Saturday, 28 November 2009

lucky Sam... unlucky me

It’s my eldest’s birthday today. 15. Bear in mind, now, that I’m a die-hard Mac user. I’ve been using Macs since 1988. So it was with considerable pain that I succumbed to his constant pestering for a netbook (at least it has Windows 7, rather than XP). The aforementioned pain was considerably eased, however, when he unwrapped the gift from his mum. Underwear. Ok, so it was high-quality underwear that requires a certain coolness factor to be worn. But even so... it’s underwear, for goodness sake! Of course, as a Mac man, I believe that his mum’s gift will prove the more useful in the long run...

I, however, am not as lucky as Sam. Despite the opportunity two weeks ago to return to my favorite coffee shop in the world (La Colombe, Philadelphia), and then to visit Boston, I have finally succumbed not simply to netbook-mania but also to some variant of the ‘flu. I took a cold with me to the US (I carefully hid it from immigration officials, lest they quarantine me), maintained it lovingly in Philadelphia and Boston, and then re-imported it, suitably mutated, back into the UK, where it returned in fuller force to bite me in the proverbial you-know-where. Yesterday’s rant/vent/post was written under the influence of that same virus, added to which was a concoction of paracetamol (Tylenol), neurofen (Advil), and caffeine (Illy) - you can tell that I feel better today. Not physically - just mentally. Must be due to having been woken by an excitable child at 6 in the morning (no, not Sam, his younger brother who seems to delight as much in other people’s birthdays as in his own).

The day before yesterday was Thanksgiving in the US (not in Canada, though - they wouldn’t want to share with the US their public holidays as well as their international dialling code). I did remember it on the day, but events overtook me (or rather, ‘flu did), and I failed to post anything appropriate. So despite feeling thankful most of the time for the various friends and colleagues I have scattered across the globe, I shall take the opportunity now not simply to feel it, but to give it also - thank you.

Friday, 27 November 2009

peer review

It’s been a trying few weeks at the journal I edit. It is not atypical for authors to complain about the injustices of the review process. For these people, I offer some consolation below, and a newly invested prize: the “Poke the editor in the eye with a stick” award. Identifying the winner has not been easy in the face of some quite considerable choice. This year’s winner of the coveted jab’em-in-the-eye award goes to the person who was unsure about the legitimacy of the concerns I had expressed when returning my editorial decision. In questioning their legitimacy, he listed a bunch of reasons why my concerns were unjustified, and then mentioned in passing that he had in fact reported the wrong data in the paper...

Regrettably, such complaints are typical. And increasing in number. And for each one of these that I receive, there are countless others that are no doubt discussed in coffee rooms and conference halls up and down the country (pick any country), and for which I and the reviewers are the minions of the Devil. The sad fact is that unless we hear about such cases, we can neither reconsider the facts (and perhaps change our earlier decisions) nor defend our decisions in the event that, like the case above, there is nothing to answer for except a rigorous and professional review process. One time, an author complained that the review process can’t be any good because after I had rejected his manuscript, it was accepted almost unchanged at another journal. With a little probing, the author eventually acknowledged that before submitting to the new journal, he had in fact added in the additional study that the reviewers and I had requested when the manuscript had first been submitted to us.

Each time I receive, or hear of, a grumble, it is my job to investigate it. It is inevitable that mistakes will be made, and regardless of ego it is our job to root out such mistakes and correct them accordingly. If authors do not believe that they have been dealt with fairly, the field as a whole rightly loses confidence in those it has entrusted to help the passage of its science. But we should not forget that editors and reviewers deserve fair treatment too.

For an accurate depiction of the typical author response to a decision letter, I advise all readers to watch the following instructional video. I do not know who made it. I do know that, last night, within the space of 30 minutes, I received links to it from two separate academics living in two separate countries. So my thanks to John and Ellen for making me realize I am not alone in the perennial editorial struggle...

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

hotel rooms

There is nothing worse, I've decided, than sitting in a hotel room, working. At least my office is *my* office - full of some of the paraphernalia that defines my existence, if not also aspects of my identity. According to (which I use for managing my travel itineraries), today is the 54th day this year I've spent in a hotel room. By the end of the year I'll have spent 61 days in hotel rooms spread across 31 different cities, 9 different countries, and 72,000+ miles.

It's time to stop. And go home.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

display configuration

For reasons unknown to me, more people are visiting this site than ever before. Have the TV networks stopped showing repeats of Friends? Is The Simpsons no longer broadcasting? The problem I'm faced with is that I now feel obliged to update this blog, simply to prevent the disappointment that would result, I suppose, from people coming back, time and time again, in the vain hope that it would have been updated. I can't blame these poor hapless souls as I do the same thing. No, not with this website, as I actually have inside information on the timing of its updates, but with the websites that currently interest me most... those that offer the cheapest price on the De'Longhi ESAM6600. Regrettably, those prices do not change, and if they do, rarely in a downwards direction.

I used to be a Gaggia man, but the machine in our lab is ageing even more rapidly than am I. And as I researched a replacement, I discovered that Gaggia were taken over by a bigger fish - Saeco - a company founded, oddly, in a place called Gaggio (Gaggio Montano, to be more accurate). But then the bigger fish was eaten, just this last summer, by an even bigger fish - Philips (you have to love their toothbrushes, if nothing else). So that just leaves De'Longhi as one of the last Italian firms making bean-to-cup coffee machines. Not that I really care about all this historical stuff (if I did, I probably would avoid wanting to buy a coffee machine from a company that in fact specializes in heating equipment and radiators...) - what I really care about are the resoundingly positive reviews that their machines tend to receive, and the even more resoundingly positive reviews that the 6600 receives. But it costs megabucks. So I continue to check the price comparison sites, and continue to dream of a day when I either win the lottery (unlikely since I haven't bought a ticket in years), or miraculously save the life of a De'Longhi executive who will reward me for my courage with precisely the machine I covet. It is a sad fact that winning the lottery without a ticket is probably the more likely of my two fantasies...

A more manageable fantasy over the past two weeks (since we switched from BST to GMT, or as our American cousins would say, since we came off daylight savings time) has concerned the clock in my otherwise fully-functional car (a Peugeot 207, which, I sadly realize, is a quite paltry vehicle compared to the BMW convertible that one of my colleagues has recently purchased... an extra heavy load of manuscripts will shortly be coming his way...). The fantasy was a simple one - to get the thing to show the right time. But the challenge proved too great. I failed to figure it out because no matter which buttons or combination thereof I pressed, I kept coming back to a menu item on the dashboard display which promised to "display configuration". This wasn't particularly useful as I didn't want to display the configuration, I wanted to change it. So eventually I resorted to the manual. It contained the following information:
In the event that you wish to change the time on the clock, abandon the prejudice you have to interpret "display" as a verb and "configuration" as a noun - instead, adopt the less frequent reading of these two words, with "display" as a noun and "configuration" as the second noun in a noun-noun compound. You will then have successfully found the one menu item which allows you to change the "display configuration" - on encountering this menu item, press 'ok' and you will immediately see a message offering to change the hours and minutes of the clock. If you are too dumb to realize that "display configuration" has two meanings, and that we the manufacturers will naturally have pre-selected for you the least likely meaning, you barely deserve to drive this car.
It really does say that in the manual! And I feel suitably ashamed at my linguistic prejudice. Needless to say, with such cognitive infexibility, the chances are slim of being able to get the coffee-machine equivalent of a BMW convertible to do anything as impressive as grind a bean. So it's probably just as well I can't afford it. Even better is that I will miss out on the joys of having to figure out, each spring and each autumn, how to change its clock...