PaperCept, EDAS, and so on: why can’t we have nice things?

Why oh why can’t we have nice web-based software for academic things?

For conferences I’ve used PaperCept, EDAS (of course), Microsoft’s CMT, and EasyChair. I haven’t used HotCRP, but knowing Eddie it’s probably significantly better than the others.

I can’t think of a single time I’ve used PaperCept and had it work the way I expect. My first encounter was for Allerton, where it apparently would not allow quotation marks in the title of papers (an undocumented restriction!). But then again, why has nobody heard of sanitizing inputs? The IEEE Transactions on Automatic Control also uses PaperCept, and the paper review has a character restriction on it (something like 5000 or so). Given that a thorough review could easily pass twice that length, I’m shocked at this arbitrary restriction.

On the topic of journal software, the Information Theory Society semi-recently transitioned from Pareja to Manuscript Central. I have heard that Pareja, a home-grown solution, was lovable in its own way, but was also a bit of a terror to use as an Associate Editor. Manuscript Central’s editorial interface is like looking at the dashboard of a modern aircraft, however — perhaps efficient to the expert, but the interaction designers I know would blanche (or worse) to see it.

This semi-rant is due to an email I got about IEEE Collabratec (yeah, brah!):

IEEE is excited to announce the pilot rollout of a new suite of online tools where technology professionals can network, collaborate, and create – all in one central hub. We would like to invite you to be a pilot user for this new tool titled IEEE Collabratec™ (Formerly known as PPCT – Professional Productivity and Collaboration Tool). Please use the tool and tell us what you think, before we officially launch to authors, researchers, IEEE members and technology professionals like yourself around the globe.

What exactly is IEEE Collabratec?
IEEE Collabratec will offer technology professionals robust networking, collaborating, and authoring tools, while IEEE members will also receive access to exclusive features. IEEE Collabratec participants will be able to:

* Connect with technology professionals by location, technical interests, or career pursuits;
* Access research and collaborative authoring tools; and
* Establish a professional identity to showcase key accomplishments.

Parsing the miasma of buzzwords, my intuition is that this is supposed to be some sort of combination of LinkedIn, ResearchGate, and… Google Drive? Why does the IEEE think it has the expertise to pull off integration at this scale? Don’t get me wrong, there are tons of smart people in the IEEE, but this probably should be done by professionals, and not non-profit professional societies. How much money is this going to cost? The whole thing reminds me of Illinois politics — a lucrative contract given to a wealthy campaign contributor after the election, with enough marketing veneer to avoid raising a stink. Except this is the IEEE, not Richard [JM] Daley (or Rahm Emmanuel for that matter).

As far as I can tell, the software that we have to interact with regularly as academics has never been subjected to scrutiny by any user-interface designer. From online graduate school/faculty application forms (don’t get me started on the letter of rec interface), conference review systems, journal editing systems, and on, we are given a terrible dilemma: pay exorbitant amounts of money to some third party, or use “home grown” solutions developed by our colleagues. For the former, there is precious little competition and they have no financial incentive to improve the interface. For the latter, we are at the whims of the home code-gardener. Do they care about user experience? Is that their expertise? Do they have time to both make it functional and be a pleasure to use? Sadly, the answer is usually no, with perhaps a few exceptions.

I shake my fist at the screen.


Information Theoretic Estimators Toolbox

Zoltán Szabó of the Gatsby Unit forwarded me a link to his Information Theoretical Estimators Toolbox, which has MATLAB-friendly estimators for standard information-theoretic quantities. It might be of interest to readers of the blog.

APIs for hardware : architecting cellphones and networks

We had two talks by here at UCSD on Tuesday. The first was Cell Phones: How Power Consumption Determines Functionality by Arvind, and the second was Software-Defined Networks by Nick McKeown. These talks had a lot in common: they were both about shifting paradigms for designers, and about approaching the architecture of hardware from a software point of view.

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Papers : you know, to organize ’em

I ponied up the money and bought Papers recently — it’s not perfect but it does let me store all of those pesky PDFs I have lying around in a convenient single location.

The program acts like “iTunes for your papers.” It has its own internal storage system (which is also customizable) and lets you create collections (e.g. playlists). The best feature is the interface to various repositories such as PubMed, ArXiV, JSTOR, ACM, and Web of Science. It technically lets you search IEEEXplore as well, but IEEE just upgraded their system (color me unimpressed), which broke the current version of Papers’ search interface. I’m sure it will get fixed soon enough.

What I wish it let you do was to tag papers so that you can click on a tag to see all papers tagged with that topic; while this functionality is there, it’s not transparent to do it. I’d also like it if the BibTeX was associated as metadata with the paper file, so that I could integrate it better with BibDesk. I had contemplated getting DEVONthink to organize all of my files, but I felt like that was overkill.

Does anyone else out there have a killer system for organizing papers? I know it’s just a crazy dream that I’ll actually get a chance to read most of the papers I have sitting on my hard drive, but I’ll be more likely to read ’em if I can find ’em.