Old_Curmudgeon: I second your complaints about part numbers and descriptions in print catalogs and online catalogs. Even the manufacturers of products screw up part numbers and call something an ABC-123 in a press release when the true part number looks something like ABC12x, where x can represent several part families and they have dropped the hyphen. This situation comes up more often than people might think.
There are several other (print) catalogs that I rate very highly also, including the GRAINGER catalog, the MSC INDUSTRIAL SUPPLY catalog, and several electronic supply catalogs (MOUSER, ALLIED, NEWARK, to name a few). Mentioning the McMASTER CARR catalog was just a "for instance" moment. But, I can tell you one thing, and maybe this is because of my age, I usually get VERY frustrated searching manufacturers' wesite-based catalogs. More often than not, the format of a part number in their e-database is different from the way it is printed on the item, OR as it appears in a (print) catalog. One can be driven to total distraction because of a misplaced emdash, or other diacritical mark! And, my final "beef" is that with print catalogs, I can make notes in the margins, circle important data parameters, etc. Unless I print a page from the online catalogs, I have to make some other arrangement to store that info in the project folders.
You're right about that. I was thinking of more complex problem-solving and/or assembly projects. OTOH, I generally use the same approach even when putting together furniture--yes I still use those, all bookshelves--even though I'm really familiar with all the screw and connector types, and generally what can go wrong.
I think a lot of this depends on what you're working on. In the description of the systems Jon Titus describes, instructions are critical. When I'm putting together toys for the kids, it's pretty intuitive.
Rob, it's preventive medicine and hindsight. I had some experiences way back where I did the dive-in approach and was not happy with the results. Doing things over due to lack of preparation or foresight is not my idea of fun. It's much more fun and challenging to concentrate on solving the problem, or finishing the assembly, than stopping multiple times to move the project, or go to the hardware or electronics store for parts. I know some things, like plumbing repairs, by definition require multiple iterations in terms of part sizes or types. So those go to a plumber (or my husband).
One of the BEST "books" containing an index is the McMASTER CARR SUPPLY catalog. There is so much redundancy that it is almost sickening, but as was posted, one person's widget might be someone else's doohickey. Nevertheless, they both exist in that index. Sure makes life a lot easier when poring through a catalog of 5,000 + pages.
Manuals should have a good index with cross references. What someone thinks of as a temperature sensor, someone else might think of as a temperature switch or temperature detector. So listing all three in an index helps people get to the information no matter what they call something. Indexing requires patience and thoroughness.
I find the lack of cross references particulary troublesome in software books and documents. In a C-language reference book I use often, I find two references to hexadecimal numbers and hex numbering in the index. But no reference to how to format data to display it in as hex values. In a perfect world, the index would include:
hexadecimal, printing of
hexadecimal, display of
Under the heading of printf my book's index points to pages about printing floating-point numbers and strings, but nothing about other formats such as scientific notation or octal. An index makes or breaks documentation.
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