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Equipment that needs help to work

A lot of technology doesn't work out of the box. The reason for this is less often that it's faulty. More often it is because we are not understanding how to work it because the people who write the instructions did not predict where we needed help or the people who designed it could not think through your expectations. We might wish that all technology was made for consumer use and was transparently easy. But if that were so, we wouldn't have special technology doing the special things we need to do. Data logging in schools is a specialist application.

If you're struggling with anything listed on this page, don't but don't give up. When luck doesn't lead to success, extra help is needed to learn the trick to working them. It's possible that the kit wasn't made for the situation it's being used for.

  • RM Detector - data loggers that aren't. Dave from Oxford writes: Well, it logs for sure, but doesn't measure. The temperature scale is anything but linear: I reckon 50 degrees is about 90% of the way up the Y axis. Don't try the teacher's coffee cup expt with it, you won't see any difference! Quite good at measuring reaction times with the light sensors, provided you can get the alarm settings to behave".
  • Sale representatives - are people who use the equipment day upon day. You could be as competant if you used it too.
  • Mark writes: We have Unilab Powerbase but are having difficulties with the awful software. Won't work with Windows 95 and can't take more than 200 readings reliably on a computer with a 16550 UART serial port. 
  • Philip Harris e-log - for a brief review see equipment section.
  • Philip Harris Timing system - many report difficulties in setting these up with a light source. Fluorescent lights seem to affect them but the issue is more to do with design than technical fault. Have tried them many times with Insight 2 software and hardly ever seen a result that made sense.  
  • Philip Harris First Sense data logging software - the facilities here are very limited, for example in being able to display different sensors on a graph. Versions for Windows / Mac look nicer but work no better in this respect.
  • Philip Harris SensorMeters - extremely expensive option  for measuring temperatures, light, and sound but if you have them fair enough - they do work. Their cost make it hard to scale up from a demonstration set to a clumsy (wires galore) class set. They have been used with Insight software which allows you to run say one Harris system and have a class set of something more affordable. It's hard to convince anyone that data logging is easy with the excessive cabling of the SensorMeter system and even more so when used with their power supply. A further complication arises from sensors with multiple ranges - for example if you use two temperature sensors but neglect to put them on the same range you'll obtain two confusing graphs with different scales. If you have a budget that stretches to this sort of equipment look at PASCO's Science Workshop who seem to better appreciate how to add value to data logging. 
  • Philip Harris DLPlus: this data logger features an in-built screen so that you can see the data as you collect it. This is very reassuring and gives pupils feedback from their experiment but as you still need a way of handling the data you need a computer anyway. This is the most overlooked aspect of using sensors. Since the 1990's, several other devices have appeared that allow you to analyse the data. Texas Instruments calculators were among the first. We've seen the Jeulin VTT, the LogIT Datavision, Philip Harris e-log and PASCO GLX Explorer with different levels of a) functionality and b) ease of use. Computers, including inexpensive laptops costing a few hundred pounds are easy to use compared to any of these. You can almost muddle along with a computer even without training. In contrast these smaller devices are harder to use because small devices inevitably are. My conclusion is that those who intend to use get trained and use the equipment enough to stay trained will do well enough. It seems that only sales reps know how to use these things since I've yet to find a science department that has the time and energy.
  • Data logging generally: several aspects of sensors conspire to make data collection difficult. Sensors with multiple ranges add trickiness. Sensors with power supplies or batteries (which will fail) add to the setting up hassle.
  • Nearly every brand will suffer from misuse. Items will need replacing.
  • First Sense temperature sensors - of all the things they weren't designed for, doing a cooling curve with stearic acid is one of them. Something like a cling film covering may protect them, otherwise they can be damaged by such materials.
  • It's easy to get a really old Sense and Control box working with any modern computer. You need just Insight software and a cable. If yours dates back to 1989 it should be returned to Data Harvest for an upgrade. This costs about £50 and includes a battery change and more. 
  • LogIT Breathing sensor - though no longer sold, records breathing rate when breathing movements would be more useful.
  • Oxygen and pH electrodes - take care of the tip. If protected they can last for ages. Keep pH electrodes wet - science suppliers sell a plastic storage bottle with an 'O' ring seal which does the trick.
  • Radioactivity sensors, though they are not that much used allow you to create decay curves in 'real time'. If you can't find a radioactive source which decays fast enough it's questionable as to how useful these things are. PASCO Scientific (www.pasco.com) do an Isogenerator Kit using Barium-137 with of half-life of around three minutes.
  • Many brands of light gates use a lot of battery power so use a mains adapter even though it adds some hassle. Also if you obtain strange results in bright light, turn them round to point the away from it.
  • Insight data logging software - check the 'About' box in the menu. Version numbers above 1.5 work better with most equipment. Philip Harris SensorMeters are identified more reliably, Data Harvest temperature sensors are calibrated to within tenths of a degree and smoother graphs are the result. Insight 2 has sufficient 'easier-in-use' enhancements to merit an upgrade. Insight wastes screen space (e.g. with 'digits') which could be used to make things more visible from a distance. Insight version 3 is not as exciting as you might have hoped. 
  • Junior Insight - has less features than Insight and too few for age 12-14. There are no analysis tools like average readings nor a bar chart to do discrete readings of say, different light sources. Use this for up to age 12. Those using Data Harvest equipment should consider their 'Sensing Science' for ages 8-11
  • SoftLab and Investigate data logging software, while otherwise very capable titles are much less good at dealing with timing events. SoftLab is best kept in the upper school or used by those well versed with it. 
  • Datadisc from Philip Harris / Sciencescope redefines working with a computer to the point of weirdness. Hard to remember how to use. Complicated to do things with the data you've collected. Have a look at Insight and PASCO's Data Studio before you commit yourself. I've not found problems with Insight 2 and Harris equipment - but let me know if otherwise.
  • Sensing Science - Data Harvest's current logging software is OK to get started with. It's very reliable too. It's just a bit too maverick in design and a bit too short of basic analysis features. To get started with it is fine. 
  • LogIT family: the Link pack software they used to include just get you started has been replaced with LogIT Lab software, bundled with current kits. This is very much better and quite a treat to use.
  • Pocket PCs - An appeal: what have you done with my data logging software, my diary and address book? Your battery goes flat and you lose everything. My old Nokia phone didn't have half the problems you have remembering information.
  • IT coordinators - Make it easy for us please. Let us log on and get the class going without alerts to clean the projector filter; send information over the interent and a barrage of alerts when you log in to the computer.  



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