Monday, December 31, 2007

Because it's been a while since I blogged about productivity tools

For the last few weeks I have been using a great online "to do" list application, Remember The Milk. The more I use it, the more I like it.

In my opinion, its best features are the following:

It talks to Google products. You can integrate it with Google Calendar, or (my personal favourite), with Gmail. In Gmail your to-do list then becomes a right-hand column, so that someone like me who checks their email obsessively has no excuse for forgetting the tasks for the day.

It is super easy to add tasks. You can do it from within your Gmail account, from within Google Calendar, by sending the program an email, or on the Remember The Milk site. Minimally, it involves one click and typing in the name of the task. (You can add much more info about the task if you wish, though, including priority, due date, location, etc.)

The application is smart. For due date, for example, you can type "today", "tomorrow", "Wednesday", "1 Jan", "Jan first", etc, and it recognises all of these and converts them to its standard formats. If you are adding a task from within your email account, and include the name of one of your contacts (e.g. "call Richard"), it uses your email address book to auto-complete.

It probably has many more features I haven't explored yet, but one of the things I like about it is that you can get started straight away using a very minimal subset of what it can do, all of which is totally intuitive, and only begin using the more advanced settings and features if and when you find them helpful.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

The New Year's Meme

I've deleted the questions that bore or baffle me.

1. What did you do in 2007 that you’d never done before?

  • Handed in a dissertation!
  • Convened an entire course all by myself.
  • Went to Adelaide.
  • Tried being kinda sorta pseudo-fake-vegetarian.
  • Developed a Scrabulous addiction.
  • Went cross-country skiing and snow camping.
  • Went without sugar for a couple of months.
2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
 No, and yes, because clearly I like to delude myself.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
 A couple of friends did, but since I only see them once every couple of years now, I don't know if that counts as close.

4. Did anyone close to you die?
 My grandmother.

5. What countries did you visit?
 New Zealand.

6. What would you like to have in 2008 that you lacked in 2007?
 A well-paid job.

7. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
 The thesis.

8. What was your biggest failure?
 Not getting a single publication out.

9. Did you suffer illness or injury?
 Nope. At least nothing major enough that I remember it.

10. What was the best thing you bought?
 I didn't really buy stuff. Gifts, I guess. The juicer I bought Geekman for his birthday is awesome.

11. Where did most of your money go?
 Rent. Savings.

12. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
 Teaching. It was exciting (and nerve-wracking) to have my own course with my own 80-odd students all to myself to do with as I pleased.

13. Compared to this time last year, are you:
 a) happier or sadder? 
b) thinner or fatter? 
c) richer or poorer?
 The same, the same, and richer (see number 11).

14. What do you wish you’d done more of?
 Writing. (I know, I wrote a dissertation and all, but most of what I did on that this year was editing. I wish I'd written more new stuff, both academic and for fun.) Going to the gym. Improving my foreign languages.

15. What do you wish you’d done less of?
 Aimless web surfing. Procrastination in general.

16. What was the best book you read?
 Wally Lamb's She's come undone. More about that when I finally get around to doing the book meme I was tagged for.

17. What did you want and get?
 Finished with the dissertation. Parrots tame enough to sit on my hand. An apartment that doesn't leak (as far as we know).

18. What did you want and not get?
 An apartment with rent that doesn't make me shudder. A publication or two.

19. What kept you sane?

The internet. Hooray for online friends!

20. Who did you miss?
 Weekend Viking and Stellar Muddle, who moved back to NZ this time last year. Geekman, temporarily, while I was trapped in NZ looking after my mother back in June. And the same old friends I always miss: all the Christchurch crowd.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

People do things differently. And it always shocks me.

Case in point #1: That hard rectangular package is not a book.

The people we spent Christmas with this year (distant relatives, most of whom we had not met before) all gave each other DVDs as gifts. Not a single book to be seen. Has the DVD become the new default present? Even we were given DVDs, which is weird since there is no way they could guess at what we would like, nor even know if we had a DVD player. I don't have anything against DVDs, but they would never even have crossed my mind as a Christmas gift option.

Case in point #2: Yes, we like our stone-age very much

A line from a Christmas letter from a family friend whose daughter (my age) has recently (finally!) moved out of home:

"M- has only had time off work since Friday, and since she is now the only woman in the household, it has been a little hectic for her with all the preparation for Christmas and baking and so on." (Note that her husband, the writer of the Christmas letter, is unemployed with plenty of time on his hands.)

On the second day of Christmas...

... can you guess where we went?

And it's even all free range and nice to the environment and shit. Which is probably why we didn't get to see half of the animals (bloody bandicoots, hiding in the vastness). With a fake savanna the size of 550 football fields to roam in, why would you hang out near the bits the tourists are able to get to?

At least the cheetah was willing (or hungry).

Friday, December 28, 2007

I'm back, and unpixelated

Because really, why bother?

I had an, um, interesting Christmas. It had its moments. Presents were on the weird side, although the two I got from Geekman (lava lamp and laptop bag) were awesome. My mother and father did not win any points. The former gave me a book on how to pray properly, and gave Geekman one sock. (She hasn't finished knitting the other one yet.) My father gave me some hand lotion. Both forgot(?) to give my brother anything. To his credit, he didn't seem bothered. Maybe he would rather not have one sock or a book on prayer.

In more exciting news, I got to catch up with a friend's housemate. Meet Keiko, who seemed convinced my hair needed a little work...

...and then demanded a bite of my sandwich as a reward.

Friday, December 21, 2007

An excellent Friday night

I'm playing the most incredible Scrabulous game right now. My opponent began with a bingo, I countered with another bingo, and got another one two turns later. We are now five turns (each) into the game, and the score is 245 to 173. Only one of my turns has scored under 30 so far.

Also: homemade noodles for dinner.

You should be glad I tell my stories to him and not to you

"Geekman, today there was a spider!"

One raised eyebrow.

"In my office! And not just any spider. This one was an icky spider. It was extra spidery."

The other eyebrow lifts.

"No, really. It was like a spider that had read about how to be a spider and taken notes and practised hard, and started competing in the spider spideriness Olympics. It was an archetypal spider."

"The platonic spider?"


"So what did you do with your platonic spider?"

"I hit it with Pidgins and Creoles, A Reference Survey."

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Well, I guess it's been too long for this to be the result of this peckfest, but we do indeed have a new young rosellalet. (S)he is rather cute, all small and green, and constantly makes weird noises that I can only interpret as, "Watch me! watch me!" directed at his/her parents. Unfortunately (s)he is also extra nervous and every time I even move towards the balcony, let alone pull out my camera, baby's parents banish him/her to a distant tree.

I'll try to get a picture if they come back tomorrow or Saturday, but after that we will be away for Christmas, and we have decided not to feed the parrots any more on our return, in the hope that they might un-tame themselves before we are replaced with more dangerous bipeds (i.e. the teenage boys who are moving in here after us).

Local council turns hippy

This is the coolest initiative EVER.

All our local buses are now free if you are traveling with a bicycle! That means you can hook your bike on the front rack, jump in the bus, and not pay for a ticket.

If only I had known about this when we were house-hunting, it would have made the radius within which we could consider moving much, much larger.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I think maybe I got scammed

If so, I maybe lost around $500. I'm still hopeful I should be able to recover it, even if it turns out it was a scam. What bothers me more is that I don't understand the scam. Not the how, nor the why.

