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Geoff Grace

Do You Read the Manual?

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In this age of plentiful video tutorials, forums, third-party books, and other sources of information, do you read owner's manuals? If so, how much of the manual do you read? If not, what do you do to learn about the products you use to make music?

 

This thread was prompted by the current Sounding Off column in Sound On Sound:

 

Sounding Off: RTFM. Please, RTFM!

 

The article prompted me to reexamine how often I refer to manuals now, compared to 20 years ago when I used to read most if not all of the manuals for my products. Now, I refer to them as needed and little more. Part of it is because I access the alternative sources I mentioned above and part is because I have more software than I can keep track of, let alone get to know thoroughly.

 

What about you? Do you read the manual?

 

Best,

 

Geoff

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For software I usually read the more introductory parts, but for hardware, which is still mostly what I'm about, I read the manual more in depth.

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I don't learn very well from videos. Grasping overall concepts aren't hard for me (either from watching an introductory video or just figuring it out on my own) but detailed procedures in a video go right in one eye and out the other. With a printed manual in front of me (which, these days, may be a printed page or two from the PDF manual), I can keep referring to it until I figure out what I'm trying to do.

 

But generally, if something is difficult enough to use that I have to keep referring to the manual, I quickly decide that it's not something that I really need to use. But, yes, I do read manuals and believe that everyone else should, too.

 

It's too bad that things are getting so complex that good manuals are difficult to write and produce. The first or second thing I do when I get into a rental car is look around for the owner's manual to see how to turn off function that blows the horn whenever I lock or unlock the doors with the remote switch. It's often a multiple-step procedure (though on some cars I've found it in a menu on the radio) and finding it in the 250 page manual is often the most difficult step.

 

 

 

 

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I used to read manuals. That was before they became a sad testimony to our legal system and political correctness. Three pages of info, separated into 25 pages by WARNING, CAUTION, DANGER! headings that explain all the ways your latest widget can kill you and those around you, and then multiplied by 8 languages.

 

It's usually simpler to just randomly work the controls until you achieve the desired outcome.

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Many of the manuals that come with pieces of gear are more like trying to crack a cypher code. I used to write service manuals so they could easily be understood by technicians. I think allot of these multi lingual manuals are all done by computer programs now and the terminology/readability can be awful. Its like letting Google translate a page for you. Many of the words just don't roll over the way you'd expect them too and the companies that import the gear are too cheap to hire people who can rewrite the text so it can be easily understood.

 

I been battling with a Little Vox effects unit lately that came with a minimal multi lingual user manual. The units design isn't bad but there's so many options built in that utilize just a few multi function knobs. Math and science isn't taught the same way in foreign countries so literal computer translation of an original manual often winds up being a convoluted mess.

 

I can say they have gotten better over the years as these translation programs have gotten better. You used to find some hilarious words thrown in that didn't translate over correctly, but they still have a long way to go before they can actually replace the editing of a good technical writer.

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With my DAW, I have the pdf manual (runs well over 1,000 pages) and 3 or 4 times a year I'll just browse with a pad of paper for making notes on stuff I should try out. Once every few years I even do the same with spreadsheet and word processing - it's actually embarrassing how many great features I don't use because I stay stuck in one mode of doing things. Browsing the manual is my best way of breaking up old patterns and finding new, better ways to get things done.

 

Gizmos do tend to have really difficult or even useless manuals. Sometimes they are engineer-written which means they are written correctly, but for the very peculiar engineer-type brain. Those can actually be great manuals once you can learn to read them. They are like using algebra to teach someone how to paint.

 

nat whilk ii

 

 

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Some people are more technically inclined than other people. My brother was always the type who could just assemble or figure out some gizmo without even cracking open the manual. Myself on the other hand is lost without reading the manual - "A inserts into B while twisting C" etc..

 

When it comes to software based stuff I'm even worse and can't figure out a lot of functions even with the manual sitting in front of me. That's one of the reasons I don't upgrade my computer as often as I would like because I don't like dealing with the learning curve of new software, I'm still on Sonar 7 and frequently will have to consult the pdf. Most of the time it's something that I've done before but have forgotten how to do it because I do it so infrequently.

 

And I just hate menu based gadgets. Can't do a simple task because I can't find the right page to do it with. I keep my cell phone and car manuals in my glove compartment. My phone will frequently flash some indicator and I have no idea what it means.

