Bloglet, the gentleman's mock turtle soup --
Moss made it sweeter than myrrh ash and dhoup


Kneeling Chair + Steno Machine + Non-Tilting Tripod = Shoulder Cramps


Kneeling Chair + Steno Machine + Painter's Tape + Velcro =

Sometimes I'm so cyberpunk it hurts. _
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02:47:00 PM, Friday 6 April 2007

The last page of comments I was using to collect word boundary errors is somewhere back thataway, so I'll start a new one. They're useful to have.

MY CROWS came out MICROS. D'oh! Not changing my dictionary for that one; will just have to remember to force a space if it ever comes up again. Or maybe if I can remember to use MAOIRK for "micro" more consistently, I can swap it out.

ROW AFTER ROW came out ROW AFRO. Yeah, gonna just have to remember to write "afro" A/FROE, I guess. Nurgh.

But I did just do a show in 35 minutes with no untranslates, and yesterday I did one in 24 minutes and 56 seconds. So hey. _
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01:39:50 PM, Thursday 5 April 2007

How I Got Out of Steno School
by Mirabai Knight

Regular readers of my blog can disregard this entry, since a) they've already gotten the play by play, poor devils, and b) none of them, as far as I know, is trying to get out of steno school. But since several of the places I frequent (Cheap and Sleazy, Depoman, Court Reporting Students) are constantly throwing around theories on the best way to do it, I figured I'd offer up my own version, for exactly as much as it's worth. I graduated from the New York Career Institute (formerly Stenotype Academy, formerly the School for Stenotype Exclusively) on Monday, March 26, 2007, a year and six months to the day from my first day of theory and 362 days after I was allowed to take my first speed test. Because I'm obsessive, a graph of all my tests charted against time can be found here. (Please note that "plateaus", as they're commonly called in steno school, are represented by steep lines, and tests passed on the same day by flat ones; it's a little counter-intuitive.)

I worked from nine to five during the week and attended steno classes on Monday and Wednesday nights. I also took an academic course in all but the last trimester. My job, I'm convinced, is what got me through school this quickly, and if there's a single thing I can recommend to other students in my place, it's to try and find a similar one. It basically covers rent and food without too much left over, but it's offered me a tremendous opportunity to build speed and hone my realtime technique until the time I'm proficient enough to become a CART provider, my ultimate goal. So what kind of job actually pays me to practice? I'm an offline captioning transcriptionist; I type up television shows from video tape (or digital files) to be closed captioned before broadcast. Once I've prepared the transcript, it goes upstairs to my friends the captioners, who break, place, time, and review the captions before encoding. We do a lot of how-to shows-- cooking, decorating, carpentry; that kind of thing-- and I've picked up a little in that line along the way, but mostly what my job has taught me is how to match my fingers to the rhythm of speech and how to avoid the infinite homonym and word boundary conflicts any phonetic shorthand system is subject to.

I was hired originally as a qwerty transcriber three months before I started steno school, and I wasn't actually able to start stenoing full time at work until I hit my 180s; 'til then, it was actually faster to produce a transcript on the regular keyboard. But as soon as I finished theory I started to take work home, to be transcribed on my own time and paid on a per-tape basis on my steno machine. At first they took me all weekend to finish. Now I can bang one out in about 35 minutes-- but the transcript always had to look the same: 100% accurate, punctuated and formatted. Except for in class and the night before my last 180 Lit (it had been a while since I'd passed a test and I was frustrated; I figured I'd try anything) I've never practiced speed drills. I practiced to get it all down. When I fell behind (every 15 seconds or so at the beginning; every couple minutes or so these days) I stopped the recording, rewound, and started again.

I've read a lot of opinions about what students should do to get through school quickly, and everyone agrees that the more time spent on the machine, the better, but after that they all seem to differ. Practice at 40 WPM over your comfort speed and write as sloppily as you have to; practice only at the speed you need next and only drop, never slop; brief as much as you can and the speed will come that way; don't worry about realtime-- just barrel ahead with whatever strokes come to mind.

I have no idea which of these precepts work and which don't. I have only my own experience to offer. My goal was never to get through court reporting school quickly; It was to be near enough to realtime-ready once I had the speed to be able to go directly into CART, by-passing deposition reporting altogether. Having a full-time job meant I could take as long as I needed, and didn't have to dash headlong into freelancing while my student loans breathed down my neck. To that end, even though some people say it would just confuse me or distract me, I started on CAT software two months before I started theory, learning the keyboard from Wikipedia and practicing finger drills downloaded from Mr. Shastay's site.

I knew that I had a tendency to slack in open-ended practice sessions (I'd recently been accepted into an M.A. Literature program but decided to go to steno school instead, partly because of the dicey job market, but also because I didn't trust myself to do the necessary work in such a relatively unstructured environment) so as soon as I'd learned all my theory I started practicing by the show instead of by the hour. It was like beating the levels of a video game; I started out slow, but kept track of the length of each one, and little by little I could see myself getting better at it. Once I finished my show (and earned my freelance fee) I could put the machine away and go to bed, but until then I made myself keep going, even if it meant getting to bed at 3:00 in the morning. For most of last summer it usually did, but it eventually started paying off.

When I wasn't transcribing shows, I would steno along to audiobooks, podcasts, movies, or songs, dropping and slopping indiscriminately, but I never actually popped a speed tape. If I had stalled at some point along the way, obviously I'd have changed my tactics, but I mostly seemed to be making pretty steady progress. Twice I went 35 days between passing tests (though both of those included two-week vacations), and before I could pass a 225 I went 37 days, but other than that I could count on passing a test every week or two, and so I just kept on doing what seemed to work. Speed tapes are boring, anyway.

I also wrote a program to help me build my dictionary (15,993 words added to NYCI's stock dictionary and counting!) and I spent a lot of time adapting my school's theory to be truly realtime-compatible-- and, more importantly, compatible with my own quirks and tendencies. NYCI is very courtroom and deposition-focused, with practically no CART or captioning instruction given, and several of my teachers offered their own legal briefs to the students. I pretty much ignored all the legal stuff, though the general advice they had to give, about finding jobs and bearing up under pressure, keeping wrists from hurting, figuring out how to stroke more cleanly, and reading through one's notes, as well as just general encouragement and enthusiastic dictation, made a huge difference. If I had another recommendation besides getting a steno-related job, I'd say find a school-- whether brick and mortar or online-- with a faculty of actual court reporters, not just timed readers. I learned a great many things from all of my teachers, and I'm glad to have studied under them.

Using KUP for "can you please" might be a lifesaver in deposition work, but how was I going to get through a cooking show without the word "cup"? Instead I made up my own briefs as they came to my fingers, like VAOEF for "extra virgin olive oil". It might not make sense to anyone else, but I was the one who had to recall them at 225 WPM. It's what my brain offered up in the heat of the ratatouille (RAT/TWAOE) recipe, and I've had no problem remembering it since. Other people's briefs, conversely, never seem to stick, and I had to spend a lot of time playing steno-compatible typing games (like Typestriker) to learn them at all.

I thought about just sucking it up and looking into one of the brief-intensive theories out there, but I realized that one of the most satisfying aspects of steno, to me, is constructing my own idiosyncratic system of strokes and correspondences. It's as much a matter of self-knowledge-- knowing what it's easy for my mind to remember and my fingers to stroke-- as it is knowledge of the theory itself. Also, not every three-syllable word is going to be briefable, and if I can't write three strokes in the time it takes an average person to speak three syllables, I'm not writing fast enough and all the briefs in the world won't save me.

