December 04, 2023

Really interesting OpenBook titled "Engaging with Everyday Sounds"

I have had a tab open in my browser for several months to a book called Engaging with Everyday Sounds.  I'm sure that I discovered this book through one of the podcasts that I subscribe to related to acoustics, but I have since forgotten which podcast it was. 

This book is interesting not only due to the content but also because it is an OpenBook and therefore free to read online. Perhaps what is most unique about this book is that embedded within are sound recordings related to the chapter material.

This is neat work, and I would like to read it more closely rather than just the light skimming that I do every time I return to the tab.

December 01, 2023

Social Justice in Acoustics and Soundscape Research

I recently listened to a great episode of one of my favorite podcasts - 99% Invisible - that I just can't get out of my head. The episode was called Home on the Range - if you have yet to hear it, you should go listen to it now.

The episode is a profile of a suburb of Cincinnati, a majority-Black town neighbored by a gun range used by the Cincinnati police department. For a variety of structural and historically racist reasons, the town had to build housing incredibly close to the gun range.  The focus of the episode is mainly on the reasons why that came to be, how the situation has gotten worse over time, and, finally, a possible resolution to the issue. 

What struck me about this was that it seems clear to me that this is a type of social justice issue that the community of people who work in the field of acoustics and especially those in the field of soundscapes should have been aware of years (or decades!) ago.  Some people in the acoustics research community may have heard of this town and the noise situation, but for me, it was a totally new story.

I don't mean to compare this to the story of Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK - but I definitely feel echoes of that history in my reaction to the podcast episode.  When I think of soundscapes as related to social justice, I can think of examples of airplane flight paths over low-income neighborhoods and I can think of examples of urban soundscape research with possible links to increased health risks, but I feel that I don't have a handle on the state of soundscape work and where there are opportunities to use acoustics to make people's lives better.

If anyone out there does this sort of work, let me know!

April 10, 2023

Something I'm reading intersected with stuff I"m listening to

Around the end of the year, I listened to this episode of 99% Invisible which featured a story about how emergency vehicle sirens use higher sound levels than they historically did. The podcast mentioned the story was a part of the book "Golden" about the theme of silence in the world today. That sounded interesting, so I purchased the ebook to read.

I've been reading the book and enjoying it. The book is less about the acoustics of silence and more about the psychological aspects of searching for silence (or peace) in a loud and chaotic world. Still, it has been a worthwhile read so far.

I was a bit surprised to find an episode of Twenty Thousand Hertz also titled "Golden," which was also based on the book.  It, too, was a really great episode - I recommend checking it out.

March 17, 2023

Link dump from "Back to Work" podcast (episode 605)

I've listened to the "Back to Work" podcast since it started. If you have never listened to this podcast, it's a bit hard to explain. Initially, it was about productivity at work. Over time it has become less about that and more about all sorts of issues related to existing in the varied environments that we all exist in. The topics cover a wide range: work, home, online, offline, hobbies, Apple, markdown, and productivity.  This particular episode had a great set of shared links that I wanted to remember. My favorites from the episode were:

March 15, 2023

Why does Rice play Texas?? A podcast episode about Kennedy's moon speech.

This episode of the podcast "It Was Said" has been in my playlist for months now.  I've listened to pretty much the whole episode, and I think it's great. I'm biased, though, as a complete fan of Kennedy's "We choose to go to the moon" speech. I just wanted to be sure I could find this episode for sharing with students in physics or astronomy class.

March 14, 2023

Cover of the book "Sundown Towns" by James LoewenCover of book titled "I alone can fix it" by Carol Leaning and Philip RuckerCopy of book titled "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson

I'll admit up front that I'm over three months past when most people do a year-end review. But it's spring break for me, and I almost feel like I have time to think about things like this for a few seconds. 

I like to read books. I'm certainly not the fastest reader out there, nor do I end up reading a huge amount of books each year, but usually, I'm able to finish at least 25 books a year. Last year, I only read 17 books.

As the end of the year approached, I looked back at the books I had picked and noticed that the lengths of books I was reading were trending upward. In 2020, the books I read had an average length of 314 pages. In 2021 it was 337 pages. Last year it was 342 pages. 

The longest book I read was "Sundown Towns" by James Loewen. Not only was that book long, it was also a slow read for me. I can't exactly explain it - the book never seemed to drag, but yet it was the type of book that took more deliberate reading.

Another long book was "I Alone Can Fix It" by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker. This was about the last year of the Trump presidency. I try not to read too many contemporary political books, but in 2021 I had read a book about the first three years of the Trump administration, so I figured the Leonnig and Rucker book would be a good way to finish the story of what happened in the White House.  In retrospect, I'm a bit ambivalent about my decision to read both of those books. I think they were fine choices for what they were, but I'm not sure how much they will stick with me long term.

The last specific example of a long book I read was "Caste" by Isabel Wilkerson. Out of the 17 books I finished in 2022, this was the book with the highest average rating on Goodreads. I enjoyed this book, although there were some chapters in the middle which I felt dragged a bit. Wilkerson wrote about an event that happened to her at an unnamed business in Chicago towards the start of the book. I am positive that I had either heard her tell that story on a podcast or in a radio interview well before her book was published, but I couldn't find where I had heard it before. I definitely recommend this book even though it was a bit long and had a few slow parts to it. There is a reason it was so highly rated by many people.

I think another reason I ended up finishing fewer books than I wanted was that I am mostly reading books that I check out from the library as ebooks. Often times, I don't finish a book before it is due and then there is a hold on the book while others read it. I end up with a number of books-in-progress that I'm always planning to come back to after finishing the library books. 

So far this year, I've only finished three books. I'm probably already behind in my goal for finishing 25 books this year. That's okay, though. I still like reading whatever I can.

March 13, 2023

The value of doing science - a podcast recommendation

I listen to a lot of podcasts - so many that I'm usually weeks (or months) behind on several that I subscribe to. A fairly recent episode of Radiolab definitely caught my attention, though.

This episode started by introducing listeners to the "Golden Fleece" Award, a made-up award by a long-time senator from Wisconsin. The premise of the award was that there were scientists squandering taxpayer money on frivolous research. Having seen and heard politicians do this for as long as I have been involved in science, I was bracing for bad news. At best, I figured that the episode would debunk the idea of frivolous studies but then go back and say that the politicians have a duty to make sure the money is not wasted.

The episode was so much better than that. 

I don't want to spoil it for you if you haven't heard it already - just go listen to it! There's stuff to share with your students if you teach or your family if you do (or just love) science. I learned about a type of snail I had never heard of, the cone snail, which is just super fascinating! 

March 11, 2023

Bioacoustics of whales in the news!

Last week I caught this article in the Washington Post about how whales can use "vocal fry" in some of their sound production. The Washington Post article definitely used the hook of vocal fry as being associated with something that (often, young) women face criticism for. I have never understood why so many people seem to have extreme opinions about how people's speech sounds in terms of the creakiness or register of the voice. I am just not sensitive to it, and although I have heard people with distinctive voices, I guess I default to trying to judge them by what they say rather than how they sound as they say it.

Anyway, back to the science presented in the article. The source of the research was a recent paper in the journal Science. I don't have access to this journal, but I did poke around a bit on the page enough to read the abstract and "Secrets of whale vocal anatomy" paragraph. I downloaded the videos included in the supplementary materials. If you're a fan of seeing how science is done, it's always interesting to get a peek into the process by watching videos like these. The footage is raw and different from what you might expect in a science documentary. I love stuff like this! 

I also skimmed through the references and noted several citations to articles from JASA - I'm sure there were several ASA members pleased to see their work cited in Science.  

Anyway, bioacoustics is a really fascinating field and I'm happy to see it get noticed by these publications. I sort of wish the fraught topic of vocal fry in humans hadn't been used to make the science seem catchier, though.

February 17, 2023

This new meta-analysis of the effectiveness of mask-wearing was more interesting than I expected

There is an updated meta-analysis of how respiratory illnesses spread and the effectiveness of prevention techniques such as hand-washing and mask-wearing. I didn't expect to be thinking much about the effectiveness of mask-wearing or not anymore, but I was reading a recent newsletter from The Atlantic which featured an interview with the author of an article breaking down the meta-analysis paper. (Subscription probably required for The Atlantic.)

