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I'm currently working on a DPhil in HCT at the University of Sussex. This section of the website is for an on-going 'learning diary', for me to write my thoughts and notes on various courses and my thesis.


Software stocktake

We had a discussion in the lab meeting on Friday about the software we use day-to-day. Liz followed up by talking about all the software she uses, and asking the rest of us what else we've got. I thought I'd have a go here. 

My 'job' falls into two quite distinct categories: writing code and writing/reading sentences. The tools I use follow that split for the most part. I use a Mac all the time now, with some iPad stuff thrown in.

Writing code: 

  • SmartFoxServer is the main server tech we're building our game on. It's free for 100 concurrent users, supports a Java backend and various front end technologies. We're using Flash (ActionScript 3). 
  • Eclipse. I use that for Java code for the back end of the system. I use the Subversion and JUnit integration for version control and testing respectively. 
  • Sequel Pro gives me access to my database. I'm running MySQL and I could do the whole thing through the commandline, but I'm just not that hardcore.
  • FDT for Actionscript. I use the standalone version rather than the Eclipse plugin, because I like having the front end project open in one window and the backend in a separate one. The different icons makes it easier to flick between the two! I've got lazy though, and I really miss the code completion and open declaration stuff when I have to switch back to TextMate on my home setup. 
  • TextWrangler for HTML. I'm a bit oldskool and like to handcode, even if I do use a GUI for my SQL. 
  • Sometimes when I'm just thinking through the code structure I use Note Taker HD on my iPad. I used to scribble on random bits of paper, but at least this allows me to find my notes later if I need to. 

Writing/reading sentences:

  • Word, especially for getting feedback and making sure I've got papers etc. in the required format. 
  • Scrivener. I keep trying to use it. I'm sure there's a way to make it useful to me. Little things like the lack of tables, and the fact that my supervisor doesn't use it so I have to export then manually re-import any changes afterwards is kind of leaving me rather ambivilent about it though. 
  • Evernote. I was late coming to this, but I have to say it's brilliant. I have a stack of notes about conferences, notes about my studies, meeting notes from supervisions, notes on papers I've read and loads of other stuff, all sorted, tagged and easy to find.
  • Evernote Clearly. Loving this plugin for my Chrome browser. It makes reading articles so much nicer by removing all the flashing stuff and putting it into a lovely font. I also use Reader on my iPad Safari browser. 
  • Again, for planning structures of the documents I use Note Taker HD. 
  • At the moment I'm using Excel for stats. Learning SPSS is moving rapidly up my todo list!
  • I use Mendeley for my references. It's working at the moment. I am currently manually dealing with referencing though, and I suspect that's going to become a problem as my papers turn into chapters!
  • I used to use Instapaper and send articles to my Kindle once a day in a digest. However, that got a bit cumbersome somehow. At the moment I'm not really using either for research.
  • I use GoodReader for papers on my iPad. I have Mendeley set up so that the papers get renamed and stored in my Dropbox folder. GoodReader allows me to set up servers including Dropbox, so I can download the papers from my Dropbox folder straight into GoodReader and save them locally when I start annotating them. Brilliant, frankly. Makes me keep things in Mendeley, and gets me a copy where I need it.
  • I use Google Reader to keep up with my blog feeds, but actually read them on the iPad using FeedlerRSS. That's my favourite lunchtime activity!  


  • Subversion for everything on the uni servers. All my code gets committed very regularly to a shared Subversion repository. We also have our own, and I back up study data, paper submissions and so on to that semi-regularly. I use the command line to access it. Learnt it when I was working on a Ubuntu system. 
  • Dropbox for immediate backup. It's failed me once or twice (I blame the network connection at the university, which can be a little twitchy) but because I don't have to think about it it's still my first line of defence. 
  • WD external harddrive. Pretty much the same stuff gets backed up here as the Subversion repo, apart from the code. 

Social Media:

  • Square Space for the blog. 
  • Echofon on the iPad for Twitter, twitter.com at all other times. Twitter tends to be where I go for information and news, particularly professional webdev stuff or interesting academic links. I don't follow the phdchat meetups because I find them hard to follow, but I use that network between meetings as a sounding board/information source. 
  • Facebook I use more for personal stuff, but with the DIGRA student group now active on Facebook that may change. 
  • Email (it is social, after all) I use Mail.app for my uni mail. Boring but mostly serviceable. 
  • I'm using ifttt.com to automate a few things now, like sending a link to Twitter or Facebook when I write a post (depends on the blog - this one will go to twitter, whereas personal posts go to Facebook).


