Standford University is offering a new online course on Natural Language Processing taught by some of the greatest lights in this field, Christopher Manning and Dan Jurafsky. This course is another in the Standford experiment in massive online teaching. It will include video lectures (later a transcription is promised), assignments, exams, etc. It begins in February with a couple of lectures per week. One can get a certificate of completion, but no Standford University credit, of course, since the course is … free! Highly recommended. You won’t get a better education in this subject than from these two professors!
At the end of August, Tropical Storm Irene “kissed” the Groves Center servers, crashing our main web server permanently. Through the generosity of one of our donors, we were able to purchase two new hot Dells. Now we have virtualization, lots of memory and storage. So we decided to make a change we were thinking about: we moved to a new Linux distribution: from Gentoo to Ubuntu. Ubuntu is Debian based, and I’ve always been deeply impressed with Debian’s stability and rational choices for software configuration. But a teaching gig in Europe, Society of Biblical Literature annual meetings (along with the preparation needed for these events) as well as going through the unbelievable learning curve with becoming an employer for a small business all conspired to delay the reconstruction of the server. Oh, and then my desktop’s hard drive failed. So I’m writing this from a hot new laptop (i7 QuadCore), using Ubuntu desktop in a virtual machine. That means I have Windows 7 and Linux at the click of a mouse, instead of having to reboot into the other OS all the time. Marvelous. But there went more time purchasing and configuring the new machine (with all the learning curve that implies!).
Don’t let anyone tell you that restoring from backups is pain free! Unless you are just restoring a disk drive mirror image onto a new drive, restoring is non-trivial. Changing Linux distros meant the location of everything can change. All prerequisites and dependencies have to be installed, and configuration files modified to reflect the new path names of directories and files. Even after the software is “up”, there are glitches because, for example, the restoration of the mysql database that sits behind and supports all the web services is not perfect. We’re experiencing “incorrect key file” errors for Bugzilla.
But we’re mostly there, as you can see. A good start to 2012.
Zotero is one of the best bibliography managers out there, especially as more and more of our reading shifts to a digital format. This is the “standalone” product, not the FireFox plugin. It’s the first update since the alpha release in February. Get it while it’s hot!
If you’re an 21st century academic like me, you collect a lot of references, bibliography and electronic versions of articles and books. My hard drive has a hierarchy of folders for PDFs, and so forth, but it is hard to manage them. I’m multiplying folders according to subject, and that just doesn’t work very well.
Zotero is a browser plugin to FireFox. This is a great advantage for browsing: find something while surfing the web and a couple of clicks later it is bookmarked. You can add bibliographic information and annotations to the document entry.
To summarize the — to me — important features:
- bibliography and citation management
- able to annotate entries
- able to search entries
- able to handle web documents
- able to attach links to PDFs
- handles BibTeX format
There are many other features, of course. See the Zotero website for further details.
Sciplore is built on top of FreeMind, a mindmapping program. It adds bibliographic and citation management to FreeMind’s graphical representation of ideas. One could describe it as a “graphical Zotero.”
I have not (yet) done a complete feature comparison, but at first glance, the only thing Zotero can do that SciPlore cannot is to capture web documents and even capture references from some kinds of web documents. Both handle BibTeX and PDF links. SciPlore permits one to arrange the information in a visual way; Zotero uses lists.
I have only just discovered SciPlore (check out the introductory video on the website) whereas I’ve been using Zotero for more than a year now as a URL link manager. I have not — until now — felt the need to use Zotero’s bibliography management features. I am very happy with BibDesk on the Mac and JabRef everywhere else. The common element among all three is BibTeX. If I hadn’t discovered SciPlore to play with, I was planning on using Zotero more extensively to handle my every expanding list of PDFs. I’m a firm believer in “the right tool for the right job.” Every software package has its strengths and weaknesses. I try to use a program for its strengths and abandon it for a better tool when it is weak. The key to making this practice work is to insist that my software store and manipulate data in standard formats. In the case of bibliography managers, that format is BibTeX.
We’ll see how these programs will adjust to my workflow.