Essential software: Link Shell Extension

One of the key ingredients in many of my Dropbox ‘hacks’ is the symbolic link.  In a nutshell, symbolic links are like post-it notes that tell your computer “Hey, I moved these files. Here’s a map to where they are now, but just pretend like they’re in the original spot. Kthxbai!”  If you’ve ever created a shortcut in Windows, this may sound like the same thing.  The crucial distinction is that most programs will follow the map to the relocated files and behave as if they are still in the original location.  Why is this so great?  Because it allows you to both 1) surpass one of the chief ‘limitations’ of Dropbox and 2) save virtually any file or folder on your computer to the cloud, either for backup or to sync between multiple devices.  It also allows you to move files from small, crowded drives (like a solid state drive) to larger or more spacious drives, hopefully without breaking any functionality in the process.

Anyway, symbolic links are normally created using the command line interface, which is tedious and leaves a lot of room for error (e.g., accidentally mistyping one character could leave your files in limbo).  Enter Link Shell Extension.  This freeware utility adds a context menu inside the Windows File Explorer.  Whenever you right click on a file or folder, you’ll see a new option to “Pick Link Source.”  After picking a source, you can navigate to another folder and right click again to ‘Drop’ the source as any of a number of types of links.  For my purposes, I always use symbolic links.

I’ll show some specific examples of files that I’ve moved to Dropbox and symbolically linked to their original location in other posts.  For now, I’ll just outline the general method:

  1. Locate the files you want to move. It’s probably best to move the entire folder, so you can more easily keep track of everything — and in case additional files are generated or added to the folder in the future.
  2. Copy the folder/files, either with Ctrl+C or using the right-click context menu.
  3. Navigate to wherever you want the files to reside–either inside your Dropbox, if you’d like to sync them to the cloud, or to a more spacious drive if you’re trying to save space on your SSD.
  4. Paste the folder/files.  You may want to create a new folder just for storing and organizing all of your symbolically linked files.
  5. Now return to the original files/folder and delete them.  This will free up the space they were using.  Alternatively, you could cut and paste in step 2 instead of copying, but if your system encounters problems while removing the files (e.g., files that are still in use by a running program), it can make a mess of things–some files will be deleted, others won’t.  I prefer copying and then deleting because I know I have a full backup of everything sitting in my destination folder, so I can use every tool at my disposal to delete the originals without worrying about losing anything.
  6. Navigate to your copied files, e.g. in the folder you created inside your Dropbox folder.  Once you’ve installed Link Shell Extension, use the new context menu option to select this folder as the Link Source: link-shell-start
  7. Now navigate back to the original location of the files you copied/cut/deleted, and right-click again to use Link Shell Extension to Drop the source as a symbolic link:link-shell-drop
  8. Voila!  Your computer will basically treat the symbolically linked files as if they were never touched; if you edit them, the changes will still be saved just like before.  The difference is that they are now physically stored in a different location, and if they’re inside your Dropbox, you can share them with your other devices.  This means that even if you didn’t install a given program inside your Dropbox folder to begin with–or if the program stores its configuration files in another directory, like C:\Users… or C:\AppData…– you may still be able to sync those files while satisfying the program’s insistence on locating its files in predetermined folders on your C drive.  I’ll offer some more concrete examples of how this is a handy feature in future posts.

Head on over to the source page to download Link Shell Extension or to read a LOT more about all of the program’s functions.  If you find it useful like I do, please send a donation to Hermann Schinagl, the creator.


Link Shell Extension

Isn’t it good, Norwegian firewood?

Here’s one for the file on ‘interesting cultural practices from around the world.’  A recent Norwegian television program about firewood was so popular, 20% of the country tuned in to watch it at some point.  To put that into perspective, the 2008 and 2012 presidential debates brought in around the same percentage of American viewers, while the Rose Bowl and World Series each only brought in about 5% of the US population.

As Sarah Lyall reports in the NY Times, firewood is a big deal in Norway.  The TV program was based on a best-selling book about firewood; apparently it’s a subject that allows men to open up about their feelings without threatening their stoic masculinity. Because nothing says ‘manly’ like chopping firewood, right?

