Friday, July 01, 2011

DTFM: You're going to need a bigger river

Well, there's a lovely idea for a pre-Fourth-weekend centerpiece: the Old Hometown's paper has a guide to watching the fireworks in Wilmington, where the retired battleship North Carolina is among the stars of the holiday.

Comes a point in every shift, though, when we need to put down the hot dogs and sparklers and actually read over the stuff in front of us. Even if you aren't familiar with that stretch of the Cape Fear, your editorial radar ought to be sending out the old alarm: Seven thousand feet is a lot of boat.

Now let's not hear any com- plaints about how busy it is on the rim and how we aren't supposed to check everything, are we? No, we aren't. But we are supposed to read everything, and and one handy hint for reading effectively is to stop at any number or set of numbers and ask where it stands in relation to other numbers.

First, you could try a quick sniff test. Think of something else you know that's a mile and a third long. This might lead you to the football-field test; if you're familiar with the forms of context that your colleagues at Testy Copy Editors like to giggle at, see if you can find the last time some ship or another was described in terms of its length in football fields. (For extra points, translate that into Coke cans.) You could even check the authoritative How Many Football Fields? site and see whether it mentions battleships. Or you could hum along with "Sink the Bismarck" and work backward from "big as steers."

In the Good Old Days, any reasonable-sized newspaper would have a copy of Jane's Fighting Ships in the library. But since kids these days don't like books, you could wait until everyone's looking the other way, then see if Wikipedia has an entry for the North Carolina class. You could see if the North Carolina has a Web site of its own that gives the ship's size. The very high-tech among you could even try to find the thing on a Google map.* (Note the 500-foot scale in the lower left corner.)

Any of these could keep the extra zero out of "729-foot-long battleship." You don't have to try them all. But you do have to ask.

* In case you're wondering, yes. Several blocks east of the lower edge of the map you can find the home office of "Ask Mr. Desk," one of the very low-tech mid-1980s precursors of this blog. 

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Blogger The Ridger, FCD said...

I used to work with a senior chief who bitched about having to run a mile for his pt test. Never been on a ship that was a mile from one end to the other, he would grouse.

9:17 PM, July 01, 2011  

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