QR Code Jiggery-Pokery

 QRcode for my website QR Codes seem to be a bit of a geeky hot topic at the moment, with people pasting them on walls to give a link to Wikipedia, or a local amenities listing. People are also printing tshirts with a link to their site, or wherever.

QR Codes aren’t the only standard for 2-dimensional graphical codes – there is also Data Matrix, which looks slightly different but has the same funtionality. QR seems to be the leader because of it’s common usage in Japan, and the number of devices supporting it out of the box. In my line of work I have come across Data Matrix readers in the style of barcode guns which connect to a laptop via USB, and allow quick entry of data from codes into a spreadsheet or database. This is very useful for asset maintenance tasks and configuration management – each component can have a code intstead of a serial number. Barcodes were used, but QR holds more data.

The above link to Boing Boing makes it look like they only work with an Apple iPhone, but that is of course not the case. Palm OS, Symbian and other phones and PDAs have had them for ages. When the iPhone code reader finally gets released (no hurry in the walled garden), it may mean there is an upsurge in usage – it should be interesting to see whether it takes off in the US like it did in Japan.

They’ve been popular in Japan for a long time, because most people’s cellphones already have a QR Code reader built in to the phone camera. Reading the tag then sends the phone web browser to the correct information.

The image at the top is a QR Code which is the encoded address of a specific page on this site. But you can’t tell what the link is until your reader reads it. In the case of my reader, Beetagg, it asks for confirmation of the URL before it opens it, so there is a way to check if you’re opening a malicious or prank site, e.g. Rickrolling.

Wouldn’t it be nice if there was some way to make the QRCode look like what it was linking to, or give some kind of hint as to the destination? It would be a crude pixelated image, but it would be a cool thing to be able to do. All the QRCode generators that are available start with the text or URL, and generate the QRCode from that. What we need is to be able to draw a QRCode in a grid, and have the generator tell us what code that would make. It would have to start with a template containing all the necessary markers and corner blocks to ensure it was a valid code.

Well, as it turns out, there is a way (Google translation). Due to the robust errorchecking and redundancy in the code, it is possible to embed logos and images in the code, either pixellated at the same resolution as the code, or as an image simply stuck in the middle, so that the code is generated around it.

Fun, but I was thinking more along the lines of manually drawing a code and seeing what comes out, similar to the process of making music, or more likely noise, used by the Aphex Twin amongst others. As long as the code you drew created a valid URL, you could register that domain and create the necessary page. Worth it? Probably not.

The coolest would be a code generated in the usual way, by entering a URL into a generator, which ended up looking like the thing that the URL linked to – for example the code for the URL of an image of a duck looking like a little pixellated duck itself. It’s only a matter of time before a QR Code is created to link to an online Bible, which has the image of Jesus in the code. Then again, if you’re looking, you can see whatever you want.