Anthropomotron 2.1 is Out!

October 20th, 2014

I had a little break between online classes so I went to work on updating Anthropomotron. It’s been a whole 11 months since I last looked at all of the code! I fixed some bugs, updated the inside platforms to the latest versions, and added a few more sets of formulae to the stature section. I got a little more comfortable with Javascript, embracing variables more, and the code actually shrank since the last version. Not too shabby for two weeks.

Anthropomotron is still on the web, as well as iPhone and iPad, and Android. Here is a good place to get started if you’re new. Enjoy! I look forward to comments and suggestions for future versions.

 


A Poster Child for Academic Posters

October 3rd, 2014

Alison Atkin, graduate student of archaeology at the University of Sheffield, made a brilliant poster on the modeling of plagued versus non-plagued cemetery collections. The poster debuted at the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology (BABAO) conference, where it won the Bill White prize (Atkin, 2014)! It will also be at the Day of the Dead conference at Queen’s University. More importantly, it is viewable online. See it at its online home here, then come back for my comments.

This poster got my attention because it is presented in the form of a charming comic. It is also an excellent example of the academic poster format in general. I will elaborate on these qualities presently:

The Poster as a Comic

  • The black humor is perfect for the topic of the Black Death. From the dead rat in the first row:third panel, to the person finding their missing eye in the chart’s legend in the third row:second panel, there are many amusing asides that keep the tone consistently lighthearted while discussing this dreary historical event.
  • There is a personal narrative that flows through the poster, mirroring the flow of the scientific method in academic posters. In the first row:third panel, Atkin appears as a blue-clad avatar. This unique character reappears more and more often as the poster continues, punctuating the main points of this project and offering personal impressions. The presence of the avatar makes the poster more like an oral presentation, with the text given a distinct voice (this will be mentioned again when discussing the poster as a poster).
  • Atkin sticks to the format throughout the entire poster. While the graphs in this cemetery modeling exercise undoubtedly exist in a digital format, they are hand-drawn for this poster. The alternative would be to paste printouts of the graphs onto the panels, which would be the sensible thing to do for an academic poster. As a depiction of data, graphs are expected to be computer-precise. Using hand-drawn versions daringly goes against this undisputed convention to go all-in with the comic format instead of having a conspicuous toe in the poster format.
  • The panel density fluctuates through the poster, keeping the reader interested. The big points get their own sparse panel (such as the second row:first panel, feature the avatar delivering the important ‘so what’ statement). Other panels are chock full of important information relating to the project, along with small illustrations to add another layer of variety.
  • A few panels are interactive! Just this addition breaks the mold of the typical academic poster. The liftable flaps beg for reader participation. Notice also that the panels are used consistently to represent the lifting of something: either dirt off of a grave, or the flesh off of a skeleton. By strictly delineating what the flaps represent, they are not overused in this poster.

The Poster as a Poster

  • You may have noticed that the poster glosses over a lot of the detail in the models. This. Is. Good! Often, an academic poster is so loaded with text, tables, and graphs that they are a chore to read. At a poster session, the reader has dozens of posters to see in a limited timeframe, so brevity is crucial in getting the important information across before the reader crab-walks to the next poster. If you suppose that a reader gives more-or-less equal time to each poster barring confounding factors, then the briefer the poster, the better. A briefer poster means leaving out some detail. This is fine, even desired, if you think of other types of posters. How does a movie poster work? Do they mention every plot point in a movie? No. They give some information and, if you are interested, you seek the full work. Ah, but the academic poster is supposed to stand alone, you say. No! The academic poster is also an advertisement for something else. What the poster hawks can vary: a forthcoming paper, a thesis, a field school, or simply the existence of the data. In Atkin’s poster, you can see the contact information highlighted in mid-poster. She has the raw data, and computer modeling scripts that a potential collaborator would find useful: there is no need to have those on the poster.
  • Beyond the density, the text of this poster is also very casual, bolstered by the comic format and the handwritten lettering. Many posters are very dry, possibly the result of an attempt at brevity by leaving out textual embellishments. While I approve of leaving out extraneous material, the result of writing dryly is that the text is a pain to read. Dryness can be addressed in the other conference mainstay: the oral presentation. The skilled speaker can make a talk lively with humor or a practiced flow. (There are also people. who. just. read. from. the. page. but. that. is. another. blog. post.). Poster text is a harder format to liven up. Atkin accomplishes this with the personality-filled text and the comic format, as mentioned previously.
  • This academic poster has transcended the usual temporal-spatial constraints of the typical poster. In fact, I posit that this poster is already the most viewed academic poster of all time due to its unique format and excellent presentation. Most of these views have been online. By getting noticed on Atkin’s blog, Twitter, and Reddit, this poster is gaining a lifespan far beyond what is typical. Posters get very little attention for all of the work that was put into it: a few hours at a poster session and maybe a stint in some department hallway. The Internet potentially extends the audience of the poster, but there is little reason to view them online. People view comics online, though! By making a comic-poster, Atkin has made something that thrives online, where the potential audience is huge. More exposure means greater dissemination of the information, and more publicity for her future work.

I still cannot get over how amazing this poster is. If you couldn’t tell from this post, I don’t like posters in general due to the limitations I have mentioned. This poster smartly addresses the problems of the poster format while still doing its job. Is this the beginning of a new age of comic-posters that change forever how academics present their research? Probably not: conservatism reigns in academia. But Alison Atkin’s poster shows what a researcher can do if you think outside the textbox and create something groundbreaking.

References

Atkin, A. (2014). The Attritional Mortality Myth. Poster session presented at the 16th Annual Conference of the British Association of Biological Anthropology and Osteoarchaeology, Durham City, United Kingdom. Retrieved online from: http://deathsplaining.wordpress.com/2014/09/28/plagueposter/


How to Write a Student Research Paper, Part 2: The World’s Wildest Introductions and Conclusions

July 16th, 2014

In the previous part of this two-part series, I went over the basics of introduction and conclusion writing for research papers. In this part I will use an unusual example of this structure in the wild: The World’s Wildest Police Videos.

Hosted by John Bunnell from 1998 to 2012, the TV series aired on Fox and Spike TV and is still commonly shown in reruns. It is practically background noise when I visit my parents. There are also many full episodes on the official site and on Youtube. I will use one episode chosen pseudo-randomly (Stojanovich, 2012) to discuss here as an example of the research paper format. Follow along by playing this video (Police and Predator Channel, 2014) and continuing on reading:

Bunnell’s commentary at the start of the episode grabs the viewer’s attention with the general topic of this show: “There is a reason it’s called ‘the war on crime.'” The next line gives a preview of the episode: “For the next 60 minutes, we’ll put you on the frontlines. You’ll see the scariest pursuits, wildest shootouts, and most outrageous outlaws from around the world.” For each of the three bullet points, an appropriate clip plays, though it could have been more effective if they were actual clips from the episode. The three subjects that Bunnell mentions: pursuits, shootouts, and outlaws, are analogous to the main points of a research paper.

After some more narration on where these clips come from, there is the episode’s thesis statement, or what it trying to prove with the three subjects: “We’ve gathered these videos… to show you the stark reality that criminals have declared you the enemy, and knowing the opponent is the only way that this war will be won.” At this point the introduction is over and the title music plays to mark the end of the introduction (research papers unfortunately have no title music).

When the music stops at 1:15 in the video, Bunnell is back to introduce the first subject: pursuits. Notice that in this episode, the order of the subjects is not strictly adhered to. After the first pursuit, the clips get disorganized with a scene of a man threatening suicide. In a research paper, the order of topics should be followed throughout the paper. For example, if the topics are mentioned in the order of A, B, and C in the introduction, the body paragraphs should also start with the paragraph on A, followed by B and C. Tangents should be avoided as well. Consistency among the sections of the paper adds polish, pulls in the reader (who may also the grader!), and elevates the writing from just being functional to being a craft.

You can watch the whole episode or skip to the beginning of the conclusion at 40:07. I’ll wait!

