Tuesday, March 10, 2009

On the nature of errors

Tom's presentation today was on the interface between Sharepoint Services and SQL Server, on which he's very knowledgeable.

But it gave me a couple of double-takes. They were a couple of harmless errors that gave me food for thought.

The first is on the nature of errors. At one point, a slide mentioned 'hit fixes' instead of 'hot fixes'. For someone proofreading a lengthy presentation, not least the one writing it - who can so easily skim through it in an identical manner in which he wrote it - it's very hard to spot word substitutions that may make plausible sense in context. Particularly with technical communication, you'd pretty well have to engage with the whole of the message to spot the error. Nobody else in the audience mentioned it, and I may have just happened upon it.

Another slide had a diagram of three cogs in a triangle, with connectivity between all three, and (opposing) directions of motion indicated for two of them. But this would simply not work in actuality, since the third cog would be subject to contradictory forces. Tom said to me later he was trying to convey the idea of the three factors in combination, but he thought it could equally illustrate the contention between each of the three factors - some of that contention came out in general discussion. I suggested that was a more engaging narrative anyway - that the illustration could be a direct prompt for such a discussion.

But at least he can fix the 'hit fixes' - now that it's been noticed.

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