MonthJuly 2010

Colton Harris-Moore’s Childhood

Colton Harris-Moore

perhaps his most benign nickname is the most telling. Long before stealing boats and planes made him a marvel of elusiveness, an Internet antihero, Mr. Harris-Moore, 19, was suspected of stealing cookies and frozen pizza from the Kostelyk family, a few gravel roads from the squalor that was his home, a trailer on a dead end here, barely an hour from Seattle. The Kostelyks had waterfront property and a freezer full of food. He lived inland and had nothing.

“We called him ‘Island Boy,’ ” recalled Linda Johnson, whose mother, Maxine Kostelyk, was among Mr. Harris-Moore’s first suspected victims. “He came back over and over again — frozen pizza, cookies, ice cream. He was a tall boy, and he was growing.” […]

An examination of his early life and troubles suggests a picture far less cinematic. According to court and public documents and dozens of interviews, Mr. Harris-Moore was nobody’s hero, not even his own. On the contrary, whether he was hiding in the Kostelyks’ tree house, watching for delivery of the high-powered flashlight the police believe he ordered with a stolen credit card, or flying solo to the Bahamas in a stolen Cessna this month, isolated in the tiny cockpit for more than a thousand miles — Colton Harris-Moore, for much of his life, was alone and hungry.

That was true even as he was being celebrated by thousands of fans on Facebook.

“He says he’s not into any of that,” said Monique Gomez, a lawyer who briefly represented Mr. Harris-Moore in the Bahamas. “He just wants to get this behind him.”

New York Times: ‘Barefoot Bandit’ Started Life on the Run Early

(Thanks Joe!)

Binaural Beats with SbaGen Developer Jim Peters – Technoccult Interview

Binaural Beats

Jim Peters is the developer of the cross-platform, open-source binaural beat generator SbaGen. Although the application has been available for free online since 1997, an commercial application called I-Doser, which used SbaGen’s source code without permission, has been in the news lately. I took the opportunity to ask Jim a few questions about binaural beats and his program.

Jim Peters

Can you tell us a bit about binaural beats and how they work?

The mechanism behind binaural beats is very simple — on the face of it, at least. Two pure sine-wave tones are fed to the brain, one in each ear. For example, you could play a 200Hz tone to the left ear, and a 210Hz tone to the right ear. The end result, as far as the listener is concerned, is that they hear a tone of 205Hz but pulsating or ‘beating’ at a frequency of 10Hz. This 10Hz stimulation is what leads to the entrainment.

This could be viewed as simple wave interference, but actually it is a lot more complex than that because the sound waves never get to mix in the air. They do not meet until they have already been converted into
signals in the nervous system of the brain.

Our hearing centres do a lot of complex processing on the sounds that we hear, especially to determine the direction and distance of objects in our environment. If an object is to our left, then sounds from that object arrive first at the left ear, then slightly later at the right ear. There is a part of the brain dedicated to detecting these delays which gives us our sense of sound direction.

When the brain is fed tones of slightly differing frequency, this is interpreted as a sound with a delay that is constantly changing. The direction-detection part of our brain reacts to this sound, resulting in the beating effect that we perceive.

Directional hearing is a very low-level, primitive function of the brain, and the centres dedicated to it are right on the brain stem (the ‘superior olivary complex’). This means that causing a beating stimulation here with binaural beats has the potential to cause entrainment effects quite different to those produced by light glasses or other methods of entrainment. Certainly it is valuable tool.

Binaural Beats diagram

Binaural beats diagram from Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Binaural Beats

How did you first learn about binaural beats?

I first heard about binaural beats through attending a workshop with Ken Eagle Feather (Kenneth Smith), a Toltec teacher. He had been a test subject in the labs of Robert Monroe.

Why did you decide to create SbaGen?

I wanted to experiment with binaural beats, so the obvious thing to do was to create a tool to allow me to do that. However, I now realize that I am not a genius like Robert Monroe! It is one thing to build a tool that generates tones to a high standard, but quite another to have the inspiration to create sequences that take people to other places. This is like the difference between a musical instrument maker and a virtuoso player. So, whilst I’ve been able to create the tool, I have to leave it to others to create interesting sequences.

SbaGen screenshot
SbaGen screenshot

What programming language is it written in?

It was originally written in C for Linux /dev/dsp, a long time ago when a fast machine was a 75MHz Pentium and I was still thinking like an assembler programmer. So, apologies for any poor style! Over the years it has been adapted for Windows and Mac, and even things like Blackfin boards. It uses integer-only arithmetic, even for MP3 and OGG decoding, which is an advantage when porting to ARM, for example.

However, modern processors are capable of a lot more and if I were to rewrite it today, I’d consider the use of other techniques.

What happened with I-Doser and SbaGen’s source code?

As far as I can gather, the guy behind I-Doser calls himself Christopher Canavan, based on messages to the SBaGen list and WHOIS data. It seems that he had a bright idea of how to make lots of money from binaural beats, and he contracted some programmer “for hire” to develop a GUI wrapper around SBaGen that added encryption and some means of packaging sequences. However, he did not pay any attention to SBaGen’s GPL license — he just took what he wanted.

As it happens, he violated the SBaGen license by modifying it and not redistributing the source code of the changes, as required by the GPL. With a little more care, he could have got what he wanted without any
license trouble or payment.

For a long time I knew nothing about this. Then I started getting E-mails from SBaGen users bringing the problem to my attention. I could see that I was dealing with someone who was a bit shady, and I really didn’t look forward to having to negotiate with him, especially as I am based in the UK and he is based in the US. Eventually the pressure from users was so much that I had to act and try to resolve the issue.

I’m sure that Christopher Canavan (or whoever he really is) is making huge amounts of money from I-Doser — I’ve heard stories of individuals spending hundreds of dollars. I’m also sure that with enough money spent on lawyers I could have had a large slice of his cake. But in our discussions he gave me the impression of being completely evasive and untrustworthy. I considered the stress and cost of protracted legal action in a foreign country, and decided on something symbolic instead. On moral grounds, I’m not sure that I would have wanted a slice of his cake in any case.

So I settled for putting the source code in order, and him paying me $1000 (which he paid without hesitation), and having a link from his site to mine so that there was a ‘way out’ for people looking for more information.

I-Doser has gone global — I’ve heard reports of worried parents and officials from as far away as Russia and Korea. What I-Doser has done is very clever from a business and marketing point of view, but also quite corrupt (in my eyes). But then you could say the same of Coca Cola or McDonalds. You can see why I am not a successful businessman!


Coil – “Methoxy-N, N-Dimethyl,” from their album Time Machines

Do you believe that I-Doser can actually deliver on their promise of providing a variety of discrete recreational psychoactive experiences? My own experience working with SbaGen, Brainwave Generator, and sound and light machines is that it does feel like “something happens,” but I haven’t found that the specific experience each one is aiming for (“relaxation,” “creativity,” “stimulation,” etc.) In fact, I actually conducted some controlled experiments with classmates as a research project in college. We investigated whether the “intelligence enhancement” setting of a particular sound and light machine was effective at improving MENSA test exam scores. We didn’t get statistically significant results.

No, I don’t believe that I-Doser can deliver on their promise. If I hit you over the head with a mallet you will see stars, but that doesn’t mean that you’ve had a marvellous journey through the universe. However with a good enough sales pitch maybe I can make you believe that you have.

I-Doser uses quite high-amplitude binaural beats, much higher than is recommended by organizations such as The Monroe Institute or CenterPointe, where the beats are generally only just audible under the soundtrack.

I guess you could compare I-Doser’s use of binaural beats to typical teenagers’ use of substances like alcohol — i.e. excessive. Actually, I think that this may be the key to it. For some reason people of that age are attracted to self-destruction in various forms, and I-Doser are tapping into that with their fantastical and exaggerated descriptions of their sessions’ properties. It is on about the same level as teenage experimentation with alcoholic drinks.

Whether listening to high-amplitude binaural beats does any harm, I really don’t know. But would the harm be more or less than the harm done by getting completely intoxicated with alcohol? Who knows.

In some ways I am sad to see binaural beats used in this way, but on the other hand it does raise interest in a tool that is very valuable for people who are past their teenage self-destructive phase and who are looking to do something rather more constructive.

There is great potential for new research combining binaural beats with other techniques such as biofeedback or EEG. By a happy accident, nature has provided us with a direct signal feed into the brain stem without any surgery required!

The applications of binaural beats are varied, but they will never be a ‘silver bullet’ to instantly give you high MENSA scores or whatever.

I’ve heard from Buddhist monks who found that binaural beats took them to places in consciousness that required years of meditation to reach by normal means. But again this sounds better than it is — they were
practiced meditators, so they could follow the guide provided by the beats to reach those places. Someone who is not practiced in meditation would fall asleep or pop out of entrainment under the same conditions. Meditation takes time to learn, but binaural beats can be used as a guide for practice.

The late Robert Monroe used binaural beats, sometimes combined with flotation chambers and sensory deprivation, to guide people to places he knew from his journeys out-of-body. This could be seen as another
form of meditation.

Then there are organizations such as CenterPointe who see binaural beats as a means of emotional cleansing. They use both carrier frequency and beat frequency to plot a 2-D map, which they traverse slowly, session by session, stimulating and clearing blocked emotions. I can testify to the strength of some of these clearing effects through my own experiments with similar sessions. ‘Overwhelm’ is a condition where you have stimulated too much emotional material, and you feel half-crazy and a bit on the edge. The advantage that binaural beats have in this application is that they are 100% under your control. You choose how often to listen, or when it is time to have a few days break to let things calm down again.

I have even heard from someone who lives in constant pain due to a spinal injury who found that binaural beats of a certain frequency allowed him to sleep. He appreciated the way that he could tune the frequency very precisely to meet his needs.

Again, it is the precision, controllability and repeatability of binaural beats compared to other means of influencing the organism that give them a real advantage here.

Are you still working on SbaGen? Will there ever be a GUI?

Unfortunately I don’t have time to work on new features due to having to earn a living. Whilst I would love to write a GUI, I think that realistically other things are going to get my attention before that in the limited free time that I have. So, unfortunately probably not.

Have you considered creating an iPhone or Android app?

No, sorry.

Further Resources

I-Doser doses reverse engineered for SbaGen

Monroe Institute entry on WikiPedia

Gnuaral Another cross-platform, open-source binaural beat application

Technoccult interview with HipGnosis, an electronic musician who uses binaural beats in his work.

Does the Internet Make us Better Informed?

More evidence to confirm my current bias that the Internet does not make us better informed: the following Onion video has been passed around in certain circles as if it’s true. I know sometimes the Onion is a little too close for comfort, but watch the video and then read some of the comments captured from Facebook.

The full image is here. Of course, the image could be a fake, and it could be me who got hoaxed…

The Onion

I don’t necessarily think the Internet is making people less informed or more guillable – how many people believed in the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion? But I don’t think it’s having a particularly positive impact in this area.

See also:

Why Facts Back Fire

Birthers and the Democratization of Media

6 Brain Sensors You’ll Be Using Soon

brain electrodes

Brain Computer Interface (BCI) – a technology that creates a direct connection from our brains to our computers – is beginning to reach the market via toys and game controllers. In the process, these thought-controlled sensors are inspiring innovations that, for instance, allow you to call someone on your phone by simply thinking about them.

From the first-ever thought-generated tweet, to the U.S. military funding the development of advanced prosthetic limbs, to implantable brain sensors, advancements in BCI are not only transforming the lives of people who are locked in because of total paralysis, but are ushering in an era where we will be able to build the Internet as fast as we can think.

Here’s a snapshot of the stages of development that these technologies are currently in.

ReadWriteWeb: 6 Brain Sensors You’ll Be Using Soon

Augmented Reality for Educational Textbooks

ReadWriteWeb: AR Textbooks, Virtual Chemistry Sets & the Future of Learning

Of course, this is only scraping the surface of what’s possible for education and training with this technology.

Hoppala: The Blogger of Augmented Reality?

When content management systems (CMS) like WordPress and Blogger hit the Web several years ago, the Internet entered a new age where it became quick and easy for anyone with a computer to contribute content. This week, augmented reality (AR) took a significant step toward becoming more like the read/write Web with the launch of an online mobile AR CMS for creating content on the Layar platform.

“Augmentation” – a Web-based tool for generating mobile AR content – was created by Layar Partner Network member Hoppala. With a Layar developer account, users of Augmentation can easily and instantaneously place their content in Layar with zero code and a few clicks on a map. Custom icons, images, audio, video and 3D content can all be added by way of a full screen map interface, and Hoppala will even host all of the data.

ReadWriteWeb: Augmented Reality Becoming More Like the Read/Write Web

Previously: Create your own augmented reality maps – Layar tutorial – but this looks even easier.

tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE: Lidznap

tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE

An interesting and old school media prank, as described by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE in OVO issue 12 (SCIENCE) in 1991.

TESTES-3 was the phone number & name of the first phone station (or “line,” as we called it) that Richard, Sumu Pretzler & I created & co-operated. It was operated anonymously & centered around an answering machine that was used to receive input & to play output made from edited versions the input. It didn’t attract much attention until its third month when it came to the notice of reporter Franz Lidz.

As partially explained in his “Underground Telephone Network” article, Lidz tried to get us to agree to an interview by leaving messages via TESTES-3. Given that we considered anonymity to be essential to our functioning communally produced participatory phenomenon we reacted cautiously to his request, in a way that we thought to be consistent with our principles.

Rather than let Lidz interview us, we thought that it would be more appropriate if he interviewed the TESTES-3 callers to help make them realize that they were TESTES-3 as much as we were (albeit in a different way).

OVO: tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE: Lidznap

Happiness And Sadness Spread Just Like Disease

happy feet

There may be a literal truth underlying the common-sense intuition that happiness and sadness are contagious.

A new study on the spread of emotions through social networks shows that these feelings circulate in patterns analogous to what’s seen from epidemiological models of disease.

Earlier studies raised the possibility, but had not mapped social networks against actual disease models.

“This is the first time this contagion has been measured in the way we think about traditional infectious disease,” said biophysicist Alison Hill of Harvard University. […]

Happiness proved less social than sadness. Each happy friend increased an individual’s chances of personal happiness by 11 percent, while just one sad friend was needed to double an individual’s chance of becoming unhappy.

Wired Science: Happiness And Sadness Spread Just Like Disease

Hard N Phirm – Pi

I was going to post this last week as part of my post on Pi, but I forgot. So here it is now.

The Onion: Obama’s Weekly Video Addresses Becoming Increasingly Avant-Garde

Obamas's dead dog

Obama’s early pieces primarily played with structure: Our Long-Term Strategy In Afghanistan employs Brion Gysin’s cut-up technique to reorder the words in a major speech on foreign policy, eventually creating a shocking sound collage that, according to the White House, reveals “a truth previously buried beneath layers of intent.” […]

Nonetheless, a number of critics have embraced Obama’s edgier productions. Artforum magazine referred to Obama’s oeuvre as “a winking indictment of the institution of the presidency from none other than the president himself,” and cited in particular his wildlife conservation video Meat Play as “the direction the office needs to go in if the executive branch is to remain relevant.”

The Onion: Obama’s Weekly Video Addresses Becoming Increasingly Avant-Garde

(Thanks Jillian!)

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