New “ears”

After a 3 month wait for titanium to integrate with bone, today I was fitted with two new sound processors. These new digital devices replaced my old analog hearing aid, which had been limping along these past few years. One major benefit is that I’ve now got bilateral hearing for the first time in 43 years. That’s pretty sweet. The sound processors also accept Direct Audio Input (DAI) accessories, so I can use Bluetooth stuff or get a direct connection from audio sources (iPhone, laptop, etc) to the sound processors. That’s really nice. And the processors have a mode where the external microphone can be turned off and the only input is from the plugs…for me that’s tantamount to a very nice noise canceling headphone.

The sound quality is excellent. Much greater audible range, and much greater clarity and definition of sound. I was in a restaurant right after getting fitted for the processors, and I felt like a spy. It seemed like I could hear everyone’s conversation all around me. It was fun, but a little distracting. Some of the sensations will take some getting used to. For instance, when the battery on my old hearing aid started dying, sound got sort of dull and muted…hard to describe, but I know it when I hear it! The new sound processors have a wider dynamic range, and they treat sound differently. Sometimes the way sound is rendered in the new processors, it sounds a lot like when the battery was dying on my old hearing aid. The really trippy part is that all the other sounds around that dull sound are just perfectly clear and fine. It’ll take some getting used to, I guess.

I need to get a hair cut now, too. The microphones on the new processors are sensitive enough that they pick up the sound of my hair brushing against them, which ends up sounding a bit like static. Also, hats are apparently not going to work for me anymore, which is kind of a bummer. I really like hats. I’m going to keep messing around with this to see if there’s a solution, but right now any time I put on a hat I get a lot of squealing feedback. That’s a bummer. Also, talking on the home phone is going to get some getting used to as well. I’m not as familiar with where the microphone is located, and I keep missing it and having a hard time hearing the caller. Practice will make perfect, I guess. Along similar lines as the hat problem, I’m clearly not going to be able to wear headphones any longer. The squealing feedback on those is even worse than with hats. Considering the DAI options available, the headphone problem isn’t a very big deal.

The sensitivity on the new processors is astounding. I’m hearing cars drive by outside the house. I can hear the gravel under their wheels. I’ve never had that kind of hearing sensitivity, and it’s pretty great. I’m tired tonight, though. I think it’s because I’ve been spending most of my time thinking about hearing and focusing on what works, and what doesn’t, etc. When we were driving home after the processors were fitted, I kept saying “hmmm”, or “that’s interesting.” I was just scooping up all the new information coming in about my hearing experience, and filing it away for later processing, I guess.

I’ve got some video of the day, which I’ll edit into a final video for inclusion with the others. I thought that was something I’d work on tonight, but I’m just too tired. I’ve got a staff retreat for a couple of days this week, so maybe while everyone else is playing Uno, or whatever, I’ll work on a little video thingy.

On again, off again

I’m off Facebook again. I dunno for how long, but I just couldn’t take it any more (again). I’ll try not to rant about how vapid everything is over there, or how one-dimensional it makes me feel. I’ve just got a love/hate thing going with the site.

I love all the genuine re-connections that can be made. It really is fun to find old college friends and swap a few stories, then move on. And I do like sharing some of the weird and fun stuff I run across on the Internets. Also, since so many sites are rolling out FB logins, it’s going to start to be more difficult to not have an activated account. I know of a few sites I already log into using FB, and I’m not going to be able to use them while my account is disabled. The cost of sanity, I guess.

I’ve been reading a book called You Are Not A Gadget, and it’s got some really insightful things to say about interface design, coding lock-in, and our cultural tendency toward reductionism. All of which I can see clearly reflected in FB and my own usage (and your usage, too). It’s helped me think in new directions about some of my own work, especially how we treat people online and how to make better distinctions between the online presence and the real people.

Left unaided, my own tendency while reading friends updates on FB is to begin, over time, to conflate the real person with the persona presented on the screen. And they are definitely not the same. I find that I often dislike the online persona of real people I care about. That gives me a disturbing sense of cognitive dissonance. So I blame FB and I shut down my account. I know that’s not the answer, but it works for now and it buys me some time to either work it out or ignore it again.

Not a resolution

It’s the first day of 2011. A whole new decade. Amy has resolved [redacted], and I bet she’ll do it. Personally, I’m not making any resolutions. I’d like to write here again, though. So here’s the first one. We’ll see how well this goes.

Let’s just do a little catchup, though, eh? Back in October, my hearing aid broke. I found out they don’t make ’em anymore. And I found out that I should probably get surgery to hear better. So I made a page about it. Lots of folks helped out, and I had surgery on Nov. 1. It went well, and I healed quickly. The implant on the right side is a little lopsided, though, so I’m having that checked out next Tuesday, 1/4/10, up at Oregon Health Sciences University. And then on Feb. 1 I’m scheduled to be fitted with dual Baha 3 sound processors. That should be excellent. I intend to make a short followup video once everything is in place, and I’ll point it out when it’s ready.

Clothes and the man

There are a couple of style blogs that I really like. Put This On is great in terms of editorializing style. And The Sartorialist is equally great at visually curating style. Love ’em both. There are a few others that I follow (you can see the full list at the bottom of this post), but those two are my favorites.

PTO posted an interesting dialogue between bloggers about the importance of aesthetics. I’ll weigh in on it because it’s something I’ve thought about a bit on my own. My default setting has always been similar to what Jason wrote about. Even then, I understood at some level that there is an element of context that requires understanding in order to achieve desired effects. For example, you don’t talk to your grandmother the same way you talk to your friends from school. You (hopefully) use different language and take a more respectful tone with grandma. School friends and grandma are two wildly different contexts requiring two different ways of relating. I always felt the same about clothes–if jacket and tie were de rigueur for a workplace, then it’d be out of context, not to mention dumb, to wear jeans and a tshirt. Black tie dinners require, you guessed it, black tie clothes. Anything else would be disrespectful to the event and to others in attendance. If you don’t buy the idea that black tie is legit, then don’t attend the event. If you can’t get out of it, then man up, shut up, and dress right. It’s easy. It’s not about conformity, it’s about respect.

So that’s the utilitarian view that I’ve always had; pretty similar to what Jesse at PTO writes when he says, “The language of clothing is as complex as the spoken word, but ignorance of it is no excuse.” We part ways, though, when he says, “If you put on a jacket and tie, for example, you are signifying to others that you take the occasion seriously, whatever that occasion may be.” Here’s a simple example that anyone can understand: if you’re in the habit of wearing jacket and tie to the beach and you’re expecting to be respected because you’re “commanding respect,” then there’s something wrong with you. That’s obviously simplistic, but the idea extends elsewhere. I’ve read what Jesse says to guys asking what to wear in an IT environment where everyone is wearing birkenstocks and jeans, and I think it’s well intentioned, but misguided to tell them to sport the coat and tie every day. The first step is to evaluate the style spectrum of the environment. The second step is to aim for the dressier side of center. There is a spectrum of style at any workplace, and moving too far to either end is ill advised. I love french cuffed shirts, for example. But it is very, very rare that I can wear them at my job (and I’m working as a director of finance). It’s just too far outside the norm, I’d look like a pompous goofball, and it’d be a distraction for other folks. So the french cuffs stay in the closet.

Finally, I’ll say that I wholly agree with Jesse of PTO when he notes that, “I would never dream of suggesting that aesthetic choices are superficial, whether they be in the form of art, architecture, design, clothing or even language. Beauty is important.” If you think that’s a stretch and can’t really understand why anyone would think aesthetics has a singular value of it’s own (as opposed to being a “value-added” commodity), then let me recommend reading The Substance of Style by Virginia Postrel. It’s an excellent little book that details the how and why of the intrinsic value of aesthetics. I don’t agree with every word, but reading it was definitely an inflection point for me in terms of how I view and value beauty.

Exceeding the carrying capacity of my brain

Warning: this post is a total downer. You may want to avert your eyes, lest your illusions be shattered.

  • Synergy is the term used to describe a situation where different entities cooperate advantageously for a final outcome. Simply defined, it means that the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.
  • It’s better to give than to receive (Acts 20:35). Or, it’s better to give more than you take.
  • The Golden Rule is also known as the ethic of reciprocity, which basically says, “Do to others what you would like them to do to you.” And there’s a corollary known as the Silver Rule, which is essentially, “Do no harm.”
  • An ecosystem is a system of interdependent organisms which share the same habitat, in an area functioning together with all of the physical (abiotic) factors of the environment.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
–Martin Luther King, Jr.

A while ago I watched a movie by author Michael Pollan, called The Botany of Desire, in which he described ways in which humankind is woven into the fabric of nature. This is in opposition to the often unspoken, but widely held view that humans have mastered much of nature. That we have deciphered DNA and bend the genetics of plants and animals to our will. Pollan described how the seeds of plants have used humans in much the same way pollen uses bees. We move seeds around to their ideal environments, and we select our favorite outcomes of those seeds and seek to generate more. The seeds aren’t sentient, of course, but it would also be silly to imagine that plants don’t seek to thrive. Humans, willingly or otherwise, have helped plants thrive. This was a wonderful eye opener for me.

Around the same time I’d been reading a book called ‘What We Leave Behind’ by Derrick Jensen. Another eye opener. Jensen is (I assume) an anarchist. He’d like to see our dominant culture destroyed and in it’s place have many, many smaller cultures arise. These smaller cultures would be sustainable–that is, they would be able to continue existing indefinitely. This is in stark contrast to our dominant culture today which, by nearly any measure, is unsustainable. Jensen’s work is tremendously thought provoking, and alternately encouraging and utterly grim. Lots more that I can’t fit here.

I also recently read another book called ‘Eating Animals’, which is an interesting and engaging read by a talented author. It also shines a light on some pretty grim practices of industrial animal farming. Many of the individual anecdotes about industrial animal farming are revolting, to be sure. But the thing that sticks in my mind is that once again we’re breaking something into its parts and ignoring the ways in which we’re destroying the true Whole. We look at a chicken and wonder how we can make it grow more meat. And we figure it out. But other parts break (like bones). But the bones aren’t important to us, the meat is important. So we ignore the broken bones and say, “But we’re feeding the world!” And we ignore the reality of the sum of the tremendous suffering inherent in billions of (bird) lives under our care.

And I read about the gyres in the ocean. Ghost nets that never stop killing marine life. Plastic bags that choke marine life. Collapsing fish stocks because of overfishing. The decimation of sea horse populations because of shrimp farming. Tiny bits of plastic found in the tiniest sea creatures, which works its way back up the food chain until a human mother delivers that tiny bit of plastic to her nursing child. And on and on. Your great-grandparents didn’t walk around with plastic in their cells, but you do.

One out of every three honeybee colonies is dying out (in the U.S.). Honeybees seem more like an amusement than a critical part of the ecosystem we live in, but the fact is that they jumpstart 1/3 of the food we eat in the U.S., either by honey production or pollination. When bees suffer, everyone suffers.

We’re all running around buying hybrid cars, and taking shorter showers so we can save the planet from burning up. Glaciers are melting (also) at an unheard of rate. Ocean levels are rising. Yes, the temperature of the earth’s climate does naturally rise and fall. But it doesn’t, and never has, risen this high this quickly. And, despite what we’re told, the greenhouse gas production by folks like you and I account for only a fraction of the total. Those short showers aren’t helping. The real culprit is (surprise) industrial animal farming.

I read a book a few years ago called ‘The Tipping Point’ by Malcolm Gladwell, where he makes the case for exponential expansion/growth/popularity because of a few mitigating factors. Once something “tips”, it’s near impossible to reverse. I figure we’ve probably tipped the earth, and I’m pessimistic that we can put it back the way we found it. And I’m pretty sure that whatever happens next is going to hurt.

All that to say that there’s a lot popping around in the old gourd lately. I’d like to synthesize it, but I’m not sure my writing and thinking skills are up to the task. Maybe I’ll just take it one step and one post at a time, and see where it leads.

A Few Good Goals

I always think I’m not much of a goal setter, but then I keep various little mental benchmarks in my head. Sometimes I talk about ’em, but mostly not. Might as well mention the current goal(s)…

A while ago I was able to convince some friends to plan a climb on Mt. St. Helens with me. We’re scheduled to climb on October 3. We’ve even got the permits purchased. Problem is, I’m totally out of shape and would probably keel over halfway up if I had to march up it right now. Relatedly, I’ve got high blood pressure and I’ve been at least 20lbs overweight for the last several years.

I’ve done a lot of rock climbing in my day, but the only real mountains I’ve climbed are St. Helens and Hood. That’s because when I was younger I really hated walking uphill. It’s still not the funnest thing, but somehow it has become much more tolerable as I’ve grown older. Anyway, I never summited Mt. Hood. I just got tired out and sat on the Hogsback, about 100 yards from the summit, until my friends tagged the summit and came back down. Good enough for me. And when I went up St. Helens, I was apparently in such a hurry to pack that when I got to the top I realized that I’d only brought a bottle of grape jelly. No crackers, no water. Just grape jelly. That sucked. Fortunately friends took pity on me and shared their meager rations.

So I’m kind of on a path toward redemption on St. Helens. But I still need to get in shape. I’m still overweight, and I still have high blood pressure. All this stuff was roiling around in my head when I went to see Dr. Tim, a naturopath, about my blood pressure. He said (duh), “lose weight.” But he also gave me a 3-week “cleanse” program to try out. Basically, I could eat anything I wanted as long as it didn’t contain caffeine, refined sugar, wheat, dairy, red meat, or chicken. Plus I was supposed to drink a couple of special smoothies each day, with a bunch of supplements, etc. Easy, eh? Well I stuck it out for three weeks. The coffee headache from the first couple of days was the worst.

I dropped 17 pounds and my blood pressure went through the floor. A few pounds have come back, but the BP has stayed low. BP is divided in to systolic and diastolic measurements. My systolic dropped from around 140 to around 110. My diastolic dropped from around 90 to around 73. I’m pretty stoked about that. I’ve stopped taking high blood pressure medicine for now, just to see what the readings would do. So far, they’ve stayed down.

So I’ve dropped some weight and dropped the BP. I’m satisfied with the BP, but not happy with the weight. I was at 240 on Monday, May 4, 2009 and on Friday, May 22, 2009 I was at 223. I’m hovering around 227-229 right now and I want to get to 220. Dr. Tim says I should be at 215, but we’ll see about that.

The one thing I didn’t do, that Dr. Tim said I should’ve done during the “cleanse”, was exercise. I kept meaning to, but I just never did it (aside from waking or biking to work–a flat 5 blocks). Always had a good excuse in my head. What I absolutely know is that I’ve got a big hill to climb on October 3, and if I don’t start climbing some smaller hills now, I’m gonna really be hurting.

So I mapped out a quick 2.5 mile running route that has two decent hills in each direction. The second hill is an absolute killer. It gains about 100 feet in elevation in about 100 yards. It’s steep. I can’t even run up half of it yet, but when I can run up the whole thing, I’ll turn around and start working on a second lap. I’ve also got to start planning some intermediate hikes to help get my legs conditioned to longer uphill walks. One a month between now and October ought to do it.

So there you go. Everything is out in the open now! I’ve got to start running and hiking some hills. Get the weight down to 220. In fact, this evening I told Amy that when I hit 220 I’m going surfing. I haven’t been surfing since my regular surf buddy died several months ago. I miss it, but if I can hit the water at 220, I know I’ll be feeling really good. 🙂

The loudmouth

My (very sweet) sister-in-law, with whom I apparently disagree mightily about both politics and religion, has a nice post-election blog posting.

I considered responding with a blog post of my own, but ended up just dropping a comment in on her post. My comment is so long I probably should’ve made it into it’s own post. Whatever. Feel free to yell at me either here or there. 🙂