Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New Steno Game: Sentence Sprint!

My Plover table at the New York State Court Reporters Association Mini-Convention

So the amazing Mike Neale of QwertySteno has done it again. Joining the Tetris-like fury of Cargo Crisis is a new steno game, Sentence Sprint. Set your speed, turn on Plover, and write the sentences as quickly as you can. If you don't get them all down before time runs out, you'll enter Word Mode, which will give you a chance to practice the words in the sentence slowly to help identify your slowest words. Upon completing Word Mode, you will have three more attempts at the same sentence at full speed.

I know a lot of people have been clamoring for more full-sentence practice, so I think this will be a very welcome addition to the stock of drills and practice material on hand for Plover users. If that's not enough for you, QwertySteno's new MyPractice feature lets you upload customized material for a less competitive but more directed training option. In other news, PloverDojo has tweaked its color settings to offer more visual contrast, after an accessibility survey by the fantastic Svetlana Kouznetsova, a longtime friend and ally to The Plover Project. And the work on Learn Plover! continues apace, with several chapters added and tweaked since the last time I posted about it here. The home stretch is in sight, and once we're finished, we'll investigate print-on-demand options for people who want a hard copy version of the book, though naturally the online version will remain free and open to everyone who wants to access it.

What else? Well, as you can see from the picture at the beginning of this post, I attended a mini-conference put on by the New York State Court Reporters Association (held at my old steno school!). I gave out lots of Plover and Stenosaurus brochures, demonstrated Plover with both my steno machine and the Sidewinder, and encouraged all the court reporters there to show Plover to any friends, relatives, or acquaintances of theirs who might enjoy a low-cost, no-risk introduction to steno. It was a really good time, and I enjoyed blowing their minds when they asked me how much Plover cost. "Free," I'd say. "Wait... Free?!" they'd say, blinking rapidly. "Yep. Free," I'd say, and grin my smug little Open Source grin. It was awesome.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Learn Plover!

Back in May, I was contacted by Zack Brown, a professional technical writer and open source aficionado, with a life-changing offer. He'd had some RSI issues and was frustrated with the inefficiency of qwerty; Plover, he thought, might be just the thing to make his day job easier. He proposed that I tutor him in steno, and in return, he'd turn our tutoring sessions into documentation that other newbies could use to learn with on their own.

Five months of fantastic dinners from a variety of West Village restaurants, late night sessions full of fevered debate, and a great deal of collaborative pedagogical floundering later, the first volume of Learn Plover! is available online. It's written in Zack's trademark lucid, friendly style, and is a whole lot more accessible to beginners than the Steno 101 lessons it supersedes. It presents a step-by-step method of learning the keyboard, with lots of practice material to help build the all-important muscle memory that lies at the root of steno. Part 2, which is coming soon (we mapped out the scope of it last night over fish and chips), will go into higher level steno concepts such as brief building and avoiding word boundary errors, but Part 1 offers a complete overview of the stenographic system, and anyone who studies it thoroughly should be able to write virtually any word in the language. Eventually we're hoping to release Learn Plover! as a book, in both online and print-on-demand formats. For now, enjoy the lessons, and feel free to send feedback about it either to him ( or to me (

I can't express the extent of my gratitude for the staggering amount of thought and work Zack has put into this project. It's one of the best things anyone has ever done for me. Thanks, Zack. You're the best.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Introducing Plover Dojo!

Two exciting Plover-related blog posts in one day! Partly because I've been falling down on the job a bit and not posting news items as quickly as I should, but partly because the Plover tutorial scene is kind of exploding! We've got QwertySteno and Cargo Crisis, StenoTutor, the new steno textbook I've been working on with the tech writer I mentioned a while back (coming very soon!), and now an amazing new comprehensive resource for beginning stenographers: Plover Dojo!

JR and Jay, the creators of Plover Dojo, go way, way back with The Plover Project. They made the Plover Demo, coded the first iteration of the Plover Wiki, and more recently devised the Plover Community Survey. What I'm saying is: These guys got cred. And now there's Plover Dojo, an absolutely gorgeous implementation of interactive design. It's still not completely finished, but there's already a wealth of tutorials, drills, and an ingenious steno keyboard filter that lets you practice lists of common words made up of whichever key combinations you specify. There's more to come in the future, so feel free to drop them a line about any bugs or feature requests at the Google Group, or email

If you've been wary about trying to teach yourself steno due to the intimidating initial learning curve, please give Plover Dojo a try. It's fantastic.

New Online Steno Game: Cargo Crisis!

Mike Neale, creator of the amazing, has done it again! He's made a fantastic new Tetris-style typing game called Cargo Crisis, which uses the 500 most common words in the English language (most of which only require one stroke in the Plover dictionary) to drill that all-important fast-twitch muscle memory into beginning stenographers. It's got a devilishly simple mechanism and beautiful gem-like colors -- two surefire elements of an addictive online game. You can play it through the website using just a normal keyboard with n-key rollover, or you can click the "use with steno software" button, which will let you use it with Plover or proprietary steno software (or even just with your qwerty keyboard, if you want to see how well your qwerty skills match up to other people's steno skills). In the video above, I used Plover with my Infinity Ergonomic steno machine, and I think I did pretty well. (Oddly, I didn't realize that I was zapping the words boustrophedon-style until I watched the video. Funny how your brain comes up with patterns it doesn't see fit to tell you about.) You'll notice in the last part of the video that sometimes words will stack up in a single line, causing me not to get credit for them. It happens either when I misstroke a word or when I stroke a word that's recently been transformed and is therefore no longer on the board; the words I write subsequent to that aren't counted until I press the asterisk several times and get myself back to a blank entry line. That's something Mike's thinking about changing, since it makes the game considerably more challenging and jerks the player out of the lovely reflexive flow state that this sort of pure arcade experience can propel them into.

