I’ve been warned that I sometimes veer too far in the direction of toolmaker away from the standard path followed by most scientists. Try as I might, I cannot seem to avoid finding the process of doing science nearly as interesting as the goal of getting that science done. And so, my mind has been orbiting around a problem I suspect is endemic amongst all physicists, if not all scientists. That problem, captured so nicely by this PhD comic is that of filesystem cruft. Science, being at it’s core an experimental art, produces for every successful idea a whole panoply of failed experiments, mistakes, and generally messed-up crap. Being paranoid creatures consumed by our own fears, along with the awareness that serendipity has been a cornerstone of great work, we are loathe to sweep these ill-fated children of the mind into the trash where they (mostly) belong. And so those of us who rely on computers for most of our day-to-day work end up with home directories filled to the brim with old scripts, corrupted data files, a dozen different versions of the same list of values, and other digital detritus. And this situation makes for errors, confusion, thousand yard stare, anal leakage, and other evils too foul to discuss in polite company. Just looking at my /home directory on my workstation at the University, I have more than 100,000 files sitting around, waiting for me to stare at them for a quarter hour trying to remember what they were for.
I’m a huge redditor, and one of my favourite little-known subreddits is r/battlestations. It’s a nifty page where people show off their computer/desk areas and compare notes for cool monitor setups, epic workstations, and efficient office layouts. Check it out if you want to kill some time and drool over other peoples offices. That was a short lame-o link post. Sorry about that, I’ll be including vouchers for free nothing in the next post.
Short post today, I overdid it and started a much longer post I can’t finish tonight, and I’m getting mighty tired. Instead of that, let me point out a bit of exciting tech news from today: Lenovo has release an Android tablet that actually looks like I might buy it. A Thinkpad Tablet!
I used to have a relatively long commute in to work, with a 30 minute drive and a 15 minute walk (I am cheap, and hate paying for parking). Because I have the attention span of a 6 year old meth addict, making this trip without something to listen to was unacceptable. So, I developed a insatiable addiction to podcasts. Here are the ones I listen to regularly.
Continuing my series on using python and matplotlib to generate common plots and figures, today I will be discussing how to make histograms, a plot type used to show the frequency across a continuous or discrete variable. Histograms are useful in any case where you need to examine the statistical distribution over a variable in some sample, like the brightness of radio galaxies, or the distance of quasars.
I feel like yesterday’s depressing (but popular!) post painted a bit gloomier picture of the future of astronomy and space science than the reality warrants. Today, I thought I might cheer you up with an inside view of one of the neatest pieces of scientific instrumentation under construction today: a fantastic radio telescope called the Australian Square Kilometer Array (SKA) Pathfinder (ASKAP).
Continuing my series on using matplotlib and python to generate figures, I’d like to get now to the meat of the topic: actually making a figure or two. I’ll be starting with the simplest kind of figure: a line plot, with points plotted on an X-Y Cartesian plane.
I’m sure many of my fellow scientists spend a relatively large chunk of their time making plots, graphs, and figures of one sort or another. There are a plethora of cool tools out there for doing this, from proprietary tools like Mathematica or IDL to free software kits like GNUplot. While GNUplot is useful and handy (and IDL is powerful and expensive), I’m a python guy primarily, so I like my tools to interface well with my existing code, and has a more pythonic interface. For this, I turn to matplotlib, a powerful suite for generating all sorts of plots from python.
This term I am taking a really interesting course – “COGS 303 – Research Methods in Cognitive Systems” – which is intended as a guide to doing successful research in Cognitive Science. One of our regular assignments will be to write opinion pieces with a strong 400 word limit – a good exercise in clarity and brevity. We chose our topic from a list and must defend it within the word limit. I’ll post my essays to the interwebs so that they can be evaluated in the harshest of battlefields. Here’s the first:
Topic: The advent of the digital age makes public libraries obsolete. (Affirmative)
Current trends in technological and cultural development make it unlikely that public libraries will survive in their traditional format.