Four weeks into my new academic life and the moment of truth arrived. Well, a moment of truth. The issue being, can I do this? Do the reading, understand the concepts – will my brain to expand to fit it all in? One thing is clear. I thought my mental faculties were fine, well, rusty perhaps, but not in significantly worse shape than, say 30 years ago. Ha! Dreaming!
Learning to read again
out,I have to learn to read again. You see, Istopped reading for pleasure around 40. I had always been a big reader, up to five books a week, every week, from when I was a little girl. Suddenly, from one day to the next, I could read only one or two pages. As if they suddenly switched a part of my brain off. I missed reading terribly, but life was disrupted anyway. These were the years of being a single working mother, with a scared little boy to take care of, in a strange place and no one to help me. Perhaps the universe wanted me to concentrate on getting through that in one piece. Unfortunately, the ability to read for pleasure has never returned. A few years later my later-to-be husband hit on a solution: audio books! I must confess: I am addicted. My little black Mp3 player is clippedon my shirt all day long, and I listen as I cook, bath, walk, cycle, wait, iron, you name it.
Non-fiction I read all the time, but for never for pleasure. I am efficient. I speed-read, and I can scan a document, read “diagonally” as we say at the office, in just the time one takes to turn the pages. Useful skills – for a civil servant. In my new academic life, this ability is worse than useless. The papers I have to read are so dense with information, I can only read 3 or 4 pages an hour. So I have to force myself to read word for word, line by line. On tired days, the only way I can manage this, is by reading the document on screen, and then have the computer read out the text simultaneously.
Reading, reading, reading
Apart from the skills class, I take a seminar on Philosophy of Mind and another seminar on Philosophy of Language, which is my main subject. Both seminars set around 50 pages reading every week; the Skills class around 20 pages. Around 120 pages per week, i.e. 30 hours. I don’t know how I do this reading given the demands of a working week, but I do it. More, because sometimes I don’t understand what the article says, and go in search of another text. Or have to look up references.
Anyway, I quite enjoy the process. I have my electronic commenting system with highlights and meaningful stamps. I had developed this when I was studying for the ISACA CISM exam in my other life. Sample below.
Creative, don’t you think? Well, it helps. I started out making mind maps, thinking that would be a memory aid. It is not. I found myself looking back at intricate mind maps I created weeks ago, and thinking “who did this?”.
Last week I was the first of my class to do a presentation on
Griceanpragmatics, for the Philosophy of Language seminar. Griceanpragmatics is about how meaning is not confinedto the words themselves, i.e. the direct opposite of referential theory. I volunteered, because I could see the workload piling up at the end of the semester. The paper was to be followedby a short paper in the week after the seminar.
I did my best, but I could not see what central issue was being addressed in the articles. Actually, that had also been the case in the first and second week: I did not understand where the seminar was going. So I was getting worried. Every time I asked a question (which virtually no one else does), the professor (whom I regard as “mine” because he is my mentor), looked at me as if
I had been flownin from Mars. Once or twice I even seemed to confuse him. Not good .
Having to do this presentation without feeling comfortable with the topic, felt weird. I never ever do any public speaking when I am not the expert, and I get to decide the timing, the format, etc. So this was a novel situation. It went well enough because the students were very nice and smiled at all of my little jokes. I suspected them of having
evenless of a clue where the seminar was going, which was a comfort. The professor was grumpy, because I had not quite stuck to the format, so he was pointing out all the little problems this caused. Yes, yes. It is difficult to lose a lifetime of professional habits I was not aware I possessed. Such as trying to get response during the presentation. Apparently that does not work with students. Well, live and learn.
Content-wise I was still in trouble: I did not understand where the seminar was going. I blamed this partly on the professor, for experimenting too much with the course. He has said
to me since,that perhaps the topic was more difficult than he thought. Right. But the course is gearedat MA students, and I am a ReMa student supposed to be specializing in this stuff. I really, really had to find a way in. Fast.
It so happened that the guy I work most with at the office, was on holiday, plus I had been working overtime in the weeks before. So I took two days off work and hunted day and night for books and articles that would give me a general overview. Finally, a frame appeared in my head and understanding dawned. I wrote a paper. My husband helped me to find the fault lines where my writing became unclear or incomprehensible (he has done that for me ever since he corrected my policy statements when we first worked together, an age ago). I felt I was getting to grips with the issue. Yes. Maybe. Hopefully.
