Decoded

box-on-table

I have a small mysterious wooden box.

It was a gift from a friend, and an empty house, and a departed soul. I have had it for just over a year. It is old, with tiny hinges and half a lid (broken edge, worn splinter-free) and the number “21” on two of its sides.

Inside are four compartments, each carefully filled with carefully-rolled dry leaves.

There is writing on the inside of the lid, pale pencil marks I could never read before, or only almost-read. Something about the light, or my eyes, or the box’s wishes changed tonight, and I can read it, and I know it much better now.

It was a typesetter’s box. box-open

Two compartments, before they held leaves, held dashes (which before tonight might have said “disks” or “darker” or “dishes”)—em dashes and en dashes, the E’s written in loops like backwards 3’s, which contrast sharply with the straight-line E’s above them (a different hand? a different mood?).

Dashes are charming to me, with their elegant herding abilities, and I use them carefully and often, and won’t write a double hyphen when I should write an em dash. (WordPress keeps helpfully replacing my double hyphens, or I would show you.)

The other two compartments held Italic capital X-tildes (X̃) and Y-tildes (Ỹ), which I have never had call to use but which apparently stand for an old statistical mean and a new one.

There are other numbers that are code to me. “10 on 10”, which might be “10 or 10” and on first reading said “IomiD”. “Ital cap” is clear now, when before it could have been “Stele crp” or “Stackage”.

The box was relieved when it was given to me. It relaxed into my hands, after others had looked at it and shaken their heads and left it on its shelf. But it kept its history to itself, letting me love it on its present merits. I love it even more now, knowing a bit more of its past, imagining it is the twenty-first in a series of boxes that used to sit companionably together on a fitted shelf, or in a cabinet, ready to work, to spell, to indicate pauses and spans, and old things and new ones.

cabinet-of-curiosities

It misses its companions, but it sits among other small mysterious beloved things, and I think it is happy.

Here are all the characters:

10 on 10 | 353E Ital cap X̃
10 on 10 | 353E Ital cap Ỹ
6 on 7 7¼ set | Em dashes
6 on 7 7¼ set | En dashes

Grit in the Dish

As a detail-oriented writer, webmaster, and knowledge worker, I notice errors. When I point them out, sometimes people are grateful. Other times, I get pushback along the lines of “Nobody cares about stuff like that except you,” or “I don’t see why you’re worried about that detail.”

Have you ever eaten steamed mussels with sand in them, or salad with grit on it? The food might be perfectly cooked, creatively seasoned, and beautifully plated. But as soon as there’s grit on your palate, you notice. If there’s one piece of grit, some people might overlook it. The more grit, the less edible the dish—no matter how good everything else is, that grit makes the dish less enjoyable, or even inedible. If you go to a restaurant twice, and there is grit in your food both times, would you go back a third time? I wouldn’t. I would think their prep work was sloppy, and that would make me worry about their hygiene practices and respect for product.

“Nobody cares except you” is a coward’s defense, and it dismisses the experience of at least part of your audience. Some people will notice the details. For example, I’m passionate about words, grammar, and usage. I notice when people use a word or phrase imprecisely or inappropriately. I notice if someone is using serial commas, or not using them, or using them inconsistently. I’m passionate, though not expert, about design; I have a strong aesthetic, and I notice when people haven’t learned the same design basics as I have—when they break a grid, or choose colors or fonts haphazardly, or don’t have real people use a product before release.

Caring about these things has earned me some ridicule, but it also has made me a valuable team member—I’ll notice the things that others on the team don’t, so when we put a product out in the world people will notice the content or usefulness of what we made, and (I hope) not be distracted by awkward design choices or grammatical errors. If we don’t pay attention to those kinds of details, some people will think less of us—and think less of our expertise.

Typos, grammatical errors, awkward usage, and inelegant or untested design are the grit in any work. Having a grit-detector on your team makes the work better, and builds your audience’s faith and trust in your expertise.

On the other hand, if the salad with grit in it is made of tough or spoiled greens, that’s a different kind of problem. Don’t bother removing the grit if the greens themselves aren’t good. Spend your energy on starting fresh.

Queen of the Universe, 10 & 11

10. Do you own or rent a property which has sidewalks that other people might have to walk or push a stroller or use a wheelchair on, ever? Has there been wintry precipitation recently? It’s your responsibility to make your walk safe. No snow. No ice. Wide enough for wheels. If you can’t do it yourself, my benign government will have a postal-code/neighborhood-searchable “Get shoveling help” app, so you can find paid or free assistance. If someone slips and falls on your property because you just didn’t bother, there will be severe consequences. (For example, making you Snow Remover For Life. for your whole block.)

11. Highway sign change: Any sign that now says “Do not pass” or “No passing zone” will become “None shall pass!!”

Ecoguilt Calculator

Patagonia has made me feel a little less crazy.
They have a proto-ecoguilt-calculator on their website (thanks to Jeanne for the tip).
I’ve wanted an ecoguilt calculator for a while, and the Patagonia tool is a good start.
It doesn’t do everything I want.
I want to know exactly what karmic burden I am accepting when I buy a product.
I don’t just care about my carbon footprint, although here’s a nice carbon footprint calculator.
I want to know about:

  • Carbon footprint (including materials, production, and shipping)
  • Virtual water
  • Support of local economies
  • Physical safety (in terms of working conditions, solvents, pesticides, other chemicals) of the people involved in production
  • Degree of admirable-ness/ethicalness of the labor practices in the entire supply chain (good marks to living wages; big demerits for child labor, forced labor, or slavery)
  • Whether any animals are involved in production (either as materials or power) and whether those animals are treated well
  • Organic production methods for any agricultural products

I want to be able to compare (for example) these bamboo towels to these organic cotton towels and know which ones are more virtuous overall. Patagonia makes me feel less crazy for wanting to know this stuff. (Not that I need any high-performance outerwear. Really, right now it’s about towels and patio furniture. I have finally accepted that a linen or cotton patio umbrella isn’t practical, so I’m trying to at least get a used one from FreeCycle.)