Some points

Posted by September Blue Monday, 31 August 2009 3 comments

1. It rains. It rains and rains and rains, and people complain about British summers like they don't do this every single year, like the rain just isn't miserable enough without adding a layer of punctured expectations re: Mediterranean Augusts on top. I am getting used to the smell of my borrowed raincoat and the limited view from a hood pulled tight around my face. (But... I sort of like the rain, if I can watch it through a window or go outside wrapped in enough waterproof material that it can't get me. It makes me happy. This is my secret.)

2. I have to talk to my boss about my career plans, which first of all requires having career plans. I don't. Not really. I have a keen and pressing desire to keep getting paid the amount I do now, and if I could get to stay at the same desk and do the same things that would be absolutely peachy. But career plans, in terms of specialising in particular fields and so on... eh. I don't know. Honestly, I don't like the way a lot of research in lit-crit gets done, for countless reasons which I am sure I will be expounding upon at length for the rest of my life, and... and... maybe I want to do something I'm excited about. Or at least enthusiastic enough that I have a chance of carving out my own niche in. Or at least, nothing to do with my PhD ever again, please, please, please.

3. Publishing. Sweet God in heaven, what is wrong with publishing in the arts? How can it possibly take whole years to get something into print? Some of us have careers to bite our nails over, here. Also, some of us have to deal with scientists making smug comments about how long it takes to crank up the Gestetner, and it would be nice if that didn't sound quite so plausible.

4. I found a dead spider in my flat the other day, and it was so sad. No, but bear with me. Dead spiders are always sad. Live spiders in my flat, fine; live spiders can spend their days hurrying around in that busy, serious way spiders have, and I can accept quite happily that me and the spiders live parallel lives in the same space. Our worlds overlap. But dead spiders just remind me that the world of the spiders is a hard, cruel place, red in tooth and mandible. I feel like somehow I've let them down.

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Blame it on the cavemen.

Posted by September Blue Friday, 28 August 2009 2 comments

Men prefer websites designed by men, says the Telegraph:

The differences spring from our caveman ancestors, said Gloria Moss, a specialist in human resources.

Our caveman ancestors being, of course, very interested in web design. 'Thog not hunt mammoth! You hunt mammoth. Thog busy trying to add animated 'Under Construction' GIF to Lascaux cave paintings right now.'

See, this is what annoys me about this evolutionary psychology gender stuff. It is always so self-evidently bullshit, and yet somehow beginning said bullshit with the words 'our caveman ancestors' is enough to get it reprinted everywhere with an editorial straight face. Behold:

Men prefer to design and use websites that use dark colours, straight lines, little detail, prominent and regular typography and which look three-dimensional.

They also prefer sites with moving objects, machines, tall buildings, violent themes, male figures and caricatures. Women prefer rounded lines, more colour and detail, unusual typography, static objects, low rise buildings, female figures and smiling faces.

Leaving aside for now the fact that these sound like some hellishly ugly websites, how does this even make sense? Men prefer websites with little detail, while simultaneously preferring websites with 'moving objects, machines, tall buildings, violent themes, male figures and caricatures'. Also, men prefer to look at tall buildings while women prefer to look at low-rise buildings, because our cavemen ancestors had very strong ideas about who should get to live in skyscrapers. What the hell, honestly.

Also, 'Stone Age' is a fairly vague term, especially if you're going to talk about that being 'when humans lived in hunter-gatherer communities.' Palaeolithic, hunter-gatherers, Ice Age. Neolithic, invention of farming, agriculture-based communities. Geocities, much later (although sometimes still described as Stone Age). Development of various forms of human society over the past million years, actually quite complex.

And... typography. Typography. You would think that, given this article is talking about fonts invented within living memory, given that there was no typographic anything back in the Ice Age, given that the whole idea of printing was invented so recently that it's hardly any time at all in the history of our species, that surely there cannot be any way at all in which 'women like Comic Sans more than men do' can be blamed on our distant ancestors. Surely there's no way to argue nature over nurture when nature doesn't even apply. Surely.

But, no.

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Posted by September Blue Thursday, 27 August 2009 3 comments

I don't know what I've done this week. And there are definitely things I have done, what with all the meetings and the typing and the sighing at computers and the crossing things off lists, but maybe there hasn't been enough of that last one, because I can't think of a single thing I've done this week that's more specific than 'um, work'.

Here's one non-work accomplishment, though: I have Sorted My Clothes Out. Not in the sense that some of my more fashion-savvy friends would like, but in the sense of dividing the things I wear from the things I haven't worn for years, am never going to wear again, and no longer even like. Behold, the pile halfway through:

Photo 6

The checked shirt on the bottom, I've owned since I was sixteen. The cream jacket near the top, I wore once for ten minutes three years ago before getting annoyed at the label prickling my neck and taking it off. The black and white thing on the far right there might be a tea-towel, now I come to look at it, and I don't remember what the black thing on top even is, but clearly I am not going to miss either of them.

There has been something of a purge of long skirts. I might regret this come winter, but truly, I think me and long skirts have gone the way of me and long hair. I've had it with stepping on hems, for one thing. And also, for the amount of space they take up, they are truly satisfying things to throw on the Banished Clothes pile as it grows and grows and grows.

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I miss the library

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 25 August 2009 1 comments

I miss my library, where I used to work. I don't necessarily miss working there - it was a good job, but not an incredibly well-paid good job, and it had its fair share of dust and boredom and people who refused to pay their fines because This Is Ridiculous* - but I miss the place.

The university I work for now does have a library. It's a very good library, in terms of numbers of books. But I have gripes in terms of other things. Gripes, I tell you.

Firstly: Libraries of the world, you can have as many loan periods as you like, but only if you have that many loan types to go along with them. The answer to 'How long can I get this book out for if the catalogue says it's a Such-and-such Loan?' should not be 'Well... either 24 hours, or two weeks, or sometimes a month. Or it might be different. It depends on the individual book, really.' Library staff of the world will not thank you for anything that encourages people to haggle at the circulation desk, belieeeeeeeve me.

Secondly: While I appreciate all libraries everywhere are pushed for space, it makes it a bit easier to find stuff if there's some kind of consistency in where you put it. I mean, it's fine to have the journals for one subject right next to the books in that subject area, or to have lots of different subject journals pooled together in one central journal area, or even to have them in some kind of offsite storage, if that's needed. But you probably shouldn't have all three systems going at once.

Thirdly: Nobody I have grumbled about this too believes me, but honestly, I speak the truth: letting people renew overdue books online is not only possible, but actually makes sense. You can tell the system to do this and just add the fine to the user's record! You can! And then you can reserve the sudden avalanche of books through Returns and seriously pissed-off users for people who are holding onto books that someone else wants. Also, it's possible to change the records for all graduating students such that they can't take books out until beyond the date they graduate, and having a system that relies upon 'we can't actually enforce this in any meaningful way, but please bring the books back?' is a bit silly.

Fourthly: The carpets are grimy.

What it does have going for it, though, is that none of the heavy four-foot-long light fittings have fallen out of the ceiling and crashed to earth in a dramatic way, which happened at my last library, as I found out about when I went in for my shift to find the areas under 20% of the light fittings cordoned off on safety grounds and most of the staff in a huge huddle by the circulation desk talking in excited tones about the cowboy builders who'd done a shoddy job of all this back in the 70s (people could have died!, or so I am reliably informed). 'Also,' said my boss, 'remember that no student is allowed in any of the cordoned-off areas at all.'
'They'll be furious if they can't get the books,' I said after she'd gone. Foolishly. Naively.
There was an awkward silence. People looked at me sympathetically.
'Oh, they can get their books,' said my fellow library minion Dr K. 'They just can't get the books themselves.'
'So, wait, does that mean...'
'Our red shirts and tricorders are in the stationery cupboard.'
We could have died.
Or so I am reliably informed.

*This was the most common objection to fines, and I never got it. So... you accept that you took the book out, that you knew what date you should have brought it back, that you didn't bring it back on that date, and you're disputing the 20p fine because you, and I quote, 'can't believe this'? Okay, then.

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What my desktop looks like

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 22 August 2009 2 comments

Picture 1

The background picture is a photo I took at an aquarium not long ago. I'm quite pleased with it; that fish was not for sitting still and having its picture taken.

This is much neater than the desktop normally looks, because I tidied it before using the computer for a conference presentation in July. The two folders below the hard drive are labelled 'Stuff' (i.e., everything that was on the desktop before I stuffed it into a folder) and 'Paper'. The pdf below them is a live demonstration of the inevitable march of entropy over our meagre efforts of organisation.

The dock (bottom of the screen, as is its rightful place), from left to right:
1) Finder, smiling happily away.
2) iCal, without which I would be screwed. Paper diaries never worked for me.
3) Preview, saving the masses from Acrobat Reader since Feb 2008 (and by 'the masses', I mean 'me')
4) iTunes. The screensaver I have is the one that shows the album covers of all the music you own, in selections based on a) who's in the room and currently viewing the screen and b) the embarrassment potential of the 'You own THAT?' factor. It's quite a complicated algorithm. I'm impressed.
5) iPhoto, which I don't use, much to its disappointment. ('Hello! Look! I see you plugged in something which could possibly be interpreted as a camera! Look! I'm over here! Look!')
6) Safari. I love Safari. Mostly I love Safari for how well it works with the multi-touch trackpad - I can bump up the text size of any page I'm viewing by moving two fingers about a quarter of an inch, which is incredibly helpful for people like me who have terrible eyesight and a tendency towards laziness.
7) Spaces. I don't know why that's even there; the dock icon is not the most efficient way to use Spaces. (Non-Mac people: Spaces does this.)
8) Scrivener! Best writing software ever ever ever.
9) Mail. Like Entourage, but on the side of good.
10) MarsEdit, a handy blogging client (I'm using it right now). Blogger's web interface is clunky, and I like being able to add pictures with minimal effort. (Many of my software choices are motivated by laziness.)
11) Delicious Library, excellent and wonderful library-cataloguing software. It works like this:
a) You hold a book barcode up to the webcam
b) Your computer goes 'Beep!'
c) Delicious Library adds the book to your virtual shelves, based on the ISBN you told it, while reading out the book's title.
There's more too it than that, but do you really need any more?
12) TextWrangler, another text editor I use for HTML and XML. (Okay, not so much HTML, or this blog would look better. I'm working on it. Lazily.)
13) Flickr Uploadr, for uploading photos to Flickr (no!) without having to go through the web interface.
14) iChat. I don't use it that much, but it just looks so nice.
15) Pages. Begone, Microsoft Word! (I don't actually mind Word for Mac that much, but it will not play nice with Spaces, so the hell with it. Document windows should not actually run away from me.)
16) GraphicConverter. Aww, GraphicConverter! I've been using some version of this for about twenty years. Basic but wonderful image-editing software. I mostly use it for flicking through the 83 photos I took of one particular fish to find the single non-blurry one.
17) Tweetie, a Twitter client.
18) Sims 3. Whaaaaat?
19) A Terminal window, which is only there at the moment because...
20), a Java program I'm getting used to, won't do things the easy way. Oh, no.
21) Photoshop Elements. This is both useful and incredibly frustrating. Save -> "Your request could not be completed because of a program error." WHAT? Bah.

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Community, Our Priority

Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 18 August 2009 1 comments

There's a noticeboard in the building where I live. It is used in the same kind of way that the fridge was used for leaving Post-Its on back in my shared student flat days, which means it's comedy gold.

(I wish I'd taken some kind of photographic record of the Post-It wars in some of my old flats, too. The best one I can remember read something like 'Thank you VERY much for eating the LAST of my cereal so I couldn't have any for my breakfast this morning. I don't steal your cereal, do I?', beneath which was written in somebody else's handwriting 'Yes you do.' Which was a fair point.)

Anyway, the noticeboard is currently full of a series of notices addressed 'To All My Neighbours', penned by one person whose a) sort of has a point but b) isn't exactly making the best of it.

The problem, it seems, is that children who don't belong in the building are being allowed into the building by people who do, and are running around on the stairs or shooting up heroin in the lift-shaft or whatever kids do round here. (Okay, except for the heroin. They're just being accused of running around and making a noise, from what I can tell.) So while a notice reminding people that the whole point of a security system is that you don't just let anybody in when they press the buzzer would be fair enough, a notice beginning 'It's summertime, and the darling little demons from the area want to come in and play in our habitat' is... maybe not the best way to go about it? Maybe? Especially when you follow it up with 'Please please PLEASE stop granting entry to those scallies'? Oh, I don't know.

Anyway, what I wanted to share was the Post-It note (...of course) attached to these notices by someone else:



(Sorry about the blurriness, but I loved the snippet of the poster below it enough to keep the photo anyway.)

So... your daughter lives in this building, but you call the police every year? Although you don't live here? And she doesn't, because... she doesn't want to? She hates the phone? She thinks maybe the police are a bit of a disproportionate response to kids running up and down the stairs? And you don't live here? But you are invested enough to leave Post-Its on the noticeboard? What is going on here?

The temptation to add another Post-It asking people not to grant entry to non-residents with grudges who want to leave lengthy messages on OUR noticeboard is almost overwhelming. But I shall resist.

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And now, you must look at my holiday pictures.

Posted by September Blue Monday, 17 August 2009 5 comments

Ah, the sparkling turquoise seas and golden beaches of the Caribbean:


Or, as this actually was, the sparkling turquoise seas and golden beaches of a small island on a more northerly latitude than Moscow. Yeah, you can keep your crowded beaches and your twelve-hour flights; we got a tiny little propellor plane to the Outer Hebrides, and woke up to this view every morning. Oh, yes.

Although, the plane? Tiny. Tiny tiny tiny. I've been on small propellor planes before, but none where Row A was empty because that's where the pilots left their bags. Left their bags so that they could reach for anything they wanted without leaving the cockpit, that is. But, that's how it can land at airports that look like this:


(That's a different beach from the beach above. This one has a windsock.)

The island has half the population it used to, and that wasn't much to begin with. (As with much of this part of the world, the population decline was in the 18th and 19th centuries, back when sheep-farming meant big money and ships to North America were a useful way to get rid of all those now-excess people living on your land.) The next island we stayed on was even smaller; the owner of the B&B told us it would only be five minutes walk away from the pier where the ferry dropped us off, but "if the weather's really foul, just go into the ferry terminal and ask him to give Mary a ring, and I'll come and pick you up."


We walked, though - and it was worth getting eaten alive by midges to see this.

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Conversation with my parents

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 8 August 2009 2 comments

via a mobile, on speakerphone, in their car.

"When's your flight?"
"Tuesday lunchtime, and then we're away till -"
"WATCH OUT Jesus Christ."
"It's fine, he's just going too fast down FOR HEAVEN'S SAKE this hill and I can't see over this plant."
"What plant? I thought you were going to the sheepdog trials?"
"No, that was yesterday. We've just come back from the garden centre."
[My dad's voice:] "With a hoverfly!"
[My mum again:] "Oh, yes, there's been a hoverfly hovering about six inches over this plant since we picked it up, and it's still doing it. We have our own little ecosystem in the car."
"Are you sure it's not a wasp?"
"It's not a wasp. It's hovering."
"Wasps hover! You can't trust wasps."
"It's a hoverfly. So when's your flight?"
"Tuesday, but I'm off work on Monday too, so really I'm on holiday from now. So I'm going to email you the details of the hotel, because I'm not taking my phone -"
"What? You're not taking your phone?"
[My dad:] "What's wrong with her phone?"
[My mum:] "She just said she's not taking it."
[My dad:] "Why wouldn't she take her phone? That's bloody stupid."
[My mum:] "Your dad says that's bloody stupid."
"Yes, I heard that. I'm not taking it because I want to not be around phones and computers and email for a few days. It is not bloody stupid."
[My dad:] "You should always take your MOVE THAT HOVERFLY!"
[My dad again:] "You should always take your phone. They're so useful."

Yes, indeed.

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Riddle me this

Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 5 August 2009 1 comments

So. Yesterday, I came back from work, found that my uncle had sent me a birthday card (belated - although, it's always belated - although, I can't ever remember when his is either, so never mind) with a crisp brand new £20 note inside. Ooh, I thought. That's handy, since my wallet contains:

- one £5 note in the note compartment
- one £5 note slumming it with the loose change
- a few more pounds in said loose change
- and various old train tickets, expired credit cards, stamps, etc.
- and it hasn't seen a crisp new note for quite a while.

So I put the £20 note in my jeans pocket - I am very, very sure that I put the £20 note in my jeans pocket - and went about my day.

This morning, heading to work from my boyfriend's flat, I realised halfway there that I'd left my wallet under his coffee table. (Actually nowhere near halfway there, but I am lazy and didn't want to turn back.) He still had some stuff to do at home, and I was meeting him for lunch later anyway, so I texted him to ask him to pick up the wallet, and carried on.

Usually this would be annoying, since it'd mean I had no money until lunchtime. But since I had a crisp brand new £20 in my pocket this morning, I stopped at a shop and bought a can of the world's best Fanta (Fruit Twist, since you ask) to get some change.

I know I reached into that pocket and brought out a £20 note. I know I handed it to the woman behind the counter, apologised for not having anything smaller, was told it wasn't a problem, and was given a lot of change. I remember this.

And yet, at lunch, when the bill arrived, I did not have change for a £20 note in my pocket. Nowhere near. How could I have lost a £5 note, a £10 note, and some loose change? Maybe I'd put it somewhere else? Weird. Anyway, I opened the wallet I'd just got back so I could at least put the two £5 notes that were in there towards the bill, and pulled out... a crisp, brand new, £20 note. And it was the same note. I swear. Okay, it's not like I'd marked it or anything, but... you don't get crisp brand new £20 notes round here very often, and certainly not turning up in wallets after you thought you'd already spent them in shops.

So, either:

1) I'd put the birthday £20 in my wallet after all, and forgotten about it. (Very likely.) By sheer coincidence, there was also a £20 note in the pocket of those jeans the one time I wrongly thought I'd put one there the day before. I somehow managed to lose all the change from that £20 along the way.

2) The note in my pocket was the birthday £20, and the note in my wallet had been there all along. And I lost all the change somehow.

3) Either my wallet or my jeans pocket has started generating £20 notes.

4) The birthday £20 my uncle sent is actually a magic note, which returns to its owner when spent.

5) There was never a £20 note in my pocket, but since I was so sure there was, I actually paid for a can of Fanta with an old train ticket, Jedi mind trick style.

However unlikely options 3, 4 and 5 might seem, I can assure you that the chance of me not noticing a £20 note in my wallet is even slimmer, so that rules out option 2. Which leaves only option 1. But, that also seems unlikely...

I'm surreptitiously watching my wallet from a distance now. Don't tell.

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What's wrong with pink

Posted by September Blue Monday, 3 August 2009 1 comments

a) Nothing.

b) Or at least there wouldn't be, if product manufacturers worldwide didn't feel the need to spraypaint 80% of everything targeted at women in it. Case in point, my new walking boots:


These were some of the least pink-focused ones available, too. I get the feeling they made it most of the way through the design process being grey, black and silver, until someone noticed. "Dear heavens, George! We can't market those to women - they might get halfway up a mountain and have a sudden crisis of gender identity! Quick, slap some pink trim on there and replace the shoelaces!"

Likewise, I have been wearing pink socks for most of today, because it is apparently impossible to buy a pack of five pairs of socks without pink featuring in there somewhere unless you're really, really trying. Which I'm usually not, because life is too short, but that doesn't mean little bit of me doesn't cringe deep inside every time I put them on.

Because it's not just a colour. It's coded as 'Girls like floaty things and princesses and diamonds and shopping!' just as much as green in supermarkets is coded as 'This is healthy, organic, and good for the planet!' or black in clothing is coded as 'Hello, I am Very, Very Serious'. If pink was just a colour, we would not have ended up with this, in which Memorex learned that women felt ignored by the tech industry, and countered that by producing... a handbag-shaped iPod dock. In pink. Which is really easy to use, because women 'don't have the time' to learn about technology.

See also: HP's laptop disguised as a handbag (which in their own words, 'coordinates perfectly with stunning Vivienne Tam pieces!'). See also Dell's attempt to market netbooks to women by explaining that you can use them to plan your diets and schedule your meditation sessions.

See also: the man who replied to me elsewhere on the Internet, when I described the new computer I was getting and said that while I was pretty tech-savvy and really into computers, I hadn't upgraded for a while and had never owned a laptop before. He helpfully suggested that the Macbook Pro I was thinking of was probably going to be way too expensive and far more computer than I needed, and recommended a netbook which was 'fine for word processing and email'. Because he had lots of women friends who liked it. And he'd heard it was the best 'chick computer' out there.

Okay, he didn't suggest I buy a pink one. All he did was work from the well-supported, long-established premise that because I was a woman, I'd need a special product that could cater for my techphobic womanly nature.

And I'm sure chick computers come in all colours under the sun.

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You know what you shouldn't do?

Posted by September Blue Saturday, 1 August 2009 0 comments

Three conferences in two weeks. For the sake of your sanity, your health, and your ability to sit through a Q&A session beginning with the words 'This is more of a comment than a question, really' without feeling a primal urge to throw a data projector at the speaker in question, just say no.

The conferences themselves were great. I've mostly recovered from my pre-emptive grumpiness before the first one ("Have a fun conference!" "Have a fun conference? Have a fun conference? You do know this conference involves getting up at 4am to fly there, right? On Ryanair?"), and the inevitable exhaustion was helped by having some time at home between conferences #1 and #2. Still, given that for most of my PhD conferences were my only real time off, it's a bit depressing to realise that drunken conference dances going on till 2am are no longer my favourite part of the conference. Going home and sleeping? That's my favourite part of the conference.

Some observations from along the way:

1) There are good conference badges and bad conference badges. Anything that hangs at breast-height with really tiny type is a bad conference badge. (I have heard some disagreement on this, but none of it from women, so whatever.) Clip-on badges are fine, except for when people attach them to their waistbands or to pockets of shirts worn under jackets, which they will. Safety pins are better.

2) A campus map is not a substitute for direction signs. Lots of direction signs. Seriously, just plaster the campus with arrows, everyone will thank you for it.

3) Macs will not bite you! Macs are fine! You do not need special advance warning if people are bringing Macs to your conference! I honestly do not get this, not when all people want is to plug their fairly standard computer into a fairly standard data projector. It's not quite 'Can I get this full-scale model of the Antikythera mechanism running on the campus network', is it?

4) Ryanair really is getting worse. I swear to God, if the plane got into trouble they would sell you parachutes.

5) Packing just about as much stuff as you can humanly carry, and then taking along a laptop as well, is the only deterrent I have ever found to spending three months' wages on the book stall.

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