Blog Archives

Another miscellaneous grab-bag of goodies, links ‘n’ stuff

the-linksIn lieu of a ‘proper’ post (forgive me, dear readers, the vicious task-masters at my proper job have been wielding the whip with particular alacrity recently) I’m putting together a list of links to cool things that I’ve come across lately.

So, in no particular order:

Tal Yarkoni’s outstanding Neurosynth website has now gone modular and open-source, meaning you can embed the code for the brain-image viewer into any website, and use it to present your own data – this is seriously cool. Check out his blog-post for the details.

An interesting little comment on “Why Google isn’t good enough for academic search”. Google scholar tends to be my first port of call these days, but the points made in this discussion are pretty much bang-on.

A fantastic PNAS paper by Kosinski et al. (2013; PDF) that demonstrates that personal attributes such as sexual orientation, ethnicity, religious and political views, some aspects of personality, intelligence and many others, can be automatically and accurately (to a fairly startling degree, actually) predicted merely from analysis of Facebook ‘Likes’. A fantastic result, that really demonstrates the value of doing research using online data.

Next up is Google Refine – an interesting little idea from Google intended to assist with cleaning up and re-formatting messy data. Looks like it could be promisingly useful.

A really seriously great website on the stats language R, designed to make the transition for SPSS and SAS users as easy as possible – very clear, very nicely explained. Beautiful stuff.

Another cool website called citethisforme.com; you fill in fields (author, title, etc.) for sources you wish to cite, and it creates a perfectly formatted bibliography for you in the style (APA, Harvard etc.) you choose. A cool idea, but in practice, filling out the fields would be incredibly tedious for anything more than a few sources. Good place to learn about how to format things for different types of reference though.

I’ve previously written about the use of U-HID boards for building USB response devices; I’ve just been made aware of a similar product called Labjack, which looks even more powerful and flexible. A Labjack package is included in the standard distribution of PsychoPy too, which is cool. I’m becoming more and more a fan of PsychoPy by the way – I’m now using it on a couple of projects, and it’s working very well indeed for me.

Now a trio of mobile apps to check out. Reference ME is available for both iOS and Android, and creates a citation in a specific style (Harvard, APA, etc.) when you scan the barcode of a book – very handy! The citations can then be emailed to you for pasting into essays or whatever.

The Great Brain Experiment is a free app from the Wellcome Trust (download links for both iOS and Android here) created in collaboration with UCL. The aim is to crowdsource a massive database on memory, impulsivity, risk-taking and other things. Give it a whirl – it’s free!

Lastly Codea is a very cool-looking iPad-only app that uses the Lua programming language to enable the (relatively) easy development and deployment of ‘proper’ code, entirely on the iPad. Very cool – Wired called it ‘the Garage Band of coding’, and while it’s probably not quite that easy to use, it’s definitely worth checking out if you want to use your iPad as a serious development tool.

If you’re still hungry for more internet goodies, I encourage you most heartily to check out my Links page, which is currently in an ongoing phase of rolling development (meaning, whenever I find something cool, I put it up there).

TTFN.

 

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Why every student needs a Google account

Google_student

This post might seem a trifle umm… politically insensitive after recent revelations in the UK about exactly how much corporation tax Google pays (answer – basically none), but I’ve been planning it for a while, and unlike Starbucks (which should be boycotted at all costs, because their coffee sucks) Google is a little harder to avoid, and actually provides a whole slew of incredibly worthwhile, and mostly free, services. One of the first things you should do when you start an undergraduate course at a college/university is sign up for a Google account. Here’s why:

1. Gmail
You’ve probably already got an email address, but if you’re not using Gmail then you need to switch. The interface is brilliantly usable and customisable, and you get a massive 10Gb of storage for all your mail – more than you’ll likely ever need. The most important benefit though, is Gmail’s ability to pull all your current and future email accounts together in one place. Gmail can be set up as a POP3 client (here’s how) meaning it can pull email in from several different accounts and present it all in one inbox. You’ve probably got an account already, you’ll definitely get an account on your university’s servers, and when you leave and either go on to postgraduate study (maybe at a different university) or get a job, you’ll almost certainly get given yet another account. Gmail can centralize everything, and mean that you only have to check one inbox for all your accounts. You can even configure it so that it sends mail through, say, your university account by default, so people you contact see your ‘official’ email address. I’ve currently got five email accounts configured to read through Gmail, and I honestly couldn’t manage without it. Additionally, if you start using Gmail from day one, all your contacts and mail are saved in your Gmail account, and won’t be lost when you complete your course and your university account inevitably gets cancelled/deleted. Another benefit of Gmail is its ease of use with various smartphone platforms. Android (obviously) and iOS devices are designed to sync up with Google accounts pretty much seamlessly.

So, set up a Gmail account, and assume it’ll be your email address for life. Be sensible. Don’t choose a username like sexyluvkitten69@gmail.com, or gangzta4life@gmail.com – choose something you’ll be happy to put on a CV when you leave college, i.e. something that pretty much consists of your name.

2. GDrive/Docs
In one sense, Google Drive is a simple online storage locker for any kinds of files you like, a bit like Dropbox, or any of the other similar services which have proliferated recently. You get 5Gb of free space, and it’s easy to set up file sharing for specific other users, or to make your files available for download to anyone you send a link to. In another sense, it’s a full-featured web-based alternative to Microsoft Office, with the ability to create/edit documents, spreadsheets or presentations online, collaborate on them simultaneously with other users, and download them in a variety of the usual formats. Use it for just backing important things up, or use the full ‘Docs’ features – it’s up to you.

One other incredibly powerful feature of Google docs are the forms tools. These can be used to create online forms – the best way I currently know of to create online questionnaires for research purposes. The data from the questionnaires all gets dumped into a google docs spreadsheet for easy analysis too – very cool. This page has some good tips.

3. Google Scholar
Google Scholar is pretty much my first port-of-call for literature searches these days, and is often the best way of looking up papers quickly and easily. Yes, for in-depth research on a particular topic then you still need to look at more specialised databases, but as a first-pass tool, it’s fantastic. You can use it without being logged in with a Google account, but if you’re a researcher, you can get a Google Scholar profile page – like this: Isaac Newton’s Google Scholar profile page (only an h-index of 33 Isaac? Better get your thumb out of your arse for the REF old boy). This is the best way to keep track of your publications and some simple citation metrics.

4. Google Calendar
Yes, you need to start using a calendar. Google calendar can pull together several calendars together into one, sync seamlessly with your ‘phone, and send you alerts and emails to make sure you never miss a tutorial or lecture again. Or at least, you never miss one because you just forgot about it.

5. Blogger
Blogger is owned by Google, so if you want to start a blog (and it’s something you should definitely think about), all you need to do is go to blogger and hit a few buttons – simples. That’s the easy bit – then you actually have to write something of course…

6. Google Sites
Probably the easiest way to create free websites – as for Blogger above, you can literally create a site with a few clicks. Lots of good free templates that you can use and customise.

7. Google+
Yes, I know you use Facebook, but Google+ is the future. Maybe. The video hangouts are cool, anyway.

8. Other things
Use your Google account to post videos to YouTube, save maps/locations/addresses in Google Maps, find like-minded weirdos who are into the same things as you on Google Groups, read RSS feeds using Google Reader, and oooh… lots of other things.

Honestly, the feature of Gmail should be inducement enough for everyone to sign up for a Google account, the rest is just a bonus. Get to it people – it’s never too late to switch.

TTFN.

***UPDATE***

Following a couple of comments (below, and on Twitter) I feel it necessary to qualify somewhat my effusive recommendation of Google. Use of Google services inevitably involves surrendering personal information and other data to Google, which is a large corporation, and despite these services being free at the point of use, it should always be remembered that the business of corporations is to deliver profits. Locking oneself into a corporate system should be considered carefully, no matter how ‘convenient’ it might be. This article from Gizmodo is worth a read, as is this blog post from a former Google employee.

How to do research on the internet – Google Scholar and other databases

So, you’ve got a lovely juicy essay/paper or research project to write, and instead of spending hours going through card catalogs in the library you obviously want to get your research done in the fastest way possible – on the internet. Here are my best tips for finding material for a paper or essay using online databases. In a nutshell – there’s more to finding information on the web than just typing some keywords into Google and using what pops out on the first page of results.

As a general rule, you should familiarise yourself with what databases are available to you – some are totally open-access, while others require some kind of subscription. Most universities and colleges subscribe to a lot of them, and you can usually find links to available databases on your college’s library website.

The way I usually start is with a couple of really general search terms on Google Scholar. You could start off searching on Google’s regular web search page, but all you generally get there is the wikipedia page, and you wouldn’t be stupid enough to reference wikipedia in an essay, would you? Of course not. Say your essay is on working memory – so stick “working memory +review” (without the quotes) into google scholar. This gets you about 2.2 million hits! Change the middle drop-down box at the top to restrict your search to the last, say, five years and then you have less than half a million references to go through – easy. Of course you don’t have to look through half a million papers – the great thing about Google Scholar is that it ranks things in order of ‘influence’ – which roughly translates as the number of times that paper has been cited by other papers. While there’s lots of arguments about exactly what this means in terms of a paper’s genuine influence, influential papers tend to get more cited than others, so it’s a reasonable metric. Hopefully you’ve got a couple of good review papers there on the first couple of pages that will get you into the topic. The other really great thing about Google Scholar is that it links directly to PDFs of the papers (when they’re available on the net) which enables you to directly download the papers with a single (right-)click. Of course if you use reference management like Mendeley (and if you don’t, you’re an idiot)  you can also import references from Google Scholar directly into your library. Here’s a nice page which talks about some advanced tips and tricks for getting the most out of Google Scholar. Read the rest of this entry