Why Cell Phones Don’t Work (Well) From The Air

cell phone tower antennaSome people are wondering why no one has been able to track MH370 through cellphone data. We know the NSA has been storing cell metadata for tracking. Isn’t this the same scenario?

A brief lesson in physics is needed. Don’t be scared. No math.

Think of an antenna as the launching point for radio waves. If the antenna is a single element, those radio waves will depart at equal levels in all directions. A car’s AM/FM whip antenna is an example of this.

Remember the days of rooftop TV antennas? They had many elements. That wasn’t just to make them more unsightly!

tv-antennaAntennas may also include reflective or directive elements or surfaces not connected to the transmitter or receiver, such as parasitic elements, parabolic reflectors or horns, which serve to direct the radio waves into a beam or other desired radiation pattern. – Wikipedia

That’s exactly what’s going on at the cell site.

cellair-aWhy bother sending signals where they’re wasted? With a directional antenna you can redirect power to where it’s needed. In most cases that means concentrating nearly all a cell tower’s power parallel or slightly down toward the ground. Pointing down slightly is necessary because of the Earth’s natural curve.

The extra gain in the antennas beams, used to increase signal strength to us on the ground, is taken from what would radiate upwards!

Radiation Pattern of a Cell Tower AntennaI’m sure I’m not the only person to ever power up a cellphone in flight to see if I could hit a tower. I’ve never been successful. This is why.

Today’s Favorite Spam

“Nucklear!” Sometimes this stuff is just priceless.

Today was spam cleaning day. Over 2,500 pieces from my me@geofffox.com mailbox were waiting in my junk folder. I like to look and make sure nothing valuable gets ditched.

As it turned out, only one message had been improperly marked!

I got this one at least three times (safely in my spam box). The originator was separately listed as the New York Post, AOL and Washington Post. The content and message subject were exactly the same in all three:

CNN, San Clemente, CA – Major Problems have been occured at San Clemente Nucklear Power Station – 20-year old circuit breaker fails to close, creating a 4,000-volt arc and fire. Possible radiation leaks on 100miles area. Evacuation process has been started – View updated video

“Nucklear!” Sometimes this stuff is just priceless.

That last line, “View updated video,” was the link to the ‘real’ spam. It was an encoded link, so the receiving website could easily know which email elicited the click.

Obviously, when you write in English, but it’s terribly broken English, your scam isn’t going to be terribly successful. However, this has the potential to be the 21st Century version of yelling “FIRE” in a crowded theater.

I’m trying to figure out what this says about spamming? Has the ongoing battle against spammers diminished returns enough that techniques have been pushed to the edge?

It’s true, spam will only disappear when it’s no longer profitable.

Drab and Gray

Typing from the sofa in the family room, I can cock my head left and see out our back door. There’s snow on the ground, rain from the sky and a gray gloom that does its best to hide any midday brightness.

Typing from the sofa in the family room, I can cock my head left and see out our back door. There’s snow on the ground, rain from the sky and a gray gloom that’s doing its best to hide any midday brightness.

Yesterday, when I prepared today’s forecast (which included some frozen precipitation in Connecticut’s picturesque hills), I kept in mind the increasing strength of insolation&#185. It is more difficult for light frozen precipitation to stick, because sunlight (even through clouds) makes everything warmer.

We are now two months past the solar minimum of the winter solstice. Not only are there more daylight hours, the daylight is more potent!

There’s a ‘geek cool’ website that quantifies all this. Where I live, the Sun delivers 1,560 watt/hours per square meter per day in December. By February, that number is up to 2,660 watt/hours per square meter per day.

Winter isn’t over by any means, but I can literally feel spring on its way. Even on this awful day, it feels good. I am elated.

&#185 – No misspelling there. Insolation is the measurement of incoming solar radiation.

(Edited to correct watt/hours from watts)

The Poisoned Spy – It Happened Before

Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died overnight. The AP says:

Britain’s Health Protection Agency said Friday the radioactive element polonium-210 had been found in Litvinenko’s urine and police said traces of radiation were found at his home and a ritzy hotel bar and sushi restaurant he visited the day he became ill.

Police said they were treating the case as an “unexplained death” – but not yet as a murder.

It’s so spylike… So James Bondian. And though it seems incredibly strange, I remember something like this happening before.

It was the late ’70s, also in London. Georgy Markov wasn’t a spy, but he was a dissident, speaking out against the then communist government in Bulgaria.

I’ll let the BBC pick up the story.

Mr Markov was killed by a poisoned umbrella-tip while he waited at a bus stop near Bush House, where he worked for the BBC Bulgarian Service.

The recent release of state papers in Bulgaria confirmed that Mr Markov was regarded as a dangerous dissident by the former communist secret service.

But prosecutors say they’re closing their investigation over who killed him, under legislation allowing a case to be dropped if more than twenty-years have elapsed.

If memory serves me, 60 Minutes did a story about this murder, going so far as to show the tiny ball filled with ricin which was jabbed into his leg from the point of an umbrella.

There’s not much I can add to either story, except to say, there are some people it pays not to tick off.

Take Me Out Of My Misery

With everyone kvetching about global warming, I was taken aback by this UPI story.

Scientist predicts ‘mini Ice Age’

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, Feb. 7 (UPI) — A Russian astronomer has predicted that Earth will experience a “mini Ice Age” in the middle of this century, caused by low solar activity.

Khabibullo Abdusamatov of the Pulkovo Astronomic Observatory in St. Petersburg said Monday that temperatures will begin falling six or seven years from now, when global warming caused by increased solar activity in the 20th century reaches its peak, RIA Novosti reported.

The coldest period will occur 15 to 20 years after a major solar output decline between 2035 and 2045, Abdusamatov said.

Dramatic changes in the earth’s surface temperatures are an ordinary phenomenon, not an anomaly, he said, and result from variations in the sun’s energy output and ultraviolet radiation.

The Northern Hemisphere’s most recent cool-down period occurred between 1645 and 1705. The resulting period, known as the Little Ice Age, left canals in the Netherlands frozen solid and forced people in Greenland to abandon their houses to glaciers, the scientist said.

There will be fighting over this – big time!

Winter Arrives

Until today, winter had been docile. It was chilly. It really hadn’t gotten cold. All that has changed.

Frank has just cleared the driveway with his plow. There’s not a lot of snow – maybe 3-4″ of very fluffy, easily plowable powder. It didn’t take him long.

I can hear the wind blowing. If I look out my second floor window, from time-to-time I see ‘clouds’ of snow carried in the air. This is the stuff drifts are made of.

It’s still a few hours before I leave for work, but I’ve been looking at the temperature. My thermometer, in direct sunlight, says 27&#176. That’s a lie. It’s really closer to 10&#176 outside! The closest official reporting site to me, Markham Airport in Meriden, is reporting 7&#176.

It’s like this in full bright sunshine. Tonight, with no insolation and the snow holding back much of the ground’s long wave radiation, it will easily go below 0&#176.

Right now there’s really no place in America that’s warm. The wind chill at Massena, NY is -54&#176. Key West, the nation’s hot spot as I write this, is in the mid-60&#176s. It’s all downhill from there.

My folks in Florida, and friends in warmer areas, will read this and chuckle. Today I have no snappy comeback.