Archive for the ‘phd – mechanics’ Category


Saturday, September 15th, 2007

Once again I keep getting these flashes of “should really blog that!” and then immediately “but there’s so much unsaid over there.” So, in short:

I defended and graduated.* To paraphrase my landlady, I’m Vika Zafrin, Ph.uckin’ D. That paraphrase involved changing fewer letters than you might imagine. For the first time in my adult life I am not a student pursuing a degree full-time at an institution. Mostly there’s a giant feeling of relief, but I already miss research. Although that balances out, because I sure don’t miss the constant insecurity, the “not good enough”ness, the 24/7 feeling like I have to be working.

OK, I still mostly feel like I should be working. But it’s getting easier to compartmentalize, and you know what? There’s a whole big life out there, with books and spiritual practice and cooking and friends and friends’ children and visits with mom, who lives in driving distance for the first time in thirteen years. Who knew?

Ethan and I have moved up to Boston. Best move we could’ve made. Wanderlust is tugging at my pants leg already, but I could be happy living in Boston for a long while. Given that wanderlust is my muse and near-constant companion, that’s a hefty statement to make.

The house we live in has seven human residents, five cats, a dog and (temporarily) a bird. Gods bless the marvel that is modern allergy medicine. Our two cats have established relationships with the three who have lived here for long. Nochka the tiny black cat has a hissy fit any time DJ Spooky, the black boycat thrice her size, comes into our bedroom seeking food. And there’s the impossibly beautiful lynx-y Winter, who is afraid of almost everyone. Other than that, feline people are chill. Humans are also mostly chill, and really, how bad can it get when you live with geeks and musicians (and a funny man who inexplicably deals with insurance all day)? A circus band occasionally practices in my living room. Beat that with a stick.

The past three months have been spent largely acclimating to the new house, the new life rhythms, the big questions like where to go from here and how to plan out the long term. I’m working outside of academe now, but who knows how long I’ll be able to stay away?

So much is changing. Mostly I like it. Some of it is hard growth, but on the whole I feel like I’m stretching after a long sleep.

*Oh, and my work? Here, in its entirety. Get yourself Firefox and enjoy. It’ll take half a minute or so to load, but is thereafter very fast.

[RolandHT] Lesson learned today.

Tuesday, February 6th, 2007

Even if I have a ton of material to write out, under “normal” conditions (i.e., deadline is not within two or three days) there seems to be a word limit to what I can write. It’s a loose word limit, but it’s there — and it does not matter how much time I spend on writing these words. Happily, this limit is generous enough that I’m pretty optimistic about finishing.

Also, having less time and/or a firm stopping time — a dinner date, for example — helps productivity in direct proportion to how much time I have left. In other words, work tends to speed up if I know I must stop at a certain hour. But that’s not news.

Excerpted tidbit.

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Just because I feel like sharing. It’s a big ol’ world, and we’re not.

Internet usage worldwide varies more or less in direct proportion to national per capita income. According to the Google Gapminder World project (last accessed 28 January 2007, currently in beta), internet users per 1000 people are as low as 0.78 (Tajikistan). India and China, the two most populous countries, hover near the middle of the GNP/GNI range but count only 32 and 73 internet users per 1000 inhabitants, respectively.

(me, yesterday, in chapter draft)

Edited to add: the “children born per woman (fertility rate)” chart makes it pretty evident that the rapidly approaching overpopulation bogeyman is just that. Replacement rate (for a stable population numbers-wise) is 2.1. India may be above that, but China and a hefty portion of the rest of the world are below. Not only that, but since 1975 (use the nifty animation feature!) worldwide fertility rates have been on the decline.

In addition, the most rapidly growing populations (top left region of the chart) tend to be dark-blue, which means Africa, which means horrid infant mortality rate. (The mortality rate is another one of the charts available.)

Anxiety and timing(s).

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Three months left to finish the dissertation, get comments on it, fix the dissertation as per comments, and defend it. The urge to panic is great.

