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.
Thirty-one-year-old Ezra Cohen-Watnick holds the intelligence portfolio on the National Security Council—but almost everything about him is a mystery.
Just 24 days into his tenure as Donald Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn was forced to resign, having reportedly misled Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russian officials. When Flynn departed, the men and women he’d appointed to the National Security Council grew nervous about their own jobs, and with good reason. The new national-security adviser, General H.R. McMaster, promptly began clearing out Flynn’s people, among them Dave Cattler, the deputy assistant to the president for regional affairs, Adam Lovinger, a strategic affairs analyst on loan from the Pentagon, and KT McFarland, Flynn’s deputy, who was eased out with the ambassadorship to Singapore. Even Steve Bannon, among the most powerful people in the White House, was removed from the meetings of the NSC Principal’s Committee, where he had been installed early on in the administration.
Three Atlantic staffers discuss “Stormborn,” the second episode of the seventh season.
Every week for the seventh season of Game of Thrones, three Atlantic staffers will discuss new episodes of the HBO drama. Because no screeners were made available to critics in advance this year, we'll be posting our thoughts in installments.
Biology textbooks tell us that lichens are alliances between two organisms—a fungus and an alga. They are wrong.
In 1995, if you had told Toby Spribille that he’d eventually overthrow a scientific idea that’s been the stuff of textbooks for 150 years, he would have laughed at you. Back then, his life seemed constrained to a very different path. He was raised in a Montana trailer park, and home-schooled by what he now describes as a “fundamentalist cult.” At a young age, he fell in love with science, but had no way of feeding that love. He longed to break away from his roots and get a proper education.
At 19, he got a job at a local forestry service. Within a few years, he had earned enough to leave home. His meager savings and non-existent grades meant that no American university would take him, so Spribille looked to Europe.
This was the first resignation of its kind in France in six decades, but it was enough to remind me how much Americans take healthy civil-military relations for granted. Unlike the French, for example, who have had some terrible episodes between their civilian and military leaders over the years, Americans have never had to disband a parachute infantry regiment because it literally threatened to drop onto the nation’s capital and depose the elected government.
That’s not to say we haven’t had our issues, but aside from Douglas MacArthur’s repeated (and successful) attempts to embarrass himself and his profession, Americans have rarely had to worry about the U.S. military and its leadership as a threat to the Republic.
Many point to unromantic 20-somethings and women’s entry into the workforce, but an overlooked factor is the trouble young men have in finding steady, well-paid jobs.
TOKYO—Japan’s population is shrinking. For the first time since the government started keeping track more than a century ago, there were fewer than 1 million births last year, as the country’s population fell by more than 300,000 people. The blame has long been put on Japan’s young people, who are accused of not having enough sex, and on women, who, the narrative goes, put their careers before thoughts of getting married and having a family.
But there’s another, simpler explanation for the country’s low birth rate, one that has implications for the U.S.: Japan’s birth rate may be falling because there are fewer good opportunities for young people, and especially men, in the country’s economy. In a country where men are still widely expected to be breadwinners and support families, a lack of good jobs may be creating a class of men who don’t marry and have children because they—and their potential partners—know they can’t afford to.
The party is promising “A Better Deal.” Will voters be convinced?
Six months after Donald Trump’s inauguration, Democrats in Congress are ready to adopt a populist economic agenda that blends ideas long entrenched in the liberal mainstream, like infrastructure investment, with promises that have not been a focus of the Democratic Party in recent years such as a pledge to rein in the power of corporate monopolies.
Locked out of power in Washington, Democrats lack the ability to implement the agenda, which will be sold to voters under the tagline “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future.” But party leaders plan to pitch it as a preview of what they would do if Democrats win back Congress. The economic platform is aimed at bridging ideological and demographic divides in the party, and Democrats hope it will have widespread appeal, in rural and urban areas, and with centrist, moderate, and progressive voters alike.
To influence U.S. politics, foreign governments don’t have to hack one party and collude with the other.
Russia’s apparent interference in the U.S. presidential election is a big story, but it’s part of an even bigger one: the ease with which foreign actors can insert themselves into the democratic process these days, and the difficulty of determining how to minimize that meddling.
Witness the disagreement in recent weeks among leaders of the U.S. Federal Election Commission. Democratic Commissioner Ellen Weintraub has urged the regulatory agency to plug the types of “legal or procedural holes” that enabled Russia to pose “an unprecedented threat to the very foundations of our American political community,” while her Republican colleagues have resisted her proposed fixes. “There are many historical examples of overreaction to foreign threats in American politics,” the Republican Commissioner Lee Goodman observed. Just because a foreign government attempted to mess with American democracy in 2016 doesn’t mean all foreign involvement in U.S. politics is nefarious—or worth shutting down.
President Trump’s son-in-law is expected to tell the Senate Intelligence Committee that he “did not collude” with Russia.
Updated at 12:26 p.m. ET
Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, told the Senate Intelligence Committee Monday that he took part in four meetings with Russian officials and insisted he “did not collude” with any foreign government.
Kushner’s remarks were released early Monday ahead of his closed-door appearance before congressional investigators on the Senate panel and they provide an important insight into the workings of the Trump campaign in the days leading up to the 2016 presidential election, as well as the kinds of contacts Trump’s aides had during the period.
“I did not collude, nor know of anyone else in the campaign who colluded, with any foreign government,” Kushner said in his prepared remarks. “I had no improper contacts.”
Why some progressives are minimizing Russia’s election meddling
When it comes to possible collusion with Russia, Donald Trump’s most interesting defenders don’t reside on the political right. They reside on the political left.
Sean Hannity and Newt Gingrich aren’t defending a principle. They’re defending a patron. Until recently they were ultra-hawks. Now, to downplay Russia’s meddling in the 2016 elections, they sound like ultra-doves. All that matters is supporting their ally in the White House.
For left-wing defenders like Max Blumenthal and Glenn Greenwald, by contrast, ideology is king. Blumenthal and Greenwald loathe Trump. But they loathe hawkish foreign policy more. So they minimize Russia’s election meddling to oppose what they see as a new Cold War.