My sharp EL-6790 is a gadget that I haven’t used in years, and don’t even remember seeing in a while, which is why I’m not including a photograph. But for a long time it was one of my very dearest writing tools, and I’m a bit disappointed that I haven’t found a perfect replacement for it yet, though between netbooks, the alphasmart, and other PDAs, I don’t feel the loss that keenly.
I got the Sharp in the fall of 2000 with some birthday money from my Granny, at a Grand & Toy office supplies franchise in a mall. I guess I had in mind that I wanted to use something like this as a portable writing keyboard, and even though it really wasn’t designed for that, I managed to find my own way of making that work.
It was a little bigger than a standard scientific calculator, but held horizontally instead of vertically, with a full qwerty keyboard and a little screen that could hold four rows of fourteen letters, as well as a few status indicators above and below. In ‘memo’ mode, which was what I mostly used, you could type in up to 512 characters before having to move onto the next memo, and there was no word wrap. (It probably wouldn’t have worked too well on that narrow screen anyway.)
There was a connector cable, but it was designed for interchange between different sharp organizer models, or backing up your data into a sealed ‘organizer file’ on the computer that you could restore if the organizer memory got wiped out – Sharp didn’t officially support any way of taking data that you entered on the organizer and turning it into text that you could work with on the computer. It took me a while to crack the encoding and write a microsoft c++ program that could convert the backup files into readable text. The encoding scheme involved flipping binary 1 to 0 and vice versa, or subtracting each byte from 255 – and I couldn’t write the converter in visual basic because it would interpret a binary 26 as an end of file character, even though there was more data to access.
Even with all of this craziness, it was a great little writing tool, because the unit was big enough to slip into your pocket and forget about, but the keyboard was actually just big enough to be really useful once you got used to two-thumb typing.
I think that I stopped using the organizer sometime around October of 2007, and I think that was because I noticed that one entire row of pixels across the screen had gone dead, which made it pretty hard to read the letters in that row of letters, because there weren’t that many pixels in each ‘letter’ spot. I don’t really remember how I dealt with not having the Sharp for Nanowrimo that year – but I was writing “The Long Way Home” that year and I didn’t push for any beyond 50,000 words. Probably I relied on the Dana more.
And the next year I got some new digital devices – not only the eeePC, my first netbook, but also a sandisk sansa view video player, which isn’t something that I can write on, but it was also something that I could carry in my pocket and use on the bus, though I’d just be entertaining myself with it instead of working.
With all of the focus on touch screens and smart phones, though, I do wish that somebody would revisit the idea of a pocket-sized data entry tool with a small but usable keyboard, and building the software and interface around that. Sort of a mini-Alphasmart in concept, I suppose – though based on how well the Alphasmarts are doing in the global market I suppose I shouldn’t be holding my breath.
UPDATE: I’ve just found three files on the toshiba laptop in the Sharp organizer format dating from November 2007, and decoded text-file equivalents containing first draft material from ‘The Long way home’, my Nanowrimo story from 2007. So obviously it was in use back then, and I must have been connecting it to the toshiba laptop via a RS232-USB adapter, instead of to the desktop computer, for some reason. That’s another quirk about the Sharp that I didn’t mention – it connected via an old-fashioned serial port, which you don’t get too often on computers anymore. At least it was reasonably well behaved with the USB adapter as far as I can remember. So maybe it was in the last days of Nanowrimo that the organizer started to act up.