Category Archives: Open Source

FOMS and LCA Multimedia Miniconf

If you haven’t proposed a presentation yet, got ahead and register yourself for:

FOMS (Foundations of Open Media Software workshop) at

LCA Multimedia Miniconf at

It’s already November and there’s only Christmas between now and the conferences!

I’m personally hoping for many discussions about HTML5 <video> and <audio>, including what to do with multitrack files, with cue ranges, and captions. These should also be relevant to other open media frameworks – e.g. how should we all handle multitrack sign language tracks?

But there are heaps of other topics to discuss and anyone doing any work with open media software will find a fruitful discussions at FOMS.

Cortado 0.5.0 released

Cortado is a java applet that provides support for Ogg Theora/Vorbis to Web publishers. It’s particularly useful to publishers that want to use Ogg Theora/Vorbis in Browsers that do not yet support the HTML5 video element with Ogg.

Cortado was originally developed by Fluendo SA under a LGPL license and contains a re-implementation of Theora and Vorbis in Java (jheora and jcraft). After a few years of low maintenance, the Wikimedia Foundation took it in their hands to undust the code for their use in the Wikimedia Commons, where only unencumberd open video format are acceptable.

As Ralph states in his announcement of the new release: earlier this year, took over maintenance of the Cortado java applet to help concentrate interest and expertise on this important component of the free media codec infrastructure. Therefore, the official website for Cortado is as now part of the Xiph. [If somebody could update the Wikipedia article – that would be awesome!]

So, I am very happy to point to the first Cortado release in three years. Source and sample builds are available from the download site.

Ralph writes further:

The new version is tagged 0.5.0 to indicate both the change in hosting and the significant new support for files from the new libtheora encoder implementation and Kate embedded subtitles.

In particular, 0.5.0 has:

  • Support for files encoded with Theora 1.1
  • Faster YUV to RGB conversion with better results
  • Basic support for embedded Ogg Kate streams
  • Seeking fixed for files with an Ogg Skeleton track
  • Maintained compatibility with the Microsoft VM

This is an awesome example of the power of open source and what a group of people can achieve. Congratulations to everyone at Xiph, Wikipedia, and anyone else who contributed to the release!

MySQL, Snow Leopard and ruby

I got a shiny new MacBook Pro on the weekend, yay! After months of complaining about the slowness and the heat evaporating from my old Macbook, I’m finally off to better grounds.

But then there was the annoying task of setting up the machine with all the software that I’m using. MySQL and ruby turned out to be particular problems. I installed MySQL for 10.5, since MySQL haven’t published one for OS 10.6 yet. I ran “gem install mysql”. And then the pain started.

I got all the errors that were reported elsewhere:
uninitialized constant MysqlCompat::MysqlRes” and “undefined method `real_connect’ for Mysql:Class (NoMethodError)“. I tried all the suggestions – including:
"sudo env ARCHFLAGS="-arch x86" gem install mysql -- --with-mysql-config=/usr/local/mysql-5.1.39-osx10.5-x86/bin/mysql_config -V --debug, but just couldn’t get there.

My laptop reports in the System Software Overview: “64-bit Kernel and Extensions: No”, so I assumed I had to use the 32 bit versions. However, that was a wrong assumption. Even though my kernel seems to be 32 bit, applications seem to be 64 bit.

So, eventually I re-installed MySQL for Mac OS X 10.5 (x86_64) and ran the correct gem install command:
sudo env ARCHFLAGS="-arch x86_64" gem install mysql -- --with-mysql-config=/usr/local/mysql-5.1.39-osx10.5-x86 and things were fine.

Additionally, there was some fighting with the PrefPane and re-starting mysql. I had to kill it manually and I had to install the updated PrefPane of Swoon dot net to make it work.

Hope this helps somebody avoid the same pain!

Web Directions South 2009 talk on HTML5 video

Yesterday, I gave a talk on the HTML5 video element at Web Directions South.

The title was “Taking HTML5 <video> a step further” and the abstract was provided goes as follows:

This talk focuses on the efforts engaged by W3C to improve the new HTML 5 media elements with mechanisms to allow people to access multimedia content, including audio and video. Such developments are also useful beyond accessibility needs and will lead to a general improvement of the usability of media, making media discoverable and generally a prime citizen on the Web.

Silvia will discuss what is currently technically possible with the HTML5 media elements, and what is still missing. She will describe a general framework of accessibility for HTML5 media elements and present her work for the Mozilla Corporation that includes captions, subtitles, textual audio annotations, timed metadata, and other time-aligned text with the HTML5 media elements. Silvia will also discuss work of the W3C Media Fragments group to further enhance video usability and accessibility by making it possible to directly address temporal offsets in video, as well as spatial areas and tracks.

Here are my slides:

Download the pdf from here.

There was also a video recording and I will add that here as soon as it is published.

The video is available on Tinyvid:

I’m not going to try and upload this 50min long video to YouTube – with it’s 10 min limit, I won’t get very far.

WebJam 2009 talk on video accessibility

On Wednesday evening I gave a 3 min presentation on video accessibility in HTML5 at the WebJam in Sydney. I used a video as my presentation means and explained things while playing it back. Here is the video, without my oral descriptions, but probably still useful to some. Note in particular how you can experience the issues of deaf (HoH), blind (VI) and foreign language users:

The Ogg version is here.

Tracking Status of Video Accessibility Work

Just a brief note to let everyone know about a new wikipage I created for my Mozilla work about video accessibility, where I want to track the status and outcomes of my work. You can find it at It lists the following sections: Test File Collection, Specifications, Demo implementations using JavaScript, Related open bugs in Mozilla, and Publications.

HTML5 audio element accessibility

As part of my experiments in video accessibility I am also looking at the audio element. I have just finished a proof of concept for parsing Lyrics files for music in lrc format.

The demo uses Tay Zonday’s “Chocolate Rain” song both as a video with subtitles and as an audio file with lyrics. Fortunately, he published these all under a creative commons license, so I was able to use this music file. BTW: I found it really difficult to find a openly licensed music file with lyrics.

While I was at it, I also cleaned up all the old demos and now have a nice list of all demos in a central file.

Open Standards for Sign Languages

Looking at accessibility for video includes sign language. It is a most fascinating area to get into and an area that still leaves a lot to formalise and standardise. A lot has happened in recent years and a lot still needs to be done.

Sign languages are different languages to spoken languages: they emerged in parallel to spoken languages in communities whose boundaries may not overlap with the boundaries of spoken languages. However, most developed means to translate spoken language artifacts (i.e. letters) into sign language artifacts (i.e. signs). So, a typical signer will speak/write at least 3-4 “languages”: the spoken language of their hearing peers, lip reading of that spoken language, letter signs of the spoken language, and finally the native sign language of the community they live in.

Encoding sign language in the computer is a real challenge. Firstly, there is the problem of enumerating all available languages. Then there is the challenge to find an alphabet to represent all “characters” that can be used in sign across many (preferably all) sign languages. Then there is the need to encode these characters in a way that computers can deal with. And finally, there is the need to find a screen representation of the characters. In this blog post, I want to describe the status for all of these.

Currently, sign language can only be represented as a video track by recording sign speakers. Once a sign character list together with an encoding and representation means for them and a specification of the different sign languages is available, it is possible to encode sign sentences in computer-readable form. Further, programs can be written that can present sign sentences on screen, that translate between different sign languages, and between sign and spoken languages. Also, avatars can be programmed that actually present animated sign sentences.

Imagine a computer that instead of presenting letters in your spoken language uses sign language characters and has keys with signs on them instead of letters. To a sign speaker this would be a lot more natural, since for most sign is their mother tongue.

Listing all existing sign languages
It was a challenge to create codes for all existing spoken languages – the current list of language codes has only been finalised in 1998.

Until the 1980s, scientists assumed that it is impossible to develop as rich a language with signs as with writing and speaking. Thus, the native languages of deaf people were often regarded as inferior to spoken languages. In many countries it was even prohibited to teach the language in schools for the deaf and instead they were taught to speak an oral language and read lips. In France this prohibition was only lifted in 1991! Only in about 1985 was it proven that sign languages are indeed as rich as spoken languages and deserve the right to be called a “language” and be treated as a fully capable means of communication.

So, there hasn’t actually been much time to map out a list of all sign languages. The best list I was able to find is in Wikipedia. It lists 28 N/S American, 38 European, 34 Asia-Pacific-AU/NZ, 30 African, and 13 Middle Eastern sign languages – in summary 143 sign languages. This list contains 177 sign languages.

Interestingly, there is also a new International Sign Language in development called Gestuno which is in use in international events (Olympics, conferences etc.) but has only a limited vocabulary.

In 1999 the Irish National Body, Deaf Action Committee for SignWriting, proposed the addition of sign language codes to ISO-639-2. Instead, a single code entered the list: sgn for sign language. In 2001, this led to the development of IETF language extension codes in RFC 3066 for 22 sign languages. In September 2006, this standard was replaced by RFC 4646, which defines 135 subtags for sign languages, including one for the International Sign Language and a generic “sgn” one.

While not complete, the current IANA subtag language registry now regards sign languages as valid derivatives of a country’s languages and therefore handles them identically to spoken languages. It’s also extensible such that any sign language not yet registered can still be specified.

Characters for sign languages
The written word is very powerful for preserving and sharing information. For a very long time there has been no written representation of sign languages. This is not surprising considering that there are still indigenous spoken languages that have no written representation. Also, the written representation of the spoken language around the community of a sign language would have served the sign community sufficiently for most purposes – except for the accurate capture of their thoughts and sign communications. It would always be a foreign language.

To move sign languages into the 20th century, the invention of characters for signs was necessary.

It is relatively easy to map the alphabets of spoken languages to signs (e.g. American (ASL) manual alphabet, British, Australian and NZ (AUSLAN) manual alphabet, or German manual finger alphabet, also see fingerspelling). Interesting the AUSLAN manual alphabet is a two-handed one while the ASL one is single-handed.

