Arthur C Clarkes Mysterious World of Spreadsheets

Actor Interviews

Those expecting to find a wonderous discussion about the famous writer’s insights into MS Excel will be tragically disappointed.  However, this week my research has been pretty tied to using them to collate lists of interviewees.  I didn’t quite think it’d take this long* but at least I’m at a point where next week I can kick off with sending out my first wave of interview requests.

I have been not quite inundated with responses from my original mailshot, but I have begun to build a reasonably long list from which to start writing to academics.  If you’re one of the people I’ve written to and haven’t responded to me yet, please do – I could really do with a few more suggestions!  But to all those who sent me loads of suggestions, a tip of my hat a mighty llama salute to you all.

Perhaps more importantly I’ve had very positive responses to my out reaches to 3 out of my 5 prospective lengthy activist interviews.  So positive that I think I’m meeting with the first lot next week (so I’ll be writing all my questions on Tuesday!).  Half expected not hear anything for weeks on these so it’ll be interesting to see what I get out of them.

Interlend 2015

The rest of the week was spent writing, re-writing, practicing, shortening, and then re-working my talk for next week’s Forum for Interlending conference in sunny Manchester.  It’s about communications, and technically it’s the last conference my internal assessor really wants me to go to.  Although I guess if I get an invite somewhere, it’d be churlish to turn it down – since I looove speaking to audiences.  The session had to be rejigged a bit from my original idea as I had planned it as a workshop, and the conference has put it on as a plenary talk.  Gah.  Less interactive and more speaky by a long chalk than I’d have liked, but I reckon there’s scope for about a 3hr workshop to be run on the back of the framework I’ve written.  Available for hire for all your staff training needs ;)

Oh go on then, here’s a bit of old Arthur…

*This being the motto I suspect of any PhD student’s experinces

Interviewing Academics about Publication Practice

I’ve finally reached that point in my research where I’m permitted to go and perform some more field work. #happydance It’s been a long time coming, while I’ve been wading through theory I thought I’d never get there – but I have.  So I’ve been reaching out to all the people I interviewed a year or two back to see if they’ve got any suggestions as to good local candidates who might talk to me.  Surprisingly quite a few of these folks have moved on/upwards which is nice, although it did mean that my in-box was shotgunned with auto-replies from dead email address when I sent the email out.  However, more than a few of my contacts have come back to me and graciously offered some suggestions.  Once I’ve got a good selection, it’s just up to me then to start knowing on some (electronic) doors.

In case any wandering academic passes this way I thought I’d spell out what I’m looking for in terms of potential interviews.  Two groups of people really.

Who am I looking for?

To contextualise the original scoping OA interviews I did a year or so back, it is necessary to revisit and explore further some of the issues with academics and other scholarly communication actors.  As before, I’ll be using a semi-structured interview format to allow for naturalistic and organic exploration of opinions and insights.  Additionally, a measure of case study work with selected activists would broaden the exploration of the OA publishing discourse.  Interview targets would likely include actors including academics, publishers, learned societies, funders and official bodies.

Chatting about publication practice

Firstly UK based academics to talk about their research publication practice (open, closed, traditional/legacy, experimental etc).  Knowledge of open access, isn’t a prerequisite; just a viewpoint about research publication from their own experience.  I’m especially keen to talk to those who might not have any strong opinions about recent developments in scholarly communication, but that’s not crucial.  From the list I’ve been supplied so far, there’s a lot of people noted as pro-OA, but I don’t want to bias the sample with just talking to them.  Hence, it’ll be a carefully selected group I’ll approach, since I’m only aiming to interview around 20 or so candidates.

Hence, if you’re a research academic and can spare me 10-15 minutes on the phone sometime in the next couple of months – drop me a line (gareth.johnson2012 [at] my.ntu.ac.uk), a tweet (@llordllama) or a comment below and I’ll be in touch.

Who else am I looking for?

On top of the academics I’m in the process of making approaches to some of the other actors in the scholarly communication field.  I anticipate these will be harder to obtain interviews with, simply because I don’t know people working these areas that well so rather than being able to go via a managed introduction with local staff, I’ll be using email shots to try and garner a few of these.  I’ve a target list of contacts I’ll be working through in the next few days, so wish me luck!  If anyone has any suggested contacts here, I’d be more than happy to hear them.

Anyone else?

Yes, I’ve a short list of a few publication icons (my term, not their’s) I’m approaching for slightly longer interviews.  I anticipate these might be tricky to pin down, but will hopefully manage to engage with 2 or 3 of these.  They’re mostly people I’ve identified from past experience, the literature and the discourse around OA.  It’s going to be an uneven set, but I anticipate they’ll be able to contribute a variety of fascinating context to my work.

It Means Nothing To Me

Dienstag 2nd

My trip to the Austria conference didn’t start out that well with the cancellation of the local train from Sileby to Leicester.  Great.  Thankfully Mrs Llama stepped up and gave me a lift into Leicester, from where the journey on to London went fairly well.  Made the mistake of hopping on the uber-expensive, if uber-shiny, Heathrow Express without the right ticket so ended up paying full whack for the rapid journey.  I’ll know that for another time!  Checked in at the airport, and hung around for the best part of three hours while I waited for my Austrian airlines flight.  I don’t like flying much, and haven’t flown in around 6-7 years, so wasn’t looking forward to this bit.  As it was the flight was pretty straight-forward and landed well ahead of schedule.  Enjoyed the mid-flight snack choice of salt or sweet too.  Within 15 minutes of landing though I’d reclaimed by bags, passed through immigration control and was waiting for the CAT (city airport train) to the heart of Vienna.  This double-decker train was like the Heathrow Express…only sleeker, more comfortable and a lot cheaper.  Also, the ticket collector was…very easy on the eyes too.
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After that it was a case of navigating the Vienna U-Bahn to Keplerplatz and walking the 15 minutes to my hotel.  As it would turn out, I should have gotten off a stop earlier…but that was something I wouldn’t discover until tomorrow.  The hotel (Schani Wien) was…well, let’s make no bones about it, in the middle of a major construction area.  Inside thought it was nice and modern, clean and above all cool.    Vienna being already somewhere around 28C even in the early evening.  Sadly my room seemed to lack pillows or sheets (which the hotel fell over themselves to fix, wonderful staff) and any tea making facilities (not a hotel feature sadly).  At least the hotel staff were…also easy on the eye, and I began to formulate an idea that all Austria’s service sector was populated entirely by lovely ladies.  Better not tell Mrs Llama that bit ;)  Too shattered to search for dinner, and with no shops seemingly near by I slumped in front of the TV and fell asleep fairly early.
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Mittwoch 3rd

After being awake long before 6am (and the start of building work) I breakfasted, showered and headed out to walk into Vienna, to explore.  The road I’d chosen seemed to be filled with embassies and people zipping past on (non-motorised) scooters.  I decided I’d like a scooter and kept my eyes open for a shop selling them.  I also visited the Liberation Monument, which looked like something that would be happier in the middle of Moscow.  Got asked for directions (in English) by another set of visitors – this seems to be a regular thing for me when I travel anywhere, I must look like I know what I’m doing.  However, by late morning, lightly broiled in sun despite my hat I found my way to the Technische Universität Wien where the pre-conference day was being held.  And there I queued for 20 minutes in a boiling corridor, before discovering the joys of the air conditioned lecture theater.
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Being an international conference it’s safe to say I knew no one here, and was pretty much invisible and anonymous.  I’ll write up the conference itself elsewhere, although the professor who asked a question at the end of the keynote…by presenting 3 confusing slides himself has to be mentioned as the standout weird moment of the day.  No lunch seemed to be in appearance (odd) so I assumed it was due tot he conference starting at noon and going through to 7.30pm.  I actually skipped out the Evangelical Church arranged debate on Holy War at 6pm to walk home via a different back street route, admiring the rather artistic graffiti in the deeply soporific heat.
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Back in the hotel I was pleased to shower, change and crash out for a bit before getting a text from my supervisor to let me know he’d arrived.  I’d rather hoped we might go somewhere for dinner, but instead he wanted to go to the conference reception – so I hoped on the U-Bahn and went to see what that was like.  Food (of a kind) was served, although there’s only so much black bread with different varieties of cream cheese I can eat.  Amused my supervisor by an in depth discussion of Eurovision (he was surprised I wasn’t gay or a woman, as he assumed this is the normal fan demographic) and met one rather intense US academic.  The reception rather fell apart around 9.30pm, and seeing no hope of dinner I hoped on the U-Bahn…and promptly walked 20 minutes in the wrong direction when I got out.  My hotel was actually only 5 minutes walk from the Hauptbahnhof stop…but it was gone 11pm when I got in for a dinner of a packet of nuts and few rice cakes I’d bought earlier.  To say I was getting a bit peckish after two days without a decent meal, would be an under statement.
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Donnorstag 4th

Made full use of the breakfast at the hotel as I enjoyed a 3 course breakfast (fruit, continental meats/breads/cheeses, and cake to follow) and more importantly worked out where the tea was.  I should highlight that the bread here was especially varied and simply incredible, and I say that as someone who bakes a lot himself.  As the 9am conference session wasn’t really my area I hoped on the U-Bahn to the Landstraße stop, which is where the CAT departs from.  Having observed the station included a check-in for the airlines, I set off to walk back across the city starting off in Stadtpark.
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Having observed many statues, ducks and Asian tourists I wandered into the old city to discover a number of crucial things.  Firstly…it was very quiet on the approaching streets and many shops were shut.  Secondly, there are fountains or statues on nearly every corner of Vienna.  And thirdly…there appeared to be a long parade of priests, soldiers, people in historic costumes or their Sunday best.  Then I remembered that the conference had mentioned that there was a bank/public holiday over the conference…which rather curtailed a lot of my shopping plans.  I later discovered that this was an Ascension Day parade/holiday.  Got asked for directions again.
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After this unexpected encounter I headed off the conference where my stream was kicking off.  A good day capped with an excellent session on open education, and finally having a normal conversation with a French student based at Glasgow.  No lunch again, which seemed to be a recurring feature of the conference.  Additionally, had rather hoped that my supervisor might take me out for dinner somewhere, but he had disappeared at the end of the day…and after handing around for 15 minutes decided I may as well go home.  I made the rather delightful discovery that the Hauptbahnhof station complex included a food court (on top of the Spar shop I’d been relying on for snacks and drinks).  And in my best halting German and liberal English managed to secure a rather tasty Pad Thai for dinner, which I smuggled back in the hotel.  They were probably fine with it, but I didn’t want to make it too obvious!  The food was…delicious beyond compare (but then, I would have eaten one of the horse statues I’d seen earlier in the day by now).
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Supervisor texted me around 9.30pm to ask where I was, and when I informed him my hotel…only silence returned.  I’d rather hoped he might have invited me back into town to meet up, but no.  So a good book and Netflixs it was again.

Freitag 5th

Now an accomplished visitor I rose late, breakfasted well (assuming the no-lunch trope) would reoccur today.  Spent the first few hours wandering around the Belvedere Schloss and gardens.  Many, many statues – and refreshingly not muted by Victorian puritanism like they would be in the UK (to wit, boobs and bums a plenty).  The temperature today was a chilly 27C (rather than 30 of the day before) so I wasn’t melting as much as normal, although reaching the conference to cool down wasn’t such a bad thing.  Interesting papers although again no lunch appeared (bar a few slices of dry bread/cake) so I went exploring in another direction over lunch – and got asked for directions for the third time!
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Once again my supervisor didn’t seem inclined to arrange a dinner trip (his ability to disappear when I was looking/waiting for him borders on superhuman), so I went back to the food court and ordered a chicken curry and pakora selection.  Nice, although not as good as the Thai (and they did rather…erm…go through me a bit).  Around 8pm I got a notification of a Whatsapp voice message from my supervisor, and for a moment thought “Damn, he wants to meet for dinner…and I’ve already eaten”.  But no, he’d rung me instead of his Wife saying he was “Just going out”.  So much for him being my guide to the night life of Vienna!  And as he flies back tomorrow that’s my last chance.  Bit po’ed by it to be honest.
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Samstag 6th

Body clock seems to be set to -1GMT for some reason I know not, so awake at 5am again.  Possibly due to last night’s Indian not really agreeing with me too much.  Breakfasted and then skipped the opening session of the day to run through my talk a few times.  Seems to run okay, although I remain borderline terrified of being mauled in the questions.  Outside it was a Siberian 30C and cloudless, but decided I really ought to make an effort to dress a little more smart-casual, so put on a collared dark-blue shirt and light cotton trousers.  With the ever present sandals (which by now had begun to wear huge painful blisters on my big toes).  As there wasn’t a conference session of interest until 2pm I went walking via U-Bahn jaunt to Friedensbruke on the north of the city centre, as it was an area I’d not been to yet.  Then took a long slow walk back to the centre of Wein.  Along the way went through another park, nicely cut into groves and fields and decorated with two Brobdingnagian ancient German flak towers (Gefechtsturm Augarten) and a few Shaolin monks.
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The conference wore on, and my nerves were not helped by three academics having what can be best described as a Marxist willy waggling session that went on far too long.  Didn’t help my nerves, but in the end my paper went well – helped by meeting and chatting to a few other presenters just beforehand.  Despite my plan to attend I blew off the final papers and went to sit outside the orate Karlskirche for beer with the delightful Greg, Tim and Rachel – making the stunning discovery that the Littlest Hobo is Canada’s proudest televisual export!  Two biers later I jumped on U-Bahn for home, pausing only to order more Mai-Tahi for tea with surprising confidence in my halting Deutsch.  For unknown reasons I fell asleep after that, although then ended up awake later in the night for hours.  Tomorrow I’m supposed to go on the conference seminar boat…but I’m beginning to feel I want to end my conference on a high and have last relaxing day in Vienna to myself.

Oh, no lunch again and no one asked me for directions.  Finally.
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Sonntag 7th

In the end I blew off the boat trip, feeling slightly guilty that I was missing a treat – but had concluded that I was shattered from not too much sleep, and the prospect of another day of seminars and polite networking was going to be beyond me. Instead, and as is my regular Sunday custom I went for a long walk, heading towards the antenna building I had seen every day I came out oft he hotel, and then towards what looked like a very recent skyscraper.  Felt like the hottest day of the week so far, despite the appearance for the first time of a few clouds.  Found another park, various weird spires and then ended up crossed the the Danube just beyond where I would have caught the boat.  There were some massive sister ships (rather raising the thought in my mind about all those high sounding Marxists seduced into bourgeois comfort as I schlepped across the city in sandals).  Ended up at Kaisermühlen-VIC next to the recently opened tallest building in Austria that I’d been heading towards all day.  At this point I decided having been walking for almost 3 hrs (7-8miles) in my rapidly disintegrating sandals that it was time to hop of the U-Bahn for hotel and lunch (salad and falalfal).
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Having dozed the afternoon away set off around 4pm to find this big wheel that my friend Jane had been nagging me to go see, so one U-Bahn hop later I was at the Praterstern stop.  Apparently it appears in The Third Man.  Not sure I’ve seen the film, but it was impressive – and turned out to be right next to the park I walked through in the morning.  Declined a ride for reasons of cost and the ever present baking sun (“Yes, please put me in a slowly moving glass cartridge and roast me alive”) and explored the massive amusement park next to it.  Some people love amusement parks – I find they’re hellish, expensive, tawdry and above all horrifically proletarian experiences – so while it was amusing to walk around, 20 minutes of that left my senses ringing.  This might also have been due to the continued appearance of young ladies in “summery” outfits – taking  picture of the attractions without seeming to be snapping them proved…tricky so I gave up and walked the 4-5 miles across a splendidly quiet city centre home.
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Dined (salad again, with a tuna sandwich), showered and then more or less fell asleep on my bed around 7.30pm, tired out by a combination of walking, heat and conferences.  Managed to wake myself before 10pm when Mrs Llama sent me an email from Glasgow, but all she got was a very minor reply, as my brain wasn’t exactly functioning that well through a combination of physical and mental fatigue.

