Thomas Brand’s Sweet Newton Setup

Who are you, what do you do, etc…?

My name is Thomas Brand, and I am technology enthusiast from Boston, Massachusetts. Before starting a career at Children’s Hospital I spent time behind the Genius Bar as a lead Mac Genius. These days I am known for my website Egg Freckles, which I write using an Apple Newton MessagePad. When I am not working or writing you can find me taking digital photographs, or preparing for the Boston Marathon.

What is your current setup?

Thomas Brand's Sweet Newton Setup

Thomas Brand's Sweet Newton Setup

Thomas Brand's Sweet Newton Setup

I own a handful of Newtons, but the one I like the best is my MessagePad 130. I prefer its streamlined form factor over other MessagePads, and its capabilities fall somewhere in between the mint condition OMP I am scared to touch, and the two 2×00 series MessagePads I leave at home.

My MessagePad 130 has a 20MHz ARM processor, 2.5MBs of RAM, a telescoping stylus, and a 320×240 pressure-sensitive monochrome display with electroluminescence backlight. On its own, my MessagePad 130 weighs one pound, but for most writing assignments it is accompanied by a Newton Keyboard that attaches via the 130’s sole serial port.

I carry my MessagePad and keyboard separated in two large jacket pockets, or sandwiched together in the Newton keyboard case. When I am writing I position my MessagePad in a landscape orientation with the keyboard in front, and my wallet underneath to give my Newton the desired viewing angle. My MessagePad can only display ten lines of text at a time so I tend to write in small paragraphs correcting my prose with the stylus as I go.

When I am finished writing I return home and transfer the notes from my MessagePad 130 to a MessagePad 2100 via infrared. I use a 802.11b wireless card to email what I have written from the 2100 to whatever modern Mac I am using at the time.

Why this rig?

My MessagePad keeps me portable and on target the way no modern computer can. I can’t browse the internet with my MessagePad, I can’t use Twitter, IM, or iTunes. There are no preferences to get in the way of my writing. With my MessagePad I don’t need to be sitting at a desk to be productive. If a thought compels me I can pull out my MessagePad and jot down the idea for later. I have written whole blog posts while standing on the subway with my MessagePad.

What software do you use and for what do you use it?

On my Newton I use very little additional software. Most of my articles are written in the included notes application. When I feel I need more structure there is always Newton Works, an extensible word processing application. On my MessagePad 2100 I use SimpleMail to email finished articles, and Screen Shooter to capture screen shots. Just like on my Mac I like to keep the working environment on my Newton as simple as possible. You will not find any any replacement dashboard or backdrop applications on my MessagePad.

Some of the applications I use to publish Egg Freckles on my Mac include:

  • BBEdit for text editing and web page authoring.
  • Transmit for FTP and folder synchronization.
  • Since converting to an Adobe free workflow I do all of my image editing in Pixelmator, and all my image dithering in HyperDither.
  • Twitterrific is the only bird I trust these days for tweeting.
  • TaskPaper generates a nice todo list that is compatible with my Newtons.

How does this setup help you do your best creative work?

My Newton not only keeps me on task and portable, it also inspires. Using a MessagePad as my primary writing machine more than ten years after its untimely demise keeps my thoughts about technology in perspective. While staring into its monochrome olive colored LCD I can’t help but take a step back from the technology I am reviewing and decide wether or not today’s story is really such a big deal. Technology platforms come and go, but it is how we use them that makes a difference. My Newton has certainly strengthened my belief in open formats like like plaintext and PNG.

How would your ideal setup look and function?

What I wouldn’t give for a modern carbon fiber encased Newton with a capacitive E Ink display, and even longer lasting battery. The iPhone can keep its multimedia capabilities, and all too-colorful app store. What I want is the modern equivalent to the reporter’s notepad. A true getting things done machine built for writers, planners, and creative people that is easy on the eyes and always connected to my greater body of work in the cloud. Then again, who am I kidding. I would settle for any Newton I could comfortably fit into my pants pocket.

More Sweet Setups

Thomas’ setup is just one in a series of sweet Mac Setups.

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