Thursday, 23 December 2010

A day working from home

8.00 a.m. Resolve that today is the day I will seriously engage with referee comments on a paper. Best to go in to office at work, where there are no distractions right now. Get up and don tights, vests, jumper, warm trousers, boots, cardigan, gloves and quilted Canadian coat with hood. Look more like Michelin Man than usual.
8.30 a.m. Set off to walk to work. Wenceslas-like situation in front garden,and difficulty opening gate against foot-high accumulation of snow.
8.35 a.m. See neighbour slide on ice and tumble on back. Fortunately no bones broken. Persevere, optimistic that the main thoroughfares will be cleared of snow.
8.40 a.m. They aren’t. Snow appears to have melted briefly and then refrozen. See another person slide on ice and land on back.
8.45 a.m. Return home.
9.00 a.m. Turn on gas fire and clear desk in preparation for serious academic activity. Get sidetracked by gas bill and unfiled bank statements. Once all the surface debris cleared, decide desk has too many crumbs on it to be compatible with serious work. Engage in desk-cleaning.
9.15 a.m. Open email. Granting agency has sent me material for a proposal I’d agreed to review consisting of six pdfs. Departmental administrator has sent stern message that we all have to come into work or have our pay docked, unless we have explicit agreement to work from home.
9.20 a.m Email the few postdocs who haven’t already gone on holiday to tell them to ignore message from administrator.
9.30 a.m Have a quick look at Twitter. Everyone tweeting about snow or science funding.
9.35 a.m Bite the bullet and open the referee comments. Save as a new file called ‘response to referees’.
9.40 a.m Make a cup of coffee to steel myself
9.45 a.m Read the referee comments. Aargh, aargh, aargh.
9.50 a.m Remember my Australian collaborator has already sent some new analyses and suggestions for responding to referees. Download these.
9.55 a.m Re-read referee comments. Aargh, aargh, aargh, aargh.
10.00 a.m Print out referee comments. Printer not working. Demanding toner. It has insatiable appetite for toner. Take out toner and shake it about and put it back in. Printer sneers: You’ve tried that before and I’m not playing.  Go into cellar (brrr) where I have providently kept spare toner.
10.05 a.m Unable to get into toner box. Into kitchen for a knife. Side-tracked by sight of coffee jar. Make another cup of coffee.  Open toner box. Find piece of paper with instructions for toner replacement in 12 languages. Go through ritual of shaking toner, removing yellow bit, sliding blue bit up and down, replacing toner in printer. 
10.10 a.m Discover I can save children’s lives by sending old printer cartridge back to special address. Want to save children’s lives, so repackage old toner cartridge in box. Go on hunt for sellotape. Find sellotape. Seal up box. Discover label is inside box. Refind knife. Open box. Extract label. Reseal box. Stick label on box.
10.15 a.m Resend printer command. Nothing happens. Take toner cartridge out again, shake it about, and put back in.
10.20 a.m Belatedly realise I have sent document to be printed on default printer, which is at work. Cancel printer command and resend to home printer.
10.25 a.m Get printout of reviewer comments and re-read.  Aargh, aargh, aargh, aargh, aargh. Reviewer 1 argues there six major flaws with the paper and data need total reanalysis.
10.30 a.m  Distract myself from grief with a quick check of email. Two messages from Microban international warning me about bacteria in my kitchen at Christmas (how do they know about me and my kitchen?), one announcement that I have won 1.5 million Euros in a lottery I didn’t enter (could come in handy), and a request to review a manuscript.
10.35 a.m Twitter proves more interesting: everyone has either got a broken-down heating system, or is stuck in an airport somewhere. Feel inappropriately smug. Schadenfreude is a real phenomenon.
10.40 a.m Glance out of window and notice sadly that birds have failed to find piece of stale bread that I had hung up on tree, or nuts stuck in a bush. Deliberate on whether I should do more to encourage birds. Decide this is no good, and must return my attention to the comments.
10.45 a.m Download relevant-looking manuscript that I hope will provide some salvation. Read it and make notes.
11.15 a.m Well, that was quite interesting but no relevance at all for current paper.
11.20 a.m OK, ready to start thinking about reply to reviewer 1. He's one of those people who accuses you of saying something you haven’t and then reprimands you for it.  Grrr. Quick look at BBC News, to distract myself, and counteract irritaiton with more airport grief.
11.25 a.m Print out the original manuscript so I can see exactly what we did say. Do first pass at responses to reviewers.
11.50 a.m. Postman rings with parcel that won’t fit in letterbox. Need to negotiate snowy path to front gate. Find wellies. Struggle into wellies. Collect parcel from remarkably cheery postman. Return and spend 5 mins getting out of wellies.
12.00 p.m. Heavy snow has started falling! Husband has started bustling in kitchen to make seafood risotto for lunch. Yum!
12.05 p.m. Husband suggests that if I want risotto to be amazing rather than just fabulous, I should go and buy white wine. And that some red wine for mulling this evening would also be a good idea. Since he is (a) in tracksuit & slippers and (b) busy with his culinary art, and I am fully dressed, there is justice in this. Muse on advantages of living with licensed 9-to-9 store a stone’s throw away.
12.10 p.m. Don duvet-like coat and boots again and venture into snow, returning with 2 bottles wine and other sundry essentials, on assumption we may be snowed in for days. The street looks magical, like something out of Dickens.
12.15 p.m. Sad blackbird lands on window ledge and looks at me through window. Rummage in fridge for blackbird food and some water.  Only bird-friendly food I can find is olive bread and couscous. Very North Oxford.
12.25 p.m Check email. Boring, boring, boring, but takes 20 mins!
12.45 p.m. Risotto. Yum yum yum! Radio 4 full of tales of airport woe.
13.15 p.m. Quick twitter-scan and tweet to plug my latest blog.
13.25 p.m. Email check. Administrator now telling people to go home early as the Oxford buses are stopping early and they could get stranded. Have visions of a Heathrow-style psychology dept with people bedding down in the coffee area. Now! back to work.
13.30 p.m. Well, I’ve dealt with two comments from ref 2, both of which involve adding the reference number in two places where I’d left it out. Mild sense of achievement. I like ref 2.
13.40 p.m  One of our analyses involves computing intraclass correlation between an individual’s waveform and that of the group average. Referee wants us to leave out the individual when computing grand average.  I know that with sample size of 40+ this makes no difference, but I can’t find out where I checked this out, and so am now going to need to redo the analysis to make this point. But now I need to find the xls formula for the intraclass correlation, which has to be re-entered every time you want to use it in a workbook, and I can’t really remember how to do that either, though I’ve done it loads of times before. I even think I somewhere stored instructions of how to do this, but I can’t find them. So now I am having to run a Search. All to demonstrate to a reviewer something I know is the case and which is not going to make any difference whatsoever to the results.
14.25 p.m. OK, done that. Found formula, worked out how to reinstate it, tried it out on demonstration data and got satisfactory result. Whew.
Looked at email: Message to say my email account is being migrated from one account to another. Had been told this would happen but had forgotten. Scary. But good incentive to stop looking at email for a bit
14.45 p.m. Coffee break .Reading newspapers
15.00 p.m  Must read various articles sent by collaborator to contest arguments being made by reviewer. OK, brain in gear and articles printed out.
15.30 p.m. Husband decides more ingredients needed for culinary art, and is off to Sainsbury’s. Returns 1 min later saying car is entombed in snow and he needs bucket of hot water.
15.35 p.m. Two articles done, and two to go.  Husband returns saying he has removed snowy carapace from car, but now can’t get into it, as door are frozen shut. He sneers at idea we should check for advice on internet re this situation, and stomps off with more buckets of hot water. Internet advice is to use windscreen wiper fluid. Small problem. Our windscreen wiper fluid is in the car, which we can’t get into.
16.45 p.m Have read 4 articles, two of which were mostly incomprehensible and of dubious relevance. Still uncertain if I really need to do more analysis. Send email to collaborator in Australia. However, email system is in process of migrating and it seems uncertain as to whether it is working or not. Time for a small break and a twitter session.
17.00 p.m Need to read more so I can write explanatory section requested by reviewers. Three important articles to download and summarise.
18.00 p.m. Read two of them. V. good and helpful. Now on to inspect whether my email migrated OK.
18.30 p.m. Think it did, as I have messages telling me I have been bequeathed large sums of money, as well as two requests to review manuscripts. Time for some mulled wine.
Tomorrow is another day. Resolve, no more tweeting, email, shopping, bird tending, until paper is revised. But maybe just a little blog about my day.....


  1. How true.. how very true. Though now that I have children, I do sometimes struggle in to the office for the sake of a quiet sleep.

    Nice piece, BTW, and one all academics will probably able to relate to - see e.g. this old piece of mine about the joys of email.

    PS My mother has just escaped from your part of the world to spend Xmas with us in our corner of the North, but by train. She usually drives, but her car was, she says "buried under 9 inches of snow and ice". And this in central North Oxford!

  2. Dorothy--How did you describe my average day so perfectly (except that I waste my time very efficiently in the office)? Oh, and BTW, reading your blog was a great distraction from working on the chapter revision I MUST finish today!!

  3. Nice post and nice cartoon, looks a lot like Rosie Brooks: /

  4. Anonymous: I got cartoon from and should have made that clear. I've added a copyright statement now. I assume the artist does get a proportion of the modest charge I paid.

  5. Ah! a prime example of s sequence of displacement activities in As is this.

    Stephen Morley