Monday, December 20, 2010

Winding Down, Gearing Up

Two of my the three colleges I worked at this semester are already on winter break, and I sent off their last 2010 invoice today. I've only got one regular CART class left in the semester. For the past two weeks, I've been doing much less academic CART work -- since most students had finals instead of class -- but I've been surprisingly busy for mid-December. On the 12th and 13th I captioned the annual Holiday Songbook for the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, which was very cool; composers from all over the city were invited to submit new holiday music they'd written, for something like 40 songs in total over the two days. I was able to get some of the song lyrics in advance, and during tech runthroughs I was able to transcribe the rest of them so that when they were actually performed I could send them smoothly line by line instead of having to CART them live. The Library decided to try an experimental closed captioning system, where I sat up in the tech booth and sent the captions over the internet, while audience members went to the caption webpage on their phones and followed along that way. It went quite well, though this method certainly has its pros and cons. On the plus side:

* The event organizers were more comfortable with captioning being opt-in rather than having it visible to everybody.

* Several people -- including people of a somewhat older generation -- had their phones with them and were able to access the captions without any difficulty.

* This demonstration proved that captions can happen almost anywhere, even when a projector and screen are not available.

Of course, there are a few downsides to closed device-bound captioning over universal open captioning. Namely:

* The many glowing screens of patrons' phones can arguably be as distracting as the one glowing screen used in open captioning. Additionally, some people don't understand why the captioning is there, so they might assume patrons viewing captions on their phones are actually being rude and texting their friends, or even that they're pirating the concert.

* Not everybody with hearing loss who might be helped by the captions identifies that way; it takes an average of five years for someone with hearing loss to acknowledge the issue publicly or sometimes even to themselves. Some people might not even know that they have hearing loss, and open captioning can be a way of helping them realize how much they've been missing.

* Some people who could have taken advantage of the captions might not have had web-enabled phones, or might have been too intimidated by the prospect of navigating to a website on their phones.

* Open captions tend to be larger and more visible than hand-held device captions, which can often be a little too small to read comfortably. In addition, open captions tend to be in the same plane as the performer, while device captions require rapid adjustment between near vision and far vision as the patron looks from the performer to the caption screen and back, which can sometimes cause eyestrain and detract from the immersiveness of the experience.

* Closed device captioning only works when there's a reliable wireless internet connection or when people have fairly high-speed data plans on their phones.

So I obviously try to promote open captioning whenever possible, but it was cool to show the potential of closed device captioning, and I'm very glad that several patrons took advantage of it. So that was Sunday and Monday. On Wednesday I captioned the last new 2010 episode of That Keith Wann Show. Then on Thursday I open captioned a four-hour play Off-Broadway (Angels in America Part II: Perestroika), and on Sunday I made a new video for the open source steno software I've been helping to develop: Plover Speaks. The video demonstrates how people who are unable to use their voices to speak can use steno to communicate at a normal conversational pace. There are many people in this category: People who've had surgery on their mouth or throat; people who stutter; people who have autism; people with hearing loss who don't want to rely on an ASL interpreter or CART provider -- the list goes on. I'm really excited about the new version of Plover. We've got 40 people in the Plover Discussion Group and we're constantly working on improving it and adding new features.

Things are slowly starting to get a little less hectic, though I've got a few more jobs planned for this week, and I've still got to clean out my email inbox and finalize my spring schedule before I can truly relax and enjoy my vacation. During my time off, I'm hoping to write more frequently on this blog, and I'd like to expand my website a bit as well. So if any of you have questions about CART, captioning, freelancing, learning ASL, developing open source software, or living in New York City, write me at and I'll happily devote a blog post to answering whatever you'd like to know.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

StenoKnight Demo Video Getting Around

O'Malley Interpreters, an agency offering BSL interpreting, CART, captioning, and lipreading in the United Kingdom, has posted a clear and thorough explanation of CART on their website, including StenoKnight's own CART demonstration video, which you can see here and on my own demo page. I was hoping that this video would be helpful to other CART providers in explaining what CART looks like and how it works, and I'm happy to see that it is. Thanks, O'Malley, for spreading the word about CART and captioning; it's got a fairly low profile here, but from what I've heard it's even less well known in the UK. Good luck to you. And for all other CART providers, please feel free to use this video in any way that you like. Our biggest challenge as a service profession is lack of awareness, but I think we can begin to change that by boosting our visibility whenever possible, both on the internet and in our daily lives. CART consumers, you're of course also always welcome to use this video as a demonstration of what instant realtime verbatim transcription can do for you and other people with hearing loss. (And for kids, English language learners, people with ADHD, dyslexia, auditory processing disorders; the list goes on.)

While I'm at it, a great place for providers and consumers to work together on CART and captioning advocacy is the Collaborative for Communication Access via Captioning, otherwise known as the CCAC.

Consumers who join the CCAC are eligible for one hour of free CART per year from CCAC provider members. I've been a member for quite a while now and haven't gotten a chance to donate my free hour yet, so if you live in the New York City area or could use an hour of free remote CART, join today!

Monday, December 6, 2010

NatCapVidMo Wrap-Up Post

Here's a link to each of the 30 videos I did over the month of November. As of December 6th, 2010, all of these videos are live, though of course there are no guarantees that anything uploaded to YouTube will stay online indefinitely. If any of these links break, please let me know about it: Thanks again to Universal Subtitles for their amazing captioning tool, and if anyone else would like to attempt to caption 30 videos in 30 days, go for it! I'd love to see this idea catch on.

Introduction to NatCapVidMo

Day 1: Transcription and Translation
3D animation of how DNA is read and how ribosomes make proteins.

Day 2: The Vogelkop Bowerbird
Snippet of a BBC nature documentary with David Attenborough.

Day 3: That Keith Wann Show Information
Silly promo for That Keith Wann Show (Captioned every week by StenoKnight CART Services, 8:00 pm to 9:00 pm EST!) featuring ASL comedian Windell Smith.

Day 4: That Man
Music video for Caro Emerald's song That Man.

Day 5: Gerald McBoing-Boing
Animation of Dr. Seuss's book Gerald McBoing-Boing, filmed in 1950.

Day 6: Life of a Freelancer
A wry look at the foibles of freelancing by The Free Love Forum.

Day 7: The Shakespeare Sketch
A meeting between Shakespeare and his editor, played by Hugh Laurie and Rowan Atkinson respectively.

Day 8: Sleight of Hand
The essential tricks used in sleight of hand magic, as narrated by Penn Jillette and demonstrated by Teller.

Day 9: Crazy
Music video for the Gnarls Barkley song Crazy, interpreted into ASL by b. storm.

Day 10: The Mimic Octopus
Brief nature documentary on the many guises of the Indonesian mimic octopus.

Day 11: Visual Illusions
A video about visual illusions used in a college class that I CARTed, which gave my client equal access to that day's lecture and follow-up discussion.

Day 12: Feynman on Fire
Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize-winning physicist, explains what fire is and how it works.

Day 13: Foux du fa fa
Music video by Flight of the Conchords, with two Universal Subtitles language tracks: English and French.

Day 14: The Antikythera Mechanism
Brief explanation of the Antikythera Mechanism and demonstration of a modern replica in action.

Day 15: Molecular Gastronomy
Explanation of the whimsical science-based philosophy behind Moto, a restaurant in Chicago.

Day 16: Out of Sight (With Audio Description)
Animation about a little girl who wanders into a strange world, with both captions and audio description.

Day 17: Lunokhod-1
News report about the 40th anniversary of Lunokhod 1, the Russian moon rover.

Day 18: The Flashlight Toothbrush
The Stupid Inventor demonstrates how to construct a combination flashlight and toothbrush, should you ever want to do such a thing.

Day 19: Work It Out
Music video for RJD2's song Work It Out, featuring dancer Bill Shannon.

Day 20: Science Tricks for Parties
A few cool things you can do with household objects to amaze your friends and mystify your science-hating enemies.

Day 21: Engineer's Guide to Cats
Explanation of the cat-human interpersonal dynamic from an engineer's perspective.

Day 22: Why Can't We Walk Straight?
Animation of a program on National Public Radio about why blindfolded humans never walk in straight lines.

Day 23: Greubel Forsey
Brief segment on the design and manufacture of Greubel Forsey wristwatches.

Day 24: Signs of Our Ideas
Announcement of a contest by ASL storyteller Peter Cook, challenging Deaf and Hearing people alike to think up a new ASL sign for the concept of "poverty".

Day 25: Missoula Parkour
Explanation of the principles behind parkour, accompanied by brief clips of the Missoula Parkour Group.

Day 26: Organic and Polymeric Semiconductors
Scientists discussing the great potential of organic and polymeric semiconductors in making the extraction of energy from the sun vastly more convenient and efficient.

Day 27: Traditional Hand Signs
Explanation of traditional hand signs from the Australian Walmajarri people, by artist Clifton Bieundurry.

Day 28: Refreshabraille 18 on the iPod Touch
Explanation of how to link the iPhone or iPod Touch with the Refreshabraille 18, with a transcript of the captions posted below the video.

Day 29: Linda Buys a Hat
Brief story from Sesame Street in which Linda Bove buys a hat. In English and ASL/PSE, with captions for both.

Day 30: Probing Platypus Evolution
Light-hearted look at the Australian platypus and an investigation into its genome.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 30: Probing Platypus Evolution

We seem to have wound up back in Australia, for no reason in particular, except that I like platypuses (and they're also the occasional mascot of my alma mater) and I thought the footage in this video was pretty cool. If you want to know the results of the study they were conducting, some preliminary data seems to be in.

So that's the end of this year's NatCapVidMo! 30 captioned videos in 30 days, plus one video with audio description and one video with subtitles in both English and French. Not bad, all in all. I had a great time this month, and I wouldn't be surprised if I decided to do it again when next November rolls around. In the near future, I'll try to get links to these videos collected on the articles page of my website, for easy reference. Thanks for following along, and for all your encouraging comments along the way. This blog will now resume its relatively low-traffic status.

Oh, one more thing. I captioned all 30 of this month's videos using Universal Subtitles. It's a fantastic solution for quick and easy captioning in a variety of online video formats. It's versatile, simple to use, and free/open source. Check them out, and if you like them as much as I do, think about getting involved. Thanks, Universal Subtitles. I couldn't have done it without you guys.

Monday, November 29, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 29: Linda Buys a Hat

It's the penultimate day of NatCapVidMo! If you guys have any more video captioning requests, you'd better get them in soon, because this is your last chance. Here's a classic skit from Sesame Street which originally aired in 1993. By that time, Linda Bove had already been on Sesame Street for 22 years. I remember her well from when I watched the show as a little kid in the early '80s. In fact, I'm pretty sure that she was the first Deaf person I was ever consciously aware of, and that the first time I ever saw anyone use Sign Language was on Sesame Street. I've been studying ASL for about two and a half years now, so I realized while watching this video that she altered her signing a bit for the show so that it was closer to English word order than to ASL syntax. (For instance, she signs the sentence "I want to buy a hat" "I-WANT BUY HAT" rather than the more correct "HAT I-WANT BUY" or "HAT BUY I-WANT".) But I still really enjoyed watching it, and the language is simple enough that even an intermediate signer like me can translate it with a pretty high degree of confidence. I think it's funnier if you can understand both sides of the conversation, so I decided to caption it. Now Deaf/HoH signers and non-signing Hearing, deafened, and HoH English speakers can all get in on the joke.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 28: Refreshabraille 18 on the iPod

Mike Paciello tipped me off to this video today on Twitter. It's about how to use a Refreshable Braille Display (The APH Refreshabraille 18) with an iPod Touch or iPhone. I don't have any of these devices; my phone is a Blackberry 8330, my mp3 player is a Toshiba Gigabeat F, and I don't know braille, though I'm certainly very open to providing CART for someone who uses a refreshable braille display. I really liked getting an inside look on both the display itself and the iPod's VoiceOver interface (which I had heard about but had never seen in action), and I was extremely impressed by Chase's facility with the interface and clear way of describing everything he was doing. Below I've attached a transcript of the video, because I'm not sure how accessible Universal Subtitle's "download subtitles" interface is for deaf-blind people using braille displays or screen readers. This also reminded me to attach a transcript to my post for Day 16, Out of Sight (with Audio Description).


CHASE: Hi, this is Chase again. And today I want to show you how to pair a Refreshabraille 18 with the iPod Touch or iPhone running iOS4. As you might know, the Refreshabraille 18 can only connect with the iPod Touch or iPhone via Bluetooth, as they do not have a USB port. And I have an iPod Touch here, which is already on, so what we need to do next is to turn the Refreshabraille on. I will hold down the power button. (cells vibrating) And you heard the cells vibrate. And now we see my display's name. Now, by default, Bluetooth is automatically turned on, so we don't need to do anything to enable Bluetooth. What we need to do to get braille working on the iPod touch is to go to settings, so I'll tap my touchscreen near settings.

iPOD: Page one of three, iTunes. Settings.

CHASE: I did that by flicking left. I'll double tap here.

iPOD: Settings, settings, music, button.

CHASE: And now my cursor was placed on the music item in settings. But I'll flick left.

iPOD: General, button.

CHASE: And that's general, which is where we need to go. I double tapped.

iPOD: General, settings, back button.

CHASE: And now we need to go to accessibility, which is where you can set all of the iPod and iPhones' accessibility features.

iPOD: General, restrictions, up, date and time, keyboard, international, accessibility, reset, accessibility, button.

CHASE: Now, what I did to get to accessibility was I touched near the bottom of the screen, and then flicked right 'til I got to accessibility. Now I'll double tap.

iPOD: Accessibility, general, back button. Accessibility. VoiceOver, on, button.

CHASE: Now we need to go into VoiceOver. VoiceOver, if you do not know, is the built-in screenreader on these devices, and that is what the Refreshabraille 18 will connect with.

iPOD: Zoom, off, button.

CHASE: But we also have things like the monaural audio and the magnifier, called Zoom.

iPOD: VoiceOver, on, button.

CHASE: But we'll go into VoiceOver, by double tapping.

iPOD: VoiceOver, accessibility, back button.

CHASE: And now we'll need to flick right 'til we get to braille.

iPOD: VoiceOver, VoiceOver, VoiceOver speaks items, to select, to activate the selected item, double tap, to scroll, flick three fingers, practice VoiceOver gestures, button, speak hints, off, speaking rate, 22%, typing feedback, words, use phonetics, on, use pitch change, off, braille, button.

CHASE: And there's the braille button. We'll double tap.

iPOD: Alert, Bluetooth is turned off. Bluetooth is required to use a braille device. Would you like to turn on Bluetooth? Bluetooth is turned off.

CHASE: And now we need to turn on Bluetooth. You don't need to enable Bluetooth before you get into the braille setings, as, as you heard, it informs me that Bluetooth is turned off.

iPOD: Bluetooth is required to -- cancel -- okay.

CHASE: I'll double tap okay, which will open the braille settings and turn on Bluetooth.

iPOD: Braille, VoiceOver, back button.

CHASE: And now we'll have some braille settings, as well as the displays that are in range of the iPod.

iPOD: Braille, contracted braille, on.

CHASE: That is to show Grade 2 braille. I have turned that on.

iPOD: Status cell, off.

CHASE: Status cell is off.

iPOD: Choose a braille device. Refreshabraille chase. Not paired, button.

CHASE: Now, the iPod's searched for my Refreshabraille, which is called Refreshabraille chase, as I have named my display "chase". And it has already found it. What we need to do to pair it is to double tap.

iPOD: Refreshabraille chase. Refreshabraille, Refreshabraille chase, PIN, secure, 2, 1, 2, 3, 4. PIN, 1, done, button, done, end, braille, VoiceOver, back button.

CHASE: My display just went blank, and now we see VoiceOver, back, and then if I pan to the right, BTN, which stands for button. Now, I want to explain what I did when it asked for the pairing code. You only have a certain amount of seconds to pair this and put in that code, so I did that before I discussed it, so I'd have enough time. The PIN code, or personal identification... This code allows you to securely connect to your Refreshabraille 18. By default, the Refreshabraille 18's PIN code is 1234. So I typed that in, and then pressed the "done" button. So now we have braille. Now, what I want to do is to go to the practice VoiceOver gestures, which is in the VoiceOver settings. So I'll flick to the left, until I get to the VoiceOver back button.

iPOD: VoiceOver, accessibility.

CHASE: And now we're back in the VoiceOver settings screen.

iPOD: Back button, VoiceOver, VoiceOver, on. VoiceOver speaks items on the screen. To select an item, touch it.

CHASE: Now on the braille display I can use the joystick to flick right, by pushing it to the right.

iPOD: To activate the selected item, double tap. To scroll, flick three fingers. Practice VoiceOver gestures, button.

CHASE: Now, this is what I want. I can either double tap on the touch screen or press down on the joystick. I pressed down on the joystick.

iPOD: Practice gestures.

CHASE: And I'll touch on the screen.

iPOD: Practice VoiceOver gestures in this area. Select the done button in the top right corner and double tap to exit.

CHASE: Now we can do gestures on the screen, like...

iPOD: Rotate clockwise. Select next rotor setting.

CHASE: Or, on the display, we can press any of the display keys, like...

iPOD: Joystick pressed. Activates the selected item.

CHASE: Or... I'm panning to the right, and it's showing what it just said, but if I get to the end...

iPOD: Pan braille to the right.

CHASE: That's the pan braille to the right. But you can also use chorded commands. That is, letters and symbols, with the space bar. And they'll tell us what they do. So H-Chord, for example...

iPOD: Dot-1, Dot-2, Dot-5, space bar. Activates the home button. Practice VoiceOver gestures in this area.

CHASE: Or...

iPOD: Select the done button in the top right corner and double tap to exit.

CHASE: Or, if I press E-Chord...

iPOD: Dot-1, Dot-5, spacebar. Activates the return key.

CHASE: Activates the return key. Now, I'll go ahead and get out of this.

iPOD: Done, button. 20% battery... Practice VoiceOver gestures in this area.

CHASE: Now, I touched too high.

iPOD: Select the done button in the top right corner and double tap to exit.

CHASE: I tapped too high on the screen, so I got into the status bar. So...

iPOD: 20%... Practice VoiceOver, done, button.

CHASE: There's the done button. I'll double tap. And we're back in settings.

iPOD: VoiceOver, accessibility, back button.

CHASE: Now I'll press H-Chord to get to the home screen, or I could press the home button on the iPod.

iPOD: Home, settings.

CHASE: And we'll see... Home, settings, on the braille display. Now, what I want to show you is... We can go to an application, for example, Notes, that allows you to input text and use the Refreshabraille 18's braille keyboard to type.

iPOD: Calculator, Clock, Notes.

CHASE: There's Notes. I used the joystick left function to get to that. I'll press down on the joystick to open Notes.

iPOD: Notes, new note, text field, is editing, character mode.

CHASE: And we're automatically placed into the new note field. So if I type "this is a test" in grade 2 braille...

iPOD: This... Is... A...

CHASE: This is a test. And it didn't speak the last word because I put a period and then a space. I kind of interrupted it. But I have "This is a test" in grade 2 braille. But if you typed in, in an email, for example, in grade 2 braille, and you sent it, that email would be translated into regular text, so you can type in any text fields on the iPod using the Refreshabraille 18's keypad. I'll now return to the home screen with H-Chord.

iPOD: Home, Notes.

CHASE: That is all that I want to show you. I'll be back in a future video, talking more about connecting the Refreshabraille 18 with other devices.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 27: Traditional Hand Signs

A video from Clifton Biendurry, via the Enduring Voices Project.

From Biendurry's website: Clifton Jungurrayi Bieundurry belongs to the Walmajarri people of the Central Kimberley. [...] He speaks several traditional contemporary and Indigenous languages, including Walmajarri, Kukatja, Jaru, and Kriol.

I thought it was interesting to learn about people who communicate using their voices most of the time, but who have a set of hand signs they use to communicate something silently or inconspicuously when speaking isn't possible.

Friday, November 26, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 26: Organic and Polymeric Semiconductors

This video was suggested by my brother William. I think it's pretty interesting stuff. If they actually figure out how to make organic and polymeric semiconductors into efficient solar cells, they could transform the face of this planet. Best of luck to 'em! Well, there are only four more days left of NatCapVidMo, and the requests are still coming in. Be sure to send yours to or comment on this post before time runs out.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 25: Missoula Parkour

I've had a wonderful warm, cozy Thanksgiving, cooking at home and eating glorious food with my partner and cat here in New York City. I've been in this city for six years now, and I love it with all my heart. It's huge, mysterious, vital, complex, and unexpectedly kind. Living here is the adventure I dreamed of all through my childhood, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But this is also the time of year that I find myself thinking about the rest of my family back home in Missoula, Montana. (There's also an outpost of Knights in Seattle.) I thought it might be nice to put up a captioned glimpse of where I came from, and I figured that among the more interesting ways to do it would be to show a bunch of reckless youths risking their hides as they jump around on various Zootown landmarks. I always enjoy watching Parkour videos, though I've never done it myself -- partly because I get winded if I run more than half a block or so, and partly because I'm my family's primary breadwinner, so if I screw up my hands, we don't eat. That means I have to get my leaping and scrambling thrills vicariously. Enjoy the energetic lads of the Missoula Parkour Group, and if you can take your eyes off their flailing limbs, check out the scenery while you're at it. That's where I grew up. It's a peculiar little city, but it's home.

ETA: One formatting note. It's generally conventional when doing captioning for people with hearing loss that you don't repeat words in captions that are already written on the screen, such as the names of the vaults in this video. The reason why I captioned them is because Universal Subtitles also allows translation of captions, and if someone wanted to translate this video into another language, they'd be able to translate the names of the parkour moves as well.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 24: Signs of Our Ideas

I found this pair of videos while looking for footage of Peter Cook, the famous ASL comedian. I thought it was fascinating for a number of reasons. For one, I really enjoyed the linguistic content. I knew that there were two different signs for "poetry", but I'd never heard about the international Deaf conference that inspired the more modern one. I always love watching Peter Cook sign, whether he's being silly or serious. I also thought these videos were a timely thing to post on the day before Thanksgiving. It's important to think about things like poverty and privilege year-round, but especially when we're giving thanks for all the good things in our life, we need to remember what it's like for people who haven't gotten the help, support, education, and security that many of us take for granted. As it says in the video, poverty is much more than just a lack of money. I'm going to try to be aware of my many privileges this week and in the weeks to come, and I'll try to keep thinking about people affected by poverty and what I can do to help. One peculiarity of these videos: Even though they're announcing a contest that ran from March through April, 2008, I haven't been able to find any entries for it on YouTube, much less the announcement of the winning entry which they said would happen in May 2008. Columbia College's website has documents about the beginning of the contest, but nothing about the end of it. And when I searched YouTube for "ASL" and "poverty", I didn't find anything connected to Columbia College, Peter Cook, or Signs of Our Ideas. Were there really no entries? If so, that's really a shame. It was a wonderful idea, but perhaps it wasn't publicized enough. Maybe sometime in the future the contest will be revived. Meanwhile, I hope my captions help to make these ideas accessible to new groups of people.

I just donated to the New York City Food Bank. Click here to make your donation today.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 23: Greubel Forsey

As I stated in the molecular gastronomy video on Day 15, which was, like this video, more or less an advertisement, I receive no perks from this company. In fact, if Greubel Forsey somehow found this video and decided my captioning job was so brilliant that they just had to give me a complimentary Quadruple Tourbillon wristwatch, I don't think I'd know what to do with it. I haven't worn a watch in five years; whenever I need to check the time, I just pull out my cell phone. It's gauche but convenient. I didn't enjoy watching this video because I covet their final product. I just really like watching the illustration of their process in designing the watches, from the hand drawings to the CAD visualizations to the intricate hand-tooling under magnification with dazzling precision. To me -- and call me a philistine if you want -- the actual watch is almost beside the point. I just really like watching the combination of advanced modern technology with ancient mechanical techniques. (See also: Day 14: The Antikythera Mechanism.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 22: Why Can't We Walk Straight?

