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QR Codes for Digital Nomads

2011 | Golan Levin and Asa Foster III, for F.A.T. Lab

QR Codes for Digital Nomads

ABSTRACT:
QR Codes for Digital Nomads: QR_STENCILER and QR_HOBO_CODES are homebrew "infoviz graffiti" tools, intended for civic markup and in-situ information display. QR_STENCILER is a free, open-source, fully automated software utility that converts QR codes into vector-based stencil patterns suitable for laser cutting. The QR_STENCILER software was used to create the QR_HOBO_CODES, a collection of 100 stencil designs which, deployed in urban spaces, may be used to warn people about danger or clue them into good situations. Inspired by 19th Century "hobo symbols", these stencils can be understood as a covert markup scheme for urban spaces — providing directions, information, and warnings to digital nomads and other indigenterati.

QR_STENCILER and QR_HOBO_CODES are a part of "Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good", an exhibition organized by the Institute for Urban Design to represent the United States at the 13th Venice Architecture Biennale.

QR_STENCILER and QR_HOBO_CODES, a F.A.T. Lab project, was developed by Golan Levin and Asa Foster III at the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at CMU, with generous support from Ponoko.com.


QR Hobo Code stencil in use

QR Hobo Code stencil in use.

CONTENTS

PROJECT DESCRIPTION:
QR codes are a form of two-dimensional barcode which are widely used to convey URLs and other short texts through camera-based smartphones. A variety of free tools exist to generate QR codes (such as from ZXing) and to read them (such as TapMedia’s free QR Reader for iPhone app). Our QR_STENCILER is a Java-based software utility which loads a user-specified QR code image — from which it then generates a lasercutter-ready, topologically correct stencil .PDF. As Fred Trotter has pointed out, QR codes contain stencil islands in unpredictable configurations. QR_STENCILER automatically detects and bridges these islands, using thin lines that are minimally disruptive to the highly robust QR algorithm. It does so through the use of two basic image processing techniques: connected component labeling (sometimes called blob detection) and 8-connected chain coding (sometimes called contour tracing). QR_STENCILER was created with Processing, a free, cross-platform programming toolkit for the arts.

Closeup of stencil corners and islands
Closeup of a QR code lasercut in 1/8"-thick fiberboard. The QR_STENCILER automatically thickens corners between squares (left) and generates "bridges" to connect stencil islands (center). The level (amount) of island bridging is user-adjustable.

Accompanying the QR_STENCILER are the QR_HOBO_CODES (see below), a set of 100 lasercutter-ready QR stencil designs created with the QR_STENCILER software. These stencils can be understood as a covert markup scheme for urban spaces — providing directions, information, and warnings to digital nomads and other indigenterati. We present these as modern equivalents of the chalk-based "hobo signs" developed by 19th century vagabonds and migratory workers to cope with the difficulty of nomadic life. Indeed, our set of QR stencils port a number of classic hobo annotations to the QR format ("turn right here", "dangerous dog", "food for work") as well as some new ones, with a nod to warchalking, that are specific to contemporary conditions ("insecure wifi", "hidden cameras", "vegans beware").

Hobo signs

Examples of 19th- and 20th-Century "hobo signs". Sources: Fran DeLorenzo (left), Wikipedia (right).


DOWNLOAD
The complete set of QR_HOBO_CODE stencils can be downloaded in editable PDF format, ready for laser-cutting, here: QR_HOBO_CODES_PDFS.zip. Additionally, The QR_STENCILER software and source code can be downloaded from the following 3 locations:

  • As a direct download, in QR_STENCILER.zip (Version 1.1, 3 August 2011, 15MB), which includes pre-compiled Mac/Win/Linux applications.
  • As a Java applet on OpenProcessing.org. This is primarily for pedagogic purposes and quick reference, as the in-browser Java virtual machine does not permit the exporting of stencil PDFs.
  • As a code repository on Github. Any future updates to this project will be found there. Note that the included source code works with Processing 1.5.1. It does not work in Processing 2.0a6, owing to a known conflict between Processing 2.0a6 and ControlP5, to be repaired in Processing 2.0a7.

