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Nov 27 2012

Scary, scary radio waves

When I started cob-logging here a couple months ago I made a stray reference to conflicts I’ve experienced in having been a skeptically oriented person in the environmental activist sphere. A few of you suggested you’d like to hear more about that. I found an example today, one of probably several hundred of this particular phenomenon I’ve seen in the last 20 years or so.

This morning (local time) Las Vegas Review Journal reporter Jennifer Robison had the dubious privilege of covering a hearing held by the Public Utilities Commission of Nevada (PUCN) regarding allowing customers to opt out of having smart meters in their homes and businesses. Smart meters, which are intended to allow finer-grained monitoring of energy use, are controversial in part because they have a reputation of being cheaply built fire hazards installed in a hurry by insufficiently trained utility employees. Some of that reputation may well be deserved. A few fires have been linked to the things, and I’ve seen some electricians complain about improper installation to increased fire hazard.

I don’t really blame people for being upset about that sort of thing, even if the statistical incidence of smart meter fires turns out to be as low as the utilities say it is. I mean, fire’s a real thing. People die from fires every day and they’re frightening.

But that’s not the criticism of the things that gets the air play. Especially among the environmentally concerned folks in Northern California, where the smart meter resistance originated, the main fear that seems to be driving opposition is that some smart meters which communicate with their utilities wirelessly  are bathing us all in deadly electromagnetic radiation.

Never mind that the effect of RF energy of that kind on biological organisms is essentially nil. Smart meters with RF transmitters generally use the 902 MHz and 2.4 GHz bands at powers of less than a watt, and generally only in a few short bursts a day. Other common household items emit frequencies in the same bands, which have been specifically set aside for their use. Like your WiFi setup. And your cordless phone. and your garage door opener, and your Blueteeth. Those appliances routinely expose you to orders of magnitude more RF radiation than a smart meter, in part because you generally don’t spend hours a day with your smart meter pushed up against the side of your head. And at RF levels weaker than those requires to cook you from the inside out like a microwave oven would, the World Health Organization makes the case against RF health effects about as unequivocally as a body like the WHO ever gets:

Human and animal studies examining brain wave patterns, cognition and behaviour after exposure to RF fields, such as those generated by mobile phones, have not identified adverse effects. RF exposures used in these studies were about 1000 times higher than those associated with general public exposure from base stations or wireless networks. No consistent evidence of altered sleep or cardiovascular function has been reported.

They continue:

From all evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short- or long-term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF signals produced by base stations. Since wireless networks produce generally lower RF signals than base stations, no adverse health effects are expected from exposure to them.

Despite the lack of science behind health fears (other than those involving burns and smoke inhalation), utilities in the US are so beset by opposition to smart meters that they’re starting to back off on their “upgrade all the things” policy, offering concerned customers the option of keeping their old analog meters, usually at a cost significant enough to act as a deterrent. That’s what PUCN did today: they decided to let people opt out of their smart meters for a one-time fee around $90 and a monthly charge of a few bucks.

In the meantime the meeting was a public hearing, and so PUCN had to hear the public. And Jennifer Robison did a bit of live-tweeting of the public comment:

and

and

and

This one was my favorite:

I wrote about the fires issue for KCET a few weeks back, and got a few tinfoil-bedecked responses. Fewer than I thought I might, actually. The opposition to smart meters doesn’t map precisely to environmental activists: there’s a healthy Tea Party contingent represented there too, just as there is in the “chemtrails” scare, which similarly depends on people being unfamiliar with the basic laws of the universe. But Northern California is where I’ve spent most of my life, and up there the EMF-phobes map to enviros about 90% of the time, and it just makes me tired.

On the other hand, my chest actually is 10% bigger than when I started. So there’s that.

76 comments

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  1. 1
    Glen Davidson

    You only wrote that because the RF transmitters programmed you to do it.

    Oh, they’re clever…

    Glen Davidson

  2. 2
    geocatherder

    Lifting weights, are we?

  3. 3
    wondering

    Here is BC too! BC Hydro has been getting stiff resistance from a vocal minority as they install the Smart Meters. And not one peep about the fire problem; it’s always the electromagnetic radiation giving them cancer. Generally, the complain about it while attached at the ear to a cell phone, heating their lunch in a microwave, or while surfing on a wireless network. There’s no talking them out of it either. My office is across the road from the local BC Hydro office, so I get to see the lone picketer who shows up on his days off. Sometimes there are people handing out flyers in supermarket parking lots about the grave dangers of smart meters. And they are always apparently upper middle class people with expensive clothing and cars.

    I bet they’re anti-vaxxers too.

  4. 4
    iknklast

    I teach environmental science to college freshmen, and it amazes me how negative many people are about skepticism. I have to unteach a lot of things students have learned in their high school, and in their other classes, such as English, because after all, anyboy can properly teach the environment. This is not seen, at least in my school, as real science. It’s all about recycling and the Age of Aquarius, which, since I live in a red state, makes me very suspect.

    I hear all about electrical lines, cell phones, and fluoride. Plus more.

  5. 5
    Inaji

    Holy shit. People can be astonishingly stupid.

  6. 6
    screechymonkey

    Ratepayer wants to know if this is a “Stalinist show trial.”

    I’m no expert on Soviet history, but isn’t the whole point of doing a show trial that you pretend it’s a real trial? How did this brave soul think this would go down?

    Idiot: “Is this a show trial?”
    Even Bigger Idiot: “Why, yes. Yes, it is. How clever of you to notice.”
    [person sitting next to EBI leans over and whispers in his ear]
    EBI: “Uh, what I mean to say is, no, no it’s totally not a show trial!”
    Idiot: “Too late! I’ve caught you!”

  7. 7
    shouldbeworking

    I teach high school physics and I’ve seen teachers complain about the EM waves. They invariably ask me if I read the research, and I respond with, “yes, and I actually understand it, how about you?”. Usually at this point they walk away muttering about bloody arrogant science types.

  8. 8
    ck

    Out here, they’re opposed to WiFi in schools. Seriously dumb. You absorb more RF radiation from a few moments in the sun than any of these transmitters are capable of. I think people just see the “radiation” thing and since they never really learned or retained any knowledge about the nature of radiation, they assume it’s all the same as charged particle radiation you get from radioactive decay.

  9. 9
    Ysanne

    Smart meter [...] made her chest grow 10% in less than a week

    A-ha, now they’ve spilled the beans: The opposition against smart meters is just whipped up by cosmetic surgeons who’re afraid that smart meters will push them out of their jobs.

  10. 10
    Inaji

    Smart meter [...] made her chest grow 10% in less than a week

    Y’know, if someone made a ‘complaint’ that a Smart Meter made his penis grow 10% in less than a week, there would be a huge upsurge in installations.

  11. 11
    Chris Clarke

    My chest has grown 10% and my phone is so hot. Chat with me in the Pharyngula MEMBERS SECTION!

  12. 12
    Aaron

    Fun fact, although not directly related to the concerns in this story, it is actually possible to determine some really interesting things with smart meters (I have a friend who works for a company running a pilot program in the Paris area). Among other things, it’s actually possible to determine what movie or television show you’re watching, given the power profile of a TV over a period of time and information about the model of TV. There are real privacy concerns with smart meters, but not on the level of “ZOMG GET THOSE NAZIS OUT OF MY HOUSE”, or at least, any more than Google and its free access to all the information we give it on a daily basis.

  13. 13
    Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden

    Yeah, awilson.

    When I read the part about marketing sleep aids, I didn’t think nut ball. I thought, “someone who has at least a glimmer of understanding of capitalism, privacy, and the cash value of information.”

    But even if that example doesn’t prove Chris’ point, plenty of other comments do.

    Serious, serious freaking out over electromagnetic radiation without the remotest inkling that *visible light* is electromagnetic radiation. While I agree that high energy photons can cause physiological consequences, that isn’t the same as “all photons are dangerous”.

    True wignuts.

  14. 14
    ronsullivan

    Tell me abut the chemtrails, George.

  15. 15
    julial

    At this very moment the walls of my house are bathing me in electromagnetic radiation.
    But I’m fixing them.
    I’m radiating right back at them. And at a higher frequency too!

  16. 16
    erikthebassist

    As a cable guy in San Diego County when they started rolling out the smart meters, I can attest to the damage done by the boneheaded installers from SDG&E. I saw cable drops melted halfway back to the pole / pedestal because they reversed the polarity and sent voltage through the house ground, numerous times. They destroyed so much Cox equipment it’s not funny. Everything from voice ports and modems to cable boxes and TV’s got fried.

    And they never warned people they were coming to do it either, so they could you know, maybe unplug their expensive electronics first, because that would make sense.

    None of this of course is meant to refute the main point of the OP, which is that environmental whackaloon conspiracy theorists abound.

  17. 17
    ck

    All of this is reason four billionty about why science education is important (and obviously currently lacking).

  18. 18
    briane

    What does cob logging entail exactly!

  19. 19
    Dalillama, Schmott Guy

    The only complaints I’ve ever heard about smart meters in the past are of the Teabagger “OMG NEW WORLD ORDER!” type, but I’m not surprised that the anti wifi assholes are making trouble about it too. Like ckitching @#8, we have a jackass suing our local school system because of the evil, evil wifi, and there’s also a whole neighborhood movement in the (white, liberal, upscale)neighborhood where I work to prevent a cell tower being installed because of the hideous danger of radio waves.

  20. 20
    erikthebassist

    What does cob logging entail exactly!

    maybe it’s just the Beavis and Butthead side of me but cob logging gets funnier every time I read it.

  21. 21
    marypoppins

    BC Hydro has just finished installing smart meters in my city. Down the street is a relatively new business with a sign on his meters saying not to install smart meters. He doesn’t seem to realize that they installed the smart meters when he hooked up to the lines over a year ago.

    Mary P

  22. 22
    feralboy12

    The Rosicrucians are using the smart meters to beam high-speed neo-impressionist paintings into my head. This makes it difficult to concentrate, as you may well imagine. And it will only get worse.
    So I’ve decided the only solution is a pre-emptive lobotomy. But they say I have to bring back the ashtrays I stole first.
    P.S. I am not a crank

  23. 23
    Nerd of Redhead, Dances OM Trolls

    Ah, smart meters. When I upgrade the electrical next summer, it will be installed per state law. And the wifi means that the electrical company can read the meter from the street, rather than needing to come to the back of the house. Win-win.

  24. 24
    Atticus Dogsbody

    I was cob logging last night and got a cramp in my triceps.

  25. 25
    Dutchgirl

    Cob logging; verb. To meticulously catalog each ear of corn during harvest, especially organically farmed corn.

    Hope that helps.

  26. 26
    Chris Clarke

    It’s like cow orking, except with a b log instead of a w orkplace.

  27. 27
    erikthebassist

    I was cob logging last night and got a cramp in my triceps.

    Cob Logging Weekly says that having a partner significantly reduces the chances of muscle injury.

  28. 28
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    We have smart meters here and I never heard of anyone protesting about them, but I believe some local school boards have banned wi-fi due to parental ignorance.

  29. 29
    Atticus Dogsbody

    Be wary of Cob Logging Weekly, it is a Murdoch publication.

  30. 30
    Ace of Sevens

    Up until about a year ago, I worked 3rd shift customer service for a utility that was installing these. I have stories. My favorite was the guy who claimed that the FCC license didn’t give us the right to have the meter broadcasting all the time and he wanted it turned off at night because last year it gave him bladder cancer and now it’s causing thermal heating. Also, he claimed the WHO said they were dangerous. When i told him it’s a low power broadcast and negligible to all the cell phone, TV and radio transmissions in his town, he told me there are EM-radiation-free zones in France and they wouldn’t do that if it wasn’t dangerous. I thought that France is not nearly big enough for any part to be out of range of all radio stations, but decided arguing this wouldn’t help. I convinced him to call back during the day.

  31. 31
    a3kr0n

    Just legalize the growing of pot for personal use and this problem will go away, and everybody will be happy happy happy!

  32. 32
    Suido

    Smart meters were getting introduced in Victoria, Aus, which led to massive increases in electricity bills according to Ordinary Citizens and Tabloid Journalism.

    Haven’t heard of radiation problems here, just people who don’t understand their electricity bill and the energy requirements of temperature control devices, ably supported by keen Investigative Journalism that will Shock You.

    On the other hand, some electricity providers are looking into the idea of being able to switch off certain appliances (eg your fridge) for 5 minutes during peak usage times. This is, of course, just a Machiavellian-Orwellian plot by Corporations and Government to encroach on our privacy. Obviously their reasons for doing so (massively reducing electricity costs by reducing the difference between baseload and peak demands) are lies and marketing double speak.

    Hrumph. Now, where can I get an insulated version of my tin-foil hat?

  33. 33
    iknklast

    I think people just see the “radiation” thing and since they never really learned or retained any knowledge about the nature of radiation, they assume it’s all the same as charged particle radiation you get from radioactive decay

    Another one I was just talking about yesterday was the use of radiation to protect harvested food from pests. I tell them there is no reason for this to reduce the nutrient quality of the food, and that it won’t give them cancer. On tomorrow’s test, I’m almost certain to get at least half the class answering the exact opposite. They hear “radiation” and they think cancer.

  34. 34
    erikthebassist

    Be wary of Cob Logging Weekly, it is a Murdoch publication.

    I would also advise against accidentally perusing a copy of Cow Orking Weekly, a Larry Flint publication. Some things can never be unseen.

  35. 35
    Holms

    I still have no idea how people can think the radio band of EM radiation can possibly be harmful. They are electromagnetic radiation, which I’ll grant contains the buzzword ‘radiation’. However visible light – which people can probably agree is not intrinsically harmful – is also a form of EMR. More to the point, it is an emission that is orders of magnitude more energetic than radio. If visible light is harmless, why would a less energetic emission be deadly?

    Granted not many are in a position where such knowledge is required, but it is so damn accessible.

  36. 36
    Lofty

    There’s one anti EMF nutter commenting on the proposal by the city council of Adelaide, Australia to have free WiFi over much of the city. Most of the rest of the comments are the usual morons but strangely not at all bothered about all that RADIATION!!!11!!

    AVV Posted at 7:45 AM Today

    A George Negus news story spells out the dangers of Wi Fi. http://tv.naturalnews.com/v.asp?v=333296E5C141BD476C58CB5AD5751FAD The impact of long-term exposure promises to have a downside similar to the consequences of tobacco use. In the interest of public health please do not expose people to even more EMFs. A lot of illnesses are now being attributed to exposure levels of radiation from WiFi. Children are especially vulnerable to this exposure as they are still developing. Remember what happened at the ABC Building in NSW – Cancer case clusters should serve as a warning, regardless of who disagrees with the growing body of evidence.

    Comment 34 of 97

    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/high-speed-internet-plans-for-public-areas/comments-e6frea83-1226525253897

  37. 37
    Brain Hertz

    ike your WiFi setup. And your cordless phone. and your garage door opener, and your Blueteeth.

    …and don’t forget your microwave oven. Microwave ovens also operate in the 2.4GHz band, and despite all of the shielding still emit a signal in about the same power range as a WiFi access point and somewhat higher than a typical Bluetooth device.

    WiFi and Bluetooth devices, incidentally, are specifically designed to deal with interference from microwave ovens (I was part of a team that actually characterized the output from a number of microwaves in the lab, many years ago, for the purposes of determining what the impacts would be on a WiFi device in a specific scenario, so that we could design around it).

  38. 38
    dorght

    A little off the RF topic, but when I lived in Wichita the power company had a program to install a smart thermostat in your home for free. They then could control the thermostat by pager so it would turn on the A/C less frequently on high demand days. Sounded like a good conservation measure. It appeared, however, that it was a profit maximizing measure. The only time the thermostat was controlled was on unusually hot days in the spring and early summer, or during extreme heat days. All days that I assume they would have had to buy electricity off the grid at a much higher price then generating it themselves. Any day they could generate enough locally to meet peak demand they let the airconditioners run as much as they liked.

  39. 39
    erikthebassist

    @brain hertz, can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on trouble calls for intermittent wireless connectivity and it ended up being the microwave, or a cordless phone. Interestingly those RF signals can also ingress to your CATV system if it’s not tight and cause problems with your TV and cable internet connection.

    Fun stuff.

  40. 40
    Holms

    A George Negus news story spells out the dangers of Wi Fi. [link]

    I like the way the ‘George Negus’ story linked to makes no mention of his name and appears not to have been authored by him. Could it be that they used the name of one of Australia’s best known journalists to boost the credibility of the article? That would be, I don’t know, intellectually dishonest!

  41. 41
    Susannah

    They recently installed SmartMeters in our neighbourhood. I met several groups of agitated people at the mailboxes, all with dire predictions about that dangerous radiation. On more than one occasion, I tried to explain why that was not a concern; the response was usually blank stares, and then a return to the hand-wringing.

    I lost patience. When I was stopped by a neighbour at my doorstep, to tell me, theatrically, “We’re all going to die!” I laughed out loud. Now my neighbour isn’t speaking to me.

    About time.

  42. 42
    JohnnieCanuck

    You haven’t lived until you’ve been on a hilltop or high-rise site with a few FM and TV transmitters pumping out tens of kilowatts each and tried to troubleshoot an interfering source getting into one of many co-located VHF two-way receivers.

    Each and every metal to metal connection on the guy wires, the towers, the buildings, the equipment racks, and yes even the ground cables is capable of becoming a metal to metal oxide connection. That is to say, a diode. Diodes with multiple RF currents flowing through them will mix the frequencies to generate new signals that are sums and differences of the originals and their harmonic multiples.

    Now play find the diode(s). Oh, and it’s only when your transmitter is on that the fire/police/ambulance receiver goes down. And, it’s their site.

  43. 43
    madscientist

    Oh, is *that* why I’m growing breasts? Here I was thinking it’s just old age and reduced elasticity of the skin … dang smart meters. I wonder if smart meters are considered a form of artificial intelligence – they certainly seem smarter than some humans – at the very least they don’t say stupid things.

  44. 44
    Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop!

    Holms @35:
    I find it amusing that when I was young, I learned about the deadly (in sufficient concentrations) EMR from a *comic book* . It wasn’t a great big lesson, but enough to grasp (as a teen) that visible light and radio waves aren’t going to harm us. If I could learn that from a comic book (The Avengers to be exact; in a story written by Roger Stern published in the 1980s, btw), what is the excuse for people today not knowing?

  45. 45
    ronsullivan

    OOOhhh! OOOOOh! Radiation!

    (frantic handwaving)

    Your granite countertops!

    Here in NoCal, we’ve had a few days of tule fog. (Pronounced “toolee fog.” ) It’s an inland sorta fog, as opposed to the oceanic gray walls o’ doom that roll in practically on a schedule; it’s produced by just-so sun on just-so water bodies in just-so temperatures and background humidity, and it’s what causes those horrendous multiple-car pileups in the Central Valley. Because it’s a solar byproduct, it’s also called “radiation fog.”

    You want to scare the tinfoil hat off someone, use that term.

  46. 46
    lochaber

    I’ve got my concerns with the smartmeters, but not about the radiation aspects. Granted, I’m not great with physics and what not, but I’ve got a basic grasp of some of the stuff, and I’ve spent enough time arguing/explaining to coworkers and acquaintances about the EMF spectrum, and how the stuff that gives you cancer is on the other end then the stuff used in phones/microwaves/RFIDs, etc.

