Monday, June 26, 2006

The Myth of "Self-Explanatory"

Last week, I got what I thought would be the niftiest gadget in the world for helping me with my writing -- a combination digital dicta-stick and USB Flash. Very cool.

We ordered it after much looking around on-line. It records and then downloads an MP3 file directly on your computer. Just imagine the possibilities.

Well, I am still imagining. What I will now call "the Device" arrived promptly. I opened it with great hopes of promptly using it...

And looked fruitlessly for a "How To Use This Device" manual.

None came with it.

Now, if my MILK CARTON contains directions for use ("Push here. Fold here. Pour here."), I don't think I'm being unreasonable to want something that I'm going to insert into an orifice in my computer to provide the same service.

The Device has 8 buttons on it. After inserting a AAA battery and twiddling around with it, I have discovered:

A.) How to change the back light color from purple to seafoam green to red and back to purple again.

B.) How to change the setting for how long said back light remains lit.

C.) How to click between each of the 7 menus ("Music," "System," "Telephone," "Text," and more).

D.) How to twiddle between some of the submenus.

But I can't even figure out how to change the date (it's January 2, 2005, according to the Device). I did get (VERY) brave and plug the thing into my computer, in the hopes that perhaps it contained a file on "use and care."

It didn't. But it came pre-loaded with "Like a Virgin." Got that to play, but can't figure out how to unlock the Device to trash the song.

The Device is NOT self-explanatory. My wonderful, geek-boy husband could probably spend 10 minutes with it and figure out how to use it for what I want. But that doesn't mean that he would have learned all there is to know about it.

Besides, these days, with electronics being so complex, who has the time to spend in trial and error? It's a tool. Not a codex with a map leading to fame and fortune, where half the fun of the journey is getting there.

We'll get online today and see if there is a user's manual available for downloading. There has to be. Right?

In addition to ranting about time-savers that turn out to be time-wasters, my experience with the Device has illustrated the importance of spelling out how to do something. Often, when you're talking about a subject with which you are familiar, it's easy to forget that not everyone knows as much as you. It's always a good idea to spell things out for people who might need a refresher course. Those who don't need it can always skip that part.

The only negative review I've read of Geoff's new book was a rant by someone (not a "real" critic, but a "real" reader) who took issue with the fact that he took time to cover the basics. She was insulted that he explained how a student should adjust his or her stirrups while riding, for instance.

But the advice was clearly intended to show students how to make the most of the time they spend in a lesson: If you've paid for it, don't waste time fritzing with your tack. Here's how to quickly change your stirrup length. This frees you up to pay attention to your instructor.

In any discipline, in any field, there are a lot more people who don't know a thing than people who do. As writers, if we write about a topic, it's our responsibility to make sure the reader has the opportunity to learn enough to make good use of that information.

More thoughts on this tomorrow.

Project Updates

Early this morning, I'm going to the printers to look at a test run of mock-ups for Carol of the Horse. Our designer has done a beautiful job laying out the project and making it look good. I can't wait to see it in print.

I finished the illustration and photo lists for Dr. Warson's back book project. Now our photographer, illustrator, and Dr. Warson can look at the lists and see how they can start crossing items off.

The project is out of my hands for a few weeks, at least. I'll do an edit of the whole book in the middle of July, before our final photo shoot. Then Dr. Warson and I can discuss nitty-gritty word selection and exercise explanations. For the most part, however, the book is done. (Yay!)

I met with my friend who is an expert on the subject the book I re-wrote for He Who Will Not Call covers. She gave me the expert's take on it, which is great, since I am by NO stretch of the imagination well-versed in the field. She's very happy with the content. I can't tell you how happy that makes me, and how much more comfortable I am with the project.

Things are happening quickly. Three book projects finished (to some degree) over the weekend. Life is good.