Friday, June 15, 2012

Indicing with death

Two hours ago, I finished writing my first index. Twenty years ago, I finished writing my first article about writing indexes.

That was in the March 1992 issue of Personal Computer World and as a commentary on the state of word processors at the time, it's fine. As a read, it's not. But I have just had a very good time re-reading it after twenty years more experience writing, after twenty years of more technology progress and of course after my first genuine need for an index.

Back then, I was testing all the very latest word processors to see how they coped with indexing a 23,000-word document. Reading between the lines, I think I believed 23,000 words was long. Mark you, I also seemed to believe that being snarky was clever and that randomly opinionated was useful.

But I did also take all these word processors with their apparently very fancy automated indexing tools and conclude that the only sensible thing to do in the real world was ignore the lot of them and hire a professional. Can you believe this, though? I gave the address of the Society of Indexers. The address. The postal address. We have come a long way since I can now just point out their website to you.

What I don't know is whether we've come any further with word processors. That slightly disturbs me because word processing was my beat, so to speak, on a number of computer magazines and I'd forgotten that I used to be so interested. Naturally I wrote my book – BFI Television Classics: The Beiderbecke Affair – on a word processor so it's not that I'm a typewriter-wielding Luddite, it's that my interest in computers is dead. I knew that: I went on Macs around the time of that article and have never looked at a blue screen since.

That said, I did get a little twitch looking at all the software I listed in that article: I was testing and comparing away happily and obviously you say what you were testing and comparing. Two of the software applications have entirely died since then – PageMaker and FullWrite Professional – while one – Interleaf – has been mildly reborn as something else. WordPerfect for Macintosh was in there too and that's no longer sold but WordPerfect itself limps on.

I am a little startled at my stupidity, though. I'm used to my general stupidity but this was a specific thing and it appeared to be a kind of consensus stupidity: I and the word processor manufacturers alike all unthinkingly assumed that there was any point indexing the (say) Word document. I did write my Beiderbecke book in Word but the text was typeset in some other system. (I don't know what system but I do know the typesetters did a gorgeous job of it: I got the page proofs and they are beautiful.)

Just doing a quick che –

– wow. I have this minute, this second, that sentence, been sent a proof cover of the book. I can't show you because it's not final, it's got lots of text on that's for position only, but the colours are great and it is rather nice seeing my name on there. Reminds me of the Doctor Who: Wirrn Isle cover. Somehow my name goes on someone else's artwork. That's not bad.

What was I saying?


Just doing a quick check on Google, I see that Adobe InDesign page layout will import index marks from Microsoft Word. I like InDesign a lot; I learnt it at Radio Times and am using it now on some book projects.

I've no idea whether The Beiderbecke Affair went through InDesign; I know that I wrote in Word 2011 and that I did the index by marking up a PDF copy of the galley proof in GoodReader on my iPad.

Weird to think that my iPad didn't exist when I wrote that article.

Depressing to think my talent didn't either. I don't want to say it's a bad article; I've read scripts of mine from around that time that are exponentially worse. And I also don't want to say it's bad because I had help on it and will not criticise that help.

For some reason I have very clear visual memories of random moments; I mentioned to someone today that I can clearly and quite precisely see where I was the time I first downloaded an iPhone RSS app called Manifesto. There's rarely a particular reason I remember one moment over another. But this time, what I remember is a note from a friend about a draft of this article.

Reading the article now, I can tell you which lines were borne of which of his suggestions. It's that clear to me. There's no point telling you the lines out of context, but I can tell you the fine fella: Rupert Goodwins.

Most of the points I made in that original article failed to help me at all now as I've been making a real index in a real book. Most of the software mentioned in it is long forgotten. Personal Computer World magazine ceased publication in 2009. But I still know Rupert and that's all that matters.

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