Always Have a Pen

So a few know that I have a set of rules that I have made over the years that are some good guidelines for my life. Some of them are not appropriate here, but I would like to share my Rule #2: Always Have a Pen. (Rule #1 is not relevant for discussion.)

This may seem like a silly rule, but I feel like it has been useful for me in the past few years. Amongst others, I first got this advice from Dr. Charles Rohde during his class. He simply stated that you should always have a pen (and paper) because good ideas/quotes rarely come when you expect them and it'd be a crime to forget them. Others have good points on why to have one: here and of course Reddit. You may want to skip this post and read the Reddit comments.

Why I like pens

Some people may ask: Why a pen? Why not carry around a pencil? To which I respond: “Who are you and what are you doing in my house?”.

But honestly, one big thing is that pencil doesn't work very well on some surfaces, especially skin. Particularly on the back of my hand, which is the first medium I use if I have no paper. I also break the lead in pencils all the time. I can write as hard as I want with a pen, and it almost never breaks. Using an eraser on a pencil pretty much turns into an infectious smudge disease that makes whole pages indecipherable. One other thing that I realized later in life: other than people who study math, many people use pens – it just seemed more grown up. So I like using a pen.

Why I hate pens

Really, the one reason I hate pens is because when you always have a pen, you sometimes wash a pen. Note: pens stain clothes. This has happened to me more than once, ruining almost entire loads of laundry. Now I check all my pockets twice before doing laundry. I guess this practice is good training if I have to wash my children's clothes one day (or have children).

But pens don't ruin clothes only when in the wash. When you put pens in your pocket, you have to make sure they are are unclicked. I have some nice lined khakis lying around somewhere if you'd like to see what I mean. So if these are concerns or you'd have an aneurysm if pen got on your pants, maybe take that pencil route. Or carry two pens: one ballpoint, one Tide. Or get a pocket protector.

Don't get a pocket protector.

Ancillary Benefits

  1. When splitting a check, you can write down the amounts on multiple credit/debit cards. The waiter/waitress almost never brings a pen before you give your cards, which I find as a bit of an oversight, unless they don't want you to split the check. And I have PayPal or Venmo to do things electronically when needed, but pens still are handy.
  2. It's good when you have to write your number/email down really quick. You can also add things to your business card (like a website or a message or Twitter handle), if you need to.
  3. You look professional and have your stuff together. Ever see that person frantically looking in their bag or asking if someone has something to write with? Amateurs.

Conclusion

You may do all your thinking 9-5 or always have your phone/computer/tablet. I frequently have my tech gear handy and have tried to become 100% digital, yet I still use pens. I mostly use it during off hours and when I'm not in the office. Sometimes I look like Russell Crowe from A Beautiful mind writing down math equations on a napkin. I'm OK with that, and much happier if I can get things down on paper (or napkin or skin) at the time I'm thinking rather than have the anxiety of forgetting it. So if you want one quick “improvement” for the day, start carrying a pen. If you already do, get a nice one – you won't be so apt to lose it.

Advertisements

Comment out a slide in Slidify

So I wanted to comment out a slide in Slidify for a while and never figured out how to do it. In normal html, you use the <!-- and --> tags around the comment. The thing I didn't understand was that when html sees -- in some browsers, even if not a full -->, it can then stop the comment. Explanation here. So, if you write:

<!--

## I'm a commented slide 1

From Slidify's authoring process, this slide was made:
1. Edit YAML front matter
2. Write using R Markdown
3. Use an empty line followed by three dashes to separate slides!

---
-->

## Slide 2

I'm a slide

You will have slide 1 and 2 still as slides. So change this to be:

<!--

## I'm a commented slide 1

From Slidify's authoring process, this slide was made:
1. Edit YAML front matter
2. Write using R Markdown
3. Use an empty line followed by three dashes to separate slides!

-->

## Slide 2

I'm a slide

Now Slide 2 is the only slide in the deck (on top of the title slide). Be aware, using ---> will not work because the way Slidify parses the slides I believe. But, if you start the line with  ---> (note the space), then you're all good.
Here is a rundown of slides:

<!--

## I'm slide 1 - I'm commented out

From Slidify's authoring process, this slide was made:
1. Edit YAML front matter
2. Write using R Markdown
3. Use an empty line followed by three dashes to separate slides!

-->

<!--

## This slide will be shown

Slidify says - yeah, we're sliding this.

--->

<!--

## This slide will not be shown

You can open with 2 hyphens and close with three

 --->

<!---

## This slide will not be shown

3 dashes with a space works, and you can open the html with three hyphens if you want. 

 --->

## Slide 2

I'm a slide

Hope this helps on your reproducible slide journey!

A Johns HopStat Hackathon

So I've been toying with the idea of organizing a Hackathon in our department for a while. Wikipedia states a hackathon is:

An event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers and project managers, collaborate intensively on software projects.

I knew JHU had one at Hopkins: HopHacks recently, which I was excited about but could not participate in. After Googling recently, I found a Baltimore Hackathon. The office of the mayor is all about getting some hackathons going on in Baltimore (I love the comment “City funds will not be used for the purchase of alcoholic beverages”). I love this idea: a hackathon on city data will be hugely impactful, and it's a one-time chance to get access to it without government red tape!!“

HopStat Hack: a Hopkins Biostat Hackathon

The type of hackathon I want to do is a coding event, not producing prototypes or anything "physical” like doing soldering or programming circuit boards. While that sounds awesome, I don't want to burn down our department since I don't know what I'm doing. Now, what exactly am I talking about with a Hackathon?

I'm talking about getting a bunch of coders in a room, a bunch of food/drinks (and later some alcoholic drinks, to take advantage of the Ballmer Peak), and charge them with a problem at hand and a general guideline how to solve it. The guideline will be flexible, as unexpected problems always come up. There may be data available to solve the problem, but the data may be scraped or hacked from somewhere.

Why do a hackathon?

Why can't you do the project over time like other projects? I would like to list some reasons:

  • There is a deadline. Whether it be 1 day or 3 days, there is an end, and it's soon. In academia, that is not always common, but I feel like it helps push people in a positive way (especially if the deadline is not met then nothing terrible happens)
  • People are busy. If you ask someone to be a on a project, they will likely say no. Asking them for one day (and providing food), they'd be more open.
  • It's hard to get a large number of people together for longer than a day. It's sometimes hard to even get them for a 1 hour meeting.

Project Ideas

Here are some ideas we have toyed around at tea time:

  • Make a fantasy football-type of system for an academic department. Metrics would be like: citations, grant money, years, tenure. I think it'd be interesting to think of metrics people choose to grade departments.
  • Calculate Group h-indices. I don't know how they calculate the rankings, but it's a comparative tool. Even if you don't believe in h-indices.
  • Create a longitudinal wordcloud. In that sense, it's a “3D wordcloud”, but that's reserved usually for this.
  • Use Open 311 data to create statistical maps based on call data. For example: “Where's the most reported litter in the Baltimore?”
  • Clean a large dataset (maybe with a data manager) for a specific outcome. I'm looking at you claims data.

Conclusions

Overall, I like the idea of “borrowing strength” from your fellow coders to get something done and get it done in one day. Also, I like the name hackathon. It's like a workshop where you get to dictate the outcome, be part of a team, and learn from fellow coders. Now, I'm going to work on getting the department to fund it.