Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The joke's on me

Because the courses I am currently teaching are usually convened by my supervisor, I inherited a whole heap of notes, lecture material and assessment examples, which I could theoretically reuse to save myself a bunch of work. I am trying to avoid doing this, as much as possible, partly because I think it will be good for my own teaching development if I get to do all the work involved in convening a course, including course design, assessment design, and day-to-day planning.

The other reason I am avoiding reusing much of what I inherited is that my supervisor and I have quite different teaching styles. I try to make everything as interactive as possible, to encourage "problem-based" learning, and to overprepare everything. Even my lectures tend to take the form of me presenting some interesting data that can't be explained with the tools the students have learned so far in the course, and then kind of Socratically guiding them to (a) see why the data is interesting and why it presents a problem, and (b) come up with the necessary extensions of what they have learned that do allow them to account for it. When my supervisor lectures, on the other hand, she lectures. Her questions are purely rhetorical. I wouldn't say her teaching style is worse—she is an engaging and entertaining lecturer, and explains things very clearly—but I can't pull it off. I don't feel I have the sort of authority to stand up as "expert" and give a traditional lecture. And I am not confident enough to do without the constant reassurance that students are "getting it" that classroom interaction provides.

So I am trying to build this course up from scratch. Apart from the readings. I replaced a couple of them with more recent papers, but generally I kept them the same as in past years. Every week the tutorial groups have to read one of these book chapters or articles, and I provide them with four or five questions to answer and bring to class. My supervisor has done the same in past years, but from looking at her question sheets for the first few readings, I got the impression that she was using the questions purely to make sure the students were really reading the material ("What two results does the author mention on page three?" "What is his definition of term X?"), while I wanted to use them to make the students think more deeply about what they read and to apply it to material beyond what was presented in the text ("How do you think the author would use his theory to account for X?" "Why do you think the author included the material in section 3.2? How does it relate to the rest of the discussion?").

So for the most recent reading, I didn't even look at the question sheet I had inherited, but instead spent close to six hours thinking about and preparing questions of my own. It was a really long, difficult reading, and I wanted the questions to be usable as a sort of guide to help illuminate the structure and purposes of what they were reading, as well as forcing them to think about it critically. When I had finished writing up my list of questions, just for shits and giggles, I went back and looked at the questions my supervisor had used.

Five out of the seven were identical to my own.

Moral of the story? Either of the following, I think.

(1) Stop doing more work than you need to, you freak.
(2) Don't be so quick to judge other people's teaching styles. (You freak.)

For once, everything is going right

  • My mother just inherited a whole heap of money. This should put an end to this sort of thing. And I can stop helping her out financially. Until she blows it all on living the good life, of course. (She is already planning three overseas trips.)
  • Geekman's boss has promised him renewed funding until the end of 2010! That's three and a half more years of not feeling like this!
  • We enrolled in Medicare! Now we can get injured all we like.
  • Teaching is going well.
  • Free pizza! Every week!
  • The carpets are coming. (That sounds vaguely sinister, doesn't it? I bet Poe wished he'd written a story about carpets.)
  • Our landlady gave us a super-expensive bottle of French champagne for being awesome tenants who put up with crap like this. Although I feel rather guilty about drinking anything that costs that much per mouthful. I might save it for my graduation.
  • I am getting a month of free online personal training from the awesome Lymphopo (formerly of Granny gets a Vibrator fame). I am so excited about this that it's slightly embarrassing.

Monday, July 30, 2007

I just had to do this test

I am Linear B

You are Linear B. Even those who can follow you think you're all Greek to them. Which, after all, is true - Linear B being the first known text for written Greek. To most people, you're incomprehensible. But what do you care? You're tough, hard, long-enduring and have greater nobility than most. Naturally, you don't admit to borrowing extensively from your brother Linear A.

Link: The Which Ancient Language Are You Test written by imipak

I am such a dork

Last night I dreamed that our Head of Department had left a scathing comment on a post here, and that I panicked and deleted the whole blog. Even after I woke up, I spent a good few minutes miserable and convinced I was in blogular hiding. I think the idea that I could no longer post here was more upsetting than the fear that I had pissed off everyone in my department.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Advice sought

Next week one of the topics my grad student tutorial group is meant to be looking at is one that I struggle with myself. I can teach it to undergrads, no problem. But it is complicated, and I haven't read much on it, and what I have read is inconsistent and contradictory. I know that at least one of the grad students in this group has a research interest in this topic, and I have already mentioned to her that it would be great if she share her thoughts on the readings and explain her own research to the group. She is reluctant, though, which I think is a cultural matter, since she is always quiet in class and is very worried that her English is not good enough (which is totally untrue).

