Free Transcript Project – #12

Mixed Mental Arts #302: Don Mei

Episode Show Notes : http://mixedmentalarts.libsyn.com/ep-302-best-of-east-best-of-west-don-mei-enters-the-dojo

YouTube Channel : https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCV5uJg_7m89dZ-0rqhHT1Ww

Web Sites :
https://mixedmentalarts.online

https://meileaf.com

Host : Hunter Maats : https://twitter.com/huntermaats

Guest : Don Mei :
https://twitter.com/MEILEAF_Don

https://twitter.com/mei_leaf_tea

 


 

[INTRO MUSIC]

 

Bryan Callen : Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”. This is “Mixed Mental Arts”. Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”…

 

Hunter Maats : … and then just… and then just…

 

Bryan Callen : Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”. This is “Mixed Mental Arts”. Welcome to “Mixed Mental Arts”…

 

Hunter Maats : Hi! This is Hunter Maats, and I’m really excited for this next episode of “Mixed Mental Arts”, because Don Mei – today’s guest – is the perfect example of a phenomenon known as “Third Culture Kids”. These are kids who have parents from one culture, and then grew up in another culture, and they find that they belong to neither culture one, nor culture two, but have evolved a third culture of their own. That was a term that I was introduced to in college, and it really fit my own experience growing up. I’m sure that it fits the experience of many of you, and it certainly described Don. Don’s dad – as you’ll hear in this interview – was Chinese. Don’s mom was Swiss, and then he grew up in the UK. His whole life has been about the conversation back and forth between Eastern and Western culture, and specifically with medicine and tea. There have long been these two different traditions – Eastern and Western medicine, [and] Eastern and Western thought – and Don has been trying to figure out, his whole life, how to have the best of East and the best of West. So without further ado I give you Don Mei… Welcome to another episode of “Mixed Mental Arts”, and today is a real treat, because [as] much as we, sort of, “ape” and pretend to have some sort of Asian credentials, and have thoroughly appropriated most aspects of Asian culture, today we have somebody with real credentials there, Don Mei. Don is, pretty much – like if you were looking for a “poster child” for “Mixed Mental Arts”, and “idea sex” between cultures, it’s Don, because Don’s mom [was] Swiss, and Don’s dad [was] Chinese, and then they’ve been doing everything that we sort of showed up to in the last few years for about half century. Specifically, Don’s mom and dad started this bookshop in London, and they were really the first onés to bring Chinese Medicine into the West, and have been acting as a bridge between cultures ever since then, and then … well, we’ll get into Don’s full story, But, essentially, [really] that’s your life, Don, is being a bridge between these two cultures. Is that fair?

 

Don Mei : I think it’s fair. It certainly isn’t something that I considered from a young age [laughter]. It’s only kind of crept up on me a little bit. But I guess that’s just the way it is normally, isn’t it? You kind of are so used to your own culture, and your own background, that you don’t realize what’s different and what’s similar. So, yeah, it’s certainly something that I have kind of taken upon myself over the last five or six years, for sure.

 

Hunter : So, just so that people know your credentials, let’s run down that list that you’re going to be very uncomfortable with, right?

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : [Because] Don has this great video that sort of sums up his life story in 20 minutes. But you’re the head of the British-Chinese – or the Vice President of the British-Chinese Medicine Association, or something?

 

Don : Okay. Well, first and foremost, I’m [the] director of Mei Group. Mei Group is kind of a cluster of different companies [which are] all focused on the same area, which is this kind of bridge between East and West. It started, as you said, with my parents opening a book shop, just kind of disseminating Eastern ideas to the West. This was in the 1970s, you know, when everything was all about the “Little Red Book”, and [all] of the interesting things [coinciding] with Nixon’s travel to China, and all of the focus that then was placed upon Chinese Medicine, and that kind of morphed and evolved into Acumedic, and Acumedic [was] probably the first Chinese medical, clinical organization outside of Asia. So that’s been running. So I’m a director of a clinic – [a] Chinese [Medicine] clinic. Other things that we do are related to the politics of medicine. So, I’m chairman of the “Chinese Medical Council”. I’m also Vice-Chairman of the “World Federation Of Chinese Medicine Societies”, which sounds very grand…

 

Hunter : [It] sounds amazing! [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] [I know], it sounds really good! It sounds really good, but in fact that probably takes up about naught point naught… naught… naught…one percent of my time…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … but it sounds great. [It’s] kind of high up there on the C.V. [laughter]. So there’s a lot that’s happening in the politics of medicine, trying to kind of look forward to [different] paradigms in medicine – integrative medicine. That’s a whole other subject. Then [the] tea, [with] Mei Leaf. [It] started off as “China life” [over ten years ago ] – but now it’s morphed into Mei Leaf – and that really is looking to do something very similar. So taking the idea of tea – which is [the] most consumed beverage, after water, in the world – and yet 99.9 percent of people outside of Asia – and I have to say, even people within Asia – kind of don’t really know that much about it. So, it kind of was a really good metaphorical subject, in a way, to describe how, culturally, we think we know something, yet we don’t – or there’s plenty more to learn. So tea is a really interesting [“point of context”] that we find kind of can lead you into medicine, and lead you into all these other aspects to try and explore.

 

Hunter Maats : So, we’ll get into tea, but my father always says that nobody learns their first language the right way. I think that’s very much the thing, is that when something like tea is such an essential part of your culture it’s just everywhere and it’s unconscious. You’ve never had to really reflect on it. You’re never had to think about it, and you’re never really had to understand it. I think that, you know, [there’s] a lot [of] similarity between our childhoods – you know, the experience of being “third culture kids” – where you’ve [picked up] all these ways of being from your mom, [and] these ways of being from your dad, [and] you’re then surrounded by an entirely third culture of living in England, and [you’re] violating norms in some places, things don’t make sense to you, and so you’re having to be very conscious, and intentional about everything, and really having to pick it apart and understand the deep structure.

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : So I think that’s the interesting thing, is that as I watched all of your videos – and Don has all these great videos for Mei Leaf – that just sort of break down all the aspects of sourcing great tea, the different types of tea, what we look for, [and] this special type of brewing that is practiced. I mean, apparently, in the West, we just boil the shit out of everything [laughter] …

 

Don : [laughter] …

 

Hunter : [and] destroy the flavor, which is certainly my experience of English vegetables…

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : … as opposed to Gong Fu brewing, which is the style which really brings out the flavors. But so, talk to us about your tea journey. [It is] this great point of contact. [How] did you go down that “rabbit hole” of tea?

 

Don : It started off purely as a practical thing. It wasn’t this kind of life quest that I embarked on. I don’t think you kind of choose those things. They just fall upon you. It started off simply with the idea that we have this medical clinic, and we are serving tea to our clients. Tea is the first Chinese herb, in many ways. So [out] of the Chinese medicinal herbs tea is the first one. [We thought], “Let’s just try to up the quality.” Because at the time we were just kind of [giving just] a little bit [of] lip service to tea. We were serving some kind of medium to low-grade green tea, [and] marketing it as proper, authentic Chinese tea. So I thought, “Let me go and explore [and] see what we can come up with in terms of finding a better product.” It was literally coming at it from a purely marketing product angle. Then I started to learn how much – because growing up in England, of course, I’m used to British tea, right; you know, the classic “Builder’s Brew”, and I thought I knew enough about tea to be able to research this. I very quickly discovered that there was a whole world out there that I had no idea about, and I think that the kind of inquisitive, Western – I would say – desire to understand and put something into a [discrete] box, kind of took over, and I wanted to try to figure it all out within like six months to a year, and here I am like 15 years later still figuring out that I can’t figure it out [laughter]. So it started off purely practical, and then just tasting my way through different teas, and having these little moments of revelation where I suddenly realized that this “rabbit hole” was extremely deep, and pleasurable as well, because it involved taste [and] it involved experience. You know, I love food [and] I love cooking. It’s one of those things [where] I do enjoy that whole aspect of it. So it was a really interesting bridge for me, because it meant that I could enjoy something but also stimulate [a] kind of understanding, and try to break something down, and try to understand “how” [and] “why”, and all the different questions. So it just lead me down this path, and I haven’t looked back.

 

Hunter : Yeah, so there are these very different ways that, I mean, something as simple as tea is experienced by very different ways, and on very different level by different cultures. So let’s talk about that “Builder’s Brew”, which is the quintessential English cup of tea, you know. Firstly, even just the way — we had Sara Rose on, who wrote “For All The Tea In China”.

 

Don : Oh yeah. Yeah.

 

Hunter : Even the way that the British got tea, you know, says everything about maybe how cultural contact should not be done. Right?

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : So I’d love to hear your encapsulation – your perspective on that story – and also, what is the Chinese perspective on Robert Fortune?

 

Don : I think it that [it still] continues, and I’ve certainly noticed it in the sense that when I started at least – or when I make contact with groups of producers, they’re very reticent to give information, [and] to give answers to questions – for various different reasons. [It’s] not only because they’re protective, but also [with] some of them they don’t know the answers. That’s a whole other discussion which we can get into, [in that] just the way that they look at things is very different to the way that I look at things, necessarily. So I think that that continues – that legacy. There’s a protective nature to the Chinese, especially their approach to giving information. Certainly, the history of tea in India, and the way that the East India Company, and Robert Fortune, took this incredible product that was being enjoyed, and was growing, and was considered this medicine, and this kind of luxurious product, and they turned it into a commodity. They turned it into a commodity through “choose reduction”, which is a marketing tool which is used all the time. You know, why give people 100 choices. They’re going to spend a certain amount of money. Instead, reduce the amount that you have to spend, produce one or two different types, you’ll still get the same income, and you’ve got less work and it maximizes your profit. They did that very well, but the problem is that now everybody – especially in the UK – just associates tea with strong, black Indian tea, and all of the myriad of complexity, flavors, [and] all of the enjoyment  – well, 99 percent of it – has just been drained out of tea. So a lot of the challenge that we have – or when we started Mei Leaf – is just starting to take those blinkers off people. In fact, I have to say that the UK market has probably been the most challenging market. When you compare [it] to the US, [and] when you compare it other parts of, [like Russia], or other parts of Europe, [they’re] much more willing and open to say, “We don’t know anything about tea.”, whereas the British mentality has definitely been one of “Oh, I know tea. It’s a British drink.” So it’s been very difficult to take those blinkers off, but certainly that’s a legacy from that approach to tea – the commoditization of – which happened, you know, many years ago.

 

Hunter : But not just the commoditization of tea, but Fortune snuck into China, pretended to be from China, and then stole all these plants [laughter].

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter :  [Which] is a pattern that was repeated. You know, Brazilian rubber was stolen from Brazil and then grown in Southeast Asia. This was a pattern that was repeated again, and again, and again.

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : To be fair, I mean, the whole thing was that [there] was this massive market for tea, and the Chinese, at that time, wanted to control the market, and everything. [So], you know, it’s not a clean history… [laughter]

 

Don : No… no…no.

 

Hunter : .. and it certainly wasn’t done in a way that both parties parties felt good about what happened.

 

Don : I think that there was problems on both sides, as you said, but one of the end results of that is that the East Indian Company – [or] Robert Fortune – managed to steal the tea and the seeds, and enough information to produce a single type of tea decently. But because there wasn’t a proper cultural exchange going on it meant that, yeah, the choice became reduced, the quality reduced, and the understanding of tea really became isolated to the Chinese and the Japanese, and some of the Taiwanese, and the actual – predominantly the UK – started to appropriate this drink that they thought they knew everything about, when in fact they knew nothing about [it].

 

Hunter : Well, and that is cultural exchange writ large, because [cultural] transition is so slow, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : Like, if you think about a child growing up in a culture, it takes them decades and decades to really internalize all of the cultural knowledge. So to think that you’re going to show up, grab some seeds and be like “Yeah!…

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : … I now have this thing nailed!” is massively naive.

 

Don : Absolutely.

 

Hunter : One of the stories that I think points this up – just sort of as a large, cultural pattern that plays out again – is in Joe Henrick’s “The Secret Of Our Success” there’s this story about the [maximalization] of corn. So the Spanish came in [and] they found this crop that existed, corn, and they were like, “Man! They eat a lot of this stuff. It grows well. Let’s bring this back to Europe.” Then they noticed that they did this weird thing where they would mix wood ash and burnt seashells in with their corn, and they were like, “That’s gross! Like that’s not even food. Why would you do that?”  Sure enough, then, there was a massive epidemic of pellagra in corn-growing regions, and it turned out that that wood ash was actually releasing the niacin, and actually had a functional component to it.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : But, as you’re saying, the local farmers didn’t conceptually understand this. For them this was just a learned cultural practice. So these are basic challenges of just being human, and the way we transmit cultures, and very often these things – and I think this is going to be super-important for when we get into Chinese medicine – very often, you know, it comes down to what Jenny Aguilar calls “FEISTY” – “Face It, Evolution Is Smarter Than You”.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : So evolution [can] evolve these very, very, very, very smart solutions that the people who are practicing those cultural practices have no conceptual understand of how, or why, it works.

 

Don : Absolutely.

 

Hunter : So you’ve got – and I mean it’s just such a great example that, of course, the British think they know everything. I mean, that doesn’t remind me of high school at all [laughter].

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : But so yeah, the “Builder’s Brew”. [With] the “Builder’s Brew” not only did they commoditize tea, but then tea serves this very specific function. [There’s] this massive industrial revolution in the UK, and it’s this very functional drink that is a caffeine delivery system that is designed to basically give people a little boost so that they can be productive [and] get back to work.

 

Don : Sure, and it replaced drinking weak alcohol at the time, you know? [It] was always better to not go to work slightly pissed, you know?

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] So it kind of made sense at the time, and it’s still being used in that way throughout the world. But there’s a big difference between using something in that way, and then being able to still get all of those functional benefits – if not more functional benefits – when you have the true stuff – the really well-made stuff – and then being able to appreciate, you know, not just the flavor, but the aesthetics of the actual drink itself, which has been totally destroyed, right…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … by this kind of “soggy tea bag”, right? But, you know, and I don’t mean that in a kind of imperial, “beautiful women wearing costumes with pinkies in the air” kind of ceremonial aesthetics. I mean the actual symbolic aesthetics of, you know, taking time, rehydrating [the] leaf, extracting it, and then watching it as it kind of gives up all it’s flavor and then basically dies, you know, and basically kind of becomes water again. There’s a certain aesthetic which [is so] part of tea. When you go to tea-growing regions, and you visit these farmers, and these producers, and these tea-lovers, you can so see that that’s so [part] of their life story – [those] moments.

 

Hunter : Right.

 

Don : It’s [one] of the thing that makes tea so special, and the reason why it’s been so intrinsically linked with Buddhism, and intrinsically linked with meditation, and all of those things – without going too far down the kind of “woo-woo” kind of area, it’s all about the [fact] that there’s a real, beautiful symbolic nature with tea that has been lost, and I think that people are craving that kind of rediscovery, and hopefully we can all contribute to that.

 

Hunter : But I think [that] the point is that, [well], let’s go down the “woo-woo” area, because I think [that] so much of … I mean, listen, Western culture – as it is manifested in the age of industrialization – right…?

 

Don : Mmm!

 

Hunter : … is massively practical. It’s produced all of these material benefits, but that myopic focus on that – which is what Western atomism tends to do; to myopically focus on one thing – has created a profound spiritual emptiness.

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter :  You know, there is – I mean, I read “Man’s Search For Meaning” as a teenager – and boy did that book resonate on some non-conscious, non-verbal level, because we don’t have that experience of, sort of, that strong cultural embeddedness that a lot of people have had. So, I think – especially for sort of “third culture kids” like you and me – we then have to cobble together this global culture that draws the best from all places, and can give us those sort of rich cultural moments. So let’s talk about… Okay, just to even give people an overview, right? [Obviously], China’s huge, and there are all these different regions that grow tea. So, from what I’ve even – you know, my very sort of superficial understanding – it seems like Yunnan [province] is the heart of tea growing in China. Is that fair, or no?

 

Don : Well, Yunnan is the historical heart of tea growing in China, because Yunnan is pretty much where… Okay, so they’re still digging up the archeology of tea [and] trying to figure out when it started, and there’s some, you know, tea rhizomes from thousands and thousands of years ago in certain areas of China. But Yunnan certainly seems to be the first province that really started to grow it [and] cultivate it, you know. These tended to be tribal people – mountain people – so not the Han Chinese, which make up 90 [to] 95 percent of the Chinese population, but much more kind of mountain people that really revered this land, and revered this plant. It’s interesting, because you have to question why they started to cultivate it. It’s in the same area as was cultivating opium at the time, [and] cultivating cannabis at the time. It’s certainly an area that’s well-known for cultivating psychoactive plants that [function] psycho-actively, but also can help them get their caffeine fix, etcetera. So the background – or the real history – of tea, seems to [have been] hijacked a little bit by the kind of “imperial Chinese”. This kind of, “This [is] a great [touristy] cultural heritage thing that we can put out.”, but [it] actually comes from a little bit more, kind of, earthier roots – [we can] put it. It’s a little bit [different] to how it’s portrayed often. I think that that’s something that a lot of people, now, in the West are rediscovering that, and finding that a much more attractive way to get into tea, rather than – as I said – the very kind of surface, ceremonial side of tea.

 

Hunter : Well, and so to talk to us about the people of Yunnan, [you] talk about “earthier”, right?

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter : So, [it sounds] like [maybe] they’re agriculturalists, but there is maybe a little bit of sort of that more traditional sort of shamanism, or those sort of hunter-gatherer practices. Is that fair?

 

Don : Yeah. I mean, I think [that] on a very practical level it’s very far away from Beijing.

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : [laughter] it’s probably one of the [furthest] provinces – you know, one of them – and it’s very close to the borders of Burma, Laos, and Northern Thailand, and in many ways it shares a lot of kind of cultural similarities to those areas. If you go there you see [that] the architecture looks very Thai. It looks very Northern Thai compared to Chinese, and yeah, they have a very different cultural approach to their land, I think. This is what’s really interesting. When they go picking the tea [it’s] a pride, and it’s a beautiful thing to watch, and the way that they treat their tea afterwards, and the way that they drink their tea, is very, very abstract. [I think] this is one of the challenges [for] me coming to understand tea with my Western education – you know, [British] private school celebrating the kind of Western logic, [and] the kind of modular, atomized way of looking at truth, and all of those things – and even though I grew up in a half-Chinese family, where my father was continuously talking to me [laughter] about contradiction, and being accepting of contradiction, and [contradiction] actually being part of truth, and all of those things, which from my very Western upbringing – and Swiss mother – [laughter] found challenging. I would always argue with my father. We would have blazing arguments  – you know, polite, civilized arguments – but still, about truth, and I would always tell him that he was copping out. It was a lazy way that he was…

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don :… you know, that [he] would be so accepting of contradiction, and not ask the difficult questions, and he wouldn’t try to isolate and find the truth…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … and that he was too able to just kind of hide behind these kind of nice abstract concepts that kind of allowed him to get away with stuff. You know? So I came at it from that point of view, and I came to try to understand tea from that point of view, and I think [that] over the more than a decade that I’ve now been doing it – and especially the last five or six years – I’ve totally [come] to really understand the wisdom in this approach, and in Yunnan province they are particularly like this. They will never give you a straight answer for anything.

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : You know, you ask them a question, and it’s like [to them] that trying to understand things, or trying to isolate “the reason”, or trying to focus on “the why”, is in itself a very childish abstraction. It’s kind of [like] they chuckle about it, like you know, “Oh, here he goes again.. the very rigid Western mind who wants to try to fix something.” In other parts of China it’s similar, but in Yunnan province , if you don’t accept and give in to that, you’re going to have a very frustrating time as a tea buyer. I know a lot of people who I teach – you know, when we do all of these videos to try and teach – they’re [desperately] trying to fix something…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : . [laughter] and I have to [now] be the one to go, “No.. no…no. You have to understand that there’s a dialectic in everything”, and then I start to talk about Yin and Yang, and I start to talk about … and it just reminds me of, basically…

 

Hunter : Your childhood.

 

Don : .. my father, and the arguments that I [used to have with] him. Yeah, exactly. It’s funny how it comes back. But yeah, Yunnan province is, by far, the most [like] that. They’re so abstract. It’s all about relationships. [They] never want to isolate any one thing. “Why is it? Is it the cultivar? Is it the earth? Or is it the way you’ve processed it?” No, it’s everything. You know, and you can’t isolate anything, and that is … [I’m not necessarily] saying that that’s right versus wrong, because I think that’s way to simplistic. I think that both viewpoints have a purpose, and whatever work works. But their point-of-view is that if you try to fix it then you’re not understanding what tea is about.

 

Hunter : Right. So it’s the most holistic environment, where they’re really just seeing everything as harmonizing together, rather than trying to isolate the parts atomistically. [It’s so] funny, because as you talk about this, [this wasn’t] the pattern – obviously, not that particular cultural pattern – with my own childhood. But I just have often thought that, “Man! If we took some of these ideas and just gave them to me when I was 10, [laughter] my life would have been so much easier.” Like, I feel like if I could go back and give young Don a copy of Richard Nisbett’s “Geography of Thought” that like so many conversations would have gone so much better.

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : I mean, that cultural pattern is, I think, a really important one to draw out, because [there’s] that great story about when Nixon met with the Japanese Prime Minister. He says to the Japanese prime minister, “We’re really getting fucked on the Japanese textile exports. Can you dial them down?” Right? And the Japanese prime minister says something like, “This is a matter that we will have to look into seriously.”, or something like that. Nixon, with his very rigid, atomistic mindset like interprets that to mean, “Oh, so you’re going to cut them down?” Then, the Japanese prime minister doesn’t do that, because he can’t like just destroy jobs in his home country because it’s inconvenient for Nixon, and Nixon interprets this as [the] Japanese prime minister having fucked him over, like, “He lied to me!”.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : “He misrepresented himself!”, and so supposedly, when Nixon and Kissinger then went to go open relationships with China they deliberately didn’t tell the Japanese – which to not tell the neighboring country, that you have good relationships with, that you’re doing something that major, is the ultimate afront.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : [Yeah], so I think that – [and] this is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot – because certain people that I’ve had the pleasure of interacting with over the last year – are obsessed with logic as the “be-all and end-all” of reasoning, and that this is how we find truth, and there are a lot of problems with logic. One [is that] if you start at faulty assumptions you reach ridiculous conclusions that don’t correlate with reality and how things actually work, and the whole point is that the western mind – that atomistic mind – just loves to dissect everything into little pieces, put them in categories, and then insist that a particular thing is that category. So even, before this conversation, we were talking about tea, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : The reason why it’s so hard for the British to understand tea is because they know tea, tea sits in this bucket of “beverage”, and it is this “builder’s brew” thing, and to conceptualize that there might be other ways of approaching tea, or that maybe tea is not just a beverage but [that] it’s a medicine, and fits in this entirely different bucket, is like incredibly hard for them to grasp because they have such a clear, rigid idea of tea.

 

Don : Yeah. I think it [boils down] to the power of perspective in any ways. You know, one of the things that my father always used to say to me is, “Okay, so how do you paint an elephant?… [If] you had to paint an elephant, what would you do?… Would you just create its silhouette – a nice little outline with the trunk..?”, and you know, “.. or would you go really close, and would you look at the skin, and would you look at the texture?” You know, “How close would you go, [or] how far away?” So, just on the basic idea that, you know, truth us changeable depending on where you’re standing. Then he would take [to saying], “Well, and that’s just drawing. What about the smell, the sound, [and] the touch of the elephant? What about all of those aspects? How would you describe those things?”  Then he would say, “… and you’ve taken it out of its environment. Now put it in an environment. Now describe it. How does that change it? Do you put it in front of a sunset? Do you put it in front of a…?” You know, “How does it change? Then think about you, and how you are affecting the reality of that elephant.” Right? “Then, if you were then to describe the truth of an elephant to somebody, how far would you go? What would you talk about? And not only that, but whatever you choose to talk about – so let’s say you described it as this big, hulking beast of an animal, that would give off a very different impression to talking about it as this docile, vegetable-eating… and so your [communication] actually changes the reality in other people’s minds of what that elephant is, and therefore, their reaction to potentially meeting that elephant is going to be different, and it’s going to affect how that elephant reacts. Because if you go to that elephant scared that it’s this big, hulking beast of an animal then there will be an interaction that may lead to defensiveness, or whatever…”  So the whole idea was that you can take a very simple thing, like, “What is an elephant?” and you can turn it into this massive, you know, very, very expansive area, and the truth is in all of those things, and it’s all about depending on what you want to get out of it. I think that that’s [kind of] what I have learned in my exploration of tea, is I constantly ask the question of “Why?” to these producers, [laughter] and the answer always seems to be, “Because it works.”

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : You know? [laughter] It’s as simple as that to them. It’s like, “I don’t need to be drawn into that discussion. That’s not important to me.”

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don : You know, “That’s an abstraction. It’s a nice little abstraction, [and] you can occupy your mind with it, but at the end of the day this is what works, and we will try different things, and if that works then we’ll try other things.” It’s purely experiential, and it’s purely just through time, and experience, and wisdom  – versus, kind of, analytical truth. It’s a whole different way of looking at things.

 

Hunter : Yeah, and I think that’s – [I mean], I can absolutely relate to that, and it’s amazing how often elephants come up on this podcast.

 

Don : Oh really? [laughter]  

 

Hunter : Yeah. There’s a real [abundance] of elephants.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : John Heidt has this metaphor for the human mind as a rider and an elephant. The elephant is the large, sort of, lumbering, emotional brain, and then the rider is the reflective brain – the slow thinker..

 

Don : Right.

 

Hunter : … who can sort of nudge the elephant over time. Then the other one is the “blind man and the elephant”, that story.

 

Don : Sure.

 

Hunter : So, you know, [I just] think we should just embrace the elephant as the symbol of [“Mixed Mental Arts”].

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : But [it’s interesting] that you say that, as well, about elephants, because I was in [South Africa] a few months ago, and [again], like my conception of elephant is “Babar”. Like, essentially – and maybe certain types of chocolate bar that like, in the 90s, tried to make wildlife accessible to children in England. Then, [it’s very upsetting], because you start talking to these game wardens, and they say, “You know, elephants are a huge part of the ecosystem. They turn up all these trees. They [have] this role of almost – not pollinator – but like tiller of the land.” and you’re like, “Oh, that’s cool! Elephants are providing a useful role.” and they’re like, “In South Africa we have, actually, an overabundance of elephants, because we can’t cull them, and because they can’t wander across the borders to other countries. So they’re actually destroying the land, because they’re at too high of a density.” Of course, you know, like I’ve done this enough that I don’t just like freak out and get super triggered, but there was a little bit of like, “You’re threatening my conception fo the elephant here!”

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : “You’re saying that “Babar” is a problem, guys, and I don’t like that. Like, “Babar” is a good guy, and you’re saying that “Babar” makes problems.” So I think that [it’s] very clear that your father was a very wise man, but I think that – based on the sort of education that we received in the West – it becomes very hard for us to conceptualize that sort of dialectic, contextual way of thinking, and it just seems sort of very frustrating…

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : … because it’s like, “It’s an elephant! You’re overcomplicating this! I don’t like you! Go away! Shut up, dad!”

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : Then likewise, [with] you talking to these farmers in Yunnan, there’s obviously real value to just experiencing it, but there is value to being able to understand the parts of it…

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : … and to being able to sort of have a slightly more reflective, and intentional, understanding…

 

Don : Mmm.  

 

Hunter : … because i think [that] one of the problems with cultural transmission is that what can happen is that [if] you don’t understand what the “secret sauce” of the culture is then you can end up messing up that “secret sauce” and then being unable to reconstruct it.

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : So [you’re] in Yunnan, and [it] helps a lot to have it in the context of sort of : Burma, Northern Thailand, Laos… even, why are we calling it “Burma”?  Like, shouldn’t we be calling it “Myanmar”? Are we such British imperialists that…

 

Don : Yeah. [laughter]

 

Hunter : Yeah, so “Myanmar” [is pretty] sort of jungly, wet, [and] humid – that sort of terroir?

 

Don : Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely.

 

Hunter : Then what sort of teas? [What sort] of varietals are they producing? Are we talking about Oolongs? Are we talking about…? Oh, there’s a lot of Puerh there. What is Puerh? Tell us about Puerh.

 

Don : Okay. Puerh kind of falls under a weird little category of tea. There’s green tea, there’s white tea, there’s Oolong tea, there’s yellow tea, [and] there’s black tea. All of them are pretty clearly defined in terms of process. It’s got nothing to do with the actual plant. It’s got to do with the processing that defines the type of tea, although of course there are some varieties of tea plant that are more suited to white tea, more suited to black tea, etcetera. Yunnan produces black tea [and] it produces white tea, but it’s very famous for Puerh tea. Now Puerh tea is kind of a tea which starts its life as a kind of quasi-green tea, and then ages over time and changes. [It’s] a little bit more complicated to define, but in its very strict sense it’s a tea which is made through low-heating and sun-drying. What that does is when you don’t heat the leaf up in the same way that you would heat up a green tea – [or] Oolong tea – [to over] 250 degrees Celsius, if you kind of just heat it a little bit you slow down all of the enzymatic actions, and all of the kind of microbial actions that are happening, but you don’t kill it off You don’t stop it, and you don’t fix it. So the tea kind of stays alive, and continuously changes, essentially. This is why you get people who will age their tea for 20, 30 years, [or] 40 years, because it will change over time. There’s a delight – and I guess, a passion – for this kind of tea which is forever in flux. It’s never going to be the same. It’s always changing. Every day is going to be different. [When] people start to get into tea, I think by definition, they need to appreciate and celebrate flux in general, because no tea is ever the same. But especially with Puerh, just literally, it’s continuously changing in front of you, and it’s very, very wild. It’s produced from tea trees which are – even though there is plantation Puerh  – in general, the historical, traditional, Puerh comes from these kind of semi-wild tea forests, where the tea plants are allowed to just grow freely into trees, and that means that they’ve got very deep, long roots, which [means] that they can reach kind of layers of soil that plantation teas can’t reach, and it means that the leaf just seems to have a lot more going on. Now, whether or not that be certain chemicals [or] minerals, these are the “whys” that I’m continuously trying to find out , but certainly, these semi-wild, or wild, tea forests produce the highest quality in terms of flavor and effect. It tends to be something that people who get into tea become quite obsessed with. So there will be “tea lovers” and then there’s “Puerh addicts”, you know? [laughter] The Puerh people are very, very obsessive about finding [good tea]. It’s always changing, [with] lots of different mountainous regions [and] hundreds of different villages all producing their own types, so it gets very complex. It’s a whole area that you can explore.

 

Hunter : Really, [Puerh] has sort of blown up in the last decade or so, and there are now people who are spending outrageous amounts of money on Puerh, right? I mean, what sort of numbers are we talking about?

 

Don : Oh, [you] could spend, easily, $10,000 [USD] on a 500 gram cake, or a 400 gram cake – something like that.

 

Hunter : Yeah. Okay, so we’re got Puerh, [which are] these plants growing in the wild, and then also it [basically] sounds like – to simplify this down – like it’s unpasteurized tea. So because you’re not really heating it up very hot the bacteria are allowed to keep working on it, and it’s allowed to mature over these 20 or 30 years, and so it reaches this much more satisfying [and] much more complex flavor.

 

Don : Yeah. That’s a good way of looking at it. Yeah.

 

Hunter : Yeah. So then [that’s] just Yunnan, right? What are some of the other tea-growing regions that we’re looking at?

 

Don : So around Yunnan you’ve got Hu Nun, you’ve got Guang Xi, [and] you’ve got Si Chuan. [This is] very traditional, so that more western part of China – central to western – are very, very traditional, and then you’ve got the east coast. You’ve got Zhe Jiang province, and you’ve got Fu Jian province. Fu Jian province is very, very well-known. But those areas tend to produce a little bit more – [let’s] call them “refined”, for want of a better word – “refined tea. [They’re] less raw, unpasteurized, [and] much more kind of about precision and elegance. So you get this different culture even within China, and it’s expressed very clearly through the tea. Then, if you hop across the ocean, [you] can see, in Japan, how their culture has affected the way that they produce tea, and the Taiwanese produce their own tea. It’s really interesting how tea is a fascinating market [as a kind of] looking glass at the culture of the area. So, for example, in Japan they’ve actually gone down a little bit more of the wise and technical aspects of the tea production, and they’ve kind of made almost like a production line approach to tea, where they’ve isolated each stage in the production, and they’ve really dug deep into the numbers, and figured out : What’s the right temperature? How long to steam it for? What’s the right shaking time? … and it has produced an incredibly consistent quality tea – very high quality, consistent quality. That’s why Japanese tea is so celebrated around the world, because you [kind of] know that when you buy Japanese tea it’s very unlikely that you’re going to get a dud.

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : It’s very unlikely. However, the problem with that is [that] it’s taken away all of the flexibility from the system. So now you’re in a situation where the Japanese are starting to lose the wisdom of how this all came about, and you’re getting generations of Japanese tea producers, and tea farmers, that only know how to work the machines, and only know how to work the parameters that they’ve been set, and they’ve built these entire warehouses with all the machinery in place, and then there’s the kind of annoying foreigner, like me, who comes over and says, “You know? Why don’t you try something different? Because you’re tea sales are dropping, because you’re not exciting people anymore. So let’s try something else. Why don’t you try making some Oolong teas?” [It’s] very difficult to break out of that rigidity, because they’ve set themselves up with these parameters. From the Chinese point of view it’s chaos, right? You’ve got people doing all these different things, not explaining why, [and] not caring why. Like, they’re just trying shit out, basically [laughter], and they come up with the most steller, incredible, small-batch teas, [and] you’re just like, “How did you do this? How can I recreate this?” They just kind of nod in their very classic way, and kind of nod and say phrases that are very frustrating like, “Oh, if I tell you everything you won’t come back and visit me.”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : You know? [laughter] Those kinds of…

 

Hunter : [That’s] so funny.

