There are plentiful examples of spreadsheet applications leading analysts astray. Believe all the scary stories. Spreadsheets can silently damage your data, converting numbers to dates or dropping leading zeros from what should be fixed-length identifier (where did the U.S. Zip Code 01002 go?).
The U.K. Lost 16,000 COVID Cases Because It Doesn’t Understand Microsoft Excel
The Reinhart-Rogoff error – or how not to Excel at economics
For a set of best practices when working with data in spreadsheets, take to heart the advice offered by Data Organization in Spreadsheets. Please!
You will be asked to write. Think about your writing process carefully and be open to new ideas about how to approach it.
Writing is, at a minimum, a two-step process: you write, you edit. Writing and editing are distinct steps. Don’t try to edit your writing as you write your first draft; you’ll trip over your own creativity. Get your ideas down, then edit. Then get more ideas down and edit them.
Ideally, you would repeat the writing-editing process several dozen times to further refine your prose. After you’ve written and edited your work, you’ll need to share your draft with others, who will edit it and rewrite portions of it. Set your ego aside. Focus on improving the writing and, through that experience, your default writing style.
This takes time.
Continue reading Learn to Love Writing
I help a few of dozen users install RStudio and learn R regularly. Whenever I need to install RStudio on a new machine, I have to think a bit about the configuration options I’ve tweaked. Invariably, I miss a checkbox that leaves me with slightly different RStudio behavior on each system. This post includes screenshots of my currently preferred standard RStudio configuration and custom keyboard shortcuts for RStudio 1.3, MacOS.
If you need an exact copy of your settings, consider the discussion at https://stackoverflow.com/questions/55903423/export-import-rstudio-user-preferences-global-setting-etc/55940249 (h/t: liebrr)
Continue reading My RStudio Configuration
Security is a tricky affair: it’s difficult to establish, to maintain, and to verify. Take all the steps you can to keep your data and devices secure.
- Backup, keeping a copy in your home and somewhere outside your home that you consider safe and are likely to be able to access in an emergency.
- Secure, so that only you and those you trust can get access to your information and accounts.
- Plan for routine recovery, such as when you’re away from your computer, but need to gain access to your information and accounts.
- Plan for extreme recovery, such as when you are disabled and unable to communicate, or when you pass away.
Continue reading Stay Secure
When you’re creating a visualization based on data, it often seems as if the possibilities are endless. Realistically, however, your best option is to think carefully about each of the variables with which you’re working—typically represented as the columns in a spreadsheet—and the limited number of aesthetic dimensions of your visualization—for each data point: the x position, the y position, possibly the z position, color, transparency, shape, and size.
Your goal is to map each aesthetic to one variable. If you’re using an aesthetic dimension in your graphic that isn’t tied to your variables, then why do you have that dimension? After all, it’s not communicating any information.
Leland Wilkinson’s seminal book, A Grammar of Graphics.
Hadley Wickham’s classic: A Layered Grammar of Graphics.
and a discussion that applies Hadley’s ideas.
I’ve written a separate post explaining why you should cite your sources. This post will focus on how to cite assuming you’re using the Chicago Notes and Bibliography citation style. Continue reading Writing Using Chicago Notes and Bibliography (NB) Style
For the past few years, I’ve been working in an enterprise computing environment that has both striking similarities and dissimilarities from the open source freelance and the academic institutional environments. I’ve been frustrated a number of times by products that either haven’t thought about their enterprise users or, perhaps, don’t care.
So, how is the enterprise different? Continue reading What Software Developers Get Wrong About Enterprise Users
A note to myself
I believe that I can be a better educator through reflection and active engagement. I believe that I can better serve my students and colleagues by being honest with them. I believe that reflection, engagement, and honesty can help other educators improve their praxis, should they feel so inclined.
It has always been about the students
A note to students
Continue reading What Students Say
I wanted to let you know about Apple’s new two-step verification process and give you my recommendation regarding it.
Recommendation: Activate it.
Two-step verification is a security method that has become popular over the past few years as passwords, pass phrases, and security questions have become increasingly less secure.
Continue reading Apple’s Doing The Two-Step
Many of the writing projects I take on involve the creation of a timeline graphic. Such timelines can be quickly created using nothing more than a spreadsheet and some clever formatting tips.
When I’m commenting on electronic documents, I find it useful to be able to quickly generate a PDF of the marked-up version of the document to return to authors for review. I annotate the document using track changes and adding comments (using the INSERT > COMMENT feature… not by adding text to the body of the document!!!), then
Save as PDF…
to keep a copy for myself and to email (or post to a course management system) for the author to review.
Unfortunately, OSX doesn’t have a built-in keyboard shortcut for Save to PDF…, but it’s easy to add one.
[Note: you can’t Save to PDF… from an Adobe Acrobat print dialog box… it would bruise their ego]
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.
||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.
||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.
||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.)
||A tripod mount screw is handy for setting up your recorder for standalone operation.
Two models I’m fond of:
One of the first lessons any successful graduate student (and that should read “undergraduate student”) learns is to introduce themselves to the reference librarian who is responsible for their favorite subject areas. They can serve as guides to the existing collection, alert you to new acquisitions, and help you to acquire books that you may be interested in reading.
Know the LOC system, know which sections interest you, and know who is responsible for maintaining those sections at your institutions. You’ll make a librarian’s day when you introduce yourself as being “particularly interested in the QAs” or any other category.
For me, I always visit these sections, at least:
- K7555 – Copyright
- LB – Theory and practice of education
- Q – Cybernetics/Information Theory
- QA – Computers/Programming Languages
- TK – Electronics/Computer Engineering
History of the LOC system: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcc.html
The categories: http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/lcco/
I was recently asked to participate in a panel discussion related to careers in information and computing technologies by the University at Albany student chapter of ASIS&T. I’m making my slides from the talk as well as a PDF of my disciplines model available for anyone who may be interested.
Every programmer and programming language has a preferred variation on how to format code. Here are my best suggestions for the languages I tend to code.
Continue reading Programming Style Guide
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.
Continue reading Endnote: Create a key binding for linking to a PDF (OS X)
We often find ourselves commenting on students’ writing and acting as editors rather than critical readers: we indicate line-level edits, such as missing commas and poor word choices– as if fixing the mechanical errors would make the paper acceptable. In reality, most student papers we see are first drafts, often written the night before the assignment is due and unedited by anyone, including the author. (See my post concerning the design of assignments, coming soon.)
Continue reading Commenting on Student Writing
First year graduate students often struggle with the volume of reading required. It’s not uncommon to have assigned to you hundreds of pages a week on a range of topics. The typical course may cover the contents of a half-dozen books and 75-100 academic papers. All of this you’re meant to consume, understand, and synthesize with everything you know. The task is, to say the least, daunting.
It doesn’t have to be so difficult to read academic works; people make simple reading mistakes that are easily corrected.
Continue reading Read Like a Graduate Student, not a Mystery Fan
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.