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Using Sound To Test Internet Connections 183

sifi writes "An article in the New Scientist claims that by converting the frequencies of a 'ping' to sound it is possible to hear the reliability and strength of an internet connection. They then go on to claim that all this is going to make telesurgery safe. I quite frankly think that this is a case of the media printing something becuase it sounds (pun intended) cool. I'm convinced that there's nothing here that couldn't be done with a suitably clever piece of software - unless I'm missing something."
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Using Sound To Test Internet Connections

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  • by Lebannen ( 626462 ) <{slash} {at} {}> on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:50AM (#4774564) Homepage
    The Machine that goes "Ping!"
  • ... Ping timeout ...

    Sorry, your dead !
  • by grahamsz ( 150076 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:50AM (#4774569) Homepage Journal
    That's always a good way to hear how good your connection is.
    • The poster missed the point that you are making. The surgeon does not have to LOOK at the meter to know his connection quality. He can listen to it.

      If I had this is RTCW maybe I could adjust my aim better. Thats whats holding me back!
  • by tsangc ( 177574 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:50AM (#4774570)
    this is a case of the media printing something becuase it sounds (pun intended) cool

    Doesn't that sound like Slashdot? :)

  • Well.. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by djupedal ( 584558 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:51AM (#4774574)
    The difference, in this case is, that sound will relate a linear interpretation, end-to-end, where software will simply return a snap shot of any given element.
  • O.M.P.Q. (Score:5, Funny)

    by labratuk ( 204918 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:51AM (#4774580)
    OBSTETRICIAN: Yes. More apparatus, please, nurse: the E.E.G., the B.P. monitor, and the A.V.V.

    NURSE #1: Yes. Certainly, Doctor.

    DOCTOR SPENSER: And, uh, get the machine that goes 'ping'.
  • This is Stupid (Score:3, Insightful)

    by nherc ( 530930 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:54AM (#4774590) Journal
    Anything over TCP/IP is Digital... there is no frequency beside on and off.

    The article says "Chafe wondered if variations in jitter [they defined as the deviations in the ping] could be converted into a musical form."

    Fine convert the jitter to music... but how is that going to help you beyond what a numeric display would tell you?

    I have a feeling none of these people have a clue about what they are babbling about.
    • Re:This is Stupid (Score:5, Informative)

      by Chexum ( 1498 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:59AM (#4774616) Homepage
      there is no frequency beside on and off.

      Perhaps, but ever tried something like this?

      ping|sed 's/ttl/ttl^G/g'

      ^G is ctrl-g, possibly ctrl-q,ctrl-g or ctrl-v,ctrl-g depending on your shell. It's really easy to "hear" a few ten ms differences between individual packets, and obviously you don't need a display to hear connections failing..

      • Re:This is Stupid (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:12AM (#4774656) Homepage
        Heh. I'd pretty much though of doing the same thing, but added dropping the frequency of the ping based on the percentage of pings dropped; high pitched rapid beeps for a decent high speed link and steady dull drone for all packets lost. I suppose you could do something with the volume as well to indicate hopcount by getting quieter as you move further away...
        • I heard that (Score:2, Informative)

          by SEWilco ( 27983 )
          Indeed, I'm using similar indicators for GPS navigation so I can hear my approach while I'm driving. Direction and proximity are easily signaled.

          You've all seen a similar use. Listen to the approach of the lunar shuttle to the TMA-1 base in "2001: A Space Odyssey".

          And fifteen years ago I was listening to network behavior: the RF leakage from a computer or network device can produces recognizable patterns on a radio. I identified excessive directory searches in an application from the background chatter. The higher speeds of current technology makes this more difficult with simple broadcast AM/FM radios.

          I also believe that Slashdot discussed Peep, the Network Auralizer [] which plays sounds based on network activity. But Peep is oriented toward behavior of an entire network, not of specific connections.

        • High pitch, rapid noises are an alarm indicator for pretty much all mammals on Earth. You probably want to reverse that: a low comforting drone when everything is OK, with high pitch when there is a high packet loss rate.
      • a working example (Score:3, Informative)

        by rillian ( 12328 )

        If you don't want to figure out how to insert a literal ^G, you can try this simple example:

        ping localhost | perl -e 'while (<>) { print "\007" if /ttl/; print }'
      • ping|sed 's/ttl/ttl^G/g'

        man ping in FreeBSD-STABLE:

        -A Audible. Output a bell (ASCII 0x07) character when no packet is
        received before the next packet is transmitted. To cater for
        round-trip times that are longer than the interval between trans-
        missions, further missing packets cause a bell only if the maxi-
        mum number of unreceived packets has increased.

        -a Audible. Include a bell (ASCII 0x07) character in the output
        when any packet is received. This option is ignored if other
        format options are present.
    • Re:This is Stupid (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Anything over TCP/IP is Digital... there is no frequency beside on and off.

