Allen J. Hall

Materials Science & Engineering, Productivity, and Life


Posts dealing with principles behind personal productivity

Automatic USB Key Backups Using Rsync

For Christmas, my awesome brother (Donnie) got me a decently sized LaCie Iamakey [Amazon] along with a few other awesome items. He remembered it from a year or two ago on an old list! Total surprise, and a great one. I’ve been eye-ing one for a while since I’m in need of multiple backups of my research work and thesis writing.

I do do manual backups, and in particular have a drive mirrored using rsync in osX so that it’s bootable (old computers and poor grad-students tend to make for older hard-drives). However, I wanted something a bit faster and easier to use. I wanted an automatic (or semiautomatic) backup of critical writings or data.
Read More »

Faber-Castell’s Perfect Pencil 9000

I’ve fallen back in love with pencils, and here’s why…
Read More »

Adaptive Lenses

altered_image_adspecsEvery once in a while a simple solution gracefully solves a problem that affects a large number of people. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s wonderful to see the results. This is the type of thing most scientist hope to experience at least once in their careers. I think most of us at one point in time have hoped: “please let me improve the world in some small way to make life easier for some people.”

I have to admit as a scientist I love to see graceful solutions to any problem. Prof. Josh Silver at the University of Oxford has come up with just such a brilliant simple solution that any scientist who understands index of refraction will say: “Ahhh… yes!” about. Prof. Silver has made plastic glasses with adaptive lenses for third world countries. In third world countries to get glasses right now you have to either already know (by magic) your prescription, or try and somehow happen across an optometrist (and you thought it was just about affording a roof over your head!). Unfortunately, optometrists don’t grow on trees in third world countries, and so you’re pretty much out of luck.

Enter the “dial a prescription” solution of Prof. Josh Silver’s. With his glasses you simply turn a few dials which push plungers in or out of a syringe attached to each lens. These syringes hold a fluid which has the same index of refraction as a polymer film which flexes under pressure (positive and negative pressure). This pressure of course will bow out or bow in the surface of the “lens” (which is fixed on the edges to a certain thickness). How to know your prescription? Simple- is it clearer or not? [Much like the old A or B, A or B, A or B, 1 or 2, 1 or 2 hassle we all go through at the optometrist's office- but cut out all that binary testing... just dial it in or out- bam, there's your prescription- in fact, it's fractions of diopters even- so it's much more analog than the current system.] Pure brilliance. Such a simple problem to a complex issue.

The impact to those who can’t see? Huge! I suggest it’s almost as huge as teaching someone how to farm. People are illiterate because they can’t see things clearly enough to learn how to read or write. Prof. Silver’s solution has the possibility of changing all of that.

So, my hat is off to him as a scientist- excellent work, and much needed work!!

Here are some links to the adaptive lenses:

And here are some talks that highlight these new adjustable lens glasses:

If you’ve been moved by this simple idea, consider sending a donation to them to help support vision for those around the developing world: Donate.


NY-PBS Captures The Struggle Of The Graduate Student

It’s not often that someone goes about deciding to make a film about graduate studies. It just so happens that Thirteen (PBS-NY) has done just that. Their film “Naturally Obsessed: The Making Of A Scientist” is quite an excellent snap-shot of the struggle of graduate students to get their PhD degree and accomplish something very difficult. Of course each of our struggles is unique. We are all dealing with our own situations, with our own fields (some not even in laboratories- the horror- is that real science? hahahah).

Speaking of our own struggles, what most of the public often does not get a feel for is the absolute devotion, almost to insanity, towards finding the solutions we are looking for. Many of the comments by the graduate’s spouses touched home for me. In each of the graduates followed in this film I saw bits of myself. One thing however, that is different, is the struggle for the specific protein structure. Often that struggle is a lot less well-defined. In this situation, you either get the structure of AMPK or you don’t. I guess it’s a lot like their attempts at creating crystals. Sure, you get crystals, but if they don’t have a periodic structure, you’ll never get diffraction. In my situation, the variables in our studies are very difficult to control, and so often one doubts one’s work solely on the question of reproducibility. Many scientists struggle with this same situation. People think that doing things like “measuring temperature” is a very easy thing. In reality, it is a very very difficult thing. Especially in a vacuum. :) That question just arose the other day in discussing our science with a new undergraduate assistant. As we talked more and more on the difficulties of measuring temperature we all saw his eyes grow larger in wonder. The simplest of problems can often be the most difficult. How accurate do you need to measure it? What standard will you use? Do you believe your thermocouple, your thermometer, or your pyrometer? What if the emissivity of the surface changes? :)

This is the life of a scientist. And the film below attempts to capture the lives and struggles of a few graduate students who are hoping for a career in science. It’s a struggle. But, you have heard me say that enough. ;) To learn more about it I strongly suggest you watch this film. For the graduate student, I warn you: you’ll see yourself in this. For those who aren’t scientists: this may end up being a comedy, and I kindly refer you to Marg Simpson’s commentary on graduate students posted earlier in this blog.

My congratulations to Thirteen for doing such an excellent job on this one hour film. They didn’t have a lot of time to share with you everything regarding our struggles and achievements, but they distilled it quite well in the time available.

Equology – A new eco-friendly planner.

ExaclairThe wonderful folks at Exaclair have sent out some items to review. I was a lucky recipient of a few of them, so in the coming posts, I’ll be sharing with you some of their wonderful items for sale. I will be sure to mention both the good and the bad, and in doing so, I hope to entice you to try them out for yourself. [Because I know you'll be coming back to thank me if you do!]

This first review has a time-constraint- in that it is a planner review. Equology is a new eco-friendly planner that Quo Vadis has just started offering. The recycled content list is quite impressive- 88% recycled materials, and 100% post-consumer recycled paper. It’s certified, processed chlorine free, and FSC recycled. Heck, it’s even manufactured using biogas! This isn’t the end of the impressive details- read on to hear my experience using it with Fountain Pens! [recycled paper shrieks in terror here]

Read More »

The iHand: Lo-Fi -v- Hi-Fi Methods For Productivity

iHandRecently a friend saw me with my hand covered in notes, and yet, in the same hand was my iPod Touch (a very capable productivity tool by itself).  He laughed hysterically and resisted pointing and laughing with some difficulty.  :)   Instead, he took this photograph to share with others.  [Photo courtesy of Rick Haasch.]

This picture speaks volumes with respect to how easy it is to input data into the iPod and iPhone.  I hate to say it, but the simple stylus was quicker on the Palm platforms.  People are just used to using pens and pencils.  My inked up hand is a very clear indication of this.  To some extent, you can get around this problem with the phone service Jott; however, it also is not as quick as a pen.  Why do the options and computer voice always take soo long in voicemails and these new speech to text services?  [Incidentally, I love Jott for the following: On the go (driving) e-mails and SMS, Expense account additions during the actual payments of said items, and quick notes to myself when anything other than a voice-call is possible.]

The notes in question were taken in typical mid-hallway quick conversation mode, when there just wasn’t enough time to try and open the iPod, turn on an application, and start using the little funky button keyboard.

Incidentally, I also carry a Shirtpocket Briefcase ala Levenger, which always holds a series of 3×5 cards for lo-fi inbox notes.  The 3×5 card is the killer productivity app.  I’ll have to comment on these types of methods in future posts.  Let’s just say there’s a reason most old guys carry around a stack of 3×5′s in rubber bands, or monkey-clips, always in their breast pocket with a pen.

I would love to hear from you about your own methods of Hi-Fi and Lo-Fi productivity and difficulties in their intersections.

Today’s Earworm: “Saint – Saens Concerto Pour Piano N°5 <<Egyptien>> En Fa Majeur, Opus 103 Allegro Animato” performed by Aldo Ciccolini/Orchestre De Montpellier Languedoc – Roussillon from the album Saint – Saens Concerto Pour Piano N°4 Et N°5

Use GeekTool to show S.M.A.R.T. drive status on the desktop (osX)

GeekTool Shows SmartStatusWell, recently I had a hard-drive corruption occur due to my use of TechTool (as shipped by Apple with their extended coverage- Apple, please ship DiskWarrior with your extended coverage!!!). Since then I’ve been worried about the health of my main os drive, and just learned about S.M.A.R.T. (which is supported by ATA/IDE drives in OsX).

