Tips for more productive internet research

By Suzanne I. Trimble

Research on the internet can uncover a treasure trove of information that can save you time, which is money, and make your transcripts fantastically accurate. I’ve put together a few tips, many free of charge, that may be a refresher to some and a time saver to others to make research time more productive. Nothing is more frustrating to me than doing two hours of research on a 30-page transcript and still being unable to find that one spelling I’ve been looking for.

  • Google Scholar. Google Scholar can be particularly useful if you do any in-court reporting. Use Google Scholar when looking for case law, citations, quotes from a case, spellings of judges or attorneys, etc.
    • TIP: To narrow to the proper jurisdiction on the Google Scholar home page, select “Case law” underneath the Google Scholar search bar. Then underneath that select “Select courts.” This will bring you to a page to narrow the search to the proper jurisdiction. You can select any state or federal court on this page, so you are not searching through all the cases in America for the proverbial needle in a haystack. For example, if you’re looking for a case in Florida Federal Court, 11th Circuit, Middle District, scroll down on this page, look under the “Federal courts” column for “11th Circuit,” and check the box to the left of “MD Florida,” then on the bottom of the screen or top, click “Done,” which will take you to a Google Scholar search screen for the narrow search of that jurisdiction.
    • TIP: If you know the year or a range of years of the particular item you’re searching for, once you’ve typed in what you’re searching for on the search bar and hit enter or click on the search button, in the left column on the search results page, choose any of the “Since” options, or you can create a “Custom range.” Underneath that, if you select “Sort by relevance,” it will bring up the top searches by relevance. If you select “sort by date” it will bring up the newest case by date first.
    • TIP: All the Google search tips below work in Google Scholar.
  • Google search tips to customize searches
    • Use quotation marks for exact phrases. If you search for Dog Sweaters, the search engine will search for content that contains those two words in any order. However, if you search “Dog Sweaters,” it will search for that phrase exactly as you typed it. This can help locate specific information. (I love this tip for Google Scholar!)
    • Narrow the search. If you are searching for a word with an ambiguous meaning, for example caterpillar. If you’re searching for the insect caterpillar, references to the company Caterpillar, Inc., will also be returned. Use Caterpillar -Inc to exclude references to the company.
    • Fill in the blank. If you only know certain words in the phrase, place an asterisk in place of the words you don’t know. For example, Speedy trial * tolled. Google search will search for that phrase knowing that the asterisks can be any word or words.
    • Synonyms. To search for a word and its synonyms, type ~ and your word, no space – for example, ~phone will get results with phone and other closely related words
    • Glossaries. If you type the subject and then the word glossary on the search bar, such as FAA glossary, several glossaries can pop up — depending on the subject matter, of course. These are so helpful and can put meaning and context to a search of terms in uncharted territory.
  • LinkedIn. When looking for the spelling of someone’s name and you know the company they work for, LinkedIn is an awesome research tool.
    • TIP: In the search tool bar, type in the company you are looking for, for example Microsoft, then choose “Microsoft people” on the drop-down menu to find the employees that are on LinkedIn.
    • TIP: Looking for the name of a company? Type in the employee name in the search bar and the company will be linked to the employee in the drop-down menu.
  • Online court files. Many jurisdictions now have entire court files online with no cost to peruse the documents. This is a great source to find names, case citations, etc. Many of the documents in the court file will be searchable PDFs. I use this daily to research the cases I report. My realtime looks particularly fantastic when I know what’s going to be coming at me. Simply search for the county clerk’s office of the jurisdiction you are looking for. For example, a search for “Orange County Clerk” brings up “My Orange Clerk Home”; click on that and then scroll down to the “Court Record Search” link to access the online files. Some jurisdictions do still charge a fee to look at the documents in the electronic court file so this may not always be an option if you don’t want to pay a fee.
  • Phrontistery. The Phrontistery is an online dictionary for searching for spellings of obscure, weird, and unusual words in the English language. This is a great site to check out and explore.
  • Google Sheets. Don’t do research again on the same type of case you’ve done research on before looking for the same terms and benefit from colleagues working on the same or similar type of case. How? A few years ago, the court reporters in the courthouse I work in started creating Google Sheets for terms/names in specific cases, types of cases, agents, and officers. We share these Google Sheets with each other and sometimes scopists and proofreaders. This way each of us are contributing terms/names we’ve searched for as well as benefitting from the research that others do, and Google Sheets update realtime in the cloud as each person edits. For example, it is sometimes very difficult to find the spellings of the names of agents and officers, so we’ve created a page with the verified spellings of many of these names, or for a particular case more than one reporter is working on, we share a created case Google Sheet and each contribute to it.
    • Create a Google Sheet. To create a Google Sheet from the Gmail page, in the upper right-hand corner click the icon that looks like a square bunch of dots. Scroll down to “Sheets.” Click “Blank.”
    • Add others to Google Sheet. To add others to the Google Sheet, in the upper right-hand corner click “Share.” It will prompt you to name the sheet before sharing, and then you can either add the name of someone in your contacts or add the email of the person you want to add. This will send an email to the individual inviting them to the Google Sheet you’ve created, and then they are able to join you in editing the Google Sheet.
    • Google Sheets is also available via apps on other devices such as a smartphone; just go to your app store to download. The benefit to being able to access Google Sheets on another device is if you are in a situation where internet is not accessible on your laptop, your smartphone may be able to pull it up.

Suzanne I. Trimble, RPR, CRR, is an official court reporter based in Sanford, Fla., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee. If you have a question for the Tech Committee, please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

Ask the Techie: Can webcams be hacked?

By Teresa Russ

If you were around in 1984, you probably remember a song entitled, Somebody’s Watching You by Rockwell featuring Michael Jackson. Back then I felt that song to be a little creepy even though it was fun to dance to.

The answer is yes, according to Norton, the antivirus software company, and an article published by USA Today, Feb. 15, 2020. In Nine Simple Webcam Security Tips to Deter Hackers, written by Kyle Chivers, a NortonLifeLock employee, Norton offered the following suggestions:

  1. Keep your software up to date. I know that it might seem like a nuisance, but it’s important because this helps patch vulnerabilities in your software.
  2. Use a firewall to lock down your network.
  3. Secure your WiFi, and do not use easy passwords. It’s a good idea to enable WiFi Protected Access 2 (WPA2) as an added layer of protection.
  4. Avoid all suspicious links.
  5. Don’t chat with strangers online. Remember when you were little and your mother told you not to talk to strangers? That applies to online activities as well.
  6. Cover or unplug your webcam. If your indicator light is on and you did not turn it on, there is a chance your webcam has been hacked. Hackers can sometimes disable the light, still allowing them to spy on you. Webcam covers can be purchased on Amazon from $2 to $9, depending on the type you choose. You can decide which is best for you by going to https://spy.com/articles/gadgets/video-media/best-webcam-covers-238966/.

Cimkiz covers

BLOCKED (A total of 57 reusable webcam stickers)

Dcreate

Animal Camera Dots

SpiShutter Slim

Funsylab Pacman

Bungajungle Wood

C-Slide (Pack of 6)

Eye Webcam Cover Slider

Anti-Spy

Imluckies

12. Get a virtual private network (VPN)

13. Use trusted tech support

14. Install and run security software on your devices

If the camera covers are too much, you can always go low-tech and, on your next trip to the Dollar Tree or 99 Cents Only Store, pick up some tape. Yes, that same USA Today article noted that both former FBI Director James Comey and Facebook cofounder Mark Zuckerberg use tape to cover their webcams.

 Teresa Russ, CRI, is a freelance CART captioner and court reporter based in Bellflower, Calif., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee.

If you have a question for the Technology Committee, please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

(As an Amazon Associate, NCRA earns from qualifying purchases.)

Zoom depositions and court reporters: Seven lessons we’ve learned since March

By Lynette Mueller

Your NCRA Board of Directors and Technology Committee were hard at work at the beginning of this 2020 COVID-19 pandemic by creating and presenting webinars and content for our members regarding remote depositions and best practices. Speaking as a member of the Tech Committee, we felt strongly that information, resources, and tools needed to be dispensed quickly to the membership to get court reporters up to speed with our changing environment and our “new normal.”

Here’s a list of some of the articles written about remote depositions that are still relevant today:

Streamtext and Zoom

Basic Zoom Tips, Tricks and Advice

Five tips for looking great in remote depositions

How to optimize internet connections for remote depositions

Handling of exhibits for remote depositions

What states allow remote and/or online notarization?

Conducting meetings and depositions by remote means

Office setups and remote preparation part of downtime

Ask the Techie: Do you need a new chair?

COVID-19: Looking back through the lens

Learning is knowledge, and knowledge is power! To that end, I use several different tools to keep abreast of changes in technology so that I may know how to troubleshoot different scenarios I’m faced with as I report each new Zoom proceeding.

  1. Set up Google Alerts: This is such an easy thing to do! Google Alerts is a content change detection and notification service. The service sends emails to the user when it finds new results that match the user’s search term. Start your first Google Alert now. (Find instructions here.)
  2. Follow industry leader blogs: There’s so much great content put out by some great court reporters! Do a Google search to find the reporting blogs of your choice and sign up to receive new content sent directly to your inbox. In the alternative, you can use a handy app I recommend called Feedly to have all the information in one central location. It compiles news feeds from a variety of online sources for the user to customize and share with others. There’s an iOS, Android, and web-based application. Learn more about Feedly now.
  3. Sign up for Facebook and Twitter: Yes, social media, believe it or not, is a great resource to gain valuable information and knowledge to keep up on best practices for Zoom proceedings. As for Twitter, again, follow the industry leaders to gain their insights. With Facebook, some people may have a love/hate relationship. If you choose to use it for business and court reporting knowledge, some of the Facebook groups can be so helpful! My top Facebook groups that are welcoming, positive, and supportive are: Court Reporter Helpline, Court Reporters and Zoom learn and share, and Court Reporter Technology (NCRA). When you see a Facebook post that may be useful and you wish to read it later, use the save function. To save a post: Click in the top right of the post. Select Save Post, Save Event, Save Link, or Save Video. You may create your own category/folder of your choice. My folder is named Zooming! This is an easy way to go back later if you encounter a similar issue as a fellow colleague.
  4. Finally, become a member of NCRA and take advantage of all the technology articles posted on TheJCR.com by the Tech Committee! You may add TheJCR.com to the Feedly app as well to find everything at a glance and at your fingertips. Remember that the JCR is a premier resource as well. I’ve been a continuous member of NCRA for many years and can’t imagine not having the support and resources the Association provides daily.

Next, let’s talk about seven lessons we’ve learned and/or tips for your next Zoom proceeding. While I haven’t personally experienced each of the following issues in Zoom, these questions and the answers are quite timely and may assist you with perfecting your remote deposition setup.

Scenario #1:

Q. When using a cellphone as primary output for Zoom because the laptop connection is not solid and the court reporter has external speakers, what should the court reporter do when reporting a long proceeding and the cellphone needs to be charging?

A. Use your cellphone cable and plug into your laptop or use a wireless charger.

Scenario #2:

Q. How does one mute a microphone using keyboard shortcuts?

A. Try following these instructions from bouncegeek.

Scenario #3:

Q. Does Zoom have a noise-cancellation feature?

A. Yes! This link through Zoom will provide information to get started.

Scenario #4:

Q. What can a court reporter do to prevent a situation when the power goes off and Zoom kicks you off the deposition?

A. Purchase a Battery Backup & Surge Protector for your router and your laptop. There are lots of great options available at an affordable price. Lifewire has a list of their nine best picks for 2020.

Scenario #5:

Q. What can a court reporter do to add an extra layer of security to prevent Zoom bombing?

A. When you are the host and all participants are admitted, announce that you are locking the Zoom meeting to prevent anyone else entering the meeting. Remember to lock the meeting! In the event a participant gets kicked out of the meeting, stop the proceedings, alert the attorneys, and unlock the meeting so that that person may be readmitted by you. Once that errant participant is readmitted to the meeting, lock it down again.

Here’s additional information from the Zoom Help Center: “The Security icon in the meeting controls allows the host or co-host of a meeting to enable or disable options during a meeting to secure the meeting and minimize disruption during the meeting. Most of the settings can be controlled from Account, Group, and User settings prior to the meeting. If applied at the Account, Group, or User level, these settings will be applied in meeting by default. The Security icon combines them all in one place for easy access during the meeting.”

When you’re in the meeting, click Participants at the bottom of your Zoom window. In the participants pop-up box, you will see a button that says Lock Meeting. Click on Lock Meeting, and you’re ready to go!

Scenario #6:

Q. May I use a dual-monitor setup during a Zoom deposition, so that the participants are on one screen and the exhibits are on the other screen?

A. Yes. The dual-monitor display feature allows the video layout and screen share content to be placed on two separate monitors/screens. Gallery or speaker view can be displayed on one monitor while the other monitor displays a content share. Click this link for specific instructions on dual-monitor setup for a Mac and a PC.

Scenario #7:

Q. How does one set up a “hybrid” deposition when a remote attorney client asks the court reporter (as the host) to ensure all counsel, the witness, and the court reporter have a device in the conference room and on camera so as not to encounter audio feedback and/or echoing?

A. This is my personal setup for the above “hybrid” deposition scenario.

* Create and email the Zoom invitation to all participants

* Arrive 45 minutes early to the deposition location to allow enough time to effectuate all steps to ensure no audio feedback during the proceedings.

* Set up Zoom laptop for the witness and log in as the host.

* Rename the Zoom box reflecting the witness name and add the word “witness” behind the proper name.

* Mute the witness’s Zoom laptop. Additionally, click the audio tab at the bottom of the Zoom window and select leave computer audio.

* Set up an iPad, iPhone, or other tablet device as the court reporter Zoom screen.

* Click on the Zoom link to join the meeting on the court reporter Zoom screen.

* Mute the court reporter device. Additionally, click the audio tab and select leave computer audio.

* Rename your court reporter window to reflect your name and then the word “Court Reporter” or “Stenographer” behind your name.

* Use a Polycom or speakerphone and dial in using one of the telephone  numbers provided in the Zoom invitation.

* Then, go to the witness zoom laptop where you initiated the meeting. Go to the participant box for the telephone number and rename it to something like Conference Room Audio. That way, all counsel know who is in the meeting.

* When other counsel arrive, instruct them to log into the Zoom meeting,  mute their device, click the audio tab, and select leave computer audio.

So, there you have seven lessons we’ve learned about Zoom depositions since the pandemic hit early this spring. Attorneys look to us sometimes to be their personal resource for these remote depositions — and that’s okay. This is our opportunity to shine and show the extra value we provide to them with our technological savviness! As the guardians of the record, we court reporters provide an extremely valuable service to the legal community not only with our stenographic skills but also by paving the way for our clients so that they can keep on fighting and working for their clients. The wheels of justice can keep turning because of how resilient court reporters are, rising to each challenge the legal community has faced, and searching and finding truly great solutions these past several months.

Look for another series of lessons learned coming soon. The Tech Committee is working hard and has so much more to share with you!

Lynette L. Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter based in Memphis, Tenn., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee.

If you have a question for the Technology Committee, please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

U.S. Legal Support explores remote deposition best practices with top litigators

In a press release issued Oct. 1, U.S. Legal Support, based in Houston, Texas, announced that the firm recently hosted a live panel webinar featuring top litigators, who shared how they have been able to successfully prepare for and conduct remote depositions, addressed common questions and provided strategic tips and insight to the audience filled with hundreds of litigators nationwide.

Read more.

Best practices for presenting exhibits in a remote deposition

Law360 posted an article on Oct. 1 offering best practice tips for presenting exhibit in a remote deposition.

Read more.

StreamText and Zoom

By Teresa Russ

Since the pandemic, Zoom and StreamText are as popular as peanut butter and jelly.

End users to first-time users are asking questions or offering suggestions on how to best use these two platforms. The developers of StreamText have listed on their website many frequently asked questions, such as, “Can screen readers read my realtime text in the player?” to “This is a long event and another realtime writer is going to help me. Can we switch writers without interruption?” And the answer is, “Yes! You can seamlessly change writers during a live event. For events that span long periods of time, you can easily pass control to a new writer. Just click on the event control and select the new writer for the event.”

Here is one discussion that appeared on Facebook. I myself had a question on how to prevent losing captioning while using Zoom. The question was asked on June 7, 2020, and Nicole Terlizzi Kochy, RPR, CRR, CRC, a CART captioner in Edison, N.J., said, “Did you try just straight into the box without StreamText? It’s a little more of a pain for the captioner, but it looks nice for the consumer with no delay. I find with StreamText only one line pops on at a time, and then it disappears, or if they are sending the Zoom to Facebook Live, the captions seem to disappear regardless. My personal preference is to give them a separate StreamText link, but I find consumers like it best directly into the box.”

As the discussion continued, more Facebook users chimed in. Mike Rowell, RDR, CRR, CRC, a freelance captioner in Placerville, Calif., shared this when someone asked about paragraphing: “Every time you send through a new paragraph, it wipes the subtitle box for the other viewers. If you’re fairly new to captioning directly to Zoom, I recommend setting up a test session using two devices and two separate Zoom logins. Caption from one and view subtitles from the other. I’ve seen some advice that you should include a new paragraph with every period or question mark in order to avoid accidentally filling up the box, but this is very problematic for a reader relying on subtitles who has a different view of the subtitles than the captioner.”

Rowell is very comfortable with the various platforms. When I contacted him and asked about the various platforms, he said, “There’s also Blackboard Connect, which works a lot like direct to Zoom, and there’s a way to do direct into Zoom with StenoKeys while also sending a separate stream to StreamText in a standalone window. Using multiple outputs in CaseCAT translation settings, you can write StenoKeys to Zoom and ASCII to StreamText at the same time.

“Still another option is to set it up so everything from StreamText flows into Zoom. It involves telling StreamText which Zoom URL to use, using something called an API token that you can pick up in Zoom once the host uses the ‘Assign to Type’ function.”

Denise L., a CART captioner, when asked about using the two platforms said, “The tough part about breakout rooms is you have to be assigned a new API token to embed the captions on the breakout room and do it again when going back to the main room.”

Nicholas Wilkie of StreamText said he gets a variety of questions on Zoom. I asked Wilkie whether there will be any update to the API token, and he said that Zoom has not released anything as of today. He said “Zoom is not really a CART platform.” However, what he likes is its “ease of use.” It’s remarkable that we have this technology available, especially now. Wilkie shared that users can find summary tools on Facebook, YouTube, as well as on their website to learn the different functions of using Zoom and StreamText.  

It’s always nice to have options. Wilkie said that StreamCast is used a lot. StreamCast is an application designed to allow you to overlay captions onto any application that does not have native captioning support. The application is similar to Text On Top but allows a direct feed from StreamText.Net. You don’t need to do anything special to the event when you schedule it. Just start the application and set the event name to the event you want to StreamCast

You can find information on how to use StreamCast on StreamText.Net. One really nice feature about StreamCast is that it stays on top, and you never lose the text, and it “looks great.” He said he does not get a lot of questions because users can learn how to manipulate the features. Another nice feature is that the user can use StreamText along with StreamCast at the same time. This allows the client to pick what they prefer.

(Excerpts taken from StreamText.Net)

Teresa Russ, CRI, is a CART Captioner and freelance reporter in Bellflower, Calif.

Basic Zoom tips, tricks, and advice

With an increase in remote depositions now using the Zoom format, the members of the Technology Committee thought it would be a great time to review some Zoom basics and troubleshooting tips with you.

Zoom app vs. web browser: It is better to download the Zoom app to the laptop or desktop computer, rather than using it online only. From the app, you can easily change your name, settings, keyboard map, background, control the waiting room, and share the screen. 

Change your name: It may be necessary to change your name if you work for different firms or for home vs. work. To customize your name, if you are an account holder, simply click on “Profile,” and you can edit your user settings. If you are only an attendee, simply click on “Participants,” find your name and then click on the three dots that appear to the right. Then choose the “rename” options and you can name yourself “Court Reporter” or “Captioner” or “Shazam!” — whatever you like! It will remain that way throughout the session. 

Tip: Rename yourself with your email address to make it easy for counsel to send you contact info, exhibits, etc.

Keyboard map (Hot keys): If you prefer using keyboard shortcuts, there are plenty available. A complete listing for Mac and Windows is available at this webpage: https://support.zoom.us/hc/en-us/articles/205683899-Hot-keys-and-keyboard-shortcuts. My personal favorite is the ability to temporarily un-mute yourself by using the spacebar. If you are writing, it’s a quick and easy way to interrupt for clarification.

Share screen: To share your screen, simply select “share screen” at the bottom menu. Then you can select the screen of any open application or your desktop.

Breakout rooms: Only the host or co-host can use this feature. However, it is a nice feature to offer to attorneys and clients while you are on break. Simply select “Breakout Rooms” on the bottom menu. Then simply respond to the prompts in the windows and assign the rooms or swap out individuals in rooms.

Computers: Decide whether using one or two computers is right for you. If you use two computers, one will be for Zoom and one for your CAT software. If you use one, you can toggle between Zoom and your CAT system. Using two monitors lets you see both without taking your hands off the steno machine.

Wi-Fi vs. hard-wired: Hardwired will always provide the more stable connection and is preferred. However, if you are using Wi-Fi, here are a few troubleshooting tips:

  • Kick other users off who are on the same Wi-Fi that are gaming, etc.
  • Use a professional headset or ear pad device.

Audio: There are several options for acquiring audio during a Zoom meeting. You can use headsets, external speakers, computer sound, and cell phones. Using cellphones outdoors is not recommended.

Some audio troubleshooting tips: 

  • If you are receiving audio feedback, for example, if the speaker sounds muffled or like he is underwater, then the speaker’s microphone is picking up background noise instead of the speaker.
  • If there are two devices in the same room connected to the same Zoom meeting, one needs to be muted.
  • All speakers should mute until speaking to avoid the microphone picking up clicking of keyboards, dogs, etc.

