There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Friday, July 4, 2008

Noise-cancelling the wife

For the Fourth of July, the wife and I took the bus from our house to the shopping district at Watt and El Camino.

It's something of a challenge to travel during Sacramento Regional Transit's "Sunday/Holiday" service. Our normally half-hourly No. 82 bus slips to hourly, and planning a shopping trip around an hourly bus schedule requires a very relaxed attitude about when you will finally return home.

The wife started the shopping with a spree at Macy's in Country Club Plaza. Across the street at Office Depot, I answered with a purchase of noise-cancelling earbuds for my mp3 player. In between we stopped by Wal-Mart, Michaels and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We had planned to finish with some Chipotle to take home, but it was closed. We had to settle for La Bou.

It was while we were waiting for the bus home that I first experienced the hidden magic of noise cancelling technology.

The theory is easy enough to understand. Sound moves in waves with peaks and valleys. The earbuds have tiny microphones that sample the outside noise. By generating a counter wave, the outside noise is cancelled while, one hopes, leaving the music unscathed.

Seated on a curb in the shade behind the bus stop on Watt outside Woody's Restaurant, I tried the earbuds out. Sure enough, there was a big improvement. The earbuds promise 75 percent noise reduction. I have no idea if the results were that good, but the music was clear and the outside noise so far in the background as to no longer be intrusive.

When I looked at the wife I realized she was talking. I had to pull out an earbud to hear what she had to say.

The reason I wanted the noise-cancelling earbuds was for use on the bus. The few times I've tried to listen to music on the bus have been a real disappointment. The bus is just not a quiet place. This, of course, explains why it is so common to overhear what other riders are listening to. They have to crank up the volume.

When the bus arrived we took our seats and I stuck in the earbuds and turned on the noise cancelling. It was amazing how well it worked. I could still hear the bus noise, but again it was far enough in the background that I could easily focus on the music. And the more I focused on the music, the more the bus noise seemed to disappear.

When I looked at the wife I realized she was talking. I had to pull out an earbud to hear what she had to say.

We had planned to take the No. 82 bus to our house, but the No. 84 arrived first. The No. 84 gets us within a mile and a half of home, and we decided we could use the exercise of the walk to our house. In was after 6 p.m. and the weather was not too hot.

It was during that walk home that I finally realized the real magic of the noise-cancelling earbuds.

When we started walking, I put the earbuds in and turned on the noise cancelling.

When I looked at the wife I realized she was talking. I had to pull out an ear bud to hear what she had to say.

I put the earbuds back in, and when I looked at the wife I realized she was talking.

I tested this for a few more times. Sure enough: earbuds in, wife talks. Even after several minutes of silence: earbuds in, wife talks.

Isn't technology amazing?

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