Archive for the ‘Deafness’ Category

Dear Morgan,

Do you ever have those moments when you say something, then realise perhaps it didn’t come out quite the way it should have?

I rarely get embarrassed, but last night was probably my most embarrassing moment since I packed myself up in the rocketship and crash landed down here in the top of the South Island…  It was like this…

Background:  Because I’m totally deaf at night, I have no way of waking up in the morning, except by a special alarm clock.  Instead of making a noise, it wakes you up by vibrating.  Quite simple, and most of my deaf friends and I simply call it ‘The Vibrator’.  We don’t even think of associate ‘vibrator’ with anything but our alarm clocks.  It’s a simple contraption and very effective.  You simply set the time, then clip it to yourself or to the pillow.  Go to sleep.  At the designated time you will be vibrated awake.

So last night at our committee meeting the conversation went something like this…

Me: ‘So what time should I pick you up on Sunday?”

Committee member: “Well we have to be at the station by 8.00am”

Me: “That’s okay I’ll just use my vibrator that morning”

Silence.  Laughter.  Silence.  Laughter.

Me – finally realising what I’ve said:  Vibrating alarm clock!”

Too late.  I do hope they don’t add it to the newsletter!!! The group hasn’t really realised the significance of me being embarrassed!!! A very rare event indeeed!!!!  Maybe I should give my clock a name instead?

Cheers

Robyn

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Dear Robyn,

Those inventions you came up with in your last blog post are great. The “hand-held machine that would ‘hear’ any conversation then ‘instantly caption’ speech” is an awesome idea. Imagine that, being able to walk into any movie theatre or watch any TV programme without having to worry about whether captions are provided or not. Or see what someone is saying if you can’t quite hear or lipread them. That would solve some really annoying problems if translators were readily available. I am surprised they aren’t already though because as far as I can tell the technology is more or less available now to do this. However, it doesn’t seem to be designed especially for translating entire conversations on portable devices for anyone who wants to have a complete conversation or, if it could also instantly translate one language to another – travellers wanting to chat with people who speak a different language. That said, I don’t see why it couldn’t because the following technology does exist at present:

  • Dragonspeak for iPhone which can be used to convert spoken words into text for sending text messages. Unfortunately looks like it is designed mostly for short messages, not conversations, but the regular PC installation is used for creating entire Word documents.
  • Voice recognition software in cellphones used mainly for controlling functions like “voice dial”.
  • Filtering software such as is already used in your implant to reduce annoying background noise in busy situations. Something you’d probably want the device to do if it is to translate a single conversation in a noisy environment like a cafe.
  • To have a built in mic, a clear screen and portability. All of these things are extremely common on iPhones and other types of cellphones and portable devices.

So really what you are after mainly requires the integration of the above but with the software having a focus on translating long conversations. And to go a step further there are already rough language translators, for example  Google Translate which doesn’t do a bad job. I use it often when I am reading the German newspaper. It’s always close enough to understand the translation even though it is not perfect. It would be enough for travellers to speak to locals without any knowledge of their language and be understood.

I had a look around on the net expecting some complete technology like this to leap out at me that already does what you want but couldn’t find anything easily. But it looks like all the technology to create a more purpose built solution is there so maybe all that is needed is for someone to integrate it all and make a downloadable app for popular phones and devices.

Your animal interpreter machine is a neat idea too. I would love to know exactly what my pets are saying to me also.  Granted, it’s fairly easy for us humans to work out the basics of what Fluffy and Fido are saying already without extra help. We do share basic psychological similarities with animals after all. Fluffy running up to you when you walk in the door, smooching your leg and purring loudly means “hello”. Fido growling loudly while chewing a bone is almost certain to mean “back off buster, this is all mine! Don’t make me add your leg to my collection”. Different animals seem to have little trouble understanding basics either. The cat would understand Fido’s growling also and leave well alone. Mind you, having said we share similarities with animals, if you come running up to me and smooch my leg at the airport or growl at the dinner table I am NOT going to come to Blenheim to visit you!