Recording audio: If you are recording into your CAT software, there are many options available to you. If you are recording from your computer’s audio, then you will not hear yourself. So, you need to be thoughtful when configuring your Zoom setup. Several manufacturers have specifically designed systems for the Zoom court reporter. Please check out Martel Electronics (martelelectronics.com) or Sound Professionals (soundprofessionals.com) for their Zoom reporter packages. However, if you want to keep it simple, you can use a speaker and external microphone, but the quality will not be as clear. To troubleshoot your computer’s audio, you can always go to the Control Panel and adjust and tweak the level of sound coming in.

Being seen: Even though you may be in your home office, you should still dress professionally, both top and bottom, just in case you are seen. Place the camera to see from the top of your head to waist. Body language is important. Light in front vs. behind – place light in front of you for a better picture. Small rooms work best and are better for controlling outside noise. Do not use virtual backgrounds or those that may detract attention from the proceedings. 

Alternatively, you may want to consider aiming your webcam on your face as well as your hands to show you are on the record. Jo Tomoff Fischer, RMR, CRR, in Atlanta, Ga., was recently reporting a Zoom deposition, and one attorney realized she was not receiving audio from the proceedings only because Jo had her camera pointed to her hands on the machine. When the attorney saw her writing, she realized that someone was talking and that she was not hearing it and, therefore, she interrupted and was able to correct the situation.

Being heard: Use a microphone or headset with microphone for the best coverage.

Tip: Interrupt with the same words twice in a row to make sure that you are heard by all parties as there is a small delay when you speak and when you’re heard. “Excuse me. Excuse me.”

Zoom court hearings: For Zoom in the courtroom, you have several options for Hearings:

  • In courtroom with judge and clerk with attorneys appearing by Zoom.
  • In office or location at courthouse using government computer or personal computer for Zoom. 
  • At home using government computer or personal computer for Zoom.

Tip: The clerk and courtroom deputy, etc., can inform attorneys that they will need an external microphone and no cell phones are to be used for Zoom hearings when hearings are set. (Might need to make a special request.)

There are some things government IT might be able to help with:

  • Using government computer to link to Zoom
  • Provide the judge a microphone prior to hearing
  • Set up a trial run with IT prior to first hearing to make sure all sound levels are a go
  • Help attorneys with a test run before the hearing
  • Set up cloud-based realtime on the judge’s computer if you are remotely reporting

With cloud-based realtime, you can connect to attorneys and judges from anywhere. Here are some options: Live Litigation, Bridge (Advantage Software), and CaseViewNet Cloud (Stenograph).

Additionally, you can caption directly into Zoom using the captioning feature. The clients can view as standard captioning format or they can view full transcript. No captioning software is needed. You can use a webstreaming service (1CapApp or Streamtext) to aid in formatting or you can apply your CAT system’s feature to writing in a separate window (Sticky Keys, Keyboard Macro, etc.).


Some phrases that are so common that you may want to develop briefs for your next Zoom proceeding:

Can you hear me now?

I can’t hear you 

Can’t hear you 

Off and on

Cutting in and out

Share my screen

Share your screen

Share my desktop

Share your desktop

Unmute yourself

Thanks to the members of the Technology Committee who contributed to this article.

Have a question for the NCRA Technology Committee? Please send it to jcrfeedback@ncra.org.

More on this topic:

Five tips for looking great in remote depositions

How to optimize internet connections for remote depositions

Handling of exhibits for remote depositions

What states allow remote and/or online notarization?

Conducting meetings and depositions by remote means

Office setups and remote preparation part of downtime

Ask the Techie: Do you need a new chair?

COVID-19: Looking back through the lens

Backup for court reporters

By Lynette Mueller

backup: a copy of computer data (as a file or the contents of a hard drive); also : the act or an instance of making a backup 

In today’s technologically savvy environment, there is no excuse not to have a great backup plan for transcripts and important data.  After all, those transcripts are our bread and butter; right? Court reporters should have a firm solution in place for the storage and protection of their data in order to retrieve it, if needed, at a moment’s notice and from wherever you may be located. Clients and litigants rely on us, as the guardians of the record, to preserve that important testimony.

Other reasons to ensure a great backup plan are:

  1. Simple recovery. We are all human and make mistakes at times. Transcript files can be deleted accidentally or mistakenly. There’s no reason to fear this possibility if one has a multi-level backup plan in place — simply recover the file from a time before it was deleted.
  2. Archival. Not all depositions or trials are transcribed immediately after the job. Sometimes requests for a transcript could be years down the road. Depending on the amount of time that has elapsed, you could easily assume you can go to your computer or laptop and retrieve a particular file. As with everything in life, events do not always stay the same. Perhaps a new laptop was purchased in the intervening time and is no longer a viable option for retrieval.
  3. Downtime. Relying solely on your computer and/or laptop as your backup source could be a detriment to your business and livelihood. By simply having a multi-tier approach to the backup, you can be up and running within minutes rather than hours or days.
  4. Doing work twice. One of the most important rules to doing work right is to do it correctly the first time. If one were to suffer a minor failure and lose a file without a backup, you may be able to recover some things and possibly not the entire file. Who wants to rewrite that job again?

Methods one can utilize for the backup of data:

  • Printing
  • USB flash drive
  • External hard drive
  • CD or DVD
  • Network-attached storage: file-level computer data storage server connected to a computer network providing data access to a heterogeneous group of clients.
  • RAID: device used to manage hard disk drives in a storage array
  • Cloud storage: a service model in which data is transmitted and stored on remote storage systems where it is maintained, managed, backed up, and made available to users over a network (typically the internet).

There are several perceived advantages and disadvantages to using a particular method of backup. Each court reporter must determine the particular backup approach and option that best fits and meets their specific needs.

