Netflix Captioning: Botched

I’ve been saying for a couple years that I would never use Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature until they got around to introducing some form of subtitles or captioning for the deaf and hearing impaired.  Well, as of April 15, Netflix announced that subtitles would be available on “about 100 titles” and that users were free to enjoy the first four seasons of Lost in subtitled form (which, coincidentally, is about 100 episodes, so it’s not hard to figure out what those “about 100 titles” were).

The subtitling system works well – it does not blow my socks off (nor does the player itself, which has severe issues with switching between episodes within a series).  But Netflix managed to screw up in other ways:

  1. Subtitle everything in the series if you’re going to bother. It’s really irritating to watch one subtitled episode only to find that the next episode has no subtitles whatsoever for reasons that cannot easily be explained.  I was bouncing between Hulu (which consistently subtitles each episode) and Netflix quite a bit (why? I don’t like ads any more than the next person).
  2. Make subtitles a saved preference rather than having to select it every time. Hulu finally got this right when they released their new player into the wild, making it a saved preference.

But the most egregious violation by Netflix is this: there is no way to tell whether something is subtitled or not without first opening it within the player. From a user experience and an information architecture perspective, this is an absolute nightmare.  It’s the equivalent of forcing your users to stumble around with a blindfold, and does very little to improve the user’s opinion of your site in general.

I would also point out that the only part of Watch Instantly currently allowed to use subtitles is the web-based player; none of the media devices capable of picking up Netflix Watch Instantly streams can pick up subtitles (yet).  So, in short, while Netflix did at least finally manage to do good on their promise to bring subtitles, it is a fairly hollow victory – with no way to find these subtitled titles, they might as well have just not bothered.  They give no timeframe for future releases of subtitles on things that aren’t the Lost television series, either, which kicks it down another notch.

Configuring the Oticon Epoq’s Streamer with Windows Vista

Oddly, configuring audio Bluetooth devices with Vista has been turned into something of a convoluted process, but once you get the steps, it’s pretty straightforward. The steps below let me use both the audio and microphone tie-ins for the Streamer within Vista. Many thanks to this page for giving me the steps I needed to turn around and make this work properly.  This is not a perfect procedure; you may encounter hiccups with the Streamer losing connection or audio programs crashing.

First, place the Streamer into Bluetooth pairing mode by pressing and holding the Bluetooth button for seven seconds – you will hear one beep two seconds in and another once the pairing mode is activated.

Next, we have to pair the device with the laptop (note that this assumes said laptop has Bluetooth capacity and has the WIDCOMM drivers loaded – if it doesn’t, this sequence may not work).  Note that Dell’s Bluetooth devices are automatically installed on the machine using the correct WIDCOMM drivers, so they’re available as a download from them if needed via  If the Bluetooth icon is showing in the system taskbar, then you can simply right click and select “Add Devices”.  If not, you have to go to the “Start” menu, open the “Control Panel”, and select “Bluetooth Devices”, then click “Add Wireless Device” button along the top bar.

You are then prompted to select the device that you wish to pair (I turned off all other Bluetooth devices I had floating around to make sure the streamer didn’t get confused and try to do the wrong thing):

Click the “Next” button with the Streamer selected.  Next, you will be prompted to select an option for pairing the device.  You want to select the middle option, “Enter the device’s pairing code”:

On the next screen, enter the pairing code for the Streamer (0000 – all zeroes) and click “Next”:

The next screen you see prompts to select the type of hands-free device being connected – take the default option:

Next, open the “Bluetooth Devices” option screen in the Control Panel if it hasn’t already opened for you and right click on the “Streamer” entry, then click on “Properties”:

When the Properties pane opens, select the “Services” tab and check all of the available checkboxes except for the “Remote Control” checkbox:

Click “OK” to close the Properties pane.  Along the top of the “Bluetooth Devices” window, select “Bluetooth Settings” from the toolbar:

On the “Bluetooth Radio Properties” pane, select the “Audio” tab.  If any of these devices list as connected, click on them and then click the “Disconnect” button. Select the “Bluetooth Stereo Audio” option and click the “Connect” button:

Open your Control Panel again and then click on “Sound”:

On the “Playback” tab, right click the entry that reads “Bluetooth Stereo Audio” and select “Set as Default Device”.  You may have to show disabled or disconnected devices (done via the right-click menu) to see the “Bluetooth Stereo Audio” option – if done correctly, that option should be there without having to do anything further.

Now open your favorite audio program and play away!

