Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Quick Comparison: Splitography vs Stenokey

I seem to have had a bit of a block about writing these two reviews, so I'm just gonna give you some bulletpoints.

Stenokey Pros:

* Cheapest steno-layout option assuming you can get free/cheap 3D printing; its inventor/designer has released all the specs and takes no profit from any of it
* Extremely compact and lightweight
* Multiple protocols (though you need a pointy object to press the tiny sunken switch that changes them)
* If parts could be bought in bulk and sold as individual kits through the Plover store (working on it!), it would be even more accessible

Stenokey Cons:

* Requires self-assembly, including soldering; not a project for total beginners
* As of right now, parts need to be sourced in lots of four or more
* Matias switches are stiffer than Gateron clears
* 3D printed keycaps are a little rough and scratchy
* The stem of one of the 3D printed keys broke off after fairly light handling; it seems to be more fragile than my other machines
* It's a bit on the clicky/noisy side

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Splitography Pros:

* Beautiful unique design
* Lovely heavy smooth injection molded keycaps; probably its strongest feature, I'd say
* Sold at a very reasonable price ready to use out of the box
* Works as both a regular qwerty keyboard and a steno machine, which you can switch by just pressing certain keys in a particular pattern
* The weight of the keycaps make the stiff Matias switches a little bit easier to press
* A stiff cable connects the two halves, which allows the user to tent the machine at their preferred angle by resting the machine on any appropriately angled object
* The money goes to support Scott, an early and consistent innovator in the field of open steno, who provides friendly and abundant tech support and documentation

Splitography Cons:

* The sharp solder spikes underneath the circuitboard are open and easily reached by curious toddler fingers, which means I need to keep the Splitography out of reach of my steno machine-obsessed kid
* I've had some trouble finding a good case to keep it safe in my bag; it's a somewhat awkward shape

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Overall, if you're not experienced at assembling electronics and you've got enough money to buy a Splitography, it's what I would recommend. (Assuming that for economic or aesthetic reasons you've ruled out the Stenomod, which remains my ultimate go-to recommendation, for reasons ranging from the beautiful compact hinged design to the feather-light Gateron keyswitches.) The Stenokey is ingenious, but not quite durable enough to be a daily driver, in my opinion. If you want a DIY project and don't want to spend more than the bare minimum of cash, though, I can definitely recommend the Stenokey as a solid and usable option.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Scott's Splitography Setup Video



This is a great video explanation on how to set up your new SOFT/HRUF Splitography, which I am quite enamored of these days. Nice work, Scott.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

IOU: Two Reviews



They're making steno machines faster than I can blog about them! Scott, inventor of the original SOFT/HRUF (which I bought years ago and recently lent to a friend) and the new SOFT/HRUF Splitography, pictured above, has generously sent me a review machine to play around on. I've already promised you all my StenoKey review (plans to get StenoKey kits in the Plover Store are in the works, by the way), but now there's this gorgeous piece of work to talk about as well! I promise I will get to both, and soon! Hold me to that!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Typey Type for Stenographers

Fantastic new online learning tool by longtime community member Di: Typey Type for Stenographers.
Typey type is a typing app designed specifically to help stenography students learn steno faster. You can learn briefs and improve your stenographic speed and accuracy using tailored education options, including tight feedback loops so you learn to fix misstrokes immediately. You can effortlessly track progress in your brief vocabulary and rapidly increase in steno skill.
It's got a huge amount of practice material, from handpicked steno-specific lists to simple public domain texts. The interface is very sleek and intuitive, and I love all the metrics that help you track your progress. This is such a beautiful piece of work. If you've been feeling overwhelmed at the daunting task of teaching yourself steno, please give it a look. I think it'll be a tremendously useful tool for both beginners and intermediate speedbuilders alike.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Stenokey Post, Part 1!

At long last, part one of a series on the amazing Stenokey.

First, the setup from Stenokey inventor Mike:


Stenokey Project

Stenokey is an open source do it yourself stenographic keyboard project. It is aimed at makers with some electronics experience (soldering) and who own a 3D printer or who have a friend with a 3D printer, though you may be able to complete this project if you know how to use a soldering iron and can find an inexpensive 3D printing service. (My local public library will print objects for the cost of filament, which is extremely inexpensive, though I think that they might balk at printing the entire Stenokey part-set all at once.)

Stenokey connects to any desktop or laptop PC that has a USB port. It is meant to work with the Open Steno Project's Plover software, which runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. It supports NKRO keyboard emulation, as well as the serial Gemini PR, TX Bolt and ProCAT protocols. In theory, the Stenokey should be compatible with commercial steno software that supports those serial protocols.

Stenokey uses the Matias Quiet Linear Switches, which won't stick or stall when keys are pressed off center. Stenokey's smarts come from the Arduino compatible Teensy 2.0. This microcontroller is capable of emulating both an NKRO keyboard and a serial port over USB.


The Stenokey circuit board is based on the simple design principle of putting everything on the same circuit board. The advantages are improved reliability, the elimination of unecessary cables and connectors, simplified assembly, reduced assembly time, reduced part count and lower material cost. Hopefully the low material cost puts this project in the realm of possibility for more people.


Except for the plastic parts the cost of materials comes out to less than USD$50. Of course if you account for shipping and product minimum orders, you'll spend more.

Distribution

All of the Stenokey design files are available on Github. The circuit boards can be purchased from SeeedStudio. Except for the firmware and electrical schematic, the project is licensed with the CreativeCommons-ShareAlike license. The firmware and schematic are licensed by Emanuele Caruso under the GNU GPL version 3 license. All of the tools used to create the Stenokey project are open source or are freely available so that the design can easily be modified within the constraints of those licenses.

To summarize both the CreativeCommons and GNU licenses, you can of course create copies of this project for your own use. You can republish or create derivative works from this project and even sell them as products, however if you do, you must give credit to the original author(s) and share your own work. Be sure to read the actual licenses for all of the details.

History

The Stenokey project gained its name when I ran across Jason Cemra's Stenotoppers on Mirabai's Plover blog. I had recently purchased a small 3D printer, so I decided to try printing one of Jason's key caps. It printed amazingly well. Printing that key was the start of the project as one thing lead to another.

I was already familiar with Joshua Lifton's Stenosaurus project from the Plover blog, so I drew up some steno keys based on Joshua's key outlines, (while borrowing some of Jason's 3D design techniques). Those keys also printed well enough. I had drawn the keys in OpenSCAD, so I was quickly able to generate several different variations of keys with various widths and offsets.

Next I bought some of the Matias Quiet Linear key switches. (Those key switches were graciously made available by Matias through Joshua's efforts.) I was able to get my key tops to fit the Matias key switches without much effort (and a fingernail file). I quickly found out that unlike the "other" key switches, the Matias key switches don't stick or stall when you press on a key off center.

I was also familiar with Emanuele Caruso's Stenoboard project. All of his designs for the Stenoboard project are available on line, including the electrical schematics and the firmware. Starting from Joshua Lifton's keyboard layout, I referenced Emanuele's schematics to create the Stenokey circuit board. With the different keyboard layout and schematic, it was also necessary to modify Emanuele's firmware, (which was simple enough to do since he writes excellent code).

In the middle of this I contacted Mirabai, because without her none of this happens. She was highly supportive throughout the project. She agreed to check out the design and eventually I sent her my prototype to test.

Around the time that I contacted Mirabai, I decided that my prototype design was rather naked; too naked to send to someone else. So I designed some more plastic parts to cover the prototype's bare bottom and top. Those covers weren't very professional, so I designed a clamshell case that neatly encloses all of the electronics.

Designing an open source project like this, ordering parts and building a few prototypes are only half of the work. I spent more time cleaning up the files and directories, writing documents and getting everything set up for distribution on Github and SeeedStudio. Hopefully the project will be well received.

The Stenokey project can be accessed via this URL:

https://github.com/mike-ady/Stenokey

Circuit boards can be purchased (minimum order 5) from Seeed Studio via this URL:

https://www.seeedstudio.com/Stenokey-g-1050040

In the next post, I'll tell you what I think of the Stenokey, after using it for several weeks and passing it around among a number of both pro and amateur stenographers! Plus: Plans for getting Stenokey kits into the Plover Store!

Saturday, December 30, 2017

Amazing Crayon Box Steno Machine!



Holy floog, this is so freaking cool! Check out this fantastic DIY steno machine by Escaped Echidna!! Detailed plans and specs here. As I said to her on the Discord when she posted it, it reminds me of the old Altoids tin mini-amp projects that I used to admire back in the day. Just ingenious.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Plover Theory Book Update

I haven't had a chance to write a proper review of the Stenokey yet, so just a short post for today: If you haven't looked at Ted's textbook recently, go check it out. It's still a work in progress, but he's been on fire lately, and has added several excellent new chapters. He's also thinking of trying to find another name for it, so if you have any suggestions that are catchier than "Plover Theory" (which I quite like, to be honest), drop him a line.