Archive for: February, 2011

A beginner's guide to Adobe Illustrator: get out your pen and pencil

Feb 27 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

If you want to review the basics of Adobe Illustrator before getting into this session, go check out the first and second posts in this series. I'll wait.

Ok, today we're going to get into a couple more tools that allow you to make some complex shapes - the pen and pencil tools. You'll see them in the second section of your tool bar, one at the top and one at the bottom of that second set of tools. We'll start with the pen tool.

The pen tool allows you to make points that will be connected by a line. Simply click the pen tool in each spot you want an anchor and it will draw a line, like so:

Notice that this one only has three anchors, but you can make as many as you like:

The trade off is that fewer points gives you straighter lines, but more points gives you more adjustability down the road. A greater number of points allows you to pull out the line in a variety of ways:

The pen tool can also allow you to make an odd shape that you want to fill. Simply draw the anchors of the shape and then click back on the first anchor to close the object.

You can use the color tools we discussed previously, to purty it all up.

Now, that is all well and good if you want to make straight lines, but what about making adjustable curved lines? That's where the pencil tool comes in handy. Grab the pencil tool and draw up some random shape.

I'm no artist, but this looks random enough. Now, select an anchor with the white arrow tool and you should see that anchor get a handlebar mustache.

I have no clue what the real name is for these things, but mustache works for me, so we'll go with it. These serve two key functions: they allow you to change the curve at an anchor point and the depth of the curve. Grab one side of a mustache and twist it around. you should see something like this:

Now if you twist AND pull, you will see the depth of the curve change, giving you a different effect:

Alright! So now you should have the tools you need to make complex shapes, color them and arrange them in front to back space. Perhaps next well do some alignment of elements and give you the final set of tool you'll need to make kick ass figures for your too-hot-for-PowerPoint data.

8 responses so far

Recruiting undergrads for research

Feb 25 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

One of the things that made an enormous difference to me as an undergraduate was getting involved in research. Honestly, had I not done that my decent-but-not-spectacular grades would not have gotten me where I am today. Research got me going and that propelled me into a position to take off on this career path. As such, I like to try and get undergrads into my lab. Yeah, it's a lot of work getting them trained up, but if you can get a student early enough, the pay-off can be big.

With the lab resources dwindling and no clear safety net in play, I'm concerned about paying an undergraduate over the summer when that money might be critical down the road. However, there are programs at the university that students can apply for to get stipends for the summer and naturally I have been encouraging students who seem promising to do so. My classes have been fertile ground to identify students who might work well in my lab and the deadline nears.

But that leaves me in an awkward spot. I can't give these kids anything other than a letter of support to try and get them a position. However, if they get a fellowship, they are free to chose from a huge number of labs to pursue the research that most interests them. There are not many labs that will turn down a summer student with a stipend. So, I can encourage them to apply and let them know I think they are strong candidates, but I'm find it exceedingly difficult to figure out how to nudge them towards my lab.

With money in hand I can tell them "If you're interested, I would like to have you in the lab", but when they have to apply to get money I kinda feel like a jerk pitching my lab when there are a lot of options. I want these students to get the experience, in my lab or elsewhere, and that fine line between encouraging them and actively recruiting them (without knowing their real interests, while not sitting in a prof's office) has been hard to navigate.

I'm not sure why I am finding this difficult, it shouldn't be, but I've talked to two students so far and only managed to convince them to apply to the program. Suggesting specifically that the should consider my lab has just seemed awkward. As someone who typically has no problem working a conversation to my intended goal, I don't know what my problem is on this front. Maybe I just don't want them to feel like I'm trying to push them into something they don't want to do, I don't know. At the same time, since I'm not curing cancer or working with familiar organisms, I generally have to recruit if I want to get good people.

I think it's time to rethink my approach and find a better way to reel these kids in.

19 responses so far

Superfluous material

As I have done in the past, I gave one of my classes a mid-semester evaluation to fill out. There were two trends that emerged rather clear from the data, 1) The pace for roughly 60% of the class was too fast, and 2) whereas the amount of material covered in class was widely agreed to be okay, a significant number of students felt I included too much "superfluous material" in the lectures.

[soo-pur-floo-uhs] –adjective
1. being more than is sufficient or required; excessive.
2. unnecessary or needless.
3. Obsolete . possessing or spending more than enough or necessary; extravagant.

I have to say I was a little surprised by this - that there was such a trend towards "Just the facts, dude". It is not rare for me to use the topics of the class to make a connection between the day's subject and things the students are more familiar with. Is this superfluous? If something helps a student understand a concept, but "isn't on the test", should it be omitted?

I'll admit that I struggle with this kind of thing and it depresses the hell out of me. I feel as though I am trying to display some of the cool and interesting things that the subject I am teaching has to offer and all I hear is "Um, will this be on the test?" I am aware that the motivation for the students centers around getting a good grade and that I am not the reincarnation of Robin Williams* from The Dead Poet's Society, but the lack of student curiosity or motivation to actually understand (rather than memorize) concepts is enough to shank my interest in teaching and leave it dead on the shower floor.

And outside of ideological reasons, why should I care? Our current tenure system places little weight on teaching, leaving me to wonder whether sacrificing it isn't actually in my best interest. Let one ball drop, right? As much effort as I may put into teaching, it is only (mildly) rewarded through student evaluation; an imperfect system at best. My colleagues end up judging my teaching based almost entirely on whether the students liked me, rather than any measure of how good my teaching is.

I know this debate is old and tired, that the tenure system is flawed and that education at the university level has changed with both the culture and the model for how universities are run, but I had some hope that I would find an excitement in teaching. At the very least, I hoped not to have to drag the students through the material while editing out anything that might be seen as superfluous.

* Can we all just pretend that he died after Good Will Hunting and before Patch Adams?

28 responses so far

Shit my kid says

Feb 22 2011 Published by under [Et Al]

"Daddy, I don't like your beard. It's sharp and hurts my lips. But it keeps you warm?"

"Can we listen to that Eminem song? The one with the little girl*."

"Daddy, I like your freckle, where did you get it?"

"Mommy, don't give that look. I'll look right back at you."

"Daddy, you're funny. I laughed and you make me throwed up."

"I'm thinking of having a little tea party for my birthday, why do you think of that?"

"I think (old cat) doesn't like (new cat). I think maybe he wanted a puppy"

*Apparently in reference to Rhianna. At least this is what my wife tells me.

8 responses so far

The GOP comes out of the closet

Feb 20 2011 Published by under [Politics]

If you haven't been paying close attention to what the Republican party has been doing over the past few years, you might almost be able to believe that they care about this country and the people in it. Almost. I mean, they talk about Real American* Values and getting back to what is important to The People*. The party line is all about controlling government spending to keep more money in the pockets of The People*. Too bad "controlling" has more than one meaning.

So in this day and age of politics being more about cultivating an image that will get you elected than about doing what will move the country forward, I have to say that the spending bill that got pushed through the House on Friday was refreshing. It was refreshing to have the GOP lay bare all of their true agenda and make it crystal clear who they care about. Let's review the Bill and see who that might be...

Well, according to an AP report, "Changes rammed through the House on Friday and Saturday would shield greenhouse-gas polluters and privately owned colleges from federal regulators; block a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay; and bar the government from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution."

Hmmm, it wouldn't appear that the GOP likes the environment very much, what else was in the bill?

"The Environmental Protection Agency took hits from Republicans eager to defend business and industry from agency rules they say threaten job creation and the economy. The EPA's budget was slashed by almost one-third, and then its regulatory powers were handcuffed in a series of votes.

The measure would block proposed federal regulations on emission of greenhouse gases, which are blamed for climate change. It also would stop a proposed regulation on mercury emissions from cement."

I mean, what is the EPA, but a bunch hippies who constantly whine about "the environment". When has that ever affected anything?

So what else was in this spending bill to save America? Well, as COR already pointed out, it included a nice measure to decimate that heathen atrocity, Planed Parenthood.

"Across four long days of freewheeling debate, Republicans left their conservative stamp in other ways.

They took several swipes at Obama's year-old health care law, including a vote to ban federal dollars for putting it into effect. At the behest of anti-abortion lawmakers, they called for an end to federal money for Planned Parenthood."

By why stop at the environment, women and the poor? Let's cut money to public schools (rich white kids don't use them anyway) and public health.

"The legislation imposes severe spending cuts on domestic programs and foreign aid. Targets include schools, nutrition programs, environmental protection, and heating and housing subsidies for the poor."

Well, that pretty much runs the gamut, no? I wonder what they did with defense, since that eats up a little more than 20% of the federal budget, and more than double all other forms of discretionary spending, combined.

"Republicans awarded the Pentagon an increase of less than 2 percent increase, but domestic agencies would endure cuts of about 12 percent."

Uh-oh, only a 2% increase? Sorry guys, we'll do better next time.

But I actually think the GOP is doing us a favor. Instead of posturing and sending mixed message about caring for the people while passing laws that say otherwise, they are coming right out and wearing the fucking t-shirt. If you're poor, female, care about your health or that of the land, or are in any way uninterested in making rich white dudes more rich, you can go to hell.

"It's democracy in action," Mr. Boehner said Friday night when it was clear the bill would pass. "I'm proud of this vote."
Giant Douchecanoe

I'm sure you are, rich white dude, I'm sure you are.

*Defined as non-immigrants and not people who talk or look funny. Well, alright, all white people immigrated here, but a long time ago and that doesn't count. I mean, it's not like anything happened before the Tea Party.

13 responses so far

A beginner's guide to Adobe Illustrator: colorfy this mess!

Feb 18 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

If you've been doing your homework, then you now know how to make a shape and mess with it. We've established the difference between the black and white selector arrows already, so you're ready for the next step. Let's add sparkle color!

Break out your boring black box again. Got it?

Good. Using the black arrow, click on it so it is selected. At the bottom of your toolbar there should be two overlapping boxes, one that is "empty" or white, and one that has a thick black border. Double click the empty one and a color palate should show up. By selecting a color here, you will fill your box with that color.

Voila! You should also see that there remains a black border around your box. Making sure you have the box selected, double click the toolbar box with the thick border and select another color.

Boom! Now that we have offended color blind people or anyone with taste with our color choice, let's look at the difference between a white box and an empty box. Draw a second box that overlaps with the first and turn the inside white, using the fill color tool described above.

Because we have a white background, when we made the first box it looked as though it might be empty, but it was actually filled with white. The overlap between these boxes makes that clear. So how do we get rid of the white and make it really empty? Go back to your toolbar and look for the three little boxes below the two we have been using to add color. The left one is white and is the fill tool. By clicking on that box you are requesting that the object you have selected be filled with whatever color you chose. The middle one is the gradient tool (which is a PITA, but that's another story) and the right box has a red line through it. This box is how you get rid of either the fill or the border. Select the white box you have drawn in your document and then look at the overlapping color boxes in the toolbar. If the solid one is on top of the border one, then click the box below that with the red line through it. If the border box is on top, then click the fill box so it is on top and do the same.

We're left with an "empty" shape that is now transparent to the object behind. Now, say you want to move the rear object to the front. Select the rear box and go up to Object -> Arrange -> Bring to Front.

Now you can create and manipulate objects, add and subtract color and arrange object front to back. You're practically ready to be a graphic artist. Next week we will get into the alignment tools and how to make things look more precise than doing things free hand.

5 responses so far

Same seats!

Feb 17 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

I've been noticing a peculiar feature of my classes this year that may be more wide spread and I just haven't noticed until now, but the students are territorial. I've attended a lot of lectures as a student in my time and can honestly say that I have never used one particular seat in a classroom over an extended period of time, on purpose. There may have been a part of certain rooms I preferred to sit in for one reason or another, but never have I been wedded to a particular seat. Oddly, I am observing exactly that in my classes, particularly the larger one.

There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule that you are bound to the chair you select on the first day. Particularly strange are the students who sit in seats that restrict their view of the screen because of where I set up the podium. I can see on the first day sitting there by happenstance, but repeatedly? For weeks?

What was casual observation until recently was confirmed today when one student who arrived just before class asked another if the seated student could move over one spot so that she could sit in "her" seat. Honestly, I don't even have a point to this post other than to wonder what the hell this is all about. Unless you are working on some master graffiti project on a particular desk and need the time to work it like Andy needed time to tunnel out of Shawshank, what's the difference? Perhaps I am just not attuned to the comforting feeling of a cramped and uncomfortable desk that you have a special bond with.

24 responses so far

A beginner's guide to Adobe Illustrator: spy vs. spy edition

Feb 16 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

Do you have Adobe Illustrator on your computer?

Are you still making figures in PowerPoint?

If you just answered yes to those questions, allow me to bring you back in time a little bit to express how I'm feeling. Were you ever late coming home to your parent's house as a teenager and arrived home to your mother clutching a phone with the county accident report line on speed dial and your dad sitting in a chair with a fixed stare at the front door meant to melt a hole trough it? If yes, then you know the look I'm giving you right now. You know you're wrong and that I'm disappointed, I don't even need to say it.

So what is it going to take for me to get you to actually get off your ass and try the powerful tools you have at your fingertips but refuse to open? Clearly your manual spontaneously combusted in a tragic fire a few months back, so it looks like I'm going to have to pull you kicking and screaming through this.

Over the next little while I'll be posting pointers on how to get started with AI, but you'll need to do a little exploration yourself. I am not an expert with this program and learned it entirely myself, so others may be able to provide useful hints that I can't. However, I often get compliments on my figures, and I can assure you that no one is referring to my swimsuit bod.

Today's lesson is the first thing you will need to recognize in AI, the spy vs. spy arrows.

One is white, one is black and they sit side by side at the top of your toolbar. They are critical to everything you hope to accomplish, so get to know them. Know them well.

But before we get into their function, you'll need something yo play with. Open a new document and select the shape tool from the toolbar (likely a shaded box if you haven't changed defaults). Click on your document and drag in a diagonal direction. Congratulations, you've made a box.

