versatile and durable you can take it anywhere in the world with ease, and with the assurance that your writing will be recorded and saved. Neo automatically saves your text, so you’ll never lose it. And, with its eight huge files, you can write for days on end.

While trekking, Neo rode safely in my backpack. At rest stops and evenings I propped it on my knees or bench or rock, then quickly and easily recorded the day’s events and inspiration. Curious onlookers watched in awe as I typed up my notes and crafted early versions of several essays and magazine articles. My friend Neo held up flawlessly (as expected) in the face of wild thunderstorms, two days of blizzard, several treacherous avalanche crossings, and other jostling on the high and wild trails.

It performed marvelously even in the dark (in the glow of my Led headlamp). It runs steadily on three alkaline double-A batteries for 700 hours. That’s nearly a year at two hours per day!

Neo’s built-in software is deceptively simple, but impressively powerful. With a few keystrokes Neo can:

  • move within or jump between files
  • select or find-and-replace a character, word, line or entire file
  • copy, move, delete or recover ● check spelling (there’s also a built-in thesaurus)
  • count characters, words, pages
  • link files ● switch keyboard options (QWERTY, Dvorak and right or left hand settings)
  • check the battery, and
  • easily insert any of over 80 special characters (including linguistic, math and currency symbols).

When you finally return home after traveling, simply connect Neo to your computer by a standard USB cable, open a text file on your computer, press ‘SEND’, and Presto!  — your masterpiece-from-the-field transfers in seconds.

When I trek writing by hand is cumbersome and exhausting, my friend Neo saves me from frustration. Afoot in the mountains, in jeeps or busses, or on yaks or ponies, or elephant back in the jungle, Neo is there for me. He’s also the answer for frustrated city-writing on those dark days of load-shedding. The Neo Writer is my constant companion either ‘on the go’, or at home sitting out in the garden…

Good writing!

Author’s Post Script: The reference to “those dark days of load-shedding” above refers to the serious problem with electricity supply in Nepal, and in many countries. In India, for example, power outages during June 2009, when temperatures soared daily to well over 100° F., caused massive discomfort and rioting in the streets. Similar protests have been staged on the streets of Kathmandu during prolonged power outages. Being a writer under such circumstances is difficult at best. No fans and no air conditioning (nowhere cool to sit and write). No refrigerators (hence, no chilled beer). No lights (except LED headlamps, perhaps). No computers (except laptops on short-life batteries). Speaking from personal experience as a frequent traveler/writer, the NEO is a godsend at such times!

ECS Nepal www.ecs.com.np.

The NEO writer for journalists and educators is made by AlphaSmart and marketed by AlphaSmart Direct and Renaissance Learning. It is inexpensive (US$219 retail), so no need to take out a loan! There’s also a rechargeable version. If you are interested in one and want to know more about its use and durability, contact the writer at don.editor@gmail.com, or check it out online at www.neo-direct.com.

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