Tuesday, October 31, 2006

So this is how it's supposed to work...

My former research strategy:

  1. While writing, realise I need to find something else out.
  2. Do literature search until I have a list of potential sources that might contain the answer.
  3. Jot these references onto a piece of paper and put it in my bag.
  4. Go back to writing, skipping the bit I need the new sources for.
  5. Abandon piece of writing for something else.
  6. Several weeks later, in the library, find 58 scraps of paper in my bag and locate the references on them.
  7. Stagger back to the office under the weight of all the books. Line them up neatly on the bookshelf and congratulate myself on a successful hunting and gathering expedition. Admire the impressive fullness of my office bookshelves.
  8. One year later, after reaching renewal limit, open books.
  9. Wonder why I ever got them out in the first place.
  10. Return them.
  11. Several days/weeks later, return to original piece of writing.
  12. Begin cycle again from the start.

My new research strategy:
  1. While writing, realise I need to find something else out.
  2. Do literature search until I have a list of potential sources that might contain the answer.
  3. Jot these references onto a piece of paper and put it in my bag.
  4. Go to the library and see which of the references answer my question. Get these (and only these) out.
  5. Return to office and read the newly acquired sources.
  6. Add the new information into the current piece of writing.
  7. Keep writing.
Next time I stray from the path of research goodness, someone please remind me that my new strategy really does save time in the long run.

Sometimes I am a big dork and forget what country I am in

I just saw someone wearing a t-shirt with "Downunder" printed on the front and thought, "Hey, cool! Someone else from the Southern Hemisphere!"

Monday, October 30, 2006

Gearing up for InaDwriMo

You may notice a prominent addition to the sidebar: a cryptic list of all the things I have left to do on my thesis before I will have a complete first draft that I can think about showing my committee (plus some other bits of academic writing I want to get around to). I want to get everything in the "from scratch" list completed by the end of November, and the rest done by the end of the year. I plan to cross items off as they are completed, so you can all be avid spectators at the See StyleyGeek Procrastinate Motor Through Her Dissertation Olympics (I know you're excited).

Below that is my word-o-meter, stolen straight from the Zokutou website. I don't like the fact that it's set to zero right now, but I plan to do something about that starting Wednesday. In fact, I've been practising! I wrote 2100 words today. Are you all proud of me?

Because it's all about the gadgets here, I also heartily recommend Zokutou's spreadsheet for keeping track of your writing progress. Oh, the statistics! It's almost enough to make me want to get up in the morning.*


* No, wait, that's Geekman with his spray bottle full of water. (I've been getting up right on time since we started using that strategy.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Every day you learn something new

I just learned that you can stand in a busy carpark in the middle of the day and break into a car with a wire coathanger without anyone so much as questioning your motives (which were to rescue the keys we had just locked inside, in case you are wondering). A police van even drove past while we were doing it and the policeman in the passenger seat watched us lazily, but didn't ask us what we were doing.

It took us a while to get in (our incompetence proving, I guess, that we are not professional thieves -- maybe that's why no one stopped us). And when we finally did, I congratulated Geekman.

"It was nothing," he said. "I'd run out of other ideas, so the only option I had left was to try using the dynamic coefficient of friction."

Most people would say he jerked the coathanger hard.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Not so successful, then.

Overheard yesterday on the last day of a class (not taught by me!) for which one of the stated objectives is, "To awaken students' interest in the Classical languages and their history."

"Oh my god. This class has totally put me off Greek and Latin for life."

I really hope he revises carefully before submission

I just looked over Geekman's shoulder at the paper he is working on.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Something that made me sad

This morning the budgie that our neighbours keep in a cage on the balcony was having a conversation with some rosellas in the tree above him. They were singing back and forth and imitating each other.

Then the rosellas flew away and the little budgie had no one left to talk to.

The End.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

I just hope my university wasn't responsible for these writing skills

We just got a big glossy brochure in the mail about all the wonderful new things the government is going to do to make the centre city less of a graveyard and more like a... well... centre of a capital city.

Whoever they hired to write the thing was the master of meaningless sentences and I think we should all bow down and worship their framework-independent implementation of the compositional component of expressiveness diminuishment.

Here are some of my favourites:

"New development including public spaces should facilitate pedestrian interconnectivity in the City."

What the hell is pedestrian interconnectivity? I don't think I want to be interconnected with other pedestrians.

"In conjunction with the National Capital Authority, the Government believes the City centre should be developed in a logical sequence, following a pattern of incremental growth that will maximise the returns to the community."

Because, you know, I would have thought it would be better to develop it in an illogical sequence and minimise community returns. Gee, I'm glad the "Government"* is running the country instead of me.

"A $6 million upgrade of the public realm will provide a template for the rest of the City centre. Currently being finalised, the manual will integrate all public realm design elements and set out all the ingredients to deliver a distinctive and high standard of design and consistency for street furniture [...]"

Whew, I'm glad that street furniture is going to be consistent. That was really bugging me. And "all public realm design elements" are going to be "integrated". That's a load off my mind, too. Maybe they'll integrate them with those interconnected pedestrians.

"The team is addressing short, medium and long term planning, design, implementation and management issues that have an impact on community safety in City. This involves [you'll never guess!] short, medium and long term changes [...]"

And what's with the "in City"? Is abolishing definite articles part of their strategic visualisation for a more vibrant future? Or maybe they are replacing the name "Civic" (what our central suburb is usually called) with a more friendly term as part of an attempt to integrate the interconnectivity of the English language.

