LFH: Days 18-21
Twice a week seems about right for these check-ins. Maybe I’ll even get to writing posts about books and travel again. A girl can dream. The week almost had a normal rhythm, with classes on Wednesday and a bunch of admin stuff on the other days, but at a pace which was closer to normal.
On Wednesday I got to talk about some of my favorite readings in both classes: Bill Buford’s study of English football hooligans in Among the Thugs and a couple of law review articles on Google Street View. Both classes went well, with no Zoom dropouts. I did most of the talking in the morning class but they felt OK, and my one-on-ones with my students later in the week reinforced my optimism. Obviously it’s not like teaching the usual way, and there are fewer students attending synchronously. But TheH, other colleagues, and I have all heard from students that they appreciate having the synchronous class times available. They prefer it to listening to recorded lectures and it structures their time. I can see that, since having to teach twice and week and hold office hours on other days forces a schedule on me that keeps me from frittering or stressing away the days.
I’ve been following the stories about privacy issues with Zoom and they make me more and more uncomfortable. The CEO is saying all the right things, but it’s clear that the program was not even remotely designed with an emphasis on security and privacy. A lot of the articles focus on Zoombombing, which is definitely a problem, but the Washington Post‘s discovery that it’s trivially easy to find and distribute the URLs of recorded video conferences that were intended to be private is at least as worrying. I’m doing what I can in my classes: sending invites and links to recorded sessions only through Canvas, using all the exclusion settings possible given our use-case, and having the sessions stored only on Zoom’s servers (although I can’t control downloaded copies, as far as I know). And I’ll delete all the cloud recordings as soon as the semester is over. But it’s still ridiculous that so many educational institutions jumped to use it without any real investigation of the possible problems. At this point I don’t have an alternative, but after this semester I hope there are changes, either to Zoom or to our use of it.
Speaking of which, the stay-at-home orders are widening across areas and causing more closures. The county closed a number of its parks because too many people were showing up and failing to observe social distancing rules. One of the most popular county parks was so full that they had to close access to the parking lots. Our biggest city park, Forest Park, has blocked off some of the roads to try and reduce traffic and also to allow bicyclists and joggers to use the roads, since the pathways get very busy on nice days.
I wanted to avoid the park so I went for a walk along neighborhood streets to the commercial district about a mile away. It’s the one closest to campus and depends a lot on student business, and not surprisingly it was deserted. It felt somewhat post-apocalyptic walking along the sidewalks, although I did see a handful of people. I was interesting in seeing how many of the restaurants were doing curbside pickup and takeout service, and I was pleased to see that quite a few were still going. One of our favorite tiny eating places, a Korean diner with a counter that seats no more than eight people, had an open sign and was apparently doing its normal takeout. The family falafel place was closed, though.
I spent Thursday and Friday holding office hours and dealing with our department’s student awards, which was bittersweet. It was a positive thing because I got to choose best paper and outstanding student awards across a variety of categories and class levels (after much chivvying of my colleagues to give me nominations). But it was also sad because we don’t even know how we’ll get the notifications and checks to the students and of course we won’t have any kind of recognition ceremony.
We watched two more episodes of Star Trek: Picard, which led us to go back and watch the premiere episode of The Next Generation. It was cheesy but nonetheless extremely enjoyable. Everyone was so young! And the writing and acting were pretty wooden, I’m sure in part because they were all still strangers to each other. The getting-the-team-together plot was pretty good, but the Q plot was hokey and almost superfluous (although John De Lancie is always fun). I’d forgotten how much of original Star Trek‘s ethos was embedded in TNG, at least at the beginning.
We also watch an old comfort fave, Music & Lyrics, in honor of Adam Schlesinger. I was so saddened by the news of his death. He was a brilliant writer of pop melodies and lyrics across the eras, and his genius at writing songs that evoked a bygone style without parodying or belittling it was unparalleled. He’s best known for That Thing You Do, but he wrote so much more. And of course there’s his work with Chris Collingwood in Fountains of Wayne. I like all their albums, but my favorite is the one featuring covers and B-sides, Out-of-State-Plates. From everything I can tell, Schlesinger was a truly wonderful person, too. Music & Lyrics didn’t get great reviews when it came out, but TheH and I both think it’s unfairly underrated. It’s got a great cast and a great soundtrack, and if you do watch it, be sure to keep watching through the credits.
We’ve had some lovely warm and sunny weather and the tree in our front yard is getting ready to flower. When we went out for our weekly shopping expedition we picked up some plants and potting mix at Home Depot to make a little pot-plant garden on our deck, with herbs and flowers. We’ll need it if we’re going to be staying home for another couple of months.
I don’t even know what to think about the Zoom issue. I, too, use Zoom, and jumped on it because I held a craft circle and found to my horror that at least two people couldn’t get into Hangouts because we were at capacity. I started seeing the security issues a couple days ago on the news (I’m trying to avoid news for the most part because it’s making me crazy) (okay, crazier – grin). I’m at the point right now where I’m just so frustrated with everything, particularly mismanagement by those in power (of the government, of companies that treat their employees badly, of tech companies mis-managing their systems) that I’ve been keeping my head in the sand. Right now, I’m not recording webinars and I haven’t pulled the trigger on using Zoom as the platform for doing so. There aren’t a lot of alternatives that are easy, and right now I just want easy. I don’t want to have to worry about all this ancillary shit with nazis and white terrorists. And frankly, I’m getting sick and tired of white terrorists. My head is in a really dark place as regards all that stuff.
On the book front, I’m really stoked because my hold at the library came through on the ebook of Obama’s The Audacity of Hope. I never read it, mostly because I wasn’t doing a lot of reading when it came out in favor of writing so much at the time. Right now, though, I could really use some hope and so far, I’m REALLY liking his voice. I’m not an Obama fangrrl, but I respect him particularly for the work he did organizing in Chicago. I knew Dr. Danny Davis when I was in Chicago and the people that work in his constellation deeply impress me. I had the privilege of being hosted by Dr. Davis for the Toastmasters club of which I was a part and I can’t say enough good things about him. The city made a bad choice when it didn’t encourage him for mayor, but that’s a major digression. My point is, the work Obama did was difficult, brave, and audacious, and the very definition of hope in action. I could use some of that right now.
My husband has been making masks for the eldercare facility down the road. Now, the CDC is recommending civilians wear cloth masks when in public, and that sort of threw me for a loop. I’m breathing through the fear from that. He’s pretty level-headed right now, and pragmatic: “Yeah, it’s scary, but I’m making us two masks, so end of problem.” I’m not there yet but hope that with continued meditation some sense of equanimity will be had.
I’m hosting a craft circle today on Zoom (if you’re free, it’s 2 Central, 12 Pacific); we did one Thursday night and it was surprisingly calming. There’s something about just being in the room with others (and of course I mean a virtual room) and making things that is soothing. (And god help any nazis that try to disrupt that, I’m tellin’ ya.) And then we’re doing a family chat with three generations of my husband’s family; I’m actually really looking forward to that. His family is amazing to me (I’m a child abuse survivor), and watching people that are, well, NICE to each other and genuinely interested in each other is kind of a marvel. 🙂
If I don’t kill my cats, it’ll be a minor miracle. My youngest has been singing the song of his people for the last half hour and risks waking up my husband on a weekend sleep-in, and my middle child just barfed in the kitchen next to the food dish – AFTER I cleaned the floor.
Ah, yes. Let’s all stay at HOME, they said. It’ll be SAFE, they said.
Who, I ask you, is THEY? I wanna give them a piece of my mind.
From a safe distance, mind. What, I’m not nuts!! 🙂
There has been one small upside to the closure of the libraries–we have been told to hang onto the books until the libraries open again. So I was able to take my time reading Sharon Kay Penman’s new (very long) historical fiction “The Land Beyond the Sea”. I’m a history nerd and a fan, so I thoroughly enjoyed it. I also lucked into having “Girl, Woman, Other” on hand. Just finished that today and Zow! what a fabulous book!. But that was the last library book in the house. So I guess it’s time to dip into the e-book backlog.
I am willing to spend $$$ on physical books and I’m ticked off at Amazon’s decision that books are not “essential”. So I have found other online bookstores to feed my book habit–ones that will ship promptly. Not 4 weeks later!! I could use the library’s digital book platform, but it has been swamped. I also haven’t heard that the big publishers are going to cut the library systems any kind of deal on the cost of the digital copies and library budgets can stretch only so far.
