February 28, 2006

A small apology- my mood…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:12 am by a11en

Hey Guys,

Gonna do my best to lighten my mood. 🙂 Sorry if the following is full of craziness. I promise the future posts will be more upbeat! I will also be posting more pipe-related goodness as I can. 🙂 Thank God for Pipes! and Thank God for ASP!! 🙂

I hope to repay the great guys on ASP with a special book sometime soon. Well, ok, in my world soon is a bit relative. 😉 But, soon. 😉

Cheers, all!!
-Allen

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February 27, 2006

Westminster Chimes on OsX…

Posted in Lifehacks, Mac at 6:43 am by a11en

Ok, I have to make this quick, as time’s a wastin’! 🙂 But, here’s a minitutorial for getting chimes to work on os X. My approach is somewhat simple: Why use an extra program when the system should be capable of this? But, in the end, I actually did use an extra program. 😉 he he. Oh well, it works! It’s free! It’s very configurable! all good things…

Here are the steps:

  1. Choose a chime setup that you like. Popular ones include Westminster Chimes and Ship’s Bells (Naval Bell chimes used for the watch changes on Navy Ships).
  2. Find a source for soundfiles which will be your actual “chimes”. I found my Westminster ones at this link [thanks Rita!]. Also found ship’s bells at this link.
  3. Download and install the very small scriptable application “PlaySound” for quick and easy sound playing via applescript.
  4. Make a folder in your home directory where you will keep everything (and not move it)… the sounds and applescripts should go here so that you can find them easily.
  5. You want to make up little applescripts saved as “applications without startup windows” for your Cron job to run. Here are two examples. One is for the various minutes i.e., 15 shown here, and one is for the “on the hour” shown below it. Note that the files to play are given to the application as aliases. You can obtain the hfs path through contextual menu additions similar to “PathSnagger“. Also these scripts are quick and dirty, but they work. 🙂 I’m positive there’s someone out there who could do the same in Perl or the like in less than 20 characters. 😉 I could care less, as these work for me. note: there are 2 scripts shown below as examples… you’ll need to make your own with your own files as well as extras if you want the half-hour and the 45 min. sound to play.

    tell application "Play Sound"
    play ("Macintosh HD:Users:a11en:Apple scripts:SoundScripts-Westminster:Westminster Glass 15.wav" as alias)
    end tell

    set cdate to ((((time of (current date)) / 60) / 60) as integer)
    if cdate is less than 12 then
    set chimenum to (cdate - 1)
    else
    set chimenum to (cdate - 13)
    end if
    tell application "Play Sound"
    play ("Macintosh HD:Users:a11en:Apple scripts:SoundScripts-Westminster:Westminster Glass 00.wav" as alias)
    play ("Macintosh HD:Users:a11en:Apple scripts:SoundScripts-Westminster:Westminster Glass Toll.wav" as alias) repeat chimenum
    end tell
  6. Set up Cron to launch these scripts when appropriate. For this, I highly suggest Cronnix, which is a GUI for the system’s Cron application which is already on your mac. To set this up, I have a line similar to the following in Cronnix:

    0 * * * * /usr/bin/open "/Users/a11en/Apple scripts/SoundsScripts-Westminster/Hour Toll Glass.app"
    and
    15 * * * * /usr/bin/open "/Users/a11en/Apple scripts/SoundScripts-Westminster/15 glass.app"

  7. Hit “test now” before you save, to ensure that cron launches your file and plays properly. The chimes should work as you hoped them to as long as you saved the applescripts as little applications, and the aliases to your files are correct.
  8. If the test worked, feel free to save the cron file, and you can quit Cronnix. Watch the clock and see if the scripts launch at the right times.

This approach is also tailorable. If you read up on Cron, you can make the sounds work only during specific hours (saves your spouse’s wrath when the chimes go off in the other room at 3am. You can alter the volumes in PlaySound so the chimes are always at the same volume, and you can also make more complex scripts and Cron jobs for more complex Chiming situations- i.e., Ship’s bells (something I haven’t done yet). Future work I’ll be thinking about is a simple way to turn off the chimes when desired, but for now, the mute button will work nicely. BTW, one of the reasons I like this approach is how tailorable it is. If you only like the 15 minute chimes, or want them to all be the same sound file (like your dog’s bark), you can do that. In fact, you can have the system wake you up every business day with a complex chime such as the Zen Alarm clock mentioned below (my next little project to take my mind off the horrors of my worklife). Yes, you can do this with a little application, but why? You have everything you need in your system. [I suspect there’s a way for the system itself to play the sounds, but for now I’m happy with such a low-memory footprint application I can use elsewhere to play sounds without launching iTunes or Quicktime player.] Finally, Kudos go to Merlin Mann and the guys on the forums who got me thinking about this. It helps me watch my time slipping away and keeps me a bit on task. [When not writing stuff like this to help others do the same.]