A friend tipped me off to this fascinating story on NPR: Why Can't We Walk Straight? I chose to caption this for three reasons. First, I thought the animation was beautiful and it was the sort of video I wouldn't mind watching the four or five times it takes to go through the captioning process. Second, I thought it was strange that NPR didn't caption it, even though they offered a transcript for the audio link from Morning Edition at the top of the page. Third, I've got a simply terrible sense of direction even when I'm not blindfolded, so I like to think that my frequent habit of doubling back on myself and turning in circles when trying to find my way in an unfamiliar place is just a natural extension of this apparently inborn human tendency to walk in spirals, circles, and loop-de-loops.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 21: Engineer's Guide to Cats

Following up on the recent theme of ultra-nerdy videos about science stuff, this video was requested by a reader of the blog who would like to remain anonymous.

My own cat, Alcibiades, practicing his steno skills. (Cat-sized steno machine not pictured.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 20: Science Tricks for Parties

Hey, I finally managed to get a video out before midnight! Go me. I've never tried any of these tricks, but they look like fun -- particularly the one with the baking soda.

Friday, November 19, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 19: Work It Out

More music! Official video for "Work It Out" by RJD2, featuring dancer Bill Shannon. I've watched this thing over and over, and I'm still not sick of it. Also, it was filmed about ten blocks away from my office in Brooklyn.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 18: The Flashlight Toothbrush

Breaking Consumer Report: Ostensible "Shake Flashlight" From Dollar Store Not What it Appears to Be! Inventor and Product Tester Zachary Snyder has the story.

I admit that the main reason I decided to caption this video is because I'm jealous of his action figure collection. I found it randomly while searching YouTube for how-to videos and it amused me. I also kind of covet an illuminated toothbrush, though I think if you're gonna do it at all, do it properly and spring for the $30 Faraday model.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 17: Lunokhod-1

40 years ago today, Lunokhod 1 landed on the surface of the Moon and began taking pictures. It was only expected to last 3 months, but wound up staying operational for 11 months, and even today, though it hasn't transmitted any electronic signals back to earth since 1971, its reflector is still being used by by earth-based astronomers. Well done, little lunar robot! Maybe someday soon we'll come back up there to thank you for all your good work in person.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 16: Out of Sight (With Audio Description!)

I've placed my usual embedded video with captions by Universal Subtitles above, but if you watch it, you'll notice that the only dialogue is the name "Gogo", and other than that the captions are just sound effects. Out of Sight is a beautiful short animation by Ya-Ting Yu, Ya-Hsuan Yeh, and Ling Chung, three students at the National Taiwan University of the Arts. I decided that since the captioning job was such an easy one, I should try my hand at audio description.

My audio described version can be found here. You can also paste the URL ( into EasyTube, an accessible YouTube interface that allows for keyboard navigation. I've seen a few audio described videos and have read some guidelines on audio description, but this is my first time actually attempting it, so I'd be grateful for any feedback from blind or low-vision people who give it a listen. It was really fun to do, and even though I've now seen this video probably a dozen times, I'm still not sick of it. Bravo to the Taiwan University Team! For more information on the video, go to their website here.

Edited to Add: I've attached a transcript of the audio description below.


Animated footprints of a dog.

The rest of the dog is gradually sketched in, then filled with color.

The legs and feet of a little girl, Chico, holding the dog's leash and walking.

The words "out of sight" painted on a white fence.

The legs and feet of a man walking past the fence.

A sunny day. The little girl is walking her dog and smiling.

The man approaches from behind and snatches her purse.

Her dog chases after the thief, dragging Chico along.

She slams into a tall fence and the dog breaks free, running through a ragged opening in the boards.

She feels a draft coming from the opening.

She bends down and feels around the edges of the opening.

She crawls through it into a pitch dark, cave-like space.

She gropes around and finds a small twig.

A drop of water briefly illuminates the darkness as it falls into a small puddle.

She waves the twig and the window of a house emerges out of the darkness.

The twig has transformed into a magic wand with a star on the end.

She taps her head with the wand her colorful clothes transform into a black dress with a witch's hat.

She runs her fingers along the hat and smiles at her transformation.

She traces the wall with her wand, heading toward a small patch of light in the distance.

She collides with a tree and falls down.

The darkness is gone and she is in front of a blue house with yellow shutters.

She continues to walk, waving her magic wand in front of her.

Her wand taps against a metal rod with a pleasant chime.

She smiles and runs her wand along the row of metal rods, which become a metal fence as she passes by.

Birds fly up and out of view as a plain brick wall is revealed.

She pauses and taps her wand against the wall, then sniffs the air.

The blank wall becomes a bakery window with pies, cakes, and a swinging sign reading "bread".

The bakery door opens. A woman walks out and past Chico, carrying a bag filled with bread.

Chico continues walking, tapping her wand against the wall.

She sniffs again, and a woman walking past sprouts large pink flower petals that encircle her face.

As Chico inhales deeply, she begins to cough.

She's encircled by a cloud of smoke from a passing man with a pipe.

She passes an alleyway.

A beige, vaguely spherical shape is rolling around on a garbage can.

The shape jumps to the ground, rolls towards her, and transforms into a kitten.

The kitten rubs happily against Chico, who smiles.

The kitten hears Gogo's bark in the distance and runs away.

As the walks, houses and shops spring into being when she taps them with her wand.

A stork drills a manhole in the road with its beak.

A church springs up, with a bell ringing in its steeple.

Cars that look like fish swim by in shallow water, smoking pipes.

A fish bus picks up several strange, animal-headed passengers, then moves on.

Chico looks up.

A giant whale blimp with 10 rippling fins floats benignly over the city.

Chico cups her ears and enjoys the sound of the whale blimp.

Gogo runs up to Chico carrying her purse in his mouth.

She drops the magic wand and it transforms back into a twig.

She hugs Gogo and feels the purse carefully before realizing what it is.

She smiles happily and picks up Gogo's leash.

They walk off together along the bright and colorful city street.

The camera pans upward to show the contrail of a passenger jet moving through the sky.

Credits. Still sketch of the dog barking at the thief up in a tree.

Another sketch of a man coming out of the bakery while Chico's dog navigates the opening door.

A sketch of Chico squishing Gogo's face and grinning while he wags his tail.

Monday, November 15, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 15: Molecular Gastronomy

Disclaimer: I take no kickbacks from Moto. Heck, I've never even eaten there. I sure would love to, though. I love eating weird stuff, especially weird stuff made using Science, so Molecular Gastronomy is one of those things I've been wanting to try for ages. If I ever find myself in Chicago, I'll definitely give it a try. I thought it was pretty funny that one of the dishes in the video was frozen cooked pureed pancakes. I used to have to cook pancakes, then puree them, at the group home I used to work at, for the clients who had swallowing disorders. Never thought to freeze the puree on a plate, though; I think it might sort have defeated the purpose.

Well, that's day 15 of NatCapVidMo. Half the month gone, half the month left. I'm having a blast so far. Thanks again to Universal Subtitles and all the people who upload interesting stuff on YouTube.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 14: The Antikythera Mechanism

The Antikythera mechanism is a fascinating piece of machinery, and Michael Wright has built a fully functional working model, which he demonstrates in this video. The narration is a bit dry, but the thing itself is just beautiful.

This video was very easy to caption, but it took me several hours to find something appropriate for today's NatCapVidMo. Now that I'm reaching the middle of the month, my ready sources of captioning material (especially since I'm trying to limit the number of music videos somewhat) are running dry. If there's a video you'd like to see captioned, please comment on the blog or email As long as it's under 10 minutes and safe for work, I'll do my best to oblige. And even if you don't need anything captioned, tell your friends about the NatCapVidMo project, and maybe they'll come up with something. Thanks!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 13: Foux du fa fa

Universal Subtitles isn't just for captioning English to English! I took this song from the brilliant television show Flight of the Conchords, captioned it in French (with a little help from the internet), then, using my magnificently advanced French skills (two semesters in college nine years ago) translated it into English for your viewing pleasure. You can select either language from the Universal Subtitles menu.


