31 May 2010

Spacecraft mock-up

The MoMA website is pretty hot.

What now?

I came home from running today and Naomi was sitting drinking juice and without looking up asked, 'どうだった?' or How'd it go? Yoko and I almost fell over laughing. She has these flashes of adultness here and there. I suppose it just continues until one day, she actually is an adult.

Internet people become real

Of all the odd things that could have happened this weekend, I ended up going to a church in MK to see Carlos Whittaker play music. Let me explain.

Somewhere between my research and my personal interest is ragamuffinsoul.com, a blog I have been reading for (it turns out) almost four years. I tweeted a welcome to England to Los when he came, and I got a reply from the pastor of a church in MK saying that he was playing in Oldbrook, like a mile and half away from our house this morning. So I packed up the wife and kids and we went to church. I didn't really believe it until he walked out on stage and was playing a song that I recognised from his blog. Right here, in Milton Keynes.

He played and it was quite nice: not being a believer myself, it was strange that I could feel the pull of the music in the same way that I could have five years ago.  Yoko and the girls, despite being tired and coughing, also seemed to like it. After he played, there was the most pernicious sermon, full of all the things I hate about Christianity: homosexuality brought up sort of out of the blue, politics, culture war, some latent sexism... The kind of thing that you listen to and think, This person is either lying or terribly ignorant. When the sermon ended, I was expecting that Los would come out again, but he didn't and I thought, Fuck it, let's go home. Yoko told me that I should try to ask someone to let me in the back to see him, but we ended up just leaving.

Well, I got home and tweeted the pastor again (not the guy who was preaching) and he told me that he would let me know if anything was going on later. After a couple of tweets, I found myself at a bar in CMK with like 15 people from the church and Los and his wife. It's funny how the Internet is, I met him and it was like, I sort of feel like I know a lot about you. Anyway, we talked for like an hour about the church and homosexuality and Christian music and faith and why I am an agnostic/ atheist after having been in the church. It was really good: I feel like the church that he wants to make is a church that I could go to.

Doubt, although something that most pastors I talk to think is a necessary part of faith,  is really hard to actually accommodate when you have people around who really want to believe. I don't think it is possible to actually have a church or faith that accommodates doubt in any real way: at the end of the day, you either believe or you don't. I remember when I was going to a Bible study in Japan right when I turned the corner: I was trying to talk about what happens when you read the Bible (or any other old or translated text) and expect it to talk to you. People don't want to have to talk about the legtimacy of what they're reading every day. They want to believe it and use it in their lives.

One of the things we talked about was my research and how I (if I can) keep my own biases away from it. My explanation has been really bad up to about three weeks ago when I produced a model of YokeUp's talk that I felt YokeUp would say described how he saw the world. He would say that it was a description of the world as it is, rather than just being how he saw it, but I think he would agree that I have represented what he said accurately. That is my goal as an analyst: to describe what is happening in talk accurately, not to make a judgment about the value of it or the rightness or wrongness of it.

Anyway, cheers to meeting people from the Internet and for them turning out to be cooler in real life than they are online.

29 May 2010


I guess this is growing up

Ten centimeters off of the Dickies makes me respectable. They look much better now. That is, I cut off 10cm to make them shorter. And Yoko, sewed them up.

26 May 2010


I am working on my probationary report, a 10,000 word report that will allow me to become a second year student provided I pass an exam on the 21st of June.  I have a pretty intense supervision team and usually if they're happy, I can be confident that things are going to be okay. They hadn't been happy until Monday, but my last draft of the article pleased them, so I am more-or-less done, save some proofreading.

This report has been hard for me: about 60% of what I read specifically for this project was not, in the end, included. All my stuff about Bakhtin. Nothing about identity or community. My supervisor accidentally sent me a copy of my original PhD proposal from my application and it is completely different now. I was going to look at conceptual metaphor in blogging. Now? Well, I'm not sure what I'm doing. It's been good though. A very hard year, by all accounts, but I think year two will be a bit easier, although much less structured.

When you accomplish something, only you know the effort you put into it, and only you can really appreciate how much you have done. I feel the same way about running. When I finished writing everything last Thursday, I knew how much work I had done and I was proud of myself.

After I finish this report I will go with my family to York for a couple of days and attend a meeting for my supervisor's big, government-funded project on empathy. We will go to Scotland for a night and then come back so I can attend the exam board at Middlesex on the 7th of June. I have to mark papers for Birmingham that first week of June too. Then from the 8th, I have to work on my two presentations for the end of the month and do some more modeling of my YouTube video using Sketchup. Then I have a French coursework due and on 27 June, I will go to London for a conference for three days and then to Amsterdam for the rest of the week.

Then I will be done for a couple of weeks.

