Why Cell Phones Make Speakers Go "Blip Blip Blip Buzz"

When I first got a cell phone (an early Sidekick), a new noise entered my life. When I put on my big crazy headphones while the phone was in my shirt pocket, I'd hear a very distinctive "blip ba da blip ba da blip ba da buzzzzzzz" noise right before my phone rang, so loud that I'd have to wrench the headphones from my poor ears -- which was handy, because then I'd hear the phone ringing. It took me a long time to figure out that this noise was coming from the phone, because I'm kind of slow. I also heard it when the phone was near mostly any speakers (even my TV set), including when I received text messages or used other data features on the phone. I recently saw a discussion of these noises on a fellow _flosser's blog post. So what causes this noise?

Basically, it's the cell phone talking to the tower, and nearby speakers picking up that radio transmission. There are several Metafilter articles on the subject, which make for good background reading. The best technical explanation I've seen of the phenonemon I've seen is on this WiFi-Forum post:

The type of interference can occur if the following things happen
together:
1) a pulsing radio transmitter,
2) with relatively strong power,
3) in very close proximity,
4) to a non-linear circuit element.

The non-linear circuit element is usually some sort of solid state
device such as a transistor or diode. If the non-linear element is
subjected to a strong pulsing radio signal, it will act as a rectifier
and "detect" the pulsating waveform, i.e., convert the pulsations from
a radio frequency to an audio frequency (if the pulsation rate is in
the pass-band of audio frequencies.) For example, a hearing aid
consists of a microphone, an audio amplifier and a small speaker. If
a strong pulsating radio signal impinges upon the first transistor
amplifier stage, the transistor will be driven into its non-linear
range and detect the pulsations. If the pulsation rate is in the
audio frequency range, the rest of the hearing aid amplifier will
amplify this and deliver it to the speaker, to the great annoyance of
the hearing aid wearer.

This annoyance is endemic to certain digital cellular technologies (including ones used in music devices like the iPhone, eek). The only ways I've found to mitigate the sound are: move the phone and the speakers father apart (this only seems to reduce the noise a bit...), turn off the cellular portion of the phone (the iPhone, for example, has an "airplane mode" that makes it practical to play music in the car -- without this turned on, the car sounds like it's being ripped apart by buzz-saws), or introduce electromagnetic shielding (good luck building your Faraday cage).

If you've got tips on how to reduce this noise, or a story of how annoying it is, please share in the comments.

Marshall McLuhan, the Man Who Predicted the Internet in 1962

Futurists of the 20th century were prone to some highly optimistic predictions. Theorists thought we might be extending our life spans to 150, working fewer hours, and operating private aircrafts from our homes. No one seemed to imagine we’d be communicating with smiley faces and poop emojis in place of words.

Marshall McLuhan didn’t call that either, but he did come closer than most to imagining our current technology-led environment. In 1962, the author and media theorist, predicted we’d have an internet.

That was the year McLuhan, a professor of English born in Edmonton, Canada on this day in 1911, wrote a book called The Gutenberg Galaxy. In it, he observed that human history could be partitioned into four distinct chapters: The acoustic age, the literary age, the print age, and the then-emerging electronic age. McLuhan believed this new frontier would be home to what he dubbed a “global village”—a space where technology spread information to anyone and everyone.

Computers, McLuhan said, “could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization,” and offer “speedily tailored data.”

McLuhan elaborated on the idea in his 1962 book, Understanding Media, writing:

"Since the inception of the telegraph and radio, the globe has contracted, spatially, into a single large village. Tribalism is our only resource since the electro-magnetic discovery. Moving from print to electronic media we have given up an eye for an ear."

But McLuhan didn’t concern himself solely with the advantages of a network. He cautioned that a surrender to “private manipulation” would limit the scope of our information based on what advertisers and others choose for users to see.

Marshall McLuhan died on December 31, 1980, several years before he was able to witness first-hand how his predictions were coming to fruition.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Arthur Shi, iFixit // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
The New MacBook Has a Crumb-Resistant Keyboard
Arthur Shi, iFixit // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0
Arthur Shi, iFixit // CC BY-NC-SA 3.0

Soon, you won’t have to worry about ruining your Macbook’s keyboard with muffin crumbs. The 2018 MacBook Pro will feature keys specifically designed to withstand the dust and debris that are bound to get underneath them, according to Digital Trends. The keyboard will also be quieter than previous versions, the company promises.

The latter feature is actually the reasoning Apple gives for the new design, which features a thin piece of silicon stretching across where the keycaps attach to the laptop, but internal documents initially obtained by MacRumors show that the membrane is designed to keep debris from getting into the butterfly switch design that secures the keycaps.

Introduced in 2015, Apple’s butterfly keys—a change from the traditional scissor-style mechanism that the company’s previous keyboards used—allow the MacBook keyboards to be much thinner, but are notoriously delicate. They can easily become inoperable if they’re exposed to dirt and debris, as any laptop is bound to be, and are known for becoming permanently jammed. In fact, the company has been hit with multiple lawsuits alleging that it has known about the persistent problem for years but continued using the design. As a result, Apple now offers free keyboard replacements and repairs for those laptop models.

This new keyboard design (you can see how it works in iFixit's very thorough teardown), however, doesn’t appear to be the liquid-proof keyboard Apple patented in early 2018. So while your new laptop might be safe to eat around, you still have to worry about the inevitable coffee spills.

[h/t Digital Trends]

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