Silencity

The Truth About Noise

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Need a gift for someone who craves quiet?

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Have friends who care about noise as much as you do? What better holiday gift than a dvd of this beautiful, inspired film, “In Pursuit of Silence”!
The film got terrific reviews on the film festival circuit in continental Europe, the UK, and the U.S., and then was in selected theaters several months ago prior to this release.

Want more to go with it? Add a copy of the well-reviewed book (now out in paperback) that inspired the film by George Prochnik.

We’re very proud that Arline Bronzaft and Paul Barach—two of The Quiet Coalition’s steering committee members—appear in the film, as does our friend Kurt Fristrup, scientific director of the noise program at the National Park Service, Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

It’s time to change our definition of “old”

Annual National Veterans Golden Age Games | Defense Department photo/Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael J. Carden

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to Joseph Coughlin, director of the AgeLab at MIT and author of “The Longevity Economy,” a new book about marketing to aging baby boomers, it’s time to change our definition of “old.”

Coughlin claims that old age is a made-up social construct invented 150 years ago.

I’m not sure I agree with him completely, but he’s right about something. Much of what we think of as normal aging–obesity, hypertension, diabetes, weakness, disability, and early demise–isn’t normal aging but pathological aging.

I’d add hearing loss to that list.

Pathological aging stems from four factors:

  1. Abnormal exposures, e.g., sun, cigarette smoke, or noise;
  2. Poor quality nutrition, i.e. too much of the wrong nutrients (including calories) and not enough of the right nutrients;
  3. Disuse atrophy, especially for the musculoskeletal system; and
  4. Medical care based on inadequate knowledge about the best treatments for common conditions.

The treatment of hypertension is one example of the fourth factor. In the 1970s, it was thought that a normal systolic blood pressure was 100 plus the patient’s age, and that treating hypertension in the elderly was dangerous. Then a randomized trial–the Systolic Hypertension in the Elderly Program–showed that treatment of high blood pressure in older people prevented stroke. Two more recent examples are studies showing that treatment of cardiac risk factors prevents what was once thought to be inevitable heart disease as people age and then was found to reduce dementia risk, too.

Hearing loss in old age is very common. It’s called presbycusis, or age-related hearing loss. But the world’s literature–which I reviewed for a presentation I gave at the 12th Congress of the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Noise in Zürich, on June 20, 2017–shows that it isn’t normal. Without exposure to loud noise, good hearing is preserved well into old age.

In his book Coughlin discusses “transcendent design”–not just accessible design, or universal design, but:

[A]nother, even higher level of accessibility that I believe has been mistakenly lumped in with universal design: transcendent design. It’s essentially universal design that has been dialed up to 11 on a 10-point scale, with accessibility attributes so useful that they turn out to be highly desirable—even aspirational—for people with and without disabilities. If the defining, narrative-shaping forces in our older future will be those that make it easy for older adults to achieve their jobs as consumers, transcendent products and design features will be at the vanguard of this process.

Coughlin highlights, as an example of transcendent design, the OXO line of kitchen utensils, initially designed by entrepreneur Sam Farber because his wife couldn’t grip standard utensils due to arthritis. People buy OXO utensils not necessarily because they have arthritis or other grip issues, but because OXO utensils they are so good-looking and easy to use. The iPhone and Apple watch are other examples.

People with mobility, musculoskeletal, or auditory disorders don’t need special designs. They and everybody need well-designed utensils, tools, garments, furniture, and spaces that meet needs as people age and suffer inevitable temporary or sometimes permanent impairments.

Perhaps one day architects and interior designers can come up with transcendent designs for quiet restaurants, to make it possible to carry on normal conversations without straining to speak or to be heard, while enjoying the food and the company of our dining companions.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

Want better sleep? Bose® has you covered

Bose® noise-masking sleepbuds™

by David M Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This CNET review is a intriguing article about Bose’s quest to tap into the auditory health and better sleep market.

PSAPs, or personal sound amplification products, is a term brought to public attention in 2015 by the White House President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology followed by a report from the National Academy of Medicine last October. PSAPs are an emerging class of products that are also called hearables (think wireless earbuds with extra features) that we’ve been following for the past couple of years.

PSAPs are interesting because they represent a host of tech innovations and innovative young tech companies that promises to disrupt the traditional hearing-aid industry that has been dominated for decades by a hegemonic group of risk-averse manufacturers known as the “Big Six,” a market that is carefully regulated by the FDA. The result of decades of regulation and dominance by a handful of companies is that traditional hearing aids are both absurdly expensive, and also not particularly innovative. No surprise there.

But a couple of months ago, the emerging market for PSAPs blew wide open thanks to bi-partisan legislation (the Over-The-Counter Hearing Aid Act, co-sponsored by Senators Warren and Grassley) which exempts PSAPs from regulation. And that means three things:
1. Now you can buy PSAPs directly from the manufacturers or at CVS/Walgreens etc. (“over the counter”) without a prescription and you don’t have to pay an audiologist to fit them;
2. PSAPs cost a fraction of what a pair of traditional hearing aids costs (PSAPs may cost you $150 to $400, but compare that to $4,000 to $10,000 for conventional hearing aids); and
3. Two dozen hungry, young start-ups funded through crowd-sourcing or by venture capital professionals are charging into this market.

So If you, like me, like to watch a tech-race unfold, then get out your binoculars and join the crowd at this track because its an exciting race in a market that has been moribund and over-regulated for decades.

Watching this restless bunch of young PSAP startups and their colorful jockeys (I mean their CEOs), and eyeing them very carefully, are a small but high-powered group of suits you’ll recognize from consumer electronics: Apple, Sony, Phillips, Bose, et al. Why? Because these are the big guys who are already in the ear business–they sell earbuds and headphones, among other things and wireless hearables is a potentially important new market. The ear is their turf. So if they can grab a piece of the de-regulating market for wireless hearing-assistive devices that’s a great business opportunity, right? After all, 48 million Americans are hearing-impaired so this is potentially a big niche market, and who knows how many Americans are sleep-deprived?

But what about Bose?

Bose—an intensely private, even secretive consumer electronics company headquartered on top of a small mountain near Boston—is the first of these big consumer electronics players to make a move in the PSAP race. Bose’s founder, Amar Bose, died a couple of years ago, but he was a singular, legendary force in consumer electronics and seemed to be the fountain from whom all of the company’s products poured. With his death, ownership of the company was turned over to Amar Bose’s alma mater, MIT (yes, MIT controls the majority stake but has no say in management). But can the company still innovate now that it founder and chief idea-guy is gone?

One approach to innovation is through acquisition. So last year, Bose acquired the San Diego-based startup Hush and recently announced the release of a new Bose-branded product based on the work done by three engineer-entrepreneurs who founded Hush not too long ago. If you’ve been watching this emerging market, you probably noticed that only last week, the self-declared front-runner in PSAPs/hearables a product called “Here One” from the company Doppler Labs, ran out of juice and went out of business. Why? They burned through $50 million trying to win this horse race, but then ran out of money and couldn’t get Apple or Sony or any of the rest of the big guys to pony up and buy them out. Sometimes that happens to front-runners and it’s too bad, but it clears the way for others to emerge. And Bose wants to be one of the next group as these horses round the first corner.

Now Bose, in addition to being intensely secretive, has also always done things differently. And they’re certainly going after this emerging PSAP/hearables market from some intriguing angles. For instance, they recently have launched a crowdfuning campaign for their new Bose® noise-masking sleepbuds™. Another example is their newly announced Hearphones for people who need help understanding speech in noisy environments. Both of these products indicate that Bose is probing the now-deregulated “hearing health market”—a big departure from their traditional focus on consumer electronics. Perhaps they think 48 million Americans is a viable niche market where they can beat Apple, Sony, Phillips and the Big Six hearing aid companies by getting out of the gate faster. Who knows? Bose has succeeded by focusing on niches ignored by others and they’ve got their own retail stores, so keep your eyes on them.

It’s a race. And some of us are watching closely to see what happens. If you placed a bet on Here One and lost, then just swallow hard and keep your eyes on the race. It’s only just begun.

In addition to serving as vice chair of the The Quiet Coalition, David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: The Acoustics Research Council, American National Standards Institute Committee S12, Workgroup 44, The Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Working Group—a partner of the American Hospital Association. He is the lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0 (2012, Springer-Verlag), a contributor to the National Academy of Engineering report “Technology for a Quieter America,” and to the US-GSA guidance “Sound Matters”, and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics (LARA) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He recently retired from the board of directors of the American Tinnitus Association. A graduate of the University of California/Berkeley with graduate degrees from Cornell University, he is a frequent organizer of and speaker at professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Anti-social miscreant charged criminally

for being an anti-social miscreant: Man charged for playing car stereo too loud. No doubt there may be some who assume the cops in Central Saanich on Vancouver Island, Canada, have too much time on their hands and too little work to do.

And they would be wrong.

Although Dustin Hamilton, the offender, claims he didn’t mean to annoy people, well, let’s just say certain facts belie his feigned innocence. Like the fact that his “car is equipped with a decibel reader and he says he plays it at 150.” Or that he boasted to Asymina Kantorowicz, writer/producer at CTV News, that his sound system can reach 155 decibels. To give you an idea about how loud that is, according to Dangerous Decibels, a jet plane at 100 feet away is around 135 decibels, and the permissible listening time for someone exposed to 115 decibels is under 30 seconds. It’s a wonder he can even hear.