The other great thing about this game is that it's got a high score table! I'm hoping that the competition will be addictive, and will help motivate people to practice longer and harder than they otherwise would. I can't wait to see what other games Mike will come up with. It would also be worthwhile to collect a list of online typing games that are designed for qwerty typists but that also work well with Plover. The main criterion there is that they can't penalize for errors, since Plover frequently transmits and then deletes characters on the way to arriving at the correct translation. They also can't penalize for automatic spaces, have a character sending speed limit, or place too much emphasis on the individual keys of the qwerty layout, as opposed to actual words. And, as always, I'm looking for suggestions of Creative Commons-licensed songs that we can collect and apply timecodes to for the next version of Steno Hero. Steno and video games, two of life's greatest pleasures, together as one. More, more, more!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Plover Community Survey Results

The Plover Community Survey results are here. Check 'em out!

Some of the more interesting questions and answers:

What is your current steno level?

Absolute beginner - I'm very fresh.
The very concept of steno is new to me, and I haven't tried it yet: 18%
Beginner - I know what steno is and have tried it: 33%
Intermediate - I'm fairly good, but steno isn't my best way to input text: 40%
Advanced - steno is my primary mode of text input: 10%

What do you plan on using Plover for?

What theory are you using?

Have you enrolled in a formal stenography program?

No - nor do I intend on enrolling: 75%
No - but I intend to enroll: 5%
Yes - but no longer active: 10%
Yes - actively attending: 8%
Yes - completed course: 3%

The survey's still open, if you want to add your two cents.

Thanks again to John and Jay for making this happen!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Hands On with the Stenosaurus!

Josh flew in from Oregon today, and he brought the physical prototype of the Stenosaurus with him!

One of the most common questions when we announced the Stenosaurus a few weeks ago was "Is this a joke?!" Nope! Hilarious name and logo aside, this thing is 100% legit. There it is on the table of the restaurant we had lunch at. This isn't the functional prototype, of course; the circuit board hasn't been designed yet and the firmware hasn't been coded. When you open it up, this is what you see:

Just the attachments for the mechanical keys. The real model will have electronics inside, and ports for the USB cable and SD card in the back. But this model was perfect for gauging the touch and feel of the device. Plus it was just so beautiful; far more than you can see from my blurry camera phone pictures. The bamboo and aluminum set each other off gorgeously, and the entire design was just so intuitive and sensible. I could hardly take my eyes off it.

The action was surprisingly smooth and comfortable, considering that it had the same sorts of mechanical keys I was used to from using my late lamented Filco Majestouch, which always left me a bit fatigued after an hour-long Plovering session. The action on these felt lighter and less clacky, which made for a lovely writing experience. Still not as featherlight and shallow as my lever-based Infinity, of course, but worlds above both the Majestouch and the Sidewinder. And the texture of those anodized aluminum keys? Heaven. This picture shows the keys at their highest setting, which was ideal. Josh tried moving them down a bit, so they were parallel with the bamboo of the casing, but that wasn't as comfortable; I found my thumbs hitting the sides of the bamboo when they were at their lowest point, which I think would have become kind of annoying after an extended period of writing. Set higher up, though, there's no interference from the case at all, so that'll definitely be the default.

Action shot! (Yes, I wore the T-shirt especially for the occasion.)

It was perfect for my (rather small) hands, but we talked about possibly beefing it up a bit to accommodate even giant gorilla paws like Josh's. And we talked about putting a set of magnets on the inside back cover to accommodate various accessories, such as a tripod attachment (it'll have a smooth back by default) or the flaps of a small protective case. We even talked about the possibility of making a special "steno laptop" case (following a suggestion by Paulo Paniago), which could accommodate a small tablet PC for all-in one steno action. That would probably have to be a stretch goal, but it's an incredibly exciting possibility.

I'm so delighted with this thing. You have no idea. It just felt so good to write on! Josh is hoping to get enough time off from his day job to be able to design the electronics and firmware in the next few months, and then we'll launch the crowdfunding campaign. I can't wait until this thing comes into proper existence. It's gonna be glorious.

As always, please feel free to sign up on the Stenosaurus email list.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Introducing QwertySteno

When I started The Plover Project with a dream of bringing steno to the masses, I knew it would require three elements in order to work:

* Free software
* Low-cost hardware
* Free, fun, and painless steno instruction

Plover itself is now very nearly complete. It's cross platform, has full control over the operating system, and allows for just-in-time dictionary entries -- my trifecta of must-have features. The hardware is looking pretty good at this point; the Sidewinder X4 has proven to be a great entry-level machine, especially with the laser-cut keytoppers pasted on. Within the year, the Stenosaurus will hopefully swoop in and accommodate all the people who aren't quite satisfied with the Sidewinder and want to upgrade to a purpose-built machine for just a little more cash.

The third part of the puzzle is finally falling into place as well. The textbook-style steno tutorial I've been working on with the tech writer I mentioned some weeks back is almost complete, and when it's done we're hoping to release it in both free ebook and print-on-demand paper book form. Along with Fly, 100 Most Common Words, and StenoTyper, StenoTutor has proven to be a great drilling tool, and in the near future Emanuele hopes to add high score tables to it as well, so Plover newbies from around the world can compete with each other on speed and accuracy while learning those crucial first thousand words. Hover Plover is still just a glint on the horizon, though I've been fleshing out the specs of what I want it to look like when we're ready to start looking for art and development resources. There are other steno tutorials and interactive tools in the incubation period as we speak. And now we have yet another fantastic entry into the field.

QwertySteno is a brilliant new browser-based tutorial and practice tool that walks you through the steno keyboard from the very beginning, giving you instruction and instant feedback starting from the key layout and going through chords to simple phonetic words and briefs. It's a perfect resource for a steno newbie who's starting from scratch, and I'm thrilled to bits with it. Many, many thanks to Mike for putting it together!

Mike says: "The purpose of the website is to introduce new people to steno, teach them some basics and most importantly give our community some practice drills to accelerate our learning! The main feature of the site is the practice exercises which have been designed so we can practice in a focused and measurable way and speed up our learning curve! There are a number of features in the pipeline for a future release including some games but in the meantime, give it a go and let me know what you think."

As all these tools continue to develop, I think they'll come to complement each other. People can start with one and use the other ones to supplement their practice material, or they can hop from one to the other until they find one that works best for them. When Hover Plover is developed, they'll be able to use it for the twitchy, addictive rush of speed building, but still have all these other tools and tutorials on hand to fill out their theory and brief-building principles. Meanwhile, QwertySteno is definitely in front of the pack as far as comprehensive information and instant feedback interactivity is concerned. I can't recommend it highly enough! But if you want to build a steno tutorial or drilling resource of your own, please don't think that QwertySteno's got a monopoly. There's plenty of room for more.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Introducing the Stenosaurus!

At long last, the exciting announcement!

Josh Lifton, Plover's first programmer way back when we started this project together in 2010, has begun the process to manufacture a new kind of steno machine. In his post on the Plover Google Group, Josh says:

"Hi all,

I'm excited to announce the Stenosaurus, a new stenotype machine I'm in the process of manufacturing. You can think of Stenosaurus as the hardware version of Plover - imagine having Plover with you no matter what computer you were using, without ever once needing to install any software. Stenosaurus is a drop-in replacement for a USB keyboard on any computer. As far as the computer is concerned, Stenosaurus appears just like any other USB keyboard. Under the hood, though, Stenosaurus is performing the same lookup and dictionary manipulation as Plover normally would.

You can catch a glimpse of the first prototype and sign up on a mailing list at

Here are the features I'm shooting for:

* open source software and hardware
* availability late this year at a price point between $200 and $500
* bamboo case with natural zero-VOC wood finish
* removable brushed and anodized aluminum keys, available in different colors
* MX Cherry Black key switches
* 16x2 character LCD screen for displaying outlines and just-in-time dictionary updates
* power and communication via a removable USB cable
* dictionary stored on removable mini SD card
* no requirement to install software, so compatible with any USB-enabled computer
* desktop software tools for converting dictionaries and applying firmware updates
* lightweight, small form factor (approximately 9" x 7" x 1")
* usable on a table, lap, or tripod
* protective carrying case for stowing in a backpack
* sustainably manufactured
* appropriate for professional stenographers, hackers, and curiosity seekers

Don't hesitate to suggest other features!

I'm Plover's original programmer, so of course Plover had a considerable influence on Stenosaurus. At the same time, I'm building Stenosaurus from scratch. To keep costs down, the brain of Stenosaurus is necessarily too small to embed Plover directly, so even the firmware is being coded from the ground up. From the very first day Mirabai and I sat down together to work on what would become Plover, I've wanted to build a new stenotype. After several years and many diversions, Stenosaurus is it.

It's great to see how Plover has matured and taken on a life of its own. If you're at all interested in following this offshoot of Plover, please sign up on the mailing list at and joining the Stenosaurus Google Group."

Isn't it completely freaking gorgeous? I can't wait 'til I can get one. He's bringing a physical prototype (keys and case assembled, but no electronics yet) to meet me here in NYC next week. We'll hammer out any additional design details (wide keys, vowel key height, et cetera), then he'll go back to the West Coast to work on the firmware for the functional prototype, and as soon as we've got one operational Stenosaurus built, he'll put a crowdfunding campaign in place to get it made. I can see so many uses for this thing. It'll have mechanical keys, not lever-mounted ones, so I don't think it'll totally supplant the feather-light touch of my Infinity Ergonomic in most of my daily CART work, but it'll be light and slim enough that I can carry it in my bag every day as a backup, in case my Infinity breaks. I'll be able to use it at home as a keyboard replacement for my desktop machine -- no more slow and clumsy qwerty -- without having to wrassle my big Infinity out of the bag, unfold its arms, and set up my tripod every time I want to steno at my desk. Eventually I'm hoping we'll be able to get a special edition of the Stenosaurus with Bluetooth, which I can use with Glass or my Android tablet to enter text on the subway or in the park. It'll be an invaluable bang-up machine for traveling, or for taking to places where I'm worried my Infinity might get stolen or damaged. And I think it'll be a wonderful solution for steno students or enthusiasts who've outgrown the keytopped Sidewinder but aren't in a position to pay thousands of dollars for a professional machine.

As Josh mentioned, the Stenosaurus isn't officially a branch of The Plover Project, even though it was originally inspired by Plover and will be made by Plover's first developer. Hesky will continue to work on the main branch of Plover, and all the people who are working on tutorial material (interactive drills, games, and the like) will keep their attention primarily directed towards Plover users. But I think there's gonna be huge amount of overlap between Plover users and Stenosaurus owners, which is fantastic. Josh thinks he'll be able to incorporate a "steno machine mode" into the Stenosaurus, switching off the on-board translation to English and outputting serial steno code instead, so that it can work with both Plover and proprietary steno software.

But seriously. Just look at this thing. Bamboo and anodized aluminum. Tiny and lightweight. Plug-and-Go steno to English. What a beauty. There's been a huge demand for a low-cost, purpose-built steno machine for years and years and years now. I can't wait until it's finally under my fingers.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Version 2.5.6 Released

Another bugfix release of Plover, hot off the press of the ever-amazing Hesky.

* Speeds up text output. If you've noticed that recent versions of Plover have been releasing the text more slowly than before, this fixes the problem.

* Recognizes DigitalCat's dictionary command for 'capitalize next'.

Download it here!

I haven't forgotten about the exciting announcement I mentioned in the previous post. I'll hopefully be able to make it later today! It's a doozy. (':

Friday, August 9, 2013

Tons of New Stuff!

So much stuff is going on in the Plover universe! I've got a really huge announcement that I'll hopefully be able to spill tonight or tomorrow, but in the mean time, there's been...

A new iteration of Plover, version 2.5.5, released!

Changes since the last version I posted here:

* Fixed crash when reading options with invalid values for machine
* Fixed dumping experienced on some stentura machines e.g. elan mira
* Improved orthography by choosing more common word in the dictionary
* Fixed suffix folding to not interfere with translations in the dictionary
* Can now output non-latin characters on OSX
* Output on OSX is independent of keyboard layout
* speed up startup time on OSX
* Fixed bug in suffix folding

There's now lots of new stuff to buy in the Plover store.

Jay and John (who made the Plover Demo) have devised a brief Plover Community Survey, and are asking all users and prospective users of Plover to weigh in. I'll post the concatenated results when they come in.

And finally, since I'll be at the NCRA Convention in Nashville this weekend and hopefully spreading the news about Plover to everyone there, I've written a FAQ for Steno Professionals. If you know all about steno but this is the first time you've heard about Plover, this is the FAQ for you. Of course, we also have our regular FAQ for steno newbies.

Stay tuned for the exciting announcement! I can't &@#$% wait to post it. Sooooooon...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Plover 2.5.2 Released

From Hesky:

"This is a bug fix release and contains the following changes:

- Fix handling of prefixes in rtf dictionaries
- improve port scanning in linux
- NKRO input in linux now works regardless of language setting (thanks to sbuller)
- Try to fix reported issue of key events arriving out of order on linux (fix is unverified)."

Monday, July 29, 2013


The amazing Emanuele Caruso from the Plover Google Group has just released a new version of StenoTutor, his amazing cross-platform steno drilling software. It's a perfect introduction to steno for absolute beginners, and it can also be customized with harder word lists and lessons for more experienced users. As you can see in the screenshot above, by default it drills you on the 1,000 most common English words, drawn from the Plover dictionary. You start out with just a few, but as you get quicker and more fluent in writing them, more words are added into the mix, and StenoTutor is able to judge when you're good enough to move on and when you need a little extra drilling practice with each word. It's a marvelous way to get up to speed with steno very quickly, and the new release also has optional text-to-speech capabilities. Check it out!

StenoTutor 0.1.0

Monday, July 22, 2013

Plover 2.5.1 released!

Hesky continues to set the world on fire, with yet another pivotal release of Plover! These notes are for the 2.5.0 release, because the 2.5.1 release is just a bugfix.

New Features:

- Suffix folding: when a suffix stroke (-G, -D, -S, -Z) is used and the outline is not in the dictionary then the outline is looked up without the suffix and then the suffix is added. For example, if TURPB was turn and -G is {^ing} and TURPBG is not in the dictionary then if you stroke TURPBG Plover will output turning.

- Support for multiple dictionaries with the lowest dictionary having priority. i.e. if a stroke is defined in the last dictionary then it overrides the entry in the previous dictionary.

- Arpeggiated stroke input for non-NKRO keyboards can be turned on in config. With this option on you can type strokes one key at a time and they will be sent when space is pressed.

- Save position (and size where applicable) for Plover windows. This means that most windows will be in the place you left it.

- Stroke display window with two styles (paper and raw) can be opened from options and can be made to open on startup. Can optionally be always on top.

- Better support for punctuation in caseCATalyst dictionaries. Users reported that in dictionaries from casecat there are spaces before punctuation. That should now be fixed.

- Backspace keystrokes when using keyboard to activate plover (resume, toggle and quit commands). Up until now using the keyboard to turn on Plover would leave behind typed characters. That should now be fixed.

- Fixed saving of stop bits in serial config dialog. There were problems with saving stop bits. That should now be fixed.

- Support Passport machine protocol. This is confirmed to work with Passport machines.

Download the new release here!


I'm particularly thrilled about the suffix folding and multiple dictionary features. So exciting!!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Plover 2.4.1 Released!

Yet another rapid-fire Plover release, from our staggeringly prolific lead dev Hesky! This guy, I tell you. Amazing. His notes below.

"Hi Everyone,

There is a new version of Plover available: v2.4.1

This update includes new features and bug fixes:

- Fixed problem with strokes not recognized when using a DigitalCAT RTF dictionary
- Fixed paragraphing for CaseCATalyst dictionaries
- Added indentation for continuation paragraphs in RTF dictionaries
- Added lower case command similar to capitalize that makes the first letter of the next word lower case: {>}
- Fixed bug in how prefix, suffix and infix were loaded from RTF dictionaries that was preventing automated spelling from being applied.
- Improved automated spelling using a wordlist. I'm hoping this will be a big improvement. Please send me examples when plover makes spelling mistakes applying suffixes so I can try to continue improving this.
- Added a way to prevent automated spelling from being applied by putting a {^} between prefix/suffix and the word. This allows a quick way to disable automated spelling when it does something wrong.
- There seems to have been a bug that prevented buttons on the Add Translation dialog from being pressed with the mouse on windows. This is now fixed but the downside is that tabbing in the dialog now includes the buttons and not just the text fields. One workaround for now is to use {#Shift_L(Tab)} to move from translation to stroke rather than pressing {#Tab} three times.

