Showing Context with Magic Move

I use Keynote for all of my presentations. It’s a hassle to have to run them off of my own devices instead of using a venue’s PC (though it’s getting easier), but it’s worth it for one reason: making animations is incredibly easy in Keynote.

Fitting In

When I say animations, I don’t mean dissolves and smash cuts. I mean moving objects within a slide in a way that shows them in a new light or reveals more context.

For example, here’s a graph showing changes in global surface temperatures over the past thirteen ears (which looks flat), which I then frame in terms of a much longer timescale (which shows temperatures rising at an increasing rate):

Here’s another example from my dissertation work. My research involves taking randomized trials and analyzing them as an interrupted time series analysis. This can be a little difficult to understand conceptually, so I use an animation to visually show the difference between the two analytic strategies:

To me, these animations are useful because the objects of interest never disappear from the screen. They are simply reframed in a different context, allowing the audience to make the leap from one setting to another.

I’m sure there’s some great literature on why this is more compelling, but all I can say is that it has worked very well in my experience. Better still, the time cost of making these is much lower than you might think.

From Transitions to Animations

I made a toy example that builds a diagram using three methods: a simple dissolve transition, an animation, and an animation with an additional delay that I find appealing. Here they in sequence:

And here they are next to one another (I timed it so that the actual length of transitions is the same for all three):

Here’s a link to the Keynote file, if you’d like to play with it further.

From Dissolve to Magic Move

Going from the dissolve transitions to the animated transitions is as simple as changing the transition between slides from “Dissolve” to “Magic Move”. Magic Move is a Keynote-specific transition that detects identical objects between two slides, then transitions between the slides by having those objects move from their place in Slide 1 to their place in Slide 2. The easiest way to make this happen is as follows:

  1. Duplicate Slide 1 and change its transition to “Magic Move”;
  2. Move around the objects in the duplicated slide as you’d like;
  3. Profit.

It can be a little finicky at times, especially if you have lots of similar objects (I’ve had this problem when there were lots of arrows on a slide – more on that later), but for most situations it works.

From Magic Move to Delayed Transitions

The jump in quality from Dissolve to Magic Move is enormous; now let’s talk add some frills. I often like to have the objects in Slide 2 that are brand new to fade in after the initial movement has taken place, as opposed to during. Doing this requires a few more steps:

  1. Select all the objects in Slide 2 that aren’t part of the Magic Move transition;
  2. Give them each a “Fade In” animation (I tend to use Dissolve with a short duration);
  3. Click on Build Order;
  4. Decide if you want these objects to fade all at once or one at a time, and make the appropriate adjustment;
  5. Make sure that the first animation in Build Order is set to start “After Transition”.

This may seem like a lot of steps for a small change, but there’s an added benefit: by having objects fade in after the transition, you remove them from Magic Move’s detection algorithm. So, if you’re noticing that Magic Move is choosing the wrong objects to move, you can remove them from the equation by having them fade in afterwards. Bingo!

From Slides to Videos

In my opinion, these animations make presentations a much more valuable tool to convey complex information in a comprehensible way. So valuable, in fact, that I’ve taken the additional step of making them full fledged videos. Almost all of the materials in the Teaching section of my website were made using Keynote. After setting up animations to my liking, I use the “Record Slideshow” function to add a voiceover and export it as a video file. But that’s for another post.

Save files on iOS with Workflow

I like getting work done on my iPhone and iPad. At times it gets impractical (I’m looking at you Stata), but there are lots of simple actions that I can do from my iOS devices, oftentimes faster than I can do on my Mac. One task that I always thought I should be able to quickly do from my iOS device is save a file from Safari, Mail, or any other app to a folder on Dropbox. This has been a pretty clunky process involving using the “Open In…” menu, opening a file in the Dropbox app, choosing a folder, tapping Save, and returning to the original app.

With the release of Workflow, I can finally say that it’s just as easy to save a file on iOS as it is on my Mac.

