Visiting Google, and all that jazz

Windows is the operating system of the PC, but Google is quickly becoming the operating system of the world. I’ve found that I can’t write anymore without Google. I probably do five or six searches each hour, looking up various facts.

So I spent a good deal of today sniffing ’round the place. I had lunch with Jenn Shreve, a wonderfully creative writer who’s now working at their Mountain View campus. Eating in Google’s cafeteria is like living in a Star Trek post-cash economy of abundance. You don’t buy anything. You just take whatever you want. After lunch Jenn showed me a stunning display of a rotating earth showing, graphically, how many searches were going on around the globe in real time. It gave the impression of a planet glowing with data — although large parts of Africa and Asia were almost entirely dark. There’s still a long way to go.

Then I went to an open house in their San Francisco office. I went mainly to see Vinton Cerf, who wrote the Internet’s fundamental protocol, TCP/IP. Cerf has a hearing loss, as does his wife, who is a cochlear implant user. He got quite excited when I gave him a copy of my book, because he’d read my Wired article on software for music — which made me turn pink with pleasure. It’s a lot of fun to be recognized.

Cerf gave a marvelous talk on the challenges that face the Internet now, such as the fact that it’s fast running out of IP addresses (its current capacity of 4.3 billion addresses seemed like plenty back in the 1970s, but, well, things have changed since then.) There’s big social challenges too, like ensuring both security and anonymity at the same time, and working through its impact in countries that don’t have the same rules as Americans do about things like freedom of speech. He’s a great speaker: funny, fast, smart, engaging.

Then I went to see a jazz concert at Yoshi’s with a friend, and that’s a whole nother blog entry. But to keep it brief, I made two interesting discoveries. One is that jazz isn’t the right musical form for me right now; it’s so improvisational and sophisticated that for me it’s like a beginning English speaker going to a debate at Oxford. But there were particular passages that I enjoyed, where the instruments were harmonizing closely together in a way that sounded more symphonic than improvisational. And I got the sense – it’s just a sense – that my new right ear was getting the music better than the left. Not that it was hearing more, but that it was enjoying it more. A hemispheric lateralization thing, perhaps.

Well, it’s late; it’s been a long day; tomorrow I give a talk at the Institute for the Future, so I’m going to bed.


  1. Michael,

    thanks so much for coming to visit Google yesterday. We are really happy about the new SF office. It was a pleasure to meet you face-to-face after reading about your determined effort to rebuild your hearing with a cochlear implant. As you know, my wife, Sigrid, seems to have a motto: “no decibel will go undetected!” – she shares your enthusiasm for this amazing technology. Your upbeat attitude, so evident when we met, is refreshing and encouraging. I am glad you wrote that book because adults who lose their hearing may have no idea that there may be a way to recover. There is a great deal of focus on childhood deafness but less on adult recovery. I would like to take advantage of your blog to emphasize that hearing rehabilitation starts with the technology (hearing aid, implant) but benefits from a concerted effort to develop the ability to hear again. You and Sigrid took the initiative to develop your own rehabilitation process but many in similar circumstances don’t know where to start. Audiologists and speech therapists often don’t really know how far you can take the implant technology with the use of assistive devices and practice.

    I hope you will continue to evangelize for cochlear implants and serious rehab. It would be great to see more people like you and Sigrid recovering your connections to the hearing and speaking world.

    Thanks for giving me a copy of your book, Rebuilt, I am going to enjoy reading it and I know Sigrid will, too.

    Vint Cerf

  2. Mike,

    Jazz was the FIRST music that I thoroughly enjoyed when my first CI was activated. I could hear the different instruments playing and pick them out and yet I could hear the music, too. With two ears, it is even better. But then again, I’ve never had “natural” hearing so I have nothing to compare to. I love love love MUSIC! (Except the loud, rock kind)

    Am glad you are hearing good!

  3. Don’t give up on it….go again…keep an open mind/ear. Kind of like trying to unwrap an orange peel by peel to get to the juicy fruit inside and eventually you get to that point and the fruit tastes oh so sweet. Once “I got it”, I never looked back on any other music again.


  4. Michael Chorost says

    Wow, Vint, thank you for the comment. It was a great pleasure meeting you yesterday.

