Thursday, December 30, 2010

Looking Forward to 2011... and Back at 2010

2010 marks my first full year of blogging here. I have to say, blogging is such a unique challenge, but it's so interesting to be a part of the blogging community.

In 2010 I posted 223 times, which I think is pretty good. Most of the time, I try to post four or five times a week - ideally, Monday through Friday with a break on weekends. I almost never post twice in the same day because I like to space things out. Most blogging sites say the more you post, the better, but for me, I've found I tend to get the most feedback and interesting comments if I leave a post at the top for a day or two.

As I write this, my most popular post is from March of 2010: "The Esteem, A Fully Implantable Hearing Aid, Gets FDA Approval." This post regularly gets hundreds of page views a week or even each day. I often wish I had more information about the Esteem for people who are interested in it. If anyone would like to talk on my blog about their personal experiences with the Esteem, I would gladly post your thoughts as a guest post.

According to the Blogger Stats about my blog, most people searching for keywords come to my blog from Google. Most people who come are searching for Androids apps for the deaf, information about tinnitus and yes, again, information about the Esteem. Interestingly, I can see from the stats that many Googlers are using Google via their Android-powered phones, but Blogger's Stats doesn't tell me the percentage. I'm happy I have a high portion of Linux readers - 13% of you are using a flavor of Linux and an additional 1% some other type of Unix.

Unfortunately I never seem to get any funny or off-the-wall searches for my blog like others do. Darn - it would make for some good end-of-the-year laughs. :) See you in 2011!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

See You in 2011!

Christmas Tree
This blog will be on hiatus until the New Year thanks to busy holidays! I will be returning with regular posts after January 1, 2011.

I've really enjoyed blogging this year - I can't believe Hearing Sparks has been going since October of 2009! Blogging is really such a great way to learn a lot, see things from other viewpoints, and meet interesting people.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday season and that the new year brings joy to all of you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Hands of My Father, by Myron Uhlberg

You know I like a book when I start writing down quotes from it. I'm not a quote person; I don't remember dialogue. I prefer ideas and concepts to the words people choose to express them in. But I gotta say, this book is written beautifully:

"Does sound have rhythm? Does it rise and fall like the ocean? Does sound come and go like wind?"
My father spoke with his hands. He was deaf. His voice was in his hands. And his hands contained his memories.
Sign is a live, contemporaneous, visual-gestural language and consists of hand shapes, hand positioning, facial expressions, and body movements. Simply put, it is for me the most beautiful, immediate, and expressive of languages, because it incorporates the entire human body.

Myron Uhlberg loves his family. The way he writes this memoir of his Brooklyn childhood expresses that in many ways. His childhood was not typical. As a CODA, a Child of Deaf Adults, and sibling to a brother afflicted with epilepsy and drugged into oblivion, Myron has to deal with a lot. He acts as his parents' translator and as a third parent to his brother. The family lives in the middle of a busy block in New York City, which provides immediate access to basic needs but also a surrounding often hostile to people who are different, who cannot approach the world in the same way as others. Myron recollects with candor the ignorant and rude remarks he receives from both children and adults while serving as a go-between for his parents.

He also shares stories from his parents' childhoods, the way they grew up. Both were surrounded by hearing brothers and sisters; they grew up with crudely fashioned homemade signs and never felt as close to their parents as they could have. Their stories are a very personal look at the way deafness was treated in the early part of the 20th century.

There are, of course, humorous moments as well, but they're very grounded in the realities of life. Combining the warm, human moments with the bad times in life, Uhlberg presents a very realistic and human memoir.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Is Nonverbal Vocal Communication Learned?

Laughter is easily recognized.
This is an interesting study I just read about today. Scientific American's 60 Second Science from November talks about nonverbal communication. They recorded the nonverbal vocal communication sounds made by people who were born deaf (I'm guessing completely deaf, or else the experiment wouldn't work), and then played the sounds for hearing people.

The hearing people were able to identify some sounds, like laughing and sighing in amusement and relief, but certain sounds were harder. The sounds they could not identify were sounds of triumph.

The link above includes a recording during which you can hear the sounds as they were recorded. I'll warn you though... the recording is a bit difficult to hear. That guy talks fast! Still, it's very interesting.

The scientists are considering the idea that some nonverbal vocal communication is instinctual while others have to be learned. What do you think?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eye Health for the 21st Century

It seems like everywhere we go, we're staring at screens... from work, to home, to mobile devices and even computer screens in the checkout lane at the grocery store. Our eyes are constantly taking in lots of information, and not all of it is presented in a way that's healthy for our vision. For deaf people, vision can be very important. I know it is to me.
This article from Mashable has some good tips for eye health in the digital age. Lighting, screen adjustments, your position while you read and even text size can make a difference when it comes to the strain on your eyes. I know I definitely don't take as many breaks from staring at the screen as I should, plus I read constantly and you can't adjust text size on a book.

Do you find your eyes are straining more often lately? Or, do you have any good tips for keeping eyes healthy nowadays?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Good Presents for a Deaf Baby?

Baby on play mat
Okay, I'll admit it: I don't have a house to decorate or any babies, but I love reading Ohdeedoh. Just call it a weirdness of mine. Today, they posted a question from the aunt of a 6-month-old deaf boy, who's wondering what kind of educational toys she can buy her nephew. Anyone have any suggestions? What do you think are great kid's toys for deaf children?

For me, as a kid, it never mattered whether the toy I had made noise or not. Actually, playing with toys that made noise was one of the indicators of my deafness because I never reacted to the noises, but heck... I didn't feel like I was missing anything. In fact, one of my favorite toys was a stereo with a microphone. I wore out the tape until playing it back made everything sound weird and distorted. It was a great way to freak out the neighborhood kids.

And my other favorite toys as a child weren't necessarily toys... they were books. I attribute a lot of my verbal, writing, and reading skills to the massive amount of books I read as a child. They, too, helped indicate to my parents that I had a hearing loss, when I always wanted to sit to one side of my mother when she read to me, and not the other.

If you have any suggestions I am sure they would love to hear them in the comments at Ohdeedoh.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

New Study Sheds Light on How the Brain Distinguishes Speech

When I first made the switch from analog hearing aids to digital, when I was twelve years old, I was fascinated by the hearing aids' ability to mute surrounding sound, and help me to focus on what was important: a person talking in front of me, the television, etc. I asked my audiologist how my hearing aids could do something that seemed like magic to me. He replied... the technology has improved, but it's your mind that decides what's important. It's your brain, working with your ears, identifying important signals and discarding others.

