Thursday, March 13, 2014

Two New Steno Tools

Two great new tools posted today to the Ploververse:

First, Russell offers StenoLearner, a beautiful little browser-based steno parser in the style of PloverDemo. What's great about it is that it offers suggestions (a la StenoTray) of shorter ways to stroke words after you've written or fingerspelled something, and those suggestions remain on the screen persistently (though you can also toggle them on and off). Also, there's a WPM graph, a "retractions" toggle to show words you've struggled with, plus it supports Qwerty, Dvorak, and Colemak. What a marvelous piece of work.

Second, Mike of the legendary has introduced a new application on his site: Text-to-Speech dictation. Just paste in any text you want, set the speed, and steno away. Definitely helpful for anyone who sees transcription, captioning, or other dictation-based work in their future.

Guest Post: Charles's DIY Steno Keyboard!

Recently Charles emailed me about the fantastic steno keyboard he's rigged up from scratch. It looked so amazing, I thought I'd ask him to write a guest post about the process. So here it is!

My Homemade DIY Steno Keyboard

Not having enough patience to wait for the Stenosaurus, I decided to make my own Steno keyboard. I was pretty happy with my modified Quickfire TK in most ways, but the offset between the upper and lower rows of keys was disorienting. Here is what that keyboard looked like just before I made my own.

Note that I removed unused keys because they were distracting. I found the pairs of keys that matched in height the best and placed them upside down in the top row to get them closer to their mates in the bottom row. Chords are easier to hit this way, but I still wanted the rows to line up.

I started by removing some mechanical keys from an old Kinesis keyboard that doesn’t work anymore. I experimented with drilling holes in a Radio Shack prototyping board and placing the keys. Then I bought a bargain bag of Cherry MX clears (white?) and after drilling the appropriate holes I hot-melt glued them to the board. I decided to wire each key to as separate IO pin on a micro-controller instead of using a matrix. It seemed simpler and it was only 23 pins. Here’s what the wiring looks like. It’s soldered, point to point, using wire-wrap wire.

I also bought key caps in two colors, black and dark gray, all the same size and shape. I installed the thumb keys sideways so that the AO and EU pairs would make comfortable chords same as the keys in the upper and lower rows. I also ended up placing the DZ keycaps sideways to get them closer to T and S. In  the next version I would probably use roughly the same spacing except to place the * and the DZ keys sideways and slightly closer to their neighbors.

I used an Arduino Mega as the micro-controller. I normally program only in Forth, but this project is so simple that I decided to try the Arduino IDE instead. I believe it took less than an hour for me to code and debug the application, which surprised me.

Here’s a picture of the finished board:

I used my understanding of the TX Bolt protocol, since I knew how to use a serial port but not so much about emulating a USB keyboard. Also I hoped that using a serial protocol would bypass the problems with the NKRO keyboard in Linux that were preventing me from using VIM. It turned out that I was able to use both the standard keyboard (in Dvorak layout for me) and the steno keyboard using TX Bolt at the same time without any trouble.

I tried simplifying the TX Bolt protocol in hopes that it would not confuse Plover and make my program easier to write and debug. Instead of using a variable length packet, sending only the keys that are pressed, I sent all four bytes in order every time, even if some of them are zero. The top two bits of each byte identify the other six bits. Always sending byte number four lets Plover know immediately that the stroke is finished, I reasoned, and this seems to be the case. I never bother sending any other bytes.

I’ve been very happy with this keyboard.  I would love to move on the next one. I would make it more compact, getting the micro-controller out of the way. It should have a case, both for protection and to make it more sturdy. I did bolt it to a piece of clear plastic from Tap Plastics, but I’d like to do better.

Finally, here’s a picture of the keyboard in action, editing a file with VIM in Linux on my laptop.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

See Hesky Present on Steno at Nerd Nite, 3/14!

Long-time NYC Nerds might know that Nerd Nite is one of the best places to go for lectures, libations, and likeminded geekwads, with presentations focusing on all sorts of eclectic and intriguing topics. I've been to several, and always enjoyed myself enormously. Well, I guess steno is now officially interesting enough for nerds, because Hesky is going to be giving a presentation on how steno works, with me as his open captioner!

On Friday, March 14th, 2014, at 9:00 pm, there will be three lectures, and the third of them will be:

Presentation #3 Stenography: Thought-to-Text at 240 Words-per-Minute by Hesky Fisher & Mirabai Knight Description: Have you ever seen closed captioning and wondered how anybody can type that fast? Have you ever wanted to be able to type that fast yourself? If so, then you’ll want to learn about stenography. Join us for a tour of the surprisingly colorful history of stenography and get a crash course in how you too can learn to type at 240 words per minute! Also, as a demonstration of the topic, this talk will be live captioned. Bios: Hesky Fisher is a computer programmer working at Google. In his spare time he is the lead developer for Plover, the first open source stenography application. Mirabai Knight, CCP is a Certified CART Provider in NYC. she is the sole proprietor of StenoKnight CART Services and the founder of Plover and its parent organization, The Open Steno Project. Fun!

