John Wenclawski – Stenograph U.S.A.

What's new in stenotype?

Vienna - Intersteno 2005

Good Afternoon!  Thank you for joining me for the Stenograph presentation. 

My name is John Wenclawski, and for 22 years, I have had the honor of being a part of this fine company, and participating in a very interesting profession.  As president for the last nine years, I have seen tremendous changes in creating a verbatim record and most of these advancements have been driven by the changing world of technology.  Today, it is my pleasure to have a true professional working with me, writing this speech in realtime, utilizing a Stenograph shorthand machine and computer aided transcription software.  This outstanding reporter is Randy Czerenda.  A man of many interests, Randy spent years in the federal courts back in the states.  He has developed shorthand programs in many countries around the world in a variety of languages.  Randy also represents Stenograph in South America.  It is there, in South America, that Randy’s company supplies much of the Spanish closed captioning, or sub-titling, that is broadcast in the United States and Europ.  Viewing television via satellite and streaming text over the Internet, he can supply this service as if he were sitting in the television studio.  Like captioning, the words that you see appearing on the screen are created through the shorthand machine and CAT software.  In this case, it is Stenograph’s Case CATalyst software.  

The theme of my presentation today will focus upon a few different approaches to capturing the spoken word and creating a usable verbatim record.  There are numerous technologies available today, to assist the different methods.  I am a firm believer that it’s critical for all of us to always embrace technology in our professional as well as personal lives.  I also feel that it is extremely important to have the human element involved on the front-end, the capturing part of this process, to guarantee the control of the environment and accuracy of capturing the spoken word.  This can be achieved through utilizing the shorthand machine, as Randy Czerenda demonstrates, but it can also utilize the speech recognition technology, or “voice reporting”, which I will show shortly, similar to what has been shown in prior presentations.  The human involvement insures accuracy, control, and timely access to the spoken word.  Other methods that solely embrace audio or video are usually very labor-intensive, susceptible to accuracy issues, and can be time consuming when the record is actually prepared.  

Before we speak to creating the record, let me briefly mention the delivery of the record.  Today the Internet brings a whole new meaning to the concept of immediate access to a text file of the spoken word.  Information, be it the latest news, or research on miniscule bits of obscure data, can all be accessed from our own PC.  Two years ago at the Intersteno Kongress in Rome, I showcased some new technology from Stenograph on our platform called Speche Communications.  That’s S-P-E-C-H-E Communications.  On that day, with the assistance of Randy, we streamed the realtime text of my speech through the Internet to every interested viewer worldwide, as we are doing today.  Unfortunately, the time difference of that early speech in Rome limited the audience to about 50 viewers worldwide.  Greetings to all that are not physically here.  As we did two years ago today, somebody, somewhere may be interested to hear what I have to say.  So today, like in Rome two years ago, we are sending my comments via Randy’s realtime, over the Internet to any and all interested parties.    

This technology and service has numerous applications.  The obvious are the hearing-impaired communities and multi-lingual broadcasts.  In both cases, the text is the substitute to those who cannot hear or understand the spoken word.  In many cases today, we have easy access to the Internet.  The need to stay informed drives us to participate in different venues.  Numerous examples of the uses of this technology exist.  They range from legislative hearings in the state of New Jersey that are streamed to any interested person in the state, major court proceedings such as Morgan Stanley and the Enron 401K case have been streamed so experts and support staff can participate without traveling.  Quarterly financial highlights for major corporations such as Microsoft are available to those who don’t have the bandwidth for audio and video transmission.  Training sessions like those sponsored by NASA, are instantly made available to the hearing impaired and students of other languages.  I speak of this technology to inform you that this tool is available to broadcast any proceedings from any venue, anywhere in the world.   

I would now like to step back and take a few moments to share with those of you that are familiar with Stenograph, some of our new technology recently announced and for those of you not familiar with Stenograph; maybe I can share a little information about the exciting tools being used in managing the spoken word.  66 years ago, Stenograph was founded on the foundation of the traditional Stenograph shorthand machine.  The original principals of shorthand have been in use for centuries, and are still practiced in many parts of the world today; utilizing shorthand theories such as Gregg and Pittman.  Robert Wright, founder of Stenograph, utilized the phonetic principals of pen shorthand and built those into a machine keyboard.  That basic keyboard is used today throughout the world.  Variations of this machine and keyboard, made by Stenograph, can also be found in other parts of the world.  In total, machine shorthand can be found in close to 100 countries.  Other companies have tried to imitate and duplicate this proven process, with very limited success.  

The most challenging element to the implementation of machine shorthand is the training of qualified stenotypists.  It is a very challenging educational process that typically exceeds two years before one achieves speeds in excess of 200 words per minute, with a high degree of accuracy.  Individuals that achieve success have a tendency to have some common traits, such as strong use of the native language, dexterity, persistence and in many cases, experience with a musical instrument.  Unfortunately, there often is a high drop-out rate during the training process.  Frustration over the lack of ability to achieve certain advancements in speed causes people to give up and leave the program.  Around the world, we were seeing a decline in the number of individuals training on the shorthand machine.  But in recent years, we have seen enrollment increase, but not to the levels needed to sustain the demand.  This increase is due in part to the understanding that the profession is seldom affected by swings in the economy.  Another reason for increased interest has been Stenograph’s introduction of Stenograph University Online.  Again, Stenograph took advantage of advancements in Internet technology, and of interactive communications, and has now brought shorthand training into the homes of the students around the world.  Through the Internet, online training reaches out to over 500 students today, and a number that is sure to grow in the years ahead.  The process of training via the Internet has proven to be very successful.  Drop-out rates are lower.  The skill sets of the students online are higher, and commitment is unmatched.  One of the key elements that is still required, as it is in any schooling process, is the availability of quality instructors.  Even in the online program, it is the instructor that motivates and ensures the curriculum is followed.   

In the very foreseeable future, we will be adding another method of reporting to our curriculum.  This is often referred to as “voice reporting”, which I would now like to attempt to demonstrate.  If you could spare me one moment, I will let Randy complete this sentence and then we would like to change the input device from a shorthand machine to this microphone and attempt to give a brief demonstration of an exciting new option to our core software product, Case CATalyst.  

I am currently speaking into the IBM Via Voice software.  I have had limited experience and limited time in training the translation dictionary.  IBM Via Voice is linked or tied into Stenograph’s caseCATalyst version 7.  Correcting the mis-translations and editing will be very similar to a traditional CAT system, except the dictionary updates are stored in Via Voice.  Utilizing Case CATalyst, the most dominant Computer Aided Transcription system in the world, reinforces the standard for editing and transcript delivery.  

Throughout my tenure at Stenograph, I am regularly posed the questions:  Will speech recognition ruin the company or put an end to machine shorthand?  Will the day come when every live proceeding is automatically translated to text miraculously by a computer?  As mentioned in the past, at Stenograph we have, and we must continue to embrace technology.  We understand that even though our business is based on the shorthand machine, we are in the information processing business, just as each of you are.  We must embrace technology, and find a better way to utilize its power.  Voice recognition has some very interesting attributes, while at the same time, it has numerous limitations.  As you can clearly see on the screen, it is not perfect, even though I am trying to speak slower and enunciate better.  A well-trained person would fare much better than I.  

A machine shorthand steno typist, such as Randy Czerenda, is the best form of speech recognition, and that method will probably continue to be the best form through the duration of my professional career.  That said, we must recognize the strengths of new technologies and embrace them.  We must face our shortcomings head-on.  Machine shorthand is a tremendous skill, but unfortunately, the training cycle is over two years of very intensive training and today we have a shortage of trained individuals.  The challenge is continually identifying new instructors, and establishing new training facilities in areas where they do not currently exist, while at the same time, promoting the opportunities that exist through machine shorthand.

At Stenograph, with our International exposure, we are regularly contacted by countries around the world that, in their parliament, or in their court systems, are looking for a verbatim record.  From exposure to courtroom scenes on many popular television shows and movies, or through general research, everyone is intrigued by the shorthand machine.  Everyone wants the benefits, but few have the abilities and persistence to achieve the skill level.  This is especially the case where schools do not currently exist.  In my opinion, there is a huge opportunity in the international market for this “other” proven method, voice reporting.  

I will now take a moment to catch my breath, have a sip of water, and also change the input on our software, back to the shorthand machine.

One of the other benefits to the shorthand machine is endurance.  

To create a record of any hearing, there are skills that go far beyond the method that is used.  Understanding of the proceedings, customs within the venue, unique technical terminology, understanding local geography, history, and current events, are all part of the necessary knowledge that makes a good record.  No matter what method of record creation is used, those traits are needed.  Where voice recognition has a place in this world, is for people with those traits that are unwilling to invest the two years necessary to utilize the shorthand machine, or have access to quality training.  Since training facilities are not readily available outside the United States, I see this as a real opportunity.  In addition, speech recognition software is currently available in many languages from major companies like IBM and Dragon.  It would be my pleasure to discuss this further on an individual basis with you, or speak to anyone in your government about how this could be incorporated.   

I would now like to return to and discuss the more traditional Stenograph product, the shorthand machine.  Like all the other technology-based products, the shorthand machine has evolved over the years by embracing the latest technologies.  Last week, at the NCRA convention back home in the states, Stenograph introduced two exciting new shorthand machines.  The first is a paper based machine built on the proven Stentura foundation.  This exciting new machine is named the Stentura Fusion.  At the same time, we continue to build on the family of elan products by introducing the Mira A3.  These two machines have significant differences, yet have many similarities.  Both machines are built on a foundation of proven hardware, the Stentura, and the élan Mira.  Both machines utilize a variation of the Mira software which is a by-product of Case CATalyst.  Both machines embrace the most advanced audio synchronization, which means the audio is recorded and synchronized with the shorthand notes on the shorthand machine, and can be easily accessed during the editing process.  This is a tremendous tool to save time and create a more accurate record.  The audio can also be reviewed directly from the machine with headphones.  The Stentura utilizes the traditional paper tape whereas the Mira is paperless.  It is a personal preference, but does create a different touch on the keyboard.  Both machines are equipped with the latest software, SD cards, USB port, VGA graphics and on and on.  It is through our experience and commitment to the profession that drives Stenograph to continue to take the traditional shorthand machine and advance it by utilizing the latest technology.  

We have spoken for some time about input; voice reporting as well as the traditional shorthand machine.  Whichever method is used, they both can deliver service as needed to many marketplaces.  Based on the CAT system, these methods can be and are being used in many venues.  Parliamentary reporting is where it all started, and is still an area that creates a huge need for reporting services.  On every continent, the shorthand machine is used to capture the proceedings.  In the future, I envision voice reporting will be used worldwide as it has started to surface in Europe and the United States.  Realtime via the Internet, captioning on television, or a hard copy transcript of the spoken word needs to appear in a written format.  Stenograph products based on the caseCATalyst software with either method of input, the voice writer or the shorthand machine, can deliver the text.  Many of us, especially from the litigious United States or those just watching television, see the shorthand machine appear in the courtroom on a regular basis.  Today on every continent, as countries seek a transparent judicial system, a verbatim record is desired.  Either method of input, with a live operator, will guarantee the record.  

Over the years, the term guardian of the record, or information manager has been used to define the skills of a court reporter or stenotypist.  While the need for those skills of capturing the spoken record has increased, unfortunately the supply of skilled individuals has decreased.  Technology has broadened the approaches, resulting in services that offer greater benefits.  Realtime reporting first surfaced 20 years ago.  The combination of skilled stenographers, both voice writers and machine writers embracing technology, has created a powerful service. From that beginning, we can now deliver numerous services for the hearing impaired, the legal arena, business persons or the average man on the street.  These services include immediate access to live conversation via Closed Captioning and CART, audio synchronization, Internet delivery for timely access to testimony, and Internet realtime for remote access to live testimony in both the legal and business world.  With the skills of people like you, everyone can have immediate access to the spoken word.

We all have a responsibility to embrace current technology to ensure people around the world have easy access to information in a timely manner.  As the leading vendor, I pledge to continue to develop and create new tools for capturing the spoken word and processing that data.  We will make it easier to deliver text to anyone, anywhere in the world.  It will be easy, timely and affordable.

For those of you who are responsible for the creation of the record, I encourage you to regularly look at the changes and advancement in tools that impact the services you offer.  Change is good.  It is critical to the longevity of the profession.  This profession has a long history, but also a bright future. 

And finally, to those representing government and business, there are many services that are available that will open the doors to your proceedings, testimonies or meeting.  From the hearing impaired to the interested party half-way around the world, everyone wants timely access to what is taking place in your facility.  I ask you to keep an open mind and look at the best solution for each situation, versus one-solution-fits-all. Marrying different forms of reporting, offering different services and different delivery standards, gives everyone the equal access they seek and deserve.  

I thank you for your time.  I encourage discussion between all to ensure that quality services of access to data and individuals worldwide can be achieved.  It would be my pleasure to entertain any questions now or I will be available throughout the conference.

Thank you to Randy Czerenda and again to all of you.