Saturday, September 30, 2006

For those who can't get enough of the classroom

I've been playing around this afternoon with this assessment simulation. (Why didn't they call it AssesSIMent? I would have.)

It's kind of fun, but probably too simplistic, and I think it makes some false assumptions. For one thing, if the teacher workload is set too high, the simulated result is that the teacher doesn't return marked work on time and/or that the students don't get sufficient feedback. Whereas in reality I know that the result is more likely to be that the teacher keeps 15 hour days and works his/her arse off to keep the students happy.

The reactions to most of the scenarios I played around with seemed reasonable, but then I entered the assessment tasks and objectives for the intro course I taught last year and the simulated students became very unhappy indeed. In reality, students always seem to enjoy the assessment for this course, and many of them go beyond what is required and do optional tasks or those set for higher level students as well. But the simulation obviously can't take into account the "fun-ness" of the tasks set, or their perceived practical value to the students.

In general, though, it's a fun tool to play around with, and it's almost worth it just to see the cute little stressed and happy faces of the virtual students.

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Enjoying the sunshine

The gecko (top) was about the length of my hand, while the one below (a blue tongued lizard?) was longer than my arm. Both pictures taken by my mother a couple of days ago (she does have her uses!)

Friday, September 29, 2006

God John Howard moves in mysterious ways

Geekman's boss had a phone call from the Department of Defence yesterday. The military would like to give them some funding, could they please arrange to tour the centre tomorrow?

The bizarre thing about this is that the research Geekman's centre does has NO conceivable military application. So no one has any idea what this could be about.

Geekman says his colleagues spent large parts of the rest of the afternoon debating whether it would be ethical to accept money from the Defence Department at all. They concluded that at least this would effectively shrink Australia's military budget, since throwing money at technologies with no military uses leaves them with less to spend on things that might actually kill people.

But there still reigns general bafflement as to why Defence might be interested in them at all.

Update: The people coming to tour the centre cancelled. So their reasons for interest may remain forever a mystery.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Let's just get the complaining over in one big cathartic lump

Top five irritating things about my mother

She talks loudly and constantly all day long, giving a running commentary on everything she does. And this isn't just talking to herself: she requires those around her to pay attention and respond from time to time, otherwise she gets upset that no one listens to her.

She has a habit of asking a question, then halfway through the first sentence of your answer she says something completely unrelated that cuts you off, and then moves onto a different topic. When she doesn't do this, she interrupts the first few words of your reply with "Eh?" and you have to start again. Sample conversation:
"What did you do at university this morning?"
"Well, I went to a --"
"Do you know, I haven't been able to find my glasses since I put them down after breakfast and I think they might be in the bathroom."
"Actually --"
"Actually I saw them --"
"Never mind, I'm just going to dash off to the letterbox to see if your mail has arrived."

She refers to all Asian people as "Chinese" unless they are carrying a camera, in which case they are "Japanese". When I suggested a couple of days ago that the "nice Chinese man in the grocer's" might not have been Chinese, but maybe from one of the other 30-something countries in Asia, she replied that she thought he probably was Chinese, because "They work in places like that". Then for the rest of the evening every time she mentioned him (which was a lot, because she had to keep retelling the story about how he tried to sell her more cake than she wanted to buy), she called him, "the Chinese man, no wait, we aren't allowed to call him Chinese, are we? Because he is actually from a town three kilometres out of the south-western province of Korea -- oh, is that North Korea or South Korea? Maybe we should check with StyleyGeek since she knows all about Asians." Then giggle giggle to show she was only teasing. (I don't take teasing very well, which is probably a character flaw, but if I show I'm upset she then teases me about not having a sense of humour.)

Despite her very tight budget, in honour of which I have made an effort to take her mainly to the free tourist attractions, she makes a beeline straight for the gift shop at each place and spends wildly on tacky souvenirs. Case in point: yesterday we had just an hour at the botanic gardens before we had to head off to meet Geekman, but she spent half of that time in the gift shop and came out with three cards, a fluffy toy kangaroo, five fridge magnets, several books, some exorbitantly priced handcream and a notepad with a picture of a labrador on the front (because it reminds her of her neighbour's dog). Then she complains about how expensive it is to go on holiday and wonders where all her money has gone.

She points people out on the street and comments in a loud stage-whisper about their weight, how badly they are dressed, their ethnicity, or speculates about their sexuality. If we suggest that the person in question might have heard her, she says that they ought to know they are making a spectacle of themselves and if they didn't want comments they wouldn't eat so much, dress that way (or, presumably, be so aggressively Foreign).

Top five good qualities my mother has

She makes friends easily and continually. She is happy to go up to complete strangers and start asking about their lives and telling them about hers. Although maybe 60% of people approached like this run off in terror, the other 40% turn out to be lonely and glad of the attention. She makes a lot of bored salespeople, people at bus-stops and random old ladies feel good about themselves this way.

She is not afraid to stand up for herself when necessary. She always gets a good deal in shops or her money back. She doesn't let herself or her family be taken advantage of. Con-artists, scammers and corrupt officials, beware!

She bounces back from adversity quickly and easily. This year she has been through hell (including deaths and near-deaths in the family, Dad leaving her for another woman, and going from a good income with a big house and nice cars to living on welfare in a one-bedroom apartment), but she is not only surviving, but looking towards the future and planning how great the rest of her life will be.

She is creative. She can paint and draw, makes nice jewelry and writes beautiful poetry.

Despite the things I've complained about above and in other posts on this blog, I still look forward to her visits.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Am I neurotically obsessed about boundaries or is she insane?

Today while I was at university, my mother-in-law

  • vacuumed the apartment
  • swept and mopped the balcony
  • repotted my plants
  • moved my plants to new locations around the house
  • cleaned out the dishwasher drain
  • cleaned the shower
  • bought geraniums for the balcony
  • bought a new set of water glasses and new containers to keep breakfast cereals in.
So why is it that instead of being grateful, I feel incredibly insulted?

A little bit of self-awareness is a wonderful thing

Ring ring!


"Hello, dear. It's your mother. Do you remember how last night you got out some black cotton for me to sew up my handbag strap? Well, this morning I can't find it."

"Sorry, I put it away again. I thought you'd used it."

"No, I didn't get around to it, but if you just tell me where it is, I'll do it now."

"Well... okay. It's in the wardrobe in my bedroom. At the bottom of the wardrobe, on the floor, there is a plastic bag full of sewing stuff. The cotton is in there. But you can only go get it if you promise not to comment on how untidy the wardrobe is."

"I wouldn't!"

"Yes you would. I don't mean that you'd be rude about it or anything, but you know, you'd make some joke about how I haven't changed since I was a messy little kid and I just don't need to hear that right now."

"I don't do things like that!"

"Uh - "

"...anymore. I've changed."

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

I can sing a rainbow

The colours of spring are


and yellow

and orange

and purple and blue

This was meant to be happy thoughts in lieu of a complainy post, but I can't help but add this secret message to my mother:

When someone is in the middle of cropping photos and is called away to check on the dinner, it is NOT good form to go over to the computer and start messing around with their pictures. And when they return and ask (trying to keep the horrified tone from their voice), "Do you know which photo I was up to before I left?" the correct answer is NOT, "No, but I don't think it was this one. Picasa is fun, isn't it? I've been playing around with cropping them differently."

More happy thoughts:

(Photos taken yesterday at Floriade.)

Quotable Geekman

"Look at that pelican! With a beak like that, he could eat just about anything!"

"Don't even think about it."

[Ten minutes later]

"Don't you think it would be fun to fall over onto that tulip garden? It would be all nice and soft and floral."

"Don't even think about it."

"You don't let me do anything. You wouldn't even let me feed you to the pelican."

Monday, September 25, 2006

English is so good at verbing nouns

On the way home from some other touristy things yesterday, we stopped at a nearby reptile house so that I could pay a(nother) visit to my beloved Ringo, who I would take home with me in an instant if the overly-watchful keeper man would just briefly turn his back.

I mean, don't you just melt at the sight of all this snaky cuteness? (Pictured here hunting for Geekman's sleeve to hide in).

