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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

China

 

 

I first visited China in November 1986.  I was representing the New South Wales Government on a multinational mission to our Sister State Guangdong.  My photo taken for the trip is still in the State archive [click here].  The theme was regional and small business development.  The group heard presentations from Chinese bureaucrats and visited a number of factories in rural and industrial areas in Southern China.  It was clear then that China was developing at a very fast rate economically. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Craft

 

 A Cloud prequel

 

 

 

Chapter 1 - Caught short

 

 

 

 

Christmas 2069 approaches and in the midst of the greatest retail spending frenzy for decades Bianca has been trying on clothes..  They're at Bergeroff Goodman, an up-market store. Bianca has been brought here by Margery who frequents such expensive places.  Unlike many other retail establishments in the world at this time of year, the store is not over-packed with shoppers.

Elsewhere many customers will expend their entire available credit and have even accumulated credit from earlier in the year to allow for this annual celebratory splurge.  Much of it will be expended on personal services, personal wellbeing, exercise, entertainment and of course religious practice and many will exchange gifts of credit towards these services with friends and loved ones.  But this store is very up-market and discrete.

This Monday lunchtime Margery is encouraging Bianca to buy a top quality black wool and mohair suit with a knee length skirt, similar to the one Margery is wearing.  Bianca had been resisting and equivocating when the call of nature gratuitously cut short their struggle.  The older woman had assumed Bianca's resistance was for financial reasons, insisting that a good suit is not an extravagance but an investment in Bianca's future. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Energy and a ‘good life’

 

 

 

Energy

With the invention of the first practical steam engines at the turn of the seventeenth century, and mechanical energy’s increasing utility to replace the physical labour of humans and animals, human civilisation took a new turn.  

Now when a contemporary human catches public transport to work; drives the car to socialise with friends or family; washes and dries their clothes or the dishes; cooks their food; mows their lawn; uses a power tool; phones a friend or associate; or makes almost anything;  they use power once provided by slaves, servants or animals.

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