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Douglas Whitaker Posts

Updates and changes to my ThinkPad T420i

While I haven't been doing much posting recently, I have been doing behind-the-scenes work on this website. The main thing was that I changed quite a few images from being hot-linked (when sites were okay with that) to being hosted; this was done after realizing some web filters were not blocking my website but were blocking a bunch of the images that were hosted off-site.

I've also made some substantive changes to my laptop: I am no longer dual-booting Scientific Linux and Windows 7, so no more posts about Linux and this computer. Instead, I am running Windows 7 on my laptop and running other operating systems in virtual machines inside of that (using VirtualBox). Most of the time I use Windows 7 as a guest (yes, on a Windows 7 host), but I do also use WatchOCR and Xubuntu. The reason why I virtualize Windows 7 on Windows 7 is so recovering from a catastrophic incident (e.g. computer stolen or destroyed) is quicker: just move the Windows 7 VM with all of my work on it to another computer and continue working.

Of course, simultaneously running 3 VMs is tough on a computer, so I upgraded to 16GiB of RAM. I specifically used 2x Centon 8GB DDR3-1333 (PC3-10666) 204-pin. The specific part number was R1333SO8192, pictured below. (RAM can be finicky, so I figure giving more details about what worked for me is better than too few. Also, the 8GB is what is on the package even though it should be 8GiB - I just don't want to be called out for inconsistency. </pedantic>)

I used two of these Centon sticks in my computer, and they seem to work great.
I used two of these Centon sticks in my computer, and they seem to work great.

I also replaced the hard drive with a Samsung 840 Pro 256GB SSD (MZ-7PD256BW). It works pretty well, and I utilize the whole disk encryption, though I don't really notice any benefits over my previous Intel SSD (other than increased capacity).

Of course, it's not all good news: with all of these changes to my computer, my battery life has taken a substantial hit. When it was new, I was comfortably getting 8 hours. Now, with battery capacity at 62% according to the ThinkVantage Toolbox, I'm getting about 2 hours. I'm not often away from a plug, but virtualizing OSes may not be such a great idea if you need long battery life. Or simplicity in many other ways - but my complex system works well for me.

(To help those using search engines, my ThinkPad T420i is model number 4177-CTO.)

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Prudential's "Stickers" Commercial

I spotted a dot plot while watching TV the other day:

It isn't too frequently that one sees a dot plot on TV, so this is a good opportunity to discuss something students might have encountered. Using this commercial might be a worthwhile topic of discussion in a statistics lesson.

The apparently constructed the dot plot by asking 400 people "How old is the oldest person you've known?" A few more details can be gleaned from the Prudential website and a "behind the scenes" video that was shot.

A few things that can be discussed with students come to mind:

  • What can we actually conclude from the dot plot?
  • The description of the YouTube video describes this as an "experiment" (as does the narrator in the behind the scenes video). Is this really an experiment?
  • What do we know about the sample?
  • What happens as we get older in terms of the oldest person "[we]'ve known"? (Children and adults with a wide range of ages are asked to place a sticker.)

There's a 30 second version of the advertisement, too.

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Peer Review and Open Access in the Headlines Again

Peer Review and Open Access on the Radio

The internal systems used by research and academia are not often the subject of discussion by members of the public. They are, after all, somewhat tedious and removed from the lives of a vast majority of people. Because of this, when I was listening to NPR on Friday morning and heard the words "peer review" and "open access", I immediately turned up the volume to listen in.

NPR was interviewing John Bohannon regarding a study he conducted wherein he sent an article that was written to be deliberately bad to several hundred open access journals. Bohannon wrote about this study for Science as "Who's Afraid of Peer Review?" In the end, a majority of the journals he submitted to ultimately accepted the paper despite the fundamental flaws (that were ostensibly obvious to anyone with some modicum of training in the field) it contained. NPR ran the story as "Some Online Journals Will Publish Fake Science, For A Fee" and describes the study as a "sting". Bohannon is quoted as saying that the sting revealed "the contours of an emerging Wild West in academic publishing."

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Working with PDF files efficiently: WatchOCR

Optical Character Recognition: Why?

Graduate school is marked by a tremendous amount of reading. The vast majority of this reading seems to be in the form journal articles or book chapters which - thankfully - are often available electronically. (If they aren't, I often take the time to scan them myself.) I end up reading most of these on my tablet where I want to highlight text and otherwise annotate them. Sometimes, however, one comes across a PDF whose text cannot be selected - and therefore cannot have its text highlighted. The solution for this is to run optical character recognition (OCR) software on the file. While many modern scanners automatically perform OCR as part of the scanning process, I still come across enough scanned documents without select-able text to warrant this post (see Figure 1).

An example of selection in a document without OCR.
Figure 1. Come on, Adobe. You know that's not what I wanted.

There is considerable variety among the OCR solutions available. MakeUseOf gives its recommendations for three free OCR solutions, but all of them result in a the PDF's text being stored in a separate text document. This is useful if getting access to the raw text is the goal, but it is not sufficient for my purposes: I want the OCR'd text to be stored in the original PDF file in such a way as the text in the original file can be selected and highlighted. There are no doubt commercially available tools to accomplish this task, but I prefer free (and open source) tools whenever possible. Enter WatchOCR.

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Supplementary CD for "Thinking Mathematically"

I need to use Carpenter, Franke, and Levi's Thinking Mathematically: Integrating Arithmetic and Algebra in Elementary School for a course. This textbook includes a supplementary CD with video examples of children displaying the mathematical thinking described in the text, and the authors emphasize that watching these videos is an integral part of reading the book. Unfortunately, the videos are references in the text by the section number with which they correspond, but are not labeled thusly on the CD. The CD contains a program for Windows that acts as a wrapper to display the appropriate videos. This program requires Apple's Quicktime software to display the videos within the program. Therefore, if someone does not have both Microsoft Windows and Apple Quicktime installed, there is no clear way to check the correspondence between the video files and sections in the textbook. I obtained access to an appropriate computer and made the following mapping of lessons to video files:

Section File (.mov)
2.1 Kevin
2.2 David
2.3 Lillian
3.1 Emma
3.2 Thad
3.3 Kenzie
4.1 KF111400
4.2 Megan
5.1 Allison16
5.2 Cody
7.1 Allison
7.2 Susie
8.1 Mike

The .mov files themselves can be played by many media players (not just Quicktime), so with the above table the supplementary CD should work irrespective of the computer software one uses.

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