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Swifts and hot stats

July 28, 2013

Our heat wave continues, and for all the sticky nights, the necessity of A/C in the office every day, mostly I’m loving it. The crowds in Botanic gardens every evening have begun to thin a little as the sun-starved populace starts to trust (in the early days, especially during June’s intro, it was like a major event – it was a major event – the sun was out!). But the thing I’ll most associate with this summer are the swifts screaming their jubilation over the rooftops, frenzied missiles, celebrating each netting of the summer’s sky’s aerial plankton, piercing the dusk with their sonic bonds that hold the solitary atoms of each bird into a tight scour of hurtling mob. They are breathtaking, so beautiful; such a sound of summer. Read in last Saturday’s Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jul/18/richard-mabey-defence-nature-writing)how Ted Hughes nailed it when he said “they’re back … which means the globe’s still working”. Exactly so. Then, in yesterday’s Guardian Jim Crace prose poem on swifts in Mark Cocker’s article on the meanings of birds for us (http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2013/jul/27/wings-desire-mark-cocker-birds). I’m not alone in my affections.

The swifts are also one of the few contacts I have with real birds these days. Songsters have quietened as we’re well on the other side of solstice and it’s likely in any case that only the intensity of swiftish screams could tear through the fog of my brain. Well, it’s fog and it’s not fog. It’s also a plummet into the abstract, a deep engaged concentration. Paradoxically, through the intensity of that engagement that I’m learning the true value of rest. As I plough, plod, lumber lurch through my analysis, heading down wrong tracks, barking up the wrong trees, mechanically persisting in my OCD-ness long after I should’ve stopped, I’m also slowly clearing the path, seeing the patterns; I’m also learning that it’s valuable to stop and look around me, not just because I need to, but because it’s actually counterproductive to continue. Ideas come to me when I continue. I wake up seeing a small but true light. I dream into a valid way of seeing. I’m learning to hesitate, snuffle about, test the air.

I’m getting there. I measured my last robin on the ninth of June, so six weeks on (I’ve taken over a week off in-between; yes, even me), I’ve actually done pretty well. I’ve written the first major draft of chapter 3 of my thesis. I’ve half completed chapter 5; chapter 2, the famous paper, is done. I’ve embraced stats as the love of my current life, as personified in Mr how2stats.com http://how2stats.blogspot.co.uk/p/home.html. That man is a true philanthropist, giving away his time and expertise for the love of his subject. Why didn’t I find him earlier? Why did I faithfully attend stats classes where it went in one ear and out the other? I’ve even done a discriminant function analysis (yes Mr how2stats, you with the chuckle in your voice, at 3:27 on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHH0l_oHktU, I made it to the end of the 10th video! And, more to the point, I think I understand!!!).

For the last bit of my analysis, however, I have to make the switch from SPSS to R. And I have to do it in the next week, because on Monday 5th August I’m speaking at the Behaviour 2012 conference  (http://iec2013.com ), in Newcastle, England. After that, I’m travelling on to another location in England to work for a few days with another scientist on the phylogenetic part to my analysis, ie, the impact of the evolutionary relatedness of my different species on my findings (which I have to control for). Then it literally is, just write it up. I should be done by Christmas or at least not too long after that.

(Those avid followers of my blog will have noticed that this post, while written on the 28th of July, hasn’t got posted till today, the 21st August. This is because, in my usual fitful and distracted way, I forgot to actually post it! So it’s been languishing in Drafts for nearly a month and I didn’t notice! oh well …..)

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