Saturday, June 30, 2007
(A new Flappy has started visiting too. I'm pretty sure it isn't one of the original Flappy and Flappy duo, though, since he was a bit nervous this morning, and it took me most of the day to coax him to eat out of my hand. He's very bitey too, so far, and is right this second being punished by having to watch me write blog posts instead of getting more seed. He looks very disgruntled. With extra gruntle.)
Friday, June 29, 2007
I've been having examiner issues. The Australian system is different from the USA, and our university is slightly different again from other Australian places, so I should give a little background. There is usually no defense for PhD students. (We are defenseless; don't hurt us!). But the dissertation itself is examined by two or three external examiners. They are officially selected by a student's committee, but in practise, students themselves provide a shortlist, and the committee usually uses people from that.
There are a lot of considerations when it comes to choosing examiners. For one thing, they can't be dead.
You might scoff, but that rules out a large number of people in my bibliography.
They should be senior. And powerful. And preferably someone you might come in contact with on the job market, since that way they'll be familiar with your work. They can't be anyone you have been in contact with while writing the dissertation.
Legend has it that Americans make the cushiest examiners, because they are used to a PhD thesis being only a part of grad school, rather than the be-all-and-end-all of it, and our dissertations, which are, after all, all we have been doing for the entire time, usually compare favourably in terms of thoroughness, and in the size of the question(s) addressed.
It is also said that the more elderly the examiner, the more allowances they make for us poor ignorant younglings. It's the just-tenured you have to watch out for, as they see themselves as gatekeepers of the field. And anyone who hasn't examined a thesis before apparently feels pressure to do an exceptionally "thorough" job. And we doesn't like thoroughness, does we, my precious?
Then there's the consideration that, the more they know about your topic, the pickier they will be; but on the other hand, the better the final document will be after you incorporate their suggested revisions. Ideally you want someone who is generous enough that they won't fail you, but fussy enough to force you to revise to the best of your ability.
Finally, a financial consideration. While it is expected that at least one examiner should be from outside Australia, having three overseas examiners is frowned upon, since any one of them is allowed to request an oral defense, and then the university has to foot the bill to fly them halfway across the world. (This happens more rarely than you might think, given that all they have to do is tick a box and they get an all-expenses-paid trip to Australia.)
Anyway, I've finally picked out four names of non-threatening yet relatively famous non-dead (undead?) people—one in Australia, two in the USA, and one in Europe—and my committee gets to narrow it down to two of them.
Now to go back to the places in the dissertation where I have discussed their work, and make sure it's free of unnecessary snark...
Parrots don't worship technology; they eat it.
I just observed a flock of king parrots systematically removing all the rubber trim from a car in the university carpark. They were having a good go at the tyres too. Unfortunately I didn't have my camera on me.
I think they must have been taking lessons from kea.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
(The solving of it, not the committing.)
Our resident phonetician often gets called on by the police for forensic consulting work. I've always wondered about what secret-squirrel techniques he applies to the recordings they give him, and today I found out.
He gets people like me to listen to a tape of someone yelling, "Open the fucking cash register, mate!" ninety eight times, and asks, "Does that sound like a New Zealander to you?"
To which I was able to reply with a definitive, "No! Uh, that is... No? Actually, maybe just a little bit. Could be... No, I don't really think so, but I wouldn't rule it out."
Just call me Veronica Mars.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Can you develop a nut allergy when you're all growed up already?
I've always had a slight sensitivity to hazelnuts (though not any other nut). They make my throat itch. Last week I ate a whole bowl of them, had a wicked sore throat and itchy mouth all afternoon, and by the evening, was wheezing and coughing like I used to when I had asthma as a kid. (Apart from this, I haven't had problems with asthma for about 15 years, though).
Tonight I had some peanut butter, and now my mouth and throat feel swollen and itchy. And there's some coughing. But no whistley sounds as yet.
In the greatest blogging tradition, I eschew qualified health professionals and instead turn to you, my loyal readers, to provide speculative medical advice.
