Things I didn't write about today–tinnitus, The Human Genre Project & Press Display

By Grant Jacobs 11/11/2009

Y’know those days when nothing started actually pans out?

I put a lot of effort into this blog and try write something every day. Today was just one of those days: nothing worked all day, work or play. “Inspired” by that I decided to write about the things I didn’t do today.

Seems apt. I figure that maybe if I don’t do them, they might work. Sort of.

He’s a series of short things I didn’t write.


Lately my right ear has been buzzing. About 10% of people get tinnitus at one time or other. It’s particularly common in people with hearing losses like me. For most people it’s an annoyance that goes away in time. For a few souls it’s apparently like a 24/7/365 jet aircraft engine in your head.

I quickly realised my problem researching tinnitus was it’s a symptom, not a disease. It’s symptomatic of so many different underlying disorders I was morphing into a not-very-intrepid explorer hacking his way through a thicket of possible disorders. I decided it was easier to walk out the way I came in.

In fact, I came to the conclusion that wikipedia was actually an passable source for once (the article cites over 100 references), although it had it usual silliness. (Hint to readers: wikipedia can–sometimes–be a good starting source, but don’t rely on it’s claims, cross check them.) A claim that Joan D’Arc had tinnitus is at best speculation. Goodness know why people keep citing her “voices in her head” as making her a famous example of a tinnitus sufferer. I guess it sounds exciting.

Tinnitus rarely sounds like “voices”. Mine sounds like a vacuum cleaner constantly running in the next room, except that I, like the Crowded House song, I always take it with me wherever I go. (For those outside of New Zealand and Australia, the song is Always take the weather with you.) Other times it’s sounded like continuous squeal, which trust me really is a pain in the neck ear. I can live with the vacuum cleaner, at least it’s in the next room.

For me a solution–as far as I can tell so far–is simply to wear my hearing aid. This might seem perplexing, but it’s known that tinnitus can be perceived more in a quiet room; hearing some background noise, even if slight, can help. I work alone in a very quiet office and I’m inclined to leave the aid off. The batteries cost a small fortune and it’s not as if there is anything I want to hear. (I’ve no wish to listen to my computer fans!) I guess I can’t win: imaginary noises or another thing crimping the budget.

Other posts related to deafness on Code for life:

Automatic video captions for YouTube
Where’s here? (Hearing with one ear.)

The Human Genre Project

The Human Genre Project hosts (very) short form writing related to the human genome.

Launched in July 2009, it was conceived and is edited by Ken MacLeod, writer in residence at the Genomics Forum.

I’ll be honest and say that I think the stories are of slightly uneven quality, but that there are some brighter stones amongst them.

Roll your mouse over each chromosome to see the stories on offer. Click the chromosome to “freeze” the story list, then click on the story you want to read.

One that caught my eye was The Maple Syrup Urine Disease on chromosome 19.

You can contribute too. Anyone game?

Press Display–almost but not quite

Recently I saw in a magasine Good Living included in The Christchurch Press an article by Professor Juliet Gerrard who is a senior member of the University of Canterbury Biomolecular Interaction Centre.  I also have an interest in molecular interactions, in computational methods to predict or explore them and it was intriguing to see and article by a scientist (not journalist) in a magasine aimed at a general audience.

Looking for an on-line copy of the article, I found it was only hosted by Press Display.

Press Display claim “All registered users have free access to 2 articles from the current issue of each publication.”

So I launched myself into it, thinking I could review that too.

Long story short: almost but not quite.

Aside from the effort to download their viewer (what on earth is the idea of making the user figure it all out; give them a guided process!), I can’t see it being popular outside countries with high-value currencies. An exception will be those who can justify the full monthly subscription. It does have the great advantage of being able to look at a very large number of foreign papers, but newspapers seem to have so much content on-line free anyway, that I presume the advantage lies with the non-headline articles–?

I never did get the free two articles per edition to work.

0 Responses to “Things I didn't write about today–tinnitus, The Human Genre Project & Press Display”

  • Hi Grant. We use Press Display at the Science Media Centre instead of subscribing to print editions of all the local papers. In addition we get thousands of international papers. I read the Guardian everyday in the same form as UK readers getting the print edition get it. You can bookmark pages, search the text and zoom in and out. It’s a pretty decent service and well worth the money. Plus you’re not chewing through vast piles of newsprint. One of the better media services out there – don’t bother with the downloadable app – do it through the web browser.

  • As I was saying, I think an exception is people who can justify the monthly subscription, i.e. would use it all the time. For them, I can see it’d be good. For “pay as you go” the costs of the editions are more expensive that the print editions, if you’re looking at local editions, so you need to be on the subscriber options and for that you need to justify it… I guess explaining this is just “yet another” thing that hasn’t worked for me today.

  • Hearing voices is surprisingly common. One study a couple of years ago concluded that as many as one in twenty(!) people experience this. Psychics who think they can hear dead people are probably suffering from this.

  • chiz,

    Thanks for the interesting titbit!

    I suspect that mild forms of various neurological conditions are surprisingly common. I’ve heard of a few other surveys indicating some other conditions are more common that I’d have thought, too. (Not that that’s a very scientific basis for saying much… being anecdotal and all.) Perhaps it’s about time people stopped treating people experiencing symptoms like this as being “odd”?

    One thought though, when you write “one in twenty experience this”, is it in the context of “at some time in their lives” (i.e. an episode), or on an on-going basis? (I would pick the former; it’s still a striking statistic all the same.)

  • I haven’t read the research, and indeed I’ve slightly misremembered it – it was 1 in 25 which is still pretty striking. I did come across an old book earlier this year however which consisted of lots of personal testimonies of this condition. The phenomenon was on-going for many of them. I can’t remember if it was on-going for all of them or just many of them.

    I have seen second hand reports of an even higher rate among american college students but it was so high – something like 1 in 2 or 1 in 3 or thereabouts – that I’m sceptical of the claims. The studies may have suffered from sample bias or they may have included one-off incidents or possibly, they’re telling us something about americans 🙂 .

    I’m not sure if this counts as a mild version of a neurological condition, I think this is a condition in its own right. But you are right about things being more common than we often suspect. Synesthesia affects at least 1% of people, maybe more, and I’m still stunned by the revelation a few years ago that 1 in 40 people can’t recognise faces due to an autosomal dominant disorder. What else will turn out to be common?