Friday, February 29, 2008

I can't believe I had this conversation

My supervisor: "So, how did class go today?"

Me: "Pretty well. But this is one weird mix of students for an introductory course. I reckon more than half of them have done linguistics before."

Her: "How do you know?"

Me: "For example, I began the lecture today by asking them what they thought people need to know about a language in order to be able to speak it. I started them off by saying, for instance, people need to know how to pronounce the sounds in the language. I was hoping the students would come up with things like, 'what order the words go in,' 'a list of words and their meanings', etc, and that would let me lead in to talking about the different "levels" of linguistics. But instead they all said stuff like, 'People need to know morphology, syntax, semantics, phonetics' and so on. So clearly they've all been here before."

Her: "Maybe in future you shouldn't be so interactive, but just lecture."

Me: "It's just, I hoped if I started by getting them talking, that would set the scene and they'd feel the lecture was an safe environment to ask questions or whatever later on."

Her: "I generally prefer students not to ask questions either."

I start laughing, then realise that wasn't a joke. I try not to look as shocked as I feel, but maybe I don't succeed, because she justifies herself.

"It's just, I don't always understand their questions. And it's so disruptive. Also, smart questions frighten the slower students off."

Thursday, February 28, 2008

This post goes out to JustMe and all other baffled Americans

The comments on this post are getting kind of surreal, and are starting to remind me of this Flight of the Conchords clip:

So, although I can't believe I am having to explain this, this is how to give someone the fingers, NZ style:

(It's rude, kids: don't try this at home.)

I have questions

If you want to scan and email a paper to yourself all as one file rather than separate pages, you have to press a certain button on the scanner. Why is this button labelled "separate scan"?

Why is there a raw kumara (sweet potato) sitting on a plate in the staff tearoom?

Where did my sandwich go? Did it mutate into a raw kumara when I wasn't looking? Or maybe the person who brought a raw kumara for lunch decided my sandwich looked more appetising and decided to go swappsies.

Why did I assign so much reading? (This question may be related to the fact that SOMEONE is having to scan her readings in and upload them to WebCT as the bookshop has run out of textbooks.)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Memorable student encounters on the first day of class

On the way to university today, a young woman stepped out onto the road in front of my bicycle without looking. I swerved to avoid her, which could have ended up nastily if there had been any traffic behind me at the time. She gave me the fingers, which I considered uncalled for, so I swore at her and returned the gesture.

Later this morning, guess who showed up in my class? StyleyGeek makes a good first impression, oh yes indeedy.

I also made a memorable impression on the student standing nearest to me before class while we waited for the lecture theatre to empty. She looked young and scared and eventually asked me tentatively, "Is this your first linguistics class too?"
"Actually, I'm the lecturer," was probably not the response she was expecting.

I already had a bunch of students email to ask if they missed anything important today. I would have treated this as a serendipitous teaching moment, and explained who to contact when you miss a class (your classmates: ask for notes) and who not to contact (your lecturer: she's not paid enough to reteach the class just for you), but unfortunately they DIDN'T miss anything important. This is because I had to cancel the lecture due to a 30+ difference between the number of seats in the venue and the number of students who showed up. If all my enrollments had been present, we would have had an even bigger problem: to the tune of 50 more students than seats. As it was, 30 students were standing crowded into the aisles and couldn't see past each other, so there wasn't much point in going ahead with the lecture.

Our ever-so-helpful Head of School had apparently approved the venue on the logic that plenty of students drop in the first few weeks, so EVENTUALLY the room will be the right size.

In other student news, I just went down to my local supermarket, and spotted someone shopping with the shopping basket in one hand, and the textbook for my course clutched in the other. Perhaps she likes linguistics and is scared of supermarkets, and the textbook was functioning as some sort of security blanket. Or maybe she was just taking it out for an airing. I hope she bought it a chocolate bar for good behaviour.

So true

(Seen at Sea Change.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Annoying (i.e. batshit crazy) things our new Head of School said today

"Hey, I know how we could solve our tutorial funding problem! [Supervisor] and [her husband] could tutor for you!"

Yeah, no. They couldn't. For one thing: uh, WEIRD. For another, they don't let my supervisor's husband near first year students. It's kind of unofficial department policy, and they have good reasons for it.


"What about if you did some extra tutorials yourself?"

"That wouldn't solve your budget problem. The money would still have to come from the part time teaching budget, wouldn't it?"

"Well, not exactly..."

"But I thought you couldn't get more than 0.6 of a position funded for me from the university's secret stash of money used to pay replacements for suicidal faculty."

"Well, no."

Light dawns on stupid naive Styleygeek. "You mean you want me to do extra tutorials WITHOUT extra pay?"

"Well, when you put it like that..."


"I don't think I can sign off on your grant proposal until the Vice Chancellor has signed it."

"But the Research Office said to get you to sign, then submit it, and they'll get the VC's signature. They won't accept it until you have signed."

"Then I guess you have a catch-22 situation. Heh. I'm sure you'll find a solution."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Is it just me...

... or is "stroking your fluff-friend" the worst euphemism EVER?

(If my father is going to keep talking to his secret girlfriend on Facebook, he REALLY needs to learn about privacy settings.)

Friday, February 22, 2008

Teaching things freaking me out

As of this afternoon, I have 133 students. Previous years' enrollments, which are what I based my textbook orders, room bookings, and tutorial funding on, never topped 100. I hear American universities have things like caps on enrollment numbers. Someone should tell our admin about these new-fangled ideas.

Some of the names in the enrollment list are awfully familiar. There's the guy who never comes to class, fails the course, then cries harassment. There are the three sweet, but hopelessly clueless students who failed miserably in my last year's course. And there's the one who was taking this exact same class when I tutored it in 2004. I guess she's been failing happily ever since.

Then there are the 20-something good students, including my two best students EVER, who took lots of linguistics classes last year, just not this one: the introductory course which is a requirement for linguistics majors. I've talked to admin, and they won't waive this requirement, not even for the student who got 100% on most of the far more advanced material in the class I taught last semester. These students who can competently diagram complex sentences and reconstruct Proto-Germanic are going to be sitting through lectures on what nouns and verbs are, and how some languages have different word orders from others.

And yes, of course, I'll add in extra readings for them, and try to make sure the assignments have some extra challenging stuff, and do my best to keep them engaged in class, but man! I shouldn't have to.

The good news is, I probably AM being paid enough to deal with this sort of shit. Just as soon as someone actually organises me a contract. (For the job that, uh, started two weeks ago.)

I'm so competent, I amaze myself.

In preparing for a departmental seminar I gave today (on my proposed bloggy project—yes, I talked about YOU*), I anticipated the worst.

I created the presentation in Open Office on my Macbook. But! I thought to myself. I haven't ever given a presentation using Apple, and I haven't tested my adapter. What if it won't hook up to the projector? So I backed the presentation up onto a flashdrive.

But! I thought to myself. What if the computer in the seminar room doesn't have Open Office? So I saved it as PowerPoint, and as pdf as well.

But! I thought to myself. What if the links in the presentation don't work on another computer? So I opened the file on various other machines and indeed, did have to resave some of the links as relative instead of absolute.

But! I thought to myself. What if the presentation won't open at all? So I made sure my links were saved outside the presentation so I could go directly to the relevant websites.

But! I thought to myself. What if the internet connection is down? So I saved cached versions of all the sites I wanted to show.

But! I thought to myself. What if ALL my technology fails me? So I made a cruddy set of printouts of my slides.

But! I thought to myself—

—but it was too late, because it was time for the seminar.

The Macbook hooked up to the projector with no trouble.
The presentation opened with no trouble.
I began the seminar with no trouble.
The first link worked with no trouble.

And then the computer froze dead and everyone got to watch me reboot. Upon which the thing couldn't reopen my presentation, and we had already wasted so much time trying to fix it that it wasn't worth trying any of my other backup plans. And I gave the rest of the seminar the old-fashioned way. Talking only.

It's just embarrassing that it was a seminar about technology.


* Well, probably not you. But maybe you, over there in the corner. And you, with the nice haircut. I may even have shown excerpts from your blog. (This is a blogroll. This is a traffic tracker. These is what we call "comments".)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008


So there's this big-shot, right? Obviously I'm not going to mention any names, but anyone who has read any linguistics has probably heard of him. He's probably the most well known linguist in Australia.

He used to be at our university, but felt the university didn't worship his bigshotness sufficiently, so he took his ball (half our students, lots of money) and went home (i.e. to another university). Since then he has pissed off everyone imaginable, playing crazy power games and frequently sending nasty letters that make other academics cry. Everyone knows people who have had their careers and reputations deliberately damaged by this man.

News on the grapevine today is that the university has seized his hard drive, frozen his email account, banned him from campus, and is investigating where half a million dollars went, as well as several serious harassment complaints.

The interesting thing to find out will be what happens to a big-ass grant if the big-ass chief investigator ends up in prison.

Carnival of GRADual Progress

There's a new one up. Over at lines ever more unclear.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Home again home again, jiggerty slump.

The foreseen wedding disaster did not occur. The bridge was repaired in time. Thank you for all the helpful suggestions.

We got to have a different wedding disaster instead. It poured with rain and was impossible to hold the ceremony here as intended:

The bride swore a lot and got horribly drunk (to "calm her nerves") and demanded we have the wedding outside anyway, but we compromised and held it under a tree in the garden of the lodge instead. The bride spent the rest of the night throwing up.

Here is a photo of some sheep:

We got back from the wedding exhausted, but just in time to help my mother prepare, hold, and clear up after her "I'm still not dead" party. Then we had four hours sleep and left for the airport at 4:45 this morning, New Zealand time, which equals 2:45am Aussie time. It is now 9:04pm Aussie time and I should have been asleep long ago.

Amusingly, the church hall where my mother held her party consists of two rooms, one of which was in use for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. A few alcoholics came into our room by mistake, spotted the table laden with champagne and wine, and their eyes widened. I could see them thinking, "This is the best AA meeting EVER."

Here is a random picture of some pretty mountain scenery from up where we had the wedding. You may recognise it from Lord of the Rings, or The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

Things have changed around Arthur's Pass since these movies. It used to be that you could drive out there and hardly see anyone. Now there are buses full of tourists pulled up in various places in the middle of nowhere, earnestly consulting their guidebooks, and taking pictures of grass. There was also a corrugated iron goat shed with "Narnia" graffitied on the side.

But it's still pretty.

In other random weird family news (where "weird" should be taken to modify "family", not "news"), my father has discovered Facebook ("Styleygeek! You have a Facebook! I want one too!). He now needs to learn about privacy settings. I do not need to see the soppy Valentine's messages he sends to the mistress he still pretends does not exist. (She does too! She has "a Facebook" to prove it.)

In weird non-family news, I seem to have returned to a spectacular departmental row. Everyone is sending vicious emails to each other and CCing everyone else in on them. I'm caught in the middle, since it started because my course was clashing with two others (not my fault - I didn't schedule it). I'm torn between horror and amusement.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Random bullets of family

  • My father left himself a note by the computer this morning before he left for work. It says "Intravenous air tickets".
  • I am trying to coordinate my family for graduation in July. My mother says she really wants to come, but she has her annual conference for work the same weekend, so she's trying to come up with a compromise. Given that the two events are in different countries, I don't see that working.
  • My father says that no one invited him anyway, and he doesn't know the dates, but he'll think about it.
  • My parents-in-law, who I really didn't expect to come over, already booked tickets (I suspect they booked the minute they heard that I was doing a PhD.)
  • My brother, who I hardly communicate with, has also mysteriously booked tickets.
  • My mother says she is trying to be grown up about the possibility of my father being there, but she'd like not to have to actually be in the same room with him at any point, unless it's a really, really big room. With him at the far end.
  • My parents-in-law say that if my father is there, they refuse to talk to him. Please keep him away from them, kthxbai.
  • My brother would really rather not stay in the same accommodation as my mother.
  • My mother says that it's wonderful my brother is planning to attend and it will be a marvelous opportunity for them to spend some quality time bonding. Can they both please stay with us?
  • Although there are definitely at least three people coming from overseas to attend, plus Geekman, I am only guaranteed two tickets for guests. At most, I can apply for three extra, and there is a lottery for extra tickets. That means I will have five tickets at most. If Mum, Dad, my brother, and my parents-in-law all come, including Geekman I will have six guests.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

This is going to be interesting

The wedding that I am going to be bridesmaid at on Saturday (the whole reason I am currently in NZ) is rather unconventional in many ways. One of which is that the whole thing is a Pagan ceremony held in a circle of rocks, and another (probably not unrelated) is that it is being held in a paddock on top of a mountain in the middle of nowhere.

The only bridge leading to this paddock-on-top-of-a-mountain-in-the-middle-of-nowhere was washed away in a storm yesterday.

It would be fine if I hadn't just exaggerated slightly and if all there was to this wedding venue were a paddock-on-top-of-etc. Because then we could just move the ceremony to a different paddock on a slightly lower mountain on the side of the no-longer-present bridge that is closest to the city the bride and groom are coming from. Of course, this would screw things up for their families, who are coming from the other side of the mountain, but at least the wedding could go ahead.

Unfortunately 20 minutes along a bush track from the paddock-where-we-are-holding-the-wedding-no-matter-what, there is the hotel that has been booked out for the wedding guests, the hall in which the dinner is taking place, and all the catering. And all of this, not just the paddock, is on the wrong side of the bridge that is no longer there.

The bride is having a little bit of a hissy fit.

I suppose, as bridesmaid, I should be sorting things out for her. But really, what can you do? I'm not about to go and rebuild the bloody bridge myself. She wants me to ring the hotel and demand that they send people down to the river to "put planks across it" or something. But I don't think it's THAT sort of river.


Saturday, February 09, 2008

According to last night's dreams...

...the only thing I worry about in a plane crash is whether or not I'm wearing sunscreen.

(Flying anxiety and teaching anxiety dreams all in one night! Go me!)

Friday, February 08, 2008


What's the bet this means our flight to Christchurch tomorrow morning involves insane amounts of security and monumental delays?

Englishing as it should be speaked

Sometimes the only clue that English is not Geekman's father's native language is his (admittedly strong) accent. And then he comes out with a sentence like this:

"You will also have problems remembering things when you are as seventy as I am."

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Geekman family holidays must have been rather odd

Today we drove around and looked at local power stations. (Geekman's family is strange.)

These photos are from Aratiatia, which admittedly is very picturesque.

At first I thought the black things spaced neatly along the top of the dam were some sort of fence. It wasn't until one honked loudly and flew away that I realised they were swans.

The teaching anxiety dreams begin

Last night I dreamed it was the first day of my new lecturing gig, and I was standing at the front of the class, reading the syllabus aloud (which is weird, because I would totally never do that). On one side of the room, all the faculty members were sitting and taking notes on my (in)competence. On the other side, four students were yelling at each other at the top of their voices, and two were having a punch-up. I kept trying to catch their attention to let them know they weren't allowed to fight and shout in class, but they ignored me.

Finally I threw all my notes on the floor and stormed out. Our head of department came up to me then and explained that student misbehaviour was a direct consequence of class not being interactive enough, and that I needed more group activities.

Bring on the semester. Yeah.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lent: you're doing it wrong.

Geekman's parents' church found there was still plenty of pancake batter left over from the Shrove Tuesday supper, so they did a repeat pancake evening tonight after the Ash Wednesday service.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Geekman's family inflicted us on a church supper tonight. But my mother-in-law averred that didn't mean she was going to eat nasty cheap meat with plastic forks. So we, the Geekman family clan, arrived with our own poached salmon fillets, mango salsa, Italian bread, and real cutlery, and Geekman's mother constructed a civilized enclave at one end of the long table, where she defended our "real food" from her encroaching brothers and sisters in Christ (unsuccessfully in the case of Edna, who is 94 and polished off half a plate of salmon before Geekman's mother could make her understand that that wasn't part of the free nosh.)

Partway through the evening, Geekman and I were discussing why people might choose to live in Tokoroa. I said it might appeal to some people that it was really easy to become a big fish in a small pond. So Geekman asked his father: does everyone in Tokoroa in fact know who the big fish are? Do people know, for example, who is rich and who is poor? Is the social hierarchy something people talk about?

Social hierarchy? asked his father. There is no social hierarchy in Tokoroa. There is no rich and poor. Everyone is all the same.

And he used his silver knife to butter his Italian roll.


* To give an idea of the sort of town it is, it probably suffices to mention that people at the dinner could recall everyone from the town who has ever gone away to university --- population Geekman and his brother --- and that the fact there was mint in the boiled potato had everyone commenting on the posh food.

And the answer is...

Grace was right: Orakei Korako, a thermal area between Rotorua and Taupo. Here are two more pictures.

And a couple of pictures of pretty foliage, in some cases steaming gently:

Monday, February 04, 2008

Mystery photos

Can anyone guess what sort of a place we visited today?

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Poor alien(ated) Geekman

"Men might be from Mars and women from Venus, but most of the time I feel like I'm from Alpha Centauri."

Learning new words

So far this trip to New Zealand has greatly improved my vocabulary.

From time spent with my 11-year-old half sister and 14 year-old half brother, I have learned that "random" is now an exclamation akin to "awesome" or "cool".

E.g. "Hey, watch this card trick."
[Demonstrate card trick.]
Sister, impressed: "Random!"

From time spent with various other family members, I have learned that "sweet as" has moved on from an exclamation to a bona fide adjective that can come before the noun.

Formerly: "How was the BBQ?"
"Sweet as."

Now: "That was a sweet as BBQ, eh bro?"

From the NZ news, I have learned that the verb "to monster" has now crossed the Tasman. I have come across it in Australia (and been baffled - "Paedophile monsters small boy"), but heard it for the first time here a couple of days ago: "The car was monstered off the road by a logging truck, and rolled down the bank."

Saturday, February 02, 2008

From the "I can't believe they just asked that" files

When I told my parents-in-law about the lecturing job I have lined up for this semester, I got the following responses:

"Do you have to prepare your own lectures?"

"Do they pay you?"

Friday, February 01, 2008

Poor little Geekboy

Obviously academic insecurity starts early, as evidenced by this conversation with my 14-year-old brother.

"Do you have exams this year in school?"

"Yeah, and I'm doing year 12 English, Geography and Maths, so they'll probably be hard. Especially Maths, because I suck at Maths."

"You suck at Maths? I don't think so, or they wouldn't be letting you do it a year ahead."

"But I nearly didn't get into the top stream."

(And the sadder thing: his sister, overhearing, added, "But only because your revision notes got ruined when they flushed your schoolbag down the toilet the week before the entrance exam.")