The amazing story behind the sounds of Star Wars: Episode IV

In this wonderful video, Ben Burtt, sound designer for Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope, reveals the secrets behind the fantastic zaps, beeps, and growls in that first film in the series. His first task was to figure out Chewbacca's voice that, ultimately, came from a pet bear on a farm in Tehachapi, California.

Also, I distinctly remember when I was a kid hearing for the first time that Burt discovered the blaster sound during a hike when he accidentally banged his backpack on a guy-wire anchoring a radio tower. After I learned that, I hammered on any guy-wire I came across for at least a week.

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A free excerpt from UNAUTHORIZED BREAD, my latest audiobook

Unauthorized Bread is the first installment of my next science fiction book for adults, Radicalized, which comes out in just over a month; the audiobook is available DRM-free on Google Play and direct from me. Read the rest

Lasers can beam audible messages directly to people's ears

Researchers at MIT's Lincoln Laboratory, a United States Department of Defense research facility, developed laser systems that can "transmit various tones, music and recorded speech at a conversational volume" to specific people without the recipient wearing any special equipment. Basically, the operator points a laser at someone from a distance and that individual hears the transmitted audio even though others in the area don't. Conspiracy theorists, start your engines. From the Optical Society of America:

"Our system can be used from some distance away to beam information directly to someone's ear," said research team leader Charles M. Wynn. "It is the first system that uses lasers that are fully safe for the eyes and skin to localize an audible signal to a particular person in any setting..."

The new approaches are based on the photoacoustic effect, which occurs when a material forms sound waves after absorbing light. In this case, the researchers used water vapor in the air to absorb light and create sound...

One unique aspect of this laser sweeping technique is that the signal can only be heard at a certain distance from the transmitter. This means that a message could be sent to an individual, rather than everyone who crosses the beam of light. It also opens the possibility of targeting a message to multiple individuals.

"New technology uses lasers to transmit audible messages to specific people" (Phys.org via The Daily Grail)

"Photoacoustic communications: delivering audible signals via absorption of light by atmospheric H2O" (Optics Letter) Read the rest

Woman with medical condition can't hear "male voices"

A woman in China reportedly suffering from a rare medical condition supposedly can't hear male voices. Most hearing loss occurs at higher frequencies when the delicate hair-like stereocilia of the inner ear are damaged, but this woman has the much less common reverse-slope hearing loss (RSHL) that affects the ability to hear lower frequencies. From LiveScience:

At the hospital, Chen was treated by Dr. Lin Xiaoqing — a woman — who noted that while Chen was able to hear Xiaoqing's voice, she couldn't hear the voice of a nearby male patient "at all," according to Newsweek. Xiaoqing diagnosed Chen with reverse-slope hearing loss, a rare type of low-frequency hearing loss that likely impaired her ability to hear deep male voices....

Loss of hearing of lower-pitched sounds (which is what Chen experienced) is... less common because the bass-processing portion of the cochlea — a snail-shaped structure deep in the inner ear — is very well protected, said Jackie Clark, a clinical professor with the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at the University of Texas at Dallas, who also wasn't involved with Chen's case...

"Most studies have shown that if you catch it within 48 hours, you have the best chance for recovery," (Clark) said.

illustration: Morten Bisgaard - From the book "Tidens naturlære" 1903 by Poul la Cour Read the rest

Video from the launch of the EFF/McSweeney's "End of Trust" project launch with Cindy Cohn, Annalee Newitz, and me!

The End of Trust is the first-ever nonfiction issue of McSweeney's, co-edited by McSweeney's editors and the staff of the Electronic Frontier Foundation; on December 11, we held a sold-out launch event in San Francisco with EFF executive director Cindy Cohn, science fiction writer and EFF alumna Annalee Newitz, and me. Read the rest

My favorite end-of-year tradition: the Bullseye podcast standup comedy special

As is the case every year Maximum Fun's Jesse Thorn has posted a special episode (MP3) of the Bullseye podcast, anthologizing excerpts from the best comedy albums of the year. Read the rest

Talking dystopia, utopia, science fiction and theories of change on the Netzpolitik podcast

When I was in Berlin last month, I stopped into the offices of Netzpolitik (previously), the outstanding German digital rights activist group, where I recorded an interview for their podcast (MP3), talking about science fiction, utopianism, dystopianism, how we can change the world, and why my kid has so many names. Read the rest

