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Having become involved in a government document creating exercise I have been reminded of a fundamental quirk of language.  Half of the story lies in the head of the listener.  Like a cryptographic key, the experience of the user is needed to unlock the information in the message.

Civil servants make excellent wordsmiths but it is a moot point as to whether years of training produce clearer communication or simply provide the “crypto key” enabling them to understand those who have had the same teachers.

So often in communications the language is perfected just as the last vestigial trace of useful information disappears.

One simple answer is to work cross culture.  People operating in a foreign tongue seem to be far more thoughtful in their consideration of why things are being done before they dive in to the details of the how.  The extra effort needed to translate seems to force them to engage their brains and be economic, whilst all around are enthusiastically charging ahead without really thinking at all.

I’m sure this is one reason why the Royal Institute of Navigation’s “Croatian” conference – now in its 11th year – has tackled the issue of GNSS dependency so effectively.

Take a simple description of the GNSS dependency problem.  “Satnav kind of works really well, so well in fact that most people don’t bother carrying a map.  We all know that it is not quite the right sort of system for critical infrastructure and safety stuff.  We also know that one day, a cyber-attack or solar-space-weather thing will give those who have unwittingly become rather dependent on it a real bad-hair day, so what’s to be done?”

I know many techies who would revisit this paragraph for months to improve its precision.  People who know about GNSS want the right language to be used.  But they don’t have the problem!  Where the precision is needed is in the description of the dependency.  So why refine the GPS/GNSS/satnav thingy language?

Pedants still have a place.  At one Croatian conference a French speaking delegate claimed that that afternoon he had “laid on the beach”.  A passing naval captain commented, “You lay on the beach.  If you had laid you would have come back with an egg.”

The worrying thing is I have spent days in technical meetings stalled by technical pedantry that achieves very little and isn’t as funny.  It’s an affliction of technical people.

So come to Croatia and thrive on the multicultural atmosphere.  You might even come back with an egg.

11th Annual Baška GNSS Conference.  7 – 9 May, 2017

http://www.rin.org.uk/Events/4732/11th-Annual-RIN-Baska-GNSS-Conference

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