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.
The Facebook founder has discussed "community" more than 150 times in public. A close reading reveals his road map for the platform’s future.
There’s a story that Mark Zuckerberg has told dozens of times over the years. Shortly after he’d launched Facebook in February 2004, he went to get pizza with Kang-Xing Jin, a coder friend who would become a Facebook executive, at a place around the corner from his dorm.
In one telling, Zuckerberg says he was thinking, “this is great that we have this community that now people can connect within our little school, but clearly one day, someone is going to build this for the world.”
But there was no reason to expect that this kid and his group of friends would be the people who would build this for the world. “It hadn’t even crossed my mind,” he said in 2013. They were technically gifted, but as Zuckerberg tells it, they had basically no resources or experience at a time when there were already massive technology companies trying to create social networks from MySpace to Microsoft, Google to Yahoo.
Trump’s supporters backed a time-honored American political tradition, disavowing racism while promising to enact a broad agenda of discrimination.
THIRTY YEARS AGO, nearly half of Louisiana voted for a Klansman, and the media struggled to explain why.
It was 1990 and David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, astonished political observers when he came within striking distance of defeating incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator J. Bennett Johnston, earning 43 percent of the vote. If Johnston’s Republican rival hadn’t dropped out of the race and endorsed him at the last minute, the outcome might have been different.
Was it economic anxiety? The Washington Post reported that the state had “a large working class that has suffered through a long recession.” Was it a blow against the state’s hated political establishment? An editorial from United Press International explained, “Louisianans showed the nation by voting for Duke that they were mad as hell and not going to take it any more.” Was it anti-Washington rage? A Loyola University pollster argued, “There were the voters who liked Duke, those who hated J. Bennett Johnston, and those who just wanted to send a message to Washington.”
Released 50 years ago, “I Am the Walrus” is endlessly analyzable, and yet somehow analysis-proof.
“It seems very pretty,” she said when she had finished it, “but it’s rather hard to understand!” (You see she didn’t like to confess, even to herself, that she couldn’t make it out at all.) “Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas—only I don’t exactly know what they are!”
—Alice, upon first reading “Jabberwocky” in Through the Looking-Glass
Inspired nonsense has held me in its spell for as long as I can remember. Growing up in a house full of books, I spent the most time with the ones that were seriously silly. I graduated from Dr. Seuss to The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear, a well-thumbed Dover paperback adorned with Lear’s own absurd pen-and-ink drawings, so you could see just what he meant by the dolomphious duck and her runcible spoon. And I dove deep into The Annotated Alice, Martin Gardner’s illuminating exposition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice books, its margins bursting with side notes that made the curious main text even curiouser.
Full of wit, music, and color, this Día de Muertos–themed tribute to family marks a return to form for the studio.
Well, that’s more like it. As someone who has written at some length about the decline of Pixar Studios since its acquisition by Disney, I am especially pleased to be proven wrong, even if only intermittently. The studio’s latest release, Coco, is one such occasion.
Though Pixar has never acknowledged as much publicly, its cinematic philosophy (and business model) has shifted notably: Where the studio once aspired to excellence with every single picture—Pixar President Ed Catmull wrote an entire book expressing this ideal, Creativity Inc.—it now seems content to roll out a few profitable, hyper-merchandise-friendly sequels for every genuinely original feature it unveils. (To put it another way, the studio has shifted away from “creativity” and toward “inc.”)
The outspoken lawyer-turned-ESPN analyst may be the moral conscience college basketball needs this season, as it grapples with its biggest scandal in decades.
After 22 years as a college-basketball commentator for ESPN, Jay Bilas is now slogging through his busiest November yet. Finding himself far-flung during a monthstacked with tournaments and traveling from Chicago to Maui—with maybe a night to recharge in his Charlotte-area home—is common practice by now. But the addition of the Phil Knight 80, a Thanksgiving tournament in Oregon that commemorates the Nike founder’s 80th birthday, has thrown Bilas’s carefully controlled schedule for a loop. “For me to do 12 games in basically seven days,” Bilas told me by phone last week, “is unprecedented.”
Such is the life of perhaps the most well-regarded and trusted individual in all of college basketball. With his voice honed over the decades into a reassuring timbre, Bilas effectively serves as the sport’s Walter Cronkite—a respected commentator unafraid to speak openly about an American institution beset by a fraught and ongoing debate about amateurism (and whether student-athletes should be paid), as well as a bribery scandal that has mushroomed into its most serious crisis in years. “The NCAA makes its own rules, and their rules are bad,” Bilas said during a panel discussion in Baltimore last month. “That’s been pointed out forever, and so for the people in charge, and specifically the president of the NCAA, to talk about some code of silence in college basketball that people weren’t telling them what was going on—they knew exactly what was going on.”
Can changing the structure of a language improve women’s status in society?
“My homeland is the French language,” author Albert Camus once wrote—and many French people would agree. That’s why any attempt at changing the language is often met with suspicion. So the uproar was almost instantaneous when, this fall, the first-ever school textbook promoting a gender-neutral version of French was released.
It was a victory for a subset ofFrench feminists who had argued that the gendered nature of the language promotes sexist outcomes, and that shifting to a gender-neutral version would improve women’s status in society. Educating the next generation in a gender-inclusive way, they claimed, would yield concrete positive changes, like professional environments that are more welcoming to women.
As America has turned away from searching for extraterrestrial intelligence, China has built the world’s largest radio dish for precisely that purpose.
Last January, theChinese Academy of Sciences invited Liu Cixin, China’s preeminent science-fiction writer, to visit its new state-of-the-art radio dish in the country’s southwest. Almost twice as wide as the dish at America’s Arecibo Observatory, in the Puerto Rican jungle, the new Chinese dish is the largest in the world, if not the universe. Though it is sensitive enough to detect spy satellites even when they’re not broadcasting, its main uses will be scientific, including an unusual one: The dish is Earth’s first flagship observatory custom-built to listen for a message from an extraterrestrial intelligence. If such a sign comes down from the heavens during the next decade, China may well hear it first.
How did Andrew Anglin go from being an antiracist vegan to the alt-right’s most vicious troll and propagandist—and how might he be stopped?
On December 16, 2016, Tanya Gersh answered her phone and heard gunshots. Startled, she hung up. Gersh, a real-estate agent who lives in Whitefish, Montana, assumed it was a prank call. But the phone rang again. More gunshots. Again, she hung up. Another call. This time, she heard a man’s voice: “This is how we can keep the Holocaust alive,” he said. “We can bury you without touching you.”
When Gersh put down the phone, her hands were shaking. She was one of only about 100 Jews in Whitefish and the surrounding Flathead Valley, and she knew there were white nationalists and “sovereign citizens” in the area. But Gersh had lived in Whitefish for more than 20 years, since just after college, and had always considered the scenic ski town an idyllic place. She didn’t even have a key to her house—she’d never felt the need to lock her door. Now that sense of security was about to be shattered.
A mosque attack that killed at least 235 people in Egypt stands out for its ruthlessness, but not for the sinister targeting of the faithful.
The attack on a mosque in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula during Friday prayers appears to be the deadliest in the country’s recent history. State media now puts the death toll at 235. It has surpassed that of the suspected airliner bombing of 2015, when a Russian jet exploded over the Sinai Peninsula in an explosion later claimed by the Islamic State. In that incident, all 224 people onboard died.
State media described a multi-staged assault in which attackers detonated a bomb during Friday prayers, shot people trying to flee, and then shot at ambulances appearing at the scene. The New York Times summarized the significance: “Even by recent standards in Egypt, where militants have blown up Christian worshipers in church pews and gunned down pilgrims in buses, it was an unusually ruthless and deadly assault.”
No one has claimed responsibility for an attack on a mosque in Egypt. But no points should be awarded for guessing that the Islamic State is at fault.
Once death tolls get above 50 or so, they become impossible to process. The attack today on the Rawdah mosque in Bir al-Abed, north Sinai, killed about 235 people, though the death toll is likely to rise by the dozens, with a combination of bombs and light weaponry. The attackers executed survivors and gunned down first responders. Imagine five separate Las Vegas attacks happening all at once from different angles, starting while the victims are at prayer.
No one has claimed responsibility. But no points should be awarded for guessing that the Islamic State is at fault. It has motive and opportunity. Its Sinai province was the site in October 2015 of the downing of Metrojet 9268 out of Sharm al-Sheikh, which killed 224 people, mostly Russian tourists. The local IS affiliate, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has killed Egyptian police and soldiers in north Sinai, mostly around Al-Arish town, at a steady rate for the last three years. Most of these assassinations get no coverage in the western press. But IS propaganda has featured tidy little photo montages of men on motorbikes accosting plainclothes officers, shooting them in the head, and harvesting their ID cards (sometimes blood-smeared) for proof of death.