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Tuesday, July 22, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 3/2/2005

Badges? We don t need no stinking badges

Or do we?

Want to know exactly where something is. RFID technology can provide that.

An urban elementary school in Buffalo, New York tried it in 2003, but it wasn t until little Sutter, California recently started indexing students with RFID that the stuff hit the scan.

Every student at Brittan Elementary School in the Northern California farm town of Sutter had to wear a badge the size of an index card with their name, grade, photo and a tiny radio identification tag. The purpose was to test a new high-tech attendance system. And to prevent an Amber Alert-type parental freak-out from a missing underage child.

Radio frequency identification (RFID), the next generation bar code, has been around for decades. But when big dogs like Wal-Mart and the U.S. Department of Defense sign on to using RFID, everybody with something to track is considering the technology.

A basic RFID system consists of an antenna or coil, a transceiver (with decoder), and a transponder (tag) electronically programmed with unique information.

The antenna emits radio signals to activate the tag and read and writer data to it. Antennas can be built into a frame to receive tag data from persons or things passing through the frame (a school or warehouse entry, or a toll booth).

RFID tags come in a variety of shapes and sizes, some as small as a pencil lead, while others can be half the size of a grain of sand. The tags can track animals, trees, merchandise, heavy machinery, trucks, railroad cars, and students.

Talk show host Phil Donahue vented against the ubiquitous Universal Product Code or bar code in 1974 citing privacy issues. But try to remember the grunt work involved in ringing up a can of peaches before that time. The lowly bar code is suggested to have saved Americans billions a year in grocery stores alone.

Bar codes identify a product like a can of corn.

RFID can carry a globally unique serial number identifying a very specific can of corn (can number x, produced where, when and by whom).

RFID permits retailers to slim inventory and reduce theft, to the tune of $50 billion a year, according to some industry groups.

As RFID companies find solutions, state legislators (California, Utah, Missouri, Virginia, and Maryland), and Congress - always behind the curve in technology - will try to regulate a moving target that upgrades and adapts faster than legislators can put their stamp on it.

What s good about RFID?

Tracking the whereabouts of young students, and streamlining functions such as attendance taking are good. Dramatically improving all facets of the supply chain, by preventing stuff from "falling off the truck" or "going missing" is good. RFID can also help by processing recalls more accurately and efficiently, tracking "sell by" dates, expired items, and tampered products.

What s bad about RFID?

That Orwellian shiver you get from the mall store reading the tag in the sweater that you recently purchased, linking it with the credit card you purchased it with, and greeting you as you walk in the store with suggestions for other products. Also, bad guys with an RFID reader knowing exactly who has purchased which big ticket items.

The RFID industry is adjusting to concerns by enabling the tag code for inventory but disabling the tag after purchase. There are also proposals to label all items which contain RFID tags.

Do we need these stinking badges? No. Avoid them, disable them, take them off when you're done with the school day.

But if it makes a can of pop cheaper, and marks the kids during school hours, RFID will work for now.

The pundits rant about the wall of opinion being streamed by top blogs in North America. Many credit that wake of commentary with boosting candidates in the 2004 elections, and wrecking havoc on old school journalists (RatherGate, etc.).

On February 22, an Iranian journalist and blogger Arash Sigarchi, 28, was given 14 years after a set of charges ranging from espionage to insulting Iran s leaders was applied. Sigarchi is a newspaper editor in Gilan, Iran. Paris-based Reporters Without Borders said that Sigarchi had been updating a blog tracking the arrest of Internet journalists, technicians and other bloggers.

Just to put in perspective the seriousness of blogging and the commitment of those who move type.

Only 108 days remaining before the 27th annual Grandma s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota. If there s a pleasant time to visit Duluth it s around June 18. The 26.2-mile run from Two Harbors to Duluth s Canal Park should offer a solid view of an unfrozen (hopefully) Lake Superior. This time our ambitious intermediate training program will include split weekend distances (back-to-back five-mile runs), the Glass City Marathon relays, and the 25K River Bank Run in Grand Rapids, Michigan.



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