 

Don : ‘It’s not about me withholding information. It’s just simply that I want to develop our relationship, [and] I want you to come back, and therefore I shouldn’t tell you everything.”

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don : So you get the opposite, where you can get a lot of bad tea coming from China, but you can get this immaculate, incredible, quirky, crazy stuff which blows people away.

 

Hunter : But that’s also why we need Don, right? Because Don goes into China, and he sorts the “shit from the shinola”, “the wheat from the chaff”, [or] “the “tea gold” from the “tea junk””, and then brings back [the best] of China to Mei Leaf, right?

 

Don : I think that [the] ego in me wants to say “Yes.”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] But I think that the truth is much more about intention. I don’t expect that everybody is going to think that the stuff I bring back is all gold. What I’ve learned, in the 15 years of sourcing tea that I’ve been doing, is that the success comes from actually you loving it.

 

Hunter : Hmm.

 

Don : If I love it, [and] my intention is to express it authentically, then it tends to be a winner. The moment I overthink it, [and] try to think about what other people might want, that’s when I fall into traps. So it’s not black and white, you know? Some people might love a certain tea [while] I hate it, but it’s simply about me coming at it with the best intention, and being very authentic about it. It’s interesting, because when you come at it from that angle you seem to stop asking the questions a little bit more. What’s interesting is, then, the relationships that you build with [the] producers tends to improve.

 

Hunter : MmmHmm.

 

Don : because you’re not trying to back them into a corner all the time, saying, “Why?..Why?…Why? You need to explain this to me, otherwise I can’t sell it.” So when the relationships improve they pull out the better tea [laughter]. So suddenly a whole different cupboard opens, and suddenly you’re tasting different stuff.

 

Hunter : Well, and not only [that, but] the other thing that also helps the relationship improve is drinking alcohol, right? Like there’s [some] great videos of you going out there, and so much of what opens “the doors “tea-ception”” is the fact that you got drunk with them, you ate with them, you hung out with them, [and] now they feel like you have a relationship, and it’s not a purely commercial venture for them. Like they have poured their heart and soul into this tea, and they want to share it with someone who’s really going to appreciate it, and cherish it in the same way that they and their families would.

 

Don : Yeah, and everybody knows [that] when you do business in China that sharing a meal is the essential part of any kind of business deal. But you’re absolutely right. [If] you [extrapolate] out this whole idea of “holistic versus individual”, [or] this kind of “atomized versus patterned”, it really is, in China, [that] the relationships are number one. You know? If the relationship is broken, or it’s not a positive relationship, then [there’s] no point in doing any business at all. The way that they figure that out is by getting you drunk [laughter]. You know? Let’s get him pissed…

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : … to the point where he can’t stand anymore. Then we’ll find out what he’s like, and then the next day the deals can be done. Also, you know, what’s his capacity to eat weird and wonderful foods? [I’m sure] that a lot of the time they don’t eat half the stuff that they put in front of my face, but they want to make sure that I’m down with it…

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : … and that I’m prepared to eat it. Then they feel [like], “Okay. He’s prepared to eat ant larvae, and elephant skin. We’re good.” You know? [laughter]

 

Hunter : In general, “fucking with the foreigner” is a universally appreciated pastime in every culture.

 

Don : Yeah, [laughter] and I totally embrace that. I totally embrace that.

 

Hunter : [Specifically], like, I appreciated that, you know, they – because, I mean, this is also one of those universal cultural things, is that everybody does a toast with you, and so the result is that everybody does one toast, [but] you do ten toasts.

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : So you’re ten drink in, [and] they’re one drink in…

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : … and that’s really how they fuck you up.

 

Don : Oh, there’s no illusion of fairness.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] There’s no argument here. I mean, everyone knows that they’re being totally unfair to you, but you just have to go with it. As I said, it’s all about them trying to understand your intention, I think.

 

Hunter : Right.

 

Don : Is your intention coming at it from really trying to appreciate and understand this product that they are [making]? Or is it simply that you want to sell something? You know? So once they understand that you’re happy to get drunk with them, act a fool, and you still love their tea, then things tend to get easier for you.

 

Hunter : Well, I think that’s the interesting thing, is that what you’re really talking about is that you’re trying to, [with] sort of the “Why…why…why?”, that interrogation, right?  You’re trying to open the box with a hammer, right?

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : [But] if you just establish a relationship with the farmer then he’ll give you the key. Right?

 

Don : Yeah, and a lot of the time, when you use the hammer, you start to tread very close to challenging their face, which we all know [that] in China is a big deal, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s true or not, you don’t challenge somebody and make them look like they don’t know. And a lot of the times – like we said before – this knowledge is just passed down, and there is no reason why. So the annoying foreigner commenting, and saying, “Well, you should understand why you do this, because otherwise, somehow, you are [not] taking your job seriously.” [That] is really dangerous, because that can just shut the door very, very quickly. So yeah, [I’ve] made mistakes in my sourcing – especially early on, and I still get very excited when I’m trying to understand something, and this whole debate, and questioning, comes in. But you’ve always got to check yourself, because a lot of time they don’t know. Or if they do know it’s going to come out in a very slow – over a few days. Suddenly – this tends to be what happens – the questions find their answers once you kind of build the relationship, and you start to see what’s going on. Part of [my] job, I think, is just observing, and then trying to make head or tail of it, and then testing to see whether or not… So, I am still kind of, in a very quiet way, following a western approach?

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : But it has to be done with the greatest kind of respect and understanding that this kind of pattern, and contextual way of looking at things, has lead to incredible tea, and lots of incredible things, so it’s not one or the other.

 

Hunter : Well, it’s the difference between speaker-driven and listener-driven communication, right? So, yeah, western communication tends to be speaker-driven, [like] “I’m going to ask the questions, [and] you’re going to give me answers.” I mean, even in this interview there is a certain amount of that sort of western communication. Whereas, in holistic cultures there tends to be much more listener-driven communications, where, you know, you [certainly] wouldn’t directly ask your boss a question, right? Like, your boss talks, and then you try and tease out his meaning, and that’s your job, right?

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter : So [rather] than being very linear, like logic, where we start off, we set an objective, [like] we’re going to do a business transaction. Therefore, I now need to know this information, which I will extract from you about the terroir, about how it was grown, [and] how it was prepared, and all that sort of stuff, because I need it. Okay, now let’s talk about the a price. Now… dah…dah…dah…dah…dah…dah…dah…dah… and then we conclude the deal.[Compare this to] this very circular process of : we talk, we get drunk… and the westerner is like, “What the fuck are we doing here? I just want to buy tea. I don’t want to get drunk with you!” Right?

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : Then over the course of days we circle into ultimately doing business, but [we’ve] worked towards that. I mean, I think that the western mind… and this is something that I’ve sort of struggled with, and have been trying to conceptualize, is that [when] there’s talk about development in the West, so much of the narrative focuses on corruption, and that corruption in bad. [But] what we would call corruption – like doing things based on people that you have relationships with, is such a core part of how business is done in China, is done in the Middle East, [and] is done in most of the world, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : I just [wonder] a lot about that in terms of development, whether we’re trying to impose sort of our narrative of corruption on this mechanism of Guan Xi, or “face”,  and whether… You know, [I mean], ultimately the goal is to create a society that delivers prosperity, and purpose, and all that. Does it always have to look the same way? Are there different paths? I don’t know.

 

Don : Yeah. I [bring] it back, again, to intention. [It’s] one of those things that you only discover people’s intentions through relationships. So deals aren’t done in black and white and paper. They’re done between people, and so if you need to get to know that person, and the relationship is fundamental to whether or not you do the deal, that could be a slippery slope for corruption, but it can also be a way of understanding the intention behind a deal. For example, I [was] in Chao Zhou, which is in South China, and I was looking for teaware. We went to this beautiful master clay [teapot] maker, and we’re talking about handmade teapots that are worth upwards of $200 [to] $300 [USD] dollars for a tiny 70 [milliliter] pot, or 100 [milliliter] pot. I found this pot that I fell in love with. [I] totally fell in love with [it]. [It was a] tiny little  pot, [which was] beautiful, [and] it had this tiniest little mark on it – this tiniest little indent on it, and the master refused to sell it to me. [He] just point-blank said, “I will not sell you that.” I said, “Look, I understand that there’s an error – or a mistake – or it’s imperfect there. But I don’t mind. It’s fine. I’m happy to pay for the pot. I love the pot.” He said, “No, no. I can’t do that. I cannot sell it to you.”, and I was like, “Well, we’re at an impasse here. You know? Because I want it. You’re not selling it to me. Like, you know that I love it. I’m not [questioning] your artistry, that you left this indent…” and he just – for about 45 minutes – it was just back and forth, and in the end I had to give up and walk out very, kind of, a bit sad that I’d missed out on this amazing pot. [Then] a day later the pot came to me, right? But what the master had done is he had given it to a friend of his [laughter]. [This] friend of his had been waiting for a pot to be made by the master for months, and it had been delayed. So the master said, “As an apology I’ll give you this inferior pot to hold you over, right?..”

 

Hunter : Mmm.

 

Don : “… until that pot [is ready].”, knowing full well that that person knew somebody else who knew me. So the master basically gave me the pot through three other people to get to me.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : So that’s the really round-about way of doing something that seems – like to my mind – [it] should have been direct, but to him it’s like, “No, I need to protect all of this kind of contextual stuff. I need to protect my face, [and] I need to protect all of these things. So I’m going to give him the pot, but I’m going to do it in this roundabout way.” So yes, things take time, and relationships need to form, and [the] answers tend to come with a little bit more patience, and you eventually [laughter] kind of get there in the end, but it has to come from him understanding that I genuinely loved what he did.

 

Hunter : So beyond tea, [how] has this sort of journey over the last 15 years of sort of really understanding your father’s culture on a much more sort of primal, internalized level, how has that affected you?

 

Don : I think it’s affected me in all walks of life, in everything I do. [I] guess – [it’s not] like just the last five years, [or] ten years. I think that this has been a seed which has been growing ever since ever. Certainly, my father passing away in 2014, and putting me in the limelight – or the spotlight – of having to run these companies, and deal with Chinese medical doctors, and politicians, and this whole kind of world, which I was part of because I was working for 15 years with my father. So it wasn’t like I wasn’t [a] part. But it’s a very different thing when you are the person that everyone is looking to for direction, or answers. Certainly, that was a major catalyst of me trying to kind of figure out how I could walk a similar path, but iin my own shoes, right?

 

Hunter : MmmHmm.

 

Don : That involved me asking myself lots of questions, and dealing with this Western, kind of, analytically way of thinking, and not wanting to disregard it, because I think it’s extremely valuable, and [has helped me] a lot, in many different ways. But to find that integration – to be able to try to find that integration – [is] something that I continuously try to do, and it certainly has really shown itself in tea sourcing, but also just the politics of medicine, and [the] absurdity that I see on both sides of the ocean. [It’s] both on the very kind of pattern-based, kind of, quite [constructed] methodology of the Chinese medical traditional, to the very myopic, very absurd “drawing lines in the sand that don’t need to be there” world of medicine politics. So it’s kind of thrown me in. I’m in at the deep end, so it’s forced me to kind of really review that. Yeah, [and] that obviously filters into your personal life as well.

 

Hunter : Yeah, [and even] – [this] goes back to what your parents were doing, right? To be a bridge – and [the] thing that I really appreciated just from [the] video of your backstory – is the word “complementarity”, right? Like, with Eastern and Western approaches to things it’s not a about fetishising one or fetishising the other, and saying, “This one is the best!”

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : It’s really about what is the blend between them? How do you have that “bridge”? That’s a word you use a lot, Don, which I love, because the words I use a lot are “right?” and “you know?”, and “bridge” is an actual word rather than just “verbal garbage”. [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : But, you know, it really is this promise of bridging East and West, and how can we get the best of both?

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : So yeah, let’s talk about Chinese medicine, and let’s talk about Western medicine, because you’ve found yourself in that intersection, and have seen sort of the problems of a myopic focus on one or the other. So what have you noticed? What have been the challenges in terms of moving ideas one way or the other?

 

Don : I think [what’s] surprised me the most – and I think that [my background] has not prepared me for this – [is] the level of entrenchment, the level of fundamentalism, [or] the level of dogma, that is on both sides. [People] are so entrenched – invisibly – in their kind of cultural heritage, that to try to kind of open eyes, or to try to have this meaningful dialogue – [not] just platitudes that kind of serve no purpose – but actual meaningful exchange. In order to find this other way, or these new paradigms of integrations where you can actually blend these different prospective ways of looking at things; these different medical approaches – which I absolutely 100 percent believe you can. Because seeing Chinese medicine in action for the last 30 years [of my] life with the clinic,  and also living in the West, really, honestly, it’s amazing when you start to look at the advice that these two areas of medicine are giving to their patients. When it evolves you start to see that there’s a major convergence – [a] huge convergence – and now we’re finally – in Western medicine, or in Western health – we are embracing lifestyle a lot more than we used to, right? We’re embracing the concept which seems very obvious, right? That nutrition is a very important thing for your health. [laughter]

 

Hunter : [laughter] What?! Don, what is this “woo-woo”  Eastern garbage that you’re peddling here?

 

Don : [laughter] I know!

 

Hunter : You mean I can’t just eat “Ho-Hos” all day and live forever? This is crazy.

 

Don : [laughter] But [the crazy] thing is that I will be sitting in meetings with agencies – medical healthcare agencies – and they will say things to me that make me want to bang my head against a wall, or look for the “hidden camera”. Because [I’m saying things like], “Look, Hippocrates said ‘Let food be thy medicine, and medicine by thy food.'” Like, we need to be giving people advice about nutrition in a much more meaningful way, you know? Rather than just, in Britain we have something called “five a day”.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : That’s about as big as it gets, right? [laughter] “Have five a day”, and then they’re taking like really sugary juices and they’re saying, “[This is] one of your five a day.” You know, it’s just like the most nonsensical thing ever, and these people who are civil servants who [not] just enforce the law, but they guide the law when it comes to medicine. They’re saying things to me like, “No…no…no! The definition of food is that it doesn’t have a pharmacological effect on your body.”

 

Hunter : [laughter] … and because we’ve defined it that way, therefore, it can’t, right?

 

Don : Exactly!

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : I’m sitting there and going, “I don’t know how to actually like respond to that.” The level of absurdity makes me feel like I’m in another dimension, you know? Then they say to me, “Oh, and also, Don, the definition of food is [that] it cannot do you harm.”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : So I’m sitting there going, “Okay, guys. How am I supposed to have a reasoned debate with you about nutrition, medicine, [and] healthcare, when you’re talking in a way which is [so] beyond anybody’s understanding of anything logical?” So yes, that’s what’s surprised me the most, is how willing people are to be entrenched in these ideas that seem very, very absurd. So yeah, I mean, that’s been surprising, for sure.

 

Hunter : [laughter] Well, [I think] the first thing is that culture binds and blinds, right?

 

Don : Mmm.

 

Hunter : You know, [one of] the analogies that we’re fond of in “Mixed Mental Arts” is that asking a human about culture is like asking a fish if it’s wet.

 

Don : Right.

 

Hunter : Like you’re wet, [but] you may not know it. [The point] is that it’s very much like the whole “builder’s tea” thing. Like, these guys are wet. They’ve internalized a whole culture, and they haven’t had the benefit that we’ve had of having to swim in different oceans. So the majority of humanity has never really known that it’s wet. I think that part of the thing that I’ve really realized in the last year is [that] I sort of naively assumed that people with a scientific education would know how wet they were. Like, that’s the point of science – to make you aware of your biases, [and] make you aware of all the things that you’ve internalized, so you can question them, and all of that sort of stuff. But what I’ve come to in the last year is that, you know, dealing with a westerner is no different than dealing with a farmer from Yunnan, or dealing with some guy from the hinterlands of Libya.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : Like, you’ve blindly internalized your culture, you don’t know that you’ve blindly internalized your culture, and it is driving your thinking. It really is that problem of cultural arrogance, is that you look at all the cargo, and all of the material abundance that the West has accumulated, and so not only are you wet, but you just think that – [it’s] that hardcore naive realism – where you really just think that your view of the world is the best.

 

Don : Hmm.

 

Hunter : It’s that cultural chauvinism of like, ” Listen, we did the industrial revolution, [and] we invented science, [and] we cured all of these things. Don, who are you to come in here with this crazy “woo-woo” nonsense and try and tell me that Robinson’s juice drink is not a fruit or a vegetable.” [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] Absolutely. That’s precisely what’s happening. You know?

 

Hunter : Yeah.

