Gadgets


In the last post, we discovered – to our significant bafflement – that the magical CieAura has ShooTag‘s Melissa Rogers as its Chief Science Officer. Today we’re going to look at some of CieAura’s claims, and indeed, dwell a little on the ‘science’ that this wonderful gadget is supposed to use.

I will make it super clear here – since the ShooTag people seemed to have a lot of trouble with this concept – that the science part of this whole swindle is my major concern. If the claim of this device was that its working mechanism is magic, then I’d not be interested in trying to approach such a claim via a rational process. That’s a zero sum game. But the appointment of a ‘Science Officer’ clearly nails CieAura’s pretensions to the mast. In my book, spectacular scientific claims must offer spectacular and unassailable proof.

Before we go on, I have a confession to make – I realised this morning that I’ve actually examined CieAura in the past. In the comments on this post, Brian J visits the Cow to tell us about his experience with them. He found his way here because CieAura was even mentioned in the same context as ShooTag! But I completely forgot about it. In my defense, there are just so many of these damn scams that one tends to be very much like another and I truly forget which I’ve looked at. At that time (June 2011), CieAura was probably just getting its market penetration. Brian J’s story is an interesting one, and if you have the time, I recommend you read the discussion between him and myself. It’s very enlightening in regard to what we’ll go on to examine in this post, and the next.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. First I’ll give you a little breakdown of the product. CieAura manifests as not one, but eight different modalities. The website contends that it will help you with pain, sleep, fatigue, allergies, libido and weight loss, protect you from EMF and enhance your sporting prowess. CieAura comes in the form of holographic ‘chips’ that you attach to your skin with skin-coloured tape. This is what they look like:

The image is of a pyramid, in case you can’t see it. Pay special attention to that, because we’ll revisit the concept later.

Now I will point out here that it is frighteningly cheap to make a hologram of the kind you see here. A hologram is nothing more than an array of tiny little refraction scratches in the surface of thin plastic. There is nothing special about this process. Billions of these holograms are manufactured every year and they are made as simply as you might print a document on your home computer.

A ten second search gave me hundreds of options for getting sheets of holograms printed (mainly in China) for as little as 0.01 cents per piece (a piece usually consisting of one sheet of ten or twenty), and I bet you could even do better with a trade order. A single sheet of 10 CieAura holographic stickers will cost you 35 dollars. This is an absolutely astonishing manufacturing-to-sales profit ratio of 3500%.

The CieAura chips are supposed to be efficacious for 2-3 days. So, in the main, one packet of CieAura stickers is going to last you no more than a few weeks, and in all probability, customers are encouraged to buy multiple packs. You can see quite clearly that if these things are actually being purchased, this is a goldmine.(i) It’s fairly difficult to get a good metric for the purchase success of CieAura. The web turns up many testimonials, but that’s vague endorsement. We can probably assume moderate sales success, which, due to the profit ratio, is no doubt a significant revenue. But that’s only a small facet of the money machine that is CieAura, as we will see in a bit.

In any case, today we’re looking at the science claims of CieAura, so we’ll leave the business aspects for the moment and have a little gander at how this wonderful product is supposed to work.

I’m not going to quote the text from the CieAura ‘Science’ page in its entirety, because, to be honest, it’s just plain gobbledegook (similar to what we saw in the ShooTag ‘science’ claims). You can go read it if you want, it’s here. To me it seems like this:

“CieAura does magical and amazing things that will make your life better. We here at CieAura don’t really understand the way the world works, and we don’t think you do either. Ancient peoples used magic and so we thought that if we took magic, and added pretendy science words to it, you might believe it’s not magic. We’d convince you it works by saying something like this: imagine something irrelevant in the real world. Now imagine your body is like that thing. CieAura magically makes that irrelevant thing relevant to your body, and fixes whatever problem you want by making magic equivalence. Oh, and by the way, Energy.”

Elsewhere on the CieAura site, we get references to lasers, quantum fields and more energy. Proper science is referred to as ‘orthodox science’, but is used to attempt to leverage some CieAura credibility despite the condescension. Perhaps the most peculiar thing of all is this:

NOTE: It is often misconstrued that frequencies and vibrations are the basis for the CieAura Chip design. To clarify: It has been determined that frequencies and/or vibrations are not the rudimentary cause of brain and body communication. Research has shown that frequencies and vibrations are an energy force that can be measured, and when absorbed by the body, appear to create certain effects. We have found that when the frequencies and vibrations are removed from the body, there remains, what is referred to as, intrinsic energies, which operate as the body’s natural communication force. These “intrinsic energies” are not measurable in the same manner as frequencies and vibrations are measurable, and because of this, we use the body’s natural forces to antidotally determine the existence of these forces. For these reasons, we consider it factually incorrect to describe the results of our technology to be driven by frequencies or vibrations.

Any further discussion on how the chips work would reveal proprietary production technologies.

So after all Melissa Rogers’ previous huffing and puffing about ‘frequencies’ in her attempted scientific explanations of ShooTag, it appears she’s gone cold on that particular concept. Or maybe ShooTag works on frequencies and CieAura works on not-frequencies. From the above explanation, it’s completely impossible to figure out how it does work, and this paragraph sounds to me like this:

“Magic, frequencies, magic, magic, bullshit, waffle, waffle, magic, bullshit and oh, we can’t tell you how it really works because secrets.”

Another berserk thing that we discover from the CieAura pages, is that the holographic magic of CieAura is happily riding along on the coattails of another dubious area of medical pseudoscience – acupuncture.

Traditional Chinese Medicine is an energy medicine. Acupuncturists dating back 3000 years also employed these energetic principles of positive and negative or yin and yang with the neutral center energy of mind being the way of the Tao… The manufacturer of CieAura Transparent Holographic Chips has discovered a way to adhesively charge intrinsic energies into holograms for the purpose of influencing the human cycle. Our Chips influence key points to create the desired effect. The natural meridians in our body get out of balance and cause blockages in the natural energy flow between the vital organs, cells and tissues of the body. The body works to connect these energy flows; however, without help, there is rarely if ever a balance in our body that keeps energy, concentration, stamina, and plus and minus (Yin and Yang) at the optimum level.

So what we have here, in essence, is a highly questionable modality of ancient folk medical treatment being influenced by an unspecified and quite unknown mechanism of physical science to return an outcome that the manufacturers – in their own words – explicitly do not guarantee (we’ll examine this situation in the next instalment). Would you spend 35 bucks on that? I’d rather go to a movie and have a choc top.

In short, there is no science here. Once again we find Melissa Rogers throwing around all kinds of sciencey sounding stuff in order to give CieAura a patina of credibility, but wholly failing to make any sense whatsoever, and certainly not putting forward any rational explanation as to why CieAura is anything but a flimsy piece of plastic film with a picture etched onto it. It is significant to note here that these kinds of claims and techniques were specifically responsible for the comprehensive banning of Power Balance bands here in Australia. The manufacturers of Power Balance, which also “used holographic technology” to “resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body”, admitted that the claims they made for their product were baseless, and they were compelled cease trading in Australia and to refund the purchase price of a Power Balance band to all customers who requested it.

Finally, today, we’ll take a look at a YouTube clip:

I don’t know the bona fides of the chap doing the demonstration here, but this is the hoary old ‘balance’ test, which, despite the guy’s claims of it ‘not being a trick’, is exactly that, and has been shown to be such so many times that it’s amazing that anyone still falls for it.(ii) Here’s exactly how it’s done, and how the purveyors of the million dollar Power Balance scam were toppled:

In the next post we’ll go on to take a look at CieAura’s business practices, and some amusing legal stuff. Join me, won’t you?

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Footnotes:

  1. Of course, the assertion that some aspect of the holograms ‘wear out’ is abject nonsense, and in this respect we see a departure from the mechanism of ShooTag, which, although it was still nonsense, at least retains faint plausibility in the notion of the product efficacy being limited over time by wear and tear. Perplexingly, elsewhere on the CieAura site we find this: “Formulas cannot be changed unless bent or cut. Data on a hologram lasts over 50 years, so shelf life of CieAura products is almost unlimited.” So what is it, exactly, that limits the efficacy of CieAura holograms to two days? []
  2. It has been charitably said that the people who carry out these demonstrations may not be consciously affecting the outcome, but I have trouble believing that. Do the experiment yourself, and see if you can do it without knowing you’re doing it… []

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So anyway, the other day I just happened to think that it had been far too long a time since I visited our old friends at ShooTag, so I took a little stroll over to their site. Yeah, pretty much same ol’ same ol’. The name (and by implication, the endorsement) of Texas State University has mysteriously reappeared on their front page again, after they were explicitly directed to take it off by said university (on account of… well, no delicate way to put this: they were lying about Texus U’s involvement in the supposed scientific tests of their product), but it hardly surprises me. That’s what dishonest people do. The site itself is looking spectacularly crappy – dead links, crummy nav, appalling layout. And it looks like it’s been comprehensively shat upon by the Bad Advertising Bird. Evidently not much effort or money going into that particular enterprise these days.

I did notice that they are sporting some ‘Camouflage’ style ShooTags now, ostensibly for dogs and people who are bothered by mosquitoes when hunting.

“NEW: STAY INVISIBLE WHEN HUNTING WITH THESE NEW CAMO TAGS!” they scream in caps, and given the outrageousness of previous ShooTag claims, one might be forgiven for thinking they’re now offering some kind of Harry Potteresque invisibility mechanism for their gadgets. But I suppose we should give them the benefit of the doubt and take it that they mean ‘invisible to mosquitoes’. I’m a charitable kind of person when it comes to metaphor.

The thing that caught my attention, though, was a small, nondescript link that appears twice on the home page:

3000 years of science! OK, so that’s gonna be good. Clicking the link takes us to a very different experience indeed. CieAura®’s site is way more moneyed-up than ShooTag’s sorry presence. Images of good-looking happy smiling people by the seaside tell me that:

“CieAura has introduced a series of holographic chips that communicate with the body to help promote proper balance in several areas of interest to all human beings: deeper rest, energy, allergies, libido, relief from discomfort and weight management.”

Cool. Holographic chips that communicate with the body! Like Star Trek! Or something. Well, you can’t just make something like that up, right? You’d need some science. Hey, they have a video! Let’s have a look at that to see if there’s any enlightenment to be had. I’ll wait while you do that. You only need to watch the first forty or fifty seconds. I promise that anyone who’s been a Cow reader for a while is going to get a really big surprise around the 31 second mark. Trust me, it’s worth it.

A personage called Paul Rogers (hmm… familiar sounding surname…) tells us that CieAura has ‘introduced a line of holographic chips to the world’. Well, he’s certainly peddling a line, that’s for sure. These miraculous chips have been developed for CieAura by their chief scientist – it’s about here that I choked on my Manhattan – Melissa Rogers. Oh, how many pennies just dropped then? Paul Rogers, the link from ShooTag and the suspicious lack of product activity from them over the last few years…

Let’s have a little recap of the scientific credentials of Melissa Rogers, Chief Scientist of CieAura®, who has been designing these chips for the last sixteen years (moonlighting from her deep thought on ShooTag, one supposes):

Ms Rogers first tangled with the Cow back in 2009, where she called me ‘ignorant’ for not being ‘disaplined [sic] in physics and quantum physics’ and attempted – but failed comprehensively – to impress me with her scientific knowledge of radio frequencies, fractals and crystals (some things I actually do happen to know quite a lot about). At around that time she left a comment on another blog in reference to ‘Einstein’s famous equation, E=M¾’, completely duffing probably the most well-known physics formula in the world, and one that even third graders get right. Over the next months, she went on to assert that mobile phones use radio frequencies (they don’t), that she understands the work of physicist Geoffrey West at the Santa Fe Institute (she doesn’t) and that she knows how to properly conduct a science experiment (not a clue).

