4 ‘Unusual’ Technology & Computing Uses

Estimated reading time: 3 mins

1. A friend just showed me that the Apple iPhone is the most sophisticated spirit-level on the market! Wow! It just goes to show how inventive and innovative we humans can be.

The app I was shown is known as ‘A-Level’ and it’s a spirit-level simulator using the iPhone’s motion detectors to determine whether it is flat, or not. It has numerical readouts which tells you by how many degrees off level you are. We’re all use to the ‘bubble’ we see with traditional analog spirit-levels so the app also shows the traditional bubble too, on-screen. How accurate is it? Well the app comes with a disclaimer that says "This application is for recreational use only". However the friend who showed it to me is a buildings surveyor and he swears by it!

You can download A-Level from the if you have an iPhone or iTouch. Don’t do a search for A-Level if you don’t have adult filters switched on, by the way, as you may see disagreeable results!

This isn’t a review of A-Level… it did make me think about how technology is put to use in applications way beyond the imagination of the original concept and design , and to throw the question out if anyone else has recently experienced something like this that amazed.

2. Perhaps the best example of all is that small thing called the Internet? It started out as a US Government project in 1958, according to Wikipedia , spurred by the USSRs launch of Sputnik. It’s original use was to network together nationwide radar systems. Subsequent evolvement gave us what we see today! Maybe we don’t see this as unusual because the Internet is ‘standard’ for most of us, particularly for ‘digital natives ‘. But imagine if you were back in the late 50s and were told that the ARPA network would one day carry the world’s economy, products, porn, home videos, music, gambling, friendships, etc. you’d have laughed!

3. Broadband over power lines , or Power Line Communication , is a fantastic idea to use technology in a way never envisaged by it’s original designers. The data is carried over a ‘modulated carrier signal’ (waves within waves) along power lines – the ‘beauty’ of this solution is that power lines go everywhere, and they’re already there, so the infrastructure required is low and inexpensive when compared to other types of broadband technology. Interestingly, a carrier wave over power lines was first introduced in 1922 . In 1940 , carrier waves were used to transmit signals from baby alarms. However the amount of data that could be transmitted was low, and the signals were proprietary.

4. Image Compression using fractals has probably gone way beyond the imagination of Benoît Mandelbrot , who coined the phrase ‘fractal’ in 1975 . The term ‘fractal’ comes from the latin word ‘fractus’, which translates as ‘broken’. Fractals are geometric shapes that are ‘self-similar’ which means that portions of the shape are a copy of the whole shape. Lost you yet? No matter – it’s fair to say that fractals started as academic curios and an artform of science. But the use of fractals was adopted by image compression designers because it is generally true that, particularly for photographs, parts of images represent other parts of images so the amount of information needed to store the image can be reduced. A guy called Michael Barnsley holds many patents for fractal compression and his first commercial algorithm was completed in 1987.

I’ve come up with this list of four – it’s the best I can do for now. I’m scratching my head for more! Can you think of unusual uses of technology or computers?

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