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United States News

Bar Coding The World Away 470

Posted by Hemos
from the it's-the-mark-of-the-beast dept.
778790 writes "The Bar Code, long used for inventory classification and sometimes feared as a tool of social engineering, has been regulated in the name of globalization, and the globe has defeated the United States. Bar Codes in America will now have more digits, to match the global bar code standard: the European Article Numbering Code."
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Bar Coding The World Away

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:35AM (#9675095) include the "evil bit"?
    • Re:More digits... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward
      And the Antichrist causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

      And that no man might buy or sell, save except he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

      Here is wisdom. Let him that hath understanding count the number of the beast: for it is the number of a man; and his number is Six hundred threescore and six.

      -- Rev 13:16-18 KJV
      • So as long as we are marking merchandise and not people we are cool then, right?

    • My kid's going to be pissed when his Scannerz toy stops working.
  • Why not be smarter? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Pig Hogger (10379) <> on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:36AM (#9675108) Journal
    Why not take the time to implement a flexible sytem which may allow to encore an arbitrary number of characters?

    This would last forever and be able to migrate through other technologies, such as RFID.

    • by mopslik (688435) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:41AM (#9675203)

      Why not take the time to implement a flexible sytem which may allow to encore an arbitrary number of characters?

      I imagine it has to do with simplifying the amount of work done by barcode readers. Similar to IPv6. Bigger, longer... but still fixed-length.

      That last bit makes me feel dirty.

    • by LostCluster (625375) * on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:47AM (#9675274)
      Barcodes themselves can be as long as the user wants them to be. We're just talking about a change in the addressing scheme that is the UPC code to have another digit. Anybody who assumed UPCs were no bigger than 12 characters now has a Y2K-ish overflow issue.
    • by MarkedMan (523274) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:55AM (#9675371)
      Arbitrary length barcode standards do exist (EAN-128 for example), but they are complex beasts and great care must be taken to ensure both the creater and reader get everything exactly right. The UPC or EAN-13 have the advantage of being simple. There may be multiple barcodes on a box, but only one of them would be in the UPC/EAN-13 symbology. I suppose you could create a new symbology just for that, but every reader in existence would be obsolete.

      In the end, that's what it boils down too: anything that would allow varying length would make way too much software and hardware obsolete. The cost/benefit would be astronimically bad.
    • If they do away with my beloved "original UPC code from the side panel" how will I get my rebate check in 6-8 weeks?

      Will I have to track down the "orginal RFID tag" then?

    • by pla (258480)
      Why not take the time to implement a flexible sytem which may allow to encore an arbitrary number of characters?

      Actually, EAN does include exactly such a capability... You can basically tack on additional groups of digits to form a longer, still-valid EAN barcode.

      Most commonly used, you'll find EAN+5 on many books. Of readers I've worked with, though, every single one (that could handle +5) would read out as wide as they could physically scan.

      Just because you have a hammer, though, don't make the mi
  • Damn (Score:5, Funny)

    by The-Bus (138060) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:36AM (#9675111)
    Now I have to go update the tattoo on the back of my neck...
    • Re:Damn (Score:4, Interesting)

      by MajorDick (735308) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:41AM (#9675197)
      Dont laugh, I have my SS# on my leg.....yes for real.....

      Why ? I was bored, and had a scar that needed covered, I couldnt think of anything that wouldnt be lame skulls etc, non my taste, so I figured If I ever get amnesia it would be nice to have (in case your wondering I'v had maybe 4 concussions, been declared dead once and had a skull fracture, perhaps THAT explains why I had my SS# put on my leg) in addiditon just in case noone has a scanner handy it is also printed in digits below as well.
      • Re:Damn (Score:2, Funny)

        by October_30th (531777)
        in case your wondering I'v had maybe 4 concussions, been declared dead once and had a skull fracture, perhaps THAT explains why I had my SS# put on my leg

        Are you a) a racing driver, b) in the military or c) into extreme sports?

        • Re:Damn (Score:5, Funny)

          by Chainsaw (2302) <> on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:23PM (#9675774) Homepage
          Are you a) a racing driver, b) in the military or c) into extreme sports?

          d) stalked by a psycotic ex-girlfriend?

        • Re:Damn (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MajorDick (735308) on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:39PM (#9675988)
          Motorcycle racing, actually Ive never hurt myself in a race , only in dorking around in practice and nearly all have been due to mechanical failure. In addition to my mentioned head injuries, I've broken my elbow, wrist, 10 ribs (at various times of course) my jaw, my right foot (twice) a couple of fingers and toes and had my knees so tore up I'm 33 and looking at knee replacments (actually I should say looking forward to then the damm things wont hurt anymore)

          But its all been worth it, I've had a blast Ive been racing since I was 9 , first Junior MX, Then by 14 Flat Track, then I got into Road Racing and I'm still doing it, although in the last 2 years I've raced Vintage, probably will till I croak, Ive actually thought SERIOUSLY about doing the Isle of Man TT, but I havent had a sponsor (other than contingency sponsors) since I was 18
          • Re:Damn (Score:3, Funny)

            by Idarubicin (579475)
            In addition to my mentioned head injuries, I've broken my elbow, wrist, 10 ribs (at various times of course) my jaw, my right foot (twice) a couple of fingers and toes and had my knees so tore up I'm 33 and looking at knee replacments...

            Have you seen the movie The Shawshank Redemption? Tommy is a fairly young man who has been convicted once again for breaking and entering. After relating the tale of his most recent arrest, and describing how he had served time all over the state, the protagonist Andy a

      • Re:Damn (Score:3, Funny)

        by rpresser (610529)
        Tell the truth: your name is Leonard Shelby, isn't it? Or Sammy Jankis?
    • The next time you're "abducted" by "aliens", we'll be sure to update the tattoo while also boosting the range of your GPS/RFID chip. No charge.

      Of course, there will be anal probing.

    • Now I have to go update the tattoo on the back of my neck...

      Just get them to put a new one on your forehead. It can be smaller since ones there only require three digits.
  • Bwahaha (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:36AM (#9675112)
    And next: the metric system. Eat this, oversea refugees... ;-)
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:36AM (#9675118)
    12-digit bar codes aren't quite going to be retired, but US and Canadian retailers will be expected to be able to tolerate 13-digit codes as of January 2005. This sounds a lot like the Y2K situation... anybody whose database and/or software assumed it was a 12-digit field is now going to have to account for an extra digit and that's going to mean patches and code rewrites all around.

    It's good news for the geeks... more work for us to do.
    • by furball (2853) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:40AM (#9675191) Journal
      Wal-Mart has been running with 13-digit codes for almost forever now. Amazon does likewise.

      To the best of my knowledge, I don't know anyone that works with strictly 12-digit codes on any mass level. Perhaps it's just the mom&pop shops with their possibly custom software that runs with 12-digits only.
      • > Perhaps it's just the mom&pop shops with their possibly
        > custom software that runs with 12-digits only.

        Yeah, and we all know there's hardly any of those around. Tiny fraction of the economy.
      • by MarkedMan (523274) on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:09PM (#9675560)
        Just a nit, but one that happens to affect me greatly. The reality is that the people printing and/or applying the barcodes are the packaging operations. They typically understand very little. For some odd reason, the UPC standard prints the check digit in the interpretation (the human readable part of the barcode). Why is this an issue? Because one of the common mistakes operators make is to enter the entire code, including the check digit. So there are twelve digits when we were expecting eleven. Did they fat finger an extra character or enter the check digit?

        We've tried a few different ways over the years to insure the right number of characters, including forcing eleven by cropping, forcing eleven by not allowing entry (no good if the table is a linked one and the entry is outside of our software) or allowing 11 or 12 and checking the checksum if there are twelve. All this matters because the equipment used to print the barcode typcially generates the check digit on its own, and the different manufacturers handle excess digits in several different ways.

        The new standard now says we have three choices: 11,12 or 13. What do we do now? I'm not expecting an answer, because in the end we have to balance all the considerations and make Hobson's choice.

        I'm not even going to go into the major US corporation whose database consists of 10,11 or 12 digit UPC codes, because in the beginning, that first digit was always the same, so why waste space on it?

        Just goes to show you that when volume and/or speed increases, everything gets complicated (except rock).
        • by delphi125 (544730)
          You do understand what the check digit is for? It is to (tada!) CHECK that the correct code has been entered. So why on earth would it be a 'common mistake' for an operator to enter the entire code?

          Now, I realize that the parent DOES realize these problems, but he makes it clear that the equipment manufacturers themselves DONT.

          The digit isn't there just to protect against machine error (or smudging of the bar codes), it is there to protect against human error too - mis-typed or transposed digits. So use i
          • by MarkedMan (523274)
            In a perfect world, you are absolutely correct. But the reality, which is what I have to deal with, is far from that perfect world. UPC codes can come from a database, in which case they were obtained or generated without the check digit, or they can come from an operator. Any practical system must accomodate both inputs (plus even more, but these two make my point).

            Believe me, it would never be acceptable in a production environment to say "our product will shut down your production until a) you have t
      • cue cat (Score:3, Insightful)

        by twitter (104583)
        To the best of my knowledge, I don't know anyone that works with strictly 12-digit codes on any mass level. Perhaps it's just the mom&pop shops with their possibly custom software that runs with 12-digits only.

        Dude, what about my Cue Cat? How's it going to be any better than the 20 year old IBM scanners that are so common? IBM and others might have a service to upgrade their machines but could easily abuse the situation. If there's a Microsoft system out there, the answer is going to be "buy anothe

    • And it should be pointed out (ideally in the writeup, but who are we kidding here) that this is specifically talking about UPCs. Barcodes are still an unregulated item, as are other generics like "words", "sentences" and "labels".

      But yes, there's a lot of rewriting to be done. The actual mods will be fairly simple, even on older systems, but the hard (and expensive) part comes when its time to test all of the millions of lines of code that hadn't changed in years, that have now just been impacted. And y
    • by Peyna (14792)
      I don't think it'll be that difficult actually; it didn't take very long at all for Best Buy to modify their scanners to adapt to a host of different types of barcodes used for different things. For instance, all of the signs in the stores have a bar code which is actually the UPC + 1 digit sign style identifier + price; which allows employees to quickly scan the sign to verify if it displays the correct price.

      People using older cash register systems might be SOL though.
    • Which, for us IS folks, hopefully means ... Profit!

      Seriously, it is a lot like Y2K, particularly in the fact that this has been expected for a looooooong time, but everybody had to wait for the standards bodies to wave their magic wands before anybody would move.
    • by letxa2000 (215841) on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:24PM (#9675779)
      12-digit UPC-A codes are automatically EAN-13 codes. When EAN-13 was deployed, they essentially pulled a Microsoft... they "embraced and extended" UPC-A. All UPC-A codes can be scanned by EAN-13 scanners because the EAN-13 is an extension of UPC-A. However, not all UPC-A scanners can automatically understand the extended EAN-13 barcodes.

      This has meant that UPC-A barcodes can be scanned worldwide but EAN-13 barcodes produced in other countries could not be scanned in the U.S. because U.S. POS systems didn't understand the "extended" version (EAN-13). This meant that manufacturers outside the U.S. had to have an EAN-13 barcode for the "rest of the world" and a UPC-A barcode for the U.S.--U.S. manufacturers only needed a UPC-A barcode because it works worldwide.

