Sonic Safety Nets and Other Updates

Seems like I tend to do these personal updates on Fridays.  I suppose it’s kind of a mental exorcism so that I can reboot for the weekend?  Sure, that makes sense.  Let’s go with that.  At any rate, I dug around in some interesting stuff this week, and I don’t know who cares, but I thought I’d toss it out there.

First up, let me tell you about my quest for better hearing protection as that’s gotten some results this week.  As I mentioned previously, I deal with sensory processing disorder, or SPD.  Of all the senses, it’s my hearing that beats me down and wrings me out.  It’s been a long time since I’ve upgraded my arsenal of hearing protection, so I started looking around to see what kind of advances science has brought us.  Here’s the bottom line of it: there’s no hearing protection on the planet that will ever be enough for me.  The highest noise reduction rating (NRR) any product can achieve is 33.  That’s because it’s not just your ears that picks up noise.  If you’re as sensitive as I am, your teeth can pick up radio, and your entire skeleton acts as a kind of reverb system.  But… any port in a storm.  Thank the Force cell phone signals and Wi-Fi aren’t a problem.

When it’s particularly bad, I tend to have three defaults.  Default one is that I watch movies using my Bose noise cancelling headphones.  In addition to sound protection, it’s a great means of sensory distraction that forces me to engage with something other than the outside world.  Now you know why I review so many movies on this site.  Default two is that I have silicone earplugs in my ears and ballistics headphones over that.  The reason being is that I’ve learned over the years that when dealing with percussion (gunshots, thumping bass, etc.), the best ballistics protection out there generally will handle about one blast per second.  Anything faster (say automatic fire or blasts from multiple sources), and the protection of an earplug isn’t enough.  The muffs are generally better.  Bulkier, uncomfortable, and you can’t sleep in them at all, but they’re better.  Default three is the same system, but instead of earplugs, I go for a set of stereo earbuds.  I really like the Symphonized brand you can get from Amazon.  As an audiophile, I’m impressed with their wood speaker construction and the rich sound they produce.  And the price tag is right for only $25 a pop.  Even without an electronic noise cancelling, these little buds sound every bit as good as the overpriced Bose phones I use for movies.  I’ve got a set I keep at work that gets used all day / every day, one set on me at all times in my gadget bag, and I’ve got two or three more sets floating around the house.  On those days when the world just sucks, the one-two punch of buds and muffs is supplemented by what I float through the buds: Boombuster.  There are three levels of white noise / low frequency canceling tones that you can set on a loop.

So what do all these things have in common?  They’re great at home when living alone, but heaven forbid you should have company over or want to be out engaging with the world.

As I say, it’s been a while since I looked at upgrades, and after digging around I came across something that intrigued me: Decibullz Percussive Filters.  I’m not going to lie: they’re expensive.  There comes a point in your life where you don’t care what you have to pay so long as it works.  I passed that point 30 years ago.  The Decibullz system is designed around custom fitted plugs, with standard foam or silicone inserts.  The Percussive Filters are added to the plug to create a feature I’ve not seen before.  Basically they reduce ambient noise by 10 decibels, ensuring that you can still hear music or conversation or whatever else, but it takes the edge off.  No isolation factor (which is great if you need to be out in public).  When some asshat fires up his Harley or his boombox loud enough to shake the foundation of the house (not an exaggeration), these filters kick in and bring the NRR up to 31 db.  So not quite the absolute greatest of protection, but it’s close, and it’s far more versatile.  Here’s a video on how you mold them to your ear:

Best of all, I can sleep in them.  Now obviously I can’t wear ballistics headphones while sleeping, so the supplemental trick is ambient noise.  My bedroom is loud, designed to compete against barking dogs that live right under my window all night, loud vehicles, neighborhood parties, or my personal favorite: all of the above, as tends to happen every weekend if it’s not raining and the temperature is above 60 degrees.  Did I mention the Dallas PD is understaffed due to being underpaid and the city council screwing them out of their pension fund?  Yeah… my neighborhood is a prime candidate for RoboCop.  Or at the very least an ED-209.  *shakes head*  No, can’t allow such ideas…  Anyway, since moving isn’t an option, to combat all of this stupidity, I’ve got a high speed air filter fan, an overhead ceiling fan, a floor fan, and my trusty Amazon Echo, which plays either the aforementioned Boombuster audio or some other similar combination of natural sound effects and low frequency noise filter.  It sounds like the engine room of the Enterprise.  Thrumming with sound, but somehow peaceful at the same time.  The resulting sonic bubble allows me the conditions to sleep, even if insomnia will override that.

The reason I go into detail about all of this is because I’ve given the Decibullz the hard treatment the last two nights since I’ve had them.  They are an unmitigated success!  I’m surprised at how comfortable they are on the long term.  No pain, no irritation in my ears.  Not only did I sleep, I slept very well.  As I say, with the insomnia, that’s obviously not going to last, but it tells me I’ve got a combination that works.  And better still, I’ve got an option for out in public when isolating myself in earbuds can’t happen.  Like when I’m at work and need to talk to people, and the building remodeling requires them to break out jackhammers at the same time.  So… if you’re looking for some kind of versatile ear protection and don’t mind dropping a few extra coins, this might be an option for you to consider.  Side note: Decibullz also makes custom molded earbuds.  I’ve got some on order.  I’ll let you know how those work out once they arrive.

On to other topics.

For my fellow Disney Animation fans, while I’m far from a point of posting a full-on Mouse Magic review of either Bambi or Bambi II, I watched them both this week.  In what I can only call a surprise and a half, Bambi II is every bit as good as the original.  When looking at a Disney sequel, usually the first thing you notice is how rich the visuals aren’t.  They cut corners to cut costs on a direct-to-video project.  Not so here.  If anything, they knew they had to go the extra mile to follow up a classic.  The kids they cast for the voices of Bambi and Thumper were pretty much dead-on in both vocal tone and performance, and Sir Patrick Stewart lent his gravitas to the role of the Great Prince, Bambi’s father.  The dialogue and mannerisms are a little more modernized for today’s audiences, but it’s largely in the same spirit as the original.  It takes place in that period between the death of Bambi’s mother (it actually opens with this) and when he returns with his antlers, so you can pretty much just drop this story in directly.  Visually, I think Walt would be impressed.  I know I was.  The animators went back to the original methods Disney imposed on his team, which included studying live animals.  The backgrounds are digitally painted instead of rendered in oils, but the result is every bit as lush because the principles in action are the same.  Different medium, same execution.

On the polar opposite side of things, I spent all day yesterday with Frankenstein’s creature.  I picked up an anthology audiobook a while back called In the Shadow of Frankenstein.  It has three short novels, including Mary Shelley’s original, a poem, and 21 short stories from various decades and authors, some of them rather high profile.  So yesterday I revisited the original story one more time.  That’s one of those books that never gets old.

The reason I started listening to this audio is because yesterday morning over coffee, my imagination started firing about Universal’s reboots.  The blame for The Mummy‘s box office failure, it seems, is being laid squarely at the feet of Tom Cruise.  Apparently, so they’re saying, Kurtzman’s untried position as a director laid him open to all of Cruise’s micro-managing demands, which included story changes and all manner of stupidity that ultimately undermined the larger scope of the Dark Universe.  Scarily enough, while I think this is a smokescreen, I also think there’s a lot of truth to that.  I don’t trust Kurtzman, ever, but when listing out the blame and excuses, it rings true based on what I saw.

Whatever the case, I said before that I could reboot this entire thing in my sleep and do a better job.  I haven’t let go of that idea either.  But I know these monsters are bigger than Universal, and as much as there are some copyrighted and trademarked things I’d love to use, the fact is these monsters come from a far older and richer tapestry.  And, well, I adore the source material.  So as I began my second cup of coffee, something triggered that laid the groundwork for what a continuation story might look like.  Modern age?  No.  I don’t really want to go there.  Maybe someday.  But I started looking at a post-Victorian era world (probably influenced by all the silent movies I watch), and what that would look like if the exact wrong hands were to figure out a way to weaponize these monsters and unleash them on an unsuspecting world.  The logical choice for me centered around Frankenstein’s creature and specifically the process used to create him.  It’s not science if it’s not mad science!  And this provided my inspiration for wanting to revisit that original story, because Shelley’s creature is very different from Karloff’s interpretation.  What I came up with was, to my mind, a logical extension of Shelley’s own fears.  Probably for the best she didn’t live long enough to see something like this.

Suffice it to say, one thing led to another, and now I’ve got this overblown continuation story that changes a great many things in early 20th century history and operates on an idea I’ve not seen before.  It’s a grand scope, but it keeps the monsters front and center and the story elements intimate enough to be truly horrific.  Adds all kinds of opportunity to open the doors to new characters too.  I kept pausing the audiobook all day so I could make notes on the new story ideas.  If this keeps developing as I think it will (and I fully intend to push it), then this might be a project worthy of publication.  I constantly fight the idea of putting my work out there, and I typically burn myself out from time to time probably as a defense against ideas, but we’ll see how it works out.  If nothing else, the material replenishes my enthusiasm readily enough.  There’s certainly plenty of ideas working here for several interconnected but separate novels or short stories, and there’s a possibly I may have a writing partner on this one.  So you’ll understand if more details aren’t forthcoming.  If something develops from this, and I hope it will, I’ll let you know.  Worst case scenario, it’s a fun thought experiment.  But there’s a part of me that thinks it’d be nice if some of these monsters started helping me pay my bills.  I’ve certainly spent enough money on them over the years.

The weekend looms ahead.  The monthly sci-fi meetup is tomorrow, so I’m sure there’ll be a lot of discussion about Wonder Woman and The Mummy, and I’m probably just going to try to keep my big mouth shut.  Sunday is Father’s Day.  My family did that last weekend, so I’ll probably spend that day recovering from whatever my neighbors unleash Saturday night and working on some monsters.  For now, it’s time to get through another work day and finish up Shelley’s Frankenstein.

How’s your weekend looking?

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