Dummies books

Subject: Dummies books
From: Kristina Ricks <kristina_ricks -at- MAIL -dot- MEDICALOGIC -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 25 Jan 1996 15:40:48 PST

Ok, I admit it, I'm a tech writer.

I also am a proud owner of UNIX for Dummies.

When I stared in a development group of programmers/QA where I was the
only writer, and UNIX was the spoken jargon, I was lost. My co-workers
would kindly explain things to me that flew over my head, and we'd
both go away frustrated after half an hour of not understanding. Yes,
I felt like a dummy, and no other manual started from that premise.

I loved the fact that this book started from the point of view that
UNIX is inconsistent, hard to use, arcane, and in many ways
ridiculous. For once, I found somewhere that didn't treat UNIX as a
holy icon that is only fit for the initiated. (And if you aren't
initiated, perhaps you shouldn't be in this profession anyway...)

I read it cover to cover. It was wonderful. I also eventually outgrew
it, and found some other textbooks that went on from there. But for
where I was at that time, that book was what I needed. The tone was
not intimidating, I felt like a dummy anyway, and that book addressed
that. The book reassured me that I was still perfectly intelligent,
and UNIX was a weird construct that had grown up over time (sometimes
in the dark like mushrooms). With that out of the way, here's how UNIX
thinks about...

I still remember the quote "UNIX cares _passionately_ about upper and
lower case". Yes, perhaps it's not correct in some circles to
personify UNIX and give it feelings, but in the heat of trying to do
something, I could swear it did have feelings, usually malevolent
ones.

The other thing I noticed about that book... it was my most frequently
borrowed (sometimes stolen) book on my shelf. By other writers, by new
QA people, by the department secretary, by everyone but the
programmers. They'd see the title, their eyes would light up, and
"Please oh please can I borrow that?!"

Anyway, I think there's something to be said for a familiar style,
cartoons, etc., used well and for the right audience. Once again, know
the audience. All of these communication issues are not black and
white, many methods are not so bad as to be _NEVER_ used... never is a
heck of a long time.

[climbing back off my soapbox...]

Kristina Ricks


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