A new study is now showing more about how our brains can do this, and how the mechanism works. It's particularly interesting in relation to how the auditory system works when you're speaking. The study was done on hospitalized patients with epilepsy. By having patients speak and repeat words and vowels, they were able to distinguish minute parts of the brain that were active and inactive during speech.

According to Adeen Flinker, the lead author of the study, "We used to think that the human auditory system is mostly suppressed during speech, but we found closely knit patches of cortex with very different sensitivities to our own speech that paint a more complicated picture."

It's suggested in the article that people who have schizophrenia may have trouble distinguishing their own voice from the voices of others, which may lead to auditory hallucinations.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ASL is #4 Most Studied Foreign Language at College, Close to Being #3

According to this USA Today article, a Modern Language Association survey reveals that American Sign Language is well on its way to becoming the 3rd most studied foreign language at colleges and universities. German has only 4,500 more students than ASL, and ASL studies have increased 16% from three years ago.

The 1st most studied language is Spanish, then French. But only 8.6% of students at colleges that offer foreign languages actually take the courses.

I remember ASL being a popular option when I was in college. It was popular in high school to say that you knew sign language, although most of the time that meant simply the signed alphabet. At my high school, only Spanish and French were offered as foreign language courses. I ended up having to take American Sign Language at the local community college, but it worked out well because it counted for both high school and college credit.

You can read the full report here.

Monday, December 6, 2010

AMPS: Are You a Superhero?

Superhero Boston Terrier
Many people with prosthetics and implants jokingly refer to themselves as robots, cybernetics, Borgs or other names that reference the technology that helps them. Heck, whenever I use my Bluetooth accessory for my hearing aids I feel as though I'm in a Star Trek movie. It looks as though there may be an upcoming movie that references these very feelings.

AMP is an unfinished book by Daniel H. Wilson (the author of the upcoming Robopocalypse) that deals with a world where people with disabilities have become superheroes as a result of the technology they use. Alex Proyas has been named as the producer and possibly director, according to

It doesn't look like there's much information about the movie out there and I'm not sure if either the movie or book touches on the topic of deafness, but I think the concept could be interesting. It could also end up really offensive and uninteresting. It just depends on how well those involved deal with the topic.

(via io9)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Memories of School

When I was in elementary school (it was fittingly named after Helen Keller, but it was a typical public school), I and several other children from my school would visit an audiologist twice a year. Looking back at it, I'm not sure if we were all visiting the audiologist, or if there were other therapies or assessments being done of other conditions in the same building. I don't think the other children I went with were deaf.
Me as a child

My favorite part of these school trips was the ride there. The car we rode in was large, at least to my mind, and the back seat faced backwards. Even as a kid I enjoyed other perspectives; I would hang upside down off the jungle gym to see what everything looked like upside down, and purposefully choose other seats on the opposite side of my classroom every once in awhile to see what small things were different over there. So, riding backwards in a car going forwards was absolutely fascinating to me.

It must have been so interesting it blocked out my memories of the actual visit. I remember little except for a table with toys stacked on it in a waiting room filled with children. I do remember my first audiologist visit, which was actually to the audiology department of Arizona State University. I remember a big black and white (well, greenish) computer screen, a stuffed bear, and a stuffed monkey with cymbals that would clash whenever I reacted to a sound during the test.

I've mentioned it before, but I was always enrolled in public school, from kindergarten all the way through high school. As I was entering middle school (grades 6-8), we decided to move, and my parents looked into a local charter school with a program for deaf children, but ultimately decided to send me to the middle school in the town we moved to because the charter school was too far away and not yet accredited.

I never had speech therapy. If I had needed it, I know I would have gotten it. It was pretty entertaining in high school when I was doing a few things with the Vocational Rehabilitation program and they needed to bring in a speech therapist to assess my speech. At this time, I was making almost straight As (except for math) and only a relatively small circle of students at school knew I even had a hearing loss. It felt ridiculous, especially since the speech therapist used assessments that seemed like they were designed more for 8-year-olds than a 17-year-old. I think she felt it was as silly as I did.

I did have some issues in school. Rather than being one building with several stories, my high school was composed of many buildings, spread out over a wide campus. It was very difficult for me to hear announcements over the loudspeaker. I almost missed several important college exams, and I had to stop and listen very closely for announcements each time. By my senior year we had some luck getting the office to send a runner to me with any important announcements, but it was very hit-or-miss. I still remember that feeling of inadeqacy, of being unable to hear something that few others seemed to have trouble with, and I hate it.

I also had problems with substitute teachers a time or two. Once a substitute was taking attendance, and I missed my name being called. I approached her after she was finished and told her I must have missed my name, but I was present. She insisted on marking me as late to class even though the door never opened after the bell rang. In the end, luckily, we got it straightened out. I didn't want any black marks on my record in school.

I had a few moments of bullying in school but learned to deal with it in my own way most of the time. I knew I had a strong support network in my family and teachers. Once a couple of students wanted to see if I could read lips and they followed me around mouthing gibberish. I had to get the teacher to ask them to stop. Most other times, I could simply ignore taunts and pretend I hadn't heard them. Half the time I could only catch a few words anyway. Bullies aren't the best at enunciating what they say, and when they're not given anything in response they often give up and move on.

My high school had a Vocational Rehabilitation program that helped me get my first job. It was for the restaurant in an elderly care facility, and I worked there once a week. We talked pretty often about my goals for the future in Voc Rehab. It was suggested that I could go to Gallaudet, but I didn't want to go so far away from my family. It was also suggested that I might like to work in a library. I made fun of the idea at the time, which is funny, considering I do now work in a library, and I love it.

I think, overall, I had a positive school experience. There were tough moments, and like many teenagers I never felt like I really belonged, but ultimately I can look back at school and say I enjoyed it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

23 and Me Genetic Testing On Sale

My 23 and Me genetic test kit.
Back in May and June of this year I was able to take advantage of a sale at 23 and Me to get my genetic results. Since I thought it was an awesome, informative experience, I wanted to let everyone know that the sale is back. $99 will get you the combined health and ancestry test at 23 and Me through Christmas Day, December 25th. You will also need to purchase the Personal Genome Service, which is $5 a month. (So, a total of $159).

I wrote about my own experience with the genetics testing here. 23 and Me tests for many things, including Connexin 26-related hearing loss, along with other things like psoriasis, asthma, celiac disease, drug responses and even fun things like the consistency of your earwax. They add to your report as time passes and allow you to connect with possible relatives (if you want to).

