Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Help the Steno Arcade Demo Get on Steam!

Vote to Greenlight Steno Arcade on Steam Here!

Anyone who's played video games on their PC no doubt knows about Steam, the comprehensive platform that supports a dizzying array of both commercial and indie games. Since I'm currently on winter break, I've spent a ton of time this week with my Steam Link and Steam Controller, playing Undertale and Botanicula on my six-foot-wide projector screen, and I love the idea of being able to have Steno Arcade parties on it someday as well. Just add steno machine!

For All To Play, the studio that's been developing Steno Arcade, were able to get , Grail To The Thief, their previous screen reader accessible game, up on Steam, and now we're trying again with the Steno Hero demo, via the Steam Greenlight system. If you have a Steam account or know anyone who does, please vote for us! It would be amazing to have such a massive platform to help get the word out about gamified steno.

Vote Here!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Steno Arcade Demo Is Here!

First: If you want to be notified about the launch of the Steno Arcade crowdfunding campaign, enter your email address here!

Second: The demo is complete! We currently offer four Jonathan Coulton songs, with permission:

I'm Your Moon
Mandelbrot Set
That Spells DNA
I Feel Fantastic

In the full game we'll offer many more Creative Commons-licensed songs, as well as a song editor to allow you to make levels out of your own music library! We'll also make the graphics a little bit splashier (and screen reader accessible!), and of course, the more money we raise, the more games we're going to be able to develop. We're hoping to launch the campaign in early January, so stay tuned!

Download the Demo Here!

(Demo link is Windows only, but I believe it will be cross-platform via Steam very soon.)

And one more time: If you want to be notified about the launch of the Steno Arcade crowdfunding campaign, enter your email address here!

Monday, December 21, 2015

Learn Plover in Paperback

Learn Plover, Zachary Brown's online steno textbook, will always be available on the website for free. But several people requested a print version, so it's now available for purchase!

Buy Learn Plover in paperback from Amazon here. It will also be available as a Kindle ebook in the near future.

He's also been working on a new Velotype-style orthographic chording system, called Kinglet, which he thinks might have an easier learning curve than Plover. It's not yet compatible with any software, so he doesn't have videos of it in action, but it should be pretty simple to implement. If this sounds like your kind of text entry system, go check it out!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Stenosaurus Progress Shots!

Over on The Stenosaurus Blog, things are happening!

Josh says:
I'm carving out a lot of the next two weeks to work on this, so there should be more news soon.
Check out these pictures of current Stenosaurus components!

So excited to see what's coming next!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Introducing Aloft From Stan Sakai and The Open Steno Project!

I am thrilled to utter pieces to introduce readers of The Plover Blog to the Open Steno Project's newest software application: Aloft, a collaborative realtime streaming app and automatic transcript repository. The amazing Stan Sakai, who taught himself steno and got up to professional speeds in less than a year, recently taught himself how to code, and has created a realtime streaming app that blows every other option out of the water.

Aloft's repository on Github

Crossposted from Stan's post on The Stanographer:

First off, apologies for the long radio silence. It’s been far too long since I’ve made any updates! But I just had to share a recent that I’m currently probably the most excited about.

[ Scroll down for TL;DR ]

To begin, a little background. For the past several months, I’ve been captioning an intensive web design class at General Assembly, a coding academy in New York City. Our class in particular utilized multiple forms of accommodation with four students using realtime captioning or sign interpreters depending on the context, as well as one student who used screen sharing to magnify and better view content projected in the classroom. A big shout-out to GA for stepping up and making a11y a priority, no questions asked.

On the realtime captioning front, it initially proved to be somewhat of a logistical challenge mostly because the system my colleague and I were using to deliver captions is commercial deposition software, designed primarily with judicial reporting in mind. But the system proved to be less than ideal for this specific context for a number of reasons.

Commercial realtime viewing software either fails to address the needs of deaf and hard of hearing individuals who rely on realtime transcriptions for communication access or addresses them half-assedly as an afterthought.

The UI is still clunky and appears antiquated. Limited in its ability to change font sizes, line spacing, and colors, it makes it unnecessarily difficult to access options that are frequently crucial when working with populations with diverse sensory needs. Options are sequestered behind tiny menus and buttons that are hard to hit on a tablet. One of the most glaring issues was the inability to scroll with a flick of the finger. Having not been updated since the widespread popularization of touch interfaces, there is practically no optimization for this format. To scroll, the user must drag the tiny scroll bar on the far edge of the screen with high precision. Menus and buttons clutter the screen and take up too much space and everything just looks ugly.

Though the software supports sending text via the Internet or locally via Wi-Fi, most institutional Wi-Fi is either not consistently strong enough, or too encumbered by security restrictions to send captions reliably to external devices.

Essentially, unless the captioner brought his or her own portable router, text would be unacceptably slow or the connection would drop. Additionally, unless the captioner either has access to an available ethernet port into which to plug said router or has a hotspot with a cellular subscription, this could mean the captioner is without Internet during the entire job.

Connection drops are handled ungracefully. Say I were to briefly switch to the room Wi-Fi to google a term or check my email. When I switch back to my router and start writing, only about half of the four tablets usually survive and continue receiving text. The connection is very fragile so you had to pretty much set it and leave it alone.

Makers of both steno translation software and realtime viewing software alike still bake in lag time between when a stroke is hit by the stenographer and when it shows up as translated text.

A topic on which Mirabai has weighed in extensively — most modern commercial steno software runs on time-based translation (i.e. translated text is sent out only after a timer of several milliseconds to a second runs out). This is less than ideal for a deaf or hard of hearing person relying on captions as it creates a somewhat awkward delay, which, to a hearing person merely watching a transcript for confirmation as in a legal setting would not notice.

Subscription-based captioning solutions that send realtime over the Internet are ugly and add an additional layer of lag built-in due to their reliance on Ajax requests that ping for new text on a timed interval basis.

Rather than utilizing truly realtime technologies which push out changes to all clients immediately as the server receives them, most subscription based captioning services rely on the outdated tactic of burdening the client machine with having to repeatedly ping the server to check for changes in the realtime transcript as it is written. Though not obviously detrimental to performance, the obstinate culture of “not fixing what ain’t broke” continues to prevail in stenographic technology. Additionally, the commercial equivalents to Aloft are cluttered with too many on-screen options without a way to hide the controls and, again, everything just looks clunky and outdated.

Proprietary captioning solutions do not allow for collaborative captioning.

At Kickstarter, I started providing transcriptions of company meetings using a combo of Plover and Google Docs. It was especially helpful to have subject matter experts (other employees) be able to correct things in the transcript and add speaker identifications for people I hadn’t met yet. More crucially, I felt overall higher sense of integration with the company and the people working there as more and more people got involved, lending a hand in the effort. But Google Docs is not designed for captioning. At times, it would freeze up and disable editing when text came in too quickly. Also, the user would have to constantly scroll manually to see the most recently-added text.

With all these frustrations in mind, and with the guidance of the GA instructors in the class, I set off on building my own solution to these problems with the realtime captioning use case specifically in mind. I wanted a platform that would display text instantaneously with virtually no lag, was OS and device agnostic, touch interface compatible, extremely stable in that it had a rock solid connection that could handle disconnects and drops on both the client and provider side without dying a miserable death, and last but not least, delivered everything on a clean, intuitive interface to boot.

How I Went About It

While expressing my frustrations during the class, one of the instructors informed me of the fairly straightforward nature of solving the problem, using the technologies the class had been covering all semester. After that discussion, I was determined to set out to create my own realtime text delivery solution, hoping some of what I had been transcribing every day for two months had actually stuck.

Well, it turned out not much did. I spent almost a full week learning the basics the rest of the class had covered weeks ago, re-watching videos I had captioned, putting together little bits of code before trying to pull them together into something larger. I originally tried to use a library called CodeMirror, which is essentially a web based collaborative editing program, using as its realtime interface. It worked at first but I found it incapable of handling the volume and speed of text produced by a stenographer, constantly crashing when I transcribed faster than 200 WPM. I later discovered another potential problem — that doesn’t guarantee order of delivery. In other words, if certain data were received out of order, the discrepancy between what was sent to the server versus what a client received would cause the program to freak out. There was no logic that would prioritize and handle concurrent changes.

I showed Mirabai my initial working prototype and she was instantly all for it. After much fuss around naming, Mirabai and I settled on Aloft as it’s easy to spell, easy to pronounce, and maintains the characteristic avian theme of Open Steno Project.

I decided to build Aloft for web so that any device with a modern browser could run it without complications. The core server is written in Node. I used Express and EJS to handle routing and layouts, and JQuery with JavaScript for handling the dynamic front-end bits.

Screenshot of server code

I incorporated the ShareJS library to handle realtime communication, using browserchannel as its WebSockets-like interface. Additionally, I wrapped ShareJS with Primus for more robust handling of disconnects and dissemination of updated content if/when a dropped machine comes back online. Transcript data is stored in a Mongo database via a wrapper, livedb-mongo, which allows ShareJS to easily store the documents as JSON objects into Mongo collections. On the front end, I used Bootstrap as the primary framework with the Flat UI theme. Aloft is currently deployed on DigitalOcean.

Current Features

  • Fast AF™ text delivery that is as close to realtime as possible given your connection speed. OS agnostic! Runs on Mac, Windows, Android, iOS, Linux, anything you can run a modern Internet browser on. User login which allows captioner to create new events as well as visualize all past events by author and event title.
  • Captioner can delete, modify, reopen previous sessions, and view raw text with a click of a link or button. Option to make a session collaborative or not if you want to let your viewers directly edit your transcription. Ability for the viewer to easily change font face, font size, invert colors, increase line spacing, save the transcription as .txt, and hide menu options.
  • Easy toggle button to let viewers turn on/off autoscrolling so they can review past text but be quickly able to snap down to what is currently being written.
  • Ability to run Aloft both over the Internet or as a local instance during cases in which a reliable Internet connection is not available (daemonize using pm2 and access via your machine’s IP addy).

Aloft homepage appearance if you are a captioner

In the Works

  • Plugin that allows captioners using commercial steno software that typically output text to local TCP ports to send text to Aloft without having to focus their cursor on the editing window in the browser. Right now, Aloft is mostly ideal for stenographers using Plover.
  • Ability for users on commercial steno software to make changes in the transcript, with changes reflected instantly on Aloft.
  • Ability to execute Vim-like commands in the Aloft editor window.
  • Angularize front-end elements that are currently accomplished via somewhat clunky scripts.
  • “Minimal Mode” which would allow the captioner to send links for a completely stripped-down, nothing-but-the-text page that can be modified via parameters passed in to the URL (e.g. would render a page that contains text from job name columbia with 20px white text on a black background.

That’s all I have so far but for the short amount of time Aloft has been in existence, I’ve been extremely satisfied with it. I haven’t used my commercial steno software at all, in favor of using Aloft with Plover exclusively for about two weeks now. Mirabai has also begun to use it in her work. I’m confident that once I get the add-on working to get users of commercial stenography software on board, it’ll really take off.

Using Aloft on the Job on my Macbook Pro and iPad

I was captioning a web development course when I realized how unsatisfied I was with every commercial realtime system currently available. I consulted the instructors and used what I had learned to build a custom solution designed to overcome all the things I hate about what’s already out there and called it Aloft because it maintains the avian theme of the Open Steno Project.
Try it out for yourself: Simple Realtime Text Delivery

Special thanks to: Matt Huntington, Matthew Short, Kristyn Bryan, Greg Dunn, Mirabai Knight, Ted Morin

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Sneak Peek At A New 3D-Printed Steno Machine

Yesterday, on The Plover Google Group, we got an exciting announcement out of nowhere: There's another low cost steno writer on the horizon!

Scott writes:
I have been using a Stenoboard for a while now, and I feel like I'm reaching a point where I am better off with getting rid of the somewhat-difficult clicky microswitches. Don't get me wrong, the Stenoboard is an amazing project and is affordable enough to use as a learning tool. I would probably not be around here right now if it hadn't been available to me. But it isn't up to par with what I would enjoy typing with longer-term. Despite milled aluminium keycaps and a wood case sounding delicious on the Stenosaurus, like Robert Fontaine says, "I'd prefer a less sexy plastic machine ... with less price and less wait ;)" So, I introduce to you all a less sexy plastic machine with less price and (perhaps a little) less wait, the SOFT/HRUF!
The Stenoboard's extremely shallow travel is an issue for me too, so this is very exciting. Scott was inspired by the ethos of the Humble Bundle, where people who have more money at their disposal choose to pay a bit more to help supplement the amount paid by people who can't afford to pay full price. Definitely a great complement to the principles of open source, and indeed, Scott says the SOFT/HRUF will be open source:
I started work on this project only three or four days ago with no idea how to do anything. Between then and now, I've learned how to model in OpenSCAD, use a 3D printer, (re)write keyboard firmware, solder matrices, and burned through nearly twenty iterations of keycap styles before finding a decent setup that could fit the entire keyboard on a single build plate. That work is just starting to pay off into something usable, so I figured I'd share a quick photo to show where it has come to and to gauge potential interest. Hopefully in the next couple weeks I get the first version finished, get some keyboards picked up, and some pennies thrown at me to offset the cost of this printer. Of course, I'll be fully releasing the source so you all can build upon and improve it as soon as everything is in a usable state. I will also be setting up a storefront with a pay-what-you-will option like I mentioned in the title. The way it will work is that there is a minimum set price that is equivalent to the direct cost of the parts (with no charge for assembly) and you'll pay exactly what I pay to acquire the parts. But if you are feeling like you want to be wallet-friendly, you can choose any greater price you think is fair for my time and effort.
The recommended default price ends up being in the range of $120-$145, which is almost as affordable as the low to medium range of NKRO keyboards. Pretty impressive! I'm guessing that the machine's name is pronounced "Soft Love", but maybe it's pronounced "Soft Luff" or "Soft Hruf" or "Soft Hruv", or... I dunno! You'll have to ask Scott! There are already a bunch of questions and answers on the thread, so feel free to weigh in over there. Meanwhile, I'll be holding my breath and waiting to see what comes out of this ambitious and stylish attempt at a new ultra-accessible steno machine!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Help Us Find CC-Licensed Music for Steno Hero!

First, some more pictures from the latest build of Steno Hero:

I've played the demo, it's completely amazing, and it's so close to being done, I can almost taste it!! We'll be releasing the demo with only three songs, but we need to come up with a larger list of songs for the full version of the game, and we're hoping the Open Steno Project community can help us out with that. The songs need to have lyrics and need to have a license allowing commercial use. We've got a few likely candidates, but the more suggestions we can get, the more variety the game will have, so please send us links to all your favorite CC-licensed songs! Any tempo is fine, since we'll want a mixture of difficulty settings, from very slow to very fast. Since we want Steno Arcade to be kid-friendly (gotta hook 'em on steno while they're young!) we're hoping to avoid lots of cussing, so if your songs have any questionable material, bleeped or silenced versions are preferred.

Even if you can't think of any songs, please continue to help spread the word about Steno Arcade! We're counting down to what's shaping up to be a pretty amazing launch.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Ultimate Hacking Keyboard Now Has a Trackball

Wow, I'd been holding off on pledging for an Ultimate Hacking Keyboard, which I first posted about last month, because if I'm gonna get a backup steno machine to carry in my work bag, I was thinking it should be the Stenosaurus. But now that the UHK is gonna be both a split keyboard and have a trackball, I'm sorely tempted. Honestly, the only thing holding me back is the staggered key layout, which looks like it might be somewhat uncomfortable, compared to the Stenosaurus's evenly aligned rows. Plus the Stenosaurus will have lighter key actuation. On the other hand, the UHK is likely to be more lightweight overall and easier to fit in my bag. Man, this is a tough one. Anyway, I thought y'all should know about it!