      Please buy a dictionary and look up 'frequency'.
    • I don't see any reason why this wouldnt work in a wireless lan.
    • Fine convert the jitter to music... but how is that going to help you beyond what a numeric display would tell you?

      A surgeon isn't going to want to have to look up every 5 seconds at some display while he's working if he can avoid it. Having a constant tone that will immediately change when network conditions change would be much easier since the surgeon can get the necessary information without breaking his focus on the job at hand. I think the article appears to feature people that are actually rather clueful.
    • Re:This is Stupid (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      You have frequency confused with amplitude - even an AC like myself knows that. for example

      using only 0 and 1 i will now demonstrate a frequency of 2 "1's" per second given you are reading at a four number per second rate


      there ya go.

      frequency is instances over time

      amplitude is peak amount per instance
    • Fine convert the jitter to music... but how is that going to help you beyond what a numeric display would tell you?

      Because sometimes looking at a numeric display means looking away from something important.

      I think the idea is that using sound as an additional input means that the user is able to concentrate on using their eyes for things that need sight and can use their ears for something that does not (i.e. telling how good the connection is)

      E.g. I'm controlling a robot that requires absolute concentration. Obviously, a change in the quality of the connection will require me to change what I'm doing with the robot (as its responsiveness changes) so I need to be aware of the connection quality. At the same time, I don't want to be switching between looking at what the robot is doing and a checking connection.

      I don't think this is intended for normal computer users.
  • by cpct0 ( 558171 ) <slashdot.micheldonais@com> on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:54AM (#4774593) Homepage Journal
    Well... Technically if you take the lag between the different bits of the reception of the ping, you could get the "sound" of your modem/broadband.

    Other way, if you send 3000 1-byte pings and convert the lag of the pings to a sample, you should have a pretty good approximation of the discrepencies of your connection.

    Now as to say where does these discrepencies come from, it's another matter altogether. To have a totally reliable solution, you should receive samples from every part of the traceroute and make sure that traceroute is kept for your "telesurgery". ... and it's hoping the usage of the different nodes are constant and have enough bandwidth to support the steam in the first place.

    I don't see it as baloney, it's certainly a novel approach. But as for an useful application, I'm less than sure. In a few years, maybe.

    • Rather than a novel approach, isn't that just 'interface' thingy ?
      The most important point is the connection itself. The surgeon should know when it goes down, or when latency changes, whatever the means used (light, sound, hell, why not electric shock !).
      I see that as a maybe fun way to see the trouble, but it won't solve it.
      I'll of course assume the surgeon buys special bandwidth with certified low- or fixed- latency before doing the surgical act...
    • by Ed Avis ( 5917 ) <> on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:29AM (#4774723) Homepage
      Checking current ping times is not much use for an important application where low latencies are needed. If the network is nice and fast before you begin the surgery, how do you know the ping times will still be as low three hours from now?

      What's needed is some way to reserve bandwidth in advance, some kind of ICMP packet that says 'I want to be able to send packets quickly to the following address during the next three hours'. The router will reply with 'okay' or 'no, I can't guarantee that'. If the router has given you a guarantee then it can prioritize your packets during the timeslot you reserved. There would be an extra charge from your ISP for such reservations of course - and the ISP would pass some of this charge on to its peers. Indeed, the routers might be able to negotiate prices among themselves.
  • The every-other-month posts about turning xxxx into's funny all the things they take and turn into sound, but why a ping? That CANNOT be the easiest/best way to do it, is the sound the ping makes (I cannot get the sound of sonar out of my head no matter how hard I try) going to be monitored by machine? If not whats to say the person monitoring it doesn't have crappy hearing. And if a machine monitors it, that CAN'T be a lightweight bit of software/hardware.

    I agree with the "they thought it was cool" blurb.
    • Funny you mention that. I just heard a local public radio blurb about a Cincinnati company that is applying this to multi-perspon emergency worker and police radio communications and conference calling. Here's an article (not from the same comapny) about using this for cockpit displays []. A PDF [] about NASA research on the subject. (Goes into exactly how we can fool the ears into spatial localization.) A chapter from a book [] about auditory cueing using spatial localization.

      Most of this seems to be geared towards increasing Situational Awareness [] in the context of aircraft cockpits.
    • And if a machine monitors it, that CAN'T be a lightweight bit of software/hardware.

      Digital tuners that do the same thing are available at your local music store for about $50. :-) Frequency measurement is cake, so long as you don't get too wacky on the waveform you're trying to measure. Any major cost issues would come from certification of the equipment for a medical environment, not from the design/hardware side.
  • by RobertTaylor ( 444958 ) <roberttaylor1234@g m a> on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:57AM (#4774604) Homepage Journal
    The last three main stories:

    "I'm convinced that there's nothing here that couldn't be done with a suitably clever piece of software"

    "Interesting story, no real information though"

    "It's not a very substantive piece, but a good discussion starter"

    I would hate to see the submitted storys that are rejected!
  • So let me get this straight. Years and years ago, when I got my first UNIX primer the first thing I was taught was how to PING a host.

