Monday, March 23, 2015

Plover-Inspired Geocache Puzzle!

Check out the amazing epistolary tale of Doris Plover, Court Stenographer circa 1935!

I was contacted by someone trying to solve it (it's since been solved, but you can try it yourself for practice; translating the steno is only the first step toward finding the correct location of the cache.) The pedant in me has to admit that the stenography is not 100% accurate for the time period (You never need to write P/KPA* for a period; just FPLT will do, both for Plover and for non-realtime stenographers. Proper names don't need to be manually capitalized either. Also, they probably wouldn't have used long vowels, an asterisk-based fingerspelling alphabet, or S-P to work around a word boundary error; all of that stuff only came in when realtime was introduced in the 1980s.)

But even so, how mindbendingly awesome is this?!? I was absolutely tickled pink to find that it existed. Many years ago I made up a brief steno puzzle of my own for a friend who didn't know steno himself but who was interested in cryptography and wanted to see if he could figure it out without any prior knowledge. It makes me so happy to see that someone I don't even know had the same idea.

Even cooler is that after I helped the guy who was working on solving the puzzle, he made a $100 donation to The Open Steno Project! What a mensch! Money aside, learning that this thing existed seriously made my whole week. Thanks, Mysterious Puzzlemaker, whoever you are!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Miscellany

Just two quick items:

* Emanuele has started a Stenoboard blog. There's only a welcome post on it so far, but if you're interested in the progress of the Stenoboard, you might want to add it to your RSS reader of choice.

* Also, it's not strictly Plover-related, but Drew from the Plover Google Group told me about a Vim plugin that's turned out to be life-changing: Vim-G. As Drew explained:

"It provides a :Google command that lets you run your query direct from Vim. Additionally, if you select a word then run the :Google command, it will search for the selected word."

So I've been able to map my TKPWHREFRPB command to {#Escape}:Google{#Return}, which will open a Chrome window and search for the word under my cursor. This is so great for looking up words while editing CART transcripts! Previously I'd tried to do it by using Launchy, but because there's currently no way to make definitions with predetermined "wait x milliseconds" commands, the processes would get out of sync and wouldn't execute properly. This solves that problem completely. It's still probably worth building a "wait" command into Plover at some point, but now that I have this Vim-G solution, that feature is not as urgent for me as it once was.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Another Awesome DIY Plover Board

Check out this beautiful DIY Plover Board built by Timothy Aveni for less than $100!

Seriously impressive.

Speaking of DIY keyboard projects, The Matias Keyboard Switch Crowd Supply campaign is 176% funded and already shipping out keysets. Josh says he's hoping the Stenosaurus Crowd Supply campaign will go live in the next two or three months, which is tremendously exciting.

On a more discouraging note, our previous go-to low-cost n-key rollover keyboard, the Sidewinder X4, is now well and truly out of production, so prices for leftover stock are climbing inexorably upwards. This is really a shame. At its best, it cost around $45, but now you'll have to pay around $70 for a used one and $150 or more for a new one.

There's currently a Massdrop for a $50 Noppoo Lolita Spyder 87, but that won't last forever, and retail for the Spyder is around $80. I really hope that a new low-cost gaming keyboard with true nkro (not fake nkro like the disappointing $20 Sharkoon) comes around again soon. There's a surprisingly big difference between $50 and $100 when you're talking experimental entry-level steno. I'll always be grateful to Microsoft for releasing the Sidewinder right when I started the Plover Project back in 2010, and I know that all manufacturing efforts have a limited lifespan, but I sure hope something else comes up to take its place.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Pre-Stenosaurus Crowd Supply Campaign!

Many exciting things to report!

First off, Josh Lifton, Plover's first developer and inventor of the forthcoming Stenosaurus, has launched a crowdfunding campaign to offload some of the extra custom keys he commissioned from Matias as a way of raising funds for the very nearly imminent Stenosaurus campaign launch. It's already almost halfway funded, but if you're a hardware hacker with a need for quiet, lightweight, feather-touch keys with a dead simple mounting system, go pick up a bag of 150 for $50. Heck of a deal!

