Wednesday, September 27, 2017

maybe tin foil hats are not so crazy after all

Cuban Embassy Attacks and The Microwave Auditory Effect
by: Adam Fabio
September 25, 2017

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you may have seen a series of articles coming out about US staffers in Cuba. It seems that 21 staffers have suffered a bizarre array of injuries ranging from hearing loss to dizziness to concussion-like traumatic brain injuries. Some staffers have reported hearing incapacitating sounds in the embassy and in their hotel rooms. The reports range from clicking to grinding, humming, or even blaring sounds. One staffer described being awoken to a horrifically loud sound, only to have it disappear as soon as he moved away from his bed. When he got back into bed, the mysterious sound came back.
Cuba has denied any wrongdoing. However, the US has already started to take action – expelling two Cuban diplomats from the US in May. The question though is what exactly could have caused these injuries. The press has gone wild with theories of sonic weaponry, hidden bugs, and electronic devices, poisons, you name it. Even Julian Assange has weighed in, stating “The diversity of symptoms suggests that this is a pathogen combined with paranoia in an isolated diplomatic corps.”
So what’s going on? Bizarre accidents? Cloak and dagger gone awry? Mass hysteria among the US state department, or something else entirely?
The most common theory passed around is some sort of auditory or sonic weapon. Acoustic (ultrasonic) non-lethal weapons like the Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) are well known due to their use by law enforcement to disperse protests, or on oceangoing ships to deter pirates and environmentalists. LRAD devices emit an extremely loud focused beam of sound. Usually, the sound is a siren, though the system can be used as a giant megaphone as well. Anyone in the beam is motivated to get out of it.
The thing about LRAD devices is they are not small or light. Even with ultrasonics, you can’t beat physics. Making a lot of noise means vibrating a lot of air. That takes a relatively big loudspeaker. The smallest portable device is roughly fifteen pounds. Since LRAD is still vibrating the air, it wouldn’t work very well through walls. LRAD style devices are also not very clandestine. They emit a beam 30 to 60 degrees wide, so definitely not a sound laser. They also have plenty of spill — operators standing behind the device always need to wear hearing protection.

Unwrap Your Tinfoil HatOne theory I haven’t seen passed around much is the microwave auditory effect. This is a phenomenon where RF energy directed at a human head is converted to sound perceivable by the target. The first paper published about the effect was by Allan H. Frey in 1961. Frey worked at the General Electric advanced electronics center at Cornell University in NY.
I should note that microwave here refers to the wavelength of the RF signal being transmitted. Microwaves include any signal from 1-meter wavelength (300 MHz) to 3mm wavelength (100 GHz)
Images from Frey’s paper
Frey’s article describes how test subjects were able to hear buzzing, clicking, hisses and even knocking when transmitters were pointed at their skulls. Strangely, some of the test subjects were partially deaf, and still were able to hear the microwave sounds. What’s more, subjects could feel the effects from the microwave beam. Depending on the transmitter settings, subjects felt “severe buffeting of the head”. Further transmitter changes resulted in subjects reporting “pins and needles” sensations.
The purpose of the paper was to call attention to the phenomenon. Frey didn’t have the resources to completely explore the microwave auditory effect, so he wanted others to start working on it. It’s the scientific equivalent of saying “Hey, this is neat, you should check it out!”
If you haven’t guessed yet, the power levels required to hear microwave sounds were rather high. Frey used several transmitters at different power levels. The transmitters were pulsed, like magnetrons, so while average power was low, peak power was high.
As an example – the weakest transmitter Frey used was able to output a power density of 4 w/m² at 1310 Mhz. The peak power was 2670 w/m². The US guideline for human exposure at that frequency is 6.55 w/m². A different transmitter Frey used measured 71 w/m² at 425 MHz, with peaks at 2540 w/m². Compare this to the FCC guideline of 2 w/m² at that frequency.
What exactly causes the RF energy to be converted to sound? The mechanism behind the microwave auditory effect has not been scientifically proven. The leading theory is pulsed RF energy heats the tissues of the inner ear, causing them to expand quickly. These expansions cause tiny shockwaves which are then interpreted as sounds by the brain.
Frey noted that “one can shield, with 2-inch square piece of fly screen, a portion of the [temple] and completely cut off the RF sound.” Fly screen would be the fine metal grid used in screen doors. Frey may not have known it, but he was providing all the proof the tin-foil hat crowd needed.
Of course, a technology like this can’t exist without someone trying to build a weapon out of it. In the early 2000’s, the US Navy funded research on Mob Excess Deterrent Using Silent Audio (MEDUSA). This was a “less lethal weapon” which would use the microwave auditory effect for crowd control. It utilized an electronically steered antenna which allowed it to transmit a wide or narrow RF beam. MEDUSA could even “spotlight” multiple targets simultaneously.
MEDUSA never became a fieldable weapon. The initial results of the project were promising, but there were questions about its safety. At the high power levels used, could the micro shockwaves actually damage sensitive brain tissue? What about the RF exposure to sensitive neurons? The project was eventually canceled.
Coming back to the present day, could the microwave auditory effect be at play in Cuba? It’s quite possible. The technology is definitely there – the effect has been demonstrated with 1960’s era transmitters. With sufficient power and a narrow beam antenna, the attackers wouldn’t even need to be in the same room or building as their targets. Power levels high enough to be audible or even cause pain might also cause dizziness, nausea, and even traumatic brain injury. All we can do is wait for the results of the current investigations, and keep a tin foil hat handy.

Saturday, April 08, 2017


Defense of Ignorance (this american life show)
It's been three years now since Nainai was first diagnosed. Little Nainai is certain her big sister is still alive because of her decision to lie to her, because we gave Nainai joy instead of worry. My mom told me about an old Chinese belief called chongxi. Chong means to rinse out, and xi is joy. So chongxi is the belief that you can wash away a misfortune with joy.

Friday, March 31, 2017

Remembering vs Recognition and Learning

This is great.  I wish I knew this earlier.

If you don't have a lot of time this is the short version:

Monday, February 27, 2017

Anger Management and Phone Bills

Phone bills are a constant source of annoyance, but this is an extreme reaction in any book:

Verizon customer shoots phone over $3,300 data charge

CLEVELAND, Ohio - A Verizon Wireless phone bill triggered so much rage within Robert Able that he ended his relationship with the company in a unique way.

He shot his phone.

"I was upset. I was really upset,'' Able said. "I have a few things going on, and it really hurt me.''

He said he became so angry over the bill while talking to a Verizon customer service representative that he grabbed his shotgun and fired a round of birdshot into the phone outside of his home.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Crypto Party

cryptoparties on NPR

by the way, there is one in Somerville - typically meets at least once a month
-----from the article:-----

Cryptoparties Teach Attendees How To Stay Anonymous Online

Saturday, January 21, 2017

deliberate practice

get better at what you do, with deliberate practice, now that the benefits of such are actually being measured...

The Myth and Magic of Deliberate Practiceby James Clear
Read this on

Joe DiMaggio was one of the greatest hitters in baseball history. A three-time winner of the Most Valuable Player award, DiMaggio was selected to the Major League All-Star team in each of his thirteen seasons. He is best known for his remarkable hitting streak during the 1941 season when he recorded a hit in fifty-six consecutive games—a record that still stands more than seventy-five years later.

I recently heard a little-known story about how DiMaggio acquired his exceptional ability.

Joe DiMaggio in 1939. Published by Bowman Gum for Play Ball Cards.

As the story goes, a journalist was interviewing DiMaggio at his home and asked him what it felt like to be such a “natural hitter.” Without saying a word, he dragged the reporter downstairs. In the shadows of the basement, DiMaggio picked up a bat and began to repeat a series of practice swings. Before each swing, he would call out a particular pitch such as “fastball, low and away” or “slider, inside” and adjust his approach accordingly.

Once he finished the routine, DiMaggio set the bat down, picked up a piece of chalk, and scratched a tally mark on the wall. Then he flicked on the lights to reveal thousands of tally marks covering the basement walls. Supposedly, DiMaggio then looked at the journalist and said, “Don’t you ever tell me that I’m a natural hitter again.” [1]

We love stories like this—stories that highlight how remarkable success is the product of effort and perseverance. In recent years, the study of hard work has developed into a scientific pursuit. Experts have begun to refer to focused and effortful training as “deliberate practice” and it is widely considered to be the recipe for success.

There is no doubt that deliberate practice can be the recipe for success, but only under certain conditions. If we are serious about maximizing our potential, then we need to know when deliberate practice makes the difference between success and failure and when it doesn’t. Before we can capture the power of deliberate practice, we need to understand its limitations.
The Vision of Greatness

In the early 1990s, a man named Louis Rosenbaum began analyzing the eyesight of Major League baseball players. He soon found out that professional baseball players were nothing like the normal person when it came to vision.

According to Rosenbaum’s research, the average eyesight of a Major League position player is 20/11. In other words, the typical professional baseball player can read letters from twenty feet away that a normal person can only read from eleven feet away. Ted Williams, who is widely regarded as the greatest hitter in the baseball history, reportedly had 20/10 vision when he was tested by the military during WWII. The anatomical limit for human vision is 20/8.

Most of Rosenbaum’s research was conducted on the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. According to him, “Half of the guys on the Dodgers’ Major League roster were 20/10 uncorrected.” [2]

Eyesight and visual acuity results of professional baseball players from 1993 to 1995. The data above includes both minor league and major league players. (Source: American Journal of Ophthalmology. November 1996.)

In his excellent book, The Sports Gene, author David Epstein explains that this visual trend holds true at each level of the sport. On average, Major League players have better vision than minor league players who have better vision than college players who have better vision than the general population. [3]

If you want to play professional baseball, it helps to practice like DiMaggio, but you also need eyesight like an eagle. In highly competitive fields, deliberate practice is often necessary, but not sufficient for success.
The Deliberate Practice Myth

The myth of deliberate practice is that you can fashion yourself into anything with enough work and effort. While human beings do possess a remarkable ability to develop their skills, there are limits to how far any individual can go. Your genes set a boundary around what is possible.

In recent decades, behavioral geneticists have discovered that our genes impact nearly every human trait. We are not merely talking about physical characteristics like height and eyesight, but mental abilities as well. Your genes impact everything from your short-term memory abilities to your mental processing speed to your willingness to practice.

One of my favorite examples is tennis great Steffi Graf. When she was tested against other elite tennis players as a teenager, she not only scored the highest on physical attributes like lung capacity and motor skills, but also on competitive desire. She was that once-in-a-generation talent who was both the most-gifted and the most-driven person on the court. [4]

During a conversation I had with Robert Plomin, one of the top behavioral geneticists in the world, he said, “It is now at the point where we have stopped testing to see if traits have a genetic component because we literally can’t find a single one that isn’t influenced by our genes.”

How big is the influence of genes on performance? It’s hard to say. Some researchers have estimated that our genes account for between 25 percent to 35 percent of our differences in performance. Obviously, that number can vary wildly depending on the field you’re studying.

So where does this leave us?

Well, while genetics influence performance, they do not determine performance. Do not confuse destiny with opportunity. Genes provide opportunity. They do not determine our destiny. It’s similar to a game of cards. You have a better opportunity if you are dealt a better hand, but you also need to play the hand well to win.
Layer Your Skills

How do we play our hand well? How do we maximize our genetic potential in life—whatever that might be? One strategy is to “layer your skills” on top of one another.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert, explains the strategy perfectly. He writes, “Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it.” [5]

If you can’t win by being better, then win by being different. By combining your skills, you reduce the level of competition, which makes it much easier to stand out regardless of your natural abilities.
The Magic of Deliberate Practice

Sun Tzu, the legendary military strategist who wrote The Art of War, believed in only fighting battles where the odds were in his favor. He wrote, “In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won.”

Similarly, we should seek to fight battles where the genetic odds are in our favor. It is impossible to try everything in life. Each of us could become any one of a billion different things. Thus, if you aspire to maximize your success, then you should train hard and practice deliberately in areas where the genetic odds are in your favor (or where you can overlap your skills in a compelling way).

Deliberate practice is necessary for success, but it is not sufficient. The people at the top of any competitive field are both well-suited and well-trained. To maximize your potential, you need to not only engage in consistent and purposeful practice, but also to align your ambitions with your natural abilities.

Regardless of where we choose to apply ourselves, deliberate practice can help us maximize our potential—no matter what cards we were dealt. That is the magic of deliberate practice. It turns potential into reality.

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I first heard this story from Darin Van Tassell at Georgia Southern University, who either coached with Joe DiMaggio or knew someone who did. I can’t vouch for the authenticity of the story beyond that.

The Sports Gene by David Epstein. Page 40.

During my research I discovered a variety of organizations that test professional athletes. A physician named Bill Harrison runs one of them. Harrison began testing athletes in the 1970s and claims that out of the thousands of baseball players he tested, Barry Bonds scored higher on visual tests than anyone else. Interestingly, these tests were conducted back in 1986, long before Bonds became the all-time leader in home runs and suffered his notorious scandal involving performance-enhancing drugs.

The Sports Gene by David Epstein. Page 46.

Career Advice by Scott Adams.
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Sunday, January 15, 2017

News, fake and real

Fake and real, how to tell?

List below, from Moyers:

Wednesday, January 11, 2017