Friday, 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas

Vaulting and I are back in New England Micropolis for Christmas for a few days before heading up into the white wild yonder (Canuckland) to see my associated people. Might post in the next few days about an article I read in the journal Science. Might not. I'm not making any promises. :D

Have a great Christmas if you celebrate it, and if not, enjoy the time off while you can!

Merry merry!

Thursday, 23 December 2010

Today in WTF? Liam Neeson and the Moronic Right edition

So, Liam Neeson is doing the voice-over work for the part of Aslan in the latest Narnia movie. Aslan is the big-ol' Christ-figure lion in the subtle-as-a-brick-through-a-window Christian allegory put together by C. S. Lewis. So the other day, Neeson says this:

"Aslan symbolises a Christ-like figure but he also symbolises for me Mohammed, Buddha and all the great spiritual leaders and prophets over the centuries... That’s who Aslan stands for as well as a mentor figure for kids – that’s what he means for me."(1)

I added in the bold for a reason.

Today in WTF? We have, in response, this batsh!t-insane article from Ken Blackwell at the HuffPo, in which he calls Neeson's comments a "craven effort" to use "his social, cultural, or political position to smooth the path of sharia, the law they have in Saudi Arabia."(2)

Blackwell writes "This is the reason that Hollywood so often is linked to the Looney Left!"


Really, mister? This is the reason? One man's personal statement about what a two-dimensional character from a poorly-written set of books turned CGI-heavy movies means to him. That's why Hollywood is the "looney left".

Well, I'm glad we got that cleared up.

Let's just not talk about what things like this say about the right, then, shall we?


1. quoted from here.

2. go look, I'll wait here.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

The (Honorary) Professor Badass Award, vol. 1

It's time for something new. So as a decent excuse for posting this de-motivational poster I swiped form the internets ( as often as possible, I will henceforth be honouring random individuals with the temporary moniker "Professor Badass."

This week, it goes to Charlie Brooker, over at the guardian, for a Swiftian, eat-Irish-babies-type article about how hard all of this "edumacation" stuff is, and how really, completely unnecessary it all is:

Instead, let's focus on giving young people the skills society will be crying out for in the years or months to come. Practical vocations such as water-cannon operator, wasteland scavenger, penguin coffin logger, Thunderdome umpire, dissident strangler, henchperson and pie ingredient.

You sir, for the week of December 20 to December 26, 2010, are the honorary Professor Badass.

And a very merry Christmas to you too, sir.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

A World Lit Only By Misconceptions: On Time

Yes, now that I've finished and handed in two completely non-medieval term papers, it's about time for a little more debunking and public mockery of everyone's favourite book: William Manchester's "A World Lit Only By Fire". In this episode: why the statement that in the "medieval mind" there was "no awareness of time" is, for want of a less polite term, utter poppycock.

"In the medieval mind there was also no awareness of time, which is even more difficult to grasp... Life then revolved around the passing of the seasons and such cyclical events as religious holidays, harvest time, and local fetes. In all Christendom there was no such thing as a watch, a clock, or, apart from a copy of the Easter tables in the nearest church or monastery, anything resembling a calendar. Generations succeeded one another in a meaningless, timeless blur. In the whole of Europe, which was the world as they knew it, very little happened..." [emphasis mine](Manchester 22-23).

Some of these claims don't even merit discussion. That very little happened in medieval Europe is, well, it's the dumbest damn thing I've heard this week. But there is something to be said about time.

No doubt Manchester got this hyperbolic drivel by lightly skimming some of the last century's worth of writing on the subject of time and perception in the Middle Ages. There is a kernel of truth behind what he writes: the mechanical clock,* in the form of the communal, "town clock", didn't become widespread until the early 1400s. We have evidence that almost a century earlier than that, however, in Italy, there was some kind of a 24-hour mechanical clock, though it mightn't have worked so well. By the time of the early Protestant Reformation in England people had been talking about "such-and-such hour of the day" in the sense we would for some time. People started counting minutes later, during Pepys' time (or thereabouts). Huygens' invention of the pendulum clock pretty much brings us up to now.

There is also a very prominent theory, as seen in Benedict Anderson's "Imagined Communities" and based on Walter Benjamin's "Theses on the Philosophy of History," that a major sea-change took place in the understanding of time in the west between the medieval and the modern periods. The idea is pretty complicated, but basically has to do with the suggestion that in the modern conception of time, we pass along a timeline, with space on the line between the dots that represent events. So the idea of "empty" time with events "in" it (and more importantly, with space between the events) is the current one. The "medieval" time is what Benjamin calls "messianic" time, and that's where things get really theoretical and beyond the realm of a blog post. Suffice it to say, it's not the way we think of time, and it's a lot more metaphysical. It has to do with prefiguration (think Isaac & Christ) and a simultaneity that exists through the perception of the divine. Just, bear with me on this.

The point is, that yes: in the Middle Ages, time was understood differently than it is today. But that's a bit of a no-brainer, isn't it? It doesn't mean that they had "no conception of time," or that, more than that, all life was "a meaningless, timeless blur."

"No mechanical clocks" does not equate with "timeless existential dread," Mr. Manchester.

Before the mechanical clock there was the sundial. There was the water clock. The sand clock. The canonical hours were rung on bells in England from somewhere in the middle of the 600s.** There were medieval astrolabes which could (guess what) be used to tell time.

The word "hour" doesn't enter the English language until the 1200s, sure. But other words for time-keeping do: "morn," "even," and "day" have been in the language since before we have written evidence to prove it. "Noon" might not have come to mean the middle of the day until the 1200s, but "on midne dæg" is written in the Blickling Homilies, followed shortly by the compound "middandæg". Certainly the periods of time people were concerned with were larger than the hour and the minute, but this doesn't reduce the diurnal and seasonal foci of their timescales to "meaningless".

The people of the Middle Ages didn't view time the way we do today. But they did perceive it. To impress upon that a value judgement is nothing short of social darwinism. More than that, doing so "writes off" another, different perspective. If you can't stomach a perspective that's different from your own, Mr. Manchester, might I suggest you get the hell out of the study of history.

That is all :)

For further reading on time in the middle ages, please consult the following:

Cipolla, Carlo. Clocks and Culture 1300-1700. 1967. New York: W. W. Norton, 2003. Print.

Dohrn-van Rossum, Gerhard. History of the Hour: Clocks and Modern Temporal Orders. Trans. Thomas Dunlap. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Print.

Le Goff, Jacques. Time, Work and Culture in the Middle Ages. Trans. Arthur Goldhammer. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980. Print.

Sherman, Stuart. Telling Time: Clocks, Diaries and English Diurnal Form 1660-1785. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996. Print.

*from a very very old root, as evidenced by its similar appearance in both old Gaelic forms as well as old Germanic ones, meaning something like "bell"
**well, Bede says they imported a bell around then, anyhoo.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Lost Books

This post is a shameless recommendation of a book of poetry by a good friend of both Vaulting and myself. It's shameless because I can fully endorse the buying of this book for yourself, your friends, and pretty much anyone you know that likes good poetry. I'm also posting because I want fans of poetry to know that it's up for the People's Book Prize, a voter-based book award. It's usually won by novels, because they're generally more popular than poetry in this day and age, but I thought I might try to mobilize the vote a little. She is also a medievalist, if that will encourage you :) Chances are good, if you went to Kalamazoo last year, that you even heard her speak.

So here's a sample, from Adrienne J. Odasso's "Lost Books"


He said there were eyes in the trees, and roses
in the bush, which might sting if I touched
their leaves. Upon the stone wall, which we didn't
build, branches overladen curl
to the sky—
persimmon, pomegranate, nettle.

I'll fight for the words, for the names,
which are mine, and I'll touch the rose-leaves
if I please. In my veins is the picture already,
the chance of paint, the scraped hide: the eyes
in the trees become eyes in the vines

of the dance, of the blooming
and the sting of remembrance;

I am the woman asleep
in the branches.

Go Here to register and vote.

Go Here to buy Lost Books from

Thursday, 2 December 2010

This is what happens...

