on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)

By G.D. Warner

Writers and Software and Laptops -- Oh, My!

Get The Equipment You Need, Without Spending Too Much!

 

There comes a time in every court reporting student's life when they have to make a decision on what I like to call The Good Stuff: Writers, laptops, and software (oh, my! ). I have put this together (by request) to assist my fellow students in navigating through treacherous waters in their search for these vital items.

Warning

Selection of writers and laptops often depend on the software you wish to use ... so make sure you make your selections accordingly!

-o0o-

What to Look For in a Writer

This one is easy: A good price, a good warranty ... and something that still has parts available for it. This last requirement is very important. Case in point:

A few years ago, Stenograph went through what I like to call its Borg Period: a period in which they basically bought out (or "assimilated," staying in that Borg vein) all of their competitors (Xscribe, back in 1996 among others). They then offered support for the now orphaned writers (they had the parts, after all), and a discount to have these new (albeit unwilling) suckers -- er, customers -- upgrade to Stenograph's latest machines.

Those customers that resisted this offer and kept their old writers were recently informed that support for their machines was soon coming to an end.

"Resistance is futile," indeed ...!

So when looking for a writer, avoid anything made by Xscribe (models include StenoRAM Ultra, the Vision, and StenoRAM III+).

Xscribe

The Xscribe

Ideally, you'll want to get a machine that will serve you well when you get out into the field; that's why I purchased a refurbished ProCAT Flash.

ProCAT Flash

The ProCAT Flash writer (in Burgandy)

ProCAT Flash, open

The ProCAT Flash writer, opened

"Um ... 'Refurbished?'"

In case you didn't know, refurbished basically means the machine was either used as a demonstrator, or was purchased and returned for whatever reason, serviced, and resold.

Ultimately, 'refurbished' means you can get a top-of-the-line machine for roughly half price.

"What?! Where?!"

Well, not on eBay. Rather, I bought it from a company that placed an ad I saw in the Journal of Court Reporting.

If you haven't done so already, take a look through a copy of this magazine -- preferably a recent copy. The articles are interesting, and you get all sorts of interesting news ... but since you're searching for a machine, the ads you need to look at are in the back. Look for companies like StenoWorks (http://www.stenoworks.com), TopCAT Steno (http://www.topcatsteno.com), Acculaw (http://www.acculaw.com) and StenoTrader (http://www.stenotrader.com), to name but a few vendors that advertise in the JCR.

As I write this (17MAY04), I note that StenoTrader is selling a refurbished ProCAT Flash for $1999, while TopCAT Steno is selling another refurbished ProCAT Flash for $1650.

As you can see, it pays to shop around.

StenoTrader is also selling a Xscribe StenoRAM III for $1299 (you remember what I wrote earlier about buying anything made by Xscribe, right?).

Another place to search for writers is from the vendors themselves: Stenograph (http://www.stenograph.com) and ProCAT (http://www.procat.com). When you speak to a sales representative, ask if they have any demo units or refurbished units for sale. You already know what a refurbished unit is, but the demo unit may be unfamiliar. Basically, a demo unit is a machine that goes with the sales rep to conventions, user group meetings or schools, and is used to demonstrate the machine's (and/or the software's) features. After a few weeks of that, the machines are serviced and resold. These can usually be had at a good price, if available.

High-end Recommendations

Remembering my "Buy the most machine you can afford" maxim, I suggest the following machines:

The main differences between the 8000 series and the 6000 series (and the Flash) is that you can load your dictionary into the 8000 machines, and they will display your strokes in English on the LCD ("Liquid Crystal Display," in case you were wondering) screen.

Warning!!

If you're using the Phoenix Theory dictionary, your dictionary is too large for the memory of the 8000 ... you'll need the 8000LX (or better yet, a Mira or a Stylus).

Another warning: The 8000LX comes in two flavors: a version with 2MB of RAM, and a version with 4MB of RAM.

The good news: You can upgrade your 2MB 8000LX to a 4MB model.

The bad news (you knew there was bad news, right?): Stenograph has stopped making these boards, so this upgrade is very hard to find. When you do find it, it requires a trade -- your old board for the new board. Check with all the resellers you can.

And if that's not enough, if you're buying a refurbished 8000LX, make sure the serial number is greater than 8019936. If it is less, no support contract (at least, not through Stenograph).

Update ...!

If you wish to know how much memory your Stentura 8000 has, the Stenograph support page has these instructions:

When you start out, your 8000's screen will look like this:

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory:  Start

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory: Start Here

From the opening menu, choose More.

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory:  After More has been pressed

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory: After More has been pressed

Now choose Diag.

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory:  After Diag has been pressed

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory: After Diag has been pressed

Press KEY TST, and the empty choice to the left of QUIT at the same time (second from last button on the right side)

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory:  Pushing the Right Buttons

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory: Pushing the Right Buttons (Yes, those are my fingers)

This will bring up a screen on the display of the Stentura 8000/LX which displays the memory type and amount:

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory:  Jackpot!

Displaying the Stentura 8000's Memory: Jackpot!

If you are thinking about buying an 8000LX on eBay, and you absolutely must have 4MB of RAM, ask the seller to send you a picture of this screen. Copy and paste these instructions on how to do it, and use the "Ask Seller a Question" link. If it looks like the above picture, you know the seller is trying to take unfair advantage of you ...!

Just say No!

Big THANKS!!! to Rosabelle Johns for allowing me to use her 8000 as a model!

Update (23MAR09)

Dug a little deeper into the whole 8000/8000LX issue, and called Stenograph support, and asked a few questions.

Any machine with a serial number greater than or equal to 8045119 will (well .. should) have the 4MB memory card installed.

If you buy one of these machines (Stenograph doesn't have any), you can buy a service contract for the writer for $300/year.

For your $300, if anything goes wrong with your writer, you can send it in and get it repaired -- for free!

Good deal.

(And now, back to our thrilling narrative ...)

The Stentura models all have disk backup for your notes, as well as RAM (memory) backup. The Flash writer stores all notes on a memory card.

The Stentura 6000LX can store up to 900 pages in RAM; the 6000 is rumored to store 200 pages ... and the Flash's smallest (256MB) card can hold 740 pages.

The important thing to remember is that those LCD screens are expensive! If you drop anything on these screens and it breaks, you will be about $350 poorer -- and that's just for the new screen. Add in the labor, and you're looking at about $500. For a refurbished machine, you've spent nearly half the price on repairs!

This is why I protect my machine by both bubble wrap and foam rubber.

Mid-range Recommendations

In truth, I don't have any mid-range recommendations ... but if you're stuck with a non-realtime ready machine, ProCAT offers an upgrade service that will allow your non-electronic writer (even one of those from the 1950s!!) to become an electronic writer for about $400.

ProWriter:  a modified SRT 400.

The ProWriter

The bad news: You have to install the upgrade yourself. Fortunately they have a really good video you can follow along with ... and I suspect your local steno repair shop will install the upgrade for you at a nice and low price.

"The Fairly Good Deal" Option

Stenograph offers the Stentura 400SRT for about $1300, with a $1,000 discount on a new writer when you trade it in. This sounds good, but for $350 more, you could buy that Flash Writer from TopCAT Steno ... and probably resell it later and get what you paid for it (eBay is your friend here -- but only when you're selling (see Doing it eBay if you wish to know about buying on eBay)).

