Manuals only make your life easier

Posted Dec. 24, 2010, at 8:13 p.m.

Many years ago in one of my previous lives, I worked at a TV repair shop.

This was at a time when there were things that were repairable in TVs.

A lot of the work that this particular shop did was warranty work for local department stores.

My employer would drive over to a store like Zayre and load the van up with TV sets. It would be packed.

Warranty work did not pay well, but there was volume. And most of the work was really simple. I mean really, really simple.

At the time, 12-inch transistorized black and white TVs were being sold for $49.

At least 20 percent of those repairs were due to someone hooking up the UHF antenna where the VHF antenna should have gone.

I suppose if you do not know the difference between the two antennas, this could easily happen. Instruction manuals would show the difference, but not many people would look at them. Or at least 20 percent of the people who bought the TVs would not look at the manual.

A few years later, I was in the solar business, manufacturing tanks for solar power systems. We would sell them all over the country as a kit, since they were simpler to ship that way.

Back in those olden days, we had only dot matrix printers and programs like MacPaint, so the directions had to be well-written and drawn. We did the best we could at the time.

One day, I received a phone call from a customer in California who purchased one of our tanks. He said it was bulging and could not figure out what the problem was.

After asking a lot of questions and having a very pleasant conversation with him, it became clear that he had assembled the tank backward, or more precisely, inside out.

This was really hard to do, but he had accomplished it. As the writer of the instructions, I felt at least somewhat responsible and sent him the replacement parts he needed to fix the problem. It was most of a new tank.

A couple of years ago, after a hiatus from the solar business, we started to manufacture a different tank. This one is more modular and is a complete kit. In 2008, we had the luxury of digital photography and color laser printing. As I worked through the new instruction manual, I felt it was wise to include a lot of photos and make them all in color. This would certainly help to avoid confusion.

And it does, for the most part. Although every so often someone calls to ask a question that is already in print or a picture. So then we go back and re-work the instructions. But that is my job, and I am glad that people call and ask questions. It’s the people who do not ask who get into mischief.

This can be a guy thing, although both genders can be susceptible.

Why bring all this up? Well, this morning, or whenever you are reading this, you might be dealing with something like what I dealt with when my children were little — assembling that ever-so-pink Barbie House from Hell or the Millennium Falcon or, heaven forbid a UHF/VHF HDTV hookup. Keep Barbie happy, read the manual, take your time and don’t lose any of those little parts.

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I just wanted to take a moment to thank all my readers for your support and kind thoughts over the past couple of years. This will be my last column for the BDN.

As one who has always considered English a second language, I truly appreciate the support and encouragement that I have received from the staff and editors at the BDN.

I would also like to thank Mark Woodward for his help getting me started and in allowing me to share my thoughts through this column.

You can still keep up with our antics on www.hotandcold.tv and www.americansolartechnics.com. If you like, we can e-mail you our tank assembly manual with full color pictures.

Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous New Year.

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