Bad Day at the Bar Code Corral

Peter Rauch peterr at VIOLET.BERKELEY.EDU
Mon Aug 7 17:18:19 CDT 1995

>Date:         Mon, 7 Aug 1995 17:26:00 EST
>From: Chris Garvie
><CGarvie_+a_XeTel-Au_+lChris_Garvie+r%Xetel_Corporation at MCIMAIL.COM>
>Subject:      Bar coding boxes??

>     1) I can't think of any good reasons why anyone would want to bar-code
>     specimen boxes etc.

Interesting observation. But, was there something that anyone on Taxacom
said that elicited this comment?

>      Bar-codes in industry are typically used for
>     similar items

Collections managers have found discipline-legitimate reasons to put
barcodes on dissimilar items.....

>     2)Setting up a database in whatever way (one large file, many linked
>     ones etc), defining all the fields, and writing the software is the
>     easy part of making a system.
 [Could do it in ...]
>     ... weeks, assuming you could give [the programmer] the specifications.

Now, _there's_ a major assumption ...and problem! And, even if one
person gives you "the" specifications, will the next person give you
compatible, commensurate specifications for _their_ (somewhat similar)
application (which might be written by the next software developer)?
The notion of "standards" comes to bear at this point. The standards
are not (only) those of the software industry, they are the ones of the
biosystematics/collections/ environmental/ecological community which
will "give" the developer an opportunity to write non-unique
applications. One of the issues that raised all of this tortured
discussion was the topic of community standards with respect to the use
of bar codes to track specimens. If the user community hasn't come to
grips with all of the critical standards (esp. those which would have
a great impact on the automation of their "business"), then those ill-
specified software programs will lead to inability to share and
exchange and pool data.

>     The corner S/W store does not have an off-the-shelf the answer to your
>     problems but there are many S/W developers who do.

Yes, we hire them, educate them to the ways of systematics and
biocollections management and use, and guide them to develop useful
software for us.  If they're _really_ good, they guide us to provide
accurate, sufficient, descriptions of our business. Generally, like
most complex things, there is a significant amount of interdisciplinary
learning/educating/sharing that goes on in the process.


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