Mr Epidemiology

No, I'm not a skin doctor



Useful Utilities: SimpleNote

Useful Utilities is a series where Mr Epidemiology outlines software he finds helpful and feels that students would benefit from knowing. Today, he’ll be talking about Simplenote, which is online note taking software.

I’ve found in my Grad School career that I often have ideas that hit me at random points. I’ll be walking down the street and suddenly think “Wait! The validity of that tool is questionable! I must research this!” or “Wait! Do I have milk!” and other matters of national security and life altering importance.

Pictured: The old fashioned way of writing notes (click pic to go to Moleskine site)

While a more traditional (archaic) approach involving paper and pencil might be preferred by some, I like my gadgets. I also find that many a notebook has fallen prey to the evil forces of leaky coffee mugs. And let’s fact it, notebooks aren’t much good when they’re soaked through. Even if you wrap your notebooks in a ziplock bag to keep them dry, if you forget it at home, you’re stuck.

When looking for a note-taking app, I wanted something that was: 1) available to me on my desktop, iPhone and iPad, 2) simple and clean and 3) free.

Enter Simplenote!

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Guest Post: Dear (Food) Diary …

Mr Epidemiology: Today, I’m welcoming Natalie Causarano to the blog. You can find out more about Natalie at the end of this post.

The summer is finally on its way, bringing us BBQs, cottages, and …wait for it…the often dreaded BATHING SUIT SEASON! That moment of truth when we must face the effects of our winter hibernation (which might make us want to stay in hibernation).

Vanity aside, the benefits of maintaining a normal weight is a long-championed public health message. Yet the combined effects of increased portion sizes and our increasingly sedentary lifestyle are making it difficult for us to maintain a healthy weight. So, where should we start to lose? The diet industry seems to be growing as fast as the obesity epidemic and the price of weight loss products is even more discouraging.

One inexpensive weight loss strategy is to self-monitor with a food and / or exercise diary, which has been found to be an effective weight loss strategy by numerous studies (1). I know what you’re thinking, there’s no more room in your purse or murse for a food journal!

Fear not, the internet has the solution!

Continue reading “Guest Post: Dear (Food) Diary …”

Twitter for Scientists Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before

How are scholars using Twitter? Click to enlarge.

So far, I’ve talked about how Twitter can be used by scientists to help disseminate information, and acquire new information. I’m going to change gears in my final post and talk about how Twitter can be used in the classroom, and how it can be used by scientists moving forward.

If you missed them, click here for Part 1 and Part 2 in this series.

Continue reading “Twitter for Scientists Part 3: To boldly go where no lecturer has gone before”

Twitter for Scientists Part 2: Networking in 140 characters or less

This week, I'll be talking about Twitter (Pic via Tweepi)

On Monday I discussed some of the reasons why I think you should sign up for Twitter, and why it is a useful tool.

Encouraging scientists to use social media isn’t a new idea. In response to my last post, friend of the blog @muddybrown (you may remember him from the graduate school roundtable) pointed out a series by Scientific American writer Christie Wilcox (@nerdychristie). It’s a four part series, but definitely worth a read for another perspective on social media and science (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4).

Today, I’ll be continuing that discussion, but focusing on two other aspects of Twitter: How it can be used to get information that you wouldn’t otherwise, and how it can be used at conferences.

So let’s get started shall we?

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Twitter for Scientists Part 1: How a procrastination tool can be useful

This week, I'll be talking about Twitter

Twitter is a well known microblogging platform. People can post updates in the form of 140 character “tweets” that can be read by followers, who can “retweet,” i.e. repost that tweet to their own followers, or reply to the original post. I started using it about a year ago, and have found it to be equal parts whimsical and hilarious, along with useful and informative.

Several other authors have discussed reasons why scientists should be using Twitter, including this excellent post on Deep Sea News and this post through the American Geophysical Union. As I pointed out in my previous weekly roundup, Dr Jeremy Segrott gave his thoughts after he used Twitter for a three months. Scientists are realizing that social media is an important way to translate knowledge to the public when done well, and Twitter provides another avenue by which this can be accomplished.

What I will do is post 5 reasons why I think, as a scientist, you should be using Twitter, or, at the very least, be signed up for a Twitter account. Reasons 2 and 3 will be up on Wednesday, and reasons 4 and 5 will go up on Friday.

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Using Video Games to Model Real Life Outbreaks

Those of you who know me know that I’m a video game nerd. And comic book nerd. And just nerdy nerd in general. So when I read an article that used World of Warcraft to model disease outbreaks, I jumped on it.

World of Warcraft is a MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) and forms the butt of many jokes in shows like Southpark, The Simpsons and others. I’ve never played it myself, but I lived with a guy who did so picked up a few things. Basically, you pick a player class (barbarian, wizard etc) and then join a “guild” and do quests together. These vary from the mundane to the epic (“kill this dragon”). It is, allegedly, a lot of fun. And a lot of that fun comes from being in a group of 50-60 like minded people, all playing out their fantasies as an elf, warlock, goblin etc.

World of Warcraft (WoW) has a very intricate world that has grown up around it. Gold provides an in-game economy, and treasures you gain from slaying foes give people items to trade. And since it is based around the actions of people, each quest can be very different from the last. Sometimes this can result in inadvertently hilarious consequences; the video below shows a guild meticulously planning their attack. However, when a player decides that he’s had enough, he runs in screaming his name (“LEEEEROOOOYYYYY JENNNKINNNSSSSS”). This results in his team panicking, and all their planning going to waste. To quote Robert Burns: “The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men / Gang aft agley.” I’m pretty sure he was talking about WoW when he wrote that.

So you have this society with thousands of players all logging on regularly, heavily invested in their characters, spending anywhere upwards of 40-60 hours a week in the game. What happens when a “virus” is introduced into the game?

More after the loading screen … (click read more)

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Useful Utilities: Dropbox

Useful Utilities is a series where Mr Epidemiology outlines software he finds helpful and feels that students would benefit from knowing. Today, he’ll be talking about Dropbox, a free cloud based file storage system. For those who already have a Dropbox account, read on as there are tips at the end for gaining free Dropbox space after the jump.

Allow me to paint a picture for you.

Mr Epidemiology wasn’t yet an Epidemiologist. He was a little undergrad, excited to be doing an honors thesis, where he studied caterpillars. He worked hard, and towards the end of his undergraduate thesis, he backed everything onto a USB key. To ensure that he wouldn’t misplace or lose it, he put the USB key onto his key chain with his car keys. Since he drove everywhere, he would never lose it.

But, Fate had a terrible … fate … in store for him (Note: get a thesaurus).

Pictured: Every grad student with THEIR PRECIOUSSSSSS

He went to see The Trews perform at an outdoor concert. It poured down for almost 3 hours, yet the band played on. He had a great time. He was soaked through, but thoroughly enjoyed the show.

But when he got home, he realized that the rain had fried his USB key. And along with it, all the work he had done. Luckily, he had a backup on his computer, but if not for that, he would have been in a lot of trouble.

That was a long time ago. Now, we have Dropbox, which is an online, cloud based storage system

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