LFH: Days 18-21

by Sunita

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.