Benefits of Cloud Storage:

  1. Save costs. Moving to the cloud can reduce the need to purchase other external devices, the enclosures that contain them, the electricity that powers them, and the warranty services that protect them. There are many reputable cloud-based services that are free for limited storage plans.
  2. Simplicity. Setup with the cloud is a breeze and only takes a few minutes to do.
  3. Security. The larger cloud vendors have the know-how and resources to be able to protect data from threats.
  4. Convenience. When utilizing the cloud, files from all devices can be configured to back up and you may access the information from any other device wherever you are located. Working remotely to get those transcripts out the door can be a breeze. Delivering your final transcripts to your important client is a snap when you’re away from the office.
  5. Sharing and collaboration. It’s super easy to share your files when stored in the cloud with your proofreader and/or scopist. The transcript is backed up once, and then you can give access to your trusted colleagues.
  6. Easy integration. Services like Box, Dropbox, and Google Drive connect with thousands of apps, allowing you to easily import or link to your files without actually clicking out of whatever you’re working on.

Drawbacks of Cloud Storage:

  1. Backups may be slower. Internet bandwidth speeds may limit the time it takes for a full backup of large files.
  2. Connectivity and higher internet usage. Depending on when you are choosing to run your backups, your internet activity performance may suffer. You don’t want to saturate your internet connection during times when access is needed for other critical business activity. Just like any other technology, cloud-based storage solutions are not perfect and can be affected by technical issues. Remember, accessing your data is contingent on having a reliable internet connection.

Benefits of External Devices:

  1. Portability and speed. The physical portability of external devices is a given. You can plug in the device from one computer to another very easily and negates the effort to copy voluminous amounts of data over a network or the internet.
  2. Easy replacement. Remember to have a great backup for your external drive as well.
  3. Affordable. External devices are quite affordable and involve a one-time upfront cost.
  4. Security. The only way the data on your drive can be tampered with is through physical access.

Drawbacks of External Devices:

  1. Durability. External hard drives can break without warning. Remember to keep your drives backed up as well.
  2. Loss. Because flash drives and other external devices are so portable, they also pose a risk of loss, theft, or accidental destruction.

Cloud-based storage has been around for many years and is certainly a reliable method to back up your important data. That being said, the best backup strategy is a multi-level approach. A “multi-level approach” means that one should use a combination of both the cloud and some kind of external hard drive or similar device.

I utilize multiple backup methods in my business:  my laptops, external hard drive, Drobo, Synology, Min-u-script, and CrashPlan.  My career has spanned 30 years, and I’ve purchased several new laptops during that time, so my backup storage plan has evolved.

Today my CAT software has automatic cloud backup for all of my files. It’s great because I know I have that extra layer of backup for when I am on vacation, for example, and get a call for a transcript that a client has either misplaced or forgot to order. My clients definitely come first, and I need to ensure I have access at all times — whether I’m on vacation or visiting family. My particular software has a great feature where the color of the checkmark near my folder file is green, giving me the satisfaction of knowing that that particular file is backed up to the cloud.

So I mentioned I also use CrashPlan as one of my backup layers. Recently that service restructured their pricing, and I then had to decide what to do about the increased pay structure. I felt it was pretty steep, and the service was going to limit how many devices could be backed up with an affordable plan. I loved the fact that all my computers were backed up there and didn’t want to go through the research of finding a different solution.

In doing my research, I found that I could use a handy little app called GoodSync. It’s a game-changer! I installed GoodSync on my CAT software app, which then backs up directly to my Synology. GoodSync is a backup and file synchronization program. It is used for synchronizing files between two directories, either on one computer or between a computer and another storage device or between a computer and a remote computer or server. Jobs can be automatically run according to any desired schedule. Synology is a server that is a networked device on your home network and it uses a technology called RAID, which writes data across multiple drives at the same time to ensure that, if and when a drive fails, one can remove that one failed drive, replace the failed drive with a new one with no loss of data. In other words, a networked file server. My Synology system is the device that is being backed up to CrashPlan; thus, avoiding the high fees of multiple computers on my CrashPlan fees.

Late this afternoon I received a request for a 2011 transcript that was not transcribed at the end of the job. My initial panicked reaction, upon reading the email, was: “Oh, my gosh! What computer is that file on?” Of course, that’s always every reporter’s worst nightmare — right? — not being able to locate an old file!

Once I took a breath, I knew I wouldn’t have a problem, because I had all my files backed up going back to 2003.  With confidence, I hit the Reply button to my client and advised him, “Why, yes, I can have that transcript to you.  When do you need it?”

While I may go a “bit” overboard with my backup options, I would recommend that every court reporter start by devising specific backup options that will work for you and be confident you will always locate those old files at a moment’s notice.

Your clients will thank you for it!

Lynette Mueller, FAPR, RDR, CRR, is a freelance court reporter based in Memphis, Tenn., and a member of NCRA’s Technology Committee. She can be reached at lynette@omegareporting.com.

Behind the tech of captioning for Coachella and Stagecoach

By Jackie Hippolyte

NCRA member and captioner Stanley Sakai, CRC, helped us delve into the technical aspects of his collaboration with captioner Isaiah Roberts, RPR, on the Coachella and Stagecoach captioning projects.

Stan’s friendship with Isaiah began on Facebook and later blossomed when they met at an NCRA Convention & Expo. The Coachella and Stagecoach projects in early 2019 were their first work-related collaboration.

Stan’s background

Much of Stan’s background is self-taught. In 2011 when Plover was in its infancy stage, he purchased a Gemini machine of eBay and took it to class. From there, he started to build his dictionary and the beginning of his captioning career.

