Thursday, 31 July 2008

In which Anne is allowed to keep her house

Small bit of good news! I spoke to my landlady Ellen today and she says she's fine with me keeping the house till December. YAY!!! I love my little house. I will, however, probably have to get a housemate. There isn't much room for one, but if I'm only working half-time for Jane I should probably make an effort to save money where I can. An Australian student is coming to work with Jane for three months, and it sounds like she might be interested in sharing. The timing would work out perfectly, anyway. And I would get a whole month (August) of house-to-myself first.

I went on a long LONG walk all the way around the Penrhyn Castle grounds and then back along the shoreline on the weekend. We checked on a map with a bit of string, and it was between 7 and 8 miles round-trip (between 12 and 13 km). However, I think I will try to download the photos and do a proper entry with photographs, which is a feature of Blogger that I don't take advantage of nearly enough. Coming soon! (maybe.)

I did promise to post the entry I started right after having got back from Canada, and then I looked at it and it's not interesting at all. But anyway:

"Sooooo tired - but back safely in Wales. And after an unusually pleasant trip, even. I was expecting the worst, as I had to take the 8am bus from Red Deer to the Calgary airport.... for a 5pm flight. However, hanging out in the airport for seven hours wasn't too bad, although the flight was further delayed due to lightning. But in the end we got into the air, and then the stroke of luck - the old lady with the 15 gold chunks of jewelry in the seat beside me (originally from Liverpool, by the accent and the orange skin tone) moved into an empty row of seats an hour into the flight, leaving me with two seats to stretch out on. But not before whipping out a needle and, without a word of warning, stabbing herself in the stomach. I assume it was insulin and it didn't really bother me, but I can only think what the effect would be if I had happened to have a needle phobia!

I still can't sleep on planes, but at least with room to stretch my legs out it was much more bearable. And the food wasn't burnt this time. Must learn to count my blessings.

Had such a great couple of weeks in Canada and not that thrilled to be back. Thandi's in South Africa, the fencers are all gone for the summer and even my lab will be empty. Think it might be a quiet summer. "

Monday, 28 July 2008


I would just like to note how annoying it is that often I can be perfectly good at analyzing things - breaking ideas down logically, figuring out how machines work, and all that sort of thing. But then when confronted with the simplest objects I will be totally clueless. And it usually has to do with affordances.

I'm talking about the second Wiki definition - an affordance tells you how to use something, basically. If you see a handle, you know to grasp it. If you see a door with a horizontal bar, it's easy to know you should push it in, rather than (say) pulling on it or trying to twist it. One way of telling if something's a good design is by whether it has good affordances - you can tell by looking at it what you should do with it (even if it's totally new). Like the little wheely thing on iPods - circling your finger around it is obvious and makes immediate sense.

Anyway. I have great trouble, it would seem, with objects that lack good affordance. I couldn't make tea in the lab for months because I couldn't seem to turn the electric kettle on. I'm not kidding. I had to text Helena and ask if it was broken. (As my dad would say, "HOW much education does it take?!") In the end it turned out that you have to press the little lever up to turn it on, instead of down like every other kettle I've ever used. Somehow this totally baffled me. Is this how people become absent-minded professors?

And then yesterday I had to get my mate Lola to show me how to lock my back door. It's been unlocked for days because I couldn't figure it out. (Don't worry, my "garden" is about three feet deep, walled on all sides and looks out onto other peoples' gardens, so it would be very difficult to be burgled from that side, even given an unlocked door). Turns out you have to pull the door handle up while turning the key. Why does everyone else seem to know this?! It was a complete surprise to me. Now I'm wondering if I'm just really bad at common household objects and what is an obvious affordance to everyone else in the universe is totally baffling to me. Sigh.

The only solution is to become very rich and employ someone to make the tea and lock up from now on :)

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Grade Grubber

I got my grades back... looking good! (er, if I do say so myself). Fairly pleased with all my marks except stupid Stats. The exam was very difficult indeed and I dropped two letter grades (!) from the midterms. Not cool. I've decided not to bother contesting it or following it up... if I do well on my dissertation I will do well overall, and I've already got my PhD funding. So no point in quibbling now. Man, though, if stats hadn't mucked it up I'd be gunning for straight As. Even Cognition and Brain, the worst class I've had since, er,... Cognitive Psychology in undergrad (how ironic is it that I've decided I like cognitive neuroscience? I've always detested the lectures) came out all right in the end, as I surprised myself by doing relatively well in the final. (The confusing, misspelled, badly-written final). Maybe they dropped some questions!

Bangor's kind of nice with all the undergrads gone. The other day I had a 20-minute conversation with a nice man called Bill who appears to love people and be desperately bored. (He told me he's 78). All the shop assistants are a lot nicer now too. Such a strange town - it's like two different places when school's in and when it's out. I'm enjoying the out, but will be very, very happy to see my fencers again.

Ooh, and last but definitely not least - my mate Jo got a job! She'd applied for loads and finally got an interview in London. However, she was nervous about interviewing so I sat down with her on Monday and spent hours going over E-Prime (experiment-writing program) and giving her mock interview questions. She's got all the qualifications but tended to answer questions with one word and not really sell herself... so we worked on that, she went down to London, ACED THE INTERVIEW and got the job! I am so pleased. It's a six-month post as a research assistant on a project with alcoholics, just the sort of thing Jo will shine at and useful experience. Yay!

Monday, 21 July 2008

Things I learned this week

The guitar shop in Bangor is called Bron-yr-Aur, which is also the name of a Led Zepplin song (Bron-y-Aur Stomp), although the song is misspelled. It also means "Breast of Gold" in Welsh. I have all this information reliably from my mate Lee from Rhyl, although he did contest my opinion that this means the Welsh are obsessed with breasts (he seems to think it refers to golden hills. I have my doubts).

Bangor was bombed once during the war. Only one person died. Due to the fact that no one really wanted to bomb North Wales (go figure!), the BBC moved all its operations up here for the duration of the war. I learned this from Phoebe, who is cool. She is one of the women that comes to my friend Jo's coffee morning she runs in conjunction with a charity called Contact the Elderly. I'd been meaning to go for months but never quite managed it, and now I'm so glad I finally did. The guy who died in the bomb was a taxi driver, and a friend of Phoebe's.

Jo's coffee morning runs once a month on a Sunday, and it's a great idea. Contact the Elderly pays for a taxi to get the women there, and then they hold a raffle (a pound each to get in on it) that generally covers the cost of tea and cakes for the next month's event, plus raffle prizes. The prizes this week were: two china cats*, a packet of biscuits, a packet of chocolate biscuits, a bag of potpourri, and a can of soup. All the ladies who won were thrilled to win, and quite happily carried home their cans of soup saying things like, "Wow, I usually never win anything!" It was really sweet actually. I get the impression some of them are REALLY bored, especially Phoebe, who lives five miles out of Bangor by herself, can't afford a taxi in, and spends all day watching TV. Jo and I are trying to scheme a way to either go visit (if Contact the Elderly thinks it's ethical) or get her out more. Imagine being stuck inside all day by yourself - EVERY DAY! yuck. Everyone else in the village works elsewhere (there's only about 12 houses) so she is really stuck for companionship.

I think next month I might try to convince Old John from fencing to come be a guest lecturer. He is our 78-year-old fencer, but he is also an expert in archeology and classics. I have had some fascinating conversations with him at the pub after fencing and am dying to hear him give a talk, so if he agrees to do it for free this might be an ideal opportunity. Plus the ladies would probably be interested. Plus he speaks Welsh, and as about half of them are Welsh speakers and the volunteers are all English, it might be nice for them to have someone else to converse with in Welsh.

Have to say I really admire Jo for starting this group. It seems like a really positive thing! And a great way to get a cup of tea, a biscuit and some interesting stories.

And finally, I've learned that fencing TOOK UP A BIG PART OF MY LIFE! Are you surprised? But I have to say, I feel kind of adrift without somewhere I'm supposed to be three evenings a week. And my fitness level has really shown the difference. So I've decided I need to try something else. Aonghus says there's karate and they teach beginners... as long as it's not expensive I might give it a go. Besides, Kevanne the fencing women's captain is a black belt in karate (at the age of 21, sigh) and you can really see how it helps her fencing. Couldn't hurt, anyway!

Had a post somewhere about the trip back from Canada. If I can find it I'll post it (out of order, but at the rate I post nothing is news anyway!) Think it's on my laptop. Anyway, the trip was amazing and I'm so glad I went. The houseboat was glorious, of course, and I got to see all my family and a good portion of my friends. Also (in the less fun category) got a lot of admin done: sorted out my RRSPs, did my taxes, sold Mabel. Nothing in Bangor had changed when I got back, and mom said my visit was like a dream. At least she didn't say nightmare...

My supervisor has wandered off to France for two weeks, but before she left she dumped a project in my lap. Luckily it's not mine alone (a postdoc called Madge is actually in charge of it). I should get a couple hours pay a week out of it - I hope - and Madge is a down-to-earth Scot who I immediately got on with and who seems very with it. So while the project may or may not go well, at least I get to work with someone cool! all good...

* The most hilarious moment of the coffee event was when a blind lady called Ruby won the raffle prize of the china cat. She obviously couldn't see her prize, so she was sitting there saying, "Oh, let me touch the pussy! I need to have a feel of the pussy!" while Jo and I stared at the ground so as not to catch each others' eye and burst into hysterical laughter.