Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Looks Like My Paper Is Being Downloaded

It appears that a recent journal paper of mine is in the top 25 downloaded papers (in April-June 2009) for the journal it's in. Now I've got to get people citing it...

Why I Am Starting To Like Google Docs More Than Word

I am using now for almost everything. I write papers in it, only turning it into Word for the final formatting and submission. Here are some of the reasons I like it so much:

4) Search: You can't just search the content of all your Word documents without taking a few minutes to search your entire hard drive. Searching googledocs is easy.
3) Sharing: I can share documents with others. This is great for collaborative research projects, or even travel planning with my wife. When collaborating with another person, we can edit the same document at the same time. Just hitting refresh (f5) updates the document.
2) No Worry About Version Control: Since I'm editing the document online, I don't have to worry about whether I'm working on the latest version no matter where I am.
1) Online access. I can work on my documents from anywhere with a net connection.

As I use it, I think of more uses.
- Recipes. It's nice to just search the net for for my recipes. Also makes it easy to share them with others.
- How-To: When I need to renew my work permit, or find out how my wife can get medical benefits through my work, etc. I keep all the information in a google doc.
- Travel planning: flight options, places to go, etc.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

How to Make Your Website's Colors Good

I'm not particularly talented at choosing colors, so I'm always asking for advice when I make designs from people with a good sense.

But I've found a pretty good hack for webpages. You can see the result at my website,

Here's what you do: find the dominant picture on your webpage, and find its URL (right click and select "view image"). In the case of my webpage, it's this:

Then go to a website like the color palette generator and input your image.

It will tell you the dominant colors in the image. It will tell you the color identifiers for websites. Then you can change your website html...

bgcolor ="#111111"

Assuming the palette in the photo is good, the website's colors will be good too. And even if the photo has bad colors, at least your webpage will match.

Monday, August 24, 2009

How to Cite Wolfram|Alpha

There's a new resource online called Wolfram|Alpha ( It looks like a search engine, but really it's supposed to be a direct source of information. It also does math for you.

There are tons of things you can do with it, as demonstrated by this awesome demo video. I highly recommend it.
Here is part 2:

You can ask for the GDP of France divided by that of italy, word frequencies, nutritional information, geographical information, etc.

Wolfram|Alpha takes its information from many data sources. When I saw a talk by Stephen Wolfram, I asked him about citing it. Can we get the database from which the site got the information so we can cite it?

His answer was very interesting. He wants the site to be a source itself, much like an encyclopedia. He also said that often, even though the site uses databases to get its answers, the actual number you see is probably not in any particular one. It averages, it weights, and comes up with its answer. Just like you'd trust an encyclopedia, you are asked to trust the AI behind the site.

The webpage does not suggest how, exactly, to cite it, but I recommend the following form: Let's say you wanted to say that running 30 minutes burns about 352 Calories (Wolfram|Alpha, 2009). The citation has the exact date retrieved (populations of countries, for example, will vary daily, I'd imagine), and the query used.

Unfortunately, one cannot replicate the search and expect to get the same number, because Wolfram|Alpha gets the best information it can at the moment of the search. A useful tool.


Wolfram|Alpha (2009). retrieved August 24, 2009, from with query [running 30 minutes].

Pictured: relative sizes of astronomical objects. Some of the data for this image was taken from Wolfram|Alpha.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

How To Search Your Paper Books As Though They Were Electronic Documents

One of the great things about electronic books is that you can search them. Now there is a way to search your paper books.

Google has been scanning all of the books in the world.
Here is what you do:

  1. It offers a great service. Go to
  2. Create an account with Google, if you don't already have one
  3. Search for a book you have read or own
  4. When you find it, click "Add to my library"
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for as many books as you like.

Now, to search for a phrase in your books, click "My Library" at the top right. You will be presented with a search box, one of the options of which is "search this user's library." Search that and it will show you all the hits in all of your books for that phrase, with the page number.

For example, I searched my library for "cortex" and it found a hit in Hawkins's book On Intelligence:

On intelligence

by Jeff Hawkins, Sandra Blakeslee - Medical - 2004 - 261 pages - No preview available
Page 120
thanks to the incredibly large capacity of your cortex for remembering patterns.
If there are consistent patterns among the inputs flowing into your brain, ...

Now I can just pull the book of the shelf and go to page 120.

Many people I talk to dismiss Google Books because you can't look at every page. But this is a great use for it. You don't need to be able to see every page because you have the books you're searching through on your own shelf.

I got this idea from a comment on an intriguing blog post on how to actually scan your books and then glue them back to together.