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Do You Love Fireworks?

Do you love fireworks? I do. The warm summer air, the quality time with family, the sense of community. Nothing feels more like summer than venturing out to the park to watch fireworks. Even though I love fireworks, it’s important to remember that they present more than just a fire hazard, they can also damage your hearing.

According to the National Council on Fireworks Safety, the average adult has a peak hearing level of 140dB. Fireworks range from 150 – 175 dB, which means with each bang and sparkle, you could be hurting your ability to hear. Fireworks have even more of an impact on children. A child’s ear can only take 120 dB before their hearing can be impaired.

Of course you can still enjoy a fireworks show with your family and friends. I have five helpful tips to protect the ears of everyone:

1. Keep a safe distance

For children that is at least 50 meters, which is just over half the length of a football field.

2. Wear ear plugs

If you’re like me and you like to set off your own fireworks, your safest bet is to wear ear plugs. They will easily protect your hearing from whizzing, sizzling, and banging of your fireworks.

3. Light one firework at a time then quickly move away

This tip will not only save you from physical harm, it will also protect your hearing. It goes back to tip #1, keep a safe distance. You don’t want to be too close when the explosion takes place.

4. Always have an adult supervise firework activity

Accidents occur in seconds. Children don’t always recognize the dangers around them.

5. Make sure the area is safe for fireworks

Of course you want to be a safe distance from homes, trees, or anything that may easily catch fire, but you’ll also need to be aware of reverberation. The booms of fireworks can echo at dangerous decibels. 

Firework season can be a lot of fun, but remember to be safe. Protect yourself from the sun, the heat, and, as always, from hearing loss.

The Fun & Excitement of Paragliding

Listen Technologies is headquartered in Bluffdale, Utah and our main conference room has excellent views of the mountains. It was from this room that roughly three years ago, I noticed all these beautiful “wings” in the air. After work I decided to check them out and see what they were all about. 
It was paragliding and it was so incredible to watch as they launched from the flight park on the mountain and landed back at the very spot they launched from.   As I watched with wonder, I knew it was something I wanted to try. To understand what paragliding was like I first signed up for a “tandem flight” as this would be the best way to understand it. This flight was all it took to convince me that this was something I wanted to do. I began taking lessons from Super Fly one of the local schools in Utah. When you begin your lessons you are immediately going solo. 
There are several key components to a paragliding pilot certification instruction program. Initial training for beginning pilots usually begins with some amount of ground school to discuss the basics, including elementary theories of flight as well as basic structure and operation of the paraglider.
Students then learn how to control the glider on the ground, practicing take-offs and controlling the wing ‘overhead’. Low, gentle hills are next where students get their first short flights, flying at very low altitudes, to get used to the handling of the wing and learning take offs and landings. 
The first time my feet left the ground even though it was only a few feet, I was thrilled! My instructor talked me though my flight with a small FRS radio strapped to my helmet. Our instructors at Super Fly were excellent and allowed us to continue instruction until we were officially “signed off” as P2 pilots. This is the first level of rating to be able to fly without instruction. 

Paragliding
is a free-flying, foot-launched aircraft sport.   The pilot sits in a harness suspended below a fabric wing it feels like you’re sitting in a chair or swing. The harness is suspended with lines and air enters vents on the front of the wing creating pressure and inflation of the wing.
Myth:
You just jump of the mountain and hope all goes well.
Truth
You inflate your “wing” first and get the front cells to inflate with air. You take a good look prior to launching. The goal is to ensure that you have a safe flight so prior to launching you have a wing full of air and it’s ready to become airborne.
Myth:
You jump off the mountain and just float down.
Truth: 
The goal is to enjoy your flight and to stay in the air as long as you desire. So you don’t just float down unless there is no wind to keep you up. In Utah, paragliders do mostly what’s called ridge soaring and this technique allows paragliders to say up in the air as they are getting “lift” from the wind that is hitting the ridge and pushing up. We also look for thermals as thermals are pockets of air that are going up and these allow paragliders to increase in altitude and often can stay up for hours. Utah offers excellent paragliding opportunities as there are sites that are excellent for morning flying and then when the wind shifts there are other sites that are great for evening paragliding. 
Paragliding is a fun and exciting sport. It’s important to continue to work on your paragliding skills and make sure your equipment remains in good shape. It’s advised to have your gear checked out by a certified shop at least once per year. They’ll advise of any issues going on with your gear and they will be able to advise you on how many hours you may have left on it.
The paragliding community is a close knit group all with the same objective. This is to keep the sport a safe sport by offering help and advice to any fellow paraglider. I’ve seen paragliders that are young to old and it’s my goal to be around many years to enjoy this amazing sport. 
See you in the friendly skies! 

