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Because I do things on paper (as the 6 white boards in my home office have other important things on them. . .actual code I was writing and debugging) and things wind up looking like this:

My awful code map

My code map which uses most of the colors of pen I have on my desk

Yeah. We’ll not talk about that actual code in idl and it’s amazing abuse of if and where statements. Why write a properly laid out code when you’re an astronomer and an electronic bludgeon can get the job done?


Since I feel comfortable sticking with a theme, and the Scientae Carnival is about “school” suplies I’m going to talk about more “school” supplies! Today’s topic is the iPhone.

I was late to the cult of iPhone. I remember my officemate getting the first iPhone and immediately bragging about how he was using jailbreak. I of course sat there squinty eyed going “but why would you want an iPhone when the first thing you need to do is circumvent the operating system?”. But finally this last year after our move to the land of the wanna-be Ivy I gave in and ditched T-Mobile after multiple crappy changes to their internet service and went to AT&T and purchased the iPhone. Yes, my iPhone has music and videos loaded on it for the dog walking and the plane flights to telescopes, but I also feel love for my apps. I don’t have many, in fact I only have 1.5 screens worth. But the two most handy items I have are Facebook and Twitter. Facebook is handy for communicating with astronomer friends on trips and Twitter. . . well I have an unnatural love for twitter.

My love for Twitter as a scientist is related to not needing to be in 5  places at once. At the AAS meetings you can easily find tweets from a parallel session you couldn’t make with the meeting’s aas hashtag (this next meeting in Jan will have the hashtag #217). During the press conference for the Astronomy Decadal Survey I sat in a room watching with a ton of people cursing the rambling that was going on but found a link to an high level review of the results in a tweet. I’ve also seen info from other conferences thanks to other scientists who live tweet with their iPhones after asking their followers if there is any interest. This week I’ve learned about astronomy education, the fires near Boulder Colorado, the latest hurricane updates, how to play with tables and databases in Python, the peach and apple statuses at the local orchards, the Gemini Observatory transition plan, and oh yeah football scores from my undergrad institution (and that’s just tracking back to Friday).

Downsides to the iPhone are plentiful though, the most obvious of which is that you’re always plugged in. Sometimes being plugged in is good- at conferences you can plan and maneuver lunches and dinners via friends on twitter, or via text message. But if you’re like myself you also have an email addiction. I blame my job before undergrad where I was expected to turn around email responses as fast as possible. Thanks to my iPhone I’ve spent a number of Sundays cursing because I could check my email while I was out and saw yet another email from the advisor wanting something. However deactivating push capabilities for your phone (where servers can push data to your phones) can keep the headaches to a minimum.

So the iPhone- it’s handy! I find myself lusting over the iPad now for the reasons of Pages and Keynote, but I’ll wait until the second hardware release. As it stands I think I shall leave my laptop behind at the DPS meeting and use just my iPhone as I’m only doing a poster, and I don’t feel like lugging my laptop all over the US. Perhaps in a month I can say how useful it is to have only one’s iPhone to stay plugged in.

So I realized the other day that I’m lacking some good school supplies in some cases. While I back up my computers in triplicate, my directory structures look like a hot mess.

For example: My Desktop has folders for Talks, Random Articles, Random Pictures, Random Math, Ground Based Proposals, Postdoc Applications etc etc. Those directories were started when I tried to clean up my desktop and some are organized- Ground Based Proposals has directories that say what telescope and what semester. The Talks folder is actually labelled by talk location and holds both the Keynote and the jpegs or postscripts used for the figures.

Other directories look like a bomb went off, like the Random Articles directory. It’s full of articles with names like sdarticle-1.pdf, sdarticle-2.pdf (courtesy of Icarus and Science Direct), 19660.web.pdf (thank you ApJ) and others where I had tried to save them as sensible files like ‘albedo_meteorites.pdf’.

This past week I hit my breaking point with the clusterf*ck that was my random articles directory as I was writing another manuscript and decided to finally get a reference manager. The question was: which should I get? I run on Macs exclusively right now so Papers would be an obvious choice. . . .but I’m also a cheap ass, so $25-ish even with a student discount made me say no. So what about the others? I had heard about Zotero (a plugin for Firefox which I also use because I have an irrational hatred for Safari) and Mendeley.

I first made the plunge with Zotero. And about 24 hours later I downloaded Mendeley. While I like the idea of Firefox plugins in general, I found it really fracking annoying to have Zotero take up my Firefox window when open. Plus right after downloading Zotero I started having internet issues with Firefox and that’s pretty much the best way to get me to drop something like a hot potato. Plus Zotero was doing some wacky shit with the bib info for the articles I was trying to import and it annoyed the hell out of me to have to edit everything.

