Sunday, August 31, 2008

While I'm posting pictures of weirdness

There's this sign, located not so far from the hedgehog picture of the last post.

To me, the most obvious interpretation is as a command followed by the reason you should obey. Like, "Drink water—it's healthy".

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Rorschach test

I pass this painted box most days. I think the hedgehog is meant to be sitting on a flower, but that is totally not what I see.

Friday, August 29, 2008

It's like anonymous blog comments, but in real life!

This little grammar war has been taking place on the walls of our department corridor this week. There is much speculation about who wrote the typed response—it looks like it must have been a faculty member, but no one is admitting to it. (That could be because of the words "pedantic" and "prick" that other faculty members have been bandying around ever since it went up.)

It's especially rude given that the original sign-writer is also a member of the department, and therefore the anonymous response is by one of her colleagues.

I just can't believed they cared about it this much. Whew!

(I've also been amused at the number of students I've seen taking photos of the sign. Some even admitted they are putting it on Facebook or on their blogs.)

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Postcard from the land of self-censorship

Geekman complained that my recent blog entries have been all mean and bitchy. Have resolved to be a nicer person.

Came up with three possible posts in the last 24 hours, but had to suppress them all due to excessive snark.

Sigh. It's so hard being sweetness and light.

Sucks to be you. Or me. I forget which.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Now, why is it that women tend to get worse teaching evals than men?

Overheard in the gym changing room today:

"She is SUCH a good teacher. I'm so lucky to be in her course. You know, she's just so kind and loving and really cares about her students as people. And she never hurts people's feelings and takes her time to get to know you."

If that's not a description of 'good teaching', then I don't know what is. Oh, wait, yes I do. How about: "She's such a good teacher. She makes the subject interesting and relevant, and explains things clearly. And she develops exercises and assignments that really help you learn."

Also? I'd like to hear the first description applied to a man:

"He is SUCH a good teacher. I'm so lucky to be in his course. He's just so kind and loving—"

Nope, wouldn't fly, would it?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

And what's more...

... the counselor suggested that to give Geekman a "role in the process", he might want to "document our journey".

By taking up scrap-booking.

So that was a waste of time

Today we had our first counselling appointment for the egg donation. The counsellor irritated the hell out of me by behaving like a stereotype. And I hated her skirt. (Yes, I'm superficial. But dude, a bright blue leather miniskirt? You would have to be 16 to make that work.)

If there's one thing that pisses me off in a counsellor, it's cliche-speak. I think that Geekman and I were pretty much in agreement with that, though, as he whispered to me at one point, "If that woman uses the word 'space' one more time, I'm going to make her define it. Using mathematical equations."

Also? Admitting that you don't usually do egg donation cases since you are filling in for a colleague, but that you did some 'research' on the issues yesterday? That's not going a long way towards giving us faith in your competence.

So then there was half an hour of (fairly obvious) questions (about issues that just about everyone I've ever discussed egg donation with has also brought up) posed like she was so proud of herself for thinking of them. And 'how did that make me feel'? It made me feel like I should be patting her on the head and praising her for good thinking.

And by the way, did I mention the skirt?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Apparently, working "late" is the exception, not the norm

We just got an email from the university sent to all staff (all 3000+ of us), asking us, in light of a recent robbery on campus, to please let Security know whenever we are going to be working later than 6pm or in the weekends.

I sure hope they've set up some extra phone lines.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Bicycle fail

Those of you following the bike tyre saga at home will be pleased to hear that THIS time (slow leak in front tyre for the past month; explosive flat two days ago in the back) I finally gave in and bought pre-slime-filled, special un-flattable inner tubes.

One of them even came with special, straight-out-of-the-packet holes! Yup, that's right. Three of 'em. Since I had bought the last two tubes the shop had in my size, I decided to patch the holes instead of returning the tube. Unfortunately, I only spotted two of the holes to start with. Fixed them. Put the tyre on (back wheel, so very frustrating to fix). Pumped it up.

Aaaaaaaaannnnnnd....five minutes later it was totally flat. At which point (okay, actually after another twenty minutes of wrestling the wheel off) I found the third (quite tiny) hole. I was out of patches by then, so I took all my wheels off again (okay, both wheels, but "all" conveys my sense of frustration far better), reorganised the tyres so that the good slime tube was on the back, replaced the front tube with the old, slow-leaking one, and vowed to return to the shop and bite someone in charge until they give me a refund. (Also to do: recover from parenthesis addiction (maybe).)

