Deep Thought: Going with the Flow (Chart)
When it comes to process and problem-solving, my generation was taught to follow flowcharts. You know: if this, then that. It's how I manage to edit the Post every week.
Say Willem sends me a 'Colours of Wildlife' column, as he does faithfully every week, come rain, shine, revolution or power failure. I save the document and open it, rename and save the photo, upload the photo, and add it in GuideML code to the document. I stick on what I think of as the boilerplate – the links to archives and the current front page that many of you don't seem to realise has been available to you for over twenty years now – and save the whole thing for when I'm ready to build the next issue.
When I create the webpage for the week's 'Colours of Wildlife' article, I also follow a mental flowchart. First, I open a parser space and insert the GuideML'd article. (Willem is clever: he does his own GuideML. So does Awix, who used to edit the Post.) I hit the button that brings up the preview page.
Oops. It's not loading. It's a peculiarity of this website's parser – which was state-of-the-art in 1999 – that if you have one mistake in it, one stray caret or misplaced ampersand – the page won't load. The error messages are, frankly, rather cryptic and often misleading. (I think they were designed by MI6.) So I have to flowchart the error in my head: either it's something Willem did, or something I did.
This is not an attempt to assign 'blame'. Into each life, some error must fall, be it a stray typo or a lost set of car keys. So chill, people: we just have to find the error so we can load the page and get on with our lives. Hm, did I mistype? Ah, yes! By a copy+paste error, there is an orphaned caret+P+caret in there. Can't have that. Now to preview…
Oops2. Now the text is there, but the image isn't. Now, either I did that by forgetting to load the image or misnaming it, or the database is acting up again. Either is equally possible. Aha, I forgot to load it. I'll go and do that now. Voilà, the page is now there, and I can move on to Bluebottle's cartoons for the week.
Mental flowcharts are useful. They keep us on track. They also help to prevent us from skipping the process. Skipping the process is how people leap from Point A to Point Z by way of East Jesus, Kansas, thus ensuring that nothing ever gets done.
Mind you, h2g2 is an inscrutable thing. The software, I mean. It's kind of like the Heart of Gold's Infinite Improbability Drive designed the thing. I swear it's sentient. See that picture up there? It's made of screenshots I took the other week. At one and the same time, one browser was showing MVP's jar of jam correctly – and another browser window showed it sideways. I swear the site does this just to mess with me.
I don't even know how to turn a picture sideways on purpose. Not in GuideML, anyway. There's a ghost in that machinery.
I have a t-shirt that makes my sister laugh. It says, 'I don't make mistakes when playing the piano. I make spontaneous creative decisions.' I like this t-shirt because it's comfortable, but also because the saying reminds me of a jazz musician and professor at the University of Pittsburgh named Nathan Davis. Dr Davis told me once that in jazz (meaning improvisational music), there are no wrong notes. Every
'wrong' note is just on the way to a 'right' note. Keep playing….
When I was thirteen, my beloved piano teacher, Miss Lindquist, cured me of the bad habit of apologising every time I hit a wrong note. 'Making mistakes is how you learn,' she said. 'Keep playing.'
This is a very good approach to far more than playing the piano. It's a great way to view just about any endeavour. In other words, create a flowchart. Keep moving. Acknowledge missteps, but try to turn them into side trips on the way to a goal.
Are you fit to be tied today because somebody was wrong on the internet again? Has the way they were wrong pointed you toward some positive step you can take to improve the state of affairs? Yes? Then go and do it. No? Then just forget about it, it's not worth worrying about.
Concentrate less on the fact that something is 'wrong' – being wrong is just information. Concentrate more on trying to find something better. Judge less, hope more.
And yes: one of these days, our design folk are going to change the way we set up these pages. And I'm going to have to learn a whole new flowchart. Bring it on.