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back to article MANUAL STIMULATION: Whack me with some proper documentation

Another day, another app, another incomprehensible user interface. If this was a proper piece of software running on a proper computer rather than a £500 phone, phablet or some similar pharcical phucking phanboi phondleslab, it might be possible to call up a Help menu or leaf through a manual. Instead, I’m left staring at a …

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I feel your pain...

I have the all the same issues. However my present hell is interpreting why a web site will not let me register.

A certain mobile phone company complained I had not filled in all my details despite the fact i clearly had. Eventually I worked out I was registering a username that was already assigned.

Fortunately I know enough about websites and those who design them to work my way through the issue(First rule. If it doesn't work, try another browser. Usually IE). But many, including my wife is often driven to hysteria by such problems.

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Re: I feel your pain...

Hmm... In my experience problems like that are usually resolved by enabling cookies till the end of the session. Never saw this in any manual though.

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Re: I feel your pain...

But many, including my wife is often driven to hysteria by such problems.

In the case of my wife it's hysteria that starts with the sound of an Intellimouse being slammed down on to her desk so hard that you have to admire how indestructible they are. This will be closely followed by a scream for help, which I now answer with a reminder of how she doesn't want me near her computer ever since I accidentally changed the wallpaper.

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Re: I feel your pain...

I seem to be married to your stateside doppelganger. May I make a few suggestions that may prevent said intellimouse being imbedded in your skull?

1. Don't preface your remarks with a lugubrious sigh that implies the asker is a dunce.

2. When told that she has already performed some actions to attempt to remedy the problem on her own, DO NOT walk in and immediately PERFORM THE SAME ACTIONS, as though your God-like touch will somehow cause the machine to behave.

3. Do not seize the mouse or keyboard, do something that causes the desired result and then WALK AWAY WITHOUT EXPLAINING what you did and why you did it.

You will live long and prosper more if the above suggestions are kept in mind.

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And it's especially fun when, having highlighted in red a problem with your registration, it empties all the form fields and resets all the options to their default so you have to start all over again.

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Anonymous Coward

"empties all the form fields"

Or leaves them all alone except for one, which you have to track down and re-enter. It isn't always the code on the back of your credit card, either.

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Boffin

Spot on.

Re: blanking out all the fields.

The website creators are obviously total plonkers when it comes to usability. Nil Points.

I'm also passworded out especially, the extra security password that some banks are tacking on to Debit and Credit card transactions. I change it an immediately (not even a few seconds) after doing so it has gone from my memory.

As regards documentation. I can remember the work that went into getting the DEC VMS V5.0 Doc set printed. It seemed at one time almost every printer in Eire was doing something for the release.

Online documentation leaves a lot to be desired. Be it 'man' pages that have no examples at all to the maze of circular references that are many IBM Infocentres they are IMHO CRAP.

The best example of in your face docs I have ever come upon was the DEC 'DCL' command language. Totally structured with examples.

now what was the password to my 'router' again?

(answer, it is on a bit of paper under my UPS)

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Especially when the "problem" is only due to the idiot web designer using an email validator written by an idiot developer who clearly did a tl;dr on the relevant RFC (assuming they even knew such things existed).

+ signs are valid in email addresses.

Morons.

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The other extreme annoyance I have with many websites... entering credit card details.

My card number is presented on my card with a space between every group of four digits. A computer is very capable of stripping out such card numbers when processing the number. So why the **** do so many websites insist that the number is put in without any spaces? Or, as is often the case, just error when you do and don't indicate why.

The other occasions when I'm wound up by entering card details, is when the website numpty insists on putting names instead of numbers for the start and end months. I've never come across a card with names instead of numbers so why was this website doing this? When challenged, they claim to have done this idiocy on purpose to stop bots.

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Unhappy

+ signs are valid in email addresses.

so are apostrophes, as I discovered when a "O'Connell" tried to register in a program I once inherited.

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re: Email address validation

I remember in a previous life as a software tester, I was testing form validation.

I got to the email field, tried the usual - null, incorrect variants, correct variants, all was fine until I got to this test:

a.b.c@d-e-f.com

The email address validator spew out a validation message.

I drew the developer's attention to this (was trying to be nice, rather than contribute to a growing defect report list...) and he said that that was because the domain was invalid.

I showed him d-n-a.net (which now redirects to UTVInternet), he said 'oh' and quietly edited the regex.

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Re: spaces in credit card number

Space in credit card number are bad enough.