Friday, November 12, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 12: Feynman on Fire

Richard Feynman, one of my all-time heroes, explains how fire works. I love the way he talks about stuff.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 11: Visual Illusions

So Universal Subtitles isn't just fun and games. The above video was shown in one of the classes I CARTed today. Yesterday the class's instructor picked out the video and informed the student, the disability office transcribed it, I got the transcript, and then I captioned it on my lunch hour so that the student could watch it in class. Usually when there's a video shown in class I'm not given any warning, so I have to CART it on the fly. It's not usually a big problem, except that day when the professor decided to show this video (warning: salty language) out of the blue, which is not the easiest thing to write, let me tell you. But even when I'm able to CART the video accurately, it can often be a frustrating situation for the student, because they're forced to constantly look back and forth between the video screen and the laptop's CART display, which not only gives them a crick in the neck but can also result in them missing some of the words, some of the video images, or both. Captions are of course ideal for this, but before Universal Subtitles it wasn't generally possible to get a captioned video up in time, especially since professors don't tend to choose the videos they show in class more than a day or two ahead of time. Now if I have even a little advance notice, I can transcribe the video (or have the disability department do it for me), caption it in minutes, and give the instructor the link to the Universal Subtitled version instead of the original one. Easy as anything!

Because I did this video on my lunch hour, have done a total of nine hours of CART today (seven in the Bronx and two in Manhattan, including a mad dash from the former to the latter via Metro North), and have to do 24 audio minutes of paid transcription work before going to bed tonight, this video is not as finely polished as some of my previous ones. For instance, there are a few captions with hanging/orphaned words, which I usually try to avoid. It would be great if Universal Subtitles offered a "line break" option within a single caption block, but I suppose that's not ultra high priority. Anyway, I hope you like it. I know my client was pretty happy with the results.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 10: The Mimic Octopus

Yep, another nature documentary. This one's pretty incredible, though. That is one versatile octopus.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 9: Crazy

I know there are a ton of terrible "signed songs" out there; it's all too easy for a hearing person with a tiny bit of ASL to pick a song, look up each word of the lyrics in their Signing Dictionary, and string them together in one ungrammatical chain of nonsense. When ASL music is done well, though, it's an amazing thing to watch. I'm no expert, but this interpretation of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy by B Storm is one of the best productions I've seen, not just in sensitivity of interpretation, but in characterization, makeup, narrative design, and video editing. Storm clearly paid close attention to the rhythm of the song in making his camera cuts, and I tried hard to duplicate that timing in the captions, leaving them on throughout each of Cee Lo Green's gorgeous melismas, but blanking them as soon as he cut off. It's a fine balance; you don't want to clear the captions too quickly, because then people don't have time to read them, and the constant blinking on and off can be very distracting. On the other hand, you don't want the captions just hanging there when no one is speaking or singing. You need to pay attention both to what's going on in the soundtrack and to the video itself. It's best to blank a caption when the video switches cameras or when someone makes a gesture indicating that they're moving on.

Two things I wish Universal Subtitles had, which would make these finer points of captioning a bit easier: 1) A manual "blank" key, which wipes a caption on command, rather than having to drag the caption's box on the timeline during the second go-around. The commercial software I used to use in my old offline captioning job had one, and it was invaluable. 2) A "nudge" function. Even the quickest captioner has to account for the delay between mind and hand. If they anticipate the caption before it's spoken, they risk triggering it too soon, but if they hit the button right when they hear the first word, it's already too late. The only way I've found to fix this problem with Universal Subtitles is to caption the whole video normally, hitting the button as soon as I hear the first word, and then going back through the syncing process again, paying close attention to the timeline and hitting the caption button about five little tick marks before each caption I placed on my first runthrough. That compensates for my reflex delay, but it also necessitates an additional runthrough, which I wouldn't need to bother with if I could tell Universal Subtitles to timeshift each caption, say, half a second earlier. Then if there are any mistimed captions I could catch them and tweak them on my final review rather than having to devote an entire runthrough to retiming my initial caption placement. It's not a big deal on a three-minute video, of course, but it would be a helpful feature to have somewhere down the line. I'm still thoroughly enjoying the process of captioning a video per day via Universal Subtitles, though, and a few of my colleagues seem to have gotten in the spirit as well. It's a wonderful tool, and I encourage anyone who's contemplated putting captions on their videos to play around with it and see how truly simple and intuitive the interface really is.

Monday, November 8, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 8: Sleight of Hand

I've been a Penn and Teller fan since high school. Some people find their style too acerbic, but it would be hard to argue that intricately choreographed bits like this one are anything but pure poetry.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 7: The Shakespeare Sketch

Two of my favorite British comedians, Rowan Atkinson and Hugh Laurie, in a very silly sketch about Shakespeare and his editor. You'll notice that the video and the soundtrack are a little out of sync; this is an occasional artifact of YouTube's uploading system, and there wasn't anything I could do about it, since Universal Subtitles just takes someone else's YouTube video and puts the captions on top. I tried a few versions that various people had uploaded, and they all seemed to have this syncing problem, so I just decided to synchronize the captions with the audio and let the action lag behind a bit. My other dilemma was how to spell "King Canute". The page where I found the script for this sketch had it Canute, but the Wikipedia article had it Cnut, and I'd always thought it was properly spelled Knut, like the polar bear. I decided to let Google play the judge, and since "king canute" got 117,000 hits, "king cnut" 26,000 hits, and "king knut" 14,000 hits, I let the original spelling stand. The relevant portion of his legend, incidentally, is here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 6: Life of a Freelancer

DISCLAIMER: Yes, I am a freelancer, but I do not subscribe to the business practices shown in the above video. Don't try this at home, kids.

I found Life of a Freelancer via Freelance Switch's Twitter feed a few months ago. Even though I'm not a graphic designer, I've hung around enough of them to get most of the industry in-jokes, and I definitely sympathize with the need to portray one's self as a legitimate business enterprise when in reality it's just one person in their boxer shorts on a cell phone. I'm always careful to point out that I'm a sole proprietor rather than a multi-employee CART firm, but I admit that back before I started renting coworking space I did used to say things like "I'm sorry, I've been out of my office all day" when by office I meant "the corner of my living room next to the fire door." If you're not self-employed, you might not enjoy this video quite as much as I do, but I hope you'll get a laugh out of it anyway.

By the way, I transcribed this video in steno using a $45 keyboard and Plover, the open source steno software I've been developing with a (freelance!) Python programmer for the last year. If you've ever been interested in learning steno but don't want to pay $1,500 just to get started, check Plover out! It's completely free and works like a dream.

Friday, November 5, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 5: Gerald McBoing-Boing

I found this one delightful, but also pretty poignant. It's from the great mind of Dr. Seuss, of course, and was voted #9 of the 50 Greatest Cartoons of All Time. I really enjoyed doing the sound effects on this one. Well, day five is in the bag. I saw a woman reading No Plot? No Problem!, the book written by the founder of NaNoWriMo, but even though I felt a little twinge at not being part of the madcap noveling crowd, I have to say I'm really enjoying this so far. What'll I caption tomorrow? No idea! I guess I'll find out. As always, requests are welcome.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 4: That Man

As someone who came of age in the '90s, I've got a soft spot for Neo-Swing, cheesy as so much of it was. This music video, released in 2010 by Caro Emerald, is a standout, I'd say. It's peppy, it's catchy, and the animation is supremely well crafted. It's even got a bit of kinetic typography to help jazz up the captions. I don't want to do too many music videos this month, because in a way they're just too easy, but this one was hard to resist.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 3: That Keith Wann Show Information

I was hoping to post this before tonight's Keith Wann Show, but the first time I tried to caption it I discovered that I'd been working on the Vimeo version, and Vimeo files don't yet support Universal Subtitles. Oh well. After captioning the show (guest hosted this week by the superb Windell Smith, whose Peter Sellers-esque comedy stylings you see in this video) I dug up the YouTube version and was able to caption it without any problem. So this is coming about an hour after midnight, but I haven't gone to bed yet, so I'm still counting it as Wednesday's NatCapVidMo entry. I love captioning ASL videos. I'm not yet fluent enough to caption them by sight, but when they're voiced it's a pleasure to link up the three modes of communication -- two visual, one auditory; two English, one Sign -- so that the video becomes accessible to anyone who knows either ASL or English, whether they can hear or not. Someday I'd like to do more ASL captioning without having the voiceover to guide me, but I need to become much more nuanced in my understanding of the language first.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Keith Wann Show Interview Transcript is Up!

The transcript from my interview on That Keith Wann Show last Wednesday is now online. You can read it here. When he uploads the ASL video (probably in a month or so), I'll caption it and link it here as well. It was a really fun evening; Keith and Windell and I talked about all sorts of stuff, from theater captioning to the issue of how to build connections between the Deaf and deafened/hard of hearing communities, to the virtues of New York City diner food. Here's the audio file, and once again, here's the transcript. Special thanks to my awesome colleague Cory, who captioned the show last Wednesday while I was busy talking.

NatCapVidMo Day 2: The Vogelkop Bowerbird

I was watching this wonderful documentary, Attenborough in Paradise, just a few weeks ago. It's available on Netflix Streaming (though not with captions, tsk-tsk) and it's an amazing view into the lives of the birds of New Guinea. This is my favorite part of the documentary, the segment on the Vogelkop bowerbird.

Monday, November 1, 2010

NatCapVidMo Day 1: Transcription and Translation

I fooled you with that title, didn't I? I was especially tickled by the mention of the transcription happening in realtime. (CART, you'll remember, stands for Communication Access Realtime Transcription). But strangely enough, I didn't find this video by searching for "realtime" or "transcription". I went through the archives of some of my favorite videos and found a link to a 7-minute video by the same animation company, and decided that a 4-minute video was more my speed for the fist day of NatCapVidMo. So I clicked this one, got it all down on my steno machine, and captioned it in just a few minutes using Universal Subtitles. Easy as anything. This video goes out to my brother William (last seen in What Is Steno Good For Part Four: Mobile and Wearable Computing), who's a PhD in biochemistry with a special love for ribosomes. I'll have another captioned video for you tomorrow. As always, requests are welcome. 'Til then!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


Some of you may have heard of National Novel Writing Month, otherwise known as NaNoWriMo. It's a wacky but well-loved tradition, in which thousands of people from all over the world (so it's really International Novel Writing Month, if you want to get technical) attempt to write a 50,000-page novel in 30 days. I've attempted it four times and won it twice (I wrote about my 2008 triumph in What is Steno Good For: Writing and Coding, if you're interested). It's always a blast, and every time the end of October rolls around I get that nagging little hankering to write another novel, but this year it's just not in the cards. I'm CARTing for four students at three different colleges, five days a week plus prep and editing time, transcribing an average of one ophthalmology interview per workday, and frequently working weekends doing theater captioning and other per diem CART work that comes along. If I tried to carve out the time for NaNoWriMo, I'd have to cut corners somewhere else, and I don't want to do that. But I thought of something I could do, to get in the November marathon spirit: NatCapVidMo. You guessed it: National Captioning Video Month. I've decided to caption one online video per day throughout the month of November, using the amazing free utility provided by Universal Subtitles. The great thing about Universal Subtitles is that it not only works with YouTube videos, but with virtually any embeddable video hosted anywhere on the web. I made a test video this afternoon and it was absolutely amazing how quick and easy it was:

So from now until November 1st I'm going to try to put together a list of videos in need of captioning. Requests will definitely be considered, of course, though I reserve the right to ignore them and put up something that tickles my own strange fancy instead. I know this blog is usually pretty low-traffic, and I understand if one post per day exceeds readability for some people. If so, just remove me from your RSS feeds from November 1st through 30th and add me back on come December. But I think it'll be fun. Anyone else who'd like to join in would also be very welcome. If it goes well next month, I might even make it a yearly tradition. What do you think?

Interview on That Keith Wann Show Tomorrow!

Since September I've been captioning That Keith Wann Show live every Wednesday night at 8:00 EST, but this week I'm passing the captioning job to my excellent colleague Cory for the night, because I'm actually going to be on the show as a guest, and there's no way I'm going to be able to talk and write steno at the same time. For those of you who don't know Keith Wann, he's a legend in the ASL community. Both his parents are Deaf, so he grew up speaking ASL as a first language, and subsequently became not only a master interpreter, but a masterful ASL comedian. When he started his radio show, he asked me to caption it for him, and even though I had to drop my ASL class * (since the show was scheduled smack dab in the middle of it), I gleefully leapt at the chance. It's been a blast, and I've gotten the chance not only to give live access to the Deaf people in the audience -- many of whom then revisit it in another medium when the ASL version is uploaded -- but I also get to give access to people with hearing loss whose primary language isn't ASL, who often want to connect with members of the Deaf community both for personal reasons and to help bolster self-advocacy efforts, but who are prevented from building those alliances by the language barrier. I'm really interested in those conversations, both between Deaf people and HoH/deafened people and between CART providers and ASL interpreters. We work towards many of the same goals, but it's relatively rare that we actually get a chance to sit down and talk together, so I can't wait to see how the conversation goes between Keith and me tomorrow, and I'm hoping that some Deaf/HoH/deafened audience members will call in or write questions and comments in the chat room as well. Tune in tomorrow and see how it goes!

* There's a happy ending, though: I'm starting up ASL lessons again in two weeks on Tuesday mornings, so Keith can stop feeling guilty about depriving me of my education.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

How I Got Here

Often I'm asked, "What made you become a CART provider?" The short answer is that I was a freelance transcriptionist who became frustrated with the slow pace of qwerty and went looking for a better way, which turned out to be steno. The slightly more detailed answer can be read on my website's bio page. And last May I made a 35-second clip connecting the dots from there to here using YouTube's nifty Search Stories Video Creator.

But the longer answer, of course, is that this career was a long time in coming. In case you're interested in the details, here's the story of my work history over the past 12 years.

* 1998: I graduated high school and went to work in the pit orchestra of the Bigfork Summer Playhouse in Bigfork, Montana, playing violin, trumpet, and bassoon. I would eventually work there for four summers in all, and during my second summer I did some volunteer play therapy and babysitting for a six-year-old boy who had autism. I also made the acquaintance of a woman who worked as a TTY operator, a job I'd heard of but had never seriously considered. Looking back, I think that those two experiences together made me want to learn more about disability advocacy, though I didn't put the thought into action until some time later.

* 1998 - 2002: I went to St. John's College, spending two years at the Annapolis campus and two years at the Santa Fe campus. While I was there, I had various work-study jobs, including as a dishwasher in the cafeteria and as an assistant for Sophomore music classes, which gave me the opportunity to help students with listening skills, sight singing, paper writing, and counterpoint.

* 2002: I graduated from St. John's, and after taking a few post-baccalaureate premedical classes at Towson University, I decided that I didn't actually want to be a doctor, so I headed back home to Montana to weigh my options. Shortly after settling in, I got a job at the Missoula Developmental Service Corporation, working in a group home for adults with developmental disabilities. I worked there for a year and a half and learned a great deal from my clients -- not least that I really enjoyed providing support services to people.

* 2004: Just a few months before I was supposed to ship out to Morocco with the Peace Corps, I met my current partner over the internet and visited NYC to see what would happen next. Long story short, I gave the Peace Corps my regrets and decided to move to NYC instead. When I got here, I found a very pleasant but low-paying job at Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. The employee book discount was fabulous, but I was having trouble making ends meet, so I found a job assisting a retired lawyer who had developed ALS and needed basic supportive care. She was an excellent employer, and she taught me how to do my job efficiently and discreetly, without unnecessarily disrupting the daily course of her life. While working for her, I decided to apply to Hunter College's MA program in British and American Literature, mostly because I wasn't sure what to do next, and because it sounded like a fun way to spend a few more years reading books. Unfortunately, when I got my acceptance letter, I realized that tuition would be hard to come by considering what I was making at the time, and that my prospects for supporting myself after getting the MA weren't much better.

