Tuesday, May 4, 2010

If PowerPoint caused the war, then Excel caused the financial crisis, and Word caused those long product warning labels that nobody reads completely

It has become fashionable to blame software for enabling existing human behavior. Recently the New York Times published an article about how We Have Met the Enemy and He is PowerPoint. Dave Paradi wrote a parody of it about how If PowerPoint caused the war, Excel caused the financial crisis. We might as well also blame their word processor, since it is the most commonly used component in the Microsoft Office suite.

Ladders are hazardous, but people have been using them for a long time, as is shown above. That image from 1340 has a hazard that is now uncommon. Of course, lawyers are responsible for approving warnings for products. They were creating long documents out of boilerplate before there ever was word processing software to blame. No one except a lawyer would either say or write something like:

“19....You may lose your balance and/or tip the ladder.”

Some lawyers even have a sense of humor, and have discussed adding additional warnings like the following ones from a 1997 article about Rungful Suits:

1. Never drink and climb. Always have a designated climber on hand.

2. There is no such thing as "Safe Sex" on a ladder.

3. This sticker gets slippery when wet. That’s why we put it on the side. If you’re standing on this sticker you’ve got the ladder pointed the wrong way.

4. Avoid contact with lawyers. Statistics show most ladder accidents involve lawyers.

The following ladder warning label from Werner is circa 1994 and thus may or may not meet the relevant current safety standards. You are warned that reading this label may induce drowsiness:


WARNING: Failure to follow all instructions may result in serious injury


1. Inspect for damaged or missing parts before each use.

2. Never use a ladder with missing or damaged parts.

3. Check all parts for good condition. Lightly lubricate moving parts occasionally.

4. Never repair a damaged ladder without permission from manufacturer.

5. Destroy ladder if exposed to excessive heat or any corrosive agent.



2. DANGER! METAL CONDUCTS ELECTRICITY! BE CAREFUL! Use care when using near power lines and electrical circuits.

3. You should never use a ladder if you are not in good physical condition.

4. Ladder is designed to support the weight of one person and material. Maximum weight not to exceed duty rating of ladder (see other labels).

5. Do not use ladder in front of unlocked doors.

6. Place ladder feet on firm level ground.

7. If forced to use on slippery surface secure ladder from sliding before climbing.

8. The use of ladders on drop cloths may present a sliding hazard.

9. Never place anything under or attach anything to a ladder to adjust for uneven surfaces other than a ladder leveler approved by the manufacturer of this ladder.

10. Use only the proper length ladder. Never attach anything to or place anything under a ladder to gain height.

11. Extend only from ground. When using for access to roof, extend ladder top 3 feet above roof edge.

12. Check that all four ends of the ladder are firmly supported to prevent excessive movements.

13. Set ladder at proper angle by placing your toes against the bottom of the ladder. Stand erect. Extend your arms straight out. When palms of your hands contact the top of the rung, which is about at shoulder level, ladder is approximately at the proper angle. (Check with other labels). Use only at proper angle.


15. Use extreme caution getting on or off the ladder.

16. When possible, have someone hold the ladder.

17. Always face ladder and maintain a firm grip while on it.

18. Never walk, bounce or move ladder while on it.

19. DO NOT OVER-REACH. Always keep belt buckle between side rails when climbing or working from ladder. You may lose your balance and/or tip the ladder.

20. Use extreme caution pushing or pulling anything while on a ladder. You may lose your balance and/or tip the ladder.

21. Windy conditions require extra caution.

22. Never climb or stand higher than 3 feet from the top of the ladder.

23. Never use as a platform, plank, or brace.

24. Do not use any components not supplied or approved by the manufacturer of this ladder.


1. Always keep ladder clean of all foreign materials.

2. Never store material on ladder.

3. Properly support and restrain ladder in transit or storage.

4. For additional care, safety, and use instructions contact your employer, dealer, or the manufacturer, or see ANSI A14.5.”

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