What's that beeping?
June 9, 2005 4:09 PM   Subscribe

What's that beeping sound I hear everywhere? It starts with one long beep, then 6-8 short staccato beeps. (I.e. BUUUUUH, BUH--BUH--BUH--BUH--BUH--BUH) It happens sporadically, but frequently. I hear it everywhere -- phone calls, my stereo speakers, computers, the car radio. I heard it for the first time a year or two ago.
posted by brain_drain to Science & Nature (18 answers total)
It sounds vaguely like the interference that can happen when you have a cell phone next to a piece of electronic equipment. It happens for me when a phone is near either of the computers in here, as well as the TV, the car stereo, etc. If you have a cell phone with you most of the time, that'd explain why the sound is "following" you.
posted by Kosh at 4:15 PM on June 9, 2005

It's the cell phone, yo. Put it next to some powered speakers and give yourself a call.
posted by esch at 4:25 PM on June 9, 2005

Your beeping is unfamiliar to me, but perhaps Kosh has supplied a clue: I don't have a cell phone; perhaps this is why I'm unfamiliar with your noise.
Details of your location might provide more clues.

(The beep I hear everywhere is the sound peoples' cars make, when they activate their car alarms -- I hate it.)
posted by Rash at 4:29 PM on June 9, 2005

Yeah, I'd see if I couldn't correlate the beeping to any gadgets you carry with you. It's not necessarily just a cellphone. It could easily be a badly shielded processor in a PDA; your pager; any of that stuff.

If it's got an occilator, it's capable of interfering with your audio gear.

Also, are you sure it's always the same sound? How loud is it? Very low-volume, or does it obliterate the real signal? If it's very quiet, it's possible that the media that you notice it in have some in-band subchannel data being transmitted, and you're just perceptive enough to hear it. I know that I sometimes hear the copy-protection tones in some VHS videos.

Also, lots of equipment feeds back on itself. For instance, I can hear my harddrives spin up through the headphones on my soundcard. If the beeps aren't really the same, this might be it... digital signals might sound like this.

Also, see if you can't make us a recording. Like, tape literally every interaction you have with a speaker for a while, get us a couple of sources.

On preview: You could also be nuts. Or, the CIA is trying to drive you nuts. There're lots of other theories in this vein, but I'd start by checking out my gadgets for interference.
posted by Netzapper at 4:37 PM on June 9, 2005

It's your mobile phone. or someone elses mobile phone.
posted by seanyboy at 4:44 PM on June 9, 2005

Are you sure it isn't your smoke detector running out of batteries?
posted by mokujin at 5:27 PM on June 9, 2005

I know the beeps of which you write. I hear them on my car radio and on my cell phone. Distinct, but in the background. I assume it's some sort of radio frequency interference, though I have no idea what the source might be. I've thought it could be aviation or weather radar, but I would be surprised if those used frequencies that interfere with radio or cell phones. I have no idea.

You're not crazy, though.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:13 PM on June 9, 2005

motors can generate that kind of radio sound, too ... the only place i run across it is at work and i'm sure it's one of the machines ...
posted by pyramid termite at 7:10 PM on June 9, 2005

I bet your phone is GSM. The pattern you describe is the bursts of data your phone is sending to the network; periodically, it checks in with the nearest tower to let the system know where you are. Try calling your cell phone when you're in a situation where you hear the sound, I bet you'll hear it again right before your phone rings.
posted by ulotrichous at 7:16 PM on June 9, 2005

Thanks for all the responses. I have a cell phone and a blackberry that I carry around pretty regularly. I don't keep them near the computer at home, but I do probably have them in the vicinity (within 20 feet or so) most or all of the times I hear the noise. ulotrichous's explanation is particularly interesting, because the sound sometimes will happen regularly for a while, spaced out fairly evenly. That is consistent with a device "checking in" with the network periodically. I am suspicious of the blackberry in particular.

I'll do some experiments when I get home and report back later. Thanks again!
posted by brain_drain at 7:43 PM on June 9, 2005

One clarification: On reflection, I am pretty sure I have heard this sound on a number of occasions when I did not have my cell phone or blackberry with me. But someone else could have had such a device near the speakers emitting the noise, so this doesn't rule out the portable device explanation.
posted by brain_drain at 7:47 PM on June 9, 2005

I hear something similiar when one of my coworkers sets the alarm on her car.
posted by SPrintF at 8:56 PM on June 9, 2005

Do other people notice the noise? If not, it could be tinnitus.
posted by carmen at 9:23 PM on June 9, 2005

I've experienced the same thing with both cellphones I've owned, an old Nokia brick and a newer Samsung flip phone, and they interfere with all kinds of things: computer speakers, radio/iTrip in my car. The Nokia even used to make my old, crappy CRT flicker when I'd receive a call. :(

The sound you describe is pretty much what I've always heard. Deeee dee-da-dee dee-da-dee dee-da-dee when (I assume) it's just talking to the nearest tower and more of a deeee dee!dee!dee! right before the first ring of a call. Uh, if that makes any sense.

I have noticed that when I'm driving on the highway and my phone's not getting any reception for a couple miles, the pattern/rhythm is shorter and different.
posted by katieinshoes at 9:57 PM on June 9, 2005

This has been previously asked and answered.
posted by grouse at 12:46 AM on June 10, 2005

Definitely suspect the blackberry. I hear that sound coming from phones in the office here and always when someone has a blackberry nearby, and it gets stronger when the devices are closer together.

That's not to say you're not hearing it from multiple sources, though.
posted by aquafiend at 11:13 AM on June 10, 2005

My Blackberry causes this like crazy, all the time. Once in the middle of a conference room at a hotel it was coming through the PA system lous and clear.
posted by Cosine at 12:23 PM on June 10, 2005

LOUD and clear... it really wasn't "lous" and clear.
posted by Cosine at 12:28 PM on June 10, 2005

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