Just write!

This is an unstructured post. For the past few weeks, I have been able to discipline myself and just writing.

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Writing makes a lot of things more apparent. It helps to focus. I have forced myself to unshackle from the constraints of modern technology. To shut down the constant din of notifications. To be better off than being distracted.

As usual, the continuous improvement in making Twitter work for me has helped. I invested a lot of time to make automation work. This has resulted in much cleaner timeline, a much better opportunity to follow colleagues, to find out what is being discussed and participate in more meaningful online discourse.

Writing is prompted by slow thinking as well.

For all academics out there. Just write. The dividends are very rewarding indeed.

Slow thinking: Pause and reflect

slowthinkingI was alerted to this remarkable piece of The Quartz today which helped me to reflect on it. It lists the virtues of “slow thinking“.

If we don’t come to a quick conclusion and choose a side, it can feel like we’re letting the proverbial bad guys—whoever they are in a given case—win. Thus, an opinion becomes a moral imperative, an act on behalf of humanity, or at least on behalf of whatever cause we support.

This is the familiar refrain on Twitter and various other “social media” websites. We need to be able to tame Twitter, use it more efficiently  (and using it for academics, as in my case).

Think. Pause. Reflect. Think some again.

Digital detoxification is essential.

Having no fixed position, which seems unthinkable on the internet, is actually a liberating way to navigate the world.

I think its the critical knowledge for all academics out there.

Word Press blogging platform

The standard wordpress.com blogging platform is decent enough. I had been using the self hosted version for pretty long time but the maintenance had been done by someone else. My job was to blog. And I did experiment around with various plugins.

Despite the “free option”, wordpress.com does have a decent advantage when you pay up for it. One of the biggest hassles with self hosting is the recurring cost for a single website; it doesn’t help that way. In addition, adding media to the blogposts quickly adds up to the allotted storage space. Although there are ways to circumvent it, honestly, I don’t have time and patience to have all this set up.

My biggest grouse is that standard wordpress.com doesn’t allow one to install plugins and requires most expensive tier. I have highlighted the same to the customer care but sadly, they aren’t able to help me to go around the limitations. Its being greedy and a stupid limitation but thats the best I have around me. Other alternatives have too fancy interfaces that doesn’t help to deliver the goods as effectively.

I really hope some sun shines and they at least move the installable plugins to the middle paid tier. I might reconsider then. Lets hope for the best!

How to automate Twitter for academic research?

This is a continuation of my thoughts on automating twitter. I have used a bit of Inoreader and IFTTTrecipes” for this purpose. However, central to the whole premise is RSS feeds. Before I dive in my workflow, let me explain a bit about what RSS feeds are. 

Instead of checking back every day to any particular site to see if it’s been updated, RSS feeds give users the ability to simply subscribe to the RSS feed, much like you would subscribe to a newspaper, and then read the updates from the site, delivered via RSS feeds, in what’s called a “feed reader.”

Now, the whole premise is basic understanding of what these feeds are; why they are so cool in 2018 and how to gain the maximum advantage out of them. Once you have figured it out, everything else becomes extremely easy. For my purpose, I’ll be using Inoreader.

Inoreader is a web based reader and there was a substantial discount on the highest tiered functionality and I jumped on the chance to gain it. After you have figured out the way to subscribe to the feeds, the real fun starts.

Here’s what my feed reader looks like:

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As you can see, the feed reader automatically highlights the terms that I need to stay focused. This is one of the features- highlighter. I can change colors, add unlimited terms to the river of feeds that comes in and instead focus on what I am looking for.

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Next comes IFTTT. This is a web service that “automates” certain actions. The process to

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From the IFTTT home page

automate this is called as “recipe”. Therefore you create a “recipe” to achieve a certain end point.

Like for example, if I “star” a particular article inside Inoreader, IFTTT senses it and recipe fires to push it to Twitter.

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An example of a IFTTT recipe.

Further, Inoreader gives the options to filter feeds (in order to remove the redundant information that’s not required, rules to automatically tag and slot them into different folders or broadcast it to the audience (and much much more!)

I choose to automate the “starring” of the articles (which saves me time) and tag each incoming article with #newupdatesneuroonc” that goes on Twitter in real time.

I agree, this may sound pretty complex but it isn’t. Long time back (around 2010), I had envisioned such a system to find relevance in the “sea of articles”. RSS readers weren’t complex enough, then. The most important thing that I still miss is the “sentiment analysis“- ability to incorporate the citation score at the outset. But this takes time. Computing resources were scarce then but now everything has moved to the “cloud”.

Point here is that you can simply point Twitter to my hashtag (as above) and get the best of automated/human curated content. The pace of papers is growing but this represents the best form of getting curated real time updates!

I’ll be more than happy to share my refined workflows- Just reach out to me on the email and I’ll help you set it up on your own!

Happy Reading and Stay Informed!

Automating Twitter.

Information overload is a real problem. Papers/ conference calls, patient care and demands of academia can be extremely overwhelming.

Social media presence has added another dimension of “time-wasting” efforts. Most of us feel compelled to be a part of the group or else, there’s a real fear of missing out. In the complex conundrum of making your presence felt versus getting some “real work done”, you have to strike a right balance.

Ethics aside, its more of a practical necessity to automate repetitive tasks. For example, I have bots that fetch content from different sources in Telegram (I am a huge art fan). This would have meant checking at least eight different sources for updates versus something that streams in my channel on a continuous basis.

With the same mindset, I am content to approach Twitter to automate it. I can focus, instead on blogging my thoughts on a longer format. Of course, it helps to reach out to different authors and build social connections as well; to be honest, I have just started out. A lot has changed ever since Twitter started out. I remember a ton of services that had sprouted out alongside Twitter’s API’s but most of them have shipped out. The ones remaining have a compelling focus.

Scheduling posts is something I haven’t been able to grip. How would it help? Perhaps to gain maximum visibility when the target audience is likely to “see” it. However, it would bubble up, irrespective of Twitter, if it is compelling enough.

First blog post

I had been debating about starting a blog for quite some time. The pace of publication of papers has far outstripped the human attention. I will define and further refine the purpose of the blog, content, papers and my commentary on them.

I will also attempt to explore the contentious issue of “research”, with a particular focus on neuro-oncology. Stay tuned!

I am no stranger to blogging but Word Press has improved by leaps and bounds in the past five years. I decided to stick to this website, because of familiarity, their contribution towards open source and the fact that they have a solid support system to keep this going.

Blogging is fun but definitely requires a discipline of mind. I hope to evolve with time.

Thanks for coming by!