Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Grrr, parents

My mother always told me, "If you don't have something nice to say, then don't say anything at all."

So I won't.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

A preemptive apology

Blogging may be a little light (and/or totally non-existent) over the next ten days. Tomorrow I head off to wintrier-than-thou Southern Parts and will probably only have internet access via a dial-up connection on a primeval, virus-laden computer which runs entirely on Microsoft products.

I asked Geekman if he wanted to guest-blog, but he said he might "do it wrong".* So you'll have to entertain yourselves in my absence. (Please don't eat the cushions, and no throwing the furniture in the swimming pool. Also, I'll be very sad if I return to find you didn't save me any wine.)

* Which, incidentally, is his response when we are going out in the car and I ask which one of us is going to drive: "Me! You might do it wrong."

Me? I'm prestigious.

I just got a spam mail advertising a blogging site that kept referring to "your prestigious blog".

Did blogs get honorifics and no one told me?

Friday, June 23, 2006

Want want want. Covet.

Get your Geoffrey Chaucer merchandise here.

And read his blog, if you don't already, here.

Friday poetry blogging: The Æolian Harp

I chose this poem this week not because I especially like it, but because I love the way one of my undergraduate English professors taught me to think about it.

He claimed that this poem is the best record we have of what it must of been like to be inside Coleridge's mind on drugs.

In fact, as he pointed out, you can see Coleridge in front of you, lying on the lawn outside his house in the evening, arms around Sara, listening to the sound from the wind harp in their window.

And he's thinking out loud about how that harp is, like, totally awesome, dude. It's like a maiden! And the wind, the wind is her lover! And... it's like elves at twilight! Fairyland elves! Which are like, totally like birds of paradise! And life is like the soul of motion. And light is sound and sound is light! And oh my god, I love the world. I LOVE it! And the breeze is singing, and silence... silence is like music NOT happening on an instrument. And the sunlight is like diamonds. And the thoughts in my brain are like the wind on a harp! And, and, EVERYTHING is like a harp! Wow! Dude!

And then Sara pats him gently on the arm and tells him not to be so silly.

The Æolian Harp

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

My pensive Sara! thy soft cheek reclined
Thus on mine arm, most soothing sweet it is
To sit beside our Cot, our Cot o'ergrown
With white-flower'd Jasmin, and the broad-leav'd Myrtle,
(Meet emblems they of Innocence and Love!)
And watch the clouds, that late were rich with light,
Slow saddenning round, and mark the star of eve
Serenely brilliant (such should Wisdom be)
Shine opposite! How exquisite the scents
Snatch'd from yon bean-field! and the world so hush'd!
The stilly murmur of the distant Sea
Tells us of silence.

And that simplest Lute,
Plac'd length-ways in the clasping casement, hark!
How by the desultory breeze caress'd,
Like some coy maid half-yielding to her lover,
It pours such sweet upbraiding, as must needs
Tempt to repeat the wrong! And now, its strings
Boldlier swept, the long sequacious notes
Over delicious surges sink and rise,
Such a soft floating witchery of sound
As twilight Elfins make, when they at eve
Voyage on gentle gales from Faery-Land,
Where Melodies round honey-dropping flowers,
Footless and wild, like birds of Paradise,
Nor pause, nor perch, hovering on untam'd wing!
O! the one Life within us and abroad,
Which meets all motion and becomes its soul,
A light in sound, a sound-like power in light,
Rhythm in all thought, and joyance every where--
Methinks, it should have been impossible
Not to love all things in a world so fill'd ;
Where the breeze warbles, and the mute still air
Is Music slumbering on her instrument.

And thus, my Love! as on the midway slope
Of yonder hill I stretch my limbs at noon,
Whilst thro' my half-clos'd eye-lids I behold
The sunbeams dance, like diamonds, on the main,
And tranquil muse upon tranquility;
Full many a thought uncall'd and undetain'd,
And many idle flitting phantasies,
Traverse my indolent and passive brain,
As wild and various, as the random gales
That swell and flutter on this subject Lute!
And what if all of animated nature
Be but organic Harps diversly fram'd,
That tremble into thought, as o'er them sweeps
Plastic and vast, one intellectual breeze,
At once the Soul of each, and God of all?
But thy more serious eye a mild reproof
Darts, O belovéd Woman! nor such thoughts
Dim and unhallow'd dost thou not reject,
And biddest me walk humbly with my God.
Meek Daughter in the Family of Christ!
Well hast thou said and holily disprais'd
These shapings of the unregenerate mind;
Bubbles that glitter as they rise and break
On vain Philosophy's aye-babbling spring.
For never guiltless may I speak of him,
The Incomprehensible! save when with awe
I praise him, and with Faith that inly feels;
Who with his saving mercies healéd me,
A sinful and most miserable man,
Wilder'd and dark, and gave me to possess
Peace, and this Cot, and thee, heart-honour'd Maid!

Dude, where are my leaves?

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Barbie says, "Conferences are fun!"

For a while now, I have been going to a group to improve my public speaking skills. It's a well known international organisation, but I won't name it here as I don't want this anecdote to negatively influence anyone who might be googling them and thinking of joining. Let's just say that Geekman calls them "Toastgraspers".

Yesterday before the group started, I mentioned I was going to miss the next three meetings, due to being in NZ, and then at a conference. (This will be relevant later, truly).

It was also my turn to give a speech, and the usual format of the meetings means that after each speech one of the other group members gives an oral evaluation of the talk, where they are supposed to give both "commendations" for what was done well, and "recommendations" for what could be improved.

So the evaluation for my speech duly came round, and my evaluator was a middle-aged science professor. He gave the same recommendation I always get, of "slow the fuck down!" (not said in quite those words) and a couple of commendations. Then he finished his evaluation with, "So all in all, a good speech. If you speak like that at your conference, you'll wow all the blokes."


I don't know where to even begin deconstructing that.

Does he think that's why female academics go to conferences? To impress men? Or did he mean "the audience in general" and in his personal visualisation/memory of conferences, there are only ever men in the audience? Or is this some sort of Australian use of "bloke" that includes women too? -- kind of like people use "those guys over there" to refer to mixed groups.

Anyone else have any hypotheses? Because to me it seems like serious weirdness.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

End of semester weirdness

from everyone's favourite ScaryLecturer:

"StyleyGeek, quite a few of your students have done excellently in the exam."


"You were lucky to have so many little geniuses in your classes."

"Can we just pretend that instead of them being geniuses, it was due to my fantastic teaching?"

"If you must. But take a good look. Because it's not likely to happen again."

"Styley, I think the course went quite well, don't you?"

"Yes. And lots of the students told me they really enjoyed it."

"They weren't supposed to enjoy it. Damn it!"

And this final snippet is from about ten days ago, but I think it's a fitting end to the ScaryLecturer saga, so I'll post it here even though it's out of sequence.

"I meant to tell you, StyleyGeek, and I probably haven't expressed it enough, but, I've been really pleased with you as a tutor this semester. You and [other tutor] have done well."

[silence as I process the unexpected compliment]

ScaryLecturer goes to leave, then stops and turns around again. "I... I wasn't always like this, you know. I used to be a good teacher."

"And you don't think you are anymore?"

"No... well, you wouldn't understand. You didn't know me then. But... it used to be different."

Technorati tags: , ,

Teaching Carnival X is up!

It's over here. Off you go. But don't stay out too late.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

I think it's channeling a psych student

At the library just now, the automatic check-out machine flashed me an error message that said:

"You have unresolved issues with your account. Please see a librarian."

Time for another round-up

The list of things people googled for that brought them to this blog this week was as odd as ever. Here's what some of them were looking for:

supertutor <- You can't imagine how happy I am that I ended up among the hits for that one.

rosellas translate greek <- You'd be lucky: I think they're more into Latin.

eating peas while frozen <- I recommend defrosting yourself first.

lost in geekdom <- Me too! Let's hang out there together.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Random bullets of "Oh crap!"

  • Woke up late. Entirely my own fault. But rushing rushing rushing to get to my final day at real-job-which-pays-real-money.

  • Car wouldn't start. It decided not to inform me of this until I was partway out of the garage.

  • Was wearing clothes that can't be cycled in. Rushing rushing rushing back upstairs to change.

  • Gears on the bicycle decided to choose today to bid farewell to the cruel cruel world.

  • Legs moving like a jet propeller, bicycle moving like a tortoise on valium, I eventually made it to job-which-pays-real-money. To find they had nothing left for me to do.

  • Got home to find plumber had been and gone and carefully locked the deadbolt on the door, which we never use and which I therefore don't carry keys for. Locked out.

  • Which gave me ample time to repair my bicycle, tidy the junk cupboard in the garage, and hit bits of the car engine experimentally with a hammer. (Let it never be said that I don't know how to entertain myself.)

The circle of life

This morning I was woken up by a phone call from Tony the Plumber*, who claimed he was meant to be coming in to fix our roof. He asked me to please phone the property manager and let them know.

Now, is it just me, or is the way you get repairs done in this country kind of circular?

  1. The tenant (me) calls the property manager to inform them repairs need doing.
  2. The property manager waits two weeks and then calls the body corporate to pass on the message that repairs need doing.
  3. The body corporate waits a week and then calls a repairman to tell them to do the repairs.
  4. The repairman waits a few days and then calls the tenant to tell them they're coming.
  5. The tenant calls the property manager to inform them that the game of Chinese Whispers is nearly at an end.

If I were in charge, things would be different.

* Alternatively known as Tony the Builder, Tony the Electrician, Tony the Roof-Repairman, and Tony from Pest Control. (Our property manager believes in the Renaissance man.) Usually he at least chooses the appropriate epithet when he calls us up, and at first I thought there was a rule that every Australian repairman had to be called Tony, but this time he stuck with his plumber persona even though he's supposed to be doing roof repairs.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

My saturday night: a short essay

You know it was an interesting party when you get home to discover you are wearing someone else's clothes.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Out on a limb

It's never about the taste

A comment from Geekman after lunch at a Chinese restaurant:

"I think I am really starting to get into green tea."

