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Driving test prep: Wisconsin style

A father and son were out driving in preparation for the son’s driver’s examination the next morning.

Father: How do you feel about the test tomorrow?

Son: Pretty good.

Father: Great. Let me ask you a few questions then.

Son: Ok.

Father: What do you do if you go into a skid.

Son: Turn into the skid, apply light break pressure.

Father: Ok. Now, what do you do when you’re buddy in the back seat offers you a beer?

Son: (turning to father, deadpan) Tell him I’m not done with my first one yet.

What makes this funny is that this was an actual conversation related to me by the father–one of the best and funniest bullshitters I’ve ever met. It’s good to know that he’s passing his gift of wit on to the next generation.

Do Not Iron Clothes on Body

The title of this post is taken from actual packaging for a steam iron.

Turns out that not only are there lots of silly warnings on tags, packages and signs around the world, but now there’s an actual organization whose mission it is to campaign against such “gobbledygook.”

They call themselves the Plain English Campaign and they say they’ve been, “Fighting for Crystal Clear Communication Since 1979.”

Recently they’ve been mocking the British Police for signs such as this:
No Crime

A spokesman sums up the problem:

“They assume a lack of intelligence on the part of the reader – ‘Do not commit crime. Pay for fuel’ is hardly a deterrent to a criminal who has every intention of driving off without paying, and is merely an aggressive reminder to everyone else.

“I think the phenomenon comes from a combination of branding and PR spin, combined with the obsession companies have with covering themselves.

The Plain English Campaign cites further examples of “pointless notices,”:

Warning: Platform ends here (on the end of rail station platforms)

May cause drowsiness (on sleeping tablets)

Removing the wheel can influence the performance of the bicycle (from a Dutch bicycle manual)

Once used rectally, the thermometer should not be used orally (on a digital thermometer)

At first I thought this “campaign” was just so much nonsense. I mean, really–who has time for such endeavors. But when I started looking into their website a bit, I realized I could definitely relate.

Their complete mission is:

Since 1979, we have been campaigning against gobbledygook, jargon and misleading public information. We have helped many government departments and other official organizations with their documents, reports and publications. We believe that everyone should have access to clear and concise information.

Hell, I’ve been campaigning for the same now since 1993 myself. One thing I’ve learned in that time is that there is no correlation between how smart you are and how well you communicate. Right now I can point out some extremely intelligent english teachers who don’t value or practice clear and concise.

These people are smart as tacks. But they come across as arrogant and intimidating. They have interesting things to say, but I can’t stand listening or reading so their message is often lost.

Plain English Campaign illustrates my point with some before and after examples from their site:

Here are some examples of long-winded official writing, with our suggested improvements.

High-quality learning environments are a necessary precondition for facilitation and enhancement of the ongoing learning process.

Children need good schools if they are to learn properly.

If there are any points on which you require explanation or further particulars we shall be glad to furnish such additional details as may be required by telephone.

If you have any questions, please phone.

It is important that you shall read the notes, advice and information detailed opposite then complete the form overleaf (all sections) prior to its immediate return to the Council by way of the envelope provided.

Please read the notes opposite before you fill in the form. Then send it back to us as soon as possible in the envelope provided.

Your inquiry about the use of the entrance area at the library for the purpose of displaying posters and leaflets about Welfare and Supplementary Benefit rights, gives rise to the question of the provenance and authoritativeness of the material to be displayed. Posters and leaflets issued by the Central Office of Information, the Department of Health and Social Security and other authoritative bodies are usually displayed in libraries, but items of a disputatious or polemic kind, whilst not necessarily excluded, are considered individually.

Thank you for your letter asking for permission to put up posters in the library. Before we can give you an answer we will need to see a copy of the posters to make sure they won’t offend anyone.


Bottom line: You got something to say? Great. Can you say it with fewer words? Do it. You’re not impressing anyone.

Word Clouds Are Cool

This is a word cloud I created of my last post, Tell the Truth, Expect Nothing. Scroll down for an explanation about how it works.

Tell the Truth, Expect Nothing

What is going on here? What are you looking at?

Basically you’re seeing a visual representation of my last post. The biggest words in the cloud are the words that appear most often in the writing. The smallest words appear least often. I’ve chosen an option to remove “common words” if you’re into analysis.

Try this yourself. Just go to and paste in some text. Check out the gallery and you’ll find things like the entire text for Romeo and Juliet:

And Obama’s inaugural address:
Obama word cloud

It’s a fun way to visualize. And if you’re a teacher–imagine the possibilities.

Tell the Truth, Expect Nothing

I’m reading Randy Pausch’s, The Last Lecture and enjoying it. If you don’t know the story, Pausch–a computer science professor, husband, and father of three very young kids–had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was dying. His “Last Lecture” wasn’t about dying, however, but about how to live. Then he wrote a book. It’s a very easy read because it’s broken up into lots of little mini-chapters or sections that are 3 pages or less.

My favorite is on page 163, and it’s entitled simply, “Tell the Truth.”

If I could give three words of advice, they would be “tell the truth.” If I got three more words, I’d add: “All the time.” My parents taught me that “you’re only as good as your word,” and there’s no better way to say it.

This really resonates with me.

I’m going to tell you the truth. I’ve lied. But I honestly can’t remember the last time I did it. And I can’t remember any particular thing that I’ve ever lied about. So the result is that I really don’t have any secrets.

The reason I’m telling you this is not to kick off some rant touting any superiority or comparison or cast some kind of moral judgment. Hell, if you think about it, I could be lying to you this very moment! No, the real reason is to tell you something that I’ve learned and believe is true.

I think living without secrets makes for a very easy life.

I am who I am. I’ve done (and not done) stuff. I’m not proud of everything. I don’t always feel that good about myself, but I’m not trying to breath under water either.

What do I mean by that? Pausch goes on to say,

People lie for a lot of reasons, often because it seems like a way to get what they want with less effort. But like many short-term strategies, it’s ineffective long-term. You run into people again later, and they remember you lied to them. And they tell lots of other people about it. That’s what amazes me about lying. Most people who have told a lie think they got away with it . . .when in fact, they didn’t.”

When someone lies, they’re usually trying to get something or create (or uphold) an image in someone else’s mind. The idea is that that image would dissolve if the truth were known. So when you lie, the bottom line is, you’re trying to be something you are not. This is impossible. And it’s insane. It’s like trying to breath underwater.

You can pretend to breath under water for a while, but you’re really just holding your breath–and you can only do that for so long. Nature ALWAYS wins out. And when it does, despite your effort, depriving your body of oxygen only makes you weaker.

Being a teacher, you can imagine the number of times students have lied to me. Other people have lied to me as well. Probably, you’ve been lied to. I used to be very hurt by that. Especially when it was someone close to me. Even more so, when I took a lie and built part of my life or identity around it or became attached to it because the lie was much easier to live with than the truth.

Yes, lies hurt, but sometimes the truth hurts even more.

What I want to tell you today is that lies don’t hurt me anymore because I’ve come to realize that there isn’t anything anyone could tell me that would change who I am. There isn’t anything anyone can do–past, present, or future–that can effect what I am. If this is true, how can I possibly be hurt?

Of course, in order to learn this, I had to hurt. Talk about irony.

So I guess I’m writing today to tell you two things:

1) Life is easier when you don’t lie. No secrets. No pretending. Less to think about. No water up your nose. And,

2) Don’t worry when you find that someone lied to you. They cannot hurt you. They cannot change who you are. No harm can come to you. Trusting does not make you naive, or ignorant, or stupid, or anything. If you have trusted and you have learned something, use that new knowledge to adjust your expectations and move forward in this present moment.

But wait, are you feeling doubtful? That’s alright. You don’t have to trust me. You need to lay your own course. If, for you, what I’ve said sounds good “in theory”, but runs aground in the real world–before you dismiss this as just so much touchy/feely bullshit (I mean what about Bernie Madoff, right?)–reflect on this:

“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

And this:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Still stuck on Bernie Madoff? Okay, I don’t blame you. I never said it was easy. You may find some consolation in remembering also that He said to love everyone–not trust everyone. Be prepared to always realize the difference and let go of any attachments to anyone or anything you might have in this world.

And then be prepared to be free.