Blue Key

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

Whenever I am surfing the internet for sign language video’s, such as SignStation, I’m getting lots of messages against a flashing blue background, called blue key.

This is kind of annoying me, but also surprising me. It seems that, for some, if you want to be serious about sign language media, you need a blue background.

However, the color blue as it appears in blue key screens, is meant to create the highest contrast possible with the human body. And exactly this high contrast is annoying my eyes.

Blue key screens are meant to be replaced with another image, for example of a forest or a weather map.

Even though, when people are creating a message in sign language, the myth exists that it should be filmed against such a blue screen.

Is it because deaf associations order a small studio and then find a blue screen in it, and then imagine they should use it?

It is appealing that in some countries the blue screen is used effectively (replaced by another image) and others don’t. And it is appealing as well that those countries who replace their blue-screen by another image are often strong DEAF-AWARE countries, such as the USA, Finland or Sweden.

What the hallway is for a house, is the background for a video. It makes the first impression and tells us more than you’d think.

In the first place, the background in a video tells us where the signer is located. In the city, a forest or at work.

When we see a signer against a blue screen, he’s obviously in a studio.

I don’t think the viewer wants a window on a studio, he’d rather like a window through the studio to another world.

It’d be much nicer if video’s that don’t need the blue backdrop would opt for a softer color (have a look at the curtain section of your local store). Or try to film the video against a real background, one that suits the context.

Don’t be afraid to experiment outside in your backyard, take the studio-lights to the office or go to the forest nearby.

But always make sure that there IS enough contrast between the skin-color and the background. Otherwise you’ve just jumped to the other side of the river.

New Website of VIA Interpreter Office

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

VIA has come with a revolutionary new website for Finnish Sign Language users.
We benchmarked it and used our hammer on this diamond, but it seemed almost rock-solid. Almost…

First I’d like to say in this review that I am very, very happy that Via, an interpreting office in Finland, has chosen to make their website accessible for Finnish Sign Language users.

I would advice any Sign Language Interpreting organization in the world to follow their footsteps, as Sign Language is their core business, and Sign Language users their customers.

The design of the Via website is very fresh, futuristic and appealing. It feels like a wink to virtual reality, in -The Matrix- style. A lot of new ideas have been implemented, which of course will inspire SignFuse and many others to create even better media in the future.

Have a look: Via Website (opens in new window)

When entering the site, the design is very clear. Avatars {?} are signing at a very nice pace. They don\’t sign all at the same time, so the eye doesn\’t get overloaded. The user gets control over which avatar {?} signs, by hovering the mouse over the it.
Interpreter shirts have different colours, putting the eye candy right where it belongs. Buttons on top of the main window repeat the same colors again. But it would have been nice to see a face in the button too. No face, no mimics, no intonation. Mimics are anyway an integral part of sign languages.

Browsing the site for a while, the sleek white background is making eyes tired. A softer colour would help.
For some more extended topics, one can select a subchapter. This is very useful when one needs to search or skip content.

A very revolutionary introduction in this new website, from my perspective, is the multiple choice feature (see screenshot on top). It uses the 3D space of sign language to set both options, very smart!
But it could be finetuned. It should have the option to have the question repeated. Visitors aren’t always very concentrated. Also a back-button in case you want to pick the other choice would be great.

Spoken about back-buttons, the browsers back-button has absolutely no use on this website, it reloads the whole thing.
This violates the rules of usability, every internet-user loves it’s browser’s back-button.
Even worse, when you try to navigate away from the site by going back, you are locked. That’s the most sad note I have to make on this beautiful site.

After all, it is great that no text has been used, unless absolutely neccessary. For example adresses are displayed nicely in text, much better than fingerspelling them. Good choice!

But the most brilliant feature is undoubtly the contact feature where one can send a message very easily over webcam. Yours to check it out!

I give it a huge 8/10 – the second best website created by a non-Deaf webdesign company I have ever seen, after Websourds.


EU regulations to forbid Deaf Vlogs?

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

Along the Times Online (thanks Christian), the European Commision is making a broadcasting proposal that would require video blogs (vlogs) to turn down.

The article is situated here: Times Online

It’s positive EU governments seem to be aware of the problems existing, and are trying to avoid extension of the broadcasting regulations towards the amateur video.

Mr. Woodward, the broadcasting minister said: “It’s common sense. If it looks like a TV programme and sounds like one then it probably is.”

I think one day YouTube and consorts will have grown so much towards TV Programmes that everyone can create one.