After the last clip, of the police stopping a stolen school bus, Bunnell launches into the conclusion. As in the introduction, abbreviated clips from the episode are shown to remind the viewer what they had just seen. The narration provides a concluding thought that ties the videos into a single theme: “In police work, there is one thing you can always count on with law breakers. From China, to Pelican Bay. From Istanbul to the nearest intersection. Whether it’s mind-altering mischief or mind-bending stupidity, criminals are their own worst enemy.” Bunnell’s conclusion gets extra points for directly relating to the clips that he just showed as well. Also, the summary eases the viewer out of the show instead of ending abruptly on the image of a school bus getting knocked into the highway median by a police car.

To summarize, adding structure to the introduction and conclusion of a research paper will raise its readability, allowing the message to get across. The experience of entering and exiting a hot tub approximates what the paper should do for its reader in the beginning and ending. A good way to structure the introduction is to move from the general topic to the specific points to be discussed. Likewise, the conclusion can state the main points, followed by the greater overall message. While examples of good research paper introductions and conclusions are rare outside of academia, the television show World’s Wildest Police Videos has a similar structure that can be used as a model. I hope that sharing my advice will help students struggling with the research paper format to turn in A-level work.

 

References

Police and Predator Channel. (2014, February 5). World’s Wildest Police Videos – (New Episode #11 – 2012) [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DQQxsBZDSOY8

Stojanovich, P., Piligian C., Bunnell, J., Ballantyne, R., and Popjes, S. (Executive Producers) (2012, July 16). Soft Targets, Hard Lessons [Television series episode]. In C. Stojanovich (Executive Producer), World’s Wildest Police Videos. Pursuit Productions. Retrieved from: http://www.spike.com/episodes/ivc7zj/worlds-wildest-police-videos-soft-targets-hard-lessons-season-1-ep-109


How to Begin and End a Student Research Paper, Part 1

July 7th, 2014

Since I have been teaching cultural anthropology online, I have graded a lot of papers at all levels of quality. For papers that land in the B to C area, I have noticed some common pitfalls that can be fixed if the student knew more about the research paper format. Two of the sticking points for the student new to research paper writing are the introduction and conclusion. In this post, I will go over the mistakes that students make in these sections, explain their purposes, and in the next post, give a non-academic model of how a writer can introduce and conclude a paper.

Problems with the introduction and conclusion can be categorized as being either too short or too long. In the former case, it seems the student just does not know what to put there. Maybe the research is not done yet so the student does not have a point in mind. Sometimes, a student will write  just the thesis statement in the introduction before moving on to the body paragraphs. Having run out of things to say by the conclusion, the student leaves a vague sentence about the topic. Maybe the student leaves the conclusion out entirely. In the case of too much text, a student might cram everything he or she has found into the introduction, leaving the body paragraphs empty.  The conclusion sometimes will be a philosophical tangent that springboards off of the body paragraphs to parts unknown. (The introduction could also be where random musings take place, but there tends to be more focus there).

The right way to craft an introduction is actually easy to do once one knows what the purpose of these paragraphs. The introduction gently eases the reader into the argument. It is like the steps of a hot tub that let the bather get used to the temperature a foot at a time. The first thing the student should do is to make sure the hot tub is already there for the reader! This bad metaphor means that the student knows what his or her main point is going to be before starting the paper. With a goal in mind, a common way to do this via writing is to move from the general to the specific, ending with the thesis statement that declares what this paper will tell the reader. For a paper about rites of passage in the Balinese and Maori cultures, for example, the introduction could start with a few lines on what rites of passage are and why they are important to study. The next step is to mention the Balinese and Maori cultures as the subjects of this particular look at rites of passage. The last part of the introduction is the thesis that states the purpose of the paper and the point it will show: “This paper will examine rites of passage in the Balinese and Maori cultures and show that…” Of course, seasoned writers will use their cleverness to give their paper more style, but at the basic level, this is what an introduction needs.

