Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Hate the ASIN, Love the ASINner

On the way home from work today, I stopped at the all-you-can-eat buffet at the mall (half-price coupon) and read more of Susan Wise Bauer's "The Well-Educated Mind." I like this book, in that it is ambitious enough to offer Bauer's opinions on what one should read to have a, well... educated mind. Sometime this week I'll list some of her recommendations with my comments. (Comments are likely to include things like "never read it" etc.)

So, I put the book on the table and went to stack my plate up with mac & cheese, pizza, roast beef, mashed taters, and Rice Krispie candy. A few minutes later I almost coughed up a pizza slice when I read the following on page 303:

The movie equivalent of the ISBN (the unique code which identifies each published book) is the ASIN.

A list of various film & video adaptations of the plays she recommended followed, with ASINs for most entries (and studios or producers for hardly any). I must point out that the movie (video) equivalent of the ISBN (International Standard Book Number) is not the ASIN. There really is no video equivalent to the ISBN (although some videos do have ISBNs), but if there were it would surely be the UPC (Universal Product Code). "ASIN" stands for Amazon Standard Identification Number. One is assigned by Amazon to any product (except books) it sells, whether the products are DVDs, spark plugs, or socks. If you look on an Amazon page, you will see the ASIN listed, but you will not see it on the product itself. However, you will almost certainly see the UPC (12 digits) or ISBN (10 digits) on the packaging of the physical item. In other words, the ASIN is only used in the context of a purchase from Amazon or one of its on-line database partners (like Target, etc.)

If you want to astound your friends, familiarize yourself with the UPC Check Digit Calculator. If you want astound your friends and your friends' friends, it's not that difficult to learn how to calculate ISBN check digits (the last digit, which is sometimes X) manually. Ask them to give you the first 9 digits off the back of any book, do some quick calculations, and you can give them back the 10th. (Note: Make sure your friend doesn't mistakenly read you the 13-digit EAN.) The reason there is an "X" at the end of the ISBN sometimes is that the check (last) digit is calculated with a formula that looks at all the other nine digits and uses a base-11 counting system. If you understood the Schoolhouse Rock song "Little Twelvetoes" you will have no problem with this.

Susan, if you're reading this, I like your book a lot. You've convinced me to try Edward Gibbon (one of these days). But please, I beg you (in addition to fixing the Adams/Jefferson and Gandhi errors noted earlier)... don't place your video-denumerating faith in the ASIN.

(Golden Calf, representing the Amazon Standard Identification Number)


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