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 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!