Background noise and less seismic activity caused by humans during COVID-19

Measuring seismic activity often requires locating instruments away from population centers. During COVID-19, the seismic activity caused by humans dropped a lot:

architecture bedrock bridge building

Photo by George Becker on Pexels.com

Writing today in the journal Science, dozens of researchers from around the world show that the seismic activity from our civilization plummeted as lockdowns went into effect. This “anthropogenic seismic noise,” as seismologists call it, comes from all manner of human activities, whether that’s running factories, operating cars or trains, or even holding concerts. Seismometers pick up these activities as a kind of constant din, which actually peaks on weekdays, when more people are moving around, and falls on weekends when economies slow down. All this activity that seismometers detect mixes with the natural rumbles that scientists are really interested in, like earthquakes, volcanoes, and landslides.

But boy, are they interested in the anthropogenic seismic noise now—or the lack thereof, as humans began to shelter in place. “We see it effectively moving around the globe as a seismic lockdown wave,” says Royal Holloway University of London seismologist Paula Koelemeijer, one of the paper’s coauthors. “So starting in China originally, then in different places in Italy, and then going through Europe. And whenever lockdowns happened in different countries, we see the effect that’s up to an 80 percent reduction in the amplitude of the seismic noise in some places.” The average was about 50 percent…

Normally, seismologists don’t bother monitoring urban environments for just this reason: There’s way too much noise muddying the signals of Earth’s natural processes. But for the past few years, citizen scientists have been collecting signals thanks to a clever little device called the Raspberry Shake, a Raspberry Pi computer outfitted with sensors to create an internet-connected seismometer. “Those instruments have been popping up more and more in people’s homes,” says Koelemeijer. “And so about 40 percent of our data stations that we looked at have been these citizen science instruments. It’s just people finding it funny, geeky, to have one of them. Like, I’m one of those people. I have one in my house.”…

But it was in a remote part of Germany where seismologists recorded perhaps the most surprising lockdown data. The Black Forest Observatory is not only isolated, and thus considered to be a reference low-noise laboratory, but its instruments are stowed over 150 meters below the surface, in bedrock. Yet they, too, picked up a small noise reduction at night during the lockdown. “Germany was a big surprise for us, because that station is very much a remote station, and seen as a very good seismic station for looking at natural signals,” says Koelemeijer. “So the fact that we saw it there was quite remarkable.”

Human activity influences all sorts of spheres that we do not often consider. Here, humans create a lot of noise and activity below the surface of the earth. There are occasionally complaints about noise pollution but most people put up with a certain amount of noise and vibrations in the places where they live.

This reminds of several different aspects of working with “background noise.” Working in radio, I often used sound effects for promotional material. The sound effect CDs we had contained a variety of background noise or din. For example, the city options largely contained traffic noise with vehicle rumbling and honking mixed together.

More recently, sports broadcasts have adjusted to teams playing in stadiums with no fans present in the stands. They often use recordings of fans where a sound technician has the ability to respond to play on the field (such as cheering for a good play for the home team or a negative response from fans). Without such background noise, the broadcast sounds very different: voices echo, the players can be heard, and a comforting or familiar element of the broadcast is lost.

All together, the background noise of our lives matters in everyday activity and in scientific measurement. If COVID-19 changes human movement and interactions, what we hear by ear and scientific instruments also changes.

Michael Jordan embodied the American value of winning at all costs

An interview with Todd Boyd, featured in ESPN’s “The Last Dance,” included this answer regarding evaluating Michael Jordan’s competitive fire:

I would say it’s American, that’s what I would say. I wouldn’t characterize it as positive or negative, it’s American. I think what Michael represented was an especially American desire to win at all costs, to dominate.

Sports have the ability to both reflect America and lead to social change. Jordan’s example could serve both. He was wildly successful in American terms on and off the court as a winner and earning oodles of money. He helped usher in a new era of global superstars, taking a third-place American sport (behind football and baseball) to global heights, and a lasting brand built around shoes. He is still successful today as an NBA owner.

It can be easy to chalk up his success to his legendary work ethic and a quest to become better when others who had similar skills or athletic gifts took it easier. But, it would also be helpful to place Jordan in his context. He came along at the right time for multiple reasons: he built on the NBA stars of the 1980s, he was around at the spread of hip-hop (also discussed in the interview), he succeeded during an era of capitalist growth (“the end of history” and the demise of communism), and technology helped spread his play and brand (even down to the crying Jordan meme of recent years).

