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back to article N. Joseph Woodland, inventor of the barcode, dies at 91

The inventor of the bar code, Norman Joseph Woodland, has died at his home in New Jersey at the ripe old age of 91. Woodland, along with colleague Bernard Silver, originally patented the invention back in 1952 as a way of encoding data on packaging. Woodland claimed that he was inspired by a mix of his Morse code training in the …

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Headmaster

Did anyone think to scan his barcode?

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Unhappy

I'd say he punched his ticket....

But these days they probably scanned his barcode instead.

RIP, Mr. Woodland, and thank you for the easier shopping and inventory tracking experience!!

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Coat

That reminds me of Jeremiah Kurzweil

Jeremiah was an eccentric farmer who lived in rural Victoria in the 19th century (not far from Mildura, as it happens). Jeremiah ran a small sheep station close to town, and on Sundays he was the local choir master. Anyhow, as Jeremiah was single, and therefore had no spouse or progeny with whom to share the load, he found it very difficult to keep track of his sheep. One day, when he was trying to remember which of his sheep had been through the sheep dip, he noticed something peculiar. Each of his flock had a slightly different bleat. Being choir master, and sensitive to such things, he quickly found that he could use this sound to uniquely identify each member of the herd.

That is why, if you examine the Victorian patent records for 1873, you will find an entry for the first ever baa code.

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Unhappy

Re: That reminds me of Jeremiah Kurzweil

I read your whole post, only to be rewarded with a pun.

That's like spending a whole night chatting someone up only to find out they're your cousin.

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Re: That reminds me of Jeremiah Kurzweil

"That's like spending a whole night chatting someone up only to find out they're your cousin"

Unless you're planning to breed, it's not a problem to night-time enjoyment.

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Re: That reminds me of Jeremiah Kurzweil

Or being at a Belgian pot^Hp festival, chatting someone up in your best French, then discovering they were as English as you. Never before or since have two people so hot for one another gone so far off the boil so quickly.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: That reminds me of Jeremiah Kurzweil

In some southern states in the Us, I thought was almost compulsory, so long as her dad dated your sister at the same time.

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Re: That reminds me of Jeremiah Kurzweil

That implies that you were both so good that neither of you had a discernible accent, or you were both so bad that you failed to notice the other's.

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Joke

Re: That reminds me of Jeremiah Kurzweil

@Esskay

It had the "I'll get my coat icon" - appropriate for both the impending pun, and the inevitable "leaving the room with your cousin"

<-- joke alert icon, just in case you missed it

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Anonymous Coward

Inspiration?

Inspired by Boy Scout fingering???

Roll pedo jokes now...

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"Roll pedo jokes now..."

Okay, let's see... Ah, here's one!

*ahem* "I like my women the way I like my whiskey... Twelve years old and mixed up with coke."

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Re: Inspiration?

Did someone mention Jimmy Saville?

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Re: "Roll pedo jokes now..."

omg

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Paris Hilton

IIIIII II I III I III

IIII IIII I IIII I III II IIIIIII I

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WTF?

Re: IIIIII II I III I III

I tried feeding that to Google Translate. It said "Romanian detected"

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Re: IIIIII II I III I III

Are you Romanian? Or were you near a Romanian at the time?

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Re: IIIIII II I III I III

Google just spat it back to me unchanged.?.?.

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MrT
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Re: IIIIII II I III I III

Woodstock? Is that you??

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What about the gum ?

I hope The Reg will tell us if the Smithsonian celebrates the 40th Anniversary of the Chewing Gum next year. Perhaps they could auction the remaining pieces in the pack to raise funds - unless they are already "pre-owned".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: What about the gum ?

I'm pretty sure some of the gum I've seen in rest-stop vending machines was at least that old...

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Re: What about the gum ?

That gum you like is going to come back in style

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Funny that George Bush was mentioned...

...though sadly the famous story of his encounter with a checkout scanner isn't true: http://www.snopes.com/history/american/bushscan.asp

Anyone else remember the jokes Mad magazine wrote around their barcodes (after they were forced to adopt them)?

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Anonymous Coward

Circular bar codes

That's a great idea - why didn't they catch on?

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Boffin

Re: Circular bar codes

Because you need to move the scan head acros the lines one at a time, as it's read sequentially.

This is very difficult to do because:

a) the circles can't be read by a linear scanner (the only real way to reliably scan sequentially), as each circle represents 2 data points

b) circular codes are very hard to scan "casually" (ie imagine the scanner is held by an drunk 80yr old with the shakes).

c) circular scanners would be damned hard to manufacture, as the scan method would require increasing/decreasing radius sources, rather than a simple left/right linear scanner.

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Re: Circular bar codes

I think the idea was to actually use a linear scanning line as it works now, it can just be read at any angle. My thought as to why they are not used now is they were probably too big for a lot of packaging.

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Re: Circular bar codes

Presumably it would use a linear scanner that scanned until it could see the full count of lines, and then check for symmetry.

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Pint

Oh yes, the good old days when patents used to be about protecting inventions instead of stating the bloody obvious in such a vague way as to make it possible to sue as many people as possible.

Sad to see we've lost a proper inventor.

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Indeed - compare this patent to the dross we get nowadays.

RIP to JW, and to a patent system from a better age.

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Pint

Actually on the local news

I didn't know that American news could spell barcode correctly, much less write a coherent story about it!

Anyway, one of the local (Florida, US) companies made some serious barcode readers. They had one where you could put the barcode on a frisbee, fling it through this 5ft cube volume, and it would read it 10 out of the 10 times I tried it. My hat was off to those boys. Some smart ones in that bunch.

A toast to Mr. Woodland!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Actually on the local news

"They had one where you could put the barcode on a frisbee, fling it through this 5ft cube volume, and it would read it 10 out of the 10 times I tried it."

That's actually not terribly difficult; the toughest thing would be managing to read reliably at the maximum possible distance. I don't think that the movement or unpredictable (ish) location would pose much of a problem.

In particular, you can assume a frisbee is moving in about a straight line. Detecting it entering is quite easy; since it's round, figuring out where the center is should also be fairly straightforward. After that it's pretty trivial to figure out what line it's on, which can help things a bit; the other useful thing is that if the barcode is on the edge of the frisbee, it's going to be nearly stationary for some percentage of the time - it's going to be rotating back away from the frisbee's direction of travel. I don't know what frisbee RPM tends to be, but instinct suggests that you'll have at least two of those cycles, which gives you several reasonable frames to work with - find the barcode itself (easy), figure out its orientation (also fairly easy since you can determine that based on a priori knowledge you have of the frisbee's rotation and position) and then rotate the capture into the right orientation, match with the other frames, generate a composite, and voila.

Piece of cake!

So the trickiest bit is really getting an imager that's fast enough and high enough resolution to grab all those frames. Or you could use a low res camera to figure out when the frisbee is in the right place and detect when the code is moving the slowest relative to the frame, and then fire a high res pic with something else.

Honestly, I'm more impressed with supermarket readers that manage to pull codes off stuff with specular highlights all over them, at big angles, crinkled, etc etc. The frisbee thing actually has far fewer unknowns and a much more limited set of circumstances for the read.

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Anonymous Coward

Barcodes are fun..

I got interested in them because I got a barcode reader for the Psion Organiser II to play with, and I quickly ran out of barcodes in the house to play with. At the time, how they work was a *big business secret* (well, by the companies that sold barcode stuff), but some companies like HP were quite happy to send you data sheets and a catalog which explained it all, and I ended up writing some code to print my own. When you work out how the whole EAN codes work you also discover one of the biggest misses ever - instead of making EAN country codes the same as used in telephony, they went their own way. Argh.

In those days I even managed to use one of the first Canon Bubblejets for printing insane amounts of goods in labels ("real" barcode printers were expensive, so we used a BJ10 with tractor feed labels, driven by a Psion Organiser II running some code I cooked up). We had Canon UK visit us to see how on earth we managed to push so much ink through one printer (3x as much as anyone else). They told us we were operating the printer out of spec and it would fail in a year. They don't make 'em like that anymore: it took 3 years before the printhead died in a fairly spectacular way (let's just say that it suddenly *really* used a lot of ink :) ).

I still use barcodes, usually basic ones like Code 3 of 9 because they are simple to create, and just take a cheap CCD scanner to read (2D codes require a camera and processing, which tends to make scanners 3x as expensive, but excellent for smartphone use).

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Headmaster

I think you'll find circular barcodes are used by some courier companies

But the scanners to do are substantially more complex.

People consider bar codes to be "low tech" these days as the world of RFID tags on everything is just around the corner (and has been for several decades).

But today they can be printed on most printers and the software to do so is fairly widely available, likewise the cheap barcode scanners are readily available too. I think most OCR packages can pick them up as well.

It's always surprised me the people invest in "document management systems" when arranging to print a bar code on any correspondence out of an organisation as part of the "from" reference (and tagging any that came in) is likely to be a lot cheaper way of handling most paperwork.

Relevant as the idea of the paperless office remains about 10 years away (like it was when I left school).

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Re: I think you'll find circular barcodes are used by some courier companies

I've been repeating elements of payment slips and invoices such as numbers, client reference number and totals as barcodes since the 90s. It speeds up reading in return slips and payment matching, also because it eliminates typos. The nice thing is that you can do this with no or minimal changes to almost any existing software (all that sees is a keyboard entry). I've looked at using OCR-B fonts as well, but that immediately demands a more sophisticated reader.

A little bit of thinking ahead during the design phase goes a long way..

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