July 16th, 2004

Macbeth the Usurper

The Magic Serpent

Last night, I watched an obscure Japanese film called The Magic Serpent. This is a fantasy film from the 60's. The thing which struck me hardest was the whole Star Warsiness of the thing. This film really smacks you with the clue bat concerning just how much Lucas took from this genre. It's one thing to know that he swiped from samurai films, but it's another to see just how glaring this was.

I won't accuse him of stealing, though. If I did that, I would have to accuse EVERY Japanese samurai film maker of stealing from each other. The idea of a genre is that YOU ARE taking ideas from every other person making films in that genre. It's like open software. You take stuff from the genre, then you put stuff back into the genre. Everyone wins. (Yeah! The creative commons!)

I will say that Lucas was smart in dropping the whole giant monster angle.

No. Forget that. The Death Star was the giant monster.
Macbeth the Usurper

RTFM

All you techies out there know this -- RTFM -- the the fucking manual. Well, I'm about to rant about that.

You see, some people learn by watching. Some people learn by listening. Some people learn by reading. Some people learn by doing. No amount of saying RTFM will change this fact. By stating RTFM over and over again, what you are saying is that it's the other person's fault for not learning well.

Let me tell you a little about manuals: they stink. I picked up a manual for one product some years back and could not find any explanation about what that product actually did. None. Not one word. The manual told me how great the product was, but not what it did.

The second thing about manuals is that they contain a whole lot of data and bad indexes. Assuming that they have the indexes, you assume that I have the vocabulary to correctly pick out the proper word. I'm quite technically literate, but when all the software makers use different words for the same thing, it can get challenging to actually find a reference to that thing. Image how much worse it is when I don't know the vocabulary at at. And how do I get the vocabulary? I'm supposed to read the manual. Which section? I'm supposed to know the vocabulary. Get the picture?

Manuals don't actually teach you what to do with something. "Enter your confabulation host name here." Then you spend forever trying to find out the name of this thing. The manual replaced one item of unknown knowledge with a different item of unknown knowledge. Hardly useful.

When a person is hip-deep in a "do it now" problem, they are thinking and moving fast. Their other pressures are distracting them from doing good work. They are researching while people are calling and asking them how their fix is going.

Finally, most people think, "Hmmm. I don't know how to do something. I'll ask someone who does." This is called social networking and is a very effective way of gathering information and learning. It's the socially acceptable way to find information: You go ask the expert! They can answer your questions faster and more effectively than anyone else. And what do we as experts tend to say? RTFM!!!

So the next time someone is ignorant and asking you a question, have a little mercy. They may have cognitive trouble learning from text, be confused by badly worded text, be confused as to which words to put in for this system as opposed to some other system that the text does not explain, or just would rather do the quick and acceptable thing and ask the appropriate person.