Archive for May, 2017

Europe 2016 diary: day 14 and 15

Monday, 22 May, 2017

Friday, 11 November, 2016

We woke up a bit after 07:00 and got organised for leaving Nice. M. had a shower before we headed out for breakfast, but I decided to delay mine until after we’d eaten. We went out again to Boulangerie Blanc, where I tried the pain au chocolat after M. had said it was incredibly good yesterday, perhaps the best one she’d ever had. She had one too, and a cappuccino, while I also added a plain croissant but no drink today. The croissant was good, but the pain au chocolat was amazing. Warm, buttery, flaky, and filled with delicious melted dark chocolate. Oh my goodness, yes, it was the best one I’ve ever had anywhere.

Blanc cakes
Cakes and pastry selection at Boulangerie Blanc

Before leaving Blanc, we bought some baguette sandwiches to take to the airport to eat for lunch there, since our flight left at 14:30. We figured this was much preferable to having to buy lunch at the airport. M. picked the only vegetarian option, which was chevre with salad and walnuts. I chose a smoked salmon sandwich. The lady wrapped them for us in waxed paper and gave us an optional plastic bag for an extra five euro cents.

Read more: Travelling to the airport and the flight home

Europe 2016 diary: day 13

Monday, 22 May, 2017

Thursday, 10 November, 2016

We woke up in a leisurely fashion as the sun came up around 07:00. This morning we did not have a breakfast included in our hotel stay, so after showering we set out to a boulangerie we’d seen yesterday called Boulangerie Blanc. It had good looking pastries and cakes and bread, and a few tables around the back. M. got a pain au chocolat, while I liked the look of the almond croissants on display so chose one of those. M. got a cappuccino, while I had a hot chocolate. It was all good, the pastries especially so. M. said it might have been the best pain au chocolat she’s ever had, and my almond croissant was nutty and rich and delicious.

Monkey enjoying an almond croissant
Breakfast at Boulangerie Blanc

After this relatively simple breakfast, we returned to our hotel briefly to freshen up and collect my camera gear for some walking around Nice. We crossed over to the beach to have a look at that first, with the morning sun making the scene very picturesque. There were a couple of people in the water, with one old man lying on the pebbles at the surf line and letting the waves wash over him. A group of other men were nearby, peeling off clothes to reveal swimming gear.

Read more: Climbing the hill to the Castle of Nice, the old cemetery, flea market, a relaxing afternoon in a cafe, sunset along the beach, and dinner in the best restaurant in Nice!

Doing commercial research

Tuesday, 9 May, 2017

I do scientific research in my job, but I don’t work in academia. I work for a company, and my research goes into commercial products. If I was in academia, I’d be publishing my work and presenting it at conferences all the time. Working for a company, things are rather different.

I have just finished (yesterday) writing a presentation that I hope to give at the Electronic imaging 2018 conference in San Francisco, in February 2018. If accepted by the conference, this will be my first conference presentation since 2014. The deadline for submission of my presentation is 15 August, so I’ve completed it more than 3 months in advance. And I haven’t just completed the slides; I’ve also written a talk script, which will be almost word for word what I say during the presentation. And in the time between now and February next year, I won’t be able to change either the slides or the talk script.

The reason for this is that my talk has to go through the company intellectual property and legal department, to make sure that I am not disclosing anything which is a corporate secret. Besides writing my slides and script, I also had to highlight everything in my talk that was about scientific or technological knowhow from my research, and cross-reference it to published patents that I have written. This is to make sure that I don’t disclose anything that the company hasn’t protected in a patent application. Note that this is published patents. The patent office publishes patent applications 18 months after the filing date. So there could be some technology for which we filed a patent a year ago… and I wouldn’t be allowed to talk about it.

The process of vetting and approval by the IP and legal department takes up to 10 weeks. Thus the need for me to finalise my talk nearly 3 months before the conference submission deadline. Assuming my talk passes the IP/legal checks to make sure I’m not disclosing anything we haven’t got protected by a published patent, the company then still has to decide if it wants to let me talk about my work, or if it would simply rather keep it a secret. (At least, as secret as it can be if it appears in a published patent. It makes no sense to me, but yes, sometimes they quite specifically do not want you to talk about work that is disclosed in a published patent application.) This is the gamble phase – it’s impossible to know if the company will approve or reject the application to publish at this stage. So the only way to find out is to go to all the effort of writing your publication and putting it through this process. I could very well have wasted the past two weeks at work writing my complete, finished talk, hoping to present it, and be shot down at this stage. The same would go for a journal paper.

Speaking of journal papers, I am going through this long process for the first time in four years because Electronic Imaging has started accepting “oral presentation only” papers. These are delivered as talks at the conference, but do not appear as printed papers in the conference proceedings. They did this specifically to allow industry researchers such as myself to give talks. Because if I had to submit a written version of my work to go into the conference proceedings (as I did 4 years ago), it has to go through the same external disclosure approval process as the talk slides and script. This makes it much more difficult to publish, because as a printed paper it goes through anonymous peer review. And peer reviewers often request small additions or clarifications to the paper before they agree it is suitable for publication. That can be the kiss of death for my paper, because (a) I often don’t have additional time to devote to revising a paper, particularly if they ask for additional experimental results, and (b) the referee’s request may involve needing to disclose further potentially secret information. I have managed to pull all of this off before, but after the difficulty I had in 2014 getting my previous paper through, I had all but given up, until Electronic Imaging instituted the “oral presentation only” papers.

Anyway, assuming all of the IP/legal and corporate secrecy checks are passed and the company is okay with me disclosing the aspects of my research in my talk script, I can submit it to the conference! And if it’s approved, I can give the talk next February.

As I mentioned, I’m not allowed to change the content of my talk between now and then. If I do more research which improves on the results I plan to talk about, or which solves one or more of the outstanding problems before February, I won’t be allowed to mention it. If I’ve already done work now which improves on the results in my talk, but which I couldn’t include because it’s covered by a patent that has been filed but will not be published by the conference submission deadline, I’m not allowed to talk about that either.

This was in fact the situation for my last talk in 2014. I presented some work, and at the end I mentioned the elephant in the room: the most obvious problem with the results. I had already solved that problem and filed a patent describing the technique. It’s a beautiful piece of science and I am incredibly proud of it – it is I think the best piece of science I’ve done at this job. But the patent was not published by the time that talk had to be submitted to the conference (in mid 2013), so I had to leave it out. And then during the talk I had to raise this very obvious problem as an “unsolved problem”, and stay mum about the fact that I had already solved it over a year earlier. And hope that nobody in the audience pointed out the same solution during question time after my talk! (They didn’t – thankfully it’s not an obvious solution. It took me a lot of effort to come up with it, prove it worked, and solve the secondary problems it raised.)

Anyway, if my current application for the talk next year, in 2018, is approved by my company, I will finally be able to talk about the solution to that problem to an audience of fellow researchers. A solution I came up with in 2012.

I’m not sure I could survive in academia with its “publish or perish” mindset. I don’t have the workaholic temperament necessary to do well there. I’m happier in my corporate research job. But this approach to publication and dissemination of my work is incredibly frustrating. I have good work that I’m proud of and want to share with fellow experts in my field, and I want to establish a reputation as a quality researcher, but I have to jump through these multifarious hoops to do it.

So, if you’ve read this, I hope it provides some insight into the life and publication trials of a corporate research scientist.

Europe 2016 diary: day 12

Sunday, 7 May, 2017

Wednesday, 9 November, 2016. 14:22

We woke up around 07:00, after I had a better sleep, which was nice. We cleaned up and went for breakfast in the hotel restaurant again. I had muesli topped with fresh fruit and some dried figs, with yoghurt. I didn’t feel like anything else, so had two of the small bowls of this. M. ate some slices of bread with Nutella before getting some cereal with milk. She also asked for a cappuccino made upstairs at the bar, rather than getting one from the push button coffee machine in the buffet, since the one she’d had from there yesterday wasn’t very good, and the bar made them better. She also made me a pot of tea from the selection, seeing that they had a peppermint and liquorice blend. It tasted pepperminty but the liquorice was very subtle.

After eating, we went to pack all our things and check out of the room. I handed back the ticket for our car, and the receptionist gave me the car key, a parking garage exit ticket, and a note on which was written the parking spot. She said the car was in the garage under the same block as the hotel and how to find the lift to get down there from the street outside. We wheeled our bags out, but had to climb two steps to the lift before descending down four levels to the bottom of the car park, where we found the car. We packed it carefully, then set up our route to Nice on Google Maps so we could navigate our way safely out of Monaco and to the rental car drop off spot in Nice.

The Rich Spot and the Sea
Goodbye to Monaco

We pulled out of the garage, turned onto Avenue Princesse Charlotte, and promptly ended up taking a wrong fork somewhere that saw us descending a hill on a sinuous road that diverged from the Google route, which headed up the hill. There was nowhere to turn around or even stop to check the map, but by taking brief glances at red lights to help M. we managed to determine that we could get onto a parallel road that eventually merged with the route we wanted to take. I followed some signs to Cap d’Ail, which I recognised as a small cape on the coast between Monaco and Nice, and that turned out to be the correct road to get us back on track. We rejoined the blue line route and managed to stay on it the rest of the way.

Read more: Arriving in Nice, walking through the Marché aux Fleurs, and Vieux Nice, and the central shopping areas, and along the beach, followed by a huge dinner