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the modern scientist
New York NY

Modernscientist is a female biophysicist at a major research institution in New York City. Her research utilizes a technique called Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) to study biomacromolecules. Currently a postdoctoral fellow, she hopes to make the jump to professor in a "few" years. She will attempt to blog with humor about biophysics, biochemistry, being a postdoc, and her life as a female scientist. Enjoy!

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Greetings LabSpaces readers! Several times this summer, I tried (and failed) to kick the dust off this blog. I've decided to let those partially finished posts simmer a while longer because I simply could not pass up the opportunity to incorporate my other passion–all things Mac–into a blog post. As you probably noticed, this post coincides with an ongoing contest here at LabSpaces to win one of these magical devices, so perhaps it will further motivate those who are in the running.

I admit I was skeptical of the iPad when it was announced last January. I have a very capable computer and phone, so why would someone like me need another device? When would I use something that is too limited for serious computing and too big to fit into my tiny (and staying that way) purse? I never found good answers to these questions, so I didn't investigate further. As serendipity would have it, I was given an iPad as a gift about a month ago. Having used it regularly since then, I have found several uses–some of them scientific–for which the iPad is my device of choice. I have decided to share this list and, while I don't intend for this to turn into a review of iPad applications, I felt it would be useful to list related applications after each section.

I would love to hear about your favorite iPad uses and applications in the comments!

1. Reading Scientific Literature

My favorite use of the iPad is to read scientific papers. I have used a computer-based system to manage references and organize the associated PDF versions of the manuscripts for several years now. When I'm in front of a computer, I usually read papers on a computer screen since the software I use allows me to take notes. The problem with this system arises when I want to read papers while commuting. Previously, I had to either print them (to actual paper!!!) or transfer them individually to a program on my iPhone. I occasionally print papers that I want to annotate heavily, but most of the time I feel it is a waste of paper. Transferring PDFs to my iPhone is tedious, and I find the screen to be too small for reading articles.

The iPad has made my paperless paper reading system so much easier to maintain. Using a compatible iPad application, my entire scientific library–including PDFs and annotations–is instantly synchronized between my computer and iPad. No matter where I am (or which subway train I'm stuck waiting for), I have an armload of reading material with which I can occupy myself.

"But I don't like (or can't get used to) reading papers on a screen!" I can imagine some of you are saying that right now because I've heard it from plenty of (mostly OLDER) colleagues. In an effort to avoid having the comment section fill up with remarks such as this, I'll respond now. I didn't like reading papers on a computer screen at first, but after some experimentation and practice, I got used to it. With a few notable exceptions, I now prefer reading on a computer. My back and the environment are much better for the change, as well. You may think you can't switch to reading on a computer, but your grandchildren (and maybe even your children) will someday ask if you remember when people used to read things on paper...

iPad applications of interest: Sente and Papers for maintaining synchronized science libraries and reading scientific papers; GoodReader and ReaddleDocs for general document viewing including, but not limited to, PDFs; Dropbox and ZumoDrive for wireless transfer of documents between the computer and iPad; Kindle and iBooks for reading books.

2. Basic Research Tasks

One of the biggest surprises for me has been discovering just how capable the iPad is of performing research tasks, including viewing protein structures and linear algebra calculations. This seems like a good place for some drool-worthy screenshots, so without further ado I give you these:

A PDB file displayed in Molecules, calculations performed in PocketCAS, and a 3D graph in Quick Graph. All applications are available in the iPad app store.
A PDB file displayed in Molecules, calculations performed in PocketCAS, and a 3D graph in Quick Graph. All applications are available in the iPad app store.

I realize many of you are not biophysicists and that the applications I have featured above may not suit your needs. Fortunately, there is a significant library of mobile applications in existence. Someone has even been kind enough to compile a list of them.

iPad applications of interest: Molecules for PDB structure display; PocketCAS, Pi Cubed, and Wolfram Alpha for calculations; QuickGraph for plotting.

3. Operating Media Computer

As I alluded to in the introduction, not all of the iPad uses I have found are related to science. I thought it would be good to share a few of these, lest you think I am all work and no play.

I have been happily cable-free for the past two years. One of the best parts of this change was replacing the cable box (and its phenomenally bad interface) with a beautiful Mac Mini. The computer links to a network drive on which I have personal media (music and movies) stored and to the wide variety of content accessible via the internet, including Netflix, Pandora, and iTunes.

One of the biggest hurdles with a media computer is controlling it from the comfort of a couch. Before the iPad, I used remote desktop on my laptop or a wireless remote application on my phone to control the computer. These solutions were acceptable, but I've found neither of them to be as convenient and easy to use as an iPad. The iPad's large touchscreen allows for an array of media buttons and even a full keyboard when appropriate. Its low profile and long battery life means it is also not a hassle to store and keep charged.

iPad applications of interest: Mobile Mouse, RowMote, and Apple Remote for wireless mouse, keyboard, and remote functionality; iTeleport, VNC, and iSSH for remote desktop and command line control; Plex and KLEXi to run Plex Media Center for Mac.

4. Cooking

Like any good biochemist, I love to cook–it's chemistry that's delicious. Like any true geek, the thought of maintaining a paper recipe collection is simply unthinkable, particularly because most of my recipes originated on the internet. Maintaining an electronic recipe collection also facilitates sharing with friends, making grocery lists, and remembering to bring those grocery lists to the store since they are on my phone.

My desire to keep my recipes purely electronic has had some unfortunate consequences, mostly involving the discovery of remnants of my kitchen experiments wedged between the keys of my laptop the next day. The iPad is much easier to clean, even for those of us who are messy cooks. (Food spatter is also a problem for cookbooks, though the potential consequences are less severe than the destruction of a laptop.)

The small size of the iPad makes finding room for it in the kitchen, even New York-sized kitchens, easy. I have been using a cookbook stand to hold the iPad while I cook, but I would love to get a wall mount for it in the future.

iPad applications of interest: Epicurious, BigOven, and MacGourmet* for saving and synchronizing recipes. Some of these applications also make grocery lists.

Notes:

MacGourmet has not yet released an iPad version. I have the desktop version of this program and have been using the iPhone version on my iPad until it is updated to support the iPad's higher resolution screen.

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Blog Comments

the modern scientist
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The picture caption doesn't seem to have posted. The applications featured in the figure are (from left to right): Molecules, PocketCAS, and Quick Graph.


JanedeLartigue
UC Davis
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Someone gave you an iPad - lucky you!  I'll have to keep slogging away at this competition in the hopes that I might win it! I was actually considering potentially putting the vouchers towards a new mac laptop since mine is slowly dying a painful death after I hammered away at it through my PhD and my postdoc lab doesn't provide us with desktop computers like my PhD lab did.  But you might have convinced me to think seriously about the iPad, should I by some miracle win it of course.  I am terrible with wasting paper, I'm a serious list writer and I haven't found any decent technological break throughs that have replaced this need to list things on a piece of paper and the satisfaction achieved by physically scrubbing them off when I'm done and seeing a nice completed list!  Any suggestions for those kinds of apps?  I like the fact that you can do science on the iPad also, very cool.  I'm also one of those people who can't read papers on the computer screen, I've tried but I just can't do it, but I'll persevere with some of your tips here.  I should really think about my impact on the environment when it comes to this a bit more.

 


the modern scientist
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JanedeLartigue said:

Someone gave you an iPad - lucky you!

 

:) Technically it was my spouse who gave me the iPad. So, while still a generous gift to give, doing so means that he ALSO gets to use the iPad. Hella clever...


JanedeLartigue
UC Davis
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Aah, now there's a clever fellow!  My husband and I often do the same thing, mutual gifts is an awesome benefit to marriage, get things you both want and it's like you get twice the gifts!!


27 and a PhD
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I totally want that iPad ... but besides that, this post is SO full of goodies. I bookmarked it to have is as a reference for when I need to use all the goodies you've shown here. Thanks!!


thecancergeek
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Nice list.  I'll probably not win this competition since I don't have nearly enough time for posting or reading between now and the end of the month when my parents will be visiting, but I'll favorite this for someday I might be given an iPad or be able to buy one.


Nikkilina
Washington University School of Medicine
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I would use it for cooking all the time. I think that would be super helpful.


Jason Goldman
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I was playing with an iPad today in the on-campus bookstore. They have an AWESOME app called "Star Walk" (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/star-walk-for-ipad-interactive/id363486802?mt=8) that will not only identify stars/planets/constellations/etc for you, but if you punch in your location, it will show you what stars are directly above you at that very moment, so you can easily identify things. (Or, if you're like me in LA, it will show you what stars you WOULD be able to see if not for the damn light pollution).


JanedeLartigue
UC Davis
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Awesome!  I sometimes wonder what stars I'm looking at when I take the dog out before bedtime.  I get confused between planets and really bright stars so it would be cool to know what's what.  Like that a lot.


Tideliar
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Great post, and welcome back :)

 


Jason Goldman
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@Jane: a good rule of thumb: stars appear to twinkle. planets don't.


Evie
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Very cool post! Love the eye candy 3D graphs..


the modern scientist
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Thanks everyone! Glad you enjoyed. Trying to be a more regular poster.

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