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.


Mcglk said...

This is very exciting, and I'm happy that the keys can be raised.

PJ said...

Congratulations to this great project and especially to this aesthetically pleasing design! I wish you all the best to get this product "to the market".

For the more "geeky"/ambitious people amongst those who read this blog as attentively as I do, I cannot help recommending two devices as inspiration of what might further be possible:
- The first [1] offering suggestions on how to make _more_than_two_keys_ per finger feasible (the device was apparently commercially available branded "DataHand") without increasing distances one's fingers have to go;

- the second [2] is a wearable chorded keyboard which seems to be highly ergonomic.

Maybe it's not practical to increase keys for every finger, however, thumbs having more degrees of freedom shouldn fail to control at least four keys each (think of them as attached to a ring around the thumb).

Having, thus, more key combinations at hand without actually losing time to strike them might allow for a more systematic association of chords/briefs to words by means of mnemonique techniques, i.e. especially for those not trained in any steno theory the learning curve would significantly improve.

Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the two links/products

Paulo Paniago said...

Hi Mirabai, thanks for mentioning my name in your post. Now I’m really gonna show it to everybody!!!

Scoon said...

Warning: the following post is long. Apologies for that, but the length is proportionate to my interest in your project :)

Hi Mirabai,
Since hearing about Plover on a messageboard, I have been very intrigued by your ideas for both the software and the hardware, and have scoured through your website and blog to find out as much information as I can. The idea of typing at 200-250 wpm is very appealing to me!

I just have a few comments and questions about Plover and Stenosaurus.

- Am I right in thinking that when using Stenosaurus, it won't be necessary to also have the Plover running? Will Stenosaurus automatically interpret the steno keystrokes and translate them into qwerty input which it will then send to the computer?

- What is your expected price point for the Stenosaurus? I know it might be hard to gauge exactly, but do you have any idea of a price range? I'm wondering whether it would be better to buy a Sidewinder or wait for the Stenosaurus.

- I tried to find information about different steno styles, but couldn't find anything. Just to make sure; are there different key configurations and / or standard key combinations that vary between English speaking countries (particularly between US and UK)? I live in Australia, and want to make sure that if I learn steno then there is at least the possibility of getting work from it in my own country (we usually adopt British styles). I primarily want to learn it for my own personal benefit, but I would be happy if I could also pick up some casual transcription or captioning work (I am currently a university student), and so would need to use whatever the 'standard' configuration is in Aus :)

- Will the Stenosaurus have a usb cord built in to it, or will it just have a female USB port on the outside to which a m/m usb cord can be attached between the SS and the computer? I like the idea of the second, so that with an adapter, it could be used wirelessly (Although I imagine this would require the SS to be powered by batteries). This would be particularly good when space is a factor (eg. lecture theaters)- tablet on the desk, SS on the lap.

- Something I haven't been able to figure out from your videos, is how often you need to stop and define a word, versus being able to spell it phonetically. The single letter charts I have seen on your site makes it look as if spelling out things with individual letters would be quite complex. It seems that this might be a problem when writing things in which new names occur often, but are not repeated much and therefore perhaps not worthy of a dictionary entry. For example, the second paragraph of the wiki article for Korea (that's where I am for the next 6 months on an internship :P). Hanja, Silla, Munmu, Goryeo, Jikji, and Joseon appear all in one paragraph - how would you normally deal with this kind of thing in your work?

Finally, I just want to say, well done for following this up. From reading your blog, I can't believe how expensive and proprietary the system has been up until now - it's almost unbelievable. Not only does Plover sound like it will help the industry, but also many many people who just want to write :)

Mirabai Knight said...

"Am I right in thinking that when using Stenosaurus, it won't be necessary to also have the Plover running? Will Stenosaurus automatically interpret the steno keystrokes and translate them into qwerty input which it will then send to the computer?"

That's the plan! Though it's likely that there will also be a Plover-compatible mode, which will allow you to use Plover (and additional apps such as StenoTray) on your computer, if you want to.

"What is your expected price point for the Stenosaurus?"

Probably somewhere between $200 and $500. We're hoping for closer to $200, but it'll depend on some manufacturing stuff, plus how many people preorder.

"Just to make sure; are there different key configurations and / or standard key combinations that vary between English speaking countries"

There are different steno layouts for different languages, but the keyboard is standard across all dialects of English. The only thing you'd have to change is the dictionary, to make sure that it said "colour" rather than "color", and that sort of thing. Easy enough to do.

