Monday, March 29, 2010

The big project at work has become downright surreal over the past few weeks. More and more, I find myself describing my job with Douglas Adams quotes, and if that isn't a bad sign I don't know what is. As for the big, final, main deadline, we aren't actually over it, but we have been over so many milestones by a few hours or a day that I'm surprised it hasn't added up to making us more than a week behind on the "real" deadline. So that's one Douglas Adams quote, which I shared with other team members a few times last week: "I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by."

And why have we been behind? Because the main end result of this project is a 150-page document, everyone on the team rushed through it because the deadline is supposedly set in stone even though it was obviously unrealistic two months ago, it needs the approval of a dozen different people in addition to those on the team, almost all of them have gone over it with a fine-toothed comb, and some of them have had a ton to say about it.

Probably at least a quarter of the revisions since we first asked for approval from anyone outside the team has been utterly trivial bullshit requested by the reviewers - word choice, parallel sentence structure, using terms consistently, etc. It's stuff that, theoretically, yes, we should do, but what a massive waste of time to be bringing it up now. Maybe another quarter has been changes reviewers requested that, significant or not, we simply can't do, like the guy from the safety division asking for something that the lawyer says we would get sued over and lose the lawsuit. Thus, another Douglas Adams quote comes to mind. He's talking about making movies, but it seems to fit making regulations too: "The Hollywood process is like trying to grill a steak by having a succession of people coming into the room and breathing on it." The remaining half or so of the changes has been things we should have found earlier... and I like to think I would have found a lot of my share of them earlier than I did if I had had more time, and I'm sure the other people on the team feel the same way.

The thing that's most annoying is the trivial style stuff, particularly by this one reviewer who rarely actually said what he wanted. At one point, for example, he highlighted the phrase "that complies with subchapter S" (preceded by "for each vessel") and commented "Clumsy wording". Really? How so? Looks pretty simple to me. I don't know what complying with subchapter S means, but that's not the point. Maybe he meant that the rest of the sentence was clumsily worded, I guessed, but to me it looked just as clear. Well, we reworded it to "for vessels that comply with subchapter S", and apparently that was good enough for him, but I don't have any idea why.

Or worse, hyphenation. This was another comment from the same person about using a hyphen after numbers in some places and not using it in others.
Throughout the FR, a "-" is randomly located before "lb" and needs to be removed.

This was our reply to him.
This conforms with GPO style requirements. A hyphen is sometimes used before "lb" and sometimes not depending on context.

If I didn't have to worry about office politics and all that, I would have written "This conforms with GPO style requirements and 10th grade English.". The general rule is that a compound word in English is written as one word if it means something different from the sum of its parts (a "blackboard" isn't just any board that's black, it's a specific kind of board used for a specific purpose, and often isn't even black), and all other compound words are written with a space if it is being used as a noun (like "the limit is 187 lb"), and is written with a hyphen connecting them if it is being used as an adjective (like "the 187-lb limit"). That's not exactly accurate, but that's the basic idea. Of course, there's nothing wrong with not knowing that off the top of your head - last week I was joking that knowing stuff like this is the only thing my English major was good for - but personally, if I see something that looks wrong but I'm unfamiliar with it or it's not my area of expertise, then before I flatly tell someone to fix it I would double-check what I believe and/or phrase my comment as a question for fear of looking like a pointy-haired moron. Apparently this guy wasn't worried about that, though...

Oh well, this project is probably hopefully maybe almost done. We only need one more person's approval. By now it's pretty thoroughly warmed-over and edited. Someone is checking my work on one part of it right now (and I feel guilty and/or embarrassed for how much she might wind up having to deal with), and hopefully she won't find too many mistakes but even if she does, que sera sera. With just a bit of luck I'll be able to make a small number of easy changes and say goodbye to this mess forever by the end of the week.

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