Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Google search strategies

Never too old to learn: I was only aware of the "site:" and """" trick.

  Get more out of Google
Created by: HackCollege

Friday, November 18, 2011

Abstraction - or making explicit connections

One of the items in the grading rubric Marianne Staempfli and I developed for concept maps is the importance of cross links in the arrangement of the concept map:
"Cross links show complex relationships between two or more distinct segments of the concept map"
It is one of the reasons why I am currently involved in a collaboration (among some others) on genome (or transposon) ecology by co-advising Brent Saylor with Ryan Gregory, and on anthropology in ecology by co-advising Ingrid Ng with Bob Jickling.

And here is another cross link I was recently struck by: "Up and down the ladder of abstraction" by Bret Victor (no screen shot, because you have to explore the site in person) -

which I think is linked to "Engineering data analysis" by Hadley Wickham.

Both advocate an explicit visual tool to explore complicated and unexpected patterns between groups of variables. The domain specific visual language advocated by Hadley Wickham, I think, implicitly provides a model to obtain the different levels of abstractions necessary for moving up and down your data iteratively in R.

Would Hadley Wickham have Bret Victor in his RSS reader? If not, I think he should, because imagine what would happen if we put these two together in the same room.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Doodling, or justifying my whiteboard

One of the best spent $200.00 are not for a fraction of my laptop or desktop, or for my favourite books on R code, or for part of the cost to an exiting conference, but for my giant whiteboard in my office. I use it daily for doodling:
"To make spontaneous marks to help yourself think"

Another great TED talk, this time by Sunni Brown.

Monday, November 14, 2011

The importance of constraints

For me, one of the biggest mysteries of the scientific method (see e.g. this post), is that it provides such a rigid structure, yet at the same time so creative. It turns out that constraints actually lead to more global, conceptual, and maybe thus more creative thinking. Jonah Lehrer in Wired provides some excellent context for a recent study that investigated this link explicitly. Highly recommended.
At the same time, this could also explain one of my other pet peeves: why concept mapping is such a powerful method. When I introduce this, I often get the complaint that it is too restrictive to think in terms of concepts and links. However, this could actually be one part of the success of this method!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Embryo - or the screen writing of the scientific method

According to Christopher Booker, there are seven basic plots. I had always the intuition that the scientific method was an example of "the quest": the scientist (i.e., hero) goes looking for something, often with collaborators. But I never thought that the link between story telling and the scientific method would be so obvious. I recently read an article in Wired about Dan Harmon, the creator of and screen writer for Community. The author, Brian Raferty, explains how Harmon came up with the concept of an "embryo":
He began doodling the circles in the late ’90s, while stuck on a screenplay. He wanted to codify the storytelling process—to find the hidden structure powering the movies and TV shows, even songs, he’d been absorbing since he was a kid. “I was thinking, there must be some symmetry to this,” he says of how stories are told. “Some simplicity.” 
Harmon has a visual for this embryo, where a character goes through a series of phases:

I thought this sounded very similar to the scientific method (this is the visual I use in most of my classes):
But how can I make that link more explicit? Here is step 1:
 And this is step 2:

  •  Zone of comfort = information
  • You want something = question
  • Unfamiliar situation = hypothesis that could explain the question
  • Adapt to it = a prediction based on the hypothesis
  • Get what they want = test of the prediction
  • Pay heavy price = hypothesis not supported (or if you are lucky, supported)
  • Return to familiar situation, but changed = information increase
Even the tools to develop the plots are similar to my tools: the whiteboard.


But somehow I don't think I would make it in Hollywood?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

So true

I could link to all the new versions of PHD Comics, but this one made me laugh so hard, I had to repost it:

I am guilty of this at least twice a day.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Amanda's adventures in the North continue.

The story telling is just happening in a different spot: But it is still the heady combination of field research, guns, and statistics...