Category Archives: Education

Perception

Perception is a strange and wonderful thing. Many people live with the perception that “it will never happen to me.” Objectively this sounds foolish, if each of us included everything that could, indeed, happen to us, we would  be paralyzed with fear and spend our lives quivering under our beds in a fetal position.

However, since we are not data driven, realistic, computational intellects, we take totally unnecessary chances that make no sense and what do we have to show for it?

  • The ability to fly
  • Transplanting organs from a dead person to a living person
  • Automobiles, with gas stations full of highly flammable/explosive fuel located throughout the world
  • And a very humongous, etc.

On the other hand, a logical, realist would be naked and cold, banging stones together outside his cave because fire is just too dangerous.

 

The Storm Before the Calm

Hurricane Florence is going west–no, south–no, east-notheast, no—hell, nobody knows.

So, as things develop, all of the usual suspects (cue Casablanca–roll film) are behaving in the the way that all the usual suspects do:

  • Some television meteorologists are standing in knee deep water or out in the wind.
  • Other television meteorologists are predicting where the storm will go based on satellite fed, computer generated wild–ass guesses.
  • Elected officials are assuring people that: a) everything will be fine, or b) mandatory evacuation is necessary (“Abandon your posts! Run for your lives!” Denethor, Return of the King). [Flip coin here]

I’ll keep you posted.

 

 

Whatever Shall Be Will Be

Hurricane Florence is getting closer. The eye of the hurricane will be about 250 miles to the south of where I live, but, it’s not the eye that causes problems.

Hurricanes–cyclones–rotate in a counterclockwise direction. (Cyclonic means counterclockwise.) This means that if one’s location is above the eye, the hurricane is going to push the water in (deja vu–didn’t I say this yesterday????). So being above the eye is not necessarily a good thing.

Florence is now a category 4 hurricane, which means it moves faster and inevitably covers more territory. It may become a category 5. In any case, I’m going to get wet.

My wife, being much smarter than me, is taking our children to safety, far west and uphill from here. After all our years together, she knows that I live to help, so she understands (but does not necessarily give explicit approval) to my plan to stay here and provide emergency communications.

I expect to be successful, but this could be my last rodeo. After this, I may have to hang up the emergency communications hat and satisfy myself with the more sedate aspects of amateur radio; maybe I’ll take an occasional cruise, or whatever.

Actually, I look forward to that.

Major League catchers eventually succumb to their knees. Superstar quarterbacks succumb to traumatic brain injury. I suspect that, after this storm, I’ll succumb to whatever affliction affects disaster junkies.

Maybe I’m due to have some fun instead of a having one more additional fulltime job.

What do you think?

Scandal!

zebra

Although we’re jaded by laundered money, gangland murders, fake news, and politicians, some things just go beyond the pale. A zoo in Cairo is suspected of painting a mule and passing it off as a zebra. What the . .  .?

Where is PETA when you need them?

It was only a matter of time.

I knew that body painting people wasn’t as innocent as we were supposed to believe. The “skinny jeans” that were painted on never fooled anyone–the number of nearby males copiously drooling immediately gave it away.

jeans

Artificial zebras–what’s next? Adding artificial necks to mules and passing them off as giraffes? Stapling horns on horses to sell as unicorns? A Monty Python world in which dead parrots are nailed to the perch in their cage to pass them off as Norwegian Blues? (Although Norwegian Blues do have lovely plumage.)

Next we’ll be making people believe that dinosaurs can be retrieved from their DNA. And as long as we’re doing dinosaurs, why not clone Fred and Wilma Flintstone?

It’s a sad state of affairs.

PLEASE! If you are thinking of buying a zebra, run it through the local car wash several times, just to be sure. The mule (or zebra, if it is authentic) won’t like it, but you must protect your investments. Otherwise Caveat Emptor!

You’ve been warned!

Interesting Facts

I try to stay out of politics for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I have a hiatal hernia and gaastro-esophogeal reflux disease. However, from time to time, I come across facts that are just too interesting to keep to myself.