So I worry about my book supply to keep myself from worrying about everything else.
Things are bad here in Maryland, but not catastrophic. Yet. We are doing our best to Stay Home, as ordered, while not succumbing to cabin fever.
@Barb: I saw that Penman had a new historical out, I’m glad you found it worthwhile. I need to catch up or just read the latest one.
We have a local bookstore that is shipping, and I keep meaning to buy books from them. You’re right about the big publishers, from what I can tell; even Macmillan’s change wasn’t particularly generous. I’m glad people are using their libraries but I worry about how they will hold up over months.
We aren’t at cabin fever stage yet, but it is not easy. When it gets really nice out the deck is not going to feel sufficient, even though it will have to be.
I recently watched some Star Trek: TNG as grading background and found its worldview very soothing. Maybe anything that suggests we’ll have a future is soothing right now.
Adam Schlesinger’s death hit me because he was my age. It also reminded me of how much I liked Ivy, another band he was involved in, and I’ve been listening to them again. (As an aside, my husband stuck his original iPod in the kitchen stereo dock and plays it while cooking, and it’s fun revisiting the music collection).
I have a few library books which, maybe, I’ll one day read. I got Ada Limon’s collection The Carrying to re-read, and I’m glad to be stuck in self-isolation with that. It took me two weeks to read the Peter Lovesey mystery. I returned the ebook I had—it looked good, but I just am not focused right now. But Agatha Christie audio from the library, and some childhood favourites, are serving me well. They have really ramped up their digital collection, which is lovely but like Barb I am worried about the long-term impact on their budget. My local indie is delivering so I should think of something I want!
Spring is saving me. I’ve gone for a walk most days, and I take pictures of blooming things to post—as well as just stopping to look. The news here is OK. We’ve slowed the rate of new cases enough that, if we can keep it up, our health system should not be overwhelmed. My colleague’s husband has recovered. Glad for some good news.
As Easter approaches, I am really missing my church communities and the rituals of Holy Week, which I love. Online alternatives help but aren’t the same. (Our little Bible study got Zoombombed so we have to make everything password protected. Really?) Still, I find myself most grateful right now for being part of my church leadership with a great group of people. It’s a really challenging time for us—financially, we’re going to struggle—but they are so committed and help keep me hopeful. And our new rector is still excited about arriving on June 1 and has found a place to live! (This may have been easier with the collapse of Airbnb bookings).
I’m thinking about Fall. I doubt it will be, at least at the start, face to face, so I have a lot of learning to do this summer. The half-assed way I’m finishing this semester is not going to cut it! And my Grade 12 student does NOT learn well online, so we will have to discuss postponing the start of university. (This isn’t all bad because I’m not sure she was ready, but will be a blow to her).
I can’t believe your Bible Study group got Zoombombed, that is so awful. I mean, I get being an atheist or whatever, but come ON. But I’m so glad you have your faith community to help sustain you.
Your poor daughter. TheH and I keep reminding each other that whatever comes along for us, we’ve had setbacks and difficulties before and have the knowledge that we’ve worked through them. To be young and facing this seems so unfair. Although my students are rising admirably to their challenges and I’m sure your kids will too, however much it hurts to watch them have to do it (they are stronger than we are afraid they are).
I saw that people were talking about eight months in Canada. Oh no. I hope that’s over-planning and not the timeline we’re going to be living with. We are doing contingency planning for online life in Fall2020 and I am not ready for this.
I forgot about Ivy! More Schlesinger, which is a Good Thing. sniffle
My office was told by IT a couple of weeks ago that Zoom was not secure and not to use it without talking to them first. They’ve encouraged conferencing via work issued iPhone, including FaceTime, and another service (that I’m sure is paid since it’s provided by our voip provider). But our use case is different since we aren’t recording and mostly we use the services to share documents and views that are later circulated or shared on an internal network.
@jmc: Reading your posts reminded me that the government is much more aware of the security issues, even when their technology is hopelessly behind (not their fault, usually). I wish we were using the Cisco or Citrix programs, but from what I understand they have a steeper learning curve and that is a big barrier for teaching systems.
I’ve used Zoom for over a year and was a bit concerned to read about all the security issues. But actually, none of them relate to what I use it for. We don’t record sessions, and don’t use the chat function, except occasionally to say ‘Unmute yourself!’ So I’m going to carry on using it for the foreseeable future. You’re right about the panic that has led to people not checking it out properly before rushing into using it though.
I wish our garden places were open. B&Q, which is the nearest thing to Home Depot, is only doing a Click and Collect service and only for a limited product range related to household emergencies. So you can get plumbing bits, but not plants or compost. Even all the online seed companies are sold out!
I enjoyed Music and Lyrics too! Maybe I’ve just dug out my spinning wheel, and I need things to watch while I’m doing that, so I’ll add it to the list.
@Ros: Oh, your family barbecue sounds wonderful! And one of my minor but lasting regrets is that I was too old for the Bouncy Castle Era. I would have bounced the hell out of one.
I’m glad you’re not having Zoom issues; I thought of you (and Liz and Catherine) when I read about the problems. I agree that not recording and not having chat as a major feature helps a lot. And even with recording, it’s local recording that is the problem.
I can’t believe that Britain doesn’t consider gardening supply to be an essential service. What is the world coming to? If I could send you seeds I would, but it seems as if even the international post is being curtailed. But if it’s not, let me know!
Just finished standing on my front stoop and banging two pot lids together. Our mayor ask that people express appreciation to all the frontline workers by making some type of noise at 7 pm for 10 minutes. And people did actually come out and do it. Not quite as melodic as what the Italians have been doing, but it was actually quite nice to hear the banging, whistles, clanging, horns out there.
I’m on day 11 of my required isolation and this has been the hardest day since it was the first lovely sunny day in about 5 days and I can’t go out for public walks until my two weeks are over. Somehow my tiny porch and small city yard just don’t seem like much space when the sun is out and the snow is rapidly retreating.
I’ve started looking at mask making projects online. Sewing, like knitting, was one of those things I did and then gradually stopped doing. I was planning to restart it again, like the knitting, but this is not exactly how I envisioned getting back into sewing. I don’t have a stash of material because I haven’t been sewing, but I do have some old sheets and a few old shirts that I have not yet turned into rags. So I think I’m going to set up sewing machine this week and download a couple of mask patterns and see what happens with those sheets and shirts.
@LizMc2 I’m sorry to hear about the zoombombing of your Bible study group. Both the best and worst of human nature has been wide display lately.
The only two groups that I have that use Zoom are my piano teacher for his classes and my book group and neither uses the recording or chat function. So maybe okay, but I’m also glad that there are other options out there besides Zoom.
I can’t say in some ways that I’m surprised about Zoom’s security issues, so much software is rushed to market without proper testing. The mindset at lot of tech companies is definitely get it out there before someone else does and worry about the fixing any potential problems later.
@Kathryn: One nice thing about the mask patterns is that even I could do them, after decades of not sewing, if I could only get my ancient Bernina to work. But I don’t even know where the pedal is stored, and it would need SUCH a tuneup. I did go and look at which sewing machines are available for pickup at Walmart, because part of me thinks I should be making masks since I can.
Day 11, you’re almost there! I do know what you mean about the nice day and the longing to go out. That’s been an issue here, too. We’re city folk and I’m looking for ways to make our little deck feel more green and welcoming. I’ve lived here two decades and barely cared before!
Oh, another minor silver lining! Tomorrow, we are going to attempt a family barbecue of sorts. We will all be keeping the required distance apart and it literally just involves me walking through the gate from my garden into my brother’s. And I am genuinely excited about it. Which is not always the case for family events. So that’s nice. Last week it was my niece’s birthday and she couldn’t have a party, but their garden is plenty big enough for them to hire a Dragon Princess Bouncy Castle, which she and my nephew enjoyed enormously.
@Catherine: Many (((hugs))), it is a tough time right now. Your hubby is right, I think. Wearing masks is about a couple of things: keeping droplets in for people who are infected and possibly asymptomatic, and reminding everyone that we are trying to prevent the spread of a highly infectious virus. But the back and forth in the advising has been really unhelpful. And telling everyone to make masks is ridiculous, because you need sewing skills, if not an actual sewing machine, to make them. And you need multiple masks, because you shouldn’t be reusing them. If you’re a seamstress with a stash of cloth, teatowels, or t-shirts, then you can do this. But honestly, we’d be better off connecting everyone who isn’t a practiced seamstress to someone who is and outfitting people that way.
As long as you’re not recording and you’re not putting the URLs out there in public, Zoom is probably not too bad. Although if Liz’s Bible Study group is getting Zoombombed, no one is safe!
I’m sorry I missed the craft circle Zoom, that sounds excellent! I know knitting would be good for me right now.
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@Sunita, sent you a google invite for next week. Noon Pacific, 2 Central.
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The sale of seeds is not banned, it’s just that everywhere is sold out! Although my brother said he thought they had some at one of the supermarkets, so next time I have to go shopping, I’ll try there. I think that nurseries are going to be doing everything they can to set up delivery services for plants, too, because otherwise a whole year’s worth of plants is going to waste.
We had a lovely time at the barbecue and the children did very well at remembering to keep their distance. It almost felt normal. I’m so grateful that we’ve got nice weather here at the moment.
@We had seeds in our local supermarket, so hopefully you will have them too and they won’t be sold out. It’s interesting what sells out, because while obviously some people hoard most people are just buying outside their normal patterns because they’re at home so much more. And I’m so glad the barbecue went well. I’m not a very social person these days but I miss my usual human interactions a lot.
You could definitely sew up a lot of masks in a short time. The main problem I’m hearing is getting elastic, but cords and ribbon will work too. I think the pleated patterns, with interfacing as a middle layer, seem like the best ones. Good thick cotton and a lining apparently work pretty well.
Oh, I’ve been thinking about making masks too. I mean, I definitely could (and it would even be a good way to use up some of my excessive fabric stash) but the guidance about wearing them here has been so unclear. I expect it’s coming though, and it might be as well to be prepared. I will make plenty, not just for me, but to share with some non-sewers too.
I have got a LOT of suitable elastic, I think, leftover from the time when I was sewing swimming costumes, but I’ve also seen patterns that use bias binding tapes. I want to try the kind where you stitch in a pipe cleaner or similar that helps to fit it better to your nose.
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The Zoom situation has been bothering me a quite a bit as well, because our schools use it. I am less worried about all the private conversations I am having with kindergarten friends and cousins all over the world. In that case, Zoom has been a boon to me–people I hadn’t met in years (some in decades), I am suddenly able to see and talk to.
I just received an email from Zoom saying that going forward all meeting passwords have been enabled (“on”) and the virtual waiting room is turned on by default. Hopefully this will help resolve some surface issues.
But their problems go much deeper to fundamental design issues, and I wonder what they are doing about those.
@Keira: Some big school districts are dropping Zoom because of the privacy issues. I agree that the problems seem to be baked into the design. Given the founders came from WebEx I expected better attention to security issues. I hope that if we have to keep teaching online we’ll transition to something else. We have Microsoft Teams but it’s not integrated into our teaching platforms the way Zoom is.
The way people are using Zoom reminds me of the early years of Facebook, where we made all these connections that had been difficult or seemingly impossible before.
Sorry to be so late with this comment. My husband and I revisited Star Trek: TNG a couple of years ago. The first season was not very good, but season two was a huge improvement and in season three the show really hit its stride. So if it seems clunky, stick with it and it will improve. I promise.
I am loving Picard. Patrick Stewart is such a good actor. I got cognitive dissonance when Data appeared; his appearance has changed so much that it’s hard to believe he is an android. I love Brent Spiner’s performances in that role, though. I have tried to watch him in other stuff and for some reason he’s not nearly as good in anything else I’ve seen him in.
We are three episodes from the season end of Picard and I have been postponing watching them because I have the feeling I’ll want to watch all three back-to-back.
If you like TNG, you might enjoy The Orville as well. It’s a somewhat comical homage. I didn’t really want to watch because I’m not a Seth MadFarlane fan. But my husband had it on (he’ll watch almost anything SFF) and I caught some. And while it started out crass and immature, in season two it gelled into a show worth watching, with a similarly touching optimism and the occasional allegory. Brannon Braga, who wrote many of TNG’s episodes, is an executive producer and I imagine he has something to do with that.