Linux: Follow instructions here:

As always, please let me know how it goes and if you have any trouble."

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Plover 2.4.0 released with On-The-Fly Dictionary Update!

Out of nowhere, our incomparable lead dev Hesky has delivered a knockout one-two punch. Version 2.3.1 was released only yesterday, but today he unexpectedly released an absolute whopper of an update: Version 2.4.0!

Download it here.

What's so amazing about this version? It has the crucial feature that I've been hankering for since Josh and I first started The Plover Project back in 2010: Just-in-time Dictionary Updates from the steno machine!! No longer do you have to shut Plover down, open up the dictionary file in a text editor, make your additions or edits by typing the steno in qwerty-style with all the accompanying JSON formatting, close the file, and restart Plover. Oh, no. Now you can do it seamlessly from within Plover itself, using your steno machine! Check it out.

Hesky sez: "To use the machine, add an entry to your dictionary that maps to {PLOVER:ADD_TRANSLATION}. When you type that stroke the dialog will pop up. When you type in the strokes field then raw strokes will be typed unless the stroke maps to a key combo or command. To navigate between the two fields use {#Tab}. To save the new entry use {#Return}. To cancel use {#Escape}.

A word of WARNING: This is the first version of plover that writes to your dictionary. In particular, if you are using an RTF dictionary then plover will not save anything in the dictionary that it doesn't understand. Please make sure to BACKUP YOUR DICTIONARY before using it with plover.

To open the dialog manually go to Configure... > Dictionary > Add Translation"

I personally have {PLOVER:ADD_TRANSLATION} defined as TKUPT (for "dictionary update"), {#Tab} defined as TA*B, {#Return} as R-R, and {#Escape} as FEFBG. Feel free to use those, or use your own preferred command strokes.

Seriously, though, this is Plover's killer feature. I've been using it in an experimental branch for several months, and it's increased Plover's usability more than I can possibly describe. Now that it's integrated into the main trunk and is far smoother and speedier to boot, I'm in absolute paradise. Go download it right away and add a bunch of entries!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Plover 2.3.1 Released!

From Hesky, Plover's lead developer:

"Hi Everyone,

There is a new version of Plover available: v2.3.1.

This is a minor update that includes the following features:
- Changing settings no longer requires restarting plover.
- There is a new display for machine status. This is most useful for stentura machines and pretty useful for other serial and usb machines.
- The serial port config dialog scans for ports in the background rather than hanging for several seconds.

In case you missed the previous announcement, plover now reads RTF/CRE dictionaries so conversion is no longer required.



Linux: Follow instructions here:

As always, please let me know how it goes and if you have any trouble."

Friday, June 28, 2013

Plover Now Supports RTF Dictionaries

Miguel recorded this video, writing along to "Tracks of My Tears" on his Sidewinder, six months after teaching himself steno with Plover. Amazing! Go congratulate him at the Aviary!

The magnificent Hesky Fisher has completed a new version of Plover which allows users to use dictionaries in rtf (aka rtf/cre, or rich text format court reporting extension) format, without having to go through the messy Python-based conversion kludge that we've been using up until now. This won't mean much to steno newbies, but anyone who's been using proprietary steno software and wants to give Plover a try can now use their own dictionaries, which I hope will make my colleagues in the court reporting, captioning, and CART communities very happy. If you're on Windows, you'll have to download the .exe file linked from the wiki and follow the instructions, but if you're on Linux, you can just get it from the Github. Check it out, and as always, if you have any bugs or feature requests, feel free to email me at, or drop the devs a line at the Plover Google Group.

Speaking of devs, if you want to play around with an alternate fork of Plover which includes support for a graphical dictionary editor, Try Garipeti's version. You'll have to build from source, so this is intended more for advanced users, but it's pretty cool. Check it out! We'll hopefully be folding some of the changes back into the canonical branch of Plover in future versions.

Exciting things are happening this summer, and I'm hoping to have an even bigger surprise for you guys in the next couple of months, but for now enjoy the new release. And if you know any other steno people, feel free to send them our way! Now that Plover supports rtf dictionaries and a variety of professional writers (Stentura, Lightspeed, Infinity series, all Gemini machines, all legacy machines running TX protocol -- basically most of what's out there, minus the Diamante, which we're still working on) I feel like it's become a proper ambassador between the computery steno newbie crowd and the pro steno community. Even though they have their proprietary software for their daily work, Plover is still a better interface between their steno machines and their computers' operating systems and can prove to be a very useful backup system if their software's DRM ever goes haywire, plus they can pass it along to anyone they know who might like to study steno if not for the prohibitive startup costs. Free, flexible steno for all!

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Easy Display of Raw Steno Notes

A few people have asked how to get raw steno notes to display while using Plover, and while I proposed a possible solution in a recent post, there's now an even easier one. Bas Wilbers on the Plover Google Group has coded a version of Plover with a simple toggle to turn raw steno notes on or off.

