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    Thursday, January 15, 2009

    Reuters - Cloaking device may make cell phone static vanish

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    Cloaking device may make cell phone static vanish

    Thursday, Jan 15, 2009 7:34PM UTC

    By Julie Steenhuysen

    CHICAGO (Reuters) - A new light-bending material has brought scientists one step closer to creating a cloaking device that could hide objects from sight.

    Beyond possible military applications, it also might have a very practical use by making mobile communications clearer, they said on Thursday.

    "Cloaking technology could be used to make obstacles that impede communications signals 'disappear,'" said David Smith of Duke University in North Carolina, who worked on the study published in the journal Science.

    Smith was part of the same research team that in 2006 proved such a device was possible.

    He said the new material is easier to make and has a far greater bandwidth. It is made from a so-called metamaterial -- an engineered, exotic substance with properties not seen in nature.

    Metamaterials can be used to form a variety of "cloaking" structures that can bend electromagnetic waves such as light around an object, making it appear invisible.

    In this case, the material is made from more than 10,000 individual pieces of fiberglass material arranged in parallel rows on a circuit board.

    The team, which included Ruopeng Liu of Duke University and T.J. Cui of Southeast University in Nanjing, China, in lab experiments aimed microwaves through the new cloaking material at a bump on a flat mirror surface. That prevented the microwave beams from being scattered and made the surface appear flat.

    Smith said the goal was not to make something visible disappear. Cloaking, he said, can occur anywhere on the electromagnetic spectrum.

    "Humans 'see' using visible light, which has wavelengths just under a micron (a millionth of a meter). But cell phones and other wireless devices 'see' using light that has a wavelength on the order of many centimeters," Smith said in an e-mail.

    He said objects can block the "view" of these devices, making mobile phone communications more difficult.

    "You might have two or more antennas trying to 'see' or receive signals, one being blocked by the other," he said. "You could imagine adding cloaks that would make one antenna invisible to the next, so that they no longer interfered."

    Smith said the notion of a device that makes objects invisible to people is still a distant concept, but not impossible.

    "This latest structure does show clearly there is a potential for cloaking -- in the science fiction sense -- to become science fact at some point," he said.

    While the study's funders included Raytheon Missile Systems and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, Smith said the technology is not intended to replace "stealth" technology.

    "Just about all technologies that have any application, naturally have potential in military applications," he said.

    "If this has an impact on communications applications, even commercial, those same applications presumably exist in defense contexts."

    (Editing by Maggie Fox and Vicki Allen)

    Reuters - Shortwave radio still packs an audible thrill

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    Shortwave radio still packs an audible thrill

    Wednesday, Jan 14, 2009 8:29PM UTC

    By Robert MacMillan

    NEW YORK (Reuters) - Somewhere on a lonely mountaintop on a starry night, or maybe in an apartment on a bustling city block, someone is channeling the whole world onto a mobile device. It's not a phone; it's a shortwave radio.

    A staple form of broadcasting in many parts of the world since the 1920s and 1930s -- shortwave in North America has been mostly a hobby for decades.

    Now that the Internet is a fixture in many homes in the United States and Canada, there are few practical reasons to buy a shortwave radio. Thousands of stations that once were available only on the shortwave band are online.

    Shortwave also is distinctly old fashioned, cast against the shadow of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, which was held in Las Vegas earlier this month. The mother of gargantuan gadget fests featured shortwave radio makers, but the action these days revolves around digital audio devices.

    The contrast is stark: iPods and satellite radios are slim and pocket-sized, while shortwaves are throwbacks, typically as square as a textbook and just as serious looking.

    So why bother with shortwave?

    It's easy and cheap -- and fun. You can hear and learn things that you would never find even if you work your search engine like a mule. From Swaziland to Paris to Havana, shortwave broadcasters can surprise an adventurous listener more than any MP3 playlist.

    "You tune carefully, twist the radio from side to side, and there's still a bit of a 'Hey, I made this happen!' sort of thing," said Harold Cones, retired chairman of the biology and chemistry department at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.

    It's also magic. Shortwave radio enthusiasts acknowledge the thrill -- the romance, in a way -- of going out at night and snaring news, music, odd bleeps, religious zealots and other broadcasts from the wild sea of frequencies in the sky.

    In aural terms, the Internet wins. Shortwave by nature sounds dirty: Its signals whoosh from clouds of static and are subject to the whims of sunspots and atmospheric disturbances.

    But when you hear voices over the noise and squeal, and realize you are hearing Mongolia, live, there is a warmth and a human connection that are hard to find on the Web.

    Shortwave also can deliver news faster than you might find it online, and in places where your other devices don't work, said Ian McFarland, a former host and writer at Radio Canada International.

    "It's more portable than a computer, especially if you ... don't have a laptop and you don't happen to have a hot spot on your favorite beach," he said. Batteries also keep them going a long time when the power goes out.

    On a serious note, shortwave stations often resist many government attempts to jam them.

    "Shortwave is unfettered by intermediaries so it's pretty much always there," said Lawrence Magne, publisher of the Passport to World Band Radio (


    You can find shortwave radios at a variety of Web retail and auction shops like Amazon, Universal Radio, The Shortwave Store, Grove Enterprises or even National Public Radio.

    Bob Grove, at Grove Enterprises in Brasstown, North Carolina, also offers a handy beginner's guide (

    You could drop thousands of dollars on a radio, but units such as the Eton E100 ( generally range from $50 to $250. A perfectly serviceable radio sells for as little as $30, but more expensive models are better at pulling in fainter signals.

    Listening is best an hour before and after sunrise and sunset -- and away from urban areas -- because of atmospheric conditions and because many broadcasters in distant lands are gearing up their broadcasts.

    Try searching for distant shortwave signals, identify the station, write to them and get a "QSL Card," the broadcaster's acknowledgment that you made contact.

    For die hards, listening to shortwave can make hours go by in a dream. For others, its an acquired taste -- Bob Grove said his wife is "partially tolerant."

    "I've had radio equipment in my car in the past, and I have learned not to turn it all on when we were going on a date somewhere."

    (To find a partial English-language list of what's on shortwave, try RadioShack ( or C.Crane (

    (Reporting by Robert MacMillan; editing by Richard Chang)

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