I came across The Hall of Documentation Weirdness again recently, a great site by a Vancouver writer called Darren Barefoot. It features unintentionally hilarious technical illustrations from around the world, made all the more humorous by Barefoot's quizzical captions.

The site has been around for a few years now, and it's as good as ever, although I notice that it now includes some ads. (I remember its popularity spiked back in 2002 or 2003 when it got slashdotted: Barefoot was probably inundated with offers that he could not refuse.)

Anyway, it's wonderful; you must check it out. Here's a teaser:

"From a Dell computer box. I believe the caption should read 'If you drop this box on a dog, don't trip over its tail'."



I attended a seminar on somefink called "minimalism" recently. Naturally, what this is depends entirely on the context. If I were an art historian, you might think I was talking of Stella or Serra. If I were an architect, you might think I was talking of Mies van der Rohe.

But I am a technical writer. (Now, stay awake. I'm not finished yet. You don't want me to tip Tilted Arc [1981] over on you, now do you? It's heavy.) Talk of minimalism in technical writing circles always comes 'round to JoAnn Hackos, technical communications superstar. Yes, we have them too. Superstars, that is. You haven't heard of them, but they're out there. And Hackos is their Queen.

The seminar was unbelievable!

Here are the highlights:
- We write too much; no one reads it. (This manual..., In this chapter..., This document assumes..., Before you begin..., Introduction..., Getting to Know the Product Features..., Navigating the User Interface..., Document Conventions..., Related Publications..., Overview of...Using the Such and Such Feature....) Yawn, yawn, yawn. All a waste of time and space.
- We don't provide what people want. (Just tell me how to increase the volume of my cell phone! Just tell me how to increase the volume on my cell phone! Just tell me how to increase the volume on my cell phone!)

We meticulously document every software feature, yet we're still somehow missing the point.

Why? Because we don't understand what customers are actually trying to do with the product. It's actually easier to write from spec, from talking to engineers, and from looking at the user interface than it is to talk to users. So that's what most of us do. But it won't do. It won't do.

I was pretty inspired to do things differently. Stay tuned. I hope I'll have more to tell you soon.



Remember when I got all excited about the iBelieve?

Well, the Christian techies are at it again. Check this out: GodTube ("Broadcast Him"), a video social networking site that sounds like a cross between YouTube and Facebook.

It's described here as "The fastest growing Internet site in the US" with a growth rate of 973 percent in the single month since its launch. The same article tells us this about the site:

One of the hottest and "most viewed" videos on the site's home page is called "Rapture – End of Times". It depicts recent world events as a prelude to the second coming of Jesus Christ at which time only the faithful will accompany the saviour to heaven (in the video they disappear into thin air during an Adobe Flash of lightning*) leaving the sinners and non-believers behind in a hell on earth of their own making.

* LOVE that: Adobe Flash of lightening. Why can't I think up these gems?

Ergonomic Keyboard for Pirates

Spotted off the starboard bow of Language Log. Did you know that today is Talk Like a Pirate Day?

I looked up avast, by the way. According to Merriam-Webster, this is "a nautical command to stop or cease." Sort of like the seafarin' version of ESC.


What do you get when you cut an earthworm in half?

Did YOU think the answer was "two earthworms"?

Sadly, no.

Turns out that the lengthy Death Spasm of the earthworm outlasts the attention span of small children.


You: "Hey! Two earthworms. Cool!"

You: "Hey! Dirt! Cool!"
You: "Hey! Isn't that Jacques Cousteau?! Cool!"
You: "Hey! Ice cream! Cool!"



Fact courtesy of Q.I.
Q.I. courtesy of Richard.
Jacques Cousteau distraction courtesy of Scott.


Don't Forget the Chicks This Time

I am thinking of getting my boss this t-shirt for Christmas. She will LOVE it. Shhh... it's a secret.

Available in assorted sizes from the fine fellow who brings us Dinosaur Comics.



A friend forwarded me an e-mail message from the Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy about their Masters of Science in Animals and Public Policy program*. He had a feeling that one of the words in the message would raise my eyebrows a fraction. He was right. Here it is:

"You might like to know that we have completed a second year of rigourizing** our curriculum."


I have nothing against made-up words. All words, after all, are made up by someone at one time or another. This, however, is a particular type of made-up word that bothers me: it does not improve the sentence.

It's pretty clear that rigourize is inspired by the adjective rigourous. According to m-w.com, rigourous means manifesting, exercising, or favoring rigor: very strict. Tufts is making this program more rigourous; I can see that, but only after stopping at this new word, doing a quick translation, and returning to read the rest of the sentence.

In this case, the new construction murkifies the sentence, blockifying my comprehension. Instead, I would suggest:

"You might like to know that we have spent two years making our curriculum more rigourous."

And I do! I do like to know!

* Which sounds simply spanking! Here's an enticing description of the program (from the same e-mail message):

Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy pursues research on the changing place of animals in society. Our Master of Science in Animals and Public Policy (MAPP) is an interdisciplinary degree in human-animal studies and public policy.

Human-animal studies is kin to environmental studies with a focus on wild or domestic animals in relation to nature and society. Our program is interdisciplinary with a curriculum that balances theory, methods, topics and research. We welcome students from the natural and social sciences, as well as the arts and humanities. We also give due attention to both qualitative and quantitative modes of research.

**His word absent from the dictionary or not, our Tufts author is not utterly alone: rigourize gets 7 hits in a Google search; rigorize, 1,150. Looks like the Americans are more likely to use it. Our author, I'm guessing from the ou spelling, is likely a Brit or Canadian living in the US, but I'll wager he's been there awhile.


More Pundles

Here are some more pundles*; good luck!

o er t o


k k
c c
u u
t t
s s
word word word word

* Acnowledgements to http://www.billsgames.com/. No peeking though. You know I hate that.