Once Works Well was pure technology. Now it seeks merely to divert.
Pansy subjects - Verse! Opera! Domestic trivia! - are now commonplace.
The 300-word limit for posts is retained. The ego is enlarged

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

Don't draw it, shout in my ear

Entering the loo of an unfamiliar restaurant or filling station I am often beset with uncertainty: which door for fellas and which for the other lot? I’m a wordsman, proud to know the meaning of riparian - prehistoric man responded to pictures but for me their message is non-immediate. Especially when heavily stylised (see inset).

At 70 mph my doubts become riskier (see above). Because journalists are told to eschew exclamation marks (screamers) I ponder their justification at the roadside when I should be stamping on the brake. The tee-boned car graphic raises the question of verb tense: “Has happened.” or “Will happen” The hare seems fast enough to look after itself. While the car sign is as useful as a warning about oxygen in the air.

But God forbid I should ever have to wrestle with the philosophical implications of the unavailable T-junction. My first interpretation was “Do a U-turn” but does the red diagonal forbid the reverse direction as well? I mention these things on behalf of a dying minority – aged literates.

SUPERIOR SPAM? My new AV software, Kaspersky, has just blocked an attempt by Cambridge University Press to sell me the works of Ruskin. I need to think hard about this.

EBOOK TRIUMPH Plutarch is re-reading GORGON TIMES to check how I’ve responded to his suggestions. He points out, quite gently, that digesting 100,000 words via a computer monitor is not easy. So I’ve loaded the MS on to my Sony ebook reader and posted it to him. He reports it’s now “easier to make notes” suggesting the publishing world may have to wait a little longer for this masterpiece.


Sir Hugh said...

In Marks and Spencer shoe department each item had a pictogram of the familiar leather mark in the form of a mammal’s skin in various different colours. I asked an assistant what they meant and was directed to a WRITTEN list with interpretations. “But” I said “I thought pictograms were to help people who can’t read” - she had no answer. I hate the damn things.

Unfortunately written instructions for self assembly items and various appliances are often even worse. Walking guides can be a problem with phrases like “...after some distance...”, and “...passing the oak tree by the right...” - yours or the oak tree’s? You have got me going on my high horse topic - I think i’d better leave it at that for the moment.

Coincidence: I have just bought Ruskin’s Unto This Last.

christopher said...

I can't think what the emotion might be to match the queer feeling of having a major work open paged to the editor's hand.

Perhaps worse would be to watch over his shoulder. Oh. My. God.

I say this despite my frequent assertions that as soon as it leaves my desk my work is no longer mine. As a designer I publish complex drawings all the time, and have for thirty years.

Barrett Bonden said...

Sir Hugh: In attempting to be trivially argumentative I missed the larger point: getting the message across demands that the pictograms be well-designed and the written stuff well-written. However there is the further point: there may be a chance of decoding maladroit text. Less so with an ill-conceived pictogram.

I shall be interested to know why you're dabbling in Ruskin. He was anti-alpinisme you know.

Christopher: It's a matter of trust. One of the most revealing documents I have ever seen, and to which I have repeatedly referred to in Works Well, is Pound's edited version of The Waste Land. Not just a matter of tinkering with individual words, whole verses are slashed out. Yet Eliot was apparently satisfied (as were many critics) and added a dedication to: il miglior fabbro (the better maker), thought to be one of the few tributes ever paid to a sub-editor.

But there is a more human concern. Novels are not written quickly and when the draft is finished I can personally vouch for the fact that you need someone else's judgement. "Please tell me," you beg, "that I have not been wasting my time." Your own objectivity long since went out of the window and you need a READER. A very special reader, however. One who can pick over the bones very precisely
and render the experience in clear unfraught language.

There's an irony in my case. I was appointed sub-editor to a magazine Plutarch was editing in 1963. Since then both of us have commented on each other's stuff in ways that have sought to be helpful, constructive and sympathetic.

I realise your comment dwells on the moment of transition but I (and I suspect Plutarch) cannot separate this from the more significant moment when the other hand reaches for the metaphorical blue pencil.

christopher said...

I think your reply to to my comment has deeply enriched this post, being a revelation in itself. I am greatly honored to become a part of such a conversation. I am a pretty good editor in my own specialties - in the design industry we call such a person a "checker". As you might surmise, I have taken a reasonable position in relation to American English a time or two as well.

Hattie said...

Ruskin! That sure takes me back. I attended a conference on Ruskin in Phoenix once. That was an experience. Ruskin in Phoenix! What would he have made of Phoenix? Why the hell Phoenix for a conference on Ruskin anyway? Oh well.
I wonder if you have that quaint custom of naming the men's and women's things like Kings and Queens or Guys and Gals or Fillies and Studs and so on?

The Crow said...

Are you otherwise satisfied with Kaspersky? I almost bought it a few months ago when my computer was attacked, but didn't have the funds at the time. I understand Kas is excellent defense root kits, a most virulent form of worm.

Barrett Bonden said...

Christopher: It's a meritocracy down here at Works Well. I respond to those with something interesting to say, the dullards I ignore. I know I shouldn't be unkind to dullards, that I should regard them as worthwhile members of the human race but the hell with that. In escaping boredom the victory goes to the fleet (and the one with the sharp tongue).

Hattie: Don't be so hard on Phoenix - there are bigger, less congenial, more Ruskin-unfriendly cities in God's Little Acre though I wouldn't be fool enough to list them. Needless to say bogs with pathetically joky door names are not in receipt of my waste products.

The Crow: I wasn't really being nasty to Kaspersky, only reflecting on the lack of discrimination shown by anti-Spam software. For several years now I've used MacAfee AV but an inescapable offer (ie, it was free) from K was dangled in front of my nose and I rose like a salmon doing what salmon do. I find it just as effective and rather less obtrusive and I may well stay with it. Subject to any more inescapable offers.

Plutarch said...

Problem is, now that Plutarch has the use of a reading device, which approximates nicely to a book, he continually finds himself suspending finer judgement,knit-picking and fact crunching, because he is enjoying the story for its own sake, and that is the second time round. Which is, I suppose, a way of saying at this stage, that BB has not been wasting his time. Perish the thought.

Rouchswalwe said...


Avus said...

I have had to do a double-take at those "convenience" signs, too. Sometimes they show the bloke with his legs astride, which my eye takes in as the female dress pictogram.
I suppose good pictograms have their uses in a multi-cultural/lingual society. A Mandarin speaker from Northern China has been known to communicate with an exclusively southern dialect speaker by tracing the relevant (common to all) character on the palm of the hand.