Apr 29, 2007

The EndNote post

For the past few days I've been installing EndNote, the bibliographic referencing software, on every computer I've been able to, and it seems to be proving useful to everybody. So I thought I'd share some more info about it that I've found out.

So first off, what is EndNote? It's a program that stores all the information about the references you use in your articles, and inserts them into Word documents as and when you want them. Oh, and it automatically creates and updates the list of references at the end of the document in the proper style (Harvard style in our case). This is very useful for us because we're always writing up assignments with a certain number of references required (say, at least ten) and we're always getting the references wrong -- or not quite right -- somewhere or the other. And obviously references are very important to us because Monash is starting to use Turn-It-In and is asking everyone to submit assignments electronically as well as on paper.

So yeah, I highly recommend EndNote to save a lot of time and effort. Monash makes it very easy for us to get up and running with it: go to http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/endnote/ for a summary page that contains all the EndNote links. After installing the program (Microsoft Word must be closed for the install to run), the program link should be in the Start menu (All Programs, EndNote, EndNote Program). Create a library file (File, New...) which will hold your references. You can of course have more than one library file, say one for each subject, but you can start out with just one.

Automatic bibliographic information

Once you're in the new library file, you can start creating some references (References, New Reference) to articles and books you've found. More importantly, you can now connect directly to Monash's online libraries to search for articles. When you find articles like this, you can just import the references into your library file and the information will automatically be properly formatted when you make EndNote insert it into Word. This is a simply awesome feature, not having to manually type in all the referencing info.

EndNote uses what it calls `connection files' to find out how to connect to each separate online database. The connection files relevant to the Monash databases are at http://www.lib.monash.edu.au/endnote/filter-connection-files.html. The most important connection files for us (business students) are `Business source premier', `Expanded academic ASAP (GALE)', `Econlit (EBSCOHost)', and `Monash University Library Catalogue'. In fact these are probably the only ones we need, and once we put the files into the C:\Program Files\EndNote 9\Connections folder, we can actually just delete all the other connection files in there.

Once you have the connection files set up, here is how to use them: tell EndNote to show you only the connections you want (Edit, Connection Files, Open Connection Manager..., then find and mark only the above connections). Then connect to, say, Business Source Premier (Tools, Connect, monash_business_source_premier_ebscohost). The search window should open up. Do a search, e.g. for anything authored by Mankiw. EndNote does the search, asks you how many results to show, then shows them. To see the detailed info about each search result, double-click it. You'll usually want to see the detailed info because the abstract will tell you if the article is relevant or not. To use the reference, copy it to your library file (the Copy ... Reference(s) To) button.

One issue with this feature: the first author is listed twice. Once the reference is copied into your library, open it (double-click) and delete the duplicate author name. Still less work than typing it all in.

Now the main part: putting the reference into your document. There are a couple of ways to do this, I'm just mentioning here the simplest. In Word, put the text insertion point where you want to insert the citation. Then in EndNote, move to the citation you want to insert, then click Tools, Cite While You Write [CWYW], Insert Selected Citation(s), or press Alt+2. And there you go, the citation is put into the document, and at the same time, the list of references is created or updated at the bottom of the document.

Another problem: it's not in the proper Harvard style. The closest style that EndNote has to the Monash Q Manual Harvard style is called `APA 5th', which you can find in the Style Manager (Edit, Output Styles, Open Style Manager...). Once the style is selected, make it the default style (Edit, Output Styles or the style drop-down box in the main toolbar). You can also customise the style to bring it closer to the Q Manual, but I've got a heavily customised style I can send out to anyone who wants it. Just put the style file into the C:\Program Files\EndNote 9\Styles folder and EndNote will see it.

Another issue: you want to include a page number in the citation, or you want to leave the author name outside brackets, like so: Mankiw (2005) says that.... You can do this in Word. Put the text insertion point inside the citation, then click Tools, EndNote X, Edit Citations.... Or click the button in the EndNote toolbar. Then select the Exclude author option. Or fill in the page number.

And that's all for now folks.

Apr 20, 2007

America's gun culture

I am sorry to learn about the losses suffered by the community of Virginia Tech. My first reaction is to blame America's gun culture. After all, American kids are bombarded with images of gunbattles, gunslingers, and the gung-ho shoot-from-the-hip attitude as portrayed in the popular media. If they face these kinds of images growing up, how can they not come to accept guns as a solution to right the wrongs they face? But obviously, most kids don't do this -- only the ones driven to madness do.

If my first reaction was to think of gun culture, my next thought was, how to curb it? There is a powerful segment of Americans who will strongly oppose any attempts to prevent ordinary citizens from buying guns. King George might be trying to break into their houses, after all. And just in general, removing rights from people just sounds ... queasy to me.

But there is another option -- compulsory weapons training. Make it compulsory for anyone who buys a gun to receive training to use the gun, and psychological evaluation to gauge the person's mental health. This way, everyone who buys a gun automatically deals with a barrage of people who train him to use the gun properly (keep the gun safety on and all that); make sure he knows the what he will be liable for if he shoots his gun and hurts someone; and evaluate his general state of mind and fitness to use the gun. Preferably, there would also be a written exam (consisting of technical questions e.g. on gun care, and also -- crucially -- psychologically loaded questions like `How would you feel about shooting someone in the head?' which would give some basis to gauge the person's mental stability and mindset) which he would need to pass to get the license for the gun. (How do you think Seung-hoi Cho would have answered a question like that? Obviously with a rational answer -- but questions like this allow psychiatrists to pick up clues about the person's mental processes.)

In this way, guns become another state-regulated item, just like poison and radioactive materials. You might be asking, what next, will we need to give an exam to keep knives in our kitchens? To be honest, I think guns are far more dangerous than knives, because they are long-range weaponry, fire rapidly, and on average, do far more damage to the human body than a knife does.

Looking at this from an economic perspective, the use of guns in society has negative externality-like effects on society. Society wants individuals to use less guns than the individual wants to. Therefore, society should impose a tax on the individual who wants to use guns to bring his demand for guns down to an socially acceptable level. This tax is in the form of the gun training and written exam, which the individual would of course have to pay for just like any other training/exam.

We live in a world where we have to retake tests like the IELTS every few years just to prove that we are still as proficient at English as we were three years ago. I don't see anything wrong with taking a test to prove that we are fit to own a gun. In fact, there is more reason to make this a periodic test, say every two years. This way, kids will think twice before going off to buy guns to make themselves feel bigger.