Monday, November 9, 2015 is live!

Just a quick update: is now an actual site that exists, and you can enter your name and email address there if you want to be added to our mailing list for when the crowdfunding campaign launches. More teasers and details and art assets coming soon!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

New From Steno Arcade: Logo and GIFs!

So I posted the Steno Hero logo when I announced the project, but we've got a logo for the overall game suite as well!

Plus we've got some more art from Steno Hero to show you! A sample of the characters you'll see cheering you on in the audience, plus our initial player character (who not coincidentally looks a lot like Jonathan Coulton, the perpetual geek-favorite songwriter):

And some animations of individual concertgoers getting their groove on:

More coming soon!

Stenodict: A New Steno Dictionary Repository

Ted, our intrepid lead developer, has outdone himself yet again. He decided that there needed to be a centralized hub for stenographers to share specialized dictionaries, and took it upon himself to make it happen.

Stenodict is a Github-based dictionary repository, which currently includes the movement/editing dictionary I posted about recently, as well as a command line dictionary and a markdown commands dictionary. Soon to come will be my Vim captioning commands dictionary, which I submitted to Ted this morning, and Ted's world-famous emoji dictionary, featuring 250 mnemonically stenotypable emoji strokes! If you have a dictionary that you think other people might find useful, please don't be shy about submitting it, even if it's only a few entries long, like Ted's unicode arrows dictionary. The more specialized dictionaries we can collect and document, the better!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Announcing: Steno Arcade!!!


If you've been following The Open Steno Project for a while, you know that one of my long-held dreams has been to develop a steno tutorial arcade game suite to teach and drill steno fundamentals in an immersive, addictive, responsive, and interactive way. Over the last five years, I've been accepting donations and selling merch, all of which has been set aside to fund development for the game suite.

I'm happy to announce that almost all of that money has now been spent! Way back in July, I was contacted by Adriane Kuzminski, a Twitter friend of mine, who works on interactive sound design and accessibility. She got wind of the project and put me in touch with the people from For All To Play, a studio established to develop accessible video games. It turned out to be a perfect match.

Since then, For All To Play and I have been working on a plan to make this game suite a reality. The suite will now be called Steno Arcade, a fantastic title that warms the cockles of my retro little Eighties Kid heart. They also agreed to work at seriously discounted rates to develop a playable demo for the first Steno Arcade game, which will be used to drum up enthusiasm for a crowdfunding campaign to help develop the rest of the games. We've sketched out names and general game designs for all of the games, and I'm intensely excited about all of them, but we all agreed that the playable demo should go to the most impressively badass-looking steno game yet envisioned: Steno Hero! It's like all your favorite rhythm games, but instead of mashing buttons to vaguely emulate a simplified version of the music, you're hitting steno chords to precisely and accurately produce each one of the lyrics! It's like singing karaoke with your fingers!

Back in 2012, some people at PyGotham and I hacked up a very rough sketch of what Steno Hero could be, but it never really went anywhere... Until now. The For All To Play guys have leapt into the creation of this game headfirst, and I couldn't be more thrilled. I'm going to be updating the blog with more teasers and details (and art and animated GIFs and maybe even video) over the course of the next few weeks so that enthusiasm for the crowdfunding campaign will be at a fever pitch by the time we launch, but let me just tell you: I've already played the all-but-completed demo for this game, and it absolutely knocks my socks off. I can't wait to show you more!

The demo is being developed with the Godot open source game engine, and the source of both the demo and the other finished games will be released as soon as they're completed. All the finished games will be 100% screen reader compatible (though unfortunately the demo probably won't be), and we've got steno-savvy blind playtesters standing by to help make sure there will be no accessibility barriers in these games. As I've said before, the blind and low vision community might well turn out to be stenography's secret weapon, and Steno Arcade is a huge part of my plan to reach out to users of screen readers in an attempt to lure them into the steno fold. I can't tell you how amazing this whole process has been so far, and I can't wait to watch it all come together over the next few weeks and months. Until then, stay tuned! Many more updates soon to come!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Movement/Editing Dictionaries

Okay, so the exciting announcement got put on hold one more time, but I promise it's in the works. More very soon.

In the mean time, I've got some excellent little mini-dictionaries to tide you over!

You remember, of course, Ted's Modifier Dictionary, which lets you hit any combination of metakeys using a simple, consistent formula.

But now we also have Achim's mini-editing dictionary:
"P*RB": "{^}{#Up}{^}",
"W*RB": "{^}{#Down}{^}",
"K*RB": "{^}{#Left}{^}",
"R*RB": "{^}{#Right}{^}",
"P*RBLG": "{^}{#Shift_L(Up)}{^}",
"W*RBLG": "{^}{#Shift_L(Down)}{^}",
"K*RBLG": "{^}{#Shift_L(Left)}{^}",
"R*RBLG": "{^}{#Shift_L(Right)}{^}",
"P*RBLGS": "{^}{#Shift_L(Alt_L(Up))}{^}",
"W*RBLGS": "{^}{#Shift_L(Alt_L(Down))}{^}",
"K*RBLGS": "{^}{#Shift_L(Alt_L(Left))}{^}",
"R*RBLGS": "{^}{#Shift_L(Alt_L(Right))}{^}",
"P*RPB": "{^}{#Super_L(Up)}{^}",
"W*RPB": "{^}{#Super_L(Down)}{^}",
"K*RPB": "{^}{#Super_L(Left)}{^}",
"R*RPB": "{^}{#Super_L(Right)}{^}",
"P*RBLT": "{^}{#Alt_L(Up)}{^}",
"W*RBLT": "{^}{#Alt_L(Down)}{^}",
"K*RBLT": "{^}{#Alt_L(Left)}{^}",
"R*RBLT": "{^}{#Alt_L(Right)}{^}",
"P*RLGTS": "{^}{#Control_L(Alt_L(Up))}{^}",
"W*RLGTS": "{^}{#Control_L(Alt_L(Down))}{^}",
"K*RLGTS": "{^}{#Control_L(Alt_L(Left))}{^}",
"R*RLGTS": "{^}{#Control_L(Alt_L(Right))}{^}",
Plus he mentions his command for Spotlight on Mac:
"SKWR": "{^}{#Control_L(space)}{^}",
Ted counters with his own command for Spotlight:
"SP-LT": "{#Super_L(space)}{^}",
while I, as a Windows user, have my own stroke for a similar app called Launchy:
"KHRAUFRPB": "{#Alt_L(l)}{^}",
And Di offers up another ingenious method for navigating through documents and deleting characters, words, and lines in every direction:
- STPH- and P,R,B,G for arrows
- STPH- and RB,BG for left/right a whole word
- KPH- and P,R,B,G for Super/Command (KM) and arrows for a whole line or to top/bottom
- STP- and P,R,B,G for Shift (SF) and arrows
- STP- and RB,BG for Shift (S) left/right a whole word
- SHR- and P,R,B,G for Shift (S), Option/Alt (L) and arrows (an extra way to get the last 2 shortcuts too)
- PW* and F, FP, FPL for backspacing a character, word or line
- PW* and R, RB, RBG for forward deleting a character, word or line
I think my own steno navigation muscle memory is too ingrained to train myself into something new like that, and I'm almost always in Vim, where I can use w and b to navigate by word and dd to delete a line, but that's a seriously cool use of the steno layout to manipulate text. I'm impressed.

