call before you dig.
© 1998 Jamie Zawinski <>

What do airlines do when certain flight numbers get really famous for crashing or getting bombed or some such? Do you think they stop using the number?

In a previous life, I worked on an expert system to paginate the yellow pages. Yes, that's right, I was one of those awful ``AI People.'' Paginating the yellow pages is surprisingly complicated, because the people at whose behest you are paginating them are surprisingly bozotic.

They have huge sets of rules about what goes where, how close ads must be to their categories and so on; for example, ``studies show'' that people in Akron prefer a san-serif 3-column layout, while the more metropolitan folks in Atlanta prefer a serif 5-column layout with the ads pushed towards the outside columns. The whole thing is totally bonkers.

In addition to the ad and listing rules, there are also huge sets of rules about what filler can go where. (Filler is the stuff that looks like ads, but isn't: it's purpose is just to make the columns go all the way to the bottom of the page when the ad and listing layout rules can't be satisfied, which happens all the time. Filler usually masquerades as some kind of public service announcement.)

So the canonical example of wacky filler rules, and my personal favorite thing that I learned about phone books after too many years of hacking on them, is that the filler that says ``Call Before You Dig'' can't go in the ``Mortuaries'' category.

[ up ]