So onto Mendeley- I love the fact that it’s stand alone. I love that it ported all the Zotero stuff over without pain. I love that it’s stand alone (yes broken record here). I love the bajillion tabs so I can have a ton of papers open at once. Things I don’t love- it’s a pain in the ass to figure out how to edit the bib info (I think there ought to be a button or a left click option for that rather than making me go through the view menu). I’m a bit torn on the “collaborative” nature of Mendeley. Admittedly I have my profile etc locked down so I can’t be as easily e-stalked, but the fact that I could see what were the most popular articles stored in astrophysics seemed a little creepy to me though interesting (as they were not the most popularly viewed articles from their respective journals).

Overall though. . .I find that Mendeley  is the slickest option for me and the most useful. Perhaps maybe in a week or two I can clean out that damned Random Articles directory.

I decided to try and join one of the many blog carnivals and the September Scientae carnival asks “What are your favorite school supplies?”

So my favorite school supplies:

Reams of paper– I may be an observational astronomer that uses digital images but that doesn’t mean I don’t have a desk covered in dead trees.

Brightly colored pens – Ummm, I have a pen problem. I’ve kinda always had a pen problem (I seem to recall hoarding skinny Crayola markers in elementary school). My current favorite pens are Stabilo point 88 pens (which I found at the bookstore of University of the Frozen Tundra when I was back there in June), Uniball Vision Fine points (which I have in pink, blue and green) and an assortment of Zebra Sarasas.

Buying in a broad assortment of colors means a lot of my work is color coded- when I code or troubleshoot printout of code I do so in the color purple. Manuscript edits I do in pink. Greens and blues are assigned to current working manuscripts, so that notes in my lab book about what I’ve done or references I ought to use in the manuscript are all the same color (I tend to work on two projects at a time so I can swap when I get stuck and think about things).

But though I love pens- I hate the Sharpie pens. They’re quite colorful but they bleed like a mofo.

Moleskine Cahier Notebooks– I use the big 7.5 x 9.5 inch notebooks as lab books. And I only use the the ones with blank pages- that way I can write extra wee if I want, and can sketch diagrams without any graph paper or lined background. The notebooks are softbound, so they nice and flex-y when you find yourself needing to put them on the scanner to email some math to your advisor so he can double check it 😉

National Brand Chemistry Notebooks– these are lined and are hard bound. I wind up using these for notes at seminars and conferences and notes from random articles I’ve read. The pretty blue covers make them easy to find on a disaster desk.

A Mac– my dissertation is being written on a MacBook and an iMac, both of which are mine, all mine. The ease of installing software is important, but I still haven’t reformed the advisor to the cult of Mac yet (hell he just moved to buying Linux boxes rather than Sunblades this last year, so I think he’s more comfortable with a computer system he needs to pay someone else to maintain).

IDL– praise cheebus for IDL licenses. Originally in undergrad I learned Fortran and while that was great and all, Fortran77 was quite clunky. Rather than move to Fortran 90 or 95, I’ve gone to the land of IDL. The use of pointers has been awesome when sorting gigantic data files. I think I may be an anomaly these days though, as an astronomer I don’t use IDL to do fits image processing, rather I use it for a lot of numerical crunching.

IRAF- the name we used in undergrad was “Incessant Rambling and Fumbling”. That may describe the IRAF experience well for an astronomer who is just starting to use it, but as you get older and use it more, you learn where all the packages are hidden. I guess one day I may have to move over to PyRAF which is IRAF with a python wrapper, but I just think that’s dumb and poorly documented, so I’ll stick with IRAF thanks.

TeXShop– This is Mac specific and I find myself loving TexShop everyday. And every journal article I write and my dissertation are written in Tex, so I love having the Typeset button where it compiles and shows me the pdf rather than having to sit in X11 cursing at latex and then dvipdf (or dvips and then ps2pdf).

External Hard Drives– handy for backing up data (I have 3 terrabyte harddrives in my office for backing up dissertation data in triplicate) and for taking home data from the telescope. I’m going to have to buy another darned external in October because a week at the telescope with an imager at prime focus (with something like 64 megapixels per image) results in more data than I ever could have imagined ten years ago when I was a wee undergrad.

Small white board (or 5)- good for writing checklists of stuff that need done, lists of job applications (Ack it’s almost that season again), random bits of code I’ve been thinking about or even to just display handy printouts (like diagrams of the main belt that mark the regions for all the dynamical families).

Hair thingies– having hair somewhere between waist and classic length, my hair flies around a bit, especially when I’m frustrated. Keeping my hair out of the way is a good thing. Right now I have a claw clippy and some grabby ponytail holders on my desk.

July 2018
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