Student machine.

I’m led to believe a bunch of court reporting students pop in here occasionally.  One group who appear often on my stats page appear to come from a particular school in Canada.  What-what, Canada’s future stenographers!

On the weekend I met up with one of them, Karen, who was here visiting family.  She was born in HK but moved to Canada after the 1997 “Handover” (the transfer of sovereignty from the UK to the PRC).  Thus, we were able to help each other out in the random areas of both stenography and Cantonese, each bringing our own expertise to a very fruitful if entirely niche discussion!  I should point out that it sounds like Karen’s stenographic journey has so far been far quicker and more elegant than my own lumbering progress in Cantonese.

In the coffee house, bamboozling fellow patrons with a combination of tech talk, my unintelligible Cantonese, and my overtired daughter who lay prone underneath the table for most of the conversation.

Here we are at the park in the Sai Kung Old Town, where our working discussions were somewhat impeded by having to jump up and play “velcro tennis” with my kids every four minutes.  My husband took this photo and he said that Karen and I look like a lovely couple.

Shortly before we exchanged roses and began poring over rental lists…

ANYWAY.  I love talking steno with anyone, but especially other stenos.  It’s just better for everyone.  I can’t understand why but apparently non-stenos simply don’t extract the same delight from an ardent discourse about suffixes and homonyms.  Stenos do, Karen did, and we had a great natter about various things including CART, captioning and of course CR.  She is approaching the end of her studies and will soon be looking at employment.  I feel I’m in a kind of unique position of having solid experience in all three main disciplines, in many different countries now, and can offer some insight when it comes to the pros and cons of each area.  Places I haven’t worked include America and Canada, which I don’t think renders my advice nugatory but perhaps makes some of it more mystifying to Americans and Canadians!  Sorry about that.

We talked a lot about realtime.  In Australia and Asia, where I’ve done all my work, realtime is the norm.  I’d say over 90% of the work I do is realtime.  It’s clearly preferable both in terms of remuneration, excitement, and motivation.  I keep reading on forums about how, particularly in America, stenographers are being replaced by digital recording systems.  This flummoxes me a little bit because I initially thought all jurisdictions in the world that employ stenographers would naturally use realtime services.  And obviously digital recording can’t replace realtime; and I know how much the bench and the bar (and especially the solicitors and clients) appreciate and use the realtime feed, and how much money and time it saves them.  Now I find out (anecdotally) that a majority of work in US courts ISN’T realtime.  I am surprised.  I kind of think…if you’ve gone to all the effort of learning steno, why wouldn’t you want to offer realtime?

I see on some forums writers encouraging other writers to “realtime for themselves” every day to improve their writing.  “Realtiming for yourself” isn’t realtiming; it’s just writing.  Am I right?  I know on the odd occasion here when I don’t do realtime, I definitely take it down a notch.  I know I’m the one who’s going to be editing it later, so I’m not nearly as stringent as I would otherwise be (for example, when a new term comes up in a realtime matter, I will fingerspell that thing until the luncheon adjournment, even if that means spelling “Ambrosia Pignatelli” 74 times.  If I’m *cough* “realtiming for myself” I’ll just write AM*/PI*G or something and fix it up later.  Enough to get me through a readback but definitely not a good realtime tactic.)

On the subject of editing, that’s the other invaluable thing about realtiming – someone else is sitting right there with you editing as you go along.  Writing all day, spending an hour after work verifying quotes, doing some final touch-ups, and then sending your transcript out before you leave for home…it’s the only way to work.  I ABHOR doing depositions precisely because you have them hanging over your head until they’re delivered.  I want transcripts out the door on the day and the best way to do that, and avoid editing, is to do realtime.  And if I lived in a country where people don’t do realtime as a matter of course, and I always had 300 pages of editing on the plate, I think I’d move to another country.  That shit isn’t good for your peace of mind.

