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Privacy Technology

Cube Privacy Via Gibberish 151

fury88 writes "CNN is running a story on a new device created by Herman Miller to help with lack of privacy in the cube life. It's apparently a device that will spit out gibberish when you are talking on the phone. You record a few words as instructed by the device and when you are having conversations that may be private, it will spit out sounds that sound like a clone of yourself all talking at once. Frankly I have to think this would be annoying after awhile. As if dealing with your project manager sitting next to you wasn't enough, now you get to hear several versions of your Project Manager talking at once. Talk about insanity!"
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Cube Privacy Via Gibberish

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  • Yeah... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rosyna ( 80334 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:12AM (#14107192) Homepage
    "Did you get the memo about the TPS Reports?"

    I can imagine them all saying that by default.
  • Dilbert (Score:1, Funny)

    How long before Scott will think of a joke for this? A PHB thinking there are several Wallys and Dilberts walking around?
  • Cellphones (Score:5, Funny)

    by se2schul ( 667721 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:13AM (#14107196)
    Almost everyone has a cell phone. When I need privacy at work, I just walk out of the building and talk on my cell. Scrambling my voice would be annoying to me and to my coworkers.
    • Re:Cellphones (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JPriest ( 547211 )
      I have found that IM is also great for this. Most of my coworkers and I IM each other stuff rather than say it to avoid world+dog hearing everything we say. Where I can't use IM I try to use email, and when I HAVE to make a personal phone call at work I walk out of the building and use my cell phone.
    • But that means you work in a suburban office.

      I work in midtown Manhattan. I can go outside to talk to friends who won't care, but what about serious phone call?
    • by Pope ( 17780 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @11:50AM (#14107693)
      Just don't do what people around my office do: take their phones into the bathroom stalls and make calls to their girlfriend/wife while taking a dump.

      When I hear someone in the next stall doing this, I make sure to fart extra loud. For fuck's sake, if you want to talk in private to your woman, go into one of the small meeting rooms and close the damn door. I doubt she wants to hear you or anyone else dropping a deuce.
  • I saw this on Good Morning America six months ago. This is definitely old news!

    I want this thing now!
    • Re:Gibberish box (Score:1, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      Actually, it's a dupe []. Although the last article was from NYT, and not CNN.
  • Old news (Score:5, Interesting)

    by glesga_kiss ( 596639 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:15AM (#14107202)
    This idea has been around for years; it's why many banks and governments offices that deal with the public play musak over a speaker system. It's not for the listening pleasure; it's to make it hard to overhear other customers private conversations.
    • Considering that musak is most often purely instrumental "music" (no song, i.e. voice), and usually not played loud, it's doubtful that it would be disruptive enough for this purpose.

      For masking conversation, they should play the sound of a roomful of people chattering all at once...

      • Re:Doubtful... (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Imsdal ( 930595 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:57AM (#14107326)
        "Muzak" is actually a registered trademark by a company with the same name, and not "general background music".

        The idea behind it isn't to stop people from listening in on private conversations, but rather to put people in a suitable mood. The latter tends to mean "willing to shop" in department stores, which I would guess is the main use of it.

        Personally, I hate the idea behind this. Either it doesn't work, in which case it is annoying as hell, or it does work, in which case it's, if not unethical at least provocative (to me, YMMV).

        But what I hate even more is that a lot of public places thought that playing "mood music" was a generally good idea without any other thought behind it. Stop polluting my ears now, please!

        Also, Muzak has a website that is even more annoying than their sound pollution. Use at your own risk. (No, I won't provide a link. I hate them.)

        • "Muzak" is actually a registered trademark by a company with the same name, and not "general background music".

          "Muzak" is already well on its way to join the ranks of "thermos" and "zipper".

        • by Anonymous Coward
          If you really hate them so much don't you think the best revenge would be to post their link on /. ? :)
    • I can see the added bonus of the gibberish box over background music - you don't have much problems picking out the singer over most music, do you? Simply because his/her voice is so different from the music, the brain doesn't have much of a problem separating it.

