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What are Buffer Notes?

edited January 20 in Blog

imageWhat are Buffer Notes?

The Zettelkasten note-taking method has made book writing and writing scientific papers easy for hundreds of years already.

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Comments

  • My initial thought is, if you're not putting any structure in the buffer note, wouldn't it be easier just to add a tag to the notes it contains links to? Or better yet, in the case of new notes for an already-published work, tag the notes that are already included in the published text?

  • This is an option I considered. The problem with this is that I don't think of all books I already published. Now, it is possible. But in a couple of years there will be to many.

    The other point is that thoughts get triggered when you see the buffer notes. This is not happening when there are tags only.

  • I don't know what "buffer" means in German, but to this native English speaker the choice of that term is slightly baffling. I suppose the core idea of the word "buffer" in English is one of separation -- a buffer is something that prevents contact between one thing and another. A buffer does not belong to either of the things that it keeps apart. How exactly one can use a note to maintain separation between two other things, I am not sure. If I've understood your conceptualisation correctly (and I'm not sure I have) I get the impression that "intermediate" might be more accurate in English. An intermediary is someone or something that acts as a "gateway" (another good word) to what lies beyond. The core role of a buffer, I would say, is really prevention, not facilitation.

  • edited February 26

    @MartinBB I'm a native English speaker as well and was equally confused about the use of the term Buffer. I finally concluded that they might be using the word as it relates to the computer science space, in which a buffer is "a portion of a computer's memory that is set aside as a temporary holding place for data that is being sent to or received from an external device." Under this definition, the buffer then holds information together temporarily, until it is built up to the point to be converted into an actual Project and eventually the First Draft.

    Still not quite sure but that was my interpretation.

  • @zwhaley I think you've hit on something there. It is confusing, though. It is a meaning that, in some ways, is really at odds with the core meaning of the word, and it is not one that I think would normally occur to people. At least, not to native speakers, who would not think of the computer terminology first. I would never have thought of it if you hadn't mentioned it.

    Cheers!

  • Thanks for pointing that out, folks! @zwhaley got a fitting association. Too bad it's not what seems to come to mind at first :)

    I wonder what you'd call something like it. @sfast will be able to explain the concept in more detail, but for what it's worth, here's my associations:

    • I think about technical terms like queue or stack where you can add items, indending to process them later (think about putting a buffer between the now and the future, so you don't have to act immediately and can defer action to a later point in time)
    • I imagine the mechanism to be similar to the use of inboxes, e.g. in David Allen's GTD: throw notes in, don't worry now, process later

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • http://christiantietze.de/

  • @ctietze

    Technical terminology is not infrequently at odds with standard usage. For example, the use of the word "memory" for RAM in computers led to no end of problems with non-technical people who thought that it referred to the Hard Disc, which was, of course, what was "remembering" things for them.

    I'd say that "buffer" is a bad choice precisely because it is not clear what the concept is, and it requires some effort to communicate what it means. My suggestion would be to move away from technical terminology like "stack" and "queue" because they presuppose that someone will have enough technical knowledge to grasp the association. This is not a good idea! I'm also a psychologist, so perhaps I can point you towards this:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/False_consensus_effect

    I see this effect all over the place -- particularly on the internet.

    I think if it were my choice I would call them "pending notes". The Oxford English Dictionary gives this definition of "pending", which perfectly suits your concept:

    "Remaining undecided, awaiting decision or settlement. Orig. of a lawsuit; cf. L. pendente lite. So pending basket, pending tray: a basket or tray for correspondence or other papers awaiting attention or decision."

    This is the primary definition of the word "pending" in the dictionary. There can be no confusion.

    Cheers!

    PS: it might be worth observing that non-native speakers seem to be more familiar with the technical usage of certain English words than they are with the standard usage, for the obvious reason that they encounter them more frequently in their technical guise, because they use computers and such like. This sometimes leads to odd situations in which a room full of non-native speakers can understand each other, but the native English speaker is left wondering what is going on, because certain words are not being used in the way that a native speaker would use them. It is not just English that suffers from this -- a lot of English people now use the Italian word "biscotti" but they have no idea that it just means "biscuits" and are convinced that it refers to a specific kind of biscuit. The (poor) translation of Freud has created problems because it is very difficult to render "Angst" in English, so we get "anxiety" all over the place. Language is difficult ...

  • @MartinBB I see your point and would agree to use terminology that is as clear as possible.

    But is the term "pending note" the right name to use? This is now taking it a bit off topic, but relevant when determining what the replacement name could be.

    My understanding is that the purpose of the "Buffer" note is to combine notes together and let them organically take on a shape as a larger whole...eventually leading to a writing project or larger concept.

    Thus perhaps "pending project" is a better option? It's sort of like the Someday/Maybe in the GTD terminology.

    A "note" is technically the individual zettel. A "Buffer" is a compilation of zettel to develop a larger message, thus I don't think "pending note" is appropriate.

    Just my view since we're on the topic.

  • @zwhaley There does seem to be some blurring of concepts in the original post. Perhaps you could call something a "collection" or a "collector" instead of a "note". But, to me at least, the odd use of "buffer" is more of a problem. It conveys the wrong idea -- until you have a detailed exchange on a forum like this to clear things up :)

  • My totally irrelevant, second language learner's opinion on the terminology is that "pending" is a good name for what's going on with the thing as a whole, but "pending note" does not convey the intent well. "Subject collector" sounds weird but hits closer to home for me. Keep your native speakers's associations and suggestions coming, they are much appreciated!

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • http://christiantietze.de/

  • Hi MartinBB,

    I mean it in a sense of buffering an overflow. The image should reflect that but seems a bit of in hindsight. :smile:

    Buffer associations:

    • A coil that buffers energy/force
    • A batterie for your solar panels on the roof buffers oversupply of power.
    • A dam buffers water to use it later on.

    Can there be a better word? I am open since I don't want to use technical terms or at least: Few.

    Also, I don't want to use German words. (I don't use Zettel anymore just notes).

  • I find this discussion fascinating. English is a second language to me, and I am a computer science person, so the concept of a buffer note was immediately clear to me, which proves @MartinBB 's observation :smile: .

    Anyway, reading through all this sparked the following suggestions (sorry if they're completely absurd to native English speakers):

    • So, what about pending note collection then? Conveys both the concept of pending and the concept of a note collection. Because a pending note collection resembles a note itself syntax-wise, one could even call it a pending note collection note, but I think going that far makes the term a bit confusing.
    • Wouldn't the concept of a scratchpad also fit the purpose?
  • @sfast It is important to realise that in normal English usage the verb "buffer" does not mean "store" -- it means (according to the Oxford English Dictionary) "lessen the impact of". So buffering an overflow means holding back the flow to ensure that the overflow does not damage or overwhelm what comes after it. It is not supposed to mean "storing excess stuff to use later". The key idea is that the buffer is preventing bad stuff from happening. A (coil) spring lessens the impact of anything striking it, so that damage is not caused. A battery for your solar panels stores oversupply of energy -- the buffering effect is (linguistically) separate, and means preventing the oversupply from damaging the system by restricting the flow. A dam does not (in normal English usage) buffer water -- it stores it, or restricts its flow. As I said, the core association of the word "buffer" is prevention, not facilitation. So if you want to convey the idea that your notes get in the way and stop things from happening, "buffer notes" might be OK.

    For this reason, as I've observed, when I first saw the expression "buffer notes" I was totally mystified as to what it could mean. If the concept you have is one of a temporary "store" or repository of ideas to be used later (I'm still struggling to understand what the concept really is) then you might use "cache". If the concept is one of "something that leads to other things" then "portal" or "gateway" might do it. If you want to convey that the notes are the basis for something new, then "seed notes" would be nice. But the central concept is not clear to me.

    I had no idea that the picture was supposed to illustrate the concept. I thought it was just a random illustration, and until you mentioned it I would never have dreamed that it was in some way connected with the concept. I've never thought of buffers in association with water. It doesn't fit, to my mind. The OED defines a buffer as "A mechanical apparatus for deadening the force of a concussion". Water just flows round things, so a buffer is not much use in that case!

    Cheers!

