Sunday, August 28, 2011

Pet "Sympathy" Cards

My dance teacher's  husband died recently (Allah yar7amu) and the visitation was today.  I stopped to get a card at the grocery store (sadly it was also dorm move-in day, apparently, so the place was crazy).  Cards are organized by category, but I couldn't find a "death" or "funeral" section.  Hmm, what else would this be called, I wondered.  Condolences? I couldn't find that either.  Finally, I realized that since I definitely wasn't looking for a birthday, anniversary, holiday, wedding, baby, thank you, or blank card, it must be the "sympathy" section.  Granted, I am at the point in life where I go to more weddings than funerals, but this seemed a little overly euphemistic to me.  As I looked through the cards, trying in vain to find one that wasn't full of nauseatingly maudlin verse, I noticed one with paw prints on it.  I pulled it out.  It was, indeed, a sympathy card for the loss of one's pet.  In fact, there was a whole section of pet sympathy cards.  Now, I love my cats dearly, and will be beyond distraught when they die.  But a pet sympathy card? Really?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Frustration or Inspiration?

I study a fairly popular topic, with a fairly popular theoretical framework, but in a context that is not usually addressed in the literature. Needless to say, when the research/theory I'm reading mentions my context, I get pretty excited. Then there are moments like today, when a prominent researcher, whose work I really generally enjoy reading and find helpful, mentions my context in two different ways. The first time, she lost all nuance, and made an offensive generalization when comparing my topic (and worse, a particular identity category of mine)to the one more traditionally studied in this particular theoretical framework. Then she turned to my context, and cited research on a topic of much obsession with little substance about which she clearly had no knowledge. Grumbling into the book, I immediately demoted her from favorite researcher to failed theoretician. Why doesn't anyone give my context the attention it deserves! Why do they ignore it/say unnuanced things about it! It's important to this framework too and you need to see that!

Then I remembered that I am writing my dissertation on this topic for exactly this reason. :-) I should be inspired, not frustrated!

Monday, August 22, 2011


Today, I was supposed to meet someone to try on a used dance jacket that I think will fit me, but wanted to try on first.  She was passing through a town about two hours away (closer than going to her) so I agreed to meet there.  Because we only have one car, I had to drop my husband off at training, so I arrived half an hour early.  Forty-five minutes after our appointment, she still wasn't there, so I called.  She texted me that she was coming through tomorrow, not today.  Whoops.  I was annoyed at myself, because usually I'm pretty good about remembering dates and stuff.  I get home, and check my email--sure enough we're confirmed for August 22, which is today, unless all of my electronic devices are wrong (but I even checked the paper calendar too!).  So now I'm annoyed at her for making me lose five precious hours of my life and not sure what to do.  I also got sunburned from sitting in my car that long with the window open.  Do I ask for a discount on the jacket? Ask her to go out of her way to meet me closer? Oh, I'll never get those five hours back!

As I was driving back, I got a call on my cell phone: Are you coming to the curriculum meeting? What meeting? I asked, thinking, gosh did I get two things wrong on the same day? I'm really losing it.  This time, there was in fact a meeting, but the organizer forgot to tell me about it.  Which is annoying, because I had some things I wanted to make sure happened, so now I will just have to hope that other people made sure they happened.


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Long Distance Vanquished (at least temporarily . . . )

My husband got a job in University Town! Given the current economy, particularly in University State, I feel that this is nothing short of miraculous.  It is a job he is interested in, and I think will be exceptionally good at.  Of particular interest to me of course, is the fact that we will not have to do long distance, which we have done before, and which quite frankly sucks (especially internationally).  In fact, this will be the first time that we are living together in the United States.  Yippeeee!!!!!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Glories of Grammar: The Dual

Because I espouse communicative teaching methods and teaching Arabic dialects, and also object to calling formal language "correct" or "proper" people often assume I am "against" grammar.  Nothing could be further from the truth, as I actually love grammar, especially discussing and learning about grammar.  I simply have a different definition of grammar and conception of how it should be taught.  As an example of the glories of grammar, I offer one of my favorite parts of Formal Arabic grammar, dual agreement.

In Arabic, there is a singular noun for one item, a dual noun for two items, and a plural noun for three or more items*.  So, we have:

one cat: qiTTa
two cats: qiTTatan
three + cats: qiTaT

In formal Arabic (although not in the dialects), adjectives, verbs, demonstratives and relative pronouns must all agree with dual nouns.  The lovely part about this is that they all get the same ending (aani or ayni depending on the case) so then you can compose an entire sentence where every word rhymes*, such as the following:

هتان القطتان الكبيرتان اللتان تلعبان مجنونتان
haataani al-qiTTataani al-kabiiirataani allataani tal3abaani majnuunataani
these      the-two cats    the-big              that         play           crazy
(these two large cats that are playing are crazy)

How exciting is that!?

*actually 3-10 items, as at 11 it goes back to the singular if you are using the numbers

*My husband thinks this is why Formal Arabic is ridiculous.  In return, I have been thinking of the longest possible dual sentence to recite.

Technology and the Research Process Part 6: Final Formatting

Once I've finished my main draft, I export the document from Scrivener to Mellel* to do the bibliography.  When I copy the source from Bookends into Scrivener it gets places between curly brackets {}.  In Mellel, I tell it to convert these to citations, and tell Bookends to scan the document, which puts the citations in the proper format and automatically generates a bibliography from them.  The technicalities of how this works depend on the word processor and bibliography software you are using, but you should be able to do this so long as your bibliography software support your word processing software (and they all support Word for example).  I still have to read through the bibliography to check for mistakes, but this is much easier for me than typing it all in by hand.

Once this is done, I convert it to a format that works for whoever I'm sending it to (my advisor, a journal, etc) and sent it off.  When I do revisions, I typically just do them in Mellel or Word**, with reference to my notes in Slipbox or new sources, rather than going back to Scrivener.

So, this concludes my series on technology and the research process.  I hope it will be helpful to those who like technology and use a similar research process to me.  I'd guess it would work well if you are an organized person who thinks in a non-linear fashion.  If you are just one of these, you might find parts helpful.  If you are neither, this whole process probably sounds dreadful.  Regardless, as I stated in the beginning, technology is a tool not a method.  You have to find the tools that fit your method, whether it is the programs I describe here, a word processor, index cards, or pen and paper.

I am also happy to answer questions about any of the programs and processes described here or to take recommendations on how I could improve my own process, so don't hesitate to ask/advise!

*The main reason I use Mellel is because it has very nice right to left support, in particular for mixing Arabic and English within a document.  Word for the Mac doesn't support right to left languages (even though everything else on the Mac does.  I'm convinced the only reason there's no support in Word is to prevent businesses in the Middle from buying Macs instead of PCs, although please correct me if you know otherwise).  If you don't need RTL support, you're probably better off sticking with Word so as to prevent formatting issues when sending your documents to people/journals.  

**I did eventually break down and buy Word for the PC part of my computer because I was so sick of having 2-3 different copies of all of my teaching activities, which I typically have to print off computers that are not mine.  But since it is on a different system, it doesn't play well with the rest of my programs so I only use if for final editing.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 5: Writing

I write in Scrivener, which works very well for me because although I always produce a very linear product, I am a very non-linear writer.  Basically, I have an outline in my head (which I usually write down on paper at some point) and then I work on whichever part of that outline I feel like.  For this reason, I was always completely baffled in college when my friends would say things like "I've got 18 pages out of 25 for this paper, how many do you have?" First of all, I would have no idea, and secondly, the number of pages I had seemed completely irrelevant to whether or not I had an actual paper.  Writing in a regular word processor was always difficult because I would either have to save sections as separate documents or constantly be scrolling up and down.  For me, Scrivener solves this problem, as it seems to be designed for people like me who can't write first to last.

In the screen shot below, you can see that I have a research and a draft folder, and each one is divided into the same sections (and subsections that you can't see :-)*).  Thus, I can work on whatever section I feel like without scrolling all over the place.

