This week's random hits

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Neither too wet nor too dry

Measuring microwaves to keep things just right

Biking to work on a gravel road has given me a new appreciation of moisture. If the road becomes too wet, I get coated with mud. Too dry, and I get coated with dust.

Either way, it’s a minor inconvenience. But for companies that handle coal, iron ore, and other minerals, managing moisture is serious business. If the ore becomes too dry, it releases dust that can threaten the health of miners and of people living in nearby communities. In fact, coal dust and iron-ore dust both contribute to a variety of respiratory diseases, including cancer.

The solution is simple: moisten the ore to keep the dust in check. But how much moisture? Add too little, and you haven't solved the problem. Add too much, and the ore:

  • sticks to container surfaces and becomes hard to handle
  • becomes heavier and thus more expensive to ship
  • can shift suddenly during shipment, with potentially disastrous
  • wastes water that, in many mining areas, is in scarce supply

    Enter an Australian company called Intalysis Pty Ltd (now Thermo Scientific). They have developed QNX-based, low-frequency microwave (LFM) analyzers that continuously measure the moisture content of ore as it moves along conveyer belts. Using this information, a mining company can add just the right amount of moisture to keep its ore both safe and easy to handle.

    The basic premise is simple: When microwaves hit moist materials, they slow down and weaken. By measuring this attentuation, the system can calculate the ore’s moisture content. There are, of course, challenges, such as ensuring accurate measurements when using fast, high-capacity conveyors.

    To help address these issues, the designers of the LFM3 analyzer chose the QNX Neutrino OS, which supports both the fast data-acquisition rates and high uptimes needed by this application.

    For more information on the LFM3, click here.

  • 8/07/2008

    This week's random hits

    Check back every Friday for more random hits.


    Okay, you gamers, back to work

    By now, you have probably played, or at least heard of, Pocket Geek, a Flash-based game created by Fuel Industries and the QNX marketing team. The game remains online, but if you were hoping to post a winning score, forget it: The contest portion of the game has come to a close and the winners are collecting their swag.

    I’m no gamer (the only videogame I ever mastered was Wave Race 64), so I’m always amazed at how videogames can hold people’s attention. Pocket Geek is no exception. According to the game logs, more than 57,000 unique visitors played the game over the course of 5 months. When you factor in the average playing time, those visitors spent a whopping total of 457,000 minutes on the Pocket Geek site, give or take a few minutes. And that doesn’t begin to count the time spent by folks who played Pocket Geek multiple times.

    Call me an old fart, but whenever I see someone playing a videogame, I wonder if they would be better off playing ball, walking their dog, hugging their spouse, learning guitar, or mowing an old person’s lawn. On the other hand, the folks who played Pocket Geek:
    • exercised their brains by answering the game’s skill-testing questions

    • exercised their brains even more by trying to devise a winning strategy

    • learned that being a successful project manager isn’t as easy at it looks
    In the end, I’m glad they played Pocket Geek, though my reasons are undeniably selfish. For years now, my job has been to explain QNX to people, and, often, the conversation has to start with the basics — simply blurting out that you make an embedded operating system is a guaranteed, sure-fire way to elicit a blank stare. But now, thanks to the Pocket Geek site, which contains lots of QNX info, there are thousands of people who need a little less explanation. What’s to complain about?