Armadas of Hydrophones

On the sonic aspects of naval intelligence:

"Basically, any instrument that can digitally eavesdrop on the military’s stuff is of concern, including seismometers, which measure vibrations so low most wouldn’t typically consider them sound."

From an article by Matthew Braga at theatlantic.com, via the great 5 Intriguing Things email list by Alexis Madrigal, an editor at The Atlantic.

On Gyrosurveillance

That fly on the wall could be the vibration of your cellphone:

"In the age of surveillance paranoia, most smartphone users know better than to give a random app or website permission to use their device’s microphone. But researchers have found there’s another, little-considered sensor in modern phones that can also listen in on their conversations. And it doesn’t even need to ask."

From an article by Andy Greenberg at wired.com.

The “Metallic Accent” of the Vocoder

The New Yorker posted a short, 11-minute mini-documentary about the Vocoder. Laurie Anderson praises its corporate aesthetic. Frank Gentges discusses its military history. Dave Tompkins talks about Bell Labs technical innovations (noting its “metallic accent”), among other things. There’s music from Kraftwerk, Afrika Bambaataa, and Newcleus, whose Cozmo D is interviewed; somewhat dispirated, he says with a half shrug, “Some of the dopest shit we have came out of military technology.”

The documentary is the second in the newyorker.com's Object of Interest series.

Is Voice the Uncanny Valley?

There may have been no better place than io9.com to keep track of Comic-Con, and this popped up in a summary of the Person of Interest panel. That’s the CBS series with an admirably long-game approach to narrative. It’s about an AI coming into sentience. That AI has become more of a character, and as the series enters season four it now is up against a competitive AI:

"Pressed for an answer about whether or not the AIs would get voices, Jonathan Nolan responded, ‘We’re working on the voice thing. But you may not like where it goes.’"

Full coverage at io9.com. It’s rarely advisable to read comments, but there are some strongly worded concerns in the resulting thread about lending voices to the AI, worth checking out if only as an expression of a point of view.

The Sound Design of Typing

"The Qwerkwriter has a very unique sound signature, due to its chrome accent as well as the mechanical switch, and the way the key caps are constructed." That’s the pitch at the start of this video of a three-pound, tablet-friendly keyboard that combines Bluetooth connectivity with an old-school mechanism. It is unlikely anyone who worked in or near a corporate typing pool in the pre-computer, post-war era misses the cacophony, but for personal use the gadget no doubt has its charms. From the tech spec: "Cherry MX Blue switches (a modern switch that emulates the typewriter clicky feel)."

Hosted at vimeo.com and the kickstarter.com campaign, which passed its goal of $90,000 by almost 50 percent. More at qwerkytoys.com. Found via Richard Kadrey.

Sub Pop and Other Micro Streams

One of my long-standing discontents with iTunes is the absence of a metadata field for record label. Small labels in particular are now looking at private membership and specialized streaming systems to emphasize their curatorial role, [the New York Times reports]( http://mobile.nytimes.com/2014/07/07/technology/independent-music-labels-and-young-artists-embrace-streaming-on-their-own-terms.html ):

> Last month, Sub Pop Records, an independent label that introduced artists including Nirvana and the Shins, announced a partnership with Drip.fm, a subscription streaming and download service. Fans who sign up for the Sub Pop feed on Drip.fm will pay $10 a month in exchange for albums, singles and special exclusives from the label.

> [O]ther younger, digitally savvy musicians are starting their own services to appeal directly to their fans, like Nicolas Jaar’s Other People and Ryan Hemsworth’s Secret Songs.

Always On: Rainforests, Sleep Disorders, More

Nick Shchetko at blogs.wsj.com/digits surveys recent app developments related to “always on” microphones.

There’s Rainforest, a chainsaw-detection tool halfway through its Kickstarter campaign.

He also lists examples that “assess the quality of sleep, explain why a baby is crying, tell you when you’re stressed, identify mental disorder, track gunshots and even help to crowd-monitor endangered cicada species.”

And then there’s BodyBeat, prototype pictured above:

A crude prototype of BodyBeat, revealed in mid-June, uses an external custom-made microphone to track body sounds, such as breath or cough, with the ambitious aim to detect illnesses or record food consumption.

