Why Merle Haggard Out Travels Lady Gaga – What You Should Know About Radio Waves

Photo: Peter Megyeri

The radio is a perfect example of an old technology that we completely take for granted – do you know how it works or are you just cluelessly upset when all you hear is static? These older technologies are much easier to wrap my head around – if a some guy in the 19th century could figure it out, I should be able to understand the basic idea. I’m not going to focus on how a radio transmitter physically creates the signal or receiver is able to turn it into sound, but rather the basic theory and some interesting things to know.

What is the major difference between AM and FM?
AM stands for amplitude modulation. This means the sound determines the amplitude of the radio wave. FM stands for frequency modulation – the sound alters the frequency of the radio wave. The transmitter is able to turn the sound being created into the appropriate wave. Here is an example of a sound and how it would look as an AM and FM wave:

Source: Berserkerus

Another major difference is that AM radio waves are a much lower frequency than FM. Think of AM having the wavelength of a football field and FM the ball. In reality you can broadcast amplitude modulation or frequency modulation at any frequency, but high quality FM audio must be a high frequency to allow for the differences (or modulation) in frequency.

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Today Will Be Remembered as the Era When Technology Ruled Our Lives

Photo: Chris Metcalf

Technology was originally created with the intention of saving us time. The cotton gin was created to save time processing cotton, the steam engine to save time over using horses for power, and computers to save time on calculations. But where is all this free time? It seems that people are busier and more stressed than ever before.

Despite the incredible pace of technological innovations in the last several decades, it has been ineffective in actually saving us time. An incredible number of tools are available today that have never been available before, but we don’t know how to effectively use them to reduce stress and provide more leisure time. It is not a limitation of the technology, rather our training on these technologies lags far behind – we just don’t take the time to learn how to use them effectively!

The technologies that dominate our everyday lives
In the grand scheme of things cell phones and email are new technologies. The majority of people got their first cell phone less than 10 years ago and email maybe a couple years before that. Now we are combining the technologies – chances are if you bought a new cell phone in the last year or two it now has email on it. The downside to these rapid technological advances is that we haven’t had time to properly learn the best way to use them.

Have you ever been talking to someone in person when their cell phone rings? How is this person supposed to respond? It is wonderful that you can be reached at any time of day by your friend 10,000 miles away, but at what cost? The call disrupts your face-to-face conversation for a digital one. Text messages are less obtrusive but the same principle applies – they dictate our lives and take us out of the moment.

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