But not all animal sounds are that easy to interpret unless you are an animal psychologist. My parrot Gibson makes some sounds that I can recognize what they are easily. Squawking grumpily at me when I cover his cage at night means “hey! I haven’t finished watching the tele yet!” and Dave and Harry (my canaries) singing pretty tunes means “hey girls, we’re over here!” But sometimes if I am talking to Gibson he’ll come right up close to my face and purr loudly like a cat (I kid you not). We don’t have a cat and he has never heard one so this must be legitimate bird language. I have no idea what he is saying and I’d love to know! He could be telling me anything, “hey man check this out, I can do cat impersonations” or “hmmm yes, I agree with you totally, Turing Machines would work better with five heads” or “hey honey, want to come back to my place?” (which is a bit disturbing since he says this to Phil also….) But it would be cool if I could find out in a few seconds what he is really saying or tell him something in bird speak. “Gibson, please clean up your cage” would be a good start…

Another thing I’ve actually seriously considered inventing myself before is a portable device you can put on your table in noisy cafes or places that will filter out background noise so you can hear the people you are talking to easily. I personally find it really annoying trying to chat with my friends in cafes when there is loud background music blaring and everyone shouts over it to be heard. Seems to be a really common complaint so I thought of these two solutions.

  1. A directional white or pink noise generator that masks out some of the background noise at a certain radius away from you. Preferably installed in your cellphone so you can take it anywhere, the idea being you just stick it on the corner of the table and it creates a private space for you – like taking your own walls everywhere. This sort of thing is used already in a bigger sizes – namely the fountains that are installed in the middle of shopping centres and food courts are there to cover up competing conversations. When I asked my Dad (an experienced electronics whiz) about this idea he revealed that in the 1970s his company was involved in inventing something like this for office blocks so whole buildings could generate white noise and make areas people could hear each other better in. The idea didn’t catch on at the time unfortunately, but then, new clever ideas often don’t catch on the first time even though they do years later.There might be some problems with this though. Firstly any unit would have to produce a signal of good enough quality to work. Bit of a challenge on a cellphone. And as my Dad points out, our local shopping centre probably got rid of the fountain because it made people run off to the toilet more often and the Centre’s cleaning costs went up! Perhaps that was the reason the technology his company were developing never took off either. Who wants their employees spending the whole day in the bathroom instead of working!
  2. The second idea is reverse phasing. The unit samples background noise a certain distance away from you, reverse phases it and emits the reversed (inside out) signal again. The effect of this is to cancel out sounds altogether so they become silent. Although that sounds like science fiction this is a simple trick we used to use in the recording studio for removing undesirable sounds from recordings (like record crackle, generator sounds from live gigs or to remove the lead vocal from a recording so someone else could sing over the remaining instrumental tracks). Some people have been playing around with this already with the intent of making say, vehicles that are silent. But realistically, who the hell wants to be run over because they didn’t hear the Mac truck coming down the road? People would get used to this and learn to look more carefully, but I’m sure animals would be completely confused. It would also be inconvenient for blind people who navigate by sound. An odd side effect of that could be that if you didn’t produce the reverse phased signal 100% in sync with the original you could get flanging – a sort of strange, out of this world swooshing sound that musicians use deliberately in recordings to make psychodelic effects (e.g. guitars sounding like they are flying past on jet engines.) So, considering live sound might always have a slight delay between sampling and reproduction, this might produce an effect that is either slightly annoying at one extreme or makes people feel like they’ve been teleported back to flower power days and have been smoking something illegal at worst! And even more disconcerting would be that if some of the sampled sound happened to be in the exact same frequency you were talking in it would seem as if your own voice is cutting out! Now that would be freaky!
  3. The third idea is the best of all and comes from my Dad. Obtain some cotton wool, some string and two empty tin cans. Poke two holes in the bottom of the cans and attach string. Then stuff cotton wool in one ear. Now you have the perfect solution. Just hold a can up to the ear without wool, pull string tight and you and your companion can have a private conversation no problem! Damn! I knew the best solutions were the simplest!

Somehow I don’t know that this invention is very far away. The ideas I’ve put there use standard audio physics that is very commonly understood by sound engineers. But there are also inventions with hypersonic sound (or rather, producing sound using ultrasound). In the video at the end of my post, Woody Norris shows off his invention which places sound wherever you want it and can be used for applications like directional advertising in supermarkets (you hear an ad only when you are standing directly in front of it), or, as he notes, the military could use it to create the sound of fake troop movements in places there are no troops! He also has inventions for cancelling out sound like I’ve just mentioned and came up with an application I never thought off – cancelling out the sound of your partner snoring! Now that is something I could do with!

