Quirky and The Cone Of Silence

My family is tired of hearing me talk about "The Cone Of Silence". This is an electronics product I'd love to have. I am not sure if it can be built with the current state of noise canceling technology, but here is how it would work.

The Cone Of Silence is a small electronics product that you can bring to a restaurant in your pocket, place on the table, and create a "noise cancelled zone" around the table you and your friends are sitting at.

I've talked to a number of people about this idea in the past year. My dad is a former engineering professor. He thinks it would be hard to develop successfully. My father in law is a former engineering professor and also spent years working with the US Navy on underwater submarine detection (and evasion). He thinks it is not possible to build in the compact way I want it to work. I've gotten similar reactions to this product idea from a number of other people who know a thing or two about sound waves and physics.

But I am not giving up. Last week I was introduced to Quirky, a community of product enthusiasts where people submit product ideas and the community develops them together. Each week one product is selected to build and launch in a pre-sale to the community. If enough of the product is sold to break even on the production costs, it is built and sold and then launched commercially.

Quirky has been doing this for about six months now and they've developed 30 products together and launched about six commercially. You can see the products that have launched commercially on the front page of the Quirky website. Some of these products are also available in offline retail.

So as you might expect, I submitted The Cone Of Silence idea to Quirky last weekend and it is one of 27 candidates to be selected to be "product 0031". The idea has generated some comments and, like my dad and father in law, a few people think its not possible to build the way I want it to work. We will see if any good ideas emerge.

Even if the Quirky community doesn't figure out how to build The Cone Of Silence, I am not giving up on the idea. I'm not giving up on teleportation either.

And I think the idea behind Quirky is great. We've seen communities like Threadless, Etsy, Kickstarter, and others do amazing things. There's certainly room for a community to build people powered products. Check out Quirky (and The Cone Of Silence) and let me know what you think.

UPDATE: For your viewing pleasure, courtesy of "Maxwell" in the comments

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#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Vladimir Vukicevic

    There seems to be a very philosophical undertone to this post.

    1. fredwilson

      in what way?

      1. Vladimir Vukicevic

        It seems like there is some deeper meaning to the “cone of silence.” I’m sure that consciously it’s a pretty literal post about a cool idea and the new forms of collaboration that are making such ideas into a reality. But just the mere name of the product, “The Cone of Silence”, evokes a philosophical/spiritual response.Silence – both external and inner-silence – is one of the scarcest resources in our world, especially in NYC. Silence is the opposite of noise, and all forms of noise are ever-more ubiquitous. It would be quite ironic if Quirky, a site which collects, synthesizes, filters, and focuses creative noise, ends up being the channel for the creation of “The Cone of Silence.”

        1. Mark Essel

          Great perspective on silence Vlad. Signal to noise problems employ a big fraction of engineers. We often use signal patterns to reduce the relative noise.

        2. H Tuttle

          Sir, The name refers to a device used on a popular late 60’s comedy TV show – Get Smart.

          1. Vladimir Vukicevic

            …making it even more interesting. I loved that show as a child.

        3. awaldstein

          In NYC, there could be ‘layers of silence’ like slices off a onion.Who wants absolutes anyway?

          1. Vladimir Vukicevic

            No absolutes, just a sonic-vacation sometimes.

          2. WA


          3. awaldstein

            Of course 😉

        4. fredwilson

          wow. if that was in my brain it was not consciously so. but its an interesting reading of the post.

          1. Mark Essel

            If it wasn’t there before, it’s there now. Vlad’s got a great way of looking at things.

    2. maverickny

      Agree, Vladimir, I was thinking the same thing.As our world gets more noisy, complex and busy, tweeting #coneofsilence for me represents a inner need for Zen, peace and quiet to thoughtfully focus solely on one thing, whether that be reading, driving, listening to music or focusing on someone’s conversation without distractions.Part of it feels almost a little Buddhist in concentration, but I may be talking out of my hat.

      1. Vladimir Vukicevic

        I understand. Silence can come from music if that is all we hear.

      2. awaldstein

        There is art hidden in impossible and overt opposites.-Symbolic curves in vertical architecture.-Silence in New York.Kind of a great mantra to mediate on and never reach.Some 15 or so years ago a city art project let some artist plant a vacant plot of space in the financial district with wheat! I went and watched people staring at this ‘odd’ opposite calm in the midst of the world’s marketplace. Stunning contrast. Poetic.A digression from Fred’s post (sorry Fred) but this is where Vladimir’s musing led me.

        1. Vladimir Vukicevic

          I’m sure Fred doesn’t mind. I wonder if a silent table at a busy restaurant would even be noticed like that.

      1. Vladimir Vukicevic

        That image represents Holy Grail of today’s world.

      2. fredwilson

        oh yes, that’s it. very nice work carl

    1. fredwilson

      i’ll check it out

    2. fredwilson

      that’s very funny. we should submit the product ideal to quirky

  2. falicon

    +1 to the idea…and +20 for finding and sharing Quirky!

  3. Tony Bacigalupo

    Love the idea of online communities formed around producing real things. Really curious how they structure the revenue sharing among the participants in a way that’s fair to all.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a big part of their “secret sauce”they have built a system that assigns “influence share” for each productthe community gets 30% of online sales and 10% of offline salesand then the community’s piece is allocated by “influence share”

      1. jeremystein

        does the share vary by product or do they have a standard margin markup? id imagine that one of the goals of the pre sale is to get to CF breakeven or slightly positive before a product goes into production.

        1. fredwilson

          it is always the same

  4. C.H. Low

    Great idea. I suggest submitting it to http://www.innocentive.com and see if scientists around the world can come up with a solution.

    1. fredwilson

      thanks! i would love to see this product built

  5. Adam Wexler

    i don’t mind going into popular restaurants and hearing the collective noise. i think it adds to the ambiance in many settings.what not just focus on implementing some form of volume control? plus, i think it would be easier than an all out noise-canceller

    1. fredwilson

      i like the idea of volume control vs noise cancellationi also enjoy hearing some of the “buzz” in the restaurant but when i can’thear anyone at the table (which happens often to me) it’s a buzz killer

      1. rfradin

        I couldn’t agree more Fred. I have been saying for years. To me, noise level and comfort of chair are two of the most important things a restaurant can try to solve. Almost more important than the food. You can get good food anywhere but why would you want to go out for a long meal where you can’t hear anyone at the table and the chairs aren’t comfortable.

      2. markslater

        Fred – its an NYC thing in my view – no where else in the world are you crammed so close together (take balthazar for instance) and places are this busy……i cant think of a restaurant in boston (stella at times maybe or toro) where this happens.

      3. maverickny

        Part of the problem with NYC restaurants is in the flawed design – high ceilings, hard surfaces (bricks, tiles, concrete floors etc), which amplify noise immensely. New Yorkers also tend to very loud by nature and in conversation, compared to elsewhere in America. No hushed tones here, sadly.There is a huge difference between buzz (good ambience) and noise (often distressing and dispiriting), forcing everyone to shout to get heard in an ever spiralling effect.

