Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas dinner

Anastasia and Dr Crazy have inspired me to gloat about describe my Christmas dinner plans too.*

This year it is just us. Just the Geekman and me. But will that stop us from cooking as though we are having 20 dinner guests? No, it will not. In fact, we will have EXTRA TIME FOR COOKING! Because of no dinner guests. Hah.

We plan to start off by piling the table with small snack-like things, which we will eat throughout the day. This means:
Smoked salmon spread with cream cheese and rolled up into little parcels
Prosciutto wrapped around pieces of melon

There will also be gin and tonics, and vodka and orange for random slurping throughout the afternoon.

Then we are going to have an actual Christmas dinner, in three acts:

Act I
Mushroom and smoked fish canapes (1982 says hi!)
Scallops with lime and vodka sauce

Act II
Cornish game hens with sage and orange glaze
Swedish meatballs
Braised red cabbage
Glazed roast beetroot
Pioneer woman's burgundy mushrooms
Sourdough bread

Banoffee trifle
Cheese platter

Then we are going to spend the evening drinking mulled wine and port, and eating homemade chocolate truffles.

Yes, it is eclectic. And we will probably die of exploded stomach syndrome before we finish it all. But it is all our favourite foods, and it will be AWESOME.

* Is anyone else a little worried that when you have been talking to a real life colleague or family member recently, you might have mentioned something delicious you are cooking, which they might google in order to find a recipe, and then they might come across your blog? No? Just me, then.

** The best thing about Christmas in the middle of summer is the berries. The worst thing about Christmas in the middle of summer is how the berries were $2.99 a punnet last week, and they miraculously leap up to $6.99 on Christmas Eve. Also that if you want ripe berries on Christmas day, you have to brave the craziness that is the grocery shop a day or two before. In New Zealand, I remember that the milkman used to deliver strawberries along with the milk on Christmas Eve. That was a much better solution.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas greetings and wotnot. Also: eep!

Greetings from "Oh my god what are we doing holy fuck we are buying a house" land. Yes, it is said all in one string without any punctuation, just like that. Well, maybe there is punctuation of the sort that doesn't have an appropriate symbol other than *%&?!

Yesterday we got pre-pre-approved for a mortgage. This seems to consist of a verbal "She'll be right, mate" from a guy named Matto. (Oh, Australia, I do like you quite a lot actually.)

We haven't found the perfect place yet, but we have now seen a lot of imperfects, and have a very clear idea of what perfect will look like. It will not, for instance, be lacking any sort of heating system, insulation, and functioning ceilings. It will also not smell like Old People. I am currently in love with something completely impractical, but I think that's pretty standard practice when one is house shopping, and I'm sure I'll get over it.

In other exciting news, I made the world's best sourdough bread tonight, and recipe therefore will be posted here forthwith. (Hurrah for two pretentious adverbs in a single sentence! I should win some sort of prize. Perhaps my prize will be another piece of sourdough bread, and a glass of the quite remarkable krupnik from the recipe found here.)

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Remind me why we are using a wiki again?

Me: "Last time we tried to write a document collaboratively, it was a big mess, because of version control problems, and because everyone kept emailing me stuff to add in. And that was only with three people involved! This time there'll be eight of us!"

Boss: "So we could just use the project wiki to develop the document."

Me: "No, because the project wiki is public, and indexed by google. We don't want this document to be public. And we can't set the project wiki to private, because of [stupid software issues]. But we could use google documents to create something we can all access and edit, and that will handle version control for us."

Boss: "Google wha-?"

I explain. He looks blank. "Okay. But just explain to me again. What's a google? Is it like my Firefox thing?"

Realising I should work with what he knows instead, if I actually want him to adopt the technology: "All eight of you already know how wikis work, right? Well in that case, I'll set up a private wiki on [site that we already all use for something else]."

Boss: "Can't we just all email you stuff and get you to keep the versions straight?"

Me: "Can't we just NOT do that?"

Finally everyone agrees to use the private wiki. I set it up, explain to everyone who forgot how to access the site how to find their username and password. Walk a few people through using the system. I set up all the necessary pages and headings so that no one needs to learn any formatting commands, but can just click under the appropriate heading and add text.

Boss: "I want to write all my text in RED!"

Me: "Um, why?"

Boss: "Because that's what colour it is in MS Word when I use track changes! And that way everyone will know it's me!"

Me: "Well, we don't really need to know who wrote what in this document. But if you want to, here's how to format things in red."

Boss: "What? I have to type what? Brackets? And "red"? What a pain! Isn't there a drop-down box in the file-menu-whatsit?"

Me: "You don't HAVE to colour your text."

Boss, in email to the rest of the group: "It looks like it might be too complicated to use the wiki, so I think we should all just type up what we want to add in MS Word, and get StyleyGeek to put it in the wiki for us."

Le Sigh.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Two goodnesses

For the 1% of you who hasn't already seen this:

From the Rally to Restore Sanity, via Sociological Images

And in other news, you must make this coffee-streusel-walnut-caramel cake. No, really. I don't care if you don't like coffee, or walnuts, or caramel (although if that's true: what is wrong with you?) They all come together to make some sort of magic that is nothing like the individual ingredients. Look, just go and make it. It is the best thing I have ever put in my mouth.

Monday, November 01, 2010

More interestingness

Our small university publisher is being taken over by a Big Name Big Deal publisher. I wonder whether this means the books in press I have stuff in are going to be published with the better imprint? That would make me really quite happy.

It looks like there might be a chance I can change my fellowship to a four-year option (with teaching) instead of the three year (no teaching) one I currently have. *ponder*

And my (new) department is about to advertise a job. They have never ever hired a woman in the long history of the department. And the university is getting progressively more annoyed with them, every time they continue to select the one man out of a pool of highly competitive women. So this time they have decided to advertise specifically for women. I.e. no men can apply.

This is pissing off a lot of people. Mostly men, who would otherwise be applying. But also some women, who feel like they wouldn't be taken seriously if they did get the job, because people wouldn't believe they are good enough to get a job without affirmative action. I don't really know what to think about it, myself. What about you?


I just got the world's nicest rejection letter from the TT job I was waiting to hear from.

I'm really quite ridiculously happy about this rejection. For one thing, because I did. not. want. to have to choose between that job and my fellowship. It would have been a really tough decision, and I would have second-guessed myself for years to come. NO ONE turns down a TT job in a location they would really like to live in. And NO ONE turns down a national fellowship.

I am also happy because it was the first TT job I ever applied for, and I got an interview. That gives me hope for the future.

And finally, they said I gave an excellent interview and was an extremely strong candidate, but the other person was a better fit. I have no trouble believing that. I was such a bad fit for the job (as advertised, anyway) that I almost didn't apply. I still don't really understand why I got an interview.

So yay for rejection! WOO HOO!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Random bullets of "I still can't quite believe it"

I think I will start my fellowship in April.

April sounds like a good month. My current boss wants to keep me until the end of February, and now that I have some leverage (I can leave any time I want) I get to do fun stuff on the current project. No more data entry!

Between February and April I am going to do... NOTHING.


I haven't had a holiday where I didn't take work with me since before grad school. Um, 2003, I think. I submitted my PhD half way through my first semester of teaching full time, so yeah, no time off to recover there. I can't think of anything more blissful than four full weeks without any responsibilities. I might not even get out of bed.

When I start, I move buildings/departments/offices within our university. Linguistics at our university is split into two departments, and this fellowship will be held within the other one, since their research focus is more in line with the topic of my new project.

It's a pretty different culture over there. Besides linguists, my current department is full of language teachers and literature specialists.. They also all have huge teaching loads, so everyone is always frantically rushing from one class to another, and it's impossible to schedule social activities.

The other department is full of anthropologists and historians. Anthropologists are weird. They sleep during the day and work at night. They lurk around tearooms and photocopiers taking surreptitious notes about other people. They like seminars and workshops a LOT. They go away to the field for a year at a time and return looking slightly feral, no longer quite in touch with modern society, and smelling faintly of quinine.

The new department has morning and afternoon tea together EVERY DAY. No one teaches. They have weekend retreats in the middle of nowhere. They have secret parties that they don't invite the teaching staff to. (And I just got my first invite to one yesterday). Apart from the PhD students, they are all male. I feel like I am joining some sort of fraternity.

The building my office is in right now is solid and square and conventional. It has windowsills full of parrots, and no air-conditioning. It has one- and two-person offices, depending on one's status. The new building where the "other half" lives is actually three hexagonal three-and-a-half-story buildings connected by random walkways on split half-levels that are only accessible from hidden stairwells. Once inside, no one ever finds their way out again. Staircases move from week to week and sometimes walls spring up in the middle of corridors. The linguists live in two places: the "dungeon" (basement), single-person offices below ground with no windows; and the top level of the building, which has large airy offices that are shared by four to six people apiece. The dungeon is overheated and the upstairs is over-air-conditioned. I wonder where I will be?

Starting April, for the following three years, I get to do nothing but research, all day every day. I have money to go to several conferences a year, including internationally. I can do a whole heap of fieldwork. I can employ a research assistant. My time is my own, and I answer to no one except the funding body, who require annual reports. This degree of freedom makes me kind of dizzy.

I think I will buy a lot of stationery.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The longer version

I am obsessive.

The national grants that I just got one of (OMFG) were due to be announced today, so like most of the rest of Australian academia, I had the grant funding organisation's webpage open in on my computer all morning, and clicked "refresh" every 10 minutes oh who am I kidding— 30 seconds. Sometimes I clicked two or three times in a row. Just in case the first click didn't work.

Click. Click. Click. Click-click. Clickity fucking CLICK.

I had a lunch date, but she canceled, which was good, because that way I could spend more time clicking. Click. Click-click.

Then I had a gym date, which I didn't cancel, because my god I had a lot of nervous energy that needed burning off. I set up filters on AwayFind so that any emails with key words corresponding to the grant or to the TT job I am (still) waiting to hear about would be forwarded to my mobile, and went off to the gym.

Half an hour later, Geekman showed up.

"The grants have been announced," he said, looking glum.
"Oh." I surreptitiously check my phone. Nothing. "So I didn't get mine."
"I couldn't bring myself to look," he said. (I KNOW!)

And would you believe, I actually did another 20 minutes of my workout before I gave up and stomped back to my office, certain I had missed out. (Because of course I hadn't programmed my AwayFind filters to check for emails titled "congratulations", which were all that my inbox was stuffed with.)

Stomp stomp stomp. Stomp-stomp. Stompity.

The first five minutes of the walk back to the office I felt resigned. Of course I didn't get it. I'm nowhere near that good. What did I expect? I still have options for next year. (Even if they suck.)

Stomp stomp stompity.

The next minute or two I spent on fantasizing about getting out of academia. I dreamed a few nights ago that I was working at a carnival as an ice-cream seller. That was a pretty good job.

Stomp. Stomp. Stomp.

Then I got angry. Fucking academia! Why does it suck so much?! Why can't I even get a little bit of a job? Even for a year? Why is it people are happy to pay me to teach undergraduates how to do my subject, but they won't pay me to actually fucking do the research myself?

Stomp fucking stomp. Up the steps towards my building.

Then came shame. I was going to walk down that corridor, and everyone in my department would know I hadn't got the grant, and would think I was pathetic for even trying, and would wonder why I had imagined I was good enough to get a fellowship. I hoped I wouldn't run into anyone.

Scuttle scuttle. Scuttlety. Scut. Hiding my face. Past the open office doors. Trying not to cry.

And my inbox was full of congratulations.

As well as this bizarre and hilarious message from the research office:

Dear grant applicants,

As previously advised, we expect the [national grant] announcements today.

There are 4 categories of emotional response to an grant announcement. For each emotional response there are important and coded rules of post-announcement etiquette that are important to obey.

I identify the 4 categories of emotion below ... Please read on if you want to be optimally prepared to manage your post-announcement experience.

