@Spike_johan: Interestingly, this is what most trainee engineers suffer from in their first couple of years. "If you didn't write it down, you'll forget it" and "If you didn't write it down, you didn't do it". It is through hardship do they understand the importance of physical documentation. Going tech-savvy is good, but in order to build a technology, paper documentation is required.
The days of bound engineering lab notebooks (for patent purposes) that would no longer close due to being stuffed full of Polaroid scope photos are long gone, binders do help solve this.
These days keep all your design notes and measurements on a computer. This way you can search for some long-forgotten entry based on a vaguely remembered keyword, and disseminate your notes through email instead of a photocopier. (Patent lawyers might not agree with this philosophy, makes it too easy to fake the dates.)
The main thing is to write everything down. You never know what you may need at some future time.
I use a lot of 3-ring binders, so many it's hard to store them all. I don't use them for everything. For day-to-day notes and planning, I far prefer college-ruled composition books with "granite" covers. They're a nice size, light, and easy to take on public transportation. I carry them everywhere.
I'm also a strong believer in documentation -- the earlier the better. When I'm working on something new and don't know what I'm doing yet, the notebook is excellent. However, once I can start to describe it I find that writing it up using a document editor is a great way to get the ideas filled in, and it becomes the first draft of the eventual documentation. The hard copy goes in binders.
I find it very hard to proof-read on a screen. I always find errors after printing out on paper.
IMO everyone should print hard copy listings of their software and technical references. If doing so creates so much paper that you can't manage, then your design approach clearly needs to be reconsidered.
The challenge of documentation is that it is usually intended for retrieval in the future. This means that the effort of documentation has little immediate reward and the future retrieval depends upon maintaining access integrity through time. Three ring binders are bulky and hard to search but admirable in their accessible user interface through time, changing computer software, and operating system. Computer files must be created in a format for which future access is assured and the files must be rolled ahead to each new generation of the storage system. They must also be preserved in a way that is obvious to others. Most computers are reused or retired when their owners retire or pass away. Few files are effectively captured and mined for the corporate benefit. Lab books are visible which at least forces somebody to consciously decide whether to preserve or discard them. Someday, our ability to create data will be matched by our ability to mine it. In the meantime, most recollections of previous solutions depend upon the memory of the inventor; the documentation merely fills in the fine details. The next generation has little hope of mining the digital records of their predecessors.
@DrQuine - The challenge of documentation is that it is usually intended for retrieval in the future.
What I have found using the smaller one inch binders is that this size works for keeping the quick reference stuff. The few pages of the data sheet one needs to access quickly like the pinouts and footprints. I also keep the schematic, and BOM in these thin binders. I like to think of these as aking to the "pocket program guide." for easy quick reference.
Size does matter here as I like to reference some of these as a bedside reader. The photograph was taken literately on my bed. This size is also useful in the bathroom. Granted one can take the laptop, or phone into the loo (head or necessary) Given that most of these now have Orwellian cameras on them, I am not sure I want to do that. Or for this natural engineering and salty sailor talk topic to continue.
@Karen - My folders are quarantine, sandbox and guff. Then there is the evenMoreGuff folder. Disks and now thumb drives that I sneaker net with are called Noah, and ark. These then go into quarantine.
I can't pretend that I have any good methods for capturing and maintaining documentation, but I do love the file management system an engineering friend of mine has: I was leaning over his shoulder recently while he was working on his laptop and I noticed he had three folders on his desktop: crap, more crap, and even more crap. He told me that was where he stored the "important" content!
I like to document my work with the help of a simple technique: locality of reference. This means that I keep at hand those things that have equal importance to a project, even if I don't use them. Not only that, I label each section using the alphabets A,B,C etc, and write a summary of contents on top of every label. If I need a document on Software Post Processing that has been labelled in "T" and if the topics Software String Management in "Z" and Software Code Debugging Models in "R" are equally important to the project (even if they are not needed), I group the labels T,Z and R together.
I like using thunderbird. This allows for multiple accounts and lots of sub folders. For mailing lists, I have search patterns which sort the list into it's own digest folder.
Thunderbird sets up a local fork, which is an accountless email client. Useful when working with IMAP hosts. It is also possible to set up additional headless POP accounts. Works good for archival mail.
Sent and received messages can be copied to these headless account folders, where little icon allows the correspondence to be see in a threaded view.
I keep a folder named sync, for temporary messages or when I am traveling and need to download emails.
Fortunately I am not as famous as you or Max so I don't need to think about this sort ot thing, but Max seems to have found a good solution. This was in 2011 so maybe we should ask him to update his experiences...Max??
@David: This was in 2011 so maybe we should ask him to update his experiences...Max??
It's strange that something as ubiquitous as emaisl shoudl cause so many problems. For my personal emails I'm still using the same scheme you mentioned. I have a Google Apps account that gathers all of my email messages from the various accounts that seem to poliferate over the years. I use Outlook and Google Sync on all my personal machines, which means that all of the machines always re-sync when I power them up (and keep resyncing whilst powered up) and any actions like email messages that I send, receive, delete, whatever on one machine are replicated on all of the others.
I also have my UBM/EETimes notepad with my firstname.lastname@example.org email account -- that has to be handled seperatly (sad face)
I keep an engineering notebook. In it are meeting notes, phone call notes, and some engineering drawings and scribbles.
I keep one or more three-ring binders for a given project. Number and size depend on size and duration of said project. Often-referred-to data sheets, drawings, plots from test equipment, lengthy derivations, photocpies of a critical page from a book, printouts of key journal papers...
I also keep a project folder on the PC with many directories. I try to divide a project up into logical sub-folders. There will be folders for data sheets, relevant papers (with sub-folders for topical organization), documents (reports, proposals, presentations, etc), overhead stuff (like pdfs of orders and receipts), cad files, and folders for individual cad tools (one for spice, one for microwave circuit simulator, one for 3D field simulator, one for firmware, etc, etc). One for photos - I take a lot of pictures of things with my phone to go into reports and presentations. Others for special purposes that make their need known when they show up.
The notebooks stay on my shelf, except for the current one, which goes with me everywhere. The binders generally stay in the office, except for the small one with currently-used stuff, which typically travels with me to meetings and home at night. The PC gets backed up onto a server AND a desktop hard drive.
Finally, my laptop is heavy since I don't have a desktop. I don't always like dragging it home. So I have files I may be currently working on (a proposal or a drawing or a simulation) also on a thumb drive, and schlep that back and forth so that I can get some work done off site without dragging the whole PC around.
Finding things again is key. On the PC I can search. In binders, I use dividers and label them for organization. Key things are at the front of the binder, and may get individual sticky notes/tabs. I have been known to use those also in my lab engineering notebook, and I summarize critical and frequently used information on the back page.
This whole mess has been evolving ever since I started designing anything, even before I went to college, and it just continues to change as the tools of our profession change.
NASA's Orion Flight Software Production Systems Manager Darrel G. Raines joins Planet Analog Editor Steve Taranovich and Embedded.com Editor Max Maxfield to talk about embedded flight software used in Orion Spacecraft, part of NASA's Mars mission. Live radio show and live chat. Get your questions ready.
Brought to you by