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. ((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.)) ((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.)) 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. ((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.))

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. ((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…)) This means that a recording made with Binauralaura, will sound about as real as an audio recording can sound. ((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.))

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. ((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.)) 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

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

What do you get, Faithful Acowlytes, if you take one big frakking Pile of Stupid, and then multiply it by another big frakking Pile of Stupid? Give up? You get this article (kindly pointed out to me by dinahmow) called ‘Trituration Proving of the Light of Saturn’ on a website named Interhomeopathy. Or, to speak technically for a moment, you get a Great Mountain of Steaming Horseshit. What we’re talking here Cowpokes, is astrology meets homeopathy.

I know you just can’t wait.

In brief, the ‘Trituration Proving of the Light of Saturn’, provides a detailed account of a group of people chopping up lactose powder that has been exposed, via a telescope, to the light of Saturn, and then attempting to discover the ‘homeopathic effects’ of the substance so prepared.

Yes, you read that correctly.

The method employed to gather this data involves the process of homeopathic ‘proving’. In case you don’t know what that is (and why would you, really?), it involves a bunch of volunteers dosing up on the material in question and then writing down any and all kinds of shit that occurs to them. By processes unfathomable, that shit is then distilled into less shit, and whatever that shit is, the homeopathic remedy is the opposite of it. Got that? No? Well, I can’t say as I blame you, but there it is.

What we have here, in essence, is an outpouring of inebriated hogwash so profound as to make the documentation of Special One Drop Liquid look like Einstein’s ruminations on the Photoelectric Effect. Only I fear that unlike the SODL proprietor, the people behind TPLS could not be technically labelled clinically insane. Frighteningly enough.

To give you a flavour, from the convenor’s notes:

The trituration process began with lots of giggling and silliness; and throughout there was talk of getting high, stories about getting high. Senses were distorted. ((This is probably the most accurate assessment in the whole debacle.)) One prover kept seeing smoke rise from the milk sugar as she ground and scraped.

And to think some people say there’s no science in homeopathy!

The conversation kept circling back to pizza: “Any food in the universe can be better with cheese… One prover demonstrated a seductive way of eating a sandwich.”

Oh, to have been a fly on the wall.

The timekeeper had tremendous difficulty keeping track of the time for the grinding and scraping of the remedy throughout the entire process.

Yeah, I can see how this would be challenging. I’m experiencing something of a time-dilation effect just trying to follow it all.

Head pain over eyes. Sharp pain right temple. Pressive pain right temple.
Head ache over left eye.

I’m with you, provers! I’m getting a head pain just reading about it. That shit sure is powerful.

The female provers especially experienced a great deal of itchiness: Head, nose, eyes itchy. Head itchy. Back itchy, breasts itchy, thighs. Waves of itchiness in various parts of body, especially head.

YES! YES! I too have an itchy head. Right inside my head, where my brain is, specifically the part of the brain that tries to understand how a group of evolved hominids can be so mind-numbingly daft. It’s so itchy I want to stick a knitting needle through my eye cavity in an effort to scratch it.

And on, and on, and on it goes, in an elliptic waffle of hippie noodling that just makes me sad that these people were snorting the fumes of lactose rather than inhaling the spores of some kind of exotic fungus. From all this, it is concluded, somehow, that the Saturn-exposed milk sugar…

…might be effective for accident-related trauma, bone and nerve damage.

Yes, that’s right. Not that it might cure itching, or inhibit cheese cravings, or headaches or giggling, but that it might be effective for accident-related trauma. How they reached that conclusion, I have no fucking idea. It’s simply boggling that anybody can think there’s actual medical value in this whole process.

I know you’ll be right there with me, loyal Cowmrades, when we tune in next week for the next instalment of this astonishing adventure: Beneficial Effects of the Light from Uranus on Unicorn Rainbow Powder.

Please, someone wake me up.

The BBC reports this week that soon we won’t need to build robots any longer. Instead we can simply print them. Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University and the University of Pennsylvania have attracted a 10 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to help them realise a printable robot, a concept which would mean robots could be beamed directly into your home via the internet and assembled in your lounge room.

Well, we all know how that’s likely to turn out, right?

Of course, it’s not something that’s likely to happen overnight – unless you have the resources of the Tetherd Cow Ahead Laboratories behind you. When I ran the idea past the boffins downstairs they were of the considered opinion that achieving a printable robot would be a doddle, and true to their word, this morning they had one all ready to go. And let me tell you, there was no $10 million dollar grant involved.

