Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Working alone: A Bruce Story

Bruce is an ongoing event. There is no day of working with Bruce that doesn't have some kind of Bruce Story. But the daily stories aren't worth telling. It's the occasional jaw dropper that makes one worth telling. Typically we can find them amusing. This isn't one of the funny stories. This is one of the depressing ones.

We've gotten this book from a major university. It was all written and laid out and made into a PDF. They wanted a print version. That we were given the files to work on tells me that their printer probably had a fit when they saw it and turned it away. Our job was to fix it without altering the layout or appearance more than necessary.

Printers draw with Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK) while computer monitors draw with Red, Green, and Blue (RGB). Their photos were all over the place. Our first job was to make them all CMYK or Grayscale.
They also had a nasty habit of resizing and cropping the art in the layout software. That can confuse the machine that makes the plates and drop or distort the art.
They liked to embed the art in the document instead of having a link to the file on the drive. That increases possibilities for corruption of the file, blows up the size of the file, and makes it hard to make corrections to the art later.
Most books have the page numbers on opposing sides of the page. Left pages have the numbers on the left and right pages have them on the right. These have them all on the right side. We haven't gotten that far yet.
Nor have we moved the contents away from the spine so they won't fall in the crack.

The way this book is being handled is that Bruce makes the corrections, I check his work, make a list of what needs to be done, and he makes the changes. We're doing it in stages. Stage one is where we make all the pictures CMYK, crop them according to how they're supposed to look, and link them instead of embedding them. At the end of this stage it should appear identical to what was sent to us.

Bruce spent several days per chapter when even the longest, nastiest chapter shouldn't take more than a day.

When you adjust the width in Photoshop it'll automatically adjust the height by the same ratio. You have to override that if you want to resize the height and width automatically. A ridiculous number of pictures came back skewed. That can only mean he was adjusting the height and width manually. That's not a goof up. It took an active, conscious effort to screw that up.

When I send him a list of things to fix they come back with half the chapters completely ignored. One batch of chapters he sent me with my corrections applied included a chapter that I hadn't even gotten to look at until about a week after he gave me the disk.

So at the last staff meeting (about two weeks ago) I took him aside and suggested he go to a neurologist and get checked for Alzheimer's. Turns out I'm the third person to recommend this.

Then a few days ago we're working on chapter 6. Possibly the nastiest of the chapters. He had ignored four of the changes. Of the several dozen other changes he had fixed the pictures that were initially skewed, but the dpi (dots per inch) had jumped by 50 to 70. They still weren't at the ideal 300dpi levels, but they were certainly higher than the dpi in the art in the previous version or even the art that the university had supplied. This means he's been artificially inflating them. Of course, he doesn't realize he's done it.

I had told him what I found and told him to fix it or explain what happened with the dpi. I told him that I could spend another two days looking this chapter over from the beginning or he could go back to the previous version of the chapter and do it again. If he needed the previous version I could give it to him on a CD.

Bruce: Want to get together and go over some of this tomorrow, I am only a few blocks away. Maybe easier?

I kinda lost it at this point.

Me: No. I don't want to hold your hand on this. I want you to do it right. I don't want to blow another couple of days looking over chapter 6 so I can tell you everything that's wrong.

Bruce: I have a suggestion.
I think just one person needs to work on these chapters, possibly you or me.
This is taking too much time and we need to get this out.
We can talk with Joan or COL if like?

Me: Bruce, you're the only person working on these chapters. My SOLE job is to follow behind you and find where you've done it wrong. I have no other role in this book. You do the work and I tell you what you missed or did wrong. I hate having to do it, but it's necessary. And the Colonel wants YOU to do it.

Perhaps a bit harsh. You should see the e-mail before I censored myself.

I did feel bad about it. For years almost the entire staff has been trying to tell him that he's a screw up. Some even refuse to work with him anymore. He's been told that the old Colonel and Managing Editor were working on firing him when they retired. He's been told that the current Managing Editor keeps trying to fire him. People have to stand over him. He's the target of more than one screaming tirade. But he always laughs it off with a "huh, huh, you guys are funny." This time I think he was actually a bit hurt.
I got a bit drunk that night. Red Rocks makes some good pizzas and great (and strong) mudslide martinis. I had three. Two usually leaves me having to pay attention to where the sidewalk is going.

The next day you'd never know the conversation had happened.

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