25 February 2009

Writing about something I understand

I'm getting through this essay I'm writing about interviews and, more broadly, reflexivity in research. It's been easy enough and I was able to draft it in about two days, which is good news for me as I have to draft a literature review and that'll be about the size of a paper for the MRes. 3,000 words plus 2,000 on methods by May 1st. I really enjoy writing about things I am confident about. It is quite easy for me to put down a couple of thousand words when I know what I'm saying. It gets to be a science almost. I know a paragraph is between 150 and 200 words. If it's above or below that, the thought is either underdeveloped or it is two underdeveloped thoughts stuck together.

The process of writing for me is not very chaotic. I know some people write that way: I do not. I was the person who made a genealogy of characters for my senior thesis in college. I didn't make maps, like Faulkner, but I knew more about the people I was writing about than what I wrote down. When I write an essay, I usually put in my section headings (three or four in an MRes paper, including introduction and conclusion) and then go from there.

Today I kept telling the German woman I sit next to that the problem with the paper I was writing was that the trajectory was 2,400 words, and not 3,000 and sure enough, as I finished, I was at about 2,450 words and had to spend about two hours doing taffy-pulling work, teasing out my ideas from earlier. I was quite happy with where the draft ended though and was able to find my missing 600 words by filling in things here and there. I don't think I actually added another paragraph. My average sentence in academic writing is about 20 to 30 words, I suspect. So adding 600 words is just really adding 20 sentences.

You may say, 'Well, hell, you have really gone off on the numbers game. What ever happened to the beauty and joy of writing, of the notebook?' Like I said, I'm sure some people can do it, but I am a firm believer in a pragmatic approach to writing, and not just in academia. Anyone who thinks that novels are just written without thought to these sorts of things are not novelists. Structure is key to making something readable, and structure is quite often in the numbers, I think. Most of the bullshit talking I hear about poetry and short stories is based on the nonsense of whether or not someone likes something. It's like me talking about painting. Painters, I imagine, talk about tautness of cloth on a frame. They talk about ratios of paintings, ingredients in color pigment, brush stroke. Writers, I think, should be equally obsessed with the things of the craft like word count and sentence length.

24 February 2009

Getting some stuff done

I got to work a little late today, but that hasn't stopped me from being wicked productive. I'm working on a paper about how interviews are crap for research and I just got another paper to proof for ADBI, which is wicked good news, even though the money disappears into Yoko's Japanese bank account and I never really get to see it. But the idea of it makes us feel a little more financially stable.

This morning was a string of good news that started when I weighed in at 81.8 kgs, this morning, down .7 in a week. This is good news and should, provided I am moderately self-controlled, continue down to my stated goal of 79 and maybe beyond. I was grandstanding here a while back about how I liked the feeling of being hungry to an extent, but I'll take that back now and say, It's okay about 1/10 of the time. The other 9/10s is less acceptable. Today, I got sick while running and thought, I think maybe I need a little more in the tank before I run around.

Naomi is not sleeping through the night and got up again at five this morning. She kicks the blanket off, gets cold, wakes up, kicks me and Yoko, and has to have one of use put the blanket back on. I'm thinking of moving to the sofa as I can't stand sleeping with either of them any more. I need my space, I need some quiet. Yoko has been a trooper and been getting up to take care of Naomi. I should really take half of the mornings, but if I do that, I don't make it through the afternoon here at work. There has to be some balance. The next baby will be here soon, officially ruining my prospects for getting any sleep for another 18 months, at least. It's a wonder this damn species keeps on perpetuating itself.

Finally, many of you know I like PowerPoint, and I am more interested in presentation than content. So I am putting together my Work in Progress presentation, and making prominent use of the OU crest. Here are a couple of screenshots:

23 February 2009

All this learning

Yesterday evening, I was sitting on the couch, minding my own business, when Naomi came up to me, started pulling on my leg, lifting up her shirt and saying, 'Fu!' Apparently, she has learned to say 'o-FU-ro' which is Japanese for bath. Amazing.

We had the most fabulous drive out into the countryside yesterday. There are so many beautiful places just outside of Milton Keynes.