I did spend what felt like a lot of time before the Fall semester began in 2022 trying to figure out what sort of language I was going to put in my syllabus regarding masks.  What I finally came up with was this simple policy: "Masks are optional, but respect for others is not. Some people may choose to wear a mask some or all of the time, and some people may choose never to wear a mask. Either choice at any time should be respected." That language seemed to work well, and I've been reasonably happy with it. 

I had a more difficult time figuring out if I should be wearing a mask or not. On the one hand, I am reasonably healthy and not at a high risk for hospitalization with a COVID infection.  On the other hand, long COVID is a real thing and as a scientist I should probably be practicing what the science says is best policy. What I finally came to realize was that the worst part of wearing a mask while teaching was that it made it difficult (in some cases almost impossible) to build relationships with students in my classes. So, I'm taking a calculated risk that the benefit of more easily building trust and rapport with students in my classes outweighs the risk of getting (and spreading) COVID.

What I found fascinating about the new meta-analysis was the conclusion that it was difficult (or impossible) to make any population-level conclusions about the effectiveness of wearing masks.  That doesn't negate the science which says on an individual level that masks provide reasonable protection for the wearer. I'm hoping that what I read is not just a confirmation of a prior belief - I'm trying very hard to be open minded and not just falling for a confirmation bias trap.  But still, it does seem a lot more in-line with what I have already been doing regarding masks - not masking when building relationships is important and masking in crowded/not-well-ventilated spaces where I'm not trying to build rapport with anyone I interact with.

I also think this sort of balance of when to mask or not helps remind me that other people can choose to wear masks for individual reasons. None of those reasons need to be known to me or anyone else, really. And whether or not the individual masking has a measurable population-level effect doesn't really matter, I suppose. But I also figure it can't make the spread worse, right?

February 15, 2023

It's like "Slow TV" but for space geeks...

Remember a few years back when the Scandinavian import to Netflix was "Slow TV" featuring long train rides or marathon knitting sessions?  All of these were shown in real-time, using high-quality cameras, except nothing was edited for time.

May I present to you the Slow TV equivalent for space geeks - an 8 hour spacewalk shown in real-time:

I left this running for a bit in a background window today, and it was very soothing! I wish my workday was in microgravity!!

I can only imagine what it would be like to have a camera following me for 8 hours during my workday.  There would be interesting times during the day, like during classes and labs. Then, there would be the hours of tedious email answering and trying to get stuff prepped for the next class. Clearly there is a reason that type of Slow TV has never been attempted. 😄

February 14, 2023

I miss old twitter

 I was one of the users of the Tweetbot client for Twitter. Back in January the access to twitter got switched off from the app and since then any user will see this when launching the app:

I used to read twitter in chronological order. It's not clear to me that I can do that anymore and I'm not really interested in letting an algorithm decide what is important for me to read. 

I'm not writing this to say I'm “leaving twitter” but I'm not really able to use it the way I want anymore. That bums me out, but eventually I hope to figure things out. 

January 16, 2023

Ways to make graphs for class use

I seem to at least once a semester realize that I have forgotten all the apps and websites that I've seen that help to produce graphs for class use.  These graphs can be used for formative assessments or quizzes/exams in class.  In no particular order:

Motion map maker (credit ???)

Graph template on Desmos (credit @fnoschese)

Adjustable graph template on Desmos (credit @MrJoeMilliano)

Remix of above (credit @a_freeparticle) (I have not used it, I just sort of discovered it by googling.)

There is a pretty good Mac app called GraphSketcher, which is no longer in development, but mostly still works.  Alternatives to GraphSketcher are mostly programming environments.

There's another Mac app called Grapher which is basic but sometimes useful. 

I have downloaded a spreadsheet with adjustable sliders (filename Adjustable XVT Graphs_2020_Sliders_VBA.xlsm) for making kinematic graphs. (credit Dan Hosey) I can't find a current link to that spreadsheet, but here is version Dan put on Desmos.

Here's a video demonstrating how to make nice graphs in Inkscape. (Credit Marco Almeida)

The oPhysics site has a graph drawing page. (credit ???) Also, that site has OTHER physics drawing tools that I should try to remember.

I'll try to update this page in the future as I (re)discover other options.