Entries in Category Good Ideas

Auditory Relief for the Distracted Introvert

Working in open plan offices and other noisy environments has made it obvious to me that I (probably this is true for everybody else, too) can't do my best work without a certain amount of privacy. In fact, “isolation” would not be too a strong a word to describe the most productive environment for me. When my various workplaces fall short of the monastic austerity and complete solitude I imagine to be ideal, which is always, noise cancelling headphones have been an enormous help. I'm using a pair of Audio-Technica ATH-ANC1 at the moment and am very pleased with them, although their on-ear design may be physically uncomfortable for some. Of course, noise cancellation is far from perfect and voices still come through, but filling the headphones with some kind of audio signal helps make up the difference. Music is often too distracting on its own, but I have a few favorite audio loops that are just enough to mask off the world without wearing on my concentration themselves:

  • SimplyNoise is a website with white, pink, and brown noise generators, any of which can be amplitude modulated by a slowly varying sinusoid. I suspect the oscillation prevents my mind from getting too good at filtering the noise out and picking up voices again.
  • RainyMood.com offers a recording of a rainstorm with occasional thunder. This audio signal is certainly more structured than the other noise sources I use, but the sound of rain is so natural that it's not usually able to break my concentration.
  • My absolute favorite, though, has to be this 24-hour long (!) YouTube video of the ambient engine noise heard on the Enterprise from Star Trek: The Next Generation. I grew up with ST:TNG, and I have to admit there's something very comforting about getting some work done with this particular soundtrack!

For more on the relationship between sensory stimulation and workplace productivity, I recommend Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking, which, among other influences, has lately given teeth to my desire for a quiet and focused workplace.

The Italian Renaissance: an MMO I'd Like to Play

Picture it with me: an MMO based in the Italian Renaissance. Races could correspond to the various city-states of Italy, or to foreign nations, perhaps. Play as:

  • Merchants (sea voyages out of Venice, perhaps?)
  • Unscrupulous churchmen
  • Stiletto-armed assassins
  • Scheming Medicis
  • Your typical painter-sculptor-scientist-architect renaissance genius (should be an epic roll, this!)

Imagine riding into battle atop some Leonardo-designed war machine! Fencing with rapiers! Imagine going on quests:

  • Steal the head of John the Baptist for the glory of Florence
  • Dissect executed prisoners to level up in Anatomy
  • Bring back exotic goods from around the Mediterranean
  • Earn yourself an equestrian statue in your city-state's palazzo with military exploits

There's something very appealing about this, at least to me. It would be just the thing to finally get me to play an MMO.

Carbon Nanotubes are Made of Virtue

It's true: you can sprinkle them on anything to make it better. Some examples:

  • Structures (obviously)
  • Reverse Osmosis membranes
  • Semiconductors
  • Fuel cells
  • Solar panels
  • Scaffolds for nerve regeneration

Certain technologies seem to have this magical quality of near-universal applicability to engineering problems. They not only make possible what would have been fantasy otherwise (space elevators, in the case of nanotubes) but also have a knack of improving everything they touch, or of being applied to a breathtaking variety of already-familiar applications.

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