Archive for February, 2014

The day the internet went down…

February 26, 2014

At about 12 noon  today, the connection from my University to the internet went down. Not only that, but the telephone connection went down as well. The University was cut off from electronic communication (except, of course, for using mobile phones, but even these don’t exactly work well inside the buildings). It’s stayed out all afternoon, and it’s still down (it’s 7.30 pm as I write this, at home, using my home internet connection).

Of course, I’ve been an academic long enough to remember the days before the web (though not before the internet itself: I’m not that old!). Some things are much easier with the web – looking up references, particularly citation indexes (remember the days of the ISI 9 point printed citation indexes, that could use up a whole afternoon tracking down who had referenced some particular important paper?), but some things are actually easier without the web. Actually doing research, that’s to say writing (in my case) some MATLAB software for identifying the natural statistics of sound, without getting sidetracked. And instead of looking on the web, looking back at what I had been doing in this area in 2004, for the Gordon Conference on Sensory Coding and the Natural Environment, and rediscovering the relevance of that work, after almost ten years.

My researcher started off by telling me how wonderful it was not to have external email coming in. But by the end of the afternoon, he’d changed his mind, and was missing the ability to quickly and easily find out things from the web. I had a good afternoon, writing code, and leaving some independent component analysis software running overnight on my desktop machine. But if it’s still not up tomorrow, I too will be missing it! It’s ages since I made any meeting arrangements except by email (and I’m meant to be going to Edinburgh, and to Derry/Londonderry, and I’m waiting to hear something from the Medical Research Council, and so on…

So even this old Luddite will be missing it if it’s still down in the morning!

Deutsch B2

February 21, 2014

For a few years now, I’ve been attending German class at the Glasgow Goethe Institute. I had sat the B1 exam (and passed it too) in June 2012, and I sat the B2 exam a few weeks ago. I found it difficult. I’m much more used to being on the other side of the table, to setting and marking exams, rather than sitting them. Yesterday I found out that I had passers with a “Satisfactory” (Befriedigend) pass grade. I know that I’m not a linguist, but this matters to me: my good wife is German, but speaks effortlessly in perfect English, but her relatives and friends in Germany are happier to speak in German. And I was always embarrassed at being monoglot: I learned Latin at school, but rarely get the chance to speak that language. So I’ve been working at the German, which I find challenging, particularly the grammar (they have six words for “the”, and three genders for nouns, for example). Of course I realise that English presents its own difficulties, particularly in spelling, but also in word order. But the work is paying off – I can spend an evening chatting in German (not effortlessly, but I do understand more or less all that’s being said), and can read reasonably straightforward German novels, without too much difficulty. 

I didn’t need the exam for anything. But I’m more motivated by having something to strive for, like most people. And now? I think I’ll not try for the C1 exam, at least in the immediate future. But i will keep reading the novels, and talking to German colleagues in German whenever they’ll let me. Keep a blog in German? Vielleicht wäre das eine gute Idee!