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The problem with ‘simple’ instructions

December 18, 2016

Bottom line: Simple instructions are good, but don’t make them TOO simple. Include key prerequisites. Users familiar with the product may choose to ignore the instructions, but new users will thank you for them.

The problem with ‘simple’ instructions is they often leave out critical information, assuming that the user already knows it. But what if this is the first time you’ve used a product? Or if you just don’t know (or forget) how it connects to other stuff?

What prompted this post? I have an under-sink water filtration system — the previous one required a plumber to fit the replacement cartridges, but this new system (Puretec’s Puremix X6 System) allows the user to change the cartridge ‘like changing a light globe’. The system has been in place for 12 months now, so it was time for me to replace the cartridge.

The only instructions on the new cartridge’s box were ‘Quick-change cartridge, easy to replace — just like changing a light globe.’ That’s it. I thought there might be instructions on a leaflet inside the box, but no. Nothing. There was an instruction on the new cartridge itself — ‘Twist old cartridge from head [what’s the ‘head’??] and twist new cartridge into head until firmly sealed. After installing cartridge flush unit for 5-10 minutes.’ But that was it.

How hard can it be?, I thought.

Well, at least for the first time, much harder than the instructions lead you to believe!

I pulled the new cartridge out of the box and found it had a blue cap covering the top — do you remove this or not? For those big water bottles you get delivered, you DON’T remove the blue cap, but that was the only reference point I had. And remember, there were no clear instructions to tell me what to do.

So into the cupboard under the kitchen sink I went, removing all the paraphernalia in front of the existing cartridge. I untwisted the existing cartridge to remove it — and water gushed EVERYWHERE!!! Why? Because they didn’t tell me a key step before changing the cartridge and that’s to turn off the mains water to that unit!!! Yes, I should have realised this, but I’ve been sick the past few days, so my head’s not in a good place. But if I was a young 18-year-old in a rental apartment and had to change the cartridge, would I know to turn off the tap first, or even how to find/identify that tap?

After a few seconds of water gushing everywhere, I turned off the mains tap. Then I spent the next 10 minutes mopping up — fortunately, we had an old bath mat under the water cartridge in case of any minor leaks, and it absorbed most (but definitely not all) of the water.

OK, now everything’s mopped up and the water’s off, so I untwist the existing cartridge and remove it. That was pretty easy. I saw that the old one didn’t have a blue cap on it, so I figured I needed to remove the blue cap on the new one. This required powers of extrapolation, which my brain wasn’t dealing well with at all. Off came the cap.

Next, to seat the new cartridge in place of the old. Not so easy. Why? Because there are notches in the top of the cartridge and you have to line them up precisely with the static part of the system (that’d be the ‘head’, I figured). Fortunately, we didn’t have quite enough room under our sink for the plumber who originally installed the system to screw the ‘head’ to the back of the cupboard (as per their images on Puretec’s website), which meant I was able to turn it at an angle where I could see the notches that had to line up. After a few attempts, I got this right and was able to seat the new cartridge and twist it to tighten and seal it. I then turned the mains water tap for the filtration unit back on, then the tap for the water filter spout (which gave me fright by spitting air at me for a few seconds before the water came through), and then ran the tap for about 7 minutes, checking inside the cupboard to make sure there were no leaks.

It shouldn’t be this hard! The box the cartridge comes in, and the cartridge itself, are large and there’s plenty of ‘white space’ on them. To add a few steps would have prevented the issues I (and no doubt others) encountered.

Here are my steps for replacing a Puremix X6-R water cartridge:

  1. Turn off the mains water tap to the water filtration system; this is likely inside the cupboard below the system.
  2. Take the new cartridge out of the box and pull off the blue cap. Note the single and double notches on the ‘shoulder’ of the cartridge.
  3. Twist the old cartridge in an anti-clockwise direction (left) to remove it from the head unit.
  4. Position the new cartridge so that the notches line up with the corresponding parts of the head unit.
  5. When aligned, push the cartridge up into the head unit.
  6. Twist clockwise (right) to tighten fully.
  7. Turn on the mains tap.
  8. Turn on the tap of the water filter spout — wait a few seconds for the air to clear the line and water to start running, then leave the water running for 5 to 10 minutes to flush the new cartridge.

As a final step (not listed above), I’d also add some information on how to dispose of the cartridge appropriately — including whether the water inside it has to be drained or is sealed in there.

 

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Using Avidemux to split a video file

December 11, 2016

This blog post is for me, in case I forget how to do these steps! If it helps you, well and good, but it’s part of my brain dump for myself as it’s is only something I’ve done once before and had to relearn it for the second time I needed to use it.

Problem

My Samsung TV is from 2010, so it isn’t a ‘smart’ TV. Occasionally, we watch videos from an external hard drive. However, I think my TV has problems with large files (anything much over 2GB). No matter the format of the files (MP4, MKV, AVI etc.) they won’t even show on the TV as existing, if they’re over ~2GB (I’m not sure what the magic number is but it’s a tad more than 2GB but substantially less than 3GB). I did some Google searches and found that it could be the format of the hard drive — so I tried reformatting a spare hard drive as exFAT, FAT32, and NTFS, as recommended in various forums. Nothing worked. Still the >2GB files wouldn’t show.

What I needed to do was split the video files into smaller chunks, each less than 2Gb in size. Enter Avidemux.

Solution

I used Avidemux because I already had it and had used it once before for something quite some time ago. I had to relearn what to do, so for my future self, here’s how to split a large video file into smaller chunks.

Environment: Windows 7, Avidemux 2.6.8 – 64 bit

  1. Load the file into Avidemux (either drag and drop from the folder or use File > Open).
  2. If displayed, wait a minute or two until the two progress bar screens are finished.
  3. Check the settings on the left side of the Avidemux screen: Video and Audio Output – Copy; Output Format – select the same as the original file (e.g. MP4, MKV)

    avidemux01

  4. Use the slider or playback controls to get to the starting point of the new clip.
  5. Click A.
    avidemux02
  6. Use the slider or playback controls to get to the end point of the new clip.
  7. Click B. The new clip is bounded by a blue box in the slider area.
    avidemux03
  8. Go to File > Save, then navigate to where you want to save your new clip.
  9. Give it a file name, then click Save. The recording will start and take a few minutes.
  10. When finished, you can either create another clip (as you would if you’re splitting a large file), or close the file. To create another clip, click A again then repeat steps 6 to 9.

 

 

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Windows 10: Create new folder takes ages: Solved

October 28, 2016

I’d noticed that Explorer on my laptop was taking a good 60+ seconds to create a new folder, so I Googled the problem. I found all sorts of solutions requiring all sorts of techie knowhow, but one seemed easy enough to test — someone reported that disconnecting their external hard drive solved the problem.

I didn’t have an external hard drive connected — or so I thought! However, I did have my camera connected via a USB port. It wasn’t on, just charging via the laptop. So I pulled out the USB cable connecting it to the laptop, and lo and behold, I could create a new folder with NO time lag!!

A simple fix in my case. And a super easy one to try before you get caught up in more complex solutions. I hope it works for you.

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PC lost connection to network: Solved

September 26, 2016

One of the PCs on my network lost connection to the other computers and the internet yesterday. All the other PCs were fine. After trying many options to get it reconnected (see the list at the end of this post for the things I tried that didn’t work, just in case one of them works for you), I narrowed the likely culprit down to a faulty network cable or network card. I then called my PC Guru people for help and after they listened to what I’d tried, my Guru asked me to check the network adapter settings — the ‘Ethernet’ one on that computer was disabled. He got me to re-enable it and everything worked again! No, I still don’t know why it would inexplicably lose connection.

Here’s how to re-enable it:

  1. Right-click the network icon in the System Tray on the Taskbar (or go to Control Panel).
  2. Click Open Network and Sharing Center.
  3. Click Change adapter settings in the left panel.
  4. Look for a grayed out icon — on this Windows 8.1 machine it was called ‘Ethernet’ and said it was ‘Disabled’ (Note: On my Windows 7 machine it’s called ‘Local Area Connection’, so the name may vary depending on your version of Windows).
  5. Right-click the grayed out icon, then click Enable.
  6. With luck, all the connections will re-establish themselves, as they did for me.

One other thing to try is:

  1. Right-click the network icon in the System Tray on the Taskbar (or go to Control Panel).
  2. Click Open Network and Sharing Center.
  3. If you’re meant to be on a domain, but the View Your Active Networks icon has Public Network below it instead, click that Public Network link and then select Work (or Home) network.

Things I tried that DIDN’T work:

  • Rebooted the PC (this often solves many problems)
  • Rebooted the router (I didn’t think this would work as the other computers had internet access, but tried it anyway)
  • Removed the network cable from the back of the PC and clicked it back in again
  • Rebooted the network hub
  • Removed the network cable from the network hub and clicked it back in again
  • Checked that the network cable plugged into the PC had a flashing green light — it did
  • Removed the network cable from the PC and replaced it with another cable plugged into the network hub that I knew worked (by this stage, I was thinking it was likely the network card that had stopped working); yes, the green light flashed for that one too, but still I didn’t get a connection. It was at this point that I called my PC Guru guys.
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Loud hum from speakers: Solved

September 13, 2016

I had the devil of a time trying to get rid of a really bad hum in the speakers of a new mini hifi system that I’d connected up to a PC. I could hear the music faintly so I knew I had it connected properly, but that music was totally overridden by the loud hum.

I checked the manual, the manufacturer’s online support (useless) and forums, Dr Google, and tried various online advice about plugging the power cable into the same outlet as the PC, etc. Nothing changed.

Next, I checked listening via the FM radio option — no hum! That was my first clue. I pulled out the ‘audio in’ connection and the hum went away. Clue number two — it was somewhere in the connection from the PC to the unit. I crawled on the floor to the back of the PC, where the audio cable came out just a little too easily… I pushed it back in fully and restarted the hifi. It worked brilliantly — no hum!

Such a simple thing, but it caused me a lot of frustration for an hour. Hopefully this helps someone else.

