Saturday, May 31, 2008

A bird in the mail is worth two in the window

This awesome blogger sent me a present!

It arrived yesterday, was thoroughly inspected, and pronounced acceptable.

(They are salt and pepper shakers, in case you can't tell.)

Thank you, ITPF!

Friday, May 30, 2008

Okay, get this

Very soon, I will have accrued eight days of leave entitlement. I plan to take it the week after next. I just tried to apply for this, but my current accrued leave stands at 20.93 hours, and eight days' worth is 21 hours.

So I have to wait. Until I have accrued another 4 minutes of leave.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Appropriate responses: a survey

So the university, in its wisdom, seems to have decided not to extend my contract to actually cover the period during which my students prepare for and sit the final exam, nor for the following period, during which I supposedly mark 140 exams and submit the grades. This despite the fact that I have in writing, in an email from our department administrator, the following sentence: "I have spoken with [Head of Department] about your contract, and if your exam does end up being scheduled after the 20th, we can extend the contract with ease".

So I'm pretty much certain I'm going to refuse to mark the damn things. Unfortunately (for me), some of the permanent staff have volunteered to do so instead. Other responses I am considering.

(1) Setting up an auto-response to student emails that arrive between when my contract ends and the exam, saying, "I am unable to respond to your email, as I am no longer an employee of the university. If you have any questions about your exam, please contact [Head of Department]."

(2) Putting a notice on my office door saying the same thing.

(3) Having a serious chat with my union.

(4) Demanding that the department honour what is essentially an informal contract to pay me for the exam period (see email above).

(5) Refusing to submit final grades, as I am no longer a university employee at that point.

(6) Sucking it up, being a good girl, and not jeopardising my chances of future employment by being difficult about things like actually getting paid for work I do.

In related news, remember that I didn't get paid at all until 8 weeks after I started this job, due to contract fuck-ups. And although I am being paid for 17.5 hours a week, I worked 40+ each of the past two, which are the only weeks I have actually counted the hours I've put into this course.

So, which of 1-6 do you consider to be justified? And (an entirely different question), which should I actually do?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Never do fieldwork (part 2)

(For background, the first post on this is here.)

Today we discovered that the word for "husband" and the word for "pork" in the language we are working on are the same, except for the tone. That tone we can't hear, remember? This led to us saying, "I am eating your husband" every time we tried to talk about something more normal.

Of course, in reality it wouldn't be a problem, since our speaker's village is in nothing-but-sago territory, and they are more likely to be eating people's husbands than pork.

Those people in the group with experience of sago-eating areas managed to find plenty of excuses later in the session when our speaker invited us to go visit her village.
"But it is a good village!" she said. "It is a very decent village. We are very proper people." And then, in what she must have imagined to be a deal-clincher, "It is easy to get to. There is an international airport in the city near us. And from there, the village is only one day's walk through the bush."
Then she looked us up and down appraisingly. "Maybe two days."

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

How you can tell the semester is nearly over

(Nine! Days! To go!)

There's a flood of forms in my inbox from students requesting an earlier final exam. (But I booked tickets to go on holiday! How dare the exam interfere with my trip! How was I supposed to know there would be a final exam?)

The department is buzzing with the weird sense of camaraderie that results from too many late night marking sessions and dealing with weird student requests.

Every email I send gets pretty much the same reply, "Can you wait two weeks for me to deal with this?"

I'm no longer having the "forgot to go to class" nightmares, but have moved onto the "created an un-answerable exam" set instead.

I burst into tears any time anyone asks me to do anything. (Actually, that's mostly just today, and probably only because I was up all night re-creating the lecture notes and handouts that my computer destroyed yesterday at 11pm).

A research-only job is starting to really appeal.

And, worst of all, my blog posts have become both whiny and infrequent.

(While I was writing this post, I was interrupted three times by students wanting to know if I had marked their assignments yet. The ones they handed in five days ago. The ones that are taking me 30 minutes each to mark. (0.5 hours x 75 assignments = a number bigger than 5 days.) Now if I HAD marked them, and was willing to give them back/release the marks, do they really think I'd be deliberately withholding the grade, only to give in when they knock on my door and hassle me?)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

How hard is it to be competent?

So it looks like the department screwed up my contract again, and as well as having to wait eight weeks at the start of semester before I got paid, I'm likely to have to wait as long again to get paid for the final few weeks of teaching. But you know? Apparently, I should be GRATEFUL. Because this puts that last bit of my earnings into the next financial year and it will be tax free.*

(And the most shameful thing? When they pointed this out to me, I WAS grateful.)


* Tax this year is a particularly sore point with me, since my only earnings in 2007 were in the second half of the year, and my only earnings in 2008 are likely to be in the first half. So although I actually earned only around $10,000 a year for each of 2007 and 2008, I'll be taxed as though I earned twice that.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Because I am marking assignments...

... of course I have new (unrelated) fun links to share with you.

Currently making me laugh out loud.

GOOD NEWS, EVERYONE! (Miscellaneous Futurama reference. Don't mind me.)

Our mechanic says he can fix everything (plus some*) for $225. This is approximately a tenth of what I was expecting. How is this possible? He also said we need repairs to the driveshaft, but it's not urgent, not dangerous, and if he were us, he'd wait another year or so.

Good thing Geekman was the one who took the car in, because I would have been overcome with an inappropriate display of joy.

Coincidentally, I have a nice bottle of wine in the cupboard and a free evening with which to celebrate. Oh wait, no: I have a stack of 70 assignments in my bag and an evening with which to get caught up on marking.


* Some being the pre-existing slow leak in one of the tyres.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Random bullets of the capital city of a large country shouldn't be this small

I changed doctors recently - partly because the university clinic now charges me money since I'm no longer a student, but also partly because the random doctor they gave me last time turned out to be someone I knew socially (without realising they were a doctor) and that was a little bit odd.

The new doctor I went to (who I picked at random from a list of doctors that bulk bill Medicare) turns out to have one of my students working as his receptionist.

I went to a party hosted by someone in my department recently, and her housemate had invited a friend, who happened to be the twin sister of someone who works with Geekman. At the same party was an American guy who used to read this blog, and has since moved to Australia.

Another party I attended a couple of weeks ago was for a friend who is not and never has been at the university or connected with it. A guy at that party who I had never met before sat in the corner and picked his nose aggressively all night. The next day we went to the house of one of Geekman's colleagues for lunch and the nose-picker was there as well.

At the same lunch was someone who looked kind of familiar, and turned out to have been a colleague of Stellar_Muddle's (who sometimes comments here).

We went to a "games night" run by a colleague of Geekman's a few weeks back, and someone else she had invited was someone I know from the university rock climbing club.

Possible explanations that have occurred to me include the following:

  • Maybe this is just what happens if you live in a city for long enough. (We've been here four years now, which is the longest I've lived anywhere since I was a kid.)
  • The circles we move in are a lot smaller than the actual size of the city. E.g. mostly we hang out with people who have some connection to the university. That doesn't explain Nosepicker, or the doctor thing, though.
  • This city only actually has 30 inhabitants. The government just claims higher figures because otherwise it's too embarrassing. (This explanation has the advantage of also explaining why downtown is always mysteriously empty).

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Why I sit quietly and wait for my turn, apparently

Waiting at the Motor Registry to get new license plates, I overheard the woman next to me explaining good behaviour to her toddler.

"You have to sit on your bottom, not climb all over the seats."

"No. Sit on your bottom. Otherwise you'll have to have a time out."

"Sit. On. Your. Bottom. You see that man over there behind the counter? He'll come over and tell you off and put you in time out."

"See the lady sitting there?" (Points at me.) "SHE is sitting on HER bottom. She's afraid of the man behind the counter and doesn't want him to be angry at her and put her in time out."

Sunday, May 18, 2008


And on top of all this, when I went back today to fetch my bike from the library, where I had left it with its flat tyre, I found some fucker had destroyed the back wheel.

My current addictions on

...are these two toys.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Pissed off

Last night some arsehole broke into our car, ruined the front passenger side lock, stole the gearstick and the license plates, and did something nasty to the steering. Fortunately there weren't any valuables in it, although they ate the emergency chocolate stash in the glove box.

Why did they want the gearstick, for god's sake?

And my bike got another flat tyre. Gah.

Window into marriage in the 1930s

This "marital rating scale" from 1939 is amazing in all sorts of ways.

Some surprising excerpts:

The man gets points for "consulting wife about business affairs", turning over the "whole paycheck" to her, and helping with housework and childcare. He gets 20 points for making sure his wife has an orgasm whenever they have sex. He gets "demerits" for not getting dressed on Sundays, and for "writing on the tablecloth with a pencil." (Is pen better? And was this really a common problem?)

The woman gets demerits for wearing red nail polish, "wearing pajamas while cooking", failing to wash the top of the milk bottle before opening it, walking around the house in stockinged feet, and "taking dope".

She gets points for being able to "carry on an interesting conversation" (good little wifey), "keeping snacks in the refrigerator for late night eating", and being "jolly and gay".

Then there's the complaints that I've still heard people making today:

  • Calls, "Where is the - " without looking for it first. (Man)
  • Leaves dresser drawers open. (Man)
  • Squeezes toothpaste from the top. (Man)
  • Puts cold feet on husband at night to warm them. (Woman)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

More free advice

When you start feeling the need to discuss your prostate problems at departmental meetings, it's time to retire.

Some free advice

If someone sends you a sensitive email about someone in your professional circles having a terminal illness, and if that email mentions that the news is top secret, you probably shouldn't print it out and leave it lying on the departmental printer all day.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Random bullets of women exist only to incubate your spawn

If there is a men's cabin and a women's cabin at a workshop/retreat, how come the couple plus (male) three-month-old baby automatically go in the women's cabin?

If a young childless/free woman mentions that she was kept awake by a crying baby, the response, "Oh well, that's good practice for later!" is just SO not appropriate. Especially if you are one of the older male academics who got to have the baby-free cabin and a good night's sleep.

Geekman once asked my mother why she cared so much about whether and when we had children. After searching a bit for an answer she finally came up with, "Because it's normal. It's what normal people do. I want you to be normal."

It's nice to know that my mother has such high ambitions for us. I think I'm probably a disappointment: normality not being high on my priority list.

Speaking of my mother, she sent me a really spectacularly sweet email on Sunday. Admittedly it started off by reminding me it was Mother's Day and I hadn't sent her anything (but damn, since she's now forgotten my birthday two years running, I thought I'd get a free pass). But then the email went into reminiscences of how excited she was when I was born and when they first brought me home and what a lovely baby I was. I feel vaguely guilty for how suspicious I am about what could possibly have motivated this.

Here is a picture of a totally unrelated garden shed:

Monday, May 05, 2008

Never do fieldwork. (No, really.)

I've been participating in a fieldwork methods course this semester, which is like fieldwork in that you get to work on a previously undescribed language, but unlike fieldwork in that you don't have to sleep in a mud hut, politely accept raw pigs' testicles for dinner, or forgo showers for the duration.

We were all told to buy a hardback notebook to keep our records in. I followed instructions, but then found myself incapable of sullying its pristine pages with my messy and incomplete analysis. Instead I have been using it to keep notes on why I should never ever indulge in research that requires fieldwork.

Some highlights:

Day One:
We meet our speaker. She explains that her language is a tone language and it has five tones. She can only give us examples of three. We spend several hours trying to hear and produce the right tones. She laughs at us a lot, because instead of saying, "My stomach is sore", we generally produce "My vagina is itchy".

Eventually we start to be able to hear the tone differences with more than chance frequency and decide that they can be characterised as "high-falling", "non-high", and "long". We can definitely hear a length distinction, anyway.

Day Two:
We spend hours hunched over spectrograms that definitively prove there is no length distinction in our examples.

Day Three:
We find a new way to categorize the tones that seems to work! We are certain we can now hear the difference between "vagina" and "stomach".

Our speaker walks in on us playing back the recordings. It turns out she can't tell which one she was saying either.

Day Four:
We give up on tones and move on to verb paradigms. We have one verb paradigm for this language already, entrusted to us by an ancient linguist who took some notes once when stuck in the wilds of Papua New Guinea due to visa problems.* The verb is "to swim". We decide to elicit this from our speaker for comparison purposes.

Our speaker insists her language has no word for swimming.

Day Five:
The hours of intense elicitation sessions pay off. I discover a phoneme! I am so excited I can speak of nothing else for hours.

Day Six:
Our speaker, unprompted, teaches us to say, "I am eating the white man. I am chewing on his skin." We all shift uncomfortably in our seats and make a note of the nearest exit.

More exciting field work notes to follow, no doubt...


According to our speaker, the informant this other linguist used for his data was our speaker's niece. The niece was working for immigration and refused to let the linguist leave the country unless he did some work on her language as well as the one he was actually there to study. We wonder if the non-existent verb paradigm was some sort of revenge. Who by, we aren't quite certain.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Things that are awesome

When you ask an IT person how they did something clever, and they reply, "Nerd magic."

Sunny weather on cold days.

Students who do part of the assignment that they didn't have to (a question only for the upper level students in the course), and they reply, "But it was so much fun! I couldn't stop!" (And they got the answer right.)

The autumn colours on the trees. I kind of missed the best time for photos and now they are going dingy, but they were lovely while they lasted.

Class evaluations surveys that are full of nice comments.

A parrot that paces up and down outside the window like it wants feeding, but when you open the window to put out some seed, bypass the food and hop into the room instead. I guess it wanted warmth and company rather than food, for once.

Geekman. Just because.