At least they aren't short of strategic sounding plan names, though. In the two page brochure I found mention of all of the following schemes:

The Dynamic Heart Strategy
The [City]** Central Program
The City West Master Plan
The [City] Central Structure Plan
The National Capital Authority's Griffin Legacy Redevelopment

I have absolutely no idea whether these are five different projects or progressively cooler sounding names for the exact same thing.
But it's all right, because at the end of it all we'll end up with "an indicative long-term development and implementation plan". (Woo-hoo!)


* What's with the capital letter? Are we being German all of a sudden?

** Here [City] was the name of the city so I changed it.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

This French guy has been in Australia too long

"You don't want arm-wrestle? 'Ow big pansy are you?"

Personal discovery of the week

Red bean flavoured ice cream. Next step: the lychee, green tea, and black sesame flavours. Available now at your friendly campus grocery shop (or, in the case of most of my readers, not.)

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Much as I'd love to write a novel, I had to decide that this year NaNoWriMo is probably not for me. Those 50 000 words would do me a lot more good attached to my thesis. Of course, just because I'm not writing 50 000 words of a novel for NaNoWriMo, this doesn't necessarily equate to spending the equivalent amount of time on anything productive.

So following Fussy's lead,* I have decided to create my own spin-off of NaNoWriMo. Let me introduce: International Dissertation Writing Month (InaDWriMo--- Doesn't that just roll off the tongue?) I know, we're supposedly writing our dissertations every month. To which I say (oh-so-articulately), yeah yeah, whatever. You might. I spend most months surfing the internet and playing solitaire.** But November will be different.

The rules:

  1. You can set your own goal for the number of words to write. 50 000 is fine for stuff you can just make up, but a dissertation is generally slower going. I'm going to aim for 45 000 words, because I'm pretty much at the making-shit-up stage of my thesis.

  2. It's up to you whether you choose to count revisions towards your goal or not. I intend to count paragraphs that I substantially rewrite (i.e. if I change the structure of multiple sentences) but not if I just fix grammar or spelling errors.

  3. You are allowed to work on your dissertation before November, and in the months following November too. No, really. It's positively encouraged. But you can only count the words you actually write in November.

  4. You post some indication of progress on your blog: a daily word count, a progress meter, whatever. I want to keep tabs on you :)

  5. You 'register' in the comments to this post. I want to encourage community spirit keep tabs on you :)

So am I on my own, or am I on my own?


* It kind of feels like cheating that I signed up to do Fussy's NaBloPoMo, since I post here every day anyway. But there are prizes! (I don't have prizes for InaDWriMo -- yet. I might still come up with something.) But to increase the level of personal challenge for NaBloPoMo, I am choosing to interpret it as NAtional BLOgging about ParrOts MOnth. I hereby promise you, my loyal readers, that I will take and post a picture of a parrot every day in November. Are you excited yet?

** That's a joke.***

*** Mostly.

Technorati tags:

That's a new one

Last night I dreamt I was tired and needed to go to bed.

Monday, October 23, 2006

I don't have a solution (and I think I'm part of the problem)

Recently I have come to realise that what makes me most unhappy in the whole wide world is feeling incompetent. Unfortunately, feeling incompetent is the defining feature of my PhD student existence right now.

Something needs to be done about this. And someone should hurry up and do it. (Not me, though: I'm not competent.)

Tips for despairing grad students

Tip #2* Hang out with people who are more depressed than you are.

I began the day feeling completely incompetent and (therefore**) miserable. By late this afternoon I was back on an even keel. When thinking back through the day to work out what the turning point was, I realised it was two conversations I had in quick succession: one with a fellow student who is so terrified at the prospect of having to organise his field work that it has spurred him into writing something (as a means of procrastination) for the first time in over six months; the other with someone who directed the conversation to any and every topic but her work, because every time she hears the word "thesis" or "dissertation" she bursts into tears.

After talking to these people I felt infinitely better about the state of my own research.

Go on, tell me I'm a bad person.


* Tip #1 can be found here.

** More on this causality later. In the post that so far exists only inside my head. (Welcome, all mind readers!)

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Happiness is...

...elderflower cordial. I got addicted to the stuff in Denmark, making it with boiling water and drinking it hot like tea. And after three years without, I have finally found somewhere that stocks it here. (The same brand, even!)

I just poured myself a cup of it and when I smelt the honey-like, vaguely floral steam, I was suddenly back in our little flat in Aarhus, seeing the pale wooden floors and smelling the white powdered soap we had to use to clean them. In my memory the late night summer sunlight is filtering through the lace curtain in the kitchen. I can see the bright blue door and behind it the dark cave of a stairwell (one person wide and half a person tall) leading to the bathroom in the basement that we shared with three other families.* The handkerchief-sized garden where the old lady from upstairs would sunbathe naked.* The duck pond that was frozen over for more than half the year...

Sigh. Who knew that a hot drink could have such an effect? Now I'm all happy and sad at the same time.


* This is common in Denmark, especially in older buildings. Fortunately we only had one flight of stairs to creep down in the mornings; the family worst off had three.

* Also common in Denmark. A little startling when it's the first sight to greet you on drawing back the curtains first thing in the morning, though.

Saturday, October 21, 2006


Our choir just performed the shoutiest version of the Messiah that has ever been inflicted on an audience. The conductor said in a recent rehearsal that it sounded like we were singing the Vacuum Cleaner Chorus, and tonight was even louder and less coherent than that.

I wonder how the audience felt being yelled at for a solid three hours...

