You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to get a stamp for a postcard in San Francisco.
Getting a postcard is the easy part. But buying stamps? They should make it a new sport at the Olympics.
The place that sold me the postcards told me to try the liquor store next door. But they only sold ‘domestic’ not ‘international’ stamps. They recommended the 7/11 store, who subsquently suggested Walgreens (a kind of supermarket). No luck there either. They suggested I try the Post Office (which was closed as it was a Sunday).
So come Monday I start the merry-go-round looking for a Post Office.
I ask a cycle courier who points me in the right direction and I head straight for the spot. I can’t find it but sure I’m in the right spot. Using process of elimination (nope, that’s a hotel, nope that’s a flower shop, nope that’s a cafe) I find myself staring at a non-descript building with blue and red stripes and no signage. I go inside and viola! I see a few people standing in a line with parcels.
What caught my eye (being from Click Suite these things jump out at you), was a touchscreen stamp vending kiosk.
I rock on over to give it a try. After clicking a dozen buttons to say I wanted an international stamp, and having to type in ‘New Zealand’, then swiping my credit card, it tells me “Wait while I’m printing your stamps”.
“Printing” my stamps?
I realised it meant this literally when I heard the whirr-whirr of the printer coming from somewhere inside the kiosk. About a minute later I had four freshly printed stamps which look like this:
I immediately recognised it thanks to Rex, who had educated Click Suite just a few weeks ago about what this funny pattern is and the clever secrets contained within it.
It’s a two dimensional barcode called a QR Code.
The “QR” is derived from “Quick Response”, as the its contents can be decoded at high speed.
Initially used for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, QR Codes are now used in commercial tracking applications (such as my stamps) and social applications aimed at mobile phone users (known as ‘mobile tagging’). QR Codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards or just about anything a user might need information about.
A person with a camera phone and the reader software can scan the image of the QR Code. This triggers the phone’s browser to redirect to a URL. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a ‘hardlink’ or ‘physical world hyperlinks’.
So I’m betting that the US Postal Service QR Codes on my stamps contain machine-readable information about the origin and destination. It might also contain specific codes to aid the delivery supply chain from San Francisco to Wellington. It will be interesting to see if the postcard gets to New Zealand before I do in 5 days time!