Get ready for vintage computing aplenty in [David Given]’s project to port EmuTOS to the AlphaSmart Dana. He’s got it all on video, too. All 38 hours of it over 13 episodes!
[David]’s fork of EmuTOS is an open source version of the Atari TOS, which is itself the 68000-based OS for the Atari ST line of computers.
As for the AlphaSmart Dana, it is a roughly twenty-year-old portable word processor thing with pen input which runs a version of PalmOS. It’s a slightly oddball piece of hardware, but quite capable in its own way. A match obviously made in heaven? It is if you have [David]’s skill and drive!
To get EmuTOS working on the Dana, the first step was figuring out how to find and work with the Dana’s debug port, using it to get direct access to the CPU while bypassing the boot ROM. Turns out that the Dana’s 68000-compatible processor has a handy feature: by manipulating the right pin, one can remote-control the CPU (to a certain extent) via the UARTs. That’s the entry point for a whole lot of hacking that ultimately results in firing up the GEM desktop on the Dana, and being able to run (some) original Atari ST software. Probably the biggest issue is that the screen size isn’t a great match for what the OS expects, but it works.
[starboyk] started with a fresh NEO2 from ebay, then swapped out the reflective polarizer for a translucent polarizer and added a trio of LED backlights meant for the original Game Boy across the back of the screen. The best part is that the backlight has its own power switch and a brightness control pot. It sounds easy enough, but this mod is not for the faint of heart as it sounds like a really tight fit in the end. Apparently we only need 500 orders to get a custom backlight manufactured, but barring that does anyone know of a backlight that’s 157mm x 44mm?
You can always stick with the mod where you power the USB-A port and use a USB reading light like I did with my NEO.
History will always have its in-between technologies — that stuff that tides us over while the Next Big and Lasting Thing is getting the kinks worked out of it. These kinds of devices often do one thing and do it pretty well. Remember zip drives? Yeah you do. Still have mine.
The halcyon days of the AlphaSmart NEO sit in between the time where people were chained to heavy typewriters and word processors and the dawn of on-the-go computing. Early laptops couldn’t be trusted not to die suddenly, but the NEO will run for 700 hours on three AAs.
The NEO stands for the freedom to get your thoughts down wherever, whenever, without the need for a desk, paper, ink, ribbons, power cords, and the other trappings that chain people indoors to flat surfaces. And that’s exactly what was so tantalizing to me about it. Inspiration can truly strike anywhere at any time, so why not be prepared? This thing goes from off to blinking cursor in about a second and a half. There’s even a two-button ‘on’ option so you don’t run the battery down or accidentally erase files while it’s in your bag.
I bought this funny little word processor a few years ago when I wanted to attempt NaNoWriMo — that’s National Novel Writing Month, where you write 50,000 words towards a novel, non-fiction book, or short story collection in any genre you want. It averages out to 1,667 words a day for 30 days. Some days it was easy, some days it was not. But every non-Hackaday word I typed that month was on this, my Mean Green Words Machine.