Tags, Barcodes and EAS

UPS  MaxiCode is a robust 2D matrix bar-code that can be scanned quickly from any direction and deciphered usually even though the image might be smudged or blurry or a piece missing.   Usually occupying about one square inch of space, MaxiCode contains a relatively low information content because it is intended for encoding little more than addresses for postal applications.   Depending upon which of the seven possible modes is used, additional information like references or tracking, purchase order and invoice numbers can be added.


Once the bar-code is scanned the data is interpreted by working outward from the center target or bull’s-eye.   In the image above artificial intelligence determines the correct orientation when sets of three hexagons (circled in red) match predefined criteria.  Three black or filled hexagons at 11 o’clock and three empty (null or white) hexagons at 1 o’clock indicate a right side up orientation. This new image from Wikipedia is informative.   https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/f/fb/MaxiCode_Regions.svg/1000px-MaxiCode_Regions.svg.png


A hexagonal matrix, representing the densest packing possible of similar sized circles resembles a lattice of chicken wire.   MaxiCode modes-0 and 1 are obsolete, modes-2 and 3 are specifically formatted for postal code and modes-4 and 5 are unformatted and can contain most any sort of alphanumeric data.   Mode-6 is arranged to transfer instructions to programmable devices.   MaxiCode was placed in the public domain and examples can be freely generated from software or online sites like http://www.barcode-generator.org/.   Reading such a code is problematic and requires a capable camera-based bar-code imager (scanner) or possibly a MaxiCode – iPhone or Android App.


MaxiCode matrix sizes between 21 x 21 and 177 x 177 cells are possible. UPS MaxiCode stamps occupy about a 33 x 30 cell lattice and 866 cells in mode-3 can store just about 100 alphanumeric characters. By flagging certain modules, calls upon 144 code words can expand the overall message capacity.


The inverted image of a  MaxiCode stamp above  contains only the 17 character (spaces included) text “Veni, Vidi, Vici.“. – A famous quote from Julius Caesar according to historian Plutarch, and later an inscription carried in victory parade by Caesar – according to Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus.


{ Some other 2D matrix bar-codes }



This QR (Quick Response) bar-code was developed by Toyota in Japan.   It contains “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog“; twice.   (The sentence is a pangram, but not a “perfect” pangram because, although it uses every letter in the English alphabet, it repeats a few letters).


<click to enlarge>

This Aztec bar-code contains a famous standard “dummy text”, and its translation.  Referred to as a “Lorem Ipsum”, the dummy text has been used by typesetters for 500 years now, when they wanted to test some aspect of the printing process.   The “Lorem Ipsum” comes from some 2,000 year old classical Latin literature by Cicero.   In the last 5 centuries, the original text has often been tinkered with by typesetters, where they might bastardize the text with false Latin words or insert dirty jokes.  The previous bar-code contains this (79 word, 469 character/spaces included) Latin text with translation:

 “Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipisicing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam”

“But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself,”

Full Lincoln

This Data Matrix bar-code above  contains the entire Gettysburg Address.   Although the speech lasted only two minutes and was composed and orated by a merely self educated writer, it is considered a literary masterpiece and is probably the most famous speech made in American history.    These seven sentences can bear repetition.  

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

 Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation, so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

 We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

 It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.  But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground.

 The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.

 It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

 It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”


– Worldwide, about 5 billion bar code scans are performed every day.

– There are many, many other types of bar-codes.  Most but not all are in the public domain and free to use for anyone interested.  Imagers (scanners) can be quite  expensive and still have only a limited repertoire  of codes that they can interpret.

Electronic Article Surveillance items like magneto-harmonic and acousto-magnetic devices  follow bar-codes in my book.   These are used to prevent shoplifting however, rather than to provide tracking and inventory control .


– Growing alarmingly in popularity and in sophistication are  Radio-Frequency Identification (RFID) tags.   As passive RFID tags become increasingly affordable they are expected to completely replace “old” standard UPC ( Universal Product Code) tags, and will probably be hidden and attached to every item that we buy.

modem_tag_ex4< UPC tag – click to enlarge>

rfid_6multi6< RFID tags >

– Humane Societies and urban municipalities across this country and others, advocate or mandate the insertion if RFID microchip implants into all feline and canine pets.  In Canada it is mandatory for all cattle to be tagged with a federally approved RFID ear tag or internal chip.

– RFID procreation  has never been regulated in any way.  While many people worship the march of technological progress, they also seem oblivious to what others might rightly consider to be a developing dystopian future.   Continually improving, RFID’s great potential as a supplement to nefarious surveillance and privacy abuse should become obvious (for those who read)…


22 thoughts on “Tags, Barcodes and EAS

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