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.


Michele Durig said...

That is fascinating! I know I'll be purchasing one when they are ready!

Nate said...

What a gorgeous machine.

Anonymous said...

I'll be wanting one of those.

Unknown said...

Changing.. The.. World!..

Sandy said...


Unknown said...

Awesome. Can a new student use it to learn steno and when finished with school, keep using in the business world?

Paulo Paniago said...

Wow, I even feel stupid right now, couldn′t imagine the huge announcement would be so huge, sauropod size revolution. I want one of those!!!
Paulo Paniago

Paulo Paniago said...

Lightweight machine – sauropods revolution.
Changing the face of world′s stenography

Mirabai Knight said...

Lucia: This will probably be a bit too noisy and clunky to use for onsite work, but it'll be great for students and amateurs!

Everyone else: Thanks for the kind words! I'll pass them along to Josh. I have to say I'm pretty damn excited myself. Really want to own one of these babies ASAP!

Unknown said...

Thanks Mirabai. I want to do captioning and not courtroom. So if they're noisy, it won't matter. I'll be home.

Anonymous said...

Brass keys = steampunk lightspeed. WANT.

I'm glad crowdfunding exists. You'll be taking my money shortly.

Paulo Paniago said...

It would be interesting, in a future perhaps not too far away, if it could be mounted with a jointed dock that would hold a tablet pc. A moving doc that could make the two pieces “open and close”, turning the stenosaurus and the tablet into a laptop with the steno keyboard. Although larger – I was imagining something similar to the Eee Pad Transformer.
This way, anyone seriously interested in using steno in everyday typing, when time came to buy a new computer, would already buy a tablet pc, perhaps with windows 8, thinking of the next possible stenosaurus acquisition.

Unknown said...

Beyond amazing! Any chance of having rounded edges?

Bryce M said...

This looks amazing! I'm definitely going to try and get one of these once they come out (The sidewinder is great but isn't exactly portable), and I'll love seeing this taken to mobile devices!

Mirabai Knight said...

Paolo, that's brilliant! I've passed your idea along to Josh. Maybe we can make it a stretch goal! I'd love to have a steno-capable "laptop"! (':

Anonymous said...

I have a question about 'saurus - would it be possible to have a second option for transcribing, where you can write using only the machine independent of the computer, and the strokes are logged on some drive which you can translate later via a plover utility? Because carrying around a computer could be hard if you want to take notes.

Paulo Paniago said...

For taking notes without carrying a computer, the stenosaurus just need to have Bluetooth with internal battery (something Mirabai have already mentioned as a possible next feature). Since it emulates a qwerty keyboard, you could simply type on a smartphone. For small notes, that would be sufficient.
And thanks for the compliment Mirabai, I just told my fellows that I’ve been called - brilliant - by someone in the other hemisphere of the planet. That is something that just doesn’t happen everyday. I’m glad I was, perhaps, the first one to think of that kind of “steno-capable laptop”.
And actually, I was even curious, why does companies such as stenograph didn’t made their machines using screens with android system, instead of designing the hole software?
Also, the slim keyboard produced by stenovations would be perfect to turn into a laptop like device. Haven’t they thought of that possibility? Wouldn’t stenographers be interested?

Mirabai Knight said...

All very good questions. I've got no idea. I've stopped trying to analyze the inscrutable decisions of proprietary steno hardware and software companies.

Paulo Paniago said...

A simple machine, like the stenosaurus was exactly what I thought I would find when I first looked over, ten years ago, into learning steno. “It just needed a keyboard” I thought. With the taxes fixed by the Brazilian government over importation (importação), the stentura with proprietary software was the price of a popular car in here. No wander we use pen shorthand.
Also, for the one above who asked about taking notes without carrying a computer, I would like to add something I was forgetting:
The stenosaurus can do the translation by itself, as of what I could understand, it doesn’t need plover or any other installation onto the machine to make it work. Josh Lifton made it with its internal configurable dictionary, so that it could be used as a simple “plug and play” keyboard. Which means, ironically in a sense, that it was made by plover’s first programmer so that it wouldn’t need plover ;)

Mirabai Knight said...

Haha, yup. I don't think it'll make Plover entirely obsolete, though. Just another weapon in the steno arsenal.

Paulo Paniago said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paulo Paniago said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Paulo Paniago said...

And ounce again, thanks again for those weapons.

Unknown said...

Looks great! Can't wait! Here's a suggestions: any way to make the consonants higher than the vowels so that it is more ergonomic? Maybe hard silicone keypads? Not soft, gooey keypads, though.

Mirabai Knight said...

Steno Duchess: Believe it or not, lowered vowel keys, as common as they are on most steno machines, are actually less ergonomic than vowel keys that are on the same level as the consonants. I used to have machines with depressed vowel keys; ever since getting my Infinity, which has them parallel with the other keys, I've noticed a lot less fatigue.

Unknown said...

Okay, fair enough. But everybody's different, and some people may feel that depressed vowels work better for them. Plus: if you can make some good keypads to cater to those people, you'd make more money. Win win?

Anonymous said...

This is AWESOME!!

I love Paulo's idea of attaching a screen to it and making it into a laptop.

When will it be available to buy?

Mirabai Knight said...

Hi, Anonymous! We hope that the crowdfunding campaign will be launched in the next few months!

chajadan said...

Seems I got into this whole steno through plover thing at the right time! I literally just ran into it last night, bought the keyboard hours ago, read the manual on the 3hr bus trip, and I'm already feeling settled into the basics: I go slow but typed all words after the 2 dots wit out the use of eyes

Yeah, weird word choice, and I meant "colon", and I can't type the th in "with" or end my sentence in a period, but my point is, for someone in a rush, Stenosaurus seems like the horizon everyone else wishes they'd long ago had. Lucky me =)

Mirabai Knight said...

Whoah, impressive! Sounds like you jumped into it with both feet and hit the proverbial ground proverbially running!! I can't wait to see what your progress looks like!

"With" is just W-, btw.

Hoping the Stenosaurus is out before we even know it.

Anonymous said...

I'm really interested in learning to use Plover I have a couple of questions:

1. If I learn with the modified computer keyboard, will it be difficult to transfer to a Stenosaurus later?

2. Do you have any plans to work with the NCRA to have Plover become an accepted software to use to obtain certification with them?


Mirabai Knight said...

1. No, it should be pretty easy. I don't foresee any real difficulties.

2. Plover is already accepted software for certification tests and other NCRA events! I used it for the National Realtime Championship last summer and got 11th place. (':

Gabe said...

Now if only they'd update their instructions for the online test to reflect this reality...

In a blog post you had in 2014, you talked about some guy Mark who planned to take the certification test using Plover -- any idea how that worked out?

Does the fact that they're using online testing change anything?

Mirabai Knight said...

Not sure! I was able to participate in the NCRA realtime competition using Plover without any problems. I think they just need an ASCII transcript and a notes output, so I don't think they'd object to what Plover gives them? But I got all my certifications before they started online testing, so I don't know for sure.

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