Similar steps can be used to write a good conclusion. In a way the introduction and conclusion are similar, but they are also mirror images. The conclusion eases the reader out of the paper-slash-hot tub and back into the real world. The first sentence states the main point: “In conclusion, the Balinese and Maori rites of passage….” From there, the main supporting evidence is given again. The last line is the most general, briefly bringing the discussion back to rites of passage as a whole. The conclusion’s conclusion mirrors the introduction’s introduction. Here is an outline of the basic parts of a research paper:

  • Introduction
  1. General Topic
  2. Preview of Subjects
  3. Thesis Statement

 

  • Body paragraphs which may be the topic of another post.

 

  • Conclusion
  1. Thesis Statement
  2. Review of Subjects
  3. Concluding Point

 

There are two main reasons why I think students do not follow this plan in their paper, even when they know it. One is that it feels awkward to keep belaboring the same points repeatedly. In a three page rough draft, it seems wrong to say the same points in the first paragraph, again on the next page, and one more time on the third page. The second reason is that there are no good models of this format outside of academic journal articles. I ask students to model their paper’s organization on the academic sources that they find, but frankly, professional papers can be a pain to read. I searched my brain extensively for something non-academic that I can use to show students how a research paper is structured, and I found one:

The World’s Wildest Police Videos series

Yes! Join me next time for an analysis of one of the episodes to see how it follows the research paper format.


Online Videos of Anthropomotron!

June 11th, 2014

Believe it or not, I had not thought of googling my app to see what the word on the street is until very recently. To my surprise, Anthropomotron has a few mentions out on the Internet that I had not known about. There are various sites that catalog apps on the App Store, which actually have some more easily accessible information than the actual App Store (like a handy release date timeline). To my super-surprise, there are also several videos that other people have made about Anthropomotron!

This one is from the North Carolina Virtual Public School. It gives a quick demo of the iPad version.

This is a review by students in the forensics class at the American School in Japan.

I saw a few similarities between the videos. Both are very clear and well done, and I have to note that they are both very favorable to my app (to be honest, I get the shivers when I hear feedback on my work so I tensed up through both of these videos for this blog post). The videos both cater to education as well. This makes me happy because I want Anthropomotron to be both a practical and educational tool. Lastly, both narrators missed the intended pronunciation of ‘Anthropomotron.’ This is not their fault, as I have not heard anyone say it correctly unaided. This is definitely a brand faux pas. To fix this, here is the official pronunciation in International Phonetic Alphabet form:

æ̀nθrəpámotran

So easy!


Only 2% of You Will Share These Four Paragraphs

May 13th, 2014

Back when I was an MA student, all the way in the early 2000s, I spent a lot of time at Ellis Library photocopying articles. As I pursued my graduate degrees, technology advanced and journal articles online became more prevalent. A divide grew between the typically newer articles online and the older articles that are only accessible through the library collection. In my research for Anthropomotron, I had to dig deep into old stature estimation articles, but I really did not want to add to my paper collection. I needed an easy way to turn a paper article into a PDF, with as few steps as possible. Luckily, mobile app technology has a solution. There are a few apps that turn your phone or tablet into a document scanner, but I will focus on my favorite: DocScan.
DocScan lets you take a photograph of a document and it will do its best to isolate the page from the background. If it gets the boundaries wrong, you can manually tweak the corners. Then it processes the image to be a nice rectangle. Repeat the procedure for each page and it will string them together into a PDF. Lastly, you can send it out to different clouds, emails, or whatnot for storage.

While this workflow is already pretty neat, it has one additional feature that elevates the app to a new level of coolness. For example, instead of a flat sheet, what if you are photographing an open book with a curved surface? DocScan will read the curve and flatten it appropriately into a flat page. Here is a demonstration of the workflow:

{ Find something to scan and get it lined up in the screen. }

{ Find something to scan and get it lined up in the screen (e.g., White and Folkens, 2005). }

{ Here is the screen view. Like any camera app, the big button takes a picture.  }

{ Here is the screen view. Like any camera app, the big button takes a picture. }

{ Here is where the magic happens! Drag the nodes to fit the dimensions and curvature of the page. }

{ Here is where the magic happens! Drag the nodes to fit the dimensions and curvature of the page. }

{ DocScan creates a rectangle out of the curves. It also adjusts the colors to get some crispness. }

{ DocScan creates a rectangle out of the curves. It also adjusts the colors to get some crispness. }

DocScan is not a perfect replacement to photocopying a document. Once you get a groove going on a photocopier, you cannot beat its sheer speed. Also, if a stack of actual paper is your endgame, the copier is the way to go. However, DocScan’s advantages outweigh its limitations. I’d rather scan documents in the comfort of the library stacks instead of standing in the muggy copy room. DocScan is also free after the initial purchase, if you even choose to unlock it, so depending on how much copying you need done there might be some savings. The best part: you get to pretend to be James Bond as you take spy photos of the document you want. Try that standing next to a photocopier.

References

White TD, Folkens PA. 2005. The Human Bone Manual. Amsterdam ; Boston: Elsevier Academic.


Thoughts from a Year of Online Teaching

May 3rd, 2014

In early 2013, I applied for an online faculty position at Ashford University. When the hiring process really gained steam, I was in Hawaii for the SAA conference. As a testament to the versatility of the online medium, I was virtually attending training sessions in Oahu and filling out PDF paperwork on my iPhone in St. Louis as my friend drove me from the airport. Back in Columbia, I was still in my final week of training when I got my first teaching assignment! That was one year ago, last week. The experience was been greatly rewarding, and at this milestone, I want to share some of my thoughts and experiences.


A friend at lunch offhandedly mentioned that online instructors do not care. I completely disagree! I have marveled at how the classes I have taught have brought me in contact with people from around the world and from so many walks of life. For five weeks our paths parallel. While that does not sound like much, those brief windows have shown me the death of a spouse, the birth of a child (who arrived two weeks earlier than expected, landing squarely in the final week of the class), dissolving marriages, and the daily ups and downs of single parenthood and double shifts. While I have never seen any of these people, I am involved in their lives at a deep level.


I found out that I am a fairly easy instructor in terms of deadlines. At first, I chalked it up to being green and unsure. After a year, though, I still tend to give students the benefit of the doubt if they ask for an extension for whatever reason. My previous observation is definitely a factor: while school is important, there are so many things that have to be even more important for one’s livelihood than writing a paper and I have to respect that. I do have a firm deadline of accepting nothing after four days without prior arrangements, but the arrangements are easy to come by.


Anthropology is very suited for the short online format. While a semester-long cultural anthropology class has its own benefits, a five week ‘crash course’ conveys a reasonable amount of introductory knowledge about human culture to open one’s eyes to the world around them. The rapid turnover of the course also makes it very easy to make each class unique. Every time I have taught the class, when Week 2’s lesson on race rolls around, and when Week 3’s material on gender is introduced, there is always something relevant in the news to share with the students. Whether it is when Oprah was hassled in a Swiss store, or when senators filibustered the Paycheck Fairness Act, these modern public incidents of racism or sexism (or both!) demonstrate that the textbooks and articles are talking about our own culture as well as everyone elses’. In a way, teaching anthropology is easy because so little extra effort is needed to hit one of the main criteria for effective teaching: making the information interesting and relevant to the students.


The benefits of being employed online will be evident again as I move from Columbia to San Diego. As I leave my full time job, there will be an opportunity for more online work whether it is an additional class, a different course, or both. I look forward to learning more as I teach more. Here is to another year of teaching!


I Dragged a PDF into Sente. You Won’t Believe What Happens Next

February 25th, 2014

While Endnote is the most commonly-used bibliographic software, I use Sente, a Mac program by Third Street Software that really got my attention back in my M.A. days. I am not an expert in comparing the latest versions of Sente versus Endnote, but from my use of Sente at home and Endnote for Windows at the School of Nursing, I think that Sente is easier to use and more convenient in many ways.

The feature that really sold Sente to me was the PDF integration. Sente can grab information from a PDF, either automatically or with a little manual coaxing, and fill out the reference information for you. Finally, it links the PDF to the new entry for you, filing it away in its own library. Here is a demonstration:

  1. The first step is to find an article you would like to download and enter into Sente. This editorial on the misinterpretation and limits of the p-value in statistics seems like it would be useful later:

    { The second author is good at coming up with titles, I hear. }

  2.  

  3. After downloading the PDF, fire up Sente and just drag the PDF to the Library section of the sidebar: Sente 2
  4. Sente will open a sheet. The left half shows the PDF, and the right half shows any information it found. As luck would have it, Sente found all of the information necessary to build a typical citation. In case there is not enough embedded information in the PDF, Sente lets you search online sources such as Google Scholar and it will pull the data from the search results itself: Sente 3
  5.  

  6. Click “Add New Reference” in the sheet and Sente does the rest, placing the new entry in the rest of the library: Sente 4

 

Dragging and dropping multiple PDFs will make Sente do them all sequentially. Under the options button/menu in the Citation Lookup sheet, you can set it so a match based on the DOI (Digital Object Identifier) will automatically be accepted as valid without your OK. The color-coding is another nice feature. There is also a tagging system one can use.

The other big feature in Sente is cloud synchronization: you can upload your entire library to Third Street Software’s servers and it will sync across any number of Macs and iPads.

There is a free version of Sente that can handle libraries of under 100 references. Technically, you can get crafty with multiple libraries to work around this limitation, but the full price is a fairly standard $60 for academic use. If you are a researcher and you have a Mac, I absolutely recommend Sente over Endnote.


I Investigated the Mac Dictionary. What I Found Blew My Mind

February 4th, 2014

As I was writing the previous post about multiple language spellchecking in Mac OS X, I wondered what if there was a similar option for the built-in dictionary. In case you didn’t know, you can right-click a selectable word, choose the first menu item (“Look Up”) and it will show a pop-up with the definition.

{ Goldin and Rouse (2000) }

{ Goldin and Rouse (2000). Note that I selected a word from an image of a word, which is pretty impressive. }

Right-clicking on a Spanish word yielded no results, so I went straight to the source: the Dictionary app. Select Preferences from the Dictionary menu in the app and you get a rather impressive list of dictionaries to use:

Dictionaries

Checking the dictionary you want not only enables it in the app, but it instantly makes the right-click pop-up work:

{ Benfer et al. (2007) }

{ Benfer et al. (2007) }

 

Granted, the app has a purely Spanish dictionary, and not a Spanish-English dictionary, but it’s a start. The East Asian dictionaries do give definitions in English.

Next: document management!

 

References

Benfer Jr, R. A., Ojeda, B., Duncan, N. A., Adkins, L. R., Ludeña, H., Vallejos, M., . . . Villarreal, G. (2012). La tradición religioso-astronómica en buena vista. Boletín De Arqueología PUCP, (11), 53-102. Retrieved from Google Scholar.

Goldin, C., & Rouse, C. E. (2000). Orchestrating impartiality : The impact of “blind” auditions on female musicians. The American Economic Review, 90(04), 715-741.


I Poked Around My Mac’s Keyboard Settings. What I Found Changed Everything I Knew About Life

January 29th, 2014

I hate the hyperbolic link bait titles that are all the rage. Don’t you? Anyway, I am starting a new series on neat tech tips that are useful for research. This one is already preinstalled on Macs.

In my desired line of work, I have to write in both Spanish and English. For example, research papers to Latin American Antiquity and other journals require both English and Spanish abstracts. I found out during my dissertation writing process that my computer can spellcheck multiple languages at once. The setting is hidden in different places depending on the OS version. In the current Mavericks:

  1. Open System Preferences
  2. Click on Keyboard (yeah, not Language & Region)
  3. Click the Text tab: Languages Step 1
  4. Click the menu labeled “Spelling:”
  5. Choose the last option: “Set Up…”: Languages Step 2
  6. A sheet appears! Read the instructions on this sheet. Basically, check the languages you want checked automatically: Languages Step 3
  7. Click Done
  8. Make sure that the Spelling: menu says “Automatic by Language”

From now on, any typed text in an application that uses Apple’s text functions (e.g., TextEdit, Pages) will spell check the languages you selected. Sorry, this does not work in Microsoft Word, which is why most drafts of my dissertation were written Pages.

{Correct and incorrect words are accurately processed in two languages. }

{Correct and incorrect words are accurately processed in two languages. }

I hope you find this useful, even if it did not change everything you knew about life.