The Ancestry is also interesting. Bear in mind your results in this area will be slightly limited if you're female. I think the test would be a really good present for a male member of your family (your father, brother, or paternal uncle) because your paternal line will be the same as them and you can learn from their results.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Seeing Movies at the Drive-In

66 Drive-In, Carthage, Missouri

This past Saturday, my husband and I went to a drive-in theater to see a double feature (Megamind and the newest Harry Potter). I hadn't been to a drive-in in years prior to this, and I was really curious about how it has changed and how easy it would be to hear the movie.

The theater we went to doesn't use the old speakers next to the cars. Instead, you tune your radio to the proper FM station when you drive in. So, the sound quality is limited to the quality of your car's stereo system (plus the quality of the theater's sound, of course). I also decided to bring along the Bluetooth accessory for my hearing aids (the Oticon Streamer) which could plug into my MP3 player and deliver the sound to my hearing aids in case I needed it.

Megamind was very easy to hear (and a very funny film overall). It was animated, which meant no lips to read, but I had no trouble hearing almost every line.

Unfortunately, I can't say the same for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1. While I was very much looking forward to the movie, a combination of factors meant I could barely make out each line:
  • most of the movie takes place in darkness
  • there were loud sound effects or music in most scenes
  • all of the actors had accents (of course)
  • I was tired
  • most of the actors mumbled
Oh well. I still enjoyed the experience. By the time Harry Potter began, I thought of using my Streamer but I was honestly too tired to make the effort. I think when we go back, I will definitely try my Streamer.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Could a Gel Reverse Sudden Hearing Loss?

Gel Bubbles on Flickr
Sudden Sensorineural Hearing Loss (SSHL) is the rapid loss of hearing, usually in one ear. Sometimes it clears up on its own, but other times steroids are used to treat the problem. Steroids can cause problems of their own, but what if there was a topical gel that could recover hearing?

Doctors are investigating the possibility that a gel could be used as therapy for SSHL. You can read more about it here. It's showing a lot of promise. 

(via io9)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

ASL Ally is Back Thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation

Earlier this month, the popular YouTube account belonging to Allyson Townsend (also known as ASL Ally) was shut down due to complaints that Ally's translations of the songs into American Sign Language were violating copyright.

Now Ally's YouTube account is back thanks to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which was founded in 1990, and "confront[s] cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation, and consumer rights today." Cindy Cohn argued that the music was clearly used under fair use and that the work was altruistic. She says, "The problem is that the various music groups hire zombies and trained monkeys who scour the Internet searching for any use of their licensed material regardless of the context or purpose. Often, this leads to flagged entries and complaints on sites like YouTube that really should have been approached with greater discretion."

Definitely check out Allison's YouTube account. It's great.

(via Houston Press Blogs and Boing Boing)

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Bono's Hearing Aid Inspiration

This past weekend some friends of mine introduced me to the board game Fact or Crap. It's a very fun game and worth a try. The object of the game is to win the most tokens by answering true or false questions correctly. It's fast paced and I really enjoyed it.

One of the questions mentioned that Bono (born Paul David Hewson) got his name from a billboard advertising hearing aids. I thought that was interesting but couldn't think of what brand of aids it could be advertising. Google to the rescue: Bono was (probably) inspired by Bonavox hearing aids. His nickname became "Bono Vox." Some people also attribute his name to a dog food or to the Latin translation ("good voice").

The things you learn playing board games!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Strategies of Deaf Athletes

Cornell University baseball poster
It's interesting to mention a deaf athlete to a hearing person. You tend to hear one of two responses: "But how can they play?" or "Being deaf would totally help! They can tune everything out." But how does it work in real life?

This article at ESPN takes a look at the strategies of five deaf athletes. It's very interesting to read.

Josh Hembrough, a hurdler at Purdue who wears a cochlear implant, once had a false start because he was so focused on listening to noise he reacted to the wrong thing. Curtis Pride, baseball coach at Gallaudet, recalls the standing ovation he got in the stands. Marcus Titus, a swimmer with the U.S. national team who went to U of A, has a strobe light instead of sound at matches. Derrick Coleman, a football player, has to deal with extra layers in his helmet because of his hearing aid. And Emily Cressy has an interpreter on the sidelines for her.

I really liked this article and wish all the best for the five athletes mentioned here.

Friday, November 19, 2010

MIT Research Could Lead to Better Hearing Aids

One of the most annoying things for me about being in a crowded restaurant or other location is being unable to distinguish the sounds I want to hear from the background noise. There are ways to deal with noisy places, but wouldn't it be nice to not have to worry about it?

This article at MIT's website details some of the ways the university's research into hearing could improve hearing aids in the future, in particular researching how the ear distinguishes sounds to improve aids.

Hearing aid
The part of your ear that distinguishes sounds is called the tectorial membrane. It's in your inner ear, and it works with your basilar membrane to do its job. MIT scientists discovered that there's an important role played by the proteins that make up the tectorial membrane. Remove one of them via genetics, and you can't distinguish sounds as well.

So how does that help with hearing aid technology? Well, the research could help develop devices that can focus on a specific range of frequencies (like the range of your companion speaking). I can imagine some kind of control device that could help mute outside sounds (especially traffic!) to focus on specific frequencies.

Read the MIT article for more. (They're the experts!)

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The CDC's New Hearing Loss Widget for Websites

If you look on the right hand column of this blog you will notice a new widget. The widget is available for anyone's blog or website and can be downloaded here. It has information about symptoms of deafness and links to a hearing loss checklist.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

More Detail on the Haunted House Effects at the OSD

If you were interested in the haunted house effects at the Oregon School for the Deaf featured on Extreme Makeover back in October, check out this link. It goes into more detail about the visual effects in the Haunted House and it's an interesting read if you like special effects.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Watch This Sweet Video (The Jubilee Project)

If you haven't seen this touching video, watch it below! (And if you have... why not watch it again? After all, each time you do, they'll donate 2 cents to charity!)

I really love this video. The Jubilee Project is all about the power of social media to do good. Check out their website for more.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Can Your Ear Identify You Better Than Your Fingerprints?

Did you know that, just like fingerprints, the way your ears are shaped is unique enough for a computer to be able to match your ears to who you are? Check out this Wired article, which explains why it may be true.

Scientists have developed a new algorithm called "image ray transform," which, according to a study presented at the IEEE Fourth International Conference on Biometrics, has a 99.6% accuracy rate. There are, however, limitations, like hair covering your ears. Hearing aids aren't mentioned, but I'd imagine that they would pose a similar problem. Critics also mention a lack of proof that the ear doesn't change shape over time.

