Transmission Resumes

Some rather sheepish apologies are in order, as things have been embarrassingly quiet on this blog for the past few months. My life has become very busy indeed and it’s been hard to keep writing with all that’s been going on.

By way of explanation:

  • In February, my wife (“Z.”) accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in English at New Jersey’s Rowan University in the Department of English. She was scheduled to start her new job on September 1st, 2010.
  • In April, we flew out to look for a place to live. After looking at the house, we signed a rental contract more or less on the spot. We were simply thrilled at the idea of living in a house instead of an apartment.1
  • More or less as soon as we returned from New Jersey, I handed in my notice to Stanford University Libraries and Academic Information Resources (SULAIR). I would spend the next two months trying to tie up loose ends at work. The last thing that I wanted was to have the people who took over my positions (Classics Bibliographer and Art Library Operations Manager) cursing my name after I’d gone.2
  • We packed all our worldly possessions into four ReloCubes® and had a professional moving company transport them across country. This left us free to drive across almost all the USA in a car rather than a massive truck. I say, “Almost,” as our new home is about forty miles west of the New Jersey coast. We saw a great deal of the country that we might never otherwise have seen. It was, at times, quite simply spectacular.
  • It was also quite rushed. We made the trip in five-and-a-half days. The Midwest was kind of a blur.
  • On arrival in New Jersey, I had two days in which to help select a colour scheme for the new house and begin re-decorating, before jetting off for Durham (UK) so that I could join the Binchester Roman Town excavation.3
  • After the excavation, I dashed down south for a wedding in Shrewsbury. On the way, I stopped in Manchester to collect Z. (who had flown out) and my parents.
  • Z. and I then flew from Manchester back to New Jersey, where we would spend the next two weeks finishing decorating the house.4
  • We finished decorating in mid-August. Since then, my wife has finished prepping for and started teaching her classes; I have begun a full blown job search.

The decision to quit my two jobs and move across the country to an uncertain professional future was both a difficult and an easy one for me to make. SULAIR has been a tremendously supportive environment over the last four-and-a-half years. I was all too aware that I would miss the many friends that I’ve made there immensely. I had both feet planted firmly on a career ladder. All of these things and they made the decision to leave California difficult.

On the other hand, neither my wife nor I were particularly thrilled by the idea of having a transcontinental relationship for the foreseeable future. This made the decision for me to move with her easy.

As if it that weren’t enough in itself,5 there are actually a number of advantages in my moving to the Greater Philadelphia area too. Rents and house prices are much lower than in the San Francisco Bay Area. Philadelphia is only 15-25 minutes away, by public transport. By way of contrast, my drive to Stanford from San Francisco to Stanford was 45 minutes (by public transport, it could take three hours on a bad day). Further, Pennsylvania and New Jersey are both rich in cultural heritage and the cultural heritage industry. In terms of possible career development, there are few places in the USA where I could be better located. So far, I’ve been scouring the small ads for positions in libraries, museums, or CRM (cultural resource management) companies.

I’ve only started the process of finding a new job, but I’m actually very optimistic about the future. And, after something of a hectic summer, I think that things are beginning to calm down a little.

With luck, this should mean that I’ll be able to resume blogging more frequently …

1 We are still thrilled about this. We are also delighted to be paying less in rent for the house (and garden) than our old San Francisco apartment.
2 It’s possible that they did anyway but I did as much as I could to make sure that this wasn’t the case.
3 The timing of the excavation was less than optimal. As things were, I joined the excavation two weeks late and was only able to stay for ten days. But in going to the dig when I did, I was leaving Z. to unpack the ‘cubes (which arrived after I had left) and continue decorating by herself. This decision does not reflect as well on me as I would like. Please send you hate mail to the usual address.
4 For the record, redecorating a whole house in one go is not something that either of us ever wants to face again. We felt that it would be better to get the job out of the way before we’d settled in properly. In hindsight, this was the case. However, time pressures of the oncoming school year meant that it was officially not much fun and extremely stressful.
5 And the reader should note that there are those who might question my dedication to my career at this point. Oh yes, there are.

Spam Solutions?

Since starting the blog, I’ve had to deal with a certain amount of spam in the comments fields. Not huge quantities, by any means, and this spam certainly didn’t have the irritating feature that ProjectForum spam used to have of creating a new page for every link included in the text that I would then have to hunt down and delete. Still, it remained and remains a minor source of irritation.

Hormel Food Sales strongly discourage the association of images of their product (SPAM) with internet Spam.  Instead, here is a cropped film still from the famous Monty Python sketch. © 1970 BBC.  Vikings are also more appropriate to an archaeology blog.  Obviously.
Hormel Food Sales strongly discourage the association of images of their product (SPAM) with internet Spam. Instead, here is a cropped film still from the famous Monty Python sketch. (© 1970 BBC with some modest Photoshop tinkering from yours truly). Vikings are also more appropriate to an archaeology blog. Obviously.

My original method of dealing with this was to simply hold all comments from first-time posters for moderation. Although this did succeed in stopping my few blog entires being snowed under by bots saying how interesting my information was and here’s a link to [insert brand, consumer product, or service of choice here], I still had to review these things as they came in. And, while I did my best to approve or zap comments quickly, it has been pointed out elsewhere that this can kind of thing can lead to people submitting multiple comments or simply giving up in disgust.

Consequently, I have decided it was time to start looking into plug-ins for WordPress. A quick search on Dreamhost’s user forums produced this enlightening, if brief, thread on the topic. Askimet comes with WordPress but requires that I actually sign up with WordPress to get an API key. This is probably much less of a nuisance than I imagine it to be and, considering its ratings, Askimet may eventually turn out to be the way to go. For now, however, I’ve decided to give SI CAPTCHA Anti-Spam a whirl.

One thoroughly convincing piece of advice that I read was that one should make the process of providing feedback as painless as possible for the reader (I’m afraid that I can’t remember on which blog about blogging I found this — sorry). With this in mind, there are three things about the change to comments on this blog that one should note:

  • The first-time poster no longer has to wait for my approval until he or she can see the comment(s).
  • My main reason for choosing this plug-in was that it doesn’t require that the reader use Java in his or her browser — one less hurdle to get over. (Although I suspect that most people accessing WordPress blogs do have fairly up to date versions of Java. I think that I may be misunderstanding the reasoning behind not requiring Java here.)
  • Unfortunately, it does require that the person posting a comment does read and re-enter one of those distorted word images (or a captcha) — actually throwing up a new barrier, albeit one that delays the poster for only a few seconds rather than as many as several hours. I’ve also tried to get around the problems identified by the American Council of the Blind by enabling Flash audio, so that the captcha image can be read aloud by a computer.

I do hope that the captcha system presents a less of an impediment for comments than my previous system. Other avenues that I might explore are Hashcash and Spam-Karma. These are still early days and I’m still very much feeling my way. There’s plenty of time for me to change to my mind about … oh, everything to do with how I set up this blog.

As ever, I’d be grateful for any thoughts, comments, clarifications, etc.