It's a naughty engineer who neglects his/her logbook

May 18, 2015

Max The Magnificent-May 18, 2015

I've recently come to the realization that I've been a naughty, naughty engineer. I deserve to be chastised soundly because I've been neglecting my logbook.

It's my own fault. I have no one to blame but myself. I was instructed as to the need to maintain a logbook as part of my university degree. Later, when I commenced my first job as a member of a team designing central processing units (CPUs) for mainframe computers, my mentor -- Dave Potts -- explained the benefits of maintaining one's logbook in excruciating detail.

I was a good boy for many years, using my logbook to keep track of my thoughts and engineering decisions (including the reasoning behind both the alternatives I accepted and those I rejected). My logbooks were festooned with hand-drawn circuit and mechanical diagrams, interleaved with descriptions of experiments and tables of results. It was also drummed into me to keep track of things that didn’t turn out the way I'd expected and to always log unexpected and/or unexplained results. The idea was that you never knew when something that made no sense at the time would become important in the future; also that understanding one's failures was as important as comprehending one's successes.

Over the years, however -- as I increasingly came to talk and write about engineering as opposed to actually doing it -- I began to neglect my logbook and to lose my habit of recording things. I hang my head in shame.

More recently, my lack of logbook discipline whilst working on hobby projects like my Vetinari Clock, my BADASS Display, and my Inamorata Prognostication Engine has come back to bite me.

"Why did I end up using this particular value/type of capacitor," I ask myself? Was its selection based on a tortuously reasoned decision, or was did it just happen to be the closest value I could find at the time. (Sad to relate, we will never know the answer to this conundrum.) "What was the URL of the Internet resource that contained all the useful information about calculating the dates of the next full and blue moons," I mutter to myself. And so on and so forth.

This past weekend, I was pondering the details associated with a 5V regulated power supply that I've found to be particular efficacious. I would like to purchase a couple more for new projects, but from whence did I obtain the original unit? Was it Allied Electronics or Digi-Key or Mouser or Newark or...? And what was their part number for the little scamp? If only I'd written all of this stuff down in my logbook (if only I'd had a logbook in which to write all of this stuff down).

Thus it was that I popped out to the local stationary store this lunchtime to purchase a new logbook. Henceforth, I will be accompanied by my logbook wherever I go and I shall record everything that needs to be recorded.

Do they still teach the use of logbooks at university? I certainly hope so. In fact, I just found this video of Dr. Donald Elger, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Idaho, explaining his logbook recommendations and usage model.

How about you? Have you always trodden the path of logbook righteousness, or have you succumbed to slothful ways like yours truly? Fear not, because even if you have wandered off into the weeds, there is still hope -- purchase a new logbook at your earliest opportunity and walk with me into the light.

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