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In 1993 I was the principal inventor of a text based learning and testing system using an options list or multiple choice questions wherein the actual answers to questions and/or their value were hidden (encrypted) in barcodes printed in a workbook or test paper.  Thus the scanning device could provide immediate feedback during learning and/or accumulated a test score as the student or candidate worked through the paper.  This allowed a student to be corrected and directed or their result to be known immediately a candidate completed a test; so that no special scanner or external/additional marking was required.

The system was used by a number of large organisations including Qantas, the Department of Defence, BHP and the University of Newcastle for testing up to 100 candidates at a time, before it became economically viable to give each candidate their own computer.  Barcodes were automatically generated by accompanying software I wrote that seamlessly merged them into the text of the authors' questionnaire or study booklets.  I also designed a custom 3of9 barcode font to facilitate this process.

Leon Dearden and I developed a barcode reader that decrypted and thus instantly scored the selected barcodes as they were chosen from a list, or multiple choice options, as scanned by a candidate/student.  Leon designed the prototype circuit for manufacture and programmed the firmware while I provided the program meta-instructions.  It was called SmartPen.  Each pen unit was networked back through a network controller to a single portable computer and printer.

The system was entirely catholic as to the actual test/work book being scored. The result was entirely determined by the work book or test and the student/candidates' responses.  It was theoretically possible that everyone in the room was simultaneously completing an entirely different test or lesson.

Test candidates were often given a printout of their result as they left the examination room.   In the case of abilities testing, that was designed by the University of Newcastle to test the aptitudes of candidates for apprenticeships, this printout provided a full abilities analysis against normalised results.

The invention reached the application stage to protect the IP and allow its public use but I decided not to proceed to a full patent as low cost computers were becoming available and a major investment was required to refine and further miniaturise the barcode reader for mass production and to redesign the networking solution.

I subsequently redesigned the reader software to work with any PC and any hand-held barcode scanner; making  the SmartPen device redundant.  But it is now very much a solution in search of a problem.

Follow this link to see the patent application and detailed description.


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Travel

Burma (Myanmar)

 

 

This is a fascinating country in all sorts of ways and seems to be most popular with European and Japanese tourists, some Australians of course, but they are everywhere.

Since childhood Burma has been a romantic and exotic place for me.  It was impossible to grow up in the Australia of the 1950’s and not be familiar with that great Australian bass-baritone Peter Dawson’s rendition of Rudyard Kipling’s 'On the Road to Mandalay' recorded two decades or so earlier:  

Come you back to Mandalay
Where the old flotilla lay
Can't you hear their paddles chunking
From Rangoon to Mandalay

On the road to Mandalay
Where the flying fishes play
And the Dawn comes up like thunder
out of China 'cross the bay

The song went Worldwide in 1958 when Frank Sinatra covered it with a jazz orchestration, and ‘a Burma girl’ got changed to ‘a Burma broad’; ‘a man’ to ‘a cat’; and ‘temple bells’ to ‘crazy bells’.  

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Fiction, Recollections & News

A Twisted Pigs Tale

 

This is a little exercise in creative writing.  The brief was to reimagine the Three Pigs from a different perspective.   The original is a parable about the virtues of forward thinking, providence and hard work, so that only the most abstemious pig survives the metaphorical wolf.  I thought it was a bit tough on the middle pig who is just trying to find a balance between work and play.   So here is my version:

 


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Opinions and Philosophy

The reputation of nuclear power

 

 

One night of at the end of March in 1979 we went to a party in Queens.  Brenda, my first wife, is an artist and was painting and studying in New York.  Our friends included many of the younger artists working in New York at the time.  That day it had just been announced that there was a possible meltdown at a nuclear reactor at a place called a Three Mile Island , near Harrisburg Pennsylvania. 

I was amazed that some people at the party were excitedly imagining that the scenario in the just released film ‘The China Syndrome’  was about to be realised; and thousands of people would be killed. 

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