Design

Starting January, help comes to the hard of hearing at your local drug store

Photo credit: Kateweb licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

This New York Times article is a wake-up call to all Americans with hearing loss: Starting January 2020, and for 1/10th the price of conventional–and ugly–hearing aids, you can buy “hearing assistive devices” at your local drug store or directly online. The innovation economy has finally come to the hidebound hearing aid industry!

And we can thank a genuinely bi-partisan team in Congress for making this happen. Charles Grassley, Republican from Iowa, and Elizabeth Warren, Democrat from Massachusetts, teamed up in late 2016 to write the “Over the Counter Hearing Aid Act,” pushed it through both houses of Congress, and in 2017 convinced President Trump to sign it.

Thank you Senators Grassley and Warren!

What this Act does is tell the FDA to keep its regulatory hands off of a new class of hearing-assistive devices called “personal sound amplification products,” or PSAPs. PSAPs are miniaturized, multi-featured wireless high-tech in-ear devices that do lots of things conventional hearing aids don’t do, and all for about 1/10th the price of conventional hearing aids.

Maybe deregulation works after all!  In this case, it’s good-old-fashioned bi-partisanship that got the deal done.

So if you or a loved one really need hearing aids but haven’t been able or willing to spend the $5,000 to $10,000 the hearing aid cartel has been charging, now’s your chance to tune into the world of sounds you or they have been missing. Check it out!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

A call for quiet fireworks

As Guy Fawkes day approaches ushering in bonfire season in the UK, a Bradford city councillor has called for the council to consider making a law to restrict loud fireworks displays and require quiet ones.

We have written about quiet fireworks before, noting that noise is part of the design of traditional fireworks. But as Councillor Jeannette Sunderland asserts, “[t]he manufacture of fireworks has progressed and it is now possible to hold displays and events of quieter fireworks which can create ‘quieter’ displays, ‘low noise’ displays or silent displays which reduce the noise nuisance and impact on others in terms of acoustic stress.”

It’s not impossible to remove some noise from our lives without giving up things that people enjoy.  Fireworks are, primarily, a visual display.  While there are those who may love the noise that accompanies the brilliant display, by limiting it the experience can be enjoyed by many more people.

Then again, if we consider the overall impact of a fireworks display, maybe it’s time to move on to something a bit less destructive.

Apple Watch noise app test shows accuracy within 1%

Photo credit: This photo by Alex Binary has been dedicated into the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition, and Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

According to this tech reviewer, an independent test of the new noise app on the Apple iWatchmeasured noise with 1% of a professional sound level meter, i.e., it measured 88 decibels when the professional meter measured showed 88.9 decibels. That’s pretty darn good!

But you don’t need the noise app on he iWatch, or any of the available smart phone sound meter apps that are available, to tell is a sound is too loud.

The World Health Organization recommends only one hour at 85 dBA to prevent hearing loss. If the ambient noise is loud enough that you have to strain to speak or to understand the person you’re speaking with, it’s above 75 A-weighted decibels* (dBA) and your hearing is in danger.

Because if something sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

*A-weighting adjusts the sound measurement for the frequencies heard in human speech.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

What kind of sound should electric cars make to warn pedestrians?

Photo credit: Mike from Pexels

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This interesting article in The New York Times discusses carmakers’ efforts to choose the sound their electric cars will make. Electric motors are quieter than internal combustion motors, and regulations in Europe and the U.S. require–or will require–electric and hybrid powered vehicles to make sounds that warn pedestrians of their approach, especially the visually impaired.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data show that hybrid electric vehicles were 35% more likely than standard cars to be involved in a pedestrian accident, and 57% more likely to be involved in an accident with a bicycle. Personally, I think the problem may be greater for distracted pedestrians who are talking or texting on their phones than it is for the visually impaired.

If vehicles can be required to make sound, they can also be required to be quieter. So the principle of regulations about vehicle noise would appear to be without controversy. And the same principle needs to be extended to vehicles, such as the muscle cars and Harley-Davidson motorcycles also mentioned in the article, that make too much noise.

Actually, there are existing federal regulations and regulations in many states about vehicle noise, but these are rarely if ever enforced—and that needs to change.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The world’s most accessible museum?

Photo credit: David Samuel licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This article in the New York Times describes the new Wellcome Museum in London, which was specifically designed to be accessible to those with visual, auditory, and mobility issues. The piece also mentions an exhibit at the Tate Museum that was inaccessible to those in wheelchairs because it had two steps at the entrance, and of a public monument to a century-old labor dispute that was also not accessible to those who couldn’t climb steps. The main idea is that those in the UK who design museums, art exhibits, and public monuments are now aware that these places, designed for the public, should be accessible to as many people as possible.

The same principle of universal access should apply to restaurant design and other public spaces. Ambient noise in restaurants makes it difficult if not impossible for those with hearing loss to understand speech. And designing restaurants and public spaces with a goal toward reducing noise levels will make it easier for everyone to converse with their dining companions, not just the hard of hearing.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The cost of noise disruptions

Photo credit: Cadeau Maestro from Pexels

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

Katherine Martinko, Treehugger, writes about how “blocking out the noise of the world” can make us more productive and creative.

Do you remember the Microsoft study on productivity and the cost of noise disruptions? I certainly do. Microsoft and several other big tech companies convened a meeting several years ago to discuss how to measure the productivity of knowledge workers. All the experts were there, led by some people from MIT.

I remember because they awarded my partner and me a contract to do further research (our original work had been for Apple Computer) on this subject and we presented it at a Human Factors and Ergonomics Society conference later.

Here’s the point in a single quote from the above article:

After being interrupted, it takes about 25 minutes to get back to the task you were working on, according to a Microsoft study. It can take even longer to get to a ‘flow state,’ alternatively called ‘deep work.’ These terms refer to the concentrated frame of mind you’re in when immersed in a task and time just seems to fly. It’s also when you do your best work.

What more do we need to know? The relentless shift toward open landscape offices has been underway for decades—because it reduces the cost of corporate office space. Basically, take away walls and doors and even cubicles and you can reduce the space-per-person well below 200 sq ft., resulting in huge savings and greater “flexibility.” But in the end, many people now work in essentially raw, unfinished, factory-like spaces with concrete floors, temporary tables, and virtually no privacy—and that, we are told, is supposed to result in what they call “teamwork.”

We’ve written about the bane of open offices before, but the fact that Microsoft weighed in on the issue is significant. We agree with the author of the above piece that it’s important, if not essential, to find and hang onto your own “bliss station”—a place where distractions are removed and you’re at your most productive when you need to be.

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

Noise inside rail cars is a problem, too

Photo credit: abdallahh licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

My noise colleague David Sykes recently wrote about noise levels in the London subway system, but noise levels are a problem inside rail cars on Vancouver’s SkyTrain, too. Researchers there found noise levels as high as 106 decibels. Newer quieter rail cars are on order, with air conditioning, closed rather than open windows, and better door seals.

Until the old cars are replaced, Vancouverites taking the rail system should use ear plugs. That’s what I do when riding the subway in New York, London, or Paris.

Because if it sounds too loud, it IS too loud.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Do-it-yourself noise mitigation at home

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I don’t generally mention commercial products in my blog posts, but I’m willing to make an exception for these sound absorbing panels from IKEA.

The article is from a UK magazine, so I don’t know if the panels are available in the U.S. yet, but it’s worth it to keep an eye out for them.  They can be hung in a room, or as a room divider, to absorb unwanted sound. And since the product if offered through IKEA, the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive.

Alternatively, heavy drapes might be a more aesthetically pleasing solution. And new urban construction often has–and should be required to have–double paned windows and sound absorbing material in the exterior walls.

So urban dwellers trying to get a good night’s sleep have noise mitigation options. But I can’t help but think about how much better our sleep could be if government actively enforced  noise regulations rather than leave the problem for each of us to deal with individually.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Quieter motorcycles are on their way

Photo credit: big-ashb licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

After last week’s fiasco in Manhattan, where tourists raced out of Times Square when they mistook a motorcycle backfiring for gunfire, it’s good to hear the era of loud motorcycles may  finally be coming to an end. After all, motorcycles with exhaust noise violating federal and state noise standards are the bane of many urban and rural dwellers.

Quieter motorcycles are possible, and there have been efforts to design motorcycles that leave a smaller carbon–and noise–footprint. Well, they are finally here: Harley-Davidson and other manufacturers are introducing quiet electric-powered motorcycles.

We hope these become a preferred mode of transport soon.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He 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. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.