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"M. O'Nazareth: Guess what? I met TEH ANGLE OF TEH LORD an' he sez I'm gonnur hav a puppy called JEBUS an' we've gotta get married an' everything an' save TEH WORLD from EVIL an' an' an' we'll all liv happy evar after WIV A PONY!!!

J. Carpenter: Wait... WHAT?

TEH ANGLE OF TEH LORD: What she said, bud. Soz. Orders from above"

morte here
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I am enjoying some time off my work email. As much as I love my job, it’s pretty stressful some times. Since I don’t have family living nearby, my husband and I are on our own with kids that are rarely asleep before nine pm (I know … we’re working on it.) I don’t have a cleaner, and we don’t outsource any of the housework except for window cleaning. We have to do this since our windows only open towards the outside, and we’re on the first floor.

Starting on Day 10 of Sparrow’s life, barely a week went by without me either doing a little bit of work or dealing with stuff via email or participating in a meeting. I realise that this is just the nature of the game – academic work is ongoing. Should I fall pregnant again (which is highly unlikely – we definitely want to stop after this one), I would take at least one month post-partum off work entirely, including email, and start back at work once the child is 3-4 months old, returning for two mornings a week. This is much, much better and more sanity preserving than trying to juggle a beautiful baby boy, a lovely daughter, a husband, housework, and work work while pretending to be on “maternity leave”. Hah.

A short list of what I’ve done between 31/3/2008 and now:

Read more... )

When? Meetings, one-handed emails during naps, DH looking after the kids at weekends for 2-4 hours at a time, Scottish Parliament crèche for 2 hours at a time. One EXHAUSTED [ profile] perceval. Also, nominally, I’ve been back at work since October 1, but work have been letting me work from home, so to speak, as a recognition of the fact that I was doing stuff that either had to be done or was highly desirable to get done.

Lesson to be learned for the next year, when I will be writing grants and papers, co-supervising students and doing project work for the grand total of TWO DAYS a week: How to say no. Nicely. I wanted to prove I could still hack it as a mother-of-two, and all it got me was back to the counsellor’s comfy chair. Wish me luck!
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It's that time of the year, and I'm about to start writing cards. Late, I know ...
if you'd like a card, please comment - comments are screened. It looks like I need current addresses for [ profile] sarka, [ profile] stereo_m, [ profile] sannalim, [ profile] themorningstarr, [ profile] hildigunnur and maybe also [ profile] h311ybean and [ profile] ashavah.
I hope to get them oot by the end of this week :)
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Over the past couple of months, as I worked 10-30 hour weeks with two kids and no child care for DS (8 months, cute kid, very good at playing on his own for a little while, bad napper), I often asked myself - why am I doing this? Why am I revising two journal papers, submitting another two (one as first, one as second author), dealing with PhD students, working on project reports?

Because I love it and there's nothing I'd rather do.

I'm one of those people who knows a little about a lot. I'm also one of those people who loves getting stuck into a pile of papers and a huge file of data and finding connections and results. I enjoy crafting a piece of writing that communicates those results.

What I am interested in is helping people interact with computer systems. I'm both a speech scientist and a computer scientist, so the interaction modality I focus on is speech. I specialise in computer voices (aka speech synthesis) and spoken dialogue with computers. I'm not a programmer; rather, my weapons of choice are experiments and statistical data analysis. I can code to support my data work, but I don't implement solutions or new algorithms. Over the past few years, I've moved towards working with older users. I'm trying to understand what aspects of ageing affect how older people interact with computers, and incorporate that into my experimental designs. Older people are challenging because they're so diverse. This is part genetics, but also part life style. If you've been a couch potato all your life and if your main intellectual challenge has been to second-guess Noel Edmonds on Deal or No Deal, chances are you won't be as astute as Peter Higgs (he of the Boson), even if you share the same birthday, went to the same school and started out with the same IQ. If you've been a heavy smoker, your voice will have aged more than if you had done the right thing and abstained (unless you worked as a teacher and had to shout down unruly class rooms for decades. Or maybe you were a heavy smoker AND a teacher.) Older people = variation = difficult statistics = fun! In order to get a handle on the variation, I find myself working with people who understand some of the sources, such as cognitive psychologists and audiologists. I learn a lot during these interactions, mainly a healthy respect for the other field's methods.

And it also means I need to brush up on my stats skills. I need to be careful to select appropriate models and analysis techniques, and NOT to over interpret. I also need to keep reminding myself that a good graph says more than a dumb test. A significance level of 0.05 means nothing if it's attached to ONE significant finding in 45 correlation tests you ran on the same set of 10 variables. If these variables are not normally distributed, and you used Pearson's instead of Spearman's correlation coefficient, you're even more screwed. Teams in medicine usually have resident statisticians; us computer scientists don't tend to have that luxury. You're supposed to be able to handle complex designs and difficult analyses because as a computer scientist, you're mathematically literate, right? Because you know all about exotic logics, you can select and run the appropriate significance test, right? Wrong. So I'm teaching myself and trying to learn from best practice. (By the way, I know nothing about exotic logics, but I know which formal semanticists to ask if I have to.)

And, finally, I'm one of those people who work part-time. If, as I do, you collaborate with people from eight departments from a total of five universities including your own (and that's just the main collaborations!), you start to develop a (un)healthy interest in organisation. Good data management, good time management, realistic goals and expectations. You become ... anal. There, I said it. At first, organising your work is not as cool as doing great research, then, it becomes a good procrastination method, and finally, you realise that organisation will always be a work in progress.

This is a submission to the December Scientiae blog carnival
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... to all Americans on my f-list
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No, really. Dora is EEEEEEEEEEVIIIIIIIIIILLLLL!!!!!!11111ELEVENTYONE She is clearly in league not only with the Devil, but also with Hugo Chavez and Fidel Castro. That's why Dora's trying to teach everybody Spanish!


Nov. 20th, 2008 07:12 pm
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DD needs a snowman costume for December 18. That in itself is not a problem, I could buy it - or I could grab the opportunity to finally learn how to sew. From what I hear on the InterWebs, it will come in handy in primary school ... My mother unfortunately never really taught me, and it wasn't taught at school, so what I am looking for is advice on what sewing machine to get, basic supplies, and, most importantly, a good intro book. By intro book, I mean "Sewing for Dummies with Two Left Hands and No Physical Intelligence" - that level. Since I only plan to do the bare minimum required for basic kids' costumes, I was thinking of getting a cheap machine like this or this. Any help gratefully received!

(cross-posted to [ profile] plan_survive and [ profile] perceval)


Nov. 4th, 2008 09:08 pm
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... until well after midnight. I can't get into Yahoo from Kopete, but I also have a MSN account, which is firstnamelastname at hotmail dot com ...

and I'm online @ yahoo, too - this time web messenger
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this gives detailed predicions based on the first five states.

"If the expected happens, what have we learned? Let’s start by asking what we can say before
any election returns are in. Obama is expected to win the national popular vote by 4.8
percentage points, with an expected electoral vote total of 340 (compared to 270 needed for
victory), and a 96% chance of winning the electoral vote (with a 0.2% chance of a tie in the
electoral college). The top row of Figure 1 shows the forecast distributions of Obama’s popular
and electoral vote shares.
Now, what if the vote margin in Virginia, Indiana, Georgia, South Carolina, and Kentucky were
to equal the expected -5.7%? We pipe this assumption through our model by calculating, for
each of our 10,000 simulations, the average vote margin in these five states, and then restricting
our analysis to the subset of simulations for which this vote margin is within 1 percentage point
of its expected value (that is, between -6.7% and -4.7%). Out of our 10,000 simulations, 2800
fall in this range; that is, we predict there is a 28% chance that McCain’s average vote margin in
these five states will be between 4.7% and 6.7%. What is of more interest is what happens if this
occurs. Considering this subset of simulations, Obama’s expected national popular vote margin
is +4.7%, his expected electoral vote total is 343, and the conditional probability of an Obama
victory is 100%: he wins the electoral college in all 2800 simulations in this condition."
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Apparently, it's going to be a pink paradise.

We're gay, we're GAAAAYYYYY!

PZ Myers comments:

"It's a world-building prelude to a work of slash fiction. Future chapters, I'm sure, will include lurid stories of handsome young Christian men being compelled by scantily clothed muscular gay men to watch explicit pornography, followed by more chapters detailing their forcible deflowering by hunky followers of the Obama."

I'm sure there are a few slashers who would be only too happy to oblige ...
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Although I believe in God, I enjoy reading atheist blogs and skeptical web sites. (I also greatly enjoy reading what my Christian friends have to say, from Methodist to Mormon, and I really should go read Ship of Fools more often.) A great skeptical /atheist parenting blog is Rational Moms, where I found this particular gem:

How good are car seats?

Note the answer Levitt gives at the end about reconciling death statistics and the medical literature.

Finally, if it wasn't already clear which candidate I'd prefer to see in the White House, here's a cartoon for your perusal:
Why the LHC is a Big Fat Liberal Conspiracy.

Although I can't vote in US elections, I do have preferences, and I would really like to see somebody who can handle the US economy. I'm not too sure McCain has the right team on board, although I'd love to be proved wrong.
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for those of you who have friended me on flickr (rl name) - I uploaded new pics of the kids today. :)

Fly By

Sep. 14th, 2008 09:38 pm
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I had to blog this:
The Sarah Palin Baby Name Generator

Drill, Baby!

Brought to you by perceval aka Rust Mustang
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... and we have started weaning. Today, Sparrow has gobbled up two portions of porridge (1 Dsp baby porridge / 3 Dsp water) with absolute and utter relish, guiding the spoon to his greedy little mouth. (OK, so a parent still had ultimate control, but Sparrow was definitely helping.) If that's not READY, what is?

I also see that we are still here.. Unsurprisingly.
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Not that Palin, the other one:

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- for all the birthdays I've missed! [ profile] helenllama, [ profile] cynthia_black, [ profile] miriammoules ... Miriam, hope you got the books I sent you.

I should have been working this weekend for at least three solid hours, but was comatose on Saturday morning (I didn't even open the Amazon parcel of books when it arrived - that's almost non-functional!). All I had energy for was nursing Sparrow back to sleep repeatedly. Later that day, I took Mouse and Sparrow to our local mall for coffee, giving DH a rest. It's Mouse's last care free Saturday for a while, because she'll be starting German Saturday school next week. That starts promptly at 9.30am, and we have roughly a 20-25 min commute - when a local mum can drive us, that is. So that means leaving the house at 9am. If we're taking the bus, that's 8.30 sharp. We had a nice lazy Sunday today, too.

Some random tidbits:

  • [ profile] actionreplay, I'd be interested to hear your take on Ben Goldacre's chapter on cosmetics in his book Bad Science
  • Don't buy Spores. I was sorely tempted, then I read about the DRM. Yikes.
  • If you live in Edinburgh, be sure to vote on this petition.

A little background: Lothian Buses can only take one unfolded buggy at a time, which makes catching the bus tricky unless you're on a very well-served route. Now they're going to refuse to take women with buggies that cannot be folded, because buggies can only be parked in the wheelchair space, and they need to make way for wheelchairs if necessary.

OK, before you start composing a big rant in your mind about selfish breeders and their buggies, a couple of items for your consideration: First and foremost, almost all mothers I know either get of the bus for a wheelchair or will fold if one comes on. Wheelchairs have priority, and that's that. I regularly fold our buggy, usually with Sparrow in a sling on my front, and heave it onto one of the "luggage racks" on the side over the wheels. I don't see why women with non-foldable buggies or proper prams can't just be asked to get off the bus and given a ticket to continue their journey on the next bus with a space. You may see the occasional mum throw a wobble, but trust me, they are the MINORITY.

Secondly, you can't just ask all mums on buses to use slings, like a Sunday Times columnist suggested. What about women who find slings uncomfortable? What about bigger children? What about those of us who have been stupid enough to have another child while the first one still needs the buggy occasionally? And there's a good case to be made for proper prams for babies. We don't have a proper pram, never had one, but that's because we don't have the space for it and it doesn't fit our life style. We went with the foldable buggy we have because we knew that both our kids would spend most of their early days not in that buggy, but snuggled up close to mummy. (FYI: We need our buggy when we're out and about around lunch time, because this is where Mouse naps. She still needs her nap, and for us, she will only nap in the buggy. Your mileage may vary. Sparrow mostly travels in the sling, with increasing spells in the buggy to rest my back, while Mouse walks and only uses the buggy for sleeping.)

Finally, and this is something that's often overlooked, mothers NEED to get out of the house and out and about. You can't confine women to walking or using cars/taxis just because they've had children. On the contrary, this is when women need a functioning public transport system the most, because it's a cheap and convenient way to get out and about, into town. When I was at my most despondent after the birth of Sparrow, bus trips into town were a real life saver.

(And I didn't even start about global warming, CO2 reduction, and the environment.)

This is not about your favourite scare stories of irresponsible mums and their terrible brood being selfish and pig-ignorant on public transport. It's about the rest of us trying to live our lives. If you feel you can support us, please do.
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Well, who'd've thought it - another update. And again not necessarily sprog-related. Since my first pregnancy, I've been drifting more and more away from the New Age spectrum (energy healing, reiki) towards skepticism. I've subscribed to the Randi forums, am reading skeptical blogs, and my reading material is mostly non-fiction, science, psychology, history - no longer reiki, massage, paranormal. It has been a long slow process. I'm glad I got an inside view of complementary medicine. Although I'm now deeply sceptical of energy, qi, and especially of quantum explanations for them, there's another energy in CAM that I still deeply value: The healing energy of the interaction between a warm, compassionate listener and a client/patient/co-traveller on life's journey. What got me through the three years of waiting for Mouse was less the medical care I received (although it was, in hindsight, perfectly adequate - more on that in a later entry). It was the feeling of being heard, vindicated, held and nourished by the complementary practitioners I visited regularly.


Aug. 30th, 2008 09:44 pm
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First of all, apologies for not commenting a lot - when I have both hands free in front of a computer, I usually work or reinstall software and operating systems. Today, I created a 60% Linux, 40% Windows work laptop, with the Windows partition expressly reserved for MS office documents only. Despite everything, when collaborating with people who use Word, using Word oneself always gives the best results. I tend to use LaTeX for everything else.

I installed Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy Heron) from a recent LinuxFormat DVD without a glitch. Wireless worked instantly. Machine is a Dell Latitude 610 with Intel Pro Wireless chip set. I then spent some time installing the software I need. Apart from python, my preferred programming language (I'm not the world's best programmer), that would be emacs for text editing (I also threw in vim), R for statistical analysis (with pspp, which I am yet to use), and LaTeX for typesetting. Which reminds me that I also need to install Sweave for seamless paper generation. Apparently, this is a way to automatically extract numbers for tables from R and set them in LaTeX as part of the formatting process. Neat!

Another neat (or W00T!) fact is that I've had two first-authored journal papers accepted. Now I'm in the process of revising two grant proposals. I'm not the PI on either of them, but rather a Researcher Co-Investigator. This means the grant can go on my CV, but I'm not the uber-boss. I've done a fair bit of work on one grant, including several meetings and some extensive edits. For the other grant, I've only had to attend two meetings and put in a couple of hours editing. With a couple more hours editing, we'll be done.

And, since the post wouldn't be complete without a mention of The Kids (TM): recent nicknames for our son include Greedy Guzzler and Hungry Hooves. Do we see a common theme?

kid update

Aug. 28th, 2008 07:37 pm
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I'm hoping to write a post each day, just to get writing. Now that both kids are down reliably by 9.30 (yes, I know) I have the time to do this. The shift in bed time has come with shorter days, but I think we're also seeing a developmental spurt in the three-year-old: She is happy with a far shorter bed time routine these days. That is, 1 hour as opposed to two hours. I'm not asking for advice, just noting what she's like. Her brother will be the same. He's if anything even more clingy than she was, won't take bottles any more, and refuses to sleep anywhere but in people's arms or in a sling. He does go down in his own cradle at night, which helps, but day time - no joy. I'm not complaining - this is just how they are. Other than that, both children are happy, friendly, well-adjusted, not too tantrummy ... and I can now at least get some work / house work done in the evenings. Funnily enough, these days I do most of the house work when I only have the baby. He has spells of 15-20 minutes where he'll be happy on a play mat, and I can go put a load of washing on, iron laundry, fold laundry, do dishes, or rapidly assemble a meal. Small mercies ...
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both under firstnamelastname and as percevalsq. And you?
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