Favourite freeware and my first code

After a brief and unsuccessful dalliance with a Linux computer several years ago I’ve been firmly wedded to Windows and Microsoft Office. It’s like a long-term relationship; you know how the other person works, it’s easy to press their buttons to get what you want (good or bad) and you no longer need to do your hair. But, as with all relationships, you can’t get everything you need from one place (before the other half has a heart attack right there in front of his laptop I’m advocating having individual interests not affairs). And recently I’ve been realising my exclusivity to Office, specifically Excel, might not be doing anybody any favours.

I love to learn, but easy things; facts, figures, obscure snippets of information that I can later recount to people. Starting something new from scratch is pretty daunting. I kept putting off opening up the new software recently installed on my desktop. Then Friday afternoon rolled around and I’d run out of distractions in the lab so I took a deep breath and dived in. At first it seemed a waste of time, there I was “working” and not getting any useful output. But there’s a reason we’re postgraduate ‘students’ – we’re not here because we know it all, but because we should be able to assess what we don’t know and how to go about learning it.

I’m using IGOR Pro (www.wavemetrics.com) an “extraordinarily powerful and extensible graphing, data analysis, image processing and programming tool for scientists and engineers” [quotes their website]. To cut a long, long story short – I can use it to make graphical representation of data through presets and menus (much like Excel) or through writing code. And, just in time for a drink at Happy Hour on Friday I produced the following graph:

It’s not perfect, and the code is really messy, but it’s a start in my quest to have beautifully aligned graphs grouped together. And I haven’t forgotten my relationship with Excel. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and i now appreciate its order, the way you can so easily arrange rows and columns and quickly perform calculations. It’s perfect for me to type data into whilst in the lab, with no concerns I’ll later wonder if I wrote a 1 or a 7 in my lab book. Excel, I look forwards to our hot date in the lab next week, I may even do my hair…

…and Freeware
Now, I know not everyone is lucky enough to have access to all this expensive software we get to use in Universities. So here’s a little list of some of my favourite (and free!) software that makes the computational side of my life that little bit easier. In no particular order…

Dropbox (www.dropbox.com)
“Did you leave your memory stick on the bus again?!” Without sounding like a cheap American infomercial problems like that will be a thing of the past with Dropbox, it’s an online file storage system with some nice features, including; syncing folders between computers, sharing folders with friends/collaborators and the ability to retrieve old copies of files. I keep all my blog files on Dropbox, wherever I am in the world they’re there! And I share data with collaborators and photos with friends, all without the hassle of maxing out our email attachment limit and filling people’s inboxes. In my simple and easily pleased opinion it’s the best thing since sliced bread. And I love bread.

Hottnotes (www.hottnotes.com)
Is it just me, or is the sticky strip on Post-it notes not quite what it used to be? Many of my important ‘notes to self’ are now languishing behind my desk along with several pens, many hair grips and my elusive bike light. Hottnotes are Post-its for your desktop, complete with satisfying scrunching sound when you delete one (which goes in a metaphorical waste bin so if you delete too many in a fit of spring cleaning you can get it back).

Mendeley (www.mendeley.com)
Not one for your general day-to-day life but for anyone with any form of referencing to do it’s invaluable. Not only is much easier to understand than Endnote (I opened Endnote once and decided I’d rather write every reference I have out by hand than open it again) but it’s free. Attempting to jump on the social networking bandwagon Mendeley give you the ability to ‘befriend’ other users (although they’ve yet to add some form of journal “tagging” akin to Facebook photo tags) and there’s online storage space too. Did I mention that 9 times out of 10 it picks up all the paper reference details when you add the PDF to your library for you? Now, if only the next update the release will actually write my thesis for me…

GIMP (www.gimp.org)
PLEASE do not click on any other website links that may appear in search results. I will not be held responsible for their content! But, if you want photo editing without the Photoshop price tag this is where to go.

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