Jump to content
Keatah

The importance of books, manuals, and documentation.

Recommended Posts

On the importance of books, manuals, and documentation. Just how important is that "stuff" to you and the enjoyment of your personal collection or system(s)?

 

Several years ago I took note of how valuable the original owner's manuals and 3rd party books are to owning, operating, and reminiscing-about a classic computer is. The manuals often go into detail about the finer points of firmware operation, like editing functions or the options on a command or its range. They also help you determine if a system is working correctly or not. They are the repository and memory aids for information you may have forgotten over the years.

 

In thinking about the Apple II I found/find great comfort in the "book's voice" which talks to me the same way as it did when I was in grade school. The author's tutoring voice.

 

I love the Apple II manuals published by Apple. Feels like there's an instructor right beside you. Information contained in them is suitable for a beginner and at the same time is a good reference for developers in some cases. They have register listings, monitor listings, example code, and well phrased lectures.

 

When I got my Apple II+ it came with something like 800 pages of information spread across 4 or 5 manuals. It was the Family System, and it had a comprehensive "getting-started" guide that took you step-by-step for wiring everything up.

 

These manuals not only had rote procedures, they also described how the product worked in layman's terms. And to a kid that was fantastic. It set the framework, the groundwork, for further self-paced learning.

 

Today you struggle with online documentation, getting consistent and reliable access to it. With no guarantees it'll be there in the future. Let alone a 30 year future! Not to mention it's overly simplistic and tells you how to push a button by way of cryptic hieroglyphs.

 

In fact not too long ago, Adobe killed the on-screen help files of Acrobat X through their Adobe Help Center. One day I went to reference it, look something up, you know, and POOF!! It said the product was no longer supported. And the documentation was gone!

 

So immediately I restored from a backup and captured the help files and archived them away. And turned off the update process so they remain in-place for the future.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I feel I got a lot out of the early Apple Macintosh user documentation. There was a LOT of it, handling onboarding tasks like "this is the desktop metaphor, and this is how you use a mouse" that we just take for granted today. I used to buy fat books to go along with new operating systems, and people like David Pogue could make a living out of documenting stuff or rewriting things that weren't in the manual. He had a lot of things called "The Missing Manual," as a matter of fact. 

 

Now it's online or built in (thanks man pages) and largely redundant or plain obsolete. 

 

Just LOOK at all of it! https://archive.org/details/macbooks

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I still remain impressed by how valuable the fundamental concepts presented in the early books & manuals are to this very day.

 

While small of scale and simple, back then, the underlying reasoning gives great results today. From backups, to clean programming, to best-practices and hardware maintenance.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

 

I strongly agree with the value of keeping offline copies (and, even more so, print documentation). It has long been my practice if I find something useful online -- in my case, mostly academic articles -- I download a copy for my own use. The original may be taken offline for whatever reason, but my local copy is always available.  I find online content to be far too ephemeral to rely upon.

 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
On 10/4/2019 at 3:56 PM, jhd said:

 

I strongly agree with the value of keeping offline copies (and, even more so, print documentation). It has long been my practice if I find something useful online -- in my case, mostly academic articles -- I download a copy for my own use. The original may be taken offline for whatever reason, but my local copy is always available.  I find online content to be far too ephemeral to rely upon.

 

 

 

Definitely agree.  I have a whole folder of pdf images of Commodore manuals, particularly those I do not have in print.  With my tablet it's almost like having them in print.  Hooray!

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

As time rolls on, it is natural to appreciate the documentation. Reading the theory-of-operation sections, bios & histories by the designers and programmers, op-eds, command references, and more - offers superior excitement instead of grinding on games day in and day out. Not interested in completing level 3 of Pac-Man for the 10,000th time.

 

 

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I transitioned to the "Full Morlock" mode some time ago. (As relates to the techno-felicitous behaviors of the creatures from The Time Machine, not their dietary habits.)

 

I find that I get more enjoyment out of doing system maintenance than I do playing games, more often than not.  Good documentation is hard to get these days; nobody wants to write it, and the concept of "Disposable hardware" makes it even worse-- Why document something that we intend for you to throw out in 2 years?-- etc.

 

 

 

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I have the official MS-DOS 6.22 manual and it helped to figure out how to delete a folder that had a space in it. But this OS has a built in help menu and that really helps.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I get a lot of entertainment reading old manuals. I've spent days just reading old computer manuals. Tandy Radio Shack, Commodore, Apple, Atari, Nintendo... They all have different styles of writing their manuals, and it's all fun to read. And the manuals are worth a lot, or they will be in the near future. Please, do keep the manuals. I didn't throw away my TRS-80 Color Computer Technical Reference Manual even though it seems to have been soaked in some kind of liquid that's not water, and a fully grown bookworm crawled out of it.

  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, that brings back memories... :D

 

 

One of my favorite things to do to my poor tech lab instructor, was make folders with null-char in their names.

 

eg, "My(alt+0255)Stuff"  which then looks in DOS like "My Stuff".  In reality, it has a nonbreaking null character space in there.  In windows, it shows up as an underscore in the name, but you cannot easily navigate into it (at least for the 9x flavors available back in the day.) Windows would balk at you if you tried. :D

 

Other fun tricks were to use the "ascii graphics" extended charset chars in filenames so they were silly looking pictograms. that was fun too.

  • Like 2

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Back in the 1980s and 90s printed reference manuals were a must and most of the stuff included with the hardware and software were excellent.  In those days third party books were only necessary to those pirating software.  But since then things have changed.  It's not just the switch to electronic copies but a lot of new software come with rather poor and incomplete documentation.  One more thing that has been sacrificed with the rush to get things out before they are ready.

 

Today, if you're into vintage stuff from the early days, scanned documentation is available.  So it's just a matter of being comfortable reading electronically or for collection.  Plus you can just use internet search for a reference.

Edited by mr_me
  • Like 1

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...

  • Recently Browsing   0 members

    No registered users viewing this page.

×
×
  • Create New...