|Do you know where your variables are?|
In this meditation, I recommend keeping a technical diary.
A diary is usually literature written to be read by the author. As its Latin name implies, its contents are arranged by the day's date. Ideally, a diary tracks every day's events. Entries may be very brief or extended; they may reflect the summation of a problem satisfactorily solved or as likely, they may record failures, or be used to freeze-frame an incomplete thought; they may be highly personal in nature, or not. A diary records what the author wants to read.
An entry in a diary expresses thoughts that are in some stage of taking form, it is a glimpse of the author's state of mind while making way through the unmarked paths of new experience. The author's understanding is the work in progress described by a diary, and so, a diary entry is rarely a work ready for publication. A diary isn't kept with the primary purpose of publishing its contents - in fact, the effectiveness of the diary technique will be significantly affected, probably hurt, by the prospect of others reading the material. It may be private and random, or it may be more polished journal-type literature but, whether the journal is ever read by others, is the author's choice. It is material written for oneself.
I use a diary technique myself, for technical issues, especially when I begin to struggle while learning some new thing. I start making entries when I seem to be having trouble thinking through a problem clearly, and especially when I find I am stumbling, fumbling with the same or similar solutions repeatedly but making little progress. I prefer to keep separate project diaries, even though I usually don't make more than a couple entries in any of them each day.
Here's a sample entry from my 'dbi_diary.html' (It's not necessary to sign every diary entry as '**sigh**.' but I usually do.):
Even if each day's entries appear to be a record of defeats when they are written, they may obtain a very different aspect when they are read again, later. For someone of a more self-assured temperament, the effect may be the opposite of mine. I like that about the diary technique. It provides a view over the backyard wall, a survey of problems I dealt with in the neighboring previous days, together with an insight into myself and the way that I work, as I recorded my thoughts in the midst of the experiences - otherwise only unsympathetically and imperfectly recollected. It's a record of what has been learned or what remains to be understood, and even of what has been forgotten.
If you've never used a daily journal for working through technical problems, I hope that this meditation makes the idea sound interesting to you. I think you will see immediate benefits from giving it a try. For many technical people, it's an indispensable tool; but, most of them very likely use a diary differently than I have illustrated here. The ways of using it are as varied as people are different from one another.
I've also thought that a private journal could be a useful feature on this site - and at about the time I was giving thought to this, the Scratchpad showed up in the Monastery. I've noticed that some monks use their scratchpad in a sort of diary fashion. Maybe consideration could be given to a calendarized scratchpad - private nodes automatically indexed by date, that can be made public or stumbitted to SOPW, for example.
You monks who regularly use a diary technique as you work through
problems, how have you benefitted? How do you use it? Please tell me what you think about diaries.