The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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Creative Computing Compendium (You Can't Escape Universal Product Codes (UPC), Research on Computer Errors in Air Force Computers, Nutrition analysis on UNIVAC 1108, Talking Computer ordering pizzas, Computers Monitor Biorhythms, Online Legal Data with SEARCH - System for Electronics Analysis and Retrieval of Criminal Histories, Computer Security Puzzle)

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You Can't Escape UPC

Recently, mysterious little squares filled with green, gray, and black stripes
have been appearing on boxes of cereal, cans of spaghetti, and other supermarket
items. These little squares belong to the new Universal Product Code (UPC)
scanning checkout system, and they will increase checkout speed and efficiency
in supermarkets and department stores.

[image] 9-8 7 6-5 4 3 5

The checker simply passes the UPC symbol over a slot in the counter, and it is
read by an optical reflective system which uses a lasar light source. This
symbol can contain information such as the item's department, manufacturer,
color, and size. This information is then decoded and transmitted to the
in-store computer which recalls the price from memory and sends it to the
register for display and printing on the sales receipt.

Not only does the UPC scanning system check out merchandise, it also records
information for inventory, calculates sales taxes automatically, records amounts
of tender given, displays amounts of change due, calculates employee discounts,
authorizes checks and charge accounts, and forces the salesperson to insert a
salescheck when needed. One such scanning system operates in conjunction with
NCR 255 electronic checkout terminals and an NCR 726 in-store computer and is
priced at $4995.00.

This system is easily programmed, and modular and expandable hardware makes the
Terminal Support System easily adaptable to a store's needs. Human error in
merchandise management will practically be eliminated by NCR's small green, gray
and black squares.


What? A Computer Make a Misteak?

Believe it or not, computers do make mistakes; in fact, the Rome Air Development
Center at Griffiss Air Force Base has given a $408,000 grant to the Polytechnic
Institute of New York to do research on computer errors. The research program is
aimed at predicting the number and frequency of software errors made by Air
Force computers, and hopefully, it will result in the formulation of techniques
to prevent and eliminate mistakes. If successful, it is expected that other
industries will use the report as a guide for their own studies.

The Air Force spends millions of dollars each year on correction of programming
errors. Some of these programs are several million instructions long and are
programmed by hundreds of individual programmers, each writing a small module of
code. When these codes are connected, mistakes appear because modules are tested
individually, not collectively. The real problem in producing reliable software
has been in predicting how often the software will fail when put in use. Some
large time-sharing computers fail every few hours due to software problems,
while others operate for weeks without failure. The Polytechnic team will
conduct studies on techniques for more reliably testing large programs.


Want to Lose 10 Pounds?

Do you think that your weekly grocery bill is too high? Have you been eating the
right foods? Have you been eating too much meat and not enough vegetables? A
UNIVAC 1108 computer will answer these and other questions you have about food
and your diet.

Over 12,000 Wisconsin residents have already taken advantage of the program
offered by the University of Wisconsin in Madison. One simply fills out a food
record which shows foods most frequently eaten by Wisconsin residents. A person
may fill out one to thirty forms; each form is for one day.

The results are then checked by nutrition experts, and food substitutions or
diet changes may be recommended. These recommendations are based on the person's
intake of a dozen nutrients, taking into consideration the person's age and sex.
The computer has shown that many people eat more meat than they need; these
people could cut back on meat and buy less expensive foods.


"One with Pepperoni and Mushrooms Please"


Michigan State University's "talking computer" recently ordered pepperoni and
mushroom pizzas from a local pizzeria and received them. The order was placed
under the direction of a wheelchair-bound and speech-handicapped student, who
operated the keyboard to make the computer talk over the phone. The student was
one of twenty-five guests at the pizza party for beneficiaries, supporters, and
coworkers in the project to adapt the computers to help people with speech
problems. Host of the party was Dr. John Eulenburg, professor of linguistics and
computer science, and co-designer of the talking computer.



Computers Monitor Biorhythms

Everyone has those days when they seem to be extra accident prone. One is
constantly dropping things, stubbing toes, crunching fingers, and making petty
mistakes at work. United Air Lines' San Francisco aircraft maintenance base is
using computers to discover these accident prone days by monitoring the
biorhythms of more than 28,000 employees; hopefully, the study will help reduce
on-the-job accidents.

Biorhythms are the physical, mental, and emotional ups and downs of an
individual, and they can be plotted in regular cycles. The physical cycle
repeats every twenty-three days, the emotional every twenty-eight days, and the
intellectual every thirty-three days. Studies show that individuals have more
accidents when their biorhythms are on a negative curve. In United's program,
each foreman is given a chart of each employee's "zero," "double zero," and
"triple zero" days. (A "double zero" days occurs when two cycles are in a
downphase.) Employees can then be alerted to be extra cautious on those days.


On-Line Legal Data

SEARCH (System for Electronic Analysis and Retrieval of Criminal Histories), a
federal project which stresses computerization of court records, is going to be
a part of the New Jersey legal system. A central computer storing every court
decision since 1948 will give all courthouses and law libraries in the state
access to the materials filed in the computer. Legal data will be available
swiftly on a full-text basis, so that the time-consuming tasks of research can
be accomplished with a simple push of the computer button.


Computer Security Puzzle

By concocting what could probably qualify as a code breaker's nightmare, one
researcher hopes to prevent some of the criminal manipulations that go on with
computers. Professor John Robinson of the University of Iowa is hard at work
making a computer puzzle-code of data bits that must be run before any program
can be used. For a less valuable program, he says, an operator might have to
take about 1200 data bits and arrange them correctly to have access to the
program. To further complicate the task and minimize tampering, he would include
an extra 200 useless data bits. In a more complicated program, a computer crook
might be faced with picking the right 2000 data bits out of a possible 10,000
clues and somehow figuring out the correct arrangement. That's certainly enough
to discourage lucky guessers.

Science Digest


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