      The only thing that is changing here is a requirement that U.S. retailers use POS systems that are able to read an EAN-13 barcode and that their database support it (i.e. the code field must support 13 digits rather than just 12). This is so that a barcode produced in other parts of the world can be scanned in the U.S.

      Thus it's not that UPC-A is being "retired"--it's just that U.S. retailers will be expected to be able to handle foreign barcodes.

  • Woah... (Score:5, Funny)

    by perly-king-69 (580000) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:36AM (#9675121)
    For a minute there I thought it said that Americans were going to fall in line with a European designed system.

    Is this an April fool dupe or something? ;-)

    • by Zany Paraclete (793048) on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:19PM (#9675709)

      We all know that "global" means "European"; I'm fine with that. And the "international community" means the EU. No problem. Now that Europeans have repented of their colonialist/paternalis past, they're once again qualified to decide what's best for the rest of the world.

      What's difficult is keeping track of which "international" things are evil and which are good.

      "Multinational" is bad, right? Because it's got something to do with corporations, which are bad. Unless they're European. A "multinational" corporation is an American corporation which operates in more than one country, and it's bad, even if it practices "internationalization", in spite of the fact that "internationalization" is good (right?). But what about "multinational ism "? Is that one good or bad? I can't tell.

      International standards are good, of course, provided that they're European, because then they're "multilateral" (which is good, I think, because "multilateral" means "involving any set of one or more nations which includes France"). If standards are not European, they're "unilateral", which is bad. "Unilateral" means "not including France" (or else "not excluding the US"), and it's very, very bad.

      "Globalism" is good, because it includes France. "Globalization" is bad because, even though it includes France (except for Jose Bove), it doesn't exclude the US. "Globalism" is good because it excludes the US by definition: Anything which includes US is no longer "global". Instead, it's "hegemonic", which is very, very bad.

      Did I miss any?

  • How long? (Score:3, Interesting)

    My question is how long will it take to get all the barcodes reassigned, and all the barcode hardware changed. I seem to recall that a large portion of US barcode readers are hardcoded to 12 digits. How much will this new bit of regulation cost?
  • by milgr (726027)
    Just in time for the US to go to RFID, and drom bar codes all together.
  • de.html?ex=1247371200&en=5150688e8ea6f850&ei=5090& partner=rssuserland
  • welcome ... (Score:3, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:37AM (#9675144)
    I for one welcome our new euro-barcode overlords
  • saw this coming (Score:2, Informative)

    by frovingslosh (582462)
    I for one welcome the New World Order and our European Article Numbering Code Overlords.
  • by blanks (108019) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:38AM (#9675150) Homepage Journal
    What happens with all the old hardware/software that currently exists? How long until people will need to migrate to the new system, and will such things as rfid support the number system?
    • by ajlitt (19055) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:50AM (#9675321)
      Many modern (made within the last 5-10 years) barcode scanners are firmware-upgradeable. New standards for barcodes are always being released by one industry or another, and systems within manufacturing, shipping, and warehousing companies need to adapt to handling the new data formats quickly.

      As for the older, fixed function models, well, barcode readers get a lot of abuse, and are usually replaced every so often anyway due to wear and tear. Even better, the older supermarket checkout units have HeNe gas-discharge lasers which have a much shorter service life than their solid-state counterparts.
  • by spoonyfork (23307) <[spoonyfork] [at] []> on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:38AM (#9675161) Journal
    In June of 1974, the first U.P.C. scanner was installed at a Marsh's supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The first product to have a bar code was Wrigley's Gum [].
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:42AM (#9675208)
    Also on our radar screens should be the fact that the US PSTN numbering scheme keeps getting more lines and is coming closer to the point that the (xxx)-yyy-zzzz numbering format is about to hit the wall. The rule that declared the center digit of an area code had to be 0 or 1 fell years ago. If an extra digit ever gets added anywhere, a lot of PBX systems are going to not like the new numbers.

