Categories
Business Series Technology

The Processed Food and Bacteria Problem

This week as part of the food series I would like to discuss an interview with Michael Pollan, food journalist and author of Cooked and The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Moises Velasquez-Manoff, author of An Epidemic of Absence that I heard on the radio. The podcast is available here so after I have wet your proverbial appetites you can go and listen to it.

The interviewees discuss how processed food is effecting our health, and why. As I noted in a previous post in this series, the money is in the processing, not the actual foodstuffs themselves. According to the price of a bushel of corn ($6) a large box of corn flakes holds about 7c (US) of corn, the rest is processing, packaging and transport.

This unfortunately means that the more processing involved, the more profit can be made. Today I bought a loaf of bread, and on the wrapper is written “No high fructose corn syrup”. Now if you look through the ingredients in your kitchen you will find this product in almost everything, but why? Bread is a simple thing to make, flour, water, yeast and salt. But my bread has 25 ingredient on the label, including a few that are difficult to define (dough conditioner for example) although not the dreaded high fructose corn stuff.

It is made with enriched flour, and enriched flour is exemplary of the food industry’s approach. White flour is so highly refined that it has lost much of its nutritional value, but instead of refining it less and eating it brown, we choose to add (in this case) 6 different substances to give it back some of the nutrition that has been removed during the refining process.

It’s great bread too, if you leave it in the original bag it will last for weeks, I only bought it yesterday although it was baked on 17th December but is still remarkably fresh. And this is the processing problem, it has to last, be easily stored, and not taste like it was cooked a month ago, so all of this stuff is added and others taken away.

Processed Food
Processed Food

One of the things that producers aim for is to get rid of all bacteria, as bacteria leads to age, so industrial products are sanitized as much as possible. They contain very little fiber because fiber is difficult to store and freeze, and they are made in layers of sugar and fat so that they leave a craving, so you eat more processed bread that home made bread because you continue to crave it (it’s a chemical thing, not greed).

Now the food industry produces all of this fine ready to eat fodder so that we don’t have to slave over a hot oven all day. In the US, food preparation time is down by 40% since the late 60’s so we have had more time to go to work, drive home, play space invaders and Tetris and watch our VHS tapes turn into DVD, and streaming.

This has also led to changes in how we eat. Today we have TV dinners, ready served in a heat proof disposable tray, and here in the USA 20% of all food is consumed in the car.

All of this has had an effect upon the human body in terms of bacteria. Humans have lots of bacteria living inside them (more bacteria than human cells), but these processed foods are killing of this good bacteria. The foods have very little fiber, and this is bacteria’s favourite feast. Even eating just one fast food meal has an immediate effect upon the bacteria in the stomach and intestines, they get inflamed and stop working properly. Studies have found that overweight people have inflamed bacteria, although it is unproven if this is as a result of being overweight or has worked towards making them overweight, but there seems to be a link.

It could be that this is more of a problem that sugar and fat content. Incredibly enough though these problems can be overcome quite easily, a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice with each meal dramatically improves the situation and helps the bacteria fight the onslaught.

Some think that endlessly feeding antibiotics to animals that go into the food chain for consumption may also have an effect as residue can also kill the bacteria, but that is another story.

One very interesting find is reported in the interview. People living in industrial sanitized countries are suffering ever more frequently with immune deficiency problems, and one reason might be this lack of bacteria. In a study that took place between Finland and Russia, ethnically similar peoples suffer different rates of immune deficiency depending on their upbringing. Those living in poorer conditions suffer less from these problems, as do people living on farms in less hygienic conditions in industrialized countries, and children who go to day care fare better in the long run too.

It also turns out that human breast milk contains a lot of this bacteria, and this is the major contributor to building up immunity that is missing in formula milk.

On a personal note as father of 2 small boys I would like to add that last year several articles appeared about a doctor who claims that easting nose mucus (snot, boogers) may actually help introduce pathogens into the child’s immune system that will strengthen their body’s natural germ defense, although this has not been proven.

Have a listen to the podcast and check out the books on Amazon. Oh and eat some yoghurt and pickles.

