Under The Microscope

Farrago Fools

I imagine that most geek parents have used the old “talking computer” trick on their kids at some point.

You can’t argue with machine learning.

I’ve used it enough that whenever my children hear any robotic voice coming from a device, they completely ignore the voice and search the house for me instead.1

Rather than resorting to my usual April Fool’s Day joke2, I decided to up the ante a bit this year. Inspired by one mischievous user, I decided to prank my kids with Rogue Amoeba’s newest app Farrago. Ultimately, I wound up using three of our apps for this prank, a record the marketing department wants me to tell you to try and break.

The Setup

To start, I downloaded a clip from Studio Ghibli’s “The Secret World of Arrietty”. This movie is about a family of tiny people who secretly live in a house of ordinary humans, sneaking around the house and scavenging from them while they sleep.

I then used our audio editor Fission to divide the clip up into segments containing various sound effects (such as footsteps, climbing noises, etc.), as well as dialogue parts. I saved those out, so I had over a dozen different sounds.

Isolating clips in Fission.

Once I had my individual files, I loaded them into Farrago for playback. Next, I configured Airfoil to capture Farrago’s audio to Airfoil Satellite running on my phone.

Do you hear footsteps?

The Delivery

I first tried this on the girls. While saying goodnight, I secretly slipped the phone under one of their beds. Then I snuck back downstairs and began playing audio in Farrago. After a few minutes of no response, I wondered if something had gone wrong. When I went back upstairs to check, I discovered they hadn’t heard anything. Apparently, the volume was low enough that it couldn’t be heard over the noise of their fan.

Undaunted, I explained the prank to them and recruited them to help me try it out on the boys. I repeated the same setup with the phone, making sure the volume was turned up, then snuck back to the girl’s room where we started playing clips.

The boys responded immediately, searching under their bed to find the source of the “footsteps” and talking. Once they found it they ran into the girls’ room, where we were all laughing a bit too loudly to be stealthy.

Next Time

If I were to do this again next year, aside from making sure the volume was turned up on the phone, I’d come up with a way to hide the phone better. Even better would be hiding multiple devices in the same room and alternating transmitting between them.

Hopefully, this prank will last longer than the talking computer trick.


  1. I’m not sure how this will affect their odds of survival in the event of a robot uprising. ↩︎

  2. Wherein I hold a dollop of ketchup in my hand and pretend to cut myself while slicing an apple at the breakfast table. This trick honestly worked for about seven years straight. ↩︎

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