Friday, 5 November 2010

A Toolkit for Academicians, Pt 2

I gave a lecture recently to Masters students on bibliographic software and note-taking, which has got me on to the question of firstly, how to streamline all the various applications I use, and secondly, how to rid myself of that USB drive at a minimal financial cost, befitting my subsidised academic status.

Working the System
Up until recently (see post one on the topic), I had been taking all references in Zotero, and then using Word do my notetaking. I kept all my files and documents synchronised across my computers (work and home) using the magnificent SyncToy tool from Microsoft. But I nevertheless had stepped into the cloud and synchronised endless references through Zotero and my bookmarks through Firefox's Sync, recently rebranded from its development name, Weave.

Word documents are cumbersome things for taking notes. They must be manually saved regularly, they are prone to corruption of the informational variety, forcing you to make multiple versions to prevent the tide of corruption from enveloping your work in a sandstorm of random symbols and wingdings.

My system was:
  1. References - using Zotero and synchronised across the cloud
  2. Notes - using Word and saving on a USB drive, synced to local hard drive.
  3. Bookmarks - Firefox with Sync, synchronised across the cloud.
I thought I was organised. I was! But I could do better. I must!

Having spent some time trying out OneNote 2007, I discovered the joy of insta-saving, post-it walls of information, and the facilities for recording meeting notes. OneNote, step-by-step, began replacing windows explorer, taking my meeting notes, using it as an idea platform. Concepts now lay plastered all over it. Some stuck, others fell.

OneNote 2007 became my vehicle for notes, a logical and entirely predictable step, you might say. But OneNote 2007 is still not connected to my references. When I open my references, I know not what is read and what is not, my notes are dislocated.

Zotero, as is well-known, has facilities for note-taking, but they are messy. Copying and pasting into Word or otherwise is a little cumbersome. But it works. I need a compromise. So I now use Zotero as the primary vehicle for notes, and if I need greater functionality, I record that I have switched to Onenote in the Zotero reference notes.

Back to the Cloud

I am still stuck to my USB drive, through my files and OneNote. I wish to get my files out of the equation, so after comparing a few online storage options, I am most impressed by Dropbox, which syncs your files automatically across the cloud across multiple computers. With 2GB of free space, I can get started. I lose the fat and paste my files in my Dropbox folder. However, going beyond the 2GB is costly for a student at €10 per month, so I shall place my referral code here, which means if you follow the link and open an account, we both get 250MB extra free storage.

But, there is also SugarSync, SyncPlicity, Carbonite. They all sound pretty good, but I like the simplicity and subtlety of Dropbox. I recommend you contrast and compare.

That leaves OneNote 2007. Currently it is stored on my USB drive, which automatically syncs with a temporary copy on the local hard drive. I can start OneNote without the USB drive, and when I introduce said piece of equipment, it syncs within a minute or two.

There is an obvious solution. Upgrade to OneNote 2010 and store my data on Microsoft's SkyDrive. Microsoft now provide free online storage of up to 25GB on their SkyDrive service, just login with your live ID and away you go. But there are limitations for my work - files must be less than 50MB in size. However, as long as security is not an issue, I could host my OneNote 2010 files online. But I am concerned, as this is my thesis, and is replete with my intellectual fecundity ;-).

Microsoft also offers Windows Live Mesh, which allows you to have much of the same functionality as Dropbox, but with a ceiling of 5GB. You can then use a client which is part of Windows Live Essentials to automatically sync your chosen folders.

But my PC at the University is locked to neolithic Windows XP, and runs Office 2007. Live Mesh cannot be installed on XP for understandable commercial reasons. My solution, then, is to continue to be stuck to my USB for OneNote, and see about storing my OneNote files on a webdav server for remote access, eventually transferring my Zotero data to the same. Or I may store my OneNote data in the Dropbox folder. Who knows? How exciting!

