Thursday, 27 December 2007

have escaped to S. America

I'm taking a short break to write this, as I put together a list of potential reviewers for a bunch of papers that were submitted to the journal recently. I should instead be enjoying the view of the River Plate as I wait in Buenos Aires to board a plane to Patagonia. I feel like I'm on the run... glancing over my shoulder lest anyone with a submission to the journal should have noticed that I've gone AWOL, or worse still, followed me here. But no one's hovering around suspiciously, so I think I'm in the clear. That said, and now that I take a look around me, there are an awful lot of suspicious looking people, and an awful lot of people hovering around. But no one that's doing both. Phew.

The flight over was uneventful. I slept until Brazil (a big thank you, again, to the pharmaceutical industry...) and then watched a rubbish thriller (Invasion - a remake of The Bodysnatchers) until Buenos Aires - actually, I watched it all but for the last 15 minutes or so... we landed before I could get past the climactic scene where Nicole Kidman is set upon by a mob... But experience tells me she'll have survived, saved her child, and then the world. I should've watched Shrek 3 instead. So the inflight movie was not exactly a highlight of the trip. Nor was spilling coffee on myself (turbulence, not Nicole Kidman...)

Ok. Enough's enough. Before guilt sets in, I shall get back to the journal... an alien invasion does seem a more attractive prospect all of a sudden...

Friday, 21 December 2007

I'm off...

That's it. I'm done for 2007. I can look forward to Xmas in Oxford, and a Boxing day flight to Argentina. I've done only half the things I'd have liked to have done in 2007, but hey, that's life. There are, undoubtedly, a string of people to whom I should apologize for the things I did not manage to do in 2007, but hopefully I'll make good in 2008.... Although I expect that at the end of 2008 I shall reminisce about the things I did not manage to do in 2008, but which will be made good in 2009... and so it goes on.

A Happy Xmas to you, whoever, and wherever, you are. And an even better 2008.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Falling behind...

Things I've not yet done in the lead up to Xmas:
  • failed to change the mole's status as a still-living organism
  • bought xmas presents for my family and myself (hey - I deserve something)
  • cleared the queues at the journal (am juggling between answering emails, catching papers that have been in the system since the time of the first printing presses, making decisions on papers, sending papers out to review, and managing the transition from one assistant to another)
  • set up the new eye tracker
  • marked exam scripts
  • breathed in and out with a rhythm that is not indicative of rising panic
Things I've done in the lead up to Xmas:
  • worked out the things I've not done in the lead up to Xmas
  • breathed in and out with a rhythm that is indicative of rising panic

Thursday, 6 December 2007

3 metres and closing

That's the distance between the latest molehill and the pond liner.... Have called in the professionals...

Sunday, 2 December 2007

At war with the mole

Have laid traps and sonic repellants. The latter are guaranteed not to work, but they were given to me, and I'm not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Not sure what a gift horse is, but there you go... Current distance from closest detectable burrow to pond liner - 10 metres. If it gets through the liner, the only satisfaction I shall receive from having to repair it again is the knowledge that the mole will have been engulfed in the burrowing equivalent of a tidal wave...

While mapping the burrows (with a 6ft iron rod that I had for other reasons), I discovered a 'hole' in the garden that goes down about 5 ft. Not sure what's down there. Could be skeletons, or a septic tank, or both. Once the mole's gone to that great burrow in the sky, I shall map out the hole. If it's too big, I may need to open it up and fill it (the lawn is sinking a little where I found it). With hindsight, it would have been useful to find this hole before digging the pond at another spot in the garden. But another hole would be useful - I recall that the Italian post office, many years ago, were over-burdened with postcards that needed delivering. So instead, they buried them (perhaps they burned them, but the idea is the same). Am considering doing the same with all those journal submissions...

Friday, 30 November 2007

highlights of the week...

It was Sam's birthday. He's now a certified teenager. Scary. That same evening, we drove to Sheffield to hear Jamie take part in a school singing-fest. Zillions of 9- and 10-yr old children (well, around 4000 of them) at one end of Sheffield Arena, and parents everywhere else (around 6000 of them). I was dreading it, but actually it was fun. Except for the drive - that was a nightmare. The highlights were managing to spot Jamie amongst the mass of children even though he was about half a mile away on the opposite side of the arena from us, and hearing the UK champion something or other who could, just with a microphone and his mouth, sound like a complete rock band. He could actually sing and provide his own backing music at the same time - I'm only a little ashamed to admit that it's the kind of thing I secretly wish I could do...

A mole started to tear up the garden. There are no expletives that can possibly convey my feelings about this.

I only managed to process 14 papers this week, and today felt guilty that I just worked on making editorial decisions and did not catch up with about 3 weeks' worth of accumulated emails. I"ll have to sacrifice that paper I'm trying to finish before Xmas so as to work through those emails over the next couple of weeks. And just for the record, it's 8.15pm on a Friday night, and I feel guilty that I'm watching rubbish tv with my kids, while writing this, instead of working on the journal. But experience tells me that a glass of wine will soon wash away the guilt...

Friday, 23 November 2007

success, guilt, and snow...

Success: Not mine, but it was grading night last night at Karate, and Silvia graded to Brown belt (3rd Kyu). So we're now a family of Brown belts (one at 3rd Kyu, one - me - at 2nd Kyu, and two - Sam and Jamie - at 1st Kyu). I didn't grade because I've missed almost two months' worth of training since the last grading 4 months ago. So I just didn't feel confident enough. But it was great to watch. One of the really nice things about our club is that when it's grading night, even those not grading come along to support the others. There's a real sense of 'family'. Even though we spend a lot of our time trying to hit one another...

Guilt: I only sent out 10 action letters today... and spent too much time staring out the window wanting to go outside and rake up all the leaves. For a moment, but just a moment, those leaves seemed so much more attractive than the journal...

Snow: Yes, it snowed today - the first snow of the winter. It didn't snow much, a quick light flurry for a minute or two. And it was cold. Very cold. Which may explain why those leaves never got raked...

Monday, 19 November 2007

at a Starbucks in London...

