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!