Saturday, September 1, 2007

Odds -n- Ends

There are several things I've been wanting to post about, but none that warrant an entire post all to themselves--so here's a little clearinghouse of thoughts and recommendations.

First off, I just finished reading The Exception and wanted to throw in my two cents on top of Rhian's buck fifty from last week. This is really a terrific book, and I highly recommend it. As soon as I realized it was a novel about workplace bullying, I was instantly envious--this is an amazing subject, and Jungersen cleverly uses the microcosm of the office to explore big truths about the nature of evil. He also employs the bizarrely direct tactic of including little essays on the topic in the text of the novel, ostensibly written and published by the main characters. I must say I appreciated it; the essays were fascinating. My only complaint is that the ending, while it certainly satisfies as the culmination of a thriller, imposes itself from without, and I couldn't help but wish that the book had managed to wrap itself up without leaving the hothouse of its setting. In any event, a great read, and very scary.

Second, I wanted to recommend the Drawn & Quarterly Showcase series, a kind of short-fiction literary magazine for cartoonists. I've got books two and three and now need to go back and find the first one--great little stories from up and coming artists and writers, brimming with the vitality that this new art form seems to have an endless supply of.

Finally, and OK, this could have been its own post, but I can't think of enough good examples to support it, I'd like to say that product manuals just aren't what they used to be. Time was, you could buy something, and the manual would include a concise little history of that thing, and put the item into some kind of practical context. These days it isn't unusual for manuals (often poorly translated) to actually serve as an impediment to using the item, as is the case with the documentation for the Oregon Scientific WMR968 Cable Free Complete Weather Station, a great item that is almost impossible to install. I got this thing for Rhian for her birthday, and it is now working great, but it took me weeks to buckle down and figure it out, and the manual was no help at all, packed as it was with references to nonexistent parts, incorrect assembly techniques, and misleading usage tips.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you're into home audio recording, there are some great product manuals out there, like the free-to-download Mastering With Ozone guide, from iZotope, Inc. "Mastering" is the process music is put through before being committed to CD and sold in stores; it seeks to eliminate errors in the recording and give it greater impact when heard on your stereo. It's a rather arcane science, difficult and many-faceted, and this guide not only explains Ozone, the mastering software it serves as the manual for, but what mastering is, why it's done, and whether it's even necessary. It might be the best product manual I've ever read.

This is probably not likely to be very interesting to the average reader, but why can't your hammer come with something like this as well? Your toaster? Your coffee maker? Why can't manufacturers go the extra mile and provide a context for the stuff you own, making the experience of owning and using it more rich and interesting? Perhaps they feel that this would prevent you from throwing it out and buying another one in six months.

5 comments:

the individual voice said...

Obviously, manufacturers need to hire real writers and pay them real writers' salaries. They would sell more product just for the bonus of getting a manual written by a Real Writer that might include mystery, character, conflict, tension, plot that help to not bore the reader to death plodding through the instructions.

ybonesy said...

The Exception sounds good. Workplace bullying. Maybe that's the term for what I see happening in my corporate environment. I have wondered for a long time if moving up the ladder means you leave behind common courtesy. Our VPs are lethal. Maybe it's a corporate culture thing.

p.s., I found your blog via the individual voice. She seems to have good taste ; - ).

jrlennon said...

Thanks, Indy!

Of course manufacturers are not going to hire real writers...but it would be nice to live in a world where they did. I think the experience of buying and owning something has in general been degraded, with the focus shifting away from having and using the thing, and toward the act of buying, which is supposed to be cathartic or something.

the individual voice said...

You are absolutely right. Nothing is meant to last very long. Everything we buy is disposable, including cheap paperbacks that aren't so cheap anymore.

the individual voice said...

Oh, and thanks for the compliment ybonesy. I think of my blog tastes as very eclectic.