Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Giant Monster Catch-Up Post

Manual steno machine, Sidewinders, and Infinity Ergonomic laid out at PyGotham 2014

Gah! It's been absolute ages! Amazing things have been happening in the Plover world, but I've been too wrapped up in my day job to document them all as they've occurred. I'm going to try to get back on top of blogging everything that's going on, starting now, but as ever if you want the latest breaking Plover news, you should probably join the Google Group, which is always the most direct source of information from Plover's developers, users, and contributors.

Speaking of which, Plover is no longer just its own thing. Hesky, Josh, and I have decided to fold it into a more general overarching organization, The Open Steno Project. Plover will continue to be the name of the software, but in addition to Plover itself, The Open Steno Project will serve as a catchall for various efforts to produce open source steno hardware and steno learning systems. The URL that used to go to the Plover Wiki,, now links directly to the Open Steno Project's website, (designed by longtime Plover supporter, captioning user, and user experience designer Sveta Kouznetsova of, but you can also link to, which will send you to the same place, and which has a link to the Plover Wiki (still a great resource for all sorts of information on Plover) prominently displayed at the top left of the page.

Okay, on with all that's been springing up these many months since I last blogged:

Most importantly for me (if not for anyone else), I've been using Plover exclusively in my captioning work since January! I'll probably make a post (possibly here, possibly on my StenoKnight blog, which has also been lying shamefully fallow for far too long) dedicated to all the various Vim settings and handy command strokes I've been using, but just briefly, I have to say it's been an absolute dream. I'm able to accommodate a client who uses a webinar system that forces captioners to type into a tiny text entry box and manually press return every 50 characters. With my old steno system, (the $4,000 proprietary court reporting software, Eclipse), the delay between when I pressed enter and when I saw the command go through in the text box would have been extremely frustrating. With Plover, it's as easy as anything. I'm also able to help out a client who wants me to caption directly into Google Docs, which might also merit a blog post of its own, since it's a fascinating project. In my daily work, I'm able to use the power and simplicity of Vim to edit my captions in realtime, just like I dreamed of back in 2008. Plus Plover's dictionary definition window is so much simpler and more efficient than the convoluted technique I had to use with Eclipse. I've got the Eclipse installation file in my new computer's downloads folder just in case I ever have to install it, and I've paid the annual $600 support and upgrade fee for 2014, but if I'm really able to go another year using Plover for absolutely all my CART and captioning work, I think I'll finally be confident enough to cast Eclipse completely loose, which will feel wonderful.

But I'm not the only one who's been living and breathing open source steno!

New low-cost key interface for Stenosaurus

The Stenosaurus is well on its way to production. Josh is aiming for October to open the crowdfunding campaign on Crowd Supply, and has been doing all sorts of fantastic work, from being interviewed on Slashdot (though please don't read the comments unless you urgently need to raise your blood pressure), to giving an Ignite talk at a tech conference (link to captioned video coming soon), to negotiating with illustrious keyboard manufacturers to produce a Stenosaurus-specific key switch!

StenoBoard, Printed and Assembled

In other steno hardware news, The Stenoboard is now in its second iteration. Emanuele Caruso, a new member of the Open Steno Project, has released OpenSCAD plans for his 3D-printed steno keyboard, so if you have access to a 3D printer and don't mind purchasing and assembling the electronics, you can download and print one yourself. If you'd rather buy the parts for the StenoBoard pre-printed but unsoldered, you can buy all the components for about $197 (plus shipping from Italy), or if you'd like to buy everything put together except for a few boards you need to screw in and wires you need to slot into place, you can get the easy-assemble kit for $263. I ordered one of those when the StenoBoard was still 1.0 (it's now 1.1) and somehow messed up the assembly so that it would occasionally block a stroke when too many keys were pressed at a time, but I tried out the one Hesky bought and assembled himself, and it worked perfectly. I've ordered a 1.1 kit and will be extremely punctilious while following the assembly instructions, so stay tuned for for my review! Meanwhile, if you don't mind putting together a fairly simple kit yourself, I think the StenoBoard is probably the best medium-priced steno solution for amateurs and hobbyists -- at least 'til the Stenosaurus comes along. The Stenosaurus will probably be a bit more expensive, but it'll be made out of bamboo and aluminum rather than 3D-printed resin, and won't require any assembly. On the other hand, the StenoBoard is lightweight, has a very small footprint, and is more ergonomically designed, so there's definitely a place for both within the Open Steno hardware ecosystem.

Also momentous is Brent's StenoKeyboard app for Android. It's more of a clone than a port of Plover, and a really fine piece of work. This too probably deserves its own post, and I'll do my damnedest to make one fairly soon, but I strongly encourage anyone with an Android phone or tablet to try it out. A huge number of bugfixes and UI improvements have been made on it since its first release, and I've been using it myself on a regular basis. You can equip it to write steno with your finger on your phone, Swype-style, as shown in the picture above, or you can use an USB-OTG adapter to write into your phone or tablet with a Sidewinder or StenoBoard. I bought one for a few bucks off Amazon, and so far it's been working brilliantly!

A few other quick links:

Me and Plover at !!Con

I captioned !!Con using Plover and got a whole bunch of programmers excited about steno when they came over to play with my machine during breaks. Woohoo! Hesky and I also got to give a talk at the Google Developer Group Meetup and I got to caption for him when he did a lecture on steno for Nerd Nite, but sadly neither of those were recorded.

Our presentation at the Accessibility NYC Meetup was, though, and I finally (finally!) finished captioning it last week:

If you'd like an accessibility-focused presentation on what Plover can do (including the opportunities for stenographic employment among blind and low vision screen reader users, a theme I intend to develop in my CSUN 2015 talk proposal), feel free to check it out. Or if you don't have the time to watch a 36-minute video, just glance through the transcript. One big error I should correct, though: In the talk, I say that Stan Sakai, CCP, of Superlative Realtime, dropped out of college when he discovered steno. That's not true at all! He finished up his BA in Linguistics, but decided not to pursue a Pharmacy degree, as he'd previously planned, and became a professional CART provider instead. He captioned for a few years in Seattle, then moved out here to NYC and has been an indescribable asset to the captioning scene here ever since. He's the one using Text on Top to caption me and Hesky at the Meetup. He also gave a live demo of Plover for PyGotham 2014 a few weeks ago (that's his Infinity Ergonomic in the picture at the top of the post), though we're not yet sure whether it was caught on video.

For those who like to live on the cutting edge, the inimitable Mike Neale of has released an experimental version of Plover (currently for Windows only) that incorporates a dictionary manager, retroactive formatting commands, and two realtime training tools called Stroke Helper and Brief Helper. Use at your own risk, but feel free to offer feedback at the Google Group if you do! Hopefully a stable release incorporating these features will be coming along fairly soon.

Learn Plover! has been fairly stable since my last update here, though we're still making minor adjustments and revisions as we get more input on it. Longtime friend and recent Plover fledgling Erika has put together an interactive browser-based drilling trainer using the one-syllable words found in the early lessons. She's working on expanding it, but it's already pretty useful even just in its early form.

Phew. Like I said, a ton of stuff has been going on, all of it pretty dang exciting. I pledge to do my absolute best to keep up with it from now on. In the mean time, check out all the stuff I've linked to in this enormous unwieldy behemoth of a post, and stay tuned for more news coming soon! I feel like Open Steno as a movement is poised on the edge of something big, and I can't wait to see what happens next.


Zack said...

Great update! Please keep 'em coming! :-)

Ryan said...

For a closed source Android application?

I think someone needs to write an open-source clone of the Plover clone.

And I also don't think Plover, an open-source project, should promote a closed-source Android application.

Wasn't one of the main reasons that Plover was developed to provide an open-source steno program? You're going down a slippery slope

Mirabai Knight said...

Hi, Ryan. I'm not sure where you got the idea that StenoKeyboard (aka StenoIME) was closed source. It's not. You can find the source here:

Anonymous said...

Can you use Plover with a manual steno machine and somehow hook it up to your CAT software? And, since digital CAT is free, can it work with Plover? P.S. Would the old SmartWriter work with Plover and realtime? The Court Reporting schools must be having a collective heart attack right now!

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mirabai Knight said...

"Can you use Plover with a manual steno machine and somehow hook it up to your CAT software?"

Not unless you wired electronic sensors to each key of the manual steno machine and wrote a driver to translate data from the machine into a serial protocol supported by Plover, in which case it wouldn't be a manual steno machine anymore! Also, that sounds like a lot of work. (';

"And, since digital CAT is free, can it work with Plover?"

Plover and DigitalCAT do essentially the same thing (translate steno code into English text), so I don't know what you mean by 'work with Plover'. But DigitalCAT isn't free; if you can prove that you're enrolled in steno school they'll give you a temporary student license without charging you for it, but the capabilities of the software are truly limited, and it's certainly not free in the sense that Plover is, in that all the code is online and able to be downloaded, distributed, and modified by anyone for any purpose.

"P.S. Would the old SmartWriter work with Plover and realtime?"

I believe some people have managed to get a Smartwriter working with Plover, yes. (':

"The Court Reporting schools must be having a collective heart attack right now!"

Why? We're just opening up a huge swath of potential new business! Music Conservatories haven't gone under just because you can buy a "teach yourself guitar" book. Art schools haven't stopped offering MFAs in Photography just because everyone has a camera in their smartphone. The amateur/hobbyist base of any skill has to be large and flourishing enough to support the emergence of a solid core of professionals!

Mirabai Knight said...

Ryan: I've sent your comments on to Brent. I'll let you know what he says.

Ryan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mirabai Knight said...

Brent replies:

"Copyright isn't something I know anything about. As far as I'm concerned though, it is intended to be open source."

Ryan said...

I suggest the copyright terms be clarified. It would also be nice if an .apk was available for those without Google Play (a closed source application.)

Anonymous said...

Ryan, thanks for being on the lookout for this kind of stuff. Please submit a pull request, or at least an issue, to the Github project.

Nat said...

Hi, Mirabai!

I wasn't sure where to post this, but is the Plover Store still open? I tried to purchase the keys and kept getting an error. I'm really excited to learn steno! Thanks for all your hard work!

Mirabai Knight said...

Hi, Nat! The Plover Store seems to be working. Not sure why it's not working for you, but feel free to email with your order, and my laser cutter will take care of it for you personally. Good luck!

Nat said...

Hi Mirabai,

Thanks for your reply. It's working for me now. :)