A rare but good machine is the Stentura 500. It has enough memory to hold 200 pages -- a big improvement over the 400's roughly 50 page memory limit. Rumor has it that these machines were selling better than the 6000s and the 8000s, so Stenograph kind of killed off production of this writer ... but you can still find them out there, and they would be a good buy.

The Stentura 500

The Stentura 500

Hot Tip:

Rumor has it that ProCAT can turn a Stentura 400 (or better still, a 500) into a ProCAT Flash! This conversion will cost $2195 (so the cheaper you get your 400 for, the better off you are). This, of course, includes a 1 year warranty.

Update (6MAR06)

I received an e-mail from Nick Ridge, the Stenograph Educational rep. Seems that Stenograph wishes to get more students on the paperless bandwagon ... and to that end, they have lowered the price on the elan Cybra. If you click on that link, you will see the price listed as $1935 ... and you're probably saying, "Hey, where's that frelling discount?!"

Well, if you look above that price, you should see some red text, which reads as follows:

A perfect machine for students who want a paperless machine. Call us for our generous student discount and upgrade guarantee!

Howzabout a $500 discount off that $1935 price? That's right ... FOR STUDENTS ONLY, the elan Cybra is now selling for $1435!

If that's not enough, the student version of Case Catalyst is selling for $360 with this offer. Separately, the pair would cost you $2430.

This is a good deal for online students and future captioners .... but remember -- if your school requires you to turn in your notes, you're going to have to rely on your software to print those notes (the Cybra is paperless, after all). It goes without saying (or it should ...!) that if you buy one of these, you're going to need a laptop as well.

Low-End Recommendations

There are two relatively cheap writers you might consider: The Treal, available at http://www.wordtechnologies.com, and the Gemini Writer, available at http://www.geminiwriter.com.

Both of these writers are just keyboards, with a minimum of electronics inside (i.e., no storage of any type). The Treal sells for about $800, but does not work with Case Catalysts as of this date (check the Treal's web site if you are going to use Case Catalyst to see if this has changed before you purchase one of these, if CC is your software of choice).

Update (28MAY10)

While reading through this article for potential updates, I took a look at the link for the Treal, and found this:

Stenograph Support has advised Case CATalyst clients that the Treal is compatible with their software simply by attaching a USB-to-Serial adapter between a Treal shorthand keyboard and their software. This is a grossly inaccurate claim by that company. The Treal driver must be implemented in the CAT software you use in order to recognize the input device as a Treal. Many innovative CAT companies have completed this implementation and their customers are able to use the Treal keyboard. Stenograph has not. Until we have been advised otherwise, it is our position that the Treal keyboard will not function correctly with their software. Word Technologies will not knowingly sell the Treal to and returns will not be accepted from users of non-compatible software. If you want to use this very light and inexpensive shorthand keyboard, you'll need Eclipse (www.eclipsecat.com), DigitalCAT (www.stenovations.com), Telitor (www.telitor.com), RapidText (www.rapidtext.com) or check with your CAT vendor to confirm compatibility with your software.

Rumor has it that this writer is also somewhat noisy when compared to a regular writer ... so it's best if you try one before you buy it. You can lease one for a week for about $100, if you're curious. If you go this route, make sure your lease applies towards the purchase price.

The Treal Keyboard

The ($795) Treal keyboard

The Gemini Writer is an ergonomic steno keyboard, and costs roughly $600:

The Gemini with Palm Pilot

Gemini Writer with Palm Pilot

Update (10JUL06)


Curious about the Gemini? Check out this review of the Gemini ... and this update to that review, along with this follow-up by one of my former fellow students!

Update (10OCT09)

The Gemini has gone through some (if you'll pardon the expression) "revolutionary" changes since those original articles appeared ... and you can read about those changes here!


The Gemini Writer is the only ergonomic writer available (though the Treal does come close). It may be hard to tell from the above picture, but the keyboard separates into two halves. The pieces in the rear that are supporting it can be adjusted to virtually any angle for your comfort.

The Gemini ergonomic keyboard

Another shot of the Gemini Writer, courtesy of my spy at the NCRA Convention in Chicago (Thanks again, Kim!)

Writers to Watch

Both Stenovations and Advantage Software have built their own writers. This has come about because Stenograph did not provide either company with the technical information they needed to interface their respective CAT software (digitalCAT and Eclipse, respectively) with the Stenograph Mira to make use of all the Mira's really cool features, as they (Stenograph) did when they released the Stentura 6000/8000/8000LX.

Stenovations unveiled their new writer at the July 2004 NCRA convention in Chicago:

Stenovations' new digitouch keyboard

Stenovations' digitouch keyboard


Update (29JUN05): "It's Dead, Jim."

The digitouch writer, that is.

I opened up the office copy of the new JCR, and found this notice from Stenovations:

"We regret having to report that the digiTouch writer is based on technology and products developed and manufactured by Fingerworks and the University of Delaware; that Fingerworks has been acquired by a major corporation; that said acquiring corporation does not want its identity revealed and such is not known to us; and that Fingerworks' technology and products will be terminated.

However, please rest assured we will not be deterred in our efforts to develop an even more inexpensive and superior writer. We also have an inventory of digiTouch writers."

Nothing on the Stenovations web site as yet ...

One of the denizens of CompuServe Court Reporting Forum posted this:

"Just got off the phone with Stenovations and Jamie the tech says the new version of the Digitouch will have slightly raised keys, about a quarter inch, and the keyboard will not be customizable."

I spoke to Jamie myself, and he confirmed the basics of the new writer. As for an ETA, I couldn't quite pin him down on that ... but when I find out, I'll post it here.

Update (10OCT09)

The digitouch was supplanted by the LightSpeed Writer! See Technolust II for the skinny.

.... and here's a picture of Advantage's new Passport:

Advantage Software's Passport paperless writer

Advantage Software's Soon-to-be-Released Passport

This paperless writer has a lot of really cool features -- which are too numerous to list here (translation: I'm too lazy -- I mean, I'm trying not to overload you with stuff to read), but you can read about them in the Products section at the link above.

Oh, and the developer tells me there may be a student version that can do paper.

Passport Delay: Waiting in Vain?

As you may have seen on the main page, one of the attendees at a recent Eclipse training seminar in Las Vegas had some disturbing news about the Passport:

"I just came back from the Eclipse seminar in Las Vegas this weekend. The bad news is Advantage Software has now hired a new company to create/build their new writer about 2 months ago. So they are starting from ground zero. They did not even have a shell at the seminar. They only had a keyboard there that was reluctantly shown to a few people. It wasn't even worth looking at. A lot of folks were disappointed. I'm so glad I sold my three StenoRam Ultras and am now using the Stentura 8000."

A denizen of Advantage Software's CR-Net forum added some clarifying remarks:

"The official word from Advantage (David and Cindy Siebert) today is that the new company that was hired a few months ago was just to build (not design or create) the casing because they don't have the means to do it at Advantage. They indicated the "mechanical prototype" that was there was well received. Is that the keyboard you saw, maybe? Cindy said unless they have a hurricane-related delay (like they did last year), she knows of no reason why the Passport won't be available by the end of the year. That still isn't the summer as they'd hoped for before, but I'm willing to hold off a few more months."

Alas, these postings by Dave and Cindy are in the Subscribers Only section of Eclipse, which, not being a customer and all, I have no access to ... so I posted a question on the public forum which (hopefully) will be answered here shortly.