Ms Rogers also has clear links to Professor William Nelson (aka Desiré Dubounet) who, in the late 1980s was indicted by the FDA on numerous charges of fraud, all related to medical ‘energy’ devices. Rather than face these charges Nelson illegally left the US in 1996 to hide in Hungary, where he/she currently resides, and still manufactures and sells his machines. I can’t say if Mr and Ms Rogers have any current affiliations with Nelson/Dubounet, but Melissa Rogers certainly did in 2009 – well within her supposed sixteen years’ development period for CieAura – when she spoke at Nelson’s annual QX Conference (a ‘medical energy’ seminar) in Budapest.

We can also find a bio for Melissa Rogers on the site:

Melissa uses small signal technology(i) and uniquely combines it with advanced science to develop products that help balance the body’s intrinsic energies. After successfully launching over 12 products into the retail mass market, she joined the CieAura team in July of 2012. Some of her products have won prestigious awards and have been University tested with high efficacy evaluations. Her products are designed to assist the body in balancing the energy in the body, thus helping reduce stress in the body. Melissa believes; reducing stress in the body will help reduce stress in everyday life.

“Some of her products have won prestigious awards and have been University tested with high efficacy evaluations.”

I’d love to know what those products are – ShooTag is quite obviously not one of them, since it’s never been university tested. There’s no mention of what Ms Rogers’ ‘prestigious awards’ actually were, which is kind of peculiar. Most people are very eager to show you their Oscar. I’m also quite curious about the extent of Ms Rogers’ ‘advanced science’, as she’s not demonstrated it anywhere that I’ve ever seen.

That CieAura has appointed this person as their ‘Chief Science Officer’(ii) speaks volumes about the kind of product that they’re selling, and we’ll examine that product in the next post.

I just know you’ll stay tuned.

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Footnotes:

  1. Ms Rogers has quite obviously picked up the ‘small signal technology’ buzzwords from her association with Rainer Fink who she implicates in the ShooTag experiments. []
  2. The implication it carries – that there are a bunch of other ‘science officers’ – is frightening, given the qualifications of their chief. []

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Did you like that headline, dear Cowmrades? Did it make you chuckle just a little? I must say, it amused me for a brief second or two. It has very little to do with anything much except for the fact that it concerns wine, and is a ridiculous joke – much like our subject of discussion this morning: The Premium Wine Card.

Now, if you’re of similar mindset to myself, the first thing you think when you hear someone talking about a ‘Premium Wine Card’ is that it’s going to be one of those reward schemes for buying wine, amiright? You know the kind of thing – you buy a dozen bottles and because you’re a Premium Wine Card holder, you get a 13th bottle free (or something along those lines). Well, I’m not a big fan of loyalty schemes as you know, but hey, if that kind of thing floats your boat, go for it. It’s scamming by any other name, but at least it’s relatively harmless.

But oh no, the Premium Wine Card is not one of those things. The Premium Wine Card – let’s call it the PWC, since we’ll be referring to it a lot – is to wine as ShooTag is to pest control. In other words, it’s a useless gew-gaw promising miraculous results that defy any known scientific principles and is aimed solely at relieving credulous people of their cash.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work: you take your PWC, and as you pour the wine, you hold the card touching the bottom of the glass. Leave the glass for thirty seconds (what that’s all about is, like everything else in this brainless enterprise, never explained) and that’s it, sports fans. The job is now done. Your five dollar bottle of plonk is now the spitting duplicate of a Domaine Jean-Louis Chave Ermitage Cuvee Cathelin.

Not that the PWC vendors would ever claim something quite so concrete, of course. Oh, no. In the kind of evasive double-speak we’ve come to expect from these kinds of swindlers, the purveyors of the PWC claim that:

•It is “A World first in technology to treat young wine and improve its taste instantly”

“…the Premium Wine Card has a positive effect on the tannins in the wine, causing them to quickly soften as if the wine had been further aged for a number of years.”

“…wine treated with the card has a fruitier aroma and a smoother, richer flavour with the mellower, softer finish that is typical of a premium cellared wine.”

