Sine-wave Speech Demonstrates An Auditory One-way Door

Sine-wave speech can be thought of as a sort of auditory illusion, a sensory edge case in which one’s experience has a clear “before” and “after” moment, like going through a one-way door.

Sine-wave speech (SWS) is intentionally-degraded audio. Here are the samples, and here’s what to do:

  1. Choose a sample and listen to the sine-wave speech version (SWS). Most people will perceive an unintelligible mix of tones and beeps.
  2. Listen to the original version of the sentence.
  3. Now listen to the SWS version again.

Most people will hear only some tones and beeps when first listening to sine-wave speech. But after hearing the original version once, the SWS version suddenly becomes intelligible (albeit degraded-sounding).

These samples were originally part of research by [Chris Darwin] into speech perception, but the curious way in which one’s experience of a SWS sample can change is pretty interesting. The idea is that upon listening to the original sample, the brain — fantastic prediction and learning engine that it is — now knows better what to expect, and applies that without the listener being consciously aware. In fact, if one listens to enough different SWS samples, one begins to gain the ability to understand the SWS versions without having to be exposed to the originals. In his recent book The Experience Machine: How Our Minds Predict and Shape Reality, Andy Clark discusses how this process may be similar to how humans gain fluency in a new language, perceiving things like pauses and breaks and word forms that are unintelligible to a novice.

This is in some ways similar to the “Green Needle / Brainstorm” phenomenon, in which a viewer hears a voice saying either “green needle” or “brainstorm” depending on which word they are primed to hear. We’ve also previously seen other auditory strangeness in which the brain perceives ever-increasing tempo in music that isn’t actually there (the Accelerando Illusion, about halfway down the list in this post.)

Curious about the technical details behind sine-wave speech, and how it was generated? We sure hope so, because we can point you to details on SWS as well as to the (free) Praat software that [Chris] used to generate his samples, and the Praat script he wrote to actually create them.

Smart Sphere Or Magnetic Magic

Sometimes a coworker sees something on your desk, and they have to ask, “Where can I get one of those?” and that has to be one of the greatest compliments to a maker. [Greg Zumwalt] nailed it with his “Marblevator Line Follower.” Roboticists will immediately recognize a black line on a white surface, but this uses hidden mechanics instead of light/dark sensors. Check out the video after the break to see the secrets, or keep bearing with us.

Inside the cylinder is a battery, charging circuit, inductive receiving coil, and a motor turning a magnet-laden arm beneath the cap. The overall effect is an illusion to convince people that the marble has a mind of its own. You can pick up the cylinder, and it keeps moving as expected from an autonomous bot. The black line is actually a groove, so the bearing follows a curvy course without any extra movements from the magnets within. The two-tone look is super-clean, but the whimsy of a “smart bearing” makes this an all-around winner.

“Marblevator Line Follower” is not the first Marblevator we featured, and we love our bouncing-bearing baubles and music-making machines.

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These Illusions Celebrate Exploiting Human Senses

Illusions are perceptual experiences that do not match physical reality, and the 2023 Illusion of the Year contest produced a variety of nifty ones that are worth checking out. A video for each is embedded below the break, but we’ll briefly explain each as well.

Some of the visual illusions play with perspective. One such example happens to be the contest winner: Platform 9 3/4 has a LEGO car appear to drive directly through a wall. It happens so quickly it’s difficult to say what happened at all!

Another good one is the Tower of Cubes, which appears as two stacks of normal-looking hollow cubes, but some of the cubes are in fact truly bizarre shapes when seen from the side. This is a bit reminiscent of the ambiguous cylinder illusion by Japanese mathematician and artist [Kokichi Sugihara].

Cornelia is representative of the hollow face illusion, in which a concave face is perceived as a normal convex one. (Interestingly this illusion is used to help diagnose schizophrenia, as sufferers overwhelmingly fail to perceive the illusion.)

The Accelerando Illusion is similar to (but differs from) an auditory effect known as the Risset Rhythm by composer Jean-Claude Risset. It exploits ambiguities in sound to create a dense musical arrangement that sounds as though it is constantly increasing in tempo.

The Buddha’s Ear Illusion creates the illusion of feeling as though one’s earlobe is being stretched out to an absurd length, and brings to mind the broader concept of body transfer illusion.

While it didn’t appear into the contest, we just can’t resist bringing up the Thermal Grill Illusion, in which one perceives a painful burning sensation from touching a set of alternating hot and cold elements. Even though the temperatures of the individual elements are actually quite mild, the temperature differential plays strange tricks on perception.

A video of each of the contest’s entries is embedded below, and they all explain exactly what’s going on for each one, so take a few minutes and give them a watch. Do you have a favorite illusion of your own? Share it in the comments!

