Tuesday, November 28, 2006

haciendo las maletas / packing one´s bags

first off, thanks to "anon" who posted their recommendation re RefWorks. In fact, I had registered for RefWorks some weeks prior to attending the EndNote training (I had registered for said training within the first days that I´d arrived here,but that is merely an interesting anecdote). Be that as it may, I wanted to use/experience the utilities available, so as to compare, etc. You already know where that little venture led me. Suffice to say that I have since started to use RefWorks, which is useful especially if your home institution is a partner site. Also useful even if your home institution is not a partner site. But I haven´t used it extensively (yet).

okay, "haciendo las maletas": last week i had a grad seminar where i was expected to put my half-baked research thoughts on display. doing the latter was a bit out of the ordinary for me, since in the stuff i´ve done thusfar, people have always left me, more or less, to my own devices. this is not to say that i didn´t have feedback, nor inputs, etc. in the past. of course, i´ve had, and i´m glad to have worked with the persons i have worked with, but to date i´ve always been further along in my thought process before having to give them a public airing (okay, semi-public, since it was still in-house). when we´d arrived to start the DPhil, Max, one of our 2nd year DPhil comrades, had said "interdisciplinary research is hard". bueeeeeno. he was right. but as i spoke on friday something dawned on me: one´s tendency, in formulating a dphil problem worthy of doctoral endeavour, is to try and bring together somehow one´s varied interests of the past years, or all of one´s academic training, but maybe part of the trick is to decide what to bring along and what to leave behind. almost like packing one´s bags when moving/relocating. actually, it is more like relocating countries, since if you´re moving with-in country you can always take more stuff with you, or go back easily enough to fetch the things you´ve left behind. not so with moving to another country, in that you are forced to decide what should stay and what should go. similarly, in research this is so. or should be so. you can´t pack in everything you´ve learnt, so what to leave behind???? seems obvious, no? the irresistible thing for me is that there are definite recurring threads which i would want to weave into this doctoral endeavour, but it isn´t clear if that would be "too much", or result in a work which is "too broad, with not enough depth", etc. oh, no, i start to sound like that boring person´s blog i´d happened across last year sometime. it was a person who wrote about the daily ins-and-outs of their doctoral research. did not make for compelling stuff, truth be told...

where is my muse? ¿dónde está la musa? Me ha abandonado. Pues, este tema se trata de lo siguiente: durante mi estancia en Madrid, estaba escribiendo mensualmente (casi), reportajes de mi vida como madrileña. Me mudé a Inglaterra y... nada. No creo que es culpa del ambiente, el tiempo, etcétera. Me acuerdo bien de las maneras en que ocurrieron las ideas, las frases, las escenas graciosas, de las cuales que apunté al final para mis lectores. Y ya. Por cierto hay costumbres por aquí que son muy distintas de las de mi país, o de las de España, pero me muero un poco con la falta total de ganas de apuntarlas. Pueda que, al fondo, tener que ver, no con los rasgos del país por dónde estoy, sino con el cambio total de mi punto de vista del mundo -- lo que ha ocurrido el verano pasado. De veras, este cambio es algo que lamento, pero bueno, el mundo cambia, y nosotr@s mism@s cambiamos también, bien sea por nuestra voluntad o no.

Monday, November 20, 2006

does it really have to be this complicated?

i last week started to use EndNote, and though I can appreciate that this software tool will save me lots of time in the long-run (and has done so for those who swear by it), i walked away last week from some training, and subsequent self-directed online training, asking myself "why, from a usability point-of-view, does the learning curve have to be so steep?" in learning to use the software, my level of irritation was such that i actually felt insulted. seriously.

well, we can say "it is a new type of system, so its modus operandi is foreign to me". but it isn´t that. did the manufacturers just anticipate that brainy types would use their software, and so the sheer unnecessary complexity of the software design wasn´t ever fully considered? i´m baffled.

there are some good self-help resources online. for instance, see

but what struck me in the above, were the exceptions, the "avisos", the things not to do so that you would get the software to effect the desired outcome in your research document.


"You should only use a single EndNote library for each Word document you work on. It is okay to use the same EndNote library for two or more Word documents, but do not use two or more EndNote libraries for a single Word document"

"When entering a corporate author in EndNote, you must follow it with a comma. Otherwise, EndNote attempts to treat it as an individual author name."

