Tuesday, September 30, 2008

You're being scammed, kid.

Overheard in the street:

"Mum! Mum! Hey, Mum! Dad made me a milk-flavoured milkshake! It was so cool, Mum. It was like a milkshake, but MILK FLAVOURED. It just tasted like milk! You couldn't taste the chocolate flavour at ALL."

Wow, it's Tuesday already

Oops. Quick round-up:

I taught those guest classes. Unfortunately, Absent-Minded Professor had remembered to tell the class he was going to be away last week, but forgotten to mention he had found a guest lecturer. So on Tuesday only one (equally absent-minded) student was present.

One student.

But plenty of my colleagues. They like to sit in on that class, because it's super-advanced and they think they might learn the secrets of Chomsky's most recent incomprehensible mutterings.

So that was weird. I had some interactive stuff prepared, but I kind of freaked out at the student/colleague imbalance and just lectured instead. Hopefully relatively interestingly.

Then I rounded up the rest of the students' email addresses and let them know that Thursday was NOT cancelled, kthxbai.

My lecture for Thursday was much better prepared because I decided from the outset it was just going to be lecture. Unfortunately the topic for the Thursday class kind of built on the Tuesday lecture, which (remember?) no one* was present for. So it ended up being a blend of rehashing Tuesday and trying to cover the new stuff all at once.

I thought the material was much more clearly presented for Thursday and I worked really hard on making tie-ins to the rest of the course (having finally got around to reading their assigned readings for the previous weeks). Weirdly, though, I had a bit of stage fright, probably due to the fact that this super-advanced class was like a Who's Who of my favourite and smartest students from years gone by. So I think I came across more as nervous conference presenter than in-control lecturer. My colleagues made nice comments about my teaching skills after the Tuesday lecture, but I got the impression they weren't so impressed on the Thursday.

I'm calming myself with the mantra of Everyone has crappy teaching days. Everyone has crappy teaching days. Everyone has crappy— and I'm going to get lots of lovely money at the Happy Adjunct Guest-Lecturing RateTM. (If they ever sort out my contract <- standard disclaimer.)


* Well, no one who counts, like students or anything.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Honestly, people

If you don't want people to be horribly disappointed, you:

-don't call an evening event a "cocktail evening" if there aren't going to be alcoholic drinks. "Cocktail" might also mean "appetiser", but that isn't the most common definition.

-don't call an event a "ball" if there won't be dancing or food. People performing short songs or skits on stage is generally known as a variety show, not a "ball".

-don't title an email to grant applicants, "Recipients of national grants 2008" if the content of said email is, "...will be notified sometime in the next few weeks."

It's not rocket science!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Different planets

I spoke on the phone last night to a friend in New Zealand who I lived with during undergrad. She's smart, educated, and we talk fairly often, so I was surprised by the total bizarreness of this bit of the conversation:

Me: "So I'm just doing some part time work at the moment, and hovering, hoping that a job might become available at [my university] sometime in the next year or so. We have a lot of people near retirement."

Her: "You know, you could probably get a real job. Okay, so a linguistics PhD isn't going to open any doors, but I'm sure you could convince people you are smart enough to work in a different area."

Me: "Well, sure, but I am hoping an academic job might come up. I'm willing to give it two years, maybe three, before I give up on the current plan."

Her: "But come on! You've now spent nine years at university! Surely you are sick of it by now! I wanted out by the end of third year. You can't hold onto your youth by refusing to leave, you know."

Me: "If I hadn't wanted an academic job, I wouldn't have done a PhD! And I'm not about to waste the past three years of work by giving up now."

Her: "You didn't HAVE to do a PhD. And like I said, you can probably get a job despite it."

StyleyGeek's end of the conversation here dissolves into incoherent spluttering.

I maybe should have seen this clash of perspectives coming, though, since about a year and a half after I started the PhD, I was talking to this friend and she asked if I was job-hunting. When I said I was too busy with the thesis to take on outside work, she exclaimed, "Still! You're STILL doing that PhD? Didn't you do that last year?"

Oh, and when we picked up the threads of last night's conversation after my incoherent spluttering attack, she suggested I could kill time while looking for a job by "having lots of babies".

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Me vs the world the university health centre

Dear [Nurse],

I have been trying to call between 2 and 4pm as required to get test results. I keep getting put onto voice mail. Then I found this email address. I am waiting for test results for two tests (A and B). Can you tell me whether you have these yet?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We have the two test results you mention. Please come and collect them.


