Grandma & Grandpa's Farm

Thursday, May 22, 2008


Noise - If a Helicopter Crashed in the Forest, Would You Hear It?

There was a helicopter crash in Cranbrook, BC and the passengers and one bystander were killed. As with most aircraft crashes it is considered a tragedy and they say it would have been much worse if the pilot had not been able to avoid landing on the homes on either side of the street. However the aspect I am writing about is what is being said about the young man, Dalmas Otieno, who was hit while on the ground. Many people are saying that Otieno might have avoided the crashing helicopter if he hadn't been wearing his iPod with headphones.

It seems plausible - aren't earphones like ear protection meant to block out sounds? - wouldn't the music heard through the headphones mask any sounds coming from the outside? - isn't music being played a distraction? But is it plausible? - perhaps it is, but perhaps not.

From my own experience - which is anecdotal and not a scientific study, and I do not know what Otieno's habits in using his iPod or even if he was wearing it at the time - I can make a few arguments that the iPod might not have been an issue.

I really cannot speak for others, but when I am listening to my mp3 player - albeit not an iPod, I am not that affluent - I can hear cars approaching and people speaking. I normally use earphones rather than earplugs which might make a difference. I define earplugs as ones that actually go into the ear canal while earphones are the ones that sit just inside the outer ear, like the ear bud which often are foam covered. I also only occasionally use headphones which cover part or all of the ear, but definitely on the outside of the ear canal. When I wear my headphones I also can still hear what is going on around me.

Now that does not mean that everyone can hear what is going on around them. I also notice that when I take out my earphones and hold them in my hand around a foot from my head - that would be 30 cm - I really can't hear the music, radio show, or audio book playing. I note that with other people I can hear noise overflow and even enough sound to identify songs from 2 metres - that would be around 6 feet - away. Granted with possible hearing loss from the high volume they might not hear approaching vehicles any more even without anything in their ears.

I am not sure how much more iPod earphones block outside sound than my earphones do. I am not sure how much noise cancelling ones might either. Noise cancelling earphones and headphones are specially designed to take certain sorts of external noise and and electronically dampen it by creating sound waves that are the inverse of it... if you don't understand wave cancelling don't worry, just understand that you can dampen sound electronically. From what I gather from the technology is that it works on repetitive vibrational type sounds - sounds like a jet motor or car motor makes. They wouldn't cancel the sound of most human voices or crashing machinery. Of course, they might dampen the sort of sound some alarms make?

As to the music being a distraction... that is something else. For one thing I can be distracted by anything in the environment I am in. I figure most people can if they are not concentrating on something specifically. I find that music is something that I rarely actually concentrate on. It simply provides a pleasant background to the world - not like wallpaper in a room - it is there, but it is the paintings on the wall or the person I am talking to which is being focused on. Personally I might find an audiobook, newscast, or radio talk show more distracting among things that might be played on an mp3 player or iPod. The same would go for conversations or a radio being played in a car.

For me however I noticed that when I am driving if there is anything exceptional happening on the road, like anything out of the ordinary like someone driving erratically or a broken patch of pavement or anything like that, I stop talking and stop listening to whomever is in the car and am 100% focused on the car and everything around me. I am aware of what is around my car in any case keeping a buffer zone around it - that means if at all possible in addition to proper safe following distance, I also do not drive beside another vehicle or in it's blind spot and I am aware of anyone entering my own blind spot.

Perhaps though Otieno plays his iPod loudly and has noise cancelling earphones - would that have prevented him from noticing the crashing helicopter and somehow leaping, crawling, or running to safety? This morning while standing at a bus stop with a gravel truck driving by with it's gravel truck trailer and making just a bit more noise than a slightly loud car - I started wondering - how much noise does a crashing helicopter make before it hits the ground? "BEFORE it hits the ground."

Granted I think that if you hung a gravel truck 1,000 feet above the ground - that's around 300 metres - it would make less noise than a helicopter or small plane. I am not sure how much is due to the turboprop engine and how much is due to the sound of the blades moving through the air. Even then, what would you hear? Would you hear something out of the ordinary or just a helicopter that seems to be flying extraordinarily low. I know that I normally turn to look whenever I hear a helicopter, but that is personal interest in helicopters and that sometimes they do interesting things - besides crashing. So perhaps even if he weren't wearing the iPod at all, he might hear a helicopter flying very low and getting closer and closer and then look and... How close would it be? - would there be time to jump out of the way because surely it would be travelling 160kph - that's 100mph.

I think we all would like to think that we could dodge a falling helicopter. I am not sure if we could. I am not as sure that an iPod would be much of an issue though like with Olympic competitions split seconds count.

I think that there is another reason that comes into play. I think that there are many people who are offended by people listening to iPods, mp3 players, Walkman, Diskman, cell phones, or even them new fangled transistor radios in public. I can see there is a certain rudeness involved with a lot of cell phone usage in public - especially since a lot of people are used to speaking up or projecting when using them. That means they are loud when they speak on their cell phone and so everyone is forced to become involved in their conversation. Their conversation bothers everyone around them on one level or another. It might be one thing at a bus stop with some sort of emergency, but a constant flow of loud chatter is something else. Also on a bus it seems that every mile or two there is one phone or another ringing and at least a couple conversations already in progress.

And of course there is the distracting issue of that noise spillage from headphones when people must be playing their "tunes" at rock concert levels. Consider this, I have my earphones on and am listening to my music on the bus at a comfortable level to me and the noise coming from the earphones of the person sitting in front of me is almost as loud as from my own earphones. That doesn't help the offence that folk feel.

Perhaps there should be courses on cell phone etiquette before someone decides there should be laws? Laws do come about when there start to be problems. There are murmurs and in fact more than murmurs of laws to do with cell phone usage and headphone-earphone-earplug usage in cars and even in places at controlled intersections. I am sure I heard one official speaking in relation to the Otieno incident of enacting laws governing people wearing head sets in downtown settings?

I can understand various trades and industries banning usage of headphones and earphones in the work place. I am not so sure about how truckers might feel if they weren't allowed to listen to their country crooners while driving down the highways with or without headphones. Noise cancelling headphones might even be a boon for them as it would block out the sound of the diesel engine while allowing the sound of that ambulance approaching to get through even if they were listening to Reba.

I think that the statements on the news about the iPod were just to make the news more sensational. Did anyone even look into whether the iPod could be an issue?

Should it even matter since he wasn't driving or even riding a bike. He wasn't in the downtown core of a big city or on a construction site. He was on a "...quiet residential street lined with single-family homes and apartment buildings." ( - Family of chopper crash victim calling for compensation - Stephane Massinon, Canwest News Service Published Wednesday, May 21) Some people made it seem inappropriate that he was listening to the iPod or that in some way it was his own fault that he was killed when struck by the helicopter. But even if he was struck by it on the second bounce - I heard on a broadcast that the helicopter hit the ground once on its skids and then bounced in the air and crashed - would it have made a difference and is it so wrong to walk in a residential neighbourhood listening to some music? What if he had been sitting in his living room listening to the stereo?

I am against rude use of cellphones and music players with headphones or earphones; I am for some reason irritated that people are not only disturbing others with their loud music, but causing themselves permanent hearing damage; but I don't think that an iPod or mp3 player and its user should be blamed for something that really they are probably not an issue in.

I am also somewhat irritated that some are considering legislation to limit usage of earphones for people walking around in urban settings. where can I buy a set of "bone phones"?

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