Gorgeous free mix of contemporary and archival "world music" and avant-garde soundscapes

Composer and producer Josiah Steinbrick -- who has worked with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Danger Mouse along with releasing his own music -- is also a rigorous record collector and curator of all varieties of outernational music -- ancient and contemporary -- and experimental/avant-garde sounds from around the globe. Through his Instagram feed, Josiah has turned me on to countless new artists, musical cultures, and sonic experiences. This week, ARP's Cult Cargo program on NTS Radio presented Josiah's mix of "pan-global contempo/archival selections from the past 12 months of vari-functional sculptural laments, hypno-pulses, and abstractions in HD." Far fucking out. Listen below.

Playlist:

TOMOKO SAUVAGE Clepsydra

REX ILLUSIVII Dream

KӢR Az Esam Loza

DISCO VUMBI Jo-Docuroma

APICHATPONG WEERASETHAKUL Morse Beat Roar

FRANÇOIS BAYLE Toupie Dans Le Ciel

PALTA, SPORTS Forårets Skørhed

CHAM-PANG Tant Pis Pour Les Heures De Sommeil

PANAQUIRE / OSWALDO LARES QuitipláS

STINE JANVIN Zen Garden

MADANG / RAGNAR JOHNSON Boma, Kaean

SUBA Wayang 04

WRONG WATER Cotton

KONRAD KRAFT Arc 12

PHEW Sonic Morning = 音の朝

RAMZI Evora

UWALMASSA Untitled 07

NSRD Kādā Rītā (One Morning)

NAM DI VILLAGE / LAURENT JEANNEAU Lantene (Moon) Women

ARTURO RUIZ DEL POZO Tarka En Brukas

NOZOMU MATSUMOTO Climatotherapy

NIAGARA Damasco

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Last chance to back the Kickstarter for our interdisciplinary seminar series on censorship today and in the Renaissance

I have been collaborating with science fiction writer, singer, librettist and Renaissance scholar Ada Palmer and science historian and piracy expert Adrian Johns to put on a seminar series at the University of Chicago called Censorship & Information Control In Information Revolutions: every Friday, we gather a panel of interdisciplinary scholars to talk about parallels between censorship regimes during the Renaissance and the dawn of the printing press and the censorship systems that have arisen since in response to other new forms of information technology. Read the rest

Welcome to Hollow Falls - and Lethal Lit, a New Scripted Crime Podcast

It started with a phone call. Heather Einhorn and Adam Staffaroni, the masterminds behind the entertainment creative house known as Einhorn’s Epic Productions, wanted to chat. Cool, I thought. I’d known Adam and Heather for a long time - we’d worked together years before and remained friends. It’d be good to catch up, for sure.

But it was much more than that. Heather and Adam were always on the lookout to create new, diverse heroes, and they wanted to take that philosophy to the podcast platform. Would I be interested in co-creating a YA/crime fiction podcast starring a tough, smart latinx teen heroine?

I couldn’t say "yes" fast enough.

As a kid, I read a lot of comics, crime novels and science fiction - from Spider-Man to Batman to Sherlock Holmes to Agatha Christie to Star Trek and back again. I loved mysteries and adventure stories. But as a Cuban-American kid growing up in Miami, I often wondered - where are the heroes like me?

When I created my own crime novels, starring my fictional private detective, Pete Fernandez, that was always front of mind. Getting the chance to do it again - in partnership with Heather and Adam’s team, iHeart Media, and co-writer Monica Gallagher, has been nothing short of fantastic.

The end result will be in your earbuds on Oct. 29 and subsequent Mondays after that, in the form of Lethal Lit - a six-episode scripted podcast that presents listeners with a new, fictional "true crime" story, starring Tig Torres, a feisty NY teen who finds herself back in her hometown of Hollow Falls, where she must join forces with her new friends to face off against the perils of modern high school life, and a gruesome series of murders perpetrated by the Lit Killer - a serial murderer whose crimes echo stories ripped from the pages of English literature. Read the rest

I spoke with the CEO of Sennheiser about audio, virtual reality and the notion of legacy

Working as a technology journalist is a privilege that allows me to play with hardware that I could never afford to own. Last week, while I was in Montreal for the opening of Sennheiser's new Canadian office, for example, I was able to spend some quality time with the company's crazy $50,000 made-to-order HE 1 headphones. For a guy that reviews audio hardware for a living, it was a ridiculous treat.

