Saturday, 5 November 2011

One Good Thing about Guelph

I will give Guelph this: its autumn is the nicest I've ever seen. Almost a week past Hallowe'en and no snow, gorgeous sunshine, pretty leaves... stuck in a basement most of the time, but today I walked in to work to enjoy the weather.

This last one is the fort I wish I'd had... although would have skipped all the "no girls allowed" signs!

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Comparing myself to others

Went to a Ph.D. completion party last night, for Frank, who is the awesome and very sweet boyfriend of the awesome and very sweet Erin, who is doing her Ph.D. on the animal side. Frank's Ph.D. was in Comp Sci and it sounds like he kicked some thesis defense butt. Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

We went to dinner (that's three times in two weeks, yikes - but there keeps being things to celebrate!) and over to someone's house for drinks. And this is where I wish the dept was less segregated to so I could actually talk to other Ph.D. students more often. It really helps to have some idea of how other people work things and what their experiences have been.

First of all, I found out that some people who I thought would be kicking butt financially (due to having got one of those big scholarships that I have no hope for) are actually living on credit and begging for TAships to at least pay tuition. It seems that being insanely cheap and putting up with a not-great living situation because it's the least expensive option is actually working out pretty well for me, relatively speaking. At least I haven't taken on any new debt since starting the Ph.D. (not saying anyone else has, but I think that is still a win).

That said, I'm seriously considering giving my notice at the house on Nov 1 (they want two months notice of moving out??!!!) and finding something else for next semester... since it seems to be pretty clear that sticking around even after the writing up is done and collecting more data is probably a wise career move. Going straight to Oxford would be awesome but leave me with a pretty large CV and productivity gap. Sigh.

[The house isn't so bad, but it isn't great either. The undergrad housemate (UH) told me he was going to "have a few people over Thursday night" a couple of weeks ago. Come home Thursday night to find a raging kegger and screaming undergrads puking on my lawn. Awesome. Our neighbours hate this sort of thing, understandably, and I for one had to get up Friday morning and work. So, Mark and I tried to corral them into the house and convince them to stop screaming. Sort of worked: now they were screaming outside the door to my room. Apparently one of them puked in the sink and another broke Mark's expensive vase and another spilled a pitcher of beer all over the downstairs couch. The UH, when confronted, said, "oh yeah, I didn't think there would be that many people" and wandered off to class to leave Mark to clean up.

This was also the night I heard about poor Matt, so needless to say I was not in the mood to deal with screaming morons... kind of a bad night, all in all.

Anyway, that isn't typical, but the lack of cleaning (mostly by UH) and the boyfriend slumped on the couch seven days a week using our electricity but not paying rent ARE. Not the end of the world and the non-UH housemates are pretty respectful, but I'm about ready to get gone.]

Anyway, next semester will necessarily be more expensive, so saving like crazy now... we'll see how it goes.

(Speaking of finishing up soonish, I forgot to send my proof of student status to the student loan people this semester, resulting in a repayment notice - reversed, of course, but yikes, gotta be saving hard for that too in case I don't have a postdoc to jump into right away!)

Apart from that, seems like most people are taking at least four years (plus) to finish, despite Guelph's weird assertion that three years of guaranteed funding should be PLENTY to get a Ph.D. done. This leads to a lot of financial stress at the end. I'm still (knock wood knock wood) more or less on track to hand in at the end of my third year, plus a semester for the committee to read it and a defense committee to be formed and all that rigmarole. So that's only a semester over the three year funding guarantee, and they will probably throw me a TAship for it.

That said, getting through quick necessarily leads to fewer pubs (one girl is graduating with NINE of them) which might hurt me. Not more than sticking around Guelph for an extra year for that reason would, though. Am still hoping to get at least one from my practicum, and have started a number of collaborations that might be productive enough to get a few things out the door. Fingers severely crossed.

Did I mention, though, that we have two in press?? Both online now, Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance and Acta Psychologica, woo hoo!

So yeah, could be doing better, could be doing worse... but nice to know what the rest of my cohort is up to rather than totally having to guess.

(plus - they are good to talk to and throw fun parties!)

Monday, 24 October 2011

There's a Reason that I Hate This Town

Most of the streets in Guelph are named after cities/counties or girls (Dublin Street, Surrey Street, Elizabeth Street, Alice Street).

There is also an Edinburgh Street and a Delhi Street.

How are these pronounced by Guelphites?

Edin-BURG and Del-HIGH.

Get me out of here...

Sunday, 23 October 2011


Just got back from an awesome weekend with a friend from New Haven (who was in Toronto for a conference). We went to see Josh Ritter do a reading (yes, he's written a book!) went to dinner and went out to a place with ants on the walls. Great fun and it was awesome to see her.

Today we went for brunch with another friend who lives in the city, and we had the most interesting conversation about ADHD and getting things done. One of my friends is a psychiatrist and took a "tendency to ADHD" measure when she was working with kids - and came out in the "probably a problem" range. The other one has actually been diagnosed. I've never been assessed for it, but a lot of the things they were talking about sound veeeeeery familiar. I know I have to leave twice as much time as a normal person would take to write something, because I will write one sentence and then go off and check email or make some tea or something. (I have ducked out at least six times while writing this paragraph). Not the most efficient, but on the other hand I allow for it and things still get done - eventually.