... I'm just back, from almost 4 days of conferencing in California, sitting in a Starbucks near King's Cross, London, waiting for my train to York. The conference was good - managed to speak to way too many people... and went out a couple of times with some old (and some new) friends. But there's one thing I hate about conferences (well... I'm sure I can think of some other things too, but just one comes to mind right now). Soon after first coming to York, something happened (I don't know what) that left me almost incapable of remembering someone's face or their name. This means that from one day to the next I may fail to recognize someone I've been talking to the previous day. Or, I recognize them, but I cannot retrieve their name. And even with people I've known for what seems like forever, I will occasionally be unable to retrieve their name quickly enough to be able to introduce them to someone else. So at conferences, imagine the nightmare of so many people I see, whom I fail to recognize, and who must think I'm really rude for not saying hello to them. Of course, now I go to great lengths to tell people about this problem, so some of them come up to me and say hello and, seeing that I don't recognize them, explain that we've met etc. etc. I really appreciate that.

HIghlights of the conference (in no particular order):
  • An excellent Latino restaurant.
  • An excellent Italian restaurant.
  • A fantastic filet of beef at another restaurant (accompanied by a surprisingly nice red wine - I say 'surprisingly' because the wine was American - there, I've just revealed my prejudices about Californian wine).
  • A plentiful supply of caffeine.
  • An equally plentiful supply of largely interesting 15 min. talks (15 minutes is brief enough that you don't get bogged down in detail, or fall asleep).
  • A plentiful supply of shark (at the neighboring aquarium).
  • My publisher, who, contrary to widespread belief, is not The Devil.
  • A bunch of people whom I spent time with and whom I feel privileged to know.
  • The pharmaceutical company without whom I would not have slept on the plane.
Lowlights (what is the opposite of a highlight?)
  • The inconsistent quality of the coffee that accompanied the plentiful supply of caffeine (you can't fault Starbucks when it comes to the consistency of their coffee)
  • The speed of the internet service at my hotel for which I paid $25 (I couldn't read half my email because it would timeout). This said, nothing is as slow as the internet on a GNER train.
  • The quality of my room at the Hilton which, for the price I paid, should have been luxurious beyond imagination (I only stayed there because (a) it was a conference-recommended hotel, and (b) there was nowhere else - you think I would subsidize Paris Hilton by choice?)
  • The overly-abundant number of Apple iPhones being flaunted at me. (Yes, I want one, but not with the rubbish coverage provided by O2 in the UK - That said, if my publisher wanted to buy me one, and pay the monthly contract, I wouldn't complain....).
  • The 16 new manuscripts that have landed on my virtual desk at the journal
Things to look forward to now that I'm (almost) back
  • Zillions more manuscripts to process.
  • The challenge of buying a PSP for my soon-to-be (next week) 13 yr-old.
  • The challenge of buying a Nintendo Wii for Xmas, for both my 13 yr-old and my 10-yr old (don't ask me why I'm caving in to this perverse desire of theirs). If anyone knows where I can get one without selling my soul, you know how to contact me.
  • Seeing a bunch of people whom I spend most of my time with and whom I feel privileged to know (yes, that does include my two kids!)
  • Getting home.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

somewhere over the Atlantic (again)...

Stand back and gasp... I've been bought out of my university teaching and admin for three years, starting October 2008. I'm gasping, believe me, I'm gasping....

That and the following journal-related statistics: A bit of context - I was away all of August, and then ill some of September, and then away again (and away again next week, at a conference taking place at the West Coast of America's largest shipping port - who but a super-nerd would go to a convention centre located somewhere like that?) - the point is, it's been a real struggle to keep the queues manageable at the journal, and for a long time (well, since I got back early September), I've felt like I've been shoveling water with my hands (nothing to do with my pond, which, by the way, is fantastically leak-free, in case you were wondering). But as of now, the queues are back down to normal (a week's worth of papers). The Associate Editors handle, between them, around half the submissions to the journal, and I handle the other half. Which means that since the end of July, I myself have made 155 editorial decisions, and sent what felt like zillions of papers to review. The point is: Stand back and gasp!

I'm actually somewhere over the Atlantic as I type this. United Airlines have, evidently, been following the posts on this blog - during my last flight, I pointed out (as I wrote an entry for this blog) the stupidity of metal forks but plastic knives - someone took note and I can report that the knives are now also metal. I guess they realized, probably after watching a Jet Li film that I can no longer recall the name of, that metal cutlery are way less lethal than chopsticks...

I should add that United are, as of today, my even more favouritest airline than they were before. Two things are responsible for this newfound love in my life: First, the close to 30 minutes it took someone, working very hard at ticketing, to upgrade my ticket (the wrong fare code had been applied to my ticket - meaning that unless it was changed, I couldn't use my miles to upgrade). Second, the extreme attentiveness of the cabin attendants. One of them spotted I was working hard on my laptop as lunch was about to be served, and asked if I wanted everything to be served, and then cleared, as quickly as possible. As if by magic, the other two attendants who subsequently served lunch knew to bring me my meal first, and then clear it away before they'd even finished serving the others (I'm a fast eater!). What really impressed me about this was the way the first cabin attendant alerted the others to what I wanted (hey - they offered - I never asked!). If only I could get my research colleagues to read my mind, and discuss amongst themselves ways of making my life even more comfortable. Jelena, Xierong, Chris - are you reading this? Take note!!

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Where would we be without eBay? And other things...

Sometime ago (over the summer), I bought a new eye-tracker. It takes a 'snapshot' of your eye up to 1000 times a second and works out where you're looking. If you have a really fast computer screen, you can do really clever things, like change what's showing at some position on the screen as you move your eye towards that position (never mind why we'd want to do that!). I had one of those, but I wanted another for the new tracker. But I'd forgotten that we're all into widescreen flat-panel LCD screens these days, and that no one makes CRT screens anymore. And those LCD screens are even slower than the train I'm currently on (well... not quite as slow as the train, which is stationary). So what's a scientist to do? Use today's technology that is worse than yesterday's? Nope... all he has to do is search on eBay, and buy two super-fast computer monitors from the same person who, coincidentally, lives just down the road. How good is that? Thank you eBay, and thank you to the nice chap who does the stage animations for IQ and who had the good sense to replace his CRT monitors with space-saving LCDs...

