Sunday, April 30, 2006

How to get way too much attention

Standing at a pedestrian crossing, waiting for the lights to change, surrounded by a crowd of mostly male students...

Geekman and I are talking about a friend of mine. There's a lot of traffic noise, so he's not overheard when he says, jokingly, "You spend so much time with her. Are you having an affair?"
"I really like her," I admit, and then, as the traffic stops and everyone can hear me (but before my ears have passed the message on to my brain that this is the case), "But if I was sexually attracted to her I'd have let you know so that we could all get together and you could take photos."

At least three of the guys in the crowd around us nearly got run over when they discovered they couldn't simultaneously goggle at me and walk in a straight line across the road. The rest of them just alternated between watching where they were going and shooting me speculative looks.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Going to the chapel but they can't get ma-a-a-rried

The state we live in is about to pass a law allowing civil unions with the same rights as marriage for both straight and gay couples. Unfortunately, the federal government has announced that if the law is passed, they will step in and overturn it -- an action that they have only taken once before, with a voluntary euthanasia law passed in the Northern Territory.

So today we went on a march in support of gay marriage and protesting against this proposed interference in state government.

There seemed to be a surprisingly large turnout, considering the conservative demographics and general apathy of most of this city's population, but I heard later that the protest organisers had bussed in a lot of people from Sydney.

I think some people were a little confused about the point of the march, too, as everywhere we turned we got pamphleted with flyers exhorting us to free Palestine, to protest against Voluntary Student Unions, and to support persecuted Falun Gong practitioners.

The brightly-coloured coat guy didn't seem entirely clear on why he was there, either, as he spent the whole time chanting his own little slogan:

"We're here! We're queer! We're not at Ikea!
We're here! We're queer! We're not going shopping!"

And I have a recommendation for anyone whose life's ambition is to be a loudspeaker person at a protest. Don't do this:

Loudspeaker person: "Tasmania passed civil unions and did the sky fall in?"
Crowd, tentatively: "No..."
Loudspeaker person: "Have family values in Tasmania collapsed?"
Crowd, more confidently: "No!"
Loudspeaker person: "Has it made Tasmania the laughing stock of the rest of the world?"
Crowd, shouting: "No!!!"
Loudspeaker person: "Has it made Tasmania a freer, fairer, friendlier place to live?"
Crowd, really getting the hang of it: "No!!! Oh, wait... um... yes?"

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: Wulf

Continuing (discontinuously) the medieval theme, this week's Friday offering is my favourite Old English poem: Wulf. (Sometimes called Wulf and Eadwacer, depending on whether the editor thinks that Eadwacer is a proper name or a word meaning "protector of wealth". People have also interpreted that line as: "Do you hear me? Eadwacer, our wretched whelp," etc).

I'm afraid I left out long vowel markings and the caesura, because I couldn't be bothered putting in the html codes for the former and couldn't work out how to do the latter (you can see why companies employ me to spiffy up their websites, can't you?)

Scroll down for the translation.


Leodum is minum swylce him mon lac gife;
willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð.
Ungelic is us.

Wulf is on iege, ic on oþerre.
Fæst is þæt eglond, fenne biworpen.
Sindon wælreowe weras þær on ige;
willað hy hine aþecgan, gif he on þreat cymeð.
Ungelice is us.

Wulfes ic mines widlastum wenum dogode;
þonne hit wæs renig weder ond ic reotugu sæt,
þonne mec se beaducafa bogum bilegde,
wæs me wyn to þon, wæs me hwæþre eac lað.

Wulf, min Wulf, wena me þine
seoce gedydon, þine seldcymas,
murnende mod, nales meteliste.

Gehyrest þu, Eadwacer? Uncerne earne hwelp
bireð Wulf to wuda.
þæt mon eaþe tosliteð þætte næfre gesomnad wæs,
uncer giedd geador.

Wulf (my translation)

To my people it is as if someone is giving them a gift.
They will kill him, if he comes up against their violence.
It is different for us.

Wulf is on one island, I on another.
Isolated is that island, surrounded by marshes.
There are bloodthirsty men there on that isle.
They will kill him, if he comes up against their violence.
It is different for us.

I thought of my Wulf's distant travels with hope
when it was rainy weather and I sat weeping,
when the strong warrior held me in his arms,
there was joy for me in that, but there was also pain.

Wulf, my Wulf, my hopes for you
have caused my sickness, your seldom-coming,
my anxious mind, not lack of food.

Do you hear me, Eadwacer?
Our wretched whelp
Wulf carries to the woods.

It is easy to tear apart that which never was united;
Our tale together.

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Shameless soliciting

Right, it's coming up for PANIC PANIC PANIC time (next Thursday, in fact). So this goes out to those of you who have experience in giving lectures: can you give me any advice? (Other than "prepare more than a week in advance", thank you, because that's not quite do-able anymore.)

I have a vague outline of what I want to say and now I'm working on how I'm going to say it: preferably making it a little more interactive than the usual lectures they get in this class (which are usually structured as a one-sided information dump).

I would especially appreciate any useful nuggets of information along the lines of, "You might think lecturing to a couple of hundred students is the same as tutoring a class of 20, but..." Any pitfalls I should be aware of?

The main difference that I am expecting is that while the material I go over in the tutorials is mostly not new, the lecture material will all be completely new to the students. Compounding this is the fact that, although the superficial 10-minute overview version of the topic is really just the explanation of one quite simple concept, the minute I want to go into depth on any part of it it will get complex and extremely detailed very quickly. And I'm not 100% how much new information students can absorb in one lecture (these are first years, too, so possibly more of what I'll say will be new information to them than I am expecting it to be).

So: any suggestions for dealing with that? Any other warnings? Suggestions? Warm shoulders to cry on?

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

It doesn't get better than this

I don't usually food blog, but this is the birthday dinner that Geekman made me:

And here's the birthday bounty: a good haul this year!

This was handmade by my mother.

And this one's a gift voucher to have me a pampering at a local day spa. Mmmm...

Surprisingly, both the next two presents were from the same person. I think she was hedging her bets a bit as to my taste. But I'm such a present-slut, I love them both! I can be a fairy goth. Or a goth fairy.

And then, of course, there was the compulsory slightly-nutty-relative gift:

And finally a birthday moment that really made my day was seeing one of these for the first time ever:

(In the tree outside my house, actually, but it was getting too dark for a photo, so this is an actor pretending to be the one I saw).

So once again, happy eggs to me!

In which I make birthday resolutions

What does it say about me that every year the resolutions I make on my birthday are almost identical to the New Year's resolutions I made four months before?

This year I have the same stand-bys, except for the nail-biting, which I really seem to have successfully stopped. Four months without a nibble, which is a personal record!

The getting-up-at-seven thing is the main one I want to concentrate on. It's made more difficult by the fact that Geekman begs me every night not to set my alarm for seven, since it disturbs his beauty sleep to have me up and about while he's still trying to snooze. We've compromised, in that I still get up at seven (when I manage it), but I wait to have my shower and breakfast after eight. This has worked fine so far, but I think I'm a bit doomed now that the cold weather has begun. It's so hard to force yourself out of a warm bed if there's no hot shower to come.

I've also decided once again to go cold turkey on using the internet from my office at university. It worked for about two months last year, but I've been slack lately and my usage has crept up from "I've worked for an hour, now I'll reward myself with ten minutes of reading blogs and news" to "I've read blogs and news for an hour, I should probably do ten minutes of work."

So I'm going to ban myself from visiting any sites other than the university library and databases. I let myself check email, though, since that's sometimes important, and there's only so much time even I can spend compulsively clicking "refresh" on my mailbox. The rest of the internet will have to wait patiently from when I leave home in the morning until I get back at night. Poor lonely internet. Don't be sad that I'm not there.

Oh, and this also means that if you see me commenting on or visiting your blog multiple times in one day, you should give me a stern telling off because it probably isn't evening yet.

So, another year older; another year wiser(?!); another year hopeful I might actually achieve some of these goals I've set myself after all.

Happy Eggs to me!

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

My new favourite greeting

Last night our department had a dinner thing that was close enough to being on my birthday that it got hijacked and I was presented with a cake and this card. Can you spot the Best Birthday Greeting Ever? I think someone's five-year-old has been overdosing on Easter.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

This makes me grateful I'm not a parent

The universe is out to get me.

I got motivated enough to come into uni, despite it being a public holiday, and someone in the office directly above me had the same idea and has brought their extremely unhappy baby. This thing is LOUD. It has screamed solidly for the last 30 minutes. And I have nothing nearby that could serve as earplugs.


In Flanders fields

Anzac Day in New Zealand tends to focus on what a terrible thing war is, and how we should do everything we can to stop it happening in future. Here in Australia I guess they can't push that angle anymore, what with being currently involved in a war and all. So instead it winds up being a bit of a worship-the-soldiers fest, which I find a little bit scary.

Obviously people who got drafted into wars had a pretty shit time of it, and yes, I think a day to remember them is justified. But I've met a few guys recently who are in the army because they like it and they think that killing people sounds like fun and, after all, they'd only be killing the Bad Guys. What worries me is the message we are giving to people like that about how what they do is all honourable and glorious.

But then I get all worried about whether I'm being naive and illogical. I am glad that other countries stepped in to stop Hitler, for example. So I tell myself that I think it's okay for countries to defend themselves against someone invading them. After all, the war's already begun by that point, right?

But what if Hitler had never tried to invade, say, England. Would I still think that England's intervention in WWII was justified? Well without them, Hitler might have won the war. And that would have been bad. So maybe it's okay for a country to come to the defence of another country that has been invaded.

What if Hitler had never tried to expand Germany's borders, but had just stuck to murdering millions of people in his own country? Then it starts to get trickier. Sure, he needed to be stopped, and sure, the Germans themselves by that stage were hard-pressed to do it, what with being arrested whenever it looked like they might be rebelling.

But if you say other countries can step in whenever they suspect a leader is turning homocidal despot, they could use this as an excuse to invade countries they dislike for other reasons ("Well, we thought he was putting too many people to death, but I guess we were wrong. Oh well.") And where's the cut-off limit? Is the death of 100 citizens enough to justify a war? 1000? Does the despot have to kill so many that it outweighs the casualties of the war itself? Or just act as though he potentially might?

So it turns out that I think that war might sometimes (certainly in the case of defending your own country against invasion), be a necessary evil. And if that's the case, then countries need armies, right? And if they need armies, then people who volunteer to be soldiers are doing their country a favour -- are putting their lives at risk to protect everyone else. Which is exactly what people keep saying about them that makes me uncomfortable.

I guess part of my problem is the difference between the ideal and the individual. The individuals I know who have gone into the armed forces aren't doing it out of a sense of duty to their country. They are doing it because it sounds like fun and they get to learn how to kill people. And I don't think we should be raising these arseholes up on a pedestal.

My other problem is that, sure, ideally these guys would be going into the army out of a sense of duty and desire to protect others. But ideally, no country would have an army, countries wouldn't even have these damn borders, and everyone would live in peace and harmony with happy bunny rabbit friends. So when it comes to war, I don't know if it's fair to start talking about ideals. The reality is what counts, and the reality is that war sucks for pretty much everyone involved.

Except for that thing where we get another day's holiday. So happy Anzac Day, everyone.

PS: It turns out they don't do the poppy thing for ANZAC day here in Australia, but only for Armistice Day. Someone should have told Google, though, since the Google Australia site has a nice little poppy design today, while Google NZ doesn't.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

This could probably have the same title as yesterday's post, actually

Unlike Twisty, I'm not going to set off on a photographic tour of my city's toilets. But I had to post this because it puzzles me so much.

This is one of the loos in the office where I work on Mondays. They are all identical. Each cubicle door has this "design" at the bottom.