It gonna be a very tin line…

Broadcasting regulations were a good thing during the pre-internet era, when broadcasting meant reaching millions of people with a single program.

But internet is diversity and freedom of choice. Nowadays 1 person has access to millions of information resources instead of vice versa.

Broadcasting on the internet means reaching a small niche, such as the Deaf Vlogosphere does, or reaching a real big audience, as some hyped movies succeed in doing. When companies like YouTube are growing like they do now, the day that they will have their own shows and formats is not far.

It is going to be a huge political question to be solved. But as they proposed themselves, it should not hurt the new internet models, even if it were just for the huge amount of money.

Countries are non-existing on the internet. If the EU forbids Vlogs, Deaf people might just upload their Blogs on servers in India or on server-platforms somewhere on the pacific ocean.

Avatar or … Sign Language Interpreter?

picture by Keian_hk

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

Avatars appoint game characters, wouldn’t it be more correct in the following situation to use this term for interpreters? It could be rude still to call them humans…

The word “avatar” is frequently used in the computer gaming world to describe a graphical character, who is actually living inside the boundaries of the game. In older times, these were also called sprites.

In analogy to the living character in a game, I prefer to call interpreters inside a software program avatars as well. A, they are controlled by the user of the software (interaction) and B, they do speak sign language as their mother tongue inside the software. They don’t talk, they just know a Sign Language.

I will clarify this: in the real world where the interpreters are filmed for use in the software, they are humans, they are interpreters. But when the interpreters become part of the software and you have manipulating powers over them, it would be cruel to call them still human. More even, in the boundaries of the software where their film is living, they don’t know spoken or written language, Sign Language is the only language they know in the software. So we can’t call them interpreters anymore.

That’s why I suggest to use the word avatars, in analogy with the gaming naming conventions.

Video “Power of Media for the Deaf”

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

This coverage has been the very first product I made for SignFuse. This video is a research on what Media and New Media means for sign language users.

It turns out New Media is extremely important to share information in a visual language.

For this coverage I have also proudly been rewarded with Gold on the Finnish Culture days for the Deaf.

Language: Finnish Sign Language and Flemish Sign Language, English subtitles.
Length: 07’17”


Video 50 years of Finnish deaf culture days

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

The Finnish Deaf people had something to celebrate.
Exactly 50 years ago, the Culture Days were established. It has been a very popular event up to date.
3 days filled with Deaf culture, performed by Deaf people, in a rally to win the first prize.

For this intense event, I was asked to create a movie for the opening ceremony of the 50th Culture Days.

For me this was a huge honour, for a country with such a rich and proud Deaf history. No, I definitely didn’t have to think this over again.

Loaded with a huge bag of video archives (approx. 30 hours of video) in one hand and just one tiny Mini-DV tape in the other, I rushed to my video editing computer.

The Mini-DV tape contained the speech, performed by interpreter Markus Aro.

While I was browsing the huge archive, full of tape, recorded during previous Culture Days, I edited the speech, carried out by my friend Markus Aro.

As I didn’t want the interpreter to be in front of the video, but rather be the voice of the video, I cut away his body to just leave his hands and face.

Now that the movie had a head and hands, I just had to add the best parts of the archive.

Oops, there, a conflict!
I could not combine the signed speech with the archive images. Two moving images at the same time would be very confusing…
For a hearing audience, both an off-screen voice and a moving image can be blended together, with absolutely no conflict at all.
This seemed impossible to achieve for a Deaf audience… I have to admit it, I felt very jealous towards the hearing audience that they didn’t have this limitation.

So, the movie had to – no alternative available – alternate between moving pictures (archive) and signed speech. Anyway to make the alternations more exciting I have added hot flames for the transitions (see picture).

The choice of flames was related to the symbol of the culture days; a burning torch, but it was a question whether elder people would survive the trendy and young movie with spicy flames…
It were them to be honoured, with 50 years of Deaf Culture days written into their collective memory.

The Culture Days became a success with 1500 visitors, and so did this movie.

Fortunately many elder people expressed their joy of watching it.

SignFuse created the opening film for the Finnish Deaf Culture Days in Helsinki, 2006. In this 6 minute video, Markus Aro takes you on a journey back to 1956, when the first Culture Days were organized in Finland. A spicy mixture of new and old film illustrate the evolution in 50 years of tradition. The video was created for Kuurojen Liitto.

Unfortunately this video is not available. It is property of Kuurojen Liitto, the Finnish Deaf Association.


