Jan
26

Why Voice Recognition Won’t Replace Court Reporters Anytime Soon

We’ve all heard the grumblings and mumblings, usually at dinner parties just before the entrée and immediately after we’ve announced ourselves as court reporters, captioners, or transcriptionists.

“Aren’t you worried Siri will steal your job?” we’re asked. “It’s only a matter of time, you know.”

Actually, they’re probably right. At some point in the future, robots with artificial intelligence will replace all of our jobs. And while voice recognition technology could be integrated more heavily into our role as transcribers, court reporting as a whole will be safe for years to come. Here are a few reasons why:

  1. The technology just isn’t ready to go it alone. Voice recognition requires a lot of human editing to achieve a useful finished product. Best-case scenario, it might be fine to transcribe a single user who speaks slowly and clearly, but the introduction of multiple speakers is still a definite problem. While computers may be fantastic at playing chess, they still have a way to go to keep up when things get heated and people start to talk over each other.
  2. At best, voice recognition software can be used as a backup or default mechanism. It could possibly catch some inaudible speech that the reporter missed, but the acoustics of a room, variety of accents, misused slang, and competing voices all contribute to the necessity of immediate human interpretation and clarification.
  3. Replacing court reporters and human employees with voice recognition technology is an expensive endeavor. There simply isn’t yet a better and more affordable option than paying a professional to sit in a courtroom and do what they’ve been trained to accomplish.
  4.  Computers are unable to differentiate the many nuances between similar words and phrases, and cannot recognize errors in real time. This industry doesn’t simply rely on the basic recording of words; it is bolstered by our inherent knowledge and instant interpretation of the language.

The following words, gleaned from the deposition of a neurologist, serve as an outstanding reminder: “Our brains are a miracle. Look at the Court Reporter here as an example, okay? This is a miracle in progress, happening right before our eyes. Let me explain what is happening here. I am speaking, so the information needs to come in through her ears, go through her temporal lobe, and then it has to go log itself into the language center. She has to be able to comprehend what I’m saying, then it gets rerouted to the prefrontal cortex where she has to hold the information, because I’m talking faster than she is typing. Then she has to analyze it, integrate it, and synthesize it. Then it has to go back to the cerebellum to be to be converted into these little symbols. Have you ever seen them? She is converting what I am saying into a different language. And the white matter tracts allow her to reroute all this information accurately and simultaneously, seemingly without effort. Seamlessly. OK? That is why I believe Court Reporters will never be replaced. Because no technology could ever replace the beauty and the miracle of the brain.”

So use this as a primer before your next dinner party. Better yet, be ready to make your case the next time an aspiring court reporter asks you for advice. This is a fantastic career with a vibrant outlook. The freshest technology doesn’t threaten our livelihoods; it only adds to our skills and expertise.

Jan
12

5 Foods to Eat if You Sit All Day

Most of corporate America sits at least eight to 10 hours a day, and our industry is no different. We try to take walking breaks and stretch periodically, but prolonged sitting is taking its toll. Linked to increased hunger, leg and back pain, and feelings of lethargy, prolonged sitting also causes inflammation and high blood pressure. And that’s where the real damage occurs, like obesity and diabetes.
Experts advise watching our diets, which is equal parts what to eat and what to avoid. Here’s a list of the best and worst foods to consume at your desk.
  1. Berries are best, added easily to your morning and afternoon routine. Pop a few in your smoothie or keep a bowl at your desk to ease those mid-afternoon pangs for something sweet.
  2. Say no to soda – even diet – and chips that claim to be healthy. (Did you know that baked chips contain high levels of the cancer-causing chemical acrylamide? We didn’t either.)
  3. Go nuts with almonds, which are the best sources of antioxidant vitamin E and help combat that dreaded inflammation. To avoid almond-boredom, make a homemade trail mix full of unsalted seeds and nuts.
  4. If you’re not planning on talking too closely with anyone at the office, add crushed garlic to your lunchtime vegetables. Or simply take an aged-garlic supplement every morning – much easier on your co-workers!
  5. With great sadness, we’re advising you to refrain from office birthday cakes, morning bagels, and the doughnut cart. Instead, opt for an orange or clementine; vitamin C lowers stress levels. Because as we all know, high stress always leads to the doughnut cart!

It’s hard for court reporters to leave our desks, as we tend to carry them with us wherever we go! But with a little thought and planning, and a promise to ourselves to stop being desk diners, we can alleviate the health hazards of prolonged sitting with the foods we keep close.


