The Wondrous Bullet Character

Do you know how to create a bullet (•) character via the keyboard? It’s easy on the Mac: just press Option 8. It’s a bit more complicated in the Windows world, but once your fingers get the hang of it, you’ll be able to do it without much thought at all.

  1. Hold down the Alt key
  2. Using the number pad, type 0149
  3. Release the Alt key

Step 2 must be performed on the number pad; it won’t work if you use the numbers on the main portion of the keyboard. And if this seems unduly complicated, the upside is that you can create any character this way as long as you know its corresponding ASCII value.

Okay, so now that you’ve mastered this technique, why should you bother? After all, you could always use the Macintosh Character Palette, or the Windows Character Map (or a utility such as PopChar).

It is my firm belief that you will use this, or any character, much more often if you can generate it via the keyboard. But leaving aside the issue of how, why would you want to generate a bullet character? Because they stand out like a bloody sore thumb, that’s why.

I use them as a “technical debt” indicator, and I mean short-term debt — the kind that needs to be retired ASAP. My goal is to have no bullets anywhere in my system… and that includes field names, calculations, script names, script steps, etc.

Any time I see one, I consider it to be actionable either today, or tomorrow at the latest. Sometimes I insert them because I need to ask a client or a team mate a question.

Other times I use them to draw attention to an area of a  script I’ve temporarily disabled, or if I need to stop for the day, and want to mark the place where I should re-start tomorrow.

Or say I’ve deprecated a field, and I want to make sure it isn’t used anywhere else, when I first rename it, I’ll temporarily throw a some bullets into its name, e.g., ••••••••••zzz_glCostAccount. Later I’ll run a BaseElements analysis, or generate PDFs of my scripts and field definitions, and I can search them for “•”… but in the mean time, if I happen upon a script or calculation that references the deprecated field, those bullet characters will bring it to my attention. (Soon, of course,  I’ll remove the bullets from the field name — this is a very short-term strategy.)

The point is, I should never see bullets anywhere in my solution, so they never become “noise” that I ignore. Bullets are always “signal”, and what that signal says to me is, “Hey numbskull, there’s something important here you need to take care of… now!”

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