Geoff Tennant - Promoting access to mathematics for all
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21/6/15: sometimes it's great having tinnitus

Since 2006 I've had tinnitus of the high-pitched continuous type.  The theory is that in the normal course of things there's always some noise somewhere - wind, rain, distant traffic, somebody else breathing, etc. etc.  So the brain is used to having something to hear.  So if there's nothing to hear - eg. because you're wearing ear plugs - the brain works harder and harder to pick something up until it starts listening to its own mechanism, and you end up on a feedback loop, very similar to the feedback you get when you put a microphone against a speaker.

I'm not in a position to comment on this from a theoretical point of view, but it all makes sense to me.  The pitch of the tinnitus is very similar to feedback from a speaker, and back in 2006 I was in a noisy flat often using earplugs to sleep, plus I had an ear infection, plus also I was under considerable pressure of work, constructing a brand new subject knowledge course from scratch.

In 2008 I went through a series of outpatients appointments, at one stage having a head scan to check for a physical cause.  Came back negative, whether they detected a brain in my head cavity they didn't say.  The end result was that I have tinnitus, learn to live with it.  Which, compared to what many people have to live with, is a very minor thing, it doesn't stop me sleeping, I can often forget about it for long periods of time at a stretch.  It gets noticeably louder when I'm tired or stressed, and it is something else going on in those situations where fans are blowing, a chair is scraping, and I'm trying to listen to somebody speaking not very loudly.  So the mathematics group are under instructions to speak loudly and boldly, which is not necessarily comfortable for them when formulating ideas...

Meanwhile, there used to be a hotel next door to my apartment block, but there isn't any more, it's been demolished:

Which is fine, except for one thing.  For 3 of the last 8 nights there has been a digger working right the way through the night.  I'm guessing this is because it is being otherwise used during the daytime, another explanation is that it is cooler for the workmen to do it this way.  Either way, the noise is quite considerable, more than can be blocked by earplugs.

But my tinnitus gives me a solution.  Why?  Because when I was going through the outpatients appointments I was advised to buy a bedside clock which plays a variety of background noises, my favourite is thunderstorm but you can also have the ocean swell, wind chimes, this kind of thing.  The reasoning here is that if one goes to sleep with some quiet noises of this type, the brain will detune from listening to its own mechanism and the tinnitus goes away.  I tried this for some considerable time and it didn't work, but I still have the clock.  Which offers a solution here.  If I put in earplugs and then jack up the volume of the thunderstorm until I can hear it again, I have now masked the sound of the digger - and so I'm able to sleep.  Good, huh?  Whether I would be able to do this if I still had flatmates I'm not sure, it has to be pretty loud to work.  What my neighbours are doing to cope I don't know, some may have a higher tolerance than me of this kind of sound, but not all of them, surely?

But I would say that this is a reminder that I am a guest in a foreign country.  It hardly seems reasonable to be doing noisy demolition work right through the night in a residential area, but is it illegal?  If it is technically illegal, is it nevertheless within accepted custom and practice?  How does one go about complaining - ie. bringing the problem to the notice of people who can do something about it?  I've mentioned it to an administrator in the apartment block office who said that other people have also been complaining, so maybe something can be done.  I'll let you know.

Meanwhile, my lease is up for renewal and I need to decide whether to ask my landlords to renew or move somewhere else.  I'd much prefer to stay here, but I'm a bit worried right now: if the owners of the hotel site are happy to do demolition work through the night, are they intending to construct a new building there, also working through the night?  But if I move somewhere else there's no guarantee that things will be any better.

I think I'll ask to stay.  But I'll leave it a few weeks before opening negotiations.  Think that's all for now, I'll be back again soon!

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