Thursday, December 26, 2019

Semi-DIY TinyMod Stand

art board instruction sheet
underside of art board with DIY mounting hardware
art board without TinyMod inserted, showing recessed space
TinyMod in tripod-mounted art board stand

Check out jladd's new TinyMod stand, which started life as an art frame, but with some clever hardware is now a rock solid and beautifully minimalistic tripod-mounted steno surface. Nice work!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Spectra Lexer + New Typey Type Lessons

diagrams of a steno keyboard showing keys corresponding to sounds

Spectra Lexer a tool to visualize steno strokes by chord and phonetic correspondence by longtime OSP community member incognition, is back online after a brief hiatus. Useful for memorizing the keyboard layout and understanding why strokes are defined the way they are!

Also, there are some new lessons up on Typey Type: The Velveteen Rabbit, a notorious tearjerker that haunts my childhood to this day, and some new community lessons that can be copied and pasted into Typey Type's custom lesson engine.

Have fun!

Thursday, December 12, 2019

TinyMod Review

TinyMod in red and green pencil case with USB cable

Last week I did my Georgi review, focusing on its utility as my daily driver for the past several months as I waited for my new Infinity to be built. I've switched back to the Infinity full time since it arrived and I'm definitely appreciating the silent key action after so many months of clacking, though I've had some growing pains adjusting to its idiosyncrasies. Unlike the old model Infinity Ergonomic that I had before, this one won't let me tilt the two halves of the machine up as far as I like, which means I have to tilt the tripod itself, and that often involves me keeping my arms too close to my body, which has resulted in some elbow pain. Plus I seem to have a different stray keystroke issue each time I take the machine out of my backpack. I can configure multiple sensitivities of each key, but if the machine is gonna demonstrate different behavior each session even if I haven't adjusted anything in between, I'm not sure where to start. I'm sure I'll find my way into loving it at some point, but I must admit that the past week and change has made me wistful not for the Georgi, my trusty workhorse for all these many months, but the TinyMod, whose utter simplicity is its greatest strength.

Several times in my Infinity-free period I'd look at my Georgi case and grumble. I didn't feel like taking it out and setting it up and tenting it and taping it and readjusting it until it was just right. I wanted to take a machine out of my case, plug it in, and start writing. When that sort of mood struck me, I'd reach for my TinyMod. Its extreme elegance and portability were invaluable one night when I went out to sushi with two friends, one deaf and one hearing. I was able to put my Surface Pro 4 on the table in between the platters and soup bowls and caption the conversation with a minimum of fuss and disruption. I admit it took me a while to get used to using the middle key for numbers, but between the Georgi and the TinyMod I eventually got so used to it that even after 11 years of standard steno number bar usage I find that thumb drifting centerwards on my new Infinity. It's a really elegant little workaround that only requires a bit of practice to master.

In many ways, the feel of writing on the TinyMod is more comfortable -- or possibly the word I'm looking for is "luxurious" -- than on the Georgi. The key action is more pillowy. The keytoppers themselves are rounded and pleasantly textured, compared to the crisp, shallow angles on the Georgi's keytoppers. Even the sound is less clacky, though oddly the one time I was actually called out for making too much typing noise in a class (it only happened once this semester!) I was on my TinyMod rather than my Georgi, which surprised me. It's such a discreet and unpretentious little machine. It doesn't require any fiddling or adjustment to make it work; it just works. The only flaw I can see in it is probably more of a flaw in me than in the machine: I can't write on it for more than an hour or two without getting wrist pain. I'm not sure exactly why; probably a combination of things, such as the lack of tenting, the short distance between the hands, possibly even the fact that it rests easier on a lap than below the level of the knees on a dedicated tripod. Everything simple and unfiddly about it, sadly. So even though I wanted so many times to avoid the five-minute setup time of the Georgi when I got to a class with little time to spare, I usually bit the bullet and went through with it rather than using the TinyMod because I was afraid of hurting my moneymakers. Sigh. But see above: Even a $2,000 proprietary ergonomic machine is not immune to this sort of complaint from me. Even on the Georgi I was getting a weird pain in one of my wrists until I realized that I could put it on the diagonal of my laptop tripod's platform instead of aligning it with the edges. For whatever reason, that made the difference, and the pain went away. Perhaps if I keep experimenting, I can find a way to make the TinyMod work for me without pain as well.

If this isn't a problem you have, I can recommend the TinyMod wholeheartedly. I'm able to write on it at high speeds with a minimum of effort, enjoying the feel of every stroke, and I still keep it in my bag every day. It's sturdy, reliable, aesthetically attractive, and flexible in a huge variety of circumstances. Fantastic as a starter machine and delicate enough for professionals, plus Charley, its inventor, uses one every day for all his coding and general computer work. If a split/tented machine is not an absolute must have for you, the TinyMod is highly recommended!

Thursday, December 5, 2019

Georgi Review!

All right, friends! Here it is!

A Georgi keyboard resting on a laptop tripod with a Polarpro Osmo Pocket case propping up each side

When I first got the new version of the Georgi with the reinforced connectors and lovely heavyweight case, I figured I'd try it out, put it through its paces, do some transcription on the couch, use it to chat with steno buddies on the Plover Discord, that sort of thing. Little did I know that my Infinity would break after 6 years of heavy use in the last 5 minutes of a multi-day job and I'd have to rely on my Alienware (since lost on a plane, sob), Georgi, and TinyMod to fill in the gap between August 1st, when I ordered my new Infinity, and November 29th, when it finally arrived. In that interval, I've used my Georgi to caption prominent public events, conferences, college classes, Twitch streams, webinars... You name it. And I have to say it's performed astonishingly well.

The Georgi is the first non-professional grade machine that never made me feel like I was sacrificing speed in order to get all the keys to register. The lightweight springs require almost no effort to activate, so I was able to caption 8-hour conferences without any fatigue. Unlike on the Infinity, there's no individual key configuration, where I can dial the sensitivity up or down depending on the strength or speed of each individual finger. With only a few exceptions, though, that didn't prove to be an issue. I occasionally had some problems getting words containing more than the typical number of keys to register at high speeds. Particular thorns in my side were REFRPB (research), which kept coming out as REFPB (resin) for some reason, and SKWRAURBGS (new paragraph), which kept leaving out different keys here and there. There was also a piece of the right hand vowel bank that had what felt like a detached keybed; if I lifted the key, whatever it was seated in lifted up as well, and unless I pressed down firmly to reseat it, those vowels didn't always register properly, sometimes leaving the E out of strokes and sometimes giving me phantom presses of the U key.

As I mentioned in a previous post, the clackiness is something that was always a bit of a problem for me, both in classrooms and at my coworking space. No one ever complained, exactly, but I did get a few dirty looks here and there, and it always made me feel self-conscious. At some point I want to try the lube/silencer combo that Germ recommended, but I have to admit it's been a huge relief to have a blessedly silent Infinity back. The ergonomics, on the other hand, wound up being far better than I'd feared. As you can see in the picture at the top of this post, I tend to tent my Georgi by resting it on the Polarpro Osmo Pocket case I picked up in the digital camera section of an electronics store. The Georgi fits inside this ingenious little clamshell, with both of its cables in the interior zip pocket, and when I need to use it, I take everything out, put the case on the platform of my InStand laptop tripod, rest the Georgi on either side of the case, then tape it down with gaffer tape. I can get away with four pieces, but generally tend to use six for added security. Sometimes it slips and slides on me a bit, which can be frustrating, but for high stakes gigs I just tape the hell out of it and it stays put.

It's a bit more work than I sometimes feel like doing, but it's worth it. Especially with the tripod tilted forward and the Georgi positioned below the level of my knees, the ergonomics have been pretty extraordinary. I got a small recurrent wrist twinge before I hit on just the right positioning, but after I finally figured out the magic formula I've been totally pain-free even after an entire day of captioning. That's not something to underestimate. I sometimes write more than 100,000 words in a day, and walking away from that without massive fatigue or cramping is a serious achievement.

So yeah, in short: The Georgi has saved my absolute bacon these past four months. I was able to continue working steadily without any drop in speed or captioning quality, without any sacrifice to my wrists, using this tiny ultraportable machine that fit in the palm of my hand and cost a twentieth of what I spent on the professional machine I'd used up to that point. I should say that both Georgis I own were gifts given to me by Germ in exchange for an honest review, but if he hadn't offered them to me for free I would have paid for them in an absolute heartbeat. And I don't get any kickbacks or anything; I'm just a massive fan. I think literally everyone who uses steno for any purpose should keep one of these in their bag. You never know when your fancy pro machine will suddenly kick the bucket, and having this thing on hand as backup could be career-saving. I love the Bluetooth and battery life and lever action and ergonomic armature and dead silence of the Infinity, but I don't love its bulk, weight, fragility, or price tag. As a professional, it makes sense for me to have an ultraconfigurable pro machine, and I don't regret spending the money on it, but I'm quite sure I'll still be using my Georgi plenty when I don't feel like lugging around all my equipment. The Georgi is a fantastic machine for learner, amateur, and professional alike, and I couldn't possibly recommend it more fervently. Buy one, buy one, buy one!!!