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Knowledge Explosion (info overload)

 
Isaiah Ari Mattathias
Posts: 80
Location: Oregon
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It's been about 1 year since my wife and I dived into gardening, permaculture, sustainable practices, farm animals and DIY projects. In addition to my day job, the information obtained has been much more than what's been absorbed. I find the greatest way to use new information is to immediately put it into practice, even if done wrong and failing one can learn a lot from re-doing it. Sort of sustainable way of educating oneself, so long as the mistakes are not expensive (like my first time changing my own oil, lol!).
I wonder though, has anyone found a good way to store and learn information not immediately being put into practice? My bookmarks and documents collections are massive, partially due to focusing on all of our zones at once and having so many "to do" lists.
I find myself coming across more and more info, and feeling overwhelmed, which is a good thing. Any tips for storing information? Do you use a Word document, or write it down in a journal or? Would love to hear your inputs.
 
John Elliott
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This is the ultimate Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy! challenge. Cram your mind full of useless facts. Useless, that is, until you come across the exact situation where recall of that info is needed. Then a brief flash of recollection has you hunting for the reference that you remember reading so that you can put that fact into the proper context.

I find that bizarre combinations of key words typed into a Google search usually brings up the document that I am looking for. Today I was looking for germination temperatures of seeds, and I recall that the document I was looking for had a list of vegetables. So I typed "germination soil temperature cabbage okra" into the search box and there it was.
 
Serge Leblanc
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Perhaps look into organizing / storing the info into a personal wiki, such as http://www.connectedtext.com
 
Cj Sloane
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I made a document in a page layout program, Pages on Mac, the older version had better internal bookmarks/hyperlinks but I may make it an e-book for personal use. After several entries I realized I needed a formal layout to force myself to gather the same info for each entry so it looks like this:


It up to 342 pages.

I also have a spreadsheet which has 203 entries. There's obviously duplication but it's handy for sorting/filtering. Like what trees will cows eat that can host shiitakes? Answer: Alder, Beech, Birch, Hornbeam, Poplar.
 
Milton Dixon
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I would propose that you shouldn't try too hard, instead let the information wash over you. Let it naturally make connections with your existing and growing knowledge base. Sometimes trying too hard actually works against your ability to retain something important.

Keep building your experiential knowledge as opportunities present themselves. This should be your primary focus as what you learn will be much stronger and more useful!

This is what I do, it has worked pretty well for me.




 
Chris Badgett
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You could try blogging. When you blog it helps reinforce learning. You can further organize your content with categories and tags and then give yourself permission to let go of trying to hold it in your brain. I do this in my web design business for example. So if I find something useful like this http://www.badgettwebdesign.com/how-to-make-tubepress-responsive-the-best-free-youtube-video-gallery-plugin/ I blog it on my wordpress powered site. Others can find value in your public act of curation as well.
 
Christopher Kyprianos
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I like CJs set up, but I run both PCs and Macs. I also have many other interests that sometimes I go overboard researching. At least I'm honest... :^)

Anyway, I use Excel and this has worked out excellent for me. I have yet not been able to find what I was looking for just by putting in a simple search in the upper right hand box. This is how I do it...

First, when I am in the mood to go google ballistic I fire up the spreadsheet which has a very obvious name, in this case "Garden Info".

Next, I put a last updated category in the upper left hand cell and next to that I add the SS name in case I want to print it I will recall where it came from. OK, so I'm a space-shoot, so what.
Third line I put titles such as: Crop Name, Key Words, Date Found, Details of why this is a good site (wrap text in this column), Website URL, ect., ect. I always bold this line too. Later if need be you can arrange them in a different order according to how your mind works and retrieves info. Plus you can sort the rows in many different ways too.

I use one of these for Youtube videos on how to make paracord items. Works slick. Also have them for many other groups of items where I have collected way to many files, sights, etc. to remember what is what just form the title.

Hope that helps...

 
D. Logan
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I have found that I do best when I save links and data into files, but also write down the most vital information on paper. Even if I lose the paper later, more often than not those parts are now in my memory. I know a lot of other people are the same way. There seems to be a connection in the brain between taking a physical note and memory of what you wrote. God knows enough college students have made use of it. Having it on the labeled data files in the computer allows me to revisit the information any time I like. I will say don't trust links to stick around. I made that mistake when I was younger and lost wonderful information because of it. Websites close down all the time and when you go back for it, it might not be there to use. I would also suggest you read what others have to say on a given topic. Figure out who is very well studied in a topic and most often it turns out they will recommend one or two books that can tell you everything important on the topic they favor.

Sidenote: CJ's files look stunning. I wouldn't mind having a copy of those myself. That would be a very good model to use for the plant data at the very least!
 
Cj Sloane
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The best online database is Plants For A Future. This is my first or 2nd place to look Wikipedia being the other go to.

You can purchase their database for $60 which is pretty reasonable.

I made my own doc so I could make permaculture entries that wouldn't be in such a database like an entry on how to make cuttings, or thoughts on bees, or design. And to help me remember.

There are a few threads here about databases:
http://www.permies.com/t/23697/plants/Plant-DATABASES
http://www.permies.com/t/4292/plants/Plant-Tree-Guild-Database
http://www.permies.com/t/6295/plants/permaculture-plant-database
http://www.permies.com/t/11247/plants/Permaculture-plant-database
http://www.permies.com/t/8838/permaculture/Plant-database-Beta
http://www.permies.com/t/19135/plants/Practical-plants-database-wiki
http://www.permies.com/t/31070/permaculture/Permaculture-species-information-databases
http://www.permies.com/t/5687/permaculture/Permaculture-Component-Database

Did I say a few?
 
Jen Shrock
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Location: NW Pennsylvania Zone 5B bordering on Zone 6
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This is the ultimate Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy! challenge. Cram your mind full of useless facts. Useless, that is, until you come across the exact situation where recall of that info is needed. Then a brief flash of recollection has you hunting for the reference that you remember reading so that you can put that fact into the proper context.


I read and research A LOT.
I also have many other interests that sometimes I go overboard researching. At least I'm honest... :^)
I am right there with you, Christopher! I find that, with myself, what John referenced (quoted above) is very true for me. I have ingested enough information that I will pull something out of those cobwebs in my mind when the time is right. I might not always know where exactly it came from, but surprisingly, I often do. I have found that, when asked about things by others, I am often able to go back through websearches to compile a list of information for them to reference. I have saved a ton of things to my favorites, but find that I often end up re-doing websearches instead of referencing what I have saved. There are some exceptions to that, though.

I have started a blog myself. Right now it is very basic information that I have been adding and I am not sure how detailed I will get about things on there, but it is a way for me to think through things and compile some of that information into one location. I have added pages in the blog in which I have been adding reference material as I come across it, so that will be helpful to myself and whomever also looks at my website/blog. I am sure that as I dive into it deeper, I will fine tune things a bit more.

CJ, your information is quite impressive. I can see how it would be extremely valuable for you as a resource that is specific to your site. I am afraid that if I tried something like that I would get caught up in the design/development of it that I wouldn't get anything else done. I am constantly fighting my natural tendancy get side tracked by a million different things running through my mind and getting completely absorbed in research and not actually getting my butt moving and getting things done. I intetionally have to work on managing the information hoarder side of my personality.
 
james Apodaca
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I like CJ Verde's template setup for saving information - However I would use that for information I want to make sure I retain and can pass along.

For information I might find useful at a later date but really don't have a setup for it I use a hierarchical file structure on my desktop and use the Print to PDF feature. (It's actually supplied through Foxit PDF Reader (http://www.foxitsoftware.com/Secure_PDF_Reader/) I don't believe Adobe Acrobat offers that feature (for free anyway).

--Garden Information
----Methods and Practicing
------Propagation
--------Tutorial files on Air Layering, Cuttings, Division, et. al.

------Composting
--------Vermiculture
--------Hot Composting
--------Cold Composting
--------Leaf Mould

----Plant Information
------Plant Name
--------Articles relating to the identification, use, et. al. regarding the specific plant mentioned.

A previous commenter was correct in that information on the internet doesn't stay forever. Links to pictures go away, whole sites go dark and all the time and effort that was is no longer.

The same holds true for your personal computer so I recommend backing up your information on another hard drive once or twice a year. But in the end nothing lasts forever.

 
Cj Sloane
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Jen Shrock wrote:
CJ, your information is quite impressive. I can see how it would be extremely valuable for you as a resource that is specific to your site. I am afraid that if I tried something like that I would get caught up in the design/development of it that I wouldn't get anything else done


I've got time during the winter, but I'm not much on housework...
I just got really sick of remembering info and not being able to remember the source if I wanted to double check it. So I sat down with all my books two winters ago and went thru them.

I have resisted the impulse to turn it into a database that I can program. The only language I can program is quite obscure (supercard/talk) so I'm OK with having most of it duplicated on my spreadsheet.
 
Cj Sloane
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james Apodaca wrote:I like CJ Verde's template setup for saving information - However I would use that for information I want to make sure I retain and can pass along.


I cut and paste a lot to answer permies questions.
 
Mike Hagar
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Location: Spokane, WA
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Hi Ari. As a retired Software system developer beginning a permaculture project I have been similarly overwhelmed with the information (especially on plants) that I need to track. I am also the web servant for www.SpokanePermaculture.org and active in promoting permaculture in our area specifically. Working with local PDC consultants and permies I have begun to develop a software product called "The Permaculture Plant Workbook". I am just beginning to post screenshots and features to gather more Permie feedback before I release it.

I would love anyone's feedback to figure out if I am headed in a direction that will be useful to others. Screenshots can be seen at www.PermaculturePlantWorkbook.com. Let me know what you think.

Mike
 
Cj Sloane
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I'm not sure based on that pic, how you'd use the database.

Can you filter for certain parameters? I use my spreadsheet for that as noted above for questions like what trees will cows eat that can host shiitakes? Answer: Alder, Beech, Birch, Hornbeam, Poplar.
 
Mike Hagar
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Hi CJ.

You ask a good... short ... question. I could just say yes but it would not get to the heart of your question so forgive my detailed answer. I hope it is helpful.

As you know, structured computer searches are only as good as the precision of the data definitions and the data. Your searches are based on your data and logical data definitions. You obviously have a very powerful system and the 200+ plants you have a great system for your project and I am sure that you have invested more than a few hours, days, weeks, ... in harvesting and organizing the data.

Like yourself, all of us start our Planting projects (Food Forests, Gardens, etc.) with books and web research and we learn to collect the data in some form or we get overwhelmed. I am calling my system the “Permaculture Plant Workbook (PPW)” because it is about managing the ENTIRE life cycle of plants in a person’s Permaculture project. Plant Research is the first phase and searches like you suggest are an important part and yes my system will provide that level of structured searching for our internal plants, but also outward facing (web) unstructured searches. The key to the search example that you state required structured fields containing the desired data (Trees, shitake, nitrogen fixing, cow forage). If you were interested in cows you would want to keep those “Characteristics” in your system. My system allows you to create any “Characteristic” you want to track on your plants.

I plan to start off with access to a basic INTERNAL plant library of about 5-7,000 plant names (and some basic info) I have harvested from “common license” plant data. I also maintain a citation and hotlink to the original data to give credit where credit is due. One great example of a plant resource website is Plants for a Future (PFAF.org) which has data on over 7,000 plants. I have imported some basic information for about 5,000 of them for North America. Until I can establish contact with them to obtain permissions I have limited my examples to only 15 structured searchable fields: Cultivation, Drought Tolerance, Edible Uses, Growth Rate, Habitat, Medicinal, Moisture, Nitrogen Fixer, PH, Range, Shade, Soil, Usefulness Rating, Well-Drained and Wind. (Special Note to PFAF.org... I am the guy who keeps emailing you about leveraging your data. I hope you are doing ok.)

Automated Web links insure that information providers get the visibility, new users and web click stream they need for advertisers, volunteers and donors. Before release I will also import some data from the USDA, Eric Toensmeiers and other websites that will support internal searches but also link to the original record so that as information evolves in the web-o-sphere our data doesn’t necessarily become stale and out of date.

PPW also leverages outward facing search techniques to facilitate web research through automating searches of known plant websites, keeping favorites for each plant, dynamically selecting your default Plant search engine from general to specific: Google, Bing, Wikipedia, USDA, Plants For a Future, Practical Plants, Permies.com or define your own web search string. Try to Google “Permies.com tree cow fodder shiitake nitrogen fixing” and you will get 3 articles from Permies.com and you are in one of them. In PPW, once you have selected the plants that you are most interested in, your list is likely down to 25-200 depending on your project.

With PPW you can start fresh and import ONLY your own data from your spreadsheet. You can define your own “Plant Characteristics” as data pairs: Characteristic Name, Characteristic Value for this Plant. From there you will be able to search for any combinations of data like those that you have defined. Plant Type: Tree, Mushrooms Supported: Shiitake, Nitrogen Fixing: True.

My loftiest goal is to create a community sharing component where people can export data and share it via email (or a central SQL database) with their regional neighbors. As the Web developer for www.SpokanePermaculture.org I have been working towards this goal with my local Permie-Buds and the architecture is currently built into PPW. My goal is to support harvesting plant data from the web, refine it, track your progress and share it with regional neighbors.

Please keep in mind that while my system is a real working prototype, it is still in its infancy and not ready for prime time. I am just now starting to talk about it in broader circles so I can get more community involvement on how to make it more useful.

As for your comment “I’m Not sure based on that pic, how you’d use the database.” It sounds like you just saw a screenshot from the system main menu. If you explore the website starting with the Overview you will get a more detailed view. If you register you can also download a 37 page initial draft of the user manual with 43 screenshots. Hope that helps.
 
Cj Sloane
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Mike Hagar wrote:
As for your comment “I’m Not sure based on that pic, how you’d use the database.” It sounds like you just saw a screenshot from the system main menu. If you explore the website starting with the Overview you will get a more detailed view. If you register you can also download a 37 page initial draft of the user manual with 43 screenshots. Hope that helps.

Yes, I just saw a screenshot.

Just FYI, Paul has mentioned that he wished some charts like the kind found in the back of gaia's garden, were not binary but rated on a 1-10 scale. I do see the value in that but it would have to stay regional or it could get exponentially complicated, depending on the criteria. Not sure if that makes sense but let's say Oak & Sugar Maple are the best for shiitake. 2nd best would be Beech & Hophornbeam. 3rd best would be Birch & Red Maple. That would work across all regions, I think, but the top cattle forage or poultry forage would vary by region. Siberian Pea Shrub might be a top level poultry forage for cold areas, but not in warmer areas.

 
Mike Hagar
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CJ, I agree that a "Rating" scale 1-5 or 1-10 is better in many cases than a True/False. Since PPW is a "Workbook" where you can gather information from a variety of sources I keep track of the "Original Source" of all plant main data and characteristics. When I harvest information from PFAF (or USDA, or Eric Toensmeier) I need to use their scale description as well as data. The good thing is that you can have multiple "Categories" of Characteristics, each having a different focus or Original Source. If you create a more "regionalized" set of your own Characteristics you can modify them based on research and then experimentation and observations... and share them with others who may be in a similar region. Once your research phase is done (for now) you can Hide or Retire all of the Characteristics you have decided are not appropriate or of interest. They will always be there if you want to un-Hide them but you don't have to keep them in your face.

As mentioned my ultimate goal is to create a system that will harvest general information, help you to refine it and share it with more regionally similar permies.

P.S. The screenshot is of the Characteristic Library so you don't see any plant information here.

PlantWorkbook-Characteristics.jpg
[Thumbnail for PlantWorkbook-Characteristics.jpg]
Permaculture Plant Workbook - Characteristics
 
Cj Sloane
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Looks good.
 
Mike Hagar
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Thanks.
 
Sam Boisseau
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Another note taking tool is located at workflowy.com

Lists within lists within lists
 
2017 Permaculture Design Course at Wheaton Labs
http://richsoil.com/pdc
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