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30 TODAY ..and here's 30 amazing facts about barcodes.


IT has become one of life's most familiar sounds - the beep of the supermarket till whenever a barcode is scanned.

And it was 30 years ago this week that a shop assistant made history by scanning a packet of chewing gum in what was the world's first barcode transaction.

Now you can find barcodes on everything from frozen chickens to US gunboats. And more advanced versions are on the way which will save us even more time and money.

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the barcode, here are 30 fascinating facts...

1 THE first barcode ever scanned was on a pack of Wrigley's Juicy Fruit chewing gum at Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio, this week in June 1974. The gum is now in the Smithsonian museum.

2IN 1949, Norman Joseph Woodland got the idea for barcodes when he made a handprint in sand and realised that bars could be a visual equivalent of Morse code.3AT first, the barcode proved so unpopular that in 1976 US magazine Business Week ran the headline, "The supermarket scanner that failed". It had been predicted that 1,000 stores would be using scanners at that point, but only 50 had installed the costly equipment.

4ALL Chinese barcodes start with an eight, because it is pronounced the same way as the word for "prosperity" and is considered to be a lucky number.

5THE first barcode scanners were the size of a washing machine because they contained components that had to be water-cooled.

6 THE world's smallest barcode was developed by Dr Stephen Buchmann at the Carl Hayden Bee Research Centerin Arizona. Tiny tagsTINY: Tag on bee were attached to bees to monitor their mating habits - each line of the code was one thousandth of an inch wide.

7 FIVE billion barcodes are scanned worldwide every day, according to the barcode monitor e-centre.

8BARCODE scanners work by picking up minute variations in the width of the black lines and the white gaps between them. The standard 13-digit barcode system can produce ten thousand billion unique codes.9 BARCODES were immortalised in art by New York pop artist Bernard Solco. His 1998 exhibition included 20 two-metre high paintings based on the black-and-white stripes.

10 THE first UK barcode was printed on a box of Melrose 100 Century teabags in 1978. The first UK store to have barcode scanners at the till was Key Markets in Spalding, Lincs, the following year.

11 BARCODES have been the subject of satanic conspiracy theories. In her book The New Money System 666, published in 1982, author Mary Stewart Relfe claimed that barcodes secretly encode the number 666, which is the biblical "mark of the beast".

12IN the early days, sunlight shining through windows at the front of stores prevented barcodes from being read.

13 WHEN barcodes were first introduced, wine makers refused to use them on labels because they said bottles were meant to be "table decoration".

14THE average typist will make one mistake in 300 keystrokes. But the chance of a barcode error - where the data does not match the product scanned - is roughly one in a million.

15JAPAN has the most barcode scanning stores per head of population. A barcode fashion craze swept the country in 1997 with more than a million Tokyo high school girls getting temporary tattoos in the shape of a barcode.

16 IN August 1994, Poetry Review carried a poem consisting entirely of barcode fragments. Poet Farquharson Cairns claimed it was "machine-readable".

17THE US army uses 2ft-long barcodes to label 50ft boats which are in storage at its West Point military academy in New York. These huge barcodes store information about the boats' previous travels.

18 A NUMBER of ballot papers had to be scrapped in London's mayoral elections earlier this month after officials accidentally tore through a crucial barcode when they handed voting papers to electors.

19 TWO- dimensional barcodes, with bars of different heights, were introduced by US firm Intermec Corporation in 1988. They can carry 100 times more information than the original system.20 FUTUROLOGISTS predict that barcodes will eventually be replaced by radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, which would be small and cheap enough to be hidden in packaging. Instead of scanning every item individually, an RFID till would simply total up every item in your shopping trolley as it approached.

21TOMY released the Barcode Battler computer game in 1992. Players insert a barcode into the machine which scans it and converts it into a character, who is then put into action in the fight game.22 THE CueCat scanner - a home barcode reader that plugs into a PC - was released in America in 2000. When users run it over a barcode printed on a newspaper advert, it automatically takes you to the relevant website.

23 YOU can barcode yourself by logging on to www. Just type in your age, gender, height, weight and country of origin, and your personal barcode will pop up onscreen, ready for printing.

24 SAFEWAY introduced the first self-scanning store in the UK in 1995. Shoppers scan items and pay using their credit or debit card.

25BARCODES save shoppers, retailers and manufacturers pounds 17billion a year, according to a study by PricewaterhouseCoopers.26 A NEW way of combating fraud was revealed by Russell Cowburn of Durham University in October of last year. The system, whereby barcodes are peppered with magnetic particles, would allow a modified barcode reader to check if the barcode it scans is forged - and so uncover fake goods.

27LONDON'S Charing Cross Hospital is testing a system where patients wear a barcoded wristband. When it's scanned, a drawer in the drugs trolley opens with the right medicine.28 MAD magazine carried a giant barcode on its front cover in October 1977 with the message: "Hope this issue jams every computer in the world".

29 LANGUAGE experts have pointed out the amazing similarity of a fifth-century Irish alphabet known as Ogham - which consists of a series of horizontal lines and gaps - to modern-day barcodes.30 THE barcodes printed on newspapers differ from others because they include a digit to represent the day of publication.

Now take a look at the Mirror's barcode on the back page - you might see it in a totally new light.


MIND THE GAPS: A scanner reads spaces between the black lines; CRAZE: Tattoo trend; BY GUM! Juicy Fruit
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Copyright 2004 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jun 26, 2004
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