Category Archives: Education

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.

A Topic! A Topic! My Kingdom for a Topic!

I try to focus on the upbeat or at least the intellectual. Lately, that has been difficult. I have a wonderful blog written about my failure to get my Lowe’s extended warranty Whirlpool dishwasher working on a more than occasional basis, but who wants to read about that?

Then there’s politics—enough said . . . .

Don Quixote–Pablo Picasso 1955

So, it’s not that I’ve been ignoring everyone, it’s that I, like Don Quixote have been seeking something; he sought dragons in the windmills. I seek humor in today’s world. Cervantes gave Don Quixote Sancho Panza and the Golden Helmet of Mambrino, but alas, I have neither plucky comic relief nor magical accoutrements to find the humor in today’s world.

But, then again, Don Quixote saw Dulcinea—the perfect woman within Aldonza. Maybe, as we approach Hanukah, Christmas, and the Winter Solstice, we are being called to find, if not perfection, at least that glitter of gold in one another.

Now THAT would give me something great to write about.