 

Just this morning my dashboard had an indicator lit so I pulled the car over to consult the manual. It said my key was either wet or dirty . When I pulled the key out I saw a tiny piece of pocket lint on it.

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Just this morning my dashboard had an indicator lit so I pulled the car over to consult the manual. It said my key was either wet or dirty . When I pulled the key out I saw a tiny piece of pocket lint on it.

 

Now THAT'S Too Much Information.

 

 

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Manuals ... We Don't Need No Stinkin' Manuals!

 

I really wish I could agree with that. Things should be designed so that if you have an idea of what it's supposed to do, you should be able to figure out how to make it do that without too much trouble. Menus are a poor substitute for both dedicated controls and manuals. So often, menus are in jargon which should be familiar but not always is. Then I have to look in the manual to learn the vocabulary, and often as not the manual reads the same as the menu.

 

"To veeblefitz, select VFTZ from the DUHIKY menu"

 

How am I to know that fading out an audio file is "veeblefitzing" on this gadget if the manual doesn't tell me?

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A lot depends on who writes, or more correctly, translates the manual. Not long ago I got my ham license and ordered a little portable radio to play around with. Here is the instructions on the 'Squelch' setting:

"The squelch mute the speaker when no signal transceiver reception extending the duration of the battery"

 

Or to set the steps between frequencies

"Schedule frequent breaks to select the receive and transmit frequency adequate."

 

These were some of the easier ones to figure out. It took a while to sort through some others.

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Geoff, I love ya man... but you're so old school. The correct procedure if you don't understand something is to go to the manufacturer's forum, and start a thread about how much the product sucks, and how it's broken and doesn't work. It's also important to title the thread correctly. For example, bad form in a thread title:

 

Can't seem to get Omnisphere to respond to aftertouch

 

Good form in a thread title:

 

OMNISPHERE SUCKS!!!!!!!!!! MIDI BROKEN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

Make sure that within the body of the thread, you make vague threats about how you're going to switch to Kontakt, because of course everyone in that forum is hanging on your every decision. If you switch to Kontakt, they will ALL switch to Kontakt...such is the power you wield. Spectrasonics will tremble in fear!

 

And remember, proper follow-up is equally important. When someone helpful comes into the forum and explains how to enable aftertouch response, DO NOT say thank you! That reveals that you are a rank amateur in interwebz protocols. Instead, just disappear and do not respond at all.

Edited by Anderton
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But seriously...

 

The PDF manual changed my life. First, I can store it on an iPad with all my other manuals. Second, it has Search, which is like the Index of the Gods on Steroids. These days, much gear is fairly intuitive so I can deal with the basics. However, from time to time I'll search on various functions that are important to me, and learn more about them.

 

Although paper manuals have their place, when you're dealing with a DAW whose software is 1,000,000 times more complex that what went to the moon, I find PDFs far more helpful because of search and links to other sections in the manual. These days, I truly consider something like a DAW on the same level as a musical instrument...playing "Louie Louie" on a guitar isn't too hard, but doing Andres Segovia is a whole other matter. Right now as far as SONAR is concerned, I feel I'm about a 7 on a scale of 10 in terms of knowing the program, and I've been using it for 15+ years. The manual is helpful in my efforts to achieve at least 8.

 

Ableton has a really smart way of doing manuals. When I did the manual for Live, I created a single document and it ended up as tool tips, the help menus, the online version, etc. They had this sort of "Rosetta Stone" of manuals procedure figured out.

 

Great topic BTW. These days if someone at a seminar says they read one of my manuals, I joke and say "Oh, so YOU'RE the one who read the manual!! Thank you!!" However, I'm not sure that's a joke any more, it may be a factual statement...

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What I like are the warning messages.

 

WARNING!! Do not use batteries as suppositories for farm animals.

Caution: Do not use the AC line cord to tie up boats to moorings.

Danger: Do not dispose of gear by breaking into small pieces and eating, or feeding to cats.

Do not bring unit into bathtub, it is not a bath toy.

 

ACHTUNG !! Verwenden Sie keine Batterien als Zäpfchen für Nutztiere.

Vorsicht: Verwenden Sie nicht das Netzkabel zu binden Boote Liegeplätzen.

Danger: Nicht von Getriebe verfügen nicht in kleine Stücke brechen und essen, oder Fütterung von Katzen.

Nicht in die Badewanne zu bringen Einheit, ist es nicht ein Badespielzeug.

 

ATTENTION!! Ne pas utiliser de piles sous forme de suppositoires pour animaux de ferme.

Attention: Ne pas utiliser le cordon secteur pour attacher des bateaux pour amarres.

Danger: Ne jetez pas des engins en brisant en petits morceaux et de manger, ou l'alimentation pour les chats.

Ne pas apporter l'unité dans la baignoire, il est pas un jouet de bain.

 

ADVERTENCIA !! No utilice pilas en forma de supositorios para animales de granja.

Precaución: No utilice el cable de línea de CA para amarrar barcos de amarres.

Peligro: No se deshaga de las artes al romper en pedazos pequeños y comer, o alimentar a los gatos.

No traiga unidad en la bañera, no es un juguete de baño.

 

WARNING!!農場の動物のための坐剤として電池は使用しないでください。

注意:係留に船を拘束するためにACラインコードを使用しないでください。

危険:小片に破壊し、食べること、または猫に供給することにより、ギアを処分しないでください。

浴槽の中にユニットを持っていない、それはお風呂のおもちゃではありません。

 

警告!不使用电池作为栓剂用于农场动物。

注意:不要使用交流电源线,以配合船只最多停泊。

危险:请勿破成小块,吃,喂养或猫处置齿轮。

不要带单元放入浴缸,它不是一个洗澡玩具。

 

DIGNIIN !! Ha isticmaalin bateriga sida dabada u yahay xoolo beer.

Digniin: Ha isticmaalin line xadhig AC si ay u soo wareegaan doonyo si moorings.

Danger: Ha ku tuurin marsho jebiyey burburi iyo cunista, ama quudinta bisadaha.

Ha unit soo gelin qubeyska, waxa aanan aheyn alaabta qubeyska.

 

ЕСКЕРТУ !! Ауыл шаруашылығы малдарына арналған суппозиторийлер ретінде батареяларды қолданбаңыз.

Абайлаңыз: айлақ қайық байланыстыру айнымалы ток желісінің сымын пайдаланбаңыз.

Қауіпті: кішкене кесектерге және тамақтану бұзу, немесе мысықтарды үшін азықтандыру арқылы Кесуші тастамаңыз.

Бұл монша ойыншық емес, ванна енген әкелсеңіз болмайды.

 

 

 

 

 

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Geoff, my profound apologies for hijacking your intelligent and interesting thread. It's been a looooooooong day. But at least I did give one serious response.

 

And actually, the point you raise begs further discussion, like what IS the best way to learn a piece of really complex gear? Like Mike, videos just don't do it for me compared to leafing through text, whether paper or PDF. Yet I've been told time and time again that's how people "consume" knowledge these days.

 

So I guess my question isn't so much about reading manuals, but whether there's a better way to learn gear these days that what served us well back in the 20th century.

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Like Mike, videos just don't do it for me compared to leafing through text, whether paper or PDF. Yet I've been told time and time again that's how people "consume" knowledge these days.

 

 

Actually I think videos could be useful if they were done right. I've learned a lot of stuff on YouTube but the problem is finding the information you are looking for. Typically user videos might be nine and a half minutes of some kid with a funny accent speaking very slowly with really bad techno music pounding in the background. First he spends about three minutes telling what he is going to show you then maybe just maybe if you wait long enough and are lucky enough he will get to a part that is useful and explain what you were looking for. If not you have to sit through another one. Of course the manufactures own videos are usually even longer and worse.

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Craig, that's the best laugh I've had all week! biggrin.gif

 

The WARNING translations were the pièce de résistance. :thu:

 

No apologies necessary, my friend!

 

Best,

 

Geoff

Edited by Geoff Grace
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Thanks Geoff. It's great having you and others coming back to visit HC. Word is getting around. More to come.

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Actually I think videos could be useful if they were done right. I've learned a lot of stuff on YouTube but the problem is finding the information you are looking for. Typically user videos might be nine and a half minutes of some kid with a funny accent speaking very slowly with really bad techno music pounding in the background. First he spends about three minutes telling what he is going to show you then maybe just maybe if you wait long enough and are lucky enough he will get to a part that is useful and explain what you were looking for. If not you have to sit through another one. Of course the manufactures own videos are usually even longer and worse.

 

I did a couple DVD-length videos for Cakewalk that did extremely well, but your response above tells me why. The videos were broken into short chapters, and there was a PDF explaining what was in each chapter so you knew which chapter to hit. They were also scripted and edited (!) so there wasn't any wasted time. Unfortunately, though, it's very time-consuming to do the scripting and editing, which is probably why more people don't do videos that way.

 

 

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The PDF manual changed my life. First' date=' I can store it on an iPad with all my other manuals. Second, it has Search, which is like the Index of the Gods on Steroids.[/quote']

​I like having the PDFs on my iPad because they're more portable, and they don't get in the way of onscreen interaction with the software I'm coming to grips with the way PDFs on my computer did.

 

Also, tablet PDFs are just as portable as hard copy owner's manuals—in some ways even more so in that you can carry as many owner's manuals as you need at once. As a result, I almost never open an old fashioned paper manual anymore.

 

Like Mike' date=' videos just don't do it for me compared to leafing through text, whether paper or PDF. Yet I've been told time and time again that's how people "consume" knowledge these days.[/quote']

I like videos in that they convey the experience of using the gear better than the manual, but they're less searchable and less thorough—somewhat akin to the way a movie is an abridged version of the book. My favorite videos are those that take the viewer into new turf that the manual didn't explore.

 

And actually' date=' the point you raise begs further discussion, like what IS the best way to learn a piece of really complex gear? So I guess my question isn't so much about reading manuals, but whether there's a better way to learn gear these days that what served us well back in the 20th century.[/quote']

The forums and videos on the Internet to some degree have replaced the old system of second engineering that studios more commonly provided in the 20th century. Knowledge is more commonly available than before, but the signal to noise ratio involved in dispensing that knowledge has become much more clamorous.

 

Waves likes to post videos of expert users demo'ing their plug-ins, which gives a glimpse of the second engineer's perspective watching the magic unfold on a hit session.

 

The tutorials that existed in magazines back in the 20th century are more commonly being supplemented these days by free software and soundfiles—in publications such as Computer Music—enabling users to get the same results (in something of a paint by numbers fashion) as the authors.

 

Best,

 

Geoff

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Looking further down the road, I can imagine a day when a Siri on steroids acts as a tutor, answering questions verbally while loading information from an owner's manual into "her" memory.

 

Best,

 

Geoff

Edited by Geoff Grace

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A lot depends on who writes' date=' or more correctly, [i']translates[/i] the manual. Not long ago I got my ham license and ordered a little portable radio to play around with. Here is the instructions on the 'Squelch' setting:

"The squelch mute the speaker when no signal transceiver reception extending the duration of the battery"

 

Well, at least that's correct, though the extension of battery life is probably negligable.

 

Or to set the steps between frequencies

"Schedule frequent breaks to select the receive and transmit frequency adequate."

 

That's probably good advice. A fried of mine has a handheld 2-meter transceiver that's so tedious to store preferred frequencies that it's good to take frequent breaks when setting a new transceiver up for your favorite nets.

 

When I was getting ready for retirement and had hoped to find a job in the audio industry (preferably in California so they'd pay to move me), I interviewed with Roland for the job of rewriting English versions of the English translated manuals that they were getting from Japan. Before they had me come out for an interview, they e-mailed me a few paragraphs to rewrite. They liked what I did, and liked me, but decided that they needed to hire someone who worked more with keyboards than I do (which, honestly, is practically none).

 

At that time, they would occasionally contract out a manual rewrite. Craig did a few, as did Paul Lehrman and probably a couple of other household names at the time. It's been so long since I've seen a Roland manual that I don't know if they're any better. I do remember that after they hired someone else for the job I had interviewed for, comments on the forums were that the manuals coming out of Roland US weren't really much better than they used to be. I guess there's only so much you can do without rewriting the whole thing.

 

 

 

 

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What I like are the warning messages.

 

WARNING!! Do not use batteries as suppositories for farm animals.

Caution: Do not use the AC line cord to tie up boats to moorings.

Danger: Do not dispose of gear by breaking into small pieces and eating, or feeding to cats.

Do not bring unit into bathtub, it is not a bath toy.

 

It's not just with electronic equipment. Southwest Airlines' peanut bags contained the warning in small print: "Warning. Contains peanuts."

 

And sometimes warnings are graphic. On the bottom of my Zoom H2 recorder, next to the tripod socket, there's a little drawing of what looks like a paper coffee cup with an X across it. Does that mean that you shouldn't pour coffee into the tripod socket?

 

I think it's supposed to be a trash can to remind you not to throw old batteries in the trash. Or maybe it means not to throw the recorder in the trash no matter how frustrated you get with the menus.

 

 

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