The thing is, I thought slime was supposed to SEAL small holes.

Universe? What am I doing wrong???

In other, totally unrelated news, this is hilarious.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Why taxpayers love universities. No, really.

I'm a member of a teaching development group on campus which recently got a small grant to employ some administrative assistance. We haven't used any of the money yet.

Yesterday at our meeting one of the members brought in a huge new handbook the university had printed. "It's full of really important teaching-related stuff," he said. "Case studies, policies, and all sorts of things." We suggested he tell us a bit about it, but he admitted he hadn't read it.

We sat and looked glumly at the 300+ pages, each reluctant to volunteer to wade through it all.

And then... And THEN! We came up with a solution of such genius that I can hardly bring myself to share it with you, in case it blows your minds. So I'll whisper it very quietly. We are going to use some of the grant money to employ someone to read the handbook FOR US. Do you see where this is going? The university will be paying someone to read its own policies!

I'm sure if we set it up right, we could use it as the basis of some sort of perpetual motion machine.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

At some point in their careers, IT people start deliberately designing interfaces to piss you off. Here's why:

As one of my many part time jobs, I do Random Website StuffTM. My most recent brief was for another department, who wanted me to create a Google Maps-based application for their website that shows the fieldwork locations of everyone in the department, along with little info bubbles giving the researcher's name and some other details.

So I did this.

Then I released it to a small group of their profs to get some feedback. Here's some snippets from the emails that ensued:

1. "Please remove the titles "Dr, "Professor" and so on before our names. This looks wanky on a website."

[I do so]

2. "Please put "Dr, Professor" and so on before our names. A website is a public face of the university and needs to look official."

[Sorry dude, over-ruled: the guy in #1 was your boss]

3. (From the guy who originally requested I base the map on Google Maps because he likes the way it looks): "Can you make the sea less blue?"

[I'll just ask Google to dump some bleach into the ocean before they snap their next satellite shot, shall I?]

Then yesterday I made the page live and sent an email to the whole department that prominently (i.e. right at the top) included the following:

If you wish me to move the location of your marker on the map, I need you to send me the latitude and longitude of where it should be located. (Small villages in the Pacific are generally not marked on Google Maps, and sometimes I had to guess about the location.)
Today I received nine requests to move markers. Guess how many gave latitudes and longitudes? (If you guessed "one", then you're giving them too much credit.)

Here are some representative samples of how much information they included in the requests:

"Can you move my marker a bit further south?"

"My marker should be about halfway between [two villages that aren't marked on the map]"

"My markers aren't quite in the right position. Can you fix them?"

"I think [other prof's] markers are wrong. I don't know if they should be further east, but definitely they need to be by a river. One of the big ones."

I replied to these, saying, "Can you please send me the latitude and longitude of the correct position?"

So far I've had one reply: "I think it's probably in Wikipedia."

Monday, August 18, 2008

A virus is forever, not just for Christmas

Geekman: "I nearly opened a virus today. It was very clever. It pretended to be one of those e-greeting cards, except that the "link" was an attached .exe file."

Me: "Good thing you noticed."

Geekman: "Well, it's not like it would have mattered anyway. I was using Linux. Although... I think the way I've set things up, it would have automatically been opened under Wine. [a sort of virtual Windows system that runs under Linux]"

Me: "So you could have emulated the virus."

Geekman: "Ooh! This could be fun! I could run virtual viruses in my virtual Windows!" (Scurries off to try this out).

Yes, folks, we are living in an XKCD strip.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Newsflash: Canada is a separate country

A friend of mine is moving to Canada for a year for a postdoc. Her tickets route her through the USA where she transfers from international to domestic, but she leaves the USA the same day. Obviously she has a valid one-year visa for Canada. As for the USA transit period, normally, when Australians or NZers travel to the USA for fewer than 90 days, they can go without a visa under the visa waiver program.

As I understand it, 1 day < 90 days.

BUT. It turns out that since her onward tickets are to Canada, she has to apply for a visa for the USA that is valid for the entirety of her stay in Canada.

In other words, in order to work in Canada for a year, she has to have a 1-year visa for the USA.

She finds this out now, three weeks before departure. Chances are, she can't get a 1-year visa for the USA between now and then (although she is having to travel to Sydney next week for an interview at the United States Consulate on the off-chance they might be able to rush it through). Her back-up plan is to reroute her flights so that she no longer passes through the USA.

And the fact that is possible totally negates any reasonable justification for this visa requirement. If you can enter Canada from elsewhere and not be required to have a visa for the USA, then it isn't as though this requirement is doing a great job of border protection, right?

I just don't understand. Does the USA somehow own Canada after all?

Friday, August 15, 2008

Uh, thanks for the tip, kid.

Rob and Claudia told me their six-year-old daughter (from his previous marriage) came up to them the other day, all excited.

"Daddy, do you and Claudia still want to have more babies?" she asked.
"Yes, we do..."
"I've found out how to do it! You need to have SEX."

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Itty-bitty scary StyleyGeek

The couple who I am donating eggs to and I had our first joint appointment with the IVF doctor yesterday.

All of these people need better pseudonyms. Geekman suggests calling them Flappy, Flappy and Dr Flappy, but while those are excellent parrot names, people are a little harder. Well, actually, the doctor is easy. She comes across as friendly and competent, but also a little intimidating. So I'm going to go with Dr. Intimidating. As for the couple, (for secret reasons known only to myself, nya ha ha ha!) I'll call them Claudia and Rob.

Anyway, the upshot of the appointment is that all of my tests came out perfect, the examination the doctor did on the spot showed that I was perfect, my answers to her rapid-fire 20-questions game (Do you drink? Do you smoke? Do you take vitamins? Do you floss? (Yes, seriously: apparently it's important)) came out perfect.

A little unnervingly, Dr. Intimidating dictates her patient notes while you are there in the room. ("Donor is in perfect health and clearly highly intelligent." She turns to me and says, "You're scary.")

So apparently I am scary. It turns out this is not just because I am so awesome that I scare people. People who are young, fertile and "itty-bitty" (her descriptor, not mine—I would have described myself as "slim" but hardly "itty-bitty") have higher risk of side-effects from the fertility drugs. But it sounded like she had a sensible plan for taking that into account with regards to dosage and monitoring and so on, so that's cool.

So Dr. Intimidating ran through the stages of the procedure with us, took ten minutes out for a seriously engaged and well-informed discussion about linguistic theory (see: "intimidating") and to ask Rob about his latest physics research, and then charged them $400 for the appointment. I think that might just about cover the latest payments on the white leather lounge suit in her office, but possibly not the hand-painted wallpaper in the foyer.

Actually, I'm kind of surprised by how much of this IVF treatment is covered by the public health system here. I always thought of IVF as costing the parents-to-be tens of thousands of dollars per cycle. (Well, I guess it maybe does in the USA). Here, the actual costs are as follows:

Preliminary tests: $350-ish
IVF clinic fee: $3950
Appointments with doctor: $250 per person for initial consult; $150 thereafter. Usually there are three or four appointments per cycle.
Medication: $4000+
Anaesthesia: $400
Surgeon's fee/other day surgery costs: variable
Total: around $10,000 (+ day surgery fees)

What the couple themselves have to pay:
Preliminary tests: $40-ish
IVF clinic fee: $790
Appointments: $30-ish for initial consult; $15-ish thereafter
Medication: around $400
Anaesthesia: around $80
Surgeon's fee/other day surgery costs: variable
Total: around $1500 (+ day surgery fees)

The rest is covered by the public health cover that all Australians have. Seems like a very good deal!

Anyway, the next step is counselling, which is scheduled for the week after next. "Just to see if any of you are crackers," says Dr. Intimidating.

Meanwhile, I am scary.

When error messages attack!

My computer terminal window has resorted to hissing at me (apparently in warning):

I think this means I should step away slowly and calmly, so as not to anger it further.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008


This morning I overheard this part of a conversation and was totally horrified...

"So, you have a dog, right?"
"Yeah, but I keep forgetting to feed it. And then it gets sad and I can't bear to look at it, because I feel so guilty. So I've been avoiding it for a while now."

