Sunday, May 25, 2014

Advice for a sabbatical

I got advice in my inbox this past week on how to have a successful sabbatical.  It came a few months too late, but still, thought I, there may be something I could learn from it. 

Apply for visas and work permits early, it suggested.  Check that one off!  Look into tax laws.  Get your family prepared.  Check and check!  Finish off all your old research projects before you leave, to have a clean plate while on sabbatical, to devote to brand new projects!  

Frankly, one of the major work-related goals I had for this sabbatical was to use large chunks of uninterrupted time to finally finish some of the ongoing research projects I have.  If I did nothing besides finish projects, I would call my sabbatical as a success.

So how has it gone so far, you ask?

Well, in the first three months of my sabbatical, I wrote solid drafts of four papers.  These I passed along to coauthors, letting them know I was happy, and all we needed was their approval before sending them off into the wide world!

Meanwhile, I had started a really great project here with a colleague.  We had an idea, and within the first three months of my arrival we had made amazing outstanding wonderful progress.  And then, we had awesome results!  The kind of results that would get me a very strong publication, a promotion, grants, fame, fortune, movie contract!  (Well, maybe not a movie contract, but still....)  We started writing up our results, and told a few people about how exciting they were going to be.

Best sabbatical ever.  All within the first three months! 

At the beginning of the fourth month, I found a hole in one of the projects I was about to speak about at a conference.  I realized it wasn't actually correct as we had thought.  I spoke on something else.

At that same conference, when it was over, and I was trying to get other work done, I realized that there was actually a problem with the new project.  Upon further investigation, the amazing outstanding wonderful awesome result fell apart completely.  So much for fame and fortune.

Coauthors began writing back.  There were issues here and there in the other papers, too, that needed to be fixed and thought through. 

And now, with 70% of the sabbatical finished, I find myself still working on the same collection of projects that I began with.  All in various stages of disrepair. 

I will probably fix them up.  The first hole in the first project has been patched, for example.  Another hole in another project has also been patched, and the corresponding paper will probably be finished this week.  The amazing outstanding wonderful project is also ongoing, and my collaborator and I continue to discover interesting stuff, stuff that will eventually become another research paper (the currency of the research part of my job).  It just won't lead so swiftly to fame and fortune.

Am I disappointed?  A little.  But I've been in this job long enough that I know this is the way research works.  I just wish it didn't work this way on my sabbatical.  I liked the first three months better. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

A week of normal days

In fragment sentences, mostly.

Sunday night charades. 

Monday night Pictionary.  (Seriously, that's a fox?!  How did you guess that?)

Early morning jogs in the park.  Full moon to the west.  Red sunrise to the east.  Sound of a kookaburra echoing from the south.  And hundreds of dogs with their owners out for their morning sniff.

Daily chores.  Making lunches.  Cutting apples.  Spreading sandwiches.  Pears.  Tomatoes. 

Laundry.  Laundry.  Laundry.  Laundry.  Laundry.


Work.  Pentagons and hexagons.  Twelve pentagons.  Twenty hexagons.  Or more.  One plus the square root of twenty-one.  5.72.  5.75.  5.77...  Maybe.  The answer to the question on volume is in the back of a paper from 2010.  Where does the day go?

Commute.  Up and down the Saint Kilda Road.  Wait for the green light.  Tram.  Touch on.  Book. 

Dinner time.  Again.  Shopping.  Again. 

Queen Victoria Market.  Apples.  Pears.  Extra large bag of oranges.  That's right -- winter is citrus season!  The house smells of oranges.  And Christmas.  Christmas smells like oranges. 

Last week's cold snap makes this week feel like a heat wave.  Sunshine.  Twenty-two degrees -- Celsius!  But don't lose the habit of closing the bathroom door. 

Saturday art.  This time, the European and Asian halls in the National Gallery of Victoria.  Dinner out.  Jonathan's choice.  Ramen again?  Off to wait at the Little Ramen Bar.  Always a wait there.  Three Ramune drinks with dinner. 

Sunday church.  Inner turmoil.  Sunday night Pictionary.  (How did you know that was a mop?!) 

Reading time. 

Bed time.


In the office in our apartment is a wall full of books, left by the owner.  On the wall was a book I borrowed to read on the tram.  In the book, in a chapter heading, was a quote that reads like a poem, and resonates.
“Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are. Let me learn from you, love you, bless you before you depart. Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so. One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow, or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky and want, more than all the world, your return.”  -- Mary Jean Irion
A week of normal days.  A great blessing.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mothers' day

In England, Mothering Sunday is in March.  But in Australia, which continues its pattern of seeming more like the US than Britain, Mothers' day in May.  Just like in the US.

We had a lovely Mothers' day.  On Friday, Jonathan's school put together a breakfast buffet to say thanks to mothers.  The whole family was invited to come and eat, and the dads were invited to volunteer to help out.  We ate pastries, yogurt parfaits, mini quiches, and lots of fresh fruit.  And then Tim helped clean up when it was all over.  Nice!

In church today, all the ladies received a paper flower and cupcakes, courtesy of the primary.  Jonathan filled out a card for me:

It is a lovely card, although it has several inaccuracies.  It says, for one thing, that I am 38 years old, but I'm not really that old yet.  Also, according to the card, I spend most of my day on my computer.  That is not true either, unless I'm pushing to get a paper written.  And the little boy who wrote it also says he thinks the best thing I cook is pot roast, which is interesting, given the fact that the last time I made pot roast was several months ago in the US, and that same little boy didn't like it.  So the card may or may not have been filled in just because it needed to be filled in.  But the accompanying cupcake was truly delicious.  Truly.

It was a double holiday weekend for us, since Jonathan celebrated a birthday recently, and we had three rowdy little boys over to our house for a party last night.  Jonathan decided to cook them dinner, and he made French toast on his own with strawberries, bananas, and Nutella.  I think the party went well, except for the noise.  Luckily it only happens once each year.

Happy Mothers' Day to all of you!

Sunday, May 4, 2014

On accents and English

English accents and Australian accents are definitely different.  Now that I have lived a little time in both countries, I can confirm that they are different.  If you give me an English person and an Australian person, and you make them speak to me, I can pick out the Australian, and the English, just by accent alone.  Yay me!

However, it is much harder to try to explain in words how the accents are different.  Or even to put my thumb on what it is that I'm hearing.  And it is harder still to try to reproduce the accents.  I can't do it.  I can only say that they are different, and they are accents.  As opposed to the English language that I speak, which is accent free. 

When we lived in England, and Jonathan was three, Jonathan picked up an English accent without thinking.  His friends and teachers spoke that way, so he spoke that way.  Tim and I picked up an English intonation when speaking to little children.  That's the way little children could understand us in England, so that's the way we spoke to them.  My brother Nathan commented on this when he visited, although it was mostly unconscious to us.  I do remember, however, going to the playground our first week back in the US, and hearing a couple of US children speaking to each other, and realizing that we were in a completely different country.  Completely different.

But here, in Australia, Jonathan is a lot older, and so are his friends.  He doesn't have to pick up an Australian accent to be understood, partly because here, that is Right Here, the accents aren't very strong.  We live in a very international area.  I've never had to strain to understand an Australian in Melbourne, although I had to listen very closely to many English people at first in Oxford and it suburbs, and I did have to listen much more closely to speakers in Tasmania. 

In spite of the fact that Jonathan doesn't need an Australian accent to be understood, he is trying to develop one anyway.  He will go for a few hours and speak to us only with his practice accent.  At first, his practice accent sounded a little too US southern, with the long rolling vowels.  But he's getting better.  And as I hear the differences in the words Jonathan says, with his Australian accent, I can finally put my finger on some of the differences between Australian and English accents.  Some of them.

For example, when Jonathan was three years old and living in England, the very first word he learned to say like a native was the word "no".  He pronounced it with a long A sound first, rolling into the long O at the end.  "Nae-oe."  As in, "nae-oe -- you cannot touch that toy."  "Nae-oe.  I will not clean my room." 

In Australia, the word No is pronounced with the long A at the end.  "Noe-ae".  Sometimes it rolls itself into "noi".  Or "noy".  So you see?  Both have the long A mixed in with the long O, but in England you say the A first, then the O, and just the opposite in Australia.

Another huge difference is in the T sounds.  In England, T's are sacred.  The girl is named "Kay-TTee".  She is "liTTle."  Americans roll those into "liddle kady".  However, we keep important T's, like in the words "fifteen", "nineteen.".  Australians throw away T's.  Fifteen is pronounced "fif-daine."  Nineteen is "nine-daine".  And water is "woo-dah." 

Notice that the final R was dropped.  Australians do that.  The English drop their final R's too.  They ask for "BOT-Tled-WOO-TTah", rather than the American "bodduhld watuhrr."  But no one asks for "bodd-led woo-dah" like an Australian. 

And now that I have carefully explained these subtle differences, someone will read this and contradict me with their own better informed examples.  And that is fine.  I am not an expert, just an observer.

Another difference I have observed is in written communications.  In England, no one will ever use your first name, unless you have become special-pinky-friends or something.  You are absolutely required to fill in your title on every form, so that the form letter can be sent to Ms. or Mrs. or Dr. or Prof. or Sir, whichever is appropriate for your Class and Station.  That bothered me.  If there were a generic lady title, like "Mr.", I might have been happy putting that everywhere.  But I didn't feel it was the electric company's business whether or not I was married, what my educational attainment or profession was.  So I kind of picked titles at random.  "Ms." at the doctor, "Dr." at the institute, "Mrs." for the internet bill, "Royal Prince Regent" at the airport.  (You get better service that way.)

In Australia, everyone only uses first names.  It was a huge relief from the beginning to have the school officials greet you with your first name, and sign their first name to their forms.  They've taken this even further than Americans.  Jonathan's teacher is Anika, not Miss Anika or Mrs Anika or Her Royal Highness Anika.  It seems much friendlier to me.  Everyone starts out on equal footing, not automatically filtered by education or marital status. 

In all, Australia seems very friendly.  Or maybe we just got lucky in where we're living and who we've met so far. 

Accidentally knock something over on the way out the door?  "No worries," they say. 

Run into a friend at the store?  "How ya going?"  (Not "how's it going," as you would say in the US.  "How ya going" is a very Australian greeting.)

Oh, and another one, that doesn't really fit here, but I'll add it anyway.  If one of the other kids in your school class does something wrong that the teacher should know about?  "I'm going to tell off you!"  Whereas in the US, they would "tell ON you."  You see the difference? 

I feel so culturally enlightened!