Slight issues you may or may not like:

  1. I find that while I’m working the system runs the script applications, so for a moment, I lose focus on the document, which resolves itself immediately after the script launching. It’s a slight blip in the screen as the script is run. There may be a way to run the script in the background- I’m working on that.
  2. There isn’t a “one-click” way to turn this off, other than the mute button. You can however, turn it off by deselecting the checkmark boxes in Cronnix, and saving the changes.

Earworm: “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” performed by John Coltrane from the album The Stardust Session

Brainworm: Prelim Document- views of Crystal Boundary, issues with extrinsic defects at the GB, writing updated versions, and thin-film growth in the vacuum chamber this evening…

Funworm: FountainPens… Lamy’s Safari’s and Pelican 150’s… make grading so much more fun…

February 23, 2006

“Ding…” the importance of chimes…

Posted in Lifehacks, Mac at 5:27 am by a11en

I’m just loving this new little dashboard widget I’ve downloaded ProdMe by Jim Carlson. I use it’s chime feature to bring back the nice chimes I was able to have in os9. What I’ve found, is that my brain doesn’t notice time’s passing very well [all of my family and friend will attest to this]. But, with a nice chime, simple and good to listen to, I can now be reminded of how time is passing on me. Frequently the little chime will spurr me forward in my work, or bring me back on task. I have ProdMe set up for 15min. increments, and the hourly chimes. I also downloaded various chime sounds online, and will be attempting a crude cron-job for running more complex chimes. One in particular is the Naval Bell schedule which is quite interesting. I’ll let you know how it comes along when I get back to it. For now, ProdMe is simple and easy to use, and hence I haven’t gone further.

Interestingly, Zen Clocks are also quite cool. Feel free to buy it for me. 😉 he he he… Mahogany or CherryWood would be nice. 😉 double he he…

Earworm: “I Am In Love” performed by Ella Fitzgerald from the album The Cole Porter Songbook (Disc 1)

February 22, 2006

Mail.app- what keeps me from using it?

Posted in Mac at 1:56 am by a11en

Thought I’d throw a quick one up today- this time about Mail.app.  There are 2 major reasons that I’m a bit loathe to use Mail on mac osX:

  1. No multi-personality support.
  2. 1 mail message = 1 file = huge bloated hard-drive

(1)- With today’s crazy wild “internet” world, multiple personalities have become a critical method of protecting oneself.  When I write on usenet, I need a personality which has a munge e-mail addy, a specific sig-file, and this is linked up to the e-mail I have which is non-work related.  I have a number of personalities which are non-work related and include or don’t include sig files and munged addys.  To this day, Mail.app cannot support this workflow.  Hence, I don’t use it.

(2)-  Why in the world would a single mail-message by a single file on your hard-drive?  Every single message (even those below 4kb) are now taking up the minimal filespace on our harddrive!  Why?  Spotlight searches.  Oh so nice to see the message you want in spotlight, eh?  Nice to the tune of 7gig’s of space on your drive?  Apple should simply make a special plugin for operating with mail archives and get with the real-world of mail useage (look into mutt for example), and deal with the reality of a standard format.

The worst of it is, simply that I do *want* to use all of Apple’s applications- they’re all sort of wired to each other.  That is quite nice, I have to admit.  [Hell, just applescriptability is almost enough to turn me…]  Until Apple moves their apps into the present, I’m afraid I won’t be able to use ’em at all.  [Just like how I don’t use google groups for their lack of a kill-file.  The most basic of all things.. a killfile… doesn’t exist in google groups.]

Ok, enough ranting.  The knee-high pile of grading is awaiting…

Oh, ps- if someone starts telling me that Mail.app does support multiple personalities, I’ll kindly remind them that it doesn’t.  Show me munged addresses, and multiple sigfiles that follow those munged addys and I may start to believe them.  [All selectable from the same inbox as well…]

Earworm: “Anything Goes” performed by Ella Fitzgerald from the album The Cole Porter Songbook (Disc 1)

February 16, 2006

Gantt, productivity update…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Mac at 11:04 pm by a11en

Lifehacker.com has a post about GanttProject2.0 (cross-platform Gantt chart software). Finally found an app that did simple Gantt charts for task progress. Will try and implement that, time allowed, to my current work.