* 2005: Switching between the graveyard shift during the week and a daytime schedule on the weekends was getting difficult to keep up, so I reluctantly said goodbye to my employer as she left to spend a summer in Maine, and found a job transcribing audio tapes of television shows (mostly reality shows) for pre-production editing scripts. That was when I realized that, as fast as I could write on a qwerty keyboard, it was nowhere near fast enough to keep up with even a moderate rate of speech. I knew there had to be a better way, so I looked up "stenography" on Wikipedia. I read the article, getting more and more excited, and started thinking about ways I could use that sort of skill, once I developed it. Sure, it would help me at the pre-production job, but I didn't want to be transcribing reality shows forever. I could use it to caption live TV broadcasts, but again, that wasn't exactly my cup of tea. Court reporting? It sounded like a challenge, but I wasn't sure I wanted to sit between two sets of shouting lawyers every day. Finally, as my eye moved down the article, I saw my first mention of CART. How had I never heard of this before? Working in colleges and universities, transcribing classes for Deaf and hard of hearing students? It would be like going to graduate school and getting a free education, while making an actual living! Plus I wouldn't just have to choose any one subject to study -- I could learn a little bit of everything. That settled it. I wrote Hunter and told them I wouldn't be accepting their offer. I enrolled at the local Court Reporting school and sent my resume out to every offline captioning company in the five boroughs so that I could get more experience in actual captioning standards, as opposed to just pre-production transcription. One company hired me, and I was on my way.

* 2005 - 2007: I worked hard transcribing television for captioning (mostly cooking shows, DIY home repair shows, and home decorating shows, with the occasional comedy special or, sigh, reality show) during the day on the qwerty keyboard and went to night school learning steno. On the weekends I made a little extra cash transcribing shows for freelance per-minute rates, on top of the weekly quota I had to manage between Monday and Friday. In the beginning, I'd sit at my steno machine all day just to bang out a 20-minute show. I was still learning my theory and my software, but the more I did it, the easier it came, and soon I was earning enough on the weekend to take my partner out for fancy dinners and even to sock away some savings. Eventually I was even able to switch over from qwerty to steno during the week and still keep up my quota. A year and a half to the day after starting steno school, I passed my last 225 WPM test, and then I spent six months working closely with a professional CART provider, improving my realtime writing and learning the tricks of the trade in all sorts of contexts, from museum lectures to college classes to support group meetings. At the end of those six months, she determined that my writing was quick enough and clean enough to start working for her. I subcontracted with her for two semesters, CARTing the classes that she thought I could handle and further improving my speed and my dictionary.

* 2007 - now: My mentor mostly worked in New Jersey and I wanted to stay in the City, so after a year of very valuable training I decided to start StenoKnight CART Services and head off on my own. After quitting my full-time captioning job, I also began working on a freelance basis with The Caption Coalition, captioning prescripted plays and musicals on and off Broadway. I got my CCP, RPR, and CBC and continued working to get faster and cleaner, providing CART in many different subjects at a number of NYC colleges and other venues. I also got the idea for The Plover Project and started gradually working on making it happen. Along the way, I realized that I was completely supporting myself and my partner with my CART business, which was a wonderful feeling. I paid off the loan I'd gotten from a family friend to buy my commercial steno software within the first year and every year since then I've worked to develop my skills and improve my equipment, first buying my wireless tablet, then my LCD projector, and then getting into remote CART, including my current weekly gig captioning That Keith Wann Show. I've also been taking ASL for about two years now, and I can hold my own in a casual conversation, though I've still got a lot of work to do before I'm fluent. I'll be going for my RMR certification soon, and after that, who knows? My long-term goal is to CART a student through medical school, and my short-term goal is to finish writing Steno 101.

I'm looking forward to the days when I say the words "I'm a CART provider" and no one says, "You mean, like, to the guys who sell the hot dogs on the corner?" This career has been around for almost 20 years now, but its profile is still far too small, and I want to do my part in expanding it. On the personal front, I don't know what my business will look like in five years -- whether it'll be bigger or smaller or about the same; still based in NYC, largely remote, or somewhere else entirely -- but as long as I'm in front of my machine, writing the words of professors and college students and learning a bit for myself along the way, I'll be happy.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Money Book for Freelancers from a CART Provider's Perspective

This blog has been quiet for about a month, as I've been settling into my new CART schedule and pulling everything together for the first big release of Plover, the world's first free steno software (more details on the Plover Blog). I wanted to check in here, though, because there's a lot to write about.

First of all, I've officially survived the summer. The first month of the semester is always a little rough, because I'm working nonstop, scrabbling to get the vocabulary of each new class entered into my steno dictionary. The Latin class I'm CARTing is the most fun I've had in ages, but it's a lot of work to make Latin translate properly in realtime, even though I took three years of it in high school. This year I've also had to figure out the most efficient way to commute between the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Lower Manhattan, while adjusting to a more regimented schedule, after the freefloating months of summer. There's also the money factor, of course. It usually takes a little over a month for the first checks of the semester to start coming in, and quarterly taxes are due September 15th, well before the month is up. I managed to scrape up just about enough for the estimated payment and then sat tight, waiting to see which would come first: Autumn's first paycheck or the October rent bill. Things were looking grim for a while, and I actually wound up transferring some money from my long-term savings account into checking so that I could cover the rent, but fortunately the check came just in the nick of time and I was able to transfer the money back to savings immediately, which felt good.

So now the checks are coming in with a reassuring regularity, and I've decided to take the advice of Joseph D'Agnese and Denise Kiernan, authors of The Money Book for Freelancers, Part-Timers, and the Self-Employed, and start being much more mindful of what I'm doing with my income. I read the book this summer, but since summer is when CART providers go into "spend your savings and put whatever you're earning toward daily expenses and tax payments" mode, it wasn't really possible to start implementing their principles then, since it's focused on people with flexible payment intervals but nonseasonal, semiregular incomes. I must say I enjoyed the book, though. The authors are two self-described "dorkchops", both freelance writers who are unafraid to talk about the ways they fell short in looking after their bank accounts before figuring out their current system. It's a quick, light-hearted read, full of good information for anyone who's paying for their own business expenses (equipment, health insurance, retirement) and who doesn't collect a regular biweekly paycheck. The only real criticism I have is that one of the chapter headings quotes Ayn Rand -- not an appropriate financial role model, in my opinion -- but the overall philosophy of the book (slow and consistent savings patterns, balancing long-term and short-term goals, responsible management of debt) seemed inconsistent enough with Ms. Rand's style that I wouldn't be surprised if they just pulled the quote from a random assortment of money blurbs without considering the source.

Their taste in didactic mid-century fiction aside, the book is quite useful and surprisingly readable. I've already done the following, as of the past week or so:

* I've opened two additional savings accounts, alongside my current catchall account. I'd been putting money into that account fairly infrequently and trying to keep enough in my business account to save up for quarterly taxes, transferring money from business to checking whenever my personal account ran dry. The authors of The Money Book advise keeping several accounts open at a time, each with a distinct purpose. My catchall account is now my emergency account, and I've set a goal of keeping three months' income in it at all times. The two new accounts are for taxes and long-term savings, and the business account is now going to be used as an overhead account, with a certain amount of money per month calculated according to my fixed expenses plus my average spending patterns, which I track using The Money Book advises putting a certain percentage of each check into each account with every deposit. I'm going to try to keep to that, and I'll report back in a few months with a report on how it's going.

* I'm also now tracking my cash spending, using TrackIt: Expense Edition on my phone. Every time I spend some of the cash in my pocket, I write down what I spent it on, and when I run out of cash, I take that record to Mint and enter the information manually. Mint automatically deducts it from the most recent recorded ATM withdrawal, and the accounts stay in balance while reminding me what I spent my cash on.

* I filled out a number of The Money Book's worksheets, helping me to establish a reasonable monthly budget while making sure I was putting aside enough for the future. I found that being prompted to put down my top five goals in various categories such as Financial Security, Family, Career, and Skill Development was very helpful. When I was finally forced to be specific about what I wanted and how much money I needed, I was able to set out a much more concrete plan than the nebulous aspirations I'd been counting on until now.

* Fortunately my only debt is from student loans; I don't run a balance on any credit cards. That means that the debt-reduction section of The Money Book was largely theoretical to me, though it never hurts to get another reminder on the dangers of relying on credit. For people with significant amounts of "bad debt", I think the book would be a very helpful resource on how to prioritize payments and avoid sinking into credit traps again.

