Posts Tagged ‘noise’

Of Noise and Nature

Thursday, December 22nd, 2016

By Nick P. Miller

I wonder how many people experience the sense of peace and uninterrupted reflection that comes from the “quiet” of nature, unaffected by human sounds.  I know I was aware of how special it seemed when I was vacationing as a kid with my family on Lake Champlain and walked to the shore in the evening.  I heard only rippling of the water – nothing else.  Every time I’m in a place of such quiet, whether a National Park or early Sunday morning at home, I’m awed.

We’re usually not much aware of the sounds around us; so many are worth ignoring.  I think you need an attentive awareness of what you can hear to really register the effect of quiet.  However, if we pause and listen for a minute or two, the multiplicity of sounds may be surprising, especially in a city.  In fact, that’s the only time most people notice the sounds that they can hear – when they stop and reflect.  For most of the time, we tune out and don’t consciously hear the sounds that are irrelevant to us.

There is some science that shows how the audible and visual features of a place interact to convey an impression.  Forty-four subjects were instructed to judge the tranquility of audio / video presentations of 11 relatively “tranquil” locations on a scale of 0 (not at all) to 10 (very much), and that they should judge a tranquil environment as one that they considered a quiet, peaceful and attractive place to be.  The figure below shows the results.   Except for Otley Market and Building Site, the locations are primarily natural.  The combined audio and video presentation ratings show not only the interaction of the two, but that together the resulting tranquility rating is not necessarily an average of the two separate responses.  Broadly speaking, the audio for these 11 locations tends to either support the visual sense of tranquility or reduce it.  That is to say, a place can appear very tranquil, but the sounds can ruin that sense.  This degradation by incongruous sounds is more significant the more natural and beautiful is the visual.

Other studies have demonstrated that locations with natural sounds and landscapes can be restorative and that spending time there will actually clear your mind.  People’s problem solving is improved after spending time in a setting that is predominantly natural.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more and more difficult to find places dominated by natural sounds.  The things we want (thanks for the idea Garret) – cars, planes, various recreational vehicles, leaf blowers – are so ubiquitous that it’s hard to get away from their noise. Even in natural areas you’d expect to be very quiet, it’s possible to hear a chain saw or small plane miles away.  Most ubiquitous are high-altitude jets; at six miles high, they can be as much as 20 dB louder than quiet natural settings; 20 dB louder is a lot – an intruding sound you couldn’t ignore.  And consider that the most beautiful natural places are the ones that most easily lose the sense of solitude and tranquility they convey when human sounds intrude.

I admit real quiet can be spooky for some.  If you’re a city person, enamored of the hustle and bustle, then maybe serious quiet might be unsettling.  But I have found, and I think most people will, that time spent in nature with little other than natural sounds can be a wonderful, memorable experience, later pleasantly recalled.

Some Stuff I Like to Think I’ve Learned

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

by Nick Miller

founders 2a

HMMH Founders (from left to right) Nick Miller, Andy Harris, Carl Hanson, and Bob Miller.

I began my career in acoustics, noise, and how people react to noise in 1973 after quitting the Air Force. Not that USAF was a bad experience – it taught me a lot.  After living with pretty liberal parents, and going to liberal universities and colleges for about 8 ½ years, I found I actually could like politically conservative people and shoot an S&W Combat Masterpiece with reasonable precision without really aiming.  But never mind that; it’s just that lessons for life are everywhere.

Anyway, I began at Bolt Beranek and Newman in Cambridge Mass, (BBN) and found myself in a liberal, open-minded organization where my group in environmental noise analysis and control was struggling to find the best ways to resolve or attempt to resolve the relatively new political issue of the public’s dislike of all sorts of noise – from factories to construction to race tracks to new parking garages to planes, trains and automobiles. We worked with and for the likes of Ted Schultz, Ken Eldred, Dick Bolt (testimony about the 18 minute gap in the Nixon tapes fame), Bob Newman, and other brilliant people of whom you may not have heard like Chuck Dietrich, John Shadley, Warren Blazier and other good guys.  Truly a great place to start a career and learn.

As BBN turned away from acoustics to computer workings like design of the internet, Andy, Bob, Carl and I founded HMMH in 1981 (guess what the initials stand for). It was, and continues to be, another great experience, if you can get past the initial stress of putting your house up as collateral.  I remember vividly the day we four with our spouses met with bank representatives and all signed papers tying the future of our homes to our future success (or failure).  Well, we actually succeeded beyond our dreams, had a heck of a good time working together, bringing compatriots in noise into the company, sharing ups and downs, and building a company of more than 40 people.  That may not seem large to most people, but for a boutique business, we thought – “Not bad.”

