Going Postal – Financial Troubles Ahead For U.S. Mail

In the wake of the Fiscal Cliff fiasco, a smaller, but still important, financial issue remains under the national radar. The U.S. Postal System is rapidly running out of cash, and they are almost out of options. Even worse, the legislative branch is completely distracted from this problem with the looming debt ceiling and sequestration negotiations dominating congressional discussions.

USPS Logo in Blue

Staying Afloat

A Ship overturned sinking in the arctic.

Leaders of The U.S. Postal System are trying to do everything in their power to avoid entering official bankruptcy. On one side, they obviously need to cut costs to continue providing their services. At the same time however, they are trying find a way to preserve as many jobs and services as possible while still keeping their heads above water. A fiscal boost from Washington would likely be the easiest way for The U.S. Post to continue business as usual. However, as CNN reports, “The U.S. Postal Service is, by law, an ‘independent establishment’ of the executive branch. The agency doesn’t normally use tax dollars for operations, except for its loan from Treasury. In 2005, the Postal Service had no debt.”

CNN Money Reports – U.S. Postal Service faces fiscal cliff

Pulling Up The Boot Straps

The U.S. Postal Service is doing everything they can to pull their operation back from the brink. In 2012, the Postal Service cut operating hours at thousands of post offices. It has also combined many of its facilities, which led to a 28,000 drop in its workforce, according to their spokesperson, Sue Brennan. All of it was achieved through attrition, which includes retirements and departures by employees who couldn’t relocate or take up new jobs.

Closed sign over a Post Office.

Down the street from our office is a giant hole in the ground that used to be our local Post Office here in Silver Spring. The entire operation has been relocated and combined with another location nearby. Postal workers continue to feel the squeeze as everyone works hard to try and save their jobs. The situation is grim, but just like every other company in this country right now, The Postal Service must do what they can to stay relevant and stay alive.

Technology vs Tradition

As Bob Dylan once eloquently wrote, “Oh the times they are a’ changing.” In its infancy, The U.S. Postal system provided a service that nobody else could do at the time. In an age when an E-mail sent right now can reach someone in China five seconds later, the primary market for postal deliveries had evaporated. It seems that these days, the only mail we get is from marketers and bill collectors. People just don’t seem to keep in touch via letter like they once did, causing massive drops in revenue for The U.S. Post over the last 15 years. Not to mention that Americans are accustomed to an insanely low fee for standard mail services. For example, I could send a letter to California from here in Maryland for less than $1, you cant even buy a stick of gum for that these days!

“So you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, cuz the times they are a’ changing!” – Bob Dylan

 




Video Tech Review – Voila Screen Capture Software

Word Wizards is currently launching a new service called CloudScript. As we prepared to roll out this new offering, we needed to make a demo video that would show our potential users what it does, what it looks like, and how it works. There was only one solution, create a video using screen capture software that will show the world what CloudScript can do. Once we reached this conclusion it was up to me to decide which screen capture software we would use for this kind of a project.

A Sea of Choices

Software to capture video from a computer screen has been around for a long time. There are many different options out there to choose from. Some are geared toward bare bones recording, with no fancy features and moderate quality recording. On the other end of the spectrum there are software solutions for screen capture that offer incredible additional features, full editing capabilities, and tons of professional quality functions. Well, my mission was to find the best quality option for the most reasonable price.

Voila by Global Delight

When I started digging around for reviews and comparisons of the multitude of screen cap software out there I cam accross many positve accounts of Voila by Global Delight. Its packed with features and fits our price point perfectly. There are definalty more sophisticated options out there, but the interface and usability of Voila made it perfect for our application. With the ability to capture high res images, HD video, and internal computer sound, we felt that Voila was the right choice for us as we began to start grabing content and images to promote our new service.

Voila Home Page and Features

The Price is Right!

At a mere $29.99 this is defiantly the best quality option in the price category. Not only will this be a valuable tool for our current marketing project, but it will give us all sorts of new capabilities to offer our clients in the media industry. After only a few minutes of playing with Voila, I was already recording and starting to gather good material.

The Verdict?

Voila provides everything you need for this sort of project and more. We fully recommend that anyone who might be interested try it out for themselves and get a taste. Check out their website if you want to know more, they seem to perfectly articulate why you would want to use Voila over other software on this page.

http://www.globaldelight.com/voila/whyVoila.html




10 Things To Consider Before Sending Media For Transcription

Hello out there, Ben here bringing you a quick list of 10 things you should be aware of before sending your audio or video for transcription. Taking time to consider these factors can streamline your workflow, save you time, and conserve your budget . So lets get on with it shall we!

