To make a good schematic, copy, adapt, and refine

Scientific papers are built by taking existing ideas, applying them in new ways, adapting them to fit new situations, and improving them over time. Yet when it comes to drawing a schematic, many people start from scratch or never even start. Instead, start with an image search, let Inkscape do the hard work, and refine the best parts of other schematics.

I will use a figure of mine as a case study:

This schematic encapsulates the oceanographic processes that I examine in my PhD. I use it in many presentations, my thesis, and my personal website.

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Put three photos on your title slide

Placing text over a full-size photo is a standard way to create a title slide. But by being everyone’s go-to method, it’s forgettable. Instead, use a photographic triptych: three tall photos spanning the slide.

Here’s a real-life example, the title slide from my most recent presentation:

Open Source Sans, a free font, is used in three different weights: semi-bold, light, and normal

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Vector and raster in one with Matplotlib

Vector images are great, except when they shouldn’t be vector. Figures with intricate detail can actually benefit from being rasterized. This can reduce file size and help the figure load more quickly. Python’s Matplotlib has an option to rasterize certain elements, but it doesn’t always work as simply as expected.

This post describes a function that (i) lets you rasterize any chosen elements when you export the figure and (ii) overcomes problems with the current implementation of rasterizing objects with Matplotlib.

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Significant figures aren’t necessarily significant

Round to two significant figures is the first of what statistician Andrew Ehrenberg describes as Six Basic Rules in his Rudiments of Numeracy. It contradicts the standard rules about significant figures taught in school, but I agree with Ehrenberg.

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Image conversion with a right-click

Image file manipulation is typically associated with programs like Inkscape, Photoshop, or even MS Paint. A graphical user interface, however, isn’t a pre-requisite for manipulating images. Often it is overkill. Simple tasks such as resizing or converting file type can be achieved with little more than a right click (and the power of ImageMagick).

ImageMagick is a command-line, Swiss-army-knife of image manipulation. It can achieve all the usual manipulations: sharpen, rotate, resize, convert to grayscale, convert to a sketch. The list goes on… Instead of harnessing all its creative power, here I show how ImageMagick commands can be added to the right-click menu (in either Windows or Linux) to achieve simple changes without ever opening the file. Continue reading “Image conversion with a right-click”

Simplify your slides

At least 80% of scientific talks are bad. Most of these could be vastly improved by improving the slides. It may take a little extra time up front, but whose time is more precious? Yours, or the total of all the people in the audience?

Within my suggestions below, a common theme emerges: Simplify!

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