    And they're just now discovering it? Did the reporter read a man page or something?

    • Hey, there's no 'ping' button on ie's taskbar, how can the average user know that command exists ?
      ie replies 'connection timed out' whatever the error is, so people don't check if the remote host is up or not using 'ping'...

      (ok, free bashing on ie, sometimes you just hafta say what you got inside you !)
    • And they're just now discovering it? Did the reporter read a man page or something?

      Woah! Don't jump to such radical conclusions! It takes years of using a UNIX like OS to be able to consult man pages.

  • eureka (Score:4, Funny)

    by prell ( 584580 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:00AM (#4774618) Homepage
    "wa#$tson, co@(me h@#ere! I nee#(d y@($u!!" Ping done. Reliability: 1
  • I wonder... (Score:2, Funny)

    by craenor ( 623901 )
    What it sounds like when you connect to AOL and play the "sound" of the connection.

    I'm guessing it's just going to sound like people laughing at you.
  • by Hank the Lion ( 47086 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:02AM (#4774630) Journal
    The article mentions that you could use this technique to monitor if the line is OK just before a critical operation. But will testing the quality of the line now give enough assurance that this quality will still be met in the middle of the operation, when there is no turning back?
    I think that for these critical applications any simple test like this will never suffice, and you will need some way of guaranteeing that a minimal level of signal quality will be there, regardless of changing circumstances.
    • I'd even go as far as asking 'is it good enough for any operation ?'.
      Lag change, noticed or not, can be just the bad thing that kills your patient.... even on a simple operation !
      That's why indeed there's the need for guaranteed (and maybe more important constant) lag time...
    • Exactly.

      What happens when some surgeon begins surgery, and some router in the middle of the link has to deal with the /. effect? Or worse, someone else launches a DOS attack?

      I want my telesurgery done over QOS links, with guaranteed bandwidth.

    • ...if the line is OK just before a critical operation. But will testing the quality of the line now give enough assurance that this quality will still be met in the middle of the operation

      I was thinking the same thing. Imagine some city workers digging somewhere along the line and hitting your fiber with something like excavator. How's any testing that will be done before operation going to provide any safety against something like that? Does it help if this system can for sure tell that "connection is lost" during the critical operation?

      First thing to do is to prevent mechanical failure, but I don't see a way to do that. All you can do is to have multiple backups. Like in addition to that fiber connection, you need enough bandwith on some low latency radio system for the full length of communication line or something. And that can provide only one level of redundancy.

  • But with an audible ping, they could make sure they have a good connection for the delicate procedures.

    Sure, there could be a doctor holding two fingers on the jugular of a patient, but that requires another person, and sure they could have a machine that did it for them without sound, but that would require people to be watching it.

    Having an audible signal for when something goes wrong makes multitasking easier, and therefore, this could be beneficial.
  • by YE ( 23647 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:12AM (#4774658)
    The human ear (and the corresponding piece of driver code in the brain) is very sensitive to regularities and irregularities in sounds. If you convert something to sound and get used to it, you can very easily spot how it "sounds wrong" when something changes.

    Seismographists used to convert earthquake vibration patterns to human-audible sounds; this way it became very easy for a trained ear to distinguish between natural quakes and Soviet nuclear tests. On a screen, both looked like a jumble of lines.

    Of course, a clever piece of software can do this too - but you already have this clever piece of software installed for free in your brain.
    (Unfortunately it is free-beer, as the source is not available. Hmmmm, I guess rms should target God as the largest producer of closed-source software in the Universe?)
    • If you convert something to sound and get used to it, you can very easily spot how it "sounds wrong" when something changes.

      You can that! I had to debug some modem problems a while back, and it got to the point that I could not only tell whether it was going to connnect or not, but at what speed, just by listening to the entrain sequences. Bearing in mind that V.90 only has a limited set of frequencies it can connect at, I was either getting the right value or one of the adjacent ones *every time*.

      Yeah, I know: Sad! ;)

    • (Unfortunately it is free-beer, as the source is not available. Hmmmm, I guess rms should target God as the largest producer of closed-source software in the Universe?)

      And the penalty for reverse engineering it is death (for one person atleast)

    • Of course, a clever piece of software can do this too - but you already have this clever piece of software installed for free in your brain.

      Given that the latency of a ping is no guarantee of the connection speed in 5 minutes time, regardless of whether you use your screen or your ears, isn't this the other way around? Taking a method as good as any other and writing a clever bit of software to use the clever bit of software in your brain to get much the same results as a simple ping?

