Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

60 years of the bar code

Barcode

It seems that Sunday, October 7, 2012, was the 60th anniversary of the bar code.

I really had no idea it had been around so long, although it seems that while it may have been conceived in 1952, it would be another 20 years and need the arrival of the laser in the 1970s to bring practical bar code readers that would allow it to sweep into supermarkets in what is probably its best known use.

You can hardly buy anything that doesn’t have a bar code printed, stamped, or tied to id somewhere, and will be scanned to register your purchase.

For such applications, bar codes are assigned by a controlling body – a fairly obvious requirement, and one which means that wherever in the world a bar code is swiped, it will (or should) identify the same product. See GS1 UK for more on this.

I feel the need to mention bar codes because I ended up using the things once, when I wrote a software package to control the flow of work throughout a business. The main advantage to be gained was the avoidance of repeatedly entering the same details into computer terminals to identify a job every time it was worked on, or when and item was returned to the factory. Instead of searching for things like serial numbers, a quick swipe with a laser scanner, and the item was identified and re-entered into the system – provided it had been seen before, of course.

Turns out there is not just one bar code system, but many of them, each with relative advantages and disadvantages regarding accuracy and convenience – and size, important if small items are to be coded.

Way back when I was creating these systems, I even prepared my own home accounts system that logged my purchases, and I could just scan all the rubbish I bought and brought home. Murphy was watching me, as usual, and while things like bar code scanners should work for years without a problem, the scanner I managed to acquire for this job dropped dead after a few years, despite having an easy life and only be used for a few minutes at a time. By way of contrast, the same device used in the factory, and abused daily by numerous different staff, dropped, dragged along the floor, and stood on… well, it just kept on working while mine died, and stayed dead.

While I like the bar code, which carries no data, and merely indexes a database that holds the real data regarding the item it identifies, I hate the QR code. For some reason, I never liked it, even though I could see some uses for it, as it can actually carry some data relating to the item it belongs to. Even with its potential advantages over the simple bar code, I just can’t work up any enthusiasm for the QR code.

And after all the rubbish apps that have been created for use with smart phones… I like it even less.

Maybe there’s a latent case of “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” regarding the arrival of the QR code after the bar code, and I just prefer the original.

Unfortunately, much as I might be interested to see what happens 60 years after the QR code was invented, and if anyone cares enough to mention it on the day – I know I won’t be around to check.

Oh well – there’s always reincarnation.

 

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October 7, 2012 - Posted by | Civilian | , ,

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