Ministry of Prose: making words work for your business

One in a semi-regular series of ponderings, musings and contemplations on the interaction of words and psychology in business.



Alex Cruickshank's writing machines: Toshiba T3200SX

July 2015

There's something unexpected about the LCD/LED screens that most of us sit in front of on a daily basis. They emit more blue light than our eyes are used to receiving from daylight.

Such light has an effect on our minds, as New Scientist recently reported. Light towards the blue end of the spectrum affects melatonin levels in the brain, which can in turn modify our sleep patterns. To put it simply, our screens are disrupting our sleep.

It's hardly surprising: lamps to counteract Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) use the blue end of the visible spectrum to give a boost to wakefulness. But you're supposed to use them in the morning, not at night.

There's not much you can do about this, except curtail those late-night reading sessions on your tablet or phone. Use an ebook reader or, if you can find one, an actual paper book instead. But what if you want to work in the evening without messing up your sleep?

Simple: throw away that fancy new laptop and buy one of these machines instead.

Toshiba T3200SX

OK, you're not going to do that, and I don't blame you. But this is an interesting computer that's turned out to be more useful than I'd expected. Made in 1990, it's a 386-based PC with 11MB of RAM. Nothing particularly special about that, but what is special is the orange gas plasma VGA screen.

It's lovely. Not for general computing work, because it can only display a few distinct shades of 'grey' (orange), so photos look bizarre and most games are hard to play due to a suffusion of amber.

But for writing it's excellent. The display seems almost as sharp as a modern screen for text (even though it's obviously a much lower resolution), but with the added benefit that the emitted light is gentle on the eyes. I use it with an inverted colour scheme - orange writing on a black background - and it's a remarkably soothing way of working.

Toshiba T3200SX orange plasma screen

This computer has one other big thing going for it: the keyboard. It's an ALPS mechanical board with a fantastic feel to it. Some people dismantle these machines just to extract the keyboard and use it elsewhere, but to me that's sacrilege. The keys complement the screen perfectly. With the right software I can write on here all day - and as much of the night as I want to - and still fall asleep straight afterwards. Or even during.

The Toshiba T3200SX is a portable computer with no battery. It was designed as a desktop machine that could be folded up and locked away. It has two expansion slots and weighs nearly 9kg, so it's staying right where I put it.

Judging by the software that was on the hard drive, the previous owner used it for programming EEPROM chips and controlling breakout boxes. Putting it to work as a writing tool seems a much better use of its amber talents.

Alex Cruickshank is CEO and Chief Wordsmith at Ministry of Prose and enjoys bathing in the warm orange glow of productivity.

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