 

Don : It’s this blind [belief]. That’s, [I have] to say, [why] the “Mixed Mental Arts” platform is so fundamentally important, because as your [exploration] into this has no doubt shown you that it takes time to break that down, and it needs structure to break that down, and it needs continuous spotlights being shone in areas that you may feel uncomfortable being exposed to. So that’s essentially what I’m trying to do, not just to other people, but to myself as well, because I’m just as blind and bound as other people. I mean, maybe [I] have a [slightly] more diverse – [I’ve] swum in many oceans, perhaps – but we all carry it with us, and I think [that] exposing that is so fundamental. That’s why when I go to China I’m talking the same language to them, you know? I’m saying, “Look, you guys [are] so entrenched in historical, traditional constructs – [like] concepts of Chi, concepts of [the] “five elements, [and] concepts of the “Yin and Yang theory”. That’s not to say that they’re wrong. That’s not to say that they [have no] purpose or meaning, because absolutely they do, and we’ve seen the effects, and we’ve seen results. But you have to understand that these need to be modernized as well. [The language] is constantly in flux. The moment you fix the language you’re basically saying, “No more development [is] needed.” Right? It’s the same in western medicine, right? [They’ve had] incredible success at dealing with infectious diseases, yeah? [It’s] amazing. You know, how many billions of people have lived because of antibiotics, and the understanding of the microbes, and the ability to zoom-in, and the ability to use lenses, and the ability to focus on details. [It’s] incredible. But if you just then take that success [and say], “… therefore, everything else we do is right.” You know, [laughter] you’re not evolving, and more to the point – as you say – you’re not being scientific. This is the thing that winds me up the most – this kind of “skepticism” with a “k”, pseudoscience, you know, [and] all [these] kind of “trigger words” that people are throwing out at anything that potentially challenges the paradigm. [I mean], at the end of the day Chinese herbs is not such a difficult concept to understand, right? It’s a herb. You’re eating it.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : It’s going to have an effect on your body. [I’m] not even asking you to believe in some vibrational whatever, you know?

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : I’m just saying [that] if you eat basil it’s going to have an effect. If you eat ginseng it’s going to have an effect. If you combine some plants together they’re going to have a synergistic effect. It’s really not that complicated. So [what’s] the opposition? Why are you being so like “anti” here? Is it because we’re using the words [like] “Chi”? Is it because we’re using concepts of energy, and life force, and all of this stuff? Fair enough. Get it. Understand those are your trigger words. But you have to also understand why those are your trigger words, and [what’s] the background that has lead those to be your trigger words? On the other side, the Chinese, and these Eastern [medicines] need to understand that they can’t just keep grinding their heels and saying, “Well, we have thousands of years of history!”

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : You know, [as if] that’s like the medal. It’s like, “Yes, good. Congratulations. You have had success over thousands of years, and you’ve built up this medicine experientially. [Those are] all good things, but we need to develop. If we are going to integrate we need to develop. We need to find this complementary approach.” So yeah, it’s on both ends of the spectrum. There’s [no point] in painting it black and white, and it certainly is the case that the Western way of looking at things has lead to incredible results. I have to say – as a little side story to this – the Chinese invented many, many things, right? But glass is not one of them, and the use of glass in Chinese history is very, very low. I mean, it’s superficial, and a lot of the reason why – there is a thinking, [although] I’m not sure how accurate it is – but there’s a thinking that the Chinese really focused on ceramics [and] metal work, and that tea is best consumed in ceramics, right? Whereas the Western drink of choice tended to be wine, which was best consumed in wine glass, and whether or not that lead to a bigger development in glass, and then lenses, and then the ability to look out, and [to] look into detail, [it] may be that tea played its part, actually, in this different way of thinking – the pattern versus the detail; the pattern versus the whole. You know, we don’t know, but it’s a kind of interesting area that China has very, very little experience with glass-making, and glass in general.

 

Hunter : Well, it’s not just glass. It’s also that atomistic mindset, right? It is that desire to – [and] this goes back to the Greeks – like the desire to break up, split up, categorize, [and] figure out all the parts. I hadn’t made that connection until this conversation, but infectious diseases are really the perfect problem for the Western mind, right?

 

Don : Absolutely! Yeah.

 

Hunter : You have to isolate the thing that is the problem, and you have to fucking kill it. Like that’s just what it comes down to.

 

Don : Yeah. [laughter]

 

Hunter : You have to sort through all the chemicals that are out there, and find the one that’s going to kill that thing without killing you.

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : It’s an ideal western problem, and one of the thing that Nisbett talks about in “The Geography of Thought” is the fact that surgery never appeared in China, right?  Because the body is so integrated, [and] it is so much a holistic thing, that why would you chop out a piece?

 

Don : Yeah.

 

Hunter : So again, like surgery is very much a Western thing to have invented, but in terms of these sort of rigid lines in the sand that don’t exist, there’s a guy out here, Tony Molina, and although Tony’s name is Molina, which is hispanic, right, [actually] a large part of his childhood was spent around his Korean friends and family. So my personal feeling… and he talks about sitting on the floor, and really being like, “This is so cool. This is a real community. I don’t have this. It’s such a great experience.” I think that he’s a very holistic thinker, and I just wonder how much that was picked up from his childhood. But his thing is… and he’s brought together all of these technologies that are basically designed to get the body to repair itself. You provide the targeted signals to the body, and it is these very modern approaches. Like for example, there’s this machine [called] “bio-density”. So if you send a person into space there’s no gravity, and therefore there’s no force on the bones, and so you get osteoporosis. So this provides, you know, you get on there, you generate a force, and then you’re signaling your osteoblasts to upregulate production and create that bone density.

 

Don : MmmHmm.

 

Hunter : It’s really effective. You can bring people in with osteopenia, and they do this for five minute [to] ten minutes a week, and you can see their bone density actually build, in measurable ways, on a DEXA scan. He has had – he and everybody else who’s promoting this stuff – a devil of a time moving this in the West. Of course, where has it had the best reception? China. They’re like, “Oh, duh! Of course! It’s all an integrated system”. Again and again, everything that he’s doing is basically about dealing with these imaginary lines that Western doctors have, where you go to a GP, you tell the GP you have back pain, the doctor sends you to a back specialist. [But] the only problem is that the real source of the back pain is that you actually don’t have range of motion in your foot, and so those forces are being transmitted up and manifesting in the back. The western doctor does a scan, sees a back problem – like there’s something that shows up on the X-ray – concludes surgery – because that’s what the west does – when really, you know, these much smaller fixes, in terms of foot motility, would actually fix the issue. So the damage that is done on both sides, just by sort of blindly running your cultural biases, is vast, right?

 

Don : Yeah,… [and] so you have, [in medicine, we’ve] lost the concept of proper triage – you know, the proper, “Let’s look at a problem, and let’s really take a step back from it, and really try to understand the whole environment that has lead to this problem, before we specialize. The specialization is a great thing, because it leads to expertise, and it leads to all of [the] improved – like the Japanese tea, right? It raises the overall standards [in] exactly the same way as tea. If I come in to a tea farmer’s house, and I try to specialize too quickly – to try [to get] them to answer very specific questions – then I oftentimes lose sight of actually the environment, and lose sight of the actual question that needs to be asked, right? [Like] if I sat and I kind of just observed for a while I would figure [it] out. That’s absolutely the case in medicine. It’s a specialization that’s happening far too quickly. It’s like, we had a Chinese doctor coming to speak with us once, and he kind of just gave a very simple example of mildew in the bathroom, right? If you have mildew in the bathroom you can find out what it is, you can find out what the microbe is, you can find the chemical, [and] you can kill it off, but really what’s causing the mildew – even though the cause of it is this microbe – it’s actually the [humid] environment that has caused it. So both are causes, right? But which is going to have the best long-term results: you spraying it every couple of months, or you figuring out a way to dehumidify your bathroom in some way [laughter]. You know? It’s a very simple idea, but that’s basically the difference in a nutshell.

 

Hunter : Yeah. The challenge for us, and a lot of what I think [building] this “Mixed Mental Arts” community of all of us who have sort of wrestled with this problem of culture, in one way or another, is to basically pool our insights, and to evolve tools so that we can all have these conversations better. That’s why we’re doing the “Mixed Mental Arts Belt System” as just sort of the nine basic concepts that are most important for like giving people the vocabulary, [because] I think that if you’re going to talk to some British civil servant about this sort of stuff I think, obviously, the compounding factor is [as] Upton Sinclair said, “It’s impossible to convince a man of something when his job depends on him not understanding it.”

 

Don : [laughter] Yeah.

 

Hunter : [That’s] the other compounding thing, but the more that we can get humanity to this idea… because I think [that] the difference is, Don, that you know that [culture] binds and blinds. Most people don’t even understand that, right? They might think, “Oh, yeah, culture binds and blinds other people.” But it’s really that when you understand that. So I think it’s, A, that, and the other thing that I think is super-important is [that] for people to be able to see this – and so we can all see this better, I think that, A, you know, humans learn by seeing example, example, example, and then they go to the general principle. So you and I have had lots, and lots, and lots of examples, examples, examples, and then we sort of accepted a lot of these general principles to live by. You have a totally different set of examples from the ones that Tony Molina has, or that I have, or that – a lot of what you’re saying, by the way, have you read Mark Schatzker’s “Dorito Effect”?

 

Don : No, I haven’t. No.

 

Hunter : Oh, see [this] is what I’m talking about [in saying] “pulling toolkits”, because that book is going to be give you so much of what really sounds like science to this British civil servant, where you can talk about food in ways that they’re really going to appreciate. So anyway, [I] think that’s the point, is that we all need to band together. [You know] it’s frustrating when you’re the one person trying to mediate these conflicts. [I mean], for me – in the last year – it’s been nice to know that I’m not alone, and that there is a community of people who think like this, who can help us all have these conversations better.

 

Don : Absolutely, and a growing community. I think that there are people that are searching for this, so [the] MMA platform is really important for that, because one place to send people is a much easier way than [laughter] trying to kind of like cobble together your own personal reading list. So yeah, pooling it is very important.

 

Hunter : Yup, and to that end, I [think] what’s great is, you know, [obviously] you’ve done so much of that pulling together – in terms of tea, in terms of Chinese medicine, [and] in terms of a lot of these things – and [with] Mei Leaf you’ve created a really great set of resources there for people to begin the journey towards becoming “teaheads”.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : [We’ve] really only scratched the surface here. Like obviously, being a recovering “WEIRD” I’ve focused on Yunnan, and I’ve focused on Puerh, but we haven’t really gotten into : How do you brew tea, right? The “Gong Fu” brewing style. We haven’t really gotten into the teaware; like what are the cups, and what should we be using? But [I’m] excited to begin that journey, [and] I’m lucky to have a great guide in Don, who – although he’s too humble to ever say he [is] an expert – he’s been on the path for long enough that he can certainly point me to a few things that might help me in my own exploration.

 

Don : Thank you. Yeah, absolutely. [There are] so many more things to talk about, and as anybody who embarks on the “teahead” journey discovers, it’s a world of absolute acceptance of flux.

 

Hunter : [laughter]

 

Don : [laughter] Right? So get ready for everything I say to be contradicted in the next moment. I know you can handle that.

 

Hunter : Yup! [We’re] all going to have to handle that, because that’s the world that we live in. All the old certainties are gone.

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : [Also] , there are some people that I want to connect you with, because I think that there’s enough of that similarity. I think it would be great for you to talk to Tony Molina, it would be great for you to talk to Mark Schatzker, and I think you’d really appreciate talking to Jenny Aguilar. That’s really a big thing that we’re going to be doing in 2018, is trying to really facilitate “idea sex” where we bring together great, fun combinations, and just watch that exchange of ideas, back and forth, happen. So thanks so much for coming into the dojo, Don. I feel like we can now more comfortably use that term than maybe we could before…

 

Don : [laughter]

 

Hunter : .. [laughter] which is exciting. Plug yourself shamelessly. Where can everybody find everything that you do?

 

Don : The best place to go is search out our channel on YouTube – “Mei Leaf” ( https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCaHBABJFMRAtnKhQp2Cu5BQ ) – search for us on YouTube, and then you can begin your exploration into the world of tea. Just dip in [and] dip out. You’ll find things, I’m sure, that interest you. If you’re interested in Chinese medicine then Acumedic.com is the best place to go.

 

Hunter : Yeah, and I think – that’s the other thing, too – in terms of, as we start to help people realize they’re “wet”, [food and drink] is such a great first point of contact, because once you start to develop an appreciation for those things then it becomes much easier to get into the literature, or to get into the philosophy, or the spirituality, or the religion. So, in general, let’s shamelessly promote all the food and beverage, and maybe then people will realize that it’s not just food, [but] it’s also medicine. [laughter]

 

Don : Absolutely.

 

Hunter : All right. Take care Don.

 

Don : Thank you so much, Hunter. Take care.

 

Hunter : Bye.

 

Hunter : Well, that was Don Mei, and I was so inspired by that conversation with Don that I decided to create a special sub-group of “Mixed Mental Arts” called” “Mixed Medical Arts” where anybody who is interested in figuring out what a truly global medical system – that is the product of “idea sex” between Eastern medicine and Western medicine – would look like, can come, talk, share experiences, [and] figure out how to move these ideas both in the Eastern world and the Western world. So you can find that group, “Mixed Medical Arts” on Facebook, and there’s actually a very interesting new sub-group set up by our own Isaiah Gooley, “Mixed Musical Arts”. So if you’re interested in finding out about the music of different cultures, how they’ve blended, [and] how they’ve learned from each other, there’s that opportunity to go [to]. So thanks so much for listening, and remember, on Facebook : “Mixed Mental Arts”, “Mixed Medical Arts”, and “Mixed Music Arts” .

 

Announcer : I’d like to let you know how you can engage in “idea sex” with us by joining our online communities. If you’d like to help support us, please consider becoming a patron by visiting our Patreon page, where you can get access to behind-the-scenes content, early podcast episode releases, and much, much more. You can find our website at http://www.mixedmentalarts.online to sign up for our email newsletter. For Facebook users, you can find our Facebook page with the URL Facebook.com/MixedMentalArts . From there you can join our Facebook discussion group, or you can give us feedback about the podcast, or engage in discussions with our community members, including Hunter Maats. We also have a Reddit community at “R/MixedMentalArts”. Subscribe to our YouTube channel at YouTubecom/MixedMentalArts for video podcasts and weekly live streams, where you – the audience – have the ability to participate in our discussions. Last, but not least, please follow us on Twitter at “”@MixedMentalArts”, and [the same on] Instagram, to get our latest updates. Join the “Callenphate”, and replace that cognitive dissonance with some “cognitive coitus”. Thanks for listening.                                                                      

 

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Transcription Power Tool #3 : WorkRave Pacing Program

 

workrave_screenshot

WorkRave Work Pacing and Repetitive Strain Illness (RSI) Management Tool

 

Workrave ( http://www.workrave.org ) is an EXCELLENT, totally FREE and little open source freeware software application which provides some highly valuable computer work pacing features, as well as regularly timed short, and longer, work break reminders, along with some helpful exercises to do during those breaks to counteract the risk of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). Workrave is available as a TOTALLY free download at :

 

http://www.workrave.org/download/

 

The program is easy to use, and works on Windows, Mac AND LINUX operating systems. Please feel free to go ahead and download, install, and play around with the program as soon as you can, to reap the benefits immediately. I ASSURE you that you will see a noticeable increase in your productivity just in your first few hours of integrating this excellent tool into your daily workflow.

 

For such an essentially simple program this tool provides some highly valuable time and effort management functions, so that your overall productivity will increase NOTICEABLY, while simultaneously decreasing the productivity obstacles presented by repetitive, monotonous bodily and mental activities which create stress – and even potential long term illness- if not managed  over extended periods of time. Although the standard definition of Repetitve Strain Illness focuses mainly on PHYSICALLY strainful, repetitive activity, any worker who heavily uses their computer for several hours per day in order to do important tasks knows that the MENTALLY strenuous and/or menial activities are EQUALLY taxing on the whole mind-body system – especially because the mind and body are so interconnected – and so for the purposes of this analysis as it relates primarily to computer teleworkers (and transcriptionists/proofeaders specifically), Repetitive Strain Injuries in this discussion will include mental activities as well physical ones.

 

For teleworkers, some significant physical repetitive strain producing activities include : eye strain resulting from staring at the computer screen for long periods of time, back pain resulting from sitting up for long periods, and joint pain commonly in the fingers, wrists, arms, neck and/or back areas, resulting primarily from long periods of stationary sitting, posture-maintaining, and typing and mouse activities. Some of the major mentally straining activities include: difficulty concentrating, anxiety resulting from mental exhaustion, noticeable decrease in cognitive ability, and hyper-aroused nervous system states (including moodiness, agitation, insomnia, etc.). These often result from enduring long periods of sustained, focused mental attention on more single, narrowed subject matter, fine textual details, and repetitive tasks. These mental ailments develop primarily due to a failure to take adequate rest breaks away from the computer to let the mind rest and recuperate. Just as a body builder experiences the maximum physical gains by integrating adequate rest periods into their training routine, so the teleworker gains similar benefits from achieving a proper balance of activity and rest.

