Craig Ball: Understanding the UPC: Because You Can

Extract from Craig Ball’s article “Understanding the UPC: Because You Can”

Where does the average person encounter binary data? Though we daily confront a deluge of digital information, it’s all slickly packaged to spare us the bare binary bones of modern information technology. All, that is, save the humble Universal Product Code, the bar code symbology on every packaged product we purchase from a 70-inch TV to a box of Pop Tarts. Bar codes and their smarter Japanese cousins, QR Codes, are perhaps the most unvarnished example of binary encoding in our lives.

Barcodes have an ancient tie to e-discovery as they were once used to Bates label hard copy documents, linking them to “objective coding” databases. A lawyer using barcoded documents was pretty hot stuff back in the day.

Just a dozen numeric characters are encoded by the ninety-five stripes of a UPC-A barcode, but those digits are encoded so ingeniously as to make them error resistant and virtually tamperproof.

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