(The other two lectures are on brains and number distributions, which look fascinating in their own right.)

Buy tickets here! $14 for lectures plus trivia; $10 for lectures only.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Plover Presentation at NYC Accessibility Meetup

If you follow me on Twitter, you already know about this, but I figured I should post it here too: Hesky and I will be presenting on Plover at the NYC Accessibility Meetup today from 7:00 to 9:00 pm at Pivotal Labs, along with DIYAbility. I'll speak for 10 minutes on Plover's potential for various accessibility purposes, from conversational text to speech to captioning for Deaf and hard of hearing people, to the great potential in employing blind and low vision users of screen readers -- who have already honed their speech processing abilities to a very high degree -- as professional stenographers. So if you're in the city and free tonight, feel free to join the Meetup group and drop in tonight!

I'll also be demonstrating Plover with Vim, which I've been using exclusively in my day job for the past month and change (yep, quit the proprietary software cold turkey; nothing but Plover for weeks now, and not a single regret whatsoever! I love it, love it, love it.) There's a whole post in that, though, so I'll save it for later, perhaps with a video and a list of what-all I had to add to my vimrc. Stay tuned!

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Feedback Needed!

We've got three people asking for feedback from the Plover community!

First up, Josh is hard at work on the Stenosaurus, and in his most recent blog post, he gives us his working schematic of the design as it currently stands. He's definitely looking for comments from potential users before finalizing it, though, so if you've got any ideas, drop him a line.

The amazing Sveta from Audio Accessibility, a user experience expert, web designer, and accessibility consultant, is currently putting together a new consolidated website for The Open Steno Project, which should be much easier to navigate for potential users and contributors than the current sprawling tangle of links we have right now. She's put together a wireframe and is hoping for input from Plover users before refining it into HTML.

And finally, Boborama is working on a C-based sister/clone of Plover called StenoLite, and he's looking for feedback from testers, especially those with serial-based steno machines.

Any and all feedback welcome!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Plover v2.5.8 Released!

There's a new release of Plover, which improves CPU usage when in TX Bolt mode. Download it here!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gigantic Backlog Linkdump

As promised, here's a massive linkdump of Plover material that's accumulated over the past few months. Ideally I should have been parceling these out little by little, but I didn't, and that's that. In no particular order:

* A new version of Plover, v2.5.7. Feature and bugfix list here. Main exciting feature is that it's now possible to run Plover directly off a thumb drive, in "portable" mode!

* A version of Plover's default dict.json dictionary, but with Canadian spellings, thanks to the dauntless and multitalented Brent Nesbitt.

* Brent is also the man behind the amazing Android apps Steno Lookup and StenoIME. I've been playing with StenoIME (an Android keyboard replacement) quite a bit, and while it's still a little rough around the edges, it's an absolute joy to be able to use Swype-style steno on my phone and tablet. Steno Lookup allows you to search within the Plover dictionary from your phone, which is also quite useful, especially for beginners.

* Speaking of lookup apps, Brent's ridiculously handy StenoTray Java app has been given a bugfix and update from Marius van Voorden so that it's now able to match raw steno as well as translated steno.

* Stan Sakai's personal essay on how he became a professional captioner, including the role that Plover played in kindling his fascination with stenography.

* Plover Chord Cheat Sheet by Zack Brown (author of Learn Plover!), depicting all the chords and consonant clusters used in steno. Incidentally, Zack and I are still getting together on a regular basis to expand and refine Learn Plover! into a comprehensive guide for beginners. We're definitely in the home stretch now. Stay tuned!

* Take Four, a steno game by Kitlei RĂ³bert.

* Stenogogy, a new blog about the Plover learning process by Scott Johnson.

* Also a new Stenosaurus blog by Hesky, who's been helping to code the firmware for the Stenosaurus. Incidentally, while the Stenosaurus is still a ways away from starting its crowdfunding campaign, both Plover and the Stenosaurus together have amalgamated into The Open Steno Project. A new website with improved navigation design for new users is coming soon! The Github repository for both Plover and Stenosaurus can be found here.

Phew. I think that's finally everything. Enjoy the bounty of all this hard work from Plover's devs and users! The amount of awesomeness this community produces over the course of just a few months is nothing short of mindblowing. Thanks to everyone for a brilliant 2013! I can't wait to see what happens next.