Beep. Beep. Beep.
October 6, 2009 11:47 PM   Subscribe

On October 7, 1952, the first patent [PDF] for a barcode was issued. Today, Google is celebrating the anniversary with a special logo. Why not generate your own or find out how they work. In addition to generally making things easier, barcodes also have to power to mesmerize world leaders.
posted by Deathalicious (49 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
The logo isn't showing up on the logos page just yet. Obviously it's on the Google Home Page right now. Here's a direct link to the logo for posterity.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:49 PM on October 6, 2009


I don't know what the right balance is, but Google seems to be averaging a "special" logo every week these last 2 months or so.

Crop circles? Come off it.

Plus, it caused me to waste 20 minutes reading about crop circles.

At least I know the first one recorded was in Hartford Shire.

posted by uncanny hengeman at 11:53 PM on October 6, 2009 [4 favorites]


And here's a somewhat longer article from the Washington Post. It's pretty clear that the Post article swiped a great deal of the content for the article from Wikipedia, including the somewhat unusual link to the patent PDF.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:55 PM on October 6, 2009


I don't know what the right balance is, but Google seems to be averaging a "special" logo every week these last 2 months or so.

Not sure if this is why, but in the past whenever anyone I knew in the tech industry was spending a lot of time on quirky in-house projects, it was because there wasn't enough real work to go around. Perhaps just another symptom of the crappy economy.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:56 PM on October 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


Google seems to have forgotten it's "don't be evil" slogan: barcodes are the mark of the devil!
posted by Jimmy Havok at 12:05 AM on October 7, 2009


What's with that crappy dithering? Yuck.
posted by ryanrs at 12:11 AM on October 7, 2009


Google uses different modified logos in different countries. In Japan they just got a beautiful special logo for Moon Viewing Day and in the U.S. we get a stupid barcode. Is Google trying to tell us something about our culture?
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:12 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Google uses different modified logos in different countries. In Japan they just got a beautiful special logo for Moon Viewing Day and in the U.S. we get a stupid barcode. Is Google trying to tell us something about our culture?

Yes. It's telling us that we don't celebrate Moon Viewing Day, but we do use a lot of barcodes.
posted by The Tensor at 12:15 AM on October 7, 2009 [14 favorites]


Oct 02, 2009 Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday - (Selected Countries)

Heh, I wonder which countries weren't selected.
posted by delmoi at 12:24 AM on October 7, 2009


I lost respect for Google's logos last Friday, October 2nd, because they had Ghandi's birthday and Brazil's acquisition of the Olympics in rotation and DID NOT have the 50th anniversary of The Twilight Zone.

I thought they were Google.
posted by CarlRossi at 12:47 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


OMG GUYS DID YOU KNOW THAT EVERY BARCODE HAS THE NUMBERS 6-6-6 IN THEM AND DID YOU KNOW THERE'S A BIT IN THE BIBLE ABOUT THE MARK OF THE BEAST AND YE SHALL KNOW FROM THEIR FLATULENT BELLOWINGS ETC YOU CAN READ MORE ABOUT IT HERE!
posted by turgid dahlia at 1:01 AM on October 7, 2009


You can't talk about bar code patents without talking about Jerome Lemelson.
posted by caddis at 1:11 AM on October 7, 2009


That "find out how they work" link is actually really fascinating. I had no idea companies had to pay annually for the right to use barcodes. God damn, what a racket.
posted by Roman Graves at 2:15 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


O beautiful bark
Skin of the tree, so rustic and dried
Evenings at the park
Scribing on thee, about love that has died.

Wait, this isn't the thread about bark odes?
posted by qvantamon at 2:38 AM on October 7, 2009 [13 favorites]


I had no idea companies had to pay annually for the right to use barcodes. God damn, what a racket.

Well, they have to be unique, so someone has to coordinate the numbering.

Think of them as domain names.
posted by rokusan at 3:18 AM on October 7, 2009


also, CueCat - how quaint!
posted by scruss at 3:34 AM on October 7, 2009


The "How it works" article tells how to create coupon bar codes. I can now create and print my own "discounts!"
posted by Obscure Reference at 3:56 AM on October 7, 2009


The Wikipedia article on Code 128 (the format Google used) has some jumps to other sources for generating your own codes than just ZXing (as linked to in the Post's article). I wonder if they'll do something similar for the 10th anniversary of the "3D barcode" in 2013.
posted by hrbrmstr at 4:02 AM on October 7, 2009


It's pretty clear that the Post article swiped a great deal of the content for the article from Wikipedia, including the somewhat unusual link to the patent PDF.

Oh boy, that's embarrassing. Yet another "traditional media" fail.
posted by Skeptic at 4:09 AM on October 7, 2009


I find it interesting that old cuecat scanners have found new life as library organizing tools.

Also.
posted by Vectorcon Systems at 4:51 AM on October 7, 2009


Mad magazine takes on bar codes. If you look at the next year or so worth of covers you will see that they came up with some wisecrack about the UPC code on every issue.
posted by TedW at 5:26 AM on October 7, 2009


Not sure if this is why, but in the past whenever anyone I knew in the tech industry was spending a lot of time on quirky in-house projects, it was because there wasn't enough real work to go around.

To be honest, Google is big enough now that they probably have a guy who is Head of Special Logos. And it may be a silly in-house project, but it certainly gets them press for doing very little, so I would just call it cheap marketing.
posted by smackfu at 5:45 AM on October 7, 2009


Of course, there's
The Bar Code Tattoo
posted by cccorlew at 5:51 AM on October 7, 2009


The bar code lets me play checker at the supermarket. It's kind of fun, scanning my own groceries in the do-it-yourself lane.

I remember when they first came out, the equipment was super-tempremental, the angle of the scan had to be just right and the glass had to be wiped frequently. At the beginning it took longer to check out.

Of course it was way more accurrate and now I get an itemized receipt, showing me each item, its cost and how much I saved by combining loss leaders with coupons.

So, beep, beep, beep!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:21 AM on October 7, 2009


Deathalicious: It's pretty clear that the Post article swiped a great deal of the content for the article from Wikipedia, including the somewhat unusual link to the patent PDF.

Skeptic: Oh boy, that's embarrassing. Yet another "traditional media" fail.

Wait though... the "Post" article is just a republishing of a TechCrunch article. So, "new media" fail?
posted by ericost at 6:46 AM on October 7, 2009


A lot of elderly people are going to open their browser and see the mark of the Beast where their googles should be and take it as a sign of the 2012 apocalypse. Seriously.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 6:48 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Back when I was a boy Beese and bar codes began to enter wide usage, there was some concern expressed about the potential Orwellian implications - i.e. "You mean a computer will be able to keep a record of what I bought?"

They were dismissed as paranoids, of course.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:58 AM on October 7, 2009


Mad magazine takes on bar codes.

Thanks! Those are neat.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 7:42 AM on October 7, 2009



My favorite barcode story is from 1992, when President Bush the Elder was amazed to see a supermarket scanner.

Of course, that led me to vote for Perot, but the early 90s were at tough time to be 18-20 in.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:47 AM on October 7, 2009


57th (that's 57: the Cork Anniversary!) anniversary of some bar code patent? Slow holiday week, huh?
posted by rusty at 7:58 AM on October 7, 2009


I scanned the barcode with RedLaser and apparently the corresponding numbers are 45217623. I wonder whether that's another mark of the beast.
posted by downing street memo at 8:02 AM on October 7, 2009


From that list of special Google logos page...

  Oct 02, 2009: Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday - (Selected Countries)

Selected countries? In which countries didn't Google display this, and why?
posted by rokusan at 8:13 AM on October 7, 2009


The corresponding numbers are 45217623. I wonder whether that's another mark of the beast.

Nice thought, but apparently it just says "GOOGLE" in Code-128 ASCII.

Make your own here.
posted by rokusan at 8:17 AM on October 7, 2009


You can't talk about bar code patents without talking about Jerome Lemelson.

Every time I'm in the National Museum of American History I start ranting about the Lemelson name being connected with the place. Of course it's good use for some of that money he made, but I think it's be more appropriate if the grandfather of patent trolls had his name associated with a bridge underpass.
posted by exogenous at 8:36 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Wait though... the "Post" article is just a republishing of a TechCrunch article. So, "new media" fail?

What about "media fail", period? TechCrunch for lazily swiping Wikipedia (now there's a surprise), WP for acquiring content from lazy "new media" types, then charging its advertisers for it.
posted by Skeptic at 8:44 AM on October 7, 2009


One of my business cards is just a bar code. No names, no human readable numbers or email addresses.

Totally useless for people trying to get a hold of me (unless they scan it and get my phone number that way) but it looks hella cool.

Now if only I could find a circumstance where I needed to give out business cards, I'd be all set.
posted by quin at 9:06 AM on October 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Visiting the exhibition hall of the National Grocers Association convention here, Mr. Bush lingered at the mock-up of a checkout lane. He signed his name on an electronic pad used to detect check forgeries.

"If some guy came in and spelled George Bush differently, could you catch it?" the President asked. "Yes," he was told, and he shook his head in wonder.


Well let's be a little more honest here, the idea that you could sign your name and it would do more than just record the signature was far fetched. I always just draw a g on the line. I'm sure there are signature verification algorithms in existence, but I've never seen any in use ... let alone at a checkout counter.
posted by geoff. at 9:18 AM on October 7, 2009


the idea that you could sign your name and it would do more than just record the signature was far fetched. I always just draw a g on the line.

I've drawn a happy face for about ten years running now. Sometimes the clerk laughs. Usually there's no comment, and not once has it caused a problem.
posted by rokusan at 10:11 AM on October 7, 2009




> I had no idea companies had to pay annually for the right to use barcodes. God damn, what a racket.

It's not really that evil. The UC Council is a not-for-profit, so hopefully they don't have much of an incentive to charge members more than what it costs to actually coordinate the whole business. And it's their coordination that really makes the system as useful as it is.

Without them, each manufacturer would be reduced to making up their own barcode, and you'd have all sorts of conflicts between products of different manufacturers.

It's not much more of a racket than the ISBN system, although they do their pricing a bit differently. (My understanding is that ISBN sells blocks of numbers to publishers, while the UPC people charge an annual membership fee for a manufacturer. Presumably this is because a canned-goods manufacturer might have so many different products, and might change them so often, that purchasing individual numbers wouldn't be acceptable to them.)

Granted if you were doing the whole system today, there are ways that you could guarantee uniqueness without building an entirely new system to guarantee it and coordinate a new namespace. One solution would be to build off of the guaranteed-unique namespaces provided by DNS (this approach is common for a lot of things now, like XML), but given when it was implemented the UPC thing isn't that bad.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:54 AM on October 7, 2009


My father used to work for the Reading Railroad.
I remember him in the 60's showing me the KarTrak barcodes they used to try to keep track of the freight cars.
There was a reader next the track in the freight yards that looked like the AEI reader in this article.
posted by MtDewd at 10:54 AM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


barcode scanning is pretty much my favorite novelty on my android phone.
posted by boo_radley at 3:07 PM on October 7, 2009


Hey Joe Beese, what was the last non-fiction book you read?
posted by boo_radley at 3:16 PM on October 7, 2009




Not sure if this is why, but in the past whenever anyone I knew in the tech industry was spending a lot of time on quirky in-house projects, it was because there wasn't enough real work to go around.

So when we engineers don't have anything do because our sites just run themselves, we draw doodles for the website, rather than play foosball or drink beer or just fool around in general? That's an interesting theory. :)

(fwiw, this blog came up when I googled for Moon Viewing Day. Judging from her portfolio, I suspect she's not a bored engineer...)
posted by effbot at 4:49 PM on October 7, 2009


Oct 02, 2009: Mahatma Gandhi's Birthday - (Selected Countries)

Selected countries? In which countries didn't Google display this, and why?


OK, I'll bite. Pakistan. Because they hate each other.

Pick a random Youtube clip of a Pakistani or Indian cricketer. Check the comments section. The Pakistani/Indian vitriol is mind boggling. [Can you call it racist vitriol?]
posted by uncanny hengeman at 6:17 PM on October 7, 2009


The Pakistani/Indian vitriol is mind boggling. [Can you call it racist vitriol?]

I would guess religious; i.e. Hindu/Muslim.
posted by TedW at 6:43 PM on October 7, 2009


My father used to work for the Reading Railroad.

I took a ride on that once. Pretty silly, considering that I actually owned two other railroads. This was after I won that beauty contest but before that time I went to jail.
posted by Herodios at 6:45 PM on October 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Let's settle for jingoistic vitriol. But man, it's harsh, ain't it?
posted by uncanny hengeman at 7:15 PM on October 7, 2009


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