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(Yes the title is meant to remind you of snakes on a plane!)
Goodness! At this time of year there really are a lot of people coughing on trains! I travelled from Southampton to Tunbridge Wells today, and my journey was accompanied by a large range of coughs and sneezes, from the high-pitched cough of the lady opposite me, to the spluttering of an old gentleman in the corner. Leaving aside the public health aspects of coughing (particularly as a number of my fellow travellers did not cover their mouths when they coughed), I wondered if this could be used somehow to analyse the severity of cough/cold illnesses in the UK.
Proposal: All we need is a few willing volunteers who commute on trains. We can give them tally-counter to carry (they could count on a piece of paper, or in their head, but I’d get terribly confused doing that), and instruct them to count every cough they hear in their part of the carriage. This data can then be plotted on a graph over time, and (if we have enough people), over geographic area, and may provide a useful public health dataset. On the other hand, it may be rubbish! But who will know unless we try…
Unfortunately (well, fortunately for me!), I don’t commute on a train, but I’ll analyse the data if you’ll collect it!
Of course all we need now is to find a way to get commuters to count coughs while still reading the Metro!
Well, as mentioned before, I’ve recently been given (by my PhD funding body) a MacBook Pro laptop. I’m really getting to like it, but there are still some things that frustrate me. So, this will be one of two posts: my favourite things, followed by my least-favourite things. So, the good bits first:
This feature has actually replaced my desire for an iPad! When I close the lid of my MacBook it goes to sleep in about ten seconds and I can put it back in my bag. When I want to use it again, I simply open it up, tap a key, and I’m immediately back exactly where I was. This has really changed how I use my laptop. I’d only get out my Windows laptop when I was sure I’d have a significant amount of time to use it, as it took so long to wake up from sleep/hibernation mode. Now, if I have five minutes to spare I just whip out my laptop and manage to get around four minutes work done! Also, just as an aside, the sleep indicator on the MacBook Pro flashes in a very soothing way…hardly surprising as they deliberately designed it to mimic the human breathing rate during sleep (see here).
I’ve always been a fan of linux (I installed my first Linux distro at the age of around 12), but I’ve never really managed to persuade myself to use it on my main every-day machine. Servers yes, but laptops no – it didn’t have the right software, it was too finicky to do stuff with when I need my laptop to work every day. But now I have a solution – OS X is a very polished desktop operating system, with a linux-y (technically, POSIX-compatible) base. If I want to use GCC on my Mac, it’s there. If I want to install some linux software it’ll often just work. If I want to use a linux-based GUI then an X server is built in to the operating system. And, probably most importantly, there is a decent bash terminal built-in to the operating system. Best of both worlds? Definitely!
I didn’t realise how great this was until I moved back to my Windows laptop for a while. The touchpad on my MacBook is just so smooth and easy to use. Two-fingered scrolling is so easy, as is pinch-to-zoom. I’ve always hated scrolling on touchpads before (they often have a horrible ‘scroll zone’ on the right-hand side) but on my MacBook I use the touchpad to scroll even if I’m plugged into an external mouse!
So, those are my three favourite things. It’s interesting to note that these three things aren’t particularly difficult or complicated things, but they just make my MacBook far nicer to use on a day-to-day basis.
Next time: what frustrates me about my MacBook Pro.
This is the first in a series of posts on the lessons I’ve learnt from various episodes in my life. First up: my dissertation.
In case you’re not familiar with dissertations: they are the large written projects which are often given to students in the final year of their degree. The details of mine are available on my academic website. Here I want to try and distil my experience into some generically applicable lessons that can be applied to other dissertations, PhD theses, other projects…and maybe even life generally!
1. Start early
Apparently the most common piece of feedback from students after they’ve finished their dissertations is “I wish I’d started it earlier”. I took this advice and started very early, doing a lot of work on my dissertation during the Easter holiday of my second year, but I still had a bit of a rush at the end. I also put an extra week into my schedule to allow for ‘unforeseen problems’ and was really very glad I had done this, as I suddenly found a major problem with my work a week before the deadline!
2. Keep things organised
I’m a big fan of PhD Comics and one of their comics perfectly describes the bad habits I tend to fall into: A story in filenames. As I’m working in remote sensing I have a large number of image files, both original images from satellites, and a large number of images I’ve created through processing the original files. It gets terribly difficult to find sensible names for the files, particularly when you’re a rushing a bit, and so I often slip into calling them test.bsq or test_again_more.bsq or even the particularly bad test22222_robin.bsq. Through doing this I’ve spent far more time than I need trying to find particular files, and have often ended up with file duplicates taking up extra hard drive space.
3. Spend a lot of time just thinking
I find it very easy to slip into a very mechanical way of doing my academic work: click this button, save this file, produce this graph, write this paragraph – so much so, that I sometimes forget to actually properly think about my work. I got into this phase a number of times during my dissertation, and in fact the major problem I found at the end was caused by this (I’d blindly continued down my planned path for the discussion section without realising that I wasn’t actually discussing the questions I was meant to be answering). I was reminded of this today when I started writing a very simple, mechanical discussion section for a project – along the lines of “This value is big, this means X. This other value is small, this means Y. Overall this worked ok-ish” (although obviously in more academic language!). At this point I noticed, forced myself to stop, and then took my notes away from my computer and went to have a think. I actually went and sat on the sofa near the School of Geography reception and sat and thought deeply about the problem. Fifteen minutes later I came away with a lot more insight into my project, what I’d found, and what further work could be done.
I should probably first state that I’m writing this a few days after I fixed this problem, so I may have some of the details wrong. Apologies if that is the case. Now, on to the problem:
You have EndNote and Microsoft Word 2010 installed. When loading Microsoft Word the EndNote tab that normally appears has been replaced with a tab labelled EndNote Web. When clicking on this tab you get asked to login to EndNote Web, and cannot access any references you have stored in your local EndNote library.
The solution to your problem depends exactly how badly things have gone wrong. Try the following steps in order:
1. Change EndNote Cite-While-You-Write (Cwyw) Settings: Go to the EndNote Web tab in Word and click the Preferences button. Go to the Application tab and look for the Application dropdown. Use this to select EndNote rather than EndNote Web. Once you’ve changed this, restart Word and it should work. However, you may have found that the Application dropdown is greyed out and can’t be changed. If so, go to step 2.
2. Remove EndNote Cwyw add-in and reinstall: Go to the File menu on the left of the tab bar and select Options and then the Add-Ins option on the left. You should see a list of Active Application Add-ins, in which there will be a number of EndNote related items. To remove these, select COM Add-ins in the dropdown box at the bottom, and then click Go. Select each of the EndNote-related items in the list and click Remove. Repeat this for all other items in the dropdown box so everything related to EndNote has been removed. Now the Cwyw functionality should have been completely removed from Word, so you can now re-enable it. The EndNote X4 Configuration Wizard (accessed through Configure EndNote in the Start Menu) has an option to enable EndNote in Word 2007, but not for Word 2010. Therefore, the only way I have found to re-enable EndNote in Word is to reinstall EndNote. Do that now (but make sure Word is closed first!), and then restart Word and it should work. If not, go to Step 3.
3. Remove every trace of EndNote from all of Word’s folders and then reinstall: I have found that EndNote seems to hide things away everywhere it possibly can, which makes it very difficult to be sure you’ve removed everything. To make this easier, I would download a copy of the Everything utility and search for “cwyw”. You will get a number of results, including folders, .dll files and .dot and .dotm files. Delete all of the .dot and .dotm files. Then reinstall EndNote and, hopefully, everything will work!
Summary: Very unusual approach, but also provides an interesting new view of geography.
Reference: De Landa, M. 1997 A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, Zone Books, New York. 333 pages. Amazon Link
When dipping into a chapter entitled Geological History 1000-1700 AD one would expect to find information on rock types, the development of landforms and possibly the history of the development of geological thought. In Manuel De Landa’s book A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History however, this is not the case – what will actually be found is discussion of Christaller’s Central Place Theory, the development of urban areas in both Europe and the Far East and different philosophical perspectives on these. This aspect of surprise continues throughout the book – De Landa’s approach to all the topics covered is novel, and the insights gained from these approaches are huge.
Although the book is entitled A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, it is by no means a standard history book – it focuses on the application of historical processes, and generally the passage of time, to many areas within human geography. The most important word in the title is probably “nonlinear” as this is the way in which De Landa approaches all the areas covered in his book. It is very difficult to define what is meant by nonlinear – the author takes many pages for his explanation – but simply put it is considering history as a tree with many branches rather than one pure and straight linear course. This idea of nonlinearity is extended throughout the book to cover different types of nonlinear development (such as hierarchies and meshworks) and is used as part of the explanation for many areas of geographical development.
The book is divided into three parts (Lavas and Magmas, Flesh and Genes and Memes and Norms) each of which contains chapters which look at the specified topic from 1000-1700 AD and then from 1700-2000 AD. Sandwiched in the middle of each part is a section elaborating on some of the ideas introduced in the part – for example the Sandstone and Granite chapter within Lavas and Magmas elaborates on the ideas of hierarchies and meshworks, their definitions (within a variety of fields from biology to economics) and their effect on the development of urban geography. As mentioned in the first paragraph of this review, the names of the parts are metaphors for the content within them. For example, the first part is entitled Lavas and Magmas, and this metaphor is explained towards the end of the part by an analogy between lava and the physical constructs of cities. Some of these analogies are rather tenuous, but they all serve to give interesting new perspectives on familiar aspects of human geography.
Although De Landa’s book is very interesting, and in many ways unique, it is also a difficult read. This is really par for the course when one is explaining the sort of complex ideas which are used in this book, and some may find this book completely inaccessible because of the complexity of the ideas discussed. The majority of topics are explained very well – but some topics come across as rather confusing. Also, some of the language is rather pretentious, and one can’t help feeling that some of the ideas are not quite as complex as De Landa makes them out to be.
The presentation of A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History is, like the rest of the book, rather unusual. The striking front cover design makes the book stand out on a bookshelf – although the complexity of this cover design hinders the reading of the blurb on the back – one of the first places a prospective reader will look for information about the book. The choice of font size throughout the book is also interesting. De Landa has chosen to use larger font sizes at the beginning of each chapter – gradually reducing to a rather small font for the majority of each chapter and then increasing again towards the end. I assume this was chosen to accentuate the introduction and conclusion of each chapter – and in some ways that is a good aim. However, this has not helped my reading of the book – or my identification of the important parts of the chapter. It also has the side-effect of making the body of the chapter look very small, and this has made it quite difficult and tiring to read.
Overall, De Landa’s book is a very interesting read. It takes a new approach to almost every topic covered and provides much food for thought. Although A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History should not be used as the main text for any of the topics covered it provides much useful background reading. Some parts of the book are difficult to read and understand, but perseverance will result in appreciation of the new perspectives raised by this unusual book.