Coloring Within the Lines


To maintain the integrity of a supplied drawing, people usually color as much as they can within the lines. Some people use crayons, while others use markers or pens. When it comes to using electromagnetic spectrum in the United States, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is in charge of allocating bands within the spectrum and making sure everyone stays within their specified lines. The NTIA does its work within the Department of Commerce.


The Department of Commerce also oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which in turn oversees the National Weather Service (NWS). Independent of all these Department of Commerce agencies is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which regulates the parts of the spectrum allocated for its oversight by the FTIA, such as radio, television, and cellular phone frequencies. Beginning late last year, the FCC has been auctioning spectrum to mobile phone companies for them to use in their 5G networks. When the FCC auctioned off spectrum in the 24GHz (gigahertz) band, they raised alarm within the NOAA since that agency uses the 23.8GHz band in its weather satellites to measure water vapor in the atmosphere, a key component in its ability to forecast the weather.

January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart
This image of an outdated January 2016 Spectrum Wall Chart from the NTIA is only useful as an overview of just how tightly packed bandwidth allocation is in parts of the spectrum, based on the jumble of colors. For a better view, download a PDF (Portable Document Format) of the chart from the NTIA website, though even then it can be a strain on the eyes without higher magnification.

Now anyone who has ever manually tuned a radio receiver with a dial knows the radio stations do not stay exactly within their spectrum lines at all times, and depending on the power of the transmitters the different stations use and atmospheric conditions and the varying state of the ionosphere, some stations can occasionally push into the territory of other stations. That is what worries NOAA administrators about the 24GHz band proposed for 5G use by mobile phone companies and their man in the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai. NOAA administrators believe 24GHz is too close for comfort and may occasionally interfere with its use of 23.8GHz, which it cannot change because it is determined by the physical law of water vapor’s behavior. They believe the interference could cause as much as a 30 percent drop in forecasting efficiency, akin to stepping back in time to 1980.

This inter agency squabble isn’t even necessary, it turns out, because if the FCC and American mobile phone companies followed the European model for ensuring minimal interference with weather satellites, they would simply add greater restrictions to the transmitting power of 5G antennas in the higher bandwidths and rely more extensively on mid-range bandwidths that are not only better for 5G transmission, but also safely removed from the vicinity of crucial weather data transmissions.

A May 2019 news report from Sky News in London, England.

There will be a World Radiocommunication Conference in Egypt in October and November, where attendees will set international standards for 5G. Considering the attitudes and policies of the current presidential administration, the American delegation will probably resist the European model and go its own incautious way in order to serve the interests of the major telecommunications companies. It’s possible the American model may turn out fine eventually, but considering the drawbacks of being wrong, wouldn’t it be prudent to heed the concerns of weather forecasters, at least until more field testing proves without a doubt the safety of using the 24GHz band of the spectrum? To satisfy the greed of telecommunications executives and the desire of some smartphone users for faster loading Facebook feeds, is it worth having a hurricane drop in on us unexpectedly? A real hurricane, that is, not one drawn with crayons, however neatly.
— Techly


Nomophobic No More


Nomophobia is a term coined in 2010 by the United Kingdom Post Office, which commissioned research into the anxieties of mobile phone users. It stands for no-mobile-phone phobia, or the fear of not having access to a phone or phone service.

On February 3, 2017, New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, responding in part to the antics of Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who streamed a post-game speech by his head coach, Mike Tomlin, on Facebook Live from his smartphone, vowed to “scramble” social media sites in the Saints’ locker room in the future. It was unclear what Payton meant exactly by “scramble,” but perhaps he was referring to using a filter on the locker room wi-fi service. Players could still access social media sites using the signal from their cellular service, however, making the overall effectiveness of Payton’s ban doubtful. A cell phone signal jammer would be an option if it were legal.

Payton’s proposed ban was his response to players’ increasing inattention as well, since they itched to check their phones for distractions instead of devoting their full attention to the business at hand in locker room meetings. These are men in their twenties and thirties, some of them making millions of dollars a year, and they cannot be relied upon to disregard their smartphones for more than forty minutes at a time while their head coach conducts a meeting. But then, considering the behavior some players exhibit during games, perhaps it should come as no surprise they are selfish and immature in other areas of their lives. We would more usefully order our priorities to not give the players and the game as much attention as we do.


Arrecife - Iglesia de San Ginés in 18 ies
No cell phones sign at a church in the Canary Islands.
The message in English reads “Sacred Place – Silence Please”.
Iglesia de San Ginés in Arrecife, Lanzarote, Canary Islands;
photo by Frank Vincentz.


Whether it is a compulsion or an addiction that many people have to constantly check their smartphone for text messages, emails, or social media posts, is something they need to examine for themselves. The rest of us just wish they would stop checking, checking, and checking again, because it is costing us time and frustration, and in some cases our lives. Besides the everyday annoyances caused by compulsive smartphone users disrupting the enjoyment of theater-goers and patrons at restaurants and shops, there is the now nearly constant problem of being held up at a traffic light by the driver in front being too engrossed in their smartphone to realize the light has turned green. Such drivers build up road rage in others, and that’s minor considering the dangers they pose once they get their car moving.

A majority of drivers sensibly acknowledge that texting and driving is dangerous and are in favor of state laws prohibiting it, yet many of them continue to do it. You can see these drivers everywhere on the roads, bobbing their heads up and down like mechanical dipping birds as they look up and down from the smartphone they hold down just out of view of others – as if they’re fooling anyone – to the road and back again. The danger comes not only while they are looking down, but also for the first few seconds after they look up, because in that time their minds are elsewhere.

The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe - panoramio
The Green Eggs and Ham Cafe at the Seuss Landing attraction
of the Universal Islands of Adventure theme park in
Orlando, Florida; photo by Panoramio user BihnX.
Since some people can’t seem to stop themselves from texting and driving, and since enforcement is lax, it appears the only thing that will get at least some of them to stop is the kind of social disapproval that has built up around smoking in public over the past twenty years. It’s incredible now to recall that up until twenty or thirty years ago smoking in most public places was not only acceptable, it was the norm. People smoked in theaters, restaurants, and on planes and trains. Like enjoying green eggs and ham, people had a cigarette pretty much anywhere they liked. Speaking of green eggs and ham, now there’s an excellent idea: shut off that phone, smart or otherwise, and enjoy an attentive meal with friends or family, put the phone to sleep in the glove compartment while you drive to the theater, and then leave it in the car when you go in to relax and enjoy the show. Your dinner companions, the drivers you share the road with, and your fellow patrons at the theater will appreciate it, and it won’t kill you.
― Techly


The Fickle Fingerprint of Fate

In May of 2016, Department of Justice officials wrote a memorandum seeking a warrant to search a Lancaster, California, premises and to force the occupants to unlock any phones or electronic devices with their fingerprints if the devices were equipped with that technology. This amounted to a fishing expedition to circumvent previous court rulings which held that law enforcement could not compel a criminal suspect to unlock an electronic device with their pass code because that would be a violation of the Fifth Amendment protection against self incrimination. It is unclear whether the DoJ ultimately received the warrant they sought because not all documents related to the case are publicly available.

Creation of Adam (Michelangelo) Detail
“Creation of Adam,” by Michelangelo

Why is compelling a suspect to unlock a device with their fingerprint also not a violation of the Fifth Amendment? Because of a 2014 ruling in a Virginia Circuit Court which stated that fingerprints and other bodily attributes are not protected, while handing over a pass code to law enforcement is divulging of information, which is protected. Law enforcement has long been able to use a suspect’s physical characteristics to incriminate him or her, but has not been allowed to compel a suspect to give up information. The problem now is that technology has leaped ahead of current law, and judges and prosecutors are falling back on anachronistic case law to cope with the use of biometrics like fingerprints and iris scans to lock personal electronic devices. Case law going back one hundred years and more treats fingerprints as a way of determining a suspect’s culpability at a crime scene, not as a key to a suspect’s possessions which may or may not contain evidence. It is obtuse to claim that a fingerprint or any other biometric is not the same as a pass code when it is being used for the same purpose.

All seeing eye
“All seeing eye,” from U.S. currency

The use of biometrics is springing up not only in consumer devices, but in technology used by the military and law enforcement. The 2002 film, Minority Report, depicts a dystopian future when law enforcement and advertisers make great use of biometrics, and those predictions are proving more accurate with each passing year. The Department of Justice already uses facial recognition technology for surveillance of people in public spaces, and as we have seen with the National Security Agency, the ability of modern digital storage to accumulate massive amounts of data encourages the practice of scooping up everything indiscriminately. Like a fishing trawler using a drift net, law enforcement intends to collect everything now, store it, and sort it all out later. They think they are being efficient and better safe than sorry. But people are not fish subject to by-catch, which ought to be obvious enough, and to be sure the Fourth and Fifth Amendments to the Constitution make the distinction clear.
– Techly

Randolph County Veterans Memorial Park Bill of Rights marker
Randolph County, Georgia, Veterans Memorial Park Bill of Rights marker;
photo by Michael Rivera