Thursday, March 1, 2018

Guest Post: Mechanical Keyboards UK Meetup!

New Plover user Miles writes in his blog:

I am new to the world of stenography. As a designer, I do not often have to type large volumes of text, so might not be a typical user. However I was so impressed by some of Mirabai's talks online that I decided to build myself a mechanical keyboard in order to learn steno as a hobby. Both learning steno and tinkering with keyboards turn out to be a lot of fun!

A large part of the appeal of mechanical keyboards has been the inventiveness of the devices and the spirit of the community, so when an opportunity arose to meet some of the community and bond over discussions of keycaps and switch stems, I jumped at it. The latest meetup of the MKUK subreddit was held on Saturday 24th February. I expected to enjoy looking at and tapping on many beautiful keyboards, but not display anything of my own. However while discussing the event on the Plover Discord Group, I came up with the idea of setting up a little Plover demo for people to try out at the meetup. As an enthusiastic beginner at stenography, I thought this would be a great way to spread the word about the open steno project and a good icebreaker at an event full of people I'd never met.

The venue was a basement meeting room in a Waterloo hotel, full of keyboards and enthusiasts. The event was buzzing and well attended, and I arrived in good time to get the laptop and keyboard set up and have a good browse around the room. There were also some generous giveaways throughout the session.

Although the idea was for my demo to be self explanatory, there was not quite enough information for a complete novice to try typing with any success, so I spent much of my time at the event standing by my laptop, talking people through the concepts of stenography and showing them how to stroke their first few words. Most had not tried stenography before, although I did meet one lapsed Plover user. The reception was even more enthusiastic than I had hoped, with a lot of interest, especially when I mention the potential typing speeds of 200+ wpm.

I answered many questions about my setup, Plover, and stenography in general, from

How would I type paraphernalia?

for which Plover's "Lookup" function came in very handy, to

is it very bound to the English language?

to which I answered "Yes, but steno theories and keyboards exist for many languages!" (see the Plover Discord Group's multilingual channel for more on this). One of the most interesting questions I got asked was

How did the first (pre-computer) steno machines work?

To answer I fired up the Plover "Paper Tape" and explained that early machines recorded strokes on paper tape that would be later hand translated. Having these features to hand made Plover a joy to demonstrate, and I enjoyed chatting to everyone who took an interest.

I've detailed my setup below for anyone who is interested, along with some thoughts on improving it next time. I had a great time at the meetup, and would love to have a go at demonstrating Plover again in the future, especially if I manage to build up some fluency in stenography. Thanks to all the welcoming folk of r/MechanicalKeyboardsUK and to Mirabai for inviting me to write this post!

Demonstration Setup

  • Macbook Pro, running:

  • Let's Split keyboard:

    • Standard layout with a layer added in QMK for stenography using the TX Bolt keycodes. Using these keycodes instead of letters allows me to still use the qwerty laptop keyboard without switching Plover output on and off.
    • Kailh speed silver switches, light linear switches with a high actuation point.
    • Blank white PBT keycaps (Cherry profile I think).
    • Some handy letter stickers donated by my partner.


There are a few things I would do differently if I were to set up a Plover demo again. Hopefully this will be useful to anyone else who wants to demonstrate Plover in a similar context.

  • A step-by-step guide to making your first word, printed on paper with large text and diagrams. This would help anyone trying out the demo when it is unattended. I think the first chapter of Zack Brown's Learn Plover! would be ideal for this purpose if it could be boiled down to a single sheet of paper.
  • Provide handouts or cards for people to take away with details of Plover and the Open Steno Project.
  • Display names/links for:

    • The Open Steno Project website
    • The Plover Discord Group
    • The Plover subreddit
  • Find time to make a demonstration to a larger group. This was not really suitable for this event, but would be a good way to boost interest.

This post was written (mostly) using Plover at around 8wpm :)

Photos from Miles and the_pokemon_kid

Many thanks to Miles for this fantastic post! I wish I could have been there, and I hope that more Plover users will be able to spread the word at similar mechanical keyboard meetups around the world!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Wanted: Novice Level Steno Hero Songs

Steno Hero, as many of you know, is great fun for stretching your steno skills with some very fast, very challenging music.

But wouldn't it be nice to have some songs that beginning stenographers could play as well?

So Ted has drawn up some guidelines for writing novice level Steno Hero songs, which use simple vocabulary -- mostly small phonetic words and common briefs -- sung at a manageable tempo for people who are first starting out.

He writes:

Here are the top 100 English words:

the, be, to, of, and, a, in, that, have, I, it, for, not, on, with, he, as, you, do, at, this, but, his, by, from, they, we, say, her, she, or, an, will, my, one, all, would, there, their, what, so, up, out, if, about, who, get, which, go, me, when, make, can, like, time, no, just, him, know, take, people, into, year, your, good, some, could, them, see, other, than, then, now, look, only, come, its, over, think, also, back, after, use, two, how, our, work, first, well, way, even, new, want, because, any, these, give, day, most, us

Some other good core words for steno, easily briefable:

always, awful, okay, eazy, water, drop, all right, welcome, love, together, request, familiar, follow, question, ask, continue, nothing, nowhere, nobody, understand, minute, important, today, tomorrow, other, every, everyone, everybody, everything, forever, of course

Meta vocabulary:

keys, chords, board, stroke, steno, hero, Plover

Simple words, in the format CVC, like mom, pop, tough, John, map, etc. should be fine as well.
If you can put words like this together into a few simple rhymes, post 'em here or to the Discord or put them on your blog and link us to them. If a tune comes in your head and you're able to record a demo, all the better. We'd love to hear what you come up with. We have some funds that we might be able to put towards commissioning and recording more polished material, but we're hoping to get some good stuff from the community to start out with.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Quick Comparison: Splitography vs Stenokey

I seem to have had a bit of a block about writing these two reviews, so I'm just gonna give you some bulletpoints.

Stenokey Pros:

* Cheapest steno-layout option assuming you can get free/cheap 3D printing; its inventor/designer has released all the specs and takes no profit from any of it
* Extremely compact and lightweight
* Multiple protocols (though you need a pointy object to press the tiny sunken switch that changes them)
* If parts could be bought in bulk and sold as individual kits through the Plover store (working on it!), it would be even more accessible

Stenokey Cons:

* Requires self-assembly, including soldering; not a project for total beginners
* As of right now, parts need to be sourced in lots of four or more
* Matias switches are stiffer than Gateron clears
* 3D printed keycaps are a little rough and scratchy
* The stem of one of the 3D printed keys broke off after fairly light handling; it seems to be more fragile than my other machines
* It's a bit on the clicky/noisy side


Splitography Pros:

* Beautiful unique design
* Lovely heavy smooth injection molded keycaps; probably its strongest feature, I'd say
* Sold at a very reasonable price ready to use out of the box
* Works as both a regular qwerty keyboard and a steno machine, which you can switch by just pressing certain keys in a particular pattern
* The weight of the keycaps make the stiff Matias switches a little bit easier to press
* A stiff cable connects the two halves, which allows the user to tent the machine at their preferred angle by resting the machine on any appropriately angled object
* The money goes to support Scott, an early and consistent innovator in the field of open steno, who provides friendly and abundant tech support and documentation

Splitography Cons:

* The sharp solder spikes underneath the circuitboard are open and easily reached by curious toddler fingers, which means I need to keep the Splitography out of reach of my steno machine-obsessed kid
* I've had some trouble finding a good case to keep it safe in my bag; it's a somewhat awkward shape


Overall, if you're not experienced at assembling electronics and you've got enough money to buy a Splitography, it's what I would recommend. (Assuming that for economic or aesthetic reasons you've ruled out the Stenomod, which remains my ultimate go-to recommendation, for reasons ranging from the beautiful compact hinged design to the feather-light Gateron keyswitches.) The Stenokey is ingenious, but not quite durable enough to be a daily driver, in my opinion. If you want a DIY project and don't want to spend more than the bare minimum of cash, though, I can definitely recommend the Stenokey as a solid and usable option.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Scott's Splitography Setup Video

This is a great video explanation on how to set up your new SOFT/HRUF Splitography, which I am quite enamored of these days. Nice work, Scott.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

IOU: Two Reviews

They're making steno machines faster than I can blog about them! Scott, inventor of the original SOFT/HRUF (which I bought years ago and recently lent to a friend) and the new SOFT/HRUF Splitography, pictured above, has generously sent me a review machine to play around on. I've already promised you all my StenoKey review (plans to get StenoKey kits in the Plover Store are in the works, by the way), but now there's this gorgeous piece of work to talk about as well! I promise I will get to both, and soon! Hold me to that!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Typey Type for Stenographers

Fantastic new online learning tool by longtime community member Di: Typey Type for Stenographers.
Typey type is a typing app designed specifically to help stenography students learn steno faster. You can learn briefs and improve your stenographic speed and accuracy using tailored education options, including tight feedback loops so you learn to fix misstrokes immediately. You can effortlessly track progress in your brief vocabulary and rapidly increase in steno skill.
It's got a huge amount of practice material, from handpicked steno-specific lists to simple public domain texts. The interface is very sleek and intuitive, and I love all the metrics that help you track your progress. This is such a beautiful piece of work. If you've been feeling overwhelmed at the daunting task of teaching yourself steno, please give it a look. I think it'll be a tremendously useful tool for both beginners and intermediate speedbuilders alike.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Stenokey Post, Part 1!

At long last, part one of a series on the amazing Stenokey.

First, the setup from Stenokey inventor Mike:

Stenokey Project

Stenokey is an open source do it yourself stenographic keyboard project. It is aimed at makers with some electronics experience (soldering) and who own a 3D printer or who have a friend with a 3D printer, though you may be able to complete this project if you know how to use a soldering iron and can find an inexpensive 3D printing service. (My local public library will print objects for the cost of filament, which is extremely inexpensive, though I think that they might balk at printing the entire Stenokey part-set all at once.)

Stenokey connects to any desktop or laptop PC that has a USB port. It is meant to work with the Open Steno Project's Plover software, which runs on Linux, Mac and Windows. It supports NKRO keyboard emulation, as well as the serial Gemini PR, TX Bolt and ProCAT protocols. In theory, the Stenokey should be compatible with commercial steno software that supports those serial protocols.

Stenokey uses the Matias Quiet Linear Switches, which won't stick or stall when keys are pressed off center. Stenokey's smarts come from the Arduino compatible Teensy 2.0. This microcontroller is capable of emulating both an NKRO keyboard and a serial port over USB.

The Stenokey circuit board is based on the simple design principle of putting everything on the same circuit board. The advantages are improved reliability, the elimination of unecessary cables and connectors, simplified assembly, reduced assembly time, reduced part count and lower material cost. Hopefully the low material cost puts this project in the realm of possibility for more people.

Except for the plastic parts the cost of materials comes out to less than USD$50. Of course if you account for shipping and product minimum orders, you'll spend more.


All of the Stenokey design files are available on Github. The circuit boards can be purchased from SeeedStudio. Except for the firmware and electrical schematic, the project is licensed with the CreativeCommons-ShareAlike license. The firmware and schematic are licensed by Emanuele Caruso under the GNU GPL version 3 license. All of the tools used to create the Stenokey project are open source or are freely available so that the design can easily be modified within the constraints of those licenses.

To summarize both the CreativeCommons and GNU licenses, you can of course create copies of this project for your own use. You can republish or create derivative works from this project and even sell them as products, however if you do, you must give credit to the original author(s) and share your own work. Be sure to read the actual licenses for all of the details.


The Stenokey project gained its name when I ran across Jason Cemra's Stenotoppers on Mirabai's Plover blog. I had recently purchased a small 3D printer, so I decided to try printing one of Jason's key caps. It printed amazingly well. Printing that key was the start of the project as one thing lead to another.

I was already familiar with Joshua Lifton's Stenosaurus project from the Plover blog, so I drew up some steno keys based on Joshua's key outlines, (while borrowing some of Jason's 3D design techniques). Those keys also printed well enough. I had drawn the keys in OpenSCAD, so I was quickly able to generate several different variations of keys with various widths and offsets.

Next I bought some of the Matias Quiet Linear key switches. (Those key switches were graciously made available by Matias through Joshua's efforts.) I was able to get my key tops to fit the Matias key switches without much effort (and a fingernail file). I quickly found out that unlike the "other" key switches, the Matias key switches don't stick or stall when you press on a key off center.

I was also familiar with Emanuele Caruso's Stenoboard project. All of his designs for the Stenoboard project are available on line, including the electrical schematics and the firmware. Starting from Joshua Lifton's keyboard layout, I referenced Emanuele's schematics to create the Stenokey circuit board. With the different keyboard layout and schematic, it was also necessary to modify Emanuele's firmware, (which was simple enough to do since he writes excellent code).

In the middle of this I contacted Mirabai, because without her none of this happens. She was highly supportive throughout the project. She agreed to check out the design and eventually I sent her my prototype to test.

Around the time that I contacted Mirabai, I decided that my prototype design was rather naked; too naked to send to someone else. So I designed some more plastic parts to cover the prototype's bare bottom and top. Those covers weren't very professional, so I designed a clamshell case that neatly encloses all of the electronics.

Designing an open source project like this, ordering parts and building a few prototypes are only half of the work. I spent more time cleaning up the files and directories, writing documents and getting everything set up for distribution on Github and SeeedStudio. Hopefully the project will be well received.

The Stenokey project can be accessed via this URL:

Circuit boards can be purchased (minimum order 5) from Seeed Studio via this URL:

In the next post, I'll tell you what I think of the Stenokey, after using it for several weeks and passing it around among a number of both pro and amateur stenographers! Plus: Plans for getting Stenokey kits into the Plover Store!