ArXiv app for Android

I don’t regularly look up new papers on my phone, preferring the ease of checking them on my desktop at work. However when travelling or attending a conference it can be very handy to be able to quickly pull up some paper you half remember in the middle of a conversation.

As an Android user for a while now, the options were previously limited to navigating to the arxiv website which doesn’t really scale well onto a phone screen, and manually searching for the right paper, or scanning the new list.
For a while there has been an iPhone app called arXivew which listed the latest papers and allowed you to easily download and view the one you wanted.

Now, there is an Android app to compete. Continue reading…


Customising Beamer Presentations

Someone asked me how I achieved the effects on my slides in the talk I gave at QMUL, so having written them an email outlining all the customisations I usually make, I thought the subject might be worthy of a blogpost.

I use the Beamer package for LaTeX which is a great way to include mathematics in your slides, and is pretty straightforward to use if you are proficient with LaTeX.
The default settings in Beamer are quite pretty but after a few days of a physics conference they can become quite repetitive. I like to make my slides at least somewhat different to all the others out there, and try to use my customisations to keep the attention of my audience.

One main change I think is useful with beamer is to make the equations use a serif font like a normal paper would, and not the sans-serif font used by default. This is achieved by having the following command
before \begin{document}:


To get rid of the navigation symbols at the bottom right of each slide I use

\setbeamertemplate{navigation symbols}{}

and the template I use is given by


I don’t like all the clutter that’s normally at the top of each slide
(contents, title etc) so I use the “plain” option for each frame:


To do the black background with white text is slightly tricky but the
template below should work. Just be aware that the curly brackets
outside all the other commands are required to limit the change to
just one frame.

\setbeamercolor{normal text}{bg=black}




These are pretty simple changes but used judiciously they can have a striking effect. I think the most useful is the change of maths text to be serif, in line with the standard used in academic print. The sans-serif maths font just looks a little odd in comparison.


Cosmo09 conference

The annual Cosmo conference for all branches of cosmology is taking place next week 7th-11th September in CERN. I will be attending and giving a talk in the inflation session on Thursday afternoon.

After last week’s Science Online London 2009 conference which I attended, I have been thinking about how to get fellow cosmologists to start interacting online. I am not sure whether anyone else will use it but I have started using the hashtag #cosmo09 on twitter and have created a FriendFeed room for the conference. There might not be much activity, but if people do want to use these tools, at least they will have somewhere to start.


GradSchool Graduate

As a graduate student any time taken away from the main task at hand, getting a PhD, can seem like a wasted opportunity. Especially when the time is not actually for a resting holiday in the sun, but is focussed on those hard-to-define transferable skills we are all told to cherish.

So, it may come as something of a shock to learn that I have just spent some such time away from my work, honing those tenuous skills, and have come back re-energized and full of enthusiasm. I spent three (and a half) days last week in sunny Bournemouth, at a UK GradSchool, organised by the UK Grad team (soon to be known as Vitae). This consisted of team building exercises, project management tasks, interview workshop and an outdoor component to bring it all together.

I hope I don’t give too much away, but the main thrust of the week was solving different problems and facing different scenarios in small groups of about 6 or 7 PhD students. Tutors, with a wide range of career and personal experience, helped us learn from each exercise and guided us through the emotional experience of a new team being formed. It’s hard to describe what working with 5 other PhD students from wildly varying areas felt like, but it was definitely intense. By the end of the week, people had gone through more with the others in the group than perhaps they ever had with those they work with every day. In particular the opportunity to give and receive individual and honest feedback on how we affected those around us was surprisingly powerful.

Interview skills were explored in a task designed to test students as both interviewees and panel members. Sitting on the other side of the desk really highlighted how much of the process is about the applicant selling themselves. It was hard enough to distinguish three candidates answers from each other after a long morning, so making an impression is clearly important.

Overall, my experience of GradSchool has completely brushed aside any reservations I had about it taking up valuable time. I may not measure last week in terms of words written or papers read, but the skills learned (and hopefully friendships made) will make the coming year much more manageable.

To learn more about the GradSchool program visit the introductory page at UK Grad, but be warned that word has spread and courses are booked out months in advance!


New tools for a new year

As the new semester is starting in earnest, I think it’s time for me to post the first update for a few months. One of the main differences between post-graduate and under-graduate life is that as postgrads we don’t have a 3 month break over the summer. As seminars finish at the same time as lectures, the summer months can be more productive as long as you don’t get distracted by the summer sunshine. All of this is by way of apology for not posting more frequently over the summer.

The new academic year has brought with it some new tools from one of my favourite web resources Cosmocoffee. As you can read in this forum post, there are three new additions to the service. Firstly new search options are available which allow you to use the search page on Cosmocoffee to search the arXiv, ADS and Google Scholar. I don’t know how useful this might be, as I tend to use the integrated search bar in Firefox to directly search SPIRES and the arXiv.

The main update however is the addition of a bookmarking system to the arXiv listings. While not as fully featured as either Citeulike or Connotea, this is a very intuitive system and can be easily integrated into your workflow if you already use Cosmocoffee to access new arXiv papers.

The final tool is a complimentary function of the bookmarking system, allowing multiple users to share lists of bookmarks in a “Journal Club” system. There is a rudimentary management system, with the ability to add users and other managers, and move papers into “old” and “ignored” categories. There is also an anonymous list of all the papers that have been bookmarked so far, which provides an interesting insight into the reading habits of Cosmocoffee users.

To use the bookmarking system you will need to register at the Cosmocoffee site. Since last year registration has been restricted to people affiliated with academic institutions.