20 September 2010

The particle physics of proof-reading

particle acceleratorHow does this bloody work then?!

It has fascinated me in a macabre sort of way for as long as I can remember...

The way a piece of text can change as it switches medium or goes 'live'.

We all know this. We have all done it.

You work diligently, carefully, comprehensively on a document on your word processor. When it is finished you hit the print button and wander over to the printer to collect it. As you watch it coming out, you see for the first time THE most glaring typo! (where you mis-spelt your company name, or absent-mindedly described your boss as 'profligate' instead of 'professional').

What is the process that turns the invisible, highly visible, as your work changes medium? It's as if you were moving your document from air to water, where the colours change and everything is magnified?

I'm convinced there are rules at play here that are just as baffling as, and closely linked to, the behaviour of quantum particles. The state of the particle (document) changes if it is being observed. Maybe two versions of your document exist in parallel universes, and only become apparent when the reader inadvertently crosses from one to the other.

That's what just happened to me when I wrote a lengthy and complicated email telling all BGTW members how to update their biogs on our website by the middle of next month. It's been a work under detailed review for a week. This afternoon I finally drew all the last strands together, previewed what the layout looked like and then, as a final check, sent myself a test email. Perfect. Then I sent it to all 278 members.

My first glance at the second version to arrive in my in-tray took in the opening, bold print, line...

"Deadline is 15 October 2011"

FFS!

OK, I'm now going to power up my small hadron particle accelerator and squirt this blog post through inter-webby thing to your screen. I fully expect the headline to read 'PARTICAL physics' or some such, and will need to re-edit as soon as it has been published!



4 comments:

Christine B.Osborne said...

Siegneur, it happens to us all! How is it possible, when I`ve proof-read 'something' a hundred times, that a GLARING ERROR appears in the final version. I'm sure gremlins are inserted in software, hardware, 'anywhere' -- simply to provoke.

Eshe said...

Ah I love the blog post - you have it spot on! It definitely helps to print things out when proof reading too - I think by the nature of the way we do things nowadays, (mainly on computers) it really doesn't help!

David Whitley said...

That's why we have (or did have and should have) subs...

Unfortunately, the human brain often does read what it sees on the page - it reads what it expects to see. And this expectation is multiplied enormously when you've written it yourself...

onliner said...

Nah...

Nice try David, but I'm not convinced.

The Higgs boson ("God particle") is messing with my copy!