(1) SMUG AFFIRMATION (approx. 1% of population)

Characteristics: The grant gets up, but you knew you had this in the bag anyway. You find it ridiculous that the [grant funding body] took 8 months to confirm what was clear on submission: This is great research and you're the only person who can do it.

Advice: No matter how polite your colleagues are to your face, they envy and hate you in equal measures. Best to keep a low profile for a couple of weeks. DON'T express commiserations to your colleagues who have
missed out. The tiniest drop of condescension - real or imagined - could be a death sentence. And don't complain about how the [grant funding body] cut your budget by 30%, and that you can't possibly do your research for only $500k.

(2) BLISSFUL SURPRISE (approx. 29% of population)

Characteristics: You really didn't expect this to get up ... and then you get it! A thrilling few seconds of joy followed by oceans of relief ... followed by the sobering realization that you now have to fulfil all the insane promises you made to the [grant funding body].

Advice: Please, no whooping, high-fiving or popping of champagne corks in the corridors. Behind those closed office doors are people who missed out and some of them are wishing you harm. Best to lower the blinds, shut the door, and jump up and down in silent and discrete excitement.

(3) RESIGNED HOPELESSNESS (approx. 20% of population)

Characteristics: You knew you were never going to get this grant. Maybe the reviews were cranky; maybe you think the [grant funding body] are prejudiced against you / your field / your methods; maybe you've been rejected so many times in the past you're just broken. When it comes, the rejection is a miserable full stop on an 8 month journey of pain and ritual humiliation.

Advice: Congratulations, you're now 1 year closer to the moment when your grant will get up. You're good enough, and your efforts are noticed and respected. Come along to the Grant development Workshop in November (more soon on this). We can rebuild you.


Characteristics: You put a lot of work into this, the project was good, the reviews promising. Then BAM! ... Nothing. A few moments of numb denial followed by an emotional descent so steep that you get vertigo.

Advice: When your disappointment morphs into a blistering rage and resentment - as it surely will - there are certain things to remember:

  • If you're slurring your words, now's not the time to confront that colleague who never believed in you or to send that e-mail to the [grant funding body]

  • Don't blame yourself: There's surprisingly little evidence that you can "jinx" a proposal by secretly thinking to yourself that you've got a good chance this time
  • Although your escape fantasies are understandable, it is quite rare that people transition from being academics to being world-famous actors, writers, or inventors
  • Don't lash out at your friends, family or pets. They don't really care that your grant didn't get up and love you just the way you are.
What worries me is the number of warnings in that email about colleagues wishing you physical harm. Should I be arming myself before going to campus tomorrow?

Oh. My.

I still haven't heard about the TT job. Which probably means I'm out of the running.

But I don't care!

Why don't I care?

Because my name is on this list (pdf).

I am now sitting here staring blankly at my computer screen, because getting one of these fellowships is the main thing I have been working towards for the past three years, and now I have it, I don't know what to do.

Drink wine, perhaps. Yes. That's what to do.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

I'm going to hear about a job tomorrow

A full time, tenure-track job. I interviewed last week. They said they'd contact me by tomorrow.

Oh my.

Update: the selection committee is "having trouble coming to a decision", so they won't be able to let me know until later in the week. That's good, right? (Or at least, it's not bad.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010


We just caught a student who had posted flyers around the department(!) asking to buy an essay for one of her classes.

Problem is, she hadn't had any takers yet, so hasn't actually committed the crime. Can we "prosecute" her (i.e. kick her out) for planning to cheat? Time will tell.

I think an elaborate sting operation would have been more fun, myself.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Tragic, but necessary.

Yes, I did just add a new category to my blog, and went through back-labeling posts. It's called "what the fuck is wrong with hairdressers?"

This is why I only go to the hairdresser once a year

Hairdresser: "After this cut, I'm off for the day. I'm going to go to the supermarket and buy a family-sized block of chocolate and eat it all by myself."
Me: "I'm impressed! I think I'd feel awful if I ate that much chocolate at once!"
Hairdresser: "You mean you'd feel guilty? Because of cheating on your diet?"
Me: "Oh, no, I just mean I'd feel sick. I'm not on a diet."

She steps back and looks me up and down. "Really? Huh."

Then, five minutes later:

Hairdresser: "So, I'm moving house right now, and it's so stressful."
Me: "I know what you mean. Do you live on your own, or share?"
Hairdresser: "On my own."
Me: "Well, then at least moving doesn't mean worrying about whether your new housemates will be crazy people, huh?"
Hairdresser: "Crazy people? Oh, like Chinese or something?"
Me *blink blink*: "No, I mean CRAZY* people."
Hairdresser: "Oh, like gays."
Me: "What??? No! Like people who steal your underpants or label the toilet paper or insist that you vacuum the cat or something."
Hairdresser: "People like that are probably druggies. You have to watch out for druggies."
Me, carefully: "Uh huh?"
Hairdresser: "Yeah, my mum's a druggie."
Me: "Oh, really? I'm sorry. That must be hard."
Hairdresser: "Yeah, like she's on these anti-depressants and vitamins and stuff. The doctor prescribes them, but it's just as bad as pot or meth, you know?"

File under "not going there again". Which is sad, because she did a cute cut:


* Like hairdressers, for instance.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Father knows best

This is old news, but it never fails to completely amaze me, when I stop to consider it, what the grant-awarding body who funded our current project considered "necessary" and "unnecessary".

Our project, anonymized slightly for Google avoidance, is basically the following:

1. Create innovative database that no one else has tried to build before, with exciting mapping interfaces and automatic language reconstruction tools.
2. Find all historical and current data ever on [huge topic] for any of 1000 languages and enter them into this database (a.k.a crucial but mind-numbing research assistant drudge-work).
3. ...
4. PROFIT!!!

(Okay, you can forget about #3 and #4. I couldn't help myself.)

Anyway, guess what the grant organisation decided to cut from our budget? (Because, given the nature of the project as described in 1 and 2, there's clearly no need for these items at all.)



1. Our entire programming budget.
2. Research assistants.


Sunday, September 12, 2010

The elves and the shoemaker: academic version

I'm currently collaborating with someone on a joint grant application. She has an amazing amount of energy and enthusiasm, so that ideas and drafts(!) just seem to keep bubbling out of her at a rate I can't keep up with.

It's a little awkward, in that I have between half an hour to an hour per day that I can afford to devote to this project, and it takes about that long each day to catch up with reading the stuff she sent me since the last time.

The wonderful thing, though, is that there's a time difference of 8 hours between us. (She is based in Germany.) That means I go to bed each night, and when I get up in the morning, sitting in my email inbox are 10-20 pages of writing that magically happened while I was asleep.

I have to find a way to make this happen with all my projects.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scheduling committee meetings... by committee

This post at Bardiac's reminded me of a committee meeting yesterday.

We were just winding up and the usual question, "When shall we three we eight meet again?" was asked.

"I'm away for a couple of weeks in October," said one person.
"Which weeks?"
"All of them. And November."

"I'm away from next week until October," said someone else.

"What about our [slightly overlapping but not really the same committee] meeting on Monday?"

"Oh, no, I'll be around for that. So I guess we could talk some more about the issues we didn't get to today on Monday."

"Will everyone be at Monday's meeting?" someone asked.

General agreement.

"Well then, that seems like a good solution."

Just as we finish clearing off the table, some bastard helpful soul pipes up, "So we're meeting before Monday's meeting, then?"

And yes, it was generally agreed to have a pre-meeting meeting on Monday.


Saturday, September 04, 2010

Thirteen - uh four - ways of looking at an earthquake

Conflicting reports about the Christchurch earthquake:

"Strong quake ay bro?"
"Yis bro, pretty strong."
"How strong would you say bro?"
"Strong as bro. Strong as."

My father (via email):
"You will hear that we've had a rather large earthquake in Christchurch (7.4). Just to let you know I’m okay. Couple of book cases fell over and china cabinet – so had to clean up broken crockery and now need to restore order to my library. I see on Facebook that most of my friends are bemoaning disorder to their book shelves. Better get back to work and clean up things – keep finding things that have fallen over. Hope you are well."

A sensible friend (via email):
"The only damage in our family was a broken mirror. Don’t trust what you see on TV – it’s mostly brick buildings in the inner city (which has been sealed off) that have been badly harmed, and even there it’s mostly the same buildings shot from different angles. Outside the inner city, it’s just chimneys and windows. And burglar alarms rending the night."

My mother (via phone, crying):
"It's so scary! And I couldn't sleep all night because I sat at the top of the stairs waiting for aftershocks! Because my roof might have fallen in! And I won't sleep tonight, because I don't think I should go upstairs until it's all over! And I'm so frightened! And I can't leave town because another earthquake might happen when I'm in my car and a bridge might collapse! And I'm too scared to leave the house! But I'm scared my house will fall down! And I need to go to church but I'm too scared to go into the city! The buildings might fall on my car! Or I might get shot by looters! And the radio says not to flush the toilet, but I was so scared that I really needed to take a shit, so I got a black plastic rubbish bag and put it into a bucket and—"

"You know what, Mum? I don't think I need to hear this."

"But you do! You NEED. TO. KNOW.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

A quickie

Please don't hold your conference two days before Christmas.

That is all.

No, wait, actually, that isn't all. While we are at it, here's a longer wish list:

  • Please don't send me an email, then call me up to tell me what your email says, then drop by my office to tell me the same thing again. Some of us have work to do.
  • If you are "collaborating" with me, please don't hassle me for months about the importance of getting an application written long before a deadline, then refuse to look at draft of said application until a few days before said deadline.
  • Especially if you then want (me) to totally rewrite the whole thing from scratch.
  • Please don't ask me to guest teach your class, then micro-manage every aspect of my lesson plan so that you might as well just have written the damn thing yourself and asked me to deliver it word for word.
  • If you are going to micro-manage my lesson plan, please make time to read it through well in advance, so that you don't ask me to redesign it from scratch an hour before class begins.
  • Please give me a large piece of chocolate cake and several glasses bottles of red wine.
What's on your academic wish list today?

Monday, August 30, 2010

Snakes! In a box!

At a market the other day, we found this guy looking quite unperturbed by the fact that one of his snakes was making a break for it:

The very next day, we got to see this beauty in the wild.
Yes, we just spent the weekend up North.

Here is one reason why we didn't go swimming. (Yes, this was also in the wild, on the Daintree River.)

This was another:

And just for good luck:

Thursday, August 26, 2010

How does that work?

Referee: "So, do you really want this job?"
Me: "Yes!"
Referee: "Okay then, I'll write you an excellent reference."

So, if I had only sort of wanted the job, he'd have written me a mediocre reference? WTF?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I can haz coffee and cake?

Yes, this bill originally said "Haz(elnut) truff(le) latte".

No, we couldn't help ourselves.

Yes, they still processed it. Without laughing, even. N00bs.

Monday, August 23, 2010


Some photos from our cross-country skiing trip the other day:

The road on the way there, looking stereotypically Australian and as though we weren't likely to find any snow any time soon: nah, mate.
To be honest, we were still several hours drive away from the snow at that point. (I'm so envious of people like Bardiac who can step outside their door in winter and ski.)

More of the Australian stereotype:
I wish we'd got photos of the kangaroos in the snow as well, in order to collect the full set of stereotype, but they hop hop hoppity struggled away before we had a chance to wrestle our cameras out.

Some of our group spent a lot of time having little rests in the snow.

This is the same guy. I was having a good laugh at his expense while examining this photo, until I saw the tiny flat smudge of yellow about a third of the way from the right. I zoomed in, and yes, that is me. Face-planted.

And the real result of the day: my arse-bruise. More of an upper-thigh bruise, really, but arse-bruise sounds much more exciting.

More (photos, not arse-bruises) here.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

How to communicate with the natives

Lately I've been spending a lot of time poking around in elderly grammars and dictionaries of Aboriginal Australian languages. Here are a few of my favourite (i.e. most horrifying) finds:

From a language sketch from 1858, the following sentences are translated (since presumably these are the sorts of communications one might need to make with the "natives"):

"Now my blackfellows, make haste and get your breakfast. We will be going."

"Go and fetch them, there's a good fellow!"

"You are lazy! Dry your trousers!"

"Come here tomorrow and cut me some wood and me give you white money."

From a book of a similar age, the paradigm for "you are a harlot, she is a harlot, they are all harlots".

And from the latter book, a word is given that is translated as "intercourse, in both the good and the crude sense".

(And here was me thinking that the "good" sense was the crude sense.)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Hop hop hoppity PLOP

Kangaroos hopping (well, struggling, really) through the snow are awesome. And kind of surreal.

I did a ridiculous amount of cross-country skiing (a.k.a. cross-country face-planting) today. With a fresh dump of powder and perfect weather, it was the best day I've had in ages.

Photos later. Including my spectacular arse-bruise.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

I totally get why academics reply to emails with "Screw you"

Seriously: this is why email was invented

Several months ago, I sent Dr Fruitloop the answers to a survey that we are filling out jointly, the answers to which will be included in a book another colleague is compiling. She said she would add to the survey and forward it to the editor.

Three weeks ago I received an email from the editor asking for our survey anwers by the end of the month. I check with the editor, and no, he definitely never received our survey.

I email Dr Fruitloop, reminding her that sending our answers to the editor was getting urgent, that he needs them by the end of August, and offering to compile and forward them myself if she'd just email me her contribution.

"That is strange," she says. "I forwarded our survey to the editor months ago. I suppose he hasn't had time to look at it yet. But I will be seeing him in October, so will ask him about it then."

Yeah... no.


Other exciting adventures with Dr Fruitloop

In November I am going to be visiting the country where Dr Fruitloop works. Back in February she already started telling me how essential it was for us to meet and work together, sharing data and collaborating on a paper or two. When I told her in April that I would be coming over in November she expressed excitement and tried to persuade me to plan several weeks in her city. I explained that I could only manage one week, as I had conferences and other obligations, but that I would be available the whole week for us to work together. Asked if she had a preference for which week in November, since I could arrange my travel to be with her for any of three different periods. No, no, any of them would be fine.

Just before I booked my tickets last month, I emailed her again and confirmed that yes, the week I had in mind was good, she would be there, we could work together. Booked my tickets. Sent her the dates.

Today I get this email:

"I am looking forward to meeting you. I should warn you, though, I will be very busy that week. Please let me know what day you would like to meet so that I can set aside some time."

And now I congratulate myself heartily. When I booked my tickets, I paid a little extra so that I could retain a back-up option. (Let's just say I had a feeling about this woman.) And now it looks like I'll be spending that week partying collaborating with friends in Amsterdam instead.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I know how he felt, but... wow.

Email from an editor, a colleague of mine, to a potential contributor:

"Dear Author, thank you for your submission. We feel that it has great potential, but we would need you to expand the background section. Also, your use of [technical term 1] and [technical term 2] is unusual, so we would ask you to reconsider this and if you do choose to use them, please explain your definition in the paper, and justify using them this way."

By return email five minutes later (so clearly a carefully considered response).

"Screw you. I won't use ANY technical terms then. See if I care!"

Yes, this really happened.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Inspired marketing

A couple of awesome signs I saw in shops lately:

Monday, August 09, 2010

Strange things about job hunting

The weirdest thing to me about the jobs I've applied for recently is that the application requirements are so much less work than grant applications are. You can write a job application in a day if you have to (not that I would recommend that). For a grant application you need months. My last grant application was 127 pages long, not counting the fact that it had to be submitted in triplicate. It had five separate sections, all of which had at least five more multi-page subsections, and one of which required 30 pages of associated text. Then you had to add your CV, a detailed budget, a budget justification, etc.

The last job application I wrote specified a 1-page cover letter and a CV and absolutely-do-not-send-extra-unsolicited-material-kthxbai.

While I understand that job committees are far too busy to read 127 pages of application, and grant-granting committees clearly have nothing better to do, it seems wrong that so much more effort goes into something that at most will give you a three-year position, while a page of writing, a CV, and an interview could put you somewhere for the rest of your life.

Strange thing #2
I always assumed it would be a good idea, when on the job market, to have a professional web page. Or at least a presence on somewhere like Now, however, I am glad not to have the former, and regret a little bit setting up the latter. Every job application is a case of framing yourself so you sound like the person they are looking for. Let's say my PhD is, for the sake of argument, in macaroni-sculpture, I TAed for Eating Paste 101 and I did some advanced coursework in Noodles Throughout the Ages. Also, I have one paper out on an analysis of Glittery Sparkliness in Children's Crafts, and am currently working on one on Why 5-year-olds Suck at Art.

Okay, so I see myself as moving into the area of children's art, but there aren't any jobs in that right now, and I'd be happy to try and diversify into The History of Pasta, or Edible Artwork, or even Child Development. For jobs in each of those fields I'm going to emphasise very different parts of my experience, leave out some irrelevant stuff, and claim that oh yes, the subject you need taught is my favourite ever discipline and I can't wait to do more of it.

If someone reading one of those job applications happens to look at my web page or entry and it's all children's art yay! with no mention at all of whatever I just claimed to be most interested in, they are going to be On To Me (TM).

Strange-but-related thing #3
Knowing the people in the department that is advertising (or more specifically, them knowing you): also not so great akshully. For similar reasons to the above. You might think you would be perfectly competent teaching Edible Artwork and would be willing to shift your research in the direction of The History of Pasta, but if they know that your dissertation was all about macaroni sculpture, that you presented papers on macaroni sculpture at three conferences in the past year, and (worst of all) if they were present when you got drunk at dinner a few months ago and talked about how you are glad you don't have to employ any of that stupid history theory stuff in your research, you are... doomed.

And hopefully we all feel better about our job chances now for reading this. Oh yeah. I know I do.


Monday, August 02, 2010

Doors: who needs 'em?

Of all the conversations I recorded and transcribed during my time on Pirate Island, some of my favourites are practically useless for linguistic purposes, but still amusing snippets of day-to-day life. Like the following.

The context was that Edward, my host, was just finishing up a wood carving that was to be a gift to a nephew on his upcoming birthday.

Edward: "And after this one, I has another project."
Me: "Oh yeah? What is it?"
Edward: "Fixing Kori's door."
Me: "What's wrong with Kori's door?"
Edward: "He haven't got no door."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let them stare, let them stare, let them stare!

Walking home through town just now after a mid-winter Christmas yoga party*, I thought people were looking at me funny because I was carrying a towel. Now that I'm home I realise that no, it might have had something to do with the tinsel around my neck and candy canes in my hair.

Oh well.


* like a real party, but with more exercise.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Harmless and misguided advice

At a career-coaching workshop today (don't ask), we were given the advice that we will come across more positively (and feel more capable) if we always replace the word but with and.

This is not a smart thing to say to a bunch of academics.

Philosopher: "But—"
Workshop coordinator: *Ahem*
Philosopher: "AND the two are not logically equivalent."

Computer science guy: "If I do that in my code, my compiler will barf."

Linguist: "Sometimes 'and' doesn't make grammatical sense!"

We all start coming up with impossible examples of and-sentences, or ones where the sense changes dramatically if you switch from but:

"The party was all and over, when they started clearing up."
"Everyone and my father showed up to my graduation."
"I planned to go to the gym and I didn't want to."
"I would have won the Nobel Prize, and there isn't one for sky-diving."

"People! People!" said the coordinator, exasperated. "Just try it, okay? It really works! Why, just recently I had a client who kept saying how he really wanted to take an expensive training course, but he needed to find enough money. Finally, I challenged him to turn that but into an and. So he tried it out: 'I really want to take that training course, and I need to find the money for it.' And just like that, he turned things around! Now he's taken the course!"

I asked, "Where did he get the money?"

"I don't know," said the coordinator, with a you are missing the point glare. "I guess he used a credit card."

I smile. "So he did the training course AND he's now hugely in debt?"

Saturday, July 24, 2010

More on the Robinson Crusoe experience

One of the problems with my beautiful Pirate Island* is that there is really no way to get there or back. Of course, this is also one of the advantages, as it's the reason it has kind of escaped academic notice and also why it has managed to remain mostly uninfluenced by tourists or the rest of the world.

If you want to go to Pirate Island, here's what you do. You call up the one and only shipping company that is responsible for delivering supplies (a couple of times a year, on a totally irregular basis.) You have this conversation:
"So, when do you think the next boat will be going to Pirate Island?"
"Um, maybe later this year."
"So, June, July, August?"
"Yeah, probably. Sometime then."
"Okay, I'll call back in June."

Then in June: "Hi, when will the boat be going?"
"Maybe next week? Maybe next month?"
"When do you think you'll know?"
"Maybe next week? Maybe next month?"
"I would like to get a lift with the boat. Can you call me when it's going?"
"We probably won't know until the day before." (Note: it would be very difficult to get a flight out to where the boat leaves from with less than 24 hours notice.)

A week later: "So, how's it going with that boat?"
"Oh, we just left. But there'll probably be another one in December. Or maybe February."

So then you resort to Plan B. Plan B is that you book a flight to the closest island (still 600 km away), and then go and hang out at the docks every day, hassling the private yachts moored there until someone agrees to do a little detour (of about 200 km) and drop you off on Pirate Island on their way elsewhere. This option only applies from July to September, as that's the only time the wind and currents cooperate enough for a sailboat to approach the island. Fortunately, it takes about 10 days to find a boat willing to take you, so you have ten days of enforced cocktail drinking on the beach
busy preparation for fieldwork:
Unfortunately, what nobody told me until AFTER I landed on Pirate Island, is that there's a little conspiracy which might stop you getting off again. First, yachts kind of depend on currents and winds, which only let them go in one direction past the Island. This means you aren't going to get a hitch-hiking opportunity to go back to your original departure point. Secondly, the only place yachts are going when they leave Pirate Island is to another country. And as Pirate Island isn't an official point of departure for the country it belongs to, it's actually illegal for you to hitchhike off it with one of those yachts. Now, I did kind of know about this, but all the yachties I spoke to before I left said, "Yeah yeah, but no one really cares about that. If it was me, I'd be happy to take you anyway."

Turns out, tiny islands full of people who get little opportunity to exercise their authority over people outside of their own family LOVE bureaucracy. Oh yeah. And there is NO WAY they are letting you depart without the proper paperwork.

One of the locals, inspecting my research for compliance with government regulations

Once I discovered all this, I realised I was going to be stuck on Pirate Island for the rest of my life.

Fortunately for me, for the first time in about 30 years, a government boat was doing a tour of all the islands in order to audit them and make sure they were complying with all government regulations. (Like, Dude, really: use life-jackets. And maybe your kids should actually attend school sometimes. And when did you last have a pap smear? What? No doctor? That's no excuse.) They were on a boat with an engine, and they were going back to the main island. And they had room for a stray linguist. Well, not really: they were licensed to carry 6 people, but ended up taking 11.
The one point of connection with the outside world, and how I found out about the incoming government boat

On the one hand it was probably lucky that I had visions of having to stay on the island forever. The seasickness on the outward trip was so horrific (five solid days of throwing up every time I opened my eyes), that it took a lot to convince me to ever set foot on a boat again. The only thing worse than that would have been... well, staying. It wasn't until about two weeks before I left that I heard about the government boat that would be coming through, and by then my only reaction was a heart-felt hallelujah! Unfortunately, what I heard was, "Government boat coming. You can get a lift home. Maybe on Wednesday." Then, "Boat maybe not coming Wednesday. Maybe Friday." Then, "I saw the boat this morning! Nah, just joking you. Ha ha!" Then, "There's a boat coming in! Probably your boat, eh! You can go home! No, wait, wrong boat. Just some French tourist."

Anyway, all of this is background to the real point of this post, which is that I've just been looking back through the diary I kept during the trip, and re-discovered my journal entries for the final few days on the island. This is how they began:

The government boat** is supposed to arrive today. No sign yet.

The yachts all had to leave last night because the wind changed to the North. Does this mean more delay for the S.C.? Besides missing my flight and imperiling my job, I'll go mad if I'm trapped here much longer.

Where is my boat?

[At this point, I seem to have given up keeping the diary, and instead have started writing personal stuff directly into my fieldwork notebook. (I told you I'd go mad.)]

[Scrawled underneath a description of accent differences between women and men]
Still no freaking boat.

[Next to a set of examples of question formation]
The boat arrived last night but has engine trouble and has torn its sail. The one person with mechanical skills is refusing to help repair it because the boat owner did something to piss them off three years ago. I'm never going to get out of here.

[Under a description of passive constructions]
I want to go home.

And then, it appears, I did.
Waving goodbye as the dinghy moves away from the shore, carrying me to the boat which would carry me to the main island, which had a taxi which would carry me to the airport, where an aeroplane would carry me (six days later, without any sleep, shower or change of clothes—sorry, fellow passengers!) HOME.

The most beautiful sight I saw all month

* Yes, this is a pseudonym, but it's what people in my department generally refer to it as.
**the initials of which are S.C.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Tips for the yoga n00b

or: I went to yoga four days in a row and now I think I might die.

Yoga: yes or no? Do we like it? I think I like it. I was sucked in by a special deal from a new yoga studio where you pay $20 and can attend as many classes as you like for the next 20 days. Because I am a cheapskate and like to get value for money, I was going to attend ALL OF THEM, WOO-HOO! Then it turned out there are something like 15 classes a day, so I lowered my expectations. But probably not lowly enough.

And now I have questions for any experienced yogis among you:

Am I meant to feel like this? By "this", I mean: after each class I feel like I'm going to throw up. I get a pounding headache, which sometimes starts during the class. And I am incapable of doing anything else all evening except lying on the couch shaking. I have tried drinking more water, drinking less water, eating beforehand, not eating beforehand, pushing myself in class, taking it easy in class: it all makes no difference. Is it just an adjustment period? Is it the heat? (The room is set to 32 C (90 F)). And if anyone starts in with "elimination of toxins" I want peer-reviewed citations from medical journals.

Why is downward-facing dog so hard? The teacher keeps saying it is a relaxing posture. I disagree. It is an arm-trembling, shoulder-cramping, blood-rushing-to-the-head posture. Am I doing it wrong? Are there ways to make it easier? And as for raising a leg, ha ha ha, don't even think about it.

Holding my arms in the air for minutes on end, no matter what the posture is. It ****ing hurts. Let's just not, okay?

I'm pretty sure none of these can be a strength issue, because I'm pretty strong. I have almost no flexibility and (clearly) no stamina, though, so I guess that's the problem.

How long until it gets easier?

Monday, July 19, 2010


I finally figured out what happened to my blog roll. I used to have two blog rolls: one for the blogs I liked, and one for the blogs I really really really OMG liked. Then I decided that was promoting a hierarchical undemocratic society, or something, and got rid of the ├╝berblogger list.

Which—duh—meant all my absolute favouritest bloggers were no longer listed anywhere at all.

So the take-home lesson from all this is this: if you noticed you were not on my blog roll when I did my little spot of housekeeping the other day, you should take it as a compliment.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Question for my American peeps!

In Australia we don't have "composition" courses at our universities. You, as I understand it, do.

All I really know about these classes is informed by my extensive knowledge of academic blogs, so my understanding might be a little bit biased. (Y'think? Yes. You talking to yourself? Yes.) As far as I know, composition courses are usually taught by adjuncts or TAs in the English department, in many places are compulsory for students from all disciplines, not just literature or language majors, and involve lots of practice in writing academic-style texts. (Please correct any misapprehensions here.)

So I was recently talking to some fellow post-PhD wannabe academics, and we were commiserating about how even the scummiest low-level underpaid adjunct jobs are hard to come by. We need more badly paid teaching positions that are only semi in-our-fields and for which we are overqualified! Yeah! And since these guys are in English, they suggested that we could create sucky jobs for all of us if we could only persuade the university to bring in composition courses. They then talked to their HOD, and they seem interested, and it looks like the English department might be willing to try it in collaboration with linguistics (i.e. me).

My questions to you are the following:

  • Is this a really bad idea?
  • Do composition courses work? Do students improve their writing skills through direct instruction in composition more than they would just be writing regularly in their own disciplines over the three year undergraduate period?
  • Assuming that there is no way in hell we would be able to make these courses compulsory, how could we avoid turning them into English-for-second-language-learners classes? (We have a large non-native English speaking population here, and for obvious reasons, composition courses are likely to appeal to them more than they would to the average student).
  • The English department people are considering trying to attract public servants to these courses too (public servants taking one-off university classes are a lucrative and sought-after market in this city, as their departments happily pay full fees). Do you think it would be possible to create some sort of coherent writing course that would work for both academically-oriented undergraduates and professional public service writing? (Personally, I think it sounds really difficult, but perhaps not impossible, given creative course design).
  • If you have taught composition, do you focus on academic writing as a genre, or more generally on constructing coherent, grammatical, well-phrased texts?
  • Anything else we should be bearing in mind?

Friday, July 16, 2010

While we were sleeping

Well, okay, while I was having a little hiatus over the past year or so, lots of things happened. Some of them are deadly boring: I went to bed and got up more than 300 times. I had breakfast a lot. I wrote a lot of sentences. I'm pretty sure I showered. You don't need to hear about all that.

What you do need to hear about is my super cool field trip to my super cool secret location with the super cool grant funding that I did actually end up getting. I'm going to continue being cryptic about the location and all, since it is also super googleable, and now I am starting to make a name for myself in writing about it. But I'll post some little anecdotes now and again in this space, just so you don't feel you missed out.

For now, a handful of photos.

