Thursday, July 27, 2006

Making life easy for academics

I'm writing a paper: a process that is long, stressfull, and fun. Paper-writing also reminds me why I love linux so much, and specifically Latex and Bibtex and all that good stuff that makes life easy for academics. Of course, they work on Windows and Mac too, but Linux is the ultimate enviornment.
I share my office with several coleagues and I constantly hear them grating their teeth, pulling their hair, and complaining loudly about MS Word and such. They spend so much time editing, formating, losing images, changing font sizes, and typing out bibliographies by hand. What a waste of time!
I'm not a Linux evangelist. I don't hide it, but I don't try to push it on people either (mostly for selfish reasons; I don't want them coming to me to solve all their problems if they do decide to try it). But I'm working on another paper that's mostly written by one of our PhD students, and I asked him if he would be willing to write it in Latex. Apparently several other students started looking into it and got hooked. Now if I could only get him to actually sit down and write!
Latex and Bibtex work best with a good frontend. I started out using Lyx, which is nice, but then I switched to Kile which I've been working with for years and really like. (I'm an avid KDE fan so Kile is a natural.) For bibliography management I use Jabref which is a Java Bibtex frontend. It's awesome!! It integrates well with Kile too (ctrl+L pushes a citation to Kile). It can do all sorts of neat tricks, like direct Medline search and import, journal abbreviations, automatic local PDF searches, custom Bibtex key automatic generation, and other cool stuff.
Having the right tools for the job makes life easy. But at the end of the day you still have to write the paper yourself!

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Some good news from Israel, for a change

A heart-warming story about the transfer of two African elephants, Yoki and her son Yitzhak, from the safari in Ramat Gan to their new home in Hungary. Yoki was reunited there with an old friend, Ninio, who moved to Hungary a few months ago. (Sorry, the links are in Hebrew and Hungarian, but there are pictures.)
The Ramat Gan safari has had a huge success with breeding elephants; 19 sabra elephants have been born there. The airlifting operation was not simple but ended with success.
Yay elephants!

Pendant shock

I was window shopping at a local shopping centre today when something caught my eye at a jewelry store. There were several chains on display with swastika pendants. My heart skipped a beat. I didn't know if I should talk to the salesman or not, I decided not to because I didn't feel comfortable about it. I continued my window shopping and tried to forget about it, but I couldn't.
I went to the mall management and filed a complaint. I was pleasantly surprised at their reaction, since I wasn't sure how they would take it. Well, I had to explain to the lady what a swastika is, but once she got it, she was very understanding of my state of mind. She had me fill out a complaint form while another guy went to the shop to see for himself. They promised me they would take care of the matter.
I didn't stay around to see what they actually did, but I hope they do something.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Small world

Why am I not surprised to see this picture here and also right at home, here in Sydney.

Lisa has all the background info on this picture.

Tzippi and Condi

Two women I admire.
Condi for president!
Livni for PM!

Monday, July 24, 2006

We interupt this war and go on with life

I'm suffering from news overload. I am forcing myself to limit the amount of time I spend reading news because it's just depressing. If you get your news from the Australian media you would probably think that Israel is attacking Lebanese civilians and killing children for no reason other than blood lust. If you listen to talkback radio all you hear is the anti-Lebanese venom coming from Australian rednecks.
So, excuse me while I go back to writing about normal things for a while.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Wartime humour

"How was I?"

Stress and a rosy picture of the near future

I am suffering from news overload. Earlier this week I was spending hours reading news and blogs and getting way too stressed, so much that I couldn't work. I decided enough is enough, and I will limit my news consumption. It's not like I can change anything anyway. This morning I listened to NPR on the radio on the way to work. They were interviewing and Arab professor in Berkley and a NY Times journalist who is openly anti-Israel. I nearly puked. Then I remembered that I am trying to cut down on news consumption... I have a CD player why not use it? Hey, it brought my blood pressure down to normal levels.
Yesterday I made the mistake of getting into a tea-room discussion about the war with my colleagues. Big mistake and I regret it. I've decided not to talk about it here any more. It's no use souring relationships with people I have to work with.
At this point all I can do is trust in the people who, unlike me, do have the power to make decisions, and hope they do the right thing.
My most optimistic, rosiest dream for the near future: Hizballa will be shattered, Syria will be driven out of Lebanon, and the Lebanese people will get on with, once again, rebuilding their country. This time they will be in control, and the cherry on top: they will sign a peace accord with Israel. Money will flow in from around the world for rebuilding and the region with flourish. Oh, and the Iranian nukes will somehow be taken out. Amen.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The war is across the ocean

I'm deeply concerned about the war in Israel. Not like Kofi though. I really am worried. I'm sick of this low-grade war that has been going on for decades. I'm sick of a bunch of maniacs making life hell for millions of people whom I believe really do want nothing more than to live in peace. (I have to believe this, otherwise there is no hope for a solution ever.)
I'm sick of having to worry about my family and friends, having to ask who has been called up for reserve duty and where.
Yesterday I was listening to the news on the radio. First item was the war with Hezbollah and in Gaza. Second item was about the unemployment rate in Australia; apparently the past year has seen the lowest unemployment rate in three decades. The reality of it all hit me at once; my body is living in a sane, normal country, and my mind is at the other side of the world in a totally different state.
It reminded me a bit of the first gulf war. I was in high school and we were woken up every other night by the siren outside my bedroom window telling us to go into the sealed room. I would count 4 1/2 minutes from the beginning of the siren, listen for the muffled booms of the scuds (and later of the patriot missiles too), and then breathe freely in the knowledge that our apartment building is still standing. At some point my parents had the bright idea to send me to stay with my aunt and uncle down south, away from the threat of scuds. I stayed there for a few days. There, when the sirens sounded, the family would sit around the television and watch the news. I went nuts with worry. 4 1/2 minutes passed and I had no idea if my family were ok. I could take the stress, and I went home the next day.
Life is good here. The main news stories lately are about minor squabbles between the prime minister and the treasurer. But damn, sometimes I feel like a schizophrenic.