Having spent several weeks reading the proofs of my R textbook (that was dull I can assure you), I’m finally about to start thinking about the SPSS book update (a month late). I already have ideas about what chapters need to be re-written or re-organised, and I have some bits I want to add, and some bits that now irritate me and I want to remove. There are bits I want to re-write just because I think I could probably write them better now. However, I also have a mischievous streak so I also need to think about what mischief I can get up to.
In the second edition, I hid some music on the CD-ROM. I think two people noticed (this perhaps says something about how much people use the CD-ROM materials). In the third edition, I took advantage of Windows Vista’s semi-transparent borders to hide bits of the covers of albums I was listening to at the time I was writing the chapter. I also hid some messages. The album covers didn’t get noticed, but some of the messages did. Two of these messages were removed after the first print run.
If you have one of the first print run editions you’ll understand why one of them was removed. This particular hidden message I do feel bad about in retrospect. I started with innocent enough intentions. Your book gets read by (at least) an editor, a copy-editor, a production editor, and a proof reader. Any one of these people can change something you write. So, I thought it would be entertaining to put the most offensive word I could think of at the time, in a hidden message to see if anyone noticed. A harmless bit of mischief escalated: as time went on, my editor didn’t notice in the draft chapter, nor the copyeditor in the final version, then nothing was mentioned at the proofing or typesetting stage. Each time the message didn’t get noticed I thought ‘I wonder how far it will get through the book production process before someone notices?’. As it turned out, it got to the 10000 copies sitting in a warehouse stage. oops.
The day I got my copy of the book I remember thinking that maybe it might have been a good idea to have owned up before the book went to print. oops again.
Needless to say, 18 months after publication thanks to a few eagle-eyed readers it came to people’s attention. The story goes that a copy of the book was passed around a meeting at Sage: about half of the people smirked at the message and half went as white as a sheet. The fact that any of them smirked says an enormous amount about how cool the people at Sage are.
It probably didn’t help that not long before this, a Canadian academic had complained at the finding a word beginning with ‘c’ in my loglinear analysis PowerPoint slides. The word was not ‘contingency’ although it sounds a bit like an abbreviation of it. Lots of people use placeholders when writing things to remind them to do things later. Although I often use ‘blah blah, write something here later etc.’, I also have a slightly peculiar habit of writing swearwords, or random things, as placeholders. It entertains me during times of stress. In these particular PowerPoint slides, I had put various placeholders on the ‘aims and objectives’ slide knowing that I would re-write them once I actually knew what the slides contained. Except I forgot, didn’t check them when I’d finished, and they were dutifully uploaded onto the companion website with my profanity in tact. Not really a hidden message; unless the message is ‘Andy has some strange working habits’.
Anyway, as cool and nice as my publishers are (it is no coincidence that I publish most of my textbooks with them), I fear that they are going to be on red alert for hidden messages this time around. Consequently, I have resigned myself to the need to grow up a bit and focus on the writing more, and the childishness less. I am 38 after all.
So, inspired by this tale, all I have managed to do on the SPSS book so far is to think up an example of how my publisher’s opinions of an author vary as a function of how many messages they hide in their books. I’ll admit it’s a low key example by my standards, and a poor substitute for thinking up new and creative ways to hide messages within my books, but here’s a graph of the data …