ReaderWriterVille

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Category: technology

LFH: Day 13

It was a relief to get through the teaching part of the week. I turned my attention to the admin stuff that I had put aside while I was figuring out classes and Zoom. In addition to the usual department and university tasks, I also needed to finish setting up my laptop

A couple of weeks before spring break I finally pulled the trigger and nuked the Windows 10 OS on my work laptop. I got Debian 10 up and running and installed a few of the additional programs I knew I wanted, and I got the dock, external keyboard, and mouse working. But I was short of a fully satisfactory system, and now I also had to manage new video and communication programs. I’d been switching between computers and between different Zoom apps and it was frustrating because each option had drawbacks.

Yesterday morning I managed to get the Linux Zoom client for Debian installed successfully, and what a difference that made. It seems to be full-featured and I can keep it running in the background. I also discovered that Microsoft Teams has a Linux version and that turned out to be relatively easy to install as well. Once both were up and running I uninstalled Google Chrome. I also installed my preferred alternative to Microsoft Office for simple tasks, which is the desktop (non-server) version of OnlyOffice. I’m a long way from a Linux expert so getting everything I wanted felt like a major accomplishment. And I got my bluetooth earbuds to work after a little bit of tinkering and dowloading.

That done, I logged into Zoom for yet another admin meeting. I’m on a college scholarship committee for incoming students. It gives research-focused students a full scholarship in one of four areas, and I’m on the one for social science. I’ve done it for years and I enjoy it a great deal. Usually we invite the finalist candidates out for a weekend and show them the campus and then interview them. The university visit is frequently a deciding factor for these kids, who are highly sought after. Obviously this year the campus visit, which would have taken place this weekend, wasn’t possible, but the College decided to keep as much of the schedule as they could, switching to virtual hangouts with current scholars and then video interviews with the committee.

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LFH: Days 11 & 12

I missed writing up Day 11 yesterday because I was busy making PowerPoints for my classes. I should have done that on Tuesday, which is what I’d promised the students, but Tuesday I was busy putting out administrative fires and holding Zoom meetings. So here’s a recap of both days, what I can remember.

The administrative stuff is winding down a little, but we still have upcoming faculty meetings that we have to prepare materials for. As part of the department’s governance this semester I’m included in a bunch of stuff that in ordinary times would have been mostly routine but is now more work. On top of that we’re still trying to find solutions for students whose study abroad programs ended abruptly. Luckily it’s a subset of the overall population of study-abroad students, but each one takes work. Then there’s the book chapter I completely forgot I had to finish revising this past week, so that was another round of emails with my extremely understanding editor who was mostly worried when he hadn’t heard from me. And so on.

I know I did some other stuff on Tuesday but I can’t remember what it was. On to Wednesday: up early to finish the slides for my classes, which turned out better than I was afraid they would. I had technical glitches in the first class (the whole screen-share while seeing the chat window thing, plus my microphone and earbuds not working well together on the Surface Go). But we eventually got those problem straightened out and had a decent class, with less than usual interaction but more than none. We went the whole class time and then I had 35 minutes to catch my breath before a committee meeting which I had to leave after an hour because I had to teach my afternoon class.

That class went really well, with plenty of interaction and some very good discussions. I noticed that on both teaching days the classes that started with technical difficulties didn’t rebound as well as the classes that went smoothly from the beginning. Which is not surprising, I guess. Also, the material in yesterday afternoon’s Privacy class was more engaging, so that probably affected it.

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LFH: Day 10

We held our first classes yesterday, and they went pretty well. TheH and I both have classes in the 10am slot, so we went into our workspaces, which are in side-by-side rooms, closed the doors and logged into Zoom. I had about 75% turnout in both classes, which was pretty good I thought. TheH had even more. I hadn’t scheduled any readings or discussion, they were just check-ins and chances to ask questions about the revised syllabi and requirements.

It was so good to see their faces! Since most of my students are juniors and seniors, quite a few were still here in St. Louis. Another big group were on the east coast, mostly in the NY area and in isolation. I got the first class to work smoothly but in the second class I managed to start with my audio muted and didn’t realize it despite the chat messages piling up on the right: “Prof. P., you’re muted!” But I eventually got myself straightened out and we chatted for a while. I explained the changes and that they could take the class pass/fail and still get major credit. I also emphasized, though, that I was going to teach as much of the material as I could, because our interest hadn’t gone away. There were professors who were talking about ending their classes, giving all As, and the like, but I wasn’t going to do that. (Although my grading is going to be more forgiving this semester, that’s for sure.)

It was stressful getting ready for the classes. TheH and I did a test run on Zoom beforehand since neither of us had initiated a meeting before. I set up all the class meetings in the Zoom option within Canvas but they only showed up in the class lists for one class even though all the sessions had been successfully created. I also picked a bad time to switch my work laptop to Linux. It doesn’t work as well with Zoom and I couldn’t get the audio to work. Zoom, along with Microsoft Teams, works best in the Chrome browser and doesn’t have all its features working in Firefox. So there I was, in Linux, but still having to download and install Chrome. Grrr. Anyway, I abandoned Linux for the day and set up my little Surface Go, which I knew worked with everything, and hooked it up to the dock and monitor so I could have a big screen to see the Brady-Bunch squares of my students in the bigger afternoon class (46 in the afternoon, 25 in the morning). I’ll see if I can fix the Zoom problem on the Linux laptop today, because I’d like to keep that setup if I can. I’ll just dedicate all my communications stuff to the Chrome browser, which isn’t a bad deal (Zoom has a Linux app but people have audio problems in that one too, from what I hear).

By the time my second class was done I was exhausted. I caught up on some work email and then crashed for an hour or so. I woke up in time to walk the dogs with TheH.

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Productivity 2020

I’ve been promising myself I’d write a productivity post. I like having them to look back on, and I read other people’s posts on how they organize their work and general lives and enjoy them, so the least I can do is contribute one. Things haven’t changed that much, which I guess is probably a good thing. I’m not a big experimenter anymore, although I still read posts and discussions about productivity; you never know when you’ll come across a great idea.

Planners

I’m sticking with the Hobonichi Techo as my main planner, and I managed not to buy a new cover for it (which is good because I have several already). I switch the cover out at various times over the year; right now I’m carrying the adorable Polar Bear cover from a few years ago. My new planner addition is the Hobonichi Weeks, which is a slim weekly planner with a thick section of numbered pages for notes at the back. I got it because I wanted something that would combine a calendar with notes for work purposes, and so far it’s working well. I take the Weeks to meetings and I can also write weekly stuff on the notes page facing the week-on-one-page calendar. I still put all my work calendar stuff in the Techo but this way my personal info and notes aren’t in something I take to work meetings. It does mean I’m carrying two planners back and forth during the workweek, but the Weeks is small enough that it doesn’t take up much room or add weight.

I never did fill out the 5-year Hobonichi, so I wound up giving it to the son of some friends. We hooked him on planners, pens, and notebooks when he was in middle school and he hadn’t seen this one. He’ll make good use of it.

Pens

I have severely cut down my fountain pen rotation to the point where I’m just using three right now. I bought two new pens last year, a Pilot Prera to replace one in which I somehow lost the nib while on a trip (I have no idea how that happened, it’s pretty unheard-of), and a TWSBI Vac Fill Mini with a Fine nib because I was curious about the filling system and wanted a pen that would hold a lot of ink. The TWSBI has a steel nib that I find very comfortable to write with. It’s a heavy pen for being a mini, and it’s really not that mini in my relatively small hands, but it’s comfortable to write with when I need a fine point (e.g., for my Hobos and when I’m writing on crappy paper). The third pen is a Montblanc Mozart with a wet Medium nib. I use that when I write up my class notes and for longer-form writing. I also borrowed TheH’s Vanishing Point (M nib) and I like it but it’s a bit heavy for long stretches of writing. I probably need to add another M or European wet F nib into the rotation, because the Mozart is just a bit small when writing steadily and for a long time. I have plenty of those to choose from.

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2020: News/Infotainment Detox

Like so many other people, I’m exhausted and stressed by reading the news every day but I don’t seem to be able to stop. I’ve written before about how frustrating I find the conflation of reported news, speculation, and opinion/analysis. I can’t count the number of times I’ve started to read a story only to find that it’s not actual news, just someone’s take on what might happen given particular scenarios.

Last month, I proposed a news detox to TheHusband, who has been in the same stress boat. I suggested that we completely avoid reading the news online and return to the old ways of acquiring information: the television, radio, and printed newspapers and magazines. This would be a big change for us, because both of us read news sites more than any other on our phones and computers. But after the daily frenzy of impeachment “reporting” we had to do something. Impeachment was a textbook case of the problem: there was actual news, as in hearings, votes, etc., but that took up a minority of the virtual inches devoted to the subject. So much of the coverage was about what might happen, how it might affect the Democratic race for the nomination, and so on.

We started in mid-December and set some ground rules. We decided that we could continue to read the Wall Street Journal and the Financial Times because they have clearly delineated news vs. opinion sections, and they have very little gossip fluff of any kind. We also allowed ourselves to check in on local newspapers for similar reasons. We could read the front page of any paper as long as we didn’t click through on an article. And I kept reading sports and book sections. So we weren’t completely offline for news.

At first it was pretty disorienting. It turns out we spent a LOT of time on The Washington Post (both of us), the Guardian (me) and CNN and BBC’s mobile versions (mostly TheH). The WSJ and the FT take a lot less time to read online, too, so we were done pretty much when our morning tea was finished. Over the rest of the day we had to find other sources of timepass, which meant reading more on our ereaders, me knitting, and even playing card and board games.

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