Blogging class notes

Tonight was the last lecture my C++ programming class, and therefore, the last night in which I took notes on my iBook and “published” them in a local blog hosted on the iBook. When I first wrote about this, I was using BBEdit as my text editor and Blosxom as my blogging software. During the semester, I switched to TextMate and Movable Type, but the idea was the same: because class notes and blogs are both organized primarily by date and secondarily by topic, a blog should work well for keeping notes.

(Another constant was Markdown. I cannot imagine a simpler, less intrusive way of capturing the mixture of code, bullet points, and regular paragraphs that made up my course notes.)

Although I haven’t taken the final yet, I can say that the experiment was a success. When I’ve had to study for midterms or quizzes, the notes were laid out for easy access. When a point was clarified in a later lecture, I could easily go back and edit the original post to reflect my later understanding, something that’s often difficult to do with paper notes because they’re too densely-packed to squeeze in another paragraph.

I was, of course, greatly helped by the topic. Most of my notes are code snippets separated by explanations. Had I been taking a class that used lots of drawings or equations—like my engineering classes a quarter-century ago—I don’t think I would have been as happy with the results. Drawings would have to be done on paper on the side and then added to the blog entries later. I suspect the most efficient way of doing this would be to take photos of the drawings, save them in a spot accessible to the blog, and then add <img> tags to the posts. That might not have been so bad, but I’m glad I didn’t have to do it. Equations would have been handled by LaTeX and jsMath, but I’m not sure I could have typed LaTeX equations fast enough.

I should say a bit about Movable Type. I switched to it for my class notes because I was getting frustrated with Blosxom in this blog. In my experience, MT is great for

The biggest downside to MT was the long time it took to generate those pages. In Blosxom, publishing was simply saving a file in a particular directory. Load times with Bloxsom were, of course, longer because the pages were generated on the fly. I’m not sure which system I would use if I were to do it over again.

Actually, the subjunctive in the previous sentence is not right. I’m starting to organize project notes at work in blog form, and I’d like to make the right software choice. I’m using Bloxsom now, because it’s simple and it’s easy to move its posts to a different platform, but I don’t think it will be my ultimate choice because it doesn’t do multiple blogs and is limited in how it does searching and multiple topics per post. Movable Type is a problem because I expect to do a lot of adding and revising; the long waits during page regeneration are bound to get frustrating. WordPress seems promising, especially since I’ve figured out how to get my own additions to Markdown implemented in PHP, which is what WP and its plugins are written in. I’ll write more about that in an upcoming post.