Category Archives: PhD

Expressing your PhD in the form of dance

Readers with good memories will recall the revelation of the snake fight part of your PhD defence, but a number of PhD students are now learning to express their theses in the form of dance.

Unlike the snake defence, which possibly might not be completely accurate, this actually exists. If you’ve ever thought to yourself ‘I wonder how someone might express Mechanisms for Maintaining Ploidy in Somatic Cells in the form of rhthymic movement’, then you’ve come to the right place.

[Thanks again to Val for the link/]

The snake fight part of your PhD thesis defence

When you complete your PhD thesis, you have to complete what is called the ‘defence’ of your thesis. This is also sometimes called the ‘viva’. This is where specialists in your field of study who have read your thesis ask you a series of questions to ensure that your argument is both your own and suitably solid. A PhD thesis must be a significant contribution to its field of study, and these people are there to ensure that this is true.

However, many people have been taken by surprise the snake fight part of your thesis defence. As explained clearly in this informative page, the stronger your thesis the smaller the snake that you must defeat in combat. All people with PhDs have done this but many do not speak of it, usually due to feeling that this is an old-fashioned tradition that they would rather not speak about. Check out the link for more information. Personally I can only suggest that you wear very think gloves and a sturdy pair of boots.

[Thanks to Val for the link.]

How to get your homework done easily and essay/dissertation/thesis writing tips

I was asked today by a friend who is studying about how to get homework done. There are loads of tips that will help, but here are my biggest ones:

Tip 1: Get into a routine of doing your homework regularly
Spend an hour doing it immediately when you get home from school/college. There’s usually rubbish on the television at that time anyway! When I was sixteen I used to always work hard for an hour when I got home and kept well ahead of all my home work. These days I make my lunch for the next day and then go an do some exercise – learning to set beneficial routines makes your life and work a lot easier in the long run.

Tip 2: Turn off the internet connection and use books for your references
Don’t ever check your email while you are in your set study period. Turn off your messanger software. Don’t check facebook, myspace etc. Don’t even stream music you’re unfamiliar with. Don’t reply to text messages. No-one will be sending you anything so important that it can’t wait an hour for a response. Get rid of all distractions and force yourself to work every. single day. Whether you want to or not, get your work done. Set yourself realistic and useful targets and don’t stop until you’ve achieved them. Do all this and you’ll find it a lot easier to get the grades you want.

If it’s really impossible to get away from distractions then try working in the school/college library. They’re usually open for at least an hour after school.

Tip 3: Get ‘studying music’
This is a personal favourite of mine – whenever I have to work hard I’ve got an album I listen to which I know helps me focus. Find something with no lyrics that you can basically ignore very easily, because lyrics tend to distract you from what you’re trying to write. There are loads of good electronica albums out there, so I’m sure there will be ones that you’ll like. As a starter, try Lifeforms and Dead Cities by Future Sound Of London, Amber by Autechre, Takk by Sigur Ross (unless you’re Icelandic and will sing along!), or anything by Global Communications (all the albums are superb studying music).

Tip 4: Follow my other essay and exam tips!
Learn to organise your ideas – the way that they come to you the first time isn’t always the best order to make your argument. More tips on organising ideas for essay, dissertation, or PhD thesis here.

When you need to write under pressure then you need my top exam tips. They helped me for many years and really work, even if you’re just trying to write your homework.

This advice works no matter what level you are studying at, from school up to finishing a doctoral thesis. If you have any questions then add a comment and I’ll do what I can to help!

Who would win in a fight between Neil Gaiman and William Gibson (with extra credit for Neal Stephenson)

A few months ago I had the honour of meeting William Gibson who signed my thesis during a book tour.

William Gibson signing Mata's thesis
(Many thanks to Chris, AKA Head First Only for the superb photo capturing the moment.)

During a talk he was giving in London, one of the questions asked was about who would win in a fight between himself and Neil Gaiman. Gibson replied that because Gaiman wears a lot of leather jackets he was probably the tougher of the two, so Gaiman would probably win.

Fortunately, Gaiman was giving a talk in the same location a few months later, and the same group of people attended and asked the same question. Gaiman reports his answer in his blog:

I was asked tonight who’d win in a fight — probably a no holds barred cage match, I suspect — between me and Bill Gibson. I said me, but my daughter Holly, who was there, just laughed at me afterwards and said she couldn’t imagine me fighting anyone. Holly says that Me vs Bill Gibson would be like a fight between a baby bunny and a duckling, and she is probably right.