Amazing! And exactly how is this miracle achieved? Well, I’ll tell you, Faithful Acowlytes: with frequencies. Golly those frequencies are versatile. With ShooTag we learnt how they repelled ticks and fleas, and now they’ve been rounded up to make wine taste better. Incroyable!

To be specific (well, as specific as meaningless mumbo jumbo can possibly be):

“The Premium Wine Card contains an embedded set of precise frequencies that produce a long-lasting natural resonance. The resonance can be transferred to wine through the wine glass.”

I’d like you to read that sentence once more through, because that is the sum total of explanatory information for the PWC’s method of action under the Technology heading on the PWC site’s How It Works page. I kid you not. Unlike the ShooTaggers, these people don’t even make the barest half-assed attempt at science. It’s all encapsulated solely in the words ‘frequencies’ and ‘resonance’. There’s not even a hint of what kind of mechanism in the card – if any – might be responsible for generating these frequencies or causing this resonance. I have my suspicions that there is exactly no mechanism at all, but I’m certainly not paying 75 bucks to find out.

The comprehensive (and laugh a minute) FAQ on the site has this clanger:

Q: Does It Make Every Wine Taste Better?
A: For most people yes!

Whoa there bartender! Most people? Did I get the aroma of subjectivity there for a brief second? Do you mean that this might not work for everyone…??? But it’s science, right, with all those frequencies & all? What if I’m not most people? What if I’m a smart person who doesn’t fall for nonsensical horse shit?

Oh I see! There’s a money back guarantee! I’m almost tempted to outlay my $75 in the name of science, but I have a sneaking suspicion that getting my money back might not be quite as straightforward as the website promise makes it appear.

Of course, the PWC site is replete with that obligatory signature of snake-oil vendors, the Testimonial. I’m inclined to believe that, unlike most of these scams, the testimonials are actually real. Mostly because they are, by and large, really terrible endorsements.

I didn’t think it would work but after rubbing the Premium Wine Card on my bottle, the beer tasted better. ~Paul Macaione, Cornubia

Crikey Paul. Don’t go overboard.

Oh, and I’m sure you noticed that Paul is talking about beer, here. Yes, quite astonishingly, the PWC does work on beer too. And on coffee and tea. And on fruit juice. Despite the fact that the only supposed mechanism of efficacy given anywhere on the website has to do with ‘softening tannins’ (and as far as I’m aware, there is not, and nor has there ever been, a market for aged fruit juice).

Choice magazine does have an online review of the Premium Wine Card. I’m afraid their assessment is rather more namby pamby than it should be, stopping well short of calling out the whole thing as a scam. They conclude, rather lamely in my opinion, that:

…if it can’t change the chemical properties of wine, it just might affect your brain chemistry – the placebo effect is a very powerful thing!

Which, aside from verging on being an actual endorsement of the fraud in question, perpetuates the erroneous notion of what the Placebo Effect actually is.

As we’ve seen previously on The Cow, there’s a veritable wagonload of woo in the wine-tasting business. We’ve had wine quality affected by magnets, by astrology, and even by the direction you swirl your wine in the glass. Needless to say, when this highly subjective process is subjected to any kind of rigorous testing, the miraculous effects fade away.

But in light of all this, my loyal Cowpokes, and mindful of the old if-you-can’t-beat-‘em-join-‘em aphorism, I have good news for you! I’m about to save you 75 bucks with the introduction of… the Premium Cow Card.

What’s more, dear friends, you don’t even need to send off for the card. You can have it working within minutes! Simply print out a copy of the PCC on your printer and take it with you wherever you go. When used correctly, it will make your wine/beer/absinthe/steak/french-fries/haggis taste betterer than better. As you know, all TCA products are powered by our unique FeelyGood™ technology, and come with a ONE HUNDRED PERCENT MONEYBACK GUARANTEE.

“I can’t believe it! I applied the Premium Cow Card to my brain and now it’s operating at a full 20%! Seaworld has just given me an employment offer!!!” ~Hattie Bucksfizz, Marulan South.

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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