Saturday, 31 December 2011

Goodbye 2011, from Times Square, NY.

Yep - am about to go out and celebrate the passing of yet another year. I'm currently sitting in a hotel just yards away from Times Square, where the party's already started (it's just before 5pm local time) - perhaps the biggest party in the world: They're expecting a million people to come out into the streets around Times Square to celebrate. I, thankfully, will be nowhere near (but will be with friends in Washington Square, 2.5 miles south of here).

So how am I passing the last day of 2011? Compiling statistics on submission rates, rejection rates, triage rates, and all sorts of other rates, for Cognition, the journal I edit. You heard it here first: Despite gradual turnover of Associate Editors over the years, the rejection rate remains a steady 78% (I try, I really do, to reject more! Submissions that is, not Associate Editors). The triage rate is 38% (i.e. of all submissions, we reject 38% without sending to review). But I'm getting soft; my own triage rate was only 43%. We received the exact same number of submissions this year as last year (891 - thankfully, the increase in submissions has finally come to a halt). And I handled myself, personally, just over 35% of the submissions, with the remaining submissions being handled by the eight Associate Editors.

Actually, I did more than just compile a bunch of statistics today - that only took me about 15 minutes. The rest of the time I processed a few more manuscripts, shopped, walked, shopped some more, dodged the occasional wayward taxi, ate, napped (hey - I only got in yesterday - jetlag has another day to run!), drank coffee, drank some more coffee, emailed, and finally, flicked through the multitude of channels that is American TV. 

So this is it: the last post of 2011. To those poor people who have nothing better to do than read this: All the best for 2012 and beyond. And to my friends and colleagues on whom I rely perhaps even more than they know - a huge thank you. And to the future version of myself who might one day come back and read this - I hope the hangover didn't last!


Sunday, 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas!

Yesterday was a first. Never done it before. After years of resistance, I finally succumbed. I prepared 6, six, SIX different vegetables to go with dinner. S-I-X! Ingredients added to the different veggies included: butter (boring), lemon juice (conventional), tarragon (on veggies??), sugar (cheat!), parmesan (obvious), and Cointreau (original, no?). Another first: none were overcooked. A final first: I picked up my Peugeot. Apparently it's working. They'd had it 8 days. Almost as long as it took me to peel, scrub, prepare, cook, and digest, the Xmas Eve Veggies.

Happy Xmas to everyone. And Best wishes for 2012 and beyond!

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

that time of year...

Things to look forward to in 2012 and beyond:
  • never ever EVER buying another Peugeot. 
  • never ever EVER buying another Peugeot. And here's why:
I bought a brand new Peugeot 2007 in April 2009. In 2010 it starts to break down. Spontaneously loses its acceleration, and an engine warning light comes on. Then it seems to get better, by itself. But I take it in at the end of the year when it goes again. Everything fine, apparently - they just reset the warning light (i.e. turn it out). A little while later, it goes again. I take it in again. They (the Peugeot dealer I bought the car from) say they've fixed it. But it goes again. I take it in again. It goes again. I take it in again. But this time, they've definitely fixed it. That was this last September. Last week, I take it in for its service. The next day... it goes again. Even worse than before. The car's still under warranty. If this were a washing machine, they'd have replaced it if they couldn't fix it. But oh no. This is a CAR... one doesn't do that for cars. So far as they're concerned, I can just bring it back each time it loses its acceleration, and we can go on indefinitely like that. I bring it in. They tinker. I take it away. It fails. I bring it in.. and so on until the sands of time have run out.  But hey - they're the official Peugeot dealer. They know what they're talking about. And if they say it's acceptable to have me keep going for a few months until the engine fails, then I guess it must be. And it's probably just coincidence that these are the same people who, when they replaced two of my tyres earlier this year managed to leave three of them with such low pressure that the low-pressure warning light lit up. I was so stupid that it took me a while to figure out what was wrong - it never occurred to me, as I drove back from the garage, that they'd not known to pump up the tyres to the right pressure. So... no. I'm never ever EVER going to buy another Peugeot.

And just so you know, a guarantee means they'll repair it, but if they can't, there's a legal obligation to replace it. A warranty means they'll undertake to repair it but there is no legal obligation to replace it. That's why cars come with warranties and not guarantees. What's a little murky is whether Evans Halshaw (oops, I wasn't supposed to name them) are in breach of the warranty through not having actually repaired it. In which case, for the cost of considerably more than a new car (which I can't afford anyway), I could take them to court. Yeah, right. I'm better off saving for a new car.

Oooh. I SO needed to vent! Phew. All done. I feel much better now.

I may not want another Peugeot, ever, or even EVER... but I do want one of these. Who wouldn't?

Friday, 18 November 2011

navigating a BMW

Lucky me: I was given a lift the other evening in a rather flash, white, BMW. Its interior was a masterpiece of technical wizardry. The satellite navigation fully immersed me in BMW's version of Google maps. As a driver, I would worry about just two things: First, how to keep my eyes on the road and avoid looking only at the map display (which, my limited experience told me, did a pretty rubbish job of warning the driver when pedestrians crossed in front of us); and second, how to keep the maps up to date. My colleague is an expert, it just so happens, on eye movements during driving... so no doubt our luxurious vehicle was a justifiable (and charged) expense. As to the maps, apparently that is not a problem: "What I do when I want to update the map? I just get another one. Another car, that is." Evidently, I study the wrong kinds of eye movements.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

sleepless in seattle

Yep. That's me. In Seattle. Sleepless. But... if anyone else is, and they want to find a really really good coffee shop, go to Milstead and Co (though it is a little out of the way, but so worth it). The coffee is almost as good as it is at La Colombe in Philadelphia (it's just a matter of taste really). Maybe I should open a coffee shop and abandon all pretence of being an academic... but probably, I should instead banish all such thoughts, and put them down to my unwanted state of sleeplessness.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

iOS 5

Early adopter or what? I couldn't resist. Plugged in at work (this is NOT the machine I backup on... but so?) and downloaded the update (it backed up the phone), and it all went swimmingly. Looked like I'd lost ALL my apps, until I saw that it was restoring them in the background! How cool is that? Not cool at all, it turns out, because except for the Apple apps, each one of my apps that had magically appeared only moments before crashed on launch. Crashed. CRASHED. Each one. EACH ONE. Undaunted, I went home and plugged the iPhone (4) into the machine that I usually backup on... I hit sync, and after a few moments, it was done. And as if by yet more magic, each one of my apps that had magically popped up and previously crashed now worked. Worked. WORKED. How cool is that? VERY COOL.

Less cool is iCloud. What's up with that? Why can't I sync keychains? Well... there is a very simple answer to that. First, because Apple say it won't. And Apple are the law around here. Or there. Or wherever the iCloud is. And second, because each time I try and migrate to iCloud, I get a polite message which, roughly translated, says "we had no idea anyone would actually want to use iCloud, so we have been taken totally by surprise and are unable to keep up with demand. Please come back when we've gotten our act together." iCloud? iFail.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

term's not even started yet!

Meetings. More meetings. On all sorts of things: From lecture content to managing the "Virtual Learning Environment" (designed to be as hospitable an environment as the surface of Mars) to advising on maternity leave, mentoring, and the setting up of yet more committees. And term doesn't start for another two weeks. Thank goodness I'll be too busy teaching to be able to think about doing any more administration. And as for my research... I see that receding into the distance like a ship sailing slowly into the sunset.

Next week's excitement, though, is a final pre-term conference trip. One of those crazy conferences with so many talks (7 parallel sessions from 8.30 in the morning to almost 7.30 in the evening) that it's actually impossible to go to any talk other than one's own. In my own case, I'm giving two talks. I last gave a conference talk just three weeks ago (in Paris) and that talk, and these other two, are all non-overlapping in terms of their content. Never mind it being a crazy conference, it's driven me crazy just preparing for it.

This week's excitement: Aside from becoming a bona fide CEO of an American corporation, I learned that the increase in submissions to the journal I've been editing the past five and almost a half years has subsided and come to a much needed halt - we've had as many submissions in the first 38 weeks of this year as we had in the first 38 weeks of last year. Phew. So having spent five and a half years permanently running to catch up, I can now slow down, take stock, and breathe. Phew.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Laws of (e)motion

It occurs to me apropos of nothing, other than that the grass is still too wet to cut, that Isaac Newton should have been a therapist of some sorts (I resisted using the term psychologist, as I believe that I myself am one, on a good day):

  • Newton's 1st law of motion: Every body stays at rest, or continues in motion, unless acted upon by an external force. Emotional translationEverybody wants to stay at rest, or continue on their way, without someone else messing with them.
  • Newton's 2nd law of motion: The change in motion of a body is proportional to, and in the direction of, the amount of force acted upon it. Emotional translation: The change in emotion of somebody is proportional to how much they're messed with, and depends on how they're messed with.
  • Newton's third law of motionTo every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction. Emotional translation: To every emotional reaction there is always an equal and opposite one. Often way sooner than you'd want.

Other than my pondering the laws of motion (and thermodynamics, as it happens), I've also had occasion to ponder the prospects of becoming incorporated - a technical term that applies to the creation of a corporation. Am on my way to the store, this morning, to buy jeans and a black turtleneck...

Another recent excitement has been the release of the Oxford Handbook of Eye Movements. I had a hand in the cover design - I generated the word cloud that is used on the cover. It looks much better up-close and personal... if, that is, you have the physical strength to lift the thing - it's HUGE. Of course, although I think the cover is brilliant, the final chapter in this tour de force is orders of magnitude more brilliant

Friday, 9 September 2011


Bruised, beaten, battered, breathless... But oddly triumphant. Despite finding I had used up all my energy, and despite almost giving up, I didn't, and instead I managed to get through a gruelling Karate session. Whether I will be able to move any of my over-tired muscles tomorrow is a bridge I shall cross (hobbling, no doubt) when I come to it. Lying down never felt this good. Oh. Wait.. No, please no... Cramp!

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Dropping the ball

Never mind dangling prepositions, dropping the ball is way way worse... I've just been looking at the statistics for the journal I edit (Cognition). In the past 12 months, I've made 316 accept or reject decisions, and of these, 61% were triage decisions (i.e. rejecting without sending out to review). That's steep. On the other hand, I've accepted 24% of those 316 manuscripts. That's above the journal's average of an 18% acceptance rate over the past 12 months. I clearly need to triage less and reject more. Hmm.

While I ponder how to simultaneously reject fewer, and more, manuscripts, I shall savour the irony of my dress sense this morning: I'm wearing a light-almost-faded-green t-shirt that I bought about 7 years ago at the Apple shop on the Cupertino campus. It is subtly embossed with on the front, and the apple logo on the back. I chose my watch, this morning, equally carefully - I bought it just recently (it hasn't yet gone out in public) and it has the same green color on the numerals - so I clearly score points for matching my watch to the t-shirt. The irony, though, is that the watch is made by a company called Android.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Dangling my prepositions

Writers' block: I've had it bad.

Could be the conference next week I'm still analysing data for, the new journal submissions I'm trying (but failing) to keep up with, the adolescent hormones (not mine) I'm trying to make allowances for, the company I'm trying to raise money for, the teaching I'm trying to avoid thinking about, the camera I'm avoiding putting in an order for, or, finally, the preposition-dangling I've not avoided succumbing to (ok, so you'd need to have an idea what preposition dangling actually is if you wanted to know what the heck I'm talking about).

A week away (in Corfu, childhood home of "He who I am named after") just wasn't enough to recharge those metaphorical batteries. But I am the possessor, now, of yet another bag made of fine Italian leather. And it was way cheaper than that camera I lust over (doh! I just can't stop dangling those pesky preps). If only I could win the lottery... though that's about as likely as one of those emails offering me a huge inheritance being the real deal.

I will temporarily sign off so as to dangle my prepositions elsewhere.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Wanted: Investor

Avid followers of this blog, amongst whom I count myself as the sole member, will recall that sometime ago I posted a wanted ad, for an iPad developer. A few months later, and we're (almost) in business. We have a company name, a product name, a mockup of the product's functionality, a roadmap for future versions' functionality, and both a programmer and a designer on standby. Why, I hear you ask, on standby?— Actually, I don't hear you, just me (sadly) — well... we're looking for around a $30K investment (to supplement our own investment) in return for a share of the revenue. In the spirit of my original ad, I am posting this craziness here so that Future Me (who is also Older and Wiser Me) can chuckle at Younger Me. But for those investors out there who might be curious, just get in touch. As was the case when I (successfully) solicited a developer (who is now my business-partner, having invested his own money, as I did, in this venture), you'll have to take my word for it that this app is going to be huge. And a game changer. When you see the idea, you'll understand (you'd have to sign an NDA, I'm afraid). Various investment options are on the table, if you want to pursue this. Including some very low-risk options. And before any of my offspring ask: no, I'm not taking this to Dragon's Den.

Geek alert: OS X Lion ... fail!

Yeah well.... what can I say? I was dumb. I figured that Apple are trying to make the Mac totally idiot-proof. And so I thought: why not copy the installer for the new OS X Lion that's downloaded by the Mac App Store onto an external drive, take it home, copy it back onto my MacBook Pro, and install that version of the new OS? Should be straightforward; should save me having to download close to 4Gb over my tediously slow internet connection at home; and in any case, it'd tell me if it couldn't install properly, right? WRONG. Everything went swimmingly. It installed in the advertised 33 minutes. Looked fine. Everything worked. I could use Dropbox. I could sync to MobileMe. I could change my desktop settings and other system settings. This was Apple at their best. WRONG. So come nightfall, I decided to shutdown. The next morning I duly restarted, and everything looked pretty much as I'd left it. Until Dropbox told me it didn't have permission to modify files, and MobileMe told me it didn't have permission to synchronise files, and I learned that even **I** did not have permission to modify my own files. Holy Cr&p Batman! Two days later, despite seeing other people suffering the same issues on various forums, and despite trying to repair permissions every which way (five different ways, and there are probably a few I didn't try), nothing stuck. No sooner than I'd restart and, to quote Steve Apple Jobs, 'boom' - everything reverted to the hellish chaos that I'd woken up to that morning after.

Undaunted, I sit here now having wiped my hard drive (hey - nothing wrong with doing a clean install) and with a bit of luck I shall shortly have a brand-spankingly new install of OS X Lion on my MacBook Pro. It's true that I shall have, aside from an operating system, no useful files. But that's what Apple's Migration Assistant is for. Despite having failed to get it to work in the past, I've heard it does work (so long as you first turn off all wireless connections, find a working ethernet cable, and sacrifice a chicken or two).

I love Apple. Would have been a boring weekend otherwise...

[update... All is good: I re-installed Lion from a USB key that contained the critical installer image, used Migration Assistant from my MacBook Air via ethernet cable (remembering to tell the MBP that I did not have a wireless connection, and turning wireless off on my MBA), and all went smoothly. I've been using the MBP for the past two weeks without a hitch. The pact that I made with the Devil, before initiating this process, was a small price to pay.]

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

clear skies over Mordor

The forces of Sauron have been vanquished; Gandalf and his Elves have been victorious; and there is indeed a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...

Translation: Following my earlier letter to the Editorial Board of the journal Cognition (see my last post), the entire Board (or as close as makes no difference) rose up as one and rebelled. Elsevier were taken by surprise (as was I). I wouldn't go so far as to say that jobs were lost, but responsibilities were shifted around, and I was asked to consider staying on. In short, Elsevier made me an offer I couldn't refuse. So I didn't, and I signed up for another three years. The following is an edited excerpt from the new letter I sent, just moments ago, to the Board (I have omitted from this excerpt the summary of events that led to where we are now - more important is what the 'where we are now' means).

My sense of Elsevier's 'change of heart' is that it reflects this: Elsevier [through the publisher now responsible for the journal] understand the role that the field plays in the journal's success, and understand that there are circumstances in which the field is the best judge of how it is best served by the journal. Moreover it is clearer now that Elsevier do have a commitment to working in partnership with, and not in conflict with, the field. In short, the field 'shares ownership' with Elsevier.

So my job over the next 3½ years is to keep serving the field. Although part of me would have liked to get my old life back, I relish the challenge of ensuring that when the next Editor-in-Chief starts, the journal will be on a very secure and manageable footing.

I'd like to end by thanking you for your extraordinary support. It was a quite humbling experience (I did not see the full extent of it, but various people sent me updates as the situation unfolded and as emails apparently rained down from all directions). But I understand that this was not about me. It was about the journal, and the field's involvement in the management of the journal. It remains a privilege to be a part of that management, and a member of the field.

So... after the excitement of the last three tumultuous weeks, life can return to normal. But at the risk of repeating myself, and because many people not on the Board wrote to me also, I want to take one further opportunity to say 'thank you' to all of them. It has been a very moving experience.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

end of an era

The following is a letter I wrote last week to the Editorial Board of the journal that I edit. In short, despite offering to stay on as Editor when my contract expires at the end of the year, my publisher declined my offer without any discussion with myself, the Associate Editors, the Editorial Board, or it seems, anyone at all in the field served by the journal. Evidently, they know what's best for the field, and the field itself does not (either that, or I really really p****d them off somehow). My thanks to all those surprisingly many people who wrote letters of support to me expressing their anger and disappointment. But each cloud does have a silver lining, and I look forward to getting my old life back. I may even finally get to write that promised 2nd edition of The Ascent of Babel (a book I wrote back in the late 1990s and on which basis my photographic portrait is now a part of the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in London!)

Dear Board Member,

A quick update on the state of Cognition and upcoming changes.

Submissions are up 175% on when I took over in June 2006 (I anticipate around 950 submissions this year). Turnaround times are averaging around 3 months, and the publication lag (from acceptance to print) is around 3 months also. It is now rare for a manuscript to take as long as 5 months to go through the review process, although it does sometimes happen, of course, and almost always for reasons outside of our control. An increased rate of triage (40-50%) has enabled us to manage this increased submission rate. The Associate Editors make up an extraordinary group of individuals, and I believe that the ethos of the journal makes it a unique publication in the fields of cognitive psychology and cognitive science.

Against this backdrop, Elsevier have decided not to renew my contract when it expires at the end of this year. They have introduced a new policy limiting the Editor to serving no more than two terms of three years each (I will have served 5½ years). They believe that this is a good time to bring in a new Editor, now that I have steered the journal through this period of unprecedented growth, and they are hopeful that the new Editor will not have to suffer the constant accommodation that I have had to make to the ever-increasing numbers of submissions (the increase in submissions has now slowed, to around 7% year-on-year).

I have advised the publisher that time is fast running out to identify someone to take over, and I have suggested that they write to you to solicit suggestions. I believe that all the editors and the Editorial Board should be consulted in this process, something that has not been done to date. I do believe that in the case of a journal such as this one, the field should be consulted, and that the views of the Board are representative of the field that the journal serves. So I am hoping that the publisher will now engage in more open consultation. If you are not contacted within the next few weeks, please feel free to send any comments, suggestions or nominations directly to the journal’s publisher, [name and email address redacted].

I shall remain Editor-in-Chief until the end of the year. It has been an extraordinary privilege to steer the journal through these past 5 years. If there is one thing that characterizes this time, it is the opportunity that this gave me to interact with an astonishingly broad cross-section of exceedingly talented people working across the field. And although it would appear at times as if it was just my hand on the helm, it was in fact held steady there by the Associate Editors, and by Debbie Bowes, the journal’s Editorial Assistant.

Thank you for your continued support, of both the journal and the field that it serves.

With best wishes,

Gerry Altmann

Friday, 6 May 2011


Ok, I have to admit it. I am feeling exceedingly proud of myself. I have just returned from a grant panel in Madrid (where, unlike in the UK, they are sufficiently enlightened to have some really excellent fellowship schemes for junior and not-so-junior researchers). The source of my pride? My linguistic prowess - I navigated the committee in spontaneous spoken Spanish (if I could have come up with a fourth word starting 'sp..' I would have done ...oh... sparkling, spectacular, and spellbinding come to mind also, but only to mind: I neither sparkled nor spellbound. And most likely I was indeed a spectacle). So Spanglish ruled the day. And beer the night.

All the (spanish) talk of junior researchers, and their future careers, prompted me to think, and not for the first time, that what was once called the Research Assessment Exercise, and is now called the Research Excellence Framework, is an even bigger threat to British Science than the British Government and the cuts that they are inflicting on our science. Actually, it's not even about science. It's about academic research more generally. The REF is stifling the academic system, like the virulent weed absorbing all the light, oxygen, and nutrients in my pond. But I shall leave these thoughts for another time and another post.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Behind the scenes...

Ok, so it's been a quiet time here at Blog Central... But great things have been happening behind the scenes. Most, such as the fact that this blog is now optimised for smartphones, happened so far behind the scenes that I didn't even realise myself they had happened until I nerdily explored a few of the new changes at (just visit from your iphone and you'll see the difference). Others, such as the threefold increase in ultraviolet light now irradiating the algae in my pond, were more directly influenced by my existence on the planet. So ultraviolated is my pond that visitors to the garden have to don protective goggles and sun cream. The fish are positively sizzling.

Monday, 11 April 2011

coming soon

Admittedly, our holding page is a little tongue-in-cheek, but give it a few months, a new logo, and our first release, and I think we'll deserve a scoop or two of Benjamin & Jeremy's...

Friday, 8 April 2011


  • is by how much submissions to the journal I edit have gone up in Q1 of this year compared to Q1 of last year.
  • is the volume of ethanol in the average fortified wine.
Fortunately, the second of these facts will soon alleviate the pain of the first.

20%. Twenty percent. TWENTY PERCENT.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Californian weather

I blame the Beach Boys ... somehow, I had always believed the weather in California was how weather should be - warm, dry, breezy, and perfect. Maybe the Beach Boys never made it to Palo Alto, and that's why it was so cold, wet, windy, and simply horrid. The conference was good, though: Met up with the 'usual suspects' and had too good a time. But next time (and you know who you are) stop me from ordering that extra bottle of wine!

Quote of the week: "So, Gerry - my RSS feed aggregator must be broken because I haven't seen anything new on your blog recently".

Of the many highlights these past few days has been the culmination of my search for a software developer. For all those Doubting Thomases out here (I had to look that one up - I'm so ignorant), putting the equivalent of a Small Ad on my blog worked (see the last but one post). I was contacted within moments of that post, and just three weeks later we're almost ready to start the whole process! Ok, so it was three weeks, a sushi lunch, two beers, and a gin and tonic later. This could be a life-changing event. And not just for my life. Hopefully it won't be too long before I can post the following here:

Saturday, 5 March 2011

Wanted: iPad Developer

I've been flirting with the idea of creating an application for the iPad. After advice from various people, including Apple, it's time to move the idea to the next level. Needless to say, I have zero time in which to do any coding myself, so this posting is an experiment: If anyone reading this is a budding iPad developer who'd be curious enough to contact me, please do. I'm currently thinking of a commercial venture with a share of the revenue going to the developer (although I don't rule out hiring a developer on a regular contract). You'll have to take my word for it that this app is going to be huge. And a game changer. But then... I would say that, right? When you see the idea, you'll understand (you'd have to sign an NDA, I'm afraid). Of course, the chances of an iPad developer reading this blog are about as great as the chances that I shall win the lottery (which would be truly amazing seeing as I haven't bought a ticket in years). But as with all postings here, they will provide endless amusement for me as I re-read them in old age and think to myself "What was I thinking when I posted that craziness?"

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Crisis? What crisis?

This is just so fantastic. After many months of collective negotiation, I have, like many other academics, received a pay rise. It will add to my monthly pay cheque, after tax, an additional £1.14. According to Amazon, that means I can afford two extra pencils a month. And I can assure anyone who cares that two pencils' worth of increased productivity is terrific value-for-money! I can't wait till my next pay cheque. I'm already thinking Faber-Castell, though if I just had the patience to save up for three months, I could instead afford a small box of Lamy ink cartridges for my fountain pen. Hmm. There are clearly some difficult choices ahead. I almost regret that pay rise.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

word clouds

With nothing else to do (except work in the garden, work on the journal, work on my lecture for next week, work around the house, work on a paper I need to re-write, etc. etc) I have been playing with - a word cloud generator that has all sorts of customisable options. One of these allows you to upload your own image to act as the shape into which the word cloud will fit. Word clouds, for anyone who isn't as obsessed with words as I am, are graphical representations of the relative frequencies of the different words in a document. So a word that appears a lot in a document would be be shown in the cloud as larger than a word that was relatively infrequent. Some words are so frequent that one has to remove them or they would dominate the cloud to the exclusion of others - so this includes words like "the", "a", "and", and  "Altmann"*. Once one's done that (tagxedo, and its close cousin, do it for you), one can end up with an interesting perspective on the topic of a paper by simply examining its corresponding word cloud. So here's one I made earlier, using a customised image. The original document is a chapter I wrote in the forthcoming Handbook of Eye Movements (Oxford University Press). Hence the image:

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Freedom of Information

My university have just received a Freedom of Information request in respect of the information contained within my last research grant proposal (the grant was awarded but isn't due to start until July 1st). Turns out the University have never seen such a request before. It does feel a bit weird to think that my grant proposal was specifically singled out, and I can't help but wonder what information they're after that they couldn't have just emailed me for it. Undoubtedly, the Freedom of Information Act is terrifically useful: How else could we have known that the UK postal service uses 2 million red rubber bands each day? Such information is so much in the public interest that it was posted today, after being revealed under Freedom of Information, on the BBC News website. Trust me - this nugget of information is way more interesting than anything contained within my grant proposal!

Actually, that last statement is quite untrue. I consider the ideas contained within that grant proposal to be the best work of my career. But it does seem a little odd that even before I can start work turning those ideas into publishable research, someone whom I don't know, whose identity is kept from me, can in principle take those ideas and do with them as they will.

The truth is, however, that it's very unlikely they're after my ideas - I give those away quite freely to anyone who's willing to listen! My guess is they're instead trying to find out what the UK Government's science research budget is spent on these days. Well, for a lot less than the cost of making a Freedom of Information request, I can tell you what they spend it on: Quality science that ensures a future in which we shall all know then more than we each know now. That's Freedom of Information.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

a dry spell...

For one reason or another, or even several, there's not been much going on here at blog central. I suspect I lost my creative mojo. So until it returns, here is a rundown of highlights since my last post from the Southern Hemisphere:
  • Our flight back from Argentina which had been cancelled was re-instated the following day. So we did get back in the end. Minus our suitcases. But there were definite advantages to not having to schlepp them across London as we made connections back up to York. 
  • Xmas gifts, which had lain unused while in Argentina, were plugged in, charged up, and enjoyed to the max - why my brother and sister-in-law saw fit to give me a cut-your-own-hair gadget remains a mystery. The rather handsome man in this video of the aforementioned gadget is not in fact me. Oddly, he doesn't actually look like he needs a haircut. But then, as anyone who is familiar with my follicularly challenged scalp will know, I generally don't need a haircut either. 
  • The house was much as we'd left it, except for the garden, which had been covered in snow when we'd left. Seeing the grass for the first time in a couple of months was a little strange. As was the dead fish in the middle of the lawn, and the equally dead, but not quite as decomposed, squirrel which quite literally dropped from the sky as we were having breakfast one morning. Squirrel and fish were given a ceremonial eco-burial... i.e. they ended up in the green (for recycling) Wheelie bin.
  • Work-wise, not much to report. The journal is in fine shape due to the amazing team of Associate Editors, and Debbie, who kept the wheels of scientific publishing turning while I was traveling through Patagonia. And while in Argentina I did manage to write the 1st draft of a grant proposal. But since getting back, I honestly cannot point to a single thing I've achieved in these last three weeks. Evidently, I should go away more often. 

Thursday, 13 January 2011


Technology is amazing... I can even post onto this blog while waiting to hear what the airline that should have flown us from Buenos Aires to Madrid are going to do now that their pilots have gone on strike and caused our flight home to be cancelled.

Coming home

It had to end. Two and a half warm, and exceedingly fattening weeks in Argentina. I posted a selection of photos here. Some are from a weekend trip to Chile. Right now, I'm sitting in Café Tortoni, the oldest coffee shop in Argentina. Am trying not to think of the work that awaits me when I get back to the office... (not that this was two and a half weeks of holiday - I worked on 7 of those days! But the rest of the time was spent in holiday mode - eating and traveling... and just to be safe, eating some more).

So it's time to come home. The flight back leaves tonight. I just hope the Dulce de Leche inside the suitcase doesn't decide to leak out... If it does, these will be amongst the sweetest, and stickiest, clothes on the planet.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Fishing Fail!

My attempt, literally just moments ago, to fish the River Limay (in the Andes) has failed. Epically. This was my third outing this year, and at least this time I did hook a fish... but it got away. Of course it did. But not before I'd hooked a low-hanging branch of a tree, an underwater root (I had to bite through the line in the end), and my own finger (I was totally stoic as I pulled the hook out of my own flesh). I had never realised just how dangerous a sport this could be... but if it weren't for the British (cold) weather, I really do think that even if the fish wouldn't be, I would be... hooked, that is.