There are times that the privilege of doing what I do extends beyond all of the gear that I get to play with. Among the Sennheiser employees, audio nerds like me, and other folks attending the company's opening day bash was Dr. Andreas Sennheiser. Andreas, an electrical engineer by trade, has been co-CEO along with his brother Daniel of their family's 70-year-old audio company for the past five years.

Here in North America, Sennheiser is mostly known for their professional audio products -- microphones and reference headphones for the rich and musically famous, and conference-call hardware for high falootin' boardrooms. In Europe, Asia and Africa, the German company's footprint in consumer audio is massive. They’re one of the oldest names in audiophile-grade headphones and an early, much-respected maker of audio hardware designed to augment virtual and augmented reality experiences.

They make cool shit.

Once the celebration was over and the caterers had absconded with the all of leftovers, Andreas was good enough to spend a few minutes with me, talking about his company, his family and the notion of legacy. Read the rest

JBL reissues their classic 1970s speakers with the fantastic space-age grills

In 1970, JBL introduced the L-100 home hi-fi speakers based on the company's popular 4310 Pro Studio monitors. With their fantastic sound quality for the price, particularly for rock music, and their killer Quadrex foam grilles available in black, blue, or orange, the L-100 speakers became the best-selling loudspeaker of the era. And now JBL has revived them in modern form, the JBL L100 Classic. They're $4,000 a pair.

I'd be curious to hear an A/B test of the JBL L100 Classics against a pair of restored originals that can be had for a fourth of that price. If you have that opportunity, please roll a number, cue up David Crosby's "If I Could Only Remember My Name" on the turntable, and let us know what you heard.

Main Features

Retro design with iconic JBL styling and vintage Quadrex foam grille in a choice of three colors: black, orange or blue

Genuine satin walnut wood veneer enclosure with black painted front and rear panels

12-inch white cone, pure pulp woofer with cast frame

5-inch pure pulp cone midrange

1-inch titanium dome tweeter

Bass-reflex design with front-firing port

High-frequency and mid-frequency L-pad attenuators

(Thanks, David Hyman!) Read the rest

Bundyville: a bingeable new podcast that delves into the apocalyptic cult of Cliven Bundy

For many of us, the Cliven Bundy story started when a fringey rancher got a bunch of his militia pals to flex their white privilege by threatening to shoot federal law enforcement officers who'd demanded that Bundy stop stealing public land and grazing; then Bundy's loathsome offspring led a terrorist takeover of a wildlife refuge in Oregon. Read the rest

Hear the sounds of the Sun

NASA scientists listen to the low-frequency pulsing hum of the Sun to gain insight into the star's atmosphere over time. The raw data comes from the ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA’s Solar and Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) launched back in 1995. Researchers from Stanford Experimental Physics Lab then process and filter the data and speed it up "a factor 42,000 to bring it into the audible human-hearing range."

From NASA:

“Waves are traveling and bouncing around inside the Sun, and if your eyes were sensitive enough they could actually see this,” said Alex Young, associate director for science in the Heliophysics Science Division at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland...

Data from SOHO, sonified by the Stanford Experimental Physics Lab, captures the Sun’s natural vibrations and provides scientists with a concrete representation of its dynamic movements.

“We don’t have straightforward ways to look inside the Sun. We don’t have a microscope to zoom inside the Sun,” Young said. “So using a star or the Sun’s vibrations allows us to see inside of it..."

These vibrations allow scientists to study a range of complex motions inside the Sun, from solar flares to coronal mass ejections.

“We can see huge rivers of solar material flowing around. We are finally starting to understand the layers of the Sun and the complexity,” Young said. “That simple sound is giving us a probe inside of a star. I think that’s a pretty cool thing.”

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Neat audio illusion explained using that annoying Smashmouth song

Get your game on, go play. (AsapSCIENCE)

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Bubble, a new dystopian podcast sitcom!

The Maximum Fun podcast network (home to such shows as Judge John Hodgman (previously), Oh No Ross and Carrie (previously), and Sawbones) has just launched its most ambitious project to date: a science fiction sitcom about life in a domed city in a monster-haunted wasteland called Bubble, and it's hilarious. Read the rest

A free internet is a configurable internet

I appeared on the O'Reilly podcast this week to discuss my upcoming keynote at the O'Reilly Fluent Conference. Read the rest

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