Back To School

As a side bar to this – this is what I have dubbed a Meta-Post a post about the process of posting a blog piece. I have always been intrigued by the writing process – and in fact I have a piece that I am waiting to publish on ‘How Long Does it Take to Write a Blog Post’. Hopefully this meta-post will help… Now on with the post…

If you can cast your mind back to your school days for a minute1, I am always surprised that I can recall any of the information that was force fed into me at the time.

Of course, there was always the constant question of “When am I going to ever need to use this again?”

There are two parts to this answer, the first being, that in all likelihood, there will be a proportion of information that you will never ever use again in your life. The concept was to open you up to as many ideas as possible so that you can apply it to your regular life. The more knowledge you have, the more information that you can adapt to a situation and apply.

Example 1

I was at a trivia night just recently and one of the questions was as follows:

In five years time Sally will be twice as old as she was two years ago, how old is Sally?

Of course you could go through this mentally, getting clues from the question (for example she must be at least two years old as you cannot be a negative age).

This is how I scribbled it on the back of my answer sheet:

Letting 'x' be how old Sally currently is

x + 5 = 2x - 2
x + 7 = 2x (add 2 to both sides)
7 = x (subtract x from both sides)

Therefore Sally is currently seven years old.

Without algebra, it would be just a bit of guess work although the answer would have eventually been retrieved. The point here is that I did learn algebra and could recall it from the musty old text books. How about the following…:

Example 2

A company that I previously worked for required a measuring cup for pouring granulated chemicals which would satisfy the following list of requirements:

  • Able to be easily packed with the product
  • Cheap to make
  • Reasonably accurate
  • Easy to read measurements

They investigated many solutions to the problems including a custom plastic measuring cup that would wrap around the chemical container and a pouring device that would provided measured increments of the chemical. Finally they design that they chose was a wax-coated thin cardboard pyramid.

This ticked all of the above boxes, though most importantly that the chemical packaging did not need to be changed, was able to be flat-packed and was cheap enough that the stores that bought the chemical could keep a few spares as a good-will gesture for customers that lost their original measuring container.

With the help of a bit of trigonometry 2 taking into account the density of the granules, the problem was easily solved and when tested worked perfectly.

Why the New Method

Apart from the fact that I already realised that I had a problem with the flow of some of my blog posts. It occurred to me when I was halfway through another post (which in itself was derived from yet another post) that there had to be a better way to write these things.

As a secondary concern, I wanted an alternate place for my notes. I have so many things that I wish to elaborate on that using multiple documents for all of the thoughts just didn’t seem to work cohesively. The constant switching between windows (even with WriteRoom) just didn’t quite work.

And besides, I like writing on paper.

The Plan

Once again, it was time to delve back into the school days and get out the ‘How To Write An Essay’ notes.

Unfortunately for myself, the notes are long gone – a quick Google Search revealed the following (updated for this web-enabled world):

  • Decide on your topic.
  • Research
  • Outline your ideas.
  • Write your thesis statement.
  • Write the body.
    • Write the main points.
    • Write the subpoints.
    • Elaborate on the sub-points.
  • Write the introduction.
  • Write the conclusion.
  • Add the finishing touches.
    • Grammar.
    • Spelling (British English if you don’t mind)3.
    • HTML markup – in this web based world.

So setting myself up with a Notebook, an a4 pad of paper and a pen, I went to work.

The Process

The process is in two off-line stages. The first is using the small notepad to quickly jot down ideas. The second is taking these small snippets and organising and elaborating upon them into a larger a4 sheet notebook.

Stage 1

The notepad, each individual sheet equates to a paragraph or so. The sheets can be torn from the notebook and placed haphazardly around me. This enables a full birds-eye view of the article, after all the screen real-estate of the laptop is miniscule in comparison the physical table-top real-estate.

It also enables me to quickly switch between the various points, I can see the whole article before me in point form – something which would normally involve scrolling through many pages on the one screen, or even worse switching (Swedish Campground tabbing) through multiple windows.

Stage 2

The a4 notebook is the start of the outline of the article. All of the small notepad sheets are placed on the right hand side, in a logical, document-flow type organisation. As each of these sheets are transcribed to the a4 paper, they are placed on the left hand side of the sheet.

I even can put in other to-do items on the sheet of paper. As can be seen below – there is a nice ‘TAKE PHOTO HERE’ annotation which reminds me to take a photo – seen below.


Wouldn’t you know it, I forgot to upload the photo! Oops, sorry!

Stage 3

Transcribe to WriteRoom4. I have also installed TextExpander which allows me to integrate text shortcuts into WriteRoom alone which cuts down on the typing of HTML mark-up.

As a quick side-lined example, the I have set up the shortcut of

<ul

to automatically pre-fill to

<ul>
	<li>{Character Insertion Point Goes Here!}</li>
	<li></li>
	<li></li>
	<li></li>
</ul>

Stage 4

The final stage is to transcribe from WriteRoom to the blog content management system and do a final check. There is still a bit of back and forth between the CMS and WriteRoom. I generally use WriteRoom for all text edits with just a copy and past into the blog.

Pros and Cons of the Notebook Method

Thankfully, most of the cons do have noted work-arounds for mitigating the impact.

Cons

Input Device Required An input device, called a stylus is required for usage of the notepad.

Mitigation the styli are available in a wide variety of places5, easy to replace, come in a variety of colours and are relatively cheap. Carry a spare.

No Undo Oops, made a mistake? No undo feature here.

Mitigation use the ‘Stylus – Pencil Edition’ instead Requires the ‘Eraser’ add-on – sold separately

No Copy and Paste Just like the iPhone version 2.x there is no copy and paste requiring double entry of ideas.

Mitigation Don’t be repetitive.

No Spelling or Grammar Checking

Mitigation Learn to spell, wait until transcribed to digital form.

No Back-Light No good if I wanted to jot down my experiences whilst getting stabbed in a dark alley of London.

Mitigation Buy a torch, pay your electricity bill.

Slower Processor Writing is a slower form than typing.

Mitigation Learn short-hand. Also, the idea of the notepad is to jot down small snippets of points, not entire articles.

Un-decipherable In some situations, the stylus may produce un-decipherable comments and text.

Mitigation Stop drinking so much.

No Back-up This can be mitigated through the use of a photo-copier. Even better through the transcribing to digital form.

Pros

No Vendor Lock-In Can be replaced with a multitude of other products.

Portable The small notebook is light-weight, portable and the smallest netbook notebook notepad available.

Long Battery Life If stored properly, battery life is almost infinite.

Durable Will retain data when placed next to a large magnetic field.

Cheap Depending on where you shop of course.

Environmentally Friendly 100% recyclable, made from renewable sources.

Easy Merge Feature The notes can be easily merged with the help of ‘Sticky Tape’

Light-weight Weighing in at a very small amount.

Conclusion

The above process is what is undergoing a trial phase at the moment. I suppose you could call it ‘old school6 style’, on paper, in pen/pencil.

Of course these days, they would call all of this method ‘Agile’ and they would be correct, previous posts used a more waterfall approach with constant revisions, thoughts flying through my head and constantly swapping between documents as a segue in a post actually meant that a whole new document should have been created.

So in the end, the process became:

9 small pieces of paper » 3 a4 sheets of paper » 1500 word article.

Footnotes:

  1. yes, it has been a long time for me as well
  2. SOH CAH TOA anybody
  3. For those of you that have not seen the movie/mock-u-mentary ‘Kenny’, there is a quote that the main character makes whilst touring the US. When confronted with the American vernacular Kenny asks the camera: “Has somebody rung the Queen and informed her what they are doing with her language?”
  4. I seriously cannot stop plugging this software
  5. Except when you really need one of course
  6. Should that be ‘skool’ perhaps

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