Friday, December 29, 2006

Noise cancelling ATM memories

I was deep into a van ride heading towards Los Alamos a year or so ago when a friend of mine happend to have brought-out some noise cancelling headphones. They were a high end pair (he likes techie things), and so I was happy to give them a try, knowing that this would be a good test case for establishing what a consumer could expect from the technology.
I must admit, they worked astoundingly well. The road noise and about every other noise (except for the soft-background music he had playing) all but disappeared from what I could hear. His were clearly using some sort of alien technology. Here is a short blurb on how it actually works:
Active noise cancellation [is] complicated and involves some serious science. First, tiny microphones, one on each earpiece, detect ambient noise before it gets to your ears. Then the noise-cancellation circuitry, usually housed in an external module, essentially inverts the captured signal, turning the noise's sound wave upside down. Before you know it, the noise-cancellation system adds the sonic opposite of the external noise to whatever you're listening to, thereby eliminating most of the pollution and leaving you with just your music.[1]
I worked in the ATM industry as a "host" operator for a couple of years, and had to sit in a room filled with droning Tandem mainframes connected to everything from your mom's 7/11 to the mall and even to the treasury department. "Tandem was the first company to address the transaction processing (OLTP) market for online reservations and financial transfers by providing computers designed from the ground up for fault-tolerant operation. These computers are used in all the major banks, stock exchanges, credit card companies and ATM machines in the world."[2] And one more thing: Tandom blows -- air, that is. Sitting in that ever-buzzing, CPU fan-blown room drove me slightly insane, since I had to work 12 hour shifts. It sure would have been nice to have had such an item then. The only differentiation of sound was The Buzzer, which indicated the presence of drivers.

Nite-shift armored truck drivers were personal friends of mine. They really didn't have other friends, mind you; because, they were always weirded out about getting robbed by the greater Kansas City populous. But they had to enter two cypher-coded steel doors just to see me (or even three to actually shake my hand, which was rare), which seemed somehow to put them at ease; so, I was their little buddy-in-a-building-sized-safe. And I worked very hard to be likeable too. (The had guns; I had none.) Still, I suppose it's a rational policy to hire slightly paranoid armored truck drivers.


[1] "The sound of silence" C-Net Reviews (Accessed 12/29/2006)

[2] "Tandem Computers" (Accessed 12/29/2006)


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At 8:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember that place, we hung out there one evening....


At 4:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, most anti-depressants have the same function as noise-cancelling headphones...although they (anti-depressants) do not improve the experience of listening to Radiohead.


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