Monday, March 31, 2008

Would you make of this what I make of this?

Hi [StyleyGeek]

I’m planning a little function in New Zealand which I would really like it if you and [Geekman] were able to attend. I have three possible dates: 29th June, 6th July and 13th July. Which of those might you be able to make? The other thing is that I'm looking for a good wedding photographer. Do you remember the name of the photographer you had at your wedding? I thought she was quite good.


Is this a wedding invitation?

Was he planning on telling us he was seeing someone before making this announcement? And holy crap, it is going to suck to get there, since all three of those dates coincide with really important things (e.g. my class's final exam, visitors from overseas, a conference, my graduation...)

Sunday, March 30, 2008

In which I muse aloud about the randomness of payscales

Last year I taught an introductory course with 80 enrollments. This involved two hours of lectures a week, and four hours of tutorials (=discussion sections or whatever you Foreign People call them). I taught these all myself.

This year I am teaching an introductory course with 140 enrollments. This also involves two hours of lectures a week, but there are six tutorials and I only teach three of them. So theoretically it is a slightly lower teaching load, but there is also more marking (my tutor grades her share of the in-semester work, but I do all the exams), and more admin (managing my tutor, meetings with her, dealing with student problems, etc).

I would say the time I spend teaching this semester is probably overall the same as I did last semester.

But the pay. Oh yes, the pay.

To calculate how much money the powers that be should give me last semester, their reasoning went like this:

StyleyGeek's supervisor usually teaches this course, and she is half-time. (She job-shares with her husband). She only ever teaches two of the four tutorials, while StyleyGeek teaches all four. However, StyleyGeek's supervisor is also expected to do research and service, so teaching is only about a third of her job. So what StyleyGeek is doing is 1/3 x 1/2 of a job for half a year + two tutorials a week. So since an standard salary for new hires here is around $60,000, we'll pay her $5,000 + two tutorials a week, which works out to around $7,000.

To calculate how much money they should give me this year, their reasoning went something like this:

A full-time teaching load is officially defined as eight hours a week contact time.* StyleyGeek has 5 hours a week contact time, so we should pay her for half of a full-time load, + one extra tutorial a week. The person who teaches this big intro course never does much research and service during semester time, so let's just forget about docking her pay for that. But the semester is actually only four months long, so we should pay her 1/2 x 1/3 of a salary, + one extra tutorial = $11,000.

Working less for more money! It's not like I'm unhappy about that.

But there's a little niggling voice that keeps reminding me that while an official full-time load might be eight contact hours a week, most faculty only teach one semester out of two, and only three to four contact hours a week during the semester. So I've worked more (teaching) hours per week than anyone else in our department over the last year, having taught the two biggest courses we offer. Yet while the full-timers have drawn a salary of more than $60,000 for that time period, I will have earned just on $20,000. It's not that I don't spend time on research and service that benefits the university, either, since I need those lines on the CV pretty desperately.

No wonder it makes sense for universities to switch to a policy of All Adjuncts! All The Time!


* I know, we have comparatively low teaching loads. Supposedly we define ourselves as a research university. There was no undergraduate teaching here at all until about thirty years ago. Many faculty are still employed on research-only positions. The fact that some of these faculty members have not published anything in the past three or four years is apparently irrelevant.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Sentences of the day

From the New Zealand news:

"These aren't just swamp leeches though - we are talking about highly trained medical leeches".

And actually, I was going to choose the weirdest sentence from this next story, but there were too many to decide between. I recommend reading the whole thing.

I realise this is beside the point, but is there a real charge known as "using a phone for fictitious purposes?"

These "news" stories led to the following conversation between me and Geekman:

Me: "Did you see the one about the man who claimed to have been raped by a wombat and left speaking Australian?"

Geekman: "Yeah, the New Zealand news is just getting worse and worse. It's all 'an alien stole my baby' and 'shock celebrity nakedness!' Have you noticed how the '10 most read stories' section contains nothing but this sort of crap?"

Me, happily: "Yeah... that's why I don't even bother skimming the rest of the site anymore - I just go straight for the '10 most read' to get my daily laughs."

