Trolls and You

We try to keep political stuff from being published here unless it’s educational, about court reporting, or about the industry. I’ve been pretty good about this. Commentators have been great about it. The occasional guest writer has been amazing with it. This topic touches with politics, but it’s not strictly political, so it should be fun to learn about.

It’s established that the United Kingdom, United States, China, Russia and several other countries view the internet as, more or less, another theater of war. They’ve had operatives and people hired to create fake posts, false comments, and advance the interests and ideas of the government. The prices reported? Eight dollars for a social media post, $100 for ten comments, and $65 for contacting a media source. In the case of China, they’re reportedly working for less than a dollar. If the host country allows it, you have trolls for hire.

So in the context of stenography and the court reporting industry, seems like whenever we get into the news, there are regular comments from regular people, such as “why not just record it?” Typical question. Anyone would ask this question. There are fun comments like “Christopher Day the stenographer looks like he belongs on an episode of Jeopardy.” Then there are comments that go above and beyond that. They make claims like — well, just take a look.

“…I gonna tell you that in modern technology we can record something like court testimony for hundreds of years back very easily…” “…the technology is smarter every single second…” “…if you store data in the digital format we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data, it will be very accurate so much so the stenographer loses their jobs.” Wow! Lose our jobs? I felt that in my heart! Almost like it was designed to hurt a stenographer’s feelings. Right?

We can store the video for hundreds of years? Maybe. But consider that text files, no matter what way you swing it, are ten times smaller than audio files. They can be thousands of times smaller than video files. Take whatever your local court is paying for storage today and multiply that by 8,000. Unless we want a court system that is funded by advertisements a la Youtube, the taxpayer will be forced to cough up much more money than they are today. That’s just storing stuff.

The technology is getting smarter every second? No, not really. Whenever it’s analyzed by anybody who isn’t selling it, it’s actually pretty dumb and has been that way for a while. Take Wade Roush’s May 2020 article in the Scientific American (pg 24). “But accuracy is another matter. In 2016 a team at Microsoft Research announced that it had trained its machine-learning algorithms to transcribe speech from a standard corpus of recordings with record-high 94 percent accuracy. Professional human transcriptionists performed no better than the program in Microsoft’s tests, which led media outlets to celebrate the arrival of ‘parity’ between humans and software in speech recognition.”

“…And four years after that breakthrough, services such as Temi still claim no better than 95 percent — and then only for recordings of clear, unaccented speech.” Roush concludes, in part, “ASR systems may never reach 100 percent accuracy…” So technology isn’t getting smarter every second. It’s not even getting smarter every half decade at this point.

“…we can use an AI to extract the word from the voice in the data…” This technology exists, kind of, but perfecting it would be like perfecting speech recognition. Nobody’s watching 500 hours of video to see if it accurately returns every instance of a word. Ultimately, you’re paying for the computer’s best guess. Sometimes that’ll be pretty good. Sometimes you won’t find the droid you’re looking for.

Conclusion? This person’s probably not in the media transcoding industry, probably doesn’t know what they’re talking about, and is in all likelihood a troll. Were they paid to make that comment? We don’t know. But I think it’s time to realize that marketplaces are ripe for deception and propaganda. So when you see especially mean, hateful, targeted comments, understand that there’s some chance that the person writing the comment doesn’t live in the same country as you and doesn’t actually care about the topic they’re writing about. There’s some chance that person was paid to spread an opinion or an idea. Realizing this gives us power to question what these folks are saying and be agents of truth in these online communities. Always ignoring trolling leads to trolling leading the conversation. So dropping the occasional polite counterview when you see an obvious troll can make a real impact on perception. The positive perception of consumers and the public is what keeps steno in business.

The best part of all this? You can rest easier knowing some of those hateful things you see online about issues you care about are just hired thugs trying to divide us. If a comment is designed to hurt you, you might just be talking to a Russian operative.

Addendum:

I understand readers will be met with the Scientific American paywall. I would open myself up to copyright problems to display the entire article here. If you’d like to speak out against the abject tyranny of paywalls, give me money! I’m kidding.

Stenonymous Suite: Early Version

I wrote some time ago about how I wanted to combine all my steno-related computer coding into one thing so that I could troubleshoot one thing instead of keeping track of multiple projects. This early version of the  Stenonymous Suite contains the WKT test generator, the finger drill generator, something I call a streamer, that streams the text you tell it to stream at the rate you tell it to stream, and it also automatically marks .txt files for dictation. As those of you who have manually marked dictation know, it can take upwards of 10 minutes per marking. This program will mark it in about one second, and has saved me over 15 hours of manually marking dictations.