      4. karen_e

        Hum (the continuum between buzz and noise, depending I guess whether you like it or not!) is specified by the owners of the restaurant to the architects/designers of the given space. Carpet and curtains, etc. all serve to dampen sound but very often the brand of the restaurant “demands” a certain level of buzz, so these features are specifically manipulated accordingly. It isn’t an accident, is what I’m trying to say. The loud restaurants are that way by design!

  6. NicolasVDB

    whoah that’s a really cool concept this Quirky.As for your cone of silence idea, it must be doable with bluetooth-enabled ear plugs for each attendant, would that take away too much of the user experience?

    1. fredwilson

      i was hoping for something more non intrusive

      1. jspujji

        Fred,Here’s a thought, maybe it would be more feasible as a bigger devices which restaurants have in and around their booths/tables and can turn on/off depending on the customer. Then it’s got more commercial feasibility too (since you don’t need to walk around it in your pocket.)Jesse

        1. Tereza

          like a force-field?

          1. David Semeria

            Comment of the day!

          2. Dave Pinsen

            Then why not give the lady a “like”?

          3. fredwilson

            i did

          4. Tereza

            wow….uh…group hug? thanks guysSome other places I want private conversations: –the ER (what color is your stool, ma’am?)–‘semi-private’ hospital rooms (my mom’s dying words were editorialized by the nudnik in the next bed. vinyl curtains don’t block much sound).–bank branches (which account? the one w $723?)Why pussyfoot around. Lobby for regs requiring privacy-supporting infrastructure into HIPAA — and then own the market. ;-)Separately I’d like to white out strangers that cuss around my kids. Is there an app for that?

    2. Mark Essel

      I like that idea, skype or google talk at the same table, or a sporting event.

  7. Elie Seidman

    Great product idea. Restaurants in NYC are WAY too loud.

  8. andrewwatson

    that’s a great website – so much more bazaar than cathedral. that’s what the next 20 years of internet life will be all about.

  9. andrewwatson

    i’m wondering if it would work if you had multiple noise sensors… everyone in your party could wear them on the back of their neck (hidden in a tie or necklace?) and then you could each have earbuds in…

    1. fredwilson

      that’s what my father in law said. i think that’s too cumbersome to bepopular

    2. Druce

      Haha, hide them in glasses. Make the glasses augmented reality. Whoever you look at, make their voice louder, show their vcard on headsup display, and make them better looking.

      1. Tereza

        how bout micro chemical properties in your shampoo

  10. myamartino

    Great, fun post. I’m going to check out Quirky to see if there are lessons for big tech companies on incubating and commercializing ideas. I have a hunch that it has more to do with making creation fun and collaborative and exposed to the community than finding the right “process”… Hopefully Quirky confirms this.

  11. joey horvitz

    Who would have thought anything that we have today could have been possible, until someone tried. Enjoy and have fun with it…

  12. matt newberg

    Anything is possible under mass collaboration. Any company can do this type of social product development now, all it has to do is give up a little control and watch ideas pour in. Open up, solicit ideas from the masses, gather votes, and assign the best project to the most suitable engineers. Release said product, and share revenue amongst parties. @shaunabe hipped me to all this stuff, check out sites like jovoto.com and local-motors.com.

    1. fredwilson

      i know about local motors. i’ll check out jovoto

  13. Offbeatmammal

    Quirky is a great concept – I have pre-ordered product in the hope it will become real, and sumbitted ideas and feedback and love the collaborative nature. I hope they (and the Cone of Silence) so well 🙂

  14. karen_e

    I have three friends here (Boston area) who work at Bose. Some individuals there have wild backgrounds in things like how dolphins communicate and other underwater acoustic phenomena. I know Bose no longer has a reputation for being super cutting edge (they’ve gotten comfortable over the years) but nonetheless, this product sounds right up their alley, doesn’t it?

    1. fredwilson

      yes, i wonder what they’d say about it

  15. Maxwell

    I hate to break it to you Fred, but the Cone of Silence has been in use by U.S. spy organizations for decades. Your father-in-law probably knows this, and doesn’t want to reveal state secrets so he’s trying to throw you off the trail. Luckily, I was able to find a few examples of the Cone of Silence that were leaked to YouTube. Check it out. http://www.youtube.com/watc…, http://www.youtube.com/watc

    1. fredwilson

      i will check out these videos. thanks for sharing them

      1. obscurelyfamous

        His username is a clue if you aren’t able to watch the videos yet. You gotta get smart about it.

        1. ShanaC

          You crack me up. get smart…

    2. Tereza

      Hard to say which one’s better — the comic timing in the original, or Anne Hathaway’s eye roll in the remake.

  16. RAuguste

    I would buy this. This goes beyond restaurants: noisy neighbors in apt’s, planes, subways, students who need to study (could be huge for creating quiet zones for inner city kids who need to study).Like the quirky site. I already sent the Ice Luge Cubes to a friend who buys an ice block & spends hours creating a luge for an annual party.Good luck.

  17. Rich2001

    How would you feel about utilizing a shoe phone at the table?

    1. fredwilson

      my favorite tv show as a kid

  18. kevinmurphy

    while they are at it- maybe they can come up with a device that can be used to create a Cone of Silence around an individual designed to keep sound IN- so that we don’t have to hear them. just a thought…

  19. Seth Lieberman

    I would like a directional cone of silence that I can point at other tables and silence them specifically. 🙂

  20. johndodds

    As I’ve already pointed out to Fred – while he procrastinated, my artist friend Lauren in Australia has already invented it.http://sheseesred.blogspot….

  21. brennancarley

    Actually I saw a demo years ago at the MIT Media Lab of a “cone of silence”… Not sure it went anywhere, but you may want to look into it.

    1. fredwilson

      i’ll ask around. i’m interested in how they built it

  22. Vlad Stesin

    Interesting idea – it made me think of “sound cones” used in advertising, where by stepping into a zone you only hear the ad/music playing. And apparently there are such things for silence as well, check out this one for instance: http://www.interface.com/?P…This is not portable though, and is meant to be installed by the establishment since they’re quite large.

    1. fredwilson

      that’s what everyone tells me. making it compact is that hard part.

  23. Seenator

    Fred,This looks great!Curious to find out if any of the products that have come out of this, have used Bug Labs components.Reading tea leaves, but most VCs seeing this would probably think this is another due diligence (like with most of your other investments) and you probably just doubled Quirky’s valuation, IF they are looking for funding!

    1. fredwilson

      i don’t believe they have used Bug in this community, but they certainly could for the prototyping and maybe even for the first run

  24. Scott Yates

    They have invented this! It’s called “Take out.” You pick up the food from the restaurant and take it home behind your own cone of silence using “door” technology.

  25. davidkpark

    If there’s one person that could figure it out it would be Woody Norris. Did you see his TED talk? Pretty amazing. Inventing the next amazing thing: Woody Norris on TED.com http://bit.ly/4hM1wk

    1. fredwilson

      i did not see woody’s TED talk. I’ll check it out. thanks

  26. Mark Essel

    Unfortunately I have to agree with your Engineering professor fathers Fred. You can destructively interfere with a given known source at wavelength multiple locations. But you’d have to create a series of precise sound waves in all directions while real time tracking incoming sound waves. I’ll brainstorm a little but my instinct is that cancellation is impossible without predicting future signals.It may be possible to tone down the volume of background noise some. There you work to target fixed frequencies of large amplitude with a tone. Still due to the variation in seating positions and head turns it may be problematic. I think you’ll end up just replacing one annoying background noise for another.This is a pretty far out invention. Interesting applications (“shut it” remote controls ;).Still even more bizarre applications, if we can find a way to annhilate incoming compression waves, we can probably build “force shields” with the same breakthrough. Barriers stop compressed air vibrations.The only other barrier to energy moving through gas is a vacuum. The sound wave would have no medium to cross such a gap, in space there is only silence.*edit*easy solution, restaurants can design sound limiting furniture, walls, and booths to make eating experiences more intimate.

    1. Rob K

      Mark- Maybe if each of the people at the table spoke into the device and “recorded” their voice frequency, then the device could reduce all others? I’m no engineer, just thinking out loud

      1. Mark Essel

        Good idea Rob.There are voice recognition devices already in production, so you could identify voices not to nullify (assuming you could nullify other sounds).What Fred is describing would be the equivalent of invisibility or darkness in the visible domain from a central lamp. I don’t think with my understanding that it’s physically possible to cancel incident waves .

    2. David Semeria

      Right on Mark, it’s the infinite paths the incoming sound waves can take that make this such a hard problem to solve. That’s why the headphone case is significantly simpler.If such a device could be created, it would need huge number of speakers each trying to cancel out the incoming waves (and all the summed-up reflections). I have a vision of a large golf ball sitting on the dinner table…Even then the effect would probably be very local. And even if the range could be extended (highly unlikely imo) you would need a different device for each size table, which would always need to be round.Edit: one thing that might work is to place a large speaker above the table and beam the sound down to a spherical diffuser (which could also double as illumination). This would make the system less obtrusive, and solve the multi-speaker issue. I still think the effect would be extremely local though.Edit #2. Nah, that wouldn’t work either. You need a different wave in each direction, not the same one diffused. Still, you could put the ‘golf ball’ up in the air where it could still function as illumination. People could turn the cancelling effect up or down from the table. That would be pretty sweet

      1. fredwilson

        maybe i just should have submitted the product idea to this community. the comments here are better than the comments on quirky.

        1. David Semeria

          The best I can come up with is noise canceling chairs. These would be normal chairs with a narrow and tall back. On either side at the top is mounted the same basic configuration as noise canceling headphones.This way you kill a lot of birds with one stone. You get over the local effect (speaker and microphone are in close proximity to each ear) the output level can be low (and so not add to the overall noise level) and it’s pretty unobtrusive.It wouldn’t be perfect – but you don’t need perfect, just a *decrease* in background noise.I think that could really work…Yet another edit: as usual, someone’s already thunk it: (though my vision was slightly less space-age…) http://gizmodo.com/233311/s

          1. Mark Essel

            I like their space age twist.There was a stone circular bench at Stony Brook where I went to college. You could speak into one side and hear it perfectly 30ft away even with background noise.

          2. David Semeria

            Thanks Mark, you’re a starI had in mind something much more like a normal dining chair.

          3. Mark Essel

            It’s one of those things I promise to work on when I’m eccentrically wealthy. But will probably never have time to do. As a kid I used to envision an entertainment egg chair like this that was mobile (I’m that lazy).

  27. Kevin

    I have no idea if the Cone can be made. Good luck. I hadn’t heard of Quirky. I think it’s great. Very interested to follow them and see the types of products they produce. Their process is fascinating in so many ways. Interesting on so many levels — and seemingly such a meritocracy. I love how they empower just about anyone to try and make – and profit from – just about anything. Really really cool.

    1. fredwilson

      the “influencer” concept is really solid

  28. Rob K

    Fred- Cool idea. You should check out http://www.innocentive.com/ for their innovation model around others ideas. A friend who works there was describing it to me.

    1. fredwilson

      second link to innocentive in this thread. i’m going to check them out

  29. Michael Lewkowitz

    “I’m not giving up on teleportation either.”Ha… you are truly an entrepreneur in vc clothing. Love it.

  30. Keith B. Nowak

    For me, sites like Quirky, DonorsChoose, Kiva, and Kickstarter represent one of the most exciting things that can be done with the web. The ability to get lots of people together each making a small contribution in order to create something bigger than the contributors could do individually is incredibly powerful. I look forward to seeing how else this concept will be applied.

    1. fredwilson

      i agree

    1. fredwilson

      is car noise a big issue for the average car?

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Road noise nowadays, primarily, I’d guess, Fred – from tyres (or ‘tires’ even!). I remember Lotus starting this project years ago, was surprised to see it’s still ongoing – when they first mooted it I seem to recall they were looking at applying the technology to domestic use, industry, etc. Industrial application would be very logical.Ironically, when Lotus first started the project their cars were the archetypal noisy British sports-car so this technology would have been highly relevant/needed – nowadays however they’re relatively civilised beasts, more aimed at Porsche consumers so with nods to civility as well as being sporting.Even more ironically, with the advent of electric/hybrid cars I guess road noise will be the noisiest element in the future – so, we’ve gone full circle?!Lotus is a very talented engineering company with its finger in many pies – eg, does everyone know the much lauded Tesla body and dynamics comes directly from the Lotus Elise?Best of British!

  31. C.K. Sample III

    I’ve often thought about this in terms of the inside of an airplane. We can all put on noise-canceling earphones that work reasonably well, so why not make the entire interior of the airplane a large noise-canceling chamber to counteract the roar of the engines.

    1. fredwilson

      i’d love that

  32. Bill Davenport

    I just gave you a vote up on Quirky… Cool site. I like both your idea and some of the comments (both here and on Quirky) about noise cancelling bluetooth headsets. I think that would work pretty well, though it wouldn’t block the outbound conversation to other patrons…

  33. shearic

    Interesting idea for sure (my physics degree also doubts it’s possible as described 😉 but there’s another interesting aspect. The ambient noise also is a signal to you generally how loud you can talk without others being able to effectively listen in. So it’s a “two-way street”. Cancel that noise out and you also lose that privacy signal. (Interesting that noise can also be a signal…)Of course now I imagine you’ll also want the device to ensure the noise from your area doesn’t escape a certain radius… :-)Sounds like a job for a sound proofed tent. Maybe even a clear one.

  34. Ovi_Jacob

    On the product – I shared this post with my Mom, who is an audiologist, knows her way around sound and hearing aids really well. She had these thoughts:’So this proposal is interesting and not unlike some technology we have now. The closest thing would be a desktop FM system (this is a technology used with hearing aids, sending the sound directly to the user’s ears) The speaker/mike is placed on the table and goes to people’s hearing aids or into bud microphones that they can wear. As far as blocking out background noise, you can get technology that has directionality that will block out the background. It might be compatible.’My take on this – the need to wear an earpiece may hinder adoption, but it’s the right direction.

    1. fredwilson

      that seems to be the conclusion. i don’t really feel like eating dinner with friends wearing headphones though

  35. kidmercury

    those interested in teleportation technology, investing in it and using it to change the world (and make lots of money for all in the process) should check out http://www.projectcamelot.org and watch all those videos where they talk to people in govt black ops about how teleportation technology works (i would also recommend a bunch of books by jim marrs to get a clearer idea of the bigger picture). lots of kook technology comes from the office of naval intelligence. the government is highly compartmentalized, especially the intelligence agencies, unless you have played the game and have the appropriate badges you are denied access to many areas of the world. but more and more whistleblowers are coming forward, so pursue them when appropriate. know they do kick it jobs style and put out disinfo. of course, let us rejoice in knowing that such strategies weaken the organization internally as well, as both crapple and the world’s intelligence agencies will soon find out.more improtantly, though, just remember that posting about interest in teleportation while refusing to acknowledge credible sources that can guide the light to teleportation suggests the interest is not truely geniune. that’s fine, of course, though i always recommend folks live in honesty with themselves, everyone benefits the most that way IMHO. the challenge, particularly in our modern times, is to pursue the truth that sets us free. we need more leaders to pursue this. fred is definitely one of them, i know it when i see it, ya’ll can deny it all ya’ll want, that just sets the stage for me to pounce on you in the future when it becomes more apparent. so let’s all make it easier for fred to be a leader here and step up ourselves as well. i got your back boss! :Dbest way is to just talk about it so it becomes socially acceptable. then we can talk about the full problem, the full solution, and solve it just like solving any other problem. bonus points for integrating jokes about rivals like jdawg and mikey (or allies like howard and dave winer!). lol, j/k folks, a couple jokes never killed anyone and have in fact made it easier to have important conversations.

    1. fredwilson

      that was not a joke. i think teleportation can happen.

      1. kidmercury

        yup, i agree. in fact i think it is happening, and has been for a while. there’s a part in the latest project camelot video with aaron mccollum, a black ops guy, and i think he suggests he had body modifications that allow him to travel through stargates. so, perhaps that is part of how they are doing it. there aer probably a whole bunch of ways it can be done. the technology is ancient though, comes from ETs. but the project camelot stuff is a bit of advanced kookology, if we’re still not accepting 9/11 truth, then, i suppose it will fall on deaf ears.

  36. Dave Pinsen

    “My father in law is a former engineering professor and also spent years working with the US Navy on underwater submarine detection (and evasion).”If he hasn’t already read it, your father-in-law might find this book of interest, Blind Man’s Bluff. I mentioned it a couple of times on the old blog (e.g., here).

    1. fredwilson

      i just sent him an email suggesting he read this thread. if he does, he’ll get your suggestion. thanks

      1. Dave Pinsen

        Your father-in-law finding my comment in a sea of 160+ others will be almost as impressive a feat as Naval Intelligence officer John Craven’s use of Bayesian analysis to find that lost nuclear weapon off the coast of Spain.

  37. markslater

    LOVE THE QUIRKY IDEA!thats truly innovation crowdsourced..Cone of silence in the other hand…….you must have military roots fred – a bit clanderstine no? how about lowering your voice? 😉

  38. davemabe

    I would pay any amount of money for such a device. (Only half joking). My wife is extremely sensitive to noises like dogs barking, leaf blowers, mowers, etc.This sort of device would be a god send for her and people like her. There are probably more people that simply can’t block out this type of noise than you’d think – these people would love a device like this.

  39. Trevor Kampmann

    fred, this is tech already exists…the trouble is that implementation of the tech in close proximity to, say a group at dinner, would obviously cancel the group’s conversation. Oddly I did a layman patent (sent an idea along these lines, to myself via fedex and have never opened it). I think it could be done. It would have to involve voice-print analysis, so that the box knows which frequencies to allow thru and which noise to gate/cancel. Chris B. of Shazam would be an excellent resource for this as well. Ping me if you want to discuss. Very exciting idea.

    1. fredwilson

      how do i contact you?

  40. Emil Sotirov

    Now… imagine adding to the Cone of Silence a Tent of (In)visibility – you might as well eat at home… 🙂

    1. Josh Payne

      you would need the magic food generator (and table clearer) in addition

      1. Emil Sotirov

        My wife and I meet these specifications… 🙂

  41. Jackson

    Herman Miller and Applied Minds developed a similar product http://www.hermanmiller.com…however, it masks sound by adding sound, not by creating silence. But it seems not that different from a product that would turn intelligible and distracting sound into something closer to a more ignorable white noise.

    1. fredwilson

      i’ll check that out. thanks.

  42. FlavioGomes

    Entirely possibe via phase cancellation. It won’t entirely remove the sound, but it can signifcantly lower it. It would also be relatively easy to learn what frequencies to cancel and which ones to keep via proximity affect in order to have a conversation at the table. A small amplitude adjustment and voila you have your cone range limiter.Talk to your recording musican friends…they’ll have great ideas as they deal with phase cancellation all the time.

    1. fredwilson

      i’ll start with my brother who is a sound engineer. thanks.

  43. Michael F. Martin

    Relatively easy if everybody wears headsets. Pretty much impossible if not.The problem is that you have to produce the same wavelengths received in order to get perfect cancellation. Low frequencies would be nearly impossible to produce on a table top. Also, there would be a delay whenever the background noise changed, interrupting the cancellation.If the background noise were high-frequency and time-independent, then I’d say doable to some approximation. Otherwise not without the headphones.

    1. FlavioGomes

      Well, the frequency range that would matter is the sensitive conversation range I’d say anywhere between 400hz to 4kz and any basic speaker system can reproduce that. You’re right about delay…but the system would have to have super low latency which is possible. The biggest challenge I see will be keeping the table conversation intact.To be clear…it would be extremely difficult to completely remove all noise but you could likely reduce the RMS level down substantially thus improving perceived quietness. Alternatively you could enhance the local conversation frequencies basically using low and high pass filters.Well…it makes sense in theory anyways…fun to think about!

      1. fredwilson

        this is very encouraging

    2. fredwilson

      that’s the consensus opinion for sure

  44. Tereza

    Great post — totally love the Quirky site! Pre-committing to KidSuko right now.Wish my dad were still alive. He also used to be an engineering professor and would jump into the convo.I’d totally use the cone of silence.Any chance you can reverse the effect so it mutes a toddler’s screams to everyone else in the restaurant? A dinner out without paying $100 for a sitter would be life-changing 🙂

  45. ronmartinez

    One approach would be to have all your meetings in Paris. Somehow, the French manage to keep their conversations private, even in crowded restaurants. Something we haven’t yet mastered here in the land of projectile yakking.

    1. maverickny

      This was one of the first things that hit me 10 years ago when I first came to the US… how loud everyone is in public, especially restaurants.Last year I went back to Europe (Rome and Milan) and was bowled over by the quiet hubbub or slight buzz in restaurants. People had conversations and clearly enjoyed themselves, but without selfishly spoiling it for everyone else. To me, it’s all about manners.Well, until an American or Aussie party walk in, that is… and the collective sigh and groan inwardly 😉

  46. Oo Nwoye - @OoTheNigerian

    Hi Fred,I think it is a really great idea which will require a considerable amount of intellectual resource. I’d suggest you take a different approach to finding a solution. Why don’t you put up say, 3 PhD scholarships for people to tackle this problem?If sound can be directional (see http://www.ted.com/talks/vi… then this should very be possible.

    1. fredwilson

      i may just have to do that. there have been a number of resources suggested in this thread which i need to chase down first

  47. mkhsub

    the babble, http://www.npr.org/template… , from applied minds, danny hillis, and herman miller. i don’t think this is what you are looking for, but they might know how to do it because some of the problems they solved are applicable to a cone of silence.

    1. fredwilson

      second reference to that project in this thread. def going to check it out. thanks!

  48. Elliot Ross

    If you have ever tried to hear someone over a running dehumidifier or air conditioner -The easiest ‘cone of silence’ is simply a mild “White Noise” generator

    1. fredwilson


  49. Seth Godin

    I’m sort of stunned that no one has chimed in on this Fred:It’s not the Cone of Silence. It’s the Cohen of Silence. Someone named Cohen invented it on the show.Terminology is important.

    1. fredwilson

      wow. i honestly had no idea. i’m stunned to know that i’ve been using the wrong word for years

      1. Carl Rahn Griffith

        Interesting – had never heard of the terminology before this blog post anyway; didn’t realise it had ‘history’:http://www.statemaster.com/…Is this link above a bona fide explanation?Wonder if the makers of the ‘Jawbone’ could add to the debate?

        1. Mark Essel

          Same Carl, Seth just came outta nowhere with that tidbit.Whoa, quite a backstory to this one.

      2. Gil Reich

        You guys blame Jews for everything! (kidding) The references I’ve found (http://www.wouldyoubelieve…., http://www.answers.com/topi… agree that it was named after a professor, but they claim the name was Professor Cone. Media references, including NYT and CNN all seem to call it the Cone of Silence. Now that I’ve written this, I’m not sure if I should be more embarrassed that I answered when I’m not even sure Seth was serious, or that I researched this topic. Would you believe it only took a few seconds?

    2. Mark Essel

      Ha, hadn’t the foggiest. Thanks for keeping us honest.Catching up on the history Carl shared below.

  50. owendavis

    One perfect person to work on this is Woody Norris, an incredible inventor of all things acoustic. http://www.woodynorris.com/. His latest invention has to do with directional sound, where there is a “cone of sound” that is directed at a certain spot. If you step outside of the “cone”, you cannot hear what is playing inside of it.

    1. fredwilson

      hi owen. nice to see you in the comments. yup. a number of people have pointed to woody in this thread. i’m most certainly going to seek him out

  51. Chuck

    My $.02. Your vision is, if not impossible, something far off in the future. When you can’t even conceptualize how it might work at the physics level, an affordable product is probably a practical impossibility for the time being.That said, let me make the case for the ear-bud solution.1) A cone of silence like you envision isn’t really a casual decision anyway. It changes the atmosphere to something unnatural.Therefore, the ear-bud form factor would be tolerable if not immaterial. It’s already a slightly unnatural thing to do anyway.2) Tastefully done ear-buds (all black, thin wire, small lapel mic) wouldn’t be intrusive or ugly.3) The ambient noise could easily be calibrated and canceled out via existing technology.4) Components would be inexpensive.5) Ambient noise could be a) eliminated b) reduced c) increased d) replaced with something else that’s more subtle or suited to the conversation from your mobile phone (Dirty Projectors maybe?)6) Could easily add in a 3rd party remotely via phone.7) Could increase the relative sound of your conversation to allow for hushed talking.8) Simple kill switch could allow everything to go to normal when wait staff returns.9) Allow for keeping a meal social while also making it possible to hear the sports broadcast audio.

    1. fredwilson

      number 9 cracks me up. nicely done.would there need to be wires to and from the earbuds?

  52. symptomatic

    Didn’t Hillis and Ferren’s Applied Minds develop something like this for use in open-plan offices?http://www.nytimes.com/2005

  53. maverickny

    Love this whole concept and often tweet “lowering #coneofsilence to get some work done”. It certainly ensures fewer interruptions and makes a few people smile and focus themselves.However, I do have the fortune to literally have my own cone, so it isn’t entirely in jest. One the rare advantages of wearing a digital hearing aid is that you can change the program to cut out background noise, not completely, but certainly to a quieter buzz. In a restaurant this has huge blessings, not least being able to hear the people next or across me far better than they can hear me. The aid is preprogrammed to ‘dim’ sounds in a certain frequency range, thus allowing noise to be more muted. It’s damn good in the car on long distance journeys too.You might be able to do the same thing for normal hearing people, but it would probably require earplug like buds to achieve the digital cone of silence, or at least some noise reduction.The people who made this technology possible are Phonak, the Swiss digital audio company. The stuff is simply awesome and I swear by it. They also make a brilliant bluetooth gadget that works with the iPhone and translates Bluetooth signals to a hearing induction loop so using a phone is also viable. Brilliant technology!

    1. fredwilson

      this also points in the earbud solution. i may be headed towards a hearing aid soon anyway, so this might be my answer.

  54. rbrke

    Barry Ritholtz over at the Big Picture blogged this the other day: ————————-RSS feeds have exploded — we went from 20k to an astounding 138,000. But as they happened, the blog traffics and comments have slipped. Unless its a provocative topic, comments are in the 20-40 range (as opposed to 80-100 from last year).Does this matter much? Right now, I do full RSS posts. Should I reduce those feeds (can you do 50% of a post?) to bring people to the site, and generate more discussions? Or is this just the natural evolution of the web?——–This is obviously less of a problem here, but I’m one of those who read all my blogs using RSS feeds (Google Reader + Byline app) so I’m missing out on conversations and the community happening in his blog and here at A VC. As we all go mobile, I think that is the natural evolution of the web. Perhaps it already exists, but I’d like to see a product that lets me participate in these conversations w/o the use of a full-blown browser. Otherwise, I’m usually in my own cone of silence when it comes to the great conversations that follow each one of your posts.

    1. fredwilson

      disqus and google reader should work something out together

  55. marvinavilez

    It would have to be one of two ways….either take macro view and use broad noise-cancelling feedback loops…..or you can take the micro approach and have each member of your group use selective noise reduction headphones….I think what you propose with your portable cone of silence would work in conjunction with the broad pre-built cancelling feedback loops (your iPhone would give you the GUI that would mange the noise-cancelling system at the table that you are sitting…….food for thought!

    1. fredwilson

      i need to dig deeper into broad noise-cancelling feedback loops. sounds promising

  56. Invoice factoring blog

    The original concept for Agent 86 in Get Smart worked fine enough…… have a plastic bubble/enclose covering all the diners. Kind of tough if someone lights a cigarette or eats garlic-heavy food…… :-)In seriousness, the physics makes it tough. However, I am wondering if they could put a specialized coating on that absorbs (rather than reflect) the sounds that hit the walls. I know they use similar surfaces in rooms to test satellites, which is kind of cool. This would eliminate the echo from sound waves which is a big part of the problem in many establishments. Just a thought.–Marco

    1. Invoice factoring blog

      Follow up: As luck would have it, the WSJ posted something on this very subject today: http://online.wsj.com/artic… (Title: Pass the Salt … and a Megaphone)Marco

      1. fredwilson

        like startups, memes come from different places at the same time

  57. im2b_dl

    maybe you should just try miracle ear. ; ) just joshin

  58. Keith McIlvaine

    Wasn’t this highlighted in the recent movie release of “Get Smart”? Hey, it could work!

    1. fredwilson

      that’s where it comes from

  59. Martin

    Not exactly a cone of silence, but perhaps you and your dinner mates can use your bluetooth ear devices and do a conference call. Some bluetooth devices are effective at reducing background noise. You might need an ear plug for the other ear:(

  60. Rahul Deodhar

    Just a thought:1)A potential solution could be like a circle of set of chimes around the table (possibly at the ear level when seated) Instead of chimes it will be frequency sensors and included would be an audio source that can emit cancelling waves. Sort of like normal noise canceling head sets. this may not eliminate sound but might bring it down to bearable level. I doubt you can make it portable though.2) Another could be a simple air curtain around the table. Not practical though with dresses and likes.3) Psychology based solution could be a speaker who yells “quiet please – thank you” once decibel level crosses a threshold. May work – you never know! 😉

  61. tkg232

    I did not take the time to read through all posts so please excuse if the idea has already been posted.If I remember correctly some time ago a luxury car maker talked about giving passengers the possibility to listen to different kinds of music in the same car. Basically this would work by implementing overhead speakers that only directed sound in one special place. If you combined this with the technology of noise cancelling headphones you might be able to create this cone of silence around you. I do not think it will be a carry along device but rather needs to be installed in the restaurant. However it would be a first step and you could evolve the concept from there on.BesttG

    1. fredwilson

      that’s a lot like directional sound that woody showed off at TED

  62. iguide

    this is comment #1 in my quest to surpass shana.maybe instead of asking if this device would sell, or if it would work, we should ask “do we really need it?” I think good earplugs will always be better than noise canceling — because they’re cheaper, simpler, smaller, and so on.

    1. fredwilson

      but don’t they make it harder to hear too?

      1. iguide

        that’s the idea :-)I think the noise-cancellation product makes more sense for use in homes or offices located in cities. Now that would be a product which really improves people’s lives.

    2. ShanaC

      Feel free to try. 😉

  63. lauren

    fred, i love your idea! and i can’t wait to see it actually manifest. i have been working with various art-based quirky versions of it for the better part of a year. mainly because i’m not a techni-wizz, or cashed up in any way. the discussion on here continues to confirm a lot of my ideas about our relationship with sound/silence in public – so thank you for your post.

  64. WA

    But Fred, I thought you had teleportation covered for years, appearing 1000s of times to thousands of us daily, wherever we may be. Its execution (even in the abstract) not the patent right? 😉

  65. RacerRick

    On the Quirky site I saw 10,000 people maybe morePeople talking without speakingIn Fred’s Cone of Silence

  66. dgulbran

    I do think the current tech limitations make this a very big challenge now, but damn if I don’t want one, too!I’d buy one in a heartbeat…

  67. Adrian Palacios

    only someone from new york could imagine this 🙂

  68. Louis P. Solomon

    The idea that Fred has is excellent, AND, it is workable. However, a little discussion is necessary. If you wish to cancel local Ambient Noise (unwanted sound) then it must interact with generated sound waves which are out of phase (change of sign but with the same amplitude as the ambient noise). This works. You can, theoretically, cancel all the incoming sounds, but practically that is impossible. You require an analyzer to determine the frequency content of the local ambient noise and then must generate the same spectrum but out of phase with the noise. This is not hard to do, but it is not trivial, either. With the current technology (integrated circuits, etc) the package can be tiny. (Think noise canceling earphones). But you will need speakers to transmit the canceling noise. These systems will NOT fit in your pocket, but could be placed on a table by the restaurant as part of their service.I am not saying that this idea is unworkable. But, it will require some thinking to decide how the system, which like all other technical systems is based upon physics, can be applied under which circumstances and how. Ear phones work very well, but are impractical in a relaxed social atmosphere. Defining the customer and the users will indicate almost immediately how to address the system problems.

  69. peeramid

    My daughter number 4, now in the 7th grade, has been interested in “cloaking devices” for several years. Recently the engineering to produce materials with a negative index of refraction have resulted in this sort of effect with light. Realize that light and sound are just waves, and the possibility of a sound “cloaking device” is no more crackpot than one with light.HOWEVER: I do believe that a requirement of a cloaking device is that it envelope the object being cloaked. That said, maybe your “cone of silence” could be recast as a tablecloth, or a sound version of Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak?

    1. Tereza

      Based in no science, I still would like to explore the Hair Product angle (shampoo or gel) — at some sort of micro/chemical level.So you walk around and it’s already on you, and then you press On on an app and it activates that force-field between the people who are talking.I guess one problem, (beside the pesky detail of real science), is that you’d have to actually have hair to make it work.But on the plus side, if it’s a good product, you could look fabulous while doing it.

  70. ShanaC

    I keep thinking that if you made a resteraunt, and each table had a cone of silence above them (it sounds like this idea is not very portable) you might end up with some weird effects from everyone trying to cross cancel everyone else out.Plus there are some weird logistical problems, how would the waiter come in and ask you for your food. How do you make sure people on the borders are heard?I’ve been under those sound cones once at the MCA- they are extremely cool. However, one of the reasons they seemed to work was because the rest of the room was relatively silent. You could still hear other stuff around the speaker. So in principle it would work- I’m just not sure how every table phasing out every other table would work. Just strange.OTOH – I came up with an idea for Quirky, which is a really cool site. That juicer looks awesome.

    1. Rahul Deodhar

      If everyone is cross canceling then it is better to install buffers. If you break sound waves they loose energy. If they are directed or reflected they may hold energy (resonance).If house is close to the road lined by bushes and trees then car noise is muffled. Same effect can be achieved by using curtains, potted plants, rough surfaced walls behind sofas and chairs and asymmetric surfaces. The logic is similar to what is used in stealth planes. You make sofa walls higher and align them in different direction. You got a sound diffuser and hence a silent restaurant. That is also one reason some European restaurants are less noisy.

  71. cindygallop

    Yesssss! As per piece in the WSJ today, my absolutely pet hate is noisy restaurants. Fantastic food, superb service, great decor, perfect martinis – appalling acoustics? Ain’t never coming back. Bring it on!