I handed the paper in last Saturday night, and I have been checking my mail from then until the next seminar. No reaction. All of this time, there was me thinking: if it is not at least ok, I am in trouble. I really cannot do much better at this moment. A mail appeared on Tuesday stating that he (the professor) would be sure to have read it by Thursday. Relief. At least the paper was not already a write off.
The best words – or not
The first thing the professor said during the seminar break, was: “it is a good paper”. And then he continued to point out every sentence where I had used unnecessary vague langue. 5 instances in 3 pages, or had taken too long to come to the point. I have been wondering why he did that. I think he wants me to write like an expert, not to care too much about the audience. His own texts are like that,
clear and concise yet readable. Something else to learn, so different from what I am used to in my business life where communication is all about persuasion. We ended up arguing pleasantly about the correct translation of “true”. I came away overjoyed. I will do this, I thought. Yes, I can. I can only improve.
Perhaps not the very best words then, but the paper was good. I will sleep well tonight. Time for some light relief. The professor has been quipping regularly about Trump and whether what he does, might be deemed “communication”. Today it was about how good Trump is with words. Have a look below. Hilarious, particularly if you have just turned in your first paper on the theory of speaker meaning.
These first weeks, everything is different. My husband and I have a new routine. You must understand, he spends the same time in Nijmegen (where the university is), as I do, because he still drives me there. He spends some of that time in the various
WiFi-enabled cafe’s at the campus, with the inevitable big book on big things to keep him company. But as he was born in Nijmegen he actuallyknows people there. Plushe takes an interest in historical places, and in the Netherlands, things do not get muchmore historical than Nijmegen. He is also a keen photographer. If your Dutch is any good, you might have a wonder over to his blog. Yesterday’s pictures are to be foundhere.
So my husband is around somewhere in Nijmegen when I take my lectures. We meet up at the end. Now there is a challenge. I get lost on the campus due to my lack of genes for spatial orientation, but he is the opposite. He knows his way anywhere, and has no idea how people like myself manage to survive in the real word. However, I have a trick. Since we have this phone app by which we can tell where the other one is, I am no longer lost. Or not for very long.
At end of a lecture day, if it is late, we grab a pizza and an alcohol-free beer at the Cultural Cafe. Like everywhere else on the campus, it is clean and friendly. No one looks at us twice, ancient as we are, and the pizza is great and cheap. On other lecture days we might be home earlier than expected and I raid the freezer for strategically created leftovers or failing that, eggs on toast. So that is two days per week when we don’t eat a home-cooked meal at a set table – quite a change. We manage 🙂
Actually, husband is overjoyed. He has long maintained that it would be efficient to eat the same thing every day, or at least on any one weekday. In the way that his breakfast has been the same for the past 60 years: yogurt, muesli and dried fruit. Eh, that would be 60 years minus 3 weeks. When we first started to live together, I used to present him with a full romantic breakfast every day: orange juice, eggs, jams, croissants, butter, cheese, ♥, etc. After 3 weeks he asked me if I would mind him eating yogurt? Eh, of course. Back to now: he was already cooking me my favourite pasta every Friday: spaghetti puttanesca and salad; plus due to the lecture schedule his other cooking day was being taken over by fried eggs on toast. Cooked by me. Bliss! Predictability has finally arrived.
One of my courses is
compulsory. It ison philosophical skills and methods. It carries 20 European credits (=28 hour study load per EC) and runs over two semesters. Just to put things in perspective: the entire Research Master is 120 EC, so it is a substantial part. Because of that, I thought it would be something like the compulsory statistics in Experimental Psychology: long and heavy. But it is nothing of the sort. It teaches research master student necessarily life skills. It has taken me a while to find this out, but that really is what it does.
Apparently it is a huge problem to get funding to do a PhD, and fewer and fewer students get financed. So the university is stepping in to help their brightest to jump through the hoops of the funding process. The funding process
is . Decisions about funding are no longer taken at university but at national or international level. As I have my one leg firmly rooted in the non-academic world, I cannot help but think how similar this looks to a commercial process. Particularly because to succeed, you need to learn to write a proposal, present it, navigate your way around rifts in P heavily regulated hilosophiawhich might you prevent from being chosen, even do a two-minute pitch, oh horror of commercial inventions. Then there are the skills which every modern PhD researcher must master: the writing of reviews, popularising article (no, that is not a typing error) and articles according to exacting standards. Because articles get published in journals, and this works as a CV to which you add all your researching life.
I was oblivious to the above when I started the
ReMa. It only sank in yesterday when in a private conversation I learned from the professor teaching the course how 21st century academic funding works. He expressed a great deal of worry about what he called “these kids”, the students of this course, his best and brightest. I suppose he is about my age. He told class about how he became a professor because he was askedto fill the position, as he ‘ happened to be “around , as he put it. Things would not work that way today .
This, then, is the reason I get to learn about current rifts in Philosophia. The
the “analytics” and the “continentals” conflict between on in the second week: we had to read up on it and subsequently discuss it in class. was Supposedly this isthe rift that every philosopher had been talking about for the past 100 years. Well, not at Oxford, I can tell you. I had never heard of continental philosophy and was utterly amazed to hear about it. Now I have learned that there is a reason for that: When I was at Oxford, this was the home base of the analytic philosophers, and they ignored everybody else. Stiff British upper lip. Amazing .I had to write an assignment about this as a preparation for the class discussion. I will include it for your amusement. By now I have recovered from my amazement, and I am thinking this argument between philosophers is not much more than a pissing contest. But perhaps I will learn to rephrase that.
To my mind there is a connection there with Brexit which really got under the skin of the professor: that this analytic-continent divide is part of what is at the root of Brexit. During a break he even went to look up the plausibility of what I claim on the internet, he wanted to disagree with this so much. He was still referring to it in the weeks after.
Is there an unbridgeable gap between continental and analytic philosophy?
The controversy between continental and analytic philosophy started at the turn of the 20th century. G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell came up with a novel approach to Philosophy which emphasised the notion of “meaning” of terms and propositions in natural language. This linguistic conception of philosophy revolutionised not only British philosophy. It also threw a very large stone in the pond of traditional Western philosophy, the teachings of Kant and Hegel particularly.
Analytic philosophy developed in fits and starts. After the early days of proportional realism, Moore embraced common sense philosophy, whilst Russel and Wittgenstein came up with logical atomism. Next came Ayer, another British philosopher who in collaboration with the Vienna Circle, developed logical positivism. After the war, philosophers from Cambridge (Wittgenstein and Wisdom) and Oxford (Ryle, Austin, Strawson and Grice) invent ordinary-language analysis. In the 1960s, another shift: linguistic philosophy turns into the philosophy of language, then metaphysics and then yet another set of philosophical sub-disciplines. During its development, analytical philosophy found itself many new opponents: Husserl’s classical phenomenology and after, existentialism (Sartre, Camus), and postmodern philosophers (Heidegger, Foucault en Derrida).
Analytical philosophers may have changed their beliefs and direction several times, they do possess a unifying characteristic in having a very precise and thorough style. They are also willing to explore narrow topics, rather than the great scheme of things as continental philosophers are prone to. They undertook much philosophical work, particularly in the fields of language and mind, which may have been neglected otherwise. Hans-Johann Glock says: “analytic philosophy is a respectable science or skill; it uses specific techniques to tackle discrete problems with definite results.”
Clearly, adebt of gratitude is owedto analytical philosophy, but not without misgivings. There is something infuriating, about a group of philosophers claiming the exclusive right to “proper thinking” and denouncing the work of any opponent as sloppy and irrational. The famous British stiff upper lip furthermore shows itself by ignoring the other side. From my personal experience as a philosophy student at Oxford in the 1980s, I can report that neither continental philosophy nor its philosophers were ever mentioned. What influence might this general disdain for ‘all things continental’ have exerted on those now sitting on the benches of the British House of Commons and debating Brexit? Mostly educated at Oxford and Cambridge, they will have read classics, history or politics; courses which to this day contain an obligatory philosophy component.
How then, to mend the rift? Not by using the time-honoured instrument of philosophical debate. The famous clash between Derrida (continental) and Searle (analytic) may serve as an example. This ended with both parties denouncing each other without either party making an effort to establish common ground.
Indeed, what rift is there? As Bernard Williams points out, the distinction between continental (geographical) and analytical (methodological) is strange: it is like dividing cars into “four-wheel-drive” and “made-in-Japan”. Let us have a Japanese four-wheel-drive. After a century of bandying hurts and insults, it is time to harvest achievements. To treat the gap that has engulfed both sides, not as philosophical in nature, but as psychological and historical in origin. If philosophers cannot set such an example, who can?
I have been talking in this blog about my journey back into academia. But I have said little about why. There is a reason for this reticence. Well, several. First, I am not at all sure I will complete this quest, so the less said, the better. Second, I might change my mind. Seriously, after just 3 weeks I am already so filled up with new thoughts that anything might happen. And finally, well, you might laugh. But never mind all that. I will explain.
In my day job I am a security architect. That is someone who thinks out a web of strategic and actual safety measures which will protect a company from bad people or natural disaster. There is a lot of IT involved.
One might ask how a philosophy & psychology graduate ever ended up as a security architect. Well, I am not sure. It happened. And it involves being in a world of very serious, conscientious people who argue about …. words. It is almost impossible to get any work done because of these arguments.
It is not about ordinary words. It is about words in regulations and contracts, even laws. Anyway, you can read it all in the paper below. It is the one I wrote for “my” professor during the university acceptance process. I have also included the mind map I created before writing the actual paper. I was nervous, I had written nothing academic in 30+ years. Mind mapping is always a good idea. This one is colourful.
Meeting expectations: the language of governance and compliance
Organisations are expected to take care of their assets. This is especially true when damage or misuse has negative consequences for the public or the state. In this digital age, information is widely regarded as a major asset. It needs protection against many threats. Threats may range from common theft to a disgruntled employee bent on revenge; from industrial espionage to natural disaster; from human error to terrorist attack. In general terms, protecting information means ensuring its availability, integrity and confidentiality up to a pre-agreed level.
On the subject of information security, in the past 20 years a multitude of (inter)national regulations and standards have emerged, and more appear every day. These regulations and standards guide, direct or impel companies to institute good information security governance and to report on the level of compliance achieved. Failing to comply may be punished in various ways: a formal warning, a fine, a revoked licence, or public shaming; and may result in the loss of a job, bankruptcy or even a prison sentence.
Because of the value of information assets, its many threats, and consequences of failing to institute proper protection, governmental and business organisations actually want to comply with regulations and standards.
However, there is a problem. These texts are hard to understand, and their meaning is often open to different interpretations. This negatively influences the quality of information security that can be achieved.
Regulations and standards on information security
Let us first identify common characteristics of relevant regulations and standards. As we will see later, some of these characteristics may be tied to interpretation problems within the texts themselves.
Regulations and standards on information security always are:
- in written form only, typically containing a mix of persuasive, informative, descriptive and instructive texts.
- intended for a specific purpose (a topic within the field of information security)
- intended to regulate behaviour (should, could, must)
- issued by a high-level body, such as a government, a board of directors of an (inter) national organisation
- produced as a group effort, usually involving stakeholders, experts and policy makers. Typically, there is no mention of the author(s) in the regulation or standard.
- created and maintained through a formal process
- available to a large audience, usually the public, but may require payment
- authoritative, either as an official directive or regarded as a de facto standard
Examples of such regulations and standards, are:
- Beveiligingsvoorschrift Rijksdienst, Voorschrift Informatiebeveiliging Rijksdienst, Voorschrift Informatiebeveiliging Rijksdienst – s informatie, and Baseline Informatiebeveiliging Rijksdienst; all published by the Dutch Government
- General Data Protection Act (published by the European Commission) and its Dutch add-on, the Uitvoeringswet Algemene verordening gegevensbescherming
- ISO/IEC 2727K family of standards on information security, published by the ISO/IEC Joint Technical Committee, Subcommittee 27, particularly the ISO27001 and the ISO27002; both European standards.
Organisations tend to treat regulations and standards as a single point of truth, taking texts as literally as possible. This is because of the need to demonstrate compliance. For the same reason, implementation is usually achieved through a top-down chain of command.
