Monday, December 28, 2009

Dear Microsoft: please DIAF

I will start this post by admitting up front that I do not like unnecessary changes. I am obsessive-compulsive, and I like things to be a certain way, and I don't like it when things that I'm used to change for no good reason. My reaction to such changes varies from annoyance to anger to distress, depending on what has changed and how much. The time it takes for my annoyance/anger/distress to abate varies likewise. For example, when a website I frequently visit changed the way it looks, it took maybe a week for the annoyance to subside. The site didn't really work any differently; it just looked different, and after a few days, I got used to it. On the other hand, I still haven't gotten over the changes in my university's periodicals search. The functionality has changed so much that almost a year later, I still hate it, and I'm angry at it every time I have to use it. I realize that my reaction to change is not always reasonable. I know this, OK? But this time I think I have a legitimate gripe.

The laptop I've had for about five years is starting to get a little worn, in a physical sense. It's got some alarmingly large cracks in the case, all kinds of cruft under the keyboard, and the DVD drive puts a circular scratch on any disc I try to play in it. The machine is essentially sound (or was until very recently) and it's more powerful than the box the kids use, so Glen proposed that I get a new laptop, and relegate the old one to the kitchen for the kids. I agreed, and sometime around the beginning of December, a new laptop arrived. Glen opened the box and set up the new machine for me, after which time I studiously ignored it until this morning.

The old laptop still has malware lurking in it, so today I'm using the new one. The new one is running Windows 7. Based on my previously mentioned disdain for unnecessary changes, you can guess how much I like W7 (hint: not at all). They've changed the way everything looks, right down to the graphics on the solitaire cards, for absolutely no reason that I can ascertain. Also, what the heck happened to my Control Panel? It now has an "Action Center" (what?) as well as various other crap that does not look familiar, and they've changed the names of some of the things I'm used to using. For example, the printer utility used to be called something like "Printers and Faxes," so I could find it in the Control Panel by looking for stuff that starts with the letter P. Now it's called "Devices and Printers," which means that when I went to look for it in the Control Panel, I couldn't find it, because it no longer starts with P.

So I was somewhat annoyed by that, but not completely freaking out by any means. Apparently they've chosen to reorganize the things that belong in the Control Panel, and decided that "devices" and printers (which are apparently two different things) belong together. Fair enough. Possibly they have a good reason for putting those things together. I really don't see why they need something called "Device Manager" AND something called "Devices and Printers," but I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. And really, this is more of an annoyance than anything else: the functionality is still there, in approximately the same place; it's just called something slightly different.

And then I encountered the abomination that is Microsoft Word in Office 2007 and oh my gosh I hate this thing with the fiery passion of a thousand suns. They have apparently taken every single function this program performs, assigned each one to a random category which would previously have been called a menu, and then hidden these sets of functions in the most counterintuitive places possible. I spent so long looking for some of these functions that by the time I found them, I couldn't remember what I had wanted to do with them. Frequently when I searched the help file, it wanted me to go through some sort of tutorial (possibly with video?) to learn how to use Word. Each time, I declined to use the tutorial, because I didn't need to know everything about the program, just the particular thing I wanted to use at the moment. At the point when I had had to search the help file so often that I was seriously considering walking through the tutorial before doing anything else, I realized the true extent of the travesty that is Word 2007.

I have been using Windows, in its various iterations, for approximately fifteen years. I have been using Microsoft Word for about the same length of time. I never needed a tutorial to figure out how to use it. It seemed pretty intuitive, and if I wanted to do something complicated or out of the ordinary, the help file usually sufficed. Over the years I've gotten fairly proficient with Word, in the sense that when I want to do something with it, I know how to make it happen. And now, after I've spent fifteen years learning the ins and outs and ups and downs of this software, Microsoft has $%#&ed it up SO BADLY that I need a tutorial before I can perform even the most basic functions. Nice going, Microsoft. I hope you die in a fire.

For those of you who would say that I should quit my whining, learn how to use the new version, and get on with my life, I say to you very sincerely, "Shut up." Obviously this is not the kind of issue over which the entire world grinds to a halt. My point is that the stupid thing worked JUST FINE the way it was, and they have changed it for NO GOOD REASON. To paraphrase Jeff Goldblum's character in Jurassic Park, "Your software engineers were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Well. This is embarrassing.

I'm writing this at the clunky old desktop computer in my kitchen, because my beloved laptop appears to have picked some malware. I'm not exactly an internet naïf: I know better than to click on attachments, even if they're from people I know; I don't download "free" stuff like smileys or fun animated cursors or toolbars or Zwinkys or other software; I don't click on links in emails. I have an antivirus program and a firewall, and I don't hang out in shady parts of the internet. And yet my machine is undeniably afflicted with Antivirus 2008. I have no idea where it came from. Glen already tried to remove it once, and Symantec also found it and supposedly took it out yesterday, but it just ... won't ... die. It's annoying, disconcerting, and also a little embarrassing.
Why yes, that is a Yersinia pestis on my keyboard.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

another excellent sports quote

Michael Crabtree, picked 10th in the NFL draft by San Francisco, has finally ended his months-long holdout and signed a contract with the 49ers. He was the last draft pick from this year to do so. During his holdout, everyone from journalists to athletes from other sports to random celebrities seemed to have an opinion on the situation, and Sports Illustrated reports that "even rapper MC Hammer got involved to finally make [the contract] happen." After all that sound and fury, what did Crabtree have to say about having finally signed a contract?

"It's a lot of relief off my shoulders."

Saturday, September 19, 2009


That is all.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

books objectified

I'm a fan of the concept of books as objects. I like the way books feel and the way they look and the way they smell. I'm a sucker for Victorian books that are pretty for no good reason. (Say what you will about the Victorians, but they made some very pretty books.) That being said, I don't buy books just because they're pretty; I buy them because -- prepare to be astonished -- I want to read them. So I was strangely fascinated, and yet kind of shocked and appalled, by a post about decorating with books that I came across at an interior design blog.

I should explain that interior design is not exactly my thing. The closest I've come to "decorating" anything in my house in the three years I've lived here was to make some curtains for Peach's room, and even then I only did it because we were hoping to get her to sleep in longer by blocking the light from her window more effectively. Every wall on the inside of my house is beige, because that's what color it was when I moved in. I have not hung one single thing other than a clock on the walls -- no art, not even pictures of the kids. So it's unlikely that I would get much out of an interior decorating site; clearly I do not have the vision, as they say.

Anyway, the post started innocently enough, with a picture of a very tall built-in bookshelf with a step-ladder in front of it. The blogger comments that it's one of her favorite images of bookshelves. Fair enough; I like built-ins myself. Then there's an image from an interior designer/personal shopper named Phoebe Howard:At this point I'm starting to get a little suspicious. Is this a bookshelf, or a china hutch, or what? By the way, this item sells for about $14,000 and change for a pair of them. The website does not indicate whether it is possible to buy one of them for $7000.

Several other pictures followed, with the blogger continually referring to the books as "displays." This, for example, she described as a "color blocked book display" by Joe Nye:I still hadn't quite caught on. My response was, "Who organizes their books by color? And why would you put big glass vases like that in front of your books? You'd knock the vase over every time you tried to get a book out."

Then there was this image, which the blogger took from French Country Living magazine: She comments that the "randomness of the stacked books has a romantic quality to it," and that she likes the effect of "light neutral colored books mixed with other vintage treasures." OK, but I could not have a "display" like that in my house -- it would drive me slowly but surely insane, until one day I would break down and unstack it and derandomize it and organize it by genre and then by author's last name, alphabetically.

I thought the concept of books chosen and displayed solely for their aesthetic qualities was hard to wrap my head around, but I was really unprepared for this:The designer, Annie Brahler, has hung the painting directly on the bookshelf, thus physically preventing anyone from using the books behind it.

As the inimitable Adam Horovitz once remarked, "Something's going on and I'll prob'ly never get it."

Friday, August 07, 2009

sheep in da house

The sheep has arrived, looking surprisingly cheerful for someone who just got shipped across the Atlantic in a box.

And here he is with his ovine brethren (or sistren? We've never been entirely sure) in his new duds. The new sheep is the one on the right -- I made him a green sweater so we wouldn't have two that are the same color.
He fits right in.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Against all odds, Sara informs me that she is in receipt of the sheep. Awaiting further developments.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

the continuing saga of Larry the Lamb

In my continuing quest to procure a Larry the Lamb toy, I enlisted the help of Sara, my Swiss friend from grad school. First I went to the website where Larry is sold and tried to purchase him. Sara will be in Grasmere this coming week, and she agreed to let me ship the sheep to her hotel, after which she would mail him to me, for considerably less than £35. So I put the sheep in my virtual shopping basket, and gave Sara's name and the address of her hotel as the shipping information. So far so good.

Then I tried to put in my billing information. This did not go well. "Country" and "county" were both required, but the drop-down list of countries only included countries they ship to, and needless to say my U.S. county wasn't on their list either. However, they offered the option of paying via PayPal "without sharing your financial information." Great, I'll take that option, please. Unfortunately they still wanted my billing address and my phone number. I gave up and just checked the box to make the billing information the same as the shipping information. Incidentally, I did give them a phone number, but it's a U.S. cell phone number. I didn't give them a country code (because I don't know it) so good luck trying to contact me that way. I'm puzzled as to why their web page even accepted a phone number with a different number of digits than a U.K. number, since the shipping address is in England.

Next they sent me to PayPal's website to enter my username and password. I actually ended up using Glen's account, because I usually keep mine empty, and it would take at least three days to transfer money from my bank account to my PayPal account. Add that to the 3-4 days estimated shipping time, starting from Monday, and I was worried that Sara would leave before the sheep could get to Cumbria. Anyway, I put in Glen's username and password, and PayPal showed a shipping address ... which is our home address. It was entirely unclear whether PayPal thought that anything purchased through them needed to be shipped to that address, nor was it clear what exactly PayPal would need a shipping address for in the first place. I puzzled over this for a minute, then shrugged and clicked.

Another annoying aspect of the website functionality at the place that sells the sheep: it goes forward in the order process, but not backward. It helpfully walks you through four steps to place an order: 1) put items in your shopping cart; 2) log in/register; 3) enter shipping and billing information; 4) confirm. When I got to part four, I decided I wanted to change a line in the shipping information. There didn't seem to be any way to do that. There was the information for me to review, and there was a button at the bottom of the page that said "confirm," but there was no button that would let me go back to step three. Eventually I ended up clicking the "back" button on my browser so I could back up to the previous page. It's not a lot more work to do it that way, but how badly designed is your web page if users can only go forward but not back using the buttons you've provided? And what is the point of reviewing the information if you can't change it? Anyway, eventually I completed the order, in spite of their best efforts to prevent me from doing so.

Moments later an email appeared in my in box. "Thanks for your order, Sara!" it said. It showed the correct shipping address in Cumbria, so at this point all I can do is hope that they're competent enough to ship it correctly. After using their website, I'm not particularly sanguine about that.

Friday, July 24, 2009

whither the blog?

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you will have noticed that I graduated with my M.A. in April. You will also have noticed - even if you haven't been following this blog for any length of time - that the blog's title is "Blogging the M.A." So what do I do with a blog called "Blogging the M.A." when I've finished getting the M.A.? I'm loathe to just call it quits and start a new blog with a different title at a different URL. Yet there will be very little to be said about my M.A. in the future, other than "Yes, I still have it."

I do plan on starting a PhD program in about five years' time, when Daisy is old enough to start kindergarten. Since I see the current phase of my life not so much as the end of school, but more of a prolonged pause between programs, I guess I'm now blogging the hiatus ... hence the new title. Sorry about the ugly graphic; I'm still trying to figure out how to make my image work with their template.

The content here will be about my professional development, if I ever get around to doing any, and whatever else I'm doing that doesn't involve my children. I've started a new blog that primarily documents the kids' lives. It involves a lot of cute pictures and the occasional video of Daisy doing something entirely expected. It is utterly mundane, and will be of no interest to you unless you find my children fascinating. I use the kids' real names there, and post pictures of them, so I prefer not to post links to it anywhere. It also doesn't appear in the blogger lists, and it doesn't get crawled or indexed. Essentially, it's a blog that cannot be found except by those who already know where it is. If you'd like to be one of those who know where it is, email me and I'll send you a link. I was originally going to make it invitation-only, but that would mean you couldn't add it to an RSS feed, so I've tried to make it invisible instead.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

miracle on 6.4th street

See this?

This is Daisy, sleeping. Note that I am not holding her.

Since she can now roll from back to front by herself, I put her down on her stomach instead of her back. And guess what? She stayed there for one hour and forty minutes. Sleeping. It may have taken me two hours to get her to go to sleep, and she may not do it again tomorrow, but for one hour and forty minutes, today was a Very Good Day.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

more no sleeping

Daisy is now a week shy of four months old, and there is still no napping unless someone holds her. I am getting a little frustrated, by which I mean I'm about ready to throw myself in front of a train.

Friday, July 17, 2009

you're killing me, CNN

There's an article on today about "the only 12 people to have ever stepped foot on the moon."

The correct expression is to SET foot, not to STEP foot. Fixed expressions don't always make sense, but this one actually does: step is an intransitive verb, while set is a transitive verb. Therefore, you cannot "step" your foot; you must SET your foot on whatever it is that you are stepping on, whether the moon or some other, more mundane object.

Thanks a lot, CNN, for giving a faint air of legitimacy to this common mistake.

Yes, I realize there's a certain irony in putting a lolcat in a post where I'm complaining about someone else's grammar. The difference here is that I'm doing it on purpose, and they're not.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

everyone wave!

The International Space Station is visible over the U.S. this month. We let the kids stay up a little late tonight, and we all went out and looked at it together. It was visible for about five minutes, and was bright enough and fast enough to be easily discernible.

Peach wanted to know if she could go in a spaceship too. She asks this a lot. She also wants to go to the moon. I kind of don't know what to tell her. Realistically, the odds are not very good, but then again, they're not zero. And I don't want to discourage her from trying to do things she really wants to do, even if they're difficult. So I tell her, "Maybe, if you major in Astronomy." Good luck, Peach. I'd love for you to be the first woman on the moon.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

thanks, but no

I've seen my share of teeny sauce packets from fast food places, and they usually have nothing more personal printed on them than "high fructose corn syrup." However, the ones we got from Taco Bell tonight were a little ... spicier.

Apparently Taco Bell has been printing brief messages on their sauce packets for the past ten years or so. I had no idea.

Friday, June 26, 2009

holla if ya feel me

Peach has no inkling of the insult implied in the question "Do you want me to get you past this part?" (Click to see larger version at PVP.)
That last panel, however, perfectly captures the feeling of watching a four-year-old learn to play a video game.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

shipping the sheep

Both times I've been to England, I spent the majority of my time in Cumbria, a very beautiful and sheep-intensive region in the northwest part of the country. You can hardly walk a tenth of a mile in the Lake District without tripping over a sheep. They add to the picturesque quality of the place, and have a long cultural history there. So when I was looking for gifts to bring home for the kids and came across some little toy sheep -- in sweaters, no less -- they seemed perfect. There were three in the shop, each with a different color sweater, but I only had two children, so I only bought two sheep.

Now I have three children, and Daisy is quite taken with the sheep. If we put her down on her blanket with a sheep to keep her company, she will smile at it and talk to it and try vainly to grasp it with a view to putting it in her mouth. The sheep each have a tag with the name of the manufacturer printed on them, including a web address, so I thought I'd look them up online and see if there were any more sheep to be had. It would probably be expensive to have one shipped overseas, but I could at least find out exactly how expensive and then decide if I wanted another sheep that badly.

A little searching at the company's website, and lo, I have found "Larry the Lamb," complete with sweater (or "jumper" if you're British). Just £5! Now, about the shipping. Their international shipping page gives a list of countries they ship to, all of which are European or Europe-adjacent. In other words, no shipping to the US. They give no indication of why they don't ship to other countries; the page just says, "Below, you will find a list of countries outside of the United Kingdom that we can deliver directly to. At the present time, If [sic] the country you would like us to deliver to does not feature, then I'm afraid that we cannot deliver there under any circumstances. Apologies for any inconvenience caused."

Well then. Maybe I could have them ship it to Sara, and she could mail it to me. How much could it cost to ship a toy sheep to Switzerland? ... Sweet fancy Moses on a Segway, they want £35 to ship stuff to Switzerland. That's almost $60 USD. To ship a toy that costs, like, eight bucks. Yeah, that's not gonna work for me.

The funny thing is, I also wanted to buy a Magical Trevor plush toy for my cousin, because her husband's name is Trevor and he has red hair. Weebl and Skoo appear to be based in the UK. They have a US version of their online shop, but it only sells T-shirts. After all the difficulty with the sheep-shipping process, I assumed that W&S either wouldn't ship products from the UK to the US, or would do so only for an exorbitant amount of money. Nope. Not only did they sell me a Magical Trevor, they had their site all set up to ship to just about anywhere, and they only charged about $10 USD to ship it to me. Huh.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

made it

Daisy and I have returned from Oregon in one piece. She actually behaved about as well as I could have asked for on the trip: screamed like a banshee while we were in the car, but hardly made a sound on the plane.

I was only there for a couple of days, and I thought it would be kind of stressful to be away from home with a baby that small (two months) but it was actually not too bad. True, Glen wasn't there to help with the baby, but on the other hand I didn't have any other kids to take care of. Nor did I have laundry or dishes or cooking or anything else that I needed to do. So when I spent a whole day just sitting and holding Daisy while she either ate or napped, at least I wasn't feeling bad about all the other stuff that wasn't getting done at my house.

Friday, May 29, 2009

pray for me

I will be making a solo trip to Oregon this weekend with Daisy. Please petition your deity of choice on my behalf.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

the month of no sleeping

Daisy is almost two months old now, and she has entered a fun stage of life wherein she tends not to ever sleep during the day unless someone is holding her. If we try to put her in her crib, she wakes up in ten minutes or less, and is not happy about it. Link and Peach went through this too when they were babies, and with each of them it lasted about a month; we're going on three or four weeks of this with Daisy, so I hope she'll be over it soon. I shouldn't complain too much, since she sleeps for three or four or sometimes even six hour stretches at night, but I get tired of sitting down all the time. Our day pretty much goes like this:
  • Daisy wakes up hungry. I sit down and feed her. This may take up to an hour. (Yes, really.)
  • We have happy time for 20 minutes or so. During this time, I may be able to put her down on a blanket on the floor for up to ten minutes.
  • Daisy gets cranky. If I pick her up and carry her around with me, she's not too vocal about it. Unfortunately this precludes me doing anything useful, since my hands are full of baby.

  • Daisy gets tired, cries loudly for ten minutes or so, then falls asleep.
  • I sit down and hold her while she sleeps for anywhere between 20 minutes and two hours. This means that I pretty much can't move unless I want to wake her up. It also means that I can't get anything done or even take a nap while she's sleeping. Yay.

Lather, rinse, repeat. I'll be honest: this is not the most exciting month I've ever had.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


So, yeah, I graduated. I skipped Commencement this time, but went to the Convocation for the College of Humanities. The regalia was much more complicated than when I got my bachelor's degree. The hood gets attached in both the front and the middle of your back, so I wasn't able to get into or out of this outfit on my own. The hood didn't come with very good instructions, and the ones on the university's website were only slightly better:

1. Inspect the hood from the side, as in Fig. 1. The long side (A) is to be next to the back.
2. Place small end of the hood over head, with side A (Fig. 1) next to the back.
3.Fold over side B (now the center of the hood) to expose its satin lining. The hood will then appear as in Fig. 2.
4. Attach looped end of cord (A) to shirt or blouse button. Blouse or shirt collar and tie should be covered by velvet, but not rub uncomfortably on the neck (Fig. 3).
5.Wrap cord (B) around button on center of gown (number of wraps adjusts hood opening width). Now attach looped end to button on opposite side of hood.

Yeah. Anyway, the convocation itself was kind of fun, though very long. The English MA students were the first ones to walk, so we were in the front row and had a lot of time to just sit and watch all the other graduates. We gave imaginary awards for best footwear, since everybody looked about the same from the shins up. All the guys wore pretty much the same kind of shoes, but the Best Footwear Award (male) went to a guy who was showing a good two or three inches of chartreuse sock between his pant legs and his shoes. The competition was much stiffer in the women's division; there were a few floral entries, and a couple of pairs of hot-pink patent-leather high heels which, unfortunately, canceled each other out. The Best Footwear Award (female) ultimately went to the woman in the shiny silver snakeskin ankle-strap sandals with what looked to be about a four-inch heel. They were a lot like these (which are listed at five inches) but shinier.We gave her extra credit for making it up the ramp onto the stage without falling.

So anyway, I walked across the stage in my turn, and the announcer said my name -- correctly! -- and I got my lovely, empty diploma-size folder from the Dean of the college. I was, surprisingly, less excited than when I got my bachelor's degree, but still more excited than I thought I would be when it came down to it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

another excellent sports quote

Washington Redskins receiver Antwaan Randle El, commenting on pre-draft rumors about the team's quarterback situation and the effect the rumors had on current quarterback Jason Campbell:

"It's just been a little bit of a tough battle, more so for Jason, but he's been one of those guys who can go to the fire and come out as gold. We're just glad it's all swept under the rug, or spilled milk, at this point."

Well said, Antwaan. I think you really stepped up to the plate and covered all your bases there.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

anniversary fail (again)

Yesterday a polite, well-dressed Haitian man asked me to pee in a cup. It was not his fault this was the most interesting thing that happened on my 11th wedding anniversary; Monsieur Leblanc was just doing his job. Glen and I recently decided to increase the amount on my life insurance policy, so the insurance company sent someone to give me an ersatz physical and ask a lot of impertinent questions about my health history. Incidentally, some of those questions are almost impossible to answer. Have I ever undergone a diagnostic procedure such as MRI, CT scan, etc.? Well, sure, I've had at least one ultrasound every time I've been pregnant. Also I'm pretty sure they X-rayed my wrist when I broke it in 5th grade. And what were the dates of those diagnostic procedures? Uh ... maybe I should have studied for this.

Anyway, at the end of the exam/questionnaire session, I had to sign and date a document stating that I had answered the questions truthfully. As I wrote "4-18-09" on the line, I realized that it was my anniversary. As unlikely as it seems, we've managed to lower the bar for anniversary celebrations once again. At this rate, I almost expect that one of us will spend our anniversary in the hospital next time.

After M. Leblanc had departed with my vital stats and bodily fluids, I asked Glen if the date was indeed the 18th. He checked his watch and said yes. Just for fun, I waited another eight hours or so before I reminded him why the date should be of interest to him. We're both so tired from staying up with the baby at night that I doubt we'd have done anything to celebrate anyway, even if we had remembered sooner.

(Read about last year's anniversary fail here.)

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

yet another reason

Tonight around 7:00 p.m. I had the following conversation with Glen:

Me: Remember that Far Side panel where there are some guys standing around looking at a diagram of a dinosaur, and one of them is pointing to the tail and saying "We call this end the thagomizer, after the late Thag Simmons"?

Glen: Yeah.

Me: Is the dinosaur a stegosaurus or an ankylosaurus?

Glen: [without hesitating] Stegosaurus.

Yet another reason why Glen is pretty much my favorite person ever.

Here's the cartoon, for those of you who haven't seen it or don't remember it:

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Hi! I'm Daisy!

Everyone, please welcome "Daisy" to the blog.

born: March 29th, 6:05 a.m.
length: 18"
weight: 6 lbs, 12 oz

No, Daisy is not her real name. It seemed like a good pseudonym in light of the fact that our other kids go by Link and Peach.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

so I have years of this to look forward to?

I had an anxiety dream last night. Details aren't really important; it had to do with packing up a ridiculous amount of stuff in time to catch a plane, a task that was clearly impossible to complete in the available time. Dreams like that were not uncommon when I was in school, for obvious reasons, but I woke up from this one feeling a little irritated because I already met all the deadlines for graduation. There is nothing else school-related for me to do. Note to my subconscious: I'm finished. There is no need for me to keep having these dreams, OK?

Apparently my experience is not unusual:Original version complete with swears at

Friday, March 27, 2009

letting go

It occurs to me that I do not want to have to haul all 43 of my library books back to campus at once, so I decided to start taking a few of them back at a time. This was harder than I expected, psychologically. It's not that I have such a deep emotional attachment to most of the books; it's more that even though I am really, truly, officially done with school, I can't shake the nagging feeling that I might need one of those books later.

I understand that I cannot logically have a legitimate scholarly need to keep these books any longer. Even if I wanted to add something or make changes to my thesis, it's too late. It's been filed with ETD. The paper copies have gone to the printer for binding. The ship has sailed, the bridges have burned, the Assistant Dean has signed the paperwork. But at some deep, visceral, almost wordless emotional level, I fear that if I take back Brissenden's Virtue in Distress or Trumpener's Bardic Nationalism or, heaven forbid, Butler's Maria Edgeworth: A Literary Biography, I will somehow discover within a week or two that I need to look up a page number or verify some obscure fact or reference, and the book I need will be gone.

So, baby steps. Tonight I took a deep breath and started by returning the easy ones: the critical editions of Edgeworth's novels and Practical Education, all of which have searchable full versions available online anyway, and Kowaleski-Wallace's Their Fathers' Daughters, which turned out to be less relevant to my project than I had hoped, in spite of the fact that she is one of the few modern critics who have anything at all to say about Helen.

Baby steps.

Monday, March 23, 2009

expensive but useful friends

I've expressed my feelings about my university's library resources on previous occasions, but this bears repeating: I love my university library with a deep and abiding passion. Granted, I'm still a little bitter about the changes they've made to the periodicals database user interface, but the library is still one of my favorite things ever. Critical editions and other academic works can be really expensive, so having access to the library allows me to do research that I could never afford to do on my own, simply because I couldn't afford the research materials.

At some point while I was working on my thesis and my coffee table was covered with stacks of library books, I wondered just how much money I actually had sitting there in my living room. So one night when I was up late and couldn't sleep but was too tired to make sense of my thesis any more, I decided to find out. Here's what I have:
  • number of books currently checked out: 43, or 86% of my limit as a grad student
  • total number of pages, not including prefaces, tables of contents, indices, bibliographies, or other front or back matter: 12, 835
  • total value: $3,670.61*
  • shortest book: Eighteenth-Century Sensibility and the Novel, by Ann Jessie Van Sant, 125 pages
  • longest book: Romanticism: An Oxford Guide, ed. Nicholas Roe, 717 pages
  • oldest: Rosamond, by Maria Edgeworth, 1856 edition
  • newest: (tie) Women Writers and Old Age in Great Britain, 1750-1850, by Devoney Looser, and The Cambridge Companion to Fiction in the Romantic Period, eds. Richard Maxwell and Katie Trumpener, 2008
  • most expensive: Byron's Poetical Works, Volume 1, published in 1980 by Oxford UP: $290.00
  • least expensive: Coleridge's Biographia Literaria, Volume 1, published in 1907 by Oxford UP: $9.98

* This is an approximate value based on what it would cost to replace each of the books with the exact same edition. When possible, I based the replacement cost on a new or like-new edition; otherwise I used the lowest price listed for the highest-quality used copy available. Two of the books I have were not available at all, either new or used, on Amazon, ABE, or Labyrinth, so I was unable to determine a replacement price for them. Surprisingly, most of the older books are still available; the ones that I couldn't find for sale are Marilyn Butler's 1972 literary biography of Maria Edgeworth, and Chris Jones' Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas in the 1790s, published in 1993.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

do androids dream of technical difficulties?

Trying to submit my thesis electronically was one of the more exasperating technological experiences I have had in the course of my college career. I am not so ignorant as to expect that all technology should function correctly all the time, but I feel it is not unreasonable to expect a system used by so many students to work correctly at a time when students are most likely to be using it (i.e., when they are trying to meet deadlines for graduation).

In order to submit electronically, I had to convert my thesis document to a pdf. I don't own a copy of Acrobat, so I was instructed to use the library's multimedia lab to do the conversion. After converting my document, I went to the ETD website to submit it, but was unable to log in to the system - it refused to recognize my username/password combination. (Incidentally, I had the same problem on February 2nd, when I took the class on how to convert Word documents to pdfs. At the time I assumed it was a temporary hangup somewhere in the system.) Tech support told me to call Grad Studies. Grad Studies told me that many students were having this problem, and some of them had been able to work around it by changing their password and trying again. This didn't work for me, so I called back to Grad Studies and asked them whether I would still be graduating in April if the problem didn't get cleared up and I was unable to submit. They said someone would call me back and let me know.

On a whim, I tried to log in again when I got home. This time it worked. Great! I submitted the pdf with no problems. Shortly thereafter I got a call from Grad Studies. They were very interested in the details of what did and didn't work for me, which led me to believe they were still trying to figure out what was causing the problem. It's good that they're trying, but if they've been working on it for over a month and still haven't even figured out exactly what the problem is, maybe it's time to seek outside help.

After several days of constantly checking and re-checking the status of my submission, I found that it had been disapproved by my department. However, the status page gave no indication of why it had been disapproved, or how I could find out. I wasted several hours vainly searching the ETD page and the university website for information. Finally I ended up on the phone with Grad Studies again. They patiently explained that the email I had received included the details of why the submission was disapproved. Funny, I never got that email. Grad Studies apparently got a copy of it, but I didn't. Would I like them to forward their copy to me? Yes, yes I would.

Back to the lab at the library to correct the pdf. This time I was able to log in to the system, but when I tried to submit my information, I kept getting an error page. I didn't even bother to call anyone for help. I dumped the pdf onto my jump drive, went home, and was able to resubmit without any more glitches.

My electronic submission was eventually approved, and I met all the deadlines - barely - for April graduation. At some point in the process, one of the Grad Studies people gave me a little lecture on "leaving ourselves extra time to meet our deadlines." This did not make me happy. Yes, it's wise to plan extra time into one's schedule in case unexpected difficulties should arise, but all the difficulties that arose in this instance were caused by a system that she and/or her office were responsible for maintaining. I felt like I had showed up late for an appointment because the buses were running behind schedule, only to have the bus driver lecture me for not planning ahead better.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

what the henge?

I currently live in the American southwest. This area of the world has many fascinating natural and cultural features, such as

the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde, Colorado
photo: National Park Service

Arches National Park, Utah
photo: Flicka

Chaco Canyon ruins, New Mexico
photo: Dr. Tyler Nordgren

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico
NPS photo by Peter Jones

But you know what we just don't have a lot of in the southwestern United States? Henges. We are significantly lacking in stone henges, stone circles, stone rings, and the like. So if I were going to build, say, a nursing/rehab facility in this area, "henge" is probably not a theme I would consider. It just seems like it would look out of place, not to mention being a difficult concept to design around. What kind of building looks like it belongs with a henge, anyway? Hint: not this one.This building does not say "Salisbury Plain" to me, or even "nursing facility," necessarily. If anything, it says "ski lodge," or, I don't know, "Best Western." Compare, for example, these condos in Park City, Utah (l) and the "Yellowstone Lodge" (r):

See? Would either of those buildings be aesthetically improved if someone plonked a wee little fake Stonehenge down in front of them? No, they would not. And neither is the other one.

Friday, March 13, 2009

what do you want from me?

Someone at the university is very, very picky about thesis formats. This person has terribly strict ideas about what needs to be included with a thesis, and in what order, and how the pages should be numbered, and even what weight of paper it should be printed on. Unfortunately, The Picky One has not done a good job documenting these requirements, and no one else at the university seems to know whose requirements these are. The library says they are departmental requirements; the department says they are university requirements; graduate studies says they are the library's requirements ... and no one seems able to answer questions about the requirements. Fun!

For example, the library web page says I need a table of contents in my print copy. However, it says the ToC should come after all the front matter (title page, abstract, acknowledgements). Since my thesis doesn't have chapters, I wonder whether I still need a Toc, since all it would do is list the front matter that the reader would have had to page through anyway to get to the ToC, then list the page number where the thesis starts, which the reader would already be looking at if the ToC weren't there. I posed this question to the person in the library administration office, and she said she didn't know, because that was a departmental requirement, not a library requirement. Funny, since I got that information from the library's web page that lists the requirements for binding. The good news is, I have a week to get my questions about the print copy sorted out. The bad news is, the electronic submission process is more difficult and more poorly documented than the print submission process, by about an order of magnitude, and that has to be done today.


I ended up submitting it without a Table of Contents. No one seemed to care.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

the paperwork that wouldn't die

I had naïvely thought that once I passed my defense, I would quickly make whatever edits my committee wanted, and all I would then have left to do was show up to Convocation in my funny hat. Ha. Two days after my defense, I received the following email from the graduate secretary:

"Congratulations! If you get a chance on Friday, please stop by my office and pick up a few forms needed for completing the process."

I went to her office on Friday. She had a bewildering array of forms on her desk, but it turned out most of them were really her responsibility. I left with some instructions for submitting my thesis electronically, and another copy of the abbreviated MLA style guide.

The following Wednesday (yesterday) I got another email. "I have your signed signature pages for your thesis in my office. You can pick them up when you get a chance."

I went to her office again. She had two signature pages for me, printed by a lousy printer but on very nice paper. They were signed by each member of my committee*, the Graduate Advisor, the Graduate Coordinator, the Associate Chair for Graduate Studies, and the Associate Dean of the College of Humanities. Hooray, all my paperwork was signed.

Oh, by the way, did I have my completed Form 8d? I would need that by Friday if I wanted to submit my thesis electronically.

At that point I honestly had no idea whether I had it or not. She showed me someone else's Form 8d. It did not look familiar. "It should look like this, and it should have your committee's signatures on it ..." I thought I might have something at home with some signatures on it. "... and then it needs signatures from the department saying they're going to waive the print copy." Oh.

It turned out I did have the form at home. My committee had signed it, but it appeared that I needed additional signatures from the Graduate Coordinator and the Associate Dean. I had a prenatal appointment this morning (everything looks fine, come back next week) after which I headed back to campus with Peach in tow and Form 8d in hand. The Associate Dean was not in his office, but a very nice student employee at the front desk of the Humanities office took my form and promised to have him sign it when he came back. She said she would call me when it was signed if I would leave my cell phone number with her. I most certainly would.

I had about an hour before the Graduate Coordinator would be in his office, so I decided to go out to lunch with Peach. We ran into Blackwood near the elevator, and I explained that I was still collecting signatures on Form 8d. "Ah, the all-important Form 8d," he commiserated. "But you have all the signatures you need from me, right?" I was pretty sure I did, and told him so. That last sentence is what your literature teacher would call "foreshadowing."

When Peach and I came back to campus, a different but equally nice student employee was working the front desk in the Humanities office. I explained that even if my form was not signed, I needed to borrow it for a few minutes so the Graduate Coordinator could sign it. He looked around the desk but didn't see the form. The Associate Dean was in a meeting, which the secretary was understandably reluctant to interrupt, but he looked in the AD's office to see if the form was there. It wasn't. He looked around on the front desk again. I looked around on the front desk again. He looked in the AD's office again, while I peered nervously through the door. Form 8d had apparently vanished into the ether.

Finally the secretary decided there was nothing else for it, went into the meeting, and fetched forth the Associate Dean of the College of Humanities. The AD went into his office, looked around on his desk, and came back out empty-handed. Even he looked a little puzzled at that point. As I began to contemplate the awful possibility that my form was truly lost, the AD suddenly had a thought. "This was for your thesis?" Yes. "Are you an English person?" Yes. "Oh - I signed it. I sent it back to the English Graduate Secretary."

I apologized profusely to the Associate Dean for having bothered him. He smiled benevolently and went back to his meeting. I thanked the secretary profusely for his help, and he smiled kindly and went back to his desk. Peach and I went to the grad secretary's office. By that time I fully expected to find that she had left for the day, or sent Form 8d to Geneva via carrier pigeon, or accidentally burned it. But lo, she was in her office and she had the form. She showed me the line where the GC needed to sign, saying that the department waived the print copy requirement. It was right next to the conspicuously blank line where I needed Blackwood to sign, saying that he waived his print copy. Funny, that.

Anyway, mirabile dictu, Blackwood and the GC were both in their offices. They graced Form 8d with their signatures, and I verified with the grad secretary that those were really, truly, seriously all the signatures I needed, ever. I'm still not entirely sure what I'm supposed to do with 8d now that it's signed. To be honest, I'm a little conflicted: I don't know whether I want to save it for posterity after all we've been through together, or whether I'd rather turn it in to someone for their files and never see it again.

*Descartes gave the secretary permission to forge his signature sign on his behalf, since he won't be back from Prague and/or Harvard until after the submission deadline.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


I finally got around to looking at the written comments my committee gave on my thesis.

Blackwood's comments were mostly editing marks. He noted that I overuse colons and semi-colons (true) and wanted me to take out all the Oxford commas. Easily done.

Victoria's comments were a tad more complex, and some of them I just won't have time to address before Friday, which is the deadline to turn in the ETD version to the department. She also said my over-all conclusion needs work (true) and that the conclusion to the Helen section is underdeveloped as well. I hadn't noticed it before, but she's right. OK, that I can probably fix, or at least improve, before Friday.

I have no idea what Descartes's written comments were, because a) he assured me that they were substantive rather than grammatical, which means I probably don't have time to address them before the deadline, and b) frankly, I'm just scared to look at them. As I mentioned in a previous post, he told me before my defense that there was no question about whether I would pass; however, he made it clear at the defense that while the thesis was adequate for an MA, it would need significant revision before it was ready to "see the light of day," as he put it. In other words, don't even think about submitting this thing to a journal or using it as a writing sample for a PhD application in its current form. Well. I appreciate his candor, but I'm not particularly anxious to read his comments.

One thing that both Blackwood and Victoria had issues with was my comment that in Helen, Edgeworth is "still worrying at the same themes that are found in her other tales." Blackwood suggested "worrying over," while Victoria simply circled the phrase and put a question mark over it. OK, it's a bit fanciful and perhaps not flattering to Edgeworth, but the image I meant to invoke was that of a dog gnawing an old bone. I'm not making it up -- it's in the OED: "worry, v. Definition 3.d. intr. To pull or tear at (an object) with the teeth." The example: "There was Floss, worrying at the parcel, which had only thin paper wrapped round it." Granted, the example is from 1882, which means that the usage is by now archaic if not obsolete, but I am writing about someone who died 160 years ago. I'm still debating whether to take it out.

I'm also now recalling the questions that I could have answered better at my defense. Not that it matters; I passed, without qualifications even. But still ... "Was Edgeworth aware of the Romantic movement?" I said something about her use of the word "romantic" in Helen, but a much better answer would have been "She must have been, since she was very well-read, and also acquainted with some of the key figures associated with Romanticism, like Wordsworth and Coleridge." You'd think that for once I could just be satisfied with my accomplishment, instead of nit-picking something that I can't change.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

so that's pretty much it

I passed my defense. And I'm not even scarred for life or anything. Predictably, Descartes asked the toughest questions, and there were moments when I felt like I was bluffing to some degree. I knew, for example, that some of Edgeworth's ideas were influenced by Adam Smith, because I'm pretty sure she name-drops him in Practical Education, but I couldn't have gotten any more specific than that ... so I didn't.

Victoria's comments and questions had more to do with the structure and nature of my argument. Her specialty is actually Victorian lit, so while Edgeworth technically overlaps her time period, she's not overly familiar with her work. She also brought up the paper I had written for her class about Rosina Bulwer Lytton, and asked me to compare Lytton's writing to Edgeworth's. I was really glad I had reread the paper last night.

Blackwood had already overseen several revisions of the essay, so his questions were of the "big picture" variety - how does Edgeworth fit into the development of the novel as a genre? If sentimental novels are still being published in the mid-nineteenth century, can we really say that the genre has advanced? That kind of question doesn't bother me too much; there's not really a right or wrong answer, as long as I'm able to speak knowledgeably about the answer I give.

Although the committee agreed that my project would need revision before I try to publish it - if nothing else, it's way too long for most journals - they also agreed that it would not need major revisions before they would pass it. So unless there's some sort of unthinkable clerical snafu, or the entire university burns to the ground, I will definitely graduate in April.

Monday, March 02, 2009



Friday, February 27, 2009

influenza and gratitude

My sister-in-law, Suzanne, has been helpful beyond expression over the past three years. She babysat Peach when I was in class, and when I was teaching class, and when I had conferences with my students, and when I had meetings with professors. Then I finished my coursework, and quit teaching so I could concentrate on my thesis, and Suzanne offered to keep babysitting Peach a couple of times a week so I could have some time to myself to work. Not only is Suzanne an extremely good mother whose parenting philosophy and skills made me very comfortable leaving Peach with her, but if anything, she is overqualified as a child-care provider, because she has a Master's degree in speech pathology and plenty of clinical experience working with children.

A couple of months ago, when I applied for graduation, I talked to Suzanne about my deadlines, and she mentioned that she and her family were planning to be in California on February 20th. No problem - I had to have my defense scheduled by then, but I didn't have to actually hold the defense until March 6th, and they were definitely planning to be back from their trip by then.

Fast forward to February 18th: Suzanne's three-year-old daughter had to be taken to the ER because she was in respiratory distress. They ran some tests and discovered that she had the flu ... the real flu. As in, actual influenza. At first Suzanne thought they would have to cancel their trip, because her husband, Kendall, can't always get time off from work. But by the time the three-year-old was healthy, they had managed to get his time off shifted, and were able to make the trip after all. I was very happy for them.

Unfortunately, this meant that Suzanne would be in California on March 3rd. Usually Glen would be my emergency back-up babysitter - his employer has been surprisingly flexible about things like that - but he wants to be at the defense, and clearly bringing Peach with him is not an option.

In desperation, I called a friend who lives in the neighborhood and is at home with her own two children during the day. I hate beginning conversations with "I have a huge favor to ask you," but I really didn't have a lot of options. Amanda was really nice about it. She said she'd be happy to do it, and insisted it wasn't a big deal for her.

The only remaining question is, What's the best way to express my undying gratitude?


Just for fun, while I'm waiting for my defense date, here's my reading list:

from British Novel:
Ian Watt, The Rise of the Novel (excerpted)
Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism (excerpted)
Nancy Armstrong, Desire and Domestic Fiction (excerpted)
Aphra Behn, Oroonoko
Henry Fielding, Joseph Andrews
Jane Austen, Sense and Sensibility
Elizabeth Gaskell, North and South
James Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Arundhati Roy, The God of Small Things
Ian McEwan, Atonement

from Modernism:
Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray
Virginia Woolf, Jacob’s Room

from Victorian Lit:
Rosina Bulwer-Lytton, Cheveley, or, The Man of Honour

from Scottish Novel:
Martin Heidegger, Basic Writings
Robert Louis Stevenson, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Hound of the Baskervilles
John Buchan, The Thirty-Nine Steps
Josephine Tey, The Daughter of Time
Iain Banks, Complicity

from Theoretical Discourse:
J. Dover Wilson, What Happens in Hamlet
Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations

from Contemporary Drama:
Victor Turner, From Ritual to Theatre: The Human Seriousness of Play
Tom Stoppard, Arcadia
Michael Frayn, Copenhagen
Tom Murphy, Famine
Marina Carr, Portia Coughlin
Caryll Churchill, The Skriker

Thursday, February 26, 2009

reading list: finished

Between old class notes, syllabi, and conversations with classmates, I managed to put together a reading list. For some of my classes, the challenge wasn't so much finding works to put on the list as trying to remember what the books were about. I have a vague recollection of liking a lot of the texts we studied in Modernism, but when I looked at the syllabus I had very little recollection of reading them. We probably did read something by Beckett, for example, but I have no idea what.

Blackwood looked over the list and noted that I needed a few more theory readings. Um, yeah, I left those off on purpose, because I'm even less likely to remember the content from those. But OK, whatever. I put Heidegger on the list with extreme reluctance, because I never felt like I had a good grasp of what he was on about. Ian Watt and Northrop Frye, no problem. Nancy Armstrong ... I should probably review that.

I also had a chat with Blackwood today about what to expect at the defense. He said there would be some general questions, along the lines of "How has your graduate education improved your critical thinking skills," and "What would you do differently if you were starting the program again." I hate questions like that. They feel like job interview questions - things they ask you not because they actually want to know the answer, but because they want you to show them something about your thought process or your general knowledge. Other than that, it doesn't sound too bad. I probably need to review a couple of things on the reading list, maybe go over my class notes. As for the thesis itself, I feel like I'm at least adequately prepared to respond to questions about it. This, of course, means that they will inevitably ask me something I am not at all prepared to answer -- Descartes will probably ask something about Scotland. At least that will be better than asking about Heidegger.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

yeah, that'll work

I had a brief conversation with Blackwood today, and mentioned that I was having a hard time remembering what I'd read for my classes. He suggested that I look at my books and see what I had.

Ha. Of course he's never seen my bookshelves. I have, literally, hundreds of books. I have so many that I've run out of bookshelves to hold them all, meaning that some of them are still in boxes somewhere in my basement. Granted that some of them are obviously not titles that would have been required reading for my classes - Over Sea, Under Stone, for example, or Domain-Driven Design, whatever that is ... that one must be Glen's. On the other hand, I have critical editions of all Austen's novels except Sanditon and Lady Susan, but not all of them were required reading for my classes; some of them I bought for research I was working on, so I could mark the books as I read. I suppose looking through my books is a better option than hoping I'll just magically remember all the stuff I read in the Regency Lit class I took four years ago, but I am on a tight schedule here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

I was supposed to keep that?

Blackwood says the reading list doesn't have to be centered around my thesis. Apparently it's more of a list for my committee to use as the basis for my oral exam: "30 or so works from your seminars that best reflect your graduate education," selected from works that were on the syllabi from my seminars.

Wait, I was supposed to keep all the syllabi from my seminars? Mmmkay, it turns out I actually didn't do that. For some of the classes, I doubt that I ever had a hard copy of the syllabus; several of the professors put their syllabi up on Blackboard, so when I wanted to look up the reading assignments for class I just looked at the online copy. In the meantime, the university has moved to a new version of the Blackboard software, and any old courses that were in the system have vanished, as far as I can tell. So far I have managed to dig up two actual, physical syllabi from my grad classes, and one electronic copy of a syllabus that was languishing in my computer. And since I need to get the reading list to my committee as soon as possible, I probably have about 36 hours to come up with the rest of them.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

chaos and order

Link (almost 9) and Peach (almost 4) have very, very, very different personalities and approaches to life. Peach is interested in how things are supposed to be put together; Link is more interested in what will happen if he takes things apart. Link's idea of a good time is to take a box full of toys, turn it upside down, and shake it until everything falls out. Peach's idea of a good time is to take all the toys out of the box, sort them into groups, and arrange them in straight lines. If you give Peach a jigsaw puzzle, she will put it together so the picture matches the one on the box. If you give Link a jigsaw puzzle, he's just as likely to take the pieces and use them to build a three-dimensional robot sculpture. Both of the kids are very active and full of energy, but Link is a walking, talking wad of entropy, while Peach is his equal and opposite reaction.

I will let you guess which of these art projects was created by which child.

A hint, if you needed one: Link says his design was inspired by the idea of "fireworks." Which, come to think of it, seems wildly appropriate.

Friday, February 20, 2009

reading list? what?

I ran into Blackwood in the English Department office when I went to file my paperwork yesterday. We said our hellos and confirmed that the defense was on for the third. As I was about to leave, he said, "Did we talk about a reading list?" Not that I recall. What's that about? He said something about "twenty-five or thirty books," but suggested that I talk to the graduate coordinator to see if they've got specific guidelines written down somewhere - they may have changed when the department revised the thesis requirement.

So I talk to the graduate coordinator. He's in the middle of eating lunch in his office, but mumbles something about texts I read in my seminars. Twenty-five of them? Yes, and they should represent some sort of coherent ... something ... that will provide a basis for discussion at my defense. Huh. I kind of thought my thesis would provide a basis for discussion at my defense. But hey, whatever. On my way out, the coordinator mentions that my prospectus needs to be revised to reflect the new thesis guidelines. Again: whatever. That part at least should be easy, since the thesis is already written.

The reading list, though. I sat down to make a list of 25-30 texts I had read in my seminars, and realized that at this point I can't even remember what classes I took for my program of study, let alone what I read for those classes. I looked up my transcript, but all the classes are listed as course numbers with generic titles - they either say "seminar in the novel" or "seminar in British Literature 1660-1830." Yeah, that narrows it down. I ended up going through my past blog posts to remind myself what my seminars were about. That was helpful, but I still don't have a list of texts. I'll have to see if I still have old syllabi lying around somewhere.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

all better

It's on! We've worked out a time for my defense, and the graduate coordinator has agreed to let me go ahead with the scheduling. I'll have the paperwork filed by this afternoon. Tuesday, March 3rd, 11:00 a.m.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

you have got to be kidding me

I have now heard back from Descartes. He is also on board with defending in the next two weeks, although he notes ominously that he "will have some questions for [me] come the defense." Miraculously, all three of my committee members were on campus today (although not at the same time) so I was able to get all of their signatures on the scheduling form as well. So there's just one little thing left to do - a mere formality - we just have to pick a time for the defense, so the department can schedule a room for us. Obviously I'm available at whatever time will work for them, so I sent an email to everyone asking for scheduling information.

Blackwood replied that afternoons are bad for him. Descartes says that in that case, early in the morning would work - maybe 8:00? Victoria responds that she can't commit to that time without making arrangements with "several people" and getting back to us. While the emails were going back and forth, I went up to campus to get Descartes's signature on the form, at which point he explained that he was up against some deadlines of his own - in addition to teaching three classes plus a series of workshops this semester, he's scheduled to give a lecture at Harvard and a paper in Prague within the next three weeks, he hasn't finished writing either of them, and one of them he hasn't even started. On one hand, it always makes me feel better when I see professors doing things like that at the last minute, but on the other hand, it's going to make it difficult to find a time when all three of them are available. Descartes actually mooted the possibility of having the defense without one or the other of the readers, or else scheduling it for an evening. Of the two, he seemed to think the evening option more unorthodox.

The only really encouraging thing he had to say was that I was definitely going to pass, it was just a question of getting the details worked out. Hey, great. That makes me a lot less nervous about the defense itself. Now, about those details ...

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

one down

I've heard back from Victoria. She hasn't had time to read the draft thoroughly enough to give feedback yet, but she's fine with scheduling the defense in time for April graduation. Yay! She also mentioned that she had several theses come in over the weekend, so apparently I'm not the only one who's doing this at the last minute.


The current draft has been sent to Descartes and Victoria - 39 pages plus Works Cited. Blackwood says he thinks it can be ready in two and a half weeks, and has sent an email to the other readers to that effect. Hopefully they agree. I feel bad dropping it on them with so little time to review it, and the department really frowns on that kind of thing as well, but of course they always have the option to just not sign the form to schedule the defense.

I really hope they don't exercise that option.

Monday, February 16, 2009

even more fun ... by which I mean stress

Yet another draft. Hopefully this time it will be good enough to circulate, which would be a big step forward and would at least make me feel a little better about the whole situation. However, in looking at the calendar and trying to determine whether there's any chance that I'm going to meet the deadlines and graduate in April, I realized that in my previous calculations I had neglected to consider that Monday the 16th is a holiday. None of the professors will be working; most of the buildings on campus won't even be open. I can't recall the last time I felt this much anxiety, and I don't think I have ever felt so resentful toward a day off.

Friday, February 13, 2009

looming deadlines

I've heard back from Blackwood on the latest revision. He says that "in all honesty" he is "really encouraged" at my progress ... but it still needs one more "minor" revision before I send it out to Descartes and Victoria. His suggestions are indeed minor compared to the last round, and I'll be able to get a revised version to him by Monday. However, I'm starting to get nervous about the deadlines for graduation. I have to schedule my defense by February 20th, which means that on or before that date, I need to convince my chair, my readers, and the graduate coordinator that I will be ready to defend by March 6th. Monday is the 16th. Assuming that Blackwood tears through the draft and responds on Monday - and assuming that his response is "go ahead and circulate it" - that leaves about three days for the other committee members to read it. This makes me very nervous. It's not like these people have nothing else to do.

And then there's the issue of getting the graduate coordinator to consent to the schedule. Presumably if my committee thinks I'm ready to defend, he shouldn't have a whole lot of objections, but I have to get him (as well as the other committee members) to sign the form - he can't just send an email or make a phone call and say "OK." His office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 to 2:30, which raises the possibility that if I don't get him to sign on Thursday, I could miss the deadline on Friday. I don't think I really need to explain how badly that would suck.

I'm not sure what to think about this.

At Link's school, everyone in the third grade or higher is required to participate in the science fair. Link is in the third grade this year, so he had to come up with a science project. The school gave some helpful, specific instructions for the projects:

  • Come up with a question. This should be a question that can be answered with an experiment. For example: Do cookies taste better with or without salt?
  • Plan an experiment to answer your question. The above question would be easily answered by making the same recipe with and without salt and then having several people "taste-test" them without knowing which ones are which.
  • State your hypothesis. We’ve talked about how a hypothesis is an educated guess. "I think that the cookies will taste better without salt."
  • Do your experiment. It's best to do an experiment where only ONE thing is changed, so that there is a "control" for the student to compare with.
  • While doing the experiment take data. There needs to be something that can be measured.
  • Come up with a conclusion based on the results of your experiment.
Of course I very much want Link to do well in school, but I am not one of those parents who wants so badly for her child to succeed that she plans an elaborate project for him and ends up assembling an entire Volkswagen Beetle from its component parts so that her child will look like a genius. In fact, Link came up with his project all on his own. He already knew that although a balloon filled with air will pop if you hold a flame under it, a balloon filled with water will not. So his question was which would pop sooner when exposed to heat - a balloon filled with water or a balloon filled with ice?

He also planned the experiment himself. His idea was to use string to suspend an ice-filled balloon and a water-filled balloon over a pair of candles, and wait to see which one popped first. Glen helped build the, uh, suspension device, but the idea was all Link.

Link's hypothesis was that the water balloon would pop first, which it sort of did - after a while it sprang a leak at the bottom and put out the candle. The ice balloon lasted another eight minutes before breaking. We printed some pictures of the experiment, and Link wrote some text to go with the pictures, based on the guidelines supplied by the school. Then we had to make a display for him to put up at the science fair.

So here's the thing: Link is a fairly bright child, and he did the work for the project himself, but graphic design is maybe a tad beyond his abilities, and I felt like it was reasonable for us to help him create the display. (Admittedly, I may also have been influenced by the fact that by the time he had done the experiment and finished his write-up, it was 10:00 p.m. and he really needed to go to bed.) So we printed his text, mounted it on some colored paper, and glued it to the display board along with some clip art drawings of balloons and water.

OK, no, this is not what Link would have come up with on his own if you handed him five pictures and five pieces of text and said, "Glue this stuff on this cardboard and make it look nice." For one thing, he's a very non-linear thinker; he probably would have ended up with his conclusion in the middle, his hypothesis at the end, and the description of his experiment on the back of the display board. For another thing, he's in the third grade. He would have somehow managed to get glue in his hair and, like, pancake syrup on the display. Anyway, long story short, I did the layout. I didn't feel like I was doing anything unethical. It's not like I'm a graphic designer; in fact, I kind of suck at visual arts, and I didn't think the finished product was anything amazing.

Imagine my surprise when Link came home from school with an award for "best display" in the first-through-third-grade division. Awkward! I can only assume that everyone else showed up with pancake syrup on their displays. I feel bad, but I don't know what I should have done differently - turn him loose with the glue and wish him good luck? Make him hand-write the text instead of printing it? I didn't even know they were giving an award for the display.

Monday, February 09, 2009


Blogspot allows me to alter the apparent date and time of a particular post at will. The default option is the actual date and time at which I started composing each post, but I can reset it to show any date and time I want, either past or future. If I tell it that the time of the post is in the past, it inserts the post into the blog chronologically, at the point where it would have appeared had it actually been composed at the time indicated. If I tell it that the time of the post is in the future, then the post won't appear on my blog until the time I've indicated. I'm pretty sure I can even alter the date of a post that's already been published, although I haven't tried.
Weirdly, though, the default time as indicated by blogspot is off by an hour. I sent my latest revision to Blackwood around 2:00 a.m. local time, and posted about it shortly after that. I noticed that the default time was just after 1:00 a.m., so I fixed it and clicked "publish post" ... at which point I was informed that my post was "scheduled" but had not yet been posted. Huh. I should definitely look into that, some other time when it's not 2:30 a.m.

still in revision

I've just sent off another revision to Blackwood. Hopefully it will resolve some of the more substantive concerns he had about presenting my argument, and why I chose the novels I did. The bad news is that this draft is still way, way, way too long. I made some significant cuts (well, they felt significant to me) but then had to add new material to make the connections more explicit between my argument and the stuff that was left. End result: better argument, but still at 40+ pages. Ironically, because I went to a lot of trouble in this revision to show exactly how the remaining material supports my argument, it's now more difficult for me to discern which parts of the text could be cut with the least effect on the argument. I can always tighten up the writing somewhat, but I don't think I can knock 15 pages off just with stylistic editing.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

once more into the breach

I heard back from Blackwood today about my draft. Nothing terribly surprising. His comments were more or less as follows:

- It needs to be shorter. Definitely. It's much easier to cut material out than to draft more material, so I went with the shotgun approach for this draft, i.e., here's everything I could possibly think of to say on this topic, sprayed onto the pages like buckshot, in the hope that some of it is on-target.

- The argument needs to be made even more explicitly; right now it feels more like a catalog of the novels' features, rather than an in-depth analysis. I felt like I was still refining my argument as I was writing, so there are definitely places where I need to either make clear how a particular point fits into my argument, or remove material where things no longer fit into my argument.

- There should be some indication of why I chose the three novels I did. This is a bit awkward, actually. I chose Belinda because it was Edgeworth's first novel*, and Helen because it was her last; I wanted to see whether her attitude toward sensibility changed from one end of her career to the other. The Absentee I chose because I'd already read it for a class, but I think I'm going to have to come up with a better justification than that. Its publication falls more or less in the middle of her career, which makes it a good checkpoint chronologically. It is to some extent a national tale as well as a society novel, and the Irish national tale is not only a large part of her career, but one of the things that makes her an important author, so I kind of feel like I needed to have at least one national tale in there. However, I could just as easily have used Ennui or Ormond; I don't know that there's necessarily anything so compelling or representative about Absentee that I absolutely had to use that and nothing else. I'll have to think about that.

- It needs a stronger conclusion. Ha. It needs a conclusion. Again, because my argument was evolving as I wrote, I came to the end of the draft and wasn't entirely sure where I had ended up. This should be a lot easier to deal with once I get the whole thing cut down to a realistic size and tighten up my argument.

The good news is that he thinks it needs "one major revision" to be ready for Descartes and Victoria to look at it. [sigh] Back to work.

*I realize Castle Rackrent is often listed as Edgeworth's first novel, but it's so short I would classify it as more of a novella.