The thing is, the other two do exactly the same thing. It was really comforting to hear that I am not the only one who does this, although it is kind of depressing to think about how much time and brainpower are being wasted on workarounds to get us to the same point someone who can focus for more than two seconds is already at.

That said, all three of us have been relatively successful despite the fact that we can't focus for more than two freaking minutes. I wonder how many other people are in this boat (I know not everyone is: I have watched Helena sit down and write - actually write, not hopping around to 20 other things! - for 45 minutes at a time and get a paper out in a week or so). I also wonder how much I could accomplish if I could just figure out how to focus - and how much time I've spent developing workarounds. Anyway, I thought this was really interesting. (For the record, other things I do are keeping a list of stuff that needs to get done and trying to match my energy level with an appropriate item, otherwise there is no hope; and giving in to my slightly bipolar work habits and, when I have a totally unproductive week like last week, sometimes just take time off rather than trying to push through. I usually find that after going away for a while I can bounce back and have a much more productive week the next week).

Anyway, in other news my life is pretty boring. Back living at the same place in Guelph (cheap rent!) and doing pretty much nothing except work. This weekend was the first time I went to the city, and the second time I went out, since I returned to Ontario. I've been laying pretty low on the weekends and trying not to spend money. My goal is to have a thesis draft by December, and so far I've got two experimental chapters and most of the intro written plus another half-chapter (experimental). I think I'll probably end up with about 3-4 experimental chapters plus an intro and discussion - the intro is usually pretty extensive, though, so getting most of that out of the way is a big deal. I'm also running a couple more experiments, supervising a couple of students and starting up some new things, as well as TAing (always TAing). It's SO much more chill than this time last year, though. That was insane. This is a lot of hard work, but a lot less intense than last year.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Spain! (Marina's wedding)

Just got back from Del's friend Marina's wedding in Catalunya. I've never been to a Spanish wedding before, let alone a Catalan one. It was amazing fun. Marina got married in an oak grove outside a hermitage (an old, simple church, as far as I could tell) and everyone just stood around in the woods. To get there we had to take a train from Barcelona to her town (Moliet) and then borrow her car and drive for an hour into the mountains, through a bunch of crazy hairpin turns. We actually managed to be 15 min late for the wedding, but luckily it was a small one so the bride waited!

Afterwards we went to the reception, which started with a few hours of cava and "pica pica" (tapas) - we stood around outside while waiters brought more and more food, plus stations with risotto and a good bit of a pig. At about 3pm we went in for lunch, which was five courses and took us till about 7.30 or 8pm to get through. The whole time they would stop once in a while and do something - speeches (in Catalan, so we foreigners couldn't follow) or a song, or a gift for the couple. There was also a game where there was a giant locked chest full of money for the bride and groom, and every table was given a key. Each table gave the bride and groom a task to win their key, leading to something I've never seen before at a wedding - the bride and groom being handed a baby and a bag of nappies, and clearing off a table at their wedding in order to change a baby's diaper! At first I didnt' realize about the game and thought maybe this was an extension of the constant references to babies at the (very Catholic) wedding - I though, wow, they really take this fertility stuff seriously here!

Once we finally managed to gorge our way through the four or five hours of food, there was dancing and an open bar. There was no DJ - five people from the groom's family just kept randomly selecting songs, meaning that you would get two verses into a traditional salsa tune with everyone doing the moves, and suddenly the music would switch to Abba. Gave it a very unique vibe...

The reception was held at a huge stone house in the countryside, with the party being held at a sort of hall attached to the side. However, they had rented the whole house for the guests, so everyone who wanted could stay over. The only trouble was, there were no assigned rooms, so you just had to go find a bed and try to claim it. Unfortunately that meant that we ended up in a giant room with Del's friends Cristina, Paco and Pablo, but then four or five other people also ended up sleeping all over the floor. No big deal, until about 5am when an enormously drunk man who nobody seemed to know crashed heavily up the stairs, stomped around on the echoing stone floor for twenty minutes or so, stepped on a few people, dropped his shoes on the floor once or twice, then crashed down and started snoring the most epic snores I have ever heard in my life. It was insane. There was no way I could sleep after that, so I ended up on a tiny loveseat in the entrance hall three floors down - and you could still distantly hear the snores echoing past three flights of stone floors!

The next morning there was a pig's leg, trotters and all, for breakfast, plus bread and Nutella. Sadly, Cristina and Paco had a flight back to the south of Spain to catch, so we had to leave early. It was too bad, because apparently the house also had a small building with a swimming pool! It was an amazing place for a wedding.

We've been in Barcelona for the last five days, except for the weekend where we went to the wedding. We've been staying on a Nordic folk boat in the Port Olimpic harbour. We leave today, but I'm hoping to see a few of the Barcelona sights before we go....

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Post more, you say? All right then!

Uh oh, somebody asked about an aspect of my research in the comments! That's all it takes for me to ramble on for an hour.

Aside: A few months ago, Rebecca called at the last minute and asked if we would like to go see Josh Ritter in concert in Milford (home of our infamous beach walk). No idea why Josh was playing a 6pm gig at a tiny little venue in a tiny little Connecticut town, but we had seen him in NYC previously and loved it, so Ayelet and I agreed to accompany her. The gig itself was awesome in the way only a tiny-venue small-town gig can be, and afterwards we hung around outside until Josh and bandmates came out to sign autographs. We strategically waited until the queue had dispersed, and lo and behold, Josh came over to chat to us.

"What do you do?" he asked me. So I told him. "Oh wow, my parents are both neuroscientists.... what kind of work do you do?" he asked. Wrong question! The lucky man got to hear a monologue about attention-emotion interactions as they related to motivationally-relevant stimuli for quite some time. Have to say he looked interested, though. (Although possibly drunk). He said it sounded very cool and gave me a big ol' hug and a kiss on the hand (just for doing such awesome research, I guess!)

Anyway, so attentional bias in parents. Attentional bias to a stimulus just means that that particular class of stimulus attracts your attention, and is difficult to disengage attention from. Interesting research has shown, for example, that very anxious people show a much stronger attentional bias to threat than non-anxious people. When faced with a threatening image (in the lab they use angry faces or scary animals - in the real world it could be your boss!) these people notice it more quickly than others and have trouble tearing their attention away in order to do something else. Also, people struggling with a substance dependence show attentional bias to their drug of choice. An alcoholic, for example, has difficulty not paying attention to a bottle of booze when it's in sight (or they know it is there). This is theorized to be one of the reasons that it is so hard to stop using drugs: your brain is sensitized to the very sight of them, and you just can't ignore them if you know they're available.

We test this in the lab by showing two pictures simultaneously very briefly (~ 250-500ms). One of the pictures is then replaced by a probe (like a *) and the participant's job is to report where they saw the probe. If, for example, there was a rose on the right and a scary dog on the left of the screen, and the probe replaced the scary dog, you would expect an anxious person to be quicker to respond to the probe than if it had replaced the rose. This is because their attention would already have been in that location. If the probe replaced the rose, they would have to disengage their attention from the rose location and move it to where the probe is. (We think of attention as being like a spotlight that can be moved around, even if the eyes stay in the same place).

Previous research has shown that non-parents (they used undergrads) show attentional bias to infant faces using this task. That is, they are quicker to report a probe that replaces an infant face than an adult face, which we take to mean that they were paying attention to the infant. The lab here at the Child Study Centre is interested in parenting research, so they would like to know if parents show the same effect, and if so, is it stronger than the effect in non-parents? If this is the case, it would then be interesting to look at individual differences in parents: for example, do poorly-attached parents show less bias to infant faces? Do substance-dependent parents or depressed parents show the same effect? Certain groups of parents have been shown to spend less time interacting with their infants in general, so it would be interesting to see if this extends to subconscious attentional effects and the brain areas that produce them.

Of course I have a whole host of plans to extend this more into my area of research, but that will have to wait until we have explored the basic effect more thoroughly!

Man, you are right that I should blog more often though. Although things are deathly quiet right now, I had an exciting few months what with a conference where I had to present, all kinds of excitement with customs, a visit from Del, a quick trip to the Vermont border... maybe I will try to catch up on relating everything this week.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Summer in the city

Oh man, summer on the East Coast kills me. I've had two miserable summers in Guelph, so this time I wangled an escape by staying in New Haven. But nope, it's just as gross weather-wise... although I'm definitely still much happier than I was in Guelph :)

I took a six-week sublet of a tiny little studio that is very close to work (and the gym), and MAN what a great idea. Not having the psychological barrier of having to wait for the shuttle or walk for 40 min makes it so easy to pop into work (or the gym) anytime I think of it. I'm getting a lot more done suddenly.

It also doesn't hurt in terms of productivity that both Helena and Rebecca are away visiting family. I have to say that it is very, very boring around here without them - but it is definitely an incentive to spend weekends in the lab. Not only is it air-conditioned, but what else am I going to be doing all by myself?!

The downside is getting enough sleep. It is SUPER hot and humid here (week-long 35C+ heat waves with 80-90% humidity) and my body just can't take it. My place does have a window A/C unit, but I am paying for my own electricity (and cheap, so don't want to run it much) and also too much A/C tends to make my throat hurt. In lieu of A/C at night, I keep the windows open (I have a corner unit, so it's a pretty good cross-draft) but that means the blinds are open over the windows so it's also really light in here. So, I've been waking up very early in the morning as soon as the sun is up.

Overall, though, the upsides of the move outweigh the downsides (I would have been dying in the heat on Nash St as well, and no A/C there!) If I was living in New Haven long term, Howe Street might be the place to be. True, it borders on the dodgy side of town (so far walking home have seen one car accident, one cyclist get hit by a car and two arrests) but the police are very active in patrolling this area and the headquarters of Yale security are here. And yeah, a lot more gymming and working are being done.

Anyway, two more weeks before I head out. I've finally finished data collection (!!!) - it took months longer than I had hoped, but that's research for you. The results are looking interesting. We should definitely be able to get a paper out of this one. There's a slight possibility we could even get two. I've started a new project with Helena too, to do with attentional bias to infant faces in parents. We've got it off the ground, and she will do the data collection while I will do the analysis from wherever I happen to be. It's been an interesting and fairly productive year, and to be honest it's also been a complete holiday. Being away from Guelph = no sitting through a million talks about rats (I've been to an equivalent number of talks, but on much more interesting topics), no students constantly wanting something, and no time being taken up by annoying departmental things. I just do my work quietly and then go home. This must be what having a sabbatical is like! Love it.