Andy was president until 1989, and then I was until 2004 when we handed leadership to Mary Ellen. Andy, Bob and Carl have all retired and I will be within a year’s time.  I’ve naturally started wondering what to do next, and what about my 40 plus years of experience?  Do I walk away and leave the battle field of political acoustics or not?  I’m leaning toward going cold turkey.  However, my son-in-law’s father pointed out how much experience, ideas and insights I would be taking away from the industry.

To get to the point, I have decided to at least write a series of blogs describing some of the things I’ve learned about noise and people, leadership and mentoring. This is perhaps a common human desire to pass on something of what one has learned in a lifetime career.  I’ve noticed that a number of old folks like to write books about their accomplishments.  I certainly won’t be doing that.  I’m not sure what I’ve accomplished, but I do know I’ve learned some things.  Also these things are not worth a book; I’m not going to do what I notice some authors do and take a few basic pieces of wisdom and use up 200 to 300 pages talking about them in different ways.

So, I intend to write a series of blogs over the next months. That is my intent, anyway.  I will start with issues of the discipline: noise and people’s reactions thereto in different contexts and to different sources.  This will be fun for me, anyway.

FAA Announces the Release of AEDT 2b

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

by Robert C. Mentzer Jr.

The FAA announced on September 8, 2014 that the Aviation Environmental Design Tool version 2b (AEDT 2b)a next generation noise and emission model designed for airports, will be released on May 29th, 2015.  The upcoming version is expected to replace the FAA’s INM and EDMS models which have been used separately for noise and emissions modeling for several decades.  AEDT 2b will combine these two models along with the latest airport and aircraft data to provide airports and consultants a tool to develop noise, emission, and fuel burn results.  One set of data inputs (airfield, aircraft operations, etc.) will allow the user to develop results for all three categories and for different phases of flight.  This will also result in the user being able to understand the consequences of various changes at an airport from one tool.  AEDT 2areleased in 2013 to replace NIRS, is currently available for regional and larger scale analysis such as air traffic redesign studies.

TBT: Noise Measurements at Idlewild

Thursday, July 17th, 2014

by Mary Ellen Eagan

I’ve been spending a lot of time the last few weeks thinking about evolution of noise issues at the Port Authority (of New York and New Jersey), and thought some of you might also appreciate these photos of early efforts to measure noise levels at JFK (then-Idlewild).

Group in New York discussing noise measurements of the British Comet 4 jet aircraft, August 1958.  Laymon Miller (Bob Miller’s dad) is seated at the far left; Beranek wears glasses.  John Wiley and Austin Tobin are standing second and third from the left, respectively.  The others are representatives from British Airways and the Port of New York Authority.

Group in New York discussing noise measurements of the British Comet 4 jet aircraft, August 1958. Laymon Miller (Bob Miller’s dad) is seated at the far left; Beranek wears glasses. John Wiley and Austin Tobin are standing second and third from the left, respectively. The others are representatives from British Airways and the Port of New York Authority.

ICBEN 2014

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

by Nick Miller

I attended the recent (June 2014) conference held by the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise (ICBEN) in Nara Japan. The presentations were all about the possible bad effects of noise on humans. Overall, it’s a confabulation of people who are engaged in rigorous scientific exploration of how noise might produce ill effects, and by and large everyone is quite circumspect about any tentative conclusions suggested by their work. But let the press get ahold of the summary information, and you can get headlines like: “Is the noise of modern life making you ill? It can trigger heart disease, blood pressure and weight gain – even when you’re asleep.”

But researchers on the same team can come to different opinions such as: “Yes noise probably does cause heart problems,” and “No, noise probably doesn’t cause heart problems.”

So what gives? What gives in my opinion is that research results usually show just slight probabilities of adverse effect, and I’m inclined to think personal leanings (some might say prejudices) influence the interpretations of results. I’m not saying that there’s anything political or ideological here, only that different people draw different conclusions from the same results. I think, and I believe I read this somewhere – probably something David Brooks wrote (how’s that for a reference?) – that people make their decisions emotionally and then look for supporting evidence.

Reflect for a minute on some of your strongly held opinions and dig deeply to see if there really is any logical basis for them. As far as the effects of noise are concerned, I’ve detected two basic prejudices at work: “Noise is guilty and you have to prove it’s not.” “Noise is innocent until proven guilty.” Which is yours?

Nara, Japan

Nara, Japan

Around conference area

Around conference area

Nara, Japan

Nara, Japan