Nature photography, political rants, and Martyman laughs from the ten-time award-winning author of "Cool Creatures, Hot Planet," "Endangered Edens," and the "Time Is Irreverent" series.

Just how loud is that?

Having been a radio station DJ and a manager for rock bands, my ears took a beating—especially in my teens through mid-thirties. Now that I am um . . . a little older, I can still hear fine, except for, apparently, the distant sound of crickets. Consequently, I now try to balance my love of music with a goal of still hearing relatively well when I hit retirement age. To help in that, I bought a sound level meter to be more aware of what I’m listing too. Decibels work on a complicated scale, so when using the meter it’s best to have a few reference points: A whisper is 15 DB, normal conversation is 60 DB, over 85 DB for extended periods can damage hearing, and both The Who and AC/DC have exceeded 125 DB during their concerts (now both Pete Townshend of The Who and Brian Johnson of AC/DC have severe hearing problems).

So I’ve been testing around my house. When I write, I always have music playing. That safely comes in at about 78 DB. When I exercise to music or we have friends over to watch a concert, my 130-watt stereo system at 70 percent pumps out 93 DB with occasional peaks at 100 DB. None of that surprised me.

What did surprise me was when Deb suggested that I measure our snowblower today. We have a long driveway, and depending on how much snow we get, it can take two to three hours to complete the job. My ears always felt fatigued after snow blowing until just this year, when I started wearing the special music earplugs I bring to concerts (normally using only for the opening act). Now I know why. The snowblower pumps out a steady 102 DB, which is actually worse than a concert that will have peaks and valleys of sound.

Oh, and that baby crying behind your seat in an airplane? If he/she really gets going, he/she can hit 110 DB.

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