More on the Google Groups thread in question.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Mini-Stenosaurus Update

Exciting announcement is still under wraps (hopefully coming very soon!), but in the mean time, have some pictures of the Stenosaurus assembled PCB:
Josh came into NYC last weekend for a whirlwind trip, and I was able to spend about an hour with him in a Brooklyn cafe playing with the PCB and talking about the current timeline for the project. He's said previously that he'll eat his hat if the campaign doesn't launch in 2015, and he confirmed that he'll be sticking to that promise. (He had his hat with him in the cafe. I must say it didn't look very appetizing.) The designer he's collaborating with is still finalizing the plan for the bamboo-aluminum case and keytoppers, and Josh hasn't yet had a chance to test the PCB and make sure that it's working as it should, but he says both of those things should be happening quite soon. Even without the keytoppers, I was able to get a good feel for the action of the switches. Their actuation point is nice and light, and they're deep enough to give satisfying haptic feedback with each press (unlike the very shallow Stenoboard keys, which sometimes require you to pound a bit to make sure you've actuated them). I found them very comfortable; much more so than any NKRO qwerty keyboard I've tried, though still of course not at the level of the ridiculously expensive lever-based optical professional steno systems. But considering that the price is still expected to be around $300, that's pretty dang impressive. I'm very excited. We've just gotta wait for the testing on Josh's end (fingers crossed everything works and nothing needs to be redesigned!), the finalization of the case design, and the pricing out of manufacturing and assembly costs. Stay tuned for more as it develops!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Miscellany Before The Storm

I have an extremely exciting announcement waiting in the wings, but before then, a few assorted items:

There's a new ergonomic NKRO keyboard campaign on Crowd Supply (the company that will be offering the Stenosaurus in the near future; Plover's original co-founder Josh Lifton is one of its founders). Like the Keyboardio and Ergodox, it combines a split design with mechanical keyswitches, but is much cheaper than the former and comes fully assembled, unlike the latter. It also has a nice compact design that can be compressed and expanded at will. If you're comfortable using a staggered-column qwerty layout for both steno and qwerty without laser-cut keytoppers, this could be an excellent choice.

Achim has been awesome over on the Aviary lately, releasing a new version of his dictionary lookup utility and recording some steno dictation from an old public domain stenotypy book. Great stuff!

Also, yesterday clickclack123 on the Google Group asked the perennial question:

I know this must have been asked a million times before, but how long would I expect it to take to learn steno??

ATM I'm almost a total beginner, I've done the first lesson in Learn Plover! but I keep redoing it as I still haven't memorized where the keys are.

I type at about 70wpm using the Dvorak layout, and I'm just trying to get an idea of how long I could expect it to take me to get to that level assuming about 4 days a week of 30 minutes at a time learning and practicing using Plover.

And Ted gave what I think is a pretty dang satisfying answer:

It changes so much, person to person! I'd say at either end you could be a quick learner and have it down in a month, or slowly 70WPM would be near guaranteed in 6 months (with that amount of practice time.)

I'm attaching a screenshot of my first year on TypeRacer using Plover. It took me 3 months to average 70, and I hovered there for about another 3 months. Definitely didn't do 30 minutes a day for 4 days a week during that time, though. So it could very well go faster for you.

There is more fun to it than speed, too :) comfort is HUGE

Along with the following chart:

I'd like to get some more data on the average time to 70 WPM, but I feel like that's a pretty good thumbnail to start with.

Finally, some inspiring comments from the Aviary and the Plover Blog comments.

From twaltzing:

just wanted to write and say how much I am enjoying learning to steno. Today is my third day. Of course I am just using diff rent words if I can not sound out the one I want, but the lessons are very good and it is not too hard as long as I pick short words. I am looking for ward to getting faster and figuring out more and longer words. But I was able to write this with steno, though some of the words, like steno, had to be finger spelled. That is a hard 1 to figure out. Now I need some emojis... Okay that took like ten minutes...

and on the following day...

well, it is just so fun, and the more you do it, the easier it gets.

I have never been a person to follow long courses, so today I threw caution to the wind, read the rest of your awesome lesson, and had every good intention to practice like a good girl, but you know, I did have that hour history lecture staring me in the face, calling me. Hey, you... I bet there are tons of cool pre- fixes to play with in me... So two hours later, I finished nearly five minutes of it. Ha ha. At this rate there will be two or three more presidents before I finish it, since it's 63 minutes long, but it is getting easier and easier to spell, I am getting much faster, and heck, an unsuss... unspeck tinge... A come pan y company omg that was a wrong stroke for a space but it was the brief for company... Well a company that has no clue is paying me to learn sten no...and I feel a big raise in my future, although it's probably the some what distant future.

I am guessing about 15 words per minute at this point. But very satisifying when you guess something right.

The above was written without looking stuff up, in about 15 minutes, counting letting the dog out. But to be fair, he is quite a fast dog,

From Anonymous:

To everyone working/who has worked on Plover, I owe you a huge thanks. You've given me the opportunity to work, practice, and do things three years ago I would have never dreamed possible. I credit Plover with providing me THE crucial tool I needed to increase my income substantially. Plover has allowed me to wake up every morning excited to do something I love. (Offline broadcast captioning) This would have been out of my reach without all the hard work all of you have put into Plover. You, all of you, have changed my life, and because of your hard work, you are helping me change some of my friends' lives. There aren't enough thanks in the world, but thank you so very much. You are my heroes!

Not gonna lie, I kinda choked up for a second when I read that one. Plover users are the BEST!!!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Announcing Plover's New Lead Developer!

Many of you may know Ted Morin for his metakey dictionary, his number inversion dictionary, his Plover speed progress diary, his always helpful and patient advice to new users in the Plover Google Group, and of course his fantastic new redesign for the Plover Blog.

You might have noticed that Plover's development has been laying fallow for a while, since Hesky's been too busy at his day job to code new features or review pull requests. He's decided to ease back into the role of Developer Emeritus, and we owe him an impossibly huge debt of thanks for all he's done for Plover over the last many years. But just a few days ago, Ted decided to step up to the challenge. He's currently getting his degree in software engineering at the University of Ottawa, but as he tweeted yesterday:

It's funny when your full-time job as well as your hobby is developing software. Can't wait 'til 5 to finish coding and start coding.

Since taking on the project, he's been plowing through Plover's issues and knocking 'em down with breathtaking precision. We're gearing up for a big new release, and Ted's got all the feature coding, dictionary diffing, and bugthwacking duties well in hand. Ted's also the first lead Plover developer who's also a user. Neither Hesky nor Josh (as generous and amazing and unspeakably brilliant as they both are) have managed to learn any steno yet, but Ted's been using Plover to write code for quite a while now, and has promised a video of the process that I'm absolutely freaking dying to see.

A hundred thousand thanks to Ted! His diligence, perseverance, skill, and enthusiasm are unmatched, and I can't wait to see what kind of shape Plover will take under his leadership.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Open Steno on a Thoughtbot Podcast!

I had the great good fortune to be interviewed about steno on the Thoughtbot podcast Giant Robots Smashing Into Other Giant Robots!

Transcript of the interview is here.

Many thanks to Drew Neil (of the fantastic Vim London Plover Demo back in January) for giving Thoughtbot my name after conducting his own very cool interview! I had a blast.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Holding Pattern

A little low-key Plover news while we're waiting for the next big bombshell.

Count down to Stenosaurus is getting closer. Josh got some parts yesterday, will be getting more tomorrow, and the first fully functional Stenosaurus will hopefully be built shortly thereafter! I cannot WAIT to get my hands on it.

Meanwhile, check out this sweet tripod-mounted Stenoboard setup by Achim! It uses a photo tripod rather than a steno tripod, which is cheaper and much more easily available.

Also in the Aviary, Charlie has been learning steno for just over a week, and has already written two blog posts in it!. He also recommends a cross-platform typing tutor called Amphetype. I tried Key Hero, a similar application linked from Amphetype's website, but was frustrated that it marked Plover's automatic buffer rewriting as errors, even when the final product was 100% accurate. Dunno if that's true of Amphetype as well.

Finally, it's a terrible pity that the Sidewinder X4 is no longer manufactured. It doubled the entry price for steno from $45 to $100, which is a real shame. But their online n-key rollover testing app is still functional, and it's useful if you want to test whether a mechanical keyboard that purports to have true n-key rollover can actually deliver the goods. We've posted this before, but not for a while, so I thought it should get a bump. Thanks to Ethan for reminding me about it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Tuesday Miscellany

First, the most exciting thing, from Stenosaurus inventor Josh Lifton, about four days ago:

I just last night sent the printed circuit board designs for fabrication. I will have them in-hand around Labor Day. I will build the first assembled board within a day or two of receiving them and will then start testing. Kurt and I met earlier this week and nailed down a plan for what I hope is the final case design. It's slightly different than what you've seen, but I think it's actually better and nicer looking.

I'm hoping this means a Crowd Supply Campaign Launch is imminent!

Two other cool items collected from the Plover Google Group:

A discussion of how best to carry around a Stenoboard, complete with pictures of people's homemade cases. Feel free to submit your own!

And a slick little typing game that involves coming up with as many words as you can that begin with three specified letters. Especially steno friendly, since you can just keep your left hand steady and only shift around your right hand and thumbs while you're trying to think of all the words.

From Twitter, an open source database of word frequencies. I could see this being very useful when building steno exercises and drills.

Finally, I'm thinking of doing National Novel Writing Month again this November (which, if I succeed, will be my third time overall, and my second time using steno.) Anyone wanna join me? If so, maybe we could make a Steno Novelists Cabal on the NaNoWriMo forums. I know it's still a few months away, but let me know if you're interested!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Help Crowdfund Captioning and Interpreting for Polyglot Conference NYC!

Crossposting from the StenoKnight CART Blog, because I know there are a lot of linguists and polyglots in the Plover community:

Polyglot Conference NYC 2015 is looking for funding so that they can pay for captioning of two simultaneous tracks plus full interpreting teams for deaf attendees. Ellen Jovin, the organizer of the conference, writes:
Polyglot Conference NYC 2015 will bring hundreds of polyglots and language enthusiasts from around the world to New York this October for two days of wide-ranging language talks. Speakers include the inventor of the language Dothraki for the HBO hit Game of Thrones, multiple polyglots who speak 6+ languages, New York’s own celebrity teen polyglot Tim Doner, linguist-writer John McWhorter, representatives of major language-learning publishers, and many others. We will have exhibitors, book-signings, goodie bags for participants, and the sharing of absolute mountains of inspiring and useful information.

As part of our event, we are crowdfunding to pay for interpreter and live captioning services. The plan is to record the conference talks, then convert the live captioning later so that it can be used on videos available online to the deaf and hard of hearing, as well as polyglots and language enthusiasts around the world who do not speak English natively and might appreciate having a written transcript to supplement the audio/video. People who will benefit include many enthusiasts who wish to attend the New York conference but can’t afford it, or who have disabilities making travel impossible or difficult, or who are unable to obtain visas. If you know anyone who would be willing to contribute, we would be most grateful, as we want to spread information globally about the joys and value of language-learning to as many people as we can. Richard Simcott, who appears in the video, is a co-organizer and speaks 16+ languages. He is unbelievably gifted and a real leader in the polyglot community.
Please spread the word as far and wide as you can, and know that if you chip in a few dollars, you'll be able to see all the captioned conference videos online afterwards! I'd really love to be able to be one of the captioners at this conference. It looks absolutely amazing.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

New Look for the Aviary!

In keeping with Ted's splendid redesign for this blog, I've updated the PHPBB version of The Aviary (which will hopefully help with the recent spam problem), and since the previous theme wasn't compatible with the new version, I've updated the theme as well. We've lost the cute bird motif, but overall I think it looks a lot cleaner, less dated and more usable. What do you think?

Check out the new rethemed Aviary here.

Oh, and one other bit of news -- the long-delayed Hover Plover game suite project seems to be getting off the ground at last, and we hope to be launching a crowdfunding campaign for it in the near future. We've got a game development studio on board, and they've got several ideas on what sorts of arcade-style drilling games would be best for learning steno, but if you've got any ideas of your own, please feel free to tell us in the comments! Nothing is set in stone yet, so now is definitely the time to give us input.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Black and White Alphabet Posters

Over on The Aviary, Achim has created some black and white steno alphabet posters!

PDF - B&W Steno Alphabet Poster
PDF - B&W Missing Sounds Poster

Really nice, especially for people who prefer a cleaner-looking poster, don't want to use up a lot of colored ink, or have difficulty distinguishing slight differences in color.

Also, from the comments of the recent post on Steno Autodidacts, we've got another fantastic testimonial, from Anonymous SKWROPB. Definitely go and check out the video!

Anonymous skwropb said... I've been using Plover since December 2013. I now type more than twice as fast as I ever did on QWERTY. I do all of my normal typing with Plover and also use it to control i3 Window Manager, Pentadactyl, Weechat, and various other programs. I rarely have to take my hands off my steno machine to do anything.

Learn Plover wasn't complete when I started, but it wasn't hard to figure out the parts that were missing. I didn't do much to record my progress*, but I would say it was about a month before I was comfortable enough to use Plover for normal typing and three months before I was more comfortable typing in steno than QWERTY. I didn't spend much time doing drills. I practiced by transcribing books and playing Cargo Crisis and TypeRacer. For the first month or so, I must have practiced more than three hours a day. I was really addicted.

*I couldn't think of a meaningful way to benchmark my speed, so I didn't bother, but I did put together a crummy video to show people on TypeRacer that I wasn't cheating. It gives a general idea of where I was after using Plover for about a year.

Typeracing With Plover

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

New Blog Design!

Many, many thanks to Ted for his help in redesigning the Plover Blog layout. It was five years old and feeling pretty dang tired, to say the least. Ted spruced it up with this current simple but sharp design, edited some of the sidebar links to make them more relevant, and is now setting his sights on the design of the Aviary, the Plover logo, and hopefully at some point even the Plover interface itself. If you want to weigh in, feel free to give him your thoughts at the Aviary.

Thanks, Ted! This new layout is a breath of fresh, clean, steno-scented air.

Success Stories from Steno Autodidacts

Back when I started Plover in 2010, I had the idea that it could be a useful method of text composition. I wrote about it a little in What Is Steno Good For: Writing and Coding. I found the ease and fluency of steno incredibly freeing when I used it to write a novel. But I'd received my stenographic training in a formal school, and was already working as a professional stenographer. The real question was whether steno as a means of text input could be useful in an amateur context. Back in the early to mid-20th century, when steno machines were fairly common and machine shorthand could be taken as an elective in most high schools, people wouldn't tend to use it for text composition because the steno notes had to be tediously retranscribed on a typewriter, and it was more efficient just to skip the middleman and use the typewriter directly. From the 1980s through to 2010, only professional stenographers had access to computerized steno machines and translation software, and most of that software didn't interface easily with most operating systems, so without a fair amount of fiddling it couldn't be used to write emails, text chats, or other texts that weren't legal transcripts. Steno was for professionals, not amateurs. Steno was for transcription, not composition. There didn't seem to be many counterexamples, so these two principles somehow took on the force of dogma.

Now that Plover exists, though, just about anyone can learn steno and immediately start using it as a qwerty keyboard replacement. When I explain to people that there's a huge potential user base of people who want to use steno to compose text, I get all sorts of objections:

"Steno is too hard and tedious and takes most people years to learn."

"No one will want to invest the time necessary to become proficient unless they're hoping to get paid for it, and without professional-level proficiency, steno is useless."

"Steno is designed for transcribing external speech, not internal thought."

None of those arguments have ever held much water with me, and slowly but surely my hypothesis is being borne out. People are teaching themselves steno with our free online materials -- not in years, but months. Even though they start out slow, they gradually gain speed while using steno for basic tasks like chatting, writing blog posts, and working at their jobs. Here are a few accounts from people who've successfully incorporated Plover into their daily lives.

Harvey writes:

I got my Stentura 400 SRT off eBay intending to learn steno/Plover as a hobby, and I thought it would be cool if I got up to professional speeds, especially for my transcription work.

I started on the twelfth of May. At about five weeks I completed all the lessons in Learn Plover, picking up on little patterns as I went along. It was somehow easy to memorize the different strokes that make up all the sounds on the keyboard. Honestly, it feels like I breezed through it all. I'd go through a lesson and then I'd do an accompanying drill from Plover, Learn a few times. Then I'd just go through the previous drills to keep fresh. When I felt I was able to, I would try writing new single and multi-stroke words to get a feel for it. That's all there is to it.

I can now write at about 30 to 50 wpm, though the latter is only in bursts. It took me only two months to reach this point, and now I'm mostly just building speed and committing new words to muscle memory. I've enjoyed it a whole lot, too. It's really cool to write in a system that's so different than typing on a keyboard.

I've heard that some people insist that it's impossible to learn steno in two months or that it can't be self-taught. I feel I've proven that wrong; I learned the system to pretty good proficiency in eight weeks. I think anyone can self-teach steno, but the hard part is building up speed. On that I can't comment yet, but I'm sure it'll come with time and practice.

By the way, I wrote all of that using my steno machine.

Ted (who started learning steno nine months ago, though his update at one month is also pretty illuminating) writes:

I’m a learner of Plover on an ErgoDox, I type a little over 100 words per minute, similar to my QWERTY and Norman layout speeds, but the comfort is unmatched and the endurance that I can get out of typing this way is unbelievable. Not to mention that most spelling typos are impossible. (But the typos can be really funny. Like a valid typo for “awesome” is “awful” — just a one key difference. And “goal” can accidentally come out “grade school” if you don’t use the phonetic rules properly) So far the only big problem I’ve had with stenography is that I end up typing huge walls of text for no reason, because my hands don’t get tired and the speed doesn’t discourage my brain from continuing.

Charles writes:

I'm coming up on two years and I'm very comfortable now with steno. I use it for everything now, and have been for at least the past year. I think it took me about three months to be able to write anything I wanted. It really got good when I started to make my own briefs. I have a lot of little things to help with the unix command line and programming in Forth. I haven't really measured my speed either way, but I believe I'm equal to my old speed and getting faster and smoother all the time. More importantly, it's a lot less work now. My fingers don't have to do much! I love the way it feels. I think it's good for my brain too.

Clearly steno isn't just useful for professionals, and isn't just useful for transcription. It's possible to learn it fairly quickly and then to build speed naturally over time while putting it to use. We've just got to get the word out.

If you've had a similar experience to Harvey, Ted, or Charles, will you write me with a brief summary of how long it took you to learn steno and how you tend to use it over the course of your day? I'd like to compile a large collection of these stories that we can show to any naysayers who think that amateurs have no place in modern stenography.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Open Steno Featured on Hackaday

Hackaday: Stenography (Yes, With Arduinos)

Kevin emailed me a few days ago with his awesome USB hack for Stentura 200 (which he says would almost certainly work for Stentura 400s as well), and I was just about to blog about it when I got tipped off to this article on Hackaday mentioning both Kevin's hack and a great write-up on the principles of Open Steno in general. Some of the comments are a bit wearying (to reply in brief: steno is not obsolete; courtroom reporters have not been replaced by speech recognition but by lower-paid qwerty typists; Siri is not going to be able to handle subpar audio, technical syntax and markup, or non-standard accents any time soon if ever), but the article itself is top notch! Highly recommended.

Also, Josh and I are going to be manning the Open Steno Project table at the 2015 National Court Reporters Association Convention here in NYC at the end of the month. I printed up a brochure for it:

And we're hoping to have a functional prototype of the Stenosaurus to show off while we're there. Fingers crossed! I'm also going to be using Plover to compete in the National Realtime Competition, but don't expect too much from me; I have a habit of choking during speed tests, so it's entirely possible I'll crash and burn in the first 30 seconds.

Lastly, if you haven't read Lars's Steno Diary in a while, it's really heating up! After just four months of studying/practicing for 20 minutes a day, he's able to write just about anything he can think of in steno, and he's currently working on putting together a robust dictionary for the purposes of writing, editing, and navigating code. Pretty dang badass.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Beautiful Plover Skin for Rainmeter

Shayne from the Google Group writes:
I've created a little (Windows-only) desktop widget to show Plover's status (running/stopped) in a more aesthetically pleasing way than keeping the window up all the time to watch the big "P". After a few months of working out kinks, I think it's working well, and wanted to share it with you all:

It's a Rainmeter skin with three variants (left to right: bubble, icon, letter), with an AutoHotKey script included that needs to be running to alert Rainmeter.

How it works: the AHK script registers with the Windows shell to get messages whenever windows redraw; any time the Plover window does this, the script checks the window title ("running" or "stopped") and, if it's changed, sends a message to Rainmeter to refresh the skin, changing the colors.

Note that it requires both Rainmeter ( and AutoHotKeyAutoHotKey ( to run.

Available for download:
Source available, too:

How to install it: Download and install the .rmskin file, then run the .ahk file in the installed folder (and put a link in your startup folder so it runs on boot).

It is especially nice if you have a second monitor. Hope some of you find something useful in it.
Isn't it gorgeous? If you run Windows and you want something beyond the blocky and admittedly uninspiring Plover "P" box, go give it a try!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Keyboardio Kickstarter is Live

Back in August, a Plover fan asked the Keyboardio Twitter account if their keyboard would have true N-key rollover. They said they were working on it, and asked us how many keys of rollover we needed. I told them 16 or more would probably do the trick.

According to their Kickstarter page, they have succeeded:

"True N-key rollover (NKRO)

For a variety of reasons, many USB keyboards limit you to pressing 6 keys (plus modifiers) at once. Most of us would never notice this limitation, but an intrepid few really, really need to be able to hit more than six keys at once."

I'm not sure if that was a specific reference to the Plover community, but regardless, the thought is very much appreciated.

The column-based layout and tripod compatibility are certainly ideal for steno. I'm not sure the big ridges between the thumb keys will make for the most comfortable vowel writing, but they don't look sharp enough to be a dealbreaker.

At $300 per keyboard, it's certainly on the pricier side for a Plover-compatible keyboard that's not explicitly intended for steno, but if you anticipate a lot of mixed use, don't want to keep both qwerty and steno keyboards at the ready, and don't want to build your own Ergodox, the Keyboardio Model 1 is certainly an attractive specimen. The Kickstarter ends in 29 days, so you've got about a month to decide!

Monday, May 18, 2015

For-Profit Steno School Under Scrutiny

So it looks like the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs is investigating my old Steno School. Hm.

Honestly, I doubt it's any better or worse than most for-profit steno schools. I had a pretty good experience there, all told. The teachers were all actual stenographers, they were all pretty nice (even if the dictation they read us was as dry as lunar cheesedust), and nothing I learned there was actively wrong; it just wasn't particularly relevant to my chosen career. Possibly I would have gotten more out of it if I had wanted to be an actual court reporter, but virtually everything I needed to know about captioning for deaf and hard of hearing clients I had to teach myself. The main benefit NYCI gave me was in the speed testing process, a weekly metric they administered to tell me how quickly I was advancing, plus a financial sting in the form of trimesterly tuition payments, which motivated me to practice more and graduate faster. When you look at it that way, it's not unlike Beeminder, my favorite anti-akrasia device. I was lucky enough to get grants from the State of New York for my first year there, and paid for the other six months with a combination of cash and loans. I also had a job at the time (offline transcriptionist for a TV captioning company) that allowed me to pay rent and go to school while practicing steno 40 hours a week on the clock. I paid off the last of my steno school loans, along with the much more substantial loans from my undergrad degree, in January 2015. Steno has been a seriously good deal for me financially, and I'm not sure that I would have been as motivated to work as hard as I did if I hadn't paid any money at all and had no objective way to measure my progress. If you advance through speeds quickly, like I did, steno school can be a tedious but relatively painless avenue to a profitable, pleasurable, and endlessly challenging career. I'm a bit resentful that they made me go through six months of padded-out and puffed-up theory classes before they let us start taking speed tests, but otherwise I have no regrets.

I was one of the lucky ones. The problem is this: If you don't advance through speed tests quickly, these schools can keep you in limbo for years and finally graduate you in cataclysmic amounts of debt, or even worse -- which is what happens to the overwhelming majority of students, estimated at 85% or more by most accounts -- it can sell you a machine and software for thousands of dollars, squeeze tuition from you until you're the proverbial bloodless stone, then kick you out with absolutely nothing lucrative to show for it. This is bad. But it's certainly not just found at NYCI. Virtually every steno school operates on this model.

The fact is that back in the day, if you washed out from court reporting school, you at least had some shorthand skills you could use to take dictation as a secretary. The School for Stenotype Exclusively, later Stenotype Academy, and much later The New York Career Institute, was founded on this model. It didn't have any admissions requirements, and its tuition was relatively modest. Those that couldn't hack it had their mid-range clerical skills to fall back on, and those that could went on to work in courtrooms and deposition rooms. I doubt that they were graduating any more students then, proportionately speaking, than they are now, but the stakes for failure now are so much higher. You can easily lose tens of thousands of dollars while churning away for a 225 WPM speed certificate that might never be yours -- whether because you don't have the baseline literacy skills to produce a properly spelled and punctuated transcript, because your motor reflexes aren't fast enough, because your fingers aren't coordinated enough, because you didn't have time to practice, or any of a dozen other reasons. And if you don't get that certificate, there are no alternative careers waiting for you. People don't dictate to secretaries anymore. Bosses do their own typing, so typing skills on their own just don't pay the bills like they used to.

Steno schools that operated with nothing but the public good in mind would try to weed out the obvious never-happens and keep only the best possible prospects -- piano virtuosos, video game whiz kids, qwerty champs, and grammar mavens -- to train up into stenographers. But the National Court Reporters Association tried something like that a few years ago. They hand-picked 15 students, all with bachelor's degrees, who went through a rigorous admissions process and then submitted to constant supervision of their learning and practicing time. After two years, one student had achieved 225 words per minute, two were around 180, and the rest had given up.

My hypothesis is this: It's almost impossible to predict who's going to have what it takes to become a professional. Some mysterious combination of factors separated the hotshot professional qwerty transcriptionist with a Master's degree in literature -- who washed out of my steno school class around 140 WPM after two years of trying -- from me, who didn't have nearly the qualifications he did, but who got my 225 in 18 months. There are people who have gotten it in 11 months. Some have gotten it in 9. What do they have that the other students don't? No one has been able to figure that out. But that's why I think that professional certification shouldn't be the one and only goal in the steno world. If most people who learn steno only reach 140 WPM or 160 WPM and can't get a job as professional stenographers, does that mean the whole endeavor was wasted? Well, if they're out $20,000 and several years of full-time slogging? Yeah. That seems like they made a pretty bad decision. But if they're out $100 and a few months of practicing or playing a video game for fun whenever they have a spare moment? 140 WPM ain't chopped liver. If their day job consists of typing, they've just upgraded their qwerty keyboard for a vastly more efficient and ergonomic model.

This is why The Open Steno Project is so important to me. Right now the good name of steno is being spoiled by the exploitative for-profit steno school system. Far more steno students are losing money than making money, and no matter how you look at it, that's not right. That's not how a trade school should work. It might well be impossible to increase the success rate. If lots of people want to study steno, only a tiny fraction will ever become professionals, and there's no way of predicting which ones will succeed, the only ethical solution is to lower the stakes. Allow anyone to play around with steno on their own time, requiring only minimal financial investment. Those that have a knack and a passion for it can undergo more rigorous training and push themselves over the top, where the money is. Maybe that would involve a paid professional training program, but if so the admission requirement should be 150 WPM, at a baseline. The rest can do it for its own sake, for fun or to aid in other text-heavy pursuits. But even if they decide it's not for them, they'll only be out $100 plus whatever time they chose to put into it. They won't be miserably indebted and forcing themselves to work at something they hate and will never be good at. Debt and desperation will not keep my profession alive, and it will not keep my beloved stenographic technology alive. With its secretarial fallback base long since hollowed out, the for-profit trade school model is in the process of collapsing, and it's bringing thousands of financially captive students along with it. If steno is going to survive, it needs to be open and it needs to be free.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Roslyn's Stenoboard Videos

I haven't gotten a chance to watch both of these all the way through, but I thought I should post them so that people who want more information on the StenoBoard can get a glimpse of what the assembly process actually involves. This one is uncaptioned, but it's mostly about the visuals, so the audio can be safely ignored:

And this one, with some ideas of how to make the StenoBoard more like a traditional lever-based machine, actually is captioned:

Roslyn described herself recently in the Plover Google Group this way:
I worked through all the LearnPlover modules in a few months last year on an nkro keyboard before deciding that I really did want to do this as a career. I probably spent about 10-15 hours a week, just fitting it in where I could (I had my three year old home with me most of the time, so it was a bit sporadic). Last October, I enrolled in Australia's only Court Reporting school (distance ed) and had to start again (using the manual machine they lent me) because they teach a different steno theory. I am about halfway through theory now - I do about 15-20 hours a week and we learn to write at 60wpm (from tape recorded drills). The main reason I didn't just continue self-teaching is because of the difficulty in getting a 'real' machine here in Australia. We have a very small industry compared to the US. I have recently bought a Stenoboard and I'm using that in conjunction with StenoTutor - it's really speeding up my progress because it lets me focus specifically on the words I'm writing slowest - I highly recommend it :-). At the rate I'm going, I'm hoping to be through theory and onto speedbuilding in another three months (although life still sometimes does get in the way!)
I think it's really cool that not only did Plover help her decide on steno as a professional career, but that it's inspired her to make videos that she can share with the wider open steno community. Very gratifying and much appreciated!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Three Rad Things

First, Lars (of Steno Diary fame) has updated Erika's PloverLearn modules to include analytics, plus drills for common briefs! Check 'em out at HaxePloverLearn.

Second, Charles has produced another homemade steno keyboard that's even snappier-looking than the last one:


He also includes an illustrated assembly walkthrough with a bill of materials, which comes out to about $120 in total. Pretty dang slick!

And finally, Stan Sakai, the ever-glorious Plover Poster Boy, has produced a brilliant little three-minute captioned whiteboard video explaining the rudiments of steno:

I'm in awe not just of his artistic skills (he actually drew the Plover bird!!!), but of his power to break down complex concepts into simple examples that nearly anyone can grasp. Seriously a tour de force.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Open Steno App Wins Second Prize at Connect Ability Hackathon!

