Flash in the Pan

Dear J—

I think the point where you start to get fussy about things like curly quotes and em and en dashes is when you’ve started falling down the slippery slope of typography. Font selection becomes paramount, at the cost of content, as the more time you spend formatting a document, the less time you have to actually write the stuff in it. On the other hand, you could perhaps stop worrying about that and just do as good a job as you can instead: these are concerns that were promulgated almost thirty years ago when some lecturer or professor went to prove their hypothesis that people with Macs were more concerned with style over substance (I don’t remember from which school or what the eventual outcome was, but I do remember the furor it caused in the Macintosh community).

My brother sent me a link to the Wikipedia entry on the “bike shed law” which is a tongue-in-cheek business principle akin to the Peter Principle, stating that more trivial or mundane tasks will consume a disproportionate amount of time and effort compared with their eventual or actual utility. I certainly believe it; for the report I’m writing, I’ve spent a lot of time tweaking chart formatting and maps, creating illustrations and tables but actual time spent writing? Yeah, there’s the rub. I suppose it’s one of those things that will seem trivial in comparison to completely re-do the analysis, which is where I think I’m going to have to go, but there you have it.

In the end I suppose you have more available time to get things done once you’ve sorted out all your assumptions, which is what I should’ve done at the outset. Instead – hi, lesson learned – I proceeded haphazardly and didn’t document what I did along the way (a lesson I’ve been learning more as I work here longer) and now the consequence: I haven’t the foggiest idea where some of the charts and other calculations live, and I’m forced to re-examine the basis for a lot of these assumptions. Actually, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, assuming I can get everything written down in time. I believe I can, and I believe I will.

Mike

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