Monday, June 29, 2009

Moderation in Postings

I had to write this after the near-flamefest here (the audism posts) and on The Deaf Sherlock last month. Over the years, I've been a moderator in chatrooms and message areas. Sometimes the work is fun. But then there's the occasional time when you'll have a member who is quite abusive and openly flouts the rules.

In some cases, moderators need the ability to clamp down in order to prevent an explosive subject from getting out of control. It's all too easy for this to happen and I have seen groups going from active to meltdown dead in short time due to certain subjects being brought up. In some cases, the operators are forced to start over.

It's not a freedom of speech issue. It's about following the rules. Most forum rules are common sense, usually treat each other well, no attacks, stay on topic, that kind of thing. One to remember is that the moderator has the final word on things, reserving the right to moderate, edit, or delete comments. If members complain about something, the moderator will take action on that. There will always be some who cause trouble, known as trolls. They have been known to start flame wars.

For more on understanding what needs to be done, read these sites;

How to effectively moderate forums
Internet Forum Moderation...for Dummies
Internet Forums on Wikipedia

One must have flexibility in being a moderator without looking like a dictator, silencing everything that you disagree with. Neither do you want to be known as having a heavy hand and/or being a control freak.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

My Knee's Progress 2 / National Police Week

Back in mid-May, I attended National Police Week's Candlelight Vigil at the National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial. I mentioned my first adoptive dad in my Growing Up Deaf - Part 4 post.

My attending this event marked the first time I used the metro/subway without using the wheelchair. It was a longer walk compared to when I walked to someone's house for dinner in the My Knee's Progress - Part 1 post. I walked from the parking garage to the waiting train using the escalator, a bit out of breath and almost no pain. It was a bit shorter walk this time, as I used the elevator which put me right in the middle of the seating area. The seats filled quickly, and I arrived two hours before the event.

It was an emotional event. One of the speakers was Eric Holder, US Attorney General. (Blog post found here) I found that there was an interpreter after the event started, but wasn't able to get to where she was. The crowd numbered around several thousand according to the Washington Post which included those from police agencies around the nation and world. Most impressive were the many candles held by the crowd, with most electric lights off. They had a laser which was aimed from the back from a building to the front podium.

While waiting for my train after the event, I sat for a bit on side of the escalator. Interestingly enough, a group from the UK who attended the event waited near and around me. One of them showed a little toy which got everyone laughing, including me. After a little talk with a couple of them, someone from the group gave me a little pin signifying fallen police officers. Arriving at my stop an hour later, I was a bit tired from the walk.

I still got a ways to go in terms of left knee strength improvement and the right knee being operated on. I'll find out more what will happen next at my August appointment with the doctor.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Tech Solutions Needed To Save Captions

After I posted the "More Info" post, Jamie mentioned something from her time as a captioning activist some time ago;

"Long ago I was told that when the media format changes, e.g. from movie to DVD to television to internet, the closed captions are lost because of the altering of time codes on the media. Closed captions have to match up with time codes.

"In addition, I remember that in the early days there was discussion about how because captioning is a service, there may be issues with payment. That is, if Company A pays for captioning then gives the media in a new format to Company B with captions included, then Company B saves money that Company A had to pay.

"But the bottom line problem is the loss of captions as media formats change. We need new technical solutions or more use of existing solutions. One way to save the captions would be to use the available tools CCExtractor or CaptionKeeper to extract the captions into a separate file before converting the media to another format. Then the captions can be refitted to the new media format (and this is a manual process as explained by Hulu).

"The deaf community and its hearing friends are going to have to pressure the original content providers to save captions before converting the media."

In short, by "issues with payment" in the second paragraph, the business that received the captioning services may not want to just give the captioned file/media to Company B.

Also, some utilities I've seen will remove the subtitles AND captioning when the movie is transferred from DVD to a format like AVI and/or send them to a separate file. One I've seen will do just this in PAL/NTSC conversions. I'm checking on the Matroska (.MKV) (Wikipedia entry) container, as it can hold many tracks in one file.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

More Info from Hulu on Captioning

While Jamie and I have been discussing the issues related to Hulu and Netflix, including the upcoming new Epix website, Jamie got a response from two people from Hulu;

Eugene from the help desk writes;
"I think the issue is that often we're sent digitized videomasters that have the captions stripped out. It's not the same as recording media off of TV and then stripping the captions out of it."

Then Rob Post says;
"We use a similar tool to extract the captions from The Daily show and Colbert Report. But we are extracting the live captioning, not subtitles. Very few digital masters we receive have this data embedded within them, when we find them we try to use them."

Vitac gave a similar response.

Taking into consideration these two responses, this means that it is the CONTENT PROVIDERS who are removing the captioning signal, thus reducing Hulu's ability to provide captioned videos. Netflix has also said that it is the fault of the content providers. Now we have two people saying the same thing. However, we still have the Netflix CEO's insensitive and dismissive attitude, saying it's not high on the agenda.