Jan
09

Checklist: How to Ensure an Accurate Transcription

A perfect recounting of the communication that occurred under our watch, whether during a deposition, in a courtroom, or elsewhere, is the primary responsibility of our industry. But at a rate of 200 words per minute, how does one ensure the utmost in accuracy? Even an outstanding 1% mistake rate could translate to a vital error. Transcription errors lead to translation errors, and before you know it, the record is faulty.

Our goal is to always get it right, which means we take extra care before, during, and after every proceeding. Beyond excelling at our own responsibilities, there are many aspects out of our control. Consider this a checklist – for you and for those around you – before your next transcription.

  1. Double and triple check your equipment, from your stenograph machine to your microphone and onto the recording device. Stock extra batteries, backup devices, and power cords.
  2. Instruct those involved on how to help themselves by speaking clearly, directly into the microphone, and taking care with difficult words. Ask them to avoid turning away while talking; this happens when attorneys multi-task, perhaps rummaging through their files or entering discovery into the record.
  3. When possible, request a list of applicable terms related to the case under discussion, like names, medical terminology, or industry-specific phrases. Pay close attention to acronyms, unusual spellings, and numbers.
  4. Control cross-talking. Most attorneys will direct the conversation with the witness, and most understand the importance of not overlapping speech. This includes the normal conversation interactions of interjecting “Umm hmm,” and “I see,” and even “OK” as a way of supporting the speaker.
  5. You may need to nudge attorneys into a proper lunch break, as many will have food delivered so they can continue working through the noontime break. It is impossible for a court reporter to simultaneously eat and report. Even a short break is a much-needed refresh, as overtaxed reporters are more apt to make mistakes.
  6. If ever in doubt, pause the proceeding. It can be awkward, but stopping to get clarification or remind the speaker to adjust his or her cadence or volume is always a welcome move, especially when it contributes to a solid transcription.

Some situations may be contentious and instantly heated, so have a plan in place just in case. A pause works wonders on temperaments and transcripts.

Court reporting is hard work in itself, and adding other unpredictable variables to the career makes it even more challenging. However, we wouldn’t have it any other way, would we?

Jan
05

Forget Carpal Tunnel: Text Neck is the New Malady

Remember Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? With each industry-wide warning and remedies flooding our inboxes, we shifted positions, stretched and iced our wrist and hand muscles, wore wrist supports on our busiest days, and tried every medication under the sun. It was the syndrome our industry just couldn’t avoid.

Now, the newest malady is Text Neck. Defined as neck pain and damage from looking down at our devices too frequently and too long, it is all about the angles. Imagine a bowling ball hanging from a selfie stick at a 45-degree slant; the force exerted on the stick would surely cause some damage. Now, imagine that stick is made of ligaments, muscles, and bones.

We get it.

And while this spine condition isn’t relegated exclusively to court reporters, it is an epidemic that greatly affects our community’s health.

Here are five ways to treat and maybe even avoid the perils of Text Neck:

  1. Our favorite treatment is tech-based. ALEX is a wearable posture coach and tracker, the first wearable to accurately measure the angle of your neck and the position of your head. It will alert you when your posture needs adjusting.
  2. Adjust your viewing angle to as straight ahead as possible. As ergonomic education gains popularity, we may be seeing a change in our court reporting tools and devices — perhaps a taller base or an upright positioning.
  3. Tech-digital disabilities occur with overuse, so take as many tech breaks as physically possible. Try to walk around, even if you’re constrained in a conference room or courthouse, paying particular attention to straightening your shoulders and elongating your spine, maintaining a straight-ahead gaze.
  4. Google “Text Neck Stretches.” Most will instruct you on simple chin tucks, scapular squeezes, and the standard Mountain pose in yoga. They provide instant relief.
  5. With Text Neck follows the dreaded Turkey Neck. Plastic surgeons and cosmetic companies are citing an increase in patients with sagging jowls and wrinkled necks on even younger individuals. From pricey anti-aging creams to ultrasound therapy and Botox, there are a variety of options to look better while trying to feel better.

More good news: There’s a pending U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of an injectable that permanently reduces small pockets of fat and is a miracle worker on sagging necks.

Mention Text Neck to some, and they may scoff at the idea. Text Tripping is the real danger, they say, citing bizarre stories of texters walking into traffic or falling into potholes. They might even suggest that holding a baby or a book invokes the very same posture and subsequent ailments. But most physicians agree that the continued practice of leaning forward for long spans of time can lead to musculoskeletal problems and eventually arthritis. So take care of that pain in your neck before it really becomes a pain in the neck.

