They can be found on Mars rovers and ocean floors, in operating rooms and particle accelerators, on weaponry and church vestments, on children’s toys and giant earth-moving equipment,” writes Paul McEnroe.
He is talking about barcodes, which “permeate every corner of our lives” and still, half a century since inception, keep grocery running.
McEnroe led the team at IBM that created barcode tech – from the design of the lines to the handheld scanner – which he documents in his book The Barcode (Silicon Valley Press, out 19 September).
The author charts his journey from orphanage to IBM, where the meat of the story begins. It’s here the reader really appreciates the feat that was pulled off – not just in the scanning part of the tech but in the behind-the-scenes computing challenge. It’s also a tale of convincing big corporations – both IBM and major retailers – to take a punt.
McEnroe is something of a renaissance man. As well as being the man behind the barcode, he competes in equestrian events, established a children’s reading school and one of his plans features in barn building bible The Handbook of Barn Designs.
But the polymath never comes across as arrogant, constantly emphasising how the invention came about thanks to a “top-notch” team, be they “general purpose engineer” or “classic nerd”. He dedicates an entire chapter to its assembly.
Retail geeks and Netflix producers should give this book more than a quick scan.