Posted by: llordllama | 19 December, 2014

Closing Time (2014)

This will probably be the last regular post for 2014, and cover my last full working weeks of the year.  Well I say full…

  • Reading:
  • EBooks
    • Yeah, this old chestnut.  I’ve gone on before about the delights using eBooks, and these couple of weeks I happened to access two books from the same publisher. Thanks to the way libraries buy books/publishers sell them are actually offered through two separate user-interfaces.  The first, Dawsons books, was a pleasure to use.  I could download the whole book as a PDF, with 24hr DRM attached.  And when it took an extra day to read, I just had to download a copy again.  Perfectly sensible, allowed me to as close as possible replicate the physical book reading experience and without any lag when turning the page.  Well done them!
    • The other book (same range) for some reason unknown to Llama or librarian, was offered via Ingram MyILibrary; a user interface that was designed and coded (I am guessing from its lack of modern functionality) sometime in the late 1990s.  When a UI looks like I could have coded it…well I worry.  Here you’re unable to download more than 10% of the book, and for the rest of the book you are locked to reading a single page at a time, flicking back and forth takes a second or two to occur which really breaks the reading flow and best of all – you can’t get the readable page on the screen at the same time as the page tools for turning the page.  I did discover a (slow) workaround using both my NTU accounts to download a bit more of the book in PDF (the download restriction seems to re-set overnight).  Nevertheless it would have been far, far more effective if Ingram followed the 24hr DRM/whole book solution for me as a end-user of their product and the NTU library services.
    • And I’m running this on a 27″ screen running at a highish resolution (1920×1080).  Wow Ingram, you are the suck.  Also, shame the NTU library didn’t consider buying a single print copy of this puppy for people like me who, unlike undergrads, want to read the whole book.
    • And yes, I’ve bitched about this on twitter – without any come back so far by the library or indeed the publisher side of things. Guess they don’t give two figs!
    • I also accessed a third book, this time from a different publisher and yes, yet ANOTHER different way of accessing.  This involved downloading Adobe Digital editions and then logging in via another ID (after downloading the book under my uni ID) before I could read it.  Less painful than Ingram, but still wouldn’t give me the freedom to read like Dawsons PDF – the lack of being able to display two pages at a time was a particular hobble.  Slight plus allowed me to download for 14 days before the DRM ran out.
  • Glossary:
    • One of the fallouts from reading stuff that is (not to put too fine a point on it) rather alien to my way of thinking, means I spend half the time reading the book scribbling down words, TLAs and Latin phrases to look up later which will help me make more sense of the next book I read.  Hence from day one I’ve been keeping a glossary document that started out as a GDoc, and is now a healthy near-10k Word document.  Certainly helps my learning, especially as trying tor track down a coherent explanation of what certain terms mean in less than a few hundred words (that generally then reference half a dozen other alien concepts) is a bit of a challenge.  There are times when I fear the humanities cloak themselves in this kind of semantic obfuscation for the sole purpose of frustrating those of us seeking entry to their scholarly club house!
  • Secret Professional thing:
    • Finished off the application for this, got it off and had a confirmation of recipt.  Let’s see where this goes next.  Struggled a bit to write the supporting statement, but in the end just knuckled down and wrote the damned thing.  Not the most stunning statement I’ve ever written, but hopefully bigged myself up enough.
  • Student Rep:
    • Officially stopped being this as the new person got elected without an election.  A little bitter on how perfunctory the end of this was, but having concluded that I was achieving very little and getting precious little interaction with my fellow students as a result I confess I’m not that overly sorry to see the back of it.  New rep seems quite chipper and I’ve been filling her in on how things works (as opposed to when I took over and the previous rep was already dust on the wind).  Unsurprisingly they’ve not really told her what it works, nor what she has to do.  Glad to see such devotion to the cause of the PGRs at NTU continues from the central bureaucracy.  Do I sound bitter?  Yeah, you know what, I think I am.
  • Open Source Academia
  • Conferences:
    • Supervisor’s pointed me towards a conference in Vienna next year I should apply to attend.  Thankfully the deadline is Feb, but I’ll get to work on writing a proposal right after Christmas I think.  Suspect it might be a bit pricey as I’m not spotting any sponsorship or studentships for impoverished PhD students.  Man it sucks that NTU doesn’t give PhD students any support at all towards attending conferences.  Even £50 would be a start, but it’s like they want us to not have a chance to find our feet with our potential academic peers.  I think if there was one major flaw in the whole PhD experience for me (after the lamentable RPC training in the first year) that’s the one!
  • RPC Certification:
    • Got a formal notification asking if I wanted my PG.Cert for completing the first year of the RPC (some 18 months ago now) or if I wanted to stay on the training register.  Last time they asked I foolishly said no.  Now I know how weaksauce the remaining training is, I’m not wasting my time with it.  So said send me the certificate.  Huzzah – more letters after my name!
  • Graduate School
    • Heard towards the end of the second week that the head of the Grad School is off to be a history professor.  While I’m wishing him well as he’s a splendid fellow who genuinely gave a damn about PGRs and our experiences, I can’t help but wonder who they’ll get to replace him.  I’ve been witness to a taste of his struggles by being a student rep, so perhaps it’s no surprise when the chance came to move back to mainstream academia that he took it. It seems the Grad School is only just up and running after three years, and as the university won’t be replacing him right away…well this could make things problematic I suspect for us PGRs as things change under the new order.  We shall see!
  • REF2014
    • Yes the REF results were out this week and while I see NTU has fallen overall in the rankings (and who cares about NeoTaylorist positivistic measures eh…oh right, funders) I was pleased to see Communication, Culture and Media Studies getting mentioned in the VC’s dispatches for being among the better units of assessment for the university.  I shall claim that’s all down to my positive influence.  Interestingly while other humanities and sciences were flagged up as positives; no mention of the social sciences; so I guess they’ve dragged us all down the rankings eh!
    • For the record NTU CC&M were 31st(overall): 24th (output) and 39th (impact); out of 67.  Seemingly Mrs Doctor Llama’s dept didn’t do quite so well, despite being at a more research intensive institution.
  • Birthday:
    • My birthday falls in early December, and thankfully with term ended I was able to take a day or so off around it to…well not a lot.  We’d debated a long weekend away in Wales, but scrubbed that due to the weather.  And as Mrs Llama was at work on my birthday itself there wasn’t a lot to do.  Went for a walk, watched some Netflix (started on Breaking Bad finally), played some Shadow of Mordor and generally regretted the lack of friends to go out for a drink with.  Humanities PhDs are horrifically isolating things, it’ll be a wonder if i have any social skills left by the end of it.  Speaking of that…
  • Christmas Party:
    • My Fb and twitter feeds are alight with people going to Christmas parties, lunches and the like.  The Wife is clocking in about 6 separate events it seems over the dying days of 2014, but then it seems her fellow geographers are a very social bunch.  As has been the tradition for the past 3 years I’ve got nada to attend.  I’ve concluded my School (Arts and Humanities) just aren’t a social bunch…possibly normalised as the result of doing their PhDs in utter isolation.  I confess I was never the greatest fan of work-Christmas dos – but not I find myself without one to attend, I confess I do find myself missing the end of year camaraderie.  Or indeed any camaraderie at all.  Did I mention the isolation…?
Posted by: llordllama | 3 December, 2014

