Sunday, November 27, 2011


I love long weekends. Thanks to the first decent amount of free time I've had in a while, I've been able to change some little things on the Plover Blog and Wiki that were long overdue.

* now redirects to the Plover Wiki instead of the static FAQ page that it's superseded.

* I've put a slightly cleaned-up version of the qwerty-to-steno layout chart right at the top of the blog, where people can see it straight away. It should probably get a more prominent place in the Wiki too, though I'm not sure where; right now it's kind of buried in the FAQ.

* I've put a link to the Plover Demo near the top of the blog's sidebar and on the front page of the Wiki, because I believe that it's Plover's best low-stakes ambassador for stenocurious newcomers.

* I've updated and expanded the Wiki's Plover Cheat Sheet a bit, adding to the chart of the most common prefixes and clarifying a few of the more confusing features of Plover's default dictionary. I also submitted a bug to the Launchpad page, because the default dictionary that comes with Plover defines -FPLT as -FRPBLGTS and STPH as STKPWHR, which is only useful if you're me and you're using Plover for offline transcription work, which you almost certainly aren't. I should have changed those definitions to {.} and {?} respectively before submitting the dictionary to Josh for packaging, but I didn't, and the result is that the Hello, world. instructions on the Wiki don't work properly. Boo me.

* I've updated the Plover Blog sidebar with links to videos and interviews featuring Plover.

* I thought of another Hover Plover minigame, one that would appeal to the puzzle solvers rather than the fast-twitch kids, and which would take minimal graphical expertise to write. You'd start out with a block of text in steno, and every time you wrote one of the strokes, it would transform into its English equivalent. So at the end, you'd wind up with a block of English text. Here's a mockup, showing the starting state, the middle state, and the completion state. I based the text on a puzzle I made for a friend who didn't know steno but who liked solving cryptograms. (Solution here. Don't click the link to the graphical version if you want the fun of puzzling it out for yourself, since it shows the solution on the bottom.) I figure it'll have the satisfaction that you get from a game like Minesweeper, but without the nervous tension, because there are no penalties for misstrokes. You're just clearing the field and building up your muscle memory as you go. You'll probably start out just writing the strokes without knowing what they say, but eventually as you get more comfortable with the theory, you'll start predicting the translations before you write them.

* I'm also currently trying to sort through these guidelines for open source development, posted by Ms. Gardiner to the Plover Google Group a while back. Plover is the first open source project I have direct experience with, and since I'm not a coder myself (except on a seriously elementary level), I'm at sort of a disadvantage in figuring out the best way to organize it. The code started out completely in Josh's domain. Then Hesky joined in on the experimental branch. We've gotten several more offers of coding help since then, but except for side projects like the Plover Demo, I don't think we've had any actual committed code from anyone other than Josh and Hesky so far. I definitely want to change that, though, especially as Hover Plover development gets off the ground. Any specific advice on making the Plover Project more friendly to community development would be very welcome.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Captioned: Mary Gardiner's Keynote at PyConAu

So in August of this year, programmer and open source advocate Mary Gardiner gave a keynote address at PyConAu in Sydney, Australia, called "Changing the World With Python". In the talk, she mentioned several world-changing open source projects that people could contribute to, including Sugar (which longtime Plover ally Mel Chua is heavily involved with), Calibre, an ebook management tool, Software Carpentry, a series of programming tutorials for scientists, and most unlikely of all... Plover!

I didn't know about this until a month or so later, when I was checking Plover's referral logs, and noticed that I'd gotten a few hits from the Ada Initiative website. Ms. Gardiner's posted several times on the Plover Google Group, but I hadn't put her name together with The Ada Initiative, even though my friend Sumana is on the advisory board, as is Lukas Blakk, who was at my PyGotham presentation on Plover, and who asked a number of fantastic questions. That Ms. Gardiner was interested enough in Plover to devote a decent amount of her keynote speech at a major conference was incredibly exciting, and as soon as I discovered the video I started captioning it, so that I could post it here for my Deaf and hard of hearing friends and colleagues to watch. Unfortunately I got about three quarters through the captioning process (using Plover with UniversalSubtitles, which was unbelievably smooth and pleasant, especially compared with the proprietary steno software I tried to use during NatCapVidMo last year.), and then my work schedule got ridiculously busy, so I haven't had any time to finish the job 'til now. Still, better late than never, right? It's a great video. Anyone who's interested in open source contribution should watch it -- not just Plover enthusiasts.

A few notes:

* Ms. Gardiner says that entry level steno machines cost about $3,000. That's not quite true. Professional steno machines range in price from about $3,000 to about $5,000, but entry level machines go for around $1,000 for a used student writer to $2,000 for a new one.

* The Microsoft Sidewinder X4 keyboard isn't exactly 10 cents here in the US, but it's currently going for $38.20 including shipping, which is a pretty decent deal.

* Steno courses at technical schools are rarely only two years long. Some people graduate (i.e., pass three tests at 225 words per minute at 95% non-realtime accuracy) in less than that time (I took a year and a half, and I've known some people who did it in nine months), but many people take between three and seven years to get up to graduating speed. It all depends on your talent, dedication, and practice time.

* The stenographic world record is 360 words per minute.

* She wasn't speaking at 300 words per minute, I'm happy to say, or this would have taken even longer to caption. Probably more like 160, which is why I chose to caption it in single lines, as opposed to the double-line captions that I sometimes use for faster speakers.

* Josh wasn't living downstairs from me. He was actually renting coworking space two floors above the co-op office where I was working.

* I don't make anywhere near $150,000. Some court reporters in NYC might make that, but CART providers make significantly less than that, though I have managed to squeak into the six figure range for the past three years running.

* Since this speech was given, the Experimental Windows Port was released. It should be finalized pretty soon, and Josh tells me that support for OSX is imminent as well. Seriously exciting.

* In the TypeRacer video, I was actually using my Revolution Grand, not the SideWinder X4. But I'd love to see new Plover users racing on TypeRacer with their n-key rollover keyboards. Maybe we'll even have a batch competing in next year's Championships! (I'm currently tied for third place, competing as ploversteno. Yes, I was beaten in two matches by a qwerty typist. I need to get better about not getting flustered so that my hands freeze up when I make a mistake.)

* Some of my YouTube videos feature Plover, and I want to record several more, but two of them -- the StenoKnight CART Demo and Steno Versus Qwerty -- were made with Eclipse, my proprietary steno software.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Ploverpad is now Ploverdemo

And it's gorgeous!

It now supports words of up to three strokes, has working punctuation and capitalization, allows stroke deletion with the asterisk key, and even has a nifty vertical steno notebar to record each of your strokes for posterity with a timestamp and everything. If you've ever had a question about how steno worked, or if you ever wanted to show someone else how completely mind-bendingly cool this technology is, all you have to do is open a web browser and pow! There it is, in living color. It's also a great tool for learning steno on your own, while we continue to work on getting Hover Plover off the ground. A million thanks to John for coding it. Now go, everyone! Spread the Ploverdemo link far and wide! Spawn vast flocks of Plover neophytes! Bring them home to 240 WPM country! This is gonna be awesome.