If you haven’t heard about Workflow, it’s a $2.99 app that lets you build custom actions that you can run from your device. Unlike previous workflow apps like Pythonista and Editorial, Workflow is extremely easy for non-programmers to use. Lots has been written about it since its release in December, ranging from the simple to the extensive to the extremely nerdy. This app can do a million things, but in this post I will focus on an extremely useful, and extremely simple to set up, action to save a file.

The final product

I often come across a PDF in Safari that I’d like to save. With Workflow, I tap “Open In…,” select “Run Workflow,” and choose one of three actions that I’ve set up:

These actions, in increasing order of both complexity and flexibility are:

  1. Save the file to a folder in my Dropbox called “1Read,” where I save PDFs for later reading;
  2. Save the file to an arbitrary folder in Dropbox;
  3. Save the file to a folder in iCloud Drive, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, or any other third party service that supports document provider extensions in iOS 8.

Here’s a collection of screenshots that show the 1Read workflow (1), the Dropbox workflow (2), and the iCloud Drive (3a) or third party document provider (3b) workflow:

Workflow (1) has zero additional steps; it saves it to the 1Read folder and that’s it. Workflow (2) has the additional step of selecting a Dropbox folder in which to save the file. Workflow (3) involves first choosing a document provider, then choosing a folder[1].

The crazy part

“That’s fine for a PhD student, but setting this up must take a lot of time, energy, and frustration.”

I hear you, dear reader, but fear not.

I give you, in its entirety, the setup for each of these three workflows:

Some notes:

  • As you can see, Workflows (1) and (2) are identical, except for the toggle “Ask Where to Save.”
  • If you have a frequently used “inbox” folder, it’s worth setting up a separate workflow just for that folder.
  • Make sure you specify these workflows as “Action Extensions” so that they show up in the Share Sheet.
  • Workflow (3) is one that I’ve come to rely on quite a bit. Besides the third party providers, iCloud Drive is actually a nice save location, since if you don’t have an internet connection at the time of saving, it’ll save it locally and upload it once you get a connection.

If you check out the @WorkflowHQ twitter page or the Workflow Gallery, you’ll find lots and lots of other Workflows. But this is one that’s easy to set up, easy to use, and fills a real need in my work habits.


  1. You may notice that Dropbox is a document provider that shows up in Workflow (3). Since I use it so much, and since the native document picker will sometimes crash, I made a separate Dropbox-only action.  ↩

How I will write my dissertation

In the spirit of getting my procrastinating done during the holidays (that’s how procrastinating works, right?), I thought I’d share how I choose to write complex papers. For my purposes, “complex” means any paper that involves some combination of:

  • citations linked to some bibliography manager;
  • equations;
  • internal links (a.k.a. “cross references”).

For simpler papers, I really do like Pages. It makes formatting relatively easy, it has (basic) EndNote and MathType support, and it looks lovely on high resolution displays. More recently, I’ve become smitten with Apple’s new Handoff feature that works with iOS 8 and OSX Yosemite devices. Being able to work on a paper at my desk, then pick up where I left off on my iPad as I move to the couch, then switch to my iPhone so I can stretch my legs, is pretty neat. Maybe this will get old someday, but for now it’s the bee’s knees.

Then there are the problems. In addition to the inability of Pages to satisfy my need for numbered equations, Apple is developing a bit of a reputation for poor backward-compatibility. I am terrified by the prospect of trying to open my dissertation in a few years and getting an alert like this (source: Google+):

This is totally unacceptable, and I hope Apple understands what a massive detterent this is.

The opposite end of the usability vs. flexibility spectrum, there’s LaTeX. LaTeX combines the longevity of plain text with a robust bibliography management system, not to mention the fact that LaTeX was conceived for the purpose of printing mathematical formulas. But, as the above links may suggest, LaTeX tools won’t be winning any awards for UI design.

Enter multimarkdown. Developed by Fletcher Penny, MMD allows me to use one of the hundreds of markdown[1] text editors for iOS using a syntax that can be exported as LaTeX. This export process does take some time to set up (see here for details), but once it’s read I simply have to prepend this metadata to the beginning of a file to make it export-ready:

Title: Title of my document
Author: Teddy Svoronos
latex input: /path/to/header/mmd-teddy-header
latex footer: /path/to/footer/mmd-teddy-footer
Base header level: 2
Bibtex: /path/to/bibtex/file/bibfull
Biblio Style:plain

I may get into the details of this setup in a later post; let me know if there’s any interest.

My editor of choice is Byword (which was recently updated to support Handoff), though I use Fletcher’s own MultiMarkdown Composer when I need to get in the weeds of internal links, table creation, and using the app’s native table of contents viewer.

The only potential rub in this setup is if my advisors want to use Word track changes to provide comments. In this case, I’ll have to export my file as rich text and do some manual futzing to make it presentable. Not great, but those occasional costs are outweighed by the benefits outlined above.

Boy, I’d better get writing.


  1. For background on markdown, see Gruber’s original specification. For an introduction to the syntax for non-coders and why you should use it, I recommend David Spark’s excellent iBook.  ↩

Contradictions of the MPH

But the more time I spent as a student of public health, the more my worries of impracticality gave way to a funny feeling of being left out. Our professors were trained as statisticians, economists, and sociologists; what was I being trained as? Was public health a discipline? An area of expertise? An employment category? After years of being a quantitative researcher, I still hesitate to call myself a statistician or an econometrician; I suspect those who work in qualitative methods have similar identity crises with respect to anthropology and ethnography. My courses still adhered to conventions of being observers, not practitioners; but my training was intentionally discipline agnostic. As a result I never quite feel at home; too dispassionate to be a practitioner, too invested to be an academic.

Yours truly writing for the Brooklyn Quarterly.

Link: Digging Into Data

Determinants of rural Liberians’ confidence in health care

I have a new paper out analyzing the results of a 2008 survey in Liberia, focusing on respondents’ confidence in their ability to obtain needed care. Though this particular paper has no relation to recent troubling events in Liberia, the issue of health system confidence is surely playing a role in the progression of events today.

Abstract

Background: Following a protracted civil war, Liberia is rebuilding its health system.  One of the aims of reconstruction is to expand access to health care to a previously underserved rural population.

Objective: This study analyzed the determinants of Liberians’ confidence in their ability to obtain needed care for themselves or their children in case of serious illness.

Methods: A cross-sectional survey of 1,435 adults in Nimba County, Liberia was conducted. Logistic regression models were estimated with reported ability to obtain needed health services for serious illness as the dependent variable, and demographics, health need, health system characteristics, and informal health care as independent variables.

Results: Overall, 50.56% of respondents reported that they could obtain needed services for themselves or their children.  Confidence in the ability to obtain care increased with education (odds ratio (OR) 1.62, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.19 – 2.21) and poor physical health in the past 30 days (OR 1.38, 95% CI: 1.01 – 1.88), and decreased with poverty (OR 0.66, 95% CI: 0.47 – 0.93), exposure to previous trauma (OR 0.50, 95% CI: 0.36 – 0.71), dissatisfaction with respondents’ last formal health visit (OR 0.70, 95% CI: 0.54 – 0.91), and high utilization of the informal health sector (OR 0.84, 95% CI: 0.73 – 0.96). No correlation was found between health system confidence and being female, being 35 years old or younger, formal health sector use, being within an hour of a clinic and the closest clinic having basic capabilities.

Conclusions: Respondents’ experiences with the health care system had a greater correlation with their confidence in obtaining needed health care than proximity or quality of medical equipment in health clinics.  Despite pro-poor policies guiding health system reconstruction, poor and less educated individuals have less confidence that the health system can meet their health needs.

Click here for the article entry (access required).

Click here for the manuscript.

