Gadgets


While Violet Towne was waiting at the pharmacist recently, she noticed the above item which she knew would pique my interest. This, Faithful Acowlytes, is ‘The Original AntiSnor Acupressure Ring™’ a little piece of cheap metal that probably costs a fraction of a penny for the material of which it’s made, but reels in a massive $39.95 for its purveyors.(i)

How does it work? Well, I’m glad you asked. According to the AntiSnor website, the ring is worn on the sucker’s user’s little finger ‘to apply pressure to the nerve points to activate the muscles which control upper airway patency to help reduce or prevent snoring’. And, to make it all sciencey and stuff, there’s this diagram that I’ve featured over to the left there. Yup. The red line that runs out of your little finger connects directly to your snore centres. Can’t argue with a diagram.

OK, so let’s firstly assume that acupressure/acupuncture works – which it doesn’t, but hey, just saying it did, what do the interwebs say about acupressure points that relate to snoring? I’ll tell you what they say – they say that the people behind AntiSnor just pulled the above ‘fact’ out of their asses. Aside from direct links to AntiSnor or AntiSnor publicity, there is absolutely no reason to think that there’s an acupressure point for controlling snoring anywhere near the point on your little finger at which the AntiSnor ring applies its pressure. Being very charitable, I will concede that some acupuncture charts show ‘sinus’ points on the tips of the fingers around where the sketch at left terminates its little red line. But if you can employ acupressure on a line drawn from one arbitrarily-chosen place to another on a diagram of the human body, why the fuck are there pressure points? Why don’t acupressure sessions merely consist of fat people sitting on you?

Puzzled by this conundrum, I ventured further into the wilds of the internet woo to see if I could find another diagram to help me out with the Mysteries of Acupressure. Oooh. Here’s one showing the supposed acupressure points in a hand:

Let’s have a closer look at the little finger:

Uh-huh. So if acupressure worked – which it doesn’t, but hey, just accepting for a moment the daft ‘logic’ of millennia-old Chinese hocus pocus, according to the chart the AntiSnor ring might conceivably be affecting your skin (wtf?) or your kidneys or your spleen, but I’m still not getting how it’s linked to snoring.

But I think I know what’s going on. Let me try to explain further via the use of another diagram of acupressure points on the hand.

You see what I did there? That, my friends, is science – am I right? Frighteningly, the people behind the miraculous AntiSnor™ ring can’t make sense of their product even by making shit up.

The AntiSnor website comes replete with the ubiquitous glowing testimonials, of course, but you know what I’m looking for dear Cowpokes, don’t you? That’s right, a science page. And I am full of glee to find that there is one. Well, ‘science’ in the duplicitious and disingenuous manner that we’ve come to know from people like this, anyway. Somewhat smarmily, on this site the page is called Medical Philosophy and we will see why AntiSnor have shied away from using the actual ‘S’ word in a little bit.

The more astute of you will have noticed on the AntiSnor red-line ‘explanatory’ diagram, a little logo with a microscope that says, intriguingly, ‘Clinical Trial 2012′. Violet Towne spied this same boast on the packaging, but with the rider: ‘European clinical trial. Details inside’. She was, unfortunately, unable to see these details as an obvious manufacturing error has rendered the AntiSnor boxes sealed shut with security stickers. Oh noes! Well, it has to be a mistake. It’s not like they’d want to hide such convincing evidence of efficacy from a potential customer, right? After all, if the sealing of the boxes was intentional, why, they’d have put such important information on the outside!

The ‘Medical Philosophy’ page might give us a clue to what’s inside though, because there’s some wonderful swagger right at the top, which I’ll quote here in full:

CURRENT MEDICAL RESEARCH HAS SHOWN THAT STIMULATION OF THE NERVES THAT ACTIVATE THE MUSCLES THAT SUPPORT THE AIRWAYS … MAY HELP REDUCE SNORING.

Reference: Inspire medical systems. Collaborated with Paul Van de Heyning.M.D.Professor of Otorhinolaryngology and head and neck surgery, and Wilfried De Backer, M.D. professor of Respiratory medicine of the University Hospital, Antwerp.

But wait a bit – the astonishing thing is that this claim does seem to hold a degree of truth! Indeed, Professors Van de Heyning and Doctor De Backer (and others) have a published scientific paper to the effect! Actual science! Only… it doesn’t have fuck-anything to do with acupressure, Chinese meridian lines, little fingers or metal rings. It’s about directly stimulating the nerves in the throat with electricity to cause muscle contractions.

