Saturday, December 30, 2006

There's a snuffly vacuum cleaner on my balcony*

The birdseed and apples I've been putting out on the balcony to attract rosellas have had a wider appeal than I expected.


* And eww! It's getting to the point where I am going to have to shut the door between me and it because man, possums are whiffy.

I am woman, hear me empathise

I was going to post this as a comment on The Philosophy Factory, but it ended up being so long I thought I'd put it here instead.

Thanks to Mosilager of The Warrier's Kraal, I discovered this really crappy, crappy quiz on the BBC website that 'tests' whether you are male or female by giving you a bunch of IQ test-type tasks and seeing whether you do better in the language-y ones or the math-y ones. (It also doesn't seem to distinguish between sex and gender, and don't even get me started on their "Some scientists believe that..." intros.)

It seems that in the scoring section where they tell you the results, they not only have little spiels about how "men do better on this sort of task" or "women do better", they also keep track of the average scores for males and females based on people who have taken the quiz so far.

So for one task it said:

This task tested your ability to judge people's emotions.
Average score for men: 6.6 out of 10
Average score for women: 6.6 out of 10

What does your result suggest?

If you scored 0 - 3: Do you think you're good at judging how another person is feeling? Your score suggests this doesn't come to you quite so naturally.

If you scored 4 - 6: Your result suggests you have a balanced female-male brain and find it neither easy nor difficult to judge people's emotions.

If you scored 7 - 10: Your result suggests you are a good empathiser, sensitive to other people's emotions. Women generally fall into this category.

Let's be quite clear on this: Men and women both average 6.6 out of 10 on this task. And women 'generally' fall into the high-scoring category.

How does that work?

(And don't even get me started on the other questions. In case you are interested, though, it appears I am AWESOME at estimating angles of lines, mentally rotating 3D shapes and remembering the position of objects in a picture, but I totally suck at caring about people and guessing their emotions from pictures of their eyes. Nevertheless the test scores my brain as very slightly female because I find the masculine faces in a series of pictures of men more attractive than I do the ones that they have photoshopped to look like weird sexless alien hybrids, and the ratio of my index to ring fingers is greater than 1.)

Friday, December 29, 2006

That "how'd that happen?" feeling

I was rewriting a section of a chapter today, working through subsections in kind of a random order. Getting to the end of one subsection, I turned to my to-do list, crossed it off, and searched in vain for the next bit I needed to rewrite. There wasn't one. The whole section was finished. Kind of a weird let-down feeling, if you don't know it is coming.

This was only one section of one chapter, but it got me wondering whether that's the way this whole dissertation thing is going to end. I'll finish up rewriting one insignificant subsubsection, turn to my list, and realise there is nothing left to do.

More likely, though, judging from the experiences of other grad students in our department who have submitted in the last few years, "completing" the dissertation will be a matter of frantically doing as much as I can in a never-ending series of improvements until my time-limit runs out and I have to hand the thing in whether or not I am happy with it. Or is there actually some way to come up with an achievable concept of what "finished" would be, work towards it methodically, get it done, and hand a dissertation in that satisfies some definition of completeness?

No, I didn't think so either.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

In which I become a productivity over-achiever

Today I drew up an unschedule.

And you know what? It really works. Instead of feeling guilty for only spending two and a half hours on my dissertation, I can totally feel proud of myself, because after the periods that are scheduled for sleeping and eating and watching TV and blogging and reading and cooking dinner and lying around being on holiday*, I only had half an hour left for doing work in.

Which means that my productivity for the day was approximately 500%.

No wonder I'm exhausted.


* What? You don't have that marked into your schedule for this week? Then you are doing it wrong.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Sugar was making me smarter

I swear I have lost a whole bunch of IQ points in the last 24 hours. Along with:

  • my keys. Last seen in the ladies' loos at university.* Hopefully they will still be there tomorrow.
  • my handbag. Left behind at a cafe (where Geekman, who needs to learn something about solidarity, ate an enormous piece of chocolate and caramel mudcake right in front of me).** I am totally in love with the woman who sat at our table after us, handed the bag in to the manager, and wouldn't even let me buy her a coffee in gratitude.
  • my ability to turn unintelligible notes to myself into a well-crafted dissertation chapter. (Actually, did I even have that to begin with?) I sat and stared at the thing for nearly two hours today, paralysed by the cognitive dissonance resulting from incompatibility between the chapter in my head and the one that my notes were telling me to write. (I overcame the problem temporarily by deleting from the outline two sections that would have taken me an hour each to write and counting it as an afternoon's work.)

* And oh my god, speaking of the loos, would it have killed the university to still have the cleaners come in even though we are officially closed until New Year? The admin people can't seriously imagine that no one is using this 'break' to catch up on research. And someone in our department (not me!) has serious intestinal distress.

** In case anyone is wondering about the sugar, (not that anyone is, because judging by my stats for the last few days you all
—except, apparently, for Arbitristahave way better things to do over Christmas than read blogs), I haven't turned into a health-conscious nutter or anything. I just decided that it was seriously abnormal that I couldn't go an entire day without gorging on biscuits, cakes or if nothing else was available, teaspoons of sugar straight from the packet. I'm hoping that whether the source of my cravings are psychological or physical, going cold turkey(ish) on the sugar for a couple of weeks might show them who's boss. After which we will return to our regularly scheduled desserts. (Plus, Geekman bet me that I couldn't hack it.)

Send reinforcements!

Have given up sugar.

Any bets on how long this will last?

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Zombie tree

Monday, December 25, 2006


Best present of all:

My mother made these lovely pillowcases out of material left over from my wedding dress with pieces of the lace that covered the arms appliquéed on top:

I've been finding this TV show equal parts cringe-inducing and hilarious. I finally gave in and added it to my mental list of guilty pleasures:

Proof that someone has been paying attention to my new-found obsession with handmade pasta:

And finally, the obligatory 'what were you thinking?' present from the in-laws:

Loot! An excellent year for it.

Merry Christmas!

From someone who got there before you.

PS: Why are linguists interested in Santa's elves?

Because they are subordinate clauses.

Sunday, December 24, 2006


Christmas Eve is not a good time to discover that weevils have infested everything in your kitchen.

To tomorrow's dinner guests, if you're reading this: are you sure you still want to come and eat with us? There may be a little bit of extra protein in your meal...

Cuteness on my balcony

They keep on coming back. And now they've started bringing their friends.

So now I want some advice. The first question I have is whether it's really okay to get wild birds dependent on people for their food? (Yeah, I know, maybe I should have thought about this before I started putting out seed.) These ones have been visiting several times a day for the last week or so, and eating everything I give them. And wow, they can really stuff themselves! I'm thinking maybe I should put out less seed, and not so regularly, so that they don't get a nasty shock when I go on holiday.

The other question I have is whether anyone has had any experience (and any luck) with getting birds to take food from their hands? It would be awesome to be able to hand-feed these rosellas, and I suspect it might not be too difficult. Parrots are naturally pretty friendly—the ones I pass in the street are happy for people to stand a couple of metres away and watch them. And the pair that feeds most regularly on my balcony (the ones in the photo) have grown very curious about the balcony door and the people (i.e. me!) they can see behind it. They spend a lot of time walking back and forth beside the door, looking up at me, cocking their heads from side to side, and react with interest, not fear, when I move around. My plan for the moment is to see if I can get them to be okay with me sitting out on the balcony with them while they feed, and if I can get that far, maybe I can start tempting them with pieces of apple or something.

Anyway, any tips or suggestions would be hugely appreciated!

Christmas 2005

Last Christmas was just the way a New Zealand Christmas should be. We don't need your soggy snow or frosty winter nights.

Christmas is meant to be about beaches...

and rockpools...

and long days full of sunlight...

About being outdoors...

and pretending you are Tarzan...

and introducing your ten-year-old sister to alcohol for the first time.*



* This picture will self-destruct in around 24 hours since I feel bad about putting pictures of kids up on the internet without their and their parents' permission.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Christmas 2003

In my little sneak-preview post a few days ago, I said I was going to write about Christmas 2004. Well, I was confused. The Christmas I had in mind was actually Christmas 2003: the one we spent at home in Denmark.

I think it was the first Christmas Geekman and I had spent at home since we had been together. It was a bit of a stressful time, since Geekman's contract had just been renewed for another four months, and our rental contract had not. A week before Christmas our landlady gave us notice that she needed us out by the beginning of January. So we spent most of the build-up to Christmas frantically trying to find another apartment that was even vaguely within our budget and that didn't mind tenants that were going to be moving on again real soon.

We still wanted to make it a proper Christmas, though. And we all know that for a proper Christmas, you need a proper tree. (Or a music stand draped in a green towel.) Unfortunately, the closest place selling trees was still a good 45 minute walk, or 10 minute walk plus 10 minute bus-ride from our apartment. So we had to get a tree we could carry for 45 minutes or take onto a bus.

Isn't it cute? And kind of sad?

Fortunately, the whole white Christmas thing more than made up for the half-arsed tree.

And the view from the new apartment that we found and moved into a few days later was just as spectacular.

(When the snow STILL wasn't gone at the beginning of April, though, it started to grow a little tiresome.)

Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas 2002: Beach cricket in Switzerland

Christmas 2002 was the year we went to visit a good friend, originally also from New Zealand, who was living in Switzerland.*

That Christmas was the year of improvisation.

Our friend hadn't lived in her apartment very long, and just about the only piece of furniture she had was covered with an enormous unfinished jigsaw puzzle. So we improvised.

We didn't have a Christmas tree, but we did have a music stand, a green towel and some fairy lights, so we improvised. (And yes, that really is a glowing sheep on top.)

We thought about having a traditional Christmas dinner, but hey, we were in Switzerland! So we improvised.

We didn't have a beach. Or a cricket set. But we couldn't bear to part with the tradition of playing beach cricket on Christmas Day, so we found a cardboard kitchen roll, a ping-pong ball, and a swimming pool to play beside for that extra authenticity. And we improvised.

On Boxing Day we awoke to discover that we didn't have the traditional Boxing Day hangover. But we were able to find a nasty virus that was willing to take us down one by one, making it impossible to do anything but lie collapsed on our beds clutching a (medicinal) glass of whisky. So we improvised.


* I didn't get around to asking her permission to post this, so I'm going to fudge it by not using her usual pseudonym or linking to her blog and by putting a blurry mosaic filter over people's heads. If she is reading this and it isn't anonymous enough, hopefully she'll let me know and I'll take the photo with her in it down.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Christmas 2000

2000. The year I spent Christmas with Geekman's other relatives. (The long lost relatives in Real! Live! Sweden.) Since we were living not all that far away from them (in Germany) at the time, it seemed like The Thing to Do.

Geekman's family makes up most of a small, seriously inbred village in the middle of nowhere in Southern Sweden. They have a few old red wooden houses with gingerbread eaves scattered around a lake, which itself lies in a pine forest full of moose (and the occasional wolf).

(Cheating photo taken at a completely different time of year from this story, as you can see from the way the house is not entirely buried in snow.)

Once a year they dress up in their ceremonial hunting jeans and ceremoniously shoot a moose (and 'accidentally' shoot a wolf or two that has been hassling their sheep*), then pass severed limbs around the extended family to keep in the deep freeze until Christmas.

The intrepid hunters with their intrepid moose-hunting dogs. (Yes, really.)

Here endeth the backstory.

The elderly relatives we stayed with in the main house are the only Scandinavians left in the entire world who do not speak a word of English. At that stage, I didn't speak a word of Swedish, either. And Geekman, as you may or may not know, is a fake Swede who defies the rule that people don't ever completely forget a language if they are totally immersed in it as their native language for the first six or seven years of life. His uncle remembered a little high school German. His aunt's strategy was to speak extra loud.

By the second day they were completely frustrated with our inability to understand loud pseudo-German-Swedish pidgin, so there was an expedition to a nearby library, which resulted in a stack of Pippi Långstrump videos and the Swedish equivalent of "My first picture dictionary". With these they sent us to our room until we were fluent.

Since Geekman had been gone from his "homeland" a long time, and in the meanwhile all his miscellaneous cousins had gone and sprogged (and some of their sprogs had sprogged), upon our release from language-learning prison we were paraded around to an endless series of homes where people would hug us and yodel at us in Foreign, and exclaim about how much Geekman had grown since he was six years old and how much stupider he had become, as he had after all been fluent in Swedish back then and now he could barely speak a word! Then they would act very impressed with our ability to realise that they were talking about us and the Aunt would whisper, "Ja, ja. De är duktiga! De ser på Pippi Långstrump!" ("Oh yes, they are smart! They watch Pippi Longstocking!")