Dec
01

Deposition Hall of Fame

Depositions, even when proceeding amicably, can quickly turn contentious. They are naturally adversarial endeavors. In the attempt to discover a witness’ knowledge and to preserve that witness’ testimony, there may be moments of frustration, impatience, uncooperativeness, and even evasiveness. Add celebrity to the mix, and the outcomes are nothing short of outrageous.

Celebrities and most people in powerful positions are accustomed to being in charge, so being forced to answer questions is an unfamiliar dynamic. But no matter the level of fame, basic deposition procedures pertain to all deponents: they should listen to each and every question carefully and answer them precisely. Further, the deponent does not ask any questions; he or she only gives answers.

But upon review of the decade’s most memorable depositions, it doesn’t seem as though some celebrities were adequately prepared by their counsels. Take Justin Bieber, for example. In 2014, during a Miami deposition while fielding questions from an attorney for a photographer who accused Bieber of ordering a bodyguard to attack him, the pop star was anything but cooperative.

He checked his appearance in the camera throughout, alternating between winking at his imagined audience and pretending to fall asleep. When asked about Usher, a celebrity instrumental in his early success, he replied that the name sounded familiar, but he couldn’t be sure. When asked repeatedly about his ex-girlfriend, Selena Gomes, he finally threatened the attorney, “Don’t ask me about her again,” wagging his finger for emphasis.

According to reports, he even extended his bad attitude toward the court reporter transcribing his responses. When she noted she could not understand the star’s whispered answer to a question, he replied, “’Yes’ and ‘no’ are (expletive deleted) pretty different.”

Tom Cruise was found guilty only of an inflated view of his circumstances. When two magazines wrote that he had abandoned his daughter following his divorce from Katie Holmes, he gave a deposition where he claimed being apart from his daughter was equal to someone fighting the war in Afghanistan. It’s no surprise the actor also extolled the virtues of flying private planes rather than commercial options.

And how about Kanye West’s 2013 deposition for allegedly assaulting a photographer? There is no footage, but many recordings of off-topic ramblings and declarations like, “I’m the smartest celebrity you’ve ever (expletive deleted) dealt with. I’m not Britney Spears.” When asked where he resided, Mr. West replied, “Earth.” The rapper clarified his position pointedly to the photographer’s attorney, “I’m in the business of trying to make dope s**t for the world. You’re in the business of representing scums and trying to make as much money as long as there’s this lapse in the law.”

Remember earlier, when we noted a deponent’s basic rules and expectations? It seems a few didn’t get the memo.

If you’ve ever transcribed a celebrity deposition, leave us a comment. We’d love to hear your experiences.

Nov
20

Thank Goodness

We’ve all heard the tales of woes in our workplace. There are the mumbling, whispering witnesses who rely heavily on hand gestures; machine and computer crashes at the most inopportune moments; the deposition distractors, also known as the pen clickers, microphone twirlers, foot tappers, knuckle crackers, and apple crunchers; wardrobe malfunctions; and heated arguments in real time, to name just a few. Who among us can ever forget the rogue reporter who caused courtroom chaos by repeatedly writing “I hate my job” on trial transcripts?

We’ve all been there, haven’t we?

But have you ever stopped to consider all the rewards of our industry? There are many, from schedule flexibility to competitive wages and a new adventure with every case. Our peers are justice-minded, invested in their communities, and intent on upholding the law and protecting those who need it most. We work hard together for a common good, often invisibly, and continue to work tirelessly even when it’s not recognized.

Especially then, in fact.

Instead of bemoaning the few trivial annoyances that appear in every career, why not cultivate a workplace culture that focuses on all the positive occurrences? The statistics connected to consistent gratitude are clear: thankfulness has a definite effect on happiness and energy levels. Did you know that simple acts of gratitude in the workplace increase motivation, attention, and commitment? Those who express gratitude enjoy stronger work relationships, less stress, and higher levels of peer support.

So as we reflect during this month of gratitude, let’s recognize each other’s efforts. We’ll start. Thank you, First Choice Reporting family and friends, for your long-standing commitment to us. We appreciate all that you add to our incredible industry culture, and we will continue to support you and your endeavors. We love our job!

We welcome your own “I love my job” stories. If you’d like, leave your best for us in the comments so we can all share in the thanksgiving. And while we’re talking gratitude, Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Nov
10

Love Your Career in Court Reporting? Spread the Word!

Mark your calendars: 2017’s Court Reporting & Captioning Week is scheduled for February 14-18. It promises to be a week of celebration for court reporters, captioners, CART providers, state court reporter associations, and court reporting schools across the U.S. to raise awareness about the ever-increasing number of employment opportunities in the industry.