However, this isn’t what stands out about the program.  After all, we have entire networks devoted to shows about lobster fishing and the lumber industry.  No, the surprising thing is that 2/3 of the program wasn’t even scripted TV:

“My first thought was, ‘Well, why not make a TV series about firewood?’” Mr. Moeklebust said in an interview. “And that eventually cut down to a 12-hour show, with four hours of ordinary produced television, and then eight hours of showing a fireplace live.”

Ahem. Eight hours of showing a fireplace live. This is apparently what makes for suspenseful television in the frozen fjords of Norway.

Of course, my first thought was that this provided some kind of passive, background entertainment like a yule log–we recently discovered, to my fiancé’s delight, that our Roku included a few yule log channels during the holiday season.  I had never actually encountered a yule log before this, but I can understand the appeal of having a visual ‘fire’ to go along with christmas tunes while you’re doing other chores around the house. However, Lyall reports that this isn’t your grandparents’ yule log:

While the Yule log fire plays on a constant repeating loop, the fire on “National Firewood Night” burned all night long, in suspensefully unscripted configurations. Fresh wood was added through the hours by an NRK photographer named Ingrid Tangstad Hatlevoll, aided by viewers who sent advice via Facebook on where exactly to place it.

So there you have it. The combination of very ancient technology–wood-burning stoves–and more recent forms of communication–broadcast television–have merged to provide Norwegians with a comforting simulacrum of tradition, no matter where they now live or how they heat their homes.

This article reminded me of the oft-quoted and possibly apocryphal anecdote about how the Inuit supposedly have hundreds of words for what we anglophones simply call ‘snow.’  In anthropology classes, we use this as a handy example of a focal vocabulary, meaning a set of terms and definitions that certain groups of people come to share by way of mutual interest and participation in certain activities.  Other examples include occupational terms–e.g., listen to an episode of any medical drama and you’ll hear the characters throwing around terms (“He’s flat lining! Give me 20 CCs of plasma, stat!”) that normally you would only understand after medical school (or watching a lot of medical dramas). Online gamers have extensive focal vocabularies, often employing a lot of acronyms to quickly and efficiently inform teammates about battle tactics (“That noob is ninja‘ing all the BOP gear” orStack your HOTs on the tank once she aggros those adds).  Incidentally, one of my very favorite wikipedia articles is the talk page behind the entry for Pwn. It pretty clearly demonstrates the level of investment that people are willing to make in debating the meaning and tracing the etymology of language that outsiders would probably find trivial.

Anyway, the popularity of a TV show that basically consisted of eight uninterrupted hours of logs burning makes me wonder if Norwegians have a focal vocabulary for firewood and related things–axes, chopping, etc.  The article delves into the intense public debate among viewers over whether firewood should be stacked with the bark facing up or down (why not to the side? Or facing south?). Like focal vocabularies, the existence of such controversies—and again, the sheer willingness of folks to watch eight hours of burning wood—suggests that this is a domain of experience that Norwegians find particularly meaningful.  If any Norwegians (or experts in the anthropology of Norwegian firewood) happen by, please share your thoughts on the subject.


In Norway, TV Program on Firewood Elicits Passions –

Found tip: JabRef and Google Scholar | Chaoticity

JabRef and Google Scholar | Chaoticity.

One of the advantages to using bibliography management software is the potential for quickly filling in all of the relevant details about a citation with just a few clicks — it certainly beats manually typing the information every time you need to cite something.  One of the problems with JabRef was that it seemed to require a lot of unnecessary copying and pasting and opening up of menus to get the BibTeX data out of Google Scholar and into a new JabRef citation field.  However as ‘Felix’ points out in the post linked above, you can simply paste BibTeX data into the main library window in JabRef and it will create a new citation from whatever was in your clipboard. Time saver!

Update 21-Feb-2013: As I just posted today, you can also search Google Scholar from within JabRef (Hit F5 or click Search on the menu bar and then Web Search, and then select Google Scholar from the dropdown menu), or if you prefer searching from within your web browser, click ‘Cite‘ for the result you want to add to your database.  In the small window that pops up, click on ‘Import into RefMan.’  Your browser should ask you what program you want to use to open the filetype (.RIS extension).  Browse to wherever you installed JabRef and click ‘OK.’  JabRef should append the citation data to your open database!

anthropological musings on life, workflow, & academia