Just when I'd begun to forget how weird Germans can be

This is hilarious. And funnier yet: I know someone who actually subscribes to this catalogue. Her house looks a lot like you might imagine.

What doesn't kill you might be Styley: an update

Remember this? Well it took me two weeks, but in the end I got up my courage to go climbing again. The person I tried to kill last time had said that she would still be okay to climb with me again, but I thought I'd wait and see if she contacted me rather than calling her to suggest it, because I wanted to leave her the option to not get in touch if she had just been being polite.

So she didn't call me, which was hardly unexpected, but I decided I would go to the Thursday evening women's climbing night again anyway and kind of lurk in the corner. And if someone offered to partner me and they were okay with the fact that I screwed up last time, I would climb; otherwise I would go home again.

All day Thursday I felt jittery and nervous and wasn't able to concentrate on work. I didn't really connect it with the climbing plans at first, until I caught myself considering not going after all, and instantly felt better. So because I am a masochist I decided I had to at least give it one more try. I almost changed my mind again twice more (including once at the entrance to the gym), but I made it in the end.

I also spent the afternoon reading up on the internet about possible mistakes people make when belaying and how to avoid them. I still wasn't entirely sure what I had done wrong last time, but I picked up a couple of suggestions for making my technique even safer, so that helped a bit.

When I got to the gym, there were only three other people there. My climbing partner from the other week wasn't, which didn't surprise me. One of the other three didn't have anyone with her, and she came up to me and asked if I had a partner coming.
"Um, maybe," I said. "I kind of had a vague arrangement to climb with Sarah, but I didn't check if she was coming tonight. And she might not want to climb with me anymore anyway, because last time we were here---"
"Oh my god! That was you?! Duuude."
"You heard about that, huh?"
"EVERYONE heard about that."

So that of course made me instantly feel so much better (insert ironic tone of voice here).

But weirdly it turned out that this new person was even keener to partner me after that. Maybe it's the same sort of weirdness that causes total strangers to propose marriage to serial killers in jail. Or perhaps she was an adrenaline junkie and keen on the extra risk. Whatever the reason, though, I had a climbing partner.

Later in the evening Sarah did turn up and the three of us took turns climbing and belaying. Although Sarah was friendly, I noticed she was careful to make sure it was the other woman belaying for her rather than me, but that was cool. Then yet another person turned up without a partner, and she paired off with Sarah while I stayed with my new-found adrenaline junkie friend.

The result of the evening was that I feel much more confident about climbing again, and I have people to climb with in future who don't seem to care that I might be a danger to their lives :)

They even all organised us to go together to a different gym on Sunday where there are lots more beginners' walls and supervision and so on, so that I and the other new person can spend the day getting really comfortable with belaying and climbing. Everyone (except maybe Sarah) seems to have turned this into a story about our gym not being good with training and supervising beginning climbers and about our gear not being as safe as people make it out to be, which might not really be the truth of the situation, but it's a polite fiction that allows me to climb with them without feeling all freaky.

Hooray for nice people who don't hate me! Hooray for me not killing or maiming anyone! And hooray for being able to think about climbing again without having to go and sit with a blanket over my head until I've calmed down.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

The worst thing about summer

Australian flies are so much worse than the ones I've encountered elsewhere. It doesn't matter if you brush them off: they will hover just out of reach for a few seconds and then settle back down on you. Once you attract a cloud of flies (and you will) there is no getting rid of them. You can run for blocks and they will stay put for the ride. And they spend all their time trying to get into your mouth, nose and eyes (people say they are after the moisture, but EWW).

The ones in the picture stayed with us for the whole ten minute walk to the beach (yes, this is another photo from last weekend), and settled down happily on our stuff to wait for us while we went swimming.* Then they followed us all the way back to the house.


* Australia is also the only place I know of where huge numbers of flies hang out at the beach. That is seriously weird, guys.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

I heart my supervisor

She walks into my office and I don't have time to hide under the desk.

She says, "So..."
I say, "So..."
"I haven't see you for a while..."
I give her my special patented Guilty Look. "Um, no."

We both burst out laughing.

"You're avoiding me, aren't you?"
"But you were going to come and make an appointment to talk about it real soon, right?"
"Yes. I really was. I've been trying to get something new written first so I would have something to show you. But I'm a bit at sea, to tell the truth."
"With the chapter we talked about last time?"
"Yes. I've been reading a lot about [phenomenon X] that you suggested I needed to define more clearly, and it seems like everyone treats it totally differently. Oh, and this article here? It's the most recent one on [X,] and it seems to me to be totally bizarre and full of shit."
"Who's it by?"
I tell her.
"Then it probably is totally bizarre and full of shit." She picks it up, turns to the back page, and skims the bibliography. "She didn't cite me. It's definitely totally bizarre and full of shit."

She tucks the article in her purse. "I'll have a read of it, and then we can get together and talk about X some more. Or not. Whatever is most helpful to you. I've got a lot of exams to mark right now, so I'm not fussed if we don't meet this week, but since you were just about to call me to arrange an appointment..."
"Yeah, that's what I was about to do. I think we should probably meet."
"I think that you're probably right." Like it was my idea all along.

She does that.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Crappy bullets of random

  • Today was haircut day and as a counterpoint to last time's swanky salon I decided to try slumming it at the local polytech's training facility, where I booked myself in for a $12 haircut and $30 colour.*
  • Hairdressing students do the "tragic accident with a bunch of chemicals" look really well. I didn't spot a single hairdresser-to-be who didn't have the results of ten or so different experimental hair-styles plastered all over her head.
  • Hairdressing students don't have the Bad Hairdresser Attitude that has made all my other haircut experiences so traumatic. They actually listen to what you want, and tell you what they are doing. And more often than not, the two things coincide!
  • That place has such a unprofessional casual and relaxing atmosphere. I love it. The students try out the various products on themselves and each other (stealth hair attacks) while working.
  • Although the haircut I ended up with wasn't 100% perfect, it was way better than the less-than-ideal haircuts I have had at places that charge five times more.
  • $12 haircuts! In fact, mine was $10 because the receptionist didn't have change. And I discovered they do $15 facials, $15 manicures and $18 pedicures, too ($28 for the manicure/pedicure combination). I might finally be able to afford myself some pampering!
  • Getting a haircut involves a lot of opportunity to stare at your own face in the mirror, which led me to the realisation that without my glasses on I look like a total vampire right now. All big hollow dark eye-holes in face that has taken on a nice died-last-Tuesday pallor. Maybe I'll pretend I'm practising my Hallowe'en costume. Or start biting people.
  • When did hairdressers start including head massages as part of the service? Or is this an Australian thing? I don't remember ever gettting one at a hairdresser's before I came here, but every Aussie haircut I have had has included a 5 or 10 minute head massage. (Not that I am complaining.)
  • When getting a head massage from a total stranger, what level of appreciation is it appropriate to express? Presumably moaning with pleasure and writhing in the seat is frowned upon, but sitting silently and pretending it isn't happening is kind of weird too. And do the rules change depending on whether it is an opposite sex or same sex person bringing your hair follicles to orgasm?
  • Looks like I'm not so good at bullets of random, since these all ended up themed. So here's a totally irrelevant point to help balance things out: The plasterer (who after thorough prodding by our landlady finally plastered the hole in the ceiling about a month ago but still has to put a second coat on it) cancelled today for the fifth time. This time his (unasked for) excuse was that he was "helping children with leukemia". Is it just me, or is that the most bogus sounding excuse ever? "Hmmm... how can I come up with a reason for cancelling that the tenants can't possibly complain about without sounding like hard-hearted arseholes? I know, I'm helping sick people. Or... even better! Helping sick children! Yes, children dying of a fatal disease! Poor, poor innocent children."
  • Even if he was off doing good deeds for sick children, what exactly was he doing that was so helpful? Plastering them?


* Australian dollars. That's $9 and $22 for you Americans!

Monday, October 16, 2006

I've still got sand in my shoes

It was nice while it lasted. Back to the real world now.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Third Carnival of GRADual Progress

Welcome to the third edition of the Carnival of GRADual Progress!

I've decided to run this one as a sort of awards ceremony with (imaginary) prizes for various categories of grad-school-related blog postings that I made up with no sort of structure or plan whatsoever that were selected according to a complex secret system.

In house-keeping matters, the next Carnival of GRADual Progress will be held on (or around) 15th November and hosted by My Life, My Pace: a big (virtual) award is on its (virtual) way as (very real) thanks for this. You can still submit your posts in any of the usual three ways explained here.

If you think this carnival is worthwhile, please spread the word about it far and wide (or at least give it a plug now and then on your blogs and tag the occasional post you think is worth including). The more submissions we get, the less we have to rely on the host randomly stumbling across good posts. And the less work the host has to put in, the more likely we are to find people willing to host the carnival in future.*

And now for the part of the evening you have all been waiting (approximately thirty seconds) for... the winners of this month's honour and glory!

Awards to be proud of (because I'm too cheap to offer any incentive more tangible than pride):

The award for most courageous grad student of the month is shared equally between www mama and Ancrene Wiseass, both of whom have posted a list facing up to their greatest fears about their dissertations. Stewgad at Pretty Hard Dammit has a list of a slightly different sort: her motivations for finishing.

Stewgad also wins the "I do this ALL the time" award for being terrified of doing something that, when tackled, turned out to be nothing to be afraid of: something most of us probably identify with.

Psychgirl gets the award for imaginary conversations that make me laugh (what, who says that doesn't sound like a real award category?).

I say "my life sucks because grad school is evil." and she says "Grad school isn't evil, if you change your attitude, grad school will be a beautiful utopia! Fairies will do cartwheels you'll be so happy."
The award for best open letter goes to an open letter to the director of the MD/PhD program, posted at At My Life, My Pace.

Post-doc at Minor Revisions wins the story-telling award twice over for her grad school stories: one about herself and one about a grad school drop-out.

There were a lot of candidates for the award for best practical strategies and suggestions for dissertators:

Liz at Revisionspiral gives some tips for juggling teaching and dissertating (and marathon running and parenting and more!). There is also an update to this post later on where she writes about the usefulness of gantt charts.

Parts-n-Pieces recommends a different sort of chart: mind-mapping software, as a strategy for mastering the literature review.

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast has a post-traumatic stress disorder-esque flashback to the experience of writing her critical review paper, and shares some thoughts that translate to the dissertation lit review as well.

Complete Your Dissertation also has a post on literature reviews: how do you know when to stop?

Lambda Ex, in a post that also makes some interesting comparisons between being a grad student in the USA and in Spain, gives some useful links to advice on writing conference abstracts.

Uncertain Principles has some tips that might come too late for many of us, but are nevertheless interesting, on how to pick and apply to a good graduate school.

Dr Crazy gives some useful advice on how to identify a good mentor.

In the end, though, I unanimously (me and the voices) decided to give the practical strategy award to Flossie at Stepping on Acorns for a technique that sounds deceptively simple but which, in the implementation, takes a lot of willingness to face up to reality. She is keeping track of the hours she spends working each day, splitting it into teaching hours, time spent preparing for comps, and her job at a literary magazine, in an attempt to find out whether she really does work more than a 40 hour week.

The in-depth discussion award is going to have to be shared by a whole bunch of acadebloggers for the on-going debate about "professionalization" of grad students.

Dr Virago at Quod She has a post on the question of professionalization from her perspective as a director of graduate studies (and also gives an example of a student behaving more unprofessionally than I would have thought possible). Other bloggers addressing this question this month are Heo Cwaeth (who incidentally gets the prize for knowing what she wants and how to get it!), Yellow Dog (who uses the discussion as a lead-in to some thoughts about the problem of conflicting advice), and JJC at In the Middle (don't miss the discussion in the comments). This is the post that started the debate (this time around, anyway).

On a similar theme New Kid has just put up this post on developing a professorial persona and at what point in the grad school process this kicked in for her.

Awards you'd probably rather not be receiving:

The award for the worst experience of a committee playing games with a student's sanity goes to Anastasia, who summarises what she has been going through in this post here, but has plenty of other horrifying (and some positive) accounts of the whole experience and thought-provoking reflections on it.

Disgruntled Julie wins the award for commitment (or possibly insanity: you decide) with this post about a long day in the lab.

1B* wins the "d'uh" award for discovering that grad students like snacks :)

And one of her colleagues wins the "interesting theory but totally tactless" award for her suggestions about a deeper meaning behind how grad students select their advisors.

To wrap this carnival up, I thought I'd include a few recent posts by people about different stages of the grad school (and, fine, post-grad-school) experience:

Queen of West Procrastination posts the story of how she ended up in grad school.

Honeybee at Life Science is starting to panic about her upcoming qualifying examination.

Liz at Revisionspiral is getting closer and closer to finishing.

Everyday Scientist has big plans for after graduation.

And Postdoc at Post Doc Ergo Propter Doc has some advice for anyone considering going on to do a post doc.


* As it is, the majority of the posts here were collected by me rather than submitted by other people, since I'm not getting enough submissions to make up a carnival yet, so apologies if I missed good posts or if the carnival is too skewed towards the blogs I read on a regular basis.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Rockpools are like Christmas: discuss

Five-year-old struggles with the concept of a speech act

"Now you close your eyes and when I say 'okay' you can open them, okay? But not now. Even though I just said 'okay'. And not just then, either. Only when I say 'okay'. But not now! That wasn't the proper 'okay': that was just me saying 'okay' -- and so was that. You can't open them until I say 'okay', but not that one just there either... I think I need a new word."

Who can fathom the mind of a kangaroo?

This morning there were fresh kangaroo droppings right up next to the huts.

And now I can't get the creepy image out of my mind of them gathering silently around in the night, peering through the windows, watching us sleep.

Friday, October 13, 2006

This is where I want to study

The classroom atmosphere is excellent:

The accommodation is cute:

And I really like the other students:

Gotta love this country

Today Geekman and I are heading off on a trip with his research group out to the university's "field station" at the coast. From what I hear, it will be a festival of physics, beach cricket and surfing lessons (spouses get to opt out of the physics bits).

Yesterday we got an email from the people who run the field station, with a list of dos and don'ts for when you are in the area. Basically it boiled down to a long list of horrible ways you can die:

  • You can be dragged out to sea on a strong current
  • You could be pummeled to death by the semi-tame kangaroos on the property
  • You could step on a funnelweb spider
  • You could get eaten by a shark
  • stung by a sting-ray
  • stung by a jellyfish
  • bitten by a poisonous octopus
  • bitten by a snake
  • You could set yourself and the entire camp on fire
  • You could explode the gas ovens
  • If you have a heart condition, touching the electric fence might kill you
  • You could fall in the dam and drown
  • You could get killed by falling eucalyptus branches
  • You could get run over when crossing nearby roads
  • You could get Ross River Virus or Barmah Forest Fever from the mosquitoes
  • You could get sucked to death by ticks or leaches ("Users are advised to thoroughly check their anatomy upon completion of a day's work")
  • You could die of passive smoking.
Seriously. There were warnings against each of these things in the brochure they sent us. Do you think maybe they've had bad past experiences with litigation?

Geekman's boss once said he didn't like doing outdoor activities in New Zealand very much, because it was "like Australia with the safety switches on". But personally, I think that our lack of dangerous things that can kill you must have made us fearless and resilient, because I have never heard a New Zealander warn someone quite as thoroughly about the horrors of road crossing, mosquitoes and passive smoking.

Anyway, the place supposedly does have internet, so the Carnival of Gradual Progress should still go up on time on Sunday. But if you don't hear from me, I've probably succumbed to the semi-tame kangaroos.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Stop the seasons! I want to get off!

Oh my dear lord, we have a high of 31 C predicted for today and tomorrow. And it's only the beginning of October. The hottest month isn't until January.

Let's translate that to Americanese: 88 F at the start of May.

And it drops back down to 20 C (68 F) on Sunday.

Edited to add: In other weather-related news, last night I was talking to a girl from Malaysia who is planning to move to Dunedin.
"It's a pretty city," I said. "Shame about the weather."
"Well, it rains a lot and it's pretty cold."
"Colder than Australia?" she gasped.

(If you don't know why that's funny, take a look here at Dunedin's climate info and here for comparison to the coldest Australian city I know of.)

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

I think I'm in love with our landlady

My phone call this morning with the body corporate in charge of our apartment block:

"Hi, my name is StyleyGeek. Could I please speak with X?"

"What should I tell him that this is about?"

"There is a problem with the hot water at our apartment block."

[Pause. Whispers go back and forth between the person I am speaking to and someone else.]

"You say your name is... StyleyGeek? Are you an owner?"

"No, but the owner of the apartment we rent gave us your phone number and suggested we talk to X."

[Pause. More whispers go back and forth.]

"So you are the tenant? Did you contact the property manager?"

"No. We are dealing directly with the landlady for now, since she fired the property manager."

[Pause. More whispers.]

"And the landlady gave you this phone number?"

"Yes. Look, this might be easier if I could just speak to X, please. She said that's who I should deal with." (Actually she said that I shouldn't settle for speaking to anyone else because apart from X they were all incompetent morons. But I decided not to pass on that part of the message.)

[More whispering.]

"I'm sorry, X isn't here right now." (Yeah, right. And the whispering is just between you and the space aliens.)

"When should I call back?"

[Whisper whisper.]

"I don't think you should call back. We know about the problem you are trying to report, and are dealing with it. Goodbye." [Click.]


To: [landlady]
Subj: the hot water problem

I just tried to call the body corporate, but I don't think they were very happy that I contacted them directly. They say they are dealing with the problem, though.


To: StyleyGeek
Subj: Re: the hot water problem

I don't really care whether they are happy or not because I'm not at all happy with any of them. Anyway, I'll work it out for you :)


I bet her conversation with them is going to be more dramatic than mine was.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Geekman 2: Bureaucracy 1

One of the most excellent things about this new two-year contract of Geekman's is that it lets him apply for permanent residency even though he doesn't score enough "points" under the standard Australian immigration system.* So he has started gathering the ninety million pieces of documentation they require for an application.

Among the harder things to get hold of are a birth certificate (since Swedes don't have birth certificates), and police records from every country he has lived in (including countries that state clearly on their police website that they "do not provide police records for immigration matters", countries that require you to drop into one of their police stations in person to collect it, and including one from Australia, because heaven forbid that their immigration department and police force might actually communicate with each other).

Anyway, today we got two steps further along in the process and took one step back.

The unqualified success was the (extemely extensive) medical examination, which took up most of the day. But Geekman now has a piece of paper that states, among other things, that he is free of tuberculosis, of "normal intelligence"**, and has blood pressure of under 140. (Because Australia presumably has a problem with hordes of intellectually impaired immigrants suffering from borderline hypertension. Or maybe it's a cunning terrorist identification ploy: terrorists lead a stressful life, so high blood pressure is a dead giveaway.)

The "one step forward, one step back" moment was with his police record from Germany. It arrived today (hooray!), but has his name misspelled. We suspect this will not be acceptable to the Australian authorities, who don't give a toss whether "Greekman" has ever been convicted of a crime, so we needed to contact the Germans to request a reprint (which will no doubt take another three weeks to arrive). Unfortunately the department responsible for police records REALLY does not want to be contacted by telephone, so it took us almost an hour to locate the number. They do now promise that a new record is on its way, which means it's time to locate an official translator. There are only two German words on the entire document -- the ones that say 'no criminal record' -- but official translators tend to charge by the page, so I suspect we are about to have the most expensive per-word translation fee ever.

But it will hopefully all pay off in the end*** since permanent residency will mean that when Geekman's contract does eventually come to an end he won't automatically have to leave the country immediately afterwards. Plus with permanent residency, he will finally be eligible for real health insurance (like wot real Australians have). So it's worth it, right? Right?


* "Physicist" sadly gets you way fewer points than a "real" job like hairdresser or postman. Because, you know, they wouldn't want any dirty academics messing up this wonderful country.

** He took exception to this, but the doctor decided that the immigration authorities probably consider a tick in the "abnormal intelligence" box to be a bad thing.

*** Unless they reject his application and keep the (multi-thousand dollar) non-refundable processing fee, that is.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Everyone duck! Here comes an analogy!*

Warning: You will have to read this first for my post to make any sense.

I think it's like this: Once a week for years and years and years you have gone to afternoon tea with a certain group of people. And every week there is cake. If you are lucky, it is the same type of cake every week.

So every week you have an opportunity to eat a piece of, say, chocolate cake and experience what it tastes like, and maybe think a little bit about what ingredients must have gone into it to make it such a good cake. You even develop your own ideas about why it is that sometimes the cake is a little dry, sometimes it's a little flavourless, and sometimes it's just right.

Then one day it's your turn to bake the cake. No one tells you how to do it, but you do your best and bring it in proudly, and everyone tastes it. People make encouraging sounds and give you a few suggestions for next time: that you might want to try using sugar instead of salt, or that it's more traditional to bake it evenly all the way through rather than to cook it fast until it's black and then saw off the burnt bits.

Then the next time it's your turn you bake something that is even closer to the usual cake the group eats, and the time after that it's even more like it, and so on, until your cake is as good as or better than the cakes made by the other group members.

Unfortunately for some people, there are also afternoon tea groups where there is no consistency in the sorts of cakes provided. One week it's a chocolate mud cake, the next a lemon cheesecake, and sometimes it's individual cupcakes with pink icing. This makes it hard to decide what you should bring along when it gets to be your turn. It also means you haven't had as much chance to work out exactly what makes each cake good or bad, or to try and identify the ingredients in it, since you might have only tasted each sort a handful of times. You might strike a similar problem if your afternoon tea group is consistent in its baking habits, but you moonlight and attend a different group of Wednesdays and a different one again on Fridays. For moonlighting (read: interdisciplinary) cake eaters, the concern might be that they have to bring the same cake to all three of their afternoon tea groups, and they don't know how to make a cheesecake that will appeal both to chocoholics and cupcake lovers.

In all cases, maybe the quick-fix solution is some cooking lessons or an afternoon spent browsing through a recipe book. But this isn't always going to be possible. It's hard to take cooking lessons from someone or read recipes written by them if they've never really thought about what they do when they are baking, but just do it by taste and feel and maybe even make six batches before they get one that comes out right. (And in the best afternoon tea circles, packet mixes are generally frowned upon.)

I think I might stop now. But my point is that Anastasia's post has got me realising that my afternoon tea group is about as eclectic as they come. And it has just dawned on me that my dissertation is a chocolate strawberry lemon cheesecake sponge with cream and peppermint icing. In a muffin tin.


* One which has nothing to do with ducks.

I guess this means I'm an addict

I just found a fun game to play: If you had to choose between the internet and another modern invention, and the thing you didn't choose would never have been invented, what inventions would win out over the internet?

For example, in the choice between the internet and modern plumbing, I think I'd still go for the internet. I can pee in a hole. But if it came to the internet or antibiotics, I'd have to choose antibiotics, since without them half of us would be dead, and it's hard to use the internet if you are dead.

It turns out there are very few things I would choose over the internet, and it gets even harder to think of any if I extend it to computers in general.

What inventions/discoveries do you treasure enough to uninvent the internet (or computers?!) for?

Sunday, October 08, 2006

At least it improves my vocabulary

I take it back. Geekman totally does suck. 419 points. How can anyone get 419 points at Scrabble? Why do I even bother playing?

(And did you know that a quokka is a small wallaby? Neither did I.)

Saturday, October 07, 2006

We're going to have lived somewhere for five years

I am tired of waiting until our happy news is all signed and official before sharing it with the world. It already almost got taken away again once, and if (miscellaneous deities forbid) it does go horribly wrong in the end, I will want to rant about that here, so I might as well share while the news still looks good.

Geekman's contract has been extended for another two years!

You may remember this. Such angstings are now a thing of the past. At least, for another year and a half or so (which technically makes them a thing of the future, but let's try not to think about that, okay?) Even better: people are making noises about promotions and longer term contracts if his centre gets its funding renewed.

As you can imagine, we are both pleased and incredibly relieved (what with previously not having a clue what we were doing after December this year or whether we could stay in the country and all).

Geekman is the reason why the term "imposter syndrome" was coined, so he also firmly believes that someone somewhere has made a mistake and/or is employing him out of pity, but we all know that's not how it works in the real world. Since my understanding of physics is nowhere near what it would need to be for me to assess whether his self-evaluation really is a complete load of bollocks, I am always glad to get some clue as to how I should resolve the conflict between believing him and believing in him. And a two-year job extension is a pretty damn good clue.

Geekman doesn't suck! Hooray for him!

Friday, October 06, 2006

Summer snow

There's a saying here that if you haven't begun studying for finals by the time the poplar fluff starts flying, you're going to fail.

(We're a glass-half-full kind of university.)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What doesn't kill you might be Styley

In other news, I nearly killed someone today.

I don't want to talk about the details, because every time I think about it I start crying again. Also, I don't entirely know how it happened: one minute everything was fine and the next she was nearly killed and it was all my fault. And it was definitely my fault, but I don't know what I did and so I can't not do it again, and now I'm feeling all teary again so I'm going to stop.

But I just wanted you to know that I am a bad person and that you don't ever want to be up a climbing wall with me on the end of your rope.

(She's okay, though: just kind of bruised and unhappy. But that's not the point, because she might have been dead.)

What doesn't kill you makes you smoky

I have an excellent excuse for today's lack of productivity: our department caught on fire.


Well, kind of. Actually it turned out to be just a few trees and planters by the entrance, but there were a scary lot of big flames and the whole building filled with smoke, so it still counts, right? And the wind was kind of impressive today, so the flames were whipping up through all the trees alongside the building and for once I was thankful that we work in what amounts to a big concrete and brick bunker.

Some disturbing moments:

"Is this a drill?"
"No, there's real smoke and flames."
"Can I still teach my two o'clock class?"

ScaryLecturer emerging from his office in a little red plastic fireman's hat (because it turns out he's the fire warden, and the job description for fire warden is running around in a red plastic fireman's hat. Apparently.)

The realisation that our building might be fireproof, but with the amount of smoke inside, the sprinkler system was likely to switch on and ruin all our work anyway.

The final disturbing moment involved Dr Pompous, who walks like he has a poker up his bum and affects what he obviously believes is a "proper" English accent, complete with a vocabulary that can only have been gained from spending too much time with 19th century novels. He is also the only person in the department to use the title "Dr." (a cardinal sin in Australasia) rather than go by his first name -- even his sandwiches in the fridge have "Dr. Pompous" written on the bag. His other sins involve responding to, "How are you?" with a complete catalogue of his medical conditions. Including information about his prostate, which is always accompanied by a not-so-discreet pat of his crotch. And finally, he has an irritating habit of asking everyone each afternoon how many words they have written that day and gloating about how he has written more than anyone else. Oh oh, and another finally: he once told me off for talking to someone in the corridor outside his office because he was "engaged in important research, unlike some people." So yeah, I don't like this guy all that much.

Anyway, the point of this is that as we were all gathered outside watching flames and smoke make pretty patterns on our building, Dr. Pompous suddenly realised that Elderly Superfamous Researcher, whose grant he is employed on, was missing. "Don't worry! I'll save her!" he shouted, and plunged back into the building, which was equal parts sweet, icky and asking to die a horrible burny death.

Miraculously (or disturbingly, depending on your point of view), the sprinklers didn't activate, so nothing was damaged inside. But the place was full of smoke and ash and smelled like a fireplace for the rest of the day, as do my hair and clothing. Which meant I had to go off and spend the rest of the day browsing the Thursday markets and drinking in a cafe, right?

The photos I took don't look very dramatic, because (a) I didn't think of taking photos until after they had already put all the flames out, and (b) I 'accidentally' seem to have focused on the firemen to the detriment of anything else.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Let's hope he was joking

Geekman: "I think it's my turn to cook tonight. What would you like?"

Me: "Oh, I don't know. Surprise me!"

Geekman: "That's easy."

Me: "What do you mean?"

Geekman: "I won't cook anything at all. That would be surprising."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Foiled by fate

It must have been fate, right? Fate's fault that the hour I planned to spend going to the gym just got spent on... not going to the gym.

The problem is that I have hardly worked out at all the last three weeks, and I was starting to regret it. So I resolved to turn over a new leaf and on Saturday the leafiness began. New resolutions. New exercises. And it happened. I went on Saturday, went on Sunday, took Monday off, and was ready and keen to go today. I even planned my day around it in terms of when and what I ate and when I worked.

Come two o'clock I was so ready to gym. Called Geekman, but he needed an extra half hour or so. Would call me when he had finished "wrestling with his integral". So I frittered for half an hour, because there was no point working when he might call at any minute, right?

Finally he rang and I set off across campus, arrived at the gym, and changed. Except for...

My gym shoes. Left at home. They were it.

So I wore my ordinary shoes. Figured it wouldn't matter anyway, since I was only doing arm and chest exercises today.

I went inside and as usual, the bench presses were all occupied. I hovered patiently nearby while the guys using one of them simultaneously tried to finish their sets and stare at my chest, and finally I got my turn (to use the bench press, not to stare at anyone's tits).

Just as I'm loading up the weights, the gym manager comes up to me and tells me I have to leave. The gym isn't insured for people wearing "no shoes". I have shoes! I tell him, and wave my feet indignantly (one at a time so I don't fall over). But they are open-toed and therefore don't count.*

So I left. And got changed again. And cycled back across campus again. And now it is more than an hour since I first stopped working to go to the gym and I've lost the hour but haven't got the exercise benefits or nice endorphiny relaxing feeling to show for it. (Although my heart rate increased: does that count?)

And worse: I'm back to my skipping-two-days-in-a-row slacker routine.

And even more worser: I now have to go to the gym tomorrow.


* This is such a load of something big and steaming. You can only see a teensy weensy bit of my toes! Really! And the shoes are flat and leather and just as protective of my feet having a giant weight dropped on them as any cloth running shoe you could wear. And Geekman wore jandals** to the gym EVERY DAY last summer and nobody even seemed to notice, let alone ask him to leave.

** "Thongs" to any Australians among you; "flip flops"(?) to Foreigners of other extraction.

You probably know this already, but...

...Teaching Carnival 13 is up! Have fun!

Monday, October 02, 2006


New template is up and running. Please let me know if it looks odd in your browser. I've tested it with Firefox and IE, but nothing else.

For those of you thinking about switching your template to Blogger Beta, I really really recommend you do it when you have at least five or six hours free to play around with it. For one thing, when they say: "you will lose many of the changes you previously made to your template" they mean, "you will lose everything you EVER did to your template and have to start again from scratch".

I did, of course, keep a copy of the old template in a file, and even if I hadn't, they do let you revert back once you see the horrible mess the new template makes of your beautiful blog (sob), but it is a serious pain in the arse to copy across all your customisations, especially if you have to adapt them to the new template code.

Also if, like me, you decide to create a new blog to build your new template on and then transfer it across once it is working nicely, you should be aware that while the general layout of the blog is all in the html file, and the number and position of elements on the blog will stay the same (sidebar boxes, etc), the content of those boxes seems not to be contained in the html template. So after you copy across the template, you then have to put any javascript stuff back in manually.

Anyway, it is all there now, and it seems to work okay, and the only thing I couldn't manage to keep from the old template was the little randomiser thingy that maked my commentators sound like Biggles on drugs. And that isn't all that great a loss, I suppose. (Sob.)

Two more things: Categories will gradually return as I get around to sticking labels on old posts. And now that my blogroll is all big and juicy, please let me know if you feel left out: I am happy to add any of my regular readers.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

First impressions last

At a party last night:

"Hi, I'm Geekman."
"I'm Jim. But haven't we already met somewhere?"
"Were you at Sarah's party a few weeks ago?"
"That's right. I thought I'd seen those eyebrows somewhere before."

Should I, shouldn't I? Should I, shouldn't I?

As you can probably tell from the new labels on each post, I've upgraded to Blogger Beta. I haven't gone back and put labels on all my old posts (yet), so the categories in the sidebar cover everything up to around the beginning of September, and the labels take over from there on in.

This afternoon there is going to be a massive template redesign happening here, and I am finally going to update my blogroll while I'm at it. So if you aren't there currently and would like to be, just drop me a line. In all the excitement, I will no doubt accidentally delete the entire blog or something equally drastic. So if this looks like shit next time you wander by, you'll now know why.

Are there any tips from people who has already taken the "upgrade your template" pill and gone down the beta rabbit hole?