Dear Nurse,

I picked up the results today. Rather than two results, you gave me two copies of the same result (test A). I need the results for test B too. Do you have these?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We do not have any results for test B. Were you expecting some?


Dear Nurse,

Yes. I was, rather. Do you think they are still coming and just delayed, or do you think the results have been mislaid?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We do not have the results.


Dear Nurse,

Do I need to have the test redone?


Dear StyleyGeek,

I spoke to your doctor here and she feels she requested all the necessary tests. Perhaps test A screened for condition B at the same time?


Dear Nurse,

I have just phoned the IVF clinic and they really do require both test A and test B (separate tests). They can't see me again until they have the results for these. I remember the doctor writing requests for both tests and you taking blood for both. Do you think the lab might have mislaid the results? Or could there have been a problem with the samples? How would I find out if this was the case? Or should I just have the test redone?


Dear StyleyGeek,

We do not have any results for test B. If you need further details, please consult with the IVF clinic.


Saturday, September 20, 2008

Murphy's Law x 2

1. Every time it's my turn to drink at a party, there's nothing more exciting than some random $10 wines. When it's my turn to stay sober and drive, on the other hand, there's guaranteed to be cocktails, G&Ts, vodka and lime, and a variety of sweet sticky drinkies. (This has happened twice now, so clearly it's no longer coincidence, and Dionysus is personally gunning for me.)

2. Dying your hair for a party is a total waste of time if the party is going to have "mood" lighting, a.k.a all you can see is a bunch of shadows and the occasional sparkle of wine glasses.

On the plus side: for at least another week (6–8 washes), I look like I'm doing a Willow impression.

If you poach this, I want credit and 10% of the profits

I just came up with the best name for a frugal recipe blog/book:


You're welcome.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Random bullets of food (without the bullets)

Last night I iced these biscuits ('cookies' to those of you of the American persuasian) with lemon icing and chocolate IPA symbols, to take to a linguistics event. Unfortunately, well... I don't want to prejudice you, so take a look at the photo and then highlight the white-on-white text in the brackets below to see if you see what I see.

Use your cursor to highlight here: [They look like someone pooped on them.]

Well, don't they?

Please let me know if you saw it before reading the text between the brackets above. If too many of you did, I'm going to redo them with chocolate icing and white symbols.

To make up for that, here's my favourite ever soup recipe. It sounds boring, but try it and feel the magic!

Red lentil lemon soup (a variation on Turkish Mercimek)
1/2 cup of chopped onion
butter for cooking onion in and for making a roux
1/2 cup red lentils (these are awesome because they cook quickly and don't need to be soaked beforehand).
4.5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock
1.5 Tbsp flour
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup of milk
1/4 cup lemon juice

Fry the onion in the butter until soft and transparent. Add the stock. Once it is boiling, add the lentils. Cook for 30 minutes, or until lentils are soft. Put through a blender, or squeeze through a sieve, or if you like slightly chunkier soup, just use a potato masher to squish it up a bit. (If you don't do this at all, you might find the soup a bit thin). Make a roux with 1.5 Tbsp of butter and the same amount of flour. Add to the soup and boil for another three minutes. Whisk egg yolk and milk together. Pour a cup full of the hot soup into the egg/milk mixture and whisk until smooth. Pour the whole lot back into the soup. Once it returns to the boil, add the lemon juice and serve with crusty bread. This recipe makes enough for three hungry people, or four if you are more reserved.

This is yellow and creamy and lemony and if you aren't careful, you'll eat so much you explode.

In other news, MANGOES! I bought four yesterday at $1 each. They were so unheard-of-ly cheap because they need to be eaten right away. (What a shame!) Fortunately I am up to the challenge and plan to spend the rest of today going munch munch drip, splatter splatter munch drip. If you need me, I'll be the one slurping away over the sink.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Two systems wot need improving

(1) Our campus medical clinic. Specifically, the way they return test results (or don't). The steps are as follows:

  • They give you a number to call between 2 and 4pm.
  • You call it, repeatedly, over a number of days. You are always switched to voice mail. No one returns your messages.
  • You drop by the clinic in person and request your results. The receptionist explains that the nurse has to tell you the results, and the nurse is in a different room and can't possibly be disturbed. Ever. Results are given over the phone. Please call this number between 2 and 4pm.
  • You find an email address for the nurse. Email her.
  • Three days later, the nurse replies, and asks you to drop by the clinic to pick up your results from reception. No, she can't tell you what they are over the phone.
  • You go back to the clinic and pick up the results.
  • You have no idea how to interpret them, nor whether they are actually the full results for all the tests you took.
  • Begin phone-tag cycle from the start.
(2) Our university publishing house, for which I am doing some copy-editing. The copy-editing process goes like this.
  • I pick up a manuscript, in hard copy. No, I may not have the electronic files. They are out-of-date when they do exist, and for most authors, only hard copy has been submitted at this stage of the process.
  • I read the manuscript, and make notes in the margin where there are formatting, spelling, or content errors.
  • I contact the author where I am unsure of what was intended. But I don't ask him/her to fix the problem: instead I have to explain the problem in words; they explain in words how it should be fixed; and then I write up a summary of the explanation in the margin of the document.
  • Then I return the manuscript to the publisher, who passes it onto another of their minions, who is blessed with the electronic file (now up-to-date), and who reads through my marginalia, fixing the problems in the electronic version.
It's kind of like a game of Chinese Whispers.

StyleyGeek becomes one of THOSE teachers(?)

Next week I am filling in for a colleague who is going off to a conference, so today I sat in on his class to see where he's at in the syllabus and to gauge what the students are like.

And now I have a problem.

See, he's kind of rocking the "absolutely no interaction, talk mainly to the board in a mumble while writing indecipherable squiggles" teaching style. And from what I can tell, it's working for him (for a given value of "working"). He has three students. They are all super-geniuses (I've had them in my classes before), and also super-introverts. I think they like the non-threateningness of this guy's approach. And they seem to be learning despite it (see: super-geniuses). I can tell this from my very non-scientific method of squinting over their shoulders to see what notes they were making. (Smart ones: that's what.)

So my problem is: what do I do next week? Do I try to approximate the "lecture to the board" teaching style? (Without actually facing the board, obviously, since that's just stoopid.) Can I bring myself to do that with a room full (for a given value of "full") of a whole three students?

On the other hand, if I try to interact with them at all, I suspect it's going to come off like an awkward first day of class, where everyone looks at the ground and gets embarrassed. Or they might respond grudgingly, but I still don't think two guest lectures is enough time to get a sparkling enthusiastic atmosphere happening. And I bet they will resent me forever if I try to run the class with exercises and discussion instead of a lecture, as I expect they associate problem-solving tasks with introductory courses and think it beneath them.

What would you do?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Expect the unexpected

Yesterday we had our final counselling appointment for egg donation. This one was a half-hour session each for each couple (Rob and Claudia together, then Geekman and me together), followed by half an hour with all four of us.

The counsellor's Topic of the Day (aka "I couldn't think of any real issues") was "anticipate unanticipated problems".

We pointed out that, by definition, the unanticipated was not something you can anticipate, but apparently this wasn't good enough. The counsellor posed some made-up scenarios and asked us how we would react: "StyleyGeek, what if after the baby's born, you come over all possessive and want to steal it?" And we pointed out that, actually, we discussed these possibilities last session, so they are technically no longer unanticipated. (Although still highly unlikely).

Then the counsellor pressed us to come up with a "generic" plan of action for any unanticipated problems. Geekman politely refused, since he pointed out that any action would depend on the nature of the situation, and the situations she was talking about were... unanticipated.

(Afterwards, he suggested we should have offered to role-play what we would do in the event of a meteor strike.)

Then we sat in near silence for twenty minutes, with the occasional reiteration of, "Well, you sound like you have thought about this all pretty well, really. I'm not sure what else we need to discuss" [her] and "Hmm... so... yeah"* [us].

The only other topic we discussed in the group meeting was whether we were all comfortable putting our feelings on the table and diplomatically expressing our needs, rather than bottling things up. Geekman demonstrated his competence in this by putting his feeling of overheatedness on the table (the office was stuffy and he had just been running beforehand) and diplomatically expressing a need to remove his shoes. He stretched out his sweaty naked feet in the middle of the counsellor's elegant rug, and for some inexplicable reason, the session ended quite soon after that.

The counsellor promised to write a report certifying that none of us are nuts (except maybe Geekman, but I don't think that barefootedness is a "danger sign" on her list), and this means that at the next doctor's appointment on 13th October we sign a contract and hopefully can then begin the treatment.


* Translation: "Can we leave yet, or does the IVF clinic require you to state that the session was 30 minutes long"?

Friday, September 12, 2008

Coals to Newcastle

That's TWO fellowships/grants that I've come across recently that would be perfect for Geekman or me to apply for, except that one of the eligibility conditions is either that the applicant have a full-time ongoing academic job, or that the university is able to offer him/her one at the end of the grant period.

What the fuck is the point of that?

People who have full-time ongoing academic jobs do not need fellowships as desperately as people who don't.

This especially makes no sense when the grants are aimed at "early career academics", and/or designed to help increase the number of researchers staying in/coming to Australia.

I THINK the point of this eligibility requirement for one* of the grants, at least, is to give an incentive to universities to open up more permanent positions: it's saying, "If you make more jobs available, we'll pay the costs for the first four years." But universities aren't dumb. Hah, that's pretty much the POINT of universities, right? Not being dumb? If they don't have the funds to provide for the ongoing costs of these positions after four years, they aren't going to sign something promising to do so.


* This is the one where the requirement is phrased as the university promising to continue to employ the researcher after the end of the grant. The other grant has the requirement phrased as a pre-condition, i.e. the researcher already has to have a full-time ongoing academic appointment in order to apply in the first place.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Constructive criticism

Today, passing a PhD student's office, I overheard his supervisor talking to him. I could only hear the supervisor's side of the conversation, but it went like this:

"I thought this was really good work! Well done!"


"It's not bad at all, really."


"Well, it's not a complete waste of time, anyway."


"I think some of it's salvageable."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mmm... ethical.

Overheard, two profs talking:

"We still need a PhD student to do fieldwork on [language]."

"Wait, which one's that?"

"That's the South American one. You know, the rainforest one with the really interesting verb suffixes."

"The one where every fieldworker who's ever gone there has been beaten to a pulp, raped and/or killed?"

"Yeah, that's right. So, anyway, we need to put out the advertisement soon."

"Do we have to tell them about the killings?"

"Well, maybe we just say something like, 'PhD project in exciting jungle location. Necessary prerequisites: Masters or honours degree in linguistics. Preferred: working knowledge of Spanish, previous fieldwork experience, strong martial arts background.'"

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

You can tell you spend too much time looking at Lolcats when...

While reading a linguistics paper today, every time I came across the abbreviation for nominative case, I found myself muttering, "NOM NOM NOM" and, "Ur noun haz a flavur".

I hope it doesn't accidentally happen in front of my students.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Oh crap.

We have a little—very little—and casual research discussion group for grad students in our department. Even though I'm no longer a grad student, as a founder of this group (and because I am totally in denial), I still attend. We basically meet once a week and drink coffee while chatting about research-related topics. The idea is to get used to talking about our research in a non-confrontational arena, as well as to get helpful feedback when we are stuck.

For a while, there used to be 8–12 people attending. Now it's sometimes just two or three of us.

One of the members, unbeknown to the rest of us, and because she is a total fruit-loop invited the Pro Vice-Chancellor to come and observe us. (This was back when there were 8–10 of us, and because the Pro Vice-Chancellor* had publicly expressed interest in small, grass-roots, self-bootstrapping learning communities, or whatever the current jargon is.)

So she's coming. On Monday.

Um. Gah?

I am currently alternating between deciding to not come along on Monday at all because I am far too embarrassed*** and calling everyone I know and offering bribes if they will turn up and pretend to be a member of the group so that we look slightly more together and impressive than we are.


* Do you have these in Foreign Parts? They're like the Vice Chancellor**, except they actually do the work.

** The Vice Chancellor is much more important than the Chancellor. The chancellor of this university, for instance, has explicitly declared that he plans to visit this city (you know, the city where the university that he chancels is actually located) as little as possible during his term in charge, because his role is purely ceremonial.

*** Actual conversation between me and Fruit-Loop Valued Group Member:
Me - "But we have no one turning up! And we basically just complain about the department!"
FL - "It's okay. The PVC is very professional. She understands how these things work.
I'm not embarrassed to have her there, no matter how few people come along.
Me (totally grown-up and justifiable response—inside my head only) - Fine then. I won't come either. See how you like THAT.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Jurisdiction: you're doing it wrong

From a NZ news story today:

The Ross family were fined after son James, 26, cleaned out his car and put the rubbish in a Wellington City Council bin in Shelly Bay Rd.
Incensed that her son had been penalised for doing the right thing, she considered legal action against the council. "I said to my husband that I would go to court. I would have gone to America to see [President] George Bush. I was going to go all the way, too damned right."
WTF? Also, over-reaction: you're doing it right.