"Will the Stenosaurus have a usb cord built in to it, or will it just have a female USB port on the outside to which a m/m usb cord can be attached between the SS and the computer?"

I don't think that's been decided yet. I'll keep you posted when I know more!

"Something I haven't been able to figure out from your videos, is how often you need to stop and define a word, versus being able to spell it phonetically."

It really varies with the experience of the stenographer and the subject matter they're working with. These days I don't have to define much, but of course when I was learning steno I was defining words right and left. On the other hand, as you correctly imagine, I don't have Hanja, Silla, Munmu, Goryeo, Jikji, or Joseon in my dictionary, so I'd either have to fingerspell those (if I thought I'd only be using them once or twice) or define them (if I thought I'd be using them more often). If I knew I was gonna be working in Korea, I'd definitely try to get them in my dictionary as soon as possible.

Have fun! Please feel free to ask any other questions, if they come up!

Scoon said...

Hi Mirabai, thanks for the reply :) I'm a huge fan of open source as well as tech-based crowdfunding projects, and the main thing that I have noticed marks the difference between successful and unsuccessful projects is the level to which the the people running it engage with their followers, and how often they provide updates. So I am really happy to see how well you do both of those things :)

I do have more questions, but I have seen the google group as well as the Aviary forum, so I might post my questions there.

Is there a general stenography board which is used mainly by current professional stenographers of all varieties where I could ask more general steno questions (ie thereby allowing you to focus on questions specific to plover and stenosaurus)?

Thanks :)

Mirabai Knight said...

Hey, Scoon! The best general stenography board is

There are also a number of Facebook groups dedicated to steno that are quite popular.

Have fun!

Anonymous said...

I just want to point out that in the picture of you with your hands on the keyboard your wrists seem to be bent in the usual uncomfortable angle a la all nor. Have you considered a split keyboard design (possibly with a set of * buttons for each hand) where the keys are angled to how the arms reaches the keyboard?

Mirabai Knight said...

I use a split keyboard in my professional CART work:

But unfortunately, it's not practical to do a split keyboard for a low-cost, entry-level machine like the Stenosaurus. Maybe if it does really well and we're able to bring out a deluxe version!

Mark Crossley ( said...

Love Plover; using that for my CART work, now, with very favorable results - looking forward to the Stenosaurus, so that it will be able to be used as a plug-'n-play device and software built-in. This will enable immediate load time. Assuming that this will work for any computer or laptop - by chance a Google pad device as welld? Love the idea of immediate "on" with the Google pad, if this is possible. Going from classroom to classroom at times, and it would be fantastic to plug into any device to write. How cool is that? I hope Plover changes paradigm of the world, bringing steno to many thousands - and the strong chance of bringing CART to even more people than today. Am a certified ASL interpreter (RID/CSC&SCL&NAD5) and foresee the world of CART changing for the better because of both of these products. Thanks for sharing the dream and making it a reality.

Mirabai Knight said...

Thanks, Mark! Here's hoping! :'D

jay randolph said...

Trying so hard to read just when the exact date is for purchasing this awesome-looking new device. I'll keep digging, but if anyone knows this, I would very much appreciate your input.

Mirabai Knight said...

Hi, Jay! Unfortunately we still don't have an exact date yet, but we're making progress. I'm hoping that we'll have a better idea of the Stenosaurus's timeframe some time in the next few weeks.

microcolonel said...

Have you considered making a split steno? I find them ergonomically superiour(I had the joy of borrowing an ErgoDox split mechanical keyboard for conventional typing over the course of a couple days, and I have to say it was wonderful for my posture and comfort.

I say this, however, as somebody who does not steno proficiently or for any particular purpose... but the stenographers I know have horrendous bent wrists, and they apologize about it under their breath when we go to lunch.
I would love to avoid the tyrannosaur wrists issue and I think a split might be the solution to that.

microcolonel said...

Sorry for not reading the rest of the thread, didn't see the other comments.

You could take a look at how the ErgoDox keyboard does it, they have a fairly cheap mass-produced TRS cable in between the sides, nothing particularly fancy.
I imagine it would become proportionally less fancy even, for a steno board, as it has fewer keys.

Mirabai Knight said...

We're hoping that the second version of the Stenosaurus will have an ergonomic option. Depends on how popular the first one winds up being, I think. (':