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Europe Eureka Moments in Czech: Spreading the gospel of Zula, the AlphaSmart 3000

Or, “A Boy and His Speak-n-Spell”
The Point: Other ways the AlphaSmart 3000 can come in handy on the road

Date: Sunday, June 8, 2003
Time: 3:30-ish Pacific Java-Jugging Time
Place: The Fresh Pot, SE 37th & Hawthorne, inside Powell’s Books
Reasons to spend your time & money here (and a quick Portland aside):

  • They play Al Green.
  • Decor includes Star Trek mugs and toys rescued from Goodwill.
  • Fresh Pot is inside a Powell’s bookstore.
  • House coffee is $1/cup with free first refill when hangin’ out.
  • The $1.50 double-chocolate cookies also rock my socks – and I wasn’t even wearing socks today.
    Anyway. Curled up with the AS3K and the Berlitz Pocket Guide Czech Republic that Phillip Blazdell sent me, a guy in line started asking me about Zula (my pet name for the Alpha).
    “What is that, some kind of data processor?”
    “Pretty much. It’s kind of a glorified Speak-n-Spell,” I said. The Speak-n-Spell line has kinda become my standard “pitch” when first talking to someone about Zula, the inimitable Alpha. It makes them smile – most people know what a Speak-n-Spell is, and besides, the Alpha was made for children. But really it’s just an easy way to start helping people understand what Zula is and does.
    The guy in line grinned, and we started talking shop and kicking keys. Mark does “data mining work” around town, and has been looking for something to help input and store the info he needs. I gave him a card with AlphaSmart’s website; he even said he knew someone else who could probably use them, as his staff does a lot of field work and keeps busting the cheap laptops he gets them.
    C’mon guys, throw me a commission here!
    It seems like just about every time I type on this thing in public now, someone’s curiosity has them talking with me about Zula. At the least it’s an awesome ice-breaker, and I’m hoping that Zula has the same effect in Europe. I’m always raving about this thing – maybe AS would gimme a commission for all the sales I could well be getting them!
    Shortly after my chat with Mark, most of my second cuppa coffee kicked in alongside the first, and sent off a light-bulb Eureka Moment in my head:
    Zula as conversation piece. Literally.
    See, I’m not the best with foreign languages. Going through the Berlitz guide, there is some pronunciation stuff for basic things – yes (ano, “ah-naw”), no (ne, “ne”), excuse me (prominte, “praw-mi-ny-te”), I don’t understand (nerozumim, “ne-raw-zoo-meem”). And that last phrase – nerozumim and its counterparts in other languages – is probably the one I’ll use the most.
    Now, I’ll probably do all right with some of the basic, 1-2 syllable stuff. And with a little practice and a dramatic touch, I can probably BS my way through most non-English conversations (well, along with some small smiles and major gesticulating).
    But when it comes to actually speaking sentences, it’s easier for me to see the words in my head than to actually say and pronounce them. Especially to pronounce them without mangling the words beyond all recognition – just ask Ms. Neathawk, my high school Spanish teacher.
    The thought that set off the Eureka Moment: in conversation, if verbal speech just ain’t workin’ too well, see if I can get the person I’m talking with to type what they’re saying.
    It’ll be hit-and-miss of course, but then so is trying to speak the language or, on the flip side, to listen and interpret correctly if someone is trying to talk to me in English or their native language. But being able to fire up Zula, and indicate that we should try “talking” on here, may make it more possible to carry on a conversation and swap info. For example, the famous, stop-someone-on-the-street and ask (for example, in Czech), “Where is beer” (“Kde je pivo?”, or “gde ye pee-voh”), etc.
    Some people might get intimidated, especially if they aren’t too tech- or keyboard-savvy. But the point is to try to communicate, to get and receive a message. To connect and, more or less, understand and be understood. I think it can work.
    Besides, when you see Zula, you see that she’s just too cute to be intimidating.
    The more I work with Zula, like any other thing (from duct tape to Palm Pilots to bandanas) you start to come up with more and more alternative uses. Inspiration comes in a pinch. Sometimes ideas for how else you can make use of something, are just the by-product of on-the-spot thinking &150; those Eureka! moments. Sometimes you just have to take the tools you have, and push their use a little and see what happens. Like stringing your socks and bandanas together to make a wee ad hoc clothesline, you know?
    Now, how else might Zula come in handy on the road? Muzete mi pomoci? Can you help me?