Blog Post

UPDATE: Sign of the Times: From Pen Computing to RV

mp2000I got a flash back to the past today — and not in a good way. Way back when I was really getting started in the handheld computing world, I was immersed in the Apple Newton. Whatever you thought about the Newton at the time, there was no question it changed how we viewed handheld computing. The Newton made a serious attempt at bringing inking and handwriting recognition into the real world. The term “PDA” was also born to describe the Newton, at least I remember that to be the case.

One of the sources of information I followed religiously was “Newton Notes in Pen Computing Magazine.” Editor David MacNeill started the column right after the release of the Newton and kept the good coverage coming until the demise of the gadget. I respected the good job that MacNeill did for the magazine, and it was an inspiration for me to pursue the work I do now.

The uniqueness of the Newton has an appeal even today, and you can still buy them. There is even an online presence still active, even though the Newton died in 1998.

What does this have to do with anything? I got some sad news today, and it brought it all back with a vengeance. David was hit hard by the economic crisis, and a series of events has seen him fall on hard times. He lost his job, moved across country only to find that job no longer existed, sued them for moving expenses, and then an accident left him with huge medical bills. The end result is he can’t find work, and he’s moved his wife and daughter full-time into a 300-square-foot RV.

Apparently, there are quite a few people in the same boat (or RV), as David and ABC did a segment on families that live in RVs. The segment centers on David and his family and how they are doing whatever it takes to keep going. I wish him and his family the best and hope that things turn around quickly for him. He touched me with his Newton Notes column way back when, and I thank him for that.

UPDATE: David MacNeill is now a songwriter/ musician and has a web site. Listen to his music, and if you like it, then buy it.

26 Responses to “UPDATE: Sign of the Times: From Pen Computing to RV”

  1. borax99 (Alain C.)

    This kvetching is all well and good, but I do hope everyone is checking out David’s site. Sounds like the fella needs a helping hand… and his columns were very very useful to the Newtonian tribe !

    • ArchiMark

      I just purchased his album off of CDBaby with downloadable MP3 option….so, have his album now….

      Also, I emailed David last night wishing him well, letting him know how much his columns meant to me, that I was purchasing his album, and letting all my tweeps know about it…

      He emailed me back today thanking me for the good wishes and letting me know that he’s determined to get through this troubling time and make it in music…

      So, all of you that loved his columns, please show your support by getting his album!

  2. Decade

    No, James, the iPhone is only incredible if you’re used to cell phones. For me, the iPhone is merely impressive.

    The crippled Cocoa programming environment of the iPhone just can’t compare with what NewtonScript could do.

    MacOS X is powerful, but the paradigm of shutting down a program and launching another, and waiting for it to load, seems incredibly primitive. The NewtonOS was built for speed, on a slower device. Due to the prototype-based object-oriented environment, even built-in applications could be extended, without waiting for brittle C-based extension APIs.

  3. borax99 (Alain C.)

    Good one JK …

    but …

    Nahhhh, remember how improved HWR was on the MP2K ?

    So current state of the art: Capacitive touch, check. Vivid colors, check. Now give me Calligrapher 9.0, or Inkwell 2009, or whatever you want to call it….

    Wonder if the rumoured Mac Tablet will ever show up ?

    Still won’t buy it though …


  4. borax99 (Alain C.)

    I consider myself a Newton O.G. – owned a version 1.0. Words and period Doonesbury cartoons cannot do justice to how badly the HWR sucked on that device ! Still have its carcass around the house somewhere.

    Then hope dawned again with the Newton Message Pad 2000, fondly known as the MP2K. One little hardware refresh later (MP 2100), and Jobs killed it. Still have that carcass around the house, too.

    I don’t live near Cupertino, or you can bet I would have been protesting at Apple’s door. To this day, I refuse to shell out even a thin dime on anything Apple, and this includes iTunes. I will go check out David’s music, all right (I too followed his Pen Computing column religiously), but I would rather get a physical CD than put a penny in Apple’s coffers.

    Not that I’m bitter or anything…


    but the current state of the art clearly shows that, if Apple had kept the Newton platform going, we would have had an incredible, full-colour device with a high-contrast screen by now… argh.

    Pen Computing was one of my all-time favourite tech mags. While I appreciate blogs like this one very much, (they are my new lifeline) I can’t help but hark back to the thrill of find a new issue of Pen Computing on the newsstands and rushing out of there with my nose already in the magazine checking out the new features !

    • “but the current state of the art clearly shows that, if Apple had kept the Newton platform going, we would have had an incredible, full-colour device with a high-contrast screen by now… argh.”

      Would that be the iPhone 3G S? :)

  5. I forgot to say: happiness cannot be measured in square feet.

    Also, why do you Americans still use that ackward measure, square feet? It is quite difficult to convert to square meters without a calculator, and I just cannot realize how much is 300 ft^2 – after googling it, it is small but not ridiculous: 27 m^2

  6. Once and again I read about these stories and I still resist to believe them. I live in Spain, and as in the rest of Europe, if you break your ankle in an accident or something and you don’t have a private assurance, Public Health System take cares of you for free. I feel really bad when I read about a rich country which don’t want to take care of their citizens when their luck is over.

    Come on, ruined after an accident? It is totally outrageus.

    At the same time, thanks for the story, James. It put gadget passion in its place… far below important things in live.

  7. Pen Computing was one of my favorite print magazines. At a time when I was also reading PC Magazine and other mainstream mags like it, it stood out because of thoughtful and interesting reviews (not simply rehashes of the spec sheet). In addition, they started a “case study” feature at one point that really set the mag apart–showing real people using real devices that had been featured in the magazine. I had originally bought it for the Psion/EPOC column, which never really took off like I’d hoped it would, but the rest of the mag was superb.

