Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Where do they get their English?

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

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

(Yes, I'm still marking essays.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Look at my pretty little baby!

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

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

Monday, October 29, 2007

Goal for the semester achieved

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

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

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

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Everything okay?

Friday, October 26, 2007

I feel like the world's meanest teacher

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it's all! my! fault!

Whom is just a word made up to confuse students

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

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hee hee

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

The good, the bad, and the unacceptably pretty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Catholic Church gave us some broad beans

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

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

(This one.)

My happiness is complete.

Monday, October 22, 2007

I thought we were past this stage

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

Sunday, October 21, 2007

What to do, what to do?

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

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

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

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Children of the digital age

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

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

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

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

Interesting Wikipedia article of the week

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

I'm going to the dark side

So which Apple laptop should I get?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Some questions (and OOPS)

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

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

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

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

I love the free food around my university.

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

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

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

Monday, October 15, 2007

I thought physicists were logical

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

Geekman: "You're so pretty!"

Me: "It's dark."

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

Me: "???"

Geekman: "It cancels out."

Sunday, October 14, 2007

I see through your cunning ploy

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

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

Email I got from a student yesterday:

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

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

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

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

(Can you tell I went shopping today?)

Saturday, October 13, 2007

What next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 12, 2007

I heart my supervisor

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

I think the parrots like it too.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Two things that are messed up

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

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

Today's little hurdle

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

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

I took my thesis in to be bound today.

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

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

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

"I wouldn't know."

"Okay... What would you recommend?"

"You can just get it comb-bound."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So I asked for tape binding after all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Tomorrow? Really? Well!"

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

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

And then I went outside and felt like shit.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Fat bastard

Doing his best chicken impression.

Monday, October 08, 2007

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

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

The propaganda is working.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Now for the important question

What colour should my dissertation cover be?

Saturday, October 06, 2007


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

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

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

Friday, October 05, 2007

Why is it

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

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Today is just not going so well

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well fuck it.

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

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

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

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

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

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

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

Hello love,

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

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

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