Don’t You Read The Manuals First?

A few days ago in Edmonton we watched the neighbor open some adult-proof vacuum-packed tough plastic-enclosed something or other. We never did figure out what Dave was opening, maybe a flashlight combo-pack or something like it. What struck us was how he very carefully, using aviation snips, cut open the package on two sides so he could reach carefully in and extract the instructions.

That’s all he removed, the instructions. Everything else he left in the packaging. And he seemed to read thoroughly the instructions. Wouldn’t it be a sad punch line indeed, for the instructions to say at the bottom, “Do Not read the instructions — install batteries and test device first”?

If you pilot an airplane (not RC, I mean the ones with 30′ to 230′ wingspans) you probably read, retain, and respond to information from, the instruction manuals. I’m pretty sure of this. Some of you probably are active or retired pilots — let me know if I’m wrong on this.

I read an exchange between a couple of pilots today that went sort of like this:

Pilot 1 said, “We’ve always done the event on the second Wednesday, always. It’s in the manual. They should have followed the manual.”

And pilot 2 responded, “What were they thinking? Someone isn’t reading the manual.”

Okay. A couple of us might be guilty of not following what the manual says. And not just on this issue, of scheduling a particular event on the day. There is doubtless great cause for following the manual if you are a pilot. Lots of very bad experiences almost certainly would reflect unfavorably upon their failure to follow prescriptive rules. Even emergencies likely are well addressed in the pilot’s instruction manual? They must be.

There’s an interesting, although not sourced, paragraph on 1950’s military disdain for manuals’ nonreaders in this Wiki article,
“The phrase RTFM was in common use in the early 1950s by radio and radar technicians in the US Air Force. Operators frequently did not check simple faults, for example checking whether a fuse had blown or a power plug had become disconnected.”

Gary KB0H suggests in his nicely written article our failure to read the instruction manuals may not be all our own fault.

Also check out dogbert’s approach this short instructive youtube video on use of manuals — it may not help but is fun.

A long time ago I had responsibility for installation, operation and maintenance of a large hospital’s critical environmental, electrical, and medical gas equipment services. We did this all according to the manuals. There was no other conscionable or effective means of insuring everything was copasetic with the equipment. We operate and maintain our great cowboy cadillac the same way for the same reason — we don’t want any surprises in sometimes critical functioning.

Back to the email exchange between the pilots, they were writing about and copying to another officer of a club. Their resounding smugness was very telling. They apparently read and follow manuals better than some of their younger (and non-pilot) counterparts. A lack of proper training is the problem with young people these days, I tell you!

A few weeks ago I stopped the truck awhile for Deb’s Father’s Day conversation with her pop. Given this downtime in the cowboy cadillac pilot’s seat I wanted for amusement. Messing with Deb was out of the question, important phone call. Didn’t really have time to walk down to the beach and besides, the winds were gusting over 30 mph so truck cab felt pretty good.

Hmm, maybe I can just explore the Kenwood ham radio (TM-D710a) while Deb talks with pop. I scroll through all the many buttons, watching the display in a manner not possible while driving the truck. What’s this button labelled “POS”? First thought goes to Men In Black and the black Ford LTD “POS” — do you remember it? Will Smith called it a POS but was quickly proven wrong as it did flying and other things our parents’ cars never could.

What does this radio’s POS button do? Lo and behold, this function is NOT in the manuals. Notably, neither of the two manuals for this very complicated vhf/uhf radio say a word about reading the manual. I read them both again last night. I do read them each time I have a question about the radio — how do accomplish some programming or task — and the answer is not always there. Hmm, maybe manuals aren’t what they used to be?

But I’ll wager you still read the manuals if you ever did. Dave has this good habit. I don’t. What about you? Which is it?

Jim and Debbie
dreamstreamr odyssey, chasing 75 degrees

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6 responses to “Don’t You Read The Manuals First?

  1. It took a long time to learn, and many a frustrating moment (or hour!) – and now I ALWAYS read the manual first. And more than once, too.

    • Okay, the first vote is in, a YES for reading the manual – Or maybe this is 2X YES since you read it more than once.

      I have to read manuals many times — sort of like visiting a museum or gallery, it looks a little different each time — which translated means, I get something different from it with each reading.

  2. Headed to New Hampshire today with Stuart and my father in law in his new Honda Pilot. He is driving, I am co-pilot. We have had several conversations about what this does or what that buton is and I have dutifully looked them up in The manual (btw there is NO drrawing to tell you where the D3 button is). A few minutes later we pass a nice camper (but not an Airstream) and my father in law says they might like to try that. I start telling him about my friends Jim and Deb. I wondered what you were up to and where so I googled you on my iPhone. Lo and behold your July blog is about manuals!!! Amazing. I hope that all is well.

    Tom Milton

    • Tom, we’re really happy you were able to find us — it’s been too long. And how funny is it you were working through instruction manual issues and stumbled on, of all things, this oddball post I just had done.

      Glad to hear from you again,


    I was going to post a comment but got hung up in this instruction for posting a comment. I am still working on it.

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