Monday, May 13, 2013

Those fabulous foons

Introducing.... Foons on Bikes.

These awesomely fabulous ladies are riding to Scotland. No, they are not leaving from London. 
They are not even leaving from Paris. They are leaving from Thornbury, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia - well technically they have left. 

I was lucky enough to be part of the small gathering that accompanied them for part of the first day. After riding for 30 or so kilometers on the Warburton trail my legs were a bit sore but I feel I don't have the right to complain considering the first 'leg' of the foon's journey was to Sydney. 

Jude and Astrid (the foons in question), have an extraordinary kit all packed up on two custom made touring bicycles with four ortlieb panniers and some handle bar bags (see picture below). 

Before moving on to discuss the romantic and terrifying concept of riding around the world I'm going to define 'foon'. The definition varies depending on who you ask. Wiki, the font of all dubious knowledge says that: "spork or a foon is a hybrid form of cutlery taking the form of a spoon-like shallow scoop with three or four fork tines.[1] Spork-like utensils, such as the terrapin fork or ice cream fork,[2] have been manufactured since the late 19th century;[3] patents for spork-like designs date back to at least 1874, and the word "spork" was registered as a trademark in the US and the UK decades later. They are used by fast food restaurants, schools, prisons, the military, and backpackers". (

However, Urban Dictionary, the source of all decent knowledge, describes a foon as "the proper defenition of foon (NOT AT ALL in fact having to do with anything sexually vulgar or "sporkish") comes from the description of a fast and therefore aerodynamic animal. The word was probably fashioned after fast andtyphoon or perhaps simply fuzzy. The word itself was invented in 1989 by two biracial linguists. A foon will have its ears laid back, flattened to its head while running or swimming and while in momentum is often seen waving head to toe in an undulating fashion. 2. v. foon can also be used as a verb to describe the action of the noun eg. The otter fooned through the water.; The otter is fooning through the water playfully. 3. A third usage of the word foon is when one would impose upon an animal or person into the appearance of being aerodynamic by laying back the ears or head manually or by force. eg. Four year old Shelia patted the head of her cat with such enthusiasm that she forced its ears back {fooned its ears back} and the cat remained fooning with annoyance as it swished its tail back and forth. (Can be used in present tense as well.)". 

Urban dictionary also has six other definitions (including the one about the fork spoon). However the spelling error in the first sentence makes me trust this source less - call me Gen x. Let's just settle with these foon being aerodynamic animals. 

Now back to the foons on bikes. Riding from Australia to Scotland is something to really wrap your head around. Aside from the obvious difficulties of being on a bike for hours at a time every day for years, YES YEARS, there are logistics. What do you do when the highway runs out of edge? Where do you stop for the night? Is this much water enough for today (although so far the foons seem far more obsessed with beer than water)? What if we end up in peak hour traffic in Sydney (yes this happened)?

Then there are the larger questions. How does one get from Australia, girt by sea, to anywhere else that is not Australia without flying? Why are we doing this anyway?

That last one is a curly one because I'm sure that as a foon on a bike you would start off with an idea in your head about why you had chosen to pack up your life and leave for years to ride a bike to the other side of the world. I wonder, though, does the answer change over time?

To quote a recent blog post from the foons: "Recently I have realised that it’s the distractions that make a journey great.  Whether it be a place, side road, people or experience".  So it's not the riding itself perhaps but the speed at which they are travelling that is making their 'dream come true'. 

The thing that is most obvious from reading their blog is the joy in the everyday that is occurring for them. They really seem uplifted somehow and their troubles immediate and practical rather than ongoing frustration which is so easy to slip into as a city dweller. This pace allows them to develop a rhythm that reveals the nuances of the landscape and their relationship with themselves, and likely each other. I'd love to hear from you both about this Jude and Astrid. 

Even with all the logistics and the philosophy behind such travel the thing that amuses me the most is thinking about the foons cruising into Scotland two or three years after leaving Melbourne, still wearing their 'borrowed' Melboure Bike Share helmets. Legends! 

So what!

I've just written the abstract for one of my honour's classes for the tenth time and each iteration is kicked off by the question - 'so what?'

It feels like my topic is hiding from me. I ask 'so what?' then re-write the abstract to answer this question and end up asking again 'so what?' ad infinitum. Why would someone care about this question? What are the broader implications for society?

Is my topic completely irrelevant to humanity?

I've now read Howard Becker's "Writing for Social Scientists" cover to cover (as promised) and the answer wasn't in there (although there were about a hundred other answers to very important questions that researchers ask). I'm about to start Becker's book "Tricks of the Trade" and I suspect it isn't in there either.

Booth et al may have the answer I'm after. Their book "The Craft of Research" has a section called  'From a Merely Interesting Question to its Wider Significance'. Bingo!

They suggest asking so what and suggest asking yourself the following:
    So what if I don't know or understand how snow geese know where to go in winter, or how     fifteenth-century violin players tuned their instruments, or why the Alamo story has become a myth? So what if I can't answer those questions? 

So I asked myself 'so what if I don't know how community gardens function in contemporary Australia?' And I found the answer occurred alongside a sensation of indignation.
Of course it is important to understand a phenomena that is increasingly occurring but understudied.

As the practice of setting up community gardens grows those who are doing the setting up will be looking for knowledge of the topic. They will find the the vast majority of the literature is not representative of the Australian context. A great deal of it is from north America (66% of papers in an extensive literature review by Guitart et al, 2011) and only a small slice is Australian (13% according to the previously mentioned study). They will also find that community gardens are described with such a diversity of characteristics that they are rarely explicitly defined in the research (Guitart et al found that 63% of the papers they studied offered no definition). Where does this leave the policy maker or practitioner? My research enables them to understand community gardens according to what they currently are rather than according to old, redundant ideas of what a community garden is.

