Saturday, April 3, 2010

Keytops for cheap

I'm having my Python lesson on Monday, so I'm hoping that we'll be able to clear up the issue with having to press Enter between each stroke of the Sidewinder. Meanwhile, if any of you guys are actually entertaining the notion of purchasing a Sidewinder and turning it into a steno machine, I've found a good source for keytops:

Stenotech Steno Accessories.

You can get 'em in felt for $13, in rubber for $15, and in leather for $26. If this thing really takes off, I might try to arrange a bulk purchasing thing, but for now those are pretty decent prices.

Here's a Google shopping price comparison for the Sidewinder. As you can see, the best deal including shipping seems to be hovering around $60. If you can find a local store that sells 'em, you might be able to get one for a little less, but I'd figure $15 for felt keypads including shipping, $60 plus tax for the Sidewinder, about $80 total. I know it's not nothing, but it's a damn sight better than $4,000. Agreed?


  1. My Sidewinder X4 arrived today. I got it from which had the best price I could find for Canada.

    Mark said my Stenomaster Theory book was in the mail.

    Now I just need those rubber keytop covers and I'll be ready to play steno! How did you superimpose or attach them over the Sidewinder X4 keys? You said you didn't remove the keys, just put them on top somehow?

  2. Woo-hoo! Now, from what I understand, the Stenomaster book includes a CD-ROM containing the Stenomaster dictionary. If you send it to me, I'll convert it to a format readable by Plover so you don't have to use my dictionary, which follows a pretty drastically different theory. Read the fine print, though, and see if there are any provisions against posting it as an alternative dictionary on the github, for free use by anyone who wants to download it. I'm not sure how proprietary he is about that particular rtf/cre file, and I don't want him to get all cease and desisty on the Plover Project. If he has a clause against distributing the dictionary, it brings up an interesting question, though -- a steno dictionary is useless without the ability to modify it, but once someone is allowed rights of modification, to what extent can rights of free distribution be held by the original owner? Something to think about. Let me know what his policy is when you get the book.

    Anyway, this is exciting! As far as the keytop covers go, they should be self-adhesive, so mainly you'll have to trim them a bit for length, so that the top and bottom tips are just a millimeter away from touching; that way you can press each key individually or separately with a minimum of effort. The side-to-side misalignment is relatively easy to correct. Look at the qwerty keyboard. See how the E, for example, is to the left of the D underneath it? Trim the keypads again for width, and stick the top one on so it goes from the center of the E to the right edge of the E (overhanging just a bit so that it's also comfortable when you want to hit the R, but not so much that the R gets depressed every time you hit the E); then stick the bottom one on so it goes from the center of the D to the left edge of the D. That way they should align to make a single vertical rectangle with only that one-millimeter horizontal crack in the middle that I mentioned above, to allow for independent movement of each key. Does that make sense? I can go into more detail if it's still confusing.

  3. Cool, I'll let you know how my adhesion skills turn out. So you had to trim all keys in both length and width dimension with a utility knife? Is it a problem that the Sidewinder keys have slight "wells" in them? That is to say, the keys are not perfectly horizontally flat, but have a slight depression in the middle of them. Ideally you'd want the adhesion to be even all over the key, right?

    I'll let you know about the intellectual property status of Mark's dictionary. If I'm forbidden to distribute it, then I should be able to figure out how to convert it myself for personal use.

    I've done a lot of research on intellectual property law, and simple lists of things are indeed covered by copyright law if they contain a minimal amount of creativity. I'll let you know once i get it in the mail. If there is no possibility to distribute his dictionary file, I'll ask him for written permission if he wants to allow the Plover version of his dictionary or something.

    If I'm not mistaken, you're using RTF for the dictionary format. Have you thought of using JSON or YAML or XML or some other serialization format?

  4. For my leather keypads, I just used an ordinary pair of scissors. The rubber ones might be tough enough to need a utility knife, or it might be more accurate to use a utility knife; whatever you're comfortable with is probably best. The leather is also stiff enough that once the keypads are on the wells disappear and I can't see or feel them at all. That may or may not be the case with the rubber. Let me know how it turns out! I'm interested.

    I can understand that lists might fall under copyright law, but doesn't ordinary copyright also forbid modification of the copyrighted material? If someone sold a steno dictionary on condition that it never be modified, the dictionary would be useless to any stenographer who bought it, because customization is such a vital part of the job. So if Mark forbade you from giving away the dictionary he sold you immediately after selling it to you, what kind of rights does he have to it ten years down the line, after you've modified and emended and added to it so much that it contains, say, only 50% of the original material? Are you still forbidden from giving it away? Where does one draw the line?

    But if he has a policy against distribution, you can still send it to me, I'll convert it, send it back to you, and delete all copies of it from my computer. I don't want to violate any of his or your rights of ownership. Of course, I'd prefer to be able to offer dictionaries in a multitude of formats on the Plover github, but I won't do that without explicit permission.

    I'm actually using Python dictionary format at the moment, but I converted it from rtf/cre, which is the universal stenographic dictionary format that all commercial CAT programs export to.

  5. Are you saying that I should get felt or leather rather than rubber? It's best to use a material that is more bendy?

  6. No, I was just saying that I hadn't tried felt or rubber. I'm sure they're fine. I was thinking leather was actually less bendy than either of the others, but if I had to bet I'd wager that they're all pretty well up to the task. I just prefer the texture of leather; I don't think it should make too much of a functional difference.

  7. I've also ordered a sidewinder keyboard (from Amazon, on sale for $50). I incidentally already have a pack of felt keytop covers from Stenotech. I've used some to fabricate "wide" keys for my manual stenograph, so I can use the remaining ones for the sidewinder. I, too, have the Stenomaster dictionary on CD and was wondering about further progress on the dictionary converter? I just think this project is awesome. I wish I had some programming skills so I could help!

  8. Abigail, can you email me at ?

  9. I changed the contents of to

    Now I'm able to practice Lesson 3 of The StenoMaster Theory. Woohoo!

    Do you have a list of all the conventions like ^? I take it that ^ means "append this to the nearby word instead of adding a space'. Are there other special codes or characters like this?

    Strangely, it seems that the RTF format used for dictionaries is really just simple TXT with a RTF extension.

  10. Choose a more durable material too. It depends on how you attach them on the gadget.

  11. So you're a spammer, but I'm pretty sure you're also a human. They can't possibly pay you enough.

  12. Hi, I do realise I'm several years behind on this, but I've just got into the concept of steno, and discovered Plover, and Mark Kislingbury and all that. Was there any decision about the sharing of his dictionary? How well did it merge with the Plover method?

    I do hope you're still going...


  13. Mark sells his dictionary for $100, I believe. It's in rtf format, so that works just fine with Plover. Plover the software is theory-agnostic.

  14. Thanks Mirabai, I'm so pleased to find this community is still alive and kicking. I've joined the Aviary now, so I will post future questions there. I understand that Plover itself is theory-agnostic - it's the dictionaries that differ and could be in contention, isn't it.

  15. Large configuration prints are greater in size and consequently it is difficult to overlook them.Cheap Black & White Copies