Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Figuring Out Why Sounds, Sound That Way.

In the world of Cochlear Implants, and in many cases of new technology hearing aids, the science of it all is baffling to me.

Although a cochlear implant and a "hearing aid" are as different as night and day, the way the sound is processed, is similar. At one time hearing aids were analog. Now new technology presents the sound in a digital format. I have never worn hearing aids, my world of hearing went from the ears and working cochlea that God gave me, to a surgically implanted array of electrodes and a tiny computer the size of my finger nail embedded millimeters inside my head. The show and tell of the system is the mic and the BTE (behind the ear) gizmo, that attaches to a magnet, that sticks to the tiny computer, that is implanted in my head, that takes the sound, that sends it to the man made electrodes, that fires it at my brain...........
and this is the sound that Jack built!!!

Digital aids (both hearing aids and cochlear implants) work in a different way than the everyday world of analog sound that most of world hears by in our Horton Hears a Who ear.
Digital devices, take the signal from the microphone, and convert it into "bits" of data - ("0s" and "1's") - numbers that can be manipulated by a tiny computer in the processing part of the system. This makes it possible to tailor and process sounds very precisely, in ways that are impossible with analog aids. The bits representing the sound are analyzed and manipulated by algorithms (a set of instructions) to perform precise, complex actions, and are then converted back into electricity, which is finally changed back into sound that gets fired at my auditory nerve, or in the case of a digital hearing aid, goes into the ear.

This process happens very rapidly: there are several million calculations occurring in the processor per second. The numbers can be manipulated in almost any way imaginable, and this is what gives the digital hearing processor its big advantage. The binary numbers can perform numerous complex calculations that create very precise sound in theory.
The process is how I understand it and really a compilation of many discussions with audiologists, medical people and some users.
Best way to illustrate is to walk through my world:

You say "Hello David"
and my sound processor picks up speech and environmental sounds It then codes the information and send it to implanted part in my head, through the use of radio waves and a magnet. The implanted part of the system transmits signals to the auditory nerve, which carries them to the brain.

A cochlear implant does not correct hearing loss. In fact, it bypasses the normal hearing pathway, in which sounds travel through the outer, middle, and inner ear to reach the auditory nerve. (You see, my inner stuff got broken in a "medical firestorm" 14 months ago, So we need to bypass all the broken parts). A cochlear implant stimulates the auditory nerve directly. The brain then learns to take this electrical code and "interpret" it as speech. All of this happens as fast as your gums flap.

So what I "hear" is a really a mile long string of zero's and one's or digital code.

Someone had to write that "code" or turn the "sound" into a string of zeros and ones, so I could interpret it.

What got me pondering this way too complicated issue, was listening to the new President elect speech last night. I have never heard Obama's voice in my hearing days, so as I listened to him talk, my version of his voice is through a long string of digital code. "Binary speak" as I call it. I have no idea if it is how you hear him. I have not a single memory of his voice to draw on, since I was "introduced to him, long after I lost my hearing. No memory to use. So it is purely a mechanical algorithms.

My question, or where I really am going with this post, is this: Is what I "hear" (as all this process happens), just an interpretation of a software writers interpretation of the sound?

Perhaps what also got me thinking of this, is a more general thought on music and sound.

Is what we hear, and how we feel about what we hear in life, our own interpretation of it. Or is it how everyone hears it. Do all sounds, sound the same to everyone? Does Bob Dylan sound the same to me as he does to you?

If not, then that would explain likes and dislikes. I like a certain sound or feel in my old music listening days. Lets say that I liked Jazz. Is it because of my upbringing, my hard wiring, a product of my genetic code, or because of how I "heard" it or how my brain interpreted it?

I like a certain actors voice. Some people don't. Is it how I or we interpret it, or is there more to it?

If all sound, is our own personal interpretation of it. Then what I hear now, is really how that sounds, sound like to a software writer. The person who wrote the code, that fires the string of zero's and one's at my auditory nerves, writes them as he hears them. Calls them how he sees them really eh? What if this person and I don't hear ear to ear?

Phone rings and I now hear "braaaaaaaaaaaacccccccccccccccckkk". It never sounded like that before I got a CI. It used to "brrrrrrinnnnnnnggg". Is it because my writer interpreted it like a "brack" sound in his world, so he wrote the code based on that.

Many things sound different. Speeder's bark is quite different. I often wonder if it is because the writer never knew his sound, or his personality, so how could he even be close? I know my brain plays a huge part in this digital system. My memory is accessed in nano seconds when I get sound. This is huge in voice recognition. If I had no memory everyone would sound the same.
Memory access is key as it places the nuances of speech that my memory serves me with, of that person. Bad side to that is, when my son talks, I hear him in his "old' voice, before it changed. So this 14 year old boy sounds like a little kid. It changed when I had no hearing for 9 months.

