Speaking of IBM

For the love of beer
The perfect place and beverage to share some casual conversation.

If we were having a beer, you would toss the little placard toward me and ask:

Does that thing make any sense?

Sure, I prefer Yuengling, but what doesn’t make sense about that?

That thing at the bottom, the hodgepodge of demonic markings.”

The QR code?

Is that what you call them?”

“That’s what they’re called, I didn’t make the name up.”

“I don’t like them. They’re creepy.”

angry Orchard
Drink Specials

“Well, I don’t think they are as popular as people thought they would be, so you may not have to look at them much longer, but demonic and creepy? I don’t get that.”

“I’ve heard they contain hidden satanic messages.”

“That’s nuts. Where did you hear that?”

“Someone told me that those codes include the ‘mark of the beast’ and I read an article on the Internet about it, and others have mentioned it too. I think it was even mentioned in a movie.”

“Oh, wow. I don’t even know where to start with that.”


“You’ve taken bad information from a bunch of misinformed sources about one thing and applied it to a totally different technology.”

“Ok wise guy. I know you’re itching to explain this to me. Go ahead…”

“Some people believe that all UPC Codes, the bar codes on groceries and retail items, include the number 666. But it’s not true.”

“Then why do they think that?”

“Because UPC codes have three sets of ‘Guard Bars’ that resemble the code for the number six, when it’s printed on the right side. The guard bars aren’t numbers, they’re just alignment features. They tell the scanner that there are numbers coming.”

“Why did you specify – when it’s printed on the right side?”

“Because there are different codes for the numbers on the left than there are on the right. That helps the bar codes to be readable in both directions. You know, so the clerk doesn’t have to turn the box around.”

“So when someone scans a bar code, there’s no 666 in the result?”

“No, there are five numbers in between the left and center Guard Bars and five more between the center and right Guard Bars. That’s it, no 666”

“But I’ve heard it from so many people. You sure it isn’t true?”

“Since when does the fact that a lot of people believe something that isn’t true suddenly outweigh the actual facts about the subject?”

“Cheryl, let’s get my young friend from Mars another Yuengling. I’m about to explain American politics to him.”


“So who invented bar code?”

“Some guy who worked for IBM. Actually, when he invented it, IBM wasn’t interested, RCA bought it. It didn’t do well. When grocers wanted a way to scan items, IBM got interested and they introduced the UPC code.”

“OK. First off, why couldn’t you just say “IBM” ? Second, why, in 25 words or less, do you keep saying UPC code instead of bar code?”

“There are lots of different kinds of bar codes. UPC codes are only used in retail settings. Speaking of IBM, have you seen the Watson and Me commercial with Ken Jennings?’

“Trying to change the subject? Good idea, but bad choice. I hate that commercial. Watson’s creepy.”

“What? – Why would you say that? I love that commercial.”

“I don’t like the idea of machines knowing more stuff than people. We’re going to regret building machines like that someday.”

“Watson doesn’t “know” anything – Watson has access to what we know, he just finds it faster, makes deeper associations and applies it to new situations.

“Why are you defending IBM, isn’t that the company that wouldn’t hire you?

“That doesn’t make them a bad company.”

“So, let me guess. When they held that Jeopardy series, you were rooting for Watson.”


“You must have been really nervous with that ‘Toronto’ answer” during Final Jeopardy.

“That was a bit of a shock, but the folks at IBM explained it afterwards. I won’t bore you with the details.”

“Now I’m really starting to think you’re from Mars. What have you done with Dan?.”

“The Jeopardy challenge was a test. They expected Watson to win, but they didn’t expect him to be perfect.”

“OK fan boy. Let’s say you were on that plane last week where the pilot had a heart attack and died. Would you rather have the co-pilot take over or Watson?”

“The co-pilot, but that’s not a fair question.”

“Why not?”

“Because the co-pilot is really a pilot. He knows how to fly the plane. I’d rather have Watson take over than Ken Jennings.”

“What do you have against Ken Jennings?”

“He’s creepy.”

60 thoughts on “Speaking of IBM

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  1. and courtesy of Dan, I once included that bar code library in my internet shop software so that I could bar code the details of an order on the mailing label. Then I could scan each label as I posted the product to update the shipping information. It speeded up our mail order business enormously – thank you Dan.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks David. It was always nice to hear about people using the library. Of course it was scary sending it to you because your code frameworks were so well written. I was sure you were going to find a huge error :)


    1. I would hope most people aren’t pondering these things Judy. I heard this comment again this week and it just sparked this conversation in my head. The meaning of life, I’m not sure we’ll ever discuss that at the bar, unless you join us.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Lois. I think everyone uses the generic term, except for geeks like me who are fascinated with encoding information in various ways. The QR codes are supposed to be easy ways to find more information about a subject without having to remember a complicated web address, but I don’t think they get much use.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL… Dan, that bar needs to hire your friend to just hang around and talk — they’d sell triple the amount of alcohol. I could use a beer for breakfast after a conversation with somebody like that — and I don’t exactly care for beer. :D Great big hug.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m pretty amazed at what all people think based on myths and assumptions. In India, no one bothers about bar codes or any other codes. In fact, only a certain section like me read the list of ingredients, the rest of the majority just look at the packaging which says “packed with proteins, minerals and iron and this and that” and the product is in the cart. However, Indians have their own unending list of myths and assumptions and superstitions which make me feel so sick.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Sharukh. This mouth has been around for decades, and it actually was mentioned in a movie. I’m pretty sure the IBM researcher never made the connection. People believe what they want to believe and what they are taught. It takes an independent thinker to question long held myths.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Since you’ve lived in a world where there was not much technological advancement and over a period of years you’ve seen new age technology taking over our lives, I would like you to write something on – Do you think technology is driving us forward or dragging us backwards? I can write the same, but I’m using computers for only past decade or so, plus we’re far behind compared to technology in the US, so I do not have enough experience to do justice to this topic.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Do you have to stare at the bar code or go cross-eyed to see the 6s? I’ve never seen them or even heard of this myth! It’s early a coffee with a nip of Bailey’s would warm me up before I head out for birding. I’ll be looking at bar codes for a 6 all day now! :)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry Deborah. I tried to point it out on the bar code of that 12-pack of Yuengling, but you really do have to look for it. I guess the people who look for conspiracies are good at finding them, even when they don’t exist. Happily, birds aren’t bar-coded. Thanks for the comment and enjoy your Saturday.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love your bar posts, and I love that commercial, and I love QR codes! It tickles me spitless to point my phone at a squiggly little square and be whisked away to a surprise website. I saw a video once of a tattoo with a QR code in it that, when scanned, took you to a video of the tattoo moving and singing. TOO COOL!!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Haha! Great post Dan. But I don’t think I know the commercial. I must admit right here and now that I rarely ever watch mainstream tv any longer. Too much serial killing, glitzy glamour cop unreal reality shows and Waaaay too many commercials. Bar codes don’t creep me out as much as the connectedness of every entity wanting to keep tabs on me through GPS, medical records, insurance and how or when I shop. Do I get excited when Yahoo pulls up “everything’s coming up roses” themes for me or a stream of age appropriate toys that match the very one I purchased through Amazon for one of my grandkids only hours before? Now THAT, my friend, creeps me out. I’m a big fan of anonymity which is very contrary to even owning a blog site but I love communicating too. Yeah that whole 666 thing was blown way out of proportion. Now let’s talk about the trend towards implanting microchips into your babies for tracking purposes….. Wait, I think we need agent Mulder for this one. How about another cold one first?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. These conversations over beer are hysterical! I laughed and giggled the whole way through. Can you imagine the books that would sell if barmaids and bartenders started documenting conversations held at their bar? Hehehehehe Oh man!! They would seriously be best sellers! Another great post, Dan! Thank you for the laughs!!! <3

    Liked by 1 person

  8. OH wow. I can remember being a teenager at my now in-laws’ church, wherein people boycotted a pile of products linked to the devil for absurd reasons, and also discussions where the mark of the beast could be anything from tattoos to credit cards.
    My grandmother was a seriously God-fearing woman, one of the best examples of Christian living I’ve ever seen. I refused to believe the devil would claim her for her Sears charge. And my grandfathers’ military tattoos would do them in? No way.
    I also remember being that annoying kid who asked the Sunday school teacher, “If credit cards are evil, should you really be working for a bank, George?”

    I remember having a flip phone when I saw really awesome commercial with those codes, and my geek friends were like, “You need a smartphone!” I’ve had a smart phone for like 10 years now, and I’ve never scanned one of those codes, ever. I do, however, use one on a discount card.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I grew up in a serious God-fearling church. Anything and everything could do you in. Good question for the banker. I don’t think they’ve found a a really good use for the QR codes yet. They keep trying. Now you can generate them around an image, like a logo, so maybe…Coupon codes seem like a good idea. Who doesn’t like to save money? Thanks for the comment.


  9. In Taiwan, the students used the QR codes quite a bit. The only time I was personally involved, was when someone found my QR code on my smartphone that would allow them to scan it and add me to LINE. Now that I’m back in the US, I am back to using a stupid phone, at least for a while.

    This post was so much fun. I really liked the story at the end, especially your answer to the question about what you have against Ken Jennings. :-D


    1. That’s interesting Deborah, that the students were using QR codes. That’s what it will take for thee things to get some momentum. I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I shouldn’t have been so hard on Ken, but he seemed creepy when he was winning all those games. Thanks so much for the comment.


  10. Dan, at our warehouse before we place products into hampers to be sent yo retail stores who have ordered said products we scan the UPC codes. We used to have lower amount of products so the first three numbers would produce positive acceptance nut now so many we look at four numbers. The scanners in our warehouse only read the labels of our hampers full codes. Just another dimension to the technology you were speaking about. :) I love your calling your friend from Mars. I like hard cider and have friends at a Columbus, Ohio “Mad Moon Cidery” which I featured a history about hard cider on. Did you know that the barrels on ships crossing the ocean had this often and Ben Franklin liked hard cider, too? I liked the Angry Orchard cocktails. I had not heard of them! :)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the comment Robin. Products are monitored so many times these days, before they get to our shelves. I’ve never tried hard cider, Maybe I’ll give the Angry Orchard products a try. I mean, if Ben liked it, and you like it, it must be good :)


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