Posted by September Blue Sunday, 4 October 2009 2 comments

Dear Internet, I am ill. And I complain to you because everybody else in my life is fed up of hearing about it. At least, I'm pretty sure they are; I'm fed up of hearing about it, and I'm the one doing the sneezing. Three and a half weeks this thing has plagued me, sneaking up on my immune system in some complicated pounce-and-retreat pattern. Three times I've learnt that feeling like I've finally shaken it off only means it's crept away to regroup and discuss tactics, all the better to launch a new assault that leaves me waking up feeling like I've been beaten up by a scarecrow. And it's not like I'm very ill - no more than a very persistent cold, really - but still.

Fortunately, I can work from home. Less fortunately, I am useless at working from home. (And besides, I'm currently at my parents' several hundred miles away, but that's not the point.) But I have an article that needs writing, on the basis that if I submit it next week it'll maybe end up getting published by mid-2019, and the article did not get written on Friday's long train journey like I wanted it to be, because on Friday's long train journey I gave up on trying to wait out the pestilent lurgy, curled up in my seat by the window, and went to sleep.

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Posted by September Blue Thursday, 1 October 2009 3 comments

There was one newspaper headline I saw when I was thirteen. Not only one, obviously; there must have been hundreds in that year, either read carefully or skimmed at bus-stops or, once, cut up to make into a school project (some poster about animal testing I did in a ransom-note style, oh wasn't I cool). But there's only one that I can remember. The story was about men falsely accused of rape, and the headline was 'THE REAL DATE RAPE VICTIMS.'

I couldn't tell you now where I was when I read it; I couldn't even tell you what newspaper it was in, although I do remember, surprise surprise, that it was a tabloid. I can tell you about that headline, though. It was in capitals in a serif font, with the word 'REAL' underlined. On the left-hand side, just underneath 'THE', was a picture of one of the men in question, slightly blurry, looking straight ahead at the camera. He was going bald. I didn't buy that newspaper - I didn't even pick it up - but God damn did it make an impression.

I was fairly naive as a thirteen-year-old, but I knew what "rape" meant. I even knew what "date rape" meant, after a fashion. I understood that the world was full of bad things that could happen to you and bad people that could hurt you. What I didn't know, what I learnt from reading that headline, was that rape was not generally considered a big thing. And of course, nobody ever actually says that; everyone agrees that rape is a very serious and terrible thing, oh yes, we should lock these people up and throw away the key, etc, etc. It's just that most 'rapes' aren't really rape, you see. Obviously, if you are a sixteen-year-old virgin and some troll-like stranger grabs you off the safe and well-lit street you are walking down on your way to run errands for your sick grandmother, well, that's rape. But if you knew the man who raped you? If you'd been drinking beforehand? If you were out on your own late at night on a dark street? If you were wearing skimpy clothes? If there weren't any witnesses? If you didn't physically fight back? If you could, conceivably, be the kind of woman who might choose to have sex with a particular man you found attractive? Oh, well, in that case...

This is what I took from that headline: if you are ever raped, you are on your own.

This started off as a comment to Flavia's post on students and the subject of rape, in light of the Polanski story. Some of the most depressing teaching-related moments I've had have concerned rape, and I wanted to talk about what those students had said, but on reflection, they're not really the issue. If a 19-year-old girl can happily write that in the short story we were reading, one character's rape 'can only be assumed to be partly her fault, as she was flaunting herself a little too much earlier on', the problem is whatever we've been telling them all their lives. Most rapes are not bad. Most rapes are not rape. Most rapes are, at least partly, her fault.

The rape conviction rate in the UK is dismally, appallingly, unbelievably low. For England and Wales, it's below 7%; for Scotland, it's below 3%. And that's only the cases which are reported to the police, which most cases, obviously, aren't. I know several women who've been raped, none of whom reported it to the police. If I was raped, I don't think I'd report it either.

On the face of it, the Roman Polanski case would seem to be the absolute, undeniable, immediately-abhorrent-to-everyone kind of rape that even people who write articles about 'REAL DATE RAPE VICTIMS' would condemn. Roman Polanski drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl, a girl who was crying and begging him to stop. He was initially charged with that crime, but under a plea bargain, pled guilty to the lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor. When it looked as if the judge might reject the plea bargain, Polanski fled the country. Surely we're not going to excuse this.

Unless we're the film industry. Or half the Internet. In which case, the 'REAL RAPE VICTIM' was... Polanski, apparently.

They're opposed to real rape! Of course they are! That would be terrible! But, but, in this case, see, it's different, because some of Polanski's friends said she didn't look thirteen. And because she'd had sex before. And because she recognised the drugs Polanski gave her, and as everyone knows, it's impossible to rape anyone who's ever had sex or taken drugs before. And because she wanted to be an actress. And because, hey, we don't know he did it, right, even though nobody involved in the case has denied he did it, even though he's admitted he did it, because after all, women lie about rape all the time. And because the case was mishandled, and obviously the response to that shouldn't be okay, let's have a trial and then let him make any appeals he wants to make, but should instead be the dropping of all charges. Because he's had terrible things happen to him in the past. Because he's been 'punished enough', what with not being able to pick up his Oscar in person. Because he's in his seventies. Because it was a long time ago now. And because he was arrested at a film festival, my God, is nothing sacred?

But they're not excusing rape, oh, no. They're just pointing out that this rape probably didn't happen, or was probably her fault anyway, or probably shouldn't be prosecuted. They're just saying, is all. It's complicated.

There are, I'm sure, a lot of thirteen-year-old girls reading the headlines about the Polanski case now. They're learning that if they ever get raped, we probably won't consider them the real victims. And the worst thing is, they're right.

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damn you, Facebook

Posted by September Blue Sunday, 27 September 2009 0 comments

Firstly: for arranging yourself (and I blame you entirely for this, Facebook) so that I accidentally Liked someone's rather miserable status update yesterday. Argh undo undo! There is no social etiquette yet devised to handle such situations.

Secondly: so, one of my old friends from my small home town has been involved with the younger sister of someone else I know from said small town for some years now. They bought a house a while ago, have one child together, all happiness. But apparently no more. Because something happened, and now they have broken up - I think? I am guessing? - and all I know about it is a group invitation, by my old friend, to a group called something like '[Old friend] admits he was a total, total idiot for losing [girlfriend]', with the stated aim of the group being to get as many people as possible to join and witness his public humiliation in this fashion, so that Girlfriend realises how much he regrets whatever unspecified thing he did. Even though he knows she'll never take him back. But just so she knows how sorry he is.


I wouldn't disagree that he did a Very Foolish Thing, whatever the foolish thing in question was. And he does indeed seem very, very sorry. But... seriously, no. Bad idea. Absolute worst idea in the world if your aim is to make the girlfriend less pissed off with you. Because I can guarantee you, from her perspective, this does not look like 'Oh, he really is sorry, maybe I should reconsider my kicking-him-out-of-the-house stance.' It looks like 'Fantastic - not only has he done [unspecified Bad Thing], but now he's passive-aggressively recruiting everyone I know into the campaign for me to take him back out of pity.' Desperately regretful ex-boyfriends of the world, take my word for it: this is not going to help. Leave her alone.

Facebook, however, gives me two responses to this situation: 'Join This Group' or 'Reject Invitation'. Nuanced, it isn't.


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Posted by September Blue Friday, 25 September 2009 0 comments

Down in London for work the other day, with a long, long day between travel. I've never liked London. It's big and incomprehensible and dusty, and you never know where the hell you are. But it does contain the British Library, which will forever be a mark in its favour, and it also contains my little brother, which I remembered the night before leaving. Ah, well, he's not at work, he's easy to get hold of.

Actual phone conversation with my brother:

"Hello sister!" [Not pseudonymising; he actually calls me that.]
"Where are you? I thought we were meeting up at half past."
"Yeah, but I can't work out how to get there. Where's the best tube station for the British Library?"
"I don't know you live here."
"Ohhh... [pause] King's Cross, okay? Meet me by the stairs."
"Which stairs?"
"The stairs."
"Oh right."
"See you in fifteen minutes, okay?"

Twenty-five minutes later:

"I can't see you. Meet you by the exit onto Euston Road?"
"I'm already there! By St Pancras."
"Well, you're not, because I'm already there and I don't see you."
"Right. Location. I can see the road, um, a man selling newspapers..."
"I don't think that's going to narrow it down, baby brother."
"King's Cross is on my left."
"King's Cross is on my left."
"Mmm. I'll ask a policeman."
"You - what?"
[Fuzzily, just about audible:] "Excuse me? Hello? I'm trying to meet my sister, but she doesn't know London very well. Do you know anywhere that's good to meet someone here?"
[Even more fuzzily:] "Oooh, depends. Where's she coming from?
[Still fuzzily:] "She says she's at the underground by St Pancras. But I don't think she is. But she can see the station."
[Still fuzzily:] "You could try King's Cross?"
[...Inaudible fuzziness...]
[My brother again:] "Okay, the information point at King's Cross. Can you find that?"

I found that. He introduced me to his friend as 'my sister, who has weird thumbs', I described being mortified by proxy that he actually asked for directions, he explained that this is what policemen are for in London, tsch, etc.

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They're BACK

Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 23 September 2009 0 comments

There are students all over the city. New students, fresh and wide-eyed. And my enthusiasm for working with first-years, it turns out, does not extend to having to share a city with them. I'm not usually the kind of person who can be chafed into a constant low-level bubbling rage by the presence of Other People Being Annoying, but first-years moving slowly across campus in groups of 25... grargh.

Students coming back means freshers' week, and freshers' week means NOISE, especially on campus during the day. There was one very loud outdoor party recruiting for something-or-other which went on for so long that plans were devised to shut it up so that some of us could get on with work (specifically, my boss and the dean were going to head down there and party like it was 1979 until the whole thing dissolved through terminal uncoolness). Also, it means that grand old British tradition of the POSTER SALE!!!!, which you have to write with that many exclamation marks, and the people handing out flyers, who even tried handing them to me and one of my colleagues the other day ("Aww! No, but thank you so much!"). And it also means, for some of us, a desperate scramble to timetable classes around students' other classes, because we do not have any kind of central timetabling system to do that for us.

I don't know why we don't have central timetabling. The last place I worked had central timetabling, all the places my friends work have central timetabling, but here, you say 'Why isn't this done centrally?' and you get baffled looks. Why, nobody does this centrally! It makes much more sense to work out when compulsory classes should be by getting all the students to vote! Even though that inevitably means saying 'Okay, who actually can't make Thursday at 4?', and then getting annoyed with students who say they can't because they're working that day, because we shouldn't have to organise their classes around their lives. And I agree that we shouldn't, but perhaps the students wouldn't think otherwise if we weren't asking them to pick times for their classes in the first place, maybe?


Students are back, and now I have to teach them stuff I hadn't even heard of myself until this year. So. Fingers crossed.

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Posted by September Blue Thursday, 10 September 2009 2 comments

Indications that you should probably just put down the 18th-century documents and call it a day:

1. Mentally reading all the long Ss as Fs, no matter how much better you know.

2. Finding the above hilarious.

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Posted by September Blue Tuesday, 8 September 2009 0 comments

My flat is leaking. Only a little, to its credit, but still more than I would prefer from a flat. And quite persistently, too; it's filled a bucket four inches deep with strangely-coloured water since this morning. I need that bucket, dammit.

This is one of the only good points about renting, though: when the elements start trying to get into your living room, it's someone else's expensive problem. Like my last flat but one, where this happened:


This crack grew, and grew, and spidered its way across half of the flat, until it spanned three rooms, ran down outside walls, and disappeared off into the hall outside. The ceiling right above my bed started sagging in a bad way. And my landlord had decided to kick me out in order to sell the place the week before, which made the "You know that crack in the ceiling you said just needed a bit of Polyfilla? Well, not so much" call that much sweeter.

(You might notice that the above picture looks like some cracks have already been plastered over. My landlord said this is because 'it's old and the plaster cracks'; the tenant before me explained that the ceiling had partly collapsed on the tenant before her. Or not actually on the first tenant, but she came home from work to find her bed covered in rubble. I sped up the moving out.)

So, things could be a lot worse than one little leak.

But still. Ugh.

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And no pre-teaching nightmares yet, either!

Posted by September Blue Monday, 7 September 2009 1 comments

The new term is starting, and soon I get to teach again. EXCELLENT. I've missed teaching so much that I keep wanting to grab passing undergrads by the shoulder and Explain Things To Them, but since this is generally frowned upon, I'm settling for explaining to new TAs that they should care about the ongoing pay disputes starting right now. (Sure, they always work it out eventually, but universities get maybe two years of 'Oh, I don't even care about the money, I'm just glad they're letting me teach!' first.)

This last term was the first in which I didn't teach anything since I started during my PhD, and that's a strange thing to experience. I do sort of understand why so many of the academics I know highlighted the break from teaching as a fantastic thing about my job; the research I'm working on has involved a fairly steep learning curve, and yeah, I'm glad I didn't have to juggle that with the teaching loads I've had before. But I like teaching. And I miss teaching. And truly, I do not say this as a naive first-year TA who does not understand what teaching can do to the time you thought you had in a working week.


(The last batch of marking I did. 83 essays, two thousand words each, at maybe half an hour per essay averaged out over the lot. Five days to mark them. Add in writing a lecture and planning tutorials for two courses in that same five days, and a library job that was just over thirty hours a week at the time, and I have known pain.)

(Also, the pile of papers on that desk were specifically complained about by two of the department secretaries, since even thought that was understood by everybody including the office staff to be my desk and nobody else ever used or needed it, all desks in that room were officially hot desks, and thus Should Not Have Paper Left Lying Around Like This All The Time.)

(Also also, that's the same pile of papers that almost got thrown away by one of the secretaries soon after I told the department I was going to be leaving for my current job. Soon after like days after, while I was still around, and thankfully a friend who was in the office at the time took the stuff back out of the bin-bag and kept it for me. My former department could get a bit tetchy over former PhD students getting jobs that weren't hourly-paid teaching.)

(Aaaaaanyway. Moving on...)

I'm not teaching very much this time round, and what I am teaching is not in an area I've taught anything even close to before. Which is fine. Nice change. Good for the cv, etc. But I also won't be teaching my absolute favourite thing to teach, which is first-year classes - for preference, first-year classes made up of students who don't really want to do English and aren't sparklingly brilliant at it either. I love these classes. I don't really understand why everyone else doesn't, and why the teaching most desired seems to be final-year or postgraduate-level classes in your own specialist area; I've taught upper-level undergrad classes in my own area, and in an area that wasn't my own, and they were a lot of fun, but they're definitely a different kind of fun than teaching the first-years. It's a whole different kind of teaching, in fact. And I think it's a shame when new TAs already see first-year teaching as an unpleasant obstacle to be hurdled in some kind of academic trial, so that you can get onto the good stuff.

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"Please press 8 to speak to a customer service representative."

I don't know why it's 8. Options 1-4 are about borrowing money, moving money, or opening accounts in which to keep more money. Option 5 I forget; options 6 and 7 don't exist. One of these days, I'll press 6 and see what happens. But not today.

"Hello, Dr Blue. How can I help you?"
"Hi! I'm calling about a letter you sent me a couple of days ago."
"It says you're reducing the interest-free portion of my overdraft to £1000, and that you're charging a fee for that, because I went over my overdraft limit a few months ago. And you always charge a fee for doing anything with overdrafts more than once in a six-month period."
"Right. That's our policy. Any time you request a change to your overdraft arrangements -"
"Okay, but, I didn't request it. The letter you sent me says it's just an automatic thing, because this is Year 2 of a graduate account."
"Yes. That's how they work."
"And I'm getting charged for this because this arrangement happened after I went over my overdraft limit before."
"Yep... yep, I can see that from your record here. That's why they charged you."
"But if I hadn't gone over my overdraft limit before that arrangement, I wouldn't have got charged?"
"Well, not if you hadn't requested any other overdraft limits before then, no."
"Right. See." Take a breath. "It's just, you already did reduce the interest-free portion of my overdraft to £1000 a few months ago. I have that letter here from you saying so. It's dated June the 8th. And that was before I went over my overdraft limit. So... why am I being charged now?"
"Can I put you on hold for a minute, Dr Blue?"
"No problem."

No problem at all, because I have beaten the bank, smugness smugness victory. They cannot possibly dispute this. I have two letters in front of me saying the exact same thing about reducing my overdraft, except one of them's dated June and one of them's dated August. They cannot possibly charge me for changing something in August when that change already happened back in June. They cannot possibly.

Oh, but they can.

I was going to cover the rest of the conversation here, but it got lengthy and involved a disproportionate amount of "What? No, but... what?". So, to summarise:

1) They have no record of the earlier letter on their system. As far as they are concerned, the overdraft changes are happening at the end of September only, and thus I am liable for the fee.

2) After me pointing out a little snappishly that I am LOOKING AT THE LETTER RIGHT NOW and it SEEMS PRETTY OFFICIAL-LOOKING TO ME, glossy paper and everything, they explained that they can't see it because 'matters to do with graduate accounts are dealt with by the branch, and we are very limited as to what communication from the branch we can see on our systems.'

3) After me pointing out that it does not say it has come from the branch, that the contact details given are the central telephone banking number rather than the branch, and that it is signed 'Colette Nugent, Head of Customer Communications', they told me to go into the branch in person and have them explain it to me.

4) After me pointing out that a) the branch is 250 miles away and b) the letter really honestly looks pretty centralised to me, they told me that it has to be sent from the branch, because the branch deals with specific matters about the exact amount your overdraft is for, while their letter is not about specific amounts and interests and is just a 'general overdraft review', so it's really not the same letter at all.

5) After me pointing out that the two letters said the exact same thing, about the exact same arrangements, quoting the exact same amounts, about the exact same account, with the only difference being that the formatting was better in the first letter, oh yes I went there, they said they could not hear me properly on this line and could I phone back during branch opening hours please.

I suggested I write to them instead, and that way I could send them a photocopy of both letters and they could clear up the mystery from their end. They said sure, and I was welcome to address that to the manager of my local branch.


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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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