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Posts from — January 2010

Making sense of the March Meeting

This year’s March Meeting will be in Portland, Oregon. (See previous blog posts from 2009 and 2008, also here.) The largest of the meetings put on by the American Physical Society, this year it there will be 581 sessions and 818 invited speakers. Most time blocks–from Monday morning through Thursday mid-day–will have a full program of 42 parallel sessions. This is slightly larger than last year, in which most time blocks had 41 parallel sessions, with a total of 562 sessions. There were 832 invited speakers last year, so this year has slightly fewer. As each session can have up to 15 contributed talks–10 minutes each with 2 minutes for questions and changing speakers, or 5 invited talks–30 minutes each with 6 minutes for questions and changing speakers, that means there could be almost 6800 talks all total, but most sessions aren’t completely programmed. This year, I am not giving a talk.

With such a mass of talks going on, planning your time at the conference and deciding how long to stay take some effort. In the past, abstracts for all talks, and the 2000 or so posters that the meeting has each year and were printed in two volumes that resembled phone books, plus a pocket sized book of session titles. These days, one gets a smaller books that lists only the titles of the talks, and of course the entire program is also available online. Nevertheless, over the years I’ve found the layout of the program to be a bit wanting, and so I put together some scripts that parse the schedule and author information to print it out in a form that I find easier to work with.

My scripts and their outputs have evolved over several years, and currently they produce three files. They take as input the Epitome, which is a chronological list of sessions, and the list of invited speakers. At present, both of these must be cut-and-pasted from the meeting website into text files for my program to read. (Maybe next year I’ll have them automatically grab the files from the APS website.)

The first output file is a version of the Epitome more suitable for browsing on a printed page than the materials for APS. It skips the non-talk sessions (like receptions and unit business meetings) and makes sure all sessions of each time block are together on a single page.

The second file serves to give a sense of the structure of the March Meeting: it is a grid of time blocks versus session numbers, with symbols indicating the number of invited talks in each session. It also has a list of room numbers associated with each session number: for the most part, all sessions of a certain number (such as A14, B14, D14, and so on) will be in the same room, but not always.

The third file is a list of invited talks, sorted by session instead of by author last name. Because of the large number of parallel sessions and the high likelihood of schedule conflicts, I think it makes sense to look time block by time block.

Since this year I’ve actually got these files produced well before the meeting, I’m posting them here in case anyone else should like to use them too.

Here are the three PDF files I’ve generated:




If you like the information but want to fiddle with the formatting, here are the .tex files that generated the PDFs, that need to be run through LaTeX. Because of a quirk in WordPress, they’re all saved as .tex.txt. The APS online information already uses TeX formatting for accent marks in speaker names, and for super- and sub-scripts in talk titles. (There are occasionally errors in APS’s TeX formatting–this year, the title of Philip Anderson’s talk is missing the math mode $ characters surrounding the ^3 superscript command. Despite my efforts to automate everything with these scripts, fixes like this still must be done by hand.)




Finally, here is the Tcl script that I use to parse the files and write the .tex files. It’s not very good code, having been mucked around with once a year for a few years and in general cobbled together from earlier scripts. It works, provided the settings file is appropriately edited, on march meeting files back to 2006, when the invited speaker list was first published online. The bits that work on the epitome work on 2005, and the epitome format in 2004 and earlier years was different. As with the .tex files, I’ve needed to upload them as tcl.txt files here.



In a future post, I hope to use the results of the scripts, particularly the grid, to analyze ways in which the March Meeting has changed over the years.

January 31, 2010   1 Comment

Travels with our toddler

We recently took Matthew on his first overnight train trip; regular viewers of the Matthew Picture of the Day can expect a couple of shots from on board. We took the Capitol Limited all the way to and from Chicago, in a bedroom in a sleeping car. As national network trains go, this is quite a convenient one–although it takes 17 hours to travel the 780 rail miles, via Pittsburgh and Cleveland, most of that is at night, and once you factor in time to eat dinner and breakfast and time to get ready for bed and to get dressed, there’s not that much idle time left. Matthew did well, and the train again proved to be a civilized and relaxing way to travel. He’s old enough to get some fascination from looking out the train window, which is quite an improvement from his previous trip, when he was one, when we went to New York to buy my Brompton. So all total, Matthew now has 2012 Amtrak miles.

Matthew, though, has logged more mileage in the air than by any other means: to date, 29063 miles in 26 segments. Most of this has gone well. We’ve always bought him a seat, even when he was young enough to travel as a “lap child.” In the past, it was common to travel with a young child as a “lap child” and then use an empty seat for him while aboard the airplane, but in recent years, there is no such thing as an empty seat, and lap children must almost always actually be carried on a grown-up’s lap for the whole flight. My advice, then, is not to count on there being an empty seat, but rather, to count on there not being an empty seat, and if you can at all afford it, buy the seat for the child.

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January 24, 2010   No Comments