Archives For Reviews

If you use Atlas.ti software, be careful when upgrading! Version 6 is not backward compatible.

I really like Atlas.ti for qualitative analysis, but I pretty annoyed by my recent experience. I have a license which includes upgrades, and a few weeks ago received a message that I should upgrade from version 5.5 to version 6. The new features looked great (including direct PDF import and interface improvements) so I loaded the new version. I didn’t discover until after I had installed that the new version uses a new file format and could not save files in the v.5 format. The lab I’m in specifically chose Atlas.ti for its collaboration features, but if you share your files with others, they must be using the same version of the software.

When I tried to find out if there was something I was missing, I discovered that Atlas.ti has published the v.6 software upgrade, but has not yet upgraded the manual. I guess we’re supposed to intuit what all the new icons mean and how to use the completely new features.

I have uninstalled v.6 and gone back to using v.5.

Recording Phone Interviews

Matthew Bietz —  January 31, 2009 — 1 Comment

I’ve been doing a lot of phone interviews for a study of Collaboration in Cyberinfrastructure, and many of them require international calls. In the past I’ve recorded interviews by putting a sound recorder with a microphone next to a speakerphone, using a special thingamabob that you can plug your phone cord into and it has an audio out, or using one of those weird suction cup doohickeys. All of them result in pretty low-quality recordings.

Recently I’ve been getting really good results with a combination of Skype and the MX Skype Recorder. MXSR only works on Windows systems, and it’s not free (although even grad students should be able to afford $14.95 for the standard version). There are a number of Skype recording solutions out there, but MXSR has a couple of features I really like.

First of all, it just works. I tested several other packages where, even after trying all the workarounds, I still couldn’t get a recording. I’ve been using MXSR on 3 different machines with both Vista and XP, and haven’t had any problems.

Second, it allows you to record the incoming and outgoing audio to different channels. Phone calls are mono – it doesn’t matter if you use both left and right channels for the sound. But by putting my voice on the right channel and the person I’m interviewing on the left, transcribing suddenly becomes much easier. Any time there’s cross-talk or interruptions, I can listen to each voice separately, and then it is trivial to sort out what each person said.

Of course, you have to pay to call land lines from Skype, but the rates are great, especially for international calls.

Anyone else tried this, or have a similar solution for other platforms?

Image courtesy of Goopymart.

Google’s Way

Matthew Bietz —  October 27, 2008 — Leave a comment

I don’t like it when software insists that there is only one right way to do something. Most of the time it doesn’t matter (or I don’t care) if I have to click A before I can click B. And while I generally like the clean design and ease of use of Google products, even they have their moments of “Our Way or No Way”:

a) Labels (not folders): I don’t mind labeling things. I believe that for some people labeling works extremely well. And from a technical perspective, labels aren’t all that different from folders. But folders operate on the idea that a message can only be in one place at a time. I arrange my e-mail by project (rather than topic). I am a frequent filer (I like an empty inbox). I delete a LOT of e-mail rather than saving it. And I like folders. But GMail makes me feel like I’m a weakling for not joining the hip crowd and throwing off the oppressive folder paradigm.

b) Search (don’t sort): Sorting is a really efficient way to find things, especially if you don’t remember the exact words. Try sorting your spam box by subject sometime – I bet you can skim for false postivies it much faster. But not in GMail – they won’t let you sort.

c) Full feature widget (not the simple one): I use iGoogle as my home page. iGoogle used to have a great GMail widget that gave a really simple count of unread messages, showed previews if you wanted them, and allowed you to hide the previews if you didn’t. Recently Google decided they had a brand new whiz-bang widget that made the old one useless. So they took the old one away. But the new one is significantly different, especially in that you can’t hide the previews (so that subject line about the Richard Simmons dolls you are bidding for on eBay shows up on your home page at work). Doesn’t matter that a lot of people prefered the old one – we can’t have it any more.

I admit, Google is not the only company who does this stuff, and they aren’t the worst offender. But every once in a while I hear someone tell me about how amazing Google is and how they can do no wrong, and I cringe.

All Blah Game

Matthew Bietz —  July 11, 2007 — Leave a comment

We watched the MLB All-Star game last night. Ugh. It’s like watching a little league game where the coach is trying to make sure everybody gets to play, but without the cute kids. I like home runs as much as the next guy, but I’m still more impressed by good defense. But the whole selection process means the great defensive players (like Kahlil Greene) don’t have a chance of getting in. And, once again, the NL lost.

But what really made me groan was the broadcast itself. The commentary focused more on steroids and team politics than what was transpiring on the field. When they did happen to mention the game itself, it was all batters all the time. The commentators didn’t seem to know much of anything about the players that they hadn’t read in their online profiles, and the statistics they threw out were as banal as they come (and usually the same ones that were shown at the bottom of the screen).

Of course, Fox supported this broadcasting triumph with its best technical team. I think it was the first time the guys in the trailer had been to a baseball game, let alone filmed one. They came back late from commercials and special features, so that they missed pitches and plays. They were doing close-ups when they should have had wide shots (and vice versa). They did in-game interviews with the managers, who were too distracted by the game to say anything worth listening to. And what baseball game would be complete without a guy in a kayak, whose sole contribution to the evening was accidentally dropping his dog in the water. I think top honors, however, are awarded for showing a personality profile for a player who had already been pulled out of the game.

It made me miss Matt & Mud.

I just discovered the Cooking for Engineers blog. Recipes seem good – haven’t tried them out myself yet. But also includes recipe and cooking method testing (like different ways to cook bacon).

But one thing that sets this blog apart is the “Tabular Recipe Notation” technique for recipe visualization. This is the batter for a Pecan Coffee Cake:

Tabular Recipe Notation

When you’re in the kitchen, and have 3 different dishes going at once, it’s easy to forget where you are in a long text-heavy recipe. Cook’s Illustrated is one of the worst offenders. They insist on fitting what should be a 25 step recipe into 5 steps (maybe so they don’t seem too complicated). But as a result, it’s easy to get lost in the middle of the text. Their spinach lasagna recipe has only 3 steps, but step 3 (formatted as a single unbroken 256-word paragraph) includes blending the filling, preheating the oven, soaking and drying the noodles, a complex layering process, baking (bake with foil, remove foil, readjust oven racks, then broil), cooling, and serving. Every time I look away from the recipe, I lose my place in the paragraph and have to spend extra time and effort making sure I’m doing the right thing. And I must admit, I have gotten to the last layer of noodles and realized I’ve only added half the spinach.

I haven’t battle tested the tabular notation, but I think it could help with the “quick – what do I put in the pan next” problem.

P.S. I found out about CfE from a link in the comments on post about rendering bacon fat on the Simply Recipes blog. It’s another good one to check out!

Theme & Variations

Matthew Bietz —  May 3, 2007 — 2 Comments

There was a time in my life when I hated the Theme and Variations musical form. I couldn’t stand it. I’m sure that I said some malicious and hurtful things about T&V. But in the past few years I’ve come to realize that my opinions were ill-informed and far too negative. In fact, I think it’s time for me to formally apologize to T&V, and renounce my earlier position. As the politicians say, “If I had known then what I know now….”

So why this change of heart? Or, why blog about it? It’s simple: we saw Brad Mehldau last night.

Before I tell you about the concert, though, I want to explain why I hated T&V. I think Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations has a lot to do with it. I think it’s a stupid stupid piece of music. Can’t stand it. Like many (thought not all) T&Vs, it starts out with a cornball theme, and then spends the next umpteen minutes piling on the drivel. Heart IThe embellishments twitter and twirl around the theme, changing the rhythms, or the key, or the harmonies, or the timbres. But in the Rococo (and other bad examples of the form), these embellishments are about as interesting as dotting your i‘s with a heart. It’s cute and all, but it ain’t art.

But then I discovered that those embellishments don’t have to be insipid. Continue Reading…


Matthew Bietz —  April 22, 2007 — Leave a comment

We just got back from seeing C.R.A.Z.Y. as part of the FilmOut San Diego film festival. It’s a great movie. Coming of age/coming out story, a theme that has been done and done and overdone (and is the staple of every gay film festival ever). But this one is fresh, well acted, well directed, and all-around good. It’s won huge numbers of awards and gotten great reviews. It’s from Quebec. And in French.

You should go see it. Unless you live in the US. Then you probably can’t.

You see, this is another one of those wonderful moments when copyright law bites art in the ass. This was a pretty low budget film (about $7 million). But it’s got all kinds of great music (Patsy Cline, David Bowie, Pink Floyd, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, The Cure, etc.). It’s such great music that the music rights cost over CDN$600,000. And that doesn’t include distribution rights in the United States.

And so, the only way this film shows in the US is by getting “festival rights” for the music. Basically, the movie can only be shown at non-profit film festivals, and for a limited time.

I’m with Lawrence Lessig (and many others) on this one: I’m all for artists being able to get paid when other people use their work. But nobody is served by licensing costs and copyright restrictions that are so onerous that the movie never gets seen.

Arts & Crafts

Matthew Bietz —  April 20, 2007 — Leave a comment

Wednesday night we went to see the Matt Wilson Arts & Crafts jazz ensemble. Part of the Athenaeum Jazz at the Neurosciences Institute series. Good good good. They started off with some Thelonius Monk – it took them a couple minutes to hit their stride, but what a stride they hit.

Matt Wilson is a great drummer. He’s got these amazing expressions on stage – if it weren’t for the shock of gray up front, you’d think he was 17. He likes to experiment with the sound – banging on every part of the drum kit, blowing whistles and harmonicas, dropping things on the stage, and using his hands to play everything. The down side of all the experimentation is that it occasionally comes off gimmicky. But when it works, there are some great moments. Amazing variations in tone from what seem like simple instruments. He used what looked like a normal egg shaker, but he was opening and closing his hand in a way that was making a huge range of sounds. And some of the stuff he was doing with the brushes and the crash cymbals was magic.

One of the other highlights was a real live Hammond B-3 organ. I’ve heard them in all kinds of recordings, and everyone knows the sound even if they don’t know what it comes from. My first thought on seeing it was that this is a group on tour, and this thing looks like a real bear to lug around. Organ console with pedals, plus the big speaker case. And with the ancient technology inside, it’s probably really susceptible to gremlins when it’s moved.

The sounds that this thing can make. Growls, barks, moans, wails. There’s that basic gospel organ sound – you expect a robed choir to come swaying down the aisle. But the organ can be so much more. I’d kind of had the impression that playing various electronic keyboard instruments could have lots of keyboard technique, but the sounds were kind of pre-packaged. But with this thing, each little nudge and tweak of the sliders and switches gives a new sound. It kind of felt like a painter mixing the colors in real time instead of just taking what came out of the tubes. I was a little disappointed that Gary Versace didn’t do more with the pedals – it was all fingers for him, but a great sound.

Dan and I both had the same reaction to the concert: jazz (at least of this ilk) has become a parallel universe to classical music. The musicians are just as skilled, and the music is just as thoughtful. It’s working with very different harmonic and structural forms, of course. But like the most interesting classical music, the forms aren’t taken for granted. They push and play and twist and experiment. And they think in long arcs. It’s art music in the best sense.