Monday, July 16, 2012

Smart Meters and Dumb People

There’s a small flap in Madison about the new water meters the water utility will begin installing in a few weeks.  The meters keep track of your usage, and every so often send a radio-frequency (RF)signal with the data, so the water company can keep better track of you consumption.  The water company won’t have to send a meter-reader person around to do it; they’ll be able to bill monthly rather than quarterly; and if you develop a leak, you’ll know about it sooner.  The picture at the top of this post is what they typically look like.

The flap in Madison is not about big brother invading our privacy (though that’s the angle you might think the east-siders and isthmus-dwellers might take); the flap is not about replacing humans with machines; the flap is about the RF emissions of the new “smart meters”.

Americans are, in my estimation, by and large dummies when it comes to math and science.  Most high school students avoid these subjects whenever possible, unless some math or science content is mandated, or, for the college-bound crowd, the high school guidance counselor convinces them they need to get a little math and science under their belt to be more attractive to the college they have their sights set on.

One of the local TV news stations  recently did a story about the apparent discovery of the so-called “God particle”, the Higgs boson, and the dweeb who wrote the story (and the anchorette who read it) obviously didn’t have a clue what they were talking about.  The story said “the particle was found deep underground in Switzerland”, as if some European physicists had been digging deep holes in the earth looking for this elusive boson.  (Supercollider?  What’s a supercollider?)

There are plenty of websites out there on the internets that have sprung up in opposition to this new generation of water-meters, and people who don’t understand a thing about science are most easily buffaloed by quasi-scientific-sounding language.  Surfing a representative sample of these anti-new-water-meter sites will likely elicit a chuckle from anybody who knows the first thing about RF emission.

These Madison folks, the noisy handful who are all up in arms about this RF flying around from these new water meters, obviously are operating without a clue.  They wouldn’t know a milliwatt from a millirem from a milligram.  But they seen on that there innernet that RF is bad for ya, it’ll fry yer brain, and the gubbmint is tryin’ to cover it all up!

These are the kind of folks who apparently don’t realize that their cell phone operates by emitting RF; that the baby monitor they use in their home emits RF; that their in-house internet router emits RF; that the TV remote emits RF (a lot of the newer ones work on UHF, rather than infrared); that their microwave oven emits RF; that their GPS device emits RF; and on and on.

Don’t bother trying to explain it to these folks.  As I’m fond of pointing out, today, we can have our own opinion about anything, and we can have our own facts about anything.

You’d be investing your time better by giving a lecture about dBm values to your dog, rather than to these folks.


  1. You are missing the point. This is a property rights issue. I don't use a cell phone or baby monitor. I sure as heck don't want to be forced to have a smart meter. Even if I do use a cell phone I can move it away from my baby's bedroom or turn it off. Not so with a smart meter. And science, you say? How much of the science showing biological damage of RF/microwaves at levels far below FCC heating levels have you looked at?
    See compilation from 1970s of U.S. military by Zory R. Glaser of a couple thousand studies showing bio. effects.
    See BioInitiative for more peer reviewed studies.
    See PowerWatch (UK) ongoing list of studies on RF that prove or disprove effects.
    Then tell me people should be FORCED to take the risk by their utilities.

    1. Jill, you are the exception that proves the rule. Point taken.

  2. Since the dawn of what we might call the modern era, we have all been bathed in electromagnetic emissions - or radio frequency interference or RF or whatever you choose to call it. If you plan to live a normal daily life, there is no practical way to escape.

    As our blogger points out, RF emitters are everywhere: Your car's keyless entry fobs (your car is full of RF sources), fluorescent light ballasts, any electrical switch, any electric motor (refrigerator, furnace, washing machine, food processor, swimming pool filter ... and what have you).

    Garage door openers emit RF, So do bug zappers and thermostats and pagers.

    You get zapped by cable TV boxes, Bluetooth devices, mobile phone towers, all radars (ships, airports, airplanes, police speed guns, speed-monitoring signs). Airport scanners and medical equipment also contribute to your exposure. The list of RF sources is, for all intents and purposes, endless.

    The incidental RF from smart meters is so minute as to be barely detectable. Step outside your house and the power line overhead instantly gives you a far larger RF dose than the smart meter ever will.

    Invisible fences, intended to keep the dog in the yard, are emitters, and so are electric fences along farm pastures.

    One exception is incandescent lighting, which produces no electromagnetic waves. Ironically a Bush Administration law with good environmental intentions is in the process of extinguishing that bright spot by phasing the old RF-free lightbulbs out.

    Not to quibble with Soapbox Jill, who would like to have some control over her RF exposure. We as a society have been rather cavalier about erring on the side of caution on this subject. Rather than cherry-pick relatively minor issues, the RF foes would be better advised to direct their energies toward effective solutions - such as policies and regulations.

    To draw the line at smart meters is akin to seeking the big picture by looking into the wrong end of the telescope.

  3. Tim, this all goes to the greater point. What happened to plain old curiosity? Did it die in many when they reached adulthood? I was no genius in school, and only took two extra science/math classes each year in hs, but, I never lost my curiosity. Computers and the web have only made it easier to satisfy that. I've been hearing about concerns over rf for years, so, I read some on it. Same with the Higgs boson. I was able to satisfy the curiosity quite easily. Have we become so complacent, that we no longer wish to spend the minuscule energy to simply 'know' a little more about something? Apologies if this seems off topic.

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