Watching sports on TV is amazing nowadays—between HD, surround sound, and the “Planet Earth”-style editing, you feel like you’re right there in the stadium. How do they do it? Very creatively, it turns out. As Peregrine Andrews, a sound engineer and audio producer, explains in the pro audio journal “Fast and Wide,” many of the sounds that make TV sports come alive are heavily manipulated. Sometimes they’re even fake.
If you were just to set up a microphone at the Olympics and press “record,” Andrews writes, you wouldn’t hear much of anything besides the roar of the crowd. So audio engineers fill the field with hundreds of tiny microphones—on the ground, on athletes’ clothing, even attached directly to the balance beam to capture subtle creaking sounds you couldn’t hear even if you were standing right there. In archery, a tiny microphone placed between the arrow and the target lets you hear a “whoosh” impossible to hear in person.
Then there are the bogus sounds. During Olympic cross-country skiing, it’s simply impossible to record the sound of the skis, so engineers load skiing sounds onto a sampler and play them back in real time over the broadcast, like musicians. In televised horse racing, the sound of the hooves is often prerecorded: In fact, Andrews writes, the standard “galloping horses loop” is “actually a slowed-down buffalo charge.”
Lovely pounds of firm, solid flesh
Given our society’s obsession with thinness, it seems almost inconceivable that you might want to gain weight for vanity reasons. But, as the website Retronaut reminds us with its great collection of old weight-gain ads, tastes change with the times. Back before advertisers warned women about being fat, they warned them about being too thin, offering them ways to “put on pounds and inches of firm, solid flesh.”
Skinniness anxiety, it’s worth pointing out, wasn’t just for women: A little box in the center of the ad proclaims that “skinny men are not attractive either!” We may live in a particularly body-obsessed age, but freaking out about your body is a longstanding tradition. Even T. S. Eliot, it’s worth remembering, worried that he needed to put on some bulk: According to Lyndall Gordon’s biography, the poet spent time at Harvard “exercis[ing] his chest according to ‘the Sandow system’ at August’s gymnasium in the basement of Apley Hall, hoping he might expand to forty-six inches.”
Welcome to my underwater lair
Writing at Gizmodo, a site normally dedicated to reviews of new gadgets, Brian Lam lives out one of my childhood dreams and visits Aquarius, the world’s only remaining underwater research base. Located off the Florida Keys and run by NOAA and the University of North Carolina, the 400-square-foot habitat lets small groups of scientists live 60 feet below the surface for 10 days at a time.
Usually, marine biologists are limited to dives of an hour or two. Aquarius allows them to extend that window to eight or nine hours, in part through the use of scuba tank refill stations located outside the base, on the reef. The “aquanauts” enter and exit the base through a “moonpool”—essentially a hole in the floor, like a swimming pool, kept sealed by air pressure.
Sylvia Earle, one of the world’s most distinguished marine researchers, tells Lam that the base’s “gift of time” allows scientists see things they wouldn’t otherwise, like fish eating each other. “It’s more like life around a reef that has never been seen by humans,” she says. After 20 years, the base itself has actually been incorporated into the coral reef, becoming more disguised over time.
Aquarius has hosted 117 missions, many of them run by NASA. Unfortunately, it may be closing due to budget cuts. Scientists have established a nonprofit, the Aquarius Foundation, with the goal of raising the $3 million operating budget on their own.