    I am concerned about privacy issues, especially when combined with things like the patriot act and what not. It would be quite easy to establish a baseline pattern for a given domicile, and know when someone first arrives (sudden spike due to lights, etc.), when they get dinner (refrigerator kicks in, microwave goes on, etc.).

    Plus, I think one of the real reasons is to justify charging individuals more for energy (maybe following the business plan where off-peak hours cost less, but using our current rates as the off-peak (instead of the average)).

    I’ve got real issues trusting any corporation that claims to be doing something in the name of ‘efficiency’ when they fought so hard against grid-home solar inter-ties and similar green proposals.

  47. 47
    Dr Marcus Hill Ph.D. (arguing from his own authority)

    These people not only don’t understand science, they don’t understand the even lower standards of evidence of harm that would be required for a company in a highly litigious society to stop doing something for economic reasons.

  48. 48
    Dunc

    The fundamental problem here is that we’ve reached the point where people have so little understanding of the technology they’re surrounded by that they regard it as magic.

    The classic example for me is the whole “orbs / rods” thing in photographs – you know, how people think that the flash artefacts from raindrops or dust are actually “spirits”? The only way that you could believe that it’s possible to photograph spirits without actually being able to see them yourself is if you think photography is magic.

    On the other hand, perhaps we could leverage this whole EM paranoia thing to convince the nutters that talk radio is giving them cancer?

  49. 49
    erikthebassist

    Lochaber, smart meters might make it possible to drive down to a given domicile for those stats but don’t think for a moment that utility companies didn’t already have a pretty good idea of when people came home and cooked dinner. Peak hours were already established, a long time ago.

    The only thing you’d have to worry about is some government agency taking a personal interest in you. You’re either engaged in activity that would make this inconvenient for you or you are not, but the same would have been true 50 years ago. The only thing that’s changed is the method of surveillance, and thus the the methods of counter surveillance for those inclined to bother must be updated as well.

    50 Years ago it was a pair of binoculars on a hill, countering that would involve shades, mirrors, the cover of night. Today it’s electronically monitoring your electricity usage, which can be countered with generators, going off the grid etc…

    If you wouldn’t have been concerned with such things 50 years ago, you have no more reason to be concerned about them today.

    What smart meters do is is eliminate the cost of door to door meter readers, and allow them to hyper analyze your bill and assign premium charges to excessive usage, which I don’t count as a bad thing.

  50. 50
    sueboland

    Huh. This is not an issue here in the Third World. What we have is prepaid boxes. You buy electricity on a charge card and input the number on the slip given to you when you buy power at the local store.These boxes are ubiquitous and installed by the Municipality when you move in for free.This has saved them a ton of money on unpaid power bills and collection.

  51. 51
    lochaber

    erikthebassist>

    I get that there are other ways to monitor someone’s behaviors and habits. One of the major reasons I object to this (as well as things like GPS bugging vehicles and using cellphone tower triangulation, etc.) is not that it allows the government (or some other agency) access to info that they previously had no access to, but that it establishes a record of that info, that can be collected at a later date, with little trouble/expense.

    I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the government’s ‘right’ to put out a person (or group of people) to personally track an individual’s movements and actions by actually following and observing them in person. I think it’s altogether different to set up infrastructure where the same data is collected and stored, to be easily harvested at a whim later on.

    It’s far from a guarantee of privacy, but if the government has to invest in people-hours and expenses to monitor someone in anticipation of some illegal act, it’s a lot more expensive and resource intensive then it is for them to just sort through the energy and cell records of someone they find inconvenient/annoying.

    I realize that this may seem a bit tin-foil-hattish or paranoid, but considering the restrictions of civil liberties that were ushered in under the ‘war on drugs’ and the ‘war on terror’, I think there is sufficient reason to be concerned.

    And, yeah, power companies could tell trends on communities, but prior to smart meters, they couldn’t really tell what any one individual was doing at any given time date. If you have access to someones real-time energy use, it’s quite plausible to detect when certain appliances are being used.

    And you aren’t seriously trotting out that old ‘If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide’ counter to privacy/4th amendment concerns, are you?

  52. 52
    erikthebassist

    And you aren’t seriously trotting out that old ‘If you aren’t doing anything wrong, you don’t have anything to hide’ counter to privacy/4th amendment concerns, are you?

    No, I was quite careful to avoid that actually. I believe in 4th amendment rights, but unless you can show me specific instances where the advent of technology has led to violation of those rights, and the subsequent ignoring of those rights by a court of law, I’m going to stick with the tinfoil hat theory.

  53. 53
    lochaber

    ericthebassist>

    I don’t know the details off the top of my head, but there was a recent case where cops (FBI maybe? i dunno…) stuck a GPS locator on somebodie’s car. It went to court, and their defense was basically ‘it’s legal for us to tail this guy, but we didn’t and this has the same end result’

    I think the decision came down something along the lines of: If they would have physically tailed him, that would have been legit, but using a GPS device wasn’t acceptable.

    Anyways, I still hold that a lot of information about an individual (which is quite different from a demographic, as you suggested above with peak hours, etc.) can be determined from monitoring energy usage. I also believe that privacy should be held in higher legal regard then it is/has been. And the use of technologies in this manner are infringing on privacy rights in ways that were not entirely anticipated when the U.S. constitution was written.

    If it’s merely to avoid having meter checkers go on property, there are workarounds for that that don’t have the potential for privacy violation.
    sueboland just gave an example of a rather simple solution that’s already in place.

    Apologies if I’m a not making too much sense, I’m a bit tired and about to pass out. I’ll check in tomorrow and try and clarify, etc.

  54. 54
    Nick Gotts

    The other side of the privacy concerns Crip Dyke rightly raises is that smart meters have a lot of research potential; ex-colleagues of mine hope to use them to build very detailed understanding of how domestic households use energy, as a basis for finding ways to save it.

    What does cob logging entail exactly! – briane

    A cob is “a small horse, usually of a stout build, with strong bones, large joints, and steady disposition” (wikipedia), and you know what logging is. So Chris is cutting timber, and using a horse to haul it away. Simple, no?

  55. 55
    erikthebassist

    Lochaber,

    You aren’t making much sense since you point to a case where the courts struck down an unreasonable use of technology. The courts are and always have been the final arbiter of what is deemed legal search and seizure, and regardless of what new technology comes about, we have to rely on them and the constitution to protect our rights.

    The same argument could have been made about the POTS system 120 years ago, well, in fact, it was, and it wasn’t rational then either.

    Beyond persecution in a court of law, your privacy concerns seem nebulous. Your are a tiny blip in a massive data set. Outside of criminal investigation and prosecution, which is covered by existing case law that strongly supports your 4th amendment rights, you’re worrying about becoming a more identifiable demographic and nothing more.

    I’ll observe your tired disclaimer and leave it at that for now. I’ll sub the thread because I’m interested in where you go with this.

  56. 56
    erikthebassist

    Nick I have to ask, what is it about companies who want to sell you something having the information to present you with a product you’re more likely to buy that creates this negative reaction? Personally, I’d be happy to only be pitched the stuff I might actually be interested in rather than be pummeled by crap I could care less about.

  57. 57
    erikthebassist

    referring more to Crip’s comment that you referenced than your’s, tbh.

  58. 58
    erikthebassist

    Among other things, it’s actually possible to determine what movie or television show you’re watching, given the power profile of a TV over a period of time and information about the model of TV.

    So the meter would have to be capable of monitoring each circuit in the house individually*, then tease out the data of just the TV from among the other appliances (better hope there’s only one TV on that circuit), which would require not only massive amounts of data collection but data processing as well.

    Not impossible, but incredibly expensive and not worth the effort imho, I call BS on this.

    *they can’t btw, it’s still three prongs. The only thing smart meters actually add to the existing system is wireless reporting at this point.

  59. 59
    Ysanne

    iknklast #33:
    A friend of mine had exactly these concerns: If you irradiate a tomato to keep fresh for longer, it will start emitting gamma-rays! He didn’t accept or even bother to try and understand when he was explained how radiation or radioactivity works, but there was an argument that convinced him right away:
    Assume radiation worked the way he thinks — this would imply that if you X-ray someone’s broken leg, that leg would start emitting X-rays. Doctors, being the greedy and cunning people we all know them to be, would have figured this out ages ago, so they would save lots of money on their power bill by using one patient’s generated radiation to do the imaging on the next, and only fire up their X-ray machine for the first patient of the day. We all know this is not what happens when you’re at the doctor’s office. Therefore the assumption is wrong.

    On the other hand, I loved it when a women’s magazine first had an article about the horrible effects of EMR, and just a few pages further, in an article about honey, praised the method of irradiation (to kill off Clostridium) as much more “gentle” than “nutrient-destroying” heating or “dangerous” antibiotics.

  60. 60
    chadwickjones

    Reminds me of a recent episode of the Office…

  61. 61
    flex

    Some of the network topologies for smart meters are pretty interesting.

    I don’t know if they are all like this, but many models are distributed networks which collect and forward the information from many smart meters to a cell tower. That is, a neighborhood will be covered in smart meters and each meter will send out a small packet of information a few times a day (continuous monitoring doesn’t mean continuous collection so real-time tracking of people’s habits is unlikely).

    The meters next door will capture this packet and re-transmit. With the packet moving through the neighborhood until a cell tower picks up the packet and sends a received message back. Then everyone shuts up. What this means is that while your meter may only transmit your data once or twice a day, it may transmit a number of packets from other meters.

    I don’t know how the meters identify themselves in the packets. I presume that they simply have something like an identification number rather than transmitting the address of the house, that seems like an obvious way to prevent someone from casually intercepting the packets.

    When an outage is reported, the entire network can be pinged and all the meters which don’t respond can be seen being as without power. There is also a function built into the meter where if the power is failing it will send out a ‘I’m losing power’ message to help pin-point outages. There have been problems when an entire neighborhood loses power and hundreds of ‘I’m Dying!’ message flood the system, but it’s better than nothing.

    From an EM radiation standpoint there is no hazard. And since the meters only transmit collected information a couple times a day, tracking a persons movements in real-time isn’t going to happen. (although I expect to see it on CSI sometime, if they haven’t already used it.)

    In regards to information on electricity usage being sold to other companies for analysis, electricity companies have had information on individual usage habits for a hundred years and I’m unaware of them selling this information previously. The information gathered from smart meters will be more valuable, simply because of the granularity, so the temptation will be greater. I’m not saying we should trust them, but let’s not accuse them of something they haven’t yet done. And putting in some safeguards now may be reasonable.

    There is a real, and often unmentioned, benefit to smart meters in the privacy and security arena. We will no longer have meter readers (or people claiming to be meter readers) visiting houses. If people are concerned that a smart meter could tell if they are home or not (again, not in real time), they should be relieved that the electric company will not be sending strangers to read their meters and know, at that moment, whether someone is home.

    There is another aspect to smart meters which should be drawn to people’s attention. They are far more accurate. This is both good and bad. The old analog meters are accurate within about 30% (at 3-sigma for you statisticians out there). The new smart meters are accurate within less than 1%. Which means that when your old meter is replaced, you may find the reading for your usage to go up, or down, by as much as 30%. Think about it for a moment. Your usage probably hasn’t changed, but your old meter was inaccurate. If your metered amount drops, then for many years the utility was measuring your usage as higher than it was, and charging you for more electricity than you used. You have no recourse, but it could have been happening.

    Conversely, if your old analog meter was reading low for the last ten years, your new smart meter will show increased usage. It isn’t the smart meters fault, it’s that your old analog meter was inaccurate and you were paying less for electricity for many years. I doubt that the utility will try to collect.

    Finally, probably the biggest concern I see with smart meters is the next step. Smart meters will enable dynamic pricing models. This means that electricity will cost different amounts at different times during the day. Using electricity at peak hours may cost 50% to 200% more than during off-peak hours. The justification to the state government agencies which regulate electricity utilities is to reduce usage during peak hours. My fear is that since electricity is usually only a small part of an individuals budget, while people will complain about it, an additional $20 per month to someone’s bill will not change behavior but simply go into increasing the utilities profit margin.

    Call me an old-fashioned progressive, but helping someone pile up money doesn’t really help society. If you want to grow an economy, money (like fertilizer on a garden) needs to be spread about.

  62. 62
    Ibis3, Let's burn some bridges

    @flex

    We have such a dynamic pricing system here. I don’t know if we’re typical, but it actually has changed our behaviour. We tend to do laundry, baking and the like on off-peak times. (Our power generation is owned by the province, so if they *are* making extra, that is hopefully going to pay down the debt for building the infrastructure.)

  63. 63
    Tabun

    I remember a few years ago, someone showing me a dodgy looking advert for a product which claimed that electromagnetic radiation could damage your skin, and that the product it was promoting could protect your skin from said radiation. I explained that since UV light is a type of EM radiation, it was technically true, but there are much cheaper products available for protecting skin from UV damage than whatever snake oil the ad was promoting. Fortunately, the person who showed me the advert didn’t believe its claims about EM radiation themself, but was just after an explanation.

    Also, now that I’ve taken a course on safely working with radioactive material, I find such paranoia and crankery regarding radiation even more annoying than before.

  64. 64
    broboxley OT

    smart meters are fine if wrapped in enough tinfoil
    the smart meters in Atlanta for water quite often billed 2 person families thousands of dollars a month for water usage, and since the meters were smart they must be accurate was the take of the Water Utility. Finally an audit took place and about 25% of the meters were installed backwards, wrong, broken and misplaced antennae. It’s not the radiation that causes harm.

  65. 65
    unclefrogy

    the Fire hazard would be a real worrying concern.
    I understand that the utilities want to reduce costs and increase revenues really .

    The additional data generated will be used with other additional data already generated elsewhere by others. I’m not sure what to think about that or what I feel about it either.
    With the ubiquitous use of computers fine grained data was never so easy to generate nor compile. I think we are highly unlikely to see that trend decrease any time soon.

    ???

    uncle frogy

  66. 66
    Azkyroth Drinked the Grammar Too :)

    Conversely, if your old analog meter was reading low for the last ten years, your new smart meter will show increased usage. It isn’t the smart meters fault, it’s that your old analog meter was inaccurate and you were paying less for electricity for many years. I doubt that the utility will try to collect.

    Building in some safeguards might be reasonable, as you said.

  67. 67
    Crissa

    Yeah, there was a big protest of them where I live as well. Mostly it was about the RF waves, which, to be fair, are coming from an uncontrolled transmitter placed somewhere along your house, perhaps not where you want a transmitter. They also are allowed a higher transmitting wattage than celphones.

    And while the danger is hard to determine – it’s small, but non-zero – it’s hard to say they’re completely safe. Old-style radar guns were responsible for a rash of testicular and other lap-area cancer in police officers in the 80s, for instance, because the power of the first hand-held units was high and they didn’t turn off when you set them down, so officers often left them in their lap between uses. But that was eight hours a day for tens of years. These broadcast a few minutes a day, if that, and no one should be sitting on them – they should be on an exterior wall.

    Mostly I just say if you don’t want the transmitter there, you wouldn’t want the transformer or all the breakers there, either, since they all put off em radiation. But most people just shrug and let the screamers scream. Eventually the utility allowed a portion to opt out.

  68. 68
    Crissa

    WiFi and Bluetooth devices, incidentally, are specifically designed to deal with interference from microwave ovens (I was part of a team that actually characterized the output from a number of microwaves in the lab, many years ago, for the purposes of determining what the impacts would be on a WiFi device in a specific scenario, so that we could design around it).

    So I have you to blame when my bluetooth headset and streaming audio over my wi-fi cuts out when the microwave is on?

  69. 69
    positivevorticityadvection

    What I’ve never understood is why many people seem to be skeptical of the wrong things.

    Some worry about EMR but not about the fire hazard or possible privacy issues.

    Some believe the government is engaged in massive consipiracy theories about UFOs, 9/11, whatever but swallow hook line and sinker any justification for war and meekly accept restrictions on their civil rights.

    Some believe the pharmaceutical industry is conspiring to make us sick so that we have to take more meds (and vaccines!) but they readily buy any and all unproven and unregulated supplements, homeopathic remedies, magnets (EMR!) to cure arthritis, etc.

    Some believe that chemtrails are some kind of government conspiracy to poison us but reject that cigarette smoke is dangerous or that humans are affecting the climate.

    Why?

  70. 70
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    This is exactly why humanity died off several times: After the introduction of home wiring, electric lighting, electric heating, radio, television, the internet, etc. The invention of the sun was the worst. And don’t get me started on the Earth’s magnetic field.

    Do you know that death from radio communication and the introduction of radar in WWII exceeds all other deaths from combat, the bombing of civilian populations, disease, and starvation? True story!

  71. 71
    naturalcynic

    C’mon, there’s quite a few plastic surgeons in Las Vegas that can enlarge your chest more than 10% in only a couple of hours. So, what’s your beef??

  72. 72
    d.f.manno

    I suspect that many of those opposed are driven by the fear that the meters are smarter than they are.

  73. 73
    ursamajor

    Reminds me of reading about some high voltage transmission line protest of many years back. Protesters would walk under the lines waving florescent tube lights. Ooh – they glow, lookie, you are being subjected to invisible energies.
    Rather than this demo of electromagnetism filling me with fear, it got me wondering if I could run some cable just outside of the power company easement and gets me some free electricity.

    Oh, when my smart meter was installed all it took was the power company employee pulling out the old unit and plugging in the new. Took just a few hours to switch out the whole neighborhood and no wires melted.

  74. 74
    puppygod

    @67 Crissa

    And while the danger is hard to determine – it’s small, but non-zero – it’s hard to say they’re completely safe.

    No. It’s not hard to determine at all and it IS esentially zero (unless you are playing that “you can’t prove negative” semantics game). They are safe. We’re using all kinds of wireless for decades, and all the epidemic data show there’s no effects on health. There’s no hypothethical mechanism of action, and energies involved both on particle level (not enough to ionize anything) and macro level (negligible heating) are way too low. Heck, they are below background RF levels.

    Your example is totally apples to oranges – radar guns emit much stronger, focused beam and are not supposed to be aimed at your unmentionable for hours. It’s like you said that because twenty years ago somebody got eye cancer after staring for hours at the laser pointer we can’t say that fridge lights are completly safe. They are emitting the same kind of radiation, after all.

  75. 75
    dornierpfeil

    “Another ratepayer worries NV Energy will see she’s awake at night and sell her information to drug companies that peddle sleep aids.”

    Piggy-backing on the other comments about privacy, this is very likely(though probably not in exactly the form described) considering the corporate orgy of seeking ways to monetize data. Just today’s Wall Street Journal had a piece about medical devices producing data that the companies are are trying to figure out how to sell.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203937004578078820874744076.html

    “At the same time, companies including Medtronic are pushing to turn the data into money. Ms. Hoff said the company is contemplating selling the data to health systems or insurers that could use it to predict diseases and possibly lower their costs.”

    Not that the stated goals are ignoble, assuming of course the stated goals are not merely pretense, but this effort has moved beyond merely being a trend anymore.

  76. 76
    Therrin

    I saw cable drops melted halfway back to the pole / pedestal because they reversed the polarity and sent voltage through the house ground

    Those neutron flows will getcha every time.

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