The forms which spew a validation error when I put a space in my postcode, numberplate or phone number are worse.

It isn't difficult to strip out spaces!!

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PJI
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Re: Spot on.

Do you remember the container loads of manuals that, for instance, VMS came with? But at least they were there and worked even when the computer did not.

I detest these badly filmed videos in which a monotone, American voice speaks in some obscure dialect, using American "cool" references and words, probably about baseball or whatever they play and completely fails to hold your attention long enough to find out what he is trying to say or show. All I want is to find out how to move a page from a to z (that's Zed, not some confusing Zee or was it See? Can't tell with that drawl).

Then the same person seems to write the manuals, on line or paper and litters them with super-friendly quips and jokes, illustrated with some quaint Americanisms from his local school or some such and still manages to obscure or hide the information you seek. All I wanted was an instruction, up to date, to the point and with no unnecessary cruft.

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Re: spaces in credit card number

Space in credit card number... postcode... are bad enough....

Specially when they leave you to guess whether you should take out the spaces or not.

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Re: Spot on.

"I'm also passworded out especially, the extra security password that some banks are tacking on to Debit and Credit card transactions...."

Verified by Visa, and whatever the Mastercard one is called - I hate those!

They crop up sometimes, but not frequently enough that the password has really registered in my brain through repetition, so by the next time I use it I can't remember what it was last time, and then have to choose a new one. Of course all the new ones I try it rejects because I've used them some time in the past, so I have to choose a new-new one that's not nearly as memorable as any of the ones I wanted to use... so of course, the next time, some months later, Verified by Visa pops up... and I have to go through the whole rigmarole again!

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WTF?

Telephone numbers too!

"It isn't difficult to strip out spaces!!"

It certainly isn't.

And it's really not at all difficult to insert spaces so that a phone number looks like it does in the phone book or printed on letterheads. Ditto for credit card numbers.

My latest online form filling adventure rejected my phone number because i simply copied and pasted it from elsewhere.

Duh!

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FAIL

Re: Spot on.

"I'm also passworded out especially, the extra security password that some banks are tacking on to Debit and Credit card transactions...."

Then there's the dreaded Dual Authentication

Look it's simple.

The mobile phone signal near my computer can be a bit hit and miss so sometimes I have to go outside to get the SMS containing this vital piece of login information.

Please don't throw a "session expired" message at me when I've had to do that.

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Re: spaces in credit card number

Just yesterday I fell foul of a form that objected when I entered my card expiry date as "dd/mm" (the way it's written on the card) rather than "ddmm".

Grrr!

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Re: Spot on.

Do you remember the container loads of manuals that, for instance, VMS came with?

I certainly do. Six feet of shelf space. Even more remarkably, I think I read about 60% of them.

super-friendly quips and jokes

No jokes in the VMS manuals, admittedly. But I recall one of the RSTS manuals that described the excruciating process of linking executables in such a way that the system could swap overlay segments in and out of memory. The linker in question was called the task builder, and the manual contained a full-page cartoon of a workman, with the caption "Tommy the Taskbuilder".

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MJS

Totally. And it is much easier to transcribe four groups of 4 digits, especially when the 16-digit concatenation has multiple repeats.

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Coffee/keyboard

Re: Spot on.

I never read the DEC manuals (that wasn't my machine,) but I did read all of the Honeywell manuals for CP-6. Less than a month later I was promoted from lab assistant to system administrator.

I will admit to being waaaay over my head while reading the PL/6 manual.

<rant>

All of the manuals, that I need to read today, have been written as lists of commands and options...and that's mostly it. No well reasoned examples that tell you how to do ______. Just "Here's what the command looks like with all of its mutually exclusive options" crap.

</rant>

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Re: Spot on.

Dcumentation? I remember the old Microsoft C (before the days of Visual Studio) when the documentation came in a box four feet long.

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Other moronic assumptions:

- All houses have house numbers or street names.

- That I can find my county in a list of dropdowns which was accurate only up until 1972

- Pigeon holing my job as in Forestry, Accounting, Insurance, etc..

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Unhappy

"My card number is presented on my card with a space between every group of four digits. A computer is very capable of stripping out such card numbers when processing the number. So why the **** do so many websites insist that the number is put in without any spaces? Or, as is often the case, just error when you do and don't indicate why."

True.

Imagine this.

Four 4 digit long (with only digits allowed) with automatic moving between the boxes.

You can't believe there isn't some bit of pre fab'd code to do this, and that it wasn't written a decade ago.