Speaking of which, perhaps eBay ought to do the eBay equivalent of Google Scholar, and have a site for academics where they can post details of their surplus equipment - there's always some poor person out there who's got a use for an old Sinclair Spectrum...

It's been a quiet time on this blog, which has given me time to reflect on why I do it (by 'it', I mean post parts of my life on it). There are so many blogs out there that are really very much more interesting than this one. Mostly, reading these blogs, you learn what it is that their authors think. But what you won't learn, necessarily, is about the daily grind of their lives, and the trials and tribulations they have to endure (not that I actually know what a tribulation is). Or about the impediments they suffer to a healthy life/work balance, and which lead to chronic frustration/depression/insomnia. So this is why I write this - to give some sense to the future me, when I have the time to go back and read these posts, of what my life was like at this point in my history. So this isn't meant to be about what I think, but about what I do. Or most often, don't manage to do. (And I hope a future me does read this, as that would mean that I had survived into the future..) So I guess this blog ought to be dedicated to those authors brandishing their pitchforks and flaming torches whose inexorable march towards Cognition (the journal I edit) keeps me from having any kind of life/work balance, let alone a healthy one.

That was the first time in my entire life I have ever produced the word inexorable. Amazing. And liberating too...

Something to look forward to: my next post, which will be so incredibly positive that even I will stand back and gasp...

Saturday, 13 October 2007

4 days in the life of a workaholic

  • Tuesday evening: Train to London. Write three action letters (i.e. with editorial decisions). Eat Sushi. Stay in hotel near Paddington
  • Wednesday: Take early train to Heathrow. Fly to Washington DC. Skip the movies and instead write seven action letters (and one blog entry - see below).
  • Wednesday evening: write two action letters in hotel. Walk to nearest RadioShack, but they're out of iPods.
  • Thursday morning: Wake up at 4am local time. Write two action letters. Walk to another RadioShack (further away). Buy iPod Nano. Cross road to AT&T store. Play with iPhone. Fall in love.
  • Thursday afternoon: write two action letters. Read other reviews of the grant applications I shall be speaking about at the grants review panel.
  • Thursday evening: meet with panel, then go for very decent meal and even more decent wine.
  • Friday morning: Wake up at 5am local time. Check reviews again for the grant applications I'm speaking about. Meeting starts at 8am. Lunch is brought in (we had a 20 minute break!). Meeting finishes at 5pm. Quick beer with a few colleagues. Taxi to airport. Write two action letters. Board flight. Sleep (those US pharmaceuticals work a real treat...)
  • Saturday morning: Wake up at 9am local time. Land, take train to London, then to York, on which I simultaneously upload all my decision letters, write this entry, and contemplate the need later this weekend to remind myself of the two lectures I'm giving on Monday. First one starts at 9.30am.
I think I need therapy.....or alcohol.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

somewhere over the Atlantic

In my last post I wrote "...I can go back to my usual erratic blogging". I got an email from a friend who worries that it doesn't befit a serious academic to have an erotic blog... What's an 'r' and an 'o' between friends?

So... am cruising at 36,000 feet somewhere over the Atlantic. Have decided that a trip in Business Class (no frequent flier miles left!) is way better than a day at the office. It is actually more comfortable than the office, and there are no interruptions except for when fantastically nice people bring me coffee just as soon as I appear to need it. Not to mention bringing the occasional snack. How good is that? I emailed a couple of colleagues (the two who are least likely to take me seriously) and suggested that they could do worse than to take a leaf out of the United Airlines Cabin Staff Manual, Section D: Keeping Customers Happily Supplied with Coffee, Nibbles, and Smiles.

So between nibbles, lunch, and unlimited supplies of halfway decent coffee (Starbucks, apparently), I'm managing to make editorial decisions on a whole bunch of papers. Self-satisfaction knows no bounds...

Friday, 28 September 2007

Rebuilding the pond: Day 5+

Too much excitement. Spent so much time staring at the fish in their new, pumped, oxygenated and non-leaking pond that I completely forgot to attend to my basic bodily blogging needs. So it's done. And except for a few ferns that will go in at the weekend, there's not much else to do. So that's it. I can go back to my usual erratic blogging.

So what else did I accomplish this week? I cleared almost all the emails associated with the journal, but that took me all today, so my weekend will now have to absorb my target of 10 papers.

Next week: Edinburgh and London. The week after: Washington, DC (NIH grants review). And another zillion papers to process. Am beginning to sound like a broken record. My next post will be exclusively positive. I promise. But don't hold your breath...

Rebuilding the pond: Day 5+

Too much excitement. Spent so much time staring at the fish in their new, pumped, oxygenated and non-leaking pond that I completely forgot to attend to my basic bodily blogging needs. So it's done. And except for a few ferns that will go in at the weekend, there's not much else to do. So that's it. I can go back to my usual erratic blogging.

So what else did I accomplish this week? I cleared almost all the emails associated with the journal, but that took me all today, so my weekend will now have to absorb my target of 10 papers.

Next week: Edinburgh and London. The week after: Washington, DC (NIH grants review). And another zillion papers to process. Am beginning to sound like a broken record. My next post will be exclusively positive. I promise. But don't hold your breath...

Monday, 24 September 2007

Rebuilding the pond: Day 4

After an enforced weekend of inactivity, the working week started in the way that only us Brits can truly understand - under a deluge of water. But the skies cleared mid-morning, and the new liner went in, together with a bunch of stones, and all the fish. Pump and filter will be connected tomorrow, and paving stones and edging will be done - would've all happened today except that the skies clouded up and disgorged their contents all over us again...

On the plus side (as if transferring the fish back to the pond wasn't plus enough) I processed 5 more manuscripts, read half an NIH grant application, and went to Karate for the first time in ages (through being away or ill) - it was a great session (thanks, Nigel!).

So tomorrow there's more pond to look forward to, and then it's back to reality, the office, and my other day job...

Saturday, 22 September 2007

Rebuilding the pond: Day 3

Progress on Day 3 (Friday): Zero. It rained all day. Am going to abandon rebuilding the pond as it seems now that it would be more useful to build an ark... But on the plus side, I did process 24 papers on the 'manuscripts to be sent to review' queue. My hope is, over Saturday and Sunday, to process a further 10 on the 'manuscripts with all reviews complete' queue. And you know what? I feel guilty that that 24 wasn't 25. And that that 10 will, in all likelihood, be just 5 or 6. Guilt flows through my veins too freely...

[UPDATE: I in fact turned the 24 into 25, and processed a further 12! Do I feel guilt-free? No... because I didn't deal with any of the journal-related email that I should have dealt with. If it's not one thing, it's another... guilt knows no bounds]

Friday, 21 September 2007

Rebuilding the pond: Day 2

Not much to report. Liner was taken out, together with two toads and one frog. An assortment of reasons for the leak (which was the reason we were doing this) were found, although the leak itself wasn't. Not helped, of course, by the fact that to fully drain the pond, we had to puncture the liner in several places to let the last few inches of water out. By the end of the day, the pond was reshaped (the deep end was moved, and it was widened in places) and a concrete rim was laid around the edge. We estimated the new volume at around 50% greater than the previous volume (though the previous volume was a bit of a myth, seeing as we never managed to fill the pond completely, as the level would drop so quickly). Most of the increase in volume is due to additional height - the water level will now come right up to almost the level of the surrounding grass.

And it didn't rain, well not until the night, when it bucketed down like there was no tomorrow (there was, as that's when I'm writing this). Despite the lack of rain, the very bad cold I've got - since yesterday - meant that I stayed indoors most of the time while John and Steve, the two guys doing the hard work, did the hard work...

If I wasn't so lazy, I'd post before, during, and after photos. They'll have to wait until the during's done, and the after's settled in...

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Rebuilding the pond: Day 1

Today was a good day. I finished my administrative chores for this academic year, and took the afternoon off to start on rebuilding the pond (with help). So this afternoon was spent emptying the pond of its fish, plants, toads, and water. I'd anticipated around 100 baby fish, so I decided to count them as I scooped them out with a net and transplanted (translocated?) them into a couple of paddling pools pre-filled with ridiculously murky pond water. I lost count after around 150, and judging from the numbers that came out after that, there must be 200+ baby fish swimming around the two paddling pools (and around 9 adult fish, including one sturgeon that amazingly survived a pond to which it was quite unsuited). The pond plants, three large toads and one baby are in a third paddling pool.

While doing that, the real pond experts (John and Steve) dug out the larger plants around the edge of the pond, so that tomorrow we can lift out the current (rubbish quality) liner before rebuilding the edge of the pond in preparation for a new (high quality) liner. To help us along, the UK weather did its bit to ensure that we all got soaked through with the first rainfall in weeks. Apparently it will now continue raining until we've finished; so once we no longer need to work in the outdoors, the sun will come out, the birds will sing, and I'll be nursing a bad chest infection...

By the way, when I wrote that a baby was in the third paddling pool, I was referring to a baby toad... there are no human babies in the paddling pool. At least, not any more (they didn't like the pond water so they scuttled off...).

Sunday, 16 September 2007

my new pond...

I should be working, not playing (see my earlier post today)...

Move your mouse over the pond, and the fish will follow. Click, and you drop food into the pond which the fish will eat.

state of play

No time to play, sadly. This last week was spent preparing for a session I had organized at the British Association for the Advancement of Science. This is a once-a-year event at which non-scientists get exposed to a whole bunch of science. So I thought it would be a good idea to organize something on eye movements, so me and three others stood up and did our thing to an audience of around 100 people, which was exactly 88 people more than we had expected!

So you'd think that this would leave me with a warm glow of self-satisfaction. Nope.... it left me with a ton of papers still to process on the journal's queues. So yesterday afternoon (Saturday), and today (Sunday, for those of you still hungover from the night before...) were/will be spent on the journal. I have an image in my mind from one of those old B-movies in which the angry villagers march up a hill with pitchforks and flaming torches. Replace the word 'villagers' with 'authors' and you'll have a sense of my anxieties...

Things to look forward to this week:
  • re-writing whole sections of the Graduate (i.e. MSc.) Handbook
  • preparing for, and chairing, the graduate examinations committee meetings
  • reviewing at least two NIH grants
  • working on the journal (that's a given, 24/7)
  • re-building the pond
Things not to look forward to this week:
  • re-writing whole sections of the Graduate (i.e. MSc.) Handbook
  • preparing for, and chairing, the graduate examinations committee meetings
  • reviewing at least two NIH grants
  • working on the journal (that's a given, 24/7)
So all in all, not a bad week...

Sunday, 9 September 2007

virus alert

Norton AntiVirus is all well and fine, but it's not much good when it comes to the real, non-cyber, kind. Whatever it was that I picked up on my travels is still with me. I didn't manage much this week, and I'm falling behind. I've got to prepare a talk for the British Association for the Advancement of Science later this week, and I've done nothing towards it. And I've done almost nothing for the journal this week (and editorial guilt knows no bounds). But each day brings some new symptom - some new ache, pain, strain, mild fever, and nonspecific feeling of pessimism.

And to compound the bad with the intolerable, I've been banned from buying a new iPod...

Saturday, 1 September 2007

What I miss most about August...

10 days in Italy. No computer, no journal, almost no psycholinguistics. My parents were there, one of my brothers and his wife and half their children (the lower half), a friend of ours (sleeping on the couch), a couple of friends from the US (psycholinguists) and all their children (both halves - parents and children sleeping in another apartment), and various other friends and jellyfish. The shiatsu massage on the beach (thank you, Anhui), the ice-cream, the food, the excellent cappuccino, and the fried fish were the other highlights.

What isn't there to like about 10 days' vacation in Sperlonga? I can tell you: getting back to around 70 papers waiting to go out to review or requiring an editorial decision. I've been back a week, and have got the queue down to just under 40... It was almost worth going on holiday just so that I could have the satisfaction of working my rear-end off to process all those papers...

The other major highlight of August: getting back after my travels (Nashville, Sperlonga, Potsdam, Berlin) and feeding the fish. I expected a few baby fish to come up for food; I did not expect a feeding frenzy akin to starving piranha. But that's what I saw - the surface of the pond bubbled with baby fish (each about an inch long). Not the 20 or 30 I thought there were, but at least 100! So given that we have to empty the pond towards the end of the month (to re-line it, and make various changes) it's going to be a challenge to get them all out! Can't wait. A frying pan, some salt, flour, hot oil, and a few of those fish... and so long as the sun's out, it won't be so different from Italy!

Thursday, 30 August 2007

out of synch...

So here's my plan: To post a summary of my holiday sometime this coming weekend, even though it took place before the Potsdam/Berlin trip (see my last post, somewhat limited due to ill-health).

In the meantime, I've managed to process a few papers for the journal (around 70 papers were waiting for me on my return, not the 80 that I feared...), and I've changed my photo gallery to the new Apple-hosted Web Gallery. This means that when you click 'gallery' in the menu, you'll get a new window onto the gallery that's now hosted by Apple. The big advantage is that I can update it from within iPhoto, with no messing around. And the viewing options are superb. Worth every penny of that .Mac subscription!

So... Google analytics tells me that since I installed the analytics software (5 weeks ago), I've had 301 'absolute unique visitors'. I've no idea what that means, because elsewhere it says I've had '225 absolute unique visitors'. It does agree with itself, though, when it says I've had 326 visits, of which 104 were people who'd visited before (you'd think they'd have learned not to bother). Oddly, 326 minus 104 suggests 222 absolute unique visitors - not 225 or even 301... 10 of these visits got here by searching on Google for "Jerry Altman" - I was surprised to see that when one puts 'Jerry Altman' into Google, my name ("Gerry Altmann", in case you didn't know) pops up #1. I bet Jerry Altman's really pissed about that.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

up all night...[updated]

... with an ear infection, in my hotel room, in Potsdam. Not sure I'll be able to fly home. Ear feels like it will explode. Antibiotics and sympathy needed. In large quantities.

update: Went to a doctor, who said I should not fly and that I needed antibiotics. But rather than just write out a prescription, he wanted to refer me to a 'specialist'. So I crossed town to another doctor, who looked like a caricature of an ageing German doctor (he was all three of those - I can vouch for that, although to be honest, I did not solicit a translation of his medical certificates). Caricature was completed by the sight of what looked to me like the instruments of extreme torture. I quickly decided that if he so much as looked at, let alone picked up, the things that looked like the medical equivalent of pliers I'd run away. So I sat meekly as he picked up the plier-like things and proceeded to stick them up my nose. It wasn't so bad. He said my ears and nose were very nice, and that I could fly, and did not need antibiotics. So I proceeded to Berlin, and then back here to York, without antibiotics but with masses of (probably undeserved) sympathy. So it wasn't all bad, and have decided that sympathy is a good thing, and at least as good as beer, if not more so.

Sunday, 5 August 2007

from planes to trains...

I'm back. Well, almost. Actually, I'm sitting on the train back to York, after a surprisingly comfortable night on the plane (and 30,000 air miles' worth of upgrade again). But do I feel refreshed and ready to face whatever battles await? Of course not... I'm actually exhausted. I'd like to think I was looking forward to heading off tomorrow morning for 10 days' holiday. But I've got something like 13 papers that have accumulated over the past week and which are awaiting an editorial decision. And about 8 to send out to review. They're just going to have to wait. But that 10 day's holiday is equivalent to two working weeks... and because I'm going straight after the holiday to yet another conference, I can anticipate that in 3 weeks' time there'll be around 80 papers waiting for me to do something with when I eventually get back. So while I'm looking forward to my holiday, and even to the subsequent conference, a part of me is dreading the life that awaits me when I eventually get back from this travel-fest.

On the other hand, my leaking pond, which is currently responsible for ensuring a plentiful supply of water in the York area, is due to be 'fixed' towards the end of September. And somewhat selfishly, I also plan to take yet another week off from the journal to write a paper that I've been wanting to write for ages. Yes, these two things will interfere with my attempt to clear the backlog at the journal that will have accumulated during August. But there comes a time when the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many. If I repeat that often enough, I might even come to believe it.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

As close to real-time blogging as you'll get...

The wonders of modern technology mean that I can add an entry while flying to the US. I'm taking a break from work. Yes... I'm working on the plane, sad individual that I am. Am flying to Nashville to give a talk to the Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, and I'm preparing the next talk I have to give - at the European Conference on Eye Movements. And even if I wasn't working, I'd have no idea what movies are showing, because today's 1st August, so the program in the seat pocket is showing the August movies, but the plane's movie system still thinks it's July...

Flying always reminds me of the knee-jerk reaction to terror threats. So here I am, in business class (thanks to a mileage upgrade), with plastic knives, but metal forks. So I'm wondering what the logic here is. True... I wouldn't be able to strip the plastic insulation from electrical wiring with a fork (I figure that's why I brought my teeth along). And I'm assuming it's nothing to do with the threat to flight staff (my guess is a fork can be pretty lethal). Who knows what the logic is, but no doubt it's been carefully thought through...

Two hours to go, and I've finished the talk. Now I can go back and finish the talk I'm supposed to be giving in a couple of days' time. Maybe I'll just take a sneak peek at the movies instead... someone in the row in front is watching a movie on her ipod. Tiny screen. But held up close it's still bigger than the tiny screens on the plane. And unlike those tiny screens, the image isn't flickering or blurry, she's probably getting sound to both her ears, and she can pause the movie to go to the toilet... but why bother pausing it? She can take it with her.

Those two hours came and went, and I'm now sitting in an airport somewhere waiting on a connecting flight to Nashville. A United Airlines official is just announcing that the flight is over-subscribed, and could volunteers please come forward and offer to take another flight 5 hours later. Am willing to use my highly-honed Karate skills (as if!) to get on that plane...

Sign in the baggage hall: "All passengers MUST collect bags". It wasn't clear what those of us who didn't have any bags to collect should do. After a few moments' indecision, I picked up someone else's bag and pretended it was mine. No one noticed, and they let me in to the Land of the Free... even the bags are free over here...

And finally, I arrived. The Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. An amazing place. Not least because my room had no bed. When I discovered that I was supposed to pull it down (it was a fold-up), and re-make it up myself (the bedding, or what there was of it, came away when the mattress stuck in the foldaway cupboard), I was surprised. All the more so when, having asked if I could have some pillows, they said "have you looked in the drawers"? I don't know... call me old-fashioned, but I do like a hotel room that has a bed in it that I don't have to make up myself. Only after three phonecalls, and some hours later, did they come and help out. And there's no desk, or bedside lights (essential if, as with most UK travellers to Nashville, you wake up at 3 in the morning and want to avoid stumbling across the room and fumbling with a desklamp). I just wish that, like others at the same hotel wishing the same, I'd decided to stay across the road at the Radisson. Maybe it's not too late to cross that road... UPDATE (the next day): despite being told there'd be no workmen renovating before 10am, my clock showed '07:18' when the hammering started. When I called up to complain (not that I'm the complaining sort, you understand..) they told me that 7am was the regular starting time. Somehow, they believe this is acceptable. Folks.... unless your life/career depends on it, do not stay at this hotel.

Saturday, 28 July 2007

I know what you did last summer...

Well... no. I don't. I don't even know where you did whatever you did last summer. But I do know where you are now as you read this. Well... no, not exactly. Rather, Google Analytics knows, and it tells me all sorts of useless (but intriguing) information about how many people read which pages on my website, which countries/cities they come from, whether they come via a search engine or direct, and whether they read more than one page or just leave the site as soon as they land on it. I don't get IP numbers, just countries. I discovered Google Analytics a week ago, installed the relevant code, and can now tell you that a staggering 41 different people staggered onto this site in the past week. They came from 11 countries. To the person from Manchester and the person from Sunderland - thank you for visiting more than just the one page on this site! Hmm. My Karate grading examiner is from Sunderland... I'm sure that's just coincidence.

So Google Analytics was my excitement for the week. That and running out of time in which to prepare the talk I'm giving next week in Nashville (so I can now look forward to all those anxiety dreams in which I discover I'm on stage without having a talk to give, or clothes to wear...). But the week after, I shall be in Italy, on holiday with Silvia and the kids. No laptop, no work. Just cappuccino, beach, good food, fabulous pool, wine, beer, mosquitos, heat, sun, sea, sand, sunburn, sun-cream, ice-cream, and all the other ingredients of a holiday that will hopefully make this the most relaxing 10 days of the year. And all manner of friends and relatives will be there also. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to that more than I'm looking forward to those inevitable anxiety dreams: preparing talks will be the last thing on my mind, and clothes won't be much of an issue either...

Sunday, 22 July 2007

too tired to think....

Too much altruism in my life. I made editorial decisions on 31 papers in the past week (15 this weekend)*. Between now and August 1st I have to prevent the journal from accumulating any papers to be actioned or sent to review. I leave August 1st, and will be away from the office for almost 4 weeks. I'll be taking 10 days holiday in the middle, with a conference immediately beforehand (in Nashville, getting back on a Sunday, and leaving for holiday on the Monday), and another immediately after (in Potsdam near Berlin, getting back from holiday on a Friday and leaving for the conference on the Sunday). I plan to take a couple of afternoons at each conference to work on the journal so as to clear the backlog that will inevitably accumulate while I'm away.

*Some decision letters can be quite long, and others quite short. Disaster strikes when the quite short ones should have been longer. I've only had a couple of disasters so far (out of 653 decision letters written since I took the job last year - a 0.3% disaster rate).

And because of all this, I'm seriously worried about not having time to write up one of the nicest bits of data I've ever collected in my career. Is this a serious post or what?

If I had any energy left, I'd write about the algae in the pond; the advantages of having a BBQ in the pouring rain (tip: it's an even bigger advantage to have a massive garden parasol with which to cover the BBQ); the possibility that, no matter how unlikely, I may have developed some sort of allergy to milk (stay tuned..); the possibility that, no matter how unlikely, I may have developed some sort of allergy to my job; and the possibility, very likely, that I shall sit in front of the tv tonight, drink masses of beer, and wish that paxil and ambien were freely available in my local supermarket...

Thursday, 19 July 2007

Shameless self-congratulation

Tonight was grading night at the Karate club, and Jamie (currently 9) progressed to 1st Kyu (next belt is black belt), joining his brother Sam (12). Silvia is now 4th Kyu, and I progressed to 2nd Kyu. To provide some context: there are 9 grades prior to black belt, with the most junior grade being 9th Kyu (one has to pass one's first grading to progress to 9th Kyu, so it's not complete beginner) and going up to 1st Kyu. After that, one progresses to 1st Dan, which is the first black belt grade. I never thought I'd make it this far (there's still a way to go, though!). So for tonight at least, life is good, and I can put my work frustrations to the back burner and just enjoy the feeling of having achieved something that I really care about. No doubt by tomorrow the feeling will be forgotten and unwritten data, unwritten letters, unreviewed papers, and unhappy authors will reach out and grab me by the metaphorical throat...

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Just back from a conference...

Just back from a conference in Edinburgh:
  • got rained on
  • ate too much
  • stayed up too late
  • got rained on some more
  • drank moderately but more than I'm used to
  • saw photographs someone took of me and noticed that the bags under my eyes appear to be an independent life-form
  • drank not so moderately, and more than I'm used to
  • learned some stuff that I shouldn't do (research-wise; not drink-wise)
  • learned some stuff that I should do (research-wise; drink-wise is a given)
  • wished that I felt more fulfilled (yeah, I know...)
  • wished that I could look forward to a weekend without doing any work
  • looked forward to a weekend doing lots of work
And when I did get home, I found
  • baby toads crawling over the garden
  • baby fish now twice as large as when I left (and many more now - probably between 20 and 30)
  • data to be analysed
  • a report to be written (due two days earlier)
  • data to be written up
  • papers to be sent out to review (12 of them)
  • papers to make editorial decisions on (9 of them)
  • a Patient Information Sheet (for some research with patients) to be re-written
  • a sense of impending despair
  • a strong desire to find another career

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Wildlife report

pond: fish, baby fish, baby toads, assorted insects
garden: worms, mushrooms, cats, pheasant, assorted plants and weeds
out on the road: the usual roadkill, a very much alive badger, assorted children
office: me
coffee cup: mould

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Of Hope, Hopelessness, and Despair. In no particular order.

Hopelessness. So there I was, walking round Washington after a National Institutes of Health grants panel, with one of the other people from the committee... and what do we talk about? Science? No. Existentialism? No. The state of world politics? No. The state of our pension planning? Yes. Hopeless.

Hope. It may be leaking (but not for much longer - come September, we're going to re-line the pond and change a couple of things about it)... but that hasn't stopped the natural (no human intervention) arrival of tiny baby fish. I counted four so far. Of course, counting fish is a sad reflection of how I like to spend a few quiet minutes.

Despair. A week to prepare, a week out there (Washington), and two weeks in which not much happened at the journal. It just happened to be the two weeks with the highest submission rates this year. So at last reckoning, I've got around 35 manuscripts to send out to review, and around 15 to make editorial decisions on. It's not like I did nothing in those two weeks. I did deal with the journal correspondence, and I did allocate the submissions to the associate editors (or myself), and I did write personally to a few of the more tardy reviewers (who all responded). It's not even like I was on holiday or anything.

That pension, and the time in which to enjoy it, is looking more and more attractive each day.

Sunday, 3 June 2007

Taking a break

Sunday... I decided to take it off, and do NO work. The third Sunday this year I've done that (there were a couple of Saturdays also). Yes, I'm counting... sad, really. So today was a fairly atypical day. Drove two hours with the kids across from where we are in York (East) to Kendall (West). Why? To train for 90 minutes with what/who are arguably (or rather, you can't argue with it) the two best Karate instructors in the UK (Andy Sherry, 8th Dan and head of the Karate Union of Great Britain, and Frank Brennan, 6th Dan). Was exhausted, but it was worth it. The kids thought so too (and before you think that I dragged them, it was the other way around - Sam wanted to go, then Jamie, and finally, almost reluctantly, me - but I'm so glad I went). Then drove two hours back. Worked a bit in the garden, loaded up Jamie's new iPod Shuffle with everything he could possibly want to listen to (most of which I wouldn't), and am now off to a BBQ and then to Bobo Lobo, a Latino bar in York where all the Argentinians meet up. Will I dance? Most likely I'll have fallen asleep at a smoky table long before anyone pulls me onto the dance floor. Believe me, I do a better Karate Kata than I do Salsa, and my Karate isn't that great!

So... no work. It's quite nice to remind myself what that's like. The fact that I have to mark 9 undergraduate students' final year projects this week, and also read and then comment on 5 grant proposals (for an NIH meeting in Washington the week after next) is something I'll worry about tomorrow. But today, I'm acting like there's no tomorrow...

UPDATE So I salsa'd... or rather Silvia salsa'd and I tried to control what might otherwise have looked like random muscular spasms... but I did learn something really important: it's all in the hips, and if I could only salsa some more, I might be able to move my hips better when practicing my Karate... Sadly, though, the evening was bereft of Argentinians, as word had got round that DJ Toro (I guess that translates as The Bull) was in hospital. Not sure who put him there, though...

Saturday, 26 May 2007

A sign of the times

Yeah well... 6 weeks since I last sat down long enough to write something here. Not much has changed in that time.
  • The pond is still leaking (I climbed in today to look for the leak, but that didn't help).
  • The birds are still nesting in the roof.
  • I've made over 70 editorial decisions (it's been a quiet time at the journal).
  • I've applied for a couple of grants.
  • I've analysed a few experiments' worth of data (these are experiments where we monitor people's eye movements as they look at various things on a computer screen and listen to various things over loudspeakers).
  • I've upgraded to RapidWeaver 3.6 (with which I maintain this website).
  • I've upgraded to a MacBook (and almost lost the customized files for this website)
  • Silvia and I bought a piano (a Roland DP-970, which is a compact digital piano with a fantastic keyboard and a really good sound).
  • We bought, and used, a BBQ. And then it rained for the next two weeks.
  • I didn't buy an LCD television, despite wanting to.
  • I didn't write the paper I want to write - at this rate I shall shortly become an academic has-been.
  • I didn't reply to way too many emails that I should have replied to.
  • I think I took a weekend off, but I'm not sure - may have been more than 6 weeks ago I did that...
  • I was ill for a week and stayed home (and worked), except for my birthday, when I had to go to work to chair a meeting, but the consolation was that I got to eat chocolate birthday cake.
An uneventful 6 weeks...

Monday, 16 April 2007

A milestone is reached...

A couple of days ago I made my 250th editorial decision since Jan 1st. And by the end of this week, I'll have made by 500th editorial decision since taking over as Editor-in-Chief of Cognition on June 1st last year.


But a bunch of other decisions are being made, as I write this, by the four Associate Editors who now share the load with me (I take around half the submissions, and they share the other half between them). They are the editorial equivalent of these guys....

Have been thinking more about the action hero thing (see my last post). I wouldn't mind having an alter ego that, on receiving a new submission to the journal, ducks into an alleyway while ripping open my shirt to reveal the eponymous action hero's suit hidden underneath. But whereas I like the sound of 'Spiderman', 'Superman', 'Batman', or even 'Actionman' (I had one of those when I was little), I'm not so sure about 'Cognitionman' or 'Editorman' - neither of them conjures up the image I have of myself in my alter ego's mind. So until I can think of a better name, I shall hold off from ripping my clothes off each time I have to action a paper...

And still on the subject of action heroes, where are they when you need one? Take today: A typical day at the University of York. The power goes down to half the campus. And an entire wing of the Psychology building goes into lockdown - the magnetic locks lock, and no one can get in (apparently, one could get out, but that's just far as we know, no one was in the building yesterday when this happened). Short of literally breaking and entering, or flying through the skylight (hence our scanning of the horizon for someone in a cape and blue underpants) the building is unassailable. Not really sure what the point of this is - our offices/labs have mechanical locks, but it's access to the corridors that is prevented by this so-called 'security' measure. What I find amazing is that someone actually decided that this would be a 'good thing'. Humankind knows no limits when it comes to expressing its capacity for insanity.

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Of Guests, God, and Lasagna.

It's my home, and I should have a right to determine who lives in that home with me. And starlings, despite their many abilities, are not on my list of preferred housemates. Not when they nest in the roof and start whatever orgiastic excess of nest building it is that they get up to each morning at 6.30. No doubt I'll go straight to Hell now that I've plugged every orifice on that roof with chicken wire....

Speaking of which (Hell), I discovered from reading some report or other that a member of the US Congress came out of the closet last week, and admitted he was ...... an atheist. Apparently, he is the first to have done so. Amazing. And when the American populus was asked (or at least, a small unrepresentative sample was asked) whether they could vote for a Presidential candidate who was an atheist, only 14% said they felt they could. Unbelievable. So 86% prefer someone who believes in God... I just wonder what those 86% would say if that someone turned around and said that they had regular two-way conversations wtih God each Tuesday morning at 10am.... Would those 86% be more inclined towards this candidate or less?

The US of A is in my thoughts because I was in California last week for a conference. La Jolla. I could imagine working in a place like that. The conference is an annual one that I go to each year if I can. I'd like my luggage to go with me also, but evidently that's just a little too much to ask. The last two times, my (or Silvia's) poster tube never turned up. I know they look a little like a rocket launcher, but you'd have thought the airlines would have learned by now how not to lose them. At least our luggage was returned to us (both with the zips and various other bits and pieces broken - thank you British Airways for taking such good care of our luggage - from now on I fly United).

Got back, jetlagged and tired (and minus the luggage), and went round to see the kids straightaway. Jamie wasn't too well, though. Greeted me by vomiting all over the stairs. Carpetted stairs. I had an instantaneous out-of-body experience as I heard myself say to his mum the most dreadful words I could possibly utter: "Don't worry - you sort Jamie out, and I'll deal with the mess". Lasagna. Tomato sauce. Parmesan. You get the picture...(and if not the picture, the smell...) The alternative was to utter something completely inappropriate that I had been taught to say in California by a Canadian of Portuguese extraction living in Edinburgh: "Hey - Suck it up... Deal with it". Believe me.... sucking it up was not going to happen. But what did happen was an act of supreme bravery in the face of a distinctly unwelcome lack of rubber gloves - and you'd never guess, now, that those three staircase steps had been a quagmire of vomit only a few days ago...

So... quite a couple of weeks; what with the conference, cleaning up the vomit, clambering onto the roof, and, when not doing that, clearing the queues, yet again, at Cognition. I feel quite the action hero...

Friday, 23 March 2007

What I'd give for a new pair of hips

Ok, so I made brown belt. But not without completely stuffing up my 'basics' (the grading is in three sections, and the first is where you do the 'basic' techniques of punching, blocking, kicking, etc. as a solo exercise). I was fairly relaxed (normally I get really stressed in preparation), but then I got up in front of the examiner and it was like I was transformed into an emotional jelly (I don't think I physically quivered...). How is it I can get up and lecture in front of hundreds of people, but I stand up in front of one very friendly (but exceedingly expert - 5th Dan) Karate examiner, and I go to pieces? In fairness, I did get through, and no doubt the examiner was being charitable, but I do know that away from the glare of the examiner's stare I can do the things I'm supposed to do. So probably I deserve the belt. But it would have been more satisfying to show my best on the night...

Anyhow, the main problem I have, apparently, is my hips... I need to be able to twist them like I was a hula dancer. I'll have to practice, although I'm not so sure about that whole grass skirt thing.

Monday, 19 March 2007

I'm leaking...

Well.. not really me. The pond. I don't have time to leak: Since my last post I've made 106 editorial decisions (accept, revise, reject, etc.) and sent 74 papers out to review. I know all this because the journal's database is online, and it never tires of spitting out performance statistics (how many days I spend between receiving a paper and sending it out to review; how many different people I've approached as reviewers; how long it takes me to make a decision on a paper once I've received all the reviews; how many hours I spend asleep; how often I shower). I have no personality any more; I've become little more than a page full of statistics on a server somewhere in the Netherlands. No wonder my pond's leaking. Except it's not leaking. It's crying.

It's Monday. On Thursday I'm being graded for my first brown belt. If I get it I'll be amazingly proud: One small step for a man, one big step for Karate (actually, it's more a step, block, and a punch....).

Monday, 29 January 2007

New photo gallery

Well... it's not new in the strict sense of having new photos never before seen on these pages. But it is new in respect of the webdesign. I've put it together rather inefficiently, but I liked the 'thumbnails' (made with collage) - it's inefficient because each thumbnail has to be linked by hand, so to speak, with its 'parent'. But I've not found a photo gallery plugin for RapidWeaver that's as nice as collage, so I suffered the pain for the sake of my sense of aesthetics. Pathetics, more like...

Sunday, 28 January 2007

Editus Satisfactus

Life-changing events over which I may or may not have had some control: being born; having children; taking over the editorship of Cognition...

All three are ongoing projects. The latter has caused me most anguish in the past 9 months. A continuing wave of submissions meant that more submissions were coming in than I was able to send out for review, and more papers required decisions each week (to accept/reject/revise) than I was able to deal with. So although I was processing around 20 papers a week, it still wasn't enough. But the good news is that since Xmas, I've managed 30 papers a week, and the queues are now clear. A milestone by any measure. So I celebrated by taking yesterday (Saturday) off and not doing any work. How good is that?

Not so good... Why should I feel guilty that I took ONE day off (today, Sunday, I worked again). What kind of life is it that we are such slaves to our work?

Big week coming up: Dentist (fixing a cracked tooth), Ophthalmologist (fixing my bursting eyeballs), Heating Engineer (fixing our thermostats). The bursting eyeball thing is probably an exaggeration. My head's likely to burst long before any of my other vital, or not so vital, organs go the same way. But hopefully nothing will burst before I fulfill all my other obligations that are still on my way-too-long To Do list.

So... now that Cognition is under control, and my eyes, teeth, and heating will hopefully bend to my will also, what else is there to do? Aside from work, that is. Even YouTube has lost its brief attraction (not that it was attractive for more than a whole 5 minutes) now that I believe I have found the genuinely funniest thing on it, ever. It must be no coincidence that the film-maker who made this is from Argentina.

Am stuck for something witty and poignant with which to end this post. I'll have to save it till next time.