Note that I have not been able to resolve issues where iTunes (my music player of choice) may randomly decide to crash under this arrangement.  I also have noticed that the device itself sometimes will simply disconnect for no clear reason, which means trying to force it to reconnect using the “Bluetooth Radio Properties” dialog box above.

25 Random Things

Originally posted on Facebook as part of a meme going around, but reposting here as well.

Okay, okay, I’ll bite on this one, since it actually looks fun (though I’ll probably repost to my real blog…)

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

  1. I have absolutely no ability to resist sweets. I do, however, at least make an effort to select healthier sweets (oatmeal raisin cookies) when possible. Ah, who am I kidding.
  2. I want to buy a new bike and actually ride it – none of this sissy “hey, look, I bought it, now it’s a paperweight!” stuff, like what happened with the guitar I picked up. I’ve been strangely attracted to the Jamis Aurora, but can’t bring myself to test ride.
  3. I have a severe hatred of people who arrive noticeably late (say, 3 minutes after class/the appointment/whatever starts).
  4. It’s much easier for me to pretend to hear something than it is to actually hear it – this saves me a lot of “huh, can you repeat that?” loops, but gets me in trouble.
  5. When my parents lived in Seattle (I was quite young), I once hung a sign on the front gate in an effort to make money. I don’t recall what the sign said. I do recall my mother disapproving.
  6. Despite being an adult, I still can’t get over the occasional feeling that bad, scary things are creeping up behind me. Oddly, this only happens in certain places at my parent’s house (no, Dad, it isn’t you…)
  7. I don’t understand people who do things that don’t make them happy (I realize that this is sometimes necessary, but in a good number of cases, avoidable).
  8. I’m an armchair therapist, though I’m not sure friends actually appreciate the advice.
  9. “Environmentalist” isn’t really the right description for me. “Environmental sustainability enthusiast” is much, much more accurate.
  10. Spaceballs: Best. Movie. Ever. Next up would be Reduced Shakespeare Company.
  11. I want to write a novel, I just can’t seem to start. I want to write a nonfiction book, I just can’t seem to start. Oddly, I have plenty of poetry and song lyrics sitting around.
  12. The conversations I have with myself are sometimes the most interesting conversations I’ll have all day. This is sad, but true.
  13. I’m an introvert – literally. I scored 0 in the “E” component of the Meyers-Briggs test last time I took it (and I’ve taken it several times – last was in my senior year in college).
  14. As a consequence of both introversion and wearing hearing aids, I appreciate silence far more than anyone should. I was once on an overnight trip with a class where it was the quietest place I’ve ever run into, and the minutes I spent in that silence were peaceful.
  15. I am often told that it’s really obvious when I’m thinking.
  16. I appreciate the irony of owning a Prius and never driving it.
  17. At the same time as #16, I wish I drove it more, and on longer trips…
  18. …except that, for me, it’s not the act of driving that sucks, it’s the other drivers. I’d be perfectly happy being the only person on the road (and I’m quite certain this is a shared sentiment).
  19. I refuse to answer phones and have a somewhat irrational fear of them. Unfortunately, this is a point that often surpasses the understanding of others. If you e-mail me or contact me electronically, however, I’m as happy as a clam.
  20. The best job interview question I have ever been asked is “If you were a punctuation mark, what would you be?” This was for my work with Evergreen’s Writing Center. My answer to that today is the same as it was originally, but with different logic behind it: “I would be a period, because I tend to be quite abrupt, but very good at bringing things to a logical conclusion.”
  21. I miss living in the townhouse Amanda and I rented in Olympia; my heart skipped a beat when I noticed that one of those same townhouses was for sale a couple days ago.
  22. I want to live up to Gandhi’s statement of being the change we wish to see in the world. I am struggling to figure out how to satisfy that desire.
  23. So far, my favorite places are Hornby Island in British Columbia and San Francisco. I would love to travel to Italy or Greece, however (it’s my high school Latin classes calling their siren songs..)
  24. When it comes to (non-dessert) food, my weakness is pasta. Or pesto. Probably both.
  25. My biggest strength (and, consequently, my biggest weakness) is my independence.
  26. As of late, I’ve felt a lot like Gregory House (from the TV show House M.D.) and I have a lot in common.

Hearing as a Disability

On Monday, one of the iSchool professors associated with the iAccess project (which is part of the Information School’s research arm) came in to IMT 580 – Management of Information Organizations and administered a survey on the design of web sites for accessibility by people with disabilities.  Basically, the project they’re working on assesses why web sites are not designed for people with disabilities and what cultural norms or technical information might influence the decision to not design web sites with accessibility in mind.

Aside from the sheer need for this sort of research to be done (which I consider to be a bit of a gap in existing information about web site design), this got me thinking about my own hearing.  One of the questions on the survey explicitly asked whether I, as the survey taker, had a disability that significantly affected my ability to use the Internet and its resources.  I checked “no”, but still indicated that I had a hearing impairment in the section for people who checked “yes”.

Is this a technically accurate representation of my ability to use Internet resources?  Well, that would greatly depend on what type of resource we’re talking about.  If we’re talking about everyday Web usage or IM, the answer is most definitively “no”, since I rely on these methods extensively for keeping touch with friends and family.  However, if you talk about voice applications like Skype or Ventrilo, then the answer is, actually a little surprisingly, still “no” (although I don’t use Skype).  For those unaware, I have a severe discomfort (some might call it a “crippling fear”) with telephones.  To put it succinctly, I avoid them like the plague, and there are a variety of reasons of that, but the largest one is probably my fear of not being able to properly respond to or follow what’s going on in the conversation.  It is, to some extent, also a technical limitation, since not all phones are designed for hearing aid use.

But why the difference?  The phone involves voice interaction just as much as any voice chat application out there.  My opinion is that there are at least two technological factor here: first, as it stands, I have far more flexibility with sound adjustment and tuning with computer volume, speakers, and headphones than I do with phones (including those with speakerphone abilities).  Second – and I consider this key – I’m not limited to hearing with only one ear (again, with the exception of speakerphones, but this depends on the speakerphone having good sound quality to begin with).

This survey got me thinking about what it means to classify a hearing impairment as a disability.  I have never regarded it as a disability, though I have called it a disability in cases where it benefited me to do so in the form of additional assistance.  I also have gotten out of the habit of calling it a “hearing impairment”, since, as my father rightly pointed out long ago, that lumps me in with a category of people with far more severe problems than I actually can attest to having.  I simply say that “I hear hearing aids”, and that because of that, “I am very uncomfortable with phone usage” – there is nothing wrong with that statement, since it happens to be a fact of my life.  I have continually had people who didn’t even notice that I wear hearing aids react with shock or amazement when they finally noticed.  My own parents have been known to forget that I hear hearing aids!

So is it a disability that limits quality of life?  No.  Is it a disability that limits my usage of the Internet?  No (it actually increases it).  Is it a disability?  Not the way I approach it, but it, as with everything else in life, is not without its frustrations.

TV/DVD Captions Update

From Toshiba Customer Support:

Dear Peter,

Thanks for writing!

We appreciate your interest in Toshiba.

The closed captioning on our units is only through the TV's tuner.


Toshiba Customer Service

In other words, Toshiba did the absolute minimum required by law.

Closed Captions on TV/DVD Sets

So I happened to get a Toshiba MD13P1 for Christmas from my parents, which is a combination TV/DVD unit. I had originally intended it for use in my own room, but it’s taken its place in the living room now that there’s plenty of room out there that just begs for filling up.

This is a nice little unit, despite that we don’t actually have cable TV to hook into. It has very nice picture, great sound, and DVDs play flawlessly. It has built-in closed captions, which makes me quite happy, being hearing impaired.

But here’s the rub: the closed-caption decoder on the unit only decodes captions from TV shows. We’ve discovered this by a little trial and error with DVDs we know to be captioned but that don’t have subtitles. So we’ve had to play any DVD that doesn’t directly have captions on my faithful laptop, autumn. Strangely, this seems to have the effect of turning my nice little TV/DVD combo into a paperweight in some situations.

But why doesn’t the closed caption decoder cover both units? In cases such as these, plugging in an external DVD player would probably force the pickup of captions through the unit, but this doesn’t make any logistical sense — if you buy a combination unit, you sort of expect — nay, demand — the ability to use closed captions on any application that unit is good for.

So what’s up with this? Is this the only model to do this, or is this a bigger plague than I make it out to be? Am I the only one that finds this a very strange loophole in the FCC’s Part 79 Closed Captioning Rules? A more digestible version of this information is available through the FCC’s Consumer Information on Closed Captioning. All that document states is that "the Commission has required that all analog television sets with screens 13 inches or larger sold in the United States contain built-in decoder circuitry that allows viewers to display closed captions". This unit does do that, but it seems like that rule should reasonably apply to all parts of the unit.

So I’m more than a little puzzled and somewhat irked — what’s the point of shelling out $200 for a TV set if it doesn’t caption everything it should caption? Admittedly, this television was a gift, but good money was paid for it, and I feel somewhat slighted by Toshiba. I doubt, however, that there’s all that much that can be done about it past my current solution.

Update (10:57PM)

I decided to do a little web searching and ran across the following from the National Captioning Institute’s FAQ:

Why don’t the captions show up on my DVD?

The problem may be with the DVD player or it may be with the DVD. Some of the early models and some inexpensive models don’t support closed captions.

The problem may not be the DVD player, but rather the hookup, decoder, or TV with built in decoder. Some consumers have written to say that using an S-video hookup with certain models of DVD players and television sets prevents the captions from being displayed.

One possibility is that the DVD distributor opted to use English subtitles instead of captions, so if the viewer is looking for captions, they can’t find them. The subtitles do not need to go through the decoder to be displayed the way captions do. Captions must go through the TV decoder to be displayed. Subtitles are turned on and off through the DVD player.

I’ve used DVDs where I know the last option to not be the case. I’m not sure about the other two options on there.

Thoughts on Restoring Hearing

The issue of recovering hearing is a necessarily sensitive one. For those that have had a hearing loss for only a few years, it might be a viable idea — after several decades of hearing normally, it can be hard (if not downright impossible) to adjust to hearing less. In this case, I can see where TRPA1 would be highly advantageous — it would restore that person’s hearing to a state at (or at least closer to) their previous hearing levels. It would also be helpful, as one of the articles I linked to on TRPA1 points out, to restore hearing lost at, say, concerts.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that all these benefits are highlighted for someone who has only lost some of their normal hearing and has had previous experience with normal hearing. I’m not that kind of person — I was born with a 70dB loss in both ears and have had to live with that all my life. I don’t have any idea what “normal” hearing sounds like, nor have I ever really had any inclination towards finding out. This is probably why my experience with the Oticon Synchro hearing aids didn’t go so well: those aids were designed to attempt to mimic some of the attributes of a normal hearing experience. Having never experienced that type of hearing, it made little sense to try and mimic those attributes for me — I’m used to hearing aids that have the capacity to amplify and selectively modify sound. I’m also used to aids that do this task in a relatively noticeable manner. The Synchro made these adjustments in a subtler way, and never quite adapted itself to the situation at hand correctly.
But I digress. TRPA1 is intended to restore nerve endings that conduct sounds through the ear and into the brain, thus restoring some measure of hearing for a particular individual. Not only am I highly wary of such a process, I am skeptical as to whether it would do me one whit of good. Certainly, some of my hearing might be restored through such a process, but how much? Enough is unknown about exactly what happened to cause my loss that this might not do anything at all. “But it’s worth a try,” some might say, “better you try and nothing happens than never try and find out later that it would have helped significantly.” The issue isn’t whether it would or wouldn’t help; rather, the issue is whether I would be able to adapt to whatever changes were made as a result of such treatment. The answer to this is naturally in the affirmative. In that case, the question becomes whether such a thing would be something I would want to do. The answer to that is no.

This is not closed-mindedness. You can’t simply throw out one method of hearing that I’ve been used to for twenty-one years and replace it with something completely different. In some ways, I’m the exact opposite of the person who had hearing, then lost it, except that the difference is much sharper: I’m used to having precise control over my ability to hear or not hear. Take away that control, and what happens? I may be better off, and perhaps not so much effort would be required to tune any hearing aids that I would still require after such therapy, but I lose the ability to be picky. This sounds like a stupid quip, but consider the advantages: at the moment, I can allow these aids to selectively filter out certain noises and sounds in a specific environment, adapt to high-noise environments with the flick of a switch to reduce volume, and do any host of other things to allow less stress on my hearing. People who have normal hearing can certainly exercise the idea of selective hearing, but they can’t block out the background noise completely — it’s still there. With hearing aids, the background noise isn’t there at all because it’s being filtered out before it ever reaches the ear.

So this is a somewhat lengthy thought process, but it boils down to this: when someone gets used to something and uses it for a long time, you can’t simply change it. That has such profound philosophical, psychological, and emotional impacts that it can often do more damage than simply keeping things the way they are. That’s my justification, long-winded as it may be.

