Thesis toolbox

I’m almost done. About a month to oral defence. But, here are the tools I used to gather data, process it, whip up visualizations, and write the thesis:

  • Papers (for storing the 598 papers I worked through during the process).12
  • Dropbox (for having the files available on any computer I’m using, storing revisions, and making me not freak out about backups)3
  • Noteshelf – best notebook iPad app I’ve used. Did CoI coding data in it. Tracked progress in it. Sketched visualization ideas in it. Etc…
  • SurveyMonkey (for the online survey. wish I hadn’t used it, though, because I didn’t spring for a paid license and my data was trapped)
  • a custom HTML page and CGI processor hosted by UCalgary for gathering ethics consent from participants
  • Chrome (save web page… provided the online discussion archives)
  • BBEdit (for processing the discussion archives)
  • Excel (for storing the metadata and coding data, processing the data, and generating some visualizations)4
  • Gephi (for playing with visualizing online communities – wound up dropping most of those from the thesis, though)
  • OmniGraphSketcher (for creating many of the visualizations. FANTASTIC app for playing with data visualization)
  • OmniGraffle Pro (for the concept map visualization and some supporting media)5
  • Acorn (for processing all graphics)6
  • iPhone Voice Recorder app (for recording instructor interview)
  • VLC (for playing the instructor interview slowly without going mental)
  • Word (for writing the thing)7
  • WordPress (category on my blog for running notes on journal articles)
  • likely a handful of other handy apps thrown in for good measure

The irony… my thesis basically boils down to “it’s not the tool, it’s how you use it.” And I write a “these are the tools I used” post…

  1. Used the Mac, iOS and Windows versions, synced via Dropbox (and then gave up on syncing because my library was too fracking big) []
  2. the search tool in Papers is awesome. I found stuff in it that was difficult or impossible to find elsewhere, and the library proxy support was a HUGE timesaver. []
  3. raw online discussion data didn’t go here because of ethics implications – I’d said that would only be secured on my home computer []
  4. pivot tables are magic, or science fiction. I was amazed at how easy it was to play with the data once it was all normalized into a spreadsheet. yeah, not a hardcore True Database. Whatever. Did the job. []
  5. I dabbled with Visio on Windows, but compared to OmniGraffle, it just. sucks. so. badly. []
  6. absolutely LOVE Acorn. So good. []
  7. found myself not hating spending this much time in Word. Sure, it’s not perfect, and it has its quirks, but it worked well enough… []