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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

Laos

 

 

The Lao People's Democratic Republic is a communist country, like China to the North and Vietnam with which it shares its Eastern border. 

And like the bordering communist countries, the government has embraced limited private ownership and free market capitalism, in theory.  But there remain powerful vested interests, and residual pockets of political power, particularly in the agricultural sector, and corruption is a significant issue. 

During the past decade tourism has become an important source of income and is now generating around a third of the Nation's domestic product.  Tourism is centred on Luang Prabang and to a lesser extent the Plane of Jars and the capital, Vientiane.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

The Meaning of Death

 

 

 

 

 

 

'I was recently restored to life after being dead for several hours' 

The truth of this statement depends on the changing and surprisingly imprecise meaning of the word: 'dead'. 

Until the middle of last century a medical person may well have declared me dead.  I was definitely dead by the rules of the day.  I lacked most of the essential 'vital signs' of a living person and the technology that sustained me in their absence was not yet perfected. 

I was no longer breathing; I had no heartbeat; I was limp and unconscious; and I failed to respond to stimuli, like being cut open (as in a post mortem examination) and having my heart sliced into.  Until the middle of the 20th century the next course would have been to call an undertaker; say some comforting words then dispose of my corpse: perhaps at sea if I was travelling (that might be nice); or it in a box in the ground; or by feeding my low-ash coffin into a furnace then collect the dust to deposit or scatter somewhere.

But today we set little store by a pulse or breathing as arbiters of life.  No more listening for a heartbeat or holding a feather to the nose. Now we need to know about the state of the brain and central nervous system.  According to the BMA: '{death} is generally taken to mean the irreversible loss of capacity for consciousness combined with the irreversible loss of capacity to breathe'.  In other words, returning from death depends on the potential of our brain and central nervous system to recover from whatever trauma or disease assails us.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Adolf Hitler and me

 

 

 

Today, with good cause, Adolf Hitler is the personification of evil. 

Yet without him my parents may never have married and I certainly would not have been conceived in a hospital where my father was recovering from war injuries. 

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