Would-be Passport Owners Waiting in Vain? Not Quite ...

Here's the (more or less) final bit on Passport, thanks to Cindy Siebert, wife of Passport designer Dave Siebert:

"Glen, the mechanical prototype went to the user's group meeting last week in Vegas. The users were able test the feel of the writer. It is my understanding that it was well liked (David and I were not actually there)."

"The project has not been handed off to a third party. We did hire an Engineer to help get the Passport ready for production. He is doing things such as designing molds and the tools needed to produce the writer. The Passport is still Advantage Software's design."

So I'm guessing ... about a year or so before it's ready. But in the meantime ......

Passport Update (12FEB06)

While updating the Links page (among others), I was checking out the Eclipse home page, and I found a link named "Passport Update." Naturally, I had to click it. Here's the update:

Passport Writer Update
November 16, 2005

Please accept my personal apology for the lengthy delay in delivering the Passport writer.

As our name implies, Advantage Software is a software-development company. Until we began working on the Passport, we had no experience with hardware design. In our naiveté, we believed the Passport would be ready for delivery long ago -- but progressing from a rough prototype to a finely-tuned, mass-producible machine proved to be far more complicated than we ever imagined.

After spending an enormous sum of money and throwing out more prototype parts than I care to remember, it became apparent that we didn’t have sufficient talent in-house to develop a top-quality writer -- so we hired a team of experts to assist us. As a result, the last several months have been extremely fruitful, and I'm happy to report that the Passport is well on its way to completion.

Our latest design bears little resemblance to the renderings we originally posted on our website. The list of features is growing -- but you’ll have to wait awhile to see them. Watching our competitors incorporate our innovations before the Passport made it to market taught us a hard lesson about tripping our hand. Suffice it to say that the Passport will include some pleasant surprises.

As you would expect, the Passport will boast state-of-the-art software, but no number of bells and whistles can make the writer a success without superb ergonomics. Because the success of the Passport will depend upon its "feel," it has been designed to accommodate a wider range of writing styles than any other writer in history. No matter how light or how heavy your touch, no matter which stroke depth you prefer, you can easily adjust the Passport to be perfect for you.

So when is the Passport going to be ready for delivery? I still can’t tell you. There have already been too many missed deadlines, and I don’t want to make promises I may not be able to keep. But I CAN promise you that this writer IS going to happen, and that it will be well worth the wait. We are sparing no expense to build a world-class machine -- and we think you’re going to like it.

Cordially,

Greg Seely

President/CEO

Hmmm ... November 16 of last year ... convention's coming up fairly quickly ... time to send another query --!

Passport Updates

Look for further Passport updates in the following articles: Technolust. Technolust II, and the review of the Passport -- which, by the way, now looks like this:

Passport, Top View

The Passport


New Writer Alert

ProCAT's new Stylus writer, a Windows CE (or, as Apple Newton users have been known to say, "WINCE")-based writer, will go on sale mid-September. I have a picture of the brochure (thanks to my spy that attended the convention last month) ...

The ProCAT Stylus

The Soon-to-be-released ProCAT Stylus

I talk a bit more about this machine (as well as the digiTouch keyboard) on the Technolust page ... mostly because these machines are not cheap (with the one exception, of course), and this guide is all about getting your equipment on the cheap.


Stylus Update (12MAR06)

For those of you who have bookmarked this page, you probably missed the fact that April Davis, RPR, was kind enough to write an article for this (cheap and sleazy) website about the ProCAT Stylus! You can read it here.


CAT SOFTWARE

Ordinarily I would start off writing about laptops here; laptops are electronic, it should go with the writer, right? Well, your choice of laptop depends entirely on the type of software you wish to use. If your software of choice only requires 16MB of RAM to run, then you can get a really cheap laptop! Sure, your laptop will run DOS, but you selected that software, so ....

Ah, you remembered that DOS isn't much fun, huh? Good ...! You won't be sorry (unless you're one of those people that actually enjoys DOS; I hear there's a few out there like that ...).

Now, for those of you who don't know what DOS is, do the following:

  1. Click the Start button
  2. Select RUN
  3. Type COMMAND.COM (don't forget the period!) and hit ENTER.
  4. Maximize the screen (do ALT - SPACE -X)

Fun, huh? :o)

When you're through having "fun," type EXIT and hit ENTER.

All that said, here's a table of the requirements for a few of the programs available:

       
CAT Software OS Processor RAM (memory) Install Size
AristoCAT W95 -Vista Pentium 64MB (or greater) 100MB
Case Catalyst Windows Vista, 7, 8.1, and 10 2GHz or higher; Intel i3, i5, i7 or the AMD equivalent 2 GB minimum 80 GB (or greater)
digitalCAT XP, Vista, Windows 7 2 GHz Pentium 1 GB 100MB (audio files may require more disk space)
Eclipse XP or above 2Ghz (or greater) 4GB (or greater) 7MB (without Help movies; 187MB with)
SmartCAT Apeiron w95 - XP ("Vista ready!") 400 MHz P or above (600 MHz for realtime, 1 GHz recommended) 128 MB (W95/98/ME) or 256 MB (NT4, 2000, XP; 512 MB or greater for realtime) 40 - 60GB recommended, 80 - 120GB for audiosync
StenoCAT XP, Vista, 7, 8 1 GHz (or greater), 32 or 64 bit 2 GB (or greater) 40 GB (or greater)
Winner W98 - XP 2.2+ GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, Intel Core i5 or i7 4GB or greater 250GB or greater (500GB with audio)

Notes:

You know what I mean? sure you've seen one by now. Yes, that's right ... I'm talking about the ChromeBook.

I mean, what's not to like? The price is low (say, "cheap,"and they're new! Right?

Well, not so fast thar, pahdner. If you were to take another look at the list of specs up there, chances are good that you're not going to find a ChromeBook ... but do you know why?

That's because ChromeBooks don't run Windows; instead, they run the Chrome OS ... and unless Google comes out with their own CAT software, nothing out there will run on it. So ...

DON'T BUY A CHROMEBOOK.

In the 21JUL07 update (see the Archives III link), I mentioned that AristoCAT can now import .rtf dictionaries.

Unfortunately, I neglected to include that info here! For those of you who missed it, the update read as follows:

"ArisotCAT and Vista

"While the AristoCAT homepage says "Support for Windows Me/2000/XP/Vista. Check out newest additions to Support," when I go to the Support page, there's no mention of Vista. There is, however, an explanation of how to import an .rtf dictionary into AristoCAT; seems they've had a few requests to implement this basic functionality into their software! Wonder how that happened ....

"Maybe I should press my on-again, off-again boss to upgrade!"

I got an e-mail from the president of AristoCAT asking for a correction to my original AristoCAT note (which I actually planned to do once I got the info back on the Vista requirements -- which never came; hence, no update -- well, that, and I forgot).

In addition to the request, he also wrote the following:

"Our customers have the capability to import and export RTF dictionaries. In addition, with the purchase of the AristoCAT software, we convert your existing personal dictionary from virtually any CAT system (new or old) as part of the purchase price. We also include the StenEd and Phoenix dictionaries in the AristoCAT format."

Good deal!

DigitalCAT ("DC3") has updated their hardware requirements, supporting only XP and Vista. If you wish to run DC with Vista, you should watch this video.

