Jul 20

Masks can be art, too

We went out for an errand today. We, being the responsible sort, wore masks.

It’s odd, somehow, that we’re the responsible ones. We went out to get gas for the cars. More so because we had to use some fuel points before they expire at the end of the month than needing fuel. We missed the expiration of fuel points last month. And the month before that we got fuel because it was cheap, and we had a big discount and not-at-all empty tanks.

We’re staying at home. (I mean, just look at that hair.) We’re wearing masks. I hope you are too. Keep yourself safe. And, do it for others.

Also, these masks — highlighting the mascot, Gritty, and the band, Guster — were presents from The Yankee’s god-sister, who is very kind and works with this stuff in a university laboratory. So she wants you to wear a mask, too.

I had this setup in place today:

And if the many pieces of foam are up that can only mean one thing in my tiny home-office. It’s time to record something.

This gentleman is the director of the Eskenazi Museum here on the IU campus. They have 45,000 objects, with about 1,400 on display. Wikipedia tells me the collection ranges from Picasso to Pollock. There’s ancient jewelry and artifacts from all over the world. Coming up, when they reopen in the next few weeks, will be a wide array of exhibits. But, here, we talked about how museums, in general, are doing without foot traffic.

It’s a great museum, even if he wasn’t ready, today, to say when they are re-opening. That news, he said, is coming next week. I’m guessing late August, early September.

And you’ll need to wear a mask.

Jul 20

One over-long note on the interview process

I received an email a few weeks ago about a scientist doing a massive study on distance learning. I emailed the guy and said, I’d like to talk with you about this when the study gets to an appropriate point. And so we set a date when he was ready to talk about his findings.

That was today. And my first question was, how do you clear IRB, coordinate research from something like half a dozen universities in multiple states and get several co-authors to all pull their weight between when you started this in April and today?

Actually, my first question was, “What’s the difference between distance learning and distance education?” This was a pleasant surprise for him, and you could here it, because he realized this person might be willing to listen to the details. There are a handful of ways to get on the right side of the conversation. One of the easiest is to show you’re going to let the person do their thing. If you demonstrate to a scientist that you’re going to let him roam through nuanced terminology that is still a minor debate among his colleagues, he knows what you’re there for.

It’s sometimes helpful in getting the good answers.

I was talking with The Yankee about this still in-progress study before I talked to the lead author and she says “What’s his question?” This is a basic way to deconstruct a study, but this particular study doesn’t have an overarching question as yet, because this is all brand new. We’re in this forced march to distance instruction — and we’re going to do it again this fall, you wait and see! — and this is a first-time exposure. The question a study like this is going to try to answer is “What are the questions?”

So I tried to explain the study to my wife, from memory, while away from the study, and while we were riding bicycles. I failed at this explanation because she finally said “I still don’t know what his question is.” Which was when I suggested she stop being a grad school professor for a second.

What’s interesting about this interview, to me, though, is that I started thinking up questions with no idea what the answers might be, still-brand-new study and all. Some Thursdays, you work without a net.

Jul 20

Back on campus today again

I had a tough bike ride on Saturday. This was my only photo, and I was basically back at the house and worn down and had pretty much given up on the whole thing for quite a while, anyway.

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Thirty miles in the wind.

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Sometimes it is like that. Some days you feel great. Great! And somedays are off. Or some days you just feel lousy about the whole thing. It is always better to have done it. That’s the constant. Even on the lousy rides, like this one on Saturday. I had a headache in the middle of the it, which might be a first for the thousands of miles and the few thousand hours I have spent staring down at handlebars.

But the speed was about … average for what I’ve come to expect lately. So call it an uneven evening ride of pushing through. I stayed with The Yankee for half of it, anyway. She took a different route and I just turned around at one point. She came in about 10 minutes and with an extra two miles or so. Hers was better than mine, which is always nice.

Which leads us nicely to the weekly cat pictures. This is perhaps the cutest one I took of Phoebe this week.

But it is not the best one I took of her. I’m saving that series for a rainy day.

Poseidon was very sleepy this weekend. When he wasn’t being demanding, challenging, loud, too aggressive or otherwise overbearing.

So normal cat stuff, I guess.


Back on campus today. We spent six hours in Studio 5 tearing down a set. Last year they built a set for an apartment for one of the production classes. Somewhere along the way it was decided that the set wasn’t sufficient. So, after many meetings, it was decided that this set was coming down.

So today we took ratchet to bolts and pry bars to nails and it all came down and the soundstage is a soundstage again.

People also balanced lights in suspension system hanging in the rafters and we tore down an ancient wall fixture which required brute force, which is why they keep me around.

