Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Jargon is a security hazard

We all knew that jargon was confusing.

But apparently, it’s also a security hazard.

Check out Computer jargon baffles users, hinders security from the Montreal Gazette, (Maclean, Reuters, February 19, 2010) at Visited February 22, 2010.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

What's Really Happening with Spending on Training

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Food Labels, Generation Two

When I was president of the Society for Technical Communication, I gave the President’s Award to the US Food and Drug Administration for their food labels. I thought then--and continue to believe now--it is one of the most incredible feats of technical communication ever pulled off. The FDA managed to develop a clear, consistent means of informing consumers what’s in their food.

One of the significant accomplishments was bringing consistency and order to what was once an open frontier on food labeling, which caused more confusion than clarification. They standardized portion sizes, so companies like Ben & Jerry’s—who load their ice cream with fat—couldn’t make it look lighter by reducing the portion size. They also standardized terminology, providing clear definitions for light, fat-free, and other reduced calorie foods.

This was no easy task, given all of the different parties with differing interests involved. But the FDA prevailed and the public interest was served.

Now, the FDA is addressing the next generation of issues. Portion sizes mentioned on labels are purposely kept small because they look less offensive, even though the sizes are not reflective of what people eat. Well it seems that the FDA is getting the message and is about to re-define portion sizes again, making them more reflective of what people actually eat in a portion. Like half a pint of Ben and Jerry’s instead of a quarter. (OK—I made that one up; besides, don’t most people eat the whole pint?)

For more, see Wiliam Neuman’s article from the February 5 issue of the New York Times at

Monday, February 01, 2010

People Who Inspire

In this Entry: Extraordinary Educator / Tech Writer and Trainer Makes Good / The Inspiration of Everyday Immigrants

Although the front page isn’t always chockablock with encouraging news, read onward. You might find some inspiration from the profiles of people carried inside a paper—or below the fold on an Internet news page. Here are profiles of an extraordinary educator, a technical writer done well, and a class of ordinary people.

Extraordinary Educator

John H. Fischer, past dean and president of Teacher’s College at Columbia University in the 1960s and 70s and led that school through “reform and innovation” passed away over the holidays at age 99 (J.H. Fischer, Educator in Turbulent Times, Is Dead at 99, William Grimes, New York Times, December 25, 2009,

But this man, whom I never met—indeed, I never heard of until I read his obituary—had a profound effect on my life. As superintendent of Baltimore City Schools in the 1950s, he led the initial efforts to de-segregate that school system. Although it was relatively peaceful, he still faced opposition and, in an era before polls and 24-hour news shows, successful withstood that opposition.

The school system he left behind was the one where I spent the first 7 years of my education—in a school that I didn’t realize was desegregated for most of the time I studied there.

Tech Writer and Trainer Makes Good

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution recently profiled Rhonda Jordan, a one-time flight attendant for AirTran Airways who then moved into a position as an in-flight trainer and technical writer before her recent promotion to manager of in-flight standards (AirTran exec: ‘We want to make sure that good judgment prevails,’ Kelly Yamanouchi, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, December11, 2009,

According to the Journal Constitution, “Jordan is responsible for making sure flight attendants know federal regulations and company policies when they take to the skies.” Her background in training and technical writing should have prepared her well for that position.

And perhaps it will inspire people in similar positions in other organizations that their having had written and trained the policies (literally) to apply their knowledge in influential management positions, too.

The Inspiration of Everyday Immigrants

Concerned by a recent study of 18-to 24-year-olds in Quebec by the Associatoin for Canadian Studies that found that less than 20 percent of francophones and only 40 percent of Anglophones felt that a university degree is essential, the Globe and Mail suggested that perhaps Canadians should “emulate [their] immigrants” (Editorial, Globe and Mail, December 22, 2009,

Two-thirds of allophones (people who do not speak English or French as their first language) in that age group saw the value of a university degree.

So maybe it’s not a fluke that, the last time I taught the required Human Performance Technology course, only one-quarter of my students were Canadian-born.