The Battle For Better Hearing

It is a common misnomer that adding audio to a room will make others in the room hear “better”. While the sound pressure level (SPL) is increased, it does not necessarily make the audio more intelligible especially the human voice and a live microphone. In the past few years, companies have invested heavily in research and development to make the learning environment audibly better. Often times, the nemesis of an intelligible environment are feedback and reverberation. I want to touch on a few items of focus that will make the audio learning experience more enjoyable and give you a few challenges/techniques for improving intelligibility within your room.

Facts About Human Speech
  • First, here are a few important facts about human speech that are important to know when putting live sound in a room.
  • Frequency range of an adult is between 512 Mhz to 2.48 kHz. Obviously, the frequency range will change depending on gender.
  • Human speech is a modulated signal with a fundamental frequency in the range of 100 to 400 Hz.
  • Intelligibility is imparted by consonants, which average from 10 to 100 ms in duration, and may be as much as 27 dB lower in amplitude than vowels
  • The loudness of an adult human voice is about 70 dB SPL at 3 feet.

 

Feedback

As any sound engineer will attest, feedback is one of the greatest deterrents to intelligible audio. Feedback is when an audio loop exists between the microphone and loudspeaker. When the loop occurs, you will hear a screeching noise through the amplified speaker system. The noise could occur at almost any frequency, but with a human voice it will most likely occur in the frequency range of the human voice (see above). There are many ways to eliminate feedback, but the most common would be to “notch out” the bad frequency by using and equalizer. When a frequency is notched out its level is decreased so that the feedback will not happen. When using an amplified sound system in a room, fighting feedback without out an equalizer, will force the user to decrease the audio level of the room.

 

Reverberation

The term “reverberation” refers to sound that is continuously reflected within a large space for an extended period of time. Reverberation time greater than 0.60 seconds is typically too long for a learning environment and will lead to muddled syllables and unclear speech. This problem is common in large rooms with tall ceiling heights (greater than 10ft), and many hard surfaces on walls, floor, and ceiling. Another negative effect of excess reverberation is that it amplifies unwanted noise from intrusive sources. This is why underground concrete subway stations are so much louder than elevated outdoor stops for light rails systems.

Eric Wolfram is the Lead Acoustical Engineer and noise control consultant for Riedel & Associates, an acoustical consulting firm based in Milwaukee Wisconsin. In a 2009 article he shares some excellent points regarding reverberation and why the classroom acoustical environment is critical to student learning and academic performance.

 

A Solution

Though it may be difficult to solve all feedback and reverberation issues, there are ways to improve a room’s intelligibility. If you application is having complaints about poor intelligibility, refer to this table for a possible solution (ProAV Magazine, August 2005)

Primary Causes  What you can do about it
Poor Coverage Check equipment. Use the right loudspeakers for the job
Direct-to-reverberant ratio Point the loudspeakers at the people. Use directional speakers in reverberant spaces. Keep sound off the walls and ceiling. Minimize the loudspeaker-listener distance.
Limited sound-system frequency response Check equipment. Use a good mic and loudspeakers with good bandwidth. Check that they are not covered or obstructed.
Low signal-to-noise ratio Minimize the loudspeaker-listener distance.
Excessive loudness Reduce audio level.
Secondary Causes What you can do about it
System distortion Check equipment, components, and/or gain structure.
System Equalization Be sure the system is capable of reasonably flat response from 200 Hz to 4 kHz
Presence of very early reflections Point the loudspeakers at the people. Use absorbing (or diffusing) materials. Use directional speakers and microphones.
Sound focusing or presence of late (or isolated higher-level) reflections Beware of any curved surface. Treat with absorption/diffusion and use directional speakers. Late sound focusing can also be caused by room corners. Point the loudspeakers at the people.
Direction of sound arriving at listener Ideally, sound should arrive “face on” to the listener. If that’s not feasible, it should arrive from overhead and forward overhead. Avoid aiming sound at the listener from behind.
Talker microphone technique Basic instruction on mic usage. Get the mic as close to the talker’s mouth as possible. Point the mic at the talker (and get him or her to talk into the microphone).