20 February 2009


I was at Cambridge today for a conference at their Faculty of Education, and I have to say, although the Open University doesn't quite have the name recognition as Cambridge or Oxford, I think our little university might actually be one of the best places to study in the UK. Look, I like prestige as much as the next guy and a year ago if someone told me, you can got to Oxford or the OU for your PhD, I would have said yes to Oxford without thinking about it. Today, after hanging out with people from Oxford, Cambridge, and the OU, I realized that the OU has a couple of things over these universities:
  • Money. None of us at the OU are paying anything and we get a research budget and stipend, and all of our costs related to the course are covered (books, printing, copying, travel, extra training, etc.)
  • Access to real instruction. I have talked to my supervisors probably four times or more this month. I have two supervisors and they both give me their attention when I need it. At Cambridge, you at allotted 11 one hour meetings with your one supervisor over the year. That's it.
  • Access to big name resources. Okay, my guess is that Oxford and Cambridge have bigger name professors than the OU (well, at least in some areas and probably in a higher proportion), but who knows if you ever actually get to really sit down and collaborate with them. You might be lucky just to meet them. The big names we have at the OU (and they are quite big, in some cases) are sitting in the same open office that you are, and if you need to ask any of them a question, you are free to talk to them at any time. You want to talk research methods with the current guru in the field? While, he's on the third floor of my building: have a go.
I also realized that although going to a big name university (one of the top tens, let's say) gives you sway in certain circles, it's not going to give you any real pragmatic benefit when it comes to job hunting at a big name university because the big name universities are going to want to see your CV, not just where you came from. And they are going to want to see substantial research, independent thought, teaching ability, and publications: all things that you will get independent of the name of your school or the prestige it has. So although I don't think I would ever have been likely to get a PhD studentship at Cambridge last year, I am more confident now that if the opportunity presents itself and I have done the correct work at the OU, I'm in as good as shape as any to get a teaching post there or at a top ten university in the UK, for that matter. And with the advantage of having worked substantially with the people that I am, I think that chance may actually be higher than I would have ever imagined a year or two ago.

19 February 2009


Every time I leave Milton Keynes, it's like a totally different world. Today, I had to do an interview to get a National Insurance number in Bedford. Once you leave Milton Keynes, it's all rolling countryside and high streets...

I'm thinking about writing a book called Epistemology for Assholes. I'm getting a lot of good ideas from my YouTubers.

Tomorrow, we're all headed to a research students conference at Cambridge. I'm going to spend the whole time have academic envy. Although I've heard the students at Cambridge are not that impressive, I am not convinced. And then to London Saturday to see the Rothko exhibit at the Tate if Naomi and Yoko are feeling better.

17 February 2009

82.5 kg

Well, it was inevitable, but I think it's time for me to again do a bit of maintenance dieting. Currently my BMI is 25.5, which is technically overweight, and at 80.5 kg, I would be again at a normal weight. I would like very much to have a BMI of 23 which would be the most healthy for me, I think, but to get there, I would need to weigh 74.5 kg, which is about a 8 kg loss from where I am now. I'm not sure that is possible, but I think I am going to at least get back down to 79. I'm looking now to make about a 600 kcal swing on a day, 300 down in food, and 300 up in exercise. It's hardly anything, really — just running in the morning and not snacking in the morning or afternoon. It should take about 3 weeks to drop 3.5 kgs, and if I am able to keep it up, maybe I can get down to 75. I think the lightest I was after I lost like 10 kg a couple of years ago was 76.5. Let's see where I can go from here. It's strange to watch what you eat for the first time in a while. Feeling hungry is something I actually quite like. It feels like your body is doing something. I like the feeling of self control.

16 February 2009

Notes on the flesh

On Friday we went to the British dentist to have an inlay that fell out of Yoko's tooth put back in. I was dreading our first visit to the dentist here, but it was fine, and he put it back in, explaining that it was likely to fall out again due to the construction of it. Making a new one, however was going to cost between £400 and £500, so we thought, well, we'll just keep putting it back in for £35. Yoko took me back to work, but like an hour later e-mailed me and said it had fallen out again.

Today we went back to the dentist to have it fixed again, and the guy spent a longer time working on it, and even adjusted another one of her inlays for nothing. Was really cool about it, too. It hasn't fallen out yet again, which means it has survived twice as long as before. If it can just stick around for like 6 months, I would be happy with that. The dentists here are quite good, I think. Compared to the US, I would say that it's more-or-less the same, but slightly cheaper here, from what I can tell. I always thought that dental insurance was very important, but it's actually not, from what I can tell. Unless you know, you have all your teeth fall out or you need surgery or something. And also, how weird is it that health insurance covers all parts of your body, but not your teeth? This is what happens when we make these sorts of things money-making endeavors.

