Saturday, December 29, 2012

Dictionary Converter!

I just got back from a trip to Missoula and Seattle yesterday, so I've got to apologize for not being on top of Plover stuff for the past few weeks, but I had to check in to let you guys know about something pretty exciting. I know a few professional stenographers and steno students have been following Plover for a while, but they haven't had the chance to get their feet wet with it, because until now there hasn't been a way to easily convert their own dictionaries from rtf/cre format (which is the universal format exported by commercial steno software) into json format (which is the format used by Plover). Thanks to Hesky, our amazing lead developer, the wait is over! Introducing...

The Plover Dictionary Converter!

I haven't even gotten a chance to test it yet (though that's at the top of my list of things to do now that I'm home again), but I wanted to let everyone know about it. It's currently accessed via the command line, though I hope that we'll be able to get a more user-friendly GUI version of it eventually, and hopefully even integrate it into Plover itself. If you try it and it gives you any hassle, feel free to lodge a bug report at the github; it'll help Hesky refine it and improve it for the future. This is really going to help in bringing Plover to the court reporting, captioning, CART, and student communities, and I'm pleased as punch.

Oh, and just one more thing. The Aviary (Plover's user forum) has been pretty quiet lately, both from regular users (which isn't too unusual, since it's a pretty small community at the moment) and from spammers (which is, since until recently we were getting nearly 100 spam messages and user sign-ups per day). Happily, the latest spam-trapping tools I've put in place have proven wonderfully effective, so I've been able to remove moderation from first-time posts. If that's been holding you back from signing up for the forum, it's your lucky day. Now you can join and post unmoderated to your heart's content. I reserve the right to reinstate first-post moderation if the spam gets bad again, but here's hoping we've got those spammers licked for good. If forum-style discussion isn't your thing, there's also always the Google Group, which tends to have more technically oriented discussions about the development of Plover and the future of steno learning, rather than the day-to-day, boots-on-the-ground conversation you tend to find at the Aviary. Feel free to join either or both!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Steno Typer - New Online Steno Trainer

Many people enjoy Thomas Thurman's steno practice page, which consist of 21 sentences using the 100 most common English words, but if you've like some more practice with single words (and you don't have Linux, so you can't use Pragma Nolint's fantastic Plover trainer Fly), give Steno Typer a try:



It was written by Kitlei Róbert, a computer science professor in Budapest. It draws on Plover's admittedly patchy dictionary for words, so if you see a steno translation that you don't like, feel free to skip it, or, if you prefer, download the source here and modify it to your heart's content. Eventually, I think I'll probably swap it out with the "canonical" list of words I made for Fly, which contain only steno strokes that make logical sense to people who know the theory, and don't include potentially confusing definitions like misstrokes and briefs that popped randomly out of my head without any mnemonic justification.

Oh, and I've posted about it to Twitter, but I haven't yet mentioned on this blog: Plover's going to PyCon!



My talk, Thought To Text at 240 WPM (an expansion of the one I originally gave at PyGotham in 2011) has been accepted at PyCon 2013, in Santa Clara, CA, this March. I'm really excited. So that I don't sound like a total poser, I've started going through the Python lessons at Codecademy. I'm right at the beginning, and still covering stuff I'm pretty familiar with (I've been sporadically trying to learn Python for over five years now, and each new false start leaves me with a little more knowledge than the last), but I'm hoping that by the time I reach the end of the course I'll be confident to move up to the next level, either by getting a Python tutor or by working through another self-study course. (I had fairly good luck with CodeLesson a while back, but had to quit partway through Python II due to time constraints). My brain doesn't seem to absorb this sort of thing very readily, but I'm not giving up, even if it takes another five years to figure out how to use @#&% classes.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Steno Alphabet Poster Corrected



This blog has been pretty quiet lately, but don't worry. I'll be able to start posting on a more regular basis pretty soon now. You also might have noticed that the Plover Wiki (I finally added that quickstart guide I promised!) and Aviary were down for a while recently, but fortunately they're now back online and will hopefully stay that way. The Google Group is still going as strong as ever. We're now up to 172 members! I'm hoping to add some useful pedagogical material both to this site and to the wiki over the next week or two, including an illustrated guide to sticking on the keytoppers you can buy in the Plover Store and the long, long-awaited fifth installment of Steno 101, which will be covering numbers, punctuation, and simple commands. For now, though, I leave you with a newly corrected version of the Steno Layout poster (previously the "C" was labeled "K", due to a mixup with the graphic designer), which you'll hopefully be able to purchase prints of via the Plover Store fairly soon, along with a straight-up alphabetical version, for those who prefer a quick reference without all the categorizations. Oh, and a very silly picture of me and the proprietor of Unusual Cards at Maker Faire, taken by my good friend (and open source philanthropist) Leonard Richardson. This is my current mobile steno rig, running Plover and writing into Vim. It's not the most graceful contraption you ever saw, but it got a lot of attention and I was able to hand out plenty of Plover stickers, which was pretty much what I was going for.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Guest Post! Amber's Advice to Plover Newbies

Amber's been a regular on the Google Group and the Aviary for quite a while now, and it's been fantastic to watch her autodidactical progress from total beginner to actually using steno in her daily life. She's exactly the sort of person I had in mind when I decided to get Plover off the ground. Check out her story!

My journey to Plover began a little more than a year ago when I realized that, regardless of how hard I practiced, I wasn't going to get any faster at typing. I researched other keyboard layouts and even read the very limited research that we have on typing. My search also led me to a bunch of wacky keyboards and letter arrangements that have come and go over the years as well as chorded keyboards. This ultimately led me to Plover.

I wasn't sold right away. Would it be worth it? There was really no way to tell. But the idea of writing syllable by syllable instead of letter by letter just made sense to me. Knowing that it takes most students years, if ever, to learn to write in real time, I set my goal as being able to write faster in Plover than I could in qwerty. A few months later...

Great news!

I'm now writing in Plover faster than I can in qwerty. That was my one and only goal. Everything else from here is a bonus. Considering that I've been touch typing for more than two decades but only using Plover for about six months, I'm frankly impressed with the efficiency of stenography. In other words, getting something out of Plover that's practical and will make a difference in your life doesn't require the speed or accuracy that would be necessary for court reporters, CART providers, or captioners. You don't have to go to school, and you don't have to take any tests.

To me, this is the most important thing that I can say about Plover. Just like most people who study touch typing don't do so with the intent of becoming transcriptionists, you don't need to write at 225 wpm or even know what the heck a 'jury charge' is to use Plover. Ultimately, I'm excited to write about this precisely because what I've accomplished means basically nothing in the world of stenography.

To them, it's totally meh. To me, it's exactly what I wanted.

How did I accomplish this non-lofty goal?