My mother was happy to come in and meet him, but Geekman's mother refused to even enter the building:

"I think snakes are ghastly creatures," she said, shuddering. "I can't stand the way... the way they reptilian."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Just for you

To make up for the lack of content here lately, and as a reward for my faithful readers: my new favourite joke.

What's green and brown and has six legs, and will kill you if it falls out of a tree onto you?

A billiard table.

An observation

When people are standing outside your bedroom door talking about you just quietly enough that you can only hear your name and laughter, it is very hard to sleep.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Windy day

Friday, September 22, 2006


All of a sudden I'm the department's expert on a particular morphological theory.

I don't even do morphology! I just had the audacity stupidity good fortune to attend a course on this theory in July and now it's all "StyleyGeek can explain this to you" and "You want to do a research project in this framework? Why don't you talk to StyleyGeek about it?" and "Hey StyleyGeek, can you settle a bet? Is it possible to reinitialize the diametric inhibitors of the warp coil with a negatronic matrix or do you need a positronic resonator?" (No, wait, that's Star Trek speak. But for all I understood of it, that might be what they were saying.)

How do I admit that despite paying full attention in the course, doing all the background reading, and understanding the topic perfectly well at the time, in a mere 10 weeks I have totally forgotten everything I ever knew?

They are lovely people, but...

Today is the day. A visitation looms.

Both Geekman and I are simultaneously about to be afflicted blessed with the presence of our respective mothers-in-law (mother-in-laws?) and (obviously, since that's kind of how these things work) our own mothers. For a week.

I can tell you how this is going to go:

Geekman's mother will want to spend all day every day in the botanical gardens. (This is just an observation, not a complaint: there are worse things.)

My mother will dither and dather and dilly and dally and not make up her mind about what she wants to do each day until it is too late to do anything, and then complain on her final day that we haven't gone anywhere interesting during her visit.

Geekman, being such an introverted introvert that Myers-Briggs would have to invent a whole new letter of the alphabet to describe him*, will go AWOL as much as possible, going out for hour-long walks and/or locking himself in the bathroom all afternoon.

I will repeatedly have to reassure both mothers that no, he doesn't hate them, he just... doesn't want to spend any time with them.

It'll be a hoot.

* And it would have to be a silent letter. [StyleyGeek giggles at her own lame joke.]

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Looking out my window makes me wonder

Do you think the skateboarders who choose the university campus for their preferred skating grounds are some sort of subsubculture looked down on by all the other skateboarders as geeks?

Or maybe they are the ones that their friends go to with difficult questions:
"I can't do my French homework."
"Ask Robbo, he skates over at the linguistics building. Something might have rubbed off on him."

Or could it be that they are all kids from academic families and that filling the time spent waiting for some professorial member of their family by skateboarding is a desperate attempt to pretend to be cool?

"Steve's Mum's a professor...."
"Eeeewww... he's got smartypants germs."
"No no! It's not true! I was just skateboarding over at the uni because they have really awesome concrete. Yeah. That's it. Good concrete."

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

I love Google

I accidentally missed celebrating International Talk Like a Pirate Day yesterday, but for a lot of people it was obviously at the forefront of their minds. At The New Marketing there is a hilarious reply from Google to an email request that Google use a pirate-themed logo in honour of the day.

They also have a very cool picture of the keyboard used by all self-respecting pirates. Reproduced here without permission. (Don't sue me, okay?)

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

There's a spider on my ceiling and it's probably poisonous*

I sit here trying to compose a post and I can't.** I feel grey and numb and blank.

Tax returns.***

They suck the creativity right out of you. (Which is probably a good thing, since I've heard the IRD tends to frown on creativity.)

But it will all be worth it, since as I implied in the footnotes it looks like we'll both be getting a refund this year. I am trying not to dwell on how sad it is that that is probably because I spent nearly 15 % of my income on job-related expenses. [Insert mopey reflection on grad student life here.]

I have happy news, but it's all hush hush because it isn't yet signed and official (and will no doubt still go horribly wrong before it gets there and then you won't get to hear it at all).

