iPod Mischief


If you've ever wondered how to turn your iPod into a pirate radio station, fret no longer. Phillip Torrone of Engaget has the answer.

Granted, some of the uses he suggests might transgress the rules of propriety:

We usually keep a couple tracks of silence ready to go, ever get stuck at a stop light for like 10 minutes and the dude in the next car is blasting the radio? With the super easy iPod interface you can quickly get to the station he's on and send over whatever you want, a couple gentle ocean waves or birds usually works out great.

If you've ever gone to the Gym, or stared in to one from the outside?you'll notice the TVs are muted and set to broadcast on specific FM frequencies, folks then tune in their radio headsets to whatever station to listen to the audio as they exercise. Now we're not suggesting you go around and broadcast over CNN or anything, but we think broadcasting "Aliens have landed today, the President and UN will be making an announcement immediately" could be quite fun. We'll be trying this out with our gym pals who are usually up for a good gag.

There's a big body of libertarian literature that argues that slices of the electromagnetic spectrum should be treated as fee-simple private property. A few years ago, though, Tom Bell asked whether such a plan might step on another set of property rights:

Suppose, for example, that on your land you used, for private wireless communications, a frequency owned by a local radio station. If your use did not interfere with your neighbors' reception of that station, on what grounds could the supposed owner of the frequency object to your use? The example is not as farfetched as one might at first think. Similar facts have already given rise to a dispute under the current licensing system, under which the federal government claims title to the airwaves. Households of all sizes increasingly put wireless communications to personal use in garage door openers, cordless phones, baby monitors, and so forth.

If you buy that argument, then perhaps it isn't so unethical to use your iPod to jam a noisy car radio … if it's idling outside your home. Right?

OK, so maybe I'm just rationalizing.

NEXT: I'm Really Glad They Made the Legal Aid Society

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  1. TWC, they DO have such gizmos, and have been producing them for years. The problem is that they work much better at the listener’s point of view than at the source.

    Dan Rutter just reviewed a pair of headphones that do this, with mixed results. He also has a good explanation of how it works, and why it doesn’t work for some things here.

  2. 1 crucial error in Bell’s story – the local radio station does not OWN the spectrum – that would be private property. The US Government OWNS the spectrum. Thus – infringing on spectrum licensed to someone by the Government is not tresspassing in the private proport sense – it’s much more like taking your Hummer out for a cruise thru a National Wetland.

  3. That’s no error, Jeff. Again, Bell’s criticism is aimed at the private property system being proposed by Peter Huber and others, not at the existing system of government ownership.

  4. Yes – Jesse – I misread Bells comment.

    Another thought regarding all the “appliances” supposedly freely using spectrum – take a look at the bottom of them and you’ll see a little sticker or imprint with an FCC Authorization number and a statement of “compliance” which essentially means the device will accept interference from any other source.

  5. What we need is some deeply offended music lover with sensitive ears, going vigilante and shooting out superloud car stereos. Turn it down, man, you never know when he’ll strike next…

  6. I am that man.

    Don’t make me blow your woofers.

  7. You people used to be pHoNE PHreaKs, didn’t you?

  8. It would be pretty funny if an SUV-full of rowdy hip-hoppers turned up the beat, only to hear..

    Una paloma blanca–aaahhh-aaaahhhhh!!!

    Or is Slim Whitman a weapon of mass destruction?


  9. overhearing drunken cell phone conversations is much more entertaining, no matter how loud and disturbing they may be (sitting 10 feet away, as it were). i’ve even sampled a few of them for use in future pieces.

    i don’t mind the car flying by blasting whatever (be it salsa, guido trance, r&b, hip hop) so much as the physical effect of the volume. and that you’ve got these hard ass motherfuckers playing modern R&B/slow hip hop at tremendous volumes, which is like wearing a t-shirt which says “i’m a fucking pussy” and handing out pictures of yourself wearing the shirt to strangers.

    dancehall bothers me least of all cause it’s so damn catchy.

    i’ve gone outside a few times to ask people to turn things down at four in the morning, which works remarkably well considering i’m frickin’ huge. i’m always polite but this strategy will probably run to my own detriment eventually.

    the satisfaction, however, of smashing a baseball bat into the windshield would probably be immense.

    on the plus side it gives me a chance to imagine new york post headlines about my violent death.

    “brooklyn man killed in stereo slay”

  10. Warren,

    The same problems arose, at least by analogy, with disputes over riparian rights (i.e., property rights to land on river banks). If a mill-owner built a large enough dam, it would interfere with the operation of mills within a certain distance: it would reduce water-flow servicing the mill downstream, and the backwash would interfere with the one upstream. The common law of riparian rights evolved as a body of rules to settle such disputes. A similar set of rules, enforced by civil courts, could deal with disputes over interference between broadcasters.

    Of course, I don’t like the “fee simple” thing. Somebody shouldn’t be able to buy up fictitious “rights” to portions of the spectrum he didn’t intend to use, just to withold them from use for the speculative value.

  11. Highway, thanks for the link. BTW, liked your site.

  12. wow. that’s the hotness right there. “attention! attention! you suck. repeat, you suck. over.”

    i live in a first floor apartment (for another 3 weeks) and we get a lot of summertime unasked-for jamz coming through my fucking windows. and cell phone conversations, drunken, courtesy of the two bars nearby. they’re usually louder for longer than the carbooming.

    what i love is that you’ll hear/feel the bass thud coming from a block and a half away, and as the car passes it’s two guys blasting like r kelly in a beat up 1989 van…

  13. I’m a little curious about Bell’s hypothetical. Assuming your use of the frequency on your land is genuinely non-interfering, how does anyone else find out? And assuming they do, what’s their incentive to invest time or resources in going after you?

  14. All the home appliances and such use unlicsensed spectrum, around 2.4 GHz, allocated specifically for anyone to use for whatever reason.

  15. Cutting up the spectrum into private parcels isn’t as simple as real estate. As noted, two (or more) people can use the same piece of spectrum simultaneously. Title to bandwidth would have to include limitations on power output and transmission location. Having spectrum dedicated to a specific use might also allow for more efficient use. Never the less, all these issues can be addressed. IMO libertarianism demands private ownership of spectrum.

  16. Only problem jamming the hyperactive thugs with the mobile PA systems in their “getto rides” is…

    Their most often listening to CDs!

    Otherwise I’m all for it!

  17. Troubalert banged that problem in the noggin. How DO you jam CD’s?

    dhex? My condolences.

    Who was it that said your right to make noise ends at my ears?

    Okay, maybe that wasn’t it exactly.

    You know they have those sound wave generator doo-hickeys that use precise reverse sound waves to silence large machinery that operates at a constant speed with a constant noise output. Let’s invent a digital version of that to instantly respond to unwanted noise by cancelling it with the same technology.

    Jesse, I read the whole thing with a big grin.

  18. Low power broadcast vigilantism has a romantic appeal, but Jesse could, in fact, be rationalizing. If one lives in an area where installing ever louder sound systems in cars is a competitive sport, and the local gendarmerie can’t or won’t enforce the anti-noise ordinance, I can empathize with the temptation to engage in a little digital monkeywrenching. I see two problems. The first is the practical matter that so many of the jerks who rattle my windows with their systems are playing their own CDs or digital tracks. One clue is the florid vocabulary in some of the doggerel, which broadcasters can’t touch nowadays. I suppose if the changer that’s installed in the trunk has a wireless connection to the speakers, one could jam it if one could discover it. The second is that, unless one is “defending oneself” against a high-db invasion on one’s eardrums, we should leave other people’s audio output alone.

    Using a licensed frequency in a non-interfering manner could certainly be allowed, given modern tech. We all know what spectrum-hogs current licensees are, though.


  19. Julian: You’d be surprised at the time and resources people will invest into such things. In a footnote, Bell cites the case of Roy Neset, a North Dakota farmer who got in trouble with the FCC for setting up an automated station that let him broadcast to himself on his own land while he was working. There wasn’t any interference, but a local radio station complained nonetheless.

    Holmie: Bell is aware of that. The dispute he was alluding to was the Neset affair; he mentions the unlicensed devices to make the case that the model of fee-simple property rights in spectrum can be problematic. I’ve just added an extra link to the quote to make that clearer.

    Warren: Just to be clear, Bell doesn’t oppose property rights in spectrum. He’s simply proposing a different approach to establishing them. I recommend reading the whole piece — I don’t agree with all of it, but he makes some strong arguments.

  20. A bit OT, but I’d love to see movie theatres jam cell phone signals. THAT would make the cost of a ticket bearable . . .

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