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!