 

Some of the more technical names for of the most common Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s) include : Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Information Overload, Pressure/Stress Headaches, hyper-arousal induced insomnia, etc. More detailed information and examples of these conditions and their causes can be found here :

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repetitive_strain_injury

 

And a more in-depth analysis of the occupational risk factors for teleworkers is well examined here :

 

Working From Home Can Sabotage Your Health

http://www.techtimes.com/articles/121097/20160104/working-from-home-can-sabotage-your-health-ways-telecommuting-can-make-you-ill.htm

 

Luckily, Workrave addresses many of the most significant telecommuter health issue by providing some valuable core features which are simple to execute, yet highly effective in helping to manage and minimize the manifestation and development of these Repetitive Strain Injuries. Plus, it does so in a way which, when properly used, is quite non-intrusive, and highly customizable based on the unique physical and mental needs of the individual worker.

 

The most useful features of the program can probably be best understood through actual case study examples of the typical daily workflow of the teleworker (in this case, the transcriber/proofreader). To best achieve this I will use my own, personal daily workflow as an example here, and show how the Workrave tool is integrated so easily and effectively with the most common workflow tasks of teleworkers (and even computer workers) in general.

 

Let’s say on a typical day I end up doing eight full hours of computer work on various tasks. Upon waking in the morning I usually start working on one of my private client transcription/proofreading projects. I will load my transcription software, continue from where I left off last on the transcription or proofread. I have found that working in 15 minutes chunks is ideal for the specific nature and needs of my body and mind. That is, I will usually transcribe or proofread for 15 minutes, and then either switch things up significantly to consuming some work-related (or non-work related) audio, video or textual resources (ex. YouTube videos, podcasts, web articles, etc.) If my energy levels are further down I can choose the third alternative option of completely disengaging from physical and mental work activity, and instead spend the next 15 minute chunk of time doing some menial daily chores (ex. cleaning, meditating, walking around the room or yard, etc.) So, the three 15 time slots include : 15 minutes of work-related computer work, 15 minutes of less  (or non) – computer related content consumption, or 15 minutes of physical activity which does not involved intense mental activity. The more you understand the ideal mixtures of task sessions which are unique to YOU, the sooner you can most appropriately customize the WorkRave program scheduling features to most effectively assist you in sticking to the specific organization of activity program you choose.

 

So, continuing to build upon the above example, I go into the WorkRave settings area and set the micro-break intervals to 15 minutes. This means that every 15 minutes a “break screen” pops up and stops any activity on the machine (ex. Keyboard and mouse input, etc.) I also program the DURATION of these microbreaks to be 30 seconds. In this way, after every 15 chuck of my work the program forces me to AT LEAST take 30 seconds to stop what I am doing, take a deep breath, rest, and clear my mind in order to best plan for the next 15 minutes activity chunk. After this first microbreak I move into the first alternative task (let’s say watching an interesting YouTube tutorial video on one of the new software programs I am learning and planning to integrate into my arsenal of work tools). The MORE INTERESTING you make this second task (specially relating the task to the first (and also) third task session), the more productivity benefits you will get from switching and pacing the tasks. IDEALLY, the most effective mix of tasks includes a logical component to this transition. For instance, if you are specifically focusing on improving your use of punctuation during your proofreading tasks then switching to watching an interesting YouTube video related to some aspect of proofreading will provide a nice repetition and reinforcement component to your activities (and self-training) schedule. The key is to try and consume resources which are interesting, motivating, and applicable as quickly as possible into your workflow. By doing this you are able to apply (and build) the knowledge and skills you are absorbing during the different task sessions, in real-time, and the continuous, tangible improvement in your productivity which results from this will further motivate you to pace and organize your efforts properly, using SEVERAL tools, including WorkRave.

 

After the second 15 minute task, the next micro-break box pops up and I can then rest for 30 seconds while I also decide if it is most appropriate to switch back to the first (active project work) activity session, or if I feel that my body and mind are becoming more drained of energy and focus I can choose to switch to the third task session, which involves some physical activity without mental activity. In this case I may spend the third 15 minute activity session doing some silent meditation, or giving the kitchen or bathroom a routine 15 minute clean, I may prepare some food (which, in my specific case, general consists of a light, liquid and raw fruits and vegetables based diet. I could, for instance, brew a pot of one of my favorite, and most appropriate types of Chinese tea which I drink daily. While this is another subject worth elaborating on elsewhere (when I talk about proper nutrition for the teleworker), I find that taking a 15 minute break to drink a pot of high quality tea (specifically a black or Puerh category tea if I need more energy, and a green, white, or herbal tea in the evening when I am in the process of “coming down”) is a HUGE boon to my productivity AND the overall health of my body. Once the 15 minute tea drinking activity session finishes, the third micro-break box pops up on the screen. Actually, after the third session it is really best to schedule one of the longer breaks (which include the guided exercise activities). So, in this example I will program one of the long breaks every 45 minutes – that is, after I complete the full round of the three main 15 minute activity sessions.

 

Aside from time the interval (45 minutes in this case) between breaks you can also customize the DURATION of the longer breaks. Again, this proper duration will be unique to your body and mind. I find that after the three 15 minute microbreaks, a good 5 to 10 minute long break is appropriate to really properly recuperate from the past hour of heavy activity. For a few minutes at the beginning of the longer break the program provides you with some guided examples of some common, and effective, basic exercises that you can perform along with the program’s timer. These exercises are focuses on addressing the most common physical Repetitive Strain Injuries, and range from eye exercises to stretching exercises for various high use body parts. The nice thing is that you have the option to follow the exercises provided, and/or replace or add some of your own preferred exercises. I like to try to AT LEAST follow the provided exercises, and then in the remaining non-activity time, where the program stops providing exercises and simply let’s the break timer run, I add a few of my own good ones – mainly consisting of some powerful yoga and Chi Gong stretching, and movement exercises. I may also take some of this remaining time to cease all physical and mental activity by lying on my bed with eyes closed..

 

Once the longer break is completed you will usually feel well rested, and ready to run through the cycle again – depending, of course, on how many cycles you have already completed. With this specific routine you can get quite a lot of work done in an eight hour daily work session. The program also has a customizable “daily limit” timer. This box will pop up to remind you that you have reached your self-estimated overall time-work threshold for the day. If you have more accurately customized the time interval on this feature you may find this a refreshing notification and conclusion of your workday, and you will likely be happy to shut down your work activities and computer for the remainder of the day. However, if you decide (for a variety of possible reasons, including approaching deadlines, glut of work, compulsive tendencies, etc.) to do some additional work, you have the option to “cancel” this daily work reminder. If you do this, however, it IS recommended that in the additional work time you perform for the day you extend the frequency and duration of micro and longer breaks. As some friendly advice from someone who suffers from SEVERE insomnia, plus internet addiction, and other goodies – which is only exacerbated by the constant hyper-arousal induced by above the eight hour threshold of daily computer work, often even reaching up into the double-digits —) yikes – I can tell you from experience that as you endure more hours it become increasingly important to include a pacing mechanism which gradually slows down your physical and mental activity so that when you finally conclude the day’s work your body and mind will be in as an ideal of a state as possible to facilitate sleep and recovery. Ultimately, you want to customize your pacing schedule so that, with the help of the WorkRave program features, you are able to slowly wind down to a soft conclusion of activity which will make it easier for you body and mind to transition to the lower level of brainwave  activity to allow you to get the proper amount and quality of sleep required to maintain consistent productivity over days, weeks, and months. Pacing is a VITAL component to computer-based telework and non-telework. If you can achieve a high level of control over your energy exertion you will be able to maximize the overall results of your effort. If you CAN’T achieve this control then you will tend to experience a progressively increasing level of physical and mental exhaustion which can very likely develop into more serious,  longer term injuries over your extended work periods of days, weeks, months, and beyond.

 

Developing good pacing habits is therefore a vital component to telework, and one which ultimately translates into better health, higher productivity and income earning potential. People who are able to properly pace themselves are able to get more work done with less effort, and experience less health issues which have a tendency to have a detrimental effects on productivity in the short and the long term. This is why I STRONGLY suggest using a simple, yet powerful – and FREE – program like WorkRave as a fundamental tool in your teleworker tool kit.

 

One of the challenges people face when using a program like WorkRave is that you may sometimes find that both the micro and longer breaks feel like they are a bit intrusive, and distracting, to your efforts. However, I find that if in the times when I have those feelings it is very helpful to force myself to take the break, and then practice some meditation on those negative feelings which the rest break alerts trigger in me. I sit or lie down on my floor or the bed, and with my eyes closed allow the feelings to arise naturally and without trying to stop them. Then I examine and reflect on the feelings and sensations to try and figure out the deeper force driving them.. For instance, I ask myself WHY I feel frustrated by the break? Is it simply because I want to get more work done, but by doing so I would overextend myself? I ponder whether or not the break is actually HELPING to increase my productivity and comfort level, Even though at the time of the break I may have negative feelings what I have found is that, looking back in hindsight, it is most often the case that even though I had to endure some frustration due to the interruptive nature of the breaks, they did INDEED successfully serve the purpose of increasing my productivity. In addition, the program forces me, in a healthy way, to confront my own mental processed (and neuroses, or maybe more accurately, demons) which cause me to put up the resistance. A major benefit of this analysis  is that it helps you to begin to gain a better understanding of the destructive ways in which your impulses, compulsions, and counterproductive thought patterns contribute to improper pacing. So in the end this program also has the potential to help you change your pacing routine by changing the underlying destructive psychological mechanisms which have a tendency to force you to push body and mind beyond their limits, and ultimately sabotage your potential maximum productivity.

 

On a more practical level, one of the first things you can do if you find, through analysis, yourself feeling justifiably frustrated at the pacing of the breaks is to simply increase the time interval between them. You do this in the setting section of the program. Since everyone has unique physical and mental needs, once you figure out and customize your own proper individual pacing schedule you actually will be more welcoming of the breaks, accepting them as a necessary – albeit somewhat frustrating – tool, which helps you bypass your own self-destructive tendencies, and just start accepting that the breaks are indeed ultimately necessary for, and effective at, producing a significant increase to your productivity. Plus, the various metrics you can apply to judge this increase in productivity (for example, the number of total increase in transcription/proofreading output time ( based on a word count), an increase in income due to the increase in productivity), etc. will highly motivate you to appreciate and take full advantage of such a valuable tool as WorkRave. You will naturally accept the automated pacing schedule provided by the program.and gain maximum benefits from the breaks, and experience a general  diminishing need to cancel or postpone them. Once you reach this milestone, you KNOW that you are making real progress, and ultimately the improvement in pacing ability that you develop from regular use of this program will naturally transfer into the pacing of activities in other areas of your life (ex. Better organizing and pacing plans to achieve dietary goals, serious exercise routines, general career and life planning, etc. Ultimately, pacing is a valuable life skill to master.

 

Well, quite a lot has been said in this post about a nifty freeware program which may APPEAR on first glance to be quite simple and insignificant. However,us free-thinking, smart people know that the most profound,  influential – and often revolutionary – philosophers and innovators in history have expressed the common important opinion along the lines that the best ideas and inventions are those which are the simplest. Taking the wise words of one such great thinker, Albert Einstein, “Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.”

So it is on this enlightening final note that will I put some closure on this rather comprehensive, and hopefully helpful, reviews of the WorkRave productivity enhancement application. It is my sincere hope that any reader of this post will experience the significant benefits of integrating this tool into their work routine, and as a result experience an increase in productivity, income – and most importantly – the most valuable gift of increased self-awareness.

 

If you do try out the program please feel free to send your comments (both positive and negative) so that all readers of this blog can benefit, as well as sharing this post with anyone who you believe will benefit from the information.

 

Happy Transcribing,

@TranscriptJunky

https://twitter.com/TranscriptJunky

 

 

Transcription Powertool #2 : WavePad (Audio Editing Software)

WavePad Masters Edition Screenshot_ for DOAFT blog post

WavePad Master’s Edition Screenshot Provided ON Company’s Web Site

 

Rescuing Poor Quality Audio Files From Death To Make Them Suitable For Transcription Using Audio Editing Software

As a freelance online transcriptionist you will spend a considerable amount of time evaluating files which come to you via various available job boards and/or private clients. As the different online transcription companies receive audio and video files from different, and numerous sources – each of whom record their audio/video with different equipment, and with a range of recording skills (from amateur to professional), as well as under some uncontrollable conditions  which are common in audio recording – it is CERTAIN that you will REGULARLY come across audio files where the WHOLE file is of poor quality (in terms of being able to hear the speakers well, and most accurately transcribe their speech) OR files in which only PARTS of the file are of poor quality. The main downside to poor quality audio is that it takes more time to complete the transcription and/or editing process, and especially if you are on a strict deadline this can create a significant amount of stress and frustration, which disturbs the general flow and enjoyment of your work, and may even cause you to take more time than usual to complete the file. In addition, even if you are NOT under a strict deadline, these poor quality files require more time and energy investment to complete, and since you are paid per file, line, or audio minute this means that you make less money overall, since these more difficult files take up time that you could be working on better quality, easier files, processing them faster, and turning over more files.

The silver lining in the case of poor audio quality is that the problem presents you with a valuable growth situation by motivating you to teach yourself the valuable new skill audio editing by learning how to use a decent quality audio editing application (some of which are free). This software will provide you an array of powerful tools to greatly increase your potential of transforming a “poor” quality audio/video files into a “workable” quality audio/video file. The potential benefits to you are significant. One will be that if the content of the file is good then you can enjoy that content while transcribing and/or editing it, and get paid to do so. This is always the ideal situation for a transcribers and editors. Secondly, during “slow periods”, where there is a limited number of files made available for you to work on, having some audio editing skills can increase the amount of work available to you, especially if other transcribers/editors working for the same online transcription company do not (yet) have such skills. Finally, the company, or client, providing your files on a regular basis will be happy that you have spent time and energy developing these skills which enable their company to make money off of these poorer quality files, instead of having to return the files to the original client and lose the revenue (and possibly the customer as well).

Some companies have started offering to transcribe/edit poorer quality files with an extra “challenging audio” charge. In this way the customer is still able to get their files transcribed, and the company doesn’t turn away customers who may, over time, provide a significant amount of work, regardless of the occasional poorer quality files. Even the highest quality audio/video productions have SOME content which is sub-par. It is often not the intentional fault of the customer in these cases.  The multitude of factors which can make an audio/video file “poor” in quality include : high level of movement of speakers, high level of background noise when the recording is done in populated places, and many others. A reputable online transcription company will then go on to pay the transcribers and editors some of that extra fee, and so by having some basic audio editing skills you open the possibility of working on these higher paying files. This is a win-win-win situation for the customer. the company, and the transcriber/editor.

Here is a high quality article which goes into significant detail of the various factors which contribute to poor audio quality recordings :

How to Make Good Recordings

Once you get proficient with the audio editing software it is often the case that one of the powerful functions in the software can revive the file from audio death with just a few clicks. So, it is ultimately a valuable and practical skill to add to your virtual transcription/editing toolbox, and one which your clients will appreciate. You may even win certain well-paying contracts over other applicants by simply listing your competency and ownership of a good quality audio editing software application on your resume. Of course, it would be most ideal to perhaps take an online course in audio editing which provides a certificate upon completion, which you can then include with your resume and post on your transcription related online sites and social media accounts (ex. your transcription service (or company) blog, LinkedIn, etc.). You can even find such courses for free on online education sites, such as the following Udemy course :

Audio Editing Basics with Reaper

Just do a Google search for -> “audio editing basics online course + [specific preferred audio editing software]”, and you will discover a nice selection of courses (free or paid) which will start you on the path to becoming skilled and certified in audio editing. In fact, the audio editing application “Reaper” http://www.reaper.fm, which is taught in above course, offers a 60-day evaluation free trial. This is AT LEAST a generous amount of time to experiment with the software while taking the free course. Then, once the trial expires, you can decide whether to buy Reaper, or seek out one of the other full freeware applications available to consumers, such as Audacity http://www.audacityteam.org , which is one of the most popular, open source, applications available. Some other options can be found here :

As you can see from the above article and a simple search, there is a wide range of decent (and some free) quality audio editing software programs available which will enable you to do MOST of the repair work you will need for files which are of moderately difficult quality – which will be the difficulty level of most of the files you will need to work on. Often the one-click application of a simple “background noise reduction”, or “high pass” filter will be adequate to get the audio/video functional enough to work on and process to completion. Remember, YOU are ultimately responsible ONLY for adequately transcribing and/or editing the words in the audio/video file. The quality of the file is NOT your responsibility. So the more skilled you are at tweaking the audio so that you can properly hear and transcribe the speech, the better final transcript product you will produce. In other words, you will have done your job well, even under less than desirable conditions. This is ALWAYS proof of a valuable worker who takes their job seriously, and will surely, more often than not, be looked at favorably by current and potential clients.