And then there’s the bit about the number of neighbors filing complaints. Said Hamilton, “[i]f somebody just came up to me nicely saying ‘hey I live here this is what’s happening’ you know we could do that but I never had that, I just had a guy follow me and try and assault me,” adding, “[i]t went from that to basically 17 people complaining and a mischief charge.” From one guy trying to assault him to 17 complaints, and he has no idea why.

Hamilton’s charge comes with certain conditions, like not contacting the complainants and not driving on certain roads. No surprise he is put out, as is his girlfriend, who likes her music as loud as he does, reminding us of the adage, “there’s a lid for every pot.”

In the end, Hamilton would claim that the reason for the crazy loud music isn’t some sociopathic need to torment his neighbors. No, for Hamilton it comes down to this: “I can play anything, rap, hip-hop, it all sounds good … I love sound man.”

Not for long, Hamilton.

Thanks to Jan L. Mayes for the link.

The Brits sure take their noise complaints seriously:

 

Photo credit: InfoGibraltar licensed under CC BY 2.0

Warrant issued for the arrest of a noisy neighbour. A warrant may seem a bit much, but it came after the offender failed to appear in court to address “12 reports of noise nuisance including raised voices and loud music, banging and stamping.” Apparently the neighborhood miscreant was so loud that complaints came not only in his apartment block, but in adjacent blocks as well. And while some may think issuing a warrant for his arrest is a bit extreme, Councillor Sam Lisle, executive member for housing and safer neighbourhoods, notes:

“Noise nuisance can blight people’s lives so we support people who report it and will take action against those who create it.

We offer lots of advice and information about acceptable noise levels so there is no excuse.”

Hear, hear!

 

Can a machine learn to solve our speech in noise problem?

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This piece in The Hearing Journal asks, “Can a Machine Learn to Solve our Speech in Noise Problem?”

Maybe yes, maybe no.

The “speech in noise” problem is the difficulty many people with hearing loss–and even people with normal hearing as tested by pure tone audiometry–have  following a conversation if the room (often a restaurant or party) is noisy.

I have that problem, as many adults do, and I also have three problems with this article.

First, talking about a technological solution to the speech in noise problem without discussing how we can interfere with the development of this condition by simply making the world quieter to prevent hearing loss is irresponsible. Imagine public health officials in the 1950s focusing on making better wheelchairs, braces, and crutches for those affected by polio without also working to prevent polio by developing a vaccine. You can’t, because that would have be absurd. To prevent noise-induced hearing loss, we don’t need more research. We don’t need a vaccine. All we need is to make a quieter world, something that has been known for decades.

Second, an even better solution to the speech in noise problem would be to require quieter indoor spaces.

Third, requiring quieter public spaces is exactly what the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires. People with hearing loss clearly meet the ADA definition of having a disability, and they require “reasonable accommodations” to allow them to fully enjoy (yes, this is the legal standard in ADA) places open to the public. I will be speaking about “Disability Rights of Ambient Noise for People with Auditory Disabilities Under the Americans with Disabilities Act” at the December meeting of the Acoustical Society of America, in New Orleans. I recent learned that my talk will be broadcast live over the internet. Details of how to listen will be posted when they become available.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He serves on the board of the American Tinnitus Association, is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’s Health Advisory Council, and is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America.

The rare peace that only silence can offer

Photo credit: Tom Collins licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Meghan O’Rourke has written an exquisite piece about the curative powers of silence in “Lessons in Stillness From One of the Quietest Places on Earth.”

Dealing with a new baby, a long illness, and a sick father left O’Rourke “exhausted, unwell and snappish.”  So at her husband’s urging she flew to Seattle alone and wandered into the Hoh Rain Forest, “one of the quietest places in the U.S.” And what follows is her poetic ode to that forest, her appreciation of its “cathedral stillness,” and her discovery of that which she was searching for: “a willful silence.”

Here’s a little taste of what it’s like to escape city noise and enter the silent world Ms. O’Rourke experienced:

O’Rourke’s story is in T Magazine’s November 12th Travel issue, which features the Hoh Rain Forest.

Good news for New Yorkers who love to dance

But potentially bad news for bar neigbors: After 91 Years, New York Will Let Its People Boogie.  Annie Correal, The New York Times, writes about the repeal of the law that banned dancing in New York City bars. While this repeal is great news for bar owners and patrons with happy feet, it may not be embraced by near by residents looking for a good night’s sleep. So what should a bar owner do to let her customers dance the night away without disturbing the peace?

The City’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has the answer. DEP has produced a video that should help bar owners learn how to mitigate noise levels before they roll out the dance floor:

And the DEP helpfully has provided a list of noise control products and services available for all nightlige business owners.

Now let’s hope bar owners show some restraint–or spend some dough on sound insulation–in their rush to create a dance floor. If not, one hopes the next city council bill will be to give the DEP funding to hire more noise inspectors.