Most people are familiar with white noise, that static sound of an air conditioner that lulls us to sleep by drowning out any background noise.
Except technically, the whirl of a fan or hum of the AC isn’t white noise at all. Many of the sounds we associate with white noise are actually pink noise, or brown, or green, or blue. In audio engineering, there’s a whole rainbow of noise colors, each with its own unique properties, that are used to produce music, help relaxation, and describe natural rhythms like the human heartbeat. If you know what to look for, you can start to notice the colors of the noise that make up the soundscape around us.
If you decompose a sound wave, you can break it down into two fundamental characteristics: frequency, which is how fast the waveform is vibrating per second (one hertz is one vibration per second), and amplitude (sometimes measured as “power”), or the size of the waves. The noise types are named for a loose analogy to the colors of light: White noise, for example, contains all the audible frequencies, just like white light contains all the frequencies in the visible range.
In musical sound waves, the frequencies are spaced at intervals that we find pleasing to the ear, creating a harmonic structure that gives a sound its unique tone quality, or timbre. (This is what makes the same note sound different on a flute than it does on a violin.) The noises we hear every day—boots stomping across the floor, a car honking outside, the jingling of keys—are made up of sporadic waveforms, a random distribution of frequency and amplitude.
And then, in a separate category, there are the colored noises. Unlike the inconsistent bang of a drum or shouting voice, these sounds are a continuous signal, but they aren’t exactly pleasant. The word “noise” actually comes from a Latin word for nausea; in audio engineering, the term describes any unwanted information that interferes with the desired signal, like static on the radio.
Pure white noise sounds like that hissy “shhh” that happens when the TV or radio is tuned to an unused frequency. It’s a mixture of all the frequencies humans can hear (about 20 Hz to 20 kHz), fired off randomly with equal power at each—like 20,000 different tones all playing at the same time, mixed together in a constantly changing, unpredictable sonic stew.
The other colors are similar to white noise, but with more energy concentrated at either the high or low end of the sound spectrum, which subtly changes the nature of the signal. Pink noise, for example, is like white noise with the bass cranked up. It’s a “shhh” sound with a low rumble mixed in, like the soft roar of a rainstorm.
Pink noise sounds less harsh than white noise because humans don’t hear linearly. We hear in octaves, or the doubling of a frequency band, which means we perceive as much sonic space between 30-60 Hz as between 10,000-20,000 Hz. We’re also more sensitive to higher frequencies (one to four kHz, which is about the frequency of a crying baby, sounds the loudest), so white noise, which has the same intensity at even the highest tones, can sound way too bright to our ears. The energy in pink noise drops off by half as the frequency doubles, so every octave has equal power, which sounds more balanced.
A rock structure, built deep underground, is one of the earliest hominin constructions ever found.
In February 1990, thanks to a 15-year-old boy named Bruno Kowalsczewski, footsteps echoed through the chambers of Bruniquel Cave for the first time in tens of thousands of years.
The cave sits in France’s scenic Aveyron Valley, but its entrance had long been sealed by an ancient rockslide. Kowalsczewski’s father had detected faint wisps of air emerging from the scree, and the boy spent three years clearing away the rubble. He eventually dug out a tight, thirty-meter-long passage that the thinnest members of the local caving club could squeeze through. They found themselves in a large, roomy corridor. There were animal bones and signs of bear activity, but nothing recent. The floor was pockmarked with pools of water. The walls were punctuated by stalactites (the ones that hang down) and stalagmites (the ones that stick up).
Speculation about how Ramsay Bolton might die reveals the challenges of devising a cathartic TV death—and illuminates a larger issue facing the series.
Warning: Season 6 spoilers abound.
Ever since Ramsay Bolton revealed himself as Westeros’s villain-in-chief, Game of Thrones fans have wanted him dead. He first appeared in season two disguised as a Northern ally sent to help Theon Greyjoy but quickly turned out to be a lunatic whose appetite for cruelty only grew as the series progressed. (Last year, Atlantic readers voted him the actual worst character on television.) After several colorful and nauseating years of rape, torture, murder, and bad visual puns, speculation about the Bolton bastard’s looming death has reached its peak this sixth season. But “Will Ramsay die this season?” also gives way to a slightly more complicated question: “How should Ramsay die?”
What’s harder to believe: that it took a year for Andrea Constand to accuse the star of sexual assault, or that it’s taken 11 years and dozens more women coming forward for those accusations to be heard in court?
To date, more than 50 women have accused Bill Cosby of sexual misconduct. Constand was the first. In January of 2005 she told police that a year earlier, Cosby had touched and penetrated her after drugging her. A prosecutor decided against proceeding with the case, and Constand followed up with a civil suit that resulted in a 2006 settlement. After that came an accelerating drip of women making allegations about incidents spanning a wide swath of Cosby’s career, from Kristina Ruehli (1965) to Chloe Goins (2008).
Narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity—a psychologist investigates how Trump’s extraordinary personality might shape his possible presidency.
In 2006, Donald Trump made plans to purchase the Menie Estate, near Aberdeen, Scotland, aiming to convert the dunes and grassland into a luxury golf resort. He and the estate’s owner, Tom Griffin, sat down to discuss the transaction at the Cock & Bull restaurant. Griffin recalls that Trump was a hard-nosed negotiator, reluctant to give in on even the tiniest details. But, as Michael D’Antonio writes in his recent biography of Trump, Never Enough, Griffin’s most vivid recollection of the evening pertains to the theatrics. It was as if the golden-haired guest sitting across the table were an actor playing a part on the London stage.
“It was Donald Trump playing Donald Trump,” Griffin observed. There was something unreal about it.
Washington voters handed Hillary Clinton a primary win, symbolically reversing the result of the state caucus where Bernie Sanders prevailed.
Washington voters delivered a bit of bad news for Bernie Sanders’s political revolution on Tuesday. Hillary Clinton won the state’s Democratic primary, symbolically reversing the outcome of the state’s Democratic caucus in March where Sanders prevailed as the victor. The primary result won’t count for much since delegates have already been awarded based on the caucus. (Sanders won 74 delegates, while Clinton won only 27.) But Clinton’s victory nevertheless puts Sanders in an awkward position.
Sanders has styled himself as a populist candidate intent on giving a voice to voters in a political system in which, as he describes it, party elites and wealthy special-interest groups exert too much control. As the primary election nears its end, Sanders has railed against Democratic leaders for unfairly intervening in the process, a claim he made in the aftermath of the contentious Nevada Democratic convention earlier this month. He has also criticized superdelegates—elected officials and party leaders who can support whichever candidate they chose—for effectively coronating Clinton.
For toymakers like Lego, where is the line between making products children love and telling kids how they should play?
Two years ago, a 7-year-old girl named Charlotte wrote a letter to the toymaker Lego with a straightforward request.
“I love Legos,” she wrote, “but I don’t like that there are more lego boy people and barely any lego girls.” The girls in the Lego universe, Charlotte had noticed, seemed preoccupied with sitting at home, going to the beach, and shopping—while the boys had jobs, saved people, and went on adventures.
Charlotte, Lego acknowledged, had a point. “It’s fair,” said Michael McNally, a Lego spokesman who says the company receives letters from kids all the time. “Why wouldn’t there be more female representation?”
Years before Charlotte sent her letter, Lego was already keenly focused on how girls perceived the brand. It was 2008 when the toymaker decided to gather global data about who buys Legos. What they found was startling. In the United States, roughly 90 percent of Lego sets being sold were intended for boys. In other words, there was a huge untapped market of girls who weren’t building with Legos.
In recent years, the idea that educators should be teaching kids qualities like grit and self-control has caught on. Successful strategies, though, are hard to come by.
In 2013, for the first time, a majority of public-school students in this country—51 percent, to be precise—fell below the federal government’s low-income cutoff, meaning they were eligible for a free or subsidized school lunch. It was a powerful symbolic moment—an inescapable reminder that the challenge of teaching low-income children has become the central issue in American education.
The truth, as many American teachers know firsthand, is that low-income children can be harder to educate than children from more-comfortable backgrounds. Educators often struggle to motivate them, to calm them down, to connect with them. This doesn’t mean they’re impossible to teach, of course; plenty of kids who grow up in poverty are thriving in the classroom. But two decades of national attention have done little or nothing to close the achievement gap between poor students and their better-off peers.
Whatever banking’s post-recession connotations may be, the historian William Goetzmann argues that monetary innovations have always played a critical role in developing civilization.
The title of the financial historian William Goetzmann’s new book is hard to argue with: Money Changes Everything.
In his book, Goetzmann, a professor of finance and the director of the International Center for Finance at the Yale School of Management, has documented how financial innovations—from the invention of money to capital markets—have always played a critical role in developing every culture around the world. In the fallout from the Great Recession, it’s been commonplace to vilify those working in the financial-services industry. But Goetzmann argues that finance is a worthwhile endeavor, beyond just earning a ton of money: Its innovations have made the growth of human civilization possible.
For centuries, philosophers and theologians have almost unanimously held that civilization as we know it depends on a widespread belief in free will—and that losing this belief could be calamitous. Our codes of ethics, for example, assume that we can freely choose between right and wrong. In the Christian tradition, this is known as “moral liberty”—the capacity to discern and pursue the good, instead of merely being compelled by appetites and desires. The great Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant reaffirmed this link between freedom and goodness. If we are not free to choose, he argued, then it would make no sense to say we ought to choose the path of righteousness.
Today, the assumption of free will runs through every aspect of American politics, from welfare provision to criminal law. It permeates the popular culture and underpins the American dream—the belief that anyone can make something of themselves no matter what their start in life. As Barack Obama wrote in The Audacity of Hope, American “values are rooted in a basic optimism about life and a faith in free will.”
LBJ led crucial legislation in 1965, changing the demographics of the U.S. But it offers a difficult model for future presidents to follow.
Nearly every new American president of the modern era has viewed the nation’s immigration policies as deeply flawed. Yet few of these modern executives have been willing to make immigration reform—one of the most dangerous issues in American politics—central to their agenda. Even fewer have had a measure of success doing so. Even the most dramatic and successful of all—Lyndon Johnson’s landmark 1965 reform—came with high political costs and uneven results. Yet, Johnson’s battle for reform underscores the way immigration policy can be a potent political tool and offers a model for future presidents.
Today, as in the past, efforts to significantly revise U.S. immigration laws and policies have divided even the most unified party coalitions. Campaigns for sweeping reform in this arena have regularly followed a tortured path of false starts, prolonged negotiation, and frustrating stalemate. And when non-incremental reforms have passed, rival goals and interests have complicated enactment. The result has been legislation that is typically unpopular among ordinary citizens and stakeholder groups alike, and which often places new and sometimes competing policy demands on the government. These dynamics—intraparty conflicts, elusive problem definition, difficult compromises, and unpopular outcomes—have typically frustrated most American presidents.