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.


Tina said...

I'm full of admiration for you Mirabai!

I'd love to have you post this article on my blog (as well as link to here) if you're interested - not everyone clicks on a link.

I think it's fantastic that you're doing something to help spread steno - it's a lifeline to many of us.

Mirabai Knight said...

Go for it, Tina! I want the word to get out as far as possible. Thanks!

lhuntr said...

Hello. I am a guy from South Korea. I am interested in stenography and I have some questions.

1. In qwerty keyboards, it looks difficult to press two keys simultaneosly with one finger. For example, it seems that it is awkward to press T and K simultaneously with the left ring finger. Is this problem remedied by acrylic plates sold at ? How about difference of key height? It would be better to remove the space bar to access thumb keys more easily.

2. What do you think about efficiency of:
-- professional steno keyboard
-- modern ergonomic keyboards such that Ergodox and Keyboardio (with or without acrlyic plates attached)
-- standard qwerty keyboard (with or without acrlyic plates attached)
for stenography?

Korean alphabet (or hangul) is sort of "naturally stenographic", since every unit consists of initial consonant(including null consonant ㅇ)+ vowel + optional final consonant.

Thank you in advance.

Mirabai Knight said...

Hi! You might like to read Stan Sakai's blog. He's a native Korean speaker, so he can speak more to the relationship between steno and Hangul:

The professional steno machines are definitely best ergonomically, but they're $4,000 to $5,000, which is way too much for amateurs.

Ergodox and Keyboardio seem pretty good, though a bit bulky to carry around. I know several people who use the Ergodox with Plover. I think Ultimate Hacking Keyboard might be better for portability reasons, though I haven't yet tried it.

Standard qwerty keyboard is of course the cheapest option, though it's true that the staggered columns and beveled keycaps can be a bit uncomfortable. Adding the acrylic keytoppers helps a bit. It works for some people, but I think it's best as a starter option, to get a taste of steno before committing with a more expensive device.