15 February 2009

Spring is here. Spring is here?

I look totally like a dad in this picture.

Well, I was just out walking around, smoking the pipe, thinking the thoughts, and it feels like Spring is here. Definitely here.

We had an okay weekend. I was nursing my Facebook meme. It went pretty well, although I think it's dying out now. That's okay though because I got a lot of good data and thanks if you participated. And if you want to invite more people, that would be cool too.

Today we went to the park to feed the ducks, and Naomi was into it for a while and then was more interested in the other kids feeding the ducks then actually doing it herself. You can tell we are poor because we had one piece of bread that we cut up like 30 ways. The people next to us had a whole loaf and they were pulling out like three slices at a time.

Naomi thinks it's really funny to jump on me when I'm lying on the floor. She says, 'JeeeeeeeeeJamp!' and lands on my stomache. Tonight she jumped up with both feet which was a big accomplishment.

I had to clean out a whole hell of a lot mold out of the closet area, including out of some clothes. It was really a disaster. One of my suit jackets too. We just have to stick it out 'til September, I think, as I don't really want to have to try to get out of our contract as the landlord is holding like £1200 of our money. I just have to do a better job of looking for it and we have to keep the window open during the day.

I had a very English conversation with the Tesco cashier today in which I said 'Hiya' and 'You alright?' Last week, I asked someone for 'two 10ers' when I got cash back. If it wasn't for my baseball bat, my accent, and constantly speaking Japanese to my wife and daughter, I think I might be mistaken for an English person.

Lastely, I'm knee-deep in HarrĂ© and Langenhove's Positioning Theory. It's wicked good, except now I can't talk to my wife without thinking 'You're positioning me as fat' or 'You're positioning me as frustrated' or 'You're positioning me as careless.'  Wedded bliss, ladies and gentlemen.

12 February 2009

Yoko and Naomi

What should you do?

I told my brother yesterday that I was not interested in what people should or shouldn't do when it came to making laws about gay marriage, I was more interested in what we do do when we make laws. I'm not sure I can completely stand by the fact that I am not interested in should ever although increasingly less so, but in this case, I think it is the best way to go.

I think we have to make laws based on empirical evidence. We can't make laws based on what people like and dislike. We can't make laws based on what religion says is or is not okay. When we start going down this road, I think we get to having more problems. We have to look empirically at the impact of making a law or withholding someone's request. We can't just say, We don't want gay marriage because a majority of us don't want gays to marry.

In describing my research to one of my friends, they asked whether or not I thought it was a good thing that people use metaphor to create social roles. I said that whether or not it's a good thing isn't really on my radar. I'm interested in describing it.

My new set up

This helps so much more than you might think.

10 February 2009

Giving blood

Yesterday, I was walking past the Old Lecture Theatre and I saw that NHS was taking blood donations and I thought to myself, usually if you give blood, they give you cookies when your done, and I fancy some cookies. So I went in and even though you needed an appointment, they promised to squeeze me in. And yes, there were cookies.

I waited and waited and did the screening and then waited and then laid out on the table and waited and waited and finally they took my blood and I got my cookies. It took almost an hour and 15 minutes, but as I was having sort of a pointless day, I didn't really mind.

Did you know that if you have gay sex even oral sex you can't give blood ever in England? Just once and you're out. If you're a woman and you have sex with a man who has had oral sex with another man ever, you have to wait 12 months after your sexual encounter to give blood.

I've been feeling kind of weird since then and felt really weird last night. I think I am doing better now, but I'm sort of worried that I am going to die as I'm the kind of person who thinks I will die suddenly from a brain aneurysm or something. Hopefully this won't happen.

I'm getting really, really tied up in the lives of my YouTubers.

