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Ask Slashdot: Automatically Logging Non-Computerized Equipment Use? 130

First time accepted submitter Defenestrar writes "I've recently taken a job at a large state university where I manage the laboratories for a couple of departments. We have a good system to pro-rate costs for shared use of big ticket items, but don't have anything in place for small to medium expense pieces which don't require software control (i.e. AD user authentication logs). It is much more efficient to designate a common room for things like water purifiers and centrifuges, but log books have a history of poor compliance. Also, abuse or neglect of communal property has been an issue in the past (similar to the tragedy of the commons).

Do any of you know of good automatic systems to record user/group equipment usage which would allow for easy data processing down the line (i.e. I don't want to go through webcam archives). Systems which promote accountability and care are a bonus, but for safety reasons we don't want the room's door locked (i.e. no pin/badged access). Most of these systems also require continuous power — so electrical interlocks are not a good option either.

I call on you, my fellow Slashdotters, to do your best and get quickly sidetracked while still including the occasional gem in the comments."
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Ask Slashdot: Automatically Logging Non-Computerized Equipment Use?

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  • by s.petry ( 762400 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @01:27PM (#46397913)

    I was about to post this same thing, but in a different way.

    As an Oracle of the Bordland Delphi, I look into my magical book of syntax. I breath deeply the fumes of the mighty Pascalious Flowerus. Your future is very clear. I see a person, at a desk with a book. No wait! Two books!. The person sitting asks people for identification, and validates this against one book. If their name is found, they ask them to sign in to the other book. There is more! The desk sits sideways, so this person not only controls who enters the room, but also asks those leaving to sign out.

    This will be as it must be due to your mighty constraints of continual lightning and desire to have doors without locks!

  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Tuesday March 04, 2014 @01:32PM (#46397999)

    To people who haven't worked in labs:

    First off, generally the issue isn't tracking usage for the purposes of billing, or actual inventory (ie preventing people from walking off with things.) Most expensive stuff can and is plated and then cabled down to tables. The issue is often more tracking down who screwed up something so they're told not to do it again/given additional instruction, or their lab/PI is billed for the repair.

    Why? All manner of equipment isn't cleaned after use, or toxic stuff is used on equipment that can't be cleaned of it easily, or equipment that is shared with other experiments that would be damaged by certain chemicals or contaminants. Centrifuges have the wrong rotors installed or mis-balanced loads, destroying the bearings or worse. Cryo vacuum traps don't get cleaned and can accumulate liquid gas and explode. Microscope objectives get damaged from impacting the slide or overuse of oil for immersion objectives. Microscope light sources get left on and burn out (some of them have lifetimes measured in hundreds or a few thousand hours.) The list goes on.

    You can't always control power, because a number of instruments have long warm-up times before they stabilize, or require a bunch of parameters be entered on power-on.

    Access control via keycards works until you discover that someone left the lab, dropped off their ID, security for some reason never cancelled their card, and now it's become a shared resource in the lab. This happens so often it's not funny, except in places that take access control VERY seriously, like hospitals that have research groups. Or people swipe others in.

    It often really comes down to solving people problems with people, not technology...and having a culture of following procedures and policies. If someone can't follow procedure, lies, cheats, etc - they're a liability/danger to your lab/center/school reputation because they could be (and probably are) doing the same thing in their research. Why are you still employing/collaborating with them? Kick their ass to the curb.

    That said, a lot of equipment manufacturers could recognize this need, and provide lockout contacts that can be interfaced with various access control and logging solutions.

    Lastly, a reminder to Slashdotters: please think critically about the solutions you offer. If some random guy can think up a "solution", then chances are it's occurred to, and maybe even been tried by, someone with actual experience. At least recognize that possibility...

Ya'll hear about the geometer who went to the beach to catch some rays and became a tangent ?