I'm an above average typist, and I studied piano for a couple of years when I was in college. So, I imagine this means I had a bit of a head start.

However, I think there are three main things that have allowed me to get to my goal:

1. I spend time on my dictionary. For me, the biggest draw to Plover was the ability to shape the dictionary however I wanted. I might be the only person in the entire world who uses PH-RB for 'remember'. And that's okay. Use whatever works for you.

2. I practice. Plovering is ultimately a physical activity. Like playing sports or making love, you get better by practicing. I'm no exception to this rule. Talent is a factor; time using Plover is a bigger one.

3. I modified my keyboard. I'm using a mechanical keyboard with all R4 keycaps. There was just no way that I could write 'g' on a standard keyboard. While the keys are still misaligned, I don't think this is much of an issue. All in all, I think what I have is pretty close to that of a student steno machine – for 1/10 of the price.

Getting to this point was the warm-up. Now the real journey begins. Over time, I'll get faster at the most common words, more comfortable with less common words, and learn more briefs.

If you're just getting started, remember that no one is going to go to jail or be medically misdiagnosed if you get something wrong. Just write, and don't get hung up on not being as good at Plover as you are at typing. If all you know is 'and', 'but', and 'the' – great! You're already way ahead of the vast majority of people on the planet; you won't believe how much ground those three words cover; and you can build from there.

But I feel your pain: the honors student in me wants a course book or guide or something – anything! – to make me feel like I'm 'doing this right'. I'm no expert, but my sense thus far is that stenography resources are very expensive and offer limited value. I'll never know for sure, but I don't think I'd arrived where I am any faster had I been systematically studying a particular theory. Regarding the growth of Plover, I think it's going to take some time. Although stenography is old, Plover itself is a new technology. So, right now there's a lot of knee-jerk rejection – even among the techno-savvy.

I hope one day Plover will become so common that people never even realize how revolutionary it actually is. However it turns out, I'm delighted to be here to watch it unfold.

Plover On!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Mac Port! Stentura Support! New Fly!

Fantastic news on the Plover front.

We have a new Windows release:

http://stenoknight.com/plover/plover.exe

This version fixes several issues and adds a new feature:
- Capitalization is now done properly by only changing the first character.
- Plover will now work fine if the program is killed abnormally (such as shutting down while plover is running).
- Plover now supports the stentura serial protocol. If you have a stenograph machine then you should be able to use it with plover now via the serial port (or serial to USB converter). Just choose "stentura" in the machine settings and in "advanced" choose the serial port. Hit save, and restart plover.

Once we get a rtf/cre -> json conversion script, that Stentura support will be even more useful, because it'll allow the many, many steno students and professionals with Stentura protocol machines to try Plover out with their own dictionaries. If anyone wants to volunteer to write a conversion script, more info is on the Github.

We also now have a Mac distribution:

http://stenoknight.com/plover/Plover.dmg

In addition to the usual install you will have to do this:
Open System Preferences, Open "Universal Access" and check the box next to "Enable access for assistive devices" If you do not do this then plover will just fail.

A million thanks to the amazing Hesky Fisher for his work on both of these!

And we also have a new version of Fly, a drill and keyboard layout teaching tool for Plover:

https://launchpad.net/flyploverfly

* Suspends translation when losing window focus, so that users can type using qwerty in other windows while running Fly
* Support for other steno machines, by using the same discovery method plover is using
* Docs updated to note xlib is needed if plover has not been installed
* Steno colour overlay option, where groups of keys such as HR are coloured according to the steno grid image, in this case cyan for L
* Returns random chord rather than easiest for uncategorized chords.
* Left shift key will toggle hint options on or off. Hint options can be set in config.py.
* Word:category dictionary now used so that misstrokes and briefs do not appear in lessons. In word mode, only canon strokes or uncategorized strokes will be presented.
* Any chord can be used that produces the correct translation, not just the one presented to the user.
* "Briefs" lesson added, that contains only briefs from word categorization dictionary.

It's still Linux-only, but we're hoping that a Windows port will happen eventually. Thanks to the superb Pragma Nolint for designing and programming Fly.

I just got back from a two-week trip, and I'm definitely hoping to post more Plover-related good news soon, but these are the three biggies, and I didn't want to wait any longer to share them with all you guys.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Steno Hero Alpha

I've got so many Plover updates to write, my head is spinning. I'll write all of them up in the next post. But this one deserves an announcement of its own:

Steno Hero Alpha Is Live!

You remember my original post on Hover Plover, outlining some possible ideas for arcade-style steno games, right? Well, at the PyGotham code sprint on Friday night, I mentioned to a couple of the guys there that I'd found a .lrc (timecoded lyrics) file for Jonathan Coulton's Still Alive, and I thought it might make for a start to the Steno Hero game I talked about way back when. Since it was just music, lyrics, and rhythm, it wouldn't need any fancy art, and I thought its scope was about the right size for a sprint. Well, they coded 'til midnight, then they went home and came back to PyGotham the next day, coded some more, and this is the result. I've managed to get through it with only two red bars, I think (different ones each time), but I'm going to keep practicing until I can get all green. Anyone want to try and beat me?

Anaximander, the guy who headed up the project, has continued to code on it, and he says he's just a few days away from a version that lets you upload your own .lrc and .mp3 files and then generates the game for you dynamically. I can't wait. I'd originally picked Still Alive (old meme classic that it is) because the .lrc file was readily downloadable, and I assumed that, like all Coulton songs, the audio was released under a Creative Commons license. According to Wikipedia, though, it turns out that the song is actually owned by Valve. Oops. Please don't sue us, Valve. But I've timecoded two other great Coulton songs using the LRC Generator, and as soon as the new version of Steno Hero is released, I'll upload 'em. Also seeking leads on other good Creative Commons-licensed/out-of-copyright music. Or hey, if you feel like writing an official Plover theme song, go for it!

So seriously, go give this thing a try. It's so cool. It doesn't keep score numerically yet, but if you can get all greens through the whole song, take a screencast of it and mail me the link; I'll post it here. If you think you can do it in qwerty, give it your best shot, though I'd be pretty surprised. (Maybe Sean Wrona can do it. Maybe.) It seems like quite a slow song when you listen to it, but there are some tricky quick bits in the middle. Many, many thanks to Anaximander and the other sprinters on Friday! We're still a ways off from getting the funding we need to get full-fledged 8-bit art and complex game dynamics, and logically Steno Hero should be the most advanced of all the minigames, since it requires pretty sophisticated steno skills to play, but all the same, I'm ridiculously excited by this. Hover Plover is on its way.

