on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)
The ProCAT Flash
Cooler Than Ice Cream
As you may (or may not) know, my writer of choice is the ProCAT Flash.
From the reactions of some of my fellow students when they first sit down at my Flash, it became obvious to me that there was an apparent dearth of information about this particular writer.
This article will (hopefully) rectify that.
The Flash -- What is it?
The ProCAT Flash is actually a Stenograph Stentura 400 with different electronics (take a closer look at that first picture).
Basically, ProCAT buys the shells (including the mechanical portion) from Stenograph, installs their electronics -- which includes a couple circuit boards, a LCD (you know; Liquid Crystal Display), a knob to adjust the contrast for said LCD, and a PCMCIA slot for the memory card.
Why Did You Buy a Flash?
Well ... I sort of purchased this machine in error.
Back in the days when I was young and foolish, I thought that since the writer had a display, it would allow me to load a dictionary into it, and translate my strokes to English ...! But alas, the Flash doesn't do that. In this way, it's just like the Stentura 6000.
Add to that the memory card as a storage medium, and I was hooked ... so I bought the writer.
Fortunately, the electronics in the writer more than make up for my small error. For instance, everybody knows (or they do, if they've read The Good Stuff) that the Stentura 400 has a 50 page memory.
What most people probably don't know is the tell-tale sign that you're out of memory.
On the Flash, it's easy to tell when you're out of memory -- you just look at the display, and see how many pages are left:
Do you see it? Lower right-hand corner. With the 256 mb memory card inserted, you can write 768 pages before you have to either put another card in, or erase the card in the machine.
Here's a shot of my Flash with the 500KB card inserted:
On the 400, the red light flashes constantly ... then (in digitalCAT, anyway) your realtime stops working.
Not exactly intuitive. In fact, if you don't know why that's happening, it can be downright annoying --!
When that happens -- IF you know what it means -- you have to clear the memory in your 400.
To do that, you do the following:
On the Flash -- assuming you actually manage to fill up 700 pages -- you do the following:
At this point, the Flash will ask you a question:
Click the button below the word Yes.
How can you tell the memory has been erased? That's easy:
The Flash Communications Protocol
Not to worry; "communications protocol" is just a fancy-schmancy way of saying how the writer talks to your computer.
Have you ever seen that little message that says "Searching for Writer ..." when you're starting a realtime session with your writer? Isn't that ... kinda annoying? I mean, the writer's connected, it's on ... get busy, right?!?
As you might guess (or why else bring it up, right?), I never see that with my Flash. In fact, the way I typically start a realtime session is I connect the writer to the computer, start my software of choice, digitalCAT, and select Start Realtime Session from the Translation menu ... and then I turn on the writer. Once the writer's startup sequence is done, I stroke a key or two ... and it shows up in my CAT software!
Did you catch that? I started a realtime session while the writer was turned off ... and it worked! (And yes, it works the same way in Case Catalyst, in case you were wondering ....)
"Okay. So what?"
Well, what if you need to take a break? Simply turn off your writer, and when you turn it on later, your realtime session resumes as if nothing happened.
Need to take your writer into another room, but can't take your laptop? Simply disconnect your writer's realtime cable, take your writer wherever you need to go, come back, reconnect the realtime cable, and resume writing. If your laptop didn't go into standby mode, your realtime will work as soon as you hit a key on your writer.
If you try that with a 400, you will have to have the software "find" your writer again.
I should point out here (well, maybe I shouldn't, but I'm going to anyway) that during the afore-mentioned startup process, the writer is running diagnostics. I've only seen it find one problem with my "spare" Flash ... apparently, the writer's operating system needed to be reloaded, and it informed me of this with a rather loud beep, and a message on the display, which said something like "Main operating system corrupt!! Switching to backup operating system." After that, the writer behaved as if nothing ever happened.
Got that fixed for $100 at my local steno machine repair shop.
"You Don't Know the Power ..."
That's right -- with a 400, you don't know how much of a charge your battery has until your writer quits working (or, to quote a song from Days Gone By: "You don't know what you've got 'til it's gone ...") ... and to keep that from happening, most users automatically plug their writer in when they use it ... which, of course, shortens the battery life!
It's a vicious cycle, to be sure ....
Alas, the Flash doesn't provide a running tally of your battery's power level (like the Mira A3, the Stentura Fusion, and the Stylus) ....
... but it does tell you when to plug it in:
The word CHARGE flashes on and off (and I caught it as it's disappearing in the picture above, which is why it's a bit faint).
As an experiment, I didn't plug my writer in when it asked, just to see how long it would last before conking out (that's a technical term, by the way). I got another four or five hours use out of the writer before it switched itself off, thereby forcing me to plug it in.
