It’s getting better all the time (more office science)

I should mention that the more I write about the people I interact with on a regular basis, the easier it is for me to give them anonymous nicknames, making it easier for readers to follow who is who. So, I’m going to start naming everyone just in case I tell more stories about them in the future.

Following yesterday’s office conversation concerning the remote keyless entry via cell phone story told by my coworker (heretofore known as Napoleana), things got a little busy and I had no time to follow up with the other girl (let’s call her Motoko) concerning how she was going to get her keys out of her locked car.

This morning, I e-mailed Motoko to find out what happened, asking if she tried the cell phone trick. She replied:

Hahaha…nah, I did it the old-fashioned way and called AAA. Took the guy like 10 seconds. But I think we should try that as a science experiment just on general principles. It’ll be like our own version of “Mr. Wizard.”

Of course, this was all I needed. We decided that at lunchtime, she’d take her cell phone out to the car, which is parked at least two full blocks from the building, and I would stay inside using the keyless remote and my office phone. I sent out the following e-mail to the rest of our small department:

Subject: Lunchtime Science Experiment/Betting Opportunity

Today at lunch, Motoko and I are going to test the keyless remote through the cell phone idea that Napoleana mentioned yesterday. Motoko will be by her car with her cell phone and I’ll be here in the office with the remote trying to lock/unlock the car. Witnesses are encouraged to attend at one or the other location and to place bets accordingly.

Moments later, Napoleana balked. “Does Motoko have two remotes?” We told her that we just had one. She insisted that there needs to be a second remote inside the car. “Why?” I asked.

“I don’t know how it works, but the other one needs to be in there. They communicate or something.”


Subject: RE: Lunchtime Science Experiment/Betting Opportunity

Addendum: the Lunchtime Science Experiment/Betting Opportunity (LSE/BO) has been postponed until tomorrow, following updated testing parameters suggested by Napoleana.

“Sweet,” said one coworker, henceforth known as Otis the Sneeze. “What kind of odds are you giving?”

I considered it and eventually went with 10:1 against it working.

“Okay,” he said, “By the way, my dyslexia made me read that as LESBO. Good stuff.”

“So what did you do, look it up on Snopes and find out it’s not true or something?” asked Napoleana.

“Since you asked, yeah actually I did. But I want to see for myself. Aren’t you curious?”

“I already told you guys my best friend did it. Nobody ever believes me!”

Another coworker, Coco, piped up: “It’s not that we don’t believe you. I think you’re right, I just want to see it work. Don’t you?”

Napoleana sulked. I cheered (inwardly) that the smart but often credulous Coco was willing to put it to the test. Tomorrow, Motoko will bring in the spare remote, which we’ll toss in the car and then proceed with the experiment.


As an aside, the other day I launched a new Skepchick store with the help of Sid from Skeptics in the Pub. The link is in the menu to the right (it’s the image that says “Shop Skepchick,” oddly — the image also includes thong panties, which I’m only mentioning to increase hits to the blog through Google). There’s a North American store and a European version — they have differing products only because of the available selection. It’s a work in progress, so questions, comments, and suggestions are welcome at [email protected].

Also, I never announced that the latest podcast episode is available. We talk about Larry Summers a bit, and it’s kind of funny because I think the guys expected me to be a lot more anti-Larry than I was. I just like to keep everyone guessing. And once again Steve refuses to read on the air any of the fan mail that specifically mentions how awesome I am. You guys need to keep sending it though, because eventually he’ll have to cave in to my tremendous ego. Speaking of my ego, the show is still the top skeptical show on iTunes and I love the comments people have posted on there. Thanks to everyone who is tuning in! The rest of you can go to hell.

I kid, I kid.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. A second remote huh? What will it be next? Maybe you need a special brand of cell phone? Or you need to be exactly at a certain distance from the door with the phone (like 13,4 cm or maybe it's 22,7 cm)! I'm sure they will find a reason when they realize it's not working (which I have absolutely no doubt about).

    That's too bad, I was reading with anguish to get to the end and read about your co-workers reactions with the failure of the test and now, I need to wait another day…Ohh well. It is still gonna be fun tomorrow!

    And about your ego Rebecca, just remind the guys how often you get the science of fiction facts! The last time you failed was more than a month ago I think so, you're gooood!

  2. I saw the store the other night…it is awesome. I love the t-shirts, especially the yoga one that says "That's a load of bullshit and you know it" in tiny, feminine script amidst the flowers. Funny. :)

  3. hmm, i would suggest trying the remote key without the cellphone on first once the car is in place, as a control. The keys use radio frequencies with long ranges, so you may want to eliminate the possibility that the car is just close enough for the key to work normally. But you've probably thought of that already! :)

  4. Rebecca, how long is it going to be before one of your coworkers Googles, say, opening a car via cellphone with a keyless entry device, and hits this blog? Are you prepared for the fury to be unleashed in the office? Just curious if you have taken any preventative measures… -V

  5. Are we entirely sure that two blocks is always beyond the range of the keyless signal? There's that small irritating chance that the car will be at the distance where pressing the button will sometimes work, sometimes won't, which could create an appararent but false victory for the cell phone. I would test the range and then at least double it before betting money.

    Here's another lesson in the perils of trusting electronics to open a vehicle, and not having a good old-fashioned key to do the job. $180,000 to replace the windshield smashed by the fire department, and hundreds of thousands dollars more to fix the scratched finish on the vehicle, which admittedly has a rather special finish. I wonder whether they tried the cell-phone trick…

  6. The microphone of a cell phone does not respond to radio frequencies. If the remote used physical sounds to register it would work, however the cell phone does not rebroadcast radio frequencies simply because they are emitted near the microphone. Microphones only respond to physical sound waves, and they rarely respond to physical sound waves above 20kHz.

    There is a big difference between sound and electromagnetism (radio waves) and they do not generally interact with each other at all unless there is an instance of cross modulation.

    That said: the thing won't work.

  7. Damn you fowl! I just said the exact same thing in response to the previous blog entry …

  8. The phone system limits sounds to the 300 to 3300 hz range which is why S's and F's sound similar on the phone.(you are loosing the high end.) So even audio over the phone might not work depending on the frequencies of the chirp.

    I'm betting it won't work. (unless Jupiter is aligned with Mars…)

  9. Actually, I was thinking she'd hack the car's door locks with her cyber-brain.

    Besides, if you have a Tachikoma to help you, why would you ride around in a sedan? I mean, not that I'd succumb to the temptation to vent my road rage with its machine guns and/or howitzer. I just think Tachikomae are stylish, that's all.

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