Thursday, 2 October 2008

Mass storage, single instruction

Prayer book, Ladakh, August 2008

A rant about instruction manuals.

I've just finished installing mass storage on a wireless network - a Buffalo TeraStation on an 802.11n wireless, run on Edimax 6504 wireless routers. Now it's working, it's going well. It has taken all day to get the first back-up run, but that's the price one pays for going the slow data route. I have my own reasons for needing to do this wirelessly. But that's not the point here.

The problem I have is with the instructions that come with the various devices. Admittedly I'm doing something a little unusual - tagging a single, Linux OS device on the end of a wireless set-up, without other computers. However, the instructions with both devices assume that I'm going down a very basic set-up and I'm not talking about the quick-install guides but the full-blown manuals. It is as if there is only one way to use the kit, despite the many features and options.

I remember back in the good old DOS days spending days tuning settings with the extensive paper manual in hand. Every option explained - what and why - so that I could figure out how best to put it all together. Of course in this plug-and-play world, life has become easier. but networking is like DOS was 15 years ago - full of fine tuning of setting for specific implementations. optimisation and tweak. I quite enjoy all that. But there is no technical description. The instructions give a step-by-step on what to do and what should happen, but if one step doesn't happen as described there is precious little further help. Certainly nothing like a proper technical breakdown of all the options and their uses. Online "information" sites are little extra use - if you're not doing the standard thing, tough luck.

This doesn't just go for these products - pretty much all technical devices now have instruction manuals designed for 5 year-olds, with no extra help for the tech-savvy amongst us (or merely the user with an above-average IQ), who needs some extra help. I feel like I need learn some secret handshake to get any more.

Fortunately, in the network case, I found an online forum where a guy had done almost the exact thing I have, with the same devices, and described the settings. I pretty much copied them (with a couple of minor adjustments) and it all seemed to work. But I'm sure I could be getting more out of it all.

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