Earlier today, during a break from grading papers and writing exams, I poked around my iTunes library and got a hankering for listening to some music from my youth. One title that came up was No Alternative, the compilation of “alt-rock” bands to benefit the AIDS charity Red Hot. Although it was released in late 1993, it made its impact in 1994—one of the greatest ever years in popular music—and most of the songs still resonate with my aging ears.
One of the songs on the compilation that has unsettled those same ears is Bob Mould’s “Can’t Fight It.” I closely listened to this meditation on breaking up because it seemed to fit the melancholic mood of this cool, foggy day in New York City. For years, I’ve listened to this song and there has been a moment of silence at about 1:02 into the song. It’s not a pause; it’s as if the audio is just missing.
Having bought the CD from a reputable dealer, I reasoned that the silence was a dramatic, though disruptive pause in the middle of a very emotional song. Although I knew very little about Husker Dü or Sugar, Mould always struck me as an unconventional artist so I thought the pause was part of this artistic intent.
I was wrong.
Years ago, I ripped the No Alternative CD into my iTunes library, and although I have been an iTunes Match subscriber since 2011, I didn’t much pay attention to the “Matched” status. In iTunes, “Matched” means that iCloud had recognized that track as “Can’t Fight It” and that it would play on any of my authorized devices, such as my iPhone or any other Mac I control. It also means that I can download a fresh copy from the iTunes store should I delete the original audio file.
Wondering whether the iTunes version had the same moment of silence I’ve heard for over twenty years, I deleted the mid-2000s–era rip I made from my copy of No Alternative and downloaded a copy from the iTunes Store. Not only did the iTunes copy sound a little “richer,” it also played without that silent moment.
Well, I’ll be damned. My CD was defective all this time. I wonder how many other people got a CD with this silent moment in such an emotionally touching song.
As a qualified audio purist, I now have a bunch of questions. Which is the authentic recording? Is it the one with silent pause from my twenty-one–year-old CD? Is it the uninterrupted version? Is this an issue on the cassette version?
Or, should I just be happy that after over twenty years, I finally listened to this song as it was originally intended?
Google Classroom labels this teacher a “hero,” presumably because it will take a superuser to restore students’ deleted work.
Starting a year ago this month, Google offered its Apps for Education clients Google Classroom, a free-to-use, stripped-down learning management system. I became intrigued with the offering, especially after both Queens College and Fordham adopted it and began offering workshops to train faculty on how to use it. I adopted it in the middle of this current spring semester, and it did what I wanted…except when it deleted all of my Fordham students’ work.
LMS No More
After teaching university-level classes for more than a decade, I’ve had it with bloated Learning Management Systems. A couple of years ago, I swore off Blackboard and Moodle because, as an adjunct professor, it was too much work to manage three or four courses on multiple learning management platforms. It was much easier to launch a static, public-facing website that all my students could find with an easy-to-remember URL or a web search. They could get a particular week’s readings, for example, in as little as two clicks and usually without ever entering a password.
However, going with a static web site instead of an LMS meant I would lose two key features: a gradebook and a platform to collect assignments electronically.
The gradebooks on Moodle and Blackboard both suck. Even when I used an LMS, I resorted to recording and calculating my grades on a spreadsheet: first Excel, then Numbers, and now Google Sheets. The added benefit of using a spreadsheet program is that I can upload grades with a tab-delimited or comma-separated values (CSV) file. It not only cuts down on the tedium of inputting grades using slow-responding pull-down menus, it also cuts down on errors.1
Collecting assignments, on the other hand, remained tricky and offered no perfect solution. Having students email me resulted in an alphabet soup of attachments—PDF, RTF, DOCX, ODT, you name it—that I would have to convert, organize, and maybe even print to grade. Google Drive seemed to offer a better solution: students could compose or upload their assignment and then share the document with me. But then I would end up with a ton of files in my own Drive that I would have to organize, too. I also would get annoying email notifications for each student alerting me that I have been invited to view, comment, or edit someone’s document. And, at Queens College, students would have to share their document with email@example.com but not my more official email address of firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s because QC doesn’t use Google Mail, and Google Apps doesn’t know that email@example.com is the same user as firstname.lastname@example.org.
The most basic solution appeared to be having students bring paper copies to class. But as Steve Jobs said about using a stylus for smartphones, nobody wants that: “You have to get them and put them away, and then you lose them.”
The same goes for hard copies. Students inevitably have printer issues, forget or neglect to staple their pages, or simply don’t bring their assignment to class and then ask, “can I bring it to your mailbox?” For an adjunct who comes to campus only once a week, that’s not practical. I’ve also had it with shuttling student papers from one place to another and organizing them into piles across the floor of my home office. There has to be a better way!
Google Does Homework
Because they each use Google Apps for Education, Google Classroom is available at Queens College and at Fordham University. The platform offers two compelling features. First, it allows you to post announcements to your students, and second, it allows you collect assignments—nicely organized into a Classroom folder in my Google Drive—and respond to each student’s work. I could care less for the announcements feature, but the assignments function seemed to address my quibbles over using Google Drive. Students submit their assignments and they go to a folder in my Google Drive. I can grade an assignment for each student, comment on their document, and “return” it with feedback.
When I went to grade an assignment, I noticed that a particular student, let’s call her Allison, had attached a file from her Drive. When I followed the link, labelled “Drive File,” I got a Not Found: 404 Error message.
I see that Allison attached a “Drive File.”
But following the “Drive File” link yields this 404-error page.
That was odd. I wrote Allison and explained that she must have done something wrong to improperly submit her assignment. I proceeded to grade the next student’s assignment. Brandon also had a “Drive File” link and following it took me to the same 404-error page. The same thing happened for Charlene, for Dmitri, for Evelyn, and for Federico.
Fuck! All the work was gone.
A few panicked web searches led me to a Google Classroom support forum. Having not found a topic relevant to my problem, I started a new one. A tech support forum moderator promptly responded and suggested a puzzling course of action: that we check our Trash. It was basically a case of Classroom moving our files to my Trash, and I should expect to find them there.
I reflexively like to keep my Trash empty because I’m old and remember when hard drive storage was a scarce resource. Keeping the trash empty ensured you had liberated some drive sectors for more important files.
Apparently, because the student’s work ended up mysteriously in my Trash, all the student files were now gone because I emptied the Trash on my Google Drive. Moreover, when I asked a few students to resubmit their assignments, they told me that they couldn’t find their documents. Not only did Classroom delete the files from my Drive, it also deleted it from their Drives too.
I reported that this “new information had come to light,” and the same support forum moderator suggested that we do some workaround to recover our work. Despite suspecting that this workaround didn’t apply to our situation, I had the students try it anyway: unsubmitting and resubmitting their assignments didn’t work. The files were still gone!
And That’s Why We Back Up Our Work
After realizing that the Google support staff could not help us, I called the support staff at Fordham. The Google Apps administrators there were able to restore the Classroom files from a backup and bring back my students’ work.
Compared to other learning management systems, Google Classroom is really limited, but it touts one worthwhile feature that I liked: collecting and grading student work. But after deleting my students’ assignments, it looks like I will have to revert to collecting papers in class. I simply can’t trust Google Classroom to do the one thing it was supposed to do.
It was also a wake up to my students: the cloud is not a backup.
My colleagues at CUNY have warned me to submit my grades on time, otherwise I would have to fill out grade changes for each student on multiple slips of paper. I joked that I would rather do that, using a mail merge or something similar, than deal with those slow-responding pull-down menus on CUNY First. ↩
Yes, I am aware that this site went all of April neglected like a dissertation chapter and a pile of ungraded, poorly written undergraduate. I didn’t get to update it much because I’ve been preoccupied with a few things:
Yes, I did get that MacBook Pro with Retina display. As you know, I decided the newly updated 13-inch model was the best computer for me…as long as we define “a computer” as a Mac portable. That turned out to be a curse because the computer and I have been inseparable since then. As is common at this time of the year, there’s a lot of work to do. A lot!
