Coping: Chasing (AM Radio) Electrical Noise

imageI haven’t done this for a while, but it is one of those things that should be on your list of things to do periodically around the house, particularly if you are extremely sensitive to radio frequency noise.

“Yeah, yeah…sounds like engineering crap to me…”

Maybe because it is.  But it doesn’t make it unimportant. 

Granted, if you listen to FM radio and streaming only, chasing down AM radio noise is a time sink.  But, with winter coming, there’s a certain magic in being able to tune the dial and mentally transport yourself to a different city. 

Up in Seattle, as a young whippersnapper, I listen to Ira Blue on KGO – first of the talk radio greats. 

I can categorically state that I sleep better when two conditions are met in my surroundings.

First, I like to sleep grounded.  We have been enjoying our “earthing half sheet” for months now and consider it a worthwhile experiment.

Secondly, I don’t do well when there is electrical noise around.  For someone who has spent half his life around AM and FM radio stations, that might seem paradoxical.

But there are radio signals (which are not terribly disturbing to my energy) and there are audio signals superimposed on those carriers.

That ain’t noise.

No sir, what I’m talking about is the broadband hash that comes of line-frequency switched mode power supplies.  This are simply god-awful things to hear.

The Test Tool

I have a cheap AM/FM radio of the sort you can get for $20-bucks. I keep it next to the bed and when I wake up in the middle of the night (see Brain on Fire) and can’t get back to sleep, I will tune around the AM radio band and unless there is a big geomagnetic disturbance, either Ground Zero or Coast to Coast AM will be coming in from WOAI down in San Antonio.

I haven’t been listening much to the radio lately because I have been so damn busy.  Flight plans, travel plans, reservations, cruise, writing, novel, finishing up projects around the house – there’s a daily list that never gets down.  You know how that rolls.

But the other morning, I happened to wake up and there went the brain…not on fire yet, but definitely smoldering.

The quickest way to zone out, I figured would be a dose of AM radio.  So I turned on the radio and @#$%T^&*BZZZZTTTTT!!!   Static. 

From one end of the AM  dial to the other…static.  Horrible whining generator noise broadband power supply noise.  I have a pretty good ear for signal strength and in most positions, the noise on the little radio would have been 40 to 60 over S-9 on a real communications receiver…

….except…  There was one position where if I held the radio absolutely steady and not letting it move more than an eighth of an inch, the static would be off to the side of the built-in AM ferrite bar antenna (which is very directional) and I could hear the station.

Hell of it was that each time I was about to snooze out, my hand would move, thus the radio and I’d get another earful of @#$%T^&*BZZZZTTTTT!!!   Static.

Knowing the only tool I would need would be this AM radio, tuned between stations around 700 on the dial, I swore that before the day was out, I would find the source of this damn electrical  PITA and solve it once and for good.

The first thing I did was wander around the house.  AM radio on.  Seemed like the noise was louder in the bathrooms and the kitchen, but couldn’t be sure.

OK, step two then:  I killed all the power to the house.

Whoosh…….just nice normal atmospheric noise.  Please.

Next:  Turn the big stuff back on: 

Stove, hot water heat, dryer.  Blissful Whoosh….as quiet radio bands are supposed to sound.

One by one the breakers went on…until finally, next to last breaker on the right side of the panel was flipped on.  Care to guess?

@#$%T^&*BZZZZTTTTT!!!   Static.

OK…now all I needed to do was wander around the house and find that circuit and begin to manually unplug things.

There, in the kitchen, I found my culprit.

Our Foodsaver!.  What the hell?

So I grabbed an AC line filter and threw it on thinking that ought to cure the problem.


Actually made the noise worse.

The simple remedial action was to unplug the Foodsaver.  There was something else about this outlet that was interesting:  Even plugging in the lame $15 Wal-Mart toaster increased the noise level a  bit.

Damn odd, curious, and confounding. 

Now I have another project on the list:  Dig out my outlet checker and find out what’s going on with that outlet.  Is the ground off it? Are the hot and cold wires reversed on the plug?  Or, WTF is going on with it?

That’s as far as I got on it…there are more pressing items.  But sure as hell, this was a strange one and while I love my Foodsaver, the idea of this outlet being noisy leads to all kinds of other suppositions.

Might a GFI protector be in the process of failing and somehow that’s figuring into how things on this circuit are working?  Is the neutral and ground touching?

