*be sceptical - take nothing for granted!
Unless otherwise indicated all photos © Richard McKie 2005 - 2019

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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

The Greatest Dining Experience Ever in Bangkok

A short story

 

The Bangkok Sky-train, that repetition of great, grey megaliths of ferroconcrete looms above us.   

All along the main roads, under the overhead railway above, small igloo tents and market stalls provide a carnival atmosphere to Bangkok.  It’s like a giant school fete - except that people are getting killed – half a dozen shot and a couple of grenades lobbed-in to date.

Periodically, as we pass along the pedestrian thronged roads, closed to all but involved vehicles, we encounter flattop trucks mounted with huge video screens or deafening loud speakers. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Now I am seventy

 On the occasion of an afternoon tea to mark this significant milestone...

 

When I was one, I was just begun;
When I was two, I was nearly new;
When I was Three, I was hardly me;
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But then I was sixty, and as clever as clever;
Wouldn't it be nice to stay sixty for ever and ever?

(With apologies to AA Milne)

 

Hang on!  Now I'm seventy?  How did that happen? 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Manufacturing in Australia

Originally written in August 2011 - it might have been yesterday - so little has changed.

 

 

Manufacturing viability is back in the news.

The loss of manufacturing jobs in the steel industry has been a rallying point for unions and employers' groups. The trigger was the announcement of the closure of the No 6 blast furnace at the BlueScope plant at Port Kembla.  This furnace is well into its present campaign and would have eventually required a very costly reline to keep operating.  The company says the loss of export sales does not justify its continued operation. The  remaining No 5 blast furnace underwent a major reline in 2009.  The immediate impact of the closure will be a halving of iron production; and correspondingly of downstream steel manufacture. BlueScope will also close the aging strip-rolling facility at Western Port in Victoria, originally designed to meet the automotive demand in Victoria and South Australia.

800 jobs will go at Port Kembla, 200 at Western Port and another 400 from local contractors.  The other Australian steelmaker OneSteel also recently announced a workforce reduction of 400 jobs.

This announcement has reignited the 20th Century free trade versus protectionist economic and political debate. Labor backbenchers and the Greens want a Parliamentary enquiry. The Prime Minister who reportedly initially agreed has now, perhaps smelling trouble, demurred.

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