Not-so-smart building



  • On my university's campus, the CS department has its own high-rise. The building is okay, but being built in the Seventies it's not made for today's CS lectures where 50% of the students immediately get out their notebooks and play poker online. There just aren't enough wall outlets.

    About two years ago the Powers That Be decided to do something about it and set things in motion for a new CS building. Apparently they misunderstood "Computer Science", though, because the final result was a fine example of how computers don't always make things better.

    The entire building is automated. Well, mostly. Some parts aren't, thank $DEITY. In the automated parts we have moved past things like light switches. If you want to turn on the light you have to get out your notebook, connect to the WLAN, log into the VPN, access the web interface for the room you want, enter username and password and finally turn on the light in the interface. Wow, that sure is convenient.

    Note that it's impossible to turn on the light in a room you don't have the right credentials for. It is, however, possible to play with the lights in a room you aren't in if you do have the right credentials. Especially useful when someone tries to do some work in there.

    The corridor doors in the building are also hooked up to a central server. Without a keycard you're not getting far. Bad if you want to talk to someone and his office is inside a locked area; especially as there are no doorbells unlike in other buildings on campus. Also bad when a steam pipe in the basement bursts and kills the authorization server. Guess what happened less than one year after the thing was built.

    Oh, the windows are tied to a web interface, as well. Very popular amongst those who just visit for lectures, especially in summer.

    The building was built around the concept of having tablet PCs on the walls everywhere. Those tablets would have access to the local web interface and offer navigation, location and communication services. Now, that kind of thing is pretty expensive so the Powers That Be decided to turn it into a student project (let's call it "SmartBuilding") instead. SmartBuilding would be a two-year CS project - doing one such project is mandatory for CS students so they'd have the students learn something and get their software for free. Hooray!

    Well, SmartBuilding ran into a little problem: When the building was planned the architect apparently wasn't told about the tablet PCs that would be hanging everywhere. As a result there simply weren't enough outlets to plug in the tablets. Somewhat bad for a building that was planned around that very feature. SmartBuilding had to scrap the original plan and refocus; the "smart" building itself remains a mess of unopenable doors, unswitchable lights and windows that open and close by themselves because someone thinks it's funny to annoy people via the web interface.

     

    Those are just the computer-related WTFs in there. There are others, like putting two student projects in one room wth a very high ceiling which generates so much hall that rarely more than one of the projects uses the room at the same time, even though there would be enough space. And to top it off, the whole thing looks suspiciously like a huge brick - even the 70s-era high-rise still used by most CS people looks downright beautiful in comparison.

    I'm very happy my project sits in a building on the other side of the campus.



  • Best-of-Sidebar whore!

    Anyway, good story, I liked it.



  • Wonderful ! Well worth its own thread.

    It sounds like the perpetrators (I won't call them architects) spent too much time watching Star Trek when they should have been reading their Safety Critical Systems standards. Please tell me the fire escape routes are all manually operable ! In fact, I would have thought a room without any manual light control was a safety hazard in itself - or is the building locked during the hours of darkness ?



  • @SenTree said:

    or is the building locked during the hours of darkness ?
     

    I think the building should be locked and barred at all times, with armed guards to keep people out!

    What a nightmare. At my uni we had movement sensors on the lights, meaning that sometimes in a class they would just switch off. We also had sliding doors which would occasionally open if you walked up to them, if they felt like it. Nothing as bad as a web-based control system for windows and lighting though, that's just bizarre!



  • @SenTree said:

    is the building locked during the hours of darkness ?

    No no no, silly! The wan/lan has its own power, so you can log in and flip the light switch, even during a blackout!



  • @PhillS said:

    I think the building should be locked and barred at all times, with armed guards to keep people out!

    @snoofle said:
    No no no, silly! The wan/lan has its own power, so you can log in and flip the light switch, even during a blackout!

    Ah, of course, silly me. I forgot to think through this 'technology' thing.

    Let's replace the armed guards with armed security robots, and remote-interrogate everyone attempting to enter the building to verify they have a compatible wifi enabled device with sufficient access rights. All non-geeks shall be summarily terminated. [/megalomaniac] Sorry - I meant to say "All inadequately equipped persons would be politely asked to leave."



  • @SenTree said:

    Wonderful ! Well worth its own thread.

    It sounds like the perpetrators (I won't call them architects) spent too much time watching Star Trek when they should have been reading their Safety Critical Systems standards. Please tell me the fire escape routes are all manually operable ! In fact, I would have thought a room without any manual light control was a safety hazard in itself - or is the building locked during the hours of darkness ?


    At least that was one thing they didn't screw up, probably because they wouldn't have gotten permission to build the thing if they had. At least the non-automated part of the building has emergency exits that can even be opened from the inside but not the outside. What it still lacks, however, is afloor plan that tells you where to go in case of an emergency. In case of fire you're apparently expected to either look up online where the fire exit is or to look for the emergency exit signs that happen to be near the ceiling...

     

    @SenTree said:

    Ah, of course, silly me. I forgot to think through this 'technology' thing.

    Let's replace the armed guards with armed security robots, and remote-interrogate everyone attempting to enter the building to verify they have a compatible wifi enabled device with sufficient access rights. All non-geeks shall be summarily terminated. [/megalomaniac] Sorry - I meant to say "All inadequately equipped persons would be politely asked to leave."

    Keeping in theme, the robots will be built without any ammunition capacity because the manufacturer didn't forsee that someone would want to put weapons on them.



  • @j6cubic said:

    At least the non-automated part of the building has emergency exits that can even be opened from the inside but not the outside.
    What about the automated part of the building? (which is already the worst place to be in case of emergency)@j6cubic said:
    Keeping in theme, the robots will be built without any ammunition capacity
    Robots don't need weapons! Robots are weapons. (at least respectably-sized ones)



  • Addendum: one day robots will kick humans' asses in martial arts, and they won't be able to kick back without seriously hurting their toes.



  • @Zecc said:

    @j6cubic said:

    At least the non-automated part of the building has emergency exits that can even be opened from the inside but not the outside.
    What about the automated part of the building?

    I actually don't know as I didn't spend much time in the automated part. As most of that part is above the ground floor and I don't see easy escape routes from the outside I guess their approach is either "open all doors and have everyone run for the stairs" or "bake them crispy".



  • @j6cubic said:

    The building was built around the concept of having tablet PCs on the walls everywhere. Those tablets would have access to the local web interface and offer navigation, location and communication services. Now, that kind of thing is pretty expensive so the Powers That Be decided to turn it into a student project (let's call it "SmartBuilding") instead. SmartBuilding would be a two-year CS project - doing one such project is mandatory for CS students so they'd have the students learn something and get their software for free. Hooray!

     

     

    After I finished the fourth paragraph, I started thinking, "this sounds like an undergraduate senior project gone wrong." It reminds me of a certain Pariah I had the pleasure of working with on two such projects in college. She was the team leader for the first project, which by the end of the semester had yielded 120+ pages of documentation and UML, but almost no code at all. I had written a PHP backend to interface with MySQL at the last minute to bail the group out of getting an F. For the second project, a year later, I was the team leader. This was my pet project and senior thesis for my senior design elective. I had decided that I wanted to build a traffic simulator and recruited a team of a couple other programmers to work on it. A few weeks into the semester, Pariah girl came back from India and showed up in the same design elective. My group was the smallest one, so I got stuck with her again.  To deal with her, I delegated all of the documentation and UML to her, and told her to follow along with the code as it developed by checking it out of our SVN repository. I made sure to give her read-only access. The end of the semester came, and the other three of us had written thousands of lines of Java and ultimately had a working traffic simulation, complete with a GUI for laying out a network of roads and traffic lights, viewing the simulation, and analyzing some basic statistics. Along the way I'd been checking in with Pariah girl to make sure she was doing her work. The morning of our final presentation, she was nowhere to be found, until I called her up and yelled at her to get over to the cafe before I took her name off the project. She showed up with forty pages of poorly written documentation that bore no correlation at all to the source code. I asked her how she'd gotten it wrong. Apparently she was never able to figure out how to install Eclipse and hook it up to the SVN repository to look at the code. Ultimately, the professor was very understanding, especially in light of the fact that ours was the most ambitious project, and also the only complete one that was fully debugged (other projects, mostly websites, showed a variety of runtime errors during their presentations).



  • Did you take the wrong exit and accidentally ended up in the middle of one of those horrible 90's "hacker" movies? Or did the guy who planned this thing just belong to the Kobayashi school of architecture?

    I mean, come on, this practically screams for "Oh noez, the virus took over the building and locked us in... and now it sucks all the air out..."



  • @SenTree said:

    Wonderful ! Well worth its own thread.

     

    It sounds like the perpetrators (I won't call them architects) spent too much time watching Star Trek when they should have been reading their Safety Critical Systems standards. Please tell me the fire escape routes are all manually operable ! In fact, I would have thought a room without any manual light control was a safety hazard in itself - or is the building locked during the hours of darkness ?

    Now that reminds me of the "Aula Magna" classrooms in my old campus. State-of-the-art was the word when they made these things, and the classroom itself was more like a mini-auditorium than a classroom. Unlike the OP's uni, these guys actually did put the aforementioned tablet thingy ... it was one of those amber-black LCD touch-screens... this is 1996 I'm talking about, but the classrooms were built about 2 or 3 years before I went there.

    Anyway ... the nice interface controlled everything, from lighting, to the projector's input selection (computer, antenna, VCR, LaserDisc) and the sound system's volume level. Nice perk, except that sometimes the damn thing wouldn't work as expected! I remember that our first class in one of those classrooms was a hilarious experience, as the teacher wanted to turn off the lights to watch a video ... and the lights refused to turn off. Of course, it was even more fun when the opposite happened ... there's nothing more fun than a big classroom packed with 120 students and no lights!

    Fortunately, it is only these big classrooms that have this tech.



  • @danixdefcon5 said:

    Nice perk, except that sometimes the damn thing wouldn't work as expected intended!
    Fixed that for you.



  • @j6cubic said:

    putting two student projects in one room wth a very high ceiling which generates so much hall that rarely more than one of the projects uses the room at the same time, even though there would be enough space.
     

     

    Generates so much hall?  Come again?

     



  • @emurphy said:

    Generates so much hall?  Come again?
     

    ireverberation (English)   - der Hall (German)



  • @PSWorx said:

    I mean, come on, this practically screams for "Oh noez, the virus took over the building and locked us in... and now it sucks all the air out..."
     

    No problem, just call MacGyver.



  • @emurphy said:

    @j6cubic said:

    putting two student projects in one room wth a very high ceiling which generates so much hall that rarely more than one of the projects uses the room at the same time, even though there would be enough space.
     

    Generates so much hall?  Come again?

    Whoops. As Juifeng has already pointed out, "reverberation" is the correct term.



  • @cconroy said:

    @PSWorx said:

    I mean, come on, this practically screams for "Oh noez, the virus took over the building and locked us in... and now it sucks all the air out..."
     

    No problem, just call MacGyver.

    Open the classroom doors, Hal!

    HAL: Sorry, I can't do that Dave!


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    You know, I've always wanted to do a proper implementation like this. One day, my home will probably be set up like this (but with proper PHYSICAL CONTROLS in place)



  • @Weng said:

    You know, I've always wanted to do a proper implementation like this. One day, my home will probably be set up like this (but with proper PHYSICAL CONTROLS in place)

    I did something easier last summer. Wasn't so difficult, actually. Gadgets for $30, a soldering iron, 5-6 hours playing around with high voltage relays and I had IR-controlled light switches and a computerized remote control. It's actually quite neat, being able to control the air conditioner and TV with the computer. If only Linux had decent voice recognition software..

    Of course my home will be the X10 engineer's dream!



  •  Like this?

     

     

    I created a homebrew system that controls the lights and fan in my room. It plugs into the parallel port and consists of three 5V / 1A reed micro relays that are driven directly by the port, and three 12V / 5A relays that are cascaded from the micro relays. The relay connected to the low order bit is connected to the light switch, bits 1 and 2 are connected to outlets in a blue box under the machine (off the bottom left of the picture). The fourth option shown is a "virtual" control, that doesn't actually correspond to a bit on the parallel port.

     The camera is an el-cheapo Creative Notebook webcam.

    I wrote two daemons running for this system, vidserv and lightd. I used to use spcaserv for the video, but it is horribly written and leaks memory like a Microsoft product, so I re-wrote it from scratch. The client shown is written in Python.

    So, my options for turning on the light are:

    1. Flip the light switch (it's still there)
    2. Press the "Find" button on my desktop keyboard (there was no "turn on the lights" button)
    3. Whip out my Nokia N800, switch to the control app (maemo & python ftw) and press the "light" button.
    4. Press Ctrl+Alt+L on my laptop.
    5. Type "lights on" from any machine on my VPN.

    Still, I would not put this in charge of my doors and locks unless there was a manual override.



  • @jspenguin said:

    Like this?

    Good God, your house is a fucking mess. 



  • @jspenguin said:

     Like this?
     

    Jesus Christ, did someone leave a landfill inside your house? That doesn't even look fit to live in.

    @jspenguin said:

    and three 12V / 5A relays that are cascaded from the micro relays.

    You used a 5A relay to control a 15A circuit? Why you wouldn't use a relay capable of handling the full potential load? Hopefully you were at least smart enough to fuse this properly, but that house is a prime example of a fire hazard. Trash all over, and a hackjob electrical job...

     @jspenguin said:

    it is horribly written and leaks memory like a Microsoft product

    Nice troll, but you may write shitty memory leaking software, but MS is not really known for this. Firefox? Yes, they are known for this.

    @jspenguin said:


    Still, I would not put this in charge of my doors and locks unless there was a manual override.

    I don't blame you, you already have enough of a death trap wasteland there, I wouldn't want anything else to potentially go wrong.



  •  @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    Jesus Christ, did someone leave a landfill inside your house?

     My "living room" is actually more of a storage room. I rarely spend much time in there. I clean it when I feel like it, and it's been a while. I bet if you looked in any college dorm building, this would be about average.

     

    @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    You used a 5A relay to control a 15A circuit? Why you wouldn't use a relay capable of handling the full potential load? Hopefully you were at least smart enough to fuse this properly, but that house is a prime example of a fire hazard. Trash all over, and a hackjob electrical job...

     If the lights in your bedroom pull 15 amps, I'd hate to see your electrc bill.

    5 amps at 120V = 600 watts. My light fixture has 2 60-watt bulbs. The entire system uses standard 18-gauge wire. Every connection is protected with heatshrink. So, no more a fire hazard than my toaster.

     

    @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    Nice troll, but you may write shitty memory leaking software, but MS is not really known for this.

    Cheap shot, I know, but my video server has been running for a week (since I had to replace the motherboard), and many months before that. Its VSS is 11MB (most of that is libstdc++), and its RSS (private data) is 920K. The original spcaserv program ballooned to several hundred MB after only ten or twenty connections (cumulative, not simultaneous), and was terribly inefficient, using 7-10% of the CPU even when there were no connections.




  • @jspenguin said:

    this would be about average.
     

    For a landfill perhaps.

    @jspenguin said:

     If the lights in your bedroom pull 15 amps, I'd hate to see your electrc bill.

    5 amps at 120V = 600 watts. My light fixture has 2 60-watt bulbs.

    You obviously need to brush up on NEC and NFPA, because you clearly don't understand what you are talking about at all.

    You cannot size the components based on the current or expected load of the circuit. You must size for the protected capacity. 

    Therefore, assuming it is a standard 15A breaker, you have created a huge fire hazard. If anything in that circuit shorts it will pull at least 15A (much much more for a short period of time too) before the breaker trips.

    You know what happens to your 5A relay and 18AWG wire at that time? They turn to fire and smoke. You have basically created a horrible and inefficient fuse out of these parts.

     

    I sincerely hope you will actually do the research and learn what you are doing, because this is really stupid.

    @jspenguin said:

    Cheap shot, I know

    Not a cheap shot, just completely offtopic and stupid. MS didn't cause your memory leak(s). You did.



  • My university had a building where the airconditioning was controlled by telephone: to change the temperature in your room, you dialled a number, entered your zone and PIN, then dialled a new temperature. Most people programmed numbers into their speed dials so it took just a moment to change temperature.

    But, like in most places, the building didn't have individual airconditioning units for each office. So when you change the temperature of your zone you change it for most of the rooms around you too. This lead to an inevitable phone war with neighbours constantly dialling in their own preference, and the temperature fluctuating between frozen and sauna.

    We temporarily solved this problem by sneaking in to certain offices and reprogramming their speed dials to the same temperature. It took weeks before people worked it out... most thought someone had simply fixed the airconditioning!



  • @jspenguin said:

    I created a homebrew system that controls the lights and fan in my room
    Am I the only one heres that's thought about wiring some sort of weapon to the PC? Paintball gun, bb gun, something. If it weren't for the danger of hitting someone in the eye I'd try it. Well... if there was no danger and I knew the first thing about electrical engineering.

    I had seen someone somewhere on the net take the laser out of an old CD writer and pump enough power through it to make it do some damage. You add a couple of servos to guide it, hook them up to a PC with a webcam and motion detection software and fool around until you end up in the hospital and/or the house burns down. Ah, good times...



  • @DOA said:

    I had seen someone somewhere on the net take the laser out of an old CD writer and pump enough power through it to make it do some damage.
     

    Wow... I don't even know where to begin to describe how much of a WTF believing this is...



  • @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    @DOA said:

    I had seen someone somewhere on the net take the laser out of an old CD writer and pump enough power through it to make it do some damage.
     

    Wow... I don't even know where to begin to describe how much of a WTF believing this is...

    You can point it at someone's eyes and blind them enough to make them spill their coffee.



  • @Zecc said:

    You can point it at someone's eyes and blind them enough to make them spill their coffee.
    Pretty much. Found where I had seen the laser bit. It wont exactly cut a limb off, but I'd rather not have it pointed at me anyway.



  • @PSWorx said:

    Did you take the wrong exit and accidentally ended up in the middle of one of those horrible 90's "hacker" movies? Or did the guy who planned this thing just belong to the Kobayashi school of architecture?

    I mean, come on, this practically screams for "Oh noez, the virus took over the building and locked us in... and now it sucks all the air out..."

     

     

    Yeah, isn't this how Zero-Cool set off the sprinkler system test that got Angelina Jolie (and the rest of the school) soaked?

     As to the OP, what university do you go to?  I want to make sure I don't hire anyone from there.

     In all fairness, this is a classic case of what happens when marketing interferes with engineering.  I'm fairly certain some alumni was willing to fork over some money for the building but the upper level PR people convinced him/her that it could be used as a showcase to wow incoming students.  Then, instead of consulting professors or people with more knowledge on the subject they set out to have this pony they could trot out on prospective student weekend.  If there was ANY CS faculty that advocated a web based interface for lighting and windows etc, they should be terminated IMMEDIATELY.  Technology has it's place, but no need to use a sledge hammer to kill a fly, or in this case, a secure web based application to turn on a light.


  • Discourse touched me in a no-no place

    @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    You obviously need to brush up on NEC and NFPA, because you clearly don't understand what you are talking about at all.

    You cannot size the components based on the current or expected load of the circuit. You must size for the protected capacity. 

    Therefore, assuming it is a standard 15A breaker, you have created a huge fire hazard. If anything in that circuit shorts it will pull at least 15A (much much more for a short period of time too) before the breaker trips.

    You know what happens to your 5A relay and 18AWG wire at that time? They turn to fire and smoke. You have basically created a horrible and inefficient fuse out of these parts.

     

    I sincerely hope you will actually do the research and learn what you are doing, because this is really stupid.

     

     

    I thought they covered all of this info in intro-to-electronics in that lesson right after you learn how to solder where you build something slightly wrong and end up with a high capacity wire turning into a snake of molten copper and leaping at your hand for a brief moment before vaporizing.

     

    God, I haven't even built mine yet and I already have a small stack of 30A @ 120v solid state relays accumulating on my desk. These bastards ain't cheap, but if you keep your eyes peeled they spring up in unexpected places.



  • @MasterPlanSoftware said:

    You obviously need to brush up on NEC and NFPA, because you clearly don't understand what you are talking about at all.

    You cannot size the components based on the current or expected load of the circuit. You must size for the protected capacity. 

    Therefore, assuming it is a standard 15A breaker, you have created a huge fire hazard. If anything in that circuit shorts it will pull at least 15A (much much more for a short period of time too) before the breaker trips.

    You know what happens to your 5A relay and 18AWG wire at that time? They turn to fire and smoke. You have basically created a horrible and inefficient fuse out of these parts.

    Something quite the opposite happened last year at my apartment block. As the whole complex was brand-spanking new, some stuff was hastily done. One of these oversights was that there were only three circuits powering 4 towers, 4 elevators, the entire "public" lighting (hallways and underground parking) and the big-ass water pumps.

    One of the circuits powered one of the towers (24 apartments) plus the four elevators. Of course, as new tenants moved in, the main fuse popping became a common event, especially for those of us who were sharing the elevator load. So what was the building management's solution? Buy a bigger fusebox, bigger fuses. 100A, 150A ... and then I think it was 250A when the inevitable happened.

    I was returning from work when I found a firetruck just outside the complex. Turns out that they had successfully disregarded the actual cabling capacity, and instead of a burnt fuse, they got burnt cable, burnt watthorimeter (sic), and a nice electrical fire.

    The "management company" contract was cancelled one week later, and the new managers actually added a fourth circuit. The real fix, however, was finally made about 1 month ago. At least the new managers had the common sense of not just "upping" the fusebox...



  • @danixdefcon5 said:

    Something quite the opposite happened last year at my apartment block. As the whole complex was brand-spanking new, some stuff was hastily done. One of these oversights was that there were only three circuits powering 4 towers, 4 elevators, the entire "public" lighting (hallways and underground parking) and the big-ass water pumps.

    One of the circuits powered one of the towers (24 apartments) plus the four elevators. Of course, as new tenants moved in, the main fuse popping became a common event, especially for those of us who were sharing the elevator load. So what was the building management's solution? Buy a bigger fusebox, bigger fuses. 100A, 150A ... and then I think it was 250A when the inevitable happened.

    I was returning from work when I found a firetruck just outside the complex. Turns out that they had successfully disregarded the actual cabling capacity, and instead of a burnt fuse, they got burnt cable, burnt watthorimeter (sic), and a nice electrical fire.

    The "management company" contract was cancelled one week later, and the new managers actually added a fourth circuit. The real fix, however, was finally made about 1 month ago. At least the new managers had the common sense of not just "upping" the fusebox...

    TRWTF is that you didn't report them and move out as soon as they started upping the fuses like that.  Also, that you still live in that fiery deathtrap to this day.



  • @morbiuswilters said:

    TRWTF is that you didn't report them and move out as soon as they started upping the fuses like that.  Also, that you still live in that fiery deathtrap to this day.

    We did. Hell, we were already preparing a lawsuit when these jackasses went away. The fusebox was downgraded by the new managers back to a sensible threshold, so it wasn't much of a problem anymore. Except for the fuse-popping during peak hours, but those were rare enough to be liveable; I'd rather have a fuse pop than have the wiring go up in flames.

    The circuit overload was caused by another WTF by the power company, which had not built a substation for the building, so the WTF management decided to lease the aforementioned "lines" and distribute them disregarding how much load they were putting on the damn wires. It seems that the sub-station was only recently finished, but the fourth line and subsequent load balancing actually fixed the overload/overheating problem without resorting to those unsafe fuse uppings.

    What I found funny is that back when the first management company started upping the fusebox, I had already told them that it was not wise to do so; I was completely ignored by them. They only decided to act after the fire, and that was because the actual event was being used as evidence against them. At least our current management isn't so stupid...


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