Keeping a coding journal pt. 2

June 22, 2020

Back in ´14 I talked briefly about keeping a coding journal. It worked out for a while, but I quickly stopped using it. There’s a couple of reasons for it, primarily because I had decided to only write down things that I thought at the time, was more important, that were strictly about programming problems that I hadn’t encountered previously, or solutions for “harder” problems.

Anyway, since I wasn’t used to writing by hand, I ended up writing less and less, which means that the things I actually wrote out, weren’t long enough to actually address whatever thoughts I wanted to express.

I stopped taking notes.


Image of my notebook from the original post in September 7, 2014.

Going digital

Around 2017 and 2018 I started taking digital notes, mostly in Microsoft OneNote. Which worked kind of well, but I had another problem. Because I was able to use digital tools, and because I was able to use my keyboard.

I ended up taking too many notes.

There was too much noise, I could copy in too much content, and I could write too much. I had a hard time coming back to my notes, and since you can create basically an unlimited number of notebooks, I never could really remember where different types of notes should go. Or what kind of notebooks I had already created.

Not having any boundaries was my biggest problem with digital note taking.

I did have a short stint trying to use the Apple pencil with my Ipad, but I just couldn’t get used to it, it just felt weird.

Back to the drawing board

In 2019 I changed back to using analogue notebooks. At first I just used random notebooks (mostly spirals, since they can lay flat). But then I started looking for something more unified. I usually carry my ipad with me, and I wanted something about that size. After taking some measurements, I found that a B5 notebook is almost identical in size as an Ipad Pro 10.5″.

2 Leuchtturm 1917 B5 notebooks, one black and one yellow, on top of each other, with three pens at the side.
My work and school notebooks, with my current favorite pens.

Notebooks

My current go to notebook is the Leuchtturm 1917 B5 composition notebook, soft cover, dotted. Leuchtturm is German for light house, but I digress.

I’m actually using two, one for work, and one for school. I’ve decided to always have black notebooks for work, whilst for school I’ll mix it up with different colors (first off with bright yellow). I especially like the soft cover, since it’s easier to handle day to day versus a rigid hard cover notebook that doesn’t have any give.

Another thing I do enjoy with the Leuchtturm brand of notebooks is that they have a table-of-contents in the beginning, and all of the pages are numbered.

I also have two additional notebooks. Specifically a Muji spiral notebook, an A5 if I’m not mistaken, which I use for scribbling, doodling and quick meeting notes (of which I after the meeting move over to my main notebook). And finally I use field notes for everyday reminders and lists, although nothing work or school related, more like grocery shopping.

How I take notes

I try to take notes throughout the day (usually multiple times). I tend to write down what project, what I’m doing, and what (if any) difficulties I’ve encountered. If possible, I try to write down where I was (project wise) at the end of the day / when I’m done with whatever task I’m doing for a project (it’s not unheard of working in more than 5 projects in a week, or even in a day).

I’ve noticed that it’s easier to reconstruct where I was, if I’ve written it down. Not because I can read it, but rather because when I write it down, I condense it to a couple of sentences. Since I’m lazy, I don’t want to write more than I need. So when I reduce the complexity to as few lines of text as possible, my brain makes it more readily accessible.

It’s counter-intuitive, but merely the task of writing it down, makes me remember it better, even if I don’t read it ever again. And I actually don’t tend to go back in my notebooks.

Bookmark system

The few times I do go back, I have a very simple system, plastic bookmark stickers (basically small rectangular post-its). Whenever there’s something left to do on a page (e.g. a todo-list) and I wasn’t able to complete before I move on, I leave a bookmark horizontally.

If I notice that I’ve had the problem I’m articulating before, and if it’s a generic problem and I want to write a blog post about it, I leave a vertical bookmark. And that’s it.

When I reach the end of a notebook, and there’s no pending bookmarks. I archive the notebook.

Writing instruments, i.e. pens

I’ve gone through quite a couple of different pens before settling on a couple that I really do like. My absolute favorite pen is the Pilot G-Tec/Hi-Tec-C, the 0.4mm. It’s a gel pen that is easy to write with, and has a nice thin line. I haven’t found the G-Tec locally, but there is the Pilot Hi-Tec-C Maica. It’s in essence the same pen, it has the same refill as the G-Tec, but it uses a different case. I primarily use two colors, the blue-black and the red.

My go to ballpoint is the Rotring Rapid Pro, it has a nice weight to it, and the knurling is awesome. Although I don’t use ballpoints all too often, I usually use it when writing in the Muji notebook or in the field notes notebook.

I seem to have a thing for German stationery, Rotring, or rot ring, is German for red ring, which all of their pens have.

Picture of the pens, Rotring 500 mechanical pencil, Rotring Rapid Pro, and Pilot g-tec
My Rotring 500 mechanical pencil, my Rotring Rapid Pro, and my workhorse Pilot G-tec-c4 gel pen

And finally I have a mechanical drafting pencil, the Rotring 500 0.7mm, loaded with Pilot ENO lead, the light blue. I use this for sketching out diagrams, before committing. The light blue colors is awesome for scaffolding, and since it’s light, it’s not as permanent as say the G-Tec. While not as sturdy as the Rapid Pro, it has the same kind of knurling, and it feels great in the hand.

And finally, I try to always have a ruler with me, I tend to draw a lot of lines. Mostly when I’m committing to a specific diagram sketch.

Conclusion

I do recognize that keep an analogue notebook is a huge waste, both in carrying around, but also in ecological and economical standpoint. But I’ve found that it’s the best way to retain information. Just the act of writing it out helps me store, process and catalog the information in my memory. Will it work for you? I have no idea, but I do recommend trying it out. And as with most things, you need to do it for an extended period, a couple of days won’t cut it.

I’d say that you’d probably want to work through one notebook, front to back. Once you’ve gone through it, I’d think you’d be able to evaluate if it’s helped you at all.

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