Saturday, 23 December 2006

Editus Interruptus

Now that I've moved one of my labs to accommodate the princess and her pea, with the result that the occasional blind patient now has to negotiate a concrete stairwell in order to move from the interview room to the eye-tracking laboratory (apparently a price well worth paying in order to accommodate all those mattresses with which to cover the pea), I've got on with trying to manage more important things. Still, it's interesting how minor irritants can prove so annoying. I guess I too have my metaphorical peas.

So what's happened in all this time? Not much. Work, work, and more work. I've been to Washington for an NIH meeting and to Houston for a conference (where I ate the best steak ever); I've finished teaching a Masters-level statistics course and an advanced course on language processing (taught with Silvia); and I've processed another hundred or so papers for the journal Cognition. I really enjoy the editorial work. But it gets me down that there's such a huge backlog of papers waiting to be processed. I manage around 20 papers a week (sending out to review, or making editorial decisions such as 'accept', 'revise', or 'reject'). But that doesn't do anything to reduce the backlog, as no sooner do I process one paper than another is submitted to the journal. My current estimate is that it won't be until next Easter before the lag between receiving a paper, or receiving all its reviews, and processing that paper, comes down to just one week. I'm too embarrassed to say what the lag is currently! It built up over the summer (due to vacation and conference time), and I've never managed to get it down. Things will improve now that the associate editors are coming online (so a big thank-you to Rebecca, Vic, Steven, and Andrew), but it's a slow process. And each time I get an email from an author asking why it's taking so long, I feel a pang of guilt. My ideal Christmas? Two weeks off in which to work uninterrupted on the journal. My actual Christmas? Two days off in which to work, probably interrupted, on the journal... like its birth control counterpart, editorial control by editus interruptus is not particularly efficient.

My New Year's Resolution? To write a couple of papers, write two grant proposals, collaborate on a third, be a better father, be a better partner, be a better karateka and get my brown belt (3rd Kyu) and hopefully my brown and white belt also (2nd Kyu), and be less stressed. It's really very tempting to take up all those offers that my spam email brings me each day (I get on average 200 spam a day). Though it's not clear to me whether Viagra, a cheap mortgage, an imitation watch, stock options, and a share of someone's Nigerian fortune would really make me that much happier. Maybe the fortune... and yes, the cheap mortgage.. and probably the stock options (I still regret not buying shares in Apple...).

So, in the spirit of Xmas... the Christmas tree is up, and lit. But outside the front of the house our 2 ft. Monkey Puzzle tree has provided a more natural seasonal decoration: It's been very frosty, and foggy, so all that white stuff is cobwebs covered in condensation from the fog that has frozen. Maybe next year I'll rig up some lights. So... for the two people who I know read this (one of whom kindly sent me the link to a much more interesting blog than mine), very best wishes for the holiday season, and may next year bring you less spam, less stress, more satisfaction, and a big lottery win. Happy Xmas!

Friday, 13 October 2006

The princess and the nobleman

There lives in a place not so far away a nobleman with lands producing the finest of wines, from vineyards bordered by a winding river as deep as it is wide. Life used to be good for the nobleman and his loyal supporters. But one day, a princess from a distant land entered the kingdom. The King invited her to live amongst his subjects and decreed that until her palace could be built beyond the river, she should inhabit an ivory tower overlooking the nobleman’s vineyards – a tower that the nobleman would shortly have converted into dwellings for the newest of his artisans. With the passing of summer her palace was ready, and the princess’s entourage awaited their mistress. But the princess had grown used to the tower, and she told the King that she wished to remain. She did not care for her entourage on the far side of the river, and she did not care to leave her ivory tower. The King denied her, but she locked the doors, blocked her ears, and started to scream. She screamed and screamed. The screaming would not stop, and the King was powerless. His courtiers suffered as the wailing echoed down the valley in which they all lived. And soon neither they nor their King could stand it any longer. There was no alternative but to request that the nobleman move his vineyards to the far side of the river, and in their place build dwellings for his artisans who could now no longer aspire to live in the tower from which the screaming continued, day in, day out. The nobleman acquiesced, and a harsh silence descended over his vines.

To this day, his loyal laborers take the long trip far away and across the river, to reach the lands they now toil. And to this same day the princess lives in her ivory tower, unseen, unheard. But the nobleman remembers, as do his loyal servants. They remember the screams and their echoes, and the life they had before. And they look up each day at the ivory tower, occasionally glimpsing through its high windows the princess, locked away by her own hand, her presence now neither felt nor heard.

Tuesday, 3 October 2006


That's where I've been. Talking to collaborators (past, present, and future). And examining an MSc. at Edinburgh. Great course. Great people.

The train trip was interesting. Wi-fi is now standard on GNER trains. The Wi-fi works well. It's just that the router it's connected to doesn't. Not often, anyway. On the way up, it was barely speedier than a dial-up connection. On the way down, a carrier pigeon would have been more effective.

So, still on the train, and having finished a bunch of emails (offline), and reviewed a grant (I should have reviewed three, but in the spirit of this blog, I have to highlight my failures more than my successes...) I'm now adding this entry. I do so with the satisfaction that it will be read by at least one person. She thinks I should allow people to post comments. There are, she says, only two reasons not to: The first is that people will ask me why I think it is worth wasting valuable bandwidth on these sad reflections on my life, or worse still, they'll tell me it's not. The second is that no one would post any comments anyway. Ok, Jelena, now tell me two reasons why I should.

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Wednesday, 27 September 2006

our new water garden

Ok, so water garden it is not. But pond it most definitely is (it has water, a dead water-lily and 15 live fish, including two sturgeon). Previously, the garden was a rectangular thing with some old fruit trees at the end near an equally old shed. Now it's a rectangular thing with some old fruit trees, a pond, a new shed, and flower-beds liberally covered in horse manure. And worms. They make the horse manure not horse manure.

And now for the product placement. Tetra. They make TetraPond products (fish food, pond pumps, filters, and all sorts of other things pond-related). Why the product placement? Because a nozzle was missing from the pressurized filter they supplied. So I emailed Tetra; a complex process which involved joining something called the Tetra Members Club. I guess it's a club not unlike any other, except that you never ever meet anyone. Sad really. But, joining them afforded me the privilege of an email address to which I wrote to ask what to do about my missing nozzle ('go out and buy another', I hear you say.. but it was a non-standard size. Although seeing as it was non-existent, it's a moot point as to whether it had a size at all). So I emailed on Saturday. On Monday morning I received an email from someone saying they'd send me one. On Monday evening I received an email from someone else saying they'd contacted head office to check they had it and could send it to me. And today, Wednesday, it arrived. Now that's what I call customer-service. And unlike Apple, I didn't have to return the missing nozzle to them before they'd send out a new one...

And in case you now wish to rush out and buy anything made by Tetra, I can recommend - because, returning to Saturday night, I'd assumed that Tetra wouldn't ever respond to my original email, and so I also emailed aquatics-online (they'd been really efficient when I'd previously bought some stuff from them - amazing stuff, as it happens, but that's for another post ). And on Tuesday, I received an email from them (aquatics-online) to say they'd been in touch with Tetra who said they had everything under control. I mean... is this service or is this service?

Ok, just so everyone knows.. I realize it does not reflect well on me that on a Saturday night, Saturday night, I'm emailing not one, but two sets of people about a missing nozzle. Sad or what? I deserve to be a member of that Tetra Members-who-never-meet-anyone-because-they-never-go-out-on-a-Saturday-night Club.

Tuesday, 12 September 2006

An unexpected post

It's only unexpected because I've just noticed that it's almost exactly a year since my first blog entry here. Aside from that, not much to report in the last few weeks other than 2 weeks' holiday, a few days' conference, a new pond in the garden, 15 new fish, countless new plants, a surplus of sweet plums from one of the two (old) plum trees we have, and my first 100 days as Editor-in-CrisisChief of Cognition.

Friday, 8 September 2006

self-centred and depressed

Two colleagues offered their views on this blog. One said it was depressing because it was simply a list of things I hadn't accomplished (hey, that's life!), and the other accused me of being self-centred (hey, it's my life!). I can think of nothing worse than being self-centred and depressed.

Today's the first day that's certifiably autumnal (there... a certifiably not self-centred post... because I've deliberately not written down my feelings on the subject of autumn, leaf drop, damp dark cold evenings, heating bills, etc. etc.)

I've just upgraded to RapidWeaver 3.5 - and have added archiving. Previous posts, now archived, need re-formatting. But this is nothing to do with the archiving, or the upgrade - it's due to a previous stupidity on my part; if I intermingle photos, I need to set the page to fixed width (otherwise the width of the text varies as a function of the width of your browser window, in which case I can't control the relative placement of the text to the photos... obvious, really!) So when I've got a moment, I'll do that. The problem is, though, that I've already set it to fixed width, in which case I need to spend some time figuring out why the style sheet controlling the width isn't. But that's for another day. A cold, damp, dark, day.

Sunday, 3 September 2006

Yes it is (as bad as I feared)...

Boy was I optimistic! Two months have gone by since that last post. And in that time I did a pretty good job (as the new Editor of the journal Cognition) - sending papers out to review, writing to the occasional author... but then I made a mistake. An ENORMOUS mistake. I went on holiday.

Just two weeks. Immediately before a conference. So by the time I got back, three weeks had gone by without me doing a single thing for the journal (except write the editorials for the first issues of next year - each morning I'd get the laptop out before the kids woke up...). I'd cleared the queue before leaving. But now, there are roughly 60 papers waiting to be sent out to review, and 30 papers on which I need to make a decision (to accept, reject, or recommend revision). So I have to work out how to clear the backlog.

And that's the problem... Suppose I wanted to have everything cleared in the space of 4 weeks. I'd have those 60 papers already on the queue, and then another 80 or so that would come in during those 4 weeks. To clear the whole lot would require that I send out 5 papers for review each day (7 days a week), and with the 30 papers in the queue already requiring decisions, and another 40 (I'm being pessimistic now) accumulating over those 4 weeks, I'd need to 'action' (i.e. make editorial decisions on) between two and three papers each day (7 days a week).

Yes, I'm exaggerating. I know for a fact that the highest submission rate is over the summer. So I can relax. I can probably get away with sending out just 4 papers for review, and actioning just 2 papers, each day. 7 days a week. For 4 weeks. No worries...

Tuesday, 27 June 2006

One month into the job

It's not nearly as bad as I feared... Hey, if I've got time to play with graphics like this, things must be pretty good! AND I've written a paper (which may or may not be pretty good...)

Sunday, 28 May 2006

Wow - look at all that I've accomplished!

Yeah, as if. I just thought it would be nice one day NOT to have a title such as 'oh no, look how little I've done in the past X weeks'. I've only got myself to blame, after all. But it's funny that over a month ago I thought I'd be updating this page much more often, and yet it's only now that I load it up (and only because I'm waiting for Silvia to finish up so we can go to the pub!). But I assume I did do something over the past month, after all. Now what was it? I did start a paper (that has to be submitted by July 1st), and I did some work on the impending transition of the journal I shall be editor of, and I analysed some data, and I pulled out a bit of hedge in the garden, and laid some turf, and went to the 40th National Karate Championships where I won watched the main event with Silvia and the kids (they thought it was fantastic... and I have to say I did enjoy it... though one of the highlights was using the new satnav to get us there... quite amazing!). And then it was Silvia's birthday (bought her a bike), and then it was mine, and then it was today, and we went for a 2 hour bike ride, and that bit of my body that would have sat on a comfortable saddle if I had one is sore as hell! Other highlights included starting to go to the 'senior' Karate sessions on Thursday evenings (so that means that on a good week I'm doing just under 3.5 hours training), which was a fabulous, if strenuous, experience. And I must have had too much time on my hands as I also spent more time than necessary working on our lab's new logo, which will be something like:

The eye happens to be my son Sam's eye. For those that may read this and wonder what his eye is doing there, my research focuses in part on how language can direct visual attention and, consequently, eye movements. Actually, the logo looks better when vertical (scroll down on this page to see it). And I guess the accompanying slogan ought to be 'putting the eye in psycholinguistics' (you have to say it out loud to realize that there already was an eye in psycholinguistics...). Childish, I know. But I've never denied that streak in me...