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Noises in manuals

September 7, 2016

I purchased a new freezer this week. One of the first things I do when I get a new appliance is read the instruction manual. Yes, I know that only about 10% of the population reads an instruction manual, but I consider it a way to learn about the product AND a professional courtesy I extend to all those fellow technical writers who write them.

What made this manual different? It has a ‘noises’ table! After reading it, I think ALL appliance manuals should have one of these, if the appliance makes various noises during its operation. I know that products like UPSs have info on the various beeps and alarms, but this table listed the normal operating noises the freezer makes. So simple, and just brilliant.

noises

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EditorsWA Winter Seminar: Sex, lies and editing

August 31, 2016

On 13 August 2016, I attended and spoke at the annual Winter Seminar, held by EditorsWA, the Western Australian branch of IPEd, the national professional association for editors.

Here are my notes from the three sessions; the second session (on plain language) was mine, so there are no notes for it.

Session 1: Sex, lies, and blogging (Amanda Kendle)

  • Tweets – 140 chars forces you to be concise, remove redundancies, ignore punctuation, and abbreviate
  • Blog/social media writing is quite different
  • Style tends to be casual
  • Repetetive words/phrases may be there for SEO purposes, so not just redundancies
  • Each type of social media requires different styles of writing (Facebook vs Twitter vs LinkedIn)
  • Tips for developing a good blogging voice:
    • write like you talk
    • consciously choose your level of informality/casualness
    • use contractions and first person
    • read other blogs and identify styles you enjoy
    • tell a story, no matter what the topic is.
  • How to edit content for blogs and social media:
    • read aloud to get a good feel for appropriate ‘friendliness’
    • communicate clearly with clients about the style they want to use
    • give clients examples of blogging and social media posts that are of a suitably informal standard
    • suggest clients do voice recordings to transcribe from if they are writing in an overly academic or formal way.
  • NOTE: the rules are ever-changing and highly flexible.

Session 3: To ‘do it’ or not to ‘do it’: Things to consider before including a sex scene (Chloe Stam)

  • Various types of sex scenes
  • Should there be a sex scene?
    • in some genres, it’s expected.
    • some publishers have quotas!!! (e.g. three sex scenes, this many pages apart…)
    • realism – sex is part of human life, and in current culture
    • relevance to plot — if no function, don’t do it.
    • sex scenes in YA novels — if true to the characters, don’t avoid, but tone it down, especially as written from first person; sex is a reality with YAs, but don’t centre entirely on sex; don’t introduce unrealistic/harmful ideas (e.g. BDSM, ‘porny’ sex)
  • Even if graphic and anatomical, sex is ultimately about emotion and communication; emotion doesn’t mean love.
  • Editing sex scenes:
    • male or female point of view?
    • senses — use sensual impression to pull readers in to the story
    • conflict of the characters — what’s at stake? is something holding them back?
    • pacing — build-up to the sex scene with increasing sexual tension
  • Character development:
    • how does the act change your characters, show who they really are, or what they’re afraid of?
    • who initiated the intimacy, how is it displayed, what happens when it’s over, are their reactions equal?
  • There’s a ‘Bad sex in fiction award’!
  • Representation of sex and people:
    • diversity — normal in life, therefore should be normal in books; POC, queer, other minorities struggle to find positive representation in mainstream media; not about meeting a quota or making a statement; makes the book more interesting
    • default — characters are seen as white unless otherwise stated
    • asexuality — don’t find other people sexually attractive; often depicted as non-existent, needing a cure, robotic characters
    • people with disabilities — how are they portrayed? are they shown as sexual, or just dealing with their disability? Are they 3D characters and a real part of the story?
    • exoticism– calling someone ‘exotic’ reminds them they are different and emphasises their ethnicity; lots of stereotypes!! (mostly around women, esp. black, Asian)
    • queer – LGBTI etc. Often written about negatively; rarely a 3D character where their life doesn’t revolve around sexuality
    • elderly — seen as sexless and infantilised; disparity between men and women
    • self-love — seen as natural for men, but deviant for women
    • BDSM – requires trust, communication and emotional maturity. It is not sex and violence with emotional manipulation.
  • Sexual violence — avoid:
    • rape to punish female characters
    • rape as a backstory to make a ‘strong female character’
    • rape/murder only to affect male protagonist (women in refrigerators)
    • rape for shock factor/titillation
  • Disproportionate levels of rape against women as opposed to men – therefore masks issues of sexual assault against men
  • Journalistic reporting on sexual violence, victim blaming etc.

Session 4: The plagiarism games (Ffion Murphy)

  • What constitutes originality and does it matter any more? Literary theft, mimicry, borrowing, homage, or inspiration?
  • Universities invest huge amounts of $$$ in detecting plagiarism (e.g. Turn it in)
  • What is ‘originality’? where is the line? Is this idea of a line or border misleading even corrosive or stultifying?
  • Transformation — can be derived from another but must be significantly different and must transform the ‘original’, re-patterning of earlier works.
  • Inspiration vs copying:
    • work needs to share at least some qualities of what has been judged ‘good’ in the past
    • value is located in an act of digression, transgression, homage to, or transformation of what has come before
    • must be an acceptable type of copy