Thursday, May 31, 2007

A post that isn't about my mother

Okay, so now's the time where I try and take you up on the many kind offers I got to help me access papers while I'm stuck over here in Foreign Parts.

I've been pretty lucky so far: of the ten or so references I've needed to access over here so far, half of them were things that I brought with me, and the other half have been available in the Canterbury University library. But I've just struck one that isn't. So if anyone has access to an electronic version of the journal Studies in the Linguistic Sciences, I would be in your eternal debt if you could email me the following paper:

Kraska, Iwona. 1992. "From Verb to Clitic and Nominal Suffix: The Somali -e, -o Nouns". Studies in the Linguistic Sciences, 22(1), 89–106.

If you do email me this paper, please also note that you have done so in the comments here, so that everyone else can heave a sigh of relief, stop plumbing the dusty depths of their library databases, and go back to looking at photos of cats.


My mother had an extremely irritating visitor this morning. In the first twenty minutes this friend was there, I answered the door, found a vase for flowers, took two phone messages, brought up cups of tea, brought in the washing, hung out a second load of washing*, tidied the kitchen. Then I came back upstairs and sat down at the computer to work on my thesis.

Five minutes later, I overheard this from their conversation:

Mum: "This house is such a mess.** And I feel bad asking StyleyGeek to tidy it for me. She is doing her best."

Friend: "You shouldn't feel bad about getting her to do it. It's not like she's busy. She's just sitting there at the computer the whole time. You mustn't be afraid of asking for what you need. You are the one with cancer."

Mum: "Well... No, you're right. Really you are. I need to learn to voice my needs better."

Friend: "Quite right. You've given and given and given to your children while they are growing up. At some point they need to turn around and start giving something back."

Ten minutes after that, I was out watering the back garden when the friend came and tackled me. "I'm leaving now," she said. "I'll show myself out, shall I?"

"Oh, sorry, do you know the way? Let me walk you round to the front." I realised Mum must have sent her home because it was only half an hour before we needed to leave for her appointment at the hospital.

"Now, StyleyGeek, your mother is resting now. Don't go disturbing her, will you? Much as I'm sure you like to chat with her, she needs her sleep. And she says she has to go out soon and do some errand. Perhaps that might be something you could do for her, just to help her out?"


* I have always wondered why my mother, living on her own, ends up doing washing every single day, while Geekman and I between the two of it, only do a load once a week or so. Helping out here has solved that mystery. First of all, she never wears anything a second time without washing it. She washes the towels and tea towels every day as well. Even pajamas don't get worn two nights running. She separates delicates, lights, darks, wools, etc, so often has several loads per day. Secondly, every morning she decides before she gets up what she is going to wear that day, and doesn't cope at all well if that item isn't available to be worn. Today, for example, she only had one shirt and a pair of socks in the washing basket (I didn't wash her whites yesterday, since there was only that), but she had decided she wanted to wear the shirt. When she found out it was still in the dirty washing basket, she realised she couldn't wear it today, but it had to be washed immediately so that her plans couldn't be thwarted in this way again.

I think this also explains why she owns so many clothes. (Like, four pairs of pajamas, eight nightgowns and three dressing gowns, just to mention her sleepwear.)

** The house is not a mess at all by anyone's definition. I vacuumed and cleaned the bathroom yesterday. I have tidied every day. The dishes are always done immediately after every meal. The only clutter is the flowers and cards on every surface, and admittedly there were two coffee cups I hadn't cleared away.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The smallest room and other important cultural matters

The sign for the toilets at the library* have the Maori translation of "toilet" as te whare iti (literally "the little house"). I have no idea if that's the usual word for toilet in Maori (most places just have doors labeled wahine "women" and tane "men") or if someone was getting creative.

In vaguely related news, I have become totally addicted to Ask Your Auntie, Maori TV's answer to Oprah. How can you not love a show that tackles these hard-hitting issues?

Is your kaumatua a tyrant? Is your best friend trying to cut in on your tāne? Are you hoha with your boss? Sick of whanau treating your home like a hotel?**

But sadly, not a programme likely to make it overseas.


* New Zealand, how I love you and your bilingual public notices.
** kaumatua = tribal elder; tane = man; hoha = pissed off; whanau = (extended) family

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

One day I'll find something else to complain about besides my mother

(But not today.)

An excerpt from my email exchange today with Geekman:


> > I watched Stargate Atlantis tonight. It's not the same watching it without you, though. And it's extremely irritating having someone sitting there going, "Oh! Oh! A big blue thing! What's the big blue thing? Are they in Outer Space? What a silly program! Why are they going in the spaceship?"


> You do that so well :) You could always have fun making up answers. You could go on about how it's a postmodern allegory of the eviction from Eden. Or something. Pretend you're James Joyce. Or you could go for the irritating answer and say something like "You won't understand. It's too modern and you're too old."


In other news, I cooked some pumpkin soup today (at my mother's request). As I was halfway through making it, she entered the room.

"What's that?"

"Pumpkin soup. Remember? You said you'd like me to use up the pumpkin in the cupboard by making soup."

"It looks funny. Would you like a recipe for it?"

"I'm just making it the way I usually do."

"Does it have chicken stock in it? My recipe has chicken stock."

"Yes, this one does too, Mum. The only thing that might be different is that I'm putting a little bit of curry powder in it. It won't be hot; it will just bring out the flavour a bit."

"I don't think curry powder goes in pumpkin soup. My recipe doesn't have it. I think you'd like my recipe. It's spicy too, you know. It has garlic in it."

When the soup was done, my mother tasted it, pronounced it unbearably hot*, and spent the rest of the day telling her friends the hilarious story of how I "screwed up the recipe" and made "completely inedible" soup.

No jury would convict, right?


* I know, her attitude to garlic should have warned me.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Toitoi in the moonlight

Sunday, May 27, 2007

I knew this visit was missing something

The where-are-my-grandchildren drive by:

"Did you know that [friend] is having trouble conceiving? She's worried she left it too late. Let that be a warning to you."

"Mum! I'm only 27! And I'm not even sure I want kids."

"That's what SHE said. And then she did want them after all, but it was Too Late."


Other things you should not say to your daughter no matter how close your relationship is:

"Have you finished your thesis yet? How many words have you written today? Isn't it taking an awfully long time? I wrote my last essay for [bible school by correspondence] in one afternoon."

"Since we have so many chickens that need eating, I've invited all my friends over for dinner. They'll be here in half an hour. So you just need to whip up some side dishes and dessert for eight."

"Sometimes I worry that I will never have sex again. I mean, my vibrator is fun and all, but it's just not the same."


If you are a fan of LOLcats, you'll find these hilarious.

This one is my favourite:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Unnecessarily taunting

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Day of the chickens

Today is a special holy day. It is the saints day belonging to St. Sanders of All Chickens, and is celebrated by visiting sick friends and giving them a chicken. You may not have been aware of this; I certainly wasn't. But it is the only explanation for what is going on.

We have received four chickens today. Two roast, one smoked and one casseroled. The smoked one will keep forever, but I have no idea how the two of us are going to eat all the rest.

Anyone have any bright ideas?


Today, for old times' sake, I dropped by the university campus where I did my undergraduate degree. It was a strange sensation, seeing it all again, seven years after I left. Before I got there, I wouldn't have been able to tell you where anything was, or what individual buildings looked like, but when I arrived it was all instantly familiar. Everywhere I stood, I would have a flash of memory telling me exactly what was around each corner, or in a few hundred metres in each direction. But I still didn't quite get the big picture back in my head until I'd walked around the whole campus.

Funnily, the sight of each building brought back a whole set of related memories that I had totally forgotten.

For example:

The cafe under the library where Geekman and I had our first date, followed by many 6 hour "study breaks" (while drinking endless cups of horrible, horrible 55 cent coffee).

The second hand clothes shop which sold me $1 items of clothing that I still wear today, nine years after I bought some of them, is sadly gone. But the sandwich places where I could never afford to eat are still there.

The Registry, which along with a few hundred other students, I once helped occupy for nearly a week in a protest against increased student fees. My job was to sit in the elevator and go up and down, up and down, to make sure the police couldn't use it to come up to the second floor and arrest us (we had barricaded the stairs). I had a major assignment due a few days later and it's amazing how difficult it is to concentrate on solving phonology problems when you have to interrupt your train of thought every two minutes to press the "close doors" button.

And I've saved the best of all until last: The cushions under the stairs in the physical sciences library. Is this not teh awesome? (Please to excuse the blurry: I had to take this picture without a flash so as not to wake the sleeping student.)

Since this library has heating, something no student houses ever do, my flatmates and I spent many happy winter evenings curled up here with a thermos flask of Milo and a good book. I think there used to be beanbags and giant sofa cushions rather than the neat mattresses and pillows they have there now.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

My Mum (to the tune of My Guy/My Girl)

(Cross-posted in the comments at Phantom Scribbler's Wednesday Whining)

Nothing you could say
Could keep me sane
Around my mum (my mum)
Nothing you could do
Because I'm stuck here like glue
With my mum (my mum)

If there's two chocolates left, who would take them both?
It's my mum (my mum)
If there's noise in the street, who's certain it's a thief?
It's my mum (my mum)

Today I stuck 27 stamps to letters
Washed dishes, watered plants,
And tried not to hit her
She blames my cooking when she farts
But I haven't torn her apart (it's illegal) (illegal)

I've got laundry to do on a cloudy day
And it's cold inside
Heating's too much to pay (for)
I guess you say
What will make me feel this way?
My mum, talking bout my mum.

Public Service Announcement

If you drop melted chocolate on your pale blue shirt, and if your mouth is full of chocolate at the time, licking the chocolate "off" your shirt will only make matters much, much worse.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


My aunt, who lives three hours' drive away, to my mother:

"If our car had to get stolen, it's convenient that it happened this week, so that we had a reason to come down to Christchurch while you were in hospital. I mean, it's such a long drive and so much hassle, so we wouldn't have done it just to see you, but since we had to buy a car, it kind of made sense to visit."

Let me do that math:

Buying a car = good enough reason to travel to Christchurch
Visiting sister with cancer != good enough reason to travel to Christchurch
:. Buying a car > visiting sister with cancer

The nice thing about having lots of friends

These are just today's additions to the great flower and teddy bear forest that my mother's flat is fast becoming.

I have totally run out of surfaces to put things on.

Monday, May 21, 2007

One good thing

New Zealand cafes and bakeries are The Best. (Ever.) (In the whole world.)

Somehow I always forget this. And I forget about lolly cake*, which is the one reason why I would never be able to go on a permanent no-sugar diet in New Zealand.


* If you don't click over to that site, you will be culturally poorer and never really understand what entertaining reading a well-written recipe can be.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Random Bullets of Cancer

  • I expect that being the support person for an ill family member is probably a lot easier when it's someone who doesn't irritate the crap out of you. It's amazing the conflicting feelings caused by constantly feeling pissed off with and sorry for someone all at the same time. (Ultimately, though, I do realise that the things Mum does that make me feel uncomfortable are probably more about me than about her.)
  • For instance, today I overheard her telling a (not especially close) friend on the phone, "I haven't opened my bowels since the operation, but I'm starting to feel it maybe coming on." Is that really something that other people need to know?*
  • She keeps telling people I don't know that I will call them, meet them for coffee etc. I just won't. I can't imagine how anyone can do that with strangers. And some of her friends kept insisting a few days ago that I would be terribly upset and anxious during Mum's operation, and that I should come to their house to wait. If I am upset and anxious, the LAST thing I want to do is be with strangers and have to make polite conversation or (worse) turn into a mental wreck in front of them. Ugh. In the end I switched off the phone for a couple of hours and took a long, relaxing bath. When I switched it back on again, there were 13 messages waiting from people I don't know wanting me to call them back. Which I did. But it kind of negated the relaxing effect of the bubble bath.
  • Today she railed from her hospital bed against Americans ("Those awful Americans are as subtle as a screaming red light, and their idea of humour is to hit you over the head with a laugh soundtrack. Not like us British**; we understand delicacy and tact"); against Australians ("Must be awfully hard to teach linguistics. To Australians, I mean. What with the way they mangle the English language. In fact, it must be hard to teach anything to Australians. A bit dense, the lot of them, aren't they?") and against Asians ("So horribly driven. They don't know how to have fun".) When I don't look appropriately amused by these sentiments she tells me I've been "infected by that nasty political correctness" and that I need to learn to relax.
  • Mum is totally convinced she is going to die. She is writing letters to be given to people in case. Has updated her will. Took me out to show me her solicitor's office. Told me what sort of funeral she wants. If I suspected I was dying, I think I would make arrangements too, but secretively, because I would be worried people would think I was an obsessive pessimist.
  • I am hemorrhaging money like a big money-hemorrhaging thing. Here a dollar, there a dollar, everywhere a dollar fifty. Yesterday alone I paid $14 for parking, and I've used up $35 worth of petrol in less than a week. If it was down to me I'd take the bus everywhere, or walk, but I'm ferrying other relatives and Mum's friends around everywhere too: picking up my brother from the airport, driving Mum to appointments, driving her friends to visit her in hospital, driving my grandfather around... I don't know how anyone affords to use a car for their main means of transport.
  • Then I'm spending at least $5 dollars a day on fetching Mum cakes and cokes from the hospital cafeteria, since she is convinced that now she has cancer she will waste away to nothing if she just lives on hospital food. And then there's groceries and bills and "Could you buy me a new kettle?" or "I really meant to repot the plants on the front porch before all this happened. Be a dear and pop down to the shop for some new pots. And don't get those awful plastic ones. They are so cheap and nasty."
  • Her welfare payments have been finalised, and although they will now pay for extras like a gardener, a cleaner, petrol for trips to the hospital and doctor, all her prescriptions and other illness-related expenses, Mum's total income now that she won't be working at all will be $100 a week less than her current budget (which she has trouble sticking to anyway). I've suggested getting rid of her cellphone, which easily costs her $20 a week, and that she maybe stop using things like her colour printer (she prints out all her photos and emails in full colour), try going just a month or two without buying new clothes, and if I were her, I'd get rid of the car. (She lives half a block from a major bus-stop that connects everywhere, and is within a short walk of a supermarket, or a half-hour walk of the centre city). But she has never lived without a car, and I can understand that she feels now that she is ill that she won't have the energy to use public transport. It just bothers me that she spends more than I do on discretionary expenses like new clothes, fancy brands of household items, a flash car, top quality insurance, home repairs, entertainment, etc, and then constantly complains about being short of money. Especially when I am subsidising her like I am at the moment, it frustrates me to know that she is spending my money on things I wouldn't buy for myself.
  • If you are going to get a nasty disease, you might as well do it in New Zealand. As well as Mum's welfare payments covering the extras mentioned above, she has received a $600 voucher from the Cancer Society to cover a prosthesis and new bras, and will get another $600 for this every four years for the rest of her life. She also gets a free wig and hats, as well as various small things like cushions and face creams and wotnot. And in a few weeks she is booked in to have a free makeover and massage. My grandmother has had six hats and a lovely wig all free from the Cancer Society. And the Cancer Society are paying for my grandfather and aunt and uncle to stay in a motel near the hospital, since they decided Granddad was too elderly to cope well with the usual shared accommodation they provide. On the other hand, this makes me feel bad for people who have less well-publicised diseases and presumably don't get any of these compensations.
  • Mum came home from the hospital this afternoon, though. So hopefully the next week or so will be a bit less frantic.


* I do see the irony in complaining about someone over-sharing like this when I spill out all the details of my life to complete strangers on the internet. It just feels different, somehow. And at least I don't tell you about my bowels.

** She is British when it makes her feel appropriately superior; but counts herself as a New Zealander when it is time to complain about the "whinging Poms".

I'm such a hedonist

(As seen at Sea Change.)


You are one of life’s enjoyers, determined to get the most you can out of your brief spell on Earth. Probably what first attracted you to atheism was the prospect of liberation from the Ten Commandments, few of which are compatible with a life of pleasure. You play hard and work quite hard, have a strong sense of loyalty and a relaxed but consistent approach to your philosophy.

You can’t see the point of abstract principles and probably wouldn’t lay down your life for a concept though you might for a friend. Something of a champagne humanist, you admire George Bernard Shaw for his cheerful agnosticism and pursuit of sensual rewards and your Hollywood hero is Marlon Brando, who was beautiful, irascible and aimed for goodness in his own tortured way.

Sometimes you might be tempted to allow your own pleasures to take precedence over your ethics. But everyone is striving for that elusive balance between the good and the happy life. You’d probably open another bottle and say there’s no contest.

What kind of humanist are you? Click here to find out.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tactlessness or the height of efficiency?

When Grandma got her diagnosis (stomach cancer with incurable secondary tumors in her brain) about two weeks ago, the very next morning she received a courier package delivery from the local undertaker with forms for her to specify her funeral wishes and details of their "very reasonable" pricing schemes.

(Weirdly, the undertaker's forms want the most bizarre details, like her mother's maiden name, and Granddad's number from when he was in the army in WW2.)

I heart my brother

I was going to write a long post about the past week here, and I might still do it later on, but for now I think the following anecdote sums things up quite well.

I picked up my brother from the airport today. He could only get one day off work, despite explaining to his boss that both his mother and his grandmother are down here in the hospital with cancer. But at least he is here until Monday.

My brother and I have never been close. In fact, years go by when we have almost no contact with each other. We don't really have anything in common. Mum was a little bit worried about him coming down at all, since he tends to need looking after rather than being any help around the place himself. As far as I can tell, his main hobbies are spending money, breaking things, and losing his job.

So anyway, I picked him up at the airport. He got into the car and asked me, "How long have you been over here?"
"Since Sunday," I replied.
"Aaah, good times," he said ironically. Then, with concern, "Have you had any good times lately?"
"Not exactly," I said, and started to cry.
"We'll have to do something about that, then!" he said. He took me to the shops, bought chocolate and sweets and all the ingredients for pancakes, drove me to the movies and made me watch Pan's Labyrinth and eat chocolate, and tomorrow he is cooking me pancakes for breakfast. (I think my no-sugar thing is on hold.)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

And I'm off!

Posting will probably be lighter than usual over the next few weeks, as my mother only has a dial-up connection and a crappy computer.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

How to get more exercise

I decided to take a slightly different route cycling home yesterday from the library and got totally and utterly lost.

So of course the first thing I did upon getting home* was to Google Map myself and work out where I had been.

I have no excuse.


* Which, in case scary internet people are trying to stalk me, is not the end point on this map, but rather a couple of blocks further away in an unspecified direction.

I have a little list

My mother has given me a list of all the things that she would like me to do while I am visiting.

Apparently I will be:

  • Painting the front of the house
  • Sorting out her welfare payments
  • Pruning her garden
  • Walking her dog and training it not to bite bicycles
  • Driving her to the hospital for a 7 am appointment on the morning after I arrive (which, given the time difference, is going to feel like 5 am for me)
  • Finding a way to get rid of her compost heap, which has "gone off" and which the council won't take away for her
  • Getting her computer to "do that thing. You know, that thing it's meant to do."
At least I won't get bored!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Two little dickie birds, sitting on a wall

Thursday, May 10, 2007


I don't think I've written about this here yet, but I've mentioned it in various comments other places, so some of you probably already know.

For the one-year anniversary of my father leaving her for another woman, her life falling apart and her ending up moving house, going on welfare, and being a (understandly) miserable wreck, this year my mother got cancer. It's a Nasty Sort (official medical terminology) that I don't want to go into detail about in case my mother googles the specifics of her situation, flips through to page 98 of the search results, and accidentally ends up here. (I know, I'm paranoid.)

As an extra bonus, my grandmother's (my mother's mother's) cancer, which was in remission, has returned with a vengeance, ensconced itself in her brain, and her doctor says she has about six weeks. The one good thing (for me, and of course it is all about me) is that she has been moved from her hometown 400 km away to the same hospital as my mother will be in, so I can visit them both at once. (They really ought to have shopper reward points for this sort of thing: have two or more family members treated for cancer in the same hospital and get a free upgrade to a private room. Ha. Ha. Ha. See me make inappropriate jokes.)

So yes, the visit. That was the point of this entry. When my mother's cancer was first diagnosed a couple of weeks ago, they said they would be operating within two weeks, so I geared up for a quick trip over there. Then the operation was postponed until the 30th of May. So my new plan was to get my dissertation finished in the next few weeks, hop on a plane, and spend a work-free three weeks with my mother while I waited for feedback from my committee.

An hour ago I got an email from my (rather frantic) mother, saying they are operating on Tuesday and I should get my arse on a plane as soon as possible. Which is Sunday, apparently, since that's the only flight between now and then that has reasonably priced tickets still available.

Would anyone like to take bets on whether I can finish my thesis within the next two days? Cos I'm guessing not.

I could make an awesome pun here, but it would use my real name

Here's me as a manga character:

And this is what I'd look like if I hadn't got around to evolving:

Try the face transformer yourself.

Someone needs to practise negotiation skills

(And I think it's both of us.)

On his morning rambling-round-the-department-with-coffee-cup-in-hand, the HOD dropped by my office. As usual, he took up a position just inside the door, but facing the wall 90 degrees away from me, which means eye contact—and hence interruptions—are impossible.

Then he talked solidly for twenty minutes about his favourite brand of tea and his plans for an upcoming holiday. Followed by, "So, anyway, I'm really glad you'll be teaching [Supervisor]'s classes next semester. Of course, I want to keep the cost of covering for her sabbatical as low as possible, so I'm thinking we could pay you by the hour as a casual lecturer. I'm pretty sure that would work out cheapest."

He paused. I realised I was probably meant to say something here, but, "Fuck that! I want lots of money!" didn't strike me as quite appropriate. Fortunately, HOD is not one to leave a silence verbally unmolested.

"The budget I actually have for filling the position is $X, though, so, if pressed, we could afford to go that high."

I would have inserted, "Yes! Let's do that!" at this point, but I wasn't fast enough.

Leaving the room, he muttered to the door frame, "but maybe I won't have to and then we can use that money to fund something else."

Fortunately, I "just happened" to mention this conversation to my supervisor later in the day, and then sat back and watched her approach him at afternoon tea time. I only heard her opening remark before their voices got too low for eavesdropping, but "I want you to think very carefully about your plans for paying StyleyGeek. It's just not fair to—" strikes me as rather hopeful.

It's always nice to have someone in your corner.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Flappy seems to have learned to eat like a gentleman.

He* still isn't interested in any food other than birdseed, but has made the connection that if he takes a chunk of my hand in his mouth, I'm going to go away and take the seed with me. So now he is being very careful to take one seed gently at a time, and if the pointy bit of his beak accidentally catches my hand, he freezes and then quickly looks up, aghast, to see if I have taken offense.

This just in: Cockatoo tongues are all tickly.


* I have no idea what sex Flappy is, but I'm going to make him masculine here, just to save me having to do weird shit with my pronouns. (Masculine rather than feminine because he's slightly bigger than his mate, which might—who knows?—be significant in birdie sex determination.)

If the academic blogs I read got together and created their own university

  • English literature would be the largest and most powerful field.
  • Available courses would also include such exotic offerings as "musical basket-weaving" and "complexification theory as applied to hairdressing".
  • Some professors, despite having an office and students, would nonetheless manage to keep their real name and what they worked on completely secret.
  • There would be a ratio of approximately 50 grad students to each tenured professor. And no one would ever finish their dissertation.
  • Most science lecturers would talk about hard science... but the humanities professors would spend at least 30 percent of the lecture time discussing their cats.
  • Reviews and evaluations would mostly read, "You rock! What you say is so true!" with the occasional disgruntled, "OMG U SUCK LOL!1!!1"
  • Committees and informal discussions would consist of a mixture of professors, grad students, undergrads, members of the general public, and random people who hid under the table causing trouble and wouldn't tell you their names.
  • Everyone would install top-of-the-range spy cameras outside their offices so they could track how many people had dropped by while they were out.
  • People would spend hours painting their office doors elaborate colour schemes in order to attract the maximum number of visitors, and would then hide behind the locked door to see whether or not it worked.
  • There would be some awesome end-of-semester parties.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

That's right, worship me!

Dear StyleyGeek,

Re: your email of 8 May 2007, I am revering your request and our IT manager will get back to you as soon as possible.

[Online shop that I asked a question of]

Do you think maybe he meant "referring"?

Neanderthal alert, category orange

RussianViolets' students write the best* sentences EVER.

My favourite is: "Since the beginning of time, the US has been fighting terrorists and other exterminators."


* By which, obviously, I mean "the worst".

Monday, May 07, 2007

Search engines that don't suck

So since Google has gone to the Dark Side, I have been experimenting the last few days with different search engines. (Thanks, incidentally, to Mentor, Gnome, Geeka, and Rebecca, who all left comments with suggestions of search engines to try out.) I am sure you will be deeply excited to know that I am now ready to share my hard-won wisdom with teh internets.

For the benefit of those of you with reading comprehension difficulties, I have helpfully divided the list below into three sections: Search engines that suck, search engines that don't suck, and search engines with extra awesomeness. I am not going to review any of them in depth, but will annotate each with a brief, yet somehow still incredibly helpful and witty comment. I won't pretend this list is at all objective,* but maybe it will give you some ideas if you too are planning to abandon the Evil One.

Search engines that suck

Ms Dewey has possibly the most irritating interface I have ever come across. Make sure you have your speakers set to low or turned off if you try out this page at work.

Metacrawler sprinkles ads surreptitiously throughout the search results.

Grokker broke my browser. Ten seconds to load, my arse. Maybe for those of you in the lands of infinite bandwidth.

Search engines that don't suck

Alltheweb is like an ugly version of Google. Yes, I know I can skin it. But I can't be bothered. And the fact that it too automatically detects the Danish setting of my browser makes me fear for the future. reminds me of a butler. Reviews suggest it works pretty well, though.

Accoona seems pretty average. Cluttered. Gets averagely relevant results. A bit like Google but not as good. (Although the "target your search" dropdown boxes are kind of cool.)

Yahoo! is okay, but kind of ordinary. And looks a bit unprofessional up on your screen. Google displaying on screen is something you can get away with when your boss walks into the office unexpectedly. Yahoo! not so much.

Exalead has a nice "narrow your search" bar on the right-hand side. The results don't seem very relevant, though, and apparently it's nowhere near the size of Google, nor has it updated its index in the past two years.

Aftervote is fun. And you can pretend you are part of the elite by cluttering your screen with all sorts of "advanced settings" that the plebs don't know about. It seemed to return relevant results, too.

Search engines with extra awesomeness

Zuula searches across Google, Yahoo, MSN, Gigablast and Exalead and returns the results in tabbed form. Even though Google has cruelly betrayed me, I would be prepared to keep using it via Zuula, since that way I get the Google goodness without the personalised experience.

Dogpile, irritatingly, includes hits from ads among its results, but it seems to return a much lower ratio of ads to real sites compared to Metacrawler. (Did it just wag its tail at me?) Like Zuula, it uses the major search engines, including Google (and thankfully NOT the personalised version, even when I am logged into my gmail account). (And it did just wag its tail at me.)

Goodsearch gives a penny per search to a charity of your choice. It's powered by Yahoo!, so the search results are good, too.

Vivissimo is Clusty with a different interface. But I saw Clusty first.

Clusty is my new boyfriend. Oh. my. god. I honest-to-goodness(ly) felt shivers down my spine when I saw my first search results all grouped so nicely into clusters. I felt only a small twinge of regret as I deleted Google from my bookmarks toolbar, and it was more than balanced out by anticipation and intellectual superiority I felt when adding Clusty in its place. The only downside is that it doesn't search the major engines like Google and Yahoo! but only smaller, free ones. Even so, the quality of the results it is returning is astoundingly good.

In Summary

I think I will be relying on Clusty and Zuula from now on. Maybe with some Goodsearch thrown in. Take that, Evil Empire!


* I did perform the same three tests on all of them initially, though. First I did two searches related to my dissertation, each of which on Google turns up a few thousand results with some extremely useful stuff in the first few pages. Then (completely arbitrarily and unfairly), I searched for the acronym for an upcoming conference, for which Google USED TO return the conference website as the top hit. I then bookmarked the search engines that turned up useful results on all three of those searches, and continued to play with them for a couple of days to decide which would be The One.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

I don't need your stinking logic

Me: "Flappy. That's a good name for a cockatoo. Flappy the Bush Cockatoo."

Geekman: "You're naming the cockatoo?"

Me: "Uh huh. Maybe I'll even teach it to come when I call it."

Geekman: "Which one are you naming?"

Me: "The one from yesterday. The one that wouldn't eat my apple."

Geekman: "How can you tell them apart?"

Me: "I can't. But it doesn't matter. They can all be called Flappy."

Geekman: "But then won't they get each other confused?"

Me: "Well, they don't exactly call each other by name, do they?"

Geekman: "I mean, how will they know which one should come when you call them?"

Me: "They can all come. It will be AWESOME."

Friday, May 04, 2007

The internet really is broken

It is a bad technology day all round.

Once more, with pathos

I'm not sure I accurately conveyed how devastated I am by Google's treachery. (I'm not trying to be funny here.) It's like I had the wonderfulness that was Google's ability to find out everything for me whenever I wanted: all the information in the world at my fingertips. And then they took it away and replaced it with some crappy search engine that feels like it was designed by Microsoft on a bad day. And they've stopped answering my calls (figuratively speaking).

Google has broken up with me, and it feels like the whole internet's stopped working.

What do I do?

Google is the evilest evil

I am NOT happy with Google. Even a little bit.

The effing effers have gone and "personalised" my search results and there isn't an off switch. This means, when yesterday a search for the national linguistics society, via its initials, returned a link to the national linguistics society, NOW Google helpfully detects that my browser language is Danish, and returns pages of results to various European companies with the same acronym. Worse, in my other browser, which is set to English, pretty much any search result returns lots of Australian sites (even when it is not set to search for Australian pages only), and these are pretty much NEVER what I am searching for. Who cares if I am physically located in Australia? The internet should be beyond petty regional distinctions.

I have just spent a long time scouring the Google help pages for a solution. Google, which less than a year ago, had a helpful email address to send questions to, and which responded to queries within less than a week, now has NO information on how to contact them for issues like this.

But they do kindly provide an answer to the relevant FAQ:

How do I turn off personalization?

Just sign out of your Google Account. When you want to personalize your results again, just sign in again.
Yeah, well that sounds like fun. I only recently discovered a way to circumvent the necessity of signing in and out every five minutes to switch between my blog gmail account and my private one. And now I am supposed to sign in and out again every time I want to search for something?

Well FAQ you, Google.

Anyone have a good recommendation for an alternative search engine?

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Success! (Of a sort)

Dear university,

Please excuse StyleyGeek from working on her dissertation this afternoon. She is having difficult typing with her right hand after an unfortunate incident with an overly enthusiastic cockatoo.

PS: Hand-feeding wild birds is overrated.

Foot in the door

My supervisor has just offered me a job filling in for her when she is on sabbatical next semester! Not only does that mean real! live! money!, but, more excitingly, real! live! teaching!, i.e. full responsibility for her classes. (You can tell how happy I am about this from the amount of punctuation in the previous sentence.)

Dork that I am, this meant I lay awake all night planning syllabi and assignments and coming up with clever ways to mess with the little studentses' minds. And when I've achieved my dissertation-related goals for the day, I'm going to reward myself by going online and comparing textbooks.

Extra dorkily, the first thing I thought when she offered me the job was not, "Money!" or "That will look good on my CV," but rather, "That will pretty much guarantee a steady supply of entertaining anecdotes for blog posts." (Followed by, "Maybe I can encourage her to go somewhere wonderful on her sabbatical, so that she decides not to come back...")

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

StyleyGeek gets trigger happy with the camera and the captions

We're in your treez, waiting for our dinnerz.

Wotcha eating? Can I have some? Can I? Can I?

Pufferfish Parrot is not amused.

Oh nos! Now how does I get my dinnerz?

Thass how I gets my dinnerz.

What YOU looking at? We jus' good friendses.

My dinnerz, I hypnotizes thems.

Pufferfish parrot say, time for say goodbye.

Hah, what a surprise!

You Belong in New Zealand

Good on ya, mate
You're the best looking one of the bunch
Though you're often forgotten...
You're quite proud of who you are

You know what sucks?

When you are having a stressful conversation with someone, and you suddenly get something in your eye, and have to wipe away tears, and then no matter what you do or say, they are always going to think you were getting upset and that "something in your eye" was a really lame cover story.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Bad joke of the day

Me, untangling a mess of electrical cords: "This is a bit Gordian."

Geekman: "No it's knot."

Oh baby, you can diagram my sentences

My supervisor yesterday at afternoon tea:

"You wouldn't believe the sorts of spam mails I've been getting lately. This morning there was one asking if I wanted to 'f**k my wet hard d*ck into three inches longer'. It's shocking! I couldn't even parse its syntax!"

I'm aiming to be the crazy parrot lady

This morning I had a guard of honour on my way to university. Eight(!) rosellas escorted me and my bicycle all the way to the end of my street.

I think they were pissed off because I took away their sunflower seeds half an hour earlier than usual, when some of them were only just arriving. So maybe it was more a case of chasing me off their land, rather than following me because they love me so much.

Whatever. It was still pretty damn cool.