Thursday, May 22, 2014


This posting is to bring more information and to speak against active RFID's (Radio Frequency Identification) within school systems. It's inspiration comes from the plans of my old school district to implement a RFID system.

Types of RFID
    RFID's operate in one of two ways,  passive and active. Passive tags don't do anything for the most part, and are considered mostly inert. However when they receive power from a reader, they reply by emitting a burst of the data in radio waves. This is the method used for tagging pets and is used in credit cards. The reader is moved into vicinity of the tag, and the tag responds with the power generated.  Passives can also have a small battery attached, but still require a reader nearby before they transmit. When current is created by the reader, the tag "wakes up" and uses battery power to transmit the data. 
     The range of all RFID's depend on the size of the tag (that defines how big the antenna can be), how much power is sent into the antenna, what the tag is surrounded or attached to, and the frequency the tag uses. Usually passives have a range of a couple meters, at the time I'm writing this, some are being produced capable of a 15 meter read range. Using a battery with a passive tag increases it's range.

    Active tags have to have a battery. Usually they pulse their data at a given interval. Example, every 45 seconds the tag sends out a signal identifying itself by it's unique number. Active means just that, it is always active and transmitting when it has current, basically as long as the battery/ies have a charge. These also have a much more powerful transmission, and can work up to 500 meters away (over a quarter mile). Transmission range on these can be adjusted by making the tag with a smaller antenna, or by changing the current to the antenna, less power less range. Both of these are considerations made when the tag is produced as physically changing theme after production is more trouble than it's worth. These still require a reader to interpret them, but the signal is constant or pulsed, depending on design. 

Benefits of RFID's in Schools
    In a properly set up system, these can be used to identify a person's location to within a certain area. Obviously, this makes finding people much easier, instead of searching a whole complex you only have an area within the complex to search. It also lets you know who is still in the complex. During a fire or other emergency this can be very useful. A school district that implemented this for a trial basis, used it to determine which camera recordings to view when a special education student didn't arrive at home after school. The only other two instances the district mentions were locating a student for parents to pick up when the child was sick, and locating students in the building after the school had been evacuated for a gas leak. However the students had left their badges behind during the evacuation. 
    Other benefits are more for the school. Assisting in attendance records, which contributes to how much funding the school gets. Of course locating a student for whatever reason is the primary advantage, and the school is responsible for them while at school.

Cons of RFID's in Schools
    They can be used to identify a person's location. Specifics mentioned are from a districts one year trial run which used active RFID's. These ID's pinged data every 45 seconds, operated at 433 MHz, and I could find no specification for the range disclosed by the district.
    In that one year, the pilot school reported 3 cases where this was a benefit. THREE. With a student population of about 3000, 8 students (6 badges were involved in the gas leak) received a claimed benefit. 0.27% of the student body received a potential benefit from the RFID's, according to the school's publicly released information. As only two of these had an actual benefit, that percentage is actually 0.07%. To the students and the parents benefiting, these situations may have been invaluable, especially in the case of the student not arriving at home on the bus, but let's look at the situations without the RFID's. 
    The ill student, was located in the band hall. If the ailment had been something serious, the student would have been in the nurse's office when the parent's arrived. The nurse's office located the student for them. A copy of the student's schedule would have given the same result. In the case of the special education student, it sounds like the school dropped the ball. Students are only allowed to be picked up by authorized persons, and the only benefit the RFID presented was to reduce the cameras recordings that had to be checked. The cameras provided the vital information, not the ID. The ID only limited the search criteria. In the gas leak evacuation, post evacuation roll call would have shown the students as unaccounted for had they remained in the school. However this case shows how, in a school wide emergency the RFID's do have some footing.

    Cost is the next consideration. Software to handle the network side, 70 readers installed (in this school), networking the readers on their own network (CAT6 cabling was used in this case), each RFID, building a student database to match the ID's to particular students. "Approximately $261,000" is reported as the cost for setting up this system in 2 schools. This district boasts over 100 schools, full implementation would cost around 26 million dollars. 
   Literally this system creates an environment where less attention is paid to the overall population. There's a word for this, lazy. The district reports that the system helped in attendance by showing students who were on campus, but not accounted for in manual attendance. This sounds like there are issues that need to be addressed with staff and policy, before implementing a project of this scale. 
    Privacy is a large concern, and it seems the greatest question asked was if these could be used to tell how long a student was in the bathroom. The district emphatically declared "NO!" This may be true for their system, but RFID's themselves could be used to determine a more precise location. If readers are installed so that the ID pings hit enough readers, you can actually triangulate the readers position more precisely. All that takes is math, and a computer is tracking everything. Math is easy for a computer. Triangulation is how your GPS system works, and how earthquake epicenters are determined. All it would take is an upgrade at a later date, and the system was already approved.