The industry standard professional transcription software ExpressScribe Pro http://www.nch.com.au/scribe/index.html provides three of the most basic, commonly used filters (ex. Background Noise Reduction, Extra Volume Boost, and High Pass Filter), BUT these are simply one-click applications which cannot be configured for more fine-tuned audio repair. You simply select the one available, preconfigured filter, and ExpressScribe runs the entire file through that filter. This means you can’t apply the filter only to selected sections of the audio, which proper audio editing programs allow you to do.

As I use a registered version of Express Scribe Pro, which I highly recommend to ALL transcribers, because it is affordable and has features which make the transcription process MUCH more efficient, I HAVE used the above “Special Audio Processes” [ FILE -> “Special Audio Processes”], on a number of occasions, and they have been adequate in making the audio/video workable. However, there have also been a significant number of files which the basic ExpressScribe Pro audio processes have NOT been able to remedy adequately. Therefore, I made the basic cost-benefits analysis decision that if I went ahead and purchased a PROPER audio editing application the income from EACH file I successfully transcribed/edited – which that application enabled me to work on by making it possible to repair the file to workable condition – would offset the cost of the program. Even if you account for a low payout on transcribed and edited/proofread files – let’s just say, for our purposes here,  $10 per audio hour for a completed transcribed audio file, and $5 per hour for a completed edited/proofread file. With some simple arithmetic it is clear that you can recoup the original $99 USD (retail price) registration cost for WavePad Sound Editor Master’s Edition likely within a mere month or two. For me, in the end It has turned out to be a very sound business decision which has significantly enhanced my productivity, as well as providing me the opportunity to develop an additional skill set to complement my transcription, editing/proofreading, and digital audio related (podcast editing) work, in addition to some other personal projects which include audio as a component.  Finally, the cost of the program has served the additional bonus of being a justified “business expense.”

I specifically chose to purchase the WavePad Sound Editor http://www.nch.com.au/wavepad/ application for two main reasons. Firstly, it is a member of the same suite of software products, NHS Software http://www.nch.com.au/index.html which produces Express Scribe, the application I use for transcription work. In fact, there is a valuable “launch” button within the FILE menu of ExpressScribe (as with some of the other in programs in the suite) which enables you to launch WavePad with one click from within the program. As it is often the case that you discover a section of sub-par quality audio while you are in the process of transcribing the file, this one-click ability to open WavePad and then quickly clean up the file so you can get back to work on the transcription is a nice little bonus feature. Of course, this is not a MAJOR feature of the program, but it is a common and convenient perk you get when you buy programs which are components of software suites. Many of these software companies design their products to streamline with each other in various ways. Some of these streamlined features are more powerful than others, but sometimes those little bonus features are valuable, especially if they help save you time, and thus earn more, when you are working against the clock. Many software companies offer discounts to customers when they purchase additional programs in their suite – either as part of one single purchase, or for future purchases. The company with often advertise the available discounts on their site. Other times they offer you a discount on additional suite programs when you reach the check-out page during purchase. I recommend sending a quick email to the company sales department and inquire about the availability of any such discounts so that you don’t miss out.  Feel free to AT LEAST download the free demo version of WavePad (and/or any of the various other quality audio editing applications), read through the tutorials, and experiment with some of the powerful, and easy-to-use, audio processing tools.

WavePad has a very nice, clean, user-friendly interface, which is NOT overloaded with audio functions, or overwhelming on the eyes and brain, However, it does offer a decent amount of functionality for both lower-skilled and higher-skilled audio technicians, if they care to take advantage of these features. The main advantage that WavePad has over the basic three audio processes available in the Express Scribe Pro application is that there are a LOT more functions, and each function has a much higher range of configuration potential (including the ability to select and apply editing to smaller sections of the entire file), which enables the user to fine tune their application of audio processes in order to enable the highest potential to transform poor audio into the most workable quality. This is ultimately the most important goal. Many of the audio processes also offer “preset” options, along with a preview, so that you can hear what the file will sound like after the filter is applied, BEFORE actually applying it. This minimizes time, effort, and computer processing power needed to find the BEST level of audio adjustment. At the same time, it makes it easier for inexperienced users of the application to get the final outcome they are looking before they have invested the significant amount of time which is required to become comfortably proficient with the numerous features of the program. For advanced users (such as professional audio engineers, podcast producers, etc.) the program offers the ability to fully configure the most important elements of the audio processes. This enables the user to really get in there and get to the core of the problem in the audio and produced the best final product.

Most transcriptionists and editors will only need to use the presets for most files. The preset filters are powerful, and you often just need to apply a few of them to make the audio/video file workable. Sometimes just ONE filter will do the job. This is why it is important to thoroughly go through the tutorial manual provided, so that you will better be able to know, and decide on, which process(es) to apply to get the audio into workable form with the least amount of wasted time and effort.

As this blog post is NOT intended as a tutorial on WavePad – or any other audio editing software application – but instead, to address the value these programs add to the efficiency of transcription and editing work, I will simply advise that the reader follow up with some of the resources, free software demo, and tutorials of the programs mentioned above, The IDEAL way to achieve working competence with these programs is to actually experiment with the features on REAL files, as you work through the tutorial. I assure you that you will feel a great sense of satisfaction the moment you resuscitate a “dead” audio/video file into a workable form which you can then process and make money on. You will also have learned some valuable and marketable skills. In fact, as a result of mastering the WavePad program I have been able to earn additional income editing the audio of some podcast clients, and then proceed to transcribe and edit their podcast audio files. The combination of audio editing, transcription, editing/proofreading, web design and SEO marketing work that I now am able to do for various clients has enabled me to now earn over $20+ an hour, which is a significant amount of income based on my specific situation- that is, living in a “developing” country, where the cost of living is roughly 1/3 of that in the “developed” world, at the time of this writing.

Since I make the BULK of my living doing transcription and editing I felt it was best to properly purchase the above software applications. It is always a nice feeling to know that you are using software with the proper permissions, in addition to the fact that the programmers who design these excellent programs work just as hard as the rest of us technology workers, and so, being a full believer in free market economics, my conscience tells me it is the right thing to do. However, I CERTAINLY understand that (especially for new people to the industry) money is scarce, and it is thus important for us to utilize whatever is available (especially free resources) to us to get the gears moving, and the $$$ rolling in. Trust me, I have been there. The great thing though is that there is an adequate range of free resources and tools to get you started during the process of self-education and experimentation. Then, once you are generating a decent income you can decide on whether to use freeware or paidware (or a combination of both). The choice is completely up to you, of course. NO moral judgement is being made on this end. I promise ;->

In fact, as it probably obvious to the reader, the whole purpose of this blog is to help people who are interested in doing work in the online transcription industry to be able to gain the essential knowledge they need, in the most practical, efficient, and cost-effective way possible. The good news is that it is COMPLETELY possible to achieve this goal without having to spend barely ANY money at all. That is the beauty of the internet. It allows a freer flow of information, as well as providing the technical means by which to enable people all of the world to earn an honest living in a location and (generally) time-independent manner.

As I started to mention earlier (in regard to the free, open source Audacity audio editing application), there are TONS of excellent open-source, freeware applications (for all of the various areas of your transcription business – including productivity apps, typing practice programs, etc. – out there which can help take MOST of the financial burden off of you – especially in the beginning phase of your endeavor. For instance, instead of using Microsoft Word to type your transcription text (while using a transcription program like ExpressScribe to control the audio) you can easily, and smartly choose LibreWriter – part of the LIbreOffice open source suite : https://www.libreoffice.org/download/libreoffice-fresh/  which has ALL of the core functionality of the full Microsoft Word (Office suite), BUT is COMPLETELY FREE! I personally use a core mix of Express Scribe for the transcription (to control the audio/video file), with LibreWriter as the word processing software, which I have open as the top window while I type out the audio speech. ExpressScribe Pro includes the “universal hotkeys” feature which allows you to control the audio (for example, pressing F9 to start the audio and F4 to stop it), even though you have the LibreWriter page open as the top (focus) window. I then use click “launch WavePad” within ExpressScribe to open WavePad, import the audio file, and adjust any parts of the audio which require it at any point during the transcription and/or editing process.

With just these three powerful tools you can basically do ALL of the transcription and editing work you can handle, and do it in professional manner – keeping in mind that accuracy is the most important feature of quality transcription and editing work. In combination, these three tools maximize your potential accuracy, and ultimately enable you to work faster, make more money, and – most importantly – get maximum enjoyment out of the process.
Although I realize that this post has grown quite long, I believe the length has been justified to allow me to do justice to this important subject related to the transcription craft. My main hope is that the reader will derive some practical, actionable, and valuable tips and motivation to follow through on their own in utilizing the resources I have presented here to progress productively along the path to becoming a more seasoned, and wealthy, transcriptionist.

Please feel free to direct any questions and comments to :

TranscriptJunky@gmail.com

I always enjoy assisting readers in any feasible way possible, and I ESPECIALLY enjoy when people send emails offering gratitude for this blogging effort as a result of being able to use some of the information provided to solve a problem, or achieve a new milestone in their transcription career effort.

 —————————

Happy Transcribing.

@TranscriptJunky

Free Transcript Project – #9

 

Morgan MacDonald : Hello. Welcome to the replay. I’m out in the world! I’m not in my office. This is really unusual for my Scopes. I am having a FUN Friday. I went and got my hair done, [and] when out for lunch, [and have been] doing some work while out and about, and I was like, “Well, I’ll be like the COOL Scopers. I’ll Scope with something SCENIC in the background.” Although there’s traffic in the background. I apologize. I hope that the little headset mic helps with that.

 

BlueSparkCol ( https://twitter.com/CourtneyOLIN ) : Nice color.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Thanks Courtney. Yup, [it’s] “rocker chick red” right now. It fades after a couple of days, but this is what it looks like fresh out of the salon [laughter]… Yeah. So today we are talking [about] transcription,  because there are some really cool ways that you can use transcription in your WRITING and your BUSINESS.

 

So as you guys are coming in, say “Hi!”… Courtney is here, I know. Glad to have you… Other people, as you’re joining, let me know what you NAME is, where you’re from, [and] what you WRITE.. I love to talk about what you write, because people write the coolest stuff. I mean, I’ve got people in here who write travel blogs, [and] people who write dissertations on the World Trade Organization. I mean, you guys write about everything.

 

Carlos Ramirez ( https://twitter.com/caramirezga ) :Hola. Saludos desde Columbia.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Hello from Columbia. Saludos…

 

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ) : Hi. I’m Gilbert from Sugarland.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Hi Gilbert from Sugarlane. Hey! You’re just like down the road [laughter] . I’m in Houston… [If you guys caught my Scope] yesterday I was reading my daughter’s first book, which she wrote. Well, my nanny helped her write it. It was in Spanish, and I was reading it in Spanish. ( http://katch.me/morgangmac/v/ba292fed-8a57-33a2-8c51-957e2674054f ) So if any of you actually speak Spanish I’m sure you were laughing at me. It’s still on the replay if you want to catch it. But it was a book about a monster eating a family, and my daughter did the illustration. It was funny.

   

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ):  I do [live near Houston]

 

Morgan MacDonald : …You DO live near Houston? Well, very cool. If we ever have a Houston meetup we’ll get in touch… Alrighty guys. Are you ready to hear how transcription can help you in your writing and your business? I’ve got THREE ways I’d like to talk about today. The first is to help you get UNSTUCK in your writing…

 

…Oh, hold on. Pause. Wait a second. I’ve got to do the intro. You don’t even know who I am?  I am Morgan Gist MacDonald. I’m a writing coach, an editor, and author. I run my business and my blog out of http://www.paperravenbooks.com .

 

BlueSparkCol ( https://twitter.com/CourtneyOLIN ) : Haha.

 

Morgan MacDonald : …I know. I forget. Every day I’m like, “I’m on Periscope, and everybody knows me.” Yáll DO NOT necessarily know me [laughter] …. I DO Scope every day about writing, around the lunchtime hour, [to] give you guys a little writing inspiration, [and] some tools and tricks, then hopefully you can use [the rest of] your lunch hour to do some WRITING – or later [in the] day if you don’t have the LUXURY of a lunch hour.

 

All right. So back to transcription. If you find yourself staring at a blank page, and you’re like, “I need to write on this THING, and I don’t really know what to write, but I know that there’s something IN me that I’m trying to get out, but I’m STUCK.” Start TALKING.    

 

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ) : I’m a musician, so this will help with my writing.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Gilbert [says], “I’m a musician, so this will help with [my] writing.”… Yes. It’s interesting how different brains operate differently. So SOME of us want to use writing as a tool to GROW our platform, or BUSINESS, or whatever. But writing doesn’t necessarily come super NATURALLY. Some of us are writers, and it USUALLY comes naturally, but we still get stuck sometimes. So CHANGING the way in which you try to get the words out helps, and TALKING can often be that thing that dislodges the words. So once you start talking you’re just coming at the SAME concept from a different angle.

 

So what you can do is – [since] most Smartphones have a voice memo app – you can just start recording. Talk to YOURSELF. Explain to yourself WHY you’re having a hard time with this writing. Explain to yourself what it is that you’re REALLY trying to say. Just, kind of, talk it out in a really casual way, and you’ll find that if you give yourself at least five minutes with this “talking it out” [method] you will hit on a NUGGET. You will hit on an idea that you had not come upon before, and [now] you have it RECORDED.

 

So once you get to the point where you feel like, “Okay. I’ve, kind of, talked this through. I’ve got some good ideas.” Now that [you’ve] got it recorded, GO BACK and find those “Ah-hah!” moments, and listen to them AGAIN. [Then] type out the phrases that you were using. If there was something that really CAUGHT you, type those [few] words, and [try to figure out] why those [few] words [meant] so much to you?

 

KandyCoatedModel ( https://twitter.com/Kandyapple504 ) : Good tip.

 

Morgan MacDonald : …Thanks “KandyApple”. I appreciate it… So WHY do those [few] words mean something to you, and, kind of, UNPACK it. You’ll find that as you get a few [more] steps into the writing [the ideas] will come a little bit more, a little bit more, [and] a little bit more.

 

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ) : Awesome.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Yes, Gilbert. Awesome. You’re welcome… And if you guys are new to Periscope, if you like what you’re hearing just tap that screen, and that sends hearts up, and that lets me know that you are loving this. The comments do too. So comments and hearts are awesome. Thank you.

 

All right  So that’s tip number one : get unstuck… Oh, there are the hearts! Thanks… Okay. Number two : transcription helps you write FASTER. This is a trick that people are starting to use more and more, but it will be interesting to see how it changes the writing world. This is ESPECIALLY helpful if you’re on the GO a lot. If you’re not necessarily sitting right in front of your laptop or desktop for long periods of time, you can DICTATE blogs, or articles, or even CHAPTERS of a book, into a dictation SOFTWARE. Actually, I [take] Scope Notes, which are notes that I take during a Scope – or actually right BEFORE a Scope – so that YOU don’t HAVE to take notes, and I post them on my blog. I will tell you where those are in just a second… Thanks for all of those blue hearts [laughter] Gilbert. Thank you…

 

Okay. So you talk into a dictation software while you’re on the go. [In] that way you can capture those ideas as you’re going. And if you are a talker ANYWAY, this is a perfect way to get that content OUT, so that you can process it. Then – and this is important though – you have to set aside specific time LATER so that you can review the transcript that the dictation software gives you. So you’ll either have to EDIT, or RE-WRITE that transcript, BUT it gives you a HUGE step forward in your writing. When you sit down to write you’re not staring at a BLANK PAGE, you’re staring at some idea that you’ve already talked through, right? So that’s a really good way.

 

In my Scope Notes I give you some APPS that you can look at. Dragon Dictation is a really popular one for IOS, as is Voice Assistant, and then Evernote. If you follow me on YouTube you know that I LOVE Evernote. Evernote also has a dictation component.

 

BlueSparkCol ( https://twitter.com/CourtneyOLIN ) : Do you have to buy a dictation device, or is it an app?

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Courtney [asks], “Do you have to buy a dictation device, or is it an app?”… They’re apps. There are some really great apps. Dragon Dictation is the one that I hear the most about. So they’re [all] in the Scope Notes, and I posted links for you too, so you can go get those.

 

Lilia ( https://twitter.com/L610 ) : Good tip. Saludos desde Peru!.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … “Good tip. Saludos… Peru.”.Nice…. I went to Santiago, Chile for one weekend. It was beautiful. [irrelevant comment] I have not been to Peru. My sister went to, not Lima… I’ll think of it and let you know. But I WANT to go to Peru.

 

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ) : Does it help to to take a little break to come back to it with a clear mind?

