Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Counting Down

I took the laptop in to the tech people Monday morning, and it was duly diagnosed with a hardware failure. Our tech people don't work on hardware. The technician assured me that my data was in no danger and given that I was hoping to turn in my dissertation on Friday, suggested that I simply hook the laptop up to an external monitor for the next few days.
Of course, a person doesn't exactly lug an external monitor around. Not even the new flat-screen kind. The desk upon which my external monitor sits has no room for sheets of paper, let alone a laptop. In other words, the desk I set up so optimistically in the fall hasn't proved very useful for much beyond a little web surfing and greeting of fellow bloggers.
I went into a period of mild meltdown. Where was I going to work? How was I going to get anything done? (It was, however, only a mild meltdown. Even though Kristen claims it is about the worst she's seen me get, I can melt down much, much further. There just isn't much about grad school that prompts me that way, so it has been a good many years since I really lost it for any length of time.)
Laptop or no laptop, I figured that no matter what my mental state, I could make a little headway on my illustrations, which I had printed out the night before. I imbibed some soup and settled down to my task and got quite a bit done, despite an (otherwise pleasant) encounter with our gamelan leader in which he assured me that it's cheaper to get a new laptop than to fix an ailing screen.
Later in the afternoon, it occurred to me that just because the screen was preparing to die on me, it was not actually dead yet. I might actually get a few more hours' use out of it. And indeed I got several hours of work out of it that very evening. Consequently, I'm now regarding it as something that is a tiresome problem but not likely to explode or something in the next couple of days.
My advisor, meanwhile, was very sympathetic about this kink in the dissertation process. We have agreed that I will get done what I can, when I can, and depending on when that is, I'll either graduate this spring or next year. She reiterated that my CAA paper had been a success, and that I had even kept to my time limit, unlike some people. I will not recount the horrible tale she told about a certain panel that I did not attend, which involved someone who had no concept of the importance of adhering to one's time limit. My readers can imagine for themselves the possible dire consequences, although I will say it didn't sound as though any fruit was thrown; I'm not sure anyone had any fruit handy. I am glad to say that, in contrast, everyone on my panel behaved very professionally. (I am slightly sorry I missed the debacle of which she spoke, as many horrible things went wrong throughout, but I was enjoying a perfectly good panel in another room.)
In any case, it is still conceivable that I might manage to turn in the first half of the dissertation on Friday and the second half on Monday or Tuesday. Thus, in the throes of optimism, I settled down to work quite early this morning and went at it for four or five hours experiencing that peculiar elation that assures me that I am still madly in love with the dissertation. I realize it is abnormal, but there is nothing quite like settling in at an engrossing project and feeling (no matter how erroneously) that time is of no account and that nothing else could possible drag one away from the whole thing.
Of course, at a certain point I realized that I needed to print out my chapter, that I was hungry, and that the women's restroom at Kiva Han was out of order. I prepared to depart, only to discover my friend Chip reading a strangely untoward-looking tome at a nearby table. In other words, it had nothing to do with Russian avant-garde theater. It looked suspiciously like a social science text of the most impenetrable sort.
Chip confessed it was for a pedagogy course, and made clear that he would rather talk to me (even about my recent haircut) than read any more of it just then.
An hour or so later, we had established that he should learn Uzbek before improving his German, that my roommates are much easier to pet than his, that it would be a stretch for him to claim to be "diverse" on the grounds of being politically left of center (although if he had multiple personalities, I think he could claim to be, euphemistically, "diverse" provided some of the personalities weren't straight white males), and, finally, that neither of us actually believes any of our students dream about us in the form of dreams about rats and that neither do we care if they do, even if it is psychologically damaging to them to dream that we are rats. We enjoyed contemplating the paradox of pedagogical theories that we may in one respect quite agree with and in some other respect regard as utterly mistaken.
In contemplating whether he could avoid going to class, where his roommates would be sure to mention that he had seemed perfectly healthy at breakfast, I proffered the advice that rather than weakly disagree with some minor aspect of the day's topic, and raise suspicions of moral laxity, it would be far better to foment revolution and propose a diametrically opposed approach to teaching, which at the end of class could be revealed as a mere devil's advocate position.
In other words, rather than meekly agree that it is important to maintain firm boundaries between teacher and student, which must never be crossed, it would be much more stimulating to argue that there should be no boundaries whatsoever between the two. Learning is continuous! Everything the teacher does or says is potentially a model for the student! Students should be encouraged to be with their instructors 24 hours a day, following them in and out of the shower, imprinting like Konrad Lorenz's geese. To adapt a phrase current in my father's day, we must teach The Whole Student (it used to be The Whole Child, but college students are usually past childhood)! Attractions between student and teacher should be encouraged; think of Heloise and Abelard! (Well, minus the castration episode.) While Jane Gallop did run into a bit of trouble kissing grad students, this hasn't impaired her career and we suppose that if nothing else her grad students have improved their kissing skills. Chip's students could learn to dress with the same elegant abandon that he does, strewing buttons effortlessly in the street and appearing at meetings in the striking equivalent of his talismanic holey sweater.
Ah, the value of taking a break from one's dissertation! I was much refreshed despite having eaten no lunch. I marched off to print the chapter, devour a burrito or other substantial feast, and get another couple of hours' work in before gamelan.
The gods do, however, smite those who enjoy life too freely. It took an hour and a half to get my printout, gobble down a couple of bagels, and race to gamelan. And while my voice was in good shape to tackle "Mandi madu," the brain began short-circuiting on every piece in our slendro repertoire. There is probably some special torment in hell awaiting incompetent saron players.
My roommates do, however, believe that my needs are best served by spending the evening petting them rather than trying to eke out a few more lines of the introduction. They are probably right. Rabbit massage is healthful for everyone concerned.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008

Back From CAA

I have returned safely from CAA, and can state that my panel went pretty well despite technical difficulties (not directly related to my own). We had a gratifyingly decent-sized audience for the last panel of the last day, and all of the talks were (I thought) interesting.
My laptop, however, is not in a good mood, and this rather takes my mind off all the positive aspects of the conference and even away from the pleasure of having lunch with my friend Deanna (who was in Pittsburgh for a conference simultaneously with my being in Dallas for CAA; I did get to take her to a few of our Nationality Rooms and she got very excited about all the Masaryk memorabilia in the Czechoslovak Room).
But, as noted before, my laptop screen began acting peculiar Wednesday morning, and intermittently showed a sort of pinstriping that made things a bit blurry and hard to read. This evening I was all settled down on the couch working on the illustrations for my dissertation, as after getting up at 4 am I was hardly in a state to work on the text. Things were just getting nicely underway when the screen dimmed and the pinstriping went to a faded yellowish hue. This has happened a few times before and seems to go away upon rebooting, so I rebooted. My Sibling had reminded me that there are various diagnostics one can run, and so I began to search for where those might be, when the screen took on the interesting appearance of an oil slick.
I decided to shut down the laptop entirely, let it cool off, and see if I could find out anything online using the other computer.
After roaming the internet, I'm really not sure what exactly is wrong. Could it be the video card? Could the inverter be on its last legs? Could it be some entirely other problem? Inquiring minds want to know. My dissertation is due Friday, I have many hours of work ahead of me to make this deadline, and for various reasons it would be a real problem to try to do this without the laptop. Not impossible, but very troublesome.
I am not at all happy.
I will say, however, that when I came home Orion was very happy to be petted and Calypso Spots licked my hand. It is nice to be appreciated by the lapine population as well as by the conference-going crowd.

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

No Space to Sit in the Bar

As usual, I report from a low-lying slab of granite in the conference hotel, very popular with conference-goers who wish to check their email and can't get a seat in the bar. The granite is a little cold and hard, but at least my feet reach the floor when I sit on it.
I have attended good panels on surrealist drawing and on avant-gardist projects that never really got off the ground. My recently graduated colleague Cindy had what sounds like a satisfactory job interview (not that we can know exactly how satisfactory at this point) and we had an enjoyable lunch. None of the schools I sent applications to confess to doing interviews here, so either they are secretly interviewing other people or else they are just not here. I am not, actually, all that concerned, since there is no urgency about finding a job for next year. The year after that... well, that's different. But I prefer to think about enjoying the conference and finishing the dissertation. And the former involves things like introducing myself to other surrealist specialists, and advising less advanced grad students about getting started on learning Czech.
On the technical front, my laptop is in a better mood today. Last night it suddenly darkened its screen as though I had yanked out the power cord, and then brightened up, which disturbed me until I realized that the pinstriping had vanished from the screen. It then, after behaving itself for awhile, went all dim and yellowish, which caused me to shut it off in great alarm. But I have used it for at least an hour today and it has seemed normal the whole time, so perhaps disaster is not actually imminent.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Reporting from CAA

