Jul 212010

It seems that some people have problems following instructions.  Simple instructions.  Apparently, I’m one of those people.  I recently got directions to an arena where my sister was going to show off her skills at cutting.

Shouldn’t be too hard.  It wasn’t like it was “Turn left at the buffalo” – it looked pretty simple.  But I should have taken a clue from the fact that it seemed to be worded a bit oddly:

From Highway 2: Approximately 6 kms. East on Highway 567, 1 km. North.

Now written here it looks a bit odd, but when read on my iPhone, it was even better:

From Highway 2: Approximately 6 kms.
East on Highway 567, 1 km. North.

So I diligently drove 1km east on 567 and then headed North, expecting that the total drive form Highway 2 was going to be 6km.  I was wrong.  Once I had called for better instructions and actually arrived on site, I did some troubleshooting to see how I could have misread the instructions so completely.

I know that you believe that you understood what you think I said, but I’m not sure that you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.

I attribute it to punctuation and formatting.  The authors of the instructions (not my sister, she was just copying and pasting) had no idea how to correctly abbreviate kilometer or kilometers.  Ok, they were close, but km isn’t supposed to have a period after it unless its the end of a sentence and kms is a strange combination of distance and time.  The kms should have been a hint that I needed to change how I parsed the sentence and its punctuation.

Instructions are interesting beasts.  They typically make a lot of sense to the person who wrote them.  They’re perfectly clear, how could you possibly not understand them?  Ask computer programmers who spend their whole days writing instructions for computers to follow; there are times when computers refuse to follow the simplest instructions.

Three legs in the air

Three legs in the air

It’s best to ensure that if you’re writing important instructions that you get somebody who doesn’t know much about what you’re describing to try to follow them, before you publish the set of commands.

My sister’s cutting competition went reasonably well overall.  The cattle were able to follow her instructions, and if they didn’t, she was able to clarify rather quickly.

 Posted by at 7:07 pm