Chris Alexander

On Engineering

The Engineering Log Book

7th January, 2018

Recently, I have opened the first page on Engineering Log Book #7 since I started this job about three and a half years ago. While at University, the concept and justification for keeping a log book was hammered into you, to the point that for your final year and group projects, your supervisor had to sign it on a weekly basis to ensure you were keeping up with it.

Quite often, people are surprised at the concept of an engineering log book. Certainly when I started my first job out of Uni, it was not a concept that most of the people I worked with were even aware of - and I was without a doubt the only person who kept one up to date regularly. When I left, I almost ceremoniously handed the log books over for them to keep, as the intellectual property contained therein is property of the company. Back then, I purchased my own Moleskine notebooks to write on - wonderfully made and very comfortable.

Nowadays I use Red and Black standard notebooks, which haven’t changed all that much in three years, until I recently cracked the spine on #7 and realised big changes were afoot. Gone are the neat introduction page and map, and in are full-page giant-font inspirational quotes: by H.G. Wells of all people! (He has a strong connection to the local area - within a mile of the office is Horsell Common, where his tripod Martians landed in The War Of The Worlds). Nonetheless, while I’m not one for full-page inspirational quotes, I am one for consistency, so Black and Red it is.

Pretty much everything I write down goes in the log book - if I’m going to write it down, there’s not a lot of point copying it out again, is there? Probably the only exception to this is pointless and irrelevant doodles, for which there are post-it notes. (By pointless and irrelevant, I mean doodles to fill the time, which bear no relation to the work).

However, a lot does go in to the log book. On a daily basis it acts almost as a diary, recording thoughts, events, actions performed and ideas formed. At the end of the day, the last paragraph is often a reminder of what I was just doing and what I intended to do next, before the call of home became to strong; it saves stressing about trying remember it all evening, and allows a jump-start first thing in the morning almost as good as a freshly brewed espresso.

There is also “craft time”, which is when I print something and stick it in with sellotape. This often involves some trimming, and a few jokes that we should all get the coloured pens out. Very useful for code snippets, charts and figures, screenshots and generally other bits and pieces from the computer as a easier- and prettier-to-render record than my scribble-like scrawl that some call handwriting.

As time goes on, I find we move and evolve our technology so quickly that there is quite a pronounced drop-off in the revisiting frequency to old pages. Once you’re three or four pages back in the log book, that content is rarely visited. But when it is, and sometimes desperately so, it is all the more worth having it. Additionally, the process of actually writing out the thought processes, descriptions and other information is as much about taking a moment to reflect and generate new ideas than it is about providing a material record for future use.