Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Footnotes will inherit the earth*

As an undergraduate studying linguistics, I always had a moment of blank-mind terror whenever certain technical terms came up. They weren't even ones that I didn't understand, and I could explain them well enough if I had to -- they just caused me to freeze for some inexplicable reason.

When I stopped doing hardcore generative syntax**, (or rather, I like to think of myself as having taken a short hiatus from it), I convinced myself that I would never have to worry about these particular terms again. After all, it wasn't as though a random stranger would come up to me one day in the pub while I was minding my own business and ask me to explain the difference between raising verbs and control verbs, now, was it?

Today a random stranger* came up to me in the pub while I was minding my own business and asked me to explain the difference between raising verbs and control verbs.

And I did it. On the back of a beer mat, without even resorting to tree diagrams.

I'm so proud of myself.

And let this be a moral to students who believe that what they are learning has no use in the real world.

* A title which has absolutely nothing to do with the main topic of this post, but hey, when has that ever stopped a blogger in full stride?

** Which would be a most excellent name for a rock band.

I really shouldn't be allowed to blog under the influence.

Hiatus. A word I have always mysteriously confused with hernia. Like shingles. Which I always confuse with piles, leading to terrible offence once when I got the giggles upon a friend telling me his grandfather was suffering from shingles.

* Well, okay, a not entirely random stranger, since I've seen them around the department now and then. But let's not let that spoil a perfectly good story. Okay?

King Parrot

When I arrived at my office yesterday, this king parrot was sitting in one of the trees just outside.

She was at head level and didn't seem to mind at all that I walked right up to her and took lots of photos. I came within arm's reach without her seeming at all concerned. The only time it looked like she might fly off was when I reached out to actually touch her, and when my fingers were a couple of centimetres away from her tail she started to flutter, so I stopped.

Here's a shot of her pretty red belly.

I just couldn't get over how close she was, and how large! King parrots are the size of large crows, but usually look a lot smaller because you mostly see them high up in the tops of trees. She stayed there for nearly an hour, but then a magpie shooed her away.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

There's no right answer

When a famous person in your discipline asks you what your thesis topic is and on hearing the reply says, "I find that stuff really confusing. I don't think I entirely understand it", it puts you in a difficult position.

On the one hand, I have this maxim that kicks in automatically and says that if someone (especially someone who I know is smarter than me) says they find something difficult, then it's only polite to agree with them.

On the other hand, there's a little voice in my head that says it might be a bad thing to sound like you don't have a clue about your own thesis material.

So while these two principles battled it out in the back of my mind, I stood there with my mouth half open and no words coming out. Finally I managed a faint, "Grkgh".

Which was, you know, so much more impressive than any of the other possible responses.

Just because I'm lazy, that doesn't mean everyone else is allowed to be.

I have a pet hate. (I keep it in a cage and feed it small rodents).

Do you want to know what it is? (You probably don't, but I'm going to tell you anyway, because being able to tell people things they probably aren't interested in is the whole point of having a blog.) (Well, that and inserting unnecessary parentheses.) Anyway, my pet hate is when people I haven't been in touch with for months or years send an email or letter that says nothing more than:

Hi StyleyGeek,

Sorry I haven't written in ages. How are things with you? I want to hear all your news!

Lazy Friend

It's the cheat's way of getting back in touch by making me do all the work (and work that, for whatever reason, I clearly don't feel like doing right now, otherwise I would have done it already) . Why can't they tell me all their news? Hmm?

Monday, May 29, 2006

Virtual names for virtual people

It is the time of year when Geekman has to draft two new players into his virtual cricket team. As far as I can tell, virtual cricket is like Dungeons and Dragons for cricket geeks. He creates players with various stats, and some computer in Outer Mongolia pits his team against other people's, throwing die to determine who bowls, whether the batter hits and scores, and how many limbs each player breaks.

My father has a team too, and them playing against each other occasionally is pretty much the sum total of their father-in-law/son-in-law interaction.

Anyway, the cricket player names. He needs some.

To give you an idea of what sort of names his team members tend to have, here's the current list:

(You will see he went through a stage of naming them after language families, but he's kind of over that now. He also had a whole bunch named after his favourite foods, but they all died or retired.)

The Marauding Fluffies Cricket Team

Wafting Tentacle
Earl Grey
Baffled Mollusc
Death Waffle
Zesti Dilemma
Doomed Lemming
Camomile Hoon
Favourite Onion
Nervous Fruitcake
Inscrutable Frog
Cuddly Deathwish
Moterior Ultive

So what should the newbies be called? After all, we want them to fit in and not get laughed at by their fellow players.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The role of a blogroll: community network or chosen few?*

Lately I've been having a bit of a think about the blogroll over there in the sidebar. When I started this blog, I decided I wanted to keep my blogroll nice and short. I had seen blogrolls that seem to list everyone the blogger had ever read, and I found it a bit intimidating. If I am looking for new blogs to try out, I tend to use links from blogs that have a short blogroll, because (a) I can skim through it easily and pick the one or two links that sound best, and (b) I assume that these are the "best of the bunch" in that person's view, and so the chance of getting something I really like through this random link-clicking method is much higher than it would be if I picked something from a blogroll of hundreds.

Recently, though, I have found myself wanting to expand my blogroll. A lot. I've had quite a few new commentators lately as well as a whole heap of people linking to me, and in many cases I want to link to their blogs, while in other cases I feel I "should". It's only fair, right? But even now that would probably make my blogroll twice the length it already is, and if I get linked to by more people in the future, it will only keep growing, until I can see myself ending up with a blogroll of the sort of length I was trying to avoid.

So I started thinking about the purpose(s) of a blogroll, and I realised that for me, at least, there are two. First, it's obviously for recommending blogs that I think are the absolute best I have come across. And secondly it serves to connect me to my sector of the blogosphere. It says "these are the people I hang out with" in the sense that I read their blogs, they read mine, and we comment at each other. And that is helpful for the reader too, since it tells them to an extent what sort of blog to expect mine to be: who is influencing me, who my audience is, who I might be referring to.

And the problem is that the set of blogs on my blogroll for the first purpose doesn't always overlap with the blogs that are there for the second. There is no sense in which I "hang out" with Dooce, for example. I read and worship her blog, but she's never likely to visit mine, and her readership is so diverse that me reading her blog doesn't define me as part of any specific community. Many of my commentators here (can I say "many", when I only have ten or so?) have excellent blogs that I do want to recommend to other people. But although it hasn't actually happened yet, there's always the chance that I'll get a regular commentator and reader whose blog I really dislike, and don't want people to think I am endorsing. But if they really did read and comment here regularly, I would want to link to them as a way of saying, "Here's someone who helps define my blog".

Maybe you can see where I'm going with this. I'm thinking about having two blogrolls: one for "blogs I want to be when I grow up", and the other for "people I like to hang out with". The only thing is, I don't want people to think they are on the "people I like to hang out with" blogroll because I don't like their blogs and am not recommending them. Rather, they are there because I feel like I am in some sort of community relationship with them, whether that is because I hang out at their blog a lot, or they hang out at mine. I am still recommending their blog, but with qualifications: "If you are into the sorts of blog that make up this sector of the blogosphere, then here's one that resonates with me that you might want to take a look at."

So in short, I don't want to offend anyone, but I do want to go back to having at least one list of links that was what I originally envisaged my blogroll as being: a short list of the absolute best blogs I have come across on the web that may or may not have anything in common with mine, but that I highly recommend to any visitor, no matter what online community (s)he identifies with.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

* I've spent so much time lately devising thesis chapter titles that I am now incapable of coming up with anything that doesn't involve a colon, a question mark, and/or an attempted pun.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Unlimited potential

I was typing up a letter just now and OpenOffice* automatically changed "27 May" to "27 Maybe".

This made me so happy that I think the whole month should be renamed the month of maybe.

(And it's also pretty good as a statement of how certain I usually am about what the date is.)

* If you don't already use it, follow this link and download OpenOffice to use instead of Microsoft Office. It includes programs equivalent to Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access, each of which feels just like the Microsoft version so that you don't have to waste time learning how to use it. But unlike Microsoft Office, it is free (and open source). For reasons why this is a good thing, read this and/or this. And I promise that it doesn't always change words to what it thinks they should be -- only if you have accidentally left it on the wrong settings!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: The Good-Morrow

Because you can never have too much John Donne.

Embarrassing admission: I carry the second verse around in my head like a security blanket and use it as a mantra when I feel in need of comfort.

The Good-Morrow

John Donne

I wonder by my troth, what thou, and I
Did, till we lov'd? were we not wean'd till then?
But suck'd on countrey pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the seaven sleepers den?
T'was so; But this, all pleasures fancies bee.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desir'd, and got, t'was but a dreame of thee.

And now good morrow to our waking soules,
Which watch not one another out of feare;
For love, all love of other sights controules,
And makes one little roome, an every where.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let Maps to other, worlds on worlds have showne,
Let us possesse one world, each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appeares,
And true plaine hearts doe in the faces rest,
Where can we finde two better hemispheares
Without sharpe North, without declining West?
What ever dyes, was not mixt equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none doe slacken, none can die.

A piece of advice: read the packaging

If in your entire adult life you have never owned a vegetable peeler until two months ago, and for the past two months you have been complaining to everyone you know that vegetable peelers don't work as well as they used to when you were a kid, then maybe you should consider the possibility that the vegetable peeler you bought might actually be one for left-handed people.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

At least they're getting the message about plagiarism

I guess I frightened them. Because this time around, not only are my students freaking out about whether they have accidentally collaborated on their assignments when they weren't looking, but they are citing everything possible, left, right and all over the margins.

One student in particular has made heavy use of the textbook and lecture notes when composing his answers, but this time at least he has paraphrased rather than copying, and after each sentence he has added in parentheses: "according to the textbook" or "according to Dr ScaryLecturer last Wednesday".

But my absolute favourite spot is where he writes:

"The third word in this example sentence is a preposition (according to me, anyway)."*

Guess he couldn't find a "citation" for that one.

* I'm considering patenting this form of reference and using it heavily in my thesis. I'm thinking of calling it the fuck you approach to stating your sources.

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Google, the fount of all wisdom

In my referral stats for the last few days I discovered that people have found this blog by searching google for the following phrases:

"how to stop holding breath" (I hope they found an answer within a minute or so!)

and (all caps in the original search too)


Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Australia: Making immigrants feel welcome since 1788

I've been having fun with a newly arrived Canadian. Well, okay, maybe rather than "having fun with", the phrase I was looking for might be "making fun of".

I can tell he's newly arrived because he talks funny. His latest faux pas was telling us a story in which he used the sentence: "I fell on my fanny". In amongst our hysterics, we did explain to him that as far as the Australian/NZ/whole bloody rest of the world's sense of the word is concerned he doesn't have one of those to fall on, but he didn't seem convinced.

I like laughing at Foreigners. Makes a change from them laughing at me.* (We still had the mandatory laugh-at-the-NZ-accent part of the conversation, though, never fear.**)

* I realise that technically, being an immigrant, I get to be the foreigner and all the Australians around me don't, but they sure sound foreign to me.

** If you ever get the chance to talk to a New Zealander who has lived in New Zealand for at least some of the last decade, make them read this sentence aloud: "This bear here has a fear of appearing to spill his spare beer on the dear little fair-haired deer". Then you can have a good chuckle.

Another god-like author has feet of clay

In line with recent hot news stories about plagiarists like Kaavya Viswanathan, I have discovered that the work of a writer I have recently plugged on this blog* was tragically nothing but a pastiche.

That's right, I'm talking about little Lesion E. Thresholds. And clearly I need to work on my science fiction geekdomism, as Geekman picked up on the plagiarism the minute he read that entry, while I never even had the slightest inkling.

The "random text" story I posted turns out to have been created by taking half-sentences from The Stainless Steel Rat, a series of novels by Harry Harrison, and gluing them together into a new story. Still kind of random, but definitely not Lesion's own work.

I feel so deceived.

* Isn't "plugged on this blog" one of the most horrible sounding phrases you have ever heard?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

For the demographic where Apple addict and Star Wars fan intersect

This is almost enough to make me wish I had a Mac. Geekman's boss installed it on his iBook today and spent the afternoon swinging the poor notebook at unsuspecting people who walked into his office.

Ph34r /\/\y 1337 h4xor 5k177z

While we're all taking a good laugh at my technological incompetence, I have another confession to make. This will only make sense to you if you've ever fiddled around with a Blogger template, so if you haven't, feel free to go away and giggle to yourself in the corner or something, and I'll give you a shout when we're done.

For the rest of you, you know those conditional tags that are labeled things like ItemPage, ArchivePage, and MainOrArchivePage and how you theoretically put them around things like sidebar boxes that you only want to appear on the "archive" page, or the "item" page, etc? Well, for months I have been complaining to everyone I know (well, okay, to Geekman), that I cannot get my categories list to show up on the "item" page, but only on "main" and "archive" pages. He asked me, quite reasonably, I admit, whether my categories code was surrounded by MainOrArchivePage tags, and I explained that it is, but that I have I tried taking them out and it didn't help.

And I did, and it didn't! Several times I tried removing these MainOrArchivePage tags, and yet the categories in the sidebar still didn't show up on the "item" pages. When I posted a question about this on a forum, I was told that my problem was undoubtedly that I had tried to "nest" some of these conditional tags inside each other somewhere in my template, and this could cause no end of screw up.

So last night I finally persuaded Geekman to take a look at the template code and see if he could find nested tags that I had missed. Which he couldn't. But while he was troubleshooting, he tested what would happen if he deleted the categories altogether.

"Now this really makes no sense," he complained. "Watch." First he deleted the categories sidebar from the template, then clicked preview, and as expected there were no categories visible. But then he clicked on an individual month's archive, and on the archive page, the categories were back.

I laughed at his confusion. "The preview button just generates a preview of the main page. If you click on any of the links there it links to the actual, live blog, and you haven't saved the changes, so of course they don't show up."

There was a pause. We both looked at each other, realisation dawning. Geekman spoke first.

"About all those times you tried removing the MainOrArchive tags..."

Monday, May 22, 2006

StyleyGeek must learn to stay in character

At my website job today I was standing by the photocopier (which doubles as a printer), waiting for my printout to appear. A woman I hadn't seen before started trying to photocopy something, then noticed me and stopped.

"Are you waiting for a printout?"
"Yes, but go ahead."
"Will it screw up your printing if I copy something?"
"I don't know. I guess it might delay it a bit, but I'm in no rush."

She smiled and pressed the "copy" button. Nothing happened.

She tried again. Still nothing.

"Do you know why it's not working?" she asked me.
I took a look, pressed a few random-ish buttons, but couldn't help. "I don't know anything about photocopiers. Sorry."
"Dammit. At least I won't be holding up your printing any longer."
"Except that nothing's happening there either. It should have printed by now."

We both peer at the machine, baffled. I fiddle with the settings, turn it off and on again. Still nothing.

"Oh well," sighed the other woman. "I should have known something like this would happen. I'm completely useless with technology."
"Me too. It's probably my fault. I've broken three computers, a fax machine and a telephone in the six weeks I've been here: I was about due for a photocopier." We share a smile.

"I didn't think I'd seen you around much before," said the other woman as she gathered up her papers to leave. "So what do you do?"
I should have seen this question coming, but by the time I realised what a hole I had dug myself into it was too late to backtrack and make something up, and I swear I heard my own answer in slow motion like a car accident unfolding in front of me.

"I work in the I.T. department."

I want my ozone layer back

I got sunburned yesterday at the RSPCA event.

Yes, I was standing outside in Australia for four hours without a hat or sunscreen, should've known better, blah blah blah. But it's practically winter. It was 12 fricking degrees! The only time you should ever get sunburned in winter is when it's more than made up for by the fact you are on an exciting skiing holiday in the Alps. And I wasn't.

So I want my ozone layer back. Has anyone seen it?

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Three cheers for telepathy

This morning one of my six part time jobs loaned me to the RSPCA, as they were having a big event down by the lake and needed extra hands. My job was to persuade people to "vote" for their favourite of six dog kennels that had been designed by local architecture students. You could vote by putting a dollar in a letterbox attached to the kennel you thought was best. At 2 o'clock the dog kennel with the most money in its letterbox got auctioned off and the RSPCA got the money both from the letterboxes and the auction.

So I was standing there getting people to drop dollar coins into the letterbox of their favourite kennel. And at various times during the day I overheard at least ten different people turn to their partner or child after putting their coin in and say that they hoped they would "win the raffle". Obviously it didn't strike them as slightly odd that they thought they were entering a competetion that didn't require them to leave any name, number or contact details.

Because we know who you are.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

How to have a chocolate party

To begin with, as is only right and proper, there must be a Tour de Dark Chocolate with a range of different cocoa percentages. My limit for still enjoying the taste turned out to be 70%. The selection available went up to 88%, but that was like eating cocoa powder out of the packet.

A chocolate fountain is not optional.

It's also important to have a selection of weird shit, just to show people how lucky they are that the person who chose these didn't have responsibility for the rest of the selection. On this side table (okay, bookshelf), among lesser weirdnesses, was chocolate with "strawberry and black pepper" filling, chocolate flavoured with merlot and pinot noir, and some completely bizarre geranium scented stuff.

These were the dairy-free chocolates for the hosts' housemate who goes into anaphylactic shock if he so much as inhales the scent of whey. Seriously. Last week he walked through the kitchen while his housemates were cooking custard, upon which he had to have a little injection and a visit to the emergency room.

Of course, when you get a critical mass of academics at a party, they get twitchy if they can't make lists, quantify their intuitions, carry out experiments and perform statistical calculations on their data.

Fortunately academics are a creative bunch and will find ways to satisfy these urges no matter what. So apart from the usual accent-related experiments and observations (of the 25 people present, only two were Australian), people came up with the following games:

Rate the different types of chocolate from 1 (worst) to 3 (best) and calculate the most popular.

The blind taste test.

For this there were five plates of milk chocolate from different brands, ranging in price between $10 and $70 a kilo. Everyone listed them in order of preference and the scores (5 points for a listing as #1; 4 for a listing as #2, etc) were added up to get an overall ranking.

The results were:

First place: Lindt (second from the left), at approx. $25 per kilo
Second place: Fair Trade organic chocolate (on the left) at $70 per kilo
Third equal: Cadbury's dairy milk chocolate ($14 a kilo, second from the right) and Whittakers milk chocolate ($16 a kilo, far right)
Last place, universally reviled: Black and Gold cooking compound ($8 a kilo, in the centre)

Moral of the story: when it comes to chocolate, you (mostly) get what you pay for.

Final tip for a chocolate party: have plenty of recovery food available for the stage of the evening when the sight of chocolate starts making your guests want to hurl. The chestnuts made a surpisingly good counterpoint to the rest.

Coffee makes brain kick in even more

I just realised that the whole "perfect day; nothing to do" thing was brought to you courtesy of me accidentally leaving my students' assignments in my office last night. Oops. I guess I can't mark those this weekend then. How tragic.

Saturday morning: primary school style

Fortunately she woke up to a perfect day and the knowledge that she had nowhere she had to be; nothing she had to do.

Unfortunately when the water from the showerhead hit the on-switch for her brain, she remembered at least ten things she had been putting off for "when she had time" that she really should use that "perfect day" to do.

Fortunately she had woken up early enough (for a change) that she might actually have time to get some of those things out of the way and still have a little day left to herself.

Unfortunately Geekman announced he was going to the gym and guilted her into feeling that she should go too.

Fortunately she remembered that they had been invited to a chocolate-tasting party that evening, which would no doubt help replace all those valuable calories lost while weightlifting.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: A Day in Autumn

My father just sent me a book of poetry by R.S. Thomas, a Welsh priest who I hadn't heard of before. So I thought it was appropriate to post something by him this Friday. I haven't read many of the poems in the collection yet, so this isn't necessarily my favourite, but it's certainly appropriate to the time of year.

A Day in Autumn
R.S. Thomas

It will not always be like this,
The air windless, a few last
Leaves adding their decoration
To the trees’ shoulders, braiding the cuffs
Of the boughs with gold; a bird preening
In the lawn’s mirror. Having looked up
From the day’s chores, pause a minute,
Let the mind take its photograph
Of the bright scene, something to wear
Against the heart in the long cold.

It bodes

It bodes ill. But I'm not sure it bodes iller than last time, since everything I whine about below is hardly new behaviour. But you'd think they'd have learned. <- famous last words.

I just picked up the latest (and final!) set of assignments that my students have handed in. Each has a coversheet attached, as required by university regulations, on which they have to fill in their name, tutor's name, tutorial day/time, date of submission and sign a statement saying they didn't plagiarise or collaborate. And as usual, most of them have stumbled already at this preliminary hurdle.

Take the Wednesday 11 o'clock tutorial group, for example. According to their coversheets some of the students are under the impression that they have been meeting all semester at any (maybe all?) of the following times:

  • Wednesday at 12 o'clock
  • Wednesday at 10 o'clock
  • Wednesday at 4 o'clock
  • Tuesday at 11 o'clock
  • Tuesday at 10 o'clock
  • and most bizarre of all, Tuesday at 4:45
Most of them spelt my name wrong (which is understandable, since it is one of those names with several variant spellings). Some of them wrote under "Tutor" the name of the other tutor for the course, despite always having attended my class rather than hers (and despite hers being a clearly Korean name and me not looking the slightest bit Korean). Some of them wrote ScaryLecturer's name. Some of them -- even more inexplicably -- wrote the name of one of last year's tutors.

I don't think anyone spelt their own name wrong, but plenty of them forgot to write their last names, among whom the ones named Sarah, Kate, Ben, Matt etc were the worst culprits. One of them forgot to put their name on at all, but fortunately had a reasonably legible signature beside the plagiarism statement, so I could make out who it was from that. Several of my Asian students whose legal names differ from the ones they use informally wrote only their English name (e.g. "Mandy") when I have their records filed under the official name, so I not only have to work out "Mandy's" last name, but first try to remember what her real first name is.*

And finally, a significant number "forgot" to sign the plagiarism statements. University policy requires me to get them to do so before even marking the assignment. In reality in these cases we tend to mark them anyway, and just get the student to sign before returning the assignment to them. But even so, it is extra hassle I could do without.

And of course there is the usual number of students who, despite being told and told and told not to, (1) wrote in pencil, (2) wrote in red pen or (3) wrote in sparkly silver or gold pen (unreadable).

All of which bodes for the state of the rest of their assignment. Oh yes. It just bodes.

* The solution to this isn't as simple as filing their records under their English names instead, as some of them are pretty random about which one they write on assignment coversheets. And for some stupid reason the list in my head (to the extent that there is one at all) goes: "Zhu Ling = Mandy" rather than the more sensible method of thinking of "Mandy Zhu". I should really make a list of the English names and corresponding official names to look up when I get confused.

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Thursday, May 18, 2006

More late-night paranoia

Someone whose IP address says they are at my university just accessed this blog. Creepy, creepy. I don't think I've ever had hits even from anyone in this town before who I hadn't directed to the blog myself.

The only small relief is that since it is 11 o'clock at night, the chances are pretty low that it is someone in my department. The only person I know of who ever works that late is... um... ScaryLecturer.

So hi, ScaryLecturer! How do you like being famous?

Seriously, though, random university colleague: if you are still here or if you come back and visit again, please tell me that you don't know me -- leave an anonymous comment or something. I would sleep so much better for the reassurance.

Actually, I think that should be general blog-reading practice -- if you access a blog that you can tell is by someone on your campus, you should leave a note to reassure them you aren't their department's administrator and about to dooce them. (Or their supervisor and about to glare at them.)

It's not like I'm the only paranoid blogger who checks their referral stats incessantly. (Is it?)

A new author you should know about

Not that I want to be alarmist,* but I think someone has written a random spam generator that in a sudden flash of sentience is poised to take over the world.

When it has finished working on its career as an aspiring novelist, that is.

Not that it's especially difficult to create random text generators that produce coherent text. I've written some myself. And take a look here for a much better example than anything I've ever put together. But spammers don't usually bother. Why should they, when randomly strung together words are enough to get past our filters?

Nevertheless, I got another piece of most excellent random text spam today that looked anything but random. I reproduce it below, under the name of the "original author" (according to the "from" information in the email).

Lesion E. Thresholds

"That was useful", Angelina said. "Walking to the War is a violation of any code of ethics". Where to? The roots buried against the wall. Fine, come, come, pass it over, the aging hatchet needs special attention. But first we have to grab it holding a heavy pot projected in from the rear. They had been running through my cerebral cortex in sight when I slipped through the door and love said, frowning. "You will take care of cold doesn’t stop". You have to like cold and I died: I ripped the entire instrument out by glaring at him. Your cortex! Butchers, those people. Simply the original owner. Angelina was right behind me, useless. Hypnosis perhaps, it didn’t really matter.

What do you say? Should we give little Lesion a pass in Creative Writing 101?

* Alarmist? Me? Never.

** The only changes I made to this were (1) capitalising after existing punctuation, (2) adding some punctuation of my own in five places, and (3) deleting six words. This is fewer "corrections" than I make to most of my students' essays, so gives you an idea of what a fantastic text it was in the first place.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Wake up! Wake up! I'm bored!

I'm having time zone issues.

Or rather, I'm waiting for the internet to do something interesting, and it just isn't. Doing. Anything interesting.

My hypothesis is that everyone in exciting Northern Latitude Cities is asleep. Which is clearly something they only do to spite me.

I've just been examining everyone's time zones courtesy of the meeting planner on this site to try and understand why I am plagued by this dry spell most evenings.

I tend to read blogs first thing in the morning, and then again when I get home at night. When I get up at 7 o'clock, it's early to mid afternoon for the USAliens among you, so I can read whatever you've written the previous evening, that morning or in your lunch break. The Europeans are just going to bed, so I get their whole day's worth of bloggy goodness in one big helping that goes nicely with my porridge.

Often, like today, I cheat and look at Bloglines over lunch. In that case I read any evening posts by the Americans on my list then, and when I get home at six or seven o'clock it's the middle of the night for that lot, and early morning for the Eurolites*. The blogging world really doesn't start bubbling away again until well past my bedtime.

Two possible solutions occur to me. The first is that I should stop reading blogs at lunchtime and save them up for the evening when I'm more likely to be at a loose end. The second is that I could expand my bloglines feeds to include people who might actually write something between midnight and 7 am EST or 5 am and noon BST.

So since the first option isn't going to happen any time soon, does anyone know of any good blogs by European early risers or American insomniacs?

* Which sounds like a new type of snack food. Eurolites! They taste like your Standard Average European**, but now with less fat!

** That was a linguistics joke.***

*** Except for the whole not-being-funny thing. So not actually a joke at all.

You have to love the conscientious ones

I just had a phone call from one of my students.

"Can you tell me what the exact definitions of plagiarism and collaboration are?"
I gave her the version from the university's plagiarism policy, but she didn't seem satisfied.

"What about this?" she asked. "I ran into a guy from my class today and he asked me how I was finding the assignment. When I said I was nearly finished but that the last question was really hard, he told me the answer to the last question was on page 325 in the textbook. Does that count as collaboration?" Her voice quavered. "Because I need to know if I can sign the declaration on the assignment that I didn't collaborate or plagiarise, or if I should turn myself in."

Do you know how hard it is to reassure someone convincingly when you are trying not to laugh (or cry, or both)?

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Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A crib-sheet for Christianity

The definitions list at the bottom of this post is hilarious.

My favourite:

Catholics are the New York Yankees of Christianity. They are the biggest and wealthiest team, and their owner is intensely controversial (this makes St. Francis of Assisi the Derek Jeter of Catholicism: discuss). Catholics all wear matching uniforms, and are divided into "parishes," or "squadrons," to make choosing softball teams easier. Catholics are rigidly controlled by a hidebound hierarchy that starts with priests and ends with priests' housekeepers. Catholics are not allowed to read the Bible, eat meat, or refrain from worshipping statues.

(Link found via La Lecturess.)

Monday, May 15, 2006

Meetings like it's 1899

The only thing that bugs me about my otherwise very cushy part-time website job is the insistance of everyone I work with on face-to-face meetings. Meetings. Like email, only requiring people to be in the same place at the same time and much, much slower.

Now one of my tasks at the moment is to put together a page that will list all the projects that the 25 people in the department are working on. Two weeks ago I sent out an email with a request that people reply directly with the official title of their project(s), and then, when they have a chance, that they also put together a brief paragraph on what the project is actually about. I figured that I could design the page as soon as I had the titles and then add in the rest of the information as it came in.

In the two weeks since then I have had three responses to the email, and five or six people who have walked into my office and requested a time for a "meeting" so we can "discuss" the matter. Of course, they were all on their way off to something, and can't do next Monday, but Wednesday afternoon would suit, oh---wait, you don't work Wednesdays? Well how about Monday in two weeks' time at 11 o'clock? I tried to suggest that maybe they could just send me an email. But no, that wasn't an option.

When I mentioned to my boss today that progress on the projects page was slow because people weren't replying to the email, he looked horrified. "You emailed them? Why didn't you just go around knocking on their office doors and asking for the titles then and there?"

Because, assuming five minutes for each office, a door-knocking campaign would have taken over two hours: that's why. Not to mention that some people wouldn't have been there, wouldn't have had the information to hand, etc, etc. But for some reason no one in this place seems to consider email a real option for passing on information.

So the first of the "meetings" was today. The guy involved has rescheduled twice already. But today he turned up, shook hands, sat down, and then said, "It's probably easiest for you if I just write down my project titles for you, so I'll just do that now."

And behold! with much frowning and concentration and pauses to sharpen his pencil, consult his diary, and find a piece of paper of the right dimensions (whatever they were), he eventually wrote three project titles down for me. Which I typed up and emailed to myself so that I could put them in the email folder where the project lists are currently hanging out.

Breathe, StyleyGeek, breathe.

And then, and then, later today one of the administrators came by my office and asked if I had been in contact at all with the person who used to be responsible for the website.
"Oh yes," I assured her, "I've been emailing her whenever I've had questions and she's been very helpful."
"But have you had a meeting with her at all, darl?"
"Not in person, no..."
"Well, I think you should. I'll set it up with her when I see her this afternoon."
"I really don't think we need to have a meeting. We don't have anything to discuss at the moment."
"What about the problems you've been emailing her about?"
"We sorted those out. By email."
"Well these things are always better face-to-face, aren't they, love? So I'll set up a meeting for you with her next Monday. Cheerio!"

These people are so strange that I can't find words to describe their strangeness. Except that I can, because I've just written 591 words* on the subject. But I'm sure they would have been better words if I hadn't been so perplexed.

* I'm obsessively word-counting everything at the moment. Hah! You thought you were immune because you are a mere blog post. Well you are wrong! Wrong! (I think this is the next stage of that disease I have in which my thesis is progressively colonising my brain.)

There should be a prize

This sentence would win an Impenetratable Sentence of the Year award hands down:

"We thus witness for instance the familiar synthesis -- analysis (e.g. periphrasis) -- agglutination-resynthesis evolution of junctural structure typology." (Shisha-Halevy, 2000)

I know all the words, but it's like a random combination spambot got there first.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Some half-baked ideas to go with my half-baked dinner

This is going to be a very half-formed, half-baked post, because I'm trying to fit it into the fifteen minute transition period I left myself between finishing working for the day and getting to a friend's house for dinner.

The general idea, though, is that it struck me recently that the relationships we have in the blogosphere in some ways resemble the networks that have probably existed for most of human history -- up until we all moved to the big bad cities, that is.

I don't know about you, but I don't think I'm entirely atypical in the number and intensity of my real-life friendships. I can only think of two or three people who I make a real effort to check in with every single day and who I think about even more often than that. Then there are around 10 others who I try and catch up with once or twice a week and at least the superficial details of whose lives I make an effort to keep up-to-date with. Most other acquaintances are ones I run into or hear from once every few months, or once a year, and although I know vaguely how they are (healthy/ill/dead), what they do for a job, and who they live with, that's about all.

Back before the big urban sprawly things we all live in came into being, these numbers would have surely been way different. If you lived in a village of 100 people, you wouldn't be able to help but run into most of them a couple of times a week, and those who you didn't see, you'd most likely hear about through other people. Further back, hunter-gatherer tribes of a couple of hundred would no doubt also have much more closely-knit relationships than I have with the couple of hundred people I know.

No doubt you can see where this is going.

Blogs have brought this back. Keeping track of a hundred or more people on a daily basis -- following their lives, having interactions with them (via email or their comment boxes) is suddenly much, much easier. And I feel I know the people whose blogs I read daily at least as well as I know the people in my life that I catch up with every few weeks, and probably better.

What sparked this off was thinking about how, with the much wider pool of friends/acquaintances the blogosphere gives us, we suddenly find that a much larger number of people we "know" are in trouble of some sort -- broke, ill, dying, losing partners or close friends. In my "real" life, I've only known (well) one person who has had a partner die, I've had two good friends and three close relatives who have died, and I've never known anyone with a terminally ill child. In the online world I inhabit, I've seen many more of these situations, and each time it feels like it is happening to a friend.

But going by the numbers, that's the way it used to be. People wouldn't have been able to get to their mid-twenties in the past without knowing people who died, who lost loved ones and who have been poverty stricken, life-threateningly ill or affected by other tragedies. So maybe the way the blogosphere enlarges our field of friends and acquaintances is a matter of restoring a natural balance, and exposing us to situations we need to experience (first or second-hand) in order to really understand life, the world, and each other.

Winter is here. Or... not.

Geekman: "Good lord! It's so cold in here I can see my breath!"

Me: "I can't see it. You must be hallucinating."

Geekman: "Good lord! It's so cold in here I'm hallucinating!"

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Because I love to re-teach entire classes one-on-one

I know that other people in the academic padded rooms section of the blogosphere have complained about this, but that's not going to stop me jumping on the bandwagon: yesterday I had two different students turn up at my office (not during my office hours) to say, "I missed a couple of lectures and I was hoping you could tell me what happened."

So I reminded them of the time-honoured ways in which students deal with missed lectures: do the readings, ask classmates for their notes, download the lecture notes from the web. And both students independently came up with the same reply to these suggestions: "But that's a lot of work, so I thought I'd check with you first to see whether I'd missed anything important."

Next time this happens I am so going to reply, "No, you didn't miss anything important, because we never do anything important in this class. Of course, you did miss an entire new concept that's going to be on the exam, but compared to, say, global warming, starvation, the question of whether we are alone in the universe or your need to go to the beach instead of the lecture last Tuesday, this concept isn't important at all, which is why you'll find that it isn't on the lecture notes, in the textbook or in the readings, and I'm not going to tell you what it is."

Then I will laugh maniacally.

Then I will have a lie down.

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: The Millstones

This is my favourite poem ever but it took me weeks to find a copy, which is why it hasn't appeared here until now.

The Millstones

James K. Baxter

I do not expect you to like it. Winter
Has found his way into the tunnels of the mind
And will not leave us.

Often between the millstones,
In a stranger's house, perhaps drunk,
One of us would remember
The lagoons and the water birds, sleep that came
Like the travelling of the tide under a boat's keel.

Endlessly in memory I followed the river
To the place it sprang from, among broom bushes
In a gully above the dam. Brother,
It taught me nothing but how to die;
The house is empty. In the paddock alongside it
On a tree one bitter shrunken apple.
It is the hour of ghosts.

Do not forget
The time between the millstones was a real time;
The battles were real, foul sweat, foul blood,
Though now the earth is trying to persuade us
We are children again. The gales of the south sea
Will hammer tonight on a shut window.

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I've got a countdown clock but it isn't counting anything

I got me a little countdown clock for my thesis due date (scroll down to the bottom of the sidebar). But although it was working fine last night, now it isn't showing anything at all.

I had a hard time finding one that worked at all in the first place, actually, so does anyone have any suggestions for where to get a replacement?

My requirements are that I have to be able to resize it so it fits into my sidebar, it shouldn't have advertising all over it, and I'd prefer a javascript-based one to something that requires flash.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

When cockatoos come home to roost

From my balcony at twilight:

It's incredible to think that this tree is the same one as in the second and last photos in this group, taken only about three weeks ago. My balcony testifies to what happened, though, being knee-deep in crunchy leafiness.


ScaryLecturer just stuck his head around the door.

"Everything okay with Intro?"
"Yes, thanks."
"You would tell me if one of the students died or anything, wouldn't you?"
"Um... yes. Are you expecting someone to?"
"No. Just checking." And he left.

I've been wracking my brains for possible reasons for this surreal question, and the only one I could come up with was that he's discovered this blog and deliberately said something blogworthy to test for certain whether he is ScaryLecturer. And this possibility kept me from posting for, like, a whole ten minutes.

But until someone comes up with a better theory, I will remain mystified and slightly paranoid.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Strategic thinking

Writing the post earlier today about seating arrangements in the office reminded me of a conversation from when Geekman and I went out to dinner with four friends in the weekend just been.

More diagram for incompetent people who can't follow my perfectly clear descriptions.

As we were shown to our table in the corner of the room, the usual shuffle-shuffle dance of who wants to sit where took place. One guy (and those of you who know us in real life can no doubt guess who it was) claimed he needed to sit in the corner so he could see the door and no one could get behind him. "I learned in Patagonia to always take that seat," he said. "It's the most defensive position."

Geekman, on the other hand, demanded the seat that is labelled here as "2". "If I sit there," he pointed out, "I can reach everyone else's plates. And the waiter will probably pass things to me first."

We all looked slightly stunned by this display of greed honesty. Then he added, "I guess you could call mine the most offensive position."

Aisle or window?

When I first arrived here and was assigned this office I was sharing it with a visiting researcher, who in his time with the office to himself had chosen the desk/computer in front of the window. So when I arrived, I got the desk/computer at right-angles to the door.

Once he left, I figured there must have been a reason why he chose the window desk, so I moved there, leaving the desk by the door to the new PhD student who arrived a few weeks later. All of this is illustrated in a very artistic diagram I have kindly constructed for those of you who are spatial-visualisation impaired.

And now I'm suffering from a case of "the grass is always greener". I freely admit that I've maybe become a little bit obsessed about whether I have the best deal or not, but this is the sort of question that suddenly takes on new importance when your advisor is expecting a chapter draft by the end of the day. After all, if I don't have the best possible working conditions, then it's not surprising if I don't meet deadlines, is it?

Anyway, in the midst of my obsession, it struck me that the pros and cons of each position are pretty much the same as those for aisle and window seats on an aeroplane.

If you pick the window seat, you get a pretty view, plus you don't have to worry about people wanting to get in and out all the time and squeezing past you. But you have to have a strong bladder, because the rules of Murphy say you'll be trapped in place for the entire flight by an enormous (and often extremely smelly) person who falls asleep in the first five minutes and lies there dribbling like a beached and decaying whale* for the rest of the flight.

If you pick the aisle seat you are bound to have an excitable small child in the window seat next to you who has to get out every three minutes to go pee or vomit or do whatever excitable small children do on plane flights.

The advantages of the window-seat in our office arrangement are:

  • Sunshine. Light. Air. A nice view, sometimes with parrots.
  • Next to the filing cabinet, for easy access.
  • The computer cords actually reach the power sockets.
  • When people enter the office they aren't standing right in my personal space.

  • The computer screen faces the door, so anyone walking in can immediately see what I'm doing.
  • I'm next to the filing cabinet, so I have to move whenever my office mate wants to access her files.
  • I have to squeeze past her whenever I want to leave the office (Bump! Sorry! Bump! Ouch! Hold on... No, I can fit. Nevermind).
The advantages and disadvantages of the "aisle seat" are pretty much all of these in reverse.

So aisle or window? Which would you have chosen?

* Beached whales are not known for their dribbling, I know. But work with me here, people. There is a limited supply of similes in the world and today I obviously got stuck with less than my fair share.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006


Student: "I have been really struggling with your class this semester. I was hoping you could give me some tips."

Lecturer: "What is it that you've been finding so difficult?"

Student: "Well, I go to the five o'clock lecture stream and I have to admit, I tend to fall asleep and miss most of what you say."

Lecturer: "Well then, my tip is to TRY STAYING AWAKE."

Monday, May 08, 2006

They don't employ her for her listening skills

"Hi, I'm calling from [government department]. There's a typo on your invoice for the work you did on our website."

"Oh. Sorry about that. Can you just cross it out?"

"No, I'm afraid we need a new copy. Are you able to fax one to us today?"

"Actually, I don't have access to a fax machine, but I will be coming in later today anyway to do some more work, so I can bring in a new copy then."

"Um... okay... But there's also another form we need you to sign to authorise the payment. If you just give me your fax number, I'll send it to you now."

"Uh, like I said, I don't have a fax. But can't I fill that out when I come in today?"

"Sure. Right. So do you have our details?"

"You mean who I should see about all this? No. Just let me get a pen.... Right."

"So... it's probably easiest if I just give you my fax number. Then you don't need to come in at all."

Freudian slip?

Over breakfast:

Me: "I think I might actually join that public speaking club I've been to a couple of times lately."

Geekman: "Toast-graspers?"

*munch* *munch*

Sunday, May 07, 2006

By the way

I just had dinner. There were potatoes. Told you so.

I mean, where do you start?!?

Today I went into university for a couple of hours*, and the guy in the office next to mine (who used to be One Of Us, but who has now submitted and graduated and converted to the dark side of Actually Being Employed) was also there and putting together the final exam for the course he convenes. So of course I nosied on up and read it through and just couldn't stop myself from giving "helpful" comments.

"I think this might be a really tough exam for some students," I pointed out, "since if they can't answer the first question, the second one won't even make sense, and if they can't get the second one, they won't know what you're referring to in the third one, and so on, right through the exam."
"Nah, that'll be fine," he replied, unfazed. "Because they will all be able to answer all the questions."
I shot him a disbelieving look.
"On the last day of class I'm going to give them a handout with the exam questions and the right answers on it and tell them to learn it all off by heart."

At which point I retreated to the comparative sanity of my own office, since it was sadly clear there was nothing more I could do for him.

* Despite it being Sunday. See the time stamp? Good StyleyGeek, hard-working StyleyGeek. Nice little StyleyGeek shall have her degree. Oh yes.

Who says dreams don't come true?

Last night I dreamed a long and unsatisfying dream about blogging. In the dream I kept starting to write a blog entry, then something more interesting would happen and I would decide to post about that instead. So I would start a new entry, and then something more interesting would happen and I would decide to post about that instead. So I would start a new blog entry, and then... you can see where this is going.

Considering what a long spiral of ever-increasing interestingness the events in my dream followed, you'd think that the last thing I tried to blog about before I woke up would be fantastic! amazing! exciting beyond belief! But no. The final blog post in my dream was about....

Eating dinner. There were potatoes.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Free as a bird

The entire point of the following post is to demonstrate how magnanimous I am. (In the face of this).

Just so you know.

The background to the story is that the cockatoos around here have developed a new game. They bite and claw at the rubber that surrounds the lightbulby bit of street lamps until they have persuaded enough of it to hang down for them to use it as their own personal cockatoo swing. This makes them very happy and they swing squawkily back and forth playing King of the Castle for hours on end.

The one that we passed this morning, however, was not a happy chap. Seems he had managed to get himself all tangled up in his rubber swing and was hanging by his feet. And the more he struggled, the tangleder he got himself. After a minute of watching him screaming angrily and trying desperately to curl his body up and around to get his beak up to where his feet were (and if you have never seen something nearly spherical trying to back-arch, you have no idea how funny that was), we realised he was going to need some outsider intervention.

But since we have not yet entered the century of the cellphone, we weren't able to do anything about it on the spot, so instead we carried on to the gym and called the SPCA from there. Which meant we weren't around to get exciting action photos of the person they sent out to cut the poor parrot down. I just hope they had seriously thick gloves and face protection.

And on the way home when I intended to get some nice photos of swinging cockatoos to illustrate this post with, I discovered that someone (presumably the SPCA) had gone all along the streets in our area removing the dangling rubber things. The one in the photo above was the only one left. I guess because it had broken in half anyway they decided it no longer poses a danger to over-stimulated cockatoos.

Anyone with kids knows what it's like to toddler-proof a house. Well imagine trying to toddler-proof an entire city -- for a toddler who can fly. Much as I admire them, I have to say I think the SPCA is fighting a losing battle with this one.

And the affirmations keep rolling in

I finally got some feedback from ScaryLecturer about my lecture. Two pieces of feedback, in fact, although I think only one of them was intended to reach me.

First of all, he accosted me in the hallway yesterday afternoon. "About your lecture..."
"Yes?" (In my head at this point, a little tail started wagging hopefully: praise me! praise me! praise me!)
"You made a mistake in your German example."

Then he proceeded to explain German grammar to me in excruciating detail, while I nodded and smiled and tried to explain that I do speak German quite fluently and the mistake was just a typo.

The other piece of feedback was via someone else from the department, who was at a party I went to last night. She told me that ScaryLecturer had been talking to her yesterday and had commented that students these days are no longer interested in theory and only care about the practical applications of what you teach them. Then he said that "young people like StyleyGeek" have a "very modern lecturing style" which he supposes is "an attempt to pander to the way today's students think".

So I'm a panderer. But at least I'm a panderer who keeps students awake and makes them think. That's a good thing, right?

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Friday, May 05, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: compare and contrast

These two poems always remind me of each other, even though they were written in different countries, different languages, three and a half centuries apart.

The Sunne Rising
John Donne

Busie old foole, unrulie Sunne
Why dost thou thus,
Through windowes, and through curtaines call on us
Must to thy motions lovers seasons run?
Sawcy pedantique wretch, goe chide
Late schoole boyes, and sowre prentices,
Goe tell Court-huntsmen, that the King will ride,
Call countrey ants to harvest offices;
Love, all alike, no season knowes, nor clyme,
Nor houres, dayes, moneths, which are the rags of time.

Thy beames, so reverend, and strong
Why shouldst thou thinke?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a winke,
But that I would not lose her sight so long:
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Looke, and to morrow late, tell mee,
Whether both the India’s of spice and Myne
Be where thou leftst them, or lie here with mee.
Aske for those Kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt heare, All here in one bed lay.

She is all States, and all Princes, I,
Nothing else is.
Princes doe but play us, compar’d to this,
All honor’s mimique; All wealth alchimie;
Thou sunne art halfe as happy’as wee,
In that the world’s contracted thus.
Thine age askes ease, and since thy duties bee
To warme the world, that’s done in warming us.
Shine here to us, and thou art every where;
This bed thy center is, these walls, thy spheare.

Sîne klâwen
Wolfram von Eschenbach

'Sîne klâwen
durch die wolken sint geslagen,
er stîget ûf mit grôzer kraft,
ich sih in grâwen
tegelîch, als er wil tagen,
den tac, der im geselleschaft
erwenden wil, dem werden man,
den ich mit sorgen în verliez.
ich bringe in hinnen, ob ich kan.
sîn vil manegiu tugent mich daz leisten hiez.'

'Wahtær, du singest
daz mir manege freude nimt
unde mêret mîne klage.
mær du bringest,
der mich leider niht gezimt,
immer morgens gegen dem tage.
diu solt du mir verswîgen gar!
daz gebiut ich den triuwen dîn.
des lôn ich dir als ich getar,
sô belîbet hie der geselle mîn.'

'Er muoz et hinnen
balde und âne sûmen sich.
nu gib im urloup, süezez wîp.
lâze in minnen
her nâch sô verholne dich,
daz er behalte êr unde den lîp.
er gab sich mîner triwe alsô,
daz ih in bræhte ouch wider dan.
ez ist nu tac. naht was ez dô
mit drucken an die brust dîn kus mir in an gewan.'

'Swaz dir gevalle,
wahtær, sinc, und lâ den hie,
der minne brâht und minne enphienc.
von dînem schalle
ist er und ich erschrocken ie,
sô ninder der morgenstern ûf gienc
ûf in, der her nâch minne ist komen,
noch ninder lûhte tages lieht,
du hâst in dicke mir benomen
von blanken armen, und ûz herzen nieht.'

Von den blicken,
die der tac tet durh diu glas,
und dô wahtære warnen sanc,
si muose erschricken
durch den, der dâ bî ir was.
ir brüstelîn an brust si dwanc.
der rîter ellens niht vergaz
des wold in wenden wahters dôn.
urloup nâh und nâher baz
mit kusse und anders gap in minne lôn.

His Claws
Wolfram von Eschenbach
(my translation)

"His claws
have sliced through the clouds,
he rises with huge strength,
I see him turn grey,
like dawn, just as it now will dawn:
the dawn, which wants to steal away
my company from the noble man
who I fearfully let in.
I will lead him away again, when I am able.
His many perfections mean I must do this."

"Guard, you are singing
and this takes from me much of my joy
and increases my sorrow.
You bring news
that sadly will not please me,
every morning at dawn:
You should just stay silent!
I demand this of your loyalty.
I will reward you as I am able,
then my beloved can stay here with me."

"He must leave,
right now and without delay.
Now say farewell, dear lady.
Let him hereafter
love you secretly
so that he can keep his honour and his life.
He has given himself into my care,
so that I can take him safely away from here.
It is now day. It was night when
pressed to each other's breast, your kiss took him from me."

"Whatever you desire,
guard, sing of it and leave him here
who brought me love and took love from me.
By your cries
he and I are always startled,
when not even the morning star has risen
above him who had come here seeking love,
nor yet has daylight begun to show.
You have often taken him from my arms
but not from my heart."

The looks
that the day gave them through the window
and the warning song of the guard
brought her fear
for him who was there with her.
Her breast was pressed to his.
The knight recalled his strength..
The song of the guard was to stop him
Parting was near and coming nearer,
With kisses and other gifts, love rewarded him.

A-lecturing I went

The lecture that I panicked about here happened yesterday. And thanks to everyone's very helpful suggestions (in the comment thread of that post), I think it went quite well.

I even managed to make it a little bit interactive by using Turtlebella's idea of getting the students to write down a few ideas on index cards. I basically showed them sentences from six languages and got them to write down a few ideas about different ways you could group them into sets of languages with something in common.

Then I put some of the ideas up on the board and used them as a jumping-off-point for the lecture. This worked extremely well with the first class, but in the repeat lecture at 5 o'clock no one wrote anything down at all, but instead just sat there like stunned rabbits caught in the terrifying headlights of having to think for themselves. I think it was a combination of it being late in the day, so they were all tired, and the small group size (the midday lecture was around 100 students; the evening one less than 30). But I muddled through that and the rest was pretty cruisy.

Of course I didn't get any feedback from ScaryLecturer, although he sat in on the second lecture, (which might have been another reason why the students in that group were more reluctant to participate, come to think of it). He just grunted a "thank you" as he left the hall. But I've come to know him well enough to be fairly sure that the lack of feedback was not because my lectures sucked -- if anything, he would have been more likely to tell me exactly what he thought if it was negative.

All in all it was a very positive experience. But considering how exhausted I felt at the end of the day, and how little voice I had left (I had the usual two Thursday tutorials as well as the two lectures), I can't imagine how people do this on a regular basis. Anyone with a heavy lecturing load who is reading this -- I virtually bow before you in virtual long-distance awe.

Update: Just as I was finishing that last sentence, one of my students came to the door to ask me for a copy of some of the data from the lecture that I hadn't put in the handout. He said he couldn't sleep last night for thinking about one of the concepts from the lecture, and that it was so interesting that he wanted to explain it to his girlfriend, but needed the extra data to be able to be able to talk about it properly.

So the little voice in my head has been upgraded from "I can give two big grown-up lectures and survive" to "I give lectures that keep students awake and made them think".

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

And did I mention the wildlife?

A cockatoo shat in my bicycle helmet today.

Cockatoo shit is large. And semi-liquid. And splats quite convincingly.

Other reasons they aren't so popular with me right now: 16 of them in a tree outside my window performed the traditional cockatoo ritual known as "squawking your head off" to welcome the rain at six o'clock this morning.

Cockatoos get more excited by rain than any other bird I've come across. Either it's a cultural hangover from before they migrated out of the outback and only saw rain once a decade, or they have a memory span so short that they really don't think they've ever seen it before.

"Wet stuff! Falling from sky! Splat splat splat!" (Which pretty well sums up both incidents, really.)

Wildlife. And not in a good way.

I found icky little nasty wriggly weevils in my porridge this morning. And when I checked through the cupboards, they were everywhere. Porridge, muesli, bran, flour, custard powder, cocoa, soup mix, sugar, the lot. So there was a great binning of food and there will be a great buying of airtight containers very soon.

Meanwhile, while I cleaned out the cupboards I discovered that the one under the sink has become mouse party central. I've wiped it down with bleach, re-homed all the food (we only ever used to keep potatoes and onions under there anyway), and stopped up the hole temporarily. But I have no doubt they will make a new hole within, say, five minutes.

Geekman refuses to let me set traps, and I don't know if I could bring myself to, anyway. Mice are cute and furry. And I'm not poisoning them, because they'd take it back into the walls and stink the place out. So I'll have to wait until I can find one of those humane traps that catches them so you can release them outside again.

Meanwhile, the smell! I can't believe we never noticed it before. Even after the bleaching, the kitchen smells like a mouse's toilet.

Squeaky little bastards.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

"Leaving, on a jet plane"

The final exam for the course I tutor has been cancelled.

This is because the draft exam timetable came out yesterday and our exam got scheduled for the final day of the exam period. And oops, ScaryLecturer has already bought tickets to Puerto Rico.

Oh, the irony. Every lecture for the last six weeks, ScaryLecturer has added a little tirade about how the exam timetable has not yet been set. Your exam could be at ANY time in the exam period. Do not buy tickets to go ANYWHERE before we know the exam date for certain.

I am waiting with bated breath to hear how he's going to explain this one to the students.

And it really does kind of suck for everyone except, well, him. His initial Plan B was to give them an oral exam instead, pass or fail, which he could schedule for earlier than the official written exam period. I talked him out of that one, thank god, on the grounds that there are students who hate and fear oral exams so much they would never have taken this course if an oral exam had been part of the syllabus and it's not fair to change that now.

Plan C was to skip the exam entirely and reweight all the in-class assessment. I talked him out of that too, since there are students who asked me in the week before the final drop-out date for the course if they still had any chance of passing, and I calculated what marks they need to still pass on the assumption that the weightings are as stated in the syllabus. In other words, there are students who have stayed in the course in the belief that they can still pass, who, with the new weightings, would have no chance whatsoever.

Plan D is currently to give the students a take-home exam instead. Which most of them will no doubt prefer, but I still think it is a little unfair, since there will be students who cheat and collaborate, and the whole point of an exam exam is to weed these out. Plus it will be set for a 24-hour-period during exam-week, and whichever day we pick, some students will have exams, and hence less time to spend on the assignment than those who don't.

ScaryLecturer asked me if I could possibly think of any other way around the problem. I think he was half-hoping I might offer to administer the exam. But I'd have to mark it too, since he'd be gone, and I know for sure the department has no budget to pay me for that, and I'm sure as hell not doing it out of the goodness of my heart. So instead my suggestion was that he might want to think about delaying his trip. But no, that would be impossible.

Unlike, for instance, changing the assessment for a course more than halfway through the semester.

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Don't read this, Grace: it might make you blush

Geekman and I got a wedding present yesterday. After all, what's three years between friends? Seriously, though, this present was worth waiting for.

Grace Dalley, who sometimes comments here, is an extremely talented photographer with an inexplicable partiality for turning everyday vegetable matter into art.

(This is way cooler than it might sound.)

And as a wedding gift, she gave us large prints of a few of our favourite photos of hers, which she has also kindly allowed me to reproduce in miniature here.

I'm not sure how well the colours will come out on your screen. They look kind of dull on mine, but the photos themselves are wonderfully vibrant.

Grace has also begun doing a line in greeting cards with excitingly lit plant matter on the front, which you should all go out and buy. Except that you can't just yet, since the world has not yet seen the error of its ways and begun stocking Grace's cards internationally. But she tells me she will have a website up and running soon, so bookmark this link (currently to a place-holder only) and start saving to buy up her artwork before she gets so famous you can't afford her.

You have been told.

A landmark moment

I just got my first nasty-person comment. Which makes me happy, in a screwed-up "wow, this blog is all growned up" sort of way.

Except that, sadly, the comment wasn't nasty so much as bland. Where has all the creativity gone? And if you are going to be all mean on someone's blog, wouldn't you do it in a recent post, rather than buried deep in the archives?

Bah, trolls these days. No self-respect.

Monday, May 01, 2006

You can stop holding your breath now

As I promised last Monday, here is the solution to the Great Toilet Puzzle.

Well, kind of. I still think you should work out some of it yourself, otherwise how will you hold onto your self-respect?

But it turns out my theory was correct, and it did all hinge (hah!) on the fact that the photo I posted last week was taken from the wrong side of the door. And, of course, that when I said I'd been into every toilet in the building and they were all the same, I meant every women's toilet in the building.

So today I lurked around the building until most people had gone home, and then nicked into the men's loos and took a photo to confirm my suspicions. I have absolutely no idea how I would have explained myself to anyone who might have walked in on me, but fortunately everyone working there is a civil servant who goes home at 4 pm. And I felt excitingly Veronica-Mars-like scuttling around surreptiously with a camera.

So here are the fruit of my labours. Right side around this time.

Women's loos:

Men's loos:

Geddit? Geddit?

PS: I still think the architect was insane. But in a good way. Right?

And what did you do in your weekend?

I have this little problem -- no, wait, special skill -- where I just can't pass up the chance to read those 1001 completely useless scraps of writing that pop up everywhere you go. Random graffiti, instruction booklets, signs on doors, the backs of food packets, stop signs (over and over and over again until they are out of sight).

So I was reading the back of a packet of dried apples yesterday and for once, instead of merely being the scraggly fingernail that scratches my OCD itch, it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

And here is where I share some of the highlights with you, my good and faithful internet.

You know, I was so relieved to hear this. Because I'd never try to eat anything as a snack food without permission from the manufacturers, no matter how good it looked or smelled. Start taking stupid risks like that and you might wind up eating goodness knows what. Like frozen peas, for example.

Just "be aware"? Of their allergy? Because they probably already are. As long as these people are sufficiently "aware", does that mean they can eat this product?

Proximate to what? The barcode on the bottom of the packet? I suspect these people need a dictionary. Or less thesaurus. Or something.

And then there is this. The jewel in my packet-reading crown. This is practically found poetry. Read it aloud, with attention to punctuation and line breaks and fill each phrase with the passionate intensity it deserves. You'll see what I mean. This is not a recipe, people: this is Art.

Or possibly I need stronger medication.