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Fumbling Towards Geekdom





Updated: 2017-05-23T06:38:35.239+10:00

 



Should have seen this coming

2011-08-16T21:42:21.825+10:00

This time last year:

Hey! Here's a new thing! The university executive (Vice Chancellor and friends) would like to know about issues affecting the 'man on the ground'. Specifically, early career researchers. What would improve our lives? They encourage us to form a group to brainstorm improvements and promise to consider them. For example, they say, maybe early career academics would like to have more bright colours in their offices to make things more cheerful?*

_______
* Not the actual example, but I don't want this to be too googleable.

Early this year:

We have a working group. We discuss all the issues that specifically affect early career academics. We are unanimous that the number one problem is lack of job security. We brainstorm ideas. We approach the executive informally to sound out how they would feel about providing some 'safety net' funding to support young researchers for short periods between successful grants. Yes! They say. That sounds excellent. This is exactly the sort of initiative we would support! There is lots of money for that sort of thing right now. And specifically, maybe we could support people with brightly coloured offices?

(We should have listened to the subtext here.)

After months of discussions, budgeting, meetings, etc, we flesh out a proposal and deliver it to the executive. They call us in for discussion. "Hmm..." they say. "This might actually cost money."
"But you have a lot of money right now," we remind them.
But apparently they have just decided to spend 45 million dollars on bringing in international academic superstars.
"We will get back to you with our official response in a few days," they promise.

After a few days. Today, in fact:

Dear early career researchers,

We have considered your proposal to provide a safety net for early career academics who are on external funding. It seems like a great idea. We would just like a few minor changes to your plan. Specifically, instead of providing funding, we would like to provide some bright paint colours. And instead of this funding employing people, we will make department offices more cheerful. Although this may not solve the underlying problem you have identified (lack of job security), it will cost less money. It will also be a good test case. In 12 months we will check back and see whether, as your proposal suggests will happen, more young fellowship holders have been attracted to our university, and if they have, we may consider providing more funding to your initiative. Please reword your proposal so as to implement these minor changes.

Best regards,
Your friendly Vice Chancellor.



Things are weird

2011-07-20T10:13:33.126+10:00

  1. Someone just offered us $30,000. A PhD student in Geekman's department is, by some quirk of the system, drawing both a PhD scholarship and a postdoc salary. He doesn't want them. He asked the university to take some of the money away, but they won't. And now he is trying to give it away. He thought we might like it to help pay off the house. We turned him down. But that was a weird conversation.
  2. I have now been asked to teach into five different courses this semester. People seem confused when I suggest instead that maybe they should get the people they JUST HIRED to teach the courses instead of the person who they just rejected. "But those people can't teach!" they complain. "And you're so good at it!" Yeah. Isn't it nice that, as we are always being told, our university values teaching so highly.
  3. I am going to Japan on Saturday. (Osaka, Kyoto). Any tips?



Sadly, I have had student essays that make less sense than this

2011-07-13T21:40:45.085+10:00

I bought one of these LED faucet thingies, and it arrived today.

The packaging was the real treat, though. A word for word transcription follows below:

"Led Faucet light is the tap water can change the color of the tap high-tech products, Now theworld best-selling pop. Rotation can be installed at the tap on the use of, Open the faucet, Singularly immediate outflow of the light-water column, illumall washbasins, Dreams in the same sense."

And on the back:

"Now high-tech world of popular electronic products, Rotation can be installed at the tap on the use of, And allows you to tap the water column color, glorious!"

Glorious indeed.




It gets better

2011-06-30T12:42:38.324+10:00

They just created a new job so that they can hire one of the men.

This is someone who is universally acknowledged to be a pain in the arse and to have done quite badly at the interviews. (The one who said our students suck.) So he would not have been a good choice for a teaching job. So they created a job with no teaching responsibilities so they can hire him anyway.

I guess it's nice to know they CAN create random new positions when they feel like it. Maybe they'll feel like it for me too one day.



And now they want to know...

2011-06-29T19:05:39.482+10:00

... whether I can teach some courses for them next semester.

Teaching is not included in my current contract.

Unfortunately, I can't just suggest they get the people they just hired to teach these classes since the new hires don't start until the beginning of next year. But damn! I do not feel especially motivated right now. Perhaps they might have considered waiting more than two days after rejecting me for a job before asking me to teach. I guess they are in a rush to cover the courses. (Next semester starts in about a month).

And I'll do it, because the person who fell ill and needs her classes covered is awesome and she is stressed about it, and because the department is offering to put some extra money in an account for me that I can use for research expenses.

But did I say damn! already? Yes, I believe I did. But I'll say it again.

Damn.



Job rant

2011-06-27T10:57:38.233+10:00

The only thing I'm kind of struggling with with this job situation is the thought that this was it. This was my only chance. Those gazillion retirements that are coming up as the baby boomers get to the end of their careers? They've all happened now, in our department anyway. We've had six retirements in the past couple of years. They replaced them with two hires at full professor level (but younger people who probably still have 20 years of career left), one at level C (so, maybe equivalent to the US associate professor level?) and this one junior hire. They may still be hiring one more junior person, but if they do, it will be to cover a sub-discipline that there is no way in hell I am qualified to teach, and I doubt I could even apply. The next retirements in our department are probably going to happen in around 15 years.

Geekman (fortunately) looks like he's set here for the foreseeable future. We aren't going to be doing an international job search any time soon. So I think I'm now committed to putting together one of those careers where you try and line up one grant after another. And that's pretty exhausting, if I can even do it at all. So many grant agencies don't let you apply for your own salary, and collaborative grants are kind of the exception in my field, so having other people willing to apply for a salary for me on their grant is unlikely. The big national grants scheme has just revamped all its funding rules, and I can't even tell if I'll be eligible to apply for a fellowship at the end of this current one.

Dammit. This is really hard.



Oh well

2011-06-26T12:20:26.184+10:00

I didn't get the job. But it did go to a woman, and she is definitely the best qualified for the position. People have been talking about this position as "B—'s job" ever since it was first advertised. And the short-term one has been offered to another woman, who is also a good fit.

The only thing that I'm upset about is that it became clearer and clearer through the selection process that the head of the selection panel, who is also my immediate superior and head of our department, has no respect at all for my research and doesn't really think I'm a "real linguist". I have to keep working for/with this guy for the next three years, and I really respect him, so it's quite upsetting that the feelings aren't reciprocated. I don't know what to do about that.

I guess I have to stop hoping for his support and just get on and do things on my own. As I have been. But it's exhausting.



And then the final interview...

2011-06-24T19:11:29.534+10:00

... was really weird and hostile.

I feel like it's pretty safe to assume I didn't get the job.



While we are talking about gender...

2011-06-24T12:02:14.692+10:00

I have been interviewed by 24 people so far for this job. Four of them were female. Two of those were PhD students. For two of the interviews I was facing a large panel consisting entirely of old white men.

And they wonder why selection committees in this department have historically never ever hired a woman.



Le sigh

2011-06-24T10:46:36.706+10:00

French guy "I was in Sydney on the weekend, and tried to strike up conversations with people in the street like I would in Paris, but no one wanted to talk to me. They even looked frightened that I would try to approach them. Australians are so cold and rude."

Me "Really? Everyone in Paris is happy to talk to strangers on the street?"

French guy "Sure."

Me "Huh. I would have thought some women there, like everywhere else I know, might be a bit nervous when approached by random men."

French woman (and French guy knows she is also French) "Yes, they are."

French guy "Ha ha, what, you think you're going to get raped in broad daylight in the middle of the city?"

Me and French woman, almost simultaneously "It's not about rape, necessarily. It's about street harrassment."

French woman "Yes, it's annoying when they follow you and ask for your number and won't leave you alone."

French guy "That absolutely does not happen."

Me "Yes it does. And then they call you a bitch, because you aren't being sufficiently friendly."

French guy "That has never happened to me."

French woman "Maybe because you are a man?"

French guy "But it has never happened to anyone I know. French people are not like that."

French woman, to me "You just haven't been watching—"

French guy, interrupting her "Women are so paranoid. Here in Australia anyway. They are probably all like Styleygeek, always worrying they are going to get raped."

Me "That's not what I said."

French woman "That's not what we're saying."

French guy "Well French women are not like that, anyway."



