2004.02.13 – Weeks in the offing, I can make the epochal announcement that I am now using someone else’s blogging software: Axxlog now resides on young Matt Müllenweg’s server, using his WordPress software, which he laboriously custom-hacked for me. (Thanks, kiddo.).

I used to use Dean’s duct-taped-together software for the Bookblog and NUblog, but that’s now in a state in which I have to use a specific computer to edit an entry. I worry about the longevity of those postings. I may migrate this Weblog and other items to WordPress later, but for the moment, it’s an experiment.

The graphic design is an authorized reuse of Noel D. Jackson’s PhotoStack page, and the stylesheet requires improvements. Nonetheless, it’s valid code and it brings me into the 21st century.

Of particular interest is my month-long examination of the accessibility issues with the TiVo-manqué “personal video recorder” I have on loan.  

Go to the new site →

2003.11.21a – Updates have been slow in part because manually adding to this page is so twentieth-century. Assuming some coöperation, Matt Müllenweg and I will be installing his WordPress logging software shortly.  

In the interim:

2003.11.21b, 24 – As mentioned before, some software DVD players can display Line 21 closed captions. Finally, DVD Player on Mac OS 10.3 can do the same.

Except it’s broken.

Visual evidence

I happen to have actual photographs of correct Line 21 caption rendering from my ATypI presentation. I am able to do a compare-’n’-contrast. I also ran a few custom screenshots.


DVD Player cannot get the alignment right. In part this is due to Apple’s insistence on using a proportionally-spaced font (Lucida Grande), which is flat-out wrong and represents a prettying-up of the primitive 1979-era Line 21 spec. Line 21 captions are monospaced, full stop.

‘South Park,’ correctly: [ Imitates Dying Giraffe ]
‘South Park,’ incorrectly: [ Imitates Dying Giraffe ]

Captions, Inc.’s carefully-wrought hanging punctuation becomes carelessly-wrecked hanging punctuation in DVD Player:

‘Moulin Rouge’ with hung dash, staffnote, spaces
‘Moulin Rouge’ with mangled, misaligned hung dash, staffnote, spaces

More alignment problems? How about Gattaca?

‘Gattaca,’ correctly: [ Man ]:  WELL, I THINK WE CAN RULE OUT SUICIDE. ¶ [ Man #2 ]  EXCLUSE ME, SIR?
‘Gattaca,’ incorrectly: [ Man ]:  WELL, I THINK WE CAN RULE OUT SUICIDE. ¶ [ Man #2 ]  EXCLUSE ME, SIR?

I can tell you but cannot really show you that DVD Player also simply fails to display many captions, particularly if they move quickly. Further, its display of pop-on captions is not really correct: The entire caption is supposed to appear instantaneously, whereas DVD Player does something akin to the paint-on style. You can see the caption forming.

Something I can show you is how DVD Player mangles captions:

Mangled dual caption blocks from ‘Jackass: The Movie’
Mangled caption from ‘Jackass: The Movie’ (1)
Mangled caption from ‘Jackass: The Movie’ (2)

In fact, the very simplest alignment possible, flush left, is well beyond the abilities of DVD Player:

Flush-left captions with staggered left margins (1)
Flush-left captions with staggered left margins (2)



The character background is translucent. A nice prettying-up, certainly, but contrary to the EIA-608 spec, which requires black backgrounds by default. (Other backgrounds may optionally be provided.)

DVD Player preferences let you select the foreground colour and degree of transparency, however. Certainly a nice feature, but the program should default to the spec.

DVD Player preferences


Italic handling is terrible. To turn the following on or off within a row –

– you must send a control code that produces a visible space. The Caption Center’s technique of using lower-case italics within parentheses obliges them to set a space inside the parens. It doesn’t look so bad even if it violates English orthography, meaning it must someday be eliminated.

DVD Player, however, deletes the first blank space (the italic-on code), retains the last one, and apparently italicizes the whole line, or at least it starts italics one character to the left of where they are commanded to begin.

