Mobile Codes: Three Views of a Secret

JacoMobile phones, bar codes, and jazz bass. There are probably not many articles you’ll ever see that feature these three things in the same piece, let alone the same sentence, but for the sake of doing something original, I’m going to give it a try and see what turns up.

First, let’s tackle the jazz bass. One of the most original tones the Fender electric bass has ever produced came from the late great Jaco Pastorius, formerly the bassist with the jazz fusion ensemble Weather Report. (If you’ve ever heard of Manhattan Transfer’s vocalese hit “Birdland“, then you might have heard of Weather Report, who recorded the original instrumental version).

Pastorius took the standard electric Fender jazz bass, stripped it off its frets, and turned a supporting instrument into a lead voice. In Jaco’s capable hands, the bass could alternate between rocking the bottom, then switching gears and soaring into beautiful melodies, with bell-like harmonics and lead lines sounding like a french horn. You can hear this in his recordings with Joni Mitchell, notably on “Coyote” and “Hejira

One of Pastorius’ classic tunes was his composition “Three Views of A Secret”. Jaco may have looked like a rocker, but this piece had a great sense of swing, and the sensitivity of a jazz ballad. Three different views of one musical sensibility.

Which segues to our discussion on camera phones. One of the great underutilized talents of today’s mobile phones is that the now ubiquitous onboard camera is capable of more than just taking pretty snapshots. The camera also allows the mobile phone to read visual data. Like bar codes for instance. And with the right software, these codes can be processed into actions – like calling a number, saving contact information on an address book, sending a text message, and connecting to a mobile website. All without typing in a single character.


Illustration from the New York Times, March 30, 2008.

So what does this all have to do with Jaco Pastorious? We’ll be taking a look at mobile bar codes (also known as 2D codes), and we’re going to use them to see three different views of the same secret message – just like Jaco’s tune.

Mobile bar codes come in different forms, and we’re going to check out three different types currently in use in the Philippines.

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