The microphone is placed on the neck with a 3D-printed neckpiece, which is plugged into a small audio processing device that is wirelessly connected to a smartphone. BodyBeat authors plan to redesign the system for better usability in commercial applications.

It may sound far-fetched. But there could be plenty of market opportunities for systems like BodyBeat. Breathing sounds are indicative of lung conditions, and data on what users consume – say, how often do they drink or eat certain products – can provide important data for diet tracking apps.

There are certainly limitations to sound-detection technology. The quality of embedded microphones remains a concern, for one. “The problem is you can’t create a robust app because everyone is using different microphones,” said Alexander Adams, who helped develop BodyBeat.

Found thanks to Alexis Madrigal’s tinyletter.com/intriguingthings.

Sound Design: That Sounds Hot

A lot of the class that I teach about the role of sound in the media landscape focuses on exploring the sonic aspects of organizations, enterprises, and products. This following bit is a good example of a company doing just that:

How does hot water differ from cold water, sonically. NPR listened in as the British firm Condiment Junkie set out to answer the question, in the service of a Twinings Tea advertisement.

Here is a set of examples of their research:

NPR’s summary:

The marketers wanted to know: Would it be possible to make that noise itself more appealing? Can people hear the difference between a hot cup of tea being poured and, say, a cold beer? And is it possible to make a hot drink sound hotter or a cold drink sound more refreshing?

So they did an experiment. They played sounds of hot and cold water being poured into glasses and asked people to guess: hot or cold? The results were kind of insane. Ninety-six percent of people can tell the difference between hot and cold, just by the sound.

Scott King of Condiment Junkie on the takeaway:

"There tends to be more bubbling in a liquid that’s hot," he explains. "As you have more bubbling, you tend to get higher frequency sounds from it."

The firm has also developed "interactive music boxes" for Selfridges and sound design for an Adidas spot. More at condimentjunkie.co.uk.

What Will Be the Hamburger of Voice Search?

Even though it’s over two and a half years since Apple introduced Siri and almost 50 years since Douglas Rain provided the voice for Hal in 2001: A Space Odyssey, we’re very much at the beginning of voice control. There are few if any norms or standards for voice commands activated by users, especially in contrast with the increasing uniformity of web design, where common elements are pervasive, such as endless scroll, small-print footers, and the three-lined “hamburger” button that signifies the presence of a menu. The norms in voice search will be accumulated in the coming years, not just thanks to decisions made by the big players, but by small initiatives, like the Tabs Board controller, a Chrome extension covered yesterday by addictivetips.com:

Voice search integration arrived in Chrome quite a while ago and it is an excellent watered down basic version of Google Now. One of the many differences between Google Now and Voice Search on Chrome is that Google Now can launch apps installed on your device while Voice Search is simply what its name implies it is with no support for any other browser function. Tabs Board is a Chrome extension that helps you switch between tabs open in a window. It also lets you search for tabs by a voice command which is what sets it apart from other tab management extensions. Both the voice search and the tab switching overlay can be opened with a keyboard shortcut that a user can customize. You can search for tabs with either a voice command or you can search and select them using the mouse. The extension lists open tabs in an overlay at the bottom of Chrome.

As with most voice commands, the product assumes that your microphone is always one. Get Tab Boards at the chrome.google.com.

Pharmaceuticals Are Technologies Are Pharmaceuticals

Kind of fascinating that the manufacturer of an over-the-counter sleep aid might create brand extensions that include white noise machines:

Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Financial Officer Jon Moeller piqued curiosity when he told an investor conference last month that the company was preparing to enter a new category in the next six months and “introduce a new and far superior method of addressing a chronic consumer issue.”

Based on the company’s trademark filings, a strong candidate, at least for the latter, appears to be a line of products that make it easier to sleep. Several of its recent trademark filings relate to an expansion of the ZzzQuil brand the company launched in 2012 into what would be a range of new sleep-aid products. Among the categories P&G filed to cover with the ZzzQuil and ZzzPads name in February are “electronic sound generators for producing ambient sounds for promoting sleep,” light-therapy units and aromatherapy pads specially adapted for creating scents for electric vaporizers, electric fans, air purifiers and humidifiers.

Via Zack Neff at adage.com.