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Water Drips Up In Kid-Friendly Engineering Experiment

Did you know that water can drip UP instead of down? It’s true! Okay, okay- it’s a bit of an optical illusion, but one that’s mesmerizing no less, and it’s one that is especially awe-inspiring for kids. As [Science Buddies] explains in the video below the break, it’s also achievable for anyone with some basic supplies.

On first glance, the “water dripping upward” illusion looks like it must be extremely complicated with precisely timed drops, and perfectly triggered strobing lights and the like- right? Well, not so much. [Science Buddies] demonstrates a highly simplified experiment using only an aquarium pump, a basic frame, a smart phone with a strobing app, and naturally, water. The experiment is presented in a simple manner that would allow a young person to replicate it without too much adult intervention.

The video goes into such concepts as frequency, duty cycle (pulse width modulation), and other basic engineering principles. The experiment can be completed for just a few dollars for the pump and tubing, and the rest can be improvised. What a great way to get a young one started on their way to engineering!

If you’d like to see a more fleshed out version of a similar machine, check out this gravity defying dripper we featured a few years ago.
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Screenshot of the website, showing the sidebar with technology types on the left, and an entry about modifying LCD polarizers on the right, with a video showing an art piece using LCD polarizers

Alternative Display Technologies And Where To Find Them

[Blair Neal] has been working on an information database for artists and hackers – a collection of non-conventional display technologies available to us. We’ve covered this repository before, six years ago – since then, it’s moved to a more suitable platform, almost doubled in size, and currently covers over 40+ display technology types and related tricks. This database is something you should check out even if you’re not looking for a new way to display things right now, however, for its sheer educational and entertainment value alone.

[Blair] doesn’t just provide a list of links, like the “awesome-X” directories we see a lot of. Each entry is a small story that goes into detail on what makes the technology tick, its benefits and fundamental limitations, linking to illustrative videos where appropriate. It’s as if this guide is meant to give you an extensive learning course on all the ways you can visualize things on your creative journey. All of these categories have quite a few examples to draw from, highlighting individual artworks that have made use of any technology or trick in a particular way.

If you’re ever wondered about the current state of technology when it comes to flexible or transparent displays, or looked for good examples of volumetric projection done in a variety of ways, this is the place to go. It also talks about interesting experimental technologies, like drone displays, plasma combustion or scanning fiber optics. Overall, if you’re looking to spend about half an hour learning about all the ways there are to visualize something, this database is worth a read. And, if there’s a display technology the author might’ve missed and you know something about, contributions are welcome!

Someone setting out to compile information about an extensive topic is always appreciated, and helps many hackers on their path. We’ve seen that done with 3D printer resin settings and SMD part codes, to name just a few. What’s your favourite hacker-maintained database?

Bi-Color Filament Kicks 3D Printed Optical Illusions Up A Notch

A new video from [Make Anything] shows off a nice combo that has a real visual impact: ambiguous shapes that look different depending on what angle they are viewed at, combined with an unusual filament that enhances the effect greatly. As you can see in the image above that shows off just such an object in front of a mirror, the results are pretty striking.

Japanese mathematician and artist [Kokichi Sugihara] figured out the math behind such objects, of which his ambiguous cylinder illusion is probably the most well-known. That inspired [Make Anything] to create his own strange objects, which he showcases happily. He adds one more twist, however.

This filament is split right down the middle in two colors.

What is a natural complement to an object that looks different based on the direction from which it is viewed? A filament whose color depends on what direction it is viewed, of course! The filament in question is MatterHackers Quantum dual-color PLA, and this unusual filament is split right down the middle in two different colors, resulting in a printed object whose exact color depends entirely on the viewing angle, and the object geometry.

The resulting objects look especially striking when demonstrated with the help of a mirror, because as the object turns and changes, so does the color change as well. You can watch it all in action in the video below (embedded after the page break) which showcases quite a few different takes on the concept, so check it out to see them all.

3D printing has certainly opened up a new doors when it comes to brain-bending optical effects, like this hypnotic Moiré pattern, and perhaps dual-color filament can enhance those as well.

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Mirror, Mirror On The Wall, Do My Eyes Deceive Me After All

Say what you will about illusions, [Create Inc] has some 3D prints that appear to change shape when viewed in a mirror. For example, circles transform into stars and vice versa. A similar trick was performed by [Kokichi Sugihara] in 2016, where he showed circles that appear as squares in the mirror. For the trick to work, the camera’s position (or your eye) is important as the shapes look different from different angles. The illusion comes in when your brain ignores any extra information and concludes that a much more complex shape is a simpler one. [Create Inc] walks you through the process of how the illusion works and how it was created in Blender.

When he posted the video on Reddit, most seemed to think that it wasn’t a mirror and there was some camera trickery. At its heart, this is reverse-engineering a magic trick, and we think it’s an impressive one. STL files are on Thingiverse or Etsy if you want to print your own. We covered a second illusion that [Kokichi] did that relies on a similar trick.

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