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Barcodes and capturing the information they hold.

Fact of the day – Barcodes were first used in the American rail-road industry to label and identify rail road cars. Commercial adoption followed in the early 1970’s with the spread of self-serve super-markets, with Troy, Ohio – seemingly lacking any other claims to fame – being the first place to utilise an optical scanner to scan a grocery product – a packet of Wrigley’s chewing gum since you weren’t asking. Thank you Alan Haberman, more here on Alan.


A Barcode. yesterday.

A Barcodes primary job to act as a identifier for a product. It’s an optical representation of a series of numbers that allows a machine reader to quickly identify the encoded number.

Over forty odd years the humble barcode hasn’t really been bettered. Challengers that store more information such as the QR code are starting to gain traction and for more complex data exchange use-cases Radio frequency ID tags are available at greater expense- read a thing I did on RFID’s a couple of years ago here.

The simple one dimensional bar code continues to be the de-facto solution for labeling products supported by a couple of international standards such as EAN (International Article Number) and UPC (Universal Product Code). These systems are used by manufacturers, retailers and those between – warehouses, logistics, fulfillment people – to standardise and identify products throughout the supply chain. It means that they can be easily counted going out of the factory, not lost in warehouses and also allow retailers to easily charge us when we buy them in the shop.

The data that is going to utilise is going to be barcode based data. This is the current standard. Boxes come into a warehouse and are accounted for as they enter, then located to a specific area, and then allocated and picked for when they need to be dispatched. Scanning the bar-code at every stage allows for efficient stock management.

In modern lager enterprises this is mostly automated with expensive propriety barcode reading systems and mobile computers. Smaller wholesalers and warehouses may still do things by hand fearing the cost and complication of expensive systems.

barcode reader

A barcode reader. today.

The challenge for is to target these with a simple data-entry system that will add value for these organisations. A simple Bar-code reader can reader a bar-code, but needs to be connected to computer to output or store the information. This wouldn’t be practical in a warehouse environment. A smarter, yet still low-cost solution, would be to use smartphone or small tablet device. Smartphones and most tablets come with a camera that, with appropriate software, can be used as an optical reader. More suited to a warehouse environment with high mobility a smartphone or tablet would also have the functionality to store and, if necessary communicate with the system.


Agile Methodology: an introduction.

The development method I’m using in my project is an Agile Unified Process (AUP). There are many types of Agile development methods however they all share certain characteristics – for a great analysis of Agile versus Agile Unified Process take a look at this explanation by Chris Collins – here are some of the shared characteristics

  • Deliver Quick, Deliver Small – A lot of IT projects fail because there is a disconnect between the people developing and the client receiving the development. The developers’ get the brief and go off and data model, and code, and build and make shiny good stuff. 6 months or a year later they show their ‘awesome’ app to the client who throws his hands up and says ‘no no no – this isn’t what I wanted’. Wasted time and loss of trust between project and client. Delivering quick iterations of software that are ‘just good enough’ and delivering them quickly helps to develop leanly and establish early client buy-in and valuable user acceptance testing. As the iterations go on it’s easier to find feature priorities and keep developing on track.
  • Small Teams Win – Agile works best in smaller teams working together on a single project. Scrum and Crystal Clear methods insist that you need to work together in the same space. Communication is key, keeping team members on track and helping iron out mistakes as you go along. This can be taken to its extreme with side by side programming where two coders will sit together and code on one machine; talking problems through as they occur. much less time is needed for revision and it encourages the all important iterations.
  • Show Progress – Don’t Hide Problems – whichever flavour of Agile you choose showing stages of work, progress, backlogs,  or iterations deadlines feature heavily. Whether whiteboards (like the SCRUM board below), post-it notes, posters or zippy software like AgileZen ( ). They should be highly visual and more importantly highly visible to anybody – even passers-by. There’s a good blog about Agile visible workspaces here:  .

Scrum Board -

There’s a great, if long, video about how Agile development can be used even in the biggest organisations from this Sales-force conference in 2009. Definitely worth a watch, even if you only stick the first 20 minute overview of Agile: .

A Quick Project Overview…

Project Overview

Hello world!

Hello  World….