Sunday, 27 January 2008

Since my life isn't exactly scintillating (get up, type chapter, plan lecture, eat, sleep), this meme as seen on Dr. Four Eyes is much more fun...

Just follow these simple rules....
The first article title on the page is the name of your band.
The last four words of the very last quote is the title of your album.
The third picture, no matter what it is, will be your album cover.
4. Use your graphics program of choice to throw them together, and post the result.

I have to say I rather like mine...

Friday, 25 January 2008

I'd like a cup of gobble-de-gook

A wonderful comment in reaction to an article on Coffee on the BBC website...

I enjoy my friendly, confusing trip to Starbucks in the morning:
"Hi sir, what would you like?"
"I'll have a bucket of milk with a tiny drop of coffee in the bottom please."
"What silly name would you like for your coffee, sir?"
"Let's see, how about a skinny-venti-mocha-frappuchino."
"Certainly, one silly-named coffee drowning in a bucket of milk coming up."

Monday, 21 January 2008

Pinched Ideas - A Year in Pictures...

Pinched from A Long-Ayelander because it was such a funky idea even if its a little late in the New Year. So here it is, a year in pictures...

Back home in the north east, from a day out in Dunstanburgh, look at the sky...
Being silly while ill... lets leave that there...
Enjoying the views (and the weather), easter break in Greece, where I ended up at Acrocorinth
Orchid fair... pretty!
A perfect spring day, Sweetheart Abbey.

Jousting at Linlithgow... scary stuff, one of the jousters dislocated his shoulder in the first session...



Back in the trenches... Pollok excavations. Always fun being an archaeologist on public digs, conversation usually runs along the lines of "You're a PhD Student, that is great, what do you study?", me: "Greek pottery", and then either silence or "why are you digging in Scotland?"



Edradour distillery... I had to include this one, didn't I?



Edinburgh Zoo and hyperactive honey badger... of course...



Undergraduate field trip to Dunnadd, we didn't loose any students... well at least not this time. It has been known...



Castle Campbell, looking all autumny and ever so slightly depressing...



New Year in Ireland, at Glendalough

So Et VoilĂ ! A year in pictures...


I was wondering what to post and then the blog told me - no seriously it did. I have a funky piece of software that tells me who is looking at the site, to be honest I've noticed them on most blogs. Anyhoo... a couple of sites that directed people were here were Google searches.

So hello to those people who decided to check out how to tattoo fruit and Edradour 10 year old. While I wouldn't recommend the former, I would the latter - its well worth it.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

From the People at the BBC

I was flicking through the BBC News website this morning and saw an odd little reference to the Greek Myths so had a look, as it turned out it was kind of funny and thought I'd share it here.

Paper Monitor
Posted on Wednesday at 10:51 UK time
A service highlighting the riches of the daily press.

The poet laureate Andrew Motion (no wait, bear with us) notes in the latest booklet of the Guardian's series on Greek myths (really, it'll be worth the effort) that "myths become memorable because they tell us fundamental truths about human behaviour".
Fitting, then, that the Times quotes the judge who likened Andy Kershaw's fall from grace as a "Greek tragedy" as he jailed the former Radio 1 DJ for breaking a restraining order.

Greek myths. A judge might be thought to be on sure ground with such a topic, more so than, say, who "Gazza" might be or how to shizzle a nizzle. But the paper's resident brainiac, Philip Howard, pours cold water on High Bailiff Michael Moyle's allusion as "hyperbole".

Whereas Oedipus killed his dad and bedded his mum, "visiting one's ex-partner is a petty offence," says Mr Howard. And when the ancient tragic heroes got drunk and acted up, "they committed monstrous sins, such as killing their children".

Then, in Greek tragedy proper, Nemesis strikes. "Three months in jug are no fun, but they hardly compare with self-blinding or being burnt to death with a poisoned robe (Hercules)... Kershaw's punishment cannot be classified as a Greek tragedy in the extreme acceptance of the words without some risk of terminological inexactitude."

