A Decades Old Tale Trapped In 20 Year Old Tech

Last week at the thrift shop I had an amazing find. A “practically new” AlphaSmart digital typewriter for 3$, untested. It was in great condition, so I had to take a chance. I got more, way more, than I bargained for.

Alpha

For those not in the know, the AlphaSmart was a portable typewriter/keyboard which you could use either as a keyboard for your mac, or as a portable word processor. Each of the F1-F8 keys opened a simple character buffer for text entry. When you were done, you plugged it back into your mac and dumped each file out over the serial port. I always make it a point to buy one if I see one, but it’s been 10 years now since I have. Why do I always buy these antiquated devices? Because many a writer used them out in the field. They ran for 100+ hours on 2 AA batteries. That’s 4 straight days. They were, once upon a time, popular. They were used by receptionists and university students to take notes. You never know what you’ll find on the buffers contained on a device like that. The lost Douglas Adams novel? It’s out there people! You never know.

I had to take a chance. I got more, way more, than I bargained for.

So I threw a couple of AA batteries in there, and what did greet my eyes but text. Provocative and inviting prose. Two sentences in I knew. I knew this one was a winner. I knew I wanted to know what had become of this author. I knew I had to dump the entire thing out to file, somehow.

The device uses an old style apple ADB bus keyboard port. These are not pin compatible with the old PS/2 ports, but it’s easy enough to wire up a teensy to do the conversion. Griffin also made a USB adapter that you can sometimes manage to pick up on eBay for about 30$. Though I didn’t find one locally (always check your local second-hand computer stores!), I did manage to find an eBay seller who took a 20$ buy-it-now offer. Apparently people are not using ADB keyboards as much as they did in … oh… the 1980s. True story.

Rarer than gold

So I waited a few days, got the adapter, and plugged it into the keyboard via a M-M cable they DID have at my local second-hand shop. I fired up OpenOffice, clicked into the input area, and hit ‘send’ on the keyboard.

I sat there, in front of my computer, in equal measures intrigued and aghast at what came across my screen. Slowly, almost in real-time, a chapter began. It is as if the ghost of this young writer is sitting at my keyboard. Words begin to fill up the screen and the soundless void through which they appear, FULLY CAPITALIZED and at a human pace, is more terrifying than any horror movie soundtrack. A story begins. I am fixated. It is a coming of age story in a fantasy setting. The main character is discovering she is a lesbian, which is doubly difficult for her because she is in love with a centaur. A centaur who is ‘too old’ for her, and the other stags.. wait is she a deer? A freaking doe? Anyway, this centaur has been called a child molester by some. This book is getting … kind of unsettling.

(Made a bit more unsettling due to low quality of the animated gif)

textfilling

Does it count as furry if they are cross-species and one is half-human?

But still I sit. I sit and I read and I experience a “furry” (does it count as furry if they are cross-species and one is half-human?) coming of age story, about centaurs and phoenixes, some kind of song magic, and … rumors of child molestation? From the word choices I am guessing this author is fresh, still feeling out his or her voice. A voice that’s talented enough to write a fantasy novel, but not yet talented enough to keep the thread of story alive. Still, these pages are just the beginnings of a novel, and incomplete. Something is bothering me.

The first character buffer nags at me.. mocking me. What was it that I read in the ancient instruction manual I managed to find in the cracks of archive.org? Ahh yes. These little wonders included the ability to ‘undelete’ a file!

DataRecovery

Would this empty file contain a hidden treasure? The author’s name? The “lost” first chapter of the book?

Would this empty file contain a hidden treasure? The author’s name? The “lost” first chapter of the book? It could have been any of those things, but no, it was none of those things. It was high school homework, followed by a verbatim conversation between ‘you’ and ‘me’. The conversation was simply the instructions given to the student by their instructor for completion of the assignment. This was followed by political back story to the above novel that eerily matched up with the topic of the homework assignment. This author, like many, was pulling from their own experiences to craft a story. This, unfortunately, has some pretty serious possible implications considering the subject material. This novel could be this author’s therapy, their way of coping or dealing with a difficult situation. A situation that happened 20 years ago. This archaeological dig had taken an unexpected turn straight into an ethical wall.

I had planned to post of the text of this novel once dumped, and to try and track down the author, and see if the material ever made it into a published work. What a fascinating story that would be! A writer finding a lost journal, a blogger experiencing the growth of an author first hand. Readers… reading. Something everyone could share. As it stands, I think the right thing to do is let the story stay private, this young author’s dreams and hopes locked away in a digital journal. It’s a very personal work, and if it was part of their therapy that’s all the more reason not to share it. But I did read it. It was there, and knowing what I knew I read it. If I had recovered buffer #1 first I may not have read the other chapters. But I did. So I’m going to be doing a bit more research on this and see where it leads. If I can find the author, I’m going to tell them this story, show them this blog post, and give them a thumbdrive with a story on it. One hell of a story.

If I had recovered buffer #1 first I may not have read the other chapters. But I did.

In the meantime, I’ve got the best (and sadly, perhaps the most hipster) setup for blogging at the coffee shop.

keepin it meta keepin it hipster

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