"Great. We can get some for home if you want."

"What I like about it is the way that it's always being topped up when you aren't looking."

"That might be harder to replicate."

"I thought that could be where you come in."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Semi-blatant advertising

Remember Grace, the photographer who specialises in excitingly lit vegetable matter? Her website is now up and running (except for the wall prints section), so go there and buy cards, okay?

Here are my picks:

For Christmas, get this one.

For goths, get this one.

For people you want to have sex with, get this one.

And for staring at intensely until your eyes feel all warm and happy, get this one.

Not quite irony...

...but that probably wouldn't stop Alanis Morissette.

I fell back to sleep this morning after my alarm went off and dreamed that I had missed an important meeting (due to being stuck in a snowstorm that then turned out to just be an endless vista of cockatoos).

When I woke up I was so relieved that it was only a dream...

...until I realised that by falling back to sleep I had missed the meeting.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Let's make polite conversation about the weather

Look where I'm off to next week.

Well, actually only to the urban bit, which isn't quite so deeply buried in snow right now and (in places) still has power and telephone.

But I'm still not holding out hope that there are any warm sunny days in my near future.

(Updated to add photos nicked from here.)

ScaryLecturer's marking philosophy

"I can either mark fast, or I can mark fair. And I have to get through these fast."

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

I know you've been wondering

Geekman showed me something I didn't know about on Google tonight.

If you want to convert anything to a different sort of unit (pounds to kilograms, rods to cubits, whatever), you can just type into Google: "X pounds in kilograms" or "Y rods in cubits" and it will spit back the answer.

I was curious to see what would happen if you put in inconsistent unit types: like trying to find out how many feet in a kilogram, or how many calories in a yard. (If anyone should know the answer to these sorts of questions, it would be Google.) So we tried "1 kilojoule in light years".

This made Google unhappy, and instead of an answer it just spat back a list of pages where either kilojoules or light years are mentioned.

But the "physicist cannot be stopped" switch in Geekman's brain must have been accidentally flipped, because the next thing I knew he was muttering urgently, "Hold on, hold on... kilojoules are energy, light years are distance, and energy is force times distance... yes! Newton light years!"

So in case anyone is interested:

1 kilojoule = 1.05702341 x 10-13 newton light years.

And I thought that teaching had finished for the semester

The other tutor has set up a page on WebCT where we can enter students' marks electronically: there's a column for assignment one, a column for assignment two, a column for assignment three, a column for assignment four, a column for the exam, and, for reasons of general incompetence that I won't go into here, a column where you have to enter the number you get from the formula: 10 - the number of practice problems the student failed to complete (don't worry, my head hurts too). The total adds up to 110%, also for reasons of General Incompetence That I Won't Go Into Here.

Since the other tutor told me she has used this system every year (the reason we let her set this up, despite TGITIWGIH), I went to her when I was curious about exactly how automated the process was.

"Does WebCT automatically add together the columns for the different assignments and generate the total mark?" I asked her.

"I think so."

So my next question, reasonably enough, was how you get it to SHOW the total mark it has generated.

"Last year it just did it."

"Maybe we have to add another column," I suggest, opening up the administrator window. "So, let's see... 'add new column', yes... 'choose column type: alphanumeric, numeric, calculate'... I guess we want 'calculate'..."

"No no!" she assures me, "It should be 'alphanumeric'."

"Are you sure? I mean, what sort of column did you make this one?" I point to the column where the student names are entered.

"That's alphanumeric."

"Okay, so if we make this one alphanumeric too, it will wait for us to enter something. Like a name."

But no. She insists we should make it alphanumeric. Because that's what she did last year.

So we set up a new alphanumeric column and go back to look at the page of assignment marks.

"Why hasn't it added them up?" she asks, confused.

"Because it's waiting for us to enter something?" I suggest, doing my best impression of patience.

She clicks 'refresh' compulsively. Nothing.

I return to the 'manage columns' page and change the column in question to type 'calculate'. It prompts me for a formula and I select 'sum', all the while screening out the background noise of "That's not how you do it! I've NEVER done it that way."

But she's right. That can't be how you do it, because it doesn't give me the option of selecting any of the assignment mark columns to use in the formula.

She shoots me an "I told you so" look.

"What sort of columns did you set up for the assignment marks?" I ask, suddenly suspicious.

"Alphanumeric," she replies smugly.

"And what sort of result did you get last time you tried adding letters of the alphabet together?" I wonder under my breath, resetting all the column types, slowly, one by one.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Parrots with attitude

"And they told us red and green weren't camoflage colours. Well who's laughing now?"

"Who's a pretty parrot? Yes you are. Oh yes you are."

Geekman: "They're not disgruntled. Just... differently gruntled."

This is going to be interesting

Ring ring!

"Hi, is that StyleyGeek?"
"I'm one of your students and I want to pick up an assignment. Will it be at the secretary's office or what?"
"Wha-? who-? Which assignment do you mean? The fourth assignment?"
"There were four?"
"I meant the third one. I think."
"Who is this?"
"Caroline Smith"*
"Caroline? I thought you'd dropped the course."
"No, I just couldn't come to the classes or anything".**
"Well I do have your assignment. You can come by and pick it up from my office this afternoon if you like."
"Where's your office?"
"In the linguistics building, second floor."
"Which building is that, again?"
"Building number 110 on the campus map."
"Okay. I'll be by soon. Because I need it for next week. See ya."

After she hung up, I realised that the only conceivable reason she might need it for next week is if she thinks the exam is still next Friday, when actually it morphed into a take-home exam that was due yesterday.

* Yes, I changed the name.
** "Anything" being doing most of the assignments, presumably.

The frost's so heavy, it looks like snow

It's minus four fricking degrees outside. -4.3 to be exact (24 degrees fahrenheit). And it's like the weather forecast can't quite bring itself to believe what it's announcing. It states that it is -4.3 degrees, but it's still predicting a minimum temperature of -1.

And somehow I have to force myself to leave the house, get on my bicycle and ride to uni. The only incentive I have is that at the other end there's a seminar that needs giving.

I want to go back to bed.

Monday, June 12, 2006

StyleyGeek's procrastination is her readers' gain

While we're linking to random sites, this is new and shiny and I like it a lot. It's a shame it isn't as bilingual as it looks on first glance, though. Most of the articles themselves are only available in English.

Anybody need an anatomical model of a fresh water polyp?

I love this site. Mostly because of improbable words like Gehörknöchelchen. <- my new favourite word.

Isn't it lucky* for you that I have a seminar to prepare, and therefore so much free time that I can google for random weirdness like this?


* If I was going to be all Anglo-modest** about this, I'd say something like "Unluckily for you, I have a seminar to prepare and therefore am reduced to posting all this weirdness for you poor sods to digest. But no, because (a) two people have complimented me on this blog in the last 24 hours and thus shored up the scaffolding of my self-esteem quite nicely, thank you, and (b) if it was such a trial for poor little you to read these posts, you would be perfectly capable of bogging off and doing something more interesting instead.

** Two years in the same department as this person has got me seeing everything in terms of cultural scripts and made me completely incapable of using words like "polite", "modest", "friendly", "rude", and so on without surrounding them with cultural-specific disclaimers and definitions. Make it stop!

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Happiness is...

smoked fish, fresh broccoli, mashed potato and a tomato, mozzarella and basil salad...

followed by swirly swirly chocolate and cream that turns into...

perfectly creamy (but not quite so swirly) mocha fudge;

followed by the knowledge that tomorrow is a public holiday. (And the repression of all thoughts to do with the talk I have to give on Tuesday.)

Fudge recipe below the fold.

1 cup cream
2 cups sugar
2 Tb corn syrup
150 g chocolate (we used milk, but next time I think I'll go for dark)
coffee essence, or 2 tsp of instant coffee powder, dissolved in a little hot water

Stick it all in a pan, melt it all slowly, then bring to the boil until it reaches that soft ball stage.

Add 25 g butter (just in case the above ingredients don't contain enough fat already) and 1 tsp vanilla essence. Beat the crap out of it while standing the saucepan in a sink of cold water.

Pour into tin and leave to set.

Drip drip

The leak (drip) in the bedroom ceiling (drip drip) has gotten (drip) so bad (drip) that we have been forced (drip drip drip) to move our bed (drip) into the lounge (drip drip).

This led to me sitting up late last night composing angry letters to the property manager (who had promised that they would send someone by to fix the problem on Wednesday last week). At one o'clock in the morning I finally got worked up enough to click on "send".

So now in the cold, clear light of day, I need to wander over to my outbox and see how abusive the email I sent actually was. I do remember that there were photos.

*Screwing up eyes, can't bear to look.*

I think we've been very patient with the property manager/landlord over the last year and half, and we probably have a right to be angry, but on the other hand getting ourselves branded as "difficult tenants" is not going to help us get good references if we do want to move somewhere else in this country.

Rock, meet right shoulder. Left elbow, meet hard place.

Maybe we should keep to communicating electronically

When friends come to visit, it makes for a quiet evening when every time you start to tell them about anything that has happened recently, they reply, "Yeah, I read about it on your blog".

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Tips for despairing grad students: a new series

Tip #1: Keep someone else's really bad dissertation on hand for when you start to feel the dreaded "My thesis will never be good enough" blues.

I just read one that was full of factual errors, referencing errors (including missing references), confusion of terminology (including the same mistakes that my supervisor recently helped me sort out in one of my own chapters) and references back to data that was probably discussed in some earlier draft, but had since been taken out.

And, you know what? This guy passed, and even got it published.

And so will I.


Geekman was telling someone last night about his plan for Queen's Birthday Weekend:

"With a long weekend, there's nine meals involved, and I thought I might have waffles for all of them."

"Wow. Waffles. Do you cook them in the microwave?"

"No... in a waffle iron."

"Cool. A waffle iron."

"The trick is to use the right amount of cream, so that they go a little bit crispy without being so rich that you can't eat truckloads."

"Do you put the cream into the waffle iron too, then?"

"Well, into the batter, so yes, that all goes into the waffle iron."

"Wow! Batter! So do you make the batter and everything yourself?"

"The alternative being...?"

"I don't know, a packet mix?"

"What are you, American?"*

"I just thought that if you're the sort of person who has waffles for nine meals straight, then you probably aren't the sort who knows how to cook things from scratch."


* Excuse the insulting stereotype. I assure you that Geekman has now learned the error of his ways and will not sin again.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: Intimations of Immortality

One thing I like about posting poetry on Fridays is how it makes me dredge my memory and come up with poems that I haven't thought about in years but which, when I read them again, still give me that special poetry rush.

Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality is one of those. For a start, isn't that just the best title? And it just keeps on getting better from there on in.

Because it's so long, I've only posted my favourite bits: lines 1--18* and lines 59--77.

Intimations of Immortality

William Wordsworth

There was a time when meadow, grove, and stream,
The earth, and every common sight,
To me did seem
Apparell'd in celestial light,
The glory and the freshness of a dream.
It is not now as it hath been of yore;—
Turn wheresoe'er I may,
By night or day,
The things which I have seen I now can see no more.

The rainbow comes and goes,
And lovely is the rose;
The moon doth with delight
Look round her when the heavens are bare;
Waters on a starry night
Are beautiful and fair;
The sunshine is a glorious birth;
But yet I know, where'er I go,
That there hath pass'd away a glory from the earth.


Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home:
Heaven lies about us in our infancy!
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
Upon the growing Boy,
But he beholds the light, and whence it flows,
He sees it in his joy;
The Youth, who daily farther from the east
Must travel, still is Nature's priest,
And by the vision splendid
Is on his way attended;
At length the Man perceives it die away,
And fade into the light of common day.

Read the rest of it here.

* Even though the first verse does sound a bit like the poetic version of the letters little old ladies write to the newspaper:
"Sir --
It is not now as it hath been of yore. The youth of today are no longer apparell'd in celestial light. Bring back public floggings, that's what I say.
Yours etc,
'Disillusioned', of Dorset".

When the government is watching you, the university is your ally

Crazy person craziness took up a good part of my afternoon today.

This random guy just turned up at my door wanting something unintelligible. At first I wondered if he was deaf, because he talked like a deaf friend of mine does -- like you talk when you can't hear yourself talking. After a few minutes of intense concentration, though, I got to the point where I could make sense of some of what he was saying and ask questions, and it became clear he wasn't deaf, just had some sort of speech defect.

But he was crazy.

Turned out he wanted an ID card. Because he is going to New Zealand and in New Zealand everyone has to wear an ID card (a round one, like a badge) pinned to their chest, otherwise they get arrested.* I tried to convince him he was mistaken, but no, that is really the way it is over there in those crazy foreign parts.

Anyway, he went to the police station here and they wanted to charge him for an ID card. Charge him money. And he doesn't have any money. And he went to the drivers' licence issuing place to get their non-drivers'-licence alternative ID card, but they wanted both money AND his address. And it can be dangerous to give your address to the wrong sort of person. So he thought if he came to the university, we could print him out an ID card and he could get it laminated.

At that point it crossed my mind that I could get rid of him by printing out a piece of paper with his name and address on it, and pointing him in the direction of the laminating machine, but I really didn't want to support him in his crazy person crazy fantasies.**

So instead I gave him the address of the New Zealand High Commission and suggested he go talk to them about whether or not he really needs this ID card.

So, NZ high commission -- if you are looking for someone to hate for ruining your Friday afternoon, here I am!


* However, as a benefit of wearing these little round badges that everyone has to have, he claims you can go door-to-door collecting and people will give you money. (I'm thinking someone has their paranoid delusions mixed up with their get-rich-quick schemes.)

**It strikes me that you might be preparing a comment to tell me that I am mean for making fun of people with mental health problems. But this post really isn't meant that way. I have a lot of sympathy for people with mental illness -- there has been plenty of it in my family and among my friends and friends of my family.

And I was nice to this guy -- I listened to him and gave him the benefit of the doubt (most of the time), and tried to come up with practical solutions. But in the end it seemed to me that he was actually not trying to solve a problem, so much as fixating on a topic that he was gathering information about. He had a little notebook where he had written down other things that presumably other people had told him, and while most of it was pretty illegible, there were sections for each "authority" (police, hospital, university) and notes about what they had told him with regard to ID cards. And a list of different types of ID cards people must have mentioned. It looks like he was compiling some sort of "research" notes on the subject, and the university was the next stop on his agenda. So what I said was probably as helpful as anything could have been. (And when I said, "It looks like you know more about ID cards than I do, so I don't think I can help you," he became extremely happy -- though he still wouldn't leave.)

Basically this post is an attempt to make sense of the weirdness that just happened, rather than an exhortation to all laugh at the guy with problems.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

"Look at me!" she expostulated.

