To help us learn how to digest and actually get useful information from specs and other complex documents the lectures and reading explain active reading techniques and emphasize the use of mind-mapping software. The assignment is to use a mind mapping application to make a map of a specification and answer some questions about the results. If you haven't got or aren't familiar with the mind mapping tool you are encouraged to snag it and start in early in the assigned time for this assignment , and I did yesterday with mixed results.
Here's where it gets choppy: I haven't met a mind mapping program that I can actually use effectively, though I have tried a few a few times. Much as no note-taking application is faster or more versatile for me than scribbles on paper (alas I would this were not true, see recent /. discussion for ample discourse. tl;dr use a pen and paper) I have to whiteboard or pen sketch flowcharts, timelines, swimlanes and especially formal maps (at work) before trying to fight them into a computer. So this assignment's technique is unlikely to work well for me however awesome it is. And confirmation bias as it may, I had enough trouble inputting the skeleton into the mapper yesterday that I'm pretty convinced it's a net-loss for efficiency and don't want to use it again, certainly not for inputting data.
But the real problem is that the specification document we are supposed to analyze isn't a spec. It's the bleedin' online manual and is mostly full of marketing and fluff. I haven't seen any numbers in the parts I have tried to skim and if there's a section of fluff about interoperability I haven't been able to find it yet.
I think I could have surmounted (kludged) one of these two problems but with both staring me down I'm locking up. I should be able to analyze this app from the fluffy manual and using it, but I won't have anyhting in 3-4 hours but a headache and a wall-white board full of scribble which it would take me a couple hours to clean up and get into the mapper (Or faster into Visio, Omnigraffle, Inkscape in order of speed and cost).
I've either got to learn to type quickly or the computers need to learn to understand my scribble and/or when I yell at them .. but this shouldn't have anything to do with how to analyze a spec or mock the thing they gave you in the specification folder.
I guess I should try and active read through the spec, taking notes as best I can (still no study skills to speak of) and ignore the map for the remaining 2-3 hours and try and come up with something. It either that or I'll drawn a moderately useful map and need another couple hours to get it into the shiny metal box on my table here. Argh.
ETA: a snip from the assignment to demonstrate the gulf between these techniques and anything that will actually work for me:
Every sentence of a specification should be telling you what the product is (Product Elements), in what way it is good or bad or needs to get better (Quality Criteria), or how it will be built and the context in which it will be built (Project Environment). As you find information about the product, note it under one of the topics or subtopics under these main headings.
This sounds like something best accomplished with printouts, scissors, and maybe a bunch of index cards. Then once you have something maybe you can put it in a computer. Am I really so far out on this? How can anyone actually organize a bunch of random crap on a computer?
ETA: Pics or it didn't ...