Monthly Archive: April 2017

Man takes revenge on noisy neighbors

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How?  By buying a ‘building shaker’ and leaving it on all weekend. Shanghaist reports that a Xi’an resident named Zhao was having problems with his upstairs neighbors whose little boy was jumping and running and disturbing his rest. Zhao complained to building management and tried to talk to the neighbors about the problem but to no avail, so he resorted to Plan B: Operation Self-Help. Long and short, Zhao “went online and bought a ‘building shaker’ for 400 yuan [Ed.: about $58], looking to give the noisy neighbors a taste of their own medicine.” He turned the building shaker on one Friday evening and then left his apartment for the weekend.

The article makes it clear that Zhao got his neighbors’ attention. In fact, they complained that the constant thumping was “driving them insane.”  When he returned to his apartment,  police officers asked Zhao to turn the building shaker off. Shanghaist states that it is not known whether Zhao was punished for his “act of revenge.”

While we would not suggest this sort of thing, and certainly not as a first step in addressing a noise complaint, we’re guessing that Zhao’s neighbors were a bit more mindful after that weekend. Just saying.

How Much Silence Is Too Much?

Photo credit: Brian Oslinker

Daniel McDermon found out when he went to see a work by the artist Doug Wheeler entitled “PSAD Synthetic Desert III.”  What is this installation? It’s “a dead-silent room at the top of the Guggenheim Museum.” How did Wheeler creat a “dead-silent room?” According to McDermon, the inside of the room contains “enough noise-canceling material to make it probably the quietest place you’ll ever go, unless you’re an astronaut or a sound engineer.”

We think this sounds delightful, but McDermon states that too much hush can be unsettling.  He writes that Wheeler told his colleague that “[i]n a supersilent anechoic chamber, the most that most people can endure is about 40 minutes before they start going batty.”  But no worries about losing your composure in Wheeler’s installation, as McDermon writes that “Synthetic Desert” is not “going batty” quiet. Wheeler estimates that his piece may reach as low as 10 decibels, whereas an anechoic chamber can reach “noise levels below the threshold of human hearing.”

McDermon vivdly describes his visit to Synthetic Desert, and it is fascinating. Do click the link above to read his review.

If you are interested in experiencing it yourself, PSAD Synthetic Desert III will be available through August 2nd at the Guggenheim Museum. A timed ticket is required.

Modern life is damaging our ears more than we realize

Photo credit: Global Jet

Rebecca S. Dewey, a research Fellow in Neuroimaging writing for The Conversation, addresses noise exposure, “the main cause of preventable hearing loss worldwide.” She cites a recently published study in The Lancet that “revealed that living in a noisy city increases your risk of hearing damage by 64%.” Why do cities increase the risk so dramatically? Dewey points to obvious sources–work noise at a construction site or recreational noise at a nightclub–but adds that people “might be exposed to loud noises so constantly throughout the day that you don’t even realise they are there.” She also notes that many of us engage in “self-harm”–that is, exposing ourselves via mp3 players and mobile phones to damaging noise levels “with little more than a disclaimer from the manufacturers.”

Why is this a concern? Because of strides researchers have made about how hearing loss develops, aided by the relatively recent discovery of “hidden hearing loss.” Dewey states that it used to be believed that “noise-induced hearing loss resulted from damage to the sound-sensing cells in the cochlea,” but recent studies have shown that “even relatively moderate amounts of noise exposure can cause damage to the auditory nerve – the nerve connecting the inner ear to the brain.”

Unfortunately, the standard audiology exam “measures hearing by finding the quietest sound a person can hear in a quiet environment,” but hidden hearing loss affects “the ability to hear subtle changes in loud sounds,” what is called “supra-threshold.” Supra-threshold hearing is used to “understand conversations in a noisy room or hear someone talk over the sound of a blaring television.” In short, a traditional hearing test can’t detect hidden hearing loss, and attempts to measure it by playing a recording of speech masked with background noise “depends a lot on the ability of the patient to understand and cooperate with the test.”

Fortunately, Dewey works on a team at University of Nottingham that is developing an objective test using MRI scans that will “detect hidden hearing loss by scanning the parts of the hearing system that connect the ears to the brain.” The goal is to “understand who is most at risk and act early to prevent further hearing loss.”

And prevention is key, because there currently is no treatment or cure for hidden hearing loss. So do yourself a favor and avoid loud noise when you can, use earplugs when you cannot, and lower the volume on your personal audio devices. One day there will likely be a good treatment available for hearing loss, but no one knows if that day is five, ten, 20, or more years away. Why gamble on a future cure when prevention works today?

Open plan offices: Good or Bad? Harvard Business Review weighs in.

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

When Harvard Business Review (HBR) speaks, people listen, including those who sit in executive suites. A series of articles published in HBR about noise and distractions in open plan offices may be changing some minds. Reductions in productivity attributed to noise and distraction related to open plan designs may finally be getting the attention of corporate leaders.

Over the past several decades, open-plan offices became fashionable. If you didn’t like them, you’d be bucking a trend. Why did this type of office design become a hot topic in the executive suite? Three trends collided:

  1. “Sick-building-syndrome” became a serious, costly issue blamed on chemicals in carpets and paints, inoperable windows, and poor air circulation;
  2. Corporate leaders decided they had too much overhead (hint: expensive trophy headquarters and high end real estate); and
  3. The U.S. Department of Energy established a huge initiative to increase energy efficiency and cut costs.

