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
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.

IBM Unveils the World's Smallest Computer

The latest piece of technology to be zapped by the shrink ray of progress was recently revealed during IBM Think 2018, the computer giant’s conference that offers a sneak preview of its latest hardware. According to Mashable, IBM’s newest computer is so small that it could disappear inside a salt shaker.

An IBM computer on a motherboard and atop a pile of salt

That tiny black speck on the right? That’s the one. (It's mounted to a motherboard on the upper left of the left photo.) IBM claims the computer has several thousand transistors and has roughly the same kind of operating power as a processor from 1990. While that may not sound impressive, any kind of artificial intelligence in a product that small could have big implications for data management. IBM believes it has a future in blockchain applications, which track shipments, theft, and non-compliance. Its tiny stature means it can be embedded into materials discreetly.

As an example, IBM noted that the processor could be injected into a non-toxic magnetic ink, which can then be stamped on a prescription drug. One drop of water could make the ink visible, letting someone know it’s authentic and safe to take.

The tiny little motherboard and its processors are still in the prototype stages, but IBM predicts it could cost less than 10 cents to manufacture. The company hopes it will be commercially available in the next 18 months.

[h/t Mashable]

Clemens Bilan, AFP/Getty Images
Purchased a PlayStation 3 Between 2006 and 2010? You May Be Entitled to $65
Clemens Bilan, AFP/Getty Images
Clemens Bilan, AFP/Getty Images

All that time you spent playing video games in the late aughts could finally pay off: According to Polygon, if you purchased an original-style "fat" PlayStation 3 between November 1, 2006 and April 1, 2010, you're eligible to receive a $65 check. You have until April 15 to file your claim.

PS3 owners first qualified to receive compensation from Sony following the settlement of a lawsuit in 2016. That case dealt with the "OtherOS" feature that came with the console when it debuted. With OtherOS, Sony promised a new PlayStation that would operate like a computer, allowing users to partition their hard drive and install third-party operating systems like the open-source Linux software.

OtherOS was included in the PlayStation 3 until April 2010, when Sony removed the feature due to security concerns. This angered enough PS3 owners to fuel a lawsuit, and Sony, facing accusations of false advertisement and breach of warranty, agreed to settle in October 2016.

PlayStation 3 owners were initially told they'd be receiving $55 each from the settlement, but that number has since grown to $65. To claim your piece of the $3.75 million settlement, you must first confirm that you're qualified to receive it. The PlayStation 3 you purchased needs to be a 20 GB, 40 GB, 60 GB or 80 GB model. If that checks out, visit this website and submit either your "fat" PS3 serial number or the PlayStation network sign-in ID or online ID associated with the console.

[h/t Polygon]


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