Fonts are available for these alphabets, too, e.g. British Sign Font, American Sign Font, French Sign Font and more.

The real challenge lies in capturing the proper signs deaf people use to communicate amongst themselves.

This is rather challenging, since sign languages uses the hands, head and body, with constantly changing movements and orientations for communication. Thus, while spoken language only has one dimension (sound) over time, sign languages have “three dimensions” and capturing this in characters is difficult. Many sign languages to this date don’t have a widely used written form, e.g. AUSLAN. Mostly in use nowadays are sequences of photos or videos – which of course cannot be computer processed easily.

Two main writing systems have been developed: the phonemic Stokoe notation and the iconic SignWriting.

Stokoe notation was created by William Stokoe for ASL in 1960, with Latin letters and numbers used for the shapes they have in fingerspelling, and iconic glyphs to transcribe the position, movement, and orientation of the hands. Adaptations were made to other sign languages to include further phonemes not found in ASL. Stokoe notation is written left-to-right on a page and can be typed with the proper font installed. It has a Unicode/ASCII mapping, but does not easily apply to other sign languages than ASL since it does not capture all possible signs. It has no representation for facial and body expressions and is therefore a relatively poor representation for sign.

SignWriting was created by Valerie Sutton in 1974, a dancer who had two years earlier developed DanceWriting and later developed MimeWriting, SportsWriting, and ScienceWriting. SignWriting is a writing system which uses visual symbols to represent the handshapes, movements, and facial expressions of sign languages. It is a generic sign alphabet with a list of symbols that can be used to write any sign language in the world.

SignWriting can be easily learnt by signers and is more popular now than Stokoe. Signers compose the symbols together in a spatial way to represent their signs. They then write the composed symbols from top to bottom on a page, similar to other iconic character sets. SignWriting currently supports 73 different sign languages, whose dictionaries and encyclopedias are captured in SignPuddle. This will eventually allow the creation of complete corpora for all sign languages.

Unicode encoding of SignWriting and visual representation
Because of its unique challenges of having to cover the spatial combination of symbols as a new symbol rather than just the sequential combination of symbols, it took a while to get a Unicode representation of SignWriting.

About a year ago, on 19th September 2008, Valerie Sutton released the International SignWriting Alphabet (ISWA 2008).

A binary representation of SignWriting is defined in ISWA 2008. It is based on a representing 639 base symbols and their potential 6 fill and 16 rotation variants in 61,343 code points, that completely cover the subset of 35023 valid symbol codes. The spatial aspect of SignWriting are encoded in a 2-dimensional coordinate system. The dimensions go from -1919 through 1919 to place the top left corner of the symbol.

SignWriting base symbols are encoded in plane 4 of Unicode, which provides 65,536 code points, easily covering the defined 61,343 Binary SignWriting code points. Further special control and number characters are used to encode the spatial layout.

Visual Representation of SignWriting
Valerie Sutton created over 35k individual PNG images for ISWA 2008, which have been reformatted for standard color & reduced file size, and renamed to the character code. They are a font used to represent the signs. The images can be accessed on Valerie’s server.

After learning all this today, I have to say that Valerie Sutton has just turned into a new idol of mine. The achievements with SignWriting and the possibilities it will enable are massive.

Now I just have to figure out what to do when we hit on a sign language track that has been encoded in SignWriting and it represents captions. Maybe it is possible to display sign as overlay but on the left side of the video. This would be similar to some other languages that go from top to bottom rather than left to right.

Updated video accessibility demo

Just a brief note to share that I have updated the video accessibility demo at

It should now support ARIA and tab access to the menu, which I have simply put next to the video. I implemented the menu by learning from YUI. My Firefox 3.5.3 actually doesn’t tab through it, but then it also doesn’t tab through the YUI example, which I think is correct. Go figure.

Also, the textual audio descriptions are improved and should now work better with screenreaders.

I have also just prepared a recorded audio description of “Elephants Dreams” (German accent warning).

You can also download the multitrack Ogg Theora video file that contains the original audio and video track plus the audio description as an extra track, created using oggz-merge.

As soon as some kind soul donates a sign language track for “Elephants Dream”, I will have a pretty complete set of video accessibility tracks for that video. This will certainly become the basis for more video a11y work!

URI fragments vs URI queries for media fragment addressing

In the W3C Media Fragment Working Group (MFWG) we have had long discussions about the use of the URI query (“?”) or the URI fragment (“#”) addressing approach for addressing directly into media fragments, and the diverse new HTTP headers required to serve such URI requests, considering such side conditions as the stripping-off of fragment parameters from a URI by Web browsers, or the existence of caching Web proxies.

As explained earlier, URI queries request (primary) resources, while URI fragments address secondary resources, which have a relationship to their primary resource. So, in the strictest sense of their specifications, to address segments in media resources without losing the context of the primary resource, we can only use URI fragments.

Browser-supported Media Fragment URIs

For this reason, URI fragments are also the way in which my last media fragment addressing demo has been implemented. For example, I would address