  • @MartinBB said (a lot :smile: and:)
    If you want to convey that the notes are the basis for something new, then "seed notes" would be nice.

    Awesome! I like that term!

  • @rene Awesome that you find it awesome!

    Just to enlarge on the point about the difference between native and non-native understandings of words -- I suspect that most non-native speakers would first encounter the word "buffer" (perhaps only encounter it) in the context of computers, electronics, or video, and that this might lead them mistakenly to associate the word with the concept of "flow". This is not the case for native speakers. I would be prepared to bet that for the vast majority of native English speakers, they would first come across the term "buffer" as the name for the large spring-loaded blocks of metal that are attached to the ends of railway vehicles, and are at the end of every railway line to cushion impact. In other words, the first idea that comes into the mind of the native speaker when seeing the word "buffer" is that it stops things. It is the opposite of "flow", and it certainly has nothing to do with storage, temporary or otherwise. In fact, we commonly say that a plan or project or something has "hit the buffers" when it has been suddenly stopped or gone completely wrong. It means it has reached the end of the line. Incidentally, "buffer" also means "idiot" in slang, though it is rather out of fashion nowadays.:)

  • Adding my .2 to the discussion,

    I have English as a secondary language, so is interesting to read the discussion. Personally, I would use the term Proxy Notes.

    I came up with this because it relates to the term "proxy war" used in International Relations, where a State will interfere in a battle but not directly.

    As @sfast said he uses his notes to write multiple books at the same time, I imagine this as multiple "fronts". The same resource serves multiple goals.

    But "seed notes" as proposed by @MartinBB sounds nicer :)

  • @wolff said:
    Adding my .2 to the discussion,

    [...] Personally, I would use the term Proxy Notes.

    I came up with this because it relates to the term "proxy war" used in International Relations, where a State will interfere in a battle but not directly.

    As @sfast said he uses his notes to write multiple books at the same time, I imagine this as multiple "fronts". The same resource serves multiple goals.

    But "seed notes" as proposed by @MartinBB sounds nicer :)

    My 2c to your .02: "Seed notes" also has a nice association to "potential for growth" and "development" (of the text) which I find more applicable than the one of "indirection" / "step/thing in between" which goes into the direction of buffering again (sitting in between), just with less association to "obstacle".

  • edited March 1

    @MartinBB said:
    @rene Awesome that you find it awesome!

    Just to enlarge on the point about the difference between native and non-native understandings of words -- I suspect that most non-native speakers would first encounter the word "buffer" (perhaps only encounter it) in the context of computers, electronics, or video, and that this might lead them mistakenly to associate the word with the concept of "flow". This is not the case for native speakers. I would be prepared to bet that for the vast majority of native English speakers, they would first come across the term "buffer" as the name for the large spring-loaded blocks of metal that are attached to the ends of railway vehicles, and are at the end of every railway line to cushion impact. In other words, the first idea that comes into the mind of the native speaker when seeing the word "buffer" is that it stops things. It is the opposite of "flow", and it certainly has nothing to do with storage, temporary or otherwise.

    Thank you for clarifying that, your explanation and insight are invaluable to (for?) a non-native speaker.

    In fact, we commonly say that a plan or project or something has "hit the buffers" when it has been suddenly stopped or gone completely wrong. It means it has reached the end of the line.

    What's really funny is, in contrast: I argue that most people in my international (lots of 2nd language English people) work environment would understand what is meant by: "adding a buffer" to a (time estimate for a) task in a project plan, just to be a bit more on the safe side. Sometimes we would use the German word "Puffer" which is a literal translation of "buffer", also used to describe a crumple zone / deformable zone that protects something/somebody from impact by absorbing impact energy, often by getting deformed instead of the thing / person protected by the "Puffer". Maybe a time buffer protects from the impact of suffering consequences because of a missed deadline. One could also imagine that the time buffer gets compressed as the actual runtime of the task grows, thus protecting the following task from getting run into by the previous one, in a way :smile:. In German we also have a word for "buffer battery" (Pufferbatterie), buffering is also used to describe a chemical property of regulating Ph value, storing heat or electric energy, storing water ... this use of "Puffer" seems to be common in technical areas.

