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Friday, January 08, 2010


Steve Cole reports:

Last winter and again this winter, Jean Sexton was able to visit ADB, Inc., for a week. Last year, we all got food poisoning from a fast-food restaurant, and about all I can remember of the week is picking Jean up at the terminal on the first day and taking her back there on the last day. We got some work done, but not as much as we had hoped or planned.

This year was better; nobody got sick. We had almost nine entire days, and what with working 12+ hours per day, we packed nearly a month of productive work into that time. (No end of distracting little jobs were set aside because "I need to maximize the limited time I have with Jean.")

While we got a lot of little stuff done (creating the Facebook page, getting Communique #49 done, finishing the new catalog, going over other projects, and Petrick teaching Jean how to shoot a pistol and hit a three-inch bull's-eye at 30 feet) most of the time went into one big project: Prime Directive Federation. This book has taken way too long to get finished, mostly because every time we try to work in it, we get interrupted. Jean is editing the book. John Sickels wrote most of it, but I wrote about a quarter of it and others wrote a few pages here and there. The problem was that with the constant delays, nobody wanted to work on their remaining parts of the book. Everybody said: "I will do my part when everybody else has done theirs, but I don't want to waste my time doing pages that will sit unread for months."

The theory of this visit by Jean was that if she worked on it intensely (since she didn't have her real job and real life interrupting), and if she forced the rest of the company (and the world) to leave me alone (so she could force me to work on my parts of it), that we'd get so much done that others would finally do their parts. This worked as planned.

With plenty of time to focus on this book, Jean hammered a lot of files into final shape. With Jean to keep everybody away from me, I was able to create the 30-odd pages which I had promised to write (and stopped anybody else from writing). Seeing the two of us hard at work got John Sickels to finish some of his last few pages, and Loren Knight sent in the page on Federation tanks and armored vehicles. Other staffers, seeing how far we got (and that their pages are a huge majority of what little is left to do) are busily at work.

It was an intense week; we even worked all day on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Jean was a slave driver, and if she caught me working on things other than "her" book, it was hell to pay! Every day, it was "where are my pages?" We were able to resolve some things in person that could have never been done over the phone or Email, a phenomenon I have seen many times before with other staffers.

One example was the page count. There is a hard limit on the number of pages (144 for GURPS, 146 for PD20M), and it was hard to tell where we were (and how many more articles we could include, or would have to leave out) because some articles had yet to be formatted (or even written) and we were not sure how big they were. The first thing Jean had me do was take the political-history and government files and put them into the page-layout software, which replaced those "squishy" numbers of pages with firm (and somewhat different) numbers. She made me write the pages I had set aside for myself, and these turned out to take a different number of pages than we had planned. Meanwhile, Jean processed staff reports on draft sections, and I put them into the page-layout software, firming up numbers. The Andorians took fewer pages; the Alpha-Centaurans needed half a page extra. Every species was bigger or smaller than expected, and my experience with the page-layout software (and the invention of a "continuation page" for articles that were just a little bit too long) moved the project quickly forward.

We were able to find enough pages to add back in four species (Breccon, Deian, Fralli, and Mynieni) which had been left out before. We were even able to find eight pages to include a dramatic set of starship deck plans which had previously been excluded as too big. Every day, another one of the "approximations" on the page count list became a firm number (and usually a different number), and almost every day we were able to add back into the book something we originally thought we'd have to leave out.

When Jean walked in the office door on 27 December, there were less than 40 pages which were laid out and could reasonably be considered firm page count numbers. When she left on the evening of 4 January, we had the count of laid-out pages up over 110 and had a much better grip on almost all of the rest. We were able to show Leanna (who watches the schedule and the budget like a hawk) a "complete" book. (Although a few pages were marked with placeholders or unedited drafts, these were items for which we could control the size.)

Jean was astounded that I could sit down at a blank page with no outline and end up an hour or two later with a finished page that was exactly the right size. For my part, I was astounded that no matter how many times I read and re-read a page of my own work, she could still find a misspelled word or a bad verb tense somewhere.

Counting the finished pages and the ones we had complete (if unedited) text for, the book stood at 137 pages. (The "missing" pages included a three-page item that I created by the time Jean got home.) The last few pages included the index (which, of course, must be done last), some adventure seed stuff (we call this stuff "Salami" since you just cut as thick a slice as you need), the weapons page, and the sample characters (which are done by witch doctors using some form of voodoo that is beyond the grasp of my Mensa-certified professional engineer brain).

It was a crazy week. I have seen 120-page Captain's Logs come together in two whirlwind weeks (which started with 60 pages finished and 30 more in draft form) but to see Jean start with 40 pages of "laid out but not checked" material and another 40 pages of "drafts which somebody read and commented on but nobody has looked at in a year" and turn this into 137 reasonably complete pages in nine days astounded the heck out of even me.