      And what about a quick glance at a latency graph on the pc's monitor? If I was undergoing remote surgery, I'd much rather rely on a nice smooth graph of low ping latency over the past 2 hours than the questionable skills of a tech listening to the pings for a few minutes...

    • by scoove ( 71173 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @11:29AM (#4775029)
      The human ear (and the corresponding piece of driver code in the brain) is very sensitive to regularities and irregularities in sounds.

      Two additional thoughts/perspectives on this (from a symphony french horn player now broadband guy):

      - sound, in learning theory, is very powerful and when combined with other learning mediums (e.g. visual or conceptual) can be a good reinforcer.

      Incidentally, if you ever wish to learn morse code, some of the most effective ways to learn it well and quickly are to learn it as sound - not patterns - because of how the brain processes things faster there.

      People that try to think of code as "dah - dit - dah" - long/short/long - are crippling themselves and engineering future speed problems. I've actually seen people draw out lines and dots when hearing code, then going back to visually review it all and convert to letters. Audiatory --> Visual --> Conceptual. Ugh!

      Instead, by learning it as a language based on sound - they'll be able to reach 30 wpm and greater because of how our brains are designed for optimized processing of language/sound. They'll begin hearing letters without even thinking of dahs and dits, or dashes and periods.

      - sound for network testing: Using sound isn't that crazy. We already use Winamp and a 160 Kb shoutcast stream for lots of testing - you can be working on a circuit and immediately recognize you've got a problem when the audio drops, and the loading is nice when you're dealing with broadband residential service. Sure, there are special software tools for this, but none as pleasant to work with as a shoutcast of

      • Instead, by learning it as a language based on sound - they'll be able to reach 30 wpm and greater because of how our brains are designed for optimized processing of language/sound. They'll begin hearing letters without even thinking of dahs and dits, or dashes and periods.
        Can you recommend any free/Free software-based Morse trainers that use this technique? (I'm a Tech Plus, KB3BZG, but I wouldn't mind improving my CW speed)
    • When I was studying we used an old (very old) Burroughs mainframe. It had a loudspeaker hooked up to one of the bits of the program counter (a register that equates to what piece of code is currently being executed). To give an idea how slow this machine was, a typical program produced a crazy bunch of tones somewhat like a dial-up modem synching itself up.

      But if your program entered a loop, the loudspeaker started emitting a very high pitched and steady tone. You could tell other things by listening too - depending on whether the whole "kernel" was looping or not, you might hear individual interrupt handlers breaking in. It was actually a pretty cool tool and I have often considered how difficult it would be to build a UI (not that there was any such thing as a UI in those days) that gave the equivalent information.

      CPUs are now way too fast of course and do too many things at once to make this approach any use. But I think it could be a very useful way to very quickly get a good estimation of the quality of a network connection.

      Whether you'd want to start open heart surgery based on that estimate is another matter of course.

  • Do a quick google for hospital machine ping [] and voila the meaning of life!
  • So the surgeon will have this walkman, and only cuts something when the music is harmonious.

    It looks ridiculous said like this, but imagine the uses in emergency situations - you have to setup a connection using whatever network you can find, and the bandwidth usage changes constantly. So by listening to the "sound", you can take action at the right time without worrying about lag.

  • " it is possible to hear the reliability and strength of an internet connection"..."I'm convinced that there's nothing here that couldn't be done with a suitably clever piece of software - unless I'm missing something."

    Of course, you can always do it using a suitably clever piece of software that "converts the frequencies of a 'ping' to sound", what were they thinking? ;)
  • ever wondered whar "ping" means
  • of Sean Connery (dressed like a sub captain in the Hunt for Red October) standing in a NOC giving the command:

    Connery: "One Ping Mr. Reilly"

    Reilly: "But Sir!"

    Connery: "I said one ping!"

  • by the bluebrain ( 443451 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:20AM (#4774682)
    testing a network in this way is near enough to useless to make no difference.

    The concept is that of "continuity". We are surrounded by it, we are so used to it that we don't perceive it as such anymore: objects do not simply appear out of thin air, or disappear with/without a puff of smoke. Objects do have edges, but they are well-defined and predictable. For example: my table stops *there* [stares at table], right at the edge, and will continue to do so until further notice. If at some point it no longer stops *there*, e.g. because someone moved it, or it broke, then I probably will be able to tell why. In addition, I can judge the permenance of objects in the physical word with a good degree of certainty: I can tell the difference between a good, solid table, and a wonky one.

    Networks are different: they go down for no apparent reason, suddenly, and without warning. They can be more or less robust, but I will not be able to tell how robust a network is with a couple a pings.

    The physical-world analogy of that which is being proposed in this article is the following:
    A surgeon knows from experience that her hands occasionally just disappear, and then reappear again a while later. She personally doesn't know why this is, but has gotten used to it. During surgery, it is bad for her hands to disappear. So, before performing surgery, she waves her hands about, shakes them, wrings them, and it they're still there, it'll probably be okay.

