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Direct Me, Please

There are few things more satisfying than buying something and being able to get it up and running without a major outburst of cussing, bruised knuckles or trip to the medicine cabinet for a headache pain reliever.

Anyone who has installed a wireless home network understands this agony; however, consumer complaints over the past few years have been so clear and strong on this topic that the home networking guys put forth an extra effort to create products that, while not super simple, are at least easier to set up than in the past.

However, not everyone has gotten this memo and my latest lesson on this topic was delivered last week.

I’m a bit of a weather geek — just ask the TWICE staff.

So a few weeks ago I bought from Costco a cool La Crosse Technology home weather station. It has a little weather vane-like wind meter, a rainfall measuring device and a very nice-looking LCD that shows all the data. All very cool stuff to people like me. My wife was not happy about the wind meter. I think she felt that placing such a device on the roof’s peak was a high-profile signal to the neighbors that someone a little too geeky was in the house, possibly her. So, after much debate, the meter is somewhat hidden in the back, but I intend to move it at some point so it can get a better wind reading (shhhh).

What I found really interesting is how it all hooks into my PC. The wind, rain, humidity and other readings are fed into small box mounted outside containing the thermometer and humidity gauge via telephone line, and it then transmits the data using RF to the LCD. This connects, via serial port of all things, to the computer.

The interface is a software program called Heavy Weather. It not only displays the data, but tracks the various highs and lows for set periods of time and can download it to another application so it can be displayed in chart form. Neat info.

What the system and software were lacking were good directions on how to work everything post-installation. The directions led me through the hardware set up perfectly and the software installed without a hitch. At this point the intuitive part of the installation came to a halt. Unfortunately, the directions did not pick up the slack and bother explaining any of the hard stuff. Like getting the data into the chart from Heavy Weather, creating new data fields, etc. I was able to figure this out, but it was not easy.

Why go to all that trouble creating simple and effective products and not take the extra step to explain how it all works?

I think some companies give their consumers too much credit for being technically savvy. The technical writers should never believe the person who bought the product has any knowledge on how to use it. All the buyer really knows is they want to use it. And darn if it doesn’t look simple to use from the photo on the box.

With I have two suggestions. With so many traditionally non-PC products, like Pinewood Race Car Tracks, now connecting to a computer it is imperative that companies:

1. Take the time to test, using technological idiots, whether or not it’s easy to set up and use.

2. Every product directions writer should have a large sign in his or her cubicle stating, “Remember, Laymen Buy Our Products!!”