Archive for May, 2013

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Headline and image juxtaposition

May 21, 2013

Seen in our local Sunday paper:

labs

The ‘Labs’ article was about meth labs, but at first glance it looked like it was about dogs as the picture next to it was of a labrador cross. Either the editor did this deliberately for a laugh, or it was an unfortunate error.

It’s the sort of thing Jay Leno used to feature in ‘Headlines’ on his show ;-)

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That versus which

May 17, 2013

Based on a writing tip I wrote recently for my work colleagues…

******************

Bottom line:

  • Use ‘that’ if the phrase is integral to the meaning of the sentence (i.e. a ‘restrictive’ or ‘essential’ clause).
  • Use ‘which’ if the sentence can stand alone without the phrase (i.e. ‘non-restrictive’ or ‘non-essential’ clause); a ‘which’ clause typically expands on or enhances the information already given.
  • ‘Which’ typically follows a comma, whereas ‘that’ rarely does.
  • A good test for when to use ‘that’ or ‘which’ is to remove the clause—if the sentence still makes sense, use ‘which’; if it doesn’t, use ‘that’. 

One area where I make a lot of corrections when editing a document is the use of ‘that’ or ‘which’. There are hundreds of web pages devoted to discussing the differences, some very technical – I’ve listed a few below.

Your use of ‘that’ or ‘which’ depends on whether your clause is restrictive or not.

Examples of non-restrictive clauses (i.e. they could be removed without changing the meaning of the sentence) where you would use ‘which’ are shown in red:

  • A subset of the Emergency Response Plan is the Marine Oil Pollution Plan, which describes the [company’s] response to an oil spill.
  • Maps and detailed information have been compiled for [location], which detail the beaches, vehicle access tracks, habitats, vegetation communities, mangroves, and other sensitive areas.
  • The largest vessels of the fleet, which represent the greatest potential spill volumes, always operate with support vessels nearby.
  • All bores, which include production, exploration, and purpose-drilled monitoring bores, are to be sealed or capped appropriately to prevent ingress of fauna.

Examples of restrictive clauses (i.e. the clause is integral to the sentence’s meaning) where you would use ‘that’ are shown in red:

  • Known active warrens occupied by [animal] are to be trapped by [company/government department] within one week prior to clearing, so as to remove individuals that occupy the warren and relocate them elsewhere (under licence) as agreed between [company] and [government department]. (NOTE: This one is restrictive as you’re only referring to individuals that occupy the warren, not all individuals.)
  • For sites that are cleared in progressive stages, fauna searches should be undertaken at each stage of clearance. (NOTE: This one is restrictive as you’re only referring to specific types of sites, not all sites.)
  • Techniques that wash oiled sand into the lower intertidal and subtidal zones should be avoided. (NOTE: This one is restrictive as you’re only referring to specific types of techniques, not all techniques.)

[And no, I won’t comment on the use of passive voice in these examples…]

See also:

[Links last checked May 2013]

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No wonder the world has a plastic problem

May 16, 2013

On Saturday, I bought three small — and cheap — items from a big-name department store and a hardware store. Each came in packaging that wasn’t warranted, even if the price of each item had been much higher.

Exhibit 1: The watch

The first item was a watch. I no longer buy expensive watches — a $10 to $20 watch does just fine at telling the time. As I work from home, I only wear a watch occasionally, so spending big bucks on a watch seems silly. My last $10 watch lasted me a couple of years, but it died recently — the battery went and the band was on its last legs. At $10 for the purchase, it just wasn’t worth fixing — a new battery and band and the fitting of both would cost upwards of $40, so I decided to replace it with another $10 watch from Big W (like Target, Wal-Mart etc. in the US).

Here’s how my watch was packaged:

stupid_packaging_watch01

stupid_packaging_watch04

Yes, this $10 watch was inside a sealed plastic clam shell.

But wait… there’s more…

Inside this triangular piece of plastic that was almost impossible to cut open without cutting yourself in the process, was a hard plastic display holder, around which were TWO tightly strapped cable ties holding the watch. And notice the square thing underneath the hard plastic bit? That’s an RF security tag!

stupid_packaging_watch02

What were they thinking? That these watches (at <$10) were so darned precious that they needed this sort of protection?

After I got everything cut open and pulled apart (a process that took several minutes, a lot of frustration, a few expletives, and a pair of scissors), I was left with this:

stupid_packaging_watch03

I only wanted a watch, not a small landfill’s worth of plastic!! Had I thought about, I should have opened the package in the store after paying for it, and handed the packaging back to Big W. If more customers did that, maybe these stores would get the hint that all this over-packaging is totally unnecessary… especially for low-priced items such as this.

I suspect that if I bought a Cartier watch in a jewellery store, it would come with less unnecessary packaging. And I also suspect that all this packaging added about $2 to the cost of this already cheap watch.

Oh, and my husband got cut by this outer plastic when he was sorting our recyclable trash… he wasn’t happy!

Exhibit 2: The surge protector

Next stop was Bunnings (like Home Depot or Lowes in the US), where I needed to buy a surge protector. It was $4.95, and like the watch, it came in a hard plastic clam shell sealed against ingress by anything nasty, and moulded to suit the shape of the $5 object inside.

stupid_packaging_power01

stupid_packaging_power02

I could only open this package with scissors — it sure couldn’t be prised open. And like the watch’s packaging, I had to be careful not to get cut by the sharp edges of the plastic as I cut it open.

I wonder what people with arthritis or limited hand mobility do? This stuff was TOUGH to cut, and once cut, it’s dangerously sharp.

Exhibit 3: The tape

My other purchase at Bunnings was some plumbers’ tape. This one wasn’t as badly packaged as the other two items, but it was still overkill for a $1.99 item!

stupid_packaging_tape01

At least I could get it open without scissors and the risk of cutting myself because the moulded plastic over the tape reel just wrapped around the cardboard and was stapled to it with a single staple. However, notice that the tape reel is inside a plastic ‘doughnut’ ring, which has a plastic top and bottom piece! Though having now used the plumbers’ tape, I think that the ring is necessary as this stuff is really fine and wants to fall off the reel.

*****

Back in the day (meaning a decade or so ago), you could buy things like plumbers’ tape loose from bins in the aisles at Bunnings; they didn’t come on a piece of cardboard with a moulded piece of plastic stapled to them. Likewise for things like surge protectors. Has all this unnecessary packaging come about because customers asked for it? (I doubt it) Or because stores were losing too much to shoplifting and pilfering? (possible) Or because manufacturers now have to have instructions and warnings for EVERYTHING they make, and those instructions and warnings have to be attached to the product? (very likely)

Even if instructions and warnings have to be attached to the item, and the item has to be secured against shoplifting, there are ways to minimize the packaging. For example, the surge protector could be attached to the cardboard warning/instructional material with a cable tie with no other plastic required; likewise the watch and the plumbers’ tape. These sealed clam shell plastic containers are unnecessary for products such as these, and just add to the manufacturing cost and the cost to the environment when it comes time to dispose of them. And nothing I saw on any of the plastic packaging indicated it had been made from recycled materials or that it could be recycled. <grrrr>

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Misleading ads from Qantas Frequent Flyer

May 15, 2013

I’ve been a Qantas Frequent Flyer and Qantas Club Life Member for just over 20 years (yikes!), and so I get their promotional emails, which seem to come with increasing regularity. Most of the time I just delete them, but occasionally one catches my eye, especially when it offers what I perceive to be a ‘very good deal’.

A bit of background… Perth hotel prices are EXORBITANT, and they’ve been ridiculously high for several years. We’re in a resources boom, so hotel room prices mid-week (in particular) are through the roof. To even find a decent hotel offering a room for less than $250 a night is very unusual; it’s more like $400+ a night.

Which is why this Qantas promo for hotel stays caught my eye (I’ve highlighted the relevant bits in yellow):

qantas_misleading_ads01Note that the price advertised ($179) is based on a stay at Crown Metropol (ex-Burswood Hotel) in Perth. Now, $179 is a good deal for Perth, and Crown is a 5-star hotel. So, $179 for a 5-star hotel in Perth? Gotta click on that!

And here’s what I got:

qantas_misleading_ads02Yep, that $179 deal has suddenly morphed in a ‘minimum $269’ deal, some $90 more. Thanks, Qantas…

However, the Qantas deal is still cheaper than offers from sites like Wotif.com for the same hotel, where their cheapest deal is $295 for just one night in the coming two weeks:

qantas_misleading_ads03

I guess I won’t be staying overnight in Perth any time soon.

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Mental model disconnection

May 10, 2013

I was looking up a website for a local bathroom renovation company. This image was on all their web pages:

bathroom_renos

A cooktop and range hood just don’t fit my mental model of a bathroom, so I checked their entire website to see if they did kitchen renovations as well, and found NOTHING to indicate that they do. Their business name clearly states that they do bathroom renovations.

Which leads me to wonder WHY they have an image of a range hood and cooktop on their bathroom renovation site. Did their web designer just grab any image from the internet and plonk it there? Or do they do kitchen renos too, but they’re keeping that service hidden for now? Or did no-one who signed off on the website notice that the image doesn’t match their business name and service offerings?

The problem with this mental model mismatch is that I now don’t trust that this company would take the care required to do a bathroom reno for me (not that I want one now, but that’s not the point). Any trust I may have engendered from looking at their website text and testimonials has been reduced by this cognitive dissonance.

Bottom line: Trust is jeopardized when the images and text (and business name in this case) on your website don’t match. If your prospective customer sees that you can’t get that right, then they won’t trust you to get their job done right either.

Or maybe that’s just me…

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Honoring a customer service promise

May 6, 2013

I was hunting for something on the internet… as you do. One of the potential suppliers didn’t have the exact item I was looking for, so I thought I’d contact them. One of their contact options was ‘live chat’ available ’24/7/365, no waiting’. So I clicked on the link. And got this:

live_chat

If you’re going to make a statement that someone is available for ‘live chat’ 24/7/365, then honor it. If you can’t honor it, don’t make that promise!

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Another milestone! Three million views

May 2, 2013

Sometime in the past couple of days (end of April 2013), this blog hit three million views!

3million

It passed two million views in early August 2012, so it’s only taken nine months to go from two million to three million. In September 2011, this blog cracked the one million views mark since I started blogging in 2008. As I said when the total views passed half a million sometime in 2010, I can’t even comprehend that number, so three million is mind-boggling.

3million02

My weekday average number of views is between 4000 and 5000, and my monthly average is more than 110,000 views. I’ll do a full analysis at the end of this year, as I have done in previous years (see below for links).

However, despite the number of views and the overwhelmingly positive comments (‘OMG! You saved my LIFE!’), I make no more than ‘pin money’ from the ‘donate’ button in the sidebar (https://cybertext.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/if-only/); I also pay WordPress to NOT have random ads on this blog (my choice).

I mainly write this blog for me — I can’t possibly remember all the things I learn, so when I write instructions they are primarily to backup my brain ;-) Think of this blog as a dumping ground for all those random bits and pieces I learn each day. And yes, I definitely use my own blog to ‘remember’ how to do something I may have only done once or twice before.

The fact that others (all three million others now!) find it useful too, is very humbling.

See also:

[Links last checked May 2013]