Now how is communicating with my wife like using an air traffic control radar? For one, I had a career with the FAA for three and a half decades, concentrated on the installation, optimization, and repair of air traffic control radars and computers, and I’ve been married for 35 years. A couple days ago I was having a conversation with a friend and mentioned some recent issues in my marriage. He said, “Yeah, I don’t understand why wives think we have radar or something to read their minds.” Yesterday, another friend confirmed he has the same problem with his wife. The radar comment prompted some thoughts, that I hope to present in such a manner they will be interesting and useful, even if you are not a radar engineer.
There are two basic types of radar used to track airplanes. The first is called primary radar and sends a pulse of energy out, which is reflected off the airplane, and the reflected energy returns to the radar. Because the transmitted energy has to travel both to and from the airplane, and the amount of energy reflected is small, the power used is very high. This translates to expensive equipment and maintenance. My communication with my wife is kind of like that. When its not really shared, and only one end is active, it seems like a lot more energy goes into the effort.
Another problem with primary radar is that the transmitted energy reflects off of many other things – flocks of birds, rain clouds, trees, mountains, sometimes even cars and trucks. These returns are called “clutter” because they are undesired and interfere with seeing the airplanes. Well, once again, clutter is a problem with my communication with my wife as well. There is the clutter we usually think of with that word, as in my piles of books and papers. But there is the clutter that is received when someone does not truly listen, or when statements are made in anger and do not truly represent the real issue or even current feelings. There can be so many distractions and clutter in my attempts to communicate with my wife.
In primary radar an improvement was developed to reduce the clutter and make the airplanes more visible. It is called MTI (Moving Target Indicator). It is based on the fact that the reflected energy tends to have a constant phase if the target reflecting the energy is stationary, but the phase changes if the target is moving. The same thing happens with my communication with my wife. If one or both of us is stationary, if our stubbornness prompts us to stand our ground and plant roots, or if we are just stuck in a rut of habit, the communication tends towards undesired clutter, and neither the real issue or solution can be seen. We have to keep moving forward, keep working on the marriage or we get overwhelmed with clutter.
The other kind of radar is called secondary radar. With this kind, the radar sends an interrogation to a transponder on the airplane. The transponder sends a reply back to the radar. The advantages are that the energy from the radar and from the transponder only have to travel the one way distance, so much less energy is required. Also, only transponders answer the interrogation so there is no clutter from rain or mountains. The aircraft transponder is also able to transmit back a unique code assigned to a specific airplane, as well as the altitude of the airplane. This too is similar to my communication with my wife. The transmitting and receiving of our communication has to be two-way. It has to be specifically addressed, and the replies have to contain useful information for tracking the marriage, like what altitude we are each flying at, and why.
With both kinds of radar, the speed that the antenna rotates is based on the maximum detection range of the radar. That is, to be able to see airplanes at a greater distance, you have to allow more time for the energy to get to the airplane and return to the radar and therefore rotate the antenna slower. The same thing happens with my communication with my wife. The more distance between us, the more we have withdrawn from each other, the more we let any anger, resentment, or bitterness to fester, the slower our antennas rotate and the less effective is our communication.
On the one hand you might say that both primary and secondary radars are two-way, because energy travels from the radar to the airplane and from the airplane to the radar for both. But primary radar is passive and only receives back some of what it sends out. Secondary radar is active, with both ends listening, both ends talking, and valuable information contained within the messages. That’s what I want in my marriage.