Saturday, 22 April 2006

unbelievably slow progress

  • Spent too much time negotiating with Elsevier on taking over the journal Cognition from its previous editor, Jacques Mehler. I can't decide wether it's a privilege or I'm just the mug who said 'yes'. I'd like to think the former, of course, but realism leans me towards the latter. Jacques used to be a student of my father's when he first moved to Oxford from Argentina, so I have personal reasons for wanting to do this, as well as professional reasons.
  • Spent too much time battling with the University finance package to work out costings for Elsevier that would be acceptable to them and the university.
  • Spent too much time figuring out how to launder money in ways acceptable to all that would allow me to fund a really good student.
  • Spent probably not quite enough time managing the Experimental Psychology Society - went to one of its 3-times-a-year meetings (in Birmingham) and have only written about 14 of the 30 or so letters that need writing...
  • Spent less time than I'd have liked on the ground floor of Selfridges in the Bull Ring (Birmingham). An amazing place that I'd recommend to anyone interested in good food, drink, cooking equipment, japanese food, etc. etc. The Bull Ring used to be the armpit of shopping centres (that's a "mall" for US readers - but who am I kidding, as the only person who reads this is me), but it's really nice now...
  • Ate too much chocolate over Easter (so far the only thing I'm not complaining about)
  • Got invited as a guest to the 40th National Karate Championships (in Birmingham, again!) by my Karate Sensei. Am really looking forward to that.
  • Redesigned our research group web pages. Also using RapidWeaver. Took me the day to convert it from handcoded html to something that's a lot nicer, if still very simple. Along the way, I 'met' someone who used to be a psychologist but now earns a living on the internet doing graphic design and art. So we now have a piece of art on the website. May not appeal to everyone, but it appealed to me.
  • And I got 7 of the things from the last list I posted done. And a few other things too. Not bad, really.

  • Have determined to keep this updated more regularly. I actually find it quite interesting to read what I wrote a few months ago.

Friday, 3 March 2006

Not much to show for two weeks' salary...

Yes, it's been another of those weeks, or two, when not much happened. Supervised student projects, attended various committee meetings, and found yet again only a few moments when I was alone in the office staring into that abyss they call 'backlog'. Here's a list of things I need to do, in no particular order:

Make changes to a paper an ex-student wrote
Make changes to a grant proposal my ex thesis advisor wrote
Make changes to a paper that I and an ex-postdoc wrote
Write a paper about some experiments that I and an ex-postdoc (the same one) run about 3 years ago
Write a paper with a different ex-postdoc about some experiments that we run about 2 years ago
Write a paper with a colleague in the US reviewing work we've done with all our ex-colleagues
Write a chapter with a current colleague for another current colleague reviewing work we and others did even longer ago
Co-write a grant proposal with a hopefully future colleague that is due in 3 weeks
Write a book review for THES that was due today
Mark 10 3rd year literature surveys (marks due yesterday)
Write a letter in support of a US academic seeking (well-deserved) promotion
Review at least two papers still outstanding
Try not to think about the 2nd edition I need to write of a book I once wrote but which I don't have time, now, to write (one chapter of the new edition does exist, though)
Try and remember all the other things I need to do but haven't yet done, including, no doubt, replying to many emails languishing in my inbox...

Is it any wonder I despair? Probably not. Just as well, though, that I got through my Karate grading this week. I am now a modest 5th Kyu, as is my 8 yr-old and as is not my 11 yr-old, who is now a fully-fledged 1st Kyu (which for the uninitiated means that his next grade will be black belt). I've still got a couple of years to go. At least a couple. I can't wait, as then I'll really kick @ss!

Sunday, 19 February 2006

From Washington to Monkey Puzzles

There's something mildly frustrating about flying from London to Washington on a Wednesday, and leaving Washington to fly back on the Friday. You never quite get a decent night's sleep. So I woke at 3am the first night, and 4am the second. The meeting I was at (an NIH grants review panel) started at 8am each morning, so I could have done with more sleep. Still... I'm told that the advantage of your clock not resetting itself is that when you get back, exhausted, you sleep like a baby the first night, and then feel right as rain. Whatever that means – Am still exhausted. So evidently right as rain I am not.

The meeting went well. As someone told me the first time, people 'leave their egos at the door', and all one hears is constructive and serious discussion of the merits (or otherwise) of the grants. It reminded me how cooperative academia can be (elsewhere buried on this website is a complaint I have regarding how uncooperative it can sometimes be). Even when a grant application was weak, those weaknesses were discussed at length so that a consensus could be reached.

Anyway, now that I'm back in York, a big thank you to United Airlines, whose engines kept going the full 7.5 hours to get me back. This despite their planes seeming to be amongst the oldest aircraft gracing the skies above the Atlantic. On the way over, the movie was projected onto one of those old-fashioned screens like you used to get at school - an oblong box that opened up to reveal nothing more technologically sophisticated than a roller blind. I didn't realize planes had those anymore.

Not much had changed in the 3 days that I was away from home. Except for an interesting but rare atmospheric phenomenon that I'd not experienced in ages. Locals with far more experience than I tell me that it's called 'the sun'. Amazing. So off to the garden centre we went, to buy a selection of ferns, ivies, and a monkey puzzle tree (Silvia's national tree - see below for examples from our Argentina trip). We bought what my children would call a 'tintsy' one - all of 18 inches high. We shan't wait with baited breath for it to grow - they're very slow-growing. Planted it sufficiently close to the house so as to cause problems after one or two hundred years' worth of growth. Monkey Puzzle trees are the most primitive living conifer (or so a Google search revealed), and they get their name from the fact that monkeys can't climb them. Bizarre. Especially as there aren't any monkeys near where they grow. Why not call them Armadillo Puzzle trees? Or Llama Puzzle trees? Or Psycholinguist Puzzle trees?

Saturday, 11 February 2006

Another week flies by

Things I did this week:

Version One, listed in order of importance to other people
Reviewed 7 grants that will be discussed next week, in Washington DC, at the National Institutes of Health grants review panel for Language and Communication (I'll be there).
Completed one journal article review
Made an editorial decision on another article for another journal
Was reminded that I was asked last October to make an editorial decision (another one) for the Editor of a journal who had to deal with a paper by a friend of his. But being human, I forgot (in my defense, I was teaching that new statistics course, and moving house, etc. etc.). I feel particularly glum about that. Is 'glum' a word in the US? Must be, as my spell-checker hasn't picked it out. So am writing this as a few more trees make the supreme sacrifice in service of yet another print run.
Was made an offer that I'd be idiotic to refuse (more about that some time in the future, if I don't refuse it).
Set up a new home wireless network, using an Apple Airport Extreme Base Station and an Airport Express to extend the range. Am using WPA2 encryption and access control (so only computers I authorise can join the network, and wireless info. is sent encrypted). It was a breeze. Still, the instructions were next-to-useless, which is unusual for Apple products. So the home network now consists of a new iMac Intel Core Duo, an iBook, a PowerBook, a printer, and a mass of cables that are still required whatever kind of (wired or wireless) network you have. Not sure whether the iPods count as part of the network...
Learned, almost, my new Kata for my next Karate belt (Heian Yondan, for anyone that cares).

Version Two, listed in order of importance to me
As above, but with the Karate and the wireless network occupying the top slots. I know, sad really...

Hmm - hardly an inspiring list. But a list nonetheless. What IS inspiring is the new eye tracker that we now have in the lab. And what's even MORE inspiring is the new postdoc/colleague in the lab who's making it all work. Coincidentally she's a friend and ex-colleague of Silvia's, from her Madison days. My kids, by the way, continue to inspire.

So not a bad week. But as ever, I'd be happier if I had the time in which to enjoy some of what I do, and some of whom I do it with... I'd also be happier if I had one of these.

Saturday, 4 February 2006

Woa...where did all that time go?

But 14th October 2005 (my last blog entry) was only YESTERDAY... where have I been? What have I done?

taught a new course
applied for a small 1-yr grant
bought a house
moved up another belt in my Karate
moved into said house
survived Xmas
applied for a larger 3-yr grant
taught another course
been awarded that small 1-yr grant
started reviewing a pile more grants for NIH

and decided that if one can't write even a few minutes' worth of blog each week, one's life is, evidently, no longer one's own...