Catch-22: the final test of my master’s degree

In order to graduate, I must submit my thesis.

To submit my thesis, I have to hand in my Nomination of Examiners Form, available from Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies as a fillable PDF. In the top-left corner, it reads, “this form must be typed.”

If you look at the fillable PDF, you’ll notice that I can’t fill in the form completely until I know who my internal reader is.

I spoke to the Philosophy Department, and they told me that they would inquire as to which professors would be able to serve as my internal reader after I hand in the Thesis Submission form and the Nomination of Examiners Form. I’m not allowed to contact professors myself to ask them to be my internal readers.

This is my final test.

So Apple isn’t tracking me after all

I remember in September, I joked with my supervisor about how I was sure that Apple was tracking me through my iPod. I sort of assumed that Apple was doing that. I was okay with it. I thought maybe some day it might provide a much-needed alibi for a crime I don’t plan on committing.

Then this past week, there was a big scandal about how some people found a file on everyone’s iPhone that has a whole bunch of locations and times tagged. I even downloaded the application for the Mac that allows me to view the file on a map of the world. I thought it was pretty cool. It wasn’t very accurate though. Sometimes it would tag me as having been kilometres away from my actual position.

Now today it turns out that Apple hasn’t been tracking me after all. Those locations and times are just locations of wi-fi hotspots and cell phone towers.

It is a little bit of a let-down that Apple doesn’t care about me enough to stalk my every movement.

Google and Microsoft are doing that, though.

Some problems with Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

Word disclosure triangles
Disclosure triangles in Word's Document Map Pane

Design flaws in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

In my beloved typesetting programme of choice, TeXShop (a Mac front-end for LaTeX), if you click on the “Tags” drop-down menu, it gives you an ordered list of all the chapters, sections and subsections in your document, so you can see the structure of your document at a glance and skip to the part that you’re interested in.

In Microsoft Word, there’s a feature that’s similar to the one from TeXShop. If you open the “Document Map Pane,” you get a little panel along the side of your Word document window that has all the chapters, sections and subsections laid out for you.

Word even indents subsections that are nested in sections above it, so you can see the document structure that much more clearly. This is wonderful.

Finder disclosure triangles
Finder disclosure triangles

What’s confusing is that Microsoft implemented the disclosure triangles incorrectly. There are little triangles beside sections in the Document Map Pane that have subsections, so you can show or hide parts of the document structure. In every other Mac application, disclosure triangles are indented when the section that has subsections is itself a subsection.

I have attached an image of a Finder window in list view with disclosure triangles that are done properly for comparison.

When I first saw the disclosure triangles, I thought that I had somehow messed up the formatting of my document. (Here’s another reason why I wish there was a non-WYSIWYG editor for Word.) I spent a good 5 minutes trying to figure out what I had done wrong before I noticed that the text headings were indented, and that it was just either a design decision not to indent the disclosure triangles, or just a bug.

Word—Insert file
Word—Insert file

Dialog boxes vs. sheets in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

Sometimes I think that the programmers for Microsoft Office found the most un-Mac-like way to write this programme, while still keeping it functioning.

Word opens up dialog boxes for some things (see attached image, “Word—Insert file”) and then for other things, it uses sheets (see attached image, “Word—Save as”). This is not only frustrating because it makes for an inconsistent user experience, but also because it makes the software harder to use.

Word—Save as
Word—Save as

The nice thing about sheets rather than dialog boxes is that when a sheet opens up, it’s attached to the document window. What’s nice about that? Well, I can still drag the window around while the sheet is open.

For example, when I want to insert a file, a dialog box opens up. Because it’s a dialog box, I can’t move the document window. If I try to click on the document window, I get an angry beep from my computer. Even if I try command-dragging the window, I still get the angry beep. (If you command-drag a window, in most cases you can move it without bringing it to the foreground.)

This is frustrating because when I’m inserting a file, this is exactly the time when I would want to be able to look at things behind my document window. I don’t want to have to click-click-click all the way to the file I want using the dialog box. Often, the file is sitting right on my desktop or in a Finder window right behind my document window, and if I could just see it, then I could drag the file from the Finder or my desktop onto the file selector. But I can’t because the people at Microsoft decided to use a dialog box rather than a sheet.

Other design flaws

I have written previously about how I dislike the way that Word has broken the command-up/-down function. This is one more example of how the programmers of Word have written their software in a deliberately un-Mac-like way.

Also, when I open a large file—and not even a very large file: this happens to ones that are only 6 or 7 pages long—the vertical scroll bar does not reflect the document’s length accurately at first.

You have no idea how scared I was the first time I saved, closed and re-opened the Word version of my thesis. The vertical scroll bar indicator took up most of the scroll bar, which (in every other application) means that the part of the document that is in view is most of the document. When I scrolled down (using the page-down button, since the command-down doesn’t work the way it should in Word), I found out that the rest of the document was actually still there.

Still, this is a bug. In every other programme with a scroll bar like that, the size of the indicator shows you how much of the document is visible in the window, so if you have a tiny indicator, then that means that a lot of the document is outside the view currently displayed.

For the main document view, the size of the vertical scroll bar changes to reflect the size of the document, once you’ve scrolled to the end. The Document Map Pane has the opposite problem—the vertical scroll bar is tiny tiny, no matter how many items are in there. I only have 11 items in my Document Map for chapter 1, for example. There’s space for probably 30-40 in the Document Map Pane, and yet the scroll bar is so small as to indicate (in any other context) that there were dozens of pages of items in my Document Map. If I scroll down, a tooltip appears, giving me the name of an item in my Document Map, and I have to scroll to the very bottom of the window in order to select an item that’s pretty much at the top of the Document Map Pane. This is just annoying.

Serious bugs in Microsoft Word for Mac 2011

Above were examples of things that are just design flaws. Someone could conceivably disagree with me about whether the things I pointed out were bugs or features.

I will outline one non-serious interface bug, and one more serious bug.

Interface bug with the Document Map Pane

Split view-vertical scroll bug
Split view-vertical scroll bug

When I open files for which the Document Map Pane is open, the split view button initially covers the vertical scroll bar, as shown in the attached image.

The split view button is a useful one that that you pull down when you want to view two parts of the same document but you don’t want to see the intervening space between them.

The offending split view button disappears the second that I resize the window, but it’s really annoying that I have to resize the window every time I open it, if I plan on using the vertical scroll bar.

As far as I can tell, this bug occurs because the split view is not available for some reason, when the Document Map Pane is open.

Microsoft Word for Mac 2011 crashes my computer

The most serious bug that I’ve found is that I have been able to consistently crash my computer by trying to adjust the weight of a line in the Microsoft Word publishing layout. And I do mean crash my computer, not just crash Word. The whole thing freezes up, command-option-esc doesn’t work, and I have to hold down the power key in order to get out of it.

If you want, I can provide you the file I was editing in order to make it happen, and give you instructions as to how to crash your computer too.

I can’t even remember the last time my computer crashed before this, but I am able to consistently and repeatably cause it to do so by using what I would think was a fairly simple part of the programme.

I paid a lot of money (like $1,000,000 in “grad student dollars”) for this software, and the free software did the job a whole lot better.

Maybe Microsoft will release a patch that fixes all these problems to my satisfaction. I can hope, right? ;)

“Rethinking the Ethics of Clinical Research” by Wertheimer

I’m reading this book on the advice of my supervisor, since he thinks that it will be useful in writing my thesis. He’s very right. It’s the first edition of the book that has been published, and so, as I’ve been reading it, I’ve been keeping a list of the mistakes in spelling, grammar or typography that I find in the book. If you follow me on Twitter you may have noticed that I’ve been tweeting the mistakes as I find them, too.

Apparently my supervisor and Wertheimer are academic rivals, and so my supervisor was very pleased to hear that I was doing this. He kindly offered to email it to Wertheimer himself for use in correcting future editions. :)

I’ve finally compiled all the tweets, scraps of paper and other places where I recorded the mistakes I found in “Rethinking.” Here they are:

  • Mistake, p. 5 paragraph 2, “its” should be “it’s”
  • Mistake, p. 27 paragraph 2, “requires” should be “require”
  • Mistake, p. 76 “the” shouldn’t be there
  • Typo, p. 96 closing parenthesis after “Department Meeting” is italicised
  • Typo, p. 103 “comprehend” should be negated
  • Typo, p. 111 “by passer” should be “passerby”
  • Mistake, p. 133 “A risk or a burden?” has no verb in it. Just saying.
  • Typo, p. 139 space between “society” and period before ellipsis
  • Typo, p. 139 unmatched quotes around “new miracle cures”
  • Typo, p. 145 unmatched closing quotation marks after “accept”
  • Typo, p. 171 opening quote before “it” should be closing quote after “good” in 3rd paragraph
  • Mistake, p. 181 “anymore” should be “any more” at the end of the page
  • Mistake, p. 182 “disproportionately” should be “disproportionality” in 2nd (new) paragraph
  • Mistake, p. 188 whole sentence is copied nearly verbatim.
  • Typo, p. 198 missing space after ellipsis
  • Typo, p. 200 only two points in ellipsis at end of 5
  • Typo, p. 200 need space after ellipsis in 7
  • Typo, p. 210 weird line break before “competitive” in 1st paragraph
  • Typo, p. 224 space needed after endnote 60
  • Typo, p. 269 four points in ellipsis after “reciprocity”
  • Typo, p. 280 missing period after “B accepts”
  • Typo, p. 311 four points in ellipsis before “the importance”
  • Typo, p. 312 backslash between “physician” and “investigators” in 2nd paragraph

Miscommunication between my professor and me

When I received feedback on the 3rd chapter of my thesis from Dr. Kimmelman, there were three really specific criticisms that didn’t make much sense to me. I went in to his office to ask about them, and he mentioned casually a paper that he had published in Science. (For people outside of academia, Science is one of the most prestigious academic journals in which to have an article published.)

