LaTeX issues and portability

My laptop needed repair lately so I sent it to SONY. Thus I will be without it for a couple of weeks. I had to back up everything before doing so, which was easy due to good file organization.

I used a flash drive to install portableapps.com to enhance the portable experience. However if you plan to work in solely one computer using the flash drive is of no use. It is really slow and has limited capabilities on the programs you can install and use. So I could not have LaTeX or Matlab. I know it is a long-shot to want to run these from a flash drive.

Fortunately I had a computer available, I created a new account, made anything else installed on that computer transparent to me and everything I installed transparent to everyone else. The only problem was when I was about to use LaTeX. Nothing worked and no packages were installed due to the transition from LaTeX 2e to LaTeX 3. I realized that I had to update MiKTeX as some packages, in particular expl3.sty, had become obsolete. So running the MiKTeX updater twice in admin mode is sufficient to solve the problem. you can find more detailed instructions on that in Greek though, here.
Afterwards I got another error while compiling the code:

'xdvipdfmx' is not recognized as an internal or external command, operable program or batch file.

I read that when such an error occurs it has to do with the OS. In windows all you have to do is add the path containing the xdvipdfmx to your PATH environmental variable. However this requires restart to work and until I realized that I got a bit frustrated. But now everything is fine and I can still work without the laptop for some time. The only thing missing is a microphone for Skype usage and a more effective back up strategy. When you use your personal PC, backup can be easily automated. However when you use a temporary one, the back up is between mobile devices all the time and it becomes a tricky business. But more on file organization on another post.

Matlab Start Up

It is often frustrating, distracting and demotivating when I start Matlab and I have to start a series of commands, most frustrating of all the current directory. In order to automate things a bit the use of startup.m as well as the finish.m comes in handy.

To use this (in Windows there are also similar ways to use in other OS but I haven’t one available right now) one should create a shortcut (e.g. the on in start menu which I prefer as the only thing to start matlab is pressing the windows button and type “mat”) and edit the start in, in the properties menu. The target should be the directory with the startup.m file. In the file one can find:

 
cd c:\...<desired start up path >
...<any other matlab operation>

Any other matlab operation can be another script or matlab code. Typically initialization of parameters that have to do with the workspace mostly, like the plot styles and font sizes. However if you use a script you can run immediately the desired code, although I don’t find any particular reason for someone to be so hasty…

Finish.m works the same way and can be used to store data after finishing a simulation. As far as this is concerned I find it useful sometimes to export data to excel (like mentioned in a previous post) for further manipulation as in the following code example.

save results/testTIMES testTIMES
save results/testSNR testSNR
save results/testBITS testBITS

xlswrite('results',testBITS,1,'B1')
xlswrite('results',testSNR,1,'C1')
xlswrite('results',testTIMES,1,'D1')

From Opera mail to Thunderbird

It has been more almost a year that I have been using Opera mail for my email needs. I must say that it is one of the best desktop mail implementations that I have used. However I wanted to have calendar and to do lists as well and Opera is not providing that in a convenient way.

Thus I was thinking of using Thunderbird (which I used before). I was thinking about the migration for weeks. There were features in Opera that I did not like to sacrifice. One of them is Opera Contacts. The way Opera lets you organize your contacts and view your mails by contact is something that I found very useful from time to time. Also using these little faces for each contact allowed me to identify the significance and the origin of a mail in a glimpse and that is something that I am going to miss. Plus it made my mail way more pleasant.

Till now I used calendar and to do lists using Rainlendar. Rainlendar is a really subtle program that used to decorate my empty desktop but I must admit it is not a good one to keep track of a to do list and calendar inputs. I never felt I was in control with it although using it is really straight forward. Thus I migrated my calendar and to do lists to Thunderbird. There the calendar is a bliss. Maybe it is not as good as Microsoft’s Outlook solution which might be the best in the domain but still really good. A note should be done here, I don’t want to use Outlook, I don’t feel confortable with it.

My first obstacle during the tranfer were the contacts. The Opera exports the contacts in .adr format which is an Opera specific format. It cannot be imported to Thunderbird directly (which is a same) and I had to use a converter found on here. The converter gets .adr files and exports .tab or .cvs (tab separated or comma separated contacts). Although the converter seems to be old (it mentions Opera 7) it worked just fine with my Opera 11.50 contacts. The problem with that is that any data I had on the contacts were lost apart from the name and the address. As Thunderbird contacts have many more fields available it did not bother me much. After a couple of hours most of my contacts were in good shape.