So there you have it. Gaiman thinks he could take down the Gibson. Searching around, I found that Neal Stephenson has also been asked who would win in a fight against William Gibson, but his answer was considerably more wordy:

You don’t have to settle for mere idle speculation. Let me tell you how it came out on the three occasions when we did fight.

The first time was a year or two after SNOW CRASH came out. I was doing a reading/signing at White Dwarf Books in Vancouver. Gibson stopped by to say hello and extended his hand as if to shake. But I remembered something Bruce Sterling had told me. For, at the time, Sterling and I had formed a pact to fight Gibson. Gibson had been regrown in a vat from scraps of DNA after Sterling had crashed an LNG tanker into Gibson’s Stealth pleasure barge in the Straits of Juan de Fuca. During the regeneration process, telescoping Carbonite stilettos had been incorporated into Gibson’s arms. Remembering this in the nick of time, I grabbed the signing table and flipped it up between us. Of course the Carbonite stilettos pierced it as if it were cork board, but this spoiled his aim long enough for me to whip my wakizashi out from between my shoulder blades and swing at his head. He deflected the blow with a force blast that sprained my wrist. The falling table knocked over a space heater and set fire to the store. Everyone else fled. Gibson and I dueled among blazing stacks of books for a while. Slowly I gained the upper hand, for, on defense, his Praying Mantis style was no match for my Flying Cloud technique. But I lost him behind a cloud of smoke. Then I had to get out of the place. The streets were crowded with his black-suited minions and I had to turn into a swarm of locusts and fly back to Seattle.

The second time was a few years later when Gibson came through Seattle on his IDORU tour. Between doing some drive-by signings at local bookstores, he came and devastated my quarter of the city. I had been in a trance for seven days and seven nights and was unaware of these goings-on, but he came to me in a vision and taunted me, and left a message on my cellphone. That evening he was doing a reading at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus. Swathed in black, I climbed to the top of the hall, mesmerized his snipers, sliced a hole in the roof using a plasma cutter, let myself into the catwalks above the stage, and then leapt down upon him from forty feet above. But I had forgotten that he had once studied in the same monastery as I, and knew all of my techniques. He rolled away at the last moment. I struck only the lectern, smashing it to kindling. Snatching up one jagged shard of oak I adopted the Mountain Tiger position just as you would expect. He pulled off his wireless mike and began to whirl it around his head. From there, the fight proceeded along predictable lines. As a stalemate developed we began to resort more and more to the use of pure energy, modulated by Red Lotus incantations of the third Sung group, which eventually to the collapse of the building’s roof and the loss of eight hundred lives. But as they were only peasants, we did not care.

Our third fight occurred at the Peace Arch on the U.S./Canadian border between Seattle and Vancouver. Gibson wished to retire from that sort of lifestyle that required ceaseless training in the martial arts and sleeping outdoors under the rain. He only wished to sit in his garden brushing out novels on rice paper. But honor dictated that he must fight me for a third time first. Of course the Peace Arch did not remain standing for long. Before long my sword arm hung useless at my side. One of my psi blasts kicked up a large divot of earth and rubble, uncovering a silver metallic object, hitherto buried, that seemed to have been crafted by an industrial designer. It was a nitro-veridian device that had been buried there by Sterling. We were able to fly clear before it detonated. The blast caused a seismic rupture that split off a sizable part of Canada and created what we now know as Vancouver Island. This was the last fight between me and Gibson. For both of us, by studying certain ancient prophecies, had independently arrived at the same conclusion, namely that Sterling’s professed interest in industrial design was a mere cover for work in superweapons. Gibson and I formed a pact to fight Sterling. So far we have made little headway in seeking out his lair of brushed steel and white LEDs, because I had a dentist appointment and Gibson had to attend a writers’ conference, but keep an eye on Slashdot for any further developments.

(Source: Slashdot interview with Neal Stephenson.)

I think that really only leaves one question: who would win in a fight between William Gibson and Richard Morgan? (I think we’d probably allow Gibson to tag team with Gaiman if they wanted to.)

Spook Country by William Gibson coming very soon!

Buy it in the US
Buy it in the UK

Video interview with Gibson about Spook Country.

As a person who spent seven years of their life studying the novels of William Gibson, I think it’s fair to say that I’m very excited about experiencing a new novel by him. Will I be able to switch off my academic brain for long enough to enjoy it as a ‘normal’ reader? I guess that asks whether normal readers like William Gibson novels. I hope I can.

I’m expecting that there will be some mysterious object, place, or moment around which the novel revolves. This thing will symbolise a new modality for humanity, something that speaks of loss, time, and desire. It will be representative of the excitement of the future, and the fear of losing everything that we are now to become something else. Dreams will replace cyberspace as an area in which mystical experiences occur and technology blends with personality. The bodies of the characters will always be central to their experience of the events – the way that textures look and feel will define their daily lives. Information will somehow be God, but not a god that you can talk to, or one that listens, just a god that is so utterly beyond you that you can only hope that you can predict what it might make happen next.

Will I be right? We’ll find out next month!

I miss writing my thesis.

What did we do before Google?

I’m working through my footnotes for my Phd at the moment, and I’ve suddenly discovered that I have references to a work by Edmund Burke from the wrong edition: my footnotes refer to the 1967 print, but by bibliography lists the 1889 edition that I’ve got sitting on my shelf (it’s great what you can find in Oxfam bookshops).

So there we have a problem: I’ve got a few page references from one edition but no idea where they appear in the edition that I have in my bibliography. The solution? Google, of course.

So, I wanted to find a couple of quotes:

I am satisfied the ideas of pain are much more powerful than those which enter on the part of pleasure.

When danger or pain press too nearly, they are incapable of giving any delight, and are simply terrible; but at certain distances, and with certain modifications, they may be, and they are, delightful, as we every day experience.

Copy and paste part of the phrase into Google, then use the ‘cached’ link to highlight where the phase appears on the page, like this, and there’s my answer: the phrase appears in section VII, so I just need to find that in my bibliographic copy of the book and I’ve got my new page number.

This still leaves the question ‘What did we do before Google?’. Today, ladies and gentlemen, I present the answer: we worked a lot harder for the same or less results.

The next question would have to be whether we’re now capable of creating better ideas and writing in more knowledgable ways because of Google, and that one is far harder to answer. I suspect the answer might be they we are not; there is only so much knowledge that we can convey and appreciate, and the ‘soundbite’ culture of academia, once an indicator of broad reading, is too easily entered into now without proper understanding of subjects. Google is the cure and the curse for academics, but at times like today I can’t help but marvel at how useful it is.

Viva – Nearly Doctor Haggis

I had my PhD viva yesterday. This is where a couple of specialists in related fields to your area of study ask you questions about your thesis, sometimes it’s called an oral exam (but that sounds like a trip to the dentist) or an oral defence (anti-bacterial toothpaste?). It’s about as close to an exam as a PhD person gets. I wasn’t really nervous, because you don’t study something for this long without feeling comfortable with talking about it, but it was a big step in the final stages and there was a sense of excitement around it.

So how did I do? Not bad at all. I’ve got a ‘Pass, but…’ where the ‘but’ means that they would like me to make some changes. As half-expected, they would like me to change my referencing system. I could’ve sworn that I had stuck to the MHRA style guide all the way through, but apparently not. Still, that’s not so bad, it’ll just be really laborious. More demanding will be the literature review section that they want me to add to the end of the introduction chapter. They feel that there are a couple of people whose work should have been mentioned but wasn’t. I need to put a brief discussion of what they’ve said into the thesis and then it’s done! They’ve told me, in very definite terms, not to change any of the later chapters, no matter how tempting it may be to include the new people’s ideas.

What this boils down to is some repetitive work, some reading, and three or four thousand new words to be added in one chunk, none of which should be too difficult at all.

They were very happy with my answers to their questions; they felt that they had given me quite a hard time, but I only really had any trouble with one question.

So, what have I learnt about viva techniques?

  • Relax. They’re asking you about things that you know about. They’re not trying to trick you.
  • Take your time. Think about your answers. Sipping at water can be a great diversionary tactic while you let the cogs in your brain process the question.
  • If they are asking you ‘why didn’t you talk about the work of Suchandsuch?’ it usually means that you’ve got a good argument. If your argument was flawed then they would be asking you about that instead.
  • Try at all times to talk about what is in your thesis, and why it is there. If you have a difficult question, see if you can argue how you have answered that point in your text; this scores you big points! If there is something obscure but you’ve already addressed it then it helps reveal the depth of your study.
  • One of my examiners, Roger Luckhurst, made a very good point: a thesis is like a peacock, its purpose is to strut around showing off how many books you’ve read. Okay, perhaps it’s not much like a peacock, but you get the idea. If you can bring in some of the names of people you’ve studied then that’s great.
  • When asked about what you want to do next (which you probably will be) say that you would like to turn the thesis into a book. You’ll probably be thinking about doing this anyway, but saying this means that the examiners can view any changes that they ask for as being the foundation for a further study. If your thesis were to be the final version of the argument then they would like it to be as good as possible. By saying you want to turn it into a book you can minimise the changes required to complete the PhD.
  • Don’t give one word/one line answers. It doesn’t help you or your examiners.
  • Think about the basics before you go in there: what is my thesis about? What are the strengths of my thesis? What are the weaknesses of my thesis? What is new about my thesis? Get answers ready for these questions.
  • Enjoy it, because it’s unlikely that anyone will ever show the same amount of interest in your thesis ever again!
  • I really enjoyed my viva, even though it was sometimes quite challenging. Now it’s just the final few things to put in place, and I’m done. Hooray!

    The Internet is not a truck

    People who read too many things online have probably heard about the great speech given by Senator Ted Stevens last month about the internet. In it he made many profound (i.e. completely incomprehensible) statements about the state of modern technology. Now, for your listening pleasure, you can hear the edited highlights remixed into a dance track. Groovy and educational. Hurrah!

    In other news, I’ve got my PhD viva tomorrow.

    Also, my boiler is leaking and the actuator is making a very loud clonking noise that wakes me up. The plumbing in my house is cursed. We only had a plumber over fixing the leaks yesterday, they installed the boiler earlier this year, and it took four attempts yesterday to make it appear that the pipes weren’t leaking, but it was tricking us. I think I shall call a priest and have the house exorcised; it’s the only rational thing left to do.

    Finishing a thesis

    A friend on my mailing list has emailed me to say ‘Congratulations. You have finally snatched the pebble from your master’s hand, grasshopper.’ I’ve not quite snatched it yet, there’s the viva to do yet (a one hour spoken-exam with a committee of people who know about my field of study), but it’s so close I can almost feel the leather patches attaching themselves to the elbows of my jackets.

    He also sent me a link to a comic about PhDs and I felt a definite pang of recognition to this one. I don’t know what it’s like in the US, but in the UK getting a PhD actually lowers your lifetime earning potential because no-one wants to employ someone who is (on paper at least) smarter than them. It makes you question why you do it really, but then you just remember that it’s the intellectual equivalent of rock-climbing and you fall into the mantra of ‘because it’s there’ until it all goes away.

    And so, the real looming question is ‘what next?’ and that’s something I just don’t know the answer to. I’ve recently experimented with a ‘normal’ job, and I was utterly miserable, which leaves the comparative poverty of self-employment, my current mish-mash of temp work and freelance web-design, or trying a radical change of occupations. To say the very least, this is a stressful time, and taking a viva seems like the least of it.

    One of the things about writing a thesis is that you become the world specialist in your subject, so talking to people about it is pretty easy. You just have to remember that while they are very intelligent people, so their questions should not be dismissed, in this field you know more. From that basis you can answer anything. Well… That’s the theory.

    Going back into a working environment has shown me an unexpected side effect of my studies. I now see the world in an unexpected light, somehow tangential to the way that other people seem to see it, and with this comes a strange sense of loneliness. Would I do it all again? Yes. Would I recommend it to other people? That’s definitely a more difficult question.

    The most beautiful thing ever

    My thesis

    It might not look like much, but that’s my thesis. It’s done!

    My thesis

    I handed it in today, and I’m very pleased indeed.

    Oh yes, and ‘Matazone’ is also now legally one of my middle names 🙂

    Go me!

    EDIT: In case you can’t read it, the title says ‘Hidden Cyberspace: Narrative and Identity in the Work of William Gibson’. That’s the final title that was settled on. I needed three copies for the examiners; it’s not in three volumes!

    Goths rule the world…

    but in secret.

    In a blatant excuse to fill a page of the newspaper, The Guardian has decided to cover a recent doctoral thesis that argues that goths end up in well paid jobs. The theory runs that the goth attraction towards art, literature, and music creates networking, aesthetic, and other skills that then come in useful in education and the workplace.

    Sometimes I wonder why I bothered to write about literature at all, I could have just said ‘goths are picked on and find solace by reading stuff so end up well read’…. That’s a bit of an unfair summary of a thesis, but that does appear to be the revolutionary proposal put forward by it.

    A PhD is supposed to be a genuinely original contribution to a field of study, and while it seems logically obvious that many goths will be pushed to achieve good academic results it doesn’t seem like this proposal ranges much beyond common sense. I assume that the study is backed up by analysis of groups of society and their fashion choices during their lives. Given that ‘goth’ in the modern sense has only really been around as a recognised group since the 1980s then it is only now that a reasonable study of the life-impact of the movement can be made on its followers. Perhaps it’s not such a daft thing to study, when we have now reached a point where anecdotal hypotheses can be made into workable theories.

    There is another reason why this proposal may be considered to be worthy of a PhD: the thesis only has to be an original contribution to a field of study, so if no-one has bothered studying this before then it naturally it will count as an original thesis, even if it is common sense. In this line of thinking, for my next thesis I shall be working with the title: ‘Eventual career paths of teenage poets: Do they all end up a bit floaty or do they become outwardly more normal?’

    Hahahahahaha… ‘Next thesis’!

    The Guardian article also has a handy ten tips to spot if your boss used to be a goth. They’re pretty accurate, and once again reveal that I’m not a goth. Or at least, not a proper goth!

    Vintage William Gibson

    As you may know, my thesis is about the author William Gibson. He invented the term ‘cyberspace’ and now wishes that everyone would shut up about that and read his new stuff.

    Anyway, if you ever wondered what William Gibson was like before he was famous, here’s some footage of him in 1968. Now, I understand that this won’t be exciting for very many people, but I found it quite amusing to see Gibson in his dropout stoner days and to spot the occasional seeds of what he became ten years later when he started writing short stories:

    Sex doesn’t really have any importance attached to it. I think it’s really not differentiated from eating or sleeping or breathing.

    Here you’ve got the beginnings of a post-modern attitude to sexual activity, where the whole body and all actions available to it become placed on an equal level.

    Do you see God when you take LSD?

    Do Gibson’s characters see God when they go into cyberspace?

    On the other hand, it’s also pretty similar to a lot of the waffle spoken by other hippies at the time, so perhaps what is stranger is that he managed to turn it all into something that really did shape a new direction for western culture.

    An animation idea that would never work

    Presenting a whole new form of aerobics: Thesercise!

    Do you want to get fit and study at the same time?

    Do you ever feel the need to get away from your work but you just can’t spare the time on activites that don’t stimulate your brain?

    Then you need Thesercise!

    Thesercise is aerobics to the sound of audio-book philosophy all placed over a house beat, so you can get fit and educated at the same time.

    Our first DVD called Post-feminist toning is out now:

    “Your body is fine the way it is, and you should have pride in it! Now twist at the waist to look the back of your legs, Andrea Dworkin tells to you appreciate the novelty of your body, so twist and look, twist and look, twist and look!

    “Understand that your body is fine, but you can be empowered through using classical sexuality. By embracing stereotypical feminine values you can control them, now stretch! Stretch! Stretch like you are making an assumption based on a Westernised patriarchal ideology!”

    Includes a ten minute warm-down appreciation of late-stage capitalism’s use of the body as a metanarrative:

    “Begin by keeping your neck long and stretching your arms and legs across the floor as wide as you can. Feel the texture of the floor with your skin and debate whether the material is authentic is a post-Rousseau discourse of the natural. As you elongate your limbs feel the length of them and ponder whether they are part of you, or whether they are simply a biomechanical device that permits you to interact with the space around you.

    “And…. Relax… Into existential contemplation of Baudrillard’s celebration of the rejection of the body-as-authentic as a purely simulated narrative construction based on outmoded cultural tropes.”


    Sometimes I get ideas that linger in my head but I know that they would never work. Perhaps there would be a selection of post-graduates out there who would think this was great, but it’s just a one-line joke that doesn’t really go anywhere. You never know, maybe I’ll work out how to use this properly in the end, but it’s been knocking around for months now and nothing better has come from it yet!

    What I’ve been up to lately…

    It’s been a bit quiet on my site for a while now, so you may wonder what I’ve been doing with my time. This week has been a good example, and I feel I’ve been really productive.

    This week I got my complete thesis over to my tutors, I’ve been learning some new PHP, I’ve got through a few lessons in Japanese, I’ve got a dull-but-harmless temp job, I feel like I’ve progressed a lot in my Wing Chun class, and I’ve even had some freelance work helping Wateraid promote the upcoming World Water Day.

