Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Summer at the beach

Some things about New Zealand don't seem to have changed much since I was a kid.

A little boy of six or seven broke his wrist down at the wharf today. He was there by himself. His mum was out somewhere; there was no one at home (which was a 20 minute walk away anyhow). No one out of the twenty of so kids or three adults there had a phone, and the adults didn't have cars. One of the adults took him back to her place, since it was only a ten minute walk away. No one seemed bothered by the fact that this little boy was going off with a total stranger. Everyone seemed to have no doubt at all that everything would turn out all right, and I guess it probably will.

I wonder if the hospital will call child protective services when they find that the kid was swimming in the sea alone, at home alone, and doesn't know how to contact his parents? Or maybe that's still so common around here that no one will be at all surprised.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

This is what an electrician's house looks like

And yes, that is a plug socket in the ceiling.

There are also windows that can't be shut, ever, because powercords go through them and are attached directly to the outside wires.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Sad, but probably true

Overheard in the fruit and vege market, a mother unloading berries, mangoes, and asparagus at the checkout, talking to her 8-year-old daughter.

Mother: "These are healthy and yummy."

Daughter: "Yay! Blueberries! Why can't we have yummy healthy food all the time?"

Mother: "Because it's too expensive. Once a week is okay, but normally you can have either healthy or yummy."

Thursday, January 24, 2008

How to be European, in one easy lesson

When we were packing for our recent move, I came across this sticker that Jana sent us a few years ago. In case you need the background, signs like this are fairly common in Europe, but totally weird out Australians (and NZers) and she thought we could do with introducing a little cultural uncertainty into our bathroom. For guests, you understand.

What struck me, looking at this sticker again, was the different translations. The German tells you what is not allowed: "Please do not stand while peeing." The English is a polite request to sit down, without any mention of bodily functions. And the pragmatic French translates as, "He who sits down does not pee on his feet."

It's beginning to feel a lot like graduation

I heard unofficially that two of my three examiners' reports are in. And with two recommended passes, and a late third report, the university policy is to go ahead and award the degree.

One of the two reports was apparently "glowing" (this from my supervisor: students don't get to view the report in full), requires no revisions, and recommended my thesis for a prize for outstanding dissertations. Briefly my usual insecurities stepped in and made me wonder who it was so that I could mentally down-grade their professional judgement, but then the new me—Dr StyleyGeek, I presume—gave those insecurities a good telling off. The other report was also good, and requires only a few minor revisions (my supervisor says it's mostly typos).

The next step is that my supervisor gives me excerpts from the report that requires revisions, I make the revisions, get the library copies of the dissertation bound and handed in, and then I can graduate!

Woo hoo!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

You know something ironic?

The company that owes me that money, and has done the disappearing act? I've just been googling them, and along with their many other tentacles of business dealings, they also claim to specialise in debt collection.


You may remember how a certain company owes me $500 for work I did on their non-existent magazine.

I have their emails offering me the job, their emails requesting certain articles to be written, and my emails responding to these. I also have my invoices and copies of the letters/emails I sent them, requesting payment.

I recently sent them a "if you don't pay me within the month, I will be taking you to the Small Claims Court" letter (which, as far as I understand it, is a requirement before you do take them to the Small Claims Court).

This is that letter, boomeranged nicely back into my letterbox today.

So what do I do next? I doubt I can take them to even the small claims court without a valid address, phone number or email contact (emails are bouncing; their phone is cut off; they've taken their website down). Also, I'm supposed to notify them and give them a warning before I do so (does trying to contact them count?) It's not worth talking to a lawyer, since I expect their fees would soon be more than the $500 I am trying to recover.

Do I just let it go?

Monday, January 21, 2008

And what if the sun went nova? What THEN?

When I write computer programs, Geekman always disapproves of my code.

"You have to think about contingencies," he tells me. "Using that sort of simple container for faculty member information might be fine for now, but it will have serious problems if your department suddenly employs an extra 200 people. And as for your alphabetising function: what if they add extra letters to the alphabet?"

I tell him I'm willing to take BOTH those risks. Because I'm a daredevil like that.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

It is still January, right?

Our local shop has put up their Easter egg display already.

Is this a gender difference, or is one of us just strange?

"I'm just going to put some of that stuff on your bedside table away, in case people come in here during the party."

"Why? We're married. People know we have sex."

"Yeah, but there's a difference between abstractly knowing we have sex (at unspecified times, in unspecified ways), and seeing the evidence."


"For me, at least, it's like the difference between people knowing I wear a skimpy nightdress, and me answering the door wearing it."

"Why would that be a problem?"

"Well, I guess I figure that if people see that I've just had sex, or that I'm wearing skimpy nightwear, it might trigger them to imagine what I'm like in bed or something, and talking to someone when you think that they might be thinking about having sex with you is just embarrassing."

"Girls are weird."

Friday, January 18, 2008

I love this time of year

(Yes, we are having a party tonight. Come on over!)

Jelly shots, because I never did do them when I was 18

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hooray for exploitation!

I was asked today to step in and teach the big intro course in our department this coming semester. Unfortunately, the circumstances surrounding the inability of the usual person to teach it mean that this person has also not put together a syllabus, ordered the textbooks, reserved the library loans, or, well, anything. And the course starts in four weeks. Three of which I will be in New Zealand for.

Stupidly, I'm really excited about this job, even though intellectually I know I should be raising one ironic eyebrow and drawling, "Hooray for last minute sub-minimum-wage academic exploitation". Screw it. I'm going to be excited anyway, on the other half of my brain.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

There's a carnival.

Go read it, because it's cool.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

An anthropological puzzle

Our (now ex)-HOD (who still needs a better pseudonym), asked me yesterday about an observation he had made when last in New Zealand, and which, although I was able to confirm, I was at a total loss to explain. Perhaps someone knows? Badaunt? Other random NZ readers?

"When you are driving through the countryside in New Zealand," he said, "and you pass a farm, next to the letterbox there is often a little corrugated iron hut and chained to it—"

"—a goat," I finished for him (because I'm impolite like that).

"Yes," he said. "A goat. Why?"

"Well, that's where you keep your goat," I replied, rolling my eyes, because of course that's where you keep your goat.

"But why?"

"Why what?"

"Why by the letter box? Why the little hut?"

"The hut, well... it's the goat hut," I explained. "For the goat."

He gave me a Look.

"Maybe to keep the rain off?" I hazarded.

"But why the letterbox? Is it so that the goat can defend you against the postman? Or eat the junk mail?"

"Where would you keep your goat?" I asked, with the smug sense of whipping out the conversational mat from under his feet.

"I wouldn't have a goat."

"Well, if you did. You'd surely keep it by the letterbox too, wouldn't you? In its hut."

"I don't think I would. I don't think I'd feel any social pressure to keep it in any particular place," he explained. And then added the real stumper. "Why do New Zealanders keep a goat anyway?"

So, my plea to any rural New Zealanders reading this blog: do you have answers to any of the following burning questions?

  1. Why do rural NZers keep goats and Australians not?
  2. Do we really tend to keep them chained to little iron huts by the letterbox, or are ex-HOD and I both suffering from a joint delusion?
  3. Why the little hut?
  4. Why the letterbox?
If no one can solve this puzzle soon, there will be nothing that can stop ex-HOD(wnabp) from suggesting it to the anthropology department as an honours student project topic.

Maybe I'll stick with the academic jobs for now

"How much do you think hitmen charge?"

"I think it depends on the context. If you are in a gang, you probably only get a couple of hundred dollars. If you are a professional hired to kill a politician, maybe a few hundred thousand. Why, are you thinking of hiring one?"

"No, I was wondering if I could be one."

"Well, how much would you charge?"

"If it were someone I actually liked or respected, no amount of money would get me to kill them. If it were someone I didn't feel strongly about either way, maybe I'd do it for a few million. For someone who I thought deserved to die, I might give a discount."

"You scare me."

"But if you're right, and people can hire a hitman for a few hundred dollars, I'd never be likely to get a hitman job at the prices I'd charge, so that's almost the same as having morals, right?"

"Uh, no."

Friday, January 11, 2008

Little gems heard in my department today

Our (now ex-)HOD, giving feedback on my grant proposal, "My only real criticism is that the project sounds like too much fun. The referees might think that it's a bit frivolous: like, 'Here's someone who likes screwing around on the internet. And they want us to give them money to keep screwing around on the internet.'"

Me, "Well, yeah."


Random faculty member, "It was so much better when I first started working here. There was no expectation to publish if you didn't feel like it. Tenure was automatic. Now they're always pressuring you to do so much work."


My supervisor
, "Bloggers are... well, they aren't the most educated of people, are they? I mean, they tend to be lower socio-economic groups, dropouts... I'm not surprised they don't use standard English."


Ex-HOD, who really needs a better pseudonym, "The other potential weak point in your proposal is your track record, of course. You really need more publications in order to have a chance of getting a postdoc in this day and age."

Then five minutes later, when the conversation has moved onto gossiping about other students, "You know, [PhD student] applied for an extension recently. And the only reason she isn't finished on time is that she keeps spending time on publishing papers instead of writing her thesis. I'm really quite annoyed about this. The time to publish is after you have your PhD, not during it, at the school's expense."


My supervisor again, on a totally different subject, "So I sent off my book review to the journal, and I got an email back from the editor, saying they forgot they had asked me to review it, and have since signed up someone else to do it instead!"

Me, "That's awful! Surely they can't do that!"

My supervisor, "I know! I couldn't believe it! I mean, I know I took more than two years to get around to writing the review, but they didn't tell me they would give it to someone else..."

When our internet is back up, I'm so doing this

How to mess with neighbours who are poaching on your wireless.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Yes, I am five years old

I used the word ass in a grant proposal. Hee hee.

Life after the technological apocalypse

A typical evening in our house lately:

6 pm: Arrive home, collapse in front of the computer to catch up on blogs and news. Oh wait, that's right: we don't have internet at home right now.

6:30 pm: Time to cook dinner. Open cupboards, find bag of lentils, half a carrot, and a whole heap of tomatoes. Think to self, I bet there are some Indian dishes I could make with these ingredients; I'll just go check out some Indian sites on—oh wait. No internet.

7:25 pm: Debate with Geekman about the purpose of human nose hair. Neither of us can handle the open-endedness of a discussion that can't be resolved by Wikipedia.

7:30 pm: I wonder what's on TV? Go to look up TV times online. Oh wait...

8:30 pm: Decide to do some knitting. Except, I've just got to the tricky bit in my pattern... which is online.

8:35 pm: Try to use dishwasher for the first time in this new apartment. Totally baffled by the dials and rinse aid holder. If only I had a copy of the manual. I bet it's available online.

8:40 pm: Still wondering about nose hair.

8:45 pm: Decide to call a friend. Except that her phone number, like most other important numbers, is stored in my email.

9 pm: I would really really like to read blogs, play scrabble, read the news, or aimlessly surf the web right now. Since these aren't options, I reluctantly settle down to do some work.

9:01 pm: Realise I left some important files on my university computer. Not a problem—I can ftp them. Oh, wait.

9:15 pm: Filled with a burning desire to know how closely arachnids are related to crustaceans. Curse my lack of Wikipedia access.

9:30 pm: Geekman suggests baking some muffins. But no! Our favourite muffin recipe is on the internet, and we've never printed it out, because we'll always have the internet, surely.

10 pm: Give up and go to bed. Lie awake wondering about nose hair and arachnids.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Geekman the literalist

"The people who used these boxes before us were liars."


"This one is labeled 'linen closet'. But there is no way a linen closet would fit in here."

Friday, January 04, 2008

Okay, maybe one more post

To give you an example of how arduous this whole moving thing is: we now have to spend the rest of the evening drinking, so as not to have to take bunches of half-empty liquor bottles with us tomorrow.

Pity us.

Boxes boxes everywhere

Moving house sucks. And that's pretty much the sum total of in-depth analysis I have on this situation.

I wrote a grant proposal, though. And got feedback in pretty much the shortest time period known to humankind. It was unhelpful feedback, but it didn't say my project was worthless, even though that's how I interpreted it for the first hour or two.

And now I'm moving. I doubt there'll be time to blog between now and Tuesday.

Happy weekend, people.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Writing my grant proposal

Section E3: Describe how the aims and concepts of this research are innovative and significant.

What I write:
This project is full of innovation and significance! Oh yes indeedy! You'll be amazed! My aims are to discover a theory of everything and rule the world. In an innovative fashion. And this is significant because everyone likes world domination.

What I would like to write:
They just are. Okay?

Section E5: Explain how your project has economic, environmental or social benefits for Australia, and how it contributes to our National Research Priorities of defending against terrorism and conserving water.

What I write:
Blah blah blah, bullshit bullshit bullshit. No really, I mean it. Bullshit bullshit bullshit. Linguistics relates to languages. And if everyone spoke lots of languages we'd all understand each other and there would be peace and love and happiness and unicorns would rule the earth and there'd be no more terrorism. Water for everyone!

What I'd like to write:
Actually, my project has no relationship to any of these priorities whatsoever, and do you really expect me to give a fuck about Australia's economic, environmental or social benefits? What do I look like, some kind of patriot?

Loose ends

So imagine we are sitting here, me and you. On the couch in the lounge, in a kind of sprawled out "I wish we'd stopped halfway through that chocolate fondue" position, but happy despite it all. We're a little bit sway-y, what with that bottle of cheap red wine and all, but the air is too hot and heavy to try and sleep. We're wearing hardly any clothes already, and don't know each other well enough to take off the rest of them, so we're just going to have to steam gently in the eucalyptus-scented heat and fend off heatstroke as best we can with ice cream. (Yes, I know, I lost you for a minute there while you did a double take at the thought of New Year's Eve in midsummer. Do try to be a little less Northern-Hemisphere-centric when you read this blog, okay?)

Anyway, we're here, hot and tired, but there's still half an hour to go before we can reasonably start to stroll towards the city centre to watch the midnight fireworks show. Geekman is in the other room, trying to invent a better lossless bitmap compression algorithm, because that's the sort of thing he does for fun, but we aren't like that, you and me, so we sit here and chat.

And you remind me that I've been a little bit thoughtless with the switch-and-bait blogging lately: setting up half a story and not following through. You give me a Look and I know it means you are half joking but also kind of pissy and it's only the wine and chocolate that's tipped the balance in my favour. So I give you permission to hit me with the questions and once you start, you're a regular little Energizer bunny.

"Whatever happened to...

... the scam you mentioned a couple of weeks back?"

Remember this magazine writing job I had for, like, five minutes (if it ever existed at all)? I had an interview, was offered the job, and asked to write six feature articles for the February issue. I did the work and emailed it to the guy in charge. The email promptly bounced. All emails to his address and all other addresses associated with the company have bounced ever since (15th December onwards). He doesn't answer his mobile phone: it just rings forever and doesn't even go to voicemail. The company's landline cuts in with an answer phone, and the messages I have left there go unanswered. I have not been paid. Since the deadline I was given was 16th December, and I was told the February issue needed to be finalised and sent to the printer by Christmas, I am pretty sure that something is wrong. I just have no idea what it is, why it happened, or what this guy stood to gain from scamming me, if that's what it was.

"... those American chocolate bars you promised to taste and report back on?"

Didn't happen yet. Hopefully it still will. Maybe I should make it my New Year's Resolution to eat more chocolate. That's one I could probably keep.

"... your plan to throw yourself at the mercy of the new superstar professor and beg for a post-doc position?"

I did it. He said he didn't have funding for a post doc himself, but was happy to support me in a grant application. We had a brief very strange meeting, where he arrived on bicycle wearing pink flip-flops, shorts, and a pink Hello Kitty backpack, and tried to persuade me to go and do fieldwork in Papua New Guinea. In the end, I decided that if I'm applying for my own funding, I'd rather do a project that really excites me, so I'm putting together a grant application for my blog-reading-as-research idea. I'm hoping Superstar Professor will still want to support me, as it's still tangentially linked to his own research, but I won't find out until I send him my draft later this week.

"... the pseudo-semi-pesco-vegetarianism?"

I'm not pressing the issue at other people's houses, so pretty much went back to being carnivorous over Christmas. Otherwise it's going well, and Geekman is even sometimes choosing to join me in a vegetarian meal even when he has other options.

"... your mother's cancer?"

She finished chemotherapy just before Christmas. They told her that with her type of cancer she had a 25% chance that it was still waiting in the wings somewhere and would reoccur. This can be lessened by radiation, so she is now on a waiting list for that. She was pretty pissed off about it all, since they have been telling her since mid December that she'll be called to start it "any day now", so she couldn't leave town over the holidays. Yet they still haven't called. She just wants to get it over with and get back to work.

"And did you really get Geekman's parents the cranberry jam they wanted for Christmas?"

No, we aren't quite that cheap. We got them cranberry jam, but also visited Ikea in Melbourne and bought them knäckebröd and hjortronvinegär and glögg and Swedish coffee and julmust as well.

"And how about 2008, anyway? Do you have a...

... job?"

Not really. I have three part time web design jobs for various university departments, and some tutoring lined up for the first semester. But I need something that pays the more serious bills. Preferably some academic work. Does anyone need a research assistant? I can telecommute!

"... place to live?"

Yes. We are moving on Saturday (argh).


Let me see... Would you like some more coffee? Let me clear away those cups and plates.

"Have you even graduated yet?"

No. I'm still waiting for the examiners' reports on my thesis (these are the overseas anonymous referees that we have in lieu of a defense). Unofficial word is that one report is in and glowing. Two still to come. Hopefully they will come in in the next month or two, so that I can make any necessary revisions and graduate in the July ceremony.

"Isn't that a poisonous spider sitting on your next-door neighbour's door?"

Yes, but it's been there for more than a week now, and they don't seem bothered. Although, come to think of it, I haven't seem them around lately, and there is a funny smell from their apartment...

Anyway, now that we're all up to date, and you have asked all your awkward questions, I'll pour you the last glass of wine and we can toast the New Year in together.

Greetings from 2008, guys! Come on over! I got there before you, but I'll keep it warm until you get here.