Anyway, my question is, do you think I would be better off to read as much as I can on this topic and try to bluff it, or to admit that I don't have much background in this area and take the approach that, as a group, we can discover this topic together on the basis of the readings that I assigned?* Usually I would say that there is nothing wrong with the second approach, but I am already feeling a little inadequate to teach this group (they are all my age or older, and some of them have been studying for just as long as I have). Also, on the course evaluation forms at the end of the semester, there is a question that specifically asks, "How well did the lecturer/tutor know the topics they were teaching?" A bad score here has a negative impact on your overall score.

I hate being a slave to the evaluations at the expense of good teaching, but at this stage in my career, I can't afford to ignore them, so I'm currently leaning towards the bluffing technique. What do you think?


* Obviously I have read the readings myself, and understand them as well as most of the students are likely to, but I can see a ton of questions that they are likely to have after reading them, and I'm not currently in a position to be able to answer most of these myself. If I wanted to be able to answer all my own questions that I had after these assigned readings, I think I would have to read at least six or seven of the papers and three of the books listed in the original readings' references. I could probably just manage that (I have 10 days), but at the expense of a lot of other things.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Wild generalisations about skiing in Australia

On the basis of one trip. (To here.)

  • There isn't very much snow. And apparently, the amount they had today was "quite good". No snow on the trees, none on the side of the road driving up there, very little off the actual piste, and even bits of the ski fields were frozen mud rather than anything white and powdery.
  • It is super warm (until the sun goes down). Almost "I could be wearing a short skirt and t-shirt and be reasonably comfortable" warm. And oh wait, some of those girls over there are doing just that.
  • There are a LOT of total beginners. And practically no one on the more advanced slopes.
  • The more advanced slopes, when melted and refrozen, are more than a little bit scary. Even after one has given up on staying upright and is only sliding down on one's arse.
  • More people snowboard than ski. And snowboarders totally deserve their reputation.

Despite these slight tragedies, and despite having to get up at 4:30 am, and despite getting lost on a closed track and stuck somewhere where the only way down was a super-advanced scary trail, and totally freaking out and lying down in the snow to cry, I had an awesome time.

Really. Because after that little "adventure", I spent the rest of the day on the easy slopes, didn't fall over, didn't maim or even run into anyone, learned to do those fancy tight woosh-woosh turns and jumps and to have total control over my speed, and I totally rocked.

Woosh! Woosh! Woosh!

Friday, July 27, 2007

A taste for free food is not easily lost

I just attended the inaugral meeting of a new support group for PhD students who are also convening courses. The funniest part was this conversation:

Facilitator: "You know, I think I could find some funding to provide the group with pizza, if you want to meet over lunchtimes."

Student/lecturer #1 (disdainfully): "Are you thinking of us as poor students who need free food?"

Student/lecturer #2: "Yeah! We have real jobs now! We can afford lunch!"

Student/lecturer #3 (quietly): "Although they don't pay us very much..."

[Brief pause while everyone looks shame-facedly at the floor and wrestles with conflicting feelings.]

Facilitator: "So what is the best time of day to have these meetings?"

All students/lecturers, unanimously: "LUNCHTIME."

Facilitator: "And I'll organise the pizza then, shall I?"

Students/lecturers #1, #2 and #3 (meekly and in unison): "Yes, please."

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Well I won't be doing THAT exercise again

At the first tutorials this week, I went around the room and got each student to say something about why they are taking this course. Part of this was just to start the first tutes with them talking instead of me, so that they fall into the habit of participating. And partly it was because this course is the stupidest cross-coded mess of no-prerequisite student salad that you can imagine. So I have everything from first years with no background in linguistics, through to graduate students who know as much as I do about some of the topics we cover. So I wanted to get a sense of what sort of make-up each tutorial had, so that I could pitch the discussions appropriately.

Some actual replies from the students:

"I'm just here because it was the only thing that fitted my timetable."

"Well, it didn't sound too boring. At the time."

"I LOVE [lecturer who has always taught this course in the past]. I wanted to take every course she offered! I didn't know it would be YOU."

*giggle* *giggle* "Um, I don't know." *giggle.*

"I love English literature." (Okay, but this isn't an English literature course.)

"I have a grammar fetish." [Class laughs] "No, seriously! I get off talking about syntax."

"My first choice was full."

Next time I'm going to make this exercise multi-choice.

Woo hoo!

I am going skiing on Saturday!

Or perhaps I should pretend to be Australian and say I am going to the snow. This strikes me as a kind of weird way to phrase it. It is not something you would say in any self-respecting European country, or even in some parts of NZ, because snow is that stuff that is right here, look! on the ground! and what do you mean, you are going there? Snow is not a place to go; it is a thing that is. (cold.) But I guess in Australia where all the snow huddles up in the mountains, it makes sense. And I guess it can include more than skiing, which is kind of useful. Like, I am going to the snow to snowboard. Or I am going to the snow to slide down hills on my bum. Or I am going to the snow to drink red wine and look out the window of the drinking chalet. (There IS going to be a drinking chalet, right?).

So I am going to the snow. Oh yes!

Bit by bit, I have assembled a whole ski-bunny set of clothing and accessories from random members of my department. My skipants smell like the Head of Department. My gloves are the size of Pseudonymless Adjunct's hands. My goggles are smart racing ones from a smart ski-racing fellow student. I feel like the trip is turning into a joint department effort.

I probably owe it to them to drink a lot of red wine.

(I'm not sure this entry really deserves the label "linguistics", but I did whine about Australian English up the top there, so I'm going to say it counts.)

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

W(h)el(k), I mussel say, this doesn't shrimprise me

The carpet-measuring mollusk had to come back again today and remeasure. It seems he made a mistake. Or ten.

Lesbian parrot orgy!

(Or perhaps a kindergarten.)

I came across this flock of king parrots today on my way to university. This is more kings than I have ever seen in one group before. And all of them were females, or possibly juveniles. (Mature males have red heads rather than green).

Unfortunately, the cloudy winter's day meant the pictures have next to no contrast, but maybe it's still fun for playing spot-the-parrot.

There were as many again on the ground, but all my pictures of those ones turned out blurry. I just managed to get a couple of individuals on their own.

They were all eating acorns, by the way. So maybe it was a lesbian parrot acorn-eating orgy instead.

PSA for migrants to Australia

There is a little piece of information that probably no one has ever told you, and that is not readily accessible on the relevant websites (although it is buried somewhere on a pdf you can download from Medicare.)

If you are ever going to apply for permanent residence, or even think that you might possibly do so, you should hold on to every medical bill/receipt you ever get. Once you are a permanent resident and can enrol in Medicare, your enrolment is backdated to the date of your arrival into Australia, and you can request a refund of every medical expense from that date to the present. Eye tests, doctor's visits, the difference between what you pay for prescriptions and what Australians pay: the lot.

If you have the documentation. (Guess who doesn't?)

Monday, July 23, 2007

I have a student named after an inanimate object

I asked her to repeat her name a couple of times, thinking it was a foreign name that just sounded, to my untutored Western ears, like an English noun. But no, she even spelled it for me, smiled widely, and said, "It's a good name, yes? I chose it myself."

To my credit, I did not laugh.

In other teaching news, I appear to have been ambushed by a pattern I trained myself into last year, but I am not convinced it is a good one for my current situation. Last year, I was trying to write my dissertation, run a reading group, run a department seminar series, edit a volume of conference papers, organise a nationwide workshop, and tutor three classes. So I made a little rule that I only did teaching prep on the (two) mornings of the days I taught. I allowed myself to use the whole morning, so up to three hours of prep per class, but not to pre-prepare the day before. And marking was restricted to weekends. That way I could ensure that teaching didn't expand to take up time that should have been devoted to more important, but less urgent matters.

This semester I pretty much only have to teach. So my plan was to be super-duper prepared and have all my classes for the week well-planned in advance. Photocopies, overheads, readings, assignments, all were to be neatly stacked and ready to go. Unfortunately, I seem incapable of doing this. I procrastinate mercilessly up until the day of each lecture, and then spend all morning getting things ready. I don't eat lunch, don't take breaks, panic about whether the photocopier will be in use all bloody morning... In short, I work myself into an unnecessary state of anxiety.

I have no idea why I do this to myself, unless it is that my routine from last year has embedded itself deep in my subconscious.

I realise asking questions of our "readership" is kind of dumb when we don't have one yet, but maybe someone will come across this post in the archive and comment on it then. So how far in advance do you prepare lectures, tutorials, assignments, etc (when you teach a course for the first time)? Have you found any good methods for making yourself plan lessons early and often?

The difference between an optimist and a pessimist

Me to Geekman: Woohoo! You got residency!

Geekman: Still can't vote. Hate them.

Geekman got residency!

After all the hurdles and expense that his application involved, it really doesn't surprise me that, although he was granted permanent residency back in May, Immigration forgot to, well, notify him of it. At all. If he hadn't followed it up today, I wonder when (if?) they would have realised?

Anyway, he's legal! (Woot!)
And he can now apply for Medicare cover! (Bigger woot!)
Which means he is now allowed to get sick or injured! (Not so much of a woot! But better than getting sick and injured without health insurance, at least.)

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Holy crap!

While I had the flu the last 10 days, I appear to have lost 3 kg (6.6 pounds, for those of you who get confused easily). Most of which, judging by my performance at the gym yesterday and today, was probably muscle.

I think it's time to get serious about tuna fish.

Bonus food-related conversation:

Me: "At least I've found my appetite again. I'm hungry!"

Geekman: "Hungry like you want an early dinner, or like you want to eat something now? I'm making toast, if you want some."

Me: "Thanks, but I might just have an apple."

Geekman: "That's not food! Apples are no good for anything except biblical symbolism."

Saturday, July 21, 2007


And then he bit Geekman and freaked himself out.

OMG!!! Ponies! Cluelessness!

Things not to say in an email if you want me to keep respecting you:

"You'd think it would be kind of nice to have someone new in the department who works on a similar topic to me. I mean, I'd be able to talk to him about the project. But the problem is, he's a bit weird. Like, he's from Pakistan. So, kind of Al Qaeda."

"Sounds like you're pretty busy with all your teaching. As for me, I've got three weeks holiday coming up. Do you want to go to Trinidad? I was thinking the first week of August."

"What? Your mother is still sick? You mean that cancer thing? That was so long ago---what, April, right?---I thought she'd be all better by now."

Yes, these are all from the same short email.

Lessons from the first week

So, this being the first substantial post here, I should probably do the expected, "Hello World!" thing and explain why we have started the blog and what to expect from it. But you know, those sorts of posts aren't very interesting to read, and we probably don't have any readers yet anyhow. So I won't. 'kay?

This is a teaching blog, so let's talk about teaching.

I've just reached the end of my first week as a real! live! lecturer. I've tutored before (that's TA-ing for those of you on the other side of the world). But this is the first time I have been totally in charge of a whole course, including course design, assessment, lecturing, administration and running the tutorials as well.

I think the first week went pretty well, considering. There was the brief gasp and whispers from the students at the first lecture as I walked up to the front. "She's the LECTURER? I thought she was a student!" and "Oh my god, I was, like, TALKING to her before class!" Meaning, presumably, that if she'd known I was her lecturer, she would have ostracized me instead, as is right and proper.

I started well, breaking the ice by accidentally removing the cap on the whiteboard marker too quickly and having it fly across the room and hit a student on the head.

And then I made a few remarks in the first couple of classes that, in retrospect, I probably should have skipped. Like the bit where I got carried away and taught them the term "morphosyntax."

"Morphosyntax. Morphosyntactic. Morphosyntactician," I wrote these on the board and explained them. Then, "Actually, you probably don't need to know these for this class. But they are cool words. And you can use them to impress people at parties. Like, hey, I do morphosyntax."

Cue incredulous looks from the students.

"Okay, so maybe I go to better parties than you do."

And then there was the bit where I decided I was doing too much talking, and illustrated my point about syntactic variation across English dialects by writing out three constructions and asking the students to tell me which they found grammatical. "Right, so from your replies, it seems that Australians like the first and third of these, but not the second. If you were American, or Scottish, you probably would have preferred the second over the third." I should have stopped there, but the next bit completely bypassed my brain and came out of my mouth all by itself. "Of course, I knew how you were going to answer. But I wanted you to feel like I valued your participation."

Memo to self: be less honest. They don't need to know EVERYTHING that runs through your head at any given moment.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Why Geekman doesn't teach linguistics

I've just been given the go-ahead to recruit a couple of guest lecturers for my course if I want to. I told Geekman, and his response was, "I'll do it! I have Views and I can share them."

He clears his throat and takes up what he obviously imagines to be a "teaching" stance.

"Language, my little mollusks*, language! There is only one worth talking about, and that is English. So you can stop being silly and go home now. Thank you."


* Apologies for the recent extreme overuse of mollusk references. It has just been one of those weeks where everything seems fishy. (Today's show was brought to you by the letters bivalve and gastropod.)