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Paris Hilton

Manuals

Cookbooks (recipes of common tasks) are sometimes more useful than a full manual.

My favourite was the AIPS cookbook (for the Astronomical Image Processing System) which also added banana recipes to the software ones.

Icon: apparently she has a 'banana' body type. I am sure readers can also imagine other connotations.

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+ signs are valid in email addresses.

And in phone numbers, but few US-based web sites can handle them.

We don't hall have a "State" in our address either.

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Re: Telephone numbers too!

And it's really not at all difficult to insert spaces so that a phone number looks like it does in the phone book or printed on letterheads.

You think so? What's the correct spacing for a French phone number? A UK one? Swiss?

Website forms should obey Postel's instructions from the very early RFCs. Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.

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VMS manuals

I think I read about 60% of them.

I read them all. Used to impress the hell out of my colleagues when they asked me how to do something and after a moment's thought I'd send them to "Chapter 3 or maybe 4, volume 5a".

OK, so maybe now that seems a little geeky... :)

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Re: Spot on.

... and try doing it for a card that's registered outside the country of issue. Every time failing memory requires me to set a new password on my UK-issued HSBC Visa card my Polish postcode - which is shown on my account statements - is rejected and I have to endure all the pleasures of the voicemail system and ask some callcentre slave for help.

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FAIL

Re: Telephone numbers too!

Some UK phone numbers only have 5 digits in them - my wife's shop in Somerset on the 01460 code for instance. Imagine my surprise, when checking estimated broadband speed from a communications company beginning with B, (and ending in T) the website rejected the number as invalid.

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Postcode? Re: spaces in credit card number

I hate forms that insist on a postcode. And insist on a city. I end up with:

City: Hong Kong

Postcode: HK

Country: Hong Kong [You put it in the select list!]

And is it too much trouble to actually say what phone number format you expect? Country code or no country code? Is "+" accepted?

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"Four 4 digit long (with only digits allowed) with automatic moving between the boxes."

Actually used to hate forms with automatic moving between boxes as I'm so used to tabbing to get to the next entry I was always ending up in the wrong box, and if you make a mistake on the last digit in a box, it's already moved onto the next box so you can't just press delete to correct it.

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Here here

I am now the proud? owner of four email addresses for TomTom since I manage the family's four GPS boxes.

1. TomTom allow one account to manage one GPS

2. TomTom do not allow "+" convention in the email address

Morons^2

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AOD

Re: + signs are valid in email addresses.

@JimmyPage, as somebody with an apostrophe in their surname and a reasonable knowledge of the website innards (having supported a few), it never ceases to amaze how many fall at such a seemingly simple hurdle.

I remember looking at some ASP code years ago and thinking "why the hell are they building the SQL on the fly, why don't they just use parameters instead?"

The other benefit is that it makes you less vulnerable to wonderful things like SQL injection, pause for obligatory xkcd reference:

http://xkcd.com/327/

Oh and when it comes to validating input items on a webpage, please either stop the user from entering the verboten characters in the first place, or even better, make the validation interactive so it checks the field as you're populating it and either shows a cheery green tick or a red frowny face along with a suitably annoying message.

I don't want to get to the bottom of something that resembles a morttgage application only to find out then that my chosen username is taken or that you can't find my fscking address!

Any website that has hacked me off to that extent is simply left behind whilst I Google an alternative that does give a stuff about the UI and HCI side of things.

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Re: + signs are valid in email addresses.

Many years ago I saw a post on an educational IT forum from someone at Crapita (who write the SIMS school MIS database package)

They explained how they had to be quite insistent with the developers that names like O'Connell and O'Dwyer existed and would need to be dealt with...

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Re: Telephone numbers too!

BT go one better with their ADSL checker:

<https://www.btwholesale.com/pages/static/Community/Broadband_Community/Coverage/ADSL_Availibility_Checker.html>

If you do key in a number with a space, it will truncate the number string to 11 digits and then remove the space before attempting a number lookup which naturally will fail. Obviously only the observant will notice the missing end digit(s) from the returned number.

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Re: + signs are valid in email addresses.

So are uppercase letters. :(

The reported error was simply "invalid email address" and I had to view the HTML source and find the offending script to figure out WTF it was complaining about. I think it was for some school-related website so I imagine that folks without a working knowledge of Javascript just aren't allowed to have kids these days.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: spaces in credit card number

It is even easier to write "do not leave spaces" onto the form, to give the user a bit of a clue.....