I had sort of planned to do some travel around the US with my last few weeks, but that was before Rebecca had to go home because of her mom's illness. I still could go by myself, of course, but summer is always tight money-wise, so am thinking maybe it's best just to sit tight unless something interesting comes up, and save my money for the UK trip in two weeks.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Reflections on a Pizza-Cone

Hmmmm. Just was looking through old photos of me on Facebook (sometimes I do this and wonder what someone who didn't know me would gather just based on these photos... which is less self-obsessed than it sounds because sometimes I do go through the photos of relative strangers and see what I can figure out about them. Oh social networking, life is so much easier now that I don't have to just casually peer through windows while out for a walk when I am curious about the lives of others).

Anyway, long asides aside, I saw the set of photos posted almost exactly a year ago, after I went to New York for the first time. In fact, I saw a picture of us with pizza cones, and only last weekend I saw that exact same shop (now closed, boo) because Helena and I hopped into the city on the weekend to check out the charity shops. And that is so weird. A year ago I spent 18 hours total in a car on a three-day weekend to head into NYC, and I had NO IDEA that 365 days later I could casually jump on a train and for 1.5 hours and $14 each way go to the city whenever I wanted. Amazing. Makes me wonder what this time next year will look like - barring disaster, it's not inconceivable that I could be finishing/finished and...??? Stuck in Guelph, off on a awesome postdoc, scampering off to Oxford? Who knows. Should be interesting to find out, though.

It also occurs to me that is it difficult to overstate how much happier I am this year. It's pretty tangible: 8 blog posts for all of 2010?! Yeah, that was not a good year. Couldn't even bring myself to write about it. Stuck in Guelph, very few people who genuinely cared about me in town, Ph.D. projects going incredibly slowly, being constantly abandoned by Guelph-based "friends"... awesome. Obviously nothing earthshattering or tragic, but it's pretty excellent to be living somewhere I enjoy (except for the stupid pollution - I have conjunctivitis to rival London, yuck. No contact lenses for me) and having ACTUAL care-about-me awesome friends, and fun work... it's amazing.

Yep, am really having a great time at work these days. Sad but true, Helena and I both spent the entire weekend in the lab (well, 1pm-6 or 7pm, anyway, both days). Got a couple of projects I'm keen to get moving, and some EEG data to analyze, and since both experiment design and data analysis are my idea of fun, had a pretty great weekend. Sad, but I gotta own my nerdiness since it sure ain't going away.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Asking Americans for Directions

So Helena and I tried to go to the beach today. There is a town called Milford a 10-min train ride from New Haven, which the Yale website advertises as having a beach. Furthermore, the internet told us that there is something called Silver Sands State Park in Milford, and that there are busses to the park from Milford even on weekends and holidays. Perfect! (It's something called Memorial Day long weekend down here... apparently in honour of veterans, although no one could explain to me how this differs from Veterans Day).

So, we hopped on the train, and as promised arrived in Milford in ten minutes. As we got off the train we heard gunshots. Turns out it was the Milford Memorial Day parade, and we all know Americans cannot have a parade without firing off guns as often as possible. We went down to where the parade was on the assumption that it was likely to be the centre of town, and therefore probably a good place to catch a bus.

Parade-watching Americans:

After watching the parade for a while, we asked a nearby woman how to get to the state park.

Woman: "Park?"
Helena: "Yes, there is a State Park in Milford?"
Woman: "Oh, the State Park. You can't walk there."
H: "Yes, ok, but we were told there's a bus...?"
W: "No, it's way too far. If you want water, you can go down to the harbour. Why don't you just go down to the harbour and then you can watch the rich people on their boats!"

Awesome. Very helpful. However, we thought maybe there might be something to see down by the harbour, so we headed down. But all we saw were rich people on their boats (and not even sailing - they had literally pulled lawnchairs up to their boats and were sitting beside their boats, drinking).

Then Helena spotted a Bird Sanctuary sign. Perfect! That would do nicely for a little walk and maybe a nice place to sit. There was a little road going in beside the giant Bird Sanctuary sign, and so we followed it into the trees.

Five minutes later we were looking at houses.

The "bird sanctuary" was about twenty metres deep, with a suburb on the far side.

Huh. America, hey? So, we headed back toward the harbour and stopped at a marina and asked a man sitting there how to find the beach.

Man: "Beach?"
Me: "Yes, we heard there is a beach near here. Maybe at the State Park?"
Man: "Oh, that's too far to walk."
Me: "Yes, THANK YOU, but apparently there is a bus."
Man: "Bus?"
Me: "A bus to the beach?"
Man: "Oh, the SHORE bus."
Me: "Yes! Probably the shore bus."
Man: "I think there is a bus stop somewhere in town." [sends us back exactly the way we came]

So, we trudged back to the centre of town and saw the original woman again. "Oh hi! Did you find the harbour? I could give you a ride to the park, but I won't because then you'd have to hitch-hike back, ha ha! Bye!"


We didn't have a map (mistake!) but Helena remembered roughly the layout of the town and the direction of the park. She said it didn't look too far, and we were assuming that an American idea of "too far to walk" might differ from ours. So we started walking toward the park. It was boiling hot and uphill, and after a while Helena mentioned that on the map she saw, it looked like there were beaches BETWEEN the town centre and the park. So we took a sharp left in the direction they should be and kept walking.