    Since it’s fun to walk down memory lane, here is my own PDA journey:

    1) Sharp WiZ–Japanese PDA that had tons of great features (most notable for me was the excellent dictionary and handwriting/Kanji recognition)

    2) Psion Series 5–never was there a more usable keyboard on a pocketable machine, excellent apps

    3) Handspring Visor Deluxe–curse you Springboard!!!

    4) Sharp Zaurus–if the Angstrom projects still actively supported the SL-5500, I’d still be using it today

    5) Fossil PDA watch–used only occasionally, have been thinking about resurrecting it again. What do you want for $49 on TigerDirect?

    6) Palm TX–great machine, still use it as a web pad of sorts

    7) Samsung Blackjack–oh how I loathe Windows Mobile, even harder to synchronize on Linux than Palm products

    Next: Palm Eos or new Android device on AT&T. . .

  8. Mac jones

    I used to read his mag. It was the only game in town.

    It’s the times. I just hope they improved or we are all going to be in Rv’s (or worse)

    I just hope all they are all healthy and not for want of the essentials.

    all you need really : )

  9. Decade

    It seems to me that the PDA state of the art peaked with the Newton, and it has all been downhill since then, including the iPhone and Pre.

    From what I read about the Newton, it eventually had decent handwriting recognition, and kept handwriting and its interpretation together as a distinct unit, to be reinterpreted at your leisure. All modern devices hurry to turn handwriting into characters, if they even support handwriting, so you either have to keep notes as bitmaps or concentrate on what you’re writing so it’ll be interpreted correctly.

    And everything could be linked together in the same object-oriented persistence system, including third-party applications and extensions. The Pre seems inspired by this idea, but I have no idea if third parties can join in. The Android seems to be capable of it, but it’s not restricted enough to force the developers to join in.

    I haven’t personally had a Newton, because they were insanely expensive. My personal PDA journey has been:
    1. VTech Helio. Blatant Palm copycat with better notes app and audio recorder, and a text input system that was at least better than Graffiti 2.
    2. Compaq iPaq 3650. More powerful, but worse as a PDA than the Helio. Much worse battery life, more difficult input, annoying files paradigm with manual saving, a need for a task manager, annoying Microsoft sync software.
    3. Nokia N800. Much more powerful, but even worse as a PDA. Worse battery life, more difficult input, frequent lagging, no sync software, screwy address book, no PDA applications, strange limitations on third-party software. To be fair, Nokia did say that it’s an Internet Tablet, not a PDA, but the Gecko-based web browser is too slow to make that usable.

  10. ArchiMark

    Checked out David’s website and listened to his song clips. they’re very good….will be getting his album too….

    You can also get it from his him directly or as well as iTunes…

    I just sent out a message to all my Tweeps to check him out…I hope that helps get him some more exposure too….if you’re on Twitter wouldn’t hurt to do the same for him….

  11. James Moat

    If you would like to help, consider purchasing his music ( His CD, Morningtown, is available for purchase there, and also available on iTunes.

  12. That is unfortunate. I picked up my first edition of Pen Computing in 1997 just after picking up my first Palm Pilot. David’s enthusiasm for the platform and eloquent way writing made me use my little Palm in ways that I didn’t think possible.

    I remember a column that Leslie wrote about the Newton being better than a notebook computer on long flights. Again, a great story!

    I would love nothing more than for David and Leslie to begin writing again about the mobile platforms that they had passion for.

  13. heath

    Well, the RV is better than homeless.. Just last month I moved out of a 17′ travel trailer into an apartment. I lived in it for 3 years, and I can tell you that you can get used to anything. The difference would be that I did it alone, so no one else had to put up with it as well. I feel for dave and his family. These are tough times, and it really puts things into perspective. Many people think it’s the end of the world that they have to buy the new iPhone at an unsubsidized price, while others are scraping and clawing just to survive.. hang in there guys!!!

    • “These are tough times, and it really puts things into perspective. Many people think it’s the end of the world that they have to buy the new iPhone at an unsubsidized price, while others are scraping and clawing just to survive.”

      Thanks for the perspective/reminder.

  14. With some extra white hair and stories about the 90s people will start believe that you are not in your 20s James. But you can’t fool me. Its just your blog mask. I have seen you dancing in your X70-S5 video with Pandora – I still bet on a 17 year old behind the mask.


  15. roveit

    As a Newton Owner in the 90’s, getting my latest copy of Pen Computing and particularly getting to Dave MacNeill’s column was a techie highlight for me. Very best wishes to Dave and his family from down under in New Zealand. With the Dave and Leslie’s life skills I know they will come out on top.

  16. ArchiMark

    Wow, that’s very sad news, James…

    Hope that things turn for David…always enjoyed reading his columns like you….

    Also, remember the Newt fondly (MP2100 specifically) and what it could have become if His Steveness hadn’t killed it out of spite for his nemesis ol’ Scully….

    As I live just a few minutes from Apple Hdqtrs I went along with many others to protest in front of Apple Hdqtrs the death of the Newt…think Apple was quite surprised to see so many people there…didn’t do much good though, but we felt better for doing it… ;-)

  17. Wireless

    Thats a heckuva nice offer, to minvite someone that you have never met (im assuming) to come by and stay is really something to see in todays world.
    I also wish him well, its a tough world we live in.

  18. Richard Garrett

    There but for the grace of God…I live in Lander, WY and if Dave and family are ever through here, I hope they will stay awhile. We are all connected, not just through ones and zeroes but through blood, soul, family and community. Here is to better cheer and better times to the McNeil’s, to all in need and to our country.