Blogging advice (and macs)

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m pretty new to this whole weblog thing (I’m told that it is horribly antiquated to refer to weblogs as “weblogs” :)) and after having made a couple of posts I can already see that I’m probably not using the software in the best way. So, I was wondering if I could appeal for advice from the more experienced?

Specifically, I’m wondering how people actually make posts. At the moment I’m using the online wordpress visual editor (not the HTML one). This is pretty slow (for me) as I compulsively like to preview as I write and this requires two refreshes… Also, due to IE problems I occasionally lose bits of posts. (I know, I should use firefox.) I guess this is really dumb? How do other people edit posts? Offline? Should I write the posts offline purely in a text editor in HTML (which, *gasp*, I’ve somehow managed to avoid learning for 15 years)? Or is there a better solution?

Also, I’m finding the latex support on slightly inconsistent. I’m really sure that my latex expressions are correct but sometimes they mutely refuse to parse. Weird. Somehow other latex intensive wordpress weblogs (eg. Terence Tao and Luca Trevisan) seem not to suffer from this as much as me, which makes me wonder if I’m just doing something dumb.

On the posts: I’m wondering how to prioritise my time. I do intend to post about things other than quantum boolean functions (collaborators and typing speed permitting). Are there any topics you’d like me to discuss? Would you like more open problems, or research ideas, or something else?

On openness: Michael Nielsen asks how open I intend to be (i.e. what does it mean for a theorist to be open!?). To be honest I hadn’t even thought about it! Would you find it interesting if I posted information about the papers I’m reading (zero at the moment! but this’ll change) in some way, eg. What else might be interesting for me to share?

Finally, after 20+ years of owning non-apple computers I’m about to buy a mac. There is a great post about latex etc. and macs on Dave’s weblog. But I wonder if you have any specific advice about offline weblog editing software for macs? (Assuming that it is worthwhile to edit offline.) Any other advice for doing science on a mac?


9 Responses to Blogging advice (and macs)

  1. Steven says:

    Tobias, as I assume I’m not the only one: the last time I was able to read formulae as generated by latex is 20 years ago, back in school. Meanwhile I have no clue what they try to tell me, and while I completely understand why people use them, I’d like to mention that I assume that many formulas can easily be rewritten as (programming) code.

    So basically you’ll have to decide who you want to target. I bet many people out there would love to understand these posts, and while many have learned a programming language in the past decade, only very few people are able to read a formula. Personally, I’m not a professional coder myself, but I do understand basic principles of Ruby, Lua, Python, Java and ECMAScript, as I’ve come across them at least once.

    Maybe using code instead of a formula is not possible in all cases, but in many cases it’s a simple one-liner. A simple example, printing fibonacci series in ruby:

    x1 = 0; x2 = 1; n.times {puts x1; x1+=x2; x1, x2 = x2, x1 }

    (sorry for being slightly off-topic)

  2. mick says:

    Tobias, on my mac I was using Qumana to compose posts offline… Now I’m using firefox with the google gears plugin as is one of the supported websites.

    Stupid question, are you using \LaTeX in the standard way with this blog or are you doing something fancy?

  3. XiXiDu says: – not for Mac tho.

    I wouldn’t waste time on thinking about an appropriate term for this sort of information processing and publishing. These things change, evolve and merge so fast now days and appear in such a huge variety with very little difference between, it’s what you want it to be and language wasn’t designed so that there is no authority that could tell you how to refer to your new activity.

    Should you use Firefox? I use Chrome 🙂

    Why get a Mac? Why not tho…

    About what to post on your blog, I’d suggest to stay mainly on topic. You might never get a huge audience but a constant and loyal one that knows what it wants. There are alot of diary blogs, millions, but not so many highly specialized information resources, that yours could become as long as you stick to one field. Your blog will then also appear high up on search engine results when people look-up on this topic. You’ll be quoted and your blog will appear as reference on Wikipedia etc.
    There is so much to write about and it can easily drift into an overload that makes you not want post at all anymore. So I’d focus on one field/issue/topic with a few exceptions that will be obvious for their rarity value including your idea of what papers you are reading. Since a little drift into other fields might always be good for experts and students that are highly specialized.

    What I as total layman would like to see is maybe a weekly or monthly post for the rather uneducated but inquisitive folks that explains some highly technical post or issue in a popular-science non-technical style that makes little or no use of complex formula.

    About me (So you know what kind of people may come by as well): I came here due to a post made at The Quantum Pontiff. I’m a pretty uneducated 24 year old guy from Germany who reads alot of stuff he hardly understands, except for the awareness of its importance, out of curiosity and in the hope to one day learn and understand it all.

  4. tobiasosborne says:

    Steven: many thanks for your comment! I would love to encourage any commenter to write equations in any way they are comfortable with. I certainly would understand anything like C++ code, for example. Personally, I think I’ll stick with latex in posts, because wordpress (mostly) prints them so nicely.

    Mick: many thanks for the tip, I’ll try out gears immediately. BTW. I fixed most of the latex problems (I’m using the standard wordpress latex).

  5. tobiasosborne says:

    XiXiDu: thankyou for your comment! I really value your suggestions, especially that of making a nontechnical post every so often summarising what’s going on. I’ll definitely try this out in the near future. I’m also happy to stay on topic 🙂 I have the personal objective of writing up all the stuff sitting in my notebooks and this task already seems overwhelming 🙂

  6. matt says:

    Install fink and X11 (duh).

    Tell your Mac to use the 3-button mouse you will buy.

    Get Latexit. This program is really nice, it will compile latex equations into little pdfs that you can drag-and-drop into anything and since pretty much every OS X program uses pdf for display, this means that they can all understand it. You can even set up an application service to use latexit so that other programs, such as mail, will convert formulas that you type as text into nice pdfs using mail if you just highlight the formula and press some command keys. Further, you can drag the pdfs back into latexit later and get the original formula back.

    Remember that OS X has lapack installed already: just compile with the flag -framework Accelerate.

  7. matt says:

    Uh, that was intended to be general comments for setting up the mac so it will have a lot of the stuff you want for doing science.

  8. tobiasosborne says:

    matt: I’ll definitely check out Latexit, i wish windows had something that cool!

  9. ateixeira says:

    I don’t know if this will be of any help to you but Luca Trevisan developed a wonderful code that translates LateX into friendly WordPress html (which allows to save an immense amount of time and really get some reader friendly output). I use it with some minor alterations in my blog and if you want you can check it out.

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