Paper Monitor cannot help but think that for a judge, to be accused of terminological inexactitude by the Times - the Times of London, the paper of record - must feel like angering the gods.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008


Edit: I reread this entry this morning and realise that I sound like an arrogant little bitch, I guess at the end of the day a PhD is what you make of it. I'm sure that there are people in the UK who are better qualified and have more additional activities on their CV and vice versa. I just find it annoying that even after working hard for 3 1/2 years on a PhD which puts me ahead of the job market in one country, I'm still barely on the bottom rung in the eyes of another. I find it very odd. On the other hand, I'm pleased I don't have to take classes or exams any more!

I've been wondering about this for a while, namely the differences between UK and North American PhDs... I realise that on the other side of the Atlantic PhD students continue to take classes and exams for a significant period of their PhD. This discussion came up on another blog (link at the bottom of this post) and I was surprised by a couple of the replies

I've mostly been told that it's swings and roundabouts: we aren't necessarily as far advanced as a post-doctoral candidate in the US, who may well be in their mid-thirties and have six years of very-close-to-professional experience under their belt, including several publications (depending on field) and ten years' teaching experience. But we're quite likely to be several years younger, our dissertations are perhaps longer (I was told by an American lecturer at my university that US doctoral dissertations in my discipline might be as little as 40,000 words, but I've heard other friends who did their doctorates in the US say theirs were more like 70,000) and therefore closer to being finished books. We haven't had the same kind of incredibly intense and broad tutoring that North American doctoral candidates get in their first couple of years, and that's the thing I find hardest to reconcile, but presumably we've specialised more in our undergraduate degrees than North Americans, or something. I've no idea how that works

And further on in the response...

I had a friend who did her PhD at St. Andrews (in what is considered a very very good program for our field) and had a very difficult time getting a job in the US. At interviews with SLACs she would be asked how she could relate to US undergrads and how she thought she would be able to teach certain classes since she had no teaching experience.

Maybe its just the University I've been at, I've taught courses, tutored classes, marked work (often appalling work but that is another story), published, worked on research and contract excavations, various archaeological jobs, private sector jobs, museum display work, conferences, articles - both published and in press, and yet I find it difficult to believe that this makes me unqualified for a very large section of what, for me, is a ridiculously small job market. There was another post, which I can't find now (typically), that said UK PhDs aren't suited to North American jobs because we do not have the range of experience necessary to teach. My undergraduate was specialised, but in the sense that it gave me a thorough grounding in the literature, languages, archaeology and history of the ancient Mediterranean and Near East, my Masters did the same, except specialise more on the archaeology. I've been teaching for nearly 5 years and have yet to teach more than 2 hours per year of my specialist subject. I've taught geophysics, aerial photography, archaeological introduction classes, computer classes, how to dig, how to draw, how to write (not that anyone listens to that one), classical literature, environmental archaeology (I get to wave leg bones at people and watch them cringe), organised postgraduate activity days, designed websites, organised conferences... So does that make me inexperienced or unsuitable?

First Post from Persia

So my class started today, I did my usual trick about completely confusing how long it would take me to talk about each thing but I managed to fill out the two hours, just perhaps not as I originally expected. The class seem good, they're enthusiastic and ask questions, but...

I'm teaching this course at an adult education centre, and I'm not that old for a PhD student. Hence I spent a few embarassing moments at the start when people were making sure they were in the right room and then looking at me strangely when I said it was, and then they asked that wonderful question, "You're the tutor?" You could feel the question marks hanging in the air.

Plus I have to say I think I'm going to be entertained by the couple with synchronised stares that could cut through glass. Its very disorientating. I have a feeling the female half could have been a school teacher for a number of years, you just have this urge to shut up and sit and listen quietly when she looks directly at you...

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

So Who Are You?

I was reading through some old articles from last year that for some reason I had saved on my computer and I came across this from a column in the Guardian which was done by one of their writers who had gone back to university for a PhD. Re-reading it now I can see why I saved it, lets face it, we all know people who would fit one or other of the descriptions and I always wonder which one people think I am (unfortunately I think its probably something along the lines of No.3, maybe not the Marxism or an actual need to shave in the first place but a pet mouse would be nice).

The eight types of graduate student
Why are we postgrads here? Well, for lots of reasons, says Patrick Tomlin
Tuesday May 15, 2007
The Guardian

When I started this column, I promised myself I wouldn't let it become a monthly whinge about how poor I am. Partly because that would be as boring as if I stood in your garden and recited excerpts from my thesis, and partly because, as graduate students go, I'm not too badly off.

But I have had to make financial sacrifices to pursue my studies. Given that everyone else has presumably had to do so too, I initially figured that we must all be there because of a pure thirst for knowledge. I've since realised, however, that the impulses that draw someone to academic study beyond graduation are a lot more varied than that.

While I've only been at it a short while, I am sufficiently aware of the unwritten columnists' code to know one is expected to make wild generalisations, shun nuance, and present categories in a list format. So, without further ado, I present the eight types of graduate student:

1. The Wannabe Undergraduate
They had such fun as undergraduates that they cannot bear it to end. They prop up the bar, talking to undergrads about their thesis, rather than actually writing it. They judge success by notches on the bedpost and hangovers accrued instead of marks, grades and the intellectual respect of their peers.

2. The Student Who Tried Employment
Some postgraduates have been out into the real world and had a real job, with a desk and a computer and a pay cheque and a lunch break and a pension and appraisals and meetings and everything. And, for whatever reason, they have found it wanting.

3. The Couldn't-Survive-Anywhere-but-at-University
The group most likely to be cultivating eccentricities - keeping a mouse in their pocket or wearing socks with Marxist slogans sewn into them - while still too young to shave.

4. The CV-Filler
Their primary focus is not what they study, but what it will look like on their CV. They believe this qualification will give them "that extra edge". Most likely to end up as accountants or lawyers, never employing the knowledge gained.

5. The Prestigious Scholarship Recipient
Rather than worrying about what the subject they study will look like on their CV, their primary focus is who is paying for it. In a reversal of the usual relationship between funding and studying, in which the former is a means to the latter, the funding is regarded as an end in itself and the studying something that has to be endured to be able to call themselves a [insert name of dead white man] scholar for the rest of their lives.

6. The One Who Just Needs Answers
They really are motivated purely by the desire to find answers about their specific area of interest.

7. The Eternal Student
They are not bothered whether their academic career shows linear progress, they're just collecting qualifications and trying to get every letter of the alphabet after their name.

8. The Polymath
These geniuses could have studied anything, anywhere. They will probably go on to great things across several disciplines, and already understand your thesis better than you do. An unfortunate subset are also charming, witty and good-looking, and therefore hated by everyone.
And which am I? I'd like to think No 6, but I suspect there's more than a touch of No 2 about me, too.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Thesis Ponderings

How do you write a conclusion to three and half years of work, where do you begin? I started work on my concluding chapter today (although this isn't the last one that needs writing - still the introduction to do) and sat for some time debating where to start, what I should include, and how to set it out. I decided at the time is was easier just to start writing and worry about the exact details later, as it turned out I think that was the better way of doing it. You can often get so caught up in the little details that the big picture goes out of the window.

Maltspot: Edradour - Various

Since my other half wasn't big on whisky I never really had the chance to drink it very often, it is a drink better shared, until we went to Edradour distillery up near Pitlochry and it all changed, its now one of my (and his) favourites.

Edradour 10 Year Old: A lovely light, honey and peat flavour. Extremely drinkable and the one that got the whisky obsession restarted.

Ballechin, Burgundy Finish: A new whisky from the distillery, good for anyone that likes peaty whiskies. Really rich and flavourful with a wonderful smoky aroma.