"If you need to add page numbers to a book citation, click anywhere in the in-text citation (the background of the citation should turn grey to show it is selected), then from the Tools menu, Endnote, select Edit Citation(s), or use the button on the EndNote toolbar.
You must add the page numbers to the Suffix field. The Pages field is only for footnote styles."

hhhhhmmmm. when reading the above, it became clear that i had reached my fill of endnote training for the day.

what´s the moral of the story (it isn´t just an aimless rant, after all):

web-based services have evolved to a point where they generally have greater ease-of-use than standalone software. so much so that it seems to me that, as a consequence, the bar has been raised by web-software developers, in the usability stakes, for 3rd party software development. this has been to the extent where stand-alone appplications will have to be developed with the user, not only in mind, but uppermost, if they are to remain current (i.e. in business). with daily use of the web, user-expectations vis-a-vis how applications serve them, are evolving to the point where 3rd party software vendors will not get away with foisting a so-so designed software product into the marketplace.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


yes, i think i posted earlier, not sure if in this blog or maybe my now other blog, about the notion of forming one´s new identity when moving to a new place. for one, this move has generated a plethora of passwords to my already password-filled digilife!!!

but then there is the notion of what it means to be at the institution i am now at (many people, not in this environment, when told, seem to have very definite notions of what it signifies), and yet one has to make sense of it all, and arrive at some personal definition of what the latest migration means for you as person, on all sorts of levels. be that as it may, i do wonder about this thing of being called a student. yes, strictly speaking, i am a student here, but i´ve always found the category so limiting. maybe it is because i´ve never ever only been a student, and in the past always worked while studying, hence an inherent uncomfortability with the term. i think what the word "student" conjures up is someone who as yet has to contribute usefully to society (so, considering the work that i´ve done and have been doing, that the word "rankles" should come as no surprise). assuming this word "student" as part of my professional wardrobe is just uninspiring. the thing is, it is already a given that i have to work extra hard at gaining the confidence of my audience when doing professional presentations since it is that often enough people see me, think i am still a kid, and so wonder what on earth it is that i could possibly contribute. this has always been a problem, so is nothing new. i take the latter as a given and have been able to compensate in some ways. but assuming "student" as part of my identity somehow makes me feel doubly constrained when having to connect with an audience (at a presentation or even just in a meeting). the thing is, that when you see me as student only, conceptually you toss aside any possibility of my having an extensive and varied work history to boot.

the other aspect of identity is that of being African. well, since moving to the UK it is not something which I´ve been made to think of on a daily basis, but was something I was reminded of often enough when in the Spanish environment since, with the boat loads of Africans arriving on Spanish shores almost daily, one just becomes hyper-aware of these things, and starts to question what being African can signify in such a context. I mean, the image is one of economic migration fuelled by abject poverty and often enough war-riddled circumstances. Some (Africans) would argue that that is just a tired and worn-out Western perspective of Africa. But if judging by my daily readings of Reuters press Africa, I do often enough despair at the general picture that I am left with simply because, however much you would want to argue that this is Western myth-making re Africa, there are facts to back up the news stories which are very real, and are of consequence to the peoples of a particular African nation, their neighbouring states, and also to the West´s relationship with Africa-as-continent. So, that the situation is grave in the Horn of Africa, or even graver still in Sudan, cannot be denied. Then, what about Zimbabwe, where this evening I saw on the front page of a newspaper here that the average life expectancy now, there, is 26. Or what about the Congo? The question of identity then surfaces, for me, about what it means to be African, and how others, from other parts of the planet, then perceive one. It is easy to say that if people see you in a certain way, it is mostly due to their ignorance. And yet it is that in learned circles even, I have had a sense of disconnection at times (not always) simply because my audience could not quite reconcile the reality of me (articulate, nourished, does not speak with unfamiliar foreign-sounding accent), with their picture of what an African should be like. To illustrate, an incident which I found rather amusing in hindsight. Once I was presenting and since I was a relative unknown I did feel that people seemed surprised that I was so young and so articulate an African (hahahah). Then, before I started my talk, and since I was rather ill with the flu, I anticipated that, with nerves, my voice would give out, and/or my nose might start running at inconvenient a time. Thing is, on that day I had just conveniently forgotten to carry along paper pocket handkerchiefs as I usually do, and ran to the WC to get lots of hand-drying paper there, and touted that along just in case of the anticipated runny nose. I started my talk, and in anticipation of these possible health impediments to my talk, warned my audience.

I said: "Just to warn you that I´m not feeling very well and so from time to time may have to do the rather undignified thing of... [Peculiar thing was that many in the audience, noticing the wad of WC paper on the lectern, looked at me rather agog, a response which I in turn was puzzled by.] ...blowing my nose [look of relief from audience].

I couldn´t really make sense of the dynamics of the situation until some time later it dawned on me that people somehow had possibly imagined that I would periodically be wiping my arse instead of my nose. (See, you move to the UK and start to use words such as "arse" quite freely.)
You could say that I was being too sensitive; that this had nothing to do with perceptions of Africanness, etc. But how else to interpret it??? At the time I found it all to be rather confusing and unsettling. Now it´s just stupidly if not insanely hilarious.