Sensors Mag

Inspector 54, Where Are You?

July 14, 2006 By: Stephanie vL Henkel, Sensors


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Getting lost in Boston is easy if A)you're a visitor, or B)you're a native. Hiding out in Boston during work hours and keeping your job as a building inspector is about to become really hard. Or is it?

Nosy Cell Phones
The gauntlet has been thrown down. The fight is over cell phones with GPS capabilities that would let Boston's Executive Office of Public Safety know who was where and when. On one side of the wrangle is Commissioner Thomas Gatzunis; on the other, 20 suspended inspectors who are pretty angry. All five of my regular readers know that I take a very jaundiced view of active RFID chips stitched into my britches. So what do I think about Boston's plan to require its building inspectors to carry those augmented cell phones?

Surprise, Surprise!
I am not squarely on either side of that conflict. The inspectors, unmoved by Nextel's presentation, uttered the incantatory words: "Big Brother." To which the Public Safety Office responded to the effect that those who are doing their jobs shouldn't sweat the plan. After an earlier and similar set-to, the school bus drivers, snow plow contractors, and elevator inspectors (different union from the building inspectors') agreed to use those phones.

The (Fine) Dividing Line
The distinction I draw between RFID-enhanced driver's licenses, bugged clothing, and those cell phones is this: The first two examples represent enforced consumption. That is to say, it's just about impossible to live in this country without a driver's license or some equivalent form of identification such as used by the blind and others who do not operate a vehicle. All that those cards carry—so far—is your name, address, photo, operator's permit number, vision correction restrictions, and, sometimes, an organ donor notification. (In most states you can still opt out of having your Social Security number or blood type printed on them.) As for the sneaky clothing, you don't even know those tags are in there.

But no one is required to get a job with the City of Boston as a building inspector. If you want to work in civic construction, for example, you have to wear steel-toed boots and a hard hat (regardless of how it treats your 'do). That dress requirement falls under the general rubric of Conditions of Employment.

I might have thought that tracking the whereabouts of building inspectors was bordering on the silly had I not watched a news segment on our local New Hampshire TV station some while back. A reporter and camera operator followed the meanderings of a City of Manchester garbage truck as it wandered here and there, with never a pickup. Just driftin' and dreamin,' I suppose. Energetic harrumphing from the mayor ensued, and most likely an addition to the line at the Unemployment Office.

Safety Net
In addition to visiting buildings under construction or enjoying major refurbishment, the Boston inspectors cover boilers, air tanks, and amusement park rides. Some at those sites do not welcome their visits. If I were going out to investigate some questionable activities, I'd very much want HQ to know my whereabouts. I would think of my GPS-equipped call phone as my safety net, my lifeline. No activity from my end, and someone's going to first try calling and then come find me.

Maybe the solution that would settle everyone's hash would be to grandfather those already working for the Public Safety Office, letting them choose the type of cell phones they carry, and then make the GPS models mandatory for those just signing on. You can learn a lot more more about GPS technology and its applications by visiting GPS World. Please do!


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