AntiSnor is saying, without even flinching – proudly, even – that ‘Our product is effective because some scientists have shown that a procedure completely unrelated to anything we’re selling – except that it concerns snoring – might possibly(ii) work’.

This, it appears, is the extent of the AntiSnor™ Clinical Trial evidence.(iii) Oh, sorry, I forgot – there’s a picture of a microscope too.

The rest of the ‘Medical Philosophy’ page goes on with a whole lot of waffle that attempts to tie the nerves of the little finger into the picture but makes about as much sense Melissa Rogers explaining quantum mechanics. There are, of course, lots of CAPITAL LETTERS, because, you know, IMPRESSIVE. I was concerned for a moment that they might not get to tell us that the ring is hypo-allergenic. But I need not have worried.(iv)

The sneaky tricksy nature of this site intrigued me somewhat, though, so I wondered what else I could find out about AntiSnor and why they were being so cagey with their language. Well, it didn’t take more than a second to find out that they ‘have form’, as the constabulary puts it. In 2010, Australia’s Competition & Consumer Commission (the ACCC) well and truly bitch-slapped the maker of AntiSnor, ATQOL Pty Ltd, for misleading consumers on the efficacy of their product. In short, ATQOL was compelled to remove claims that their deceitful little gadget ‘had a ‘proven history of successful drug free treatment of snoring’ and was ‘Tested and recommended by a Physician’. As a result of the ruling ATQOL provided the ACCC with court-enforceable undertakings that it would:

• not make absolute representations that the Anti-Snor Ring will stop snoring or relieve sinus problems, restless sleep or insomnia

• not represent that the ring has a ‘proven history of successful drug free treatment of snoring’ unless it has caused clinical trials to be undertaken to prove such a history

• not make any representation that the ring has been tested, approved or recommended by a health professional unless that health professional has undertaken testing in accordance with accepted standards for the design, conduct, records and reporting of clinical trials

• amend the ATQOL website and any current and/or future advertisements or publications to remove the incorrect representations
ensure that all future representations made in the promotion and/or sale of the ring comply with the Act, and

• implement a trade practices law compliance program.

So what do we think, my Crusading Cowmrades? Has ATQOL lived up to their end of the bargain? Are they giving consumers a fair appraisal of the efficacy of their shiny little trinket, or is it time for the ACCC to pay them another little visit…?

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Footnotes:

  1. Or more if you don’t buy it directly from the AntiSnor website. The pharmacist was whacking on a hefty $10 margin. []
  2. The authors of the paper quite clearly state even in the abstract that ‘Further research is needed to evaluate this… as a strategy’ []
  3. I will accept here that there may be different ‘evidence’ hidden away inside that sealed package, that is, through some massive oversight, nowhere mentioned on the AntiSnor website. But I sense that you are already feeling the magnitude of my disbelief. I’m certainly not forking out fifty bucks to prove myself right. []
  4. And I bet it’s hypo-allergenic as in ‘cheap stainless steel’, rather than as in ‘expensive gold’. []

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So at last, my mysterious project is complete.

You saw Laura a couple of days ago as she arrived, straight out of the box. She was not quite as perfect as I would have liked, so the first step involved some surgery…

As did the second step. ‘Trust me Laura,’ I said ‘I’m a doctor’. Well, I’m a Reverend, and that’s as good as, right? I mean, with God the Cow on my side, how can I do wrong? A little release of intracranial pressure…

Ah, that’s better. And now for the pièce de résistance… And Binauralaura (Laura to her friends) is ready to begin to listen…

Binauralaura is my new binaural recording rig. Here begins the edumacation part of this post, so those who came for the titillation can now go watch Fox news and eat donuts.

