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A Touching Tale

by Albin Johnson

During the late 1940's while living in Minonk, Summers meant detasseling corn and working on a tan. Unfortunately while working hatless and shirtless in the fields I was left with sore peeling nose and forehead, and large welts on my chest and back. Years later I had a painful reminder while picking wild berries along a road on Whidbey Island. My fingers and hands went totally numb from the nettles I encountered. This touching brings to mind the many "sense-sations " I have encountered while becoming acquainted with the world of electronics. Stereos, TVs, phones, alarm clocks, sprinkler systems, toasters, coffee pots, and calculators. All require great eyesight and tiny agile fingers to manage any operations. Then came computers! I am somewhat a neophyte keeping up with the "magic box". There was hair loss as I was brought screaming into the REAL ELECTRONIC world. Information, information, information!!!

I love to write and I have told stories about growing up. I started with "remember when", but few did. Then I tried history, but found it "passť". My writings about travel and politics were soon "voted out". But then I hit upon the SENSES! On my desk is a DELL and a very large dictionary of about 2000 pages filled with definitions and spellings. (My nose runs, spicy food means pain, loud music hurts my head, and a 72-degree pool sends me scurrying for a beach towel) But, I am totally addicted to M&Ms. As you can imagine the 5 senses had to be tackled next. I started out by checking my dictionary for definitions. Hearing had 11, smell had 18, 25 for sight, 26 for taste, but a whopping 60 for touch! I save the touch story for last. My first musing contained thoughts and memories of basketball, sandy beaches, Navy blues, gun barrel and stocks, suede jackets, sanded wood, steering wheels and those hugs my wife gives me in the morning. This sounded like fun.

The human body is covered with about 20 pounds of skin. We sense TOUCH because one of the skin layers called "dermis" has sensors connected to the spine and the brain. Our bodies have about 20 types of nerve endings, some of which detect heat, cold, pressure and pain. The tongue and fingertips are the most sensitive followed by the lips and toes. The least sensitive is the small of the back. Skin will lose sensitivity when pressure is applied for periods of time.

The Helen Keller Story describes how a person who lost both sight and hearing learned to recognize objects by touching and then an aide would trace out the letters of the name on the palm of Helen's hand. I am sure many of us can remember how we learned to count and recognize numbers using our fingers to count. We could go to 10! One of today's methods is to use a large printed number that have corresponding colored circles on the number. Then the student touches each circle and counts the total revealing the proper name of the large number. This is a part of the learning process called "Touch Math". Soon Hewlett-Packard's handheld can be relied upon to solve all their math problems.

Trivia time! Cats are the epitome of sensing TOUCH. Their coats contain "tyrotrich" hair and whiskers containing "vibrissae" hair that provides these feline members with hypersensitivity. Cats will let you know where they like to be fondled.

A favorite Friday dinner of many is fried Catfish fillets. I suppose the name came from the fact these fish are equipped with whiskers that allow these bottom feeders to search through murky waters. Their whiskers are called "Barbels".

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Which President had a cat named "Socks"? Or, Why must a Kangaroo have its tail touching the ground before it can leap? Or, Did you know the average person sheds about 40 lbs of skin during their lifetimes.

This question is a tough one. Who was the first woman to play Men's NCAA Baseball? Her name was Susan Perabo in 1980. She did touch all bases!!!!

This story came from the Internet too. Did you know it is a serious offense to touch the Queen of England? Once when she was attending the races, and being ushered to her seat, her attendant, a Mr. Allen reached down as she started sitting and a photographer caught the action. Allen said, "I just gave Her Majesty a wee pat on her arse".

The science of touch is exploding in the electronics community. One new science is called "Haptic Interfacing". Many entrepreneurs "feel" touch is mostly about a measure of pressure, while others believe touch means texture. Touch Sense (Haptics) is a branch of Psychology that investigates "cutaneous" (skin) sense data. These findings are now used to link computer screens and sound with the hand controls (mouse and joystick) with sensations felt through the hand and fingers. They have been able to duplicate the feel of fabrics. Another program helps Medical Students sense the feel of a scalpel slicing into skin and the feel of handling internal organs while simulating an operation on the computer screen. Ugh! I just relived my emergency appendectomy.

Many Interaction Computer Companies already use "force feedback" vibrations with virtual reality games to heighten the interaction between the machine and its user. The feeling of driving on a rough road or torque sensed when making a fast turn. This science makes use of tiny micro and macro servers and sensors. Many Universities now have "Touch Labs" to explore this phase of electronics. It is probably the right time to also mention the very ancient art of Acupuncture to relieve pain and illness. Yin Yang you know!

Homunculus is a catchy word literally defined as: knowing what you are touching even when you can't see it. Ancient scholars thought that there were tiny beings, or sperm in your body that helped you sense things that the person might not always understand, Hum! The byword was, if seeing is believing, touching is knowing. Hum Hum!! One spin-off of this idea has been the study of "phantom limb feeling" of amputees. There is a term called "hardwired brain" somewhere in all of this.

Efforts to add smell, taste and touch to TV and the Movies current ability to have you see and hear will probably be wasted on me. I already adapted something from my grandfather called 6th Sense. I can predict rain by feeling it in my bones although it rarely happens here in California cause it doesn't rain!