Ocean din is deafening to whales

And I thought New York was noisy. In my neighborhood, we’ve been subjected to high-decibel blasting and drilling for the past couple of years, while the city puts in a new subway line. But all that pales next to the noise pollution whales and dolphins are forced to endure. Definitely not nice is the manmade underwater din that’s playing havoc with their echolocation–navigation by sound–as well as their feeding and mating habits. Underwater noise has even led to mass beachings in recent years.

More than a quarter-million sea mammals are said to suffer hearing loss, and that number is  expected to rise by one million more every year once the U.S. Navy steps up its testing of underwater listening devices. And the Navy is only part of the problem.  Other sources of underwater noise pollution include ship engines, sonar, weapons testing, and oil and gas exploration. For sea creatures, daily life must be the aquatic equivalent of residing 24/7 in the New York City subway.

The good news, according to marine biologists at the University of Hawaii, is that whales seem to have evolved some sort of internal volume control. How it works isn’t yet clear, but it looks as if cetaceans may have the biological equivalent of noise-canceling headphones. The discovery has led some scientists to blue-sky a day when whales and dolphins could be sent signals alerting them to loud booms ahead.  Sort of like the warning blasts we hear before the TNT explosions on the NYC subway construction site.

We’ve already messed with the whales’ habitat.  Wouldn’t it be nice if we could at least save their hearing?

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Cellphone halfalogues are major stressors

It’s official. Overheard cellphone conversations score high on the distractability scale. And  one-sided “halfalogues” are more irritating that listening to two people talking live. OK, maybe you didn’t need a University of San Diego study to confirm what you already know. But isn’t it reassuring to discover you’re not alone in ranking forced eavesdropping incredibly annoying?

What’s more, we perceive one-sided exchanges as louder than they really are, and they’re almost impossible to ignore. Blame it on the brain’s irresistable attraction to anything novel. As psych professor Veronica Galvin, lead researcher on the study, explained to The New York Times, “If you only hear one person speaking, you’re constantly trying to place that part of the conversation in context. That’s naturally going to draw your attention away from whatever you’re doing.”  Just try to concentrate on that sales report when the commuter sitting next to you is yelling into her iPhone, “Guess what the doctor said I’ve got? And it’s contagious.”

So what can we do? Other people’s conversations are beyond our control, but we don’t have to contribute to the noise pollution. We can set a positive example by texting instead of talking when we’re anywhere others can overhear.


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Ricky Gervais says no more lipstick on pigs

Niceness is breaking out all over. Bad-boy comedian Ricky Gervais has just launched Cruelty Free International, a global campaign to save animals from cosmetics testing.

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Not that animals are altogether immune from Gervais’s tart tongue: check out his children’s book series, Flanimals.

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To sail through security, put your grumpy on

Now you can add to the challenges of air travel a warning: Don’t be too nice. Frequent-flier Michael Indursky, owner of a spa business, couldn’t figure out why he kept being pulled out of the security line for an extra going over. Finally, a ticket agent clued him in. Seems that Indursky’s habit of schmoozing with the screeners fit the profile of somebody with something to hide. “Sometimes being friendly can get you in trouble,” he says. “I was being pulled out of the line because I was being nice. I wouldn’t have been pulled out of the line if I was grumpy. I have no clue how that makes any sense.”

For the full story, click here.

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How much nice is too much?

Did Reese Witherspoon, widely considered one of Hollywood’s nicest women, overdo it when she gushed over Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge, widely considered one of England’s nicest royals? Here’s what Witherspoon, who met the Duchess at a charity event last summer, told Ellen deGeneres:

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What do you think? Do too many nices devalue the sentiment behind nice?

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America’s rudest cities

Just when New Yorkers thought we’d finally ditched the “rudest people in America” tag, Travel & Leisure readers put us at the top of their 2012 America’s Rudest Cities list.  
Some 40,000 survey participants can’t all be wrong, but it’s equally unlikely they’ve all had a sour experience in the Big Apple.

New Yorkers are fighting back. One Manhattan resident told amNewYork that “she regularly notices thoughtful acts, such as people holding doors open, and is herself willing to dole out directions to confused tourists.”

Amen to that. New Yorkers can be super-helpful and friendly, depending on what part of town you’re in and whether or not it’s rush hour. And in a crisis (say, 9/11), I’d always want a New Yorker by my side. OK, so we don’t gush over strangers like your Aunt Millie in Georgia or your college roommate in Minneapolis. We respect others’ privacy, for one thing. Before you side with the T&L crowd, check out the rest of their top five rudest towns:

2. Miami
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Los Angeles
5. Boston

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My old school

I’m not big on school reunions. Even informal get-togethers for alums who live in my area hold no allure. But on the spur of the moment, I decided to attend an informal meet-and-greet with Tony Featherston, the headmaster, and the senior staff of Elmwood Franklin School, the grade school in Buffalo, NY, I went to a thousand years ago.

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I walked into a room full of strangers—oooh, scary—but left feeling like I’d spent an hour-and-a-half with long-lost friends. People are infinitely fascinating, and if we really listen, we find they’re full of surprises. All it takes to make friends out of strangers is honest curiosity—and a willingness to be a little self-revealing. Nothing’s nicer than someone who’s warm-hearted and open to life.

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Service with a smile

Tired of being caught in customer-service hell? Me too. But after suffering through endless encounters with the labyrinthine recorded messages, offshore call centers, and call-waiting hell that pass for customer service nowadays, I had a pleasant surprise.

When I phoned Con Edison, New York City’s gas-and-electric utility, with a question about my bill, to my astonishment, the recorded menu led me straight to a live customer-service rep, who answered on the first ring! His courtesy never wavered as he listened to my rambling query and patiently explained my bill. There was none of the baffling double-talk, sudden hang-ups, or “You’ll have to talk to my supervisor” that often mark those calls. 

So much time is wasted in futile efforts to communicate with businesses that are supposedly servicing our needs. Why don’t more companies realize that cutting down on customer service isn’t the way to cut costs—or build brand loyalty?

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