To start, you should know that when you hear a stereo recording of sound or music – pretty much any recording – it is presented to your ear in a very different way to the way in which you actually hear in reality. There are many reasons for this, but the main one is that most sound recordings, and most music recordings in particular, use a somewhat artificial method to render their stereophonic sonic landscape. In a standard electronically-reproduced stereo domain, the stereo image is created from two point sources – your two hifi speakers, or two headphone speakers – each of which is fed by a discrete channel of recorded sound. All sound in a stereo field is thus contained in two separate, but interconnected, recordings – one for left and one for right. In simple terms, if a sound is only in the left channel, it will appear to come from your left. If it is only in the right channel, it will appear to come from your right. In almost all modern recordings, when an engineer wishes to make a sound feel like it is originating elsewhere in the stereo image – slightly left of centre, for instance – it is made slightly louder in the left channel than it is in the right. To make it appear to be right in front of you – or ‘centre’ as we say – then the volume is made exactly equal for both the left and the right channels. For over half a century, this result has been achieved by ‘panning’ the sound on a mixing console. A panner is simply a control that varies the amount of signal (or loudness) added to each channel.

In the real world, though, our ears don’t judge the position of a sound in space solely by its loudness. Certainly, loudness is one aspect of the mechanism, but there are numerous other factors in play. The principal one is a component of time. If you hear a dog barking somewhere ahead of you, and slightly to the left, one of your ears will be receiving a slightly greater sound pressure (loudness) than the other. But crucially, that same ear will be hearing the sound very slightly before your other ear does. The human brain can, in fact, differentiate time differences smaller than 10 microseconds between your two ears, and it is that ability which allows us to aurally locate objects in space with an accuracy of about 1 degree.(i)(ii) Up until very recently, this time component could not be easily recreated in a studio mixing environment, and since – like most things – the recording process is a trade-off between the achievement of perfection and economic imperative, the old panning paradigm is still alive and well (and dominant) in modern sound mixing facilities. I would make a rough guess that 99.9% of all music and sound you hear is rendered to stereo with crude analogue panning.

Now, some of you may be ahead of me slightly here, and interject: ‘But Reverend, what about a recording made solely with two microphones? There’s no mixing console involved there (so no artificial panning) and the sound of any object off centre to the microphones must arrive at slightly different times for each? Surely that’s preserved in a recording?’

Well, yes indeed. Two separate microphones (or a coincident stereo pair, to use the lingo) will indeed preserve the delay times inherent in the scene being recorded but they still don’t hear the world like our ears do.

The important thing to understand at this point is that when it comes to human hearing, our eardrums – our ‘microphones’ if you like – are only part of the story. There are several other key players in the process, the most important of which is our brain. Our brain and ears work together to ‘hear’ the world, and the way we hear is a lot more complex and clever than you probably ever stopped to think about.

One thing that every one of us knows (because our brain figures it out pretty much as soon as we are born) is that our ears are separated from one another by a head. Everything we experience in the realm of natural hearing is mitigated by this big noggin right in the middle of things. And our brain calculates our aural experience by taking it into account as it forms our sonic picture of the world. Likewise, we are accustomed to hearing our surroundings via two fleshy reflectors that funnel the sound toward the vibrating membranes that actually detect the sound waves. The complicated contours of our ears – the pinnae – don’t simply look like they do for decoration. The whorls and cavities of the ear surface impose certain kinds of characteristics on the sound that reaches them, and these help us with sound localisation, and, to a certain extent, with the perception of fidelity.

Which brings me all the way back to Binauralaura. Laura’s head contains a pair of high fidelity omnidirectional microphones that sit in her ears just at about the place where the outside part of the human ear canal would start.(iii)

Her silicon pinnae are created from a CT scan of real human ears and these and her head create an aural ‘shadow’ which will match, in a generic way, the listening field of most humans.(iv) This means that a recording made with Binauralaura, will sound about as real as an audio recording can sound.(v)

So if binaural recording is so magnificent, why isn’t it used for everything? Well, there is, of course, a catch. The binaural effect can only properly be discerned by wearing headphones. For the binaural image to remain coherent, the sound for one ear must not interfere with the sound for the other. Additionally, in order to avoid a doubling of the head and pinnae shadow (one gained from the recording, and then a second from the listener’s own head and pinnae), the reproduced sound needs to be played back as close to the listener’s ear canal entrance as possible. The most expedient method to do this is via headphones or earbuds.(vi) Wearing headphones to properly hear binaural sound is, in fact, analogous to the requirement to wear glasses to see 3D images (indeed, binaural sound is often described as ‘3D’ or ‘holophonic’ sound).

