Turn Any Set of Headphones into Noise-cancelling Headphones

If you work in a busy office, you might find it hard to concentrate on the task at hand with all the chit-chat, clickity-clack and cacophony of the contemporary collaborative company. I will admit that I am frequently the one being heard, louder than most.

When you don’t want to go into another room, and you can’t just tell everyone to STFU, the solution need not cost you a bundle like these Bose ear-buds for $330.

Why not just use the decent set of headphones you already have at your desk to place yourself into a warm cone of silence?

First, take a minute to recognize what a noise floor is. You’ve probably seen a sound wave before. The loudness of a sound is measured in dB SPL (sound pressure level). A typical office can produce sound pressure levels from about 30dB to 50dB. For reference, the rustle of a leaf is about 10dB, and riveting hammer clocks in at 130dB.

The noise floor of a typical office.
The noise floor of a typical office.

All headphones use isolation to reduce noise (blocking outside sound). Noise-cancelling headphones use a little microphone to flip the phase of the incoming signal which “cancels” some of the signal. These work well on a plane because the incoming noise is a fairly flat wave and can be more easily cancelled. In an environment where the noise is more transient, this type of headphone is less effective.

It is these transient signals that are distracting and what we really need is to make the noise floor flat without being irritating.

Meet Brownian noise. Also known as Brown noise. Noise is actually a pretty interesting topic, but what you should know is that many types of noise are quite annoying. Remember “static” on a TV? That’s white noise. Not pleasant. Brown noise “decreases in power by 6 dB per octave … and, when heard, has a “damped” or “soft” quality compared to white and pink noise. The sound is a low roar resembling a waterfall or heavy rainfall.”

You can find Brown noise sources just about anywhere you can stream music. My favourite is this 12-hour YouTube clip (the goofy name is also interesting). You can also find Brown noise on Spotify.

The trick is to start the noise very low and gradually increase the volume until it masks the ambient noise of your environment. No need to go any louder unless things get rowdy in your office.

Relative silence.
Relative silence.

Now, just like the dreamy hum of fan gently caressing your brain as you sleep, you can enjoy relative total silence while you work. After a few minutes, you won’t really notice the noise and when the headphones are removed, it’s surprising just how “noisy” your environment now seems.

Thanks Robert Brown!


Depending on my mood, the environment or the headphones I’m using, I like to adjust the frequency response of my brown noise. I use the Boom 2 plugin graphic equalizer to adjust the high and low frequency content. It’s like adjusting an electric blanket to maximize coziness!

My Brown Noise settings.
My Brown Noise settings.

Minimum Viable Language: Making the case for not re-defining useful terms

Nis Frome over at Alpha UX is attempting to make a case for a new term: The Minimum Viable Experiment.

It is important to understand the background story. Minimum Viable Product (MVP) is a hugely popular, widely misunderstood and frequently misused term that describes an experiment meant to test product viability. Many people have adopted the term to describe a basic first version of a product that is released to customers.

This is a real issue, and can create confusion in inter-team communications.

The author argues (to the extent of writing an entire ebook – one which I have not yet read) that we product managers should accept this new definition of MVP and create a new one to replace it.

What a tangled web we weave!

A less complex approach that doesn’t require re-defining existing terms is to promote the use of proper terms. Instead of using MVP to describe the first release version, call it what it is: Release v1 (or similar).

When an executive describes Release v1 as the “MVP” please state that “Release 1″ is much more than an MVP. It is a market-ready, production version that contains the first and most important features of the product. Always refer to a release version as a “Release”.

It should also be noted that Eric Ries never defined MVP as a product in market:

“The minimum viable product is that version of a new product which allows a team to collect the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least effort.”

This could be anything from an interview script to a clickable prototype. No sane startup owner or enterprise product manager would “launch an MVP”.

As for communicating the tools of the product discovery process, you may choose to avoid ambiguity and not refer to experimental versions as MVPs. Perhaps just call them experiments or some other existing term that appropriately describes what it is.

Creating new definitions and redefining established ones will only add to the confusion and reinforce the use of misnomers.

An Basic Slim Framework View Example

I had quite a time figuring out the basic use of the View object and templates with the Slim framework. Everyone seems to want to use a 3rd party template engine and I probably will too but I have no problem with PHP. But, it is useful to see the basic implementation first and then build on it subsequently with something like Twig.

Here is the simplest use of the Slim view, if you are not using a 3rd party template engine:

// Create the Slim app object

    $app = new \Slim\Slim(array(
        'debug' => true
    // Create a route for the home page

    $app->get('/', function () use ($app) {
        $app->view()->setData(array('foo' => 'bar'));
        $app->render('home.php'); //Slim automatically appends templates/ to the path for templates if not specified

If want to pass an array of values, do it like this:

$app->get('/', function () use ($app) {
        $app->view()->setData(array('foo' => $arr));
        $app->render('home.php'); //Slim automatically appends templates/ to the path for templates if not specified

The template home.php should be in a folder called templates:

       echo $this->data['foo'];

How to Remove LinkedIn Intro Email Account

LinkedIn Intro
LinkedIn Intro

I was very interested to try LinkedIn’s Intro plugin for iOS email.  I thought the idea had potential, but in the end I get email from people I know well and see everyday.  If I was in sales and fielded emails from an unfamiliar group of important people, this app might be a life-saver, but there is not much value for me.

There are three reasons why I wanted to remove the app, which easily outweighed its usefulness to me:

  • It doesn’t seem to let me import the Google calendars associated with my Gmail account (showstopper)
  • It routes all my email through LinkedIn which probably reads and stores information about my email.  I don’t need to make it so easy for Google, LinkedIn and the NSA to read all my email.  At least I can hinder LinkedIn.
  • There is a bit of a performance hit to my email when the little image and data are loaded about the sender.

Unfortunately, you can’t delete the account in the same way as a normal account.  In case you also want to remove the Intro account, do this:

  1. Go to Settings > General > Profile
  2. Find the LinkedIn Intro profile (there may be others)
  3. Delete it.

You will need to re-add the original email account.  Now only Google and the NSA will be reading your email!



UX Review: Panaramio


I’m currently researching geo-visualization for media files, and thought I would share some of my thoughts on how some of the best photo and video sites handle this challenging feature.

I haven’t been to Panaramio in quite some time, so I decided to took their latest version for a spin.  It was originally created in 2005 and sold to Google in 2007.

Since I am not currently a member of site, I wanted to get a feel for how the site is trying to get me engaged, the flow of the sign-up process and their upload process.

I was immediately excited by the fresh, full-screen satellite view and interesting photo.  The inset wide view map was great for orienting where in the world I was visiting.  Unfortunately, I found the experience got confusing quickly.

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