There is a demo here.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Clogged Ears and Congestion... the Fun of a Cold

For most of October I found myself dealing with a cold, and everything that comes along with it: congestion, a sore throat, a cough, and, unfortunately, clogged ears. I don't remember having clogged ears during a cold much before, but recently it seems to happen all the time. I surprised myself with how frustrated I got over it. If you had asked me before, I would have said I surely could handle a little more hearing loss, especially if I knew it was temporary due to sickness. Unfortunately that isn't the case.

I know how to get along with my hearing loss as it is right now - and I think I am just sensitive to changes to it. I had to work extra hard to make sure I could understand people and most of the time I was guessing much more than I typically do. At work, interacting with patrons whose voices were unfamiliar to me, I would try my best to listen for certain keywords (like "renew," "movie," "empty case," "lost book") - words that would allow me to guess the rest of the sentence. Then, I would repeat what I thought the sentence was back to them. Luckily most people tend to say the same things and use the same phrasing over and over. I could probably hear about 30-40% of what they were saying depending on the clarity and quality of their voice. Luckily with my coworkers it was much easier because I know their voices.

Then my hearing aids started acting up. I'm not sure what it was, actually. My ears are no longer clogged and they are no longer acting up so I think it was something related to the cold. It was very strange, whatever it was. One minute they would be amplifying things strangely (I could hear something going on 10 feet to the left of me but not directly in front of me) and the next they would be muting everything down to very quiet levels. That's what really got me, not just the clogged ears. It was kind of interesting at first to pay attention to my hearing and see how things were changing, but when my husband and I tried to make a trip to the mall on a busy Saturday I just got too frustrated to handle everything. I tried to explain what was going on to my husband and it was just too difficult.

I wish there was an easy way to show people what I and other deaf people "hear" on a daily basis. We can try to describe it but there are so few parallels to hearing people that it is difficult. Sometimes I just stay quiet about it for so long that when I do express my frustration it feels silly to explain it has been going on for days. But I am pretty good at adapting to my surroundings. I just deal with it for as long as I can.

Luckily the clogged ears and fluctuating volume levels have gone away with my cold. I wonder if taking a trip to the audiologist would have done any good. I don't know if it was my hearing aids, my brain reacting to the decreased sound levels, or my ears themselves. It might have just been more frustrating than anything.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Don't Throw Away Your Hearing Aids, Donate Them

When I read blogs by people with hearing loss online, occasionally I see people mention, "hearing aids didn't work for me, so I threw them away." I know that people may not mean they literally threw the aids in the trash - they could have stuck them in a junk drawer or donated them - but I want to raise awareness that there are people who can benefit from the hearing aids that aren't helping you.

First, if an aid isn't working for you, check to see if you do have the option to return it or exchange it. Remember, audiologists can't get everything right the first time or even the second time they adjust settings. Depending on the audiologist and/or hearing aid company, you might be able to recoup some of your losses if they definitely aren't working for you.

If that doesn't work out, please consider donating your hearing aid.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Hearing Loss Might Be Responsible for Dolphin Strandings

Bottlenose Dolphin
Dolphins rely on echolocation to orient themselves in the water and find food, but what happens when a dolphin is deaf?

According to this story, researchers at the University of South Florida and Mote Marine Laboratory conducted a study on dolphins (bottlenose and rough-toothed) found stranded. They discovered that 57% of the bottlenose and 36% of the rough-toothed dolphins that were stranded were severely to profoundly deaf. The findings give new information to veterinarians and marine biologists, especially when considering releasing animals back into the wild.

I wonder what a hearing aid for a dolphin would look like?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Extreme Makeover: Oregon School for the Deaf

I'll admit, I don't usually watch Extreme Makeover. I like it when they help people in need, but it's such a high-energy, loud show that I usually don't stop on it when I'm flipping channels. I did, however, watch it on Sunday evening, because they were renovating the Oregon School for the Deaf. You can watch it here, supposedly with subtitles, although it doesn't want to load for me at the moment.

In the episode, they sent the boys away to receive free hearing aids from Starkey. I was actually sent a book (Heart and Soul by Robert L. Shook - I'll be writing a review later, and Speak Up Librarian also wrote about it) that talks about the Starkey Foundation a little bit.

While the boys were away, the team turned their former dormitory into a haunted house, and built a new dorm for them. The dorm featured some accessibility features like flashing lights to announce doorbells and a specially-made vibrating speaker system (though I was hoping for a vibrating floor, too).

I was curious about the Oregon School for the Deaf so I looked them up after the program. This is their website. The school was founded in 1870 by the Oregon Legislative Assembly. Naturally, since only the boys' dorm and the haunted house were renovated on the show, there are still parts of the school that were untouched; if you'd like to help them complete renovations, they've listed how to donate on this page.

I enjoyed the show and I think it did a lot to highlight the problems that schools like this face, and helped put the issue in the public eye. I hope the kids got enough time to learn about their new hearing aids, and I hope the show brings in plenty of donations for the school and others like it.

Monday, November 1, 2010

How Do You Do With the 12 Pillars of Wisdom Test?

First, a note: I decided to do NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month; their site has been up and down lately, so here's the Wikipedia article) this year, so my posts this month may be more sporadic. Or maybe they'll be more common if I procrastinate on my novel!

Secondly, I wanted to write about this brain science test, called the 12 Pillars of Wisdom. I took it last night and it is really a lot of fun. I am curious to know what you guys think of it and how you score. It takes about 30 minutes to complete but you can take a break between each of the 12 tests.

For the most part, my own scores were pretty average. However, I did very well on the verbal reasoning test, focused attention, mental rotation, and visuospatial processing. I did badly on working memory and deductive reasoning.

There is 1 test where sound is relatively important (you need to wait for a beep to enter your answer). The sound on the website is VERY loud, though. I only had to turn my speakers up a tiny bit to hear the beep easily.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

8 Heroic and Helpful Hearing Dogs

Service dogs and other animals often prove invaluable for the people they help. Here are eight hearing dogs I have read about, in alphabetical order by the animal's name. Do you know of a heroic hearing dog? Share your story in the comments.

1. Cinders
Cinders was a Border Collie originally trained as a hearing dog for Debs (last name unknown). When she came down with Meniere's Disease, however, the dog began to help her with her symptoms. "Cinders had been a great comfort to me, as I knew she would be there by my side when I had attacks of vertigo spells and helped me to bathroom in time to be sick. She learned to help me as she went along." Cinders passed away in 2007.