    In more detail:

    I’ve put through most of the changes suggested by my copy-editor friend in my thesis and got that sent off to my tutors on Monday. Next up with my Ph.D. is the response from the tutors, which will hopefully be ‘this is ready’ or might ask for a few changes. Either way we’ll probably go ahead with contacting the examination committee. You need two internal examiners and one from outside the university. Once they’ve agreed to examine my thesis and they’re ready then my thesis gets sent to them and I wait for three months-or-so while they read it. I then have an interview with them where they get to ask me questions about my ideas and generally discuss what I’ve written. This usually lasts about an hour, but apparently has been known to spill over into dinner and late-night drinking! I’m guessing that any interview that ends with a slurred proclamation of eternal friendship will generally count as a ‘pass’.

    The most likely result of this will be a request for minor changes to be made. This is usually stuff to do with formatting and an occasional paragraph here and there. This is a common request these days because it’s so much easier to ask for changes in the computer age than it was when everything was hand-written and typed. Typically I will have six months to make these changes, but usually they can be done a lot faster and the thesis resubmitted. Assuming the thesis has been changed to the satisfaction of the committee I then pass and do a little dance. And then dance a bit more. I plan to graduate in October at the latest.

    The PHP stuff is for a new website I’m working on (hence the haitus in animations recently). PHP is like html except that it allows webpages to talk to a database and create ‘dynamic’ content, which is just a fancy way of saying that it responds to what you do. I’m at the point now where I believe I can put together the basic structures of the site so I’m hoping to get that going in the next couple of weeks.

    I’m learning to speak Japanese from audio-lessons on my MP3 player. It’s interesting, but the style of presentation could be done in a more structured way to help learning. Mostly it’s repeating stuff parrot-fashion, so you have to work out the grammar of what’s going on for yourself. Still, it’s a good start.

    I’m not selling enough stuff in my shop to afford to live even on a very low wage, so I’ve started temping part-time to pay the bills. This is another reason for the lack of animating recently. Real jobs suck, but the one I’m doing at the moment is nice enough and quite easy. At least it gives me time to doodle!

    Wing Chun is a type of kung fu, and the only major martial art system in the world that was invented by a woman. It relies on angles and sensitivity rather than strength so can help small people beat much stronger opponents. I studied it when I was first at university and I started again last year when a new class opened in my area. A lot of the form is based on the idea of flowing around and through your opponents defences, creating a system that becomes incredibly effective even when applying only the basic techniques.

    Lastly, Wateraid are a great charity that I’ve worked with a few times before and I’m really happy to be helping them produce presentation for their build up to World Water Day on the 22nd March.

    I feel like I’ve been really productive this week and I’m feeling generally very happy with life. As usual, and as you can probably tell, I’m ridiculously busy, but I’m getting results which makes me feel good. I’m sure you can see why my work on this site has been slower than usual!

    Philip K Dick is missing!

    An android, called Phil, based on the author Philip K. Dick has gone walkabout and no-one’s quite sure where. Dick wrote the novels that inspired films such as Total Recall, Minority Report, and, most ironically, Blade Runner. The latter being a story about artificial humans attempting to escape their predestined roles.

    Along with an eerie likeness to the author, the robot features award-winning artificial intelligence that mimics the writer’s mannerisms and lifelike skin material to affect realistic expressions.

    Top-of-the-line voice software loaded with data from Dick’s vast body of writing allows the robot to carry on natural-sounding conversations, although it does come off as a bit doddering at times.

    As William Gibson (from whose blog I got the link from) wrote: ‘Can’t. Make. It. Up.’

    Full article here.

    I’ve finished my thesis!

    It’s 1:04am and I finished my thesis at 7:30pm yesterday evening. I’m now slightly tipsy.

    This is not copy editted, and one chapter hasn’t been approaved by my tutors, but the thesis is done and I’m happy with it. No doubt it will probably need a little tweak here and there, but essentially the majority of the whole shebang is over. Hurrah!

    Happy new Springtime everyone!

    What? It’s not spring 2005? It’s the end of 2005? Dammit, this happens every year. I just get used to it being 2005, I feel like I’m in the swing of things and then it goes and ends before I’ve even noticed summer coming.

    Right, that’s it. This year I am making a resolution to enjoy summer more. And to get my doctorate. And to make a decent living from being creative rather than living on a little more than a pittance. Hm… These aims might be a bit contradictory…

    ‘Have a good, safe night everyone and I’ll see you in 2006.