    IPv4 is also in trouble in this area, and IPv6 is waiting in the wings to take over. However, NAT seems to be good enough in stretching out single IP addresses to multiple computers so I don't know if we'll ever be forced to convert over.
    • by bigpat (158134) on Monday July 12, 2004 @01:06PM (#9676329)
      "IPv4 is also in trouble in this area, and IPv6 is waiting in the wings to take over. However, NAT seems to be good enough in stretching out single IP addresses to multiple computers so I don't know if we'll ever be forced to convert over."

      Although I agree essentially with what you say, I think far too many people don't realize that "good enough" will be at the cost of future economic and internet growth. There are many potentially very profitable communications, collaborative and gaming applications that are currently being restrained by IP address scarcity.

      Globally addressable numeric addresses enable end to end communication. What we lose when using NAT is simplicity. Simplicity is what would enable more communications applications to become practicle. As it is now, when using NAT, either the application software or user needs to do extra work either setting up a static route or discovering a route through a NAT. It should be clear that this unnecessary complexity imposed by the artificial scarcity of IP addresses limits the broader practicality of direct (most efficient) end-to-end video, voice and data communications over IP.

      Sure, there are some companies that profit from the scarcity of IPv4 addresses, but this is akin to the rise in gas prices, which raises oil company profits, but at the expense of a far greater number of people and companies that would have otherwise benefited from the increase of commerce that results when energy and transportation costs go down.

      Comunication cost and ease of communication are fundamental economic drivers. When communication is easier and cheaper, the economy as a whole will be better. Replacing IPv4 with IPv6 means communication would be both easier and cheaper(as long as the rollout costs don't get out of hand).

  • by Doc Ruby (173196) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:43AM (#9675228) Homepage Journal
    The US codes have 12 digits; the EU codes, to account for 12 countries and about 25% greater population, have 13. Now the unified system has 13, with 225% the population, globalism, and 30 years of using up codes. Seems like barcode system upgrades are a perpetual growth industry.
  • It's about time (Score:5, Interesting)

    by 1u3hr (530656) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:46AM (#9675262)
    You may notice that most books sold in the USA have two barcodes, an EAN-13 one (for the rest of the world) and a UPC one. It's a drag having to support those troglodyte US companies that insist on having their UPC. Books published overseas often have to pay to have a UPC code stickered to them.

    Next up, metres and kilogrammes (you can spell them American if you really want).

    • by Rolo Tomasi (538414) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:59AM (#9675429) Homepage Journal
      Next up, metres and kilogrammes (you can spell them American if you really want).

      As far as I know, the U.S. military uses metric exclusively. Also, they use the 24 hour format, not that idiotic AM/PM stuff. So, with the military dictatorship coming in a few months, your wish might come true. ;-)

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Next up, metres and kilogrammes (you can spell them American if you really want).

      What do you mean yards and miles?
  • by TyrranzzX (617713) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:46AM (#9675265) Journal
    It makes no sense. Why the hell would you want to move everyone onto the same UPC code standard? Ok, fine, you can standardise devices, big freggin deal. Barcode reading software is minimal, as are the readers. Sure, it may also make it easier to streamline shipping; the boxes could arrive at the store pre-upc'd and numbered and ready to go: TP get's it's own bar-code addressing space, whuptiedoo.

    Then again, certain ISO standards....*shutter*.

    For the tin foil madhatters out there, the standard doesn't provide enough addressing space to address dittly squat. I suppose getting everyone on the same standard is a step in that direction, since the next step could be setting up bar-codes that do have unique addresses (people'll be reading codes off in base-64) for later, but still.

    Anyway, this may work in our favor; if the codes are standardised and it looks like there's country codes on them, one can memorise the codes you can tell which products are most likely baught from 3rd world countries via slave labor, and which are local. You can tell when they bring in the big crate of oranges from the big upc sticker weither or not they're from mexico and sprayed with DDT or not.