The island spent a lot of time trying to impersonate a postcard:

This is the main "town":

And this is what's for dinner (on special occasions: usually it would just be fish and rice):

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Where to even start?

"Look, two of the cooks in this restaurant are orientals! Do you suppose orientals have a special talent for cooking?"

And not only did they have no idea why that would be considered offensive, but the only lesson they seem to have taken from my white privilege/racism 101 lecture was that you shouldn't call people "orientals"—or at least not when I'm in hearing distance.

Why yes, I have been visiting family.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


I updated my blog roll, and removed all the blogs which no longer had functioning URLs or had been eaten by spambots, or gone into hiding, etc.

It's kind of sad how many of them that was, in the one year since I stopped writing here. Time moves fast in the blogging world.

If you aren't there (anymore) and would like to be, please let me know. I didn't remove you because I hate you. Really.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

My next book proposal is going to someone with a promotional budget

I'm at the national conference for my discipline in Australia right now, and went to the book exhibition today (where I spent $98 - shh! Don't tell Geekman!)

Those of you who know my real name will be able to imagine how exciting it was to see this table. (Assuming the resolution is high enough, anyway).

It's my book! My book!

And only a little bit spoiled by the highly professional sign the publishers used to label their table.

Classy, guys. Classy.

Saturday, July 03, 2010

I say "R7"; you hear "ass heaven", and really the product marketing team should have thought of that

I bought one of these the other day and this morning it finally arrived!

(Image shamelessly stolen from random google images search, as I currently don't have a functioning camera).

Although it looks like an e-book reader, it is really one of these in disguise.* That is, sure, it reads e-books, but it has a fully functioning Ubuntu system under the hood, and you can do anything with it that its frankly rather embarrassing 600 MHz processor and 256 MB of memory allows you to. I actually bought it for working on at cafes and the like, and together with a USB keyboard like this (still in the mail), it will be almost like having an entire desktop computer (from 1998) that miraculously weighs less than a pound and fits in a purse. It has practically no hard drive space either but I'll buy it a pet 16 GB SD card (once I get over my rage at having tried to do so on eBay last week and getting scammed), and together with dropbox, which I use for just about all my files anyhow, that should be plenty of room.

So not really an iPad killer, but perhaps a netbook-lust killer. I was deluded for a while into thinking I wanted a netbook, but this is even more portable, cuter, runs linux out of the box, and has a touchscreen.** For $350 AUD, that's pretty good going. I'm currently trying to build it a little case, and a stand, and kiss it gently and tell it it's pretty and all the things one does with a brand new gadget.

* But lighter, and without the parallel WinCE and Android OSes taking up extra space.

**Of course, what I really (truly madly deeply) wanted was one of these or these. Mysteriously, however, all smartbooks seem to have disappeared from the market before they even hit it. (Technically the Always Innovating smartbook hasn't quite disappeared, but I find their statement under the "order" tab a little suspicious: "The current Touch Book production is in stand-by and will resume in the summer [this statement has been up since January] when we will release our newest and craziest innovation. Ordering today ensures you a better place in the queue list, and you will be offered the option to upgrade." No one except me seems surprised by this bellyflop. After all, who wants a tiny, cheap Linux-based tablet with a 10-hour battery life and detachable keyboard? Um, me. That's exactly what I wanted. So I had to damn well build it myself (said the little red hen). And she did.


I have one grant application under consideration, and have to complete and send in another two in the next three months.

There are two job applications due next week. One due at the end of July. And our department will be advertising at least one position later this year.

One of these things has got to work out, right?

Sometimes I allow myself to imagine, for just a second, that more than one of were to work out. And! And! I would have a choice. A delicious tasty choice about where to work. Wouldn't that be lovely?

But I'd settle for one.

Thursday, July 01, 2010

What I really look like

Once upon a time, I used to be a penguin. While cleaning out my mother's storage space a few months ago, we found photographic evidence.

I just thought you'd want to know.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

See me make noob mistakes

A little tip to my past self and anyone else in a similar position

When you see a job opening that looks really awesome and that you plan on applying for, do NOT send out feelers to people who are better suited for it than you are, to see if they will be applying too. Because if they weren't already, they ARE NOW.

Hrmph. At least they're grateful to me for pointing it out.

So that was weird

I was just cycling along the footpath (which is legal in my state), and almost got run over by an oncoming car, driving at full speed, ALSO along the footpath.

Car chase? There was no obvious pursuit. Maybe he was trying to escape the imaginary policemen in his head.

In other news, I think I just snubbed the Dean. Passed a vaguely-familiar looking woman just outside our department, who grinned at me like a manic shark. I gave her my best "I don't smile at strangers this early in the morning, you freak" glare uncertain half-smile back. Five minutes later, I NOW realise who it was. Oops.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The longer version

So um, yeah. How about that? It turns out that the Real World was not all it was cut out to be. Also, Facebook turned out not to be the Real World. And when it came to the REAL Real World, I turned out not to be very good at it, or at least not as good at it as I am at blogging.

Most of the issues surrounding why I stopped blogging still stand, of course. I've decided to try to avoid posting anything here that might offend reasonable colleagues, family members, etc.* I'm sure I can still come up with amusing inoffensive things to say, and save the best of my obnoxiousness for anecdotes about random strangers. (Note to self: disguise all stories about family and colleagues so that everyone thinks they are referring to "random strangers").

I have also decided to no longer check the blog's stats, or at least not the IP addresses of people reading. Or at the very least, not to memorise the IP addresses of computers inside my department. Hmm... maybe I'm not as committed to this as I had thought I was.

And finally, it turns out that the whole not-enjoying-blogging-anymore thing was related to a general not-enjoying-anything-anymore thing, which was alleviated quite nicely through a well-calibrated prescription of happy pills. Better living through adjustment of brain chemistry FTW!

And now I will happily burrow my way back into my soft warm blog and reacquaint myself with you all in the comments. Hurrah!


* Unreasonable colleagues and family members, on the other hand, can just suck it.

*tap tap tap* Is this thing still on?

I might be back.