Edradour Straight from the Cask Burgundy Finish: Instead of being finished off in the normal sherry cask, this one has been finished off in the cask from a French Burgundy cask. Joint favourite with the Ballechin, this is a really special one with a fruity finish.

From the same distillery I've also tried Straight from the Cask Madeira and Rum finishes which I found somewhat acidic although drinkable. They are a pair which deserve to be tried before acquiring a bottle. Likewise with one of older vintages, a 21 year old that I sampled also proved slightly disappointing when compared with the three described in more detail above.

Next Time: Tobermory and Ledaig

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Presenting: Maltspot!

A new fun section of my blog where I talk about whisky I have drunk and what I think of it. This seems like a good idea to me, I get to remember what I've tried and I have an excuse to try more (all in the name of research)!

Maltspot: Iverarity 10 yr Old Speyside & 8 yr Old Islay

One of the wonderful things about where I live is that there are two very good pubs nearby which offer a good selection of whisky.

One of the other benefits is that they always have one on offer as 'Malt of the Month', so I thought I would start recording what I've been trying.

The current two on offer are both Inverarity, a sort of independent bottling company that provides a variety of whiskys from different areas.

The first is a 10 year old Speyside, the other an 8 year old Islay and both lovely if a bit different.

The Speyside is very floral, with a honeyish quality and slight tang of peat/seaweed. If you like Mead then this may be a good whisky to try, in some ways it also resembles a Glenkinchie but is a tad more flavourful.

The Islay is unlike any other Islay I know, very smooth yet still smoky and peaty. I've heard it described as a sort of Islay-Light which seems apt to me. I adore the raw peatiness of the Islay so was surprised to find that I liked this awfully refined version of it.

Panic and procrastination

I've been working on my first lecture today and kept finding myself going around in circle... where do you start designing a course where you have no idea how to even begin... Plus on top of that I'm having nightmarish day dreams where my class hates me. Not good.

Besides that, it is actually fun to go through material I haven't looked at in a while, its interesting what bits you do remember. And it is nice to do something other than PhD work - then again, any form of procrastination is fun...

Which brings me on to my other problem, how do I stop messing about? I'm finding that I'm spending more and more time on the net these days, looking at web-comics, tv reviews, other blogs, news websites, online games... and even off the net I'm time wasting - seriously, I'm up to £10,000/points on the Las Vegas version of solitaire (one of the options on the Microsoft Windows version)... very sad but better than trying to re-read chapter three of the thesis for the umpteenth time.

Friday, 11 January 2008

Well Here's To Persia

So my course that I had designed a long time ago (or so it seems) is actually running, in some ways it is a surprise that it is going ahead. A late entrant (with more potentially) tipped the course from a not-gonna-happen option to one which is now active. Unfortunately this means that I have to actually prepare stuff now... annoying but in some ways it is good that it is happening. Its good for me from a career-development perspective. Its just that finishing the PhD along with this course is going to be complex and interesting. I have a feeling that I am going to be stressed, neurotic and tired before very long.

Anyway in the meantime here's a pretty picture of Persia for us to enjoy...

Monday, 7 January 2008

Spices and Red Hot Shoes of Iron

I got a book just before Christmas on the history of spices in the western world, and I have to admit it was really interesting. A large part of the book dealt with spices in ancient Greece and Rome which may explain some of my interest. However, it is interesting to consider that much of the motivation behind exploration was simply due to a desire for something tasty to stick in your dinner.

Only problem reading it was that you end up with a insatiable urge to start cooking and eating...

The other volume I was reading was the Grimm Fairy Tales. Again, I found this interesting as it is amazing how much the stories have been edited. Most people would never consider that the original ending for Snow White was that the evil Queen was forced to wear iron shoes that were heated and that she danced until she died. Not the sort of the story you would expect for children... Then again with some kids you never know.