Problem Documents: Biopsy or Autopsy?

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One day last February, I was contacted by one of my cheerful placement agents. He asked if I was busy. Sad truth, at that moment, I wasn’t. He asked if I was interested in going to a remote part of the LA Metroplex to work on-site for a large B2B client. I was searching for satori, and opening my checkbook provided some trenchant insights.

I heard myself saying “I can’t be Sandra Bullock forever…”.

“And you’re gonna have to go on a date sometime!” was the snappy rejoinder.

Arrangements were made, and the next morning I was onsite.

The first order of business was a 495 page book that needed text revisions. By end of the week 10 days hence. Flipping through the mark-up it looked pretty straightforward.

The fun started when I tried opening the Quark document. I was barraged by repeated error messages telling me why it wasn’t going to open. Swell! A corrupted doc. Of course this was the only copy, the previous final doc on the server. Shutdown and reboot.

The second attempt at reopening was met by the same error messages. Consulting with other employees in the adjoining veal cubicles was met with semi-blank faces and admonishments to “keep hitting Return”.

OK. I did, and it finally opened. There it was, all 455 pages in one document. Cue up forbidding rumblings of distant thunder.

Consulting again with my littermates yielded advice to “save over the doc, and throw the old one away…”

No way. After taking a further look into this Amateur Hour bit of home-made sin, I made a decision.

I got up, walked over to the Graphics Supervisor, and explained what I’d seen, what happened and what I thought was the most effective way to deal with it.

  1. The document was hopelessly corrupted.
  2. The document would inevitably fail at some future date—maybe tomorrow, maybe the day it went to the printer
  3. And when it did fail, everyone would remember that The Freelancer (or insert your name here) had worked on it
  4. The most realistic way of correcting the document was to rebuild it in free-standing chapters, linked together by the “Book” feature, which would keep track of the inevitable folio/chapter/section changes.

Bottom line was I couldn’t and wouldn’t work on it in its current state. Otherwise they would be wasting their money, and my professional reputation was not negotiable.

A startled silence greeted this news. This wasn’t what they had in mind. Frankly I wasn’t about to humor them in this. The odds were good that Mr Murphy would make a dramatic appearance at the time of his own choosing. In the Continent of Failure, no man is an island, he is a peninsula.

They said “Uhhhhh……OK,…I guess”.

I imagine similar noises had been made at Initech when Lumberg was out of the office.

The next thing I did was to call my assigning agent and tell him exactly what happened. This was to establish my professional assessment of the situation, because I knew that within minutes he’d be called, and might be told something along the lines of “he won’t play nice” and so forth.

I was reassigned to other tasks. And I got to see the quality of Quarksmanship that oozed from that locale. It was not pretty.

Towards the end of the assignment, I got a call from my assigning agent, asking how things were going. I told him things were going fairly well, given the boundaries of competence and attitude displayed. This location was where bottom-feeding Quark operators went to die, because they couldn’t get hired anywere else.

Or anyplace that I would willingly work at.

One response to “Problem Documents: Biopsy or Autopsy?

  1. Eek. Were you by chance using QuarkXPress 7? (I hope!) If so, there’s a fantastic way to rescue a damaged file by using File> Append. Here’s the tip from

    Thumbnail Drag vs. Append Layout

    A time-honored QuarkXPress technique for fixing a possibly corrupt document is to drag its pages to a new document. When you do that, QuarkXPress rebuilds every item from scratch.

    But QuarkXPress 7 has a quicker way to accomplish the same thing — with the additional advantage that you don’t have to open the project that has the problem. Just create a new project and choose File> Append… Then select the project that has the problem, click on the Layout option in the left column, and then append the Layout you want. As the Layout is added, all its items will be rebuilt and cleaned up. You may then delete the Layout you started with in the new Project by choosing Layout> Delete.

    (For historians and old-schoolers: to Thumbnail Drag, open the old and new document, view both in Thumbnail mode, and drag the thumbnails from the old document to the new one.)


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