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What Tools Do You Use? July 10, 2008

Posted by gordonwatts in computers, physics life.

I’ve previously written about using IM to get your work done. How about a more general question – what else do you use?

Particle physics is known for rolling its own tools. We have grown up with this approach because forever it was the case that what we wanted wasn’t there. But it isn’t clear that is the case so much any more.

So — I’m curious — what online productivity tools do you use? Are there new ones out there that you think will help? Especially if you are tackling physics. Use Google Docs in order to share results? How about SlideRocket? I don’t mean to limit the answers to online tools — how about Evernote or OneNote? What utilities do you use? Are there things that really help you get through your physics? Leave your answers in the comments.



1. Chip - July 11, 2008

I use Evernote and have since the private beta came out about 2 months ago. It’s not unlike a number of apps for PC and mac (except perhaps that it works for PC, mac, and linux…and oh, by the way, many phones). It’s hosted remotely, which is partly a downer, but that makes syncing reliable, as compared with Yojimbo for the mac.

The database allows you to see sizable thumbnails, organized by date, the whole document, or a right-click to your favorite pdf viewer. You can organize entries in folders, and you can also tag them. You can view your whole database from the web (on a password-protected site), on any computer with a client, and at least for me, on my Treo. Clipping from the web is one-click with an active button you install on your browser tool bar (I use Safari). The clipping operation allows you to choose the folder and tag the entry. You can print any pdf directly to Evernote and print an Office document to pdf which then goes to Evernote and you can email any mail message to your database with a special address that your email client quickly learns. You can also write notes and annotate entries. There is a search engine, which I’ve not stressed very seriously. It comes with a modest amount of space and when the public beta was announced a purchase option became available for 500MB per month for $45/year. I immediately signed up.

What I needed, and Evernote supplies, is a place to put stuff that I come across while I’m unable to process it at that time. That’s usually web pages and email messages. But, also I’m starting to use it for reference materials that I will go back to all the time. I also am at a meeting in Bern (same one as Gordon) and found a folder labeled “meetings” particular useful for all of the registration materials, slides, agendas, maps, notes, etc that you accumulate.

2. Alex - July 11, 2008

I used to use MacJournal (http://www.marinersoftware.com/sitepage.php?page=85 don’t worry there a WinJournal too), as a log book. You can organize entries into different journals, encrypt some or all of them and the search is pretty good. The entries themselves can contain pictures, videos whatever. I found it useful for dropping URLs and source code files into. It also cleans up text you cut and paste into it, to make formatted lists etc.

I stopped using it and moved everything to the notes provided in Apple Mail, thinking it would be better to just have everything in my email program, but it’s not really.

3. Anonymous - July 11, 2008

I use as few tools as possible to get the physics done, as a general rule. I’ve always found that the more bells and whistles you use, the more likely something is to break or stop working for some unrelated reason and distract your time. In my experience, the physics happens when you strip away everything in your life that is not directly related to the measurement you’re making. Clearly, one needs a computer and basic things like plotting software, most other things tend to be more of a distraction than a help.

4. Chip - July 11, 2008

…guess that’s why we still review papers/memos in 1000 serial emails.

5. Anonymous - July 12, 2008

Think 1000 serial IMs would be a lot faster? 🙂 You still have to type, and to do the physics. I’m personally all for tools that improve productivity — I’ve found that about 1% (or less) of new whiz-bang tools do that, and 99% end up being time wasters.

6. Andy - July 12, 2008

Google Calendar – a beautiful service with incredible attention to detail. I love having the multiple calendars (one for Personal, D0, Meetings, Holidays, etc… ) all on the same page, in different colors. I love drag and dropping appointments when they change date. I love that it syncs to my blackberry curve…

Blackberry Curve – Give your iPhone to your kid in college. If you want a great email / IM/ calendar / phone / maps / web / music device for grown-ups, try the curve – it’s free with a 2 year contract.

ROOT – We hate it and yet we can’t live without it.
TMVA – Multivariates techniques that are flexible and easy to use, finally!

Valgrind – It tells you why your code is so slow and sucky. Then you can fix it. Try the –tool=callgrind option, a great profiler. Then use kCachegrind. Prepare to be amazed at what your program actually spends 9 hours doing.

Wanted: Like you’re talking about above… a program to solve this issue of reviewing papers in a large collaboration. I want a website which holds the latex of a document (and can make pdf) and has all the comments / questions in some nifty color-coded tree-gui, with who made them, when, and the status (open/resolved). You should be able to assign each comment a given “action” like “change ‘for a while’ to ‘after some time’, and then check a box and make the desired change to the latex, or type in a reply to the comment if you disagree. This is a tool physicists need and that doesn’t exist as far as I know.

7. Anonymous - July 12, 2008

At BaBar comments on papers are in threads in Hypernews (definitely one of the 1% of absolutely invaluable tools) with the lead post linked to the document version, which is in a password-protected web page (the BaBar Analysis Document system). It works very well, and I can’t see any way that this could be dramatically improved.

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