Hear, hear: The first to invent idiot-cancelling headphones gets my cash

Listen to me, Palmer, I said listen to me


Something for the Weekend, Sir? Speak up. (La la la la la.) Say what? (La la la la la.) No, sorry, can't hear a thing.

The uniformed gentleman standing by my train seat stops soundlessly moving his lips and begins miming instead. First class is great: a wide seat, an electrical socket all to yourself, and now I'm getting treated to performance art in the aisle.

It's not a film or a book but he's waving a hand in the air so I'm guessing it's five words. He's pointing to my head. Now he's gesturing to his own head to suggest his ears are exploding. OK, now he's mouthing the words more widely than before. Perhaps I can lip-read. Take… your… hmm, something… headphones…

"…off!" bellows the ticket inspector audibly, and unreasonably loudly in my opinion, as I slip away the noise-cancelling cans that I bought on the recommendation of Reg readers the other week.

He checks my ticket – a simple matter of me launching the ticket booking app on my smartphone, navigating to my bookings, the app spontaneously quitting, relaunching it, being prompted to sign in again, browsing my password vault for the appropriate ID, finding the right one after three or four attempts, then watching the inspector make multiple impotent attempts to bleep it from different angles because his little light-gun barcode reader is, like all of its ilk, hopelessly incompatible with smartphone screens – and moves on to the next headphone-adorned passenger.

My fault but I was obliged to cancel noise. Even in a half-empty first-class carriage, there will always be two sales executives yelling a conversation at each other despite sitting three feet apart; someone with a blaringly crass ringtone who receives dozens of calls throughout the journey but still manages to take 20 seconds to reach their phone every time; and a woman singing.

It's a relatively new thing but yes, there is always a woman singing in the carriage. We're all too scared to ask her to pipe down a bit because she's obviously unhinged.

I need to concentrate, you see, on a story I was writing for [ahem] another content outlet about non-uniformed performance artist Simon Weckert's attempt to generate a phantom traffic jam in Berlin.

Weckert put 99 smartphones, all running Google Maps set to a motoring itinerary, into a little red plastic cart and dragged it around the city. He found that by dawdling for a while on a street, all 99 temporarily immobile smartphones began reporting their halted GPS location back to Google, which duly interpreted this as being stuck in traffic. Sure enough, within moments, anybody looking at Google Maps would see that section of road had turned red and live itineraries would automatically reroute to avoid it.

Why 99 smartphones and not, say, a round 100? I think Germans like the number 99.

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Google's response was to embrace the PR opportunity. "Whether via car or cart or camel," they said, "we love seeing creative uses of Google Maps as it helps us make maps work better over time… We've launched the ability to distinguish between cars and motorcycles in several countries including India, Indonesia and Egypt, though we haven't quite cracked traveling by wagon."

Weckert missed a trick there. It would have been much more fun to traipse across Berlin with 99 camels in tow.

A positive spin from Google was inevitable, I suppose, but also quite easy in this instance. Not such an easy PR task was Bitcoin BV's recent excruciating defence of its latest hard fork, claiming that it was done "to bring back Bitcoin's original design". They've dubbed it "Genesis", which suggests, much like the prog rock band, Bitcoin should never have split up in the first place and is now never going to get back together again.

TAAL Distributed Information Technologies mined the Genesis block "on behalf of Satoshi Nakamoto" to honour the father of Bitcoin. So is it just a fanboi hard fork to piss off BTC users? It's just the same old fairground ride for those fooled into believing craptos are for spending rather than mining, hoarding and trading: as usual, you've been forked over, hard.

I'd like to delve more closely into this story but that woman has starting singing again. Hmm, if I don my noise-cancelling headphones, I might miss the call for my stop. What I need is some tech that cancels out the crap and selectively lets through the stuff I want to hear.

As luck would have it, a manufacturer called Oticon is saying its Opn S hearing aids make it possible for wearers to "focus on the sounds they want to, even when there are multiple speakers". Ah, now you're talking! And apparently I can choose whether or not to hear you.

The company provides some blah about EEG testing and brain signals, which I'm not sure about but is nevertheless fabulous as it conjures images from 1960s sci-fi movies of flicking trace-lines on scrolling paper. The resulting claim is that "Opn S users can perform so-called 'selective attention' – they can monitor surroundings and switch attention when focusing on speech, even in noisy environments."

It sounds too good to be true and almost irresistibly tempting. Just imagine being able to hold a conversation at a party without one's brain being scrambled by drunk Uncle Pete in the corner stumbling over empty bottles and sitting on the vol-au-vents. I could focus on my online research, listen to train announcements and still block out my carriage's designated chanteuse.

Better still, I might use them at work. I wonder if the Opn S has selective block-out presets such as Squeaky Fire Door, Whiney Boss or Big Mouthed Twat In The Breakout Area.

In fact, I might just send in some feature requests on these lines right now. There's no guarantee they'll listen to me (ho ho) but one can dream, eh?

So it's not going to happen, I should be be sensible? Perish the thought. Yes, sensible… Oh take those off, I said SENSIBLE.

Say what?

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He finds the problem with headphones, headsets, earbuds, hearing aids and good old earplugs is that they all tend to be so darn uncomfortable in or over one's ears after just 15 minutes of wear. Someone should develop products that are ear-cancelling. Maybe call them "Van Goghs".@alidabbs

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