I’ve had some opportunities to take Laura out for a bit of a test spin, and so far, the results are pretty nice. Here’s a short clip. Remember – wear headphones or earbuds to listen to it. One thing you will immediately notice is the clarity and and detail of the sound space. If your hearing is fair, you may also detect one of the extraordinary features of binaural sound – something you will not hear in a conventional stereophonic recording – and that is the ability to localise sound height. Have a listen now, and see why I went to all the trouble to build Binauralaura.

Download Laura Listens

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Footnotes:

  1. It’s more accurate if the sound is in front of you. As it approaches the extreme sides, the ability to pinpoint its location decreases. []
  2. As an aside, there is a species of fly which is so small that its ears are too close together for its head to have any effect on time delays between them. Instead, it has evolved an entirely different and novel way of localizing sound. The trick it uses (its ears are physically coupled together, allowing it to detect sub-microsecond delays) is currently being explored as a possible microphonic technique. []
  3. Not where the ear drums are – there’s a technical reason for this that I won’t go into here, but there are versions of binaural heads that do place the microphones right at the end of the ear canal. []
  4. It probably has occurred to you that most humans have small differences in the shapes and sizes of their ears. Shouldn’t this mean that one person hears differently to another? Well, yes, that’s right. To make a really convincing binaural recording for yourself, you would ideally put microphones in your own ears, and record with your own pinnae and head shape. Indeed, there are methods for doing this. To me, it does seem rather sonically masturbatory, though… []
  5. There are numerous other impediments to capturing a sound recording that would appear as real as reality. Mostly this has to do with the way our brain constantly interacts with the environment – not just the sound itself – to modify what we hear. And, in fact, what we think we hear is nothing like what we physcially hear. This problem is never really likely to ba addressed with a mechanical recording system. Until we have some kind of direct ‘neural recorder’ you can never really expect to experience a sound recording that is like really hearing something. []
  6. There are ways of achieving a serviceable binaural illusion in stereo speaker systems, but they are expensive, dependent on room acoustics, and require the listener to sit in a ‘sweet’ spot. Needless to say, all this is even less appealing than wearing headphones. []

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This is my new assistant. I am about to augment her for my secret project. Hint: she is not a Roman.

This is what I got in the mail yesterday. I figured that as one gets older, it’s de rigeuer to enhance one’s best assetts with silicone, right?

Heh. Just kidding. I have a project. It should be interesting. I’ll tell you all about it as I go.

I think I may have to invent a new Cow category: Completely Useless Objects Created By Advertisers For No Real Purposes Other Than to Increase the Material Amount of STUPID in the World. Yes, a bit cumbersome, I agree, but how else to best classify the ridiculous object pictured above, which was given to Vermilion and her friend on a recent shopping expedition?

Let me detail its physical description for you: it’s a flat round disc, about six inches across and printed on that pliable magnetized plastic which has no practical reason for existence other than for sticking on fridges. The centre black-coloured circle rotates and has a little triangular window cut in it to allow you to ‘reveal’ portions of the text.

So, by rotating to the ‘Orange’ category we see that the Club Orange chocolate is ‘Made with delicious orange pieces covered in smooth bittersweet Club® dark chocolate’:

Rotating to the left of the orange coloured segment we reveal the helpful advice that you can ‘Unwind with this perfect combo: Delicious Club® Orange complemented with a cup of tea’:

But why? WHYYYYYYYY?

You see how I wrote those identical words down and they gave you exactly the same information? Why do you need a little magnetic wheel with the suggestions hidden away out of sight until you turn it to the right position? Does someone, somewhere, actually think that I’m going to stick this to my fridge in case of frightening emergencies?

My God! I have a bar of Club® Peppermint and I’ve completely blanked on how I should enjoy it. Quick – THE WHEEL!!! (Phew, and can I say how glad I am that this ingeniuous rotation mechanism has cunningly hidden the information from the sight of a casual passer-by! Wouldn’t want the wheel-skillz-challenged knowing how to get the best out of their Club®! Am I right?)

All I can think of when I see ridiculous tsotchkes such as this is that, should I ever be inclined to actually buy Club® chocolate, part of whatever they charge me for a chocolate bar is serving to offset the cost of a useless piece of crap that nobody wants, and the wages of the advertising idiots who came up with it.

And just in case anyone from Club® chocolate should ever read this post, I’ve prepared a wheel of my own – with no unnecessary moving parts – to explain how this all works, and what your advertising agency won’t ever reveal to you:

If you like, I can print it on a magnet so you can stick it on your fridge.

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