RF – Radio Frequency

Originally published in The Clarion | October 27, 2010

Radio Frequency (RF) is literally all around us. Electromagnetic waves from broadcast television stations, AM and FM radio stations, cellular telephone towers, satellites, wireless remote controls, cordless telephones and civil, commercial, amateur and governmental two-way radio systems travel at the speed of light in the same air and atmosphere from which we breathe. We can’t see it, feel it, taste it or smell it but it is always there. Radio waves are also used to prepare meals in microwave ovens and are used in various manners in the medical field. RF can also be contained within copper wiring and even fiber optic cables for the delivery of Cable TV, Internet and Voice services to your home or business. A result of the invention of the telegraph and telephone, a world without RF is simply unimaginable.

RF itself was not invented, but discovered in the mid-to-late 1800’s. Before the end of the 19th Century, wireless communications testing had begun using RF. Experimentation continued into the early 20th Century and, seemingly as fast as the speed of the RF signal itself, AM and eventually FM radio stations were ‘on the air’. Broadcast television followed along with other new technologies including the ones mentioned above.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the use of the entire spectrum of RF frequencies, allocating individual frequency bands to a plethora of communications services. Because the transmission of RF frequencies can be contained within physical media (coaxial, twisted-pair and fiber optic cables), many RF frequency allocations overlap and are used ‘in the air’ alongside physical media. The same frequency you receive your favorite television channel on may also be used for wireless two-way communications services. Because of this, companies who use physical media to deliver telecommunications services to your home or business are held to strict standards so that their transmissions don’t leak into the atmosphere and interfere with wireless transmissions on the same frequencies.

Rules modifications by the FCC in the last couple of decades have transformed how we communicate in our day-to-day lives. As new transmission technologies have come about, RF spectrums have been modified and reallocated to accommodate the modern technologies we enjoy and depend on every day. Digital transmissions over RF have revolutionized the communications industry, allowing larger amounts of content to be transmitted in equal or even less bandwidth than by using analog transmissions. By transmitting content digitally, more spectrum has become available for new services in both the public and private sectors. The latest technologies to be approved and allocated by the FCC are being referred to as ‘white space’ in the broadcast television frequency bands. In the upcoming months, wireless high-speed Internet services will be offered in these ‘white spaces’ and will once again change the way many Americans communicate using the Internet. It is going to be very interesting to see how this new allocation is implemented and what new broadband services are born in this sector of technology.

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Technorealism Principle #8

Originally published in The Clarion | October 20, 2010

The eighth and final principle of Technorealism (www.technorealism.org) is one that should be considered by every user of modern technologies. This principle – Understanding technology should be an essential component of global citizenship – calls for accountability and ownership in the realm of technology by each and every user, something that is severely lacking in today’s society. As we begin, I’m sure many of you may not agree with this principle. With an analogy and some consideration, my goal is to make this principle easier to accept. With a little luck, maybe all of us will feel motivated to tackle the technologies we use and become more proactive in our uses of them.

I have witnessed countless people over the years as they were first introduced to the personal computer, obtaining Internet access for the first time, learning to surf the Web and use eMail and then progressing to other PC applications including bookkeeping, document production, image manipulation and printing activities. I feel very strongly that the adage You can’t teach an old dog new tricks simply does not apply to modern technologies. Sure some things come easier to some than others, but there is an ownership and responsibility factor that must be inherent in users of today’s technologies.

For a comparison, consider automobile ownership. Most anyone can go out and purchase an automobile. Once the purchase is completed, there are many responsibilities the owner of the vehicle must accept in order to properly use his or her new purchase. Simple things like knowing how to start the engine, operate the transmission, accelerate and brake properly and keeping fuel, oil, tire pressures and air filter in proper specifications are all basic requirements for the operation of an automobile. On top of this, there are all of the rules and regulations of the road that must be followed for successful travel in an automobile. It would be ridiculous to expect someone to drive successfully with none of these abilities – or responsibilities; ownership of an automobile does not imply a person’s ability to effectively operate that automobile. Modern technologies are simply no different.

The intimidation factor of modern technologies for many people can no longer be an excuse for the owner of the technology to not learn the basics of the technologies or inhibit proper responsibilities in regard to ownership of the technology. Technologies today are more user-friendly than ever. The latest gadgets are designed for simplicity and modern Operating Systems enable the user to perform many functions with ease. Uncertainties can almost always be remedied with a simple Web search. As more and more citizens purchase and become dependent on new technologies, it is imperative each and every one of us is willing to take ownership and accept the responsibilities of the gadget or PC or smartphone. Ignorance of technology is not bliss, and ignorance of technology is no longer an acceptable “out” when using technologies of the 21st Century.

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Technorealism Principle #7

Originally published in The Clarion | October 13, 2010

The seventh principle of Technorealism (www.technorealism.org) is one that can be viewed from several angles and has become quite relevant to us today. This principle – The public owns the airwaves; the public should benefit from their use – may not seem important to the average citizen but is one that affects us all.

Since its inception in 1934, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has regulated not only the airwaves in America but also the media, public safety, homeland security and more recently broadband. When this principle was introduced, it included the statement The recent digital spectrum giveaway to broadcasters underscores the corrupt and inefficient misuse of public resources in the arena of technology. The citizenry should benefit and profit from the use of public frequencies, and should retain a portion of the spectrum for educational, cultural, and public access uses. We should demand more for private use of public property. The FCC mandate in 2009 for broadcasters to terminate analog transmission has in some ways brought about results that the Technorealism folks should be happy about.

Two results of broadcasters going digital have begun contributing to this demand of Technorealism. First, the more efficient digital transmissions have freed up slices of the airwaves and have resulted in parts of the spectrum being purchased and used by other technologies including cellular transmissions and other private enterprise uses. By using digital transmissions, broadcasters can now also provide additional programming in equal or less space than they could with analog technologies.

A second result of digital broadcast transmissions is being finalized as I type. The FCC is in the process of defining the use of “white space” in the digital broadcast spectrum to be used for wireless broadband purposes. While the final details are not yet available, most speculation is that these frequencies will be used in a manner where manufacturers will be able to sell devices that give citizens wireless access to the Internet anywhere a signal in the white space spectrum is available. Only time will tell how this wireless availability will change Internet access as we currently know it and what new technologies it might bring about.

Considering these two results of the FCC’s realignment of part of the wireless spectrum, I feel it is safe to say the members of the Technorealism group should be somewhat pleased. I also feel they were somewhat off-base in insinuating the airwaves are a free-for-use mechanism in America as the FCC controlled them, and rightfully so, for decades before Technorealism was ever considered. Without regulation of radio frequency by the FCC, our nation’s communications mechanisms would be nothing short of utter chaos and I’m confident we would not be able to enjoy technologies like cellular communications and broadcast television or benefit from local and national security communications.

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Technorealism Principle #6

Originally published in The Clarion | October 06, 2010

The sixth principle of Technorealism (www.technorealism.org) is one many web users may never consider, or may simply ignore. This principle – Information wants to be protected – has ties to the beginning of copyrights and has come to the forefront of Internet law over the years.

In its design, the Web can be viewed as an open frontier. With access to the Internet and Web, the amount of data and information available to its users is seemingly endless and grows at excessive rates each and every day. Multitudes of information available on the Web is absolutely free of any restrictive use – similarly though, a vast amount of information on the Web is protected by copyright restrictions. Simply put, just because a piece of information is available as a free download on the Web does not mean the information is legally available for free.

The two most prevalent examples of information available on the Web that is in-fact not open for legal acquisition are copyrighted music and movies. Sure it is nice to download your favorite song for free – but simply put, it is as illegal as it would be if you were to go in to the record store, stick the CD in your jacket pocket and walk out without paying. Musicians and film producers depend on sales of their works to make a living. Because of this, with only a few exceptions, such works are copyrighted for the protection of the composer and the information itself.

A decade ago, applications including Napster allowed a user to search for and obtain most any piece of music imaginable, most of which was copyrighted. After extensive legal debate, Napster was forced to shut down for no other reason than it enabled individuals to illegally obtain copyrighted materials. Other applications and web sites appeared on the Internet and over time a shift took place to where movies became more popular to download than music.

While seemingly impossible to control, the owners of copyrighted materials have begun taking measures to clamp down on the illegal acquisition of their works. Individual web users like you and me have had lawsuits brought against them for both providing and acquiring copyrighted material illegally. As I have mentioned before, there is no such thing as anonymity in the Web and Internet. As sales of music and movies continues to decline, legal action against those who provide and obtain copyrighted materials is increasing.

The bright side to this entire situation is that the owners of copyrighted materials have begun providing their works in manners that were previously unavailable. For example, many musical works are now available for purchase online on a per-song basis. Services like Netflix and Hulu allow unlimited viewing of both television programs and movies for a nominal monthly fee. To protect yourself from a lawsuit, I strongly encourage all Web users to do the right thing and obtain copyrighted materials legally. The pleasure is definitely not worth the pain when presented with legal action.

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