The Github repository is here, and he's thoughtfully compiled a Windows executable as well. Ignore any warnings Windows might give you about that file; I've tested it myself and it's legit. Thanks, Bas! I think this will help a lot of people who enjoy reading their raw steno notes while practicing steno. I'd gently remind y'all, though, that the ideal is to go to realtime-only eventually, so don't get so hung up on your raw steno that you're not paying attention to Plover's actual output. (':

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Plover Documentation Project

Recently I was contacted by a technical writer who was interested in learning steno. He wanted to use it not only to be more productive and ergonomic in his day job, but for his personal creative writing projects as well. I know that the Steno 101 series is full of holes (no practice material, overly dense explanations) and is pretty inaccessible to the typical steno newbie. He proposed an exchange: I would tutor him in steno, and he would write up those sessions in the form of clear, comprehensible documentation. Since this whole pedagogy thing has turned out to be way harder than it initially looked, I leaped at the chance. Yesterday we met, and it was fantastic. We talked steno over dinner, then went to his apartment and stepped through some beginner stuff. First, we looked at the Steno Alphabet Posters. He told me that, logically enough, he'd assumed that if he pressed the keys corresponding to each letter of the chart, Plover would output those letters and he'd be able to use them to spell words. I realized just how confusing the chart's layout was without explanation, and had to explain that if you want to spell words out letter by letter, you have to ignore all the keys on the right hand side of the chart, and only use the chords on the left side, plus you had to add either asterisk or asterisk plus right hand P if you wanted to spell out letters. Otherwise the chart was intended to demonstrate where the letter sounds appear in steno chords, not on their own. I'm not sure I'd ever articulated all that before, in so many words, and it seems to have confused a lot of newbies. So we were already synthesizing some good tidbits of wisdom to put down. I asked him whether he preferred the chart in "alphabetical" or "pedagogical" order, but he said he wasn't yet experienced enough to decide. Then we went on to writing:

"The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog."

which, in pseudosteno, is:


and, in actual steno, is:


Everything was phonetic, except:

* The KPA stroke to capitalize the first word of the sentence.
* The "mp" sound, represented by "*m".
* "Over" sounding more like "oefr", though that's really very close to phonetic.
* The "-y" suffix, represented by "yi".
* The period, represented by FPLT.

But other than that, not a bad beginning sentence, and my new friend was blown away with steno's ability to write the whole thing, 44 letters long, in only 12 strokes. Then we went on to other topics, such as the fine art of "syllabification", whether learning "steno order" (STKPWHRAO*EUFRPBLGTSDZ) was a necessary part of mastering the keyboard layout, and whether inversion should only be used if it allows you to save yourself a stroke. All good stuff, but he'll write it up much more cogently than I can. The upshot of all this is that we'll be meeting weekly from now on, and I think we'll be able to drum up a lot of useful practice material, which is something that the Plover community has been desperately needing. We might even get to the point where we start wireframing out the Hover Plover tutorials. I'm extremely lucky to have found someone who enjoys geeking out about steno as much as I do, and who has the skill to turn my random blibs and blobs of knowledge into a coherent plan for self-instruction. So stay tuned! Lots more good stuff to come.

Monday, April 29, 2013

StenoTray, Treal, and Tail

Little by little, Plover is transforming from a one-man band (initiated by Josh, taken over by Hesky) into a truly collaborative project. We've got new coders writing utilities and features for it all the time. The latest is StenoTray, by Brent. It's a Java utility that scans Plover's stroke log and dictionary to remind users how to stroke certain words. Just stroke out a word part or fingerspell at least four letters of the word you want to write, and StenoTray will show you how to do the rest. Here I'm trying to figure out how to write "antidisestablishmentarianism", and it handily reminds me that I've got a single one-stroke brief for it (SMA*IRM).

You can configure it to show you either raw steno or pseudosteno, depending on how comfortable you are with transliterating the letters on the keyboard; in raw steno mode, it would show you SPHAEURPL instead. StenoTray works in Windows, Mac, and Linux, and it's an invaluable utility for both steno newbies and advanced users. Check it out!

A few other exciting updates:

* Hesky has now implemented compatibility with the Treal steno machine, so if you've got one, you're in luck.

* If you want to view your raw steno notes as you write, there are now instructions on the Wiki. Linux and Mac users use the terminal, while Windows users need to download a free program called BareTail.

* John Keyes, the former owner of the @plover Twitter account, has generously signed it over to us, so if you want to receive pure, unadulterated Plover information on your Twitter feed (as opposed to the mixed Plover, CART, steno, day-in-the-life, and accessibility tweets you get on my stenoknight account), feel free to follow @plover.

* Also, just a reminder about The Plover Aviary, our user forum. Its focus is a bit different from that of the Plover Google Group, which is mostly feature requests, bug reports, and conversations about the future of Plover development. The Aviary is more for Plover users to talk about the best ways of learning steno, different steno theories, and record their daily practice log; that sort of thing. It was pretty quiet for a long time after its inception, but it's definitely been heating up in recent weeks, so feel free to give it a try.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Plover Lookup!

An extremely useful new tool has arrived on the Plover scene:

Plover Lookup!

It's a new tool by longtime Plover friend Zerk, brought about by this Aviary thread discussing how to decide which of the many steno outlines matched to a given word in Plover's default dictionary should be used by a novice steno learner. I made a canonical dictionary for Fly, Plover's Linux-only tutorial and drilling tool, but Zerk has upped the ante by including not only the canonical dictionary but also an automatically generated phonetic dictionary as well. It also lists strokes that aren't defined as canonical, alternate, brief, or phonetic, since none of us are patient enough to dig through and categorize the entire 160,000-word dictionary, and it's pretty impossible to write an automatic algorithm that can cover every intricacy of steno. I think this tool will help save a lot of new Plover users a whole lot of frustration. Thanks, Zerk!

Saturday, March 30, 2013

PyCon Video

Here's the captioned video of my PyCon talk.