My, I'm a glass half-full person tonight.


* That isn't a metaphor: it is literally the case. (And by 'literally' I don't mean 'figuratively'). But please feel free to interpret it as significant if you're that way inclined.

** A post about not being able to write a post. How wonderfully clichéed paradoxical.

*** The noun. Not the verb. Although this time round it looks like the verby interpretation might be valid too.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Second Carnival of GRADual Progress

As ever, the part of the blogosphere inhabited by grad students has been busy this last month. (If only we wrote as many words on our dissertations as we do on our blogs...)

Plenty of bloggers have been reflecting on the nature of the PhD process: what it is and what it should be (which are so often two different things).

Ancrene Wiseass points out that we do ourselves a disservice by viewing grad school as a temporary state and putting our lives on hold until we have got through it.

ScienceGeek suggests that a PhD program shouldn't just centre on getting the degree, but rather needs to involve rather more career counselling and real world advice than is usually provided.

Collin from Collin vs Blog submits this post where he criticises the commonly used metaphor of academia as a "conversation" and suggests we might instead want to think of ourselves as "collectors". I like the way that this metaphor shifts the role of grad students from passive listeners observing conversations that we don't yet know how to join to something more active: academics engaged in the valuable task of collecting and collating material.

Textual Life is doing well on the collecting front, but she worries that this obsession might be pathological.

I also like Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast's comparison of the dissertation process to getting chickenpox: some people see both as a rite of passage in which you prove yourself through suffering.

Are your ears burning?

A rather divisive issue has arisen in our part of the blogosphere recently: the problem with faculty using their blogs to vent about grad students is that grad students might be listening. On the other hand, as some commentators have pointed out, one of the great strengths of the blog world is that it provides places for open and free discussion to take place between faculty and students without either having to worry about whether what they say is affecting the way they are seen by their colleagues or harming their career chances.

Edited to say: I had one person's post in here as an example, but they have just taken it down and I can't find others to replace it with right now. Also, I felt kind of mean using one person to illustrate this, as it wasn't about them at all.

Anastasia writes about how these sorts of posts can make grad students feel.

If you are among the people who felt hurt by these discussions, though, a good antidote can be reading more positive posts from faculty about grad students: this one from One Bright Star, for example.

Profgrrrl writes a most instructive post on the proper care and feeding of graduate students. Take note!

And Psycgirl writes about what it feels like to be in a place that clearly doesn't subscribe to Profgrrrl's philosophy.

Advisor/committee anguish

Of course, it's not usually faculty in general that are the problem so much as a few particular faculty members...

Like Scersk's advisor, who doesn't return drafts.

This is a technique also shared by ScienceGeek's advisor. ScienceGeek also wonders what you do when you and your advisor disagree on the details of your thesis layout.

Anastasia is not only having problems with her advisor, but with her entire committee, and would like to know if anyone else has had to rewrite their proposal when their dissertation is already half-way complete. She also wonders whether there is a point at which the failure of graduate students to go on and succeed in academia becomes a failure of the program itself.

Can anyone loan me a dollar?

In case I haven't reminded you enough of your misery with the last few links, a couple of bloggers have been posting about the financial woes that accompany grad school.

Jenabean can't sleep for worrying about her money issues, and Thought Bubbles reminds us that grad students are financially worse off than Walmart employees.

Meanwhile, Shrinkykitten is reduced to selling textbooks in order to be able to buy food.

Yet from a post on Life, Apparently, it appears that some departmental business managers still think being a graduate student is all about free money.

Think happy thoughts. Think happy thoughts.

Let's talk about the good things that are happening.

Jim Gibbon has worked out how to defeat procrastination with a technique called contingency management.

Hopeless Academic submits a post about the benefits of intelligent practice techniques, not just for sports stars, but for PhD students too!

Marcia at m2h has realised how much she appreciates her friends.

And Lova argues that even if her thesis won't provide a cure for cancer, it can be an important contribution in its own right.

Whether for better or worse, grad school certainly changes you

New Kid on The Hallway reflects on how her perception of herself as a researcher and/or a teacher was changed by her experiences as a grad student.

