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Lithophones - Instruments Made of Fossils, Floor Tiles, and More

Musician, artist, and "edutainer" Tom Kaufmann makes unique instruments called lithophones, which are similar to xylophones, but created from various stones. Here's how Kaufmann describes them:

Another happy coincidence led me to my current fascination with constructing lithophones. I was tossing around some scrap pieces of granite countertop that I’d gotten for one of my Upright Furniture projects, and as one of the chunks landed, it rang as clear as a bell.

I’d been looking for stone suitable for building lithophones for a while, but never suspected I would find a source of such readily available and inexpensive material.

Litho is Greek for stone, and phone is sound, so a lithophone is a musical instrument made from stone. They are one of the most ancient instruments, and in China the sound of stone is as elemental as metal or wood. In Viet Nam a stone instrument called a “dan da” was found that is believed to be over 9,000 years old. Western civilization didn’t use stone for music until the 1840’s. There are links to some great sources of information about lithophones at the bottom of this page.

Here's Kaufmann playing the "Flintstones" theme on a lithophone made from Michigan's State Stone: Petoskey Stone (fossilized coral that lived 350 million years ago). By the way, did you know Michigan had a State Stone? Enjoy:

Floor Tiles & Wrenches

Not all lithophones are made of such exotic materials. This video shows a series of lithophones made from floor tiles, then a toolbox glockenspiel (made from wrenches and bolts, complete with some mild tuning problems):

Limestone

Here's Kaufmann playing his "park bench lithophone," made from scrap limestone. Yes, he plays the "Flintstones" theme again:

Granite

This lithophone is made of granite. From Kaufmann's website:

Here’s a video of my newest lithophone, built for the Children’s Garden at the Charlevoix Public Library, in Charlevoix, Michigan. This one octave diatonic instrument, made of granite and mounted on a powder coated steel base with stainless steel bolts, is tuned to the key of C, A=440

For more on Kaufmann and his work, check out Tinkertunes Music Studios. You can find some more lithophone videoes on the Instruments page.

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Stop Your Snoring and Track Your Sleep With a Wi-Fi Smart Pillow
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REM-Fit

Everyone could use a better night's rest. The CDC says that only 66 percent of American adults get as much sleep as they should, so if you're spending plenty of time in bed but mostly tossing and turning (or trying to block out your partner's snores), it may be time to smarten up your sleep accessories. As TechCrunch reports, the ZEEQ Smart Pillow improves your sleeping schedule in a multitude of ways, whether you're looking to quiet your snores or need a soothing lullaby to rock you to sleep.

After a successful Kickstarter in 2016, the product is now on sale and ready to get you snoozing. If you're a snorer, the pillow has a microphone designed to listen to the sound of your snores and softly vibrate so that you shift positions to a quieter pose. Accelerometers in the pillow let the sleep tracker know how much you're moving around at night, allowing it to record your sleep stages. Then, you can hook the pillow up to your Amazon Echo or Google Home so that you can have your favorite smart assistant read out the pillow's analysis of your sleep quality and snoring levels the next morning.

The pillow is also equipped with eight different wireless speakers that turn it into an extra-personal musical experience. You can listen to soothing music while you fall asleep, either connecting the pillow to your Spotify or Apple Music account on your phone via Bluetooth or using the built-in relaxation programs. You can even use it to listen to podcasts without disturbing your partner. You can set a timer to turn the music off after a certain period so you don't wake up in the middle of the night still listening to Serial.

And when it's time to wake up, the pillow will analyze your movements to wake you during your lightest sleep stage, again keeping the noise of an alarm from disturbing your partner.

The downside? Suddenly your pillow is just another device with a battery that needs to charge. And forget about using it in a place without Wi-Fi.

The ZEEQ Smart Pillow currently costs $200.

[h/t TechCrunch]

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Forget Horns: Some Trains in Japan Bark Like Dogs to Scare Away Deer
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In Japan, growing deer populations are causing friction on the railways. The number of deer hit by trains each year is increasing, so the Railway Technical Research Institute has come up with a novel idea for curbing the problem, according to the BBC. Researchers there are using the sound of barking dogs to scare deer away from danger zones when trains are approaching, preventing train damage, delays, and of course, deer carnage.

It’s not your standard horn. In pilot tests, Japanese researchers have attached speakers that blare out a combination of sounds designed specifically to ward off deer. First, the recording captures the animals’ attention by playing a snorting sound that deer use as an “alarm call” to warn others of danger. Then, the sound of howling dogs drives the deer away from the tracks so the train can pass.

Before this initiative, the problem of deer congregating on train tracks seemed intractable. Despite the best efforts of railways, the animals aren’t deterred by ropes, barriers, flashing lights, or even lion feces meant to repel them. Kintetsu Railway has had some success with ultrasonic waves along its Osaka line, but many rail companies are still struggling to deal with the issue. Deer flock to railroad tracks for the iron filings that pile up on the rails, using the iron as a dietary supplement. (They have also been known to lick chain link fences.)

The new deer-deterring soundtrack is particularly useful because it's relatively low-tech and would be cheap to implement. Unlike the ultrasonic plan, it doesn’t have to be set up in a particular place or require a lot of new equipment. Played through a speaker on the train, it goes wherever the train goes, and can be deployed whenever necessary. One speaker on each train could do the job for a whole railway line.

The researchers found that the recordings they designed could reduce the number of deer sightings near the train tracks by as much as 45 percent during winter nights, which typically see the highest collision rates. According to the BBC, the noises will only be used in unpopulated areas, reducing the possibility that people living near the train tracks will have to endure the sounds of dogs howling every night for the rest of their lives.

Deer aren't the only animal that Japanese railways have sought to protect against the dangers of railroad tracks. In 2015, the Suma Aqualife Park and the West Japan Railway Company teamed up to create tunnels that could serve as safer rail crossings for the turtles that kept getting hit by trains.

[h/t BBC]

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