I should probably just stop eating nuts, right?
I had my first teaching anxiety dream last night, and there's still two and a half weeks to go before classes start. Maybe I should just give up sleeping between now and then. (Actually, that might tie in well with my goal to get the dissertation finished).
In last night's dream, a senior member of our department had come along to observe my first class, and he kept butting in and trying to take over teaching the class every time I paused for breath. Then he arrested four of my students for disorganised thinking. (Did you know that was a crime?)
- Flappy and Flappy haven't come to visit for more than two weeks now. Maybe they are dead.
- There are only three rosellas on my balcony right now. That means one of them doesn't have a mate. And the other pair is being mean to it, even though it is trying desperately to make friends. That makes it a loser outcast under-parrot, and I feel bad for it.
- Sightings on the balcony in the last few days have included king parrots, and today a (slightly confused-looking) galah! This has doubled the number of parrot species that I can watch while eating breakfast in the mornings.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
As Geekman leaves the house:
"I have to meet with my new undergraduate today and talk to him about his project. I don't know how to interact with undergraduates. Is it enough to talk slowly, or do I have to shout?"
Monday, June 25, 2007
Because I'm sure you've always wondered, here's a sample of the sort of conversation that goes on after lights out in the Geek household:
"Are you still awake?"
"No. Maybe. Why?"
"I was thinking... You know that whole specialisation of labour shit? Well, don't you think that would work really well for day-to-day household chores? I mean, we like making muffins and I'm good at feeding parrots, so we could just do that, and someone who's really good at vacuuming could come over and clean our floors, and we could give them muffins and feed their parrots."
"But what if everyone started making muffins? We'd have rampant muffin inflation and they'd end up being worthless."
"No, that would be okay, because not everyone would be as good at making muffins as we are. And anyway, if they all did try and make the best muffins, that would lead to a muffin arms race, and someone somewhere would create the ideal muffin."
"That might be good for muffinkind, but not so much for our economy."
"But we'd still have the perfect muffin. And not just muffins, because then we'd move onto the next baked good. And the next. And we'd gradually evolve not only the perfect muffin, but the perfect cupcake, and the perfect chocolate fudge, and... and... everything! It would all be perfect! And we would eat it! Or the cleaning lady would."
"Oooh! Oooh! I have the best idea! Let's create little computers that can bake things and put them into a simulated muffin-based economy and let them evolve the perfect baked goods for us!"
(Then we slept and dreamed happy dreams of muffins and parrots and fudge.)
Sunday, June 24, 2007
I got tagged and all. I'd sound even more excited if I wasn't hungover. But I'm excited deep down; you just can't tell over the half-closed eyes and gravelly monotone.
- I have to post these rules before I give you the facts.
- Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
- People who are tagged need to write their own post about their eight things and post these rules.
- At the end of your post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
- Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.
- I hosted my first ever successful party last night. You know, one where everyone on the invite list doesn't call thirty minutes beforehand to say they can't make it after all. One where people stay until 2 am, mingle with each other, and generally have so much fun that they just crash on the floor afterwards because they couldn't bring themselves to leave. This ends a string of embarrassing failures dating back to my 13th birthday party, where everyone RSVPed and then secretly arranged to not turn up and instead go party somewhere else without me.
- My incurable optimism means I have repeated these unsuccessful party attempts every year or so ever since then, believing that this time, surely things would be different. And then all of a sudden they were. So there.
- Everyone in my extended family is either a priest (two grandfathers, three uncles, my father) or a teacher (two aunts, a cousin and my mother). I always vowed never to be either. And now teaching is my favourite part of the whole academic whatsamacallit*.
- The universe likes to make jokes at my expense.
- I have embarrassingly bad taste in music. I think this is mostly because I've never really made an effort to listen to lots of random stuff and find out what I like.** I'm sure I'd enjoy music more if I was less ignorant.
- That goes for plants, too. I can't tell a whatsit from a thingummy-jig. I wouldn't know where to start when it comes to gardening, and following other people around their gardens while they point at random greenery is not something I find especially compelling. (But I feel like I should.)
- I'm going to be a bridesmaid for the first time in January. And I get to wear BLACK. (But I haven't bought my tickets for the wedding yet, because I secretly wouldn't put money on the "happy" couple's relationship lasting another six months.)
- Am I up to eight yet?
- Does that count as a random? Does this?
- Sometimes I am indecisive.
I'm not sure who hasn't been tagged already. But if you haven't, I tag: Badaunt, Jana, Lucy (when she gets home), Twirly, Miss M, Queen of West Procrastination, Shrinkykitten, and Wolfangel.
Only if you want to, of course.
Bonus random thing about me: I am undemanding.
*I'm hungover, I tell you. About 90% of my vocabulary seems to have eloped with the rest of my brain.
** Last FM is gradually helping me overcome this deficiency.
Friday, June 22, 2007
Thursday, June 21, 2007
The rosellas are clearly no longer content to wait out the front of the house by the balcony for their morning feedings. Instead, they have decided if they sit around the back in the tree by my bedroom window, they can persuade me to get up and feed them by sheer power of their cuteness.
(Excuse photo quality. The bedroom window has a mesh screen I can't remove.)
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Shrinkykitten has been telling everyone to watch these guys, and I finally got around to watching the first episode of their new show on HBO. I loved it, but the absolute best part was this, the killer robot song.
Updated to replace it with a much better version (longer, with bonus binary solo) that actually fits in the centre column here without overlapping the sidebar.
A while ago I mentioned that I bought some Swedish Reader's Digest magazines from 1980 at the big second-hand book fair. So I've been reading these lately, and the most awesomest thing in them ever has got to be the advertising.
Even the car ads are cool. Do you remember when cars used to be all square and chunky?
We had one of these when I was a kid:
And I want this one. Or maybe I just want the boy in the funky singlet with the bowl haircut.
Which leads me on to people. Did you know that people looked different in 1980?
For this one, we can blame her moisturizer. It makes her keep touching herself.
These ones have no excuse.
And this family has intestinal parasites, so they are excused. (They do! Read the small print!)
This woman is very lucky, because she has a big muscley cartoon man to help her clean the kitchen. But that doesn't explain why her waistband is up round her armpits.
And then there's the sad state of random technology.
Given modern hindsight, this ad is so unfortunate that I have to translate it for you.
["When the Sony Betamax SL-C7 was introduced a few months ago, all other TV-recorders suddenly found themselves to be old-fashioned. Sony's new Betamax quickly became THE TV-recorder that all others came to be measured against. It is simply a yardstick that shows how far the development of video for home use has come."]
The television below is extra funny because of the wording underneath: "Behind this beautiful facade hide the world's best components."
But this one has both colour TV and a data-screen! How can you compare with that?
This radio alarm clock is so cool it gets three exclamation marks!!! And it's only 495 kr, which, according to various websites, is the equivalent of about USD $180 in today's money.
And finally, how could you forget the good old microwave? It's a new, quick way to cook, but with "feeling" and "imagination". I see a lot of feeling and imagination on that plate of meat and three veg.
But it gets better! Microwaving can also be "one of many expressions of the new consciousness". Did you know about this new consciousness? It's also a fact that the quick cooking and the "special way it happens" means the ingredients keep more nutritional value than they do when you cook them traditionally.
So please excuse me. I'm off to indulge my new consciousness in that special way it happens. Meanwhile, please treat your intestinal parasites. I recommend Vanquin.
Monday, June 18, 2007
It's not yet Wednesday, but I'm starting early with the whining.
Whine: I put off posting my mother's spare key* back to her for over a week, dreading the confrontation with the post office service people of doom, certain it would be difficult and complicated. Finally today I convinced myself I was being silly, put it in an envelope, and went to the post office.
- Total queuing time: 1 hour 10 minutes.
- Number of times the people at the counter sent me off to repack my key differently (and then join the back of the queue again): two.
- Number of lectures I got on the importance of postal regulations and properly packed items: three.
Bonus antiwhine: I got off lighter than the person in front of me who was trying to mail an envelope full of of potato chips to Israel.
* I accidentally brought it back to Australia with me.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
On Friday one of my committee members (the geeky one) stopped by my office, and I showed him the pretty new version of Ubuntu I had installed. With Beryl! Hence wobbly windows! And desktop-on-a-cube! He was very impressed.
Then he suddenly got this expression that, in a cartoon, would be represented by a lightbulb appearing above his head. "I have the new Charles Stross book!" he said proudly. "You can borrow it when you finish your thesis."
I laughed at him. "Are you trying to find me an incentive to finish? Do you think the promise of a new book to read would do it?"
"It's Charles Stross!" he said. Then, obviously fearing this might not be enough, "I've got all the Alastair Reynolds books as well."
Last night all my dreams had menu bars across the top. (And since they were nightmares, the file -> exit option was greyed out.)
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Ever since that post, it's been all, "Rhinoceroses don't stop for red lights" and "A rhinoceros wouldn't care about those pedestrians."
Memo to self: blogging about him just encourages him.
Geeka at When do you think you'll be done has just put up the latest Carnival of GRADual Progress.
So hurry on over there for lots of thoughtful and entertaining reading about grad student life, including some from new blogs that haven't appeared in the carnival before. Enjoy!
Friday, June 15, 2007
I had lunch with a pig-puppet! Well, okay, she didn't actually bring her pig-puppet, which was sort of disappointing, but that was the only thing that was. Everything else was totally undisappointing: from the fact that she looked like I imagined (but with extra cuteness), to the way she had just enough of an American accent to give me something to hassle her about, humoured my parrot obsession, and ordered Mars Bar cheesecake for us to share, without even much prompting from me (i.e. just one round of, "Mmm... look at those cakes! I like cheesecake. Do you?")
We even went on a short bookshop-crawl after lunch, and Lucy heroically refrained from laughing disdainfully at what passes for good bookshops in this city. At first I was a little bit overawed at the prospect of being in a bookshop with a person who posted 120 book reviews last year, but it was totally worth it because I got a recommendation for an author I hadn't heard of before, and whose name now totally escapes me. And I managed to pretend to know something about an author Lucy hadn't read (Alexander McCall Smith) and I think I got away with it. (So don't tell her I was bluffing, okay?)
My one regret is that despite talking about it, we both totally forgot to take a picture. We couldn't have done shadows anyway, since the sun appears to have gone on holiday to warmer parts, but we could have at least got a photo of our shoes. I promise to do better next time.
Speaking of next time, whose turn is it now to come to Australia and visit? Come on! I'm lonely down here.
Coming back from the movie 300, I notice Geekman is driving faster and more erratically than usual. When I point this out, he answers with something only semi-intelligible.
"Did you just say what I thought you said?" I ask. "Because I don't think it's good driving practice to pretend you are a war elephant."
He smiles triumphantly. "War RHINOCEROS!"
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Gah! I only saw Miss M's comment when I arrived to do the judging. Too late for bribes, unfortunately, otherwise I would have totally been up for being bought off.
Enough prepositions! On with the judging.
Anonymous with "Can't talk, eating" definitely appealed, and might have won if 1) they weren't anonymous, and 2) I hadn't been worried that I was being influenced by the fact that "Can't talk, eating" is pretty much all I think about anyway.
So, I award first place to... Dr. Brazen Hussy for "How you like them black-eyed peas, Earl?"*
If Styleygeek wants to award a prize for runner up, that will go to Geeka for the most creative approach to coming up with a caption, i.e. bending the rules. I'm all for bending the rules.
Added by me, StyleyGeek (because I am totally incapable of letting someone else have the floor for five minutes):
I will indeed award a prize for runner up. The runner up will get a slightly inferior postcard. So if Dr. Brazen Hussy and Geeka are brave enough to email me their real addresses, a
* You can look it up on Wikipedia; I had to. (SG)
I just tried to find out whether our university had a policy on a particular issue. So I went to the part of the website which links to various university regulations and guidelines. And then had to bang my head vigorously against the desk when scrolling down to the bottom of the list revealed the following links:
Guidelines for a policy on policies! Doesn't it make you want to bite someone? (Preferably an administrator.)
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
When it's so cold in the morning that you can't feel your head, there is a very real danger you will forget to take off your bicycle helmet and wander round the department looking like a total dork.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
Geekman enters with an envelope. "I got this from the real estate agents who manage the apartment. It's an envelope full of receipts for every rent payment we made for the whole past year."
Me: "Is there a letter or something to explain why they sent it?"
Him: "Just this piece of notepaper. It says 'with compliments'." He looks disappointed. "But they didn't give us any compliments. They could at least have said you have nice hair."
Monday, June 11, 2007
Same rules as last time. And like last time, the winner will get a postcard! From me! (Are you excited yet?*) Contest closes midnight on Wednesday, Australian time.
* For anyone uncertain, Bardiac demonstrated the appropriate level of excitement here and here.
Sunday, June 10, 2007
Saturday, June 09, 2007
"Hey Geekman, how come I'm carrying all of the groceries?"
"Back there in the shop, you said I was incompetent. You wouldn't want an incompetent person carrying your food, would you?"
"I never said you were incompetent! Oh except for... okay, I might have said something that implied you were being incompetent."
"Well, if you like, I could say something that implies I might carry some groceries."
My flight back from Christchurch shared a boarding gate with a flight to Singapore, the announcements for which, over the couple of hours I was waiting there, became more and more tragic.
"This is an announcement for Flight XXX to Singapore. Your aeroplane has landed, but appears to be experiencing some mechanical trouble. We have engineers investigating and will make another announcement when we know more."
"This is another announcement for Flight XXX to Singapore. Our engineers have disassembled your plane. We will let you know as soon as they have put it back together."
"This is another announcement for Flight XXX to Singapore. Our engineers have reassembled your plane. However, there appears to be a part missing. We are currently trying to locate this part."
"This is another announcement for Flight XXX to Singapore. We are currently making enquiries as to the availability of replacement aeroplane parts in New Zealand. We will let you know as soon as we have located the part our engineers require."
"This is another announcement for Flight XXX to Singapore. The aeroplane part required for your plane is only available in Australia. We are having one flown in. Your flight will be delayed for at least another four hours. We regret this inconvenience."
"This is another announcement for Flight XXX to Singapore. We are very sorry to announce that there may be further delays to your flight beyond those already anticipated. Your flight crew have now exceeded their shift hours. We are currently inquiring as to the whereabouts of Singapore Airlines staff in New Zealand and will let you know as soon as we have put together a new crew."
At this point in the saga my flight boarded, so I never did find out what happened to the poor passengers on the flight to Singapore. I hope they got well compensated, whatever the outcome, because when I left they were looking like they were about to start a riot.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
I'm home! The 12 hours I spent travelling yesterday were totally worth it because I have my own bed back! And a Geekman! And a clean house! And parrots! And a refrigerator full of moldy food I left there three and a half weeks ago, since Geekman has eaten nothing but toast while I've been gone.
The travelling time was also worth it, because now I have a whole heap of entertaining airport anecdotes to share with you. Well, okay, two. Or maybe three. Let's say two and half. And I will get to those later, after I have done 98 million loads of washing, been to the gym and got drunk on coffee.
Meanwhile, a big thank you to everyone who has now sent me a copy of the Somali article. I hugely appreciate all of your efforts, but it is time to stop! this! madness! There are only so many copies I can use (well, one, to be precise). I feel horribly guilty for not updating yesterday when the first copy arrived in my inbox, but now you know, so you can cancel those interloan requests and go do some of your own work instead of mine.
That will be all, minions.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
My mother to my grandmother: "Are you still having enough pleasant times every day to make it worthwhile being alive?"
My grandmother: "Are you?"
Monday, June 04, 2007
One of ShrinkyKitten's posts today included the sentence "I need can has kitten!" and this reminded me of a weird-ass creole example I came across somewhere. The sad thing is that I copied it down when reading a book on a whole bunch of creoles months ago, and I didn't take note of which creole it was from, since I planned to post it right away and figured I'd remember. But for what it's worth, here is coolness:
"I must be's right."
"What, you must be is right?"
"No, I must be was right when I wrote it."
If you are totally confused, see the explanation after the fold.
This creole uses "must be" as a stronger equivalent of "maybe". Read the exchange again, replacing "must be" with "maybe" and making the verb ("is") agree with the subject (i.e. "I am, you are") as in Standard English, and I guarantee everything will make much more sense.
Sunday, June 03, 2007
The virtual academic sentence generator really did come up with this exchange for me on my first click!
Pootwattle the Virtual Academic(TM) says:
The delegitimization of linguistic transparency is strictly congruent with the epistemology of the public sphere.
Smedley Smedley the Virtual Critic(TM) responds:
Pootwattle's paradoxical yet not contradictory work on the relationship between the delegitimization of linguistic transparency and the epistemology of the public sphere risks being merely polemical.
(Seen at Chicago Beijing)
- Number of times my mother has accidentally locked us out of the house in the last two days*: 2
- Amount of time I spent last night sitting in the back garden at 5 degree temperatures (41 F): 1 hour 15 minutes
- Amount of money Mum has spent on locksmiths and glaziers (at weekend rates): over $200
- Amount of money Mum could have saved if she had only been prepared to wait a couple of hours (in a friend's warm house) for a neighbour with a spare key to get home: over $200
- Amount of time she would have had to wait today if she had chosen this solution: 1 hour 30 minutes (Yesterday, less than an hour)
- Number of other locksmiths and glaziers she called to compare their prices: 0**
- Number of times I suggested that maybe she couldn't afford to call someone out and that I didn't mind waiting: 2
- Number of times today that Mum has complained she can't possibly live on the money she is getting from welfare: 2
- Number of times she hinted to me at the grocery shop this afternoon that maybe I should pay for the food: 4
- Number of times I bit my tongue to stop myself from saying, "If you hadn't called a locksmith and a glazier, you might be able to afford to eat": too many to count.
And that illustrates the problem I have with my mother and money. I (mostly) respect people's right to treat their money the way they want to. In the past, when my mother had a middle-class income, I never said anything about her needless spending (although I admit I totally judged her silently in my head). But now she is trying to live an upper-middle class life on a poverty-line income.
I know how hard it is to be poor. I did it for years myself. But I also know that when you are poor, you wait a few hours to be able to get into your locked house for free, rather than calling out a locksmith at weekend rates. When you are poor, you comparison shop for EVERYTHING. If you have to pay a locksmith, you call every locksmith listed in the phone book and take the cheapest. I do also know that, when you are poor, you sometimes get frustrated with not being able to do what you want when you want, and you spend money that you can't really afford to spend. But when you do that, you cannot then turn around and ask other people (who DO manage their money carefully) to cover your basics.
Or am I just heartless and stingy?
*Last night while I was over at the university library for a couple of hours, Mum decided to go down the road to visit a friend, and locked us both out. (I had taken a key, but she had set the safety chain on that door before leaving). I waited in the garden for her to get home, assuming she had a different key with her, but no such luck. Then this morning I drove her to church, and unbeknownst to me, when she ducked back into the house to get something she had forgotten, she set the deadlock on the back door for "extra safety", then left through the garage, which can be closed manually from outside, but not opened without a remote control that is currently at a repairman's. And of course we didn't have the deadlock key, nor any key to a door other than the one with the deadlock.
**My mother is a big fan of the "call the first name in the phone book and don't ask what they charge" approach.
Friday, June 01, 2007
This really stinks. No, literally. (Where "literally" means "literally", not "metaphorically", even.) Every time I go outside I discover a sudden need to stop breathing.
Make it go away.
* Yes, I'm still spending too much time looking at LOLcats.