It is therefore, my dear Acowlytes, my pleasure to present for your technological delectation, the Tetherd Cow Ahead Printable Robot:

Just click on the pic above and a printer friendly pdf will appear. Print it on a piece of card, cut it out, and you’re well ahead of those lamers from MIT and Harvard. All that remains is for you to find some useful jobs for your robot to undertake. I have provided a few suggestions to set you on your way to the new Printable Robot Future!

The possibilities are literally infinite! (BTW – anyone from MIT or one of those other thinktanks reading: we are prepared to make our technology available at a suitable price. Don’t feel embarrassed that we beat you to the draw – we have some pretty sophisticated tech at work down here.)

It appears that, no matter how many times perpetual motion (or ‘free’ energy) machines are wheeled out, exposed and taken back in shame to the sheds where they were nailed together, there will always be another one waiting in the wings. And usually, another one that claims to use exactly the same discredited working principles of every one that’s come before it – invariably involving magnets. Here on The Cow, we’ve waited several years for those Irish spruikers over at Steorn to show us their wonderful machine, which, in the grand vision of their marketing manager, will mean that you need never put your phone on charge again. ((There’s nothing quite like thinking big.))

We’re still waiting.

In the meantime, this morning I bring you a website that offers to sell you plans to build your own free energy machine which its purveyors say will provide you with limitless free energy! It wasn’t easy for them but they…

…finally succeeded in creating a website which offers the Do-It-Yourself instructions for building such a device

God, tell me about it. Creating a website is such a fucking bitch!

Anyway, the site that they finally succeeded in creating is called Magniwork. The Magniwork logo, subtitled The Energy of Tomorrow in Your Home Today!, features, as the ‘i’ in Magniwork, an energy-efficient light globe.

Yeah, now see, the absolute irony of this is that if you have a machine that produces endless clean energy as the website claims, you don’t need to worry about energy-efficient appliances. It surely doesn’t matter. In fact, what your logo should really be offering is the kind of electrical abundance favoured by vendors of electricity at the fin de siecle ((The 19th C fin, that is.))

That’s better! The promise of SQUILLIONS of volts carelessly squandered.

OK. Tell me about how I can have my own free energy machine Magniwork! I’m eager to cast off the shackles of dirty coal and even dirtier uranium!

Using our easy-to-follow guide, you will be able create a Magnetic Power Generator which creates absolutely free energy, and doesn’t require any resource like wind or solar energy to function. The magniwork generator creates energy by itself and powers your home for free. The generator works fully off the grid. ((An ambiguously worded claim if ever I read one. Works fully off the grid? As in, it works fully powered by the grid? No? Oh, you meant it works independently of the grid! I see!)) Take a look at the following diagram to get an idea of how it works:

Whoa. That’s a little technical, so for the laypeople, let me just try and give you an easy-to-understand explanation of what’s going on.

First, the Power Source (1) feeds into the thingamabob (2). This in turn is fed to the gadget with numbers (3) and the battery (4). Of course this requires a whoosamacallit (5) to transfer back and forth between the doodah (6), the whatsit (7) and the gismo (9), with additional input from the red doohickey (8). COMPLETELY FREE ENERGY is thereby delivered to your house (10). So, did that give you an idea of how it works? Yes! That’s right, it is completely powered by FLIM-FLAM! Genius.

This method has been researched for a long time, but due to suppression of this idea from the big corporations, the plans for building a free energy generator which could change the world have never been out on the open.

Ah. The ‘big corporations’. Yes, I can see how the ‘big corporation’s would be quaking in their boots after seeing ‘the method’ laid so daringly bare in that diagram. ((The ‘big corporations are hiding it from us’ plea is a sure marker of pseudoscientific thinking. People: big corporations can be greedy and self-serving, sure. Evil, even. But one thing they are not is stupid. Any ‘big corporation’ in the world would give their metaphorical first child for this kind of technology if it worked. Think about it, Mr Free Energy Machine Inventor: a ‘big corporation’ could take your machine, make vast powerplants with it, and sell the power to consumers at ridiculously under-cutting prices, thereby doing the one thing that all ‘big corporations’ love to do most – put all the other ‘big corporations’ out of business. The assertion that they would take this idea and suppress it is nonsense of the highest order.))

