Kerry Buckley

What’s the simplest thing that could possibly go wrong?

The death of the Big Blue Notebook

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No lab books!
Ever since I started work, people have had big blue (or more recently black and red) books that they wrote stuff in. I’ve always called them lab books, but that seems to cause amusement to some people, presumably because I don’t work in a lab.

Some of the things that were written were notes from meetings, to do lists, or rough design notes. The most important ones though, the ones that you kept referring back to (if you could find them), were the little snippets of secret knowledge that everyone accumulates as they learn the intricacies of their particular job, whether it’s useful unix commands or instructions for using a particular build system.

The problem, of course, is that everyone kept all this useful information in their own book, so anyone new to the project has to go through a slow process of picking it up from the old hands. About ten years ago a couple of us set up a handy hints site on a local webserver to try and spread the knowledge around the (large) project, but because you needed specific access rights to alter content on the server there was very little content from other members of the team. Unbeknown to us, Ward Cunningham had already solved this problem by inventing the wiki.

Now that the rest of the world has caught up with Ward and wikis are ubiquitous, there’s really no need for the books any more. If something’s useful for later reference, chances are it’ll be useful for others too, so stick it on a project wiki. Otherwise, just use index cards or a whiteboard.

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Written by Kerry

January 3rd, 2007 at 9:58 am

Posted in Agile,BT

One Response to 'The death of the Big Blue Notebook'

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  1. Except there’s something about putting ink to paper that cannot quite be equated with typing into a wiki.

    If someone were to grab me alone the corridors of BT and turn one upside down, out would pop several pieces of papers and two small notes books [old & tattered] containing the junk i love to note down – mostly hacks which two months down the line seem lame.

    This remains why i fear, as much as i would like paper to die – the environment and all of that – it’s not going to happen because of my ilks.


    3 Jan 07 at 10:38 am

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