Eclipse has some rather strong and specific hardware requirements; see the "Eclipse Updated Hardware Requirements" heading below.

GlobalCAT is pretty much dead. The link provided in the table leads to an archived version of the website, courtesy of the Way Back Machine. You can still download the software from this archive if you wish.

ProCAT Winner's student version is $595 for a three year lease, which includes unlimited toll-free support, and access to the ProCAT Forum ... but in issue 17 of Marc "Simply Steno" Greenberg's StenoLife, Deby Owens Sebastian, ProCAT Sales Rep Extraordinaire, says the following:

ProCAT realizes the needs of students, and the limitations of the funds available. We offer student software for $99. That is the total cost for the entire time the student is in school. This allows the student to build their dictionary, produce small transcripts, and write realtime. The limitations in our software are as follows:

ProCAT Winner comes with a "dictionary builder," which is CAT-speak for "type your entries yourself." (Deby Owens, ProCAT Sales Rep, says Winner does support the Phoenix Theory dictionary, and it will import existing (personal, and job) dictionaries as well.)

Winner XP and Vista

ProCAT has some extra specs for Vista:

SmartCAT offers a student rental program, in six month increments. It's $175 for a six month lease, paid up front. All monies apply towards purchase.

TeLiTor requires Microsoft Word be installed to use -- which accounts for the rather hefty installation requirements.

Also, for EasyTime (the TeLiTor phrase for realtime) has only been tested with the Keyspan Adapter, and they strongly recommend that you use that particular adapter.

Lastly (and most importantly), the instructions for installing your .rtf dictionary into TeLiTor are rather convoluted and (for me, anyway) did not work. They recommend sending your dictionary in for conversion ... which *should not* be the way things are done in this day and age. Also, most telling is the forum entry by a Phoenix Theory student, wanting to know how to install her Phoenix Theory dictionary.

That post was written in December of 2004 ... and as I write this (9APR06), there is no answer. Bottom line here is approach with caution.

TeLiTor Update (27JUN08)

On one of the Archive pages (see the 01OCT06 update), I mentioned that I was going to go to the offices of the developer of TeLiTor. I did, but never wrote up what happened.

Basically, Mr. Umberto updated my copy of TeLiTor to the (at the time) latest version. He seemed astonished that the Baron Transcriptor protocol wasn't working properly with my ProCAT Flash, and told me he would adjust TeLiTor's programming to make it work, and told me to come back in a couple of weeks, and gave me his card. Told him I would come back ... but after a few games of phone tag, I never made it back to his home ... and my Mighty Toshimba contracted a "drive by" installation of a nasty virus, and the hard drive had to be wiped ... so, no more TeLiTor.

TeLiTor Update (25AUG08)

In preparation for the TeLiTor entry in the CAT Wars series, I did a Google search for TeLiTor and found that Umberto Palaoro Lenzi, the man behind the CAT, has passed away.

I sent an inquiry to the only e-mail address I had, asking about the future of TeLiTor, and got a response from his son Michael, who says that support for TeLiTor's existing customers will continue. Not sure if there will be any more updates, though.

Eclipse Updated Hardware Requirements

As indicated above, Eclipse has changed their hardware requrements, and indeed, have a lot to say about processor types and such. They were too lengthy for that space I had allocated for notes, so they are placed here as an update, of sorts.

Current versions of Total Eclipse will run efficiently on any 100% IBM-compatible computer with a 500-Mhz Pentium III processor or above; at least 256 megabytes of RAM; a USB port; Windows 2000 or above; Internet access; a CD, CDRW, or DVD drive; and a hard disk. Although Total Eclipse supports most parallel printers, not all printers will support all of Total Eclipse's advanced functions.

As a practical matter, we recommend computers running at 1 Ghz or above with at least 1 gigabyte of RAM. The faster the processor, the better. The more RAM, the better. Multiple USB ports are recommended. A parallel port is recommended, but not required, and a DB9 serial port is usually required for realtime connection to client computers or a stenographic writer. A serial adapter (PC card or USB) is typically installed for this purpose, and PC cards tend to be more reliable. We recommend DVD/RW or combination CDRW/DVD drives.

So-called "bargain computers," which often contain low-quality or mismatched components, should be avoided. Some inexpensive notebook computers have missing or low-quality ports, which may create problems with printing, audio recording and playback, serial communications, and/or software protection devices.

Should you choose to provide your own hardware, it is important that you choose a reputable, full-service computer dealer, since you and your hardware vendor will be responsible for properly configuring your system.

Windows XP Professional is the recommended operating system for use with modern software like Total Eclipse. Windows Vista is also acceptable, but there is nothing to be gained by installing it onto a computer that is already running Windows XP. New versions of Total Eclipse will no longer run on Windows 95, Windows 98, or Windows ME.

If you will be using Total Eclipse in conjunction with the SpeechGate speech-recognition interface, we recommend a modern processor running at 2 Ghz or above, at least two gigabytes of RAM, and configuration by an expert. Processes should be kept to a minimum.

Many manufacturers are deploying desktop processors in notebook computers. If you will be using a notebook computer with the SpeechGate speech-recognition interface, we strongly recommend using a processor that has been designed specifically for mobile computing. When notebook computers with desktop processors are used for resource-intensive applications like speech recognition, the processor can overheat and become unstable. They should therefore be avoided.

If you will be using AccuCap, an external 2400-baud modem is strongly recommended. Captioning equipment manufacturers are still following old communications standards, and some modern modems (internal and external) may encounter compatibility problems with captioning hardware.

You can find the complete document here.

Student Version of Eclipse: Limitations

Here are the current (as of 20FEB12) limitations with the student version:

The Mini-Max Principal: Minimums and Maximums

From the table, the minimum system to run anything is Windows 95, a Pentium chip, 64MB of RAM, and a hard drive with 20MB free (AristoCAT).

The maximum system would be one with Windows XP, 2.4 GHz Pentium IV, 256MB of RAM, and 80GB of free space. This setup would allow you to run anything on the list that supports Windows XP.

Ah, don't know a gigabyte from a giggle-byte? Well, okay.

Briefly (I hope), computer guys (and gals) sometimes speak in a kind of shorthand called Scientific Notation. This is a quick way scientists, engineers, and technicians can talk about big numbers in front of non-scientists, engineers and technicians, and make them feel confused. If you said "Huh?" when I laid out the Mini-Max principal, then their tactic worked.

All you really need to know about that can be expressed in a mnemonic: Kiss My Grits Texas.

This stands for Kilo, Mega, Giga, and Tera ... which means (in order), 10 to the third power (you know: 10 times 10 times 10), or one thousand (1000); 10 to the sixth power (you know: 10 times 10 times 10 times 10 times 10 times 10), or one million (1,000,000); ten to the ninth power (you know: 10 times 10 times 10 times 10 times 10 times 10 times 10 times 10 times 10), or one billion, and ....

"And again I say: Huh?!?"

Okay, howzabout a list:



Kilo: (Kiss) 1,000 103
Mega: (My) 1,000,000 106
Giga: (Grits) 1,000,000,000 109
Tera: (Texas) 1,000,000,000,000 1012

You did notice that the number of zeros after the one kinda matched up with the "to-the-power-of" numbers, right?

"Um ... Sure ...!"

Okay, that's probably a bit more than you really need to know, but for the purposes of computers, the bigger the number involved (in memory and hard drive size, anyway), the better.