Support, though, is abundant – and I’m grateful for it. From all sides: family, friends, colleagues, relative strangers.

It’s not that I don’t think I can do it. I can… I think. It’ll help to have comments from my thesis readers (who will hopefully get two chapters and all of the interface from me Wednesday or Thursday), so that at least I’ll know more or less what they’re thinking. Part of me is worried that they’ll be disgruntled, because I’ve veered away from (and so haven’t addressed) some things that were suggested at my prelims. But another part of me knows that this is par for the course: dissertations change direction, and this isn’t even that radical a change. It’s “just” a shift in emphasis. But there’re three months left, so – panic.

Anxiety, more like. I’m told (and also know) that it won’t go away, so it helps to let it flow through me instead of dwelling on it and making it whirlpool somewhere near my solar plexus. Sometimes the flowing works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s nice to have some agency over it.

This topic is overwhelming. It’s so poorly explored; there’s so much to do. Most importantly, it’s so interdisciplinary, and I feel like the ultimate dilettante. That’s a-ok with me, but what about the rest of the world? You know, potential employers and such?

One of RolandHT‘s early premises was that acquiring knowledge can be done in two ways. You can take in (read, listen to, whatever) large chunks of information, one by one, each of them in its entirety, and analyze each as a whole and in context of the others you’ve taken in so far. Like learning literature by reading novel after novel. Or, you can dabble here and there, follow thematic threads that interest you, and slowly build up a more or less cohesive picture of the world, or a world. The Roland project is the latter; it acquaints you with the archetype(s) by letting you jump around centuries and media and locations. I do this because I think that this is how we learn almost everything we know: building up a worldview by observation, by living and paying attention.

That works very well inside my head; finding words to make it coherent is another thing. Words are coming, slowly but surely. It’ll get there.

The best dissertation is a done dissertation. Yes.

Rewards, or maybe CRACK.

Friday, January 12th, 2007

My beloved bought Guitar Hero II. Note the time stamp on this post. And I’m not even into video games much.

It is crack. Also, it’s hell on my left arm, all the way from the forearm to the shoulder.

But oh, the sweet sweet reward for having gotten work done. Dissertation, we have a PLAN.

Practical writing advice sought.

Thursday, January 11th, 2007

The kind of information I’m looking for, there’s a lot of it on the internets. But somehow it carries more weight when it comes from people I know personally, even if only through the blogosphere.

Say, hypothetically, you’re writing a dissertation (a book, any kind of long writing project). You were all set to dive into work, but life’s been uncooperative, and now that you can think straight again you’re dealing with fear, anxiety and vague waves of unattached guilt. How do you get from there to producing stuff of a quality at least good enough to propel you along?

Strategies I’m familiar with: freewriting, timed and non-; reward systems (I get to play videogames/have some ice cream/take a 15-minute walk for every X amount of work done); timed work schedules (must write 10-noon and not one minute more, every day); buddy systems; changing work venue every once in a while.

Freewriting works to a point, if I don’t let little things slow me down. Rewards work on a very limited scale. Timed work schedule works when I can stick to it and don’t have internet access. Buddy systems… well, they’re nice in theory but in practice there’s nobody I can do this with. Online venues like PhinisheD don’t really work for me either. Changing work venue actually works most of the time. But, although it helps deal with wanting to hide under the covers, it doesn’t help with the fear or anxiety. Or guilt.

So: aside from the above, what do you do?

too much jetsetting

Monday, November 13th, 2006

I’m so tired of travel.

On Friday I came back from the latest – to Maryland on Tuesday, to give a talk at MITH; and then DC for the Reinvention Center conference. This was my fourth trip in just under two months: the other three were to Nebraska (digital humanities workshop), Fredericton (text-analysis conference) and Chester, Vermont (Readex Digital Institute, which got extensively blogged here). On Tuesday I leave for Chester again, to return on Wednesday after a meeting. This is the blessed last trip for the foreseeable future.

Don’t get me wrong: all the events I went to have been fabulous (see below), and I’m looking forward to going back to Readex. But – and I’ve known this from the start – this is too much travel right now.