More details later, once I'm sure I'm not mistakenly maligning innocent people.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Um, *gulp*

Or maybe I'll go do fieldwork in Papua New Guinea instead.


Dear Faculty Business Office,

I am urgently trying to find out when the local deadline is for [Grant Fellowship Application]. I tried to check your website, but could not access it. Could you please let me know when this deadline is?


Dear Styleygeek,

The information you require is on our website. It is down at present for maintenance. We will notify you when the site is back up.

Faculty Business Office.

I guess "urgently" means something different to them from what it means to me. Also, how hard would it be to just give me a date? I find it difficult to believe that no one knows this information without checking their own website.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The carnival of GRADual progress is up!

Go take a look. I'll still be here when you get back.

This should get me some interesting hits on Google

I was checking my spam folder today to see whether some real mail had been mixed in with it by mistake, and couldn't help but marvel at the creativity of some of the subject lines. For your ease of reading, and because I really can't help myself (categorization is what typologists do), I have sorted them into types. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

The scary:

Enormous monster phallus is every woman's dream. (I think this one could really ought to provide references. Freud would do, at a pinch.)

The up-to-date:

Get your wife better stimulation in year 2008
Don't let them laugh at your willy in 2008

The simple yet surreal:


The WTF category:

Biggish Penis Anderson (the body text of this one is "Phallus Sizable Ryan")

The "this person needs a better outlet for their creativity" category:

Be a big success in the pants when you enlarge your dick.
Get the flag pole that counts!
Your sexual life will sparkle with brighter colors.
Grow an anaconda out of your trouser snake!

And this one, which I am repeating in full, because it has some sort of serene poetic quality that I can't ignore (yes, each sentence was on a different line. That kind of helped, I guess, since it made it look a little like haiku spam):

Do not be loser, change your aggregate size.
Your girl does not admire to do it with you for reason of your device size.
This is your possibility to solve the trouble.
All you have to do is just put to use our male machine enlargement.
You will forget about trouble and your chick will be glad.

To add to the list of things I have found in my bed

  • A caterpillar
  • Onion skin

I have no idea either.

Friday, December 14, 2007

I don't suppose anyone knows...

...why 10 or so otherwise quite normal-looking academics were processing across campus this afternoon playing the Branle des chevaux (on trombones, drums and tambourines), led by a student holding aloft a stack of newly printed dissertations?

No, me neither.

Lessons learned

  1. Cycling very fast in the dark when you have no night vision is a bad idea.
  2. Doing so while drunk is worse.
  3. Cycling on the footpath is a good idea until it turns out someone has left a tree branch lying across it.
  4. Flying over your handlebars is kind of fun.
  5. Until you hit the ground.
  6. And you should let go.
  7. Of the handlebars.
  8. Otherwise your bicycle cartwheels through the air as well and lands on top of you.
  9. You don't injure very seriously when preserved in alcohol.
  10. But things in the bag on your back do.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I can't get over how cool this is

This rosella has suddenly become totally fearless (or maybe his addiction has conquered all fear). He even climbed up my sleeve to my shoulder yesterday, just to explore.

Not homeless

We found an apartment. It's about $30 a week more than we were hoping to pay, but on the upside, it appears to be waterproof. Also quiet, and sunny, and a five minute walk from Borders, which are all the important things.

Given that all the other places at this end of the price-and-niceness scale rejected us, we suspect our application for this one was aided by the fact that the real estate company's fax number was wrong on their website, which may have delayed or doomed anyone not willing to wait around for half an hour to see if their fax really did go through.

I have to say, though, I'm not looking forward to dealing with a real estate company with this level of competence:

"Hi, I'm calling because I'm trying to fax you an application, and it isn't going through."
"Yes, our fax number on those forms is wrong."
"But we checked on your website, and the same number is there too."
"Yes, that's also wrong."
"We are planning to get someone in to update it at some point. But for now, let me give you the correct number."

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Best idea EVER

I have come up with a grant proposal idea that, if successful, will let me indulge in blog reading in the name of research.


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Addiction is a bad thing

Wild thing, you make my heart sing


Monday, December 10, 2007

Background on the first bit of the last post

Questions United have asked me when I am booking trips:

"Which state is Australia in?"

"Do you mean Tonga, Australia?"

"Oh, you mean Tonga, in Vanuatu?"

More Geekman honesty

(Related entry here.)

After a difficult phone call

"United Airlines really need to change their slogan. If I were them, I'd go with, 'Customer service: it's optional.'"


At the bicycle shop

Geekman: "I think I need a new inner tube."
Salesman, looking doubtfully at the bicycle: "I think you need a new tyre."
Geekman: "You need to understand: I'm really cheap. How much do I need a new tyre?"
Salesman: "Well, it's the reason why your inner tube burst."
Geekman: "Okay, then."
Salesman: "Our absolute cheapest cheapskate tyres are $24."
Geekman beams: "I'll take one!"

Sunday, December 09, 2007

More freaking houses

Places we have viewed since then.*

1. Extremely elegant building that simultaneously managed to be right in the centre of the city, and surrounded by a leafy heaven that dripped serenity. Wrought iron and stained glass everything. Extensive gardens with peaceful places to sit. Apartment on the top floor with a beautiful view, peeling paintwork, sagging, mouldy ceiling, and cat-pee flavoured carpets. $370 per week. Approximately 10 people at the showing.

2. Brand new apartment building a block and a half north of our current location. Two bedrooms, middle floor (so neither security problems nor leaking are likely), slightly larger than our current place, lovely balcony, brand new appliances, central heating and air conditioning. Swimming pool and underground parking. Nothing to dislike. Two apartments available: $360 and $380 a week respectively. 15-20 people at the showing.

3. Older apartment in a large complex, a bit further north, but still within cycling distance to university. A little smaller than our current place, but acceptable. No air conditioning and some windows face the busiest street in the city. This could make sleeping difficult in summer. $320 a week. 12 or so people at the showing, but most of them seemed to belong to the one family. Not sure what was up with that.

4. Gorgeous, extremely modern, brand new building just around the corner from us. Very large two-bedroom with all the pros of #2, except that it was on the ground floor, and had evidence of water damage. (Already! The builders haven't even quite finished yet and the freaking place is leaking!) The rent was listed as "negotiable", which is apparently illegal in this state. People at the showing: 3, presumably because they were confused by lack of rent prices. Other places in the same building are all over $420 a week, though.

5. Tiny ground floor two bedroom in a large complex opposite the shops two suburbs north of here. Security bars on windows and doors. Reasonable condition. Kitchen and bathroom are nice. Lots of storage space. No heating or air conditioning. $315 a week. Only one other couple at the showing.

We've applied for 1, 2a and b, and 3. We really want 2a, so we aren't quite sure what we'll do if the agent for 3 calls us before we've heard about 2. Or if we get offered 2b but not a. We would almost certainly turn down 1, but when we put in the application for that one we hadn't seen anything else yet that was even vaguely suitable and were getting nervous. If we don't hear from any of them by Tuesday, we'll put in an application for 5 as well.

We are a little bit frightened by the fact that a guy we spoke to at the showing for #3 said he and his partner had been looking for more than three months. But we suspect there may be discrimination at play there, since they were a gay couple and clearly not Australian in origin (maybe Indian?). It would suck to know that you might be rejected on either count.

Our applications for #1 and #2 look good on paper, although I couldn't provide proof of income. The application for #3 is a bit dodgier, since they required phone numbers for all our landlords going back ten years, and we couldn't remember most of them. (Plus half of them are overseas.) The form said forebodingly: "If full details are not given in this section, including phone numbers for EVERY landlord, we will not process this form."


*I realise this may not be the most scintillating of blog posts, but as much as anything, it is for my own benefit so that I have a record of the places we've been looking at.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Irritating email exchange of the week

Between me and a committee that will remain nameless:

Dear all,

At our last meeting, we decided that we would pay me for my website work in advance to use up the funds in account X that are due to vanish at the end of December if unused. See attached minutes. [Guy in charge of account] informs me this would need to be processed immediately in order to take place in time. Just checking this is still okay.


Dear Styleygeek,

Go ahead and send in an invoice. The amount in the account is $1116.80. Please invoice for the whole sum. We'll sort out your hours later.

Chair of Committee.

Dear all,

Chair says to go ahead, so I've sent in my invoice for $1116.80 to admin (copy attached). Please let me know if the information on the invoice is sufficient.


Two days later, the chair sends the following email to my advisor (not even cc-ing me: I only heard about it later).

Dear Styleygeek's advisor,

Styleygeek appears to have sent us some sort of invoice for her website work. You need to talk to her about this. For one thing, I'm not sure she should be invoicing as a contractor, but rather needs to fill out a timesheet with the work as she does it. For another, she has invoiced for the entire amount of money in the account, and this doesn't leave us enough to also cover tax and benefits. [Note: hence my invoice as a contractor, since then it is MY responsibility to pay tax out of the total sum received, and they don't have to cover benefits. I thought their first mail made it clear that this is what they wanted, since they asked for an invoice, not a timesheet, and told me to charge them the whole remaining sum.]

I wonder if she realises that she would need an ABN in order for us to process such an invoice [uh, yes. That's why I put my ABN on the invoice I sent in] and that she would also have to pay taxes [duh]. Maybe we should talk about this at our next committee meeting [in July].


According to the evaluations...

... my students want:

  • full typed up notes distributed at every lecture
  • a whole class devoted to revision before each quiz, assignment and exam
  • not to have to read or hear about any information that won't be on the exam
  • not to have to come to class if they don't feel like it, and not to have to expend any effort to catch up when they skip.
Silly me, I thought that university was about learning to make your own notes, to do your own revision, and about learning the occasional interesting thing for its own sake, rather than just for credit. Oops. My mistake.

If I didn't know that it was only a tiny minority of students making these comments, and if the overall evaluation statistics were not excellent, I would be seriously depressed.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Places we have looked at, or, I wonder what being homeless feels like?

1. A lovely two-bedroom central city apartment. Sunny, perfect condition, a little bigger than we have here. Rent = $370 a week (for comparison's sake, we are currently paying $320). Number of people at the showing: 20+. Many of them filled out applications on the spot.

2. A two-bedroom apartment three blocks north of our current place. Horrible horrible horrible. Big mould stains on the ceiling. Tiny and ugly and sunless. No bicycle rack or space. Swarming with cats (actually, I think this was a redeeming feature). Rent = $380 a week. Number of people at the showing: four.

3. A two-bedroom apartment in our current building. Slightly bigger than our current one. Windows in both bedrooms (we only have a skylight in one). Signs of water damage. Rent = $395 a week. Private showing.

4. A two-bedroom house about 20 minutes drive from university. Beautiful, sunny rooms. Lovely garden. Huge French doors in every room. Good condition apart from some roof tiles needing replacing, termite shields needing installation (WTF are termite shields?) and some garden work. Sale price = $330,000+. Offer would have needed to be made immediately. If it wasn't for the location (we'd need a new car) and for the fact it was the first place for sale we've viewed, I'd have made an offer.

5. A three-bedroom house around 20 minutes cycle ride (uphill) from university. Big garden with fruit trees. House in average condition, nice enough. Looks like it would be cold in winter, though (windows don't seal properly, minimal heating). Rent = $360 a week. Number of people at the showing: 30-ish? (And that was 10 minutes before the showing officially began: we were out of there by the time it really started).

What we are looking for:

(a) Two-bedrooms, easy cycling distance to university, no obvious water damage, rent preferably under $350 (although we are starting to realise that might be unrealistic). Long lease.


(b) Two bedroom separate title house or townhouse, within a radius that means we could cycle to university if we absolutely had to (i.e. within 45 minutes or so), good condition, $350,000 or under. Quick sale.

Why is this so impossible? We currently live in an example of (a), and I've seen plenty of (b) on the market in the past.


Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wow! Look at my funky comments options!

Thanks, Ianqui.

Monday, December 03, 2007


I briefly switched to Haloscan because of this and then I switched back again because of this.

And you missed all the excitement. Shame on you!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Oh, the humanities!

A printed notice on the Classics department fridge:

There will be a spring-cleaning on Monday. Anything ancient, stinky or otherwise suss will be discarded.

Next to this, a handwritten scribble:

Oh no! We'll lose half the department!

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Parrot on a stick

Friday, November 30, 2007

Two Friday highlights

You know you've got your money's worth (of something), when a variety show act actually makes audience members faint. (It was this. Warning: graphic images. Don't click through if you are squeamish about body modification.)

Our apartment is leaking again. All I can say is SO LONG, SUCKERS. That's what you get for buying a place without an engineer's report.

Wow, I'm all about the Schadenfreude today, aren't I?

I got a job, but if I told you, I'd have to kill you

I got a part-time job writing for a local magazine. But since I stupidly used revised blog posts as writing samples, I have to assume they might be reading here. Also, they made me sign a confidentiality agreement.

So let us never speak of it again.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


I saw this coming, but I don't know if that helps much.

We have to be out by the 1st of February. Which means 19th January, since we'll be going overseas for three weeks then. Which means before Christmas, since at the beginning of the year the housing market is flooded with students arriving for the new academic year.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More Geekman wisdom

Geekman sits down at the computer and opens his browser. "Have you blogged today?"

"Yes, just now. Why? Do you want to read it and find out what I've been up to?"

"Exactly. What did you blog about?"


"Then I guess I'll read it and find out what I've been up to."

Yes, it's ALL ELECTION ALL THE TIME, here in the Geek household

Geekman has been coming up with political slogans he would use if he ran for parliament. I think he's aiming for the "at least he's honest" vote.

Vote Geekman: A little bit better than some other quite good candidates.

Vote Geekman: Not totally bent on world domination.

Vote Geekman: My opinion, it's a better one.

Monday, November 26, 2007

I became a vegetarian and celebrated with beef lasagne

I've been wanting to try going pesco-vegetarian for a long time now. Not because any of the environmental, ethical or health reasons are totally convincing to me, but basically just because I don't enjoy meat as much as I do non-meat dishes, so I don't see why I should continue to eat meat when it is also (a) more expensive and (b) at least slightly controversial environmentally and ethically. (I don't feel the same way about seafood, so I'm not about to give that up any time soon.)

My main hurdle is that Geekman is the biggest carnivore of all carnivores. I honestly have no idea how other people manage in a relationship with one vego and one meat-lover. We hardly ever eat out, and cooking two separate meals each night is not feasible. But when we sat down and talked about it, we actually managed to come up with a plan that just might work. So we are going to try it for a month.

Lunches and breakfasts:
These are easy, since we eat separately already anyway. Lunch in particular is where I'll make an effort to incorporate the foods I should probably be eating if I'm going to avoid meat, but that Geekman doesn't like (tofu, whole grains, lentils).

A few times a week we'll cook something which we can add meat to his half of without any extra trouble, e.g. pasta or rice with sauce, stirfry with the meat cooked separately, salads, pizza etc. A couple of times we'll have something which has an easy vegetarian equivalent that can be cooked alongside the meat component: sausages for Geekman, vege sausages for me; hamburgers for Geekman; vegeburger for me. Once a week we'll have fish, which I'm happy to keep eating, providing we find out which fish species are not being overfished and only eat those. And once a week we'll still eat meat.

So that's how I ended up celebrating my conversion to (semi/pseudo-)vegetarianism with a beef lasagne. In case you were wondering.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

In case you wonder why this election makes me so happy

"Mr Rudd said he would overturn a number of his predecessor's policies and sign the Kyoto Protocol and pull Australian troops out of Iraq."

(From BBC news).


You know what I'm talking about.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

If I can't vote, I'm at least going to drone on and on about my political views. Also, free doughnuts.

In less than 24 hours, our own mini-George Bush will be OUT!

Of course, I said that last election too, and apparently the voting public didn't listen to me.

The trouble with getting a full picture is that I have never met a John Howard supporter in my life. After four years here, I feel totally safe assuming that anyone I meet feels the same way about Howard that I do, because it's worked for me so far. Which means, I guess, that there must be hordes of Howard supporters out in the wops (in as far as this city doesn't count as the wops), all mowing their sheep, or whatever rural people do, and talking about what a lovely boy Johnny is.

Let's hope not.

And as Geekman points out, given the number of people who are threatening to emigrate to New Zealand if Howard wins this one, there'd be no chance of ever changing the government in the future.

Anyway, free doughnuts.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm trying to be an academic, dammit!

I got offered a full-time IT job today. I nearly pointed out that being willing to employ me for an IT position is evidence that they have no idea what they are doing and therefore the last people I would want to work for.

Groucho Marx's principle might work for clubs, but refusing to work for any company that would have me as an employee is probably not a great career strategy.

So I politely explained that I'm not looking for full-time work right now. Why aren't people so forthcoming with job offers for areas I actually WOULD like to work in?

Monday, November 19, 2007

NZ has cool birds too

These videos of Woof Woof, the talking tui, are amazing. I especially like the first one.

All the tui we used to get in our garden in NZ were very aloof, so I never saw them close up. I never realised quite how much green and blue is in their feathers until now.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Balance of compliments

Geekman: "That's a nice hat. My hat makes me look like a freak."

Me: "You can wear my pink baseball cap if you'd rather."

Geekman: "Baseball caps just look freaky in general."

Me: "Are you saying I should stop wearing it too?"

Geekman: "No. It looks good on you. It's like supermodels. They can wear a paper bag and it looks great."


Ten minutes later, when I have just about finished swooning over such a lovely compliment, we are walking outside in the worst heat we've had so far this summer, and I am holding my arms out from my sides a little to try and drip dry.

Geekman: "You look like a lumbering gorilla."

I give him The Look of Doom.

Geekman: "What?! I complimented you earlier!"

Saturday, November 17, 2007

I love Geekman's parents

We have been pressuring them to tell us what they would like for Christmas. Today we received this email.

Hi [Geekman],

I have thought what I want for Christmas. Cranberry jam. Mamma wants the same so maybe we could have a jar each?


Friday, November 16, 2007

Rosella school: the version with pictures

Learning about glass, and how it makes eating difficult when it stands between you and your birdseed.

Learning about "up". And how it puts the birdseed slightly out of reach. (Hint: you're a bird. Use those wings.)

Tired and pensive after all this hard learning stuff.

There goes the rosella training schedule

I was unemployed for a whole 16 hours.

My lecturing contract officially expired at midnight last night, and I spent most of today procrastinating on revising my CV to send to HR for them to put it in their giant bin of potential temp manpower. At 4pm I decided I was being ridiculous procrastinating on such a simple task, and that if I carried on like this I would have no income all summer and only myself to blame.

I opened the file—

—and there was a knock at the door.

The department wants me to create a website for... well, they don't quite know yet. They think it should be for graduate students. In the department. For them to share their research. But maybe also for other students from other departments so that we can lure them in with the awesomeness of linguistics and then poach them. And maybe it should appeal to international prospective students as well. Because they pay fees. So it will need information about studying here. Or maybe it should be secret and password protected so that people will feel comfortable sharing work in progress.

Hey, we know! Why don't you just create the website and THEN we'll decide what it's for?

I can see this job stretching over many, many meetings...

Which could be really rather lucrative.

What I do now I'm officially unemployed

Have begun a rigorous training program to teach my favourite rosella critical thinking. So far it has passed two tests with flying (ha!) colours, and we are working on a third.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Important questions

I realised I haven't been blogging much of substance of late. Well, I'm going to blame that on the fact that I have been totally paralysed by an all-consuming question: which chocolate bars to buy. Let's see if you can all help me out.

The supermarket near campus has started getting in all sorts of crazy imported American treats. Not only the Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and Butterfinger bars that it has stocked for over a year now, but recently the imports have also expanded to new and unfathomable creatures with names like Milk Duds, Oh Henry Bars, Junior Mints, 100 Grands, Whatchamacallits, Zero bars, and 3 Musketeers. (They are also now selling Cherry Coke, Root Beer, and Dr Peppers, but these don't interest me beyond mere intellectual curiosity, since I'm not a fan of fizzy drinks.)

So my question to those in the know is: which of these chocolate bars are worth the excessive price tag and environmental damage of imported chocolate? (I have to admit that I fully believe both Butterfingers and Reese's are worth every centimeter of rising sea levels, but Hershey's kisses, not so much.)

If it helps your answer, my non-American (un-American?) chocolate preferences are as follows:

Nougat Honey Logs, Crunchie bars, Pixie Caramels, Pinky bars, Picnic bars, Moro bars: I would swim across an ocean to get my hands on these.

Mars bars, Milo bars, Perky Nanas, Milky bars: I would walk across a few football fields for one.

Cherry Ripes, Bounty Bars, Milky Ways: I might bother to get out of bed if it was being offered in the next room.

Aero bars, Kit kats, plain chocolate, anything with wafers in it: Unless I was really desperate, you'd have to pay me to eat one of these.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The War on Birdseed

Now that the rosellas have stopped being scared of the wood pigeons, these scenes are pretty much representative of the on-going defensive action.

(And yes, I am using my Macbook powers for good.)

Never fails to make me happy

I finally managed the necessary contortions to lean out the window with my camera in one hand and birdseed in the other. Which meant I got (along with crampy arms and shoulders) at least 30 photos of a windowsill where a parrot had just stepped out of the picture.

I just realised this is my 1000th blog post. Kind of fitting, really.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Geekman gives a lesson in driver safety

"Geekman, did you know the speed limit here is 70? You're only doing 60."

"The speed limit isn't compulsory. You're meant to drive to the conditions."

I look at the clear sky, and the dry, well-lit, empty road. "What conditions are you driving to?"

"Tight trousers."

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Crazy answers from student exams

Question: Although Old English had contact both with Celtic languages and Romance languages, it was far more heavily influenced by Romance than Celtic. Explain briefly why this was.

Actual student answers:

"The Celts were inferior."

"The Romans were more evolved."

"Dutch is very similar to English." (Yes, I know: WTF?)

"Celtic was always a minority language." (What, including when it was the ONLY language family in the country?)

"Language influence generally spreads from the people conquering to the people who get conquered. Romance conquered the French, and the French conquered the Celts, and the Anglo-Saxons conquered the English. Celts didn't conquer anybody. They just fought a lot. So only the Anglo-Saxons and Romance languages influenced English."

Almost, but... no.

And this is why 90% of the exam was problem sets rather than short answers. Otherwise if the giggling fits didn't kill me, the urge to throw myself or my students off a bridge would.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Special consideration

I'm marking exam scripts this week, and for the first time it strikes me that I'm actually going to have to do something about all the special consideration requests that I've been putting in my binder with a mental, "Poor kid. Of course I'll bear this in mind."

Note that these are exams with clear right and wrong answers: think maths rather than English literature. So does special consideration mean I should give them partial credit for wrong answers? Should I mark normally and then scale their grade up a bit? If so, what reasons deserve what degree of scaling? Does the student who miscarried last week get bumped up higher than the one whose uncle just died, or vice versa? Does the fact that a student who gets panic attacks stopped writing in the middle of a sentence halfway through and never finished the exam mean she was panicking? And if so, do I give her partial credit for questions she never even attempted? Does a minor car accident an hour before the exam trump finding your budgie dead in its cage?

Assuming university systems in other places have something similar to "special consideration" requests, what do you do about them?

Monday, November 05, 2007

This blog has crossed a threshold

A threshold relating to the percentages of people who read here who I know in real life. It has reached the point where I find myself unable to post about a visit to the gynecologist.

So I won't.

Even though it makes a rather good story.

At a loss

My students had their final exam today. As I faced the rows of pale, tragic-looking faces at the start, I noticed something very odd: a student who I had never seen before in my life. I went and inspected her ID and she is indeed enrolled in the course. But she hasn't completed any of the course work. Hasn't attended a single class. And had the wrong textbook sitting in front of her (for an open-book exam).

I have absolutely no idea why she was taking the exam, since it was only worth 30% of the grade, and she hasn't got any of the other 70% at all. It can't be that she didn't know there was other assessment. She is a third-year student, and there are few, if any, courses at this university where the exam is even worth more than 50%, let alone the full grade. She can't be expecting useful feedback, since they don't get their papers returned, and she won't even get a grade, just an NCN on her transcript for "incomplete". So I don't even have to look at her answers (although I did, and it looks like she probably would have scraped a pass).

The mystery isn't why a student would enrol in the course and not attend classes or do the work. We get that all the time, from students who need to be enrolled (but not pass) in order to keep their student visas. The mystery is why she bothered with the exam.

Any theories?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Once again, physicists view the world differently

Geekman: "How did you get bruises from kicking a rugby ball?"

Me: "I wasn't kicking it. It was hitting me."

Geekman: "Relativity bites."

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Where do they get their English?

How can a native speaker of English come up with a sentence like: "Christianity was next to always preached in French"?

There is so much weirdness there that I don't even know where to begin.

(Yes, I'm still marking essays.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Look at my pretty little baby!

It just arrived today. We went for the Macbook Pro in the end, thanks partly to people's recommendations, and partly to Geekman's inability to refuse extra power and enormous screenage. He *claims* he needs to be able to run simulations on it, in the event that—oh, I don't know—his other three computers are out to lunch.

Anyway, I likes it cos it's pretty. And if you'll excuse me, I'm off to wave at my own reflection against a background of tropical fish.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Goal for the semester achieved

I meant to mention this last week, but I finally achieved the one teaching goal I set myself this semester.

I worked a Flight of the Conchords clip into a lecture.

(Used entirely for the pedagogical purpose of illustrating vowel raising in New Zealand English.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Everything okay?

Friday, October 26, 2007

I feel like the world's meanest teacher

I think I kind of screwed up. I didn't do anything technically wrong, but maybe I should have considered the consequences a bit more carefully.

I had my students hand in an assignment one week before the end of the teaching period. I pulled out all the stops to get it marked in time to return it on the last day of class, so that the students can use the feedback in revising for the final exam. Except... I also have a policy that I don't accept late work after it has been discussed in class—even if said student was not IN class that day—because they might have heard the solutions from someone else, or seen them on WebCT in some cases. Bear in mind that these are problem sets we are talking about, not essays. There are right and wrong answers. This no-late-work-after-discussion-in-class policy is clearly stated on the syllabus and on WebCT. It is also a policy that is generally shared by most courses in my department.

I warned students in class the week before last that I would be returning the assignments this week, although I forgot to explicitly remind them this mean they couldn't hand them in after Monday.

Approximately a third of the class was more than one week late in handing in the assignment. I didn't realise how prevalent the problem was until I had already returned the first class's sets, and already told some students that no, I would not accept any more late work. Now my inbox is full of 20 or so begging emails explaining that they are so incredibly sorry, they had no idea they couldn't be late, since when does a lecturer return stuff with a week's turnaround anyway? and now they aren't going to graduate and it's all! my! fault! Except that it's all! their! fault! and they won't do it again, promise, just please please bend the rules this one time or my mother is going to kill me.

I really really don't think I can change my policy now, because some of the students affected dropped the course, and if I bend the rules for others then they dropped for no good reason and would have every reason to be pissed off with me and maybe lay a complaint. As it stands, I don't think anyone has grounds to officially complain, but I am possibly going to have the highest fail rate of any course in my department, and a lot of miserable students.

I have offered alternative assessment to anyone who, after the final, sits on a mark between 40 and 50% and was affected by the late assignment problem. This isn't much different from official university policy anyway, which requires me to offer make-up work to students sitting on a mark between 45 and 50%. But I don't know how many of them will take me up on it. Mostly I think they'll just sulk and fail.

And it's all! my! fault!

Whom is just a word made up to confuse students

I don't even watch The Office, but this scene is hilarious.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hee hee

This auction, and especially the accompanying messages, are kind of cute. Backstory here.

The good, the bad, and the unacceptably pretty

Our university ran a really interesting forum yesterday on women in academia. On the panel were five super-powerful local women: the deputy vice chancellors of two of our universities, plus directors of various national research centres. It was great to see such a line-up of important women, and also a packed room of female academics who were taking the opportunity to network and reflect on their careers. The talks by each of the panel members were also fascinating, especially the extremely cryptic one by someone who obviously didn't feel she could come straight out and criticise our university directly, so instead gave her entire speech as a completely incomprehensible analogy involving orangutans.

Unfortunately, during the question time, something happened which totally appalled me.

A young woman from my department stood up and commented, "I often find that the ideas I put forward in departmental meetings and so on are ignored, and I wonder whether this is because I am dismissed for being young and female. Do you have any thoughts on this?"

The first panel speaker answered that really, that was very unlikely. Academia is extremely competitive, you know, and if your ideas are dismissed, that is probably because they aren't very good ideas.

The second speaker said that men learn to ask questions and propose ideas in a particular way, and that we should all pay attention to their behaviour and way of talking, and model ourselves after that, if we want to be taken seriously.

The third speaker pointed out that the woman who asked the question was very good-looking and that men probably weren't listening to her ideas at all, because they were too busy thinking about what she looked like.

My friend sat down very red-faced and ashamed. Because, you know, either she's too stupid for academia, or she isn't manly enough... oh, and maybe her superiors are spending their time imagining her naked.

Sometimes I am proud of how far women have come. And sometimes I wonder why we continue to shoot ourselves (and each other) in the foot.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Catholic Church gave us some broad beans

The monk who is doing a PhD in our department bought us all bags of fresh broad beans on his way back from a trip to the coast. Since he lives on a credit card that is paid off by the church, I guess this means the Catholics (or maybe God) paid for my dinner tonight.

A rosella just ate out of my hand for the first time

(This one.)

My happiness is complete.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I thought we were past this stage

A student today brought a note from her mother to excuse her from the homework because she was too busy babysitting.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What to do, what to do?

So a big-ass superstar with big-ass-superstar funding got the big-ass job that was going in our department. And he just sent out a big-ass email offering five PhD scholarships with unheard-of amounts of fieldwork expenses, at least one of which is on a topic I am totally interested in and trained to research.

Do you think it is worth me emailing him and asking him if he would consider converting one of the PhD positions to a postdoc? (The main reason he probably wouldn't want to is that a PhD scholarship is around $20,000, and a postdoc salary around $50,000. But he's offering almost the difference between those two figures in fieldwork expenses for each PhD student, so he seems to have a pretty big pot of money.)

And if I were to approach him about this, would it be better to just send a brief enquiry, or a CV + cover letter type thing with all my background info as well? (It may be relevant to note that we have met a few times at conferences and I once ran a workshop he participated in, but he almost certainly doesn't remember me.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Children of the digital age

In an essay on why written and spoken English have become so different from each other throughout the past 1000 years, one of my students wrote:

Written English can be amended over time, deleting superfluous sentences, compacting complex concepts, and inserting new ideas, eventuating in a full and complete final document.

I guess she has never known a world without word processors!

(She also, weirdly, gave URLs for all her sources, even those that are published books and papers. I guess she was concerned that I might not be able to find them if I don't know to look online.)

Interesting Wikipedia article of the week

This Wikipedia article on the different breakfasts eaten around the world makes fascinating reading. Don't read it when you're hungry, though.

I'm going to the dark side

So which Apple laptop should I get?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some questions (and OOPS)

Is it really unprofessional for a student to catch you in your office playing Facebook Scrabble?

What if you had told them earlier that they would need to see you later in the week because you were really busy today?

And what do you do when they then challenge you to a game?

If I plan right, I might never have to buy food again

I love the free food around my university.

Breakfast today: free pancakes and fruit to promote using bicycles instead of cars.

Lunch today: free BBQ to promote Aboriginal people not dying young.

I'm not quite sure why me eating a free meal is going to help improve Aboriginal life expectancies, unless, as Geekman suggested, they are only trying to improve them relative to white people, in which case they may have selectively poisoned the sausages.

Monday, October 15, 2007

I thought physicists were logical

Lying in bed after switching off the light last night...

Geekman: "You're so pretty!"

Me: "It's dark."

Geekman: "But I've got my eyes shut!"

Me: "???"

Geekman: "It cancels out."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I see through your cunning ploy

Question number 12 in the assignment my students are currently writing (with the terminology changed so that my students won't find this in their googling):

12. Explain in your own words what is meant by the term 'subjunctive'.

Email I got from a student yesterday:

"Hi! I'm having some trouble with the assignment. Hope you can help. Specifically, I don't get question 12. I think the problem is that there is some terminology there that I don't understand. Can you explain to me what the term subjunctive means?"

If the academic career path doesn't work out...

...I am going to open a jeans shop that sells trousers that fit real women with real body shapes.

I'm going to call it, "Big-ass jeans for grown-ass women".

(Can you tell I went shopping today?)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What next?

Everyone keeps asking me what I'm going to do with all my free time now that the dissertation is handed in. So here's a brief run-down:

  1. Write final exam for my classes
  2. Mark 60 essays
  3. Mark 60 assignments
  4. Prepare readings for next week's tutorials
  5. Prepare lectures for the next four classes
  6. Prepare activities for the final two tutorials
  7. Talk my failing students down off their metaphorical (I hope!) cliffs
  8. Take the car in to have some repairs done
  9. Clean the house to get it ready for the real estate company to take photos so they can start selling it
  10. Re-pot my plants
  11. Go to the gym
  12. Revise the paper I got the revise-and-resubmit on a few weeks ago
  13. Work on a grant proposal
  14. Try to turn my recent conference paper into something submittable
  15. Contact our local publishing house to see if they can give me some editing work to tide me over until February, when classes start again
  16. Book a trip to use up all my air miles before they expire in December
So yeah, like everyone keeps telling me: I won't know what to do with myself now that it's all over!

I submitted my dissertation and all I got is this lousy keyring

Well okay, and an awesome party and a card signed by everyone in the department that said such sweet things that it made me cry, and a potted native iris that is supposedly unkillable even by my standards (drought AND snow resistant). And lots of offers of work for the next couple of years.

But back to the keyring. It turns out that at the official appointment at the research office, what happens is that you hand over the document that represents the past three years of your life, and they hand over... [insert suspenseful music here]... a university keyring. Fair exchange, no?

I wonder if I have to give it back if I fail?

(PS: Anyone with eyesight good enough to read my name in the first photo should come be my friend on Facebook).

Friday, October 12, 2007

I heart my supervisor

I arrived in at university yesterday to find my supervisor had been leaving messages all over the place because she "urgently" wanted to see me. You can imagine the sort of dread that accompanied that discovery, as I imagined all sorts of things that could have come up to delay me submitting my thesis.

But you know what she wanted to see me about? Two questions:

1. Should she buy groceries for dinner for Friday night, or would she and I be too busy celebrating for her to go home and eat?

2. Did I have enough drinking buddies already, or should she invite some more people to join us?

Non sequitur (isn't that the definition of a blog?)

So remember how it's all spring and shit? (Yeah, I know; that counts as gloating when such a large proportion of my readers are from the Northern Hemisphere.)


Every morning on my way to university I cycle through fields and fields of wildflowers (a.k.a. weeds). And it makes me happy.

I think the parrots like it too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two things that are messed up

1. Our department administrator went on stress leave recently. They had to hire three people to replace her. (And they wonder why she needed stress leave.)

2. My office mate has taken a six month leave from her PhD program. She still comes in early every morning and works hard on her thesis until late at night. So I asked her why she took the leave if she isn't actually, well, taking it. She said she needed six months "off" to get caught up with all the work she is behind on.

Today's little hurdle

One of the problems with getting my thesis bound was that they don't do hard binding anywhere in this city (despite it being the nation's capital and all). So it turned out that I'd need to send the dissertation to Sydney, and allow a few weeks for binding. I didn't really have time for this, and the university allows soft or hard binding for examination copies anyway, so I decided on soft binding.

The next problem was that no one else in my department seems to have ever done this, which meant that no one knew things like what sort of binding is usually used, what should go on the front cover, etc. Everyone reassured me, though, that the printery handles plenty of these things, and are really helpful, and they'll be able to tell me what is usual.

I took my thesis in to be bound today.

"Hi!" I said. "I have six copies of a dissertation here that I would like to have soft-bound, please."

"What sort of binding do you want?" asked the receptionist.

"Well, I don't know much about the different types of binding. What do most people get?"

"I wouldn't know."

"Okay... What would you recommend?"

"You can just get it comb-bound."

I looked at the sample she showed me. The plastic comb binding was falling apart and the paper was torn in several places.

"That doesn't look very robust to me," I said. "What are the other options?"

She sighed. "There's spiral binding and tape binding."

Tape binding is what I did for my MA thesis. So I asked for that.

"I don't think we can do tape binding," she said. (Now she tells me.) "We are out of supplies."

"Okay, then. I guess it's spiral binding."

Just then someone from the office next door stuck their head around the door. "We have enough supplies left to do eight tape-bound theses."

So I asked for tape binding after all.

"So just a clear plastic cover then?" She asked.

"Um... actually, I was thinking of having card covers."

"Good," she said. "Plastic looks dreadful." (So why exactly did she suggest it?)

"And I'd like the title and my name on the front, of course."

"Oh!" she said. "Well! We'll have to copy the title page you printed out." This has all the extra wording required by the university, as well as the title and name, so I think it would look kind of weird on the front cover.

"Really?" I asked. "Um, okay."

She filled out a form and started to move away. I asked about colour options for the cover.

"It will have to be white if you want a title on it," she said, which also surprised me. You'd think with new-fangled modern technology they could manage to print on coloured card.

"And when can I pick it up?" I asked.

"When do you need it by?" She replied.

"I'm submitting tomorrow afternoon, but I'd like to pick it up well in advance of that."

"Tomorrow? Really? Well!"

"I called last week and you said you can do same-day binding," I pointed out, with an obvious glance at my watch, which said 9am.

"Well then, I suppose we can manage it," she replied. "Four o'clock today."

And then I went outside and felt like shit.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fat bastard

Doing his best chicken impression.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Did you hear me go, "ARGH!" from there?

From student essay read today, "Throughout Australia's history, the primary language of this country has been English."

The propaganda is working.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Now for the important question

What colour should my dissertation cover be?

Saturday, October 06, 2007


I've read enough academic blogs to know that it's not just me complaining about this, but man! Someone's sense of entitlement is really a little overblown. I helped him out a couple of times and now he expects something from me every single day. He'll spend hours outside my office, waiting for me to turn up, making enough noise that it irritates the people on either side of me.

Or I'll be working hard and suddenly I'll hear this tap tap tap-tap that means he expects me to drop everything to cater to his demands, and isn't leaving until I do. And if I can't help him out for whatever reason, he just hangs around, getting louder and louder until I give in and find some way to get him what he's after.

And in case anyone is curious, I've posted about this particular offender before: here and here.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Why is it

that some people can layer all sorts of clothes on top of each other and it looks funky and fresh, and when I try it, I look like the op-shop bag-lady from hell?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Today is just not going so well

I got blasted today for doing something that at the time, I had never even considered might be problematic. Ever since I realised people were upset, I have felt kind of embarrassed and guilty that I hadn't considered there might be a problem. So I am curious to see whether you agree that I should have done things differently, and if so, what.

The background is that a community group I am the president of (the one Geekman calls Toastgraspers) is always a little desperate for publicity, and has a big problem with membership dwindling towards the end of each year. I have always been told we should do anything to keep up our public profile, including calling the newspaper every time we run an event even slightly newsworthy. I have never done this myself, though.

Yesterday I got an email from a journalist for this city's main newspaper, who wanted to do a two-page feature on our group, so I invited her along to the meeting, along with her photographer. I had the person leading today's meeting introduce them and explain what they were there for.

Anyway, just under half the group were horrified. They didn't want photos taken, didn't want pictures in the paper, didn't want their names or identities used. One in particular made a big fuss afterwards, including two follow-up emails, and said she'd have walked out on the spot if she'd known the visitors were "journalists" (her scare-quotes, not mine!). The person who had introduced them at the start of the meeting is not a native speaker of English, and nor is the person who made the most fuss afterwards, so presumably there were some problems with understanding the introductions. Since this person didn't realise what was going on until after the journalists had left, she now wants them not to use any of the photos they took, since most (all?) would have had her in them somewhere.

Anyway, now I'm feeling guilty and embarrassed, since it really should have occurred to me that people might not want journalists taking pictures and writing about them without them being forewarned. I have passed on the message that photos of this one person in particular should not be used. On the other hand, you couldn't pay for this sort of publicity! It is a great chance to get new members and show people what our club is about. Since we are a group that is open to all-comers and whose meetings are held in a public building, and since it is an organisation that people are generally proud of belonging to, I would have thought there is nothing wrong with it being in the news.

If I had to do it again, I guess I either would decline the journalists' requests to profile our club, or at least get them to wait a week so I could contact people and ask everyone if they were okay with it. I was honestly astounded at the depth of hostility there was to being in this piece, and I feel like, as club president, I let people down. Obviously I'm hoping you will all chime in and say that you would have done the same thing and that everyone is reacting strangely, but if you want to say the opposite, knowing that I am an insensitive freak is probably helpful for my personal development too. Also any suggestions as to how to minimise fallout would be useful (I have already sent out an email of apology to the club).

Well fuck it.

Our property manager just called to say our landlady is selling our house.

Does anyone have a cupboard we can come and live in?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Don't do this (unless you don't like your friends)

Giving an email the subject line: "SURPRISE!!!" is a sure way to make the recipient

(a) almost stick it straight in the spam bin, stopping only when she recognises the sender's name.
(b) get all excited, only to be hugely let down when she reads the rest.

Full text of the email (from my mother, in case we haven't guessed by now):

Hello love,

I just had a wonderful surprise. I was watering my tomatoes and the phone rang and it was my friend Linda, and we had a lovely chat. I wasn't expecting anyone to call, so isn't it great when these things happen? PS: Here's a recipe for lentil casserole [redacted].

And I thought it was a surprise for me. For ME! *sniff*

(Although lentil casserole could be pretty surprising under the right circumstances, I guess.)

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Highlights and lowlights

Highlight of the conference:

My paper did not suck. And this was 80% thanks to all your wonderful suggestions, 10% thanks to me pulling an all-nighter the day before, and 10% thanks to the fact that at least half the other papers I went to sounded like they had been scraped together 10 minutes beforehand from the mouldering remnants at the bottom of someone's research barrel, making me look good in comparison.

Lowlight of the conference:

Friday night, 8pm. Due to nerves and last minute paper rewriting, I hadn't really eaten all day. I was tired and overwhelmed. And then I missed the bus back to my hostel. Walked back, 30 minutes, in the rain. Spent the whole walk dreaming about how I would eat a hot dinner and crawl straight into bed.

I reached the hostel, let myself in, and noticed a piece of paper taped to the door of my dorm: Tess, since you didn't pay for tonight yet, we have sold your bed. Since I am not Tess, not even in real life, I ignored the note and walked on in. One of the guys in the room shot me a Look and said, "Read the note on the door."
"Yeah." I replied. "Who's Tess?"
"The note. On the door," he said. "Your bed is gone."
"I'm not Tess," I repeated, baffled. Went over to my bed. There was someone in it.

Turns out the hostel had mixed me up with someone called Tess who hadn't paid. The place was full. My stuff was piled out by reception, which was empty and locked. The phone number on the door reached nothing but a disconnected signal. At 9pm, I realised my chances of finding alternative accommodation for the night were pretty low.

It did take a lot of walking around in the dark, knocking on closed doors and full hotels before I found something. But when I did, they were wonderful. They felt sorry for me, gave me a half-price room all to myself, with an ensuite bathroom, and it included a free pancake breakfast the next morning. And when I went back to the first place the next day and metaphorically kicked the metaphorical shit out of the not-so-metaphorical receptionist, she apologised and gave me a full refund plus compensation.

But it's strange, because if someone had said to me that I could upgrade from the overcrowded, deteriorating hovel that was Annie's Place (bedbugs, spiders and inconvenient location all included at no extra cost), to a friendly, clean, quiet place like Sunny's, have a room to myself, an ensuite bathroom, and free pancakes for breakfast, and that they would pay me to do so, I would have been overjoyed. As it was, this is essentially what happened, but I'm still pissed off about the whole situation.

The bastards.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Still no trousers

But instead, I bring you Adelaide's most photographed object: The Mall's Balls.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Two lists with a complex and unpleasant relationship to each other

Things I can't find but should be able to
My new brown trousers
My black handbag
My pajama pants. Any of them.

This doesn't make sense to me, given that this house only has three non-kitchen cupboards, and I've taken everything out of them and put it back in again twice during tonight's search already.

My day tomorrow
9am Doctor's appointment
10–11am Teach class 1
1112 Teach class 2
12 Meet with student about his essay
12:301:30pm Meeting
2pm Meet with student about her essay
34pm Teach class 3
4:30pm Leave for airport
5:40pm Fly to Adelaide for conference

And it looks like I'll have to do it all without trousers or pajama pants.

Monday, September 24, 2007

The weeks of doom are nearly at an end

Two weeks ago I sobbed all over Geekman, brandishing a list of upcoming things I had to do before mid-October, any one of which had the potential to be a horrible disaster. Now I think I'm finally over the hump, and nothing has gone at all wrong yet.

  • Finish marking 82 assignments.
  • Design the next piece of assessment.
  • Pre-prepare two weeks' worth of lectures and tutorials.
  • Organise the first round of a competition for an organisation I belong to.
  • Organise and run a dinner and the semi-finals of this competition: approx 50 attendees.
  • Host two sets of house-guests.
  • Write conference paper.
  • Attend conference.
  • Submit dissertation.
Although the final item on that list is kind of a big one, you wouldn't believe how reassuring it feels to have got this far.

Audible gasp

One of the topics I wanted to cover in today's lecture was one that had left an impression on me when I first encountered it in my own undergrad days. There was some data in particular—evidence for the psychological reality of a theoretical construct—that I couldn't remember the details of, but did recall finding compelling and cool and spooky. I wanted to show this to my students today.

It took me a long time to dig up the relevant information, to come up with good illustrative examples, to make the appropriate slides, and to tie it into the rest of my lecture, and in the end, it just didn't seem as cool as I had remembered it being. I nearly left it out, but fortunately did not.

I say fortunately, because when I got to that bit in my lecture, I revealed this piece of data (without any especial emphasis or drama), and from a few of the students came an audible gasp. One of them let out a quiet, "Oh, my god!"

So for the rest of the day I have been remembering what it was like to come across new ideas like this, and compelling evidence for a theory, and to tie it all together for the first time. It gave me goosebumps then, and the reactions of my students gave me goosebumps today.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Advice sought

I'm going to a conference later this week, and haven't really written my paper yet. Too many other things have come up (teaching, visitors, the thesis, more teaching, 82 fricking assignments to mark, sitting in a corner panicking, more teaching). The topic is something from my thesis, but something I've only really touched on a little. I had planned to spend a few weeks doing some extra work to turn it into a better supported idea. If I try to give a paper on it with this little preparation (four days), it will be pretty craptacular.

There's no question of cancelling my attendance at the conference: the plane tickets are paid for and non-refundable ($300), as is the conference fee ($250), and even my accommodation will charge one night's stay if I don't show. So my dilemma is whether it is a potentially worse career move to give a craptacular paper, or to cancel my talk at this late notice when it will be pretty obvious to everyone present that it isn't because I am sick or maimed, but just disorganised.

What would the rest of you do?

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Is this really something to be proud of? Or to tell your lecturer?

I ran into one of my students today at a secondhand book fair. She was standing in a corner without any books.

"Haven't you found anything you liked yet?" I asked her.

"Oh no," she replied. "I'm just waiting for my brother. I don't, like, read books or stuff."

Par for the parental visit course, or midlife crisis?

So far on this visit my father has gotten drunk, insulted my friends, spent more money than he can afford, and hidden himself away for hours at a time to make whispered phone calls to his secret girlfriend.

I don't know why everyone expects priests to be paragons of virtue!

Friday, September 21, 2007


A young woman sitting on a park bench, talking into her mobile phone, "So I'm taking four weeks off uni... Yeah, I was meant to have two exams this week, but I'm putting them off until next month... No, I'm not sick. I just don't feel like studying. It's like, it's all spring and stuff, so I just want to sit outside and read trashy novels. So I'm going to do the rest of my coursework in the final week of semester instead... Who? No, I haven't told him yet. Well, it's not like I could get a medical certificate or anything, so what's the point?"

I have a sneaking suspicion that the who in the last bit of the conversation referred to her professor. In which case she is probably going to get a bit of a surprise when she does get around to letting him know about her plan.

Bonus Australian wildlife!

One of the nice things about having visitors is it makes you wander around the city more. And then you see things like this:

Echidna, looking snuffly.

Water dragon, looking superior.

The same water dragon, wondering if I was ever going to stop taking photos and leave him/her the hell alone.

Coincidence? Or maybe my car hates my parents.

My parents have visited three times in the past two-and-a-half years. My car has broken down three times in the past two-and-a-half years. Guess when?

This means my parents believe my car to be much less reliable than it really is. ("It breaks down every time you use it!") It also means they intimately associate this city with time spent on the side of the road waiting for the Roadside Assist people.

(Of course, three breakdowns in two-and-a-half years doesn't make my car a winner in the reliability pageant. But yesterday's was pretty minor: the headlight switch stopped working, so the headlights wouldn't turn off. Which is a problem because I didn't realise it until after it had drained the battery, but isn't going to take much money or time to fix.)

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Signs that your scrabble partner isn't an experienced player

"What sort of a word is fa?!?" (or re, or qi, or de, or any of the standard 2-letter words).

"What does qat mean? How can you not know? Why would you learn a word without knowing its meaning?"

"That's not a word!"
"It's in the Scrabble dictionary. You can look it up if you like."
[He looks it up.]
"It's in there, but I still don't think it's a word."
"If it's in there, it's a legal play."
"But it's not a word! You're cheating!"

"I can't believe you used that triple letter score! I set that up for ME! You aren't playing fair."

(Yes, my father is visiting this week. Blogging may be light, or it may be whiny. Maybe even both. Are you excited yet?)

Spring is here!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Geekman is just plain weird.

"You're up early, Geekman."

"The religious people woke me up."

"What religious people?"

"All of them. I was lying in bed thinking about religion and it irritated me so much that I had to get up."


And, once again looking over my shoulder at some teaching preparation, "What's an unaccusative? It sounds like a parlor scene with a really bad detective. 'I accuse.... the BUTLER! No, I take it back. He didn't do it after all.'"

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Geekman does linguistics

Geekman, looking over my shoulder at a worksheet on syntactic relations that asks students to give an example of a complement and an adjunct:

"A complement: 'You're so pretty!' An adjunct: 'You're so adjacent!"

An observation

If you have two friends who also are friends with each other, and one is chronically early (frequently by an hour or so), and one is chronically late (frequently by 3 or 4 hours), you will all spend a lot of time sitting around waiting for each other.

(I love you both, anyway, guys.)

Peeping Tom

And, no, I don't clean my windows very often. Why do you ask?