Digital Engineering Notebooks - Future Seasons

I’ll also note, just as an aside, that even in the patent realm there is no longer any point in documenting when things were invented. The US (and the rest of the world) is first to file/first to disclose and not first to invent, so all that matters is “who submits the patent application first/who first publicly documented that they invented it.” (I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, I probably have no idea what I’m talking about)

Both as somebody who sometimes judges, and as a software engineer, the idea of documenting anything by “write down everything you do in order with no actual organization” is just… increasingly absurd to me.

There should be a section detailing your overall decisions, sections detailing how each of your subsystems work, a section detailing the testing you did, a section with notes from tournaments, etc. That’s actually useful, is good practice for actually documenting real world engineering problems in a way you need to share with coworkers/new hires, and also makes judging way easier. Everybody wins, and now I don’t need to worry about teams cheating with their timestamps.

You want to write all your documentation at the last minute? Congratulations, now you’re acting like a real engineer… (this is a joke document as you go it makes everything so much easier and better)

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OneNote is actually an amazing tool.
it is basically a digital notebook or something like a ring binder file with all the dividers.

Actually OneNote was the 1st thing that came into my mind when there were talks about digitising the DEN.
Definitely worth exploring.

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Lots of good points here. I’ve been a proponent of Digital notebooks since 2018 and it’s worked out well during the Covid times.

We’ve done hybrid judging (online - notebooks the week before, in person pit judging the day of the event). The online notebooks, even if they were a scanned in version of the paper notebook was a big hit. Judges took their time and were able to read the notebooks when it worked for them. I think that teams were treated better because there wasn’t the time push to go through dozens of books.

The only issue with OneNote is the licence issues and will it work on Mac and Linux. But count me in favor of a change.

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As both a VEX notebooker and someone who has written digital documents for other high school activities, I can see both being equally valid when justified. For me it comes down to the purpose of why you are writing a document. In my perspective, the purpose of writing a notebook is to demonstrate progress, the team, ideas along the way, record data, track quality management, team management, time management, and sourcing, and really anything else that provides meaningful insight into the project.

A physical notebook forces you to get into it and avoid the perfectionist mentality that many of us high school kids have when doing a project like VEX. You have to learn to manage multiple aspects at once and it’s extremely beneficial to process as once you do it for long enough it becomes built-in. Organization is useful, but providing a train of thought appeals more to the aspect of management and improvement while showcasing the ideas and data collected along the way.

On the other hand, digital documentation is like creating a work of art in creating the most understandable and communicable log of all aspects of robotics: scouting, the build, the code, etc. If I wanted to show the progress of subsystem EX with all of the tiny build quality details that can be lost in a physical notebook, this is the format I would want to use. It’s an extremely useful skill and lends to many aspects outside of careers that robotics would strictly lend itself to. It gives a different perspective of the project as something that has developed over time that can be equally valuable to a physical notebook perspective where a team has progressed over time.

I personally prefer physical documentation for VEX given the reasons above. However as teams reach a certain caliber of decision making process and commitment, it may be more beneficial to transition to a digital communication of the project development given most teams at that point will have had to develop skills to effectively manage progress. Given that, what I would do if I was the RECF is create an additional submission of a project development document for larger and more consequential tournaments such as state/regional tournaments, signature events and national/international tournaments. Awards such as the Create, Build, and Think Award would be the awards that are decided from this kind of document, whereas Awards that directly or indirectly depend on engineering notebooks - Excellence, Design, and Innovate - would rely on physical documentation.

Ultimately as a student, I want to gain skills from documenting that are meaningful to my experience level, and I think flexibility is needed to achieve that. VEX is fun and exciting, but there are many fun and exciting things with various skillsets involved and I would want to see that diversity represented in any decision, if there is a decision at all, that is made. And as to time-stamping, I think that’s entirely an organizational effort to have a system that best manages it. It can be achieved with either documentation method as long as there is a system in place with specific aspects assessed.

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Almost the entire Microsoft Office Suite is available on Mac OS X.

Not only that we have browser based options for each of our Office Tools.

/ Microsoft Engineer rant over.

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I know several teams who use OneNote, at least of which has won the Design Award based on its OneNote notebook.

I also like the idea of letting the judges review the notebooks prior to the tournament, and letting most of their time at the tournament be focused on interviews and watching matches. (This is what we did at a Showcase Event I judged at last season, though I forgot to look at the notebooks myself.) Maybe even let them see the notebooks early but also be allowed to review a notebook at the competition if it still needs more people to review it. (At the Showcase Event, the notebooks had already been reviewed by most judges, so we didn’t need to look at them again, though I think I was allowed to look if I wanted to.)

This would mean teams have 1-2 fewer days they’re able to add to the notebook before they submit the copy that will be judged at the tournament (and they might need to take a little extra time out of their day to submit it), but they can explain those parts of their design process in their interview if necessary, and it wouldn’t take much time to submit a notebook that’s already digital (mainly just if they need to scan a lot of pages from a physical notebook).