At first I wondered whether it was a fanciful way of making your stay in the smallest room a freshly air-conditioned experience. Then I started to suspect it was so that blind people had something to read on the bog. But they would have to be bare-footed with long legs and flexible toes. Plus, it wouldn't be a very entertaining read, since as far as I can tell after googling braille charts, it says "I9".

My new theory was that that's the code for these toilets and the other ones in the building are labeled something different. Which would be very helpful if you were blind, bare-footed, flexible-toed and had a bad sense of direction. But when I checked, all the toilets on every floor have the same design.

So any suggestions for what it might be, or am I doomed to be puzzled forever?

Update: mystery solved, I think. But I'm not going to tell you the answer. Tee hee! I'll give you a hint, though: notice the direction the hinges on the door are facing. And if I'm right, some architect had a weird sense of humour or too much time on his/her hands.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

What the #$*! was that supposed to be?

I went to the movies last night and saw What the #$*! Do We Know, which has got to be one of the worst movies I have ever seen. Forgetting about the horrible misrepresentation of quantum mechanics as "it's all about me; let's go walk on water now", it bugged me that the four women in the film were 2 x "alternative" flaky waffling heads, 1 x sparkly bouncy annoying chick with hair in ponytails, whose only purpose was to irritate the main character, and the main character herself, a woman on an internal journey that would take her from hating herself and not understanding the world through hallucinating about small fluroscent smiley blobs, to loving and accepting herself and the universe.

The men, on the other hand, were all scientists with good credentials whose role was to answer the questions posed by the women (in badly-edited soundbites), giving hard, (pseudo)factual information. Pretty much the whole movie was the following sequence repeated endlessly:

Main character walking along road looking lost and miserable.
Cut to female talking head: "Where does the soul go after death? How do I know that I am who I am? Do I have a place in this world?"
Cut to male talking head: "We think of an atom as solid. But not only are the electrons popping in and out of existence, but the nucleus is too. And the whole thing is mostly composed of vacuum..."
Cut to main character having a spiritual experience.
Cut back to male talking head: "... This shows that things aren't always what we think they are."
Cue cute animation.

And what was with the basketball-playing kid? They had to get a boy to be the woman's guide on her "journey", because obviously she couldn't do it without male help, and a 12-year-old boy is going to have life more sussed than a 30-something year old woman?

Oh, this movie annoyed me so much.

The only thing that kept me from walking out was the comments from the people in the row behind me. "I'll show him a scientist" being one of the most frequent.

I realise that as a film review this is kind of past its due-by date, since the movie came out nearly two years ago, but I felt the need to rant about it anyway. My excuse is that we have the world's best cinema at the university here and it tends to rescreen a lot of older films (as well as showing the new ones), so we often end up seeing things a year or so after they came out. But I'll make the university cinema the subject of another post, since it really deserves a prolonged praise and worship session all to itself.

Meanwhile, don't see What the #$*! Do We Know, because if you do know anything about quantum mechanics it will alternately bore you and piss you off, and if you don't, you run the risk of being brainwashed into believing that saying nice things to water in Japanese makes its molecules change shape.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Yeah, one of those

You know that moment when you suddenly realise something that you instantly know should have been obvious all along, but wasn't, and then you are hit with 20-something years' worth of cringing for every time you must have said something that let on that you didn't already know this thing and everyone else around you must have been thinking how naive you were?

Well I just had one of those.

And I'm not going to tell you about it, because then I would have to cringe some more.

Friday, April 21, 2006

My day just got ten times better

A supermarket here has just started stocking Butterfinger bars and Reese's peanut butter cups. I don't think I have words to explain how happy this makes me. So I'll use pictures instead.

I have completely gone into neurotic hamster mode for fear that this might only be a short-term trial, and now whenever I open a drawer or cupboard in my office, chocolate bars lie there winking at me seductively. Even my filing cabinet is full of chocolate.

My wallet is empty, though, since they are charging $3 for a pack of two peanut butter cups and $2.80 for a Butterfinger bar, the profiteers.

Friday poetry blogging: Txoria Txori

When I studied in Germany, the linguistics department I was in required that we study either Basque or Georgian to fulfil our "exotic language" requirements. I picked Basque.

During one of the courses we read some Basque literature, and although there are some wonderfully complex works out there, the one that I find myself coming back to the most is this simple little poem by Joxean Artze.

The title literally means "the bird bird". I think this is maybe meant to convey something like "the birdiness of the bird". Sometimes it is translated as "The bird which is a bird", although I have also seen it titled Hegoak ("the wings").

Txoria Txori

Hegoak ebaki banizkio
neria izango zen
ez zuen aldegingo
Bainan, honela
ez zen gehiago txoria izango
eta nik... txoria nuen maite

The bird

If I had cut off her wings
she would have been mine
she would not have flown away.
But, then
she would not have been a bird any more
and I... it's the bird that I loved

You can hear four different versions of it set to music and sung here (unfortunately you don't get any complete tracks but just a taste of each). The version by Mikel Laboa is probably the most well known. The one by Etsaiak is just strange.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Kumara like to cuddle too

Sweet potato, for those of you not from NZ. I wouldn't usually go all regional dialect on you, but "kumara" alliterates so much better than "sweet potato".

Who needs legs, anyway?

Geekman is collecting damaged joints. Now he has two knees and an ankle.

The ankle happened last night when he slipped while walking down the stairs. Within minutes it had a swelling the size of a tennis ball and pink and purple bruising. He can't put any weight on it at all.

He has moved straight into his usual sick-or-injured modus operandi, which is

(1) refusing to go to the doctor, since, after all, "They wouldn't tell me anything I can't find out on the internet anyway." (I never thought I'd say this, but curse you, Google!)

And (2) refusing to take painkillers because "As long as I know how much it hurts I won't do anything stupid to make it worse."

Eventually, after struggling manfully not to cry for two hours, he gave in and took some nurofen. Once it started working, he did indeed do plenty of stupid things to make it worse. Like stop with the whole ice, compression, and elevation thing and spend the rest of the evening limping back and forth between computer and the fridge.