Categories
Business Environment Science Series Technology

Technology in Food Production

Over the coming weeks I am going to write a series of posts about technology and food production. Food is a topic that I have been interested in from a sociological perspective for several years, and I have a few topics that I would like to address, from GM, to regulation, sustainability and organic alternatives.

Technology plays a huge part in food production. If we just think about GM products, transport issues, industrial farming techniques and globalization in generic terms, it becomes immediately apparent that this sector is the largest in the world. According to these statistics agriculture accounts for between 14 and 24% of all global emissions of CO2, and 19 to 29% of total greenhouse pollutant emissions. An interesting point here is that in the so-called developed countries post-farm emissions are very high, so in the UK for example 50% of these emissions are produced after the food has left the farm, presumably through processing and transport techniques.

But it seems to me that processing is where the money is. According to Forbes, Pepsi for example made almost $45 billion in 2009 and Nestle’ made $110 billion, and these profits only refer to US sales. This year the sector is one of the very few that is still growing.

If you look at vegetables though they make less money. Dole is the largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, but in the same year made only $6.8 billion, leading me to conclude that the profit is in the processing and not in the actual foodstuffs themselves.

And this leads on to the question of what goes into these products. The answer is, largely, genetically modified (GM) organisms.

Genetic Modification
Genetic Modification

Yes if we look at the statistics that the US Department of Agriculture publish, we find the following:

93% of soybeans grown in the USA are GM

90% of all corn produced in the US is GM

95% of US sugar beat is GM

40% of all cropland in the US is used for Monsanto (the largest GM seed producer) production

40% of all global GM crops are produced in the US

35% of all the corn grown in the world is GM

81% of all the soybeans grown in the world are GM

I take some of my information from here, the Organic Consumers Association website and the rest from US government sources.

So as you can see it is big business. It is estimated that 70% of all the foods in our supermarkets contains GM organisms. 16.5 million people work in the industry in the US and it accounts for more than 10% of GDP.

And it is not just plants, there is a request for FDA approval for GM salmon. It grows at twice the speed of regular salmon.

The GM salmon, produced by AquaBounty Technologies contains a gene from a Chinook salmon that produces a growth hormone, and a genetic “on-switch” from an ocean pout (an eel-like fish) that keeps the growth hormone pumping out year round. The company state that GM salmon will consume 25 percent less feed, half of which can be plant protein.

Oh and in the US none of this is labeled, although currently 64 other countries do require labeling.

GM organisms have been found in many countries that do not allow their production however, Mexico comes to mind as the closest example to the USA. Seeds have blown across the borders from the US, over the mountains, across the seas, possibly even from Brazil and Argentina and landed and grown. Not to mention imports of contaminated produce. Read the scientific report here.

Corn is socially extremely important in Mexico, its cultivation all started there, and this contamination has caused some serious soul searching. In a related issue GM companies are currently trying to get permission for huge plantations in Mexico, as this Reuters article explains. We await the court’s decision.

For now I stop here, I think that is enough food for thought for this week (groan). Next week I shall delve once more into the murky waters of the global food industry however, and who knows what we might find. Comments please below.

Categories
Business How To Guides

Ideas on how to promote a startup on a budget

Successful startups have some things in common and top notch marketing is one of them. You might have come up with the greatest idea in the world or built the coolest application, but if other people don’t know about it, your idea or product isn’t worth much. Many young entrepreneurs get so sucked into the creation of the product, that they treat marketing as an afterthought. But as I said before, if users don’t know about a product they won’t be using it.

The immense popularity of the internet has leveled the playing fields, so someone with a small budget working from a garage can compete with big companies as long as they have a cool idea. In fact they might have a better chance in some niches because people have started to distrust companies. Below are few ways you can promote your startup – specifically tech startups.

Social Media

The starting point is creating a Facebook page and a Twitter account. Both are free to start and you have the potential to tap into millions of users. You can get the ball rolling by asking your friends to like and share the page.Business Networking in the 21st Century

Social networks are a good place to share your ideas and plans and get some feedback on them. Every little things count to successfully promote your product. If you have a product that is catering to a specific niche, then try joining a similar niche social network as well.

Contacting Leading Blogs and Getting Press Coverage

Once you come up with a working solution you can contact leading industry blogs to cover your product. Most major technology blogs like TechCrunch and Mashable have separate application forms for startups, so if you are confident about your product you can submit to them.

EDITOR NOTE: I must have misread, I couldn’t see Technology Bloggers among those ‘major technology blogs’! 😉 One day… – note by Christopher

Not only will you get massive exposure you will be able to get funding as well. Even if you don’t get published in major publications there are many other websites that promote startups and you can find many of them by doing a simple Google search.

Attending Conferences

Attending conferences and your local tech gatherings is another great way to spread the word about your product. Attending major conferences helps you network with people and pitch your product to industry leaders.

Local gathering are important because in most of these you will be able to present your product to an audience using a projector, which is far more effective than reading an article about your product. You will also get instant feedback on how you can improve your product as well.

Search Engine Optimization

Another promotion stream that is ignored by most startups is search engine optimization. Although most people in the technology field know about SEO, few actually try to leverage its power. This is especially useful if you are a global product catering to a non tech crowd. They won’t be reading Mashable and attending tech conferences, so the most probable way they will find your product is via search engines.

Even if you are catering to a tech crowd search engine optimization is a must. The long term benefits of SEO are immense. Although it is advisable to outsource your SEO work, if you have lots of content produced through your blog and website, it is better to hire your own SEO engineer. Be careful though, as black-hat SEO can be very damaging to a site, so if you do outsource, make sure it is to someone trustworthy.

Mentioned above are some major things you can do to promote your tech startup. Always remember that more people know about your product the better. The bigger your customer base, the likelihood is, the more money you will make/people you will help!

Categories
Business Environment Science Technology

E-Waste and Computer Recycling

I am by no means a ‘techie’ as Christopher calls himself, but a quick look round my house reveals a quite astounding history. In various cupboards I find an HP desktop computer from about 10 years ago, very rarely if ever used, another obsolete Hitachi desktop from 15 years ago, my last Chinese laptop (the lid broke off), an IBM Thinkpad, an HP laptop, an old Vaio and even an Ollivetti laptop from 20 years ago.

I have never thrown them out for various reasons, one being security, another being that one day I might need my undergraduate dissertation for something and the third being that I want to know what happens to them when they are taken away.

Recently I have learned that all is not quite what it seems with recycling of computers too, and this makes my quandary all the more difficult.

Chinese workers take apart electronic trash on the street in Guiyu, China.

Several companies offer to recycle your old computer for you, and an enormous industry has grown up around the trade in old technology. In China entire cities have been born that specialize in taking our old stuff, but I feel that recycling is a bit of a big word to use for the ensuing process, as it has positive connotations. The computers are dismantled and all of the re usable pieces taken away, then the rest is dumped in a large pile. People from the surrounding areas scratch a living by doing a bit of home made scavenging, be that boiling components on their cooker at home or dipping cables in acid baths to extract the tiny bits of semi precious metals that they contain. Obviously this is done without regulation, and the results are often poisoning for those involved and the surrounding areas. See this photo essay about the city of Guiyu pictured above, probably the largest e-dumping ground on Earth today, and where a large portion of the products in question end up.

Another possibility is that the computers are shipped as donations to the Third World. These donations come in containers, not packaged in cardboard however but just thrown in, so although some do work, the majority don’t. The recipients have to unload them and try each one to see if it is usable. Those that don’t have to be dumped, and can be found piled up in heaps or abandoned by the roadside outside the larger African Cities, again to poison the ground etc.

This video from Ghana goes into greater detail.

India has some recycling sites and used to import waste for processing but now the problem is that the country itself is now a major producer of waste as it becomes one of the most technology saturated countries on the planet. And India is not alone, consumer societies all over the ex developing world are hungry for new technology, and obsolescence is just round the corner. This short article in Time expands upon the argument.

Large sums of money are involved as we would imagine, but the industry is practically non-regulated in real terms. Government regulation does exist but with the majority of the work carried out in the informal economy it is not adhered to, and dirty job as it may be it provides income for hundreds of thousands of poor migrant labourers.

And we are speaking about a problem that can only get worse. I personally don’t think it has to or should be like this however, it is not fair and it is exploitation, and so my question is ‘what can be done about it?’ Or more correctly ‘what can we do about it?’ We are the guilty party after all.

Categories
News Technology

3D printing – a revolution on the horizon?

What an achievement, this is my (Christopher Roberts’s) 100th post on Technology Bloggers!

Thank you everyone for your support, I love writing here, and that is because of the fantastic community we have created 🙂

3D printers have been around for around 20 years now, however it is only recently that they have really started to show their true potential, both in industrial and now even domestic settings.

Thanks to the recent advancements in 3D printing, CAD designs can be constructed into physical prototypes (and in some cases now even final products) by 3D printers. 3D printers have the potential to revolutionise the way we live our lives, due the variety of possibilities they unlock. 3D printing could revolutionise architecture, product design, industry, education, and so much more!

What exactly is 3D printing?

Most people have access to a normal printer, be it black and white or colour, ink jet or laser. Those sorts of printers however, only work in 2 dimensions, they can print content in the dimension that is left to right, and the dimension that is forward to back. 3D printing adds in another dimension, up and down. Therefore 3D printing means that you can print in height, length and breadth.

Why is 3D printing important?

Some critics have speculated that 3D printing will be as big, if not a bigger revolution to industry, and the way we live our lives, than the internet was. The internet has opened up so many opportunities, but it is believed that 3D printing, could possibly open up even more!

For architects, it will mean that within minutes, they will be able to print on screen prototypes of buildings, so they have a tangible product to show the customer, in virtually no time at all!

For retail, 3D printing could mean that shops hold no stock, and products (less complex ones at first, but branching out in the future) could be made to order, on site! No longer would shops be out of stock, so long as they have material to print on, they can make new products, there and then.

For healthcare, the new printing capabilities will mean that body part replacements can be accurately measured, designed, and then printed. Yeah, printed bones! Just last month, it was publicised that the first 3D printed jaw had transplanted onto the face of a woman from the Netherlands. The jaw was matched to the shape of the patient’s original jaw, using CAD modelling, and then layers of titanium powder were melted into shape by the powerful lasers that make up the 3D printer.

How do 3D printers work?

Different 3D printers work in different ways. Some work by building the object slowly, layer upon layer in an upwards direction, whilst others work by cutting down into a material. The titanium jaw example from above was built by building upwards creating layers upon layers of material, from titanium powder fused together by laser.

What materials can be ‘printed’ on?

Currently you can ‘print’ on plastics, metals, ceramics, glass, and even certain malleable foods (such as sugars and chocolate). In the future that selection of materials is likely to be expanded, and some even believe that we could grow human bone, and then 3D print replacements – that is still a way off at the moment though!

Could you get a 3D printer?

Many firms are looking to capitalise on the decreasing cost of 3D printers, so much so that some companies are now offering (simpler) domestic versions for home use!

One firm selling 3D printers to the domestic market is the New York company MakerBot. Makerbot are offering a basic 3D printer, which can create plasic objects using CAD software, for $1,749 (around £1,100).

MakerBot's 3D PrinterIn an interview with the BBC, MakerBot’s chief executive Bre Pettis, claimed that the printer is “a machine that makes you anything you need” which is “handy in an apocalypse or just handy for making shower curtain rings and bathtub plugs.”

Mr Pettis also said he hoped to get his printers “into the hands of the next generation because kids these days are going to have to learn digital design so they can solve the problems of tomorrow”.

Another company, (called 3D systems) is offering its ‘Cube’ 3D printers at a similar price to Makerbot, marketing it as a tool to express your creativity. The company is currently working on an app that will allow users to use the Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor to create objects, simply by moving their hands through the air!

3D Systems 3D printer - Cube
Some of 3D Systems ‘Cube’ printers, prining 3D objects

3D printing is bringing to the global market a fast and increasingly affordable way of turning ideas into reality. No longer will the joys of flexible design be limited to those with CAD jobs and the luxury of a prototype department. There is now a big incentive for people to learn CAD techniques and how to use CAD software. Many countries are now investing in 3D printing technologies, as they can see the potential; IT jobs in the UK and abroad are likely to see big benefits from this.

3D printing is real, and it is here.

So, what do you think about 3D printing, will it revolutionise the way we live our lives – even as much as the internet did? Or do you think that it is a waste of resources, and that it will never really be cost effective enough to be used on a mass scale?

Categories
Business Internet

Daily Deal Market Ripe For Consolidation

According to Yipit, there are 384 daily deal websites operating in North America that it knows about. This number is almost certainly far higher once you consider all the smaller sites that are not able to run deals each and every day.

So is the market too saturated? Is the industry doomed to fail because there are too many competitors competing for an ever shrinking supply of customers?

In 1876 Alexander Graham Bell demonstrated the telephone and one of the biggest communications companies of the time immediately dismissed it with the famous quote:

“This ‘telephone’ has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.”

That company was Western Union and the lack of foresight for this new technology meant they were never able to compete in the profitable telecommunications industry – an industry which they had previously dominated with their telegram service.

Between 1894 and 1904 over six thousand telephone companies went in to business and from there mergers, acquisitions and closures happened to consolidate the industry to just a handful of companies today.

In 1939 there were 132 railroads in America, today that number is just seven as mergers, acquisitions and closures meant huge consolidation in that industry.

An early 1900's American train
The sort of train that powered America in the early 1900’s

In 2005 there were a huge number of social networks available, Myspace, Orkut, Bebo, Friendster and Classmates to name but a few. Today? We have one site, Facebook as the market consolidated.

In 2007 there was just one daily deal website worth mentioning which was Woot, a hugely popular and profitable website that continues to grow and increase its revenues. After the launch of Groupon it spawned off thousands of clones around the world, over 400 of them in American alone.

Since 2009 there have been 72 acquisitions in the daily deal industry, 44 coming in the last 6 months alone. Groupon have gone for an expansion by acquisition business model with at least 8 buys under its belt, Google too is eyeing up the industry with several acquisitions in the daily deal market to expand its Google Offers programme.

There are plenty of other acquisitions too, LivingSocial have bought at least seven daily deal sites and BuyWithMe have purchased 6 daily deal sites before they too have been purchased.

So just like other new inventions and markets spawned hundreds of clones, it might look like the daily deal market is in decline as the number of sites decreases but there is still a very healthy merger and acquisition process taking place as the deal market looks to consolidate and become profitable.

Categories
Media

Is paying for music a thing of the past?

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With the availability of streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify, and Rdio all available for free and unlimited access, there are fewer people than ever actually paying for their music. According to a recent article on TechCrunch, Tom Conrad, the CTO of Pandora, said that about 50 percent of Americans don’t pay anything for music while another 40 percent only pay $15 a year for it.

If you were to walk into a big retail shop ten years ago, one of the biggest sections in the electronic media department would have been a massive collection of compact discs. Today with the likes of iPhone, and Android, CD’s have made technologies like compact discs seem old and obsolete technologies of the past.

The biggest culprit to the recording industry has been the proliferation of bit torrents and peer-to-peer piracy software. According to Torrent Freak, the Canadian Broadband Management Company says that forty percent of all internet traffic in North America comes from either Netflix or Bit Torrent. While the original intention of this sharing software was to make it easier for business to transfer important files, most of the traffic from it today comes from the illegal trade of music, television shows, and movies.

While services like Pandora, Spotify, and Rhapsody have a paid-premium option available, their free services are so convenient that there is no real reason to purchase them. Unless you want a completely advertising-free experience or simply want an unlimited data cap on what you can access per a week, the free versions of these programs work just as well and include almost all of the features. Ironically, the only companies that actually have to purchase these plans are the small retail stores that are selling you the music.

Spotify's LogoThe RIAA is having an abysmal time selling digital copies of singles and albums to consumers. Not only are the versions that are available online cheaper and make less money, they are also much easier to steal, copy, and distribute illegally over the internet. Google is partially to blame for this widespread availability of illegally traded music.

According to an article in the Daily Mail, if you type in your favourite artist into a Google search, several unauthorized and pirated versions of the song will show up available for stream or download. While Google is not implicitly to blame for this, they are turning a blind eye to the practice by ranking them higher in search results.

The person who is most responsible for the digitisation of music is the late Steve Jobs. When the iPod first appeared on the market, Steve spearheaded the movement to make iTunes the ultimate way to purchase music online. In an article in the Inquirer, David Hughes (head of technology at the RIAA) claimed that Steve was a hypocrite for claiming to be a spiritual leader but not putting enough piracy protection on digital downloads.