(Rosie's Diary)

2. Darian
Shelly Stokes is a mother of three and a Gulf War veteran. She has conductive hearing loss, and rather than deal with hearing aids that had been causing her problems, she looked into getting a hearing dog. Darian is a mixed breed who helps Stokes in and out of the home. She says, "I was not going out much [...] [t]hat's the area where he helps me out the most. I can't tell you how many times I've almost been run over in a parking lot because I don't hear the car coming behind me."

(NEADS Press)

3. Gem
After seven-year-old Evie Crook was fitted with a pair of hearing aids, "[s]he was troubled by everyday noises and would cry and try to rip her hearing aids out. Even the sound of birds singing and the wind blowing in the trees distressed her," according to her mother. Her parents enrolled her in a new program, and she became the youngest participant. She received Gem, a yellow Labrador retriever, as part of the program, and, according to her mother, "[f]or the first time in seven years Evie sleeps all night, every night [...] she's happier, doing better at school, has more friends and her behaviour's improved as a result."

(Daily Mail)

4. Goblin
Goblin was rescued from the streets of Puerto Rico and given by the National Education for Assistance Dog Service to Ray Dobson. Dobson had been experiencing more anti-social feelings as a result of continuing hearing loss. According to the article, Goblin and other hearing dogs serve as a way to make "observers aware of the handler's situation," which can often be invisible to people. Dobson's wife says he's now back in the "mainstream" socially thanks to Goblin.

(The Augusta Chronicle)

 5. Lye
Lye was named Heroic Hearing Dog of the Year for 2010. Lye, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, alerted her owner, Nicola Willis, that Willis' 15-year-old daughter was choking upstairs. The girl choked on water and made noises and signs to alert the dog, who bounded down the stairs despite three slipped discs in her back. An ambulance arrived and Willis' daughter is fine.

(Hearing Dogs for Deaf People)

6. Nellie
In 2008, Nellie, a black Labrador, alerted her owner of an intruder in their hotel room. Her owner, Gill Houghton, says, "It was the middle of the night and Nellie woke me. I thought she had made a mistake so I told her to get off the bed. But she jumped up again, alerted me and dropped to the floor in the emergency position. I then sat up and put my glasses on and saw that the door to the room was open and a man was standing in the doorway looking at us. I put my hearing aids in, and as I did this Nellie jumped on the bed again and placed herself between him and the children. I told the man to leave and eventually he did. During the whole episode, Nellie did not flinch but sat and protected the children with her body."

Nellie had been trained by Hearing Dogs for Deaf People, which awarded her with the title Heroic Hearing Dog of the Year.

(Medical News Today)

7. Radar
Radar is a poodle mix who lives with Rusty Ellis, a high school science teacher. He was almost passed up in the pound, but proved he had what it takes to work as a hearing dog. He has been trained especially to help Ellis at school, alerting him when bells ring and when students want his attention.

(The Press-Enterprise)

8. Roddy
Roddy is a unique hearing dog: he performs the services of both a hearing and a guide dog. He's the first of his kind in Scotland. Angela Hassall at first had solely hearing dogs, but began to lose her sight in 1999. Two charities worked closely together to train Roddy to perform both duties. It was tricky; according to the article, guide dogs need to be calm and nonreactive, while hearing dogs need to be responsive to sound. Roddy was chosen as the perfect mix of the two. Angela says, "I know how much Roddy means to me - he is a very special dog."

(Hearing Loss Web)

Monday, October 25, 2010

How Does Sound Influence the Taste of Food?

Eating yogurt
Have you ever thought about how background noise can influence what you're eating? I definitely haven't. For me, in a restaurant, background noise is essentially white noise. There's no way I can pick up individual conversations or identify what music is playing. Now scientists are discovering that the way we feel about background noise can influence how what we're eating tastes.

According to this Telegraph article, white noise in the background makes food taste worse and made it sound as though it crunched louder. Conversely, listening to pleasant sounds can help people enjoy meals more.

It does make sense to me. Being in an unpleasantly noisy place (like right next to a fast-food playground) makes me enjoy my food less. But for the most part, all background noise is "white noise" to me.

(via Discoblog)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Congratulations to Matt Hamill!

I watched the fight last night at R.T. O'Sullivan's, which was crowded, but fun. I was really excited to see the Hamill-Ortiz fight. My husband and I were right up next to four different screens and, unfortunately, near the really loud speakers. It wasn't too bad though and the food was, as always, good.

For a breakdown of the fight, check out UFC's website here. You can also see the post-fight press conference (uncaptioned) here.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

UFC 121: Anyone Else Going to See Matt Hamill?

I haven't seen deaf MMA artist Matt Hamill fight yet so I am excited to see him tonight in UFC 121. Matt is going up against Tito Ortiz, who has caught some (well-deserved, in my opinion) flack over the past few days after his remarks about Matt: "He's been babied his whole life coming from being deaf of course and he's going to be babied after when I knock him out. [...] I've noticed he's deaf, so he has a soft head, you hit him with more and more shots."

Today I read Matt's response to Tito's ignorant comments, which were a lot nicer than if it had been me: "He likes to talk trash, it’s just what he does."

Good luck, Matt!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Zippy the Deaf Boston Terrier Succeeds Where Others Fail

It made me really happy to read about this story from the Daily Mail today. Zippy is a deaf Boston Terrier who has been trained with signs. He's gone from being a nippy, grumpy puppy to a well-trained dog who has earned the Kennel Club's highest obedience award, beating out other hearing dogs who struggled with the test.
Zippy knows over 20 signs. The article has some pictures of his owner, Vicky Tate, demonstrating the signs and explaining how she uses them. Zippy also relies on Vicky's expressions when she's talking.

I like the idea of using signs for dogs, even hearing dogs. My in-laws' dog Cheyenne knows several signs and they really seem to help with training. Good job, Zippy!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

AudioScope Zooms In On Sound

This is really cool, and not just because they used a Phoenix Suns game to demonstrate it. (Transcript below. Note: I did the transcript myself with Scotty's help, so it may not be perfect.)

TRANSCRIPT: You can now use a new system to zoom in on sound at a specific location. It uses 300 microphones and a video camera positioned on the ceiling. Now the system is turned on and zooms in on the players' reactions.  (Shouts) (Whistle) "Ah, come on!" (Buzzer) Here's what it sounds like near the referee. "That's an inadvertent whistle. It's gonna be a jump ball." Or close to the coach. "That's a bad call!" (Popping sound) Did you notice the bubblegum? (Popping sound)

This is a new technology called AudioScope. It was designed by two physicists, who were experimenting with sonar before they came up with this new technology. It's demonstrated above at a Suns-Lakers basketball game. 300 microphones and a video camera are suspended above the court. The software is used to calculate the time it will take for sound to reach each microphone.

