Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Did It!

I bought Welcome to the Pleasuredome by Frankie Goes to Hollywood!

Shocking, eh?

We're a long way from home....

Ok, enough of that.

Today was a crap day.  Crab Mama is out doing field work all week, so I am in charge of the kids.  Yesterday I had a lot of meetings and crap, but the person who normally takes the kids on Mondays (we take her kids on Wednesdays) couldn't this week, since one of her kids is sick.  So, they got to have a fun-filled day in the office with me.  We got to go to a lunch meeting. Fun, fun, fun!  Today, Crab-Girl woke up really late, so we didn't get to the day care place (day care for an 11 year old?  I am not sure what to call it...) until 9:30.  Then I discovered I had a very low tire.  I drove to a gas station and bought some air (what the hell is up with buying air? It's air!) only to find that there was a hole in the side wall.  So, I inflated as much as I could and got to spend the morning at Belle Tire.  I got into work at about noon.  Then had to leave at 2:20 to go pick the kids up and take them to guitar lesson.  Just over 2 hours of work!  Wow!  I got cheered up a bit late in the day by going to out ice cream with the family.  Then, when we got home, they gave me my birthday present - a food processor! Hells Yeah! Now I can make all sorts of stuff from Cook's Illustrated!

Well, it was a frustrating day, but I actually managed to write a bit today, which is good.  I am hoping to submit two papers before school starts.  I have two weeks from tomorrow.  I think that I am screwed, but who knows, maybe I can pull it off.  I have the first paper almost completely done.  It is a nice piece of work, I think.  But, I am biased.  The second paper requires a fair bit of work.  I actually have third and forth papers sitting in the wings too, but I don't think that those are going to happen.  Maybe before the end of the year?

AGU abstracts are due September 3rd.  Do you have yours done?

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday to Me
I'm one hundred and three
I look like a monkey
And I have to go pee.

According to the CDC mortality statistics, there is a good chance that I will live 40.5 more years.  On the other hand, I could die tomorrow.

It is interesting that at this point in my life, I think about death on my birthday.  At what age does this happen?  Does it happen to everyone?

I am not actually depressed about it.  Just thinking.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Paper Length

Spacecataz says:
To be fair, said former student has been in a political slap fight with a scientific adversary, and this has been the main reason for the ridiculous size of the paper. The other guy keeps demanding more and more in the paper because he doesn't believe said student's results.

This raises a couple of excellent points:

1. How long is too long of a paper.

2. What do you do when reviewers or exterior people keep asking for more and more from the paper.

The first is relatively easy to figure out. Journals have guidelines for this, and the typical one is that papers should be no longer than 10 pages. While this is often difficult to do, it is a very good goal. In fact, some journals penalize you for going over 10 pages to the tune of $100+/page over 10 pages. For a 20 page paper, that is $1000. In publishing land, that is not a HUGE sum of money, but it is costly. For the specific paper that we are discussing, once it is journal format, it will be something on the order of 40-50 pages, which will cost $3000-$4000 extra, just in penalties. Not to mention the color figures and normal page fees, etc. This is looking to be a $8,000 paper. That, my friends, is expensive for a publication.

Next you have to consider how much people can swallow in one bite. A ten page paper is something that can be read in one long pull. Once you good at reading papers (i.e., you can skim it and get the salient points very easily), it is easy to digest a 10 page paper in under an hour. When you go to a paper that is over 20 pages in length, it is excessively difficult to actually accomplish this. A 20+ page paper no longer has a central focus - it has many areas of focus. This makes it harder to skim and gleam the major point(s). The details start to take over, since it is probably chocked full of them. In fact, this is probably the main difference between a 10 and a 20 page paper - the details. In a 10 page paper, there is a central (simple) theme that is conveyed with the minimum number of details to get the point across. In a 20 page paper, it may either have multiple points or one point with an overkill on the details. These details become the primary object of the paper, and the central point loses its importance. Envision forests and trees and all that crap.

On the second point, this is a little more tricky to deal with. Let's say you have a paper and the referee disagrees with you fundamentally. Instead of just saying (or in addition to saying) that the paper is complete crap because it disagrees with their line of research, they say that they don't believe this aspect of the method or that aspect of the method or this detail or that detail. This gets you into a battle about (possibly) trivial things that take away from the central theme of the paper. What they are in essence doing is having you focus on the trees instead of the forest. If they get you to focus on the details instead of the central theme, then you lose readers and your effectiveness to communicate.

I imagine that this may not be intentional, since they may be interested in the details, but often times what I think happens is that the reviewer disagrees with the outcome of the study, so they are gunning for anything that they think is "incorrect". If you same something like, "this term is negligible", they will automatically say that it is not negligible and therefore the entire study is flawed. You then get into a debate about how that term is or is not negligible. Very few people probably care about this argument except the reviewer, but in order to satisfy the referee, you have to address it somehow. This can totally derail the review process.

Now, what to do about it? That is a fantastic question. There are a number of strategies, some of which are effective and some of which are not:

1. Keep the argument within the reply to the referee. This allows you to address their specific issues without detracting from the main point of the paper. You can always add a couple of sentences in the paper on these issues, but, unless it adds to the central theme, don't go into gory detail! Go into gory detail in the response only.

2. Deflect their arguments by trivializing them back in the response. Don't even acknowledge the importance of their argument. This is very risky and could easily backfire. Some referees don't ever want to see a paper again after they have reviewed it once, so this strategy works well on them, but often the referee will only get very angry after a casual dismissal. So, use this method rarely.

3. When I was a Post Doc, the guy that I worked for addressed all of the reviewers comments within the paper, then, when it was accepted and going through the copy editing process, he removed a significant amount of the additions. Don't do this.

4. Add some strong sentences in the conclusions about the assumptions that you have made. State them in the methodology section, and then again in the conclusions that that you have acknowledged that there are assumptions and that they could impact the findings. This way, you still have an extremely tight central theme, but you concur that there could be other findings with different assumptions. This pleases the reviewer because it says right at the end of the paper "I could be wrong". They read this part as the most important, but very few other people will. You please everyone.

The main problem with this is thinking rationally once you get the reviews back. Typically, you are just so pissed off that you are seeing red. You want blood. But, you have to set your emotions aside and think about how to effectively respond to the comments. I am not the best example of this. I get overly emotional about my papers and blow a fuse when I get a bad review (on every paper!) I try to put my feelings aside, but I have a very hard time doing it. I will try harder in the future.

Ok, I have to go and help Crab Mama put rocks around the fish pond....

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Picnic Euphoria

Tonight we had a picnic for work. It was a blast. Tomorrow we have a picnic for my wife's work. Both at the same place. How many hamburgers and hot dogs can one person eat???

Yesterday I spent the day reading my student's paper. Today I spent the day reading another student's paper. Tomorrow I have to read a former student's paper. It is really, really, really long too. One of his problems had been writing way too much. Now I have to help cut his 100+ page paper down to something manageable. Boy oh boy, am I going to have a fun day.

Hear is another piece of news. I started drinking Diet Mt. Dew. Holy crappoly. I first started drinking Mt. Dew Throwback, which is a sugar version of Mt. Dew, instead of corn syrup. This took the sweetness down a fair bit (although not the calories). Once I got used to that, going to Diet was easy. Now, let the pounds drip off!

Monday, August 17, 2009

Blueberries of Love

My sister asks us to come blueberry picking with her. We say sure, we will call you. We don't. Then, the wife decides that we should go blueberry picking on Sunday morning. We invite our neighbor to go with us, since she was at home alone with her son. After we get there and pick berries for an hour, we pay and get ready to leave. Well, who should show up? My sister!

I am sorry!


I am such a bad brother! I am a total sh*t!

But, I must say that the blueberries are so freaking good. I mean, really good.

Monday, August 10, 2009


NSF MRI proposal is done! Hopefully it will review well and I will get a couple of million dollars to build some instruments!

After I turned in my proposal, I got to spend a few minutes cleaning my office, which is fantastic! I haven't cleaned my office in months.

Tonight the kids had a Lego competition. They each made something sort of ... less than spectacular. We were all pretty impressed with the winning "sculptures". The kids are super-motivated to build something for next year. They are going to build a bridge that is being attacked by a monster shooting lasers out of its eyes. People will be jumping off the bridge and at least one person will be chopped in half by laser eyes. Sweet. Those are MY kids!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Fish Ponds and Dog Farts

It is August already. Crap. Where did the summer go? I was supposed to accomplish so much, and yet, I don't feel like I have accomplished much at all. In a month, I will have to start teaching again, and will be drowning in class.

But, let's just focus on the now.

Or the past week.

Some interesting things that have happened lately:

1. I got a tattoo:

Why? Good question. Maybe I should address this in a separate blog post.

2. We are making a fish pond in the yard. That is a lot of fun - the kids are going crazy working on it. We have basically finished the majority of it - we have the hole dug, the liner in, rocks around the outside of it, and have filled it with water. We would have put fish in it today, but it is pouring rain.

3. The kids went to Grandma's house last week. They were gone from Sunday to Friday. They had a great time. She took them to an amusement park, which we have never done before. So, they were extremely happy about the whole thing. We went and saw one movie. We should have gone to more movies, and gone out to dinner more, but we worked a lot and then had to come home relatively early, because...

4. We are watching someone's dog. So we have 3 dogs right now. 3. Dogs. And it is raining, so they are all covered with mud. And the visiting dog doesn't agree with the dog food that we have, so she has gas. Holy Crap is that some nasty-*ss-sh*t. And then she crapped in her crate the other day while we were at work. That is nice. Welcome home. I feel sorry for the dog. But, because I am terribly insensitive, I just want the dog to be done. I don't really care how. Gone. We have 4 more days of dog farts.

5. I am working on a huge proposal. There are major issues to deal with here, which I won't go into here. It is a painful process, since I basically have no admin support for the proposal, so I have to do EVERYTHING for it. Luckily it is a FastLane proposal, so you can sort of see what you need to do. I just have about 15 Supplemental Documents to upload, and am not sure whether I should include others or not. And I have to finish writing the proposal. And the place that I am submitting it from hasn't even gotten me their budget. And it is due on Monday. Nice.

6. I made up with my 'boss'. One of the reasons that we have so much conflict is that he is not really my boss anymore. We discussed this point and basically both of us agreed that we should act more like adults.

7. I rode my bike to work twice this week. I was hoping that I could ride more, since the kids were gone, but life got a little out of hand.

8. We launched a balloon on Thursday. It carried an actual scientific instrument, which was the whole point of all of the balloon launches that we have been doing lately - working up to carrying an expensive piece of equipment. It was a great launch, and pretty much the best landing that you could hope for. We saw it land. I think that someone got it on video, so, when they post this, I will make a link. The balloon missed a large cluster of large lakes by a very small margin. It was very close, and we were all a little nervous. After trying to ask the farmer for permission to go into his field, and finding that he wasn't home, a few students went out into the field to get it. After recovering the balloon, the farmer showed up and was a little angry that we trespassed onto his property. Words were exchanged - actually he yelled at me a fair bit and I just tried not to give not-to-smart-ass answers to his derogatory comments. It was fun!

9. My second post doc started work about two weeks ago. My new grad student started last Monday. My old grad student is defending in a week. My other grad student got back from China last week after being there for about 4-5 weeks. So, now we are all there. I have to figure out how I am going to manage all of these people and still get work done myself. This is the key - I have to admit that I won't get any work done on my own any more. Managing people is becoming the largest percentage of my time.

10. I am going to take a shower now. It is about 3:00 in the afternoon and I haven't taken a shower yet. I stink. And my tattoo itches. But I am not allowed to scratch it.....!!!