ETA: I should note that this game doesn't seem to work in Firefox. I'm not sure why. It works fine in Chrome. Haven't tried it in other browsers. Sorry, Firefox users!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Live from the Sprint

We're in the middle of the Plover sprint at PyGotham, and it's so much fun I might explode. At one point we had over a dozen people in here, eating free pizza and playing around on the dozen stenofied SideWinders I had scattered around the table. I made a one-page quickstart guide (which I'll post to the wiki sometime this weekend) and printed the newly redesigned steno alphabet chart (better quality one will be uploaded when I get the files from the designer), and four awesome diehard coders (plus the enduringly wonderful Hesky) are still here almost six hours later, chasing bugs and coding new features. It's amazing. I think I got at least one of them pretty hooked on steno (thanks in large part to tthurman's brilliant new browser-based steno word drill program). I don't know how many people are going to show up to the workshop tomorrow, but so far the amount of goodwill and enthusiasm for Plover has been staggering. I love captioning at tech conferences, and I love talking to tech people about steno. Plus PyGotham is on two boats (docked at a pier in lower Manhattan) this year, and the view is something else. I need to post a ton of links to cool stuff that Plover contributors have created over the past several weeks, but I'm going to wait 'til after the conference, so that I can include whatever comes out of this sprint. There is one new thing I want to link to tonight, though. This has been live for a couple days, but I've been so busy preparing for the weekend that I haven't had a chance to post about it. Check it out:

The Plover Store

The owner of In a Flash Laser set up a store for the acrylic steno keys! She graciously offered to drop ship key kits on demand, which is a big relief, since her shipping infrastructure is a lot better than mine. Because it's all done through her company, the key kits are currently the only item that we can sell, but at some point I might try to set up an alternate store for the new steno alphabet poster (though like I said, I'll be uploading a free jpg of it for people who want to print their own.) and maybe some wearable Plover swag of some sort. Each key kit order includes a $9 donation to the Hover Plover development fund. I'll try to post a high quality photo of key placement sometime early next, but it's honestly a pretty straightforward process, and it really makes the keyboard vastly more comfortable and accurate. I'm typing on a laser-keyed SideWinder right now, and it's smooth as yak butter cognac. The momentum is building. The technology is coalescing. The users are starting to appear from all directions. Plover is on the march.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Guest Post: Plover for Braille

Braille input using Plover – a new addition to Plover

About the author: Henry is a partially sighted journalist currently embarking into the world of stenography. Accessibility hobbyist and general word nerd!

Note: While the author is partially sighted, his primary medium of reading is a mix of large print and recorded audio, but he does know British Braille at grade two.

Braille – a system of raised dots to enable access to printed documents, diagrams and computers.

Personally, I liken Braille to stenography for a variety of reasons.

First of all, there are varieties of ways you can write it. For example, there are two levels, grade one and two. Grade one is limited to the alphabet, numbers and punctuation, compared to grade two, with shortforms, called contractions, that are similar to briefs in steno. There are contractions for word endings, like “–ing”, and for words such as “the”, “and”, and “with”. Braille is made up of six dots called a cell, and for example, ‘A’ would be the first top left dot.

Braille cell:





Secondly, Braille is expensive – there are very few learning materials and if you want to write in Braille, the cheapest option is to by a frame and stylus, which is punching dots into a sheet of paper, which is a slow and tedious process. If you need to write in Braille quicker, you could pay around £400 for a Brailler, which is identical to an old manual typewriter or even manual steno machine. If you wish to print Braille at high volume, you would need to fork out the enormous cost of around £4000.

After realising the potential for Plover being used for Braille input, I have decided that the way to do this is to create a dictionary for Plover that changes input from steno to Braille, so that Braille users, may that be a novice, experience user or someone using Braille, may experience the joys of Braille for fun without having to pay such high costs associated with it.

Another similarity between steno and Braille is that both are dying out. People are turning to computers with synthesised speech and using no Braille at all. While others do agree with “the technological revolution”, what would happen if a computer were to fail – what would the back up system be? Would there even be a back up system? After so much QWERTY input, Braille may need to be relied on, and if a user has been inputting in Braille, they are much more likely to remember it than if they have not used it for a long period of time.

As I am not versed in the many different Braille codes other than British English, I feel that other Braillists will certainly want to use musical, mathematical, scientific, chess, or foreign language notations, so if you can spare the time to help prepare dictionaries for Plover, I personally would be very thankful, and so would those who could save money and not use have to pay for expensive technology.

Plover could help keep another soon to be only a piece of history alive.

I would like to make it clear that I am not suggesting QWERTY and synthesised speech is worthless – it certainly is not, but I, like others, want Braille to be upgraded to the 21st century.

The rate of unemployment of blind and partially sighted people is much higher than those who are fully sighted, making it even harder to afford expensive technology – most people have access to a computer, so a simple download could help someone learn Braille, reinforce skills, try a new a hobby, or even help train the teachers of visually impaired students or Braille transcribers of tomorrow.

My next item on my list is to try to use the Braille dictionary and Plover with a dictionary together with a steno machine – steno machines have a very similar touch to Braillers such as the iconic Perkins Brailler, and according to Perkins, their Brailler is “the most widely-used Brailler in the world.” After that, I would like to create a guide to use Plover and Braille and Plover together to allow people who do not know Braille but wish to learn it the ability to do so.

The overall aim is not to get the text in tactile form -- it is to allow people to enter text into any application using either their preferred method of text entry, Braille, or to give people who are learning Braille, either people with a visual impairment or people learning to transcribe print to Braille, the ability to practice – even on Facebook or Twitter!

Plover for Braille will not result in an embossed Braille document, but it will allow anyone to access Braille without the expensive technology that is required. It is to allow you to access Braille -- it may be that it gives you, the user, experience in Braille in order to become Braille-literate, or to enable learning before or totally without the cost.

Thank you for reading this, and happy stenoing, and hopefully soon, we will be happily Brailling!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Warning: Lasers Are Awesome



The laser cut keys are here!



I spent Saturday peeling the sticky paper off of them and watching Downton Abbey. Last night I watched more Downton Abbey while sticking the keys onto one of my 10 SideWinders. Doesn't it look great? It works really well, too. In honor of the occasion, I entered a bunch of html formatting strokes into my dictionary, and I've written 100% of this blog post using it. I've got enough keys for 20 sets, though five of those are already spoken for, and 10 will be set aside for my PyGotham Plover workshop on June 8th. I'm really excited about that.

So the next week or so will involve lots of opening SideWinder boxes, peeling foam backing, and sticking on keys. I'm wondering whether I should commission some sticker sheets for the keys from InAFlashLaser, but I'm not sure. On the one hand, I feel like sticking on colored labels for each letter on the keyboard would give beginners a leg up in trying to figure out steno in three hours. On the other hand, I worry that it would make combining those letters into chords more confusing. I know that my steno teachers at school were adamant about never labeling steno machine keys, but they were wrong about so many things, it's hard to tell how much credibility to give them in this case. It might be overkill, because I've hired a freelance graphic designer to remake my functional but butt-ugly steno alphabet chart into a more elegant and aesthetically consistent form, and I'm hoping to have at least one poster to put up in the front of the room while I give the workshop. But maybe stickers plus poster are the killer combination? It's really hard to say.