I'll probably read The Money Book again near the end of the year to see how well I've been keeping up with its advice. Then I'll report back here with the results of the experiment. Meanwhile, things are going quite well, and it's great to be working steadily again. Summer is nice, but Fall has always been my favorite season. The air is getting cooler, the nights are getting longer, and I'm back in the classroom, CARTing all kinds of fascinating stuff. I'm also feeling more in control of my spending habits and plans for the future. Life is looking good.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Technical Accuracy and Semantic Accuracy

It's been a few days since I posted the video of my CART demo. If you've seen it, its subject material has probably gotten fairly hazy in your mind by this point. If you haven't seen it, don't watch it yet. For the record, the audio used in this excerpt was of very good quality, a single speaker with a standard American accent and clear diction, speaking at a rate of approximately 160 words per minute. First, read this transcript, created by YouTube's Autocaptioning software.

"for implants support and you know as I haven't said anything about biology those folks didn't really need to be educated and genetics biochemistry more about it so about the to solve those problems and that's because biology as it used to be was not a science that engineers could addressed very well because in order for engineers really analyze study quantitatively develop models at the bill technologies all for the parts there's a lot of requirements on the science that really biology that that's why %um %um the actual mechanisms a function work understood yes you could see that moving your arm requires certain force in of would where certain load we really didn't know what was going on down in the proteins and cells and tissues of the muscles on the books okay but still you could decide maybe an artificial %uh to do this %um %uh in the plan you really know the molecular compliments so how the world he actually manipulate the system he didn't even know what the molecules work they're really underlying yes you couldn't really do the chemistry on the biological all %uh it's very hard to quantify you can even though the parts of the mechanisms how could you get quantitative measurements for them develop models so there's good reason why they're never really was a biological engineering until very recently while he wasn't the science that was released soon right here in dallas so there for the world biomedical engineering bailey although the deposition prompted it just talked about that that necessarily require miles per se but that's changed the good news for you folks is biology this change it's now a science that engineers had it been that to very well"

Okay. Now, based on the above, I'm sure you were able to get the very general gist of the subject the professor was talking about, but if you were a student, sitting in class at an expensive, prestigious private institute of technology, and the paragraph above was the only access you were given to what the professor was saying, how would you feel about it? What if I told you that "at the bill technologies" was actually "and to build technologies", "muscles on the books" was actually "muscles and the bones", "the world biomedical engineering bailey although the deposition prompted" was actually "the world of biomedical engineering mainly involved all these application problems", and "released soon right here in dallas" was actually "really suited for engineering analysis and engineering synthesis"?

Here's the actual transcript of the excerpt:

"Or implants and so forth. And you notice I haven't said anything about biology. Those folks didn't really need to be educated in genetics, biochemistry, molecular biology, cell biology, to solve those problems. And that's because biology, as it used to be, was not a science that engineers could address very well. Because in order for engineers to really analyze, study, quantitatively develop models, and to build technologies, alter the parts, there's a lot of requirements on the science that really biology didn't satisfy. The actual mechanisms of function weren't understood. Yes, you could see that moving your arm required a certain force, and would bear a certain load, but you really didn't know what was going on down in the proteins and cells and tissues of the muscles and the bones. Okay? But still you could design maybe an artificial bone to do this. An implant. You didn't really know the molecular components, so how in the world could you actually manipulate the system, if you didn't even know what the molecules were, that are really underlying this? Okay? You couldn't really do the chemistry on the biological molecules. It's very hard to quantify, since if you didn't even know the parts and the mechanisms, how could you get quantitative measurements for them, develop models? So there's good reason why there never really was a biological engineering until very recently, because biology wasn't a science that was really suited for engineering analysis and engineering synthesis, and so therefore the world of biomedical engineering mainly involved all these application problems that I just talked about, that didn't necessarily require biology per se. But that's changed. Okay? The good news for you folks is biology has changed. It's now a science that engineers can in fact connect to very well."

My unedited realtime CART output had one error (I wrote "that didn't really require biology" instead of "that didn't necessarily require biology"), giving me an accuracy rating of 99.67%. I would argue that it gave me a semantic accuracy rating of 100%, since "necessarily" and "really" are more or less synonyms. YouTube's autocaptions, graded only on words it got right (not penalizing it for extra wrong words added), got 213 out of 299 words correct, for an accuracy rating of 71.24%. The big question is: What's its semantic accuracy rating?

If all you had to go on was the autocaptions, how useful would you find them, and how much meaning could you extract from the 71% that was correct? Keep in mind that you wouldn't have any external guidance as to which parts were correct and which parts were erroneous. Would you rate this transcript as "worthless", "better than nothing", "pretty good", or "quite useful"? Do you feel that a 71% technical accuracy rating translates to 71% of meaning transmitted and understood? Or do you feel that the scattered and jumbled effect of the machine translation interferes with understanding more severely than the 29% error rate would suggest?

A few caveats: I'm not addressing voice writing here. Independent machine translation and operation of voice recognition software by purposefully dictating or respeaking humans are two very different things. I also recognize that YouTube's autocaptions are not as advanced as those produced by other speaker-independent VR software out there. The main point of this post is to look at the difference between technical accuracy and semantic accuracy. I'd like to do it again sometime with automated software that boasted a technical rating of 90% or more; then I think the difference between technical and semantic accuracy would come out into even starker relief. Remember, 90% accuracy means one word out of every ten is incorrect. But this is the technology I've got available at the moment, so I welcome the input of everyone reading this blog. How useful do you find transcripts like this? Can you put a percentage on it? I'm really looking forward to reading the comments, so I hope a lot of people weigh in.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Exciting new graphic!

Check out the new sidebar graphic! It's a piece I commissioned from brilliant Deaf cartoonist Adrean Clark of TerpToons, whose skill, professionalism, and dizzying speed of creation completely blew me away. Sadly, I don't actually own a set of plate armor, and I have the sneaking suspicion it'd be sort of tricky to provide CART in, but now I have a picture to show how awesome it would look if I did. Click the picture for the full detailed view, and if you ever need a design, cartoon, or logo for your business or publication, definitely drop Ms. Clark a line. She's just fantastic.

Demo page

The StenoKnight demo page is live! I go through the various display options I offer my clients -- laptop, tablet, ambulatory, remote, and projected -- with pictures and even this brand new video I recorded yesterday:

Sadly I wasn't able to show off my awesome steno editing tricks (I've got a series of macros, including an entire mixed case editing alphabet, that lets me navigate to errors, delete them, and then write in the correct word, all from my steno machine. I can also select and define entries, pluralize words, and insert punctuation, all without lifting my fingers from the steno keyboard. It's pretty cool, if I do say so myself, and incredibly useful. This is what a summer of boring transcription work will inspire a person to get good at!) because the screen capture software I use, Microsoft Expression Encoder, slows down my computer too much to let me move the cursor around in time to make my split-second edits. One of these days I'll look around for a less resource-hungry screen capture program, and then maybe I'll make a steno editing tutorial screencast.

All that aside, though, I think the video is a good demonstration of the service my CART clients receive in the classroom. Special props to the amazing MIT Open Course Ware Project, which is where I got the audio. It's an inspiring thing, and if my schedule ever gets slow, I'm planning to take some of their free online courses. I'm always thrilled whenever one of my clients takes a science class, because it's a subject I love but which I've never gotten to study as much as I'd like to. I took three years of science in college, but it was of a very specific and peculiar sort, which focused on the history of scientific thought rather than actual modern science.

I've got a few extra photos that I wasn't able to use on the demo page, since it was intended to be just a basic overview for clients. Pretty soon I'll put together a blog post that gets into the geekier details of what I keep in my bag, the big sticker on the back of my laptop and why I put it there, and possibly some more pictures from other public events I've CARTed. This week's going to be busy, though -- on top of my regularly scheduled 28 hours of weekly CART work, I've got a three-hour per diem job on Tuesday, an extra two-hour CART job on Thursday, and I'm previewing a play Thursday night (whose script I have to prep some time before then) to caption on Sunday. Phew! So I might wait until the next week to get started on the equipment geek-out post.