...when you have too many un- and underemployed PhDs.

the hits of the ancient world:

all set to the tunes of the 1980s, 90s, and beyond.


click if you dare.

(thanks JJ Cohen)

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

A Novel Gift

Well I think this is very cool. "Readergirlz and First Book are partnering to give away more than 125,000 brand-new books to low-income teen readers." They're looking for schools, community groups, pretty much anybody that works with their target demographic, so that they can give them free books. Just thought I'd spread the word.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Why Medieval...?

So it's the day after Turkey Day, and now that the L-Tryptophan- & carbohydrate-induced coma has passed, I'm making good on a pre-Thanksgiving promise: explain to the world why I'm a medievalist.

I'm a little shocked that I haven't done this before, really. And maybe I have and I just can't locate the post. But either way here it is. It's not really the story of how I chose to be a medievalist; it's more like how medievalism chose me. I just stumbled into really -- as, I think, do many of us. We don't really have conferences. We have support groups. :)

When I started undergrad, I wanted to be an English teacher. High-school level would have suited me just fine. I enjoyed high school English, enjoyed seeing the way the kids learned. I was the guy the other kids turned to to explain what Shakespeare meant, I tutored younger kids in how to spell phonetically. Anyway, I figured I could make a positive contribution that way (not to mention have a great pension plan under the OSSTF, which I will now at some point envy considerably). So the plan was to go to undergrad, get a BA in English, minoring in history, and then apply to teachers' colleges.

The plan was going just fine until third year, when I took a course on Old English. I've always been a fan of other languages, and at the time I was taking my second year of Mandarin (which I can only assume that I passed solely by the grace of an instructor who felt great pity for me, on account of what I then called my unbearable whiteness of being). I'd been taking courses on English history for the previous few years, too, because of the aforesaid history minor and an interest in England.

So I suppose that's where it started. A love of languages and a historical bent for the country my parents came from. I didn't really register it at the time though. I just drifted on in.

The next year, my fourth at undergrad at Northern Megalithic, I enrolled in first-year Latin, and tried to come up with another medieval English course to take. There weren't any, so on the advice of my Old English instructor (now known as @Alliterative) I approached Eminent Beowulf Scholar about supervising my senior essay on what I now realize was an incredibly tired and overdone topic: Beowulf and Christianity. I know.

So that was fourth year. And because of a mixture of things (a masochistic desire to do at least second-year Latin, as well as a missing elective from my course totals) I ended up doing a fifth year of undergrad before applying to one (yes, that's right, only one) MA program. That year I took a brilliant course of the history and development of the English language, and it was at that point that I think I really got it. Getting from "Eyren" to "Eggs" because of the vikings? Yeah, I guess that's when I was hooked.

So, Highly Organized Sister of Mine will attest to what is now becoming my habit of flying by the seat of my pants without backup plans, as not only did I get into the one program I applied to for my MA, I also got into the one program I applied to for my PhD. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Said MA program was actually an MA in Medieval Studies. Not incidentally, this is where I met Vaulting and, not long thereafter began this blog. Longtime readers will know the rest: a couple of years in Shakerland and a false start or two and here we are. I'm doing a PhD in English at Gothic Revival U and fretting (fretting, I tell you) about the workload. Which still isn't enough to get me to do that work instead of posting this.

So that's it. There to here. As I said, it's not really a post about why I chose Medieval Studies as more about how Medieval Studies ended up choosing me. But there it is. And I can't wait until the next support group meeting -- Kalamazoo 2011. You should come.

Anyhow, I think now Vaulting and I are going to go decorate a Christmas tree over in Shakerland. There are more stories of how people became medievalists over at

Have a happy rest-of-Thanksgiving if you've got it. And a Happy Friday either way.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Today I'm thankful for...

I know tomorrow's thanksgiving, but awesome doesn't last on the interwebs forever. So today I'm thankful for the fact that I don't go sunbathing: because two square metres of sunlight can melt rock.

Have yourselves a happy thanksgiving, even if, like me, you're only borrowing the holiday :)

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Places not to go.

So the UN just voted to remove sexual orientation from a list of reasons not to summarily kill people. Well, strictly speaking, it was a list of things deemed "arbitrary" reasons to kill people that member states pledge to investigate and prosecute. For ten years it's been on the list, but this year it's been removed on a 79-70 vote thanks to Benin and the African group at the UN.

Here's the complete article, but for those of you wondering who is and isn't against preventing the arbitrary killing of LGBTQ people, here are the for and against:

In favour of removing sexual orientation from the list:

Afghanistan, Algeria, Angola, Azerbaijan, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Belize, Benin, Botswana, Brunei Dar-Sala, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kuwait, Lebanon, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Mozambique, Myanmar, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and Grenadines, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, Sudan, Suriname, Swaziland, Syrian Arab Republic, Tajikistan, Tunisia, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United Republic of Tanzania, Uzbekistan, Viet Nam, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe

In favour of keeping it on the list:

Andorra, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bhutan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Hungary, Iceland, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Micronesia (FS), Monaco, Montenegro, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Samoa, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Timor-Leste, Ukraine, United Kingdom, United States, Uruguay, Venezuela

Well, I guess I know where I'm not going on vacation -- not that I was planning a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo anytime soon, but there are some definite places on that list that might lose tourist dollars because of this.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Something Up

I feel like just posting something shiny today to combat the rain in New England Metropolis. So, if you haven't read it before, or even if you have, go check out Hark, A Vagrant. You'll thank me.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

From somewhere beneath the Ivory Tower

I haven't really had time to digest this yet, but here you are if you haven't yet seen it: An article by a ten-year veteran of an essay-writing service, who may or may not call himself The Shadow Scholar. It's both eye-opening and a little sad. He sounds like he's got a lot of talent, and I can't help but wonder why he hasn't gone into teaching. He's obviously clever enough for it.

Go read it. I'll wait.

I suppose I can see the temptation. The amount I get paid to help students rewrite their own essays (arguably harder than doing it yourself, imho) is chump change compared to what he gets for writing one. And I can certainly see the temptation for students with learning/expression challenges and ESL issues to make use of the services.

Not that I think they should, mind you. I just have a talent for empathy. ;)

In defense of Gothic Revival U, we have a fantastic center for helping out students with learning disabilities and ESL issues, and as far as I'm aware, it's covered under tuition, so if they need the help the only drawback is the time it takes. Which makes it the cheaper option, if not the easier one. At which point one can pretty categorically condemn the use of essay-writing services by any student as lazy and self-entitled.

Oh, and as an update to my last post, Dean Dad did, in fact, respond to Tenured Radical's post about running universities like corporations, but mostly it was a defense of the community college rather than an explanation of the ridiculous sums paid to CEOs of private universities in the US. Ah well. Just call me Huey Long (but please, don't shoot).

Monday, 15 November 2010 much?

After reading this article over at Tenured Radical, I found myself asking a question:

Should any university employee make over a million dollars a year?

Now we're not talking a hundred thousand per year, which sum I fully expect never to make in a single year, though certain people also give me hope in this department, even as they voice their concerns over a lack of raises. This is over a million. That's making the amount of money in a single year that a few years ago investment analysts were saying you should optimistically have in the bank when you retire. At my current rate of pay, it would take me nearly 60 years to gross that amount, let alone save it. Now to be fair, I'm on the low-paying but fair "we pay your costs and you get a degree" scheme right now, and if I don't start making more after I get said degree, well, I'll have to find a new line of work.

So, a cool million.

My answer is a simple, categorical no.

The President of the United States of America only makes 400k. Why should the president of a university make more than double that of the so-called leader of the free world?

And the term "make" is really a misnomer. Why should they be given a million dollars in compensation for their labours? Do they work that much harder? Contribute that much more to the value of the institution? If Dean Dad reads this, I'm sure he'll have an at least half-way reasonable answer from an economic perspective, but me? I just can't see it.

Maybe you have to be a university president to understand why they need to be paid so much.

I just don't understand.

Any hints? Let me know in the comments if you have a good idea.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Aw, Hell.

Spurred on by my curiosity, after reading that Jonathan Jarrett was going to the seventh level of Hell, I decided to check out where I'd be going.