If you are a stenographic educator or dictation enthusiast, this program is totally free and has no strings attached, but I am also willing to put it through the marker program for you at a rate of 25 cents per marking, $5 minimum.

Windows users, easy download exe here. Unzip the folder, click the StenonymousSuite.exe.

The code for the program is slapped up on here.

 

How To Create Timed Dictation

There are various types of learners. Some like to see things in print. Some like to watch videos. I’m a one-man shop, and can’t tailor everything to every learning type, but I do make it a point to try to be accessible and offer multiple solutions to a thing. I’ve got a video on this topic, but it makes good sense to have written instructions.

It’s easy. Take the WPM you want to mark. Let’s say 40 WPM. Divide that by 4. That gives you how many words you need to say every 15 seconds to hit 40 WPM. Often we indicate the 15-second markers with some kind of indicator, like slash marks ( // ), either manually or automatically. Then we read back the dictation, and every 15 seconds, make sure we hit the slash mark. Just keep in mind that this is for word count only. Standard dictation has an average syllabic density of 1.5 syllables. So a marked dictation for word count, for a 40 WPM should look something like the example below:

“There are several things that we must remind ourselves //from time to time.
Succinctly, we must remember that in //a great state like New York the right of the //jury trial is not absolute. In New York City a //person charged with a B misdemeanor can be forced to //trial by judge as opposed to trial by jury. This //trial by a judge is also called a bench trial.
//This can be confusing for a layperson like myself because //we are taught that in America a person must be //found guilty by a jury of his or her peers //before he or she may be convicted of a crime. //There’s no shame in holding this belief, as Article III //of the American constitution and the Sixth Amendment suggest that //one must be tried by a jury.
The Supreme Court //of the United States decided that the right to a //jury trial only pertains to serious crimes. Serious crimes are //defined in terms of jail exposure. If the potential jail //time is six months or less, a crime is not //serious and so does not need to be tried by //jury.

Even more fascinating is that the jail time is //looked at per offense. So if someone is charged with //and convicted of 21 B misdemeanors and sentenced consecutively as //opposed to concurrently, that person could theoretically go to jail //for 10 years without a trial by jury.

I think //that the best way to find out what the American //public think of this concept is to publicize it. Obviously, //all of this information is available publicly and can be //found easily in an internet age. The problem with nearly //infinite knowledge is that we take it for granted and //don’t challenge our beliefs to see how accurate or inaccurate //they may be.

As I said before, from time to //time, you should remind yourself that there are things that //you may believe or take for granted that are not //true, or not completely true. Ignorance certainly has its place //in life, and we cannot always search for every answer //all the time, but it is worthwhile, from an academic //and philosophical perspective, to question.

Question yourself. Question what you //believe. When you’re finished questioning all of that, question it //again. Great things can come from an inquiring, honest mind. //One does not need to be a genius in order //to innovate. One need only be reliable, persistent, and considerate //to become an agent of change in the local, state, //national, or even international communities.”

It’s really that simple. With a little time and effort, anyone can do it.

Buying Hype

Seems like every day now there’s a new article talking about the great advances of AI transcription. Notice in what I just linked, the author is “Wire Contributor,” which to me means that it’s probably a Trint employee. The September 2019 article goes on to link an April 2017 article where the Wire apparently said something they did was unprecedented.

If you’re not looking at dates and glancing over it, it looks like AI transcription is making leaps and bounds. It’s coming. Their app is to be released at the end of 2019! What will we do? I am here to hopefully get everyone thinking critically. Why are these articles always sporting a technology that’s critically acclaimed but not ready to be publicly released? Because it’s a pitch. It’s an effort to get more investors. It’s a bid to get more people to throw money at it.

Not to get too controversial, but I’ve long watched a YouTuber scientist named ThunderF00t (Phil Mason). He’s made many videos to raise consumer awareness on products including inventions like the Free Electric, Solar Roadways, Zero Breeze, Fontus. All of these amazing things have a common theme: They sound cool. The media doesn’t understand the concepts behind them. Their creators make positive claims about them. These inventions have had millions of dollars put into them only for kickstarters and stakeholders to be let down. This is despite walls of positive press from various sites and media forums.

