Interdisciplinarity

I am happy to see that the first point in the new UiO strategy plan is interdisciplinarity, or more specifically: “Et grensesprengende universitet”. Interdisciplinarity is always easier in theory than in practice, and this is something I am debating in a feature article in the latest volume (pages 32-33) of Forskerforum, the journal of the The Norwegian Association of Researchers (Forskerforbundet).

I have written about interdisciplinarity on this blog several times before (here, here and here). In the new article I use interdisciplinarity to not only refer to adjacent scientific disciplines, but in a more general sense. I use some of my own work as the point of departure: the video analysis work that ended up as the Musical Gestures Toolbox started out as an artistic project, was later developed within my scientific PhD work, and is now being used for both artistic projects (e.g. by Victoria Johnson), research on ADHD (Terje Sagvolden’s group) and clinical use in the analysis of children with cerebral palsy (Lars Adde).

Unfortunately, getting support (economically, administrative, etc.) for such interdisciplinary research (including both scientific and artistic research) is currently not possible in Norway. In fact, the Norwegian Research Council does not fund artistic research at all, and the Research fellowship in the arts program does not fund scientific research.

In the end of my feature article I suggest three points to the Norwegian universities and the Norwegian Research Council for how to improve the conditions for interdisciplinary research in Norway:

  1. Set up truly interdisciplinary committees for all research funding
  2. Open for projects that contain both scientific and artistic research
  3. Set aside 10% of all research funding (in all disciplines) to be used for artistic work

 

Why open file formats matter

Cleaning up on my hard drive, I came across a couple of .wks (MS Works spreadsheet) documents from 1994-95. I don’t really need to get at the contents of these files right now, but I think it could be useful to be able to open them at some point. So I tried to see if I could open them with any of the office programs I have on my computer (MS Office, Numbers, OpenOffice, NeoOffice).

MS Works used to be a quite widespread office suite that came with a lot of machines back in those days, and it is actually still in sale. Therefore you would imagine that MS programs should be able to open files from previous versions. Strangely enough, I discovered that MS spreadsheet flagship Excel can’t open the old MS Works files.

I haven’t tried the Windows version of Excel yet, but if that doesn’t work I guess I have to start up an old computer that may have MS Works installed (or pay for some conversion program). Yet another reason for working with open file formats.

Writing complex documents

I have been using LaTeX for most of my more advanced writing needs for so many years, that I tend to forget that there are so few other good options out there for writing what could be called “complex” documents, i.e. book-sized documents with a good portion of notes, pictures, links, etc.

I just had to help out in trying to create a large document based on 30+ individual documents in MS Word. Word offers the possibility of creating a ”master document” for embedding multiple individual documents. This (in theory) makes it possible to create one large table of contents, internal links, etc. However, in practice this turns out to be a nightmare of dimensions: styles change, links disappear or stop working, the table of contents finds most things, but with wrong styles, page numbers don’t get updated properly…

I’m glad I don’t rely on MS Word for such things, and I feel sorry for everyone that has to go through so much pain to create a large and complex document. Unfortunately, the rather steep learning curve of LaTeX makes it difficult to suggest it to people that are not inclined for writing code themselves. But what other options are there? OpenOffice might work a little better, but it is based on the same idea of mixing content and layout as Word. Layout programs are usually not particularly good for writing text, not to say footnotes, bibliography, etc. Scrivener is good for structuring large portions of text, but lacks most other thing required in scientific writing (and it is OSX only). Adobe FrameMaker could have been a solution, had it not been Windows only and fairly costly.

Any suggestions for other software would be welcome, and I will pass them on to the next unfortunate Word user I meet.

UiO goes social 2

A few weeks ago I mentioned that University of Oslo now openly supports RSS- and Twitter-feeds from the official employee web sites. Now I see that social linking has also been embedded in the new profile, as can be seen for example here.

These types of links have been around for some years, but many academic institutions seem to have been very reluctant when it comes to jump on the web 2.0 bandwagon. I don’t think adding a facebook/twitter button will change the world, but I highly support all initiatives that make universities more open.

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UiO goes social and opens for blogging

University of Oslo is brushing up the web pages this year, and now the turn has come to my department. When I updated my official profile I found (to my big surprise) that it is possible to include RSS and Twitter feeds. Wow, not bad, not bad at all! I am very happy that the university sees the possibilities in promoting blogging and social fora among the staff.

Another good thing is that publications are now automatically extracted from Frida, the Norwegian publication database that we have to use. Up until now we have had to manually create publication lists everywhere, so this is also a time saver.

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