Scrivener: a grad student review

January 23, 2014

Nice review of Scrivener…

Sam Grace

I just submitted an application to the NSF DDIG*. It’s a big grant and a big deal and getting it in makes me a very happy camper. I had already done a lot of writing for it in Word, which is where I had done all my grant writing previously. But I was feeling a definite need for a Fresh Start, and so I downloaded a trial version of Scrivener** so I could stare at a new kind of blank page.

I had heard that Scrivener is a pretty impressive writing management system from novelists and other academics. They were correct.

The first awesome thing was that I imported all the grant writing I had already done into folders in the Grant Collection I started. That meant that whenever I wanted to check or copy some previous writing I could zip quickly between a preloaded list, instead of sifting through…

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Headline on Scotsman: “Pentland Firth tides ‘can power half of Scotland’”. Show me.

January 20, 2014

Saw <a href=”″>this</a&gt; on the front page of the dead tree version of the Scotsman newspaper today.

But …

: At what capital cost and what is annual revenue, e.g. profitability?

: How much is useable energy given that a lot of Scotland, the “half of Scotland” they refer to, is hundreds of miles away and there will be significant power loss through the grid. 

: given that tidal energy is in approximately 12 hour cycles, where will energy come when there is no or little tide flowing?

: what is the environmental impact on fish, animals, people, etc. if the flow in the Pentland firth is restricted?

: They say “pollution-free” energy … surely there will be emissions of some sort? For example, lubricants in the turbines will surely leak, water flows will be distrubed probably causing increase in turbity, impact of power transmission lines, etc.  What does “pollution-free” mean? Has there been an environmental assessment to confirm this statement?

: They say “The sooner we can start the greater the chance Scotland will have at becoming the world leader in developing the technologies to turn tidal power into clean, green electricity.” Is the goal to generate (economical) power, or is the goal to be a “world leader”? What are risks of being “world leader”? Scotland goes first and is then lumbered with second or third best for generations.

: They say “Tests have calculated that as much as 4.2GW could be captured, but the engineers say 1.9GW is a more realistic target because tidal turbines are not 100 per cent efficient.” What has to happen to make “could” a reality? Does this mean they did tests which hit 100% efficiency to get 4.2 GW? This statement makes no sense on this own. They need to go back to their Thermodynamics course. What is the turbine’s efficiency?


How Much Money Should We Spend?

January 17, 2014

I like this from

How much money should we spend?

Let’s spend nothing. Scrap all the carbon clauses, the subsidies to inefficient energy, the grants to climate models we know are broken. One-sided funding to scientists seeking a crisis has done more harm than good to science, but it has engendered a lot of namecalling. Unless there is a change, climate science will advance faster if the government gets out of the way. I have yet to see a single observational study suggesting we will improve the weather with carbon credits or windmills and solar panels. We could save lives and spend the money on medical research instead. The opportunity cost is ignored.

Essential Software and Hardware

January 11, 2014

updated 6 April 2016

I sometimes get involved with helping people help themselves by using good computing tools. Following is a list of tools and products that I heavily rely on and recommend to those with needs that match what these tools do. The key is “need”. Given the need, here’s a list (in “no particular order” and ignoring specialty software used for professional reasons):

Apple Mac hardware. say no more. Accessories: external keyboard (to put wear and tear, including spills, on that instead of the laptop keyboard), wireless mouse, DVD Drive, 27″ Apple monitor (get to as much space as possible).

Scrivener ($). For writing. Outstanding. I wish I didn’t still have to to use Microsoft Word. I have been using word since DOS days in the mid 1980’s. Scrivener is the first thing that has come along which can usurp Word.

OmniGroup Tools ($).  OmniOutliner and OmniGraffle are terrific to tools. Use OmniOutliner to make (write, edit, re-write, re-edit) then export into Scrinener as an OPML file.  Use OmniGraffle for making all the diagrams. Store the OmniGraffle source files in the Scrivener Research folder.

Safari and Chrome. For internet browsing. I list both to make the point that you can use both and not fret about picking one or the other. I tend to use Safari.

Feedly. For doing lots of internet reading.

Apple Ecosystem. Apple Mail, Contacts, Calendar, iTunes, iPhoto, etc. Just works, especially with iPhone and iPad synchronisation with each other. Supplemented with iCloud and DropBox.

Apple Terminal. There is so much that can be done at the command line which is so much faster, easier, which more importantly can lend itself to automation. There is no reason for anyone to be afraid of it or shun its use. GUI’s are not necessarily the best way to do everything.

BusyCal and BusyContacts ($). I supplement Apple Calendar with BusyCal and OfficeTime (for time logging for client invoicing).  BusyContacts, from the same company who produces BusyCal, is most useful because of its ability to show all emails and documents associated with a contact.  Both of these “busy” products use the standard Mac OS calendar and contacts databases so nothing is lost by using these other products.

Microsoft Office ($). Well, can’t get away from it, can you. Use Excel and PowerPoint. Avoid Microsoft Outlook (which some new Mac users gravitate to because they erroneously justify the decision on “I don’t want to lose my email or contacts”). I am migrating away from Word. While I used it since it was released in the 1990’s, I stopped in the 21st Century and never looked back. There are so many better products which facilitate better productivity.  That being said, I now have a Microsoft 365 subscription.

ScanSnap Hardware and Software ($). By Fujuitsu. I’m getting good at being paperless. ScanSnap products make it happen. I use an S1100 and S1300, but a few years old. I’d probably go with the XI500 if I was buying now and get rid of all the old paper that is still around but that I want to retain.

Hazel ($). Gosh, but a big impact on personal productivity. Allows me to setup key automation to help save time, especially with scanning and other “paper-work”.

DropBox. Relied on for syncing all my devices. I avoid DropBox for situations requiring collaboration as there is no secure the file from others editing/changing/deleting. For that also use SugarSync

CrashPlan ($). Offsite backup of all machines (Windows, Mac, and Linux). And of course use Apple TimeMachine for routine and continuous backup. Have used often to recover past versions of files. Never used for disaster backup, but I’m confident it will work.

1Password ($). To securely store the hundreds of bits of sensitive information, e.g. passwords, ids, account numbers, scans of identification, etc.

Text Expander ($). Boy, does that save me time in routine writing. As of today,July 18, 2014, TextExpander tells me that it has saved me 2,063,152 keystrokes and 85.96 years of my life (assuming 80 words/minute typing speed). I can believe it.  Update April 2106: the publishers of Text Expander has changed their licensing model to a monthly subscription with the new version having features of no interest to me.  Not for me.  Like Dr. Drang, I’ll migrate what I have to Keyboard Maestro and in due course un-install Text Expander.

Soulver ($). Terrific calculator. While I do use the HP15 emulated on the iPad, and my “real” one, Soulver is useful.

DayOne. ($) A journaling tool which I use more and more instead of a little black book. Really like it’s integration with iPad and iPhone to be handy.

OmniFocus ($). Absolutely essential. Have used so many ways to keep track of “to-do’s” over the years. The only tools that have stood the test of time were Daytimer 5×7″ notebook system and now OmniFocus. “Things” almost made it into my life, but too simplistic. I also like their OmniGraffle product which I use occasionally for illustrating technical writing. Integration with iPad and iPhone make this the “must-use” product.

DEVONthink ($). A fantastic document management systems. I’m a packrat for files.

Sublime Text 2 ($). For text editing. I like to mess with Python. BBEdit also in use, but tend to use Sublime Text 2.

Jump ($). Helps me while travelling to connect back to my Windows desktop computer at HQ. Used to use the Microsoft Remote Desktop Client, but it was limited to accessing Windows. And it “seems” Jump is faster. I find myself using Jump on the Mac to use the Windows machine that is adjacent. Simpler.

Parallels ($). To run Windows 7 and Linux on the Mac. Could use VMWare which is equally as good. Migrated to Parallels as the newest version seems to handle the Retina screen better. Never proved this assertion, but using it none the less. I recently found that Windows 64 bit runs so much better in Parallels than Windows 32. Until I changed I naively expected the opposite. Go with Windows 64 bit unless reason not to.

Apps in heavy use on on iPad include: Drafts (most iPad writing starts here), OmniFocus, 1Password, Calendar/Fanstastical/Calender5 (can’t decide so use all), OfficeTime, HP15c Calculator, Soulver, Downcast (Apple’s iTunes just does not work properly for Podcasts, DayOne (aspirational), Kindle, iBooks, ByWord, iPhoto, and Prompt.

To be Avoided:  Colligo Engage (crashes).

($) Means purchased software.

“Extreme” Weather

January 3, 2014

In the UK media today I see and hear much about the weather being described as “extreme”.

Yes, the weather is poorly. However, current reports are that “it could be the worst in 10 years”. 10-years. That’s nothing. A lot of people remember things from 10 years ago. This weather happened before, and should have been remembered. We had 10 years to get ready.

It’s winter. The UK is always going to bear the brunt of weather which is different than what we think the Garden of Eden would have. Get over it.

Clearly, the underlying message is, “It’s all our fault. We Must Do Something”!

Might I suggest the following for the to-do list:

: change planning rules to stop building in flood plains. Use flood plains for agriculture or other purposes which are not significantly impacted by flooding. If the flooding impact is too much to bear, then do not use the flood plains.
: Stop living in buildings where flooding will occur
: invest in measures to mitigate flooding (drains, more soil/forest and less paving)
: either build breakwaters at the shoreline where large waves expected, or accept that structures near the shoreline will suffer damage. Bear in mind that Nature does not like breakwaters and sometimes will make them disappear. Design carefully.