Friday, July 29, 2005

For best results, hire an idiot

When I was in Hong Kong, I had a neat job. I had just set up my own freelance creative consultancy, so I was immediately persona non grata in the entire mainstream ad/design community, and hence became a bottom feeder. And as I was spectacularly bad at that, I was in danger of starving.

I can't quite remember how we were introduced, but my saviour came in the form of a very dodgy bloke who invited me to a very dodgy part of Kowloon to a really dodgy building, into which I only ventured on the basis that white slavery was not prevalent and my type was not going to be high on the menu (though if I'd thought that notion through...). Anyway up, I went from a dingy hallway on the floor straight into Dr. No's R&D dept, where I was introduced to his version of Q’u, whose name was, I'm pretty certain, Q'u.

Between my Cantonese (essentially English with a few added ee's, o's and ahs, only spoken a lot louder) and their English (the same), it transpired they wanted me to write the instructions for all the high-tech toys (that was, literally, what we were on about) they were making, destined for the West. And this was my interview, because they had run through all the technical writers in town and were not yet happy.

I had been recommended because in my file somewhere was BSc Civ Eng, which meant although I was a writer, I was also technical, hence... I fit the bill. So 'Q'u' proceeded to show me their next Mattel's-butt-kicking electro-plastic contraption, with programmable this and multiple options that. I nodded sagely throughout. Then they asked me if I had any questions. I could have asked several, but one above all had concerned me since the beginning; hence I asked: ''Where's the ON button?'.

And I was hired.

For the next few years I had a nice little earner, as all manner of bizarre contraptions would arrive at my flat, and I'd spend the day trying to figure them out and then writing down for American 8-year-olds (and their Dads) what they did and how to make them do it.

Big up to 'Q'u' and his colleagues for doing what they did well, and then getting someone else in who did what he did well (ie: be an idiot) to help them sell it.

So it really amazes me that instructions are still written by guys who know what they're doing, for people who do not. And it has now moved online into the wwwosphere.

Take this very blog, which I create daily upon my Mac (a format I opted for many years ago because I could relate to a picture of a filing cabinet and not to a C: command). And here's the thing. I can't, for now, blog. At least not on my station. Something about cookies, and java. A veritable elevenses' worth of hi-tech blogsworths.

So.. I went to help, which sent me to FAQs.

And this is where it goes truly in the direction of a pear-like entity. Without specifically saying that what they said couldn't now happen would be cured, there were all sorts of confident headings and links. Clearing caches. Deleting Cookies. Krakatoa, Script of Java. And these all linked to further places that even more confidently told me what I'd see. But... I didn't! On my Mac, IE>Tools does not have Internet Options, so I couldn't do a darn thing with them.

But there was a saviour at hand: if all else fails, throw baby out with bathwater... and get new baby. There was a button that was a link to Firefox. Click, and lo!, there I was staring not just at a upload page but one with an actual panel that said Mac OSX version. Woo-hoo! 8.6MB of slicker surfing awaited. And in the flicker of a modem it was done. Trouble was, I now had on my desktop 8.7MB of an Excel document that ran to 60,000 lines of gobbledegook. Now, this was certainly not previously mentioned as a possibility. Or, to me, much use.

So.. I went to help, which sent me to FAQs.

Which gave me a sense of deja vu.

I have now written to ‘contact us’, and we all know here that goes, especially on free services.

Except, of course, That comes straight to me. I am the LCD screener. Which stands for 'Lowest Common Denominator'. Or idiot. Which means that our site should cope with just about any human-related foible or if, technically it can’t, at least explain why.