So here perhaps, I have my 'so what' answered and I can move on to the next steps in my research and stop torturing myself.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Documenting notes from books and articles

In the interests of sharing with my fellow Honours crew I'm using the following template to take notes on journal articles for my literature review. 
It is adapted from a book called Demystifying the Dissertation by Peg Boyle Single

I'm using End Note as my bibliography tool (yes I know there are many better tools out there now but I already had a large End Note library and it felt too hard to change). 
I'm pasting this template into the 'research notes' section of the reference and attaching the pdf so everything is in one place. 


Author discipline:


Copy of abstract:

What is the big picture? How they set their research into the broader research? What is the bigger context they are addressing?

Big point of their study:

Premise or hypothesis or aim:

Data sources or arguments as material thing they study:

Theories or conceptual approach:

Analytical or research methods:

Results or analysis


How this article or book influences your research:

Citable notes: 

Feel free to share your thoughts and ideas on this template 

Monday, March 25, 2013

The Machine Stops

After reading an excerpt from EM Forster's The Machine Stops written in 1909 I'm left wondering if I live in a machine or at least according to the machines and what if these machines stop?

When I became a Scrivner devotee recently I read an article by 'The Thesis Whisperer' ( called 'Is your computer domesticating you?'

I didn't realise I was 'in the machine' until the Whisperer pointed it out. I've been a slave to Word for ever and not realised how bloody crap it is. Now I'm using Scrivner and I'm liberated, or am I.

In Forster's story people live in a post apocalyptic world underground where is it safe from the mess made above ground by people in the previous generation.

Airships fly people between underground worlds where they live in 'splendid isolation' using pneumatic post and a form of telepresence to communicate. They talk in half-baked, second-hand ideas that feel spookily incomplete and fear visceral communication above all.

They are the old school hikikimori ( They are sort of me and very much a lot of the younger people I know.

Tonight I had two things delivered that I bought online - a bag to hold the machine (a lap top) and a food dehydrator. Technically now I could exist in isolation if I begin dehydrating the figs and vegetables in my backyard.

I also shopped for a door online, received two phone calls from family members, sent and received multiple texts, submitted an online task for a class, checked the weather for tomorrow to decide if I would ride my bike or take the tram.

Why go outside? Why seek out people in person?

I guess it is for that nuanced emotion that Forster's character Kuno feels and seeks and to practice real human contact and empathy. Because I like my friends and the fresh air and ultimately because I'm afraid of that empty feeling becoming normal.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Grounded theory - cop out or legitimate approach

After a discussion with my supervisor it seems I'm using something fairly akin to a Grounded Theory approach. This is something I've always read in academic papers - "this research uses a grounded approach with allows the meaning to emerge from the data" - and wondered if it's just a way to meander on into a topic without much thought.

I am pretty sure I've changed my mind about this now.

After wrestling with the idea of using Bourdieu to understand my data I've come back to the notion of not using any big 'T' theories to enter into my subject.
For a lovely look at the character and work of Bourdieu see the YouTube clip "Sociology is a Martial Art" (note, there are multiple parts to this clip).

I've realised the point of using a grounded approach. It allows me to collect my data using open ended questioning and see what the data reveals in terms of theoretical understandings and concepts. Perhaps it will show up ideas around Bourdieu's habitus, distinction and fields of capital, but perhaps it won't and if I'm looking for evidence of these notions I will surely find them.

Konecki points out hat in allowing the findings to emerge from the data we therefore allow for serendipity, or accidental findings to occur which may not have happened had we used a more structured approach to analysing the data.

Grounded theory also uses theoretical memos which are designed to encourage the researcher to reflect on their own engagement with the data and the process of grounded theory.

From these ideas then I would suggest it is important to have a broad idea of the possible emergent qualities of the data. If I've only read a couple of papers on my topic I can only recognise those concepts in my data, where as if I understand multiple theories and a breadth of concepts around my topic many more things might  'emerge'. The role of the supervisor must be crucial in this as they can surely recognise many more things that the student in the data.

Konecki, Krzysztof Tomasz. "Grounded Theory and Serendipity. Natural History of a Research." Qualitative Sociology Review 4.1 (2008): n/a. Print.

More information on Grounded Theory:

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Just waiting for the perfect conditions in which to write my blog. First, clean the bathroom, then make coffee, then I really should read an article on my topic, surely that will help me to 'get inspired'.
Feeling completely freaked out by my topic - better not write on that, it wouldn't be a good look.
Nope can't think of anything to write. This must mean I'm officially a student again. Might go get the washing of the line.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Upcycled blog

Adrian (course coordinator and subject lecturer) has asked that we set up a blog.

Despite being a partial Luddite I am happy to report that I already had one - a long abandoned page whose name will need to be upcycled for its new purpose.  While once 'Sustain the Wander' was more literal - how long can I keep going across countries before returning home to Australia - this title is now metaphoric. The wander is now some kind of cerebral wandering and sustaining this requires constant practice and improvement - both things that will help me coast along to a finished and totally awesome thesis. Smooth transition right!

Adrian told us in class that the very act of blogging obliges us to write in a way that makes sense to others and now that I'm back in this space I can see that. I am, of course, writing in draft first to avoid sounding crap. My fear in keeping my reflections in one neat space is that the lines will blur and I'll forget about the public nature of blogging and I'll sound crap.