Sunday, January 30, 2011

Another Update: Hear Through Your Jawbone (SoundBite Gets FDA Approval)

In December of 2009 I wrote about the SoundBite, a proposed tooth-mounted hearing aid, and wrote an updated post in February with some more information.

Now, according to Deafness, the SoundBite has received FDA approval.

There's a lot more information on their website. The In the Mouth (ITM) device can fit in the upper left or right of the mouth:
It contains electronics, a sealed, flat, rechargeable battery, wireless capability that picks up sound transmissions from the BTE, and a small actuator that converts those signals into vibratory energy. All of these miniaturized components are hermetically sealed inside a dental grade acrylic that has been safely used for making dentures for many years.
According to their press release, 95% of patients in the FDA trial were "satisfied or very satisfied" after six months.

What do you think? Would you wear an In the Mouth hearing aid?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

House Hunting

Recently (so recently that this still all feels like a whirlwind) my husband and I took the first steps towards buying our own house. We got the pre-approval for a mortgage a week before going out to look at houses with our realtor, and we fell in love with one home right away. It's not a lock yet - there's a lot of paperwork and approval to be done - but I feel good about it, and I adore the place.

I was curious about how to approach the entire process with my hearing loss, but there isn't a whole lot of information online. So these are my general thoughts about househunting, and my own experiences.

One consideration for me was how much the homes echoed. Of course, empty rooms echo more than rooms filled with furniture, but if an echo is pretty bad I anticipated it might continue to be a problem later on. We ran into two homes that had a noticeable echo. When I mentioned the acoustics, I found out our realtor also has a hearing loss, a profound loss in her left ear. It made me wish I had mentioned my own deafness sooner.
"House for sale" on Wikimedia Commons

The layout of the house was also something I didn't think much about when first looking, but which became apparent as I looked. I like the open floorplan so that I can be aware of where people are, where to look, and also so that it's easier to hear. The house we are planning to buy has an open living room/dining room/kitchen area that is really nice and will allow me to easily have conversations with people in any of those three rooms.

The process with the bank has been great for me so far because everything has been handled through email. The mortgage officer, our realtor, and even our inspector communicate almost entirely through email, which is great for me.

Does anybody else have any thoughts about house hunting while deaf? How easy is it to find an interpreter or a realtor that knows sign language?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hear the World Sound Academy: Visit the Grand Canyon!

I recently received an email from Sarah, on behalf of Hear the World, about an interesting opportunity for fulltime students aged 15-20 to explore the Grand Canyon and collect sound data for the National Parks Service. The website is here.

Hear the World is a nonprofit educational travel organization. According to the information Sarah sent me, "Sound deepens our experience of the world and the majesty of the Grand Canyon summons a connection with nature as few places can. However, this world-famous natural wonder faces a serious threat: noise pollution. For this reason, it is the perfect setting to educate students about the importance of natural sound and hearing preservation. Students of mixed hearing abilities will work together with acoustic scientists to collect sound data for the National Park Service while discovering an entirely new way of looking at sound as a precious resource and hearing as a cherished sense. Post-trip, the student ambassadors will launch an online campaign to educate the public about hearing and hearing loss based on what they learned, including a unique sound-themed podcast to be used as a learning tool by the National Park Service."

The adventure in the Grand Canyon would take place from July 31-August 7 of this year, and applications are being accepted through February 26. There are scholarships, and on the website, you can sponsor a scholarship, in the amount of $1,700. It definitely sounds like fun!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Guest Post: Listening vs Hearing

The following guest post is from Steve Claridge. For more information about guest posts on Hearing Sparks (I love them!), see here. Take it away, Steve!


Steve Claridge lives near Oxford, UK. He's been steadily losing his hearing since the age of five and has been writing about hearing aid and hearing loss stuff on his blog for over four years. He's also a total geek and loves building stuff on the web and keeping it simple.

How often do you listen and how often do you just hear? Listening and hearing, the same thing, right? defines listening as:
"to give attention with the ear; attend closely for the purpose of hearing; to wait attentively for a sound"
and it defines hearing as:
"to receive information by the ear"
Hearing is what our ears do (if they are working, of course!) naturally, they convert sound vibrations into signals for our brains. But listening is a totally different thing, it's the act of using our brains to understand the signals we get from our ears.

For people with good hearing ability the act of listening is normally easy, there's little or no effort involved, their brains are getting good signals and can interpret the sounds easily. But have you ever seen someone in a foreign country trying to understand a local? Then they are listening hard to every sound that comes out of their mouth to try and make some sense of it - every sound counts.

How often do you listen? I know I zone-out much more than I should, particularly in boring meetings at weekend - if I stop listening to the conversation then it becomes a mumble and I lose track of what's being said, not because anyone is talking quieter, just because my brain has given up working out what's being said.

How well do you listen and can you get better at it? When you were at school you probably had to repeat the times tables over and over again until they stuck, repetition implanted them in your head. If you play enough Brain Training games you get really quick at doing simple arithmetic. You can teach yourself to speed read. You can teach your brain to do many things and listening and understanding speech is one of them.

The idea behind learning to listen better is a lot like the Brain Training games i.e. repeat simple exercises over and over until you get good. There's an application called LACE, which I guess you could call brain training for your ears, I did a review of this a long while ago, which you can read here. I never really gave LACE the time it needed when I tried it back then but I've recently realised that that was a mistake - my listening skills could be a lot better if I'd persevered with it.

Learning to listen isn't something that you can do overnight it takes time and patience but I really do think it can pay off for you.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What's It Like to Experience Simulated Hearing Loss?

"I'm listening" by Melvin Gaal
In this article from the Daily Mail, Barney Calman takes on a challenge from Specsavers to wear the same specially modulated earplugs that their audiologists wear to simulate hearing loss. It's a very interesting article, a look at how a 31-year-old man with typical hearing for his age copes with hearing loss for a day. Especially interesting is the fact that he is a musician and expects to possibly have some hearing loss in the future.

There were a couple of things I really liked from the article. They are things that are immediately apparent when you are deaf, but difficult for people with normal hearing to grasp.
  • The fact that it takes Barney a few moments to even realize anyone is speaking to him. I do this all the time. It is particularly bad working with the public who don't seem motivated to actually let you know you're the one they're addressing and not their cellphone, friend, handbag or the sign next to them.
  • The way he yells to the cabdriver without realizing it, and worries about crossing roads but soon realizes it's not that big a deal.
  • And finally: the way he realizes immediately that it's exhausting!
"As we say our goodbyes I have to focus on what he is saying  -  it becomes tiring almost immediately," he says. And then, later, "I have to take a second or so to mentally process what a person says before I can reply, and it is exhausting.

"After work, I have a business dinner with a PR at a busy Central London restaurant. With the loud chattering and clinking around me it is even harder to make out my companion's voice. By the end of the meal, which takes a long time as I have to stop eating to concentrate fully to hear, I am drained from focusing so hard."

I remember having to wear "drunk goggles" in school to simulate how normal activities become difficult when you're impaired. Wouldn't it be interesting for students and adults alike to try these plugs or even glasses that simulate levels of blindness? I'd try the blindness ones! (And probably freak out a lot.)

Friday, January 14, 2011

Stories that Soar Brings Deaf & Blind Students' Stories to Life

"Stage Door" by slimmer_jimmer on Flickr
Now this is a cool idea: Stories that Soar is a nonprofit performance troupe that travels from school to school, allowing children to put stories they've written into the troupe's Magic Box and then see selected stories acted out on stage. And this month, they're traveling to the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind. On January 20th, they'll perform stories that the children at the schools have written - and the kids won't get to know which stories were picked until they show up for the show.

To ensure that the stories connect with their audience, the troupe has put "a big emphasis on heavy vibrations and bright colors as the performers work to tell the stories in layers," according to this article.

