Tuesday, August 24, 2004
When we were teenagers, my friends Laurie and Julie and I used our nascent powers of persuasion on AT&T and managed to get hold of a very special telephone number: the residential line for Nick Rhodes of Duran Duran's in-laws. I don't even recall how we managed to get the number, but once we had it, we made a habit of calling them on every holiday, in hopes that Nick might be there to chat a little on the phone.

Yes, it was kind of pathetic, but we were 14 or so, and it was Duran Duran, after all.

The reason why this is all relevant again is that we called when Nick's daughter was born, and even spent a good 10 minutes on the phone with his father-in-law, telling him how happy we were that Baby Tatjana was here and healthy. Well, now it's my turn to declare myself officially old, because yesterday, Tatjana turned 18.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004
The question of how US and UK PhD programmes differ is one that I've been asked quite a bit recently. I just posted an answer about this to AskMetafilter, but I thought I'd reprint part of it here, since this seems like a good place to tackle the question.

First off, US PhDs normally take about 6 years these days. Universities like to claim that they can be completed in 4 years, and some people do that, but generally, it's a safe bet that you'll spend the better half of a decade finishing. In the UK, PhD degrees take 3 years. Why the difference?

Three reasons, primarily:

1. You are expected to ARRIVE at your university with a workable topic and a plan to finish in 3 years. There is no such thing as casting about for 2 years, just getting to grips with your field, as many graduate students do in the US. You hit the ground running and are expected to show significant progress within a year of starting.

2. You won't be likely to be expected to teach (although you can if you want to do so). In the US, teaching loads slow down graduate students. Don't get me wrong, I think teaching as a graduate student is a fantastic idea-- I did it when I was in grad school at the University of Chicago and loved every minute of it-- but it is always a drain on time.

3. You aren't expected to publish papers DURING your doctoral work-- all attention is concentrated on finishing in three years. So when you do complete, your CV will reflect this. Many people take time at the end to write papers, but only after they've submitted. Compare this to the situation with US graduate students, who very often publish a few papers during their 6 years. Again, this can slow down the progress on the PhD, but it's probably a really nice side-benefit.

Personally, I don't think one system is better than the other. Both have their merits, and I'm obviously a fan of a more condensed, more intense degree course; but I also wouldn't mind being able to take my time with writing up my dissertation.

There are many one-year Master's courses here also, including MBA programmes, which can run 12 months or 10 months. Again, the pace is breakneck in the UK, but in exchange for paying only one year's worth of fees, you give up the chance to do an internship in the summer between your two years of study.

I think much of the emphasis on independent thinking and preparation in the UK is what contributes to the shorter degree lengths: people assume that you'll arrive prepared and ready for advanced study, and there's almost no hand-holding. In the US, the beginning of graduate school is a little gentler, and this transition in is often much easier than it is in the UK. I prefer a little guidance once in a while, but I'm willing to forgo that in exchange for a quicker completion, quite frankly.

Friday, August 13, 2004
The idea of having an openly gay governor is great, but having one come out and then immediately abdicate his position? Not so much...

You can read the details here, but it's the same story you've heard a million times already of a public figure being honest right as the world is about to crash down around him (courtesy phone for Messieurs Barney Frank and Jim Kolbe). I imagine that the only way things are going to move forward is if a public official is either elected as a gay person or chooses to come out when there's no sword of Damocles waiting to fall.

Sunday, August 01, 2004
I had a post planned all about the vast quantities of blackberries that have come into my life again, but Max scooped me with his monster-sized bowls of blueberries.

Thanks to the thousands of wild fruit bushes in Oxford, it's impossible to go anywhere without grabbing a handful (or thirty) of windfall berries. I even have a huge, thorny mess of a thicket in my back garden. It alone is responsible for at least a third of the berries I've eaten in the past week.

But instead of posting a picture of all the gorgeous berries, I'll post a picture of what happens to the fruit in this household:

(Click the pictures for larger versions)

If you're interested in making this jam, it's incredibly simple, especially if you live in the UK. Just take equal weights jam sugar and crushed fruit and bring to a boil for about 3 or 4 minutes. Then pour it into a container and let it cool. If you don't want to use sterile jars, you'll have to keep the jam in the fridge, but it lasts for a month or so in there.

If you're in the US, you won't be able to find jam sugar, but the solution is also simple, just use equal weights regular sugar and fruit, and then add pectin to set the jam as you boil the mixture.

The apricot/greengage jam above (on the right) also has Cointreau, limoncella, and 2 basil leaves in it, which makes the result even more complex and aromatic. You'll love it. Trust me.

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