Composing in an art studio, I have tried a few ways of showing music alongside paintings. What I am thinking of for the next occasion in June is to put my music on the wall as flattened scrolls, to be read from left to right.

A notice would tell people to text a code to a number, which would result in them automatically being sent an MMS message inviting them to hear the piece on their phone. This would give an immediate, independent and private experience, preferable to the jukebox programs I have been using till now (which needs me there all the time to tell them what to do), and preferable to giving them links to online sources (in the context of an exhibition).

I have found out how to send music files to phones - the missing link for me is how to set up a service which responds to the person sending a text message code, which is common in business (e.g. talk radio auctions "text your bid to this number . . ." so I wondered if anyone on the List can shed light on how to do it.

Another approach which comes to mind involves those mysterious square boxes which look like Aztek patterns, but which I gather enable a smartphone user to point their device at the pattern and then be directed to a weblink, which I would of course ensure led to music - has anyone information about said patterns (I have only been noticing them for a few months)?

Dylan Distasio comments:

Hi Laurence,

I can't really help with your first question, but I can hopefully point you in the right direction on the second.

The Aztec looking patterns you're referring to are what is known as a 3d barcode. There is pay software that will generate these, but it sounds like for your purposes, this free web barcode generator will work. It lets you enter a URL and will generate the corresponding barcode for you to print, copy, etc. When users scan it with their phone camera and barcode software it will translate back to the url.

Hope that helps!

David Hillman elaborates: 

 Not to nitpick nor be contentious in any way, but to be precise, as I wrote Laurence off list this morning, the Aztec codes, including the QR code to which Dylan refers, are in fact what we in the industry refer to as 2D barcodes, i.e., they're constructed to contain data in the X and Y axes and are read by 'imaging' the code rather than 'scanning' it.

The difference is that, in imaging, an image of a 2D code is taken and decoded into digital data, where as in scanning, light emitted by a laser [typically] is shown onto the code, then reflected back to the scanner, where the difference in the reflectivity between the spaces and bars is measured and decoded.

The more traditional barcodes one sees, e.g., UPC codes found on retail product, are referred to as linear or 1D barcodes, i.e., the data encoded therein can be read only along the x axis by scanning and decoding the variations in the vertical bars and alternating spaces.

One might correctly observe that a linear code has a second dimension. Yes, technically, there is the y axis. But, data cannot be encoded vertically in a linear code, thus, we refer to a code's dimensionality by the number of axes along which data may be endcoded and stored. Think of chess. A traditional board has both an x and a y axis. 3D chess, however, having a z axis as well, is played in 3 dimensions. So it is with barcodes.

In addition, there are 'stacked barcodes' which are in fact a series of linear 1D barcodes stacked upon one another along the y axis presenting the general appearance of a 2D code, when in fact, it is not. Because these are 1D, they can be scanned rather than imaged by passing a laser slowly across the code from top to bottom.

There are indeed 3D barcodes, also called "bumpy barcodes", but those must have dimension beyond the x and y axes, i.e., a z axis. Therefore, for a barcode to be 3D, it must be embossed on [or depressed into] a surface in a process called direct part marking, or DPM, so that all three axes are present. 3D codes are then read by special devices designed to detect variation in height as well as along the horizontal and/or vertical axes.

There is another twist, though, which is the addition of color to a 2D barcode, including the QR of which we speak, which gives that code another dimension, however non-spatial it may be. I believe the use of color on QR codes was pioneered by the Denso Corp. of Japan, but I do not deal with them or their products, so I cannot speak informatively to that technique.

The Aztec code in question was developed in 1995 by Andy Longacre [quite a brilliant fellow, btw, a mathematician and pretty fair operatic singer] of Welch Allyn, a company with which I dealt for many years prior to its being subsumed by Handheld Products and that then by Honeywell a few years back.

That code as well as all other varieties are referred to as 'symbologies' and there are scores, some more or less industry specific, e.g., UPC used in retailing, while others are more widely utilized. The most widely used 2D codes are the 'matrix' codes, but Longacre's code, which is now in the public domain, was one of the first.

The advantage of adding a dimension to a barcode, from 1D to 2D, or from 2D to 3D, is that each added dimension greatly increases the amount of data that can be encoded. For instance, while a 1D code may hold 9 or 10 digits in a horizontal inch or two, a 2D code that requires less real estate than a postage stamp may hold 200 to 300 characters, and a 3D code in the same space may contain thousands of characters.

It is also important to understand that while imagers designed to read 3D and 2D codes can read a 1D, a laser scanner designed to read a 1D linear barcode cannot read a code with more than one dimension. It is critical in designing a system or application to ensure that a proper scanner is employed. The consequences of not doing so should be obvious.

That said, as far as I know, there are no smart phones currently capable of imaging and decoding what we in the industry call a 3D code. Given that new technology is released at the speed of light and I am not a telecom guy, there may well be some of which I am not aware. However, there are many phones very certainly capable of imaging a 2D code, including the one I wear on my belt that sports such an application.

The crux of the issue here is that when planning to use barcodes there are a few things of which one needs to be aware.

1. Barcoding isn't rocket science, but it can be complex and takes expertise to get it right. Seemingly inconsequential factors such as too much ambient light, refraction of reflected light, the angle at which scanners are held, inadequate contrast of the bars and spaces in a code, and near-invisible abrasions among many others can all make the difference between success and failure.

2. There are many people, including trained IT folks and engineers, who think #1 is BS. Among these are the many who call a pro to fix what went wrong when they tried to do it themselves and failed. DIY can be frustrating, not to mention extremely costly.

3. There is much misinformation regarding barcoding out there and the lingo is often misused, even by some quasi-professionals.

Otherwise, it appears Dylan has done his homework and the online barcode generator he has referred looks as if it may work nicely for Laurence given one's understanding of what he wishes to do. The only argument I have with the reference is the use of the term 3D barcode instead of 2D to refer to QR, which one sees referenced incorrectly on any number of websites, but it is still incorrect according to AIM [Association for Automatic Identification and Mobility, the preeminent trade organization] standards.

It may seem like a small point, but I make it given the 3 above items and in the hope of saving potential confusion and frustration in Laurence's endeavour, which, FWIW, I happen to think is brilliantly conceived and is something I'd love to experience.

One other thing learned in almost 25 years of doing this. Paraphrasing Dave [Richard Dreyfuss] Whiteman in 'Down and Out in Beverly Hills' speaking about owing his wealth to manufacturing coat hangers……barcoding ain't sexy, but somebody's gotta do it and it keeps a nice roof overhead.

Still, there are wistful moments during which I think it might be a bit more fun and exciting to be an international jewel thief. It's always about risk/reward, n'est-ce pas?





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