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This signature will never smudgeRod Beatson of...


This signature will never smudge

Rod Beatson of Columbia never met a signature he couldn't digitize.

The British-born entrepreneur and the vice president of Digital Signatures Inc., a subsidiary of Capital Security Systems Inc., has spent more than a decade perfecting a system that turns signatures into digital code -- basically a series of 0s and 1s -- that only a computer can read.

Unlike their penciled and penned brethren, digitized signatures don't fade, smudge or give in to forgery. That makes the technology ideal for credit card companies and others that rely on signature-based electronic transactions.

Privately owned Digital Signatures has about 400 systems in place worldwide, most of them used by companies for internal security purposes. But the six-employee company has yet to break into the big time.

That may soon change. The Internal Revenue Service, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and a "major" national retailer have recently made purchases from the Columbia company. If the units perform well, Digital Signatures will reap a financial windfall.

There are a number of signature digitization systems on the market. But Mr. Beatson's version takes the technology further by measuring the unique spatial and timing features of signatures to generate an electronic "fingerprint."

When a signature is submitted for verification, it is electronically compared to the stored "fingerprint" for a match. When a match is made, the stored version is automatically updated to insure that it remains current as the signature changes over time.

In New York, the first of 300 digitizing units will start showing up in about two weeks. The IRS plans to test about 50 units during next year's tax-filing season. The Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration, meanwhile, has expressed a "strong interest" in using the system statewide starting next year, Mr. Beatson said.

Computers help keep tabs on patients

The paper chase is getting easier at Maryland General Hospital.

Earlier this month, the hospital started using a new, bedside computer system that allows health-care workers to collect and track patient data on laptop computers.

That puts Maryland General in step with other major hospitals that use such systems.

Technicians making the rounds use the computers to record a variety of critical care information, including patient diagnoses, prescribed medications and doctors' daily notes. Data collected during the day is downloaded at night into the hospital's main computer.

When rounds begin in the morning, doctors and nurses can retrieve the information, as well as any updates entered from overnight.

Maryland General is using "EasyChart," a software program developed by Baltimore-based Rockburn Systems Inc. The 18-month-old software developer specializes in medical programs. The company has sold its system to three more hospitals in Michigan and West Virginia.

Museum gets help telling of Holocaust

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., touted to be one of the most technologically sophisticated museums in America when it opens next spring, is getting a helping hand from Hypermedia Technologies International Inc. of Columbia.

Hypermedia specializes in high-end interactive multimedia systems that combine text with high-resolution graphics, stereo-quality sound and full-motion video on a personal computer.

For the museum project, Hypermedia is using Digital Video Interactive (DVI), considered within the industry to be the most advanced interactive technology available.

Museum officials have asked Hypermedia to come up with a visitor's guide that lets visitors zero in on selected information about the museum, such as upcoming events and the location of various artifacts. A prototype has been produced and a final version is in the making, says Paul Payer, Hypermedia's founder.

Can't find Fido? Just call the hotline

There are telephone hotlines for a variety of human ailments, so why not one for pets?

Sprint, the nation's No. 3 long distance company, has set up the first hotline for missing dogs and cats. There are actually two hotlines, one for people who have lost pets and another for people who have found pets. The lost hotline is a 900 number (1-900-535-1515) that costs $1.95 per minute. The found hotline (1-800-755-8111) is free.

The system, billed as "the most comprehensive pet-tracing system ever," works like this: People who find pets call the 800 line and, using their Touch-tone phone, key in information about the pet. The system asks callers a list of questions related to the breed, gender, color, size, identifying marks (ears: cropped or uncropped?) and location -- defined by zip codes -- where the pet was discovered. Callers respond by touching the appropriate key on their telephone keypad.

People who have lost pets go through a similar procedure, leaving pertinent information that the system can cross-check. When matches are found, the system "speaks" the phone number of the caller who entered the found report. Callers who don't get an immediate match are given a code to use when they call back later.

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