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!


Soo Doe Nimh said...

I have found the StenEd materials useful, but I had to obtain a proprietary-format StenEd dictionary from cheapandsleazy.net and run some heavy Vim edits on to put in into .json form.

( e.g., ommands like g/: "[^{]*\^/s/: "\(.\+|)"$/: "{\1}"/c )

So I have a .json dictionary which is nearly canonical StenEd, with a few things like some esoteric punctuation and formatting strokes missing. If there are no copyright issues, I'll make it available to anyone who wants a .json StenEd dictionary.

Yes, the StenEd materials are expensive, but make some things, like the rules for resolving soundalikes, the peculiarities of the shortcuts for final consonant clusters, and the use of things like -FZ and -RP for "has" and "were", more clear than reverse-engineering the dictionary included with Plover.

Have not tmatched my typing speed yet, because my typing speed runs about 100 WPM, and some multisyllablic words are giving me fits.

TOrTOISE said...

Hi Amber! Nice post.
I'm learning Plover for pretty much the same reasons. I'm very tired of QWERTY. I also want to write a book & be an author because it's really my thing. I already have Gregg under my belt, and Teeline before that, so I'm already a crazy productivity maven I guess.

The way I learned both Teeline and then Gregg was by trying out combinations. That way you familiarize yourself with everything. It's like what Madrigal does with learning French & Spanish grammar (found that out recently). What I'm doing for plover is creating a big Excel sheet matrix with all the letter combinations for the basic syllables and just crunching them all out. I have basic familiarity with the keyboard now after this week so I figure I can do this in a few days-week. After that I'll be trying for harder combinations with consonant clusters. The way I see it, I would have to write these sometime anyway so why not be orderly about it? I'm also working the apostrophe into this, since there's no way of getting around that. This is the brute force method & leads me to try some <11000 chord combinations. I figure I'll be proficient sooner rather than later though & I'll start practising other ways. Later, it'll be valuable for finding stuff that should be basic to me. And then to phase 2...

Mirabai Knight said...

TOrTOISE, you rule. Please keep updating us on how it's going!

TOrTOISE said...

Mirabai: Sure will! Did the forum break?

Mirabai Knight said...

Blargh. Yes. I'm afraid I broke it while trying to update it. Hopefully I'll be able to fix it soon. Really sorry about that.

Kevin said...

I just got my Sidewinder X4 from Amazon, yay! I sent you an email about sending a money order for the keys, would you mind doing that, or is it only thru your online store?

I'm doing simple combos with plover in windows... trying to figure out how to make it work in Linux.

Thanks for all your hard work!

Metri Essays said...

Thanks for the comments!

Looking forward to guest articles from Soo Doe Nimh and TOrTOISE!

Mirabai Knight said...

Oooh! I'd totally be up for that. Whaddaya say, Soo and TOrTOISE? You write 'em, I'll post 'em!

TOrTOISE said...

@Mirabai: I'm flattered by the offer but could I have a raincheck? I want to wait until I'm more accomplished and a little less busy. It'll be meatier then too.

Mirabai Knight said...

Whenever you like! Just keep Plovering! Sorry the Aviary's still down, by the way. I'll keep hacking away at it, and hopefully one of these days it'll go back up.

Soo Doe Nimh said...

Give me more months of training, and I'll be happy to put together a long report. I'm trying to break my typing speed (mid 90s) by the first of the year. Syllable breaks are still an issue: I don't "feel" the dictionary yet, and have to think too much about even relatively routine multisyllable words.

I think of myself as fairly autodidactic, but I really cling to the StenEd textbook. I just can't formulate a theory in my head by looking at the default Plover dictionary, which is a shame, because I prefer the default Plover dictionary. I could not get traction without a plodding, systematic text, which surprises me, given how I am used to learning.

Metri Essays said...


I'm totally with you. I went through a 'Dead Zone' where the thrill of learning plover had faded but I still had not reached a point of usefulness.

During this time, I thought a lot about quitting. But the sensibility of plover kept drawing me back.

Stick with it. There's a light at the end of the tunnel! :)