The troupe will be perfoming in Tucson, at the Berger Perfoming Arts Center, at 1200 W. Speedway. It's January 20th at 7PM. Wish I could make it down to Tucson!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Michael Lizarraga: Divison I's Only Deaf Basketball Player

Those of you who have been reading my blog for awhile might remember that over the past couple years I have become a basketball fan. My in-laws have been Phoenix Suns fans for a long time, but I only recently began to watch the games regularly and take the time to understand the rules and get to "know" the players.

I've written before about some of the inherent difficulties in watching sports when you can't hear, especially on television. Not only are the announcers pretty much unintelligible, but I often don't hear the whistle that ends play - or confuse the sound of players' sneakers on the court with whistles.

So naturally I wondered, how would a deaf player handle playing with a hearing team? With referees that use a sound to communicate a foul? Not only that, but if a player couldn't tell where the referee was by locating the sound of the whistle, they wouldn't be able to see the referee's hand signal indicating why they stopped play. As I watched games, I could tally up any number of difficulties a deaf person might face on the court.

From Wikimedia Commons
 But of course... just because it's difficult doesn't mean it can't be done. Deaf people, as well as people who face all kinds of adversity, have proven that over and over again.

That's why I was excited today to read about Michael Lizarraga (here's his profile) in this article. Michael and his sister were born deaf to hearing parents. Michael grew up in northern California, and he wanted to play Division I basketball. He is now a forward with California State-Northridge, and the only deaf player. (Note: I'm using the article's capitalization.)

According to his coach, Michael's deafness gives him an advantage on the court: excitable fans for the other team can't rattle him. "The fans were right on top of him and they are yelling and pointing and he's just smiling and shooting ... [a]nd the rest of our players are laughing at it because they know these guys are just wasting their energy trying to rattle Mike."

There's an interpreter nearby when the coach talks to the team (though not for all road games, according to the article), the other players are learning Sign, and the coach usually notifies the officials before the game so that they'll know why Michael doesn't always stop play when the whistle blows.

One downside, though, is not always being able to communicate with fans: "I have faced some challenges being deaf because I cannot talk and sometimes fans will come up to me to say something and I have to gesture to them that I can't hear. It's frustrating because I want to know what they say and when an interpreter is not available, I am unable to understand them."

I'm happy I saw the article and learned about Michael Lizarraga. Here's a New York Times article about him that ran back in December.

His quote in that article is apt: "I would say my favorite quote is, 'Don't tell me I can't because I will.'"

Monday, January 10, 2011

How I Use Google Reader to Keep Up on Deaf Blogs, and You Can Too

The world of blogs, RSS feeds, and social media can be a little intimidating sometimes. I used to be intimidated, too, until I began using Google Reader. Honestly, I don't know what I did before it. It's sort of become an addiction for me.

I use Google Reader for a few things:
  • Personal: Keeping up on blogs I find entertaining, family members' blogs, recipes, gaming blogs, etc.
  • Work: I work in a public library, so I use Google Reader to keep up on library news and information.
  • Blogging: Deafness related news, information, stories, etc.
So what is Google Reader? Essentially, Google Reader is a way to put all of the sites you keep up on in one place, organize them, and maintain them. Google Reader uses technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication) to do this for you. Almost all websites and blogs that have changing content have RSS enabled already.

Getting Started
It's possible to use Google Reader without a Google account - you just need an email address to sign up - but I recommend signing up for a free Google account anyway. Even if just for Google Voice! You can sign up for Google at their homepage. Just click on Sign In, and then click the link to create an account. Once you have one, you can use Google Reader.

The Home Page
 If you click on the link above to Reader, you'll be taken to the Home page. Mine is below. Just keep in mind, mine is busier than yours will be at first! (Click to embiggen!)

To the left is a pane that contains all of your subscriptions. Mine are organized into various folders like Animals, Books, Business Blogs, Comics, Hearing Loss, etc. You can be as organized or disorganized as you want.

The center contains recent posts from the blogs you've added.

And to the right are links to items you have Starred, Shared, and (recently) Read. I'll come back to these later.

Adding a Blog
There are two ways to add a blog. You can do it the easy way or the accurate way. Click on Add a subscription first.

The easy way is to simply copy and paste the website's URL into the bar that comes up when you click Add a subscription:

Reader will search for the RSS feed on the site you put in and then, if it finds one, add it to your left-hand pane. But sometimes it doesn't find one.

That's when you need to do it the accurate way. You'll need to tell Reader the actual RSS feed of the site. Go to the website and look in the URL bar for an icon that looks like curved lines on an orange square.

Click on that icon, and you'll see "Subscribe to..."

Click either option, and you'll be taken to a webpage that may look like this.

Then, copy the URL the same way as above.

If you see the option at the top that says Subscribe to this feed using... and then a dropdown list, you can also select Google from there and tell it to put the feed in Google Reader.

Now you're subscribed to a blog. The blog's title will show up in your left hand pane (if you add a tag to it, it will be within the tag, or folder). Click on it to read the last few posts. Google Reader will automatically put the last 10 posts up for you to read when you first subscribe. (Just click Mark all as read at the top if you've already read them.) It will fetch new posts periodically.

You can either read the post in Reader, or click on the title of the post to go to the site to read it. Some sites truncate the information they share through RSS so that you have to go to the site to read the whole thing. Other sites, like my blog, freely share the content through Reader.

Starring, Sharing, and Liking
You can Star an item by clicking the star icon at the top or bottom of a post. Then, get to your Starred items later by clicking on Starred Items in the left-hand pane. I Star items to come back to later. For example, if I want to write a blog post about something I saw in Reader, I star it, and then periodically look through my starred items to find content.

Clicking Share will share a blog post with people who are following you. (You can follow people by clicking Sharing settings under People you follow in the left-hand pane.) They can then comment on it, Star it, and Share it themselves.

If you follow someone, you'll see the posts they share under People you follow on the left-hand side. I'd suggest clicking Sharing settings to edit your settings for privacy.

Liking something, similar to Facebook, indicates that you... well... like it! Once a post has at least one Like from another reader, that will show up in the post. If lots of people like a post, it might be worth spending more time with.

Put Reader To Work For You
Organize It
As I said above, you can be as organized or messy as you like with Reader. It'll automatically put feeds into alphabetical order for you, but that's about it. Use tags and labels to organize it. I can tell at a glance when I have stuff to read for work, blogging or personal time.

Use Keyword Feeds
One feed I'm subscribed to is actually the Google News search for "hearing loss." Just search on Google News for a keyword and then paste the results URL into Reader. Sometimes it means I see duplicate stories as lots of newspapers post articles on a topic (and lots of stuff from India for some reason), but I also see opinion pieces and other bits of interesting information.

Star Items to Come Back To
I star the following three items regularly:
  • Videos: So that I can come back to them when I am at home and can watch them with my Streamer.
  • Stuff to blog about later: I periodicially go through my starred posts to find items to write about.
  • Recipes: I have a recipe database on a server at home and star items to copy over to the database.
It's all about what works for you... but I have to say, starring items to write about later is such a time saver!

Share Stuff With Family & Friends
Currently only one person regularly reads stuff I share, my husband. We use it as almost a virtual notebook or scrapbook of stuff we like and want each other to look at. Anyone else looking at my shared items might be confused about why I share particular things, but it's because I think he'll like them. You can do something similar. If you're planning a wedding, share stuff with your bridesmaids... and so on! 

Find Stuff To Read
Reader has some useful tools built into it to help you find blogs to read. Click on "Browse for stuff" in the left hand pane. Here, you can search, see recommendations and see "Bundles", or groups of blogs that people have put together with a common theme.  

"Read It Later"
Read It Later is a useful tool I have recently found. You can use it just in the browser, as an extension for Firefox or on your mobile device. If you install it for Firefox you will see a small additional icon in your URL bar and in every Google Reader post. Just click that icon to have it added to your "Reading List." You can even set it up to be accessible off-line, so it may be more handy than Starring items, plus you can add literally any webpage to Read It Later. 

Subscribe to Yourself 
I subscribe to Hearing Sparks and my personal blog, Meginsanity, in my own reader. It's not because I have a big ego, it's because it lets me keep up on how my blog looks. If formatting is wrong, I'll see it right away, both on my homepage and in my Reader. It's very handy.

Follow People on Blogger
If you have a Google account, you can follow Blogger blogs without needing even the URL or the RSS feed. Just go to the Blogger blog you'd like to follow and click the Follow link at the top. It will show up in your Reader after a few minutes. Just remember that you have to unfollow them, not just Unsubscribe, if you want to quit reading the blog.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

A Comparison of Two Video Game Subtitles

My copy of Epic Mickey.
I gotta say... a big Gamestop sale (buy 2 used games, get 1 free) combined with Gamestop gift cards for Christmas is a bad combination if you are out of space to store your games. My husband and I came home with quite a few games that day.

Two of the games we picked up over the course of the day were Epic Mickey, for the Wii, and Ratchet and Clank: A Crack in Time, for the PlayStation 3. Since then, I've been playing Epic Mickey, and Scotty has been playing Ratchet and Clank. The two games approach subtitles and captions differently and I found it interesting how the two approaches offer very different gameplay experiences when looked at as part of the whole package.

Ratchet and Clank has a subtitle option, but it only turns them on for cinematics (the pre-rendered movies that move the plot along). Unfortunately, while your character is running around on the screen, there is very often another character speaking. Why the developer or publisher thought we would need to understand what's being said in some cases and not in others is totally beyond me. Even when I know what a character's voice sounds like from the cinematic, so far I haven't been able to understand anything in those games that isn't subtitled. I think Ratchet and Clank is pretty darn funny when I can understand the jokes, but I can't see how I'll ever be able to play it myself.

Epic Mickey had me scared at first. It opens with a movie explaining the premise behind the game. (You can watch it here.) The movie is narrated off-screen and has no subtitles whatsoever! This really surprised me and had me worried for the game. As soon as I could, I checked the Options screen for a subtitle option, but it was nowhere to be found. However, when I began playing the game I saw that there isn't actually any dialogue in the game itself. Dialogue boxes appear at the bottom of the screen. But I still don't know what was actually going on in the first scene. The attempt to introduce me to the storyline failed for pretty much no reason. They could have easily used subtitles for that short scene, which is less than five minutes long.

In most cases, I prefer to have voice acting combined with subtitles for every sound in the game. The Mass Effect and Dragon Age series are exemplary in this regard; they're exactly the way I like it. The Epic Mickey option, with no voices, is okay but just gets annoying after awhile, at least for me. And of course, Ratchet and Clank just fails entirely. The addition of subtitles to the cinematics just makes me wonder why they couldn't have them during the regular game, too.

Maybe eventually there will be guidelines for game companies to follow about subtitles. Maybe developers and publishers won't be able to pull subtitles at the last minute, as happened with Assassin's Creed. I would love to see something as simple as the CC symbol on the back of a video game box someday.

Monday, January 3, 2011

8 Hilarious Closed Caption Mistakes

When I was a kid, closed captioning on TV was an endless source of amusement. Turn on the captioning during any live event and you were guaranteed at least a few chuckles. Nowadays there aren't as many errors as there used to be. But whenever I see something like this Christmas Mass Closed Caption Fail at Failblog, it makes me grin... yes, it's frustrating when captions go wrong... but you gotta admit it's funny, too!

"The deacon sings -- 'The mass has ended. Go in pee.'"
 Here are a few others I found posted online (definitely not G-rated)...

"A former fertile lady back at home. Nancy Reagan was"
"Defense. Bitch is out with a foot"
"We get to eat a porn star."
"I would have wanted to always Iraq was a cat fight police tell me if there was a cat fight" (From this article about YouTube's auto-caption fails)
"With refried beans cooked in lard and refried penis. Make your own"

"Firefighters to deal with not just the fire with people in the middle of the road ejaculating"
"Heinz, of course, is rubbing against Governor Pat Quinn in the Democratic primary." (From this Flickr post)
Also worth a read if you like this kind of thing is the blog post episode iii, the backstroke of the west. This blogger posted the hilarious subtitles found on a bootleg copy of Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith he bought in Shanghai. It never fails to make me laugh.