The hotness of me Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

The air conditioning in our building has been broken for more than a month. Our department’s secretary is now CC:ing all of us on the e-mails she sends to get an explanation for why it can’t be repaired. Apparently, the delay is because the equipment is so old that parts are hard to track down. I am wondering how much longer it will be before they decide the equipment needs to be replaced – my estimate is late February.

We’re two days from the beginning of summer. It’s been stinking hot for a couple of weeks now (ever since the freak cold snap). I am looking forward to going outside into the mid-30s (Celsius) heat to head across campus for a meeting in a few minutes. And I think that as soon as that meeting is done, I’m going home, getting a cold drink and slipping into something comfortable.

This heat is beginning to drive me a little batty.

Choosing what’s important Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

Tomorrow morning we have a committee meeting, at which a document I wrote is scheduled for discussion and, hopefully, approval. At the same time, a nationwide rally about the state of Australian industrial relations is going to take place. Our kids’ school schedules will also be affected by the rally, as many teachers will attend. So, I’m going to need to juggle three priorities and try to do what’s best for my family, myself and my principles. I think I have a plan – I should be able to attend the rally and make appropriate arrangements for the kids to be looked after. I’ll get to the work meeting when I can, and if anyone has a problem with my document I’ll straighten it out later. Of course, the fact that we didn’t get confirmation of the work meeting until an hour ago hasn’t helped with planning.

Requesting assistance by e-mail Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

Eszter Hargittai has written a “Primer for Electronic Communication” for Inside Higher Ed. Make sure you read the whole article, but eszter’s proposed template for such a message is:

  • Descriptive subject line
  • Polite point-of-contact
  • Succinct statement of the message’s purpose
  • Brief introduction of yourself
  • Acknowledging other attempts at finding an answer or solution
  • Restatement of question
  • Gratitude for assistance

While I think this would be a great read for students, who often manage to appear discourteous when asking for help by e-mail (including those who I know are polite and appreciative in person), it also captures the approach I take when contacting colleagues and superiors with requests.

More discussion of the piece can be found at Crooked Timber.

Insert meme here Wednesday, Nov 29 2006 

Picked up via Bitch, PhD: Acephalous is tracking the propagation of a meme. Anyone reading this should post the link in their own blog and then ping Technorati.

Culture of Intentional Ignorance Tuesday, Nov 28 2006 

The Cole Commission’s report into the Australian Wheat Board’s payment of bribes to Saddam Hussein was released yesterday. The AWB took a deserved beating and criminal action was recommended for a number of executives, but the Commonwealth government came out of it in pretty good shape. In fact, they have quickly moved onto the front foot, demanding that the opposition apologise for suggesting any wrongdoing on the part of the government.

The AWB affair, and the government’s handling of it, strikes me as the latest illustration of the culture of deniability that the Howard government has used to good effect throughout its existence. John Quiggin talked about the state of the government’s “knowledge” in relation to the AWB scandal back in April of this year:

As anyone familiar with Australian politics could have predicted it rapidly became apparent that the government knew all about the payoffs, except in the special sense of “know” that is considered relevant in such matters. The Canadians who were offered the same deal and refused, complained to the Australian government, but AWB denied it, and the government was careful not to press them.

It seems that the government has developed a cultural norm that potentially damaging information should be kept at a distance, and in particular should not make its way to Ministers. The denial of knowledge is then used to avoid accountability. In some cases, a few heads in the public service might roll, but the Ministers are protected.

It is interesting how efficient and effective this approach has turned out to be. I would imagine there are no explicit directives about this sort of thing – that would defeat the purpose. But when something comes up that looks like a political hot potato which might be difficult to deal with, it seems like our current leaders are able to shrug and say “we weren’t told about it”. It got them through Children Overboard, played a part in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq, and now it has emerged that a similar pattern applies with the AWB.

The thing is, I don’t understand how not being told, or not having sufficient follow-up, about potentially important issues can serve as an excuse. I would have thought the idea is that sensitive information needs to make its way to those who are in charge, on the off chance that it is important. A manager should know as much as possible about what is going on in the area they manage, whether it’s in a university, a corporation, or a government department. And they should be responsible for developing an appropriate organisational culture that allows for the appropriate transmission of information. To allow one’s department to develop a culture of ignorance is itself negligent.

While I’m not a fan of our current government, I should acknowledge that I am not convinced that those on the other side of the political fence would show more integrity if put in the same role. At the same time, I can’t imagine that they would be this good at it. The thing that strikes me most about John Howard and his government is that they are very good at managing political risk.

Insiders MP3s Sunday, Nov 26 2006 

I just discovered that the ABC’s Insiders is now making the complete show audio available through a podcast, which I think is an extremely clever idea for this type of TV show.

The fact is, I “watch” Insiders most weeks but I rarely look at the screen while doing so – I have the TV on and work on the computer or read while listening. Apart from the “Talking Pictures” segment on political cartoons, there is pretty much nothing that requires one’s visual attention in the show – it’s talking heads on a screen and then four people sitting and talking to each other.

When I have missed the show in the past I have usually ended up reading the transcript because I couldn’t see the point of wasting bandwidth on a video download. Now, with a 12MB MP3 file giving me the audio of the entire show, there is no way I won’t make use of it. Good job, Aunty!

Identity and community Sunday, Nov 26 2006 

Oso Raro’s essay at Slaves of Academe develops an interesting perspective on the nature and functions of academic blogging, and it has brought me back to thinking about why I wantyed to start a blog in the first place and what this blog will do for me.

When I began to think about creating a blog, the decisions about the blog’s identity and my own identity had to be made together. The way I looked at it, I could blog under my own name and limit the blog’s content to the same things I’d be happy talking about in a lecture room. I would not discuss my family, problems with co-workers, religion, etc. I think I would have even felt a bit awkward about discussing things like TV shows and hobbies. In short, I think if I was blogging under my own name then my blog’s content and identity would be oriented purely around my professional identity.

On the other hand, adopting a pseudonym – or perhaps, having an anonymous blog (since I realise I haven’t adopted a decent pseudonym yet) allows me to write about things that I would never discuss in any other public forum. Part of this is about avoiding real risks that I can see – the reality is that my workplace has been a difficult one to navigate in recent years, and I could not openly speak about those issues as myself without putting my livelihood in danger. But there is also a level of comfort associated with the anonymity of this form of blogging that does not relate to direct consequences. Even if it did not risk direct consequences for my job or any other aspect of my life, I would still be less comfortable writing openly about many issues if I knew that I was identifiable.

I suspect part of my reason for feeling this way is the same social anxiety that affects my ordinary life. I don’t like to be the focus of attention. When I participate in a discussion, to some extent I always worry about how others are evaluating me based on what I say or don’t say. When I write on a blog, without my personal identity available to the reader, you can only evaluate the content and I feel safer.

Of course, given that I work in a career path where megalomania and self-promotion can be useful tools for success, I am aware that I need to overcome these issues in my everyday life. But I still think blogging, and in particular adopting a “blog identity”, is (and will continute to be) a useful way to develop and share ideas that could not be replaced by other types of communication.

Quittin’ Time! Friday, Nov 24 2006 

Since I’m going to be working all weekend anyway, I think a leisurely Friday afternoon is in order. In one hour I’ll play golf, after which we’ll adjourn to the clubhouse for drinks and a meal at the restaurant. And I won’t feel the slightest bit guilty.

Blogging tools Friday, Nov 24 2006 

Up to this point I have been posting to the blog using the Performancing for Firefox extension. I’ve just installed the beta of Microsoft’s Windows Live Writer and this is my first attempt at using it.

I like that it has (sort of) got the actual styling from my site in the editor, so I have some idea what the end result will look like. However, it doesn’t seem to be working quite right – I’ll have to do some reading to see whether I can make sense of it.

I also noticed that there is a Blog This for Firefox extension, which would seem to help overcome one of the downsides of Live Writer compared to Performancing – PFF is integrated with my browser. The Blog This button is on the Firefox toolbar rather than down in the statusbar, so I’ll have to get used to going in the opposite direction with the mouse to start a blog entry. I’ll keep playing with both tools and try to figure out which one I prefer.

The week that (almost) was Friday, Nov 24 2006 

Okay, so Friday isn’t over yet, but I realise I haven’t blogged all week and I don’t want to fall out of the habit. However, the fact is that this has been a difficult week to find time for anything, due to factors such as:

  • Finishing dealing with the admission applications – which is at done, for the moment. Now there’s just dealing with calls from students who want to know why they did not get a place (which, in more than 95% of cases, is because their grades did not meet the standard specified on our web site).
  • Spent a couple of days dealing with and worrying about an acute crisis with one of our adult kids. I am not able to give any details, but for the moment the concern has eased, although I’m certain we have plenty to still worry about. This also reminds me that I still have a half-finished entry introducing my family – I really am a bad blogger.
  • Had the obligatory couple of meetings that we seem to schedule because we don’t have enough to do – in November we only have the end of semester, final exams, thesis marking, and a few other bits and pieces to deal with.
  • Fought with the photocopier a couple more times before giving up on duplexing, using twice as much paper as I wanted to, and returning all of my overdue books.
  • Organised electronic copies of my readings for next year’s subjects, because apparently it needed to be done urgently (i.e., the person who told me a couple of weeks ago that I wouldn’t need to do it was contacted and told that I should have done it).
  • Had a lovely dinner with good friends a couple of nights ago.
  • Drove kids around to do the things kids need to do.
  • Ate a bit, drank a bit, slept a bit.
  • etc.

So, now the weekend is in sight but the end of the week is nowhere to be seen. I have a pile of stuff left to do, including:

  • Marking the aforementioned theses (1 x PhD, 2 x Honours).
  • Organising students to complete their research projects.
  • Planning a funding application for next year – I have a meeting with a consultant next week, and was supposed to have a draft of the application completed by the end of last week (oops).
  • Trying to finish a couple of manuscripts and get them out to a journal before Christmas arrives.
  • Driving kids around to the things kids need to do.
  • Eating a bit, drinking a bit, and sleeping a bit.
  • etc.

Stay tuned, and life should become normal any minute now.

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