And then we had to eat.

That was the real problem. The aunt and uncle we were staying with began the day with a large breakfast. Pickled herrings and bread, sausages and cheese, a bowl of yoghurt and some cereal were the least you could get away with under the watchful eye of the Aunt. At ten o'clock it was time for coffee and cake. And biscuits. And chocolate. Then lunch at midday was a full hot meal. Generally something involving sausages and potatoes and lots of cream. At 2:30 or so it was time for more coffee and cake. Then a brisk walk in the forest or ice-skating on the lake. And after all that exercise, you must be starving! Poor children! But never fear, there are doughnuts and more cake, and hot mulled wine and fruit. And as you are still wiping up the crumbs from that, dinner is served. And in the evening a special cupboard opened up and emitted Belgian chocolates and imported shortbread.

And you remember all those other relatives we were delivered to on a daily basis?

Well, it might not be quite Christmas yet, but since it isn't every day we get visitors from New Zealand (what? Germany? But New Zealand really) and in honour of finally meeting Geekman again, we decided to have an early Christmas dinner, just for you! Well, it is 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and I guess you've had lunch, but really, this is a special meal. I'm sure you can fit it in.

In total, I think we probably had close to ten Christmas dinners. And every single one of them featured stewed moose.

(Which is quite tasty, in case you're wondering.)

Random photo of miscellaneous cousin's offspring, doing her best to look like a Swedish stereotype.


* Oh, whoops. There goes another endangered animal. I thought it was a moose when I shot it. Really. Don't tell the wildlife rangers, okay?


1st professor (who has been here 10 years): "I'm taking three full weeks off for my summer holiday. I decided that this year I don't give a fuck. I'm going to take the full amount of leave I'm entitled to!"

2nd professor (who has been here 20 years): "How much leave are we entitled to, actually? I've never taken any."

1st professor: "I have no idea. But dammit, I'm going to take it anyway!"

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Christmas 1998

As promised.

Christmas 1998 was approximately five minutes* after I met Geekman and five days before he was due to leave for London with a two-year contract to work for an investment bank.

Having just realised our mutual awesomeness, we understandably wanted to spend every last possible moment in each other's awesome company. So he invited me to come and stay with his family over Christmas.

I arrived on Christmas morning just in time for the Geekman Family Famous Christmas Brunch. This involves 98 million random Swedish relatives hur-de-hurring all over the lawn, champagne, kanelbullar, strawberries and cream, and a frightening array of cheeses and sausage flown in specially (and probably illegally) from overseas, since New Zealand doesn't make 'the right sort'.

After saying how glad she was to meet me ("Who are you, actually?"), Geekman's mother turned thoughtful. "I'm not sure where I'm going to put you," she said, making me wonder if I had just been downgraded (upgraded?) to a decorative display. "The Nilssons are in Karl's room, and the Karlsson's are in Nils' room. And I have Håkan on the couch in the sitting room and Emma and Klara are already sleeping on the floor..."
"Oh, that's okay," I replied cheerfully. "I can sleep with Geekman. That is. Um. In Geekman's room. On a mattress on the floor. Yes."
And I got a Look that can only be explained by either the fact that it was her son we were talking about, or maybe as the effect of 27 years of life in puritanical New Zealand.

She put me on a camp bed in the hallway.

And less than an hour later, that camp bed is where I lay passed out, suffering from an extreme overdose of the champagne provided with brunch. After all, when people are speaking Foreign all around you, and you're a little nervous to start with, what else is there to do but drink?

So that was how the in-laws first met me, the slutty alcoholic daughter-in-law. (I think I've grown on them.)

(Note: This photo is actually cheating, because I didn't have a camera back in 1998, so have no photos from back then. This one was actually from last year's Geekman Family Famous Christmas Brunch which involved fewer Swedish relatives and more rain, so was indoors and less spectacular, though just as tasty.)


* By which I actually mean something like four months. So I exaggerate. But it really was only about five days until he was due to piss off to the other side of the world.

I want my exotic cakes

I have to try this out on you and see if you would all make the same "mistake" that I made when interpreting the following email, sent around last week by our department's admin staff:

Dear Everyone

The School is having a final end-of-year celebration next Thursday 21 December at 3.30pm in Seminar Room. Come and join us for local and exotic cakes and drinks and be entertained by a slide show of the Melbourne Cup lunch.

Hope you can join us!

Admin Team

Today we get this follow-up:
Just a reminder about tomorrow. Much appreciated your contribution of local/exotic cakes and beverages....

See you tomorrow!

Would the rest of you have felt as short-changed and led on under false pretences as I did? (And I'm not referring to the Melbourne Cup slide-show. God knows what that's about!)

I suspect that whoever was charged with the job of going out to purchase the drinks and exotic-and-local cakes took one look at the remaining departmental funds for the year and hurriedly came up with a 'solution'.

(Please excuse the funky fonts, by the way. The emails were copied and pasted direct from my inbox. Be glad I spared you the exciting Christmas-inspired text colours.)

Holiday games to play with your academic writing

Pin the nominalization affix on the verb
The transformation of verbs into nouns has as a result the complication of the interpreting of your writing.

The syllable-to-word ratio game
My top score (averaged over a sentence of more than 10 words) is currently 3.2. You might think that doesn't look very high, but just wait until you challenge it.

The footnote-to-body-text ratio game
I haven't played this one myself yet, but it was highly recommended by a friend.

The octopus game
Find a passage where from the number of times you use the phrase "on the other hand" the reader can only infer that you have at least eight arms.

Hide the full-stop
See how many clauses you can jam into one sentence before you have to come up for air. (Warning: never play this one against a German.)

And my all-time favourite: Pass the whisky.
(If you tell me that doesn't have anything to do with academic writing, I'll bet you've never written a dissertation.)

What games are you treating your writing to a round of this Christmas?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Trying to be thematic

Since there are six more days until Christmas, I thought I'd post once a day about six memorable Christmases I've had in the past.

