Sep 2

Dear Readers,

I’ve always had a scrabble problem. Or rather, a spelling problem. That is, a problem spelling too well, and compulsively correcting the spelling of those around me who might otherwise be my friends. My love of correctly-spelled words is the likely force behind my love of scrabble. It used to be a board game (and I hear it still is, in the nineteen hundreds), to be played face-to-face with an opponent you could see, and by extension laugh at when said opponent placed an incorrect combination of letters on the board, commonly known as the misspelled word. When your fit of laughter ended, you were then to challenge your partner, and watch him or her suffer through looking up the word in Webster’s dictionary and reach the eventual conclusion to which you’d already come; that the word was misspelled. Your partner then had to undergo the humiliating act of removing his word from the board and losing a turn, a satisfying end before you placed your next zinger.

And while the advent of spellcheck threatened to render my special skills obsolete in the academic and professional world, it was in the scrabble world that the inaccessability of spellcheck maintained the significance of my spelling superiority.

When at first scrabble programs became available on facebook and in iphone apps (first in the ill-fated scrabulous and then in the current scrabble-like giant words with friends), I rejoiced in my 24/7 access to scrabble (and my concomitant decrease in real-world social interactions, surely a coincidence). However, I soon came to find that the ability to spell, not to mention vocabulary and even the strategic skill of singlehandedly arranging one’s letters to create a word, had been usurped by a fatal flaw in programming. No longer did a person need to know how to spell, or even distinguish between a word and a nonword; a person need only randomly arrange letters in any number of combinations and place them on the electronic board that would declare their word “not a word” until their fortuitous three hundredth attempt when, by sheer luck, they placed the word “burgoo” and the computer accepted it, passing their turn on to their virtual opponent. Their opponent, of course, would not have been witness to their 299 failed attempts, unable to challenge their unwords like “rfgyi” and “gyifr.”

“What do these words even mean?” I asked a friend in the midst of her iPhone scrabble game the other day as I observed words like “chthonic” and “jorum.”

“I have no idea,” she replied, “but the computer accepted them, so that’s all that matters.”

IS that all that matters? Is anybody else interested in returning to the original scrabble game that adheres to the legitimate scrabble rules? Wherein the computer doesn’t notify you that “plirdiger” is a nonword (which I only know after having tried to play it in my current iPhone scrabble game) and allow you infinite retries, but rather displays your word to your opponent, who either accepts your word, or challenges you? Were this the case, upon a challenge the computer would then declare whether or not your placement is in fact a word, and if it were not, you would lose your turn, and your partner would play. Intelligence, not dumb luck, would prevail.

And that is why I’m taking a stand. Readers, I implore you to join me in my movement to Take Scrabble Back. It will be bigger than Scientology, though perhaps not as lucrative.

–Troi out

Jun 27

Dear Readers,

I recently wrapped my latest experiment: kindling. Not the dry sticks of wood easily ignited for the purposes of making s’mores, but rather the experience of reading on a kindle*. When my friend first offered to let me borrow his kindle, I wrinkled my nose in distaste, ready to denounce the latest in the wave of computers pretending to be other things,** but then I remembered what Jesus said, about how Thou shalt not judge the kindle in thy neighbor’s eye, if thou hast not removed the kindle from thine own eye, so I decided to accept my friend’s magnanimous offer and launch an investigation into the kindle. And you, my Readers, are the first to receive exclusive coverage of my findings.

*Kindle: (noun) A computer that, having witnessed the savage overthrow of the paperback book, has entered the Witness Protection Program and now masquerades as, inexplicably, a paperback book. To throw the paperback police off its trail, most likely.

**iPod: Computer pretending to be radio; iPhone: Computer pretending to be phone; iPad: Computer pretending to be weird flat screen of no use; Kindle: Computer pretending to be book.

In the following expose, I report my findings objectively with the highest journalistic integrity you’d expect from a speech therapist with no background in journalism.

The Kindle: Pros & Cons

• The kindle has internet capability. This is awesome, because not enough things do these days.
• I no longer need a tray or endtable for my coffee. I can actually hold my kindle in one hand, cradle my coffee mug in the other, and click the “next page” button with either my chin or the excess flesh on my giant thumb.
• Flexible text size. I can magnify the text until only a few words are visible on the screen, and I can subsequently brag, “Look how fast I read that page!”

• High risk of electrocution. While reading my kindle in the bath, I dropped it into the water (and quite frankly, I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t extend this information to my friend from whom I borrowed it), and this could have led to a disastrous and untimely end for my kindle. And myself. Also don’t take your kindle scuba-diving or on your jet-ski.
• Disorientation. One false click and you’re trapped in a maze of menus accidentally purchasing the entire Harry Potter series when all you want is to get back to the page in your current series where you find out if Katniss is going to end up with Peeta or Gale.
• Speaking of pages. There are none. So when you misclick, you can’t navigate back to a specific page number. And you can’t brag about how many pages you’ve read. You can only say, “I’ve already read 7% of my book!”
• Bookmarks don’t work. So despite tireless attempts to mark my spot by placing a bookmark on the screen, I was thwarted by the complete absence of pages.

The Traditional Paperback Book: Pros & Cons

• It has pages, so bookmarks are an effective means of keeping one’s place.
• All books are available as books, but not all books are available as kindles. If you’re having trouble following this logic, it’s much like how all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are cardboard boxes, and no rectangles can be triangles without shapeshifting.
• No danger of electrocution, except for that one time when I tried reading in the bathtub while straightening my hair and texting on my cell phone.

• Lack of space. In the absence of regular trips to Powells to unload one’s book collection, books quickly fill and eventually overtake one’s living rooms, bedrooms, and even the bathroom. I recently had to sell my toilet to make room for a bookcase in that exact spot. I really need to pee.
• Death. While one’s head remains stable while reading the kindle, everybody is familiar with the slight shift in neck position as one transitions from scanning the left page of a book to the right side. With these slight shifts happening as often as several times per minute, a frequent reader is at high risk of Spontaneous Neck Snap, wherein one’s head actually pops right off after one too many slight shifts. While practiced readers are skilled in shifting their books rather than their heads, no reader is entirely protected from Spontaneous Neck Snap.

And there you have it, Readers, from my (friend’s) kindle to your brain, all you need to know in order to make an uninformed decision whether the kindling experience is right for you. Comment below for your chance to win a FREE TRAINING VIDEO on how to hold the kindle. Comment TWICE and receive a free booklet entitled, “How to Tell If Your Kindle is Upside Down” AND an unlimited subscription to my blog.

May 21

“Using apps in treatment is a win-win. The client engages with an exciting device, and the clinician is able to model and elicit the targeted skills more easily.” -Sean Sweeney, SLP

Apps: (plural noun) /ae ps’/ : software applications that have brainwashed society into believing in their necessity for human survival, without which mankind will cease to exist in the form of a rapture (alternative spelling rappture), taking place today. Any minute now.

Reading through my most recent ASHA (American Speech-Language-Hearing Association) newsletter today, I found that my current speech therapy practice of engaging directly with clients using archaic forms of communication such as conversation and eye contact is obsolete, replaced by a much more effective conversational partner known as the mobile app, which is “the future of the profession and some clinicians are already there” (Jeremy Legaspi, pediatric speech-language pathologist).

According to the article, apps can be used as contextual tools to enhance clients’ engagement in therapy and willingness to practice at home to improve transfer of targeted skills to other environments. “For a majority of my clients, the iPad is the first thing they ask for in treatment,” says Legaspi.

And what can the iPad do that other therapy tools can’t? According to Jessica Gosnell, an SLP at Children’s Hospital Boston, there is a “whiteboard” mobile app on which she writes and lists the therapy session’s activities. The client uses the whiteboard app to check off each listed activity that is completed.

Seen at Portland Antiques Shop, this rare artifact is from 2011. Teachers and students wrote on it before the r-app-ture.

This is fantastic, because there is no such thing as a “whiteboard” app in the real world. There is, however, a real whiteboard, on which low-tech SLPs such as myself can write the session’s activities, and another invention called the eraser, that can be used by clients to erase each listed activity that is completed.

The truth is, I can acknowledge the relevance of mobile apps in certain settings. As the article notes, SLPs who travel from setting to setting lugging a suitcase loaded with therapy tools could benefit from the number of resources (books, articulation therapy cards, board games) that could be incorporated into a single device for quick and easy access.

But there are many potential downfalls as well. The article points out that the true purpose of the therapy session —- which is to enhance communicative success whether it be in the area of articulation of speech sounds, fluency, voice, or social communication —- could become peripheral to to using the mobile apps*. Being expected to adapt treatment to a mobile device brought in by a client is another concern noted in this article. And in a career field intended to improve our use of speech and language for human interaction, I remain wary of replacing the rich communicative opportunities of the speech-language therapy environment with a device that could depersonalize that connection.

–Troi out

*This caution as it relates to using mobile apps is not to be confused with the field of AAC—-augmentative and alternative communication—-which is a vital need for those clients who are nonverbal or produce limited verbal output and require the use of a communication device. For these clients a highly-trained professional matches them with an AAC device, and learning to communicate using this device should be a primary focus of treatment.

Jul 14

Dear Readers,

Those of you who are fans of my earlier works, “Trying to charge my videocamera with my cell phone charger,” “Vacuuming up my cell phone charger,” and “Running over my Ray Ban sunglasses with my car,” will be thrilled to discover my latest installment, “Plugging my videocamera into my computer using the wrong cord.” Please note the following conversation that was, thankfully, overheard by none:

Troi: My computer isn’t recognizing my videocamera. I can’t import my video footage. This is the end of the world as we know it.

Friend: Did you plug it in using the firewire cable? That is the correct cable.

Troi: I used the first cable I could find that had an end that fits into the camera and another end that fits into the computer. This is how the pros do it.

Slightly Exasperated Friend (SEF): What does the cable look like?

Troi: It looks like a fork thingy.

SEF: That’s your problem. That’s a USB cable. You need the firewire cable—-the one that looks like a Y.

Troi (escalating into typically dramatic agitation): All of my cables look like forks! This is the end of the world as we know it!! How can I live if living is without a cable that looks like a —oh wait, here it is. This is the cable I need to plug in? Cool, thanks.

SEF: No problem. Except, you really need to learn the difference between a USB cable and a firewire cable. You call me about this same problem every week.

Later over dinner, as I profusely apologized for my weekly calls regarding the ambiguity of computer cables and my general inability to independently solve simple technical problems without a step-by-step tutorial from my friend, he assured me that, while I’m surely not the brightest crayon in the box (although everybody agrees I’m about as bright as a crayon), there are those crayons who didn’t even make it into the box. One such crayon grew increasingly frustrated a few years back as my friend told her that she needed to move her mouse to the designated link and click.

“It’s not working,” she bemoaned to my friend over the phone as he attempted long-distance technical assistance.

“Well, what are you doing?” he asked calmly, having developed extraordinary patience during similar interactions with me.

“I’m putting the mouse on the computer screen, and then I’m clicking, just like you said!” she replied, as she touched, not the mouse pointer, but her entire mouse to the screen.

I’m proud to report I’ve never done that.

The moral of this story is obvious, but if you’re not smart enough to identify the difference between a USB and a firewire cable, you might miss it. Allow me therefore to proclaim my moral plainly: If you want to appear smart, do not confess your brainless blunders on your public blog site.


–Troi out

Sep 20

If so, you’re not the only one!

I spent four post-college years tirelessly studying the field of speech and hearing sciences. Knowledge and memory of politics, world religions, important dates such as my best friend’s birthday, the name of my favorite breakfast cereal, and the Starfleet ranking of my favorite Star Trek: The Next Generation characters gradually seeped from my cortex as knowledge and memory of theories of language development, audiology and aural rehabilitation, fluency disorders, voice disorders, swallowing disorders, and articulation and phonological disorders took its place. I nearly lost the ability to have a normal conversation as I discarded my usual pleasantries in favor of a more analytical approach to interactions:

Starbucks barista: Can I take your order?
Me: Did you mean “MAY I take your order?” And I notice your initial rhotic /r/ sound in “order” appears to emerge from the retroflex lingual position rather than the more typical bunched position. And did you know that “I,” while being a vowel denoted by a single letter, is in fact a diphthong denoted by the international phonetic alphabet with two letters, and produced only in the presence of lingual movement?
Starbucks barista: [calling for security]

And today I discover to my dismay that all of this training is for naught, and that my time might well have been better spent remembering my friends’ birthdays and watching Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns. Because, as so eloquently pointed out to me, my human expertise in the field of speech-language pathology is simply no match for the technological expertise that analyzes the speech patterns of young children as well as information regarding children’s language environment and development. Which leaves me to simply twiddle my thumbs and eat bon bons while a computer objectively identifies the number of conversational turns a mom has with her baby (Mom: Ga ga! Baby: Ga ga ga! Computer: Congratulations! You have just completed one full conversational turn!) and the complexity of the sentence structures used by the parental figures (Mom: Stop chewing on mommy’s expensive jewelry! Computer: Congratulations! With the plethora of grammatical forms utilized in your conversational turn, including but not limited to present progressive -ing ending, possessive form, adjective, noun, and an imperative negation, your baby will be attending Harvard before his seventh birthday! As long as he stops eating jewelry!)

This technology, known as LENA, appears unnecessary, and I’ll tell you why. While it’s based on solid research that indicates the quantity of speech input and output experienced by a child between the ages of birth to three is correlated with that child’s IQ and vocabulary size, LENA (as per “was developed to give parents useful information to help ensure they are providing the richest language environment possible to their children during the critical years between birth and age 4, before they enter school.”

The problem is that those parents who are both sufficiently concerned and financially equipped to purchase LENA are the parents who are already likely providing their child with an adequate environment of enriched language input and whose child is more likely to acquire the language necessary to reach their academic potential in the school environment. And were those parents to have concerns about their child’s language development, they could access the free early intervention services provided through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act Part C, by which a simple screening could either validate or ease their concerns, and without the $200 price tag attached to LENA. On the other hand, those families who would most likely benefit from LENA, whose children may be at a higher risk for speech and language disorders, are those for whom LENA is likely a resource they cannot afford to access. Once again, a free screening by a real human who can identify areas of concern and connect the family with early intervention specialists who can support and advise the family in an environment conducive to family need, such as the home or daycare setting, is a more realistic and inclusive approach than LENA.

But to further prove my point, I think I’ll buy LENA anyway. She might be able to analyze speech patterns, but let’s watch her spend seven hours a day evaluating and treating speech and language disorders in young children while managing concomitant attentional and behavioral challenges. My guess is that I’ll still make a better speech pathologist than she does.

–Troi out

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