As with captioning, Stan was also a self-starter with regards to software programming. It was actually his frustration with an experience that led him to pursue this arena, and his skills developed from there. Stan wanted a better way to live stream captioning — something that was clean and worked on the web where he could stream text on a web platform versus asking the user to download the software on an application.

In 2015, after facing some challenges with the equipment he was using while serving as a live cap- tioner in a web development course, he reached out to the course instructors and used their feedback and instructions, along with some of his own research, to teach himself how to program.

 The Coachella and Stagecoach projects … the beginning

In 2018, Isaiah had approached Coachella and in- quired about captioning services for their audience, and soon learned that no such services were current- ly being offered. Coachella admitted that previous captioning requests went unfulfilled as they were not familiar with the service and had not known where to begin.

In learning this, Isaiah offered his services and mentioned that he knew of someone with the techni- cal expertise (Stan), who could fulfill their captioning requirements. In a short amount of time, Stan had developed some code to match Coachella’s website branding (incorporating the use of his app “Meow”) and pitched a demo to Coachella’s team who were soon sold on the idea.

This solution basically paved the way for Coachel-la to provide captioning services to their audience via their app. The solution was perfect as it provided universal access to all, whether attendees needed captioning services or not as all attendees were re- quired to download the Coachella app.

For the full background story, read the first article on TheJCR.com titled Bringing captions to Coachella.

Stan explained a little more about some of the technology behind the projects.

The Skills

Soft skills

Although the success of the projects was obviously in part due to the combination of technological and live captioning skills, Stan admitted that soft skills also played an essential role in the project’s success.

Stan notes that although there are definitely other stenographers out there with the right skills to caption live concerts, it requires a certain personality and level of flexibility to perform captioning services in such an unpredictable and less than “calm” environment, and he was grateful that both he and Isaiah had prior experience with music festivals.

Teamwork

Stan also credits teamwork as being a key reason for the success of this project and says that Isaiah was definitely the mastermind behind the strategy and planning of the projects, while he, Stan, fulfilled the role as the technical guru, which made for a perfect tag team.

Technology:

Start of Coachella project

The initial calls with Coachella began in late 2018, and the official work phase began in January 2019. It took Stan and Isaiah approximately four months to complete the apps for Coachella and Stagecoach.

Stan did not have access to the back-end code of Coachella’s site to mimic their website branding, but he was easily able to develop the code from scratch within his app, Meow. With regards to Stagecoach, the app User Interface was different and required additional customization to match their website branding.

Steno/typing and editing software

Stan used Plover, an open source User Interface (UI) controller — from the Open Steno project — where a user can type into any window, using a keyboard as a steno machine. For web editing, he utilized Upwordly, a web interface editor which displayed directly in the clients app, like the ones for Coachella or Stagecoach.

Servers

The expected traffic for the Coachella app was approximately 130,000 attendees, which used a total of five servers — two in New York, two in Los Angeles, and one in San Francisco. Having multiple servers running the same app simultaneously ensured there was back up in place at all times, in the event one of the servers were to fail. The servers served over 1000 connections per minute (per server). A load test using utility called Artillery JS was conducted to simulate 10,000 users on the app at the same time.

The load on Coachella’s platform was approximately 700 connections per day and approximately 1,200 per day for Stagecoach.

Live streaming the lyrics

Stan and Isaiah were normally given the scripts to the songs twenty minutes beforehand, but in the usual fashion, they found a way to streamline the process to make it easier and more efficient. They created a large text file of all the songs beforehand (when possible). In typical tag team fashion, one would write the lyrics as they heard it to figure out what the song was playing, and when that was determined, the other would search for the lyrics online and would then copy and paste into the text file for upload to the app. If an artist ad-libbed, however, they would then caption the song live.

Some may be wondering how they handled lyrics in a foreign language? Well, there just so happened to be an artist who sang in Spanish  — J. Balvin — and fortunately Stan happens to speak fluent Spanish and had a Spanish dictionary.

Summary of technology used

■   Meow: JavaScript-based app created by Stan that displays live captioning. It buffers events from a local port that CAT software communicates on, and then translates them to object-based instructions that are rendered as text on website.

■   App plugin: Stan built a custom plugin to allow a connection between the app and Eclipse,

and the app and Catalyst. (See YouTube.com/ watch?v=PtlriHufTBA&t=2s for more informa- tion.)

■   Plover: Part of the Open Steno project, which is an open source stenography engine written in Python that allows users to use their keyboard as a steno machine.

■   Upwordly: A realtime transcription delivery tool and a content management system (CMS) for realtime stenographers.

■   Angular and React: Front-end development framework that allows the creation of dynamic web pages.

■   Web sockets connection: Communication pro- tocol that transmits the live text to the server to be sent out to the web page, without refreshing or pinging the server.

■   Artillery JS: A utility used to conduct load test- ing on the servers, simulating a specific amount of traffic/users.

■   Servers: Five servers managed using Docker swarm.

■   JavaScript: A programming language mostly known as the scripting language for web pages. It also works in some non-browser environ- ments, like Apache CouchDB and Adobe Acrobat.

■   Python: Another programming language often used to develop web pages and apps, Python is particularly helpful when building prototypes.

Finding his “sweet spot” and giving back

We asked Stan if he ever considered pursuing a career field as a software developer full time, and his response was that he has found the perfect “sweet spot” where he can use his assets both as a live captioner and program/software engineer to not only fulfill his career aspirations but also promote caption- ing through the use of technology.

In addition to finding that “sweet spot,” Stan says it was gratifying to be able to give back and showcase what is possible with captioning and technology.

Project Takeaways

Stan and Isaiah have created their own niche for captioning and hope to get others excited about the profession and its possibilities. This project with Coachella and Stagecoach was not only a rewarding and fun experience but has opened the door and created a variety of inquiries about the Open Steno Project, Plover, and ways to secure captioning jobs like Coachella.

