Everyday Tech Myths: Signal To Noise

What’s The (Gray) Matter?


Question: Can long-term exposure to radiation from computers damage your health?

Answer: I’m going to make you wait for the answer. No spoilers on this segment.

Many of us harbor this background uncertainty about computers and our health. After all, every few years, we get another round of headlines about how cell phones could be causing cancer, so shouldn’t bigger, badder PCs be even more of a risk? We bake in front of them for hours at a time, many of us every day of our lives. I’ve got three LCD screens about two feet from my face, a quad-core PC, speakers (wired and wireless), a wireless-emitting speaker control pod, five external drives, a structured wiring hub with wireless router in the closet behind me, and so on. If there’s a health risk, I of all people probably should learn about it...especially if it’s already melting my auditory cognition center.

Should I be worried? Well, when I searched for “computer radiation effects,” I ended up on blurtit.com, where there’s a question titled “Does Computer Radiation Has Any Ill Effects?” (Once again, you can tell something about the quality of a site’s content by the frequency of typos and errors in its text.) One answer went as follows: “Yes the computer radiation has some ill effects on the health of users. And it can harm his eyes or even his mind it can also cause to some severe pain or even death in a case that computer is being used continuously. Basically there is not radiation in the whole computer itself. The radiation area is basically Monitor of the computer due to the electronic rays it produces.” Oh, God, not the mind—that’s just what I was afraid of! Give me death, but don’t take my mind.

Another answer offered this: “Computer radiation is very harmful to the skin and general health because when we sit directly in front of the computer screen for long periods, we absorb the radiation emitted. Addressing this issue is very important. Computer radiation results in a sick feeling and even burns your skin and since most employees within the computing industry are not aware of this, they continue to suffer with ill health.”

You might remember how I’ve written before about crusading for the triumph of a little frickin’ common sense. With three 17" screens and 10 to 12 hours per day in front of them, if anyone could get “burned” skin from computer use, a pasty troglodyte like me would be it. I think we can safely disregard this fear-mongering drivel.

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  • Anonymous
    correction, physical pain doesn't set in at 130db, feeling sets in at about 130 db, so that bass that you feel thumping is above 130db, but since volume is a function of decibels and frequency it is very quiet. but children wailing is very high pitched so them at 80 db is significantly louder than the bass in your car. if you want to learn more than just do some more googling around. try searching "volume"
  • joeman42
    A clarification on ANC theory. There is no "anti-noise" generated. Ambient sounds strike the speaker cone moving it. Essentially the ANC signal applied to the diaphragm resists this motion of the cone, holding it still. Without movement the sound energy is dissipated as heat on the back surface of the cone. It is not canceled out in the classic sense, the compression and rarefaction of sound waves are mechanically destroyed.
  • wickwick
    One more really simple thing to add here. Put some really high-quality foam earplugs in your ear canal AND use your ANC headphones. This is what I do when I fly (Bose QC2's and custom-fit plugs). You've got to have enough sound without distortion in your headphones to overcome the attenuation of the plugs but for the most part their response curve is flat (if not a bit high on the low end). So your tinny-sounding earphones are actually going to have a bit more bass overall.

    I've also been known to wear my Shure earbuds under my QC2's but they stick out far enough that I have to be careful not to touch them against the inside of the headphones. The nice bit is that even sitting in the back of an MD-80 I've only got to put my iPod at about 25% volume to hear every detail.
  • williamvw
    Shures with QC2 sounds like Heaven...assuming Heaven is a very quiet place. :-)

    Regarding joeman42's comment, first, I'm going to say that I am definitely not a sound engineer nor any kind of other acoustic specialist, so the depth of my understanding may need improvement. However, the description I gave of ANC fits every description of the technology I've been exposed to over the years. For example, check this paper: http://doctord.dyndns.org:8000/Pubs/POTENT.htm, which describes the ANC process like so: "the noise is modeled to produce an anti-noise waveform at the output speaker." Given this guy's title as Vice President of R&D for Noise Cancellation Technologies, Inc. and the fact that this paper appeared in an IEEE publication, I'm pretty confident of the source.
  • DarkMantle
    Another very entertaining article from you.

    “(Once again, you can tell something about the quality of a site’s content by the frequency of typos and errors in its text.)”

    You might want to change that line before someone of bestofmedia knocks on your door and gives you a kick in the nuts when you open.
  • williamvw
    DarkMantleAnother very entertaining article from you.“(Once again, you can tell something about the quality of a site’s content by the frequency of typos and errors in its text.)”You might want to change that line before someone of bestofmedia knocks on your door and gives you a kick in the nuts when you open.

    Yeah, I can add that to the list of reasons I've given them. ;-) But really, you can tell the difference between a rushed schedule and borderline illiteracy or outright disregard for quality. If I've got to take one in the giggleberries for saying that Web sites in general need better quality control, so be it, but I think Bestof has a good crew that does good work. I'd rather have a few typos and solid reporting from people who care about the readers' best interests than a lot of the over-polished, under-thought dreck common in the field.

    Thanks for the kind words.
  • kratos401
    Interesting article
  • rockstone1
    I have hearing loss. I was born since birth, and therefore, I can't use headphones or go to rock concerts, lest I risk damage to my ears. I have never used an i Pod for more than a few minutes, and I'm glad.

    I'm 15 years old, and I estimate that by the time I'm 40, my generation will have worse hearing than me. I'll be laughing "I HAD hearing loss BEFORE it was POPULAR!" :P
  • Anonymous
    I was born since birth

    I should hope so.