There was a thread about editing on Depoman one time and it totally applied to me.  I just don’t have it in me.  I fall asleep, I get distracted…I have to force myself to just do “10 more pages”, disconnect the internet, offer myself rewards for every milestone (not, as someone suggested, a whiskey at every adjournment; see above re falling asleep, and that’s without any alcoholic assistance).

Editing is my back-up career if and when I succumb to carpal-tunnel syndrome, I guess.  And I am dreading it.

(Above section to be read in the reflection of my full and utter respect for the scopists I’ve worked with.  And also my sincere assurances to Christine Woolley that in the years I scoped for you, before I was a writer myself, I prided myself on absolute professionalism and being-awake-ness; and without the opportunity, in fact, I never would have become a writer.)

But there was something a little bit more concise that I really wanted to post about here for those couple of Canadian students who might be reading (and students from other countries, for despite what you may think based on the empirical evidence frequently presented here, I’m not racist or exclusionary AT ALL!).  And that something is student machines.  Can someone explain this to me?  I keep reading about it on forums and it doesn’t make sense.  Karen tells me there’s this thing whereby students have to purchase a “professional” machine before they can start working.  I’ve always thought, using logic that satisfies both fiscal and functional requirements, that any machine that can be hooked up to a computer can be used on the job.

This issue has recently been in the news because of this unfortunate* incident (“unfortunate” used in the sense of “hell nightmare scenario of any stenographer’s life”).  On most of the steno forums I’m on, the court reporter in question has been crucified, mainly for having “bad equipment” which equals “unprofessional” and even “unqualified”.  How utterly pompous and also irrelevant.  My first thought is that I can’t believe any first-world court complex doesn’t have its own secondary audio systems recording all around the whole joint.  My second thought is that I’ve seen some really amazing stenos with very basic and old equipment; and some not-so-flash ones with an arsenal of expensive gadgets.  My third thought is that all these writers on forums bagging her equipment might consider this.

I write, by choice, on a 17-year-old Stentura 8000LX.  I do realtime nearly every day in such lofty institutions as the Hong Kong High Court and the International Arbitration Centre.  Here it is doing the business at a little event called the Asian Film Awards:

Note massive cinema-sized screens on both sides of the stage for projection of live captions.  The good old 8000LX does not quake in the face of such a CART audience!  Also, it has ports that allow it to connect to such technology!  IMAGINE!

I had my second child while I was captioning (not actually live on air, that WOULD be unprofessional) and was lucky enough to work from home in the year or so that followed.  Here is what my study looked like.  Don’t mind the lettering, it was for a key that went with this photo in a post on another blog I used to have.  The point of interest is that I did all my captioning on an awesome…400SRT!  (See, er, letter “B”).  Currently available on eBay for about US$200!

See also this post for other pics of me captioning the Tour de France from my loungeroom using that very machine.  Also saw service on such minor “events” as the Olympics and the London terror attacks of July 2005.

I owned an Elan Mira for a brief time and hated it.  The touch was too soft, and I found the whole size/shape/weight unwieldy.  If I’m honest, I also think the design of these newer machines is kind of cheap-looking.  The screens look low-tech and novelty-ish, and…whose idea was it to call the latest one a Diamante?  Yeah, THAT’S professional.  This isn’t just a Stenograph-bash, incidentally.  I also find those ergonomic splitting-apart machines (can’t think of the name offhand) really ugly and wouldn’t want to look at it all day in court.  Think of the clients.  That thing’s gonna put the best advocate off their cross-examination, no?  In summary, if a machine lets me bash it, has basic functionality, and isn’t aesthetically intrusive, that is a winner.  No matter how unfashionable it is to say so.

By the same token, of course, if the machine that you write on best is an expensive one, then use it.  I’m saying use a machine because you are good at writing on it, not because it’s the latest or is named after a fake crystal or a concept of elegance.  What?

One of the main arguments for newer machines is that they do things like “record audio” and “allow text search”.  Isn’t that what we use computers for?  Do you ever do a job WITHOUT a computer?  Certainly not a realtime one.  I don’t even have my dictionary loaded on my steno machine, simply because I’d rather be reading the realtime feed (off a computer) to monitor what the clients are seeing.  There are those alleged contingencies about having to do a job in a hospital or in a remote location using just your steno machine.  In 12 years I’ve never been to such a job.  At that infrequency (0% of jobs), that particular justification dies in its arse.  Speaking of arses, in any case, even on a remote or unusually situated job, you’re going to be sitting down, right?  And if you’re going to be sitting down, you can bring a computer.  And if you’re me, you would be bringing a computer anyway because you don’t want to rely on just one machine to record everything, including audio – what if something happens to it?  One day soon, revolutionary steno thinker Mirabai will invent invisible wearable steno machines and virtually free software for us all; in the meantime, we use laptops, innit.

Incidentally my most invaluable piece of equipment is my tilting tripod attachment, seen in the below photo right underneath my machine:

From  “What’s in your handbag“, a post I wrote last year about my “outdated” equipment…

As I said in that post, I can write on any steno machine with that thing – and none without it!  Considering it cost less than $100, it was an unknowingly cunning investment.

So, students, I hope it isn’t true that you are actually obligated to purchase a “professional” machine before you can start working.  The only thing I really hate about this industry is how expensive everything is, and how some schools (and agencies, by the sound of it) appear to be in collusion with the big proprietary names.  Please show this post to anyone telling you you can’t be a real steno without a $5,000 machine named after a cheap plastic “jewel”.  To people on the forums talking rubbish about bad equipment equalling a sure lack of qualifications and ability, be quiet.

And if there’s still any doubters, what about this:

My own mentor, a truly incredible writer called Helen Case, wrote – in court, live-captioning and everything in between, in countries all over the world – on a SmartWriter.  For about 30 years.  And I’ve never had the privilege of meeting a more accomplished or in-demand professional.

Karen, it was lovely to meet you.  Through this ludicrously self-indulgent blogging malarky I’ve now met people at opposite ends of the steno world, in the tiny but amazing city of Hong Kong – a student at the beginning of what I have no doubt will be a fascinating career, and the redoubtable Depoman.  Anyone else passing through, look me up!  You too could have your name inextricably linked to an awkward post making cloaked accusations of commercial impropriety against the biggest name in the game!  DO IT!  To that end, all views contained herein are obviously my own.  I do, however, believe them to be truth.


26 Comments Add yours

  1. Karen says:

    Haha, I chuckled out loud at the exchanging roses part. Joel is right, we do look like a happy couple 🙂 hope it didn’t make him jealous! 😉

    Such a great summary and further-expanded commentary on our discussion. Also, love the picture with the labelled equipment!

    Thanks again for everything, Jade! The experience was priceless.

    1. ankit says:

      I want learning steno graphic
      How I started

  2. Awesome. It’s nice to be able to read about our future profession from someone as smart and sassy as you, Jade.

  3. Toni says:

    Well, as a non-steno type, I had no idea what you were saying a lot of the time, but I still found it interesting!
    Aren’t you glad you didn’t decide to become a hairdresser or a waitress? Your career has taken you to some pretty interesting and challenging places.

    1. jadeluxe says:

      I am so, so glad I picked this career. All the time. Still miss pies though 😉

  4. Melissa says:

    Thanks for the insight and the giggle! As much as I first decided to read this as I am studying court reporting, I found your other posts hillarious 🙂

    1. jadeluxe says:

      Thanks Melissa – nice to have you here! 🙂

  5. Jenny says:

    Hi Jade, you’ll have guessed this already, but I don’t agree that making up shortforms on the fly isn’t advisable in realtime jobs. I am terrible at fingerspelling and if I have to do it, I risk getting behind and missing or misstroking something spoken next. So shortforms are essential to me maintaining my accuracy elsewhere. I might write something in more strokes than I prefer in order to get it to come out as something readable for the clients (e.g. PIG/LI might tran as pigly instead of Pignatelli… at least the reader can tell what it’s meant to be if they’re in the room) and try to gesture to my editor to jump to the bottom of the transcript to global it. I also write bench comments (hidden from the realtime clients) to the editor, asking them to global a new shortform. I’m just mentioning, for the benefit of the students, that different things work for different people.

  6. Jade says:

    Agree with that, Jenny, if there’s an editor (particularly a quick one who’s right there or can understand my wild gesticulations to drop to the bottom 😉 I wasn’t actually having a go at shortforms…see recent post about my struggles to incorporate them and realisation of their value! The point I was making is that I think “realtiming for yourself” isn’t really the same pressure as actually realtiming for a client or the bench.

    The best thing is working with a super editor and them understanding my proposed shortforms without any benchnote necessary!

    The second-best thing IS benchnotes. Love those things.

    Thanks for pointing out another POV 🙂

  7. Jenny says:

    Absolutely agree that realtime is better for our writing skills. It gets the adrenaline going, and on those really shitty days when people are speaking unclearly and fast, the awareness that other people have to read the rubbish I’m writing pushes me to an extra level that would not be physically possible if I were not doing realtime. Similar for daily (urgent) turnaround: towards the end of a long day, the awareness that every error I make is forcing me to work even later, that same evening, forces me to continue giving 100% when I am tiring.

    1. jadeluxe says:

      To any students still following along, Jenny never writes “rubbish”, as mentioned above! She’s the most experienced CR in Asia and one of the best I’ve worked with anywhere, and her advice is priceless.

  8. Belinda says:

    Interesting post, Jade.

    As a side note, what a gorgeous scarf you’re wearing 🙂

    1. jadeluxe says:

      Bel, I know you said you imagined me wearing it one day sitting on a verandah with Joel in the twilight of life, but I just don’t think it’s gonna make it that far…I wear it SO OFTEN! (As a scarf, a wrap, a shawl, a handwarmer…) My absolute favourite accessory. ❤

  9. stenoknight says:

    Oooh, you did not just impugn the aesthetics of my ergonomic machine! I hereby challenge you to a duel.

    Seriously, though, this is a great post. Yeah, it baffles me how many US reporters don’t do realtime. I just can’t understand it. One of my life goals is never to have to take a deposition, because even the thought of all that editing makes me blench. Gah. Part of the purpose behind Plover is to raise up a generation of stenographers who’ve never even heard of non-realtime writing.

    That said, I do think that newer machines can sometimes be more practical than older ones, primarily because they have anti-stacking algorithms that can be extraordinarily useful. The one I’m writing on now can be calibrated so that if I know I tend to drag a little bit on one hand, it will register a stroke as completed when, say, all but one of the keys has been completely lifted, so if my other hand comes down a fraction of a second before the last key has gone up, it’ll register as two separate strokes instead of a single stacked stroke, the way my previous machine did. I totally agree with you about the screens and the audio recordings and all those useless bells and whistles; they’re just money sinks. But ergonomics and anti-stacking customizations are worth paying money for. And I happen to think that ergonomic machines look way cooler than those old-fashioned plastic brick machines, so nyah.

    1. jadeluxe says:

      A tripod duel. I think that’s what security at airports always think I’m angling for when I go through the scanner with my gear. It’s my life goal to never do another deposition but unfortunately I will periodically have to do them. I wish you well in avoiding them and urge strength upon you in this regard! It’s a noble endeavour!

      I didn’t know about the anti-stacking algorithms. That could be useful (and is, as you say, for you). One point to new machines. Haven’t noted any ground-breaking ergonomical changes with the new machines, at least not the Stentura ones. The last “new”(ish) machine I bought was a Mira and I was actually disappointed in how unergonomic it was. The thing was so wide and such an awkward shape!

      You’re wrong that the ergonomic machines look way cooler than my plastic brick machines, WRONG! Mine looks like a functional piece of recognisable equipment; yours looks like an experiment gone wrong. JUST SAYIN’ 😉 We can obviously sort this out in our duel. See you at dawn.

      1. Can you caption a walking gallery tour with YOUR machine? (‘;

  10. Geraldine says:

    You lucky thing to have had Helen as your mentor. She is a marvellous reporter and I always was in awe of her professionalism. She is one of my reporting heroes. Also good to hear that you are still using a Stentura 8000 as am thinking of going back to reporting after an 8-year break, and wondered if my “old” machine I bought back in 1994 would be up to scratch with all the “bells and whistles” new technology out there. Got to agree that realtime is the only way, and even better is captioning as there is no going back to a transcript. Put in the hard work before and walk away at the end of the day, thinking of a good drink to calm me down.

    1. jadeluxe says:

      Hi Geraldine,
      Nice to speak to you again!
      I should say that I just consider Helen my mentor – it was never an official arrangement or anything. (Do you even need an official arrangement for such things…?) There have been a few writers who have particularly influenced me, starting with Christine Woolley, who I scoped for in the Vic. County Court for a few years and who originally inspired me to learn steno. She could go pages and pages without an error. Scoping for her was the easiest job of my life! 🙂
      I met Helen when I was captioning at Channel 7 and was fortunate enough to share-write with her on a lot of the big events like the Olympics. She is simply the best all-rounder out there, isn’t she: speed, accuracy, general knowledge, tech ability, helpfulness, professionalism, laidback-ness! I constantly try to model myself after her. She comes to Asia periodically to work so I still see her a few times a year.
      I’m excited that you’re going back! 8000 all the way baby! And the drink afterwards! 😉 What’s the plan? CR or captioning?

      1. Geraldine says:

        It won’t be captioning yet but court work to start hopefully. The trouble is I havent looked at my dictionary since 2003 and it’s still on floppy disk! I am actually petrified about the whole endeavour but excited at the same time. Thanks for your encouragement and keep up the great blog.

  11. jadeluxe says:

    Mirabai…no, no I can’t. Well, yes, I guess I could, but I’d have to have an assistant (possibly one of my children or someone else very short) walking along kind of underneath me carrying my tripod very steadily indeed 😉

    I am in raptures over the high-level functionality this picture shows but you CANNOT argue the aesthetics!! 😉

  12. Jenny says:

    Jade, thanks for the compliment (you are also the best too!), but if I DON’T write rubbish at the end of a crappy day then it’s because it was realtime, or because you were there – if nobody else is looking at my work and there is no urgency to get it finished then it really is rubbish when the chips are down, trust me 😉
    Having a live editor there also pushes me because we all know that the editors like to talk about who’s a good writer and who’s not…whenever I feel my writing sloppy I can almost hear editors gossiping, “I don’t rate Jenny, she’s really let herself go recently…”
    Interesting to hear about the tripod duel because I desperately want a new machine – also using old Stentura – too much stacking, realtime delay while the disk is turning over, and a wrist problem that might be helped by the Ergonomic one – procrastinating because I can’t decide what to get.

  13. jadeluxe says:

    Oh yeah, I’m worried about the editors’ rating too! In their defence I suppose we also “rate” them…right?
    When you get a new machine I’ll buy yours as a spare – worried about my when my Stentura eventually packs it in! I really like it.
    Re disk turning over, I only use disk mode when I’m doing non-realtime (so there’s a backup). When it’s realtime, I remove the disk and set the machine to diskless mode. Eliminates the noise and the delay.
    It will be interesting to see one of the splittable ergonomic machines in Hong Kong if that’s the way you decide to go! 🙂

  14. Glen Warner says:

    Amazing, I somehow missed this one!

    The issue of student writers and software is the main reason I put together Cheap and Sleazy. At the time, my school recommended to myself and my fellow students to buy a Stentura 400 SRT and the student version of Case Catalyst … and having used the writers in the school’s labs and had so much trouble with Case (somewhere around version 4 at the time) and the abysmal RapidWrite Pro, I began searching for a better way … and that’s how I ended up with a refurbished ProCAT Flash (yes, a professional writer), and digitalCAT … and the mildly interested reader can read the rest of that story here:

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