Monday, 20 October 2008


I thought I was seeing things a while ago on the M8.

There is a Pyramids Business Park, with (you've guessed) a row of pyramids parallel with the road. I wasn't driving and suddenly saw a load of red sheep. I wondered if I had imagined them, but no, on the way back, the existence of red sheep was confirmed.

Funky, aren't they?

Apparently it was all done for a bit of a laugh. You can find the full story here.

Now the same business park has 'set free' a giant red stag in the same location... but apparently that statue has a history of changing location, or as quote in the BBC story puts it, "He's a bit of a wanderer so I'm not sure how long he'll stay at the Pyramids for and I wouldn't be surprised if he popped up somewhere else in the near future."

Sunday, 19 October 2008

A 'How to...' Guide

I've been keeping an eye on the series 'How to be a Student' on the Guardian's Education pages, partly because some of the columns are useful but mostly because of the humour contained within them (and of course, its partly due to the disbelief that some people will indeed need a 'how to..' guide in order to cope). I was re-reading them this evening and was struck at how obvious some of the advice is, yet after seeing many of the first years around the university they do seem to need it, as they fail to understand how to use pavements (those are not areas to stop and chat, especially when they're only a metre wide to start with) or queue in the library to get access to the manned help-desk (there is a sign saying 'queue here' for a reason you know).

Many tend to deal with more superficial elements (how to get money out of your parents, how to make friends, how to get rid of friends) but others, especially those about dealing with lecturers and tutors, essay writing, note taking, what to do in lectures, etc. are actually quite useful. Part of me wonders if these columns are actually worth hanging on to and giving to new students in order to give them an idea on what is expected.

The best one that appeared recently discussed the transition from school to university, which is a jump not many students actually realise exists. This was drummed into me in many of my first year tutorials, when they were asking questions about their first essay - which is due tomorrow (oh joy). The questions they wanted to know the answers to often depended heavily on the premise that I would tell them what to do. Alarmingly this also involved one asking since one of the essays was on one ancient text, could their bibliography consist of that and nothing else. They did seem surprised at the idea that they would have to research ideas presented in other publications. Perhaps I was lucky during my school education to have opportunities for independent research, working with materials other than the designated course books - but I would have expected that first year students should be aware of the fact that 1-book bibliographies are not acceptable.

On the other hand, the difficulty that appears to stress most of the students over the first essay, which relates to gender is whether immortal gods can be used as examples of male/female, e.g. Hermes is male, therefore he can be used as an example of a male character and what does he do for the content or plot? This seems to be panicking them a lot, given the number of alarmed messages being put on the course discussion site - surely they should have a idea of who is male or female? Shouldn't they?


I'm finally getting back into the swing of things. Although I still need to finish the revisions to my article (which I really need just to get done).

On the plus side, my internal examiner has signed off my PhD which means I can sign up for Winter Graduation (I hope) this coming week. It was actually really touching to see that email, I think that little things like that help make the reality set in.

In other news I've started on a new project on ancient religion which is going to involve a large literary search. So I've spent the last couple of weeks putting together a complete bibliography of all ancient authors and texts, preferably those which are extant. It has been a real eyeopener. I realised that there were rather a lot, but there are so many which I've never heard of, and some of the texts sound fascinating. I'm expecting that I'm going to get distracted by some interesting little texts that no-one has ever heard of. I like these little side paths which pop up unexpectedly.

On the other hand, I have not been able to locate any 'complete ancient text' lists already in existence. So I'm using a combination of online sites, series of translated texts (like Loeb, Oxford World's Classics, etc.), OCD and some of the big catalogue volumes of ancient writers. I realise that I might not have looked properly for a complete list already published, but the compilation via my normal lets-chase-all-those-footnotes approach is actually making me think and pay attention more to the actual names and titles that are turning up. If I'm just copying, it easy to just switch off.

I found some good online sites of the Latin corpus, namely the Corpus Scriptorum Latinorum but I've yet to find an equivalent for the Greek and those that do exist have some major omissions, forgetting Artemidoros seems to be a speciality and I know that there is a translation of his Oneirocritica in existence.

The problem is that now all I want to do is work on that, rather than do other stuff that I actually need to do.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

How to keep yourself entertained...

I'm going to have to try this with my other first year classes this week.

I arrived at my first of my weekly tutorial sessions for the new intake, and the room was in use. I was pleased to see so many people waiting, and sat listening in to the conversations around me... mostly along the lines of 'are these every week?', 'do you have seminars in your other courses?' and 'ooh, pretty hat!' No one gave me a second glance.

Classroom became free and everyone ambled in, I dumped my bags by the desk I like to sit on and heap papers on and started rummaging around in all the bags trying to find the text we were reading in that class. Again not very different to the rest of the room.

At this point, the dept secretary arrived to turn off the equipment from the previous class (bless but the academics aren't allowed to touch things anymore, especially expensive shiny technology... too many breakages)*** As she was doing this, we started chatting. Job done, she wandered off.

It was at this point I realised that the room had gone quite quiet, and then the mature student suddenly asked 'are you the tutor?' with a stunned expression on his face, rest of the group were also expressing surprise (or maybe hangovers... its difficult to tell sometimes). 'Yup' I answered, at which point the surprise levels seemed to rise..., 'not what you expected?' 'Um no...' came the answer.

I like startling people, it makes for entertaining tutorials.

*** The academics vs. technology seems to be quite common to the depts I've been in, my undergraduate dept got through several coffee machines before the secretary realised the problem... no one ever put water in it.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Are people really this dumb?

J pointed out today that that the live basil plant I'd brought home from the supermarket had a label informing purchasers not to refrigerate, and asked the question why does it even need that? The only answer I could come up with was that some people just aren't plant people.. or they really are that dumb.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Snowflakes in October

The undergrads are back, ah the joys of the new semester...

To all those who don't understand pavements...Why is it that so many undergrads (and people generally) fail to understand that people are trying to walk along these things? Not wait patiently while you mill around or chat with all your closest 50 friends. And when I eventually get sick of asking 'excuse me' and push my way through, don't huff and act like I'm being that rude.

To the random guy wandering around the photocopying room...The instructions are on the wall. Given that you looked at the instructions, the change machine, the photocopying card dispenser and every photocopying machine in the room (including those that were being used by people) you would think you get the concept. But no, you just kept wandering (with your books)... until you wandered out of the room.

And finally, to the precious, precious snowflake in the bookshop yesterday...So your 'basic' history introduction course is full of stuff you didn't know? Shame, I thought all university lecturers realised that they needed to keep their courses limited to exactly what you have been taught at high school. What I don't understand is why you're bitching about this to the poor guy in the book shop. He didn't set the course and he sure as hell doesn't want to hear about it. And bless him, he was trying to help, going through your reading list... only for you to whine that you were never going to be able to read all that in a week. My only hope is that he was purposefully putting the most expensive books he could find into your arms...