Here's the page with the slides and the uncaptioned YouTube version of the video. Hopefully when I give the caption file to the people in charge of the videos, they'll upload it to the YouTube version so that'll have captioning too.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Status of Current Tasks Page is Back

In preparation for my talk tomorrow, I've resurrected the Status of Current Tasks page on the Plover Wiki, which was pulled when the wiki went down a few months ago and which had fallen disgracefully out of date. It contains some of the top priority bugs and issues from the Github, plus ideas to improve and expand the Plover community in the categories of hardware, steno pedagogy, and general promotion of all things open source and stenographic. Go check it out, and if anything appeals to you, contribute!

Friday, March 8, 2013

Using Plover for Python

I gave a dry run of my PyCon presentation at the New York Python Meetup last night, and I think it went quite well! I think I've finalized my slide deck. Longtime followers will notice that I reused a few slides from my 2011 PyGotham presentation, but I've added and changed a fair amount of stuff. I think it's tighter and flows more smoothly than the old version. Anyway, as part of the presentation, I made a very quick video showing me using Plover to write a small snippet of code from my Codecademy Python Course. I also added a closed captioning track showing the pseudosteno for every stroke I was writing. It doesn't show me making new definitions or anything like that, since that feature is still being implemented (it's a little too buggy for release at the moment), but I think it gets across how easy it is to write quick, smooth, efficient Python code using steno. For some reason, when I tell people about steno, they often don't understand how a keyboard consisting of 22 letters can be used to write punctuation, meta keys, and commands, so I think this video is useful to demonstrate that it's as simple as defining PRENS as (), TA*B as the Tab command, RIPT as raw_input(", et cetera, and then just barreling on through your code without a second thought.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Vote for Mel Chua and Help Plover Win $1,000!

Mel Chua has been an ally of Plover since pretty much the very beginning. She wrote a fantastic article on Plover for, helped me with steno pedagogical theory, came up with the idea of using lasers to manufacture the keytoppers, and has just generally been an unending source of inspiration and awe. She's an engineer, hacker, teacher, dancer, writer, open source advocate, and visionary.

She's currently a finalist in Oticon's Focus on People Awards:

Click here to vote for Mel!

She writes:

"If I win the first place award, here’s what I’m planning on doing:

1. Using the $1k given to me to offset cochlear implant medical costs.

2. Giving the other $1k to Plover, an open source software project that brings the cost of live transcription (Communication Access Realtime Transcription, or CART – think “closed captioning for real life”) from $4000 down to $40. Making this capability cheaper and more widespread (it’s very rare right now) would open up a ton of accessibility doors to people who struggle to understand spoken English (maybe they have hearing loss, or they’re still learning English, or have auditory processing disorders, or need to multitask and watch kids or cook dinner and are floating in and out of the conversation). It’s being developed by a tiny, tiny group of very excited volunteers and needs all the help it can get!

3. Working with the audiology department at Purdue University, where I’m a PhD student (in engineering), to use the hearing instruments for labs and demos to educate more students about hearing technologies."

So if she wins this contest, not only will she get $1,000 to help her pay for cochlear implants, but she'll give $1,000 to go towards development of Plover! Please vote and boost the signal. Mel is one of the most amazing people I've ever met. The Plover Project is incredibly lucky to have her on its side.

Please click here to vote for Mel!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

TX Protocol Splitting Fix?

I don't know how many people have tried using Plover with the TX Protocol, but at least a few have reported that strokes get split apart. (It's a registered issue on our Github).

Hesky's attempted to write a fixed version, which can be downloaded here.

He writes: "Unfortunately, I haven't been able to reproduce the bug on my own but I've made a change that may fix the problem. If you've been experiencing splitting while using txbolt protocol with your machine, then it would be a great help if you would try this version of Plover and let me know if it fixes this problem."

If you've got a TX protocol machine, please give it a try, and let us know whether it fixed the problem. If not, more details on exactly how the splitting is happening would be very helpful.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Steno 101 Lesson Four

Steno 101: How to Do It
Steno 101: Lesson Zero
Steno 101: Lesson One
Steno 101: Lesson Two
Steno 101: Lesson Three
Steno 101: Lesson Four

Sorry this is so overdue. I've been waiting for the just-in-time dictionary entry feature to be coded, because there's not much more Steno 101 stuff I can write without it in place. Pretty much all the rest of the stuff I want to teach you about steno involves defining your own entries, and currently the text editor-based method of doing that is just too slow and clunky. Hopefully the wait won't be too much longer. But I realized that there was one last little thing I could teach you before we're really gonna need that feature: Numbers.
You'll notice that if you press both the number bar and another key on the top row of the steno machine (for Sidewinder users, that's any of qweruiop (plus c and v; more about that later) combined with any of 1234567890), you get a single digit number. Here's the map of how that works:

1234 50 6789

You don't have to hit the number bar key directly above the letter you want, though that’s usually the easiest way to make it work. If you're using a Sidewinder (with or without laser keytoppers), you just sort of rock the flat pads of your finger down so you're hitting both keys at once with a single finger. The thing with the number bar is that it's basically a toggle switch. All of the number bar keys are identical, and you can press as many of them as you want at a time, but all that matters is that at least one of them is pressed at the same time as one of the top row letters. What about A = 5? And O = 0? Yeah, that seems a little strange, but it actually works quite well. See, steno lets you write as many numbers in one stroke as you like, but it always renders them in steno order. So in a single chord you can write:

123456789 (Number bar, which is usually rendered # in steno code, plus STPHAFPLT)
14578 (#SHAPL)
3569 (#PAFT)

Et cetera. Using the thumb for 5 gives you a finger for all 9 digits. O for 0 comes in surprisingly handy too; it means you can do any two digit multiple of 10 in a single stroke:

10 (#SO)
30 (#PO)
50 (#AO)

But wait -- what happens if you do O plus a number on the right side? Huh. Instead of multiples of 10, you get...

