Locked in Communication Chart

When someone has locked in syndrome, it is difficult for the person to communicate more than just a yes/no answer.

Assistive technology devices exist to help in this situation, but they are expensive and usually aren’t immediately available.

One way to communicate is for an assistant to list the letters a, b, c, …. and have the person signal the correct letter is reached. Then, repeat this until a word is spelled out.

This chart is more efficient because it can select letters with fewer steps. The idea is to read 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, .. and stop when the person selects a row. Then the assistant would read the letters across the row. Once one letter is chosen, the process may be repeated until a word is completed.

I estimate on average this chart is will be at least twice as fast as spelling the alphabet to select words. It doesn’t require much training to be able to use it. It’s also easy to reproduce the chart by just printing the diagram.

The chart is released in a Creative Commons By-Same As license.

Kindly let me know of any improvements you make. Communication Chart PDF
Chart of letters to spell

Everything became a secret

An orange poppy blooming in a fieldOnce he started doing things that he was ashamed of, he didn’t want the people around him to find out. He tried to separate the people on one side from the other. If they met, the information could make things awkward.

He decided to pull away from the former group of people because they were the ones that would disapprove of the others. The secrets were growing and the far side became more important and the closer ones were bewildered by his behavior.

As the circle shifted, problems started to pile up. Issues that could be easily solved with an honest discussion, couldn’t get fixed because of the risk of exposure.

The path grew narrower.

Until the secrets were taken out of the darkness, they festered and led to more and more bad times.

He decided to make a change and gradually, the secrets became less threatening. Trust was slowly coming back. The circles realigned and it became possible to move forward again.


Original image: The secret of success…. By Cheryl VanStane [Image license]

Who can the elderly care for?

If their health deteriorates, the elderly might need people to care for them. When a family isn’t available, they can live in nursing homes. The staff of these facilities helps as much as they can with their needs.

One need that might not be met is their need to nurture and care for others. All through their lives, they’ve cared for their children and grandchildren. Once the transition to assisted living and other support arrangements, there’s no one for them to care for any more.Her face lit up when she saw a friend arrive

People are much more mobile now and move far away from their parents. Other people have had bad experiences and don’t want to be around their parents. These barriers can isolate the elderly and disconnect them from the rest of the world. Loneliness and depression are often the results.

One aspect of this can be to care for pets that are in the facility. However, that leaves out the human connection that is a spark of life that only people can share.

One approach for progress in this area is for churches, synagogues, mosques and temples to help with this need. They are well-equipped to organize volunteers who could support the elderly in their community. By going and learning more about the individuals and their stories, this lonely time can be more meaningful. It would be an effort to honor the ones who still need to care for someone.


Original image: Happy Planet 2. By Patrick Doheny [Image license]

The beastly gas pump

I went to a gas station in Fort Wayne yesterday. My normal pattern is to fill up the tank until the pump trips that the tank is full.

A photograph of a gas pump showing $10.24 and 4.096 gallons.I saw that the pump stopped at $16.66. Since I notice interesting numbers, I saw the 666 in the middle of it, which is a number mentioned in the book of Revelations in the Bible.

It took me a second to decide whether I should leave it there. (with the fantasy that the next person would see it and get uncomfortable.) That’s crazy in couple of ways. The most obvious is that the next person probably wouldn’t even notice.

However, I didn’t want to upset anyone, so I dispensed a little more gas to change the number.

I put a tweet up asking whether you would be uncomfortable to see $6.66 and whether you would enjoy not changing it.

I think I could find more useful things to occupy my time.

*The* candidate litmus test

People talk about litmus tests for candidates. Do they vote the right way on abortion? The right way on the LGBTQ rights? The right way on immigration?

An example of a litmus test showing both blue and red reactions In chemistry, a litmus test is a chemical reaction on a strip of paper that turns red in an acid and and blue in a alkali.

I guess the use of litmus tests is unexpectedly appropriate to American politics. States are marked as red and blue, just like the litmus test.

The litmus tests that ask questions about abortion, LBGTQ rights, and immigration are emotionally charged. People get passionate about them. They can violently disagree and not be willing to listen to the other side. Heaven help us if you bring them up at Thanksgiving dinner.

I have a much simpler litmus test. It’s not complicated. It isn’t based on emotion and passion. It’s something you can discuss at the dinner table without getting indigestion.

Test to ask a candidate: Would I hire you as a crossing guard in my neighborhood?

Very simple, very to the point and something that gets right to the heart of life… what is best for our kids? The kids are the ones who have no say in the matter and are the most affected by who we vote for in November.

Can you trust a candidate with your kids when you’re not around? Choose well!

Original image: Kitchen Science 27. By Lenore Edman [Image license]
Check out Evil Mad Scientist It’s *awesome*!

How the U. S. health system could catch up to Nigeria

In 2014, Nigeria had 19 cases of Ebola. They marshaled their resources to trace contacts and quickly fought back a deadly, contagious disease. [1]

With the tool of contact tracing, Nigeria won their Ebola battle. They used experience that was already in place to fight back Ebola. Nigeria’s health system had eradicated polio and it stopped Ebola too. This is a lesson that health systems can have flexible responses and fight different kinds of epidemic.

Contact tracing is an important activity that needs community support. Effective contact tracing also requires planning. If no one knows how it works, they can’t react quickly. We should develop epidemic response teams. They need experience so that they can be vigilant and fight any new disease.

An parallel to epidemic response teams are the tornado sirens in the Midwest. The sirens are regularly tested and people know what they mean. Epidemics are a natural disaster equivalent to tornadoes. When people know the steps to prevent an epidemic, they will be willing to aid the process instead of fight it. Communities’ experience with epidemic responses will help overcome individual’s lack of trust.

To let the health reaction teams do their best, it would be prudent to have the systems already functioning. With test runs and vigilance, our reaction to any epidemic disease can be rapid and effective. Each disease is different. The model for combating measles and the mumps are similar, but they are not identical to the one needed for Zika. Creativity and experience are a must.

The testing of the system does not need to be theoretical. We already have periodic small epidemics that can test epidemic response teams. Measles is one example because outbreaks happen randomly when the disease is imported [2]. Another real-life example is the mumps. Outbreaks periodically happens on college campuses. One is happening now in Indiana and our reaction should be more effective. HIV & AIDS are an ongoing test. AIDS doesn’t spread as rapidly as measles or the mumps, but the same tools can help.

Existing vaccinations help prevent epidemics. The U. S. is backward in this area because of our attitudes on freedom. Those attitudes aren’t compatible with what the country needs to prevent unnecessary deaths.

The CDC reports another barrier for an epidemic response is financial. Epidemic response teams need discretionary funds and the authority to release those funds immediately. Any delay will worsen an epidemic. Epidemic responses teams need their funding allocated before the epidemic starts. The budgets for disease tracing and other tools need to be flexible. [3, p. 11]

Support for thorough contact tracing is critical. We need teams trained and ready for an epidemic. Their services should be used automatically when a potential epidemic is detected. We need to develop public experience and education on the steps that will defeat an epidemic. We need extensive use of vaccinations when they are available. Finally, money is needed for a rapid response. This economic support can allow the other components react decisively.

With these components, the U.S. health system will be able to easily defeat any currently unknown epidemic or bio-terrorism and surpass Nigeria’s Ebola success. We could have more confidence in our health system and in its ability to protect us.

[1] “Nigeria is now free of Ebola virus transmission.” http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/ebola/20-october-2014/en/. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
[2] “Measles: Cases and Outbreaks.” http://www.cdc.gov/measles/cases-outbreaks.html. Retrieved June 6, 2016.
[3] “Emergency Guideline: Implementation and management of contact tracing for Ebola virus disease.” http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/185258/1/WHO_EVD_Guidance_Contact_15.1_eng.pdf. Retrieved June 7, 2016.

[edit 2016-06-10: clarified last paragraph]

The Privatization of Prisons

Free enterprise and competition make some government functions more efficient and less expensive. However, there is a subtle downside to this and private prisons are the most pernicious example.

The problem is that once a private company controls government functions, their incentive is to increase profits. For private prisons, an easy way to increase profits is to increase the number of prisoners that they hold with longer sentences and less judicial discretion.

They will lobby for legislation that helps them out. They support an attitude that jail sentences should increase, regardless of the wisdom of judges and juries. High minimum sentence guidelines and the demonization of certain crimes are in their best interest. They need to influence the public debate.

With those incentives, the hidden victims are the families and communities. The criminals are easy to attack. “Let’s get tough on crime” can be a mantra that the prison industry chants. However, they need to be creative to keep their stockholder’s bottom line in focus. Lobbying at the state and federal level are an inexpensive tool for that.

Without changes, the insane level of imprisonment in our country is only going to worsen. There’s much less incentive for education and rehabilitation of the prisoners. That would harm the private prison’s bottom line. A revolving door on their prisons is what they really want.

Putting the jails and prisons in the hands of private enterprise might save money in the short term, but it revokes the ability of the public to influence the criminal justice system.

Individuals don’t have the ability to compete with a wealthy prison lobby. They may not even be aware that the lobbyists hidden agenda is in play.

It is easy for politicians to support tougher crime policies and more and more difficult for them to influence these circumstances that they are ultimately responsible for.