Archive for January, 2007

Find Out If You’re Tone Deaf

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | January 24, 2007 5:35 am

This is great: take this nifty series of listening tests and in 15 minutes you objectively find out how acute your sense of pitch is. The third test determines if you have a weak sense of rhythm, which is known to be linked with bad dancing. (No word on whether this is “objectively” connected with success in one’s social life, or lack thereof. And when a computer starts criticizing your social life…)

I scored a 66.7 on the first test, the one on tone deafness, which was pretty much average. Then I got a 4.8 on the pitch accuracy test — that means that at 500Hz (near the B below the C above middle C), I can discern two tones that are 4.8Hz apart. (Half tones are about 29Hz apart at that pitch, so this is a small but appreciable gap.) Interesting to see that the 6Hz tones sound very different to me, while the 3Hz tones sound almost exactly the same. That placed me at only the 13th percentile. I blame my poor relative performance on the probability that this online quiz is overrun with musical geniuses — they wrecked the curve!

Having realized long ago that I didn’t have a great ear (my high school chorus teacher can attest to this), I took this as no great surprise. That’s fine, I thought — I’ll really shine in the rhythm section. But it was not to be. I scored a 68%, placing me at the 31st percentile.

Despite my vaguely depressing results, I really like these tests. It’s fascinating that you can sit down and in 15 minutes find out something about how your ear and brain work. Also interesting to think that people can have such different experiences of similar stimuli. Auditory acuity is largely a natural, unchangeable characteristic of a person (at least an adult). Not to get too Brave New World, but I wonder if it could actually be helpful to test people’s hearing to see how well they can, say, learn to play the violin. Maybe if my chorus teacher knew about my tin ear, she would have been a little more understanding of my flat singing — or maybe she never would’ve let my hopeless self even in the doorway.

As fast and powerful as these listening tests are, they can’t quite match color blindness tests. I remember sitting down for my first such test in elementary school, and about a minute in, the nurse pretty much knew: my red cones are a bit strange.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: What’s Inside Your Brain?

Don’t Focus on Porn

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | January 21, 2007 6:00 pm

Last September, Douglas Rushkoff wrote in his Peer Review column that high definition interfered with his TV watching because the boob tube had suddenly become too realistic–once you can see the very wrinkles in Tony Soprano’s suit, “the screen wasn’t a symbolic mirror to my own life; it was a detailed portrait of a violent world I didn’t belong in and didn’t want to.”

Now, further proof that HDTV is way TMI: Hi-def porn shows practically every flaw on every body part of every porn actor. Some porn stars are getting surgery to fix slight imperfections, and sometimes they have to switch positions (camera or otherwise) during a shoot to hide unfortunately placed pimples. “I’m having my breasts redone because of HD,” confides Jesse Jane (emphasis added), who is apparently a major adult-film star (DiscoBlog wouldn’t know).

Rushkoff cited renowned media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s theory that the more information conveyed by a medium, the more “hot” it was–the more it provoked our passions. Perhaps watching porn in HD shows the upper limit of the hot/hi-def connection.

Bonus nugget: According to one xxx director, watching porn in HD can be quite a touching (ahem) experience: “People look to adult movies for personal contact, and yet they’re still not getting it. HD lets them see a little bit more of the girl,” says Robbie D.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Technology Attacks!

PBS Goes Plebiscite

By Amos Zeeberg (Discover Web Editor) | January 1, 2007 6:00 pm

In the spirit of keeping public television public, PBS is putting its viewers in power by allowing them to pick the station’s newest science show.

Whittled down from 19 solid submissions, PBS will air its three finalist pilots throughout January on Wednesdays at 8:00 p.m. ET. If all of you democratic Web denizens out there can’t wait a month to give informed feedback, log on to to view streaming versions of each pilot (all of them are currently awaiting your opinions).

Now, announcing the three candidates:

  • Wired Science (airs January 3)—Essentially Wired Magazine repackaged for TV, the show will cover the latest developments in space exploration, biomedicine, robotics, military technology and more in a fast-and-furious hour of entertainment.

  • Science Investigators (airs January 10)—This investigative number delves into mysteries such as 30,000-year-old Neanderthal DNA and the physics of a knuckleball baseball pitch—but it also aims to keep viewers up-to-date with new technologies like electric NASCAR stock cars and bacteria-powered iPods.

  • 22nd Century (airs January 17)—The “what if” show for science television. A group of actors play out the possibilities to far-off scientific futures, starting with the new World Wide Web—not one of computers, but linked-up human brains.

While there is no “vote,” per se, viewers can offer feedback that runs on the Web site for all to see. Using this digital deliberation collected by the end of the month, PBS will pick a winner to graduate into a 10-week series that debuts this fall. But what about the losers? The station offers no word on this touchy subject, but DiscoBlog predicts plenty of YouTube spoofs in the future.


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