Monday, June 12, 2006

ear drums

Sometime circa 1998, when I worked in my company's Costco account office in Issaquah, Washington, I had a weird experience. In our long, narrow space, everytime I walked down the hallway by the photocopier/fax area in the middle of the office, I heard this high pitched tone beeping at even intervals. I inspected all of the equipment and questioned the admin sitting there if she could hear anything. She couldn't. I went back to my desk at the far end of the office and forgot about it.

That is, until I had to walk down the hallway and past this same spot again. This noise made me realize just how many times in a day I walked back and forth in the office. On the next day, when I discovered that a dark evening did nothing to abate the sound, I started searching the perimeter. Not wanting to be too intrusive, I inquired of each office's resident. Could they hear the noise? Might it be a cell phone or pager or watch with an alarm? In a briefcase or coat pocket?

Over the next couple days, after interviewing everyone (one by one, spaced out so as not to be obsessively pursuing the answer to the neglect of my job), I was at my wit's end. On Friday of that week, I realized that I had not looked in the office of my friend, John, who was one of our account managers and was traveling on business that week. I don't know why I didn't think of it because it was right across the narrow hallway from the area where I'd best heard the sound all week. When I went into the office, the noise got noticeably louder! I was finally onto something!

I casually looked around -- again looking for a forgotten watch with a relentless alarm -- and found nothing. Later that day, John called, and I interrogated him over the phone. He could think of no such device that would be making a noise, and invited me to go through any unlocked drawers or cabinets to see what I could find. He had a lot of product samples, so it was possible there was something there that he'd forgotten about.

I conducted my authorized search and still came up empty-handed. Resigned, I went home for the weekend not knowing the source of my week-long irritation. All my office-mates were confused: not a single one of them could hear it.

When John returned to the office on Monday, we paired up to do an in-depth search. We eventually ended up at a very small piece of plastic that was plugged into an outlet on his office wall. I had seen it and presumed it was a sample air freshener. Once up close, it was clear that this thing was beeping high pitched tones at even intervals. Upon this realization, John exclaimed that he knew what it was!

This device was a sonic insect repellent. It sent off high frequency beeps that -- theoretically -- only bugs and mice and other pests could hear. The beeps would make them crazy, and they would leave the building. Hmmm. I guess that meant that I wouldn't be buying that particular product, as it would have driven me crazy!

Now, fast forward seven years or so. A product was created by a Welsh security company that employed a high pitch tone to repel a different kind of "pest" -- teenagers! Used by shopkeepers to drive away the youth loitering in front of the stores, the device's tone could not be heard by most adults. I remember reading about this last year, and found it intriguing (especially in light of my own high frequency encounter). Then I forgot about it.

But a New York Times article today reports that the teenagers now have their revenge. The sound has now been turned into a ring tone. So they can have audial confirmation of a text message or incoming call on their cell phones while sitting in class. And although their friends will all know it, their teacher (in many instances) will be oblivious. This cracks me up.

This article is the most emailed article for the Times today, and I think I know why. It's not really because parents want to be well-informed as to what ruse their kids might be employing to deceive them. It's because the article includes a link where you can play the tone. The trick, of course, is that those of a certain age will not be able to hear it, even though there's visual confirmation that the sound file is playing.

Naturally, given my bug repellent experience, I had to try it out for myself. Not knowing what the frequency of the bug repellent, I'm at a slight disadvantage. And the fact that I was 32 years old at the time of that incident muddied the experiment further. So, the fact that I could not hear the ring tone merely confirmed that my ears are on par with other 40-year-olds. Ted couldn't hear it either. I'm tempted to play it and see if the cats react, but they're all sleeping so peacefully, I can't bring myself to do it.

To segue from that thought to a separate topic, our friends at Cute Overload are doing it again.
Check out some of their recent kitty coverage:

OK, here is where I'd be inserting pictures. But, although I was finally able to put my pictures into the "seattle, part i" entry tonight, Blogger is no longer allowing me the privilege. So, until that honor is returned to me, you'll simply have to following these three links.

Marmalade kitten on white blanket... wait, that's not a blanket!
Siamese wrestling cats
What kind of games does your cat play?

I have to go to bed. Between Blogger kinks and my crappy computer, it takes far too long to put together a pathetic little story like this one. At my current rate, I'll be on my next vacation to somewhere interesting (Europe? Montana? back to Hawaii?) before I finish the recap of this past vacation.

Good. Night. Harrumph.

No comments: