June 21, 2020

I’ve just attended my first online conference - ITiCSE 2020 - and I’m quite impressed that the organizer managed to put together the whole conference in such a short time, and come up with something that worked quite well. So big applauds to them.

So what are my experiences? Well, first of all I must say that the lunches and the snacks between sessions didn’t really meet the usual standard … which is probably a good thing considering my health :)

As I wrote above I was positively surprised that it worked so well, but I also think that there are a few lessons to be learned:

  • If the presentations are going to be live, the presenters need a stable internet connection with a fairly high bandwidth. Problems with sound and/or video can really impact a presentation.
  • Camera, don’t use the built in camera of a laptop … unless the camera can be placed at eye level. You don’t want to have a camera pointing up into your face.
  • Sound is really, really important and the built in computer microphone might not be the right solution. Especially if you’re typing on the keyboard etc.
  • Pre-recorded videos usually have better technical quality than live presentations. But it’s important that they are recorded in at least 720p, preferable in 1080p or more - I want to enjoy the presentation in all its glory on a big screen, not squint trying to figure out what the slides says.
  • A pre-recorded video doesn’t need to contain only slides together with the author(s) speaking. Authors have a chance of making a really good presentation with all kind of content, demonstations, etc. There could also be links to demos, programs, etc that participants could try before the actual presentation.
  • Pre-recorded videos can be sub-titled!! A good thing for non-native english speakers like me.
  • To get some sense of a real conference I think it’s important to, in some way, be aware of who are attending a presentation. Just sitting in front of a screen and only know that the presenter is there is … kind of lonely. At least some kind of chat functionality would be nice.
  • Time zones … well, it can be a problem. For some a presentation will be in the middle of the night, for others it will be early in the morning or in late afternoon. Same problem with lunches, dinners, etc - there will always be someone who will have an event/presentation at an inconvenient time. This could be a problem for live discussions but I don’t think an asynchronous discussion is a better solution.

My suggestions

There are obviously some problems with online conferences, but normal” conferences also have problems. Instead of focusing on making an online conference to be like normal” conference, I think it’s important to focus on the advantages of an online conference.

A change of format

I think it would be a good move to change the format from the usual written paper + oral presentation + short Q&A session. Something better is needed, but what? My current idea would be replace it with a pre-recorded presentation, 10-15 minutes, to be viewed before the actual session. Then, instead of the standard presentation, there is a discussion session” where the paper is discussed. Basically a flipped classroom setting.

I don’t know if this would work, but I think would bring an opportunity for a high quality discussion instead of a short Q&A session. This is enough for me to think that it would be worth an attempt at it.

Interaction between participants

The biggest problem is the interaction between the attendees, should it be synchronous or asynchronous? I’m think that synchronous is the only answer, otherwise we can just replace conferences with a discussion forum or something like Twitter. And yes, it’s inconvenient if you’re in the wrong time zone … but I think it’s less inconvenient to spend 3-4 days traveling (not to mention the increased cost).

So I would like to see some kind of video chat functionality together with text based chatting (perhaps a forum). My experience from these last three months is that video make the interaction more … personal(?) and actually helps in discussions. Text based interaction has the advantage of being available for those who are not able to participate live. However, I don’t think a text only interaction would work, it’s too slow and soon leads to confusion to what comments new comments refer to etc.

Saving the presentation

Another thing I would like to see is that the video presentations are saved together with the actual paper in a digital library. I think that being able to see the presentation later would add an extra dimension to the paper. But I do not think that the discussion should be recorded/saved.

Multiple tracks

One thing that always happen to me is that I want to listen to presentations that are in concurrent tracks. With the suggestions above this isn’t a problem anymore, I can view the presentation at my leisure. But how can I view/listen/participate in the discussions?

While it’s common that there are interesting presentations in concurrent tracks, there are less chance of the presentations themself being at exactly the same time. The communication platform used for the conference should allow me to follow concurrent tracks and make it easy to switch between the discussions.

And yes, I think that the presentations should be grouped together in tracks (or whatever they should be called).

The social side

I, for one, will miss the social interaction during evenings, etc, but I don’t think that the same experience can created online (please prove me wrong). Instead we should perhaps just acknowledge that this can’t be done and concentrate on the presentations/discussions.

Perhaps it would be worth having one conferences every third year be a physical meeting and let the focus be on the interaction between the participants. I don’t know.

Will I participate in another online conference?

Well, yes - most likely one of our papers will be presented at another conference later this year that is planned to be online. And I’m also thinking about registering for ICER 2020, despite it being mostly in the middle of the night for me. I can sleep in a couple of days but I wouldn’t be able to travel to New Zealand, now I can at least attend ICER.

I also think that this is an excellent chance to make conferences better. We need to make conferences more accessible, making it easier and cheaper to attend, easier to meet others, etc. While I don’t think that online conference will solve all problems I think they can be one of the tools for improving the situation.

conferences research online covid
June 21, 2020

Not my dog, but still a cute dog

hundar dogs
June 16, 2020

One of the benefits of going to a conference is that you get to see a new place, which of course means a chance for some photography. Here are a few photos from Aberdeen 2019

From Dagstuhl and Völklinger Hütte

And finally some from Uppsala

In other words I enjoy going to a conference since that usually mean that I get the chance to take a new photos. Note that conferences are rarely in places where you really want to go !!

Anyway, tomorrow it’s time for a new conference … but this time I’m going to sit in my office at home so no photos from a new place. Instead I’ll try to take a photos from the village where I live, perhaps not as exciting as photographing a new place but not too bad. Here are a few photos from the village that I’ve taken the last few days

June 9, 2020

I found out about PhotoStatistica yesterday and I couldn’t resist buying and try it on my photo library. It took some time before PhotoStatistica the collected the data but once this is done it is quick to check different statistics.

So here is some data from my library

Aperture

I’m not very surprised by this since I’ve taken most of my photos indoors I’ve used f2.8 a lot. Judging by these numbers it seems reasonable that several of my lenses are f2.8 … I simply have a need for it.

ISO

Neither am I surprised by this, for most of my photos I have wanted to freeze motion while taking the photos indoors. This is consistent with this. What I find interesting is that ISO 400 is so high but I think it’s because of my D80, it didn’t really like high ISO so I usually tried to keep it as low as possible. I’m guessing that ISO 800 is mostly from my D700 and ISO 1000 and above from my D4s.

Flash

I’ve taken a lot of flash photos … but I didn’t expect it to be the majority of my photos. Interestingly enough most of those, wild guess would be 75000, are taken with one single flash unit: my beloved SB-900. I really like this flash and it has worked flawlessly for, I think, 10 years or so.

Shutter speed

Based on the previous diagram this shouldn’t come as a surprise, 1/200 s is the max flash sync speed on my Nikon cameras.

Program

No surprise here either, I almost always use aperture priority.

Focal length

Not a surprise, my main lenses has been a 24-70/2.8 and a 70-200/2.8, it’s just lately that I’ve started to use lenses outside this range.

Brand

I’ve been using Nikon cameras since 2002 so no surprise here. The up and coming brand is Panasonic, I bought my first Lumix in 2016 and I’m using Lumix cameras more and more. The reason for this is that my D4s is a very good sports camera but a m43 system is much easier to carry when out and about.

Model

Here there were a few surprises. The D700 was my work horse for about 8 years so those number were expected. But I thought I would have taken more photos with the D4s than the D80. I have been using the GX80 a lot so 10000 photos seem completely reasonable. The biggest surprise here was that the S90 ended up on fifth place. The reason why the G9 is on sixth place is that I’ve only had it for 4 months, I expect it to be closer to the GX80 at the end of the year.

PhotoStatistica can show more info but these are the ones I find most interesting. While most of these numbers were what I expected, there were a few surprises.

February 9, 2020

Three weeks using the iPad for work

It has now been slightly more than 3 weeks since I managed to destroy my work laptop (pro tip: laptop + water => no laptop). Instead of spending a couple of days in getting an old laptop in working condition”, I decided to go iPad-only while waiting for a new laptop.

Fortunately, during the autumn I’ve been trying to set up my laptop/iPad/iPhone so that I would be able to do as much as possible from any device, so much of the work was already done. But I hadn’t expect that I would have to actually use it that way.

What have I learned during these weeks? The first and perhaps most important thing is that yes, I’ve been able to most of my work using the iPad (sometimes together with the iPhone). But I haven’t been able to do everything.

Before going into details I better describe what I typically do during a workday:

  • Read and answer email
  • Write notes
  • Prepare lectures and presentations which consists of
    • Writing small pieces of code and test them
    • Make drawings/diagrams in order to explain stuff
  • Generate PDFs from presentations/documents
  • Generate HTML from presentations/documents
  • Do some planning
  • Reading papers
  • Writing longer stuff
  • Calendar stuff

Email

It’s pretty easy to handle emails on the iPad. While Mail isn’t my favorite mail client it does work, I do miss MailMate but for a few weeks Mail is just fine. However, if I was going to have to use Mail for an extended time I would become really frustrated.

Writing/reading notes

Also not a problem, much of my note writing happens in Bear and since it’s works the same on Mac/iPhone/iPad nothing has really changed. I also use DevonThink and it also syncs between my devices, but the Mac version is nicer for serious” work.

Writing code and test it

This is slightly more difficult using the iPad. I’m used to using BBEdit (my favorite text editor and probably my most used program) to edit my files, then depending on the language I run the code using iTerm either on my Mac or one of the departments Linux boxes. Well, it does work fairly well on the iPad using Textastic as the editor and then use Working Copy and Secure Shellfish to connect with the Linux boxes. To access the servers I use Prompt . It works well but it’s not as smooth as I’m used to.

Preparing presentations

Well, here comes one problem. As long as I use my old Keynote presentations everything is just fine. However, I tend to prefer to write new presentations in Markdown using Deckset to make my presentations. But … Deckset is macOS only!!! My solution has been to access a Mac, convert the presentations to PDF and then use GoodReader to make the actual presentation. So this is a significant problem but there is another more important problem, but more about that later.

Graphics

I use OmniGraffle for all my drawings and it’s a really fantastic program that handles everything I need. And yes, it’s available both on macOS and the iPad … but I don’t have the iPad version. Fortunately I haven’t had any reason to make any illustrations yet and hopefully the new laptop will arrive before I need to make one.

Converting documents

My usual combo here is writing in BBEdit and preview/convert using Marked. Textastic can generate HTML but I like the BBEdit-Marked combo better, so I usually save these documents until I get home and can convert them on my old Mini at home. So it works but …

Planning

I use OmniFocus and since it works everywhere” it’s not a problem.

Reading papers

This is kind of fun, here I normally use my iPad so being forced to use the iPad doesn’t change anything. I use Bookends to keep references and papers in sync between iPad and Mac.

Writing longer texts

On my Mac I use BBEdit and Ulysses so this also works fairly well using my iPad. I’m actually using Ulysses for writing this. But if the text contains a lot of code snippets I really, really prefer BBEdit.

Calendar stuff

I have all my Calendars on iCloud so everything already worked. On my Mac I use BusyCal and on iPhone/iPad Fantastical.

The biggest problem

So while I’ve been able to find apps that makes it possible to do most of the stuff I need on the iPad, I haven’t mentioned the biggest problem. The problem that really irritates me is the screen, it’s too small for how I work. Hey, I think that the 15” screen on my now dead laptop is too small - I want my 28” screen back !!!

I quickly noticed that I’m used to have many windows open at the same time. Here is what I’m using when I prepare lectures:

  • BBEdit with several files open
  • OmniGraffle with one window open
  • iTerm with at least one session active
  • Browser usually with a couple of windows open, usually several tabs in each window.
  • Marked (preview)
  • Deskset (preview)
  • Transmit for file transfers

In addition to this I usually have Mailmate and BusyCal running also and sometimes use them as reference for questions to be answered.

In other words I find it quite frustrating to use such a small screen as the iPad screen (I love it for photo editing, concentrated writing/reading, etc) for doing my daily work. Transferring data from one app to another is quite frustrating with only 2.5 windows available.

Files app - hmmm

I have also noted that sometimes the Files app doesn’t really want to copy/move files. So I’m never sure that I’ll be able to move files to the place I want.

All-in-all

It works, I can do most of my work on the iPad (sometimes I use the iPhone to get more windows) but I really want a working Mac again … soon. I really miss BBEdit, Marked, MailMate, OmniGraffle and Marked, and I look forward to use them again. Soon I also need to run LaTeX with some custom Python scripts and there are some command line programs I would like to run locally.

So while going iPad only isn’t realistic for me at work I would have no problems using it on extended business trips or vacations. I would actually prefer the iPad then.

ipad software mac
February 2, 2020

It has now been almost two months since my cataract surgery, two months of having one eye that can focus in the range 4-8 cm and the other can who can focus” on about 20-30 cm (details about this in another post). There have been several interesting experiences during this time, most of them expected but one that I didn’t expect was how hard old habits die.

I’ve had glasses for about 45 years now but these two months I’ve had one contact lens and no glasses at all. And every time I want to scratch my eye I behave like I still have glasses on, when I get irritated that I don’t see clearly I try to push up the non-existing glasses, after showering I’m looking for the glasses, etc. It’s kind of comical.

But I also need to learn some new habits, for example how to avoid getting snow in my eyes, wear eye protectors when I’m doing various things, etc.

These are of course minor issues, things could be much, much worse but I find it interesting to see how strong old habits are.

habits health