Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Idea to improve my book purchasing modus operandi.

Sure, I don't have any secrets. I'll tell you exactly what I'm up to.

1) I'm selling books online. It's analogous to panning for gold. Instead of a gold pan, I have a bluetooth barcode scanner. Instead of a river, I stand anywhere that books can be purchased inexpensively. The more time you spend in the river, the more gold you find. Part of my job is to find better rivers to stand in.

2) When I get interested in something, I dive in. I'm almost totally self-taught with everything I'm good at or knowledgeable about. It doesn't mean I can't learn from others, but unless there is a cosmic alignment of my interest and access to a human teaching about it, I'm on my own. If I'm not interested, you can't pound a fact into my brain with any hammer. I could build a good wheel before I ever worked at a bicycle shop, and I built my tiny house with help from a 1986 textbook and some YouTube videos.

3) I'm proud of my brain. It works in ways which confuse even me - maybe mostly me. My brain churns out various and hilarious ideas and operations, always. My brain only gets sad during the winter. And it is always fucking building things. I definitely won't be getting any genius awards, but I do get a regular bang out of life. I can't pay bills, find anything... ever, and I'm lost in smoke behind a rapidly expanding to-do list of tasks. But I'm also impervious to disaster: If you step on me, I could live underneath your foot, and you wouldn't even know it.

Books. More Information. Faster. Superhero Capabilities.

Most books now have a barcode, and that makes it easy to check them against a database. Scan the barcode; bang-bang. Information. Most books without a barcode will still have an ISBN. This is a 10 or 13 digit number, which can be typed manually to check a book against a database. Hunting for the ISBN on the title page or dust jacket flap - or sometimes the spine, or wherever - takes a little time. For the sake of efficiency, most people who do what I'm doing will skip the books with no barcode. That leaves a ton of valuable books on the shelf.

I'm a thorough person, and also curious. If a book appears to have any potential value, I will take the extra time to type in an ISBN. At a busy book sale with dealer competition (I swear this is a thing), almost nobody will type in an ISBN. There is a mad rush (seriously) to scan barcodes and drain every valuable book out of the place as quickly as possible.

I've ruminated on this for some time. How can I be more efficient when typing in and ISBN? Right now, I can find the ISBN in a few seconds, but I have to look back and forth multiple times between my phone and the ISBN while balancing the book open and trying not to lose my place. In a word, it's clunky.

Hence, this morning at 5am, I couldn't get back to sleep. My solution to the ISBN issue is two-fold. Three-fold, if you count new hardware as a fold. First, I want to train myself to commit longer strings of numbers to short term memory. The method I'm exploring is called the "phonetic-number system" or sometimes "the major system." Basically, letters or sounds are assigned to each number, and with practice, words or phrases can be almost instantly assigned to strings of numbers in order to keep a visual representation in short term memory. This is far easier than remembering a string of digits.

Second fold: get really fast with a numeric keypad. There are plenty of tools available for this on the internet, and with some practice, I imagine I can get speed and accuracy without looking at the keyboard. Typing long numbers quickly, without looking, will pay off immediately while listing books using my full-size keyboard at home.

Typing an ISBN quickly at home is great, but what about when I'm "in the field?" A phone does not have a numeric keypad conducive to fast accountant-like inputs. Much searching revealed no options for a bluetooth numeric keypad that works with a smartphone. Is there one? I surely looked. I will be experimenting with a wireless USB numeric keypad paired with a tiny micro-USB cable plugged into my phone. I'm crossing my fingers that'll work, but after some deep digging I found one weirdo who did this with a full-sized keyboard, so I'm hoping for the best.

The endgame looks like this: I'm out looking for books, and I can do a manual ISBN search nearly as quickly as scanning a barcode. The numeric keypad can be in a coat pocket, or attached to my t-shirt with velcro over my breast pocket area. I can casually type an ISBN as comfortably as placing my hand over my heart to pledge allegiance. This would be as-yet unheard of in my line of work - an incredible advantage, and superhero-like ability. Wish me luck.

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