Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Bad Day 98--1+1 = 2 1/2

It is 7:30pm and I am in bed in my pajamas. This week is not going so well. I can't seem to shake whatever it is that has knocked me off my feet. But anyway, I thought since I had extra time to write today that I would tackle a political issue that I feel very passionate about. I may currently be in trouble with the Space Police. I know that might sound like some really cool inter-galactic organization and you are wondering how I caused an inter-galactic incident. But no, the Space Police are a group of people firmly committed to keeping communication rooted in the early 20th century and they are powerful and their reach is enormous. Yes, I am talking about my fight to get the Department to stop requiring two spaces after every period.

You would think that this would be a very trivial issue and not worth wasting much time on and you would be right, but you have seriously underestimated the ability to resist change in a bureaucracy. It all goes back to typewriters and courier fonts. I am old enough to have graduated from high school when typing classes were actually on typewriters and not called "keyboarding." And on an old typewriter, the standard was always two spaces after a period. But then the personal computer became popular and everyone used "word processors." I actually worked for a very large software company years and years ago and that is where I learned the secret that changed everything which I will now tell you. You see, developers actually already code in extra space after a period, so when you double space, you're really adding more like 2 1/2 spaces and it's completely unnecessary. So I stopped. Just like that.

It took a little bit of getting used to, but now it's completely natural to me. I happily went along for years and years single spacing. I even worked in academia for years and instructed all of my student employees to stop double spacing, although I never punished them for turning in work that had the two spaces they were used to. And nobody ever noticed that every draft I ever turned in for anything only ever had one space. In academia. They just didn't notice or didn't care.

Fast forward 10 years to when I joined the Department, and one of our very first lectures was on Department standards and we learned that the standard never to be deviated from was two spaces. And when you ask why, it's like you have just desecrated "the thing they most hold sacred" and how dare you even ask that question and you must be young (like that's an insult) or otherwise you would be wise enough to realize they are correct because it has always been that way and it will never change as long as they are alive. Never! Well, first, that assumes they will die before age 65 which is the mandatory Foreign Service retirement age because they can't guarantee that they can keep it beat down when they are sitting on a porch swing talking about the good ol' days when they used to send actual cables and use pneumatic tubes, and second, um, why is this such a big deal? And third, I'm not that young but I am adaptive and shouldn't that be considered a good thing in an occupation where you have to move every three years and adapt to a new place? But it is a very big deal to the Space Police and I spend a lot of time going over my drafts and adding an extra space after every single sentence. It's a pain, but necessary to avoid having everything returned to me so I can add in unnecessary spaces.

A while ago, I posted a link to this article on my facebook page: http://www.slate.com/articles/technology/technology/2011/01/space_invaders.html

Extra space.

I am actually a little bit in love with Farhad Manjoo for writing it. But you would not believe the furor it caused and people were kind of self-righteous and mean in their comments. Then someone I don't know posted the link on the Department sounding board which is a place where people who are bored go to rant, and oh the venom it inspired from the Space Police! Apparently, if you learned it in high school, it is a rule forever. So if we go with that theory, then neon is the only way to go, a Ford Pinto is a cool and affordable car to drive, and putting toothpaste on your zits will cure acne. Also, we should all be wearing Wranglers and have feathered hair and, of course, Pluto is still a planet.

Once, I showed my resume to someone during bidding season to ask her advice and she said she would never consider it because it was one spaced. Just like that, she dismissed all of my experience and qualifications because she didn't like the way it was typeset. It was as if all of a sudden, instead of saying "adjudicated over 25,000 visas," I said "ผมไม่ทราบว่าสิ่งนี้พูดว่า ฉันไม่พูดภาษาไทย". And that is the problem I have with the Space Police. If form is more important than content, what a news anchor wears is more important than what she says. Oh, wait. . .

This couple who filed for bankruptcy is having a worse day than me.

Eric and Cassandra Peoples (left) listen as their attorney discussed their 2004 judgment. (ABC News/AP Photo)

I think they are the ones on the left, but I'm not sure. They sued their company claiming that the chemicals they inhaled ruined their lungs, which may be true, and they were awarded $20 million. Now how much of that they actually took home is a good question. But let's say that it was only $1 million after legal fees and such--they still blew through a million dollars! Very sad. I can't even imagine how you could waste that much money. No, what I really can't imagine is having that much money in the first place. So thank you, Mr. & Mrs. Bankrupt, for reminding me to be grateful that I may appreciate a beautiful pair of Jimmy Choos, but I'm aware enough of my budget limitations to know that I cannot afford them.


  1. Even though I learned typing on a computer, I too was taught two spaces. After having you explain to me why you only need one space, I changed. It made sense. It took a while to beat it out of me, but like you said, it's an adaptation. Thank you for enlightening me.

  2. Yippee! A convert! Now if we can just convince every one else. . . should take about 40 years, I think.

  3. Yup. Totally unnecessary to have two spaces. It's an outdated typesetting convention. I feel like I spent half my internship in college using "Find and Replace" to switch two spaces to one or one space to two (depending on what the book/magazine/journal wanted). Cracks me up that people get so uptight about it. I don't really care which way they do it as long as they are consistent.

  4. Pluto is a planet. Except when he's a dog.

    Trust me on this.


  5. I agree with Artemis. I will always think of Pluto as a planet, even if it was demoted before I went to high school (I think)

    Niece 2