Letter to the Editor – Oakley Rankin

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Letter on EMI

Having just returned from five weeks in Quebec I am going through mail piled up during my absence in which there are half dozen copies of the Grapevine.  In the issue of May 23rd I ran across a letter from Leif LeBaron questioning a technical matter in my article (May 16th) addressing Will Thomas’ earlier screed (May 2nd) in which Will advised everyone to have CityWest disable all household WiFi and rely only on direct cable connections for your devices.  LeBaron took issue with this sentence I wrote: “This at the very time most of us are using portable devices which cannot be cabled.”

LeBaron quite rightly took me to task for suggesting that portable devices cannot be cabled.  Of course they can and my definite ‘cannot be cabled’ is quite rightly interpreted as an untrue claim so I plead guilty to failing clarity on what I actually meant.  The operative word in the sentence for me was ‘portable’ so I should have worded it something like this: 

“Manufacturers are building and consumers are purchasing portable tablets and phones in droves and these portable devices are not meant to be continuously attached by a cable.  They are designed and used to be portable; no one wishes to trail a cable behind them; they just want to pull the device out of their pocket wherever they are and begin to use it.  Thus these devices, which currently far outsell desktop and laptop computers, depend on either WiFi or cellular radiation for portability along with whatever EMI such broadcasters emit.”

LeBaron mentions several methods of cabling devices “all in a compact case with a short cable”.  Anyone with grandchildren knows that the last thing they want is a ‘short cable’ connecting their phone or tablet to a modem.  Manufacturers know this as well which is why the most common way of cabling a device to a modem, an ethernet cable, has no ‘port’ built in to any of the millions of phones and tablet sold.  These products are not meant to turn the consumer into a detail techie who knows all about ‘dongles’ and various ports; they are meant to be portable right out of the package and that is exactly what people want and how they use them.  My point was not the very narrow technical one that LeBaron addressed; it was a cultural one of the widespread acceptance of portable devices that do not have to be cabled.  Having just spent five months in a household of five—who all work from home—with four desktop computers, about five laptops, two wireless printers, five or six phones and a few tablets I can attest anecdotally that only the  desktops were cabled; the rest were used with WiFi and those using them would be outraged at the suggestion that they connect these devices with a cable to the single WiFi box in the basement or the secondary router.  I am not a fan of portable computers and I cable nearly all my home devices but my partner does like her tablet and would not want me to start drilling holes through the floor to install a 40 foot cable connecting to the downstairs modem.  But in my article I did fail clarity on this point, as so many writers do when they attempt to second guess the reader’s cultural knowledge.  So, as we all should, I will strive to avoid ambiguity in any future articles.

As for his interpretation of my attitude as ‘conflating EMI with psychosomatic illness and ‘bogus diagnoses’’, I did not use the word psychosomatic anywhere in my article and I did not write of ‘bogus diagnoses’; that phrase was part of a web address to which I referred, it was not a contention of mine.  To paraphrase LeBaron, ‘In contradiction to claims of massive health risks from EMI, a large body of evidence exists, there to be seen, by those who choose to look.

Oakley Rankin

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