Welcome to Mac OSX 10.5: SkyNet.

Posted by September Blue Monday, 31 March 2008 2 comments

"Hello! Would you like to set up Mail now?"
"Yeah, why not? On you go, computer."
"Would you like to use [username]@[my-university.ac.uk]?"
"Yeah, that - wait. How did you know that?"
"I beam at you with my aesthetically pleasing Aqua interface."
"But I didn't tell you that, and I've never tried to set up Mail with that account before, and, come to think of it, I've never even checked that account from this computer. How did you know?"
"Behold my inviting setup window. I can wait as long as you want."
"But how? Seriously. How did you do that?"
"I am helping you! I am being helpful!"
"You're... disturbing me, a bit. What else do you know?"
"Oh, you'll find out, human. You'll find out."

In related news, I've changed my blog e-mail address to victorianitas /at/ gmail /dot/ com so that I can use it with Mail. You can reach me there.

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Guess what I've done to my computer?

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 23 March 2008 2 comments

Other Mac users will probably be able to pin down the general degree of idiocy that lay behind my actions if I explain that they involved the following:

1) the words "that would've worked in system 9, and I'm sure it can't be that different"
2) the System folder.

Yes. Oops. I now have a very pretty paperweight.

All right, I'm exaggerating a little bit: it's not dead. It's just rather ill. And while my Mac-fixing knowledge does extend to saying things like "okay, it's still recognising its FireWire ports, so we'll boot it in target disk mode from your laptop and run Disk Utility from the install CDs" as two of us flap and fidget around the desk, I'm not confident enough of my data-preserving abilities to mess around with it any more just now. I've already checked that everything on the hard drive is intact and accessible if linked up to another computer; when I have a laptop with enough space to back things up, I'll get braver with the fixes.

And did you notice how subtly I dropped in that 'when' there? After the semi-colon and everything? See how casually I treat the matter of getting a new computer, for lo, I am a professional, and it is but a tool with which I craft my art (which let's just hypothetically pretend is academic writing rather than fin-de-this-siecle computer games). If I have found a way to afford a new computer, due to yet another part-time job and a judicious loan from my parents, this is no matter for shrieking with joy. Why, going to the Apple store to pick up my new laptop will be a veritable inconvience.

Or not.

I'm not, I should establish, getting a new computer because I broke the old one. The old one is saveable, I'm fairly sure. But it's, well... getting sort of old now. The power cuts out for no reason sometimes, and the hard drive occasionally won't spin on startup (meaning a blank grey screen and some panicky-sounding beeps), and the light is fading to the point where video is getting close to unwatcheable, although I didn't notice this for ages because the only video files I was watching on it were Battlestar Galactica episodes and I just thought, well, it's supposed to be dark and bleak-looking, right? (Not quite that dark and bleak-looking, it turns out.) And it's slow because it's seven years old, and getting slower every day as the hard drive ages. And it won't run Sims 2, which I'm sure you'll agree with me is the main thing. Etc.

Also, I am a weak consumerist sheep who cannot be held responsible for her actions when Apple say things like 'educational discount' and 'comes with OSX 10.5: Leopard installed'. (Although I am wondering whether Apple are going to start running out of cat names for their OS upgrades before they move on to System 11. "Now introducing OSX 10.8: Ocelot!")

I've never owned a laptop before (okay, Apple, 'notebook', whatever); I've never owned a computer with wireless capabilities. I've never even owned a computer that'll let me play YouTube videos properly. And, yeah, there'll come a day when the new computer is also shamefully outdated and won't be able run anything produced in the past three years and will get moved to the 'Older Macs...' section of Apple's support website, and I'll be right back here, but, eh. I'm sure we'll all be living on the moon and using teleporters by then.

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And Death Shall Have No Dominion

Posted by September Blue 1 comments

And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan't crack;
And death shall have no dominion.

And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.

(Dylan Thomas)

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Two worlds

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 22 March 2008 0 comments

My little brother's looking for a job in one of the sciences, which means that a) I might finally have to acknowledge that he's no longer six years old and b) I no longer need to go through the Academic Job Markets Are Scary And Mean Seriously I Am Doing Everything I Can Do You Think I Like Working All These Minion Jobs? talk with my parents every phone call, because Baby Brother is living at home again and can do it for me. And is, presumably, because now they're reminding me to work on my publications. Huh. I would say that I didn't need telling that, but given that I was spending my finally-a-day-for-my-own-research! day off playing Escape Velocity when my brother phoned me, maybe I do. Anyway.

I don't know enough about the academic job market in my brother's branch of the sciences - or in the sciences at all, come to think of it - to say much in detail about the kind of jobs he's looking for. Some kind of research assistantship thing? Or maybe a PhD? Or maybe one of those margins-of-academia jobs in government or industry that are lot more numerous in his field than mine? While he's got a lot more flexibility than I have in terms of what to do with his Masters degree that actually requires the use of his Masters degree, though, he's dealing with a lot of the same job market questions that I am. Namely: where the hell is this post-RAE jobs boom? And why did I have to click through five pages of 'further details' to discover that this apparently open position is not so open after all? And did I really just see a job advert for Iraq?

The first of these is another question for another day (and maybe another post, although last time I tried to write about the mechanics of the UK academic hiring system it only made me cry). The last of these could end up as an interesting point about the arts/sciences divide, because the job advert my brother read out to me phrased the living-in-a-war-zone aspect as a reason why the candidate might not want the job ("while based in a relatively peaceful area, the job still carries some risk of possible kidnapping, injury or death"), whereas the one I read for English a while ago saw it more as a reason why the hiring panel might not want the candidate ("MUST be adventurous, innovative and able to deal with unexpected changes to schedule and workload"). But the middle of these, the complete inability of whoever's in charge of this stuff at many universities to write a decent and useful job advert, is the kind of thing we can fix right now.

All we need to do, academic job-seekers of the world, is convince the universities to adopt a set template for their job adverts. We could even make it multiple-choice. Think how much easier life would be for everyone if job adverts read like this:

[permanent/temporary] [post rank] in [field] at [university]
Salary (please circle): Decent - fair - will just about cover the rent - hourly paid
How specific is this in terms of field?: Entirely open - Slight preference for area stated, but not a large deciding factor - Strong preferance for area stated, but we're willing to consider people outside that if circumstances are right - Stated area, or close to stated area, only - That specific thing, no compromises
Teaching load: Hell - Purgatory - Heaven
Current department atmosphere: Clear as a blue mountain sky - Mostly clear, with occasional grey skies and downpours - Perpetually overcast and stormy - Utterly toxic
Do you have an inside candidate (be honest)?: Yes - No

So much easier.

You make your own fun on the long shifts

Posted by September Blue Thursday, 20 March 2008 0 comments

SCENE: Library circulation desk, but a short space from where I currently sit.

"Um, hi, I'm, um, looking for Thomas Aquinas?"
"He's not in today. Can I take a message?"

Temporarily, and maybe in one spot.

Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 19 March 2008 2 comments

In the post-apocalyptic San Francisco of Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, empty apartments aren't empty.

"Kipple is useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there's twice as much of it. It always gets more and more. [...] Your place, here," he said, "this apartment you've picked - it's too kipple-ized to live in. We can roll the kipple-factor back; we can do like I said, raid the other apts. But -" He broke off.

"But what?"

Isidore said, "We can't win."

"Why not?" [...]

"No one can win against kipple," he said, "except temporarily and maybe in one spot, like in my apartment I've sort of created a stasis between the pressure of kipple and nonkipple, for the time being. But eventually I'll die or go away, and then the kipple will once again take over. It's a universal principle operating throughout the universe; the entire universe is moving towards a final state of total, absolute kipple-ization."

What I love best about this is how neatly it reverses usual ideas of the mechanics of mess. The less time you spend actually living somewhere, the more kipple you'll need to deal with when you're home; tidying is a constant, unwinnable fight against entropy.

This is what my flat is like. I get up, I go to work, I come home at night with just about enough energy to make a coffee and slump on the sofa under a blanket, I sleep. And when I am not watching, the kipple spreads (I imagine with a soft rustling sound). How else did the kitchen table I only ever use for marking essays get covered in empty carrier bags and cans of soup? How else did the armchair by the door end up stacked high with, if I'm remembering right, three newspapers from February, one pink-and-purple scarf my mother knitted, an indefinite number of junk mail envelopes, a purple Monster Munch packet, an Edith Wharton novel, enough receipts to wallpaper the whole building and some disintegrating internal mail envelopes? How else did my bedroom come to look like the natural habitat of a nesting laundry-monster?

The war on kipple is like the war on misplaced undergraduate apostrophes. No one can win, except temporarily and maybe in one spot.

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Things can only get better

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 18 March 2008 1 comments

It's student union election time here, and the undergraduates are out campaigning. Every noticeboard, wall, tree, and slow-moving academic has been plastered with posters in bright primary colours, promising esoteric and wonderful things with clip art and novelty fonts. (Nobody's campaign pledges include 'getting a literate copy editor for the student newspaper', sad to say.) Mostly they look like every other student union election campaign poster designed in the past few decades, but one pinned up by the bus stop made me pause for a second:


It's not that I don't agree with the sentiment, but in a student town where rented housing's in short supply? Good luck with that one, kids. Imagine what else that campaign could include: "No more grumpy bus drivers!" "No more flatmates who listen to trance music while you're trying to lie in!" "No more rain on Saturdays!"

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HR think I'm special! Really! Special! They said so to my boss: I'm 'a special case'! Oh, this is so exciting. I feel like I just got a HR hug!

Of course, what they mean by 'special' is 'exempt from equal-pay-for-equal-work legislation'. But, you know. I try not to draw the dusty blinds of reality against the glowing panoramic landscapes of beautiful delusion.

So, yes, I'm currently on the losing end of a pay dispute with one of my jobs, the details of which would make even the world's geekiest employment lawyer seize clumps of his own hair in twitching, mottled fists and scream "Oh dear God, can the sum total of all human endeavour really be ground down to this?" The only part that's entirely clear to me is the part where there's nothing I can do about this, what with all the legal protections I don't have. My university's HR department is what happened when Wolfram & Hart branched out into the higher education sector.

(As an aside, this would be one of the reasons I'm so pessimistic about the academic job market. This university is prepared to fight me to the bitter end over a 50p-per-hour raise, and yet somewhere out there I should believe there's institutions willing to cough up 20-something thousand a year for a junior lecturer?)

Anyway, I was annoyed enough with HR's latest verdict that I thought about turning this blog into a witty and revealing tell-all take on what the university as an institution looks like from the bottom of the pay-and-prestige ladder. It would be full of intrigue and scandal, and net me forty thousand new readers and a book contract by the time my anonymity was inevitably revealed. I do five different jobs for this university, after all - imagine the material! But then I realised that I don't have anything interesting to say about any of them, so there went that plan.

But this would be best illustrated with an example of the most thrilling thing that happened today. The secretary who's in charge of processing some of my timesheets and pay called me aside to let me know that I'd worked 44 hours last week. This isn't bad, you understand, but, haha, 44 hours, that's a lot more than I'm contracted for! Isn't it! That's the kind of thing that some people might be expecting overtime for! Which, haha, I know I'm not getting, right? But I also know that if that kind of timesheet was going to HR every week, they might start asking questions, right? Because there's supposed to be a cap on my working hours, what with me being part-time and all? Anyway! Just saying! Bet I'm tired!

And I said, yes, yes I am tired.

And I thought, heh. Little do you know that the pay system thinks I'm three separate people, and you don't get to see the timesheets from two of my other jobs! That was actually a sixty-four hour week! Haha!

And then I thought, my God. I counted that as a triumph.

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The world's least interesting rant

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 8 March 2008 1 comments

This was going to be a generalised, non-identifying, pedagogically sound rant about my students, because some of them have been really pissing me off recently. I taught one class on Friday afternoon (yes, yes I was last in line when the scheduling got sorted out, and through nobody's fault but my own), which I was not expecting to go well: only half of them turned up last week, most of the ones that were there expressed shocked disbelief over the idea that I'd expect them to read a novel right through to the end, I'd set them extra work on top of that which wasn't going to be assessed, they'd been slipping back into monosyllabic answers over the past couple of weeks, it was raining, and I was ill. This does not suggest good things. So I thought oh, well, if this goes as horrifically as it's probably going to, I can at least feel (mostly) justified in grumbling about the whole thing on the internet.

So naturally, they all turned up with the book, having done all the reading and the extra work I set, and talked enthusiastically about the novel for the whole hour in a thoughtful and detailed way. Now I feel really bad about even thinking of grumbling about them.

I'm still ill, though. Curses.

Someone phoned my colleague at the IT helpdesk to express arm-flailing panic and general annoyance over the fact that none of the computers in her computer lab were working! None! None at all! She'd tried every single one, and she didn't have time to leave the Arts building she was working in to find another lab, and wasn't there anything they could do?

Some moderate concern over this at the helpdesk. The technicians who can placate the network demons are difficult to track down at weekends, and while it didn't look like there was a problem anywhere else, this one could affect a whole building. Or a whole lab, at least. The computers in that lab are switched off via an automatic shutdown signal at weekends, if they've been sitting logged off for a certain number of hours. Maybe the shutdown signal had somehow closed them out of the network?

Or maybe the problem lay in the words 'shutdown signal.'

"Forgive me for asking the obvious," my colleague says, "but did you try turning the computer on?"



"How do I do that?"

We are all very professional over here at Library and Information Services Headquarters, which is why my colleague kept a straight face and explained how to switch on a computer while agreeing with the (still angry) caller that yes, yes, there probably should be instructions for that posted somewhere in the lab, and no, of course she couldn't have been expected to know how to fix this problem. And then he put the phone down and strolled over to mock me, your friendly lending desk minion, for the general technophobic idiocy of the Arts & Humanities world in general.

I feel like I should defend my discipline, but honestly, discipline. Sometimes you make this difficult.

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Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 5 March 2008 2 comments

I only believe in an interventionist God when it comes to iTunes. Maybe the world won't rearrange itself for me, maybe all prayers will come down to Turgenev's summary "Great God, grant that two and two not make four," but the soundtrack to my life will be chosen with a divine sense of poetry. When I got an apologetic e-mail from a friend I'd fallen out with some years ago, iTunes's shuffle function played the Magnetic Fields' 'I Don't Believe You.' Reading posts on the Foucault blogwars of last year, iTunes played me Cher singing 'Oh, No, Not My Baby'. And walking down the corridor out of the building with my final, final, corrected and revised thesis in my arms, somewhat pissed off with my department and very disillusioned with academia, my iPod played the Ramones song 'Poison Heart' on full volume: "Well, I just wanna walk right out of this world..."

It's not the last time I left that building (hell, I have to be in on Friday to teach). But oh, how I wish it was. It was perfect.

[And on the subject of music, to she who knows who she is: a full mix CD of angry/sad/angrysad songs is available on request. I can also do a sideline in Mindlessly Chirpy Music, if that'd help. I have Aqua on here, and no shame at all.]

Oh, good Lord

Posted by September Blue Monday, 3 March 2008 2 comments

Hardbound thesis: 2x (£17.50 for printing + approx. £20.95 for binding) = £76.90
Graduation fee: £45
Gown hire (like hell I'm buying them): around £40
Approximate cost of graduation: £161.90

Anybody want to buy a kidney?

Minor revisions

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 2 March 2008 3 comments

My PhD was passed with minor revisions, meaning I got a couple of months to fix some typos, shuffle around some footnotes, and add an extra paragraph or so into one of my chapters. If that doesn't sound like a couple of months' work, well, I won't argue; it's the sort of thing that could be done in an afternoon, easily. If I wanted to. If, when I opened the letter from Registry that listed the things I had to do, I hadn't put it back in its envelope, tucked it into a bookcase, and put the whole thing off until another day.

So seven weeks out of my eight weeks went past, and I didn't do the revisions, and my supervisor sent me pointed e-mails, and I didn't do the revisions, and my friends pointed out that I wasn't ever going to get to call myself Doctor unless I did the revisions, and I didn't do the revisions. I know, I know, I know. But that deadline was creeping ever closer, so today I sat down in the office and opened up the folder named 'FINAL final thesis', and found out why I'd put those revisions off for so long. It turns out, see, that putting the finishing touches on your thesis the second time around brings back all the memories of doing it the first time. And finishing the thesis the first time was Not Fun.

This was late September, when I spent most of my time in the office, working on my thesis, or at home, working on my thesis, or at work, sneakily proofreading chapters of my thesis whenever things were quiet. The rest of the time, I was planning classes and writing lectures for the courses I was teaching on, both of which were completely new to me. On Wednesday nights, I lectured from 6.30 to 7.30, then held a tutorial from 7.30 to 8.30, then went back across campus to my office and wrote until the ten-to-midnight bus home, then put in another hour or so of work at the kitchen table, then went to bed in time to get up for the 8.30am shift at work on Thursdays, after which I'd write all afternoon, go back to work for the evening shift, then head back over to the office at 9pm to write some more. Then home, then more writing, then back in at 8.30am on Friday for the morning shift... and so on. Sometimes I slept. I think. It's all a bit hazy now.

For the months leading up to September, there was ongoing noisy building work in the corridors on either side of my office. Drills, hammers, yelling, more drills, every day from nine to five. The evenings would have been quieter, but the only way to stop myself falling asleep at my desk was loud music, and so loud music it was. I was tired right through to my soul, and hating every word of my thesis. My to-do list was a five-page stapled document. I was terrified of not getting the thesis finished in time, and equally terrified of getting an extension and spending another three months living that way.

And then the computer ate one of my chapters, and I spent a day drenched in cold sweat and terror as the file retrieval software chugged its way slowly, slowly, slowly through the hard drive.

And then our printer broke, in a sneaky, underhanded way that disguised itself as just needing to be cleaned. We'd call the technicians; the technicians would clean it and print out a test sheet in dazzling whiteness; we'd express scepticism over the lasting power of the fix; the technicians would give us that 'yeah, right' look that only IT professionals have truly mastered, and leave; the printer would print fifty sheets fine, and then cover everything in smudgy lines of ink again. This went on for, I kid you not, months. Mid-September, ten days before two of us were due to print off our PhD theses on the printer that the technicians kept saying was fine, the head of department got involved and the whole thing turned into an adolescent carousel of snappy e-mails and hurt feelings: nobody had told the senior technicians! nobody had told the secretaries! and now we were whining and stamping our feet and going over their heads like they weren't trying to help when they hadn't even had a chance to get it fixed for us! Which, all right, fine, nobody knew, the fault-reporting system was messed up, but dear God we had more important things to care about and why won't somebody fix the damn printer?

Three days before the PhD was due in, I was sitting on my desk trying to reassure the head IT guru that nobody had meant any offence by the whole thing, really, honestly, and it wasn't that we were angry with him, per se, or any of the others, and we knew everyone was doing the best they could, really we did, but things were kind of urgent here so - no, no, I wasn't implying he didn't care about that, it's just that we are handing these in on Friday so - no, we weren't mad at anybody personally... etc. It was one of the most surreal moments of my academic career so far, perfected when my e-mail notification went 'bing!' and the IT guru saw an e-mail from the other nearly-done printerless PhD student titled something like 'Re: WHAT IS WRONG WITH THESE INCOMPETENT FUCKWITS AND HOW IS IT OUR FAULT?' Heh.

I was crushingly, achingly tired, and writing, writing, writing (and then teaching, and writing lectures, and going to work, and coming back to the office, and writing, writing, writing some more). I wanted to curl up in a little heap under my desk and cry myself to sleep, and if I hadn't been so scared of not being finished in time I think I would have done. I remember sitting in the office late one night, my head buried in my hands, muttering 'I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this, I don't want to do this,' over and over again. When I found out I had an extra two days to finish the thesis, I considered taking them for maybe thirty seconds before deciding that if I had to spend two more days on the damn thing, I would either collapse or go crazy or both. I knew that. I still know it now.

And yet, the day of the deadline I'd passed into some weird euphoric state, smiling and joking and noticing how beautiful the world was. I didn't care that I'd had two hours of sleep, or that the new printer was spitting out my pages all over the floor, or that I'd forgotten to bring in my student card and would have to face down the ogres at Registry without it. The world was a good place again. I was almost skipping along the path down to the Registry office; I couldn't keep myself from smiling for hours afterwards. I had my self back. And what got me from misery to euphoria was the knowledge that it was done, and that I was never, never, never again going to have to spend one more night working on that damn thesis.

All of which is why I left my corrections to the absolute last minute (and why I was back in the office three hours ago, yelling "Oh, you will NOT do this to me again!" at a printer). But now, finally, finally, it's all done.

Can I call myself Dr yet? Please?

Far from the obvious

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 1 March 2008 2 comments

SCENE: My students, packing up their stuff. (Well. Half my students, packing up their stuff. God knows where everyone else had got to.)

Me: Oh, and when I say we're doing [X novel] next week, I mean we're doing all of it. So you do need to read the whole book, up to and including the end.

(But they know that, right?)

Students, in unison: What, really?/All of it?/*sigh*