Productivity update:

  • A stack of papers as high as my knee to grade.
  • Writing and prelim work still hurting. Why can’t I figure out simple line/plane projections and orientations? This stuff should be easy…

Earworm: “Don’t Take Your Love From Me” performed by John Coltrane from the album The Stardust Session

February 14, 2006

Grad-student gripes…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Mac at 2:20 am by a11en

aside: I need to organize and edit down this post- skip if you don’t want to read the blatherings of a Grad-student who’s frustrated.. more goodies below this post…

Parking: Ok, if you know a grad-student lives far away from his office (this type of info is available in the phone book on campus), and you find his car sitting in the lot across from his office- let’s say at 4am… why in the hell do you ticket his car?! I mean, what do you think the grad-student is doing in his office? Partying? My guess is he’s freakin’ **working** at 4 am in the morning. And most likely, he hasn’t slept in like 20 hours. So, why for the love of God does he need to find a parking ticket on his car?

My idea: the university should **facilitate** their graduate students. Perhaps it’d be a good idea to offer them free parking spots near their offices such that they can work at any hour of the day or night doing the critical work their department needs them to accomplish (be it TA-work, or RA-work). Hell, if there was money (most likely there never is), I’d make sure there was a computer on each Grad’s desk, and once a week a grad luncheon of modest levels. A happy Grad-student is a productive grad-student. 🙂 [Especially if the university is giving the grad-students the health-care plan that they previously rejected for every other worker… :)]

Secondly, we need to change the face of graduate studies… I wish to see two professors for every grad-student: one professor who is his academic advisor/thesis PI, the other who is his graduate mentor. It may even prove helpful to have the mentor to be a prof. who is at odds to his PI/Thesis advisor. With this setup, there is now the possibility to evaluate the graduate student/professor relationship and various work ethics. Both the student and advisor can benefit from constructive evaluation of performance. The key here is to advance both the advising and mentorship of the graduate student as well as the graduate student’s work and performance. In order for this system to work well, there also needs to be ramifications for poor performance for both the graduate student *and* the advisor. I hate to even bring this up, but we should be attempting to improve performance in all arenas in our Universities. We need both a flexible and advancing study environment which is focused on growth and not necessarily on hitting the grad-student with a big stick if he doesn’t accomplish what he’s “supposed” to accomplish. 😉 Often the big-stick hurts the student’s ability and motivation to work. And this brings us back into the realm of management and mentorship. The Universities are lacking the advancements that the current HR and Managers have gone through in the recent past. Pitting gradstudents against each other or using fear-mongering managerial practices have been proven more harmful than good. And are the cave-man equivalent to management. Why be advanced in the arena of science and be backwards in the world of management skills? The prime key here being that no professors have ever gone to class to mentor or manage grad-students. They learned by being thrown in the pool head first, and they also feel that being thrown in head-first is pretty much the way grad-students learn. But, should we do this just because we’ve always done this? Where is the discovery method, the new ground-breaking moves forward in management techniques and forward thinking approaches to growing graduate-student ability to mentor and manage tasks in the research environment?

Now, I feel the head-first in the deep end approach has some merit- there’s freedom for the professor ’cause he can just shrug his shoulders and say: “You go figure it out.” the whole time looking good to his other co-prof’s. It has some merit to the grad-student, ’cause he actually has to “go figure it out” or else he utlimately fails. But, I have to admit, it leaves a lot lacking. How many of us would take this approach to a 2 year old’s growth? In many ways young grad-students are 2-year olds when it comes to scientific research. So, the question really comes down to how do we make incentives for the prof. I tend to promote a positive and negative reinforcement model. The lowest scoring profs may lose grad-students, extra departmental funding or in the least not be allowed to hire more students for a predetermined time. The highest scoring profs should gain a departmental bonus for research or grad-student support, or perhaps a “chair” position for a year or semester. (See how we feed positively into the research here as well?)

The role of the mentor-advisor is to focus on the graduate student’s “life” performance. This means things like motivation, sharing and bonding with the student in an effort to be a positive support through their work. This type of prof. would help teach the student positive working methods (such as life-hacks and GTD, etc.), over-encompassing research approaches, may help in terms of specific research areas, and finally to act as a sort of evaluator of the research prof./student relationship. The mentor-advisor has the ability to determine whether or not the PI for the student is withholding his end of the relationship and ultimately can support the advisor in commendation or punishment for their role in this process. I also feel this should work in the opposite mode. If the PI/research advisor is finding their are playing an increasingly more important role as a mentor-advisor than the mentor is, the mentor may be either changed, or as well punished for their lack of attention to the student.