Over at My Life, My Pace, there's an interesting characterisation of the different mindsets of grad students and med students.

(Of course, as a student of Profgrrrl's demonstrates, for some people one type of doctor is pretty much the same as another.)


A few congratulations are in order:

MLE of The Muffin Chronicles has taken the plunge and is wonderfully optimistic after her first experiences with grad school. Ms Entropy... not so much.

At the other end of the journey we have Six Impossible Things, who is finally able to join in the "last word of the dissertation" meme!

It can be done!

Friday, September 15, 2006

Carnival of GRADual Progress

Styleygeek has charged me with letting you all know that she's going to be somewhere benighted over the weekend, and will have no access to the internet. Assuming she survives this terrible ordeal, she'll be back and putting up the Carnival of GRADual Progress on Monday.

That's all she wanted me to tell you, but now that I'm here I'm feeling an unaccustomed thrill of power. A blog, and it's all mine! With readers, even! A soapbox on which I can stand and pontificate at length on all sorts of important issues dear to my heart. I could take this blog in far more interesting directions, let me tell you. There'd be fewer parrots, for a start. Fewer fish masquerading as mammals. More Linux. More on the universe; how it came to be and where it's going. Long essays on how quantum mechanics will get you a date on Friday night...

Oh, yes. There will be some changes around here.

Geekman wanders off, drunk with power, plotting his world blog domination.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Procrastination, taken to the extreme

Free advice for grad students: When you are running late with a chapter draft that you have promised your supervisor, the best thing to do is ignore it entirely and bugger off for a day to the seaside.

Better yet, go to the seaside and get the university to pay for it.

Fortunately, my university has a scheme called "Shower the international students with propaganda about what a great country Australia is so that they will settle here permanently, while politely pretending that there don't exist immigration restrictions that wouldn't let them move here even if they wanted to". But that's too long a name for everyday use, so we just call it "International Student Day Trips".

Today's trip was to the coast for whale watching. And even for poor underprivileged New Zealand students who have more whales in their backyard than practically anywhere else on earth, this was an exciting prospect. Until today, not being the boating sort, my only encounters with whales had been helping pour water over the occasional few stranded on a beach, so it was all new to me too.

The day started with a 3 1/2 hour bus trip, hence the early rising thing. But eventually we arrived at the coast, and got to choose our boat. There were three going out: a huge three-story catamaran with large glass windows, a medium sized enclosed boat, and something the size of my bedroom that barely looked sea worthy.

Well come on, which one would you have picked? I wanted adventure!

Unfortunately, everyone on the boat I chose (a) got badly sunburned*, since there was only room in the cabin for two or three people at any one time (b) got to wear extremely stylish life-jackets (c) had to be insanely paranoid in order to avoid falling overboard.

This was all made up for by the fact that our boat ended up being the only one that saw any whales today, though. Also, even the open sea was completely still** so the risk of falling over the side was (slightly) minimised. You could even see the clouds reflected in the ocean:

Yeah. Dolphins. Hugely uncool though it probably is to admit, I was far more charmed by the dolphins than I was by the whales or any of the other creatures we saw. (Sunfish, seals, pelicans and jellyfish).

The whales were all stand-offish and self-absorbed, and the seals that we saw just lay lazily in the distance rubbing their own bellies and occasionally waving a flipper, but the dolphins annexed our boat as their own personal plaything. And even though I have seen plenty of dolphins before, it's not something that ever gets old.

We had an escort surfing our wake all the way out to sea and most of the way back.

So I guess as in real life, I like best whoever pays me the most attention :)

And now for ironic: We spent two and a half hours in the open sea pootling around looking for whales without spotting a sausage. (Or a whale). Then we gave up, turned around and made the long trip back to the bay, only to find that that was exactly where they were hanging out.

Mostly we saw pilot whales...

...but there were also two humpbacks. Unfortunately almost every time they broke the surface I would press my camera button just in time to get a nice picture of the ripples they left behind. I did get one semi-decent photo, though.