    To the future! Ho!

    My Christmas present to myself

    Today I finished the first full draft of my PhD thesis. 61,602 words of decent insight and occasional wisdom about the works of the author William Gibson. The first chapter still needs a fair bit of editing, and the conclusion needs a few tweaks, but for the most part it’s done. A friend of mine has kindly agreed to copy edit the whole thing for me (thanks Amelia, if you’re reading this!) but it’ll take me a couple of weeks to get it all polished enough to hand over to her.

    One of the things that I need to change is the title of the piece. Originally I proposed a thesis called ‘The Gendering of Cyberspace: Gender, Identity, and Sexuality in the works of William Gibson’, but in the six years since I came up with that subject I’ve realised that in his books he doesn’t actually care that much about gender and sexuality, instead he’s got a lot of interest in identity and a couple of related topics. When you’re writing a PhD, you can change the title right up until the point where you hand it in, as long as it stays in a related field. Of course, changing this does mean that I’ll need to occasionally refocus a phrase here-and-there in the thesis, but I’m changing the title better reflect the thesis so the refocussing should be pretty painless.

    I’m sticking with issues of identity, but I’ve gone down a slightly different path. I don’t want to say much more about the choice that I’ve made at the moment due to the remote (but just about possible) chance that an academic might pinch it before I’m examined. I’m considering making a chapter available on my site for anyone who’s interested when it’s done, but I will likely be trying to get the thesis published as a book so I wouldn’t want to give everything away!

    Anyway, merry Christmas to me, I’ve given myself the thesis that I’ve been promising myself for many years.

    Season’s best wishes to you all too. ‘Hope you have a great Christmas, those of you who celebrate it. I’ll probably be taking a little break from blogging for a few days, so I’ll see you on the other side. Ho ho ho, and to all a good night!

    The Commies Are Coming! Again!

    I bet you thought that the Communist threat to America was over, but apparently not. It turns out that Communists are actually terrorists! I know, who’d have thought it, eh?

    If you fancy writing a paper about Communism a quick tip is to make sure that you don’t try and get access to the proper source materials:

    A senior at UMass Dartmouth was visited by federal agents two months ago, after he requested a copy of Mao Tse-Tung’s tome on Communism called “The Little Red Book.”

    The version that the student had requested was a full translation of the Chinese original and not the abridged version that is more commonly available. The combination of this and the student’s time abroad in the past led to him getting the book personally delivered by two NSA agents. Apparently it’s on a watch list of books, although I really do wonder why, Al Qaeda’s main claim to fame was being instrumental in defeating armies from the USSR when they invaded Afghanistan back in the 1980s so I can’t imagine that there is any lingering love there, so maybe the Bush administration believes that Communism is still a threat to them? Well, I suppose that if you’re going to have a ‘War On Terrorism’ you might as well try and find a good opponent. Yep, Afghanistan was a pushover*, Iraq is a warm-up**, next stop China! Yee-haw! Ride ’em cowboys! We’re gonna shoot us sum Commies!

    And this is why things like a book watch-list is counter-productive when used in such a scatter-gun manner. If such things were done in a transparent way that could be examined by the public then department resources could be saved, but the current system breeds intimidation and paranoia, both of which cause fear in the general population (which appears to be the objective of such measures) and makes the truly militant few more careful and less likely to be found. I could understand the justification for agents visiting a person who has specifically requested obscure middle-eastern religious texts and bomb-making instructions, but what terrorist would order those things through the library? Putting a book of quotes from a dead Communist leader on a terror-suspect-book watch-list is typical of a govern-mental approach that equates all things non-democratic with Evil. There is a vast difference between a Communist state (which rejects religion) and the Caliphate desired by ‘Islamic’ extremists, but still the two are lumped together with a single threat response.

    Not that such things are only happening in the US: about five or six years ago, before the Sept 11th 2001 attacks, I knew a guy who was doing his PhD thesis about the increase in surveillance on the British public by the government. After doing his course for a couple of years he finally quit after finding evidence that his own phone-line was now being tapped and strong suggestions a file was being kept about him because of his studies. Apparently finding out about what your government knows about you is considered a risk to the state. Amusingly, as an academic and a liberal minded person, there’s probably a file on me too.

    More about the Little Red Book case.

    *not actually true: ‘There has been more money and more weapons flowing into their [militant insurgent’s] hands in recent months,’source, November 28, 2005