Re: The Ancestral Territorial Imperatives of the Trumpeter Swan

Subject: Re: The Ancestral Territorial Imperatives of the Trumpeter Swan
From: Ken Poshedly <poshedly -at- bellsouth -dot- net>
To: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>, TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Date: Tue, 30 Mar 2010 10:38:28 -0700 (PDT)

Oooooh! The Franklin Ace -- my first desktop computer (because I couldn't afford anything else). That thing included a CP/M card for "true" IBM-like computing and introduced me to WordStar by MicroPro (as well as the host of other MicroPro programs).

And yep, that nice plastic-binder manual WAS a joy to sit and peruse as time permitted.

I made telephone friends with a one of the Franklin tech support guys and later got him a job in marketing here in Atlanta with the now-defunct Quadram Corp. in the mid-1980s (where I was tech writer for two years before the company began to flounder and finally fail). In one way, I owe my career change from sometimes-employed business editor up north to almost-always-employed tech writer down south.

With those early computer skills, I got my first tech writing job in my hometown up north and then moved here to continue. My friend (Rick, who moved from marketing with Quadram to outside sales with a worldwide photocopier company) told me those were the days when court decisions about intellectual property rights as they pertained to computer technology was still pretty much new territory. If I recall correctly, my friend said Apple sued Franklin over alleged infringement of propietary computer programming (because of the DOS system that was shipped with its Ace computer line); Franklin appealed and won; then it went back and forth before money resources were a drain and Franklin threw in the towel. I don't know who should have won, but Franklin dropped its computer line and started its line of electronic spell-checkers. (Are they still around?)

The other point is that perhaps the first and most conversational, humorous and truly informative tech manual I'd ever seen had to be the still-reknowned and spiral-bound "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive, A Manual of Step-by-Step Procedures for the Compleat Idiot" by John Muir (now deceased). (Note spelling of "Compleat".) Today, it's affectionally still called "the idiot book" by just about every true VW enthusiast.

>From it's unacceptable (by today's standards) folksy and lengthy diatribes on what makes a VW go to its presentation of procedures (organized with symptom, tools needed, parts needed and then the procedure), and it's great line-art drawings and tongue-in-cheek suggestions only a VW owner could appreciate ("Running late? Leave earlier."), it moved me (a totally clueless clod with tools doing a first-ever brake adjustment) to a full engine rebuild (by necessity) in only six months. That success kept me going and helped me combine my writing/explaining skills with my ability to quickly learn mechanical concepts and successfully pass that info on to others as tech manuals.

The familiar "xxxx for Idiots" books now seen almost everywhere probably got their start on the coattails of the first real "idiot book" by the late Mr. Muir. Any VW nuts out there with VW stories to share write to me off-list.

-- Kenpo in Atlanta

From: David Neeley <dbneeley -at- gmail -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com>
Sent: Tue, March 30, 2010 10:36:52 AM
Subject: The Ancestral Territorial Imperatives of the Trumpeter Swan

Believe it or not, that was the title used instead of "Getting
Started" in the early 1980s manual for the Franlin Ace 100 computer,
and for its replacement the Ace 1000.

See excerpts and why they used it in reproductions at the Ironic Sans blog.


Which brings me to something of a lament that most manuals today seem
to lack personality, let alone humor.

I have long been a fancier of a very conversational style for user
manuals (within reason, of course)--avoiding the stuffy verbiage that
so often seems to stem from an over-reliance on a legal department.

There's something about users enjoying a manual that seems to me to
mean it may be more memorable, inviting a user into it--and, with
luck, cutting down on user frustration and tech support overhead at
the same time.

I can imagine that most docs managers today would have a heart attack
over the Franklin approach, though.


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The Ancestral Territorial Imperatives of the Trumpeter Swan: From: David Neeley

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