06 (#OF)
08 (#OL)
09 (#OT)

So how do we do multiples of 10 between 60 and 90? Using our friend the inversion toggle. That's EU. Now, this isn't built into Plover; it's a dictionary hack. All the necessary definitions are in the Plover dictionary, but if you're using a different dictionary, you'll have to paste in the entries from that file I mentioned above to make it work. When you add EU to any number, it reverses their order.

60 (#OEUF)
80 (#OEUL)
90 (#OEUT)

It works for all two-digit numbers; not just multiples of 10.

45 (#HA)
54 (#HAEU)

37 (#PP)
73 (#PEUP)

29 (#TT)
92 (#TEUT)

Okay, what about if you want to do numbers longer than two digits? Numbers have a special property in steno. Like the letters you use for fingerspelling (A*, PW*, KR*, etc.), they're what's known as "glue strokes", meaning that when they're written next to another glue stroke, they stick together, but when they're written next to a non-glue stroke, a space is added between them as if they were ordinary words. So if you write:


It comes out:

I ate 426 flaxseeds.

That will work for any combination of letters or numbers written in a row. If you want to write numbers or letters that don't stick together, you'll have to insert a space manually.


You can have exactly 1 1/8 pieces of pie.

S-P corresponds to "insert a space", and OEU is the stroke for {^/^}, which is not a glue stroke, but a conventional delete space stroke, meaning that anything you write to the left and right of it will be joined to it without a space. Similarly, you can use P-P for {^.^}, which works as a decimal point (it's also useful for adding the ".com" to URLs), *RBGS {^,^} for commas in numbers, and H-PB for {^-^}, which gives you a hyphen. And you can use TK-PL for {$^}, which will insert a space before the dollar sign but stick it without a space to anything following.

There are a few other cool things you can do wit h numbers. Adding a -D to a single digit will double it:

33 (#P-D)
55 (#AD)
66 (#FD)

Adding -Z will tack on two zeroes:

300 (#P-Z)
500 (#AZ)
600 (#FZ)

And adding -DZ will tack on two zeroes plus a dollar sign:

$300 (#P-DZ)
$500 (#ADZ)
$600 (#FDZ)


406-549-0734 (#HOF/H-PB/#A/#HT/H-PB/#OP/#PH)
3,218,106 (#P/*RBGS/#T/#SL/*RBGS/#SOF)
$48.86 (TK-PL/#HL/P-P/#FEUL)
33/8 (#P-D/OEU/#L)

I've also recently started doing Roman Numerals by adding R to single digits.

IX (#R-T)

And you can use "TWOUPB" to add {200^} to single digit numbers when you want to write years.

2006 (TWOUPB/#F)

Now, some steno schools don't teach the number bar at all. Instead they teach students to write everything out in words:

one (WUPB)
two (TWO)
three (THRAOE)
four (TPOUR)
five (TPAOEUF)
six (SEUBGS)
seven (SEFPB)
eight (AET)
ten (TEPB)
hundred (HOEUPB)
thousand (THOEUPB)
million (PHOEUPB)
billion (PWOEUPB)
trillion (TROEUPB)

And use their proprietary steno software to automatically translate, for example,
One hundred twenty-eight (WUPB/HOEPB/TWEPBT/AET) into 128

I'm afraid that Plover doesn't support this capability, and it's not a high priority for our developers to implement it, so don't hold your breath. You can write the words; most style guides suggest using words rather than numerals for one digit numbers in speech. But if you want the digits, you'll have to write the digits manually using the number bar.

So that's about all I've got to teach you about numbers. It takes a bit of practice to internalize them, but once you do, you'll find that the number bar is an incredibly useful addition to your steno arsenal.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Steno Alphabet Posters

I linked to the final version of the steno alphabet diagram back in November, and now I've finally got a cleaned up version of the same information in alphabetical rather than pedagogical order:

As I mentioned in the other post, I'm currently working with In a Flash Laser, the company in charge of The Plover Store, to get nice printed posters available for sale, along with some nice new Plover swag like laser-engraved coffee mugs and flash drives preloaded with the latest source from Github. (A live portable version of Plover would be even better, so you could carry the flash drive and your n-key rollover keyboard around with you and use it from any terminal, but I'm afraid that hasn't been coded yet.)

So in order to figure out exactly what we should look for in terms of poster printing options, how many of you would want to purchase a professionally printed poster, as opposed to just downloading the jpgs and printing them yourself at home (which, of course, you're perfectly free to do). If you do want to buy a poster, what size would be most useful to you? And would you be more likely to get the one in pedagogical order, the one in alphabetical order, or both? Finally, what's the top end of what you'd be willing to pay for such a thing? Any and all opinions very welcome. And if you've got any other ideas for stuff to offer in the Plover Store, please feel free to mention them in the comments. The Store takes a small cut of items to fund Plover development, but its main purpose is to get Plover-relevant stuff out to interested people as quickly and simply as possible. I'm hoping that once we get that crucial just-in-time dictionary entry feature coded (currently under review by a new contributor to the project) and after we get a signal boost from PyCon, we'll be selling keysets and steno charts like so many efficient little ergonomic hotcakes.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

UK Spellings Dictionary

The fantastic hackers on the Plover Google Group have done it again. After a user in Australia requested a version of Plover's default dict.json file with UK/Australian/Canadian spellings, they came through in a matter of minutes:

So if you've been annoyed or frustrated by Plover's American-centric dictionary, or if you're just a shameful pretentious Anglophile (like me), now you can enjoy your open source steno* lexicon entirely Yank-free. Many thanks to Rob and Hesky for their lightning-quick delivery!

*No, we still don't support Palantype. Maybe someday. Then again, maybe not. (';