Last weekend, I attended the AT&T Connect Ability Hackathon at the NYU Ability Lab, a competition to create accessible technology with and for people with disabilities over the course of two short days. When I signed up, I was a bit worried that there would be nothing for me to do, since I don't know how to code, but early on Saturday morning I had the great good fortune of running into Jacob Mortensen, a freelance Android developer, and Rocio Alonso, an industrial designer for The Adaptive Design Association. My friend and colleague Stan Sakai was also there captioning the event, and between plenary sessions he was awesome enough to sit at our table and give us a hand with the work. The challenge was built around four exemplars, people who used various types of accessible technology and who had specific ideas of how it might be improved. One of these exemplars was Paul Kotler, an autistic college student who uses an augmentative and alternative communication device to speak via text-to-speech synthesis. Ever since 2010, I've been interested in the possibilities of using steno to improve the speed and efficiency of AAC. I knew that a stenographic solution might not work for Paul due to difficulties with motor planning, but his video spurred me in the direction of wanting to work on a realtime stenographic text-to-speech solution for the Hackathon.

We initially started with Brent Nesbitt's StenoKeyboard app, an Android-based open source clone of Plover, because we figured that a phone, with its integrated speaker and small display footprint, would offer us the easiest and most portable solution. We also selected StenoBoard for our hardware, because it's currently the smallest, cheapest, and most readily available steno system on the market. It's a bit too bulky to be perfectly wearable, but it beat out every other option that could be rigged up over the course of a single weekend.

For a thorough explanation of our design process, please check out our ChallengePost Page. We called our project (modified StenoKeyboard app + wearable StenoBoard mount) "StenoSpeak for Android". We worked right up to the submission deadline, and our final system wasn't without its bugs and foibles, but apparently it had enough potential to earn us second prize out of 15 teams competing in the Hackathon! Many, many thanks to Jacob, Rocio, and Stan for working so hard on this. It was a wonderful collaborative experience. Also huge thanks to Brent for StenoKeyboard and Emanuele for StenoBoard, without whom we would have been totally dead in the water.

What's next? We'll see. There are definitely some plans in the works, but our next big objective is to find an AAC user who might be interested in learning steno to help us with future iterations of the project. People with disabilities tend to be some of the earliest adopters and most proficient power users of accessible technology, so I'm hoping to find someone who can join our team as a full and active member while we work on developing this technology into a completely workable and replicable open source product. If you or anyone you know uses AAC to communicate, has full use of their hands, and is willing to spend a few months learning steno with our online textbooks, tutorials, and drilling tools, please get in touch!

Congrats to all of the Hackathon competitors, especially the first prize winner, Cameron Cundiff, with his brilliantalt_text_bot, and the third prize winner, the Tranquil Tracker team, with their seriously cool anxiety-tracking biometric device and app. And, of course, thanks to AT&T and the NYU Ability Lab for putting together this amazing competition!

Check out some photos from our whirlwind hacking weekend:

Rocio's wearable prototype sketches.

Stan modeling our ideal (though non-functional) wearable steno design.

The final (functional) wearable StenoBoard design.

The exultant StenoSpeak Team!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Odds and Ends

A few brief Plover tidbits for you on a lovely warm Monday afternoon:
  • On the Open Steno Blog, there's a wonderful essay by Paulo Paniago about his experience with adapting Plover to make it compatible with Portuguese and then essentially building a Portuguese dictionary from scratch! He now uses steno for all his typing, which he says is faster and more comfortable than qwerty. Great stuff.
  • On the Plover Google Group, user grytiffin posted some seriously cool photos of his tripod-mounted Ergodox machine. That looks like a Neutrino Group (Gemini/Revolution/Infinity) chassis holding the two halves of the Ergodox in place. He writes: "I traced, cut and attached 2 pieces of pine to the tripod, and rested the keyboard on the pine. The metal brackets are temporary until I can think of something else more elegant.  Next step, upload a keyboard layout to assign the vowels to the big orange keys." Just gorgeous.
  • Meanwhile, on The Aviary, user skwropb posted a fingerspelling dictionary that force-caps uppercase letters and force-uncaps lowercase letters, which is especially useful for Vim users like me. I've been using it for a while now, and I love it. No more unexpected actions after writing punctuation and then going into command mode!
  • Speaking of useful dictionary hacks, I've recently discovered a way to compensate for Plover's imperfect orthography for medical suffixes.


    When adding "emia" (defined as {^emia}) onto "hemoglobin", for instance, I would get "hemoglobinnemia", with the double n. Adding that extra {^} before the suffix circumvents Plover's orthography module and gives me the correct translation, "hemoglobinemia", without the extra "n". I'm adding these new suffixes whenever they come up by basically doing my "suffix define" stroke -- {^}\{^\}{#Left}{^} -- once, moving the cursor over to the right, and then doing it once more before writing the actual suffix. Comes in really handy when you're doing a lot of medical captioning, like I am.
  • Finally, I was lucky enough to get the chance to speak about steno and Plover at the Google Development Group's Women Techmakers Event last month, and I also wound up captioning most of the talks using Plover with Text-On-Top. You probably won't be able to glean much of what I talked about from my slides, since they're mostly just pictures, and unfortunately the event wasn't recorded, but I thought I'd post some pictures from it, just 'cause it was such a cool experience. There were about 100 people there, and I'd set my steno machine to send simultaneous Bluetooth to my Lenovo Helix running Text-On-Top plus my HP Stream7 running Plover with Vim. I also hooked up my StenoBoard to my Surface Pro so that people could come by during breaks and play on the machine for themselves. It was really fun, and I think I drummed up a fair amount of interest in Plover along the way!

  • And here's a 7-second video of me captioning the speakers as a group of us stood up in front of the audience to answer questions. Don't worry; there was another screen on the other side of the podium that was also displaying the captions, so we weren't blocking them out completely.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Plover-Inspired Geocache Puzzle!

Check out the amazing epistolary tale of Doris Plover, Court Stenographer circa 1935!

I was contacted by someone trying to solve it (it's since been solved, but you can try it yourself for practice; translating the steno is only the first step toward finding the correct location of the cache.) The pedant in me has to admit that the stenography is not 100% accurate for the time period (You never need to write P/KPA* for a period; just FPLT will do, both for Plover and for non-realtime stenographers. Proper names don't need to be manually capitalized either. Also, they probably wouldn't have used long vowels, an asterisk-based fingerspelling alphabet, or S-P to work around a word boundary error; all of that stuff only came in when realtime was introduced in the 1980s.)

But even so, how mindbendingly awesome is this?!? I was absolutely tickled pink to find that it existed. Many years ago I made up a brief steno puzzle of my own for a friend who didn't know steno himself but who was interested in cryptography and wanted to see if he could figure it out without any prior knowledge. It makes me so happy to see that someone I don't even know had the same idea.

Even cooler is that after I helped the guy who was working on solving the puzzle, he made a $100 donation to The Open Steno Project! What a mensch! Money aside, learning that this thing existed seriously made my whole week. Thanks, Mysterious Puzzlemaker, whoever you are!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Miscellany

Just two quick items:

* Emanuele has started a Stenoboard blog. There's only a welcome post on it so far, but if you're interested in the progress of the Stenoboard, you might want to add it to your RSS reader of choice.

* Also, it's not strictly Plover-related, but Drew from the Plover Google Group told me about a Vim plugin that's turned out to be life-changing: Vim-G. As Drew explained:

"It provides a :Google command that lets you run your query direct from Vim. Additionally, if you select a word then run the :Google command, it will search for the selected word."

So I've been able to map my TKPWHREFRPB command to {#Escape}:Google{#Return}, which will open a Chrome window and search for the word under my cursor. This is so great for looking up words while editing CART transcripts! Previously I'd tried to do it by using Launchy, but because there's currently no way to make definitions with predetermined "wait x milliseconds" commands, the processes would get out of sync and wouldn't execute properly. This solves that problem completely. It's still probably worth building a "wait" command into Plover at some point, but now that I have this Vim-G solution, that feature is not as urgent for me as it once was.