Autocorrect This!

When we were children, we were taught how to spell words. (Personally, I was never fantastic at this.) I see the value of spelling, and look scornfully on documents wrought with spelling errors. You may say, “Lucky for us, we live in the land of spell-checkers, and we don’t have to worry about that.” Ah yes. And this brings me to my point.

Spell-checking is a valuable tool. I couldn’t possibly write without it. This post is a commentary not on spell checking, but on its cousin, auto-correct. Auto-correct is the tool that changes “teh” to “the” and “freindly” to “friendly.” I used to think that this was a fantastic utility. These days I have a different take.

Auto-correct takes away the punishment for misspelling and mistyping words. As a result, you being the clever person you are, adapt and start to exhibit more careless behaviors. After years of training myself in this way, I realized that I could barely type an intelligible sentence when left to my own devices. I was constantly on backspace, and messed up certain words habitually.

Broken Pencil

As an experiment, about six months ago, I decided to go on an auto-correct hiatus. I disabled it in all programs. Furthermore, I made a promise to myself not to right-click misspelled words to get the correct spelling. Now, if I type a word wrong, I fix it. If I don’t know how to spell a word, I look it up. The results are fantastic.

My typing accuracy has improved dramatically, and I am learning to spell again! Words that I noticed I never *ever* spelled right such as “available” (I always did “avaliable” and auto-correct fixed it) have come back into the fold. Maybe its not necessary. Maybe I’m just a purist. But I like that I can type again.

Formula to Write a Paper

I want to share the lessons I learned recently when writing a paper. These were some revelations that helped me get over the procrastination hump and really set me on the writing fast-track.

  1. Start with a thesis
  2. Do all the experiments next
  3. Recursive outlining
  4. Finish it up

Read on for an explanation of each of these steps:

Start with a thesis

Before you do anything else, write a short, to the point thesis topic. It should be one or two sentences and the entire paper should be written to prove that thesis. I stuck mine to the wall above my desk to help keep me focused. They tell you to do this in grade school, and when you’re all grown up, the same rule applies. This will forever-on be the first thing I do when I sit down to write a paper.

Do all the experiments next

All of your experiments should be designed to support your thesis, and completed before you do anything else (so that you know your thesis is right). If your thesis turns out not to be right, then you have to go back to the beginning and pick a new thesis!

When I say experiments, here I mean the work that you’re writing about. In my case ‘experiments’ are figures showing the results of my computer vision algorithms. For someone else it may be analysis of a client’s financial data or a computer simulations of particle movement through a turbulent fluid field.

In any case, doing these with the thesis in mind, and before writing ensures that the experiments are relevant, and help to prove the thesis.

Recursive Outlining

In recursive outlining I start with an outline of sections: Introduction, Background, Novel Algorithm, Results, Conclusion. This takes no time because its the same for almost every paper. Next, go though and add sub-sections, then sub-sub sections.

At this point, most typical ‘outlining’ stops. However, keep going. Add sentence ideas to each sub-sub section, and start making rough guesses about where graphics will go. Add key words to those sentences ideas. All the time, keep the thesis in mind.

Now your paper has all of the ideas you want to present in a very rough form. Inevitably some sections will be sketchier than others, but now the process of refining the text can become very compartmentalized without sacrificing overall idea of the paper.

Finishing it up

What the process until now has done is to take apart the paper into these little tasks. The final steps are to turn your sketch for each sub-sub section into an concise, eloquent-sounding, finished piece of writing. Once you have done this for all the sections, give it a final read-over and its done.

Keep in mind that some of these steps may take days, but by following this process you always know what your next action is, and you don’t have to waste a lot of time doing pointless things or re-doing things that were directed towards the wrong point.

It’s true that I have precious little paper-writing experience, but these revelations have helped my writing considerably. I plan to post updates to this as my experience grows and my method evolves. If you have any good tips along these lines, please share them in the comments!

How to Take Worthwile Notes

In the past few years, I have discovered a method for taking notes that makes the notes easy to use, and turns them from a pointless exercise in dictation to a useful reference! I’ve going to “school” for some time now (about 18 years). Of course, for much of that time I was diligently copying down the words spilling from the prof’s mouth so I could study it later. I started experimenting with different note-taking styles a few years ago, and have finally settled on something that works. With a little planning and a few extra minutes of organization you can turn a course worth of information into a great reference. I use notes from classes daily now! Continue reading “How to Take Worthwile Notes”

Lessons From a Traveler

As one travels, one will inevitably learn many things. You learn about yourself, about the world, and about traveling as a hobby. Here is a short list of things that struck me as important.

Pack Light

This is always a must in my opinion. Its no fun to walk around with big bags. Even if you’re going to put them down right when you arrive, who wants to deal with all that stuff!? Some tips if you’re packing *really* light (I think Jimi and I had packs that were about 30 pounds).

  1. Get a super-absorbent shammy-style towel. In the words of Douglas Adams, “You’ve got to know where your towel is.” And that’s true, a personal towel will come in handy time and time again. But regular bath towels are far too big. Instead, get one of these (I found mine in the automotive section of WalMart).
  2. Bring a multi-tool pocket knife. This allows you to mend, destroy, create, and do a lot of things with just one little tool. I actually forgot to bring one, but as destiny would have it, we *found* one after about 28 hours in Europe. It proved priceless for lots of little things. (CAREFUL, don’t try to bring this on a plane)
  3. Pack T-Shirts. Sure, they’re not quite as trendy, but its better to have those little guys than lots of annoying shirts with collars and buttons. After a few days you don’t give a damn how you look.

Plan Some
Know generally what’s in the area. Try Wikitravel or just the regular internet. I also like Lonely Planet and Lets Go guides. (Although I would suggest taking select pages or photocopies rather than entire books because they’re huge and scream TOURIST!)

If you’ve got friends where you’re going, know people who have been before you, or are friendly with strangers… Ask other people what to do. It is a lot easier than reading those stupid tourist books, and you usually get quality suggestions. I’d suggest spending a lot of time on this. If it hadn’t been for a friend’s suggestion in Paris, we would have never visited Toulon!

I try to have a sketchy plan for the next 24 hours at all times. It’s good to have this to keep a little focused. However, be prepared to be flexible.
Don’t plan too much
Because I see life as a hilarious adventure, its hard for me to see anything that happens as misfortune. If you plan everything out to the second, it removes a lot of the adventure, and potentially eliminates the hilarity of things going very well or very badly.

If you allow chance to play a big role in your travels, you let in a lot of room for luck. Luck is what really makes the best stories. “We followed a tight schedule and saw all of the sites” is kinof boring. “We really had no idea what we were doing and next thing you know, we were eating crepes wearing a giant chicken suit” is a lot more entertaining. Also, if you are letting luck play a role in your travels, planning to far in advance can mean losing money on non-refundable reservations and things. Plus, if you have to sleep on the street one night… Hilarious adventure, right?

I’ll save the long soliloquy on how much you learn about your self, your soul, life in general, and the human condition for another post… But I think I learned about all that stuff too. Of course, its hard to nail down when exactly that happens.

Don’t Look at Ads!

I fell like this should be known to everyone by now, but every once in a while I see an otherwise clever person looking at internet ads! I hate to tell you guys… that’s sooooo 2005.

In fact, I haven’t seen an internet ad in years. Who do I thank? Adblock Plus. This is a Firefox plugin, so if you’re using Firefox (which you should be)… you can be ad-free just moments after clicking here (to get Adblock) and then here (to get the set of filters).

Adobe be Gone!

I have officially banished Adobe’s “Acrobat” line from my computer. I’ve never really liked Acrobat reader (it always loads slow), but version 8 pushed me over the edge. It was so slow that it was making me crazy… even after it loaded! Also, Adobe has that whole annoying “you should pay for me” attitude for their pdf writer software. Puh-leese! That was so 90’s…

So I did a little online research and have found a new suite of pdf tools that I love…

These two together accomplish everything I need (for free) and they are both super-fast. What could be better?

Ear Plugs

As much as I like to be distracted… sometimes it’s necessary to get. things. done. When that time comes it has always been a battle for me. Well, no longer my friends! I discovered a technological tool that has been around for a long, long time.You guessed it, ear plugs! Now I had seen these before, even used them on airplanes, or for sleeping though construction. Now in these cases, ear plugs don’t work. You can still hear the hammers, and you can still hear the airplane engines… What I didn’t realize is that you *can not* hear your lab-mates talking behind you.It is incredible how well this works. I actually was about to take my earplugs out because I thought everyone talking in my office had left. Just before I did, I turned around and, to my great surprise! Everyone was still there just jib-jabbin’ away. It was completely silent to me and I continued my much-needed productivity.

Also, people tend not to bug you for unnecessary stuff if you’ve got little orange guys sticking out of your ears!