What can we learn? Sellers sell. That’s what they do. When there’s millions of dollars to be made, does the seller really care if the product only meets 90, 80, or 70 percent of the buyer’s needs? Will most buyers spend more time and money holding the seller accountable, or will they eat the loss or attempt to justify the purchase to themselves? That’s why you see claim after claim and never a bad word unless you have colossal levels of fraud, like Theranos. What else can we learn? These things can raise millions of dollars and never hurt a market, Solar Roadways raised over a million dollars and never threatened existing energy companies.

Buying hype can only serve to dampen our morale and make us cede market share. It can only serve to silence us. You don’t have to be a computer scientist to investigate claims about computer science. Let’s start selling facts and raising consumer awareness. If nothing else, remember: If their product worked, you would be using it.

Recording Grand Jury (NY)

So I’ve been following the facts on a series of cases picked up by the Batavian and Daily News. The very short story, with some extrapolation, is that a grand jury stenographer contracted by the district attorney was apparently using the AudioSync feature in our modern stenotypes. This caused the defense attorneys to seek dismissals of the indictments. As best I can tell, and after writing Batavian author Howard Owens and one of the attorneys, who had stated it was a Judiciary Law misdemeanor, I pieced together the following with regard to grand jury recording law in New York:

Criminal Procedure Law 190.25(4) makes it very clear that grand jury proceedings are secret. Judiciary Law 325 gets into how it shall be lawful for a stenographer to take grand jury proceedings, and doesn’t explicitly allow audio recording. Penal Law 215.70 talks about unlawful disclosure and lists the crime as a class E felony. Finally, Penal Law 110 tells us an attempted E felony becomes an A misdemeanor.

What can we further infer from all that? Well, as best I can tell, the indictments are only dismissed if it’s shown that the recording altered the testimony or proceedings in some way, and the defense is given the burden of proving that. As of writing, no indictment has been dismissed because of recording. That said, this opens up a serious concern for grand jury stenographers across New York. Recording the grand jury proceedings may be construed as attempted unlawful disclosure, and thanks to Judiciary Law 325, it may be difficult or impossible to argue that such recording is in the course of your lawful duties. Like Frank Housh in the video linked above, I was shocked that we could work in this industry for years and not ever be told the law surrounding that. Admittedly, I was a grand jury stenographer in New York City for months, and while I understood that not recording was a condition of my employment, I did not know that recording could theoretically give rise to a criminal prosecution. It is up to us to keep ourselves and each other informed, and now we know. This is not a joke, and you could go to jail for up to one year and have a criminal record for up to ten years on an A misdemeanor.

That caution stated, as of writing, there has been no prosecution of any grand jury stenographer for that specific reason, so it seems that the district attorneys or assistant district attorneys involved in these cases disagree with defense’s contention that this rises to the level of a misdemeanor. It also appears that recording of the proceedings does not automatically invalidate indictments.

The court rules Part 29 and Part 131 did not come up in my correspondence with anyone involved in this matter, but they are tangentially related and may be worth a review. And remember, nothing written here pertains to federal grand jury proceedings. We are talking strictly the New York State courts.

Any future updates to this matter will be posted right here.

Steno Speed and the Youtube Angle

Going back a couple of years ago, if you YouTube’d stenography, you’d get pen shorthand reporting from India. Happy to report that that paradigm is taking a hard shift. Today, at the top of the list is Stan Sakai’s Quick and Dirty Steno, with over a quarter of a million views. You’ve got way more than that, though. Today you’ve got Ken Wick’s court reporting videos, Katiana Walton’s podcasts, and content from tons of other creators new and old. Bottom line is American stenography and stenotype machine shorthand reporting is expanding its online presence in a big way. There’s also always been a healthy presence for stenography off of YouTube, including favorites like Mark Kislingbury, Mirabai Knight, or Marc Greenberg.

So many of these content creators are on my resource page, and I encourage professionals and students to write and comment if there’s a resource, blog, or content that you think should get added there. If you’re a content creator who’s like, “damn, why am I not mentioned anywhere on Stenonymous?” All I can say is the chance of that being intentional is pretty low. That all said, we’re pushing further along on the YouTube-Steno front. As some know, I have been working on my own YouTube channel in my spare time. There’s a multi-pronged goal of creating free resources for students so that they can have dictation available even when they cannot afford the amazing premium services out there and also introducing the idea of stenography to anybody who happens to stumble across a video of mine. Thanks to the generosity of Linda Fisher from StenoSpeed.com, down as of writing, I’m able to add over a hundred dictations to my YouTube. These dictations helped me very much as a student, they were free prior to StenoSpeed.com going down, and I am happy to put it in writing: They will be available and free once again. Simply go over to my playlists and look for the playlists marked STENO SPEED.