Then came my own questions: Are copyright issues involved? Are the captioning signals analog or digital? Jamie sent those questions to Rob Post and should be getting a response soon.

There's also some other issues related to video and captioning. We'll have another post on this later.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Correction to the Hulu Blog Post

Jamie and I had some minor errors in our previous post, How Might Hulu Be Showing Its Captions? It's more attitude than software which gets the captioning across the the viewer. Also in the previous post, Jamie got a response from Hulu which was posted in comments and I'll repeat here;

"We ask all our content providers for caption files. Some have them available, others do not or are still working on it. Then we try to read the caption files as there are many formats.

"Then, if we can read the file, we have someone sit and watch the video and sync the captions to the video as timings are often off because broadcast timing may differ from the online video file timing for a variety of reasons.

"We've been able to increase our coverage a lot just by sheer effort. We still have room to improve our coverage through that means. There will be some portion that will require other solutions, and we'll continue to investigate.

"Captions are a priority for us, and we'll continue to push to make them more of a standard for online video."

As we can see, it's not just attitude, but a LOT of hard work and time. I have also attempted to time subtitles with a movie and can appreciate the work that it takes. These utilities can be found with some searching.

Interestingly enough, Marlee Matlin has been tweeting that she wants captions on Netflix as well.

In another interesting area, the government has a YouTube website, but seems it's violating its own laws by not making them accessible in terms of captioning.

Only some videos are captioned, and embarrassingly enough, the Department of Education has almost none! You can tweet complaints to them via @usedgov.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

How Might Hulu Be Showing Its Captions?

How is Hulu able to show closed captions when Netflix does not? That is the $60 million dollar question.

A bit of research online by Jamie and me yielded some clues. First, according to an April 2008 article in Entertainment Close-Up, Hulu is using Signiant Software. Signiant makes digital media distribution management solutions. Google Hulu and Signiant and more articles will turn up.

Poking around Signiant's website led to a blog, Digital Media Galaxy. Searching that blog on "captioning" led to one result, Rhozet Carbon Coder/Signiant Integration Video. That blog post mentions closed captioning extraction capabilities. As best as I understand it, Signiant's software integrates with software from Rhozet called Carbon Coder and through this integration, is able to extract closed captions. A check of the Rhozet website found that the Carbon Coder product is indeed able to extract closed captions.

Not only that, an examination of the Carbon Coder product's additional functions page revealed that under Advanced Operations, Carbon Coder can do subtitle/CC imprint, and line 21/CC conversion.

Last but not least, on Signiant's website there is a page that explains more about Rhozet's Carbon Coder. The information there is so important that I'm quoting it here:

"Traditional broadcast companies continue to grow their content business with alternate media delivery through the web, mobile or Video on Demand (VOD). However, one size does not fit all. They are challenged with the multiple CODECs and containers required to support these delivery mechanisms. Media is often captured in one format; edited in another; delivered live in a 3rd format; stored in a yet another format and so on. With the dramatic increase in the number of formats along with shorter service level agreements and Business To Business (B2B) relationships spanning the globe, content production is becoming more challenging. Rhozet's Carbon Coder is an industry leading transcoder which can simultaneously support all the major formats required in today's media environment."

Based on all this information, I have developed a theory about how Hulu is able to show closed captions. I theorize that Hulu is using the Signiant Software integration with Rhozet's Carbon Coder software to extract the closed captions from DVDs and overlay it onto the streamed media. One of the arguments that we have been given for not having captions on streamed media is that the formats are different between DVDs and digital media; but according to the Signiant page on Rhozet, Rhozet can handle ALL formats.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Netflix CEO Said No To Captions?

Did I read Jared's Netflix CEO really doesn’t care about subtitles/captioning blog post (including the shareholder meeting post) right? The Netflix CEO said there's no captioning technology or it's not widespread? Picking my jaws up off the floor, I read further...

"Mr. Hastings said other sites didn’t offer captions, and mentioned as one of them."

Does he live under a rock? Then he said we could receive DVDs in the mail and most had captions. That's pretty insensitive, ignorant, and dismissive.

Cry me a river, Mr. CEO... You've had two years to add this "nonexistent" tech according to this blog post. Check these sites out which have captioning/subtitling utilities and related forums;

Adobe's Encore has the ability to add subs. We know YouTube, CNET, and Hulu have captions/subtitles. Google has more hits on these using keywords (dvd captions), and/or (dvd subtitles), including (netflix captioning online deaf), minus the (). Check out Hulu Has Captions and Netflix Doesn't. Why?

Care to try that again, Mr. CEO?

Let's get a new Caption Action off the ground!

Update: I neglected to add the Facebook group Netflix Watch-Instantly Needs Closed Captions!