As you can see, Scrivener allows you to split the screen, which makes it really easy to write directly from your notes.  Before I start writing though, I also organize my notes in Scrivener in the order I want to use.  In the screen shot, you can see on the right a little index card that has a summary of the note (I usually autogenerate this since my notes are short).  It also has a label, which will show up color-coded in the shots below.**

When I first import my notes from Slipbox, I organize them using the corkboard, which looks like little index cards and thus feels like my old method.  I can organize them in freeform mode, which lets me move them anywhere, as in the shot below:

Or I can organize them in a more structured mode, where they stay in rows, as in the shot below:

In either mode, you can stack them into groups, which is also very convenient.  The colors in the corner show you theThe only thing that I dislike about this is that I have a small laptop screen (13") so sometimes I have too many cards for my screen real estate.  Someday I hope to have a larger screen.

Once I have the notes organized, I get down to the actual writing, using the split screen.  For this, I put the cards in group mode, which you can see here in full screen:

When I am writing in the split screen mode as in the first screen shot, I just scroll down through the bottom screen of notes, while typing into the top screen of draft.  A particularly wonderful aspect of the integration between Bookend and Slipbox is that you can see that even when I import the slips to Scrivener, there is a link to the source.  When I need to add it in my draft, I click then link in my note, which transfers me to the source in Bookends.  I copy the source citation in Bookends and paste it into my draft text in Scrivener.

So, this is how I use technology to write.  I don't know of any other program like Scrivener, which is designed for the Mac but also has a Windows beta.  Scrivener can also do much, much more than I have described here.  So, if you are thinking this sounds cool, but I wish I could do X, Scrivener probably can do it, I just don't use it.

*Yes, this really is my dissertation, which even though you can't see much kind of makes me feel like I'm posing in my bikini on the internet, but it was too difficult to make a fake one

**This is probably unnecessary, but I have synesthesia, so color-coding makes me feel good.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Technology and the Research Process Part 4: Literature Database

After I save my notes in text form, I put them in SlipBox, which basically is like a digital index card box.  Here is a screenshot:

Here you can see my note (a piece of the notes from the article) in the main box, my keywords in the next box, my source (conveniently linked with Bookends) in the third box, and the type of source in the last box.  The numbers on the side are slip scents, which theoretically link this note to other similar notes based on the text or keywords or something (I don't use this much, but it might be helpful someday).

When I want to read or write about a particular topic, I use the search function, pictured below with a keyword search, which is what I usually use.

If I am planning to write about a particular topic, I go through and flag the notes I want and then export them as text files to write in Scrivener, which will be the topic of my next post.

It is worth noting that in fact I am usually reading and writing at the same time, as I am doing currently for my dissertation.  If I read something and know exactly where I want it to go in my dissertation, then I will just copy it into that spot and put it in Slipbox afterwards.  Sometimes this feels like a lot of extra work, since I won't see the payoffs from this database process for a few years, if at all.  But for now, I'm hoping that a little extra work in the short term will pay off in the log term.  If anyone has suggestions about the likelihood of this, I'm happy to hear them.  Hanshof!

I don't know of any other program quite as amazing as Slipbox*,  which is unfortunately Mac only, but there are other programs that I think could work.  Evernote allows you to tag notes, and you could use this for keywords and sources, or just put the source in the title.  I use Evernote for pretty much everything else in my life, and didn't want my research mixed in with my recipes and taxes, so that's one of the main reasons I don't use it for research.  A lot of Mac users swear by a program called Devonthink which does some sort of artificial intelligence analysis of your documents as well to make connections between them.  I was never really able to get into it though, and it's expensive.

*I was so delighted when I finally discovered this program that I raved about it for days to my husband.  Since his response every time I complained about not finding the perfect database software was "why can't you just type everything into a Word document?" he didn't find this discovery quite as exciting as I did :-)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Pronunciation "Corrections"

I spent this morning being a guide for a visually impaired FLTA.  He's Arabic-speaking, so we chatted in a mix of Arabic and English.  At the end of the morning, he asked if I would mind if he corrected my Arabic.  "Of course not!" I replied, "I really like it when people correct me in fact."  "Okay," he said, "you sometimes say qaaf instead of kaaf*, like in 7ukuuma."  "You mean I say kaaf instead of qaaf?" I queried, confused as to why I would be making a more difficult sound instead of an easier one.  "No, no" he replied, "don't worry, it's not your fault, it is something all Egyptians do, they say 7uquuma instead of 7ukuuma, or qaaZim instead of kaaZim.  You just listened too well to them and now you are making the same mistakes they do."  Grinning to myself, I managed to pronounce both 7ukuuma and kaaZim to his satisfaction before we parted ways, which sounded pretty funny to me.

What I found particularly interesting about this exchange, aside from the sociolinguistics, is that he is right that Egyptians pronounce things this way and that I have picked it up.  Yet, if you asked me to describe the differences between Egyptian and Levantine dialects, this is something that would never occur to me, even though I clearly started doing it at some point myself.  In other words, it is something that I learned but was not aware I was learning it.

In some second language acquisition theories, this would be considered the difference between explicit and implicit knowledge.  Explicit knowledge is the ability to explain the "rule" behind a linguistic phenomenon.  Implicit knowledge is the ability to use the phenomenon correctly.  You can have explicit knowledge without implicit, as in the case of language learners who know that nouns and adjectives need to agree in gender but don't produce matching pairs in speech.  You can also have implicit knowledge without explicit, as in the case of native speakers who can use the language correctly but are at a loss as to how explain grammar rules when asked.  Generally, adult language learners rely more on explicit learning, although this can become automatic over time.  Some argue that adult learners are not capable of implicit knowledge, although I feel as though examples like the one above demonstrate that this is clearly not the case.  Nevertheless, it is rare enough that I am always surprised when something that I have learned implicitly is brought to my attention, as happened today.  I never learned the rule for that, I think, how did that happen?

*Arabic has a voiceless velar stop, kaaf, which is similar to English k.  There is also a voiceless uvular stop, qaaf, which is made farther back in the throat than k and is typically difficult for English speakers to learn and distinguish at first.

Technology and the Research Process Part 3: Note-taking

Based on my research process, my goal with notes is to get what I read into text form.  Back in the day when I learned the index card method, there were different types of cards you could make, including quote, summary, and list.  These are the types I mostly use today, either quoting directly from the source, summarizing a point, or making a list of ideas.

For my field, I primarily read journal articles and books.  The journal articles are nearly always in PDF form, and in the rare instances that I have to copy them at the library I scan them afterwards and OCR them in PDFPen.  If I am sure I want a book and it is available digitally, I buy the Kindle version.  If I am not sure I want it or it is not available digitally, I buy the paper copy or check it out from the library.  Thus, my reading content basically consists of PDFs, digital books, and paper books, for which I use slightly different technological tools.

To take notes on PDFs, I use iAnnotate on my iPad.  I can highlight or write notes and then email the annotations to myself, which gets them on my computer in a text form.  This is pretty amazing, and the only thing I wish iAnnotate would add is a stand alone note possibility because sometimes I don't want the note to be anchored to a particular place in the text (if it summarizes several pages for example).  iAnnotate also always you to take notes in other ways that I don't use, such as underlining or drawing.

Digital Books
I read these on my Kindle.  Similar to iAnnotate, when I write a note or highlight, it saves it in a text file which I can transfer to my computer.  I also wish that it would allow stand alone notes.  It is worth noting that you can convert PDFs to annotate on the Kindle, but the PDFs I read often have charts or figures that do not turn out well.

This is the annoying one because I have to actually type up all of my quotes by hand.  I type them straight into TextEdit, which is the basic text editor on Macs.  If I'm out and about and don't want to take my computer, I type them into PlainText or Simplenote on my iPad, both of which sync with my computer.

Obviously, one does not need a Kindle or an iPad to take notes on PDFs or digital books.  If you open a PDF on your computer, you can copy the text into a text file (although it doesn't always look nice).  Skim is a PDF reader for the make that allows you to export your annotations as text, and I'm sure there are ones for other platforms as well that I am not aware of.  To annotate digital books on your computer, there are applications like Adobe Digital Editions and Mobipocket, although I am not sure to what extent these let you export your annotations.

Once I have the text on my computer, I save it as a text file on my computer in a folder called Notes.  The purpose of this is to have all of my notes in text format to export/copy to new programs in the future, as technology changes, and I'm sure I will not be using the programs I use now all of my life.