 

Increasingly Irrelevant Distinctions

When I started graduate school a few years ago, I was terribly concerned about my notetaking setup (in retrospect, I should have been more concerned about statistics). I was about to get hammered by information that took a variety of forms: lots of equations and diagrams, but also enough discussion-oriented material to require flexibility in how I took notes. My main candidates, which I used to varying degrees, were:

  • Notes taken on my iPad, a combination of handwritten (with a stylus) and typed[1];
  • Typing notes using MultiMarkdown, to allow for easily formatted text, equations, footnotes, and other wacky content;
  • Going whole hog and taking notes in LaTeX in real time (using TeXpad on Mac or iOS);
  • Handwriting my notes with a pen, in a notebook made of paper. Probably by candlelight or gas lantern.

I ended up with a combination of these, depending on the course and whatever devices I had available. This caused quite a bit of consternation in my workflow-addled brain. What if I needed an equation and couldn’t find it? What if I had different silos of material that adhered to different organizational systems? Won’t somebody please think of the metadata?

Looking back on my 2+ years of notes (which I actually refer to pretty often), I’ve realized how little the input medium mattered. No matter which of the tools I used, everything that I recorded is now either (a) in PDF format in Dropbox, or (b) stashed in Evernote.

Solution (a) should be familiar to you if you’ve made it this far in my post, but it’s worth stressing: keep every bit of digital information that’s important to you in PDF format. It’s standard, it’s viewable on any device, it’s not tied to a large corporation that constantly changes the meaning of file extensions, it’s searchable (especially with solid OCR software on Mac and iOS)…just do it.

Solution (b) is new to me, even though I’ve used Evernote off and on for many years. I’ve only recently started working with Evernote in a way that clicks for me, but I now rely heavily on Evernote’s solid handwriting recognition, which they do automatically once a note is on their servers. These improvements are reliable enough that I can choose to write on my iPad with a stylus and export to Evernote, or handwrite in a notebook and capture it with the Evernote app’s document camera. Here’s an example of some notes I took on my iPad (left) and on paper (right):

Evernote handwriting recognition
Evernote handwriting recognition

As you can see, both notes recognize the word “treat” despite some pretty terrible handwriting.

I’m still working out the kinks of what to keep as a PDF in Dropbox and what to ‘scan’ into Evernote (FYI, Evernote saves these scans as image files). The short answer is that I keep notes that I want to reference in Evernote, and notes that I want to keep working on (including journal articles that I want to highlight) in Dropbox. It’s still a work in progress, but I’m trying my very best not to stress about it. Both are highly searchable, organizable repositories, and Mavericks tags have added the tagging functionality of Evernote to Dropbox.

I’m sure I’ll expound on this in a later post, but hopefully somebody will find this useful.


  1. If you’re interested, I used Noteshelf with a Wacom Bamboo stylus and now use GoodNotes with an Adonit Jot Script. But I digress.  ↩

On Rigor 2

This is a followup to my previous post on external validity and rigor, and a further attempt to pretend that this blog is not just about productivity, apps, and hacks.

Jed Friedman has a great piece on the Development Impact blog on a working paper by Hunt Alcott (who I cited in my previous post). Alcott describes a concept called “External Unconfoundedness”. This perfectly articulates what I was trying to get at in my previous post, an attempt to bring statistical notions of unbiasedness to questions of external validity. A lot of the conditions for external unconfoundedness have to do with the environment of the original study, and Alcott is particularly interested in site selection bias – the extent to which the setting for a study is chose because of favorable conditions.

Both the working paper and the post are great reads.

Link: Toward a more systematic approach to external validity: Understanding site-selection bias

Wireless Presenting Just Got a Lot Easier

Much has been said about Apple’s updates to Keynote, Pages, and Numbers last year, and much of that has been pretty negative. However, Apple has been rolling out updates to these apps over the past few months and, as of the latest update, has made a wonderful thing possible: it is now easy to wirelessly present and annotate a Keynote presentation with nothing more than an iPad, iPhone, and adapter.

Doing a wireless presentation on the go has been possible, but even the most well-done setups have required purchasing, bringing, and configuring additional devices (MacSparky’s setup, which I have used until now, requires a $99 Apple TV and a $99 Airport Express). Now, I only need three things which I carry around anyway: my iPad mini, my iPhone, and an adapter to hook an iOS device to a projector.

The Setup

The basic setup is to use your iPad as a remote that you carry around, which controls your iPhone that’s connected to the room projector[1]. Here are my steps for setting up a wireless Keynote presentation:

  1. Connect my iPhone to the projector using the adapter
  2. Pair the Keynote apps so that my iPad serves as a remote for my iPhone
  3. Press Play on my iPad
  4. Don’t be nervous and do a really good presentation

I’ll walk you through steps 1–3; you’re on your own for step 4.

Hardware: Connect your iPhone

This is easy. Both the VGA and HDMI adapters also have a power plug, so you can keep your iPhone charged while you project. As for which adapter to purchase, in my experience overhead projectors use VGA, while flatscreens use HDMI. That said, I work in academia, so you private sector folks with the fancy pants might only need HDMI to function.

Software: Pair the Keynote apps

The pairing process can feel a bit tedious, but only needs to be done the first time (your device is remembered for subsequent presentations). Better still, if you’re pairing iOS-to-iOS you don’t even need to be on the same network. Here are the steps:

  1. Make sure Bluetooth is on for both devices
  2. Open Keynote on both devices
  3. On the iPad, tap the remote button on the main screen and tap Continue
  4. On the iPhone, open a presentation
  5. On the iPhone, tap on the wrench icon on the upper right of the screen and navigate to Presentation Tools > Allow Remote Control and turn Enable Remotes on
  6. After taking a few seconds to pair via Bluetooth, your iPad should appear underneath Enable Remotes; tap Link
  7. A passcode should show up on both devices; confirm that they’re the same number by tapping Confirm on your iPhone
  8. Tap Done on your iPhone

Combined, here’s what it looks like on the iPhone:

and on the iPad:

Presenting

I said I couldn’t help you make an awesome presentation, but here’s a neat tip: as of this week’s Keynote updates, you can use your iPad to draw on your existing slides, and draw attention to parts of your slide using a laser pointer function. Here’s what it looks like in practice:

This means that you can walk around the room with iPad in hand, drawing and pointing to your heart’s content, all while projecting onto the room’s projector through your iPhone.

The best part? This is all I need for my new mobile presentation setup:

Enjoy, and please get in touch if you have ideas or suggestions.


  1. In this post, I’m using the iPad as the remote and connecting the iPhone to the projector; this is because I prefer to use the iPad for annotations and reading notes. Feel free to switch the two if you prefer to have the iPhone in hand.  ↩

 

MOOC Money

Caroline M. Hoxby recently published a NBER working paper on the role of MOOCs in the future business models of both “selective” and “non-selective” postsecondary institutions. The bulk of the paper would be interesting only to an economist, but the end is where things get interesting.

Hoxby argues that the current way that MOOCs are run (make your courses available publicly) could align with the business of non-selective institutions, in that students would pay to enroll in a course just like they would at a brick and mortar school. For “Highly Selective Postsecondary Education” (HSPE) Institutions (schools that rely heavily on alumni donations), though, Hoxby presents an alterative:

Viable online education for HSPE must deal with two problems: (i) the selectivity necessary for offering advanced education and (ii) the experiences that build the beliefs and adherence that sustain the venture capital-like financial model.

Consider a system in which HSPE institutions created online versions of their courses that could be traded with other institutions whose students had similarly high aptitude and preparation. The exporting institution could maintain the advanced nature of the course by limiting enrollment to those outside students who were best prepared, by disallowing outside students whose home institutions had previously sent students who underperformed, or by insisting that the outside students receive support (interactions and assessment) from an instructor at their home institution who is trusted by the exporting faculty member. Exporting institutions might offer such courses at a sustainable cost.18 A student’s home HSPE institution would continue to set his degree requirements, grant his degree, and be responsible for all other aspects of his PE experience.

I haven’t thought enough about this model to consider its implications, but this is one of the more novel pieces I’ve come across that speaks directly to how higher education business models can incorporate these new modes of teaching. If you’re aware of others, please do let me know!

Link: The Economics of Online Postsecondary Education: MOOCs, Nonselective Education, and Highly Selective Education