The Trouble With Communication

Hearing.jpeg

So I remember this old comedy skit showing the problem with communication.


There is a deaf guy trying to communicate with a blind guy.


Boy, this is a real conundrum.


The deaf guy communicates with sign language that the blind guy can’t see. 


And the blind guy communicates by talking which the deaf guy can’t hear. 


So neither are getting any messaging across. 


This is sort of like every day life, where people communicate talking past each other. 


Each may only be concerned with what they feel, think, and have to say. 


They don’t really care to listen or understand the other person. 


It like the blind and deaf guy communicating and neither can hear the other. 


Most importantly, we need to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes. 


To think from their perspectives, and to communicate having in mind to fulfill for the other person–what’s in it for me (WIIFM).


In Judaism, their is an important teaching that each person is an entire world unto themselves.


We need to be sensitive to their world and speak our mind, but definitely in their language. 😉


(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

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Why We Expect Nothing

Why We Expect Nothing

I took this photo of a sign at the Metro station to the Reagan National Airport by Washington, D.C.

“Expect The Unexpected” is the warning.

Don’t be complacent–anything can happen–be vigilant–is the message.

It reminds me of a Seinfeld episode where Jerry jokes about people going to the beach and hiding their wallets in their shoes.

Like, a criminal would never think to check your shoe!

Oh, push the wallet all the way down to the toes, under the tongue, that way the bad guys will never be able to get to it.

Here, it’s more a case of of why don’t we expect the darn expected.

Everybody knows that people “hide” their valuables at the beach in their shoes!

In modern times, we seem blind though to any expectations at all.

– Arab Spring and civil war spreading into Syria and Iraq–after Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Egypt, and more–who would’ve thought?

– Russia taking over Crimea and agitating in Eastern Ukraine–after their little excursions into Georgia and Chechnya–who would expect that?

– Financial meltdowns and major recession after the dot com and housing bubbles–even my barber was talking about retiring and buying a mansion in the Caribbean–where are these coming from?

The question then is are we really unable to see past our noses or do we just hold steadfast to principle that ignorance is bliss?

Well let’s just test the “expect nothing doctrine” that we seem to all be living by these days and see how you feel about these:

  • North Korea–they would never invade the South again.
  • Iran–sure, they are going to give up their nuclear weapons and their greater Middle Eastern Caliphate ambitions.
  • China–Yeah, we’ll just pin them in the South China Sea and they’ll never get out.
  • The national deficit–it’s not and will never be too big for us to handle because we’re rich.
  • Terrorism in a major American city–not after 9/11 and all that Homeland Security.
  • Environmental catastrophe–we will build a big bubble over ourselves, so no problem.
  • Economic inequity–the top 1% deserves to control 43% of the Nation’s wealth and everyone else just sit down and shut up.
  • The Singularity–how could a machine ever be smarter than us; we’ve got all the technology fully under our control.

Well, if you are blind or dumb enough to believe these, just keep putting your money in your shoes at the beach, because there is no reason to expect that anyone would ever think to look for it there. 😉

Now’s Your Chance To Make Things Right

Beliefs

Day 4…pain gradually subsiding, walking improving.

Still pushing my body…walk, ice, walk, ice.

But more than the physical, I realized that I was going through something far more spiritual in my journey.

People are coming out of the woodwork telling me their travails through these surgeries.

One old time friend, welcomed me to the “Hip Club”–her new hip is 4 years old, but I didn’t even know she had it done (albeit that we only keep in touch through Facebook these days).

Another, my neighbor, had knee replacement in 2011–again, was I too busy or blind to know–I felt like an absolute card. She in particular told me again and again, “I cried, I cried.”

Later in the day, as I am trying to figure it all out–how am I going to get everything done and back on my feet, my wife says to me, “Now’s your chance to make things right!”

Then it hit me, that while I always try to think of myself as trying to do what’s right, I wasn’t doing enough.

Open your eyes Andy.

There are lot’s of people that are in pain, that are crying, that need help.

What are you doing about it?

Do you even see them?

Are you aware they are there?

WAKE UP CALL.

Do Better, Make things right. Try harder. Do More.

It’s not too late.

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Leading the Blind

Blind

Waiting for the train this morning–on the platform, there is a blind woman.

The train pulls up, and I help the blind lady to the train door, saying “it’s just to the right.”

The blind lady gets on and staggers herself over to where the seats usually are right next to the door, but on this model of the train, it is just an empty space.

She goes across the aisle to the other side to try and sit down, and reaches out with her arm, but ends up touching this other lady’s head.

But the other lady is quite comfortable in her seat and doesn’t flinch or budge.

The funny (read sad) thing about this is that there an empty seat on the inside right next to her–but she doesn’t move over, nor does she direct the blind lady to the empty seat next to her or anyplace else either.

Actually, the lady sitting all comfy–doesn’t say a word–to the contrary, she nudges the blind lady away from her seat.

The blind lady is left standing there–groping for somewhere to go.

As the train lurches forward–beginning to moving out of the station–the blind lady make a shuffled dash heading for the other side of the train to try to feel for another seat–and she begins to stumble.

I jump up from the other side and having no time, awkwardly just grab for her hand, so she does not fall.

The lady is startled and pulls back, and I explain that I am just trying to help her get safely to a seat.

I end up giving her my seat–it was just easier than trying to guide her to another vacant one, and she sits down.

I was glad that I was able to do something to assist–it was a nice way to start out the week–even if only in a small way.

But honestly, I also felt upset at the other lady, who so blatantly just disregarded the needs of the handicapped.