  1. File Format – Understanding what format your media files are encoded in is critical to the transcription process. Not all transcriptionists and transcription software systems are created equal, valuable time, energy, and stress can be saved if you provide a clear picture of what type of files will be coming in. Digital or Analog? Audio or Video? AIFF, WAV, Mp3 or MOV, MXF, WMV. Letting the transcription company know beforehand will help keep everything running smoothly and prevent any surprises.  Common Movie Codecs MOV FLV WMV AVI MPG
  2. File Quality –  Remember to start with the highest quality media possible, transcribers rely on the quality and strength of audio signals to do their job. Bad audio quality = bad transcript and usually a more expensive one. Video quality needs to be good enough so if there is visual material or speaker identification required, it can be interpreted without too much effort. Considering those two points, we recommend the media be compressed small enough that it can be easily transferred over the internet, but with enough quality to preserve the audio and or video’s original continuity. For audio, never go below 44100 16 bit. For video, compress as much as you want as long as the important visual ques can still be easily distinguished, i.e. time code windows or speakers faces needing identification in the transcript.
  3. Audio Levels – Transcription, at least our flavor, generally involves a speed typist, a foot-pedal, and headphones. Nothing is more painful to our dedicated typists than throwing on their headphones, listening to a quiet audio signal for the first 10 seconds, turning their audio output way up, only to be blasted once the person starts talking. Try to keep your gain structure hot enough that they can be heard legibly, but not so hot that they clip. The biggest problem is with consistency, keep your levels around the same volume to prevent killing a transcribers most valuable tool, their ears!Audio Waveform
  4. Time Code Details – Time code comes in many flavors in the audio and video world. Knowing your time code specifications beforehand is critical to the transcription company. If you need digital time code added, knowing and providing accurate starting time code numbers will ensure everything stays in sync with your source media. Let the transcriber know if it is burned into the video window or does it need to be added? Analog time code can be a little more tricky. Usually, it is recorded on to one of the stereo audio channels and requires a special reader to transcribe from. If so make sure you record the time code signal at a high gain and encoded in a “lossless” audio format (AIFF, WAV, ext…).
  5. Total Length of Audio / Video – Letting the transcribers know how much audio / video time they will be transcribing ensures that they can plan effectively around other projects they may currently have. This step can prevent failing to meet deadlines because there was simply to much material and not enough time to complete it.
  6. Audio and Vocal Quality – Some companies like ourselves can transcribe, even repair poorly recorded audio files. However, it is critical to let the transcription company know of any problems in the audio source such as; hiss, pops, clicks, background noise, hum, artifacts, clipping ext… If we know problems are there beforehand we can prevent wasting time trying to identify the problems and get right to fixing them. Audio board with lights.    Furthermore, if there are foreign accents, speech impediments, or any technical language of the speaker(s) letting the transcription company know beforehand can save a bunch of time and effort on everyone’s part.
  7. Expected Turnaround – Knowing when you want your transcripts returned lets people plan for the priority of the work. If you need faster or longer than normal turnaround, consider this beforehand and come up with a decision that fits your needs and budget limitations. Word Wizards can provide same day or 24 hour transcription turnaround, but at a higher cost. Consult with your transcription provider for rates beforehand to make sure there are no financial surprises at the end of the project.
  8. Omissions and Exceptions – Any special requests to omit or leave out material need to be established before transcription begins. Sometimes people like to leave out the questions because it  saves page space and thus saves money. Sometimes off camera chatter should be left out, sometimes it needs to be included. Discussing this with your team before sending it out for transcription will make sure you only pay for what you want and you want what your paying for.
  9. Headers and Labels – If you would like a particular header in your transcript have that ready when the job is sent out. Also if you want labels or identification for individuals make sure to include that in your project details before the work had begun.
  10. Location and Security Preferences –Some jobs require a special level security. What are you comfortable with? Onsite – transcription done either in your facility or the transcription company headquarters. Onshore – transcription never leaves the country (often this is a requirement for sensitive government work.) Offshore – If your o.k. with sending the job overseas just make sure your team understands that it may fall into the wrong hands the farther it makes its way away from protected USA cyberspace. Its Impossible!

Taking stock of all these factors before you start the transcription process will ensure a faster and easier transcription experience for you and the provider. That’s all for now folks, stay tuned for more from your friends here at Word Wizards!