Saturday, January 24, 2009

Till next time!

It's 10.52 am on Saturday, January 24. Amy and I are sitting in our Sliema apartment, all packed except for our laptops, waiting for Ray, Anna, and Noah who have generously offered to take us to the airport. Today, we'll fly to Paris, spend a night there, and then continue tomorrow on the long journey to Tucson, where we'll arrive Sunday evening.

It's been a great time in Malta despite the setbacks. Beth Hume and Sandra Vella came during this past week and together with Ray the four of us got our Maltese 'ayin research going again; there's been some great progress there and more good work on it to come in the near future.

Amy gave a great talk on her Mongolian experiment this past week - it really sparked a lot of good questions and discussion. The next day, we gave a joint talk on our four Semitic experiments and had to all be thrown out of the room by the janitor because the question period wouldn't end - it was totally fun!

I'm looking forward to being back here next year (with running experiments, hehe). For now, I'm focused on getting home. It's been just shy of two months, and it's time.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Maltese experiments downgraded...again

Unfortunately, we are missing so many sound files for Maltese that we won't be able to run our pilots. This was a hard decision to make, but I think the right one in the end. Given that we have limited money for subjects, and limited time (not to mention limited items, haha...) it just doesn't make sense to run an experiment that is likely to not tell us anything.

At the moment, there's a real sense of loss and disappointment, combined with a small sense of relief that we don't have to scramble under pressure to get everything ready by tomorrow. It's more logical to go home and design the right experiments, from the ground up.

Well, this has certainly been a learning experience.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Maltese experiments downgraded

Well...some of our worst fears have been realized; we are missing a bunch of crucial sound files, and thus will not be able to run the full-scale experiments here this time. It's such a pity, too, because I was so convinced that we had everything. Makes me feel pretty idiotic to not have actually checked for sure before getting on that plane back on November 27! I am almost done hating myself for messing up so badly, actually - by now, I have some sense of perspective that this in fact NOT the end of the world, or even the end of my little world.

What we will be able to do is run a pilot, perhaps two pilots, with two Maltese verbal classes, rather than the four we were hoping for. I've also learned to plan much better, and in more specific ways, for the future. For instance, back up all our sound files daily (hourly?) and make sure that all potential items are spliced and accounted for BEFORE leaving. Also, it would help for us to have actually done item selection BEFORE leaving as well. Now that Andy has written a perl script that can be fed the various parameters that go into item selection, this step will be practically automated the next time, which means we have probably a pretty good chance that we can actually do this next year.

Since we're just running a short pilot or two I am guessing we'll be able to finish mid-week next week. Because of this, I've decided that we're going to come home early. With the spring semester beginning, and various responsibilities already accumulating, a large part of me would feel irresponsible for sitting around in Malta (even if I were to enjoy that) while missing teaching and other responsibilities back home. Add to that the fact that I've been gone almost two months already, and you can see how compelled I was to change our flights. We're leaving Malta January 24, spending the night in Paris (and dining at Le Sagittaire, which should be memorable), and flying from Paris to Tucson on January 25. I find this a good compromise between getting something done, and being able to go home sooner.

We'll know by tomorrow afternoon for sure whether or not our pilots are on. Andy's working on it now, but of course the poor man also deserves some sleep :-)

Monday, January 12, 2009

Mysterious Missing Maltese files

Well, we've perhaps done it again. There's an entire set of Maltese sound files missing. What's weird is that both Amy and I have such good memories of recording those words, so there's plenty of evidence the sound files exist, but they don't seem to exist on our work laptops, and we can't find them on the server either.

This may be a death-blow to the Maltese experiments for now. I've emailed Andy to ask if he can re-do item selection excluding the items we're missing (it's the set of theme 1, 2, 5, and 7 verbs in Maltese that have no related verbs sharing their respective roots - what we call "orphan" verbs), but we're dubious about whether this would leave us sufficient items to run our experiments.

Sad. Disappointed. Frustrated. That's how we're feeling right now. If we end up not being able to run these experiments, we may come home earlier than planned, because the semester begins this week so work is already beginning to pile up at home.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Basking in Maltese

Andy's a programming genius! I have almost all the items we need now for BOTH experiments on Maltese selected and organized into prime-target pairs according to priming condition and distributed evenly among the four verbal classes we're using. I am experiencing a sense of relief that has been almost unknown in the past month and a half. I've also come to the realization that programming is one of the most valuable skills a psycholinguist could have (or, alternatively, that having a programmer for a partner is a really good idea).

Aside from wanting to learn programming, I'm also basking in the fact that for now, we are ahead of the curve. Who knows what bumps lay ahead; given our experience, anything is possible, and we'll cope with it all, but this post is dedicated to this beautiful sense of relief and productivity. Thanks, Andy! You're the best.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Maltese experiments in design/item selection phase

Andy is programming up a storm. It's really challenging to splice strings out of a multidimensional array when the results have to be evenly distributed across four verbal classes, while at the same time counterbalancing by root for three priming conditions and avoiding phonological identity and similarity among prime-target pairs. Oh, and all target words are in the 20% or higher bin based on our word familiarity study. He's really close to getting it done, but he does leave tomorrow on a trip and so I feel nervous/high-strung about getting this all finished before he departs. I am finding myself working hard to process the balance between my awe at his ability to program and the stress of a looming deadline. To be worried is classic me, though, so I am pretty used to this type of situation.

In the meantime, we're going out this afternoon to enjoy some sights around Malta, and will finish off the day with dinner with Ray and his family this evening in Mdina. That should be really wonderful.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Malta musings

So this is the week when we all come down with something in Malta. Hopefully, though, it won't stop our progress. We've got a lot going on work-wise, though, and it's good. Thanks to Andy's amazing programming skills, item selection for the Maltese experiments is going much more easily than it did for Hebrew. We're not finished yet with item selection, but Andy is writing a perl program that can create prime-target pairs for all of the relevant experimental conditions. To me, this seems miraculous, and is also a wake-up call that I need to become proficient in this type of programming. It's a challenging program to write, apparently, because it has to be able to take all possible primes and targets and pair them up for the relevant conditions, and because it's a repeated measures design, with counterbalancing by root, no root can be used more than once in the items across all the lists. The program, therefore, has to have the capacity to know when it has used a root and not use it again for any future primes or targets.

Once this part is done, then Amy will be able to splice out all the individual sound files and relabel them (thanks to Scott Jackson's brilliant Praat scripts), and then we move on to programming E-Prime. It sounds like a small number of steps, but I remain vigilant for pitfalls and unanticipated problems, since I know what can happen :-)

I'll update again when there's progress to report.

Monday, January 05, 2009

First post from Malta!

This is my first blog post from Malta, and because we haven't seriously started to work hard yet on the experiments, we're in a very relaxed state, and savoring it. Work-wise, we'll be moving into the item selection phase of our two priming experiments as soon as we have some item judgments from a native speaker of Maltese. Also, we anticipate that item selection for Maltese will go more smoothly than for Hebrew because Andy's going to write a perl script, or a set of perl scripts, that will be able to automate the prime-target pairing process. That phase usually takes a lot of time when done manually, and is pretty painstaking because it's crucial to never recycle a root or word in order to avoid an accidental repetition priming effect. The automated version will be able to do the same work in a lot less time. Another reason this part will go easier is that Scott Jackson - Praat genius extraordinnaire - has written several scripts that will make our file-extraction and file-renaming phases go much more smoothly.

We've been in Malta three days now, and have had an amazing time so far. Our apartment is fantastic; three bedrooms, and humungous. It's got a hall you could rollerskate down that's about 40 feet long, and a truly enormous kitchen. We're about a block away from the Mediterranean Sea, in Sliema, which unfortunately is being unsustainably overdeveloped before our very eyes. We had an incredible time Saturday night in Zebbug when Ray, Anna, and Noah had us over along with a lot of their friends for a holiday party, and yesterday spent some time walking along the sea front. The weather is delightful. Whereas Jerusalem was cold and dry, followed by cold and wet, Malta is cool and wet. The temperature ranges from a low of about 50 to a high of about 60, and despite some heavy rain it's really been nice to be outside.

Tomorrow, we'll walk around Valletta a bit, and then probably start getting down to business experiment-wise.