Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Miss May

We just had a visit from the very apologetic editor of Bus Conversions magazine. As I have chronicled here previously, Odyssey is the centerfold article for the May issue. It seems there has been some sort of transcription error in the editorial process, and the article, as printed, is not what we submitted. I'm actually afraid to even read it, but I am given to understand that there are a number of spelling and grammatical errors, and perhaps some of the text was deleted and/or some previously deleted text has been re-inserted. I am told that the end result is bad enough that a written apology from the editor herself is forthcoming in the June issue.

I have posted the original, correct, and unedited article on our web site, here.

There is a saying in the computer business that "to err is human; to really foul things up requires a computer." This is an apt description of what happened to our article.

Louise and I wrote the article using Microsoft Word. While I loathe Microsoft products in general, we use Windows out of necessity (the software that runs our satellite, does our mapping and navigation, and organizes our calendars, among other tasks, runs on nothing else), and Word happened to be pre-loaded (and is a de-facto standard anyway). We used the change-tracking and collaboration features of Word as we worked together to create a polished finished product.

When we were done, I spoke to the editorial staff at the magazine, who allowed that they actually preferred to receive copy in Word. So we made a final proof, and sent the finished article to them. It was spell-checked and grammatically correct. More importantly, it flowed well and seemed to us to be a good, well-written article.

The article we sent, of course, had change-tracking turned off, because it was a final copy. Word, however, in its infinite wisdom, still has all the changes ever made to the document stored within. In hindsight, there are ways to force Word to "accept" the changes permanently, which we should have effected, though they don't ever seem to go away from the raw document.

In any case, the staff at the magazine apparently had change-tracking turned on, either in the on-screen display or in the printed document. The result was, to them, a confusing array of red-lines, cross-outs, additions in multiple colors (how Word identifies different collaborators), and the like. This could easily have been fixed with a simple phone call, wherein I would have explained change-tracking to them and how to turn it back off, or perhaps I could have sent them the correct text in a different format. In fact, I placed at least three follow-up calls and sent two follow-up emails to make sure that all the materials were received in readable condition and that there were no questions on anything we had submitted.

What happened instead is that the staff at the magazine took the red-lined version, which, I have to say, even I could not make sense of if I had it sitting in front of me, and re-typed the entire article. Thus introducing the aforementioned spelling and grammatical errors. And, perhaps, re-adding formerly deleted text, and/or omitting current changes that were, possibly, in a different color. I can only imagine how the end result reads... at some point, I will have to work up the courage to open the magazine and read it for myself.

For now, I think I will have another Chianti.

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