Signals and Noises

Thoughts and Theory


First off, the name of my business entity, Signals and Noises, is half pun, half tip-of-the-hat to Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver's 1949 publication The Mathematical Theory of Communication, which essentially laid the groundwork for what is today commonly referred to as information theory, in which the terms 'signal' and 'noise' are central concepts. Simply put, signal refers to any message, regardless of medium: spoken dialog, music, telephony, internet stream, printed text, radio or television broadcast, photons from a distant galaxy, etc. Noise is anything that obscures that message: actual noise (e.g. static, or scratches on a phonograph record), transmission gaps and errors, interference, cancellation, echo, harmonic distortion, coffee stains, cloud cover, etc. The signal-to-noise ratio, a term familiar to all audiophiles (often abbreviated as SNR), is a measure of the fidelity of the received message to the original signal. James Gleick's The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (Pantheon 2011) is a very readable introduction to the theory and its significance.