    Great. The point is that what the surgeon needs to know about the network (or in the analogy, her hands), is *why* it disappears, and under what circumstances. Only then will surgery be able to be performed with a calculable degree of risk. So: build a dedicated network, with guaranteed ping times, zero jitter, et cetera. Then, once you have gained some faith that your network is reliable, by all means test it before using it, but do not rely on some arcane hand-waving to judge if it's good enough or not. If there is any reason that any parameters of a network may change during tele-surgery - like some PFY firing up Kazaa - then it's simply not good enough for the task.
    • Regardless of how well you design your network, it is possible for it to go down or experience brief glitches, as you yourself pointed out. If the network does go down and you are in the middle of a delicate procedure, it is essential the surgeon knows about it as quickly as possible, and not just from an image freezing or something. Imagine what can go wrong during 0.5 of a second in which a surgeon has hold of some delicate piece of tissue and thinks the reason it isn't moving is because he isn't applying enough pressure, when in fact the image has momentarily frozen because of a brief network glitch. Having a pet geek monitoring the network and yelling if something goes wrong isn't good enough to deal with such short-term matters.

      The point is it sounds like a good idea for the surgeon to know how the network is responding RIGHT NOW!! It's not a question of whether the network has gone down, but whether the image on the screen is an accurate representation of what is going on at this precise instant

      I'm not talking from any knowledge telesurgery, but I can't think of any faster way for a surgeon to be alerted of network problems. The pings could be sent out constantly at a high rate (without even waiting for each to come back before sending the next), and their results converted to a sound which the surgeons hears continuously. If there was a sudden drop in responsiveness or if the connection is lost, the surgeon may even know quickly enough to respond instinctively.

      Sometimes very simple ideas turn out to be highly effective and lasting. Think about the dead man's handle on trains, for example. And sometimes the more complicated ones cost lives, like the Airbus computers. (and yes I know the Airbus problems were technically pilot error, but the point still stands - it's good for the person in control of a potentially dangerous situation to get accurate feedback in the simplest and most robust way possible)

      >> The point is that what the surgeon needs to know about the network (or in the analogy, her hands), is *why* it disappears, and under what circumstances

      Nonsense! If for some reason, during an operation the network goes down, what the surgeon needs to know, and know bloody quickly, is THAT it has gone down, so he can do whatever he has been trained to do to minimise the danger of the situation. As to WHY it went down, there's plenty of time for thinking about that once the patient is safe

  • by grub ( 11606 )

    When I first read the headlines I imagined that weenie from the teleco ads using VoIP to ask "Can you hear me now?"

  • by Saint Aardvark ( 159009 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:22AM (#4774697) Homepage Journal
    Playing Quake in multi-player mode can show the strength and quality of an Internet connection, says Barry Straub, network system administrator for the University of Leith. By tracking the number of times a player is "fragged", or killed by an opposing player, he's able to track the latency in a given path over the Internet -- and this will be of great use for virtual surgeons of the future.

    "It's pretty simple, really," says Straub. "We just set up a couple standard gaming stations: one in the operating theatre with the patient, and one by the chief surgeon. They play against each other and report whenever they've been fragged. By tracking the frag rate, we can get a surprisingly accurate picture of the quality of the connection."

    Because the gaming and surgical computers use entirely different protocols, there is no way for the two signals to get confused.

    Straub admits that there is one thing that needs to be overcome before his method sees widespread use. "We've had a couple complaints from the surgeons about distractions from the gamer. And I can see their point. When you're chest-deep in someone half a continent away, you don't really want someone yelling '34t h0t l34d, suxx0rZ!' in your ear."

    "But we're thinking of maybe removing the larynx of gamers for this. It's probably the simplest solution."

    Open-source figurehead and programming guru Richard Stallman was unavailable for comment at press time. "He's having a gall-bladder operation right now," said a source close to the FSF founder. "He's going to be a few weeks recovering from the plasma burns."

  • by bigboard ( 463204 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:27AM (#4774716) This was done years ago according to the jargon file.
    • Yup, I was thinking the same thing. Also, Solaris' "snoop" has a -a option, which outputs to the audio device so you can hear how much traffic there is. Seems like this guy isn't doing anything terribly new, although it's a different and possibly useful way to audiolize(?) it.
  • by Omni-Cognate ( 620505 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:29AM (#4774721)

    I don't think the poster quite got the article. Regardless of whether this can be implemented in software or would require new hardware (don't know myself) this is a novel idea.

    When you ping a machine from the command line, you get a list of ping times, which scroll by at a rate of about 2 per second or so. This doesn't show you the truly short-term behaviour of the connection. If I have understood correctly (and with the science writer "guitar string" crap removed), the idea here is to ping continually whilst playing a sound whose period (1/frequency) is the same as the ping time.

