Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Martini Garden

It was one of those ideas that seemed to emerge from the collective mind, rather like the "blackboard dining table" we made: David's aunt bought us a small olive bush for Christmas. That's nice, we said, but where's the rest of the Martini?

All we needed was a lemon tree, a juniper bush, some assorted herbs and spices and we'd be set.

Unfortunately we live in a flat with the world's most useless balcony: 26' long but only 12" wide. The garden remains conceptual, unless we manage to find a central London flat with a more generous patch of outdoor space.

It turns out, however, that wedding anniversary number four is "fruits and flowers." After a lot of (metaphorical) digging I managed to find a lemon tree that is dwarf in habit but will actually fruit in the UK. I was skeptical on this last point, but when the tree was delivered it did indeed have some fruits still on from last year's growth:

Cheesy pseudo-tinted (or pseud-y cheesy-tinted) photo.

So happy anniversary to David: here's the next installment of the Martini Garden, and to many more years of joy. At least we can season our own drinks, even if we can't make them from scratch!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An open letter to Lady Greenfield.

You're supposed to be a neuroscientist. That means you can't just go around asserting things.

Yours sincerely,

Frustrated of London.

P.S. "Perhaps the next generation will define themselves by the responses of others." Really? How shockingly novel. I molded my personality in a social vacuum.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

News Tweet

I knew that Twitter was the first source of images of the Hudson River Landing (go Sully!). What I hadn't realised was how many news outlets now have a breaking news twitter feed of their own. Here are some edited highlights:

The main BBC news op has a breaking news only feed, with headlines and links to the stories on the BBC site. Currently runs at about 3 posts a day.

Also from the BBC, my morning listening, the Today Programme has a tweet-feed. They seem to post a handful of tweets a day, not all of breaking news. Some are trails for upcoming packages, others are links to Today Programme material on the BBC website.

The full list of BBC feeds can be found here.

Reuters is for serious news junkies only. Updates every couple of hours or so.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has a very busy breaking news feed too, with updates around hourly. They also cover some fantastic UK news stories - like this one: Drunk British soldier crashes tanks. (Note the plural of tank. Support out troops, because they're too drunk to stand up by themselves.)

The FT has a finance news feed that seems updated roughly hourly until the desk closes around midnight. They also have a tech news feed which is frequently but irregularly updated.

CNN has a feed for breaking news only, that seems to be updated no more than once or twice a day.

NPR have a feed that covers breaking news, trails for programs, discussions with users and, at the last glance, an apology to the Internet at large for describing Unix as "a system computers use to define time," (See replies around 7.58pm Feb 13th - Eek!)

I'm not sure which, if any, of these I'll follow. I think I still prefer pull rather than push news. What I really want is a twitter feed filter/aggregator that will allow me to see tweets from these feeds only when they are relevant to my interests. Or about drunken tank-thieves.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Spring is here, spring is here [1]

A few weeks ago my balcony boxes looked like this:

A few days ago they looked like this:


I must start propagating my edible stuff for this summer. Nothing too big as we may still be moving flat sometime and I don't think I can transport my 4' wigwams of peas very easily. And I must sort out a seed swap with Green Butterfingers.

[1] "Life is skittles and life is beer":

(Sorry David - the annual bout of singing is about to begin!)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Dress Code:

Or "Why do academics dress as if they're attending a blind man's funeral?" [1]

I was recently talking to a fellow post-industrial academic about the parlous sartorial state of many of our colleagues. This discussion took place at conference that, in places, was a sad little symphony in beige and polo-shirt.

On the strength of my visits to international conferences, the US academic uniform seems to sit more on the side of "business casual" (shudder) than in the UK. However, in the UK there's a definite split between the old and new universities: old universities preferring the worn, the stained and the 100 years out of date, newer universities favouring the US-style smart casual. Both seem designed to say "my mind is on higher things": in the case of the old universities it's the writings of Thomas Aquinas or the finer points of Brane cosmology. In the new, it's about being "student centred," "professional" or (horror of horrors) "replicating the corporate environment".

In my current post, I'm surrounded by "Biz Cas" (described by Corporate Apparel Blog as "The rebellious younger sibling of traditional corporate attire" - *snarf*).

Business Casual by thenickster

It's quite tempting to adopt protective camouflage - but I bounce between a new university (my post) and a self consciously old university (hereafter SOU) for a number of ongoing collaborations. I'd need the powers of of the mimic octopus to blend in, even if I wanted to. At work it's notable if someone's not in business casual, in the SOU I am still getting stick for the one time I showed up to a meeting in a dress. I should point out that the dress was more like this:

than this:

What's a girl to do?

I first faced this dilemma in industry and it can be best illustrated using the characters of the (much underrated, honestly!) IT Crowd. I had just come from running my own business, so started out by dressing pretty much like corporate droid Jen. I was never comfortable dressing this way, and my closest colleagues all dressed rather more like Moss or Roy.

(Parenthetically - I wasn't actually using the IT Crowd as my "Vogue" or "In Style" I promise - Graham Linehan was still making Father Ted and Black Books at this point!)

I had a number of problems in finding a style I liked:

  1. I couldn't quite carry off dressing as one of the boys as one look at my outline would be enough to convince anyone that I'm not one of the boys.
  2. At the time I hated my height - I didn't wear high-heels until my mid-to-late twenties as I couldn't stand the constant feeling of looming over people. I'm over that now, though I still try to radiate a non-threatening vibe.
  3. The internet did not have half so many cool t-shirt stores as it does now. ThinkGeek shipped overseas (just) by then but boy was that expensive.

Sometime in the last few years I've settled on wearing jeans worn with "stylish yet affordable boots" (thank you Whedon for that meme!) plus a jacket with a t-shirt or sweater underneath. The jeans and boots emphasise the fact that I could step over a farm gate without a run-up. They also ensure that, in a department in which most of the women are in admin roles, I don't look like an administrator. And they say "I still act as if I'm at SOU. I may go back there sometime. Treat me accordingly. (Give me good research time!)"

The jackets say "I am making some attempt with my appearance - I am wearing at least one item that requires advanced garment-care techniques." (For those not in the know, advanced garment care includes dry-cleaning or, indeed, ironing as far as I'm concerned [2]). Plus they're great at playing down my more distracting features.

By which of course I mean the t-shirts... honest. The t-shirts are neither more nor less than a portable (literally) shibboleth. A visual "handshake" that works across a room. If you know why I'm wearing a t-shirt with an old blue police box and some statuary angels on then there's a good chance you and I will be friends.

Despite the occasional day in a dress, what I wear still feels a bit like a uniform, and is no less of a badge of belonging than business casual or "antiquated slob". But at least it's not camouflage: it's closer to aposematism if anything [3]. And it looks a heck of a lot better on me than beige slacks and a pastel-coloured polo shirt, doesn't it?

[1] Actual question from a dear friend's husband. My momentary outrage died when I considered some of my colleagues. Not the one with the excellent collection of hats. Nor the one with the shirt with the very subtle cannabis sativa pattern. Nor, indeed, the one that's just been in Esquire. But most of the others.

[2] I read recently that there is a word in Japanese that translates to something like "Sweater Girl" or "Cardigan Woman" which means a woman that is too busy with her career to iron. I now can't find the source of this information, so I have no idea what this word was or even if it is apocrypha. Shame - 'cause it suits me down to the ground!

[3] Thanks to David for introducing me to the word "aposematic". For years I've wanted a word that meant "opposite of camouflage" or "the animal equivalent of Doctor Marten boots and a mohawk".