Technology and the Research Process Part 2: Gathering Sources

As I stated in my last post, my first use of technology in the research process is in gathering sources.  I usually do this by looking up articles I've found in other articles, on list serves, or in academic databases.  To capture these sources, I use Zotero, an open source Firefox extension.  Now, when I go to a site where Zotero recognizes sources, I see a tiny symbol in the address bar.  For example, if I click on a book on Amazon or Google books, I see the little book in the picture below:

Clicking on that book saves the source to my Zotero library.  If I am on a page where Zotero recognizes more than one source (such as a journal website or database) I see a folder instead, as in the following picture:

When I click on the folder, I see a checklist of sources (in this case articles) and can choose which ones I want to save, as in the following picture:

To me, this pretty much feels like magic.  Even better, Zotero saves my university's proxy server, and automatically directs me through it when I am off campus.  So if I see a link to a journal article on a website and click on it, Zotero will redirect me to that journal via my library access to it.  This allows me to download the PDF right away if I want it, rather than going back to my library website to log into the journal, find the article again, and download it.  

Once I capture my sources in Zotero, I export them to Bookends, another Bibliography software for the Mac.  I feel sort of silly using two bibliography softwares that should theoretically do the same thing.  However, Zotero is much better at capturing sources than Bookends.  In Bookends, I cannot get my proxy server to work and it doesn't recognize sources in LLBA search results, which is the database I use most frequently.

When my source is in Bookends, I attach the PDF (if I have it), and add it to any necessary collections of sources (like the article I'm putting it in).  In Bookends, I can see my list of sources, the PDF, my groups of sources, and my notes as cards all at once, as in the sample below (it looks better in real life).

  In Zotero, I can have all of these, but I can't see them at the same time.  Also, I prefer a standalone application, because sometimes having the extension at the bottom of my Firefox screen is really annoying (like if I want to do something else on the internet at the same time).  There is a Zotero standalone application in alpha, but it looks similar to the extension.  Finally, Bookends integrates with SlipBox and Mellel, which I will discuss in following posts.

There are many other things that Zotero and Bookends can do.  I will discuss the actual bibliography generation later, but there are many other features as well.  I don't use them, but they are likely useful for other people with different research processes.  There are also many other bibliography software programs, including Mendeley, Sente, Papers, and of course EndNote.  They all do pretty much the same thing in slightly different ways, so I think the choice comes down to personal preference, specific things one might need, and cost.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Technology and the Research Process

Spanish Prof  asked on her blog about computer software to use in the research process.  Searching for and trying out new software is one of my favorite ways of procrastinating  improving my scholarly abilities.  Over the past two-three years and lots of software trials, I have found what works (mostly) for me, and so this is a description of the process I am currently using, both to write my dissertation and also to build up a literature database that will last me throughout my career (isa).

One of the things I found frustrating in my searches for research software is that people would often write about a particular piece of software that they found helpful without explaining clearly how it fit into their research process.  Technology is a tool, not a method after all, and my interest was in tools to enhance my research process, which has for the most part been fixed since I was introduced to the index card method around 5th or 6th grade (age 10-11).  I think this is a fairly common method though, so hopefully this description will be helpful to others.

Basically, my method goes like this:

  1. Read information
  2. Take notes on index cards, with one thought per card (mostly) and the source at the top
  3. Sort the cards according to the parts of my paper (for an argument, summary, etc, usually this is by topic)
  4. Arrange the cards within each section in the order I want them
  5. Write the section with support from the cards

I used this method for every research paper I wrote from Middle School through my Masters Thesis.  However, when I started my PhD, and in particular my dissertation, I decided that I wanted to make this process digital.  There were several reasons for this.  First, I figured I would have a LOT of cards for my dissertation, and a computer should be able to search for a specific card a lot faster than I could.  Also, I move a lot and it would be one less thing to move.  Furthermore, I often found myself wanting to have a card in more than one category, and then I'd either have to copy it, or remember to move it.  A computer would make this easier.  Finally, I really dislike typing in sources, and I also thought that the computer should be able to do this for me.  

So now, my research process looks like this (software in parentheses*):
  1. Put source in research software (Zotero, Bookends)
  2. Read information and take notes in text form (iAnnotate, Kindle, TextEdit)
  3. Copy/paste notes onto "cards" and assign tags to each card (Slipbox)
  4. Sort the cards by tag(s) according to the parts of my paper (for an argument, summary, etc, usually this is by topic) and export the ones I want (Slipbox)  
  5. Arrange the cards within each section in the order I want them (Scrivener)
  6. Write the section according to the cards (Scrivener, copying in bibliographic information from Bookends)
  7. Final formatting (Mellel, Word)

I will explain the details of how I use each piece of software for its task in subsequent posts, but so far this process has the advantages I want.  It also allows me to build up a literature database in Slipbox.  So, in the future, if I want to look for things I've already read on a particular topic, I can just see what comes up under that tag.  The idea is that while it takes longer to read a particular article, this will save me time in the future.  The degree to which this is true I'll let you know in a few years :-)

Questions/Recommendations welcome!

Here are links to the parts:

*I've been a Mac user for the last 20-some years, so this reflects that.  When I explain each piece of software, I will try to provide cross-platform alternatives to the best of my knowledge

Monday, August 8, 2011

FLTA Tour Guide

My university hosts one of the orientations for Fulbright TAs, and I agreed to help with some activities.  The first one was giving a campus tour today.  We were supposed to wear a university t-shirt and take the FLTAs to six different sites on campus.  Despite the fact that I am going into my 5th year at this university, I apparently do not own a university t-shirt, nor even a shirt in the appropriate color.  I had also been to only one of the tour sites (the library) so I had to get up extra early to figure out where the rest were (my campus is very large).  Apparently graduate students who spend two years doing research abroad are not the best tour guides.

On the other hand, having some practical experience of these matters, I did manage to point out easily overlooked but ridiculous/fascinating aspects of American campuses that were new to the FLTAs and they were eager to take pictures of, such as pedestrian cross-walk buttons, numbered bus stops, recycling containers, and squirrels.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Identity Theory, Wikipedia Wanderings, and Foot Pedal Cramps

Since coming back from Nationals, and with no more travel on the horizon, I have pretty much settled into the following schedule:

     Morning: Work on dissertation (usually writing, but occasionally reading)
     Afternoon: Summer RA work (redesigning the third year Arabic curriculum)
     Evening: Transcription

If I have dance class or am meeting friends, one of these gets skipped (usually the RA work or transcription).  This is more hours than I care to work in a day, but so far it is working out, primarily because I know that I only have to do it for a month and everything is going well within these categories.

My dissertation is going well because a new theory book came out in the nick of time, and so I have the theoretical framework (the identity approach to SLA*) that was causing me so much difficulty tamed (or at least I think I do, we'll see what my advisor says when I send this chapter in).  Even better, in addition to using this theory to approach my research and provide useful insights into the context, I can also demonstrate how my research can problematize and improve this theory.

The RA work is also going pretty well, and is a good thing to do in the afternoon because I am too tired to think deeply about identity theory, but still alert enough to make good teaching activities.  Also, I know that any time I put in now will save me planning time during the semester (when I will also have fellowship commitments, teaching, job applications, etc).  Finally, searching for quality authentic materials is fairly interesting, even if I occasionally open Wikipedia Arabiyya to get articles on Egyptian newspapers for students to compare and somehow spend fifteen minutes reading about different types of leopards.

I can push through the transcription (an activity I truly dislike as readers of this blog know) because I usually dance or workout beforehand and this gives me a new burst of energy.  I also have a glass of wine which makes the tedium slightly more bearable.  But most importantly, I know that if I do this through August, I will be done transcribing, which will require a party of truly epic proportions (my husband is already bribing me with fancy honey mead).  Then I can have my evenings back for watching mosalsalaat, reading, and playing with my cats.  So hopefully this will work, especially as I am starting to wake up with leg cramps from my foot pedal*.

So here's hoping for a long, but promising August!

*Obviously this theory has been around for a while, but it is gathered together in a very clear fashion in this book.  If you are thinking what kind of SLA theory is this, I can only assure you that it is the best kind :-)

*You would think that Highland Dancing, which involves jumping high on the ball of the foot for 2-3 minutes at a time while doing all sorts of other fancy moves would give you strong enough leg muscles to prevent this, especially when it makes your calves so large you can't wear boots that go above the ankle or non boot-leg pants.  But no, apparently operating a foot pedal involves different muscles.  I just hope it counts as cross-training.