Or rather, I had been thinking for a while about doing a series of posts like that, and I figured I should make at least on of them about a time from my childhood, and you know what? That completely put me off the idea. But I'm going to do it anyway, in the hope that once I've got this post out of the way, the rest of them will be fun and make me feel that Christmas spirit again.

The problem is, Christmases when I was little weren't any fun. Christmas with a father who is the vicar of a spread-out country parish (so that Christmas involved driving around like a lunatic to hold services and take communion to little old ladies, getting home in the late afternoon and collapsing on the couch) and two parents who are clinically depressed (and inclined to randomly stop taking their medication), is just not a place you want to be.

The one benefit of this is that I have been able to cook absolutely killer hams, Christmas cakes and mince pies since I was about 10 years old (since if I didn't do it, nobody else would).

But I'm going to gloss over all of that and move on to the happy Christmas memories. Here's a run-down of the highlights to come:

Christmas 1998: I meet Geekman's parents for the first time and embarrass myself twice in the first hour.

Christmas 2000: Ten Christmas dinners and all of them stewed moose.

Christmas 2002: Playing beach cricket in Switzerland.

Christmas 2004: Charlie Brown's Christmas tree.

Christmas 2005: One ten-year-old gets put off alcohol for life.

Hmm... It looks like Christmas has been memorable and fun every second year since 1998 (I have absolutely no recollection of what happened on any of the odd-numbered Christmas years apart from last year).

Hopefully that bodes well for the one to come...

Monday, December 18, 2006

I hate software that thinks it is smarter than me

And that goes double for websites.


Twice in the last few weeks I have had issues with websites that identify that I am in Australia and adjust themselves accordingly. The first time was when I went to book tickets for travel on the Inter-Island ferry for when I'm in New Zealand, and got a helpful message to say that for my own good they were only going to show me the most expensive class of ticket, because that class lets you make changes at the last minute and that's exactly what overseas tourists need, so you should be eternally grateful, you disorganised foreigner, you.

I tried accessing the site through a proxy server, but then they wouldn't let me buy any tickets at all. So in the end I had to call my mother and walk her through the process, which required me not only to give her my credit card number, but to deal with frightening levels of computer incompetence:

"Okay, you should see a screen with a list of different sailing times in front of you. What do you see?"
"Ooh! Oooh! Ooooh!! Look at that!!!"
"What is it, Mum? What does the screen look like?"
"Ooh, I don't know, really. It's not meant to be like this, is it?"
"I don't know, Mum. Describe it to me."
"Well, it's just sort of, you know... Funny."


"Now click the little button next to the ten o'clock sailing."
"There isn't any button."
"Are you sure? Because there's one on my screen, and I'm on the Australian version of the same page you are."
"No, there really isn't. Really."
"Okay. Look at where it says "ten o'clock." Now move your eyes just to the right of that. What do you see?"
"Well there's a little grey circle there."
"That's the button. Click it."

These were just two of the highlights of the process.

The more recent occasion, however, was even more irritating, because the website didn't even warn me that it had detected my location and was showing me country-specific information.

It was an online bookshop that I ordered two books from to send my parents-in-law (in New Zealand) for Christmas. I found the store by searching Google for bookshop online Australia. When I entered the site, everything was priced in Australian dollars. There was a big button saying "Shipping within Australia is free for purchases over $50". And when I checked the shipping times, the estimate was 5 days, which is at the pessimistic end of the range for mail within Australia, but not that unusual around this time of year.

So I bought the books. And waited. And waited. And waited.

Today, nearly three weeks later, they finally arrive. In a package postmarked New Zealand. Which means that I have bought books from New Zealand and had them shipped to Australia, only to turn around and post them back to New Zealand and have them not even bloody well arrive in time for Christmas. Not to mention the environmental cost of shipping stuff back and forth between two countries twice.

And all because the website discovered I was browsing from an Australian IP address and sneakily pretended to me that we have something in common.


Sunday, December 17, 2006

Carols for the disturbed

I'm going to put this in the "recommended reading" list in the sidebar, but it's so funny I wanted to call attention to it here as well.

Friday, December 15, 2006

The Carnival of GRADual Progress: Christmas Edition

Greetings and welcome to the fifth Carnival of GRADual Progress! As an extra Christmas present, I've rounded up a huge number of posts this time round. And in case you don't make it through to the end, I won't leave you in suspense: The next carnival will be held on (or around) 15th January at Working Writing Wailing Mama's. You can submit your posts via any of the usual methods.

In other housekeeping matters, there is now a GRADual Progress button that you can put in your sidebar if you are that way inclined. Many thanks to Kristen who designed it! And I have also put up a blogroll of graduate student bloggers on the carnival website. If you are not on it but would like to be, just send me an email, preferably to this account (styleygeek at gmail dot com).

Now, don't mind me, I'll just be humming some Christmas carols to myself in the corner while you're reading.

...where the treetops glisten, and children listen/To hear sleigh bells in the snow...

I thought I'd start off today with a discussion that has been doing the rounds in the academic blogosphere these last few weeks: what it's like going through grad school when you have young children. As so many things do, it all started at Bitch PhD with one of her 'ask a bitchy feminist' letters. From there the discussion has spread to Academom, Geekymom, Mama in Translation, Adventures in Ethics and Science, Who doesn't love roses? and Mommy PhD. Some very interesting points are raised, and be sure not to miss the comments threads!

Happy golden days of yore...

There have been a couple of posts comparing grad student life to what it was like as an undergrad. Psycgirl is affected by the fun chaos that is finals week, even now that she no longer has any of her own. Mad Scientist discusses whether grad students really have it any better than undergrads. But Post Doc Ergo Propter Doc tops it all by arguing that post-docs have it even better than we do.

Making a list and checking it twice...

Marcia Marlene Hansen of M2h Blogging recommends making three lists, in fact.

Parts-n-Pieces is putting together a list of grad students interested in dissertation boot-camp.

Breena Ronan of Who doesn't love roses? has a list of links to people who are saying exactly what she wants to say.

Kristen at The History Enthusiast lists a whole lot of useful dissertation resources and also suggests some strategies for reading quickly and effectively.

GTD Wannabe has some suggestions for making yourself keep writing on those days you don't want to write, and Kristen wonders if we would find that writing can be fun if we had the right mindset, while Queen of West Procrastination's husband reminds her that she doesn't really have to write at all if she doesn't want to.

Elves are working overtime/Making all our toys...

A couple of us have dissertation-related Christmas wishes:

Mad Scientist wants someone to design her a program that allows her to save and tag research papers in the same way that Apple's iPhoto does for pictures. And I want someone to write a program that will turn my dissertation drafts into a video game.

In the bleak midwinter...

Some people are having a hard time of it right now, so run on over to their sites and leave them some encouraging messages, okay? They may not be trying to write their dissertation in something that isn't their native language, or trying to defend their thesis in a warzone, but...

Acre, of Half an Acre, feels like she isn't doing much of anything, and when she does get something done, she feels as though she's just making it up. CkTison of Hopeless Academic is also suffering from a feeling of lack of progress. Ancrene Wiseass feels the same way.

Clevergirl at Don't forget your shovel worries that her introduction revisions are driving her to a nervous breakdown.

Anastasia was rudely excluded from a discussion at a conference.

Twirly feels like the bastard step-child of her advisors.

Lucy, of Always Listen to your Pigpuppet, writes about the feelings of jealousy and inferiority that come from looking up other grad students to see how much they have published.

Heo Cwaeth is mad about the unfair differences in rates of pay for grad students from different disciplines.

My Life, My Pace's committee has gone and done the random shuffle, leaving her resigned to not graduating this year as planned.

Luckybuzz of Polyopia has also lost not just a committee member, but her advisor, leaving her wondering if this is the beginning of the end of her academic career.

And Shrinkykitten, despite her incredible record of achievements that makes the rest of us look like incompetent slackers in comparison, has been kicked out of her graduate program and is struggling with the question of where she goes from here.

If these are leaving you feeling that grad school is all about doom and gloom, you might be comforted (or not) to know that Bart Simpson agrees with you (linked by Mad Scientist).

...glad tidings of comfort and joy...

To move onto a happier note, lots of people are making progress, and not just GRADual progress but leaps and jumps of it!

Congratulations to:

Sages, leave your contemplations/Brighter visions beam afar...

Of course, when we finish with grad school, there's the big scary problem of the rest of our careers to look forward to. Ancrene Wiseass compares the job market and 'The Rules', while Working Writing Wailing Mama talks about having to put together a teaching portfolio.

And since Working Writing Wailing Mama's is where the next Carnival of GRADual Progress (approx. January 15th) will be held, this seems an appropriate place to wrap this thing up.

Have yourself a merry little Christmas! (or Solstice, or Hanukkah, or whatever you choose to celebrate this time of year).

Made my day

Look who's sitting on my balcony right this very minute:

Luckily I was at the dining room table only a couple of metres from the French doors and had the camera right next to me, so I didn't have to move and frighten them away.

I put out birdseed on that table regularly, but I have never seen parrots actually come and take any before.

(Edited to exchange the photo for a better one.)

I need some new role-models

Hearing everyone's voices on these Snapvine players that people have been putting on their blogs has given me a complex.

Listening to them last night, and then to my own recording below, I was completely overcome with imposter syndrome. Youse guys all sound like professors. And I sound like a little kid. What am I doing even thinking I can be a real academic like the rest of you?

But because I overthink things, I lay awake a long time last night trying to work out what exactly made me think you all sounded more like real people than I did. And I reckon I've found the answer: I have never known a professor with a New Zealand accent.

Even in my undergraduate years in New Zealand, the only New Zealanders I was ever taught by were one prof for French and one for German. And they taught in French and German respectively, so I never heard them professoring in a New Zealand accent. The great majority of the rest were Americans and a few were Brits. (I'm judging by their accents here. I never interrogated them about their citizenship, so it's possible they were NZers by birth who spent a long time working overseas).

Here there is one Australian faculty member in our department, but she works in an area so far removed from mine (both in the physical and metaphorical sense) that I almost never interact with her. Otherwise they are mostly Americans and Canadians, with a Russian and a few Brits thrown in for good measure. My entire committee is American.

I guess there are enough Ivy League and Oxbridge graduates interested in a quiet life in Australia that my university never has to settle for employing people from our own system. You know, I think every faculty member in our department (apart from the one Australian) came from Harvard, MIT, Oxford or Cambridge. Which is nice for students from the point of view of having smart people teaching and supervising us. But not so nice when we start thinking about our own chances of being employed here.

And I think it has led to me subconsciously spending the last 10 years internalising a belief that American accent = professor, New Zealand/Australian accent = student. Which is why you all sound like "real academics" to me, and I sound like a fake.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

I want to play too!

Since everyone's playing telephone on their blogs and I suspect it wouldn't be free for me to join in from overseas, I thought I'd steal this accent meme from Mrs Mac instead. In the audio file here you can hear me answering three questions about my accent, which are kind of unnecessary really, since you get to hear my accent yourself. Are you excited yet?

Here are the two tongue-twister examples I use (in case you can't understand what the hell I'm saying):
"The bare bear doesn't have any hair, but he does despair of his fear of tears in his pair of spare chairs."
"Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers. If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers, where is the peck of pickled peppers that Peter Piper picked?"

If you want to do this meme, but aren't sure how to record yourself, I can recommend using Odeo.

And if you want to hear more weird-ass Australian and New Zealand accents (or any accents from all over the world), I highly recommend visiting this site.

I'm going to go and cringe some more at the sound of my recorded voice now.

Teach them while they're young

At a physicist party last night I overheard one of the profs talking to his two-year-old while cutting up the food on his plate:

"No, love, you don't want to eat your sweetcorn yet. Corn has a high specific heat capacity and high thermal conductivity."

Fortunately the kid seems already to have developed excellent translation skills.

"Weetdorn HOT!"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire*

In the comments to my post about bushfires a few days ago, Stellar_Muddle left a link to this site that shows you what parts of Australia are on fire at any given time. This is a screenshot of the map showing bushfires in the last 24 hours (red = last 12 hours).

Scary, huh? The scarier thing is the picture you get when you compare it to rainfall maps, such as this one from weatherzone. (also covering the last 24 hours, but believe me, their maps showing rainfall from any given week or month don't have much more on them).

More fire than rain.

This continent is another planet.


* Maybe this title is a little insensitive. But I can't help myself. I'll feel guilty for a little while, though, if that helps.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Wrong answer

When my supervisor asked me why I chose the order I did for three arguments in my current chapter, maybe I shouldn't have admitted that it was because that was the order in which they occurred to me.

That is what is technically known as a Bad Reason.


(Or maybe just plotting a little world domination.)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Ever tried writing a dissertation without thinking?

I think I need to stop letting this guy's comments about other grad students irritate me. But first I'm going to have me a little rant.

The background: It's a few minutes before a(nother) seminar by another grad student. This student is working in an area of linguistics that I am going to pseudonymify by pretending it is the sort of field research where you go spend a year in a mud hut in a small village, study a language no one has ever studied before, and then write up a grammar and dictionary of it. This isn't what this student does at all, but the descriptive purpose of the project and type of data used are similar enough that it will do for the purpose of this rant.

So Irritating Older Academic (IOA) says, as we walk to the seminar, "You know, I went to a seminar by this student last year and I wasn't very impressed at all. It was almost all background and no clear argument. I told her she needed a hypothesis, a design for her study, a methodology and a strong argument from the evidence. That's what a thesis is."

Me: "But at her last year's seminar, she had only just started her PhD. She hadn't even collected her data yet, so she couldn't know what she was going to find."

IOA: "You can't design a study unless you have clear hypotheses."

Me: "She's writing a grammar of an undescribed language. It's not a 'study' in the same sense as the sort you do."

IOA: "Hmph. Well, it just doesn't seem very scientific to me. I was so disturbed, in fact, that I approached her supervisor with my concerns. And you'll never guess what she told me. She said that that's how they do things in that area of linguistics. That they just look at the data and 'see what falls out'."

Me: "That's the method that makes sense for what they do."

IOA: "Anyway, I'm not sorry I spoke to the student about this issue. It is, after all, my responsibility as a scholar [clears throat self-importantly] to get grad students to think—to really think—about their projects."

Me (under my breath after he walked away): "Because without your generous input we'd never actually *think* about our projects at all."


It's gone all smoky and dull outside, and there's a taste of ash in the air. It's making even the hard-ass Australians who were here during the 2003 bushfires nervous, and I can't find a single news source that is telling us anything useful.

Maybe the smoke is coming all the way from the Victorian bushfires, but we're a long way away from those (600 km or nearly 400 miles). Also, they started a few days ago now, so why have we got smoke all of a sudden now and not before?

Update: Looks like the university got sick of everyone freaking out, because they just sent around an email explaining what was going on.

Latest info from [our] Fire Brigade is this smoke is being generated from a large fire that is 40km west of [here]
The fire is burning in a pine plantation and this is generating large quantities of smoke. They have 120 Fire Fighters at this fire.
A large number of resources are being supplied to the area including, eight aircraft that will continue to support ground crews today.
About 110 firefighters in 53 tankers and 10 bulldozers and graders from Forests NSW and the RFS are working on the fire.
The fire is not contained and has burnt 2470ha but is not threatening property apart from Forests NSW assets at this time.

So I guess it's good that that's 'all' it is. (Maybe).

Sunday, December 10, 2006

What I need... a three-dimensional text editor. And no, smartarses, I don't mean a pad of paper and a pen.

Wouldn't it be great to be able to actually walk into a text you are trying to create, like a character in a computer game walking into a city, and to physically explore it and pull the pieces around? Each paragraph could be a building made up of blocks of sentences arranged in a way that showed their relationship to each other. And the buildings in the city would have a layout that resembled the flow of the whole text.

You could use a whole bunch of metaphors of spacial relationships and proximity as well as textures and lighting to visually represent aspects of the text's structure, including its linear flow, but also to represent references back and forth inside it, connections between paragraphs, footnotes, and all the mechanisms you use to foreground and background various parts of your argument. That parenthetical aside halfway down page two would be a wardrobe on the second floor. And the bit in footnote 23 where you ever-so-politely debunk so-and-so's argument would be a mysterious staircase winding deceptively deep into a badly-lit dungeon of references.

I never thought of myself as an especially visual person. (I hate mindmaps.) But I really, really want a program like this for playing with the structure of my dissertation. Does anyone want to write me one for Christmas?

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Oh dear

(Seen at Lucy's)

Friday, December 08, 2006

Paying attention to something other than myself for once

A headline from BBC news today:

Left-handers 'think' more quickly

Because we can't honestly call the mental processes of left-handers thinking, can we? So we'll use the word euphemistically and mock them with our scare quotes.

Seriously, though, does anyone have a clue what those quotation marks could possibly be doing in that headline? I know that some people wrongly, horribly, disastrously justifiably and consistently use quote marks for emphasis. And I am not going to be allowed, as a card-carrying linguist, to argue with that. But this headline doesn't even have the need for emphasis as a plausible excuse.

What is its problem?

Geekman's going to be surprised...

... and not just by the fact I spent all his our hard-earned money on tickets to the circus.

Before he left for his conference:

Me: "Do you think we should get a Christmas tree this year?"
Geekman: "Um.... No. Not unless you really want one."
Me: "Probably not. Okay. If we did get one, though, would you want a big one or a little one?"
GM: "Maybe a little one. Like, one that stands on the table."
Me: "Yeah, that sounds good. And would we do the Australian thing and decorate it at the start of December, or are you too attached to your Swedish heritage?"
GM: "Why would you put up a tree before the 24th?"
Me: Okay. Just asking. But we aren't going to get one, anyway."

It's only two metres high. That's almost small enough to put on the table, right? Anyway, table-top trees were $20 or more, and I got this one for $25.

Then I developed an even more severe case of Christmas spirit and broke out in fake greenery.

(I hope it's not contagious.)

This is so exciting!

I just bought tickets for Cirque du Soleil's Varekai performance when it comes to my town in April next year. I saw them once in Berlin when I was 16 and it was one of the most magical experiences of my life (maybe partly because I wasn't having to pick up the tab).

I was planning on getting B or C reserve tickets, but they were pretty much all sold out, except for a few seats at weird angles or next to a pillar. So I splurged on A reserve (don't tell Geekman!) and got some right in the centre, in the row directly behind the last of the VIP $250 ticket rows. So although even our A reserves cost more than I've ever spent on tickets to any show before, I'm telling myself we are getting $500 worth of ticket (for a lot less than that). After all, ours are probably better seats than the ones right on the edge of the VIP row in front of us.

Secret message to woman behind the ticket sales counter: After you have just convinced a customer to buy the A-reserve tickets, it's bad manners to farewell her by saying, "Of course, so much of the action is high up in the air that it doesn't really matter what seats you have."

Thursday, December 07, 2006

The wages of procrastination

Some are kahlua-flavoured, some are with whisky, some are peppermint and the best ones of all are peanut-butter. I can't post the recipe, because I kind of made it up. But I guess I can post my making-it-up method:

You will need:
A nearby shop
A bad memory
Some money

(1) Google truffle recipes and browse through them all for hours until your keyboard starts to complain about the dribble.
(2) Take money and bad memory. Visit nearby shop.
(3) Buy everything you vaguely remember having featured in the recipes you read (cream, butter, chocolate, eggs, icing sugar, condensed milk and random flavourings.)
(4) Return home. Melt chocolate. Add stuff. Forget the condensed milk. You will find it in your bag six hours later and wonder why you bought it.
(5) Break into the alcohol cabinet and taste-test bottles in search of good truffle flavours. Sit on the floor for a while until your head stops spinning.
(6) Add some stuff, dip some stuff, roll some stuff and refrigerate anything you haven't already eaten.

In case you're wondering...

I haven't given up on the parrots.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Pretty, sparkly ideas. We loves us some ideas.

You know it's time to go home when you catch yourself labeling journal articles with post-it notes that say nothing but ooooooh!

Always know where your beetroot is

I know that reading about other people's dreams is so intensely boring that most of you will probably skip this post altogether. But like every other blogger, I persist in believing that I have the coolest, wackiest, most interesting and poignant dreams of all time and that everyone in the whole wide world is waiting breathlessly, begging me* to please, please, tell them about that dream. You know, the one with the beetroot and the goddesses. The one that gives you hope for the future of humanity your own selfish desire to graduate.

So yes, my dearly beloved readers, today is the long-awaited day: I'm going to let you in on the well-kept secret of the beetroot goddess dream.

This is a dream I had one night early on in the dissertation-writing process. And once I tell you how it played out, I'm sure you too will come to believe that it is an omen of future happiness and you will understand why I replay this dream in my head (muttering nervously and rocking back and forth in my snug, long-sleeved white coat) whenever I start to fear that I might not make it through this PhD-getting process after all.

The dream begins with me lost in a dark underground labyrinth. There are confusing symbols on the wall and contradictory signposts that I am trying to follow. Along the path are scattered miscellaneous dead bodies and dusty bones.

This wandering like a lost soul through purgatory thing went on for longer than you would believe, so I'm going to gloss over it here. But believe me, it was hugely un-fun. The dream me knew I had to escape the labyrinth, otherwise I'd end up like the dead people on the floor, but I also kept taking wrong turns and getting deeper and deeper into the maze.

But eventually I come to the end of a long passageway and can see a locked door that I somehow know is the only way out of the maze. And three powerful beings appear in front of it. They are big and scary and kind of bronzed, which pisses me off because I always wanted to be one of those people who tanned easily but instead am pasty or pink depending on the season and dammit, why do those all-powerful goddess labyrinth guardians have it so easy when they probably spend their entire lives down here in the dark where no one will even see them?

Of the three, only the one in the centre speaks. (The other two are just her posse, specialising in looking big and buff.)

"If you want to leave this place," she thunders at me, "you have to prove yourself worthy."

At this point I know I'm doomed.

"You must show me what you have in your pockets**. If I deem it good enough, you may leave. If not, you will die here."

I put my hands in my pockets, not sure what I will find. In the first one, I discover a handful of coins. As I pull these out, I know she will see them as a symbol of materialism and I will fail the test. I am right. She looks hugely displeased.

I reach into the other pocket and draw out... a big sludgepile of beetroot. The sliced, tinned stuff, dripping with that chemically-enhanced pink syrup. I put the beetroot at the feet of the goddess.

She smiles. "I like beetroot," she tells me happily. "You pass the test. You may go."

And the door behind her swings open into a sunny, leafy paradise.

See? See? Wasn't it a good dream? And positively dripping with symbolism? Even if some of the details were wrong (only two of my three committee members get tanned in summer), the message is clear:

I don't have to write a good dissertation after all. I just need to find a nice big tin of beetroot.


* In a whisper, because they have no breath, what with all that breathless waiting. (Duh.)

** Yeah, this dream might have happened soon after I saw one of the Lord of the Rings movies.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Now this is just plain weird

You may remember a while back I posted about how I was on a personal mission to work my way through the exciting new ice cream flavours the campus grocery shop has started to sell.

Well, I never thought I'd say this, but maybe there is such a thing as too exciting.

If you are wondering what taro ice cream is like, it's pretty much how you might imagine an ice cream would taste if you flavoured it with a root vegetable.

What sort of psychopathic toddler creative genius thought this was a good idea?

Monday, December 04, 2006

More things that aren't parrots

The warm weather we've been having lately seems to have brought out the lizards.

I took all the photos below in one day (on Saturday) and in one small area of an urban park. I suspect we are walking past lizards all the time, but they are so well camoflaged that we hardly ever notice them.

I spotted this little guy first, because he ran out in front of me.

And once I knew what I was looking for, they turned out to be everywhere.

If only I'd realised at the time what a great juxtaposition the signpost next to this one made, I would have got the whole thing in the picture ("Please keep off the rocks").

Of course, like all wildlife in this city, the lizards are generously participating in some grad student's study. So a lot of them have cute little collars on.

This last one was my favourite, and I nearly didn't notice him at all.

A special case of Murphy's law

Spiders will always come out of hiding as soon as the only person brave enough to touch them is out of town.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Globalisation, how I love thee.

Today I found out something so beautiful that it made me cry tears of geeky happiness.

Borders bookshop has opened a branch in my city. And it's got all the Borders goodness that I remember from long happy hours in London: comfy armchairs, a cafe where you can sit and read, opening hours that go well past my bedtime, veldt-sized spaces where books roam free, interrupting their majestic trek across the plains only now and again to groom each other or to nibble gently on the furniture...

And best of all, it's within walking distance of my house. Friday nights will never be the same again.

Glass half empty and shattered on the floor

Last night I was trying to soothe Geekman who was all stressed about the conference he had to head off to this morning*:

"Come here and sit down. You're pacing back and forth like a nervous ferret."


"That's better. Now think of something happy."


"Are you thinking of something happy?"


"What are you thinking about?"

"I'm remembering a skiing holiday I once went on—"

"Excellent! See, you CAN do it when you try."

"—the one where my girlfriend broke up with me."


* You may remember I said he was going on Friday. I was confused. He left today. He gets back next Friday.


Well, I'm going to rejoice, anyway.

I just found a floppy disk containing all the essays I wrote for first year undergraduate. And although I was certain that I had, it turns out I did not once use the sentence, "These poems/novels/plays have many similarities and many differences." Nor did I, in my linguistics assignments, ever fall into the linguistics equivalent of this and refer to "all the known letters of the alphabet".

I rock. (Well, more than my students, anyway.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006


(1) The next Carnival of GRADual Progress will be hosted here. On 15th December. Please email links to relevant posts to grad dot carnival at gmail dot com or leave as comments on the grad carnival website. If you would like to host a carnival in the future, please contact me.

(2) Bloglines tells me it has redirected my feeds successfully (a few days ago), and my traffic seems to have improved. But while the note to the feed formerly said I had 46 subscribers, now it claims I only have 6. If you subscribe via Bloglines, can you leave a note in the comments to say whether (a) it is updating and (b) you see a number greater than 6 at the top where it tells you how many people subscribe to that feed?

(3) I have taken down my thesis word-count in the sidebar, but will leave the "to do" list up there. (Actually, I changed my mind and took that down too.) I am also adding a little sidebar list of favourite blog posts I have come across recently. Enjoy.

Why I love this city

Because you can walk around a corner in a park less than 10 minutes' walk from the central business district and suddenly find yourself face-to-face with this:

I'm not sure which of us was more surprised.

Things I have found in my bed

There are few things worse than the feeling of dread when, half asleep and all snuggly warm, you move a foot and come across an unexpected, alien thing in your bed. Whether it is squishy or pointy, wriggling or motionless, your mind always jumps to the worst possible conclusion.

And sometimes you are right.

Before I list all my exciting discoveries over the years, I have to point out that most of these things are even weirder given that I am a total neat-freak about my bed. I like to keep the covers smooth. I don't eat or work in bed. The only things I ever do there are sleeping, reading, and that thing that married couples who love each other very much are allowed to do together—whispering secrets under the covers until the early hours of the morning. So I have no idea how most of these things ever made it past my OCD-bed-immaculateness radar.

That said, I give you...

Things I have found in my bed:

  1. an earplug
  2. an alarm clock (obviously I was trying to smother it to death)
  3. a turd (not mine)
  4. a spider
  5. a nacho
  6. a dead pigeon
  7. maggots (point of origin: #6)
  8. a clothes-peg
  9. my gym membership card. (This one was inside the duvet cover and very confusing.)
What's the weirdest/worst thing you have ever found in your bed? (And don't say your significant other. That might make them sad.)

Friday, December 01, 2006

Random Christmas Fact

When I was living in Denmark it made me very happy to find out that the Danish word for Christmas time is juletid. It's pronounced more like "yuleteeth"* than "yuletide", but you can blame that on the Great Vowel Shift.** (And idiosyncratic Danish consonant issues).

It's not often that random etymologies give me warm and fuzzy feelings,*** so this was a memorable experience.


* So I haven't worked out how to do phonetics in html yet. So sue me. <- No Christmas spirit for you.

** Which was totally not my fault. One minute those vowels were fine, and the next minute—whoah! Turn your back on the English language for just a couple of centuries, and look what happens! But the point is, it was like that when I left it, and you can't prove otherwise.

*** I'm not that sort of linguist.

InaDWriMo: the conclusion

November has ended. Endily. Like a big endy thing.*

Which means it's time to see how all our academic writers have fared.

A few people seem to have gone missing in action, and I couldn't find any word counts for Anastasia, Peri, Bobita, Propter Doc (whose archives I can't get to, either, although I know she was doing well last time I checked), nor a book-count for Maryanne's spin-off reading plan.

Dino's entire blog seems to have disappeared. I hope she's okay.

New Kid on the Hallway, who has been posting her word counts on her research blog Learn by Going, seems to have been very productive, but I couldn't work out exactly what that meant in terms of a word count since some days she posts the number of pages written, and other days words. Also, I would have had to add together all her daily counts for November and I'm too lazy for that.

So that just leaves Dr Brazen Hussy, Twirly, Weezy and me.

Dr Brazen Hussy has no doubt written more than I can work out, but her sidebar word-o-meters seem to be a mixture of word and page counts. Or possibly entire documents. Unless she truly is writing 18-word and 5-word reviews (wouldn't that be awesome?) Anyway, the words that I can add up make 11330. And she is planning to keep going on this into December as well.

Twirly has written 87 pages of her proposal. By my calculations, that's at least 26000 words! Well done, Twirly!

Weezy has written 21748 words, according to the word-count meters in her side-bar. I vaguely remember them not being completely empty at the start of November, so maybe it wasn't all written during InaDWriMo, but all the same, she's been very productive.

And now for the bit where I talk about myself. (I love this part.) I have written 39484 words**. Not the 45000 I was aiming for, but close enough to make me happy.*** And I totally could have made it, except for the fact that sometime around Monday evening I said fuck it, and proceeded to spend the entire rest of the week doing nothing but taking photos of parrots and trying to look busy while surfing the net. Bad StyleyGeek. I think the moral of the story is that even if you think you need to catch up a little, a writing binge of 6000 words in 48 hours is going to make you never want to look at your dissertation again. It's just not worth it.

The end.


* See the impressive padding strategies my writing has developed during the last month?

** Because I am a big overachiever.

*** Notice how I am carefully avoiding pointing out that I wrote nearly TWICE as much as any of the rest of you, ha ha ha, aren't I clever? The reason I'm not mentioning that is in case you comment to say that you have all had infinitely more teaching responsibilities than me and the only thing I've had to do all November was sit on my arse and write. And you would be right to point this out. And I am feeling guilty about it already.