Texts and meanings
The text of these regulations and standards are riddled with meaning problems. Why should that fact be a problem? General wisdom dictates that if you don’t understand something, you should go and ask. Why does that not work here?
- One reason is that there is no one to ask. There is no author to ask for clarification, nor is there an easily accessible expert group. An additional problem is that reaching out to the publisher of the regulation or standard in question, must be done through proper channels, i.e. not something just any employee can do. Usually, the best that may be achieved is to send in a formal request for clarification – which may or may not be processed during a future maintenance window.
- Another reason is that readers tend not te be aware of the different meanings of a particular bit of text, because they assume that there is only one meaning, namely the meaning they have assigned themselves. Only when one happens to be confronted with a different interpretation by someone else, will there be cause to wonder.
- Yet another reason is in the field of regulations and standards: no one likes to admit to a lack of understanding or knowledge. It is associated with losing face, particularly when the particular regulation or standard is implemented from the top-down. Power and knowledge of important matters is supposed to live at the top, rather than in the workplace.
The nett result is that texts get interpreted in different ways by different people who all believe they are right even when they are working at cross purposes. This generally results in a confused implementation of the regulation or standard, and ultimately, in compliance failure.
The art of misunderstanding
There are many causes which contribute to interpretation problems in these texts. However, let us begin with what, contrary to popular opinion, is not a cause. It is not the case that the authors of these texts are unable or unwilling to use plain language. Rather, they arrive at the final wording through a group effort. To achieve consensus, the outcome of a negotiation process, is much more important than clarity. Meaning problems which arise from this cause take the form of obfuscation and generally over-complicated text containing (too) many qualifiers.
The same effect may be produced deliberately. Organisations that issue regulations and standards are usually funded by public money and derive their status at least in part from their authority of being accepted by all parties involved. To keep that status and funding, they try to avoid any big confrontation with the intended audience. For that reason, expectations on compliance tend to be worded softly, so they won’t chafe too much, allowing for an escape. One way to do this is by introducing intentional vagueness into the text, for instance, by not being specific on whether something must, should or could be done.
Context is another issue. The same words will mean different things in different contexts, or to different people, and these meanings may even be contradictory. Some examples:
- the term special data (“bijzondere gegevens”) might be taken to mean data that need special care, or to data that are for some reason special. Yet the term also refers to data which it is the special duty of the government to secure. Within the context of the GDPR it means something completely different again, namely data describing very particular human characteristics such as DNA, creed, race or political inclination.
- the use of the word value (“belang”). In Dutch governmental regulations the term refers to anything which, when compromised, will negatively affect the Dutch state or its partners. To security professionals, the term signifies the value of a company asset, expressed in either quantitative (money) or qualitative terms. In a business context the term usually refers to the interest of an important stakeholder. In everyday speech, the term just means that the issue is deemed to be of some importance.
Last but not least, there are knowledge problems. These take various forms.
- There may be a lack of knowledge at the level of the intended audience. The committee or group composing the regulation or standard may also have knowledge gaps. A knowledge gap may have an underlying cause, such as a belief about the extent to which it is possible or desirable to regulate behaviour, or an opinion about whether information security threats are real or may be countered.
- Another area is the definition of knowledge itself. Within the field of information processing various modelling languages have been developed, ranging from formal, mathematical models to more descriptive languages such as UML, BPMN and Archimate which have the added advantage of being designed to produce strong visualisations which can be shared with a less specialised audience. The problem with these ‘descriptive’ languages, though popular, is that the concepts they are built on, have been arrived at through trial-and-error and common sense. Inevitably concepts overlap, leave gaps, are overloaded or simply are not sufficiently clear for the use of capturing knowledge.
- Within the field of computing, much interest has centred on the possibility of capturing information within an ontology in a formal language (such as OWL or WSDL) that can be processed by a standardised computer program or interface (semantic web service). In principle, this idea works for all kinds of information, including security, and may be used to construct theories, harmonise concepts or create computer-based applications. Some real progress has been made in highly specialised sub-topics such as automatic threat detection in cyberspace. Yet that progress seems to have been possible only because there exists a straightforward cause-and-effect relation between a cyberthreat and the way to respond to it. Overall, security ontologies for sub-topics are developed independently from each other. In a recent survey eight different families of security ontologies were identified. Despite considerable work, these efforts do not converge. There exists general agreement on the lack of a common body of knowledge, but this conclusion tends to be presented both as a cause and as a solution.
The above presents a general overview of problems encountered when interpreting regulations and standards on information security and points to some possible causes. These causes may exist simultaneously and may interact. Much more work needs to be done on this to achieve a true identification of relevant causes and underlying factors. It might be possible to construct a diagnostic framework which may be used to identify specific semantic problems in regulations and standards on information security, such that agreement may emerge on how to avoid current interpretation problems. At the very least, a deeper insight into the art of misunderstanding may be achieved.
Europees Parlement, Algemene Verordening Gegevensbescherming (AVG). (2016, 04 27). https://autoriteitpersoonsgegevens.nl/nl/onderwerpen/avg-nieuwe-europese-privacywetgeving. Retrieved from Autoriteit Persoonsgegevens: https://autoriteitpersoonsgegevens.nl/sites/default/files/atoms/files/verordening_2016_-_679_definitief.pdf
Figay, N. (2017, 8 8). Linked Enterprises: from ArchiMate language to ArchiMate Web Ontology? Retrieved from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/from-archimate-language-web-ontology-dr-nicolas-figay/
Gomes, H., Zúquete, A., & Dias, G. P. (2009). An overview of security ontologies. 9ª Conferência da Associação Portuguesa de Sistemas de Informação . Viseu, Portugal. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228692638_An_Overview_of_Security_Ontologies/references
Mast, N. v. (2006). De zin van ambtelijk taalgebruik. In Rijksvoorlichtingsdienst, De taal van de overheid (Vol. 5). Den Haag, Netherlands: SDU uitgeverij. Retrieved from https://www.communicatierijk.nl/documenten/publicaties/2006/04/01/platform-5
Minister van Algemene Zaken, BVR-2013. (2013, 06 01). Beveiligingsvoorschrift Rijksdienst 2013. Rijksoverheid. Retrieved from http://wetten.overheid.nl/BWBR0033512/2013-06-01
NEN, NEN-EN-ISO/IEC 27001:2017. (2017, 03 1). NEN. Retrieved from https://www.nen.nl/NEN-Shop/Norm/NENENISOIEC-270012017-en.htm
Soug, A., Salinesi, C., & Comyn-Wattiau, I. (2012). Ontologies for Security Requirements: A Literature Survey and Classification. In E. Bayro-Corrochano, & E. Hancock (Eds.), Progress in Pattern Recognition, Image Analysis, Computer Vision, and Applications (Vol. 8827, pp. 61-69). Cham: Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-31069-0_5
The Open Group. (2012). TOGAF 9.1. Zaltbommel, Netherlands: Van Haren Publishing. doi:isbn: 978-90-8753-679-4
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 (Minister van Algemene Zaken, BVR-2013, 2013)
 (Europees Parlement, Algemene Verordening Gegevensbescherming (AVG), 2016)
 (Minister van Algemene Zaken, BVR-2013, 2013)
 (NEN, NEN-EN-ISO/IEC 27001:2017, 2017)
 (The Open Group, 2012)
 (Figay, 2017)
 (Gomes, Zúquete, & Dias, 2009)
Soug, Salinesi, & Comyn-Wattiau, 2012)
It was a long wait, from the end of November until February when I finally could start on my research master (“ReMa”, as it
is affectionally calledat “uni”). I might tell you I used all that time really well, preparing for my courses and lectures, catching up on everything that had been happening in Philosophy during the past 30+ years. But that would be nowhere near the truth.
For a start, even though I had been formally admitted, there were lots of administrative details to be completed which made me feel as if I had entered a different universe. For instance, a form which had to be signed by all sort of high-up people agreeing that I could start in the middle of the academic year, and which was already overdue. Which is a bit strange considering the official starting dates of my particular course are September and February. I got through all the red tape, eventually. Bit of my own fault really, by started the admission process backwards, I must have confused people.
Secondly, I was suddenly afflicted with a personal loss which I won’t elaborate on in these pages, but very nearly toppled me. I self-medicated on Belgium beer and the things that politician don’t inhale and I put in chocolates (rather than medication), and after some weeks, slowly picked myself up again. Thank you, my husband, for watching over me.
Third, my beloved employer on whose behalf I daily save the country, decided to reorganise all 30.000 of us yet at again. This time they managed to eradicate the security organisation almost completely, so finding a new boss proved difficult for a while. Not that my workload has gone down, I still do the work of 2 or 3 people, and that is not including the work for my new boss. Must not complain though, because my employer pays half of my fees and I even get study leave (a day every two weeks), so that is grand. Just as a precaution, I decided on a social media strategy at work (we run an internal platform) so as to become more efficient at sharing information (and save myself many meetings in which I would constantly have to repeat myself). Let’s hope I can keep it up and not get side-tracked.
In January I was finally administratively enrolled, and able to get access to the university digital environment. Which took me a while to get to know. I did not know where to start, so I did what I always do: I dived into the library. Ah, all those books, journals, publishers suddenly at my fingertips. Not that I had nothing before: I get full JSTOR access as an Oxford alumni, and I am a member of the Dutch Royal Library which has an extensive ebook section. Not to mention my international friends who graciously share their library access with me. But real university access is so much better. So I wallowed around in this newly found luxury for some days, reading all kinds of stuff just for the fun.
After that came the settings up of email- and other accounts and my student pass. Aha, the student pass, with the student number. It entitles me to discount, and as I am Dutch, I cannot resist a bargain. So I have been buying useful software at knock-down prices. Husband graciously donated the use of his laptop (cannot take the company laptop into campus), and updated his own equipment at a discount. I renewed my local library card (50% discount), splurged on a great grammar checker (no discount) and experimented with speech-to-text software (which I decided not to buy because my typing speed is so high that there is not much profit, time-wise, to be gained).
Then came module enrolment, a real pain in the neck. For a start, the schedules are not released until very late, and general descriptions are not, how shall I put this, information-dense. My professor had told me to look also at modules at other universities, which I did. The whole thing took several days of break-neck speed googling and consolidating; then validating the result with the professor. The net result was that I should take 3 modules in the next 6 months which is the equivalent of a full-time study. Yes, I know, it is crazy. But husband and I had just watched Lord of the Rings yet again.
Having arranged everything well in advance, I now sat back and waited. Nothing was happening on the courses I signed up for. I even sent a worry-mail to my professor, asking if I had somehow missed the posting of the reading list, as I wanted to buy the books, order them from the library? Aha, welcome to 2019! Reading materials
are simply postedwith the digital space every module has on the university system. I felt stupid. I nearly missed the reading materials when they were finally posted, because I had not set someparameter somewhere that meant I did not get informed, etc etc. Anyway, it took some late hours, but I read everything, for all 3 modules in time. Wow. My poor brain suddenly got stretched out again. Did it hurt, I hear you think? I am not sure. It is a mighty strange feeling. But addictive. I suddenly realised that most of my work comprises educating and guiding people, not getting new ideas myself. Well , of courseI knew that, otherwise I would not have started on this whole escapade, but you get my drift.
So I went to university, the first week of February. I can get there by public transport, but husband insists on taking me by car, which is lovely and much quicker.
How did it go? I will tell you, in another post. I also need to tell you about what it is that I set out to do, in taking up this research master. Also another post. For now, I can just say this: No one laughed. No one even looked at me twice. The whole place was friendly, well organised, warm, bright, shiny and clean. I immediately felt at home.
Today, I received confirmation that I am to be enrolled on my coveted graduate course on Language and Logic. Great stuff. Now I am back in the world where the professor is God. I already went through an initiation procedure. Granted, the professor in question was very nice. He was just a bit worried about me wanting to do something practical – “this is not what we normally do ” 🙂
The situation below depicts life until I have completed my own research. Which will take until my retirement – only 10 years away ….
My husband spends a lot of time reading, particularly when he has to wait for me to complete my weekly schedule at the gym. He is so much more efficient 🙂 When I finally come down, I usually find him engrossed in an article. He will look up and say: I have been waiting for hours! and smile. Then he will tell me about anything of interest that he came across. Today it was this, an article in the Volkskrant.
Wonderful story about how difficult it can be for a specialist to express himself without causing confusion or misunderstanding.
