MS Word is hereby banished

[A message to Nexus group members and my students on April 10, 2007]

Hi all,

I have made a decree. I will henceforth no longer accept electronic versions of papers, reports, theses, or dissertations in Microsoft Word format. I have been using the software for far too long, it is a cancer upon our productivity. There a number of reasons for this.

The format is closed, stylesheets and headings never work right, every document looks different even when it shouldn’t, references are never formatted correctly, track changes leads to crashing, the files produced are bloated, templates don’t work, embedded graphics are not reproduced correctly, it is prone to viruses, the output is ugly, etc.

You may continue with MS Word for your personal use, and of course in anything unrelated to my supervision of your academic or research work. You probably need to continue to have the software available as others will send you documents in that format.

However, when transmitting a document to me, if you want me to read it, but not edit it in detail, you may use pdf. If you want me to edit it (and this applies to all of my TAs, RAs, Post-docs, and research fellows), I would suggest plain text or LaTeX. For academic papers, I will be using LaTeX. LaTeX automatically produces PDF output.

There are a variety of open source LaTeX tools. I use TeXShop on Mac OS X.

The new version of (the non-open source) MathType exports equations to LaTeX format.

I now use the cross-platform (and free) Jabref as a reference
manager, and would suggest using that as well. I believe EndNote
references can be exported to BibTex, the format underlying
references as used in Jabref. Google Scholar can be set to produce
BibTeX formatted references, which is very convenient, as those can be dragged and dropped into jabref.

There are tools to export tables from excel to LaTeX (e.g.
Excel2Latex V2.0 … though be careful with this, it can be
destructive of the original data, so always work with a copy).
I would suggest installing Natbib as well. This allows you to
reformat all of your references with a single command so that it
comports with a different journal standard.

This decree applies to all papers currently under review or under
revision as well, subsequent versions should be reformatted in LaTeX when it is time for revision, for a paper-length document that should take about 2 hours.

The only exceptions to this are when sponsors or publishers require MS Word format.

I understand there may be a learning curve associated with conversion to LaTeX, but I believe the long term reduction in variable costs outweighs the initial fixed costs.

I am not especially happy with Powerpoint either, but that will wait another day.

– dml

An illusion of certainty

From the Guardian: UN scientists warn time is running out to tackle global warming
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) apparently says, according to the article “. But there could be as little as eight years left to avoid a dangerous global average rise of 2C or more.”
1. Where is this actual report that was supposedly published, maybe I am missing something, but all I can find on the IPCC website is the summary for policy makers.
On the attrociously designed IPCC page
Working Group III Report “Mitigation of Climate Change”
Release on 4 May 07 in Bangkok
* Download the webcast of the press conference
* SUMMARY FOR POLICYMAKERS
Nowhere obvious is the full report of Working Group III. Perhaps because it is not actually done. Yet the conclusions have been drawn and the press conferences given and articles written as if this report is available for public and peer review. This is not science.
Working Group 1 report (from February) is now online. (with pending supplementary materials). Working Group II Report is not yet online either. Maybe the press conferences can wait until the reports are ready?
2. Why is this false level of precision being given as truth. Scientists are discrediting themselves by sinking to the level of diplomatic politics. Of course the newspapers are complicit here suggesting certainty where there is none. In this politically-driven story of how we must change, there is always time to redeem ourselves. (In this case, a full 8 years before the temperature rise changes from 1.9999 degrees to 2.00001 degrees apparently if the Guardian’s implications were to be believed). Just once I would like to hear someone say that “This is actually irreversible. Too bad, we can’t fix it, no point in changing our ways, it won’t matter anyway. We broke the planet for good.” That however is politically unacceptable because it won’t inspire change. There must be enough time for the diplomats to get their next treaty in place.
3. What if this “consensus” of scientists is wrong, will they be believed next time?
Let’s hope for science this is not a case of crying wolf. Let’s hope for the planet it is a case of crying wolf.
4. There are strange assumptions underlying the policy analysis, e.g. there is in the analysis a pre-industrial “temperature equilibrium”. Maybe I missed something in school (or Al Gore’s video), but I don’t know what this mechanism for equilibrium is, it seems like the climate is something that is continuously changing, sometimes up on some parameter, sometimes down.
5. Science is not about consensus, politics is. Science is about developing and testing falsifiable hypotheses. Models are useful for generating and hypotheses and clarifying theories, but data is required to test them, and the future is a grand experiment we need to measure carefully. A consensus of scientists, even if one exists, proves (and disproves) nothing.

The Illusion of Security

Great blurb from Boing Boing: TSA donates potentially explosive liquids to homeless
Apparently the confiscated fluids in inappropriate containers are too dangerous to allow on planes, but fine to donate to poor people.
Are we really more secure because of the “war on terror”, “Patriot Act”, and TSA, or did our enemy just shoot their wad on 9.11 ?

New Towns are back

From today’s BBC, the next UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown is proposing to build 100,000 houses in five new towns (20,000 each) to help address the rise in housing costs in southeast England: Brown outlines ‘eco towns’ plan.
These towns would be “carbon neutral”, showing how each generating infuses its ideals into its plans. Hopefully these will be more like Ebenezer Howard’s Garden Cities (Letchworth, Welwyn), or the first generation of post-war new towns (e.g. Stevanage) than that monstrosity of mega-scale suburban automobility, Milton Keynes. Given their scale, they sound more similar to the early Garden Cities.

McCain’s strategic error

John McCain, recently announced US presidential candidate, has long supported a stronger US force in Iraq, and recently endorsed George Bush’s surge.
If the surge fails, McCain gets tagged with its failure. If it succeeds he can claim credit.
With enough troops and military resources, certainly Iraq (or even Baghdad) could be calmed – there are only 27 million people in Iraq, surely an equivalent force (less than 10 percent of the US population) would bring about peace pretty quickly, however, that number is more than the US and its allies are likely to commit for this cause.
That said, it is unlikely that an extra 21,000 troops are sufficient. McCain had supported more troops before Bush endorse a mere 21,000 troops for the surge.
McCain would have been able to claim the high ground either way had he said we need a surge, and Bush’s plan was insufficient. If Bush is wrong, and the surge is generally regarded as a failure, McCain would have been able to say he wanted more and that would have worked. If on the odd chance Bush were right, he can still claim credit for encouraging a surge.
Endorsing Bush, instead of moving to his right, is either a strategic error, or part of a larger game where McCain hopes to gain something from the endorsement of policy (but what could that be … a Bush endorsement of his campaign does not seem like something of sufficient value to warrant selling out for).
Note: I neither endorse the surge, the war, nor McCain. McCain seems like a nice guy, and he was held prisoner for a number of years, but he is wrong on every issue.

a blog about Networks and Places

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