Tag Archives: Word

General

Dual Monitors...

For years I ran dual monitor configurations on my main PC for gaming and found that the extra space that the second screen afforded me was invaluable, although for some strange reason I never really transferred this logic over to my preferred working environment.  Well actually that's not entirely true, I actually ran two machines, a Windows machine and a Linux machine side by side with each performing different tasks.

Since starting my PhD, one of the first things that I wanted to get setup was a decent laptop for writing and modelling on so that I can literally work anywhere.  My colleagues tell me that I'm 'idea rich' but 'time poor' so I need to be very opportunistic about how I work and write if I'm ever going to stand a chance of getting close to completing my PhD.  Don't get me wrong I still use fountain pens and notebooks a lot too for when I'm just too impatient to wait for things to turn on and boot up...

023:365 - Journal...

I've tinkered and meddled in true engineering fashion and now I think I've got a fairly stable writing environment setup that works for me, I use Scrivener for papers and articles to get the framework of the idea set out and then do the final push in Word 2011 (although a warning to other users disable autosave on the Mac version as it has a habit of killing and corrupting your files).  For my figures and diagrams I flit between OmniGraffle Pro and Visio 2010 Pro.

For referencing I use EndNote x4, I know that it's currently on version x6 but I've got x4 spanning between a Windows environment and a Mac environment using a common database that is shared via dropbox, it works perfectly, and so until someone utters the words "Congratulations Dr Currie you passed your viva with no corrections" I'm not changing it... even if one of the Minogue sisters came round on bended knee begging me to upgrade, it's not happening... if both Minogue sisters turned up simultaneously however I may start to waiver...

But the downside of having a laptop is the limited area that you have to fit in all of these different windows etc on a single screen, of course one of the beauties of a UNIX based system such as MacOS is the different workspaces you can have configured, but sometimes you need everything in one space.

To overcome this I bought a cheapish (£90) 22" monitor with HDMI connection (with a TB to HDMI lead) for my office so that I can have a reference document or EndNote library up and running in the secondary monitor and my writing document in the primary window.  So far it's working well, I'm finding it is making my life a little easier, particularly when I want to merge two documents together into a single document, copying and pasting between the two when writing and combining my lecture notes into larger handouts.  One of the key things to consider though when picking a second monitor is get one with an identical or similar resolution to your primary monitor so it makes moving your cursor between the two painless, if the resolution is different then sometimes the mouse can get caught at the top or the bottom of the screen where the resolutions are just off.

I'm finding that the dual monitor configuration is really helping my writing, I spend a few minutes setting up the documents and then I can throw myself into my writing.  Of course if I find myself on the train or in a coffee shop with half an hour to spare or so I can still write and seize that opportunity to write on my laptop on a single screen, but the dual screens is still my preferred way of writing... there are a few articles kicking about the internet that extoll the virtues of double screen writing and how your productivity will double, I can't vouch for the doubling in productivity but it might just make your life a little easier with your various software packages competing for screen footprint space.

 

General

Writing...

I've been reading a couple of blog posts about other students' writing environments (both digital and physical) and the I've been really interested in the approaches they take when it comes to software selection but I've really been struggling to follow why they go to such extraordinary lengths to set up bespoke writing environment.  We have a few mathematicians associated with our course and they all swear by how LaTeX, for example, saves them days and days of typing equations and how they couldn't possibly write any of their materials without it.  But the part I'm really struggling to understand is that it was created about 40 or so years ago to overcome typesetting problems and surely there must be something more effective available now after all this time?

002:365 - My brain hurts...

Whilst I have a copy of Scrivener and I'm used to writing large batch files in Vi and ViM from my days using SPARC SunOS stations, I still choose to do most of my writing in Word.  It has an outlining tool which I find useful, but the deal sealer for me is that I can make it dance when it comes to large documents with regards automation.  Through simply using styles and captions, I can have a simply written and elegantly cross referenced document up and running in seconds.  Whilst scrivener is intended to get your ideas down on a page and get writing, I just don't feel that it's quite there for technical documents, as figures should be numbered and cross-referenced, as should equations and I'm far too lazy to do this myself and I've sort of gotten used to Word doing the donkey work for me for the past 20 years on these elements.

Admittedly the equation editor is dreadful in Word and is to type-setting what I am to men's ballet.  I've overcome this though by using MathType 6.7 which makes all of my equations look uniform and well typeset, with the added bonus of having numbering macros and scripts embedded into Word that allows me to automatically number equations and cross reference them in my writing.

Another boon for using MathType is that I can colour code equations, something that might sound trivial, but actually can be really useful in presentations to grey out parts of the equation that you're not interested in for the minute or for making critical terms bright red to make them pop out on the slide whilst you discuss them with the students.  I know you can do this too with LaTeX as that's the technique that I use for embedding equations in this blog, but I create the equations first in MathType and then after I've pasted them into here I simply edit a few colour tags.

To be clear, I'm not criticising anyone's writing setup, the key to writing is finding something that works for you.  But there does seem to be a trend on several social media sites to push for methods of writing that avoid mainstream packages.  I understand that money is tight nowadays and every penny counts, but I've managed to get myself a copy of MS Office and Mathtype together for about £60 all in, I'm sure that it can be done cheaper using something like LibreOffice that comes pre-installed with Ubuntu, but I take the view that £60 is less than an hour of my charge out rate when I was in industry and doing it this way will save me countless hours.

I do like peeking into other student's writing environments, both physical environments and their digital environments, but I'd love someone to explain to me why I should adopt LaTeX over Word and MathType, particularly given that I'll be embedding a lot of vector graphics from OmniGraffle and Visio and I'm really struggling to see how these other sorts of environments will help me write more efficiently, but then I guess it's horses for courses...