09 February 2009

Bad British teeth

I knew this day was coming, but I was hoping we'd be able to put it off. Yoko lost one of her composites on one of her teeth, so we have to go to the dentist. I was a bit concerned about the price, but actually, it's not really that bad. You can get free dental care if you are a student or you are pregnant (which obviously applies in both of our cases), but the NHS wait is wicked long, so it's better just to go private. I think we can get it done for under £100, so if that is the case, it's not that bad. I have to put myself in the American mindset where we would have to pay for it anyway. And in Japan it, with insurance, it would still be about ¥6000. So whatever--nature of the beast.

Today was pretty nice, otherwise.

08 February 2009

A weekend at home

The snow has continued to fall and fall here in Milton Keynes, making for treacherous going all around. We went up to the mall yesterday to get a haircut and ended up wandering around for a while. The mall in Milton Keynes spreads out over a large part of the centre of town, and there are different branches to it. It's not really that nice, but there is a place where they have an outdoor market a couple of times a week. In the outdoor market you can find all sorts of interesting things from a Polish supermarket to an Indian record shop to a Chinese food stall to Middle Eastern guys selling batteries. I got my hair cut for £8 by a Venezulan woman who chatted with me about Hugo Chavez. I like the market a lot and will like it even more in the summer when we don't have to go inside to eat on a bench to get out of the cold. 

We were in the supermarket today and I had the most overwhelming sense of happiness.

Nothing professional


I was asking my mom where exactly my Yugoslavian ancestors are from and it turns out that we are from the most beautiful place on earth, in what is now Croatia, Dubrovnik.  It must have been pretty bad for people to pack up from here and move to Ely, Minnesota to work in a mine.

07 February 2009

Making the grade

We finally got our water bill and for the first time since we came to England, we got a bill that was less expensive than I was expecting. Maybe this is not saying much as my expectations for how much it was going to be were pretty high, but now it seems like I know all the monthly expenses we are going to have and it looks like we are going to make it through this year without a loss.

Naomi took this picture one day while Yoko was loading the washing machine:

06 February 2009

Dream come true

A paper comes up when you search my name on google scholar. And it's actually my paper.

What I'm doing with my life

Bascially, I find statistics fascinating even though I  am hopeless at it. I love that you can plot correlation with such specific accuracy.

I love this, too, 'Correlation does not imply causality.' This is something we should all think about for a couple of years. Correlation does not imply causality. This was the story of my life as a religious person: constantly, constantly, constantly implying causation from correlation. It is the basis of every sermon I have ever heard. Correlation does not imply causation.

Statistics is nice because it gives you information and requires you to give it meaning. This Scree Plot shows that two components of a survey account for almost 67% of the variance in my data set. I think.

05 February 2009

The snow will take us away

Making it all come together

We had another night of snow apparently and walking to school is still harder than it should be.  And when I get here, I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed do. I'm at a point where I'm kind of lost. I feel like I should be here like I should be doing something, but I'm not sure what it is.

Because of the snow, I am dressed a bit like Jerry Seinfeld, with sneakers and a blue sweater.

02 February 2009

Ways to stay warm

It got wicked cold here.

Not a mechanic

Changing a lightbulb on a car should be easy, but apparently, it is not, especially in the snow. I tried myself, no dice. I went to the garage, and they said they couldn't do it because it was broken. I tried again myself, no dice. Asked one of the teenagers at the car parts store to help me and presto! He did it, in the snow, for £5. Great attitude, too.

I looked at the mechanism for a long time, given that I tried to do it myself, and it all seems more complicated than it needs to be. That's my feeling about cars in general. When I was a kid, my dad always fixed stuff like this and although it tended to take most of a Saturday and he was angry the whole time, he was able to do it. I used to watch or try to help and just feel uncomfortable, like I was going to say or do something wrong. I don't get angry when I try to fix something, I just feel incompetent. And maybe this is part of the evolution of our Pihlaja tribe, but I would rather just pay someone £5 to do it than monkey with it myself. Being able to fix a car does not, in my mind, add to my competency as a person. I just want to know enough not to get screwed by a mechanic. Obviously, buying Japanese helps with this as those cars are built to actually work.

Whatever, I got it fixed and there is like a load of snow here today, which I took pictures of and will post tonight. I smoked my pipe on the way over while drinking coffee and thought to myself, I like to smoke my pipe, I like to walk, and I like to drink coffee, but perhaps, trying to do all three at the same time is too much to ask.

I missed my sixth Super Bowl, but for those of you who follow my tweets will know that all I really missed was chips, dip, and pizza.