RTFM – Teaching this Old Dog

Executive Summary

This is essentially a Seinfeld post, a post about nothing.  It will however touch on:

  1. My Davey H 1.0 experience with RTFM
  2. My Davey H 2.0 experience with RTFM
  3. My Davey H 2.0 plan to RTFM so you don’t have to

If you’re unaware what RTFM means, it means, Read the Manual.

My Davey H 1.0 Experience with RTFM

Not long after I graduated from college, the company I worked for offered me a job in Los Angeles.  For a boy who’d spent all of his previous 23 years in the eastern time zone, this was a BFD (Big Deal).  I was going to be manning a hotline for some new graphics arts equipment we were releasing and working with the service technicians who fixed the hardware.

This was my first experience with entrepreneurship.  I was a software guy working in a hardware world on a brand new technology.  They wanted my skills because this was some of the earliest equipment with embedded real-time software. The service technicians had never worked on anything like that before.  I was going to be their resource.

It turned out that I wasn’t all that busy.  Most of the calls were hardware problems and I was living the old programmer-light bulb joke.

Question: How many programmers does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: None. Light bulbs are a hardware problem.

99% of the calls we got were hardware questions I couldn’t help with.

So, idle hands being the devil’s play thing, I set my sights on a software problem.  We were tracking all our calls on paper.  We had no way to monitor the trends for who was calling the most, why they were calling, and who was asking the stupidest questions.  I built a database to run on our company mainframes so we could track all this stuff.  For those who care about ancient computer history, the DBMS was Adabase and the programming language was Natural, both Software AG products.

To get the reports that we wanted, we needed to close a log with a disposition describing what the solution to the problem was. Being the good business analyst that I was, I polled my colleagues for all the reasons we might close a call and I got a unanimous request for RTFM.  At the time I had no idea what that meant but it was so hard getting these grizzled guys, most of whom were 20 years my senior, to take me seriously. They didn’t realize how helpful collecting this data would be for them.  Either that or they didn’t like that they’d now have to be accountable. Anyway, I took what they gave me and loaded it into the database.  Well it turned out that RTFM was the most common disposition and since there was so much data entered immediately with that value, it was really difficult to change to something more, ahem, professional.  That company kept using that system well after I left.  They adopted it for other products.  And as far as I know, they never changed from RTFM.

This experience tattooed the concept of RTFM deep into my brain. I was a subject of much mirth around my wife and children when I insisted on reading the manuals page-by-page for any new product we got.  Cars, kitchen appliances, VCRs (at least I knew how to set the clock), everything.  Until…

My Davey H 2.0 experience with RTFM

I blame the iPhone.  Here is a sophisticated piece of equipment I keep in my pocket and the only documentation I get is a small brochure with a few pictures in it.  But that’s all it needed. So I fell off the wagon.

Now here I am, looking at my spanking new website for a soon-to-be-launched business.  I kind of like the look.  It’s clean.  Everything has it’s purpose.  But there are a lot of tweaks I’d like to do.  More readable fonts.  Spread out the margins a little.  So I’m teaching myself PHP and Cascading Style Sheets.  I’m hand coding HTML so I can add things like inline subscripts and strikeouts.   And I’m really dreading what I’ll have to do when I start building tables when, BAM!  It hits me.  RTFM!  I pick up a book on WordPress and learn that I can do 99% of the formatting I want to do by extending the Post Editor toolbar and adding a few plug-ins. RTFM!  Yeah, I’ll still need to code PHP and work with CSS to do some of the stuff I plan to do, but still…

I promise, now that I’m armed with this cornucopia of new formatting options that I won’t turn the L4 (←superscript!←Special-character-inserted!) website into the online equivalent of a ransom note.  But expect ongoing format changes and improvements as the weeks progress.

My Davey H 2.0 Plan to RTFM so you Don’t Have to

Health and Wellness is one subject in which I never lost the habit of RTFM.  I actually started reading on nutrition and health subjects when I was twelve years old(?!?). I’ve always been fascinated by them but for some inexplicable reason (raging hormones?) I lost interest in college.  So dumba$$ never pursued it as an avocation, until now.

I started picking it up again little by little about 20 years ago.  Now I can’t get enough of it.  My analog and digital bookshelves are full of tomes on health related subjects.  My email inbox is backlogged with newsletters about exercise, nutrition, disease, mindfulness, genetics, physiology, personal development, financial security (and web content development).  I continue to sign up for MOOCs on the subject and yes, I am one of the 1% who actually do the homework and complete the courses.  I earned my Nutrition certification last December and by April I’ll be a Health Coach too.

And I promise, in those roles, I will always RTFM…so you don’t have to.

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