 

Morgan MacDonald : …[Gilbert asks], “Does it help to to take a little break to come back to it with a clear mind?” … You don’t HAVE to wait. Actually, I think [that] the transition between talking and writing is enough of a GEAR SHIFT in itself. You CAN take a break, but I don’t think it’s mandatory. If you’re in a groove, and you’ve been talking it out, go straight into writing, and ride that energy. I will say [that] when you are WRITING, and you are really STUCK, don’t try to push through that writing, [but] take a break and then come back to writing. But if you’re going to switch gears into talking I think that’s ENOUGH of a shift that you can transition straight from writing to talking and talking to writing. But that’s something that you’ve got to experiment with.

 

Okay. So number one was : transcription can help you get UNSTUCK. If you talk it out you might be able to uncover what it is that you’re really trying to say.

 

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ) : Thanks.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Yeah, sure. You’re welcome….

 

Ron Estrada (https://twitter.com/RonEstrada ) : Hi Morgan!

 

Morgan MacDonald : …Hey Ron! Nice to see you… Number two : it helps you write faster. [Finally], number three – and this is ESPECIALLY important for [those of] you who are starting BUSINESSES, or trying to build PLATFORMS for your writing – transcription helps you to REPURPOSE your audio or video content into SEO [strategic] transcripts.

 

Okay. So let me explain what this is. If you are a writer – and I assume [that] if you are on this Periscope that you ARE a writer – and you are SERIOUS about creating a platform that impacts readers AND brings you in some money – because that is a really nice part of building a platform – you need to do more than just write… Thanks for sharing on Twitter, Ron… You need to be creating CONTENT on OTHER platforms; not just your blog, not just your books, [and] not just your articles that you send to magazines, or journals, or whatever. The written stuff is GREAT, but you’ve got to take it UP a level, and you’ve got to go to Periscope, or podcasting, or YouTube, to get the message out in different ways, because people are consuming content in a VARIETY of ways, depending on what fits their lifestyle. Some people like YouTube. Some people like Periscope. Some people like podcasts. Some people like [simply] reading. So transcription helps BRIDGE that gap.

 

You [may] have a lot of WRITING content, but once you start producing audio and video content then you [should] get a transcriber. This is where I recommend that you actually bring someone in to do the transcription FOR you. The Dragon Dictation software and stuff is great if it’s for YOUR OWN purposes, [for instance] if you are going to go back and edit or rewrite that stuff. But if you are trying to create a WORKFLOW, where you are creating content and then are [using] the transcriptions on your web site to build your platform, bring in a transcriber, because otherwise you’re NEVER going to be able to transcribe [all the content] yourself.

 

Ron Estrada (https://twitter.com/RonEstrada ) : Different age groups hang out in different social media sites.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Ron [says], “Different age groups hang out in different social media sites.”… That is very true. [irrelevant comment] …Hi Chivas! Thanks for joining… Bring in a transcriber to take over content for you, because as a WRITER you’re producing WRITTEN content. As a platform-builder you’re now producing audio and video content, and it’s a LOT of work. But your MOST IMPORTANT value-added contribution is your writing, your content that you’re bringing to the table…. So I do not want you wasting time transcribing your own stuff to put it out there.

 

You bring in a transcriber who does this PROFESSIONALLY. They know all of these tips and tricks for doing it FAST. They have all of these keyboard shortcuts, and they know how to make it [look and] sound smooth and readable. There are TWO [MAIN] benefits to transcription.

 

Ron Estrada (https://twitter.com/RonEstrada ) : Yes! Time consuming

 

Morgan MacDonald : …Ron, yes. Time consuming… ONE is that you are allowing people who like to consume written content to continue to consume [your] content in a written form. So if they know [that] you’re producing podcasts, and Periscope videos, and YouTube videos, but they LIKE the written stuff, they know [that they can] go straight to those transcripts and digest [the content] the way that I like to. … Thank you Chivas. Thanks for those hearts. I appreciate it.

 

[The second major benefit] is [related to] SEO, “search engine optimization”. If you’ve spend [even just] three days in [any] online marketing business you know that search engine optimization is HUGE. This means that, [for example], I am a writing coach and editor When someone goes into Google and searches [for] “writing coach”, or “editor”, or “writing help”, I want MY name to pop up in that Google search, right? That’s how my business finds new clients. That’s one of the avenues. If you are a writer of a particular genre, when someone types in “science fantasy books”, or whatever your particular niche genre is, you want YOUR name and web site to pop up. The ONLY way that happens is if Google sees lots of those KEYWORDS in your content. So imagine [that since] you are producing Periscopes, and YouTube videos, and podcasts, and you’re using those words over and over again – how many times do you think I’ve used [the word] “writing” in this Periscope broadcast. Like a trillion. Not really. Like 30 probably. But when my [transcriber] guy Frank ( https://twitter.com/TranscriptJunky ) transcribes it for me, we’re going to put it up on my web site, and Google is going to see, “Ah! [These] words “writing”, “editing”, “coach”, etc. keeps popping up.”, and [my site] is going to rank higher and higher. That’s how SEO works, in layman terms. I am NOT a professional in SEO, but that’s just what I’ve picked up from my time running a small business.

 

So you get yourself a transcriber. I [can] give you the contact information for my guy Frank. He’s awesome. He does all of my transcripts for Periscope.

 

Ron Estrada (https://twitter.com/RonEstrada ) : Gotto go, Morgan. I’ll put this on my website.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Ron says, “Gotto go, Morgan. I’ll put this on my website.”… Thanks you Ron. You know there are Scope Notes, so go check those out, and there will be transcripts soon. So let me flip you around. I’m actually going to show you where I keep my Scope Notes on my web site, and you can always find these, because you [probably] don’t have TIME to take notes.

 

So to recap, three ways you can use transcription in your writing. One is to get unstuck. If you’re staring at a blank screen, and you don’t know what to write next, sometimes talking it out is the BEST way.

 

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ) : I have to go. Thank you so much for the info… Your awesome!

 

Morgan MacDonald : … Thanks Gilbert. Thanks for letting me know… Sometimes talking it out is the BEST way. If you RECORD it, you can always go back and find those “Ah-hah!””moments – those key phrases – that meant something to you, and you can use those as your “starting block” for getting back into your writing. Number two is : to write FASTER. So if writing is really long and slow process for you maybe talking it into a dictation software will be helpful and faster. BUT that requires that you set aside some specific time to REVISIT that transcript and either edit it, or rewrite it. Number three is : to grow your platform or business, and that is by getting on these Periscope, YouTube, [and/or] podcast [platforms], doing this audio and video content, and then having someone transcribe it so that your readers will have a chance to READ it – if they like to do that – and [for SEO] Google will love you.

 

Okay. Let me flip you around really quick and show you something.

 

[change of camera view to computer screen]

 

Alrighty. This is my web site, where I post all good things : http://www.paperravenbooks.com I’m in a bit of a business transition, so it still says “editing”  down there. But the web site [page for the Scopes] is http://www.paperravenbooks.com/periscope . If you scroll down this [page] you’ll see all of the “replays”… So those are [some] of the replays, but you see that THIS week I haven’t gotten to upload those yet. [For THIS episode], “Üsing Transcription In Your Writing And Your Business” , if you click “Scope Notes” it opens up my Evernote file where I was taking notes. So it has all of this stuff now for you, plus links.

 

Meghan Diez ( https://twitter.com/meghan017 ) : I love your hair.

 

Morgan MacDonald : …Thanks Megan. [I’m] glad you like it… But you also see – [although] these are not live yet – I’ve got “transcripts” down here. That means, if you like to consume Periscopes through TRANSCRIPTS instead you can go find the transcripts for my Scopes. Google loves my transcripts. That’s the point. Okay. Here’s the Scope Notes. Then,  [as you] can see, there’s my transcriber’s web site there ( http://www.diaryofafreelancetranscriptionist.com ), and then here’s some apps if you are interested in using them. I’ve got links to those too.

 

[change of camera to face view]

 

Alrighty guys. I hope [this info is] helpful, and I hope you have a good Friday afternoon, and a good weekend. I am sending you lots of positive energy and vibes for writing. Do some good work. Get some word count on there. If you were watching yesterday you know that you need to TRACK your word count.   

 

Gilbert Maldonado ( https://twitter.com/gmaldonado59 ) : Looks good.. Gotta go.

 

Morgan MacDonald : … You have to go Gilbert. Yup. Thank you… I might Scope a little bit this weekend, but definitely on Monday we’re going to come back [and] do some more writing Scopes. So hit the little “Peri Guy” down there [to] follow, and that way you will catch the next scope on writing, and we’ll get you writing.

 

All right, everyone… Feel free to hit me up on Twitter over the weekend [at] @morgangmac ( https://twitter.com/morgangmac ) , and I will catch you next for a writing Scope. Alrighty. Bye.

 

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Transcription service provided by : http://www.diaryofafreelancetranscriptionist.com

Day 13 : The Art and Science of Research in Transcription Work

computer and books for transcription research

Feel Free to Choose A Sub-Section of this Post
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1. Random Thoughts on Transcription and Non-Transcription Related Issues
2. Daily Progress – Research Findings, Tasks and Skills Development
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Random Thoughts on Transcription and Non-Transcription Related Issues

Research is a very important element of the transcription process. Concepts, terms, and words often arise in audio and video files which are within the realm of specialized knowledge and can often only be deciphered through adequate research tactics. In addition, accuracy (in the form of the highest percentage of properly deciphered words in the recording) is often vital in terms of keeping clients content and continuing to use your services, or in the realm of more serious transcription work (legal and medical) errors can have serious (sometimes fatal) consequences to those people and/or organizations who are the subject of the content.

Transcriptionists often specialize in specific areas of subject matter (whether it be the more formal legal and medical transcription, or all other sources of audio/video which deal with jargon-dense knowledge such as computer technology, business projects, adventure sports, eclectic hobbies, debates on current controversial issues, etc.). The ability to research quickly and effectively can help you land a transcription job, keep it, and benefit from the knowledge of the subject matter contained in the recordings.

The good news is that research (especially the type done by utilizing the plethora of powerful and quickly-accessible online resources and tools) is a skill which can be developed (to as advanced a level as you desire). Advanced research skill is a valuable asset which can be applied to many areas of your intellectual, social and occupational endeavors. It increases your speed and efficiency at transcribing, as you will be better able to decipher technical words spoken in the files. This, of course, leads to faster completion of projects and thus the ability to do more projects in less time and earn more income. Advanced research skills also enable you to dig deeper into a subject, while also being able to determine the quality of the source of information.

In addition, along with some additional powerful free software tools, such as the free Evernote organization application – for collecting, organizing and processing your research – you can develop more long-term research projects which may culminate in publication of your knowledge in the form of blogging, book and ebook writing, podcasting, etc.

There are a few levels of research which apply most directly to the actual transcription task which I will cover in this post. I have already written a comprehensive post about the free WordWeb program, and will also be writing additional future posts about specific software programs (such as Evernote) which will expand on the general research strategies and concepts examined here. I will link those new posts as they are published (which should be within just the next few weeks).

The first level (or step) in the transcription research process begins when you encounter words or terms in an audio/video file which are either indecipherable (due to various factors such as : poor audio quality, strong speaker accent, foreign dialect, etc.) or are highly technical/specific to the subject of the audio. To illustrate this in the more extreme form, the reason why medical transcription work requires years of formal training and experience is due to the enormous vocabulary of medical terminology you must possess in order to adequately transcribe the files commonly worked on. While as a general transcriptionist you are more free to simply decline to work on a file which is overloaded with jargon, there are often times when you actually DESIRE to work on such files because the subject is interesting, but you are intimidated due to your lack of adequate specialized vocabulary. In addition, since most files (especially ones you accept from the online boards) have a deadline within hours of acceptance, if your research skills are not up to par you won’t have the time to do the minimum research needed to complete the file on time. This is where the ability to conduct fast and efficient research becomes important. If you can quickly get up to an ADEQUATE level of vocabulary and/or knowledge related to the subject to get through the file via your speedy research skills, you will be able to accept the file, complete it, get paid for it, and perhaps work on additional files related to that specific subject. Many online transcription companies have regular clients who produce podcasts on specialized subjects. If you can get through one of the episodes, you can then find that podcast online, listen to some additional episodes to get a better feel for the style and content, and apply your research skills to expand your vocabulary on the subject. You will then be more able to take on the next episode of that podcast which becomes available through the transcription company job board. It’s usually a rewarding experience to work on multiple episodes of a production, in addition to the fact that your transcription speed becomes faster with each episode as you are more familiar with the people, terms, etc.

The first tool I utilize from my transcription arsenal is WordWeb. When I come upon a word which is indecipherable, or whose definition, spelling and/or pronunciation is unfamiliar I first hit [CTRL + (right click)] to pull up the word (and/or related or rough estimates of the word). I have discussed the features and uses of WordWeb in its own post, so please refer here for more detailed directions. However, from the perspective of research, WordWeb is your first-line weapon in dealing with new words, terms, concepts, and subjects which arise in your transcription adventures. For instance, if you are working on an audio file related to a new book which will be published in the near future, and in the audio file you are able to use one or more WordWeb features to decipher the name of the author (and hopefully also the name of the book and other books and info related to the book and/or author) you can then follow up with the next step/level in the research process – which is to use the various online research tools (ex. search engines (Google), Wikipedia, personal web and/or social media sites of the author, etc.) to dig deeper into the subject.

This second level of research is more complex and allows you to obtain a vast amount of information on the subject. An excellent book which examines the depths of the online research world is titled “The Extreme Searcher’s Internet Handbook: A Guide for the Serious Searcher” (sample copy) and I will be publishing a detailed review of this book in the near future. Although limiting your research techniques to the powerful services which are offered by Google (their search engine being just one of an array of helpful applications) you can fulfill most of your research needs, there is an extensive range of additional services and web applications which will enable you to take your research as far as you want to go with it.These include : web directories, portals, audio and video directories, academic research portals, and many others. I will elaborate on these in the future, but for now I can tell you, with confidence, that for essentially EVERY degree of research most transcriptionists (including those of use who engage in complementary pursuits, such as blogging) desire/need to do, most of it can be achieved using a handful of the basic (let’s call it “second level”) tools currently available and developed to a highly user-friendly level at this point.

The best way to explain this is probably to give you a nice little practical – but slightly fictitious – example, in order to not break any confidentiality agreements which transcriptionists are bound to. Since my main interest lies in podcasting and transcription I will create an example which will clearly explain the process and how easy it is to get from the point of discovering a new podcast production to researching that production to the point that you are well familiar with it and can take your research as far as you desire.
So, let’s say you are browsing the available job board of one of the online transcription companies, and you encounter a nice podcast file on a technological topic such as the cryptocurrency industry (ex. Bitcoin). You have a sample listen to the audio file and determine it is interesting and that you would like to transcribe  it. You accept the file and begin transcribing.
Now in this episode of the fictitiously-named podcast “The Cryptocurrency Revolution” the host interviews a prominent thought-leader and activist in the cryptocurrency world, such as Adam B. Levine. Now, as this is the first time you have heard of this person you start jotting down some notes as you (and/or after you) complete the transcript. Some of the most effective pieces of information to record are : the web site(s) and/or social media profiles of the guest, the names and details of their main work projects (especially podcasts and videos) and occupations, any personal details which especially resonate with you, any organizations and important people they are working with, etc. With just this kind of information – which is commonly made available in the general podcast format – you have enough data to do all the research you will need.
Once you have completed and submitted the transcription you can begin your follow up research on this newly discovered person. A good place to start is entering the person’s name in Google. This will give you a good general list of various resources (and types of resources) to get you started branching out. Since some people have fairly common names, it is often best to first check out their web site where they will have links to their specific (and official) social media profiles (as it is often difficult to pin someone down by manually entering their name in each social media search engine).
At this point I tend to follow through with the following general strategy. First, I create a new “notebook” in Evernote with this person’s name as the title. I then create a new “note” with a title such as “(Person’s Name) – resources)”. I add all of the data I have collected so far since doing the original transcription, including the URLs associated with the person – which is especially helpful since Evernote makes those links active in the notes and so you can click right through to them from within the note. I then begin working through the various resources in the Evernote file (and add additional notes to the file as things progress and I find more information and resources.
Basically, to get adequately up-to-speed with a person’s overall web presence, body of work, and initiating contact with them, I use a regular basic strategy. I begin checking out a few of their social media profiles. Their LinkedIn profile often provides the most valuable information about their professional and creative aspects of their life, as well as the most important contact information. I then follow up with their Facebook and Twitter profiles, which offer a more personal and casual information about the person and their interests. If I like the info I will “follow” their Facebook and Twitter profile in order to stay up to date on what they are doing as I continue researching them.
I then proceed to YouTube, which is the second (and usually final) major research tool needed to get enough information for follow up research into the future. I enter some of the keywords related to the person from the Evernote file. If this person is very active, the search query will return more than enough audio and/or video files to keep me busy for a while and get the adequate info on this person. The YouTube search is especially good for finding episodes of their actual podcast/videocast which I can then follow up on, evaluate and contact the person for potential transcription collaboration in the future.
So, with this relatively basic, but powerful, search strategy I am able to quickly (often in a matter of hours) find enough information about this person who I have newly discovered via a podcast transcription project which I was paid to do, to be able to become further familiar with them and eventually contact and collaborate with them in the future.
To be even more concrete, I used this very strategy to discover the excellent and prolific work of Adam B. Levine of the “Let’s Talk Bitcoin” network – www.letstalkbitcoin.com – and as a result of this discovery I have become an active contributor to his revolutionary open source community project, including some transcription work – one full transcript of which can be found here.
I will conclude the subject of transcription research her for now. More will be written on the subject – including related resources – as it becomes relevant into the future. For now, using the above research strategy should be MORE than enough for the research needs of most of the transcriptionists reading this.

