Getting Organized

03/23/2011

Lately I’ve been using this WordPress thing to keep track of some ideas.  I haven’t used it much, but I’m already thinking it’s really powerful.  I also tested out some mind-mapping software, namely Freemind, which is a great way to plan or take notes, but I’m finding it’s not that cool of a way to keep track of references or tie related thoughts together like WordPress.  It seems to have limitations similar to conventional hierarchical file systems on a computer.  I understand that it’s difficult on a flat screen to present data in more than two or three dimensions in a readily understandable way.  But the computer should not be limited in its actual organization of the files to two dimensions!

I’ve been thinking about how to develop a Wiki to organize the resources we rely on as the scientific basis for water quality regulations at work.  It frustrates me that much of the reference material upon which our office depends is scattered across multiple storage areas and records of the documents’ location and proper use are primarily kept in the minds of the most experienced individuals.  I’ve organized the material I’ve accumulated electronically over the last three years into a standard directory structure on my computer.  It’s pretty well developed, so I have general categories and multiple subcategories of subcategories, etc.  Every time I find something I think I’d like to add to my collection, I struggle with where to place it.  I’m afraid it’s getting very difficult to find items that could be categorized multiple ways.  For example, a document that helps interpret water quality analytical lab results might focus on effects on crops and be categorized with agricultural resources, but because of it’s information on petroleum hydrocarbons might be well-placed with underground storage tank information.  I started creating links to some items at the ends of multiple paths I expect I might take in searching for them.  When I reorganize or consolidate directories, the links are broken.

What I’d like to see in a note-taking and reference tool (which I think should be a primary function of a personal computer) is a relational database that you can use to connect objects to multiple other objects (more like a neural network, I guess).  It’s great to have categories and subcategories that you can drill down into like in a conventional file system (and associating an item with a subcategory automatically categorizes it with the parent!) but the ability to assign multiple categories to a single item is also very important in order to allow multiple paths to find the item being sought after.  It seems like this is more like we organize data in our minds – in some kind of spatially impossible interconnectedness, a multidimensional database than can spit out projections of data in fewer dimensions according to user demands.  It’s fun to think about other ways that this kind of data handling system allows mind-like function…but I should move on to higher priority thought.

It kinda seems silly and useless that I wrote all that, but I guess it helped me to build understanding of what I am looking for and realize that the Wiki and other social media software that implements relational database concepts may be a good fit for me.  Kind of like how carefully considering how a wheel makes it easier to move heavy loads might help us to understand the wheel enough to think of how best to apply it to our own situations.

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