The talk at MITH went well. I guess the crowd was a bit diminished compared to their usual; it was election day, and there was a Human-Computer Interaction event precisely coinciding with my talk. Nevertheless, it was a good group, and boy, they really mean it when they call these things “Digital Dialogues.” They jumped right in about five minutes into my talk, and the lively conversation didn’t stop for the next hour and a half or so. I showed the Virtual Humanities Lab and we talked about collaboration, its logistical issues and benefits-vs-drawbacks and ways in which VHL can be made a more friendly collaboration environment. It was great to receive feedback from people not only interested, but way more knowledgeable about the state of the field. It felt easy to be there; they’ve created a great atmosphere both for conversation and for work.

Wednesday I took advantage of MITH’s generous offer to use their “coffeehouse” space for work. That evening I found myself at the downtown Washington hotel where the Reinvention Center conference was to take place in the next two days.

I’ve a ton of notes from that conference. I only got to go because my dissertation director was leading one of the sessions, and asked me to be his session recorder; this way the Center gives a few grad students the opportunity to see what’s going on in research universities around the country, while at the same time getting young’uns to more or less write the proceedings. A more than fair price, I must say.

So I’d been reasonably interested in the conference, but had no idea how useful it would be and how much new information I would get that will be applicable in my near-future work. For one thing, I saw the largest concentration of high-level university administrators that I’ve ever seen before. Not sure what the ratio of administrators (and staff, like librarians) to faculty was, but it felt something like 2:1 or maybe even 3:1, and perhaps 300 people in attendance. (I may be wildly off here. It’s just an estimate.) I’ll have to go over my notes later and perhaps write it up here, if I get to it.

If I get to it. Friday I came back; and yesterday my adored husband took me out for a romantic evening out that stretched well into this morning. I had no idea what we were doing; turned out, we were going to an Ani DiFranco concert. Well, holy shit: I hadn’t been to a concert in a long, long time, and had only seen Ani in concert once. It was a treat. Not only does she rock the the house, but she is touring while quite pregnant, and her happiness with where she is and what she’s doing could be felt all the way at the back bar where we were standing. She had with her a stand-up-bassist and a percussionist with a xylophone and a steel drum and a bunch of other unusual rhythm instruments. Beautiful sound, mostly good crowd, amazing energy.

Then we reconnected over dinner and conversation and general dalliance. This past summer, going into early fall, was difficult for both of us. We both had to reduce and eventually stop taking anti-depressants: welcome to U.S. health care, which left us scrambling for two months (three in Ethan’s case). In the fall we both dove into new work, and have been trying to catch up with each other ever since. Last evening (orchestrated in part by a kind friend – many thanks!) was a badly needed one.

And now… now there’s more work. The final VHL report to the NEH is due at the end of the month. My write-up of our session at the Reinvention Center conference is due at the same time. I’ve got a job app to send out tomorrow, blessedly almost done but still on the to-do list. Tuesday-Wednesday there’s the trip, and my next task for the dissertation is the transcription and encoding of around 600 lines of poetry. Then there’s another fellowship app to get together.

And then there’s the social life, without which Vika gets to be a dull and sad girl. Tonight we were treated by our fabulous housemate to Marie Antoinette the movie, which had an unexpected soundtrack (Aphex Twin!) and was generally not half bad. Monday (tomorrow!) we have a friend visiting. Haven’t seen her in a long long time, so I’m really looking forward to it, and to the inevitable good food associated with the visit.

So what do I do? Instead of getting some sleep I write a long blog entry. Ah well, at least now I have a de facto to do list. There’s more to write about – details of the movie, Sean McMullen’s The Miocene Arrow which I’m enjoying these days, my relationship with the uncertainties of life after May, various anxieties about whether I’ll finish the dissertation in time. But all these can wait. Good night now.

Otuel and Roland, and Scandinavia.