FEATURES
QR_STENCILER is a free, open-source, fully-automated software utility that converts QR codes into vector-based stencil patterns suitable for laser-cutting. It has the following features:

  • Precompiled executables for Mac OSX, Windows and Linux;
  • A graphical user interface (using the popular ControlP5 library);
  • Options allowing both black-on-white and white-on-black (“inverse”) stenciling;
  • Controls for the thickness (width) and number of stencil bridges;
  • Options for beveled vs. rounded corners (including both circular arcs and Bezier curves), which can relieve physical stresses in stencils made from brittle materials;
  • Vector path simplification for improved lasercutting.


QR_STENCILER features. Example PDF vector output (left); user interface (right).

INSTRUCTIONS
QR_STENCILER has been tested in MacOSX 10.6.8, but (since Processing is a cross-platform toolkit) it should work in Windows or Linux as well.

  1. Make yourself a QR code image which embeds a short piece of text. GoQR.me, Google and Kaywa all provide free online QR generators. To reduce the complexity of the stencil, we recommend generating your code with the shortest possible texts, and with lower levels of error correction (L-level or M-level). At the same time, we recommend generating QR code images with more pixel resolution, such as 500x500px; for QR_STENCILER, the ideal input image has a "grid size" of about 20 image-pixels per QR grid-cell. (See this QR code for an example; it has 23-pixel grid-cells in an overall image size of 540x540px.)
  2. Download QR_STENCILER.zip, and unzip this to a folder. The QR_STENCILER is also available from this Github repository.
  3. Although the zip includes compiled executables for Mac, Windows and Linux, we recommend running the QR_STENCILER from the Processing development environment. Download and install the Processing development tool. The QR_STENCILER works with Processing v.1.5.1.
  4. Put your QR code image in the folder, 'QR_STENCILER/data/'
  5. Launch Processing and open 'QR_STENCILER.pde'
  6. Press 'Run' (Command-R) to start the stenciler.
  7. You will be prompted to Open your QR code image. (A default "hello world" QR code will be opened if none is provided).
  8. After opening the QR code image, the program will generate a stencil .PDF in the 'data' folder. Note that there are some options (checkboxes, sliders) which you can use to alter the generated stencils in various ways, including (for example) generating "reverse" (white-on-black) stencils.
  9. The .PDF can be opened in your favorite CAD program, for laser-cutting materials like cardboard, delrin, MDF or acrylic. If you need to find a lasercutter, consider Ponoko.com, which ships anywhere. You can also Google 'laser cutting service' to find a bureau near you, or check the Architecture or Design departments of your local university. (Of course, you could always print out the PDF on paper if you prefer to cut the stencil by hand. Cheap!)
  10. For non-permanent outdoor marking materials, we recommend Erwin Strait-Line 64908 powdered chalk; black spray chalk; black finger paint; and Crayola Sidewalk Paint.
  11. After marking your stencil, test it with a QR code reader, such as TapMedia's free QR Reader for iPhone app.


QR_HOBO_CODES
The complete collection of QR_HOBO_CODES can be downloaded here: QR_HOBO_CODES_PDFS.zip