Let’s do a simple comparison, from Road to Perdition:

Italics, correctly: ( chuckles )
Italics, incorrectly: (chuckles )

It looks even worse with a descending italic capital J.

Bungled italics: (Johnny snickering )

Staffnotes: vs.

Did you notice something else? DVD Player gets an extremely important glyph wrong. The staffnote character, , is misrendered as some kind of double staffnote, . Its true nature is an eighth note, Unicode U+266A EIGHTH NOTE, rather than DVD Player’s prettied-up and entirely incorrect U+266B BARRED EIGHTH NOTES. This error is akin to replacing every neutral apostrophe with neutral double quotes.

[Aside for the skeptical: Windows users will find this trivial, but they are the ones unable to differentiate single characters with two elements from two occurrences of single characters that vaguely resemble the other set. (Canonical example: Comprehensive Distributors seems to think guillemets « » are merely two less-than and two greater-than signs: << >>.) But do you think ' and " are interchangeable? Why would and be, then?]

Things worsen in the case of some captioners’ peccadillo of ending songs with double staffnotes, which suddenly morph into double barred staffnotes. The rendering becomes long enough to actually be played on a piano if you can read music.

‘South Park’ double staffnote (now DOUBLE BARRED EIGHTH NOTE)

Offscreen display

DVD Player lets you activate something I’ve been calling for since 1989 (and experiencing for two years using the MoPix system): Offscreen display.

‘Laurel Canyon’: Offscreen caption display

Except you can’t change the font, size, or background colour, which are distinctly relevant here to accommodate low-vision and colourblind viewers. Trust me, they’re out there. (If you selected a new foreground colour in your preferences, it stays in effect in the external window.)

And I think you should be able to choose to preserve or ignore left and right positioning, which is not optional in pop-on captioning. (You the viewer could choose to ignore it if you thought it was superfluous on your offscreen window. But let’s not make that decision for people.)


When a DVD Player window is minimized in Exposé, captions continue to be displayed – in exactly the same spot they would be if the window were foremost and maximized. Smack dab in the middle of everything else, in other words.

DVD Player and Exposé: Caption smack dab in the middle of the screen

Actually, DVD Player loses more lines than usual in that mode, and while it is lots of fun to watch a DVD in a minimized Exposé window, the caption display is wrong several ways.

Subpictures stay in the minimized window even when closed captions are on. Separate decoding processes are clearly underway here.

Getting it wrong the second time

The Line 21 captioning spec is old. Old-old-old. It’s coming up to its thirtieth anniversary. It’s been lightly and inadequately updated twice by semicompetents with no typographic knowledge whatsoever. It is such an easy spec to meet that caption-decoding chips, required in most U.S. television sets, aren’t even chips anymore; caption decoding is built into other chips, like TV tuners.

I know from a source that Apple wrote its own caption-decoding software for those computers.

A mere ten years later, institutional memory appears to have been erased. One can imagine how that happened, since Steve killed the Worldwide Disability Solutions Group in 1995. I also doubt many of the old Performa hardware and System 7 developers are still in Apple’s employ.

I presume that Apple wrote captioning support from scratch for DVD Player. The task is orders of magnitude easier to get right than DVD support, which has been viable since at least the old Blue & White G3s (especially the Revision 2 hardware-decoding models preferable at that time). Yet here we are in 2003 and Apple blew it.

Are things this bad using Windows DVD players?

Production credits

VH1: Behind the Documentation of Pervasive Captioning Bugs. You Are There!

2003.11.21c – Via eBay, I am now the proud owner of an original TeleCaption decoder. It’s easily 20 years old, and I never, ever had one before.

Remember, I started this business when I was a teenager. We were poor New Brunswickers, and my mother was opposed to my interest in captioning. So no decoder: No money, no permission.

I eventually bought a TeleCaption II, which I also still have, in 1988.

So now I guess I am embarking on a quest to excavate other archaic decoders, like the 3000, 4000, and MyCap Jr. All it takes is money. Which I now have enough of.