Monthly Archives: April 2007

Protecting your Dallas 1-wire network

I’ve written before about the various interesting applications for the Dallas 1-wire network such as HVAC control, access control, weather stations, etc. A few weeks ago I finally got around to ordering some 1-wire sensors to play with myself. I must say that I’ve had nothing but a good time with them. I’m currently running outdoor temperature and rainfall logging which you can see for yourself as the data is uploaded to a number of servers including Weather Underground and the National Weather Service (through the Citizen Weather Observer Program). In future postings I hope to discuss a bit more about how simple this was to get going and show off my own weather homepage (still in development).

For now I wanted to share the design for a 1-wire surge suppressor. As it turns out some people have had a problem, specifically with 1-wire weather equipment, with lightning inducting large currents into their 1-wire network and damaging the sensors and/or serial adapter. To combat this problem Philip Gladstone has posted some easy to build protection circuits for both 1-wire devices and the serial port adapter. While I haven’t built them myself yet I hope to have some time to do so before storm season gets into full swing.

Thoughts on the Virginia Tech tragedy

I have a fe thoughts on the tragedy that occurred yesterday at Virginia Tech that might provide interesting points for discussion. As our understanding of the situation continues to unfold there will undoubtedly be more calls on the administration at VT to provide answers. For example, there are already a great number of media outlets wondering about the use of email as a notification mechanism as well as the decision to hold of notifying students and canceling classes. Some of the criticisms will be fair and deserve to be heard but many are just the media pandering to those who have little connection to the education system and minimal understanding of the situations faced by school administrators and faculty. Here I will lay out a few of the questions being asked and provide information about why or why not they may be appropriate criticisms.

First, I remain amazed at how such a great number of people will instantly seize the opportunity to use a tragedy such as this to push an agenda which may not even have much to do with the event at hand. So far today I’ve already heard from anti violence in media and games groups blaming video games and a culture of violence for acts such as this. While it may or may not be true to any variety of degrees it seems rather early to be pushing this agenda with the little we know about the impetus for the attack. These groups would certainly have egg on their face if the assailant turned out to be a Luddite who turned out to avoid all media, this is unlikely by my point stands that it’s simply too early to be saying anything like this. I’ve also heard from both sides of the gun control issue saying that either there are too many guns which enables this kind of attack and conversely that if more people had guns it would have been stopped earlier. While I personally believe the second amendment has it’s uses (particularly in the original intent of overthrowing an oppressive government) and have no significant issues with sport hunting I think it is overused to justify things such as conceal and carry weapons. I do think it’s rather silly, naive and agenda pushing to think that if everyone were carrying a weapon this kind of attack could either be dissuaded to begin with or quickly contained. It’s easy to get facts about gun control but much more difficult to get meaningful contextualized and realistic ones. My own feeling is that a great number of people carrying guns are ill prepared to use them and are likely to make a situation worse rather than better. On the other hand let’s be realistic gun control would not prevent violent crimes such as this, laws are easily ignored and bypassed. What gun control is really about is stopping people from committing crimes of passion, someone who upsets someone who just happens to be carrying an easily accessible gun and decides to use it in the heat of an argument. But enough on that rats nest.

Secondly, I think one of the most difficult things for the VT leadership to deal with, at least from a PR perspective, will be the question of student notification and the delay in the decision to cancel classes. As far as the method of notification goes there has been a lot of talk about the use of email by the media and whether this is appropriate. My response is that it is most likely the only way to reach as many students as possible in a short amount of time. Unlike a K-12 school where students are typically confined to a single or small cluster of buildings college students are widely spread out at any given time and I know of no college or university with a site wide paging or notification system so the only alternatives to email I can think of would be broadcast media (which was most likely already reporting the incident) and driving police cars around using their PA to address students though this is only a realistic way to reach people outdoors and not those in buildings. As for the delay in official notification, there is a legitimate question about why it took so long but it’s not unusual in college scenarios. Most college administrations tend to avoid sharing details about much at all with students or anyone else until their hand is forced. It seems to be an unfortunate culture which has developed because they want to avoid riling up students over the many unpopular decisions they make. Here I do see room for criticizing the administration but it’s unlikely we’ll see wide scale change of this behavior of withholding information from students on a broad scale because it is so deeply ingrained into the administrative structure.

Finally, there is the issue of the delay in canceling classes. This is really a different issue than notification as it could occur before or after notification and independently of any other notification. Again, the decision to hold off canceling classes until quite a while after the first shooting is a legitimate place to criticize the administration and is similarly ingrained within the educational culture. For several reasons, some to do with academic freedom and others to do with logistics and the history of continuing classes through many situations, administrations in general tend to shy away from canceling classes college wide in favor of leaving it to individual instructors many of whom share similar beliefs that the “show must go on”. For example, the University of Minnesota prides itself that it cancels classes university wide on very rare occasions and there was much discussion about a closing this winter for one day due to weather. On a more related note when I was doing my undergraduate in Wisconsin we actually never canceled class on September 11, 2001 and I continued to attend classes all day knowing full well the state of terror found throughout the country that day. Many professors fully expected students to continue to come to class and have regular discussions despite the events of the day. Not until the next day did the University cancel classes as a day of mourning and reflection. This seems to be rather typical in the college and university environment and something that may indeed be changed by this incident.

I would not at all be surprised to hear that VT will be sued by the parents of victims, especially those from the second attack, who feel the university was negligent in not canceling classes and warning students. I would not be surprised if the parents would prevail either. Barring significant evidence from the school that they acted reasonably I think most juries would be inclined to hang them out to dry. Again, I think there is a legitimate complaint that they failed to make decisions that could have prevented a great number of the deaths and I think they will have a hard time convincing people otherwise.