As a lead-up to the week, as well as to the 2017 National Committee of State Associations’ (NCRA) Convention & Expo slotted for July in Las Vegas, Nevada, the NCRA has issued a challenge to all its members to share their pride and spread the word about the value of a career in court reporting.

Originally launched in response to an immediate need to fill industry jobs, NCSA’s Take Note campaign is an unlimited-entry contest promoting an industry intent on preserving thought, history, and the justice system, as well as serving the deaf and hard-of-hearing community through captioning and CART services.

From participation in high school and college career fairs to hanging flyers in courthouses and creating social media campaigns marked with the hashtag #crTakeNote, the NCSA’s aim is to answer questions about the industry, fill court reporting schools with enthusiastic students, and gain momentum in dispelling the idea that a career as a court reporter is becoming extinct. It’s an easy sell, especially when students view a real-time captioner in action, impressing audiences by writing at the speed of sound – accurately. Also, it’s important to note that this is one of the leading professions for which recruited students do not require a traditional (and costly) four-year degree.

Winners of the raffle enjoy prizes ranging from free NCRA webinars to the grand prize of free registration to the Vegas NCRA Convention & Expo, and the amount of entries increases opportunity for success. Simply submit every potential student contact, social media campaign, and presentation for inclusion in the drawing, and keep spreading our message until February 18, 2017, the final day to enter.

Enlist the help of an enthusiastic co-worker, your state association’s website and social media pages, and showcase our time-honored profession. No matter how far back we date – from 3500 B.C. Sumerians who recognized the importance of written literacy and the preservation of records – we continue to modernize at technology’s rapid pace. The world should know about this unique career option. Best of luck as you share it!

Nov
03

A Punctuation Primer for Flawless Transcription

Court Reporting is a trust-based profession reliant on impeccably clear and correct communication. Judges, attorneys, witnesses, juries, and all parties involved entrust the given testimonies will be reported accurately. Although we tend to use more minimal punctuation than we did in the past, and Oxford commas – those used after the penultimate item in a list of three or more items, before “and” or “or” – are hanging on by a thread, grammar matters.

The lack or overuse of punctuation alters meaning and results in ambiguous, potentially misinterpreted sentences. In order to avoid confusion, we’ve assembled a quick primer of the most current punctuation rules and repeat offenders.

1. Commas, in particular, help clarify pauses or the lack of them. Other times, their presence or omission can change the meaning of a sentence.   

 “Transcribing clearly isn’t easy.”

“Transcribing, clearly, isn’t easy.”

Just imagine reading back the words, “I didn’t kill him, mercifully.” Without the comma in the (hopefully) correct spot, the denotation is dramatically different: “I didn’t kill him mercifully.”

Keep track of the implied pauses during transcription, and indicate them with commas. It’s also an effective trick to read your work out loud to locate the natural breaks.

2. Use ellipses – three dots – at the end of a quoted sentence that is deliberately left grammatically incomplete. For example, if the speaker trails off. But if the speaker is cut off or interrupted, the preferred punctuation is ending the abrupt sentence with a dash.

3. With the exception of web remaining capitalized in World Wide Web, web and internet are no longer capitalized. And while we’re online, the way to properly use IM (the abbreviation for instant message) or DM (direct message) as a verb is with an apostrophe: IM’ing and IM’d.

4. “Into” indicates movement toward the inside of a place, while “in to” describes the adverb in followed by the preposition to. Compare “I went into work.” and “I went in to work.”

5. On a related note, use onto to denote on top of, fully aware, and informed. It becomes two words when on is part of the phrasal verb. Consider the sentence “They caught on to my plan,” where caught on is a phrasal verb.

6. When names end in s or z, it can be confusing to figure out the plural and possessive forms. A family with the last name Moss, for example, would collectively be known as the Mosses, and their property noted as the Mosses’ belongings. Also see, Mr. Fox’s car, Mrs. Gomez’s purse, and the Gonzaleses’ house.

Practice makes perfect. Above all, understand that conventional syntax is ever-evolving, and today’s correct procedure may be tomorrow’s mistakes. As long as the focus remains on the accurate recording and translation of all words and thoughts uttered, the transcripts will read true.

Oct
26

Florida to Offer Closed Captioning Services to Students

Imagine, as a bright, eager high school student, trying to perform your best on the “listening” portion of a key language arts exam when you have significant hearing loss.

Until this spring, this was the norm for deaf and hard-of-hearing students taking the Florida Standards Assessments, a suite of reading, writing and math tests designed to measure student performance. The FSA test is tied to Florida’s Common Core based standards, which outline what students should know at the end of each grade; passing it is a requirement for graduation with a high school diploma.