So I'm starting to believe that he knows what he is doing with his usual self-imposed painkiller ban.

But I'm kind of worried he might have fractured the ankle, especially since he had this weird reaction about an hour after it happened where he started shivering and just couldn't get warm, no matter how many blankets I piled around him. And this from the man who wears shorts and a singlet all autumn and half of winter.

So how do I get him to see a doctor?

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's all in the mind

Does anyone else go round all day obsessively blogging inside their head?

Back in those hazy days before I had a blog, the main events that filled up the left-over space inside my head involved imaginary conversations with non-existent people, but now pretty much all that goes on in there is blog-posting.

You have to wonder who I imagine I'm constructing these posts for: the little internet inside my head, perhaps. They almost never reach the light of day computer monitor, since by the time I get home I can never remember more than the last one or two I constructed (and once I get them out of my head and into my blog ideas file they never seem half as interesting as I thought they were) -- a lot like dreams, when you come to think about it. On the other hand, I am always vaguely surprised that anyone wants to read my real-world blog, so it wouldn't be that much more startling to find there was a little community of people inside my head following my imaginary posts, either.

In any case, this is pretty much like the frozen peas thing. I'm hoping for some indication that I'm not all that unusual in this, or if I am, at least a referral to a support group would be nice.

So 'fess up. Do you too have an imaginary blog?

More fodder for the "random haircut" googlers

Remember this?

Well I had the hair appointment yesterday. And it was (almost, kinda) fun!

From this extensive experience of top-end salons [insert ironic tone of voice here] I am now in a position to draw wild generalisations and list the differences between these and the mid/low-end of the range one I usually go to. Namely that the expensive stylists:

  • Treat you as though you might actually know what you want done with your own hair.
  • Don't go out of their way to reinforce your feelings of "only" being the customer.
  • Smile. Regularly.
  • Make small talk that isn't about you, so doesn't make you all self-conscious. E.g. instead of "so what did you get up to over Easter?" or "When do you finish your degree?" they ask, "Did you see the article about X in this morning's paper?" or "Isn't the warm weather today wonderful?" Much more relaxing.
  • Give the best head-massages.
  • Serve you an entire plunger of coffee instead of a mug of instant.
  • Have hair that you might actually want to emulate, rather than frizzy, dry, overdyed platinum blonde stuff which cries out to be left alone for a few months.
  • Probably don't overuse italics.
And my hair looks good too.

The voucher lets me have one more haircut there within the next six months for the same price, but then after that it would go back to their standard price of around $300 for what I had done yesterday. And no matter how much more pleasant the experience was than it is at my usual place, that is just not an amount of money I would ever pay for a haircut. So I get one more visit, and then it's back to scary random haircut woman.

Speaking of which, why are you all googling "random haircuts"? This has been turning up in my referral stats again (like, several times a day). What are you people hoping to find?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Questions that are going to keep me awake tonight

My ex-boyfriend, who lives on the other side of the country from my parents, has just emailed me to say that he was "sorry to hear about [insert gossip about unfortunate family events here]".

My parents left the town he lives in more than eight years ago and have almost no contact with anyone there anymore. His family and mine have no mutual friends.

So how does he know???

And why, considering he and I haven't corresponded in around seven years, does he feel that I need to know that he knows?

And one final question: how do I write a reply that ostensibly says "thank you for your concern", but that actually tells him to fuck off, not contact me again, especially not send my parents a similarly "concerned" email (if he hasn't already), and subtly demands the name(s) of whoever has been spreading rumours?

(I realise that asking him to name names and simultaneously not contact me again is like telling someone to shut up and start talking, but dammit, there are times when I think I should get a free pass to be difficult and illogical, and this is one of them.)

I think I've died and gone to hell

Someone in the appartment next door to us has taken up the trumpet.

He can play Mary had a little lamb.

A lot.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Happy small furry animal day!

Yeah. Turns out it was Easter yesterday. I did the chocolate-gorging thing all weekend, so when the actual day turned up I kind of missed it.

But in honour of yesterday, I thought I'd share my favourite Easter anecdote.

On Easter Sunday a few years ago, when I was still living in Germany, I went for a long morning walk in our city's botanical gardens, admiring the daffodils, tulips and miscellaneous symbols of spring, and even feeling vaguely spiritual (or maybe that was a leftover glow from excessive chocolate consumption).

Coming out of a dense clump of trees, I found myself in a clearing where some local church was holding an outdoor service. There were about fifty people in a sort of clump, with a robed-up priest at one end. While I watched, they bowed their heads and the priest started reciting the Lord's Prayer.

About three lines in, there was a slight rustle-rustle in a tree above them, and a squirrel leapt from it onto the next tree in line, using the priest's bowed head as a springboard.

The priest said words that I bet have never been inserted into the Lord's Prayer before or since.

I had to melt back into the bushes at that point, since I was laughing so hard that the people who hadn't seen the squirrel were glaring at me like I was to blame for the disruption. But I doubt if that church ever tried to hold their Easter service outside again.

(And in case anyone missed it, Misty posted a similarly bizarre tale of squirrel a couple of days ago.)

Happy Easter, all, and remember:

(This message is brought to you by the Anti-Rabbit Research Fund of Australia. No, seriously.)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Goldengrove, unleaving

Japanese silk paintings in my own backyard:

(For some reason it's kind of hard on this side of the world to get your head around Easter as a symbol of new life. The Good Friday bit has much more resonance.)

The most fun you can have with a #2 pencil

Thanks to Lucy, who called my attention to it, I have recently been using this.

David Seah's Task Destruct-o-Matic.

It's a little worksheet that looks like this (but bigger):

And now I'm going to tell you why you should all use it too.* Bullet-point style.

  • It helps me start on a task I am procrastinating about. Because I can tell myself I just have to do 15 minutes of work and then I get to colour in! a little circle! with a pencil! Seriously. This is enough reward for me. And everyone has enough motivation to work for 15 minutes, right?
  • It keeps me focused on a task, rather than wandering off every five minutes to go to the loo, make a cup of coffee, chat to someone in the corridor, or rearrange my bookshelves into reverse alphabetical order.** Because when I get the urge to do these things, I look at my clock, see I have only 3 or 4 minutes left of a 15 minute block, and decide to wait until the 15 minutes is past so I can colour in another circle. Then I'll go to the loo. But I get engrossed in the task again, and don't look at the clock until it's 7 minutes into the next 15 minute period, and then I have to wait another 8 minutes, right? And this cycle continues for ever, until I complete the task or my bladder explodes, which often comes first.
  • At the end of a day, I can look at the little coloured-in things and see exactly how much time I have spent on really working, and how much I have frittered away sharpening my pencils. I have started calculating how "research efficient" I have been each day, which no doubt means I am destined for a career in academic administration. But I really do find that trying to beat my previous day's efficiency is a great incentive to work harder.
  • On a similar note, I am remarkably bad at calculating in advance how long a task is likely to take me. I tend to allow three days for a 20 minute task, which means I then procrastinate and stretch the task out until it takes three days after all, so that I don't have to deal with the realisation that I suck at time management. Using this worksheet means I have a record of how many 15 minute slots a task has taken, and then next time I know exactly how much of my week to allocate for it.

Some interesting statistics I have discovered in the last week or so of navel-gazing workaholism:

  • The maximum efficiency I seem to be able to handle on an all-writing day is a little under 50%. Which means I shouldn't have all-writing days. In future I think I will plan at most to write for 40% of the hours I am in my office, and have other brainless tasks lined up for the rest of the time.
  • I write pretty consistently at 800 words per hour (as long as I really have completed the necessary research for a chapter before I start writing). This discovery is unbelievably helpful for planning how long it will take me to write various thesis sections.
  • I consistently complete 45 minutes of work in a one hour time period. This is because of unavoidable interruptions (phone ringing, people dropping in, having to go to the loo, etc).
  • I cannot write solidly for more than an hour and a half without my brain going all slow and furry. Like a caterpillar, in fact.

The four points above mean that I have me a recipe to apply for a writing day.

Eg. for a day when I want to write 2000 words, I need 2.5 hours of actual writing time, which I can assume will take me 3 hours and 20 minutes, allowing for interruptions. This means I need to be in my office for at least 8 hours and 20 minutes, with other tasks to fill in the gaps. And obviously I would then try and split those 3 hours and 20 minutes into evenly spaced blocks of an hour and a half or less.

I always thought I was more efficient than this, so these are some pretty scary discoveries. But at least I now know what I need to do to achieve my goals, and maybe I'll even find I get more efficient with practice.

In conclusion, I highly recommend Task Destruct-o-Matic or its less rewarding juvenile version, the Task Progress Tracker, to anyone else with OCD tendencies or to those who, like me, have been lured by excessive exposure to computer games into expecting rewards for every little task or half-task they complete. Of course, if your idea of a reward goes beyond colouring in a little printed bubble, then this may not be the motivational tool for you.

The end (except for the footnotes).

* I promise he isn't paying me.
** This confuses the elves.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The moth! She will destroy us all!

Now I warned you about the size of Australian insects before, and how they are going to take over the world. And did you listen? Did you? Well, you didn't do anything about it, anyway, and so they keep on coming.

Here is a moth from our stairwell today.

Look at the moth. Look at the hand beside it (mine). Now look at your own hand. See that moth before you.

Frightened yet?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Being married to a physicist redefines your sense of humour

And you start to find things like this funny:

"I'm getting up. Are you coming or staying here?"
"Mrghfmph... both"
"What, you're planning to spend the morning in a quantum superposition?"
"Mm-hmm." Frantic burrowing further into the bedclothes. "Stop observing me! Stop observing me!"

Friday poetry blogging: Medieval German poetry weirdness

This is a poem that I've always found vaguely unsettling. For a start, the form is kind of odd for a 13th century poem. With the short lines, especially near the end of each verse, and the way it doesn't quite scan in places, it has an edgy, slightly modern feel, even in the original.

Then there's the subject matter. It starts off all Disneyesque with these happy children playing in the fields, scoffing strawberries, but then they all come out in measles? (or at least a rash of some kind). And there are snakes. And a slightly sinister forester. It turns all Grimm Brothers with lost children in the woods, a poisoned horse, and then ends up with a religious analogy and the suggestion of rape.

And someone (maybe not the author, but probably later editors) have decided to call it "Song of Childhood". A dark, threatening sort of childhood, it seems to me.

The other weird thing about this poem is that it has childhood as subject matter at all. Early medieval German literature doesn't really go in for the childhood concept. Children are usually depicted as little adults (see, e.g. the early Tristan), and there is hardly ever any suggestion that their lives are different from adult lives. This is one of the few windows onto German medieval childhood we get, and look at what it shows us (scroll down for my translation):

Der wilde Alexander (c. 1280)

Hie bevor dô wir kint wâren
und diu zît was in den jâren
daz wir liefen ûf die wisen,
von jenen wider her ze disen;
dâ wir under stunden
vîol funden,
dâ siht man nu rinder bisen.

Ich gedenk wol daz wir sâzen
in den bluomen unde mâzen
welch diu schœnest möhte sîn.
dô schein unser kintlich schîn
mit dem niuwen kranze
zuo dem tanze.
alsus gât diu zît von hin.

Seht dô lief wir ertber suochen
von der tannen zuo der buochen
über stoc und über stein
der wîle daz diu sunne schein.
dô rief ein waltwîser
durch diu rîser
'wol dan, kinder, und gât hein.'

Wir enpfiengen alle mâsen
gester dô wir ertber lâsen:
daz war uns ein kintlich spil.
dô erhôrte wir sô vil
unsern hirte rüefen
unde wüefen
'kinder, hie gât slangen vil.'

Ez gienc ein kint in dem krûte:
daz erschrac und rief vil lûte
'kinder, hie lief ein slang în,
der beiz unser pherdelîn:
daz ne heilet nimmer.
er müez immer
sûren unde unsælic sîn!'

'Wol dan, gât hin ûz dem walde!
unde enîlet ir niht balde,
iu geschieht als ich iu sage:
erwerbet ir niht bî dem tage
daz ir den walt rûmet,
ir versûmet
iuch und wirt iur vreuden klage.

Wizzet ir daz vünf juncvrouwen
sich versûmten in den ouwen
unz der künc den sal beslôz?
ir klag und ir schade was grôz,
wande die stocwarten
von ir zarten,
daz si stuonden kleider blôz.'

Song of Childhood
Alexander the Strange(r)

Once upon a time when we were children
and were of the age
where we ran around in the fields,
from this one to that one;
we sometimes
found violets
where you now see cows pastured

I remember well how we sat
among the flowers and judged
which the prettiest were.
You could see our childishness shine through.
With a new garland
we went dancing.
And so time passes.

See how we went looking for strawberries
from pine to beech
up hill and down dale
as long as the sun shone.
Then a forester called
through the thicket
'Come now, children, and go home.'

We all got spots
that time we picked strawberries:
it was just a childish game for us.
Suddenly our watcher called to us
'children, the woods are full of snakes.'

A child went poking into the thicket:
he startled and shouted
'children, a snake came through here,
and bit our little horse:
That will never heal.
He will always
be miserable and unlucky!'

'Come now, come out of the woods!
and if you don't hurry quickly,
it will come to pass as I say:
If you don't succeed by daylight
in getting out of the forest,
you will be too late
and your joy will turn to sorrow.

Did you know that five virgins
once dawdled in the meadow
until the king locked the hall?
Their sorrow and their pain was great,
because the watchmen
tore their clothes off,
so that they stood there naked.'

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Thursday, April 13, 2006

What's more...

This is Geekman's plant after I looked after it for a week.

Meet Ms. Death-to-Plants

This is the plant that Geekman is in charge of:

This is the plant that I am in charge of:

Please form your own opinions of my competence or lack thereof.

Geekman turns a serious conversation into a bad pun

Me: "I'm worried about [close friend]. She's only earning about a third of what she was on last year, but she's still spending like there's no tomorrow. She said she isn't going to bother drawing up a budget because there's no way she can predict how much she'll "need" to spend each week."

Geekman: "She's in a river in Africa."

Me: "Huh?"

Geekman: "De Nile."

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

My fun-packed hour at the gym


Big imaginary kisses to the guy who rescued me when I found myself crushed under the benchpress barbell today. I was sure I could manage a 10th rep, but... obviously not. (But do you think you could maybe have helped me out first and pointed and laughed afterwards?)


A big imaginary kick in the bum to certain other guys who were present this morning.

When, in my two minute break between sets, I briefly move away from the assisted chin-up machine to spot the person on the benchpress right next to it, it is bad manners to take the machine (with my towel on it) without asking. It is equally bad manners to hover right in my face making pointed comments about people who walk away from their equipment while leaving their stuff there. If you want to share, then ask. I play nice.

That girl on the other side of the room who I haven't talked to once the whole time I was here? No, she isn't my friend, so I can't introduce you. Thanks for asking. Are any of the other guys working out here your friends? Because, like, they have a penis and you have a penis, so you must know each other, right?


I hope the gym staff don't get around to fixing the water fountain for a while yet. I can spend whole ten minuteses watching unsuspecting gym bunnies bend down to it, press the button and get a faceful of high-pressure water that then turns into an imperceptible trickle the minute they open their mouths to drink.

Hee hee.

Bad StyleyGeek. Bad.

The paradigm of geekiness

Or how to conjugate a geek:

am ageek

are anerd

is adork

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

To any local readers I might have:

Today's mini-heatwave is my fault thanks to me!

Yesterday I put flannelette sheets and the winter duvet (doona) on the bed, and put all my summer clothes away into storage. So it should have been clear what was going to happen.

Mea culpa.

While we're talking about yummy things

(like frozen peas, that is), I'd really love to meet the person who invented lemon curd (aka "lemon honey", "lemon butter", [insert your regional name for it here]).

I reckon they were probably eating lemon meringue pie one evening, and thought to themselves, "What I really like about this stuff is the filling. So why bother with the pie at all?"

And then after making a jar or two of the filling, this hypothetical person probably realised that if they claimed it was a spread for using on toast, they could legitimately eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, without anyone frowning disapprovingly and telling them to lay off the dessert.

And this is the sort of thinking I admire.

(Although I have to admit that after eating the two jars of lemon curd I made on Sunday already, the skin on the inside of my mouth is going all peely peely. Not a fun sensation. But I'm sure there's no connection. And even if there is, it's worth it.)

Monday, April 10, 2006

Tell me I'm not alone!

The best thing about the internet is that, no matter how strange your friends and family think you are, if you can poll half the planet, there is bound to be some other weirdo out there who has exactly the same foibles. (A penchant for constructing sentences like that last one, for example.)

So although I know there's not half the planet reading this blog, I have to ask:

I'm not really the only one who eats frozen peas right out of the packet, am I?

*crunch crunch* *can't stop myself* *crunch*


The year: 2050.
The scene: a multidimensional chatroom.

"Hey Soupy, don't you think RetroGirl has been acting strangely, lately?"
"Well, she hasn't been around much, that's for sure."
"And when she has, she's been talking about people I've never heard of. Oh, hi, Waffler."
"Hi guys. You talking about Retro?"
"Yup. Do you know what's up with her?"
"She was telling me she's been spending heaps of time in the Offline."
"What? For fun?"
"That's what she says. You know what she's been doing there? She's been hanging out with people offline."
"Seriously? But wouldn't that be really expensive? I mean, all that travelling..."
"No, she says she's been spending time with the people who live around her anyway. Like, her family, and some people who live in her town."
"Oh come on. Like that would be any fun."
"Yeah. I mean, what would she have in common with them? That would be like picking completely random people for your friends. What's the chance of getting someone you like?"
"Practically zero, I reckon. Because, how many people are there in an average town? A few thousand? A few million? I dunno. But it's gotta be -- wait a sec -- way less than even 1 percent of the online population. And if on the whole net you only find 100 people who are anything like you, or less, then in a town, you'd be lucky to find even one person."
"And I doubt if she screened everyone in her town before choosing who to hang out with, anyway."
"How could she? I know I don't get out much, but last time I was offline, I didn't see anyone with their profile pinned to their front door. How do you find out what people are like offline, anyway?"
"Hey, you know the other weird thing? Her new "friends" would see what she looks like offline. And know her offline name. Wouldn't that be crazy? How would they be able to see past that to what she's really like?"
"Well, I think it's just perverted. It's so... masochistic. She's gonna end up feeling misunderstood and completely alone."

Sunday, April 09, 2006


Geekman, apropos of nothing:

"You should link from your blog to my page about computers."

"But you don't have a page about computers."

"But if I did have one, you should link to it."

"If you did have one, I would link to it."

Saturday, April 08, 2006

I have a confession to make

Sometimes I like getting spam.

Only the sort that's made up of randomly generated text, though, so don't go signing me up to lots of spam lists, please, people.

Today I got one that contained the following fantastic phrases:

  • "tastefully with tame margarine"
  • "manliness ale"
  • "troubled male chauvinism"
  • "shellfish homeroom"
And my favourite: "whimsical academic printing assertiveness"

It was signed "Thistles R. Boldness"

I wish I was called Thistles.

I've got me some extra motivation

The HOD found out yesterday that I have six part time jobs. He gave me a little chat about how he will SO not be signing any requests for an extension if I can't submit by the middle of next year.

Then he offered me a seventh.

I'm getting mixed messages here, people.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I think someone's wife has given him a little mission

My supervisor is currently overseas. On my way out of the department tonight, I ran into her husband, also a researcher in our department. He planted himself awkwardly in my path.

"How's the, uh, thesis going?"
"Fine, thanks. I've just started a new chapter."
"Good, good. No nebulous family issues or anything interfering with your work?"
"Not that [supervisor] would have told me, if you had, uh, family issues, or anything. No, no. She's very discreet. Anyway. Work going well, then."
"Yes, thanks."
"No complicated theoretical problems you are wrestling with?" He rubs his hands in nervous anticipation.
"No, not right now."
"Because with [supervisor] away, I thought I should probably check up on you now and then. So if anyone asks, I checked up, okay?"

I need help for my addiction

It looks like our neighbourhood has become cockatoo party central. This morning there was an even bigger group in yesterday's spot.

I counted 67 cockatoos in that flock, and there was another party of around 30 half a block further on (by which time my camera had sadly run out of batteries).

Unfortunately it's not really possible to give an accurate idea of the size of the flock without taking some sort of panoramic shot that would end up being ridiculously small on this blog. And pictures of white polka dots are not all that interesting, really.

A little bit closer to uni, I found another, smaller flock. One little guy (or gal) had strayed a little from the crowd and was sitting right in the middle of the cycle path. I slowed as I approached him, because I don't deliberately run over parrots, but he wasn't going anywhere. He had found himself an acorn and had that in his left claw,* and with only one leg free, he couldn't exactly walk off the path, now could he? And I couldn't expect someone as important and busy as him to stop eating long enough to pander to my needs as a cyclist.

So I got off my bike and walked around him. Got within less than a metre of him without him seeming at all bothered by the experience. He just gave me The Look. The one that said, "Piss off. My cycle path. Eating now."

I wish my camera had still been functional for that one.

But what I don't understand is the five or so other people who passed these flocks without stopping and compulsively taking 73 photos from different angles, or cooing stupidly at the birds who made eye-contact and telling them they were pretty.

On the other hand, these cold-hearted bastards staunch Australians probably didn't get to university 45 minutes late.

Does anyone know if there is treatment available for my obsession?

* I learned in a completely unrelated seminar yesterday that all cockatoos are left-handed.

Poetry Friday

I especially love the last four lines of this poem. (But don't cheat and skip straight to them! They are worth waiting for.)

The Bay
James K. Baxter

On the road to the bay was a lake of rushes
Where we bathed at times and changed in the bamboos.
Now it is rather to stand and say:
How many roads we take that lead to Nowhere,
The alley overgrown, no meaning now but loss:
Not that veritable garden where everything comes easy.

And by the bay itself were cliffs with carved names
And a hut on the shore beside the Maori ovens.
We raced boats from the banks of the pumice creek
Or swam in those autumnal shallows
Growing cold in amber water, riding the logs
Upstream, and waiting for the taniwha.

So now I remember the bay and the little spiders
On driftwood, so poisonous and quick.
The carved cliffs and the great outcrying surf
With currents round the rocks and the birds rising.
A thousand times an hour is torn across
And burned for the sake of going on living.
But I remember the bay that never was
And stand like stone, and cannot turn away.

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Thursday, April 06, 2006

A fleeting moment of joy

I learned something today that made me so happy I want to share it with the world.

The next two weeks are a teaching break! And no one told me!

My moment of enlightenment went like this:

"So because we didn't get on to discussing the morphology material today, please all remember to bring your morphology notes to class next week, and we'll talk about it then."
"Uh, you mean 'after the break', right?"
"There's a break? Halleluj-- I mean, oh, right."
"When was there not a two week Easter break?"
"In my head. Until thirty seconds ago."
"Well, it's on the syllabus. Maybe you should read that sometime."

That's my line. Smartarse. (That last bit only happened in my head, too.)

And then, and then, ScaryLecturer told me he'd decided to cancel classes the first week back, because Anzac Day screws up the Tuesday anyway.

So I have three weeks of freedom!

Starting right after I see the four students who have made appointments with me for tomorrow.

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How to party like a cockatoo

First you stand in a paddock and shriek loudly until your mates all over the city have heard you and come to stop you from being lonely.

You make yourselves comfortable along the side of the road. Any pesky people invading your patch should be mobbed and screeched at until they learn their lesson.

Water is there to be stomped upon. So show it who's boss.

If someone taking photographs is getting on your nerves, and waddling slowly away from her with your arse in the air is not helping, it might be time to move the party to a better location.

And if you just want to get away from it all, there's no better way than to pretend you are part of the decoration, so take all your friends and go festoon a tree like giant white pompoms. This provides better elevation for maximum screech potential, and you can have fun bouncing up and down on thin twigs while flapping your wings, or hang upside down and pretend you're a bat.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

In a perfect world, yes.

The other tutor for the course I teach wandered past when I was marking today. She stopped and watched for a minute, as I wrote You need to give evidence to support this next to someone's argument.

"You write comments?" she asked, bewildered.
"Don't you?" I replied, equally baffled. "How else will they learn?"
"When they see they got a bad mark, surely they'll go and look up the right answers in their notes, or read the textbook more carefully, and work out for themselves what they did wrong, " she answered. "We don't get paid enough to write comments."

I shudder to think what her teaching evaluations are like. Specifically the bit that says, "Does the tutor provide useful and timely feedback?"

Everyone should hire Dug

Dug-without-an-o is the name of the guy who stopped me and a friend just now when we were walking through Union Court, and persuaded us to buy vouchers for a haircut from him.

Anyone who read this post knows how hard it is to get me to go to the hairdresser's, so it will come as even more of a surprise to hear that Dug-without-an-o left me looking forward to my visit.

Because it's a big name salon! And the voucher includes a style consultation with their top stylist, your choice of colour or highlights, wine and chocolates, and a shiatsu massage! And all this for just a quarter of the usual price! And we got two for the price of one, so that's only an eighth of the usual cost!

So I'm excited.

And anyone wanting to sell anything ever should hire Dug. He's from Sydney. And he spells his name funny.

It's moments like these that make marking fun

In the batch of assignments I am just about to finish marking, I had one that used footnotes. The student in question carefully asterisked one of her arguments (that was, in fact, correct), and in the footnote itself she wrote...*

* This is pretty much a guess.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

So, like, irrelevant

A student stops by to explain why he hasn't been doing so well in class lately:

"It's like, you know, I'm in my final year, and I've got all these job offers already for when I graduate, and I'm also looking into postgraduate study as an option, and suddenly undergraduate courses seem so... pointless."

"I can see how it might feel like that. So why exactly are you taking this course, anyway?"

"Because it's a requirement for my major and I can't graduate without it."

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God loves you and wants you to have a hotdog

The Christian groups are all gathered in the central campus courtyard running a(nother) free barbeque.

But this time I didn't take one of Jesus's sausages, because I've probably pissed Jesus off enough lately already and I really don't need food poisoning right now.

(Come on, people, what do I have to write to get flamed around here?)

It's finally cold enough

  • to eat pancakes for breakfast. (Potato and garlic pancakes this morning. Yummy!)
  • to wear my favourite snuggly jerseys in the evening.
  • to not have to carry around 98 litres of water for fear we will die. Miserably. In the desert.
  • to watch all the first-years from places like Darwin or Cairns huddle in corners and talk about how! cold! it! is! this winter thing that they have never before experienced.
  • to sleep with my nose under the blankets.

And (for probably only the next half hour until I have to go outside), I am once again in love with winter*.
*Well, okay, autumn. I am in love with the idea of winter.

Monday, April 03, 2006


Today started with me banging my head against a metal girder in the garage, and it just got worse from there.

The details are tedious, so I'll spare you them, but instead I thought I'd post about something that (just about) makes up for it all.

You know that feeling when you get into bed between sheets that are all clean and fresh and everything smells faintly of lavender and you're wearing clean pajamas and have the perfect book to read and a giant mug of hot blackcurrant juice to sip and your favourite person ever is in bed beside you?

That is what it feels like to smooth the hand and body cream from this place over your skin.

And now I'm off to have both of the above experiences.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

To the hordes of lost Oblivionites

Welcome to all the people who are coming here via googling for "slaughterfish". Hah. You won't find much of use here.

Well, all right. One hint: I've had more luck finding slaughterfish in the sewers than I have in the main lake. Also there seem to be more of them around the higher level you are. So try waiting until you're level three or four before taking that mission.

Update: actually I'm wrong about all of that. For this mission you need one specific slaughterfish. And you will only find it in the lake, and only by using the "detect life" spell.

Someone has spent too many years delegating to tutors

If students have shown me they don't understand how much work goes into marking, ScaryLecturer has just proven himself to be a worse culprit. He gave me a marking schedule for the latest assignment on Friday (I had assumed until then that I wasn't getting one, since he never got around to it for the first assignment), then I ran into him today and he wanted to know what the mean and standard deviation were.

67 assignments, people!

When I admitted I hadn't yet finished marking enough of them to make it worth working out the statistics, he replied thoughtfully but with a touch of disbelief, "Well, I suppose it might have been more than one days' work to get them all marked..."

He supposeth right.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

StyleyGeek's cunning plan for an international galah smuggling ring*

My supervisor tells me she has it on good authority that a breeding pair of galahs sells for around $5000 in the States.

Which means that every time I come across scenes such as the one below (which is pretty much every day), all I see is manically fluttering dollar signs. That's like $100,000 worth of parrot right in front of my front door.

So I have a new plan to finance my studies.

After all, how hard can it be to smuggle squawking, biting, incredibly loud and stupid birds the size of pigeons through 10 levels of airport security?

Anyone else want in?


*To smuggle international galahs, of course.

Jane Austen's lesser-known seventh novel

We went to the physics department trivia night last night and our team came third. I've never won anything at these things before.

This time I think it was mostly because of the extra bonus points we got in round three.

One of the questions in round three was to name all six of Jane Austen's novels. We had all of them except Mansfield Park, and we just couldn't call that one to mind, although we knew it started with M.

So we put down Mass and Masturbation instead, which after all has most of the elements of a Jane Austen novel: sex, religion, alliteration...

The extra points we got for that put us firmly into the lead. (For a while.)