Monday, May 24, 2010

Canceling Out the Noise

Got an especially nice gift the other day from Vera, her mom, and my mom. My birthday comes up in mid-June, when I’ll be away in Las Vegas helping cover the WSOP. Anticipating that trip out -- plus another excursion down to Lima, Peru the first week of June for an LAPT event -- the ladies in my life together conspired to get me an especially useful gift: a groovy set of Bose noise-canceling headphones.

If you’ve ever tried ’em, you know how well they work. Slip ’em on, and they comfortably cover yr ears and already muffle outside ambient noise to some extent. Then flip the switch. I’m sitting here right now next to my desktop computer, the hard disk of which is churning away. This I hear quite plainly even with the headphones on, but once I’ve flipped the switch -- nothing. Dead silence. I can barely hear my fingers tapping the keyboard.

Think I’ll dial up some Fela Kuti for the rest of this here post. Anyone comes knocking at my door for the next little while, they ain’t gettin’ an answer.

I was curious to find out how the headphones work, and so over the weekend looked around some online. Vera says this is especially geeky of me. Not denying that.

I read about how essentially any pair of headphones feature passive noise-reduction -- that is, simply by covering yr ears and blocking sound waves from getting in there. That’s what I experience when putting on these without flipping the switch. Then, after I turn ’em on, I enjoy active noise-reduction, too.

This further reduction of noise is accomplished by the headphones actually creating sound waves themselves. These sound waves apparently imitate the ambient noise except for the fact that they are 180 degrees out of phase with the unwanted sound waves. That is, they have the same amplitude and frequency as those incoming waves, except the crests are where the troughs are and vice-versa.

The result is a canceling out -- “destructive interference” -- which I experience as blissful silence. And in which I can now enjoy the funky lines and rhythms of Kuti and the Africa 70. Perhaps the funk will cancel out the geek here.

(You can read a full explanation over on the “How Stuff Works” site, from which comes that graphic above.)

I also played a little over the weekend, squeezing in a couple of short sessions amid other business, including preparing for my trip to LV. Can’t say I played particularly well, although I did have other things on my mind.

I leave tomorrow, and so am trying to settle various items before I go. It has been a very busy few months -- and, I suppose, a bit stressful, given my recent decision to leave a full-time position I occupied for many years. In other words, there’s been a lot of “noise,” you might say, to interfere with my poker playing, as well as other endeavors (including writing) to which I’d like to be able to devote my concentration.

'Oops! I Won Too Much Money' by Tom Schneider (2006)Anyone who plays poker at all seriously is well aware of the importance of canceling out the “noise” when playing. I am reminded of Tom Schneider’s 2006 book, Oops! I Won Too Much Money, in which he delivers that lesson more than once.

In one chapter he talks about being in the “spin cycle” where a series of misfortunes at the tables seem to get compounded by difficulties elsewhere, too. Which makes it harder to play well, because “it’s not easy to play poker when you’ve got problems.” In another he talks about going through a divorce and how that’s not such a good time to play, either. In a third -- “Is Everything OK?” -- he discusses other kinds of “noise” that can interfere with your concentration, thus making you less likely to be successful at the tables.

Schneider additionally offers some ideas for dealing with this noise -- what might be called some “active” noise-reduction techniques. Get out of the “spin cycle” by mixing things up or altering your routines. Or at least be aware you’re in the “spin cycle” and avoid making big decisions while stuck there. Make a checklist to help ensure other, personal matters are settled before sitting down at the table, then “play in peace.” As Schneider suggests, “make sure you have the important things in life done first before you try to make money in any endeavor, because winning is more important than playing. If you continue to win you can continue to play.”

Makes sense not to be solely “passive” about knocking out the noise, but to try to take “active” steps to find out what is disturbing your thinking and cancel out that unwanted clamor with some directed, “destructive interference.” Important for success at poker, obviously, but also for any other enterprise -- like writing -- that requires concentration and focus.

Gonna think on all this some more while I pack. Gotta find ways to oppose the noise. To be opposite...

'Opposite People' (1977) by Fela KutiThem go show-ee-o, them go show
Them go show themselves clear clear
Them go show-ee-o
Them go show-ee-o, them go show
Opposite people
Them go show themselves clear, clear
Them go show...

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