Qrcode image of first paragraph text

QR Code Blog is a blog whose text is both about and published as QR Code - a 2d barcode format which is becoming quite popular with the new generation of Japanese cameraphones. Like ROT13 (a simple letter substitution scheme which encodes “secrets” as “frpergf”) the effect on the blog isn’t so much encryption as it is obfuscation - it requires a scanning program/device to return the text to human-readable form. (For example, the QR Code image here reproduces the next paragraph.)

When we at WRT talk about “text,” we are generally talking about a particular kind of readable information encoding - and readable is a complex proposition. Text may be stylized in a way we are unfamiliar with, as in blackletter - it may be interspersed with some markup we don’t understand, such as HTML - it may be be a substitution system we aren’t familiar with, such as braille or morse code - or it may be a system that, while technically human-readable, isn’t particularly optimized for reading by humans, as with barcodes, which were originally an adaptation of morse to the needs of machines (although barcodes can be read, if slowly).

Text which is optimized for machine use might not be human-readable, yet remain quite human-friendly. QRcode is designed so that cameraphones can quickly upload text from physical objects. I can imagine a QR Code print preview or a QR Code feed (something like an XML feed) available in browsers or via blogware. This would allow users to download text entries from a browser screen into their cameraphone/pda without having to establish any kind of wireless / bluetooth / cable sync.

I’m also really attracted to the idea of QR Code, not just prose, but fiction - perhaps a piece along the lines of Nick Montfort and Scott Rettberg’s Implementation project (a serialized novel distributed as stickers). The story could be distributed on objects with each giving a snippet of story and indicating where another piece could be retrieved. The attraction for me is that the image is unreadable until the reader scans it into a phone - the act of translating the text and uploading it into memory are the same, so a dedicated reader will end up collecting all the pieces of the puzzle in one memory chip (vs. Implementation, where the stickers tend to stay ’stuck’ as they thematically meditate on the nature of place).

Finally, I’d like to observe that there is also a particular aesthetic to QR Code… something that would have been recognized by John Nefastis of Crying of Lot 49, or Boris Urquhart from Victory Garden.

A teeming, swarming feeling.

via liquidx.net

10 Responses to “QR Code and unreadable digital text”

  1. 1 Tassie

    Thanks for the blackletter nod! I really like the idea of a scavenger hunt that lets the seeker assemble all the pieces.

    What happens if we render something readable only via technology? QR Code doesn’t look to be discernable by the human eye in the way that even bar codes are, and the luddite in me wants to resist something I can’t decode without a machine. That may seem unreasonable, but I could read binary given the time, and QR Code doesn’t provide my unaided corporeal self with any entrance that I can see. That teeming, swarming feeling becomes a bit unsettling . . .

  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass

    To give a true blackletter nod I should have included a link to the EMC Ballad Project essay on Blackletter - I just didn’t realize it was up yet!

    How do we feel about what is rendered readable “only via technology”? My guess is that it changes as the ubiquity of the technology changes and starts to meld into the concept of the unaided corporeal self - as clothing does, so cameraphones might. If you were to shop at Wal Mart, the lack of price tags might not bother you since you can always bring a bar-coded item to any of dozens of bar code readers stationed throughout the store. Access isn’t an issue. To give a more extreme example, the information on many signs isn’t available to me without a specialized technological device - my glasses or contact lenses. It is undeniably technology - but so socialized, with such easy constant access, that I no longer consider it an issue of access if most things adhere to the 20/20 standard. Someone who can’t afford prescription glasses might feel differently.

    Which is to say, disability and economic class are conjoined here. If you can’t afford a QR enabled cameraphone, then you experience special type of limited access introduced by this new format. Of course, the format was created in order to provide easy access - but gives with one hand while taking away with the other….

  3. 3 xlrmx

    Hey, just a question for you dear Luddite, how do you decode standard codebars without a machine? By reading the numbers below it?