I don't know, just got me wondering about the person that wrote my software, and if he or she was a jazz fan, or if he heard a doorbell differently than I did in my old hearing life.

Probably more important things to do than think about this, but it does indeed provoke thought.

What if the writer was Celine Dion fan?




Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why I Love Telemarketers!

At this time last week, we were at the end of our rope of pain for Janet. She took morphine like they were chocolate Macaroons. . She took them in three's every 3 hours. The pain stayed.
Yes, she felt "somewhat" relaxed, but the pain was a dog that laid at the doorstep. This journey from a minor pain in legs over the summer grew and grew and grew.
It manifested in her shoulders, knees, and throat.
Were it not for a discovery that her Luekemia had indeed come back, and manifested itself as huge breast lumps, we would not have got her hospitalized and attended to so magnificently.

Yes, magnificent is an interesting word to describe Cancer treatment, but after 5 days in care, chemo, and steroid drips, she is a new lady!

I will pick her up Monday morning, and we will re group as a team, and tackle the things that married folks and parents tackle.
It has been a while since she has been part of the team. She laid in pain for the better part of August and September, and slept most of the time. Today when I visited, I saw a light in her that I have not seen since June. A fiery girl that wants to get back to the huge neighborhood walks, the fall gardening, and some big house projects that have been on hold for a long time.
We talked today and caught up on all the wonderful things that guitar boy has been up to.
Dan is our favorite subject!

We are back!

I have a physio therapy that is on going. It is a therapy that when I master it, will give the illusion that I have balance.
I have no balance since the firestorm that took out my ears and the accompanying gear that directs one to walk upright and normal.
Labyrinthitis is the technical term. It is one of the last remaining (other than my profound deafness) ailments that makes me walk like I just left the frat house after a few Friday night keggers. Except I have nary a sip of the brew that causes the tilt in some.

So I go to a lady that provides me with vestibular and ocular therapy. It tricks my brain into thinking that all is good and it is ok to walk straight. It is pretty cool stuff, mostly homework, but I see her once every two or three weeks to get my next level of stuff to help me one day join the circus.

On the 30th of the month, I will go to Audiologist that is part of the cochlear team.
We will try some more strategies to make "sound out of pulses" in my latest cochlear on board computer that refuses to play with me.
I want it to work, and will not be happy to just let it sit. Even if it means re implanting the sucker, I am ready to go into surgery at the drop of scapel.

My left side CI ramps up better and better every day. I am a hearing machine!
I am on to the phone use big time. I love telemarketers because I get to practice.
"Would Mr of Mrs....... be in"?
"We will be on your street this week doing windows, can we offer a ....."?
""Can you tell me more about it" I inquire.
They think they have a hot prospect, but in reality I am just a CI Guy who needs to hear voices on the phone. Lots of them.
Men and women.
The more the merrier, and long conversation and lots of it is best.

So they ramble excitingly as I interject with "again" or "repeat please", and hone my telephone skills.

Men are tough, women not so bad.
Practice is paying off, and I know feel safe on our land line.
I conquered my Blackberry about a month ago, and love the quality that it treats my cochlear implant processor with. The speaker and the digital sound works well with my Mr. T mic.

So I will continue to work on mastering some Cirque du Soleil moves, and perfect my telemarketing skills.
I am over the moon that my lover and best friend, that I have been married to for 19 years next week, will be home to see my progress.
Maybe I'll get out the balance beam and impress her! :)

Dan and Speeder are as giddy as school boys as well.

Our life is good!



Thursday, August 7, 2008

Helping Change Lives.

Giving back is so rewarding.

Take Dave here: a 40 year old silicon valley high tech professional, working in Corporate Development / Mergers & Acquisitions, and running/building technology startups. He took 10 months off from work to pursue his dream of changing lives by giving back to the world community. His goal is to build 35 permanent houses in Colombia for victims of the violence in order to take as many as 200 displaced people off the street for the rest of their lives and keep an untold number of kids out of a life of prostitution and sexual exploitation.

He considered himself to be pretty lucky (his words) to be born in a part of the world where opportunity and prosperity abounds. He did pretty good in life so far, so he felt it would be the right thing to do, to give back something.
His goal to raise $150,000 to build the houses has long been passed. Last check in he has raised close to $200,000.
A simple twenty dollar donation hires a plumber or electrician for the day to help him in his quest to build these 35 homes.

Pretty simple.

Easy to do.

Do what you can, then do the best you can to make us better.