Monday, May 16, 2011

Keyboard classics

What happens if a monkey types on a keyboard for an infinite amount of time and doesn’t produce the complete works of William Shakespeare? You could easily wind up with the kind of convoluted copy I’ve come across lately.

  • Letter from a financial company:
    “A recharacterization nullifies a previous contribution or conversion; it’s as if the contribution or conversion never occurred.
  • The seat belt section of a car owners manual:
    “The physical principles of a frontal collision are simple. Both the moving vehicle and the passenger in the vehicle possess energy, which varies with vehicle speed and body weight. Engineers call this energy ‘kinetic energy.’”
Then there is the painfully obvious style of writing:
  • Instructions for hair styling iron: “Never use while drowsy or while sleeping.”
  • Again, the car owners manual: “Always make sure that no one is in the way of the power sunroof when it is closing.”
My advice for copywriters? Write for the reader. Not the lawyer. Not the courtroom your client is trying to avoid. Not for what you think might be the lowest common denominator. Give your customers a little more credit than that. Please.

The infinite monkey (or cat) theorem makes a fine metaphor for exploring the mathematics of probability, just don’t monkey with the concepts of clarity and common sense in the content of your writing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Car Sense

It's been three weeks now, and I'm still getting used to my new GTI. It's not as easy as "sign and drive," as Volkswagen would have you believe.

First you have to figure out where everything to turn it on...and, even more important, how to turn it off. Fog lights? Who knew you had to pull out the push knob?

Of course there's the owners manual, but wading through all the sidebars of warnings makes for disjointed and annoying reading, while limiting sustained comprehension.

Some differences between now and the last time I bought a car, in 1998:
  • A seat heater with three settings: on, really warm, and ouch.
  • A manual transmission with six gears. I learned to drive when three was the norm; what do I do with the leftovers?
  • A stick shift with "hill hold," so you don't slip backward on hills when getting into first gear from a dead stop. It's a verrrrrry nice feature that I often forget about while I'm feathering the gas and clutch.
  • A keyless entry system -- another wonderful feature because I can open the door without routing through my pocketbook for the key. I just don't trust the car not to lock me out with my pocketbook (and key) inside it.
I'm sure that I'll eventually learn every nook and cranny of this new car, just as I did my 12-year-old BMW. In the meantime, I'm having lots of fun just winging it.