Science writers seem to be broadly ignorant in areas of acoustics and language. I suppose they're equally ignorant in other areas, but I happen to know something about acoustics and language. (Of course their problem in areas like "global warming" or "diversity" or "economics" is NOT mere ignorance; it's raw Satanic murderous genocidal EVIL.)
Couple of nicely parallel examples in this week's science items.
(1) "New technology"
finally enables the Smithsonian to read some old wax records made by Bell in 1885.
Nothing new about the technology! Since the 1930's, movie projectors have used a focused light and a photocell to read sound tracks on film. This could have been adapted quite easily to read old wax discs without touching them. Apparently nobody thought of doing it.
Even better, Bell himself was working on a light-based technique in 1885, at the same time
when he made those wax records. His Photophone directed a focused beam of light at a diaphragm moved by sound waves, and sent the varying reflected light through a tube to a distant receiver. At the receiver, the varying light modulated current flow through a selenium photocell to create a current that could drive an earphone. It's truly strange that he didn't think to use this for reading a sound record. Just replace the diaphragm with the disc.
(2) "New technology"
finally enables dialect researchers to track the changes in Philly's strange dialect.
"Certain changes have continued in the same direction over 100 years and everybody's doing it," said Bill Labov, who has studied the Philadelphia accent since 1971 and recorded hundreds of native speakers born between 1888 and 1992 and living in dozens of neighborhoods. ... Technological advances have allowed Labov and his colleagues to turn their decades of field recordings into voice spectrographs — computer-generated visualizations of the human voice like an EKG — to track speech variations over time. Regional dialects are cemented by adolescence, so a recording of a 75-year-old Philadelphian made in 1982, for example, should provide a snapshot of what people sounded like around 1925.
Pleasantly surprised to hear that Labov is still working. I've been familiar with his work since the '70s, and sort of assumed he'd be retired or dead by now. But there's absolutely nothing new
about sound spectrographs. Bell Labs (hmm, sounds familiar) developed the technique
in the late '40s, and Kay
brought it to market in 1950. It's been used intensely by speech researchers ever since. The original was a complex and smelly mechanical device,
but it's been all software since 1980.
= = = = =
[On the latter item, I'm speaking from directly relevant experience... Working at Penn State in the late '80s, I operated one of those smelly old Kay spectrograph machines for researchers who were analyzing Philly dialects.]