As words come up again and again in my work and I get sick of stroking them out, a brief comes to me and I start using it. I don't see any reason to front-load the process, especially since CART requires a far broader vocabulary than legal reporting. It'll do me no good to learn briefs for every variation of "at the time of the accident" if I'm not able to stroke out "in the prime of the Occident". Because of this strategy, my jury charges, which everybody else seemed to fly through, were every bit as hard as my lits. But I know if I had time to write "the preponderance of the evidence" in four strokes rather than one and could still catch what came next I was doing all right. I didn't just want to pass tests at any cost; I used the tests to figure out how I was actually doing.

So now I've passed my last 225. What's gonna be different? Not too much right away. I'm interning with a CART provider as often as I can. I'm now stenoing full time at work. I'm still building my dictionary and refining my theory. My goal is to be ready to start CARTing in August and to pass the CCP in November. But if not then, however long it takes. I love this stuff, and I wanna be good at it. _
respond? (8)
07:51:32 PM, Sunday 1 April 2007

I'm alarmed to see that I got three referrer hits this week for "incisive papilla pizza burn". Clearly a scourge is sweeping our nation. To arms! _
06:22:06 PM, Sunday 1 April 2007

Hey, I've decided to cancel my parfitgentil domain and email address, prior to figuring out some more appropriate (and pronounceable) name to put a webpage advertising my prospective CART services on. Any recommendations, incidentally, would be welcome. Knight CART sounds like something you use to haul off the knight soil. M Knight CART is too reminiscent of that weird film director guy. Not sure what else would be snappy and sensical. Anyway, my gmail address (askeladden) will work until Google crumbles into the sea, which won't be soon. One hopes. _
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10:54:07 PM, Saturday 31 March 2007

w00t. _
respond? (20)
07:51:39 PM, Monday 26 March 2007

Well, we'll see. _
08:43:25 PM, Wednesday 21 March 2007

Oh, incidentally-- just to gloat, books I got for my birthday:

(in a beautiful illustrated hardback version with an afterword by Clifton Fadiman)
Parasite Rex
Three Men in a Boat (to Say Nothing of the Dog)
To Say Nothing of the Dog _
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06:57:55 PM, Tuesday 20 March 2007

I know steno doesn't really count as code and I'm not actually disgruntled with my job or beaten down and love-starved and I've never even tasted Tab and Mr. Coulton has been the big geek thing for ages now anyway, but I still really like this song.

via Lore. _
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05:32:41 PM, Tuesday 20 March 2007

Burn! _
05:05:16 PM, Monday 19 March 2007

After a delightful party last night, we got up this morning to go to the anti-war protest downtown. K. and I, along with her mother, father, stepmother, mother's ex-boyfriend, grandma, uncle, cousin, and two of her grandma's friends, all plodded along in the sunshine, singing Dona Nobis Pacem and making up snarky slogans ("Bush: he puts the surge in insurgency!", "Rock out with your troops out!") and ridiculing the inept ones ("Hey-hey, ho-ho, TheDemocraticandRepublicanparties have got to go!"). Felt nice to walk and be with good-hearted people. Very glad I went. _
respond? (1)
06:13:15 PM, Sunday 18 March 2007

A fine and ridiculous bit of Coleridge, discovered by the girl:

And aye beside her stalks her amorous knight!
Still on his thighs their wonted brogues are worn,
And thro' those brogues, still tatter'd and betorn,
His hindward charms gleam an unearthly white;
As when thro' broken clouds at night's high noon
Peeps in fair fragments forth the full-orb'd harvest-moon!

By which I mean to say: bottoms up!

I'm having Glenmorangie. What'll it be? _
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09:21:18 PM, Saturday 17 March 2007

Amusing steno typo of the day:


New Lurchables-- now with extra braaaaains! _
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05:03:36 PM, Friday 16 March 2007

Man, I should have gone to this NYCI instead-- I would have gotten a detailed colon map and everything! _
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01:04:13 AM, Friday 16 March 2007

Passed the 225 I took on Friday, failed the one I took on Monday. About to transcribe one I just took now. I won't make this month's deadline, but I might be able to get out before the next one. We'll see. _
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06:37:44 PM, Wednesday 14 March 2007

And now a short but soulful ballad with lyrics by my recent referrer hits:
Edited 3/15
(slow r&b beat)

girl you make me feel
all 1 to 25 binary numbers
i want to take half day off today
(lowest gravity day for 2007)
you make me feel good like
the knight who took all day
turtles make me
imminent hard failure _
01:54:47 PM, Saturday 10 March 2007

Ba n pregnva znxr bs Cbefpur:






Jung?! V pna ohl n $325,000 pne naq xrrc vg va zl tnentr ohg V'z bayl nyybjrq gb qevir vg ba jrrxraqf? BU TBQ ABBBBB! Trr, gbb onq Nrfpulyhf unq gb tb naq unir gung zrffl yvggyr ghegyr vapvqrag, 'pnhfr ur'q whfg whzc nyy bire n cybg yvxr gung. _
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06:42:10 PM, Thursday 8 March 2007

School kvetching aside, a lot of good stuff has been going on:

* I went to see CART provided at MoMA for a conversation with Swoon. I came away impressed with the art, the artist, and the insane fingers of my mentor, who managed to catch just about every word at a rampaging clip.
* I went to the Cloisters with K., a friend from work, and a charming friend of his who makes a living designing socks. I didn't know you could do that. I got to see my favorite object and look out at the herb garden. I like seeing it in winter before seeing it in spring. I also seem to have convinced the friend from work to learn the recorder and lent him one of mine, so that's pretty exciting.
* I've gotten exciting things in the mail, including that serial connector (I know it doesn't work, but it lights up so prettily! And it came from Hong Kong!), an alarm clock with Stephen Fry's voice (it is not possible to describe the effect this has had on our household), and coming soon will be something better still.
* I sent fan mail to Dan Savage and he wrote back to say it made his day.
* I'm ten days away from winning a ten-year bet.
* K.'s damn fine chicken soup.
* Snow. Also Snow.
* Reading Good Omens aloud before bedtime.
* Sketching out ideas for this year's NaNo.
* Ostrich jerky. _
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07:52:18 PM, Wednesday 7 March 2007

Bleh. So I just tanked my most recent 225. This is the seventh time I've taken the test without passing it. Last time I failed by six errors; the time before, by ten. This time it was so bad I couldn't even transcribe it. Don't know if it's because we had a different teacher dictating it or because I haven't had time to practice much (though I did nine shows at work yesterday!) or because I ate too much popcorn at lunch, but whatever it is, it looks like I'm gonna be in school past the middle of March. I'm going to try to get Friday morning off from work so I can take it again, but unless I pass it and the next test on Wednesday and our teacher is kind enough to give us a Q&A on Monday too (unlikely), I'll be swallowing my pride and ponying up for another month. Oh well. It's not like it's any particular benchmark beyond the money (not that big a deal; I'll put it on my credit card and pay it off in stages) and the bragging rights. I certainly won't be able to start working even after I get my certificate. My current goal is to be CART-ready by the end of summer, but I don't know if that's even realistic. I'll have to come up with a practice regimen and put some serious time in, so it's not like I'll have so much free time after I finish school. I just want to be done with this bit and move on to the next bit, you know? Soon enough, soon enough. That's what they tell me. _
07:31:13 PM, Wednesday 7 March 2007

Things I learned from Wikipedia today:

Hors d'oeuvre were first served in the nineteenth century in the cafeteria of a Paris charity hospital, which was also the first hospital to perform hysterectomies.

My incisive papilla hurts. Not too surprising, as I burned it on pizza two days ago, but it's nice to put the proper names to things. (Incisive Papilla is, of course, The Cryptic Tonsils' critically acclaimed first album.)

Corn smut, known as huitlacoche ("raven's excrement") in Aztec, is delicious! (Voted best Smut Fungus in the World, in fact.) Well done, corn smut! _
07:07:53 PM, Wednesday 7 March 2007

Mirabai Knight

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