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Nicole Ackerman | SLAC | USA

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Tools of the trade

Computers are supposed to be great tools, allowing us to be more efficient and complete tasks not previously possible. Most of us may feel differently during the course of the day – whether it is seg-faults or viruses or compatibilities issues – but I realize that computers significantly change how I do my job. Physics analysis itself has changed from doing log-log plots or scanning images to neural-nets categorizing and plotting millions of events. When I think of the tools that make my job easier, I think of specific computer programs:

Latex Beamer is what I use to make presentations. I often create latex documents as notes, so I have tables and equations ready to go into a presentation if I use latex, rather than needing to recreate everything if I use OpenOffice Presentation. I tried different latex classes for creating presentations, and beamer is my favorite. It even comes with a 224-page user guide. Beamer was created by someone who couldn’t find the right tool for creating his dissertation.

Zotero has freed me from printing every paper I am interested in reading or referencing in the future. Zotero is a way of bookmarking papers (and pretty much everything else) in different libraries, attributing meta-data, creating timelines, and exporting bibliographies. The new version even will sync your data with the zotero server so that it can be available on multiple computers.

ELOG is what I use to take notes in meetings and organize my thoughts. I run my own elog on my laptop, but my experiment also uses it. When I had a fixed IP I mirrored it so I could access my notes from anywhere. Since the source is available, I was able to modify it to recognize latex commands and display them as MathML. I consider getting latex into elog to be one of my greatest achievements.

I’m stuck right now at (more or less) the beginning of an extensive literature review. How do I keep notes on the papers? I want to do out calculations, so it seems like pen and paper is necessarily. I need to keep track of dates and the relationships between the papers, so it seems like Zotero would be helpful. There are some questions I need to answer about each paper, so maybe a spreadsheet is right. I’m starting by using all of these, but I wonder if it worth the time for me to write a tool that would combine all of the features I need. Seeing how I barely have time to actually read the papers, it doesn’t seem like I should dump time into the infrastructure.

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