Readers in the Wrong Hands
     I admit, this section does contain some fear mongering, but this is reality and has to be considered. Once things become wireless, it becomes much easier to discover things with a little ingenuity. 
    The district repeatedly said the system could not be used outside of school, for this to be true a passive system would have to be employed. The only information I found about this said the battery life of the readers is 2 years, with a ping every 45 seconds. Never was it stated that the RFID's were passive with a battery system, and never was it said they were inoperable outside of school. This causes a real problem. Each device is ALWAYS active. 
    The fear mongering commences. Shooter in the school with a reader. Students hiding in the cabinets, closets, utility room, anywhere not immediately visible? Found ya. Granted a single reader wouldn't be able to give an exact location, but a reader capable of displaying the signal strength of the received signals would allow someone to play a hot and cold game to get closer to someone they may have overlooked. However, I have always and continue to maintain that if a shooter gets into a school, the system has already failed. 

    For the stalker, always active RFID's are a godsend. 433 MHz gives possibility of the largest range, the quarter mile I quoted earlier. Physical barriers can reduce this range, even if the device is designed to transmit that far. Usually stalking requires visual confirmation, and that gives an edge to the person being stalked if they pay attention to their surroundings. With a reader, visual confirmation isn't necessary, and process of elimination can single out a particular student. I'm not saying it is extremely easy, but a serious stalker would put forth the effort to do this. 
    The ID's do transmit some identifying information about the system it is used on, manufacturer, and a unique code for each student that matches no other records. So if a student is in public with the RFID, a stalker who has done their research now has limiting factors to help them hone in on their target. Plus once this person has been associated with this ID, no matter that the ID tells the stalker nothing of value, it's a tracking device. Once the stalker knows the ID#, regardless of if they know the student personally or not, it's just time and a game of  hot and cold to determine the student's routes, hangouts, and even home.

Practical RFID Usage
    RFID's can provide the school with the benefits it seeks without running these insane risks. Passive ID's would accomplish this. Just like the ones in credit cards, some have a very short transmission range. The catch is anything a short range RFID can do for keeping track of students can be done with a bar code or magnetic stripe ID system. The benefit of RF is not requiring a swipe, which can slow movement and create a larger hassle than it solves. This was probably rejected in the mentioned pilot because more readers would be required. One in each doorway, which would probably increase implementation costs. However, passive ID's cost less than active ones, so the cost of the most replaced unit is reduced
    Placing a reader with a 1-2 meter range next to a classroom doorway would track that a student enters or exits class. Readers on all exterior exits would show when a student enters and exits campus. Tracking would be limited to checkpoints which are logged, instead of a real time tracking which the discussed system was built on. In conjunction with cameras this system would be more than adequate. Even if this system does not work seamlessly at that range, students would just have to pass their ID over the reader by hand.
    Making the ID's of the system passive, increases the safety of the users. Stalkers would have to get very close to the ID to track the student, so methods of tracking due to the ID outside of the school would be nearly eliminated. They definitely couldn't tell which house a student lives in without going into the house, or using methods that RFID would in no way affect, such as visual. 
    In all the instances the school cited as benefits of RFID's, a passive system would have done exactly the same. The ill student last passed the reader at the band hall door, the missing student exited this door, the 6 badges that didn't evacuate were last in this classroom. 

    Technology is a wonderful thing, and it makes many more things possible and easier. However, implementing systems without knowledge of the technology or consideration of all possible implications is never responsible behavior.

Measles and Cancer

The media is going overboard coving the measles virus being used to cure, or at least treat, cancer. Well, they should but they don't explain things very well. I thought this could be a useful place for me to speak up and present a very informal education that covers the biology needed to understand what these scientists are doing to these viruses and why.

Genetics and Cancer
   We've all heard of DNA, but it's not often explained what it does. Very simply, one of it's necessary functions is to tell cells how to put molecules together that are necessary for the cell and organism to survive. RNA is used to take a copy of the "instructions" to whatever part of the cell is responsible for production of that molecule. Tumors and cancers usually have an increased replication rate, so those cells divide like bunnies procreate. This takes the space and resources healthy cells need, so healthy cells get starved or bred out. When the cancer stops enough healthy cells from functioning complications occur. When a cancer metastasizes, cancer cells have made it to the bloodstream, and can now start dividing wherever blood goes, namely anywhere. 

  Viruses, Vaccines, and Cells
    Viruses are like little hit-men, not an invading army. Each "hit-man" is called a virion. On a molecular level, cells and other microscopic organisms are like jigsaw puzzle pieces. If the pieces don't match up, they don't merge. Each virus is very specific about what cell it will attach to. For example HIV merges with T-Cells, which are kind of the bodies warning system that something foreign has come to visit, so the virus in essence takes out the "alarm."
    Once these hit-men find their target cell, they "poison them," with DNA or RNA, and become inert. This now makes the cell a slave, the production centers start making more virions. Eventually the cell will die or burst and release all the new hit-men to poison other cells. Viruses are simple,  they "live," inject a cell, "die."
    Vaccines, try to take the inert virions which are really just shells that do nothing anymore. By injecting the dead virions in someone, they won't get the virus. That doesn't mean you won't get sick. Getting sick is the body's response to foreign particles, and when you get inoculated, there are definitely foreign particles. You just don't have the virus spreading its poison and replicating.

Antigens and Antibodies
    Remember how microscopic organisms act like jigsaw puzzles, this is where antigens come in. An antigen is a specific identifier on a microscopic unit. This is why you can't give B blood to anyone who isn't B or AB. Different antigens. It's like B blood cells wear a top hat, and A blood cells wear a cowboy hat. In a person with type B blood, anything not wearing a top hat is foreign and needs to be removed. The hats represent the antigen of the cell or particle. Same thing with viruses, they each wear a different hat. 
    Antibodies are like bouncers, they check hats to make sure it's the appropriate type. If it's not, there's a fight going down. The trick is, if a new hat comes in, it takes time to train a new bouncer to identify it. That's the point of vaccines, to train the bouncers before the wild virus can show up, so it can be taken out quicker.What sucks about cancer cells, is they are from you, so antibodies can't distinguish them. 

Modified Viruses and Treatment
    Remember the inert virions? The plan with modifying viruses, is to have them deliver what WE want to just cancer cells. So now we have hit-men going specifically, or mostly, after the cancer cells with minimum damage to the healthy ones. This could be modified DNA, chemotherapy, literally anything we can fit inside the virion. Like a Trojan Horse, everything says it's a virus until it injects it's payload. Right now the purpose is to kill cancer cells.  As this advances we could possibly "fix" cancer cells and make them healthy again. 
    The difficulty here is every cancer is different as far as jigsaw and antigens. This isn't saying lung cancer being different from liver cancer. Cancer is a random change to a cell, literally it's a mutated cell. So cancer of the same organ from two different people can have nothing in common, and each requiring a different virus.
    Now, those bouncers still won't like this version of the virus. So it's effectiveness will vary depending on the virus, and if the person has been inoculated or infected previously. That would be why an excess amount of virions would be required. Our bodies are actually trying to protect the cancer cells from the virus. The more times it's administered, the better our body gets at stopping it, this is why some vaccines have multiple shots spaced out. 

   The problem with cancer is it came from the person diagnosed. If it mutated to look foreign to the body, it would be killed by the immune system, and it couldn't grow. Current treatments are excission, targeted radiation, or chemotherapy. The only truly targeted method is cutting it out, but if one cell isn't removed, the cancer comes back. Yes ONE cell is all it takes, that's how it started, one cell mutated. Cutting out the cancer also runs the risk of letting a cell escape to another part of the body. 
    This is why radiation and chemotherapy are used so widely. To kill every cell. It's targeted as much as possible, but both kill and damage healthy cells in the process. We have no cure for cancer, and those who never relapse, really got the luck of the draw. One cell survives and cancer comes back, that's why the term remission. We can't see if that one cell is still there to honestly say cured. We cannot operate on a microscopic level, so we need to "train" or make something to do it for us. Virotherapy is just one method being developed to try and take this fight where we cannot go ourselves.

Monday, May 19, 2014


     Greetings, and welcome to my little corner of the internet, I do hope one day, it may not be so little. My name is Dustin, but I frequently go by Dust. The formality of Mr. is lost on me, as I feel it places myself above the person addressing me. If you choose to use it, I will not discourage you. Here is either the really boring or interesting part, my introduction.

My Past
    I am the oldest of 6 children, and a father of 2. My interests vary widely. In Kindergarten I loved dinosaurs and already knew I wanted to be a paleontologist. I was accelerated through Math, and started High School Math 3 grades early. This is also around the time I began fixing toys and building models, which developed an engineering and electrical understanding, which grew into the realm of computers. I took the ACT in 7th grade to travel to Louisiana to take a college summer course in Ecology. My home tinkering expanded to rigging electronics together. I have some hearing loss in one ear so I was making devices to compensate. I attended a magnet High School specialized for careers in the medical field, where I was banned from continuing to use a homemade hearing aid when I upgraded it to stereo.
     5th grade I began reading adult novels, Jurassic Park being the first, I'd been eyeballing it on my dad's bookshelf for quite some time. Michael Crichton will always be my favorite author of all time. In Middle School/Jr High I burned through Michael Crichton, Robin Cook, Stephen King, required readings, and random books that caught my attention. School questioned my choice of reading material (R.Cook's Fever) only when it became the focus of an assignment, and my father wrote a permission slip stating "My son is allowed to read any book he chooses."
     High School expanded on the medical knowledge I gained from my parents, as they were both in the nursing field. Isaac Asimov, Frank Herbert, Orson Scott Card, L. Ron Hubbard, Ken Follet. J. R. R. Tolkein, R.A. Salvatore, Piers Anthony, and many others joined the ranks of appreciated authors, although I still have not completed reading all they have written. Sophomore year, I continued in Honors classes, breezing through the math oriented ones, even having to "teach" part of my Chemistry H class, as the teacher really was just there to get a paycheck. During my Junior year, home life finally took it's toll on my academics, My college level classes in Statistics, Pre-Calculus, and Biology all failed only due to homework issues. Failing English 3 left me with choosing summer school or forgetting my Magnet School.
My Paradox
     My home life required me to fill two roles. As a primary babysitter, I somewhat existed in a band between parent and sibling. I often saw more than one angle when disputes came up between my siblings. This often resulted in me playing negotiator, while not backing down from my brothers as I was the oldest. My parents are both from northern states, but I was entirely raised in Texas. In High school my parents' marriage began falling apart, and I spent more time trying to provide emotional support at home. This is when my academics hit rock bottom. I never doubted my academics and learning ability, but I doubted my family's well being.  
    The greatest issue I had was my father. A man with a great mind and values, until he lost his temper. Through him I learned to fight with words, my mind, to question authority and presented facts so I could differentiate between true data and propaganda. Ironically, it was when I used this knowledge against him, my main authority figure, he would lose his temper and fall into the realm of ruthless dictator. My example of what was right and wrong contradicted his own teachings.

Post School
    Summer between Junior and Senior year, I was presented with the decision of going to summer school or not. This would determine if I would continue at my Magnet School, or attend the designated High School for my area. My father presented a third option, GED out. In a sense wiping my High School record once I started attending college a year earlier than the traditional system. I took it expecting to have more help achieving that than I did. I completed GED testing January of what would have been my graduating year.
    Then along came work. I started with two jobs, Sea World and a carpenter apprentice working with my dad's friend, who was self employed. Towards the end of these jobs, my girlfriend became pregnant, and the call of family again rose up to be my main mission. 
      Enter Wal-Mart, my son, marriage, my daughter's conception, separation, my daughter, and divorce. I worked overnights, and at the end of my 4 year run spent time in almost every hourly position within Wal-Mart, including Department Manager responsibilities. I worked in a warehouse packaging testing materials as a second fulltime+ job for a couple months.
    After the divorce, I briefly worked in fast food, before getting traveling job doing new store set up and remodels for major retailers. I became my manager's right hand man, we were assigned new hires to train for a while, until we trained a couple who joined us to become the clean up crew for projects gone bad. I've trained managers, run stores acting as manager, and been the project coordinator on the opposing shift of the manager, but I was away from my children.
    Since then I've done Tech Support for the Air Force, and for AT&T. Spent a year helping friends, who are gun-show vendors, develop better inventory and financial records and strategies. Currently, I am studying through MIT OCW, 3 languages in Rosetta Stone (for starters). Learning ASL, as I'm helping a deaf friend start her nonprofit. As far as a job, I recently moved to Austin, TX and am still shopping around.