Some academics used edge-notched punched cards, which is a sort of index card with manual mechanical selection ability. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edge-notched_card and http://kk.org/thetechnium/one-dead-media/ .
These were used until the 1980s. The contents for the Whole Earth Catalog in the 1970s was organized with them.
A smaller number of academics and researchers used interior-notched punched cards (eg, the well-known IBM punched card) with sorting/selection machines and not computers. I think these can no longer be called index cards.
I suspect the idea hinged on edge notched cards or something similar.
> It aimed to gather together all the world's knowledge and classify it according to a system they developed called the Universal Decimal Classification.
Quoting https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Otlet :
> Otlet was responsible for the widespread adoption in Europe of the standard American 3x5 inch index card used until recently in most library catalogs around the world (by now largely displaced by the advent of the online public access catalog (OPAC)).
Mechanized (but non-computer) versions of such a system include Vannevar Bush's Memex (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Memex ) and more obscurely Calvin Mooers' DOKEN (http://www.historyofinformation.com/expanded.php?id=4243 ) and ... there's a French information scientist from the same era but I've forgotten his name.
The materials I read said that after 10K-100K cards (forgot the actual tradeoff point), it's better to switch to interior cards because it becomes more worthwhile to sort by machine. The machines are expensive to rent, and not worthwhile until many searches are needed.
Perhaps more relevant now than ever with our smartphones and their infinite capacity for distraction.
I found that I never looked at notes written on my phone, but I do with paper.
It also has the advantage that I can tear pages out to give to people. No need to try and text a shopping list to someone when you can just give them one.
Paper Machines: About Cards & Catalogs, 1548 – 1929 (History and Foundations of Information Science) (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/paper-machines)
And yeah, there's something about being able to touch them, move them, etc.
Whenever I use it, I can't help but feel bothered by the finality of the act of writing in ink. Since we only use index cards when the task becomes too complex to hold in our brain, it also means that we often need to re-organize our thoughts about the task several times. The act of writing (as opposed to typing in a computer) doesn't seem conducive to that kind or re-oganization.
This does a couple things:
1) There's something satisfying about physically moving a thing
2) I can get a quick visual representation of the balance of my work. Am I conspicuously low on a certain type of project in the queue? If so, why?
3) When they're done, they go in a pile of either successful or unsuccessful (I'm an academic, so for example a rejected grant is unsuccessful). When I need to work on my annual report? I just grab 2018's successful pile and it's an accounting of what I've done.
Personally, I like the finality of committing something to ink. If it needs to be changed, it's not as if index cards are expensive, but I like there being a sense of solidity to "What we're doing".
And here's how we used them to run a startup for ~2 years:
You're not alone in being bothered by finality. If I sense any of that, one of the first things I have people do is test their pen on a card. Then I have them tear up that card. Then, later, I'll have them write an obviously too-big planning item, like "world domination". We then tear that up and break it down into smaller cards.
With a little practice, people quickly learn that cards are temporary, just tokens that represent conversations. And they also learn that reorganizing their thoughts is good and beneficial, a sign of progress. And personally, I think it way, way easier to reorganize a stack of index cards than anything in a computer.
One of the especially interesting things to me is that computers do make certain things easier, but they're often things that I'm reluctant to make easier. E.g., computers can store effectively infinite amounts of stuff. I once saw a ~10-person team with a bug database that had thousands of open items. A database like that is way worse than index cards. It was just a big soup of sadness; people struggled to find ways to stay focused on what really mattered. Eventually a new product manager had to declare ticket bankruptcy and start fresh.
With index cards, requiring manual manipulation and physical space forces people to be more practical, more reasonable, more aware of what's going on. We can only keep so many things in mind, and we can really work on a much smaller number of things than that. Matching those human limits to physical limits in planning tools can produce much better results.
reasons I like paper better even though I have to carry my phone at all times
when the page i'm carrying is full I have to review it and chuck it. phone note apps for me tend to be write only
diagrams and sketches carry alot more meaning for me
no screwing around with menus for shading/font/line weight
just looking at the shape of the marks on the page brings an immediate recall, whereas with text I kind of have to read it and figure it out again
when I pull out my little card to write down to remember to buy socket head screws, I don't get derailed by my unread messages
the classic style has you keep your 3x5 notes as a permanent lab record, I can transcribe it into a notebook for that, this is just 'my day in scribbles'
In that vein, I've recently realized that the CRUD model also defines how I interact with task management apps - I Create lots of stuff, Read maybe 10% of that, Update maybe 50% of what I read, and then maybe Delete (or mark done/hide) 10% of what I update - in short tons of stuff goes in and almost nothing ever comes out.
I realized that with data on a computer, for the most part the default state is that it lives forever, and you have to take positive action to remove data. With paper or physical media, the default state is for things to be lost/culled over time and positive action must be taken to retain things with some sort of organization. "Lost" can mean that what you wrote down 3 months ago is now 30 pages back in your daily notebook, etc. The "presence" of the data fades a bit over time.
So, for me, positive action is fatiguing. It is more valuable to have an organization system that is self-limiting where I must take positive action to capture more, rather than one where I must take positive action to distill far too much data down to what is important. I'm always looking for a better system, but so far a daily notebook where I keep the important stuff "bubbled up" to the most recent 1-3 pages has been more sustainable than any of the Wunderlist/Notes/Reminders/Omnifocus/Trello/etc. ever were.
think about the additional bookkeeping and correctness issues associated with the destruction/cleanup path. alot of the time we maintain references and search structures so that we can 'properly clean up', when in reality we just want to tear down the whole world.
construction and destruction do have a certain pleasant symmetry, but since the destruction path is often less tested and error prone, and may double the work at hand, isn't it worth considering implicit destruction?
I don't completely understand what you mean here and I'm very curious. Can you explain your system in more detail?
I realized this about myself one day while moving, when I found an ancient hand-written essay from high school. At first I could not decipher it at all, but suddenly it clicked and I could read everything.
I realized then that my teachers had been right, my handwriting is really awful, and the only reason even _I_ can read it is that the unique shapes become associated with my thoughts through the act of writing.
They're a great way to organize information; it can be difficult to track down enough phones to spread them out on the floor and see the whole picture.
Also just learned recently there are whiteboard index cards used for flash cards and they’re awesome!
Cheap, bright white (good for small signs) and radiused corners so they stay nice as long as they don’t get bent.
Dangerous track however, because Staedler makes a line of (refillable!) LumaColor fine point correctable pens which are amazing but not cheap. Basically dry erase but needs more friction to remove.
Finally, NUBoard is a “blues clues” style whiteboard notepad, in pocket versions and larger letter sized with tracing/overlay sheets, expensive, cool, still looking for a good use case.
What's nice about his index card system is the simple taxonomy for organization, which can be expanded upon for specific projects or just carrying on day-to-day. Of course these can be modified, but I've found the four groups he proposes (Record, Discovery, GTD/to-do, Citation) work well for everyday capturing of ideas big and small.
This, and Marc Andreesen's note to make a short to-do list nightly for the next day are my main uses for index cards. https://pmarchive.com/guide_to_personal_productivity.html
I'm prioritizing my personal to-do lists with Trello, which is like digital index cards.
So for example I have a Japanese learning deck with columns "word - Japanese", "example sentence - kanji", "example sentence - hurigana helper text (phonetic speller for characters I don't know)", "English definition for word", "English definition for sentence", "part of speech" , "commonality of word.".
So I can make decks sorted by commonality of words with English on front, or Japanese on front, to practice vocabulary. Or I can have one with English sentences on front to practice sentence building.
You can even attach media files, like audio.
And best of all, last I checked this is all free. Still not sure how the creator funds hosting public decks.
I actually find I am reading and learning more because I no longer worry about trying to remember things. I think of it as anki's job to remember, and my job to understand, so now I have more mental resources to spend on understanding material.
I'm rambling, and I apologize, but I HIGHLY recommend anki.
I use it for languages, math, and code (there is a really good markdown plugin).
15-30 minutes every morning is enough to keep many things fresh in memory.
The main motivation was to have a structured note-taking tool always at hand so I'd actually use it. For that reason, all the commands are as low-friction as I could make them: the program itself is called 'zk', and all the commonly-used commands are abbreviated to one character, so instead of "zk new" to make a new note, I say "zk n".
It's something I'm still playing with and tweaking, but I went ahead and pushed my latest changes to the repo at https://github.com/floren/zk so if anyone besides me finds it useful, so much the better. The README does an ok job of explaining usage, although it doesn't document the 'link' and 'unlink' commands yet because I'm not sure how much I like that concept. I apologize for the Go code being a little clunky and redundant in places, because I've been growing it organically.
Index cards are incredibly flexible. Anybody who has made it through elementary school can use simple office supplies to construct rich, elaborate systems to support particular workflows.
For software to come as close in utility requires a trained professional to put in a fair bit of labor, and that is done in large part by closing off possibility. Trello, a very good product, has tried to stay a pretty generic card-like tool. But it's mediocre for kanban workflows, and downright terrible for a flashcard deck or a recipe collection or quickly jotting a shopping list that you hand to your partner.
As an aside, getting words on the card faster is often a negative. As others mention, hand-writing something aids memory. It also makes me choose my words more carefully, and write less. I find writing less to be especially valuable during software planning, in that I see cards as tokens for conversation. The more people can write, the more they try to turn them into mini-specs, which shifts them away from collaboration and back toward waterfall-ish isolation.
That said, I still like to use actual index cards especially because they are slower. Writing text by hands gives time to think what needs to be done and how best to express it. And doodling is fun.
I use a real notebook & index cards during the day, but digitise them into org-mode each morning as part of my slip-into-work-mode ritual. That way I always have my recent stuff physically to hand, but I also have everything electronically archived and searchable on my computer too.
If I could just get emacs working on my phone (and extend it to be pleasant to use with touch alone) then my life would be complete.
Technology is great, but there are some things that I have a better experience doing on paper.
The book's title is German wordplay referencing the medium which Schmidt wrote the book on ("Zettel") and Bottom from Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream ("Zettel" being the translation of Bottom's name into German).
They're a bit like flowcharts, they tend to be at a level below what is commonly done as a collaborative exercise in practice. For something completely new and for a programmer with limited experience of OO design, they could still be useful.
The joy of index cards (2009)
136 points Tomte 20 hours ago 59 comments
The joy of index cards (2009)
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The joy of index cards (2009)
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The joy of index cards (2009)
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The joy of index cards (2009)
3 points Tomte a year ago 0 comments
Timing (and luck) can be everything on these sites and some don't actively attempt to game the system and post at the most optimal times to get views/votes. If it stops here, I don't see a problem with the reposts... Just not sure where you would draw the line between this and spamming the boards.
It's interesting to see that you came up with a similar system.
It really is an excellent system that keeps me organized and sane during the hectic periods of life and work.
They’re pretty rad!