back to article Switch off the mic if it makes you feel better – it'll make no difference

My neighbor is talking to a rock. He is trying to persuade it to sing. Urging him back to the barbecue, I make a mental note to abstain from the cheap luminous pink sparkling rosé that he'd been drinking. It's easy to recognize the bottles – I'm the one who brought them to the party. He asks me to hang on a mo, turns back to …

  1. thosrtanner

    I have had that battling between apps controlling your mike so often :-(

    That, along with the 'if your microphone is not switched on when I start, I'll never recognise it ever' group of apps, means I often have to spend 5 minutes at the start of a meeting trying to get my microphone to register with the app the meeting is being held on.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge
      Flame

      Or Windows itself is convenced that your headset isn't connected when it is, or it is connected but for some reason it decides you want to use just one of the headset's microphone or loudspeakers and the other defaults back to the computer's.

      So at start of the meeting everyone gets to hear you swearing at the wretched contraption as you unpair and repair and reconfigure and etc...

      1. jmch Silver badge

        I find this particularly galling for wireless headsets. Would it be THAT difficult for the device to communicate to Windows* that it's off, and for Windows* to automatically switch to the inbuilt microphone / speakers??

        *not sure if the same issues happen with Mac / Linux??

        1. Postscript
          Facepalm

          linux

          I use Fedora with bluetooth earbuds. Zoom should just replace the audio settings panel with a big button that says "SURPRISE ME!" since that's what it does every day anyway.

          1. Joe W Silver badge

            Re: linux

            And I thought it was my headset acting up - both under windows and Devuan...

            all OS suck. Just in different ways.

            1. Zarno

              Re: linux

              "all OS suck. Just in different ways."

              I'd recommend the following song:

              Every OS Sucks — Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie

              Worth a listen, if the speakers decide to function.

        2. AndrueC Silver badge
          Happy

          The only problem I have in practice is that Windows sometimes fails to register my Bluetooth headset powering on. Then I have to unplug/plug the BT adaptor.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I agree with that point.

      I use TeamSpeak for my bi-weekly Internet gaming sessions with my friends, but if I ever forget to plug in the USB mike before starting TeamSpeak, the latter will never recognize the former unless I restart the program.

      I wonder what technical limitation is at play, here. You can open Windows Explorer before plugging in a USB key, Explorer will find it.

      Why is that so difficult for microphones ?

      1. oiseau
        Facepalm

        Wonder?

        I wonder what technical limitation is at play, here.

        Wonder?

        Wonder you say?

        Where's the joke icon?

        O.

      2. M.V. Lipvig Silver badge

        Nothing is difficult from a strict usage standpoint, and in the olden days it was easy. But today, geting your data is like getting a flake of gold dust every minute. If they make it a pain to turn on and off at your convenience but easy to just leave on all the time, they know most folks will just leave it on all the time.

    3. Kubla Cant

      Not just Windows. I have to WFH on a MacBook. It's a reasonable computer, but I can't understand why they're supposed to be a panacea for the technically challenged, as the O/S is like a cheese dream.

      I use a USB webcam with its own mic, but the MacBook randomly decides to use its own mic even when its case is shut. It's worse with the camera: not only does it randomly choose one, but sometimes it shown nothing from either camera and has to be rebooted.

      And then there's the screens. I have two monitors plus the so-called Retina Display (Why? Retinas are for seeing things, not displaying them - it's like calling the TV a camera). When the MacBook boots, or even when it wakes from sleep, it randomly jumbles the screen positions so I have to crank up System Preferences and drag them back into the right order.

      But it's achingly cool, of course.

      1. Richard 12 Silver badge

        macOS has at best Windows XP level support for multiple monitors. Apple might eventually reach the 21st century, but it seems unlikely.

        Sound routing seems to be horrifically broken everywhere. I don't understand why, it's not rocket surgery.

        Windows 10 regularly decides that I must desperately want to use HDMI speakers, and isn't dissuaded by the fact they don't exist or that I disabled them last time.

        1. jmch Silver badge
          Trollface

          "support for multiple monitors"

          Why would you want an external monitor on your Mac? It has a RETINA DISPLAY, don't you know?? If the screen is too small, get yourself a 27-inch iMac. It's only 4 grand, surely you're not such a peasant that you can't afford it??

      2. Alistair Dabbs

        If your MacBook is jumbling the locations of your open windows between attached displays when awaking from sleep, there is something wrong with the displays or there is a corrupted file in macOS. My M1 MacBook doesn't give me this problem, nor did my previous Intel one, so I doubt it's intrinsic to macOS or Apple hardware.

        1. Kubla Cant

          There's quite a bit of discussion of the problem on Apple-related fora. It seems likely that it's because the monitors are identical. Possibly the MacBook can tell the difference between two £4k Apple monitors, but it can't be bothered to distinguish between cheapo Samsung ones.

      3. Dan 55 Silver badge

        It's worse with the camera: not only does it randomly choose one, but sometimes it shown nothing from either camera and has to be rebooted.

        Instead of rebooting...

        sudo killall VDCAssistant ; sudo killall AppleCameraAssistant

        With an admin user, enter password twice.

        This is obvious and user friendly, because macOS just works.

      4. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
        Linux

        Linux, as well

        Which video device? Which audio device? Did I remember to connect it before starting the app? And did I wait long enough for it to be enumerated?

        They're almost all on USB, but I have a headset, a camera (with microphone), motherboard analog audio, etc.

        It would be so much easier if the drop down list used the actual device name from USB, instead of the device pathname...

        1. cavac

          Re: Linux, as well

          I have a few bash scripts that do some pulseaudio configuration for me. You can add multiple audio mixing channels with different sources and sinks.

          There are also ways to fake video sources

          A bit of work (and a lot of headbanging and googling) to get it right, but it's fantastic. Basically, let's you participate in a meeting while playing minecraft. All the people could see you programming and occasionally cursing (playback of a recorded work session) while in reality you are in the kitchen cooking and listening to the session with your wireless headset.

          Just make sure to wear the same clothes, so as to not arouse too much suspicion if you have to answer a question and have to switch streams to live mode.

          1. herman Silver badge

            Re: Linux, as well

            Cam girls get around the multiple streams and recordings issues with clothing continuity by not wearing any - well, not that I ever saw one of course.

      5. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        If you have sound problems the best you can install is SoundSource from Rogue Amoeba, that's the kind of interface that should have been in MacOS in the first place.

        As for screen problems, I'm surprised you have them. I have been using Macs for quite some time, and the only time I had a few problems was with the first version of Monterey - and I have as yet to use an Apple screen (ditto for the mouse - I prefer a Logitech Darkfield mouse as it's smaller).

    4. JimboSmith Silver badge

      I applied for a job a few years ago and as part of the interview process you had to record videos using a proprietary app. I was using a tablet in a gooseneck holder with a tie clip microphone (onboard microphone permanently disabled), audio splitter, Bluetooth mouse, daylight lightbulbs, baffling to reduce echo etc. Tested it with the tablet video app and adjusted lighting etc. so everything was perfect.

      Tried it with the interview app test recording and no sound can be heard. Tried a different external microphone and I got the same results which was puzzling. Emailed the app support and was told to use the microphone selection page, of course how did I miss that? Except there isn’t one, I uninstalled the app reinstalled it, re registered all to no avail. Tried a different tablet with same results. Bloody frustrating so I emailed support again, am I on a computer, or a tablet/phone I’m asked. Tablet says I……Oh well then there won’t be a selection page that’s for Windows/Macs.

      Can’t use external microphone on tablet/phone I finally found out. Can’t use the main camera either you have to use the selfie camera. So that put paid to using a mirror and the high res main camera. Support appear to be in the Far East and reading from a script, so if your issue isn’t on the script then they’re clueless as to what to do. I dug out a laptop then realised it didn’t have a camera. I did find the microphone selection page though. Used my then smartphone with sadly the low res selfie camera and tie clip microphone etc.

      It says don’t close the app or switch off the device whilst it is uploading so I didn’t. It stalled and then drained my battery in a short amount of time before the phone automatically shut down. I gave up at that point and

      emailed the prospective employer and asked for advice. Told to come in for an interview instead and they couldn’t believe I’d spent an entire day trying to get this to work. The review I left wasn’t pretty.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    men's room with no mute

    "But hey, who among us can claim never to have nipped to the loo in the middle of a long Zoomer without remembering to tap the Mute button, eh?"

    That would be me. But first, I'm scared as shit to do this and do remove the headset before going there and second, if I didn't do that, the headset would surely fall into the bowl as it is a bit loose, I don't want a gaming headset on my head ALL day long !

    1. Iamthedoc

      Re: men's room with no mute

      At a conference a few years ago, I remember racing to the sound desk to mute the radio mic of someone who had gone to the gents, accidentally turned on the transmitter and about a thousand people could hear what he was doing ...

      1. FuzzyTheBear

        Re: men's room with no mute

        Lavaliers with transmitter packs have caused more embarassment than you may think. Not to mention that if you simply mute at the board one can still listen in on the input monitoring .. so .. yeah .. any mics is to be considered an open mic. That's my rule number one.

    2. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: men's room with no mute

      This is an occupational hazard for teachers working with hearing impaired kids. You wear a radio mike that the kid(s) can hear in their hearing aides. But you do need to remember when to switch it off- or better remove it. Not just for toilet breaks- but also when you go to the staffroom for coffee and a chat at break times.

  3. Warm Braw

    Occasionally, it works fine; more often, it fails

    Put that on a slide and you've got the basis of a training course for almost any software package.

  4. Dr_N
    Gimp

    "playing a noisy western on TV while stiffing an opponent"

    What kind of kink is that Mr Dabbs?

    1. TimMaher Silver badge
      Terminator

      Boohhh!!!!

      Beat me to it.

      Actually... “Beat me to it”... hmm.

  5. Coastal cutie

    Four......

    Who on earth has a slice so bad they need GPS in their golf balls!

    1. Sam not the Viking Silver badge
      Pint

      Re: Four......

      I walk in the surrounding countryside, some of which is adjacent to a golf course. Quite often, I find 'stray' golf balls hundreds of yards (thousands of linguine) from the course boundary. It can be windy up there, but let's be reasonable. The maximum count in any one day was 12. Not retrieved by the golfer in accordance with their (slightly worrying) strict signage: "Balls in this field are not to be retrieved."

      At least GPS might suggest they take up bowling instead.

      1. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

        Re: Four......

        I wonder if any of those errant golf balls had been lifted by large birds which predate on other birds' eggs, and then dropped in a disappointed sulk when found not to be the tasty meal expected.

        1. KittenHuffer Silver badge

          Re: Four......

          Would those birds be African? Or European?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Four......

            Are you seriously trying to tell me that golf balls are migratory?

            1. Shooter

              Re: Four......

              The way I play, they are!

      2. herman Silver badge

        Re: Four......

        Holding a ball in a field, must be a very peculiar golfer fetish.

        1. Stoneshop
          Coat

          Re: Four......

          Or rummaging through some undergrowth looking for your balls.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Four......

        My Dad & friends were golfing in Spain, and since some parts of the course were sandy and/or covered in pale vegetation it was the custom to play with bright orange balls.

        One of them sliced his shot off the tee, over a nearby high wall. No problem, he said, I'll pull myself up & over and fetch it. After lifting himself up to look over the wall he dropped back down again, laughing.

        The wall surrounded an orange orchard, with many windfalls. He abandoned any hope of retrieving his ball.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Four......

          That may explain the extra tough Valencia orange I once had. My teeth haven't been the same since!

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Four......

      I'm sure if you search news reports hard enough you'll find reports from c 1980 of a police investigation which involved digging a trench near the practice tee of a Co. Down golf course (Crawfordsburn IIRC). It will include mention of police taking away samples in white plastic bags. In fact nothing of significance was found (it was one of several reports alleging buried bodies, all false) but it was like a golf ball mine. A lot of police officers were keen golfers and the bags were clear plastic, full of golf balls.

      Back in those days the golf club restaurant served such delicacies as chicken in a basket....

  6. b0llchit Silver badge
    Joke

    Just stick a mic in its head and we're in sci-fi spy thriller territory.

    With all the puns in this story I desperately need to add to the sound of music.

    It is time to anti-remake the classic musical and call it "The Anti-Sound of Music". It tells good stories how listening devices can go in combination with a multitude of loudspeakers hidden in plain sight. Instant feedback will be featured at multiple levels of embedding and mobility is ensured by the cellular network with almost autonomous gadgets neurologically linked.

    That will be a hit.

  7. Rafael #872397
    Joke

    … before secretly selling your transcribed recordings to advertisers.

    Come on, that is nonsense. They would never sell these recordings to Procter & Gamble, a fine company that makes Pepto-Bismol, which I hear you're needing.

    1. b0llchit Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: … before secretly selling your transcribed recordings to advertisers.

      Pfffffffffffffft...

      icon: explosive gas leak

  8. Christopher Reeve's Horse
    Big Brother

    If you can turn almost anything into a speaker, then I have bad news for you...

    With the right electronics behind it, a speaker is already a microphone too! Just like any motor can become a generator, any speaker can become a microphone - albeit a poorly optimised one. With the sheer complexity of modern devices who really can tell what the hell is going on though?

    1. newspuppy

      Re: If you can turn almost anything into a speaker, then I have bad news for you...

      you can see for yourself that simple headphones plugged into a microphone port work as microphones.

      So..

      1. Stoneshop

        Re: If you can turn almost anything into a speaker, then I have bad news for you...

        Age eight or nine I once plugged a dynamic mic into the earphone socket of a portable radio (hey, both 3.5mm jacks), and was rather surprised that sound came out.

    2. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      Re: If you can turn almost anything into a speaker, then I have bad news for you...

      User: "Turn the microphone off now"

      Speaker: "The microphone has been turned off"

      User: "I need to ask Google, please turn the microphone back on"

      Speaker: "OK, the microphone is enabled again."

    3. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: If you can turn almost anything into a speaker, then I have bad news for you...

      >With the right electronics behind it

      Doesn't even need electronics

    4. Mike 125

      Re: If you can turn almost anything into a speaker, then I have bad news for you...

      >With the right electronics behind it, a speaker is already a microphone too!

      TFA:

      "but I'm fairly sure that if you can get something to vibrate, you may be able to adapt it to pick up sounds instead of playing them."

      That's kinda the whole point.

      1. david 12 Silver badge

        Re: If you can turn almost anything into a speaker, then I have bad news for you...

        In a moment of blankness, I asked my lecturer why I was getting voltage readings when I dropped the speaker. He gave me a look of disgust, and said "it's a transducer".

  9. Jellied Eel Silver badge

    Barbecue with stereo iSummers

    Obviously Twisted Sister was right. If you want music in the garden, you wanna rock. You want two rocks.

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      Re: Barbecue with stereo iSummers

      Only if you want stereo, something that many people nowadays are not concerned about.

      1. ThatOne Silver badge
        Devil

        Re: Barbecue with stereo iSummers

        Why would you need stereo to have some conceited twerp blather (not sing) about how cool he is, proudly displaying his grotesquely oversized 2 carat gold plated jewelry (supposed to show how rich/powerful he is)...

        Stereo is for people who want to listen to music, not muzak.

    2. Alistair Dabbs

      Re: Barbecue with stereo iSummers

      The best cover version of that Twisted Sister song - arguably even better than the original - was this one by Spongebob Squarepants.

      1. el_oscuro

        Re: Barbecue with stereo iSummers

        That is awesome :) Most Spongebob covers just use 2 or 3 clips from the show repeated over and over, which is pretty boring.

        But these of Michael Jackson's "Smooth Criminal" and "Thriller" are good too.

        https://youtu.be/DoWrCMGXE4Q

        https://youtu.be/WrfeNtY5m5E

  10. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker
    Coat

    "...plagues of frogs and locusts, the dead rising from their graves, that sort of thing."

    Don't forget the cats and dogs living together -- mass hysteria!

    Mine's the jumpsuit with the proton pack.

  11. Dinanziame Silver badge
    Angel

    Mandatory XKCD

    1. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Thanks

      I had not seen that one. I was expecting this XKCD.

  12. Franco

    Fun Audio Fisticuffs

    To be honest I thought this name sounded more like a novelty bluetooth connected "adult toy" than a band, given the current penchant of coloured pencil departments around the world for cutesy hipster names. PowWowNow being one that really irrationally annoys me.

    1. Irony Deficient

      Re: Fun Audio Fisticuffs

      * — He reckons Fun Audio Fisticuffs would be a fine name for a band. It would be based in Boulder, be influenced by the Stones, and of course play rock.

      Presumably FAF’s lead singer would have a gravelly voice.

      1. Bill Gray

        Re: Fun Audio Fisticuffs

        Well, of quartz. I took that for granite.

      2. skeptical i
        Devil

        Re: Fun Audio Fisticuffs

        ... and be a gneiss guy ...

  13. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge
    Boffin

    I read an article (it was a good one, and I wish I'd made a note of the URL) where a researched did quite a good job of debunking the myth that our devices listen to us. The gist was that there is more interconnectedness and cross-referencing going on than you might realise. For example....

    - You have no interest in, say Nespresso machines, and so have never looked at them online

    - I, on the other hand, have been researching them online and recently taken delivery of one.

    - You come to visit me, I offer you a coffee, you express a liking for it, and I give credit to my new coffee making device.

    - You start seeing online adverts for Nespresso machines....it's like something was listening to your conversation!

    In fact, the data mining fairies have identified that your phone spent time in my house because of proximity to my wifi network...a network from which somebody is known to have recently made purchases. You must have things in common with whoever owns that wifi network, so perhaps you too have an interest in Nespresso machines and would like to see adverts for them.

    The examples given in the article were better than the simplistic one I've given here (there were other things going on to make connections between people and activities), but you get the idea. The point was that the level of data mining/analysis is so much more complex than we expect that it's easier to apply Occam's Razor and assume simple eavesdropping.

    1. A. Coatsworth Silver badge
      Coat

      Is that supposed to make us feel better or worse?

      You're saying that your devices not only listen to every word you say, but also record every move you make and every step you take?

      That really stings... but reporting it to the police won't be of any help.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The only secure means of communication is via message in a bottle

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You could try whispering, but then you may have to stand closer than the other person is comfortable with.

        2. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

          But which one of the hundred thousand is yours?

        3. Charlie van Becelaere

          Or the Cone of Silence

          (see title)

          https://giphy.com/gifs/tv-show-get-smart-cone-of-silence-pbgvTDqj1sAaQ

        4. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Whilst walking on the moon I discovered that microphones don't work in a vacuum.

      2. herman Silver badge

        Radio gaga is so much faster than a message in a bottle.

  14. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I'm pretty sure I've come across wall-as-a-speaker before but it only comes round every few decades. Maybe that's a comment on general views of its desirability.

    1. General Purpose

      Likewise turning the stage into a bass speaker.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "Your walls themselves then become loudspeakers."

    Seems like the perfect material for sensing noise - then generating the cancelling waveform. Dynamic sound insulation in houses.

  16. The Oncoming Scorn Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Vibrating Rock - Douglas....

    ARTHUR:

    Feeling the rock above my head. It seems to be humming.

    FORD:

    Humming?

    ARTHUR:

    Why should a rock hum?

    FORD:

    Perhaps it feels good about being a rock.

    ARTHUR:

    No. I mean it’s vibrating… as if it’s got an engine in it.

    FORD:

    You’re crazy. A rock with an engine in it?!

    ARTHUR:

    Who would want a motorised rock?

    FORD:

    Another motorised rock?

  17. Persona non grata

    Any article which finishes with a reference to ‘the Cabs’

    Is a damn fine one by me.

    Also worth remembering that any surface that vibrates can be turned into a mic with the use of a laser and some signal processing.

    If people really want to listen to/record what you are saying they will.

    1. General Purpose

      Re: Any article which finishes with a reference to ‘the Cabs’

      I always find it a bit tricky tracking you from room to room with the lasers, and doing it for all your "business associates" too was awfully expensive.

  18. AndrueC Silver badge
    Boffin

    I dunno about other OSes but the sound API that Windows provides is pretty unpleasant. The multimedia layer above it that most applications use is even worse. We have to deal with it because out main product is all about recording sound. I particularly remember the pain we had over detecting microphone hot plugging and unplugging. The number of messages raised is crazy. The way devices are named doesn't help either.

    So much as I hate to defend the likes of Teams and Zoom I have to offer them my sympathy and understanding.

  19. TSM

    Indeed, the article on this very site about the wallpaper speakers (https://www.theregister.com/2022/04/29/mit_flat_speakers/) does specifically discuss their potential as microphones, which researchers are actively pursuing:

    ----

    MIT professor Jeffrey Lang confirmed as much in an email to The Register.

    "The same device can work as a microphone," said Lang. "It can be mounted on the surface of any object and used for sound recording. The device itself is passive and generates voltage signal under incident acoustic waves. But we apply a small transimpedance amplifier in order to obtain a large signal-to-noise ratio."

    "We actually have an upcoming paper that reports the microphonic performance of the same device. The amplifier is the only part that consumes power. If a standalone design is needed, usually the signal storage/processing and wireless transmission consume much more power than the amplifier itself."

    "But we can either use a battery or integrate energy harvesting components to make it standalone without wiring to external power. For instance, our group is also developing thin-film solar cells and it's possible to integrate that with the acoustic thin film to provide the energy."

    ----

    So we can look forward to a time when our houses really are listening to everything we do all day long.

  20. el_oscuro
    Devil

    Repatriation preceeds me

    Before the pandemic, I always used a Model-M keyboard, so in conference calls, people were always asking me to mute. These days, I no longer use the Model-M, but still have a quieter mechanical keyboard.

    But on zoom calls, when someone is typing, they always blame me, even though they can clearly see my mic is muted.

  21. Big_Boomer Silver badge

    Ubiquitous microphones

    A friend told me that he switches the microphones in all his "Smart" devices off when he wants privacy, so I asked him if they were off, and he said yes. So, I very loudly said "Alexa, play some Death Metal" and was rewarded with the dulcet tones of Karl Willetts. He was shocked until I told him that he had only switched off the microphones in the speakers, not the ones in his phone, my phone, his better half's phone, his "Smart" TV, etc. If you don't want them to hear, yer gonna need to not go down the "Smart" route and leave your phone in a sound-proof box. They ARE listening to you, but they probably don't give a **** other than to target advertising at you.

  22. Potemkine! Silver badge

    This column's title is so acute and so orwellian at the same time, it's disturbing.

  23. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

    Midnight in the garden

    Alexa, which rock is the fake one with the key?

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