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What shape are your packets in?

A common reason often given by school technology departments for blocking a particular Internet resource is that it uses too much bandwidth. YouTube, Google Video and Images, and iTunes are among those sites often singled out.

If any district in Minnesota needs to conserve bandwidth, it is probably ours. Mankato's 7000 students and 1000 staff all share a paltry 14MG pipe from the district's WAN to the Internet cloud. And we use our connection pretty hard. When the Internet is slow, we do hear about it.

Just a fair warning here, I will be speaking somewhere between 5 and 50 miles outside my areas of expertise. As my IT manager likes to remind me - "Your role in the department is pointy-haired boss, remember?" So, caveat lector.

packeteersmall.jpgWe installed a packet shaper on our network last year. What our packet shaper (or traffic shaper or layer seven switch) allows us to do is prioritize traffic on our network. We can tell the network to allow some websites or some Internet protocols "to go first" and delay other websites and protocols. Until last week, this seems to have made only a small difference.

But the degree to which we can specify what traffic has priority became more granular with a recent software release. We can now give YouTube (not all Flash) a "Priority 0" rating. The yearbook people can use Flash to do their pages unimpeded; middle school kids can look for videos of fart lighting on YouTube with what bandwidth is left over. (Click on the small image at the left to see a larger version of the control module screen shot.) This has made a big difference.

So, if your district is blocking valuable educational resources because of bandwidth limitations think about using a packet shaper.  (Since people will ask, we paid about $15K for ours in a consortium purchase.)

I'm thinking of changing our department's mission statement to: Providing solutions to problems that you didn't have before there was technology. Like it?



Is there a place for fear mongering?

Yesterday's keynote speaker at a small tech conference in Marshall, MN, was Mike Detloff, a police officer from Moorhead, MN, working in the Crimes Against Children Unit. His topic was, of course, the dangers children face online.

Now I tend to dislike these sorts of presentations for a number of reasons, and Mike's talk was very similar to many I've heard from law enforcement agents - FBI to the local folks. Heavy on the gory stories of the repulsive acts of pedophiles.  The innocent child snatched from the jaws of an online predator in the nick of time. A strange brew of information about online predators, child pornography, child abuse, public masturbators, missing and abducted children and even serial killers. Of today's popular evils, only Bin Laden usually seems to be missing.

MIke's view of the civil rights of criminal suspects was, shall we say, at odds with the ACLU's. Some of the uses of hidden surveillance cameras he bragged about seemed like entrapment to me. His conclusion that reading books about serial killers showed a propensity to become one did not seem exactly logical. (If we become what we read, I should by now be a gumshoe or a space alien.) And since these things were being addressed at a tech conference, all technology was guilty by association.

11th.jpgI guess I am weary of the use of fear by the government and businesses in this country to sell an ideology or a product. Were one to listen only to law enforcement, the Center for Missing and Exploited Children, or the manufacturers of webblocking/monitoring software, pedophiles lurk behind every web page and every click pushes a child closer to defilement or death. There are too few objective studies and analyses done in this area to help us gain some perspective. I appreciate the Nancy Willards and Ann Colliers and Larry Magids. (The ConnectSafely website has a good list of less sensational articles about Internet safety.)

But Mike made me think as well. More than I really wanted to. I don't want to think about this topic! 

  1. Mike asked: If you are heterosexual, how many years of therapy would it take to make you homosexual? If you are homosexual, how many years of therapy would it take to make you heterosexual? If you are a pedophile, how many years of therapy would it take to make you no longer sexually attracted to children? (Why sex offenders are regarded as such for life.)
  2. Lonely, neglected children are those most at risk from the solicitations of online predators. His line was memorable - "If you don't tell your children you love them, someone else will." YIkes!
  3. He showed the video, The Eleventh Commandment: Honor Thy Children - a wrenching music video on child abuse that is nearly unbearable to watch. (Which also made me feel guilty for ever hollering at my kids.)
  4. I don't know how a person like Mike can work in crimes against children field for years. I have the highest regard for his sense of mission and dedication. I know he does this work for his own children's sake as well.

When I do workshops on Internet safety, I tell participants that while I believe the threat of online predators is over blown, even if there is only ONE such creature, we need to help kids learn to guard against such a threat. It's an unpleasant, uncomfortable topic. But it is one we need to acknowledge and understand. Even when we don't really want to.

Did I mention that Moorhead is the sister city to Fargo - just across the Red River? When Mike is working to protect the area's kids, those kids include my two grandsons. We may not agree on a lot of things, but I am awfully glad Mike is on the job.


And I quote (again)...

Dance like it hurts,
Love like you need money,
Work when people are watching. - Scott (Dilbert) Adams

As readers of the Blue Skunk know, I like quotes. And I am a collector. For others who enjoy quotes, the feed at Quotes of the Day <> will plunk a few pithy statements into your RSS Reader a few times a week. Great fun.

I've also been enjoying Canadian Paul Cornies's quoteflections blog. He opens each of his posts with a quote or two on a wide variety of topics - and then personally reflects for a few paragraphs. Always worth reading!

Have a great Wednesday!