But all that is going to change, moving forward, thanks to one Seminole County high school student and her mother, who got the attention of the state board of education and, as a result, have broadened access for all students who will follow.

In preparation for the 2016 FSA, Virginia Bogert and her daughter, Payton, who is profoundly hard of hearing, asked the education department to provide closed captioning for the test’s audio section after learning that the planned accommodation for deaf and hard-of-hearing students was a video of someone translating the audio clip into American Sign Language. (Payton is not fluent in sign language.)

Though the state was unable to arrange closed captioning for the spring test, the department of education will introduce the service for the FSA starting with makeup testing this month. According to an article in the Orlando Sentinel, this will help the more than 4,300 deaf and hard-of-hearing students statewide.

Captioning services are vital to the deaf and hard-of-hearing community, allowing them to participate in everyday life in ways that would not otherwise be possible. This subset of stenography is generally classified into two categories: communication real-time access translation (also called CART) and broadcast.

Captioning is the instantaneous translation of spoken words into text, which is then displayed in different forms with less than a two-second delay. For broadcast, the text is merged with a video signal. For conventions or other large, live meetings, the text is merged with any accompanying video for projection onto a large screen.

CART services are frequently provided for meetings, classes, training sessions, and live events. A captioner might be present in a classroom, transcribing a lecture so students can follow along on a computer screen. Or the writer could be remote, dialed in through a VoIP connection and listening to a live event as he or she transcribes it.

First Choice Reporting provides the full range of captioning services from our certified and experienced team. To learn more about how captioning can augment your event or proceeding, contact us today.

Oct
20

Tech Update: Is It Time to Give a Smart Watch a Try?

Quick poll: Is a wristwatch still a regular part of your daily court-reporter accessorizing or did your battery die long ago and you found no need to ever replace it? No matter your current position on the topic, you have no doubt at least heard about the latest generation of digital timekeeping gadgets available to consumers.

 The smart watch comes at a transitional time for wristwatch wearing in general: Though the watch industry has survived despite widespread prediction that smartphones would push them to extinction, it has faced its challenges in staying relevant, particularly to young people who never formed the habit of looking to their wrist for the time.

But with sleeker, thinner and, above all, more fashion-conscious designs, the newest releases in the category—the Apple Watch Series 2 chief among them—are giving even the slowest of tech adaptors reason to reconsider the benefits of a connected watch. First Choice takes a quick look at the various leaders in the field and shares the highlights for any court reporting professional looking to update their wearable tech game.

Best for Joggers and Swimmers: The Apple Watch Series 2

This latest version of Apple’s smart watch debuted in September with a much faster, better operating system than the original and a brighter display. The 2 Series was also engineered specifically for outdoor sports enthusiasts, featuring on-board GPS, swim tracking, and salt- and freshwater waterproofing. (This means you can wear it while surfing, swimming, and even showering.) Though the new features aren’t particularly useful for courtroom assignments, the sporty features are great for reporters who augment their indoors-bound day job with a lot of outdoor adventure.

Best for Everyday Wear: The Fossil Q Founder

If your ideal smart watch combines modern functionality and classic good looks, the digital display Q Founder from Fossil is a great choice for you. Eliminate the need to keep your smartphone nearby while transcribing a proceeding by wearing this touchscreen watch. You can connect the Android Wear software seamlessly to your phone and then receive notifications, use your favorite apps, and track any activity. Available in stainless steel and black and brown leather, the elegant design will look smart in both court or boardroom as well as in social settings.

Best for Super-Connected App Users: The Samsung Gear S3

If you’re on the tech-savvy, über-connected end of the digital gadget spectrum, the Samsung Gear S3 has plenty of functionality to keep your life streamlined—direct from your wrist. Court reporters who travel frequently and rely on apps like Spotify (for music), Nest (for home thermostat control), and Samsung Pay (for quicker checkouts at the coffee shop) can access them all from both S3 models, the more refined Classic and the slightly more rugged Frontier. Samsung’s unique rotating bezel design lets you silence an alarm, for example, with a quick turn; a feature that could come in handy while on the job.

Best for Fashion Appeal: Michael Kors Access

The Access line of smart watches from fashion house Michael Kors is designed for the style-conscious court reporter, who values aesthetics over powerful technological performance. The Access comes with highly customizable watch face displays. You can set up a daily “day” look and a night “look” that will automatically change or choose a fancier face for a special occasion. You can add different information to make the at-a-glance display the most useful to you, from selecting multiple time zones to local temperature to fitness activity, and select which app notifications you want to receive through the Android Wear software.

Are you a regular smart watch wearer? Share your model of choice and favorite benefits with us below.

 

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