After the workshop, I'm going to try to put some sort of Plover store up. We'll sell the key sets, SideWinders with keytoppers already stuck on, the steno alphabet poster, the alphabet stickers if I wind up deciding to make them, and possibly some other random merch-type swag such as coffee cups or hats or T-shirts or something. Not sure about those. Is there demand for such a thing? Any ideas you guys might have in that department is very welcome. All proceeds, of course, will go to funding store inventory and paying programmers for Plover development. This is really slick. The keys offer a huge improvement in haptic feedback, and increase my comfort, accuracy, and speed on the SideWinder by a huge extent. I think you guys are going to love 'em.

Oh, in case you're interested, here are my new entries for easy html formatting in steno:

"A/HREF": "<a href=\"{^}",
"HAOEPT": "http://{^}",
"PWRABG": "<{^}",
"PWRA*BG": "{^}>",
"EUPBG/SR-S": "<img src=\"{^}",
"PWR": "<br>",
"KHR-BG": "{#Control_L(c)}",
"KHR*F": "{#Control_L(v)}",

Monday, May 14, 2012

Plover Pedagogy!

Several exciting things to report.

First off, I spent a marvelous afternoon with longtime Plover supporter Mel Chua (who wrote the opensource.com article that grew our community exponentially) at the end of April, and we worked out some ways to attack steno pedagogy for Plover users. She wrote a great article on what we came up with for her blog, so I'm just gonna point you there:

Network of steno concepts, interlocked with single lines for weak connections and double lines for strong connections. Starting from top and going counterclockwise: Alphabet, keyboard layout, there are phonemes, reading steno, phonemes to chords, exceptions, core dictionary, customizing dictionary, error correction. Keyboard layout, the connection between there are phonemes and phonemes to chords, and the connection between exceptions and customizing dictionary are highlighted in orange.

Applying Pedagogical Skillz to FOSS Projects: Plover Case Study


Second, I've found an even better solution to the stenification of a Sidewinder: Lasers!

I've got Mel to thank for this too; when I explained that the epoxy casting process was a little tedious because of the 24-hour curing time, she asked me if I'd looked into laser cutting. I knew about laser cutting because it's used all the time in one of the graduate design programs I CART for, but I'd mostly seen them use it on cardboard, paper, and rubber stamps; I didn't know that it was practical to use on hard plastic. But I contacted Sara Gould from In a Flash Laser (who I've known on Twitter for years; she's a CI-wearing musician, engineer, and all-around fascinating person), and she sent me a handful of laser-cut steno keys to see if they were what I was looking for. Turns out they were actually way better. They were more rigid than the epoxy, so I didn't have to worry about them accidentally bending on me, they didn't have the slightly annoying beveling, and I was able to make them a bit smaller than the molded keys, which meant I only had to affix them to the Sidewinder with one square of mounting foam instead of two. Triple bonus! Plus they're very affordable, and having them made by a professional laser-cutting company instead of me in my off time means we can always have a decent quantity in stock. I immediately sent off for 20 sets, and as soon as they arrive, I'll start assembling them. I'm only planning on having 10 assembled Sidewinders onsite at the PyGotham Plover Workshop, so I'll have 10 more sets to sell or give away to Plover code contributors.

Speaking of PyGotham and code contribution... The last exciting thing:

There's going to be a coding sprint on Plover from 6 pm to midnight on June 8th, hosted by PyGotham and several of its sponsors! There'll be free food and drinks, live music, some awesome-weird electronic art, and our own Hesky there to help with the coding. I'll be there to weigh in on the steno side, of course, and Josh might even be able to attend via IRC for at least part of the night. It's gonna be amazing.

So between now and then I'll be cleaning up the Launchpad page, adding, editing, and documenting bugs and blueprints. I've been using Plover exclusively for my transcription work over the past several weeks, so I've been able to keep a running log of stuff that still needs to be improved on as I transcribe. I even made a single stroke command for it:

"KW-RPB": "{#Escape}:split plovernotes.txt{#Return}",

When I'm in Vim, all I have to do is write KW-RPB, and my plovernotes file will come up on the top half of the screen. Then I write the mistranslated word or iteration of a particular bug, write ZZ (STKPW*P/STKPW*P), the window closes, and I'm back in my transcription file without ever lifting my hands from the keyboard. It's fabulous. So I've been building up a fine raft of bugs to squash during the coding sprint. Spread the word!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Where does the money go?

In the comments on the StenoKnight blog post I mentioned in the previous article, Stan asked:

"Btw, if I were to start donating money to the project, where would it go? Like does it pay programmers? For more Majestouches and Sidewinders? Epoxy? Lol."

I replied:

"As of right now, Plover's raised $4,762. I've contributed $4,000, and 15 generous donors have contributed the $762. All of that money except $100 (which we received yesterday) has so far gone to Josh Lifton, Plover's first programmer, to try to reimburse him in some small degree for the enormous number of programming hours he's donated over the past two years. Hesky made the most recent code contribution, so I offered him yesterday's $100 donation, but he said he was happy to keep contributing code for free, and told me to keep the $100. I'll be using it to buy epoxy and foam mounting squares to stenoize the Sidewinders I'll be buying (most likely out of pocket) for the PyGotham steno class. I'll probably offer the Sidewinders for sale after the class to any students who feel like pursuing steno further, and any money I make from that will go back into the general fund, either to pay for programming or to build up a starter inventory of epoxy key kits to sell, which might go some way toward making Plover somewhat self-sustaining."

I figured it was a fair question to ask, and I just wanted to put the answer out there in a more prominent place, in case other people were interested. More information on how to contribute money, code, or other resources can be found on our Donation Page.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Video: Plover versus $4,000 Software

Just wanted to mirror the video I posted last night over on my StenoKnight CART Blog, in an entry called CART Problem Solving: Lag.



The top frame is Plover, of course, writing into Vim. The middle frame is my $4,000 proprietary software, Eclipse, and the bottom frame is pretty much Eclipse's only concession to my profession -- it's almost exclusively focused on the needs of court reporters rather than CART providers or captioners -- a utility called the "CART Window". It eliminates the horrible syntax markup you see in the Eclipse window itself, but as you can see the trade-off for that is a 1.5-second delay between when a stroke -- including a command stroke like "Enter" or "arrow key right" -- is written and when it appears on the screen. It's incredibly annoying. I'm not singling out Eclipse for ridicule, incidentally. It's the best of the proprietary crop by a fair margin. All the other software on the market is based on this timed buffer principle. Plover is the only steno software I know of that actually delivers instant text to the screen without the tiresome intermediary of a timed buffer. The importance of this is hard to articulate to people who don't know how long 1.5 seconds can feel when they're waiting for a computer to respond to their commands or when they're relying on the text to appear before they can pick up the thread of the conversation. This is one of my all-time favorite features of Plover, but it's hard to explain the difference to people who haven't had to work with a program like Eclipse. I hope this video makes it a bit clearer.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Plover for Windows is Updated!

Fantastic news!

Hesky has updated the Windows Port of Plover. It now support commands such as Escape, Backspace, Return, et cetera. This makes it much more useful to use as a replacement key entry system. I'm planning to use it as a monitoring system when I can't see my client's screen. For instance, I have a class tonight where the student likes to sit several feet away from me at a seminar table, while I sit near the back wall. Up until now, I've had to crane my neck and squint my eyes to read the words I was writing over her shoulder. My proprietary steno machine has dual outputs, which means that it can send the same steno signal to two separate Bluetooth recipients, but my commercial steno software won't allow me to run it on two computers at the same time, so even though I always carry both my laptop and my tablet PC with me, the other computer has been basically useless to me in this situation, unless I wanted to set up a StreamText job for myself, which would cost me $6 per hour. Last week I tried using the Windows version of Plover as a monitor to cut down on the eye strain, but because commands weren't yet implemented, Plover had to be restarted every time I sent a "new paragraph" command. Restarting Plover isn't that hard; you just click the red P on the task bar twice. But it was still kind of inconvenient. Now I'll be able to monitor output on my laptop while my client views the same output on my tablet, which is going to be really nice. I know that everyone using Plover for Windows applications will really enjoy this update too. This version is based off of the penultimate Linux version, so it still doesn't have correct number handling or any of the nice added features from Josh's last version (like the on/off toggle hotkey). Hesky's hoping to get to those in a week or two. This is still a really big improvement, though. Check it out!

http://stenoknight.com/plover/plover.exe

By the way, I wrote this entire blog post in Plover on the SideWinder pictured in the previous post, with the epoxy keys. It's really amazingly smooth and comfortable, and both my speed and accuracy are drastically improved over the non-altered SideWinder. I'm very pleased. I'll be ordering more SideWinders and making more epoxy keys over the next few weeks, and hopefully I'll have built up a decent-sized stable of them by the time PyGotham arrives, so that we'll be able to accommodate anyone who wants to learn steno hands-on.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Epoxy Keytopper Update



As you can see, I've been iterating the epoxy keytopper experiment, and I'm quite pleased with the progress we've had so far. I got some opaque resin dye to make the keys a bit more attractive. They're sort of a smoky gray color in this batch; I think I'll use more dye in the next batch to see if I can make them truly black. This batch of keys is also thicker and stiffer for some reason, whether because I didn't use enough hardener in my first batch (I sort of approximated the one-to-one ratio) or because I made sure to fill the wells all the way up to the top. I think it's an improvement, because while the keys are harder to cut down to size using scissors, they also don't flex and buckle the way the first batch did, making the overall feel a much more secure one. Because I didn't cut the keys down, though, I had to lift them up so their overlapping edges didn't accidentally press the keys in the row beneath them. I bought a couple of packets of foam mounting squares (usually used for scrapbooking) and stuck 'em on, two squares per key. It works fairly well, though as you can see my rows are not quite even, and there's precious little wiggle room between certain of the keys. I'll definitely have to come up with a more consistent method of sticking these things on. It's still too haphazard and time-consuming. Plus the adhesive on the mounting squares is definitely too weak to stand up to repeated off-center pressure from pressing on these keys. I think to be truly effective we'll probably have to put a small glob of superglue between each of the four layers. I think the company that was supposedly selling the silicone Sidewinder skin ripped me off; they charged my Paypal account, but I haven't seen any sign of the skin, and they're not answering my emails. ETA: They emailed me a day after I posted this, saying the skin was on back order. So hopefully it'll arrive eventually. Oh well. As you can see from the picture, I had to take the space bar off the machine because otherwise the vowel keys would hit it when they were pressed. (That unearthly red glow is made by the LED backlighting of the Sidewinder. I think I might cover the gap where the space bar used to be with black gaffer's tape, just 'cause it's a little creepy-looking.) So I think this method is going to require permanent conversion of Sidewinder into steno machine, which makes me less reluctant to use superglue. I'm happy to report that the feel is already drastically better -- the full-sized, uncut keys are much easier to work with, and the foam gives them a bit of a lift that's also pretty comfortable. I wrote a paragraph or two with Plover on this keyboard and it was drastically better than the first prototype I posted, which itself was quite a bit better than the undoctored keyboard. So I'm hopeful that this will be a good starter machine for the stenocurious at PyGotham, and if I can work out a reliable templating system (any ideas on that are very welcome!) in terms of how to position the keys easily and consistently, I think this would make a nice little kit that we could sell at a modest profit to benefit the Plover Project. The only real bottleneck is the 24-hour curing window between batches, since I still only have the one mold, but that's really not so bad. I think I'm on the right track.

Guest Post: Getting Started with Steno

This is an article written by Mau Bustamante, a steno autodidact who showed up on the Aviary a few months ago, to my great delight. He posted this over there a while ago, but I've been swamped, so I'm just now mirroring it here. It's really cool to see that the expensive steno school paradigm is not the only effective one out there. I knew that already when Stan Sakai picked up Plover on a whim, taught himself theory from a book, and and wound up eventually buying commercial steno software and hardware and becoming a professional CART provider. He's promised to write me a recap post on his learning experience too, but in the mean time, I'm really happy that we've got Mau's account, because he's much more the sort of audience Plover is aiming at. He doesn't intend to make steno his career, but he's happily using it in his daily work and recreational life, which makes me ridiculously excited. It's so cool seeing that it's already useful technology, even though Plover's still got a way to go (I'm still trying to get someone to finish up the Windows port, and I've got to do some tasks for Fly in order for Pragma to be able to finish the next version. Still no word on the dictionary conversion script. Josh says he's going to be working on the just-in-time dictionary entry feature soon, but he's got to get a break from his day job first. Open source development is like a glacier: Slow but relentless, and eventually unstoppable.) So enjoy Mau's post! If you've got any comments or questions, feel free to ask them here and I'll forward them along, or head over to the Aviary and ask him directly!

Getting started with steno - my experience
Mau Bustamante

Intro

I took up the Dvorak keyboard some five or six years ago and find it to be much more comfortable and enjoyable to use, though not necessarily any faster. Around the time I started reading about alternative keyboard layouts, I found out about the machines that court stenographers use to transcribe proceedings. However, the high cost of the hardware required to use this technology and the inability to type directly to the computer meant that it was out of the question for me. Some years later, I discovered Plover and tried out the in-browser demo.

