Just write. (With an AlphaSmart NEO. Maybe. If it helps.)

Have you been shaking your head at ads for these crippled laptops, with their tiny screens and their weird design and their breathtaking prices?

Well, it turns out they’re useful for something (the ads, that is): in the comments, ignorant people like me can learn about distraction-free writing devices like these, which apparently have a “cult following” among writers and have been around for the better part of two decades (only discontinued in 2013, still supported, and still available for cheap on eBay).

It won’t surprise you that after learning about these cute li’l word processors and telling myself I didn’t need one, I promptly ordered two and am typing this review on one (Susan might eventually try the other, when she’s done laughing at me).

I had been considering setting up a “writing laptop”–without access to any of my work laptop’s unfettered distractions–but the AlphaSmart NEO is much cheaper, and (probably) much better.

Much like a mechanical typewriter, it only displays a few lines of text at any one time, and editing is painful. This is a good thing. It forces you to keep writing. It saves you from the distraction of editing your first draft before it’s even finished.

The software is dead-easy to use, but offers enough features and settings to make the NEO adaptable to your personality and/or eyesight without getting confusing. If you’re a nerd, “NEO Manager” still runs on current Mac and PC operating systems, providing access to firmware updates and extra settings.

Because I’m a nerd, I used this to enable two-button powering on, to prevent accidental startup when the device is kicking around in my bag.

Speaking of which, the NEO starts up almost instantly, has a better-than-average close-enough-to-full-size keyboard and a solid build, and sits nicely on my lap (the stealth bomber design isn’t as strange as it looks in photos). Plus, I’ve heard it’s not unusual to get 12 months out of its AA batteries.

The only aspects I don’t rate are the green colour, the lack of an undo button (although I suppose this helps with Just Getting The Words Out), and the fact that it’s not manufactured anymore.

I’ll go ahead and seek help for my compulsion to join “cult followings” of niche tech now. (No I won’t.)

Ali’s Wedding vs. The Big Sick

Without realising the parallels between them, nor the fact that both movies were biopics written by their male stars about themselves, I added Ali’s Wedding and The Big Sick to my DVD collection in one 3-for-the-price-of-2 transaction. After watching The Big Sick a couple of months ago, Susan and I were finally in the mood for another rom-com recently, and despite the lingering sense of déjà vu, I think it’s safe to say Ali’s Wedding far exceeded our expectations.

Comparing these movies isn’t really fair, except that they were both:

  • autobiographical;
  • released in 2017;
  • written and performed by comedians whose parents emigrated from Asia to western countries;
  • preoccupied with the highs and lows of forbidden (or strongly discouraged) love.

Where Ali’s Wedding stands alone (aside from being set and produced in Australia rather than the USA, obviously) is the depth of its portrayal of an Australian Muslim family. According to Osamah Sami (who wrote and starred), it’s “the first Muslim rom-com”.

From the gently corrected misogyny of the men who came to his father for advice (his dad was the leader at their local mosque), to the community-wide gender roles and segregation (and the ways these are both challenged and respected), to the lewd but somehow endearing elderly polygamist (“temporary marriage”, anyone?), to the flashbacks to the horrors of Iraq and Iran, the bar has been set pretty high for this new genre of romantic comedy. It’s hilarious, warm, believable, honest, memorable, and… different. Unusual. Nice.

4 stars, and may there be many more dramas with this cultural backdrop.