Eventually we came across a man gardening. Helena stopped to ask directions.

H: "Hi, could you tell us how to find the beach?"
Man (strong non-American accent): "Yes, keep going straight for about another half a mile. At the end of this road you'll see the beach, but you have to go between the houses to get to it."

Directions! Actual directions!

Moral of the story: if you need to know how to get somewhere, find a non-American.

So, we thanked him profusely and trudged down the road. We were starting to lose faith when we noticed some reeds and other waterplants behind some of the houses. This seemed promising, but we were starting to think we might never find the elusive beach. And then, as we came around a corner - silver sand! There was a sand-covered path between the houses, as promised, and then a glorious silver beach off in both directions.

So, long story short, we found the beach and it was wonderful.

While sitting on the beach, we noticed that all the boats seemed to be going in one place along the shore, and surmised that this must be the harbour. We walked along the beach in its direction, and then cut through the residential area that abutted the shore. After a short walk, we found - the end of the road we were STANDING ON when we asked the first man how to get to the beach. ARGH.

But never mind. We found the beach! And next time, bus or no bus, we can get there the fast way.

Here is a handy map of our adventures:

Red X: Talked to man at marina.
Red line: original path
Star: Talked to helpful non-American man
Smiley: Beach!

Blue line: route back to town
Blue dotted line: backtracked to check what we suspected... that the marina where we talked to the first man was just around the corner.

Please note that we were right beside the state park. Non-walkable, my foot.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Up in the air as usual

Oh my goodness, just checked the family blog and choked on my spaghetti squash. Good lord, dad. And also, naked gardening sounds very uncomfortable.

Also sad to hear about the Slave Lake fire. I donated a bit to the Red Cross 'cause there's not much else I can do. Scary stuff.

Ironically, it's been pouring here for a week. I really wondered if we were going to get floods. I walked home from work yesterday, umbrella in hand, and was soaked to the skin by the time I was halfway home. I think the rain was hitting so hard it was bouncing off the umbrella and drenching me. Even my socks were wet - boots were still waterproof, but the water was leaching down through my jeans. Yikes.

Still no word on my visa, and starting to do the hamster-wheel thing in my head. Can't make summer plans unless I know how long I can stay in the US, but there's nothing I can do about it. Doesn't stop me constantly worrying at the problem, though, and trying to think of some way I can control it. The girl from OISS (Office of International Students and Scholars) has consistently ignored my emails, and now is out for a "family emergency". Her bounceback message referred me to another person in the office. That person has refused point-blank to help me, and said the original girl will sort me out when she gets back. Whenever that is. In the meantime, Del has booked a flight to New York for the end of June, so if I can't get back into the country to meet him I will be mad.

(The deal is: my visa currently ends June 30. I have a conference in Winnipeg June 24-26. I could re-enter as a tourist July 1, but am worried they would be suspicious of someone whose J-1 visa ended the day before and refuse me entry. Or I could come back in the last days of my visa, but again am worried what the customs people would have to say about that. I can extend the visa till July 18, but that would require the cooperation of OISS no-show girl. ARGH.)

Despite all this, I've set up a summer sublet anyway for July and the first bit of August (allowed to stay in the country for 30 days after my visa ends apparently - may as well get some thesis-writing done). It's a studio, small but in a secure building, right beside Helena's building. It's pretty cheap if I take it for only the six weeks and it's very conveniently located. Luckily they didn't want any money up front. In some ways staying at my current place would make more sense, but still grouchy about being left out of the conversation about the new housemate. She has arrived, by the way. She said she'd move in Friday at 4pm, and showed up Saturday night at midnight instead. Scared me half to death, since my housemate had gone to Cape Cod and I was NOT expecting someone to unlock the door at midnight. Good times.

Things otherwise about the same. Still having a jolly old time hanging around the Child Study Centre and feel pretty lucky about the whole thing. (I suppose it's really more of a hobby anyway, since I'm certainly not getting paid!) I analyzed the EEG data from my original experiment, but it looks like we just don't have enough power (there might be effects, but it's hard to see because the data are noisy because we don't have enough participants). Need to run some more people, but having trouble getting them in. However, I've been liasing with the new RA at Guelph, who is running some experiments for me there, and have been developing a new one to run at Yale as well, so one way or another should get some good data this summer. May as well take advantage of working somewhere that encourages productivity - summers in Guelph tend to be just Asma and I hanging around the lab, staring morosely at our computers.

Spring in New Haven is insane - millions of flowers on all the trees and petals everywhere. And pollen. I didn't think I got spring allergies, but I'm allergic to this town. My eyes have been itchy and sore for a month. Sure is pretty though.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Rodent of Unusual Size

Yikes! Just ran across what I can only imagine is an opossum while walking home. Like a giant white rat with a horrible naked tail. It was scraping through some leaves by the sidewalk. We scared each other and ended up in a standoff, staring at each other with nobody making a move. Finally I moved my foot and it ran off into the bushes.

Okay, just looked them up and the title is a misnomer, as apparently they are marsupials. Weird. And apparently if I had "threatened or harmed" him, he might have "played possum" and secreted a foul-smelling liquid from his anal glands. Awesome.

Learn something new every day.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Dustin Recipes

My housemate Dustin grew up in Iowa and did not realize until he moved for university that there was such thing as an independent, non-chain restaurant. He was amazed to discover whole streets of Thai, Indian, Lebanese food... and was confused because there was no Applebees. He told me that at first he was slightly appalled, because each independent place is different, and how on earth are you supposed to know which ones are good?! An Applebees is an Applebees, and you always know what you will get.

Tonight for dinner he made:

2 cans mushroom soup
1 bag frozen green beans
1 box stuffing
3 chicken breasts

in the slow cooker.

Last week it was

2 cans spaghetti
half block Velveeta cheese

in the slow cooker.

The week before that it was

2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 box stuffing
half block Velveeta cheese

in the slow cooker.

I am eager to see what Iowa-style recipe he will come up with next.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Living in America is creepy.

In the last week, some poor bike mechanic got shot, and somebody opened fire at a gig. Suddenly pretty happy I went for the house in the "nicer" part of town. My housemate went on a Critical Mass ride in memory of the dead bike dude. He says the cycling community is pretty shook up.

However, luckily I pretty much work all the time, and our participants are unlikely to shoot us because being associated with the lab is pretty lucrative for them (longitudinal studies pay well and usually include travel costs, and you're guaranteed that money as long as you show up to be tested every six months). I've finally, FINALLY started testing and have two participants run, although not without a lot of drama. The first girl turned up with braids on Monday, meaning we were not able to fit the EEG cap on (it fits like a swim cap, so no room for giant bunches of hair). We rebooked her for Wednesday at 6pm, after she had taken her braids out, and her mom was there by 5.45. Said her daughter was on her way. 6.30, no sign of the kid. It's getting dark and mom is freaking out. 6.45, still no sign. Mom is calling every relative she can think of, but they won't pick up because they don't recognise the number. 6.50, kid finally appears. Luckily her hair is down. We run her anyway, since she seems up for it, getting the net on as quickly as humanly possible. Study ends, we pay the participant, and mom starts yelling - "What do you MEAN we don't get travel costs?!" eek.

Thursday, participant is half an hour late. No, make that an hour late. No, make that cancelled entirely. Rebooked for next week. Friday, I'm calling around trying to get people in for next week. Mom says her kid could come - if we can fit him in that day. Check the schedule, there's a tiny one-hour slot available in the testing room. Book him. Luckily he showed up braid-free (perfect hair actually: very short!) and was a nice, cooperative kid. However, the person who needed the room ahead of me ran late and so had to spend 15 minutes trying to make conversation with a taciturn adolescent. However, data is data.

I did make it out to a performance of the Bach mass in B Minor in support of Japan last night, though. We got there late and got pretty bad seats, but luckily could see the conductor, who was very entertaining. Complete with flying white hair and hopping on his toes and giant arm gestures. Everything was sung in Latin, so I was kind of losing focus until out of desperation I read the liner notes, which explained the similarity between Baroque architecture and music - both were obsessed with symmetry. It used the Palace of Versailles as an example. After that it was easier to know what I was listening to, and I was much less fidgety.

In other news, now that the snow has melted there are three blue jays, two robins and countless squirrels hanging out in my yard. Much more fun to watch them than do my marking, although I'm trying to make inroads. I have never encountered more whiny students than with this course. They seem to think that "Distance Ed" = "Don't have to work", and they send extremely nasty emails should they get a lower mark than they thought they should have. Highlights have included, "I don't know if you realize, but I'm a 90% student and you just gave me a 70%", and "I don't agree with the mark you gave me. I technically did the bare minimum requirements, so clearly deserve a high mark" and slagging me off in a series of public posts on the course forum, claiming I should not be doing the re-grades. Luckily the prof has supported me 100%, but it ain't the most fun I've ever had.

Ah well, it pays the bills... sort of.

Friday, 11 February 2011

lots of exciting stuff

Del got the job! Interview within a week, new job within two, AND a pay rise. Not bad going, no?

Going to a Josh Ritter concert in New York City tomorrow with the girls (i.e. Helena and some of her friends). So pleased that I HAVE girls to go with. We're taking the train down in the morning and back up after the gig. We are THAT CLOSE to NYC. Craziness!

On Monday we are celebrating Valentines' Day with heart-shaped donuts (Helena was adamant) and a girls night.

We have decided that Thursday night is for going out to the Yale grad student bar. It is a big old nerd party, plus there is free (wimpy American) beer till 10 on Thursday. Last night the School of Management students were auctioning each other off, so after they were done we snuck into the room and I ate my body weight in expensive canapes. (Marinated red pepper and fresh olives!) Pretty sweet. They also advertise "$2 Wells Drinks" on Thursday nights, which we both assumed was a type of beer. So we went up and ordered two Wells, only to have the bartender burst out laughing. Apparently "wells drinks" are just drinks made of the standard house liquour. Whoops. Now I know!

Going to go into work on Sunday, I think. Things have stalled a bit with the project, and part of the trouble is that I have to photoshop all my stimuli. Going to have a giant pile of marking to do starting tomorrow, too.... looks like a busy week but with some cool stuff crammed in there!

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Upheaval and drama!

Man, it's so nice living somewhere I don't hate, so that I actually feel like posting! This practicum was definitely a good call.

So, just to keep everything interesting, the drama has been ramped up even more this week. I moved into my place last Wednesday, not quite realizing that the previous occupants had no intention of moving out until the Friday. However, the room I was moving into was free and they gave me an air mattress, so fair enough. Except that it was so cold on that mattress that I couldn't sleep without wearing my hoodie and toque over my PJs and piling my coat on top to keep warm... brrr. The house was in total disarray because the previous people were, in theory, packing to move out. However, I wanted to give Helena back her space, so just put up with it.

By Friday, not very much was packed and NOTHING was cleaned. I was told that they were having a party that night at a local restaurant and would leave first thing Sat morning. Got home late Friday night to find that STILL nothing was packed. I did have a bed, though, in pieces on the bedroom floor. Dustin and Marshall (guy moving out) helped me set it up at about 1am. Apparently Cecelia, other person moving out, rolled in at 3am.

Not surprisingly, Saturday morning was hectic. Cecelia spent the morning haranguing Marshall while Marshall threw things in boxes. They packed Cecelia off on the train by noon and then Marshall was MIA for a few hours while Dustin and I attempted to shove some of the boxes out of the way so that new housemate Jeff could move his stuff in. And let me tell you, there were millions of them. When Marshall came back I tried to help him pack, only to be constantly corrected: "Oh wait, I had a plan for packing that. Hold on, those things shouldn't go together..." so I gave up.

At 4.30 pm, Dustin took me shopping outside of town (since it is not possible to buy useful things in New Haven*) and then I went out for dinner. When I returned at 9pm, Marshall was still packing. I heard him cleaning until about two in the morning. He asked very humbly if he could crash in the living room for one more night. Sunday, he dumped all the boxes in the basement, having realized that they would not fit in his car and asked if we'd mind if he came to pick them up later. Then he and his corgi left around noon.

Incredibly, I heard from Jeff that Marshall came BACK around 2pm to grab a few more things before starting the 6-hour drive back to his hometown.

This meant that Jeff and I couldn't get set up at the house until the work week started, and things are still kind of in disarray as there seems to be a lot of the previous occupants' stuff still around (fetus-shaped cookie cutter?!)

Meanwhile, I was at the lab quite a lot trying to get my experiment programmed. Was having a major problem getting the number of trials per condition to balance and was spending a lot of time working on it. I was testing it yet again when I heard from Del, in total shock, having suddenly been called into a room on a Friday morning, along with about twenty of his colleagues, and made redundant (laid off).

Heck of a week.

Del's had an interview within the first week, though, and some of his colleagues have already found jobs... good news there at least.

While all this was going on, we got about three feet of snow and then an ice storm on Tuesday. After the snowstorm, the city refused to plow our street because they told us it was too narrow. So Dustin ended up organizing the neighbours to spend the whole afternoon digging out the street with snow shovels so people could get their cars out! I walked to work and saw people on every street, trying to unearth their cars. Many of them were totally buried due to snow plow action. After the ice storm, they switched to attempting to knock the ice off by using various implements to whack their cars. It was crazy.

The ice storm made walking treacherous, but it made the trees all frosted and beautiful. I tried to take some cell-phone pics, but not surprisingly they did not come out all that wall. Nevertheless:

(Houses here tend to be insanely huge and gorgeous too. I almost moved into one with 11 bedrooms and a conservatory!)

Luckily Yale runs FREE shuttle buses every day, one of which runs two blocks from my place, so I can get around even if the sidewalks are icy. (Except that they are cancelled in the event of very bad weather, bah!)

In other news, I finally got my experiment program working, did behavioural pilot testing with three participants (it looks great!), got the EEG tags put in (had to get help with that one) that tell the EEG system when to start recording brain waves, and pilot tested the whole shebang on myself! The EEG setup they have here is pretty cool. It is a big translucent net containing electrodes, and you only need to add water (with salt and baby shampoo in it) to get them to conduct. When I think of all the time I spent at Bangor fiddling around with electrode gel and making people wash their hair in the lab... this is pretty awesome. Fingers crossed we can start participant recruitment soon.

* New Haven is what is referred to as a "Food Desert", apparently a common phenomenon in America. There are no grocery stores in the city. Zero. There was one, but it closed. There are a few insanely-priced gourmet shops, delis and Asian markets ($0.85 for ramen soup and $7 for frozen dumplings!) and the drugstores sell milk and bread, but apart from that you need a car. So, I am relying on the generousity of my housemate and one of Helena's friends to help me get groceries once in a while.

The ironic part is, if you want fast food or a restaurant, there are millions. (There's a Dunkin' Donuts practically every block!) But if you would like to cook healthy food, sorry, out of luck unless you have a car... It's a 20-min drive down the highway with no transit options (apparently).

Same goes for homewares and kitchen supplies. If you can drive, you can get to IKEA or Target or Walmart or thrift shops. Otherwise, nothing. I did find one dollar store, but it's in a dodgy part of town... So insane.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Both people living here now are Environmental Studies majors and both drive SUVs.

Also, I saw a cop car parked outside a Dunkin' Donuts today while one of them ran in for donuts.


No Longer Homeless!

So, as of today I have signed a lease and have a home. Hope it works out. I am sharing with Dustin (from rural Iowa and so far very sweet) and Captain Wilson, a wire-haired fox terrier. Like Snowy! Unlike Snowy, he doesn't bark (not even Wooah). There is also a super-hyper Corgi running around at the moment. He is supposed to be moving out on Friday with the people I'm subletting from. Captain Wilson is like a robot dog. He doesn't say anything and doesn't shed, just comes and hangs out. Five minutes after I moved in, sitting on the floor booting up the laptop, he wandered in and unexpected sat down on my lap. I think Captain Wilson and I will get along just fine.

We have the main floor of a house, two bedrooms, sharing with Dustin and one yet-to-be-encountered housemate (both guys). The house is in a nice quiet neighbourhood (kinda far from work, but there are FREE shuttles). I talked the outgoing housemate into leaving me the bed/furniture, so should be quite comfortable here. It's not the cheapest place I looked at, but I had a good feeling about Dustin and Wilson so fingers crossed it was the right choice.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

at the airport

At Pearson Airport, making use of their free wireless! Awesome. So I'm on my way down to Connecticut to do an Ivy League practicum. Crazy stuff. I got hammered HARD with baggage fees at stupid Gatwick (didn't have my luggage scale, bad call) on Friday, so have managed to pack for six months in the States using only one checked bag and one carry-on (plus the allowed laptop bag and "small purse"). I had it exact to the pound this time around, and of course they never even weighed anything. However, travelling light has its own rewards in terms of actually being able to move everything by yourself without dying. The old couple in the Redcar on the way to the airport had three bags EACH. The woman told me, "Well, it's difficult, dear, when you're going away for two months." I almost one-upped her by mentioning that I'm going for six, but stopped myself in time. Nobody wants to get into a travelling-light oneupsmanship contest at four in the morning.

That's right, Air Canada bumped my flight twice, from a nice 2pm flight to an 11.30am flight to a stupid 7.55 am flight. I am TIRED. I am also wearing a million layers because I was worried about luggage weight. I've got a dress over jeans and a long-sleeved top, plus boots, plus two belts, one scarf and one jacket. I also got to try out the new US body scanners. Anticlimactic. Also got through customs just fine, which is a big relief. They sent me my visa paperwork, but I was worried I had missed something or they would grill me. But nope, all is apparently well.

I'm also not sure what to expect when I get there. Spent yesterday running around like a mad thing when I realised that my bank "can't guarantee" I can access my money from the States. Tried getting travellers cheques at CIBC, but they were incredibly slow and couldn't debit my account. They sent me a travel money place down the road, but they could only take $1000 by debit and needed a cheque for the rest. So I ended up calling and BEGGING my housemate to bring my chequebook along on his way to the gym, so I could pick it up, so I could run for six blocks and get to the place before it closed. (I also didn't have a bus pass - they didn't give me one this semester, so this was all on foot in -20C). I also found out at 4.30 pm that there is a form I was supposed to fill out for the university, which of course had to be signed by seventeen people. I think it's all good now - but if not, I'll be trying to sort it out by email from Yale.

Yikes, the next few days will be crazy. This time last week I was in the UK, chilling at Del's house. Next week, with any luck I will once again have a fixed address...

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Zooming Around the UK

Having a lovely time in the UK. I am now in a place called Upper Tadmarton, which makes me laugh every time I hear it. It has been a super busy week. Flight went fine, no major delays, and Del was waiting for me at the airport. Drove straight up to Edinburgh and spent Hogmanay there, although we didn't do much since everxyone but me seemed to be suffering from a stomach bug. We went up to Calton Hill to watch the fireworks, but then everyone else had to go home and lie down, so I soldiered on alone and went out to a house party with a friend I knew from living in Edinburgh. Much drama ensued, but made it home all right in the end.

Spent a few days in the city, staying at a furnished apartment type thing (staying on Del's friends' floor was getting to be a bit much after a few nights). Saw Matthew and Jen, went to a lot of gorgeous pubs and generally had a nice time. I cooked Del's friends butter chicken using the recipe Judith put on the Badgers' Grub wiki and it went over extremely well! Then we drove down to Liverpool to visit Del's friends Pauline and Gary and their little girl, Chloe. She is nearly two and took a huge shine to me for some reason. By the end she was howling every time I left the room, which was a bit awkward! I got a big tear-stained farewell when we left.

It was snowing when we left Liverpool, but pushed on to Bangor to visit my former supervisor and my friends Ralph and Thandi. R and T are both doing their PhDs and it was great to catch up. We stayed with Ralph, who was the soul of hospitality and brought cups of tea in bed in the morning! We stopped by to see Thandi's house in the morning, which is miles away in Porthmadog, making it the first time I've ever driven 30 miles for a cup of tea! She has a lovely house with amazing views, but I really can't imagine doing that commute every day.

The tea stop meant we had to drive through Snowdonia to get to Oxford, which was insanely gorgeous but pretty tough on poor Del. All those tiny windy hairpin turn-filled B roads were pretty icy near the top of the pass, so fairly unpleasant driving. I had a great time looking at the scenery, however! Made it safe to Oxford in time to go out dancing and have an amazing night out with my friends Jo, Roxie and Aonghus, and have now collapsed in Upper Tadmarton for a much-needed rest!