Also, the amazing Ed (aka ezyang of Stenomatic fame) has put a Starter Guide up on the Wiki to help ease new steno learners into the fray. Ed's got a lovely friendly conversational style and extremely solid advice. If you're intimidated about where and how to get started, definitely go check it out.

Speaking of new steno learners, Lars has been keeping an online diary of his learning process. He's only been doing it for a week, but he's already up to almost 60 WPM on single-stroke words! Pretty dang impressive.

Finally: Ellis, a technical author and relatively new convert to Plover who's already been able to double his typing speed, recently wrote a blog post on his company's website extolling the advantages of steno for members of his profession. In his post, Ellis included a link to an Ignite Talk Josh gave to the Technology Association of Oregon some months back, which I'd been dragging my heels on captioning for no good reason whatsoever. But thanks to Ellis's post, I finally just sat down and did it. The captioned version is embedded below. It's fantastic five-minute précis of just how powerful and useful open source steno can be. Check it out!

Friday, January 30, 2015

Stenowiki and Bob's DIY Machine

The redoubtable ezyang (of Stenomatic 9000 fame) has created StenoWiki, a collaborative database intended to categorize and explain definitions in the default Plover dictionary! When a beginner first starts learning steno, it can be tricky to develop the skill to tell a misstroke from a brief or a semi-phonetic stroke from a completely phonetic stroke. This wiki helps to bridge that gap!

Also, Bob from the Google Group has just converted an old manual steno machine into a Plover-compatible device!

He writes:

"I managed to complete the stenotype to digital.

I was asked to post some pictures of the process. This is the 1st. This is the one I will start learning with.

My total conversion cost was about $30.

If I add the cost of the Stenotype I have a fully working setup for less than $75.00.

I found the stenotype on ebay delivered for $28.00. I'll be ordering another to incorporate updates I want to make to it. With the cost being this low it won't be expensive at all to have a backup system."

Check out the pictures! Pretty dang impressive, I have to say.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Back From Vacation!

The new semester has started, and I'm finally settling into a groove. I'm still working on a big post about where I see the Open Steno movement going over the next few years, but for now I just want to post a few brief updates.

First off, looks like the Sharkoon Tactix keyboard I posted about recently apparently doesn't have full n-key rollover after all, despite what it claims. So the price is nice, but it's not going to work for Plover. Bummer.

Secondly, The Aviary has really been hopping lately. It's been quiet for years, but it seems like it's actually achieved something of a critical mass in recent months, with some great conversations happening between various users. Unlike the Google Group, which is focused more on tech support and discussion about the future of Plover, the Aviary is more of a place to talk about your day-to-day steno learning process. I check it every day, so you can also ask questions about steno theory, and when I answer them, they'll be up for the reference of other Aviary users. If you haven't been there recently and you want to talk about the ups and downs of learning steno, go check it out!

And finally, I bought some elastic, Velcro, and fabric adhesive at a craft store the other day. I've been carrying my Stenoboard around in my backpack for months, but I don't often use it, because I can't seem to find a typing position that's both comfortable and secure. I'm so used to the tripod-based system I use with my Infinity Ergonomic that resting the two halves of the Stenoboard on a table just feels too flat, and I haven't figured out any other way to replicate my preferred double-handed tilt. So my eventual goal with all these supplies is to make a more durable and adjustable version of the thigh-mounted setup I depicted in my Mobile and Wearable article. The Stenoboard is much smaller and more lightweight than the Gemini2 in that picture, so I'm hoping it'll be a lot less unwieldy and a lot more comfortable. I'm not generally so good with arts and crafts, but if I can manage to make a stable, secure attachment for my Stenoboard that allows me to quickly set up and start writing sans tripod, I'll be really happy. Stay tuned to see if I can manage it!