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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

Malta

 

 

Almost everyone in Australia knows someone who hailed directly from Malta or is the child of Maltese parents. There are about a quarter as many Maltese Australians as there are Maltese Maltese so it is an interesting place to visit; where almost every cab driver or waiter announces that he or she has relatives in Sydney or Melbourne.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Easter

 

 

 

Easter /'eestuh/. noun

  1. an annual Christian festival in commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, observed on the first Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or next after 21 March (the vernal equinox)

[Middle English ester, Old English eastre, originally, name of goddess; distantly related to Latin aurora dawn, Greek eos; related to east]

Macquarie Dictionary

 


I'm not very good with anniversaries so Easter might take me by surprise, were it not for the Moon - gibbous waxing all last week.  Easter conveniently moves about with the Moon, unlike Christmas.  And like Christmas, retailers give us plenty of advanced warning. For many weeks the chocolate bilbies have been back in the supermarket - along with the more traditional eggs and rabbits. 

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Opinions and Philosophy

Manufacturing in Australia

 

 

 

This article was written in August 2011 after a career of many years concerned with Business Development in New South Wales Australia. I've not replaced it because, while the detailed economic parameters have changed, the underlying economic arguments remain the same (and it was a lot of work that I don't wish to repeat) for example:  

  • between Oct 2010 and April 2013 the Australian dollar exceeded the value of the US dollar and that was seriously impacting local manufacturing, particularly exporters;
  • as a result, in November 2011, the RBA (Reserve Bank of Australia) reduced the cash rate (%) from 4.75 to 4.5 and a month later to 4.25; yet
  • the dollar stayed stubbornly high until 2015, mainly due to a favourable balance of trade in commodities and to Australia's attraction to foreign investors following the Global Financial Crisis, that Australia had largely avoided.

 

 

2011 introduction:

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 has 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 (Julia Gillard) reportedly initially agreed, then, perhaps smelling trouble, demurred. No doubt 'Sir Humphrey' lurks not far back in the shadows. 

 

 

So what has and hasn't changed (disregarding a world pandemic presently raging)?

 

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