A tale of two mollusks

Twice yesterday I was held hostage to someone with a protocol who wanted to follow it at all costs. Including costs like reason, rational thought and sanity (theirs and mine).

The first was at the bank. I went in to find out why they never sent me a new credit card after my old one expired three weeks ago. "Ah," said the woman behind the counter, looking in my file, "It's because you aren't an Australian citizen. We have to see your visa before we can reissue you with a credit card."
"I'm from New Zealand." I explained. "We don't have visas."
She looked flustered. Then she spent twenty minutes on the phone to people all over Australia, finding out that yes, NZers do not require visas, no this does not make us illegal aliens, yes, we are allowed to own credit cards, but no, she is not allowed to override the computer requirement that the visas of all Unaustralian Menaces must be sighted before reissue of their expired cards.

In the end she had to issue me with an entirely new credit card, new number and everything, and will continue having to do this every time my card expires, or until we get a new government who isn't so paranoid about Foreign People having access to money.


Then I got a phone call from HR about the paperwork for my new contract here. They wanted to know why I hadn't filled out and returned the application to join the university's pension scheme that they sent me with all the other paperwork. I explained that I am already a member of the university's pension scheme and have been for two years, since this isn't the first time I have been employed by the university.

"I can give you my membership number," I offered helpfully.
"I'm sorry," the man on the phone replied, "We do require you to fill out that form."
"But it's an application form to join a pension plan I already belong to! And it's six pages long!"
"We won't actually send it off to the pension scheme people, if you are already a member. But we do have to confirm that you returned the completed form before we can process your first paycheck."

Bunch. of. mollusks. That's what I say. Actually, I shouldn't malign the mollusks. An octopus would probably make a perfectly good administrator, what with all those arms, and having his own ink and all. And I bet a squid would have better things to do than insist on pointless protocols. Gah!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

I'm so evil, I told him to measure them and find out

A carpet measuring mollusk came to measure our carpets today. He is supposed to be giving our landlady a quote for having the carpets replaced.

I call him the measuring mollusk because I firmly believe that a mollusk would have done a better job of measuring. We won't mention his inability to estimate his time of arrival, his difficulties in using a tape measurer, the fact that he didn't know which rooms he was meant to be measuring (and nor did we, since we assumed that he would have actually communicated with the landlady before showing up). No, see me cunningly not mention those comparatively minor issues.

The real sign of molluskdom, however, came at the moment when he looked around the lounge, slightly baffled. "The two walls," he said, gesturing to either side of him, "They're crooked, aren't they?"

"They aren't parallel to each other, if that's what you mean," I replied. "The room isn't rectangular, but more of a wedge."

He breathed heavily and looked at the two walls again, concentrating hard. "So which one is it that isn't parallel?"

Did anyone else feel like this, or am I just messed up?

I've been meaning to mention: I sorted out the formatting and cut some words from my draft, and handed it in to my committee on Friday. Handed it. In.

I don't think I ever really believed I would say those words. Admittedly this is still only step two of around six steps involved in really-and-truly finishing and graduating. (For those keeping score, I'll still have to get it back from my committee, make revisions they suggest, submit it officially, have it externally examined, make the revisions they suggest, submit a final bound copy for the library, and graduate.) But this part should still feel kind of conclusive, right?

So why on earth am I still sitting around feeling like I need to worry about it? Why do I still spend every evening with that sinking procrastinating feeling? When I could be spending endless hours reacquainting myself with my Sims families or charging through the Oblivion underbrush* on my faithful (though undead) steed? And why do I still feel that strange not-good-enough angst of the lost dissertater? Weren't these things meant to be over by now? (Except for the charging around on the undead steed bit.) Wasn't I meant to be celebrating? (Me and my undead steed with a large glass of gin and tonic?)

Maybe I did something wrong. Maybe it was the coversheet.

I printed the draft without a cover page. Without the acknowledgments or abstract, either, since I haven't written them yet, and in the template file I have as a placeholder, it just says, "I'd like to thank my lucky stars. And my cat, for not eating me." (I'm tempted to leave that as it is, but probably won't.) But when the 289 (single-spaced) pages of the dissertation finally lay there on my desk, it looked naked without a cover page.

So I went back and printed out the official front page as specified in the university format guidelines. The one that said the thesis title, my name, and then, "A thesis submitted for the degree of doctor of philosophy of [university name]. August, 2007." I put that on the front of my pile of pages, and then totally freaked the fuck out. Because it looked like a dissertation instead of like a pile of draft pages. I swear the coversheet was looking at me funny. (Kind of like a "Ha ha ha, you call that a dissertation?" funny.)

So I took it off again. And maybe that was my mistake.


* "Charging through the Oblivion underbrush" sounds like it should be a euphemism for something. But I promise you, it isn't.

Monday, July 16, 2007

12th Carnival of GRADual Progress

With today's installment, the GRADual Progress carnival hits the one-year mark! Hooray!

Now for perhaps more sobering news. After a year, the carnival still seems to be averaging only three or four submissions. Also, a distinct lack of hosts. There have been six wonderful volunteers during the past year and I am very grateful to you all, but ultimately, that means I am hosting it one month in two. And I can imagine it will continue to be hard to find volunteers to host as long as the submissions are so few that hosting requires a lot of work to find posts as well as link to them.

Finally, I'm not going to be a graduate student much longer (graduation is finally in sight!) You can all see where this is going, can't you?

The GRADual Progress concept is up for grabs. It comes with a pre-made website and email account, should you wish to use these. You are welcome to do whatever you like to revive the poor thing. You can continue to run it as it has been run until now (good luck with that finding hosts thing), or change the format, frequency, whatever. If you want to be that person, please leave a comment here. Maybe several people might want to collaborate.

If I get no takers, we can always leave the website as a sort of permanent archive of grad-related posts, kind of like what Horace has recently put together, but from the student perspective.

Which brings me to this month's links

In a series that would go nicely in Horace's collection, Fabio at orgtheory.net has just written a set of posts on how to make it through grad school. I'm not going to link to all the older posts in the series, but the most recent three are on choosing your topic, other considerations for during the dissertation writing process, and finally, models for actually writing the dissertation. Jim Gibbon has kindly assembled links to the full set of posts.

There's been a lot of learning going around:

PhD Ladybug is exhausted and learning to establish boundaries.

Queen of West Procrastination is learning to allow herself to be human and is refocusing her academic self-image.

Ancrene Wiseass is learning to be herself.

EA is learning when to stop.

Kisha learns that there is a big gap between the metaphors of climbing a mountain and falling off a cliff.

Parts-n-pieces has learned an extreme strategy for making herself write.

Stewgad learns why you should avoid taking a decade to write your dissertation.

And some pondering:

The History Enthusiast wonders why we procrastinate. Her commentators have some ideas.

FemaleCSGradStudent wonders at the fact that moving from industry into academia didn't lose her the Dilbert-style managers.

Psycgirl writes a thoughtful post about losing her stride and finding it again.

Earth Wide Moth has a fascinating post about all the interrelated tasks that fall under the "canopy" of dissertating. Including staring off into the distance!

Turducken has some thoughts about the academic job market. Then there's the "most stereotypical PhD story ever". And don't miss the hilarious discussion of three different approaches to graduation!

And some suggesting:

The History Enthusiast reviews mind-mapping tools.

Academhack shares some fantastic "old-fashioned" academic tools.

And some milestones:

EA has finished writing up her participants' experiences.

Running Red Lettered passed her thesis defence.

Skookumchick turned in her Done Damn Dissertation Draft (DDDD). As did I!

Zelda has completed her minor revisions and her committee signed off on them.

WWW Mama may have found an exit-ramp from grad school that might just be an on-ramp to the rest of her life.

Finally, from the other side of the great divide, One Bright Star participated in her first defense as a professor on the student's committee.

Congratulations to all of us!

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Geekman builds his own galactic empire

Geekman is being interviewed about his research tomorrow by a journalist. She says she is especially interested in its relevance to the everyday person, for example, the sorts of technologies that could come out of it. Given that what he does has absolutely no practical implications that could interest the average consumer*, he is a little concerned about what he's going to tell her.

So I thought that maybe you could all give him some suggestions. Believe me, knowing the area he works in will not help you come up with something, so you might as well let your imagination run totally wild.

If he doesn't get any better ideas, he is planning to tell her that with the results of his research we will be able to build a death star.


* apart from the stuff they always write on grant applications that no one really believes in.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

I win! I win!

Dr. Brazen Hussy thinks I'm awesome and funny. Which makes me feel a little guilty, because there hasn't been so much of the funny around here lately. I'm working on it. (But without amusing student anecdotes, I'm afraid, since I've just checked my enrolments list for the courses that start on Monday, and hello, regular blog reader! Nice to have you in my class!*)

Anyway, I had a point. What was it? Has anyone seen my point? I have the flu. No, wait, that was the point of the last post.

I am awesome. Yes. There's that train of thought. I am awesome and I won an award! Look, here it is:

It's even pink. And here are the sweet words that the Hussy said about me:

StyleyGeek - I freakin' love this girl and her blog. She is awesome. She is way funnier than I could ever hope to be, and she takes fantastic pictures and gives them even better captions.

I wonder if I can stick that somewhere on my sidebar as a celebrity endorsement? Dr BH is practically a celebrity. Or at least she should be. And not just because she thinks I'm cool, either. Damn, I've misplaced that train of thought again.

So now I get to nominate five other rocking girl bloggers. I don't know what the rules are about tagging someone who's been tagged already, but the speed this meme is working its way through the people I read, I think I'm only going to exclude people who were tagged in the line of the meme-tree that led to me. Otherwise we end up in this eternally branching universe where I spend the next ten years tracing who has been tagged and who hasn't, by which time the entire blogiverse has been tagged already.

It's still hard to restrict myself to only choosing five, though. Here goes.

Anastasia. Her posts actually have real topics. Like, thoughts and stuff. Way beyond the level of the amusing mind-fluff that most of mine aspire to. I totally admire the way Anastasia thinks, and the fact that she isn't scared to get out there and engage with reality, and with her commentators. Plus, she totally rocks as a grad student and isn't ashamed to admit it. That takes real strength of character (both the being and the admitting).

Badaunt. And not just because I want to promote my fellow countrypeople. Present Simple is the funniest blog out there. Almost every post makes me laugh out loud. When this blog posts, I happied every week! She is also the source of the best t-shirt idea of all time.

. Her blog is full of the sort of posts that I wish I could write. Insightful and honest. Her voice comes across as so real that it's impossible not to be drawn right in and want to be her friend. She also has awesome graphs. And if you think that's a lame thing to admire, then you have no idea how awesome they actually are. Finally, she's the one blogger I've met in person,** and guess what? She's just as awesome in reality.

Shrinkykitten. The universe keeps piling poo on her head (I've only linked to the most recent thing, but man, that woman has had a hard year), and yet she continues to be smart, interesting, and caring in spite of it all. That woman has spirit. (And talent.) Plus she has awesome taste in, well, everything, but also in comedy. And fashion.

Wolfangel. Her snark is my favouritest type of snark. Her writing style makes me smile even when it's about something sad. I am also envious of some of the post titles and category labels she comes up with. And she's good to kitties, beyond all call of duty. And she has the best recipes ever. Especially the bread.

You guys ROCK. (And so do the rest of you.)


* Actually, it is nice to have you in my class, since you are a great student and all, but I'm sure you understand that this has just lowered the chances of me blogging about anything teaching-related to just under 0%.

That is, apart from a certain person alluded to above, who I didn't know was a blogger when I used to teach him.

That explains it

This is presumably the answer to why the "read more" hack was doing weird shit. (Until I deleted its ass. Hah, that showed it!)

My mother doesn't understand biology, and incidentally, here's why I haven't blogged much this week

"Hi Mum. I'm sorry, I won't be able to talk for long because I have this wicked case of the flu and being out of bed for more than five minutes makes me cry."

"What are your symptoms?"

"It's just the usual flu symptoms. Aches, fever, chills, sore throat, eyeballs feeling like someone boiled them..."

"Are you sure you haven't got... what is it? What is that thing I worry about?"

"Meningitis. No, I haven't got meningitis. It's just the flu."

"Do you have a rash? Stiff neck?"

"I don't have meningitis. I know it's the flu because Geekman has just had it. He was sick for a week and then he got better. Also, his whole department has had it."

"Well, be careful. I've heard that germs can mutate. You might have started with the flu, but it could have mutated into meningitis."

"No, Mum, it couldn't have. That's not how it works."

"Why do you always act like you know everything? It's not attractive, you know."

I guess it's a good thing I already snared a man, then. I wonder if Geekman knows that intelligence isn't attractive, or if he just overlooked it in favour of my other qualities?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Today's Flappies (not the usual ones)

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

More photos

In honour of my grandmother's funeral today, I thought I'd post a few more of my favourite pictures of her. I especially like the one on the beach.

I wish I knew what years they were taken. I think the first two were in the early 1940s, but I don't know much beyond that.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Be very afraid

"Technology such as cloned part-robot humans used by organised crime gangs pose the greatest future challenge to police, along with online scamming, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Commissioner Mick Keelty says."

What have they been smoking?

Good things

  • Flappy and Flappy came back! And I know they are the original Flappys, because as soon as I saw them on the balcony and went out there, they came charging over at full speed* to see what I had in my hand. And they ate without all the bitey bitey. I guess they must have just been on holiday for the past month.
  • Red wine.
  • Stationery.
  • I'm going skiing (or, more likely, falling-on-my-arse-ing)! Woot!

* If you have never seen a cockatoo charging, you don't know what you are missing. It's a hilarious mix of hop-hop-hop and scuttle scuttle slide, with a bit of flap-hop-flap thrown in.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

This is the way the thesis ends

(Not with a bang but a drinking.)

I think I kind of finished my dissertation. How weird is that? (See, I'm practising to be Australian).

I have to cut 8000 words, and make a few changes to the formatting, and there's a few extra things I could change if I'm enough of a perfectionist to care, but right now the bottle and a half of red wine that a friend and I just shared in celebration says don't bother.

I could hand it in as it is and I think it would be good enough.

How bizarre.

(PS: Flight of the Conchords is extra funny when you're durnk.)

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Goodbye, Grandma


Thursday, July 05, 2007

My mother is from another planet: example #4987

My mother is out of hospital and I've just spoken to her on the phone. The following two snippets from our conversation proved that she is already back to her old self:

Mum: "I just got my electricity bill for last month, and it's twice what I had budgeted for. I have no idea how I'll pay it."

Me: "Wow, why was it so high?"

Mum: "I don't know. It was cold, I guess, so I used a lot of heating. I have some good money news, though! Your father paid for the dog licence renewal, so I have the money I was saving for that still in my account, and once I'm feeling a bit better I'm going to use it to treat myself to dinner at a nice restaurant and to have a facial."

Me: "So it's enough to cover the power bill and a day out?"

Mum: "No. This is money for me to spend on myself. I'm sick! And everyone has to have fun sometimes... [Sigh]... I have no idea how I'll cover the power bill."


Mum: "Have you spoken to your brother lately? I think there's something wrong with him. He's tired all the time. He should see a doctor."

Me: "Well, maybe it's just stress. Stress can make people really tired."

Mum: "Stress? Why is he stressed?"

Me: "He did just change jobs. And then there's the family stuff."

Mum: "What family stuff? What do you mean?"

Me: "It's only last year that you and Dad split up. Now you have cancer. Grandma is dying. That's enough stress for anyone!"

Mum: "Hmmm... When you put it like that, I suppose it might have affected him. I never thought that all these things might be hard on you guys as well... Do you really think these things might be upsetting him?"

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

How to break bad news

I just got a message from my brother that proves he is pretty much the worst ever at composing bad news emails. This is it in all its unedited splendour:


Hope your well! Just phoned mum and she is in hospital with some kind of infection due to the chemo. If you haven't heard Grandma is also pretty much on her death bed. Mum said she cannot stand at all and it takes 2 people to lift her and she often cannot swallow her food but I'm sure you'll get the most up to date news as it comes thru.

But hows life outside of all this sickness and death? Things for me are pretty swell, works good by all accounts and I'll shortly be buying tickets to Melbourne for Christmas. You and [Geekman] are both still welcome to come have a big ol' family christmas if you'd like to and like before i offer you free accommadation and fun times as well!

But now I must go check my chocolate brownies before they burn! go wel, go Shell.


At least the style gave me something to laugh about, which almost counteracts the effect of the content. If I didn't know better, I'd have thought he did it on purpose.

Look what I found under a car...

Monday, July 02, 2007

Open letter to Linux/Beryl

Dear Linux,

Giving windows and desktop objects momentum and an editable friction constant is a very cool idea, but when I get bored with my thesis and start flinging open windows around my screen while my brain reboots itself, I would prefer my files not to slide right off the desktop into the Great Beyond.

Shouting, "Help! Help! Come back!" at them and waving my cursor a lot has, so far, been no substitute for a solution.

Yours sincerely,

OMG!!! Kitties!

Did you know about this page that converts any RSS feed into cat macro format? It doesn't change the text into catspeak (sadly) but pairs it up with a kitty picture, which is sometimes incredibly appropriate!

These are some of the best ones it made from my blog feed:

And these ones were from the BBC news feed.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Can anyone explain why...

...the little "read more" thingy is showing up on ALL my posts? Even the ones where I haven't put it in?

(I've been using the "read more" hack for ages now, and haven't changed the code recently or anything. So how come it's acting funny?)

Updated to add: I took it out of the last post I had it in, and now it's gone from all the others too. So strange.


Is there anything cuter than snoozing parrots? (You don't have to answer that.)