Dark Days

My, it is so dark in the mornings (and so early later in the day) that I’ve resorted to using my SAD eliminating blue light again to try and wake up my poor old pineal gland a bit.  Let’s have a look at the week just past.

  • Inaugural lecture: Thanks to Mrs Llama I wangled an invitation to a professorial inaugural lecture at University of Leicester.  While the topic was spatial and geographic data and hence rife with positivism, I was fascinated to spot the influence of several major schools of philosophy implicit in the presentation – including psychodynamics and Marxism.  I think there was also a touch of Heideggerian dasein in one of the three lessons that Prof Lex was drawing on in his time as a geographer.  Of course he did have to kick the evening off with a big fat picture of Freud (and a number of his noted descendants)…I guess there’s no getting away from the man, he’s everywhere(!). All in all a splendidly interesting hour (if not least, because it told me more about what Mrs Llama does in her day job).  The evening was top and tailed with splendid local Indian snacks and a bit of chat with folks in the dept.  Wish my dept did social things like this; their PhDs seem well and truly embedded in the social-structure; rather than living somewhere on the outside edge.
  • Theory brainstorming: Wrote a theory chapter brainstorm document at the start of the week to support  ongoing discussions with my supervisors.  Was quite a useful way of trying to reassess in my own head quite what I’m using theory for and trying to spell it out in simpler terms.  Well sorta simple, I’m sure orthodoxy, epistemology and hegemonic were still in there!  As of this post waiting to hear anything back of course…
  • Reading:  Ordered a few books, and eyed up some in the library.  Started reading some Gramsci, or at least a book about his thought.  Surprised myself that it seems to slot in very nicely to my intellectual framework so perhaps writing the revised chapter won’t be quite as much of a struggle as I anticipated.  Ha.  No, it probably will won’t it.
  • Chapter: Kept away from it for this week, beyond finishing my comments and notes version and printing out another draft for paper editing.
  • Teaching
    • Intro to Media Coms: Carrying on developing their first assignment practice, we worked on interview technique.  Although I was slightly baffled why one student just left after 10 minutes once we started into the group work. *shrugs*  From my class register he’s not even in my seminar group, but he’s been a few times before.  Ah well.  Did find myself playing the role of interview subject for one of the groups as we were unevenly numbered for the exercises by that point.  I had fun, though I might have played the role of an itinerant 93yo a bit too well.  Had a chat with a few students afterwards who shared with me their planned interview subjects, which was interesting.  Certainly feel it’ll make for an interesting set of coursework to read; although grading it is going to be challenging I suspect.
    • Face to Facebook: last day of term-itus kicked in big style as I had 3 whole students at the start of the hour – one arrived shortly after the start and another halfway, taking the total to a massive 5/26.  Looking at comparative newspaper analysis as cultural objects (e.g. what do the representations and communication of the news in printed forms tell us about the society within which they’re produced).  Can’t say it was the chattiest seminar I’ve done, and I did end up turning it into more of a lecture.  Hell, since the students had bothered to come in, even if they haven’t got a lot to say, felt I wanted them to get something out of it.  Think they did, but you can never tell when groups are quiet if they’re just mentally counting down the minutes to the end of the hour or actually learning something.  Ah well, hopefully numbers and interest will re-surge post Christmas.
  • Conferences: Had a confirmation about next year’s UKSG conference in Glasgow, although I’ve got to write an outline by the middle of next weeks.  Normally not too tricky but trying to coordinate with a colleague across email as we’re joint presenting the same session.  Hopefully post weekend my brain will be in gear after a trip to Wales to write this.  Currently the only event I’m speaking at in 2015 (unless there’s a raft of offers from elsewhere).  Glanced at OR2015, but even if I had a paper in and got a scholarship I’d have to fund the travel myself, which is rather beyond my means right now.  Shame.  As always all offers and suggestions of where I could turn up and speak, always welcomed!
  • Exciting professional development: Got an application form to complete which hopefully is the last formal step before I get to take on something a little bit exciting and grown up.  Or it could all just explode.  Having to write a brief personal statement for the role…is proving harder than I thought.  Normally I can write these without a problem, but struggling slightly to find the right tone and content…as not 100% sure what they want to know.  Hopefully be able to talk about this one in due course…

