Wednesday, May 01, 2013

A recap on work flow, note takers and task organizers

Some experiments I have been doing with workflow over the past semester as introduced on this post back in January

1.  Using Pandoc, Markdown, and pweave for class preparation.  

I did the notes for my Logistics and Supply Chain course completely in Markdown.  This included slides for in class presentation, writing homework solutions, and everything else with the class preparation.  I wrote a Makefile that took care of everything.  Basically what it meant is that to create slides for class prep I wrote it as a text file.  It does force some simplicity because there is no ability to tweak a slide or an image.  But that is probably a good thing because it forces efficiency.

One nice advantage of using pweave for homework and exam solutions is that it makes it easy to have multiple versions of an exam.  If I have equations and steps in place, I can change a few parameters, and maybe an assumption or two and I have a new problem with not much extra work.  Also I did a lot of cut and pasting of code.  The code I wrote for presenting in class became the code that I used to solve the homework.  And since I let them see the code (and I also copied over the equations needed to solve the homework) it connected the homework solution to the lectures.  One issue is that so few of my students were competent programmers in any language that the Python code was not all that helpful to them (other than proving that I did indeed solve the problem)  But this was a definite success.

2.  Using Mercurial as a hosted version control system.  

I had to work with a new team on one project I was working on, so the first thing I did was to move the  former post-doc's work into a version control (Mercurial) and put it on a hosted repository (bitbucket).  And we spent a month refactoring the entire thing to separate out the code from the site specific bits (because we were going to apply it to a new location).  The repository meant that we were able to be aggressive in refactoring (yes, I did have to completely through out a day of work at one point because what I was thinking was not going to work.  All I did was wipe my directory and reclone the repository)  The others got into the hang of putting everything in the repository as well.  Now, the comments are not all that good on the part of the post-doc and grad student working with me, and we tended to work in separate areas so it was not true collaborative programming, but it was not bad.

I plan on continuing this over the summer with a few students who are learning agent based modeling together.  The intent is that if all of us are putting our models in the repository, we can ask questions like "why does ___ not work" and we can have their model to look at.  We'll see how that works.

3.  Google Tasks as a task organizer  

This worked out pretty well.  I ended up using Google tasks as a note taker (more on that later)  I was off an on regarding being consistent, but there were periods where I had a lot going on that this to-do list being available on all of my computers, my iphone and ipad was very useful.  Keep doing this.

4.  Tomboy as a notes organizer. 

Note taking sounds like a no-brainer.  Not.  This one pretty much died.  In February Canonical eliminated an API that enabled use of Ubuntu One as a storage place.  So I ended up storing the notes data on Dropbox (so my Windows and Linux machines were synced).  But the iPad app that integrated with Tomboy no longer worked, so if I was using the iPad, the notes were not integrated.  And this pretty much meant I was not using Tomboy notes.  Sometimes I would create a task in Google tasks and create a note if I needed something.  But generally this went unused.

I'm going to try this again.  But since I realize now that having it on my iPad and syncing to my computers is the key to the whole affair, my main focus was on the iPad integration.  So I am looking at Simplenote for the note-taking. It is originally designed for iPhone/iPad, and there are applications on Windows and Linux that integrate with it (and also the Google Chrome browser)
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