This article was published in Volume Twenty-Seven, Number Two, Summer 2010 article of 2600 The Hacker Quarterly. At the time I was using Evernote and this article resonated with me even though half the point of the article is to use paper and not technology.
Today I am 100% paperless and I use a self-hosted wiki.
No matter how long you have been hacking, surfing, or working in IT, and especially in these uncertain times when your activity can be sniffed, parsed, logged, and archived, you need a grimoire.
Dictionary.com defines a grimiore as a manual of black magic (for invoking spirits and demons). Those of us who have been pushing bits around for some time know that the things we routinely accomplish can sometimes appear to be black magic to the less technically adept among us. The sheer volume of information we have stuck in our craniums and bookmarks, and our ability to Google with precision, gives us an edge in finding and implementing all sorts of technology magic. This is all good.
But it's not perfect, you know. We forget things. A website that we know contained the answer last week, is suddenly gone. The transient nature of that big beast we call the Internet means that all content is in flux. And by the way, are you tired of the many tech support sites, powered by ad after ad, where you have to register before they'll let you click on the answer to your question?
To paraphrase Dennis Hopper: You, my friend, you need a grimoire.
To the uninitiated, it looks just like a plain, bound notebook. But to you, and to the minions who watch in awe as you use it, it is truly a book of spells. You have the answers, because everything of value you've come across in your technology dealings, you've recorded faithfully in your grimoire.
A grimoire is not pretty. It's not always well-organized. But the answers are there, because you put them there. It's your insurance policy, your journal, your database. In time you will come to know exactly where everything is.
Best of all, it's private. No amount of ISP chicanery, keystroke logging, or site monitoring will ever create another copy of your grimoire. It will never slip a cookie or prompt you to install another damned plug-in.
That, ummm, marginal URL that you really don't want in your bookmarks? Into the grimoire it goes. Default (factory) passwords? Never know when you'll need those. Write 'em down.
That UNIX command with the mile-long unreadable man(1) page? Write down exactly how you use the command in real life, using only the options that are most useful to you. That unsupported hack that made your video card come alive… what happens if you have you have to reload the OS? Catalog it with care.
Account names and passwords: be careful here. Most of us have a handful of good, strong passwords we use all the time. Write down only the first two or three characters, and fill in the rest with random letters. Same with user IDs. No unintended reader will ever determine your complete password from
w9xxxxxxxx. But knowing the starting letters will allow you to remember it.
Now this part should be obvious: my grimoire goes everywhere I go, no exceptions. It's always available to me regardless of where I am or what other resources there are.
If you accumulate as much information as I have (my grimoire is about 12 years old, with new entries written in the margins now), you and your book will become the stuff of legends. When I walk into a meeting and put it down on the table, I inevitably get the question, along with a stare of admiration: Is that the book? I smile in reply.
And if, saints forbid, you should ever be in an embarrassing legal situation and you have to get rid of its evidence quickly, tear out the offending pages, shed a few tears, then flick your Bic. Let's see you clean up a hard drive that cleanly. Privacy, my friends; it is priceless. If your dealing are not quite that dramatic, your grimoire is a good reference at review time or when preparing your resume.
So spend a few wise dollars and obtain a good quality, bound notebook with lined archive paper, and start filling it with your accumulated IT wisdom. You and your grimoire will make history.