Monday, May 6, 2013

Silence Of Interest

I'm personally not one for procedural dramas. So if you're like me, you may need a bit of a primer on the show Person of Interest. Basically, there's this guy who built a machine which is linked up to just about everything that is hooked up in any way whatsoever to any kind of surveillance device or what we've taken to calling the 'cloud'- the whole entire electronic network centered around the Internet. It watches everyone, all the time, fulfilling every Big Brother fear you ever had. Every so often, it'll spit out someone's Social Security number, corresponding to someone the machine deems likely to be involved soon in a crime- victim, perpetrator, machine won't say- and this guy and another guy he wrangled go off to Fight Crime while at the same time trying not to freak everyone way the hell out, which usually involves a lot of trying to keep people from knowing the machine exists.

That doesn't always work. In the show, one person who learned of it, Alicia Corwin, noted that after she left government work, she moved to Green Bank, West Virginia, explaining that it was because Green Bank has no cell phones or wireless Internet.

That's today's subject: such a place is designed to exist. Green Bank is home to the world's largest fully steerable radio telescope. It, and the Sugar Grove Research Facility (also in West Virginia; the NSA has a telescope there as well), are center to a 13,000 square mile region known as the United States National Radio Quiet Zone, largely encompassing southeastern West Virginia and northwestern Virginia. The FCC created it in 1958 to protect the telescopes. In order for the telescopes to work properly, there must be a minimum of radio interference. Any electronic device that could get picked up by the telescopes is restricted. Cell phones are permitted inside some of the area, but as you get particularly close to the telescopes, they can't be used either. Some exceptions are permitted, but those trend towards the public-safety end of the spectrum, such as weather radios and first responders.

What the zone also does is provide an unintentional refuge for people who believe they suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). The mere existence of EHS is disputed- some people think that some radio frequencies can make you sick; the general scientific community think those people are simply convincing themselves that they do and display and/or develop symptoms in sympathy to it. But whether or not it's a real thing, the end result is the same: those people move to Green Bank to get away from the radio waves and complain very very loudly about any offending device anyone brings near them.

Broadcast TV is generally awful inside the area, so you pretty much need cable and satellite. That way you'll have something to watch besides Person Of Interest.

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