One another topic, re: masks. From what I understand they weren’t telling everyone to make masks, just protective face coverings, which includes the kind you can make with a folded scarf and a couple of hair ties. We made these and went to the grocery store. The stores (Trader Joe’s especially) were very good about creating social distancing. Alas, my spacial awareness is horrible and though I really tried, I screwed up at least a couple of times. I also kept forgetting not to touch my face, too. My eyeglasses got foggy and I could hardly see anything. And by the time we got home the backs of my ears were hurting. Those hair ties pinch.
Between the social distancing, the missing products, and having to shop for 2+ weeks wroth of food, the whole production took 4+ hours. 5+ if you count putting away the groceries, and we didn’t even clean the food before it went into the fridge and on shelves. It was late at night and we were exhausted. We bought enough to last 2-3 weeks. When we came home, loaded like pack mules, we had to create an extra pantry space in the unused guest bathroom.
As of today, Los Angeles is requiring protective facial coverings be worn by everyone when out in public. I know it won’t be easy or even possible for everyone, but given the number of people I saw at the grocery store that didn’t wear any, and the level of risk I think it may be a good idea.
Question re video conferencing. If not Zoom, what platform would you recommend? We have a monthly family Skype call and Skype has been really glitchy lately. We were thinking of switching to Zoom but I’m now having second thoughts.
@Janine: We watched ST:TNG back in the day, but I’m not sure I ever saw much of the first season. I agree it got better as it went along. TheH has watched all the various ST series but I haven’t. I like Picard quite a bit, but I can’t really binge-watch anything without it losing its charms for me. So I space stuff out.
We have a big box of surgical masks, which we got before the CDC recommended wearing them and before the wave of make-your-own advice came along. So we’re in good shape. I know enough people making them that I think I can leave my Bernina alone. 🙂 TheH even has an N95 mask or two in the garage from his handyman/painting house chores, but he said there’s no way he’s wearing that outdoors, for obvious reasons. I think getting everyone to wear masks is a smart move in all kinds of ways. Even if the mask isn’t fully protective, it sends signals that remind people of what we’re up against.
Shopping is awful. The spacing and distancing and rationing of shoppers all helps, but it’s still so very stressful.
On video-conferencing, I don’t think there are better alternatives to Zoom aside from Skype (which can be glitchy) or FaceTime (which requires everyone to have Apple products). There are a couple of open-source alternatives but I don’t think they’re user-friendly enough for the average user, especially when you can’t give them directions in person. As long as you use a password to get into the meeting, send the link privately, and don’t upload recordings anywhere (best not to record if you don’t have to), you should be relatively well protected.
I don’t binge watch either but with this show I’ve watched two episodes back-to-back a couple of times back-to-back. I almost never do that and that’s what makes me worried that I’ll watch the last three on one occasion.
I forgot: a friend suggested Google Hangouts to me. Do you have any experience with that?
@Janine: D’oh! I forgot about Google Hangouts. It should work for your group. I think Catherine upthread used it and her problem was that it has a user limit that her group exceeded. But yours should be OK.
@Janine and @Sunita,
Yes, Hangouts has a limit of 10 people and gets punky around 8. But I have a standing every-other-week writing meeting that’s now in what, it’s fifth year online? I also have met with my coauthor pretty much daily that way for over a decade.
I use Zoom and am pleased by the security enhancements they’ve made. I have seen the negative press, but I think some of that is the usual social media histrionics. Just be smart about with whom you share your meeting info and passwords is all. Don’t put them out in public where trolls can get them. It’s something that has been happening more on recorded content (webinars) rather than live meetings. Free Zoom allows up to 100 participants but has a 40 minute time limit; I use the next paid level up from free and it worked out to around $12.50 a month when you pay by the year or around $15 a month USD. For what I do (I run a couple different groups) it made sense for us.
Hope that helps! We actually have the third in a weekly series of family reunion calls today on Zoom so it’s timely to have this convo. 😛
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Thanks, Sunita and Catherrine!
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