Sunday, December 28, 2008

Weather watching: ur doing it rong.

Me: "Look at that rain!"
Geekman: "Yes, I'm watching it on the rain radar."
Me: "I'm watching it OUT THE WINDOW."


Geekman: "Are you ready to go for that walk yet?"
Me: "It's still raining!"
Geekman: "Not really. The rain radar says it has basically stopped."
Me: "The window says otherwise, but if you think it's clearing, we could go in a few minutes."


We're outside. It's raining on our heads. That is to say, I have an umbrella and appropriate clothing. Geekman is wearing a t-shirt and shorts and getting soggy. He keeps pretending he wants to cuddle, but really he's trying to steal my umbrella.

Me: "The rain radar says you don't need an umbrella."
Geekman: "I don't. It's practically stopped."

The rain increases in intensity.

Me: "Let's just go back to the house."
Geekman: "Good plan. We could stop there briefly on the way to the rest of our walk."
Me: "See, you DO want to get an umbrella and a raincoat."
Geekman: "No, I just need to check to see whether the rain is clearing yet."
Me: "It's not!" (Drip, drip, splash.)
Geekman (sighs): "On the RADAR."

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Fa la la la la, heh heh heh heh

We have a stranded American physicist coming over for Christmas dinner tomorrow. I'm thinking it's a great chance to do really weird things and convince him they are Australian Christmas traditions. (He is taking revenge in advance by promising to bring a pumpkin pie.)

So, what are some exciting new Australian Christmas traditions I haven't thought of yet?

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

I'm not sure if this is more "boy who cried wolf" or "lecturer (me) whose evilness comes back to haunt her"

I was just talking to a colleague and she mentioned a student essay that was just handed in. This might not sound so weird to those of a Northern Hemisphere persuasion, but down here semester finished in OCTOBER and now it's mid summer and Christmas and all.

My colleague mentioned the student's name—let's call him Stu—and I was all, "Oh god, that Stu. I had him last semester and I have never seen a bigger pile of lazy, excuse-manufacturing, plagiarising shit."

Colleague merely raises her eyebrows, so I take that as a cue to keep whining. "He didn't show up until three weeks into the course. Was late to every class. Didn't hand in half the assignments. What he did hand in was 100% off-topic or plagiarised or both. Had a medical certificate for everything: 'Stu cannot sit exams. It makes his eyes hurt. Please find alternative assessment.' 'Stu cannot wipe his ass as he has extremely short arms. Please make sure ass-wiping is not a necessary skill in this course.'"

"So anyway," I continue. "I hope he had a REALLY good excuse for handing in your essay two months after classes ended."

"Well..." begins Colleague, "He did spend the last few weeks of semester in hospital for open-heart surgery. And he has had a lot of complications during his recovery. He said his heart problem has been an issue all year and that he's missed a lot of class and work due to it. I thought it was only fair to make allowances."

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Clearly we have different definitions of 'formality'

Geekman: I think my talk at [conference] went pretty well. But I'm worried that it was maybe too informal.

Me: Informal talks are great! I much prefer to listen to someone talking about their research like a real live person than someone standing stiffly behind a lectern and reading off a script.

Geekman: Maybe... but all the same, next time I think I might wear shoes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

At least this way I can imagine it was a charity I actually support

Me: "I just talked to my mother. She said she didn't know what to get me for Christmas and kind of ran out of time, so she donated some money to a charity instead. But she's forgotten which one."

Geekman: "It's the thought that counts... The problem is, she doesn't think."

Saturday, December 13, 2008

We grovel abjectly and automatically

I just got the following email from my bank:

Dear customer,

On 24 November 2008, you were incorrectly charged an overdrawn fee on your account. Please be assured that this error was corrected within a 24 hour period and any associated fees have been reversed.

We sincerely regret this matter and unreservedly apologise for any inconvenience it may have caused you. We have taken all the steps necessary to return to the highest levels of reliability and service that you are used to from NetBank.

This is an automatically generated email advice.

Is it just me, or is the combination of "we sincerely regret this matter" and "this is an automatically generated email" a bit of an oxymoron?

Friday, December 12, 2008

In case you're really stuck for entertainment

I just imported a whole heap of stuff I wrote in 2007 into this blog. They were teaching-related posts I put on another, more anonymous blog at the time, and some of you probably read them over there.

If you didn't, and you're stuck for something to read, you'll find them now posted here under the label "teaching", and on dates ranging from July to November 2007.

The generosity of the first half of the second sentence in this email overwhelms me

In related news, we had the following email from our administrators recently:

Dear casual employees,

Due to our recent funding shortages, we are no longer able to pay overtime. You may continue to work after hours and on public holidays if necessary, but please fill in your time sheets as though you haven't.


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

For some mysterious reason, I am angry all the time lately

Actual conversation:

Person from the Research Office: "Hello, I'm calling about your application for a teaching innovation grant."

Me: "Hi. Yes, thanks, I received your letter saying I was unsuccessful."

PRO: "Well I wanted to follow up on this. Basically we thought your proposal was a great idea and really important. I think you should go ahead and do it anyway!"

Me: "Without funding?"

PRO: "That's right."

Me: "Well, you see, I'm not actually employed to teach the course in question. The grant application was a joint proposal between me and the guy who IS teaching it. He was willing to let me develop the materials I mentioned, paying me from the funds we applied for."

PRO: "But, you know, it's so important to have interactive online materials for modern courses. And it sounded like yours would have been very effective."

Me: "I agree. That's why we APPLIED FOR THE GRANT."

PRO: "So, you should contact one of our Educational Designers. They might be able to give you the technological assistance you require to develop those materials."

Me: "I don't require technological assistance. I require to be paid some money. So that I can afford my rent. And not have to spend all day diagramming sentences for Microsoft.* [Okay, those last two sentences might have just happened in my head. Not in the actual conversation.]"

PRO: "Your plan was to develop, um, a class blog, right? And wiki?"

Me: "No. Not a blog. The main materials would have been interactive online environments where the students could play around with some real language data, which we were going to digitise from simplified versions of people's fieldwork. There would be built in hints and guidance for exploring it, and relating it to the readings and lectures. [Thinking: if you had actually READ my grant proposal, you would have known this.] We were going to set up a wiki alongside this, so that the students could collaborate on their analyses."

PRO: "Right. A wiki! Yes, wikis are great! So, how about you contact the educational designer I mentioned? She'll show you how to set up a class wiki. It's very easy to do, so you probably didn't need all that funding you applied for anyway."

Me: "I'm hanging up now. Goodbye." [Okay, that last line was just in my head too. Instead I politely re-explained why I wouldn't be pursuing this project (BECAUSE I DO NOT HAVE A JOB HERE. IT IS NOT MY COURSE) and eventually he went away.]


* Looks like this might actually be my new money earner. Big. woo. hoo.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Geekman the Romantic

"I missed you while I was at my conference."

"I'm surprised you had time to miss me."


"Well, you were so busy, and all your friends were there."

"But you're a different class of friend."

"I'm classy."

"You're the thief class."


"You steal bits of me... Like my heart."

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Compare and contrast

Geekman has just been away at his centre's big annual conference. Let's compare these conferences with OUR big annual conference, mkay? (For the sake of fairness, I'll compare the situation for full time ongoing faculty in our department with the same in his.)

Locations of our big conference the last three years:
2008: Sydney (inner city)
2007: Adelaide (inner city)
2006: Melbourne (inner city)

Locations of his big conference the last three years (actual town names left off, in case of identifiability):
2008: Luxury Australian beach town; famous Australian wine region
2007: Famous New Zealand adventure/skiing resort; famous NZ tourist centre
2006: Famous Australian beach resort region.

Yes, his conferences tend to be multi-location. I.e. it's the same people and topics, they just move location halfway through in order to get to spend time in more exciting places.

Amount of funding/expenses covered

Our department: each faculty member is generously given $200 per year to spend on a conference of their choice! (It might just about cover a registration fee.) Accommodation, transport, meals, other expenses are all covered out of one's own pocket.

Geekman's centre: everything is fully covered. Accommodation, transport, some food, registration, is all paid by the centre. Even for grad students. (As a comparison, one of the grad students in our department was recently INVITED to give a talk at a prestigious conference in the USA, but the dept still won't give her any money towards her expenses.)

Conference amenities

Our conferences:
  • Discounted internet access (e.g. only $20 a week instead of by the hour).
  • Some free canapes and wine at book launches, of which there is usually one or two per conference.
  • If you are young enough, you can probably buy coffee and food on campus at the discounted student price, if they forget to check ID.
  • Sometimes there's an official conference welcome session with a little food, but it's always run out before I fight my way to the front of the queue.
  • Our conference dinners usually cost $40-$60 a head, excluding drinks.

Geekman's conferences:
  • Free coffee and wireless internet from an espresso bar during the day.
  • Free canapes and wine every evening at poster sessions.
  • The conference dinner is paid for by the centre.
  • Sometimes free lunch is included.

And of course the thing that rankles most:

The conference bags

Here's what they gave out at Geekman's conference this year:

Admire, if the photo doesn't obscure it too much, the heavy canvas, the strong zips, the stylish design.

And here's mine:

Yes, it does indeed resemble one of those $1 canvas shopping bags. But it's not quite. No, this is MORE FLIMSY than the shopping bags I use. If you hold it up to the light, it's actually see-through. However, mine contained a PEN. I don't think the physicists got pens. DID YOU, physicists? No. Hah.

Awesome. N'est-ce pas?

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I won something on the internet!

I won I won I won I won I won I won!

Blogging is SO not an unproductive waste of time. It can win you nerdy baby items*. And fame. And stuff. (Okay, so maybe not so much with the fame. But I bet there are now at least three extra people in the world who know my... pseudonym.)

Go me!


* Which I'm going to interpret as a sign** that things will work out for Claudia and Rob. Otherwise I wouldn't have anyone to give these to and would have to keep them all for me to stroke and gloat over. (Which, actually, wouldn't be so bad either...)

** Even though I don't believe in signs.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

How not to respond to emails: crazy person edition

Dear colleagues,

I am compiling the centre's newsletter, and would like to invite you to email me details of any recent news or publications to include. It would be greatly appreciated if you would format your publication details using an author-date bibliographic system, so that I can just copy and paste them into the newsletter.

Colleague X

Colleague X then forwarded me people's responses to this email, as in reality I am compiling the newsletter, not her.

These are actual COMPLETE responses:

1. "Can you put in the details of my tone thingy from last year?"

2. "Wasn't there a student who finished in April? You should include his dissertation."

3. "My paper with [Colleague Y] will probably be published soon."

4. "You could write something about my grant."

5. "Don't forget my conference paper from [Big Conference earlier this year]."

Monday, December 01, 2008

Note to self:

Dear Self,

Even if you are nervous about the contents of an email, reading it with one eye closed and the other only half open is not actually going to make it less frightening. That only works for horror movies.

For email, it just makes things blurry.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Learned helplessness: you're doing it... quite well akshully.

Colleague: "StyleyGeek, do you remember how you offered to turn the centre newsletter into pdf?"

Me: "Yes. Have you finished it? Just send me the file."

Colleague: "Well, really, it's so hard to get the formatting right... But I have all the bits and pieces to go in it. It's just they are in separate files. If I sent them to you, would you put them together and then create the pdf?"

Me: "I guess I could do that. It's going on the website, right? I'll pay myself out of the website development budget."

Colleague: "Okay, great. What's best? Shall I zip them up and email the zipped archive to you?"

Me: "Sure."

Colleague: "Okay. So... how do I do that? Could you come along to my office and show me?"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Three embarrassing confessions

(1) When I post a letter, I try to peer through the slot to see if it really went in. Somehow I don't believe that it's sitting there happily waiting for the postman, but suspect instead that it popped off to some extra dimension for a holiday. Perhaps it's a hangover from my obsessive habit of checking my "sent" folder after firing off an email. I don't think I used to worry about letters so much before the advent of the internet and emails that so frequently go astray.

(2) Similarly, when I transfer money electronically, I can't help but obsess that I typed a number wrong somewhere and sent it scuttling into the bank account of some random (but very happy, and probably not Nigerian) stranger.

(3) I have absolutely no idea how big an ounce is, or about its relationship to a pound. Pounds are easy. They are similar to a packet of butter. Except now I can't remember if it's a 500g packet of butter or a 250g packet*. For all I know, though, an ounce might be defined as 3.75 Imperial Wombles.


* which we now buy since our supermarket sells the exact same brand in both sizes, and two 250g packets are cheaper than buying one 500g packet. (Methinks someone else doesn't have a clear idea of weights and measures either.)


Claudia's not pregnant.

Three more frozen opportunities are waiting, but probably not until next year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

New policy

I think students who can't calculate their own grades should fail the course.

I'm not talking about a small flaw in addition here, but a complete inability to comprehend the way the grades add up, leading to a full-scale email war.

Dear StyleyGeek,

I see I got 73 on my final essay. Why is my mark for the course only 68?

Stu Dent.

Dear Stu Dent,

As you will see from the syllabus on the website, handed out in the first week of class, the distribution of marks are as follows:

Assignment 1: 10 marks
Assignment 2: 15 marks
Essay: 15 marks
Weekly homework: 10 marks
Final exam: 50 marks.

Your marks were as follows: [details redacted to protect the clueless]

Therefore your final mark (add these all up) comes to 68%.


Dear StyleyGeek,

I thought you said the essay could count for the whole mark of the course?


Dear Stu,

No, this is not the case. What you may be confusing this with is the policy about the final exam. If a student submits all work on time, AND the final exam mark, as a percentage, is higher than the marks of all the work added together, then the FINAL EXAM MARK stands as the final mark. This is also explained in the syllabus, along with some examples of possible scenarios. Your final exam mark was only 58% (29 out of 50). Therefore it is lower than your total mark of 68% and this policy does not apply to you.


Dear StyleyGeek,

So why don't I get 73%?

Stu Dent.

God, I wish course transcripts had an option where the lecturer could just enter in the grade column: EPIC FAIL.


So the teaching period finished four weeks ago. Over last three weeks, the students had their final exams, and in upper-level courses, final projects and essays were due. Last week and this week everyone was frantically marking marking marking until—phew—it's done.

Then last night, an hour before final grades were due, one prof in our department emailed all faculty:

Dear all,

In my [undergraduate] course on [X] this semester, I was glad to find the [20] students wrote excellent final essays on interesting topics. I attach scanned copies of them all, as I'm sure you will find them worth the read.

Prof. Optimistic.
I wish I lived in his universe, where, after marking all the final essays for your own course, you are eager and excited to read everyone else's as well.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

I would like to know

What are people thinking when they label medicine sold in Australia as, "must be stored between 15 and 25 degrees C"?

We don't all have air conditioning.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Okay, this is getting silly

So this time they thankfully didn't do any damage. They just broke in (not hard now that the front window doesn't actually close and the back one still doesn't have any glass in it), and moved our car to a different parking space in our building's garage.

Is someone trying to make a point?

Friday, November 21, 2008

If I shrink my browser window, it makes online banking even safer!

You know how on Firefox 3, secure sites have a green block filling up part of the location bar?

Although I know it's untrue, I can't help feeling like sites where the green bit fills up most of the bar are more secure than ones where it only fills up a little bit.

Good thing my bank has a long name...

I rest my case

A small group of us who are casual lecturers (adjuncts in American terminology) recently received a grant from the university to conduct a survey of early career lecturers across campus, to find out what conditions and resources are like, and what sorts of needs there is for training and support.

One of our main hypotheses was that there are a lot more casual lecturers than the university realises, and that they tend to be teaching bigger courses with worse support and fewer resources than is commonly thought to be the case. We suspected that casual employees fall between the cracks because they are often not around when it comes to departmental reviews; they don't tend to show up in official publications like the university handbook (usually the person the casual lecturer is filling in for is listed as the course convener even when on leave), or in official university statistics.

So we created our survey. It got ethics clearance. We sent it to the university's official survey-putting-up technical people, along with instructions about who we are trying to survey and why.

The survey went live yesterday.

Today I find that—guess what?—surveys by default aren't open to casual employees, and the technical people didn't think of changing this option.

Casual lecturers trying to fill out a survey about whether or not the university ignores them get a pretty little red error message: access denied. Because they're only casuals.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

I like the "traveling through time" line best

How to get out of paying your bills. (Or not.)

Final egg update (well, for now, anyway)

When last we left our valiant heroine embryos, 21 of them had successfully fertilized. The reports up until Sunday were quite cheerful, but then the "Scientist" started to be cagey and said calming things like, "We can't tell for sure whether they have stopped developing, or if they're just slow," and "Claudia should come to Sydney on Monday as planned, but we can't say whether the transfer* will go ahead then or not."

The transfer DID, however, go ahead. There WAS a successful five-day embryo to transfer, and three more to freeze.

So although the numbers are lower than we had initially expected, there's a pretty good chance of success even with this first attempt, and a few back-ups just in case.

The doctor who did the transfer was an utter and total wanker, however: rude, patronising and completely unprofessional. The details are not my story to share, but if anyone reading this is considering IVF in Sydney, please email me and I'll tell you who it was and why you want to stay (in a galaxy***) far far away.


* "The transfer" sounds so much less squicky than "The Implantation" (of DOOOOM**).
** Somehow that bit of the sentence just appeared in this post for no reason under my control at all.
*** That bit of the sentence also turned up unexpectedly. My blog posts are now writing themselves. (*rubs hands together in glee*

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A question with no right answer

Reading this post, especially the bit about the "gotcha" approach to a job candidate, reminded me of the worst. question. ever, asked by one of our faculty members in the question time at the end of a recent job talk.

"I was just wondering," the faculty member began, as the (young, clearly nervous) candidate smiled tentatively, "whether the reason you cited my book in the reference list on your handout was just because you found out that I'm on the selection committee?"

Social networking: ur doin it rong.

Geekman enters the room. Cackles. "Someone else has tried to friend me! That will show them!"

"Have you ever thought that you might want to accept a friend request now and again rather than just hanging out in your own corner of Facebook all by yourself?"

"But it's so much fun watching them queuing up for my attention. And being DENIED!"

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Warning: ten-mile long post ahead

By the numbers:

  • Eggs retrieved: 48
  • Eggs successfully fertilised: 21
  • Average number of eggs fertilised in an IVF cycle (according to statistics from a different state, though I couldn't find any for ours): 5.5
  • Number of hours it usually takes to drive from Sydney to our city: 3-ish
  • Number of hours it took us yesterday: 9
  • Amount of time spent on side of road, waiting for the NRMA, tow-trucks and our heroic rescuers driving in to give us a lift back: 5
  • Amount of furniture purchased by Claudia and Rob at IKEA while in Sydney: 50 metric shitloads (think: entire lounge fittings; entire bathroom fittings; light fittings for most of the house; multiple storage "solutions"... I think they're suffering from premature nesting syndrome, along the lines of, "Oh my god! Our babies will never agree to leave their petri dishes unless they know they will have a house full of pretty IKEA furniture to look forward to!")
  • Number of times we* had to load and unload all this shit, due to the above-mentioned breakdown: 4

The retrieval itself was much less unpleasant than I had expected. I was happy and relaxed due to the fact that the car had not broken down on the way to Sydney the day before; we had had a fun trip to IKEA, followed by a fancy dinner at an Italian restaurant (OMG: seafood risotto with entire crab lurking underneath***), and a night in a swanky 5-star hotel.

We arrived at the hospital at 8am, as requested, to find they had lost all our paperwork. So spent the next half hour filling out forms that we had already filled out twice before, which was not entirely so awesome.

Then came flappy gown and silly bootie time.

The surgeon came and talked to me, followed by the anaesthetist, followed by—wait for it—The Scientist. Yes, she was introduced to us as "The Scientist" (and looked suitably embarrassed when we pointed out that at least three of the four of us were also scientists by any definition) and no, I never got clear exactly on what her role was. I guess she was in charge of the actual fertilisation and babysitting the developing embryos. But introducing her as "the Babysitter" might not have sounded quite so impressive.

My memories of the operating theatre are a bit hazy, but I do recall surprise at how many more people were present than I would have thought necessary. I'm still not quite sure what that was about. Maybe they all wanted to see superwoman with her over-active ovaries. The surgeon was nice and held my hand and talked to me about IKEA until I went under. The last thought I recall was being baffled about the lack of stirrups. I still don't quite see how the mechanics of the retrieval could work without stirrups. Weird.

I woke up an hour and a half later feeling really quite lovely, thank you very much and isn't codeine wonderful? Someone had stuck a post-it to me that said "48", which is apparently the new way to communicate with patients.

It wasn't long after that that they let me go. I was supposed to wait until I'd absorbed a litre worth of IV fluids, but I drank three cups of coffee while waiting and they decided that would do the job instead. (Go caffeine addiction!) So then we moved on to the next stage of our adventure: hanging out on the side of the road, not even a third of the way home.

Hanging out of the side of the road not even a third of the way home:

The first thing to go wrong was that the van's engine cut out. On the highway. At 110 km per hour. We trundled onto the shoulder and Rob spent the next hour under the van**** having repeats of the following dialogue with Claudia:

Rob: "Turn the ignition on and rev it until the engine dies. Then turn it on again and repeat."

Claudia: "Okay."

[VROOM rev rev rev rev splutter. VROOOM]

Rob: "OWW!"

[Claudia turns the ignition off.]

Rob: "No! Turn it on!"

Claudia: "But you said 'ow!'"

Rob: "I need you to keep turning it on!"

Claudia: "Even when you say 'ow'?"

Rob: "It's only a bit of electrocution."

Eventually they got the engine going long enough for Rob to disconnect the starter motor while leaving the van running, as the starter motor seemed to be part of the problem. So at that point the engine stayed on as long as the ignition key was pressed firmly to the right.

This meant Rob had to drive with one hand while holding the key in the "on" position with the other.

And this led, in turn, to an exciting manoeuvre (again, on the motorway at 110km per hour) where I, from the passenger seat, had to take over the steering while Rob attacked the ignition barrel with a screwdriver. While driving. At 110 km per hour. On the motorway. Did I mention 110km per hour?

Finally the engine died again and was totally unrestartable. Which is where the tow truck came in. Unfortunately the tow truck would only take us as far as the next town, 17km away, because the nice man from the NRMA was unable to diagnose the problem given the huge number of IKEA flat packs that were wedged above the spot in the van where the engine lurks. (Yes, I know: engine underneath a seat: not the smartest design in the world.)

So then followed a pleading phone call to one of Rob's grad students, who was persuaded to check out the department truck ("Reason: picking up lab supplies") and drive 200km each way to come and get us. I felt vaguely uncomfortable about such shameless exploitation of one's students, but damn, I felt more uncomfortable about sitting in the middle of nowhere all night.

I won't dwell on the rest of the trip back, but suffice it to say there were false starts, wrong directions, and a severe shortage of rope for tying the load on the back of the truck down with. There was also one passenger recovering from a small operation (whee, hi, codeine is my friend!), one with a migraine, and one in the initial stages of flu.


Claudia documented every step of the trip home with her camera, and fully intends to use these pictures as the opening pages of her future offspring's baby albums.

Which is kind of awesome, really.

Also: 21 embryos!

In conclusion, I like codeine. Thank you.

*I use the term "we" loosely, because ha, one of us just had an operation and was lying back peacefully on a picnic rug on the grass** while everyone else did all the work.

**I use this term loosely too, since actually we were on the gravel shoulder of your typical Australian motorway, and the closest thing to grass was a few patches of thistles and mountains of peeling eucalyptus bark. Also a few dead and rotting animals, and suspicious numbers of feathers. Ah well, the whoosh-whoosh, whoosh-whoosh of passing traffic was a peaceful soundtrack for the whole experience.

*** How does one eat a crab anyway? I was presented with a nutcracker, a long thin poky-stick, and a finger bowl. I cracked and poked and splashed and really made very little progress. But it was fun trying.

****They're experimentalists. Bodging dodgy mechanical stuff together is what they DO.

Monday, November 10, 2008

So it's Wednesday (because I have scary ovaries)

22 follicles ready to go, and another 21 undersized. For those keeping score (so, um, none of you, I guess), that's around three times the average number. No wonder I feel like someone inserted a freight train in my abdomen.

Fortunately I did manage to find people to make the conference run smoothly. No single person will be present for the whole thing, but I'm thinking of it as an experiment in distributed organisation. Surely if for every session there is someone who is ultimately responsible, nothing can go wrong, can it?

(Except between the sessions. And lunch and tea breaks, while important, are not the MOST essential part of a conference. Except when you're a grad student, I guess.)

Sunday, November 09, 2008


So the egg retrieval was meant to be Friday. Turns out, I'm responding extra-specially well to the medication. (Yay me.)

They're saying Wednesday.

Crap crap crappity.

On Wednesday, I am running a conference. All day. I'm being paid to do this. And I can't for the life of me think who would be able to take over. Everyone I know is either presenting at the conference, or only able to be there for part of the day. Someone is going to have to set up, pack up, herd presenters and session chairs to the right places, deal with any technological problems, liaise with the caterers, put out any fires, kiss the appropriate arses...

And in case I didn't mention, the egg retrieval is in a different city. So it's definitely an all-day thing. Maybe even a drive-up-the-night-before sort of thing.

I have no idea how I'm going to sort this one out. Let's just hope my follicle growth slows the fuck down, okay?

A tale of prescience and impressive judgment

Back when I was in fourth form, a friend of mine who even then had political ambitions walked into Labour party headquarters, tackled a then-minor party member, and attached himself to him like a sycophantic limpet for the next decade. By doing errands and being a sort of general assistant/intern, this friend of mine hoped to (a) get insight into how politics worked, and (b) end up close to a man who my friend claimed would one day be prime minister.

We made a lot of fun of him for that. That guy? Prime minister?

My friend still hangs around with him.

And today in the news, Helen Clark resigns leadership of the Labour party, and "that guy" looks like he'll be taking over.

Heh. I hope you're feeling vindicated, my friend.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Liveblogging the NZ election

(Because what could be more thrilling to readers than an election they don't care about in a country they've probably never heard of?)

Friday 7th November: 2:30pm
Oh shit. Places where New Zealanders in Australia can vote probably aren't open tomorrow, are they? And I still can't download my freaking papers, since the electronic geni(us)es can no longer find me on the system. I'd better go vote.

Friday 7th November: 2:49pm
Well that was easy.
Now what?

Saturday 8th November: 3pm
I wonder if anywhere in this city will be showing the election coverage live on a big screen? Or, you know, at all? I could do with being drunk and patriotic in public.
I google "nz election party" + [this city].
Hah. Yeah. Bad search combination. I mean the OTHER sort of party, Google!

Saturday 8th November: 5:30pm
The polling booths in NZ closed at 5pm our time, so maybe there'll be something to blog about now.
Ah. Yes. Okay.
I think it's already over. 3.5% of the vote has been counted and National is well in the lead. Even ACT looks like it's going to romp into a seat or two or five.
Farewell, Helen Clark. I liked you quite a lot, akshually.
Shortest. Liveblogging. EVER.

Saturday 8th November: 5:39pm
I quickly write a blog post that isn't really "live" at all. Unless you are some sort of time traveller. Shhh! Maybe no one will notice.

Saturday 8th November: 5:43pm
I read back through this post checking for typos. Am horrified to see that Blogger underlines "Zealanders" as a spelling error. It suggests I change it to "Philanders" or "Colanders". Fuck you too, Blogger.

SPECIAL BREAKING NEWS: Saturday 8th November: 6:09pm
They haven't counted my vote yet, the bastards. I know this because I went to look at my electorate details and under "votes counted" it lists "special votes: 0".
They'd better count it before declaring a victor; that's all I have to say.

Saturday 8th November: 9:29pm
Clark concedes and it's all over. National will be forming a government together with ACT (gah).
They've counted my vote now, apparently, but it didn't help.
The silver lining is that NZ First not only didn't make the 5% threshold, but they didn't get any electorates this time around, either. Poor little Winnie...

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Also, WTF?

The New Zealand accent: you're doing it wrong.

Does anyone else remember Rainbow?

I was having a nostalgic browse through old kids TV shows on Youtube today (inspired by Flea's mention of The Electric Company). And then I googled Rainbow.

Did everyone but me already know about this episode? It shows Zippy, George and Bungle in a whole new light...

(Supposedly it was an episode the cast and crew made as a private joke, but that then escaped and made its way onto the (adult, thankfully) air.)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations, America!

I'm so happy for you.

The butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker?

At the pub the other night I spent a long time watching the table across from ours, trying to work out what discipline the group belonged to. I'll warn you now, I don't have an answer, but I'm soliciting guesses.


  1. There were two old guys who looked like they should have retired long ago, both wearing casual clothes (jeans and t-shirts) and both with extreme amounts of white facial hair. I'm guessing they were the profs.
  2. Then there were nine young people. All but one were female. They all looked like they were in their early twenties.
  3. Every single one of the young women was wearing black. At least on top. Funky yet expensive-looking. And large, sometimes ethnic-looking jewelry.
  4. They all had short-and-funky haircuts.
  5. They were talking in groups of twos and threes, and while the conversations sounded friendly, none of them ever smiled.

So, it's a discipline where most students are female, but the profs are male. It's not law, because they weren't wearing suits. They were too dressed up to be anthropologists, and wearing too much black to be most sorts of scientists that I could recognise. And they take themselves too seriously.

So, history? Literature? Philosophy? They looked unhappy enough to be philosophers...

What does your radar tell you? Who do you think they are?

Monday, November 03, 2008

Things that make you go EEK

It would appear that I should, indeed, have expected the unexpected. And the unexpected was having to get up early too many times in a row, and freakishly long needles.

There have been three times since I started this egg donation process (despite over-exposure to corny counselor-speak, I refuse to call it a 'journey') where something inside my brain went HOLD ON WAIT WTF WHY ARE WE DOING THIS AGAIN EXACTLY UM NO THANXKBAI.

The first was, weirdly, when the IVF specialist was telling me about when I should abstain from sex (no, wait, this isn't the freaky bit), and then she said, "And you know, if you were to get pregnant during this, the kid would be Rob and Claudia's baby's half-sibling... Of course, that will be the case if you have kids one day, anyway."

And I was all, WHOA, DUDE (although actually, just now typing this I was all, "WHO—no, wait, that's a different word—WHAO—now that just looks wrong, um—WHOO—fuckit, let's just go with DUUUUDE"). Because although I had assimilated the idea that I would be genetically related to Claudia and Rob's kid, I hadn't made the really-not-so-far-akshully mental leap to the fact that we were creating partial siblings for my future potential OFFSPRING. Weird.

The second DUUUUUDE moment was when my ginormous parcel of medical freakiness turned up on Friday. It was like Christmas! Only with more injectables.

So really only like Christmas if you're a heroin addict. A heroin addict with unhealthily enabling family members. Who live far enough away that they post you your presents in a box instead of spending Christmas with you. Or maybe they don't like you enough to spend Christmas with you because you're all hyped up on drugs, haven't washed your hair in six months, and are likely to steal their purses when they turn their backs to baste the Christmas turkey.

Let's stop this analogy now and look at a picture instead.

Now, leaving aside that the packet insert for the injection lists the ingredients as "follitropin beta rch, produced by a Chinese hamster [...]" (I kid you not), the thing that really disturbed me was the following:

These are six (SIX) blood draw requests, each stating that they need to happen at 7:30am, on the other side of the city. This is the bit no one told me! Daily injections? Yeah fine, whatever. Various doctors' appointments? Okay. People poking around in your girly parts with something sharp? If we must. But getting up before 7am every day for a week??? NO THANKS. (Don't worry: I'll do it. But I'm not going to like it.)

And the most recent squeaky brain moment (I bet you saw this coming; what can I say? I'm far-sightedness challenged): the injections. Did you read that bit above about, "Yeah yeah, injections are no big deal, whatever"? That was the mindset BEFORE I saw the needle. See, I know the meaning of the word subcutaneous. My cutaneous doesn't go very deep. So I was guessing there'd be a little teensy tiny short stabby needle. I can jab things in. No worries. (Mate.)

Behold! The MOTHERFUCKING OH HOLY SHIT NO LET'S NOT needle. (With finger, for scale).

Now, I bet you're thinking, "Oh, that's not so long. My [splinter/acupunture equipment/dead grandmother] is longer than that!"

But you see, that's what's known as a skewed sense of scale due to the fact that you aren't plunging the freaking thing straight into your stomach. Let me quote from the instruction manual: "insert the entire needle straight into the skin".

Saturday night was the first time I had to do this. For ten minutes I sat there looking at the needle, looking at my stomach, turning hot and cold and hyperventilating and thinking LET'S NOT DO THIS, OKAY? OKAY?

And then I did it.

And it wasn't so bad, except for the bit where you have to leave the needle in for five seconds afterwards and your hand is shaking and you have visions of the sharp bit blithely wandering back and forth through important internal organs and shredding them into pieces. Except not really, because it can't do that. Right? Right?

Or like yesterday when you stick the needle in and then realise you aren't holding the "pen" (nice euphemism guys, but really, it's fooling no one) in a way that lets you reach the button to press to actually make the dose come out. So you have to pull it out, rearrange, and try again.

But tonight was better. In fact, tonight, I injected myself in the middle of this post and you didn't even notice, did you? Hah.

I was kind of randomly wittering on here in the hope that I would spontaneously type something clever that nicely rounded out this post, made it sound like there was some sort of overall point to it, and tied the end cleverly back to the beginning. But I think we've all realised that's not about to happen.

So, um, okay. Bye.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

New voting policy

I think in this election I'm going to vote by a process of elimination. Any party whose website has annoying flash-based graphics, or that uses the word incentivisation is getting crossed off my list. So is any party that lists as one of its priorities "breath of life from our ancestors."

I've pretty much decided what I'm doing with my party vote. But I'm worried about my electorate vote. (Well, not seriously concerned, because it's not like Brownlee isn't going to win no matter what I do.)

Usually as a matter of course I would give my electorate vote to Labour, since the smaller parties' candidates have no chance of winning in Ilam, and Labour needs all the help it can get. But this election, their guy's profile doesn't inspire me in any way that doesn't involve getting seriously stabby with a red pen. I'm perfectly aware that you can't judge a person's intelligence by their competence in a second language. But you can judge them for not caring enough or being self-aware enough to employ a good editor. "There area good mixed of people in this electorate."? "Our Labour Lead Government give the Health back to all New Zealander."? AND I'm not convinced that "raise enough funding to run next year campaign" should appear in your list of what you want to achieve in your term as MP.

On the other hand he does seem likely to be a good advocate for immigrants and minorities (not merely because he is one himself, but judging from the line under "services" where he offers help dealing with the Immigration Department, and translation/interpretation in seven languages).

Incidentally, as today's internet surfing consisted in equal parts of reading American blogs talking about the US election, and reading up on the NZ election to try to make a decision, it struck me that North Americans usually talk about whether they will "vote for Obama" or "vote for McCain". You hardly ever hear about NZers talking about "voting for Clark" or "voting for Key" (admittedly, you sometimes hear someone say they are "voting for Helen"). But generally NZers seem to talk about voting for a party, rather than for a person.

This reminds me of a plan I had a while ago for what I'd do about elections if I ran the world.

For a start, I'd let people from other countries vote too, since especially with big countries like the USA, the election results have a huge impact on the rest of the world as well.

But I would also require that presidential/prime minister candidates remain anonymous—no one would know until after the election the candidates' gender, race, or personal background. No one would get to hear them speak directly. Journalists and even the general public could put questions to them just as they do now, and the candidates could still debate each other, but it would all happen from inside some sort of black box, with voice distortion.

I wonder if that might force people to actually vote based on policies, rather than personality. What do you think?

One begins to wonder what the point of a lock-up garage is.

Me: "Goddammit! The bastards broke into our car again.*"
Geekman (showing an astonishing lack of observation): "How can you tell?"

I point at the window right in front of him that has been smashed in, and then the little door that covers the petrol cap—except that technically I'm NOT pointing at the door that covers the petrol cap, since it is missing.

Geekman: "Oh, right."

We giggle. Because we are deranged.

Geekman: "It's funny. I'm not even mad this time. Just resigned."
Me: "Yeah, me too. It's like, that's just what happens to our car."

We resignedly inspect the car for further damage, and find that the lock to the boot also no longer functions. Nothing's been stolen. It would appear that the morons removed the petrol cap door without actually stealing the petrol (despite a full tank). They tried and failed to get into the car through the boot (obviously not registering that the front passenger door no longer even HAS a lock thanks to the last break in). And then they smashed a window, but didn't take anything.

They did, however, thoughtfully leave the lock from the petrol door thingy sitting on the back seat, just in case we need it for later.

I briefly consider starting a museum of all the loot car thieves have left us (current count: two pairs of scissors, a screwdriver, some paper towels, and a lock).

Me: "Do you think we should still take the car to the gym, even with the broken window?"
Geekman: "Why not? If someone steals it, at least we won't have to pay for repairs."
Me: "But you know how we were going to pick up the case of beer left in your department?**"
Geekman: "Yeah, let's do that after the gym, not before."

Because clearly it doesn't matter if someone steals our CAR, as long as we still have a case of beer. You see, then we can drink until the pain of being carless goes away, right? The logic is flawless.

I'm going to spend the afternoon making a sign to put in the car window that says, "Please don't break into this car (you bastards). There is nothing worth stealing inside, and we are not insured."

That'll work, right?


* When searching to find this earlier post to link to, I googled StyleyGeek + broke into our car. Google helpfully suggested, "Did you mean: StyleyGeek broke into your car?" For the record, I would like to state that StyleyGeek has not broken into ANYONE'S car. Thank you.

** The case of beer was left over from a physics department LAN party on Friday night. I think this means we have now joined the inner geek circle. Geekman in particular seemed proud of his mastery of the 1337 lingo, as demonstrated by the glee on his face when, with a look of concentration, he looked up from his computer and tried out phrases like, "I fragged your dudes!" and "Pwned, noobs!"

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sixes and sevenses

ScienceGirl has tagged me to do the "6 random things about me" meme, which reminded me (*blush*) that I was tagged ages ago to do this, meant to, and never got around to it.

In googling to try and find out who it was who tagged me so long ago, I discovered yet ANOTHER blogger who had tagged me, this time for SEVEN random things.

At this rate, I could just list seven random bloggers who have tagged me and gone rudely ignored. But that wouldn't do at all.

Since I find it hard to manage the truly random, I'm going to do three pseudo-random lists and hope it makes up for all the missed opportunities.

Six random things that happened today:

  1. Our landlord sent a letter saying he's putting our rent up by $25 a week. (The bastard.)
  2. I didn't get the package of the IVF drugs that I am meant to start taking on Saturday, even though the clinic sent them on Monday. This is starting to worry me.
  3. I heard that a random person I was chatting to about teaching at a workshop recently was actually someone important and has been talking me up to the Vice Chancellor.
  4. I wrote a proposal for a $10,000 teaching enhancement grant. It basically said, "Pay me to do some teaching, and this will enhance things." I don't suppose that's quite what they had in mind, but I used buzzwords* and made it sound all sexy. Also, see (3).
  5. I encouraged a student to apply for a teaching enhancement grant too, hereby lowering my own chances of success. I'm so strategic.
  6. I turned my back on the kitchen sink for two minutes, and two wine glasses spontaneously shattered. Spontaneously, I tell you! Fortunately, this saved on the washing up. Just think what a waste of effort it would have been if I hadn't left them sitting there since Monday night.

Seven random things about me inspired by a shuffle on my iPod:

  1. Rammstein: "Sonne". I get easily sunburned. This year I've been wearing sunscreen every day, even in winter, and I think my skin is happier for it.
  2. Split Enz: "I got you". Sometimes I listen to New Zealand music because I feel I should. Sometimes I listen to it because I like it. When I do the former too many times, it subconsciously shifts to the latter. This is probably why my taste in music is so crap.
  3. Nena: "Nur geträumt". I dreamed about Sarah Palin one night last week. I can't believe I am having political dreams about an election that isn't even in my country. Please, internet, can we stop with the American election media bombardment now?
  4. Savage Garden: "Crash and burn". I've only crashed a car once. Unfortunately it was the first (and only) occasion when my parents let me drive to school. I made sure to arrive right when the bell went so that everyone would see me. Everyone did, in fact see me. They saw me drive into a fence.
  5. Spin Doctors: "Two princes". I've never met a royal. But my grandfather taught Prince Edward when he was at Wanganui Collegiate in the early 1980s. I imagine teaching royalty would be a case of the ultimate snowflake student.
  6. Chumbawamba: "Tubthumping (I get knocked down)". In my third year of undergrad I worked nights and weekends at KFC. I quit on the day I turned up bruised and bleeding from being knocked off my bike by a car a few blocks away, and my boss still wouldn't let me go home to recover, and threatened to dock my pay for being 15 minutes late.
  7. KLF: "Justified and ancient". My mother is relatively ancient, but never, never justified :)

Six random blogs that I have been enjoying lately but which haven't made it to my sidebar yet
(This is kind of like tagging people, but some of these aren't the sort of blogs that you tag, and as for the others, I don't suppose they read me. Perhaps they too will discover this a year or so later via teh Google.)
  1. Cake Wrecks
  2. Not always right
  3. The Bloggess
  4. Sociological images
  5. Woulda coulda shoulda
  6. FemaleScienceProfessor


* "Pay me to do some (deep-learning-inspiring, research-driven, Web 2.0) teaching, and it will enhance (outcome-optimized, student-centered, world-class) things."

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Linkity link

Nom nom nom nom:

And hey—there are actually people out there dorkier than me!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Heh heh heh

(Find them here. Or not, because it would appear I bought the last of them.)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

And now for a more high-brow topic...

Um, EW. (Arachnophobes should probably not click over.)

We're so funky and innovative! Um. Except when we are wedded to traditional approaches instead.

Yesterday, as part of a larger event at university, we had a sort of teaching round-table, which was kind of like speed-dating, where people got into groups of three and shared something innovative they'd done in the classroom, then swapped groups and kept doing it until time ran out.

Some funky experiments I heard about (I realise some of these aren't exactly new, but they aren't things I knew were happening at our university, either):

  • peer evaluation
  • self assessment on an honesty system (which of the required tasks did you complete, how much effort did you put in?)
  • research projects in an undergraduate class that led to multiple student-as-first-author publications in top quality journals
  • courses with mixed participants from as disparate fields as engineering, literature, geography, mathematics, fine arts, and physics, where students came up with research questions that could be addressed by all of these disciplines from different perspectives.
  • a course that wasn't. They had one meeting on the first day which paired each student with a researcher (usually a non-teaching academic) and a topic relevant to that researcher's work and the student's interests. The student, using the researcher as a mentor, then had the rest of the semester to put together a conference-style paper, which was shared in a final meeting at the end of the course. This was in a technologies course, and the incentive to do well at the final "conference" was that big-name people from Google and various other high-profile companies attended to hear what the students came up with.
  • free choice of final projects, with the exception that students could not do an essay, exam or traditional presentation. One of the students wrote a full-length musical and recorded his friends performing it; another produced a beautifully illustrated children's book; one created a manga comic with totally professional quality drawings; etc. Admittedly this was for a course where all of these responses to the material totally made sense.
  • total democracy, where students choose meeting times and lengths, assessment types, topics to cover, and where they run the meetings and the class website. This one strikes me as really really risky, but it was done with a post-graduate group in a professional degree, all of whom had strong reasons to make it work. What really blew me away was an email exchange the lecturer showed us. The first email was from a student complaining about group work and how one member of the group wasn't pulling his weight. The reply explained the pedagogical reasons for group work, suggested some strategies for persuading the group member to pull his socks up, and reminded the student that the grading system would allow them to distribute the marks fairly within the groups. The killer: this reply was from a fellow student. The lecturer also noted that a couple of times he got to class very late, to find the students had gotten started, made some real progress, and hardly needed him there at all.
I was pretty excited by some of these ideas (until I remembered that my main teaching context is classes of 120+ unmotivated first-years, with no funding for extra resources or time to develop new strategies or for one-on-one interaction.)

One of the other sessions during this event was about how to create more time in the classroom to trial new ways of learning. The main suggestion was to move more of what we are currently doing online. (Don't get me started about how this doesn't actually GAIN ANYONE more time (since lecturers have to put in more hours to create the online content, and students have to put in more hours to make use of it)).

So then at the end of the event, people were talking about how interesting and useful it had been to hear about everyone's innovations. Then there was general lamenting that we don't have time to meet and discuss this stuff more often.

"Why don't we apply the solutions we were hearing about this morning?" I suggested. "If we don't have time to actually meet and discuss teaching, let's do it online. Even a simple discussion board could be used to swap suggestions for innovative teaching strategies."

Want to guess what responses I got?

"That's easy for people like you to say. You're the Web2.0 generation. We don't do that sort of thing."

"I guess maybe you young enthusiastic teachers have time to look at discussion boards. Me, I'm lucky if I get to read all my email."

"The whole POINT of today is the face-to-face meeting. You can't have social interaction in a virtual space."

So instead it was concluded that, too bad, we just can't do regular discussions about our teaching. No one has time to meet in person, and other options are impractical. Oh well, how sad.

Friday, October 24, 2008

I'm so helpful

I just directed a student to a grant he can probably get for a project he is doing in his spare time. $10,000 for him, if all goes according to plan.

Is it wrong to feel jealous of a student?

On the other hand, I persuaded him he would need to hire a linguistics consultant.

(Is it wrong to muscle in on a student's project?)

Also, heavy metal Mongolian throat singing rocks.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Two words come to mind, and they are STEGOSAURUS HEAD

Lots of people around here take the dorky approach to deterring magpie attacks.

Every spring I mean to take a picture of this and forget, so this year I've settled for the shameless-theft-from-someone-else's-blog approach (credit for photo to Toowoomba Bicycle Users Group Blog).

Stylish as these cable ties are, I've always been a little too self conscious to try them myself.

This year, however, prime magpie swooping territory is (a) the lower half of my street, (b) the service station where I fill up my bike tyres, (c) the main crossing to university, and (d) the road near the building where I go for various seminars and meetings. This means I sometimes get swooped six times in one day.

You won't lose respect for me if I go the scary spiky route, will you now? Right? Right???

How do you teach students to generalise?

A plea for help here. I have a student who has been finding the class difficult all semester. I find myself wanting to say, when describing her problem, "She really understands the material. She isn't struggling with the concepts when we discuss them. But she can't apply them to new data. She finds it hard to do her own analysis."

Now, if someone said that to me, I'd reply that I don't think a student really DOES understand the material unless he/she can apply the concepts to new data. But in this case I would have to disagree with my hypothetical self. My student comes up with clever, on-topic insights in class. She can explain a concept in her own words. She can even come up with original examples of a concept.

I've become more and more convinced that there's a general skill missing. And I'm starting to think the skill she is struggling with is generalisation from specific instances to "types" of instance. There's an assignment I give for homework just before we start the semantics module of the course that asks, "In what ways can the meaning of two words be related?" Underneath in brackets it says, "Hint: if you are stuck, start by considering the following pairs: man–woman; hot–cold; small–big; plant–tree; dog–animal; buy–sell; kill–die".

In her answer, the student basically wrote, "Hot is warmer than cold. Man is male and woman is female. A dog is a type of animal. A tree is a plant. Kill is the cause of die. When you buy something, someone sells it." When in class I pushed her to consider whether some of these pairs are "similar" to others, she looked really blank, and then repeated what she had already written.

So it seems to me that this is not a problem with her understanding of linguistics. And it's not that she just misunderstood this one assignment. This was the clearest example of what it is that she is struggling with, but now I look back on her other work, I think this has been the stumbling block all along. But I don't know how to go about teaching someone to generalise, if it's a skill they haven't naturally picked up. For now, I've referred the student to the Academic Skills and Learning Centre, but any suggestions for work I can do with her on this would be hugely appreciated.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

While I'm being grumpy

Why is it, on this website, that policies related to "women" have been relegated to the "special interest" category (down the bottom of the left-hand sidebar)? Since when was half of the population considered a niche area, along with nuclear power, community groups, and disabilities?

And why is it, when you click through to the list of policies classified under the special "women" category, that most of them relate to childcare?

Oh, right, "woman" = "mother", and childcare issues only affect you if you have a vagina.

Doesn't get it

I was telling a prof in our department about my new super-cool research idea yesterday, and we had this conversation:

"Hmm... well, you'll need to get some preliminary data before you can start applying for grants."

"But I'll need funding before I can get preliminary data. This island is in the middle of NOWHERE. The language is UNDOCUMENTED. I can put a lot in the grant application about the context, though, and why the language would be important to study, and how endangered it is."

"I think you really need to do some fieldwork first. Why don't you go there for your next holiday?"

[pause while I look disbelieving]

"No, really. I mean, you're planning to go overseas this summer for a holiday, right?"

"No, actually."

"Really? [Now it's his turn for the disbelieving look.] Why ever not?"

"Well, without a job, overseas travel is a bit expensive."

"I think you should go anyway. After all, it's tax deductible."

"If you earn enough to be PAYING tax."

Isn't it awesome to have a career where you need to work for free for years before there's a chance someone will pay you to do it?

In a similar vein, I'm helping organise a big linguistics event for high school students. It's a national thing, and simultaneous events will take place at each university in Australia. We just had a organisers' teleconference, and it struck me that not only were we all volunteering our time and energy to get this thing off the ground, but most universities were even charging us to use their rooms and facilities for it, and the university where we keep our funds (raised by us) is skimming a percentage off the top. Standard practice, wouldn't you know?

Funny, because last I heard, outreach to local high schools was something universities were meant to be quite keen on. And we're doing it for them. For FREE.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Being cryptic

The advantage of a research project on a community where everyone has the same last name is that you can spam everyone with that name on Facebook and find out some very useful information...

The bad news is that I didn't get the grant I applied for on the cool blog researchy topic.

The good news is that I have an Even Better PlanTM.

There's a language that is like it was invented just to fit in with my research interests, skills and background. In fact, I am one of only a few people in the world qualified to work on it.

It's spoken in a community where fieldwork would be like a lengthy holiday in paradise.

It has never been properly described.

It's so endangered that a bunch of funding agencies would be falling over themselves to provide resources for describing it.

The islanders themselves have good reason to welcome a linguist into the community.

Any project on this language would also require (and therefore probably attract funding for) trips to Germany and New Zealand.


Thursday, October 16, 2008

That egg thing

We had our final meeting with the IVF specialist, we signed a million bits of paper, and on Sunday I get to start taking drugs. Egg Friday (aka retrieval) will be the 14th November. Wish me luck!

Random Heroes fan encounter

A conversation with someone whose TV-watching preferences I previously had no idea about:

Me: "Um, aren't we about to be late?"
Him: "Don't worry! I can bend space and time!" And he makes this face:

Sunday, October 12, 2008


It lives! Thank goodness for that. A new Macbook would have been nice, but Geekman's boss would never have let me live it down.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

The joys of being a tiny country in the middle of nowhere

The differences between the American elections and the NZ elections (coming up on 8th November) are kind of interesting.

Launch date of the USA main parties' campaigns for 4th November 2008: end of 2006.
Launch date of the NZ main parties' campaigns for 8th November 2008: this weekend (mid October 2008).

Approximate campaign costs for each major party in the USA election: 500 million USD.
Approximate campaign costs for each major party in the NZ election: 1.2 million USD.

One of the major concerns in the US elections is whether a woman could be elected to president.
In the NZ election, we have a woman running for re-election as prime minister: the job she's been doing for the past 9 years (having taken over from the previous prime minister, who was also female.

Another major issue in the USA elections is whether a black man will be elected as president.
NZ is yet to elect a Maori prime minister (although the leaders of several of the smaller parties are Maori). We do have 21 Maori members of parliament (17% of the total number*). The USA has 45 black members of congress (approximately 9% of the total, I think).

I can't think of anything else to compare, so I'll leave you with some bizarre campaign ads from the last couple of NZ elections.

Here's Labour's from 2002. I'm not quite sure what points they are trying to make. Helen Clark likes Maori culture, I guess. And Peter Jackson. And sport. But what's with all the military stuff and the "I like the USA" schtick? Labour was ANTI sending troops to Iraq.

Here's National's ad from 2005 (embedding disabled). What on earth were they thinking???

And just for laughs, here's a parody ad that makes me giggle (I'd say "obviously" a parody, but I would have thought the previous one was fake too, if I hadn't known better).


* 15% of the NZ population in the recent census identified as Maori, so 17% Maori MPs is proportional representation. In the USA, according to Wikipedia—my research skillz are awesome—the population is between 13 and 15% black (13% identifies as black alone, 2% of the population identifies with two or more races).

Dogs, actually

Okay, it was mean not to give you the full story. (But oh-so-amusing, in a sadistic sort of way).

(Bonus tenuously relevant quote from a PhD student in our department: "Happiness comes in many flavours. Mine tastes like Schadenfreude.")

It's a fine line for this story between overly identifying and bafflingly opaque, but I'll try.

There was a seminar yesterday where someone made an argument that was grounded in an extremely heterocentric worldview (the actual statement is hilarious, but alas, I can't share it with you here). The person in question is elderly and religious, but they had discussed this particular matter beforehand with a couple of other colleagues and had been told what they planned to say might be inflammatory, yet they said it anyway. There was at least one gay faculty member present, and a few gay students, and people objected.

In response, the professor just restated her original argument, and not wanting the gay members of the audience to be the only ones having to argue back, I took up the thread of the objection. In reply, the prof turned to me (and it did require a full-body turn to where I was sitting, so it really did look like she was talking to me, rather than generally) and said, "You can have sex however you like. You can have sex with DOGS if you like. But that doesn't affect my point that... [restated original point]."

I think from context it was pretty clear that she meant "you" in the sense of "one", not "you" in the sense of "StyleyGeek", and that's how I (and I think everyone else) understood it. But apparently it was eating her up all day, because she came by my office a few hours later and made a huge apology, said she was so ashamed, and offered to explain to the whole department that she does NOT think that I have sex with dogs.

Very thoughtful of her, but I don't think I'll take her up on that offer.

There's a happy ending to the whole thing, anyway, since the prof also apologised to her gay colleague and rewrote her argument to be more inclusive. Sometimes I love academic discourse.

Friday, October 10, 2008

It has clearly been an interesting day when...

... an elderly professor stops by your office to humbly apologise for implying at a department seminar that you have sex with animals.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


We're number 16! We even beat Stanford! I have no idea how we managed that, but yay us.

(Note, even though this is totally identifying, please don't mention my university's name in the comments—I'm hiding from Google, not from you.)

Google sees that thing you are doing. But they only want to help. Honest.

Thank you all so much for your appropriately horrified expressions of sympathy in the comments to the last post. Things are not looking too awful any longer, although the Macbook hasn't dried enough yet to make me willing to risk turning it on: fortunately Geekman's boss has said he will replace it out of his grant money if it truly is dead.

In more disturbing news, I was visiting Google Groups just now, and in their "recommended groups" list, which is presumably customised just for me(!) out of the frightening amount of secret information on me that Google holds in its top secret files, the following suggestions were included: LaTeX users (fine), Teaching and Learning (great), Mac Advocacy (okay), JavaScript Forum (sure), and... Alcoholics Anonymous.

Google? Do you know something I don't?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Oh dear god, no

I just knocked a big mug of hot green tea right over my not-even-one-year-old macbook. It shut down fine, and I've taken the battery out, propped it upside down to drain and am hoping for the best. But the tea had got right down inside the battery cavity, which probably means it is everywhere inside the case.

And every scenario I've found via The Google where someone has spilled a liquid on their laptop has ended badly.

Dumb things I have thought to myself #2

You remember how I seemed to have some sort of nut allergy a while ago? Well, it seemed to only be hazelnuts, so I've just avoided them since then. A couple of times products with "may contain traces of hazelnuts" on them have also given me symptoms, and sometimes other nuts make my throat a little scratchy, but mostly I'm fine.

The other day I was standing in the kitchen dipping brazil nuts into a jar of sunflower seed butter, which I had bought only because I prefer the taste of it to peanut butter. I was idly reading the jar, when I felt my throat starting to burn and tingle.

"That's funny," I thought to myself. "I've only ever had this feeling from nuts before, but this jar claims that the sunflower seed butter is 100% nut free and processed in a nut-free facility. How can I be having a nut allergy when I'm eating something that absolutely does not even contain traces of nuts?"

And I felt quite indignant, as I continued to dip my BRAZIL NUTS into the jar and eat them.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Dumb things I have thought to myself #1

I think I've been playing too much (computer) D&D. (You get to do stuff like that when you are procrastinating have finished your dissertation.)

I was cutting a tomato, and noticed that Geekman had sharpened the knife. And I caught myself thinking, "Huh, now it does piercing and slashing damage instead of just bludgeoning."

Friday, October 03, 2008

Ah, Zefrank, you ate my afternoon AGAIN

This song is awesome. I especially love the lines:

"We'd be online
all the time
to drink wine."


"I would L-U-V
that picture of you
taking a picture of you
holding the camera
in the bathroom mirror for me"

Oh yeah, and this is pretty neat too, and so is pretty much the whole site. But you knew that.

Who'd've thunk it?

An old friend from high school just emailed me out of the blue. We haven't really been in touch since 1998, and last time we spoke, I probably was planning to do an undergraduate degree in English literature or French or German, or in any case, something totally different from what I went on and did.

She opened her email with, "I really hope this is you. I found this email address by googling your name, and it came up with some conference abstracts that sounded like the sort of thing you'd write."

Admittedly, we were pretty close at high school, and she probably did have a good sense of the sorts of things that would interest me, and what my writing style was like (although the last piece of writing we did together would have been our guidebook for an imaginery holiday destination, Gobblegobble Land, in 4th form social studies). But I'm still astonished—and a little concerned—that the high school me is recognisable in my recent academic abstracts.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

I sold out. To The Man.

I was in a clothes shop today and noticed that while the men's printed t-shirts came in all sorts of funky manly looks, the women's invariably had girly, cutesy pictures, or else cartoon characters like Minnie Mouse, Betty Boop, or Sesame Street puppets on them.

So there I was, stomping around muttering about infantilisation of women, gender stereotyping, mutter mutter stomp stomp, when I saw...

I can wear it ironically, right?

Well that's helpful

I had the cystic fibrosis screening redone a couple of days ago. It turns out that another difference between a GP who charges $65 for a consultation and a specialist who charges $250* is that the former deals with missing test results like this, while the latter deals with them by saying, "Okay, I'll just write you another request and send it straight over. Which centre is the most convenient for you to have it done at?** Uh huh, okay, and I'll write on it that they should process it urgently and bulk bill it through Medicare."

After the nurse at the collection centre NEAR CAMPUS (hmmm... turns out I may be a little bitter about that, huh?) took my blood, I asked her how long I should have to wait for the results.

"In my experience," she replied, "you should wait one week, and if it's not there, wait two. Then if it's not there, maybe it takes three weeks. And if it doesn't take three, it takes four."

Very zen.


* The first difference being that the former rushes you through and grumbles about the fact you want to have two tests done instead of just one, while the latter takes a leisurely 20 minutes to discuss language policies in the Northern Territory and the latest theories about black holes.

** Turns out it is NOT necessary to have tests done at the hospital on the other side of the city. There is a convenient collection centre right next to the university. Who knew? (Not my GP, that's for sure).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

In which I make wild generalisations about all Americans on the basis of one recipe

I made these dinner rolls yesterday, and usually I love Ree's recipes (mmmm.... enchiladas), but this time I have to ask you: Americans, is this how your bread usually tastes? Because OMG, I don't call that bread: I call it cake.

Don't get me wrong, it's delicious and all, nice and fluffy and buttery and... um, sweet. But that's not bread. The only time I ever had "bread" like that before was in Tonga. And I just assumed that Tongans are weird and unique with their buttery sugary bread.

Anyway, I'm going to make them again, and substitute the CUP of sugar with a tablespoon or so and see what happens. But dudes, we have got to talk about your sweet tooth. I thought I had one, but you guys win.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You're being scammed, kid.

Overheard in the street:

"Mum! Mum! Hey, Mum! Dad made me a milk-flavoured milkshake! It was so cool, Mum. It was like a milkshake, but MILK FLAVOURED. It just tasted like milk! You couldn't taste the chocolate flavour at ALL."

Wow, it's Tuesday already

Oops. Quick round-up:

I taught those guest classes. Unfortunately, Absent-Minded Professor had remembered to tell the class he was going to be away last week, but forgotten to mention he had found a guest lecturer. So on Tuesday only one (equally absent-minded) student was present.

One student.

But plenty of my colleagues. They like to sit in on that class, because it's super-advanced and they think they might learn the secrets of Chomsky's most recent incomprehensible mutterings.

So that was weird. I had some interactive stuff prepared, but I kind of freaked out at the student/colleague imbalance and just lectured instead. Hopefully relatively interestingly.

Then I rounded up the rest of the students' email addresses and let them know that Thursday was NOT cancelled, kthxbai.

My lecture for Thursday was much better prepared because I decided from the outset it was just going to be lecture. Unfortunately the topic for the Thursday class kind of built on the Tuesday lecture, which (remember?) no one* was present for. So it ended up being a blend of rehashing Tuesday and trying to cover the new stuff all at once.

I thought the material was much more clearly presented for Thursday and I worked really hard on making tie-ins to the rest of the course (having finally got around to reading their assigned readings for the previous weeks). Weirdly, though, I had a bit of stage fright, probably due to the fact that this super-advanced class was like a Who's Who of my favourite and smartest students from years gone by. So I think I came across more as nervous conference presenter than in-control lecturer. My colleagues made nice comments about my teaching skills after the Tuesday lecture, but I got the impression they weren't so impressed on the Thursday.

I'm calming myself with the mantra of Everyone has crappy teaching days. Everyone has crappy teaching days. Everyone has crappy— and I'm going to get lots of lovely money at the Happy Adjunct Guest-Lecturing RateTM. (If they ever sort out my contract <- standard disclaimer.)


* Well, no one who counts, like students or anything.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Honestly, people

If you don't want people to be horribly disappointed, you:

-don't call an evening event a "cocktail evening" if there aren't going to be alcoholic drinks. "Cocktail" might also mean "appetiser", but that isn't the most common definition.

-don't call an event a "ball" if there won't be dancing or food. People performing short songs or skits on stage is generally known as a variety show, not a "ball".

-don't title an email to grant applicants, "Recipients of national grants 2008" if the content of said email is, "...will be notified sometime in the next few weeks."

It's not rocket science!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Different planets

I spoke on the phone last night to a friend in New Zealand who I lived with during undergrad. She's smart, educated, and we talk fairly often, so I was surprised by the total bizarreness of this bit of the conversation:

Me: "So I'm just doing some part time work at the moment, and hovering, hoping that a job might become available at [my university] sometime in the next year or so. We have a lot of people near retirement."

Her: "You know, you could probably get a real job. Okay, so a linguistics PhD isn't going to open any doors, but I'm sure you could convince people you are smart enough to work in a different area."

Me: "Well, sure, but I am hoping an academic job might come up. I'm willing to give it two years, maybe three, before I give up on the current plan."

Her: "But come on! You've now spent nine years at university! Surely you are sick of it by now! I wanted out by the end of third year. You can't hold onto your youth by refusing to leave, you know."

Me: "If I hadn't wanted an academic job, I wouldn't have done a PhD! And I'm not about to waste the past three years of work by giving up now."

Her: "You didn't HAVE to do a PhD. And like I said, you can probably get a job despite it."

StyleyGeek's end of the conversation here dissolves into incoherent spluttering.

I maybe should have seen this clash of perspectives coming, though, since about a year and a half after I started the PhD, I was talking to this friend and she asked if I was job-hunting. When I said I was too busy with the thesis to take on outside work, she exclaimed, "Still! You're STILL doing that PhD? Didn't you do that last year?"

Oh, and when we picked up the threads of last night's conversation after my incoherent spluttering attack, she suggested I could kill time while looking for a job by "having lots of babies".

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Me vs the world the university health centre

Dear [Nurse],

I have been trying to call between 2 and 4pm as required to get test results. I keep getting put onto voice mail. Then I found this email address. I am waiting for test results for two tests (A and B). Can you tell me whether you have these yet?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We have the two test results you mention. Please come and collect them.


Dear Nurse,

I picked up the results today. Rather than two results, you gave me two copies of the same result (test A). I need the results for test B too. Do you have these?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We do not have any results for test B. Were you expecting some?


Dear Nurse,

Yes. I was, rather. Do you think they are still coming and just delayed, or do you think the results have been mislaid?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We do not have the results.


Dear Nurse,

Do I need to have the test redone?


Dear StyleyGeek,

I spoke to your doctor here and she feels she requested all the necessary tests. Perhaps test A screened for condition B at the same time?


Dear Nurse,

I have just phoned the IVF clinic and they really do require both test A and test B (separate tests). They can't see me again until they have the results for these. I remember the doctor writing requests for both tests and you taking blood for both. Do you think the lab might have mislaid the results? Or could there have been a problem with the samples? How would I find out if this was the case? Or should I just have the test redone?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We do not have any results for test B. If you need further details, please consult with the IVF clinic.