The Magniwork website offers, as an endorsement of its wares, a Sky News video featuring Queensland free-energy proponents John Christie and Lou Brits, who are known in this arena for their Lutec 1000 generator, a device that has, in the manner of the Steorn ‘Orbo’, consistently failed for over a decade to live up to the hyperbole of its inventors (the failure for the Lutec 1000 to gain traction is, of course, due to the Machiavellian influence of the ‘big corporations’, rather than because of the small technicality that it doesn’t actually work).

Magniwork trots out the same misguided claims that we encounter with Messrs Christie and Brits and all ‘free’ energy technology advocates:

You can eliminate your power bill by 50% or even completely, depending on how you implement the magniwork generator.

Eliminate it by 50%? Um. I think the word ‘eliminate’ is kind of absolute. You can’t partially eliminate something. You’re probably searching for the word ‘reduce’, here. Even so, the 50% saving that Magniwork boasts involves accepting a fatal logical non-sequitur based on the concept of ‘overunity’ energy generation. As a special service to Tetherd Cow Ahead readers (and all people everywhere who like things explained in diagrams) I have created a page here that outlines, in simple terms, the logical flaw inherent in overunity. You don’t even need to understand physics to see how such a scheme must always fail.

The free energy devices have been suppressed by the corporate world because such devices, would allow people to create their own energy for free, which would ultimately shut down the big energy corporations, because people won’t need to pay anymore for electricity to fill their pockets.

It’s an intriguing image, people walking around with pockets full of electricity.

Our easy-to-follow guide will show you how to construct the Magniwork free energy generator, which will run infinitely and create free electric energy. This method has been thoroughly researched, and is currently considered as a possible mean of completely solving the energy crisis.

Only by idiots.

The magniwork free energy generator, can be efficiently used to power your home with almost zero costs on your side. Furthermore, the generator is eco-friendly and doesn’t produce any harmful byproducts.

Well, that’s probably true. Because it doesn’t produce ANYTHING.

We predict that the technology will rapidly spread, and some industry-insiders even predict that the magniwork free energy generators will be the energy in the future. These experts estimate, that by 2020 energy companies will start implementing this technology in order to create cheaper and more environment friendly energy.

OK, well I predict that in 2020 you’ll still be wheeling out the same old crap about your ‘invention’ being suppressed by the ‘big corporations’. Let’s see who’s the better predictor.

The Magniwork free energy generator is safe to use and operate. It doesn’t produce any harmful byproducts or gases, and there isn’t any hazard concerning the generator itself. Even if you have little children, they may freely walk in the close vicinity of the generator.

Although that might not be entirely safe, because they might point out that you’re violating the laws of thermodynamics and thus expose you as a nitwit.

Anyway, it goes on and on like this for a bit, with some testimonials that hold about as much credibility as a Shoo!TAG science experiment, before signing off with another convincing video about the evil plan by ‘the big companies’ to hide this amazing technology from us dumb suckers.

Hahahahaha! Dear Acowlytes! This is where the Magniwork site becomes very special and dear to my heart. The snippets of video featured in this ‘report’ are from a spoof documentary called ‘Conspiracy’ for which I wrote the music! In a fantastic metaphorical echo of the preposterousness of the overunity feedback loop, this ‘meta’ documentary, which was designed as an agglomeration of as many absurd free energy claims as we could stack together in one place (coupled with great Cold War-style black and white propaganda footage) has now come back to life as an endorsement of the the things it was sending up!

Just as overunity energy production pulls itself up with its own bootstraps, it seems that the free energy community is boosting its credentials with parodies of its own credentials! It is to laugh.


Well, that turned out rather more long-winded than I expected. What happened, you see, is that I connected a Magniwork generator to my computer, and before I knew it, I was producing unlimited free energy fuelled postings. In much the same way as the unbelievable claims of the free energy movement, they just go on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and ….


I really love science. No matter how much stuff there is to know, there is always some more to find out, and as we saw in my recent science experiment, even the simplest of ideas can be full of rich and surprising consequences. Today I hope you will join me as we venture into the world of magnetism, electricity and digital information.

Part 1

For this part of the experiment we will need:

•A small amount of fine iron powder or iron oxide
•A magnet
•An old credit card or similar swipe card
•A magnifying glass

You can get some iron powder by filing down an old key (an iron or steel one – brass or aluminium won’t work), or even easier, by finding some iron oxide – commonly known as rust – and scraping it into a small container. You don’t need too much, but it should be as fine as you can make it.