Good thing I wasn't taking a test at the time ....! :o)
When you put a new battery in your writer, you're supposed to use it until it dies ... and that particular battery was new, still running off the initial charge it had when it was put in -- about two weeks before.
ProCAT claims 24 hours to a charge. Can't verify that, because I don't use my writer that long! :oP
To be honest, the Flash has no internal memory, like the 400 does. What it has instead is a PCMCIA memory card.
This is in contrast to the floppy disk on the Stentura 6000 (the Flash equivalent -- more or less) and the 8000.
I don't know if you've noticed, but more and more computers are being sold now *without* floppy drives. You can blame Apple Computer for that one, with the release of the iMac back in the day, with its USB ports, no floppy drive and all.
How many times have you put a floppy disk into a computer, and had it ... fail?
Yes, floppies go bad
Floppy drives also go bad.
The difference between the floppy drive and the PCMCIA memory card slot on the flash? No moving parts.
For you, that means your storage will have fewer reasons to fail ... because neither the card nor the drive have moving parts ...!
In the interest of full disclosure, the memory cards do have a battery which can fail ... but I've had mine for about two years now, and have yet to replace that battery! Fortunately I know that if I need to, it will cost me about $5.00, and I can get it at my local Radio Shack or Walgreens store.
Still ... it can't hurt to have an extra battery for your memory card -- especially if you're a habitual victim of Murphy's Law (or "The Law of Perversity," for those of you who have read P.E. I. Bonewit's book, Real Magic).
What else ...? Well, I haven't verified this myself, but in looking through the old JCRs while researching my article on why you should keep them ("Thar's Gold in Them Thar Boxes"), I found this interesting table:
|Product||ProCAT Flash||Stentura 8000||StenoRAM Ultra|
|Weight||5.1 lbs||6.3 lbs||8.25 lbs|
|Foot Pedal Marker||Yes||No||No|
|Battery Life Per Charge||24 hours||7 hours||20 hours|
|Instant Realtime Transmission||Yes||No||No|
Or course, the StenoRAM Ultra is long gone, so you can safely ignore that entire column; it's just reproduced here because it was in the original ad.
Also, while I am writing about the differences between a 400 SRT and a Flash, ProCAT never compared the Flash to the 400 that I have found ... so no specs on the battery life in this table for a 400 (but I'll look through some more back issues; maybe I'll get lucky!).
Also, because the source of this table is an ad in the January 1995 issue of the JCR, those prices are probably not quite right ... but you can see the comparison between the two then-existing competitors (though I note that the 8000LX lists a battery life of 24 hours as well in Stenograph's ad in the September 2000 issue of the JCR).
As for the ad copy ... well, here you go:
Lighten your load with the new Flash writing machine from ProCAT. Tipping the scales at just 5.1 pounds, the Flash is loaded with more features than the hefty, higher-priced competitors.
Streamlined and built for speed, the Flash gives you realtime display, steno search, and steno scroll for readback. Powerful flash RAM technology lets you store 786 pages on a slim credit-card size disk. Plus, you can work up to 24 hours on a single battery charge.
The Flash can upload software in the field, so sending your machine in for updates is a thing of the past. Other features include electronic marking, a screen with adjustable contrast, and a long-life ink cartridge. The Flash is available in burgundy, slate gray or smoke blue.
Call today for more information on the new Flash writer from ProCAT. It's light, fully featured, and very competitively priced.
Call ProCAT toll free at 800 966-1221.
While my main Flash has worked for me like ... well, like a champ, if you've been convinced to buy a Flash by this article, I highly recommend that you call ProCAT first; they may have a loaner or a refurbished writer they'll sell you.
The benefit of buying directly from ProCAT includes the same basic deal you get with Stenograph if you buy a 400 from them: You get a service contract, a loaner when you need it (though I think that only applies to new writers), and credit towards an upgrade to the Stylus (though in truth, if I were to upgrade to a Stylus, I'll still need a spare writer ... so I'd probably keep the Flash).
If you buy a Flash from one of the vendors (Steno Trader, Steno Tech, etc.) and wish to upgrade to the Stylus by trading your Flash in, ProCAT won't offer you as much in trade if you had a support contract with them ... but hey ... you're going to keep your Flash as a spare anyway, right?
Even better, thus far, my Flash has given me absolutely no trouble since I bought it two years ago ... and has only been in the shop once (annual cleaning and a new battery).
Kinda puts that "support contract" thing under a whole new light, huh?
Still, it can't hurt to talk to the sales-folk at ProCAT. Who knows ... there might be a special going on, where you can buy a new one for $99 a month, or something.
Still thinking about a 400 instead of a Flash? Let's review:
Are you really still thinking about it?