Spark 128 - November 21 & 24, 2010

On this episode of Spark: Noise, Filters, and Birdsong. Download the MP3 (runs 54:00).

You can also listen to individual stories below.

Birdsong And The Sound of Silence

Photo by linh ngan

Is it noisy around you, right now, as you're reading this? When was the last time you think you actually sat in silence? Real silence. We can't remember when! Each week as we put Spark together we are subjected to a constant barrage of construction sounds from a building going up beside us. It makes us tired, jumpy, and Nora has to wear earplugs most days. Noise pollution is on the rise, and experts say ambient noise is doubling every ten years. Nora spoke with Julian Treasure, author of the book Sound Business, on how things like birdsong and silence can help temper the effect of the noise all around us. (Runs 12:57)

Navigating the Noise

Photo by BarelyFitz

So, there's noise, lots of it, all around us every day and it's having a huge effect on our health and happiness. But what about that other kind of noise? You know, the steady stream of information coming at you from all directions - calls, emails, alerts, texts, tweets, status updates, links - often all through your mobile phone. Nora spoke with Kate Crawford, a professor at the University of New South Wales in Sydney who thinks the mobile phone has become a major source of noise and information overload. (Runs 10:26)

How To Filter Your Un-filtered Music Tastes

Photo by Hryck

Ever get a computer generated music recommendation that made you say "huh"? You know, something along the lines of "If you like The Black Keys you'll love The Monkeys!". Music recommenders are just a part of life right now, whether they make sense or not, and more and more people's tastes are being curated by algorithms rather than flesh-and-blood people. Brian Whitman is the co-founder and CTO of The Echonest Corporation, a music intelligence company that writes music recommending software. But when Nora spoke to him, she learned that he's not really a fan of the technology. (Runs 9:44)

Social Media Is The Mall Of The Internet

Photo by austinevan

Last week we had novelist William Gibson on Spark to talk about his latest book Zero History. He had so much to say about, well, so many things that we thought we'd include him this week too. Gibson sees social media tools like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter as restrictive and gated, with too many filters compared to the public spaces of the internet of yore. (Runs 5:22)

Spam Filter vs. The Kingpin

Photo by arnold inuyaki

We are preoccupied with noise and filters here on Spark. So let's talk spam (the annoying digital kind, not the supermarket variety), because if there was ever an argument for why we need filters, spam is it! Spam filters have become an essential tool to keep all those questionable requests for shady products and services out of your email inbox. But are those filters really the best way to stop them? What about fighting the source? Nora spoke with Finn Brunton, a post-doctoral researcher at New York University who is writing a book about spam. (Runs 10:33)

Additional Information

Spark Podcast

You can receive Spark automatically by subscribing to any of our totally free podcast feeds: For more information (and instructions) visit


Comments are closed.