I made two, two, two trips to California in April for a couple of weddings. Despite being very sour on flying recently, I kind of enjoyed getting back in the air. If one can be in “mid-season” form going to an airport and boarding a plane, I was in it. Personally, I hate taking taxis to an airport, especially by myself, because of the disproportionate cost in traveling five miles to, say LaGuardia, compared to flying 2,500 miles to Los Angeles. And the chances of crashing are much higher in an Uber on the BQE than sitting in a Boeing six miles above the ground. Thus, I prefer to save some bucks and go multi-modal, using the subway and bus. That results in some just-in-time arrivals, which I don’t mind because it spares me from the gate lice. My friend Mark, a multimillion-miler on American Airlines, concurs with this approach.
Of course, the trips themselves were fun, too. I saw a lot of people, including lots of friends and family. I ate King Crab on a pier in Santa Barbara and fried scallops in the warehouse district southeast of DTLA. I even got to go on a bike ride.
And the weddings were great, too. I realized that, despite my earlier reservations, I like going to weddings. It helps that I don’t have to hear Sarah’s friends criticize every aspect of their own friend’s wedding, such as “can you believe this food?” and “this has to be the worst one yet!” Also, since there’s no immiment threat of staging my own wedding, I don’t feel that sense of failed dread I had when I was a teenager riding in my friends’ cars before I had even had my learner’s permit.
The weather is finally nice enough to enjoy cycling. Aside from crashing my bike on East Third Street in late March, I have really enjoyed being out on a bike. That crash, which happened on my way from Brooklyn to NYU, was bad enough that since then I’ve been unable to fully bend my knee. I can extend it just fine so I can ride a bike as far as ninety miles with almost no pain, but tying my shoes has been an entirely different matter. March was an especially miserable month for bicycling, and we had to two rides shortened because of icy road conditions. However, in the last few weeks, we’ve stepped things up and have been riding 80-90 miles on a single weekend day.
It’s softball season. Softball really is like the mob. No matter how hard I try to get out, I can’t not play. The only possible ways I can see “getting out” is to relocate to a far-off, remote place where no one knows I ever played softball… or to die. I wound up on four teams again, although I have missed a lot of games to that nagging cycling injury and because of my other commitments. However, it’s nice being out there again doing something I’m relatively good doing.
Now that I’m becoming accustomed to this new pace, to carrying around a heavy backpack and a light sweater, I’m genuinely excited about breathing and such. No, seriously. Not only has it been a hard eight months, but over the winter, it literally hurt to breathe that bitter, icy air. I’ll settle for the occasional allergy attack.
Almost immediately after the Apple Event on March 9, I had formed two basic opinions about the two most noteworthy products introduced that day. First, I was ready to jettison my trusty old 2009 MacBook Pro for the new 12-inch Macbook with Retina display. Second, now that Apple had announced more details about the Watch, including pricing, I was intrigued but not convinced I could use one. I was also interested by the third big announcement, regarding HBO Now as a standalone product, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the runaway hit some had predicted it could be. However, in the two months since the Apple event, I have almost completely reversed my thinking on all these fronts.
The Apple Watch now seems like a must-have device
Many of my Apple-obsessed friends listed having a “Dick Tracy watch” as their primary reason for wanting an Apple Watch. They might be disappointed as some early reviews judge the sound quality as, shall we say, suboptimal. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, I realized the utility of the Apple Watch after taking a bike ride. It will save me from having to fetch my phone from my pocket or bag: something we do, according to David Pogue, over a hundred times a day.
The new MacBook seems like an overpriced and underpowered device
I have to admit that, despite keeping up with iOS devices and knowing a bit their specs and performance metrics, I am relatively uninformed about recent Mac desktops and portables. Sure, I know that these things were getting thinner and lighter. Yes, I knew that Apple had banished the optical drive and spinning hard disk from most of their notebooks. And, of course, I was absolutely convinced that a Retina display would be a must-have feature for my next computer.
However, I didn’t know exactly how much had changed since 2009. RAM has not only become more capacious, but also a lot faster. Apple has ditched SATA for a much faster PCI Express bus with multiple “lanes” for increased throughput. And for all that performance, it is now common to get through ten hours of work on a single battery charge, compared to four hours with my 2009 MacBook Pro. All of the reasons I liked the new MacBook were already available in a more powerful device: a Retina MacBook Pro. However, the most compelling reasons for getting a MacBook— the remarkable thinness, the lightweight two-pound frame, and fanless design—all come with a stiff performance penalty.