    Incidentally, "buffer" also means "idiot" in slang, though it is rather out of fashion nowadays.:)

    :smile: That reminds me of the German word "Pfosten" (post) - even more rigid and less flexible than a "buffer" :smiley:

  • I know I'm super late to this discussion, but I'd suggest the term "overflow" is actually good. For some reason it seems more idiomatic to talk of the overflow itself, and not the container. "The lake overflowed," and "the overflow goes into that thing (points to coils of wire)." Somehow I feel like, in my experience, the English focus is always on the overflow of the thing you care about (lake, energy) and you point to it rather than talk about where the overflow went. Another example is that we most often talk about the reservoir (the water that is held) rather than the dam (the thing that is holding it).

  • "Overflow" sounds reasonable. :smile:

    "Reservoir" notes are cool, too.

    But both translations don't sound right in German. :neutral:

  • @timshadel said:
    Another example is that we most often talk about the reservoir (the water that is held) rather than the dam (the thing that is holding it).

    Off-topic, but you just reminded me of a student many years ago when I was teaching English who informed me that a certain lake was "the biggest dam lake in Czechoslovakia"! :D

  • I'm really late to this discussion, and have been trying to understand the concept of a "buffer" note. From the computing definition provided, it seems to have an analog parallel to, "staging."

    Just today I was helping co-workers move their office furniture from their current office, to a new office that wasn't yet available, so we had to "stage" (move and organize) the furniture to a temporary location in preparation for the final destination.

    Would "staging notes" carry the same meaning as "buffer notes"? Is this a correct understanding of "buffer notes"?

  • Yes, you have a perfectly correct understanding of buffer notes. I think that staging note is quite a good term if you are tech savy.

  • I will bore everyone witless with another pointless disquisition on English, but here goes.

    I still think "buffer notes" is not a good name because the core idea of a buffer is that it is an obstacle (if you are not a computer person and are not used to seeing the term used in that context).

    However, a further point, it occurs to me, is that the word one chooses in a second language is (often) heavily influenced by one's own native language. Hence, I suspect that the term "buffer" was initially chosen here because it sounds familiar to a German speaker. I spent several years teaching English to Italians, and I wouldn't be surprised if it hadn't occurred to them to use "buffer" in this context because, of course, the word "Puffer" does not exist in their language.

    I think there is a hint of this problem (interference from L1) to be seen in other examples on the site (and here I should compliment everyone for the generally high standard of English displayed by non-native speakers who contribute here -- they do a LOT better than some of the native speakers I come across from day to day). In one of the posts recently I found the word "ununderstandable". While this is sanctioned by the OED, it is so rare that I don't think I have ever heard it used before. A native speaker would almost certainly have written "incomprehensible", which would probably have come automatically to an Italian-speaker, because it has a Latin root. "Ununderstandable" is not wrong in meaning, or difficult to comprehend (!), but it is a horribly ugly word with a rhythm that is not very natural to English. The importance of rhythm is much underestimated by non-native speakers of English and can be a major source of difficulty in understanding. And if you think I am exaggerating, consider the difference between 15 and 50. A native speaker saying "fifteen days" and then "fifty days" will give the numbers a distinctly different rhythm -- the second syllable in "fifteen" is much longer. Generally speaking, English likes what is sometimes called "walking rhythm" -- an alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables. The vast majority of English poetry is in this iambic rhythm ("The curfew tolls the knell of parting day, the lowing herd winds slowly o'er the lea, the ploughman homeward plods his weary way, and leaves the world to darkness and to me"). The word "incomprehensible" fits this pattern, while "ununderstandable" has two stressed syllables at the beginning, which makes it heavy and inelegant. But I can understand why it would sound fine to a German-speaker! However, it used to be said that if you want to sound intelligent in English, you use Latinate terminology, not Germanic. Times are changing, but I think that idea is still there (especially among those who consider themselves intelligent!!)

    Apologies, but I find language fascinating, and sometimes I can't resist ...

  • "Buffer" makes good sense to me, as in lean manufacturing a "buffer" is an accumulation of material awaiting further processing/transformation. It seems to me that is what you are doing with your buffer notes.

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