I used to teach writing for business and industry. One of the assignments I gave my college class was to bring in a piece of technology along with its directions. I asked the class to do exactly what the directions said. Even simple, everyday technology failed to work when the (usually badly written) directions were followed. The next part of the assignment was to figure out the technology and then write a set of directions that anyone could follow. The directions for gadgets manufactured in another country were especially amusing, since their writers were often using English as a second language.

Nancy Carriuolo,
Providence, Rhode Island

Dear Nancy: We've got countless gadgets and office equipment here at American Way that we can't seem to get going. Do you think you might be able to contact some of your former students and see if they'd be so kind as to show us how some of these gadgets work?

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While I was sitting on a recent flight from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., I thought about something I would like to see in future issues of American Way: estimated flight times.

I plan my future trips based on the maps of where American Airlines flies. A helpful addition to those maps might be a chart of estimated flight times, allowing people to see how long it takes to get from one city to another (similar to the mileage lines that can be found in an atlas). This would also be helpful for passengers who just want to know how long their flight might take. Obviously, the times would only be estimates, but I think it would be very useful.

Brad Cole, Carbondale, Illinois

Dear Brad: Your letter triggered a very unpleasant flashback to fifth-grade math class: "If a plane leaves Los Angeles at 3:45 p.m. traveling eastward at 400 mph, and another jet departs from Miami at 4:20 p.m...."