2777: Noise Filter

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Noise Filter
Party Mode also enables the feature, but reverses the slider.
Title text: Party Mode also enables the feature, but reverses the slider.


This comic portrays a generalized, minimalist version of a search engine's front end. The engine helps the user find things (in this case, restaurants) that conform to user preferences. Preferences shown are hours of opening, mean of review scores, price range, and current noise level. All but "current noise level" are rendered less prominent by being drawn in gray, with various typical choices applied; the exception being marked for the reader's attention with a red-circled (and arrowed) overlay. The user, setting the parameters for their search, adjusts the slider to select the maximum tolerable noise level. Taking the slider for increasing noise tolerance past 100 db is eventually interpreted as "Any", or limitless, whatever this might mean for any given position past 100 but not yet at Any. The high range (the 'safe' noise threshold is 70 decibels or less) tells us that the person designing the tool (Randall) may be accustomed to loud restaurants, probably including some that have been getting louder over time, or not actually that familiar and going only by a rough idea of what is necessary and possible.

The caption's statement that the noise slider should automatically appear when the user reaches the age of 30 (ignoring the privacy concerns implicit in such a function) plays on the common perception that a person's ability to tolerate background noise while dining (or anywhere else) deteriorates with age. Such declines have been documented, linked to changes in the inner ear and associated nerves with aging, and can occur in the absence of other hearing-loss symptoms. The term "SPiN (Speech Perception in Noise) threshold" has been conceived to measure this loss. Other studies suggest that personality traits and gender, as well as age, contribute to declines in the ability to perceive speech in noise, so the trope is less precise than is indicated here, and in advertisements by health providers for hearing loss treatments.

The title text shows that Randall imagines a "Party Mode" which also includes this filter, but reversed. Those younger than 30 may wish to filter out places that are too quiet and restrained and won't already have a 'party atmosphere' upon their arrival.

The criteria checked for some of the filter's options can be presumed to have been provided in advance by those running the restaurant (e.g. opening times, though perhaps derived indirectly from other web-listings promoting the business) or its customers (user ratings being aggregated from various online review sites), but the current noise levels will probably require some form of real-time monitoring installed in the premises, with or without the complicity/knowledge of the owners. Efforts are being made in this area, some of which suggest that a real-time measurement of overall noise won't be all that helpful to a restaurant patron, since the noise at a suitably-engineered table likely will differ significantly from the background.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[A representation of web-page or app-screen contents. Except where mentioned otherwise, all lines and fills are in muted half-tones.]
[At the top, a search bar with the standard magnifying glass symbol and a word entered into the text field:] Restaurants
[Below that, a horizontal rule as a section header, with a titular label centered over it:] Filters
[Subsection title:] Hours
[Three buttons, horizontally:]
[Button:] Any
[Button, selected, drawn in light blue and infilled with lighter blue:] Open now
[Button:] Open at…
[Subsection title:] Rating
[Five buttons, horizontally, four with explicit star-rating ranges:]
[Button, selected, in blue:] Any
[Button:] ☆3+
[Button:] ☆3.5+
[Button:] ☆4+
[Button:] ☆4.5+
[The following subsection, alone, is entirely circled in a drawn red circle, with an additional red arrow pointing to it, and is all in the unmuted tones.]
[Subsection title:]
Current Noise Level
[A horizontal slider-bar, with six marked and labeled positions along its length.]
[Mark:] 60dB
[Mark:] 70dB
[Mark:] 80dB
[Mark:] 90dB
[Mark:] 100dB
[Mark:] Any
[The bar's 'slider' control is positioned between the two central marks, at approximately 85 dB.]
[The slider itself is drawn in blue, and the bar is shaded blue in the section between its far left and the slider element to show the range of selections.]
[Subsection title:] Price
[Four buttons, with multiple-selection, horizontally:]
[Button, selected, in blue:] $
[Button, selected, in blue:] $$
[Button:] $$$
[Button:] $$$$

[Caption below the panel:]
This feature should automatically appear when you reach age 30.

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Took me a moment. It is very on-point for me. Randal proposes a sound level meter in such as Google reviews. Showing the real-time racket in a restaurant or other venue. Just this week I walked out of a new TOO-LOUD restaurant. I wish this feature existed! It is not total fantasy. Any Android cellphone "could" report location and sound-level to its masters.

