Sure, everybody needs a passion, but some passions are of a decidedly different stripe. Meet Steven Schmidt, an ardent admirer of all things bar-coded.
Who: Steven Schmidt, 39
What: Cofounder and CEO of Abraham Technical (AbeTech), a bar-code-systems integrator in Maple Grove, Minn.
What else: Schmidt is an authority on the exotic lore of bar coding.
Missing the bar: Schmidt identifies the first use of bar codes as an effort by Sylvania and GTE to track rail cars in the 1960s. Muck and mud encrusted the labels, making them impossible to read.
Stick-chew-itiveness: Bar-code pioneers persevered, and in 1967 the first retail code was applied to packs of Wrigley's gum sold in Kroger's markets.
Uses of many stripes: Runners in the New York City Marathon, Mir space station furnishings, and bees have all been bar-coded.
Bum rap: Schmidt says former president Bush didn't deserve the derision heaped on him when he expressed amazement at product scanning for supermarkets. "It was a new, two-dimensional bar code that contained far more data than the old kind," says Schmidt.
M [ ] F [ ] check one: Schmidt hopes to develop a bar code that would contain all the data people need to fill out forms. The data could be scanned from a card directly onto a sheet of paper, saving time for, say, drivers renewing their licenses.
New York City Marathon runners, Mir space station furnishings, and bees have all been bar-coded.
Bang, bang -- you're $1.99: Schmidt's two children have their own bar-code scanner, which they use to read labels throughout the house.
Why "AbeTech"?: Schmidt is a passionate student and admirer of our 16th president.
... And? "We wanted a name that started with A so we could be first in the phone book."
Thinking small: An AbeTech supplier once crammed the entire Gettysburg Address onto a bar code. "It was to demonstrate their product," says Schmidt.
Thinking big: Schmidt, who lives on a 64-acre farm, dreams of cutting his hay field into the world's largest bar code, to be viewed from the air.
Favorite Lincoln quote: "Your own resolution to succeed is greater than any other one thing."
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan