Thursday, March 29, 2012

Too soon?

There's an interesting piece in The Chronicle by Karen Kelsky filled with advice about grad school, and what to do before, during, and after. It includes this:
Go on the market while A.B.D. because you want to make your worst mistakes while you still have a year of financial support from your home department. Most people who prevail on the market need at least two years to do so.
I'm inclined to agree with her on this point. Although these days, many advise against going on the market ABD, given the stiff competition from a backlog of PhDs, if you go in knowing that you're not likely to succeed, you can use your failures as learning experiences. I was lucky and got a post-doc my first year (while ABD), but I definitely learned from my many failures that first (and second) year, and it (eventually) helped me. My third year, I actually got an interview with a school that passed me up the first two years I applied, so I either improved greatly, or was not so memorably bad that it hurt me.

On the other hand, going on the market ABD means you must survive another year of the ultimate experience in grueling horror.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

LaTeX and the People Who Typeset for the Journals

One of the things that initially attracted me to LaTeX was the allegation that the people who typeset for journals would be able to use my .tex file to do an above-average job of typesetting my papers in a below-average amount of time. But I have found that the people who typeset for the journals I publish in do not want my .tex files. They want word files. When I send them seductively-worded emails offering them my gorgeous and easy-to-typeset .tex file, they tell me that they'd prefer a .doc or a rich text. This is inconvenient.

So I have two questions. 1. Which journals will accept .tex files for typesetting? and 2. Is there a simple/easy/time-unconsuming way to transform a .tex file into a file MS Word can read? Because I wind up just copy-and-pasting the paper from the PDF into a new Word document a paragraph or two at a time, inserting the footnotes by hand, and trying to spot all the places where LaTeX has made a ligature character that Word doesn't recognize. Obviously this is not my most serious problem, but it would still be nice to find a better way.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, March 19, 2012

Re: Out of the Hunt

I wanted to say thanks to the people who expressed sympathy, support, and encouragement in the comments to my recent post on being out of the hunt. I am, obviously, pretty bummed out. But as I say, I'm still getting a lot out of professional philosophy and I'm not at all ready to throw in the towel yet. I still find teaching to be highly rewarding, I still enjoy the writing and research I'm doing and feel that the project I'm engaged in is interesting and worthwhile, and I still find this blog to be a rewarding experience--I feel like we're doing some good here, and I'm proud to be a Smoker.

So anyways, I wanted to take a moment to say 'thanks and good luck' to all our readers. So here goes:

To all our readers: thanks and good luck!

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Hendricks Interview

Vincent Hendricks recently gave an interview in which he discusses the recent photographic fiasco. (Background here and here.) Since it's in danish, Berit Brogaard of NewAPPS has done us the favor of translating it.

The interview is pretty interesting. There are some things I'd like to discuss. In what follows, quotes from the interview are offset, the interviewer's questions are in bold, Hendricks's responses are in italics, and my remarks are regularly regular. Also, I'm not quoting the whole interview; I'm snipping out the bits I find most interesting/astonishing.

A: First, why did you agree to be photographed as ‘the man of the month’ for

V: I, along with many other Danes engaged in cultural, political or business projects, help promote a nonprofit charitable project called ‘’. The pictures for were made in collaboration with to build awareness of the charity initiative. This is the reason I agreed to be the man of the month in February. It is in this context that the images should be seen and understood.

This is interesting. The pictures were for charity. I don't totally understand how the pictures can be for charity, though. How do the pictures build awareness for ""? It didn't seem to me that the pictures I saw were doing much in the way of raising awareness for charity. If it's just that the pictures accompanied an article in which he mentioned a charity, that's not the same thing as the pictures themselves promoting the charity.

A: But wasn’t the criticism directed at the photos as displayed in a different context, namely that of your own website?

V: ...Let me also point out that the criticism ended, even in the U.S., as soon as it became public that I did this as part of a charity initiative.

This is sort of interesting, because I followed this pretty closely, and I had no idea until just now that he'd done the photos as a part of a charity initiative. Or that the criticism of him had ended. Is this correct? Is this something that people knew about, and that had some effect on the criticism?

A: What was the purpose of advertizing a logic course using photos of yourself surrounded by half-naked women dressed in school uniforms?

V: ...I also wanted the course to have some appeal to young men who read these kinds of magazines but who rarely sign up for logic courses.

This is pretty fucking interesting. Hendricks's schtick throughout this whole thing has been all about how caught off guard he was, how he didn't mean to offend anybody, and how surprised he is that everyone got all bent out of shape about it. But here he is acknowledging that photos like these have a limited appeal--that their appeal was not universal. They appeal to a certain kind of person: he says 'young men' but what he means is, men with an adolescent sense of sexuality. And that he was specifically trying to appeal to these adolescents.

And once you realize that this is the kind of person to whom the photos appeal (which you have to do in order to use the photos in an attempt to appeal to them), it's not crazy to imagine that they might not be appealing to the women, who often don't like those kinds of magazines. (And other people who don't like that kind of magazine.) And that advertisements for university-level logic courses ought to be designed to appeal as widely as possible. And that these advertisements should, in particular, not be specifically and intentionally aimed at young men and away from women. And that an advertisement that appeals to male students by illustrating that you regard your female students as sex objects might aim away from female students. The dots are there.

And let's face it. It's pretty obvious why a thoughtful person would see the need to increase the number of young men in his logic courses. I think we can all agree that it's the one area in philosophy in which the men just cannot seem to gain a toehold.

A: You say that the pictures are self-mocking. How so?

What? The photos are not self-mocking. "Look at me! I'm a sharp-dressed professor surrounded by half-naked 20-year-old female students, who are dressed in sexy schoolgirl outfits and posing in sexually suggestive ways! I'm mocking myself!" What the fuck?

V: Look, what’s the chance that a professor at a university would be associated with anything that might even remotely resemble the scenario depicted in the pictures?

That's not what mocking yourself is.

It's not my world. I am Professor of Formal Philosophy. I'm not a Clark Kent, model or rock star.

I mention this just to point out how much he doesn't understand the concept of Clark Kent. (Also, I think he kind of thinks of himself as a model.)

A: Many of your critics are philosophers. Do you think that people in philosophy are too uptight?

This is pretty much of a bullshit question.

A: Didn't you realize that the pictures could perhaps seem a bit offensive?

V: Yes, I did. ... The key mistake I made was to fail to clarify where the photos came from and what purpose they were serving. I regret not doing that.

I still think they key mistake he made was using the photos to advertise for a course he was teaching. I don't think it would have helped all that much if he'd mentioned that the photos were from a magazine, and that in the magazine article he promotes a charity. I don't see why the fact, if it's a fact, that the photos are a nifty way to promote a charity in some teenager sex magazine indicates or suggests that it would be a good idea to use them to promote your university logic class.

A: The photos have been criticized for maintaining gender stereotypes, and for being quite sexist. Is it okay to display sexist pictures for the purpose of charity?

V: It is, of course, reprehensible if charity work adds to chauvinism or sexism, racism or other prejudice. It was not sexism or anything like that that was driving my willingness to participate, and I don’t think the charity initiative or magazine intended these photos to be an expression of sexism.

Hmm. The idea seems to be that it's not sexist because he wasn't trying to be sexist. I'm not sure I see this as a sound inference. I guess it's necessary at this stage to point out that it's possible to be sexist without intending it. That it's possible to be sexist by accident. I don't know why, but I keep thinking about how when I was a little boy, my grandmother used to say this saying about what the road to hell is paved with. Unfortunately, I can't remember what she said. I think it was fruit salad. I don't know why I mentioned it. Nevermind.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Views #6 and #7

With the first day of spring coming up, I thought I ought to run the last of the really wintery ones now.


This one came in from an email address with no name, so if you're the submitter and you'd like credit for it, shoot me another email.


Submitter #7 says that the windchill was in the neighborhood of -30 to -40 F for this view.

As always, the first person to guess the campus wins the right to brag about it. Signed comments are preferred, although you have the right to win without taking credit. Once somebody guesses correctly, I'll announce a winner, confirm the campus, and credit the submitter.

Update: Uh, I guess I kind of let this one get away from me. Sorry about that. #6 still goes unclaimed; #7 is from Robert Schroer's window at the University of Minnesota, Duluth. He writes:" the low cloud you see is actually mist coming off of Lake Superior. (The windchill was between -30 to -40 F!)" Ouch. Thanks for submitting!

