A friend of mine, a Chicago restaurateur, recently explained to me how he had incorporated a great deal of sound-absorption material into his new restaurant. Good, I thought, because I hate screaming across a table to be heard by a dinner companion. But when I had dinner in the restaurant a short time later, I couldn't believe that he had selected a continuous techno-beat soundtrack that literally pummeled diners. I could hear what my dinner companion was saying, but after an hour I wanted ...

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