AT LARGE: Can we fix it?

AT LARGE: Can we fix it?

I almost never read manuals. Some new toy - software, hardware, whatever - reaches my home and the last thing I want to do is read a book. I'm in there playing before you can say "support headache". Of course, when I do run into trouble I always RTFM before I call for support.

While I can't say I'm an expert on quality documentation, I know good from bad. So it was last weekend, while assembling yet another bunch of IKEA shelves, that I discovered truly bad documentation.

The first step was inventory: four bits of wood, two bits of metal, 16 long screws, four short screws, four yellow plastic things, four washers and an Allen key. All accounted for -- except the washers didn't get a mention in the manual. We shrugged this off and proceeded.

Step one: Attach the four bits of wood to the two bits of metal using the sixteen long screws and the Allen key. How's that for a step one?

It's like Microsoft saying that editing the Windows registry is very easy -- all you have to do is edit the Windows registry and then restart.

Step two involved hammering the yellow plastic things into the side units, then screwing the shelves on to the yellow plastic things. Only when the job was almost finished did we realise that the holes in the shelves were, in fact, larger than the heads of the screws. Someone at IKEA must have realised this also, and therefore included the washers, but no-one told whoever wrote the documentation.

In Microsoft-land this is what is known as a "Service Release". Only after you've installed the application, failed to get it working, reinstalled everything, failed again, and then in desperation called the helpdesk, do you find out that the problem is well-known and wouldn't have happened if you'd first downloaded the patch off the Web site. Silly you.

The problem with us techie types is we presume that the interface on any new toy will be "intuitive". Of course, "intuitive" really just means that the folks who made it know how it works as if it were second nature. If you're on their wavelength, it's "intuitive". If you're not, it's "badly designed".

Incidentally, it's now less than three months until my wedding, and I still don't have a venue for the reception. The best lead I've got is a place that's already booked on the day, but the lady at the booking office says it might become available -- the couple involved is having problems and may break up. It's probably bad karma, but I'm kinda hoping . . .

Otherwise I'll just buy bits from IKEA and build one.

Matthew JC. Powell is no-one's handyman. Home improvement tips to

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