International Manual Alphabet??

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

Source: Technische Universität Wien

I have been asked by Helga Stevens to design a card for an international manual alphabet. But, wait… Is there anything like an International manual alphabet??

Many countries have very specific manual signs. Then I am not even talking about Japanese manual alphabets, Arabic or Russian ones…

I suppose most Deaf people know that many alphabets in the EU look very similar, even the American one. They tend to use the “international” alphabet.
They call it international, because Sweden, Portugal, Brittain and maybe even more countries in the EU are using a very different one. (the portuguese alphabet is related to the Swedish one)

But let’s narrow down again! Let’s be very egocentric, and cut those three countries off and let’s forget East Europe for 1 minute.
Now most countries have similar “A”‘s “B”‘s and “C”‘s, but what about the “T”, the “H” and the “P”?

Scandinavia has it’s own “international” manual alphabet, international means there they can use it between Nordic countries. (You find the international scandinavian alphabet on top of this page).

Central Europe has a very different “T” and “P”, in both their local as in their “international” manual alphabet.
France and relatives have even a very different “H”.

The “T” seems to be the most variating manual sign, as there is

    • the French version (open hand, thumb behind index)
    • the Belgian version (closed hand, index around thumb)
    • the Scandinavian version (closed hand, thumb above stretched index)
    • the American version (closed fist, thumb behind index)

And then there’s even this difference of “mainfinger”. The more south you go, the more often the thumb is used, also to spell “W” or “1”.
And the more north, the more the index finger becomes the maincharacter…

So, what do you think, is there something like an international alphabet in europe? And no, we should certainly not forget about East-Europe.

And, “International”, what does it mean?
Does it mean international relationships like in scandinavia, or does it mean the whole world?
Could an international manual alphabet ever exist?

Thank you for commenting this topic with your thoughts!

Website dfce 4

This is a very old post (2006), written by Sven Noben, founder of Signfuse. Several data (and links) in this article may be outdated.

Creating the website for DFCE 4 has been a real challenge and it was pure fun.

DFCE is an acronym for Deaf Free Camp Europe. It was founded by two Dutch people, Pepe Visscher and Maarten Vreugdenhil. The first summercamp was organized by them in Luxembourg, in 2003.

This year DFCE was up to it’s 4th edition, and me and my friend Carolien Doggen took the organization upon us.
We also had 7 great volunteers helping us around during the camp in Belgium.
It was a truly unforgettable experience.

But, back to the website of DFCE 4, we needed to spread the information about the camp among our international Deaf friends.
The traditional way of doing this in English didn’t seem us too fair.
We couldn’t expect them to understand English clearly, so we opted for a harder but challenging road; create the website purely in International Sign.

I was of course very interested in doing this, as I am studying New Media at the moment, and Sign Language was my core target to research in New Media.

We realized however that not all Deaf people are as good in International Sign and wanted to offer them a possibility to join in as well. Therefore we decided to subtitle everything in English. Hmmm yea, English…

In fact, this way, the DFCE website became one of the first websites, together with the SignFuse website, to be completely built in a sign language. Even better, it became the first website ever that offered accessibility for non-signing people. (No accessibility for the blind or deafblind though… Maybe next time.)

What a contradiction, websites used to be made accessible for the disabled, but now the website is made accessible for the non-disabled. Isn’t that powerful?
It made us feel much stronger, we were no longer the disabled, but the non-signers were.

Many other Deaf people got the same overwhelming feeling:

"I'm very suprised about the website of DFCE4."
"It's the best site that I've ever saw in Belgium. WOW" 
"This site is brilliant!!!"
"This website is fantastic!" 
"we are very surprised about your website"
"really super-website... wow!"
"Waauw. The website is fantastic and new."
"The website is wonderful!"
"This is really a super cool site!!! It's relaxed to enjoy this site in our own 'visual language'!!"
"Wow ! Congratulations for your excellent website ! A really good job, all visual... !"
"very cool theme in website with full informations in unbelievable sign language"
"Really is the website of DFCE very beautiful!!"
"This is really a wicked idea! Great website"

And we were so overwhelmed by their positive comments.

The movies? We just filmed them at a friends apartment that accidentally had a blue-tone painted wall. We pointed some simple desktop lights at us and signed the information right away.
The background images were grabbed at Flickr (licensed under creative commons) and everything was combined in Adobe Flash 7.

See? You don’t need a professional studio to do that. One can do it just at home!

And the camp? It has been a success 🙂