Geekier Than Thou

If You Understood the Techno-Babble, you might want this t-shirt! (thanks to my friends at geekculture.com)

Picking Your Software

There are a few things you should look for when selecting CAT software:

  1. Tech support, 24/7
  2. Company longevity
  3. Free updates
  4. Support for students (i.e., student discounts, payment options, etc.)

Chances are good you won't find all of this in one software package ... but the more of these that you find is probably the software you should go with.

Cheapest for Students

No question there: GlobalCAT and digitalCAT (what I am currently using): Free and $45, respectively.

GlobalCAT has a student version you can download for free from their website (http://globalcat32.com) ... but it doesn't look like their website has been updated in quite some time as I write this, so I would say no to this one.


UPDATE

GlobalCAT's website has been replaced by a domain squatter -- you know, one of those guys who waits for a domain name to expire, buys it, and then uses the webspace to advertise stuff and puts up a mock search engine and waits for the original owner to buy it back, for a king's ransom? (If you aren't sure what I'm talking about, you can experience it yourself by clicking on that last link -- but don't search for anything)!

If you still want to try download GlobalCAT, you have to use the link I provided in the table above there, which leads to an archived version courtesey of the Way Back Machine


Student support for digitalCAT (http://www.stenovations.com) is available from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., Eastern Standard Time, so that kind of kills the 24/7 rule.


UPDATE (13NOV05)

Recently, one of my fellow students was given an opportunity to do a captioning internship at a local PBS station.

Two nights before she was to go on-air, she discovered that she could not access the captioning portion of DC. As I have been recommending this software for starving students everywhere on this website, I decided to call Stenovations and ask what's what.

I was told that activating the captioning portion of the software would require a new code.

What wasn't clear from our conversation was that that particular code would co$t Big Bucks ($300) ... which, if you are a starving student, is a rather big outlay considering the internship is unpaid.

A further chat with the same Stenovations employee revealed it might be possible to lease the software for a short period to cover the internship at the rate of ~$100 a month or so ($79 is the normal rate, but does not cover the captioning portion, nor does it cover the AudioDepo option, which is basically a combination of AudioSync and LiveNote/Bridge, which feeds both your translated steno and audio to attorneys, judges, etc.).

These two options add to the final price of DC by $2,000 ($1,000 per feature), and increase your lease price from $79 a month to ~$120 or so (or just lengthens your lease period by a year or so) ... but you won't have to worry about that until you are very close to graduation and doing a captioning internship, so don't let this warning disuade you from trying DC. I still find DC to be very user-friendly. Just make sure you call and make arrangements to turn on those captioning features before you start your internship.

Also, I should point out that the documentation on these two features is sparse, at best ... so you are basically paying for a support contract, which you will probably need. If you've been using computers for about 20 years, you might be able to figure it out on your own, but why take that chance? :o) To paraphrase an old Laurel and Hardy short (and John Cussack's Better Off Dead), "Pay the two dollars!"


Update (11OCT06)

(See the 13NOV05 update above for Part I).

After some lengthy negotiations (well, okay ... so the e-mail I sent last year from my cheapandsleazy.net account got caught by a spam filter), I have managed to convince Stenovations President Sandra Jackson to modify the company's policy for students doing unpaid captioning internships ...!

For those interested, I present the e-mail exchange -- first mine:

Hi, Sandra.

First, a hearty "Happy 15th Anniversary" for you, your hubby, and all of the staff there at Stenovations (and my thanks for some easy-to-use CAT software as well).

That said, I have a whine.

Some time last year, one of my fellow students got an unpaid captioning internship. The night before she was to go on-air, she discovered that all the captioning options were grayed out ...!

She called your offices the next day, and was told it would cost $300 to enable the captioning suite.

Nearly in tears, she found me, asked me to help her export her dictionaries, which I did ... then she loaded Case Catalyst (which is what my school used before they closed), borrowed a hardware key, and went ahead with her two week internship.

Fast forward a few months ... I see this student (she was a day student, I a night student) getting some extra practice one evening, and I asked her how the internship went.

She told me that she had to quit using digitalCAT, and switched completely to Case ...!

In fact, nearly all of our high speed students switched to CC; they all got the chance to do an on-air captioning internship, and (being starving students and all) could not justify the $300 cost to activate digitalCAT's captioning suite for said unpaid internship.

I wrote to you about this once before, but I suspect it got eaten by a spam filter (happens a lot when I use my cheapandsleazy.net e-mail address, for some reason ...).

I am hoping that this sad tale will influence you in adjusting the policy on enabling the captioning suite. While I do understand the need for income, that need should not cost you customers, as it did with my (now former) fellow students.

Perhaps a month-to-month strategy would work, where the student pays, say, $20, your techs enter an appropriate code, and the captioning suite is enabled ... and that expires in 30 days.

When the student calls in again, if s/he still needs the captioning suite enabled, the tech should find out how long this internship will be, charge them another $20, and enable the captioning suite for that long (plus another five days -- just in case).

It's not a perfect solution, but it beats losing that near-graduating speed high speed student to a competitor, I would guess.

Thank you ... and take care.

--gdw

Here's Sandra's:

Dear Glen:

Thank you so much for your letter today. I know how busy you must be and therefore I appreciate you taking the time to inform me of some things I obviously need to be aware of.

I apologize if I did not respond to your first letter, but after running a scan of my inbox email for the last year, your name did not appear. You are correct about the spam filters. I know that our filters here as well as our virus protection will often block a ligitimate transmittal and I will never see it. That's the downside to virus protection.

Your "sad tale" interests me very much. I am sorry to learn about the young lady who experineced such frustration and ultimately went to my competitor as well as other students who leave us for this reason. I could bore you with all the reasons behind charging extra for captioning suite, but that is really beside the point. I feel I must deal with what is at hand and I absolutely love your suggestion. As a matter of fact, I have already called a meeting with support management and we will be discussing this today. I want you to know that I do plan to implement your suggestions. I will keep you infomred of our progress on this, which should only take a day or two.

You also referred to a .pdf on improvements in DC-3. I'm assuming you mean the new features list. I will ask tech support to forward you a new file today. I am happy you are pleased with the new training videos. We have much more to come. And thank you for mentioning the new update on your site. You are, indeed, a value to Stenovations.

My warmest regards to you.

Sandra M. Jackson

CEO Stenovations, Inc.

And now, Sandra's Big Announcement:

Hello, Glen.

First, let me inform you that Stenovations is happy to offer captioning free to students who are involved in an unpaid captioning internship. This, of course, will require proof of unpaid internship in the form of a letter from the captioning entity for whom the reporter is interning with. The captioning license will be issued for 30 days only. The captioning license may be extended as needed upon proof of continuing intership. The same policy will apply in the event of a paid internship and a $20 monthly fee will be applied by Stenovations to the student account.

I hope this helps. Let me know.

I'm glad to know that you solved the new features list problem. Just let me know if there is anything that you need.

Have a great day.

Sandra M. Jackson

CEO Stenovations, Inc.

Long story short, those of you in a non-paying captioning internship or in a captioning class can fax proof of the internship or class to Stenovations, give them a call, and have your license adjusted to turn on digitalCAT's captioning suite!

Pretty cool, huh?


Advantage Software's Eclipse (http://www.eclipsecat.com) has the good 24/7 tech support, though its student rates are very well hidden on their site ... it's about $350 a year, or slightly less than a dollar a day (though I hear you have to pay for it three months at a time).

The Microsoft Word-based TeLiTor (http://www.telitor.com) is an interesting looking program: Based on Word, it will allow you to put together a multimedia transcript (your steno, translated, plus video, etc.), if you desire.

Alas, they don't tell you how much it's going to cost (not a good sign), and don't seem to cater to students. Add to that the phone number listed on their site doesn't appear to work, and they have yet to answer an e-mail I sent a week ago, and that's a pretty good indication to look Elsewhere -- not to mention that 80GB requirement for installation (that's just too much, Word or no).

StenoCAT (http://www.gsclion.com) doesn't actually sell its software; they lease it, for $600/year. They don't appear to have any student discounts (or if they do, it is very well hidden on their site somewhere).

I did manage to find this page ... but it seems to be more aimed at school labs. If you're curious, give them a call.

ProCAT Winner (http://www.procat.com) has a student version (Winner EP), but their site is extremely vague on pricing. According to Deby Owens, ProCAT Sales Rep Extrordinaire, ProCAT offers a student version of WinnerXP for $595, and is good for three years. Your $595 gets you unlimited toll-free support, and includes access to the ProCAt Forum (which you cannot access if you do not have a support contract, by the way). They offer a demo CD, which basically consists of a bunch of videos showing the features of the software.

Whichever one you choose, Sandra Metz (the Curriculum Director at CRI, Seattle) recommends that if you choose one of the low-priced student offerings, be ready to upgrade to something else (Eclipse, Case Catalyst, etc.) later on -- preferably while you're still in school.

This is a great suggestion ...! If your school uses Case Catalyst, there will probably be plenty of training available for students on this program. Eclipse users should check Keith Vincent's site for his reportedly excellent training videos: http://www.kvincent.com

The good news about CAT software is this: They all do basically the same thing. The bad news is that while they all do the same thing, each program has different ways to do those things ... and there is a bit of a learning curve to discover where everything you used to do so easily in your first CAT program is located in the new CAT program.

Fortunately, good CAT systems have excellent Help systems available. DigitalCAT has some videos you can download from their homepage to teach you some common operations, as well as some of the more esoteric (just what is this Bird Cage stuff in digitalCAT, anyway?).

Eclipse has about 80 MB worth of movies you can watch, which explain how things are done. These can be installed during your initial install, and removed later, if you wish.

All is not lost if you switch from one to the other ... but watch out for the whiplash on that learning curve!

One More Thing ...

Some of the software listed comes with what is called a hardware key. This is a device that prevents you from making unauthorized copies of the software: The software won't run unless this device is inserted into a serial port. I know this is true of Case Catalyst, and I believe it is true of Eclipse. Stenovation's (the creators of digitalCAT) philosophy is that if you buy the software, you should be able to run it on any computer you own ... so they not only don't have a hardware key; they also do not require your scopists (a $2.00 word that basically means 'editor') to purchase a copy of the software to perform their edits on your transcripts .

LAPTOPS

I purchased my laptop from Seattle Laptop (http://www.seattlelaptop.com/index.php), just a few blocks south of CRI on 76th and Aurora.

While I wasn't quite able to make them fully understand what I planned on using the laptop for (I said CAT, and they thought I said CAD), I did manage to pick out a good system: A Toshiba Satellite 2400, with 256MB of RAM, a 30GB hard drive, and a Pentium 4 running at 1.6 GHz.

Mein Toshiba

Mein Windows Laptop: The Mighty "Toshimba"

"And Once Again I say 'Huh?!?'"

Too much techno-babble? Perhaps ... but if you ever call tech support, you're going to have to understand this stuff ... otherwise the tech support-folk will laugh at you while you're on hold, make fun of your name, and do unflattering impressions of your voice (no, seriously! Sometimes it's boring in those call centers ...).

Taking it slow:

Chip speed (that Pentium 4 at 1.6 GHz stuff) is measured in Hertz, or cycles per second. If you remember that Kiss My Grits Texas stuff, you know the G is for billion (you knew that, right?). Fast is good.

RAM stands for Random Access Memory. This is basically a small circuit board or two with several computer chips, which holds information for you -- as long as your system has power. RAM is volatile. This means that if you type your 200 page transcript, select every word in it, and copy it (so you can paste it all into Word or something), just before the lightning hits and knocks out your power, what you had copied into RAM will be gone (not to mention the transcript you didn't save).

This leads me to . . .

The Two Rules of RAM

Rule number one is, "Save ... and save often!" :o)

Rule number two is, "When you are buying a computer, more RAM is always good."

Rule number one, in relation to the student who selected everything and copied it without saving first, is a way to ensure you don't lose your hard work. Would you really like to retype 200 pages from memory? No? Thought not.

"Save ... and save often."

Rule number two is the most important rule of RAM in this discussion of buying laptops. You want to buy a laptop with as much RAM as you can afford ... or as much as your CAT software can run comfortably in.

There is a similar rule for hard drives when buying a computer: "When you're buying a computer, a large hard drive is always good."

"Zzzzzzz ...."

Hey -- ! Wake up!

Okay, I'll try to make this simpler (and somewhat less boring).

Keeping in mind the list I made earlier to support that Kiss My Grits Texas thing, which is best: a laptop with a 40MB hard drive, or one with a 20GB hard drive?

Give up? The M in megabyte comes before the G in that Kiss My Grits Texas mnemonic ... so if you're given a choice, take the 20GB drive (though theses days, 20GB is not much). If you recall the table showing how much disk space is required for CAT programs, can you find one that only requires 20GB of drive space?

If you said AristoCAT, pat yourself on the back, because that is correct. (I'm sending you a virtual High Five in your general direction!)

Now, a trick question. You have a 20GB drive, and you want to use AristoCAT. Can you?

If you said no, you are correct: A 20GB drive will hold AristoCAT adequately ... but Windows needs some space as well.

Remember: A large hard drive is always Good.

If you remember NOTHING ELSE about "techno-babble," remember that ...!

"Why did you pick that Toe-Shimba-whatchamacallit?"

Um ... it's Toshiba.

I picked this one because it had enough memory (RAM, remember?) and hard drive space to run and Eclipse (which I plan to move to one of these days).

It also had a floppy disk drive, three USB ports, and a combination DVD/CD-R drive (this means I can make my own CDs.)

It also has sound in, sound out, and a decent set of speakers, for those times when I wish to fire up iTunes (http://www.itunes.com), and play that CD I made with about 10 hours worth of MP3s on it, or watch a movie on DVD.

The capability of sound in is useful, as most CAT programs allow you to make audio recordings of court proceedings to assist you with difficult-to-hear testimony.

"Sex ... and Power"

Steve Jobs, the iCEO (that stands for "Interim CEO," though recently "For Life" was added) of Apple Computer, used this phrase to describe the then-new Apple G4 PowerBook: a razor thin, silver laptop with lotsa RAM, lotsa hard drive space, great speakers, and a Super Drive: a combination CD/DVD burner.

The  G4 PowerBook: Techno-lust incarnate!

The Original Apple G4 PowerBook: What Steve Jobs Was Talking About

PC laptops soon followed Apple's example (as usual). Some even went too far: the laptops were so thin they didn't include a CD drive.

Sure, these machines were light, but if you wanted to use a floppy or a CD, you had to carry around an external USB floppy drive or an external USB CD-ROM drive.

This kind of defeats the purpose of having such a light laptop, having to carry all that extra stuff.

This is why I selected the Toshiba (though I should say I would have gone the Sex and Power route, if I could have found some CAT software that runs on the Mac ... but that's another whine for another time): It had the floppy drive (which I hope to never use, but it's good to know I can if I have to), the CD burner, so I can provide copies of my transcripts (or whatever) to anyone who asks (and has a blank CD).

The three USB (USB stands for Universal Serial Bus. This was explained in the "Fear Computers No More" document, under the heading "What is Universal Cereal ... and What is it Doing on a Bus?" You did read that, right?) ports it has lets me connect a Zip drive, my Pen Drive, and my steno machine to the laptop.

The alternative to the trackpad are these little rubber pencil eraser-like things which sit in the middle of the keyboard, which allows you to move the cursor (you know; that arrow thing) around without moving your hands too far away from the keyboard.

Systems with this setup (the IBM ThinkPad is one) also have a rather strange (to me) arrangement of buttons below the keyboard, which act as the buttons on a mouse (I think). This was too weird for me ... so I opted for a laptop with a trackpad.

"It's All About the Pentiums"

If you look in the computer magazines (MacWorld and MacFormat notwithstanding), you'll read about Pentiums, AMD, Athlons, etc. To cut through all this, all you need to know is NOT to buy a laptop powered by a chip called a Celeron.

"Just Say 'No' to Celery."

Why?

Because your CAT software, in addition to translating your strokes at a gazillion words a minute (take THAT, Mark Kislingbury!), also has the capability to record the audio of what a witness is saying (as mentioned earlier).

This recording will have to be compressed on the fly -- that is, while it is being recorded ... and that takes something called a math co-processor, and something else called L-2 cache (yeah, I know: More techno-babble! I'll spare you the explanation ...). These are things the Celeron doesn't have.

The rule of thumb for chip selection is "Celeron equals Celery." How much thinking does a stalk of celery do, anyway? Not very much, I'd wager (Cleve Baxter and his polygraph notwithstanding).

Warning

According to highly placed sources (okay, she's a salesdroid at Hard Drives Northwest), there is another class of chips "coming soon to a laptop near you," called the Sempron. This chip is basically a Celeron ... and, like the man might have said had he been born a few hundred years later, "A Celeron by any other name will still be just as weak."

Sempron. Simple. Either way, just say no!

A Bit About Seattle Laptop

These guys repair laptops for a living, in addition to selling them to you and I. I asked them which ones saw the least amount of time on the repair bench -- or, more simply, which ones didn't break very often. They recommend (and sell) Toshibas and HP (Hewlett-Packard) laptops.

While from time to time they may have a Dell (as in, "Dude, you're getting a ...") or a Gateway laptop, they don't recommend them, as they spend too much time working on those machines.

The Toshibas and the HPs compare well; the HPs just didn't have those visible speakers I wanted.

"Enough blah-blah-blah! How much?"

My Toshiba was $1,000 ... and I got to pay for it over a 30-day period (i.e., $500 on the 1st of the month, another $500 on the 30th of the month).

They don't go past the 30-day mark for payments, as a rule.

They also had cheaper laptops; prices ranged from $300 up to $2,000. If you go for one of the lower priced models, MAKE SURE it will run whichever CAT software you select; otherwise, you're wasting your money.

And Don't Forget ...

Your writer will need to connect to your computer. Usually, the writer connects through the serial port. But, if you take a look at the rear of my laptop (or any modern one), you'll see something mildly interesting:

Toshiba ports

Toshiba Ports

Going from left to right, the ports are power (the hard to see round one on the left), Ethernet, USB (three of 'em), S-Video Out, parallel printer port, video out, and modem.

Notice anything missing? That's right: The Serial port.

When Apple introduced the iMac and the iBook a few years ago, they did away with their serial ports in favor of USB ports. The PC world (as usual) followed Apple's lead and added USB ports, then later removed the lowly serial port as well. To use your writer with its serial interface, you'll need a serial to USB adapter. While there are several brands of these adapters available, the two I hear the most about are Belkin and Keyspan.

Unfortunately, I rarely hear anything good about the Belkin adapters.

No, I take that back: I have never heard anything good about the Belkin adapters.

I do hear (and heartily recommend) good things about the Keyspan adapter; I've heard far too many reports about problems with the Belkin adapters. You can pick up one of the Keyspan adapters at any CompUSA store, Staples, or your local Apple Store.

I recommend you buy one of these before you buy your laptop. Why? Well, you're going to want to start using your writer and CAT software right away, right? Do you really want to risk not being able to find one of these adapters the day you get ready to take your laptop home? Of course you don't ...!

Warning

If, after reading through this entire document and weighing your options, you have decided to purchase a Stentura 400 SRT, a Keyspan adapter and use digitalCAT as your software of choice, note that this combination does not always work (digitalCAT can't see the Stentura 400 SRT) ... so use a different (NOT Belkin) USB adapter.

Interestingly, the person who showed me this problem had Case Catalyst on his laptop in addition to digitalCAT. Case had no trouble seeing the writer. I tried connecting my laptop (which is usually set up to talk to my ProCAT Flash) to this individual's writer, made the appropriate changes in the software, but could not get my laptop to see the writer either. Still trying to nail down the exact reasons on this, so for now, don't use the Keyspan adapter with the Stentura 400 SRT and digitalCAT. This tip alone will save you from spending hours on the phone getting up close and personal with the tech support folk at three different companies! :o)

Update (17SEP09)

Warning!!

If you are using digitalCAT with ANY Stenograph writer, you CANNOT USE THE KEYSPAN ADAPTER! IT DOES NOT WORK!

In helping one of my readers in getting her new Stentura Protege working with digitalCAT, I ran into the same problem mentioned above again.

So I called Stenovations' tech support, and told them what was going on: Stentura Protege, Keyspan adapter, blah, blah, blah, and asked which USB-Serial adapters they recommended. The tech (whose name I forgot; sorry about that, Tech Support Dude!) told me they only recommended three: Dynex (available at your local Best Buy), IO Gear, and Deluo.

I dutifully noted the brands he mentioned and thanked him, and asked if the Keyspan adapter worked at all with digitalCAT. He told me it did not. When I told him that I used a Keyspan adapter with my ProCAT Flash and my G4 PowerBook running VirtualPC, he said, "Wow, that's surprising!" I said, "Yeah, that's what the last guy I mentioned that to said!" I then asked him if it was that way for all the Stenograph writers, and he told me yes, that was the case.

So you should avoid the Keyspan adapter if you are using digitalCAT with any Stenograph writer (works great with my spare (and still for sale!) ProCAT Flash) ... but for any other combinations, the Keyspan is ideal.

Update (24DEC09): Dictata Caveo (or "Lessor Beware")

I ran into a woman on CSR Nation back in September who had to stop reporting due to hearing loss after using digitalCAT for about four years.

For that four years, she paid the $79/month fee.

Some time after she stopped reporting, she needed access to digitalCAT to access one of her old transcripts to handle a copy order, and -- well, I'll just do some copying-and-pasting:

I still needed to have access to my transcripts for additional copy orders that came along or for appeal records and such. When I contacted Stenovations with my dilemma of no longer working as a reporter but still needing access, they were insistent on continuing to charge me $79 a month to have this "access"...even though I was no longer using it to create new transcripts.

