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.