Nomological Net

Stray thoughts from here and there. The occasional concern for construct validity. No more logic. Fish.


faults in the clouds of delusion

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The whispering wind

I keep coming back to this theme, but I really hate flying. I'm also quite a non-techy, being dragged kicking and screaming from the wake of one gizmoic advance to the next. And that's why it's interesting, and perhaps why I feel motivated to post this -- about what was possibly the greatest flight I've ever had.

{Except possibly one when I was 10, when we got upgraded to business class and I got to choose my own meal from a real menu. I ordered duck of some sort and it was heavenly. At least, I thought so at that time. In fact, it was so heavenly that I took advantage of one of those feedback forms to praise the service to the skies. Wonder of wonders, I actually got a reply from a VP or something. (Well of course -- how often does a customer service manager get feedback that sounds just like pre-teen gushing?! And given such feedback does land on his desk, which CSM wouldn't reply at once, inviting said customer to buy a lifetime's worth of business class travel? But how was I to know that then, back before my MBA?)}

End digression.

So I put in some 29 hours worth of travel this weekend -- Boston to Detroit to Tokyo to Hong Kong. The first leg saw me upgraded, thanks to my stock of grunt-hours (nay, lifetimes) logged with these particular freighters, but for the longer legs I was back in with the cattle, U of Flyover State not being the sort to over-extend their hospitality for my creature comforts. And the single sole and only reason the entire slog was nothing but a breeze, was these babies.

These - Etymotics, to give them their proper name - are in-ear noise blocking earphones. You push them way way waayyy deeeep into your ear canals, where they (a) block out almost ALL external noise, and (b) provide the most blissful reproductions of whatever your iPod machine cares to serve up. The picture here shows the triple-phalanged tips. They also come with foam tips. You're supposed to roll these tips between your thumb and finger for about ten seconds (a most pleasurable exercise, recalling as it does the physical motions involved in rolling other things that promise bliss within the next few seconds, as soon as you fire them up) to thin them out slightly, then reach over your head with one arm, pull your other ear up, then insert the rolled-up foam-padded ear-plug deep into the pulled-up ear with a twisting motion, keeping your jaw slightly ajar. Then hold the pose for five seconds while the foam expands to seal off your ear canal. And repeat on the other ear/plug.

This sequence of events may naturally cause a fair amount of curiosity and consternation on the part of the person sitting next to you.

But once you're done, stage (a) kicks in. Sheer, utter, blissful SILENCE. On a plane. No roar of engines. No shuddering, juddering hums. No announcements. No crying babies. Nothing. I could not even hear the sound of the flush when I was in the bathroom. It was that quiet.

Stage (b) involves the music. The first track that came on was Dylan's I Want You. I had rarely noticed the interplay of the instruments. The next track was Brown Eyed Women from Dick's Picks 7. I had never noticed the interplay between Weir and Keith. I was hearing things in music that I'd "known" for years. My favorite bands were playing for me; they were inside my head, it was amazing.

And here's the kicker -- the volume control was at levels lower than I'd ever used before. My normal setting on the machine is about 50-55% of maximum. On the flight out, I'd had to have it at around 85% (that's how much the ambient noise on a plane is). This trip, it never went above 25%. My ears thanked me by letting me sleep for seven hours uninterrupted. I normally feel happy if I manage two hours out of sixteen. I woke refreshed. I worked. In Tokyo I recharged the iPod during the one hour layover. I worked and dozed on the last leg of the flight.

And all the while, my iPod sang to me. In my ear, sweet nothings. These etymotics, which I bought on part-impulse after recalling a couple of posts on the GD Hour list, have to rank amongst the best things I have ever acquired. I have bought my peace.

Under the bridges
Over the foam
Wind on the water
Carry me home


Blogger Salil said...

Hm. I'd recently put down some musings about my flying experiences. I'm a fairly regular flier, usually with either Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines, and I've never had any sort of dislike of flying (aside from two flights too many on [ugh] United Airlines). At times, it's apathy. Same old movies, same old shows - in which case I take out headphones, put on a CD and spend my time going through a book.

