Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The state of my new year's resolutions: one month review

Methods and Discussion:

Resolution (1) : To stop biting my nails.
Result? Not a nibble. Yay for me! (Although I still have to coat them with enough nail-polish every day to make them taste terrible if I absent-mindedly try.)

Resolution (2): To get up at 7am every weekday.
Result? Mostly success (3 days missed).

Resolution (3): To do my Greek translations (for a Homeric reading group I go to) regularly throughout the fortnight preceding each meeting, rather than in a frantic rush the night before.
Result? Complete and utter failure. (Although last time I didn't do it the night before -- I did it ON THE MORNING of the meeting instead. Crap.)

Resolution (4): To spend the extra hour I have in the mornings working on The Novel (see, it looms) and studying Egyptian (on alternate days).
Result? Partial success. For two weeks, this worked excellently. Right up until, um... let me see... the day I started this blog. I think I am going to have to ban myself from blogging (and blog-surfing) in the mornings.

Resolution (5): To spend one afternoon each weekend trying to finish some of the four programming projects I am in the middle of (and have been in the middle of for about three years now).
Result? Not a sausage.

The morning novel-writing and Egyptian-learning is do-able. But I need to be vigilant about not blogging.

The Greek doesn't matter all that much. There's something exhilarating about tackling that much Homer in one sitting.

It's the programming that's the real issue. If I want to be honest with myself, I have to admit that my weekends are a write-off. I use them to blob (= blog?) and that isn't such a bad thing. So if I am not going to be able to work on those computer programs every Saturday afternoon, but still do want to get the programs finished, then when?

I try not to let myself get started on them on week nights, since I am completely unable to stop once I begin, and this leads to late-night programming sessions, crawling into bed with scratchy eyes at 4am, and lines of code dancing in front of my eyelids the rest of the night.

I think maybe I should admit I have an addictive personality and try to work on stopping doing fun things while they are still fun. That is really at the root of all my broken resolutions. I gave up on the novel-writing and Egyptian learning after I had a big writing binge one morning and decided that "counted" for the rest of the week. Then I spent an entire weekend immersed in Egyptian, and didn't feel like doing any more when it came to Tuesday morning. And the blogging (which I was allowing myself 15 minutes of before starting the real work each morning) gradually expanded to take up the full 1 hour 15.

I need me some stopping will-power, I do. But where to find some? (I missed the January sales this year).

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A rosella (hopefully) learns the perils of sunbathing on a busy cycle path

 Posted by Picasa

Monday, January 30, 2006

The Tutor and the Beast: Part Four

In which I show up all my insecurities and ScaryLecturer doesn't come off as badly as I feel he ought to.

(Reading the first three posts in this on-going saga is not entirely necessary to understand this one, but just in case, they are here, here and here.)

As far as I can tell, tutors in our department score a free copy of the textbook (which is kind of what you would expect in most jobs, but in the buy-your-own-pens-and-no-phone-calls-to-mobiles-from-the-office land of academia these "perks" are not always guaranteed.) Last year, however, I was handed a sparkly new copy -- the first new textbook I have ever owned, in fact -- along with the syllabus and other course-related info, and I penciled notes in it, filled it with post-its, and generally made it my own. No one ever asked for it back and I'm not sure there's any reason why they would want to.

Well, today I braved ScaryLecturer's den to find out whether he plans to use the same textbook this year. And the answer is yes-ish. A new edition. So he hands me a copy and asks me to compare it with my old one to see how extensive the differences are. Because I just can't shake my deep-seated desire to be Supertutor and make everybody like me, I spend the next hour meticulously comparing the two versions and making notes on the places where they differ. After all, we'll all need to be aware of page-numbering issues, and if the examples aren't the same, it's best to be forewarned before the students start whinging. And there's a whole new section in chapter five, which, you know, we could photocopy for the students with the older versions, and and and...

After just over an hour, I return to ScaryLecturer's office, carrying both textbooks and the notes I have made. I clear my throat.

"Ahem. I had a look at the textbooks, ScaryLecturer, and I think you'll find that they're rather different. For example -"
"Fine. I'll tell the students they can't use second-hand copies, then. Thank you."

ScaryLecturer then walks over to me and takes both copies of the text (mine and the new one). Then he obviously has second thoughts, hands me the new one back, and says, "You'll need this." The old edition -- my copy -- goes onto his bookshelf, and ScaryLecturer goes back to his desk, turns his back, and takes up his work.

I clear my throat again, briefly, but when he doesn't look around, I realise I don't even know what I would say. I don't even know for sure whether the textbook technically counts as mine. Maybe he put it on his shelf absent-mindedly, or maybe he's following some sort of policy. If it were anyone but him, I could probably bring myself to ask. But why should I really care, anyway? I've exchanged a free outdated edition for a free new one.

So how come I feel like he's stolen my book? (The bastard!)

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To whoever came up with this smart(arse) idea:
I don't know what you were thinking or how drunk you were. But I have my suspicions. And it's just not funny.

