Monday, June 20, 2011

Bye Bye Mr. Bar Code

Last week, there was a New York Times obituary for Alan Haberman, he being the person who ushered in the barcode. Notice that's usher and not invent. That distinction goes to Norman Woodland and Bernard Silver, two graduate students at the Drexel Institute of Technology (now Drexel University), and was based—perhaps not surprisingly—on Morse code, which is now defunct.

Queueing at a grocery checkout [Source: Perl PDQ 2nd edn]

The bar code was an effort to modernize the grocery industry, which dates back to the 1940s. Woodland and Silver received a patent in 1952, but because scanning technology was rather poor at that time, their invention went largely unused. And that's where Alan Haberman comes in because he championed its adoption in actual retail stores. The first product to be purchased using a barcode, chewing gum no less, took place in 1974 at Marsh Supermarket in Troy, Ohio,

All of which brings me to the point of this post. Not only do I tend to use the grocery store as a familiar example of queueing effects, both in my Guerrilla CaP classes and my Perl::PDQ book, but Jim Holtman, one of our GDAT instructors, is currently doing data analysis and simulations for Kroger Supermarket in Cincinnati, Ohio. What is it with Ohio and grocery stores?

What started with barcodes, continues today with the application of RFID, motion capture, shelf optimization and so forth. And all these performance improvements rely on analyzing big data sets. No doubt, Jim will recount some of this in the upcoming GDAT class. You could do worse than be there for that. You can even bring your own data to be scanned and we'll check it out for you. :)

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