Tag Archive: David M. Sykes

A boom in books on the search for silence in a noisy world

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

Sure you’d like less noise in your life, but is silence what you’re seeking? According to Bilal Qureshi in The Washington Post, there’s a boom in books about the search for silence in our noisy world.

Qureshi writes about Erling Kagge’s surprising best seller, “Silence In The Age Of Noise,” and several other recent books on the subject, musing:

I’m tempted to dismiss my growing obsession with books about silence as a frivolous longing for “chicken soup for an angsty soul.” But the rise of this family of books speaks to a real need—and void—in contemporary life. Silence is more than the absence of noise. It is the cumulative experience of personal space and a mind at rest, with room to think and contemplate.

Well said!

I have just finished reading—for the second time since it was published in late October (2019)–New Yorker writer David Owen’s excellent new book, “Volume Control, Hearing In A Deafening World.”

Owen’s book reminded me of several other books in this increasingly popular genre, like Garret Keizer’s 2012 book “The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise,” and George Prochnik’s 2011 book “In Pursuit of Silence.” Film director Patrick Shen turned Prochnik’s book into an excellent documentary film with the same name that did well at film festivals upon it’s release in 2017.

Personally, I recommend them all! If you’re in the market for some peace and quiet, start with any of these excellent works!

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.

LA-based startup promises a 185-seat electric aircraft “soon”

Photo courtesy of Wright Electric

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

Los Angeles-based startup company, Wright Electric, backed with significant funding from YCombinator, EasyJet and others, has joined the race to build electrically propulsed commercial passenger aircraft. In fact, Wright Electric has been showing it’s concept of a 185-seatshort-range aircraft to investors and conference attendees around the world for several years now.

This demonstrates that there’s significant momentum behind the idea of next generation all-electric aircraft, even in the U.S. where industry leaders Boeing and GE have spurned electrics while their competitors, Airbus and Siemens, are investing in it. This race to develop all-electric aircraft won’t just benefit the environment, it should also result in much quieter aircraft.

So the way forward to quieter airports may depend on accelerated development of alternatives to big, noisy jet aircraft. I’ve already reported on available electric planes, ranging from one- and two-seat training aircraft up to the spectacularly beautiful 11-seat “Alice” from eViation, an Israeli company that has already taken an order from U.S.-based carrier Cape Air and will have aircraft in the skies very soon.

Why not just continue to push FAA–and Boeing and GE–to fix their “NextGen” mess that has made peoples’ lives miserable around major airports? Of course we should, but we should try to encourage technological change, too.

The FAA Re-Authorization Act, which requires more consideration of neighborhoods around airports, took six years to work its way through Congress before it was signed in October 2018. Unfortunately, nothing much has happened even though Donald Trump’s signature is clearly affixed to the bottom of it.

So I say we should also encourage the development of the next generation of quiet, energy-efficient electric aircraft. The sooner they’re in the skies, the happier we’ll all be not only because our skies will be quieter but because those planes won’t be spewing toxic fumes and pollution into the atmosphere.

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.

Electric air taxis may be exciting, but are they silent?

Photo credit: BM für Verkehr und digitale Infrastruktur licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

You have to watch this very cool video on electric air taxis. It all seems very exciting, but why don’t we hear them in action?

As you may remember, I voiced my concern about two new sources of sky borne noise that were spurred by the 2018 signing of the FAA Re-Authorization Act: (1) the imminent appearance of drone-delivery services in our neighborhoods, and (2) the growing interest in all-electric vertical take off & landing air taxis. Some thought this was pure hype from Uber—an attempt to pump up their stock before their IPO awhile back. But there’s actually quite a bit of investment in technology for small, short-hop, eVTOL aircraft.

The idea’s been out there for a lifetime that small aircraft could be wheeled out of our garages, leap straight up into the air and whisk us off to…someplace besides a crowded freeway. Will regulators shut it down? Unlikely. In fact, they’re actively encouraging development of eVTOL aircraft, particularly in Europe, where, as you likely know, they pay much more attention to community noise than we do here in the U.S.

