ReaderWriterVille

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Tag: technology

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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ReaderWriterLinks

First up, some reactions to MacMillan’s decision to window, i.e., delay access to, new ebook releases for libraries and therefore for their patrons. If you missed the news, MacMillan has decided that their “test” program of windowing Tor Books has worked so well that they’re expanding the policy to all library-purchased ebooks. John Sargent sent out a memo (caution: dreaded PDF format) which argued:

For Macmillan, 45% of the ebook reads in the US are now being borrowed for free from libraries. And that number is still growing rapidly. The average revenue we get from those library reads (after the wholesaler share) is well under two dollars and dropping, a small fraction of the revenue we share with you on a retail read.
The increase in library ebook reading is driven by a number of factors: a seamless delivery of ebooks to reading devices and apps (there is no friction in e-lending, particularly compared to physical book lending), the active marketing by various parties to turn purchasers into borrowers, and apps that support lending across libraries regardless of residence (including borrowing from libraries in different states and countries), to name a few.
It seems that given a choice between a purchase of an ebook for $12.99 or a frictionless lend for free, the American ebook reader is starting to lean heavily toward free.

Any reader who uses Overdrive knows that library borrowing is far from “frictionless” if you take into account how quickly you can actually get a new release and how books licenses expire. But I’ll let other, more knowledgeable and eloquent people, those who actually work in and with libraries, make the case. First up, our very own SuperWendy (and please click through and read the whole thing):

Libraries are funded by tax dollars.  Tax dollars paid by the constituents in the areas where we provide service.  I can assure you, we’re pretty fanatical about making sure users meet the residency requirements.  And “lack of friction?” What does he consider long wait lists and charging libraries more for the same ebook file they’re selling retail via Amazon?  Never mind our budgets have largely remained stagnant and we’re buying multiple formats of the Exact. Same. Book. that they published (print, Large Print, audio on CD, e-audio, ebook, and a partridge in a pear tree…)

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ReaderWriterLinks

When I was on Twitter one of my favorite follows was Alexis Madrigal, who writes about tech and society. He’s writing for the Atlantic now and I was catching up on his posts. You can click on this link to scroll through all his writings. I found his take on Uber insightful:

More important, however, VCs liked the service themselves. In 2016, Hayes recalled his first encounter with Uber: “What I saw was a product that I would use all the time, even though I never use black cars. My friends didn’t use black cars, but this was a product they were going to use all the time,” he said. He and his firm would rely on their instinct instead of putting a number on the company’s value the standard way—by looking at the market Uber was targeting and figuring out how much market share it could win.

Even investor and media super-villain Peter Thiel has made fun of Silicon Valley power players’ tendency to invest in what they themselves like. “VCs often have a blind spot for things,” he said in 2014. “They overvalue things they use. They undervalue things they don’t use. Uber is overvalued because investors like riding in Town Cars.” (Thiel, for his part, invested in Uber’s rival, Lyft.)

And SV power players really, really don’t like public transit. That’s why they spend so much time and money and marketing effort on moving individuals around, rather than groups of people. Eeuuww, traveling with “random strangers,” who would want to do that?


Tablets, which were supposed to be the new, better, laptop, continue to level off and/or decline in terms of consumer sales (they’re still very popular in a range of business and professional settings). I’m a little bit surprised by this, because tablets are excellent for consumption, which is what most people use electronic items for. But it turns out that giant phones are even better:

So, what happened?

Well, big smartphones for one thing. There are dozens of smartphones now touting displays of 6 inches and bigger. These include market leaders like Apple’s 6.5-inch iPhone XS MaxGoogle’s 5.3-inch Pixel 3 XL and Samsung’s 6.4-inch Galaxy S10 Plus. With smartphones this big, who needs tablets?

And when people do want to work, they want the full screen/keyboard/OS combination. This makes sense to me; most people don’t have the luxury of having multiple electronics, and so you will either go with just a phone (if you can’t afford a computer, you will get a phone that does as much as possible to overlap functions), or a phone and laptop. Apple is finally making iOS more functional for work requirements, but it’s taken a long time.


When I was deep in the #onebag internet rabbithole, I came across this amazing post by a woman who traveled for three weeks across the USA with one shoulder bag. I am in awe. I could never do this, but I used some of her techniques, especially the multi-use fabric and layering tips:

Nothing I packed went unused, and as mentioned in the beginning of this article, I didn’t feel like I needed anything else to have a good trip- including a laptop! When the weather was cold (like when it was in the 40s F in Chicago and windy), I layered all my merino items together and covered my ears with my Buff. When the weather was warm (like in Portland when it got up to the 80s F unexpectedly), I wore my light tunic with the Anatomie pants and Tieks.

The key is layers for any minimalist packing list to work. For mine, having several layers of merino was essential. Without being able to layer my light pieces of merino together for a warmer concoction, I would have been caught out in chilly Chicago. If not packing all the merino, a fleece jacket, or something more sufficient, would have been needed.

I would still need a jacket in windy and 40sF Chicago, I think. But an ultralight down jacket from Uniqlo is warm, inexpensive and extremely packable. I took my ultralight vest to Wales because it scrunched down to about the size of a regulation softball.