      If it's just random gibberish made up from your own voice, it makes it harder for you to decipher the actual words spoken.

      What I might think could possibly be a weakness, though, is the fairly limited base of gibberish it's taking into account (nam
    • Re:Old news (Score:3, Funny)

      by 1u3hr ( 530656 )
      Old indeed, CONTROL [] was using a more sophisticated version in the 1960s.
    • I've seen courtrooms that turn on white noise generators when the judge is discussing some legal issue with the lawyers.
  • Indeed, another dupe.
  • Only for cubes? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:17AM (#14107212) Homepage
    Could they make a portable one for people's cell phones? There are some calls that I'd rather not hear even half of. (As Ren and Stimpy would put it, "Repugnant, yet strangely compelling".)
    • Think of a whole new ring tone:
      "I'm sorry my cell is ringing, I'm a doctor of quantum physics and if I don't take this call the Universe could implode. Please excuse the intrusion into your day..."

      Not only polite, but it puts other people at ease.
    • There are some calls that I'd rather not hear even half of

      Wow. With my cell phone provider, thats a bundled, always-on feature...
  • by boa13 ( 548222 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:17AM (#14107214) Homepage Journal
    In other news...

    boa13 writes "There's a new device to help with lack of contents on your web site. It's apparently a device that will spit out dupes when you don't have time to properly read the stories submitted by your users. You post a story once and when you're running short of stuff to publish, it will spit out a rehash that sounds like it's new and fresh, but is actually quite stale, so that casual users will not notice that you don't do a proper job of moderating submitted stories. Frankly I have to think this would be annoying after awhile. As if dealing with improperly written and biased stories wasn't enough, now you get to research the linked articles to discover if it's that old AP story rehashed one more time. Talk about insanity!" ;-)
  • 400 bucks?!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BushCheney08 ( 917605 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:22AM (#14107223)
    Ahh, yes, $400 is the magic price point -- the price people will pay to try obscure their meaningless conversations. If you're job is so important that it requires privacy like this, they'll probably have put you in an office by now anyways.
    • The guy in the next cube will buy one (if he can't get the company to spring for it) just to show what an Important and Vital job he's doing.
    • you're your yer's early and i'm just starting my coffee...
    • Re:400 bucks?!? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by NitsujTPU ( 19263 )
      If you're job is so important that it requires privacy like this, they'll probably have put you in an office by now anyways.

      I don't know what you consider to be important, but plenty of software engineers work in cubicles while management sits in comfy offices. I once was on a site where engineers who worked on classified information sat in an open room at a big round desk with computers... kind of like a campus computer lab. They certainly seemed to require privacy, but lacked it.

      The simple fact of
      • I don't know what you consider to be important, but plenty of software engineers work in cubicles while management sits in comfy offices.

        This is about reinforcing the power of the management class over the technical class - nothing more.
        • It certainly is, and sometimes it's to the detriment of the business. If your engineers need resources, they should have them. Businesses run like that deserve to fold.
    • Re:400 bucks?!? (Score:3, Insightful)

      by fmaxwell ( 249001 )
      If you're job is so important that it requires privacy like this, they'll probably have put you in an office by now anyways.

      Being able to take a private call about a family member who's been in an accident or diagnosed with a grave illness is important. Not having everyone in the office hear you start sobbing when you learn of the death of a parent is important. Having some privacy when your child's school nurse calls is important. People's families are important. Work is just a way to support those fam
  • by rolfwind ( 528248 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:23AM (#14107225)
    so couldn't there be speakers that cancel incoming and outgoing noise planted at the edge of cubicles to make a field of silence?

    I'm not sure it's feasible, but it'd be a cool idea.
    • Noise cancellers only work with repetitive sound. Noise cancelling works by emitting the opposite of sound at the same time so it has to be able to predict what's coming. They work well in airplanes because the humm of the engine is predictable and somewhat constant.

      It would also work at home if you're furnace kicks in/
      • What if you have a microphone close enough to the noise source so that the system has time to process it and is synchronized to output to your noise cancelling speaker at the same time the original noise arrives at the speaker.
      • Active noise cancellation [] can work on any sound as long as you can put a microphone between the sound source and your ear. Electronics are much faster than sound waves, and they can compute the inverse signal by the time the sound reaches your ear.
    • by Taladar ( 717494 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @10:04AM (#14107347)
      I have this cool idea, kind of a low-tech version of your idea: Imagine some big rectangular pieces of some material that doesn't transfer sound (or does it badly) and place them between cubicles. Ideally those pieces should reach from the floor to the ceiling of the room with you cubicle. Now your privacy should be okay.
      • Thanks smartass^_^

        But the only problem with rooms is that the wall tend to be hard to move, unlike cubicles.

        At least if you use wood framing and the electrical wiring as it is here. AFAIK, I think in germany, they use very lightweight bricks for inside walls (they are like a cross between styrafoam and pumice in texture and weight - very light). And they put wiring in PVC-type pipes, even inside wiring, so it's relatively easy to move rooms around compared to wood framing. But nowhere near the ease of cu
        • "But the only problem with rooms is that the wall tend to be hard to move, unlike cubicles."

          I can't remember ever seeing cube walls moved once they were installed, in the twenty years I've spent in and out of cubeland. This includes cubes in startups and Fortune 500 companies.

          Often, cubes don't get moved even when one tenant moves out of the office and another moves in.

          So while open office plans plus cubes provide great flexibility in theory, in practice, it rarely works out that way.

      • by frdmfghtr ( 603968 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @11:11AM (#14107547)
        Imagine some big rectangular pieces of some material that doesn't transfer sound (or does it badly) and place them between cubicles. Ideally those pieces should reach from the floor to the ceiling of the room with you cubicle. Now your privacy should be okay.

        Those are called "offices." Some time ago, when you got an office job with a large company, you were assigned one of these "offices" to do your work. They even had these other novel things called "doors" which were like small wall sections on hinges that could be swung in and out of the opening used to go into and out of the "office." Imagine, your own space where the walls extended from the floor all the way to the ceiling, and a door to boot! These were popular in times where one also would frequently work for the same company for a long time and get additional perks such as "health care" and this other neat thing called a "pension" where the company continued to pay part of your salary after you worked for them for thirty or so years and stopped working, called "retirement."

        (Yes, that is sarcasm you smell)
    • In some of the offices I worked in, they had white-noise speakers mounted at regular intervals across the ceiling (the technical term is a "sound masking system"). When they weren't being used as a public-broadcast system to announce that the pizza arrived or that someone had left their car lights on, they would be used to generate white noise that would reduce the range that conversations would be heard. It was freaky to see two people chatting at a distance of three workspaces away and not actually hear w
    • The problem with that idea is that it's fairly easy to cancel sounds with one speaker in one point - ear or microphone, typically - but mathemathically impossible to do so in an entire area. You'd need one speaker for each of the infinite number of points in it.
  • by Aceticon ( 140883 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:23AM (#14107226)
    Pick up your mobile phone and go to a quiet corner.

    Actually do this anytime your talking on your mobile, confidential/private call or not, that way nobody will notice when you actually DO go out to talk privately

    Also mastering the art of smoothly changing subjects when somebody walks in is very usefull:

    You (on the phone): Tell me what you're wearing
    She: I have my black silk negligee on ..
    You: If i was there i would pull the straps, slowly let it fall down and then ...
    *somebody walks in*
    You: ... would have a mechanic check it out. You never know when a car starts making funny noises - you might end up with an expensive to fix problem.
  • New? I saw a story about this over the summer (when I was still in the US!) on CNN!
  • Dupe (Score:5, Funny)

    by mwvdlee ( 775178 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:26AM (#14107237) Homepage
    I can imagine a device which translates Slashdot articles into spoken word, but I'm afraid my boss would notice if it talked about the same subject again and again and again and...
  • First of all if you don't want people hearing your private conversations then do them in PRIVATE not at work like this. Odds are your co-worker doesn't want to hear it and might even find it distracting and annoying to begin with as he/she is actually doing WORK at WORK. Who would have believed? This thing makes it even more annoying and believe me I would first warn and then report someone using such a thing.
    • Cow-orkers actually WORKING? Never gonna happen.

      (I think we can safely blame that view on the fact that a previous job was part-time duty manager at a local convenience store.)
  • by Griim ( 8798 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:30AM (#14107246) Homepage
    We already have white-noise generators in the ceiling of my dept, a call centre for a major corporate communications company. They do a nice job of dampening office echo, and creating a nice background noise that's also ideal for falling asleep to.

    Other departments sound so quiet after this one. I prefer it.
    • We also have White Noise Generators at my office. They simply sound like the air-conditioners running all the time. They do a good job of covering over most low-level noise like quite conversations.

      The funny thing is that I was having my hearing checked a few months ago and I mentioned it to the doctor. He was completely suprised at the idea and had never heard of it, even though it has been around for years.
  • by saskboy ( 600063 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:32AM (#14107252) Homepage Journal
    To add a feature, any time you do math, it starts yelling out random numbers too add security:

    8! 23! 42! 5432!
  • Let me get this right - if you play two conversations from the same person, people listening in will not be able to make head or tail of it?

    All you would need to do is see the lips of the person talking and your brain would do the rest for you...

  • This is the kind of thing that has manual solutions. If you actually need a device to be with you all the time to stay "private" you have bigger problems, namely a low IQ. And realistcally if your discussing anything that you don't want other people to here then for good reason you should be discussing these things when your off on lunch break on your cell or something. Under no circumstances should you talk about stuff that you don't want other people to here with other people around. And if it's some comp
  • Smells like... (Score:3, Informative)

    by worf_mo ( 193770 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:34AM (#14107262)
    ... a dupe []. Although TFA back then [] called the device an "Electronic Silencer" it seems to be the same product.
    • If I didn't think it was extremely hypocritical to complain about posts that have nothing to add except yelling "Dupe!" I might say something about how annoying they are.

      Oh, did I say that out-loud? Damn!

      (Hey, at least you did your footwork and gave a link to prior article, instead of just bitching and moaning though!)

  • While this may be a dupe, I still think that it just underscores what we really need from sci-fi.

    The dermal subvocalization mike. Talking without making (audible) sound. What a blissful office that would make for.
  • yep, I remember this story from before on slashdot, and I rembmer a comment from one person that made a lot of sense to me: (it said something like these)

    Nowadays, I have to stand the meaningless and stupid conversations of the persons shouting at the phone in my office, imagine the *party* there will be when all off them start using these things.

    Nope, there is really not a need for more noise at the office. Please just get your cellphone and go to the freaking toilet.
  • by Wellspring ( 111524 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:39AM (#14107276)
    It's apparently a device that will spit out gibberish when you are talking on the phone.

    Wait a sec, so you're saying that this magical device will spit meaningless gibberish completely free of intellectual content, designed to drown out anyone making any sense of what I'm actually saying?

    What's the big advance? Isn't that what managers are for?
    • It's apparently a device that will spit out gibberish when you are talking on the phone.
      Wait a sec, so you're saying that this magical device will spit meaningless gibberish completely free of intellectual content
      It seems like that is what I overhear in cell phone conversations anyway.
  • You could use this device for when your talking to your mother inlaw. Just set it going and walk away, half of them wouldn't know the difference!
  • The best lesson I ever learned was to use my work email account solely for work emails and my private accounts for the private stuff.
    Similarly, work phone's for work stuff, private phone's for all those communications better kept 'out of earshot'.

    This makes life a ahole lot easier without needing any slapstick digi-voice box.
  • by Knx ( 743893 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:47AM (#14107299) Homepage
    From TFA:
    The effect is strange, though not as annoying as one would think.

    Not so annoying, really? I'm somewhat skeptical...

    Clone #1 : That sounds like a crazy idea.
    Clone #2 : And that's $395!
    Clone #3 : Isn't that old news?
    Clone #4 : Geeeez...
    Clone #2 : And that's $395!
    Clone #4 : Geeeez...
    Clone #3 : Isn't that old news?
    Clone #1 : That sounds like a crazy idea.
    Clone #3 : Isn't that old news?
    Clone #4 : Geeeez...
    • Haha, or better yet an "intelligent" version of it:

      Clone#1: How much?
      Clone#2:How much can you spare?
      Clone#1: As much as I need to?
      Clone#2: How much is that?
      Clone#1: You can download me for free!
      Clone#2: No I don't think I can do it.
      Clone#1: Are you serious? Where do you get your ideas?

      Clone#2: Everything I need to know, I learned from Dr. Richard S. Wallace.

      Clone#1: All things you need to know you learned from Dr Richard s Wallace?
      Clone#2: But all things are not always me need to know me learned from Dr Ric
  • All of our project managers talk gibberish when they are on the phone.

    It's not hardware based - they just went on a special training course. I think it had MBA in the title...
  • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @09:54AM (#14107320) Homepage
    If you need and want privacy, and it's work related, you should probably set up a meeting in a place where you have some privacy. Or use email or instant messaging if that will suffice. Encrypted if necessary. If it's just some family business you don't want spreading around the office, take a little trip away from your cube. If it's taking up too much time and you're worried that your boss won't like you spending so much time from your cube, then maybe you should take a day off to get your private business in order.
  • Wasn't there a 'cone of silence' on Maxwell Smart? Now that would ensure total privacy. Or you could simply walk out of the office and use you shoe phone!
  • Don't tell me I'm the only person that thought of the movie "Cube" reading this headline?? Maybe it's just too early for me
  • I think I do something similar when I want to cross out something written on paper - write over the words a few times with some gibberish, its much safer than just scribbling over those comments you wish you hadn't committed to paper. Of course, anyone sitting in a cubicle is obviously not considered important enough to have anything private to say, cubicles are the most retarded invention known to the business world, a way of pretending to care but inadvertently insulting your employees - its like giving
    • cubicles are the most retarded invention known to the business world

      Yes, I'm sure everyone would prefer an office over a cubicle. However, this is what life without cubicles [] would look like. Cheaper than installing cubicles, taking up less floorspace per person, and no privacy.

    Singularity education begets evil, for you were born as an opposite, between opposite sexes & the opposite Earth poles. You are educated as a stupid android slave to the evil Word Animal Singularity Brotherhood. Your analytical mind is lobotomized and you cannot think opposite of lies you are taught to think. You build the hell 'they' teach.
    Dr.Gene Ray, Cubic and Wisest Human

    You have opposite brains to think opposite, but Big Brother ic
  • As a native Gibber, I resent the implication that anyone can simply computerize the Gibberish language. While seemingly chaotic, Gibberish has complex linguistic features unique among the Indo-Iranian-Ubangi language group that simply do not fit neatly into computer generation. While Gibberish may be a near dead language, I remind you all that it is the official language of the U.S. Congress and would point all of you towards our greatest orator Donald Rumsfeld for an example of the beauty found in the know
  • by ayjay29 ( 144994 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @10:28AM (#14107408)
    I worked on a team with a bunch of Indian programmers, and they used to call the build team in Mumbi a lot. The conversations basically went likt this:

    Aapko achaa lagaa?
    Usse mat Sql Server chuuo.
    Tumhein chhot lag Visual Studio sakti hai.
    Sone kaa samay ho stored procedure gayaa hai.
    Hum humeshaa tumhaaraa parivaar rahenge out of memory exception.
    Hum tumhein kabhei nahin email chodenge sourde safe.
    Kyaa tumhein tatti karni hai?
    Tumhein kahaan dard ho breakpoint rahaa hai?

    We never really new if it was business related or id they were just chatting with their mates and throwing in a bit of tech lingo here and there.

    • Main bhi aisa hi hoon. I am not indian, but I think Hindi is a fabulous language. If you want to pass coded messages to your friends, write them in french, but use the Hindi (Devanagari) script. Warren
  • Ummm.., why not just take your cell phone and step out into an empty portion of the hallway?

    Probably cheaper too.
  • I saw on TV a bank with a huge cubicle farm. The roof contained a large number of speakers which constantly spread white noise (think radio in between channels). Because your brain can't "lock in" on pure noise, you end up not noticing it anymore. In the mean time it still "overrides" other peoples sounds, and the end impression is a quieter background.
  • Granted, my employer may be a bit more enlightened than some, but we have a bunch of conference rooms and there's always people in them (when they're not being used for real conferences) alone on the phone. I rather suspect in a lot of cases that it isn't even a privacy thing as much as it is to keep the cube areas quieter.
  • by lildogie ( 54998 ) on Thursday November 24, 2005 @11:19AM (#14107567)
    Imagine initializing this thing with offensive language.
  • Ok, am I the only person who thinks this would just make the phone conversation nearly incomprehensible? I mean sheesh, if you want total privacy, just blow raspberries at each other. Then nobody will know what you are talking about...not even you! I bet this guy also thinks the best lock is a door that is welded shut. This has got to be the most retarded technology I've heard of all year! :)
  • would be a throat microphone with a headset.

    Really ugly link using /. link feature follows:

    ahref= c rophone&num=10&hl=en&btnG=Google+Search&as_epq=&as _oq=&as_eq=&lr=&as_ft=i&as_filetype=&as_qdr=all&as _occt=any&as_dt=i&as_sitesearch=&as_rights=&safe=i magesrel=url2html-25324 [] h?as_q=throat+microphone&num=10&hl=en&btnG=Google+ Search&as_epq=&as_oq=&as_eq

  • Just a thought... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mark-t ( 151149 ) <markt@nerdfl[ ]com ['at.' in gap]> on Thursday November 24, 2005 @01:29PM (#14108139) Journal
    Don't carry on a private conversation with someone while at work in the first place.

    But then my sympathy for people that expect the "right" to make or accept personal calls at work in the first place is somewhere in the vicinity of zero anyways.

    If the conversation is work-related and still needs to be private, then one has a perfectly legitimate reason to have access to a telephone in a more private area than one's cubicle anyways. If the conversation isn't work related, one just has to bite the bullet and accept the fact that there is no reason why they should be afforded the luxury of increased privacy for such an activity. If they _REALLY_ need increased privacy for a personal call, they can ask their boss to see if he'll allow it. If personal calls are infrequent enough and the reason is legitimate, even if not work-related, they may permit it anyways.

  • Please, this "technology" could be replicated by anyone with a cursory knowledge of
    audio files and WinAmp.

    And how is this different from when I turn up the music to make a phone call?
    Because this is pre-recorded speech? Congratulations Herman, you've replaced "hip"
    with "weird".

  • I understand that it uses dupes on Slashdot as its souce of background noise. Good thinking. That way they know they'll never run out of input.
  • Seriously. It's not all that uncommon for one hearing aid to fail, or be unwearable temporarily (think ear infection), in which case anyone with severe to profound deafness will not be able to hear their own voice on the phone (since hearing aids at that level pick up the B-field from the phone via induction, and turn off the microphone). This makes using phones somewhat unnerving, as you have no idea whether you're talking too loudly for privacy or not.
  • They must have also released a device to duplicate slashdot articles - it's working well!
  • *presently laughing his ass off*

      If I had one of those, or even worse, a cow-orker had one I'd be laughing hystericaly if I heard it. For some reason, and this is appropriate for today (US Thanks Giving Day) I imagine it would sound like a Turkey farm, hundred of Turkeys all gobbling at once. Even worse would be if *everyone* had one! lmao
  • It's apparently a device that will spit out gibberish when you are talking on the phone.

    Thanks, but I already have a girlfriend.
  • by yppiz ( 574466 ) on Friday November 25, 2005 @05:17AM (#14111875) Homepage
    A lot of work on Babble was done by Appled Minds for Herman Miller. Here's a Wired article that describes the project: w=wn_tophead_1 []

    Here's Herman Miller's press release for the device:,1 585,a9-c407-n350,00.html []


Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp