What Frequency Do We Need?

(The Silence of Ancient Light, continued)


“It’s not a Fourier transform! Or, not a straight-up one, anyway. I think we’re looking at a Hartley modulator circuit, and if I apply the Hilbert variant on the Fourier… Damn, no one has used that for years, does this app even have that function?”

“A Hartley modulator what?”

“I should have known when I saw the phase-shifted single-sideband signal with its own inverse! It’s a technique for radio broadcasting that was popular a couple-hundred years ago, and for a while it was popular with early digital signal processors, but those processors became obsolete a long time ago, somewhere around the turn of the millennium. We learned about this in…”

Anna trailed off as she madly tapped and swiped at options on the tablet. Laxmi looked at Jaci.

“Do you have any idea what she just said?”

“Nope, but I like her enthusiasm. I say we let her run with it and see what happens. I mean, we’re all probably gonna die anyway, right?”


Radio Frequency

(2,683 words; 10 min 43 sec reading time)


Would you know how to quickly hack into a WiFi network if your life depended upon it? What about if the WiFi signal not only didn’t use any encryption algorithm you’d ever heard of, but it was broadcast on a wholly different frequency band, using an unknown method of encoding digital data into a radio signal, and even if you can decode the signal, it’s based upon a language never spoken or written on Earth?

In other words, you’ve detected an alien radio network, but you cannot understand the nature of the information it is broadcasting, and yet you have about half an hour to figure out how to connect your handheld tablet computer to it and use it to send a signal. If you don’t manage this impossible task, you and your friends are all going to die.

No pressure, in other words.

The good news is that radio technology is ultimately based upon mathematics, and while the terminology and symbols may be different, the fundamental rules still apply. The aliens might not call it single sideband (SSB), but doubtless they too figured out this more efficient method of transmitting information over great distances with less power and bandwidth consumption. And while Fourier, Hilbert, and Hartley were all pioneers of mathematics and radio signal processing on Earth, the mathematical discoveries they made are likely to have been independently made by alien mathematicians and engineers as well.

It’s still probably a stretch to decode and tap into the signal in just half an hour, I admit. However, when the alternative is being blasted into the vacuum of space, there is quite the motivation!

Yes, I know, I greatly oversimplified things in this scene, and I threw a lot of technical terms around and probably badly mangled how all this works, but I hope you will forgive me and enjoy it regardless. Please give it a read and let me know what you think!

header image credit: user:WikiImages / pixabay.com via Pixabay License

2 thoughts on “What Frequency Do We Need?

  1. Linda Phelps

    Thanks for assuring me I am not stupid because I don’t understand most of what you said, but I think I got the jest of it….that mathematics are a universal and comprehendible language; that we shouldn’t disregard all of our history of invention as historical applications of discovery may be the answer (old tech vs new); and there is a need for mathematicians because our lives may depend on them and their work. In essence, your life , knowledge and gifts, MATT may be way more valuable than you even know….You are thinking and encouraging thinking outside the box. Thank you;

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Linda, rest assured, you are most definitely not stupid. Indeed, just because I can throw out technical terms like I know what I’m talking about does not, in fact, mean I know what I’m talking about! I just want things to be reasonably plausible, but more importantly, I want the story to be fun. I hope you had fun reading it, although I do know that science fiction is not your preferred genre.


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