Someone also put in an order for a dumpster for all the stuff that was due to be disposed of from the studio. We filled the loading dock with debris and it will go a long way toward filling the dumpster.

When it got down to the point of removing tape from the floor I knew it was time to leave … just as soon as the tape was cleaned up.

It was a productive Monday, I suppose. I stopped by the grocery store on the way to the house. I was intent to count the masks to no-masks, but gave up when it was 11-2, masks and I needed to find the most direct route to the areas of the store I needed with the fewest people between points A, B, C and D.

All of the products I wanted were there. I picked up all of the products I wanted. I breezed through the self-checkout and hustled outside, so I could go directly to the domicile in the most indirect route possible. There’s road work, you see. So I had to go through a neighborhood that we usually ride bikes through and I had to remind myself the car and the bike approach things differently. Also, the hills are much smaller with an internal-combustion engine at your disposal. The music is better, too.

Back inside, groceries put away, showered, snacked and then catching up on the day’s email and then dinner and, now, this. It wasn’t exactly a full day, but it was full enough. There were people and achievements and a place to sit down at the end of it, so full enough indeed.

Jul 20

Tigers, fireworks and back on campus, oh my!

We went to the nearby feline rescue this weekend. It was our first time out of the house for anything more than groceries or takeout or exercise since March. The place made at least a passing effort at taking everyone’s temperatures and masks were required. Smaller groups would be preferable, but they were limiting it to 10 people per tour.

It’s hard for people to stay out of each other’s way when they’re gazing in wonder.

Or just, you know, in general.

Anyway, our tour was supposed to last for 45 minutes, but it’s slow out there so our guide let us linger so everyone could get their national geographic photographs. We stayed on the property for just about 90 minutes. They have 150 or so cats they take care of — it’s a rescue and you heard some of the bizarre and some of the sad stories — and a few dozen of them were on display for the gawkers.

And it was a warm day, being July. So there was a lot of shade for the cats, which was nice to see and no doubt appreciated by the animals.

They’re a mixture of oblivious to people …

And oddly curious about you. In fact, they’ve probably seen more people than I have in the last few weeks. And they get their space, too. So it’s a happy little setup, as these things go.

And almost all of the tigers were interested in me.

This guy seemed to know it, and he was telling me RUN!

As in, “No, please, go. I feel the need to chase something down … ”

Here’s a thing you learn about tigers when you’re just a few feet away from them. All the sounds a house cat makes, a giant cat makes too, and they scale up. Just the sound of one of these massive things giving himself a bath gives one a lot to think about.

And the cats really liked me.

Almost all of them. Maybe it’s because I’m a Tiger. Maybe it was something I was wearing, or my animal magnetism, or that I’d slathered myself in chicken juice before we got there.

And, look, I don’t want to question the craftsmanship of a professional here, but when a tiger is casually walking directly toward you, you have a moment to think about the durability of a chainlink fence. There’s just enough time to hope that guy had a good day at the fence factory. No hassles at home, no aching joints, no in-law distractions or musings about his weekend on the lake. Just good, solid, earnest, pride in his work.

You don’t have enough time, though, to consider the plant that makes the nails, whether the second shift was on their game when they made the ones holding the fence against the wood. And, goodness knows when that wood was installed and it may be rotten already. You don’t have time to think about those things, or the team that assembled all of this here in 19Who Knows When.

You become keenly aware of the idea, percolating in your head and not yet verbalized, that all of this would merely slow down a properly motivated machine like this.

I liked how she was sneaking up on me from behind the maple tree. Completely fooled me.

There were two of these on our part of the tour today. Got a glimpse of one, and while I try to avoid the fence aesthetic, it couldn’t be helped here, and I hope you’ll overlook it. How beautiful is this creature?

Anyway, a warm day also allows for the indulgence of a cool bath. All of the tigers have giant plastic barrels. Those big heavy duty things that are in no way a simulation to tender human flesh because the barrels are much more sturdy. They are playthings. All of the barrels are destroyed.

The tigers don’t destroy their baths though. They’ve got this whole thing figured out.

“Wanna come in for a dip? It’s hot out.”

“But it’s so nice in here … ”

Thanks, tiger, but no thanks.

Fourth of July was even more subdued than normal. No big civic events. We almost saw the little parade one of the nearby neighborhoods runs. We rode through the route on our bikes twice. Just missed it both times. We were the beginning, and the end of the parade, then.

We had cheeseburgers and corn off the grill, and cheesecake out of the fridge. Everything was delightful.

The neighbors, who have been working on their ballistics and trajectories for several days now, put on quite the impressive display. Had to be the better part of a mortgage payment. Anyway, this isn’t how you properly record fireworks, of course, but this is how I always remember them, fuzzy and dreamy. ‬

There were just things exploding every which direction. And neighbors elsewhere were launching things from decks. Here’s to prevailing winds and sensible precautions and the good old American technique of eyeballing flammable projectiles. But the big show was still going on. And it went on and on.

This was the fourth of five finales. They had a good time, and many of the neighbors approved. It was festive when there were few festive things taking place out of sensible precaution. How he managed to keep the really big explosions out of the woods that were just feet away is a mystery.

And, to his credit, they stopped promptly at 10:30. It’s a decent gesture and makes sense. He had to get up early the next morning to clean the debris.

(He did not.)

Back to work today. It’s my first time working in the building since mid-March, 116 days for me. Everything else has been work-from-home, which we are both fortunate enough to be able to do. I’ll be back off and on campus sporadically for a while, in the hopes of having a semester. And then, if things go according to plan, we’ll have an oddly structured semester. A lot of things have to go right for that, however, and while that is the plan and the hope, it’s easy to be skeptical about it.

But! Yet! We are still a considerable ways removed. It is impossible to say from this vantage point what our reality will be in August, September and October. Why would you want that sort of certainty in your daily routine, anyway?

So today, we moved furniture. Large rooms will stay the same size, but their capacities are considerably reduced. Our commons, which would seat 50 something is down to 17. Our largest classroom has a fire code of 72, or thereabouts. It has a covid code of 21. Our standard sized rooms will seat eight plus an instructor. It’s going to be a strange school year, to say the very, very least.

So after this morning’s bike ride I got cleaned up, donned a mask went to campus and got sweaty again flipping tables and stacking chairs. When this comes up I like to smile and say “This is why I went to college. And grad school!”

Also, today, Harvard went entirely online. And the U.S. government said “If your school goes entirely online and you’re an international student, you must go home.” It’s going to be a strange, sad school year. We’re going to be a hybrid institution. I’ll be doing a lot of my work from home, and I am incredibly fortunate in this respect. That’s been a lesson for a lot of us this year, hasn’t it? You can be both in a fortunate situation and still not in an ideal situation.

But tigers!

Jun 20

Yeah, this got away from me

Down at the lake today we didn’t see anyone we know, which is a change of pace. The last few times we’ve been we’ve run into some work friends. Today there were a couple of young families and they stayed mostly away, but for the occasional friendly kid who would wander over.

You can learn a lot about kids and parents and life by hearing just enough of the conversations and negotiations that go on as non sequiturs. And you can tell, pretty quickly, if there’s a parent that plays the heavy. No one wants to do that, of course, because it’s a warm day and you’re on the lake and it’s summertime and everything’s great on the water. How could everything not be great?

There were a few kayaks out on the water, and boats way up and away from this slew, which has generally been a quite and casual place. I sat under a shade tree and watched The Yankee swim and the butterflies dance:

I forgot to mention this here earlier this week, but there’s a new show for you to listen to, if you haven’t already subscribed over there at Soundcloud dot com or any of the other locations where your many fine podcasts are found. Subscribe! Or you might have to wait to find them here, when I can apparently get around to it.

Anyway, this is assistant dean Jill Shedd, of IU’s school of education. She also sits on her local school corporation’s board. It just so happens that not too long before we recorded this interview the state said “What we will be doing this fall is … up to the local schools … ” so we talked about what the fall might look like. The answer is, it depends.

But there’s also a lot at stake here. Safety for students and adults, first and foremost. Secondly, there’s an issue of whether teachers will come back. There’s been a national survey, which we discussed briefly here, that should give one pause. And there’s another survey that suggests parents are thinking about it, too. That, as Dean Shedd points out, could impact money.

Fortunately the schools in this state won’t see any budget cuts this year. The governor has said that this week, so it’s a good time to have this episode of the podcast, and you should listen to it, is what we’re saying.

And now I have to wait for the next round of guests to come my way. I hope the people who insisted on being a part of that booking process will work quickly on that front. We, as is said in the most detestable line of dialog ever, will see.

A close second is ‘Time will tell.’ Sure time will tell, but only if your construct of time removes it from the abstract and applies some sentience. Or assumes that, by the time that time does, in fact, tell, I will still have the capacity to appreciate what time has told us. We’ll see about that, too.

Tied and at a distant third on the list of most detestable sayings are “I am sorry, sir, but we are out of ice cream,” and “Our internet is down.”

What’s on your list of worst sayings? And have noticed how the list of wurst sayings is so different, and so much better?