Friday, March 28, 2008

Pub spelling

Sign outside a bar in Reading: "Credit cards excepted". I think I know what they mean, but I suppose they could mean what they say.

Another sign outside a pub, this time in Dublin: "Help wanted. Apply wittin".

Role on phonetic spelling.

Friday, March 21, 2008

What's that in buses?

A reader complained to the BBC today about a report on the new terminal at Heathrow airport - he thought they had been patronising in describing its length as 'three football pitches' when we would be perfectly capable of visualising metres.

In the UK, we use double decker buses for length and height, and football pitches for length and area. We also use Nelson's columns for height, and Wales is our unit of large area. And, as Stephen Fry pointed out on the telly the other day, we use fahrenheit for heat ('it's in the nineties') but celsius for cold ('it's minus three').

Other countries have their own variants, and I remember thinking that it was odd that my Michelin guide to New York used Eiffel Towers to express the height of the Empire State Building. I thought, if they've bothered to translate it from French into English, why couldn't they translate the pictures too?

I've just googled this and found a rather nice translation utility: The Double-Decker Bus Calculator. You can use it to translate between preferred measures: for example it turns out that Wales is 401.138996 Manhattan Islands. Oddly enough, it omits Belgium (the metric equivalent to Wales).

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Responsibility avoidance: how the passive voice helps

Easyjet wants an extra fiver for something called 'Speedy Boarding Plus'. Presumably this means you get to jump the queue in the boarding sprint. Here's how they explain it:

"Speedy Boarders get the widest choice of seats provided you’re at the gate when boarding starts. At certain airports we offer Speedy Boarding Plus which means you can check in at a dedicated priority desk. If you are bussed to the aircraft we can’t guarantee that you’re off the bus first."

We need a connective between the last two sentences: I think it means 'However, if you are bussed...'. In fact it sounds like people who pay the fiver get onto the bus first, which usually means they are last off.

Of course it would not be Easyjet's fault if you paid them a fiver and 'you are bussed'. In the passive voice, it just happens. No one makes it happen. It's just the way it is.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Benefits of dramatic projection

Police procedurals like CSI often include interfaces that the TV detectives use for matching fingerprints or tracking vehicles. These interfaces are unlike any normal ones you find in workplaces - graphic features have to be exaggerated in order to be legible on television. Similarly, ransom notes are always written in large legible writing.

Actually, this how everything should be designed - clear and bold enough to get how it works at first glance. It isn't a bad design principle to ask yourself: how would my interface work on TV?