Some assembly required….

I bought a rack with plastic bin boxes to hold a bunch of Sheaffer parts the other day.  I have a bunch of Sheaffer sections and feeds, and some other stuff that came out of the Sheaffer service center that needed to be sorted and stored so that they can breathe, not in closed plastic bags.  Long story there…   I had to put the rack together, and as I did so my mind wandered a bit (it didn’t require a lot of concentration), and I got to thinking about the crummy instructions.  I relied more on the pictures on the box than the instructions or the pictures contained therein.  I think that there is a special purgatory for people who write instructions like that…  or there ought to be.

I concluded that if you’re going to buy something from Harbor Freight (AKA the Toy Store) you need to have at least some level of mechanical skill before you start.  That thought lead me to thinking about a review of a part on the Radio Shack web site.

Before leaving my job of 25 years to repair pens full time, I was a radio engineer.  I built a fair number of translators, and  3 radio stations, engineering the whole project for WMHQ up on the northern border of NY state.   I still go out on the odd service call, just to keep myself up to date.
Broadcast engineers joke about the engineering mantra;  “If all else fails, read the instructions.”  I have to admit that to a certain extent that’s true, and we often get away with it.  The reason is that by the time you get to work on a transmitter or install a system you usually have a fair bit of experience, and have worked with other engineers over many years.   Radio engineers specialize in repairing weird stuff.   Many of the best ones are self taught.   We specialize in walking into what is a baffling situation for everyone else, sorting it out, and making things work, sometimes with little or no documentation to guide us.  BUT, as I said before, we also have a lot of experience with the systems that we encounter, or we know who to ask…  and we do look for manuals.

Back to Radio Shack (engineering joke: “Radio Shack.  You have questions?  We have batteries.”)  I was on  their web site looking for a simple RCA connector, plastic, with solder terminals.  I’ve used the things for almost 30 years.  Why they have “reviews” of basic parts like this I can’t fathom, but they do.  What entertained me though was the whine in a review that “there are no INSTRUCTIONS!”  The response in my head was “well, no, there wouldn’t be.”  The reason is that there are some things that are very basic, and a certain level of  understanding is assumed.  Buy a switch or a connector,  and chances are that you know how to use it and if you don’t,  you know where to find out  (this really was a common-as-dirt part).

Do we really have to spoon feed information to the next generation, especially when there is the Internet and the power of search engines to help us?  Want to know what the pin out for an Apple iPod connector is, it’s out there.  Want to know what the pin out is for a USB connector, and what the standards are for the power supplied?  It’s easy to find.  Need to know the color code and pin-out for a CAT-5 cable?  No problem.  So why are we whining about how to use a simple, common, every day, decades-old-design part?

A young man that I know was complaining that everyone in his Physics course got a 76 or below on the most recent test.  My question was, is it because (as he put it) the instructor didn’t teach the material well enough, or because the student(s) hadn’t even taken the wrapper off of the text book?

Food for thought.

Comments are closed.