I suspect that there is a crisis at our local council offices at the moment. They’ve obviously run out of things to waste taxpayer’s money on, so they decided to publish a ten page full-color pamphlet containing really useful information about our local community. On page three, it says that – in case we hadn’t noticed – work is underway on the open-cast coal mine just across the fields from where I live. Really? I would never have guessed that the brand new railway, dozens of huge trucks, and a hole half a mile wide and a hundred feet deep were connected with that.
Of course, there is some less-blindingly-obvious information in there as well. Like the fact that the local post office has had to close because the postmaster is in prison (we live in an exciting area); and news that in the village next to us they are going to concrete over the field where all the kids play, then spend thousands of pounds making it into a kids’ play area. But what struck me most was the incredible number of misspellings and serious grammar errors in the ten pages that – in total – hold no more than about 30 complete sentences. Does nobody read this stuff before they send it out? Or is it some covert scheme to try and make everybody think our local district is run by idiots? As if we needed convincing…
Still, at least they put a nondescript photo of some unidentifiable area of countryside covered in snow on the cover to cheer us all up. Obviously they were ensuring they didn’t fall into the “wrong city” trap like the council that runs the second largest city here in England did a while ago. Maybe you saw it in the papers – it even made it into the US Today newspaper (which they deliver to all hotel rooms in the US – whether you want it or not). Somebody probably asked a junior editor in the “community communication” department to search the Web for a picture of Birmingham. When the thousands of leaflets were distributed across the city, several people remarked that they never realized there were so many skyscrapers in Birmingham. Of course, there aren’t. They’d put a photo of Birmingham Alabama on the cover (see http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/west_midlands/7560392.stm and http://blog.al.com/spotnews/2008/08/birmingham_england_officials_c.html).
Anyway, coming back to the topic of this post (spelling and grammar in case you’ve forgotten), maybe it’s the fact that I work with words and documents that means I tend to spot mistakes, and that they annoy me so much. But the best ones are often amusing in a silly kind of way. For example, I got very nervous reading about how you create Office Business Applications (OBAs) when I found a note in the documentation about how they are really useful “…when you have a rage of documents to handle”. Now I have to keep checking if there are any angry spreadsheets on my computer, and I wonder if my virus checker will detect furious Word documents. Maybe there is an irateness rating for emails that my spam filter can use? On a scale of one to ten, move anything over 4.5 into the Junk Mail folder.
I also came across an article by somebody who writes data access code the same way as I do – just gather together some keywords that sound like they might be appropriate, add a few randomly named variables, and mix it all up until it does something useful. At least that’s what I assumed they meant when they said that “…the best approach is to use a stired procedure.” But I reckon the best of all was the article that described how “Exception management and logging are often not sufficient in enterprise applications, and you should consider complimenting them with notifications”. I tried this – but after half an hour, I ran out of accolades and flattering remarks without seeming to achieve any positive effect on the application.