Monday, March 5, 2007

The Death of Barcodes?

Barcodes have been around since at least the 1940's, but were not commercially succsessful until the 1980's. Bar codes are used for many things including scanning groceries, tracking inventory, shipping information on a box, on many ID tags, and even on vehicles so the VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) can be scanned. Barcodes have been a very succsessful technology in part because they eliminate human error in data entry. Thier only pitfall, is that they have to be scanned with optics or cameras, which means they can't be obstructed at all.

RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) tags, not unlike the security tags on expensuve merchendise, are becoming a common replacement of barcodes. They eliminate the requirement of having to be "seen" by scanners. By using radio waves, they are powered up, and send out data telling a computer what the product or item is, and other information. It is now possible to scan an entire pallet of products at once instead of scanning every box. This obviously saves time as well as money. They can be used in grocery stores, for example, to scan an entire grocery cart at once instead of manually scanning each item. In the near future, your fridge could keep track of what's inside it, and could let you know if your're running low. Your future fridge might even be able to order your food for you; all you have to do is eat, and it will place an order for more milk or apples.

RFID can go far beyond the refrigerator, of course. Imagine your car having it embedded on the license plate. Now, instead of reading your tag, a police officer can scan it while he is still driving. This eliminates the distraction of reading it and typing it in a computer. Your car itself may have one too, as a means of keeping inventory at a dealorship. Your clothes may have them too, more or less for the same reasons.

Surely this RFID madness will raise privacy conerns. Many people don't want authorities to know thier exact location via the RFID on thier car or t-shirt. Advertisers would be able to take advantage of this too, barraging you with personal ads wherever you go. And information could be stolen off ID's with these tags. Already, the fedral government is considering on putting RFID on passports, and many privacy advocates are concerned. Obviosly RFID has its uses, but it also has its own pitfalls. Only time will tell if RFID will pe as prevailtant as to be on everything we own, allowing us to be tracked. One thing is for sure, however. RFID will be used in the retail and shipping industry as a means to keep track if inventory. Soon enough you will be able to save time at the checkout by having everything in your cart simultaniously scanned.

Keychain Breathalizer, Little Miracle of Technology

Last week, my friend Jeff and I purchased a digital keychain breathalizer. For a mere $24, we were able to pick one up at the local Tom Thumb grocery store. We thought that this was just a gimmick; for just $24, we could buy something that is so much smaller and cheaper than what police officers use to detect the BAC (Blood Alcohol Content) in intoxicated people. So we calibrated it by blowing into it (while sober, of course) and off we were to the beer store to become unsober and raise our BAC to test this little wonder.

After about 3 beers* within an hour, we breathalized ourselves. The display read 0.07% BAC. We pulled out our handy BAC calculators (little carboard wheel we got from Alcohol Awareness class) and sure enough, the keychain was correct. According to the wheel, we were supposed to be slightly intoxicated, but thanks to tolerance, we didn't have any of the symptoms. I still claim I'm not an alcoholic, by the way.

Why is this little device so important? Well for one, you could use it after a night of partying to decide whether or not you should get behind the wheel. If your BAC were 0.08% or more, you might be better off calling a cab, calling a friend, or spending the night. You can also use this handy little device to amuse friends at a party. You'd be surpirsed at how many people are shocked to see thier real BAC in correlation to how they feel. Or, if you are a concerned parent, you can breathaize your kid when he stumbles in the door 3 hours past curfew. Ah, the little wonders that technology gives us these days. What's next? A keychain that can sober you up?

*The beer used in this test was Bud Ice malt liqour with an alcohol content of 5.3%. A normal beer is around 3-4%.

Red Light Cameras: A Privacy Issue?

Many cities across the country are installing cameras at intersections to catch red light runners in the act. However, many people are protesting this move on behalf of privacy rights (which, by the way are not a right protected in the Constitution). They believe that these cameras infringe upon their privacy while they are driving on public roads. Think about that for a second.

These cameras are being installed because there aren't enough officers to just sit around and watch for red light runners. They are too busy fighting real crime and arresting drug dealers. These cameras free up resources by taking a picture of a license plate and sending the photo to the police department, who then sends the vehicle's registered owner a ticket or bill. In some cities, these are civil fines, meaning that if they are not paid, the citizen does not go to jail. Instead, a creditor will just call the red light runner during dinner time demanding the money. This money can be used for civil improvements that benifet the whole community and pay for more police and firemen.

When you are driving in your car with windows on all four sides on a public road, you have no privacy. Anyone who decides to turn thier head can see exactly what you're up to: driving. Or talking on the cell phone while eating a Big Mac and yelling at the kids. Hopefully not the latter of the two. To expect privacy in a car in public is insane. Besides, there are cameras everywhere you go. In the conveinience store, at the bank, where you work, and at the grocery store. What's one more camera at the red light gonna matter if you stop on red anyway?