My old truck has a superb user interface. The headlight switch is big, obvious, and not surprisingly labeled “headlight”. When I flip it “on”, the lights go on. When I flip it “off”, the lights go off. If you leave the lights on when the engine is not running the battery will go dead. You had it coming.
I also have a modern SUV. A stalk on the steering column sports endless functions including lights, wipers, cruise control, and possibly downloading videos from YouTube. There is unforgivable excess “logic” behind the control. When I turn the engine off before I manipulate the control to “off” the insubordinate lights stay on. After a maddening delay they dim slowly like the fading of a politician’s soul. Likewise, the switch overrides my decision to turn the lights on when the engine is off.
I might have a good reason for wanting the lights on right now. A twenty gauge and instantly lit highbeams is my chicken coop’s front line defense against raccoons. The SUV, mired in complexity, can’t handle the task of being a flashlight.
Why am I telling you this? Because if I rant about headlight switches you can imagine my distaste when I boot up a laptop. When I am King Of The Planet all computers will start at least as fast as the headlights on a 20 year old truck. Boot up procedures that involve passwords, fingerprint recognition, genuflecting to Bill Gates, updates, downloads, and scans belong in a 1970’s Soviet dystopia not Starbucks.
I’ve spent years pining for a tool closer to a ballpoint than a bloated Windows shrine to marketing. One day I read about the Dana and it’s cousin the Neo on Munchkin Wrangler. It was as if the sky opened up and a ray of sun shone upon me. (Actually it wasn’t that great but I was pleased.) Because I’m a creepy lurker I never thanked Munchkin Wrangler for the information. A few weeks ago he mentioned it again.
I can’t recommend a Dana (or Neo) highly enough. The pleasure of using a simple single purpose device is visceral. They are “word processors”. They otherwise leave you alone. The Neo does nothing but process words. The Dana does more; none of which is important. What makes them different (and better) is what they aren’t. They are not smart phones, internet surfers, netbooks, game pads, laptops, or iDevices. Here are some advantages:
- They’re cheap if you buy used.
- You won’t need software, drivers, licenses, passwords, or wifi.
- You won’t lug around a mouse, cables, or any of the extraneous crap a laptop entails.
- You won’t need an elaborate carrying case. I wrap mine in a t-shirt and shove it unprotected in motorcycle saddlebags. Try that with a MacBook.
- You can’t get a virus. It won’t spew advertisements at you. You won’t fill up the hard drive (which they don’t have).
- You wont need to upgrade because it’s already obsolete and it doesn’t matter.
- Unless you set it on fire, it won’t wear out.
- The battery lasts forever. If the battery dies you can jam a few AAs in it and keep on trucking. Try that with a Dell.
- When you press the “on” button it’s instantly on. Now! Try that with a Thinkpad.
- You can turn it off mid sentence and it won’t skip a beat. Suspend mode, screensaver, “sleep” settings, and logoff procedures suddenly seem pathetic.
- You can use one comfortably on an airplane seat tray.
- They’re (nearly) unkillable and (mostly) fixable. Mine was shipped (used) with a bad key. In ten minutes I had a replacement key coming in the mail (user support!) but I fixed the old one good as new using the long forgotten skill of noodling around with a screwdriver.
As with anything mechanical, there are some drawbacks.
- They are not computers so don’t try to use them like one.
- The archaic Palm OS on the Dana is too cutesy and Mac-like. Luckily it’s ignorable.
- The peanut sized CPU can barely handle it’s weak spell checker. You should know how to spell anyway…wuss!
- It’ll bog down on a really long file. If you’re writing War and Peace, break it into chapters.
- Theoretically they can communicate with printers and the Dana can send simple e-mails. Don’t bother. Everyone winds up dumping text into a regular computer when they’re done. This process is simple and software agnostic.
One final trait cannot go unremarked. It’s different. People are flaky about the polar opposite of their $400 smart phone which plays videos on a two inch screen. It becomes a tiny Rorschach test. It’s practically a sin to text messaging mallrats. But it’s so dangerously uncool that it’s delightful to Curmudgeons like me. I lovingly call my Dana “The Bit Shovel”. You’ll either impress or disgust the pierced barista at Starbucks but you won’t go unnoticed. Whatever you do, don’t tell them you bought it for $20, run weeks without charging the battery, and just used it to write a blog entry… it might make them cry all over their expensive new laptop.