on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)
A Match Made in Heaven
Use the Drill Machine, Speed Teacher, and Ace Reader Pro Together With Your CAT Software ... and "Feed the Need"
Computers and steno ... what a combination!
No, I'm not (just) talking about realtime ... I'm talking about software that works with your CAT software to help you increase your speed!
In this article, I tell you about some of those programs ... and offer some suggestions for using them to feed your "need for speed."
Do You Feel The Need?
If you are a court reporting student, chances are good that you do indeed "feel the need."
I'm talking about that same need that Tom ("I married Joey from Dawson's Creek!") Cruise and Anthony (Dr. Green forever to ER fans) Edwards mentioned once or twice in a movie back in the day: The Need for Speed.
If you've seen any of my posts on any of the forums I frequent, you're probably already familiar with my comments on building speed. If not, those comments usually go something like this:
"Blah blah blah Speed Teacher, blah blah blah Ultimate Speed Teacher Drill, blah blah blah Drill Machine, blah blah blah, make your own drills, blah blah blah Ace Reader Pro, blah, blah, blah!!"
You've seen one (or two ... or three ...) of these posts, right?
If not, great ...! Here's your chance -- but this time with words and pictures. For those of you who have seen those posts ... well, did I mention the pictures?
What You'll Need
Those of you who didn't miss "Hasta la Vista Thursday," actually upgraded to Windows 7 and are looking for the Windows 7 version of The Speed Teacher should try here.
Since you're reading this, we can assume you have a computer, or perhaps someone printed a copy of this for you. If that's the case, it goes without saying you can't run the software without a computer.
If you don't have a realtime-capable writer or any CAT software, I highly recommend the ProCAT Flash writer, and digitalCAT ... but, should you want to see what your other options are beyond Case Catalyst and Eclipse (you did know there were other CAT programs out there, right?), take a look at The Good Stuff.
To be sure, you can use these programs without having a realtime setup, but I think the realtime setup is best, for that "instant feedback"
we you young whipper-snappers are so fond of.
Since it's free, we'll look at the Drill Machine first.
The Drill Machine
The Drill Machine, from Steven "Da Man Hisself" Shastay over at CourtReportingHelp.com, allows you to use any text file to drill with, at any speed up to 300 words per minute.
Well, okay, so the actual top speed is 600 wpm (listed as "As Fast as Heck"), as you can see here:
Alas, there's a rather serious bug which puts up an alert that tells you you're stroking away at 600 wpm -- each time the Drill Machine moves from one word to the next, as you can see here:
Bottom line: stick to the 300 wpm maximum speed.
When you use the Drill Machine, you first have to (with your desired drill open, of course) make the text you're going to drill on easy to see. I usually select a color and click the Bold button, then select a speed, and click the mouse to the left of the first word in the drill. This way, when you click Start, your eyes shouldn't have any problems following the cursor as it goes down the screen!
As for using the Drill Machine, there's the easy way, a less easy way ... and the (cheap and sleazy) way.
The Drill Machine: The Easy Way
The easy way, as you might guess, involves downloading and installing a few of the ready-made drills I've collected from several archived versions of the Drills page at this archived version of CourtReportingHelp.com, which you can download here.
When I tried to install one of the drills from the archived version of courtreportinghelp.com at the Way Back Machine, I got an error about how the application wasn't a 32-bit application, and my copy of Windows XP Pro wouldn't install it.
Fortunately, this is easy to get around: Decompress the file with either Stuffit Expander or -- well, any of the decompression apps you find on this page at CNET.com.
These drills should install themselves in the C:/My Documents/Drill Machine folder, so watch for those that do not.
The other Easy Way is a bit easier: Find some web page on the internet with some interesting text, select it, copy it, and paste it into WordPad (you know, Start --> Run, type "WordPad.exe," and hit Enter).
For best results, you'll have to go through the drill, line by line, and make sure each line ends with a space by physically hitting the space bar; otherwise, the Drill Machine will skip right over that last word, and you'll fall behind -- through no fault of your own, of course.
Once you've done all that, simply save the file to your hard drive and close it (you did save it to the Drill Machine folder in the My Documents folder, right?) then use the Drill Machine to open that drill.
Next, arrange the Drill Machine and your CAT software so that you can see both the Drill Machine and your translations. Here's how I do that in digitalCAT:
It's a bit tough to see, but below the Drill Machine window, you can just make out the buffer (an area where your strokes are stored before being sent to the transcript) in digitalCAT there at the bottom.
