24 May 2015

The Khagan Fortnightly: Writing Until Midnight Since 2014 (2:11 – 24.05.2015)

Speaking Out Loud
This was a big week for public speaking and taught me that I really do believe I can be a lecturer. On Wednesday, I gave my first postgraduate seminar talk to a crowd of about 25 people. It was a mini-version of my ANZAMEMS conference presentation and focused on the French successions of 1316 and 1328. They were quite contentious and set a very important precedent for France. It was well-received by the students and even my supervisor. I was, of course, nervous, but I knew my stuff and handled it well.

Then, on Thursday, I had a second joint-presentation with two History MA students in front of a crowd of 54 undergrads. We did this one completely voluntarily. Since finals are coming up and most of these students had never taken a final exam before, we felt that they could use some coaching, so we ran a seminar on how to prep for a history exam. Kara's doing a similar one for writing essays next Monday. It went so well that I didn't even get nervous. It surprised me even! But it also taught me that as long as I know what I'm talking about, I can run courses like the pros.

To the Bottom of the Earth
The only other real event of note recently was our long-awaited trip to the International Antarctic Centre. This is the real deal: people go from here to the Antarctic to explore, research, and do things in blisteringly cold weather. Crazy, crazy people. The public part of the centre is more or less a discovery museum with a lot of gimmicky things. There' a 4D theatre that squirts you with water too many times, a recreation of North Dakota in November (-18˚C/-0.4˚F), and a penguin enclosure. Okay, the penguins were cute, but I digress. And the cost of visiting was an utter fortune. Granted, we had Buy One-Get One passes and got a student discount on top of that, but it's something like $54/person normally. This is a rip-off pure and simple. The whole place takes you only 3:30 hours to go through. And most of the signs are a few years out-of-date. The most exciting thing during the whole tour was a 10-minute ride on basically a halftrack through an obstacle course. That was pretty fun, but the place was just expensive and definitely designed for the younger crowd, which is just too bad. I only recommend this place if you a) are über-wealthy, b) are absolutely bored of things to do in Christchurch, or c) have found an amazing coupon like we did. Otherwise, a cruise to the Antarctic would probably be much more satisfying. (Disclaimer: I do not recommend or condone cruises to the Antarctic due to increased pollution and environmental damage caused by Antarctic tourists. A visit to the International Antarctic Centre will teach you more about these modern problems...not that I recommend visiting the centre either...um, yeah).

Burning Bacon
Food has been taking some strange turns lately. We have been coming back late most nights and dinner is sometimes at school, so cooking is becoming less and less of a thing. That being said, there are a few treats we've made recently. Last week we made chocolate-dipped pretzels and peanut butter-chocholate pretzel sandwiches for my History Pre-Exam Seminar. They didn't go at all, except to the other two speakers, but they did taste good, at least. I also just made today a beautiful orange and chocolate bundt cake for our History PostGrad meeting for Tuesday morning. Kara made a pumpkin bundt, so we've got everything covered for that. We have plans for a Mexican dinner party next week, but nothing will be made for that until mid-week, so it's been slow. Bacon and eggs for breakfast every day are still our usual fair.

Oh, we also made our own microwave popcorn bag, which caught on fire in the microwave. Yay!

Ups & Downs
I'm keeping this short: we didn't have time to do anything except walk around the block last week. It's too cold and wet to do anything more. Instead, I ride my stationary bike for 25 minutes every day while watching Vikings and Outlander. It's better than nothing, I suppose. No hikes planned for the foreseeable future either. Eh.

Thesis Shmeshish
The world of theses is never smooth and for me that seems to be especially the case. My advisor and I disagree about a great many things, among them the expected attitude of a PhD supervisor. After having a brief meeting with another lecturer in the department, my supervisor, that lecturer, and I sat down and discussed the nitty-gritty of PhD research. It didn't really go as planned, but I expected that, so maybe it did. Somehow the ball has been stolen into his court as well, so now I just have to sit and wait to see what happens next. In the meantime, I've been working on Chapter 3 of my thesis, which deals with defining the Capetian Dynastic Imperative. Sound academic, right? Oh, and we did discuss my last chapter and he actually liked it quite a bit, so much so that we probably are going to end up splitting it into two chapters before this thesis is done. It is increasingly unlikely that I will even research the English side of things, but that's okay. I still have a long ways to go in learning French, but I'm making progress there too: I just finished my study book and have re-ordered the French textbook I started this endeavour with.

The Kiwi Way
It seems that many of my local Cantabrian friends have taken a liking to reading this blog. Fair enough; I do post it online for everybody to read and they have increasingly been friending me on Facebook (and vice-versa). Since this seems to be the case, let's have a quick summary of Kiwi writing habits. They're terrible. It is truly the see-and-do technique of learning since the primary and secondary systems here really don't focus on sentence structure, paragraph design, or essay outlining. To be absolutely honest, I hated these things when I was in school, but I did learn them, and I learned them pretty well according to many. What the bigger problem here is that people don't learn how to write, and then they write stuff that other people see, and then they in effect copy what they see, and thereby don't learn how to write. It's a vicious cycle!

Take one example: sentences with unnecessary commas in them. Just absolutely, unnecessary. See what I did there? That was, an unnecessary comma. So was that. It's really easy to do when you want to, but they aren't needed. That last comma, that was necessary, as were these. Unbeknownst to the modern Kiwi, there are actual rules that govern the usage of commas. They aren't all hard and fast, but they are there, and there are plenty of places where they don't belong.

Speaking of punctuation Kiwis don't know how to use, I present for your enjoyment: the colon. No, not the strange organ in the body, but rather this lovely little pair of dots sitting atop each other. You can use them to equate something—money: the root of all evil. You can use it to prompt a list: one potato, two tomato, three zucchini, squash! One thing you can't do with them, though is end a sentence with them; this is where the semi-colon comes in. It's like a full stop got jiggy with a comma and had a love child—it's great!

So my Kiwi friends, remember, commas have a purpose, and colons and semi-colons do too. If you can't figure them out, the internet has the answers to many things, including these.

The Khagan Weekly Fortnightly is the unofficial news outlet for an American living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Anything he says can and may be used against him. His statements should be taken as factual, except when they are not. All rights reserved, except where prohibited...like in China. In fact, if you are reading this in China, you are a bad Han! Blogger is blocked in China, don't you know? They have censors watching you right now. Democracy! Capitalism! USA! USA! Well, you must be using a proxy server, so right on! Go free speech!

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