“You had an article published in Science?” I asked.

“Yeah, a lot of your thesis is supposed to be based on it. Are you sure it wasn’t in that package of papers I gave you in September?”

“Pretty sure.”

“Wow. You would have had to do a lot of re-inventing of the wheel, huh?”

I have now read his paper in Science, and everything is so much clearer now. Over the weekend, I was able to write 5 pages on my thesis as a result of reading it. And it was easy writing those pages.

I feel like I’m actually getting some work done now, and like this project is manageable now. Also, I finally understand why my supervisor was so often confused by my confusion over the course of the year.

Endnote X4 and Microsoft Word for Mac

I found a solution to my reference manager problem.

Step one: (Re-)Install Endnote

I had an older version—Endnote X2 installed on my computer from last year when I went to a seminar on reference management at the McGill library. When I installed it the first time, I did not have a copy of Word on my computer. It turns out that if you install Endnote before you install Word, it doesn’t work at all. This caused me some confusion. After upgrading to Endnote X4, it automatically configured itself to work with Word automatically.

Step two: Convert BibTeX reference library to Endnote

I was really afraid that this step would take a long time. And indeed, if I were to do it all manually, it would have taken a long time. That’s why I’m glad I found this: A BibTeX to Endnote converter. It worked really well. Suspiciously well. I’m half-afraid that something is going to go terribly, terribly wrong.

Step three: Insert references into Word document

View > Toolbars > Endnote X4

Then, click on the fourth icon in the toolbar. Away you go.

Step four: Making page numbers show up in in-text citations

This one took me a while to figure out, and if you do a Google search for help on this, you’ll only end up at this unhelpful FAQ.

Here is how I tried to do it: I’d right-click my in-text citation, click Edit Citation(s) > More …, then I’d try adding the page number there, and it wouldn’t show up in my citation. I’d try a million different ways of doing this, and none worked.

Then I tried right-clicking and then choosing “Toggle Field Codes.” This showed me that the page numbers were actually being inserted correctly, but because of the citation formatting choice, it wasn’t being displayed. All I had to do was go back to “Format Bibliography,” then choose a bibliography style that displayed page numbers in in-text citations. APA, for example, works wonderfully.

Things that make me worry about EndNote X4

Maybe this is shallow of me, but for a $300 piece of software, I’d expect the programme’s icon to look a little less ugly. (Don’t worry, I didn’t pay $300 for it. McGill students can download EndNote X4 for free from the Library website.) I mean, it’s an eyesore in my Dock.

Also, the paperclip in the “attachments” column has jagged edges and is not centred correctly.

This sort of thing worries me. It makes me think things like, If they couldn’t even be bothered to fix the paperclip, what else have they let slip through the cracks?

I mean, BibDesk had a nice-looking user interface by comparison. BibDesk’s icon, while it was not beautiful, wasn’t an eyesore. And it was free. The really expensive software looks terrible, and makes me wonder if there’s other things wrong with it.

That said, I’m willing to give it a solid try. It seems to do all the things I want it to, and it has a long list of bibliography formats, including the journal to which my prof wants to submit my 3rd chapter.

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.


My entire thesis so far could fit on a single 3.5″ floppy diskette.

That includes the final PDF, all the .tex files used to generate it, my bibliography, my style files, and a few PDFs of important articles that I make reference to.

I’m kind of tempted now to try to find a floppy diskette and an old computer and see if I can write my thesis onto it, just for the retro appeal.

LaTeX, BibTeX and ibidem

Apparently, having been trained in the philosophical tradition, I’m unused to citing sources. My supervisor says that a typical attitude for a philosopher to take toward sources is that if your bibliography has 6 citations, that’s 5 too many. So, on the advice of my supervisor, I have been trying to include more references to published sources in my thesis. As he puts it, “think less; read more.”

Having done that for the last chapter or so (I’m going back later to add lots and lots of citations to the other chapters), I realised that the citations were taking up way too much space on the paper. So, I put them all in footnotes. They still took up a lot of space, and they were hard to read down there.

So, I decided that I should change my citation style, so that when I have multiple citations from the same source, the second, third, etc. citations after the first one would just be “ibid.” (From Latin ibidem, meaning “the same place.”) This would have been a time-consuming and mind-numbing task, going through my entire thesis and picking out all the citations where there’s two or more in a row and replacing all but the first one with “ibid.

Fortunately, I use LaTeX and BibTeX (and OS X front-ends called TeXShop and BibDesk) for writing my thesis and citation management.

I found a great package, called inlinebib that does just that. It actually took a bit of digging to find a bibliography style package for LaTeX that worked the way I wanted it to, with ibidem and all. But once I found it, all I had to do was put inlinebib.bst and inlinebib.sty in my project folder, then write \usepackage{inlinebib} in my document preamble, and it worked just fine!