Alas, Case Catalyst has no buffer (at least, not that I've discovered) ... but things can be arranged appropriately:
(Pardon the crappy outlines; that's me, on someone else's writer (thanks, Kelly Ann!) and a seven month layoff of steno.)
The Drill Machine: The Less Easy Way
If you read my article Gold, about the value of old JCRs and state CR association newsletters, chances are you have a few of either one or the other of these stashed away somewhere. If so, go grab your stack of JCRs and/or your state's newsletters. Look through them for any speed contest transcripts.
Got one? Good ...! Fire up your CAT software of choice, prop up that old JCR, and steno the speed contest drill. You can go as quickly or as slowly as you like, just as long as you get all of it.
Once you're done, go over it and make sure it's correct. If it is, copy it and paste it into a blank WordPad document, then go through and add the extra spaces at the end of each line. Save and close the WordPad document, and open it in the Drill Machine. Pick your speed and your color preference, and drill, drill, drill ...!
Normally, I would recommend using the .rtf format to save your documents for the Drill Machine. Instead, I suggest using the .txt format.
Because coming up here shortly, I will be talking about Ace Reader Pro, which only takes .txt files ... and, while it is good practice, I would prefer not to have you duplicate any of your previous efforts.
The Drill Machine: The Cheap and Sleazy Way
Use the same (or another) drill from the same (or another) JCR, open your CAT software and a blank WordPad document ... then follow these instructions for setting up your CAT software for Realtime Coach ... and instead of just copying and pasting that speed contest drill into WordPad, you'll use your CAT software and steno machine and steno it in.
The above instructions currently apply only to the following CAT software: Case Catalyst, Eclipse Professional version, Eclipse Student DEVELOPMENT version (18.104.22.168 or later), digitalCAT, ProCAT (requires RITE program).
If you are using any phrases in your drills, they must be written like so:
.... otherwise the software will see the phrase as two (or however many) words. The underline forces the phrase to be seen by the software as one word.
As before, you can do it as quickly or as slowly as you wish, because your goal is a 100 percent accurate translation -- so feel free to use that asterisk key to delete stuff from time to time.
Once you've got everything ... uh, stenoed, do the following:
Take that list of errors, open another WordPad document, set your CAT software up to talk to WordPad, and steno the paragraphs that contain your errors. Save, fix, save again, and close the WordPad document, and open it in the Drill Machine.
This time, go through those paragraphs at a speed that's lower than your normal speed -- say, half your normal speed.
Each time you complete the problem paragraphs (as in, with no errors), increase the speed by 10 words per minute. Keep drilling on those problem paragraphs and increasing the speed until you get to your goal speed ... then open the original drill in the Drill Machine, set it at a comfortable speed, and go all the way through it.
Hopefully, you didn't stumble over the same paragraphs this time ...!
If these drills didn't tire you out, repeat these instructions -- except this time, select a different category of test. If you had a Q&A, try drilling on a Jury Charge, or a Lit. If you have progressed far enough in your training, throw in some medical.
Dealing With Problem Strokes
Keep a running list of your problem strokes -- whether they be from the drills suggested here, or from school. Use the Drill Machine to practice these strokes in one (or both!!) of two ways:
Problem Stroke Drill Numba One: The Pyramid
I found this method over on the StenoLife Practice Forum ... which, incidentally, is the same method used in the Steno Practice books.
Basically, this method has you stroke a sentence like "Is this thing on?" like so:
Is this thing
Is this thing on?
If you mess up at any time while stroking this sentence, you get to start over.
Fun, huh? :o) This particular drill is great for numbers, too.
Problem Stroke Drill Numba Two: Cynthia Berry's "Sammich" Technique
In her book, "Practice With a Purpose," Cynthia Berry revealed this interesting practicing method
(by the way, if you would like a copy of Ms. Berry's book, send her an e-mail at cynthiaberry (at) earthlink (dot) net. Her book is only available directly from her at about $20.00).
Now, then ... the Sammich.
Basically, what you do is you pick a word that you can stroke correctly, every time ... like, say, "the." Put that word in a new WordPad document.
Follow that word with a word or a stroke that gives you fits ... like, say, "someday" ... then end the trio with the same first word.
If you wish to use a phrase as the "meat" of your sammich, like, say, "perponderance of the evidence," that's fine -- but first ....
