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Realtime for Everyone

From Fashionable Realtime and reprinted in the October/99 NCRA Journal of Court Reporting

If our only task in upgrading shorthand skills is to learn something new, life would be great. But the challenge is far greater. It's more about "unlearning" old skills. Undoing psychomotor skills that have been firmly cemented in the neuropathways of brains of working court reporters is likely to be much more difficult than the learning pursuits of professionals in other fields in need of continuing education. It's the challenge that must be overcome, but it might be easier if you first understand why.

Realtime writing: What's needed to make the change to realtime?

1. A renewed attitude — mental software
2. The tools — tangible software and hardware
3. Familiarity with your equipment

It's necessary to tackle the upgrading process with proper equipment and the right frame of mind — not necessarily in that order.

Mental Software: Get motivated. To date, thousands of us across North America have undertaken personal realtime upgrading projects to varying degrees. Some have done remarkably well. Others have succeeded moderately. Many, however, despite their best intentions, have come nowhere close to their dreams of near-perfect translations.

The reasons vary. Suffice to say that if the motivation any of us had when we first learned stenographic theory equalled the motivation applied in modifying it today, there would be scores of highly qualified realtimers and captioners showing the world what this profession's capable of and reinforcing our indispensability. That of course is not the case.

Why are some of us are charged with a desire to do this, yet others see it as a burden? Obviously if the only reason for upgrading is the threat of becoming obsolete, then the process will seem unusually difficult and annoying. However, if we embrace the challenge, see it as fascinating, adventurous, a fun, new way of doing the job, and a way to increase profits, the chances of mastering it are much higher.

This is no secret. Behavioural experts have known it for years. Put another way, if you detest your job to begin with, you might want to reconsider this whole thing. But if you're the language-oriented type who feels a sense of elation in watching spoken words converted to text before your very eyes, you'll probably whiz through the upgrading process at remarkable speed.

Here are your carrots:

1. Money!  Wider vistas for employment by opening new job markets — and there are many.

2. Indispensability!  Your skills will not be replaced by technology or by other reporters who have it.

3. Longer life!  Yes, you read correctly. The intrigue of pursuing realtime translations is an ongoing process that provides stimulation necessary for a healthy brain, a happier disposition, and ultimately, extended longevity.

Prepare for a commitment of time One of the most common misconceptions of people who engage in continuing education to upgrade their shorthand theory is that if they simply attend classes for X number of nights, they'll quietly transform into realtime writers. The fact is that there's usually much more to the transition than showing up and participating for a few hours each week. If it's impossible to make time for additional duties; if your life is so utterly full of responsibilities that you cannot commit to an allotment of hours for the activities involved, then the reality is that it won't happen.

The learning process is a ritual that's repeated every day of our lives. And every day, there's a routine physiological occurrence in the brain: Our neurons grow dendrites. Without this function, we'd be stagnant and life would lose all meaning. Think of the learning process as flexing the "brain muscle". And subscribing to the no-pain, no-gain philosophy is okay, but this is not at all painful. It does, however, take some time, and you must have some to spend if you crave the rewards.

Cultivate your mind. We all know that shorthand writing is a highly familiar, in fact highly intimate presence in the life of every reporter. And that may be understating it. The unique psychomotor skill we've each developed is truly a remarkable, individual behavioural trait that no one understands better than one of our kind. It pales in comparison to everyday on-the-job learning or what we glean from television or the newspaper. So any notion that this much evolved and personal skill can be magically altered without a thorough re-cultivation of one's innermost mental processes is quite wrong.

Undoubtedly the original skill was learned with a wild dendrite-building party thrown by your brain in the initial training period. Then everything changed. The party was over upon graduation and the process settled into a rate of growth that matched your interest in absorbing knowledge on the job and elsewhere in life.

To undertake the task of revising intimate shorthand skills in essence will mean a new party. Don't be surprised if you find the process a shock at first or if progress is slow. After all, you likely haven't subjected your brain to such an ordeal in a very long time. Make your dendrites grow (or "How to Age-Proof Your Mind") It's a fact. To learn (or unlearn) anything means growing dendrites, and nothing else provides a feeling of renewal equal to it.

It might be helpful to appreciate the role of dendritic growth to a long and healthy life. The following is proffered by authorities on the subject:

1. Do puzzles. Crossword puzzles are great for you.
2. Try a musical instrument; a new one if you already play.
3. Fix something.
4. Try the arts.
5. Dance.
6. Go out with friends or find new playmates. Date provocative people. (Better yet, marry one.)
7. Turn off the TV.
8. Stock your life with rich experiences of all kinds.
9. Play with toys. Lots of them. Different ones.
10. Skip bingo. Play bridge or chess instead.
11. Learn to roll with the punches.
12. Stay physically healthy.
13. Keep your job. Don't retire, ever.
14. Become an expert in something.

Consider this: Upgrading to realtime is learning. The academic definition of learning is a change, more or less, in one's behaviour. Generally speaking, the temptation not to learn new things, not to grow new dendrites, is seductive and insidious for all humans as years tick by. But you have chosen to become a realtime writer. Maybe you're the kind of person who loves to take courses because you love learning and you approach life with fascination. Besides increasing longevity, there are many benefits to these qualities, but quicker learning is a big one that can't be overlooked.

Tangible Software and Hardware: There are almost no working machine-shorthand reporters on this continent who don't yet use some kind of a computer-assisted translation (CAT) system. There are scant numbers still using dedicated computer systems lacking DOS/PC capability. Most of us own more modern gear, some with the newest and best. In each of these groups there are reporters who want to change or update their hardware or software because they recognize that it simply doesn't meet their needs.

Now that we're in the age of 32-bit software and Windows® platforms, it's unlikely that available CATware products will differ much. Feature by feature, most new softwares have the same bells and whistles, regardless who makes them. It might be fairly stated that the only important distinction from this point onward will be the quality of service manufacturers provide.

Even though prices have dropped dramatically over the past decade, the cost of buying a top-end Pentium® notebook, new software, and a state-of-the-art writer isn't peanuts. If you're unhappy with your system, if it's outdated or incomplete, the following are suggestions to consider before you spend good money:

1. Trust the advice of colleagues who are already experienced in translating in realtime and who might have explored the fine points. Ideally you should speak with reporters who have been in the realtime field by selling "dirty" disks or by providing realtime translations via litigation support software.

2. Choose your software, then buy hardware to suit it, or alternatively, buy them together as an integrated set. Don't buy non-specific hardware and then be forced to settle for software that purports to work adequately with it. One caution: If you're buying anew, remember that practically all software is now designed for 32-bit Pentium®-level or better computers and will not likely run well on anything less. (Even older software is reported to have problems running on processors other than Intel®.) By all means, confirm with your vendor.

3. Consider software that honestly claims artificial intelligence. This is a feature that enables translation of complex outlines by logic.

Familiarity With Your Equipment: If it's true that we have distinctive personality traits that define our chosen careers, one that continually surfaces among many talented shorthand writers is that of indifference for their computers. So it might come as a surprise to a layperson to discover that so many of us know so little about our gear and its capabilities. Of course there are exceptions. But obviously there's a tendency for some to stop exploring past the stage of launching the CAT application, seeing translations occur, and basic editing and printing.

This is not enough!

To be a proficient realtime writer, there are fundamental CAT operating skills that are critical, and they are:

1. Know how to amend your dictionary. This means knowing how to enter new outlines and the symbols that make word components join, and it means knowing how to search and find outlines that are slated for extermination. (Many of us have thousands on death row that are enjoying deviant lives of mischief and perpetual reprieve.)

2. Know how to set your software's features for smart endings, artificial intelligence, homonym resolution, or whatever. This means knowing how to turn these off as well as on. (If you're really, really new at this, know how to turn off that incessant beep that occurs every time you have an untranslate or you risk death at the hands of your colleagues and clients.)

3. Know how to make new dictionary entries on the fly. This means being familiar with your software's capability to open windows or enter dictionary maintenance modes without having to shut down your current file. The first months of your new life as a realtimer will be loaded with occasions where you'll want to do this, and even as a proficient realtimer or captioner, you'll do it every day. Know something about "special" dictionaries. This means knowing how to enable/disable a phonetic dictionary and how to add and delete entries. It also means taking the trouble to read your manual about features built into your CATware to do special tasks such as putting the dollar sign ahead of numbers — even though it was written after — and other nifty things.

4. Besides the ongoing quest to unbloat your dictionary, there's much to be gained from knowing how to be a meticulous housekeeper. This means sorting out and off-loading completed note and transcript files, editing and dispensing with job or temporary files, and all of the things that muddle your chances of running a clean, efficient show.

5. Know how to adjust your writer's keys for output to your computer. This means opening the lid with confidence and fine-tweaking a misbehaved key to prevent discrepancies between what appears in your notes and what your computer is receiving for translation. Consider how many thousands of untranslates or mistranslates some reporters might tolerate because they don't want to touch these settings. It's absolutely true.

One final suggestion: If you've been dodging it, get internetting! Besides the obvious benefits of participating in the global community, there are new and exciting benefits for court and realtime reporters who have embraced this communication technology. I won't try to extol virtues of the internet here, but it's presumed you're at least aware of the exhaustive information it holds, the networking advantages it offers, and the prospects for many new markets in realtime writing right on the net.

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Fashionable Realtime certainly must be one of the most exhaustive works on the subject. It is obvious you have spent an awful lot of energy, time and effort on it.

-WM, London

Fashionable Realtime for Steno Writers is the best of all the change-your-theory books I've read, and I think I must have them all. No other book on the subject is so thorough, so professional, so well researched. On top of these things, your humorous treatment of such a frustrating and challenging undertaking makes it seem – dare I say? – fun.

-TW, Vancouver

Your text Fashionable Realtime is a godsend! I have experienced a distinct improvement in my real-time writing after incorporating some of the writing suggestions.

-JA, Burlington

Now, this is my kind of book. I've gotten more common sense from it than I have in five years of trying to fix theory problems from a variety of other publications.

-MS, New York

I devoured Fashionable Realtime the minute I received it and recommend it to all I see. Again, thanks. I have been realtiming for almost 10 years, and FRT says everything I have ever wanted to say in a marvellously structured way.

-LL, Perth

(Fashionable Realtime) is by far the most concise and logically fashioned realtime book I've seen so far, and I think I've seen them all.

-SA, Vancouver Island

Logical Seminars link

I'm a real fan of Fashionable Realtime — in fact, it's on the bookshelf next to my computer for easy reference — and have found the suggestions and word lists to be incredibly helpful, especially those dealing with technical prefixes and suffixes.

-CK, New York

I really must tell you again what a wonderful resource this is for us. Other realtime books on the market don't even come close. Now that I have mine, you really ought to raise your prices!!

-CF, Edmonton, AB

FRT is incredible !! It's more than I expected. Wow !!

-MM, Canyon County CA

What you have accomplished with respect to realtime writing is admirable, to say the least. Fashionable Realtime is — I am lost for words. You have accomplished a very great thing!

-BL, Alberta, Canada