Posts Tagged Bose


Posted by on Sunday, 15 May, 2011


My acoustics teacher was kinda famous. I didn’t care as much about that as how hard a grader he was but, I gotta say, Amar Bose was good. Instructors at MIT aren’t necessarily heavy on personality. The selection criteria seemed to be based on how smart you are, not your “presence” which, in my opinion, was a big mistake. But Bose had lots of personality AND lots of brains.

Like me.

Except, maybe, the brains.

Back then, he was all pissed off about the way Consumer Reports had treated his baby.  Although he discussed transmission losses and reverberation and fourier transforms dispassionately, there was a homicidal glitter in his otherwise civilized eyes when he discussed Consumer Reports which, with misbegotten evil,  had failed to grasp the breakthrough principals of his, then new, Bose 901 system. The sound “tended to wander around the room.” He was trying to bust them with a libel lawsuit and I’m glad I wasn’t still in his classroom when, eventually, the Supreme Court decided that Consumers Reports could say what it liked as long as there was no actual malice involved. I bet THAT was a shitty day!

Since I was in a Phd program, a thesis topic was supposed to choose me and, so far, it hadn’t. One idea I had was  kinda crazy so I asked Bose about it.

I was thinking about noise cancelling earphones. Sound is complicated. Otherwise you wouldn’t have to pay people to learn about it. Waves and things. Some of those waves reinforce and some of them cancel. Would it be possible to jigger things to subtract annoying sounds and let you concentrate on the sounds you want to hear?

Just a question. Maybe a little naive, I said.

Dr. Bose was nice about it. I don’t remember his exact words. I do remember he brought up Green’s theorem just to help me understand what I would be getting into. Could it be done? Well, he couldn’t be too encouraging. It might be unrealistic.

I chose something else.

Bose went on to create sound canceling headphones, and I went on to create the LectricLifter (TM). You probably haven’t even heard of the LectricLifter (so far, at least) unless you read my blog constantly.

Which I hope you do.

The sound canceling earphones, you’ve seen at the mall or you’ve read about in SkyMall Airline Magazine. You may own a pair.

I love this story because it shows how smart I was. And how my idea got misappropriated by a guy who went on to make BILLIONS with it..

Except that’s BS.

At the time we talked, Dr. Bose knew more about sound cancellation then I will ever know. I didn’t teach him a thing. If he remembered the discussion, a few weeks later, it shows he has an uncanny  ability to remember trivia.

IF anything I said, later, turned out to be useful, would he have credited me? Actually, I think he would have. He’s a good guy and very ethical. At the time we had our discussion, computers were big, expensive, and slow. Practical solutions for noise cancellation were iffy. Why would Amar Bose encourage a topic that’s an intellectual cul de sac? His advice was right. And Greene’s theorem (as I remember it now) didn’t mean it couldn’t be done, just that there are realistic constraints.

My point?

Look how smart I am.

But there’s another thing. Sometimes it’s hard not to make a personal history “all about me”.


There is a way to think about this exchange and convince yourself – myself, actually – how unfair life is. Nasty  Amar Bose, taking my idea and building a whole industry out of it. But – honestly? – it didn’t happen that way at all. And I know that. He left me with more than I left him with.

I learned something.

He had an extra student he didn’t much need.

And later, based ENTIRELY on his own work, he did go on to create an entirely new product category. A good one which adds to his legacy.

MISTER ScienceAintSoBad rates Amar Bose’s contributions to the science of acoustics very highly.

And Mister ScienceAintSoBad rates his own personal maturity right up there too though there is some room for improvement.