Wednesday, February 28, 2007


Geekman, calling from the university at 8:30am: "Hey Styley, that storm last night? It totalled the campus."

At the entrance:

Man in fluorescent hazard gear to students trying to pass the cordon: "Guys, guys! The university is CLOSED. Library shut, cafes shut, buildings under water. Take a holiday, dammit. It's not safe!"

Student: "Can we go in and take photos?"

Man in fluorescent gear: "Why doesn't anyone listen to me? You know, the worst are the professors. They just keep walking on in despite everything I tell them. I mean, they don't have to teach today: classes are cancelled. So why can't they just kick back and relax?"

At the pharmacy:

Me, squelching across the wet, muddy carpet: "Hi, I'm impressed you are open."

Pharmacist: "Oh, yeah. Everything's fine here."

Me: "Can you fill this prescription for me?"

Pharmacist: "Uh huh. But is it okay if I just put the pills in a spare box? The packaging is all soggy."

Me: "That's fine."

Pharmacist: "And I'll have to write the label by hand. Our printer died in the storm."

Me: "Okay."

Pharmacist: "Here you are. And you have another two repeats on that prescription, but I can't give you the receipt for them, because our machine is dead. I'll post it to you, okay?"

Me: "Sure. Can I pay by EFTPOS?"

Pharmacist: "Sorry. Our telephone lines are down."

At my building:

Another man in a fluorescent suit: "You can't go in there. There's too much damage."

Me: "But.... But... My files? My computer?"

Fluorescent suit man: "Take a holiday. There are no classes."

Me: "You don't understand! I'm a PhD student! I have three more days to finish an absolutely really truly final version of chapter five! I need my files!"

[StyleyGeek sneaks round the back entrance and lets herself in.* Our second-floor department is, indeed, 10 cm deep in water.]

Fluorescent suit man, looking through main entrance: "You again! Get the fuck out of there!"

Me [bursting into tears]: "WAAAAAAAAAAAH! I want my files!"

And that is how my supervisor found me five minutes later, having a total meltdown on the steps to our building because I didn't want to take a day off (or three, or four: they say the campus is off-limits "until further notice").

I'm starting to feel like one of the characters in this PhD comic (but with colder feet).

: the storm has made it into the news now. Here's the Sydney Morning Herald's version. I especially like the final line:
"A spokesman for the territory's water authority, ACTEW Corporation, was unable to confirm if any rain had fallen over the catchment area because the ACTEW building has been flooded."


* Mysteriously switching to talking about herself in the third person as she goes.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Seriously scary storm

We just spent the last hour wondering if our house was going to collapse under the onslaught of ice and rain attacking it. The non-stop rolling thunder and lightning that gave me flashbacks to the few be-strobe-lighted discos I went to as a teenager were ten types of freaky too.

A couple of times I really thought the golf-ball-sized hailstones were going to start breaking our windows.

And they left our potted* plants none too happy.

Once it started to slow, though, it was kind of pretty.

And now the house is no longer shaking and groaning, I might be able to finally get some sleep.


* Thanks, Ianqui!

Why physicists are cool (Reason #498)

They can pick up pirate radio stations on their BEC machine. Recently it's been playing Nena.

The return of the lazy space-filler post

Search terms that have recently brought people to this blog range from the weird-ass...

how to make new zealand

I think I'm going back to places the just plain sad:

"grad school drop out" job hunt

i want to cry already

despairing student

feeling incompetent

internet procrastination dissertation

I think I'm having a nervous breakdown

Whoever you are, I feel for you! Hope you found something here to cheer you up.

Monday, February 26, 2007

How to spot a good person

They are the ones who stop to converse with birds.

