Tuesday, May 08, 2007


What do housewives, Marines, and graduate students have in common with bloggers?

Completeness is more than thoroughly doing a job, it's doing the job so well that you know, without looking, that every part of it is done. Completeness is examining and addressing the hidden and parts of a task and those which adjoin it in order to know that all visible and assigned parts of the task are completed.

US Marines learn "attention to detail" in boot camp, and then should practice it every moment of their lives thereafter. For the Marine, that means acquiring the habit of going beyond what is merely necessary, and covering the parts of the mission or duty that do not show, whether that means removing old residue before swabbing a deck or checking the closets and attic when clearing a building of hostile combatants.

Completeness is not just practicing a maneuver over and over again until everyone gets it right. That's proficiency. Completeness is knowing all of the roles that make up the mission, and being ready to take up the slack for a buddy who for whatever reason doesn't complete his part. To the Marine, completeness means looking for trouble before it finds him. That's why he joined in the first place.

For anyone who does household chores, completeness means moving all of the furniture to clean underneath it, so that there will be no surprises should a guest come calling, and no chance that pests or children will find dirt to put to the various uses they would put it.

For a graduate student, completeness means studying things that are tangential to his field, and becoming proficient or even expert at things in his field which have become commodity knowledge. For instance, a computer science doctoral conferee should:
  • Have basic scientific literacy
  • Understand basic electric wiring, and use it in his studies
  • Have designed integrated circuits
  • Have designed electronic circuits using commodity chips
  • Assemble computers from commodity parts
  • Install and secure a variety of operating systems
  • Perform basic tasks using a variety of operating systems
  • Program in a variety of languages, including machine code
That is completeness on one level. In addition, the doctoral student specializes in a tiny sub-area of his field, and must be aware of everything that impacts that sub-area. To do that, he needs to examine all of the areas which surround his specialty, by looking in obscure outdated conference proceedings,the current popular press, and everywhere in between. Only then can he be assured that he has studied his whole specialty and is contributing something new.

Completeness for the blogger means approaching an argument with precision and depth, rather than simply to convince the convinced. The importance of sound logic cannot be overstressed. Citing sources for every fact and attributing every quote is not enough; that is mere proficiency. Completeness means fact-checking all statements, and verifying the authority and authenticity of every source, and taking on the burden of proof for every assertion and unstated premise. By going beyond the visible to the hidden and adjoining places, the work is made stronger and less likely to fall apart in an embarrassing mess.

I believe I have now identified my basic failing.

No comments: