Probably the least favorite "labor-saving" device in the garage at home is the weed whacker, also called a string trimmer. It also gets called more colorful names that can't be printed in a family newspaper.
I take comfort in my misery knowing that I am not alone. Surfing a Web site to try to figure out how to replace the head on my weed whacker, I came across many horror stories that mirrored my own experience.
Weed whackers can repeatedly jam and refuse to feed.
String gets so hot inside the spool that it fuses together.
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It's a torture device that is often difficult to start.
When it's time to replenish the string, there's the difficulty of getting it to feed properly, to keep it aligned within the spool, and to keep the whole contraption together, without having a spring bounce into the grass.
There's the whole exercise of having to mix oil with the gas, of having to remember the correct type of oil to use, and what's the proper ratio of oil to gas.
The instructions that came with the replacement head were detailed, but totally useless. They made no sense.
I would normally chalk up my troubles with the weed whacker to my low intelligence, except for all the company I have out there. We can't all be that dumb, right?
Ultimately, I figured out a way to bolt the replacement head - I won't mention the brand, because I've suffered with a number of them - directly to the old one. I saw nothing in the instructions that remotely resembled my solution, but it works fine. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that it doesn't turn loose and fly through a neighbor's window.
The problem with instructions that accompany any project is that although they eventually may make sense, it's like breaking an enemy code to decipher a top-secret message. The manufacturer doesn't make it easy for the consumer.
Any time I open a box and see instructions of any kind, I know I'm in trouble. My hands tremble and I can feel my blood pressure rising. If there's assembly required, there's going to be trouble.
Whether those directions are written by communicatively challenged engineers, or by truly evil people who are mad at the entire human race, we're in the same predicament.
Could there be a missing link in making those directions more user friendly? Each manufacturer should be required to assemble focus groups before those instructions are packed into their products.
Let the designers watch the focus groups to see how long it takes them to follow the instructions. Recruit people who were never going to be mechanical engineers but don't mind getting their hands dirty.
The designers can roll in the aisles with laughter at the fumbling attempts to follow their road map. So long as they tweak those instructions until they make sense before the product hit the market.
Their customers will love them for it.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee editor, can be reached at 708-7916. The Herald's east office is located at 11121 State Road 70 E., Lakewood Ranch.