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.