But what about the noise—not to mention the air accidents—from the burgeoning, uncontrolled growth of drone delivery services and air taxis? Yes, they’re electrically propelled, but they’re not silent.

Who cares about this? It’s time for the Congressional Quiet Skies Caucus to re-convene and get back to work. They got the FAA Re-Authorization done (that took six years), but now it’s creating new problems that nobody seems to be thinking about.

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.

EU’s robust noise-labelling requirements

Image credit: Flappiefh has dedicated this work into the public domain

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

Our own Dr. Fink wrote about this fascinating article in the New York Times concerning new labelling of junk foods in one of the world’s most overweight nations, Chile. The use of the classic octagonal STOP sign as the shape of these labels is absolutely brilliant as it telegraphs nonverbally, the powerful message to STOP and THINK. Using the same shape for labels on extremely noisy products would surely have an effect on peoples’ awareness that noise is now recognized as a public health problem.

I should add that abundant research was done in the European Union before the recent launch of a noise-awareness label on many classes of products–from air-conditioners to blenders to chainsaws and industrial equipment. You can see the label pictured above and note that it is very different from the Chilean approach.

As you can see, a noise-rating, stated in decibels (dB) has simply been added to the EU-wide energy label. Piggybacking a noise-rating onto the standardized energy label is an excellent approach to getting the message out about noise pollution in energy-conscious EU countries.

You surely also notice that the EU label is strictly informational, it simply reports the decibel emission level of the product—so it’s not a warning at all. Proponents argue that the EU approach is “market-based” and isn’t “judgmental” at all, i.e., there’s nothing on the label that tells you what noise level may be harmful to your health.

But at least there are now two very different, well-researched examples of how labelling might work on noisy products, the EU’s information-only approach, versus the Chilean warning label approach. So now some researcher can take a look at the big question: do they work?

Some of us remember the excitement that surrounded the semiotically-inspired “universal signage movement” of the 1960-70s–from that movement sprang the ubiquitous signage used all over the world for “bathroom” and “information” and “currency exchange,” etc., and later spurred the development of all of the icons that now litter our mobile devices. If you remember all that, you will certainly recognize that the shape and color of a warning label, like the red octagonal STOP sign or the standard try-color traffic light (red/yellow/green) took years to develop, standardize, and implement worldwide.

Lately, the whole universal sign language movement has gained new life in the UX-User Interface world, where symbols have emerged for everything, including emotional states, i.e., EMOJIs!

In any event, it’s my hope that someone will study the effectiveness of noise warning labels, so that the global noise problem can be addressed in an understandable and effective manner!

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.

Harvard Medical School looks at hearing and brain health

Photo credit: A Health Blog licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

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

Harvard Medical School publishes a number of useful, consumer-oriented newsletters and blogs on issues related to health. Sometimes they touch on noise-induced hearing loss and other hearing-related concerns. In this recent blog, James Maple, MD, discusses hearing health and its relationship to brain function. If you’re looking for some insight into this issue that avoids the hype, this is a good place to start. Research has recently shown that there is a clear correlation between diminished hearing and decline in cognitive function. Research is ongoing to determine whether there is a clear causal link between the two and how it might work. What is clear is that that preventing hearing loss is important.

An earlier article in this same publication gives an overview of the emerging market for personal sound amplification products, a market that opened last month thanks to the Warren-Grassley Act passed in 2017 and signed into law in 2018.  This law enables high tech “hearing assistive devices” to be sold over the counter without a prescription at drug stores, via online stores, etc.—for 1/10th the price of typical hearing aids. So now for a few hundred dollars you can purchase hearing assistive devices, try them out, and decide whether they’ll help you (or someone you know whom you suspect needs them). This article provides a useful, non-hyped description of PSAPs that makes good background reading before you begin shopping.

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.

Quieter electric planes are already in the air

Photo credit: Matti Blume licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

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

Some readers think electrically-powered aircraft are a wild-eyed futuristic idea—not so! Quieter all-electric, battery-powered aircraft are already flying. Most of these are one- or two-passenger planes but they demonstrate the viability and economic attractiveness of battery-powered electric planes. This video shows you ten models you can buy and fly now:

Perhaps the most exciting one in this video is the 11-seat (9 passengers plus two pilots) Israeli-designed “Eviation Alice” which is intended for commercial, commuter flights. The first customer for the Eviation Alice, CapeAir, based in the eastern U.S., signed up in mid-2019 and has placed an order for delivery in 2022.

The big player in this transformation to electric aircraft is not an American company. It’s Germany’s Siemens. So far Boeing and it’s engine-maker GE are not doing anything in this space, just sitting on the sidelines and waiting for somebody else to go first. But with Boeing’s GE-powered 737MAX completely and indefinitely grounded worldwide, perhaps that partnership isn’t in a mood for innovation right now.

Electric propulsion of larger airliners—the kind of planes most of us ride like Airbus A320s, etc.—won’t arrive until battery technology takes the next big leap. But Tesla’s Elon Musk is a major player in that effort, so keep an eye on him in this sector, too. He’s not just a car and rocket guy, he’s also keenly interested in electric aircraft.

Airports are certainly not quiet now, and the FAA seems to be working hard to stall improvement. But no matter what the FAA and regional airport authorities do, the electric revolution in aircraft is showing that quieter, more fuel-efficient flight is closer than we might have thought!

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.

AARP focuses on musicians and hearing loss

Photo credit: Alex G licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

Noise-induced hearing loss afflicts people of all ages, but since it’s cumulative and incurable, the greatest burden falls on older people who have incessantly exposed themselves to loud noise in their careers and due to recreational choices. Such is the case with many stars in music and entertainment. AARP recently reviewed research from Germany that analyzed the heath insurance records of 7 million people from 2004 to 2008 and found that “working musicians are nearly four times more likely to suffer noise-induced hearing loss than those in any other profession”…. and they were “57% more likely to have tinnitus brought on by their work.”

Hearing Health magazine also recently reported on this and included a list of a dozen well-known performers who’ve given up music due to hearing loss.

So if you’re wondering why some of your favorite rock stars aren’t touring any more, it’s possible they simply can’t hear what they’re performing. Sure, everybody knows classical composer Ludwig von Beethoven wrote—and even conducted–some his finest work after he was completely deaf. But if you’ve read about him, you would also know how profoundly unhappy he was about it.

Our ability to hear isn’t self-repairing–once you’ve blown your ears, they’re gone for good. So it’s good news that AARP seems to be awakening to the problem of noise-induced hearing loss. They’re big and powerful enough to get things done in Washington DC, where the health effects of exposure to loud sound was swept under the rug nearly 40 years ago. It’s definitely time for AARP to pay attention!

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.

David Owen’s “Volume Control” gains attention

Photo credit: Nicholas Githiri from Pexels

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

New Yorker writer David Owen’s new book, “Volume Control,” continues to attract attention. On Friday, February 7, National Public Radio’s Kara Miller interviewed Owen on her show “Innovation Hub” (look for the episode “Can you hear me now?” in the link above).

Last November 5th, NPR’s Terry Gross interviewed Owen about his new book on “Fresh Air.” If you haven’t picked up a copy, do so–or tell your library to buy several copies because it’s in demand. Owen’s interview with Kara Miller begins by Owen describing Dr. Arline Bronzaft’s landmark research on the impacts of noise on kids’ ability to learn in Manhattan in the 1970s, a piece of research that led to an ANSI national standard and broad awareness of learning deficits. That was a true success during the brief period in the 1970s before noise was “pushed off the table” by industries that didn’t want to be bothered and a U.S. president who, though hearing-impaired himself, didn’t think the issue merited national attention.

Now it’s back. Owen’s book is one of a string of popular books that have emerged over the past decade on this subject: George Prochnik’s well-reviewed book “In Pursuit of Silence” (2010) became a successful documentary film with the same title in 2015. Garrett Keizer’s 2010 book “The Unwanted Sound Of Everything We Want” got excellent reviews in 2012. And also in 2012, the book “Why Noise Matters,” with a chapter by Dr. Bronzaft, has contributed to the public dialogue on the issue of noise and noise control. And, of course, there’s the National Academy of Engineering report in 2011, “Technology for a Quieter America,” and the World Health Organization’s two-volume “Burden of Disease from Environmental Noise.”

But David Owen’s book is not a “policy treatise”—it’s a wonderfully entertaining narrative filled with fascinating first-hand stories. And underneath it all he recognizes that noise is fundamentally a health problem—and a burgeoning public health problem. Watch his short video for The New Yorker to get a taste: 

This book deserves everyone’s attention—so if you’re a member of a book club, please recommend it!

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.

Canary in a coal mine? Noise is a warning.

Photo credit: Arcadiuš licensed under CC BY 2.0

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

You likely know about sentinel species from biology class. In the mining industry until recently, miners carried caged canaries down into mine shafts with them—not as pets but as sentinels. The caged canaries’ highly efficient oxygen-intake provided a reliable early-warning signal to humans if deadly, invisible gases were present. If the canaries panicked or died, humans scrambled to get out of the mine.

Electronic sensors do that job now, but in many other ways we all rely on signals from our surroundings to warn us of danger. One kind of sentinel we should all pay more attention to is environmental noise. Most noise is actually waste, a loud byproduct of filthy, inefficient, poorly maintained industrial processes. Those noisy diesel-fueled jet planes overhead? That’s noise signaling pollution. Gas-powered jackhammers and leaf-blowers ripping up your neighborhood? That noise signals pollution too. Trains and trucks rattling past schools and disrupting kids’ education? That noise signals pollution. Garbage trucks that wake you at 5am with their fumes and noise? They’re signaling pollution.

All of those noises are the canaries in a coal mine. They warn you to watch out because you–and the environment–are at risk.

I’m writing this in February 2020. Our focus at Quiet Communities and The Quiet Coalition has been primarily on the effects of noise on hearing and other aspects of human health. Noise really is “the next big public health crisis.” But this is an election year. So it’s also time for every American to wake up and listen to what environmental noise is telling us. Noise, like other forms of pollution, is harmful for individuals–for you, for birds, for fish. And like those miners’ canaries, noise is also signaling the ongoing pollution of our air and water. That affects every thing.

It’s time to take off our headphones and earbuds and listen while there are still birds singing and we can still hear them. Listen before we’ve all been rendered unable to hear anymore.

TQC’s chair, Dr. Fink wrote an article two years ago about “Another Silent Spring.” I absolutely agree with him that “we can make a quieter world, so future generations won’t have to endure another silent spring.”

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.

What’s the Guinness World Record for the most destructively stupid event?

Photo credit: Harmony licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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

Americans are famous abroad for being loud. Maybe it’s because we’re all going deaf from exposing ourselves to environmental noise? Doesn’t help that Guinness, the irish brewery, has been sponsoring the “loudest stadium” competition for years now, goading American football fans to make as much noise as possible. Why? Two reasons, of course:

  1. To confuse the home team’s competition by making it impossible for their players to hear the plays being called, (otherwise known as poor sportsmanship), and
  2. To compete for the Guinness Record for “loudest stadium crowd noise.”

I understand the allure of setting a world record in something, anything, however dumb. But why make yourself deaf in the process? The article above says the loudest they’ve recorded so far in the stadium hosting the upcoming Super Bowl was 128 decibels—that’s enough to permanently damage your hearing.

So is Guinness legally responsible for inciting the loud behavior by offering the Guinness World Record for loudest stadium? Or are stadium owners responsible for promoting the effort?

And who should be filing law suits? How about the players’ union? For players—the focus of that noise–hearing loss from stadium noise–is a genuine, recognized occupational hazard, though one that OSHA may not be attending to yet. Or should fans–including children–seek compensation for being unwittingly exposed to destructive noise without being informed or offered adequate ear protection?

We wonder how much longer this pointless and destructive Guinness record will continue to be promoted. It needs to stop but probably won’t until somebody takes Guinness and local stadium owners to court. Noise exposure is a serious public health threat, and far too many Americans are completely unaware of it or are complacent.

I hope you’ll enjoy the SuperBowl this year—without threatening your hearing!

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.