If that wasn't enough, I questioned them as to whether or not I could own the software (have a permanent/lifetime software code) after paying $79 a month rent for four years. I mean, why couldn't we now own the software after that length of time? You can do the math. But after four years, it adds up to what other sofware programs cost, if not more, to purchase and own for a lifetime.

Okay, so let's do some math (whips out calculator) let's see ... four years, that's 48 months, times $79 ... that comes to $3,792.

If I recall correctly, it costs about $3400 in total for digitalCAT ... so I sent an e-mail off to Carmen Santone, Stenovations' Director of Sales, and he did some clarifying for me:

There is a bit of confusion on both the price and the payoff. The price of the software is 3,495 to purchase it. The monthly payments of 79 a month do begin immediately following the 90-day trial. However, we take the first 12 payments and apply it to the purchase price. So it is at that 13th month of payments where the user decides whether they are going to purchase the software outright or "roll into" our leasing plan wherein no future payments of 79 dollars a month goes toward the purchase price. If you choose to lease at 79 a month, there is no tech support or update contract necessary as that is included within the lease.

That said, if the client knows they want to purchase the software, they are not relegated to paying only 79 a month. They can pay 200 a month or whatever they choose. By so doing, they can have all or most of the software paid off in the first year at no interest.

So here's what you're supposed to do when you are transitioning from student to reporter, and are using digitalCAT:

•   At graduation, let Stenovations know you are working, and they will upgrade digitalCAT's code so that you can use it for free, for six months

•   At the end of that six month period, your $79 monthly payments begin (um, you did remember to put that $79 a month into a bank account, right ...?). At the end of the six months, this will bring the cost of the software down to $2,547.

•   One year later, up those monthly payments to $200 -- and TELL STENOVATIONS that you intend to purchase the software.

Making these $200 monthly payments will get you that permanent code in a little over 12 months ... so, a little tweaking of the numbers, with monthly payments of $212.25, you will have your permanent code in twelve months.


You Can't Take it With You ... or Can You?

You'll also need something to carry your laptop in. I'm using the Kensington Saddlebag: $60 new, with a lifetime warranty.

The Kensington Saddlebag

The Kensington Saddlebag

These bags come in black (shown), black and tan, and black and graphite (say "gray").

The best thing about this bag is it looks just like a backpack. You can also carry it by the handle, or use the handy shoulder strap.

What's so good about the backpack look?

Let's say you and your laptop (snug inside that Kensington Saddlebag) are standing at a bus stop. Next to you is a guy with one of those bags that looks like it has a laptop in it.

Let's add in one other element to this scenario: Jimmy-Joe-Bob the Laptop Thief, who is approaching both of you, looking for a laptop to steal (you probably guessed that by his nickname, right?).

He sees you and your backpack, and thinks, "Pesky college student ...! Bet she's got a gazillion pounds of books in there!!". Then he sees your fellow soon-to-be bus passenger, with that bag that looks like it has a laptop inside, and he thinks, "Jackpot! eBay, here I come!"

... and that's why I suggest the Kensington Saddlebag.

Did I mention the lifetime warranty?

The shrewd internet shopper will know to check eBay (http://www.ebay.com), it's Half (http://www.half.com) brother, and Overstock.com (http://www.overstock.com) to see if s/he can get one of these at half price, as I have done twice now. The last one I bought was $30.

Did I mention the lifetime warranty?

Update (29MAR09)

A few months ago, I noticed one of my Kensington Saddlebags had a rip in it, so I took advantage of the lifetime warranty and called to report it.

The woman dutifully took down my contact info and my complaint, and promised to send one to me "as soon as the back-order clears." I said okay, and a couple weeks later, the bag arrived.

I began transferring my stuff from my old saddlebag to the new one, and when I tried to close the bag, the clasp just fell off in my hands ...!

Naturally, I called back and explained what happened ... and she offered to send me another one, or another model with the same value. I told her to send me the Kensington Saddlebag Pro:

Kensington Saddlebag Pro

The Kensington Saddlebag Pro

Note the drawer there on the bottom right; good place for staplers and such.

There is an excellent review (four pages!) of the Saddlebag Pro here.

It has a few things about it I don't like ... like the side pocket (under the zipper in the picture there) is very shallow ... so I can't put all the stuff from my old bag into the new one.

Time for a bit of house cleaning, I'd guess!

Update (16NOV12)

While looking around in a Saint Vincent de Paul store for a glass to replace one that (literally!) fell apart a few months back (grrr!), I saw what looked like a Kensington Saddlebag ... but when I got closer, I realized it was a Kensington Saddlebag Pro.

The price? $12.90! For a $60 bag!

As you might guess, I now have two of these bags! :o) The new one is being used to hold a few books ... and my original one is still going strong!

Desktop Pictures

Hey, no one wants to look at the same bunch of desktop pictures all the time (well, I sure don't). You should not be afraid to jazz up your laptop with a few desktop pictures. On my Apple MacBook Pro, I have about 270 (!!) desktop pictures.

If you don't have any decent pictures to put on your new laptop, try these web sites:

http://www.macdesktops.com

http://www.michaelwhelan.com

http://www.digitalblasphemy.com (I like to check the top ten downloads periodically).

Here's a desktop picture I took from the Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon DVD of Michele Yeoh in action:

Michele Yeoh Prepares to do Battle

Michele Yeoh Prepares to do Battle

I would advise you to put all of your desktop pictures into a folder called Desktop Pictures inside the My Documents folder; this way, you know where they all are.

The desktop pictures that come with a typical Windows system are just lying around in the Windows folder. On the Mac running System 9.x, they are in the System folder, inside another folder called Appearance, and inside still another folder called Desktop Pictures.

I like Apple's way better.

Buyer's Remorse

Something you'll have to prepare for is Buyer's Remorse. This is when you buy something (anything) at what you think is a good price, then see something better someplace else for less than you paid for it! This is very aggravating.

Something Interesting ...

After I purchased my laptop, I found myself searching Google.com for something (I forget what). One of the ads on the results page said something about $79 laptops!

Needless to say, I quickly went to the page, where they were selling HP laptops for $79. The catch: You had to make your purchase before Memorial Day.

My bank account was empty ...! :o(

I bookmarked the page and checked back after Memorial Day ... where I found a blank page.

I think this is the "Snooze and Lose" rule ... or perhaps I just avoided getting ripped off for $79.

Summing Up

The laptop you select must run your CAT software.

A laptop with a 2.3 GHz Pentium IV, 256 MB of RAM, and a 40 GB drive is the most you will need, and should run any CAT software available (less TeLiTor, but I suspect those requirements are not accurate).

Your OS (Operating System*) should be Windows 2000 or Windows XP Pro at best, but again, your choice of CAT software should tell you what OS you'll need.

You should get at minimum a CD-RW drive (that's "Compact Disk, Read-Write," which means you can make (or "burn," as they say these days) your own CDs). Throw in a few USB ports, and you're in business. If the drive also plays DVDs (as mine does), so much the better. If it will burn DVDs, that's an extra bonus, once it comes down to backing up your transcripts later in your career.

Now, go forth, and get yourself some of The Good Stuff!

-o0o-


* "Technically, Windows is an 'operating system,' which means that it supplies your computer with the basic commands that it needs to suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, stop operating."
--Dave Barry