Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two bug fixes in SideWinder version of Plover

If you go over to the Github, you'll see changes in tktest.py and sidewinder.py. I recently took a trip to Seattle and Missoula and didn't have enough room in my luggage for my steno machine, so instead I took along the new SideWinder X4 I bought for my brother William. I had four transcription files to finish before the end of the trip, and I discovered that the freezing bug which had intermittently affected Plover completely prevented me from using my rewind foot pedal with Winamp, so my brother and I sat down together and fixed it, by gum. I also put in a line of code that made it so if you accidentally hit the space bar (like I found myself doing constantly, since it's so close to the vowel keys) it doesn't throw out the stroke the way it does if you hit other keys besides the ones mapped to be steno keys; it just ignores the space and translates the stroke as usual. These two tiny little changes has made Plover drastically more useful as-is, and tomorrow I'm meeting my Python tutor to work on keyboard emulation. I know it's been a bit of a hiatus, but Plover is back in active development again.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Sidewinder + Steno Lessons for Auction

Hey, all. A friend of mine is trying to pay for her last semester of college, and her friends are having an auction to help raise funds. For my part, I'm offering a SideWinder X4, all decked out steno-style, plus six hours of steno lessons, either offered in New York City or over the internet. The current bid is $65, so if this sounds like a good deal to you, get in while the getting's good!

Auction for Maria: Steno Machine and Lessons

Monday, July 5, 2010

Steno 101, Lesson One

Steno 101: How to Do It
Steno 101: Lesson Zero
Steno 101: Lesson One
Steno 101: Lesson Two
Steno 101: Lesson Three
Steno 101: Lesson Four

So you've read Lesson Zero, which taught you some basic principles using pseudosteno, and now you're ready to start learning real steno. In order to keep it at a manageable level, I'm going to focus this lesson on two main groups of letters: The vowels, including chorded vowel combinations, and the consonants which appear as single letters on both sides of the steno keyboard.

First, the vowels:

A - as in bat, ant, father, or allow
O - as in got or knoll
E - as in let, pert, or defy
U - as in grump, bull, or purr
EU - as in grip, dirt, or tryst

AO - spelling differentiator, oa or oo
AE - spelling differentiator, ea or ae

AEU - as in grape or saint
AOE - as in seen or breech
AOU - as in glue or pew
AOEU - as in guise or spite
OEU - as in toil or ploy
AU - as in bought, tawny, or faun
OU - as in down or mound
OE - as in boat or grown

Let's look at the single vowels first: A, O, E, and U. They're all single-key vowels. (EU, even though it's a chord and not a letter, should also be grouped with them rather than with the vowel chords below, because it corresponds to the letter "I" and works like a single-key vowel). You'll see from the examples that a single vowel can stand for a few different vowel sounds. That's because, even though English has a fairly large number of actual vowel sounds, English spelling breaks vowels up into two rough categories: "short", which consists of a single vowel on its own, and "long", which consists of a doubled vowel, a diphthong (two different vowels together), or a vowel whose sound is modified by another vowel elsewhere in the word.

The steno theory I learned, while mostly phonetic, sometimes uses spelling to inform how to write a word. So if a word is written with a single "short" vowel, it will usually be written with the same vowel on the steno machine, regardless of what it actually sounds like. "Pert" and "Purr" have the same sound, but "pert" is written with the E key, and "purr" with the U key.

The theory also uses spelling cues to differentiate between long-vowel soundalike words. I spoke a little about this in Lesson Zero, but now that you see the whole vowel chart, it should make more sense.

Let's go back to pseudosteno again for some examples:

Pear: PAER

Bear: BAER

Great: GRAET

You can see that words containing "ea" together are written with "AE", while the words with the same long A sound that don't contain "ea" together are written phonetically, with "AEU". (Or, in the case of a word pair like "breech" and "breach", with the long E sound, "AOE", for breech, while breach would be written "BRAECH" in pseudosteno.) This is the main use for the "AE" key combination, so you can see that it's really a conflict differentiator, rather than a vowel sound per se.

The AO key combination is similar. It can be used as a spelling differentiator for word pairs like "soar" (SAOR) and "sore" (SOR), but more often than that, it's used to represent the "OO" vowel pair, irrespective of what it sounds like. Pseudosteno again:

Book: BAOK
Floor: FLAOR
Zoo: ZAO

That covers the second group of steno vowels. The last group covers so-called "long" vowel sounds and diphthongs, and it's going to involve the most straight-up memorization. The good news is that these operate almost entirely phonetically, so you don't have to concern yourself with spelling. Eventually I'm going to make a steno tutorial video game that will teach you these sounds and drill you on them, but for now you're going to have to memorize them on your own, with whatever method that works.

AEU - "long-A" sound
AOE - "long-E" sound
AOU - "long-U" sound
AOEU - "long-I" sound
OE - "long-O" sound
AU - "aw" or "au" diphthong
OU - "ow" or "ou" diphthong
OEU - "oy" or "oi" diphthong

Let's ditch the pseudosteno and move into some actual steno. In this lesson we're only going to deal with the top section of the complete steno layout chart that I posted several weeks ago.

These are the single-key letters that appear on both sides of the steno keyboard: S, T, P, and R. Try using them with your new vowel combinations. I've made a chart that shows what you get when you try just one left-hand letter, a vowel or vowel chord, and just one right-hand letter, but remember that steno can work with an unlimited number of letters in a chord. (Purple-highlighted cells in the chart represent chord combinations that aren't English words and can therefore be assigned to phonetic word parts or briefs. If I've highlighted a few that actually are words, let me know; I'm not the world's best Scrabble player.) First try a few from the chart:

Practice going through the vowel sounds to reinforce them in your muscle memory. Then try plugging in additional consonants. A few starter chords to get you going, using the "short a" sound:

STRAP: Strap
STARS: Stars
START: Start
PARTS: Parts
PRATS: Prats
SPRAT: Sprat
RAPT: Rapt
SAS: Sass

Now try making some more chords, using different vowel sounds and different combinations of letters. Let me know what you come up with in the comments. Feedback is always welcome. In the next lesson, we'll start learning chorded consonants. Stay tuned!

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Plover's Got a Discussion Group

At Tony's suggestion, I've made a Google Group for Plover. I know a lot of you found out about this blog via Depoman, and feel free to keep talking about it there, but for sustained conversation I thought the Google Group was a better idea than the slapdash blog comment discussions we've been having up 'til now. If you know anyone else who might be interested, please send them along. I'm hoping to get more Steno 101 lessons up in the next week or so here at the blog (mirrored on my website's articles page), and a drastically more useful version of Plover (hopefully with Linux keyboard emulation, and maybe even Windows as well) should be uploaded to the Github by some time in August. Meanwhile, please feel free to use the group to talk about what you'd like to see in the software, steno-customizations of your SideWinder, your experience of learning steno, and anything else that takes your fancy.