Day one

2011-06-23T10:01:31.385+10:00

I think the job talk went okay. People said it was fun. Hopefully it's okay to be fun. But if they want to hire an un-fun person, maybe I don't want to work there anyway.

Also, stupid ash cloud. Two of the candidates got stranded elsewhere so there was a last minute re-organisation of the programme, and one of my interviews got moved up to yesterday, when I wasn't prepared for it yet. It was the one about teaching, and I had planned to figure out a teaching philosophy and what courses we actually offer sometime last night. Oops. Still, I think it went better than the interview of the guy before me, who I overheard telling the selection committee that students at this university kind of suck.

The other two interviews were at opposite ends of the interview spectrum. In one, the three people interviewing mainly talked to each other. About cricket. I was worried about that, but talking to the other candidates later, they all had the same experience. The other was the one organised by the PhD students and man that was intense. It was mainly hypothetical questions ("What would you do if your student turned out to be a crack addict?"), with a few "are you a real linguist?" questions thrown in for the fun of it. (Seriously, "Define [technical term] and explain the various schools of thought on that concept.")

The hiking thing kind of turned into a half hour coffee stop and ten minute brisk walk around the botanical gardens, which would have been a relief, except that I didn't know about the change of plan in advance, so still spent ages trying to find an outfit that worked for interviews, job talk and bush-walking.

It's kind of weird interacting with the other candidates. Three of them I knew already; two I didn't. Everyone is being terribly nice to each other. It's quite exhausting.

Due to the rejig of the programme, I don't have any interviews scheduled today—just the candidate dinner. Tomorrow is my final interview, and then they are scheduled to make a decision and offer in the afternoon. I have heard rumours that two of the candidates will only consider the jobs if they are offered a LOT more money than is currently available, so I guess if the offer goes to one of them, we may not know the outcome for a few days while negotiations take place. These are the two currently working in the USA, and apparently they are horrified by the cost of living here, and don't see how they could survive on the usual salary.

My kitten is purring so much she has given herself the hiccups. That is perhaps irrelevant, but I'm a bit out of practice at this blogging thing.




Holy shit job talk etc oh dear

2011-06-17T19:49:45.317+10:00

The final Big Deal Thing out of this little catch-up-with-my-life series I seem to be running is that I have been shortlisted for a permanent job in my department.

*gulp*

Actually there are two jobs: a three year one and a permanent one. I only applied for the permanent one, but they seem to have pooled all the shortlisted candidates for both. So there are six of us being interviewed next week—some for both jobs, and some for one or the other.

The other candidates are all amazing and their CVs are terrifying and I don't know how I even got into the mix. I'm guessing I probably shouldn't say that in the interview, though.

The process is being run like a serious Big Deal Event. There are job talks and focus groups (with students, colleagues, and publishers) and interviews with the selection committee, and a reception and a dinner, and a hiking trip (to see who pushes who off a cliff, perhaps?).

Actually the whole hiking thing is confusing. My job talk is directly beforehand. The time my job talk is scheduled to end is the time the hike is meant to begin. I'm guessing this will not leave me time to change clothes without holding everyone up. But I'm not sure what I can wear that works both for walking in the Australian bush in winter, and giving a job talk. Then I have to come back and do focus group meetings directly afterwards.

Our department is at the extreme end of the casual–formal dress continuum. The last two people we hired wore jeans and bare feet(!) to their job talks. But I suspect there may be different standards at play for women. And the selection committee includes people from outside the department who are from disciplines where dress standards are a little... tidier. (Law, for example).

And then I'm not sure how I feel about being an internal candidate. There are actually two candidates who are currently in the department, and two of the others were here until last year before they moved overseas. Then there is one from the USA and one from Norway. The usual pattern of this department is to hire men who did their PhD here then went somewhere like MIT or Oxford for a couple of years. There is no one in this shortlisted group who precisely fits that pattern. There is a woman who does. And there's a man who did a postdoc here, then went to the USA after that, so is close enough. My guess is that those two probably have the best chance. I'm guessing the American has a very good chance too.

The biggest issue with being an internal candidate is that my entire LIFE right now feels like a job interview. Every time I've attended a seminar since being shortlisted, I've worried that I'm not asking smart enough questions at the end. If I miss a department event, I worry that people will take this as evidence that I am not sufficiently collegial. I feel like I need to be seen arriving early and leaving late.