And finally…produced my Christmas card video for all my friends to whom I’ve stopped sending cards too!  Enjoy…

Posted by: llordllama | 1 December, 2014

Demotivational Exercises

Here we go…again

  • Motivation: Really struggling at the moment with getting motivated.  As I’ve been working on the same damned thing for months on end, without any end in sight, it’s getting harder and harder each day to motivate myself to keep working.  I am still cracking the whip, but it’s not a great deal of fun doing the PhD right now.  I know I get these cycles from time to time, and it’d be nice if and when I move onto the next bit of fieldwork; but right now it feels I’m inching forward painfully slowly.  And time is just ticking away.  Glad I don’t have to finish this in three years, because there’s no way I can see that I can (unless, you know, I give up sleeping and weekends).  Really, really missing seeing other human PhD students at any point…but as that’s not going to change any time soon, guess I just have to suck it in and knuckle down to more work.  Speaking of which…
  • Supervisory meeting: Main event of the week really. Had this on Thursday – which in itself is a bit of a shock as the previous one was only a week ago.  Normally months go by between these as part of the “long lonely process of being a humanities PhD”.  Perhaps slightly less traumatic than the previous week as I already knew by this point that my long developing (I’d like to say festering) theory chapter had already largely been pulled to bits previously, and this was just the finessing.  Or further deconstruction.  Hence I came out of the meeting not feeling quite so beaten down by the experience.  Mildly terrified by the amount of rewriting I’ve got ahead of me, and annoyed that everything else is going on the back burner. Again. But on the other hand my supervisors had a useful suggestion to write a very brief statement of “theory wot I is using and why” over the next few days so we can see if we have plugged all the holes.  At least there was acknowledgement from the pair of them that this is a tough area for me (as a non-humanities UG), which was nice.  Doesn’t cut down the whale of a workload I’ve got between me and Christmas.  So back to the books and rewriting I go.  After all, writing is re-writing.
  • Media communications: Let’s lighten the mood and talk about this week’s media seminar.  The topic was the feature article, which by a coincidence is also the subject of one of the students two pieces of assessed work.  Also I am sure totally coincidentally I came closest to having a full class of students – almost too full as some of them were…a bit too chatty for their own good, which made the session more of a struggle to get the class to engage with.  As usual I think we really had about 2hrs worth of material to work through in an hour – very difficult to know if I should cut material that the lectuerer of the week has set in order to get a better class experience or not?  I do normally trim a few bits, as its rare to run under time, but this week I can easily see we could have worked through half the material in more detail and it might have been more use.  It’ll be interesting to see the pieces the students develop (they have to write a profile piece on someone – not a friend or relative – which includes an interview with them), especially the scope.  Was also amused in our brainstorming exercise that one group suggested writing a profile on me – sadly had to tell them I’m terribly dull (not to mention it probably wouldn’t be ethical since I’m marking the work).  Next session…the interview practice!
  • Face to Face: The other teaching session was…if anything…even harder to get through.  Second week of Freud, which as I remember last year was slightly akin to pulling teeth.  Students were expected to have read two brief papers beforehand…most hadn’t, but at least some of them had brought hard copies.  So the attempts at fermenting discussion mostly turned into an hour’s directed reading and brief interaction.  Not the most powerful of teaching sessions, and I’ve a sneaking memory that the following seminar might also be a paper reading exercise.  Could be wrong as some of the lecturers have altered the seminar contents this year, but it’s going to be a struggle to get the students engaged with something like that on the last teaching day of term.  Of course that makes the assumption that any students turn up!  Followed the session with the best part of an hour giving some 1-2-1 tuition to one student who feels they’re struggling a bit.  Hopefully I may have helped with some suggestions for actions to take, and perhaps calmed their fears…but who knows.  Fun fact – I’ve expected to be available to give any students some 1-2-1 time in my classes, but I don’t get paid for it.  Exploitation much?  *sigh*  Still, I’d rather help them out and not get paid, than not help them at all.
  • Reading: Most of the rest of the week was spent a little prepping for seminars but mostly reading various papers that I’ve had pending for a while.  Just general OA things, which its difficult to keep abreast of in between trying to learn more about humanities theory stuff.  But needs to be done.
  • Summer School: Heard I’d been rejected from this mid-week.  Bugger, really pissed off about it to be truthful; much as I rather suspected I wouldn’t get in.  Ah well, no summer trip to Germany for me.  Guess it’ll give me more time to work on my research, but it’s a shame I won’t be able to present the paper I wrote for it.  Wish I knew of some more things like this in the humanities that were worth attending or presenting at; as I feel I’ve a real gap in my knowledge as to how other scholars are working.  Considering this is about the second thing in over 2 years my supervisors have pointed me towards, I’m not going to hold my breath for them to spot another one!  Interested to hear one of my fellow PhDs got in; though interesting that my supervisor helped write the application (He did have the good grace to apologise for not thinking to offer to help me, hmn).
  • Interim Monitoring: Wrote my interim monitoring form, planned out the next 6 months and almost got everything signed off by my supervisors (who are largely horrified by the bureaucracy I have to wade through – though to my mind it could be a lot more heavy handed!).  Fingers crossed I can get the last form signed off next week and hand it in.
Posted by: llordllama | 24 November, 2014

Ups and Downs and Side to Side

Another week of events and eventfulness

  • Interview preparation: This will probably warrant a longer post all of its own, but for now it’s suffice to say I’m working on preparing to do the next round of interviews. [Although after my supervisory meeting…this has all gone very much on the back burner]
  • Background reading: Read a book on Monday I bought about 4 years ago (Weinberger’s Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder).  May be the award holder for the longest period of time I’ve owned an academic text and not read it!  Good read, and useful background for both my media studies lecturing and the thesis too.  Now I just need to read the other 4 books that are out from the library before Christmas…
  • Graduate School: Notification from the grad school that we ought to be working on our interim report.  I cannot begin to describe how arcane and labyrinthine some of the administration processes associated with being a PGR are.  Honestly if supervisors were held to the same level of accountability I suspect the university would explode into a riot.  Trying to work out how to download the forms alone requires a doctorate (or at least stubbornness) in that the link shared by the grad school takes you to the blank form page; not the pre-populated forms with all the key information in them (that would be too easy!).  Have to download the latest version of the PGR handbook, which tells you to log onto the MyNTU site and access them from there.  Except of course every time I do that…I get an error.  Had this issue at the start of the year when I was re-registering for the year, but gave up worrying as I’d got a confirmation in person I was registered.  But no, still broken in whatever browser I use (and on campus too).  Emailed the IT people to see if they can sort it.  But honestly what an effort just to write a 500 word progress report and plan.
    • Yeah – got it sorted the next day, as it seems my having a staff account has somehow buggered up (my words) my access to these forms.  I have to log on as a staff member to see them, not as a student.  Madness – really not sure why this has happened, but at least I can see the forms.  Which is just as well as I have to write the interim report by 23rd Dec and get my supervisor’s to sign it off.  Suspect that means I need to write in the next two weeks before my lead supervisor goes off on Xmas holidays…
  • Supervisory meeting:  Wasn’t quite the total shellacking I feared it might be, but all the same there was a WHOLE heap of feedback to wade through.  So much so that we had to arrange a second meeting for a week’s time to cover it.  On the whole my last three months have been useful, but I’m not as far through sorting out the theory aspects as I had hoped.  Some serious chapter re-writing needed and I think that’s going to take up the next few weeks.  Sigh.  Also more reading into the autonomous Marxists (especially Gramsci) is needed to flesh this out more.  Beginning to wonder if I’ll ever see the back of this chapter – deeply frustrating.  Guess this means I’m holding off on the interviews again now. :(
  • Teaching: Held a mock press conference for the Media communication students; which included me wearing a mocked up cop hat (I had a peaked cap in my LARP gear so didn’t take much invention).  It was a good lively session, and some of the students got really into the exercise (huzzah).  Mind you, one team wrote a piece of tabloid journalism that made me giggle – great bit of writing, but boy did I have to remind them of the laws of defamation that we’d covered in the previous week.  The F2F2Facebook class got Freud and Rorschach blots to handle.  My day (week!) was made when one student asked for my slides as she had only really gotten a handle on the topic when I talked about it.  Felt very happy for a few minutes afterwards.  Shame I forgot to take in my hourly pay form to hand in, which means I won’t get paid this month.  I’ll get a big pay cheque in late December instead.  ah well, that’ll pay for Xmas I guess.
    • Also spending a fair amount of time this week dealing with student enquiries from non-attendance.  Notable that this week was the lowest attendance yet at both seminars (~10-12 student in each, so less than 50%).  At least for one of them there was a clash with an international seminar programme briefing, but honestly I do wonder how poor some of the students are going to do in the coursework if this is their attitude this early in the course – week 7 of 24!  Ah well, I guess they could all just be brilliant at the subject already; but going on last year’s coursework marks…I strongly suspect not.
  • Thursdays: never could get the hang of them, and my Thursday (20th) wasn’t great.  Felt exhausted, nudged someone’s car in the car park (no damage but they got shouty), and may have got caught by a speed camera.  Oh yeah…and my supervisory meeting too.  One of those days where I wanted to come home and just hit the reset button on life and go and do something less intellectual taxing with my life.
  • Student Rep: Got notified of the election for student rep on Friday.  Just as well I’d spoken to the graduate tutor last month otherwise this would have been out of the blue.  Given my work loads right now, I mailed the grad office to let them know I’m not going to stand for re-election.  Not that they’ll care one way or another I suspect.  Have to say being a student rep has been a colossal waste of my time, feels like it wasn’t possible to effect any real change and most of the other reps never bothered participating in the discussions (which could have helped unify the reps into an effective force for change).  Drawing a line under the whole sorry mess and moving on I think is the best thing I can do!
  • Library meeting: Was supposed to meet with the library rep on Friday but they couldn’t make it (did warn me ahead of time, which was good).  Wonder if they’ll be ready to meet before I’m no longer rep…
Posted by: llordllama | 14 November, 2014

A Lovely Time the Day We Went to Bangor

What a two weeks it’s been, a real roller-coaster of work, more work, travel, sickness and finally a little something that almost felt like down time.  Almost.  One of the givens of working on a PhD is any time you stop you start feeling guilty about working (you know, forgetting about all the extra hours and hours you’ve put in elsewhere).  A process of take not give it seems.  Anyway, here are the recent highlights of the past couple of weeks.

  • SPARC Europe Roadshow: Went across to Coventry University on the 4th Nov to a roadshow organsised by SPARC Europe.  I was mostly going as one of my supervisors suggested it, but it was also a chance to catch up on developments in the field.  Some very good talks from the likes of Prof Rupert Gatti (who I heard speak in June too), Prof Gary Hall and Dr Jonathan Hall, mostly focusing on open book publishing.  Very interesting to hear about the economic and practical models, as much for my own benefit as I would be talking about OA in Wales the following week.  Buttonholed Prof Hall at the end for a few questions, and to ask if it was okay if I followed up with him at some point as an interview subject.  Think that would be a very interesting discussion indeed.  I will add that Coventry remains a nightmare to drive and park in, which reminds me why I never normally go there.  Still, driving there and back cut the travel time from somewhere over 3hrs to about 90 minutes there and back!
  • Bangor University, Nov 2014Bangor University: Spent 9-11th November in Bangor, where I was speaking at two events on copyright.  I was talking about creative commons, open licences, free culture and (yes, no shock) open access.  One event was for Welsh librarians, the other for local academics.  Seemed to go down well, although I struggled to get my slides in under time (as you’ll see below I’ve had an awful fluey cold that seriously knocked me sideways – was still fighting it even in Wales).   Next time (if there is one!), one slide I think in total and I’ll just talk!  Folks who hosted me at Bangor University were lovely, and I can’t thank them enough for the invite.  Although next time I’m booking my own hotel (first night in my choice of Premier Inn was lovely, second night in their more expensive choice…yeah, let’s just say i’d never stay at that venue ever again!).  Both talks are available online:
  • Sickness: Came down with a cold a week last Wednesday, managed to teach Thursday and Friday (just) and work on my talks for Wales; but lost many hours to just needing to sleep in the day (and failing to sleep at night with nasal drip and crippling sinus headaches).  Not sure I was 100% okay to travel on Sunday, but I didn’t want to let people down.  As it was I had to bail on some of the more social elements of the Wales trip as a result of sheer post-cold exhaustion.  And as of writing 10 days after coming down with it I’ve still got the traces of it lingering.  Mrs Llama’s had it at exactly the same time, so at least we can understand what the other’s been suffering from!
  • Day off: Having worked right through the weekend to get my talks for Bangor ready, and travelling across England and Wales I took a whole day off when I got back.  And spent it struggling to get Fallout 3 to work on Windows 7.  Gave up in the end, damn it, I loved that game!
  • Teaching: Thanks to RED Week this week I’ve not had any teaching (boo for no pay, but hooray for some time back).  That said I’ve still been having a fair few email exchanges advising my students.  Not that i get paid for this part of the job, it’s all just extra exploitation of the PhD student resource by the university – and thankfully I’m not the only one who gets just a mite concerned about this.  Previous week I led sessions on leadership (101) and media law (102).  The leadership session fell a little flat I felt with the students, none of whom really stepped forward into a leadership role in the class exercises.  Was this due to me fighting a cold, the material or a lack of leadership potential in the class?  Dunno to be honest, but I felt rather deflated by the end of the session.  Media law on the other-hand despite the class not looking forward to it went fairly well.  Had some very active discussions around what you can/can’t do (or indeed get away with) in media legally with some splendid examples.  Most amused by at least one group who seemed to be channeling the News of the World in terms of legal ethics…do hope they were paying attention to what could be the result!  Next time looks like there’s a spot of role-playing for me to do too, so that should be great fun!
  • Planning and preparation: So what’s next…planning, background reading, preparing for my hopeful round of interviews with academics.  Need to start setting these up to run over the next few months, but can’t really press ahead until I’ve had discussions with my supervisors next week.  So just trying to do as much constructive work as I can for now.
  • Summer School: Oh yes among all this work, illness, teaching and travel I also wrote a 2000 word paper proposal and application to attend a summer school in Germany next year.  No idea at all if I stand much of a chance (suspect it’s slim) but I did have a very useful discussion with Kornelia about it (she’s applying as well) over Skype.  I miss our weekly discussions when we were both teaching module 101!  Don’t actually see any other PhDs or academics now on a regular basis at all.  Damn the lack of office space in the dept…maybe I should just find an empty corner and set myself up in it! ;)
Posted by: llordllama | 31 October, 2014

Another Chapter Bites the Dust

And another week ticks by.  Let’s look at the high spots

  • Theory chapter: After much wrestling and hoping that I’d have it done by the end of Tuesday even promising to let my supervisors have sight of it then) I ended up dispatching it to them at Wednesday lunchtime.  The discussion ended up being a bit longer than I’d planned, not to mention not quite as polished as I’d like; but decided the time was right to divest myself of it.  And then move onto other pressing tasks (of which there are always many it seems!).
  • Supervisory meeting: Of course once I’d sent the chapter, then I needed to set up a meeting with my supervisors to talk about it.  What with the RED week (u/g reading week) which one of them is taking off and other duties I’m not getting to see them until late November.  Great, I’d be downhearted if I hadn’t got at least 3 days out of the office (at events) and 6 days teaching between then, so I’m hardly going to be idle.  It’s always a mixture of terror and relief every time I send one of these chapters off (for the record this is fourth) – glad to reach a milestone but very nervous as to the academics’ reaction to it.  They may hate it…but I shall see.
  • Teaching: This week it was looking at cultural propaganda (largely slagging off the TED talks as an extension of the neoliberal capitalist subsumption of creative sector) and deconstructing adverts (dismantling their persuasive tricks).  The latter was good fun, although I was a bit down on student numbers and enthusiasm.  Perhaps this Thursday night was a big party night, but they weren’t the sparkiest they’ve been.  Shame really as I think it’s a jolly interesting area.  Thankfully though there were some insightful comments from them, so that cheered me up.  The other session…well it was another “read this long paper and discuss” sessions.  I know from experience that most of the students don’t get off on this kind of seminar, so I did my level best to try and draw out the key points in the discussions.  Not sure I quite hit the mark – next week media law which should be more interesting…I hope!
  • Web profile: The uni is finally giving PhD students a Web profile page that others can see – so I spent an afternoon writing mine.  A little limiting to only be able to have “400 words” for my publications – if you combine all my conference papers, articles, book chapters and guest lectures…there’s around 150 of them alone which gives me less than 3 words for each one.  And that’s ignoring the nearly 50 book reviews I’ve written.  Clearly the university continues to be set up to deal with M-level entrants to PhD rather than returning professionals – it’s rather shockingly antiquated systematically, but at least we do finally get these pages – and before I leave too!
  • Summer School: My post-teaching Friday job was to write the outline of my summer school application for an event in Germany next year.  No idea if I’ll stand much of a chance of getting in, but worth a go.  Trying to sort out a 2 page CV was somewhat of a nightmare mind you.  Can see this task stretching through into next week.
  • Copyright alternatives lecture: This is due a week on Monday, but I’ve only just outlined it.  Going to be priority number one next week to write this.
Posted by: llordllama | 24 October, 2014

A Week In October

So what did I get up to this week?

  • Theory chapter: It’s all done bar the shouting.  Or rather bar the discussion at the end where I tie everything together.  Fingers crossed that I can finish writing that bit on Monday and share it with my supervisors for discussion – as I’ve a couple of other things I need to sort out (application for a summer school and a conference talk) that are getting a bit time sensitive.
  • Teaching: Classes this week on creative industries and conversation analysis.  The former of which involved the students reading an article by Russell Brand and considering what it told us about the media representation of celeb culture and the political undercurrents (think bread and circuses and you’re not too far off the beam). Good discussions in that one, including one student who said he wished we had 2hrs to talk about it.  And another who suggested I might just make it as a Z-list celeb.  I have doubts about that :)  CA session wasn’t quite so energised (but then I teach that one first thing on Fridays).  Involved returning to watch an EastEnders clip which they’d seen before, but this time with the sound on.  Spent a while after class going through a few bits of the session in more detail with a few students, which was a nice follow on – shame I don’t get paid for those bits!  Also had someone come and (very politely) moan about the sound from the video bleeding through into their classroom.  Whoops!  University needs thicker classroom walls.
  • Weather: Aside from the near-hurricane on Tuesday, and the down pour on Friday…erm, not much to talk about.  Except to say autumn is most certainly here now!
  • Open Access Week: It was open access week this week…which sadly meant very little to me.  Noticed NTU did put on a couple of events, which was good – but I couldn’t get to these easily, and didn’t want to take too much time out of my schedule.  Boo.
  • Supervisors: Saw both my supervisors in passing – one of whom suggested it’s time for a meeting.  Managed to fob him off with promises of a chapter early next week (so deadline time!)  Always marginly terrified of these meetings – they’re great guys, but I’m never sure if they’re going to tell me I’m talking complete and utter BS in my thesis or just give me more work to do.  Or probably both.  Hell, who needs to sleep!  At least these days thanks to the right blend of vitamin supplements I seem to have gotten a hold of my poor energy levels in the working day.  No more crushing exhaustion headaches for me.  Just very, very sore paws from walking 18miles at high speed last Sunday…
Posted by: llordllama | 16 October, 2014

The Prisoner of Azkaban (Year Three)

Monday

And here we are after a few days in Wales…in year 3 of the PhD.  Oh. My. Grud.  Where has the time gone?  It only seems like a few months ago i was sitting in the conservatory wading through a pile of books on media theory in the last throws of a glorious summer/e.autumn – where as today I was…

Doing pretty much the same, although writing a thesis chapter.  Bloody hell indeed.  Kinda terrifying knowing there is now less time ahead of me than behind to finish this thing…which still feels only very slightly baked so far.

If you’ll excuse me I’m going to have a few moments of blind panic while I run around my house screaming!

Argggggggggggggggggggggggggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!

And relax.  Okay, so time is ticking away, and maybe that’s a good thing to keep me motivated.  In the meantime today I’ve been sorting out my teaching for the new year, looking through module booklets and the like – as well as plotting out the two seminars.  Think the new module I’m teaching on (Introduction to Media Communication) looks really interesting; and if anything possibly more so than Face-2-Face to Facebook, on which I’m teaching once again.

Managed a solid page of writing and editing on Critical Management Studies (aided in part by the conference of a couple of weeks ago) and managed to agree running a couple of workshops over in north Wales in November on a copyright, IPR, remix culture and open access.  Should be fun – teaching librarians one day and academics the next.  And certainly not fishing around for people to interview, oh my no *he grinned quietly to himself*

Tuesday

Writing this theory chapter is like wrestling with an oiled snake!  And today I’ve been wrestling with various forms of critical theory, and trying to boil them down to a page or so of narrative.  Yeah, like that’s an easy thing to do – every time I think I’ve got an handle on them – zip – off they fly out of my hands.

At least I did get something constructive done in a phone conversation first thing, setting up a training workshop I’ll be contributing towards in November over in North Wales.  Huzzah, back to Wales in 6 weeks – this is good!

Wednesday

More writing. Go away.

Thursday.

In earlyish to Uni as today’s my first day teaching my new module.  Tried to visit the library’s revamped research room only to find it locked and being used as a storage area.  Thankfully some very helpful library staff sorted it out quickly and were very appologetic.  Having been trhough revamps of libraires I know the snagging can be hell!  Worked there on my own quietly for the morning and then headed over to find my new seminar room – in the science and technology end of campus so I’m less familiar with the area.  Seminar seemed to go okay, and the group seem pretty lively – which is a promising start.  The seminar was little more than a glorified pub quiz, so I hope the undergrads don’t think that’s what we’ll be doing every week.  All the same I managed to use the socres in the quiz to illustrate the grading scheme at uni which may have been at least marginly helpful.  Suspect much more content next week!

Friday

And my other first seminar – less fun content in this one, mostly talking through the course and the regulations.  Kinda odd to be teaching in a glass walled glass room, as I’m sure my energetic lecturing style will get some odd looks from outside!  But nice to see both groups I’ve got this year seem a lot more talkative from the outset than last year’s; although over time last year’s bunch got so much better; and I do kinda miss seeing them!

Posted by: llordllama | 12 September, 2014

So Was That My Summer?

W/b 1st September

It seems this week that summer is officially over; or at least the academics with whom I interact have all started sending out emails again.  Great, I’ve not as of yet managed a holiday (2nd year in a row) and the time off I’ve got pencilled in over the coming weeks is looking like its in serious danger from competing commitments already.  Gah.

Meanwhile I’ve been slogging on with the theory chapter, finally putting fingers to keyboard to start pulling together my arguments for/against the various ideas I’ve got.  As of this post its all still very much a mishmash and I’m far from happy about it; although there are brief moments when suddenly everything becomes so clear – but these are fleeting.

Continuing on with my “social media holiday” which to date no one has actually picked up on (perhaps they’re grateful for the online silence for a change).  Wonder if I’ll manage to keep it up for the whole month as planned – perhaps by then the irritating ice bucket/back to school/fabulous holiday posts will have all buggered off?  I can only hope.

In no order of importance – interesting things this week:

  • The Fappening (which remains a less pejorative term than “celebratory picture hack” that most news agencies are going with.).  From a media/culture standpoint its been interesting seeing the lid lifted not on the celebs, but on the online trading subculture of illicitly appropriated images.  It’s piqued my curiosity as an academic, but I don’t think I’ll be putting in a post-doc funding application on the subject, as Mrs Llama would kill me.  Not to mention of course, from a critical standpoint, the way the media has roundly grabbed on this has also been fascinating to watch unfolding (in real time) vs the comments in the various forums/redits/chans discussing the issue.  Suspect I will be flagging this up as a topic for discussion in this year’s SOC101 seminars somewhere.  Loved the description in one report of “The hacker 4Chan” being mentioned; le sigh, you can lead a journalist to news, but you can’t make them think.  Even The Guardian’s gone a bit Daily Mail with outraged articles on the subject.  I suspect in the long run what this will mean, will be yet more badly thought out privacy protection laws for the bourgeois elite and repressions for the common prole.  Small bet with myself that despite these being (largely) US celebs targeted, that the UK gets new legislation rushed through first…small world conservatism strikes again.  See here for an interesting article on the whole thing from a slightly more dispassionate information securities POV.  Oh and of course some tips on how to protect your own pictures in the cloud (all of mine are of chickens or food mind you).
  • Lecturing: Had a confirmation on my lecturing (seminaring anyway) on the two modules, so just waiting on the contract now.  Also been asked to give a lecture on my thesis to a 2nd year class by my supervisor.  Not until next year, but it’ll be something to look forward to/stress about.  No idea if I get paid…suspect not, but might see what I can weasel out of my supervisor – I’ve a newly acquired Netflix habit to fund (seems to have replaced my comic book habit!).  Also…one more script to mark (student having submitted it to the wrong area, gah!)
  • Employment: Started negotiations via email with my tutors to let them know I’m already thinking/worrying about how I make ends meet once I finish y studentship next September.  Got a bit rebuffed (sense there’s not a strong bidding culture in my school), but at least I’ve started to remind them I need cash…and am keen to develop my career!  Annoyingly most of the funding calls I’ve seen for post-docs so far, need you to have submitted already – so suspect there’s going to be a bit of a funding gap end of 2015.

W/b 8th September

It’s been a much more positive week this week, as having finally put a book to Latour to bed on Monday (struggling to understand actor-network theory), I was finally able to get on with trying to assemble the chapter more fully in the middle to latter half of the week.  Surprisingly I’ve found I’m rather enjoying it; even if I am seriously in need of a holiday as my energy levels are through the floor at the moment.  All the same the change of pace to writing about my work and trying to construct a credible/robust theoretical framework is a lot more interesting than just trying to read about what others have done.  Plus on top of this I’ve managed to make decent notes on all the books and papers I’ve read in the past 6 weeks; which makes drawing it together a lot easier (thank you Evernote!)

  • Marking: Finally gave the students their marks back.  Hope they’re happy, cos some of them still were under performing a bit.
  • Copyright: Got asked to go help run/speak at a copyright event over in Wales later this year.  After a bit of discussion and negotiation (whereby I had to explain I’m not a (c) guru, but I know a lot about alternatives to it) looks like this on.  Might even find myself running a workshop the following day for academics on the subject; although that bit is still open to some further disucssions next week.  Got asked as part of this what my charges were for this sort of thing…erm, not quite sure what I should be charging for consultation work…suggestions welcomed!
  • Contract: Got my contract through for my lecturing, along with my timetable.  Will be teaching 4hrs a week come Feb 2015, buyt thankfully only 2hrs before that.  Some of the 1st years might get mightily sick of me I suspect.  Hope its as positive an experience as it was last year.  Oh, and best of all – I got a teeny tiny pay rise of around £2/hour (there’s a lot of “free labour” I’m expected to give over the salried time), which makes me on paper at least on an £80k/pa salary.  Yeah…don’t think that will actually work out for the next job.
  • Conferencing: Looked at the timetable for next week – three days of conferencing in Leicester. Should be interesting – just hope I can stay awake!
  • Social media: Gave in and went back on Facebook.  Still off twitter after 2.5weeks (not that anyone seems to have noticed mind you – maybe they think I’m on the holiday of a lifetime…)
Posted by: llordllama | 3 September, 2014

Recommendation Wednesday: Crossed – Wish You Were Here

Pop!

Pop!

For my 200th blog post (Yeah! Pop the champers! Unfurl the victory flag!) a something…a little different from me.

I read a fair number of webcomics, some of which update daily, others periodically – from the sublimely crafted 9 Chickweed Lane, the inventively profane Penny Arcade through to the rather more esoteric and minimalist Chief O’Brien at Work.  Generally they tickle my geeky funny bone, and make for perfect fodder while I struggle to get my brain to function in the morning (living without caffeine remains a sloooow start to the day).  My sense of humour runs to the sci-fi/gamer/geeky end of the spectrum I will confess; but generally the titles I follow are one shot gag strips.  One notable exception has been Crossed: Wish You Were Here by Simon Spurrier & Javier Barreno, which has just come to a climactic (pun perhaps half-intended) close after its 4th volume).

WARNING: Crossed: Wish You Were Here (WYWH for short) is very much an adult cartoon – don’t go clicking on the above link unless you have a broad mind/strong stomach*

Shaky: Magnificent bastard or just bastard?

Shaky: Magnificent bastard or just bastard?

Unlike the other strips I follow, WYWH ran in a weekly format (with periodic skip weeks filled with text interludes normally) telling a story over 20 or so pages each time.  The narrative following an author substitute character named Shaky (short for Shakespeare – a nickname as he’s a comic book writer…ooooh, spooky coincidence) trying to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic zombie filled UK.  The story is told part in the present day, and also in flashback as we learn how and why various characters are the way they are, and just how Shaky made it to the island of Cava in the Orkney Isles.  To call Shaky a…difficult character to love would be an understatement, and certainly the more we learn of his back story, the less likeable a protagonist he becomes.  That said, he does represent a very human response to a terrible situation; flawed in many ways – and perhaps more believable than someone taking up a gun and fighting back against all odds.

I should add that the Crossed he faces aren’t really zombies; they’re more creatures of unrestrained crazed Id – all unfettered self-centred desire which seeks outlet in the most unpleasant and often self destructive of ways.  In fact they’re just so monstrously horrible, that Shaky and those he meets and lives with and the compromises they make in their morality start to seem not so bad after all.  I should note by the way, that I’m not generally a fan of horror; Army of Darkness and The Walking Dead aside, but there was just something so gripping about Shaky’s tale that kept me coming back week after week, and cursing the damned skip weeks when the artist and writer needed a break (fair play to them mind you).

This is also the only comic I’ve ever read where I frequently got out Google Maps to chart where the action was taking place – and its left me with a strong desire to go visit the Orkneys where much of it is set.  WYWH indeed!

Now its finished, I’ve no great desire to go and read any of the other Crossed comics that are out there (although there is a promise of something more to come on the website in due course).  In preparation for the recently published final issue I did go back and re-read the entire thing from the start, and it hangs together very well.  For those coming to it afresh today, I guess you can consume it whole Netflix style rather than week by week like I did and I guess it won’t be quite the same experience.  The cliffhangers, large and small, trite and horrifying, human and monstrous made for wonderful hooks to bring me back each week, eager to see how the whole thing played out.  Suspense was certainly part of the experience.

As too was the chance to read a new, professionally created comic book for free.  Would that other publishers did this sort of thing (DC/Marvel – how about a free quality web comic eh?  Nah, you’re too busy chasing almighty dollar aren’t you!) and to this high standard.  You can buy the collected editions if you’d prefer to have it sitting on your bookshelves instead.

I guess the hardest thing about making a recommendation of WYWH is that I know that for a lot of my friends (Mrs Llama included) this almost certainly won’t be their cup of tea.  Fair enough, I wasn’t sure it would be mine on first reading.  But the longer I read, the more I was able to enjoy it.  Yes, it is genuinely shocking in many, many places.  No, it isn’t for the easily shocked.  Nevertheless by damn it is a fine read, an engaging and well crafter tale and more than worth a look if you’ve not yet been exposed to the Crossed (heh).  It’ll probably make you laugh/cry in equal measure I suspect.

Just try not to let your SO catch you reading it in bed!  They might not talk to you for a while…

*Frankly don’t even put the search term into Google, as your eyes might pop out! 

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