This morning, sights, and sounds



You’d think, after a post like “Perceptions part I” that the next thing I wrote on the subject would be “Perceptions part II.” Those posts, including the one not written, are about sensory substitution and visual qualia, and my experiences over time. Today, I want to talk about today.

I pull open my bottom desk drawer, and pull out the battery. That’s about the size of a deck of cards, only a bit wider, a tiny bit thicker, and much much heavier. A USB cord is still plugged in, the rest of the cord wrapped around it. It only takes a second to unwind the cord, then the battery goes in my breast pocket. I’ll have to buy more shirts that have one. I just never considered the functional constraints of upper body clothing before.

Next I pull out my wireless bone conduction headphones. These don’t go in the ear; they rest against your cheek bones. Actually, these things are clearly designed for people with smaller heads. If I hook them over my ears, they squeeze the back of my neck, and they end up nearly sitting inside my ears, defeating the entire purpose. I have them so the contact pads that transmit the sound are more or less on my temples, with the back of the thing way up on my head. What the hell… it works.

Finally I pull out the smart glasses. These are held in place with a strap. I situate it so it helps hold the headphones in place.

I plug the free end of the battery cord into the smart glasses and then start the hunt for the power button. It is tiny! I can find it, but it takes some fumbling about until my thumbnail is orientated just right, and I can press and hold the stubborn little thing. The glasses take a goodly bit to finish their startup, and if I don’t do it just right, I’m left wondering whether or not the button even got pushed. Is it working? Should I try hitting it again? The suspense is broken when my headphones say, “Connected.”

The headphones use a Bluetooth connection. I have mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, it’s nice that I don’t have to deal with a wire. On the other hand, I don’t much care for the idea of broadcasting. On the gripping hand, it’s what I have to work with at the moment.

Once the glasses are done booting up, I start up the vOICe. That’s an app, and like it’s designed to do, it starts taking images from the glasses’ camera and turning them into sound. It takes only a couple of pushes on a rocker switch, and the vOICe is set to double speed. At that rate, it turns the latest real time image from my camera into sound and plays it for me at a rate of twice each second. A different version of the vOICe that ran on my laptop could go up to eight times a second. I liked 4 times a second, things were much easier to localize in space, but the app for the glasses won’t run that fast.

I’m facing my desk, so I hear almost nothing. No lights are on in my room. I don’t even have my computer’s monitor on. A shove with my feet pushes me back from the desk. That gives me enough room to spin my swivel chair around 180 degrees, and I can hear my window, along with the portion of my room that is lit by the morning sun shining through my curtains.

Now that I have sound to work with, I adjust the volume. My headphones have a couple of buttons you can use to turn them up or down. This is, from my point of view, their best feature.

Back when I was using my unwieldy laptop, and a dinky little USB camera that refused to stay taped or glued to my hat, I took the vOICe for a test spin. I needed to walk to the store. It’s a walk I know rather well, so even though I wasn’t especially good with the vOICe yet, I decided to give it a try. I needn’t have bothered. Most of that walk is alongside a rather busy street. The traffic noise was enough to completely drown out the vOICe, and there was no graceful way to change the volume. I used the ungraceful method—stop, take off backpack, place white cane and backpack on ground, squat down, remove laptop from backpack, open laptop, adjust volume, close laptop, place laptop back in backpack, grab backpack, stand, put on backpack, bend down and pick up white cane, sigh. Then, when I got to the store, the vOICe was far too loud. To hear anything other than the vOICe, I had to take the earbuds I was using out completely.

With my current setup, it’s a couple of pushes on a button, and all is well. I can turn down when I’m talking to someone, or turn up when dealing with somewhere extra noisy, and do it all with casual ease.

Getting everything on and turned on takes much less time to do than to write. It is so much simpler and easier and quicker than some of the other setups I’ve used.

Toward the end of my latest post on this topic, I talked about how my equipment had been sitting in my desk for a couple of weeks. I’d hit a metaphorical wall, and couldn’t seem to be bothered. I know this of old. Sometimes, whatever I’m attempting withers on the vine. Other times, bit by bit, day by day, it becomes a thing I do. This time, after posting the last post, I pulled everything out of my desk. By the time I finished writing it, the fact that I wasn’t doing anything with this thing that can help make up for some of the sight I’ve lost was stupid and dull. Besides, if I’m going to blog about it, I sure as hell better be doing it.

Today, like most days, I just did what I was going to do without the vOICe, with the vOICe. This morning, I was struck by all the things I can hear in the soundscapes that I couldn’t hear before. I even turned on the stairway light at one point, even though I didn’t need it. I wanted to hear the sound of those steps when I’d pass by them later. I like that sound. It leaps out at me now, and I can’t quite fathom how I didn’t notice it back when I started.

On the porch, as I was taking in the morning, I could hear that one of my housemates’ cars was parked in the driveway. I walked out to lean against it and soak up a bit of morning sun. On a whim, I moved away and turned around to look at it. For a moment, as happens from time to time, the image of the car coalesced from the fog, and I could see it. The image didn’t last, dissolving as I moved back.

Later, back inside, I was making a cup of nasty instant coffee. I had my head tilted down, and I noticed a bit of parallax. You know how when you’re riding in a car, things that are close to you seem to speed by, while things farther away seemingly drift slowly along. That’s parallax. The image of the counter had formed, though it was short on detail. I’d lent to the side to watch the counter edge move in my field of view. I noticed the floor and the bottom of the kitchen island I was standing at. The counter was seemingly moving faster, while the bottom of it didn’t. The shifting perspective actually gave me a touch of vertigo for a second. I guess I’m not used to parsing that sort of thing; it’s been a long time since I could see it.

There’s a training manual for the vOICe on the seeing with sound website. I’ve got a copy of it –I’ve even read it; but I can’t quite seem to muster the motivation to bother with it and its exercises… Wait… We’ve been here before. It’s almost like I’ll get around to it in my own good sweet time.

Even just using the vOICe a bit, not every day but most days, is improving my ability to use it. We’ll see what happens.


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