Looks like for me the elevator's going to ding at the second floor: "Desire, Raging Winds, and Helen of Troy".

If only I could cut down on my lust, I'd make it up to Limbo with the virtuous non-believers. Tricky.

The Second Level of Hell

You have come to a place mute of all light, where the wind bellows as the sea does in a tempest. This is the realm where the lustful spend eternity. Here, sinners are blown around endlessly by the unforgiving winds of unquenchable desire as punishment for their transgressions. The infernal hurricane that never rests hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine, whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them. You have betrayed reason at the behest of your appetite for pleasure, and so here you are doomed to remain. Cleopatra and Helen of Troy are two that share in your fate.

The Dante's Inferno Test has banished you to the Second Level of Hell!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Moderate
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)High
Level 2 (Lustful)High
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Very Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Low
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very Low
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low

Take the Dante's Inferno Test

Friday, 5 November 2010

Move Over Jonathan Swift

Oh Mr. Swift, I'm so sorry to deliver the news: you are no longer the undisputed King of Snark. I must admit, to your credit, sir, that since 1729 and that piece about eating Irish babies you've held a very solid lead, not to mention a special place in my heart. And I'm not certain that you've been entirely dethroned, either, merely that you may need to share.

Behold: The snarkiest thing I've ever read on the internet, a piece by Wendy Molyneux over at the Rumpus.

And so I did that. I tried on all my clothes, and I felt better until I tried on one pair of pants that didn’t fit me anymore. And then I totally started to cry again, because I am so fat. I cried for a little while on the floor while my cats crawled all over me, purring and being symbols of how lonely I am. My cats love to be symbols of my loneliness. Sometimes, I have to be like, “Stop signifying so loudly guys, I’m watching Grey’s Anatomy!”

Oh well, Jon. At least you're being made into a feature film starring Jack Black.

Thursday, 4 November 2010


In other news of the WTF varity, Judith Griggs, editor for Cooks Source magazine, thinks it's okay to steal things off the internet, publish them for profit, and then tell the author to feel grateful for it: check out the blog post over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books.

Then make a post linking "Judith Griggs" to in order to googlebomb. :)

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

When I grow up, I want to be...

Prompted by this post by Dean Dad, in which he discusses his son's fourth-grade class' goals (boys=rich, girls=married), I thought I'd briefly wax historical on my own goals as a child. I think in the first few grades, most of the boys wanted to be firemen or policemen or astronauts, and most of the girls wanted to be horses. Yeah I don't really understand how that works either, but there was definitely a cadre of young girls at my elementary school who spent every recess pretending to be horses. Not to ride them. Be them.

My best friend was a girl (though not one of the horse-girls) who used to build forts and run around doing stupid sh*t with me. I don't remember what we used to do. Maybe we played house? Well, we probably used our imaginations a lot. All I can really remember of the first three grades is a general feeling of well-being, a few still embarrassing instances of being a temper-tantrum-throwing little freak, reading a stunning quantity of young adult novels (I think I read the entire catalogue of John Bellairs' books, as well as a fantastic number of Famous Five novels), and watching the Van Damme movie Bloodsport when I was over at the house of a friend whose parents were more lenient than mine regarding what he could watch on TV.

When asked what I wanted to be, I think my answer was usually paleontologist. You show a kid one too many shows on dinosaurs and he'll pick up the lingo, even at that age. I specifically wanted to be Jack Horner when I grew up, but anybody who worked with dinosaur bones would've been okay. I might have wanted to be an astronaut, too, because I can remember learning all about the planets and the moon missions and space in general. Now I just love science fiction -- is that just a sign of the times, maybe?

But this whole "be rich" thing? I don't know. I can't remember ever thinking to myself that when I grew up I wanted to be rich. It just wasn't on my radar. I wanted to do cool things, interesting things -- something to do with space(!) or dinosaurs(!!). I'm honestly not surprised by the students in Dead Dad's son's class not thinking about finishing school (high school, college, or otherwise) because I'm pretty sure I had no idea how much schooling was required to do the cool things. I just wanted to do them. But what gets me is the money thing. What kids want, when they grow up, is to be happy and successful. Everything else they say is about what they've internalized about that. So for some of the girls "horses = happy" and for me, "dinosaurs/space = happy" (maybe I wanted to be a dinosaur at one point, rather than someone who studies them?).

DD's son has internalized (probably because of what his dad does) that "university = success"
and so he wants to be successful like his dad. But the other kids have learned to equate money with success, at least the boys, and the girls have learned that having a family is the ticket to happiness or success. Setting aside the disturbing gender divide there (because I can't remember at all what even my best friend wanted to be when she grew up, but I bet it was something cool. I remember her as being pretty cool.) I'm just a little weirded out by the "money = success" thing, I guess. And at such a young age.

So what did you want to be when you grew up? Don't say "medievalist" unless that was actually the case -- wanting to be a knight is something else entirely :D Did you want to be rich? Married? Both?

Friday, 29 October 2010

The Tea Party and Fascism

Jeff Fecke, over at Alas, a Blog, has written a cogent, clear, and uncomfortably accurate assessment of the Tea Party. You should go look.

But that was predicted. Sinclair Lewis once wrote, “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.” Well, my friends, fascism has come to America, flag and cross and all.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010


It's awful because even from here I know it's probably true. Excuse me while I use laughter to cover my existential terror about my choices in life.

Bardiac posts about the decision to go to grad school.

Oy vey.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

I'm not a fan of Glee but...

...if I thought this GQ photo-shoot for Glee were actually in any way indicative of the quality show (and not just indicative of the low class of a certain fashion photographer of ill repute) I don't think I'd want to be.

I know this isn't medieval, but Tom and Lorenzo (of Project Rungay fame*) hit this nail so squarely on the head that I think anyone who even knows what Glee is should read this:

Look, we're not prudes. And these aren't teenagers. There's nothing wrong with a sexy photoshoot for any rising young star. It's practically de rigueur. But putting 3 of the cast members in front of creepy Terry Richardson's lens and dressing them up like porn fantasies?

Of course he didn't dress all of them up like porn fantasies, just the girls. Guys don't do sexy. Guys have sexy done for them. Guys stand or sit fully clothed while girls are meant to writhe and gyrate and spread their legs in their underwear. That's the way of things. Great message there, morons. Knowing that this show has a huge teen and even pre-teen following, whatever person approved the idea of this shoot (TERRY RICHARDSON, people!) should be fired.

If you're new to debates over what is and isn't the patriarchy, let's start with a blatant, neon example: THAT.

*yes I like Project Runway... Yes I Know... Look. Look I know. Just SHUT UP IT'S GOOD DAMMIT.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Ikea, I am disappoint*

I'm afraid all the brownie points that Ikea earned in this post have been long since lost. As you may recall, my preferred desk was out of stock, so I ended up ordering it online and having it shipped.

Word to the wise: DO NOT DO THIS.

Things went well enough at first. I had it shipped to Former State (no sales tax, hurrah), with the idea that the Mother of Vaulting would bring it to me when she visited the following weekend.

Wrong. Shipping took nearly 2 weeks. Small matter - Vellum and I were headed to Former State to see this fellow in the depressing play about the demise of a man who sells goods, so we were happy to pick up the desk at that time.

Which was great, except that upon loading the package into the car, we realized there was a sizable hole in the box. Well, we decided, it didn't look THAT large. No problem.

Until we returned to NEM and discovered that it was, in fact, a problem. One of the drawer wheels was shattered. Small matter, we again decided, and called Ikea for a replacement. Upon hanging up, Vellum (ever observant) discovered that we were ALSO missing three sides of one of the drawers.


To be expected, we decided in hindsight, given the hole in the box. So we called again, and requested the pieces. Whereupon we noticed that while we had many pieces of desk, there was not, in fact, anything to hold them together with.

Say, screws. Hardware. Metal bits of any sort.

So, still being on the phone, we requested those, as well. No problem. Ikea offered many apologies, and promised that we would receive the missing pieces soon.

"Soon" being 6 business days. Thanks.