Seeing this from a distance, I had one of those moments where your stomach lurches just about through the top of your head. And suddenly realised I've never got around to finding out the emergency number for this country. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Another gratuitous cockatoo photo

Like last week's, this is brought to you courtesy of the view from my balcony.
Posted by Picasa

Sunday afternoon café experimentation

After reading the discussion on productive writing strategies over at Bitch PhD a while ago, I decided to try out an approach that lots of people have suggested: the lurk-in-a-café-until-I-get-something-done strategy.

So this afternoon I packed my laptop and a few indispensable reference sources and headed into Starbucks to see what I could get written. And then, y'know, because I'm so thoughtful and all, I thought I'd report back my experience for my multitude of reader (that's you, Axis of Peter).


  1. Conveniently close to home, and free parking on Sundays
  2. Endless supplies of yummy drinks (if I had endless supplies of money and endless bladder capacity -- see point #3 under "cons")
  3. No internet distractions. Not at the prices they charge for access.
  4. Free cake samples!
  5. They didn't kick me out or glare even a little bit, despite the fact I sat there for four hours nursing one cup of coffee

  1. Loud, distracting music. I'm one of those people who work best to the melodious strains of silence.
  2. No air conditioning. But then my office doesn't have any either.
  3. No working toilet. This at least limited the damage done to my wallet -- no way was I having more than one coffee without a loo in reach.
  4. I kept getting distracted by all the rows of pretty cakes

In summary, it greatly increased my Sunday afternoon productivity (from none at all to completing a thesis section). I think it's worth developing into a habit, and maybe on the weekends when I'm not feeling pressured to work on the thesis, my attempts at novelling (and/or myriad unfinished computer programs) could benefit from the same approach.

So yay for that.

Some thoughts on exams and plagiarism

The Little Professor raised a couple of interesting questions about plagiarism today. In particular, her point #2 has some fascinating implications. She notes:

[w]e often expect students to regurgitate information on exams (most frequently, in short identifications), whereas we just as often expect them to think original thoughts in their papers

There are, however, a few fundamental differences between exams and essays that I think are relevant here.

The first difference is in what we are trying to measure. Presumably, the reason that many course conveners choose to use both exams and papers as assessment is that these are designed to measure different things. On the one hand, I want to test my students' ability to think independently and originally, and an essay is a good format for this, as coming up with original ideas and arguments requires time and access to other theoretical works so that the student can see how their ideas fit into the "conversation" that already exists about the concept in question.

On the other hand, I want to test how well the student has grasped the concepts and ideas that I have presented them with during the course. Obviously a student who regurgitates them word for word may not have understood them at all, but most students at least rephrase ideas from the lecture when they use them in an exam.

If the ability to apply skills (that may have been gained during the course but might equally well have been present beforehand) is considered a more important measure of success, then the essay(s) should be be given a higher weighting than the exam. But in this case, students who are naturally or as the result of previous studies more skilled at interpretation, problem-solving and/or criticism (depending on the discipline) will do well whether or not they have attended any of the lectures, which calls into question the point of the course. Perhaps that is why so many professors like to rely heavily on the "regurgitate my ideas" style of exam. At least then they can feel they have been instrumental in the top students' success.

Another major difference between exams and essays is that unless texts (primary and secondary) are allowed into the exam room, we do not usually expect students to reference anything as precisely in an exam as they do in an essay. That is simply the limitation of the genre, and students surely recognise that an exam answer does not equal a publishable paper.

This leads on to the final difference between exams and essays that I think is relevant here. Students who continue on to postgraduate work or life in academia will not, beyond a certain point, have to continue producing exam answers, while they will have to continue writing papers (for ever and ever, amen). Therefore it is not crucial that they learn appropriate conventions for exam answers (which is perhaps why there really aren't any), while it is essential that they learn not to plagiarize in essays. A student who plagiarizes heavily and regurgitates the professor's own ideas in exams will not necessarily continue to do this as a researcher. They may have understood the exam form as a genre in which this behaviour is acceptable, but are not likely to transfer this approach to a paper, simply because they don't see the two types of work as having anything in common.

Presumably this is one of the reasons why we, as teachers, come down so hard on essay plagiarizers and not exam plagiarizers: we instinctively feel that the former are likely, if unchecked, to continue on to a career based on idea theft, while the latter will not.

One problem, I suppose, is particular to disciplines where there is a fuzzy border between exams and essays, i.e. where exams are always in the form of an essay question. Then students may be fooled into believing that what is acceptable in these "three-hour-essays" is also appropriate for real pieces of work. In these cases, I think that the course convener should seriously consider (a) their reasons for giving an exam at all and (b) how clearly they have spelled out to the students what referencing conventions are expected in the exam, and if they are different, why.

A final danger in any discipline is that the ideas a student first hears as an undergraduate are often taken as gospel truth and end up buried deep among the concepts and facts that the student's rest of the knowledge of their field is built on. The student can easily come to believe that these ideas, when they accidentally access them in later years, are either their own, or part of a core foundation of the discipline that everyone takes for granted, and therefore do not need referencing. If the ideas were ultimately those of the student's undergraduate lecturer (whether published or not), then this is plagiarism, pure and simple.

