Saturday, April 24, 2010

Abigail's brilliant stenohack

In case you don't read the Plover blog comments as obsessively as I do, I want to post a few excerpts. I had assumed that the task of interesting people in open source steno software would be almost as difficult as writing it, but that hasn't been the case at all. The blog's already got a handful of dedicated commenters, from Sonja and Stan, the early adopters, to Abigail, Tony, Paul S., and Alice, the enthusiastic newcomers.

From Tony: Ok, let me just say how excited I am about Plover. Mirabai, I've followed, and greatly benefited from, your postings on the Depoman forum.

I decided to learn steno about six months ago because I write a lot and I hate the speed of typing. It became an obsession. I ordered an antique steno machine online, started learning first Phoenix, now intensively studying StenEd. But I have nothing electronic.

I am buying a Sidewinder this very day. You will be hearing more from me.

I've also gotten a fair amount of private email from people who came across the blog and are looking forward to trying out the program once it becomes a bit more functional. To that end, I'm devoting today and at least part of tomorrow to making Plover more than just a pretty demo. Then on Monday I'm resuming my Python lessons after a two-week hiatus (my tutor has been traveling, but now he's back in town). For now, though, let me turn the post over to the fabulous Abigail and her recent SideWinder hack. First, her introductory comment:

I just wanted to say that I've downloaded Plover and I am just amazed. It is like you have read my mind. For a bit of background, I was a steno student years ago, also at NYCI, loved it but quit because of life circumstances, moved overseas, moved back. Intended to return to court reporting - got very sick. Anyway, I say all this because I'm a little better but not good enough to go back to school but have been learning Stenomaster theory and re-teaching myself in the hopes of using steno to do transcription from home but wasn't sure what I going to do about the heavy outlay of funds just to make that happen. This could be my miracle solution. Thank you so much for using your brilliance and vision to come up with this program - please keep going! $60 for a keyboard? Heck, I could buy 10 of them and still be ahead, even with Ebay prices for dirty old equipment and ancient software! I tried Plover with my HP bundled keyboard and a few words came out so this could be just fabulous! Thank you!!!!!

Next, her amazing brainstorm:

I don't know if it will work long term but see the attached picture. I had a really, really old manual stenograph so I've wiggled the keys off of it and attached them to the keyboard with Scotch double-sided foam squares. They stick without damaging either sets of keys. Looks neat, huh? The touch of my doctored keyboard is not bad, pretty sturdy, of course not as good as the real thing, but close. The keys don't rock but I don't know if after extended use with flying fingers if they might flick off. I guess then you can just replace the sticky pad. I just experimented a little so far and I find it much easier that the keys are raised and more like a steno formation.

So if foam or leather keypads don't make the SideWinder feel enough like a steno machine, think about buying an old junky manual writer and gutting it for parts. Thanks, Abigail!


Tony said...

This is awesome! My SideWinder is on its way from Amazon, and I have been thinking about what I am going to do to simulate the layout of a steno keyboard.

Mirabai, I just want to say again how exciting I think your project is. Thanks so much for taking this up. Where would the world be if it weren't for people who get obsessed with an idea/problem and keep at it until it's solved? All of my best ideas have come this way.

Here's to new linguistic technologies and the spirit of innovation!

Mirabai Knight said...

Thanks, Tony! That's lovely to hear. I'm honestly flabbergasted that it's gotten this much attention already. I hadn't planned to start recruiting people until it was already a functional program. But this gives me much more incentive to get right down to it. It's harder to give in to my slackier impulses when I know people are waiting for the next slightly more useful version to come out.

Stan said...

So you said that Plover will not support stentura but I'm assuming that it will support Gemini's codec?

And also, do you know if the first Gemini model keyboard supports usb hookup or is it a serial cable?

Thanks again, and great hack! I do still have my manual machine lying around that I could disassemble to realize this. :)

Mirabai Knight said...

Stan: Eventually I want to support Stenograph protocols, but I haven't gotten there yet. Plover currently supports Gemini PR Protocol, which is used in some Gemini2s, all Gemini Pipers, Evolutions, and Revolution Grands, but not the original old Gemini, I'm pretty sure; they use Baron TX protocol, as do some Gemini2s. I know my Gemini Revolution Grand has direct USB input (as well as Bluetooth), but I think most earlier writers use serial. You can use either a serial-USB converter cable or a serial pcmcia or expresscard. Good luck!

Stan said...
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Stan said...

Ah, okay. Thanks, Mirabai. I just found an amazing deal on ebay and bought a gemini writer for SUPER cheap. Hopefully I can use it to build a good Phoenix dictionary in DigitalCAT and maybe be able to send you the RTF. (That IS how you do it, right?) And are all dictionaries created ground-up by the user? In the book, Carol repeatedly asserts how the "Phoenix dictionary will automatically do this, correct that," I feel I'm missing something here. "Phoenix dictionary download" turns up nothing on google except for the dictionary update addenta on the main Phoenix site. So I was wondering if a part of court reporting school is defining every word you'll ever write from scratch?

Mirabai Knight said...

Congrats, Stan! If the Gemini writer you bought turns out to have TX rather than PR protocol, I'll just contact Jason Pardikes and ask him how to implement that protocol in Plover. He's always been exceptionally helpful and forthcoming. You definitely shouldn't have to create a Phoenix dictionary from scratch. It might not be available for free download, but wherever you bought the book from should be able to provide you with an rtf of it. It's pretty big, from what I understand. Once you get an rtf, definitely send it along and I'll convert it to Plover format for you. All stenographers modify and add to their dictionaries to a fairly large extent, but very very few of them actually build them from scratch these days. There are too many words in the language and too many good starter dictionaries out there. You might want to contact Glen Warner; he'll probably have a copy of the Phoenix dictionary that you can use. Let me know! I'm so glad you got a Gemini. I know my wrists and arms would be a wreck without mine.

Stan said...

Hm, according to forums, it seems that I can only get a Phoenix theory dictionary file by paying Stenograph $25 for a CD. Would it be breaking too many rules to just ask if someone here had an RTF or DCT file I could start out with?

(Though I have been practicing with my friend's logitech gaming keyboard and am slowly becoming more of a StenEd writer plus whatever shortcuts you put in your B.D.)

And I found out my Gemini writer is of the TX protocol varietal :). If you decide to write a protocol for it, I'd be more than happy to assist and give you feedback in the testing process.

Mirabai Knight said...

Stan: Try sending an email to He might be able to help you out with the Phoenix dictionary thing. I just sent an email to Jason Pardikes from the company that makes the Gemini asking him if he would mind giving me the specs for the TX protocol. We'll see what he says!