Signal to Noise

I just found a new metaphor. Finding them is a hobby of mine.

Signal-to-noise ratio is a technical term indicating the efficiency of a transmission of information. For example, let’s say you’re trying to talk to someone. Your speech is the signal, and the club noise is, well, the noise interfering with the clarity of the transmission of your message. If you’re in a noisy dance club, the signal-to-noise is low, but in a quiet room, it’s high. The goal is to have a high signal-to-noise ratio for the sake of clarity.

I was planning to tell my design students about signal-to-noise in the context of delivering a message graphically, when I stumbled upon an article in today’s Globe and Mail about running. With a berating of a poor Running Room salesperson on the subject of heel striking still clear in my mind, I made the connection:

When running, moving forward is the signal, and all other movement is the noise.

Bouncing up and down and from side to side would be the noise, then. I don’t expect that it’s a good idea to reduce it by tensing up and holding things in, but there should be a sweet spot — an optimal state.

That covers the spatial noise, but there’s also a kind of long-term temporal noise: noise that interferes with the signal over time, or your ability to run smoothly forward over the long term. (Am I stretching the metaphor?) That noise would be inefficient habits such as stretching forward with the leg to land on the heel, tensing body parts, running with a wide gait … that sort of thing. Given that the signal is to run forward, these habits interfere with that signal over time, so they constitute noise.

Now sometimes, noise adds color and texture, but then it’s not really noise, it’s part of the signal … like the overtones added to a smooth sine wave to turn it into the sound of a violin. So there.

What’s your signal? What’s the noise interfering with it? Can you reduce it?

  1. Caprice
    March 4th, 2010 at 19:12 | #1

    I want to hear about the berating of the poor Running Room salesperson.

  2. paul
    March 4th, 2010 at 20:57 | #2

    That’s a great way of looking at it. Out with the noise!(, he shouted).

  3. SteveR
    March 5th, 2010 at 03:30 | #3

    Not much to tell on the berating. I began by praising my Adizero shoes, making the segue into a rant about the promotion of heel-striking among shoe manufacturers and the running establishment, to eventually be faced with her cheerful, yet nervous reply of “well, everybody’s different”. I think she thought I was a well-dressed ranting homeless person. Okay, I was more polite than that, eventually giving up when I realized she was too young or new to offer up a fight. Or risk agreeing with me.

    So I eventually agreed with her that the Vibram footy-shoes were probably too much … more as a peace offering.

    I’d like to gather some ammo before I take on Stanton. 🙂

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