Not necessarily people like me (I tend to blurt out a loud "Helloooooooo BIRDIES!", which promptly scares them away), but the ones who wish a quiet good morning to passing cockatoos, and people like the man I saw this morning, who nearly trod on a magpie but then graciously begged its pardon.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Rock climbing in Australia is full of surprises

Friday, February 23, 2007


I read a story in the New Zealand news today about complaints about the billboard below (link here, but links to this news site go dead after a day or two, so I'll summarise the story).

The advert is by the New Zealand company Hell's Pizza, which is fairly controversial with its advertising campaign at the best of times (notably sending condoms in the mail to all NZ households last year). But what I think is hilarious is the response from the representative of the advertising agency that came up with the concept of the George Bush billboard:

"We believe, and given the even greater opposition to the war in Iraq and George Bush's plummeting popularity among voters in the US, that the billboard was not only socially responsible, but incredibly prescient given events that have unfolded subsequently."


"much to our chagrin, the billboard company acted unilaterally (much like George Bush in fact) and removed the billboard as soon as it received complaints".


"We would point the board to the seminal work [by Barry Crump]. Bastards I Have Met was a wide-ranging almost academic study of the different types of bastard that one could encounter throughout New Zealand.

Of course George Bush had not yet come to prominence when Crump was writing, but had he been in office at the time, and if Barry had met him, I feel sure he would have qualified for his own chapter, headed 'Evil Bastard'.

As it stands, George W could certainly fit within the genus of bastard identified as a `Bad bastard' (bastardus skullduggerus), or arguably for a subgroup of this particular type of bastard – the `real bad bastard' – although that is not for us to say."

Despite what it looks like (shameless gossiping), I do actually feel sad for her too

Okay, so celebrity gossip is not exactly what this blog's all about and no doubt I'm about to horrify my regular readers. But I just got some gossip via my office mate, who has Sources, and who was therefore the first person in the entire universe to hear about for instance Steve Irwin's death.

So her sources just came through again and said that Britney Spears has just tried (and thankfully failed) to kill herself.

Just thought you'd like to know before the rest of the internets do.

(Is my credibility entirely shot now?)

10 weird things about me

I was tagged by Geeka for this meme, which is very exciting because no one has ever tagged me for anything before. So here you are. I hope these things are weird enough:

  1. I can't sleep with the wardrobe door open. It feels like my clothes are staring at me and creeps me out.
  2. There is no food I don't like. As a kid I hated bananas, peanut butter, and cheese, but through the gateway drugs of fried bananas with maple syrup, peanut butter chocolates (yay America!) and parmesan, I have gradually come to treasure all three.
  3. I have a whole bunch of half-siblings who I've never even met (as well as others who I have).
  4. My father is a priest (3 and 4 are not related).
  5. My potplants always die within two months of me taking ownership of them. Cacti take longer, but still shrivel up and cark it in the end.
  6. I have lived in 16 different houses in 13 different cities in four different countries. That's an average of a different house every year and a half throughout my life.
  7. As a kid I got teased for having big lips, a big bum and long legs. When grownups said I'd be glad of these features later, I never believed them. Now I am happier with my body than I have ever known any other woman to be with hers. (Not because it's spectacularly beautiful or anything, but see #9 below).
  8. I have never owned a TV.
  9. I think my happiness level is naturally set higher than everyone else's. My default mood when nothing good or bad has happened recently is that the world is awesome, I am awesome,* and I can't wait for the rest of the day because awesomeness is just bound to happen. If something good happens, I get even higher, and I bounce back from negative events more quickly than most people I know.
  10. This probably makes me very irritating to be around.

* Okay, so maybe this is more like narcissism than optimism.


Every morning around 8 o'clock I put out the birdseed for the rosellas. If they eat it all during the day, I put out some more when I get home. Lately, this has been the sight greeting me when I open the curtains in the morning and again when I get home at night:

(At least, I assume they don't just sit there all day as well.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Serial conference fraud

Yesterday my co-editor and I were brainstorming titles for the proceedings volume of the workshop we organised last year. After running through all the bad puns we could think of, we turned in desperation to the original title of the workshop. Let's call it Boring but Unambiguous: Easily Searchable Workshop Title 2006. So we googled "Boring but Unambiguous" to make sure there wasn't already a book or paper out there with the same title.

