The Null Device

Technological solutions to antisocial problems

The recent cheap electronics boom (made possible by inexpensive, flexible microcontrollers and cheap manufacturing in places like China) has spawned a new wave of technological solutions to antisocial problems:
A Tennessee company has created a $50 device that shuts up other people's dogs by answering their barks with an ultrasonic squeal that humans can't hear. (The unit is disguised as a birdhouse.) British inventors are exporting a new product for people who hate lousy drivers -- it's a luminescent screen that fits in a car's rear window and, at the driver's command, flashes any one of five messages to other motorists.
One of the best known examples of this phenomenon is the TV-B-Gone, a keyring-sized infrared transmitter which, at the press of a button, sends out the "switch off" codes for hundreds of models of television. Some business owners have taken to removing or masking infrared receivers on their televisions to prevent people from switching them off. while hackers have customised their TV-B-Gones by embedding them in hats or else enhancing them with massive arrays of LEDs for extra range.
There's an updated version of the TV-B-Gone in the works that will be powerful enough to shut off televisions from behind sheets of glass. A well-publicized British invention called "the Mosquito" that emits high-frequency sounds particularly irritating to congregations of teenagers is now being marketed in the U.S. by a company called Kids Be Gone.

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