Daily Progress – Research Findings, Tasks and Skills Development

In addition to integration the highly detailed basic research strategy into my daily routine, and consistently going through the daily research routine tasks mentioned in the last post, I have also been spending a bit more serious effort practicing on the one-minute transcription files along with reading through the style guide at TranscribeMe.

What I will say about these one-minute files is that usually offer a healthy bit of challenge to force me to improve both my transcription and research skills. One of the main benefits of the short files are that you can turn them over relatively quickly and so your time, energy and schedule are not tied down by longer files. You can jump in when you have a few minutes and complete a file and the move onto other important tasks.

The more challenging aspects of the system involve the fact that since the files are limited to one minute each, you generally don’t have much context with which to decipher words, terms, concepts, etc. which would be more easily done with longer files. On a positive note, this actually forces you to practice listening even more carefully, as well as developing and implementing quicker and more powerful research skills in order to find the bits of information you need to complete the file. Since there is also a shorter deadline on the file it is more important to increase your listening and research speed in this regard.

So, at this point I am finding it productive to spend a few weeks practicing on these one-minute files while I further concentrate on my research and blogging efforts (which consume a lot of time collectively). Working on the short TranscribeMe files allows me to get some good practice and make a little survival income while I continue building my empire.

As usual, this post is another post which is growing into a book and so I will conclude here. I am also busy working on several new “Free Transcript Project” files which will be rolling out (roughly one or two per week), which offers additional practice and content for this blog. In the next “daily diary” post we will further examine the nature of the online transcription industry companies and some of the cutting edge technology which is being applied to the transcription process.

Happy Transcribing!
freelance_transcriptionist@hotmail.com

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Feel free to donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog. Donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.

Transcription Powertool #1 : Wordweb Dictionary/Thesaurus

Wordweb Pro - English Dictionary Thesaurus screenshot

WordWeb Pro screenshot

I believe there is an old saying with something to the effect of  “the best things in life are simple”. Or is it “free”? Or both? A common example of such elegant simplicity is Einstein’s famous equation : E =mc2 (the “2” here is, of course, in superscript format). This simple equation has gone down in the history books as one of the most revolutionary creations of theoretical and applied physics which has had such a wide range of effects – from the development of nuclear weapons, to the concept of black holes, computers and other bizarre phenomenon in the universe.

As we move deeper into this new age of accelerating information creation and exchange it is only becoming ever more vital to find and apply SIMPLE tools and solutions to the numerous tasks and obstacles which we must deal with on an everyday basis. The good news is that as the amount of information increases SO TO does the power of computing, and so we find ourselves in a feedback situation in which the technology creates new problems, amplifies old problems, and provides the potential to also solve these issues.

So, you can imaging how pleased I was as a writer, researcher, transcriptionist/editor, web designer and offline/online marketer (that is, a person whose main work in life revolves around words), to come across a funky, yet amazingly powerful little program which is extremely simple to use, and aids you in dealing with most of the common, significant issues you face in relation to the creation, manipulation, and transmission of words in all of the various applications in which words are a vehicle of exchange.

The program is called Wordweb, a comprehensive, multipurpose English language dictionary and thesaurus application whose features range from one-click look up of words, synonym and antonym word web, audio word pronunciation (in numerous accents), extendable dictionaries and so much more. As space in this post is limited, and since the Wordweb web site describes all of the features in detail, and since the software is free, quick to install and use, etc. I think the best thing to do is advise you refer to their site for more information. I also suggest you take a minute to download the free version of program (the licensing agreement basically states that if you are not wealthy enough to afford more than one round-trip international plane flight per year then you are free to use the full features of the software). I used the free version of the program for five years, until recently when I decided that I wanted access to some of the more advanced features which come with the registered Wordweb Pro version. I will say that this was one of the best $19.00 I’ve spent on business tools in a while). As with most other software programs (especially freeware) I recommend using the free version for a while to get a feel for it, experiment with the features as you read through the help tutorials and do apply the application to your word work. I assure you that this program will make immediate and significant improvements in your entire work process, and thus free up some of your energy to focus on the more creative aspects of your job.

The most practical and frequently-used feature of Wordweb is the one click “word look-up” function which works in essentially ANY program – both offline and online – that displays words. Some examples include : word processors, transcription software, web sites user interfaces of most programs, etc. Basically, any word can be looked up in the Wordweb dictionary by simply clicking [CTRL + right click], and then displayed with as many definitions are in the database (and you can extend the database with various dictionary upgrades) and numerous other helpful information for dealing with the word (ex. list of synonyms, audio pronunciation from within the program by simply clicking a speaker icon, links to the word in various online dictionaries and other sources, and many more very useful processes dealing with the meaning and use of words in their wide range of applications.

To illustrate the immediate usefulness of the program – if you have installed it and have it running – go ahead and take a second to [CTRL + (right click)] any word in this post and then click around from the definition page to explore the various additional information which is provided by the program related to that word. Since the function of this blog is to introduce budding transcriptionists to the skills and tools of the trade, I will detail some of the features which will be most helpful and quickly applicable, and then let you play around with it as you explore the web site, tutorials, and other resources to become more proficient in using the application. Once you see how easy it is to use, and how helpful in minimizing the effort of the most routine tasks you perform everyday as a wordsmith, I can guarantee you you will be hooked.

One of the most basic uses of the program in the transcription process is the ability to spell check words with one click and from right inside the transcription program (such as ExpressScribe). The program has good quality artificial intelligence programmed into it which allows you to type in a rough estimate of and/or [CTRL + (right click)] the word you need to spell check and the program will display a list of numerous words which are either the exact word correctly spelled (along with the definition and other info) or the closest estimates of the word you are looking for. For instance, if you [CTRL + (right click)] the word “mispelled” (go ahead, [CTRL + (right click) it!) the program will display “try misspelled” with a link to the correct definition,  along with a list of numerous other rough matched of the misspelled word, which you can single click on to go to the definition page for that word. In addition, when the definition page comes up for the word the word itself is selected, and so you can simply hit [CTRL-C] to copy the properly spelled word and paste it right into the transcription text in your transcription software by pressing [CTRL + V]. Going even further into the functions, you have the option (through various tabs within the definition display page) to click through to synonyms and antonyms of the word (and other related categories) and then [CTRL-C] any of those and paste them [CTRL + V] right into the transcription text. So, the program is essentially a “quick-click” thesaurus, spell check, and linguistic database of sorts. All of these features are smoothly integrated into every step of your word workflow and are implemented in one or two clicks (for most operations).

These few basic features of the program are well worth the ZERO dollars you pay for the (freeware version of the) program and you can start using them immediately to increase the efficiency of your writing, editing and transcription work.

Another nice feature is the built-in audio pronunciation, which can come in handy when you are having trouble deciphering a word used by a speaker in the audio file you are transcribing. You will be surprised how many words we believe we know the correct pronunciation for, which turn out to have a dramatically different actual sound (including syllabic accent, intonation, etc.) especially when you account for the various accents of the language which the word is spoken in. For instance, quite a number of English words are barely recognizable when you compare the pronunciation between American English, British English, Australian English, etc. Not to mention the even more numerous tertiary English dialects (ex. Filipino-English, Chinese-English, Indian-English, etc.). The audio pronunciation database can also be upgraded to increase the number of audio pronunciations available and to add additional accent and specialized databases. It’s very helpful to have the proper pronunciation of a new word you have encountered so that you learn the correct pronunciation from the very beginning, instead of learning an improper sounding from the start and then having to unlearn your mistake. This is an important concept in the study of language (linguistics – especially the subtopic of second language acquisition (SLA) – of which a massive amount of research has been done in academia and the field). The reality is that it is much easier to struggle a little to learn the word (and pronunciation) correctly upon first exposure, than it is to go because and undo the improper definition/pronunciation after it has been reinforced over time through use. Try typing a rough estimate pronunciation of an unknown word from an audio file and you may very likely be surprised to find the correct word show up in the “related words” list. You can then verify further if it is the correct word or not by clicking the speaker icon and have the program pronounce the related word (or words).

If you are to settle for the integration and application of just these four core features of the program (ex. dictionary, thesaurus, spell check, and audio pronunciation) you will see a dramatic improvement in the speed and accuracy of your word work, especially if you apply that work to your tasks of writing, editing and/or transcribing. You will experience a dramatic increase in the speed in which you discover and correct spelling mistakes in your text, the efficiency of deciphering words through the context provided by the thesaurus features, as well as the efficiency of deciphering unclear words in an audio file through the same contextual features in combination with the audio pronunciation feature which provides multiple accents – an important feature for transcriptionists who often work on files containing speech by speakers of different accents from around the world. This is only becoming more important and useful as computing technology makes cross-translation of language faster and more automated, and as the force of globalization increases the amount of audio and text data to be translated and transcribed by teleworkers of various accents working online. In addition, since saving time equates to getting more work done and thus earning more money, this program is an important tool to add to your transcription (and general word-work) toolbox.

So go ahead and play around with Wordweb, and if it is helpful leave a comment describing how you have used and benefited from it.

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Feel free to donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.

Donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.

Day 11 : Online Transcription Is A Paid Joy Ride Down The Information Superhigway

rugged road sign

As the late, great Terrance McKenna opined : “The world is made of words.” Throughout history this theme has consistently reemerged in various forms including : the concept of the fundamental universal “Aum” vibration underlying reality in the ancient Indian philosophical system, or “the Word” which was spoken into existence as the primal act of creation being a main tenet of monotheism. The reality is that we are, have always been and will always be swimming in a sea of electromagnetic radiation – a significant portion of which vibrates within the frequency range of  “mouth noises” which have traditionally been categorized as “words” – which in themselves can be broken down into subcomponents (ex. phonemes, morphemes, etc.). And although that percentage of this electromagnetic spectrum which falls within the realm of words and their related counterparts seems to be on the decrease (competing more and more with visual information in the modern age) the bottom line is that the spoken word has always been and will always occupy a primary place in the human experience.

Here is an interesting lecture by mathematician and social scientist Dr. Courtney Browne, founder of the Farsight Institute and researcher into the phenomenon of remote viewing and the link between consciousness and multiple dimensions. In this lecture Dr. Brown explains the theory that thoughts are vibratory physical entities which have mass and energy, like all other entities in the material universe. I find this concept intriguing, as it reinforcement by intuitive sense that all of the information we receive through the senses – and in the case of transcription, through the process of listening to audio or watching video and then transcribing the information contained in it – has a tangible effect on our mind and physical body.

As I continuing evaluating and working through the various audio and video files which come to me through my transcription efforts I find myself taking some time to pause and reflect on the variety of “sound bites” which I subjected to in the process, and the effect that they may be having on me. Sometimes I will work through a file which is especially interesting and has an immediate (often positive) effect on my mental life. These include the many podcasts I have edited or transcribed which deal with interesting issues of technology (ex. internet privacy, social media marketing, the newest startup businesses, etc.), economics, education and other humanitarian issues – some of which I hadn’t even known about before listening to the file. Other times, I find myself deeply entrenched in a serious dialogue between two people sharing quite intimate feelings, thoughts, concepts, and beliefs which can require quite a bit of energy to process. In more demanding instances, I find myself in a bit too deep – working through feelings of discomfort and even turmoil as the speakers in the audio or video files battle their interpersonal and/or intrapersonal demons.

One thing it may be good to share at this point is that I actually have extensive experience exploring the realms of metaphysics and meditation techniques in various world traditions. I’ve spent week-long periods living in Buddhist temples in remote mountainous regions of Asia (ex. Thailand), spending hours each day in walking and sitting meditation. I’ve extensively read some excellent books on mindfulness meditation, such as “The Teachings of Achan Chah” (<- free ebook), the transcendental sciences of Yoga and Pranayama (the Yogic method of attaining higher awareness through advanced breathing exercises) and the energy-centered science of Chi Kung (and various other disciplines) from the Chinese system. In addition, I have some knowledge and competence in the languages on which these systems are based, in addition to a serious interest in the sciences of linguistics and information technology.

Each of the philosophical traditions mentioned above is based on the fundamental concept of observing the flow of the nature as is moves around us according to its own logic. And so it is of no surprise that I find transcription to be a spiritually stimulating and often enlightening process. In fact, in my extensive experience with various endeavors in the digital and physics realms it seems to me that the emerging digital world is essentially becoming MORE quantum-like, and in line with the less linear,  higher-dimensional nature of reality. Each day we are bombarded from all directions by an increasing barrage of sound bites, visual flashes, and information which is connected in increasingly intricate ways. The term “surfing” is becoming only more accurate in terms of the mode by which we move through a cyberspace whose boundaries are also becoming progressively thinner as the information that we process and the method by which we process it becomes more integrated. For example, the Smartphone is processing more information about us in ways which effect our experience and productivity in deeper ways than ever before. There are now apps which can measure and track our behavior (ex. exercise apps which track distance/time of running and then produce a customer exercise program from that data) and even help organize ourselves better (ex. apps which provide detailed scheduling and reminders for people who struggle with ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder)).

Ultimately, this advancing technology holds great potential to improve our lives in many ways. However, it also holds potential for us to get caught up in all of the gadgets and applications, which can lead us to become LESS in touch with reality and the needs and pleasures of everyday living. While I am enjoying the process of learning about and utilizing the various technologies which are being developed and applied specifically to the transcription process, I am also being careful to keep my personal goals in mind and to focus on the more practical elements of the process and the technology. My main goals at this time include : developing my transcription skills and knowledge, applying my transcription skills in order to earn income to survive, making more connections in the industry to further the first two goals, developing my blog through writing about the experience for the benefit of future beginners, and discovering some new and interesting topics (through the transcription effort) to integrate into my other research/writing efforts. I believe these goals are grounded enough in the real world to prevent me from getting too sucked in by the technology while producing benefits to my physical, mental and spiritual existence at the same time.

The best thing about transcription work is that you are exposed to new ideas (some of which haven’t yet even been revealed to the general public) related to often interesting topics (ex. latest technologies, scientific theories, academic lectures, etc.) and in the process you are actually PAID for your efforts. It is similar, in many ways, to being a movie or restaurant reviewer, but also goes a bit deeper in that you are often working with audio and video files which tackle more serious and important subject matter (ex. confidential interviews, undercover audio/video footage, etc.). In addition, as transcriber you are required to implement a number of techniques and skills which are learned through experience (and some formal and informal education). It is NOT an easy job when you consider all of the factors involved (ex. audio/video quality, deadlines, demands on physical and mental stamina). In the end, however, your horizons will be widened as you listen to all of the different people from various walks of life doing various interesting (and not-so-interesting) things, and to be paid for your effort in the process. Plus, the better you get at transcribing, the more money you can make and the more interesting audio/video files you can choose from as you connect with more and more professional organizations (ex. film/television production companies, law firms, podcast producers, educational institutions, etc.)

As part of the process of familiarizing myself with the TranscribeMe system I spent around two hours today browsing through the posts and groups of the Yammer forum, reading through several more pages of the style guide, and working on two of the approximately one-minute transcription files on the “jobs” page. Transcribing the short audio files is quite different from the long files I have been working on the other company, which are often over 30 minutes long, have deadlines of several hours and require roughly one hour of listening and typing for 10-15 minutes of audio in the file. Although these short files are generally easier and quicker to complete, they do introduce some problems. One thing is that you have little context by which to help decipher some of the less decipherable words in these short files compared to the longer ones, where formal nouns and words specific to the audio in the file are repeated multiple times and in multiple ways. This makes the research skill more necessary, but also more difficult as you have less context to even apply the research task to.

Overall, however, these short files are good for practice. There is less pressure and stress to complete a long file. You don’t need to worry about scheduling breaks to rest your mind, fingers, etc. You also don’t have to worry about something unexpected coming up (ex. sudden obligation such as having to pick up a sick kid from school) before the deadline and thus having to forfeit hours of work and income. Especially during this period where I am new to the whole transcription process I think these shorter files provided by TranscribeMe are a good complement to the longer files provided by the other company. In addition, the training and communication elements provided by the company are valuable to improving my skills and making connections. These will benefit me in the long term and so it is worth the time utilizing what TranscribeMe has to offer, while getting paid in the process.

In the next post we’ll examine the importance of pacing in the process of developing and implementing the skills of transcription.

Feel free to direct any questions or project proposals to:

freelance_transcriptionist@hotmail.com

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Feel free to donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.

Donate some Bitcoin to support the research and writing effort of this blog.