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posted by LaminatorX on Wednesday May 21 2014, @03:54PM   Printer-friendly
from the Radio-Gaga dept.

The reason why FM receivers are present on smartphones is that they can be used to locate your position by noting a simple thing as signal strength of transmitters. More advanced methods makes use of SNR, frequency deviation and multipath interference characteristics. And the same method can be used for WiFi which of course makes collection of such data very useful for localization purposes where GPS etc isn't useful. Arrival time of a radio signal that is reported to the operator from many devices may also be used for the same purpose.

Related Stories

Samsung to "Unlock" FM Chip in Galaxy S9 and Future Smartphones 21 comments

Samsung says it will be unlocking the FM chips in its future smartphones:

Samsung and NextRadio on Wednesday announced the handset-maker will begin shipping phones in the US and Canada with the FM radio chip unlocked. Currently, Samsung was shipping some devices with the FM radio access unlocked, while others (often dependent upon carrier whims) had a locked FM radio chip.

An unlocked FM radio chip in a smartphone not only provides free access to local radio stations, but also, in emergency situations, access to important information.

What is NextRadio?

Emmis Communications is an American media conglomerate based in Indianapolis, Indiana. The company owns radio stations and magazines in the United States and Slovakia.

[...] The NextRadio smartphone app was developed by Emmis, with support from the National Association of Broadcasters, to take advantage of mobile devices with activated internal FM receivers. NextRadio allows users of select FM-enabled smartphones to listen to live broadcast FM radio while receiving supplemental data such as album art, program information, and metadata over the internet. Launched in August 2013 through a radio industry agreement with Sprint Corporation, the app is available preloaded on select devices it is also available for download in the Google Play Store.

Do you need to use their app to access the FM chip? The press release says:

Market leaders like Samsung are taking the step of unlocking the FM Chip, which will allow Samsung users to connect directly with the NextRadio app, listen to their favorite local stations, and use less battery and less data than streaming radio apps.

Take "unlocked" with a grain of salt.

Previously: FCC Chairman Encourages Activation of FM Chips in Smartphones
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai Calls on Apple to Activate Imaginary FM Chips

Related: Smartphone with FM Radio Tells Your Position
Developers Working to Get FM Radio Function Enabled in BQ Ubuntu Phones
Norway to Become 1st Country to Switch Off FM Radio


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  • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:12PM

    by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:12PM (#46008) Homepage Journal

    You can be triangulated with any cell phone, even an old analog phone from the '90s. No broadcast FM or GPS needed. A cell phone IS a radio!

    Gees, guys, what happened to Soylent today?

    --
    Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
    • (Score: 2) by ikanreed on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:39PM

      by ikanreed (3164) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:39PM (#46014)

      I think the basic principals of triangulation go over most peoples' heads. They just look at their phone's "GPS" and go, "oh, I'm here"

    • (Score: 4, Informative) by kaszz on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:44PM

      by kaszz (4211) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:44PM (#46015) Journal

      The difference being that with FM it's possible to locate indoors when cell transceivers are out of reach. And to do it with a room to room granularity.

      • (Score: 4, Informative) by frojack on Wednesday May 21 2014, @08:55PM

        by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 21 2014, @08:55PM (#46130) Journal

        Hold on there...

        Once you are indoors all you have is a relative strength indicator that can no longer be trusted, because some or all of your FM will have to come through the walls, which adds a variable and uncertain degree of attenuation.

        And this is true of being in a car, a forest, behind a hill or having any dissimilar amount and type of material (metal, wood, glass) between you and the station. These all attenuate signals to a differing degree. You might be in front of a window facing one tower, and behind a wall facing a different tower.

        Similarly, Arrival time of FM signals have no built in time reference [wikipedia.org]. (They don't contain a time code).

        Furthermore, when you actually look around a big city, you will find the vast majority of transmitter towers located on the same hill, which pretty much eliminates most attempts to triangulate.

        And finally, the FM receiver needs an antenna, (your ear-buds wire) in order to deliver anything approaching a usable signal.

        No, An FM tuner is in your phone because it is incredibly cheap to bundle it into either the cellular receiver or the wifi chipset. (These things are almost never a stand-alone chipset).

        This guy did a research paper. That's all. It doesn't exist in the real world.
        (There isn't a shred of evidence to support you last sentence in TFS.)

        Read the PDF you posted. He did this work all in a 12x12 static test room, with known transmitters, broadcasting known test-tones, known receivers, (his own) at set distances, through consistent materials.

        --
        No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
        • (Score: 2) by mcgrew on Thursday May 22 2014, @01:07AM

          by mcgrew (701) <publish@mcgrewbooks.com> on Thursday May 22 2014, @01:07AM (#46204) Homepage Journal

          An FM tuner is in your phone because it is incredibly cheap to bundle it into either the cellular receiver or the wifi chipset.

          Exactly. You're talking about adding a single capacitor to the receiving circuit. You can't get much cheaper than that.

          --
          Free Martian whores! [mcgrewbooks.com]
        • (Score: 2) by Foobar Bazbot on Thursday May 22 2014, @05:10PM

          by Foobar Bazbot (37) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 22 2014, @05:10PM (#46459) Journal

          I mostly agree with you, but a few nitpicks...

          Similarly, Arrival time of FM signals have no built in time reference. (They don't contain a time code).

          True, at least for analog FM (I'm unsure regarding the various associated digital streams, such as RDS , DirectBand, etc.). However, they do carry a mostly non-repeating stream of data, and you can compare that to the same data recorded at a known distance from the tower. (Processing can be done at either end.) The communication with the known-location receiver may be a problem for real-time location, although when the same chipset contains an always-on link to the nearest cell tower, it's not wholly infeasible as part of a "lawful intercept" system.

          Furthermore, when you actually look around a big city, you will find the vast majority of transmitter towers located on the same hill, which pretty much eliminates most attempts to triangulate.

          Depends greatly on the size of the city, what local terrain is like, and how close nearby cities/towns are, but in the moderately populated, gentle hills of the part of the midwest I grew up in, one can usually receive tolerable signals from a couple of nearby towns.

          No, An FM tuner is in your phone because it is incredibly cheap to bundle it into either the cellular receiver or the wifi chipset. (These things are almost never a stand-alone chipset).

          I absolutely agree. However, it's not 100% clear that, being included because it's so cheap/easy, it isn't then opportunistically used to augment location data.

          This article does basically nothing to prove it, but it's distinctly possible that FM signals are used to help locate some mobile phones in some circumstances.

          • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday May 22 2014, @06:07PM

            by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 22 2014, @06:07PM (#46477) Journal

            This article does basically nothing to prove it, but it's distinctly possible that FM signals are used to help locate some mobile phones in some circumstances.

            True. But "Possible" covers a wide range of supposition. It might be possible but nobody is doing this in cell phones.

            It is surely "possible", and the process of using such has been recently patented [uspto.gov].

            Although that patent really only covers using this as a basis to get gross location (probably 10s of miles) as an aid to guesstimating location for jump-starting Assisted GPS. Further, the patent in question contains the seeds of its own uselessness, because it specifies a network connection to the internet, and if you have that, you already have either wifi or cell towers, which are already used in Assisted GPS, and either provide more accurate information.

            But the current crop of phones on the market don't have any antenna connected to the FM receiver unless you plug in your headphones, so they couldn't get a signal good enough to track anyone not having their earbuds plugged in.

            FM Transmitter locations are quite well known, (and public [fmscan.org]), Nobody I've ever heard of is monitoring and timing RDS signals of FM transmitters to arrive at a time queue. So the idea of a usable time signal to calculate distance seems extremely unlikely.

            That leaves relative signal strength alone, and lots of math, and a HUGE database, or an internet connection, which immediately obviates the need of FM.

            Note that FM is often delivered with local repeaters expanding a market area, each with their own built in delay, and signal strength. Some of these are shared by more than one station.

            --
            No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
    • (Score: 2) by Tork on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:57PM

      by Tork (3914) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:57PM (#46072)
      I wonder why you read that summary and thought it just contained five words: "FM radio can be triangulated." I'm seeing more and more of this crap lately and it reminds me of what the green site smells like.
      --
      Slashdolt Logic: "19 year old jokes about sharks and lasers are +5, Funny." 💩
  • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Zinho on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:25PM

    by Zinho (759) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:25PM (#46010)

    Huh, I'd have thought FM receivers were included because people wanted to listen to the radio...

    Considering that the paper linked in the summary is an investigation into the feasibility of using FM radio reception as a locator for the phone, the headline may be a bit sensationalistic. If we're still looking into whether it's possible I doubt the receiver was put there because of its utility in locating me.

    That being said, I'm not sure how much good this technique would be on my phone, given that it has no FM antenna and uses my earphone wires as a substitute. It's not going to get much of a signal if I'm not listening to music. Further, before I get paranoid about my FM radio giving away my position I'd better turn off the GPS receiver and location service in my phone's OS. =P

    --
    "Space Exploration is not endless circles in low earth orbit." -Buzz Aldrin
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:26PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:26PM (#46011)

    Couldn't it actually be that the reason there are FM receivers on your cell phone is to allow you to ... wait for it ... listen to FM radio broadcasts?

    • (Score: 3, Funny) by VLM on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:48PM

      by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:48PM (#46018)

      Its 2014, nobody listens to FM radio anymore. The purpose of the FM RX is to be a marketing bullet point so people who fondly remember listening to FM radio decades ago, will feel a similar fond nostalgia and buy the phone. Doesn't matter if it works or not (usually the latter). It sells better to older people obviously, because younger people will have never had the experience of enjoyable FM radio listening.

      Perhaps in 30 years to cash in on nostalgia, the Apple iImplant direct brainwave stimulation device will advertise "Pandora compatible" so people who still remember Pandora, and remember it fondly, will buy it. Maybe spotify or whatever other fad. The new "myspace" phone, to be followed in a couple years by the "facebook" phone.

      • (Score: 2) by captain normal on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:56PM

        by captain normal (2205) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:56PM (#46020)

        I listen to FM all the time when I'm driving. Mostly tuned to NPR so I can get some real information with the news. Also get good jazz and classical music. Now..Get off my Lawn!

        • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @10:04PM

          by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @10:04PM (#46158)

          NPR so I can get some real information with the news

          While NPR might be slightly better than regular for-profit radio, it has corporate sponsors.
          The content of their shows is molded as to never upset those sources of income:
          What is said is suspect as to its completeness.
          ...then there are the topics you will never hear at all on their airwaves.

          In my area, the only truly uncensored, non-commercial radio is an affiliate of Pacifica Radio. [wikipedia.org]
          Pacifica only accepts money from listeners.

          -- gewg_

      • (Score: 2, Insightful) by Wierd0n3 on Wednesday May 21 2014, @05:24PM

        by Wierd0n3 (1033) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @05:24PM (#46025)

        I can very easily say that statement is false. At my office we have a XM Radio running all day, go into a restaurant, Either a local TV or Radio station is on. my car radio has the nearest top 40 station currently set. for me, listening to the radio is fairly mindless background filler, but I like it because it keeps me from hearing compressors and cooling fans and road noise and whatever.

        I guess you could call me techno-challenged, because i refuse to pay for a cellular data plan when I’m already paying $80/month for 6M/s at home. (Live in the sticks and the cost of internet goes up) so that rules out Pandora while driving (never mind theres a 40 mile dead-zone around my town, service is damn good in town though, we just got 3G)

        Just remember, what is true in a hundred-thousand person city isn't necessarily true for the rest of the country/world

      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @05:40PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @05:40PM (#46031)

        Its 2014, nobody listens to FM radio anymore
        I guess me and my family and their families are 'nobody'.

        I take it you do not own a car and do not work in an office where people listen to the radio. Many do. Most of the people I know who use XM style radio use it for the first year they get it for free in their car. Then use the FM radio. There are a few I know who pay for it. But they are after stations that the local market does not carry.

        I can tell you live in a fairly urban area and probably commute to work via public transportation. You probably work with people who are very similar. You are mistaking your life for 'everyone'. Dont, it makes you look snobbish when it is easy to demonstrate how you are wrong. and "the Apple iImplant direct brainwave stimulation device" a bit cynical :)

        I have an FM radio in my phone. Never use it as I get 0 signal where my office is. I bought it to get a variety of music. I also use pandora for similar reasons. But mostly I goto my non insignificant music library that I ripped, and listen to music I paid for. I do it that way as when I want to hear a particular tune I do not want to google around for it or wait for pandora to bring it up in its play list.

        • (Score: 2) by urza9814 on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:28PM

          by urza9814 (3954) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:28PM (#46058) Journal

          Are you in Europe perhaps? Or just older generation?

          Nobody I know (I'm 23, located about 60 miles southwest of Boston) listens to the radio. Except my parents. Everyone around my age puts MP3s on their phone and listens to those. A few use Pandora or some other internet radio. 99% of cases people are plugging their smartphone into the car. The remaining few are using CDs. The only time I ever see anyone use FM is if it's with an FM transmitter plugged into the phone.

          The last device I saw sold with an FM radio included was my Archos 5 MP3 player that I got about 5 years ago -- and I recall even then thinking it was a pretty absurd feature to have in an MP3 player. I've *never* seen a smartphone around here advertising FM reception.

          • (Score: 2) by frojack on Wednesday May 21 2014, @09:01PM

            by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 21 2014, @09:01PM (#46135) Journal

            Doesn't matter what you've seen in the way of smartphone advertising.

            Just about EVERY modern smartphone has an FM receiver in it and comes with an FM app.

            The last device you saw sold with an FM receiver included was just about EVERY FRIKIN VEHICLE on the market.

            --
            No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
            • (Score: 2) by urza9814 on Thursday May 22 2014, @01:01PM

              by urza9814 (3954) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 22 2014, @01:01PM (#46352) Journal

              Doesn't matter what you've seen in the way of smartphone advertising.

              Just about EVERY modern smartphone has an FM receiver in it and comes with an FM app.

              My Galaxy S5 didn't. My previous S3 didn't (although apparently the international versions might). As far as I can tell, none of the iPhones do. Samsung's market share is 30%, Apple's is 16%, so that's damn near half of the entire smartphone market right there. So no, they are certainly not included in "Just about EVERY modern smartphone".

              The last device you saw sold with an FM receiver included was just about EVERY FRIKIN VEHICLE on the market.

              I suppose that's technically true, though generally a car isn't what I think of when I say 'device'. But as I mentioned, nobody I know actually uses the radio in their car. Shit, people even get XM for free and don't touch that either! Again, maybe it's different where you live, but around here it seems people don't even consider radio as an option for music. If they're listening to the radio at all it's gonna be talk shows and crap on AM. Or maybe if they're painters or construction workers, although I've even seen some of them plugging in an iPod to the boombox. Even at bars you can often tell the music is playing off someone's phone from the occasional text/email/whatever notification in the middle of a song...

              • (Score: 2) by frojack on Thursday May 22 2014, @04:24PM

                by frojack (1554) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 22 2014, @04:24PM (#46433) Journal

                Nobody gets XM for free. Maybe a 6 month introductory offer.

                The only iOS device that features a built-in FM tuner is the iPod nano, since the fifth generation (the tall "candy-bar" style before they shrunk to the square shape). The sixth generation iPod nano still has the FM Tuner.

                Virtually every model of HTC phones has a FM radio, as well as most Motorola phones, and most LG phones and most sony phones.

                Samsung, not so much.

                A quick search on GsmArena returned 2241 results of phones with radio which are currently available. Even a few Samsung models.

                I suspect your difficulty finding radio in phones has more to do with your circle of friends than any actual research.

                --
                No, you are mistaken. I've always had this sig.
                • (Score: 2) by urza9814 on Thursday May 22 2014, @05:09PM

                  by urza9814 (3954) Subscriber Badge on Thursday May 22 2014, @05:09PM (#46458) Journal

                  Nobody gets XM for free. Maybe a 6 month introductory offer.

                  You'd be surprised. It actually seems to be quite common for used vehicles -- ie, you buy a former corporate car, and the corporation either prepaid that subscription or just never bothered to cancel it. As a result -- you get free XM.

                  Virtually every model of HTC phones has a FM radio, as well as most Motorola phones, and most LG phones and most sony phones.

                  I never said you couldn't find ANY phone from whatever obscure manufacturer that included it, I only said it certainly wasn't "EVERY modern smartphone". Not even a majority. Sony has less than 2% market share (it's in the combined 2% 'Others' category according to Nielson). Not a single one of the manufacturers you listed is above single digits. So yeah, maybe ~20% of smartphones contain an FM radio. If it was a feature in high demand it would be on far more.

                  I suspect your difficulty finding radio in phones has more to do with your circle of friends than any actual research.

                  Quite possible. That's why so many of my statements were qualified with "Around here..." "Nobody I know..." "maybe it's different where you live..." and such.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @09:41PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @09:41PM (#46152)

            What's an MP3, is that some sort of fancy Edison Cylinder?

      • (Score: 2) by maxwell demon on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:06PM

        by maxwell demon (1608) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:06PM (#46047) Journal

        Its 2014, nobody listens to FM radio anymore.

        Really? I must be nobody, then.

        --
        The Tao of math: The numbers you can count are not the real numbers.
      • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:13PM

        by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:13PM (#46052)

        If what you are saying is correct, if one were to "cut the cord" and get their TV free over the air, they are considered cutting edge and making use of current technology, but if one chooses to not get their radio free over the air, they are fuddy-duddies.

        • (Score: 2) by VLM on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:40PM

          by VLM (445) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday May 21 2014, @06:40PM (#46066)

          "cut the cord"

          Most of the stuff is the same on TV, cord cut or not. Well, I take that back, the resolution and bitrate is usually higher if you cut the cord.

          Not so with music, unless you only listen to top40. OTA there's like six stations competing for the small local maxima of adult contemporary, an urban or two, and a country, and thats about it. Also there must be like a law or something where you're forbidden from broadcasting music between 4am and 9am, its all morons laughing uncontrollably at fart jokes, which I guess is supposed to be appealing. Well, in between 50% commercial breaks, anyway.

          • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @11:33PM

            by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @11:33PM (#46184)

            six stations competing

            Where I am (supposedly one of the top radio markets), it isn't that much better.

            top40[. . .]country

            Here, the "Country" stations *are* Top40.
            There was a station that had *one* show 10PM - midnight that would play stuff as "old" as the Urban Cowboy craze (as far back as their disc collection went, it seems).
            They even quit that late last year.
            Apparently, anything older than 2 months is passe.
            Hearing Haggard or Jones around here is a novelty.

            I only know of 2 hours per week of interesting twangy music being broadcast here.
            http://howdylicious.com/ [howdylicious.com]
            College station; very loosely affiliated with NPR; all on-air personnel are volunteers.

            There was another for-profit station around here playing Smooth Jazz but they recently changed the format radically.
            Now I'm down to 1 station [ksbr.org] that plays that part-time. [ksbr.org]
            (Their 3-hour Blues show once a week is good too.)
            Again, college station; very loosely affiliated with NPR; gets headline news from AP.

            What is arguably the best Jazz station remaining anywhere in the country is around here. [kkjz.org]
            That's on the grounds of a college; run by pros; loosely affiliated with NPR.
            They also do a 4-hour and a 5-hour Blues show on the weekend.
            A DJ whom I'd nominate as The Best Anywhere is syndicated there: Bob Parlocha. [wfmt.com]
            His eyesight is failing and he has health problems due to his advanced age, so I don't know how much longer we'll have him.

            Conversely, I hate it when AOR DJs talk over the music like they're on an AM Top40 station and it's 1963.
            The Album Rock station here that started with the promise that *It's all about the music* has started that shit (personnel changes and looser standards).
            The legacy AOR station has alway been that kind of shit.

            Now, maybe my musical tastes are too narrow and I'm missing something great that's being broadcast locally--but I doubt it.
            Seems like it's mostly programed by childern for children.

            -- gewg

    • (Score: 2) by bucc5062 on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:52PM

      by bucc5062 (699) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @04:52PM (#46019)

      And where can one find one of these new fangled "FM receivers" for my smartsphone.

      Here we have one guy telling me "hey, you're phone is a radio transceiver" and I go yeah, can I dial up 90.1 and listen to NPR ETV Radio? No for unless I now download some app that sill of course dish up ads (if I want it free, which I don't) or assume I want to listen to FM radio over the internet (what, no signal, but its a radio man...) /sarcasm

      I doubt it would be so hard to has as a basic function a built in FM receiver in my Samsung super phone. That is maybe the one thing I miss for one of my older phones had (gasp) a way to listen to local FM stations without needing to "connect".

      As to the article, really, locate via FM signals on a device that uses apps to listen FM signals 99% of the time...that is beyond amazing.

      --
      The more things change, the more they look the same
      • (Score: 1) by MostCynical on Thursday May 22 2014, @03:28AM

        by MostCynical (2589) on Thursday May 22 2014, @03:28AM (#46247)

        My Samsung i9197 (S4 mini) and many other "new fangled" phones sold in Australia have fm radio.

        There are have been moves to get people onto digital radio (DAB) but until they force it (as they did by turning off analgue tv), most people listen to FM and even AM radio (although many "young people" can bee seen using headphones while driving.. Which is one reason why emergecy services vehicles now have an extra "very loud" siren setting now)

        --
        (Score: tau, Irrational)
    • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @07:58PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @07:58PM (#46106)

      You silly cow!

  • (Score: 1) by cliffjumper222 on Wednesday May 21 2014, @09:20PM

    by cliffjumper222 (2628) on Wednesday May 21 2014, @09:20PM (#46141)

    FM radio receiver (and transmitters) are sometimes in the BT/WiFi chip but aren't there to detect position. They may be able to be used like that, but as anyone who has used such features, you have to stick your headphones in to be used as an antenna. Most of the time though, the FM part is never used by smartphones.

    --
    He who dares wins, Rodney
  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @11:22PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday May 21 2014, @11:22PM (#46181)

    Google "FM Fingerprinting"

    There's even programs (some of which are freeware!) which work with it for tracking.

    Ever wonder why device X has FM radio support when it doesn't need it? Bingo.

    • (Score: 2) by wonkey_monkey on Thursday May 22 2014, @07:34AM

      by wonkey_monkey (279) on Thursday May 22 2014, @07:34AM (#46285) Homepage

      Google "FM Fingerprinting"

      All I got was links to last.fm.

      Ever wonder why device X has FM radio support when it doesn't need it?

      So people can listen to the radio? They tend not to even work unless you plug in the earphones, since it uses the lead as an antenna.

      --
      systemd is Roko's Basilisk