Hearing Protein: WebMD Article

I decided to run a Google search on the new hearing protein that was recently found and pulled up this WebMD article, which suggests that the protein could be useful in as little as 5-10 years:

For instance, the finding could lead to new gene therapies for deafness and balance problems, since people with those conditions may have a mutated form of the gene that makes TRPA1.

Such developments on hearing could come “in the next five to 10 years,” says Jeffrey Holt, University of Virginia assistant professor of neuroscience and otolaryngology (and G�l�oc’s husband), in a news release.

There’s also a slightly more technical, but interesting, article from Medical News Today, available here.

I’m considering the question of whether I would even want my hearing restored that way, even to a small degree. I’ll write more on this in a few days. I’ve also activated a Google News Alert on TRPA1 to keep abreast of articles.

Hearing Aid Updates

I returned my Oticon Synchro hearing aids today, switching back to the Oticon Adapto model I’ve had for the last year. I’d like to clarify why.

Note: For the one or two people who e-mailed me, I cannot offer professional advice on these aids. This is my experience with the Synchro and I am not an audiologist in any way, shape, or form. Please see a licensed audiologist who holds an Au.D (doctorate of audiology) for diagnosis and professional advice.

I had the opportunity to test drive these within the last two weeks at both the Writing Center’s tutor retreat and in class. I’ve noticed that, with the programming as it was set, the aids skipped massive amounts of information from the faculty. For instance, in the middle of a lecture, he might be talking about the existence of power within the mass media — I would catch about 60% of the sentences and be able to understand them, with the other 40% being heard but not comprehended. This would seem to be a programming problem — which is what my audiologist thinks it is — but I’m not so sure.

The Synchro’s essential goal is to give hearing aid users something closer to normal hearing. I’ve italicized “normal” here because I don’t know what normal hearing is — my loss is considered severe at around 70dB in both ears, and I’ve had that loss since birth. I’ve never had the opportunity to experience normal hearing, so I don’t know what I’m missing and don’t know how to handle that kind of input. The Synchro brings the user closer to experiencing that input, which may simply have been too much for me to be able to cope with. As someone with no natural hearing experience whatsoever, my brain isn’t wired to accept those kinds of input, and may be experiencing some form of sensory overload. It’s perhaps because of the amount of information fed in through the aids that I wasn’t completely able to comprehend what my faculty was saying in lecture.

The thing that’s very strange about these aids — which my mother rightly pointed out — is that they are supposed to be able to take data from an audiogram (which is basically a measurement of how well you hear) and adjust itself to a hearing loss based on that data. However, technology is never that easy — the Synchro’s software is very programmable and tweakable, perhaps to an extreme. As you add on layers of complexity, you also add on the ability to screw up royally. The amount of time it’s taken to get my hearing aids working the way I need them to has gone up exponentially with each new aid model. Switching from analog to digital incurred a series of appointments with my audiologist (I seem to recall around 6) just to get the aids working properly in the environments I was in. Switching from the Adapto to the Synchro threatened to require just as much effort and commuting. This is completely not what you would expect when you hear that an aid is supposed to adapt itself to an audiogram and a specific loss.

The final verdict seems to be that, number one, the programming was insufficient, and that, number two, there was no time to tweak the programming to satisfactory levels — basically, bad timing and possibly incompatible technology. Now, this isn’t to say that the Synchro wouldn’t be right for someone else, but for someone with my kind of severe loss with very particular needs for noise levels and noise compression, it may not be the right aid at all. Again, my audiologist is convinced that given more time to be able to tweak the aids, it would work. My counterargument to that is that my audiologist gave me a 30-day return policy on those aids (which they then graciously extended another 20-30 days on request). It is my opinion that within those thirty days, the customer needs to be satisfied with their aids. Satisfaction means being able to utilize the technology comfortably in all situations a user may encounter, without the need for dramatic programming changes. In this regard, we didn’t succeed. If we can’t meet those requirements within a thirty day window while still respecting the restrictions imposed upon us by distance, then what’s the point? What does it say that, when going into a class situation, I missed major components of a lecture regardless of the fact that the entire class was aware of my hearing loss, including the faculty? That’s a clear reflection on the technology. I have a lot of patience when it comes to technology, but when it comes to my hearing, I can’t afford to screw around.

Hopefully, this has given people insight into what it’s like to be a hearing impaired person. I will continue to post details from time to time — that is, when I feel like it — about being hearing impaired. I fully encourage people to e-mail me about this, but please include the words “Oticon Synchro” in your e-mail so that I don’t disregard it as spam.