Gah.

It will all be over this time next week. They plan to make the decision and offer on Friday afternoon already. Wish me luck.



Then there was this other thing we did...

2011-06-16T16:16:49.225+10:00

So obviously the cat was way more important, but also, we bought a house.It was quite yellow.But then we painted it.We were quite lucky it was yellow, actually, because it didn't show well, and we got it for the lowest price paid for a house in this suburb for over a year. Even though it was in perfect structural condition.Another example of the yellow:After after the de-yellowing:The bedrooms benefited both from a de-yellowing, and an un-horribling of the curtains.The garden is small but pretty (and almost entirely native, with an automated drip watering system). The location is great: a quiet street one block from a nature reserve, with a 20 minute bicycle ride along cycle paths through parkland to the university. The neighbours seem quiet and maybe interesting: they keep ducks and chickens and their wireless network is named UnexplainedBacon.There's central heating, which is relatively uncommon in Australia, and delicious this time of year—although I nearly died of shock when I saw our first gas bill.I think we're going to like it here.[...]



Introducing...

2011-06-13T16:28:27.737+10:00

Shoggoth!Yes, we named our kitten after a Lovecraftian horror. But doesn't she look like a terrifying demon? A sleepy, sleepy, terrifying demon?“It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train, a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and unforming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down on us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter.”“Still came that eldritch, mocking cry: 'Tekeli-li! Tekeli-li!'”“Shoggoths and their work ought not to be seen by human beings or portrayed by any beings.”“I had seen those primal sculptures, too, and had shudderingly admired the way the nameless artist had suggested that hideous slime coating found on certain incomplete and prostrate Elder Ones those whom the frightful Shoggoths had characteristically slain and sucked to a ghastly headlessness in the great war of resubjugation”Yeah, the vet didn't think it was funny, either. But I have a receipt for one vaccinated Shoggoth, which is more than Lovecraft ever had.[...]



And then she miscarried

2011-04-11T17:46:02.809+10:00

Sigh.



I got a girl pregnant

2011-04-02T12:34:51.821+11:00

So yeah, we finally succeeded in my project to outsource the replication of my genetic material. The whole not telling anyone thing (since Claudia understandably wants to wait until she's past the highly-likely-to-miscarry period before making announcements) is tricky, because I'm very excited. So I thought to myself: I wish I had a secret place on the internet where I could talk about stuff to people who don't know any of the real-life involvees. And then, oh yeah.

So wow.

And she transferred two embryos this time, so it might be double wow.




Also, real estate agents suck

2011-01-20T16:03:22.572+11:00

Today I had to deal first with a random cold-call from a mortgage broker, whose "mate" (a real estate agent who showed us a place last week) told him we might be in the market for a "good deal on a mortgage". I don't recall telling the agent he could pass on our phone numbers to his mates so that they could advertise at us, but thanks anyway.

Then I had the following call:

"Hi, it's [random agent] from [generic agency]."
"Yes?"
"I'm calling about [address]."
"Yes?"
"You emailed me about it last week, so I'm just returning that call."
"I'm sorry, I've sent a lot of queries to real estate agents lately: can you remind me what I asked you?"
"I don't know. I'm just getting back to you."
"But I sent you an email. Don't you have it there?"
"No, sorry."
"Could you perhaps find it and reply to it by email?"
"I'll call you back."



The way to my heart is apparently secret rooms and bay windows

2011-01-20T12:36:10.322+11:00

We've now looked at 20+ places, and have identified four that we might actually be interested in. To put this in some perspective, there are currently 94 properties for sale in our price-range in the region we would consider buying in. The problem is, each of the four we like has a serious flaw. Do we hold out for perfection?On the one hand, you might argue that we should definitely hold out longer, because if four out of the 100-ish on the market right now are great, then given the speed of turnover in this city (properties are usually on the market for less than three weeks), more great ones should pop up soon. On the other hand, these four have all been on the market since we first started looking, i.e. nearly four months now. Nothing approaching the awesomeness of these has shown up in that time. (On the third hand, why the hell are the properties that rate so high on our scale of awesomeness precisely the ones that aren't selling???)Anyway, here's a sneak preview, should you happen to care, along with pros and cons.Three-bedroom ancient monstrosity, oh my:This place is 4.5 km (2.8 miles) from university, has the biggest lounge and kitchen of any of the houses we've seen, and has a beautiful garden with a whole lot of weird little outbuildings that have been used as chicken houses, greenhouses and an artist studio. According to the building report, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it at all, despite it being over 50 years old. On the other hand, it has no heating (yet), no cooling, and yeah, that picture in the top right is the kitchen. (Oh dear.) It also has no plumbing for hooking up a washing machine (WTF). Geekman doesn't like the exposed brick "feature wall" in the lounge (top left), and both of us worry that that room would feel like a school hall, and be impossible to keep warm.Three-bedroom-in-a-park, and yes it's mainly about the windows:This place is much smaller than the one above, and really the bedrooms are kind of ridiculously sized. But potentially we could knock out the wall between two of them and make a large one. It has the most amazing bay windows in the dining room (pictured) and one of the bedrooms. The garden is gorgeous and has mature fruit trees. It backs onto a national park. On the other hand it's about twice as far from university as the one above. But on the third hand (or whatever I'm up to now), the route is on bicycle paths through parkland all the way. The biggest problem with this place is that the building report lists a LOT of small issues that would each cost no more than a few hundred or a thousand dollars to deal with, but that together add up to about $20,000 of work, not to mention being annoying to have to deal with.Two-bedroom plus secret office, but the body corporate fees of DOOOM:This place is perfect except that it has the world's tiniest kitchen (it looks big in this photo, but that space is doubling as the lounge too. Oh, and the body corporate fees are twice what any other townhouse I've seen charges. (The two properties above are free-standing houses, but this one and the next are not, which is nice because we wouldn't have to do our own external maintenance, plus townhouses have better energy ratings, but sucks because of lack of control over anything much, and because of the fees.) It also has three bathrooms for some inexplicable reason, despite only having two bedrooms.But! It has a secret room! And the bedrooms are reasonably sized, the whole place has heating and air-conditioning, lots of storage space, and a little private garden/courtyard as well as access to a communal herb garden and outdoor[...]



No wonder his research is about two years behind schedule

2011-01-18T15:27:01.571+11:00

Colleague: "So I have these Word files that contain lists of data, and they are in this format." He shows me some short Word tables. "Do you think it would be possible to put the data into Excel?"

I copy and paste it right out of the table into a spreadsheet. "Like that?"

"Yes!" he says. "Wow. That's great!"

"How many of these files do you have?" I ask. "A few hundred? A thousand?"

"Fifteen."

"So it would only take..." we both say at the same time.

I finish the sentence with "5-10 minutes" as he says, "about a day's work."



Today is full of cunning traps

2011-01-17T18:38:39.922+11:00

Me, to real estate agent: Have you had a lot of interest in this property? How many people came through on Saturday?
Real estate agent: Oh yeah, yeah, you know how it is. Yeah, there were a few. Some people came through.

[...]

Real estate agent: So how much do you think you would pay for a place like this?
Me: "Yeah. Yeah, you know how it is. Yeah, I'd pay a bit. I'd pay some money for it."



I see your cunning plan

2011-01-17T14:27:45.460+11:00

Geekman, via text message: "Do you want some coffee and cake?"

Me, "What sort of cake?"

Geekman, "Actually, I don't have any cake."

Me, "That's okay. I'll just have coffee. Shall I come over to your office?"

Geekman, "Yes. Can you bring some cake?"



Win-win

2011-01-05T20:05:36.629+11:00

Geekman, while I am massaging his feet: "This is a win-win situation!"

Me: "I don't think that word means what you think it means."

Geekman, waves one foot: "Win." Then the other. "WIN."



Propaganda

2011-01-01T14:09:12.585+11:00

Listening to the radio just now, A Winter's Tale came on. Hah, I think. I know that song. I had forgotten about it completely, though, for years. Why do I know it? Oh yeah, we used to sing it at school, at Christmas assembly and in choir at Christmas time. I start humming along.

But wait! What is this? The words! They are different!

The normally formatted text below is the original. The bold italics show the version we sang at my (supposedly non-religious) school.

The nights are colder now.
maybe I should close the door,
And anyway the snow has
covered all your footsteps
And I can follow you no more.
The fire still burns at night,
my memories are warm and clear;
but everybody knows
it's hard to be alone at this time of year.

It was only a winter's tale,
Just another winter's tale,
And why should the world take notice
and see how the world takes notice

of one more love that's failed?
of love that never fails

It's a love that can never be
It's a love that will always be

though it meant a lot to you and me
and it means a lot to you and me

on a world-wide scale
but on a world-wide scale

we're just another winter's tale
it's just another winter's tale

All I can think of is that our rather religious choir conductor (who was the principal's wife)*, interpreted the song as being about the birth of Jesus, and objected to the idea that the nativity was "just another winter's tale", so changed the words when she taught it. I can't believe I only discovered this now!

____________

* And who also managed to get an anti-evolution video shown as an "extra credit" activity during the period when we were learning about Darwin in our science curriculum.



Christmas dinner

2010-12-24T18:40:08.923+11:00

Anastasia and Dr Crazy have inspired me to gloat about describe my Christmas dinner plans too.*

This year it is just us. Just the Geekman and me. But will that stop us from cooking as though we are having 20 dinner guests? No, it will not. In fact, we will have EXTRA TIME FOR COOKING! Because of no dinner guests. Hah.

We plan to start off by piling the table with small snack-like things, which we will eat throughout the day. This means:
Dolmades
Olives
Smoked salmon spread with cream cheese and rolled up into little parcels
Prosciutto wrapped around pieces of melon
Strawberries**
Blueberries
Mango

There will also be gin and tonics, and vodka and orange for random slurping throughout the afternoon.

Then we are going to have an actual Christmas dinner, in three acts:

Act I
Mushroom and smoked fish canapes (1982 says hi!)
Scallops with lime and vodka sauce

Act II
Cornish game hens with sage and orange glaze
Swedish meatballs
Braised red cabbage
Glazed roast beetroot
Pioneer woman's burgundy mushrooms
Sourdough bread

Act III
Banoffee trifle
Cheese platter

Then we are going to spend the evening drinking mulled wine and port, and eating homemade chocolate truffles.

Yes, it is eclectic. And we will probably die of exploded stomach syndrome before we finish it all. But it is all our favourite foods, and it will be AWESOME.

__________
* Is anyone else a little worried that when you have been talking to a real life colleague or family member recently, you might have mentioned something delicious you are cooking, which they might google in order to find a recipe, and then they might come across your blog? No? Just me, then.

** The best thing about Christmas in the middle of summer is the berries. The worst thing about Christmas in the middle of summer is how the berries were $2.99 a punnet last week, and they miraculously leap up to $6.99 on Christmas Eve. Also that if you want ripe berries on Christmas day, you have to brave the craziness that is the grocery shop a day or two before. In New Zealand, I remember that the milkman used to deliver strawberries along with the milk on Christmas Eve. That was a much better solution.



Christmas greetings and wotnot. Also: eep!

2010-12-23T21:43:29.352+11:00

Greetings from "Oh my god what are we doing holy fuck we are buying a house" land. Yes, it is said all in one string without any punctuation, just like that. Well, maybe there is punctuation of the sort that doesn't have an appropriate symbol other than *%&?!

Yesterday we got pre-pre-approved for a mortgage. This seems to consist of a verbal "She'll be right, mate" from a guy named Matto. (Oh, Australia, I do like you quite a lot actually.)

We haven't found the perfect place yet, but we have now seen a lot of imperfects, and have a very clear idea of what perfect will look like. It will not, for instance, be lacking any sort of heating system, insulation, and functioning ceilings. It will also not smell like Old People. I am currently in love with something completely impractical, but I think that's pretty standard practice when one is house shopping, and I'm sure I'll get over it.

In other exciting news, I made the world's best sourdough bread tonight, and recipe therefore will be posted here forthwith. (Hurrah for two pretentious adverbs in a single sentence! I should win some sort of prize. Perhaps my prize will be another piece of sourdough bread, and a glass of the quite remarkable krupnik from the recipe found here.)