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Allright – More and more birthdays on BarretTime tonight. The first birthday goes out to some very classic technology. And in keeping with our three week tradition, we’ll lead it off with a hint.

What is black and white and red all over?

You may have had to regress back to second grade to recall the normalTime answer to that riddle: the newspaper. The BarretTime answer to that riddle is the bar code, which was issued a patent on October 7th, 1952. Originally developed to help track the nations rail cars, the patent didn’t really become valuable until bar codes were used to automate grocery store checkout systems.

A bar code is an optical representation of data that is readable by machines via a bar code scanner, or in the case of the “gPhone”, through software that analyzes images captured by the phone’s camera.

The long thin lines that adorned Google’s search page today are the classic 1 dimensional barcode. There are several types in existance. I spent several weeks on a project working with 2 of 7. Unfortunately, that’s another One-D bar code, not a hot relation of Star Trek’s 7 of 9.

The small package shipping industry, which are carriers like UPS, FedEx and the USPS, all leverage barcodes, but had the problem of the bar coded labels getting damaged in transit. With one dimensional bar codes, like the ones found on the back of a can of soup or a box of cereal… Hang on, I’m forgetting my audience. Let me back that up. With one dimensional bar codes, like the ones found on a box of pocky or on the side of a pizza delivery box, if the right, or rather, wrong, piece of bar code label gets damaged, you lose the data.

This was a very real issue for the shipping companies, because if a bar code becomes damaged in transit, the package attached to it would have to be handled by hand, upping the cost of moving the package from point A to point B.

The answer to this problem was 2D barcodes that can store more data per square inch of bar code and where as much as 75% of a barcode can destroyed without losing any data. One example of this type of bar code is MaxiCode, a public domain 2-D bar code originally developed by UPS but now available for anyone’s use.

And while smart-phone based bar code readers are nice, they’re still pretty slow and can be unreliable, especially under less than perfect picture taking circumstances. The old-school way to go is to use a laser based bar code scanner that simply sits between your keyoard and your computer. These can be found pretty cheaply. Radio Shack was even giving away a cheapy laser based scanner for a while with the hopes that you’d use it to scan contextual barcodes in newsprint and ads that would then take you to web pages with info about the products or stories associated with the barcodes. It was called the CueCat and they can still be found running around ebay for not too much.

Printing barcodes is as easy as installing a font these days, letting you use this venerable technology in projects around the home on the cheap.

The site www.ostatic.com ran a great piece on open source bar code packages currently available, positioning you to put barcodes on things ’till the toner runs out.

You could label your DVD collection, organize your book collection into a library, or track assets with it in a small office environment. The more geeky could could also label their miniature collecible fantasy figurines or their cats. You’d probably want to barcode the cats’ collars, not the actual cats. I don’t want to generate any angry calls to the station from the SPCA or the coalition of cat ladies for suggesting that any harm come to any cat.

Personally, I use bar codes at the office to help track assets like laptops and desktops and I use them at home to label all the jars containing my bonsai kitten collection.

So, along the lines of Internet oddities, Jay Maynard, aka Tron Guy, who has Texas ties, is getting a Web Redemption Thursday night on a show called Tosh.0. The show is a 30 minute spot where a guy offers up running commentary on video clips snipped from the web. I think it’s hillarious, but your mileage may vary. Googling Tosh.0 will turn up the details on where to catch Mr. Maynard in all of his glowing glory.

A little detour there with Bonsai Kittens and Tron Guy, but it leads us into our next birthday. While references to cubed kitties and adults in costumes may garner a knowing glance from gathered geeks, nothing has the power to unite a group of socially shy people more than our next BDay.

If you’re already aware that “strange women lyin’ in ponds distributin’ swords is no basis for a system of government!” and that “Supreme executive power derives from a mandate from the masses, not from some farcical aquatic ceremony!” then you may already be aware that Monday saw a true geek staple turn 40 years old. On October 5, 1969, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Graham Chapman took to the airwaves as the first episode of Monty Python’s Flying Circus was sent out to the British populace.

45 episodes in all were created, with several full length films, including And Now For Something Completely Different in 1971, Monthy Python and the Holy Grail in ’75, Monty Python’s Life of Brian in ’79, Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl in 1982, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life in 1983.

In the 40 years that the Pythons have been around, a number of namesakes have cropped up.

The Python Programming language was named after the troupe. If you peruse the source code, you’ll find it sprinkled with numerous Python quotes and references.

Each member of the troup has had an asteroid named after them, which is cool. But not as cool as a several million year old giant snake being named after you. An Australian palaeontologist gave a gigantic fossilized snake he discovered in 1985 the taxinomic name, Montypython-oides river-slei-ghensis.

If you can’t rattle off at least one Monty Python quote either out loud or on IRC, then know that we’re silently taunting you right now. You have a handful of weeks to memorize something python before the next Geek Gathering hits. And if you can’t deliver a solid quote at the next geek gathering, we shall taunt you a second time.

That’s it for this pause for python and that’s that for BarretTime.

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