    MMMMMMmmmm...I'v stayed up too late. I need to get some popcorn and coffie, get wired, and do some studying.

  • The cited link in fact has little (if anything) to do with barcodes. It is about face recognition systems.
  • Inevitable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by metamatic (202216) on Monday July 12, 2004 @11:47AM (#9675275) Homepage Journal
    Other inevitable and overdue US switchovers:

    1. GSM mobile phones.
    2. Metric. (*)
    3. Standard international dialing. (00 + country)

    And one I won't be holding my breath for:

    4. A universal healthcare system.

    (*) Laugh all you like, global corporations are gonna use metric for everything, not stupid US-only units. Eventually this will trickle down to everyday life. It may take decades, but...
    • Re:Inevitable (Score:2, Informative)

      by KD5YPT (714783)
      Not sure what 1 is and why its important... 3, I could live without, but yeah, better standardize that... 4 would be nice... but 2 is a must have!!! The US system is FAR TOO CONFUSING to use in the scientific world.

      I have a professor who actually think the base-unit in US for mass AND weight is the pound (he coined the word, pound-mass and pound-weight).
      Just for those who don't know. The base-unit for mass in US-unit is a slug, the weight is a pound. And 32 slug = a pound because the acceleration due to
    • OSR... (Score:3, Funny)

      by Cyno01 (573917)
      2. Metric. (*)
      My car gets forty rods to the hogshead and that's the way I likes it!
    • Re:Inevitable (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Omega1045 (584264)
      Funny side note of the universal healthcare. I have a friend here in the US that is currently working a "few years" assignment in Canada. He drives back to his home in the US about once a month to see friends, family and to do house chores. On his return trip to Canada his pickup is packed full of groceries for the month, plus any number of other items he may want like beer, cigs, moter oil, etc, etc, etc. From what I was told it is cheaper to drive a few hundred miles south into the US to buy these pro
    • Gov't anti-metric (Score:5, Interesting)

      by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:49PM (#9676114) Homepage Journal
      Metric is actively discouraged by the government. It's done under the guise of promoting it, and it's quite subtle.

      For example, there'a sign on I-87 in NY which reads:

      Montreal 300 miles (482.8 km)

      There is no sign 50 miles later that says:

      Montreal 400 km (248.5 miles)

      so, you see, Imperial is easy, Metric is hard.
  • IO Interactive and Eidos have announced to issue an extra patch for all the Hitman series, updating your kick-ass mean mofo playercharacter, with these new barcodes.
  • Does this mean I won't be able to play with my cat [] anymore?
  • ... with a friend of mine, and all of the regular members had a barcode that was scanned for attendance. This really creeped me out, but the sevice (i guess it was more "sunday school") was nice, and I didn't have to get a code, since I was visiting. Does anyone know if this is common practice?
  • by midifarm (666278) on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:06PM (#9675498)
    Let's say product X is assigned a barcode. Product X is discontinued. What happens to the assigned bar code?

    BTW who assigns barcode numbers and do they reap huge financial rewards from performing such a task?


    • As I recall, products are not assigned UPC codes, companies are. The first half of a UPC code is the company. They can use the last half in whatever manner they deem fit.

      But I haven't worked with bar codes for about 10 years, I could have remembered that wrong.
  • by Saturninus (691651) on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:36PM (#9675962) Homepage Journal
    I don't appreciate the United State conforming to put the mark of the beast on everything. Heathens! I guess they want us all to get sent straight to hell. I'll be living in my bomb shelter until God tells me its okay to come back out again.
  • by Kohath (38547) on Monday July 12, 2004 @12:54PM (#9676189)
    Is this good news because the United States lost (and we're all supposed to hate the United States)? Or is it bad news because it aids globalization (which is -- um -- bad for some reason)?

    Do I have to boycott barcoded products?

APL is a write-only language. I can write programs in APL, but I can't read any of them. -- Roy Keir