There is no turning back from the digital way of selling and listening to music. We have come too far in our technological advances and reverting to older methods such as CD’s and cassettes would seriously hamper our tech advances.

The music industry will need to find new ways to make income such as advertising, product placement, and incorporation in order to continue to make a profit… or it could just go away and make music an art form.

Categories
Computers News Science

Is your computer damaging your eyes?

Do computer screens do any real and lasting damanage to our eyes? There is a lot of debate on this issue, which I am going to explore in this article.


A healthy looking eye

There is no escaping them, screens are everywhere. At home, many of us choose to use computers, games consoles, and televisions – although they all seem to be merging into one.

At work we often are forced to spend hours each day staring at screens in order to get our job done. Word and Excel vs the dreaded filing cabinates, it’s an easy decision for many of us! In schools, many children now use computers more than they use pens and paper. Even when we are on the go, many of us carry phone with us, to keep us up to date and in sync, whilst we are out and about.

Eyes

One must therefore consider: are there any potentially dangerous side effects of using all these devices? We all get headaches from time to time, and computers are probably the cause of some of them. Often, when working at a screen for prolonged periods of time, many of us also get eye strain.

The short term effects of using a PC are unquestionable, but are there any dangerously irreversible long term effects on our eyes? Well according to my research, no, there aren’t. However, there is the possibility for long term effects for other parts of our body.

UPDATE: This article was written in 2011, and whilst there is still no conclusive evidence that suggests prolonged exposure to screens can cause irreversable damage to the eyes, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that looking at screens too closely and for too often may well cause eye problems in later life.


The eye of someone staring at a computer screen

Posture

Our back and neck are especially vulnerable, due to the large amount of time we spend sitting down in one position. Even with good posture, sitting in the same position for hours on end is not good for your body, that’s why we have muscles, bones and joints!

Repetitive strain injury is also a big issue. Many office workers will at some point experience this, in either their wrists or hands, due to the nature of typing and using a mouse.

In fact, repetitive strain injury is such a big issue, it is estimated that its annual cost to UK industry is between 5 and 20 billion pounds! In the US, the figures are also similar.

Despite its potentially harmful effects on the body, computers cause no proven long term damage to your eyes. Symptoms like sore eyes, blurred vision and a change in colour perception are usually only short term, and clear within hours of leaving the screen.

To help yourself avoid the short term computer-related symptoms of eye strain, my best advice is take regular breaks. Get a drink, go to the loo or just have a wander around every 30-40 minutes and you should be able to avoid such symptoms altogether.

Why not have a break now? Go on, get up from your desk and go and have a wander. 🙂 If you are using a tablet or are on your mobile, take five minutes off and then read another article. 😉

Why not? Your eyes will love you. 🙂

Categories
Computers News Science

Is your computer damaging your eyes?

Do computer screens do any real and lasting damanage to our eyes? There is a lot of debate on this issue, which I am going to explore in this article.


A healthy looking eye

There is no escaping them, screens are everywhere. At home, many of us choose to use computers, games consoles, and televisions – although they all seem to be merging into one.

At work we often are forced to spend hours each day staring at screens in order to get our job done. Word and Excel vs the dreaded filing cabinates, it’s an easy decision for many of us! In schools, many children now use computers more than they use pens and paper. Even when we are on the go, many of us carry phone with us, to keep us up to date and in sync, whilst we are out and about.

Eyes

One must therefore consider: are there any potentially dangerous side effects of using all these devices? We all get headaches from time to time, and computers are probably the cause of some of them. Often, when working at a screen for prolonged periods of time, many of us also get eye strain.

The short term effects of using a PC are unquestionable, but are there any dangerously irreversible long term effects on our eyes? Well according to my research, no, there aren’t. However, there is the possibility for long term effects for other parts of our body.

UPDATE: This article was written in 2011, and whilst there is still no conclusive evidence that suggests prolonged exposure to screens can cause irreversable damage to the eyes, there is a growing body of evidence which suggests that looking at screens too closely and for too often may well cause eye problems in later life.


The eye of someone staring at a computer screen

Posture

Our back and neck are especially vulnerable, due to the large amount of time we spend sitting down in one position. Even with good posture, sitting in the same position for hours on end is not good for your body, that’s why we have muscles, bones and joints!

Repetitive strain injury is also a big issue. Many office workers will at some point experience this, in either their wrists or hands, due to the nature of typing and using a mouse.

In fact, repetitive strain injury is such a big issue, it is estimated that its annual cost to UK industry is between 5 and 20 billion pounds! In the US, the figures are also similar.

Despite its potentially harmful effects on the body, computers cause no proven long term damage to your eyes. Symptoms like sore eyes, blurred vision and a change in colour perception are usually only short term, and clear within hours of leaving the screen.

To help yourself avoid the short term computer-related symptoms of eye strain, my best advice is take regular breaks. Get a drink, go to the loo or just have a wander around every 30-40 minutes and you should be able to avoid such symptoms altogether.

Why not have a break now? Go on, get up from your desk and go and have a wander. 🙂 If you are using a tablet or are on your mobile, take five minutes off and then read another article. 😉

Why not? Your eyes will love you. 🙂

Categories
Business Technology

Barcoding – a history and the future

Many youngsters these days are not aware of how recent barcoding technology actually is. In the 1970’s a mere forty odd years ago, it would have been a rarity to see a barcode – anywhere.

Before the barcode, retail was not nearly as efficient as it currently is. Often, till assistants would have to memorise the price of every product in the shop, or products would be individually priced. Furthermore, it was almost impossible to keep tabs on stock levels in real time.

Barcodes revolutionised industry.

Barcoding in retail

Now when you pick an item and take it to the till, a barcode is scanned. The till is linked to a central database where all the barcodes for that shop (or even the entire shop chain) are stored. Information on the price of the product, the stock of the product and usually a description and or image of the product, is all stored in relation to the barcode. Upon scanning, the price is retrieved from the database and one unit is deducted form the shops stock list.

Barcoding makes it easy to increase prices and to reorder stock, that way if something has high demand and is selling fast, more orders can (sometimes electronically) placed and the store can consider raising the price.

Barcoding in car production

Barcodes are also used in many other areas, one example being car production. In car production, each car will be given a barcode. That barcode will often contain information such as the type of car that is to be made, how the car is to be styled, what colour the car is to be pained etc.

Parts that have been made for that car will often also be associated with the same barcode, to ensure that every bit gets to the right car.

The classic barcode is the one with lots of vertical lines, each of different thickness. Below is an example of a classic barcode.

A Random Classic BarcodeDespite the classic barcodes uses, many people believe that the future of barcoding lies with QR codes.

QR Codes

QR codes are like barcodes in that they are all unique, however the image itself can actually store some information. QR codes are common in Japan, however they are slowly making their way westward, and and not uncommon in Europe now.

If you go to your fridge or a cupboard and pick up half a dozen items, the chances are at least one of them will have a QR code. I found one on some cheese the other day 🙂

QR Code‘ stands for ‘Quick Response Code‘ as they can quickly retrieve information, just by decoding the pixels in the QR code/image.

QR Codes are basically a code (durr) containing some form of information, be it text, a URL, etc. When you run the image through a QR decoder, it will work out what data is stored in the image.

Confused? Okay, let me give you an example. Below is a QR code image. If run the image through a smart phone QR decoder or an online QR decoder, you should find that it contains the information ‘www.TechnologyBloggers.org’. Why not try it out?

Technology Bloggers QR Code
When decoded this QR Code says 'www.TechnologyBloggers.org'


That information is stored in the actual image, and there is no need for you to connect to a database. That is why many people believe that they are the future of barcoding, as a barcode stores no actual data in the lines, just a reference to a counterpart on a database.

QR codes could store the name of a product and the price on that actual barcode image – although to deduct stock, they would need to be linked into the stock database.

In many countries, QR codes are being used in advertisements, and in some places, that are being used as the actual advert. This is to try and encourage people to decode the image and find out what it means.

So what do you think, are QR codes the future of barcoding? Could they both coexist, or will one emerge on top? What is your opinion of QR codes?

Over to you 🙂