Tell us about your engineering notebook

Judge here on a late season regional championships (hey I’m a judge for hire! :slight_smile: )

Just blown away on the 470+ page notebooks both digital and paper (paper book is a three ring binder full of the VEX standard notebooks).

To be honest, I’ve seen professional design packages with less documentation.

Notebooks are much more detailed. lots of pictures, code (please put comments IN your code) with annotations in the notebooks. CAD drawings with pictures of the actual build. Heat maps of the best driver and auto sequences to drive. Videos of testing cycles. QR codes to videos in paper books.

Back when I started (VEX was steam powered) notebooks were frail, maybe a few pages, then sticky notes on pages. This new wave is amazing. My autobiography would be less than the 500 pages of a single build season (and my life would be less interesting).

Now that the season is down to the end, tell us (HEY POST A LINK!!) about your notebook. Electronic or organic? Solo scribe? Have a base notebook that is your reference? Notebook tips that pushed you into the top?

Because of Covid, was it easier to document because of the social distance / Zoom meetings?

Lots of reveal videos about the robot, but lots of awards (Excellence, Design, Think, Create) all look to the notebook. Help all of the teams excel for next year.

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Here is the best page of my engineering notebook
image

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This year, as with all my years in VRC, my team used a physical notebook from Bookfactory. I like the feel of a physical notebook (you can see where you made mistakes/revisions), and I find that the Bookfactory notebooks hold together better than the standard VEX/RECF notebooks do (especially when you shove them in your backpack when you are in a hurry). I also like how professional they look, and the pages are thicker so pen ink doesn’t bleed as much.

On my team we have 1 notebooker (me), but I try to get the whole team to give me stuff to write (like what we did programming wise [changes to the code, concepts to explain, testing, etc.] and building wise [any tests done, what did we modify, any brainstorming, etc.]. I’m also my team’s videographer, so I always take plenty of pictures/videos.

Because of COVID, I found it harder (in the beginning) to do the notebook, because we had one person building the robot remotely (not hard to write the stuff, just hard to get info/good photos). But as the season progressed, it became easier once we were able to meet face-to-face.

This season, as my notebooking skills improved, I found my self using more and more pages to explain/document stuff. To be specific, I found myself using more pages for tournament recaps (around 8-9 this season as compared to ~3-4 last season). I also spent more pages explaining our rationale for rebuilding our robot.

All in all, I would definitely say that my notebooking efforts have improved this season as compared to last season. To be specific, my team got more notebooking awards this year (1x Excellence & 1x Design). Next season I plan to stop procrastinating and ramp up my decision making processes/brainstorming.

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At work there was an document processor add on that looked for blank pages and put “This page intentionally left blank” in the document. I had a co-worker that messed with it and theirs said "“This page intentionally is no longer blank.”

In the years that I wrote in engineering books for my benefit, I hated writing across the spine (right hander here) . So I would write in all the odd pages first, turn the book upside down and write across the new odd pages ( former even pages) and avoid the spine issue.

Which one do you like? I assume these

http://www.bookfactory.com/engineering-notebooks/engineering-notebooks.html

I’ve seen lots of other teams use these, they get vinyl letters and stick them on the front.

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Last season my team captain (who writes in the notebook) stopped writing after one of our tournaments. A few months later, we went back to that same place for the tournament. Our last entry was titled the town name at the top of the page. The judges mistakenly thought that entry was the tournament on that day, and we ended up winning the Design award. It was also funny because one of our sister teams had this one person who took care of their notebook as if it was their child. She put so much time into it. And just before they announced Design award, she said, “I swear, if you guys get it…”. Her face, when we won, was priceless.

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Clearly, it has the most unlimited potential of them all! :wink:

I would give her the trophy. Seriously, I would, and it is still not too late for you too.

You would lose one small piece of metal and would gain one dazzled speechless friend.

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I am managing our teams (38053A) notebook this year. I employ a similar method to you in which I mainly write the notebook and give my teammates things to write about regarding what they did when we met that day. I had two questions. First, how do you go about documenting changes to the code, especially long sections of code that do not fit well in a notebook. That is one area I would like to improve in for next year. I also was wondering what is in your tournament recaps. All of our team’s tournament recap entries have been two pages. In those pages we were able to discuss every match, what we thought went good/bad at the tournaments and a timeframe for what we want to do to improve. What am I missing? Thanks for the help.

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We used a physical notebook this year since we started before digital notebooks were legalized, though we would’ve used a physical notebook either way. I am the only notebooker, but I rely on my teammates to send me pictures, videos and/or explanations of what they do so I can record it accurately. We didn’t use one base notebook for a reference; we looked at as many resources as we could find and took ideas from different ones. I would say Covid actually made it easier to do the notebook. Since not everyone could meet at once, it forced us to be much better about recording everything we did to keep everyone up to speed, which in turn made it easier for me to put in the notebook.

Our notebook does have several things that could be improved. I think it would’ve been better if most of the page titles were more descriptive, and I could’ve done a better job of explaining things more in-depth.

I think the main thing that set our notebook apart from many others in the state was the fact that we did a lot of work before the season started and recorded that. While it shouldn’t have given us any extra points based on the rubric, I think it helped differentiate ours from the competition. The best tip I can give would be to follow the rubric as closely as possible. That’s how you’re going to get the most points and give yourself the best chance of winning awards.

Here is probably the final version of our notebook this year: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1kQl69D0C2yA0thUoiQ1PO5Mw3bQH3qtY/view?usp=drivesdk

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I cannot properly express to you how much digital notebooks helped us this year. Me and my team were able to crank out so many pages thanks to the ease of digital documentation. In fact, our documentation has the most pages out of all of our sister teams, with 138 pages. Of course, that does not compare to the 470+ page notebooks you have seen, but it is still a lot of pages compared to the rest of my organization this year; not to mention that our digital notebook has won us 3 awards this season: Amaze Award, Excellence Award, and the Innovate Award at the Northern California State Championship.

Also, one cool advantage that digital documentation has is you can have neater, cooler looking formatting. For example, take a look at our title page:
5327U_documentationtitlepage

All in all, I’m a little conflicted on whether or not VEX should continue to legalize digital documentation. While it makes documenting more efficient and appealing, it also doesn’t feel right to abandon the tradition of writing in your physical notebook with pen and sketching out different subsystems and game objects with colored pencils. Personally, I love digital documentation, and I sincerely hope that it will be allowed in future years.

While many people will tell you “follow the rubric” in order to win an award with your notebook, there are very important things from the rubric that you should prioritize, especially at higher level tournaments (not trying to discount what @Anomalocaris said, they’re definitely not wrong!)

  • Write member bios for every member; this will give your team some personality and judges will start to see you as individuals rather than just random competitors.
  • Log every meeting that you and your team have.
  • Take pictures of the changes you are making, judges will love to see this, especially if you explain the changes being made!
  • USE DECISION MATRICES! That is the most important step in winning an award.
  • Make sketches while brainstorming, and use colored pencils (if physical), they help you stand out! If you’re not confident in your drawing skills, try using CAD software instead to model the mechanism you’re brainstorming, then print out/paste a picture into your notebook. I personally did the latter when working on the notebook; my sketches are awful.

Those are the most important tips for writing a good notebook; I could go more in depth but this post is already long enough as it is. Hopefully you found my opinions and wisdom interesting! Good luck everyone in your future documentation endeavors!

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No problem!

Here’s what my team does:

  1. First we do a brief summary of our accomplishments. We list our W-L-T record, what seeded alliance we were in (who was our partner and did we pick them or was it the other way around). We also list our qualification/robot skills challenge ranking as well as our robot skills score. Finally, we list any awards that we got and our general consensus about the tournament. Then, we get into the nitty-gritty details.

  2. Autonomous: More specifically our program(s) as compared to the rest of the robots at the competition. We talk about our accuracy rate, and how it compared to the rest of the teams (was it competitive or not). We discuss what went wrong, but more importantly why it went wrong.

  3. Driving: We discuss wether we believe our driver had gotten enough practice, and how well were the other robots driven.

  4. Robot Skills Challenge (RSC): We list our skills scores (as they are entered into TM) and our overall ranking. We also lost notes on each run (what went wrong [and why that happened] and what went right).

  5. Robot Competitiveness: We talk about our robot as compared to the other teams. More specifically how competitive was our design implementation, and what was the general design(s) that the other teams used.

  6. Matches & Stats: We list all of our matches in a table (all 4 teams and the match score). We also list our tournament stats to the side of the table (these mirror the stats in our scouting sheet).

  7. Match Strategies Pt. 1: We go over each match in detail, discussing the 4 robots in said match and our alliance’s strategy for that match. We also list why we lost, if we lost that match. We only discuss qualification matches in this part.

  8. Alliance Selection: This section pertains to the alliance selection. We discuss our plans for alliance selection (our top 3 picks) and which team we ended up alliancing with (and why we allianced with them).

  9. Match Strategies Pt. 2: We discuss our alliance’s plans for the round of eliminations (what autonomous program is each team going to run, what’s our general strategy, etc.) and continue detailing our our strategy in each match (same stuff as in Pt. 1).

  10. Noteworthy Teams: Here we briefly list/mention any noteworthy teams (not just their name/number but also why they deserve to be mentioned).

  11. Competition Photos: Here we put any notable photos from the competition (us with our award [if we won anything], our robot scoring, the aftermath of a match, etc.). This usually takes up 1 whole page.

  12. Moving Forward/Subsystem Analysis: Here we discuss our path moving forward (general timeline). We also discuss, if we feel it necessary to do so, what went wrong and what went right with every subsystem.

Extras: In an earlier tournament I calculated the changes in the data in our scouting sheet (percentage change and value change) from before and after that competition. This gave us concrete evidence that the scouting sheet was helpful/working as intended. We only did this for one tournament because it was our 2nd in-person event and we figured that the overall trends would be roughly the same for our 3rd one.

Overall, tournament analysis don’t need to be as verbose and drawn out as what my team does. I would suggest discussing each major part of the competition, and why things went wrong ( don’t just state what happened). Here’s a link to one of my team’s tournament recaps for reference:

https://notability.com/n/2_qPaakqG8VvqfCsMdmOcM

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My team used this notebook: https://www.amazon.com/BookFactory-Engineering-Notebook-Hardbound-EPRIL-168-SGS-LKT4/dp/B0062O9BY4 (I forgot the page size, but I think we got the one with the fractions)- we got the notebook with 168 pages (navy), and when we needed a second one we purchased the next size down (96 pages, same color).

We used a black and a silver sharpie to write our team name and notebook number on the cover of each notebook, but I would recommend using a label maker/lettering as those would be neater.

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Additionally, notebook digital submission and notebook pre-submission is amazing for judging, because it let’s judges look over and grade notebooks in the team leading up to the event, giving them more time to do interviews

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Oh Monty how I love you for nailing this issue. The ability to sit at home, put some Gregorian Chants on the record player and be able to page through notebooks at my leisure is a game changer for the roboteers.

I feel much happier about my scores and it’s easier to compare notebooks. (Full disclosure, I have a 3 monitor system so it’s easy to put notebooks up to compare them.

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Bookfactory books are cheaper if you are buying 3 or more. The difference is the shipping. Amazon hides the shipping in the cost of the books, Bookfactory charges you. Get together with teams in your area and bulk order them. They are my goto book.

Well except for these:

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As somebody who has the worst handwriting imaginable, I really hope they keep online notebooks legal

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Totally doing this the next time I review engineering notebooks.

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Can I ask why??

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I can only guess his reasoning, but I didn’t like the way notebooks were handled this season for a few reasons:

  • Scanning it was very tedious.
  • Digital notebooks can easily be changed, whereas a physical notebook would have to be restarted if you wanted to redo something from the past (which is how it should be in my opinion).
  • Having to submit it early means you don’t get to include all the changes you make after you submitted for judging. For instance, I had to submit the notebook for worlds on 3/31 which was before our states happened, so our rundown and plans going forward won’t be judged.

I do think having the option to make a digital notebook is good, but at the very least I would prefer submissions be the day of or the day before the competition.

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code (please put comments IN your code) with annotations in the notebooks

May I ask why we should have both commented and annotated code? Isn’t one or the other sufficient enough?

hm notebook not ringing any bells

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