25-minute wait
png | stencil
assholes
png | stencil
bad coffee
png | stencil
bad food
png | stencil
bad tempered owner
png | stencil
bad water
png | stencil
be alert
png | stencil
be quiet
png | stencil
be ready to defend yourself
png | stencil
beware pickpockets
png | stencil
bike thieves
png | stencil
boring
png | stencil
broken meter
png | stencil
camera perverts
png | stencil
camp here
png | stencil
cars ticketed
png | stencil
caveat emptor
png | stencil
changing table
png | stencil
cheap drinks
png | stencil
check cashing
png | stencil
civilized place
png | stencil
contraception available
png | stencil
cops active
png | stencil
cops inactive
png | stencil
danger
png | stencil
dangerous homophobes
png | stencil
dangerous neighborhood
png | stencil
dishonest scalpers here
png | stencil
dog
png | stencil
food for work
png | stencil
free doctor
png | stencil
free out-of-date food
png | stencil
free wifi
png | stencil
get out fast
png | stencil
go straight
png | stencil
good cheap food
png | stencil
good coffee
png | stencil
good for a handout
png | stencil
good to kids
png | stencil
good veg-burger
png | stencil
good water
png | stencil
GPS is incorrect
png | stencil
great dumpster
png | stencil
habla espanol
png | stencil
has showers
png | stencil
help if sick
png | stencil
here is the place
png | stencil
hidden cameras
png | stencil
high-fee ATM
png | stencil
hold your tongue
png | stencil
insecure wifi
png | stencil
it's fake
png | stencil
just ignore him
png | stencil
keep away
png | stencil
keep going
png | stencil
kind family
png | stencil
lax oversight
png | stencil
look down
png | stencil
look up
png | stencil
lots of outlets
png | stencil
mean to children
png | stencil
nice bathroom
png | stencil
no bathrooms
png | stencil
no changing table
png | stencil
no fee ATM
png | stencil
no outlets
png | stencil
no pets
png | stencil
no privacy
png | stencil
open late
png | stencil
over-priced
png | stencil
over-rated
png | stencil
owner gives to GOP
png | stencil
owner has a gun
png | stencil
perverts
png | stencil
pissoir
png | stencil
Plan B sold here
png | stencil
prostitution sting
png | stencil
scammers
png | stencil
sleep in barn
png | stencil
speed trap
png | stencil
stay low
png | stencil
strong phone signal
png | stencil
talk religion get food
png | stencil
tell a hard luck story here
png | stencil
test market
png | stencil
those aren't real
png | stencil
toll road
png | stencil
tramp camp
png | stencil
tramps arrested on sight
png | stencil
turn left here
png | stencil
turn right here
png | stencil
unexpectedly good coffee
png | stencil
unsafe area
png | stencil
use gloves
png | stencil
used frying oil available
png | stencil
vegans beware
png | stencil
well guarded
png | stencil
will give to get rid of you
png | stencil
work available
png | stencil
worth saving
png | stencil



LICENSE
The QR_STENCILER software is provided "as is", without warranty of any kind. QR_STENCILER is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to distribute, remix, and modify QR_STENCILER, so long as you share alike and provide attribution to FFFFF.AT. The repackaging of QR_STENCILER as or into commercial software, is expressly prohibited. Please note that QR_STENCILER also enjoys protections under the GRL Repercussions 3.0 license. More details about QR_STENCILER’s license and warranty can be found in the preamble to its main code file, QR_STENCILER.pde; for other uses, please contact us. The 100 QR_HOBO_CODES and their respective stencils are hereby dedicated to the public domain.


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
"QR Codes for Digital Nomads" was developed for the F.A.T. Lab by Golan Levin and Asa Foster III at the Frank-Ratchye STUDIO for Creative Inquiry at Carnegie Mellon University, with generous support from Ponoko.com. Thanks to Ben Fry, Andreas Schlegel, Marcus Beausang, Neil Brown & Judy Robertson for the terrific code they have made available online. A tip of the hat to Fred Trotter, Jovino, Ric Johnson, le Suedois, Patrick Donnelly, David J. Burden, Matt Jones and others who have gone down similar or related paths. Additional thanks to Andrea Boykowycz for creative input; to Andrew Viny for photography; and to Kristen Turner and Josh Judkins for their advocacy and support for this project. Some of the QR_HOBO_CODES are adapted from or inspired by designs presented elsewhere by Fran DeLorenzo and Cockeyed.com. "QR code" is trademarked by Denso Wave, Inc.

The 100 QR_HOBO_CODES were fabricated from laser-cut Delrin with generous support from Ponoko.com, "The World's Easiest Making System", which offers quick turnaround laser-cutting and 3D printing in a wide variety of materials.


KEYWORDS
Barcode, QR code, stencil, pochoir, QR code stencil, grafitti, graffiti research, graf technology, street art, tactical media, urban messaging, locative media, situated visualization, contextual computing, lasercut, laser cutter, digital fabrication, template, chalk signs, chalk, spray paint, spraypaint, fffffat lab, hobo culture, hobo signs, technomad, digibum, warchalking.


MEDIA
For a French-language discussion of this project, please see this article (8/22/2011) from the daily newspaper, Le Temps. High-resolution press images of this project can be found in this Flickr photoset, or through the links below.

Images (click to enlarge)

QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads QR Codes for Digital Nomads