I'm autistic. I would have liked this feature since I was first going places on my own. 02:31, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

Hear hear! (Pun intended.) There are several restaurants my family won't go back to because they're too loud. One was PAINFULLY loud - well over 80 dBA. Hmm. Maybe I should take my sound level meter with me next time we eat out, and put the readings into a review. 12:24, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

I interpreted the title as a pun on noise filters that block out ambient noise. Barmar (talk) 14:13, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

How long until another of Randall's xkcd "jokes" becomes real? 15:09, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

I would like one for temperature, some places are just too damn cold. SDSpivey (talk) 18:40, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

Should the explanation include recent news articles about how restaurants are louder than they were a few decades ago? Such as https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/11/how-restaurants-got-so-loud/576715/ and https://www.popsci.com/story/technology/restaurant-noise-levels-solutions/ 20:13, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

I think it should. Good get. 22:12, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

The thing that gets me is the different radio/checkbox/range selection techniques being used. Almost like the same UI designer didn't add each subsection into this bit of the interface.

  • Obvious "radio"-like choice for the opening Hours. You choose one or other presets ("Any"/no preference, "Now"/current status) or a probable pop-up dialogue ("Open at...") for date/time of more flexible choice or range.
  • Rating that's also "radio"-appearing, as a way of giving the single minimum acceptible value for Rating.
  • The slider which implies the single maximum acceptible value for noise level. Could have been set up similar to that with Rating (though clearly needs more than the six guide-labels as buttons, and "<=value" rather than "value+").
    • The version for Party Mode would have been like the minimum for Rating, both of which could either be "top-down selected" sliders or this bottom-up one but reverse-labeled. Or "number+" buttons.
  • Buttons of a multi-select/checkbox type for Price choice. Not visually different from 'radio buttons', except for that they have been multi-selected... perhaps the real thing in the appropriate interface-tk would show more rounded/square button profiles. Or give another clue as to whether selecting a second would add to/replace anything previously selected in that grouping. But it could have been a range-type choice for "up to", really.
    • Or a double-slider, to accomodate minimum and maximum, allowing mid-sub-range "$$+$$$", if not "$+$$$$" for only extremes. Or a slider and separate toggle between whether the slider is bottom-up and top-down.
    • But would you ever anticipate split-range choices? And also to what relative quantities do the given numbers of $s map onto, subjectively?

It shows that the design decisions involved weren't part of the same holistic design-time process. (This is not a comment against Randall's compositional choices, he's clearly parodying the actual "options"-type configuration screens that you get. Consciously or unconsciously replicating their design and implemention inconsistencies.)
But thought it wasn't really worth a main-page explanation about, just thought it worth an extended comment in here for possible passing interest of others. 23:45, 18 May 2023 (UTC)

The slider should go down to 30dB. 02:48, 19 May 2023 (UTC)

It should go up to 111dB 08:02, 22 May 2023 (UTC)

I, and probably every other autistic person here, wishes this were a thing. For me at least, sound louder than about 70 dB physically hurts. Beanie talk 10:02, 19 May 2023 (UTC)

I ALWAYS carry hearing protection. I play bassoon in wind ensembles and orchestras and sometimes need to ‘stopper’ because of trumpets, etc. It comes in handy in other noisy situations and takes up almost no space in my pocket. Joem5636 (talk) 11:39, 19 May 2023 (UTC)

You should make sure you have pockets big enough for a bassoon, too. Be popular at parties. (At least at first.) 18:09, 19 May 2023 (UTC)

I find the current basic explanation awkward and clunky... Instead it should generalize/skip through the unimportant parts, like "The comic shows restaurant search filters, with normal settings of Hours, Rating, and Price, each set to defaults. These controls are greyed out, showing they're not the point. In full colour and circled in red is a setting for Current Noise Level.". Seems much more straightforward than what's there right now. Also, explaining "Any" as "limitless" sounds like that author missed the meaning, this simply means the user doesn't care, this is not a filter the user wishes to use at this time, it's to disable this filter. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:53, 20 May 2023 (UTC)

Generally agree. (Though "limitless" here means that there is no upper limit, surely. It doesn't mean that it must be infinitely loud, any more than it must be actually 85db, as it is currently set ...but if you've got a better word?) Please do feel free to edit it if you're convinced you can do it better. The worst that can happen is that someone edits it back/elsewise because they think it's not good enough. 18:21, 20 May 2023 (UTC)
The thing is, "limitless" tends to be used rather synonymously with "infinite", giving an impression of louder than loud. While technically the word is actually accurate, its habit that makes it feel not quite right. :) I think "The scale ends with 'Any', to indicate the user doesn't care" or something? The thing is, I dislike arbitrarily making such large changes, :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:45, 27 May 2023 (UTC)
Agreed. There's been an increasing trend in recent 'explanations' to effectively replicate the transcript in the first two or three paragraphs, which isn't particularly... explanatory. 08:05, 22 May 2023 (UTC)

This is a thing! The SoundPrint app lets you measure the sound around you and submit it to a database of venues such that other people can determine if they can handle the noise level at that place. See https://www.soundprint.co/ Adamengst (talk) 15:54, 22 May 2023 (UTC)