The solution to this problem, in my opinion, does not lie in preventing students from regurgitating the lecturer's ideas in an exam, but in teaching them to recognise how many competing ideas there are on every topic in a field, and that nothing is unchallengable. Students need to learn to be deeply suspicious of any concept that appears to be an underlying tenet of the discipline and, in every such case, to find out (1) who proposed it, (2) why they proposed it, (3) who has challenged it, (4) why it has/hasn't been challenged, and (5) why the majority of researchers now accept it (if indeed they do). I believe that teaching undergraduate students to see their field like this is the greatest service we can do them.

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Saturday, January 28, 2006

Smash! Crash! Drip! (The noises made by a StyleyGeek when cooking)

I just broke all but one of our glass and pyrex bowls. They were stacked neatly inside each other in the cupboard and I managed to accidentally knock down the whole damn lot. Onto my foot. Whereupon they shattered into tiny spiky pieces (all, that is, except the one that's so ridiculously small we never use it, of course), leaving me standing in a sea of glass shards and blood.*

And now I have eight neatly sticking-plastered cuts on my feet. And we need to buy a whole lot more glassware.

*It's amazing how much blood comes gushing out of small cuts on a hot day.

Proof of my incipient geekdom

Geekman: "Sometimes you say things that make me realise there's a deeply avaricious side to your personality." [Pause] "But don't get me wrong, I think it's a good thing."

Me: "Because it means I might end up making you lots of money?"

G: "I was trying to think of a slightly less crass way to put that, but yeah."

Me: "I don't want money so that I can buy lots of stuff, though. I just want to *have* it."

G: "I think that probably means you play too many RPG games. And now you see the world as endless occasions for gathering gold and loot."

Friday, January 27, 2006

We try not to poison our students

This little redback was colonising the steps of our department today. Unfortunately the Powers That Be decided she was an unwelcome accessory, especially given the numbers of bare-footed students that will soon be roaming the campus. She was shown the boot (literally) by the HOD.

(So do poisonous animals get to go to heaven, or are they automatically disqualified?) Posted by Picasa

Why I haven't got anything done yet this morning

This game is very addictive. And if you have any tendency at all towards obsessive compulsive disorder, you shouldn't go anywhere near it. It's like tidying. But even more fun!

Two hints, though:
(1) choose the large window option -- you'll need it once you get past level eight.
(2) if you find it seems a bit repetitive after a few levels, try the shuffle button on the right.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Happy(?) Australia Day

I'm all for holidays, but Australia Day makes me uncomfortable.

Greeting cards, BBQs, fireworks, self-congratulation.

It's so... patriotic. I'm not sure whether my aversion to that concept comes from too many years of living in Germany (where patriotism -- or even admitting to liking your country = nationalism = Nazi ideology), or whether it's my New Zealand heritage telling me the only thing it's okay to take national pride in is rugby.

I actually heard an Australian yesterday (in a prepared speech, no less) refer to the arrival of Captain Cook as "setting this lucky country on the path to its modern glory." I guess he just conveniently forgot about how that arrival also set the country on the path to massacres, dispossession, a stolen generation, and the loss of hundreds of languages and cultures. Oh yeah, and the hardships of convict life. And bankrupt farmers who were deceived into thinking this land would accept cool-climate, rain-thirsty crops.

I know that every country has its problems and its black spots in history. I too would prefer not to look too closely at what my ancestors got up to. New Zealand is far from perfect on its race relations record.

But take, for example, our most militant Maori activists. What do they do? Terrorist attacks? Violent protests?
No. They take the government to court.
Because we have a country in which they can.

And I believe that the reason why we have a country in which they can is because there is public awareness of the wrongs that have been done. There is widespread acceptance for the fact that these wrongs need to be redressed. And every year on February 6th , we hold our national day, lest we forget.

If I think that Australia Day is overly patriotic, the NZ equivalent, Waitangi day, probably goes too far in the opposite direction. It is (by an accident of history) aptly named: Waitangi is a place name, but literally means the waters of sorrow. It is a day where the Pakeha* get to indulge in an orgy of guilt and regret, instead of the mild niggling feeling we have during the rest of the year. It is a day of Maori protest and Pakeha shame, and it is entirely appropriate to have a day set aside for this. But it would be better for us all to balance it by also having a day for celebrating the good things about New Zealand and the progress we have made as a multi-cultural society.

And I would feel happier if Australia's "Sorry Day" (yes, they do have one), were, like Australia Day, an official public holiday; if people knew the date of it; and if it served to mark regret for not only the stolen generation, but for the other wrongs done to the Aboriginal peoples of Australia as well.

Deep down I suspect that focusing only on the evil done in a country's history, while one-sided, is a sign that the country is further along the road to being a healthier society than one that focuses only on the good. But then again, maybe it's just that I would like to think of my country as better than its neighbours. Which, hey! is exactly the sort of patriotism I despise. So I'm going to whisper this final sentence very quietly: Could it be that what makes me uncomfortable about Australia Day is that it speaks to nationalistic feelings I try to pretend I don't have?

So, um, happy Australia Day, mate.

* Pakeha = white fella(s).

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

In which one of us struggles with the concept of "personality"

Having lunch with Geekman after he's spent a morning working on an equation that doesn't give him the answers he expects. Both of us have been seeing this sort of thing all over the place lately, so Geekman asks what a "borderline personality" is. "Is it like when you borderline don't have one?"

I admitted I had had to ask someone too when I saw it first the other day. They told me it was when you tend to flip from one extreme to the other in the way you feel about people and things -- i.e. putting them on a pedestal one minute, and following some small trigger event, suddenly seeing them as hell-demon spawn.*

Geekman thinks about this for a minute, then:

"I think I've got a borderline personality. One minute I was thinking that the problem with my equation was that I'd left out 2π, the next I was convinced it was √2π."

* I have no idea whether that definition is correct or not, though.

Our friend the black-belt comes to visit

I knew kung fu masters were trained in board breaking, but I never guessed our kitchen equipment would be in danger. He claims he was just slicing some cheese. Posted by Picasa

Tae Kwon Do last night

References to trucks: 5
Discussions about cars: 3
Blow-by-blow descriptions of lame TV shows: 4
Hilarious tales of people getting killed or maimed: 2

New Zealander jokes: 2
Other casual racist remarks: 2
Casual sexist remarks: 3

Minutes spent doing warm-up stretches: 35
Minutes spent doing cool-down stretches: 20
Minutes spent standing around while instructor tries to plan a lesson on the spot: 6
Minutes spent standing around while instructor describes the fish he saw when he went diving last week: 7
Minutes spent actually doing Tae Kwon Do: 22

Feeling after telling the instructor you're quitting?

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Blogging as the academic sand-pit
(or "where's my ivory tower?")

It struck me today, reading this post by ShrinkyKitten*† -- and later seeing my supervisor dance around waving a newly published book, chanting "they cited me, they cited me, they cited me" -- that there may well be some deep, dark reasons why young academics in particular are drawn to blogging.

Hungrily devouring the ideas written about by a network of people throughout the world with whom one may have little or no personal contact, we search for the perfect combination of a "hot" topic and one that piques our own (research) interests. In our own subsequent piece we are careful to mention and reference the ideas of our peers, but try to come up with an original (maybe even quirky) spin on the topic. After the piece is published, we try to curb our natural instincts to contact everyone we know, asking "Did you see it? What did you think? Did you like it?" Subtle mentions of the piece in the appropriate forums are expected, on the other hand. If we are lucky, our work then becomes part of the conversation taking place throughout the aforementioned network -- reviewed, debated, reformulated. If not, the work is not necessarily lost, only archived. There's always the chance that when the topic becomes hot again (ten months or ten years later), someone will miraculously come across our piece on it and we'll be dancing round the room chanting, "they love me, they love me, they love me."

Is this a description of blogging or academia? And why are the borders between the two so fuzzy? Is it simply because the digital world is seeping into the ivory tower and academic publications -- thanks to speedier (even electronic) publishing and distribution -- have become searchable data and a vibrant forum for dialogue?

In my more paranoid moments, an alternative explanation seems to me to be just as plausible: as young, impressionable apprentices in the academic world, we are like children who use playdough to imitate their parents baking cakes. Instead of taking these new media and creating with them new ways to act and think, could it be that most of what we do with them is no more than the result of programming our environment imposes on us unawares?

I would like to think this is not the case, of course. I would like to think our (okay, my) obsession with site rankings, traffic meters, and links are not the juvenile form of the disease known as "citation index obsession". I would like to convince myself that I don't ever post comments on other people's blogs in the hope they will come and check out mine, just as I don't ask questions at conferences just to make the smart people notice me, and I would never dream of reviewing other people's journal articles just so I can return them with references to my own work that I think they should look at.

No, now I come to think of it, blogging behaviour and academic neuroses have no connection whatsoever. Really.
*Not that I mean to implicate ShrinkyKitten in any of what follows. She just reminded me of some of these ideas I'd had.

† Hmmm. Footnoting my blog. I suspect that I myself am the best evidence for what I suggest in the following. Of course, that could mean that this only applies to me, in which case I have my head up my own arse, and you should all feel free to disregard the rest of this post.

Seen at the uni bookshop today

David M. Bader's Haiku U, in which great works of literature are pilloried mercilessly in haiku form. I'm so going to buy it as soon as I have the money.

A couple of my favourites:

Louisa May Alcott, Little Women

Snow-drops hang like tears.
Shy, sweet, saintly Beth has died.
One down, three to go


Hrothgar's hall, haunted
Dauntless Danes die, Grendel-gored.
Why not hrelocate?

Monday, January 23, 2006

Supersize me -- the Australian way

It's 8pm and still 34°C (93 F) and though there are more than a few things I would change about this country, the heat has got to be near the top of the list. No wait, that's the rant I'm saving up for Australia Day.

This is going to be a ramble, because I am drunk and not obeying my private laws that say not to blog while. Drunk. Yes.

Tried to go climbing with our little PhD student climbing clique, but the people who had to be there weren't there and no one wanted our money (for the climbing wall fees) and it all got complicated, and you'd think that someone might have wanted to take some money seeing as we were waving it round and all but no.

So we went and strawberry daiquiried at the uni bar instead. Drinking is almost the same as exercising, after all. And then because the ice melted so fast in this heat we had to drink fast which means more ordering which means rum-and-coke (which you have to order as a "Bundy" in this country because they like to be different and confuse me).

I waited for the bartender to ask me if I wanted a single or a double.
"Do you want that in a schooner*?"he said.

They do things differently in this country. Maybe I like it here after all.

* A schooner = nearly a pint -- see here for further clarification. And obviously yes, I did.

Geekman demonstrates his scrabble-winning vocabulary

"By the way, your mother emailed and said she used the present we gave her to buy some protea."
"Do we even know what that is?"
"Isn't it a type of antelope?"
"Since we gave her a garden shop voucher, I'm guessing it's something for the garden."
"Maybe it is an antelope. That would keep the weeds down."

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Pseudo-pseudonymanonymity and academic etiquette

One of the big debates I had with myself when starting this blog was whether to be anonymous or not. On the one hand, I don't really want to feel like a future potential employer is looking over my shoulder every time I post something. On the other, I'm not planning to write anything I'd be ashamed to own, and the hard work involved in successful identity concealment really doesn't appeal to someone suffering from my degree of lazy-arse syndrome.

In the end I decided to go with what I think of as pseudo-anonymity (catchy, huh?). My main concern is that potential employers can't google my name and come up with this blog. So I'm going to avoid posting my name, the name of my university, or the name of this city. I am not at all concerned, however, with whether readers of this blog (if I have any) are able to find out my name, university or city. For one thing, successfully hiding them would mean not blogging about linguistics, anything to do with the climate, layout or well-known features of this town, or things like my marital status, interests, etc. For another thing, the worst that could happen is that someone reading this might "out" me to people at uni. And right now all the people I work with are cool enough that they wouldn't give a rat's arse. Even if I use phrases like "rat's arse". (Regularly.)

So while I'm not going out of my way to tell all my friends and family about this blog, I don't much care if they find it.

Which brings me to etiquette.

Having deliberately taken this "I don't care if they find me" stance, I can't assume that people I write about won't read this blog. If they know me well enough to recognise who I am when reading my posts, they will probably recognise themselves too. So I'm not planning on blogging anything nasty about my friends and close acquaintances. Unless they really piss me off, of course. I reserve that right.

But what about students and colleagues I don't know well? Colleagues don't concern me so much. First up, all the people I work with right now are pretty laid back. ScaryLecturer might be a little slacked off if he found I'd been blogging about his rude behaviour (here, here and here), but then again, it might be a good wake-up call to him, and he's not exactly so centrally involved in my field that it would damage my career even if I did alienate him completely. What concerns me more -- perhaps because of the potential for abuse of power and betrayal of trust -- are the issues involved in blogging about students.

Some acadabloggers seem happy to post dumb or irritating things their students have said or done. I feel a little uncomfortable about that. But then on the other hand, if we weren't intended to blog about them, God wouldn't have given us students that are so damn funny. And it's not high-minded moral scruples making me think I shouldn't post about students, because nothing has stopped me in the past from making them the subject of a good laugh down at the pub or sending out exam bloopers to my friends via email. So obviously deep down I'm more concerned about students coming across things on my blog and being hurt (and/or going to tell on me to the HOD) when they recognise themselves.

So I'm thinking that I might go with a policy based on the following tenets:

  • Not posting anything negative about individual students, but only collective moans (e.g. "why don't students talk more in class?", "why are they always late with their work?", etc are okay, but "why does the guy who falls asleep during every class think it's okay to hand his work in three days late?" is not.)
  • Not ever posting verbatim from exams, essays or emails.
  • If I post about topics I am teaching, not posting anything about the students from that course during the same semester. (This is to avoid students finding my site by googling key words to do with the topic they are studying, and then being able to read all about what I think of them (even collectively) while we are still caught up in the Gordian knot of power-trust-responsibility that constitutes a student-teacher relationship.)
I'm still a little ambivalent about whether or not it's okay to post good things about individual students (obviously unnamed). On the one hand, I can't see how it could hurt. On the other, talking about them behind their back to the entire internet seems a bit close to abuse of power.

I'd love to hear any other perspectives people have on these issues.

Physicist parties are a barrel of laughs

"What's the contour integral of Western Europe?"
"I don't know. What?"
"Zero. All the Poles are in the East."

Cue hysterical laughter all round.

See what I have to put up with?

More random Australian wildlife

I just got back from a party that was seething with cackling middle-aged Australian women who look like they've been left on the barbeque too long -- the sort who wear red cocktail dresses and sip margaritas and when they hear what you do they say, "Linguistics, darl? Oh that must be nice. Yes, follow your dreams while you're young. I always wanted to do something like that. Teach English in China or something. But then I got into insurance and met Darryn and we had the kids... well, you know how it is."

And now it's midnight and still 24°C and finally nearly cool enough to sleep. And hundreds of beetles are falling from the ceiling into the stairwell. What they are doing in the ceiling in the first place is anyone's guess.

So a slightly surreal evening all round, really. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Of weight-lifting, cabbages and kings

Since I've described my blog in a couple of places as posting on linguistics, physics, life as a roving academic, PhD thesis-writing frustrations, weight-lifting, computer programming and random Australian wildlife, I should probably try and live up to my promises.

I've managed the random Australian wildlife bit quite nicely so far (here and here), and I guess the post on health insurance hassles is a start on the life-as-a-roving-academic topic. As for PhD thesis frustrations, I guess you could count this as a reference, at least. Academia in general is covered a little in the posts I've written so far on tutoring (parts one, two and three). No doubt there will be plenty more to come once semester begins in February. (Which reminds me that I've been planning a post on pseudonymanomynity and whether or not it justifies posting rude comments about your students, but I'll come back to that in a longer post tomorrow.)

The topics that I haven't covered at all yet are linguistics, physics, weight-lifting and computer-programming. So let's make this a weight-lifting post, and you can tune in for the other exciting topics as they arise, which they no doubt will.

So, weight-lifting. Yes, chicks do do it. And some of us don't use fluffy pink weights and wear cutesy lycra outfits. Some of us actually want to be big and strong. But stumptuous does a much better rant along these lines than I ever could, so I'll refer you to her for that.

In short, I gymed more thoroughly today than I have in weeks (blame Christmas), and while no personal bests were achieved, I made a few cheering discoveries:

  • I can still do two pull-ups (without the leg-flailing cheating method I used to use);
  • I can manage 35 kg on the incline bench (I don't usually incline bench anything at all, so that was quite exciting);
  • If I cycle my heart out for 10 minutes beforehand, my legs are warm and flexible enough to manage three sets of ten on my current squat weight (50kg -- sadly down from 70 due to a knee injury), instead of 10, 9, 8 as I've been doing for the last few weeks.
  • 36 degrees and no air-conditioning is not conducive to keeping a pretty hairstyle during an intense gym workout. But lifting heavy weights is more fun than looking pretty.
So yay for me!

Should I be worried?

"Are you blogging AGAIN?" asked Geekman as he walked past a minute ago. "It's taking over your life." Then I heard him in the kitchen murmuring, "Taking over your life-icle. Taking over my wife-icle."

The Tutor and the Beast: Part Three

Read part one and two first.

ScaryLecturer sticks his head around my office door, once again interrupting a conversation I was having with someone else, and says, "I expect all my tutors to give a lecture during the course. It should be something to do with your thesis."

As he starts to close the door, I hear him muttering, "... if you can think of something sensible to say."



Friday, January 20, 2006

Questions I would ask my readership, if I had one

(1) Is green on a potato a sign that the whole thing has gone poisonous, or only the green bit? I.e. if I cut off the green, is the rest okay to eat? Or is the whole green potato = poisonous just an urban myth? (Guess I'll find out after dinner.)

(2) Does my bum look big in this?

Thursday, January 19, 2006

A great big middle-finger-salute to everyone who has "helped" us with health insurance the last two years

The seemingly interminable saga of Geekman trying to get health insurance finally ends today (with any luck). After a year and a half of NO ONE being able to tell us whether or not Geekman is covered under Medicare agreements with Sweden or New Zealand, followed by half a year of everyone being adamant he wasn't covered by either, followed by a law change that meant we were no longer eligible for student-priced health cover (which they had inaccurately been telling us we were ineligible for anyway), we finally decided to bite the bullet and pay the damn multi-thousand-dollar per year "temporary visitors' cover", which seemed to be the only option left to us.

So we fill out the forms and within twenty-four hours, a friend locates and sends to us the exact wording on the agreement between NZ and Australia (something that no government official I have come across has been able to find). It states that it applies to any NZ resident
temporarily in the territory of Australia who has "a current NZ passport OR any other current passport or current certificate of identity endorsed to the effect that the holder is entitled to reside in New Zealand indefinitely".

Which means that either everyone at Medicare and the New Zealand Embassy has been lying to us for the last two years, or they are all extremely incompetent. Any bets?

The Tutor and the Beast: Part Two

Read part one first.

That warning out of the way, here's the sequel.

I'm starting to wonder when I should get around to asking ScaryLecturer for more details about the tutoring gig (which means I know I should be asking him, but am putting it off as long as I dare). Then I got talking to the HOD, who's dropped by my office to show me his holiday photos -- see, everyone else likes me -- when ScaryLecturer sticks his head in the door and, without waiting for a break in the conversation, interrupts with "How many tutes you want?"
"How many do you have?" I ask in an attempt at light hearted banter.
"I don't think you should do more than three," he replies.

So why did he even ask?

Admittedly we had a good chat later in the day when I bearded him in his den (aka office) and demanded a bit more information (timetable, syllabus, textbook). But then it all got even weirder.

More to come. I promise.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Stingy-the-Geek plays Scrabble.

Played Geekman at Scrabble tonight. As usual, he won. 346 to 232. Usually I get at least within a hundred points of him. Dammit.

The Scrabble board is homemade. We played so much scrabble at his parents' place over Christmas that we decided we needed a board of our own. But looking in the shops, we couldn't find a set for under $50. So we made it a Saturday project -- the board is made of extra stiff card, painted and laminated; the tiles are made of modelling clay and drawn on with vivid. Haven't found a good way of making the letter holders yet -- currently they are cardboard, but keep falling apart. But I made a cute draw-string bag to keep the letters in.

I was telling my mother about how much fun it was to make the set, but I don't think she really got it. "I don't think I've ever met anyone so stingy they make their own boardgames," she told me, aghast. Well, in my day we make our own fun. But try telling that to a baby boomer. Posted by Picasa

I really love...

...the smell of thirty dinners cooking when I'm standing outside our apartment in the evening. It always makes me fantasize about which one of them is mine.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

The Tutor and the Beast. Part one of an exciting, semester-long adventure.

The only guy in our dept who I think actively dislikes me is the one convening the course I want to tutor for this year. To be fair, I think he is one of those people who actively dislikes everyone as a default setting until he gets to know them. But it's awkward when you greet him in the corridor and he doesn't reply but just looks peeved, or you ask him questions and he addresses his replies to the other person you are standing with.

But I really loved tutoring last year so much that I decided to give it my best shot. Also, I could do with the cash. Even more also, he didn't exactly seem to be inundated with volunteers, so I guessed I had a chance. So when the HOD mentioned to me that ScaryLecturer was looking for tutors, I asked him to pass on my name.

Next thing I know, ScaryLecturer sticks his head around my office door and barks, "Tutoring! This semester. Yes/no?"
"Uh, yes please," I reply. And without another word, he leaves. And I'm sat there pondering on what great fun this semester's going to turn out to be.

Next installment in this fascinating saga tomorrow.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

From my balcony this morning

Continuing yesterday's wildlife theme, we get a lot of cockatoos around our place. This morning in particular, they were in fly-by squawking mode. Cockatoos have the most rawkous, unpleasant shriek of any bird on this planet and they are not conducive to Sunday morning sleep-ins.

The first day we arrived in Australia, we set out from our hotel room to walk the short distance to campus. It was early April and still over 30 degrees. The previous day we had been in Denmark where the snow had not yet melted. Half way to uni, we looked around at the miles of dead brown grass, dusty paths and complete lack of people and wondered what planet we had landed on. (We also vowed never to leave our house again without carrying a couple of litres of water).

Then to add to the alien planet theme, we suddenly heard a noise like nothing on earth. Turning my head, I saw that it was coming from a cockatoo perched on someone's balcony railing. It fluttered over to a tree in the garden to take a closer look at us (they have no sense of self preservation, these birds). Geekman and I stood and stared. We were just discussing whether we should call the SPCA, because obviously someone's prize parrot had gotten loose, when a woman came walking towards us. As she passed, I got her attention and pointed at the cockatoo. "Look at that!"
"Um... yeah," she replied with a puzzled expression. And kept walking, throwing us nervous glances over her shoulder as though we might start frothing at the mouth.

It took me a few days to realise why she had been so baffled. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Did someone lose something?

I found this the other day on the way home from uni. The blue tongued lizard tail, not the pen. The pen is just to show what size it is. It's all dry and leathery, and still has the skeleton inside. One thing I really love about this country is the random wildlife. And although there are many, many reasons why I dislike this particular city, the way you get wildlife right in the centre almost makes up for it. We have cockatoos and rosellas, in our garden, possums in the roof, and I've seen plenty of kangaroos and lizards in the metropolitan area. We nearly hit a kangaroo when driving down the motorway past parliament house a few weeks back. There's no bush around there -- just perfectly manicured lawns and massive amounts of city infrastructure. So what the kangaroo was doing is anyone's guess. Maybe he was visiting the tourist sights (all three of them). Or maybe it had something to do with the fact that parliament house is just about the only place in the city allowed to run sprinklers. In this country, where there's water, there's wildlife. Posted by Picasa

Global diversification and other drunken ramblings

We went out for postgrad drinks on Wednesday night and a visiting American student joined us. He was on his way to PNG to do some fieldwork and had stopped here to visit someone in our dept who is one of the top experts on PNG languages. The weird thing? This American guy turned out to be an undergrad. What sort of undergrad goes halfway across the world to collect data for a project?

Of course, sitting at the pub with a bunch of smart, drunk people, you always learn something new. What I learned this week: America does not have canned spaghetti (count yourselves lucky). And New Zealanders are the only ones who use it as a replacement for the tomato layer on pizzas.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

New Year's resolution: Must be more positive

My office mate talking to her supervisor about war.

Supervisor: "Someone once said that war was hours of boredom interrupted by moments of stark terror."
Office mate: "So... a bit like a PhD then, really".


I got louted at the crossing by university today. Three guys in a car hanging out the window: "Hellooo there. Yeah you. Go on, lift up ya skirt. Show us yer tits! Nyaaaaa!" I need a snappy comeback for times like this.

Blogging puts you in the public eye, oh yes

Since this blog isn't even indexed by Google yet, it's strangely like playing in my own huge private sandbox. Weirdness.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The master of literalness

Geekman and I were chatting today about how sweating doesn't seem to be a very common solution for mammals as the body's way of cooling itself. This led me down a side-track where I suddenly got to wondering: in places where it's over 37 degrees celsius more often than not, why don't people just keep overheating until they die? When I asked Geekman this, he looked confused that I had brought this up like a new topic. "I ask that all the time and you never have an answer."
"Huh? You never asked that question before."
"Yeah I did. Whenever the temperature here gets above 37 I say something like, "With this heat, how come everybody in this country isn't dead?""

And here was I thinking he was being all rhetorical.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Meme of Four

In order to get my daily dose of narcissism (and to make the blog look a little bit loved), I thought I'd do the Meme of Four here, as seen at New Kid on the Hallway, even though (obviously) no one tagged me. I hope that isn't breaking some sort of blogging etiquette. (Also I can't get the damn profile thing to work how I want it to).

Four jobs I've had:

(1) Writing short stories for an eccentric millionaire. He paid me random amounts of money for each story, but never less than $200 and sometimes up to $500. I ended up quitting after getting really freaked out about the whole thing because I couldn't see why they were worth that much to him (ostensibly he wanted them as reading exercises for a teach-yourself-English CD Rom he was producing).

(2) Working at KFC in the middle of nowhere. They never had more than two of us working at a time, which really sucked on the odd days that we actually had a dinner rush. Try taking orders on a headset (drive-through) while serving a different customer at the front desk, making hamburgers for other orders and keeping an eye on the deep fryer. Also it paid minimum wage, which meant I often made negative amounts of money on short night shifts when I had to take a taxi home.

(3) Temping at NZQA (the central administrating body for high school exams in New Zealand). Highlights: finding out former teachers' own high school results (the records there went back to 1900), seeing bizarre qualifications earned by students at agricultural schools (Sheep-Dagging 101, anyone?), and looking up weird and amusing names in the database (my favourite ever: Lovely Sunny Metric Smith). (Actually I made up Smith, cos her last name was unmemorable).

(4) Penguining! I was a giant penguin at the Antartic Centre in Christchurch. Got to wear a big stuffed penguin suit and run around frightening tourists and small children. The only downside was that the suit was so huge and nearly spherical that if I got pushed over by hordes of kiddies (which happened more often than you might think) I couldn't get up again without assistance and was doomed to roll on the floor forever.

Four movies I could watch over and over:

(1) The Princess Bride (and I have)

(2) Chocolat

(3) Pretty much any Monty Python movie

(4) The English Patient

Four places I've lived:

(1) New Zealand (from birth to age 20, with brief periods in Germany)

(2) Germany (2000--2003)

(3) Denmark (2003--2004)

(4) Australia (2004--present)

Four TV shows I love to watch:

I don't really watch TV (we don't have a real TV, just a TV card in the computer). But I do watch a few series on DVD and occasionally on TV when I remember that they are showing.

(1) Angel -- a few years ago I would have said Buffy, but what can I say, I've matured :)
(2) Firefly (detecting a theme here?)
(3) Farscape (took me a while to get into it, but now I'm addicted)
(4) Dr. Who (the new one)

Four places I've been on vacation:

(1) Rarotonga (for the honeymoon, courtesy of a very good friend who had too many frequent flier miles for her own good).
(2) Tokoroa (unlikely, I know, but Geekman's parents live there).
(3) Paris
(4) Amsterdam

Those last two were hard to choose out of all the weekend trips we did while living in Germany. But I think they were my favourite, although Zurich came a close third, London had a cooler backstory (spur of the moment surprise birthday trip to visit friends), and Tuscany counted as classiest mode of travel, since we did it as a roadtrip (from Switzerland) in a friend's new red convertible. Although I should probably mention for the sake of accuracy that it was only early spring and since we insisted on travelling with the top down, we were forced to bundle up like Eskimos and wear very uncool knitted hats.

Four blogs I've been reading longest:

(1) Quailplugs (a private blog run by my circle of friends, which is why I'm not linking to it)
(2) Random Acts of Reality
(3) Bitch PhD
(4) Dooce

Four of my favourite foods:

(1) Lemon meringue pie
(2) Trifle
(3) Caramel slice
(4) Actually, caramel anything.

Geekman thinks I have a sugar problem. Bah, he doesn't know what he's talking about :)

Four places I'd rather be:

See above, under four places I've been on vacation.

Four albums I can't live without lately:

I don't play favourites when it comes to music. I just don't feel that way about albums.

Four vehicles I've owned:

(1) World's most obviously second-hand bicycle. In NZ. The lock-up all the student bicycles were kept in was broken into one night and all the bicycles were stolen -- except mine which was carefully wheeled to one side and left. 'nuff said.

(2) World's oldest and funkiest bicycle. In Germany. Bought for $5 at a flea market. A friend who knew about bicycles said the company mine was made by had gone out of business in the 1940s. It was also the most comfortable bicycle I've ever sat on. Pity it never really worked.

(3) My car. 1989 Hyundai. Very pre-loved and battered even for its age. I've had it a year and it has needed repairs of $500 and upwards four times. Can't sell it and can't bring myself to dump it.

(4) Um... my feet? I haven't owned any other vehicles.

Four peple to tag:

I know no one.

Welcoming myself

I've been wanting to start a blog for a while now, on and off. Off when I first read Ivan Tribble's "Bloggers need not apply" article in the Chronicle of Higher Education (the last thing I need is to put any more obstacles in the way of me or Geekman getting an academic job). On again when I read the responses to Tribble's article in the academic blogosphere. Off again every time I considered how much of my spare time a blog had the potential to eat. But then today I thought, what the hell. I want to blog. So a-blogging I shall go.

Greetings to me.