I was thinking about calling the SPCA until the next sentence:

"Well they only started that application so you'd feel you have to come and check your profile every day. And then see more of their ads."
"Yeah, Facebook's become totally evil. It's no fun anymore."

Monday, August 11, 2008

When you disobey every single request in the publisher's stylesheet, it's people like me who suffer

You know you've been spending too much time formatting manuscripts when upon hearing KLF's Justified and Ancient, your first thought is "No! Left aligned, dammit!"

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Because monsters are so comforting

A colleague of Geekman's, explaining how he "helps" his wife sleep:

"The problem is, there's this dog next door that barks and growls all night. My wife lies awake and gets angrier and angrier listening to it. So I tell her stories to help her out. Like, I tell her to imagine that we're camping, and the dog is guarding the perimeter of the camp, and the reason he's barking and growling is that there are monsters circling the camp trying to get in at us. But the dog is doing a great job of keeping them away. So then, when she hears the dog barking, she knows it's a sign that she's safe and it's okay to sleep."

Or, you know, it's a sign that there are monsters out there trying to kill her. And she'd better hope the dog doesn't go silent, because we all know what that means.

It's a good thing this guy doesn't have kids; that's all I can say.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Shortcuts: I'm doing them wrong

You have to love Google Maps, since they allow you to share your* stupidity with the whole internet.

Exhibit one: the sensible route that anyone else would have taken

Exhibit two: my 'shortcut'


* By 'your', of course, I mean 'my'.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Mentioning ethnicity in news stories

Take a look at this sentence from a NZ news story today (the bolding is mine):

Cannibalism lasted for several hundred years until the 1830s although there were a few isolated cases after that, said Professor Moon, a Pakeha history professor at Te Ara Poutama, the Maori Development Unit at the Auckland University of Technology.
(Note for non-NZers: "Pakeha" is the general term for a white New Zealander).

"White" is so often the default assumption, so news stories usually only specify the person's skin colour if they aren't white. Admittedly, the reason why a reader might expect Maori as the default for this story is that the story itself is about Maori history and the professor is located in the Maori Development Unit of Auckland University. But even so, I think it's pretty damn cool that, as the wording in this article implies, the average reader would otherwise assume a professor of Maori history to be Maori hirself.

You'd have thought I'd have learned my lesson by now

A recurring theme:

December 2007: StyleyGeek gets hired as a writer on a new magazine. She works 20 hours, sends in her copy and bills the company. Oops! The company has done a runner. (StyleyGeek never gets paid.)

February 2008: StyleyGeek gets hired to fill in for someone on teaching leave for the semester. She works for six weeks, then they tell her they were actually supposed to have advertised the position, and could she please apply for the job she is already doing, and then they might be able to process her contract and pay her. (Eventually resolved satisfactorily).

June 2008: StyleyGeek is working as a research assistant. The faculty member she is working for wants to go to a conference overseas during one of the teaching weeks of the following semester. She asks if SG can cover her lectures that week, to be paid out of the same pool of grant money the research assistant money came out of. SG agrees happily, teaches the classes, and is then informed that, oops, that money is earmarked for research assistance. You shouldn't have taught the classes after all. Now we don't know how to pay you. (Still not resolved).

August 2008: The research school likes the website StyleyGeek designed for her department. They ask her to revamp their website and put in lots of cool stuff like she did on the other site. By Monday, please, as they have an important review coming up. StyleyGeek stays up all night creating some working examples of some of the 'cool stuff'. The next morning she emails the IT people to ask for access to the website files. Is informed that only the IT people are allowed access to the files. All requests for website changes must go through them. The 'cool stuff' is too difficult and they won't do it. But the research school people did not have the right to hire her to do it either. So even though this time the money is there and earmarked for the project, SG still might not get paid.

In future, StyleyGeek does not work without payment in advance and written confirmation of her job, preferably from the Vice Chancellor, kthxbai.

Updated to add:
I just remembered another one! 2006: I was employed by a government department to work on their website. Except, oops! They had forgotten they were only allowed to hire Australian citizens. Or they hadn't noticed I wasn't one. Or something. Either way, the job evaporated before the ink on the contract was dry.

Monday, August 04, 2008

He actually thinks this makes him look better

Geekman claims I maligned him in the previous post, where I wrote:

You can't get theoreticians like Geekman to fix a car, since the first thing they want to do is model it as a sphere, or solve the problem for two dimensions, or for conditions of absolute zero with no gravity.
He would like you to know that, although he usually models things for conditions of absolute zero with no gravity, he does it in ONE dimension, and as a parabola. Not a sphere.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

We have mad mechanic skillz! (Or at least, we know the right people)

We one of the experimentalists* from the physics department fixed our car!

It's almost a pity, because I had just got to the point of feeling smugly superior about "not" having a car anymore. (The "not" is not in unnecessary quotation marks, but rather refers to the sort of not-having that involves owning something that doesn't work.)

There were three separate points in the fixing process where I was totally ready to give up and call the wreckers, but the physicists proved unstoppable:

(1) When we went to get the car out of the garage, and found that as well as the steering lock problem, the battery was flat. I was going to give up then and there, since even if we jump-started it, I wasn't about to drive it for 45 minutes to recharge the battery when the steering could fail at any moment. Geekman convinced me we should do it anyway, though. ("What's the worst that can happen? We die in a horrible accident. Oh well.")

(2) Then after we pried the casing and horn and various electrics off the steering wheel, removing the wheel itself required (yes, I do mean required) beating it hard with a mallet. (Actual warning in the user's manual: "Do not hit the steering wheel with a mallet." That made us feel better about doing so, since we figured they wouldn't have anticipated it if it weren't a reasonable solution.)

(3) When we finally got down to the ignition shaft, it turned out that was done up with screws designed only to be tightened, not loosened. (There was only a ridge for the screwdriver to lock into for turning to the right.) At that point I gave up completely and said, "Well, we tried."
This is apparently an attitude unknown in the physics community. The screw is the wrong shape? We will mutilate it with an electric drill until it is the RIGHT shape!

And they did.

And it was. Eventually. Kind of.

At least, it came off.

And then we removed the thing that we figured must be the steering lock, which was the cause of all the trouble. (Um, anyone know what a steering lock looks like? Is it a small metal block with a couple of springs connecting it to the ignition? I hope so, because that's the bit we took out and threw away.)

And then we put everything back together, hopefully in the right order. We didn't even have any pieces left over! And the car still goes. (Now with no sudden steering failures.)

We rock! Experimentalist guy rocks!


* You can't get theoreticians like Geekman to fix a car, since the first thing they want to do is model it as a sphere, or solve the problem for two dimensions, or for conditions of absolute zero with no gravity.

Geekman fails to distinguish relative from absolute time reference

Me: "Oooh! Fresh pasta in the fridge! I love you because you eat pasta with me. And because you don't say, 'Are you sure you want to eat so much pasta? It'll all end up on your hips tomorrow.'"

Geekman: "Well, we aren't eating it until tomorrow. So it would have to be causality-infringing pasta."

Saturday, August 02, 2008

If only they had money, they could be rich like us!

Anastasia mentioned dairy price increases in a recent post and it reminded me of a bizarre conversation I had with the out-of-touch in-laws (TOOTILs).

TOOTILs "look after" a single mother from their church. By "look after", I mean they give her a little money towards her rent, and in exchange they get to berate her about her life choices.

So TOOTILs were telling me about the huge recent price hikes in butter, cheese and milk in NZ. "Of course," they said, "it doesn't affect us." (They don't use dairy; only soy products, olive oil, and goat's cheese.) "It's people like [single mother] it's hitting hard. Her children go through litres and litres of milk a day. And cheese! My goodness."
Then, in an exasperated tone, "We've told her. But these people have fixed ideas, you know?"

Quick reality check:

500 grams butter: $3.59 — 500 g olive oil-based spread: $10.39
1 kg cheese: $9.99 — 1 kg goat's feta: $37.35
1 litre cow's milk: $1.99 — 1 litre soy milk: $3.25

(Prices from the NZ Woolworths website)

Warning: total detour from the main point here:

When looking to see what had happened to dairy prices in NZ, I came across this article, which claims that "diary income is driving the [New Zealand] economy." I was quite overcome with a vision of our entire population making it big in the blogging world, and had to go lie down to recover.

Friday, August 01, 2008

Ghetto conference

I attended a conference today that was so cheap (or disorganised?) that, instead of name badges or even sticky labels, they passed around post-its for people to write their names on and stick to their chests.