A Semblance of Normality


Must remember not to use it to play car-games
Must remember not to use it to play car-games

With the coursework all finished for the academic year, this week finally sees me able to focus my attention squarely back on my research.  Something I’ve been frustrated about not being able to spend more time with over the last month.  Today I’ve been typing up interviews (got through two of them, or around 60 minutes of audio) which I was quite pleased with.  However, I’ve given in and ordered myself a foot-control pedal.  It’s something I’ve known about for a while, and now they can just jack into the USB port of my PC it should make the hands-free control of the playback a snap.  It also means I can spend more time typing, and less time taking my hands off the keyboard to pause and rewind.  I imagine though it’ll take a little while to get used to it, so I’ll cover my experiences here!

Tomorrow, I plan to spend the day reading for the vast bulk of the day, to give my hands a bit of a rest.


Didn't Duran Duran record "The Remix"?
Didn’t Duran Duran record “The Remix”?

Read Remix by Lessig, a book I’d started reading last month and then had to put to one side to do all the RPC coursework.  It’s a good book, and as I’ve read all his earlier books it’s really interesting to see how his writing style and arguments have come on.  Peppered throughout with real world examples and interviews, and notably an excellent essay by a student on just why they “pirate” music (free lunch, yes please, who wouldn’t take it!), Lessig does make a powerful case for his central theme – criminalising youth through legislative efforts is not advisable. While allowances he argues must be made to allow the digital remixing by the amateur, non-commercial individual, he does argue that for the professional sphere that (c) needs perhaps less modification.  A second central plank is his examination of the economic dimension of (c) and aspects of social production. Here, rather than looking at the entirely social productivity of efforts like FOSS (c.f. Wealth of Networks by Benkler for more) he examines the hybrid models like Wikipedia, Google and Amazon where total exclusivity is not claimed and yet commercial stability has been achieved. There are some similarities with the hybrid model of open access that might be worth considering.  Finally he introduces the ideas of Read Only/Read Write culture – the former being the consumer model of the 20th Century and the latter the ideas behind remix. Historically we had a remix culture (folk songs), but this was slowly erased by (c) reform in the second half of the 20th Century.

Having finished this thoroughly interesting read, I went on to sort out some bibliography issues and engaged in battle with RefWorks online again for a while to close out the day.  Research posters day tomorrow – keep feeling like I should have spent some time revising my research notes, but I guess if I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing by now I never will.  A little nervous as not quite sure what to expect tomorrow from the assessors.


Not a great night’s sleep, worrying about today’s research poster day which saw me taking an early train to Nottingham and the City Campus.  As usual I was the first one there, but I needn’t have rushed as the promised boards for the posters didn’t turn up (due powercuts and floods we were told) until after 10am.  It was nice to have the chance to chat to my fellow RPC PhD students, and in some cases finally put names to faces.  There were some genuinely really excellent posters from my group too.  Once the posters up, we then had to wait for various academics to come and see ours and grade them and our ability to talk about our work.  I got seen by three, the most senior of whom was…pretty caustic about my theoretical aspects.  Not quite crucified, but her certainly didn’t mince his words or scorn – being told that currently “It’s not a PhD” was an especially hard body blow to take.

Just knew I should have gone with this poster
Just knew I should have gone with this poster

*engage sulky teenager mode*

I’m fully aware the theory is the weakest part of my research proposal at the moment, and something I’m trying to develop – indeed my supervisors advice has been that we will develop it over the 3/4 years of the study.  At times I feel like I’m slightly hobbled as unlike a lot of people in my school I’ve not come through an Arts and Humanities degree path.  It think this goes a long way to explain why this bit is a real struggle for me.  If there was just some book I could read that would give me some insight, I’d pay good money – but all the texts I’ve picked up so far have just muddied the water a lot.  I think I’m going to have to have some discussions with my supervisors about this more, as the guy’s comments really shattered what little self-confidence I have about my research.

The other two reviewers were a little less challenging, though I still struggled a bit in my explanations (managing to blank the word “ethnographic” at one crucial point – arg!).  So no idea how well I did in that, though i was told my poster was fine.  At least I don’t have to worry about it being forwarded to any further internal competitions, pretty sure that’s all dead in the water for me.  Just do hope I’ve done enough to get a passing grade.  Not my finest of moments I fear, and I think I felt pretty rubbish when I couldn’t pick up anyone else getting anything like the grilling I did.  *sigh*

After the poster session a group of us retired to the delightfully named Spanky Van Dykes (!) bar across the road.  A fun couple of hours there in conversation and companionship slightly soothed my fevered mind.  Then took the long train ride home, and sorted out some administration issues, and tested out the pedal for transcriptions.  Going to take a little getting used to, but honestly I think it’s going to really help.  Hopefully a good night’s sleep will restore my self-confidence and enthusiasm a little.


Me, today
Img by C0L0SS4L-ST1NK3R

Still a bit down after the adverse comments on my work from yesterday, which is rather impacting on my motivation to do anything today. Not helped my multiple family medical traumas that are going on at the moment as well, which aren’t exactly leaving me free of cares and ready to refocus and redouble my efforts.  That said I’ll be using my pedal in anger today for the first time and do some more transcriptions.  Hopefully this will help get me going on something useful, while freeing me mostly of the need to think to much.

[Later] Three whole interviews transcribed, which is somewhat of a record.  Especially considering I had to pop out for an hour to get a new tire for my car.  The pedal has already repaid my investment, and I’m almost kicking myself for not buying on sooner.  Still in a funk even by the end of the day, despite Mrs Llama’s best efforts to cheer me up.  This week does seem to be the week that keeps on kicking me in the ass emotionally.


Another day leaving for Nottingham before tea of breakfast, and still suffering under a bit of a funky cloud; despite last night’s highly enjoyable Eurovision semi final (2) – all my favourites went through, that’s not happened in ages!).  I’m here for the RPC Conference, organised by the 3rd year PhDs, papers by the 2nd years and supposedly attended by us 1st years as well.  However, from a straw poll of my cohort on Weds I suspect there will only be a smattering of folks from my group there.  Which is fine, it means I can spend the day listening quietly and chatting to a potted plant in the corner of the room.  An old conference technique of mine on those days when any shred of self-confidence seems to elude me.  Today’s one of those days sadly.  However, maybe it’ll spark my grey thinky thing into action hearing other people’s work and perhaps pull back some of the mists around theory that are dogging my waking and sleeping hours at the moment.

[Later] Well as events go, today’s was pretty much symptomatic of the whole RSP.  Turning up to be greeted by what appeared to be the cast of The Apprentice squabbling about organisation, being told I was an “external guest” which meant I didn’t get lunch*, a programme, coffee or a name badge – well let’s just say as a veteran conference organiser with over a decade of experience…I’ve had people walk out on conferences for much less!  It wasn’t a good way to greet people and certainly gave a very poor first impression.  Oh, and there was the small matter of hearing that thanks to the estate services while the posters from Wednesday were up somewhere, they’d been transported in a bit of a numpty manner – and were folded (!) and in one case ripped beyond hope.  Nice…

Still no matter, I thought, these quibble shouldn’t spoil matters – doubtless the content of the day would be engaging and that’s what really matters.

There were some good sessions (thank you Kornelia!), that were some brilliantly off the wall sessions (fly in/on/outside the room – loved it) and then there were the large majority of the rest which were…erm, not that brilliant.  Some of them had interesting content and weren’t that well presented, certainly if the remit was to explain matters to a multidisciplinary audience.  Others were just bizarrely structured that they didn’t really communicate anything.  This was a source of some frustration as some of those in the latter category were, in the abstracts, really quite fascinating sounding bits of work.

Thankfully the main key-note was interesting, even if it did delve into crowd-sourcing and Clay Shirky’s work with which I’m more than a little familiar already.  The other keynote was from an avant garde film director and was…erm, yes, I’d say interesting except that might need some clarification.  It was interesting in the empirical sense of watching a film maker’s journey from student film maker to artist.  But on the other hand while I could kinda see how this relates to the research student’s journey, the films left me pretty cold.

*cancel sulky teenager mode*

Fly her apart then!
Fly her apart then!

At the end of the day when it was announced that this year’s conference was great and an improvement on last year’s, I honestly felt the need to make a sanity check.  Hopefully next years will be better, since muggins here and my cohort will be presenting at it**.  Still, the day was not a waste as I did catch up with a couple of people, had a few ideas of avenues to explore more in my own research and reading, and was reminded that I’m actually a pretty good public speaker.  Nipped out to catch the (one an hour) train as soon as everything ended as I was kinda glad to make myself scarce though, but mainly so I could get back home in time to take Mrs Llama out to see Star Trek: Into Darkness.  A film, much more in my oeuvre…

*I think I could have got lunch in the end, but suffering a massive attack of low self-esteem I went off and explored the library instead.
**Assuming I’m still doing the PhD and have not been run over by a rampaging academic again


2 thoughts on “A Semblance of Normality

  1. Folded?? Ripped??? What is WRONG with these people?

    Sorry I couldn’t make it to the conf. Migraines kept me low. Though I won’t be able to attend the ‘competition’ aspect next week either…

    Keep your chin up. Remember: it was only one person’s opinion, and one that doesn’t necessarily matter if your supervisory team feel you’re on the right track.


    1. I know Vic – Mara’s face was a picture when she heard. A picture of thunder and lightning that is! Honestly, there are many folks who work in estates services at unis I’ve met over the years who are brilliant people who go that extra mile etc. Then there are those who do the bare minimum to get through the day. I think the latter type were sadly the ones assigned to poster clean up duty!

      And cheers for the kind words – I’ve mostly recovered my equilibrium now, and perhaps it’s not such a bad thing to get a kicking once in a while – since it stops me assuming everything is hunky dory. But boy did does a public flogging hurt!

      And yeah, my team seem to be happy enough…but I think all the same I’ll be flogging myself a bit to work on the theory; which should be good for me in the long run. Hopefully 🙂


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