In an attempt to get those small faces that Opera uses I installed the Display Contact Photo Thunderbird add-on. However this only got me to have some more images to use that will be displayed only when I was to write a new mail. Not as helpful as I wanted it to be but I kept it.

In a second attempt to get the contacts on the side and trying to get access to the mails of single contact easily I tried to install Contacts Sidebar Thunderbird add-on only to find out that it is not compatible with Thunderbird 6… To cheer me up a bit I got a wood looking theme for the Thunderbird which I really liked.

However, there are still a couple of issues that I am going to try to resolve. These are the text wrapping of my mails that will render them more readable. This is a features that I have seen in mails that I receive. I suspect that it has something to do with Microsoft’s Outlook but I believe that there should be something that can be done about it in Thunderbird.

That is the good part of using Thunderbird. There is almost an add-on for anything that you can think off. However this may lead to a really slow experience using the application. so one must be careful.

Finally, Opera seems a bit barren now that I removed the mail from it. However it still has the feeds that I get there. I really like this browser and I plan to continue using it as it completely serves my needs.

Mind Mapping

As I explore new fields of interest I realized that without a guiding map I might as well get lost. Moreover it is good to be able to check what are the common points between the area that you have already been working on and the area that you are about to explore. This includes same concepts mostly as they are in a meta-level that can be reused across multiple fields. But apart from the concepts in a field there might be more specific (less abstract) things in common like structures and algorithms and generally formalized ways of dealing with certain problems.

In order to start building something that would resemble with a personal knowledge base I started wondering on the web for such organizing tools. My problem is that I cannot be constantly aware of what I know and what I don’t and that a tool helping me quickly access such information would come in handy.

So I came across mind mapping. Mind mapping it self could consist a filed of interest on its own. However in this case I’ll be quite shallow and not get into much detail. In general mind mapping is the idea of expressing your self on a specific subject on a single piece of paper. Starting from a main idea we branch outwards to more specific elements of the idea. Overall we end up with a scheme that helps to get information in and out of our mind.

The five essential characteristics of Mind Mapping:

  • The main idea, subject or focus is crystallized in a central image.
  • The main themes radiate from the central image as ‘branches’.
  • The branches comprise a key image or key word drawn or printed on its associated line.
  • Topics of lesser importance are represented as ‘twigs’ of the relevant branch.
  • The branches form a connected nodal structure.

In the above image a mind map about time management is depicted. It is hand made and gives an idea of how a mind map can be made. However I am no artist so I decided to look for mind mapping software. In my case I found two programs that are quite interesting to use: One propriety called Xmind and one open source alternative called Freemind.For the using of the first one an account is needed to be created the other one is free.

Both application are developed in Java so Java JRE is needed. However I encountered similar problems to that with the eclipse. After installing eclipse (x64) the application couldn’t start as it could not find the JRE. The solution was to copy the JRE files in the eclipse folder, inside a folder called jre. It worked like a charm but only because the JRE I used was for 64-bit. I did the same with Xmind and there was no reaction there. I needed to install the x86 JRE to make it work. Finally the Freemind did not get me any errors at all. IN order to make it work I needed to se t some environment variables. So I got the JAVA_HOME variable to the x86 JRE path and the PATH variable to the x86 JRE bin folder part, \i.e. <x86 JRE>/bin path.

A note here, the PATH variable was previously being used by modelsim but as I don’t currently use it I had not problem changing the variable to the Java JRE path as needed.

So far with the mind mapping software. I plan to use both of them and find the one that suits me better. I believe that mind maps can help organize the information that I come upon on a daily basis as it is overwhelming to digest it in my mind at once. Finally a mind map as an image is much easier thing to remember than text.

The risk of the above though is that the easier the information becomes to the brain the less the brain does process it. Consequently we misconceive and misunderstand things. Moreover for the same reason the information is temporary. As the brain has not struggled to acquire the knowledge it is easily faded away. This is the reason why mind maps should not be used for educational cases. They should be use as a supplement for storing already processed information than as a means to pass information to other people.