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Wednesday
Nov302005

Teen Repellant

fly.gifWednesday last day of November
Paris

Pesky, noisy teenagers getting up your nose? Zap 'em with this.

A Welsh geezer is in line for the next Nobel Peace Prize after coming up with a way of silencing rowdy teenagers that hang around in shopping centres and malls.

Howard Stapleton has invented a device, he calls The Mosquito ("It's small and annoying") that emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he says, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they can't stand it and hit the frog and toad.

The idea came to Howard after remembering a visit to a factory when he was twelve. He opened the door to a room where workers were using high-frequency welding equipment and found he couldn't bear to go inside.

"The noise!" he complained.

"What noise?" the grownups asked.

Now 39, Mr. Stapleton has taken the lesson he learned that day - that children can hear sounds at higher frequencies than adults can - to fashion a novel device that he hopes will provide a solution to the eternal problem of rowdy teenagers who hang around outside stores and cause trouble.

So far, the Mosquito has been road-tested in only one place - at the entrance to the convenience store in his hometown in South Wales. Like birds perched on telephone wires, surly teenagers used to plant themselves on the railings just outside the door, smoking, drinking, shouting rude words at customers and making regular disruptive forays inside.

"On the low end of the scale, it would be intimidating for customers," said Robert Gough, who, with his parents, owns the store. "On the high end, they'd be in the shop fighting, stealing and assaulting the staff."

Mr. Gough planned to install a sound system that would blast classical music into the parking lot, another method known to horrify hang-out youths into dispersing, but never got around to it. But last month, Mr. Stapleton gave him a Mosquito for a free trial. The results were almost instantaneous. It was as if someone had used anti-teenager spray around the entrance where noisy youths used to hang out. Now there is no one.

At first, members of the usual crowd tried to gather as normal, repeatedly going inside the store with their fingers in their ears and "begging me to turn it off," Mr. Gough said. But he held firm and told them it was to "keep birds away because of the bird flu epidemic."

"It's loud and squeaky and it just goes through you", said one fifteen year old.

"That little girl's twelve year old friend used to be a right pain, shouting abuse and bad language," the shopkeeper said. "Now she'll just come in, do her shopping and go."

Mr. Stapleton, a security consultant whose experience in installing store alarms and the like alerted him to the gravity of the loitering problem, studied other teenage-repellents as part of his research. Some shops, for example, use "zit lamps," which drive teenagers away by casting a blue light onto their spotty skin, accentuating any whiteheads and other blemishes.

Using his children as guinea pigs, he tried a number of different noise and frequency levels, testing a single-toned unit before settling on a pulsating tone which, he said, is more unbearable, and which can be broadcast at 75 decibels, within government auditory-safety limits. "I didn't want to make it hurt," Mr. Stapleton said. "It just has to nag at them."

The device has not yet been tested by hearing experts.

A professor of neurophysiology at Oxford University, said that while the ability to hear high frequencies deteriorates with age, the change happens so gradually that many non-teenagers might well hear the Mosquito's noise. "Unless the store owners wish to sell their goods only to senior citizens," he wrote, "I doubt that this would work."

Mr. Stapleton argues, though, that it doesn't matter if people in their 20's and 30's can hear the Mosquito, since they are unlikely to be hanging out in front of stores, anyway.

He is considering introducing a much louder unit that can be switched on in emergencies with a panic button. It would be most useful when youths swarm into stores and begin stealing en masse, a phenomenon known in Britain as steaming. The idea would be to blast them with such an unacceptably loud, high noise - a noise inaudible to older shoppers - that they would immediately leave.

"It's very difficult to shoplift," Mr. Stapleton said, "when you have your fingers in your ears."

From a story in The New York Times

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