  72. Mark Hurst

    Fred – do you know Greg Harper (gadget guy at Gel, D, and other events)? If the technology is out there, or on the horizon, he’d be a likely candidate to know about it… email me if you’d like an intro

  73. jameskupka

    It’s a great idea, but difficult to implement. Exterior noise cancellation, by feeding back the exterior noise out-of-phase is, for example, well-developed by Bose, Philips and others and used in high-performance earphones. But doing this “in the open”, not even in a small enclosure such as a car or cubicle, is an entirely different matter requiring microphones, amplifier and speakers. If it were possible it would require quite high power because of the high power of restaurant noise.it’s a cool idea Fred but one that’s way beyond me. smiley. some relevant links:See this Wikipedia link for a good article on this subject: http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…The Canadian company Venmar apparently uses Israeli technology to reduce its air conditioner noise in a room – see the video on this link:http://www.silentium.com/pa…Here is Venmar’s website:http://www.venmar.ca/Affich…Here is another noise cancellation company: http://www.nvhtechnologies….See also the noise cancellation in the 2010 Chevy Equinox :http://www.metronews.ca/tor

  74. sigmaalgebra

    To know how promising the goal is, don’t just take a consensus of summary opinions and, instead, look at the ‘deductive’ evidence. For candidate solutions, the evidence can and should quickly become some applied mathematics and basic physics of sound which can be accompanied with theorems and proofs. So, some of the strongest evidence in our civilization, for or against, is available. Or, don’t even follow ‘case based’ reasoning based, say, on other ‘similar’ projects you have seen. Uh, yes, this advice is more general than just for a ‘cone of silence’!Uh, yes, thankfully for US national security, the US DoD, especially the huge SSBN effort, was excellent at evaluating proposed projects. From the beginning, the SSBN effort was wildly new and “disruptive”. Nearly all the projects were proposed and evaluated based on papers of math and physics with little more. Many new, “disruptive” projects were selected, and the ‘batting average’ for these was very high. Yes, the business community could learn some lessons there!Or Rickover didn’t say, “You build one, show me how well it works, and then I’ll consider supplying the food for the crew for the first patrol.”. Or, e.g., for phased arrays, towed arrays, adaptive beam forming, drag free satellites, active noise cancellation, laser inertial guidance, wake following, thermal wake detection, magnetic anomaly detection, resource allocation for search, effectiveness of random walk for evading search, extreme low frequency communications, satellite navigation, the hover launch control system, and much more, there was plenty of confidence just from the papers with the applied math, physics, and engineering.Yes, at some point z, can ‘cancel’ sound: So, maybe have a first sound source. So, see how the pressure from the first sound rises and falls at point z. Then generate a second sound so that at point z when the pressure from the first sound rises the pressure from the second falls and, net, the pressure at z is zero.Hmm …. The speed of sound is about 1,125 feet per second. So, for 5 KHz sound, the wavelength is12 * 1,125 / 5000 = 2.7inches with lower frequencies with longer wavelengths. So, try to do some noise cancellation in the frequency band up to 5 KHz or so and there have to be correct on distances of 1 inch or so — challenging but not immediately absurd.Assume, as in Navy sonar, we have a ‘phased array’ audio device able to do ‘beam forming’ for both sending and receiving over the frequency band of interest.Also have the receiving able to do ‘adaptive beam forming’ where detect the position of each source of sound and the sound from that source.So, for some positive integer n, detect n sources of sound with, for i = 1, 2, …, n, source i at location x(i). May have to track some sound sources, and may get to exploit Kalman filtering!For sound from diffuse sources, e.g., reflections from walls, there is some hope but that is more involved!So, the core of the device is at position a. Your head is at b. So for i = 1, 2, …, n the phased array device sends a beam passing through position b that will, at position b, cancel the signal from source x(i) at position b.Okay, have some promise for spherical waves of pure tones from the n sources. Easier for lower frequencies.Due to the likely distance between the device at position a and your head at position b, the canceling signal will arrive at b some cycles too late. So, well want some signal extrapolation. A common working test case was to assume that the sound was from a second order stationary Gaussian process as in, say,Yu. A. Rozanov, ‘Stationary Random Processes’, Holden-Day, San Francisco.For the extra cost gold unit, use ultrasonics to track your head location and orientation and for each ear send a signal to cancel the sound at that ear with a ‘null’ (no sound) at the other ear. ‘Steering’ beams and nulls is common in Navy sonar.There is some promise the thing might work better if there were several units surrounding you. Or, with a cute, possibly helpfully accurate assumption about the sound, maybe a unit hanging above. To know, might do some mathematics and, maybe, collect some data and do some computer simulations.Uh, others in a restaurant might object to the extra sound being put into the room that they could hear but you could not!Practical? I don’t think so! E.g., tough to do well with sound sources where the extrapolation will likely work poorly, e.g., someone dropping a stack of dishes!But, to be more sure, “do the math”.Yes, there are ways to have a nice dinner while avoiding all those nasty restaurant noises: (1) Have daughters learn to cook and get ready to provide each evening “hot, nutritious, economical, tasty meals to perk up lagging appetites” of their husbands (yes, now your daughters may be launching Polaris missiles at my IP address!). (2) Carry out! (3) Well known to the Smart generation, microwave TV dinners!Or if don’t like all those noises, etc., from all those other people, then why eat in the restaurant?Or one of the better aids to success is careful ‘problem selection’. One of the keys is to provide some quite high value for the paying customers, in particular, value much higher than at least the per unit marginal cost of providing it. Another key is ‘market size’: How many potential customers? Then to me ‘cone of silence’ looks like poor problem selection.Gee, I wonder if any venture partner would ever give me this much information about any of my project ideas? For an evaluation like the US DoD has long done, the partner would have to study some original math with some advanced prerequisites. Hmm …!

  75. josh

    Learn sign language.

  76. sfgirl

    I think the idea of a cone of silence could work one day, technology is changing ever so rapidly.

  77. Stephen B | InventionAddict

    A professor at MIT developed the Audio Spotlight. It looks like it’s now owned by Holsonics. http://www.holosonics.com/It's a real cool technology. It may solve your problem but without the plastic cone.BTW: I am a Quirky member too!

    1. fredwilson

      thanksi’ll check it out

  78. scotwingo

    Hey Fred – did you see this physics news that a scientist has figured out how to teleport energy in Technology Review? Seems like a big step towards teleportation.http://www.technologyreview

    1. fredwilson

      i’ll check it outhadn’t seen it

  79. rachelarmitage

    It would be neat if this Cohen of Silence could be combined with a 3G dongle. For those other start-up founders that have to use various Starbucks as mobile offices, this would be an excellent package. In the mean time I resort to noise cancelling headphones. All very well until you need to engage with others!

  80. disqus_L0EMFF6ctL

    A little late to the game on this comment, but had to add my 2 cents as I think this is a GREAT idea. I appreciate that there are engineering challenges here, but if any marketers or entrepreneurs are listening, I would just like to say that I could probably name 15 people I know right off the bat who would purchase something like this. I’ve talked about this with many friends, many many times.

    1. Anonymous Ranting Coward

      Time for a little bit of a rant here. I’m an inventor – this means I have ideas AND I have the ability to implement them. Everyone has the ability to have an idea. Very few have the ability to implement one. (The weird thing about ideas is that they only point the way – the implementation is always different. Indeed part of the fun is seeing the idea morph as it collides with reality. But I digress…)But when some marketing motherfu&%$er says something like, “Well, I appreciate there are engineering challenges but I promised our customers a teleportation device – you’re the engineer, you figure it out” I want to strangle someone.Actually, I’m kind of going through this right now. I’m an inventor but I do prototypes for a living (which is actually really fun) but yesterday one of my clients expressed “disappointment”. They hired me to do a proof-of-concept on a video compression thing, and wanted timings (e.g. does the technique work) and a GUI mockup (how would the app look). So I did that. And the client was * disappointed* that, in 3 days, “all I could get done” was implement a dynamic video manipulation component, run a selection of video through it, get timing and throughput data, and mockup an interactive UI that shows how to adjust those parameters. To him, a “mockup” meant showing input video on one side, output on the other, and adjusting the transform in real time. In 3 days.I agree the app he has in mind would be impressive. It would also take more effort than 3 days (more like 6). I have no doubt he is the sort of person who believes it took 2 weeks to write Firefox, and no more than 10 days for one guy to write Flash.

      1. sigmaalgebra

        Looks like you came close to walking on water in warm weather. Nice work.But the larger situation is standard: Some ‘middleman’ with few or none of your abilities is standing between you and the actual business, the market, and the potential paying customers. Bummer for everyone but the ‘middleman’. You, too, can be a ‘middleman’, your own: Just temporarily turn off 99 44/100% of your brain.But using even a tiny fraction of your brain to see how the world works, cut out the ‘middleman’ and get close to the market and the potential paying customers yourself. Then you get to work on good projects AND get the money.There are some other advantages: You get to select on ‘both’ sides, both the problem to be solved for the customers AND the crucial, core ‘secret sauce’ of the solution: You get to do good ‘problem selection’ AND have the ‘secret sauce’ both something you know YOU can do and likely few others can.For the prototype, you may be able just to do that in your head as a fast ‘thought experiment’ and then move on to the real work for the first version of the product for sale. Or, why pay for the same real estate twice?You get to do work the middleman would never understand and deliver results the customers will like. The middleman doesn’t get to watch you do the real work and say with no knowledge at all what took too long and what did not. Or, when you are painting a valuable masterpiece on the ceiling, don’t let in people who never picked up a brush to comment on or even direct or control your real work.Cut out the middleman! It’s a big theme now — ‘disintermediation’!There’re some big advantages in the CEO really understanding his business! Yes, many middlemen, who can’t do technical work, will claim that doing technical work in effect ruins your brain for understanding the market and the customers, their problems, what they will buy, and how to sell to them and that is just insulting nonsense from people who know that they are in trouble because they can’t do the real work! Instead, as you have outlined, knowing the technical side is a big advantage. Take advantage of it.

  81. Saul_Lieberman

    I remember there was a startup (perhaps Israeli) that developed a technology that would turn a conversation into gibberish for anyone listening nearby.I’ll guess that it was at least 5 years ago. I’ve tried googling for it, without success…

  82. daveschappell

    Hey there — I liked the idea, so I checked with my father-in-law, who’s in this line of business. Here’s his response. I particularly like his last line (since he doesn’t know who proposed this 🙂 ):–There are two classic approaches:1) passive cancellation using absorptive materials and 2) active cancellation using radiated noiseACTIVE——It would be possible to build a cone of silence device to serve a single person sitting at a table. However, I do not think that it can be done in the form of a device that sits on the table. It would most probably be done in the form of a series of noise (sound) sources distributed around the periphery of the room that focuses canceling noise on a single or several points in a room (i.e. someone’s head). It would require a sound sensing source at each desired point to determine what noise was impinging on the location. The system would then emit the appropriate sound from the periphery transmitters to cancel the noise at the desired point. However, there is no free lunch. (pun). What sounds get canceled at the desired point also get added somewhere else in the room. There is a reason why canceling headphones work on the ears. They sense the background sound environment, invert these sound waves (which cancels the background) and let in the desired sound from a CD or whatever external acoustic source.Just to make the point, he might give everyone at the table noise canceling earphones and a radio to communicate to the other people at the table that are wearing same.Bottom line: the cloaking device as he proposes probably can’t be built. He should listen to his father.PASSIVE——-Put an acoustic absorbent bag over the people at a table. That doesn’t let sound into the bag. Thus the people can hear each other inside the bag but not the other guests in the room. HA HA.The military generally has the technology to do acoustic cancellation. It’s called stealth.Most low cost restaurants do a poor job of acoustic dampening. With a nice floor carpet, acoustic ceiling tile, cloth walls , soft chairs and table cloths you can create a fairly noise free environment. Ever been in a recording studio? It’s hard to hear yourself talk. The next time you are in a quiet restaurant look around at the decor. Take Karen to one as an experiment and I will pick up the tab.The guy’s idea is great if he can do it but he needs to take a college physics course first.

    1. sigmaalgebra

      Yup! Good father in law! If his daughter is even half as good, then you are a lucky husband!

      1. daveschappell

        alas, no 🙂

    2. fredwilson

      your father in law reminds me of my dad and my father in law. that’s acompliment

  83. rebeccastees

    you may have hearing loss if you experience three or more of these symptoms: * You have problems hearing over the telephone. * You have trouble following the conversation when two or more people talk at the same time. * People often complain that you turn up the volume too high on the television or radio. * You have to strain to understand conversation. * You have trouble hearing when there’s lots of background noise. * You often find yourself asking people to repeat themselves. * Many people you talk to seem to mumble or speak unclearly. * You misunderstand what others are saying and respond inappropriately. * You have trouble understanding the speech of women and children. Women and children typically speak in higher frequencies, which often are the first frequencies to be affected by noise-induced hearing loss.If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you may want to see an otolaryngologist (an ear, nose, and throat specialist) or an audiologist for a hearing evaluation.

    1. fredwilson

      i do that every few years.i have hearing loss but it is mild nowwill get worse as i get older

  84. Mark Dykeman

    I still think this is a Dungeons and Dragons magic spell.

  85. jenslapinski

    “My dad is a former engineering professor. He thinks it would be hard to develop successfully. My father in law is a former engineering professor and also spent years working with the US Navy on underwater submarine detection (and evasion). He thinks it is not possible to build in the compact way I want it to work.”What came to my mind immediately was Part 1 of Clarke’s law (no offense intended):”When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”:)

  86. leigh

    After I read this post, I couldn’t help but post an idea. well, who knew (and really who knew bc i was so busy at work i didn’t check back even once), I won product of the week. If i become a snowman baroness then I will have AVC (and Quirky of course) to thank. 🙂 http://aquirkyblog.com/2010

    1. fredwilson


  87. fredwilson

    will do, thanks