I’m writing this on Friday evening without internet. Of course, by the time you read it, I shall necessarily have transferred this document to a networked machine. But that will be at work, and at home I am not online. The reason is that my flat was burgled, and my Lovely New Laptop stolen (I’m writing on the old and rickety laptop, whose ethernet port doesn’t work, and I don’t have wireless). The burglary was less traumatic than I would have imagined. The thieves (in my mind there were two; of course I don’t know this) broke the locks of the window, opened it and entered. (It’s a ground floor flat). Then they took the laptop, not forgetting the power cable, and put it into my rucksack and left, having first emptied the rucksack of everything else (so that they couldn’t be caught with a bag full of things with my name on, showing it wasn’t theirs: the policewoman kindly explained this).
Among the usual rigours of the start of term, UK academics have been looking with dismay into the less immediate future because of the publication of the latest “consultation document” for the REF. What’s the REF? REF is what used to be RAE. RAE stood for “Research Assessment Exercise,” while REF is “Research Excellence Framework.” Under either name, it’s a huge attempt, consuming a lot of time and money, to work out how good different departments in different universities are at research, and the result is supposed to be that the best places are rewarded with lovely research money and (since some of the extrapolations from the data are published) with status. The consultation document explains some of what’s going to change as RAE becomes REF (and although it’s called a “consultation document,” actually the areas where responses are invited mostly concern points of detail: the general directions appears to be fixed).
An alarming phenomenon was just brought to the attention of subscribers to the classicists@ mailing list. I think Terrence Lockyer is absolutely right here. I don’t have a problem with google digitizing lots of information: but this sort of thing is very troubling. It’s easy to imagine a day when lots of items are cleared from library shelves on the grounds that they are available digitally anyway (this happens already with journals, all the time); but this will involve putting a lot of trust in digital providers who effectively become the gate-keepers for a large proportion of the world’s information (information which was much safer distributed in multiple copies between libraries, so that if one library lost it another wouldn’t).
Don’t be evil is all very well: but incompetence can be as dangerous as evil in this respect.
One of the questions I’ve had to think about while thinking about the Beginners’ Greek class is the question of accents: the acute, grave and circumflex used in writing and printing ancient Greek, like this:
Ὦ κοινὸν αὐτάδελφον Ἰσμήνης κάρα
This is a rather nerdy matter, but interesting partly because it highlights some of the difficulties in teaching a language which isn’t spoken, as well as broader questions about how to deal with teaching a language quickly.
During the last week I’ve been girding my loins for the arrival of the new students. This is not altogether my favourite part of the year: lots of preparation of course booklets and websites and administration. I also get quite nervous about the term to come (I’ve even had an “exam dream” about trying not to fall off a cliff).
I’ll be much happier (I hope) during next week, when the students return – and, in the case of the freshers, arrive for the first time.
In fact, a lot of my year ahead will be concerned with students arriving at the university for the first time.
I hope to use this blog to talk about a variety of things that interest me, partly in connection with my work as a classical scholar and teacher.
At the moment, I’m still working out how to do this, and invite you to enjoy this picture of a duck: