The app I need

May 20, 2015

antedeluvian-May 20, 2015

Max's recent blog (It's a naughty engineer who neglects his/her logbook) sent me rummaging through my own notebooks for something I wrote a while back: 

Keeping a record of the design progress, measured results, decisions made, and calculations performed are all part of the job description for any engineer. There are many aspects to any project, and for a project involving microcontrollers and/or programmable logic, this is compounded by programs that are compiled down to object code. The reasons we need to keep the records include (but are not limited to):

  1. Prove that the design works
  2. Obtain data for use in data sheets
  3. Determine approaches for testing the unit
  4. Patents
  5. Legal liability
  6. Accounting auditing (for tax credits or progress payments)
  7. ISO auditing.

My current approach is very 20th Century -- being completely paper driven. I have a 3-ring binder in which I keep requirements, data sheets, listings, schematics, sundry pieces of paper like POs as well as a notebook. In truth the notebook is more of a scrapbook. It contains hand written notes, drawings and calculations along with clippings pasted in like Excel worksheets, photos, ‘scope plots, design reviews and other details. It is all very clumsy and especially stressful when trying to follow a trail during an ISO audit.

The app I want would replicate the design binder (with improvements) as a single file. I imagine it would have to be distributed across a PC as well as a tablet. Of course it would start with the ability to enter text on a keyboard and have the ability to include MSWord and pdf files. It would be possible to add handwritten notes, preferably with a stylus since it works better than my finger for writing. Converting the handwritten text to machine readable format would be a plus when searching for something. The app would have the ability to add notation to the included pdf sheets. It would need a simple spreadsheet since I sometimes gather data at an environmental chamber away from my desk and then execute some simple calculations. But it would also need to be able to integrate more complex calculations from Excel or even Matlab although I would settle for screen shots with hyperlinks to the respective files.

I would like to see a feature to add bookmarks so that there could be cross linkages throughout the file. Cross linkages into source code would really be nice, since some data cannot be included in the source files.

Interfacing to instrumentation like DVMs or ‘scopes through USB or Wi-Fi is probably unrealistic in the short term, although if there was a script or programming language it could be customized.

Obviously there would be a central folder location where all the electronic files reside but synchronization should be as transparent as possible.

There are dozens of apps that address some aspects of my wish list, but so far I haven’t found any that allows any really cohesive approach. We have the technology, and I hope this blog nudges someone to produce this ultimate app. Sometimes I feel that a laptop may answer my hardware requirements and the Windows environment comes closest to the level of integration that I need, but the handwritten input is important and the clam-shell format is often inconvenient. The AceCAD Digimemo L2 also has potential as an input device, allowing the full pen and paper experience, but the approach lacks some of the other features I would like.

How do you document your projects? Do you know of any app that approaches my needs?


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