Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Plover v2.5.8 Released!

There's a new release of Plover, which improves CPU usage when in TX Bolt mode. Download it here!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Gigantic Backlog Linkdump

As promised, here's a massive linkdump of Plover material that's accumulated over the past few months. Ideally I should have been parceling these out little by little, but I didn't, and that's that. In no particular order:

* A new version of Plover, v2.5.7. Feature and bugfix list here. Main exciting feature is that it's now possible to run Plover directly off a thumb drive, in "portable" mode!

* A version of Plover's default dict.json dictionary, but with Canadian spellings, thanks to the dauntless and multitalented Brent Nesbitt.

* Brent is also the man behind the amazing Android apps Steno Lookup and StenoIME. I've been playing with StenoIME (an Android keyboard replacement) quite a bit, and while it's still a little rough around the edges, it's an absolute joy to be able to use Swype-style steno on my phone and tablet. Steno Lookup allows you to search within the Plover dictionary from your phone, which is also quite useful, especially for beginners.

* Speaking of lookup apps, Brent's ridiculously handy StenoTray Java app has been given a bugfix and update from Marius van Voorden so that it's now able to match raw steno as well as translated steno.

* Stan Sakai's personal essay on how he became a professional captioner, including the role that Plover played in kindling his fascination with stenography.

* Plover Chord Cheat Sheet by Zack Brown (author of Learn Plover!), depicting all the chords and consonant clusters used in steno. Incidentally, Zack and I are still getting together on a regular basis to expand and refine Learn Plover! into a comprehensive guide for beginners. We're definitely in the home stretch now. Stay tuned!

* Take Four, a steno game by Kitlei RĂ³bert.

* Stenogogy, a new blog about the Plover learning process by Scott Johnson.

* Also a new Stenosaurus blog by Hesky, who's been helping to code the firmware for the Stenosaurus. Incidentally, while the Stenosaurus is still a ways away from starting its crowdfunding campaign, both Plover and the Stenosaurus together have amalgamated into The Open Steno Project. A new website with improved navigation design for new users is coming soon! The Github repository for both Plover and Stenosaurus can be found here.

Phew. I think that's finally everything. Enjoy the bounty of all this hard work from Plover's devs and users! The amount of awesomeness this community produces over the course of just a few months is nothing short of mindblowing. Thanks to everyone for a brilliant 2013! I can't wait to see what happens next.

Vim London Demo!

Yikes, it's been ages since I wrote on this blog. Many apologies; my day job wound up completely eating my life this fall, and everything else dropped by the wayside. I've got a huge backlog, so I'm going to post about this awesome Plover demo at Vim London on October 29th, and after that I'll post a massive linkdump of all the fantastic stuff that's been happening with Plover over the past few months. I'll do my damnedest not to let things pile up like this from now on.

Okay! Vim London!

The amazing Drew Neil and Emile Swarts were kind enough to show Plover off to the Vim London crowd.

First, Emile's demo:

(Transcript here)

A few comments:

Aren't chorded keys worse for RSI?

This is addressed a bit in Drew's talk, but the simple answer is this: When most people talk about chorded systems, they mean one-chord-per-letter systems such as the Twiddler. Obviously that's going to take more work than one-key-per-letter systems like qwerty. The difference is that steno is a one-chord-per-syllable system, which works out to about one chord per every six letters. Much more efficient. Also, problems like "emacs claw" happen when the hand is twisted into unnatural shapes on a repetitive basis. Steno keeps hands in a relaxed, neutral position by default, and doesn't require them to deviate more than a few millimeters from that home position.

And the way it's been engineered is -- mainly people with disabilities, who really can't type that fast.

That's not actually the case. The steno keyboard was originally designed for professional court reporters (who tend not to have manual disabilities, though there's a proud tradition of blind stenographers). However, I think there is definitely considerable potential in steno for people with various disabilities, which I address in my essay How To Speak With Your Fingers.

Next up, Drew's demo:

(Transcript here)

But you can type all of the alphabet with the right hand.

Drew meant left hand, not right hand. (':

Mirabai Knight, who's demonstrating here, she founded The Plover Project, and she can type at 240 words per minute.

Actually, I just got certified up to 260! Woo!

I absolutely loved watching these two videos. They make me incredibly happy. Many thanks to Drew, Emile, and Vim London! Be sure to check out Drew's Twitter account; he's been posting screenshots of his forays into writing with Plover, and they're all great fun.

For an extra dose of meta, here's a brief video of me using Plover in Amara to caption the videos above. Thanks to Mqrius for reconstructing the audio after the fact. You can see that this video is about 20 seconds off of true realtime, because I rewinded three times to correct errors while transcribing the audio, something that's extremely easy to do when using Plover with Amara; I just set KH-FG to {#Shift(Tab)}. It's great being able to do offline captioning without lugging a foot pedal around, the way I used to!

And here's an even briefer video of me using Plover to caption a lecture in Vim. The video quality is deliberately blurry, because this was actually taken at my day job and I don't own the content. But you can see how quickly the screen fills up when I'm actually writing in realtime.

The one thing that frustrates me when using Plover with Vim is that I can't seem to figure out how to keep it scrolling consistently; when the text gets to the bottom of the screen and I make a new paragraph, Vim wipes the whole thing and then starts the cursor again at the top of the screen. This isn't ideal for realtime captioning, because the client might want to consult the text in previous paragraphs. When I recorded this, I was writing to Eclipse (proprietary steno software) on my big laptop for my client, while simultaneously writing to Plover on my Surface Pro (thanks to my Infinity Ergonomic's dual Bluetooth outputs). I'd love to use Plover and Vim exclusively and retire Eclipse altogether, but unless I can figure out a way to get around that wiping/jumping issue, that might not be possible. Tips on hacking Vim to make it more steno-friendly are definitely welcome!