And finally, you might think this isn't a whale, but you might be wrong. It was having a very happy bath in the guttering just before I took this photo, so it almost counts as sea-life.

And now maybe I should see about that chapter that is due tomorrow...


* Geekman's first words on my return home were, "It didn't drown! But it turned a funny colour..."

** Although that didn't stop people throwing up all the way out there and back. I think the other students on the trip had the weakest stomachs of any people I've ever met: someone hurled in the bus every time we went around a corner, five of the ten people on our boat spent the entire trip being sick, and then thanks to the logistic genius whose plan it was to follow the boat trip directly with lunch and then a visit to a rollercoaster park, anyone who wasn't sick on the boat made up for it in the later afternoon.

Quarter past stupid

Look at the time stamp!

That is because I am about to go on a very exciting trip.

Details and photos tonight (if I can keep my eyes open).

Ooooh, the suspense!

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Grace rocks and we should have taken her advice* ages ago

The landlord came around to repair our doorknob today and we took the opportunity to give him a private tour of the water damage to the apartment. He was appropriately horrified and left muttering various obscene references to the property manager under his breath.

Within an hour I had an apologetic and groveling email from the property manager, a phone call from a roof repair company and a plasterer, and appointments for them to repair the roof and ceiling respectively by the end of this week.

I'd say somebody got their arse kicked and it just might have been INDEPENDENT PROPERTY GROUP :)


* Grace suggested going over the head of the property manager and contacting the landlord directly.

Something I never knew was possible

On a related note,* we made oatmeal and chocolate chip biscuits last night ('cookies' to you people from Foreign Parts), which were so good that I had to eat them straight out of the oven** and so they were still so hot that they sizzled on my tongue like I had dropped them into a hot buttered frying pan.

Geekman could hear it from across the room.


* Related to food, that is; not to people I hate.
** That is, the ones that I hadn't already eaten directly before they should have gone into the oven.

I hate people (except for you)

Every day for the past week I have made myself a toasted sandwich for lunch. In the toasted sandwich maker. In the tearoom opposite my office.

Every day I have returned to my office while the sandwich is cooking and done 10 minutes* more of work, email reading, etc. I have kept a close watch on the clock and not once forgotten about my sandwich.

And every day without fail, someone has felt it necessary to come to my office half way through to tell me that, um, they think maybe I have a sandwich in the toastie maker? And it's maybe, um, burning? No, really. It smells funny. Could I please come and check on it?

And I have followed them back to the tearoom, opened the toastie maker to show everyone how it ISN'T COOKED YET BECAUSE IT NEEDS TEN MINUTES and doesn't look or smell even a little bit burned, and then gone back to my office to NOT be able to work for the next three minutes because I am worried that people are standing around my sandwich and tutting at my carelessness and maybe sabotaging my lunch.

And every day I have ended up going back to rescue the sandwich from well-meaning busybodies, and eating it before it is perfectly cooked.

(Hey, if I'm going to get obsessed by trivial irritations, they might as well involve cheese.)


* It's an old sandwich maker and not exactly fast.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I just realised

Short of something going wrong for them and screwing up their plans to complete on time, all the grad students who were here when I first arrived will leave before me. Which means that soon there will be no one left who has been my friend right from the start.

And that makes me sad.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Portrait of the artist as a young rosella

(Why do they always sidle away from me? If I'm a threat, then fly! If I'm not, stay put and let me take photos. What's with the half measures?)

Why I love spring break



Sunday, September 10, 2006

We are going to have an excellent evening

See this piece of stolen* equipment?

See this blank wall?

Anyone want to come over and watch movies?


* It isn't really stolen if you** have had the following conversation with its owner, right? (I only heard one end of the call):

"Hi, I was wondering if you knew where one of your employees, [flatmate X], has gone... Yes, he's been missing for a few weeks now... Oh, you'd like to know where he is too? Well he took most of his stuff, so he probably isn't dead or kidnapped by aliens or anything, but I don't think he's coming back. The other thing is that he left a few things at our house that we think he might have brought home from work.... What sort of things? Some pretty expensive electronic equipment... You don't think you are missing anything? You might want to check... Yes, this is definitely not his personal gear. Not unless he has a habit of tagging equipment with asset numbers and "return to room number X" labels... You'll look into it? Okay, here are my contact details. Just let us know if it's yours and I'll drop it round to you."

That was several months ago. So it doesn't count as stolen any more, right?

** This is a hypothetical 'you'. Like, not me, but Weekend_Viking, who has now left town and passed the stolen goods on to a friend, on whose behalf we are babysitting it for a while.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Warning: geeky physics humour ahead

At the gym

Me: "I can tricep press as much as you can! Look!"

Geekman: "That's pretty impressive."

Me: "That's because I'm super strong. Superstrong. Like superstring. But stronger."*

Geekman: "I hate to disappoint you, but I think the tensile strength of a superstring is probably greater than that of your muscle fibres."

Me: "But my muscles are made up of superstrings, right?"

Geekman: "I guess that means you are more than the sum of your part... icles."


* What can I say? Weight lifting sometimes melts my brain to the point where I can only communicate through random word association.

A reminder

The second Carnival of GRADual Progress approaches. If you haven't seen it already, there are a few suggestions up at the carnival's website for any of you who would like to write a post for inclusion, but are stuck for ideas.

As always, you are welcome to submit your own posts, or any relevant posts you have seen on your wanders around the web.

Friday, September 08, 2006

I'm an imposter, you're an imposter, we're all imposters together

A chance run-in with a member of my committee:

He says, "Hey, have you read [new book in the library]? I think it might be useful for your thesis."

I hear, "Are you actually doing any work lately?"

True answer, "Right now I'm trying not to read anything that might make me feel stupid."

My actual reply, "Yes, I heard about it and I plan to read it. But it's in [X framework], which I'm not very familiar with, so it's going to be hard going."

He says, "Have you thought about learning [X framework]? Do you think it would be a helpful perspective for your topic?"

I hear, "This theory is important! Why don't you already understand it?"

True answer, "It's hard. I don't like it."

My actual reply, "Maybe... I did think about using it, but I wasn't sure the payoff would be worth the time spent learning a whole new theoretical framework."

He says, "What framework are you using?"

I hear, "You DO HAVE a framework, don't you?"

True answer: "I kind of scrounged one up on the basis of whatever overlap there is between the framework I used for my MA and the framework my supervisor uses, then removed any theoretical stuff that seemed too hard."

I reply, "I'm kind of basing it on [Y framework], but trying to make it accessible to people working in different theories." (People like YOU, for instance).

He answers, "Is that the same framework as [main supervisor]'s?"

I hear, "Did you just make that up?"

True answer, "Yes, I just made it up."

I reply, "Not really. But there's enough in common between the two that we are doing fine."

And his final comment, showing he saw through the entire thing: "You know, sometimes you just have to write in whatever framework you are most comfortable with and then make up some plausible sounding justifications to put in the introduction."

Thursday, September 07, 2006

The reason why we don't melt butter and cocoa in the microwave (anymore)

Just wondering*

Why do mathematicians always look so scrawny and undernourished?


* And because it's bound to upset someone and generate all sorts of counter-examples. And that's fun for everyone!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

When analogies crash and burn

Our choir director during tonight's rehearsal:

"You all sound like you're singing in the shower!"

"You mean loudly and joyfully like we don't care who can hear us?"

"No. Too quietly. Like you're trying not to wake up the cat asleep in the sink."

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Hee hee

You know how Microsoft is releasing Internet Explorer 7 in the next month or so?

Well, put yourself mentally in the shoes of someone who might actually want to find out more about it, and try going to this site:

Google *knows*

This morning I was reading back through the emails we have exchanged with Independent Property about our leaking roof. Now, when a Gmail account is searched for a particular term or phrase, it returns all the emails relating to that, with a few lines of each email to give you an idea of what it's all about. Kind of like what you get on the Google search page.

The line Gmail used to summarise the leaky roof email exchange from back in June made me laugh so hard I fell off the couch:

Monday, September 04, 2006

More than a little bit spooky

Standing in our garage, I notice that our car is not only looking like its usual rusty, barely-roadworthy self, but that it's looking like its usual rusty, barely-roadworthy self PLUS bonus bird droppings and a windscreen that's opaque with dust.

As we get in, I say to Geekman, "Sometimes I'm embarrassed by our car."

"Shh!" he says. "It'll hear you! And won't start!"

Then he turns the key, and you know what? Not the slightest engine noise.

But it's okay, because this happened a while ago, and now I know how to fix it. So I'm kind of excited about my chance to try out my new car-fu technique, but also a little bit nervous that it might be something else entirely. Something big and nasty and expensive to repair.

Before I get my chance to show off my awesome car repair skillz, though, Geekman wants to give it another try.

"I'm sorry for what I said, little car," I whisper first. "I'm not really embarrassed to be seen with you. We can go to the supermarket together, and I'll tell everyone that you're with me."

Then Geekman turns the key, and the car starts without any trouble at all.

But I'm going to be sleeping with one eye open for a while, and keeping my ears attuned for the sound of engine noises coming closer and closer up the stairs.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

But that would be too logical

Geekman's take on the roof leaks (as we stand in the communal entrance to the apartment building and gaze in disbelief at the amount of water pooling there):

"It should be difficult to construct a building that leaks as much as this one. I mean, you'd think you'd need special pipes to pump in water from the outside. Couldn't they just have built a building that doesn't have holes in it?"

Independent Property Group regularly makes me cry

You may remember this, this and this.

Whatever the complete opposite of 'in love' is, I am in it with the real estate company that manages our property on behalf of the landlord. I am no longer inclined to keep their name secret.

INDEPENDENT PROPERTY GROUP is a bad property manager. INDEPENDENT PROPERTY GROUP does not get repairs done on time or, like, EVER.

I have just sent them the following email:

Subject line: [Address]: two years on


In last night's rain the roof leaked again. In the usual places. And the hole in the bedroom ceiling still hasn't been repaired. Please refer to the email and photos we sent you (twice) in June.

The water from the balcony is still seeping into the spare room, where I think the carpet is now beyond repair.

Also, the doorknob to the bathroom door came off in my hand this morning.


From previous experience I would say that any of the first five responses below are possible. The sixth is just not going to happen. Anyone care to place a bet?

(1) No response at all

(2) A semi-literate email explaining that everyone in the office is away right now and they will contact us when something can be done. Followed by silence.

(3) A semi-literate email claiming that they have passed on the message to the appropriate people. Followed by silence for several weeks. And when we follow it up they claim they have been 'trying to get in touch' but that we are never available (despite the fact that they have four contact numbers for us and never leave messages on any of them.)

(4) Swift repairs to the doorknob, while completely ignoring the main problem.

(5) They send Tony the roof guy (aka Tony the plumber, aka Tony the electrician) around, he spends an hour or so on the roof and claims to have fixed it. We have to wait for the next rain to be sure it is no longer leaking before they can repair the actual hole in the ceiling or plaster damage. The next rain doesn't come for six weeks (this is Australia), but when it does, nothing has changed.

(6) They fix the problem swiftly and keep us informed at all stages of the process. The roof never leaks again.

(And don't tell us to move. Just don't, okay? The mere thought of it makes me cry.)

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The departmental divide: a comparative study

Whenever I visit Geekman over in the physics department, it reminds me to be thankful that instead of being dumped in eight-person warehouses...

...we linguists get cute little two person offices.

On the other hand, their plants seem to be doing a lot better than ours are:

And while we make do with a creaky old blackboard and chalk...

...even the newest whiteboard isn't enough for the physicists:

As we are on the topic of kitchens, I'd like to point out that theirs might have the upper hand in gadgets, but ours is a minimalist dream:

The posters they put on their walls might look cooler...

...but I'm sure you'll agree that ours disseminate more vital information:

Sadly, though, in the area that matters to me most they are winning hands down:

Friday, September 01, 2006

Watch out for the wandering thesauri

Don't you hate it when you really need to consult something in a book that no one has written yet?

I need to find a portal into L-space.