However, beware, for as John Adams said:

Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.*

Anne Frank

—–Every western nation seems to be wrestling with the issue of immigration these days. Interestingly, there was a recent discovery by the Anne Frank House and the Holocaust Memorial Museum that Anne Frank’s father had applied–twice–for permission to move his family to the United States, but was turned down due to  “American bureaucracy, war, and time.” ** As everybody is probably aware, Anne Frank spent much of the war hiding in a secret room in the attic, was eventually found, arrested, sent to a Nazi concentration camp, and died only a few weeks before the British Army liberated the camp.

911

—–NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is an organization formed among western nations in 1949 for their mutual protection. Article 5 of the NATO treaty that essentially says that an attack on one member nation would be viewed as an attack on all the NATO members.  Interestingly, Article 5 has only been invoked once, with the other NATO nations coming to the aid of the United States after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.***

 

* Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/john_adams_134175

** https://www.click2houston.com/news/national/anne-franks-family-tried-in-vain-to-flee-to-the-us

*** https://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/13/us/after-attacks-alliance-for-first-time-nato-invokes-joint-defense-pact-with-us.html

 

Waiting for Something Good

bad dog

I haven’t been blogging much lately, because everything in the news, on the internet, etc., is portrayed as bad–some/much of it for cause. It makes me feel like I’ve been whapped with a rolled up newspaper and sent to my bed (subtle hint above).

I looked under my bed for a book and found several bad news stories crawling around–if there had been dust bunnies, they would have been able to hide–but unfortunately for them, there was no cover. They were out in the open. One news story involved a celebrity who is a celebrity because she is a celebrity (or is it the other way around?). I bravely grabbed that story (kicking and screaming), held it an an armslength, bypassed the trash cans, and tossed it into the creek into which the stormwater drains. That was a mistake.

I didn’t think that one small story would have an environmental impact; I heard the splash, but it was followed by a dozen paparazzi, several cable news “reporters,” and at least 200 sycophants. The surface of the creek looked like the oil slick from a supertanker leak.

Sorry about that. It was unintentional.

So, if I don’t comment on everything in the news, please don’t think I’m ignoring it. I’m probably, well, feeling like I’ve been whapped by a rolled up newspaper.

 

The Whatth of July

800px-USA_declaration_independence

The Declaration of Independence was adopted on 2 July 1776, which is why John Adams expected the celebrations to take place each year on the second.  Unfortunately, the Founding Fathers were politicians, so the wording wasn’t finalized until the fourth of July. (If it had been the founding mothers, they would probably have been more practical, organized, and less egotistical. I’m sure the Declaration would have been completed much earlier.)

Not everyone who signed the Declaration did so on the fourth of July.  There’s no complete record as exactly who signed when. It’s probably safe to say that John Adams, Ben Franklin, John Hancock, and Thomas Jefferson all signed on that day (Hancock signed first and large–so King George could read it without his glasses).

The last signer was probably Matthew Thornton from New Hampshire, who wasn’t elected and seated in the Continental Congress until November; he asked for and received the privilege of adding his signature at that time, and signed on November 4, 1776.

So, two things:

  1. The Declaration of Independence set us on the path of the most improbable and radical experiment in civilization. The hereditary monarchy thing failed, as did leadership by military conquest. Our experiment is still running with its ups and downs, and will take forever to perfect. However, as Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
  2. We should never be surprised if politicians do not deliver in a timely manner.

Given the importance of the event, maybe it would be better to celebrate Independence Month!

 

 

 

A Diversion

logo

As much as I like to write, I like to read even more.

Years ago, for Christmas, I had surprised my wife with an iPad–even though my son told me it was a waste, because she’d never use it. In actuality, she is rarely without it.

For Fathers’ Day, my wife surprised me with an iPad, and–except for at work–I, too,  can rarely be found without mine. So, where does that lead me? Why, things to see and read, of course.

Sometimes, I’m drawn to  a book, perhaps through its adaptation as a television series. For example, I happened to stumble across the series The Magicians on Netflix (although I understand it started on the ScyFy Network). I found it intriguing, albeit a bit hard to keep the characters sorted out. I watched all the episodes that Netflix had, which was apparently two of four planned seasons, and enjoyed them, but figured that there was more, and potentially better available.

It’s a writers’ bias thing.

In any case, I downloaded the three Lev Grossman Magicians books (one at a time, of course) and have read two and a half of the three over the last two weeks.

So what’s my point?

The images that appear in my mind when I read a story are–at the very least, so much more personal–and possibly so much more real than what any screenwriter, director, or actor could produce, no matter how talented thay are. Imagnation is so much better than reality.

Nevertheless, I appreciate and enjoy both the books and the videos. Thank you authors, screenwriters, actors, movie and television crews for such wonderful diversions.

Memorial Holyday

Memorial-Day

The word holiday was once just a different spelling for holyday, but has come to mean something quite different to many people. That’s unfortunate, because we tend to remember the specific meaning of our holydays; we do not confuse Passover with Christmas or Eid al Fitr. On the other hand, we do confuse holidays.

In the United States of America, today is Memorial Day. I observe Memorial Day, but do not celebrate it, since it is dedicated to those who gave their lives in the defense of our country. Veterans Day, on the other hand, recognizes all who served or are serving in the military.

It is an ancient custom to honor the dead by placing flowers on their grave. After the American Civil War, this practice became an annual ritual and was originally known as Decoration Day. There are a number of people and organizations who have been credited with initiating it from both the Union and Confederacy.

To me, Memorial Day, is when I remember when I was deployed and we lost someone. The theater–which was also used as a chapel–would have the inverted rifle, helmet, boots, and dog tags representing the lost warrior, and too many times it was not just one. The building was packed by men and women in camouflage uniforms; under the seats, the pre-staged boxes of tissue were intermingled with rifles. Friends paid tribute, and no one was too proud to cry.

Military rituals are often misunderstood, but the link provides a good explanation. One misunderstanding is that at a military funeral, the honor guard fires a 21-gun salute. Actually, they fire three volleys, a 21-gun salute is reserved for heads of state.

Except for Memorial Day.

On Memorial Day, those who, as Abraham Lincoln said, “gave the last full measure,” are accorded the same honor as a head of state. On Memorial Day, the fallen are recognized with a 21-gun salute.

From Rocks to Fails

In the absence of honest journalism, the media (plural for medium, as “in the middle” such having a C average in school) have resorted to various gimmicks to attract readers–especially if someone is paying for clicks on the web page. Among the traditional gimicks is the unfinished headline, where they try to make it look like they ran out of space:

Political analysts caught by surprise when president signs bill making 

Then there’s the shock/tease headline:

If you thought this starlet was cute in the 1960’s, you’ll be shocked at how she look today!

Gradually we ended up on the rocks:

Fifty year old movie star rocks bikini!

Of course, ending up on the rocks, is another term for failure, so now the media is into fails:

Biggest fails at the gala awards program!

Actually, they might do better if they just made up words:

You’ll absolutely snarzl when you see this!

Us vs. Me

 

illustration-of-human-evolution-ending-with-smart-phone-resize

“Wait, I need to take a selfie!”

Far too many events today are due to decisions by people who think only of themselves.

This is unnatural.

The hermit, alone in his cave, has always been an idiosyncratic caricature. The word hermit is derived from the word for desert or desert dweller. Deserts are not particularly attractive to people who depend on hunting and gathering. Deserts are more successful as after the invention of are air-conditioned houses and refrigerated food trucks. (Casinos, although optional, seem inevitable.)

Humans from earliest times sought out one another.  Our ancestors, the Homo erectus, (stop thinking dirty thoughts–it refers to having the ability to stand upright) or Homo sapiens neanderthalensis  tended to keep their families together, eventually becoming tribes. Some believe that the reason that there are no identifiable descendants of the Neanderthals is because the two groups combined and interbred, ultimately resulting in us, Homo sapiens.

We belong together, but sometimes are reluctant to admit it. As such, in order to survive and prosper, we must look at things in terms of the common good. Life is not a zero-sum game (if I win, you lose). It is a life-or-death struggle in which WE win or lose.

I could wax poetic for another 300 pages, which I might enjoy, but WE, as a totality, would not, so I’ll stop.

* Links courtesy of Wikipedia. If you use Wikipedia, then use PayPal to send them a few bucks–better yet, a few bucks a month.

Magic with Numbers!

SONY DSC

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawkins were rank amateurs because they were handicapped by their pathetic math skills.

The real math pros are accountants.

As the old joke goes:
A businessman needed to hire someone who knew math. For the interview, he had written on a white board “2 + 2 =.” The mathemetician wrote “4,” as did the physicist. When an acountant arrived, he looked at the whiteboard, locked the door, checked to make sure the window was locked, and pulled the curtains. He leaned close to the businessman and whispered,
“What do you want it to be?”

Creative accounting requires more mental gymnastics than figuring out how the universe began or will end. Here’s a great example:

Forestt Gump, the movie, cost $55 million dollars to produce. It earned nearly $680 BILLION, but according to the accountants, it lost money. Some of the contributors (like author Winston Groom) had agreed to a percentage of the net profits. However, since it never made a dime, their share was zero.

Let’s review the math:

$679,850,637,000
–        $55,000,000
             ZERO*
* After depreciation, marketing, amortization, title, and dealer preparation charges–and other “Generally Accepted Accounting Principles”.

I didn’t include taxes, because if it “lost money,” I’m not sure whether or not they had to pay any.

Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking, eat your hearts out!

 

 

My How Things Change

The United States Constitution is a marvelous document–a framework for what was a radically new form of government in 1787–but a living document that has changed with the times.

TheNationalArchivesholdstheUnitedStatesConstitutionOriginalDocument

And the times have so changed.

Legend has it that, during the war, a British military commander sent a note addressed to ‘Mr. George Washington.’ General Washington accepted the note and placed it in his pocket saying that he was aquainted with Mr. Washington, who was a planter in Virginia, and he would deliver the note after the war. The next day, a similar–and possibly identical note–was sent, addressed to ‘General George Washington.’

After the war, General Washington appeared before the Continental Congress to return his commission to them. He had done his duty, and no longer needed or wanted the rank of general and handed the paperwork that had made him a general back.

Initially, there was a populist movement to make Washington king. He would have no part of that. There is a place in the Capitol Building that was intended to be his crypt, but he had left clear instructions that precluded his internment there.

Often, he closed his correspondence with “Your obdt (obedient) servant, George Washington.”

Regardless of your political views, it is reassuring that our nation is not based on birthright, caste, or class, but on a set of ideals laid out in the Constitution. It is a set of ideas that bonds Americans together.

 

Tithing

In ancient times, the Israelites, or if you prefer, the Jews, were expected to set the first ten percent of their harvest aside as an offering to God. Many of us–Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, have roots reaching back to that same practice. Of course, back then, they slaughtered animals, the priests took a portion for their services–after all, they did not farm or own herds–but the rest was burnt on the altar as a sacrifice.

Most churches today, wouldn’t know what to do if someone placed a lamb in the collection basket. Even worse, the children in the congregation would be traumatized by the idea that a cute little lamb (although they really are dirty and stupid creatures)  would be slaughtered (even though they might very well enjoy that same lamb–with mint jelly–if it were packaged on a Styrofoam tray covered with shrink wrap at the grocery store).

It’s a different world. Today, very few of us raise sheep (my friends in New Zealand excepted, of course), so that’s not what we bring as a sacrifice. So what do we offer?

  • Church goers often donate cash to their church.
  • Many people donate money or goods to various charitable organizations.
  • Some people donate time to soup kitchens or shelters for the homeless.

But their are other opportunities to contribute to the good of all, even if you can’t help out at a soup kitchen and wouldn’t know which end of a hammer to use for Habitats for Humanity.

You can donate computer time. and it’s painless.

When you are not using your computer, you can let it work for others. Calculations that once required a supercomputer are now divided up into byte-sized (sorry about the pun) chunks and sent to thousands of personal computers. Each personal computer is limited; a hundred personal computers has possibilities; a thousand personal computer is awesome.

A million personal computer working on a problem might just solve it.

If you participate, you can set your computer to work on such issues whenever you aren’t using it. There are sites working to track asteroids that threaten the earth, the cure for various diseases, the global warming issue–does it exist? What causes it, and what should we do?

There are a variety of other questions to be answered. Curious? Check out

boinc.berkeley.edu.

 

The World Stage

First_Folio,_Shakespeare_-_0212_(All_the_world's_a_stage)

William had a way with words, but more importantly, a way with thoughts. Most of us, unfortunately, didn’t enjoy Shakespeare because in high school literature class we read his plays, not as plays but as stories. They’re great plays. They’re TERRIBLE stories.

It’s like trying to sing a blueprint or mime an equation. It just don’t work.

However, he had some great thoughts.

“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

If we are the actors (players), to some extent we get to choose–or at least imagine–our audience. As the curtain opens, for whom are we performing? Facebook? Snapchat? The 24-hour news cycle? Reality TV producers? Our moral compass? God? The choice is ours.

On a real stage, the lights are so bright that it is almost impossible to see the audience. Since we don’t know who’s out there, we should play our parts as we believe they should be played.

The curtain is opening. Put your heart and soul into whatever role is yours to play.

Teenagers Are Cheap?

As a newly acclaimed Philosopher-without-portfolio, I have taken my responsibilities seriously, to think about whatever needs to be thought about–without restrictions. I recently completed and submitted my income taxes. Naturally, that involves a great deal of thought, usually such things as, “I need something for my headache,” or “I don’t usually drink hard liquor, but it’s beginning to sound better and better.”

I use TurboTax, which is causes mixed feelings. Yes, it is helpful and yes, it’s about 1/10 the cost of having someone prepare it for me; however, it’s parent company, and all the companies that have anything to do with tax preparation, were the ones who lobbied (a polite term for hiring and unleashing high paid but unscrupulous experts) to prevent the simplification of the tax code. After all, if taxes were simple enough to submit on a post card, these people might have to get honest jobs.

But I digress (it’s a philosophical thing).

One of the many oddities in the tax code is the child tax credit. This is means you can reduce your federal tax by up to $1000 per child. The criteria include that the child lived with you, is your dependent, you paid for their support (food, clothing, etc.). It also requires that the child be younger than seventeen.

Now, I’ll reserve my opinion about politicians, the Internal Revenue Service, lobbyists, etc., but do they have any idea as to how costs change as a child gets older. I could clothe both my kids for a year for the same amount of money as I now spend on their shoes. Once they hit that magic age to get a driver’s license, auto insurance increases.

With two teenagers with drivers licenses I spend as much on car insurance in two years as what my first house cost. One of them is away at college, can’t have his car on campus, but since it’s less than 100 miles, the price stays the same. Add in the class photos, yearbooks, formal dances, etc., and those incidentals for college, like books, tuition, room and board, and you get the picture.

But someone has decided that kids must be cheaper after they turn 17 and included it in the tax code. They must be in one of those states where recreational marijuana is not only legal, but can be written off as a business expense.

New Title

I have a day job, I write this blog, I do some community service, I have children, I write various other works, so in many ways, I’m a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. The last part is okay, because no person ever really masters anything.

All the things I do require a lot of thought. Many–but not all–include writing, but all are more mental than physical. I have decided, therefore, to acknowledge that with an appropriate title. George Carlin listed his occupation as “Foole,” so it’s not an original concept.

Therefore, I do now declare myself as a Philosopher, without Portfolio. In a nutshell, that means that it is my job to think, but I am not assigned any particular area of responsibility, so I can think of whatever I desire.

 

Radio – STEM Applied

Too many things today, in my opinion, are observer activities rather than ones that encourage participation. The term “couch potato” was coined to describe the sentient state television induced on humans.  Commercial radio and television behave the same way whether we’re involved or not; I’ve never intentionally watched a soap opera, but they are broadcast nevertheless.

However, there are participatory activities; you can probably guess where this is going.

My favorite means of interacting with radio is Amateur Radio; why “amateur?” because ham radio operators, by law, cannot charge for providing communications via ham radio. Why “ham” radio? No one knows; there are dozens of theories, but none of them can be proven.

So why does amateur radio even exist, and how is it different from CB, Family Radio Service, or, for that matter, cellphones?

sam-cristoforetti-01-320

Samantha Cristoforetti (Amateur Radio Call Sign IZ0UDF) is an Italian European Space Agency astronaut, Italian Air Force pilot, engineer, and Star Trek fan. 

Amateur radio is a service, defined by federal law (the Code of Federal Regulation, Title 47, Subchapter D, Part 97). As a service, this places certain obligations and requirements on those who are licensed. The first portion of the law explains its basis and purpose; I’ll give you the condensed version.

First, amateur radio is valuable because it provides noncommercial communications, particularly during emergencies. As a friend used to say, amateur radio exists to support emergencies. If there’s no emergency—have fun.

When Puerto Rico got hit (twice) by Hurricane Maria, virtually every mode of communications was disrupted, and that means cellphones, internet, wired telephones, television, etc. FEMA (The Federal Emergency Management Administration) and relief organizations like the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, etc. relied on amateur radio operators for communications. (one of my colleagues provided communications and has an excellent brief, if you’re interested.)

Second, amateur radio is intended to advance the art of communication. Make no mistake, it is an art; in far too many places,  it is a lost art.

The purpose of communications is, and should be, the means to share ideas. Far too often, though, it has been replaced by people who talk just to hear their own voice.

Third, the law addresses advancing skills for both communications and technical capabilities.

While ham radio uses voice for communications and Morse code, there are dozens of digital data modes, several ways of sending television, and some that use technology originally developed by a Nobel laureate astrophysicist, who just happens to be a ham.

Fourth, to expand the number of trained operators, technicians and electronics experts.

Amateur radio requires a license. However, having proven an understanding of electronics theory, rules, regulations, and proper operating procedures, hams can design and build their own equipment, able to transmit up to 1,500 watts. (By comparison, CB is 4 watts and cellphones 0.2 watts.)

Fifth, Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Unlike the trolls on social media, hams are licensed and therefore not anonymous. In fact, standard practice is to follow up a radio conversation with a “QSL” card to confirm the contact. The card may be a physical post card, or it may be electronic; in either case, it includes the ham’s full name and address plus technical details. Hams collect this information and are proud of how may other hams in other countries they’ve contacted. .

Incidentally, the International Space Station has both a Russian and an American ham radio station. When their workload permits, astronauts schedule time to talk with children at their schools to encourage interest in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). Unfortunately, with the shuttle traveling at 17,500 miles per hour, conversations are short. At that speed, the shuttle is overhead for only about 8 minutes. However, to a seventh grader who gets to talk to an astronaut, what an exciting 8 minutes they are.

Want to know more? Try the American Radio Relay League , email me (steve@sfnowak.com) or add a comment; I’ll try to give a good answer that we can share with others.

All th best, or as we hams say, “73!”

Still Thinking about Radio

Why, you are probably asking, am I so fascinated by radio? While the media’s use of radio, television, and social media sensationalizes and encourages controversy, argumentativeness, and even violence, I find that focusing on the technical application of physics is far more enjoyable.

Back in the day, you could take things apart to see how they worked, and even try putting them back together. A mechanical alarm clock that was headed for the trash is a perfect example–all those gears. It was expected that when you tried to put it back together, there would be pieces left over, but it still gave you some idea as to how it worked–and that was without a Youtube video to explain it. Then there was the other direction–building things–anything–not huge projects, but small and interesting ones.

cat whisker

Did you ever  build (or even see) a crystal radio? A length of wire for an antenna, a second wound around a tube (such as a toilet paper tube), another wire connected to a ground—such as the center screw in an electrical outlet a galena crystal, and a set of headphones. By moving a flexible wire around the crystal, it is possible to tune in a station. In the Second World War, soldiers would build a “fox-hole” radio using a razor blade as the crystal and a pencil lead for the cat’s whisker. When I built my first crystal radio, I began to understand how a basic radio receiver works and was hooked.

I built my first computer, which arrived in the mail and consisted of a circuit board and a plastic bag full of parts. It initially had 256 BYTES of memory and had to be programmed using hexadecimal numbers (that’s where you count 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, A, B, C, D, E, F, 10). By the time I was done with it, it had 8 kilobytes, stored programs and data on cassette tapes, used a mechanical teletype and I programmed it using “Tiny Basic.”

Could I build a smartphone? No, I cannot, but then neither can you. I do, however, have a conceptual understanding—and can explain—how the various parts of a smartphone work and how those parts are integrated. When I’ve asked my kids if they understood how theirs worked, their expression seemed to indicate wonderment as to why anyone would ever want to know.

There’s hope, though, through the MAKE movement, which encourages young people–especially girls–to build, modify, and experiment. I hope they enjoy it. Al I can say is that over the years, my interest in radio and the electromagnetic spectrum has caused me to learn, but more importantly, to think.

I Like Radio

I like radio.

In fact, I’m fascinated by the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Some consider it overreach to include direct current, like the electricity produced by a battery, but the AC electricity that powers most homes and offices definitely belongs. AC power oscillates, changing direction and then back again in some approximation of a sine wave.

sine

For most AC power in America, this occurs 60 times per second. For years, this was to as 60 cycles per second until the late 1960s when it was changed to “Hertz” (Hz). This name change was to honor Heinrich Hertz, the German physicist who proved the existence of electromagnetic waves. Unfortunately, since Hertz had been dead since 1894, we was totally unaware of the honor. Perhaps the living physicists put their sliderules and partied to songs like John Mellencamp’s Hertz so Good. [I know the song was recorded at least ten years later, but physicists are not big partiers, so it may have taken them a while to pull things together.]

spectrum

There are radio waves as low as 3 – 30 Hz, referred to as “Extremely Low Frequency,” but most of us don’t notice them until somewhere around the AM Broadcast band. The spectrum continues through shortwave, or high frequency (HF), very high frequency (VHF), which includes television*, FM radio, and aircraft communication. Ultra high frequency (UHF) include a number of other radio services, including cell phones. Microwaves, which are useful for radar and reheating leftovers start around 1 gigahertz (GHz) up to about 40 GHz, are next.

Going up. Next stop includes infrared through ultraviolet; smack dab in the middle is visible light. I think it’s safe to say that visible light was the first segment of the electromagnetic spectrum to which humans were aware. In fact, to many people, “spectrum” is what you see with a prism or in a rainbow.

Once you get above ultraviolet, there are X-rays and Gamma Rays, which have the ability to pass through matter and create an image that can be recorded. However, they also have an additional characteristic—they become ionizing, which means that they can change the electrical charges in matter. Ionizing radiation can cause cells to mutate. While comic book storylines propose that mutations result in superpowers, that’s just a STORYline. In actuality most mutations are bad; however, bad mutations can be useful, if applied to a confined area, such as a cancerous tumor. When the cancerous cells mutate, they often die.

To the best of my knowledge, the only thing above gamma rays are cosmic rays, but who knows what remains to be discovered.

Don’t touch that dial. I’ll be back soon with even more.

* I find it disappointing that many people do not know that with a simple indoor antenna your HD flatscreen smart television will receive the local television stations without cable. Picture quality is almost always better, because the signal doesn’t have to be compressed the way it is for cable. In addition, when television switched from analog to digital, they each ended up with three channels that fit in the same bandwidth as the old analog system. Since it’s “use it or lose it,” the other two channels tend to rely on shows that are far less expensive—so you may find Soupy Sales or Mr. Ed. Finally, since a smart TV connects to the internet through your wireless router, you can still access Netflix, Amazon, etc., all without the television being connected to the cable.