The S.M.A.R.T. status for your drive can be checked in (where I’m not sure- couldn’t find it with a cursory check). You can also check it in the command line by typing the following (did you know Disk Util was available in the command line?)…

diskutil info /dev/disk0

Of course you may have to check which drive is the drive you hope to check the smart-status on, but disk0 is most likely your boot drive.

To get this as a visual reminder of your disk status, add the following code into GeekTool:

diskutil info disk0 | grep Verified > /dev/null

Then turn on GeekTool‘s Icon mode, which uses logical output from the commandline to select an icon to display on the desktop. I used the “default” icons (green or red dot). (This last step comes courtesy of beerguy in the comments area of of this article.)

So, there you have it, a little icon on your desktop which can warn you of impending doom for your hard drive. [See the upper left corner of this blog post.] Very helpful for thesis writers. Of course, impending doom may be too late- so you better have a good backup solution in the works. Oh, and I suggest either adding a title for the icon (try another little mini geektool item) or placing it somewhere (where your drive usually resides) so that in the future you don’t have some odd green or red dot which has no meaning, but which you are sure must be important.

Benjamin Zander on a life of Abundance

The more I hear Benjamin Zander (Wikipedia) speak, the more I realize how he can lead a group of people to make beautiful music (Boston Philharmonic). To start your Monday off right, I strongly suggest you watch this lecture of Zander’s at Pop Tech this year.

If you’ve ever played an instrument before, you definitely need to watch this video. We get to see Zander teach a young Cellist how to play a piece by Bach, and at the same time learn why the Abundance Mentality is critical to our own playing (work). He explains mostly by showing in this talk: you’ll notice his own abundance of joy come out throughout his discussion, and in his responses to the difficulty of helping this clearly gifted student get more out of his playing.

@ Yahoo! Video

Can’t forget the hat-tip to Tango at DesignVerb (a great blog!)

For more of Zander’s discussion on Classical Music with heart, see his TED talk given in February of this year.

SMS Spam – 83960

This post is not exactly the status quo for this blog, but I wanted to share with you two things. First, that there are some wonderful companies out there that are very helpful. Second, that sometimes spammers do anything they can to spam.

I’ve been receiving a few SMS messages from number 83960 that were pretty much junk, nothing useful there at all, and I wasn’t sure what was going on. Perhaps it’s a company I recently decided to try out (beta software for phone productivity applications), or perhaps it’s a spammer. My bet right now is a spammer.

This is a tale of amazing customer service, and what the real skinny on 83960 is… (read more by clicking through below)

Read More »

Happiness and Meditation (quick one for Michele)…

This is a quick post for Michele. A sort of aggregated post. I’ll have to add more in the future regarding where this comes from. Essentially, I’ve been intrigued in the past few years by the work going in conjunction with the Mind and Life institute. This institute is trying to bring about collaboration between Buddhist practitioners and Science Researchers. I myself am not Buddhist, but appreciate some of their intellectual pursuits.

Mattieu Ricard getting his EEG

In particular, I came across the work of Matthieu Ricard (who’s called the Happiest Man On Earth- what a title… must have serious responsibilities!). Videos for you after the link…
Read More »

A Quick Introduction...

I'm a graduate student (PhD Candidate) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

I've studied and researched in two fields of Materials Science and Engineering (Polymers and Semiconductors). My interests are as diverse as my musical tastes and I usually have my hand in some crazy project during my free time.

I'm available for consulting and have access to a world-renown materials research user-facility supported by the D.O.E. If you would like to know more, please contact me.

Popular Tags

Amazon Associate Link Apple Support AppStore Bug CIGS CIS CLI Conferences Cross Platform Data Mining data visualization dual-driver headphones failure Friend Geek Tool Great Scientists HAM Radio Hardware Tips How To Humanitarian IEM IM In-Ear Monitors iPod Touch LaTeX Linux Mac OsX Materials Science and Engineering Matlab Obituary Open Source problem Productivity reciprocal space return Silent Key Software Software Review Support This Blog Thesis Writing Tip UIUC VOIP Windows xrd

Support This Blog

You can support this blog by shopping on Amazon through my Affiliate Store.