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Another issue I find with digital notebooks is that checking the date is harder in a sense or rather it takes longer. With a physical notebook you just turn a page and the date and all the info is there.

Digital notebooks are also slower to review, waiting for pages to load, the date to load etc. A physical notebook is 100% reliable you open it everything is there.

Why is checking dates important?

In a physical notebook, content is layed out sequentially. When judging against the current rubric with the emphasis on the iterative design process, how can a judge who may be looking thru 5-10 team notebooks, easily see the iterative design process applied to each component of a robot? Some people color-code or use table-of-contents to help, but it’s difficult, and there is a significant time constraint to looking at the notebook during the competition, while also having to find the teams to interview, watch matches, etc.

I fully agree with:

Of all the problems associated with this wonderful (and I mean that sincerely) program, I think there are great gains to be made in the Notebooking/Judging area.

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I’ve never had issues with page load times. I have had to wait for another judge to finish looking over the single physical copy of the notebook so I can take a look at it. Also, it’s much easier and faster to read typed sentences rather than poor handwriting (no judgement there, my handwriting is awful as well).

In my opinion, the appropriate compromise would be “use whatever format works best for you, and we’ll try to load your Google doc/OneNote/whatever link, but you’re also required to submit a .pdf or physical copy if we can’t get it to load”

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I was saying checking dates is important for the whole “verifiable timestamp” thing.

I also agree that judging the iterative side of the design process is easier with a page for each design. It makes judging much easier, which then makes it faster.

But my point still stands about the physical notebook being reliable.

Sure, but this is a somewhat artificial construct. Typing a date in a doc vs printing a date on a page, is either truly “verifiable”? What is the purpose the date is trying to capture? That the notebook wasn’t done the night before? As others have said, while this may once have been an important thing in industry to expose to students, the current state of patents (the real-world usecase) have changed.

There are many definitions of “reliable” that could be applied. We’ve left notebooks behind at competitions. Do we rely on the kindness of the EP to mail it back to us? What happens to work done in between the time it was lost and found? What if there’s a competition before it gets back to us?

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You aren’t crazy. It’s much easier in my opinion and you’re able to put much more effort and work into it. The most noticeable I’ve seen is sketches because none of my group knows how to draw online very well, but a couple of us know how to sketch on a piece of paper. So it’s much easier for us to work on the physical rather than the digital.

Wayne Gretzky said, “I skate to where the puck is going, not where it has been.”

Digital is the present and the future for many years now.

Uploading screenshots of the notebook would serve as timestamps that would not be too burdensome.

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Ya know, off the side quotes really are not a thing, but I’ve got to say that Wayne nailed this. Not pushing you to be now, but pushing you to the future. I’m done @Megatron, you’ve won today’s Internet forum. Well done. Thanks to you and Wayne.

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Although I like physical notebooks, digital is the future. I’ll have to adapt to it eventually. Also a win for digital notebooks is it’s much easier to form a notebook, typing - faster, pictures - faster, graph - faster.

This thread has convinced me that digital is soon going to be the way to go.

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I believe that a mix between digital and physics is the “best way” to go about it. I feel like the benefits of drawing on paper and drafting ideas that go into the notebook is great. Digital note books give the opportunity to write a lot more taking less time allowing for easier edits of spelling and grammar. As someone with a reading writing diablity I can say I would probably document a lot more if our notebook was digital; Look at this paragraph now, if I had to write this pen and paper it would have never happened. I think submitting a digital notebook is great but having a physical notebook for meeting notes or accomplishments is also great to have on hand during interviews and while working on the robot itself.

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You could simply sketch and then snap a picture or scan to digitize. I prefer free hand sketching as well to digital sketching.

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I personally have been at competitions and seen teams sitting in a corner making multiple pre-dated journal entries in a physical notebook before submitting their journal. Physical journals do nothing to officially mark a date. Their are several time stamping programs that do a great job of that for digital notebooks but to my knowledge, none are free. So, it would be a shame to force teams to purchase it to have a digital journal.

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In theory, one could argue that under the current Notebooking rules, there are 2 or 3 dates for an entry that matter:

  1. When did the activity the entry describes take place
  2. When did the entry take place
  3. When was the entry witnessed

Ideally, all 3 should be the same date, though I don’t believe that is a hard requirement in VRC. In legal settings (such as back-in-the-day patent disputes), entries made “contemporaneously” to the meeting or work would be deemed more reliable than entries made days/weeks/months away.

I agree with this. I personally treat my digital notebook as if it was a physical one. But it has the benefits of a digital one:

  • Easy to read, as it’s a font rather than handwriting.
  • Am able to type faster than I can write, this allows me to write more.
  • I don’t have to worry about being wrong, I can go back and edit grammar or mistakes. If something doesn’t fit I can adjust and move things around.
  • I can’t lose or damage it, as it saves in the cloud.
  • QR Codes and hyperlinks! (this makes it easy to look things up)
  • Copying a physical layout allows the reader to know what to expect, although non-standard programs can be fun and useful, it comes with a learning curve to the reader.

Although I do think it’s up to personal preference and both should be allowed.

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