I really love the idea of being able to hear things like this in crowded sports stadiums, lecture halls, etc. It seems like it would be more effective than a typical microphone and could be used during large Q&A sessions, for example. Very neat.

The two physicists have started a company called Squarehead Technology to market the new tech.

Read more at New Scientist and Boing Boing.

Friday, October 15, 2010

One Year of Blogging

I just realized that the one-year anniversary of my blog has come and gone: it was October 7, 2009 that I began Hearing Sparks, with this blog post.

I honestly had no idea that Hearing Sparks was going to reach the audience it has. I can't tell you how much I've learned in the past year, about Deaf culture, technology, science, and people. It's taught me a lot. And I hope the next year will be just as enlightening.

Over the course of the year, I've gotten a few emails that buoy me up and keep me going. A 19-year-old, nervous about going to college, interested in the Esteem implant; a young woman who has dealt with her hearing loss since childhood and how has a Master's Degree in Physiotherapy; the woman who runs The Kitty City Gazette, who lost all of her hearing two years ago. Not to mention the daily comments and conversations that keep me learning and present all points of view.

Thanks so much for reading. I can't wait for another year.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Animal Hearing Series: Bats

This post is part of a series I began with Lizards.

We're getting near Halloween and it seems everywhere you turn is something creepy and spooky. Bats are a common symbol of Halloween, so it seemed appropriate to cover them in the Animal Hearing Series.

Most people have heard of bats' ability of echolocation. It's a natural type of sonar. Bats use it to navigate, hunt and find spots to roost. To perform echolocation, a bat makes a loud sound, and then measures the time it takes for the sound to bounce back to determine how far away things are. They can also tell what they're near to by the sound quality of the echo they hear.

Because they use echolocation to get around and can't use their eyesight much while hunting, you'd think bats would need to have very good hearing. And they certainly do. They can hear between 20 to 120,000 Hz.  They are very sensitive to high-frequency sounds, way beyond what humans can hear. Even the shape of bats' ears contribute to being able to hear better.

Sites Referenced 
Animal echolocation on Wikipedia
The Secret Life of Bats

Previous Posts in the Animal Hearing Series

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Concept Design: Vibrating Alarm Pillow

I have a Sonic Alert vibrating alarm clock at home and I think I have occasionally seen pillows with the vibrating device built in, but I like this concept design from Seung Jun Jeong at Yanko Design.

Essentially, you pull out the tab to tell the pillow when to vibrate. It seems to count down the hours and then begins vibrating at the time you want to wake up.

It's a cool design. I don't know if I'd like the vibrating right under my head, though. My current alarm clock's vibrating device is under the mattress on the other side of the bed. It's still strong enough to wake me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Deafness Can Enhance Your Vision

It's common to assume that when one sense is lost, others "fill in" the void left - now there's scientific evidence to back it up, and provide some clues to how it happens.

A new study done on deaf cats (whose brains are much like ours) revealed that brain regions that would normally be used for processing hearing were rerouted to instead enhance vision. They're essentially a natural upgrade to the brain's visual system, acting as an enhancement to the sense.

Cat with yarn
It's not an overall upgrade, but rather it enhances two specific visual processing areas: detecting slow motion and seeing objects in far peripheral vision. These two areas are also beneficial for people who are deaf or hard of hearing.

See more at Wired.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What's Your Experience in the Workplace?

This article discusses the reception that many people with all kinds of disabilities are getting at work, as a result of lackluster company policies. 411 executives and HR managers were surveyed as part of the study.

Some of their findings:
  • 2/3 of companies that have diversity programs (70% of those who responded) include disability as one of the diverse components.
  • 7% of companies that do have disability programs have a group that promotes disability awareness.
  • On average, 2% of companies' new hires in the past 3 years had disabilities.
The National Organization on Disability's president is quoted as saying,
America's success in the global economy depends on how well we put to use the productive capacity of every person's talent, skill and ability. This new survey reveals that most employers are not aware of the unique contribution that workers with disabilities can make and do little to recruit them.
I'm wondering what your experience in the workplace has been and if it seems similar to these findings.

I am lucky to work for a city that is really aware of everyone's unique challenges and difficulties. I've never experienced any problems related to my deafness at work, except for normal challenges like trying to hear people talking or having conversations. I really want to be treated like any other coworker most of the time.

I think the approach that a company takes towards people with disabilities is really important. It can either empower people or it can just embarrass them. A "diversity group" might well do more to make people uncomfortable than actually help them.

What do you think?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What's Coming Thanks to the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act?

You've probably heard about the 21st Century Communications and Video Accessibility Act passing in the Senate, which means it will soon become law. But what does that really mean for us?

Check out the Coalition of Organizations for Accessible Technology's page for a great breakdown of the benefits we can expect from the passage of this law.

Here are a few points that I'm pretty excited about.
  • All telephones used with the Internet will need to be hearing aid compatible.
  • $10 billion million (thanks, BigBenFactor) per year will be allocated for the deaf-blind from the Interstate Relay Service Fund (which Internet-based voice communication service providers will be required to pay into).
  • Television programs that are captioned will now be required to contain captions when streaming over the Internet.
  • Any devices that have a picture screen and can display video programming now need to be able to display closed captions. 
  • Devices like DVRs that record playback must now be able to display captions.
Original web programming is still not required to be closed captioned. I do wish more creators of web programming would take the initiative and caption their videos without having to make a law. Otherwise, though, I'm pretty excited about this act.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Animal Hearing Series: Sharks

This post is part of a series I began with Lizards. I'm really interested in how well animals can hear.

Sharks. I think they're awesome and so do other people, judging from just how much information is out there on them. But how well do they hear? Is their hearing another sense to add to a deadly arsenal, or is it a liability for them?

Well, don't worry too much about sharks' hearing. They've got it covered. They can hear up to 800 feet away, and are especially sensitive to low-frequency sounds. (They can hear lower than humans, but we can hear higher than them.)

They hear through tiny holes on either side of their head. The circular canals inside their heads help them stay balanced, and also contain sensory areas for sound. They can hear from 10-800 Hz.

Sites Referenced 
NOVA Online
How Stuff Works

Previous Posts in the Animal Hearing Series

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Hearing Aids as Therapy for Tinnitus

Can hearing aids be used to help people who suffer from tinnitus?

This article from the American Academy of Audiology discusses just that. At first I was surprised, but it does make sense. I tend to have tinnitus when I don't have my aids in, but when I am wearing them the amplified sound muffles the tinnitus. According to the article, "Sound therapy via hearing aid amplification may be beneficial as amplified sounds may increase neuronal activity, amplified sounds may reduce tinnitus audibility and awareness."

A study was done on 29 people with sensorineural hearing loss and tinnitus. They were given hearing aids and counseling (including relaxation techniques and ways to reduce stress). According to the article, "The authors concluded that counseling combined with hearing aids results in twice the reduction in tinnitus handicap as would be expected using counseling alone."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Sunshine Award!

Just something fun for Friday.

Many thanks to Kym who gave me and 11 other bloggers this Sunshine Award. I love Kym's blog, the cuteness of curiosity., which is always full of new and interesting things.

Here are the rules:
1. Save the image above and post it to your own blog
2. Pass the award on to 12 fellow bloggers
3. Link the nominees
4. Let nominees know they have won this award by commenting on their blog
5. Share the love and link to the person you received this award from

And here are my 12 choices in no particular order. Not all of them have to do with deafness but they are some of my favorite blogs to read:

1. simply complicated
2. Cacophony to Symphony
3. smacksy
4. The tech geek dad
5. Eh? What? Huh?
6. Baby in Broad
7. Deafinitely Girly
8. Confessions of an Untenured Teacher
9. What Would Jen Do
10. Speak Up Librarian
11. Life with a Hearing Dog
12. Backstage at the Theatre Illuminata

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Bible in ASL and Jehovah's Witnesses

Yesterday my father-in-law handed me a packet he had received from some Jehovah's Witnesses that came to the door. They had been asking around for deaf people and he mentioned that I am deaf. They gave him some literature and a copy of the Bible in American Sign Language:

This particular church is the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah's Witnesses at 1025 S. 24th St, Mesa, Arizona. I'm not a Jehovah's Witness (nor particularly religious at all) but I did find this pretty interesting, that they have services entirely in ASL (not just interpreted). I wonder if having the ASL services at this location is new, because I can't find much mention of it online.

Have you ever attended church in American Sign Language? Are entirely-ASL services available in your area?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

How Do You Deal With Noise?

I read Kym's blog post this morning titled What? I can't hear you!, and the subject has been rattling around in my mind all day.

Kym's classes are wearing her out. She has trouble understanding the teachers, and the assistance she's been given by her school isn't working out for her. At the end of the day, she says, "When I come home at the end of the night.  My eyes are tired, my head hurts and I'm frustrated.  It is all I can do to flop myself on the bed out of frustration and fatigue." She asks, "Who else feels this way?  Are you so tired at the end of the day from 'watching' that you just want to close your eyes and shut the world out?  Do you rip off your hearing aids and put them away, hoping to not have to wear them anymore?"

I do indeed sympathize with Kym and I think a lot of us do. Actually, I bet even hearing people do, and I think, in a way, the ability of people who wear hearing devices to "shut out" the hearing world can actually be a positive. A hearing person who is overwhelmed by the world, by demands on their day and loud coworkers, can't do much besides put some earplugs in and close their eyes.

I know a few deaf people who have told me that they regularly take out their aids, or decide not to wear them, or go long stretches of time without them. I can understand the motives behind it, but I never even considered it an option before I started this blog. Go without hearing aids? What would I do? People would expect me to hear. I wouldn't be able to hear the television. I wouldn't be able to carry on a conversation. I rely on my aids so much, and I never realized quite how much.

There were many times growing up, and even right now, that I do get tired of "watching," as Kym says. Keeping an eagle eye on everything happening. Feeling like I'm out of step, missing something. Wondering if everybody is having trouble hearing someone, or it's just me. Missing jokes. However, my first response isn't to take out my aids, it's to seek stress relief in other places - venting to my husband, reading, eating a piece of chocolate, or going somewhere relaxing (I can't wait to make a trip down to the Boyce Thompson Arboretum, which is the one place guaranteed to relax me).

Sometimes it feels like I never get any quiet. Go anywhere, and there's noise. Air conditioners humming. People doing construction or repair work. People talking. Cars driving by. Sometimes I wonder how hearing people can function with noise all day and not go crazy. Occasionally I see mention of "our noisy world" in the newspapers, but for the most part, people simply go throughout their day, tuning out the background noise.

Chimney Meadows
So... what do you think? If you're tired of the noise, what do you do if you wear aids? Take 'em out or seek out external silence?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Animal Hearing Series: Cows

This post is part of a series I began with Lizards. I'm really interested in how well animals can hear.

Cows are my favorite animal. Don't ask me why, I just love their funny expressions. But it's surprisingly hard to find information about how well they hear, compared with my previous posts on lizards and snakes.

According to this page on the Louisiana State University website, cows can hear in a range of 23-35,000 Hz. Compare that to a typical human range of 20-20,000 Hz (or 64-23,000 on the previously linked website).

However, as mentioned in this article, cows have trouble pinpointing sound. I can sympathize with cows on this one, but I think they still manage to do better than me; they can pinpoint the sound source within 30 degrees, while a typical human can narrow it down to 5 degrees.

Sites Referenced 
How Cattle Perceive Their World
How Well Do Dogs and Other Animals Hear?

Previous Posts in the Animal Hearing Series

Friday, September 24, 2010

Vermont Launches Nation's First Deaf-Autism Program

I recently read the book Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin, a well-known person with autism. (The link goes to my review.) One of the interesting points in the book was that when a child is young, autism can look like deafness, and vice versa. The way the child behaves and ignores sounds can be indicative of either. But what do you do when a child is both deaf and autistic?

The Vermont Center for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, a nonprofit organization that serves both Vermont and some of New Hampshire, has launched what they're saying is the first program for people who are both deaf and autistic.

The program started on August 30 of this year and currently 8 students are enrolled. According to Robert Carter, the organization's president, "By creating a program that really addresses both needs, we're not dealing with the frustration of trying to make a square peg fit in a round hole."

An interesting point in the article is that the organization is also now able to research ways to communicate with anyone, deaf or hearing, who communicates best using non-auditory language. In Temple Grandin's book, she writes about autistic children who find it very difficult to speak or listen to others speaking. I wondered at the time if sign language would help them. This organization is going to find out.

(via Deafness)

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Tipsheets from the American Library Association

York University Library
Now more than ever, libraries are a resource for their communities. Anyone can take advantage of a library for books, movies, job hunting, programs, author signings, homework help, and a wide variety of other services. Unfortunately, the one thing that can make or break a library is the staff. Staff who aren't trained well or who aren't motivated can make even the prettiest library with the largest collection a waste.

That is why I really like these tipsheets available from the American Library Association. They are not just useful for library staff (although I'm sure they will help). They are useful for anyone who might need to communicate with a person with a disability.

Whenever I see a tipsheet with advice like this, I like to take a look at the advice for communicating deaf and hard of hearing people. There is some great advice lurking in documents like these, but of course, some of them can be demeaning or off the mark. I like the tipsheet that ALA has drawn up, which is available in PDF form here. It has some good tips for me to give people when they seem nervous about talking to me or another deaf person.

One of the big tips there is to rephrase. The example they use is that someone might not understand quarter but might understand twenty-five cents. This is one of those things it can be really hard to get people to understand. A simple change of phrase can mean a lot.

Have you looked at any tipsheets for communicating with deaf and hard of hearing people? What do you think of them?

(via American Libraries)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Animal Hearing Series: Snakes

This post is part of a series I began with Lizards. I'm really interested in how well animals can hear. Thanks for all of your kind comments about Loki!

In the post about Lizards, we learned that they have a tympanic membrane, which picks up vibrations from the air. Snakes do not have a tympanic membrane. So, can they hear?

Green tree python

Snakes can indeed hear. Rather than a cavity for their middle ear, they have a pericapsular recess, which is filled with air. They pick up vibrations through their body and transmit them along nerves to the inner ear. Snakes also have a bone called a quadrate which gets displaced when there is sound in the air. In response, the cochlea uses hair cells and transfers sounds to the brain. However, there is some question about how snakes use this information, if they do at all.

According to this Reptile Hearing article by Melissa Kaplan, "most snakes can hear a person speaking in a normal tone of voice in a quiet room at a distance of about 10 feet (3 m)." So a snake may even be able to respond to the sound of their name.

Sites Referenced 
Reptile Hearing - Melissa Kaplan
Shhh! The snake may hear you - John Carson 

Previous Posts in the Animal Hearing Series

Monday, September 20, 2010

Are You Going to See 'Hamill'?

Matt Hamill
Hamill is a movie about Matt Hamill, a UFC fighter who is deaf. I had heard about the movie but I didn't know it was coming out this year. Thanks to a link from Danielle at Growing up Hard of Hearing in a Hearing World, I was able to find out some more information about the movie and I am really looking forward to seeing it now.

You can watch the official trailer (which has captions turned on by default) here. The movie looks like it will follow Hamill from childhood up to his UFC bouts. It stars deaf actor Russell Harvard.

According to the movie's Facebook page, "We're currently in the final stages of finishing the film and shortly afterwards we will lock down a distribution deal. If all goes as planned, a distribution company will then release it in 3-4 months from now (They would need time to market the film properly before its release)."

On the movie's official website, you can 'Demand' that it be shown locally. I don't have any movie theaters in my zip code so I put in one for the nearest city. Hopefully I will get the chance to see this movie in the theater, but if not, there's always DVD.

Will you be going to see it if they show it in your area?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Universal Subtitles Adds a Deaf & Hard of Hearing Discussion List

I've written before about Universal Subtitles, which is aimed at having subtitles and captions for every video on the Internet. It's a really cool project and one that's easy to take part in.

Yesterday they announced they now have a Deaf and Hard of Hearing discussion list set up. According to the post, "We aim to make it a safe place to discuss anything related to: deaf or hard of hearing culture, open technology, and of course captions & subtitles of all sorts."

Check out the list here. It is fully public and it's brand new, so there's a lot of stuff to talk about.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Deaf Teenager Will Compose 2012 Olympics Music

According to the DeafBlog, Lloyd Coleman, who is deaf and visually impaired, has been chosen to compose Olympics-themed music that will be performed by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales.

Lloyd is 18 and recently won a spot at London's Royal Academy of Music. Larry Ashmore - who has worked on projects like Bridget Jones's Diary, The Passion of the Christ, Nanny McPhee and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - will be mentoring him.

Lloyd has a great attitude. He's quoted in the article as saying, "I don't want to be known as the musician who's a bit deaf; I want to be known as Lloyd the person and Lloyd the musician. I want my reputation to be built on my musical ability which I hope will inspire others to set themselves goals and get what they want out of life. I already have - music is my life."

Congrats, Lloyd!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Irish Hand Dancing

I have recently begun following the new blog ASL Songs. This blog is a great collection of songs interpreted in ASL. It's so much fun to watch.

I recently saw this video on the blog Urlesque. It features Irish dancers Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding. As I watched it, I thought... imagine what these people could do with Sign! They already have the necessary flexibility and they could add a whole new dimension to their talent.

It's very interesting watching even though they are not Signing. There is only music in this video, no dialogue.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Animal Hearing Series: Lizards

Back in June, I got a new pet: a bearded dragon named Loki. I really love animals, and Loki is something else. He's funny. He explores everywhere with zero fear. He loves staring out the window at wild lizards, jackrabbits and quail.
Bearded dragons can sense light when they're asleep, so when his light goes off, we turn off the lights in the room. Any light in his cage/"vivarium" will wake him up at that point, and trust me, you may not think a lizard can glare, but they can. What I found most interesting, though, was that while light will wake Loki up, sound won't. We can have the television on very loud and sound can be coming from the room, out in the living room, etc., and he won't wake.

That got me interested in how well lizards hear. He does seem to react to sounds when he's awake, but is he just seeing things and reacting to those?

In my research I realized that animal hearing is really interesting, so I decided to make a weekly series about animals and their hearing.

First up: lizards!

Loki has a visible ear (actually his tympanic membrane). It looks like a hole in his head, outlined below in purple:

Lizards' tympanic membranes might look like Loki's, or they might look like an iguana's, almost level with the skin. Some are even like human's, recessed deep in the skull. They don't have ear flaps like humans do. The tympanic membrane picks up sound vibrations from what the reptile is in contact with - the ground, a basking rock, etc.

Most lizards seem to hear about the same. (Even ancient ones!) The green iguana and other lizards with tympanic membranes can pick up sounds in a range of 500-4,000 Hz. They show peak sensitivity at 24 dB. Compare that with humans: our typical range is 20-20,000 Hz and our sensitivity is at 120 dB. So, lizards cannot hear as well as a human, but they are probably more sensitive to ground movement than we are. 

Sites Referenced
Reptile Channel
Reptile Hearing - Melissa Kaplan
San Diego Zoo