An iPad in the land of academentia…

I recently attended ISBE (the conference for the International Society of Behavioral Ecology) in Perth, Australia, and at the conference I received no end of comments about my iPad from fellow scientists. Of course, I wasn’t going out of my way to hide it; I was using it in every talk I went to to take notes, and referring to the PDF version of the conference schedule to plan my next move. And more than one person asked me, just as they have at home when I carry it around school, what I use it for. It’s (usually) not a malicious question – they just don’t understand the use case.


My set-up...


And so, I thought it might be worthwhile to explain, for the curious souls out there, why I’m using an iPad in my academic work and why I love it so much!

For context, my setup is this: I have a black 13″ Macbook as my first line of computing, which includes anything that requires heavy amounts of editing and for all of my simulation work. Tools that I routinely use include Firefox, Mathematica, R, LaTeX (TeXShop and BibDesk for the win here), Aquamacs (for code editing), Dropbox (which *everyone* should use), and various command line tools like ssh. I write code in Python, C / C++, Objective C, and Lisp when the mode takes me (and I have a book on Haskell that I’ve been meaning to get around to!), and I do source control with git.

All of my simulation and numerical work is tested on my Macbook, and then I upload it to a 8-core Xeon server that I built myself, running the latest Ubuntu flavor. Since I’m currently in Edmonton and my lab is in Montréal, I remote administer the server over ssh and sometimes graphical tools like VNC if I need to, but that’s pretty rare. I shuttle files back and forth over vanilla sftp or, as is more common these days, I simply do all of my work in my Dropbox and let the software handle syncing files.

But wait: this post was supposed to be about the iPad, wasn’t it? Well, it is – but it makes sense to mention what I don’t do with my iPad before I talk about what I do do with it.

And in truth, much of what I used to do with my laptop is now handled by the iPad. For instance, all of my reading is now done on the iPad, unless I absolutely cannot find an electronic copy. I read all of my journal articles using iAnnotate, which I can use to read and read articles before dumping them back into my Dropbox for filing away in Bibdesk. More and more books these days, even academic books, are available in PDF or other eBook formats, and for these I use Goodreader. When watching talks, I take my notes using Notetaker HD with a Pogo Sketch stylus, which I will later review and in some cases, transcribe. For other notes, I use InScribe, but to be honest I’m not entirely happy with it. I’m hoping that Circus Ponies will finally get around to releasing their version of Notebook for the iPad.

I also use the iPad to organize my thoughts on topics I’m working on. To do this, I’m loving Corkulus, which I use in a nonlinear way, adding notes and images that are relevant to the topic to keep all of my thoughts in one place. For mathematical thoughts, I use SpaceTime, and instead of napkins, I scribble on iDraft. And to record what exactly it is I know and why, it’s actually with Safari; I use a Tiddlywiki on Tiddlyspot, putting together my own version of The Book using a personal wiki.

And of course, there’s the tasks of every day life;  I have to keep track of my to-do list, my calendar, deal with administration of my research, and so on.  For todos, I use the aptly-named Todo so that I can keep my life synced across my iPad, my Mac, and my phone.  I used to use Things, but frankly the glacial pace of development at Cultured Code drove me to look for a new solution.  Calendaring is iCal on all three devices, synced through Google Calendar, and I keep in touch with my servers using iSSH.

When it comes time to do something with all of that material that I’ve read and all those notes I’ve taken, I usually do my writing on my laptop. But even some of that is migrating over to the iPad; for MS Office documents that are foisted on me, I use Quickoffice, and I’m currently trying out TexTouch for modifying LaTeX files.  I recently picked up the Apple wireless keyboard to help with long-form text entry when I’m on the road; for instance, I wrote this entire post using my iPad and the keyboard.

The final step is to show others what I’ve done. At ISBE, I effectively left my laptop at home (I brought it to work on a model with a colleague, but aside from that I never took it out of my bag), and instead of driving my presentation off my laptop or a USB key, I put it together in Keynote and used the iPad Keynote with the VGA connector to run the presentation. A killer feature of the iOS version of Keynote is that you can hold your finger down on the screen of the iPad and a laser pointer will show up on the presentation screen.

So, to round up, I use my iPad to read articles, take notes in a variety of situations, write documents, and give presentations. These were all tasks that I used to do on my laptop, but which have now migrated to the iPad. In fact, I would say that about 70% of the time that I used to spend on my laptop is now spent on my iPad. And that is what I use my iPad for and how I use it!

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