Monday, October 31, 2011

Experimental Windows Port is Up!

Edited to add: New version, hot off the press, right after I originally posted this. Now it works with both Gemini PR and TX Bolt protocols. That means if you have a Stentura Protege, Cybra, or Fusion, you can press the second and third button of the machine simultaneously to put it into Bolt mode, then use the device manager to see what serial port it's outputting to, and then configure Plover accordingly! Also, I was wrong -- you can totally edit the dictionary. Its path is right there under "configure/dictionary". Woo!

Extremely exciting news. The Plover Project has been joined by Hesky Fisher, an expert programmer whose girlfriend Rachel is currently in steno school. He's been helping us support more steno machine protocols and somewhere down the line he's probably going to be an integral part of the Hover Plover team, since he's got tons of experience in game development, but right now he's working on a Windows port of Plover, which has the potential to multiply our current numbers a zillionfold. (Ubuntu is pretty freaking great, but I know firsthand how intimidating it can be, and most people aren't willing to install Wubi just for the sake of a single program). Hesky's gotten the first version working already! It's a selfcontained .exe file:


And here's the qwerty-to-steno chart, just as a reminder

Just download it and run it. You'll see the red P appear in your taskbar. Press it so it turns green, and then use your qwerty keyboard or supported steno machine (see above) to write steno into any Windows program! There are a few limitations with this current version. It can't send command strokes, and a side effect of that results in Plover spitting out part of the buffer unpredictably sometimes. But it's a great way to see how Plover works with a minimum of effort. And remember, you don't need an n-key rollover keyboard to see it in action; just about every keyboard is able to write "so is this working?" (SO/S-/TH-/WOG/HF in steno or av/a/rw/ldv/ru in qwerty). Download it, give it a shot, and spread it around to anyone who might be interested. A more complete version is coming soon!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Introducing the Ploverpad!

The brilliant minds behind The Plover Wiki have struck again. If you or someone you know has been intrigued by steno but is intimidated by the prospect of installing Ubuntu and downloading a full-fledged keyboard emulator like Plover, what would you say to a taste of steno that you can experience using only your browser and an ordinary qwerty keyboard? Check it out!

Click here to try out the Ploverpad!

As in the old-timey versions of Plover (remember back that far?), punctuation is currently displaying with Eclipse syntax instead of gluing and capping and all that meta stuff. Oh, and it only translates one-stroke words. But I was playing with it this evening, and I was really kind of surprised by how much I could write by restricting myself only to words that could be written in one stroke, plus prefix and suffix strokes. If you know a bit of steno, give it a try and see how long a sentence you can come up with using only one-stroke words. Post them to comments, if you like. I'd love to see what y'all come up with.

Even if you don't know steno, the Ploverpad can be really useful to help you learn the keyboard. Print out a copy of the Steno Keychart and walk yourself through the alphabet. You'll see that the keys on the Ploverpad will light up according to the colors on the chart. Seriously, how cool is that? It's also useful to see how close to n-key rollover your ordinary computer keyboard is; you'll see that certain words will work properly, even if they take three or four keystrokes, but other words involving the same number of keystrokes won't register.

I think the Ploverpad will be invaluable for beginning steno students, people shopping for n-key rollover keyboards, and people who want to practice their steno when they're on computers that might not have Linux installed. But most of all I think it's a fantastic way to demonstrate what steno looks like in a simple, visually striking way with very little technical hassle required. Notice that you can also drag, drop, and resize all of the windows, so if you want to focus on steno keystrokes you can make the keyboard big, and then if you want to switch your focus to translation, you can increase the size of the output window and pour out one-stroke steno to your heart's content. John and Jay, who wrote the Ploverpad, will be adding features as they go along, so stay tuned! But it's already an amazing piece of work. Please feel free share the link around all over the place. Now anyone who wants to try their hand at steno can give it a shot by just clicking on a link. Our most seductive recruitment tool yet!

Friday, October 7, 2011

Split-Screen Demonstration

John, one of the guys who helped set up the Plover Wiki, mentioned that he'd tried to describe how Plover works to his friends, but they were having trouble picturing it. He thought a split-screen video, showing my fingers on the keyboard synced with a screen capture of Plover's output, would possibly do the trick. So here it is! It was recorded using the built-in camera of one laptop running Windows (trained on my fingers), while at the same time another laptop running Ubuntu received input from my Majestouch keyboard via Plover into Gedit. I also thought it might be instructive if I illustrated the chords I was pressing using my steno chart, so I put them all together this afternoon using TrakAx.

The first runthrough is in realtime (though I was trying to show each stroke as clearly as possible, so it's quite a bit slower than I usually write), and the second runthrough is in slow motion. First of all, sorry that the final TP-PL (period stroke) is out of sync; it was hard to see exactly when the period appeared on the small blurry preview screen, so I just took a wild guess, and wound up being a few seconds late. Second of all, you'll see a few random letters appear mysteriously on the screen and then get deleted, all without me touching the keyboard. That's an artifact of Plover's current output system. It works by sending ordinary qwerty keystrokes to the OS, then sending a corresponding number of backspaces to get rid of them, and finally sending the proper steno output to take their place. This is why Plover doesn't work well in programs like Vim, which use one-key command strokes, when using the qwerty keyboard as a steno machine. Plover in Gemini mode (using an actual proprietary steno machine) doesn't have this problem. The screen capture software (xvidcap) makes these deletion artifacts more prominent than they actually are while using Plover in real life; most of the time, you don't see the deletions at all, because they happen too fast to notice them. Third of all, if you try this at home with the default Plover dictionary, you might find that it comes out with "administration" rather than "demonstration" and "moreover" rather than "Plover". Stenographers' dictionaries are always changing, always adapting to the needs and emerging writing style of their owners. Modify your version of Plover's default dictionary for your own needs! I'm hoping to write another installment of Steno 101 addressing that, but I want to wait until we've implemented the just-in-time dictionary entry feature (the ability to add or modify dictionary entries while Plover is running, rather than having to shut it down, open the dictionary, make the change, and then start it back up again) that's next on the development list.

Finally, here's a static chart of the steno chords used in the video, with the English written beneath them. 16 steno strokes, compared to the 87 keystrokes needed to write it qwerty-style.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Plover Wiki is Live

Check out the new Plover Wiki
! This was put together by John and Jay, two new Plover fans, and I'm hoping that the rest of the Plover community will start contributing to it as well. I'll be going over the pages in the next few days, expanding and clarifying where necessary, but it's already a fantastic resource for Plover newbies and other interested parties. Feel free to browse through it, then make an account and start adding your own thoughts, ideas, theory charts, tips, tricks, fan art, screencasts, et cetera. Many, many thanks to John and Jay for getting this whole thing started!

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Captioned PyGotham Presentation is Up

Here's my talk. I stumbled over my words a bit at the beginning, but I think all in all I said pretty much everything I wanted to, and the audience asked lots of questions, which is always a good sign. When the camera pans over to the audience it looks like there are only a handful of people there, but actually I think there were about a dozen all together; several of them were on the other side of the aisle. I've been talking with several people I met at PyGotham, and the Plover Google Group has also picked up quite a bit lately. I'm really excited to see what's next. Josh sent me a small update the other day, with a few little bugfixes, and it seems to work perfectly, so I have a feeling the hiatus is almost over. Fingers crossed.