Typesetting my thesis

doctor snapping his latex gloveI’m at the point where I’m beginning to think about actually writing my Ph.D. thesis, and that means deciding what to write it in. My last experience in this realm was a disaster: with three hours to finish and print my Masters thesis, my sections automagically renumbered themselves, something that took me an hour to reverse. If possible I want to avoid a situation where my word processor “fixes” things for me.

My needs are simple: I want a pretty document, with a nice layout, and good bibliographic support. Here’s a quick rundown of my options:

Microsoft Word
World standard, good bibliographic support through Endnote, pretty good global style control, sucks for editing large documents
Adobe InDesign
No bibliographic support, handles large documents, but most features (such as endnotes/footnotes) must be done by hand
LaTeX
No interface, good bibliographic support through Bibtex, handles large documents, good global style control

Like many a Ph.D. student before me, it appears that if I can do without the interface, LaTeX is the obvious solution. No weird side effects, total style control and great support for all kinds of sundries like equations, bibliographic data, and so on. The only thing I worried about were the fonts.

Contrary to previous accounts, installing LaTeX on OS X was a cinch: using the ii installer, packages for teTex were installed on my machine in seconds. And something I was not aware of is the fact that OS X provides a system called XeTeX that has full support for OS X and TrueType fonts. Seriously brother, can a man ask for more?

I took the MIT Thesis LaTeX files, added some Mac fonts like Hoefler Text and Optima (using the fontspec package, which is a breeze), and blamo! I’ve got a great looking thesis. After struggling with my last thesis, this is a weight off my chest.

Hedonic treadmill

the hedonic hamster wheelI’m just about to return a book to the library, something I read a while back and have been meaning to post about for centuries. In their article “Hedonic Relativism and planning the good society**,” Philip Brickman and Donald Campbell give a name to the ongoing state of happiness that we all experience. Despite the fact that external forces are constantly changing our life goals, happiness for most people is a relatively constant state. Regardless of how good things get, we’ll always be about the same level of happy; this they call the hedonic treadmill.

Psychology researchers have observed this phenomenon in a myriad of different situations: lottery winners, tenure achievers, recently handicapped, etc. In all of these situations, despite a massive shift in standard of living or achievement of major life goals, after a short period of time the life-satisfaction levels return to normal.

If this is what we can expect from our own psychology, how does hedonic relevatism affect the way we choose to live our lives? Brickman and Campbell look at this question from a societal level, and suggest that there is an optimal setup for making every member of our culture as happy as possible. You have to give them credit, it was the 70’s and socialism was still a form of utopia. But as far as I can tell, the only way to keep yourself on an increasing scale of happiness is to achieve some small goals on a daily basis, not putting too much emphasis on achieving one over another.

So why am I writing this damned Ph.D.?!

** Brickman, Philip, & Campbell, Donald. (1977). �Hedonic relativism and planning the good society.� In M.H. Appley (Ed.), Social comparison processes: Theoretical and empirical perspectives. New York: Wiley/Halsted.

Bicycle Defense Fund

An organization has arisen in NYC to help support those individuals arrested during Critical Mass events under the name Freewheels Bicycle Defense Fund. This past weekend they hosted an inaugural fund driving event in Brooklyn that apparently made upwards of $4k for the legal battling bikers.

According to my friend Jamie, most, if not all of the arrested cyclists have refused offers of Adjournment in Contemplation of Dismissal (ACD) and decided to take their cases to court. Given the number of cases already pending, along with the expected number to arise from the first big ride of the year in April, the Critical Mass defendants will be needing quite a bit of support for what could be a very defining court battle for bikers rights in the city.

Laptop Withdrawal Affective Disorder

The symptoms started about two weeks ago when I first noticed that my 12″ Powerbook’s hard drive was on the fritz. My applications slowed down, movies stopped playing halfway through, and I was finding it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Then today when I went into my local Apple store for a diagnosis, things really started to set in. I’m grumpy, irritable, and constantly frustrated. I’m afraid I have classic symptoms of Laptop Withdrawal Affective Disorder (LWAD).

In all honesty, I’m telling the truth. Well, maybe the part about not getting up in the morning is more about me being lazy, but I am generally off since I realized I’d be without my laptop for a week. It’s not the service it provides, per se, it’s how it’s integrated itself into my life. I’ve had relationships with a few PC laptops in the past, but my Powerbook seems to be the first laptop I’ve ever truly loved. Without it I feel lost, aimless, and like I spend most of my time thinking about how much easier everything would be if I didn’t have to use this damn PC desktop.

It’s definitely a testament to the quality and usability of Apple’s laptops. Sure they’re not the fastest, lightest, or most eye-catching machines around, but they generally work better than anything else. Maybe Apple would settle out of court if I sued them over my current condition. I think my expensive AppleCare support should include some sort of counseling for my condition. Something—anything—to make this pain go away.