Morgan 🙂

Video of Woody Norris talking at TED about Hypersonic Sound

Image by Per Hardestam

Dear Morgan,

As if swimming pools were enough, now I have to worry about sleeping at night…  I have the proof…

It’s enough to make a grown woman cry!  I don’t wear my implant at night and I won’t hear it swim to get me!

Cheers

Robyn

Dear Robyn,

I had a lot of fun this week laughing at the poems Lia wrote about us. I wonder though how many people thought she was exaggerating when she wrote about what scares us. The first time you told me you were phobic of sharks I thought that sounded perfectly reasonable until you mentioned they were sharks……in SWIMMING POOLS! Hilarious! I can just imagine trying to get you to swim with me would go like this:

.

Me: “Hey Robyn, I’m going swimming, want to come?”
You: “In a pool?”
“Yes”
“I can’t swim in a pool”
“Why not?”
“There might be a shark in there”
“(WTF!) Sharks can’t go in swimming pools”
“I know”
“So what’s the problem then?”
“Well, there might still be one in there anyway”
“But if you can see there is no shark in the pool what is there to worry about?”
“Well,..It might sneak in secretly when I’m not looking!”
“Sneak in? How is it going to get in there?”
“Through the filter system”
“Eh?! What sort of size shark are we talking about? A wee baby one or something bigger?”
“A Great White”
“How the hell is a GREAT WHITE going to squeeze in through the filter system?!”
“Um.. well, it might be one of those special ones with a body evolved especially for squeezing into filter systems”
“No sharks have ever evolved to exploit swimming pools. Richard Dawkins would have mentioned it!”
“Well, they could, there’s a first time for everything!”
“Er…. do sharks drink coffee in cafes too?”
“No, don’t be silly, of course they don’t! How the hell would a shark get into a cafe?”
“It might squeeze in through the milk frother”
“Now you are just being ridiculous. There are no sharks in Cafes”
“True, let’s just go and drink coffee!”

But it gets worse. I have been petrified of the tele ever since I was 4. How ridiculous is that! And not just stuff that most people would think is supposed to be scary but also really stupid stuff like music videos, kids cartoons and 15” ads. I am not 100% sure it is really a phobia. Maybe just the result of having a nervous disposition, super hyperactive imagination and a brain that insists on thinking about everything from 50,000 different angles in lots of depth whether I want it to or not. Looking for the truth behind the truth behind the truth and coming to the final conclusion in under 0.2 of a second that “WE’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!” Next Tuesday actually… right after lunch.” Which is true. Eventually!

(Case in point, when I was a kid Watership Down came out. My class watched it and all the kids thought it was a great movie about cutesy bunnies – except me who thought it was about police states, tyrannical Generals, vicious and cruel bullies, escapees being mutilated and put on display by them to discourage other escapes, insidious plots, the destructiveness of mankind, being farmed for food, buried alive, shot, stuck in traps, beaten up, bullied, frightening visions, blood filled fields and war. Which it basically is. Not sure what my classmates thought was cute about a story that starts with the line “Why do you cry out thus unless at some vision of horror?” I clearly missed the plot somewhere).

So you trying to get me to watch a movie with you would go something like this:

You: “Hey Morgan, want to come to my house and watch Watership Down on tele with me?
Me: “Sorry I can’t, I have a really, really important project I have to do tonight.”
“Work?”
“No.”
“What?”
“Razor my eyeballs”
“Ew painful. Wouldn’t you rather watch the movie with me? Way more fun. I have chocolate!”
“No. I’m happy with razoring my eyeballs thanks! I’ve been looking forward to it all week.”
“Well, that won’t take you long. How about you come over after you’re done?”
“Impossible sorry”
“Impossible?”
“Well, after I’ve finished doing my eyeballs I have to drown myself in the handbasin…so it could be rather a long time before you see me.”
“Wait a second… are you saying you are scared of the little cutesy bunny wabbits?”
“Yes”
“But they are only line drawings like Bugs Bunny.”
“And your point is?”
“THEY AREN’T REAL!”
“How does that make a difference?”
“Sigh. Well, I’d really love to see you but I don’t want to miss the movie so how about you come over and I’ll watch with the sound off and lip read the bunnies and you can hide under the sofa with Kass the cat and read your book by torchlight and I’ll pass you  bits of chocolate on a long stick?”
“Sounds good. See you in half an hour.”

Anyway, since we have such silly phobias I thought we should at least have the courtesy to invent some Greek names for them since there don’t seem to be any yet. That will be because no one else is stupid enough to have phobias like this. Also I found out you have to do this in Greek apparently otherwise “fear-of-some-thingummywhatsit” doesn’t sound impressive and scientific enough. So far I got:

Selachophobia = fear of sharks.

Kinimatografophobia = fear of  films (but not being Greek theoretically speaking I could be saying anything. Fear of nostril hair for instance).

And just as I was feeling proud of myself for figuring out that lot I came across this impressive gem:

Hexakosioihexekontahexaphobia = fear of the number 666

Damn it! If I am going to have a phobia I at least want one with a decent sized name. Hmm how about:
Kinimatografohexakosioihexekontahexaphobia = fear of films with the number 666 in! (or if I am wrong, I’ve just said fear of films with 666 nostril hairs!)

A few days ago you hit a record number of comments to something you said on your Facebook page and it evolved into this topic and a couple of people joked that you and I should take our collective phobias to Waiwera Hot Pools where they have a Movie Pool and watch Jaws together! They have a sick sense of humour but I think we could do it. How’s this for a plan?

You bring the sexy guys Lia was talking about in her poem (I’m liking this already). Kass the cat and I will come kitted out in full scuba diving gear with a water proof book (anyone who knows where I can have scuba gear made for a burmese cat please contact me….) This way the two sexy guys can patrol the waters and keep imaginary sharks at bay with imaginary spear guns.  And Kass and I will be able to hide under the water in the scary bits and read (or check the filter system for stray Whites). There could be a slight complication where Kass and I overheat and die before the end of the movie but that’s just a minor shortcoming in my opinion. Done! See you there next weekend.

Cue shark music:
Doo….Dom…. Doo….Dom… Doo Dom Doo Dom DOO DOM DOO DOM DOODOMDOODOM

Morgan 🙂

Dear Morgan,

I’ve recently become involved in lobbying for more captioning on New Zealand Television.  At present, we get captions on TV channels, 1,2, and a few programmes on channel 3.  This is funded by New Zealand on Air and TVNZ are committed to carry on with this service, despite the Teletext service being dropped, as long as NZ on Air carry on funding it.  The Teletext service will be pared back to what it was originally set up for, for the Deaf.

This is great, but I, as a deaf person, would like to have more choice of programmes.  I’d like to be able to choose to watch Prime, or even subscribe to Sky Television, but no captions are available on any other channels than the ones above.

In New Zealand, we have approximately 430,000 Deaf or Hearing Impaired people.  Approximately 10% of the population.  Of those, probably half of those people have hearing loss that depend on the captioning service for their relaxation, and their access to current affairs.

In America, they have a law called the American Disabilities Act, which makes it compulsory for all television to be captioned.  In the UK, Australia and Ireland, they also have a law that makes it compulsory to caption all prime-time viewing.  In New Zealand, we have no such law.

We have gone to the Human Rights Commission to see if we had a case, but unfortunately they do not cover language, and captioning is a form of language.

It seems ludicrous that Sky TV/Prime is fully captioned in Australia, yet they do not make those captions available here for us in New Zealand.  The reason?  Because they don’t have to as they are not required by law outside Australia.

Personally I think Sky Television have their head in the sand about this.  If cost is the factor, they only have to look at their possible new customer base of Deaf People subscribing to Sky for the captions.  Even if only quarter of the deaf population subscribed, that’s 100,000 x $50 a month.   Not bad money.  Heck, if I had a potential to gain that many new customers, I’d go out of my way to give those customers access to what I had to offer.

But right now, Sky Television effectively cuts off Deaf and Hearing Impaired people’s access to their services.

Which brings me to an interesting question.  Should businesses have moral obligations to their customer base, in this case the Deaf and hearing impaired population of New Zealand.  Or should they only have to operate to the letter of the law, and no more?

I’ve used the Deaf or deaf as an example here, but I believe the question should be asked for every business in New Zealand.  In my opinion it’s going the extra mile.  Inclusion.

I’d be very interested to see all opinions voiced.

Cheers

Robyn