So the missing drawer pieces and hardware arrived. Vellum, having caught on by now, was quick to count pieces, and discovered, LO, WE ARE STILL MISSING PIECES. Apparently, when we pointed out that the desk was suspiciously lacking in hardware, Ikea interpreted that to mean that we were missing a few pieces, and perhaps this handful would make it better?

So back on the phone Vellum went,** requesting, perhaps, the rest of the hardware? Again, there were apologies. Again, we were promised the missing pieces "soon."

The missing pieces, by the way, were 21 long screws and 2 short screws. Remember this.

Some days later (today, in fact), an envelope from Ikea arrived, delivered with much fanfare by Chaucerian roommate.

Would you like to know what it contained?

It did not contain 21 long screws and 2 short screws, as we had been promised.

Two. It contained two of twenty-one long screws. Fair enough, there were also the required 2 short screws. But, as you may imagine, 2 short screws when you are missing 19 large industrial screws is not going to do you any bloody good when building a bloody desk.

So. Awed as I may have been by your warehouse full of furniture and furnishings and cafeterias, and much as I may admire your low prices and glorious, glorious selection - Ikea, I am no longer speaking to you. All I wanted was a desk. To date, after a great deal of waiting and holding-for-customer-service induced frustration, I have most of a desk, and no means for putting it together.

Ikea, I am disappoint.*


**Yes, it is my desk, and yes, it was Vellum doing all the calling. He's a prince among bloggers, I assure you.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

One space or two?

So runs the long standing debate: after the period at the end of a sentence, should you use one space or two before starting the next? I say one, and hate two. Vaulting used to use two, but I think I may have nagged her into submission on this front. What say you, blogizens? Post your opinions in the comment thread :)

Tuesday, 12 October 2010


I have to say, I'm starting to feel as though all the work I'm doing at Gothic Revival University is mostly (if not entirely) tangential to my interests. This isn't to say that it's not interesting in and of itself. Nor that I'm not learning things that will be of great use to me when the time comes for me to find a job.

I'm writing a review hopefully for publication for the course on Entirely Tangential National Literature I'm taking, and doing a close reading of a primary source for the course on Mostly Tangential but Slightly More Relevant Time Period Literature I'm taking. And I'm (slowly) putting together an exam in Subject I Should Really Know How To Teach (with some awesome supervisors, I might add, so I'm actually really excited about that one.. shame I don't have more time to work on it).

But despite all that interesting stuff I'm doing, I'm not really doing anything -anything, mind you- medieval right now. And that kinda bums me out.

So I'm starting an Anglo-Saxon Reading Group in January. And I'll be taking a course on medieval things then, too. And I'll be meeting up with more medievalists in a weekly workshop. So roll on, 2011.

If life gives you lemons, by all means go ahead and make yourself lemonade. I'll be over here fermenting the lemons and distilling them down into vodka.


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

I must be nuts.


So I'm now five weeks into my PhD program at Gothic Revival University. It's a rainy Tuesday morning, and instead of doing readings for courses only tangentially related to my field of study, putting together a reading list for my minor field of study, or scouring wikipedia for medieval absurdities, I'm blogging. There's a lot to blog about.

Since starting five weeks ago, I've read, read, and read. I'd forgotten what it was like to read a book a week for each class, and of course the supplemental readings. Also, having been in a heavily interdisciplinary Medieval Studies program for my master's two years ago (is it really two years? that can't be right... a little over two since it ended, three since it started. oof.), I've had to haul out and dust off my non-interdisciplinary toolbox. There's a lot of "isms" in there that haven't been used since undergrad, and which don't typically come up in studying medieval versions of things. Unless you're writing for Post://Medieval, of course.**

So between two classes (I know, only two. Heaven only knows how I'd fare with more) and my research work, I'm hovering around a thousand pages of reading per week. Add bureaucratic nonsense to the mix, and you've well and truly got a full-time job. I'd forgotten how much work it is to be a student. Oh and did I mention I'm working on language requirements, too?

Of course, I'm whining all the way to the bank. What it comes down to is this: I'm being paid to do what I love, full-time! With benefits!***

This is fantastic.

Sure I could be making more in the private sector. Actually, looking at the math, a full-time job at $13/hour pays better. But I love this.

Plus, everyone in my department is just so darn helpful and nice. It's... actually really odd. I'm not usually the glass-is-half-full guy, and maybe it's just the honeymoon period, but this is great. Of course, I still haven't unpacked fully par-ce que Ikea shipped Vaulting's desk sans screws and the sides of the drawers, et avec broken drawer rollers; I can't walk around without tripping over things; it's only the 5th of the month and I'm already 3/4 of the way through my personal monthly spending allowance; I'm grappling with (apparently common) feelings of imposture; when I get out I have an absurdly low chance of getting a TT job; oh and I've had to get a $9/hour job to make ends meet; but I still can't shake the fact that I'm actually doing this.

And that's enough to make up for a lot.

So if you ever stumble into me in New England Metropolis, and I'm looking a little frazzled, don't worry. For all I'll outwardly show the wuss, on the inside I'll be smiling.

But you're always welcome to buy me a pint ;)

* The gif was found online here.
** I jest, but it really does seem to me to be the crux of the intersection of medievalism and literary theory.
*** I mean sure, it's not Canadian health care, but it's better than no health care, and it's included.

Monday, 27 September 2010


There is nothing like 5 weeks of unemployment to make work look really, really awesome. I have never been so excited to go to work on a Monday morning.

I think I mentioned that I was going to contact a temp agency. Turns out they don't get many qualified applicants, and promptly set about finding me awesome positions. First job was playing with WordPress, building a site for a children's charity. I'm currently on the second one, managing the cash flow for a number of grants in a cutting edge biology-related lab, which also happens to be part of the bio-related department at Major City University.

Most of the time, I have no idea what's going on (either in the lab or in my spreadsheets), but it's still very cool. And I suspect a good part of my job will be sorting data and organizing spreadsheets - good OCD stuff that makes my brain happy.

Best of all, I get to be the personal administrator for one of current science's most amazing innovators. I'd tell you more about his work, and what area he works in, but given that he sort of invented the field, it's probably better that I don't. Suffice it to say, it's very exciting and futuristic.

Also refreshing is my return to the standard work week. I work 9:30 to 5:30, Monday to Friday. This means I have weekends. Weekends! Two days off! In a row!

Sometimes, museum work is completely soulless. See: the work schedule.

Anyway, this position is almost certainly temporary. I'm signed on for a couple months or so, and there is a possibility that they will offer me the position permanently. We'll see how it goes. The person I'm replacing thinks they're looking for an actual bookkeeper in the long run, which I most definitely am not. For now, however, work is good.

And weekends!

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Why Are Colleges So Selective?


I just read this four-parter at the NYT online, after reading this criticism by Dean Dad. I had been hoping he'd been a little bit wrong.


In a four-part (four!) piece by four different authors (four!) about why colleges are getting more selective, the words Community College did not appear once. Community Colleges: you know, the ones that more than half of America's undergraduates attend? The ones with open enrollment and therefore no (read: zero) increase in "selectivity". Good god, it's like college only means one thing to these people.

One of the respondents, Jane Wellman, at least acknowledges that "[students are] there because they need a job, and they need to get the credentials – and, one hopes, the knowledge and skills behind the credentials – that will get them into the labor market." -- And yet the schools most geared toward the labor market? Completely absent.

Go read the articles and then Dean Dad's response over at Confessions of a Community College Dean.


Sunday, 12 September 2010

Settling in

We're slowly settling into our communal abode in New England Metropolis (NEM). Vellum and I have been spoiled by having our own place. There was a certain amount of trepidation regarding our move, which returned us to the land of roommates.

There are four of us living in our charming 1850s apartment, and by "four of us" I mean four of us - we're all medievalists. There was a vague concern as we moved in that the entire apartment might collapse into the ground floor from the weight of our combined books. So far, so good. Vellum and I have 7 full bookcases; early insular roommate (we'll have to come up with some appropriate pseudonyms) has another 4 or 5, and Chaucerian roommate hasn't unpacked his yet, to the best of my knowledge.

We've already had an entertaining round of "how many duplicate books do we have?" The Ornament of the World and A Distant Mirror seem to be the forerunners (though none of us have actually read of either). And, of course, Harry Potter.

In the pursuit of desks and kitchen counters, we ventured to Ikea yesterday on an apartment field trip. It was life-changing. Being both broke and from the rural lands, I'd never actually been to an Ikea. It was rather terrifying. Why is there an entire cafeteria in the middle of the store? Who are these hundreds of people who found their way into the middle of nowhere to shop in a store full of illegible Swedish goods? What are we doing amongst this throng?

However, I confess to being impressed with the free twine offered in the parking lot for strapping your purchases to the roof of the car - as we unexpectedly found ourselves doing.

Unpacking is slowly progressing. The books are away, which is a miracle in itself. The clothes are mostly unpacked. It's down to the strange odds and ends that don't really have any good place to go. Picture frames, notebooks, binders, boxes of spare buttons and paperclips, a dozen scarves, etc. Some of this will be better once I have a desk (the one I wanted was out of stock, alas), but I suspect most of the rest will find homes wherever they happen to come to rest.

Tomorrow I'm heading to a local temp agency in search of some sort of employment. I still have a number of applications to send out, but strongly doubt that they, like the ones that came before, will come to anything. Vellum is getting back into the swing of classes. And, given that it's autumn once again, I have to decide whether to attempt PhD applications again or not. Expect a post about that later.


Tuesday, 7 September 2010


We have our own internet access! We're back!

We have arrived

Vellum and I have arrived in New England Metropolis. I have decided that I am never ever moving again. Nothing like a bookcase full of hardcover coffee table books to make moving a royal pain in the ass. We're slowly unpacking and settling in. Internet is profoundly spotty (apparently our neighbors turn off their wireless router when they're not using it), but our connection goodies should be arriving in the near future. Expect more posts then.

Now to get back on the job hunt and unpack some books.


Sunday, 5 September 2010

Liftoff in T-Minus 12 Hours and Counting...

We're moving tomorrow, from Rural New England Micropolis to New England Metropolis. Should, hopefully, have internet by middle of the week. In the meantime we'll be trying to get jobs, unpacking, assembling furniture, exploring, and otherwise trying to get into the spirit of things. I'll also be visiting offices, filling out paperwork and doing readings for the first classes of my new project. I'm calling it: A PhD for Vellum, Year 1. I even heard word that I may get (shared) office space on campus at Gothic Revival University, where I'll be for the next five or so years.

So if I survive the next five days, I think it'll be a good time.

I'll let you know.

Or Vaulting will, if I don't survive.

But if the site goes dead for two weeks, don't just assume we've both died. We could be fine and internet-deprived, or very tired, or something. Distracted, maybe. By kitties.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

This Is Your Brain on A Series Of Tubes

I was going to call this post "OMG The Intertubes Are Ruining Everything Forever: The Nicholas Carr Story", but I dialed down the snark a little. Just a wee bit. Hardly any at all, now that I think about it, given that I included that other title regardless. Hm. Oh well.

The reason for this post is this article over at New Scientist. It's a brief interview with Nicholas Carr, author of a new book called The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.

The basic tenet of this book seems to be that the internet is ruining our capacity for extended concentration. As the article at New Scientist says, "by reshaping our minds, the internet is robbing us of the ability to think critically and creatively."

The problem seems to be that the majority of his evidence is either anecdotal or nonspecific.

Anecdotal: "A few years ago I noticed I was having trouble concentrating. When I sat down to read a lengthy article or book, I'd find it difficult to maintain focus for more than a few minutes. My mind wanted to behave the way it did when I was online: juggling lots of things and digging around for bits of information instead of focusing on one thing. The book is an attempt to get to the bottom of this."

Nonspecific: "Unfortunately, there's not a lot of physiological evidence to show how the net affects the brain - but there's some, and it is compelling. One study from the University of California, Los Angeles, for instance, shows fairly extensive changes in patterns of brain activation from moderate use of search engines."

I can only believe that the UCLA study he is referring to this one (reported about here), as there aren't likely to be two groups of people at UCLA studying the effects of search engine use on the brain.

Basically, the idea of the study was to scan the brains of two groups of people: "net-naive" (people who hadn't had much previous use of search engines) and "net-savvy" (people who had). First they scanned their brains while they were reading text, then they scanned them while using search engines. Then they did the scans a week later, after the "net-naive" folks had been using the internet for a week.

What they found was that the brains lit up the same way when they were reading text, and it was in the search engine task that things differed. During the first scan, the "net-naive" subjects' brains lit up the same way as if they were reading text. The "net-savvy" subjects' brains had those areas lit up plus other areas. After a week, both groups had the same readings, as the "net-naive" subjects had, in effect, become "net-savvy".

According to the study: "the Net Savvy group demonstrated significant increases in signal intensity in additional regions controlling decision making, complex reasoning, and vision".

So back to Nicholas Carr. He calls this evidence "compelling" and implies very strongly that it supports his theory that the internet is ruining our ability to "focus on one thing". What it says to me is that not only is your brain focusing while using the net (to the same degree as when reading text), it's also making decisions, reasoning, and making visual distinctions (ones presumably not being done during the reading of text alone).

Does this mean we're more distracted? I don't think so. Think about it this way, as two different skill sets, say, fixing a watch and juggling. If you can fix a watch or juggle, that's great. If you can fix a watch while juggling, that's something else. But I have a hard time understanding how being able to fix a watch while juggling would negatively impact your ability to do either on its own. In fact, your brain would probably find it easier to do each alone, without the distraction of the other.

If he wanted a study that backed up his claims, he'd need one that showed that after internet use, the parts of the brain associated with focusing on a single task were activated to a lesser extent than they were before. And this study doesn't do that.

In fact, what this study does is the following:

It shows that "internet searching may engage a greater extent of neural circuitry not activated while reading text pages but only in people with prior computer and Internet search experience. These observations suggest that in middle-aged and older adults, prior experience with Internet searching may alter the brain's responsiveness [read: increase the speed of the brain's responses] in neural circuits controlling decision making and complex reasoning."

What the study doesn't do: shows that the internet is ruining our attention spans.
What the study does do: shows that the internet is helping us make decisions faster.
These are not the same.

Enter me, editorializing:

Every now and then someone trots out another article or book talking about how technology is ruining everything forever. TV is rotting our brains; video games are making us violent; the internet is giving us ADHD. But like all things, it's a matter of circumstance and degree. Just as some tv shows are mind-rotting garbage, some video games look as though they were designed by Ted Bundy, and some parts of the internet are, well, "goatse", by the same token some tv shows are edifying, some video games can stimulate the imagination, and some parts of the internet are actually about the spread of intelligent discourse (not here so much, but some parts).

I guess what I'm saying is, if the internet were really ruining our ability to focus, then as someone who spends a stupid amount of time on it, I should be a prime candidate.

And I just wrote a thousand-word response to an article I stumbled upon this morning. How's that for focus?

Sunday, 29 August 2010

Why I Love Living With Vaulting

Vellum (searching for antacid tablet): okay, step one-
Vaulting (from the other room): cut a hole in the box?

Language and the Mind

Twitterer @mwidner pointed me in the direction of this NYT article, called "Does Your Language Shape How You Think?" by Guy Deutscher, an honourary research fellow at the School of Languages, Linguistics and Cultures at the University of Manchester (UK). He's just released a book on the same topic, which I'm now quite interested in reading, called "Through the Language Glass: Why the World Looks Different in Other Languages".

My favourite part was this:

...some languages, like Matses in Peru, oblige their speakers, like the finickiest of lawyers, to specify exactly how they came to know about the facts they are reporting. You cannot simply say, as in English, “An animal passed here.” You have to specify, using a different verbal form, whether this was directly experienced (you saw the animal passing), inferred (you saw footprints), conjectured (animals generally pass there that time of day), hearsay or such. If a statement is reported with the incorrect “evidentiality,” it is considered a lie. So if, for instance, you ask a Matses man how many wives he has, unless he can actually see his wives at that very moment, he would have to answer in the past tense and would say something like “There were two last time I checked.” After all, given that the wives are not present, he cannot be absolutely certain that one of them hasn’t died or run off with another man since he last saw them, even if this was only five minutes ago. So he cannot report it as a certain fact in the present tense.

Imagine what the world would be like if this were true of all of us. Instead of saying "god is like this" one could only ever say "I believe god is like this", and instead of saying "you're going to hell", they'd only be able to say "I believe you're going to hell".

"That is sinful" becomes "My culture views that as sinful".

I think it would be a positive change.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

Generational Differences II

"Maybe it's because we've been hopelessly coddled and our brains, with their flaccid synapses, have been massaged into thinking we could land our dream job at 23. Or! Maybe it's because the world changed, and it doesn't make sense to start a family at 24 in the shadow of $15,000 in debt with a thimbleful of jobs that don't provide health care or the promise of stability." [emphasis mine]

The Atlantic has a brilliant response to all the garbage about Millennials. Short answer: It's the economy, stupid.

Thursday, 26 August 2010


Ash Wednesday posted this, from here: an article in the guardian called "I'm an atheist but this anti-Catholic rhetoric is making me nervous". It's worth a read, though not living in the UK I can't tell whether these people are really over-the-top with their anti-Catholic rhetoric or not. He cites Richard Dawkins calling Catholicism "the second most evil religion" in the world, and wonders about the first.

Is he overstating the case? Citing Richard Dawkins as an example of over-the-top anti-Catholic rhetoric is, after all, a little like citing the works of Stephen Hawking as an example of modern scientific thought. Two or three years ago, I'd have sided with the anti-Catholics. Bear with me on this, I'll explain.

I had always viewed Catholicism as a religion, a large and often unwieldy version of Christianity, which, at present and I believe to the detriment of its followers, preaches against the ordination of women, preaches the sinfulness of homosexuality, hides pedophiles rather than bringing them to justice, and asks its followers not to use condoms or, indeed, any method of birth control save abstinence.

Yet despite my reactionary views (which I have, unfortunately, at times allowed to become private dogmas for reasons I'll get into in a minute) Catholicism does do a lot of good in the world, and I firmly believe that the vast majority of Catholics are not the bigoted old white men that continue to enforce the socially retrograde policies. I think the article in the guardian does a good job of pointing out that Catholicism is, in fact, made up of real people, and not the caricatures many of us allow ourselves to form whenever we hear about the latest sex scandal or the equating of the ordination of women with pedophilia by the Vatican.

See, I have always viewed Catholicism as the Big Dog, and the rest of the world as the underdog. This is, in part, why I allowed myself to form these caricatures. It felt as though I wasn't doing any harm because Catholicism was so big that it was like tossing pebbles at a brick wall. It wasn't until recently that I realized that some parts of the world (the US, the UK) have long histories of persecution of Catholics. Did you know that at one time (1732) it was simply illegal to be Catholic in the colony (not yet state) of Georgia? And that the KKK were not only anti-African-American, but also anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic? Plus I heard a rather disturbing rumour just last week that Catholics in North Korea sometimes just "disappear" in the night.

Individual believers in the Roman Catholic version of Christianity have, I think, a pretty hard time of it, and are not the megalithic force "the Church" had always been in my mind.

I myself will never be a Catholic. Taking my cues from Paul Tillich, and his "The Courage To Be," I view myself (at present) as a kind of christian-existentialist-agnostic. Raised as an Anglican, I still light a candle in every cathedral I visit. I can recite the Lord's Prayer and the 23rd psalm from memory. If I get married, I'll probably want to do so in the presence of a minister (though for the rest of the trappings of weddings I have no great desire).

But I now view Catholics in a different light than I used to. Not only do they have to struggle with questions of faith, but the truly faithful also often have to struggle with questions of dissent, which, not really belonging to any church, I have never had to do.

Vaulting made a good comment to me as I was writing this post. She's a confirmed atheist, and she still believes that we should let others believe as they wish. She blithely figured that if we don't let them venerate who they like, they'll probably just start killing those they don't -- and as a student of history I can see her point.

Does this mean I'm going to stop railing against the problems with Catholicism as I see them? Hell, no. I will always be a firm believer that being gay isn't a sin, that discrimination against women is morally wrong, and that the teaching (and official sanction) of the "ABC" method of preventing AIDS would prevent more suffering than just the "A" method (Abstinence, Be faithful, Condom use). Like Stephen Fry said in his Intelligence² debate on whether or not the Catholic Church is a force for good in the world -- despite an 8 minute speech about what is wrong with the organization itself -- he says:
I have no quarrel and no argument and I wish to express no contempt for individual devout and pious members of that church. It would be impertinent and wrong of me to express any antagonism towards any individual who wishes to find salvation in whatever form they wish to express it.
But I'm still going to press for what I see to be improvements in the message the organization sends to its members and to the world. Is this an example of "hate the sin and love the sinner" turned back on itself? Maybe. I'll have to think about that.

As for the anti-Catholicism, to return to my initial point, I suppose I still support peaceful opposition to the Catholic Church's policies, but I would advise those who would, as the guardian article does, to respect the worth and dignity of all people, regardless of their choice of religion.

Tosh.0, or, Another Sign of the Impending Apocalypse

First, let me say this: I'm way too young to be doing "get off my damn lawn! kids these days, grumble grumble" rants, but wow.

On the advice of some of Vaulting's smaller family members, I didn't flip past a tv show called "Tosh.0" the other day. Yesterday in Time magazine I read that he is now second in popularity on Comedy Central only to South Park (that, in itself, says something, I suppose). But while South Park is offensive to all and in a generally comedic way, the five minutes (that was all I could stand) of Daniel Tosh were nothing like it.

A brief rant follows:

Let me say this right now: the disgusting, hateful, misogynistic screed that came out of that man's mouth genuinely astounded me. Funny? I could hardly believe he could say those things in public. I thought I'd heard some awful things on Fox "news" in the past week about Islam, but my guess is if you got Mr. Tosh on the subject he'd come up with something worse. I am, in no uncertain terms, disgusted by the man. All I can hope is that the five minutes I saw were the five minutes he went off the rails into horrific bigotry posing as humour, but somehow I doubt the likelihood of that.

That's enough of that.

Can you believe my parents wouldn't let me watch the Simpsons, growing up? I'd rather the kids were watching South Park than this.

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

What Has Been Seen...

...cannot be unseen.

Rod Blagojevich and Justin Bieber have the same hairstyle. Why has no-one else noticed this?

Now that, my little trolly friend, is an inane blog post.  

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

The Kobo Has Landed!

If you've been following my new-fangled twittering, then you may already know this. I'm a Linux user, and I took a big chance, getting an e-reader today. It's called a Kobo, and out of the box, it doesn't exactly play nice with Linux, specifically Ubuntu. But you can make it work. OH YES, you can make it work.

(That's said in a triumphant tone of voice, by the way)

If you don't like to hear little boys geek out about their new little toys, then maybe this isn't the post for you. But Karl: Fellow Ubuntu user, this might pique your interest a little.

So out of the box, what it does is twofold: first, it'll charge; second, it'll ask you whether you want to install in Windows or Mac OSX.

You see my issue.

So I thought, well, I don't need their software, I'll be fine with open-source. But here's the thing: you kinda DO need their software. Well, a little. If you want to buy new books you do. The reason? DRM. I suppose if you want to strip the DRM from your purchased ebooks (not impossible, I'm told, though I've never tried) then you won't need their software. But if, on the other hand, you want to read, say, the latest Stephen King book without being at odds with the DMCA (which, frankly, is just hard to do. I mean everything is illegal here. Boy.) then you need their software.

Guess what isn't released for general use? Their Linux version.

Guess what I got? Their Linux version. Found it online. If you're a Kobo user, who uses Linux, and you hate running their software through a Windows emulator like WINE, then leave a message in the comments and I'll get you the .deb file. It works in Ubuntu 10.04, anyhow.

But the problem with their software is that it only lets you read things that you buy (or download for free, they do have a lovely selection of out-of-copyright books from Project Gutenberg) from Kobo. And I wanted to read some things I'd gotten from Google Books. Maybe some JSTOR articles. So back to open source, and enter Calibre.

I'd read that Calibre, an open-source ebook management program, had gotten Kobo compatibility working, but try as I might, I couldn't convince it to recognize my reader. Long story short, the version of Calibre you download through Ubuntu's Synaptec Package Manager is an OLD OLD version, and you have to go to their website and get it by using the terminal commands provided there.

And boy does it work. Not only does it read epub format, you can just drop .pdfs on there (JSTOR articles, anyone?) and go to town. I liked it before, but now? Now I officially love this little thing.

The detriment (and you'll find it true of all e-ink devices for now) is the delay between page turns. I'm no speed-reader, in fact I'm downright slow at it, so it doesn't bother me a bit. But Vaulting? Hates it. I have a friend in the publishing business who's the same way. For them I'd suggest an iPad or, you know, paper. For now, it's keeping me from printing out all those JSTOR articles, and giving me a reason to read a lot of out of copyright material.

For tonight? A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur's Court.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Generational Differences

Welcome to the "new" warfare, ladies and gentlemen: Generational.

Just for reference, when I talk about Gen X and Millennials, typically I mean that if you grew up thinking New Wave was cool you're Gen X, and if you got into rock after Soundgarden broke up, you're probably a Millennial. To put it another way, if you grew up thinking Divo were cool, you're Gen X; if your first introduction to Divo was via Weird Al Yancovic, you're a Millennial.

Historiann has a good post up called And your music... It's just noise! about the current wave of articles by Real Journalists (you remember them, right? the people polishing the brass on the Titanic?) about how OMGWTFBBQ the new generation is coming and it's going to Screw Up The Baby Boomers Something Fierce. You should go read her post, maybe read a couple of these articles.

Just to give you an idea of their tone, they're named "What Is It About 20-Somethings?", "Generation Y Bother?" and (the more flattering, I suppose) "A Generation Collision Is Coming". The basic theme is that people in their 20s right now, that's Millennials*, are super-different (my term) from Baby Boomers, don't like to put in the hours of hard work to move up the ladder, want more from their employers than just a paycheck, and won't stand for hierarchical bull$hit based on time served rather than ideas and innovation.

I have two things to say about this: One, they're a little bit right. Two, they have only themselves to blame -- hey there, Baby Boomers, we're your kids, and your culture taught us everything we know.

To the first thing, I say a little bit right, because I do empathize with some of the depictions of my generation. Tom Downey writes, "Advice to put in your time and work hard so you can move up the ladder means nothing to this generation. That approach is based on a monetary contract. If management only gives a Millennial a paycheck, the company's return will be limited to the task performed." Ruben Navarette, Jr. writes that "they [Millennials] tell reporters and survey-takers that they want to be assured they won't spin their wheels in a dead-end job."

Amidst all the generalizing of a generation and judging from the outside, one thing sticks out to me: the fact that not one of the writers got around to noticing the lessons they'd been teaching their own kids.

As I was growing up, one thing became stunningly obvious to me over the years: once upon a time there was a magical land where people could work for one company their whole lives, feel that even if their part was small they were still a part of something larger, and feel as though if they gave their company their loyalty that that loyalty would be repaid -- by the time I was born that land had turned to so much ash under the constant radiation of greed.

My father, a professional in IT, went through probably a dozen jobs as I was growing up, with the concomitant fear of poverty, or at the least of the whole family being uprooted and moved to new places. What I saw was a man who got up every morning, dressed as though he were going to church (though we stopped going ourselves when I was young) went off to work early and came home late, working the whole time. Now he doesn't wear his Sunday best every day, but the rest hasn't changed. He still works hard, he still "puts in his hours" -- getting to work at an ungodly hour just so that he can get some work done before someone comes in and wastes his time (my description, not his. My father is, if nothing else, extremely polite and respectful).

My father received awards for his hard work. He ran projects and received high commendations for their efficiency and the cost savings. We still have the certificates he was given at ceremonies (even a little plexi-glass trophy, too). Yet time and again, the company he worked for would be eaten by another, someone with seniority would be given his job, and he would be out looking for another one. One company he worked for decided it didn't need a Canadian branch to its IT department any more, and so they fired them, to a man. My father was a VP at that time, and it still counted for nothing.

No, what growing up in my household taught me about work was one thing, and one thing only: companies want nothing from you but the bottom line. They have no sense of loyalty, and you should pay them nothing but what gets you, personally, somewhere. Always be looking for a better opportunity elsewhere, because your current employers will, without compunction or guilt, fire you if someone cheaper comes along.

And this is my second point: a lot of us grew up in households like that. While Baby Boomers' parents may have worked for one company for their whole lives, Baby Boomers themselves largely tried and failed to do so themselves, mostly because loyalty to workers went the way of all things non-profitable.

I'd be lying if I said part of the reason why I'm interested in academia is not the idea of a field where there still (for the time being) exists such a thing as tenure -- a commitment on the part of the employer not to fire you, because you have proven you work hard and well and are an asset to the organization.

And this ties in, I suppose, to the ongoing "what about tenure?" discussion that is a perennial favourite on IHE and the like. For what it's worth, here's my two cents: not everyone deserves tenure, but to have it as a possibility for years of hard work and dedication -- not a right, but a possibility -- is something that ALL professions should adopt.

Because right now, there's no reason for any Millennial to do anything but think of hirself in the business world. We're nothing if not a product of (y)our generation.

*I prefer that term, which is derived from those who graduated from High School in the year 2000 or later, over Generation Y, which is derived rather dim-wittedly from the fact that Y comes after X.

Sunday, 22 August 2010


Victory! Vellum has joined the dark side. Follow him on Twitter, MedievalVaulting.

(if you missed it, I'm Medievaulting)

Also, check out's 60 Tweeters for Medievalists. Hours of entertainment and procrastination.


Saturday, 21 August 2010

For Those Of You Following The Story...

A certain founder of a certain website that shared many a state secret (and has many more to share yet) had a warrant released for his arrest on "rape" charges today -- I use the scare quotes because just a few hours later the warrant was cancelled as baseless. Just another in a long line of dirty tricks pulled by the U.S. Military.

Go on, pull the other one.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010


You can now follow me on Twitter, since I'm sure you've all been anxiously checking the blog for the next scintillating update. Or if you just want more Twitter friends. Either way.

(also, why doesn't medievalvaulting fit into the Twitter name window? Medievaulting is a kinda-sorta-not really clever alternative, but doesn't quite have the same ring.)

Still working on Vellum. Maybe he'll join the dark side next week.


Sunday, 15 August 2010

"Help me, Víga-Óbívan Kvæggansson; you alone would dare to avenge me"

Ever wondered what popular movies would be like as Icelandic sagas? In Old Norse? Well, I can't help you with Fight Club, but the Tattúínárdœla saga should provide weeks of entertainment.

Saga told in both Old Norse, for the serious scholars, and in English, for the Norse wimps like myself.

But Lúkr took Artú’s bloody cape and there found the message written by Princess Leia. He began to read it. “I am no runemaster,” he said, “But these words say, ‘Help me, Víga-Óbívan Kvæggansson; you alone would dare to avenge me.’ I don’t know how to read any more words, because they are written poorly and hastily. What is this?”

Artú pretended not to speak Norse, and asked in Irish, “What is what?”

Friday, 13 August 2010


Sorry, I had to post this. I had no idea. Prepare to have your minds blown.


I had no idea.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled Friday night activities.

Image (not of a beewolf) courtesy Wikimedia user Alvesgaspar, via Arthropoda.


Thanks for all the helpful responses to my "I was just fired. What?" post. Unfortunately, I worked in an "at will" state, so they were absolutely within their rights to dump me with no notice. The state I live in requires that they pay me through the end of my salary; the state I worked in, however, only requires they pay me for my worked hours.

The only right I have is to be paid within 72 hours. That was Wednesday. I have no paycheck. I'll be filing a complaint with the Labor Board this afternoon.

And, alas, there was no contract. For a few hours, I thought that perhaps because they accepted my resignation as offered back in June, that might constitute some sort of contract... but no.

So, after a few days to feel sorry for myself (and it was a rough few days - I ended up being an alternate for the jury I was on, and in my absence, they turned an absolutely horrible and wrong verdict that I still feel ill about. And then Vellum was very ill for a few days.) and relish in the fact that the museum's many problems are no longer mine, I'm back on the job hunt. The only good thing to come out of this firing is that I am now eligible for unemployment. Whoo! I haven't filed yet, as my second job has come through in a valiant show of support and is letting me work 4 days a week instead of my previous 1 day, but that ends this week, so as of next week, I will hopefully be on the dole.

And on that thought, here are some more cheery things to make you smile.

The Improvised Shakespeare Company.

The Alot. If you don't follow Hyperbole and a Half, you should.

The coolest site you'll see all month. At least, as far as I'm concerned. Radical Cartography features maps and graphs of a variety of cool things: city transportation systems, both real and ideal; building heights in NYC; New York as the center of the world (which, I'm sorry to say, is how I view the world. London, no problem. Melbourne? You must be joking); counties named after presidents; and then, of course, your standard stats, including population density, crime, pollution, income, etc. Take a few minutes to look through; it's very cool.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010

The Other Side Of The Equation

Just a brief follow-up to the MAA situation. I'd read (as I'm sure we all have) quite a bit in support of a boycott of the MAA since their decision not to remove the meeting from Arizona, but today in my feed were two pieces from scholars whom I respect on why one won't quit the MAA, and why the other won't even sign the petition. They're worth the read, if you haven't seen them yet.

Monday, 9 August 2010

This is how we repay dedication

So I was fired yesterday.

For those keeping track, I had 2 weeks left, as agreed upon in my 8-weeks' notice back in June. Instead, I was informed at 4:30 yesterday afternoon that my services were no longer required, and I was to be out of the museum as quickly as possible after the close of business (5:00).

30 minutes' notice. That's got to be some sort of record for dismissal without cause.

The official excuse is that the museum is all but in foreclosure, and the bank informed them that if they didn't immediately fire all employees, the bank would repossess the building.

.... so when your business is floundering, the people you owe money to tell you to get rid of your only means of making money?

(Also, having seen the documents from the bank, I can tell you that they have another month before the bank provides the 60 day foreclosure warning. I was only there for another 14 days. I'm going to call BS.)

More than the excuses, however, was the sheer asshattery of the situation. I was handed a print-out of an email sent from a board member to his significant other, who then forwarded it to another email address. I was given 30 minutes' notice to clear out my office and remove any of my belongings - which included items on sale in the gift shop, lighting which Vellum had provided for the exhibit, and items on loan which were to be returned upon my departure.

I was insulted for daring to be upset with the situation. The board member assigned to make sure I didn't steal anything informed me that I would never make as much as I was making there ever again. I just laughed. What do you say to that? I was being paid slave wages - barely enough to subsist on - and devoting everything I had to the museum. I worked 6 days a week for that museum. I worked a second job to remain at that museum. I spent $1400 on exhibit materials, and was only reimbursed for half of that - because I wanted the museum to succeed.

I could have done temp work for a year and made more money, working fewer hours, with less stress.

She implied that I should be grateful to have been paid for so long. "Being paid the agreed upon salary is not a privilege," Vellum helpfully informed her. Apparently one of the board members was subsidizing my paycheck for the past few months. And? I did not ask him to. He did not have to. On behalf of the museum, I thank him. On behalf of myself, I shrug. If he wanted gratitude, he shouldn't have fired me. And perhaps should have paid me on time.

I was harassed for checking the safe for my belongings. I was harassed for daring to be offended at their offer to let me stay on as a volunteer. I was harassed for being offended that they would throw me an elaborate going away party but not provide me with more than 30 minutes' notice that I was being dismissed. I was harassed for daring to have jury duty on short notice last week.

Ultimately, I should feel some sense of triumph. In the end, I win. The museum will be closed within a matter of months, if not weeks. Without me, there is literally no one to run the museum. I have been in control of absolutely everything there for the past year: they don't have passwords to the email accounts or the website; they don't have the current membership list; they don't know the first thing about the exhibit or the artists in it; they don't know how to sell the items in the gift shop; they don't know where anything is kept; they don't know who's lent the museum artwork in the past, nor do they know where to find the information for current lenders; they don't know how to answer the visitors' questions. They are absolutely in the dark, and they don't even know enough to ask for any of this information.

So I win. Everyone knows that I kept that museum alive for a full year longer than it should have lived, and everyone will know that because I was dismissed, the museum closed. But all I feel is depressed that all my hard work was so summarily dismissed and disregarded. I worked hard to keep the museum open, keep visitors coming through the door, and keep them happy and impressed. I worked hard to generate exhibits with no budget. I worked hard to make the museum the best it could be with nothing to work with. But because I didn't pull $400,000 out of my ass, I failed.

I created a detailed instruction manual on how to run the museum, with all the information a stranger could require to effectively manage the museum. But this manual sits, ignored, on my computer, because I was only given 30 minutes to turn over my keys, and the reins, to the museum. I couldn't possibly have any information that they would need. I couldn't possibly provide anything the museum requires.

People suck.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Jesus H Tap-Dancing Christ What Is Wrong With People?

This has been circulating on the interwebs today and previously. I fully thought it was a joke until I visited the website.

Be warned: this is going to be a rant. Feel free to skip down to the next outrageously bigoted image.

< rant >
Yes, that's right, children: stay away from the nasty, dangerous atheists, because they might try to convince you that your woman-hating backward-thinking sky-god isn't real, and that the world is older than 6000 years (which we all know is blasphemy). Why is it that people are so insecure about differing viewpoints from their own? Especially around children? Oh That's Right: because without indoctrination and claustration, people might actually have the ability to think for themselves and not follow nutjobs like these guys around like sheep!
< /rant >

Breathe, Vellum, Breathe...

Ranting aside, the reasons this upsets me so much are legion:

First, ANY view that is so fragile as to necessitate hiding children from non-believers is obviously flawed. Take this from someone who studies the devil -- Christianity's fears of the convincing powers of non-believers are overrated. Just look at the still burgeoning numbers of lunatic-fringe right-wing cult-like Christian sects. If people will believe that, they'll believe anything.

Second, the trope of the grumpy atheist is so incredibly offensive I don't even know where to begin (and before you start pointing to me as an example, I'm not an atheist -- I'm just incensed by stupidity).  I have a number of friends who don't believe in any kind of god, paternalistic sky-god or otherwise, and you know what? They're awfully pleasant folks. They love, laugh, and tend to be less judgemental of others than most lunatic-fringe Christians I've met. In fact, I'd go out on a limb and say most of the atheists I know are better Christians than most Christians. How do you like them apples?

Disclaimer: I know plenty of non-lunatic-fringe-Christians, too, and they're also awfully nice folks. It's the ones who think an all-loving omnipotent being is going to torture you for eternity after your death (yes, that's right, all loving) because he's also a jealous and vengeful god and you didn't follow him correctly, it's those ones who give everyone else a bad name. The problem is, they're the ones who shout the loudest, so you can hardly think over the calls of "God Hates Fags" when you walk down the street. (That was hyperbole, but you get my reference).

I think I've digressed into ranting again. *sigh*

You know the thing is, maybe all the atheists they know are grumpy because people like these make them so. Nothing ruins my day like people telling me that the way I live my life is inherently wrong and that I need to be more judgemental of others to appease a curiously silent god. I'm willing to bet that if they opened their minds to -- what's that? not possible you say? well I'll keep trying.

You never know, maybe they're not so --

Jesus H. Tap-Dancing Christ what is wrong with these people? What incredibly bigoted, uneducated people. How can they justify this insulting caricature of Hinduism? Oh, that's right.



< /rant > Again.

Is anybody reading good enough with image editing software (and possessed of enough free time) to make some clever pro-tolerance versions of these for me to post up? I'd be much obliged.

Oh, and those images are copyrighted to "OBJECTIVE: Ministries" and are being used here under the Fair Use doctrine as an Editorial.

I'm off to drink less coffee now. :)