Feeds

BLOG - RTFM - and why not?

It's a cold Xmas chez Norfolk...

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

My central heating chose to pack up on Xmas Eve, as it does, and this nice man from British Gas came round to fix it. [As an aside, even in Midwinter, you don't actually need central heating, especially these days when winters aren't so cold - we're not actually freezing. Which is worth remembering, since central heating is probably a major contributor to global warming - woolly jumpers are OK, which gives us a nice warm feeling; even if all the wood we're now burning is more problematic.]

We’re burning wood because, of course, he couldn't fix it on the spot - one of several control boards had failed. Which is becoming the story of our times, computer chips fail before the mechanics becomes unrepairable. No more vintage cars, say, because the vintage engine-control circuit boards (or chips) will be unavailable. Or, perhaps, a lucrative job for retired nerds recreating old circuit boards by hand? Is a vintage Mondeo going to be worth it?

But the real point of this post is that as I watched my Man from BG working through his fault-finding flowcharts on his portable PC, I suddenly took pity on him and found him the original manuals with the charts on paper. These were gratefully accepted - it's still easier to jump around a printed manual than flip between screens on a PC.

And that's something for systems developers to remember - you're designing a whole system, not just a computer system - and you’re designing for its whole lifecycle, not just for the day after delivery. So, you need to design support and repair processes as part of the system, not just as a later add-on - and sometimes this'll mean designing manual procedures to complement the automated processes (the human mind is still cost-effective for dealing with unexpected contingencies); and even, perhaps, paper manuals...

But you do need some empathy with the people using your system. Years ago, when paper instruction manuals were the norm, I met a system for managing equipment on the floor of a steel mill, which had clever iconised instructions on-screen with not much English anywhere (rather like you'll see when you open a Korean DVD recorder or whatever today). This was in Australia, paper wouldn't have survived long on the shop floor, most of the immigrant work force didn't have English as a first language and certainly couldn't agree on a consistent name for a "floggle-toggle" - although they could all recognise its picture.

So, should The Man from BG be given a set of computerised pictorial flow diagrams or a printed manual or something else entirely? There's no right answer, of course, it depends on the cultural background of BG employees and what they need the documentation for (and whether they're trying to read a PC balanced on the bog while using it). However, I'm sure that translating a printed manual directly into PDF page-images on a PC screen is usually the wrong (well, sub-optimal) answer...

So, do you have a professional technical writer on the team and a specialist in the psychology of man-machine interactions? And, if not, should you have? ®

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

More from The Register

next story
Why has the web gone to hell? Market chaos and HUMAN NATURE
Tim Berners-Lee isn't happy, but we should be
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
Sin COS to tan Windows? Chinese operating system to debut in autumn – report
Development alliance working on desktop, mobe software
Eat up Martha! Microsoft slings handwriting recog into OneNote on Android
Freehand input on non-Windows kit for the first time
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
(Not so) Instagram now: Time-shifting Hyperlapse iPhone tool unleashed
Photos app now able to shoot fast-moving videos
prev story

Whitepapers

A new approach to endpoint data protection
What is the best way to ensure comprehensive visibility, management, and control of information on both company-owned and employee-owned devices?
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Maximize storage efficiency across the enterprise
The HP StoreOnce backup solution offers highly flexible, centrally managed, and highly efficient data protection for any enterprise.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.