Thesis abstracts in both English and French

Well what do you know? I have to write a French version of my abstract for my thesis.

This means it’s time to go out and buy some Newcastle beers. I have a friend who’s a translator who enjoys Newcastle beer, and if I’m going to exploit my relationship with her for my personal gain, I might as well make it worth her while.

There’s no way I’m going to risk writing my own thesis abstract in French. In French, I’m most confident in my ability to discuss whether pineapples can talk:

University applications

In a previous post, I was very explicit about just exactly how I feel about applying for university programmes. Today I will continue that rant.

First, I would like to point out that McGill’s website was updated this week to reflect the documents that I sent them in mid-January. That is to say, my application was due a month and a half ago. For this application, all the supporting documents on the checklist were sent two and a half months ago. For those of you who are counting, that means that the supporting documents were a month early. And it is only this week that they are bothering to let me know that the documents were received.

Further, I was emailed two days ago by the person who is processing my application. She told me that I was missing a document!

This shocked me, because there was a checklist on the McGill website that I followed very closely, and I made sure to do every single thing on the list that I could, even to the inclusion of vaccinations and starting to investigate CPR courses. I had a red pen, and I checked off everything on the checklist when I did it, and I got it all done well in advance of the deadline.

Somehow, I was expected to know that another document (a table indicating which science prerequisites I have fulfilled) was required, even though McGill provided a checklist, and this document was not listed there. In their defence, the table is available on their website, but really, if you’re going to provide a checklist of required documents, in a PDF labelled, “Application Instructions,” I think you forfeit the right to complain if one of the applicants fails to submit a document that is not mentioned on that checklist.

Maybe I’m just in a bad mood because I had surgery on my face two days ago, but does anyone else think that I’m being unreasonable to expect that the “Required Documents” checklist on the “Application Instructions” PDF for a university programme be an exhaustive list of required documents?

I was given until the 30th to hand it in. It took all of 15 mins to gather the information. I put it in an envelope and hand-delivered it to the address myself yesterday. I’m still kind of frustrated, though.

I wonder why there aren’t any economic pressures keeping this sort of thing from happening. I mean, if a normal, private, for-profit business was run with this sort of efficiency, it would never survive.

A review of Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac

A wizard has turned you into a whale
A wizard has turned you into a whale

Bright and early yesterday morning I went to the bookstore at McGill to buy a copy of Microsoft Office. If you are a student, at certain places, you can get a cheaper “education version” of Microsoft Office. When I left the store, I was the reluctant owner of a copy of Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac. This happened because my supervisor felt that for editing a paper for publishing, he would be more comfortable using the collaborative tools that are a part of Word. More on that later.

When I got to the bookstore, I was greeted by a young man wearing a red hoodie over a t-shirt with the design featured in the image attached to this post.

“Can I help you?” he inquired.

“Do you work here?” I asked.

When that was settled, he took my credit card and then gave me a receipt and told me to go to the basement, where there would be someone at the pick-up window where I could redeem my receipt for the install CD’s. I got down to the basement and there was a sign on the door of the pickup window, “Be back in 5 mins.”

I rang the doorbell anyway, and after a few minutes, the very same man who had been working upstairs in the computer section had rushed downstairs to meet me. He joked about how he should wear a fake moustache when he works both upstairs and downstairs. I agreed that this was a good idea.

When I took it home and had it installed on my computer and registered, I actually involuntarily shuddered. I usually don’t have such a visceral reaction to computer software, but then it’s actually been a full ten years since I used Microsoft Office. I was in grade 11 then, and it was the first edition of Office for Mac OS X, which was a big thing. I only got the 30-day free trial download version, but I remember thinking that there was something clunky and un-Mac-like about it.

It’s not half as bad as I remember, but there are a few things that I’m still not too happy about.

Initial Review of Microsoft Office 2011 for Mac

In this review I will mainly be focussing on Microsoft Word. Perhaps in the future I will use Excel or the other parts of Office enough to have strong feelings on them.

I’m gonna come clean about my prejudices: I am used to using LaTeX and BibTeX for pretty much all of my word processing. I have used them exclusively for essays and other school projects since 2004 or so. I really appreciate the separation of content and form and the exacting control of all the details of the typesetting that I have when I’m using LaTeX. I can just write, and not worry about where my words are on the page, since LaTeX will take care of that.

I could also separate chapters of my thesis into separate files, which somehow made my work more manageable. Maybe it’s that the scroll bar at the right of the document gets so tiny when your file is huge or something. It would feel unwieldy to have my thesis in a single file, and so I separated the main body text it into four files: I had Thesis.tex, Ch1.tex, Ch2.tex and Ch3.tex. Then, I’d just include each of the chapters inside the Thesis.tex file and have all the formatting and style information in that file, so the other files could just be bare text files with no formatting distractions at all. It was wonderful.

I also really liked the way BibTeX took care of my references. If I needed to change a reference that I make a number of times throughout my thesis, I could change a single file, Sources.bib, then the next time it re-typeset the document for me, all the changes would be made to all the references throughout the document, including the Works Cited. Not only that, but I found a way to have it automatically change repeated references into “ibid.” so that it didn’t look so cluttered. Not having to think about things like this is actually fairly important to me.

Things I dislike about Microsoft Word 2011 for Mac

The most frustrating thing for me right now in using Word is that I can’t turn off the WYSIWYG editor. I feel like I should be able to edit the underlying code that is generating the document, but there’s really no way to do that. This is unsettling for me. I feel like I’m not in control. Word is. I just shuddered again.

Also, it does some things that are very un-Mac-like. For example, if I push command-up, I expect to be taken to the beginning of the document. In every other Mac application, that’s what that combination of keys does. In Word, it moves you to the top of the paragraph. This is a bug. There is already a key combination on the Mac for moving to the top of a paragraph. It’s option-up. (Same thing, mutatis mutandis for command- and option-down.)

Linking Word files together

On the upside: I can still separate the chapters of my thesis into separate files, and then link them together into a single document for formatting. It’s not that hard. I just type up chapter one in one file, save it, then click Insert > File …

The tricky part is that you have to remember to check off the box that says “Link to File” when you insert your Chapter One.docx file into your Thesis.docx file. This way it automatically updates the Thesis with the contents of Chapter One. Unfortunately, it doesn’t do this automatically automatically. Whenever you make a change to Chapter One, you have to go back to Thesis and click Edit > Links … and then update it. This isn’t too bad, except every time I do this, I have to fix the numbering of chapters manually for each chapter, even if I set each individual chapter file’s chapter heading to start numbering at the appropriate chapter number. This is silly.

Another thing that I like about this is that if you use the Styles at the top of the ribbon instead of formatting everything manually (for example, when formatting a book’s title, choosing the Book Title style rather than just hitting the italicise button), then when you link your Chapter files into your Thesis file, the formatting that you chose in your Thesis file is applied even to the content that is automatically pulled from the Chapter files. This is nice. If I accidentally change the formatting on one of my chapters at some point, it will all be consistent in the final Thesis file.

Microsoft Word’s citation manager

I have found Microsoft Word’s built-in citation manager, which isn’t pure evil, either.

Here’s a couple things I’d like to know how to do: insert a citation without parentheses, and how to have it automatically put “ibid.” when appropriate. Also, I’m not sure that it will automatically update the citations in the body text if I change something in the citation manager, but I have a bad feeling it won’t and this will cause me endless grief later.

Can anyone suggest a good solution for citation management that’s compatible with Microsoft Word for Mac? I don’t trust the built-in one.

Contemporary Moral Issues at McGill

I’m one of the TA’s for the Contemporary Moral Issues course at McGill this semester, and I really appreciate Dr. Reisner, the professor for the course. He gives me a lot of freedom in which to conduct my conferences, provides good structure, and never micro-manages. Further, he often anticipates things that will go wrong.

For example, at the beginning of this semester, he had me take the entire first conference of the year to give an open-book “course syllabus quiz.” Basically, I stood up at the front of the conference and explained to everyone all the potentially troublesome sorts of course details regarding cheating and unacceptable conduct so that later on in the course, they couldn’t say things like, “But I didn’t know it was mandatory to attend every conference!”

Not only that, but when problems happen, like catching students cheating or when they want an excuse from doing required work, I can just send them to Dr. Reisner, and he deals with them.

While I can’t tell you any of the details about what happened this week, it has been very eventful, and I’m very thankful for the forethought of Dr. Reisner.

The Quidditch World Cup 2010

The team gathering around our coach
The team gathering around our coach

This weekend past, as you may recall from seeing on various news stations, was the 2010 Quidditch World Cup in New York City. I was on the McGill team that competed, and I had a fantastic time. We played well, won more games than we lost, and beat the team from Harvard University. :)

For me, the highlight from the World Cup was watching the brilliant performances of the Golden Snitches. These were some amazing athletes. I can think of no other sport where there is a position that combines long distance running, wrestling and acrobatic showmanship.

I'm number 25
I'm number 25

There are few rules for the conduct of a snitch in a game. This means that the snitch can pull a seeker off his broom, interfere with players from another game, or wrestle a seeker to the ground, in an attempt to prevent the seekers from catching him or her.

People attending the Cup who were unfamiliar with the snitch were especially fun to listen to. I overheard a person behind me, at the beginning of a game ask her friend in a very confused voice, “Wait. He just ran off the field. Is he supposed to do that?”

This is why we won the spirit award
This is why we won the spirit award

Or later in the day, I heard someone else declare, “I don’t know. I just think something’s not right when you see a snitch hailing a cab.”

I have compiled a short list of some of the most entertaining things that I personally watched a snitch do in the course of a game.

  • Climb up a fence
  • Climb on top of a nearby building
  • Run onto the field of another game and interfere with the gameplay by bludgeoning one of the seekers
  • Return to the field riding a unicycle that he got somehow
  • Taunt one team’s seeker by pulling off his cape and holding it in front of him in the manner of a Spanish bull-fighter
  • Pick up the quaffle and offer it to a spectator on one knee, as if it were a token of his affection
  • Pull off two team members headbands and exchange them (coloured headbands are used to designate positions)
  • Pull a hoop off its stand and pass himself through it three times, before declaring to the crowd, “I have thirty points now!”
Playing against Carleton
Playing against Carleton

But my favourite moment was in the final game between Middlebury and the Tufflepuffs (the team from Tufts). For starters, the snitch for that game was brilliant. He could run faster backward than the seekers could run forward. He could flip a seeker on his back without losing his own momentum. It was amazing to watch.

Toward the end, the snitch returned to the field, and with him came all the other snitches who had snitched the other games for the Cup. They arranged themselves around the real snitch, like a Roman Phalanx, so the seekers couldn’t catch him, and after a few seconds, they all ran around the field in a big blur of yellow, so it was impossible to tell from the sides where the real snitch was, and I’m sure it was equally confusing for the seekers, who were just returning to the field from chasing the snitch. Eventually, the false snitches left the field, and the snitch was caught by the Tufts team, but the playfulness and the athleticism of the snitches were really remarkable.

I think that I want to work on my distance running this year and maybe next year I’ll be good enough to be a Golden Snitch at the World Cup. :)

I made the Quidditch World Cup team

I have lost possession of the bludger
I have lost possession of the bludger

This is something that I’m very proud of: McGill Quidditch is sending a team to the Quidditch World Cup in New York on the weekend of November 13-14, and I made the World Cup team.

Not only that, but I’m on the A-team!

In celebration, here is some photo evidence that I actually do play Quidditch, for the sceptics out there.

I am getting hit by a bludger
I am getting hit by a bludger

These photos are from this Saturday’s practice, which was cold and miserable, to start out with. After a while, I warmed up, but it took some time and effort, and I kept my huge McGill rugby shirt on the whole time.

The hardest part about being a beater on a Quidditch team in the cold is that your fingers freeze, and so it’s hard to grip the bludger. And it’s not like I could put on gloves for next time or anything—that would make it even harder to hold onto the bludger.

I am in possession of a bludger
I am in possession of a bludger

Here are a few pro-tips for aspiring young beaters. According to the IQA rulebook, you can kick a bludger into your opponent and it counts as a hit. This may change your beginning-of-game strategy and your tactics for recovering the bludger as well. Also, I discovered recently that the bludgers were deflated partially on purpose, and that they would also be deflated like that at the World Cup. This means that I can actually grab the bludger and throw it overhand, and it gives me a lot more flexibility with what I do with it.

I will end this post with a bit of speculation. There is a rumour that JK Rowling will be in New York during the World Cup. I wonder if she will attend. I will be bringing my camera to the event, and if I see her, I will try to get someone to take a photograph of me with her in the background. :)

Quidditch practice

Last night was my first Quidditch practice. I showed up on the McGill field in my gym clothes, wearing my big boots, and carrying a broom.

It was fantastic. It rained the whole time.

Here’s how the game works, for the non-initiate. You can play one of a number of positions: you can be a chaser, whose goal is to throw the quaffle through one of the opposing team’s three hula hoops, or you can be a beater (this one was my favourite) whose goal was to throw one of three bludgers at the other team’s chasers or beaters. The keeper is the goal-tender, and the seeker chases the Golden Snitch (in the case of last night’s game, a small girl dressed in white and yellow.

In order to participate, one had always to be straddling a broom, and the team had some excellent-looking brooms at their disposal, I must say. The only exception is that when a chaser or beater is hit by a bludger of the opposing team’s, that player must get off his broom and run around his team’s goal-posts.

I’m not sure how points are calculated. The game ends when the seeker catches the Golden Snitch of course.

The game is very fun to play on its own merits, to say nothing of the sheer silliness of playing a sport based on a game for fictional flying witches.

Because of the torrential rain last night, we were all soaked and muddy by the time the practice was over. After the game, I noticed a number of the other players literally sliding through the mud in the field that we had so unceremoniously destroyed. When I got to the Metro station, covered in mud and dripping wet, a girl from the other side of the platform must have noticed my broom and figured out what I had been up to, because she called across to me, “How was Quidditch?”