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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

Central Australia

 

 

In June 2021 Wendy and I, with our friends Craig and Sonia (see: India; Taiwan; JapanChina; and several countries in South America)  flew to Ayer's Rock where we hired a car for a short tour of Central Australia: Uluru - Alice Springs - Kings Canyon - back to Uluru. Around fifteen hundred kilometres - with side trips to the West MacDonnell Ranges; and so on.

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Alan Turing and The Imitation Game

 

The movie The Imitation Game is an imaginative drama about the struggles of a gay man in an unsympathetic world. 

It's very touching and left everyone in the cinema we saw it in reaching for the tissues; and me feeling very guilty about my schoolboy homophobia. 

Benedict Cumberbatch, who we had previously seen as the modernised Sherlock Holmes, plays Alan Turing in much the same way that he played Sherlock Holmes.  And as in that series The Imitation Game differs in many ways from the original story while borrowing many of the same names and places.

Far from detracting from the drama and pathos these 'tweaks' to the actual history are the very grist of the new story.  The problem for me in this case is that the original story is not a fiction by Conan Doyle.  This 'updated' version misrepresents a man of considerable historical standing while simultaneously failing to accurately represent his considerable achievements.

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Opinions and Philosophy

Energy woes in South Australia

 

 

 

 

South Australia has run aground on the long foreseen wind energy reef - is this a lee shore?

Those of you who have followed my energy commentaries published here over the past six years will know that this situation was the entirely predictable outcome of South Australia pressing on with an unrealistic renewable energy target dependent on wind generated electricity, subsidised by market distorting Large-scale Generation Certificates (LGCs) (previously called RECs in some places on this website - the name was changed after their publication).  

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