Thanksgiving 365

It’s that time of year that we take time to be thankful for the many blessings we enjoy.  It seems to me that we should count our blessings every single day – 365 days a year (add one for leap year).
 
Here in America we celebrate the holiday by eating lots of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, vegetables and way too much food. Maybe we should be thankful the Thanksgiving holiday only occurs once a year!
 
We do have much to be thankful about here at Listen.  We’ve weathered this financial crisis pretty well and we’re excited about the future.  We are thankful for the growth we continue to enjoy.  In fact, we have several job openings. Now that ListenPoint is shipping, we’re excited to tackle this brand new product category. We think there are a lot of organizations out there that can benefit from small room audio technology. 
 
We are grateful to our customers and the loyalty they’ve shown to us through the years.  We work hard to earn that business each and every day.  I’m personally thankful for efforts of each Listen associate.
 
Let’s make the holiday of Thanksgiving an extra special day to give thanks and use it as inspiration to be thankful 365 days of the year.
 
Thanks to you.

Viral Is One Way To Go

The evolution of social media is truly amazing. I have found it to be so exciting to be involved with as a part of my responsibilities at Listen. You can share information about solutions, products, applications in ways that you couldn’t before. Listen has been so involved with creating content for social media that it has challenged us in ways we never would have thought.

 

This week we released the Listen Extreme Makeover Office Edition video on YouTube. The video was created to be a fun, light-hearted shareable video to show off our ListenPoint solution in the corporate/government setting. Our hope was that through social media the video would go viral. The concept wasn’t so much for the viewer to understand all the features and benefits of ListenPoint; but more so to be interested to learn more about the difference that ListenPoint could make.

 

After releasing the video Listen received an amazing amount of feedback, some good and some bad.

 

“Very Clever!!  Great Marketing and very effective.  I LOVED it. Kudos to everyone involved.” – Brenda, SynAudCon

“The marketing videos are hard to watch and contain little useful information, however the product is quite interesting.  May be worth getting a sample to our rep, to forward to us. “ – Sean, Pippin Technical Service, Ltd.

“That video is great.  I will use it.” – Rick, Berway

“Love the video! Kudos!” – Jim, Messenger Media Systems

“I love the idea of the comical spoof on extreme makeover, but it really misses “showing” the benefit of the system. It would have been better to have one of the employees use the system and share an “oh wow!” moment. It’s a really big build up to a less than impactful message. I like the system, but I don’t think I will be showing this to customers. I think a much better impression would be made by setting up the system, letting them use it and draw their own conclusions. It actually does sell itself.” – Wayne, Communication Systems (PA)

I think even the ones that might seem negative have positive details – it’s opening up dialogue with our customers about ListenPoint and helping us to understand what tools we might need to consider creating.

 

Here’s the video. Take a look and tell us what you think.
 

Giving Blood Is Easy – And It Saves Lives

Giving blood is a great way to serve your community and it helps save lives. Plus, it doesn’t cost you anything but your time. And, it really is a simple process.
 
So, how much blood is needed? Close to forty thousand units is needed every day in the just the US alone. That calculates to someone in this country – a cancer patient, a trauma patient – needing blood every two seconds. Since blood cannot be stored forever – it has a shelf life, of sorts – (anywhere from 5 days to 42 days, depending on the nature of the red blood cells, platelets, etc), there is a constant demand for blood.
 
When you donate blood, your single unit is separated and transfused as components: red cells, platelets and plasma, so by donating one unit of blood, you may save up to three lives.
 
There are four steps each donor must go through when giving blood: registration, health history and mini physical, blood donation and refreshments. Blood donors must be 17 years old, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in good health the day of the donation.
 
I hope that by understanding how important blood is to patients, and how simple it is to do might help someone overcome any fear that prevents one from donating. The actual process of donating blood only takes about fifteen minutes and is almost painless.
 
This video will walk you through my recent experience with donating blood. You’ll see some of my colleagues at Listen that participated and hear their reasons for being a part of this simple but impactful experience. Be sure to check with your local area blood services organizations to find out when and where you can make your donation.
 

Take A Moment To Hear The World

Imagine going through high school and never being able to hear someone whispering in your ear, or whispering about you for that matter. Or being a middle-schooler with a voice so high-pitched you sound like a cartoon character. Kids laugh at you and call you Minnie Mouse. There are worse things that can happen to a person, but these things and the grander discrimination against individuals with hearing loss sting and stick with a person.

That’s why the Hear the World organization is so intent on raising awareness about the disability of hearing loss, in all its shapes and forms and why today, a group of eight students between the ages of 17 and 22 all with varying levels of hearing ability (some of the students have never had hearing loss and some were born with severe hearing disabilities) boarded planes from points across the United States to meet in the Peruvian jungle tomorrow and experience the sounds of the Amazon.
 
This expedition to Peru, in partnership with Global Explorers, is bringing these students of mixed hearing abilities together in an environment where sound, and preservation of sound, is a way of life, to learn from one another by learning to use adversity to their advantage, and in turn, becoming the next generation of Hear the World sound ambassadors. By making sound a central part of the trip, they hope to convey the important role that sound and hearing plays in our daily lives and the need to protect it — for those with and without hearing loss.
 
Jentry Taylor (left), 22, was born with severe-to-profound hearing loss. She says it took her about seven years to finally find a best friend who loves her and accepts her for who she is, disability and all. People come up to her all the time and ask if she knows sign language. She doesn’t. It isn’t a stupid question; they just don’t know what else to ask.
A few years ago, Jentry was nominated to go on an Outward Bound trip. She was rejected because of her hearing disabilities, but after reapplying twice she got in. She calls it the best experience of her life so far, but thinks that the coming week may top it.
 
Today with two cochlear implants (a surgically implanted electronic device sometimes called a bionic ear), Jentry’s hearing is nearly normal but she hopes the trip will help her to meet and interact with people who don’t understand that people with hearing loss aren’t second class citizens.
 
“Millions of people don’t know how to cope with hearing loss and going on this trip will show people that people with hearing loss of some degree can learn to listen and talk,” Jentry explains.
 
Leading the students is Bill Barkeley (right), one of 15,000 people in the US and 100,000 in the world with Usher’s Syndrome (Type 2), the leading cause of deaf-blindness in the world.  Bill summited Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007 shattering expectations and confirming his role as an advocate and inspiration for the hearing loss community. Bill will be accompanied by his son, Brian Barkeley, a 20-year-old Michigan State University student. The pair hopes that their experience will be a catalyst to help further educate their community about hearing loss: what can be done to prevent it and the solutions available to treat it.
 
Bill’s disorder leads to increasing levels of deafness and blindness throughout his life. When he set out to conquer Kilimanjaro, he wanted to create new seeing and hearing memories. He has the same objective for the Amazon.
 
Also joining the crew is Katy Warner an acoustic technician with the Natural Sounds Program of the US National Park Service who will lead multiple activities to educate students on the role of sound in our lives and the need to protect those sounds, much like all other natural resources. This will include an audio scavenger hunt, a night hike through the jungle to listen to animal sounds and a visual analysis of sound.
 
“We want to encourage the students to think about sounds in new ways and experience sound in the natural environment,” Warner, who formerly studied the acoustics of bat communication explains.
 
One in every six people worldwide is affected by hearing loss. It’s about the same amount of people in the world who own a car. As the population ages — and noise pollution in the world increases – more and more people will be losing their hearing. It is estimated that the number of those affected by hearing loss will rise to around 1.1 billion by 2015.
 
