General Engineering Introduction/Notebooks


blank engineering notebook opened to page 62,63.
An Open Engineering Notebook.

Notebook Introduction


Notebooks are not dead. An NPR Story dated 6/2015 describes a large statistical difference between those taking notes on a computer and those writing notes. Notebook sales are increasing. It appears that notebooks are a desirable difficulty. Computers are not good at capturing geography (where a drawing is made in a notebook) or versions. The mere act of searching or clicking on google 'revision history' or wiki 'view history' forces one out of the relaxed 'absorbing the universe, looking for a muse' into a determined, goal oriented, inward driven experience. Notebooks have turned away from repositories of corporate data and into an intensely personal experience. The engineering notebook format here focuses on capturing the strongest possible narrative during the experience of frustration, writing before doing, while doing and learning to take breaks from doing: reflect, analyze and be intentional about the next steps. This triplet is abbreviated:

RANT (Reflect Analyze Next sTeps)

The history of formal engineering notebook writing traces way back into history. According to Einstein's notebooks, in 1912 he first did the gravitational lensing calculations. Then he did them again before publishing his 1936 paper that made him famous. Do you want to be famous? Perhaps you just want to be an engineer. Notebooks are still important.

Edison had approximately 2500 engineering notebooks when he died. Edison's research lab was the prototype for the most respected engineering labs. Tesla did not improve any human institutions. Tesla is only remembered for 'AC power, electric motors, and demos.' Museums today house Edison's notebooks. Tesla left no notebooks. Tesla museums are just now being created in cultural crowd sourcing areas leveraging the sometimes magical, often anti-scientific, personal creativity of the crafts.

The engineering deliverable documentation of knowledge, problems, failures, starting points, decision trees/matrixes, safety, tests, success, theory of operation, troubleshooting guides, recycling, disposal, storage, ... all start with a strong narrative in the notebook.

Engineering is about reproducible methods and practices. This is why engineering notebooks can be seen in movies and TV shows (like the Numb3rs) and are even referenced in modern science fiction:

Felix was a type-one admin, with an extra seventy or eighty pounds all around the middle......Van was reliable and methodical. Trained as an electrical engineer, he kept a procession of spiral notebooks filled with the details of every step he'd ever taken, with time and date.

Engineering notebooks vary tremendously. The pattern of writing and what is written about is constantly changing. The goal of this course is to begin writing in the notebook in a way that:

  • feels like coffee .. need it in order to engineer
  • drags one into detail .. like gravity
  • organizes .. more efficient
  • grows your brain .. improves memory, recall
  • can express and work through frustration with more variety (drawings, writing fast, slow, carefully, scribbling, switching from drawing to writing, changing font (cursive, block, upper, lower)) than hitting a keyboard or mouse ... and actually progress towards a solution

Our brain has a huge section reserved for geography (location). The Greeks 2500 years ago used this for extending their brains. The word "topic" comes from the Greek "Topos" which means place. The phrase "In the First Place" refers to a memorization technique that visualizes a story where the first event triggers a memory clue. Oratory and rehtoric were practiced visualizing events and places. The engineering notebook expands your memory ... if you write in it things you want to remember. You will remember approximately where you write it and the time that you wrote it much easier that the thing itself you want to remember.

Example Most students initially don't like writing in the notebook. This is evidence of playing rather than engineering. "Doing it first" maps to the project writing triplet of "GoingToDo, Doing, RANT" triplet.

Some international standards require notebooks. Government regulations can dictate the writing pattern. Below is a specific writing pattern for this course. "Project writing" describes the "GoingToDo, Doing, RANT" triplet.

Every engineering company has different rules for writing in a notebook. Learn the rules quickly. These links describe the rules for this class.

Writing Pattern
Project Writing
Problem Writing

Page Numbers


The pages have numbers on them. Why? Book pages are numbered. Put your engineering hat on. Respect the notebook. The numbers exist to prove that pages were not added or removed. Page numbers are useful in court, patent fights, expert witness testimony, whistle blowing, Food and Drug certification, etc.

Why do you want to learn to write in these notebooks?

Patent creation is not a good reason to write in an engineering notebook.
To Record information for raising raising money
To Estimate Time/Cost/Materials
To Become Expert Witness, Investigate Accidents/Disasters
To Record Whistle Blower type concerns
To Capture Chronological Context for transparency, accountability purposes
To Record Contacts & Resources
To Document Electronic Files, Names, Locations
To Identify Hitchhikers, Couch Potatoes and turn slackers into communicators

The biggest reasons are all personal:

Document the Tunnel: If you have Attention Deficit Disorder, you have an ability to concentrate. But the minute you do, something interrupts you. The tunnel disappears. You grow irritated. You waste time searching for the tunnel. If you are writing in the notebook, getting back into the tunnel is much easier.
Brain Extension: The modern generation doesn't have to remember the details, they just need to remember the keywords to enter into the search engine. The search engines are now beginning to keep track of our personal definitions of these key words. It is getting easier to find the worlds information. But what about the new stuff you are learning as an engineer? What about the chaos in your brain that doesn't fit any context or construct out in the world .. for what ever reason? Notebooks have a way of capturing chronological and geographical context that we are born with. You just need to remember a few keywords and pictures in your notebook will appear. The notebook becomes your own personal search engine, a personal extension of your brain.
Calm Panic Attacks: Most people avoid frustration in order to avoid panic attacks. Change and the unknown are very scary. This is learned behavior that kicks in when our bodies begin to feel more pain as kids. Engineers have to let the pain of frustration into their soul because the pain causes change, sharpens our intellect and extends inspiration into our dreams. It is the notebook that slows us down, causes us to pause, it helps us deal with the pain in small, planned doses.
Do it Once: Say it once, Touch it once, Try it once.
Start Remembering: Our rational mind eliminates the creative fog and uncertainty of the moment so that five minutes later we can not remember inspiration, clues and facts we actually experienced in the moment.
Slow Down: Don't get lost while actually running around in circles.
Avoid Seduction: Don't seduce, don't be seduced. Brilliant ideas in our own brains can seduce us. They inflate us. They cause us to try and and seduce others in our project team. Tell the idea to leave you alone. Write it down in the notebook and forget about it. Don't try to imprint it in your team mate's brain. Put a boundary around it. Then other brilliant ideas will begin to appear. At this point you and your team can choose among them. Problems seduce us to the point we walk a very narrow path through life avoiding them. Solutions seduce us to the point we can not think of any other solutions. Self doubt, uncertainty, desperation, fear of failure, tiny temptations and even brilliant ideas can seduce us. How does an engineer learn to deflect seductions and find the creative, focused silence? Swim underwater. There are many ways. Explore them. This is the path of the engineer.

You are going to do a lot of writing in this course.

Two problems that cripple getting notebook points are bad handwriting and poor English.