Stan hopes that projects like Coachella and Stagecoach can put a modern take on the captioning profession and showcase it in a space beyond just depositions, by demonstrating both the collaborative and technical aspects of bringing a project together. Since this project launched, the duo team have been asked via social media if they planned to cover more stages in the future, which Stan says is definitely a possibility.

Stan’s thoughts and takeaways on how other professionals can find and seize opportunities:

• The key is the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Always ask how the captioning community can assist with a venture.

 • Insight: Only a fraction of the hard of hearing community uses sign language, and captioning is not something many think about, so making others aware is vital.

• Partner with someone who has skills that you may not have. Be strategic and harness the strengths of the people around you. Stan said: “You cannot do everything on your own.”

• Think beyond your comfort zone — and take action beyond that vision.

Summary

We asked Stan about opportunities for future music festivals and he noted that since the main legwork is already developed, it would be easy enough to reproduce what he needs by just creating the front interface coding and formatting to match the branding of any client’s website.

With regards to his day-to-day, Stan admits he always looks for an easier way to do things and has created other shortcuts and plugins to streamline his daily work routine — such as emailing  files/transcripts, and more.

 Partners and Thanks to…

•   Ten Fifty was quite instrumental in this project and helped Stan and Isaiah connect with Coachella and also arrange all of their housing and other logistics.

•   Stan and Isaiah were fortunate enough to work with the digital production manger of Golden Voice, which produces Coachella.

•   Mirabai  Knight, RDR, CRR, CRC, is Stan’s mentor and the person who taught him steno.

Jackie Hippolyte is NCRA’s Web Communications Manager. She can be reached at jhippolyte@ncra.org.

Listen to a steno podcast … or create one of your own

Podcasts aren’t just for true crime anymore. They can be a creative teaching tool in the stenography classroom. Both instructors and students can create their own podcasts to aid in practice, concentration, and readback. Professional podcasts, too, offer a unique resource for students as they offer insight into the working lives of seasoned court reporters and captioners. Carol Adams, RPR, MCRI, distance education director at Huntington Junior College in W.V., breaks it all down for Up-to-Speed.

Podcasts are extremely popular today. According to PodcastInsights.com, as of 2020 there are more than 900,000podcasts and more than 30 million episodes. Here are additional statistics from PodcastInsights.com:

In the United States:

  • 51 percent (144 million) of the population has listened to a podcast
  • 32 percent (90 million) listen to podcasts at least every month
  • 22 percent (62 million) listen to podcasts weekly
  • 16 million people in the United States are “avid podcast fans”
  • 56 percent of podcast listeners are male

Age of listeners:

  • 12-24: 40 percent
  • 25-54: 39 percent
  • 55+: 17 percent

So, what is a podcast? A podcast is an audio program usually focused on a particular subject. The most popular podcasts are comedy, followed by education and news. There are numerous podcasts on science, parenting, politics, history, and true crime. There are series about cats, cults, sneakers, and Harry Potter! Whatever your interests, there are podcasts out there for you, and if your hobbies or concerns aren’t represented, maybe it’s time you started a podcast!

So now that we’ve established that podcasts are a popular form of digital media, let’s talk about the benefits of using podcasts in education. There are three ways podcasting can be utilized in reporting education:

1.            Instructor podcasts

2.            Student podcasts

3.            Professional podcasts

Let’s start with instructor podcasts. Whether you are teaching online or campus classes, podcasts can be an excellent way to enhance readings for the week. As an instructor you can create a podcast emphasizing the important take-aways from the textbook or review for a quiz. A podcast enables your busy students to listen while driving in the car, exercising at the gym, or while performing other activities, whereas a video or textbook requires the students’ full, undivided attention. Students who are not great readers or who don’t comprehend what they read can benefit from audio learning. A podcast doesn’t have to be a lecture; it can be reminders or encouraging words from you. This type of learning is on demand and on-the-go. Most students have a smart phone, so podcasts are easily accessible.

A great learning activity is to have your students generate podcasts. Podcast creation employs critical thinking, organizational, and speaking skills that will be so crucial during readbacks. When students author and explain a subject, they are educating peers and increasing their knowledge on that topic. Students can divide up legal terms for the week and produce recordings with the term, the definition, and a short illustration of how the term is used in context. Students can use this podcast to learn the definitions, plus incorporate it into practice dictation. Those in speedbuilding can make podcasts on practice tips for new students looking for guidance. Interning students can create podcasts about their experiences for those who will soon follow in their footsteps. Any writing assignment can be transformed into a podcast assignment.

Finally, invite professionals in the field into your class through podcasts. There are podcasts on professional dress, law, grammar tips, and interviews with reporters and captioners discussing aspects of the field that may not be adequately covered in textbooks. Here are a few examples for you to check out:

  • Stenographers World: This podcast features interviews with superstar reporters and captioners such as Mark Kislingbury and Marty Block.
  • Modern Court Reporter: The Modern Court Reporter focuses on issues important to judicial reporters. For example, the latest podcast with Jean Hammond emphasizes the role of a professional proofreader.
  • Confessions of a Stenographer: Topics related to reporting and captioning in this podcast include maintaining a work/life balance and the exciting career of a reporter on Capitol Hill.

Creating a podcast is quite simple. Audacity is a free, easy to use tool. I’ve created a short video to demonstrate the process.

I challenge you to change your teaching strategy up a bit and incorporate some new technology. Your students will appreciate convenient study tools at their disposal, the opportunity to produce learning material for fellow students, and the knowledge acquired by turning in to the real world of court reporting and captioning.