Warning Warning Warning --!
Remember that in order for The Drill Machine to properly see a phrase as a phrase, it has to be typed like so:
The underscores prevent the Drill Machine from Stopping. On. Each. Word. Instead. Of. Treating. The. Phrase. As. One. Stroke.
Don't forget the extra space at the end of each line! (Yes, I know I already warned you about both of these potential problems ... but they BOTH bear repeating!)
Now do a Select All (Control - A, remember?), then do a Copy (Control - C, remember?), and a Paste (Control - V, remember?). Do this three or four times. Eventually, you will end up with a LOT of lines of your sammich.
Next, do as Cynthia says in her book: "Switch your bread."
You know ... switch your bread -- the outer two words around your trouble word. Swap those outer words for other easily stroked words ... then repeat the above instructions.
What you'll eventually end up with is a few sets of something like this:
If you're using a phrase, it would look like so:
Don't forget to insert a space after each line!
I'm sure you know what's next ... but just in case you don't, here it is: Save the file (don't forget to save it to the Drill Machine folder!), close it, then open the file from within the Drill Machine ... and practice.
Ms. Berry recommends working on three to five trouble words at a time (every day). The next day, pick one or two new trouble words, and add them into the mix. When you are no longer having trouble with a particular word, get rid of it ... and replace it with a new trouble word.
Ms. Berry also assures her readers that your trouble words will soon be a thing of the past.
Ms. Berry recommends practicing your briefs and phrases in a list form -- that is, take five briefs/phrases, go through them forward and backwards, then mix up the order a bit. This is fine, but I think adopting her "Sammich" technique to the mix should work as well ... so why not do both?!
The Speed Teacher
The Speed Teacher, for those of you who have not heard of it, is the steno student's best friend.
You can use it for finger drills, help with hesitation, concentration, and accuracy ... and it will even (no, really!) help you build speed -- sort of.
There are a bunch of files that I downloaded from Court Reporting Help over the years, that I have converted to .rtf files and slapped into an archive. That archive includes a few documents that talk about using the Speed Teacher. You can get that archive here:
Inside that archive are the following Speed Teacher-related documents:
Don't forget to take a look at Barb DeWitt's newsletters (22FEB02, 1MAR02, 8MAR02, and 26JAN02); she has some techniques in there for working with the Drill Machine that are not addressed here!
Also note that some of the newsletters refer to something called "The Drill Maker." That program is no longer available (crashed a lot anyway ... and was basically Speed Teacher 1.0), so ignore any references to it in those newsletters!
"How to Kill Hesitation Now" has you set the Speed Teacher so it displays 14 three-letter words, set it to work at half your normal speed, and finish the 14 words before the screen changes.
"The Hesitation Drill" has you do the same thing -- except instead of three-letter words, you work with the Top 100 words, then the Top 1000 words -- still beginning at half your normal speed.
"Q&A" consists of a question from a student: "How do I use the Speed Teacher to cure my Q&A woes? As the document is rather short, I won't spoil the surprise for you ...!
"Speed Teacher Drills" talks about ... well, everything you can do with the Speed Teacher -- more or less. It's 12 pages long, so ....
"The Ultimate Speed Teacher Drill" is the one I usually use when I'm drilling (or warming up, for that matter), and it consists of three steps.
Note that the version of the Ultimate Speed Teacher Drill that I downloaded (and included in the archive) differs a bit from the version that's online at Court Reporting Help.com these days ... but the differences are (relatively) minor. You can see each step by clicking these links:
Step One For Clarity
Step Two For Rhythm and Quick Response
Step Three For Speed
As for how it looks in action, here it is with Case Catalyst 4.x from my (now former) school's lab:
As you can see, the lack of a buffer appears to be a bit of a problem ... BUT (he said, a day late and a dollar short) the enterprising CR student should probably adjust both Case Catalyst and Speed Teacher so that they take up the top and bottom halves of the screen, respectively; this way, you get "full" views of both programs!
Sure would've been nice to have thought of that before I took the above screenshot, though ....
Now, then ... for those of you who were too lazy -- er, who neglected to click on the links for the various Speed Teacher drills, Step One (basically) says the following:
Step Two is exactly the same -- except instead of increasing your speed, you decrease the number of words (you know ... from 5 words to 4) ... then, once you get down to one word, you steno until you've stenoed 20 words correctly ... and THEN you increase the speed, and go back to 5 words.
Step Three is a little different. Set things up as in the first three steps above, then --
Setting the Stair Stepper to six seconds like that will increase the speed of the drill by 10 wpm every six seconds -- which is why it's a good idea to start at a low speed.
For this particular drill, you're writing for control.
.... so, as you might guess, when doing this drill, at the first sign that you're having trouble keeping up, stop! Set the speed back to your original level, and try again.
For best results, do this one twice a day, for, say, 20 minutes at a time.
Oh, Yeah ....
Don't forget to download the rtf files and read "The Ultimate Speed Teacher Drill" ...! I have a Question at the end -- the answer to which might just help you a wee bit more.
Ace Reader Pro
Like The Drill Machine, Ace Reader Pro allows you to drill on any text file you can feed it.
Unlike The Drill Machine, Ace Reader Pro is not free ... but when registered, its top speed is about 2500 wpm.
Sure, no one stenos that fast ...! But if you're trying to pass your final 225 test and want to follow Mark Kislingbury's advice on building speed by practicing material 20 percent faster than you normally practice (if you haven't already, read this for more on Mark's recommendations), this program will definitely allow you to do this.
Now, as those of you who have been reading ol' Cheap and Sleazy for some time now already know, I think Stephen Shastay, of Court Reporting Help.com fame, is Da Man ...!
Those of you who have been reading his words on developing speed probably know that Da Man does not agree with Mark's idea of practicing faster than your normal speed ... but, as I said once (or twice) on this site, I also am a big believer in Bruce Lee's philosophy of learning martial arts: "Absorb what is useful."
I would suggest using *every* practicing technique you can find ...! What may work for some, may not work for you; you have to find the one (or two ... or ...) practice technique that works -- for you. If Mark's technique works for you, then great! Put it to use! If it doesn't work for you as-is, try modifying the speed percentage ... say, 5 percent faster than your normal speed instead of 25 percent faster ... then add in that nifty Speed Teacher technique, where you increase that lower percentage just a little higher each time you successfully complete whatever you're working on ... but I digress. I'm supposed to be talking about Ace Reader Pro, here ...!
Running Ace Reader Pro
Once you download, install, and start Ace Reader Pro, you will see this screen:
Click the Start button on that screen, and you will get to this screen:
While you might be (as I was) inclined to click the "Exit" button, don't! It will close Ace Reader Pro. Instead, click the "Expert Mode" tab. You will then see this screen:
Click the "Enter Expert Mode" button. That will get you to this screen:
Click the "OK" button to dismiss this tip (say ... did you actually read that tip? If not, you should do so!), then uncheck the "Show Tips" checkbox when you get tired of seeing the tips.
Once the tip is gone, you can configure Ace Reader Pro to perform the same functions as either the Drill Machine or Speed Teacher's Ultimate Drill (steps one and two)!
Let's try setting it up for Step One.
Getting Ace Reader Pro to do Speed Teacher's Step One
Click the Options menu and select Set Display Mode. Set it so it matches the following picture:
If your screen doesn't match the picture there, select "Center Text," "Words on Single Line," and set the number of words to 5. Once everything matches, click the OK button.
If you haven't already done so, load a drill using the File --> Load File menu item.
Here we have the Magic Drill loaded and ready for action:
Setting The Speed
Click the Options menu, and select the "Set Speed Options ..." menu item. This window should appear:
Double-click whatever is in the Low Speed window to select it, and type in what you want to be your lowest speed. If you're at 100 wpm, set that low speed to 50. If you're at 80, set it to 40 -- in short, half your normal speed.
Next, double-click whatever is in the High Speed window to select it, and type in your desired high speed. If you're following Mark Kislingbury's method, set the speed 25 to 30 percent above your current high speed -- or your most recent test pass.
Click the OK button to accept your settings.
The labeling of the "Set to Default" button is deceptive. From the wording, one would think that you set your speed preferences, then when you click the Set to Default button, you are going to set your chosen settings to the default setting.
Not so much. Pushing that button changes your settings to match the above image -- that is, it puts everything the way it was when you started.
Now you should be able to adjust your speed by clicking the graph on the left side of the screen, or using the slider bar below it.
To start the file going, press the "Play" button (the green button on the left, under the text).
I have loaded a copy of The Magic Drill ... and, through the magic of copy-and-paste, have extended it by pasting it in twice (did you notice the underline?). Here it is at 60 WPM: