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The Oxford comma in the news

17 March, 2017 at 11:32 am, by

The Oxford comma, or serial comma, is a comma inserted in a list before the final ‘and’ or ‘or’:

‘Apples, oranges, bananas, and pears’ has a serial comma. ‘Apples, oranges, bananas and pears’ does not.

It can seem like one of those punctuation pedantries which does not matter in real life, but it’s recently appeared in a court case in the USA. There’s a law in Maine which states that if work connected with perishable food takes extra time, overtime is not payable. Presumably this is because the work cannot be delayed until the next day and employers need certainty over costs.

A dairy has been successfully sued by its drivers because of the lack of a serial comma in the following statement. The exemption to the overtime rules, according to the Maine law, applies to: 

 

The intention appears to have been that ‘shipment or distribution’ represented two items in the list: that is ‘packing for shipment’ and ‘distribution’ are separate activities and both are ineligible for overtime payments.

The drivers contended, though, that it was a single item ‘packing for shipment or distribution’, and therefore that it was ‘packing’ that was exempt from overtime, not distribution (which is what drivers do).

The appeal court agreed with the drivers and you can read the judgement here: http://media.ca1.uscourts.gov/pdf.opinions/16-1901P-01A.pdf

The story was covered in the Guardian and other newspapers. And there’s a nice commentary here  from David Marsh, giving both sides of the argument and some classic examples.

What’s not clear to me is how long this law has been operation, and what the practice has actually been up to now – has overtime never been paid, but a clever lawyer has spotted the absence of a comma? Or is this a new thing and the drivers genuinely thought their understanding was shared by the drafters of the statute?

The problem with punctuation (and why, it is sometimes suggested, lawyers traditionally don’t like it) is that an awful lot hangs on a small smudge on the page.

So how about a more graphic solution. This is what the drivers thought it meant:

This is what the employers thought:

Another argument for visualisation in legal drafting.

Our next Simple Action day: overdose emergency kits

14 March, 2017 at 2:50 pm, by
The next Simple Action day will be on Friday 31 March, organised in association with Stephanie VandenBerg of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM). Stephanie is an emergency physician herself, and a Clinical Lecturer at the University of Calgary, currently studying epidemiology at LSHTM.
 
Use our Eventbrite page to tell us you’re coming.
 
 
 

The issue

There is a huge problem with drug overdose in urban and rural communities in North America and in Europe, specifically opiate (heroin, morphine, oxycodone, tablet and IV form) overdose. This is a medication that physicians prescribe for pain however is so good at treating pain, that people easily become dependent on it. When their physician decides to lower their dose and cut off their prescription all together, many, many people will buy these tablets from the black market (their drug dealer). Due to the way the drug works on the body, one of the deadly side effects of the any opiate medication is that is causes a person to stop breathing, which leads to heart attack and brain death. 
 
This article in the Guardian describes the problem in the UK context: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/09/drug-related-deaths-hit-record-levels-england-wales
 
The good news is we have an antidote to the medication. Naloxone (trade name Narcan) is a medication that is currently available as an injection into the muscle (like a flu jab) and reverses the effects of the opiate – literally, wakes them up and brings them back from the dead. 
 
Recently, 100s of people have been dying because their drug dealers are “lacing” (mixing) their drug with a cheap substitute called fentanyl. The problem with fentanyl is that it is 10-100x stronger than what the person was used to getting in to their tablet that they bought from their dealer (like a bartender making your drink with 80% alcohol and you not being aware) and is resulting in a overdose – person stops breathing, turns blue, dies. 
 

The information design problem

For years, street nurses, paramedics and police have carried injectable naloxone with them for emergencies where someone looks like they have overdosed and are not breathing, which can literally save the patients life if it is given right when a nurse/paramedic or police arrive. However, because of stigma with drug use, a lot of people are overdosing and no one calls the police because they fear everyone will get arrested. The solution has been to rapidly hand-out as many of these antidote kits as possible – to emergency department patients, pharmacies, clinics – all for free. The problem is, people don’t know how to use them and the medical community’s approach is complex, involving red tape and hours of teaching sessions that are redundant, clumsy and ineffecient.
 
A re-design of two components (1. recognizing an overdose; 2. how to respond) would make the use of this antidote more user friendly and improve education so people who use and misuse drugs, even on a periodic and recreational basis, can live healthier lives.
 

What is a Simple Action day?

It’s like a design jam or a hackathon. We get together for a day and come up with solutions. After the day some of us take the problem away to finish (a day is never enough) and sometimes students pick it up as a project. It’s good fun, and worthwhile. If you’d like to come, please sign up at our Eventbrite page.
 

A design pattern for the Oscars

27 February, 2017 at 5:21 pm, by

The mix-up at the Oscars was an information design fail. So here’s a design pattern for announcers’ cue cards, downloadable here: cue card design pattern.

Brilliant new guidance on unfair contract terms

24 October, 2016 at 4:28 pm, by

Full marks to the Competition and Markets Authority for a great new initiative to help businesses understand the Consumer Rights Act 2015. They found through a survey that fewer than half of businesses understood their obligations, so now they’ve produced some clear guides about the key issues, including videos which you can view on YouTube.

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Design of Understanding is back

27 September, 2016 at 10:43 am, by

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It’s great to see the Design of Understanding conference is back. Organised by Max Gadney of the design agency After the Flood, these days were hugely inspiring when he ran them at the St Bride Institute in London each January. This one is on health design, on 29 November 2016 at the Google Campus in London. And it’s free of charge. You can book on Eventbrite.