Thursday, May 21, 2009

Grad office dress code

The dress code in my office (population: 10 grad students, with about 20 more who walk through to get to the kitchen and go to seminars) is casual: jeans and t-shirts are normal. There are a few people who dress up on days that they lecture to undergrads, or just wear collared t-shirts or polo shirts. Informal dress is standard.

Now that the weather is summery, some people have switched from a t-shirt and jeans to a t-shirt and shorts. That's fine. Today is particularly sunny and warm (84F, 29C) and so I am wearing a sun dress. It is modest (school-appropriate) and comfortable, made of cotton and tie-dyed. I think of it as a very casual garment, the sort of thing I'd wear over a bathing suit when going to the beach.

I have received several comments from my fellow grad students (all men) to the effect of "why are you all dressed up?" and "isn't that a bit formal for the office?" No. It's very casual. I wouldn't wear this to a formal event, or even a normal dress-code-abiding office, because I would look frumpy in a wrinkly tie-dye sun dress. I tried to explain this to one of them, but he just didn't get it.

I eagerly await the return of the (only) other female grad student (in this research group).

This post's theme word: peignoir, "negligee."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Levels of security, irony

My official academic registration with the university does not have my correct name. It's missing my middle name. This record originated with my application to graduate school, where there was no separate field for middle name and so I only entered my first and last. (It must have originated there -- on all other documents, including the passport on which I entered the country, my name is complete.) Now that I'm getting a diploma, I'd like my name -- my full name -- to be on it.

In order to change my on-record name, I need to present a birth certificate (back in the US), a baptismal certificate (same), a marriage certificate (?), or a court name change. But my name hasn't changed! I think it's ridiculous that the barrier for changing the record is so high when there was no security limiting the creation of the record. How ironic. Or whatever. (If you're applying this year, test the system and give yourself a fake middle name, like "Awesome.")

Apparently a non-Canadian passport is also sufficient, so that's what I'll be using.

[UPDATE 5/27: My passport was sufficient, and now my name is changed. At least, in the system that prints diplomas and transcripts. It might still be wrong in other places.]

This post's theme comic is a statement on irony:

Monday, May 18, 2009

Victoria Day!

I had no idea that today was a holiday. Lo! It is. My calendar told me so. It also told me that I had a meeting with my advisor this morning. We were the only people in the (locked) building. (More international students showed up later.) We were both rather vague on the purpose and scheduling of Victoria Day, facts which I could look up now. But I leave that task to the reader.

The meeting went well. Then I worked, typing up my results of last week and reading about becoming a permanent resident. It will make me eligible for more scholarships and lower tuition.

Later today I walked around downtown and enjoyed the sun and cool weather. And resolved to write here more frequently. I have a few ideas to write up this week.

This post's theme word: zephyr, "a gentle breeze from the west."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Richness of text, paucity of expression

Recently I have had several people* tell me that I come across as cold and angry via text-only communications like email and instant message. The ensuing meta-conversations revealed that this is because (and I summarize) I use full sentences with capitalization and grammar, and no emoticons. As the linked Wikipedia article says,
An emoticon (pronounced e-moh-ti-kon) is a textual portrayal of a writer's mood or facial expression. They are often used to alert a responder to the tenor or temper of a statement, and can change and improve interpretation of plain text.
While it is true that including a smiley-face can change the interpretation of plain text, I'm not sure that it improves the interpretation. (Maybe I should change that Wikipedia entry.) There are, as far as I can tell, two things going on here.

The first is that there is [apparently] a standard format of social internet communications: no capital letters, little punctuation, lots of :-) :-D :-P. Although I am of the correct generation, I didn't pick this up in my internet persona. Because I lack it, but my peers have it, there is an expectation that I communicate this way ("oh hai!!!! :P"). My failure to do so comes across as a purposeful linguistic smackdown. I've also been informed that full sentences with capital letters and punctuation are used in "oh hai!!! :P" conversations to indicate a tone which is stern/upset.

The second is that I have clear textual indications of mood and tone. Word choice, punctuation, italicization, boldface... there are many ways to indicate tone without drawing a simulacrum of a face. Even straightforward description of emotions is possible! (I'm feeling fine, thanks.) These ways have been around for longer than the internet. Have you ever read a piece of writing from before the era of email? A novel, perhaps? A play? Somehow those mere words, naked of smiley-faces and frowny-faces, manage to convey emotions and tone.

I may be a young and uppity twenty-something, but I am old and crotchety in the way I use and relate to text. Our language is rich with words and expressions -- and, lo! and behold! these things termed "expressions" express things, including tone and emotion. English has a long and lovely history as a written language. While I do not bemoan its current warping in internet-speak (languages change over time and no one can stop this), there are enough modes of written English for me to select from that I feel no compulsion to abbreviate myself.

For your reference, o my readers of the new style of text, I write this in a moderate, neutral, somewhat bemused tone. (Though when I was first confronted with "you are so cold!" I felt like the robapocalypse could not come soon enough and turn me into a Borg. At least the Borg never have these problems. Plus, they've figured out interstellar travel and have a killer catchphrase.)

*I wonder why no one told me this before. Maybe my family members and college and high school peers don't know how to broach the subject, or maybe they understand my mode of communication. I miss my punster friends. They are a lingual delight.

I love words. This post's theme word: anodyne, "deliberately uncontentious and inoffensive."

This post's BONUS theme cartoon: