Page 84 - Winter 2020
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hearing impairment pointed their heads while listening. From there, I began work on how listeners make use of their own motion to understand speech and to inform their percept of the acoustic world. Together, these projects led me to work with Alan Archer Boyd on an augmented reality (AR) hearing aid that took advantage of natural listener behavior. This work hit some funding stumbling blocks and seemed to attract only passing interest from the hearing aid industry.
Just as I was getting rather fed up with the lack of institutional enthusiasm for this work, I got an email from Tony Miller at what was then called Oculus Research (now FRL). He wanted to talk about AR and how moving listeners perceive moving sounds. Here was a chance to work with technology that is a great perceptual research tool, a fundamentally new way of interacting with language, with music, with sound in general, and what I felt was our best chance of helping people who experience difficulty understanding speech in noisy environments. I got the job, and I consider myself very lucky to be here, as I have felt at every stage of my research career.
What is a typical day for you?
I am not sure I have a typical day. Some days are head down, working on some intractable puzzle and some days are peppered with meetings and brainstorming sessions, and the time around our twice yearly internal research symposium is a thrilling, all-engrossing, mile-a-minute ride. This is when all of FRL gets together to discuss and demonstrate our work across all of AR/virtual reality (VR), and it’s mind-blowing, sci-fi level stuff. The depth and scope of the work being done here is staggering, so you can’t help but put everything you’ve got into your part of it.
How do you feel when experiments/projects do not work out the way you expected them to? Sure, there is a momentary deflation, but finding out that your very reasonable hypothesis isn’t supported by the data can be one of the most exciting moments in research. It often leads to some new understanding of underlying mechanisms, some novel insight, or even a whole new line ofresearch.Youthinkthattheheadtrackingyouareusingin your VR system is lagging? Turns out that it’s our perception of acoustic space is that is distorted. But sometimes, yeah, it was a bad idea, it didn’t work, and you didn’t design the experiment in such a way that a null result would be even remotely informative. Don’t beat yourself up, move on.
Do you feel like you have solved the work-life balance problem? Was it always this way?
I hadn’t solved this problem before the COVID pandemic, and I am certainly no closer to solving it now. Today, there exists only a gossamer barrier between work and home, easily broken, easily ignored. The work culture here does help a bit, and managers are immensely supportive. Work-related messages and chat notifications automatically shut off at the end of your work day. I have a guitar in my home office that I make sure I pick up at least once a day, sometimes even doing some recording (see Many of the members of the audio team are, or could easily be, professional musicians, and we occasionally play together, which is lovely. But back to the subject: probably the biggest obstacle between me and proper balance is that the work is often too exciting for me to be able to ignore.
What makes you a good acoustician?
I happened on the right equipment and the right questions at just the right time. I lucked into a line of research that had really only just been made possible due to development in lower cost motion-tracking technology. Combine motion tracking with low-latency signal processing and you can break the basic rules that govern how sounds move around you when you move your head. Once you can do that, there is low-hanging fruit everywhere you look. I am very good at plucking this fruit.
How do you handle rejection?
Nobody can make my blood boil quite as well as Reviewer 2 can. But it happens to everyone, so you have to take a beat and remember that you are also Reviewer 2. We’re all in this together, trying to advance as a group, an institution, a research field, and as human beings.
What are you proudest of in your career?
This is a toss-up between the work I do in AR hearing assistance and work on how our perception of acoustic space isn’t uniform across angle.
What is the biggest mistake you’ve ever made?
I have been surpassingly lucky in my research. Some paths and some ideas work brilliantly, others don’t, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to recognize which was which pretty quickly. My organizational skills are not at the same level. The day before I was due to leave for an ASA meeting in Boston, I was putting the finishing
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