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

New life emerges within and from the living, the moth borne of
the cocoon, the child but one step in a long chain of living human matter regaled with many individual consciences. Yet the part is irrelevant in the absence of the whole.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Wired = Apple

Today on

3/5 of the headlines are about Apple
2/14 of the secondary pages are about Apple
2/10 of the blog posts are about Apple

Apple's forthcoming device features internet connectivity and a colour screen.

The Liberal Democrats and the Nuclear Red Herring

Frank Hollowell is in a pickle. He is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Copeland, located in the picturesque landscape of Cumbria, England. His party is resolutely opposed to the incumbent government's plan to replace the existing ageing nuclear installations with next generation nuclear technology. As Frank wanders, door to door, praising the many virtues of the Liberal Democrats, he is equally tainted by the fact that his party seeks to quash the prospect of 9,000 construction jobs and 1,000 permanent jobs earmarked for the new facilities.

Contemplating this, he wonders what is he going to say to Mrs P., whose two sons work at Sellafield? What about Don T., whose daughter is training to be an engineer? He decides that the answer is to tell prospective voters that the new generation of nuclear power plants does need to go ahead, while his liberal chums in other electoral districts preach the deliverance that is renewable technology, which (together with imported nuclear energy from the continent) will provide all of the UK's needs. They continue to cite the KiKK study in their defense, but the jury is still out on the dangers of living beside a nuclear power station.

The Lib Dems are pro-European integration. They believe that we can be progressive Europeans, who while considering the EU essential, also believe it can be positively reformed. They support the creation of a European Supergrid which would share energy sensibly by harnessing the correct technologies in the correct places.

If the Lib Dems want Britain to meet its target of being 100% by 2050, they will need to be 100% renewable energy, clashing with a considerable amount of expert opinion which defends the base-load capacity of nuclear power to provide a constant flow in contrast to renewables. For example, energy expert Nick Butler (Cambridge) talked at the Euroscience Open Forum in 2008 of the need of a realist approach to nuclear power. The former head of research of CERN, Juan Antonio Rubio, has also spoke to me of the need for future development of fission technology. James Lovelock is a well-cited figure on the need to provide efficient and reliable carbon-free nuclear energy to meet the challenge of climate change. While the European supergrid may provide consistency of supply, this will be partly due to other member-state's baseload supply (nuclear, gas, 'clean' coal). The UK will be seen as not carrying its wait, given that there are at present no viable alternatives to baseload supply, and to act in a manner that places the onus on technology that does not even exist yet, e.g. nuclear fusion or the Sahara Desertec initiative, does not bode well for the future.

A realist, pragmatic approach, means the liberal democrats must consider all the options, and above that, defend them and act immediately. In the meantime, Frank Hollowell continues his unenviable task of announcing local economic disaster and the considerable probability that Britain will fail to meet its mitigation objectives.

KiKK study:

Thursday, 28 January 2010

A toolkit for academicians

Firefox - a platform for integrated centralised management of the digital media.

Naked firefox is a fine browser, but little more. Well coded, eloquent and practical, it happily carries out it duties with minimal fuss, save for occasional hiccups with SVG. Yet it avoids many of the problems with IE, which pushes towards proprietary goods like the API Silverlight and the Live services (Hotmail +).

Firefox comes into its own when fitted out/embellished/augmented/pimped with the many addons created either by the broad community of Firefox followers.

The first point of call is Weave, now entering version 1.0, which permits a centralised management of favourites, passwords, settings, and history, from your various terminals at work, home, away. Install, setup, and you have the basis for extreme total productivity.

The second addition to total domination of your research is Zotero, which likewise provides a centralised platform for all of your references. Endnote is so 1995... Zotero boasts a plethora of features which make sorting, finding, exporting, tagging your references easier than ever. Were it a company, I would invest in it. But it is not, it is entirely open source. Modify it as you see fit.

The move towards cloud computing has liberated broadbanded workees from the pains of version management. In its absence, you need either a eSCSI external drive or a close network drive to centralise resources. Otherwise the burden is a USB drive to which you sync your Firefox settings.

Go, be free. The sky is the limit. Now with extra wings. Fly High Sky God U2.