    This has two advantages I can think of. The first and most important is that the ear is much better at picking up on a change in frequency than the eye is at picking out a couple of unusually high or low numbers in a scrolling list. This means that you can carry out a much larger number of "useful" pings (ie. ones whose results can be understood and used by an operator) per second. The second is that most networking applications (including telesurgery) don't make any use of sound, so the output of the pings is made continuously available to the user in a way that doesn't interfere with the task he/she is carrying out.

    I don't know a thing about telesurgery, but if the very short term behaviour of the connection is important, this sounds like an ingenious way of keeping the user continuously updated.

  • The ears are by far our most sensitive sensory system. The eyes can easily be fooled (if they couldn't there'd be no movies or TV). Sense of touch can be compromised by callouses. Taste...well no two people taste quite the same. Same is true for smell. Then we have our ears....Most people can hear over at least a 100 db dynamic range. sense of pitch - the ability to hear minute changes in the frequency of sounds is quite acute. So it the ability to hear the variance in time between sounds. Yes, there are quirks about our hearing such as the ability to mask sounds, and the fact that we only hear the louder of two frequencies close together (otherwise MP3 and Ogg encoding wouldn't work) but these anomolies have been extensively studied and are faily well known. Another thing...our hearing can be trained too! We can learn to hear things better/differently...just ask any audiophile. All in all, nature has given us a great test instrument in our hearing.....
  • by Zayin ( 91850 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:32AM (#4774740)
    How about transforming each http request to the webserver to sound? It would be something like this:[slashdot story posted] .
    ping.pingpingpingpingpingpingpingpingpingpingpi ngp ing
    pipipipipipipipiipiipipipipipiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii ii [blue smoke from webserver] piiiiiiiiiHONK... HONK[fire alarm going off]

  • Oh, it's not a guage, oh, why don't they print out a number... Sounds like a bunch of frustrated programmers who haven't had an idea of their own.

    It's called human computer interaction. The doctor has his hands and eyes full. A small auditory queue of whether it's safe to try to move that robotic arm (via an APPROPRIATE interface, not the keypad on your keyboard) is of great benefit.

    It's simple, effective, and doesn't require an understanding of networking or what the numbers mean. Low pitch bad, high pitch good (or whatever the mapping is) ... It's so simple, it's perfect. Like treemaps []. Have you ever seen hiarchial data represented in such a useful manner?
    • You're missing the obvious, which is that the net is a huge network: the fact that you've got a nice low ping *now* doesn't make the slightest difference if a major router goes down in 30 seconds time. It's big enough to be more or less random from the point of view of one user.

      I'd be bloody terrified if the surgeon started to cut into a vital organ, a DOS attack slowed the network down suddenly, and he had to hold his scalpel in precisely the same position for 5 mins while the connection stabilised. A gimmicky audio program wouldn't help with that, because by the time you could hear the problem, it'd be too late!

    • Pick up an cockpit and convert every signal into numbers in displays. Less than five seconds the pilot will search for the parachute...

      In fact we are some sort of weird generation. Some sort of generation X that forgot that there are other means of information rather than listings falling into syslogs, icons shinning and popup windows. Back in the early 70's, when I saw the first computer (a beast called IBM/360), computers had beeps, shinning buttons, switches that turned automatically. Most of it have gone. Only the irritating beep on Linux command line, when you make some mistake, reminds me that once that was one of the main warning signals. Today's audible signals turned into a misture of music or small sounds that follows GUI actions in many details. However, this signalling is by 80% superfluous. You don't get anything from listening *woops* and *pops* while you're working. As you hear it coutless times, you get so used to it, that you may ignore any serious warning sound. It's just entertainement, nothing else.

      The case of creating a audible ping is something that depends on two factors. Is this signalling important? Probably yes. With this you may get a control of network problems that may happen when you're doing something else. But the second problem might kill it. Is this signalling discrete and unique? Probably no. On my experience, I have seen lots of networks where ping timings bounce like crazy, in one moment you get 200us and right after that 2000us, then you fall into 10us and jump up to 1000us. Now, pick up this "audio-ping" and listen for a while. What will you get? Yes, MacBrains with cheesy ears. No information, no usefulness.

      However, there are lots of chances to create a useful ping. Note that audio is just an abstraction, something that compresses the real data into a more compact form of information that is more perceptive than the original (btw ping itself is quite an abstract entity to evaluate network status). So if one picks the right signalling with the right timings and the right transmission, such audio-ping may turn into something very useful. But, this can only be seen after someone cooks the thing. Until then we can only speculate.
      • 10 microseconds, eh? That's pretty good. When I ping localhost on my machine, I can only get around 45 microsectonds. :( What type of super-fast network do you use? I think avionics manufacturers would like to talk to you...