All of this means that Boyd’s answer is two-fold: Jordan exemplifies America (work hard and you will get ahead!) and what it considers success (become a winner and global icon!). Is this what Americans want to promote for their children or in schools or in politics? That is a much bigger debate.

McMansions intrude on supersized ski resort

A look at a busy ski resort in Vermont references the supersized houses along the slopes:

Stratton’s 11 lifts move 33,928 skiers upward per hour, up from 21,078 in 1995—far more efficient than the child-eating, circa-’70s rope tow at Snow Valley. Quicker than expected, I was aloft, cozily wedged into the six-person chair, thrust into exhilaration. Evoking the rare weeks my family had skied in the Rocky Mountains, it all seemed blissfully familiar until our chair zipped past McMansions scattered up the hill—jarring, very 2020, real estate intrusions.

Add ski resort to the collection of consumer goods and experiences that have become supersized. While I do not think linking McMansions and skiing will have the same resonance or reach as McMansions and SUVs, the general idea is the same: Americans want to consume and bigger is better.

At the same time, does the view of a McMansion disturb a ski lift ride or a trip down a hill? In general, skiing aims to put people back into nature. The soundscape should be peaceful. The slopes can be challenging but enjoyable. The atmosphere should be relaxed. The focus of the article is on the larger crowds – but this also hints at the increased level of development. If skiing is so popular, what developer would pass up the opportunity to plant McMansions nearby?

“Live from Des Moines and Miami”: twin spectacles of our time

At the gym a few days ago, I saw this headline about the temporary location of a morning news show: “Live from Des Moines and Miami.” The Iowa caucuses on Monday and the Super Bowl today in Miami share some characteristics:

1. Weeks and months of hype. The Super Bowl does not get as much lead up since the participants have only been known for two weeks but both are highly anticipated events. The Iowa caucuses only happen every four years so the combination this year is not normal.

2. The media attention paid to both. Even as they come at different parts of their respective processes – the caucuses come after a lot of campaigning and debates and then kick off primary season while the game concludes a popular NFL year – they are great material for news reports, opinion leaders, and everyone else in the media who might not always care about politics or football.

3. Competition and winners and losers. A football game has a clear winner and loser (though more unusual circumstances might cast a doubt on the victors). The caucuses are not so clear as the outcome requires interpretation but everyone will be looking to name the winners and losers once the voting outcome is known.

4. The entertainment value of it all. The football game is more clearly entertainment – it is just a game after all – but politics is in this camp these days as well. Both events are exciting and at least this year relatively close. With all this tension building, why not locate a morning show to live work from Des Moines and Miami?

In sum, these events seem to go together: the largest American sporting event takes place tonight and the fate of the free world/the most important election of our time/the race to beat the incumbent president really takes off tomorrow. For those who will be watching and broadcasting, may they be entertaining and full of high ratings.

Designing your own Peytonville, Part 5

In a new iteration of the Peytonville commercials from Nationwide, Peyton is in the big city that loomed at the edge of his region:

peytonville5.jpg

This is one broad avenue with at least four lanes of traffic and it looks like there are bike lanes on each side. There are plenty of trees on wide sidewalks. The buildings are not that tall and are setback a ways. They primarily look like newer structures – glass facades – with some older buildings (or at least structures clad with bricks).

Is this a typical American big city? This view looks like either a sprawling city found in the Sunbelt or a smaller big city in the Midwest.

Is this meant to be an inviting image? My first thought is that this is a city built for cars and not people or pedestrians. With such wide streets, the scale is slightly off (even though the sizes of the buildings showed here do not overwhelm the streetscape). For example, crossing the street at this traffic light would take some time.

I wonder what kind of urbanism Peyton Manning prefers. Would he prefer a college town? A mid-sized big city like he played in during his NFL career?

Designing your own Peytonville, Part 4

The new Peytonville commercial from Nationwide includes shots of a football stadium on a college campus:

Peytonville4

From exterior appearances, this might be the fanciest stadium in college football. Yesterday, I wondered if people would more likely place Peyton Manning in his college days or in his long NFL days. The stadium in this commercial is an NFL stadium with its shiny exterior, almost complete roof, and scale. This stadium does not fit on the traditional looking college campus featured earlier in the commercial; this stadium belongs among the gleaming offices and condos in an urban center.

Is this a hidden prediction about where college stadiums will go next? Imagine JerryWorld in Texas but instead for Alabama football or Michigan football. Would the big football schools realize some extra revenue or value in being the first stadium to mimic the big pro stadiums?

Designing your own Peytonville, Part 3

A new Peytonville commercial from Nationwide is on television. This one focuses on the college campus:

Peytonville3

For all of the big images from the first commercial – the wide shots of a metropolitan region – the focus here is on a traditional looking college campus. In the image above, there is the impressive brick building, likely home to administrative offices. There is the gate marking the main entrance. Students and other people are walking and biking in and around campus. The lawns are well-manicured, the sidewalks wide.

And lurking in the back left is the football stadium. I should have known that with Peyton Manning in the commercials that the emphasis would not remain solely on small town life outside the big city. In the wide shots from the original commercial, it appears the college campus is on the top left:

Peytonville1

The campus is a good distance away from downtown and might even exist on its own platform.

One concern: do viewers associate Peyton Manning more with college football or pro football? He had successful years at Tennessee. But, he really stood out in the professional ranks where he won two Super Bowls, one season MVP, went to the Pro Bowl numerous times, and set multiple passing records. Peyton is on campus in the commercial but wouldn’t he be better set outside of the Colts stadium in downtown Indianapolis or the Broncos stadium in Denver? Such a scene would not lend itself to the green, bucolic college campus.

Building stadiums and arenas – but not for sports

Concerts are lucrative, lucrative enough to construct buildings with 10,000-18,000 seats primarily for shows:

Los Angeles-based Oak View Group, an entertainment and sports-facilities company backed by private-equity giant Silver Lake, is slated to develop eight new arenas over the next three years, six of which will forgo major-league teams, largely to keep their calendars clear for concerts.

An arena can generate twice as much net income from hosting a concert than a National Basketball Association or National Hockey League game, according to Oak View. Live music is expected to balloon to $38 billion industry by 2030, from about $28 billion currently, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. Oak View said being able to schedule twice as many concerts as it would otherwise with a professional team in house is an attractive prospect in markets including Palm Springs, Calif., and Austin, Texas. And as streaming is helping artists develop larger international audiences, markets including Manchester, U.K., and Milan are ripe for more arena shows, too…

The company said the arenas are being designed with music as the primary focus, from acoustics to VIP amenities. They will include fewer suites – a pet peeve of musical performers, who typically aren’t able to sell tickets for those seats – and add more clubs within the venue to entice concertgoers to linger before or after a show.

Multiple thoughts in response:

1. The ability to tweak the venue for music in multiple ways seems like a big win for artists and audience members. Instead of being in cavernous arenas that need enough floor space for a playing surface, everything can focus on a stage. It will be interesting to see how sound quality in new arenas like this compares to multi-use facilities.

2. This is a reminder that the big money in sports is not necessarily in attendance to games but rather in television rights and other revenue sources. Could this lead to a future with smaller sports arenas that provide an upgraded experience (it is already difficult to compete with large HD televisions) and more emphasis on what is built around the stadium?

3. Sports teams often ask for public money for facilities. And many communities seem willing to provide it, even when the evidence suggests it is not a good investment. Will music arenas also be funded with public money?

4. Since many larger cities already have arenas or stadiums, it will be interesting to see what mid-sized markets get music-only facilities. Some of the locations mentioned above are places without major sports teams (like Austin). But, I could imagine some of these facilities within large metropolitan markets in order to cater to musicians (imagine such a facility in the southwest or northern suburbs of Chicago taking away business from the United Center, Allstate Arena, and the Sears Centre).

5. Just as sports stadiums and arenas have limited games, these facilities will have a limited number of concerts each year. What else could the arenas be used for?

Fewer outdoor basketball courts, more courts in private backyards

Along my regular running routes in the suburb in which I reside, I have seen something interesting in several backyards: a private basketball court. Here is one of them:

BackyardBasketball1

I can see how these might be appealing:

1. The basketball hoop is always available for use by the people who live in the home.

2. Players do not have to go to a park or facility to play; it is convenient and easier to monitor.

3. The court can be used for other sports with a little bit of work (such as hanging a net).

4. It eliminates some grass from the backyard that would otherwise require mowing.

5. An addition like this to the lot could be viewed as good for property values in the long run.

On the other hand, this turns basketball (and other sports) into private activities. It removes the players from interactions with others in a park or more public space. It turns a leisure activity with the potential to bring people together into yet another activity Americans have taken to private spaces.

Couple the addition of private courts to backyards with a wariness about constructing basketball courts in public parks (or the addition of strange courts) and basketball – like many other sports – may be more of a private or organized activity in many suburbs rather than a spontaneous and creative activity.

Sports stadiums and white flight

How the Atlanta Braves and Atlanta United went about procuring their stadiums hints at the city’s racial divides:

Accompanying the announcement, the team released a map showing where, precisely, Braves Country was—and, notably, where it wasn’t. That view of the greater Atlanta area was speckled with red dots, each one indicating the home of a 2012 ticket buyer, including season-ticket holders. Only a smattering of red appeared to the east, west and south of Turner Field, while thousands of dots congealed into a ribbon above downtown that expanded into a wide swath in the half-dozen suburban and exurban counties to the north. The new stadium would be closer to the middle of that mass, which happened to embody an older, whiter and more conservative population than the city proper. Those northern suburbs were fast diversifying, yet many in Atlanta—particularly in its black population—felt slighted by the decision, their perspectives colored by decades of racial and political tension between city and sprawl.

Five months later MLS commissioner Don Garber, Falcons owner Arthur Blank and then-mayor Kasim Reed proclaimed in their own press conference that downtown Atlanta would be home to MLS’s 22nd franchise, and the new club, Atlanta United, would take the pitch in 2017, the same year the Braves headed to Cobb. The soccer team would play in the same new $1.6 billion stadium the Falcons would soon call home, but United would be no afterthought. The facility would be designed to accommodate the beautiful game from the start. Pushing back against skepticism and pointing to an influx of young professionals near Atlanta’s urban core, Blank assured MLS’s leaders he could fill the massive venue, even in a market known for lukewarm enthusiasm toward pro sports. Reed boasted that his city’s foreign-born (and, seemingly implied, soccer-loving) population was growing at the second-fastest rate in the U.S. Garber himself insisted these factors combined to make downtown an ideal MLS incubator. The city “embodies what we call a ‘new America,'” he said, “an America that’s blossoming with ethnic diversity.”

Fast-forward five years, and Atlanta United’s ticket-sales map, while not a direct inverse, is considerably more centralized than Braves Country (or even, says United president Darren Eales, a depiction of the Falcons’ fan base). United, meanwhile, aided no doubt by winning the 2018 MLS Cup, has led MLS in attendance in each of its three seasons, averaging 53,003 fans in ’19, among the highest in the world. This echoes the success the Braves found when they chased their audience to the north, the farthest any MLB team had ventured from its city center in 50 years. The Braves’ average home attendance, aided too by on-field success, reached 32,779 fans this season, up 31% from their last year at Turner Field…

Kruse, the Princeton history professor, is blunt in his assessment of such feelings. “These ideas about downtown being a dangerous place are really about the people downtown,” he says. For years he thought that “suburbanites want nothing to do with the city except to see the Braves.” But today? “That last connection has been severed. I see this movement of the stadium as the culmination of white flight.”

Trying to connect with particular fan bases or contributing to decades-long processes of residential segregation and white flight? How about both?

Three additional thoughts:

  1. More could be made here of the public money the Braves received from Cobb County. Plus, they could develop land around the new stadium, now a common tactic to generate more revenue beyond fan attendance. Yes, fan attendance is important but the long-term money may be in investing money in land surrounded by whiter and wealthier residents. Stadium development then just continues the process of limited capital investment in neighborhoods that could really use it and concentrates it in places where wealth is already present.
  2. Baseball is widely regarded as having an older and whiter fan base. Soccer is said to have a more diverse and younger fan base. In addition to the demographics of the Atlanta area, the sports themselves try to appeal to different audiences (even as they might work to reach out to different groups).
  3. It will be interesting to see how many sports teams in the next few decades move to more niche locations while still claiming to be from the big city. Civic identity is often tied to sports teams as most metro areas can only support one team from the major American sports. Can big city politicians still lose when the team from the area decides to move to a suburb (see a recent example in the Las Vegas area) but takes that revenue out of the big city? Can a team that locates in one particular area of the metropolitan region still easily represent the entire region?