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Yes - but no longer active: 10%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...