From The Trenches
Against all odds
This issue represents odds-defying on a ferocious level.
It's releasing late-—perhaps you noticed—but even if there are pages printed upside-down and a photo of W.C. Fields mysteriously locates itself on a random page, I will be prouder of this issue's production than any of the preceding 150 issues I've been involved in. It was the toughest.
Our story begins last spring, when we did a massive upgrade of all the computer systems here. Included in the upgrade was a necessary ramping up of design software, lest we go Luddite. I had resisted this for a few years, as I could perform keystroke cartwheels in our previous program. I could hit hotkeys in my sleep and know precisely what the outcome of, say, CTRL + ALT + ] or SHFT + ALT = # would be.
So I sat down with the all-new software and started in at 9:00 on a Monday morning. How hard could it be? By noon, I realized that I had somehow acquired the brain synapse functions of an addled hamster. By 3:00 I was walking around outside with a length of rope in hand, looking for a low tree branch. By 5:00 I wanted to contract a hit man to knock off all the Red Bull-swilling, 19-year-old geeks designing intentionally impenetrable software. By 7:00 in the evening, I was circling newspaper want ads for toll booth operators on the New Jersey turnpike, for clearly I was going to have to leave town and find a new career path.
And that was just Day One.
On Day Two, under the gun for both magazine and new Price Guide production, I made a startling discovery. Not one column of the previous Guide imported properly to the new software. Not. One. Single. Column.
Oh, a word or two was salvageable, but the entire effect, upon importing the previous Guide files, was as if Salvador Dali had designed pages while sniffing glue.
Thus, the new Guide that many of you will have in hand by the time this issue hits print is just that: a new Guide, for it represents a nearly from-scratch production involving thousands of updated 8-point type listings with multiple tabs per row, 500 image links, scores of sponsors' ads, and some language you wouldn't expect to hear at a church social. (That last is not actually in the Guide.)
In the course of this baptism of fire, I came to grasp the software, and now, aside from the valuable time lost to the learning curve, I'm wondering why I resisted the change in the first place.
Isn't that always the way?
I now interrupt this column because, well, the column was just interrupted by a phone call from a gentleman wondering where his magazine is. He seemed a good-humored sort, so I said I was just writing the explanation in my column, and I'd be happy to read it to him. He, bless his heart, said he didn't care when he gets it as long as he gets it, and that he nightly reads back issues of the magazine because we put the heart in the hobby (or words to that effect).
Thank you, Mr. Martin of Bradenton, Florida—I fervently hope our other readers share your patience and kind viewpoint, and you couldn't have called at a more fortuitous moment.
Now, back to the Guide production. It was a reminder that resistance to change may be futile, but the change itself is not insurmountable. It also served as a powerful reminder that no man is an island.
I wonder: Does anyone read the credits and acknowledgments sections of books? I hope so, for the people listed deserve to have their names read. In the case of this Guide, it's not only the many people in the field who generously contributed value estimations, comments, and criticisms. It's also what we came to call “the cavalry.”
It was clear that I was never going to make layout deadline without help, what with the importation disaster, and the cavalry arrived in the form of Jack Melton and his room-size monitor, both of which set up camp here for weeks during production.
And despite the duress, some of it was comical. At one point, after weeks on end of a Cheez-Waffie diet, sporadic showering, and countless software support sessions (“Press 3 if you're a blithering idiot”), both my office and I had come to look like victims of a plastique detonation. A subscriber called to ask where his magazine was. I explained, but he was, shall we say, not as kind as Mr. Martin. I was finally reduced to saying I'd be happy to send him a photograph that would verify beyond any doubt that there was, indeed, work going on here. It was only the showering, housecleaning, and sensible eating that wasn't going on.
To his credit, he finally laughed, as did I.
So: Thank you, Jack (and wife Peggy, who also pitched in on one of the forays). Thank you, Guide contributors and sponsors. And thank you, patient subscribers. I appreciate you all.
—Ed.Addendum: The editor has now showered and is off the Cheez-Waffies. She is still waiting to hear back from the Jersey turnpike personnel department.
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