        PING studorgs ( from : 56(84) bytes of data.
        64 bytes from studorgs ( icmp_seq=0 ttl=64 time=44 usec
        64 bytes from studorgs ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=45 usec
        64 bytes from studorgs ( icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=46 usec
        64 bytes from studorgs ( icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=46 usec
  • This has been out for years. Just run an MP3 or OGG streaming server like Icecast, Shoutcast or SimpleServe Shout. You can hear the stream degrade or improve as through-put changes. Plus most streaming server have a status window that will show you how your connection is doing. If you have good sound quality you know you have a good connection.

    Why do they make simple things complicated?

    SimpleServer Shout:
  • Then stop linking to New Scientist. It seems like every story posted to /. from there is either over-hyped, or wild speculation. On the other hand, maybe people just really enjoy debunking lousy science news stories. That would fit in with the geek know-it-all mindset. Like I've just demonstrated. As for my vote, please stick to news from the more level-headed science reporting magazines, such as Science News or maybe Science Daily.
  • there are similar projects dealing with the aural network-traffic. birds tweeting when there is traffic. or a kind of synthetic morse alphabet to show the network-protocol and the kind of data..

    one of them is a kind of plugin for apache:
    digital emotions []
  • ..and they can fetch some from 'Saving Private Ryan':

    Ping Ping, n. Probably of imitative origin.
    The sound made by a bullet in striking a solid object or in passing through the air.
    1913 Webster

    They'd feel themselves real field surgeons then.
  • by YeeHaW_Jelte ( 451855 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @10:43AM (#4774777) Homepage
    When I was younger, I had a vacation job in an iron foundry (please don't ask why, the pay was shitty too) and I worked for a while in quality control. There was this old man there who used a hammer to test the newly casted pieces: he just hit them, and based on the sound he could tell if the casting had air pockets in it, or if the iron quality was sub-standard. The electronics which were purchased also for quality control were gathering dust in a corner.
    This idea of using sound to check connections may be less absurd than it sounds ... the old man was always right, even if the electronics weren't.
  • Old idea (Score:2, Informative)

    by timbrown ( 578202 )
    snoop (the packet sniffer in Solaris) has had an option to "listen" to packets since at least SunOS 5.6: ... snipped from man snoop ...

    -a Listen to packets on /dev/audio (warning: can
    be noisy).
  • Someone you can't stand is having an operation, what do you do? "Hmm.. how do those DOS attacks work again?"

  • Actually there is a sourceforge [] project that you can hear the network traffic as the sound of rain or a forest, the more traffic generated the busier the forest sounds or the harder the rain falls

    i have run this and i have to say it beats listening to the sound of a server rooms fans

    you can see/download the project here []
  • missed the point (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    i think a lot of you folks have quite missed the point.

    picture the page in your newspaper that has the little weather contour map of the high and low pressure areas. This information could be much more simply depicted as a table of pressure reading at various map points, so why do we go to all the trouble of producing the picture? Because the human brain is good at extracting information from pictures, it follows the lines, it analyses the curves, it recognises the directional arrows and can extract the information contained in the data - which is exactly what you want to get across.

    A telesurgeon has only two senses not already quite occupied, only one of which can be utilised for accepting the output of a computer. The brain is good at detecting harmonics in a sound frequency, so delivering the latency information in this way is very clever indeed.

    If you really want to read some pointless raving put down the new scientist and go read some patents or something.
  • 1am: ping blip blip blip ping
    3am: Story posted on slashdot.. many slashdotters just gone to bead: ping blip blip pant pant blip pant
    7am: Story extremely popular : Ping pant pant huff *scream* *ouch* *fry* *sizzle* *fzzzzzt*.......... ping timeout
  • but this really isn't new. Here where I live there are networking companies that to test new networking cable send sound through them. After all, CAT5 is really just a funky version of speaker wire, so it works. I see this as just another kind of test, ok, but not all that important. And I agree that it is probably nothing more than the media jumping on something cool.
  • Is that the measurement is qualitative. Two people could hear the same "ping sound" and come to different conclusions about the network quality.

    "Network sounds a bit slow today."

    "Nah, sounds OK to me. Hey Joe, what d'you think?"

    "Dunno, sounds bubbly."
  • New Scientist is NOT a good source for scientific news. They slant their writing such that many minor advancements look like the discovery of the century and major discoveries that don't agree with their politics are made to look routine.
  • by loconet ( 415875 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @12:04PM (#4775236) Homepage
    When I listen to shoutcasts if it buffers too frequently then I know the connection is not good.
  • This method might tell you about the jitter and latency right now, but it offers no guarantees that the connection will stay that way (I can't see how any method can). If someone starts a bit download or a digger goes through a cable you're screwed! (or rather the patient is)


  • by TheSHAD0W ( 258774 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @02:41PM (#4776154) Homepage
    After reading that article, I have a picture in my head of a doctor in surgery garb holding a pair of defibrillator paddles on a Cisco router and yelling "Clear!"
  • In a recent eweek article ( 00.asp?qry=jaalam&site=eWEEK - sorry about the lack of html I am still mainly a paper oriented person) a company called Jaalam was mentioned that has a product called AppareNet that uses the ICMP packets to find out the health of networks and provide trouble shooting and status of networks. I actually saw an early demo of their product and it was impressive how it found latency issues, duplex issues, and bottlenecks across our company WAN just by doing an analysis of the data contained in the standard ICMP packet. It was also impressive that it did not trigger any of the firewalls along the way that look for scanners and such.
  • This doesn't require new hardware. You could do it simply by sending a regularly timed sequence of packets to port 7, then linearly interpolating between the packet return times to get a smooth waveform at a frequency having some relation to the round-trip time. By each side adding its own timestamp to the packet (and using a slightly more sophisticate server than "echo"), each side could also find out the one-way trip time each way.

    While "neat", this doesn't seem particularly radical, or even hard to implement. I could probably come up with a crude working version within an hour.

    I don't, however, put much stock in the claims about making telesurgery safer. The information obtained by this only gives a more fine-grained, modally-unusual form of information about the link's *current* state. It has no long-term predictive power whatsoever.

    I didn't quite get the comments about modelling the network as a drum rather than a guitar string - I understand the need for a multidimensional representation, but to monitor even a small subnet you get into numbers of dimensions humans have no familiar analaog to (and thus, cannot extract meaningful information from). Unless they meant that one could plot the "to" times on one axis and the "from" times on the other, and model *that* as a 2D surface such as a drum. That would work, I guess, but would make it harder to understand the output.
  • by Telex4 ( 265980 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @05:12PM (#4776822) Homepage
    When waiting for Gentoo to compile (zzzzzz) my mate and I were messing around with pipes, listening to the linux kernel source code, and other such exciting things ;-)

    Anyway, we piped a ping through to the speakers and noticed a big difference between local pings and Internet pings, as well as Internet pings to UK sites and US sites. Probably the best use though was just to see if the machine was connected, and also to figure out which patch cable was the one belonging to the particular computer (start it pinging, then unplug until you hear no more pings!).

    God bless UNIX :-)
  • The notion of the translation of data for another sense is not a new one. Many years ago, as a last piece on a news show somewhere, I saw how some scientists were considering converting chemical assay data to a recognized tune so that they can work on other things and "hear" any anomalies in the sample.

    I can remember it that clearly for two reasons:

    1. The piece of music they mentioned as an example (the Star Spangled Banner), and
    2. The specific chemical application they were going to use it for (urinalysis).

    That's right, whatever wise man said "Never whistle while you're pissing" (I remember it first in connection with Robert Anton Wilson, but I could be wrong) had no idea this day was coming. (And if you ever hear the Star Spangled Banner playing in the washroom, try not to salute!)

    Numbers on a terminal window don't have much meaning unless put in perspective, or the perspective is known very well to begin with. Music is a "given" perspective that most people know already. They may not be able to play a note, but they know what sounds right and what doesn't. This method is a good way to convert numeric data into something more immediately recognizeable.

    Now, the bad news: The connection between doctor and patient in a telesurgery operation must be both low latency and low jitter. When either one isn't there, the participants have good reason to panic. And all that auditory monitoring of ping times and jitter will do is enable that panic to set in that much more quickly. Can you say "liability," boys and girls?

    I just don't consider the modern Internet to be sufficiently reliable for any application, and I expect its quality will continue to degrade as time goes by, more people get on, ISPs save money by not upgrading their equipment to handle the new press of people, and certain forces work to pollute the net with carnality, banality, and commercialism.

    "Nurse, wipe please. And clear those pop-ups."
  • Is the last thing you hear the ping of death?
  • He!
    iputils-20020124-8 from Red Hat 8.0 has an "-a" switch, that makes the ping audible.

    [root@helene root]# ping -c3 -a localhost

    PING localhost.localdomain ( from : 56(84) bytes of data.
    64 bytes from localhost.localdomain ( icmp_seq=1 ttl=64 time=0.035 ms
    64 bytes from localhost.localdomain ( icmp_seq=2 ttl=64 time=0.031 ms
    64 bytes from localhost.localdomain ( icmp_seq=3 ttl=64 time=0.028 ms

    It makes a "bell" sound for every packet. Combining -a and -f (flood ping) doesn't work though.

    I wouldn't rely on ping too much, though, audible or not; recently one of our servers suddenly lost its root-device. Amazingly the kernel limped on and replyed to pings. Our network monitoring program ( therefore claimed the host was up, but all services had stopped answering.

1 Angstrom: measure of computer anxiety = 1000 nail-bytes