Feeling good? Alright, let's do something with it. You might notice that your cursor is still a cross. This will allow you to draw more boxes, but if you want to play with the one you made you will need to chose an weapon arrow. Since the black one is on top, let's start with that one.

Clicking on the black arrow should give you white boxes around the perimeter of your box. If not, click an edge.

By hovering your cursor over one of those boxes you should get a bidirectional arrow that indicates the direction that you can move that side. For instance if you go to the box at the top, you'll get an up/down arrow and you can move that side up or down (extending or compressing the lines on the sides). Grabing a corner will make the box bigger or smaller. You may also see a rounded bidirectional arrow that will indicate that you can rotate the shape. If you click on the shape anywhere away from those boxes or in the middle, you can move it around your document. That is about it for the black arrow.

See, this isn't hard.

Now the white arrow. This tool is a little more complicated, but you can do a lot with it. Choosing the white arrow should give you white boxes at the corners of your shape.

Clicking on one of those boxes will cause it to become a black box. Grab it and move it.

ZOMG! You fucked it up! (I assume that this type of grade school flash back is the primary barrier to people playing with this software)

It's okay, breathe. The white arrow allows you to grab and move certain (black boxes) points, while leaving the others (white boxes) as anchors. You can drag your cursor to grab more than one box and move those points while leaving the others.

Notice the two filled boxes here on the left side allow me to move those while keeping the "white" corners in place. As always, "command Z" (or whatever you use on a PC) is your friend. It will undo anything you do.

If you want to get crazy, try playing with a circle. To make a circle, go back to your toolbar and click and hold on the little black corner of the shape icon (lower right). That will bring up a submenu of different shapes (all of the tools that have a black corner have submenues under them). Make a circle just like you made a square and see what the different arrow tools do with it.

You have no just scratched the surface of what AI can do. In the next post in this series we'll get into colors, fills and shading.

20 responses so far

But what does all this "Save the A2!" business mean for me?

Feb 15 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers]

By now you've probably heard about the email and petition going around to Save The A2 (See pros and cons), as though the second resubmission of a grant proposal is some kind of political prisoner that your hipster friends never heard of before last week but now can't stop talking about. Basically the argument boils down to the fact that there are those who believe NIH's policy of allowing only a single resubmit of a proposal is hurting investigators and those who feel that this initiative was inacted so that first submission (A0) proposals actually have a chance of getting funded as opposed to being "put in line". While I see both sides, I tend to agree with those against the A2 being brought back, on the basis that there won't be an increase in the number of grants that get funded or probably even which grants get funded with the additional submission (see the comments here for more discussion).

Admittedly, I don't have as much of a dog in the race as many of the people discussing this do. NIH is not my primary target audience and until last summer I had never applied. It was an interesting experience and I have been working on the resubmit due in ten days. But the discussion has made me reconsider my strategy in the coming round, however.

Based on feedback on the project from both NSF and NIH, I have shifted the focus. Whereas the overall goal is the same, the mechanisms for answering the questions are substantially different. We'll be collecting different data, using modified tools to analyze those data and have broadened the sampling. Not insignificant.

That leaves me with a dilemma: How to I categorize the proposal when I submit it this time around? Is it an A1? Has it been changed enough to go in as an A0? Is there an advantage to sending it as an A1 and does that potential benefit outweigh the advantage of having another kick at the can if the application is unsuccessful in this round? While submitting as an A0 is what appears to make the most sense, I don't have a good feel for *how much* change is enough to allow for a new submit over a resubmit. From talking with some people, neither do most people. So, do I risk the study section getting the application and saying "Dude is trying to work around the system! Destroy!" and go with the A0 or play nice and submit an A1 knowing I will have to make even more substantial changes to it if it does not get funded?

12 responses so far

The awkward five minutes

Feb 14 2011 Published by under [Education&Careers], [Et Al]

I can't stand being late. Hate it. If something starts in 10 minutes and is a 5 minute walk, I'm leaving now. Because of that, I often leave 20 minutes early to get to my class, which is 10 minutes across campus. I have to set up my computer, which kills some time, but I am often left with 5 or so minutes before class, Standing in front of the room while the students file in and get things sorted.

I actually find this time pretty awkward. In a smaller class I can shoot the shit with some of the students, despite the mild look of horror they have at being chatted with by their professor. The larger classes are worse though, since I don't really know many of the student's names at this point in the semester. They chat amongst themselves and I... do what?

I find I wander a bit and maybe even hit the bathroom, or read the posters in the hallway for the tenth time. Sometimes I'll look through the preview thumbnails of the slides just for the hell of it, but I always feel completely unnatural up there. Waiting. If speaking publicly made me nervous, I'm sure this time would be excruciating rather than just merely awkward.

Despite this, I can't bring myself to leave later. So what do other people do with their pre-class limbo?

23 responses so far

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