Archives for the month of: June, 2012

Gareth was first to respond, so he’s the first of the people posts.Gareth White

1. Name
Gareth R. White.

2. Role
Ph.D. researcher.

3. Mac or PC?
PC only for gaming, Mac for everything else.

4. What is your favourite book?
No Ajahn Chah – The Teachings of Ajahn Chah.

5. How did you get here? 
I used to make video games professionally, and became interested to see what academia could offer the industry. Dipped my toe back into the water with a 1 year MA in New Media, then joined Sussex as a Research Fellow for a further year before starting my D.Phil.

6. What are you working on right now?
Writing up my thesis.

7. Where do you take your inspiration from?
The scientific method; humour; play; ἀρετή; 功夫; Eddie Izzard; Buddha; LSD; 소녀시대; Rudyard Kipling; John Keats; Sisyphus; my friends Paul and Phil; my grandparents.

8. What is the biggest challenge you face in your work?
Finishing in time.

9. What else do you like to do?
Exercise: squash; cycling; gym.
K-pop clubbing.
Buddhist meditation, devotion and community.

10. What’s next for you?
After the Ph.D. I might move to South Korea or Thailand, and probably continue to work in game research or development.


The lab meetings have now officially finished for the term. The undergraduates have left the buildings, the Masters students are frantically working on dissertations, and the PhD students have barely noticed.

As a lab group, we may have the odd meeting scheduled in if something interesting turns up, but we are into the season for something known as ‘holidays’. We aim for a social lunch once a week, so if you’re around and fancy a natter, meet us at 12.30 in the Interact lab on Fridays. If the weather’s nice we may even venture outdoors.

Over the course of the summer we are going to have a series of posts on the lab members, introducing them by way of a standard questionnaire. This will be in no particular order (it’s going to depend mostly on the order people return their answers!) but will start this very Friday. Hopefully we will also get a few posts on research from various lab members as well. So worry not! There will continue to be blog updates, even though the lab meetings are (temporarily) no more.

Liz has very kindly written up the software she uses, and shared a page from her Livescribe notes. Thanks Liz!

Liz's notes

A sample of Livescribe upload

The task we gave ourselves this week was sharing with each other which software we find useful, which others might or might not be aware of. I looked through my apps before the meeting to help me remember what I actually do use! I came up with a list of applications, some hardware related, which I use regularly.

At the top of the list was my Livescribe pen, which I used for making the list. This pen resembles a bulky ballpoint pen, but it includes a fair bit of technology. I have used it mainly as a pen, with the associated stationery, for making handwritten notes. The pen contains a miniature camera which records all the pen strokes and transfers an electronic copy to my computer. This electronic copy is searchable, making it easy to track down notes and ideas. The pen also has a recording device – I know people who have used the pen for recording interviews – and also various other facilities. Notes can also be transferred to Evernote.

There are a number of applications that I use very regularly. Evernote is useful for grabbing web-based articles and making notes at meetings – particularly useful as a multi-platform tool. Twitter is where I find my support network. Snagit is my tool of choice for screen grabs, but equally useful are Skitch and Jing, with Jing being usable for recording short video clips. I have used Inspiration for several years for concept mapping, but also find it useful as a general diagramming tool and for outlining documents – it is relatively expensive, but money well spent.

My main bibliographic tool is EndNote. I tried various others when I started my DPhil and found none was really ideal, but EndNote seemed to do what I needed, and importantly, was supported by the university. The current version has a powerful search function that is useful for finding the specific reference I need. Alongside EndNote, I use Papers (now available for Windows as well as Macs). I find this is my preferred tool for reading pdfs, particularly on my iPad. I have tried reading pdfs on my Kindle, but return to Papers, using the Kindle for reading and making notes on e-books.

Vitamin-R is one of a number of applications which set a timer – and has the facility for blocking distracting applications. I use it when I need a kick to get me working, but generally find once I’m started, I don’t need its other facilities. Another productivity tool I use regularly is Things – basically an application for making to do lists, but with useful reminder facilities.

Google Reader is essential for keeping up-to-date with both general news and the various blogs I follow. It means I do not have to read everything, but only the items I really want to.

For transcribing interview, I found ExpressScribe useful in conjunction with a foot pedal.

Find Any File is good for finding stuff I know is somewhere on my computer, but I haven’t a clue where.

Dropbox is essential for keeping my stuff available from any networked computer.

Text Expander and Typinator are useful for correcting material and for shortcuts – the facility is there in most word processors, but these apps work in most applications.

There were also expensive mistakes in my application folder. I have a number of Omni applications, but have never really found a use for them. Similarly Devonthink. Many people sing the praises of Scrivener, but it does not do what I need it to do – or maybe my writing style just doesn’t fit with how it’s designed. Similarly, I’m sure Nvivo is a useful and powerful tool, but so far, it doesn’t do it for me.

That’s my list – how about yours?

First and perhaps most importantly, Katy submitted her thesis this morning! To celebrate she baked a rather lovely lemon drizzle cake for the rest of the lab to enjoy. She says it’s ‘just’ a BBC Good Food recipe, but it was much enjoyed by all those who turned up.

Katy cutting the cake

The rest of the meeting was spent talking about what software we use, how we use it and whether it works!

We started out by talking about how Katy had used Word for her thesis. Rather than writing one extremely long document, she preferred to keep her chapters each as a separate document. This was partly to help with getting feedback on specific chapters from her supervisors, and also because she chose not to reduce the quality of the images she was using until very late on, so the size of the documents was pretty large even when kept as separate chapters.