I have reached the architecturally unexpected city of Dallas and am trying to get myself into full College Art Association mode. I've always enjoyed CAA in the past, but this year it's more of an effort. It is kind of difficult to enjoy much of anything to the full a week and a half before one hopes to turn in a PhD dissertation.
I had hoped (not expected, but hoped) to get a lot done on the plane. Well, my plane's engine was perhaps the noisiest I have ever encountered, which certainly put an interesting complexion onto the inflight magazine's boasts of having drastically cut noise pollution over the years. One can only wonder how loud the engines were before and if permanent hearing damage resulted for passengers who had no earplugs. Anyhow, I did finally crank up the ipod and looked over a chapter.
Originally I had hoped to room with one or more friends, but very few people I know seemed to be going, and they all seemed to have roommates already. I thus decided against the conference hotel, as even at the student discount rate, it was a bit exorbitant. I located a cheap hotel a kilometer or so away.
Well, there was no record of my reservation, but this got resolved. Next, it took several attempts for the desk crew to get my electronic room key set so it would actually open the door. Also, the first elevator I got into was out of order. I was beginning to feel unhappy. However, the room looked fine once I got inside, although other people have pointed out that we don't have wifi in the rooms and that they have wasps instead. (Later on I realized that my room faces a busy freeway, which provides ambient sound 24 hours a day.)
But... my hotel is populated by other budget-conscious conference-goers, which is kind of nice.
On Tuesday night, those of us on the job market had the opportunity to attend a sort of orientation, so I went. It was pleasant enough, but not as useful as I would have liked (I do not need to be told to check in the mirror for dandruff before going to a job interview). The questions asked by some of the audience members did indicate, however, that many people have not been as well prepared for job interviews as those who come out of my department. So, not for the first time, I will offer up my general praise for My Splendid Department, which does most things right as far as I can tell (and usually tries to fix its mistakes). Even had I not done the mock interview last week, I think I would have felt better prepared than some people seemed to be.
Today I have attended a couple of panels - one on Etruscan art and one on Japonisme. After all, when else do I get a chance to go to hear about things that have little to do with my own research? Both panels were satisfactorily interesting. I have always been intrigued by the Etruscans, and the Japonisme panel looked at things like how Japanese artists reacted to European and American japonisme.
In the meantime, however, my laptop screen developed a strange ailment that was not resolved by downloading an updated driver. Namely, while it is legible, it has taken on a sort of odd pinstriped effect that makes text look blurry. I don't know what its problem is or how to solve it, especially since I can really only get internet access when running on battery in one or the other hotel lobby. I think this means I will not want to give my presentation using my own computer, for fear that the display problem will repeat on the projector. It is most irksome and I hope it will not call for some sort of repair.
But, returning to the positive, I have run across several people from my MA program and was able to have a leisurely chat with our slide librarian (not that she deals with slides anymore). I worked in the slide library for two years and have to say that Kathe always provided one of the most pleasant working environments I can remember. Everyone wanted to hang out in the slide library, and I imagine that this is still the case in the new building.
However, work does need to continue on the dissertation, so I suppose I will close up the laptop and wend my way back to my freeway-oriented lair to see what I can get done before anyone else I know arrives and manifests themselves to me.

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Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rabbit Run on Video

While I haven't had a chance to visit the Rabbit Run yet, I've discovered there are videos of it!

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Goethe as Light Reading

I thought I should take a look at Goethe's Elective Affinities, since Toyen did title a painting after it, but after going through a bit of it I decided that the basic idea was clear to me and reading the book itself fell more into the category of something that could be read on the bus (on those occasions when fellow passengers are not too distracting, which some of them can really be to the point where you wonder why the bus driver isn't wearing earplugs).
John tells me he is currently using Werther for much the same purpose, although he is much better than I am at always having something to read on the bus.
We aren't sure what Goethe would have thought of this use of his works, however.
Or what Goethe would have thought of Toyen's painting.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Efforts at Decorating Go Astray Yet Again

A good many years ago my friend Betty gave me quite a nice print called "Island of Used Nudes," which sat around awaiting a frame since framing is so bloody expensive. But since I have a spot of wall in this apartment that seemed just destined for this particular print, I decided it was time for another venture into expensive decorating, and went and got the thing framed.

The result was considerably heavier than I expected, so I put off trying to hang it and set the framed print right back where it had been sitting unframed. Finally I happened to be home during the afternoon (the only time when there is enough light in the living room to contemplate doing anything there other than petting rabbits), and felt one of those mad rushes of home decoration welling up. I grabbed my hammer and decided that I would probably need two picture hangers.
Said picture hangers wanted to bend up, and then one of them fell off, taking a good chunk of plaster with it.
I am not sure (after all, I've never had trouble nailing into these walls before), but I suspect there is concrete behind a thin coating of plaster.
I guess this means that now I need to hang up a length of fabric or something with double-stick tape to cover up the hole, and keep propping up the picture on the bookcase as before. So much for getting any more books onto that top shelf...

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Dangdut Hits Pittsburgh

In the gamelan class, we are not sticking to the standard Sundanese slendro repertoire, but have branched out into a more recent, non-gamelan, form of Indonesian popular music, namely dangdut. (This is basically because dangdut is Andrew's current research project and he is not going to let us miss out.) I am afraid that this means that at our upcoming concerts, the audience will have the unprecedented opportunity to see me in the role of a sort of dancing (or at least gyrating) pop singer. Whether we will have enough microphones to accommodate the whole lineup of singers remains a question, as in rehearsal there are about four of us per mike. On the other hand, most of us don't really know the words yet either. Nor do the songs we're working on seem to be quite suited to my vocal range.
But... Our most entertaining number seems likely to be that sexy 80s hit Mandi Madu, which can be viewed on YouTube in renditions by several performers:

This one is most notable for its jiggling females; personally I like our instrumentation and arrangement much better--or at least the way we were doing it last week. This week the instrumentalists seemed to be dealing with a new arrangement that did not exactly take my fancy.

This one, while more low-key, is sort of cute. (The performance overall, I mean. I don't really have an opinion on the cuteness of the singer.)

This outdoor performance has a lot of audience participation.

And this one is notable especially for the visuals, although whoever sings it is pretty good.

We have a strong suspicion that Andrew has provided us with a heavily bowdlerized translation of this song, although he has given a convincing demonstration of how we should utter all the "ah ah ah" segments. Perhaps it should be used as the soundtrack for my dissertation, even though I've never heard of Toyen having visited Indonesia.

For those who just can't get enough, last semester's dangdut songs are actually online for all to see and hear:
Kegagalan Cinta-Your Cheatin' Heart combo


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Sunday, February 10, 2008

Why Can't We Have This Today?

It has occasionally deigned to snow around here, although this winter has been warmer than those I remember from previous years in Pittsburgh. Today quite a bit of snow seemed to be falling, but high winds somehow ensured that none of it stuck anywhere. As the temperature was around 20 all day, I have no idea where all this snow went.
The other day, though, we had a very nice batch of morning snow. I'm afraid it soon melted away, but this is what it looked like on my way to the bus stop:

View out the front door.

View to the left.

View to the right.

Looking north on Negley.

Snow decorating the grounds of my apartment complex...

And more of same...

And still more.

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Thursday, February 07, 2008

Citations That Annoy

I confess I am utterly baffled and annoyed by citations that lead me astray. This afternoon I received two works by interlibrary loan (one physical, one electronic), whose sole utility for me was that I wanted to see the originals that my sources had cited.
The electronic file, while I admit I was excited to get (I had not managed to get the book in Prague) was, first off, apparently scanned from a photocopy, or with some really peculiar setting on the scanner that rendered the print abnormally pale. But I can live with that. Secondly, either the photocopy or the original book had its page numbers chopped off, so there was no easy way of determining what page anything was. This is, I might point out, a weird but not uncommon problem with Czech books and periodicals; for reasons unknown to me, when they were bound for the library the bindery seemed to take sadistic glee in cutting off the margins so that the page numbers and perhaps some of the text is entirely missing. In this case, however, I was able to ascertain that the portion I wanted began (said the table of contents) on page 69. My source, however, claimed that the information was on pages 63-64, which was not possible. As I was not seeking a specific quotation but a whole range of ideas, and had many other things to do, I soon concluded that reading through a fair number of pages in very faint Czech in order to say that I personally had seen them was not worth my time, so I let the original citation stand in its incorrectness (not being, I feel sure, wholly incorrect but merely a few pages off). This pained me but once in awhile I do sacrifice my principles, at least on subsidiary points such as this happened to be. Someone else can follow my source and track down which page she really meant.
I then turned to the other item. My source here (a different author) claimed that a quotation existed on page 257. I rapidly discovered that the book did not have that many pages. It did not even have 157. Nor was the quote to be found on page 57. In this case, as the book was very short and the print was very legible, not to mention in English, I started flipping through it page by page. I was about to conclude that my source was inventing the quotation out of thin air when I discovered it, in a slightly different form, on page 109. As it happens, there is text surrounding it that is even more germane to my purposes. This is why we look these things up.
Otherwise, life continues in its usual path. My advisor is now in possession of chapters 5, 6, and 7, and has suggested that I gather some hardy souls to give me a fake job interview so that any stupidities I might want to utter will be rooted out. I have also prevailed upon another member of the faculty (who has also agreed to pretend to be an especially dimwitted interviewer who will ask me questions of grotesque stupidity and nastiness) to go over my French translations. We amused ourselves with this at dinner last night and I am now confident that if any of my translations from French are clumsy in style, it is because they were that way in the original.
I do not, in fact, presently have any job interviews lined up, but everyone assures me that this is normal and means that the places to which I have applied have not finished going through the applications.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club

The dreaded trip to The Waterfront was duly made (after more interesting projects like going to the library to print out my chapters). In the window of Petco, I was intrigued to see a sign encouraging house rabbit adoption from local shelters (Ms. Spots came from one of these).
It turns out that while I was in Prague, a Pittsburgh House Rabbit Club was formed to promote house rabbits and adoption from shelters!
I was very pleased. This will have to be investigated further, especially as the shelters feature Bun Runs and Rabbit Romps on Saturdays. Of course, there is the danger of falling in love with more rabbits when I can really only manage to have two at a time. Nonetheless... I'm sure some of the shelter rabbits could use more petting. Orion, for instance, is on his way to being a Glutton for Petting just like Ms. Spots, although I'm not sure that's what fascinates him about my bed.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Chapter 5 and the Dessicated Brussel Sprout Fad

Chapter 5 submitted fairly meekly to its fate today and allowed me to turn it into something like a finished chapter, what with introduction and some summing up. This is not to say it couldn't be improved (probably significantly), but it can be shown to other humans now.
I anticipate that Chapter 6 will follow suit tomorrow, although it ought to have more bits written about Toyen's book illustrations. The schedule might also get thrown off kilter somewhat by the need to visit that tedious but sometimes tempting realm of commerce, The Waterfront, in order to pick up a picture-framing job and buy pellets and hay for the other members of the household. Purchase of some lettuce and other greens might be in order as well.
I really don't know why these lapines can't get by on any old thing that might be in the cupboard or refrigerator, as this seems to keep me alive, but then again it is always best to treat others better than oneself. Besides, I have finally discovered something Orion will accept as a snack when Ms. Spots is having her yogurt: dessicated brussel sprouts. I really can't say what he likes about these, but he thinks they are really great. Having accidentally dried out about ten that I had planned to eat myself, now I suppose I'll have to start intentionally drying more (by placing them in a mesh bag and leaving them in the refrigerator for weeks). It is better than having slimy, moldy ones, in any case.
Ms. Spots, who likes nearly all vegetarian foods, turns up her nose at dessicated brussel sprouts.
For the proofreaders out there, it is correct to write Brussels sprout, brussels sprout, or brussel sprout. Brussels sprout appears to be the most common form, since of course the name refers to the city of Brussels, but at the moment the excess of Ss just irritates me. I also seem to recall reading that rabbits shouldn't be given cruciferous vegetables, but one dried sprout every day or two doesn't seem to be causing Orion any problems.

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