Toilets imitating art

I recently ran across this toilet with these unbelievable instructions on how to flush it (mouse over if you can’t read it):

Toilet instructions

"...push the handle in the direction which best suits your needs..."

It reminded me of this gem I read in high school, by the famous Dutch poet of light verse, C. Buddingh’:


van september ’35 tot juni ’38
studeerde ik middelbaar engels a
de lessen werden gegeven
in het gymnasium
aan de laan van meerdervoort te den haag
het was een zich deftig voordoend gebouw:
de stortbak van de wc
had dan ook twee deftige trekkers,
er hing een stukje ivoorkarton naast
waarop in deftige drukletters stond:
“voor grote spoeling gebruike men de lange trekker
voor kleine spoeling gebruike men de korte trekker”
een vermoedelijk iets minder deftig
iemand had eronder geschreven:
“in geval van twijfel
wende men zich tot de rector”

ga niet bij het onderwijs,
en als u toch bij het onderwijs gaat
word dan liever geen rector

This is my amateurish translation:


from september ’35 to june ’38
i studied intermediate english a
the classes were held
in the high school
at laan van meerdervoort, the hague

it was a very posh-looking building:
the tank on the top of the toilet
had two posh pull-chains,
and there was a bit of ivory board next to it
that said, in posh printed letters:
“for a large flush, please use the long chain
for a small flush, please use the short chain”
someone, who was presumably less posh,
had written under it:
“when in doubt,
please consult the principal”

moral of the story:
don’t become a teacher,
and if you become a teacher anyway
try to avoid becoming a principal

Presentation Poetry

I attended a lunch talk on Tuesday in which the speaker opened by saying how much he enjoyed mathematical modeling. So much, in fact, that it had inspired him to write a poem, which he recited for us from his first slide. He was no T. S. Eliot, but that would have been a bit too much for a lunch talk anyway. As it was, the audience didn’t quite seem to know what to do with the poem, but there’s physicists for you.

Whenever I give a talk or present a poster I always try to search for some gimmick that will stand out in people’s minds, and give me a way to distinguish my message from that of the other talks or posters. I’ve never quite been able to do that to my own satisfaction. What I usually end up doing is taking particular care to produce well-designed, uncluttered slides and hoping the audience notices the difference. They probably don’t, since my ideal of scientific information design is to be neat and unobtrusive.

The best way to make an unforgettable impression is to get your audience to laugh at something entirely frivolous right at the start, but I think you need to have been a scientist for longer than I have if you want to get away with that and still be taken seriously. Starting off with a four-line poem, on the other hand, was cute and stylish. It was unobtrusive like good slide design, but not unnoticeable. It made those who could appreciate it smile; and those who couldn’t simply had a “What?” moment before the real scientific content started. It certainly didn’t detract from taking the speaker seriously.

Now, if only I could find a similar gimmick that fits my personality more than poetry.