And oddly enough, one of the hits to our search solved a six-month-old mystery.

One of our presenters for Boring but Unambiguous: Easily Searchable Workshop, who had submitted her abstract, had it peer-reviewed and accepted, and who had not triggered any mental alarm bells, had then simply failed to show up, both to her scheduled session, and (as far as we know) to the conference in general.

But the search for "boring but unambiguous" returned, among other hits, her CV. And that woman has no shortage of conferences listed there. Under a section called "Conference papers" she lists hundreds of titles, each with "accepted" next them in brackets. She doesn't specifically say that she attended and gave the paper, but she has the date and place, so what else is the reader/potential employer meant to assume? I can only conclude that she is a serial conference-submitter-and-not-turn-upper who then profits from this to pad her CV.

Maybe I'm naive, but I found this more than a little bit shocking. Do any of you know, does it happen a lot?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Tech support in the middle ages: how to use a book

This video is hilarious. An excerpt:

"Have you tried opening it?"
"Opening it? Well if it had been that straightforward, I wouldn't have called the Helpdesk."
"Well if we go like this... There. We're in."
"Yes, I got that far myself. But then I stopped, fearing I would lose some text."

Thanks to Jana for sending me the link.

The light was so soft and pretty yesterday that I kept taking photos all morning. This one was from my "commute" to university.

One thing I love about this city is that even though the university is in the centre city, and even though we live only one suburb north of it, I can get from here to there entirely through parks like the one above. This is not so great at night, since there's no street lighting, but cycling into trees is no doubt good practice for, well, cycling into walls or something. And some cynics would argue that if you want a functioning major city, you need to build, you know, houses and businesses in the centre, rather than just roads and parks, but what do they know? Burley Griffin was a visionary! A visionary, I tell you!

I'm going to stop now, and go stare at some pretty trees.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Urban commando parrot

Monday, February 19, 2007

World's worst witness

(That would be me.)

I saw a hit-and-run on the way to university just now. A car did an illegal u-turn, knocked a motorcyclist off his bike, and sped off. The motorcyclist spun through the air a few times and landed heavily.

The motorcyclist was sitting, stunned, in the middle of the road, and I ran over and asked him if he was okay. He snarled, "No," and then keeled over. A woman got out of her car and called an ambulance, but fortunately a fire engine was passing just then and pulled over and started doing whatever medical thing firemen do at an accident.

One of the other firemen started taking statements and I had to admit that I had absolutely no idea about what exactly had happened. I couldn't even recall the colour of the car, let alone the number-plate. (Nor could any of the other witnesses, so I doubt they'll ever catch the person.) All I remember is the loud crash and then a sense of speed and movement. Maybe I was watching the motorcyclist instead of the car.

After I left the scene, I realised I had had my camera switched on in my hand the whole time, since I'd been taking photos of parrots right when the accident happened. If only I'd thought to point it at the scene and click a few times, I might have got the car on film.

I think I'm probably the world's most clueless witness.

But if you'll excuse me, I think I need to go sit in a corner and turn pale and shaky for a bit.

It's raining, it's pouring!

And that is big excitement all by itself, as you can probably imagine if you look at the colour of the "grass" in the last few photos I've posted.

But more importantly, for the first time ever since we moved in here two and a half years ago, our apartment is behaving like something waterproof. Hooray!

This is fantastic news, since it not only means we won't have to deal with people like these anymore, but we can also stop worrying about whether we should move. Much as I have totally fallen in love with this house and want want want it, it was never going to happen, so we might as well just stay put.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Parrot Junior High

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Technology firsts

It would be cool if this turned into a meme: I'd love to know about how the rest of you experienced these firsts. Of course, if you are younger than me or a member of a more advanced civilisation, some of these things might have been around since before you remember, so feel free to substitute your own ideas for anything that doesn't apply.