Despite sacrificing performance for portability, the pricing is not all that different between a new MacBook and a Retina MacBook Pro. Consider that the new MacBook retails for $1299 for 8 GB of RAM and a paltry 256 GB drive of storage. For $300 more, you get a more reasonable 512 GB of solid-state storage with a slightly faster processor. I would have only considered the latter model because that small storage can’t be upgraded.
On the other hand, the top-of-the-line 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, with a much faster processor, similar battery life, 8 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and lots of ports, retails for $1799. But a lifetime of computer ownership has taught me to get as much RAM. Because Apple solders the RAM to the logic board, you are either stuck with 8 GB or you have to shell out another $200 to “future-proof” your computer with 16 GB of RAM. Upgrading to 16 GB of RAM is not possible on a new MacBook.
if you want better battery life and don’t mind the screen, go with the 13-inch Air. If you want a nice screen and don’t mind the weight, go with a 13-inch Pro. If you want a Mac on a (relative) budget, try the 11-inch Air. If you want the size, weight, and screen and can live with the dongles, performance, and battery life, that’s when the MacBook becomes a viable option.
I fell into the second camp: the user who really wants a nice screen and doesn’t think 3.5 pounds qualifies as heavy. And, although I do have an elegant solution, I hate carrying dongles!
Yet, the most compelling reason for going with the Retina MacBook Pro instead of the new MacBook is that Apple quietly updated the 13″ MacBook Pro on March 9. Not only does the Early-2015 13″ MacBook Pro come with a faster Intel Broadwell U processor, faster RAM, and an improved PCI Express bus for speedier solid state storage, it also comes with that intriguing Force Touchpad. It’s hard not to get excited about this first-generation MacBook, but at this stage, I’d prefer a more mature product over a completely new one with a lot of promise.
Or at least I do prefer that with computers. I already ordered an Apple Watch, and I’m running through the first-month trial of HBO Now.
Around 2009, I began noticing Wi-Fi on more and more flights, especially on transcontinental flights between New York and Los Angeles. Regardless of the airline I flew, such as American, United, or Virgin America, the service would always be provided by Gogo Inflight. The price varied, especially as the product got off the ground—so to speak. One could score promo codes fairly easily or buy a pass before a flight to get a discount. In 2010, Gogo offered prepaid multipacks, and I bought a six-pack that I used over the years. The price was always about $10-12 for an entire flight. On a six-hour westbound flight to California, it was worth the price to get a lot of work done.
A few days ago, I knew that I had a lot work to do on today’s flight to LA, and I looked into getting online for the flight. From the looks of things, the best option for me was the $16 day pass.
But as far as I could tell, there was not any discount for buying a pass in advance so I held off and waited to buy one in the air. After all, all-day passes bought online were about $15 a few years ago and buying in advance cost saved only about three dollars or so.
That proved to be a rookie mistake. Buying an all-day pass in the air costs a sky-high $34, compared to the $16 it costs on the ground.
I recognize that this was the ultimate first-world problem—that it cost $18 more to buy inflight Wi-Fi in the air as it did on the ground. But to me, it was steep enough to do some offline work and wait until I got on the ground, at a fussy coffee shop near downtown Los Angeles, to get online and do my work.
Remember those documents that hackers took from Sony Pictures Entertainment at the end of last year? Did the North Koreans retaliate against Sony’s plans to release The Interview? Were they upset because it depicted an attempt to assassinate its supreme leader? Or did they want to spare us a really bad movie? In any case, the hacking escalated to the point of involving the White House. And today, those emails and documents are available for anyone to read.
Wikileaks released a searchable version of the hacked Sony Archives, including internal documents and emails. Some were released last year, but today, they are all searchable in one place. Wikileaks founder Julian Assange rationalized the release of these documents because it “shows the inner workings of an influential multinational corporation. It is newsworthy and at the centre of a geo-political conflict. It belongs in the public domain. WikiLeaks will ensure it stays there.”
Apparently, Wikileaks is very interested in showing the connection between Sony Pictures and the Democratic Party. The press release mentions some key interactions between the multinational media company and the US political party over the years, including:
Sony Pictures Entertainment CEO Lynton attending dinner with President Obama at Martha’s Vineyard
Sony employees being part of fundraising dinners for the Democratic Party.