    And THANK YOU to everyone else who’s posted comments on my blog. I’m too overloaded by my email and other tasks to respond to most comments, but I deeply appreciate every one of them (and I read them all.) The things you say are of great value to everyone who comes along later. Thanks again, and please keep reading — and posting.

  5. sam alapati says

    Wow, I thought I was seeing double! The great Vincent Cerf, the Father of the Internet on Michael’s blog!
    Dr.Cerf, thanks for your encouragment regards rehabilitation for CI users. This is an area often talked about but about which there’s much to be known.

    Of the three leading Cochlear Implant makers, I think Med-El (my own implant is made by Advanced Bionics) has the best rehabilitation material, in my humble opinion. Med-El has a great rehabilitation expert, by name Geoff Plant, who has produced several great products for them.
    Besides the rehabilitation products offered by the three leading cCI companies, there’s also a free learning sofware offered by a firm run by a scientist working for the House Clinic in California.

    Dr.Cerf,I wonder if Sigrid used any software or mainly rehabilitated herself by practicising with different types of devices such as books on tape, for example.

  6. Michael:

    I’ve had my CI for about 2 1/2 months. Environmental sounds are getting pretty good, but understanding speech is still a bit of a problem.

    Is it possible alcohol aids the brain in adapting to the signals from the CI? If I go out and get really wrecked (not just a few beers–I mean really shit-faced), there is a very noticeable and lasting improvement in the way my CI sounds the next day. Could alcohol somehow help mold the brain, or am I nuts?

    I enjoyed your book. It was the first thing I read after my CI was activated.

  7. Aaron, I thought that was a very entertaining idea. Learning is a function of neural plasticity, after all. The more easily your synapses can form and inhibit connections, the better you learn. It’s not inconceivable that some form of drug therapy might change brain chemistry to make learning easier. I doubt that alcohol is it, though. If it were, college students getting plastered on Saturday would ace their exams on Monday, and as a longtime college teacher I can tell you that doesn’t happen.

    But it’s possible that the alcohol might have some subtle side effect that improves your hearing. As for me, I know that if I drink red wine I’ll hear more tinnitus — which implies some linkage between alcohol and hearing. Heavy drinking dehydrates you, which might reduce fluid levels in your cochlea and permit better conductance between the electrodes and your nerves. That’s just a guess, you understand.

    Reducing your salt intake and drinking more water to flush out your system might have a similar — and much healthier — effect. Dietary changes like that are often prescribed for inner-ear conditions such as Meniere’s.

    (In his memoir “Deafness” David Wright said that he performed prodigies of lipreading when well-lubricated in bars. I don’t think that’s neural plasticity, though; it’s probably that he’s more relaxed and that people are shouting.)

    Important scientific discoveries are often made by people who notice things that other people don’t. If you have a scientific background — or lots of time on your hands — I think you ought to follow that up. I am sure there is a real connection between what you eat and how you hear.

    But I think you should stick to healthy stuff. Drinking heavily in an attempt to improve your hearing would do you a lot more harm than good in the long run. In the short run too, for that matter.

    That was a cool question. Thanks for posting it.

  8. Marilyn Devine says

    Alcohol aiding hearing? I’ll drink to that!

    But seriously folks, I just got activated two days ago with my bilateral implant, and am hearing sentences and paragraphs on the radio already.

    One tip I can give on rehab: go to your local library and take out kids’ book/CD combos. “Speech tracking,” which is reading along with a tape/CD, is a great way to train a newly implanted ear. I whipped through the little kids’ stuff quickly and discovered that while it’s amusing and easy to follow, it’s also usually laced with music, which can interfere with understanding.

    So I switched to a Judy Blume novel, with a corresponding CD (courtesy of a helpful librarian). Sixth grade girl angst, yikes. BUT easy to follow,and every so often I close my eyes and I can HEAR and UNDERSTAND . . . on what is basically Day Two.


  9. vint cerf says

    to Sam Alapati:

    Sigrid basically trained herself with aggressive use of many assistive devices. She made heavy use of external microphones (aux mikes on cables she could clip on people she was talking to; mikes planted around the dinner table; SONY Walkman for playing CDs, tape player for books on tape (she’s listened to over 500 books this way); IR receivers for movies and TV audio channels; FM tranceivers for lectures; etc.

Speak Your Mind