I've got me a classy new randomising bit of code thingy (nicked from No Fancy Name) which makes all my commentators sound like characters from Biggles books. But it only works on the non-pop-up version. So if you click on the date stamp of a post and it takes you to the "post page", then you'll see the Biggles character version, but not if you click on "comments" and get the pop-up.

Does anyone know if there's any way to modify the code for what turns up within the comments pop-up box, or would I have to set comments to non-pop-up if I wanted everyone to behold this new splendidness?

(Yes, the entire point of this post was not so much to ask that question, but to make you all go and look at the comments on archived posts and worship my ingenuity.)

And she says she "isn't cut out for tutoring"

This conversation between my office mate and a student who came looking for me this morning was recounted to me later by someone who overheard it from the corridor:

"I want to pick up my assignment from StyleyGeek."
"She isn't here."
"Will she be in for her office hours later today?"
"Her office hours finished. Her job as your tutor finished."
"But I really need this assignment back by tomorrow!"
"Well, you should have thought of that when you skipped class last week, shouldn't you?"
"But how do I find out when she will be here?"
"I'll give you the phone number here and you can call her later today."
"Can you give me her mobile number?"
"No fucking way."

Sometimes I love my office mate.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

I need a sign around my neck... that says, "The university stopped paying me as of Friday last week. So bog off."

"Hi! I missed the last four or five weeks of class, because I've been quite busy, y'know, but I thought I'd check with you about what you covered, because I thought maybe you might have talked about something that will be on the exam."

[stunned silence from my end]

"So, anyway, now that classes are over, I guess you've got a bit more time, so is it okay if I come by your office a couple of times this week and we can go over the stuff I've missed?"

Cheating and collaboration: see them care less

Just when I thought the semester was over, the other tutor came to me to ask me to cross-mark a paper for her. The reason for this is that the student has complained about her mark. The reason that the student has complained about her mark is that this student claims that she worked together with a friend on this paper, that they submitted identical papers, but her friend (who is in my class) got a better mark than she did. And obviously this is unfair.

And instead of throwing the book at her (or at least the bit of the book that says you may not discuss your assignments with other students and your answers must be all your own work), the other tutor wants me to mark this student's paper so that the mark ends up being in line with what the other student got.

Naturally I was slacked off about this. Very slacked off, even. But the other tutor says that her student refuses to give us the name of the person from my class who was involved, and the mistakes in this paper I am supposed to be cross-marking are so generic that I can't recognise similarities with any one other student's paper in particular. Plus, I have returned all my students' papers and classes are over for the semester, so I can't search through them all again to find the culprit.

And the other tutor doesn't want to penalise her student for cheating, no matter what arguments I use to try and convince her she should.

I am completely at a loss. And I am not cross-marking this paper. (Although I am tempted to go through and take more marks off where possible.)

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

StyleyGeek gets a comments policy

I think it's about time I had a comments policy, or at least a more explicit one. So here goes:

  1. Hi! I like you already. After all, you came this far. So don't take any of the rest of this personally.

  2. I don't mind if you've worked out where I live or who I am. But I do mind if Google works it out. One thing I am trying to avoid is having people type my city name + "linguistics" into Google and getting this blog as a hit. In that situation, I think my university would be justified in being pissed off if I wrote things that gave it a bad name. So please avoid using the name of this city or the name of my university in your comments.

  3. The other thing I am trying to avoid is future employers googling my name and coming up with this blog. I prefer them to come to the conclusion that hiring me was a mistake later rather than sooner (like, after they have actually hired me). So please also refrain from using my real name in your comments, assuming you know what it is.

  4. Otherwise, almost anything goes. Say what you like to me. I have so little experience with being flamed that I still think it sounds like fun. Be nice to my other commentators, though, please. I kind of like having them around.

Flex, grunt, simper

I just ran into one of my students at the gym. To be honest, it's surprising this doesn't happen more often, but I think that's probably because I teach an area that has a 10:1 female:male ratio and at the gym I hang out in the almost woman-free zone that is the heavy weights room.

So anyway, today for the first time I saw one of my students in the weights room. Or to be more precise, he saw me. While I was flexing at myself in the mirror, wearing skimpy gym gear and with my hair in pigtails.* None of which reflects much of the professional image I have tried to cultivate in class.

The look on his face was priceless.


* I make an effort to dress a bit girly for the gym, although this is a look I tend to avoid in the other spheres of my life. It makes me feel all warm and ironic to do the pink and pigtails thing while grunting and lifting more weight than many guys.

Breaking news: man gets traffic ticket

I did my weekly skim through the New Zealand news and, as usual, it is full of hard-hitting stories about important events. (Read: cat up tree. Again).

But I had to laugh at this story, where a guy is complaining about a policeman who filled out a traffic ticket for him listing his occupation as "wanker". It even has the obligatory "pissed off citizen holding piece of evidence" photo, see:

Considering the amount of shit the police have to put up with, and the fact that this guy admits he was mouthing off to the cop, I reckon it was quite a nice little piece of revenge.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Waffle waffle

So we wanted to have waffles, see. And that required ice cream, see. And for perfectly good reasons that would disturb the flow of my story here, we couldn't cycle, but had to take the car to the shops. Where we bought ice cream and returned to the carpark, which [remember this: it will be a key point later on] was cold, damp and wintry.

Geekman pats his pockets. "Where are my keys?"
I peer through the car window. "I think that would be them."

They dangle at us gloatingly.

My first cunning plan is to go back into the supermarket and buy a coathanger. Our car is infinitely break-into-able.

But the supermarket only has plastic ones. And nothing else remotely approaching the sort of wire I need. So I go up to the counter.
"Excuse me, do you have wire coathangers?"
"Yes, in aisle two."
"I just looked there, and you only have plastic."
"Well that'll do, won't it?"
"No, I need wire. It's for breaking into a car."

Then I realise I probably shouldn't have said that. I try to look nonchalant as I scurry back to the cold, dark carpark. (Did I mention that it was damp? And cold?)

We think about calling Weekend_Viking, who no doubt counts breaking and entering among his many useful life skills, but then realise we would have to share our waffles with him as a reward. Geekman doesn't like to share his food.

Then I remember the AA membership I got as part of a free-membership-for-people-under-the-age-I-used-to-be deal. I don't know why I didn't think of this sooner, since I've called them out three times this year already (for breakdowns, not lock-outs), and they are no doubt rewriting the free membership deal as I speak so that it specifically excludes people like me.*

The only problem with this new cunning plan is that the AA phone number is written on a piece of paper in the glovebox of the car. Which would be, you know, the locked thing over there in the cold, damp carpark. Well planned, StyleyGeek.

So, too chicken to brave the supermarket girls again, I try the fish and chip shop next door instead.

"Hi!" I say to the cute-ish guy behind the counter. "I was hoping I could borrow a phone book. I need to call the AA."
"Uh, okay." He hands me a phone book and as I turn to the index I realise my mistake.
"Except... it's not called the AA in this country, is it? It's the... the... dammit. What's it called?"
He's looking pretty blank too. "So you didn't mean the Alcoholics Anonymous, then?"
"No! The ones who come and do that thing for you with your car when you, you know, do the thing, on the side of the road, where you aren't going anywhere, because you..."
"Did that thing?"
I'm explaining myself perfectly coherently, but it still takes him a while to get it.
"Oh, the NRMA. I've got their number right here. Good luck..." Then, as I walk out the door, he adds in a quieter voice, "...with your alcohol problem."

So now that the AA men who are not AA men have been and gone with the wire coathanger of doom, and Geekman and I are no longer stuck in a cold damp carpark, I am going to alternate between gorging myself on waffles and coffee, and cringing with embarrassment.

Curse you foreigners and your funny way of talking.

* Who are people like me? I've often wondered.

Practising for the phone call to the landlord. (Don't you just love the passive voice?)

While we were investigating the dripping ceiling*, a hole was made.

While the dripping ceiling was being investigated, a hole occurred.

There was an investigation. Then there was a hole.

* You know, that leak that we have been telling you about regularly (like, every time it rains) since we moved in.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

I have questions

  1. Why did the car in front of us on the way to the supermarket have an llama in the back seat? (Yes, a live one. Yes, it was buckled in. Yes, it really was an llama and not a funny-looking dog.)

  2. Why was the supermarket full of daffodils and tulips? Did spring come early and nobody told me?

  3. Why are all the street lights on although it's mid-afternoon on a sunny day?

  4. Why deep-fried chicken feet? Not why deep-fried chicken feet anything in particular. Just "why?".

  5. Did those vitamin tablets at last night's party contain something hallucinogenic? Because today is proving to be very strange indeed.

Some cameos from last night's rather surreal party

"Would you like a vitamin? They are very good."
"Vot do I do viz eet?"
"Chew it."
"Shoo eet?"
"Chew! Chew! It tastes like orange. Vitamins, anyone?"


"It's not fair that he's pulling all the chicks just because he's got a French accent. See that girl he's talking to now? I'm going to go sabotage his progress."


"Magst du seinen Schal?" [Do you like his scarf?]
"Ja. Ich habe auch irgendwie einen." [Yes. I sort of have one too.]

"So sweet. Now they have something in common."


"I'm just a goth who likes drinking beer. I'm going to be miserable at Berkeley."


"Do you want a lift home?"
"Yes, thanks, that'd be great."
"You live on campus, right?"
"Uh huh. In... um... hey!" [taps friend on shoulder] "What's the name of my college?" Then more desperately, "Does anyone know where I live?"


"Anyone else for vitamins?"
"You should haff vun. Zey are excellent. But you haff to shoo zem".

Saturday, June 03, 2006


What do you think the person who found this blog by googling for "sentient plagiarism" was looking for?

Books! Books books books books books!

Lucy's book review post yesterday (which I inexplicably can't find now to link to -- Lucy, where did your post go?) [update: the post is here] got me all excited about reading some of the books she recommends. I've been a bit of a slacker on the reading front recently, because I've been telling myself that if I don't have fiction books lying around the house, I'll be forced to read the ones I should be reading that relate to my thesis. But in reality it means I read cornflake packets, toilet paper wrapping, and reread books I've read a million times before instead.

