Friday, September 4, 2009

Electromagnetic soup

Have you ever considered how much radio frequency energy is swirling around us like an invisible fog? And whether or not it has any effect on our fragile bodies? I admit, all those years I sat and spun records within fifty feet of a 50KW AM transmitter, I did wonder what vital organ all that stuff might be cooking. Far as I know, I suffered no ill effects, though my family and friends might consider it an explanation for many things they previously could not understand about me.

All this popped up again with the ubiquity of the cellular telephone--which is, don't forget, simply a radio transceiver--and most people began spending far more time with that little device clamped to the sides of their heads. They work in a frequency range that does show some evidence of doing some serious cellular rearrangement. But all studies seem to indicate that at the low power levels used by most such devices, there is no real danger. Until people suddenly start bleeding from the eyes and turn into something out of the movie I Am Legend. Or brain cancer is as common as sunburn.

Here's a humorous example of what can actually happen. We hams know all too well how a stray bit of RF getting into a poorly designed device can build mightly walls between neighbors.

What do you think? With the massive increase in the numbers of devices using radio frequencies, from wi-fi to cell phones to broadband over power lines, do you wonder if you will suddenly grow a horn in the middle of your head and start speaking in Martian?

Or start getting the SyFy Channel on your bridgework?

Don Keith N4KC


Anonymous said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


Anonymous said...

Wilson, thanks for dropping by and leaving a post. Visit often...and join the fray.


PS: Loved you in that movie with Tom Hanks and the coconuts.

Anonymous said...

Hi Don,

Great Post! The electromagnetic soup subject is one I have spent way too much time thinking about. We each try to visualize in our minds what radio spectrum energy would look like if we could see it. Picture the ubiquitous broadcast tower with the concentric rings radiating outwards.

My fantasy invention is a set of goggles that when worn allows the user to see radio waves. Frequencies would be diffentiated by color and or texture while still allowing observation of one's solid physical surroundings. The unit would have the usual features like bandpass filters and gain or sensitivity controls. I don't know of many practical uses for somthing like this but I think it would be fun to walk around the neighborhood. Of course the RF goggles would be prohibited from use in foxhunting (transmitter hunting).

I read a lot of sci-fi while growing up. Amazing how so much of today's technology was yesterday's Buck Rogers. So needless to say my wheels never stopped turning.

Concerning amateur radio I now almost always boot up the laptop in the shack whether I plan to operate digital modes or not. The spectrum display or "waterfall" provides a unique window into the invisible world of RF. It gives us a visual idea of how we manipulate radio signals with our equipment. I like watching two operators on CW to see how well they have zero beat or not. I recently installed a CW filter in my rig and it was cool to turn the filter on and off and see the bandpass edges right were they were supposed to be. This feature of my ham software has really helped me to understand some aspects of radio theory. It is a great time to be a ham.

It sure is curious how the multitude of radio signals out in free space can do their thing and for the most part not interact with each other. And as you pointed out there are more and more of them every day. Maybe we will reach a point of saturation when free space can no longer manage the flow without adverse reaction. ???

Sorry for the essay, but you asked for it.

73 Mike KD8JHJ

Anonymous said...

On my first pass through your blog I failed to notice you used the word "ubiquity". Had I caught that I would have refrained from using the word in my comment post. I just got excited cuase I have been waiting for the opportunity to throw that one in someplace.


Anonymous said...

Mike, no problem if the word "ubiquitous" becomes...well...ubiquitous. I'd buy a pair of those RF glasses! Might scare the bejesus out of us if we saw what was really sloshing about all around us.

I agree with your statement about it being a great time to be a ham. Of course, I've been licensed since 1963 and, with the exception of one 12-year period of relative inactivity, it's always been a pretty good time. But with the possibilities out there, it's especially a good time right now.

Drop in often...


Don Keith N4KC