Gareth is using LaTeX for his. He says the learning curve is worth it in the end, and avoids some of the problems Katy had with references.

We also briefly discussed Scrivener. Both Ellie and Liz had tried using Scrivener, and both found that it just didn’t really fit with their method of writing. Liz felt rather more strongly than Ellie! One of the big problems Ellie found with Scrivener was in getting feedback from her supervisor and maintaining any changes in Scrivener. This wasn’t to say it wouldn’t work for others though.

For referencing Katy has used Endnote. She had a few problems right at the end of her thesis preparation with Endnote misplacing the references in the Word documents, but she felt that was her fault for having multiple copies of the Endnote libraries around with the same name. Liz thought she’d seen the same behaviour with other causes, although she’d found a way to spot it. Another problem raised with Endnote was that although there are university-wide licenses, if we wanted to work on personal computers we had to buy a license at not-inconsiderable expense. For that reason the rest of us seem to mostly be using Mendeley, which is free but may not integrate so well with other pieces of software.

Note-taking was mentioned, with Evernote being used by both Ellie and Gareth. Ellie recommended Evernote Clearly for use in browser. Liz showed off her Livescribe pen and pad, which records as she writes and allows her to create electronic notes directly from her handwritten ones. Ellie uses Note Taker HD on her iPad, mostly with a stylus but was using her finger in this particular meeting. She doesn’t attempt to OCR the results, but uses the tagging along with different folders to keep track of things. Edgar uses Note Plus on his iPad, but admits that he’s still struggling to learn to write using the stylus.

SPSS was mentioned, and Ellie admitted that she’d been manually calculating stats using Excel because she hadn’t got to grips with that yet! This was compared to starting your car by cranking a handle at the front.

And we pretty much ran out of time there, without reaching any of the more interesting/esoteric software we may or may not use. This may be a topic we come back to in the future, possibly with more focus on specific tasks and maybe even with demos…

We made a bit of a change to our regularly scheduled lab meeting, moving it by an entire hour to 12pm and scheduling it for 2 hours instead of the normal 1. This unprecedented move was to accomodate the group watching the last of the Sussex Conversations, on Digital and Social Media. As the only lab member who’d been able to attend was Leslie (who’s on holiday at the moment), the rest of us felt that this was a conversation we should be aware of.

The view of the future that Tom Rodden presented appeared to us to be slightly frightening, and actually linked to some of the discussions that the reading group have been having after reading the Mark Weisner article “The computer for the 21st century”[1]. In some ways we didn’t think that was the most interesting question to start with, and Dan Chalmers touched on a more interesting angle in his response: what part will technology play in our society in the future? Obviously in some ways that’s a much harder question, but the question of where the technology is going seems to be often answered by people who have a clear view of the technology without much thought about how or whether the technologies they are interested in will be welcomed or otherwise by the rest of society.

In some ways that was where Jodi Dean came in, talking about the way that we still need very much to be aware of literature, history and philosophy especially when we are trying to make sense of the new digital medium. This section of the debate was unexpected and enjoyed, although it did show up the different backgrounds of the group. Those with a background in philosophy found it interesting, whereas some of us with a more engineering background found some of her arguments a little difficult to follow (but no less interesting for it)! She was a little more dismissive of distance or technology enhanced learning than the group members liked, and there were some cheers for Helga Nowotny’s rebuttal on that score.

Helga Nowotny‘s comparison with various revolutions in the past (the scientific revolution and the ‘the early modern republic of letters’) struck a chord again with our recent discussions, both in the recognition of the similarity of the challenges of learning to use the digital medium to previous new mediums, and the lack of equality in the distribution of the effects of the ‘digital revolution’. Many of the discussions we have as a group tend to return to the idea that although new technologies do represent some new challenges, the vast majority of the worries that people voice around them are not new at all but have been voiced about most new shifts in technology. We are also frequently reminded that although we in the UK assume that everyone has access to these new digital technologies (although some choose not to use them), in other areas of the world access is not so universal.

For a fairly short debate on a rather wide topic, we felt this was a good discussion touching on a lot of different areas. The fact that there were signs of disagreement and proper debate between the panel was welcome. Although (obviously) some areas that were only touched on could have been discussed in much more depth, overall we enjoyed the debate.

Watching it as a group definitely added though. Particularly since Edgar brought pastries from Patisserie Valerie… Seriously, if you didn’t make it, you really missed out!

Patisserie Valerie cakes

(Not the minirolls – those lived to fight another day!)

[1] Weiser, M., 1991. The Computer for the 21st Century. Scientific American, p.94-104.


Today’s meeting was actually to discuss an upcoming feature for this very blog. Over the summer we plan to run a series of posts introducing the lab members, and we thought it would be a good to have a single set of questions that everyone answered. Today’s lab meeting was all about coming up with those questions.

Everyone had been warned and asked to come along with a question they thought might generate some interesting answers, and actually everyone pretty much had! Some were more flippant than others (“What time is your alarm set for?” was discarded, unfortunately, along with “Who most inspires you?” – a good question, but was felt to be potentially sycophantic). In the end we’ve got 9 questions, some quick, some quite open-ended that feature the past, present and future. Hopefully a good mix that will spark some interesting answers.

The answers will be posted at intervals after the end of term.