Setting up a collective within the corporation to get around the 5,000 USD limit on corporate campaign donations to give 50,000 USD to get the Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo elected as “Thanks to Governor Cuomo, we have a great production incentive environment in NY and a strong piracy advocate that’s actually done more than talk about our problems.”
Also, the artwork used to illustrate the Sony microsite consists of the “Sony” wordmark and an illustration of Spider Man, a Sony Pictures property, lifting his mask to reveal the donkey logo long used by the Democratic Party.
The New Preservationists?
As a media history scholar, digging in the archives of a film studio, a broadcast network, and even a government agency was fun—because you got to browse through a lot of old material—but also very time consuming…and expensive. For example, anyone wishing to research the early years of NBC, a company founded and headquartered in New York City, had to travel to Madison, Wisconsin.
The papers of people working in this New York City building are located in Madison, Wisconsin.
That’s great for researchers at the University of Wisconsin, but it was a frustrating experience raising money to travel about 1,000 miles to research the activities of a company located two miles north of my Greenwich Village apartment at the time.
Looking at papers, tucked away in folders, and stored in boxes is one thing, but what about digital artifacts, such as email messages, spreadsheets, and other communiques? What will historians, particularly those who labor in the archives, do when researching this digital age when the paper archives of a private corporation or individual will not exist? Will hackers and the NSA’s PRISM collection project be our new preservationists?
Just as our long, brutal winter ended in the northeast, major league baseball swiftly returned last week to usher in the new spring season. It couldn’t come soon enough.
Although I didn’t mention it on this site at the time, baseball—along with late-season bicycling—was a welcome distraction last fall as my life was basically falling apart. Baseball seemed like an unlikely source of solace at the time because I had essentially missed the entire 2014 regular season. As a cord cutter, it was impractical to watch a game on television. Also, watching baseball at home was, to me, not unlike drinking—it’s kind of fun but socially unacceptable unless you’re doing it with other people.
The unthinkable happened: I managed to miss an entire season of baseball
Even more unusual for me, I didn’t attend a single baseball game in 2014. I hadn’t gone an entire season without going to a baseball game since the Clinton administration. The closest I came to following the 2014 baseball season was catching a few occasional glimpses, such wood-cover notebooks for the hipster set that resemble baseball bats, better-than-perfect games, a film about the late Doc Ellis, and yes, Derek Jeter retiring. It was so bad that I was basically shocked to learn that the Washington Nationals were considered a favorite to win the World Series.
As I was sleeping on a friend’s couch in late September, I learned via Twitter that the As and Royals were playing perhaps the best one-game playoff in the history of the game. That excitement, that connection to other people, and that feeling of not-knowing the outcome are why I loved watching baseball in the first place. After that game, I was determined to watch as much baseball as possible to reconnect with friends and strangers alike. I had felt alone for the past two months and, even if I was always around my friends, they were around mostly to console me. With the baseball playoffs, however, it was an activity we could all share that wasn’t about my own emotional pain. In the end, I watched every almost game of the playoffs anyway I could: on a television screen at a friend’s place, on a projected image at a local bar, or through a streaming device using a VPN. By the time the World Series finished at the end of October, my life seemed to make a little more sense than it did before the that crazy game in Kansas City.
All I want is one more baseball game. “See you tomorrow night!” I need the distraction
For all the relief baseball brought me last year, I had basically missed spring training and was vaguely aware that baseball was starting this year. But last week, while I was in California for a wedding and some other business, my brother came through with an irresistible offer: he had tickets to Opening Day at Dodger’s Stadium.
I forgot how exciting it is to go to an Opening Day game. It had been close over ten years since I had been to one, most recently at the now-demolished Shea Stadium. It had been even longer, since 2001 or so, since I had seen an opening day game at Dodger Stadium: I remember Chan Ho Park pitching a shutout against the Milwaukee Brewers.
Last Monday was a truly exhilarating experience that included several highlights.
The Dodger Stadium Express bus didn’t exist more than five years ago, but it was a very popular way to get to the stadium that day. When we saw the long lines of people waiting board the bus, one guy in our crew called an Uber to take us to the stadium. It was a foolish decision because the driver couldn’t get us any closer than a mile from the stadium. We ended up getting out of the car and hiking up the hill. After the game, however, we waited patiently to board the bus, but it took close to an hour to travel down the hill to Union Station. The interminable trip however did not dampen our mood: most everyone remained festive recounting the game’s highlights and debating about the best option for post-game revelry. By the way, the duration and popularity of this shuttle bus service convinced me there are two places in Los Angeles that could really use direct rail service: LAX and Dodger Stadium. I hope to see it happen in my lifetime.
Two things happened around the same time. Pitcher Yimi Garcia entered the game in the seventh inning to relieve Clayton Kershaw, and new Dodger and veteran shortstop Jimmy Rollins hit a three-run homer to break a 3-3 tie in the eighth inning that ultimately won the game for the Dodgers. First, we learned to pronounce Garcia’s first name—Yee-mee!— in the seventh. We later repurposed it for Rollins in the eighth—Yee-mee!
Getting reacquainted with Mexican slang and their colorful uses at a ballgame. Although this is hardly what I would call a “family blog,” I won’t get into any details here.
Watching the game in person was not only the best way to watch the game, it was probably also the only way for most people. For the second season, most fans can’t watch the Dodgers on TV because of a retransmission dispute between SportsNet LA and most area MVPDs, including DirecTV. My guess is that the game was available on TV for as many people in 2015 as it was when Dodger home games were available only on ON-TV in the 1980s.
It was not only a great way to start watching baseball again, it was the best way end this awful and depressing winter.
For some years now, Hotel Tonight has been offering last-minute rooms for some above average hotels. I haven’t yet been able to use the service because I have a brother who works at a major hotel chain and usually comes through with a family discount.
Today, Hotel Tonight announced Hack Tonight. The service, currently in Beta, is for people who are staying up all night writing code:
Up late coding? Unable to get home… or leave the office? We’ve got your back. Starting today, we’re rolling out HackTonight. HackTonight takes mobile to a whole ‘nother level – it’s the hotel experience that comes to you!
This sounds like a great service! I especially could use the Blue Bottle Drip and the Hoodie Dry Cleaning services. Please offer one for academics, too, and you got a lifelong customer.
About a year ago, although it seems longer ago now, I installed Webster’s 1913 Unabridged Dictionary as an alternate dictionary on my Mac. James Somers gave a few compelling reasons to use this particular dictionary and outlined very detailed instructions for installing it on different platforms. (Sorry, Windows users.)
The great thing about the Dictionary app on a Mac is that you can simultaneously look up several different dictionaries and reference works to get a better “feel” for a particular word.
Take, for example, the word baggage. As I prepared for an upcoming trip, I was searching for a synonym for “baggage,” as in what one carries while traveling.
The default, contemporary dictionary defines the word as
personal belongings packed in suitcases for traveling; luggage.
past experiences or long-held ideas regarded as burdens and impediments: the emotional baggage I’m hauling around | the party jettisoned its traditional ideological baggage.
Those two correspond to the way I more-or-less hear and read the word. “It’s best to meet arriving passengers outside of baggage claim,” and “my last relationship left me with a lot of emotional baggage” are examples of those two usages.
The clothes, tents, utensils, and provisions of an army.
The trunks, valises, satchels, etc., which a traveler carries with him on a journey; luggage.
Purulent matter. [Obs.] –Barrough.
Trashy talk. [Obs.] –Ascham.
A man of bad character. [Obs.] –Holland.
A woman of loose morals; a prostitute.
A romping, saucy girl. [Playful] –Goldsmith.
Wow! What a crazy word. The first two definitions survive, referring to articles and the bags used to carry them. The third, purulent matter, refers to pus, meaning that “baggage” once meant something excreting pus. Yuck!
The last four definitions apparently refer to something a bit more… colorful. Trashy talk? Men and women of ill-repute? And, a playful, romping, saucy girl? Are you kidding me? Those Victorians really had a word for everything!
Conspicuously absent from this list, however, is the meaning referring to “past experiences and ideas” that “burden” us. My guess is that anything like that, back then, was simply repressed and went unacknowledged.