by Suw on February 2, 2006

Why don't computers do stenography? Sitting in the Houses of Parliament today, watching the stenographer effortlessly record every word, verbatim, whilst I hurriedly tried to take notes the hard way made me feel deeply inadequate. Why can't I do some sort of chording on a computer? Why can't it tell that if I hit the C and H keys together, that they should be 'CH', or that 'T' and 'H' is likely to be a 'TH' unless in a combination with a G in which case its likely to be a 'GHT'. It seems pretty damn simple to me. Sort of like T9. Certainly it might take some training to get used to, but my god, it'd make me a faster typist.
Then I could take really insanely and freakily accurate notes.

Anonymous February 3, 2006 at 1:40 am

First thought – I saw 'steganography' first, and wondered why you would be needing it…
Second thought – I wonder if you had a decent microphone, and speech recognition software, wouldn't that do the job?
Third thought – your typing accuracy must be way better than mine; if my compters accepted multiple keys struck at the same time as legitimate input, that would /not/ be a good thing for my typing legibility!

Anonymous February 3, 2006 at 8:22 am

Speaking is a different process to typing. I've tried speech recognition before, and it just doesn't work for me. The words have to come out through my fingers, for some reason.
My typing accuracy is pretty good, yes. I don't know what my rate is, but it's not shabby. Stenography would make me much more efficient though. Eventually. There'd be a hideous learning curve though…

Anonymous February 3, 2006 at 9:40 am

I know what you mean about speech recognition. But the learning curve might be no worse than for stenography. My wife uses speech recognition all the time and swears by it (actually, swearing by it is quite difficult because it's a very coy piece of software and has to be taught any naughty words you might want to use).

Anonymous February 3, 2006 at 7:54 pm

About 15 years ago, when I was having a problem with carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, I bought a chording keyboard for my Mac. It had five keys, and worked very similarly to a stenographers' keyboard.
I never quite got the hang of it. I recently ran across it when I was going through some boxes. Sadly, it's an ADB keyboard and no longer works with any recent Macs. Oh well….

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 1:04 am

Well, there's no technical barrier to doing such a thing, but I don't see how typing t and h together is much faster than typing them in sequence. You might be able to write a keyboard driver that more closely resembles a stenographer's chords, but would the time spent training really be worth it?
Try learning to type Dvorak first. 😉

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 4:37 am

Stenographers use a Stenotype machine, that is based on typing the *sounds* of words phonetically. I think they have lots of abbreviations too. It used to be all on the paper tape, but now they have an electronic tape drive or disc drive in addition to the paper. They just insert the disc into their computer, and software arranges their keystrokes into letter text to be looked over and corrected.
The reason it is so fast to type on the Stenograph is the layout of the keys, the ability to combine keys in a single press, and practice. It does seem like an interesting idea for someone to supply a USB Stenograph-type keyboard that would plug into your Mac. Then you would only have the learning curve to contend with.

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 7:35 am

Actually, I was thinking more of the kind of boom mike to point at the person who's speaking, so you wouldn't need to speak OR type! I imagine you wouldn't get away with trying that in the Commons, though.

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 9:01 am

The problem with speech recognition is not just the learning curve (not mine, the software's), but also that the words just come out different when I speak compared to when I type. The tone is different, and it's for some reason not as good.
And yes, Emlyn, you can't do speech recognition with other people's speech, or in places where you need to be silent, or where there is a lot of background noise. So it's not really a viable option because I'm rarely in the kind of environment where speech recognition is even a possibility.

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 9:07 am

You can have a Dvorak keyboard layout on a Mac really easily – just change the language in the international options. But there are no significant speed gains to be made using Dvorak, according to comparative studies. I started learning it once, and didn't find it any faster than typing Qwerty.
Steongraphy, however, would allow you to type with a lot fewer keystrokes, in theory. Plus the time it takes to hit two or three keys together is less than hitting them in sequence – like the difference between a scale and a chord. I don't even know if it's feasible to do this on a normal Qwerty keyboard, but it'd be fun to try. (Actually, Kevin Marks is curious enough to see if he can't hack something together…)
As for whether it would be worth it… I am in enough situations where taking verbatim notes would be useful that I think it would. But maybe that's just me! 😉

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 9:10 am

Yeah, it also seems that stenographers all do it in their own personalised way, with their own abbreviations and shortcuts. It'd need standardising before you could roll out software to do it with an accessory keyboard.
However, no reason why you can't do it with the existing Qwerty keyboard. Personally, I'm not keen on the idea of an external keyboard because it's another bit of kit to carry around. The Mac keyboard API apparently is flexible enough that you could just create your own layout for it.
Of course, Kevin might do that, and then I might hate it, so no promises…

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 9:57 am

There is a technique called 'Hullfishing' after Steve Hullfish who came up with it, where you use a speech recognition system trained with your voice, then repeat the words others speak into it to get good quality transcription.
Hard to do live though unless you wear some kind of muffling mask.

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 3:52 pm

What ever happened to the Microwriter? It was a one-handed (chorded) keyboard system invented by (of all people) Cy Endfield, director of “Zulu”. The original units were a bit clunky, but I imagine you'd be able to build one into a mouse by now.
This is the only link I've been able to turn up :
Unfortunately, it seems that they were all right-handed, making them useless for left-handers like me.

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 3:57 pm

Aha, it turns out I was somewhat premature, and the “cykey” (as it is now named) is in production, and available for the mac.
Terrible website, though.

Anonymous February 4, 2006 at 4:34 pm
Anonymous January 6, 2007 at 3:04 am

I am a stenographer and I can tell you that being able to type 't' and 'h' together may not seem that much faster, but being able to write “ladies and gentlemen of the jury” or “proponderance of the evidence” in one single stroke of the hand is quite a bit faster.

Anonymous January 6, 2007 at 3:14 am

I thought the same thing about speech recognition software until I became a stenographer. The thing about that software is that it can't decipher between heavy accents accuratley and it cannot format or put in punctuation.There is nothing that rivals the human brain. It is adept at being able to understand different accents, even heavy ones, and still not run into problems translating it into the written word. Plus, with software, recording devices, and computers there is a lot of room for mechanical malfunctions. I am not only able to record every word verbatim, but I also execute command functions that insert punctuation and format any numbers; such as social security, phone numbers, date of birth, driver's license, or dollar amounts with their correct hyphens or dashes so that when I print my transcript they are already formatted correctly. And with the more advanced machines, I can transmit what I am writing to up to 3 computers so that attorneys may view the proceedings live in what is called 'realtime translation'.

Anonymous February 14, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Yes, I really think stenography would be of value for you. I write all my notes with a Swedish system, be it on the commuter train or elsewhere. I write almost as fast as people talk and that makes it easy to take the notes I need and still being able to listen to all that is said. I can write exactly their own words if I want to make a comment. Unfortunately I don't know of any machine that can transform any voice into text. Anyhow, I think my notebook and a pen is cheaper and easier to bring with me. / A Swedish stenog

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