The Law of No Free Lunch

I click on the “Place signature” button, move the cursor left, and click again on the signature line of my PDF invoice to sign the document.

Or not.

Dagnab it. I’ve done this lots of times. Well, a few times. And maybe not recently. But it should work. What’s wrong?

Using the “Hit that key harder” protocol, I make several more failed attempts until I realize that I don’t have a stored signature in this version of Acrobat, newly loaded on my new laptop. Oh.

I click on the “Create signature” button and quickly generate a reasonable facsimile of my standard signature by drawing fluidly with my mouse on my actual desktop.

Or not.

After five minutes and thrice as many attempts, I take what I have and call it good enough. Lopsided and shaky, it looks like something produced by a not very robust centenarian.

Nevertheless, this New Way — converting invoices to PDFs and signing them electronically — is many times faster than the Old Way.

Flowchart of 16-step process to print, sign, and scan an invoice, pre "direct conversion to PDF" days.

The Joy of the Old Way

And, of course, this Old Way was much faster (measuring the submission-to-payment interval) than the Truly Ancient Way, which saw me sending hard-copy invoices to clients by snail mail, with all its inherent points of delay or even outright failure.

But the Law of Conservation of Improvements (popularly known as the Law of No Free Lunch) dictates that by gaining time I must have lost something, and that something is this: I can no longer disavow any signature that uses my name.

Prosecutor, menacing: Do you deny that you signed this?
Me, shrugging: How can I? I can’t recognize my own signature right after executing it.

Awkward, even ominous, pause

Me, thinking before speaking: Umm, forget that I said “executing.”

How did I get here?

First it was delivery people, dropping off packages and special envelopes. “Sign,” they barked, there being no time in their day for small talk, and handed me a device both too big to be held easily, and too small to be held firmly. Shoulders hunched and both arms held tightly against my body, I scraped the stylus across the tiny screen, and they were off and running. Usually literally.

Then it was department stores in the USofA with their own screens atop awkwardly angled stands with no wrist rests. Again I acknowledged my purchases with a scrawl that was unlike anything I’ve ever produced with a pen, but that seemed to be just what they were looking for.

Then the plague spread to car rental companies, which asked me to initial here and here and here and here and to sign there, agreeing to more conditions than those required to build a nuclear power plant. Yet somehow, the contractual rigour did not extend to requiring anything like a recognizable signature.

And now I’m creating rough electronic approximations of my signature.

What on Earth will be next? I dunno, but it’s bound to be better. Well, faster.


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22 Responses to The Law of No Free Lunch

  1. Jim Powers says:

    It’s like you’re reading my mind. I hate those.

  2. Alison Uhrbach says:

    I can relate! On many levels, but particularly to your flow sheet of “the old way”. Only in my case, add a flight of stairs between the computer and the scanner. Corvin doesn’t “do” the scanner, that’s consider my area of expertise. However, it took us almost two hours yesterday to print, sign, scan, and resend a contract for a new job he’s starting. I did point out to him at one point that we could get in the car and drive the document to Edmonton faster?? The idea of an electronic signature intrigues me, but, I need the exercise doing the stairs!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Excellent! CAE – computer-assisted exercise. There is a certain investment (of time and brain power) required to actually get the efficiency benefit made possible by these advances (changes?). Sometimes I invest; sometimes I just whinge. Very mature.

  3. Danielle says:

    One of my pet peeves when working on proposals is when one person uses their scanned signature and another uses the ‘digital signature stamp’. Consistency is important dagnab it! Love the flowchart!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Danielle – Yes, it’s amazing the little things that irritate. And given that everyone (including evaluators) sees different “little things” I guess it’s prudent to strive for as much consistency as we can get, in as many areas. Good luck with that . . .

  4. Jim Taylor says:

    Judging by the replies so far, neither you nor any of your correspondents is left-handed. Most lefties have to have the little-finger edge of the hand resting on the paper, ABOVE the line. Signing on a machine is awkward enough; now try signing when the machine has a ridge that prevents the signer from resting his/my hand on it. Or, just as bad, when the screen one has to sign on is right at the top of the machine, and there’s nothing there to rest one’s hand on. I’m tempted sometimes to just make an “X” and see if they’ll accept it as a signature.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim T – Good point- I hadn’t thought about the left-handers and, nor, evidently, had the designers. I guess a 90% solution is fine unless you’re part of the 10%. Maybe you can get someone to vouch for your “X.”

  5. I was told many signatures (esp. on parcel receipt) don’t have to be legible.
    It is just a method to see if the addressee got it. Draw a squiggly line — the companies don’t care. I’ve done that for years: no problem.

    I’m sure all this signing has changed a lot of people’s signatures over time. A vague initial or two at the beginning and then a line. Works for me.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Well, considering that the fleet-of-foot delivery folks don’t require any ID of me, to accept an illegible signature seems not to help them ensure (& later ascertain) that the addressee did receive said package. But for sure they don’t care, so it must not be a problem or not one that costs them much, at any rate. Back in 1970, I seem to remember a bank manager objecting to my initials because she couldn’t read them – I was initialing transactions I had completed in people’s passbooks (now there’s a blast from the past). She wanted (almost insisted) that I change how I initialed. I figured once she knew they were mine, what was the problem? I wonder how she’s coping now . . .

  6. It had not occurred to me that the doctor’s illegible prescription squiggly signature was being methodically drawn from and by all of us. I have always considered that “style” insulting if not downright dangerous. More reasons to hate computers’ attempts to mimic humans!

    Love the flow chart. I will be thinking in flow charts for the next while.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Laurna – Yes, I don’t like anything to be illegible on a prescription, thanks very much. Again, though, I guess the system works well enough. As for the flowchart, glad you enjoyed it.

  7. Jim Robertson says:

    If they don’t teach script in school anymore, what will the signatures of the future look like ??

    • …like third grade.
      Very good question, though.

      • Isabel Gibson says:

        Barbara – Well, it is. It’s hard to foresee what skills we’ll need. I didn’t take typing in Grade 10 because I couldn’t see how I would ever need it. Hah!

        • My mother made me take secretarial courses as “Something to fall back on….” I took her advice; so glad I did.
          Once I was typing along (electric typewriter) using all my fingers and John walked past. I said, smugly, “You know what THIS is called?” and continued to type. “Yes,” he said, “it’s called Showing Off.”
          Isabel, did you eventually learn Showing Off? or do you pick at the keyboard with a few fingers — which can be just as effective I am told.

          • Isabel Gibson says:

            Barbara – No, I have never taken the trouble to learn to Show Off. Every year I have less and less incentive to do so!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim R – On electronic forms, there are now options to type-in your name, which generates a signature of some sort (I assume there is some way of verifying the source of the typing . . .). Just as we’ve moved away from analog watch faces and calculations by hand, so will those go away, I suppose.

      • Maybe future generations will simply have their life-long code embedded under their skin at birth.
        I remember watching a TV program on penguins. I asked, “How do they tell themselves apart,” and John said, “The same way we do, by looking at the number on their bottoms.” Could happen!

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