Or, is the Foodsaver power supply in this particular unit really noisy (electronically) for reasons that aren’t clear to me, except there would have to be a solid-state switch to turn the sealing element on and maybe that somehow is connected to the AC line?

Hell of a fine adventure.

By the way, when you find a problem (like this one) where you can narrow down the source of noise (which went completely away when the Foodsaver was unplugged) you can use the noise source to “calibrate the null” on your AM portable radio.

This is a true story:  When I was young I learned that with a cheap AM radio like this, and a $5-compass, that you could steal a boat in any harbor in the world and go anywhere you want with nothing more than an AM radio and some stations that identify themselves often.

By daylight, it’s more useful to follow jet contrails, but you get the idea there, right?

If you’re not tracking yet, go watch this video about how Ira Blue on KGO brought fishermen home through the notorious fogs off the Golden Gate:

Have fun…I sure did, and it was a dandy 15-minute break from not getting the rest of the stuff on my list done on Wednesday.

I have been chasing noise sources this way for more than half a century.  Most common culprits are fluorescent light fixtures, silicon-controller rectifier based dimmers (SCRs) and Triacs plus switched mode power supplies.

In the event of a real serious EMP type event, the good news is that the AM radio band should be exceptionally clear of manmade noise like this.  The only downside is you may die in the ensuing violence.  But the DX’ing (distance listening)_ should be superb.

4:40 AM Update:  The wall outlet checks correct and properly grounded.  Noisy power supply conclusion.

For now the toaster and the Foodsaver are both unplugged when not in use – and we have quiet AM radio for Mr. Ure’s scattered moments in the waking state.

My quality of sleep improved, although it’s hard to attribute it entirely to the decline in background electrical noise.  Still, knowing that what makes us human is at least partially electro-chemical in nature, I figure it can’t hurt.

And it’s a good “personal science” project to carry out around your home and especially the rooms where you spend the majority of your time…

The Body Electric II:  Trading Violence

There was an alert from the Solar Influences Data Analysis Center in Belgium this morning:

Severe geomagnetic storm in progress (Kp reaching 7) as a result of the fast speed solar wind stream from a coronal hole arriving to Earth, with speeds over 800 km/s. This situation is expected to continue the next 48 h.

When this happens, we occasionally (or more than that, actually) see changes in market trends and the way in which people trade stocks. 

Now (and of particular interest to our subscribers) we will see if the resonance of market behavior in 2011 shows up in a big way between now and the Friday close.  The resonance with past cycles work says to expect it and now the electromagnetics of it are falling into place.

In my library, Robert Becker’s The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life in only one shelf away from Kirkpatrick’s The Body Electric: Electromagnetism And The Foundation Of Life.

I don’t suppose you’d care to guess why that is?

Bring Two Clicks Monday

I’ve mentioned that UrbanSurvival has a terribly loyal (and smart) audience.

But at the same time, I like to keep the site formatted so that we get credit for what’s due us in the way of “passenger counts.”

As you will notice, each day when the site is updated, the single home-page approach yields somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 words in all.

By current “best practices” on the Internet, that’s too much.  The site will be faster and better-indexed by the major search engines if the change is made to have 100-word summaries of each day’s content – and 15-20 such summaries on the page.

It will mean a click to read the rest of an article, and once done with that,  clicking on “previous article” in order to read a whole day’s worth of content.

Still, that’s what’s coming Monday…so bring an extra click along and try not to be terribly inconvenienced by it.

Around the Ranch: Recycle & Repurpose

We are finally buckling down while the weather is warm enough for paint to dry and getting our long-delayed front deck reconfiguration done.  So this morning, it’s off to pick up lumber and Elaine is putting a coat of post paint on the portions of the deck that seemed to be susceptible to dry rot,  although it took nearly 8-years to show up.

Ure’s truly has been shopping again, too.  Needed a couple of items for the shop to make life easier.  One of the more interesting tools is a needle scaler.

If you haven’t used one before, it’s a lot like an air chisel, except instead of having a chisel tip, there is a device with a dozen, or more, metal “needles”.

Reason for getting it?  I have an old wood lathe that I picked up years and years back from a neighbor who has since passed away.  It has been sitting on a counter in the shop, taking up space and not getting anything useful accomplished.

One of this winter’s projects will be to take it completely apart and bring it back to “like new” condition.  Since there is paint that’s chipping and a lot of rust in spots, the needle scaler is the right tool.

It will also be used for welding projects.

There are lots of us out in Home Handy Bastard land who love to build things out of rebar (steel reinforcing rod).  It comes in a variety of sizes (1/4, 1/2, and 5/8ths are usually in stock here) and it’s easy to work.

The one drawback to metal working in the hot/humid South is that it’s not something you do a lot of in the summertime.  And, when you go pulling rebar to work in the fall/winter, if it has been around for any length of time, it will have some rust on it.

Ergo, the needle scaler.

Oh, sure, you can  use an electric grinder to clean up areas to be welded,, but honestly, when I’m doing close work, the grinding wheel is one more item to run power for and it tends to remove more material than would be desired.  A 4 1/2-inch grinder also sucks when comes to knocking off welding spatter, too.

You could get most of the same effect if you collected wire brushes and got after surface rust that way, but I’m more a power tool fan and the needle scaler isn’t that expensive.

I decided to go with the moderately-priced $60 Sunex SX246 Piston Grip Needle Scaler rather than one of the $150 units.  No doubt, a $500 Ingersol tool would play better over the next 20-30 years, but realistically, how much rust removal am  I planning on?

The rest of the lathe project will involve (besides disassembly and refinishing) a rebar base and it might be a roll-around.  The finish used will be POR-15 and you san sample how that works with a $20 Starter kit.  Available from Amazon as the POR-15 45009 Gloss Black Super Starter Kit.

I might work on the used long-bed jointer as a test case.  Over the summer the “patina” on the iron work bed has become a little on the red side, if you know what I mean.   Pictures next week if I tackle that one first.

I’ve been  a serious DIY’er in the North and the South for a dozen year plus each.  In terms of being an ideal place to work, the Mason-Dixon line may be it.  Up in Washington, you need to plan shop heat so your fingers still work for four or five months out of the year.  Yet down here in the South while you don’t need a stove most of the time, there’s the humidity and working in a sweat box is no fun, either. 

Down here, I have looked at building up a big dehumidifier, but again, that’s money that could be spent on materials and projects.  Air conditioning would be the “bees knees” but even a 220 wall mounted unit isn‘t going to put a dent in a 40 by 28 shop that doesn’t have insulation in either ceilings or sidewalls.

It gets to a point where there are just some items that I’d love to repair or recycle that just aren’t worth it.  And besides, that’s gives me an excuse to surf and the tool slut department of Amazon.

Believe me when I tell you, impact drill therapy is one of the best stress relievers out there.

Write when you break-even.  And no home handy-bastard project worthwhile is done without bloodshed.


16 thoughts on “Coping: Chasing (AM Radio) Electrical Noise”

  1. Caravan to Midnight on WOAI? I just checked their website and he isnt on the schedule. Do they have another site?

  2. I am so glad you published your AM noise piece. I’ve been vexed by the same problem. It’s worse at the street side of my suburban house. I suspected the pedestrian-controlled traffic light installed a few years ago about 100 ft east. But, now I will commence my unplugging. Step 1: the surge suppressor.

  3. 1) I had the same problem with my Foodsaver about 3-4 years ago when they started putting blue LEDs in the standard model. AM radio usage and vacuum food preservation technology probably have a higher-than-random co-incidence, so I’m surprised it hasn’t been noticed and addressed yet.

    2) If you’re counting on compulsory heterosexuality to crowd-out the moslem horde to prevent terrorism then you need to rethink your brand’s strategy.

  4. I’ve noticed the same interference with my Foodsaver. Slight buzz/disruption of AM radio while it is just plugged in, but then when you are actually vac/sealing a bag it becomes extremely static, highest interference I’ve ever heard. Same thing happens when I’m wearing my portable with headphones and walk past the jumper/charger that is plugged in and charging or if I put my smartphone in the same pocket with my radio. Amazing how much there is all around us.

  5. If for some reason, your new novel does not bring in a million bucks for a thousand issues at $1,000 a piece then that you might consider, John Reese who made a million dollars in one day by selling a $1,000 program I bought when I have one it’s very exceptional and you have that ability to do that also so his thing was to sell a program that would make you lots of money and it works I know I tried it out on the internet and how it works but you have the ability to do things in that nature also like he he had A or I should say an audience of many like you do and when your get your s*** together excuse my French you will be able to do likewise you have the ability and the knowledge all you have to do is formulated create a package using third world countries for your slave labor and voila what you’re selling could make people money and that’s what he did John Reese when you advance to that type of thinking instead of novels then yes you can become a millionaire in one day when I know you have the ability to do that Mr George

  6. Noise wise, my little Kaito 200 works great for that. Computer stuff is noisy as hell, including the cable modem.

    As for the World Mafia, they still control both sides I believe. And the US looks suspiciously like Germany in the last WW, meaning total destruction. We shall see.

  7. www3 and you people are whining about a FOODSAVERS and FM radios !!????? sure tests your credibility, you old fart. mindless distraction drivel while the world is crashing, l guess.trash this now….wouldn’t want anyone disagreeing with king George…

    • After spending the last nearly half century being prepared for the end of the world, or crash of civilization as we know it…constant preparedness gets really tiresome.

      In the meantime, while waiting for TEOTWAWKI, maintaining my health for the survival of such carnage, I realized that the disturbing output from various electrical devices was potentially deleterious to my health.

      Knowing that I could use AM radios to find the culprits, and electronic signals passing through overhead power lines, was relevant, since carrying around a cordless phone (which can do the same to a degree) when I was away from home was ridiculous.

      TEOTWAWKI could be a good thing — maybe kind of like ‘The Golden Wave’ as the Sumatra tsunami came to be called after the fact.

  8. I’ve personally always been a fan of LONG, simple web pages that can load once, and I’m not clicking through again after a couple of seconds worth of reading. In particular, I like to scroll up and down as necessary rather than reloading things. I also like the idea of reading the site without being forced to use javascript, since that’s off by default, and I get too many hangs on my overloaded system with it enabled.

    That said, I’d have you do whatever is best for yourself and the site, and I do appreciate the price point. I would suggest that you have the second click bring us to the entire article rather than just the remainder of the article. It’s good to have the day’s words all together.

  9. If you build a big humidifier, build it with stainless steel coils and you can use the condensation as drinking water. Your humidity down there should supply you with a good amount.

  10. George, in my life history, I pulled off a 22-year corporate stint. I started up working for a sawmill/lumber/laminated beam plant–Bohemia became Willamette Industries became Weyerhaeuser–as graveyard clean-up. I left as Water Maintenance, responsible for all potable, fire, waste water, and steam heating systems for the laminated beam plant, plus a few others that they dumped on me for good measure.

    Steam heat was used 24/7 to keep the lumber dry and at a good temperature, the humidity down, and huge steam heater blowers to make sure the freshly cured laminated beams cured quickly and properly.

    Before it entered our plant, the steam was reduced down to about 90 PSI from 250 PSI, as I recall which in an uninsulated, building still created a wonderful Mojave like environment in the summer/fall months.

    The building was about 1/4 mile long and 150 wide roughly. It had the typical arched roof. Along it’s peak, aluminum sprinkler pipe was secured with Rainbird sprinklers–just like you see in the farmers fields.

    When we turned those on, as needed, it would almost instantly drop the temperature 10 degrees or more. There are mist systems designed for just such purposes. I provided my experience to let you know that your shop could be more comfy for summer jobs if you felt it worth the effort.

  11. George-A handy tool I just got is a FLIR camera for my iPhone. The one we looked at on my last job cost $65,000 and required a huuge industrial case to hold it all. This one Was about $100, attaches to the iPhone, and provides reasonably good thermal imaging. You can take and send photos, videos, time lapse videos, etc. I’ve caught electrical overheating problems with it, and it looks like the heat loss/gain from windows, doors, leaky roofs, etc., will be very interesting come winter in the mountains. They have a selection of them at the App store with better resolution for the iPhone 6 for a little more money. Once you discover what viewing infrared radiation looks like you’ll be amazed.

  12. I Have static in sterio due to a M-1rifle gifted to me by USA, along with hearing loss due to too many loud explosions, The military did not concern itself about the Cannon fodder it had in the 1950s.

  13. Nothing better than a quiet night listening to Art Bell.
    Just recently ran across Ground Zero. I love his intro piece with the phone ringing. “Look behind you.” and “Spaceman told me.” First time I listened to it my wife started to get all freaky and went into another room. I turned the volume up.

  14. George, my wife who’s birthday is two days after yours has the same thing.
    Brain rolls into overdrive and stays there well into the night.
    Maybe its a Piscean thing ………
    Some fish , like einstein ,Linus Pauling, Copernicus and Alexander Graham Bell were inventor/scientists who revolutionized the world.

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