On age, happiness, and sleep

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Dec 252010

Recently, the economist posted an article showing a U shape curve in life satisfaction as a function of age. This reminded me of a very similar curve we generate in my statistics class using the American Time Use Survey data. Except this U-bend is for sleep as a function of age.

U Bend, Economist 12/16/2010

sleep vs. age

Amount of sleep Americans get as a function of age

It’s hard to guess at causality, but if I had to choose I would say more sleep causes happiness, based on the school-time-shift results mentioned in Nurture Shock, where kids who got to go to school 1 hour later reported less depression.  Also, the economist article mentions that happier people are less likely to get sick. It could be that sleep is contributing to both: happiness and health.

reviewers: the good, the bad, and the flaky!

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Dec 212010

After co-chairing a few conference tracks, I now have a little bit of experience in herding reviewers (getting them to turn in or improve their referee reports). Conference reviewing is no day at the beach (though it can be, depending on what kind of beach reading you prefer): reviewing 5-10 papers, usually the day before the deadline.

I’ve encountered a few types of reviewers:

  1. The ideal reviewer: turns in their reviews on time, provides detailed, critical, constructive comments.
  2. The superficial reviewer: submits short, usually positive reviews, with a few requests to cite their own work
  3. The slightly tardy, near-ideal reviewer: emails you that his/her reviews will be one day late. Detailed, critical, constructive reviews are submitted one day late.
  4. The con: does not submit all reviews. After repeated pleas, tells you his/her reviews are essentially done and he/she will upload them soon (today, tomorrow). Two weeks later no reviews are submitted, but you still want to believe their lies.

Here are a few amusing emails from cons (I wish I had kept them all, but I may have deleted some in irritation 🙂 ):

6/30/2008 email: “… dear Lada, thanks for the invitation to join the PC …, which I accept with enthusiasm. I will be able to allocate enough time for the review process and the subsequent discussion. ”

[deadline for reviews is 12/17/2008]

12/21/2008 email: “Dear Lada, thanks for the patience… I plan to enter my reviews tomorrow morning so that you should find most of them in Easychair by the time it dawns in midwest.”

1/5/2009 email (after repeated nagging and no submitted reviews): “Lada, … I am posting them to easychair as I write this. ”


[Review deadline was 12/5/2010]

12/10/2010 email: “Hi Lada, I was busy with a proposal till yesterday, and this just slipped. I got the reviews done this morning, and will upload them in the next couple of hours.”

12/16/2010 email: “Lada, I have the reviews. One of my students is putting them into the right format, and should be able to send you soon.”

[It is now 12/20 and the reviews are still not submitted]

It is understandable that sometimes circumstances arise that prevent a PC member from reviewing. But if this is the case, please don’t tell me you have the reviews. Tell me what’s up. Tell me you can’t do it. I’ll re-assign the papers!


I can’t resist reading blogs about teaching, research, and other aspects of faculty life. I think it will help me make sense of my own. But especially when it comes to posts about teaching, they talk exclusively about the interests of the students (the arguably correct thing to do) and no one really talks about the cost to the instructor, especially when it comes to teaching with technology.

This past semester I gave two guest lectures for a colleague who teaches almost exclusively on a blackboard. I have to admit that for the first lecture I felt a bit unsteady without slides to prop me up. But I really enjoyed preparing for the second lecture. It took 3-4 hours. I read the relevant chapter, composed handwritten notes, thought of a nice example that I could carry through the lecture. At the end of this process, which involved some thought and 4 pages of notes, I felt I had created something coherent, something a bit elegant. I walked into the classroom, talked to the class, wrote on the blackboard. A faculty member who had sat in the lecture said that she appreciated the running example, which had added to the understanding she gained from reading the chapter. I felt happy. The only problem was that I didn’t know what to do with the 4 pieces of *paper* (notes) I had generated. Where would I put them?? They are still sitting on my desk.

In contrast to this guest lecturing experience, my own lectures are composed in powerpoint or latex (beamer). I insert animations, I compile the latex. Click. Copy. Click. Paste. Select. Add effect. Appear. Up. Down. Click. Ctrl-L. I upload the resulting file to cTools (our course management software). But first I create a folder within a folder. cTools thinks the pdf is application/binary, so I “Click”.”Edit details”.scroll down.”File Type”.scroll down. “application/pdf”. Save. If I end up making a change to the slides, I repeat some of the steps in uploading the new version. That would have been enough 2 years ago. Enter LectureTools. With lecture tools, students can take notes on the slides, and you can also insert interactive features, such as polling the class with multiple choice questions. So, I then convert the PPT or PDF to images (one per slide), while still uploading the slides to cTools as well. I log into LectureTools. Create new lecture. Click. Confirm class time. Click. Add slides. Click. Browse. Click. Click.  Select All. Upload. Click. Add multiple choice. Click. Type. Click. Type. Click. Save. Share with other users. Click. Add more multiple choice. Rearrange slides to put multiple choice in right spot. Drag. Scroll. Drag. Save slide order. Click. Publish lecture click. The typical delay for these sites is > 1-2 seconds between each click.

The benefits I need not repeat, since so many other blogs have done so: students don’t have to take notes -> can pay attention, interactive activities promote learning etc. I of course buy into that, otherwise I wouldn’t be doing all that extra clicking. But somehow 10-20 minutes of clicking translates to 10-20 fewer minutes of putting in serious thought into lecture. The thoughts that do make it in are chopped up into slide-sized pieces.

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