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What is a QR code?

By Charles Miller

This week my goal in writing this column is to give readers just a little background for the technology of the ever-more-ubiquitous “QR Codes” which are popping up everywhere, even occasionally on the pages of Atención. Quick Response Code (abbreviated QR code) is a type of matrix barcode first designed for the automotive industry in Japan. A QR code consists of a square populated by smaller black squares on a white background. With the right tools using QR codes is a snap (no pun intended). A tablet or smart phone equipped with a camera and a QR code reader/scanner application feature is all you need to grab any QR code you encounter.

Some readers by now are probably asking what is the point? This may be a fad today but there are some new technologies coming that may result in QR codes becoming central to every computer user’s online experience, so I hope that even readers without a smart phone will still read this column through to the end.

Simply put, using a QR code is a simple method to bridge the physical world with the online world. For example, a printed advertisement could say, “for more information visit our web site,” then give a long web site address; or they could include a QR code in the ad and say “click your smart phone on the QR code and go directly to our web site.”

Along with the growing popularity of smart phones, QR codes have been appearing more frequently almost everywhere you look. Readers in the old colonial center of San Miguel de Allende may walk north from the Jardín on Calle Reloj, and if they look carefully at the decorative tiles on one facade they will find one with a QR code. Snap that code and their smart phone will open the web site for that store. Inside many stores, QR codes on certain merchandise tags are able to send your phone more information about the product.

QR codes are fast growing in popularity because they can transmit a greater volume of data than the conventional UPC barcodes found on every product at the grocery store. The information received from the code can instruct your smart phone to go to a web site, or update your airline reservation information on your calendar, or the code on a dog’s collar can tell your name, phone number, and email to anyone who finds your lost pet. There have already been some problems with malicious use of QR codes, so you are wise to not go about indiscriminately snapping every code you see.

Newer smart phone models often have a QR code reader app pre-installed on them. If yours does not all you have to do is visit your phone’s app store such as the Apple App Store, Android Market, BlackBerry App World, etc.) and download a QR code reader/scanner app.

A client of mine, one who we should say was completely ignorant of the need for security online, called me several times to help recovering her forgotten passwords. First it was email, then her bank, then others I fail to remember. She was simply unable to keep control of any of her passwords. Exasperated over this she commanded, “I don’t want to have to use passwords any more. Take them all off!” She refused to believe me when I told her that using email without a password could not be done, and it took a phone call to her bank in New York for them to explain that she would not be permitted to have a blank password for her bank account. I regret that this lady passed on a few years ago because what she asked for might be about to come true thanks to QR codes. There is now a new proposal for an internet with no more usernames and no more passwords. To learn more about this, be sure to pick up your copy of Atención next week.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044-415-101-8528 or email FAQ8 (at)


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