Archive for April, 2012

The Cocktail Party Effect

Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

by Mary Ellen Eagan

First, I must admit that it was the photo that caught my eye – we don’t have cable at home, and it’s killing me that I’m missing Mad Men Season 5.

What cocktail parties teach us

Today’s Wall Street Journal has an article on “the cocktail party effect” which talks about the role of background noise on our ability to focus, especially in settings such as cocktail parties.  Apparently when we focus on a single conversation, our auditory cortex boosts the signal of that conversation to prioritize what’s most important.  Pretty cool.

The focus of the article really, though, is about attention, and how the findings of the cocktail study demonstrate why people aren’t very good at multitasking:  namely, our brains are wired for “selective attention” and can focus on only one thing at a time.   This has important implications for distracted driving, walking, and other forms of multitasking.   And yet, our kids seem to be pretty good at it.

BTW, a related condition is “selective hearing” – that’s when you ask your mate to take out the trash (or any other “yes, dear” chore) and it doesn’t happen.  Hint:  ask for a “read-back” (works especially well with pilots).

Sustainable Opulence

Monday, April 23rd, 2012

by Mary Ellen Eagan

Vegas, Baby.  Just returned from four days in Vegas, attending the ACI-NA Environmental Affairs Conference and the TRB Environmental Impacts of Aviation (AV030) Mid-year meeting. 

This year the Environmental Affairs Conference teamed with the Operations and Technical Affairs Conference.  There were several joint sessions, most notably on Integrating RNAV/RNP into the airport setting.  Other hot topics included:

  • Further discussion of FAA’s impending Program Guidance Letter on Residential Sound Insulation.  Latest word is that ACI-NA and other industry groups will have an opportunity to review the draft shortly.  Stand by.
  • Air toxics and other ongoing air quality studies in the Los Angeles area.
  • Strategies for noise stringency at upcoming CAEP meeting.
  • PBN implementation and integration with airports:  “NextGen begins and ends at airports”.

Our TRB meeting covered a lot of ground in a few hours, including:

I had been dreading holding two environmental meetings in Las Vegas, which I have long considered one of the least sustainable places on earth.  However, after listening to these two guys talk about water conservation initiatives in Las Vegas – not just including the Strip, but especially the Strip – I was quite impressed.  Following the meeting, several of us had dinner in the Aria Hotel, which has achieved USGBC LEED Gold Certification.   More on the City Center’s Environmental Commitment – including an on-site cogeneration plant, specially designed low flow shower heads, and CNG limos here.  My only wish is that it would be more visible to the tourist with an environmental conscience.  This is one of those cases where what happens in Vegas shouldn’t stay in Vegas.

Keeping with its commitment to sustainability, CityCenter has commissioned the first stretch-limo fleet powered by compressed natural gas (CNG).