Geekman: "But you're just encouraging them! The more people who do that, the less news they'll print!"

Me: "Who reads NZ newspapers for the news?"

Never ask boys for information

"Geekman, did you email your parents in the end?"


"And did they reply?"


"What did they say?"

"I already told you."

"Are you sure?"


"I don't remember."

"I told you I emailed them and that they replied."

"Did you tell me what they said?"

"Maybe not."

"So what did they say?"

"Nothing interesting."

Thursday, March 27, 2008


Today was the first day of:

  • frost in the morning.
  • hot porridge for breakfast.
  • snuggly winter pajamas.
  • mittens for cycling.
  • tearing the house apart to find where I'd stashed all my winter clothes.
  • wanting to permanently move into the shower where it's all warm and steamy.
Goodbye summer. Nice of you to hang around so long.

An open letter

Dear Students,

Please stop acting like stereotypes. It will make it easier for me to respect both you and myself.

Thank you,

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Carnival time!

There's a new Carnival of GRADual Progress up. And the Frog Princess is looking for people to help out with it in future.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


1. Since when was it acceptable etiquette to come up to your lecturer in the gym while she is working out, and ask questions about what will be on the exam?

2. How would you respond to this email? (In the fifth week of classes):

Have been a little behind the times lately, so haven't made it to any lectures yet. Can you tell me what I've missed? I'm going to try to come to class on Thursday. Where are the lectures? I saw the room number on the website, but haven't been there before. Can you give me directions?
Slacker McSlackerton.

What did I do to deserve this?

Cycling home in the rain tonight, first my bicycle chain came off, then I got a flat tyre.

That's the second flat this month. Approximately the nine millionth this year. And Geekman still holds his record of not having ever had a flat tyre since I've known him.


Monday, March 24, 2008

Karma: coming to an Easter near you

Geekman: "Cute voodoo doll [pincushion]. Let me stick a pin in it. Maybe I can voodoo someone."
He stabs the doll in the heart, the pin goes right through the doll and into his finger. "ARGH!"

Two hours later, Geekman is parking the car.

Me: "I think you're going to hit that pillar on the right. You haven't turned tightly enough."
Geekman barely scrapes past the pillar, turns to smirk at me while still pulling into the park. "How does it feel to be WRONG?"

And... crunch! as the car hits the wall in front of us.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Bitter and disgruntled, all in one post, oh my!

A student complained about my teaching.

Apparently I am intolerant of disagreement (I marked his solution to the homework problem set as wrong), and I dumb the material down too much. This is not what he would expect from this level of "education". (Yes, he quotation marked me!) The dumbing material down bit is particularly funny, since almost everyone (including him) seems to be struggling with the concepts being taught right now, and many have specifically requested easier readings and less theory. But you know, that's what you get when you try to cross-code courses at three different levels and make them all share the same lectures because you are too cheap to run different classes.

He also complained that I need to buy a thicker whiteboard marker. I requested one from admin, but they explained they are too expensive. So I should buy my own, apparently. With all that money that I'm not getting paid because I still don't freaking have a contract.

This post was brought to you by I just found out what I'm going to be paid and it's not enough.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

If I open a cafe, I'm going to call it "Question mark ampersand"

Am I the only one who always reads "*$" as "asterisk dollar" and then has to go back and revise my interpretation when the rest of the sentence tells me someone bought a drink there?

Monday, March 17, 2008


I just ran into one of my students coming into my apartment building. Better: he lives in the apartment directly across the courtyard from us. The one that has a good view right in through our windows.

I should have known I would regret those naked dashes between the bedroom and bathroom, but up until now it didn't really seem to matter, because it's not like anyone I knew was going to see me.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Boy racers discover irony

Dear bogans driving your modified car along my street and playing loud doof-doof music,

You are out of date. Michael Jackson's Beat It is older than you are.

Just saying.


I guess you can tell it's been hot here lately

"Geekman, why is the ice cream sitting open in the freezer?"

"For ease of access."

Saturday, March 15, 2008


However crappy a girl is feeling, she's never too sick to shuffle down to the lakeside for some fireworks magic. And bats. Very cool bats.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A question of etiquette

If an acquaintance gives you a bag full of lemons from her lemon tree, and it turns out they are riddled with tiny worms that you almost didn't notice swimming in the juice before you drank it, do you tell her (once you are done being grossed out), or not?

Reasons to mention it:

  1. It might save her from eating her own wormy lemons by mistake.
  2. It's going to be awkward not to if she asks how the lemons were.

Reasons not to mention it:
  1. Does it matter if she eats wormy lemons if she doesn't notice they are wormy? It's a philosophical question, really: is a wormy lemon really wormy if nobody is there to be freaked out by it?
  2. She's going to be embarrassed that she gave you worm-infested lemons.
  3. Unless she was trying to kill you.


Miss M asked how I was planning to celebrate the final hand-in of the final bound version of the thesis. I thought I'd wait until after the fact and then report. So here's how it went.

It started with a wander through the markets, which landed me a cute second-hand necklace for all of $5. It can be my Dr StyleyGeek necklace.

Then new glasses, which cost a lot more than $5. I call them my Dr. StyleyGeek glasses. (Do you detect a theme?)

Geekman cooked me a delicious dinner of baked salmon in white wine and lemon sauce. I guess that's what Dr. StyleyGeek eats for dinner.

Then there were cocktails. (Mine was an "Up and About": kiwifruit, ginger, vodka, absinth, vanilla and apple. Very tasty and it made a satisfying SPLOSH when the bottom fell out of the glass as I carried it across the room.) Dr. StyleyGeek is the sort of person who drinks cocktails (and spills them all over the floor).

Then there was cheese, and a bottle of wine between us. It was my Dr. StyleyGeek wine and cheese.

Then there were hangovers. I guess Dr. StyleyGeek gets hangovers.

And now there is some horrible virus that makes me want to lie on the floor and cry. Dr StyleyGeek, cure thyself. Nope, damn, I should have become the OTHER kind of doctor.

But apart from that, it was all just lovely.

(Dr. StyleyGeek says) The End.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

More fun than a table full of dissertations

Nah, just kidding. What's more fun than that? Nothing, right? Except for never having to write a dissertation again. EVER.

I just picked these up from the printers and am about to drop off the library copies to the research office.

You may call me Dr. StyleyGeek.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

More than a little bit scary

Very petite and extremely pretty chick in pastel pink workout gear at the gym today. Muttering between reps, in the general direction of her boyfriend: "I will crush you. CRUSH.. you. I can crush you with a FINGER. CRUSH you."

Well, that's ironic

The last two weeks I have been making a really big effort to finish everything I need to do for "work" within work hours. Like, nine to five, Monday to Friday. (Gasp! I know.) This has only been possible because the only essential thing I have to do right now is the teaching, and that's only supposed to be 0.75 of a job* (or would be, if they'd fricking give me my contract.**)

I've also been fixing typos on my thesis (due back from the binders tomorrow!) and preparing a conference volume I'm editing. But I'm managing to squeeze all of this into weekday daytimes.

So here's the irony: Now that I'm giving myself permission to take evenings and weekends off, I spent less time in the evenings and weekends procrastinating by endless web-surfing, unnecessary house-cleaning, or other busywork. And now that I spend less time procrastinating, evenings and weekends feel extra long and empty. Which means I frequently find myself at a loose end, actually wanting to do some work.

I'm not sure what lesson I'm meant to draw from this. Feel free to make up your own.


* So since most people here work a 55+ hour week, a 0.75 job is approximately a full standard working week.

** Yes, it's now week four of the teaching period (week six of the actual job) and I still don't have a contract. I know, I'm a sucker for not refusing to teach until they get it to me, but I'd prefer not to make myself so unpopular that I'll never get a job here again. And yes, I know they know that, and yes, I'm just perpetuating the organisational disorder that reigns here. And yes, the next person to be in this situation might actually be waiting for the money before they can pay their rent, but damn, THEY can go on strike. Latest news on the contract front is that the department is in trouble from HR for not advertising the job, so they have to write a justification for this, and submit it together with my CV and application for the job. So yes, I am having to put together fricking application materials for a job I've already been doing for the last six weeks. I tell you, though, there's an assignment due soon, and I'm not marking it until I get paid. Any students who want their grades can complain to HR.

Monday, March 10, 2008

That probably explains why it wasn't working

I just realised that for the past week I have been spraying an infected cut with insect repellent instead of antiseptic spray.

What stupid things have you done lately?

Saturday, March 08, 2008

New Zealanders are people too

One thing that really sucks about being on the opposite side of the world (and in different time zones) from many of my favourite bloggers is that I frequently check my feed reader in the morning only to find entries saying, "This post went *poof*". I don't think I have EVER successfully managed to catch one of these self-destructing posts in time.

So a plea on behalf of bloggers down under: when you write something embarrassing or too revealing, or simply change your mind, please, please, please! consider waiting twenty four hours rather than twelve before you start to freak out about it.

Otherwise I'll never know all your dirty secrets. And that would be sad.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Dude, who stole my students?

And replaced them with these freakily bright and bushy-tailed creatures? Of the class of 146 students, 130+ have attended each lecture so far. (I can tell, because I was making 130 handouts and there haven't been quite enough).

All but one of the students registered for tutorials have turned up to class, and all except one of these had done all the reading and the homework. Most of them have also done the optional reading, extra practice exercises, and NEXT WEEK'S homework as well.

In all three of my tutorials this week the students ended up in such heated, but on-topic, discussions that I could scarcely get a word in. Better yet, they made real conceptual progress in their understandings of the topics through these discussions. And they independently came up with some important theoretical concepts that hadn't been taught yet.

I'm kind of afraid.

If anyone got strange emails from me today...

...blame the rosella. I came back from class to find he had let himself in through the window, opened the birdseed container and exhausted its supplies, and was chilling at—ahem—on my computer keyboard.

Who knows what messages he sent in my absence.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

While we're on that subject

Aren't these king parrots cute? They were happily munching their lunch in a university courtyard today, and I wasn't the only one taking photos.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I can be inside birdie?

One of our profs saw how my rosellas had migrated into the office today, and suggested we solve our part-time teaching budget crisis by teaching them to talk and employing them as tutors.

Monday, March 03, 2008


My students handed their first piece of work in today, and now I get to puzzle out their names.

I'm used to Asian students who often have a name in their own language, and then an English name that they prefer to be used in class, although this makes for problems when they are listed on the roll as "Chen Liu"* and I get a piece of work that just says, "Amy". (Not to mention this means that they might be listed elsewhere in the university system as "Amy Chen" "Amy Liu", "Liu Chen," "Amy Liu Chen" or "Chen Liu Amy".)

But today I came across a first. An Australian student (with no detectable Asian background) who gave her name in class as "Jenny"*, but handed in work with the name "Alison Atkins", and explained that she doesn't like the name Alison, and prefers to be called Jenny. That's fine, until I look at my enrollment records, and all I have with that surname is a student listed as "Rebecca (Alison) Atkins."

Maybe Rebecca is her Chinese name...


* Don't worry, I made all these names up.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

So, just out of pure intellectual curiosity

Not that I'm asking for any particular reason... Let's say a friend of mine wants to know.

Um, does anyone know how to get superglue off skin?

Saturday, March 01, 2008


I've been working hard lately on a new website the department is employing me to create. It uses a fair amount of javascript and visual basic. I had this on my mind on the way to a seminar yesterday, when I ran into the prof who was overseeing the website project.

"Hi Styley!" He said, "Is it in C?"
"No," I said, surprised at this random question. "It's in javascript, mostly. Some VB."
"The SEMINAR." He replied. "Is it in Room C or B?"


Geekman went to a physics party recently. (I know, we're real hard-core, us.) One of his colleagues, a French guy, arrived and put some sort of quiche on the table.
"I zink you 'ave to eat it," he said.
"Well, yeah," Geekman replied. "That's what it's FOR."
"No no," French dude said. "EAT it. You 'ave to 'eat it. In an 'ot oven."


And on a similar note, it's only recently that I just realised the Stevie Wonder song we used to sing in music lessons at primary school—I just called to say tena koe—was probably not the original version.