Today I received a mail via Geneanet containing this phrase: “I just
happened to lookinto my family tree, which by the wayI started many Years ago, and discovered changeof ownership. What I like to know is; what gives you the right to claim ownership over a family tree to which you’re not related?”
Where does one even start to put an end to this confusion? I could not help making a quip about the genes on his side of the family not being very friendly. Then I referred the man to the Geneanet help-desk, hopefully they can sort him out.
However, this incident has left me with a question. What does “ownership” mean in this particular case? A particular stake on Geneanet? Obviously I did not take over any family tree, he must have come across my name because the same names are in my tree. Or a claim to exclusiveness on information about my great-grandmother who bears the same name as this irritable guy? I collected all this information by myself from Dutch archives, but then he might have done the same. Or the right to exercise administrative power as pater or mater familias to the family tree? Is my name mine or someone else’s? As it happens, my official name is not the name that I was born with, and I do not feel I own either name; I am, in fact, nameless. There is a beautiful Dutch poem about not being named. I will post it below . It has meant different things to me at different times of my life.
It is strange how I felt compelled to defend myself against this alleged theft of ownership, without knowing what the word actually means in this particular context.
The Dutch poem I referred to just now:
Mijn moeder is mijn naam vergeten.
Mijn kind weet nog niet hoe ik heet.
Hoe moet ik mij geborgen weten?
Noem mij, bevestig mijn bestaan,
Laat mijn naam zijn als een keten.
Noem mij, noem mij, spreek mij aan,
o, noem mij bij mijn diepste naam.
Voor wie ik liefheb, wil ik heten.
Author: Neeltje Maria Min, 1966
In translation: My mother has unremembered me/ my child is not yet aware / now who am I? Name me, confirm my existence/ let my name be a like a chain/ name me, name me, address me/
o, call me by my deepest name. For you my loved ones, I will have my name
This story has an unexpected ending. You remember me somewhat acidly suggesting to the guy who wrote me the email, about his gene pool not being
veryfriendly? As it turns out, heis a veryfriendly guy AND family. He knew my maternal great-grandparents; he was their nephew. He emigrated to Canada many years ago. We are in regular touch now.
Ik ben de blauwbilgorgel.
Ik ben de blauwbilgorgel,
Mijn vader was een porgel,
Mijn moeder was een porulan,
Daar komen vreemde kind’ren van.
Raban! Raban! Raban!
Ik ben een blauwbilgorgel
Ik lust alleen maar korgel,
Behalve als de nachtuil krijst,
Dan eet ik riep en rimmelrijst.
Rabijst! Rabijst! Rabijst!
Ik ben een blauwbilgorgel,
Als ik niet wok of worgel,
Dan lig ik languit in de zon
En knoester met mijn knezidon.
Rabon! Rabon! Rabon!
Ik ben een blauwbilgorgel
Eens sterf ik aan de schorgel,
En schrompel als een kriks ineen
En word een blauwe kiezelsteen.
Ga heen! Ga heen! Ga heen!
Cees Budding (Dordrecht 7 aug. 1918 – Dordrecht 24 nov. 1985), Nederlands dichter en prozaïst, debuteerde met de bundel Het geïrriteerde lied (1941), maar maakte vooral naam met zijn Gorgelrijmen (1953), verzamelde nonsens-poëzie. Zijn literaire loopbaan liep langs uiteenlopende tijdschriften, zoals het anekdotische Criterium, het experimentele Podium en het nieuw-realistische Barbarber. Zijn poëzie is onder meer beïnvloed door het surrealisme en de jazz. …
My husband has suggested that I translate this poem into English. Now there is a challenge…
The Blauwbilgorgel poem is a bit like Lewis’ Jabberwocky, but unlike that poem, the Blauwbilgorgel does have meaning through its apparent nonsense, well, a bit more. Maybe. Which is interesting in itself, shade of meaning of nonsense. Judge for yourself.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought—
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.
And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!
One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.
“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.
’Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.
The Wheel of Time turns, and ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legends fade to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Age that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called the third age by some, an Age yet to come, an age long pass, a wind rose in the Mountains of Mist. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings or endings to the turning of the Wheel of Time. But it was a beginning.
From: The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan