(I'll explain this project in depth soon, but for the time being, all you really need to know is that I need to decipher medium-quality photocopies of 100 year-old, hand-written, badly-spelled legal documents that use obsolete medical jargon. Yes. I really know how to live, don't I?)
Anyway, about ten minutes after school the other afternoon, I was neck-deep in this record of a Civil War vet with at truly awe-inspiring injury to his face and one of his testicles (again, don't ask...) when I suddenly completely lost track of what I was doing and all the writing suddenly dissolved into an incomprehensible mass of squiggles. My brain had called it a day.
I had a sudden moment of inspiration. (I like to think that mathematically, I was due.)
I set up our school's document camera, which is stored in my classroom, and projected Private Ouch's medical record on the screen at the front of my classroom.
"Um... If there is anyone in the building who is really good at reading bad handwriting, could you come to Mr Fladd's room for a few minutes to do me a big favor?"
(I didn't say, "That will be all, Citizens; return to your business," but I wanted to.)
Anyway, over the next few minutes, five curious teachers from various corners of the building wandered into my classroom and got sucked into this weird and gruesome puzzle I had projected on my wall.
"Does that say 'rheumatic' or 'dramatic'?"
"I think it's 'rheumatic' - look how he makes his Rs over here."
"Is that, 'files' or 'tiles'?"
"I'm pretty sure it's 'piles'."
Them: "You can DO that?!"
I pressed the button on the document camera that toggles the onscreen image from color to black-and-white (which look the same when you're looking at a black-and-white photocopy to begin with) to negative image.
I got something that looked like this. (See image on left.)
My transcriptionists were wicked impressed. (Sorry, in times of excitement, I tend to fall back on New England-isms.)
So the upshot of all this is:
Six of us were able to transcribe this almost illegible document in about twenty minutes using a technique called "crowd-sourcing" Most of the people who were in the room are usually twitchy around technology and distrustful of any piece of equipment more complicated than a photocopier.
And yet, each of them left my room with my sincere thanks and with a thoughtful look on her face.
There is some sort of lesson to be learned from this...