A little known fact
Life is full of little mysteries; where do the odd socks in the washing go on holiday to? Why do digestive biscuits always crack the wrong way when you try to break them in two? We all have our list and occasionally think about it but in our heart of hearts we know there is no answer. This is the definition of a mystery, it is a question to which there is no present answer.
I ran into another one today. A friend of mine sent me a document which is used frequently by his department. It had a typo, the second ‘r’ was missing out of proportionate. So I rang him to alert him to the fact that his organisation was putting out Private Eye material, I mean, a document from an educational establishment with a typo?
He responded perfectly reasonably by saying that it had been there when he pressed the attach button. It must have dropped off! I cannot dispute that he might be right. He says he has a theory that the software engineers who wrote the programmes have their little jokes and there is a small sub routine in there somewhere that kicks in randomly and drops a letter.
So, it’s a conspiracy against the typing classes instigated by the hairy backed workers? Hmmmm, if there’s one thing that does set my crap detector whining it’s a conspiracy theory. Conspiracies do exist but far too often we use suspicion of them to hide our own intellectual failings, we don’t know the answer so it’s obvious, it’s a conspiracy.
I decided to pursue this so I set out to search for the missing letter. My mind went back to the dark days of Locoscript and remembered their concept of ‘boilerplate text’. If I remember rightly you could format text as boilerplate and it was unalterable, you could paste it as often as you liked, it never altered. Is there something in Word that does the same thing? Perhaps I should look for it. I’m not very sanguine, the spell check on this programme just threw up Locoscript as an error. Is their memory so short?
This was getting me nowhere fast, I had to do something positive. I remembered something and got my torch. I looked in the right hand back corner of my inkjet printer where the printer head goes for a pee.
Hold on, you mean you didn’t know that?! ( No, not a typo, it’s an interrobang, work that out for yourself) Have you noticed that when you’re doing an urgent print job your printer stops and the printer head goes off and does something busy in the corner? Sounds as though it is building a small garden shed. It’s gone for a pee in a bucket. You don’t believe me do you. Get a torch and have a look.. See, I told you so!
So I got the torch and had a look. There it was, the missing ‘r’. Stuck to the side of the bucket. When I looked carefully there were a lot of other words and letters in there. This explained everything. Forget the software engineers, this is not a conspiracy, the printers are proof reading and getting it wrong! It’s simple incompetence and not malice.
The answer is obvious, we have to start a movement for the better education of printers. I don’t mind them proof reading my work, I suspect they will be more efficient than my spell checker. We must give them the tools for the job.
This was a revelation. Suppose we apply the same thinking to the other mysteries. Suppose the laundry basket has never been taught to count? Has the digestive biscuit got a lousy sense of direction and needs to go on an orienteering course? Let’s not stop here, let’s look at the really big problems like BSE, antibiotic resistance in common infections, the terrible state of the railways, the fact that WMDs cannot be found. Could all these be the results of simple incompetence?
There is some mileage in this idea and it shouldn’t be hard to get funding to run an enormous research project on it. After all, think of the benefits if we could crack this one. Let’s declare war on incompetence! I rest my case.
[PS. My mate Steve thinks I’m spending too much time on my own and should get out more. This is an example of woolly thinking and is as bad as tending to believe conspiracy theory. It is the easy way out. I think I’m on to something here, now let’s see, where did I put those application forms………..]
SCG/14 April 2004