Monday, June 30, 2008

There haven't been enough parrot photos lately

So I thought I'd show you the collection of things I keep on my office windowsill: some dying cacti, a blue sparkly thing on a string, and... a greedy cockatoo.

He's pretty good about waiting his turn until the rosellas have finished their meal.

But then it's all, "DUDE! It's ME! Look! I'm here!"

...and, "Do you think maybe some more of that birdseed could find its way to the OUTSIDE of the window? Kthx bai."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

You may remember me from other films, including "Falling asleep in class" and "Being a total dickhead".

Not the smartest way to start a phone call to your former lecturer:
"Hi, I'm not sure if you remember me, but I'm Joe Bloggs? I took your class last year? I'm the one who plagiarised the essay?"

Not the smartest request to make of her:
"So, I was wanting to appeal against that, but I'm not sure if there's some sort of statute of limitations. Could you find out for me, please? And can you find out what the process of appeal would involve and who I need to contact and when? It's really urgent, so please get back to me by the end of today."

And it's not the smartest time to do it, when she's right in the middle of marking 130 final exams and about to leave for a two week conference.

How can it possibly be urgent when you've waited 10 months before even asking about an appeal? Good thing we DO have a deadline for appeals, and, guess what? It's 30 days after they get their result. (Hah.)

(PS: I am planning to write a post about why I said that people in Tonga are strange, but I just haven't got to it yet.)

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Linguists are weird

Sometimes when reading linguistics papers, you come across these awesome example sentences that leave you wondering how on earth THAT came up in a fieldwork session.

Today's stunner:

Ke hang hèng keká i li.
‘He made accusations concerning his coconuts.’

Monday, June 23, 2008

You guys have all the right answers

(Except for Mikael.)

So here's the summary of Geekman's and my discussions of the scenarios in this post:

The half-empty wine: I think that it sends a message. That message is: I don't want to waste a new bottle of wine on you/your party. Which seems kind of rude. But although we didn't take a half-full bottle to yesterday's party, we did poll everyone there (physicists) and they did all say that it would have been totally acceptable. On the other hand, as JustMe pointed out, they are clearly all smoking crack instead of doing their experiments.

The nail scissors: can I just say, EWWW. Actually, this one seems to polarise people. I think some people (including me) must classify nail scissors in the same "personal hygiene" category as toothbrushes. No way are you borrowing mine! I would even be happier if I didn't share a pair of nail scissors with Geekman. Other people seem to see them as akin to any generic tool - hammer, pair of normal scissors, etc - and have no problem with the idea of lending them. I think hairbrushes are similar in that people vary hugely with regard to how comfortable they are lending them to others. Interestingly, for some people I've polled, a scenario where the nail is bleeding makes asking to borrow scissors more acceptable (emergency), while for others (including me) this renders it way worse (EW, BLOOD).

Helping yourself to someone else's food: I would only do this if I were totally desperate and there's no chance they would know (e.g. an apple from a full fruit bowl, or a sandwich using things they have lots of). And even then, I feel that it's not really appropriate. But on the other hand (as Geekman also points out), if people were staying with me, I'd hate to think they were hungry and desperate, so I'd be happy for them to help themselves to MY food. So I think this is more borderline for me than the first two scenarios.

Cutting a cake before being invited: in the real-life scenario that triggered our discussion, this was actually part of the previous question. We were staying with acquaintances that Geekman had only just met, and when I gave in to his need to raid their fridge in the night, I still totally drew the line at him cutting himself a piece of cake. But even in a scenario where the cake has been produced at afternoon tea or something, I still feel it's rude to dig in until invited, or until the host has cut it. This is kind of irrational - I admit - but it's an instinct I have all the same.

Male colleagues commenting on a woman's outfit: I wondered if I was being super-sensitive with this one. It bothers me personally that one older male colleague (who used to be HOD, so kind of also my boss) comments on my clothes most days. Either, "Nice skirt," or "You're dressed up today - are you teaching?" or "Jeans and a t-shirt? Must be a non-teaching day," or "New shoes?" I know he doesn't mean anything by it, but it bothers me to think that he keeps track of what I wear, or really notices it at all. And I hate the fact that now when I get dressed in the morning, the thought of what he'll say about any particular item of clothing crosses my mind, and sometimes even influences whether I'll wear it.

The connection with Geekman was that he recently wore to work a jersey/jumper/pullover that he hadn't worn in years and so many people commented on it (just saying, "New jumper?") that he felt uncomfortable wearing it again. So I pointed out that he now had an idea of what it was like to be a woman, except that you get this ALL THE TIME. So we were wondering if I overreact, or if other women feel this way too. Your answers were very interesting and it seemed to me that they patterned with the results I got from real-life people. (Women in my department and some non-university acquaintances hate it; women in physics and chemistry claim not to notice or care). I get the impression that maybe it's in male-dominated departments that the women don't seem to care about this so much. I wonder if that's because anyone who hasn't learned to ignore all that sort of bullshit would have gone postal or dropped out long before they get to grad student/faculty status? In more evenly balanced or female-dominated workplaces, you don't have to develop that sort of immunity, because you can just (mostly) avoid the men who think they get to have an opinion on how you dress or behave.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

When did this happen and why did no one tell me?

I just ordered something from the USA, checked my credit card, and the amount charged (in Australian dollars) was pretty much the same amount that the website had quoted (in US dollars). I figured my credit card had screwed something up, so checked the exchange rate and OH MY GOD.


I have this weird hangover from my early days of experience with American currency back in the early 90s, that I think of US $1 as being equivalent to NZ $2. And I think of the Australian and NZ dollar as almost the same. So even though I know things have changed, when I buy something online from the USA, I first double the price, and if that doesn't sound too insane, I consider it properly. But by "properly", I mean I was still stuck in last year's exchange rate of adding on about a third of the price again.

But this 1-1 exchange rate? It sets my heart a-fluttering., here I come!

I have a blog so I don't have to think for myself

I have so many questions. So. Many. Questions. Which means it's time to enlist the wisdom of the internet.

First, one for the gardeners. It's the end of June. That's roughly equivalent to the end of December for Northern Hemisphere types, I guess. It's definitely winter. We've had a few frosts. We use the heating most nights. You have to wear a coat and scarf outside. The ski season is about to start. I have a tomato plant in a pot on the balcony that I gave up on around two months ago when winter was starting. We pretty much stopped watering it. But it's still producing flowers and tomatoes. And they are still ripening. I guess my only question here is WTF? And, when will this madness stop???

Secondly, I am going to a conference next weekend, and a colleague whose mother lives in that city has said her mother is happy for me to stay with her as well. I have never met the mother before. I will be staying two nights, and will hardly be there except to sleep. What is a nice little gift I can give as a thank you? My usual standbys are chocolates or a bottle of local wine, but my colleague says her mother is on a diet and doesn't drink.

Finally, Geekman and I often disagree on what is socially appropriate. Last night at a party, he polled all his friends, who he claimed agreed with him. So since I have no friends, I'm going to poll the WHOLE INTERNET and see if you all agree with me. (If you don't, you are henceforth banned from this blog.) Of the following list of things we have disagreed on the acceptability of lately, which do you think are okay, and which do you consider inappropriate?

  1. Bringing a half-empty bottle of wine to a party
  2. Asking to borrow someone else's nail scissors to fix a hangnail. (And does your judgment here change if the person is a complete stranger? If the nail is bleeding?)
  3. Helping yourself to food from the fridge in the middle of the night when staying with people you've only just met
  4. Cutting and eating a slice of a cake that hasn't been cut yet, without asking first
  5. Commenting on a woman's outfit (either favorably or neutrally, e.g. "I haven't seen you wear those trousers before"), when you are her male colleague. And what about if you are faculty and she is a student?

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Disjointed one-sentence review of Tonga

It's a country full of strange people but pretty fish, with a severe shortage of food that isn't bananas, crappy weather and water you really REALLY shouldn't drink (oops), but the piglets are very cute.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Don't hate me because I'm leaving.

It's just for a week.

Geekman and I are going here:

To hang out on this:

There's no internet (or um, hot water, electricity, or other trivial luxuries). But to make up for that, apparently there's plenty of civil insurrection and dengue fever for everyone.


Monday, June 09, 2008

Open letter to a student

Dear Student,

Turning up to your (early) exam with a box of chocolates for the lecturer, and then complimenting her on her outfit is just a little too obvious.

I appreciate your effort, but you need to work on subtlety.

I'll enjoy the chocolates, though.

Love and low grades,


The Head of School rolled over and extended my contract. It might have had something to do with the phone call I had with our union rep with my door open (the HoS's office is directly above mine in the building and sound carries REALLY well). Or it might have had something to do with my supervisor giving him a good verbal kicking. (Mysteriously she came wandering by five minutes after I received the email, asking, "Have you heard from [HoS] yet?")

Either way, I have an extra 10 days of contract, which covers the time during which students will be consulting me before the final exam, the exam itself, and the marking period.

The email from HoS went something like this:

Dear StyleyGeek,

Flatter flatter flatter.

Save face as much as possible.

Aggressive assertion of authority.

Insinuations about my work ethic.


But I am over it. After discussions with other people at drinks last week, I discovered he is being an unreasonable arsehole to numerous people in our department. (Just to pick an example at random - trying to cancel someone's sick leave because he saw her in the department when she was meant to be on leave and she didn't look sick. Emailing four people about her health but not even CCing her on the email.)

I win. The end.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Favourite sentences from end-of-semester marking

"Sometimes sentences can be ambiguous. For instance, in Chinese, the sentence "The fire burned up all of them" is ambiguous. Even though we use this sentence all the time in our daily talk in China, it is still ambiguous."

(This one probably only funny if you are a linguist.) "Semantic roles include things like 'agent' 'experiencer' 'instrument' 'source' 'location' and 'victim'."

And the "what were you thinking?" award goes to: "The sentence 'The man hit the robber with a long nose' is well-formed nonsense, since no human has a long nose, even if he is a robber."

Friday, June 06, 2008

Geekman's opinion on the hijab

"The thing about those head scarves is that you can never know if the person you're dealing with is Muslim or a ninja."

The sad life of an academic

Tonight a bunch of us from the department went for drinks to celebrate the last teaching day of the semester. At 10pm we left the pub and—

—every single one of us went back to the department to do some more work.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Two emails from university admin

At 4:15

Dear Researchers,

Could anyone who is interested in the Pinnnacle Program please email us ASAP.


At 4:21

Dear Researchers,

Apologies for the spelling mistake in the previous email: we spelt Pinnacle with three ns their.


Tuesday, June 03, 2008

So, um, wow. What to do?

An infertile friend has asked me whether I would consider donating some eggs to her.

Because obviously important life decisions should only be taken in consultation with the entire internet, I have to ask: what would you do?


  • she isn't a super close friend, but certainly is someone who I would be very happy to build a closer friendship with. (She doesn't have any close friends or family in Australia, so that's why she thought of me rather than someone closer.)
  • We are both on the same page in terms of how we would want the relationship to work: the child should know that it was genetically related to me, and I would be a sort of aunt or close family friend. I wouldn't see the child as "mine" in any way, though.
  • I have plenty of experience with the difference between "genetically related" and "family", as I am adopted and have a good relationship with my biological mother and her children, while in no way thinking of her as "my mother" or as having any legal ties to me.
  • I know this friend's husband and his children (from a previous marriage) and from what I can tell they are great parents and the kids are very happy.
I guess the things I am most concerned about are the medical risks, and also the fact that you can never know exactly how you'd feel about something until you do it. What if it turned me into some sort of weird insane stalker person who kidnapped babies?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Oh dear

What New Zealand is famous for in the news today.