Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Time Management and Treats

I've got into a strange full-time research routine now, surprisingly quickly. I read a book a few weeks ago, about managing your time effectively when faced with a huge writing project, so I'm sort of testing it out in practice.

It was recommended by a colleague, who found it helpful when finishing his own doctorate fairly recently. It's 'The Clockwork Muse' by Eviatar Zerubavel, a Professor of time-related subjects. I've read other books on time management which seem to assume you're a bit of a robot, so I was fairly sceptical, but having nothing to lose, I gave it a go.

It does seem very useful. Apart from the obvious practical aspects, like realistic timetable planning, it stops you feeling guilty about not working very productively at certain times of the day, because everyone works best in different ways. I found it helpful in working out my own particular routine that fitted my deadlines, lifestyle and writing habits. It's quite interesting to see how famous authors like Ernest Hemingway or Virginia Woolf approached their own writing. Even with limited experience of using that book, I'd recommend it to anyone doing a PhD (or any thesis, for that matter, including undergraduate).

'Treats' have also been recommended by various people, as little rewards for reaching certain targets. That's the sort of advice I like, though it's probably best that it's not all treats of the consumer variety, or I'll end up very well qualified, but with a hefty credit card bill.

Though I admit I did go shopping when I was stuck recently, and was amused to hear sales assistants in a large department store describing expensive bath products by one of my favourite brands in rather unflattering terms. I doubt whether comparing the scents of their bath oils with 'cheap fruit squash' and 'wee' (AKA 'urine') is in their sales training manual.

But not all treats involve spending money, fortunately.

TV repeats of 'Ironside', the 1960s US cop in a wheelchair series, fitted quite nicely into my last stretch of research leave as a daily lunchtime routine. Excellent costumes and topical storylines (for the late '60's), set against a backdrop of hippies, flower power, Vietnam and the Black Power movement. Great stereotypes too - like an escaped criminal who ludicrously tried to blend in with the local hippies by growing his hair a microscopic amount, and walking around with a book he hadn't even read by Jean-Paul Sartre. Very amusing. Existential philosophy isn't imbibed through your fingertips, strangely enough. I watched the series from the pilot show through to the early 1970s episodes... I didn't like the clothes or the new female cop who replaced Eve Whitfield (socialite-turned-plainclothes-officer with a good wardrobe), so I stopped watching it from season 4.

Anyway... I can't recall Zerubavel saying anything in his book about woffling in blogs, so I'd better get back to the real work!

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Summer blogging

I've got a couple of days left at work this week, then my chunk of annual leave starts... and that's when my really intensive thesis workload gets going. From now till about mid September, I'll be reading, interviewing people and writing. It will be hideously busy, but probably do-able in a relatively short burst.

I was wondering whether I would have loads more time that I could spend usefully doing other things (like finishing a PhD!!!!) if I'd never heard of blogs, or started one myself. Or maybe it's become a normal part of my everyday life now, just another way to communicate, find new information and get a strange window into different views, jobs and ideas from reading other people's blogs.

So my summer resolution is that I'll try to resist the urge to either write, or read other blogs, if it seems to be eating into my thesis time. If updating mine is a bit sporadic, that's probably why. On the other hand, maybe that will be impossible to do and I'll end up spending twice as much time on them! Either way, my deadline is fixed, so whatever works best, I guess, as it's very important to me...

I've just realised that my last few words were a slight understatement, as anyone who's done (or is doing) a PhD will know. For those who haven't embarked on that strange academic rite of passage, it's the culmination of many year's work, which is why it matters.... 'Important'? Oh yes.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Marker-Pen Murder Shirt

On my way to work, I saw a man wearing a shirt telling a tale of how someone tried to murder him. He looked quite ordinary, a bit scruffy and in his 50s-60s, striding purposefully up the road with his bag, except for his rather odd shirt. It was just a man's white shirt, worn untucked over a t-shirt, but with lots of writing scrawled on the back in black marker pen. It said that on a particular date a while ago, someone tried to murder him. Unfortunately, I couldn't read the rest, as he was walking very fast in the opposite direction and the fabric was crumpled, so now I'll never know what the rest of the strange story on his back said. It seemed a bit rude to run after him to take a photo and finish reading the text later, somehow.

It's an interesting way to get people to take notice of you, though. If he'd been an everyday sort of ranter, telling anyone he met whatever was on his mind, the usual tactic from the public is avoidance. By writing it on his back, he got attention without anyone having to actually speak to him, unless they wanted to. Well, people at the bus-stop were curious, and I wouldn't mind reading the rest of his tale. It's obviously important to him, whatever it is.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Helmet Hair

An idea from the latest in 1960's fashion prevents lady cyclists from having to choose between their hairdo and road safety. An article in 'Popular Science' magazine from July 1964 gives an alternative:

"Both of these cyclists are wearing crash helmets - the lady's is a nylon-hair wig on a heavy plaster-composition base. Made by a London hairdresser in a variety of colours and hairdos, the wigs are the rage with women riders. Skintight, they are waterproof and can be worn on any occasion."

Well, we can't have ladies compromising their fashionable style and new hairdos out on the roads. I wonder if it caught on? I'd love to see the whole range of styles available. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase helmet hair...

From Modern Mechanix - a brilliant blog with scanned articles and advertisements from old popular science-type magazines. Looks like ones from the 1920s to 1970s, from a quick glance, though I could (and probably will!) spend hours looking through the whole blog. It's a nice, dust-free way of looking through old magazines, unlike the many days I've spent in museum archives, poring over Victorian undertaker's journals and early 20th century fashion magazines, sneezing from the dust and getting grubby fingers... though the content is usually worth a few sniffles.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Horrible week

I don't know why some weeks are just crap, when several month's worth of annoying things all happen at once. Nothing terrible, just when things break down, and quick jobs turn into long-running sagas, and people or situations that are usually ok suddenly become intensely irritating. You find your patience slipping away and realise you're getting really pissed off, but think, well, it can't get any worse today, until some other person inflicts another totally avoidable situation on you to sort out. And you get a stinking cold on top of that, to mess up your weekend.

Why does it seem to happen like that? We were discussing it during a fire drill the other day at work, as everyone else seemed to be in the same mood. If you were an astrologer, you might explain it away as an unusual planetary configuration causing conflict. Maybe it was around a full moon, when everyone is supposed to get a bit moody and irrational. Or perhaps grumpiness is contagious, where one person is in a foul mood and really rude, and it has a knock-on effect, sending everyone else they deal with into a bad mood too.

Anyway, it was one of those weeks, and I'm glad it's over.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

"I'd Rather Be Pixelated Than Wear Fur"

Stella McCartney will co-host the world's first virtual anti-fur protest with PETA in Second Life, the 3-D online world with 7 million residents. From July 12th, for one week, a dedicated island will host a celebration and picnic. The island design, inspired by the harmony of the English countryside, will feature stables, horse jumps, a lake, picnic tables, Linda McCartney mini-veggie-burger stalls, a "live" DJ booth and both Stella McCartney and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) information tree-houses.

McCartney says "sometimes it's nice to have a bit of humour on serious subjects." Visitors can wear a T-Shirt with the slogan "I'd Rather Be Pixelated Than Wear Fur", a play on PETA's iconic slogan "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur. " Guests are invited to think up new anti-fur slogans, with entries being displayed on the island as they are submitted.

I must admit I'm not in the best position to comment on this, having no personal experience of either Second Life or real life anti-fur protests, but I'm interested in how this might develop. I was wondering how real life and virtual protests might compare, and if this is the first virtual one, does that mean there will be more? If there are virtual demonstrations with other virtual groups 'present' who disagree with those views (as people do), will there be clashes or riots, and virtual police to keep them apart... or is it so utopian that it isn't necessary? I'll have to find someone to help me check this out, as it sounds quite interesting!

For less geeky readers, a pixel is a tiny digital dot that digital pictures are composed of. Loads of pixels or 'picture elements' make up each image you use on the computer.