--Mr. Zero

Saturday, March 10, 2012


Since the few thoughts I have to add to Zero's post from yesterday all hit too close to home: taxes!*

Mostly a friendly reminder - if you itemize your deductions, don't forget to include "Research expenses of a college professor." <- that's the IRS so we're official.

Don't include: Commute, lunch with co-workers, or expenses to improve professional reputation.

Include any unreimbursed ordinary or necessary expenses: "An expense is ordinary if it is common and accepted in your trade, business, or profession. An expense is necessary if it is appropriate and helpful to your business. An expense does not have to be required to be considered necessary."

I figure that at least includes conference expenses and probably professional memberships.

-- Second Suitor

* Obviously I'm not a tax professional and all that, if you have a real question ask someone who knows!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Out of the Hunt

I wrote this post a while ago, but didn't feel like posting it just then. I'm not sure I feel like posting it now, but I figure, what the hell. So, here's what I hope is my last annual "I didn't get a job this year" post:

Although I haven't received any final word on any of the jobs I interviewed for this year, I have some pretty convincing data that suggests that I'm out of the running for every job I applied for so far in this year's job cycle. There's one school I haven't heard a peep from but is listed on the wiki; another I haven't heard from and which isn't on the wiki but whose department website lists a suspicious number of colloquia by junior philosophers who work in my area; another who sent me a nice "we'll be glad to hire you if the folks we invited to campus don't work out" note. (Seriously. It was a very nice note, for a note that says "we invited people to campus, but not you, though.")

This is a real bummer. I mean, that's obvious, but it's also worth repeating. What a fucking bummer.

When I arrived at my first full-time teaching job out of grad school, I had two goals. 1. To learn how to do this job well—to do a good job of teaching while at the same time carrying out a productive research/publishing program; 2. To compile a record that demonstrates that I am capable of doing a good job of teaching while carrying out a productive research/publishing program. I feel good about what I've accomplished. I'm proud of what I've accomplished. My teaching is going well; my publishing is going well—I had no idea that my publishing would ever go as well as it has; but my job search is not going well. And I am bummed.

Last fall, someone asked me in comments how I can continue to muster the energy to keep applying for jobs year after year. I didn't answer at the time because I wasn't sure. How do I keep this up? It's hard to say. One important factor is that my family is very supportive—Mrs. Zero is behind me all the way, as are my parents and my siblings and what subset of my extended family has a clear idea of what's going on. My friends, both in and out of the profession, and particularly my colleagues here in my department, are supportive, too.

The other thing that keeps me going is that I really do believe in what I'm doing. I feel like I'm doing good work. I like teaching and I believe in my classes. I like writing papers, and I believe in the papers I write, and I am able to place them in good journals. I have compiled a record that I am proud of in the time I've been here. I believe in my record. I believe that my record proves that I can do this job. But my job search is not going well.

In years past I have been able to shrug it off and channel the disappointment into an effort to do better next year. This is the first year I've been genuinely discouraged. I'm not sure what else I can do. I realize that, at a certain point, I just have to get lucky. There are a lot of us—a lot of people who look good on paper. Good enough to interview, and good enough to hire. In order to get the job, you have to look good in all the right ways, and be one who happens to connect in all the right ways. And it's frustrating, because there's not much you can do to make yourself get lucky.

So, I wouldn't say that I'm ready to throw in the towel or anything like that. But I thought about it this year more seriously than I usually do. And I find myself muttering curse words under my breath pretty often.

So, that's what's going on with me. How are you?

--Mr. Zero

P.S. God damn it.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

If a Tree Falls, and There's Nobody Around... It's Very Confusing

I stumbled across this blog post from NPR yesterday. It seemed interesting, so I started to read it. It begins like this:

"The human mind is more amazing than the universe," said my teenage daughter the other day. "How come?" I asked. "Well, it all really starts in our heads, doesn't it? Like, without our minds there wouldn't be a universe."

I'm glad that this line of thought came from a teenager, and not from the Dartmouth theoretical physicist and professor of natural philosophy who is the author of the post. I realize that something in the approximate vicinity of this way of thinking about things has a long and somewhat distinguished history, but seriously. The universe contains human minds. There is no way the universe is less amazing than the human mind. It might be just as amazing as the human mind, but since the universe contains the crab nebula in addition to human minds, my vote is for more amazing. Anyways, that's not what I wanted to talk about. I wanted to talk about what he says next.

It got me thinking. The rift between what is and what is perceived is at least as old as philosophy itself. Yes, it has something to do with the popular "if a tree falls in a forest and no one sees it, did it fall?"...

That's as far as I got before I had to stop, walk away, and pour myself a bourbon. When I read shit like this, a piece of me dies. There is no possibility of any interesting question here. It literally answers itself. If a tree falls, did it fall? Yes, it fell if it fell. If the tree falls, whatever else might happen, it falls. To be fair, he says he thinks the answer is 'yes.' But to be more fair, this is supposed to be a smart, well-educated person. His research centers on how non-living chemicals made the transition into life.* I realize that we're in an age in which public intellectuals are a rare breed, and so maybe we should just take what we can get. But I really feel like we're entitled to expect better than this. Not just anyone is cut out to be a public intellectual, and at the very least the person should be capable of knowing a profoundly easy question when he sees one.

--Mr. Zero

*Which, to be clear, is a fascinating and important topic.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012


I was reading this post at the Atlantic over the weekend, in which Alan Jacobs complains about the terrible user-interfaces of scholarly databases:

Librarians want students to specify their search terms, but that rarely happens: "Regardless of the advanced-search capabilities of the database they were querying, 'Students generally treated all search boxes as the equivalent of a Google search box,'" simply clicking into a text field and typing away. Problematic, yes -- but why shouldn't they be able to do that? Why shouldn't the software be able to help them out?

Not long ago I was using a research database to try to get a PDF of an article published in a journal to which my college's library has a digital subscription. I knew the title of the article, the author's name, the title of the journal, and the issue date. I plugged all those in to the appropriate text boxes, clicked "search" . . . and got hundreds of results. But the one that I wanted wasn't on the first several pages.

I sent an email to a reference librarian describing this event, and he wrote back saying, "Oh, see, you should have entered the journal's ISSN." Really? Exact title of article and journal, exact name of author, exact date of publication -- that's not enough?

I guess I think that's somewhat of a fair criticism. Jacobs goes on:

...And a Google search does some things that the research databases don't: for instance, when I'm searching for an article in the enormous JSTOR academic journal database, I don't use their search box, but instead go to Google using the "site" delimiter: my-search-term. Why? Because if I spell a name wrong Google knows the correct spelling and asks me if I meant that. On JSTOR itself I just get inferior results.

So maybe our greater emphasis shouldn't be on training users to work with bad search tools, but to improve the search tools. Especially since serious research questions aren't as afflicted by spammy SEO as many other queries, by this point in the development of online life we ought to be doing a lot better than we are.

This seems right to me. When I was first in grad school, I spent a lot of time on the Philosopher's Index. But I never really got the hang of it, and if I'm honest, I'll admit that I haven't looked at it in years. I haven't checked to see if my current institution subscribes to it. And I can't remember the last time I tried to use the search utility on JSTOR. With either of them, if I'm looking for something specific, I can never find it; and if I don't have anything specific in mind, I'm not going to find anything I can use.

Jacobs alludes, on behalf of the Index/JSTOR search utilities, to the argument that this is because I don't know how to use them, and that if I understood the logic of these search engines I would get better results. But I guess I don't see that as a criticism of me, and I definitely don't see it as a suggestion of a way to improve myself. I see that as a fairly conclusive criticism of the logic of the search engines. If the search engines employed better logic, it would be possible to use them effectively without having to go out of your way to learn a complicated and unintuitive way of thinking.

The research database I make most use of is Google Scholar, and the two features I find come in handiest are the "Related Articles" and the "Cited By" tools. If you, like Jacobs, know the title of the article and the author's name, your search will be successful. It will work. And if you spell something wrong, it will be Google and help you spell it right. And if you want to see how other people have responded to the article, the "Cited By" results will tell you. You'll have to sift through the results to sort the articles that mention it in passing from those that mention it more prominently, but you'll know. And it helps you to see which articles made a big splash and which ones have had a more modest impact. And then it links you to the paper on JSTOR or Springer or whatever. I'm open to the possibility that I'm being really irresponsible with my research, but I sort of doubt it. Google Scholar works really well. If I'm using it to look for something I find it, and it has helped me discover I-don't-know-how-many papers I would never have found otherwise.

--Mr. Zero