So after seeing Lucy's recommendations, I went to the town library's website and methodically searched for each book off Lucy's list. And they only had two! This is not just your small-town local library, either -- this is a website that searches the catalogue of all the libraries in this city (which last time I heard was the capital city of a large first world nation). Sigh.

So I put my name down on the list to reserve the two that they do have, and I am 9th and 15th on the two waiting lists. With each borrower able to keep their books for six weeks, and all reserve requests being automatically cancelled after six months, I don't hold out much hope for me getting hold of either of these. More sigh.

I'm thinking it might be time to relax my book-buying policy. At the moment (and for the last five years or so) I have been trying not to buy books unless they are research-related. The cost of shipping all our books from New Zealand to Germany, then Germany to Denmark, and Denmark to Australia is still too clear in my memory. And chances are, the bill will be even higher when we leave Australia in the not-so-distant future. Even more sigh.

But I *need* books, dammit!

Need need need need. Want.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Friday poetry blogging: Über allen Gipfeln

This one has to be read aloud. Scroll down for the translation (I've used Longfellow's, since it's poetry in itself and far beyond anything I could have come up with.)

Über allen Gipfeln ist Ruh'

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh'
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest Du
Kaum einen Hauch;
Die Vögelein schweigen im Walde
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest Du auch.

Another Night Song

Translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

O'er all the hill-tops
Is quiet now,
In all the tree-tops
Hearest thou,
Hardly a breath;
The birds are asleep in the trees:
Wait; soon like these
Thou too shalt rest.

My favourite parody of this poem:
Drüben am Walde
Kängt ein Guru.
Warte nur, balde
Kängurst auch du.

Joachim Ringelnatz

This really only works in German, but if you must have a translation, the closest I could manage was this:
Over there in the trees
kangs a garoo.
Wait -- soon like these
kangast thou too.

And finally, here's what Babelfish came up with when I tried running the original version through its German-to-English translator:
Over all summits is rest
in all treetops hardly feel you a breath;
The small birds are silent in the forest control room
only, balde rest you also.

I love the idea of a forest control room.

As promised

The reason why students at this university are more likely to freak out when they get their end-of-semester transcripts is the completely fucked up system of letter grades this university has.

Most classes during the year give numerical marks (out of 100%) and don't always translate these to letter grades until the final mark is calculated. So for some first-years, the first time they see a letter grade from this university is on their end-of-semester transcript. And then they get a grade according to the following system:

80--100% = HD
70--79% = D
60--69% = C
50--59% = P
0--50% = F

Can you imagine what a poor student who gets in the 70--79% range feels like when they see their letter grade? I know students who have been devastated, thinking they failed a course when actually they did rather well. (And as for including a transcript from this university in an application for entrance to a programme elsewhere, you can imagine the hassles that creates.)

So I try to remember to give classes a little talk about what the grades here stand for. (HD is for "high distinction", D is for "distinction", C is for "credit" and P and F are "pass" and "fail".) It does say this somewhere on the university website, and in the booklet students get given upon admission, but half of them don't read these things.

So in a bid to reduce the risk of heart failure among first year students, I propose that this university change its cruddy grades system to something that will stop freaking my poor students out.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

As Profgrrrl would say, Gah!

You can tell it's the final day of teaching for the semester and that I am completely whacked, because when giving back the assignments I managed the following screw-ups:

  • Gave two students with the same first name the wrong papers back.

  • Had the "Where's my paper?" "You didn't hand one in" "Yes I did" "No you didn't" conversation with three different students. One of these conversations ended with me going, "Oh, yes, here it is" and beating my head against the desk; one of them ended with the student going, "Oh wait, it's still in my bag -- I guess that means I didn't hand it in"; and one of them ended in complete and mutual bafflement, followed by me discovering that the student had handed it in to ScaryLecturer instead of me and that he hadn't passed it on to me yet.

  • And the worst of the lot: When transcribing the marks onto the students' papers at midnight last night (I mark directly into a spreadsheet, then transfer the marks onto the papers once they are definitely not going to change), I accidentally put the mark belonging to one student (let's call him John Smith) on the paper belonging to a different student that has the same last name (say, Sarah Smith). So Sarah Smith came up to me after class today and said indignantly, "You gave me 75% but I think I should have got 95%." And I smiled skeptically, but looked at the paper and soon realised what had happened. But I still don't know if I transcribed John Smith's mark onto both papers, or if John Smith got a paper with Sarah's 95% written on it (in which case he's unlikely to tell me, but will get a nasty shock when final results come out). So now I have to sort all that out.

  • Which reminds me that I forgot to give the students the "don't freak out when you get your final grades for the course" speech. Hopefully one of their other lecturers did. The subject of why students at this university are more likely to freak out on seeing their final grades will have to wait for another post, though. I'm due somewhere five minutes ago.


An observation

The last day of teaching for the semester, especially with three assignments still to mark before the first class, is an especially bad time to wake up with a hangover.