  • I use a pomodoro app when I'm struggling to get into something, but quite often I just use a timer instead of anything 'official'. 
  • I use Producteev when I'm being organised and keeping track of my todo list (not as often as I should).
  • Google Calendar is my friend for remembering to be at the right place at the right time. 
  • I use stickies as a kind of extended clipboard. I used to use Tomboy when I was switching between Mac and Linux, but Evernote has really replaced that for me. 

I think that's most of it. There's probably a few bits and pieces other than that, but nothing I use regularly! It'll be interesting to see how and if that changes as I carry on, and compare to other people. 


That was week 87

Another unbalanced week! This time it was all about the writing. I submitted a 4-page paper to the HCI 2012 doctoral consortium, so this week has been all about writing that paper. Unlike the last time I submitted to a doctoral consortium, this time I've actually done a study. So the vast majority of this paper was about my playing of the Green Revolution Game and processing a bunch of stats from that.

Stats are proving to be a little thorny. I kind of stopped studying stats after GCSE. All the mechanics options seemed much more useful when I was doing engineering, but my lack of stats is slightly coming back to bite me now! Means and so on were pretty easy to generate from my Likert scale data, but then the inferential stats were more complicated. I decided my data was non-parametric (I know. Plenty of psychology papers seem to disagree, but I just can't believe that Likert scale data is parametric), so ended up doing some nice Kruskal-Wallace tests. In Excel. Because I didn't have time to learn how to do them in SPSS. Fortunately when I was told that was the wrong test for at least one thingummy Katy stepped in and helped me process them with SPSS. The paper got submitted around 5pm on Friday, so I had 6 hours 59 minutes to spare.

Met Judith on Tuesday, and mostly talked about stats!

Got asked if I'd help out with Sussex's Athene Swan application too. I'll need to find out what that's all about.

Had a bit of a problem with Dropbox on Thursday night. The file that I was working on all day showed up as unchanged from the day before when I got home. I'd been intending to do a bit more work, but that kind of scuppered me. With hindsight, the network at Uni had been flakey all day and I should have taken a copy, but honestly I was knackered so an evening off was welcome. Does mean I'll be taking more regular backups though, as it looks like I can't entirely trust Dropbox.

No code even glanced at this week. Still searching for that balance. Maybe next week?


That was week 86

That was a very short week, and I mostly felt a bit rubbish. I spent a large chunk of the long weekend asleep, and Wednesday mostly I wanted to continue with that. Fortunately I perked up a bit on Thursday!

I've been struggling with a chunk of code around diets, food and nutrition for what feels like forever, and this week didn't bring any kind of resolution unfortunately. I'm coming to the conclusion that I need to really rethink my model for assets. I need to subclass an asset class for the various types of assets, like crops, food, crop enhancements etc. They have very different properties and functions, but enough overlap (e.g. People and households own a number of them, the market needs a buy and sell price for them...) that subclassing looks just right. The only problem was the database side. I think I've worked that out with Hibernate though, so it's ok. I'm a little concerned about the overlap between some crops and food, but not all crops and food (horticulture is food, but it's not really a plantable crop!). I'm starting to think I might have to let that slide for now. Might need to check with the sponsor whether people save seed from stuff like tomatoes or just re-buy it every year.

No writing again. Really need to do something about that.

Lab meeting went well, but I need to come up with something for next week. No ideas at the moment. Two more to go!

So yeah, not my most successful week. Onwards and upwards I guess.


That was week 85

Another week went and flew by.

I spent some time staring at code. The diets and food allocation stuff has had me stumped for a few weeks now, but I think I've made a bit of a breakthrough this week. I wasn't breaking it down into quite small enough chunks. I've got a better idea how to do it now, so there should (hopefully) be more achieved this week.

Writing was sadly neglected again. I really need to work on my balance again. I had it for a few weeks, but it's kind of disappeared again.

Tea at three returned, this time with subsidised cakes. I enjoy catching up (and meeting) the other postgrads in the department and this is a good occasion to do so. I sometimes feel we are right on the fringe of the informatics department, and it's nice to maintain some idea of what the rest of the department are doing. Never know what ideas that might spark.

The last lab meeting (lab links) got blogged, this week's lab meeting (lab member questionnaire design) got done and blogged, and next week's lab meeting (extra long and later than normal) got planned and booked in. So that's ticking along at least.

This weekend has been super long (cheers to the Queen) and I seem to have spent most of it asleep, so that may help. However, it's now only 3 days long, so we'll see how much I get done.


I won!

You know how I wrote up my research in plain English post? Well, I got the prize! I know it was just a random draw, but a prize is a prize is a prize. 

Just need to decide what to spend it on now... Probably a stats book the way things are going, and since they all look rather pricy this will definitely help to soften the blow!