Tuesday, October 24th, 2006

Work is getting easier – sitting down and actually working, that is, as opposed to dreading it and feeling guilty about not doing it. I’ve been on the same primary source since last Thursday, but it is big (over 2700 lines), so I have sixteen whole excerpts from it. Only the Song of Roland has more excerpts. Plus, this one (Otuel and Roland) is in Middle English. Instead of translating it – at which I’d do a miserable job – I’ve written a mini-guide on pronunciation that should take the reader pretty far, and am encoding translations for the particularly obscure words using the glossary at the end of the book. This is adding a lot of encoding time, but should be cool if I can figure out how to make the translations appear on mouseover. (If I can’t figure out, there’s always Ethan to beg for help, but if it can be done with XSLT/CSS, I shouldn’t need to.)

Right. To work.

[Psst… Livejournal readers – just a reminder that if you comment on the feed, I don’t get notified, and at the rate things are going, am unlikely to go back to past posts and check to see whether there are any comments. Instead of clicking on “leave comment,” click the URL for the post, and you’ll be magically transported to a comment interface on Words’ End.]

Technological wonders and peripheral lucidity.

Thursday, October 19th, 2006

Ethan’s taken geeky anti-vandal measures. Plus, we now have a set of functioning motion-sensor floodlights. Come back, kid. I want you to show your face.

This repeated-senseless-violence thing has been… distracting; I had been unsuccessfully trying to work for two days and instead somehow getting sucked into the WaiterRant archives again and again. But lo, as soon as I sit down to read/annotate some primary sources (instead of writing the second chapter, which is due – oh – at the end of the month), work gets interesting again. Go figure.

Reading and annotating, in this case, is a lot of pattern-searching. All afternoon and evening my peripheral vision has been crazy-sensitive. I wonder if the two are related.

repeating work patterns.

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

Work on the thesis is being done in spurts. Partly of necessity: I’ve managed to schedule myself for five out-of-town events, in four trips, all within the same two months. Plus there’s a possibility of getting to spend time with the Nephew, who is turning into an excellent if willful little person, and while I like having him over, I’ve discovered that zero work gets done when he’s around. I suspect it’d be different if we lived closer together, but so it goes.

Anyway, my mental pattern with regard to thesis work has been repeating – rather predictably so; this pattern has existed since long before Roland. It goes something like this:

Before the work period starts: attitude cavalier, anxiety far at bay. Usually, during this time things are happening that make me feel good – conferences, family time, just-breaks with good books.

First day of work period: attitude of “ok, here I am buckling down.” Permitting myself to spend this one day Organizing, which never takes just a day, so the day almost inevitably ends in a vague state of many things accomplished but not enough, damnit.

Second day: overwhelmed and in denial. Repeat mantras of the “I’m smart enough and diligent enough to do this in time – but it won’t happen if I keep succumbing to the anxiety and denial, for they evilly drain energy, confidence and time” sort. Keep having to remind myself that I love this stuff (and I do, it’s the time pressure that’s a bitch to deal with).

From this second day on, if I manage to get myself to start working sometime before 10, life is good. If I don’t, I lose days to self-loathing, or thought patterns less dramatic but just as draining.

The hardest thing is not knowing how long this thesis will take, or how much work it will be. I’ve set myself a hard limit – graduate next spring – but what if I don’t get the work done? If I could see the steps clearly, it would be easier to work. As it stands, it’s hard to even know which large swathes of work will turn out to be useless for the current purposes. There’s no way I can do justice to the Roland corpus in the course of this dissertation; defining its limits in a field of material that I don’t know that well (there’s SO MUCH of it!) seems like a futile exercise.

Outlines don’t help, either. They take so much time to make, and then I have to change them a million times over. My working outline helps me organize whatever it is I want to do next, I guess. But since it isn’t representative of the final thesis structure (as I discovered rewriting chapter the first), it’s not an indicator of how far along I am.

These are some of the things that make thesis writing hard – I’ve read and heard this from many sources. The resultant anxiety is a pest, and I resent it for that. Go. Shoo!