MELISSA BLOCK, host:
While your chance of getting shingles increases as you age, your ability to hear high, annoying frequencies like this -
(Soundbite of high-frequency tone)
- well, that ability decreases. Now, that may not sound like an even trade, unless you're a shopkeeper in the U.K. and you've got a problem with surly teenagers congregating on your doorstep. If so, you can buy a devise called the Mosquito Teen Repeller. It emits tones even higher than the one you just heard, or maybe didn't hear, and most teenagers can't stand it.
But some clever teens have figured out how to use those high frequencies on their cell phones to dupe adults. To find out how all this came about, I went right to the source in Wales.
Mr. HOWARD STAPLETON (Compound Security Systems): Howard Stapleton, managing director of Compound Security Systems and inventor of the Mosquito teen repeller.
Ms. ISABEL STAPLETON (Compound Security Systems): Isabel Stapleton, daughter of the inventor of the Mosquito teen repeller.
BLOCK: Howard, tell me about this Mosquito teen repeller, how you got the idea, first of all.
Mr. STAPLETON: When I was very young, I used to visit factories my father was the boss of. I went to one factory, and they used a method called ultrasonic welding. I walked in a room with a group of adults and the noise was so loud and painful, I walked out. The adults came out and asked me what the problem was and I said, the noise. And then went, what noise?
I've been in the security industry some 18 years now, and a local shopkeeper, to me, was having serious problems with a particularly malicious gang of teenagers who hung around his store, especially in the evenings, so I put my idea to the test.
BLOCK: Well, how does it work exactly?
Mr. STAPLETON: Yeah, it produces a noise of around about 17 kilohertz, but the real trick to it is pulsing this noise on and off, and it just makes it really, really annoying after, as I said, five to six minutes and the teenagers disappear. We've sold very nearly a thousand units across the U.K. now. It's great.
BLOCK: Well, Isabel, some of your friends, teenage friends, have figured out a way to take your father's technology and use it for their own devises, devises quite literally, really. Tell us about that.
Ms. STAPLETON: In class, my friends tend to be sending text messages to one another and the teacher cannot hear the text alert.
BLOCK: Because it's at this high frequency.
Ms. STAPLETON: Yes, and it - well, the Teen Buzz ringtone is a lower frequency than my dad's invention, the Mosquito Teen Repeller, so, unlike the Mosquito, some teachers can hear the ringtone, but most can't.
BLOCK: So you can tell, maybe, the age, you can gauge the age of your teachers, maybe, or at least their hearing response by whether they're cracking down in class.
Ms. STAPLETON: Yes, it tends to be about 30. The limit to my dad's invention is 20, 20 years old.
BLOCK: But you're finding that if a teacher is 30 or older, they probably won't hear this ring. If they're 30 or under, they will?
Ms. STAPLETON: Yes. My English teacher can hear it and she's about 35.
BLOCK: Well, Howard, explain how it is that your devise, the Mosquito Teen Repeller, has morphed into a ringtone on a teenager's cell phone. How does that work?
Mr. STAPLETON: I dare say, some kids went to the local shop where I installed one of my first devices and tried to record it using their mobile phone. I became aware of it, ran home and checked to see if it could actually be recorded, and due to the electronic limitations of the phone, my Mosquito device can't be directly recorded. So they've obviously played around on a computer and generated a frequency as high as they could get and this is what they're using.
You know, it makes me smile. It's, some kid has applied science and taken my product, which is designed to scare them away from shops, and turned it into something for fun for their mobile phones. It, as I said, it puts a smile on my face.
BLOCK: Isabel, I assume if you wanted to, you could set your phone to vibrate and get the text message, and I guess the idea is you want it to be something that only the teenagers can hear while the teacher cannot. That's part of the fun.
Ms. STAPLETON: Yes. Actually, when a phone does vibrate, you can actually hear the noise with some phones, so the Teen Buzz is quite useful for in-class text messages.
BLOCK: Have you used it yourself in class?
Ms. STAPLETON: Yes, I have, actually.
Mr. STAPLETON: Well, that's it. She's in trouble now.
BLOCK: Well, have you gotten in trouble? I was going to ask you.
Ms. STAPLETON: No, I haven't, but I've seen my friends get in trouble for it.
BLOCK: And, Howard, you're responsible in some way.
Mr. STAPLETON: Yeah, I'm becoming, I'm not sure famous, but I'm certainly becoming infamous.
BLOCK: Well, Howard and Isabel Stapleton, thanks for coming in. Good to talk to you.
Mr. STAPLETON: Thank you very much.
Ms. STAPLETON: Thank you. Bye.
BLOCK: That's Howard Stapleton, creator of the Mosquito Teen Repeller, and his 16-year-old daughter, Isabel. They spoke with us from Cardiff, Wales. You can test your hearing with that Teen Buzz ringtone at NPR.org.