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Montarg 8th

Unsurprisingly I was awake early, having slept the sleep of the dead through to about 5am.  Managed to resist getting up until the builders (back from their bank holiday break) started up around 6am again.  Did the packing that I’d planned to do the previous before the arms of Morpheus claimed me, nd then fretted over packing my jumper and raincoat (having heard that Leicestershire is due to be soaked roundabout the time I arrive home).  In the end packed it to avoid carrying across the city on a day forecast to hit 31C.  Breakfasted for the last time in the hotel, vacillated over cake for one last time, and then went and relaxed in my room watching the rolling weather forecast and um-pah band channel until 9am.  The mid did try to come and clean my room as I got out of the shower but I managed to stop her coming in before she received an unexpected unveiling!

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Checkout and travel across the U-Bahn was uneventful, although I smiled as I passed through stations like Stadtpark that 7 days ago had been names but were now places in my head.  Checked in via my phone at the CAT station which seemed a damned convenient thing to do, especially as I was able to drop off my suitcase at this point rather than at the airport.  Rode the upstairs of the CAT, accompanied by a lovely Kiwi Family, who’s little girl seemed to think she was in Tokyo and had to be repeatedly corrected by her mum.  Passed through security at the airport and mooched around the shops for a bit, then rode the travelators, then sat down and updated this blog.
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The flight back was less fun than the flight out, in part because I was heading back to Grey Britain, but also because we stacked over Heathrow for ages in the clouds – which gave me no end of pressure pain in my ears (and as I discovered has slightly f*cked my inner ear balance for a few days afterwards).  But other than that my journey back to Sileby by public transport was fine.  Since Mrs Llama was on a business trip to Glasgow I walked the last mile from the station home for an evening of further peace and solitude.
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So was it worth it?  Yes for Vienna, fabulous place and people.  Probably yes for the conference, despite the rough edges to the human parts of its organisation.  Anyway, here’s my Good, Bad and Ugly of the trip.

Good

  • Vienna’s public transport system. The U-Bhan was a delight, inexpensive and effective way to get around the city. When I want walking.
  • Sitting drinking Austrian beer with new international friends and colleagues in the sun in front of a magnificent building
  • The sweet majesty of the moment I discovered the food court at my nearby station
  • Also the blessed Spar shop such fed, clothed and composed my smooth jazz throughout the visit
  • The hotel (name), especially the wonderful staff, the comfy bed resplendent breakfasts and flawless WiFi. Also having a/c was a smart move, is have melted.
  • The weather, set Lord a mercy all that sun
  • Vienna itself. Utter joy of a place to visit. Cf. Austria.
  • All the walking I got in and the sights, sites and sounds of the city
  • Meeting Justine, Wolfgang, Grey, Rachel & Tim
  • Flying Austrian Airlines. Less terrifying than Iberia
  • Giving my first international paper in nearly a decade in a new field to a room stacked with proper academics and not making a total fool of myself. Nor being savaged for my weak knowledge of Marx.
  • The expensive fun of riding the Heathrow Express

Bad

  • That I didn’t use more of my basic German than I did
  • The lack of chairs at the conference and in my room. I miss sitting
  • My supervisor largely ignoring me outside of the conference (no change there then). So much for my anticipated visits to the restaurants and beer cellars of Vienna
  • Nearly starving to death after 48hrs. Well, near enough
  • That builder and his hammer at 6am on that first morning.
  • Not realising the Heathrow Express was an (expensive) add on travel cost

Ugly

  • Flying, flight in general. Take off.  Painfully stacking over Heathrow also.
  • The almost near total lack of food at the conference and perfunctory liquid refreshments.
  • Lack of inclusive networking and feeling like an outsider for 70% of the conference
  • Me, sweating in the 30 degree heat. Wasser, wo ist mine wasser?
  • The state of my feet from all the walking (close to 25-30 miles per the week) in cheap sandals.

Lopsided Week

Well, after the bank holiday Monday and with my forthcoming conference trip I’ve ended up writing this one a Monday rather than a Friday.  This may be the single most thrilling fact encapsulated in the blog this week.  Which tells you just what level of hi-jinks* I got up to…

Conference Preparation

Wrote my talk for Austria.  Stressed over it.  Rewrote it.  Rehearsed it.  Cut it down a bit.  Then a bit more.  Then more or less got it under 15 minutes.  Wrote the outline of my talk for the Leicester media conference the following week, as once I’m back in the country I’ll only have 3 days…and I suspect I might be a bit conference-lagged (and having missed the weekend by working through it, just a bit lagged).  Think I’ll worry about writing my Manchester (end of the month) workshop once I’m back.

Most thrilling thing I’ve done is change hotels at the last minute, after I saw how hot Austria’s going to be.  Now my hotel has a/c…but is about a mile from the conference.  Ah well, a bit of walking will be good!

Annual Review

As is traditional on Wednesday I got the notification that in 15 days (Thur 11th June) the annual PhD review documents are due.  In order to do this I need to write a 2,000 word report, fill in a form…oh yes, and have a meeting with my supervisors, internal examiner, get them to write a report and then sign all the documents in triplicate (okay, perhaps not quite triplicate but close).  Thanks Graduate Office!  I did mail them to suggest the chance of getting my supervisory team all in a room at such short notice (and with myself and m y supervisor being out of the country for most of this time) was “somewhere between slim and laughable”

Apparently this amused them so much…they explained that the rules are very strict, but I might get an extension if I write to them in blood**.  So had to stop my research preparation, and write the report, plan out my next year’s activities and get my team to read it.  As it is they’re really happy with my progress, but I’m having my review meeting the day after I fly back into the country.  Not much of a lie in then.  So I’ve also written a presentation on my progress over the last year.  Sheesh.  Fingers crossed I can get this done in time!

Amusingly a survey from the AHRC landed in my in-box this week asking about the whole PGR experience…I spent quite a while filling that in, with various comments about dealing with the Central Bureaucracy!

Actor and Academic Interviews

So after writing my long document with my plan of action, my supervisors both sent it through more or less on the nod.  I’ll take that as a mark of confidence in me.  I’ll do an additional post when I’m back in the UK about whom I want to talk to (publishers, funders, academics, learned societies in short), in case any of them pass this way and are willing to talk to me briefly…

Face to Face To Facebook

In the run up to the exam I was still answering emails from concerned students on the morning of the exam!  Again, sheesh.  Hope they’ve all done well – one’s already asked me when the marks are out.  Well, put it this way – if I’m marking any (which I assume I am)…it’ll be after I’m back in the UK!

Anyway, let’s end on some light relief this time – critical analysis of TV shows first (click on image for the original site):

As a media academic, amused me no end.

 

Also, Mrs Llama alerted me to this interesting article on the BBC: Why do people waste so much time at the office?  I ended up writing her a very ranty email in reply…reproduced here for interest:

This is perfectly in line with Hardt & Neary’s construction of the “social factory”; wherein work spills beyond the workplace to subsume the entirety of existence (within a capitalist society). Thus working hours beyond your pay, work/life balance being pretty much blurred. And if we consider the “IT revolution” of the 80s would free us all to work 3 day weeks, the truth of the matter is it has actually been embraced not to free the labourer from the monotony of work, but to extract/exploit yet further productively useful labour time from them.

And yes, there’s the commuting issue…why do we all jump into a car and drive to a central point when so many jobs in the knowledge economy can be conducted away from a “factory”?

I’d argue this article is perhaps a little flawed in that it perpetuates the mythologisation of the “post-work future”. But I think what it does do at least (in a basic, dumbed down for the BBC readership kinda way) is indicate those flaws in the capitalist society where we have neoliberal government predicated on an ideology of wealth creation, while increasingly the multitude are surplus to productive (and waged) use. Little wonder we’re likely to see more movements like #Occupy I would suspect over the next decade as it becomes less an issue of the “unemployable and unskilled young” and branches out into the professional sector.

As you can see, the emails between me and the Wife are just scintillating reading…I’m sure the NSA loves them!

*The answer is, none
** I may be exaggerating.  I may not.

Reading, Writing and Plotting

A second week free of teaching, and it’s a rather refreshing change to have the time back to really dig into my studies.  Normally by Wednesday I’m panicking that the week is over almost bar the teaching, but now it’s a mid point with plenty of time to work on other areas.

Reading

Finally sat down and spent two days poring over Martin Eve’s recent book Open Access and the Humanities.  As I expected it was a cracking read, and it only took me so long to read as I kept stopping to write notes and thoughts to myself about it.  Have already gone back and re-read a couple of bits as well for other bits and bobs I was writing.  Hopefully next week, I can get through a few more papers and another book.  I can see I might be taking at least one academic text over to Vienna with me.

Writing

I planned to write my presentation for Vienna.  I failed.  Which means first thing (well almost first thing) next week I need to do that.  Then again, reading Martin’s book has fired off one or two ideas that I need to slightly rework in the presentation.

Plotting

Two whole days spent plotting sounds fun, but what I was actually doing was planning out my last round of interviews, and writing an thesis chapter abstract about copyright and publication.  There are moments I feel I know a lot about copyright, and moments when I feel I know nothing – and I’ve been through both of these modes in writing this document.  In particular I’ve been trying to identify publishers, academics and activists in the world of open access that I should interview.  Sounds easy, but when I’ve got to keep the number of interviews down to a manageable level suddenly it gets a whole lot more intensive.  I was hoping to send this document off to my supervisors for comment by the end of the week; but annoyingly I’m about 30 minutes of clear-headed thinking time away from having the chapter abstract clear enough.

Teaching

Yes, I know, I’ve stopped this and am no longer being paid.  And yet I’m still answering lots of emails from my students who are panicking a little about their forthcoming exams.  Poor things.  Trying to give them as much advice as I can, although a lot of it boils down to “You really should have come to the seminars…they WERE the exam preparation”.  Interestingly some of my better students are worried, even though on paper they’re already 80% of the way there with a passing grade.

Job Hunting

Well no news on this front, so keeping my eyes open for any opportunities for employment.  Suspect the job I put in for the other week will either come to nothing, or I won’t hear anything until September; which is very, very frustrating.

Vienna ISIS Conference

Spent a good chunk of one morning this week working out my itinerary in finer detail.  Looks like the longest leg of the trip will be on the British Rail system to get to Heathrow.  No surprise there.  Hopefully I can figure out the Wein underground system to make it to and from my hotel okay.  Starting to have the normal pre-travel jitters I get before a conference trip, and the added flight (did I mention I hate flying) leg isn’t something I’m looking forward to much.  But I really hope it’ll be a great opportunity and that I learn lots.  And make more than a few professional contacts.  Trying to not let the anxiety overshadow my other work though, and more or less putting it out of my mind as much as I can.

Glad to see Scott Mills and Mel Giedroyc touring Vienna the other day on the Eurovision semi-finals, as it gave me a taste for the city.  I may have time this weekend to flick through my guidebook on the city, or maybe just read Wikipedia in the middle of the night (my normal insomnia cure).

Other Conferences

June is now looking very conference heavy! 14 days of conferences/travel to conferences in my diary.  Only leaves about 9 other working days to do anything (one of the conferences means I lose a weekend so I’ll be effectively working a 12 day week at the start of June – since I fly back on a Monday, and have to write a conference talk for the end of that week as soon as I get back.  No rest for the PhD student.  At this rate July won’t come a moment too soon!  At least though I’ll get to reveal in the architectural and cultural glories of Vienna, Leicester, Nottingham and Manchester.  3 of those I might be being sarcastic about.

Right, time now to continue thinking about the Eurovision Song Contest I think!

Eurovision 2015

As is traditional, here’s this year’s scores from the House of Llama for the Eurovision Semi-Finals and Final. I’m also tweeting away like fury during the contests, which means I normally end up in twitter-jail at some point for over-tweeting.  Never knew this was a thing until Eurovision and twitter collided for me!  Scores are out of 30, with 10 points each for Song, Performance & Staging making up the mark.  Asterisks (*) indicate those semi finalists who went through to the final.

Final (Sat 23 May)

  1. Australia: (Sg:8 Pf:9 Sg:7) 24 
    • Polished performance, singer who clearly relished being at the contest and an enjoyable crowd pleasing song.  Nice hat too.  Staging was simple and allowed the deeply funky song to actual take centre stage, which is a major bonus.  Easily my favourite on the night and got a vote from me.  Honestly, if Australia can embrace Eurovision like this, can we please have them back again as a regular/semi-regular contestant?  Pleeeeeeeease?!

    • [Actual position: 5th: 196 votes]
  2. Sweden: (Sg:8 Pf:8 Sg:8) 24
    • Still really enjoyed the performance of this, although Mans wasn’t quite as polished as the semi-final for me, and slightly off with some of his timings ever-so-slightly.  Which for me lost him my number one slot.  That said I have no problem with him winning the show (I was cheering him down to the wire with his tussle with Russia!)
    • [Actual position: WINNER: 365 votes]
  3. Estonia: (Sg:8 Pf:8 Sg:7) 23
    • I stand by my liking of this and shall continue by campaign to get Elina and Stig to sing a future Bond film.  Would have liked it to better obviously, and voted for it.  Glad to see that the OGAE gave this their 3rd place position…which I heartily concur with – we Eurovision fans must stick together!

    • [Actual position: 7th: 106 votes]
  4. Cyprus: (Sg:8 Pf:9 Sg:6) 23
    • Remained one of the best pure songs of the contest, and deserved a whole lot more votes than it got.  The spectacle won over the song sadly.
    • [Actual position: 22nd: 11 votes]
  5. Montenegro: (Sg:8 Pf:8 Sg:5) 21
    • Still a haunting peace of music that really got me, despite as everyone pointed out it being sung by a George Galloway lookalike with more skin-tucks than are perhaps advisable.  Tops my mid-range table for being a really good song, a really good performance, with simple staging – so score wise not quite as high as my appreciation might actually be.
    • [Actual position: 13th: 44 votes]
  6. Israel: (Sg:6 Pf:8 Sg:7) 21
    • Remained a high-energy boy band number.  Disposable pop maybe, but still a foot-tapper and the guys were clearly having a blast performing.  Respectable marks on the night, although some terrible stuff ahead of them.  Top of my this score group for being the best bit of pop.  Even if he never did show me Tel Aviv.

    • [Actual position: 9th: 97 votes]
  7. Italy: (Sg:7 Pf:8 Sg:6) 21
    • A deservedly high scoring performance in the final, although I wasn’t quite as blown away by it as I’d expected to be.  Great voices though, just needed a little something more for me to take it into the top 5.  Also, having Brains from Thunderbirds as one of the singers was a bit of shock!
    • [Actual position: 3rd: 292 votes]
  8. UK: (Sg:6 Pf:8 Sg:7) 21
    • Okay, home team bias…but let’s be honest.  I’ve not been keen on this track at all ever since it was announced.  But I’ll give them their due, they gave it everything on the night, but I guess the BBC were rather lying about how much electro-swing is “big” in Europe.  On the night I knew we were screwed early on when Malta (who usually give the UK good points when we’ve sent something half decent) gave us one point.  Loved the LED suits and the energy in the performance, did not to deserve to be this low when drek like Belgium was up so high.

    • [Actual position: 24th: 5 votes]
  9. Poland: (Sg:6 Pf:7 Sg:8) 21
    • Another one haunting and melodic number that I liked but the rest of Europe didn’t agree with me.  There wasn’t a lot changed from the staging and performance from the semi-finals, and while – yes – it did still look like a washing powder or sanitary-product advert.  If anything this one had grown on my a bit since the semis, but as Dr Eurovision says…you can’t enter a grower and expect to win!
    • [Actual position: 23rd: 10 votes]
  10. Russia: (Sg:7 Pf:7 Sg:7) 21
    • Again me and Europe weren’t in geopolitical and performance agreement here, as to my ears while this is actually (leaving politics aside) a good song and performance.  But unlike some of the ones I’ve scored higher, it wasn’t quite as well performed in the semis.  And the singer is drop-dead gorgeous too, which helps.  I could probably have lived with it winning on the night…just, although mostly for Russia having to host the campest spectacular there is :)
    • [Actual position: 2nd: 303 votes]
  11. Spain: (Sg:6 Pf:6 Sg:8) 20
    • A fabulous cape, a fabulous set of legs and a lovely voice.  Didn’t quite captivate me on the night, but it has quite simply the most brilliant video of the whole contest – Lord of the Rings/LARP-tastic!  Also a TIGER!  She should so have included that tiger on stage and Spain would have won hands down!  And it’s one that on listening to again to write this blog, I actually like a whole lot more.  Another would be grower…but as I’ve said already…  In an ideal world, would have been jockeying for position with the Russian power-ballad, not scraping the bottom of the table.
    • [Actual position: 21st: 15 votes]
  12. Serbia: (Sg:5 Pf:7 Sg:8) 19
    • Enjoyed this about the same as in the semis as a performance, and the staging was great too – lots of folks projecting fun and enjoyment.  But for me the song was the weakest part, I didn’t really love it.  It was okay, but a bit pedestrian for my tastes.
    • [Actual position: 10th: 53 votes]
  13. Lithuania: (Sg7: Pf:5 Sg:6) 19
    • Okay…my votes on this have really changed since the semis, which just goes to show if you listen to the same song twice in this contest you start liking some of them a whole lot more.  I still loved Monika’s fish-scale dress, and actually the poppy vibe cheered me up no end after some of the more down beat songs.  However, it did sound a bit off key in places.  Also, Vaidas clearly reads my blog as he called out “People if you feel the love, raise your hands up in the air” this time.  You’ll note from the score table that Russia…didn’t vote for same-sex love.  Colour me shocked.  But this one should have been edging into the top 10 IMHO.

    • [Actual position: 18th: 30 votes]
  14. Slovenia: (Sg:5 Pf:5 Sg:6) 16
    • You don’t open the contest and win, and this was true as ever – despite those glittery headphones.  And I actually didn’t like this as much on a second listening.  Europe a little tone deaf giving this 14th though.
    • [Actual position: 14th: 39 votes]
  15. Germany: (Sg:6 Pf:4 Sg:6) 16
    • Well she was the 2nd place person in Song for Deutschland, and she’s not been well, and that super-villain outfit REALLY showed us her butt…but those thoughts aside, Black Smoke was not a great number.  On the other hand it deserved a few votes, but certainly was a lower half of the table contender for me.  Sort of a bit like Lena…without, you know, being Lena.

    • [Actual position: =26th: nul points]
  16. Georgia: (Sg:4 Pf:5 Sg:6) 15
    • My notes read “Sexy raven/Dark Phoenix” which clearly tells me everything I need to remember about this song.  The gothic vibe was refreshing among all the Eurovision chintz and glitter, and I should have liked this more than I did.  But it’s a little atonal for my ears.  Still, Nina’s a genuinely lovely looking lady…so I may have scored this higher than it deserved.  Suspect a recipient of some geo-political votes, rather than for comparative talent giving it’s actual ranking on the night.
    • [Actual position: 11th: 51 votes]
  17. Azerbaijan: (Sg:3 Pf:4 Sg:8) 15
    • The law of diminishing returns strikes.  While I still loved the dancers for this number for doing something stylish, simple but clever…this time I wasn’t as distracted and could focus in on a song which left me pretty cold, and a fairly meh performance.  Geo-political voting or Europe just loves interpretive dance…make up your own minds!
    • [Actual position: 12th: 49 votes]
  18. Austria: (Sg:4 Pf:5 Sg:5) 14
    • He set a freaking piano on fire.  On the stage.  For that alone it deserved points, but Europe clearly is blase about blazes.  And they also brought the Bee Gees back from the dead for the performance too…but then perhaps the rest of the song and the performance were a bit bland, so I didn’t rate it that highly.  And it looks like beards are out of vote winners this year.

    • [Actual position: =26th: nul points]
  19. Latvia: (Sg:3 Pf:5 Sg:5) 13
    • My Auntie Marge had this strange wide-skirted doll that lived on top of her toilet-roll when I was a kid.  And that’s what this dress reminded me of.  The song…yeah remained naff, even if the staging of the whole performance was a bit more interesting.  It’s final position on the night caused me to ask “Europe, are you stone, cold, tone-deaf?”.  I’m really at a loss for why this did so well, unless people thought this was actually Conchita again in a different frock…
    • [Actual position: 6th: 186 votes]
  20. Romania: (Sg:4 Pf:5 Sg:4) 13
    • Sending Walter White to represent Romania was a stroke of genius.   If he’d borrowed Australia’s hat, then we’d have had Heisenberg as well.  A good attempt at a worthy song at an important social issue.  But…was it memorable or an earworm? No, and the rather pedestrian staging (suitcases aside) didn’t really help.  Not sure if liberal guilt or geo-politics came into this scoring so high on the table, as I’d have expected to have seen it in the lower third.
    • [Actual position: 15th: 35 votes]
  21. Norway: (Sg:6 Pf:3 Sg:3) 12
    • Morland’s voice is interesting, Debrah’s is awful. This song is okay, but I found myself genuinely considering going to put the kettle on during this.  Europe did not agree, clearly having watched this with the sound off or something.  The lyrics include the line “Just goooooo!” which by coincidence was what I was shouting at the TV 90 seconds in.
    • [Actual position: 8th: 102 votes]
  22. Armenia: (Sg:2 Pf:5 Sg:4) 11
    • The return of the Blakes 7 meets Clannad staging ethic…is a weird one that didn’t help a song that I really didn’t like.  Felt like a relic from the 1970s all round, and not in a funky disco fun kinda way.  Didn’t do that well, and I think should have even been a smidge or two lower on the rankings.
    • [Actual position: =16th: 34 votes]
  23. Greece: (Sg:2 Pf:5 Sg:4) 11
    • “Dull” read my entire notes on this song.  Even the pretty lady with the sexy dress and the stargate didn’t sway me enough.  Deserved it’s actual position, or perhaps slightly lower in the table.
    • [Actual position:19th: 23 votes]
  24. France: (Sg:2 Pf:5 Sg:6) 11
    • Europe and I reached an accordance with this one – a shouty woman shouting lyrics in french at me, as her electronic soldiers stage a revolution behind her.  Bring back Moustache – they may not have got many votes, but by god, at least they were fun to watch.  This one had me looking for the nearest sharp-knife to self harm.  A deadly serious song, about a worthy issue in a contest about fun and joy…was never going to fly.

    • [Actual position: 25th: 4 votes]
  25. Albania: (Sg:3 Pf:2 Sg:3) 8
    • I genuinely didn’t even remember this one, and had to look it up on YouTube just to remind me what it sounded like.  It was late in a long, long running order and I suspect song-fatigue counted towards my lack of enjoyment.  But it was nothing special, sung by a middle-of-the-road singer.  Well I say singer, but she basically did that X-Factor shouting that singers do when they can’t actually hit notes.  She did have two points in her favour…her decolletage revealing dress.  But I’m sorry, I can’t give that points.  If any performance (other than Belgium) deserved nul points, it was this one.
    • [Actual position: =16th: 34 votes]
  26. Hungary: (Sg:2 Pf:4 Sg:2) 8
    • Wars for nothing and your chicks for free?  Making this joke during both the semi and the final were the major enjoyment I got from this song.  Again, I liked this more in the semi…but in contrast with the rest, this really paled on a second viewing/listening.  Too dull really, and not really a song that stays with you.  Probably about where it should be in the table, given this might just be a personal disconnection with the song/performance.
    • [Actual position: 20th: 19th]
  27. Belgium: (Sg:1 Pf:1 Sg:) 6
    • This was simply terrible, and I’ve given it (marginally) higher votes for the fabulous “face dance”.  Yes, I was being sarcastic there.  Backing singers from a cult, an off key lead singer, and pretty crappy staging all in all.  That this came 4th…almost destroyed my belief in humanity.  When Loic lay down on the stage, I was rather hoping he’d lost the will to go on.  The UK gave this 3 points which means I need to track down the people who voted for it, and have some very harsh words with them about how music is supposed to sound like…

    • [Actual position: 4th(!?!): 217 votes]

Semi Final Two (Thu 21 May)

  1. Sweden*: (So:6 Pf:7 St:10) 24
    • My first and so far only 10 of the contest, because the interaction with the graphics here was nothing short of stunning.  The song, while only just a bit better than average though really, really benefited.  I can see why this is a bookie’s favourite for the overall winner.

  2. Israel*: (So:7 Pf:8 St:8) 23
    • Fireworks, funky high energy song and amazing shoes – there was a whole lot to love about golden boy.  And did I mention I wanted those winged golden shoes?  Good, just wanted to make sure I did.  Felt a little like this was the Greecian entry (which Greece failed to send) – lots of young lads leaping around.  Will play well in the final and should do well…assuming not too much political voting (ho ho).
  3. Montenegro*: (So:6 Pf:8 St:8) 22
    • Very arty opening to this number, quite sorrowful and reminded in a good way of the sort of stuff Bosnia can often send.   Lead singer had a genuinely lovely voice too, and the violin accompaniment worked well for a really haunting track.  Glad this one went through!

  4. Slovenia*: (So:6 Pf:7 St:7) 20
    • Maraaya-first-rehearsal-eurovision-2015-slovenia-600x361Okay so the lead lady singer in her sparkling headphones has a very unique voice…but I think that really worked for me.  I make no bone about normally preferring male lead singers, but I was won over by this rather strikingly different bit of pop.  And who can faulty the lady with the invisible air-fiddle!  Went I voted for this (rather than Israel, who I thought would get loads of votes) so hopefully that helped get it to the final!
  5. Poland*: (So:6 Pf:7 St:6) 19
    • Pretty lady in a wheelchair with a simply fabulous dress.  Poland are a usually quite popular at Llama Towers, especially with last year’s butter-churning.  This is very different, a rather gentle little song filled with a gentle cadence that makes it very easy on the ears.  The staging was heavy on flowers which did make it a little overly girly for my tastes – but suited the song well.  Song titled In the name of love…which had me singing the 80s hit by mistake!

  6. Azerbaijan*: (So:5 Pf:6 St:8) 19
    • Equal in points to Poland, but in terms of song and performance I’m afraid Poland has to take a higher place.  This though had some of the best dancing of the whole contest, as a male and female performer do their interpretive very best to strike forms and movement around the singer.  Sadly, the song while well enough sung – and reminding me of Feels Like Heaven – was nothing more than above average middle of the road pop.  Not surprised it went through though, mass appeal doubtlessly.
  7. Malta: (So:5 Pf:7 St:6) 18
    • 474306938Okay, cards on the table this was an okay song and a good performance.  But I think I gave it bonus votes for THAT dress which was split almost all the way to…well take a look for yourself.  And she managed to more or less flash the whole audience during the introduction to the night too.  Deliberate?  I can only speculate!  The song was the 2nd one in the contest called Warrior, and perhaps that didn’t help as this is the first one of my favourites not to make the cut.  It’s a nice Eurovision anthem style song, but perhaps not cutting the mustard for the voters.  Shame, my eyes and ears will feel deprived in the final.
  8. Cyprus*: (So:7 Pf:8 St:3) 18
    • Another island nation close on Malta’s heels, and this one did go through.  The Cypriot Elvis Costello delivered one of the technically superior songs and performances for the night, although the staging was very, very minimalist.  Stood out by being very different to anything else in the contest which I think counts very much in his favour.  Give it a listen, I think you’ll find it’s a real grower this one.

  9. Switzerland: (So:5 Pf:5 St:8) 18
    • It’s no Vampires are Alive but there was certainly two-tone drama with the lead singer tearing off her outer black cape to reveal her white outfit below.  There were also some very funky drummers on the stage.  Very, very Euro-tribal-pop sound to this one, and perhaps a little more mangled English so popped it slightly down the charts for me.  Didn’t go through, which seems to be the regular Swiss fate at Eurovision (much to a Swiss friend of mine’s disgust every year).  Again, had this been in the first semi, it would probably have made it in over some of the weaker material there.  Note my #9 for semi-1 scored 10 to this semi’s 18 – much, much stronger material and hence a harder contest!

  10. Czech Republic: (So:5 Pf:7 St:5) 17
    • Nice male and female vocals, with the female singer possessing legs that put mine to shame!  Sadly while they did counterpoint each other well, the song and staging wasn’t really enough to convince me.  And clearly not the voting public and judges either!
  11. Portugal: (So:4 Pf:7 St:5) 16
    • Poor old Portugal, they do keep on trying and some years really deliver.  This year sadly wasn’t one of them, and that’s despite the singer dressing as the Dark Pheonix.  The song just lacks a bit of power to make it really stand out.  Shame as after Georgia she’s got the most feathers on any outfit, which means she got my chicken’s votes!

  12. Latvia*: (So:3 Pf:7 St:6) 16
    • Yes another stunning dress which the singer appears to be about to launch into orbit from…and that’s about I have to say about this very, very odd song.  Reminded me somewhat of Portishead, and while I like Portishead…I’m not sure I really liked this track that much.  Still, enough people liked it enough to send through to the finals, so what do I know.
  13. Ireland: (So:5 Pf:4 St:3) 12
    • Oh Ireland, we send someone called Molly in 2014, so you send another Molly in 2015 with what appears to be my old primary school piano.  And like my singing at primarty school this one is probably best forgotten.  Ireland can do so much better, I can only conclude they really, really don’t want to host the show ever again.  I don’t dislike it, so much as I didn’t really notice it.  A song to go boil the kettle by.

  14. Iceland: (So:4 Pf:3 St:4) 11
    • It says something about the song and the performance that I spent half of this number wondering if the pretty little Icelandic pixie had stepped in a pot of golden paint and was now running about the stage in shiny-bare feet.  She was (I eventually worked out), but the song didn’t really register.  On re-listening it’s not that awful, but it’s sadly not that memorable or catchy…and clearly the voting Europe was with me on this one.
  15. Norway: (So:3 Pf:4 St:4) 11
    • The singer sings that he did something terrible in his early youth.  He did something terrible later on, in that he came and performed this rather dreary song about A Monster Like Me.   His lady companion, with lovely red-locks but a very odd dress didn’t help me as the words to this one literally had me giggling out loud and making up my own refrains.  Never a good sign.  And yet it went through – Europe is truly tone deaf.

  16. San Marino: (So:3 Pf:3 St:2) 8
    • Ah the country named after a pizza, and fronted this year by a lad at whom I shouted “School tomorrow!” when he came on.  Off key for both singers, and a very trite song.  But then, aren’t they all.  Aside from Finland.  Lost points for mangling that Eurovision favourite lyric of “reality“.  Gah.  Deservably didn’t go through.  “Let’s light up the candles, illuminate the night”…and then maybe stop singing this shite?
  17. Lithuania*: (So:2 Pf:2 St:3) 8
    • I really, really didn’t like this one – which given it’s a bit of disposable Europop seems a bit harsh.  But it goes round and round and round until I fell asleep.  The audience liked it and so did the voting public.  Once again I have misjudged the EU.    But gah, the wailing singingers!  Of course the same-sex kiss makes this edgy…possibly…but suspect this’ll play less well in the more conservative regions of the EBU!  Lost a point for the god-awful “Eurovision make some noise!” plea from the lead singer.

Semi Final One (Tue 19 May)

  1. Estonia*: (So:8 Pf:8 St:9) 25
    • The clear winner for me on the night, and another country who I’ve loved entries from many times in the past, so perhaps that counted towards the score.  For me Goodbye to Yesterday could so easily be the opening track to a Bond movie, which is high praise indeed (I’l spare you my encyclopedic Bond-theme knowledge here).  Glad to see it go through, and high hopes for the final.
  2. Russia*: (So:7 Pf:8 St:7) 24
    • Obi-Wan said something about A Million Voices once, and I guess that helped score some votes.  A little bit retro but the lead singer could certainly sing, had a fabulous dress and was fairly easy on the eyes.  All things that clearly helped punt them through to the final.
  3. Denmark: (So:6 Pf:6 St:7) 19
    • For me the biggest travesty of the night is that this didn’t go through, I really liked the retro feel of the song and the band too.  The very nicely dressed backing singers helped too, but why didn’t this genuinely fun pop song fail?  Without a doubt one I’ll be adding to my Spotify playlist.  Easily should have gone through while less creative stuff (paging Romania…) slipped past the gates.  Be interesting to see where this ranks when the detailed results are released next week.
  4. Hungary*: (So: 6 Pf:7 St:6) 19
    • Described by Mrs Llama as “More hippy shit” and me as “Oh look, Arya Stark’s singing” this was a upper-mid range performance.  No idea if it’ll do well in the final or not, especially against stronger competition.  The Doctor Strangelove meets DEFCON stage aesthetic was a nice touch though.
  5. Georgia*: (So:5 Pf:4 :St:7) 16
    • My twitter had been jail-locked by the time this slinky raven of a singer took the stage.  Probably just as well as I’d have likely tweeted something about the Dark Sansa singer that would have gotten me a vicious slapping from Mrs Llama.  Stage set was pretty cool, all those lightning bolts and her costuming was splendid.  Nice powerful performance, and while I didn’t love the song, I liked the overall impression enough to make it a top 5 pick on the night.  Might do well in the final, might not – can’t tell yet.
  6. Albania*: (So:6 Pf:4 St4 ) 14
    • Surprisingly high in my ranking, especially as I didn’t particularly like the entry that much.  Overall low standard of this semi’s songs means the lower half of my top 10 is largely stuff I wasn’t that keen on.  Opened the show, but not on a high note.
  7. Serbia*: (So:2 Pf:2 St:8) 12
    • Rated above Greece purely because I thought it contained the best theatricality and stage performance of the night by far.  All those masks, and then the costume changes made for a brilliant distraction from a song and performance that largely left me cold.  Felt a bit too much like another Eurovision by-the-numbers entry.  Probably do well on the night, but I didn’t really love 2/3 of its components.  Maybe it’ll grow on me…
  8. Greece*: (So:4 Pf:4 St:4) 12
    • For me this was a real meh of a song from Greece, the perennial churners out of high-energy party-styled anthems with a lot of hunky men leaping around the stage.  Much as I appreciated the dress slit all the way to an almost eye-popping level singing in front of a Stargate…I didn’t love it.  In my top 10 only because the rest of the pack were worse.  Totally forgettable Eurovision paint-by-numbers song, even if it had one of the few (only?) key-changes of the night.
  9. Belarus: (So:3 Pf:4 St:3) 10
    • Marginally higher than Armenia, if only for the line about “Time is beating like thunder, ha-hah!” which had me roaring with laughter.  Worse stuff than this went through (Belgium, I’m looking at you), but there you go.  Heated questions in the Belarus’ parliament again I guess…
  10. Armenia*: (So: 3 Pf:4 St:3) 10
    • With a title like Face the Shadow I wanted a whole lot more, although the lead singer turning up dressed like Captain Scarlet was a bonus.  A whole lot of wailing, a whole lot of ren-fayre costumes and pretty forgettable.  Mid-table fodder I’d say for the final.  So it’ll probably win.
  11. Romania*: (So:3 Pf:3 St3) 9
    • This song totally passed over me like a warm-gust of wind from a take-away extractor fan.  Wafts of something interesting, but beset by an awful lot of forgettable hot air.  Somewhat surprised it went through as my notes just read “Meh”.
  12. Finland: (So:3 Pf:3 St:2) 8
    • I wanted to like this more, as it was a break of fresh air after all the naff X-Factorish ballads.  But let’s be honest…it wasn’t great, and the mercy of it being the shortest entry ever in the contest was perhaps a mercy.
  13. FYR Macedonia: (So: 3 Pf:1 St:4) 8
    • The falling leaves of the song title kept going up, which was somewhat confusing.  The English was painful (wish people would sing in native language more)
  14. Moldova: (So:1 Pf:1 St:6) 8
    • Moldova usually manage to send something memorable, and most years (when I can) they get a vote from me.  The Hot Cops meets YMCA costumes boded well but the song and performance were diabolical.  Singer sounded like finger-nails on broken glass..
  15. Belgium*: (So:1 Pf:1 St:2) 4
    • Still unsure if I liked this less or more than Netherlands, but it wasn’t great.  And it went through too, moon faced singer and all.
  16. Netherlands: (So:1 Pf:2 St:1) 4
    • As I said at Castle Llama on the night “If this and Belgium go through I’ll eat Paddie Ashdown’s hat.”  Looks like I only need to eat half a hat though.  Liked the wing-suit costume though

Now the finals are over, they’ve released the results of the semi-final voting in detail, and it makes for an interesting read as always.  Sweden scored nothing other than 10s and 12s (other than from the UK and Azerbaijan), whereas Russia has a lot of 10s and 12s too, but markedly more 10s and a lot more scores lower than 10.  From reading this it was always going to be Sweden’s night – although with both Italy and Australia total unknowns it did make for a lot more uncertainty than normal!

Masque of the Red Death

Title seems appropriate in the light of the recent UK election results.  Wow, so much of that was unexpected (thanks pollsters, you useless lot), and rather moderately depressing.  Not to mention the number of people voting UKIP.  Ah well, onwards, upwards etc.  So, what have I been up to in the past few of weeks.

Teaching – Face to Face to Facebook

The last two seminars of the year are always very sparsely attended, although for Seminar 23 I had one session with only 1 student (out of 28) showing up.  Didn’t exactly make for the most dynamic of sessions as they weren’t that interested in the topic.  Anyway the focus has been on migrants media consumption and transnational media as a whole, which is a pretty meaty topic – but one that I still think sits a bit ill at ease with the rest of the course.  Not to mention the students made their traditional comments about not really following the lecture – hopefully I made a bit more sense of it for those who did turn up.  But that’s pretty much it for this module… Oh no, wait, I suspect I’ve got to mark exam papers in a months time.  For no extra cash.  Joy. There was actually more of a turnout for the last seminars of the year, although there were only 2 in one of my groups – the others managed around 6 a-piece.  Looking at media usage by migrants, which while far from being my favoruite topic (nor one I’m well versed in) felt it had some really good resonances with other aspects of media and culture.  Always good to discuss how we perceive ourselves, and then to flip that around to consider how others might perceive us – and how the media represents/misrepresents this.  Less of a seminar and more of a lecture as I could see in the student’s eyes they were pretty world weary by this stage in the career. Since then I’ve been fending off daily emails for advice on revision and exams.  Honestly feel I could have happily run a seminar this week as a special potted version of the course and gotten a pretty high attendance rate.  But obviously the uni’s not going to pay me to do that, and frankly given how busy I am with my own work now in the wake of my supervisor meetings…probably couldn’t have fitted it in!  Have had some really nice feedback from various students (including some from last year) on my lecturing and seminar support.  Won’t repeat it here (blogs are rather too self-aggrandising as it is), but makes me wish I could sit them all in front of future employers and say “Look, here are the real references on my academic teaching ability!”.

Teaching – Intro to Media Comms

The remaining four* groups of students performed their PR presentations for me (or in one case didn’t), and they were a mix of good ideas, interesting concepts and at times slightly oddly presented stats.  But I’m not kidding when I say I will really, really miss teaching this module; and this group in particular.  It’s been a wonderful journey and some great interactions have come out of it.  Students for the most part certainly seemed to have got a lot out of it, as more than a few of them have thanked me for my teaching on the course.  If only NTU had thought to retain me for next year’s module, eh. I also worked with one of my fellow tutors on moderating the marks.  She sat in on my sessions (we seemed pretty much of a mind on the marking, which was good), and I returned the favour for some of her groups.  Although I managed to turn up at the wrong room initially.  Really liked this collaborative marking for this aspect of the module, as it took away the self-doubt I had about where I was placing my grades.  Now all I have to do is wait for the grades to be normalised by the module leader, to see if we’re all being consist ant, and then return them to the students and I’m really done with this module. I’ll miss it; even while I won’t miss the 6.30am starts I have to make for the lectures.  Actually the last three lectures on the course have been a really interesting examination of the advertising industry, along with it’s broader impact on society.  Simon Cross, the lecturer has been doing sterling work; which considering fully less than 6 students have been in attendance for the last couple of sessions is a testament to his professionalism.  The final lecture had three UGs, me and a random visiting lecturer sitting at the back.  Boy that makes for a difficult audience.  Not sure where the remaining 157 students were; one can only assume none of them are planning a career in advertising…  But pretty piss poor engagement from the students, I’ve never seen this degree of apathy before…and this is after paying £9k a year for these services. *Yeah, I said four groups…but one of them…no one showed up.  I was only half surprised by this, and it certainly made it very very easy to mark.  But I was surprised by the lack of engagement by some of the students all year with the seminars, you kinda wonder if they think they can get decent careers where they never turn up too!

Supervisor meetings

Finally met with both my supervisors, although across two different days as my 2nd supervisor was snowed under.  Bless him though he insisted on still meeting this week as he didn’t want to short change me.  Dedication there, and his input was valuable.  My meeting with my Director of Studies was also very informative the week before.  We were focussing on the 3rd version of my theory chapter, which I’ve been working on for the past 5-6 months.  To say going into the meeting I was nervous would be an understatement.  And then he opened the meeting with the following dialogue.

I’m going to do my X-Factor review of your work. Has this revised version of your theory chapter improved on the prior version…yes.

Is it good enough…no.

(long pause as I feel the blood run out of my feet)

Why not? Because it is excellent, really exceptionally good.

Okay, two things.  1) The bastard, teasing me like that. 2) Thank the stars, I’m not sure I could have coped with having to totally rework it.  We did then spend an hour considering improvements that could be made to it, but more along the lines of tightening it up, polishing it and preparing it to be ready for monograph publication (!)  This means I’m now onto planning the next (final) bit of empirical research and my next chapter (IP related).  Drafting a document for review by my team’s comments before I can push forward on this bit in the next week or so.  More news about that (and probably a call for participation) once I’m sure in my head what I’m planning to do. Meeting with the second supervisor was a week later, and only a brief one as he was still pushed for time.  Similar laudatory comments, along with a range of suggestions for polishing it.  So full steam ahead with the next bit of research it is then.  After I finish the planning document.

Leicester – Media Conference

Heard back on the 1st of May that my paper had been accepted for the Leicester PhD media & comms conference.  Huzzah.  Only downside is I need to draft a paper by the 15th…that’ll be a big focus early next week then I think.  Should be able to adapt material from my thesis, along with some original stuff in a day or so.  Should be fun to talk about neoliberalism and HE, and to see if sparks any useful conversations/collaborations beyond the day.  Not to mention being able to write about “in the wake of the Conservative 2015 victory it seems that neoliberal driven policy will not be diminishing in the UK“, although you know, I’d prefer to have something more optimistic to say. Might also get a publication out of it too, which won’t do me any harm at all. Spent the best part of this week drafting and rewriting this.  Started looking easy, and like all these things once I dig into the topic I find I’ve got a lot to write – but adding any coherence to it is a challenge.  I know, I know.  Trying to write a coherent academic paper when so many aren’t as clear.  But one tries!  Finally submitted it on Friday right at the deadline.  Hopefully I can forget about that now until early June when I’ll need to write the talk that goes with it.  Hope it doesn’t need too much revision as I’ve slaved over it.  Can’t claim it’ll set the academic world on fire, but it was a good exercise in revising and updating my knowledge in a few areas.

Vienna – ISIS/ICT&S Conference

Try not to giggle everytime I write ISIS in my notes…no, not that lot.  Information Society for Information Studies.  Booked my hotel, booked my flights, and discovered that I’m presenting towards the end of the conference on the Saturday.  Great, this means I’ll have three people and a cow in the audience I suspect (and the cow may have plans).  I get a massive 15 minutes to speak,a and joy of joys my supervisor is the panel chair.  Ah well, at least he’s a known quantity – although he might try and take my talk apart…argh!  Think I prefer lecturing to strangers or bored looking undergraduates!  Decided to commit to attending the whole conference, after all I am sponsored so I really ought to.  This means I get to enjoy a “boat summit and conference dinner”.  Well that at least sounds different, and may I’ll get somewhere on finding a post-PhD employment position. Still need to sort out travel insurance as the Graduate Office were…what’s a polite way to say “utterly useless”…on the matter.  Not that it’ll cost me a fortune, but it might be nice if I can just use the university one.  Need to also find my E111 card…which is around somewhere!

Reference Reviews

Cranked off…sorry, skillfully wrote, my outstanding reference review of this book.  It’s not a bad media studies book, but think it fails rather at being a reference text.  Certainly be holding onto my own copy, rather than off to the charity bazaar with it!

Career Progress

So, with my job at NTU all but done it’s time to start job hunting for something p/t to keep me going for the next year.  Spent a good chunk of one day re-writing my academic CV, as the prevuious effort was somewhere between “not very good” and “a bit crap”.  Looks better now, although the difficulty is I’ve got a lot to put on it.  Must be easier for people who’ve stayed with one employer for decades!  Sent it off to another uni that I saw was looking for p/t media & comms lecturers in the hope they might give me a go.  Literally no idea if I’ll be what they’re looking for, but at least it’s the start of doing something positive.  In the meantime I remain open to any and all offers of employment!

Surprise Fuching

One of the days I was in to see my supervisors, I discovered to my delght that Prof Christian Fuchs was visiting to give a seminar.  Not quite sure how I missed this as I normally check out the visiting seminars in my area online every week.  I’ve used some of Fuchs’ work in my thesis, and a chance to hear him speak live was not to be missed.  He’s certainly a high energy lectuerer and we had an excellent debate afterwards (managed to pretty much have 20 minutes of back and forth with him in the time after the lecturer – which was an especial treat.)  I realised to a small degree I’m a bit of a fan of his work, and really need to read his latest book too.  Probably one for Amazon or ILL I think.  Good stuff even if he’s not quite coming from the same autonomous Marxism direction that I am, there’s a whole lot of resonance between what he’s done and my interests.  Also think an interview with him would be a useful artifact for the thesis, and oh yeah, he’s the chair of the Vienna conference too – so very handy to have touched base with him.

Election

Yeah.  I stayed up half the night watching it (night before my last seminars – I was there…but where were the students eh?) but Mrs Llama made me stop around 2.30am and come to bed.  It had gotten a bit depressing then already.  Still, at least the Greens in my area more or less tripled their vote this time.  Still last placed in a increased Tory majority ward.  Sigh.

Library Brain Picking

Had a brief meeting with the lovely Sharon Potter fro the NTU Library to talk about the Graduate Research Room, and the fact so few PhDs are using it.  Had to confess I think it’s largely down to a lack of awareness.  I only started going there when Kornelia told me about it!

[Edit] No idea why this claims to have been posted 8th May…my PC says it’s the 15th.  Never knew there was a TARDIS in my home office…