I will not mention various methods of punishment in regards to the student at this point, partly because this has become too long for a blog-post, but also because I feel this is the primary and only feedback loop that currently exists in this process. The feedback loop for the student is quite scary and large… ultimately, the student fails to reach his future goals in his career, and this is the ultimate motivator. Regardless of whether the prof. believes the student cares or not, I’m here to tell you the student really does care. Too often the student is looked on as the problem, when in reality many times it comes down to lack of understanding and knowledge in the ability to get their work completed. Not in the actual work, frequently, but in the method/process etc., which ultimately should be taught by the research PI or the mentor professor as suggested here.

Ok, I went on too long here… but ultimately what I want to see is more positive and negative feedbacks to support a graduate’s student progress forward. If I had the ability to raise the pay for a grad, I would… it should track inflation, first and fore-most, and also should increase with steps accomplished (as many now do). It should also track incoming graduate salaries. There’s no reason I can think of that new students be given more cash than the current students, and to help promote the forward move (not be worried about eating peanut-butter and kraft-dinners), some modest level of cash is required. Often, the level is a bit too low. [A prime example: I have heard of a student’s wages being cut in half as a punitive measure, the prof. only to recind this because he didn’t realize the pay was so low, and the tuition so high, that the student would have to drop out of his studies. Not to mention said professor didn’t even go through the University set procedures for punitive measures.]

I’m extremely concerned with the nature of this current environment, as I strongly feel it is failing heavily, and it will ultimately mean that our future economy will die a slow and painful death. It is critical for the future of this country that we excel in our work at the university research level. Positively influencing this process with proper feedback loops for advisors is ciritcal in this process.

February 13, 2006

Boom… a bad TV show is made…

Posted in Uncategorized at 4:05 am by a11en

Wow. I just saw Grey’s Anatomy. I watch it for 2 reasons: 1) my girlfriend watches it, 2) there are hot women on it. 🙂 Well, (2) is usually enough for guys. Anyways, Grey’s hit a new low today. I felt as though I was watching the Hallmark channel. I predicted the show all the way through from the beginning, right down to the bomb guy blowing up in the end. I hate to say it, but the show was growing on me, and then all of a sudden they decided they needed to be the “new ER.” Well, they may get their wish, and they may get their slump in viewership as well.

My advice to the show: stick to what works, and don’t try too hard. [A prime example if you are trying too hard: having people blow up, give birth, almost die on the operating room, need a hollywood actor or two to join the cast, and have various other members drop out of the picture with various conditions…all in the same freakin’ show (on top of throwing in a bit of sex here and there). Oh, and Having Alanis trying to be a bit too much like Bjork is perhaps the first and very large clue you are trying too hard…]

At least just get Bjork next time…

February 1, 2006

iCal printing on 3×5 index cards (Hipster PDA)…

Posted in GTD, Lifehacks, Mac at 6:04 am by a11en

Ok, just purchased the super-cheap Canon iP1600 printer. Great little thing, does a bang up job on most printing. Best thing is that the cost is freakin’ awesome. Even if it becomes a pain in the keyster, at that price, I can deal with a little pain…

So, I’ve been working with kGTD and also keeping a Hipster PDA in my pocket inside a Moleskine Cahier. Flexible, so it doesn’t hurt when I sit, and flexible in options, as it’s quite simplistic.

Anyways, I want to be able to print out my kGTD lists (as what good are they if they are stuck in my computer when I’m at the grocery store, etc. But, it turns out that iCal does not print 3×5’s. It complains that old ladies can’t see the text, and therefore, it will refuse to print.

So, in the end, what worked for me (and I’m sure there’s a better way), is to setup a small page in page-setup (do this in preview etc.), say 5×7. Now, print in iCal on the 5×7, but save it to PDF. Then go into preview, open up the print, and scale it down to 3×5. My driver for the iP1600 does scaling, so I just set it to scale down to 3×5. [Be sure to select the 5×7 paper size you printed to first.]

Not perfect, but it’ll do in a pinch. Now I can keep my weekly calendar from iCal in my pocket, and will also be printing out my tasks from kGTD and OOp.

Hope this helps someone…