But I usually find some movies/TV shows on the Cathay/SIA on-Demand offerings to keep me busy. And if worst comes to worst, I've always got a good book or three in my hand luggage. Not sure if you've tried that route - then again, I'm the sort of reader who can get into a book to the point that I enter a bubble of sorts, and become oblivious to all around me. Even if the guy next to me is snoring as loudly as humanly possible. It's a great way to pass time and enjoy a flight.

But eh, can't argue with the iPod method you've got - if it works, stick with it. Glad you've finally found peace in the air.

4/26/2006 2:27 AM  
Blogger km said...

I keep coming back to this theme, but I really hate flying

Phil Spector, is that you? OMFG, this is Phil Spector's blog. Apke charan kahan hain, Spectorji!

4/26/2006 5:31 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

i guess the physical irritation doesn't get to you, so you're lucky. i *always* read on planes -- my natural reaction after security is to head for the bookstore. i've posted about airport bookstores before. on one of my better flights a year or two ago i found the three seats next to me all vacant, so i could stretch out and read all of guns, germs, and steel between ny and hk. even this last flight, i read freakonomics between boston and detroit - it didn't last too long - and i'm going to post about it one of these days. i also read a lot of work related stuff -- i reviewed three papers for a conference on this last flight plus prepped a couple more for my phd seminar. you're right this passes time, but it doesn't do anything for physical comfort, reducing noise aggravation, or rampant dehydration.

the movies and tv shows don't do much for me -- even on the rare occasions when i find something i would like to watch, having to squint at a 6 inch screen through the reflection of my face isn't quite the esthetic experience either.

yeah, i been resurrected, and a bit of my wealth did buy me health, so let me smoke a pint of tea today! (where's JAP when one needs him?)

4/26/2006 9:30 AM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Lehrer in the last post (what is it with you and Falstaff?). S&G. Now CSNY.


Err ... you called?
The best lines from that one, of course, are ... "been branded / a Communist 'cause I'm left-handed / THAT'S the hand you use .. weeellll, ne'mmind!"
Or is it "you talk about Dylan / he thinks you're talking of Dylan Thomas / whoever HE was! / (The man ain't got no Culture) ... "

Paul could be real cutesy. He hated it later.


4/26/2006 7:10 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

ahh, there he blows! greetings, saar :-) tomare selam.

cohen, how about cohen? don't tell me you missed the cohen from a few posts back? we strive to impress.

the lehrer influence can be credited to heh heh's post on spring. that directly prompted my post, and i think got falstaff on track as well.

re: the s.d.p., my personal favorite line has to be "i lost my harmonica, albert". i always crack up on that one -- any idea if and how bobby reacted?

4/26/2006 11:06 PM  
Blogger MockTurtle said...

Ok, you've sold me. I'm getting a pair this weekend.
Sorry we couldn't catch up on your last trip to Boston. Hope to meet up the next time you're down.

4/27/2006 5:01 AM  
Blogger Salil said...

The physical irritation has gotten to me at points. I've been quite lucky in the sense that with many flights, I've either been able to use excess miles for upgrades or been upgraded by the very pleasant Cathay staff - so in business, especially with the flat reclining seats, I've never had a thing to complain about.

BTW, 6 inch? Try flying SIA. Seriously. It's worth it. I've always been very impressed with the in-flight entertainment they provide - and the screen's not *that* tiny. :-)

4/27/2006 6:26 AM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

hope you like them! i've discovered it's important to follow the usage instructions carefully.

sorry about this last time, but where's the worry, i'm back in beantown in a matter of weeks.

glad it works for you.

4/27/2006 10:56 AM  
Blogger scout said...

they sound very promising... i'd buy an ipod just so I could use 'em.
Hate flying. And please don't complain unless you've traveled Air India economy... I did it twice and I'm never setting foot on an AI plane ever in my life again. :D... i'm very patriotic as you can see.

4/27/2006 8:42 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

i just found out these guys make earplugs as well -- the website says 12 bucks for a claimed reduction of 20 dB (the earphones claimed 34 dB iirc). that might be an option.

and yes, i have traveled air india economy class, but only within india. hazy memories of the flight being delayed because they couldn't close the door panel (not sure whether they took up a collection for duct tape or that's a product of mine own fevered imagination). i do however recall determining never to travel air india when a particularly offensive / talkative desi cabbie in nyc informed me that his entire khaandaan travels AI because, "apne vatan ki flat haih." ji hum chale.

4/27/2006 9:15 PM  

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