Camellia Sinensis

Coming Home

The wonderful thing about a cup of tea is that it's like your oldest, best friend. You can come back any time, no matter how long it's been, and it'll still be as good as ever. It won't judge you, and it won't be bitter (at least not if you add two sugars). It's like coming home.

So here I am. I've come home, I've made a cup of tea, and I've come back to my over-tea ramblings. Obviously it's not the first time I've had a brew in the last year (I would have died, for sure), nor the first time I've been home, but it's quite possibly the first time I've had nothing else to do but to sit back, relax, enjoy the comfort and let my mind wander. And so it wandered in here. And clearly, some things have changed. My parents (who generally only sit in the sunshine on pain of death) have built a patio; I have golden sugar (it's what was in, for some reason); Livejournal has acquired adverts (ugh); I'm a little older, a very little wiser, and a lot wearier. But still, it's nice to be home.

Of course, I don't know how long it'll be until the next time. It might be hours, days, months, or even another year. There might even be no-one else here. But until I change who I am, this will still be somewhere I'll enjoy being. So put on the kettle, plump up the sofa cushions, and dust off the keyboard. Camellia's come home.
Camellia Sinensis

A Fresh Start

As the bus rounded the corner onto campus on Monday morning, I found myself looking to see which college won the battle to get their posters seen first. Instead, I stared in amazement at the unspoilt trees lining the path up to the uni. Don't people do this any more? Indeed, postering seemed very understated this year; perhaps a reaction to the threat of poster bans, or an attempt to save paper, or maybe they just couldn't be bothered. With all the moving, the college spirits seem somewhat diminished, and with most students having part-time jobs there just isn't the same focus on drinking and partying any more -- people are paying to be here, they're going to study. Even society memberships are falling. The priorities of young people are of course constantly changing, so naturally campus and university life as a whole are changing too.

As I walk bemusedly through campus, I can see many of these changes, and also see that some things haven't changed much at all. Locked poster cabinets have appeared along the spine, but are still getting postered over. A college laundrette has become an opticians. Bowland coffee shop has rebranded as a 'deli'. Georges (the little sandwich shop in the Chaplaincy Centre) is going to be taken over by the nice lady who runs the Chinese restaurant. Pizzetta Republic is smoke-free, and comfortably established as a classy café selling surprisingly good coffee. Mama Mia's (formerly Popeye's), the awful purveyor of pizzas, burgers and kebabs, has been taken over by the classy Sultan of Lancaster curryhouse... selling pizzas, burgers and kebabs ('with an Indian twist'). LUSU is going to start selling porridge. Purplecards can be ordered online and picked up without queuing. The thing is, they all fit in fairly seamlessly, and if you hadn't been here for the past eight years, you wouldn't even know that it was different. Instead, you'd be looking strangely at the people who talk about 'South End Stores' and 'the Trading Post' and who didn't know that LUSU sold soup. But of course I'm one of these strange people, and I know campus so well. In fact, as I was in the queue to get my bus pass, I was having to tell the LUSU staff how the system worked. But I'm sure if I left for even just a little time it would all change again, and I'd be the strange person talking about 'Bowland tower' or 'college bars' or something. I just hope I can leave gracefully before I become an old person still going to Freshers Fair every year, opposing any change and talking about how it used to be. I'm trying not to interfere in societies and university politics any more, because really they're there for the undergrads, and that's just not my world any more, I can't pretend that my needs and wants are the same as theirs.

Because of course I've changed too. This Freshers Week (sorry, Intro Week) will be the first time I'm not a full-time student. I'm entering the university as staff now; no less of an adventure, but approached much more soberly and not in a toga. I can feel the differences already, all the more obvious because I can compare myself to all these other newbies. I can stand in a queue for more than five minutes without getting bored and deciding to come back later. I don't think there's anything wrong with dressing smartly. I don't feel the need to take free stuff that I don't even want. I have more respect for people who ask questions in lectures, annoying though it was at the time. A nice evening doesn't need to involve alcohol, and might just involve sitting in front of the tv with nice people. I enjoy making a home a pleasant place to live. I'm even learning to tolerate Radio 4, God help me.

But of course, this is still me, despite the changes, and it's still Lancaster too, and I don't think some parts of the character will change. How can I be sure? Well, I saw one perfect example as I walked past their sparkling new University House and reception building. Outside, they had built a lovely new walkway with flowerbeds and carefully polished stones to make an impressive entrance... too posh for Lancaster? No, because they'd chosen that day, the first day back, to cover all the flowerbeds with manure. Bless them, they try so hard but never quite get it right... I love this place, however much it changes.
Camellia Sinensis

Padding out

Some disconnected thoughts for the week, just to keep up the blogmentum.

Academic conferences are wonderful places for motivating and inspiring people to do research in any other field than the one they are in. It's also amusing to see that the Freshers Fair Syndrome also continues up to postgraduate, lecturer and even professor level -- if it's on a table and it's free, it's suddenly highly desirable.

Job application forms are hell, and there's something inherently unBritish about making yourself sound wonderful and perfect, but employers seem to look down on modest humility. Also, I'm not sure which is worse, being turned down without even being given an interview, or being turned down after they have actually met you.

The dilemma of house-sharing: is it better to share with friends on the grounds that you're more likely to get on with them... or with complete strangers on the grounds that then when you fall out with them you won't have lost anything? Either way, it's almost certainly a good idea to get something sorted more than 2 weeks before you're due to move.

Avernum 5 is to be released in November, about 2 years after the release of Avernum 4, which I finally finished last weekend. I don't think those nice people at Spiderweb Software actually want me to finish my PhD. I may have to resist even trying the demo until at least Christmas.

And finally, the scientific study of the month: a researcher at Portsmouth 'discovers' two effects that surely no-one could have predicted -- that exercising causes pain, and that breasts move in three dimensions. (See the article for more details.) This does however suggest some interesting new directions for my research into manipulation of 3D objects...
Camellia Sinensis


I don't know why, but this story (about companies withdrawing adverts from Facebook after realising they may appear on BNP pages) really wound me up. The argument from companies such as Vodaphone is that if they continue to advertise on the site, their adverts may appear next to BNP-supporting groups, and this would imply that they support them in some way, and they don't want to perpetuate this image or involve themselves with that sort of political statement. So what this would seem to mean is that Vodaphone had no problem whatsoever with supporting Labour, Tories, LibDems and Green Parties, and all of the following other groups:

"Having sex in the Library is fun!- and it makes you smart too.."
"I have no career prospects, i work at vodaphone"
"Adolf Hitler Appreciation Group"
"A Bit of Domestic Violence Never Hurt Anybody"
"actually, guns DO kill people, and i LIKE it!"
"Boot the Illegal Immigrants!"
"Brotherhood against the Gypsies and there Spells"
"eliminate niggERS KKK GROUP!"
"Abortion = Fewer Babies = Fewer Idiots = OK By Me!"

...and so on. Or, in other words, what this actually means is that Vodaphone et al are either against free speech, or more likely that they are displaying a fundamental misunderstanding about the technology they were supporting. You'd think they'd look into these things before sinking money into them really, wouldn't you?

Incidentally, these are all real groups, found on Facebook through some simple searches for inflammatory topics. If people find them offensive, I advise them to follow the company's clearly defined abuse-reporting protocols rather than starting a hate campaign against Facebook and the Internet. Or go round and smash up Tim Berners-Lee's house, since it's all his fault really, right? Or of course you could just start a 'Be Nice and Love Everybody' group on Facebook...
Camellia Sinensis

Catching up and cleaning out

Well, so much for my idea of updating weekly, as July just didn't happen. That's not to say nothing happened that was worth blogging about, quite the opposite in fact. Some of it I may still offload on the world at some point, but in the meantime I feel the need to explain some of the reasons (like anyone cares) why I am no longer blogging regularly.

1. Facebook.
I blame Facebook for everything. Well perhaps that's not entirely fair, but lately it's seemed a lot easier to update a one-line status than a long blog when I feel the need to inform the world how I'm doing. It also has all these tantalising time-wasting features such as photo tagging, meaning that it's also taking over from my Fotki space somewhat. With over 100 people on my Facebook friends list as well, it's seeming like a more worthwhile way of staying in touch with people than the handful of people on LJ (most of whom are on FB too). But it's not the same as blogging for those long rants (and the ability to lock posts), so I don't intend to abandon LJ completely.

2. Work.
Yes, contrary to popular belief, I do work, even if I don't often talk about it or do it at odd times. As my funding has now run out, the pressure to get work done has increased quite dramatically. Sadly there is no more departmental funding to be had (well, it's not like the departments would give me so much as the time of day without being legally obliged to) so I'm applying for jobs -- Real World jobs no less. Well, LUSU anyway. I'd imagine that doing 20 hours a week on top of the full-time phd will effectively kill my remaining scraps of free time, but it's a necessary evil, and an actual job might just give me a possible route out of the oubliette of academia. So, wish me luck, I think. July also saw a week of helping the department out (more fool me) with the Headstart course... but I think that may get blogged about later. The general stress of working is making me less keen to spend my free time at the computer though, as it inevitably leads to spending the whole time answering emails or chipping away at bits of work that won't make any difference anyway.
Working more has also meant that I'm not really seeing many non-work people socially though, which also means that more and more of my LJ F-list is seeming full of posts about things I know nothing about (or pointless memes that I don't have time for), which just makes me feel more isolated and depressed, so I guess that's been making me steer clear a bit as well. But then the longer you go without checking LJ, the more there is to wade through... maybe if I get back into it, it won't seem so bad.

3. Going home.
I was at home for over a week of July. Normally this would lead to increased blogging about the differences between Lancaster and home, the wonders of having a whole kitchen to myself, and other such trivialities that no-one cares about... but since I had the whole house to myself, I decided to make the most of it, and didn't spend a great deal of time online. Instead I went through huge piles of old photos (see Facebook and Fotki for proof), caught up with friends, did some proper cooking (a whole kitchen to myself!!!) and even did some cleaning and tidying. I actually like cleaning when there seems like a point to it, like maintaining a house you actually care about... making a campus room a nice place to live seems like an utter waste of time.

4. Boyfriend.
Surely the only purpose of having a boyfriend is so you can blame him for stuff, right? ;-)
Ahem, I'd better take that back (since he may actually read this!) but it's certainly meaning that I'm less inclined to spend my free time blogging anyway...

5. Lack of motivation.
I would say more about this, but can't be bothered... although I will also say that it's not helped by the fact that I've run out of coffee, and that Spar doesn't seem to restock out of term-time. However, I expect this to be rectified shortly thanks to those lovely people at Ethical Superstore (free delivery on food and drink, buy now!).

6. The Blogging Bottleneck.
I don't think I'm the only one who's noticed this, but why is it that the longer you go without writing something, the harder it is to write anything at all? Writing little and often makes it easier to keep in the habit of it, and it means you don't feel the need to wait for a 'good' topic to blog about. Which, coincidentally, is why I'm writing this.

Hopefully, now that's out of the way, the bottleneck is cleared... watch this space, and with luck more interesting posts may follow in time.
Camellia Sinensis

Camellia on Standby

We apologise for the break in transmission. Normal service will resume shortly. In the meantime, please sit back, relax, have a cup of tea...
Camellia Sinensis

The light at the end of the tunnel... is a 'no exit' sign.

I got a letter from the bank the other day, saying that as I was now about to graduate, they would be automatically upgrading my account from a 'Student' to a 'Graduate' account.

I've managed to stop them doing this twice so far, and kept my student account for 7 years. Sadly, though, I don't think I can do it any more, as I don't know what my student status will be next year. I still feel like I'm years away from completing the PhD, I won't actually be graduating any time soon, but it's like a red flag that I'm approaching the end, and the real world is waiting for me at the finishing line. With an evil leer on its face, no doubt, and mountains of paperwork to weigh me down.
Camellia Sinensis

Notes from a small part of a big country

Well I'm back from the land across the pond. Actually, I've been back for nearly a week now and meaning to update, but life and choir concerts got in the way. Still, now I've had a chance to digest the experience, and there's still a few observations I'd like to make, as one who'd never been to the country before. Since we only saw a small part of it (only Washington DC, apart from a few hours in Boston airport), this is naturally likely to be a skewed view (and I hope I don't insult any American readers), but I present it anyway, as an account of some of my impressions of the place.
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Camellia Sinensis


Due to depart for America for a conference next week, I've got enough problems to be worried about. Still haven't sorted accommodation and have no idea what the format for presentations is to be, not to mention fretting about travel sickness and general hassles of travelling. Then, two weeks before I'm set to leave, my parents point out that my debit card will most likely not work over there. I never even considered it, since I'm so used to it working everywhere in the UK and Europe (and having never gone to the States before). So I had the added stress of looking around for a credit card that I could apply for on short notice despite having no credit rating and no job. This probably should've been a higher priority, but other things occupied my attention and it slipped to the back burner, and I resigned myself to coping with cash, travellers cheques and the likelihood that my debit card will probably still work in ATMs.

Of course, that's when the mighty Sod decided to enforce his universal Law. Today, just over 7 days before being due to travel (and still to buy American currency etc), I pull out my debit card in Sainsburys... only to find that whilst in my pocket my not-so flexible friend has snapped neatly in half, and is just hanging together by the paper strip across the back. The word 'arsebiscuits' springs to mind. Luckily it still worked in the Sainsburys till, but now I'm faced with a somewhat urgent trip to the bank tomorrow morning and hoping against hope that they can get a replacement card to me within the next few days despite not living at my registered address.

I'm sure it's not the end of the world, and yet the sudden rush of panic when it happened did made me realise just how dependent I've become on that small piece of plastic. I don't like carrying large quantities of cash around, and most places are reluctant to accept cheques these days, but I've gotten used to being able to access the funds I have at any time. A large amount of my shopping is usually conducted online as well, with nothing but my memory of a large number between myself and my bank account (a system I like much more than being reliant on such an easily lost or broken item). While the privacy and security issues do concern me, for sheer convenience I'd be all in favour of just pressing a thumbprint onto a pad to pay for items. I mean, I can't exactly imagine going out and realising I've forgotten my thumb or had it stolen, and it's rather less easy to break. Not to mention being far more noticeable when it happens.