Now, I don’t think you will find it at all surprising that iron oxide is magnetic. If you take a magnet like this:

And hold it near the iron oxide, you will quite quickly see that the magnet attracts it:

The strip on a credit card is also magnetized. Here is one I’ve acquired for our experiment.

I don’t think Gilbert will mind us using his Virgin Frequent Flyer card (he doesn’t travel much anymore, after a clairvoyant told him he was going to die horribly in a plane crash). Gilbert’s card is fairly worn from carrying it around in his wallet, but we should not worry too much. The magnetic strip on a credit card is very robust and has been designed to cope with repeated handling. Although it is possible for the strip to be damaged by a very strong magnetic field, or through many years of wear and tear, the information recorded on it has a usefully long lifespan under most conditions, as I’m sure any of you with credit cards will know.

The strip on Gilbert’s card is actually really just a magnetic field that is recorded in various strengths to reflect a coding system for digital data. It is, in fact, just a magnetic field version of the common barcode with which I am sure you are familiar. The barcode records its data as a series of light and dark stripes, and the information of a swipe card is recorded in pretty much the same way, only with bands of varying magnetism. It follows then, that if we were to sprinkle something made of very fine metal powder, such as our iron oxide, onto the magnetic strip on Gilbert’s card, we would be able to see the particles sticking to the more magnetic parts of the strip.

Let’s try it!

Let’s have a closer look at that with the magnifying glass!

Amazing! The fine particles clearly delineate the data on the card! What we’re seeing here tells us lots about how a credit card works. First of all, you will notice that Gilbert’s card has three horizontal magnetic bands. This is the standard for all swipe cards. In most cases, information is recorded on one, or sometimes two of these bands. The two outside bands are called high density tracks and contain data at 210 bits per inch. If you know anything about computers, you will realise that the term ‘high density’ here is relative: 210 bits per inch, by modern data standards, is pretty damn lousy. To give you some idea, one of these tracks can carry about 79 x 6bit alphanumeric characters. Your credit card would typically have, on track 1, your name, your card number and an expiry date. That’s it. Not much.

The middle strip is called the low density track and is able to carry only 40 x 4bit characters. Often, the data is similar to what is on the first track, typically a repeat of the card or account number, and the expiry date. The third track is recorded at a lower bit rate than track #1 so can carry 107 characters at 4bits each.

The important thing to note here is that a magnetic strip can carry, on all of the three stripes combined, a total of roughly 1000 bits of data. ((1062bits, if you do the sums)) You may be more familiar with that as 1k. That data is encoded to be read as alphanumeric characters, and we’re talking about, at maximum capacity, 226 letters, numbers and punctuation symbols.

That’s about the same amount of information you can send in one single SMS ((SMS messages are encoded in 7bit characters: 160 x 7bits = 1120bits))

Part 2

For this part of the experiment we will need:

•Iron oxide powder (as above)
•A Shoo!Tag™ card

(You’re really glad you stuck with me, now, aren’t you?)

Shoo!Tag™ cards are available from some pet supply places. ((Just an aside here – when I purchased my ShooTags I asked the sales assistant whether they sold many. ‘Nah’, she said ‘They’re rubbish.’)) They are small plastic credit-card style tags that the makers claim use ‘a three dimensional or trivector signature imprinted onto the magnetic field of a three field magnetic memory card to create a protective barrier from pests.’ The Shoo!Tag™ ((I’m fairly certain that they don’t actually have a trademark for Shoo!Tag, but we shall see how that pans out)) vendors don’t explain anywhere how this amazing feat is accomplished.

Here’s one I acquired earlier. It’s supposed to be for keeping ticks off cats:

You’ll notice I’m handling it very carefully. I don’t want to damage any of the fragile ‘electro-hoodjy-goodjy vibes’ that the maker insists accompany this card. This is the packaging in which the Shoo!Tag arrived:

It’s a mylar anti-static bag, which, as you probably know, is designed to protect sensitive electrical components from static charges.

Now, static electricity has next to no effect on magnets. ((Unless we’re talking about lightning, which is a kind of static electricity. But no mylar bag is going to protect your ShooTag if it gets struck by lightning, I can assure you.)) And, as far as I can tell, there are no electrical components of any kind in the ShooTag card. ((Unless they are very very thin – alien technology, maybe? Well, that’s at least as plausible as the cards having any effect!)) What, then, is the purpose of this mylar bag? Has your American Express card ever arrived in the mail in a mylar bag? Does your bank advise you to keep your credit card in a mylar bag when not in use? They do not. Furthermore, you can build up a very decent static charge by scuffing your shoes on the carpet of your lounge room – enough to cause sparks to jump from you hand to a doorknob – but it will not effect the information on any of the credit cards in your wallet.


But perhaps the magnetic strip of a ShooTag isn’t actually magnetic! Maybe it’s some other clever kind of technology that IS affected by static electricity. Surely it couldn’t be plain ol’ garden variety … magnetic data…

I can tell you’re ahead of me. Have you got your iron oxide powder at the ready?

Well look at that. The magnetic strip on a ShooTag is just what you’d expect to find on a standard swipe card – three tracks encoding some data. Just like any ol’ credit card. Or a barcode. Let’s take a closer look at the actual data area of the code:

You can clearly see the actual encoded data – it forms the little segments that stand out in the middle of each of the three tracks. The uniform areas on either side, where there is no variation, are the ‘zero’ bits – null areas where the digital information message says ‘there is nothing here’.

I’ll outline it a little more clearly for you:

By my estimation, the actual area of the the magnetic strip that’s actually encoded with data is about a third of the total area. ((I’m being generous – it’s probably even less)) And, as you can see if you go up to the first ShooTag picture above, this card – the one for cats – is about one third the size of a standard credit card. So the information encoded on a ShooTag for cats is one third of one third of the amount of information on a standard credit card.

That’s one third of one third of the information you can send in an SMS. Roughly 17 characters.

This much:

FLEAS! PISS OFF!! ((The spaces count as characters))

Even if you assume that the digital information is not in the form of words or numerals, the total amount of data is only around 102bits. This, supposedly, is the sum total of the data used by ShooTag’s ‘physics, quantum physics and advanced computer software technology’ ((Verbatim from their ‘Science’ page)) to create the three dimensional electromagnetic field that gives it the awesome power to repel insects. Not only that, but the data also targets different insects according to which kind of card you have. Of course, this may all be explained by ‘the advanced computer software technology’ that the ShooTag creators claim they use, but in that case they are seriously in the wrong business; with data compression routines that impressive, they are trifling with a few dollars made of the back of plastic cards – they could be earning billions in Silicon Valley!

Let’s pause for a second and try and understand what kind of mechanics are supposed to be going on with these things. There is a reason, and only one reason, that information is encoded onto a magnetic strip on a plastic card. It’s a basic, practical and easy-to-understand reason: it’s so that you can swipe it through a card reader. Otherwise – seriously – WHAT IS THE POINT of recording magnetic information in this fashion? What the ShooTag people are asking us to believe is that some kind of magic happens when information is transferred onto a ShooTag magnetic strip that allows it to be scanned by… what?… the Universe? Fleas with miniature EFTPOS machines? God?

On their site the ShooTaggers say that there are ‘frequencies’ embedded in the magnetic strip ((because we can see the data, we have to assume they mean ‘recorded on’ rather than ’embedded in’)) which, using ‘earth energies similar to Schumann Waves’ (a piece of idiocy that we have discussed previously), somehow communicates with the supposed ‘bio-energetic field which surrounds all living things’. ((This is also silly doublespeak undoubtedly inherited from the misunderstandings surrounding Kirlian photography and other similar ‘proofs’ of ‘bio-energy’)) What possible mechanism could allow that? There is nothing known to science that says that a few trivial bits of magnetic data could meaningfully influence anything other a purpose-built magnetic card scanner (or some iron oxide particles, I guess). It’s nonsense of a truly breathtaking magnitude.

You will recall that I mentioned that I received 2 cards in my ShooTag package. The one we’ve been examining above is supposedly designed to repel ticks. Well, we don’t have much of a tick problem here, so I have been able to sacrifice any spooky vibes it may have had to our science experiment. The other ShooTag in my package is for the dispersal of fleas. I have been extremely careful with the other card. It has remained in its packaging and, as you saw, I have used cotton gloves whenever handling the mylar package containing the tags.

That’s because this experiment has a Part 3, and, with a certain feline helper, we are going to run our own field trial with the ShooTag. And I can assure you I will be undertaking this part of the experiment with as much rigour as any of the people who have submitted glowing testimonials on the ShooTag site.

Stay with me, won’t you?

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