23 May 2010

Flirted with you all my life

This Vic Chesnutt song has really done a number on me. It was recorded in November of last year — Vic killed himself on Christmas day. He was paralyzed. I thought he had another illness, but the Wikipedia entry doesn't mention anything. Apparently, he was deeply depressed, and this song really gets at that. You can tell at the end of the song that he is more-or-less done.

The lyrics are pretty incredible: he basically explains what he is going to do. I'm obsessed with people making art right before they die. I feel like they might be able to tell me something.

My outside night office

21 May 2010

A bit of a break

I finished a draft of my probationary report yesterday, which was good: I'm certainly not finished yet, but I am waiting for comments from my supervisors. We'll see how long it takes, but I'm hoping it's a couple of days.

The sun came up in MK, getting warmer and warmer. I walked to Tesco yesterday and got a little uncomfortable even.

Now, to write an abstract for a conference in Chicago in February.

19 May 2010


Current Probationary report length
17,000 words

Stated word count guide
7,000-10,000 words

Suspected 'real' word count limit
15,000 words (?)

Words to cut from report

Number of references to cut


I rode to work wicked fast today. Wicked fast. I think I need new tyres though, as mine are getting balder by the day and I am soon to slip and fall right over.

Mei started crying this morning at 4:50 and was in bed with us and I thought, none of this, Mei-mei sleeps in Mei-mei's bed. So I got up and rocked her a bit and put her in her bed and, tada! About ten minutes later, she was asleep in her own bed. Great, I thought, but I was now wide awake and decided to make a start for my day, creating a worksheet for marks for one of my MDX classes and giving comments to one of my Birmingham students.

Now, it is 8:30ish and I am at work, getting ready to shower and then to go to the library to work on my French and then get back to finishing this danged report.

18 May 2010

Trying to get writing

I am at work earlier than normal, wearing my new pink shirt which is slightly better cut and smaller than the other new shirts I picked out on Friday and which my mother got for me. I have everything set to write. Now, to actually get writing.

I was up until about 12 last night, working on my probationary report which is due on June first and which I need to complete a full draft of by Thursday evening. I am doing okay, not stuck by any means, but I still do need to keep going forward at a brisk pace: I should finish the basic elements of the whole thing by the end of today, which means about 1,500 more words and some adjustments in the early part of the methods chapter. Last night, I went to bed with things to still write, hoping it would give me a good starting point today, but that was the wrong thing to do: I should have kept going as my ideas, fresh and pressing last night, have melted away and my notes that I made before I went to bed do not seem as clear as they were.

Given the time pressure, I had to make a decision to use an analytic framework that is new to me and which I am not completely convinced of. This is okay, ultimately, it will make sense as it needs to, but I am still not comfortable writing about it at the level that I need to be. Also, the things that originally caused me concern about it, namely a fear that it might be too static in how it deals with the phenomenon I am investigating, seems to be a recurring problem. I don't think it will be impossible to overcome and my writing at this point is starting to show bits of clarity, but I'm still not convinced of it completely.

Yesterday, I ran, rode my bike and gave blood, three things I shouldn't do on the same day. I felt weak riding home and realised that when I ride my bike with 16 pounds of backpack, I am actually exerting more effort than I am if I don't have the bag: a small point, but as I am trying to balance my caloric intake, I need to take all of this into consideration. Although my body weight hasn't moved much in the last week or so, the percentage of body fat is down, so I am happy with that. I need to be able to maintain my weight, but it's hard, after eating so little for a month or so, to begin to add more food to your diet. How incredibly boring is all that.

Anyway, let's get swinging again and make some sense of YouTube Christians.

More pictures

16 May 2010

Some pictures from the week


I finally booked our holiday for the autumn:
Outbound: 17 October 2010
London Luton To Malaga
Return: 21 October 2010
Of all the really great things of living in Europe, four nights in Spain for under £400 with breakfast in Torremolinos in Costa del Sol  for a family of four is right up there.

Now to book my flight to Aberdeen in September.

14 May 2010

A week of weeks

My parents have been here this week and I have been wicked busy. Not a good mixture. I would like to spend more time with them, but I have been bogged down all week with other stuff: my probationary report and re-instilling confidence in my supervisor were of highest importance. The parents have been able to spend time with Yoko and the kids, which is good, I just wish I could be there too. I'm not really happy being an adult in this situation: I want to eat cake too, you know? I suppose I just need to grow up about it.

So here I am at work, in a tie and sport coat, pretending to be grown up and getting ready to give a presentation at a workshop on 'Building a Research Community'. My contribution is called, 'The Emergence of Communities'. I am talking about emergence, ant hills, and the VCR Olympics. Should be fun.


You can tell my presentation is going to kick ass when it includes this slide:

11 May 2010

June conference

I am pleased to inform you that your abstract has been accepted for presentation at the forthcoming Social Media and the Sacred Conference 2010
Nice! This one is 28-29 June, right before I go to Amsterdam and in London. Being accepted was nice, but the conference is also putting dude up in a hotel and giving him money to travel to and from the conference.

Using Google Sketchup

Just started using Sketchup to map some dynamic systems in my data. This is after using the program for less than three hours. Very intuitive, once you know what to do and you use the keyboard. I also had 2D versions of these in PowerPoint, so the ideas weren't exactly from scratch. I do have to find a way to make the text smaller in proportion to the image.

Mei's birthday picture

I'm really busy at the moment, until my folks go home, so until then, only bits and pieces.

09 May 2010

Happy Birthday, Mei!

Bright Eyes

I walked into Starbucks yesterday and they were playing 'First Day of My Life' by the Bright Eyes. That's me and Yoko's song. I almost said that to the barista: That's me and Yoko's song.

Instead, I was asking for gum syrup for my iced coffee.
They didn't have it, the barista said: is that something they have in America?
America? I thought. Why was she asking me about America?
No, I said, they have it in Japan.

My parents are here: this is primarily a good thing, only bad when I have to go to work.

I did get some work done today. Gotta make these methodologies dance together.

07 May 2010

New 名刺

Always a big day in the dude's life when new business cards come:
The pictures on the back are different (one the blown up OU logo and the other a picture of Matsuhama bridge), but the fronts are the same. I needed to add my online CV (www.stephenpihlaja.com) and get something a little bigger because the small ones I had before, though handy, just don't feel very professional when you give them out.

Feeling 85%

I'm back, minus about 15% of my mojo. Will go to dentist, then to work: analytic framework on the tip of my tongue. I need to take what I've been given as it is intended: impetus to succeed. One of the things I think I forgot this week is that my supervisor wants me to succeed. It's in her best interest for me to succeed. She is doing what she thinks I need to succeed and I just need to do what I am told. I don't think I will regret it. Everybody has different experiences in their PhD research, I think. Different personalities, different relationships. It's not good or bad, it's just the way it is. And the sooner I can accept that, the happier and more successful I will be.

I have three and half weeks to get where I need to be: I will make it happen.

06 May 2010

Stomach problems, learning problems

I have been fighting off some illness in my stomach: the same illness that Yoko and the girls had last week. I was assuming that it would finally get me, and it did. It couldn't have got me at a worse time though: I had an awful supervision meeting on Tuesday, the kind of meeting you leave thinking, well, perhaps I should just pack up and go home. It's the nature of this sort of work, I suppose, but I was upset and haven't really gotten over all of my upsetness. I have to keep moving forward though.

The illness hit on Tuesday night, but I decided to try to go to work on Wednesday and ended up feeling so poorly that I fell asleep on the floor of the locker room, waiting for a presentation that I needed to give at 2. I gave my presentation, Yoko picked me up, and I went to sleep from 4 yesterday afternoon until 10 this morning, more or less. Here I am now, and I am feeling like I might have something — that I can make progress on in my report.

One piece of good news: I was accepted to present at the BAAL (British Association of Applied Linguistics) conference in September. I was rejected from this conference last year, so I am happy that I will be presenting. Another chance to network and get the word out about my work.

04 May 2010

Finding my secret purpose

All I'm doing is writing about running. Yesterday I ran. I need to run again this week, but I can only do it tomorrow. So tomorrow, I am going to run again.The sun is shining today. I got done with my French homework, I finished marking at MDX, I finished a draft of my probationary report, I got a new keyboard and mouse. The girls have been sick, and I have done a bad job of taking care of them. May will be too busy.

Mei turns one on Sunday. Just like that. It's been such a long year/ it's been such a short year. She fell asleep as I stroked her head last night.

My analysis is stuck and I am trying to read my way out of it. It's like being stuck inside a box. It's nothing like being stuck inside a box. All my problems in my research can be thought out of. I made this diagram:
I met the person who I hope will give me my dream job in five to ten years.

01 May 2010


Sorry, I've been a little AWOL this week. E, friend from my time in Japan, is here, so I have been eating too much and remembering how much I miss Niigata. We've had a good time. I got a new keyboard and mouse today. This and that.

I'll try to get back on the blogging bus in the next couple of days, but we have someone staying over on Thursday night and then my parents come on Saturday and then my friend E is back again on the 17th or 18th. So basically May is going to be done for me. In three weeks, I will re-emerge, weighing about 3 kgs heavier and way, way behind in my work.

This keyboard is nice enough. Very good reaction on the keys. They bounce right back.