Archive for June, 2008


C has hit on a new strategy to make both of us (or at least me) have a more enjoyable experience when we go grocery shopping. She read somewhere that men should bring a book and read it while standing guard over the cart in order to make the experience more tolerable for them. Of course, the only books we have here that I haven’t already read this year are the 600-page tome on Henry VIII’s six wives, and the 900-page brick that is a biography of John Paul II. Not exactly “light” reading on either count.

So, instead, she brought along her Nintendo DS Lite and a couple of games, then when we got to the supermarket, she withdrew it from her purse and foisted it on me, not expecting it. I had already beaten all the tracks and circuits on Mario Kart DS, and I don’t go for Cooking Mama too much, so Super Princess Peach it was. It’s a platformer a la Super Mario Bros., only it perpetuates certain gender stereotypes, as in Peach’s super powers are really an ability to get in touch with her feelings, uh, “vibes.”

I hadn’t played it before, so I got to learn it from scratch, and I only made it through about three levels before she came up to me to take the cart to the check-out stand, so it worked pretty well. It’s not that I’m opposed to shopping, it’s just that we have very different approaches to it. She likes to browse, to read labels, compare prices, see what’s new. My approach to shopping is to make it a hit-and-run affair, trying to hit all the items on my list and get out of the store as quickly as possible. When we go together, I tend to become a big of a drag for her, since I plow through things and start to get antsy after just a few minutes, whereas today I probably would’ve been quite content to have stuck around a while longer, just to play a few more levels. This arrangement probably worked out pretty well for both of us.

Of course, she also had some fun with it afterward, asking if she should tell Z, her youngest brother, that his brother-in-law was playing Super Princess Peach on her pink DS Lite. I don’t have a problem with that. I mean, I’m the one who kept thinking as I was playing it that the game is sexist in many subtle ways, and was mentally analyzing the gender norms it perpetuates, which shows either that I’m completely comfortable with my masculinity, or that I’ve spent entirely too much time in graduate school.

Read Full Post »

Brain overload

Wow. I’ve managed to buckle down and get some work done.

I spent several hours today making revisions to my article. Probably most of my day, except for a few hours this afternoon when I went to lunch with a professor from Australia (originally from Slovakia) who chaired my panel in Glasgow in April.

I’m hoping tomorrow I can read through the revised version of my article to see if it makes sense and addresses the critiques of the anonymous reviewers. And I’ll probably have to read through it a second time in another day or two to reconfirm that it doesn’t suck (doubtful, since it did get accepted in a more raw form, but I’m always worried about my work sucking these days).

But mostly I’m just really, really looking forward to taking a day off soon. I really wanted to fire up the Wii today and get in another high-speed pursuit that involves me running road blocks and trying to rack up big bills to the state for the damage I do in the process. But it was about 11 p.m. here by the time I finished, and I knew long before then that video games weren’t in the cards for me tonight.

Tomorrow, though … tomorrow I ride again.

Read Full Post »

ETA: next lifetime

Karma can be a bitch.

About, oh, three weeks back, I wrote about how, once I did the heavy lifting of outlining, I’d be able to breeze through writing the draft of the whole dissertation in almost no time:

Even if my dissertation runs something like 400 or 500 pages, it’s not unrealistic to think I can write a full draft of it in a couple of months if I have the detailed outline to work from (though it might well bog down on having to look up citations, check my translations, and other mundane and banal aspects of writing).

OK, that might still be true, especially if I have few other responsibilities if and when the day comes. The problem is, at the time I wrote that (how many moons ago it feels), I seemed to think I could have my outline — that is, the detailed, master, mother-of-all-outlines outline — finished by sometime in early July, which would leave me almost two months before the new school year began to get a draft written.

And it seems like ever since I made that boast, I’ve been wanting to take it back. Getting my hands dirty in the nitty-gritty of outlining has been far more arduous a chore than I imagined. It took me the better part of two weeks just to make an idea outline, a crude overview of the chapters I wanted to include and the main sections of each, with key points to make in each place. And it only took me two days to sift through my notes and assign each source a folder corresponding to those chapters.

But now I’m not sure I’ve made any real progress.

I have somewhere north of 1130 sources recorded in my dissertation folder in Zotero. I created subfolders for each chapter, and assigned the following number of sources for those:

  • Introduction: 27 sources
  • Chapter 1: 38 sources
  • Chapter 2: 146 sources
  • Chapter 3: 240 sources (yikes!)
  • Chapter 4: 435 sources (zoinks!)
  • Chapter 5: 109 sources (pow! Oops, sorry Adam West)
  • Chapter 6: 220 sources
  • Conclusion: 3 sources

So, you can see, it’s a bit uneven. I’m now faced with the task of going through each chapter and trying to make sense of it. I have subsections for each chapter in my outline, but I think I’ll need to add some, and mercifully I’ll be able to cast aside a good number of sources that only fit chronologically. Still, looking at those source totals by chapter, and Chapter 4 in particular, I’m wondering if I won’t have to rethink some of my chapters a bit.

And then there’s the matter of determining if I have anything to argue, and whether my dissertation will suck or not. I’m going to try to throw in lots of cartoons, because everyone loves cartoons, but I’m not sure this subject matter is really the sort of thing I can see myself wanting to recommend to friends and family, unless those friends and family happen to be colleagues, or possibly Slovaks.

Fortunately, I’ve been told countless times by my academic seniors that dissertations get finished when grad students get sick of writing them, so I’m hoping my desire to be done with mine, as well as my goal of not earning poverty wages for several years, lead me to finish sooner, rather than later.

Too bad I didn’t pick a field where I could whore for industry to make real money. (Kidding.)

Read Full Post »

C informs me I got the whole planning thing wrong.

Evidently I’m supposed to divide up the big tasks into several smaller, less-daunting tasks, instead of just setting goals for accomplishing the big ones.

To my surprise, I put in several hours of honest work today. I decided I have enough good cartoons to do a conference paper on them — that reminds me, I should e-mail the conference organizers my equipment request — and I actually made it a little more than halfway through the project of sorting my almost 1300 sources into folders for each chapter. I even found a few potentially useful tidbits to incorporate into the revisions for my article.

But what probably pleases me more is that I achieved all this work and still had plenty of leisure. I goofed off for much of the morning, we went to lunch (I’m too ashamed to admit to where) and the supermarket. I worked till dinner, then we watched another episode of Burn Notice.

I’ve gotta admit, I’m looking forward to the premiere of season two in two weeks, as demonstrated by the fact I’ve (re-)watched ten of the twelve episodes from season one in, oh, the past week. It’s probably one of my favorite shows these days (not that I watch a lot of television beyond Simpsons reruns), mostly because it has the cool and chic of the world of espionage, but it’s also a very character-driven series, with good chemistry between the actors. The interplay between Michael and Fiona is priceless, and I do enjoy the bits where Michael narrates some insight into covert ops, or how to make convincing fake C4 using cake icing. (Mmm, plastic explosives). And there’s a lot of good humor that makes me laugh, like the house sitter, Nick, who hires Michael and Sam to recover his kidnapped fiancee, and greets them by saying, “Dude, I’ve got a problem,” followed by a freeze that identifies him as “Nick Lam: Dude with a problem.” That cracks me up every time, because I’m a geek that way.

It’s kind of funny, actually, but for me, the summer seems to be prime television watching season, since most of the shows I watch frequently are cable summer series, like Burn Notice and Psych, as well as Stargate: Atlantis. Most of those shows have new episodes starting in a couple of weeks, so I guess I should really try to dig into my outlining before then.

Read Full Post »

Sigh, I haven’t made much headway on anything the last couple of days. Well, not since the weekend, if we count Monday, which was a planned day off for our anniversary.

I did go to the library yesterday to consult the books I needed for some opinion polling data one of the reviewers suggested I incorporate into my article. And while there, I ran into a former grad student (now professor), whom I went to lunch with today. But I haven’t felt a lot of motivation to do much beyond play Need for Speed Carbon and mess around on Facebook. It’s remarkable how much time one can waste on that. I don’t even remember how long ago I registered for Facebook, or why, even, but I was proud to not really use it, just like I only ever use my MySpace account to e-mail my cousin, since that’s the only mail he checks more than quarterly.

But, for whatever reason, I started goofing around with Facebook the past few days, adding friends and discovering the various ways you can procrastinate with it. It’s interesting, especially since I got in touch with a few people I hadn’t heard from in several years, but I wonder if the novelty of it will wear off quickly.

According to something or other C sent me yesterday, I should try to combat my feelings of guilt by developing a work plan with a series of intermediate tasks, that way I can goof off after completing a task and don’t have to feel guilty about it. I’m not sure if it’ll work well for me, in part because I tend to work best in long bursts of sustained activity (I have been known to sustain a pace of four pages an hour over an entire eight-hour work day). But I also tend to be a poor estimator of how long things will take me to do.

But, since I have a bunch of tasks I want to accomplish over the next week or two, I figure I’ll lay out some goals here so I can at least tell myself there’s some accountability.

Tasks to do:

Article revisions

Due date: 7 July

Status: extensive notes made on revisions to incorporate into text; additional research done

Remaining: look through other notes from research for possible things to add; actually make changes in document

Prognosis: I could probably make all the changes in a couple of hours or so, then proof it a day or two later, but it’s sifting through the notes for my 1137 sources that might take some time.

Desired completion: Sunday? Realistically, maybe next Friday.

Conference paper

Due date: equipment request (if I need an overhead projector) due 1 July; paper needs to be delivered on 20 November

Status: a low priority, and almost a non-priority, since the conference is several months away, and I don’t need an actual paper as much as a twenty-minute presentation, but I think I’m going to talk about political cartoons, which would require some means of disseminating them

Prognosis: I have something like 289 cartoons that I should look through before making a decision, but at this point I doubt I’ll come up with a better angle for a different approach to comparing the late sixties to the early nineties, and I’ve started to read an article on political cartoons during the Revolution of 1905 in Russia to get some ideas, but I need actually to read it carefully

Desired completion: Preferably by Friday, but I guess I have through the weekend if need be.

Dissertation outlining

Due date: whenever I want to move on with my life

Status: I’ve finished my “idea outline,” but now I have to go back through all 1137 sources to see where the research actually fits, to make sure I haven’t missed anything, and to try to get a better handle on what I want to argue and how to make it work

Prognosis: I’ve been dreading this for several weeks, and in theory I could just keep putting it off, but I think I might need to find another quote or two to revise my article, and it’d be helpful if I looked through my notes before then

Desired completion: this will have to go in stages, but at this point I’d settle for just looking through my notes and placing documents in folders corresponding to each chapter, so I can then start making sense of individual chapters; I’m hoping to organize the notes by chapter by the middle of next week, and to start piecing the details together into detailed outlines for each chapter, well, preferably by mid- to late July.


Well, there you have it. I don’t know that I’ve set clear tasks and when I intend to do each one, but at least I put down dates for when I’d like to complete them, or think I might be able to complete them.

Read Full Post »

Spotted on a Prague edifice this afternoon, snapped with my camera phone.

Germany stincks!

Read Full Post »

Note: I wrote this about three months ago, to try to chronicle the feelings of futility we experienced trying to get “legal” status to be in Slovakia more than ninety days. At the time I had no good place to share it, but since I’ve got the blog now, I figure I can subject folks to it, if you want to read a long tale of woe.

I’ve always been in favor of generous immigration policies, liberalized visa regimes and amnesties to illegal immigrants. But having seen the monumental hurdles a bureaucracy threw at us — even though we were in Slovakia as part of an exchange sponsored by the Slovak government and the Ministry of Education — I’m inclined to say all governments should have completely open borders and free migration of peoples.

Originally written 29 March 2008

After roughly nine months of effort, hundreds of dollars of expenses and countless early morning excursions to the police station, the status of my residence permit to study in the Slovak Republic is no longer in doubt. Yes, it took almost to the end of month eight of nine to reach this verdict, but I no longer have to live in fear of nighttime raids and deportation (not that either seemed especially likely).


Read Full Post »

Older Posts »