Suddenly walls, carpets, fancy wood furniture, cubicles and even lightbulbs were dumped. Windows were re-opened. Dramatically branded front offices concealed cavernous, cacophonous, factory-like back offices — flooded with daylight and high levels of ambient noise. The related noise and distractions have been a growing source of complaints from workers ever since.

We wrote about this on February 16 after spending a decade working on the problem with the U.S. General Services Administration and several large corporations. And now HBR keeps writing about noise and open plan offices. So is it possible we may soon see a trend towards office designs that accommodate worker comfort, safety and, even, employee productivity? We believe it may be.

If you are working in an open-space plan or are a senior level executive concerned with employee productivity, this ongoing HBR series could help YOU. This subject has also attracted mainstream media, so maybe the boss is already listening?

Originally posted at The Quiet Coalition.

Another review site tackles “kid-friendly” earbuds and headphones

And TJ Donegan, Reviewed.com, concludes that you should never let your kids use your earbuds. Why? His review finds that headphones and earbuds could be dangerous for your kids’ ears. Donegan starts his article by stating that as a father to a young daughter:

I feel like I need to constantly worry about her safety. Worse, every other day there’s some jerk online telling me to be terrified of something new. Well, today I’m that jerk, but this is important: your headphones may be dangerous.

Donegan notes that most people probably recognize that loud concerts can damage hearing, but adds that “researchers and groups like the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control (sic) have established that routine exposure to moderately loud sounds can permanently damage your hearing, with up to 1.1 billion people at risk.” The risk is of particular concern for children, as they “frequently listen to music at max volume.” 

This point was driven home for Donegan who says that “when testing for our roundup of the best headphones for kids…we found that even something as simple as an Apple iPhone 7 Plus and the included earbuds can dramatically exceed the recommended levels at full volume, posing a risk after just a few minutes.”  In the course of testing volume-limiting, “kid safe” headphones, Donegan and his associates found that “many exceeded their own advertised maximum limits” or the safeguards were easy for children to remove. 

Donegan then explores the issue of “how loud is too loud,” stating that “though health experts have been studying this for decades, there isn’t a clear point at which damage is guaranteed to occur.”  He cites the “consensus” standard that holds that “you are at risk of noise-induced hearing loss if you’re exposed to an average volume of 85 decibels for 8 hours in a day,” but adds that “[i]t’s important to note that we’re not entirely sure where the safe zone really ends, and because noise-induced hearing loss is irreversible, caution is definitely the way to go.”  There is more than a hint of skepticism about safe standards in this article, as there should be.  As noted noise activist Dr. Daniel Fink has written in his editorial in the American Journal of Public Health, the 85 dBA standard is “an occupational noise exposure standard [that] is not a safe standard for the public.”

After an exhaustive review of hundreds of headphones, including 20 pairs of volume-limiting headphones, Donegan distills the findings into guidelines he plans on using when his daughter starts using headphones, including using volume-limiting headphones that play at or below recommended sound levels and limiting headphone use to under one hour a day.

To see Donegan’s full list of guidelines and learn more about the methodology used to review volume-limiting headphones, click the link in the first paragraph.

Link via @earables.

This is pretty cool

CanadaSound aims to make library of Canadian noises. Haydn Watters, CBC News, reports that a “new project is hoping to round up Canadian noises like these to make a soundscape of the country.”  So, what iconic sounds are on the short list? “The roar of a snowblower. An orca’s breath underwater. Bed sheets on a laundry line, snapping in the Newfoundland wind.” Watters writes that the project, The CanadaSound, wants people to submit “their Canadian noises” online with the aim of making those sounds accessible by musicians “making new music.”  

We think this is an excellent project and would actively encourage a similar one for the U.S. What iconic U.S. sounds would you include? The cruel and relentless drone of the Mr. Softee jingle? The ear-blasting screech of New York City subway cars braking as they enter Union Square Station? The loudest stadium crowd roar encouraged in a sadistic display of bravado by sports team franchises? Or perhaps the unconscionably loud scream of a motorcycle with an after market tail pipe racing down a residential street, setting off car alarms in its wake.  Oh….never mind.

Adding that the sound of the wind blowing through a wheat field or waves lapping up on a beach–any beach–at dawn would be pretty fabulous. Your suggestions?

Link via London Sound Survey.

 

Scientists are learning to decode the sounds of icebergs

Sarah Laskow, Atlas Obscura, reports about what scientists have learned from “Listening to Icebergs’ Loud and Mournful Breakup Songs.” Laskow writes that seven years after the largest iceberg broke off of the Ross Ice Shelf in Antarctica, “the largest remaining chunk floated out into the South Pacific where, in the warmer water, it began to disintegrate.”  And for the next year, “the ocean was noisier than usual.”  Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had suspended hydrophones underwater and they “were picking up strange signals.” Interestingly, the scientists “didn’t even know that icebergs made noise,” says Haru Matsumoto, an ocean engineer at NOAA who has studied these sounds.”  But now they do and they measure “the extent to which those sounds contribute to the noise of the ocean,” because “the sounds of ice could help them understand the behavior and breakup of icebergs and ice shelves as the poles warm up.”

Click this link to hear what the scientists are hearing.