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From your pupils you'll be taught - bite timing

The best meetups are in-person meetups. But post pandemic, most of us have learned that that virtual ones are still pretty good. Especially when in-person isn't possible.

Like when I live in Southern California and my meet-up partner, former student Amal Nanavati, is working on his PhD in human-robot interaction at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Non only is Amal the best and the brightest in tech, he's smart with heart. He's living one of my primary teaching tenets:

I'm pretty sure that by the time he dies, Amal will have won multiple victories. Currently, he's researching ways to use a robotic arm to feed those who, for whatever reason, can't feed themselves.

One of the problems he's trying to solve is bite timing - the length of time we take between bites of food.

It's super personal. Some people take a bite every five seconds. Others every fifteen. Most don't bite at a consistent interval. If you're eating alone, your bite timing may be much different than if you're eating with friends, watching a movie or reading a book.

The point is, we want to decide when to take a bite. Up until now, though, those who can't feed themselves are fed by someone else - a caregiver of some sort. The way it is now, the caregivers determine the bite timing - usually based on their own bite timing.

To begin with, no one wants to depend on someone else for something as intimate as eating. Then, to compound the intrusion, you're being fed too quickly or too slowly.

No one wants to be thinking, let alone saying, "I'm not ready for another bite yet. I haven't even swallowed this one!" or "How long do I have to wait before you pick up the freakin' fork!" or "Before you shove that rice into my mouth, I really need to say something."

We all want to make our own decisions. When she was only two, my granddaughter Dwyn's favorite sentence was "I got this!"

When that's no longer true, our dignity crashes. What Amal is working on is so much bigger than designing a robot that feeds paraplegics. It's about restoring respectability to people who feel like they've lost theirs.

I heard Oprah say something about how her first line of defense against gloom is gratitude. But no matter how true it may be, it gets old always being grateful for the same things. It's uplifting to "discover" that we have something great that we never even thought about having.

Such as being able to determine our own bite timing.

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