Tag Archives: science

From my upcoming PhD seminar..

I haven’t had a lot of time to post in the past few days as I prepare for my Ph.D. seminar at UQAM on the 15th, and I get on a bus Monday to go to Montréal (from Edmonton!), so it’s unlikely I’ll be doing anything inspiring from there either.  So, just to prove that I’m still alive, here’s a slide from my slide deck for the presentation I’ll be giving…

Note:  this is the required seminar that I have to give, not my thesis defense.  (That’s still to come, hopefully in a couple of months!)

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I’m not American, but …

… if I were, and I was listing things to be thankful for this weekend, one of the top things on my list this weekend as I slog through this project would be LaTeX and BibTeX (thank you, TeXShop and BibDesk!).

How people write scientific literature in Word, I will never understand.

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Confounding variables of the week.

Via Devour, I saw this heart-warming video:

And it looks like a great idea.  I’d love to see it implemented all over the place.  But the suggestion in the video that it reduces speeding is … challenging, unless there were cameras set up in in other places that we didn’t see.  The implication is that the lottery (the “fun”) caused a reduction in speeding, but the drivers who sped were being punished by receiving a speeding ticket.  So, assuming the reduction in speed is real and not a fluke, there’s 4 plausible scenarios:

  1. The reduction in speeding was just an artifact of the bright sign that said “Hey, there’s a speeding camera here.”  We know that the simple act of observation can change people’s behaviour, and maybe that happened here.
  2. The reduction in speeding was due solely to the punishment of receiving (or the prospect of receiving) a speeding ticket.
  3. The reduction in speeding was due to the reward of being entered into the lottery.
  4. The reduction in speeding was due to some combination of the previous three variables.

I’d love to see this studied a little more rigorously;  have some signs without cameras, have some signs that just send tickets, have some signs that just enter into the lottery, have some tickets sent from hidden cameras, have some entries sent by hidden cameras, and so on.  With a proper design, it should be possible to tease these variables apart, though (in fairness) it would be a laborious process.

But wouldn’t it be great if we could prove that fun makes people speed less?

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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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Science quote of the day

All sciences are connected; they lend each other material aid as parts of one great whole, each doing its own work, not for itself alone, but for the other parts; as the eye guides the body and the foot sustains it and leads it from place to place.

– Roger Bacon

This is one of the things that I love most about science: the interconnected nature of the enterprise, where every question leads you down another path of curiosity and lets you traipse through someone else’s backyard of knowledge. We can be too focused on our own domain sometimes, possibly as a defensive reaction to the massive flood of information coming at us from our own little corner of our own little subfield. But we must never forget that we are traversing a web, and that nothing we do makes sense without pulling back to see its entirety.

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An old favourite of mine for Friday.

It’s Friday, and my brain-thing hurts from all the reading-stuff I’ve done this week, so here’s an old AAAS talk that I was reminded of the other day.  It’s one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen, but you’ll only get most of the jokes if you’ve attended a scientific conference or seen a typical scientific presentation:

YouTube – Chicken chicken chicken.

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