Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Random bullets of tech, etc.: working hard or hardly working?

  1.  Mostly working hard. I've completed some writing & received editorial compliments on a forthcoming article, which makes me happy. Judgment: Working hard.
  2. My on-again, off-again love affair with Endnote is on again after I discovered how easy it is to attach and read .pdfs in it. Yes, it's more expensive than Zotero (which costs $0), and definitely more glitchy, but I understand it, which goes a long way when you don't want to reformat your brain to learn a new kind of software. One of its most touted features blows up my computer in a spectacularly awful way if I dare to try to use it, so I won't be doing that again any time soon. Judgment: Hardly working.
  3. Does anyone else do this with new technology? My iPhone had gotten so ancient that Apple had done the tech equivalent of telling me to send it to Shady Pines for a good long rest, so I bought a new one a month ago. Why did I wait a month to set it up? Because I knew there was a good chance that the "Setup your new phone in 15 easy steps" would go wildly wrong and that I would have to sit on hold to get it straightened out. It didn't go wildly wrong, just a little wrong (problem: too ancient an iPhone to do the new kind of setup), and yet, I did spend time talking with tech support to get it set up. Judgment: Hardly working.
  4. It's funny: I used to read The Chronicle of Higher Ed and Inside Higher Ed fairly religiously, the latter more than the former, but since they're both paywalled now and you can't read more than a few words, I've mostly given up. Yes, IHE gives you some free articles if you sign in, but by the time I've tried to log in, been told that my password is wrong (and it always is), I kind of lose interest. Same is true for CHE, which I can get months-old versions of from Northern Clime's online library, but by the time I've logged into the library, done the two-factor authentication, found it, etc. it doesn't seem worth the bother. I feel about those the way I feel about games: if it's more work to play than fun to play, forget it. Judgment: Hardly working.
  5. Same holds true for article links posted on the dying hulk of Twitter: if you have access, use a gift link in your tweet, for heaven's sake; otherwise you're just tormenting us with something we can't read. The whole "whither goest thou, English major?" set of articles recently were probably good, but except for the one in The New Yorker, I couldn't read any of them and, yes, gave up. Judgment: Hardly working.
  6. For one brief moment, in wrestling with images this week,  I wanted to go back to an easier, simpler time when departments had People to whom you could say "I'd like .TIFF files of X, Y, and A," and they would make it so. Or is this simpler time a complete illusion? Were there ever such People to help professors in this way? Anyway: hardly working. 
  7. For a brief moment, Northern Clime had some screencast system where students and instructors could project stuff on a screen, if you downloaded it and learned the intricacies of the program, but then it went away, to be replaced by something else, maybe.  Time spent learning software that gets replaced frequently = time spent on hold with the phone company, working your way through the bots and the automated systems until a real person can fix the problem. Hardly working.
  8. Wordpress hates me again this week, so I couldn't comment at nicoleandmaggie's or any of your Wordpress blogs. I fill out the info, and WP tells me, "I'm afraid I can't do that, Undine." Congrats on DC1 going to Carleton! Hardly working.
  9. On the other hand, this whole process of frustration at not being able to read or access stuff means more time to do actual, you know, reading and writing, so here's the good news, related to point #1: working hard.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Random bullets of an in-person conference

 I recently returned from a conference in a field that I love (think: flying dinosaur studies) but that I don't publish in as much. It's the second or third in-person conference I've been to since lockdown, and while Zoom conferences provide more access and don't cause you to spend your vacation fund traveling somewhere (no reimbursements for this trip), in-person still has some advantages.

This was a different experience because it's a conference where I knew no one--well, I knew maybe one person--and no one knows me, so I had no expectations about how things would go. 

  • Everyone was so nice! Sure, there were obviously people who were Eminences, but they were nice, too, and their questions in Q & A sessions didn't exclude the rest of us. 
  • There was no alternate paper-giving (i.e., "this is more of a comment than a question"). There was none of the "And you are? And you teach where?" kind of nametag-checking and conversations I've seen at other conferences. 
  • Getting on an elevator, I saw an Eminence whose books I've had on my shelf for ages and was a bit starstruck. I see Eminences at my usual conferences but haven't had this starstruck feeling for years--maybe because it's a different field?
  • Let's not forget the sheer fun of seeing in person the people whose books line my shelves and my folders full of .pdf articles.
  • The papers were brilliant but also accessible--really amazing. The panelists really did aim to convey ideas and encourage discussion. Part of it may have been that there were enough panels on the areas that interest me that I knew all the texts they were talking about and felt at home in the discussions. 
  • Also, hearing and overhearing incidental discussions about what people are working on gives you a hazy but useful impression of what might be going on in the field, one that helps the impressions and notes from the sessions themselves. 

And about the conference experience?

  • It's hard to explain, but people seemed kind. Their eyes were kind if they met your gaze.  There's a hard-edged conference face that you see a lot when people are stressed and trying to get from Point A to Point B, even if they're not being stone-faced in looking at your name tag before they meet your eyes. There didn't seem to be any of that--and again, as an anonymous observer, albeit with a name tag, I would have seen it. 
  • Maybe this is because everyone's happy to be back in person after the pandemic? 
  • The conference had encouraged masks, and probably about 10% of people wore them at any given time. 
  • The conference tech for showing media was all good. I saw only one mad scramble for Mac dongles because the people at Apple can't get it together and have the same kind of dongle from year to year. The EU has put its collective foot down and mandated USB-C connectors from now on, and it's about time. We can't do that here, because it might be suspiciously linked with the metric system or something, hence un-American, but it's a great idea.
  • Something that works: a pitcher of ice water and glasses. Something that doesn't always: a water dispensing machine with no instructions for use. This conference had water pitchers but also the machines. Do you press the buttons on the front, which seem to be made to be pressed?  Nope, you hold your hand about two inches from one of the buttons, which is in fact a sensor. I learned this from one of the hotel people refilling shelves of glasses and immediately passed on this great wisdom to the people after me. 
  • A thing that seems to have disappeared is people live-tweeting a session. This may be because Twitter is a total trainwreck these days, but the evolution of conference etiquette seems to be this:
    •  2011: thinking about live-tweeting a session.
    • 2012: Wondering about the etiquette of live-tweeting, which in the early days people did without threading their responses, which was very annoying.
    • 2012: Tables set up for those tweeting.  I didn't see this at MLA this year, so maybe it's not a thing any more.
    • 2023: People type or write from their seats, and there's always wifi, so they don't have to make a big deal of it. They maybe do one tweet promoting their session before the conference and maybe one responding to a session, and that's it. Maybe people have come to the same conclusion I did privately some years back: it's in a book or an article, and I can read it later with real attention instead of dividing my attention between trying to condense complex ideas into 120 characters and listening to the speaker.
Have you noticed anything different about in-person conferences these days?