First experience with a video player: 1986
When my father brought home our first video player, I remember being fascinated with the exciting new possibilities this opened up. I insisted on recording my favourite shows and watching them at fast speed and again on rewind. Family lore has it that even my six-year-old self saw the main advantage of video players almost instantly and announced that now we could watch a five day cricket match in just a few hours.

First experience with a microwave: 1988
My mother got a microwave for Christmas 1988. We read the instruction book and the recipe collection that came with it, marvelling at all the amazing things you could do. And this is where Mum began her path of enthusiastic technology screw-ups: she announced that the 5 minutes cooking time for the chocolate cake in the recipe must be a typo. Nothing could cook a cake that fast. She put the cake batter on high for 25 minutes and we had to leave the windows and doors open for the next few days.

First experience of more than two TV channels: 1989
New Zealand was always late to the party when it came to TV. Television only reached New Zealand at all in 1960, and it wasn't until 1989 that it expanded beyond the two state-owned channels. There was much discussion in my family about why on earth we needed another channel. What would they show? After all, every programme we had ever heard of was already playing on channels one and two. My parents concluded that they would probably just show ads and reruns. (We weren't far wrong.)

First experience with a CD player: 1991
I saved and saved and saved for a CD player. My pocket money, at a rate of 50c a week, was just not cutting it. So a friend and I, both 10 years old, presented ourselves to a local bank at the start of our holidays and begged for summer jobs in their office. We claimed to be 14, and weirdly—illegally—they gave us work. At $10 an hour (incidentally higher than any pay-rate I was ever to have again throughout the rest of my school and university years in New Zealand) I had my CD player by the end of the summer. I still have it, in fact, and it works just fine.

First experience with a computer: 1992
A friend at intermediate school had a Commodore 64. We'd go back to his house after school, turn it on, put in a disk, and go have a snack in the kitchen. By the time we'd finished eating, the disk had sometimes booted up and we could play Jumpman and some scary little game where you had to build a raft and get off an island before a flood came and drowned you. I didn't get to play with a real computer for another three years, and then I was mostly terrified of doing anything in case I broke it. How things have changed...

First experience with MTV: 1996
Like I said, NZ was late to the television party. I didn't discover MTV until I went to Germany on a high-school exchange. And then I was equal-parts baffled and intrigued by it. Music. All the time. Music videos. It was like RTR countdown (which I wasn't allowed to watch because Madonna was The Whore of Babylon), but it showed all day long! When I got back to New Zealand I was almost bursting with the anticipation of telling my friends about this weird awesomeness that was the all-day music channel, but the Powers That Be had burst my bubble by bringing MTV to New Zealand while I was gone. It only lasted about a year, though, and then vanished from our airwaves, never to be seen again.

First experience of email: 1997
In our final year of high school our school decided to invest in a computer room. There were eight computers, and classes were shepherded up to the room to have "computer lessons", which mostly consisted of practice at sending email to the person next to you. Unexpectedly, this turned out to fantastic preparation for university, where most of my computer-using hours were spent sending messages to friends at nearby computers.

First cellphone: 2001
First and last. It was a Motorola Clunky-Ass Can't-Sell-It. It didn't work indoors and sending SMS was a bit of a lottery. It cost me 2 Euro from a dodgy-looking shop in the Turkish district and I used it about five times before swearing off cellphones for life.

Friday, February 16, 2007


The 7th Carnival of Gradual Progress is up at The History Enthusiast. Tell all your friends!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Your academic work condensed into haiku

This is the awesomest idea ever. Obviously you might need to be extra anonymous if you plan to use the title of a published or otherwise googlable work for your haiku. But if you're leaving them in Jim's comments, I guess you can always not sign your pseudonym.

Here's mine:

The grammaticalisation of discourse markers in relative clauses

Words like "so, you know"
glue onto pronouns; grammar
from faded meaning.

Towards a diachronic typology of relative clauses

The more I research
this, the more certain I feel
that Lehmann was right.


The relative clause:
parasite, steals its form from
other constructions.

(Yes, these titles do make me googlable. If you care, and find out my identity, please don't post it here.)

Update: Ooh! Ooh! I have another one (also for the dissertation):

Towards a diachronic typology of relative clauses

From the bruised syntax
of mangled constructions, rise
these zombie clauses.

(Yes, I have just spent most of the afternoon writing haikus, not only about my own thesis but also on most of the journal articles I've read lately and a whole heap of the fundamental works in my field. It's a fun game! And not at all a sign of impending insanity.)

PS: I'm going to do one for each chapter next. (Carried away? Who, me?)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Roadside pile-up

Because apparently there haven't been enough parrot photos.

Hee hee

If you've seen March of the Penguins, you have to watch its bigger brother:

March of the Librarians.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

An epic tale of woe, torment and eventual success against all the odds

Background: Lately a pigeon has taken to observing the rosellas that feed on my balcony. If they turn their back, even for an instant, s/he dives in and steals some seed (from the bird-feeder cunningly disguised as a flower pot). Whenever a rosella and the pigeon get too close to each other, there's a flurry of beaks and wings and great squawking in the land.

Needless to say, the parrots really are not happy with this state of affairs, and even when the pigeon is only sitting there to watch, it drives them into chirpy little fits of indignation. At the same time, they are afraid to venture too near to the wicked monster that menaces their paradise.

Which leads us to...

Face-Off: an epic tale in seven scenes

Surrealness, or hairdressing terminology gets me every time

"Hi, my name is StyleyGeek, and I'd like to make an appointment for a haircut and a half head of foils."

"I'm sorry, we don't do a full head of foils."

"That's fine, I only want a half head."

"I mean, we just have one foils option. You can't choose between a full head and half head."

"But last time I came here I asked for a half head of foils and no one said anything. Anyway, I liked what I got."

"But we don't do a half head."

"Okay, so what does your one-and-only foils option involve?"

"We divide the hair up, and put foils in about half of it."

Monday, February 12, 2007

Three cheers for internal organs!

Me: "My brain keeps failing me today. And if you can't rely on your brain, what can you rely on?"

Geekman muttering quietly to himself: "Your kidneys. That's what I always say."

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Where are they now?

Last night I started idly wondering about some of the people I have lost touch with over the years. One of them I especially regret, mostly because her life always sounded so very cool and exotic in comparison to mine. She is a Saami (Lapplander) from a reindeer farm in the Arctic circle, who I met in Germany when we were both 16. We travelled around together and when I returned to New Zealand, we were penfriends for a few years, then gradually fell out of touch.

I loved that while my letters described my boring classes and what homework I had this week, hers told me about the Northern Lights, raising orphaned reindeer, and building igloos while out on ice-fishing trips. During our time in Germany, I showed her how to order Indian food, and she introduced me to salted reindeer tongue. I guess I was always getting much more out of the friendship than she was, so it's hardly surprising we fell out of touch.

Thinking about her last night, I convinced myself that her life was probably far less interesting now. No doubt she had moved to the big city, studied maybe business management or law, got an office job. On a whim I typed into Google all I could remember of her: first name (Nadja) and region (Jokkmokk). I didn't expect to find anything, but look at this!

For those of you who don't read Swedish, it's still worth clicking on the link just for the photo. The news story is about how, after years of hunting elk and something else I can't translate (rip?), she just shot her first bear (after chasing it for an hour as fast as she could run), which she then skinned, and salted for later consumption.

I was right: her life really has become much less interesting.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Update on the not-so-clueful student

Remember this student who accidentally put her assignments in the wrong box all semester and never wondered why she didn't get them back (or why she failed) until three months after the course was over?

ScaryLecturer tells me he has decided what to do about her. Like me, he thinks it would be unfair to fail her, since she did do the work, and it seems to be of reasonable quality. But he refuses to grade it this long after the course finished: both because he is on teaching-release this semester, and because it would be impossible to compare her standard of work to that of the other students in the course. Finally, he isn't altogether sure that she put everything into the box on time, and there is no way to tell.

So he is going to follow the policy usually used for work that is handed in weeks after the due date (but still during the semester). If it seems to be of good standard, it gets a pass but no higher. Usually this is only applied to only one piece of work, but in this case it will be the whole course. So she will get a pass and be able to continue on in linguistics if she wishes, but it won't look great on her transcript.

I think it's a reasonable compromise for a complicated situation, although I'm not sure if I would have handled it the same way.

Friday, February 09, 2007

I see a formatting nightmare in my future

I promise never again to complain about students not listening to instructions.* Faculty are just as bad.

As editor of a proceedings volume from a recent conference, I sent out an email to people who had said they intended to submit their papers. It was fairly short and included the following lines (direct quotes):

"All submissions will be anonymously peer-reviewed."

"Please find attached to this email the "guidelines for authors" issued by the publishers. We can only accept manuscripts that follow the conventions laid out in this document, so please read it carefully."
The guidelines for authors included, among other instructions, the following:
"Please leave two spaces between sentences, two spaces after a colon, and one space after other punctuation."

"Please double space your paper."
A few weeks later I got an email from one of the authors, saying:
I have read the guidelines and generally followed them. But I have a few formatting questions. [Publisher] requires authors to 'leave two spaces between sentences, two spaces after a colon, and one space after other punctuation (p. 10)'. Do I need to strictly follow it? Also, do I need to double-space my paper?
To which, of course, the correct response would be, "No, you do not need to follow these instructions. I just sent them out to see how many authors would be willing to jump through meaningless hoops."

Today I received a submission (several months late), with this in the cover letter:
I've been rushing to pull the paper together, so I haven't checked if you had any specific formatting requirements. Can you cast a glance at it and see if there's anything outlandish about it?
Gah! Just, gah!


* Well, not for a few weeks, anyway.

Lesson in what not to say to grad students

Me to my supervisor: "I keep wanting to completely restructure everything, but I know I have to draw the line somewhere and say, this is what I've got. It's the best I can do in the time I have."

Supervisor: "You're right. There's such a thing as being too much of a perfectionist."

Me: "Even if I'm not 100% happy with it, I know that's not the end of the world. I don't know any PhD who's entirely happy with what they handed in."

Supervisor: "Well I was! And [big name in field] probably was. Oh, and [other huge name in field who wrote a ground-breaking thesis still widely read 35 years on] always said she was pretty damn proud of hers."

Just in case I needed another completely unrealistic yardstick to measure myself against.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tips for despairing grad students

Tip #3: Find a well-respected piece of literature in your field. Burn it. I mean— read a few pages to yourself, stopping every sentence to put yourself into the character of your advisor and make scornful comments about the writing style, subject matter, logic and quality of evidence in the work. I find it's extra helpful if you can do this aloud in a good imitation of your advisor's voice.

After a while you'll find it remarkably easy to tear even fundamental works of your field to shreds, which should help you realise that no matter how good your own thesis is, it would still attract derisive comments constructive criticism from people whose job it is to look for flaws. (Or, you know, it might make you wish you'd gone into a field founded on more plausible and better-argued theories.)

Note: this strategy is most effective straight after a meeting in which your advisor returns a chapter draft covered in red pen.

(Tips #1 and #2 can be found here and here respectively.)

Achievement of the day:*

Cutting 25 000 words from my (currently 130 000 word) dissertation.

And it was easy! I just removed bits where I had repeated myself, was talking out my arse, or sounded too wanky. Apparently my writing naturally has about a 20% wank-to-content ratio.

I still need to cut more out in order to fall under the university's 100 000 word limit, though, especially considering I haven't even written my conclusions chapter yet.


* I quite like these. Maybe it will become a regular feature.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This is why they invented email

My mother-in-law just sent me an actual letter just to say, did I remember the discussion we had a few weeks ago about the pronunciation of "chorizo"? Because she looked it up in a dictionary, and it's the way I thought it was. That was the total content of the letter, which was only a handful of lines in length.

Who pays international postage for something like that?

Monday, February 05, 2007

The end of the world must be nigh

Note: No filters/photo-shopping were used on any of these. Nor is the red reflecting off anything that colour. Even in the second photo, taken in our garage, the light is hitting the ground unfiltered even by plain glass. (It's coming through railings much like the ones in the first picture).

This is just the way the light looks here the last few days. (And the smoke smell clinging to everything is a good indication of the reason why.)

Updated to add: the coolest thing about this light is the way it makes all the parrots glow like neon. But my camera battery just died so no photos of that today. (Sigh).

Highlight of last night's phone call from my mother

The report on her recent attempt to teach my aunt to sell things online:

It took us four hours to download the photo we had taken onto the website, because we had to make it smaller, and I went to do it in Paint, but Paint wouldn't resize it, so I had to phone your cousin, and it turns out the problem was [sound of furious concentration] the problem was that the computer wasn't running Windows XP, it was running Office 2000, and... Office 2000, well, it's not a good... it's not a good one.

And now I have visions of the makers of non-Windows operating systems using that tag-line to sell their products to the elderly and confused:

"Office 2000: It's not a good one."

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The photo not taken

The sun is doing this weird-ass red dust thing that leaves pink splotches everywhere as thought the light was shining through red stained-glass windows. But I have no idea how to capture this effect with my camera, so too bad, looks like you miss out.

Is there even a right answer to this?

The discussion below about horrible things happening at customs/immigration reminds me of the all-time weirdest comment I ever got from an immigration officer.

I was at passport control waiting to enter New Zealand last year, on a short trip to visit my mother.

Immigration guy: "What are you doing in Australia?"

Me: "I'm at university there."

Immigration guy: "Why? Aren't our New Zealand universities good enough for you?"

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Geekman and immigration

As we were queuing for passport control on the way out of Australia a couple of weeks ago:

Geekman: "You know something funny? Last time I was here they nearly didn't let me through. They said there was something wrong with the way my visa had been transferred to my new passport."

Me: "So what happened?"

Geekman: "Well, it was okay, because I had my old passport with me, and so they inspected the original visa and let me go."

Me: "You did bring your old passport this time, then, didn't you?"

Geekman: "That's the funny thing. I totally forgot."

Minutes spent at passport control: 10
Number of times it looked like they wouldn't let us past: 2*
Number of times I almost ended up crying: 3


At passport control coming back into Australia on Monday. For various complicated reasons, Geekman had a new visa that he had applied for back in December but had just kicked in the day before.

Immigration guy: "This is weird..."

Us, suspicious: "What is it this time?"

Immigration guy: "Hah! He doesn't have a gender". [To Geekman] "Are you some sort of hermaphrodite?"

Geekman: "Wha—"

Immigration guy to a supervisor in the background: "Hey, come look at this! Where it says 'gender' on this visa, there's just a dash. Is this a problem or do I let him through?"

Supervisor: "I don't think you can let him through with the visa like that..."

Seven or eight other immigration people appear out of nowhere and cluster round the desk, exclaiming at the genderless freak. They discuss the problem for a few minutes, then one of them turns to Geekman:

"Please come with me, sir."

I panic, with thoughts of Geekman being deported to Sweden, or taken away to one of the Australian desert detention centres**. The immigration people tell me to go on and collect my bags and that they'll send Geekman to join me when they have sorted out his problem (through gender-assignment surgery?)

Fortunately he did turn up not long afterwards, corrected visa in hand, and not even having had to prove his masculinity. But it was not exactly a reassuring experience.***

Do you have any travel horror stories to rival these, or is Geekman just uniquely unlucky?


* "This looks fine. Oh, wait a second—" then five minutes later, "Okay, it's not really a big problem, but you are going to have to go back and talk to the immigration people over there. They'll probably still let you fly."

** Do read that link. It's quite horrifying.

It even almost beats the time he was detained trying to return to the UK (where he was living and working at the time), was told he wasn't eligible to enter the country, and questioned for ages until the immigration person realised his passport said "Sweden" and not "Sudan".

Friday, February 02, 2007

Achievement of the day

My t-shirt, my sandals, my nail polish and my lunch(!) all match. And you know what makes this extra cool and unlikely? Everything is PURPLE.

I have questions

(1) What do the numbers mean when Americans describe teaching loads (e.g. 2-2, 4-4 etc)? I have theories, but I'd like to know if I'm right. (4 classes each on 4 days per week?)

(2) If you are teaching students in full burqa with nothing but their eyes visible and those only underneath mesh, how do you tell them apart? (I'm not poking fun here; I really want to know. I taught one woman wearing a burqa last year and I recognised her because, well, she was the one in the burqa, but I assume if you have more than one in the class and they are of similar height, it probably isn't polite to ask every time you talk to them, "Is that Fatema in there?")

(3) Did anyone else used to think that the theme song to the Wombles went, "Wombles of Wimbledon / Common are we." ?

(4) Can I go back to bed now?

(5) How about now?

(6) Please?

Thursday, February 01, 2007

The dwarven professor is magic

This is the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. And judging from the comments, the overlap between the demographics of (former?) D&D role-players and academics is larger than you might imagine.

Scammer or stupid?

Since I haven't been teaching for the last six months or so I haven't had any bizarre student stories to post. But I thought I'd compensate with this one I heard yesterday from ScaryLecturer.

So he had this student in his class last semester (which ended in November last year), and although she turned up to most classes right up to the end, after the first week she never handed in a single piece of work. Now you or I would probably have asked her about this at some point, but being ScaryLecturer ("we aren't paid enough to care about the ones who are going to fail"),* he just went ahead and let it slide, failing her at the end of the course.**

So about a week ago, over two months after the grades had been posted, the student sent ScaryLecturer an email asking to meet and find out why she had failed the class. Again, being ScaryLecturer, he sent her a curt reply asking why the hell she thought she had a chance of passing a class for which she didn't do any of the assignments.

And here's the punchline: she had submitted the work. But it turned out that throughout the entire semester she had been putting it in the wrong box (one belonging to a lecturer who has long since left). At first ScaryLecturer thought it was a scam, but when he eventually got the administrators to break open the (locked) box, there was a neat stack of her assignments, interleaved with the (dated) advertising brochures that get dumped in our boxes every few weeks throughout the semester, which suggested the work had been there all along rather than being handed in all at once at the last minute.

So why oh why oh why did the student watch the other students get their work back each week and never once ask why hers hadn't been marked along with the rest?

And the weirdest thing of all: you remember how I said ScaryLecturer hadn't received her work after the first week? That's because in the very first week of term she did her usual trick of putting the assignment in a (different) wrong box, and ScaryLecturer saw her doing it, fished it out, and showed her the right place to put it.

So, is this student just terminally stupid, or is it some sort of scam? And either way, if you were the lecturer, what would you do about it now? Can we fail people for sheer mind-blowing lack of initiative?


* Or maybe because he is white and male and can get away with this sort of thing.

** It's not helped by the fact that she is Asian, and he has this theory that Asian students mostly just enroll in classes to keep their visas. (But you'd think he might have wondered why she kept on coming to class in that case, right?)

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