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.