Hearing loss isn’t just a physical disability. It can also cause extreme anxiety, depression, isolation and low self-esteem in those affected. “With kids of mixed hearing abilities on this trip, we want to make them aware of hearing challenges and train the next generation to be hearing loss advocates and make a better world by helping people to understand what these people face every day,” Barkeley says. “I met with these kids in Colorado already and they have a lot of pain, but they aren’t bitter about it. They want to make the world a better place.”
 
Gary Quenzer (left), 17, knows about the pain and isolation that comes with hearing loss. He wears two hearing aids and spends as much time as he can surfing, because he says, in the water, no one stares at his ears.
“I walk the halls [of my high school] with 2,000 hearing peers, yet I walk alone. They are ‘nice’, but ‘nice’ stops at the door and does not call on the weekend to just hang out. I am different, therefore I feel isolated most of the time in school,” Quenzer says. “When I am surfing I don’t look any different. My hearing loss is not visible in the water and I am accepted. Needless to say, I would rather be surfing than in school with all those ‘nice’ kids.”
 
Olivia Johnson, 18, has no personal experience with hearing loss, but she is looking forward to opening her mind and the minds of others when she returns.
 
“I have very little experience on the topic of hearing loss. That is why I know it will affect me very strongly and make me more aware of the topic,” Johnson says. “I hope to gain some major leadership skills, experience the rainforest, change and challenge my perception of the hearing disabled. And to learn some new and amazing things that really affect my decisions down the road in a positive way.”
 
And rounding out the expedition is me, Tonic reporter Jo Piazza. My father began experiencing hearing loss due to muscular dystrophy about five years ago and now he hears with a cochlear implant. He calls it his “cyber ear.” I have watched as he has adjusted to his new disability and I know that my experience in the Amazon will help me to be a more sympathetic listener for him. Throughout the next nine days, I will be sending dispatches from the jungle and watching and chronicling as these students have the experience of a lifetime.

Guild of Pro Tour Guides of Washington Celebrates 25 Years

On a recent Sunday, nearly all of the past presidents of the Guild of Professional Tour Guides of Washington were arrayed around a window table at Bread and Chocolate on M Street NW, the restaurant where, 25 years ago, the group was formed.
 

They sat in chronological order, so that there was a clockwise progression from No. 1 (Peggy Wood, the founding president) to No. 13 (current president Jim Heegeman).
 

It was about 100 degrees outside, and the tour guides must’ve been thankful they weren’t squiring a busload’s worth of tourists across the blast furnace that is theWorld War II Memorial. They love their jobs, these tour guides said, even though it often involves eighth-graders — eighth grade being the staple of the “step-on tour,” where one of Washington’s 1,005 registered tour guides steps on a bus and, for roughly $40 an hour, shows visitors around the capital.
 

Over the years, the guides have seen some interesting things. Such as the lady who, after witnessing the somber ritual that is the changing of the guard at Arlington National Cemetery’s Tomb of the Unknowns, pronounced herself disappointed.
 

“This was nothing like the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace,” she muttered.

Or the student who, after touring Mount Vernon and interacting with the costumed, role-playing docents there, was surprised to find Martha Washington’s name on the family crypt.
 

“But I just saw her,” the girl said.
 

The tour guides have heard all sorts of myths about our city, too. You’d be surprised how many people are convinced that the face of Robert E. Lee is carved into the back of Abraham Lincoln’s head at the Lincoln Memorial. (I was, anyway.) Or that there’s a treasure map on the back of the Declaration of Independence. (Blame Hollywood.) It is the rare Washington tour guide who has not been asked where the cherry tree that George Washington chopped down was. (Answer: Not in Washington. Not anywhere.)
 

There is no such thing as a stupid question, of course, but there is such a thing as an oddly specific, left-field sort of question. Such as: What kind of tree is that? Or: How much does that statue weigh? Or: What is the name of the horse under the statue of Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square?
 

That last query is the type that tour guides spend their evenings researching in the hope they can deliver an answer when they meet up with the group again the next day. (Or not answer. Jackson had several horses. Sculptor Clark Mills never said which one modeled.)
 

Washington belongs to the country — to the world — and, the tour guides said, every group of visitors likes to hear about its connection to the capital. People from Norway enjoy hearing that the black granite underneath the big Einstein statue outside the National Academy of Sciences came from their country.
 

“And Ohio,” one tour guide exclaimed. “There’s so much to say about Ohio.”

Unfortunately, I seem not to have written any of it down.But really, I said as I finished my French toast, do we even need tour guides any more? Can’t tourists just download podcasts or print out information from the Internet?
 

The tour guides looked at me sadly. A good tour guide is more like an actor than a robot, they said. A good tour guide picks up the unspoken clues that come from her group, whether it’s composed of rambunctious 13-year-olds or foreign dignitaries. She tailors her presentation to the group at hand, educating when that’s called for, entertaining when that’s what’s needed, plucking information from the recesses of her brain.

And on a hot day, she knows where the shady spots are.

Vuvuzela: The Fan Instrument For The World Cup

Have you ever heard of or even heard the vuvuzela?  Well, if you were at the World Cup matches you mostly certainly will hear one.  It is the loudest of all instruments used by fans at events like this. Unfortunately, the vuvuzela can cause permanent hearing loss.  There were concerns the vuvuzela might prevent emergency announcements by FIFA who governs these events, but they accepted the use of the instruments anyway.  They say it’s part of the event – it’s part of the culture of soccer.  I suppose it would be like taking hot dogs away from a baseball game. 
The vuvuzela puts out 127 decibels of sound.  It is believed that anything over 85 decibels risks permanent hearing loss.  A referee’s whistle puts out 115 decibels.
 
So what can we learn from this?  Simple, we all need to proactively protect our hearing and the hearing of our children.  Ear plugs are an excellent way to protect hearing or earphones that are designed for that purpose.  All it takes is ONE event to PERMANENTLY damage your hearing.  Even worse, what if it was your young daughter or son?  They need you to protect them. 

The younger you are, the less likely you’ll hear my message.  Take it from someone who has partial hearing loss – don’t take your hearing for granted.

See With Your Ears Using Audio Description

I have fond memories of listening to “Hot Rod” Hundley calling the play-by-play for the Utah Jazz. It used to be that not many Utah Jazz games were televised and you were forced to rely on the audio description provided by Hot Rod on the radio. In many ways, the audio description of the event was even better than being there live. Hot Rod had some interesting and unforgettable terms like “Leapin’ leaner”; “Hippity-hop” and “Good if it goes!” I’d almost call that “high definition” play-by-play.
 
In the United States alone, there are over 1 million people with visual impairment that cannot watch the Utah Jazz play even if the game was broadcast. There are countless events that visually impaired individuals have difficulty enjoying because they cannot “see.” Wouldn’t it be great if Hot Rod could provide the play-by-play for these events?
 
Thanks to a technology called “audio description” there are more and more places that provide a play-by-play call just like Hot Rod. This video explains it well.

Here’s a video that shows the difference between experiencing a video with and without audio description.

There are a growing number of first run movies and DVDs that have audio description. This link provides a listing that is updated on a regular basis. http://www.adinternational.org/movies.html

And audio description isn’t just for movies; there are a growing number of venues providing audio description. 
If you go to a Disney theme park for example, they have a device that you wear for audio description. It describes visual elements such as actions, settings and schene changes and works with existing show audio at specific theme park attractions. 
 

So as you ride “It’s a small world after all” you’ll hear what you cannot see. It’s amazing. And, you won’t have to jump out of the boat because the thought of listening to “it’s a small world after all” over and over might drive you to it.

What is Listen’s role in audio description? Our FM and IR products are used to transmit the audio description right to your ear. A transmitter wirelessly transmits the audio to a small receiver that connects to an earphone – it’s just like an iPod. Whether it’s a live audio description or a track off of a movie, a Listen system and audio description can help you “see” with your ears.


“You gotta love it, baby!”  – Hot Rod Hundley

 
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