I do not understand the callousness–doesn’t she realize that a person with a disability or handicap could be any one of us–even her.

My mind starting racing about what I had heard from the pulpit about sins of omission and commission, and I know I shouldn’t have, but I couldn’t help sort of staring at the lady who was all smug–wondering again and again about who she was, what was she thinking (or not), and basically is that what most people would do.

I watch other people help each other every day, and I’ve got to believe inside that most people are better than that.

(Source Photo: adapted from herewith attribution to Neils Photography)

Seeing Is Believing

This robotic seeing eye dog from Japanese company NSK is an incredible display of how technology can help the blind and was profiled in PopSci on 9 November 2011.
While there are reports of many advances in returning sight to the blind through such breakthroughs as stem cell molecular regeneration and camera-like retinal implants, there will unfortunately be medical cases that cannot be readily cured and herein lies the promise for robotic guide dogs.
These dogs do not provide the same companionship that perhaps real dogs do, but they also don’t require the same care and feeding that can be taxing, especially, I would imagine, on someone with a handicap.
The Robotic Seeing Eye Dog can roll on flat surfaces and can climb stairs or over other obstacles.
It is activated by a person holding and putting pressure on it’s “collar” handle bar.
The robotic dog can also speak alerting its handler to specific environmental conditions and potential obstacles, obviously better than through a traditional dog bark.
The dog is outfitted with Microsoft Kinect technologyfor sensing and navigating the world.
It is amazing to me how gaming technology here ends up helping the blind. But every technological advance has the potential to spur unintended uses and benefits in other areas of our life.
Recently, I saw an advertisement for MetLife insurance that proclaimed “for the ifs in life” and given all the uncertainties that can happen to us at virtually anytime, I feel grateful to G-d for the innovation and technology that he bestows on people for helping us handle these; sometimes the advances are direct like with Apple’s laser-like focus on user-centric design for numerous commercial technologies, and other times these are more indirect like with the Kinect being used for helping the blind, or even the Internet itself once developed by the military’s DARPA.
I imagine the technology cures and advances that we achieve are almost like a race against the clock, where people come up with counters to the ifs and threats out there, adapting and adopting from the latest and greatest technology advances available.
Advances such as Kinect and then taking us to the robotic seeing eye dog, bring us a little closer–step by step, each time incrementally–to handling the next challenge that calls.
This week, I was reminded again, with the massive asteroid YU55 speeding past us at 29,000 mph and within only 202,000 mile of a potential Earth collision (within the Moon’s orbit!), how there are many more ifs to come and I wonder will we be ready, can we really, and whether through direct or indirect discoveries to handle these.

>Faith or Fear?

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I love stories of hope and possibility.

I read in the Washington Post, 1 August 2009, about cars that actually enable blind people to drive. This was one of those stories.

In 2004, a challenge was issued from a blindness advocacy group “to build a vehicle that the blind could drive with the same freedom as the sighted.”

Around the same time, The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)—the same government agency that brought us the Internet—“ran a series of contests to inspire a driverless car that could navigate complex terrain.”

However, at Virginia Tech’s Robot’s & Mechanism Laboratory the challenge of “an autonomous vehicle wasn’t enough. We want the blind person to be the driver, not to be driven.”

To meet this once unthinkable goal, the design team developed a prototype vehicle that blind students this summer are actually testing.

Here’s how the vehicle works: An all-terrain vehicle with a front-mounted laser sensor sweeps the terrain ahead, and a computer in the back processes the information into a two-dimensional map. A computer voice tells the driver through headphones what number of clicks to turn the wheel to steer around obstacles and a vest vibrates to indicate whether the driver should slow down or stop.

By challenging ourselves, bringing innovation to the table, thinking positively, and working through the challenges, we are able to bring opportunities to people that many thought were impossible.

Yet even today, I heard people reacting to this story and saying “Oh, I wouldn’t want a blind person driving behind me.”

But why not? There are reasons to believe that this can work.

First of all, in the vehicle tests, the blind drivers actually did better than the engineers because they followed the directions coming from the computer more precisely.

Second, when it comes to other modes of transportation such as flying, people no longer seriously question the use of technology to aid our ability to see, navigate and fly through all sorts of weather and turbulent conditions. Now a days, a large commercial airplane flying at hundreds of miles an hour over densely populated cities on autopilot is an accepted fact.

I believe there are really two issues here:

On one hand, is the technology itself. How far can technology take us—are there limits?

And the second issue is can people overcome their mindset of fear, doubt, hesitation, and negativity to really stretch the bounds of the imagination to the what’s truly possible?

I think both the issues of technology and mindset are strongly related.

Obviously there are laws of nature and physics that place real limits on even how far technology can take us. Yet, as we press against the boundaries and test the seemingly impossible, we are able do things that practically defy those very laws. For example, who would’ve thought that man could fly like the birds, walk on the moon, communicate thousands of miles in a split second, or cure the incurable? Perhaps, what we perceive as physical limitations are only there until we can figure out how to overcome them with innovation and technology—and of course, the wisdom bestowed from the almighty.

By realizing that the boundaries are not so hard and fast—that they are elastic—we can have hope in going further and doing the seemingly impossible.

Certainly, I recognize the very real legitimacy of the concerns that people might have over the thought of blind people in the driver’s seat. However we must ask ourselves how much of this concern is based on rational, logical factors and how much on a misperception or mistrust of what technology—and blind people themselves—can actually do. To me, it really comes down to one’s mindset.

Through faith, courage, conviction, we can overcome our doubts and fears. We can and must continue to explore, to test the bounds, and to innovate some more.