Wednesday, 26 December 2012


Yep, it's Boxing Day, and I started work on the journal at 7.30am. Sad, right? But a few things make it totally worthwhile: the people I work with on the journal (they in fact carry the majority of the load, more of which below), the science, the generosity of the people who review the 900+ submissions we receive each year (930 this year so far), and the following statistics: Cognition ranks 15th in Psychology overall (which may not seem like much, but when one looks at the journals that are above it, and the others below it, it is a big deal!), and it ranks 4th in Cognitive Science (same logic - it's a big deal!). Different journals serve different functions - some are review journals, some publish quick 'snapshots' of research, and some (like Cognition) publish full articles describing the original research in detail. We're pretty near the top of the pile if one just considers this latter category. I wouldn't be writing about these statistics if they weren't impressive. 

The things that make it less worthwhile include the huge load on the Associate Editors and myself. I personally handle one new manuscript every single day of the year, seven days a week, come rain or shine, regardless of holidays, illness, personal circumstances, teaching, administration, research.... The AEs each individually handle one new manuscript each 4-5 days. I actually believe I am the only editor on the journal (there's myself and, on a good day, 8 AEs) who gets no reduction in teaching or administration from their host department. How I get any research done remains a mystery (though not to my collaborators, who in fact do all the hard work). And how I manage to keep up with the journal workload is also a mystery. Actually, it's not... I don't. There are things that slip. We can only be machines some of the time, and the rest of the time, we lose power, and need a bit of maintenance. But there is a quick remedy (the equivalent of pouring rocket fuel into the engine instead of the regular kind): chocolate, and family: taken together. Stirred rather than shaken, and most definitely not on the rocks.

Monday, 24 December 2012

irony vs. stupidity

I know that now is not the time to reflect back on the year's most notable events - that's to come next week when the New Year will be almost upon us. But exactly 10 days ago, on 14th December, I couldn't help but notice two news items that, to me, help define the word "irony".

On 14th December, the world shuddered in response to the shootings at a primary school in Newtown, Connecticut. A gunman murdered 20 children and 6 adults. Apparently, he used firearms that his mother (whom he also murdered) had legally acquired. Naturally, this has led to debates about the liberal gun control laws in the US. Objectors to gun control argue, amongst other things, that stricter controls would simply increase the numbers of illegally acquired weapons and would not have prevented this massacre. One counter-argument is that if the gunman's mother hadn't surrounded her children with such weapons, it would not have been so easy for the gunman to go on his rampage. The gun lobby have even suggested that if the teachers had themselves carried guns, this massacre might have been nipped in the bud. But if possessing a gun is such an effective self-defence measure, how come the US, with all its guns, is placed so high in the world rankings of firearm homicides? Evidently, having a gun doesn't stop you being shot at, let alone being killed: America's liberal gun laws didn't save those 20 children.

So why do I describe this story as ironic? Because after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, gun purchases across the USA have soared. And the USA's largest manufacturer of firearms accessories has just announced a few days ago that they sold in three days the same number of ammunition magazines that they normally sell in three and a half years. Ok, so I don't really know if this counts as ironic. Probably it doesn't, and is instead an example of stupidity: After all, when we first heard that cholesterol will kill us all, we didn't all rush out and stock up on eggs, butter, ice cream, and Macaroni and Cheese... Oh, wait... maybe some of us did, and that's why the USA is officially the most obese nation in the world.

Ok, so maybe the reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre isn't a good example of irony. But this other headline, from the same day undoubtedly is: A new £1.5M flood defence system in Worcestershire (a rather wet part of the UK) failed, resulting in severe flooding and damage, because the sensors that trigger the pumps that would have prevented flooding .... became waterlogged. Duh...

Best wishes for tomorrow, and the rest of the holiday season.

UPDATE: Less than an hour after posting the above, I saw a BBC news headline which says that 31,000 Americans have signed an online petition to have a British TV host deported from America for advocating gun control. The petition, which needed only 25,000 signatures to require a response from the US Government, says that the TV host (Piers Morgan, for anyone interested) "is engaged in a hostile attack against the US Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment". Oh no... I'm due to fly out to the US in 3 days: I hope no one reads this blog and (correctly) interprets it as advocating greater gun control; I wouldn't want those Immigration officials to think I'm engaged in a hostile attack...

Thursday, 22 November 2012


Today is Thanksgiving (for those with US connections). In light of my recent loss, it is a poignant time to think back to all that I should be thankful for. If I were to list it all, you'd be scrolling down perhaps the longest list in the history of blogging. So if you are thankful for nothing else, be thankful that I am sparing you all that scrolling.

To my mother: Thank you.
And to those others who are in my thoughts: Thank you.

And to Waitrose, for tonight's apple pie (we don't do pumpkin pie over here): Thank you.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Getting old...

Earlier today, I came across the following comment, posted with a YouTube video of the Steve Miller Band performing Fly like an Eagle (I wasn't actually on YouTube, but had googled the band for some now-irrelevant reason while taking a ride in an Oxford taxi):
The first time I ever smoked a joint this song started playing on my iPod, it was magic.
Oh dear... the first time I had the opportunity to not inhale was the same year that the Sony Walkman made its debut. And for those who have no idea what I'm talking about, it was to the iPod as two tin cans and a piece of string are to an iPhone.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

4 weeks, 3 conferences, 2 iPhones, 1 wasp sting...

Am just back from my third conference/workshop in four weeks. Two of the conferences were somewhere faintly exotic (Tübingen in Germany, and Riva del Garda in Italy), but one of them was just up the road (Newcastle). My recollection of the past 4 weeks is of a blur of talks, posters, food, beer, coffee, trains, planes, taxis, anonymous hotel rooms, and ideas aplenty. It doesn't get much better than that.

I'm still suffering the itchy consequences of a wasp that climbed up my trouser leg (that's "pant leg" for native speakers of the US vernacular... but if I were to say that the wasp got into my pants, my UK acquaintances would wince...). Somehow, it managed to get up there, crawl to my knee, and sting me (at which point, a deft slap from me caused it to promptly meet its maker). More impressive was the way, when I subsequently shook my leg, the wasp fell out (engendering looks of amazement and sympathy from the onlookers in my immediate vicinity). I hate to think how much further up my leg it might have travelled. Over the course of the day, my knee swelled up horribly, to the size of... a fairly normal looking knee. It really wasn't that impressive given the pain. I guess this was the wasp-sting equivalent of 'man-flu'.

My iPhone 5 continues to delight me. But not as much as this iPhone. And for a while I did have two iPhones, till I disappointed my kids (they had high hopes they'd be the beneficiary of my old one) and put one of them in an envelope and sent it in for recycling (and a cash payment). £145 from

Friday, 21 September 2012

iPhone 5 - first impressions

  • 20% lighter
  • 18% thinner
  • 100% mine
  • 0% yours. 

No, you can't borrow it.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

should I, or shouldn't I?

As I ponder the impending weekend, and wonder what to contribute to the blogosphere (do we really need more blogogarbage?), I realise there are too many candidate topics to devote space to (or not):

  • should I comment on the Hauser affair, or not? [the Office of Research Integrity finally published their findings]. There's not much more to say, really. It's all there, in that report.
  • should I be impressed by the new iPhone 5, or not? What impresses me more is how much of the phone's hardware was 'leaked' ahead of time. This said, I am impressed by the one feature that no one had anticipated - it's 20% lighter than its predecessor. And I find it a personal tragedy that whereas the iPhone can lose weight, I cannot.
  • should I buy yet another (this time, cheap) watch, or is that incompatible with contributing to Apple's cash hoard when I succumb to my better instincts and buy the iPhone 5? (answer: yes, totally incompatible, especially seeing as 20% lighter doesn't translate into 20% cheaper).
  • should I think about moving to Riva del Garda, my new favoritest destination in Italy? One can dream...
  • should I work harder to get someone who is exceedingly rich to give me a whole pile of money to start up my own research institute? Probably, it'd be a help if I actually knew anyone who was exceedingly rich (or, alternatively, if anyone exceedingly rich knew me. I'm not fussy, it could work either way). When I advertised for an iOS developer on these very pages, it worked. So maybe I should advertise for a super-rich philanthropist who would like to name an Institute after themselves (message to Matt: nothing ventured, nothing gained! message to rich philanthropist: It worked for Trump, Eiffel, and Gherkin; this could work for you too).

Saturday, 18 August 2012

Medalling time

If there were the equivalent of an Olympics for journal editors, I think I'd be aiming for gold, silver, and bronze: I've made just over one accept/reject decision (excluding 'revise and resubmit' decisions) each and every day this year. Oh, and each and every day last year too. As for the four years before these two.. my load was actually higher. In lieu of medals, I think I shall just go eat a lot of chocolate. Oh wait... should I go get chocolate, or go get a life? Nah... chocolate.

Having looked at this (and last) year's statistics, I'm wondering now whether it's just a coincidence that I end up working around 6 days in every 7, and end up rejecting around 6 manuscripts in every 7.

Truth is, and due to the editorial equivalent of some masochistic desire, I actually enjoy all this. And if I wasn't doing this, I'd probably be spending even more time surfing the web for those covetable objects of desire without which my bank balance would be rather healthier than it is. And yes, I love my new Sony RX100.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

I'm back!

Yep. Four months blog-free. That's all I could manage. It's been a long time, but it's time to take back control of my web presence, no thanks to Apple who have done many great things in their time, but cancelling their web hosting (on what used to be is not one of them.

So updates will resume, shortly. For now, I'm uploading my website to a new site and once that's complete (next couple of days), I'll post the link here. My current concern is that the site's too big for the hosting package I have, and so, like me, it'll need to lose a little weight. In service of that particular goal, I have discovered the almost sugar-free goodness that is Weetabix, but why, oh why, can Apple not put their design smarts to good use and design the inner wrapping for my Weetabix so that, each time I open it, I don't spread all that crumbly goodness over the kitchen counter and floor? If iPhone and Mac packaging were designed by the same people that design cereal packets, we'd have iPhone/Mac innards strewn across the floor each time we took receipt of a new one.

Once I've figured out how to digest the more newsworthy moments of the past 4 months, and how to then spit them out in a palatable summary, I shall do just that. But it's all pretty much more of the same: watches (new ones), pond (same one), karate (lack thereof), work (overdose thereof), holiday (too little of), medals (a surfeit thereof), etc. etc...

Until next time.

Saturday, 31 March 2012

Kickstarting Rusty

I totally relate to this guy:

This was a short animated movie made by a couple of animators who work in the US, and who are trying to turn Lola and Rusty into a game for the iPad (and other platforms). If you're curious, check them out on Kickstarter.

Friday, 23 March 2012

It's spring. Finally...

Everything so much brighter, sharper, in focus. It's like a haze has been lifted. As if someone has turned up the color. And it's warmer too. And although it's been a few days now, it still feels new, fresh, and full of promise. I love it. My iPad 3, that is.

Oh, and it's officially spring.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Think Different: Apple's new tablet

This is my kitchen:

The caption was Jamie's idea. The dishwasher tablet was Sam's. The Photoshop skills (or lack thereof) were mine. You can get a better view of the Apple tablet by clicking on the photo below (and zooming in).

If Apple made dishwasher tablets, they'd be dishwasher applets...

And in case you're curious: 2 13" MacBooks (unibody), 1 13" MacBook (black), 1 13" MacBook Air, 1 11" MacBook Air, 1 each of the iPad 1, 2, and 3, 2 iPhone 4s, 2 iPod Touches, 1 iPod classic, 1 iPod mini, 1 iPod nano (1st gen), and 1 iPod shuffle (1st gen). I couldn't be bothered to get the Apple TV, the Apple Airport, or the 2 Airport Expresses in there. It'd be pretty daft to put those in the dishwasher, don't you think?

Friday, 16 March 2012

I so want this...

Regular radio-controlled watches receive a radio signal transmitted from various radio transmitters dotted around the globe. There's one in the USA, one in the UK, one in Germany, and a couple in Japan. But if you're out of range, the watch can't synch to the correct time. But this watch, announced earlier this month, uses GPS to get the time and location from the same satellites used for satnav, which means that the watch knows where you are and what time zone you're in, and can set itself to the correct (atomic) time for that timezone. And there's satellites a-plenty up there... so no matter where you are, it'll find you (though probably best that you sleep outdoors in a hammock – GPS isn't so good indoors). The inset dial at 6 o'clock is for a 2nd timezone – perfect for the frequent traveller. So I guess I'll just have to start travelling again (it's 11 weeks since I was last in an airport, let alone another timezone – the longest I've gone without my regular fix in 4 years, and I'm definitely suffering withdrawal symptoms). Sadly, it's not out till October. Sadder still is that I'd need to take out a bank loan to afford it. But it'd be so worth it. Unfortunately, there's another even more serious problem – it's solar powered, which means it's going to be pretty much useless in the UK where you have more chance of catching a wild unicorn than you have of catching a ray of sunlight.


Monday, 5 March 2012

I'm finally a neuroscientist!

Yep. Much to the annoyance of various colleagues, I am now a bona fide neuroscientist, having been elevated to said status by none other than a publication in the Journal of Neuroscience (ok, so it's not quite published yet, but it has just been accepted. Moments ago). Better still, this is the best work of my career. But I can't take all the credit by any means. The work was, and continues to be, a collaboration with a bunch of people at the University of Pennsylvania. So it was really Nick, Emily, and Sharon who made it happen. And more than that, they made it better. Now... I'm not one to advertise my own work (and only occasionally do I advertise any one else's), but hey, other people have made careers out of promoting themselves on Facebook, so I should at least be able to promote myself on my own blog.
Hindy, N.C., Altmann, G.T.M., Kalenik, E., & Thompson-Schill, S.L. (in press). The effect of object state-changes on event processing: Do objects compete with themselves? Journal of Neuroscience. 
Of course, the three people who read this blog (myself and, at the last count, my two parents) will be dying to know what this work is about. But I already know, which means I merely have to explain it to the other 66.67% of the readership. But they love me whatever, so it doesn't really matter what the paper's about. All that matters is that it's accepted, and it's the best thing since sliced bread, my latest watch, the iPad 3, and cold fusion.