As of posting, these videos are still being worked on. Expect all Steno Speed audio to be posted by August 4, 2019. A great deal is already up, so don’t hesitate to spread the news and keep sharing resources together.

To anybody thinking of jumping into the mix of content creation, I recommend it. This is a vibrant field with a very loyal audience and a lot of people out there who just might need to read what you write, hear what you have to say, or watch how you do it!

Practice, Finger Drill, WKT, Dictation Marker Update

I don’t have a lot of volunteers helping me test the things I put out, and I had inadvertently put out the wrong link to my three programs. I have updated the links at the top of all of these pages to go to a .zip download. You unzip the folder, double click the .exe inside, and it will run the program without installation. Note that most computers will pop up with something saying this program may harm your computer. The code to these programs is public, you can read it for yourself and ask your computer people, it will not harm your computer.

Transcript Marker  – This will take a .txt transcript and mark it for speed. Note that it has been updated so that it will not count Q., A., COURT:, or WITNESS: as a word.

Finger Drill Generator – This program can create finger drills for you. You can also save and load custom lists of words. Note that if you share your saved lists with me, I can include them with future versions. Also note that you should not ask the generator to make files larger than 500 WPM for 300 minutes. That’s 150,000 words. It’s more than enough. I am cautioning you because if you tell it to do 1 million words for 1 million minutes, it’ll happily sit there and generate a text file that large, take a long time to do that, and possibly eat all the space on your computer.

WKT Randomizer – Creates a random written knowledge test. Note that there are small errors in this program and additions that will be made when I finish the Stenonymous Suite.

Also know that I am continuing to try to provide quality dictation on my Youtube. The QA Mario dictation is a little slower than the marked speed because of a previous error where the program counted the Q and A as a word. All future dictations should not have this problem. If you’d like to contribute dictation, I am budgeting about $5 to $10 a month to pay for guest dictators right now, and we should talk. Think along the lines of $5 for a five-minute take.

Can Verbit Replace Verbatim?

I had had some thoughts with regard to AI and stenography. I stand by what I said there. Verbit has been, according to online commentators, soliciting people’s business and offering to assist with their workload. There are even some who have said — though I have not seen documentary proof of this — that Veritext is using Verbit or a similar process for their digital reporters. Succinctly, running the audio through a computer program and having a human fix up what the computer spits out. Oddly enough, sounds a lot like what we do when we are taking down every word on a stenotype these days.

The bottom line is these companies are hungry for money. They need revenue to prove to their investors that they are a good investment. Verbit reportedly raised $23 million. Trint reportedly raised at least 150 million euros, or 168 million dollars. That should give you an idea of just how big of an expense it is — in their estimation — to create a program to do what we already do.

When we talk about solving problems, and specifically solving problems with AI and computers, two of the largest jumps in technology are machine learning and modeling the human brain. Modeling the human brain seems an arduous task that is difficult to do on modern hardware. Machine learning is giving the computer training data, and then having the computer make “educated” guesses based on the training data.

So why bring this up again? Well, to caution all of us. The simple truth is the more training data that you give these folks, meaning the more audio files they have that show the computer what we do, the more they’ll be able to sculpt the program. If you make the business decision to help them in that way, that’s fine. But you know what? Demand a premium! There are hundreds of millions of dollars involved in developing these computer programs right now. They should probably be paying YOU to transcribe YOUR work, because quite frankly, if they perfect the program, you might be out of business. If they haven’t yet perfected the program, you’re helping them perfect it! Sounds like a premium service to me.

So make sure everybody out there knows: They don’t want your business, they need it, and they should probably be paying you.

Stenonymous Suite and Q&A Generator (Concept)

I have previously written about free computer programs I’ve created, like the transcript marker, finger drill generator, and written knowledge test randomizer. Please be aware they are all now programmed to be download and double click programs with no installation required on Windows. These are simple creations with an eye towards making the work that educators have to do to create material go down. As quick examples, the transcript marker, like Todd Olivas’s marker, can automatically mark very large dictations instantly for any speed. The finger drill generator can give you instant randomized text files of words, as well as create and load your own custom finger drill lists. The written knowledge test randomizer creates random written knowledge tests with a focus on helping people with the New York court test, which has portions dedicated to spelling, grammar, medical, legal, and technical terms.

So I had come to a very somber realization. I can continue to create these programs and leave them piecemeal on the blog, but that can make for a very confusing experience, and any time that I update them, I have to manually go in and fix all of the links that link back to them. So then it occurred to me, perhaps the best thing to do is to combine all of these simple programs into one master program that a person can run and use at will, and when I update, it can be seamlessly through that one program.

Truth be told, that’s the direction I’m headed with that, and there’s very little that’ll dissuade me there. That said, before I release such a thing, I am planning to add a new program to the mix. I want to design a Q&A Generator. One major issue we come into when designing dictation is that often stenographers are unwilling or obligated not to give up their transcripts. Another issue is that edited or otherwise fictionalized transcripts are protected by copyright as expressive matter, even though original verbatim transcripts are often without any protection. For example, if you create an awesome Q&A, I technically don’t have the rights to take that and republish it — and if I do, I am risking you taking action against me. Most of us aren’t that litigious, but the reality I find is that there’s always “that person.”

That’s where this new program can come in. I think I can create a computer program that will randomly choose traits of different people involved in the case, or descriptions of items or witnesses, and then create a narrative around that. Think about your average 5-minute take. Let’s assume that’s in the ballpark of 10 pages or 125 questions, 125 answers. Now imagine if every time you run the program, it might say something different. Is it a car accident? Maybe the vehicle was a Honda, a Toyota, A Buick? Maybe the light was red, or yellow, or green. Maybe the witness was hit in the front or the back of the vehicle. You may be able to picture it in your mind: If there are 250 random lines, and every line has a few different things it could be every time, you’re looking at potentially millions of variations of Q&A. How many dictations, realistically, does a student need to become a stenographer? Is it 10,000? 20,000? 30,000? This is the opportunity to create random dictation at every educator and student’s fingertips, and enough of it that one would never run out of material. The only work that’ll be left to do is the marking and voicing of the dictation.

Succinctly, I always look for feedback from my stenographer, educator, and anonymous friends. I am interested in hearing what you have to say, things that you’ve done in the past to challenge students, or things that you would insert into a good Q&A or think is useful in this endeavor. So as I quietly continue this work behind the scenes, I encourage you to reach out with your thoughts to me at ChristopherDay227@gmail.com.

Thank you, as always, to the hundreds of readers that come through every month. Your participation in the field, awareness, and willingness to be in the picture makes all the difference. So many around the country are taking part in serious initiatives, educating the legal field and its leaders about stenography, seizing moments to come together and educate students and fellow reporters, reinforcing the field through projects like NCRA STRONG, and generally standing up for your fellow professionals. It’s the combined efforts of everyone, from dedicated blogs like Cheap & Sleazy to Steno Stars like Rich Germosen or Matt Moss that’ll make sure that stenography remains the preferred modality for taking the record, and that stenographers continue to be the premier choice for the legal community in taking down proceedings. Between the leaders leading and the workers making this skill shine every day, we have all but guaranteed a bright future for steno, and can make steps to recover lost ground in the industry. It is impossible to properly thank everyone at work in preserving this field, but know that its continued vibrancy is because of you.

Easy E-Signature in CaseCAT

There are a great number of ways to achieve an E-signature. Among the least expensive and least reliant on outside vendors like Adobe or Real Legal is detailed here.

  1. Go to your certification include.
  2. CTRL + Print Screen, also known as PRT SCRN on some keyboards, usually next to scroll lock and above insert or home keys. This takes an image of your screen.
  3. Go to the paint program, paste it into paint with CTRL + V.
  4. Use the select tool in paint to select a small box of your signature line and the space above it. Right click and copy. Alternatively, use CTRL + C to copy.
  5. Paste it into a new paint file. Make sure the paint file is only as large as your signature image.
  6. Draw your signature in. Save the file as a .png.
  7. Go back to CaseCAT and create a new certification include. Delete the blank line, F4 + L for new line, and then edit, insert, image. Bring the signature image into your cert. Remember to save!
  8. E-Signing without reliance on other vendors.
  9. Please note, on some laptops and keyboards, the print screen function requires you to press the fn or function key before it will work. So you may have to hit CTRL + Fn + PRT SCRN.

 

If you liked that, you may also want to see my tutorial on CaseCAT characters per line using characters per inch. Remember that if you need CaseCAT training, Stenograph maintains a page for Certified Training Agents.