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

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.

32 thoughts on “It’s a naughty engineer who neglects his/her logbook

  1. “we did back in days at TUT. I must say though the problem with log books black or red is the data is after certain point more or less lost. One of my former colleagues improved this practise by keeping a personal wiki, but there you lose the agility and v

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  2. “MaxnnBack in the days of Microcontroller Central when tablets were just coming into their own, I did a blog called “Designer's Documentation App Needed” appealing for an app that I could use to replace my notebook. Looking at my records, it was publis

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  3. “I am not always as formal as Dr Elger, although my notebooks look a lot like his- the problem is that I have maybe 10 projects in different stags of interruption. Typically I have more than a notebook for each project- I actually have a binder where I kee

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  4. “I did a search a few months back for PC logbook software. I didn't find anything that met the requirements. An app for a tablet would be even better. nThe thing is, these days, almost everything I do is on the computer so it seems a bit redundant to writ

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  5. “As you know, I also tend to have multiple projects running at any one time. In the case of components, I have a plastic storage box for each project, so any project-specific components and datasheets and suchlike go in the appropriate box.nnI guess it w

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  6. “The great think about pencil and paper is the ability to create little sketches and circuit diagrams and suchlike. There are some good apps out there, but I still prefer to have a hard copy.”

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  7. “Notes Plus is a great iPad app — in addition to text (types or handwritten + character recognition etc) you can draw sketches with your finger or a stylus — also capture pictures and videos and audio and embed them in your notes.nnThe big problem for

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  8. “Check out my review of “Notes Plus” in Part one of the following blog trilogy — these were written some time ago — the app has evolved tremendously since then — you can type notes or hand-write them with your finger or stylus — you can auto-convert

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  9. “MaxnnI also sometimes use my blogs as part of the documentation, if not directly then as an aid in ordering my thoughts.nnI suspect you do so as well, implicitly at least.nn”

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  10. “Well, well, well !! THAT was a few years back !!nAnd while I still keep log-books, I have also tried various tools over the years to try to get over the problem of searching for “stuff” that I *know* I've seen or done before. Pencil-and-paper is great,

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  11. “Dave!!! It's great to hear from you — can you believe that it was 35 years ago that I joined ICL and you became my mentor? That was some of the best training I ever received!!! “

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  12. “You can probably get a schematic package for the iPad — but I really think Notes Plus will blow you away — it's an amazing app for the price — and they have lots of instructional videos to get you up and running — Max”

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  13. “See, you can't ever escape from me !nI'm humbled by your comments, and look forward your further articles (especially as I'm more involved in embedded stuff these days)”

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  14. “I make my students keep a logbook (or notebook) for the lab class. Some do such a good job I could teach next semester from their book. Others … even I wouldn't have a clue what they are writing about. :-)”

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  15. “You can only do so much. I'm just thinking how I would teach this. Maybe drop a few “crumbs” during the semester then — without having given them any sort of “heads-up” that it's coming — ask a question in the live class at the end — the first to h

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  16. “I have fallen in to the habit of using email where I can both type and past screen shots to make journals of ongoing activities related to parts qualification and vender relations and contacts with contract manufacturers. “Alt PrintScreen” is your frien

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  17. “I also prefer spiral bound because it's easier to photocopy pages than hard bound. The one I have in my hand came from Wall Mart — inside it says “Smart Notes” from http://www.BlueSky.com (it also says it's printed with soy-based ink on 50% recycled paper)n

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  18. “Thanks for the link to the ProNotes. I note it is recycled paper and I would assume, and may be wrong, has the limited life of an acid paper.nnThe sketch book is acid free and should out live me. Of course the scotch tape I use to affix things will pro

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  19. “Logging needs to be electronic these days. I still run a paper log but it becomes more and more just a scribble pad.nToo much info is on the screen and won't make it into a book – who wants to write out URLs?nI use Evernote to keep all engineering relat

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  20. “Since college, I kept tracking on my personal notes, references and manual circuit sketches to my spiral notebook. That is still true when I joined the industry. I do agree that know a days everything is electronic. I get tired of writing them down with p

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  21. “”I would assume, and may be wrong, has the limited life of an acid paper.”nnYou are probably correct, but even so it will last my lifetime, and I doubt future historians will cry over the lack of my logbooks LOL “

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  22. “”'Alt PrintScreen' is your friend.”nnDid you know that there is a “Snipping Tool” shipped together with Windows at least from Windows 7 (in the Accessories on the Start button in 7- else where in 8), although it may even be in XP. It allows you to

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  23. “I think I'd heard of these — but then I forgot and I've never used them — as soon as I get a free moment I'll give them a whirl.”

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  24. “I have been using the same type of logbook since 1981, when I got my first “real” job. The company supplied them, and I was hooked.nnThe logbook is the AMPAD (www dot ampad dot com) #22-157. 152 numbered pages, heavy paper, heavy covers, wire spiral b

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  25. “Thanks for that Max…. I remember reading your Ipad Apps Blog but I will revisit it as a very nice guy gave me an Ipad recently and Notes Plus sounds like just what I need – I am as bad as most of your other commenters at keeping good notes on my project

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  26. “I still have a notebook for keeping notes for designs, but always put them into Evernote where I can readily perform searches and it is available on all of my devices. Evernote has become my engineering logbook and I can share it with team members as I ch

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  27. “This is my current equivalent to a notebook:nEvery project has a folder on a tree directory, based on whether it is for a particular customer or a research one.nInside that folder there is a file named “blues.txt” which sings all my ramblings and trad

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  28. “hello, I am working in a technical institute as a mechanical engineering instructor. I have been tasked for next semester to standardize the capstone course. One of the points we are looking into is log books usage during the course.nnI wanted to ask

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