  4. 4 Jeremy Douglass

    Luddite? =)

    Actually, even without the numbers below, a person can look at the bars in a barcode and discern the number sequence - it is just a difficult and slow process that takes the memorization of nine patterns and some practice.

    Thanks for asking - I thought I had included the link above, but I only linked to the beginning of the article. Here is the part that tells you how to “decode the actual bars in the bar code and map them to numbers.”

  5. 5 Claude Van Horn

    Is there a program to take a scan, webcam, or jpeg file that contains a QR-Code block and can turn it back into text? I got the free QR-Factory program to generate the code block, but want some way to bring it back to text.

  6. 6 Jeremy Douglass

    QR decoding:

    NPC Intelcom promote their software development kit with a simple cross-platform Java application for decoding QR codes, QR code demo - I’ve downloaded and used it to pull 4000+ characters out of a maximum sized code, although I haven’t tested it on photo of a code (perspective distorted, lighting, etc. They also have a Java encoder with some nice features - live updating of the image as you type and control over margins and module size, which helps for printing.

    If you are a Mac user, Micono’s Decoding QR application has a bunch of great features - it decodes from files and screen capture, encodes as well (including pictures), and also has various data inspector modes for examining the encoded information. Unfortunately, it only comes localized in Japanese - I’m not totally sure what some of the features are. Psytec has a Windows program that I haven’t tried (I’m Mac/Linux right now), PsQREdit, but I think it is encode-only.

    Decoding QR mentions Y. Swetake in the code credits, however after looking at his QRcode Perl CGI and PHP scripts, I believe they are encode-only. They integrate with GD to output various types of graphics and output up to the max v.40 codes (although the demo QR coded blog entries running on Swetake.com is more limited) - although others use his code to host a complete version, and some bloggers have used to host QR codes for blog entries (1 2). But back to decoders - another free code library which includes both an encoder and a decoder is Yusuke Yanbe’s QR code Sourceforge.jp Project - the libraries are Java, and the example requires J2SE to run.

    At present, I don’t know of any commercial decoder software that is sold direct to consumers - phone software like the CamReader Barcode Decoder and the ScanBuy Decoder seem to ship on new phones or be downloadable from providers like DoCoMo or Vodaphone. Bar code decoding companies selling corporate software development kits (SDKs) include Omniplanar’s SwiftDecoder, Steribar Systems 2D Vision, and Axel Systems AX8R SDK (which also has a demo, Windows-only). Denso-wave, the developers of QR code, also have what looks like a decoder / verifier called QRchecker, however it is also Windows-only.

  7. 7 Roger

    For the ones interested:

    There is now the Kaywa Reader, free to download (for now Nokia Series 60 phones, more will come soon):

    To generate your QR Codes, go to:

    All the best

  8. 8 Laurence

    Tassie seems worried about something that is only readable by technology, but the technology is only really an extension of ourselves, written by us to carry out repetitive or long-winded tasks more rapidly.

    The standards are open and available, so it must be possible to read QR Codes without the aid of technology, though the simple technology of some paper and a writing implement might be very useful!

    Having no technology available might add to the interest, as there’s a puzzle to be solved before you can find the next step. Maybe a version of these could be made, like a cross between a QR Code and a CAPTCHA so they can only be read by humans, with the aid of our great pattern recognition systems?

  9. 9 Felipe Warren

    Man, i never seen anyting like that before. i was searching for the internet some logotypes and then boom crash into Qr codes. my eyes dont believe in that.
    Then my curiosity makes me dig in all the information about this crazy and beauty code.
    I think the mankind are not usualy happy with all things we made for publicity or share a history or anithing like that. i think this QR code is a big thing to handle and we have to use, share and make this the new genaration. The who would be glad about this.
    Lets rocks genaration Y.

    best regards
    Felipe Warren

  1. 1 WRT: Writer Response Theory » Blog Archive » Unreadable Text Art

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