Best trick was an email provider which kept refusing your proposed password, with no explanation, unless you figured out all by yourself that they expect lower and upper case and a number and a symbol. (After a few months of this they finally woke up to themselves and are now telling people this secret).

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Anonymous Coward

Actually MICROSOFT had this -- for entering product keys. The cursor would jump by itself to the next field, so it was easy to enter the number in groups.

But maybe they have a patent on it so nobody else is allowed to do it.

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I still have some old Borland manuals

With them, the older the software, the better the manuals.

The early language ones were superb, and could have been sold separately as language tutorials. The later ones were printed on soft toilet paper and, if you were lucky, covered what was new in the libraries.

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Re: I still have some old Borland manuals

Thinking about this, it does feel true. The older the software/manuals, the better the manuals were.

These days you often can't even find a manual when there should be one, even online.

... grumbles and glares at HP for providing a paper version of a disclaimer in 50 languages, and included a CD with the same but failed to provide even a basic "this is the product and what to expect from it" one page manual sheet. It may have been just a docking station, but knowing that it was expected to have lights on the network connector and the specification of the network connector would have been nice when troubleshooting it :)

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I totally agree. Looking at my DOS 1.0 manuals I got with my (now defunct) IBM PC back in the day, I have to say that I await eagerly the day where I will find another supplier manual with that level of quality and dedication to the subject.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I still have some old Borland manuals

The mention of HP brings to mind one of my first student jobs in which the task was to wade through a cabinet of HP1000 documentation binders and chuck out the duplicates. I became quite the HP1000 anorak from reading the unwanted manuals that I hauled back home...

Did you know that the largest core module was 4KB but the high speed memory controller only supports semiconductor memory modules?

"Did you want to know" is another question entirely...!

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Re: I still have some old Borland manuals

"The older the software/manuals, the better the manuals were."

Can't agree more!

The manuals for my first computer came with complete circuit diagrams, memory maps, operating system call vectors, the lot!

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Re: I still have some old Borland manuals

Borland TASM (x86 assembler) circa the late 90s came with a printed instruction set reference (every x86 instruction, what they did, their binary encodings, what flags were effected and how) and an extensive user manual (I only remember chapters on "object oriented programming in assembler", "calling conventions", and enough BNF to re-implement TASM if the mood took me).

Visual Studio Express 2013 for desktop's idea of "help" was allowing me to select from a list which help packages I'd like to download for offline before telling me, "You don't have the required permissions to perform this action", with no indication of which "permissions" or, for that matter, which "action". (This sort of stuff is why non-tech people only use the admin account! )

Ain't progress grand?

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Re: (This sort of stuff is why non-tech people only use the admin account! )

Given that your example is Visual Studio Express 2013, I think that should read "This sort of stuff is why tech people use free software -- it's just less depressing when it doesn't work if you didn't actually pay for it.".

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Anonymous Coward

"no software company or its customers could reasonably afford these days"

At £400 for the full version of Office and over £3000 for an SQL Server licence, I think Microsoft could afford a proper manual.

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Re: "no software company or its customers could reasonably afford these days"

I notice that Microsoft Press seems to have become a division of O'Reilly. And talking of O'Reilly, what happened to the The Register's BOFH O'Really T-Shirts, like Distributing Clue To Users.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Microsoft could afford a proper manual.

Why? they never did before!

Microsoft manuals were always cheery descriptions of everything going right, with the word Microsoft repeated on every line. Mention of problems? Probably banned. Mention of Microsoft product without using (yet again AAaaarrrgh!) the word "Microsoft," banned.

My first ever computer came with a manual. A slim volume described the hardware and the rest of the shelf was devoted to Unix. Good grief, there was even a fat volume on writing device drivers, though I never graduated to an understanding of it. That shelf of manuals was, for me, the foundation of a new career

A few years into that career, I started getting marketing material from IBM. It was curious stuff, which told me how the product would revolutionise my business --- but left me wondering what the hell the product actually was! Informix literature was much the same. Of course, that might have been after IBM bought them.

As to the nnnn nnnn nnnn nnnn of credit/debit cards, maybe the question we should ask is what idiots put the spaces in them in the first place?

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nnnn nnnn nnnn nnnn

Humans can't really read numbers without separators.

It's much easier to check for typos if you can check "block #2" instead of "digits 5-8".

nnnnnnnnnmnnnnnn

You should never ask the user to type blocks of 'random' alphanumerics longer than ~5 characters, assuming you want them to be typed accurately.

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