on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

Words and pictures by Stanley Sakai; XHTML by G.D. Warner

Young Man With A Gemini

A Do-It-Yourself Gemini Upgrade


Stanley Sakai (http://stanographer.tumblr.com) is a student at the University of Washington, where he's studying ... well, not steno! Still, he has a first generation Gemini, which required a power outle to work.

As you might guess, that can get to be inconvienent pretty quickly ... so Stanly, being a Starving Student(™) and all, decided to hack his Gemini .....


So here's my story.

When I got my steno machine used from eBay back in April of 2010, I lucked out. Not only was this machine in pristine condition, but it was also VERY cheap.

After wrestling with different serial to USB adaptors as well as several CAT programs, I finally got it to realtime with my netbook. However, I was still fustrated that I had to be near an outlet to steno.

I'm a full-time college student at the University of Washington so understandably, I am completely broke.

Since upgrading is not really an option for me at this point, I explored the ways in which I could solve my conundrum with a little DIY.

The very first thing I did was to look at the power specs on the power brick (the AC to DC converter/adaptor) that it came with. It said voltage of 5V and current of 1.0A. So hypothetically, if I could find a battery that supplied this, I could turn the writer on with it.

I searched the internet for battery packs with this power output. I found a lot of AA battery packs (you know, the ones that you fill up with disposable batteries) that had that output but I decided that going with Li-Ion was probably the better choice in terms of discharge time, convenience, and overall investment.

I came across this product on Amazon: :

Clearer picture of the Tekcharger 1800

Clearer picture of the Tekcharge 1800

The Tekkeon TechCharge 1800.

I carefully examined its output specs. According to the specs page it had a 5V/1000mA (regulated) output. Yay! I then looked up the specs of the DC charger adaptor by model number in Google to verify that it indeed was 5V/1A just in case. It was a match so I ordered it. I did more searching and I also found that Amazon they were also selling USB to 3.5mm barrel connectors so I ordered that too. The only thing I didn't know for sure was if the battery was center-positive or center-negative (the polarity of the barrel plug) once I connected the USB to barrel-tip connector cord. When the battery came, the first page on the manual said "ONLY FOR USE WITH CENTER POSITIVE DEVICES." Got lucky again.

But when the USB to barrel tip came in, the barrel didn't fit. I ended up having to buy the correct tip at a local electronics store. I snipped the old tip off and soldered that sucker together:

Modified USB Power Adapter cable

Modified USB Power Adapater cable

The Finished Unit

The Finished Unit

I took the Gemini's normally giant mess of cables and tied them down nicely to the base of the 3D adaptor.

Power Adapter in place

The Power Adapter in Place

I then stuck a velcro sticker on the small space between the two keyboard halves and on the battery pack itself.

Battery-Powered Gemini:  Up and Running

Battery-Powered Gemini: Up and Running

The whole battery fits into the 'slot' perfectly. The velcro holds it in place.

Battery-Powered Gemini:  Different Angle

Battery-Powered Gemini: Different Angle

Flip the power switch on the battery and it looks like we're online, folks.

"Houston, We Have Liftoff!"

"Houston, We Have Liftoff!"

The only problem I've had is sporadic 'attacks' by the star key (which never happened with the DC power brick). For instance, I would stroke "TH-ERP/KPHRA-EUPBG" for "they were complaining," but it would register on my CAT program as "TH*ERP/KPHRA-EUPBG" and of course it would cause translation issues. I'm guessing that if for whatever reason the battery supplies slightly under the 5V/1.0A standard, it messes with the machine's communication with the computer and it starts inserting the * randomly. I seem to also have read on cheapandsleazy about another Gemini user whose machine would sort of "babble" (send random characters/garbage) when her battery got low. This is super annoying for me because I am a prospective CART provider/captioner; so to me if it doesn't translate, it's wrong. Since a practically flawless, clean translation is what I strive for, I flip out if I see things on the screen are not perfectly readable, especially when it wasn't my fault. But usually turning the battery off and back on or connecting/disconnecting the main Gemini cable does the trick. I do notice that it seems to only happen right after the battery has finished charging up all the way.

Otherwise, I have no complaints. Before I turned the battery on for the first time, I had to take a deep breath to center myself -- hoping to god that I didn't somehow overlook something that would end in my contraption blowing out the writer's circuit boards. But thankfully I flipped the switch, the light came on, and it stayed on. To this day it works like a charm. Since I wanted to take my steno machine to all my lectures starting this quarter to practice/take notes, this little mod has made that endeavor possible -- well, it's made it a hell of a lot easier since I don't have to scramble to find the seat in the classroom or lecture hall that has an outlet available somewhere nearby.

With the battery, my Gemini is now light AND portable -- it's in my backpack with me all day, every day at school. I hardly even notice that I'm carrying a full steno setup with me to lectures, to the library, and to coffee shops. I love my machine dearly.

So that is my story; I got sick of spending the 5-12 hours a day that I spend practicing tethered to a wall. I just hope that all this effort will all pay off in the long run so that I don't always have to rely on ingenuity to solve my problems -- why do that if you can pay someone to do it for you? But maybe it's this frustration from being a poor college student that powers me through steno practice sessions after which I look up at the clock and it's somehow 7 in the morning, the next day.

Or maybe I just actually like this crap!


Stanley posted his story on Depoman.com, and attracted the attention of Jason Pardikes, the head man in charge at The Neutrino Group and Infinity Traditional/Ergonomic.

Jason was so impressed with what Stanley had done with his Gemini that he gave him a Gemini Piper:

Stanley's New Toy

Stanley's New Toy

Well done to both Stanley and Jason!

As for what happened to Stan's modified Gemini, he sent it to Mirabai Knight to help her decipher the Baron Transcriptor X communications protocol for her open source CAT software project, called Plover.

Use it in good health, Mirabai!