What you don’t know about Microsoft Word will hurt you

Microsoft Word is more than a blank sheet of paper; it’s sophisticated software that can help to apply consistent, professional, and attractive formatting to your documents. But if you don’t learn a few key features, Word will be cruel to you and you won’t understand why. Honestly, Word may still be cruel to you… it’s that kind of software.

I’ll focus here on professional and academic writing, rather than on desktop publishing or flyers. Continue reading

Automatically Generating an HTML5-style Cache Manifest from the Command Line

HTML5 introduces the ability to cache content client-side so that often-used resources can be used without re-downloading them. This also enables a site to be viewed from the client when no network connection is available (i.e., offline viewing of the site).

In order for this to work, there are a few things one must do:

  1. Create a plain text file listing all of the resources that should be cached by the user agent (e.g., a web browser)– the cache manifest.
  2. Refer to that file in the opening html tag of every page that will use cached resources.
  3. Configure the web server so that the file is sent to the user agent with a specific MIME type: text/cache-manifest
  4. Regenerate the cache manifest any time you change the files in your site.
Once everything is setup properly, you can visit the site using your favorite web browser. Then, to test whether the caching has worked, you can turn off the network connection to your web browser’s computer and try reloading the page.

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Digital Voice Recorders

Digital voice recorders can be a handy tool for dictation or recording research interviews. Here are some of the things I consider when looking for a recorder.

Connectivity Make sure the recorder you choose has a USB port or (even better) a built-in plug. Some recorders do not allow you to transfer your recordings to your computer.
File format The default recording file format should be something that is easily playable on your computer’s already installed software, such as Quicktime, iTunes, or Windows Media Player. WAV and MP3 work well, but many recorders use WMA, a windows format that requires additional software on the Mac to playback.
Microphones You generally want dual (or quad) built-in MICs for stereo recording— invaluable in interview sessions. You can play your recordings with headphones and perceive directionality. Not all recorders record in stereo. Also, an external MIC jack, in case you ever want to use an external microphone (a lapel clipped mic or shotgun mic, e.g.)
Placement A tripod mount screw is handy for setting up your recorder for standalone operation.

Two models I’m fond of:

Zoom H2 http://www.amazon.com/Zoom-H2-Portable-Stereo-Recorder/dp/B000VBH2IG
Olympus WS-600s http://www.amazon.com/Olympus-WS-600S-Digital-Recorder-142610/dp/B000NM8DI6

Reeder for the iPad

While many content providers are working diligently to find ways to lock us in to their content and to exclude aggregation, it’s aggregation that I want!! I want to be able to read my content in the form and manner that fits my workflow of the moment.

Reeder for the iPad is a great example of an app that makes reading a pleasure. It’s fast; amazingly fast. I can read my Google Reader subscribed feeds, mark items for further follow-up, forward them to my Twitter feed (Note to Reeder devs: I maintain more than one Twitter account and more than one account on other social networking sites, to separate the personal from the professional roles vested in me), add it to my Instapaper account, and so on. In short, reading news feeds in Reeder is a pleasure; very nearly perfect.

Endnote: Create a key binding for linking to a PDF (OS X)

I spend a fair amount of time linking PDF documents to records in Endnote. Unfortunately, Endnote requires you to (a) drag and drop, or (b) navigate into submenus to link to a PDF.

In OS X, you can bind a keystroke to any menu item in a specific application using the System Preferences > Keyboard & Mouse settings. Use this to your advantage! Endnote lacks a keystroke for “Link to PDF…”, so I created one: Command-Option-L

Now, when I highlight a record in my library and press the key combination, an “Attach…” file dialog box opens up and I select the PDF of the article, web site, etc.

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R Statistical Programming Language

The R Project provides a comprehensive, free, open source statistical programming language and environment based on the S language. R is the name of both the language and the environment in which you generally use the language. It’s an interactive environment where the commands you enter generate immediate results that you can use to guide your analyses.

Your Best Starting Point

Download and install R. Download and install RStudio. Read R for Data Science.

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Endnote: Save PDFs of web pages and online articles

Endnote is primarily intended to help you store citation information and create bibliographies for your academic papers, but it also allows you to collect PDFs of the documents. This is helpful for journal articles, and fantastic for dynamic content.

When reading online articles or web pages that you might need to cite, print to PDF and attach the PDF file to your Endnote record. On Mac OS X, this capability is built-in to the Print dialog. In Windows, you’ll need to install software that allows you to print to PDF.

The purpose of a citation is to allow your readers (and you) to relocate the material you use as evidence in your writing. By keeping a PDF of web pages as you saw them, you have the exact material on which you’re basing your quotations and interpretations. In other words, you (and your critics) have access to the version you’re relying on, even if it’s later changed significantly.

This is particularly important when the material you’re citing changes frequently, such as newspaper articles and political websites.

Endnote: Store quotations

One of the most time consuming tasks of writing is finding that perfect quotation, finding that page number where an important idea was introduced, etc. By recording what you believe to be valuable (citation-worthy) quotations in your Endnotes records, you can quickly search them and cite the page. I store quotes in the “Custom 7” field in this format:

Quotations in Endnote

This way, I have the quotation and the page number and can quickly insert critical information into my papers.

My rule: If it would be worth highlighting, it’s worth entering into Endnote. Continue reading