Having the opportunity to try out this method of entry with a total investment of a nice gaming keyboard meant an immediate download and a new obsession.

The following narrative summarizes my learning process/approach to stenography right from day 1. It is provided for informative purposes; it is not the official method, or even a good method necessarily, and therefore it is not guaranteed to work for anyone. Read at your own risk.

The beginning

After reading some of the most recent Plover blog posts [1], I jumped straight into the learning phase. My initial approach was the same as what I used to learn Dvorak. I studied the key layout to understand how my hands are supposed to hit the keys. Keeping a picture of the lay out open in another window or writing it down for reference helps a lot to learn the location of the letters [2]. I typed the whole alphabet a few times before moving on [3]. The phonetic makeup of the chording system did take a little to get used to, but once you can wrap your head around this element, the rest kinda falls into place a lot faster.

I read all of the tutorials available [4]. The next step was to try out all the sample sentences and words that I could find. There are common sentences listed on the aviary and the wiki [5]. I tried to make mental notes on how the briefs are put together - most of them have some phonetic logic that is easy to remember...some of them don't at all, but that's just something that you have to deal with and since English is stupid like that too, I didn't mind all that much.

While I began to learn to put together the sounds, I took note of the fact that some keys used on their own represent endings such as "s" or "ing" - this is very useful because it is often possible to attach those endings at the same time as the rest of the word. I spent considerable time trying out all the endings [6]. In the same way that I learned the layout, I'd keep a notepad window open for typing on one side of the screen and the endings list on the other for ease of reference.

Intermission

I'd like to mention here that learning steno is not something that I restricted to my time on the computer. Learning steno is a day-long exercise... From time to time, I'll catch myself wondering how I can type a certain word or I'll try to follow along with the radio or television by tapping on a desk or something. It gets into your head kinda like the falling Tetris blocks that stay on your mind when you're trying to sleep after playing for two hours.

The continuation

Letters and sample sentences are all good and nice, but after a while, I felt like I should be typing other words that are not part of the lists. I faced three options: I could finger-spell everything, I could spell words phonetically, or I could learn the briefs.

I quickly found out that finger-spelling everything takes just about forever. Speed-wise, stroke for stroke, briefs are the clear winner, but I noticed that it takes a lot of time and mental effort to learn them well enough to recall with any sort of reliability.

With this in mind, I decided to work mostly on getting the hang of producing the individual sounds to build the words from their parts. Briefs moved to the bottom of my priority list. At this stage, I was beginning to get really excited about my progress. Speed was not very good, but it was satisfying to be able to guess how to type the words just by figuring out the component sounds. For those trickier words, I had to dig through the dictionary to find the right way of typing it. Knowing no good way to navigate the dictionary, I decided to harness the power of Microsoft Excel [Appendix A]. This worked out very well because I was able to type an entire sentence at once instead of having to look for the words individually. I've found that there are numerous entries in the default dictionary that are a result of stacking errors or misspellings so be careful about what definition you decide to adopt. Unfortunately, I don't have the experience to identify the best definitions to use with any real confidence. I just stick to one that makes sense in my mind and is comfortable to type. Making sense of the definitions you use is key to being able to recall them quickly. When I switched to Ubuntu, I started to use the grep command on the dictionary file, which meant going back to finding individual words. [Appendix B]

Next steps (wingflaps?)

At this point, I'm fairly satisfied with my progress. I'm able to do most of the operations that I normally do on the computer with Plover, but there are still some rough edges and aspects of it that keep me from switching completely. For instance, it would be great if the number pad or the numbers above the letters were usable. This way, I could use Excel without having to turn Plover off simply because steno in my opinion is just not suited for entering calculations such as 13557/4132*(546-45) efficiently.

[1] http://plover.stenoknight.com/
[2]http://stenoknight.com/plover/qwertytosteno.png
[3]http://stenoknight.com/stengrid.png
[4]http://plover.stenoknight.com/2010/06/steno-101-how-to-do-it.html
[5]http://stenoknight.com/wiki/Practice_Sentences_with_Common_English_Words
[6]http://stenoknight.com/wiki/Plover_Cheat_Sheet


The appendices are available here
http://www.eng.uwaterloo.ca/~mbustama/apps.doc
And my lookup file
http://www.eng.uwaterloo.ca/~mbustama/lookup.xlsx

Monday, March 26, 2012

Towards the Affordable Steno Machine

There's been a bit of a lull in the Plover Project lately. Sadly the person who was finishing the Windows Port had to back out because her new company is getting off the ground, and Josh has mapped out the basics of the just-in-time dictionary entry feature, but he's too busy with his day job to implement it just yet. I've been paying the bills with lots of CART work, but that's meant that I've been neglecting the audio version of Steno 101 (not to mention new chapters of it), canonical categorization of the Fly dictionary, and all the other tasks assigned to me. We're also waiting on several people who have pledged to take a crack at an automated rtf-to-json dictionary converter script, but nothing from any of them yet. And we haven't heard anything from the grant we applied for, but at this point it's looking relatively likely that we might not have gotten it, which is too bad. So in a way we're in the Plover doldrums at the moment. But in another way, I'm pretty hopeful. I've been invited to give a half-day lecture and workshop on Plover and steno at PyGotham this year. Last year I gave a 35-minute overview on all the things steno could do and how far along Plover was in helping people to do them, but this year I'm going to go into a bit more depth, focusing more on accessibility and coding in the brief lecture part of the program, and then spending the rest of the time helping people learn the basics of steno on their own computers.

In order to do that, we're going to need a steno machine for each person attending the workshop, and since it's just a taste of steno, we have to make it as low-commitment as possible to hook in as many people as might be even vaguely interested. It's looking promising that we won't have to charge an extra fee for participants, which means that either the conference or I or both of us together will have to pick up the cost of the steno machines. If we were to buy 10 new Stentura Proteges, the standard entry-level student steno machine, at sticker price, we'd have to shell out a cool $17,450. That's just not gonna happen, nor should it. We're not roping these people into a lifetime commitment to stenography as a profession. We're showing them the cool things it can do and encouraging them to fit it into their life as a hobby or as an ergonomic tool in their daily work life. Clearly we've got to get that $1,745 price tag way, way, way down. From its inception, Plover has been designed to work with any qwerty keyboard that offers n-key rollover. But the staggered columns and square keys of the typical qwerty layout are tricky to adapt to the parallel columns and vertical keys of the steno layout, especially for beginners. I can write steno on an undoctored qwerty keyboard fairly easily, though I do have to sacrifice a certain amount of speed and accuracy. But I've heard a lot of would-be Plover users tell me that it's just too tricky to wrap their minds around being able to press, for instance, the "W" key and the "S" key with the same finger at the same time. It feels alien to them. Initially I tried to solve the problem with the application of leather keypads designed for steno machines, but while they helped hint at the proper alignment, they didn't have enough stiffness to really compensate for the staggered nature of the qwerty layout.

Back in 2010 I posted an entry about Abigail's brilliant stenohack. She had an old junker manual steno machine that she'd gotten for cheap, and she scavenged it for its keys, then affixed them to her sidewinder with mounting foam. It worked well for her, but it wasn't easily replicable, because old steno machines can be hard to come by, and individual steno keys sell for $7 apiece (a minimum of $154 for a complete set!) online.

So I think I've finally found a low-cost kludge that could hopefully make a big, big difference. You remember last month when I bought the iStenopad overlay, to use with the free-as-in-beer steno software that's available for the iPad? It didn't work well at all. The silicone cells were too thin and too mushy to offer anything in the way of haptic feedback, and my fingers kept sliding around all over the place, making for dismal accuracy and a very frustrating experience. But I'd spent $45 on that thing, plus $10 shipping, and it irked me that it had just been a big waste of money. So after staring at it for a few weeks, an idea occurred to me -- since it's not useful as an overlay, could it be turned into a mold?


Mann Ease Release lubricant, EasyCast clear casting epoxy, drinking straws for pipetting, plastic cups for mixing, plastic swizzle sticks for stirring, and the iStenopad overlay-cum-mold

I bought some epoxy resin casting materials and some silicone mold lubricant at an art store and gave it a try.


The keys, freshly cast in the mold (left) and after being freed from the mold (right)

It was actually really easy. Five minutes to let the lubricant settle, five more for the mixing and pipetting process, 24 hours to cure, and bingo! A full set of lovely epoxy steno keys, at pennies a set; for $25, I got enough EasyCast to make 20 or 30 sets, with resin to spare.


The keys wound up being a little too long to fit easily on the machine, so I had to cut them down with scissors, which fortunately was pretty easy to do.

Here's what they look like on my Filco Majestouch Tenkeyless. Originally I tried sticking them on with heavy-duty mounting foam, but they all came off way too easily, so I got some U-Glu at the drugstore, which seems to be working a lot better. It also comes in pre-cut little squares, which makes the sticking-on process a lot less tedious. So how does the altered keyboard feel? I have to say it's not half bad. I transcribed about 20 minutes of audio using it on the train home, and there was a definite improvement of comfort and accuracy over the keyboard without the keytoppers. It was really nice to have the columns lined up properly, and I found myself making fewer misstrokes due to inadvertently dropping keys. It's still not as smooth or easy as on my $4,000 Infinity Ergonomic, of course, but it's really not half bad. One thing I'd like to do is to build up the lower row a bit so that it's at the same depth as the upper row, but I'm not really sure what I can use that's both of a consistent thickness and reliably sticky. The U-Glu has been pretty tenacious so far; no lost keys after a day of banging around in my backpack. It's far from attractive, but I'm hoping to find some black pigment to mix into the next few batches, so that I won't have to look through the key toppers and smudgy glue squares to the distorted qwerty key labels beneath.

Majestouches retail at around $120, though, so that's still not quite affordable for the workshop. I'm hoping to give everyone Microsoft Sidewinder X4s, which can be purchased for around $45 a pop. On the Majestouch, I stuck the keys on fairly haphazardly. You can see that they're uneven shapes and not quite lined up. It's tricky to get them close enough together so that there's not much of a gap between rows, but not so close together that they overlap and interfere with the separate action of each key. It was also the most tedious part of the process, and took much more time and energy than the actual casting of the keys. Ideally, I'd like to be able to sell these keys as a kit, including a printable paper template that can be used to help with cutting and positioning each key in a quick, foolproof way. I know that a lot of Plover users also like alternating between steno and qwerty, so just supergluing the steno keys to the keyboard would cut out half of the keyboard's functionality for them.



I figured a good solution both to the key positioning issue and to the reversability issue would be to glue the keys to a silicone keyboard skin rather than directly to the keyboard. I've ordered a skin that claims to be compatible with the Sidewinder X4. It hasn't arrived yet, so I don't know yet whether it'll actually fit. As you can see, the Sidewinder is a rather different size and shape from the Majestouch, so it'll definitely require more fiddling and tweaking to get the keys into position. Once that's done, though, I'm hoping to carefully record all the specs, make up a template, and then repeat the whole process about a dozen times over (hopefully streamlining it along the way) so that we'll have a nice stable of reversibly Stenofied Sidewinders available for the workshop. I'll update the blog with my progress once the skin arrives and I get the template design drawn up.

Wish me luck!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Interactive Demo on StenoKnight Page

Regulars to the Plover Blog and Wiki might not care, but I've put an interactive demo page on my StenoKnight CART Services business website. I used it to explain how steno works in my recent Presentation for That Keith Wann Show, and I figured I might as well keep it up there for whoever might want to use it or link to it. It's basically the Plover Demo embedded in a page with some additional instructional information for people who've never encountered steno before.

Oh, and I've also added a link to the Plover Aviary on the sidebar of this blog. The Aviary has been very quiet since its inception in December, but I'm still hoping that eventually we'll build up a critical mass of steno newbies who want to talk about their learning process. Unfortunately, the board's been getting a ridiculous amount of spam -- about 20 spam posts and almost 100 spam members added per day. I've had to put all posts by new users on moderation, and I delete all new users with zero posts en masse every day or two, but if you want to join (and you're not a spammer), just write one introductory post, and as soon as it goes through I'll take you off the new users list, so that you can post unmoderated to your heart's content from that point on. Otherwise you might be in danger of getting deleted in one of my zero post pruning sessions. If you really want to lurk on the boards and don't want to post anything, just email me -- plover@ploversteno.org -- and I'll put you on the whitelist manually. As I said, the Aviary is pretty much idle these days, but as Hover Plover gets going (still no word on the grant, but once we have a conclusive yes or no we can plan our next steps) I'm hoping the place will pick up a bit.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Status of Current Tasks Page

I don't know how many of the people volunteering to work on the Plover Project read this blog but not the Google Group (our semi-official dev discussion group), but just in case there are a few, I'm posting this here as well as there. I just made a new page on the Plover Wiki, listing all the tasks that are currently in development (as well as the first names of the people who offered to make them happen), as well as some of the higher priority tasks from the Launchpad page that don't currently have any volunteers assigned. I hope it'll help us all keep track of each other a little better, now that Plover has expanded into this awesomely multivarious community-developed creature. If you're listed as someone assigned to a task, feel free to update the page with your current status, or if you want some help with your task, or to be unassigned to it, go ahead and note it down as well. And, of course, if you've never volunteered to help with the project but this list makes you want to, please go right ahead! We can always use more awesome coders, testers, hackers, and users at every level of expertise.

http://stenoknight.com/wiki/Status_of_current_tasks

Infinite thanks to everyone who's done such incredible work with the project, especially Pragma, Hesky, John, Jay, Gloria, and of course Plover's Primordial Demiurge, Josh. You guys are freaking amazing.

Monday, February 6, 2012

iStenopad Overlay: A Bust

Ever since iStenopad joined Plover in the free as in beer (though not as in speech) steno software ranks, I've been wanting to try it. Not because I really contemplated buying an iPad to use it with myself, but because I loved the idea of a simple overlay that could turn a touchscreen into a steno machine, and I was hoping that if it was really plausible, we could port Plover to Android and open up steno to a whole new sector of tablet owners. Sadly, it's too good to be true. It took me until now to try the app because the demo iPads you see at most electronics stores don't allow downloads from the App Store. But the computer store at the university I'm working for this semester had some unlocked iPads connected to WiFi, so I was finally able to download the app and give it a try. First I tried without the overlay. It wasn't promising. The lack of haptic feedback meant that even when I looked at my fingers, they'd tend to drift around and hit the wrong keys while missing the right ones. It was very slow, very inaccurate, and very frustrating. So I sent off for the silicone overlay ($45 plus $10 shipping), hoping that would give me enough haptic feedback to stay aligned with the keys. This morning I brought it to the computer store and spent about an hour trying to write on the iPad, with pretty dismal results. Not only were the keys still too mushy to keep my fingers from drifting off their marks, but the overlay itself kept sliding all over the place, and I wasn't able to get it to stick no matter how much I smoothed it down. I didn't try actually taping it to the iPad (since it wasn't my iPad), but even if I had, I'm not sure it would have mattered much. Unfortunately I think the keys are too close together to allow the necessary margin of error you need when dealing with such a small amount of physical feedback. If the keys had been firmer and more direct, I think I would have been able to hit my targets better, and I would have been able to tell by touch when the keys were registering and when they weren't. As it is, the only way I was able to tell which keys had been hit was by reading the display; I couldn't feel the difference between a hit or a miss based on feedback from the overlay. This is discouraging, because it makes me think that getting Plover to a mobile app won't be as simple as I had hoped. There are two things that might help to solve the problem, though. One would be using a tablet with a bigger footprint than the iPad, which would allow more separation between the keys and more margin for error. That's not completely ideal, though, because the bigger a tablet is, the less convenient it is to schlep around. Another option would be to wait until tablets with built-in locational haptics came on the market; if they buzzed just in the area underneath your finger, you wouldn't need the overlay to know where you're supposed to be pressing, or if a key has registered. A third option would be to use one's own body for haptic feedback. I experimented with wrapping the silicone overlay around my thigh and trying to write in steno without looking at the keys. It was far more successful; my brain's locational map of my leg kept my fingers from drifting around the way they did when they were touching an inanimate surface. If we could get some kind of flexible multitouch sensors going, a silicone overlay might do very nicely. But flexible multitouch panels are still pretty rare and expensive. Still, one day I'm hoping they'll be the answer to my mobile steno daydreams. In summary, the iStenopad is not anywhere close to a workable solution, and I'm kind of shocked that they're apparently selling expensive subscriptions to stenographers who want to use their iPads with their commercial steno software. I've heard from a lot of professional stenographers who tried iStenopad and then discarded it as too inaccurate and unwieldy, but I haven't heard of anyone who actually likes it enough to pay for the subscription. If you know of any, send them my way; I'd like to ask them some questions. Maybe I'm missing something. More likely, though, I think the promise of touchscreen steno has eclipsed the reality. I hope that won't always be the case, but for now it's back to the drawing board.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

#a11y unlock

Plover Blog Accessibility: Partially Upgraded.

As Plover's been getting more and more users, we've gotten a number of people wanting to learn steno who are either blind or have low vision, and who requested an audio version of the Steno 101 series. I'm happy to say I've completed the first two lessons this weekend, and I'm going to try to get the rest of them done as soon as I can, with audio versions accompanying each new Steno 101 installment as it's released. (I know I've been promising a new installment for a really long time now, and it's all mapped out and just ready to be written up; I'm just waiting for the Plover Windows Port to be finished so that all Plover users are on the same page when trying out the new features, like command strokes and numbers. Work on that is proceeding, and I'm hoping it'll be done by the end of this week, fingers crossed.)

So here are the first two installments again, now audio described by yours truly:

Steno 101: How to Do It
Steno 101: Lesson Zero

I looked around to see whether there were any accessible embedded audio players, but didn't find anything on a cursory search, so I just linked each heading to an mp3 file; you can open them in a new tab and most browsers should play them automatically. I'm very new at this, so please let me know if I need to revise any of the files, and I'll do my best to re-record them as necessary. At the end of the project, I intend to put them all into a zip file and host them on the StenoKnight servers, so people can download them as a Steno 101 audiobook if they want to learn steno on the fly. Many thanks to our blind and low vision users for giving me the spur I needed to start on this project. Enjoy the first two lessons! More coming soon.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Analytics

Graph of visits for all pages hosted on http://stenoknight.com since November, 2009 (when I started using Analytics) until today:



I just thought it was awesome and hilarious. I love the internet so much.

New Donation Page

Wow, it's been an exciting couple of days. We've already collected $200 in Plover donations, and after receiving feedback from one donor, I've made a dedicated donation page for Plover, detailing exactly where the money goes. (Right now it all goes to help our devs write code for Plover without taking too much of a financial hit when they take time away from their day jobs or freelance work; later we might use some of it as seed money to start fabricating Plover hardware, like qwerty-to-steno keyboard overlays or low-cost USB steno keyboards that plug into a computer and immediately start outputting English when they receive steno input. I've never taken any money for Plover, and I don't intend to start. My own venal reason for founding the project was to bring more people into my profession so it doesn't collapse due to the ever-increasing shortage of stenographers. If I can help raise up the next generation of captioners, transcriptionists, and steno amateurs, I'll feel more than repaid for the money I've spent getting Plover developed.) Ever since landing on Hacker News, the interest in Plover has spiked dramatically, which is glorious. Later today I'm going to try to make an entry on our wiki detailing all the various jobs that we need help with and the current state of who's working on what. Thanks for all the email and offers of support I've gotten so far! It's so inexpressibly wonderful to see this tiny little two-person project explode into a complex and multivarious international community.

Friday, January 13, 2012

OpenSource.com Article on Plover

Longtime Plover ally Mel Chua has just written a fantastic article on OpenSource.com about Plover! Go check it out. If any of you have come to this blog via the article, welcome! Try out the demo on your qwerty keyboard, check out the Launchpad page, or join the Google group or the Aviary to talk with Plover users and devs about open source steno and the next steps for the Plover Project.