Whatever It Was

The worst of the past week’s viral blast has passed. First symptoms showed up last Tuesday, 9/14, and as of today the onslaught has dwindled to a cough. Now, with the deepest of deep inhalations possible, there comes an exertional tickle, what you’d imagine a balloon at its limits feels like could it feel anything at all. I’m in Michigan, and on Monday morning, I did try to set up a phone consultation with my doctor in Blacksburg, but the receptionist put me through to the scheduler, and the scheduler told me Doc was out sick and nobody else in the practice would be available to talk with me until at least Thursday. She wanted to make plain that she wasn’t a nurse but said, free advice being free, my best option was to monitor my O2 levels and to drive myself to a local Urgent Care if the fever roared back or if O2 levels went below 92. Saturation was 92 upon waking up Monday morning, but it hasn’t been that low again since. I just now checked it, and it was 99. On the mend is what I think that means.

Was it Covid? Was it not Covid? Omicron variant, maybe, or pi (n.b., this is me being playful; I really don’t know whether these are valid variants, and I have no reason to believe any specific variant was to blame). The PCR test administered on Thursday afternoon returned a negative reading by late Friday night. So what. I didn’t pursue another test. Here are a couple of things I learned (or wish to hold onto):

  1. The certification of illness as Covid or not Covid matters for mitigating transmission. Had I known definitively that it was Covid, I would have had slightly clearer protocols to follow insofar as isolation/quarantine. But I did that, anyway. There was no particular relevance otherwise in having validated whether this was a breakthrough case or not. I was vaccinated with Moderna in early April and early May. I was sick in a special and distinctively severe way in mid-September.
  2. In the midst of succumbing to this particular virus, the surest decision aids were 1) loved ones checking in with me regularly and reading back to me impressions of just how dilapidated I seemed to them, 2) a good thermometer, and 3) an oximeter. Loved ones could text and ask about my temp and O2 levels. And among the three decision aids, I could more or less lucidly make judgments about whether it was time to go to Urgent Care or an ER.
  3. The two scariest nights were when I did not yet have the oximeter and when I turned in nighty night having read among many accounts of Covid (breakthrough cases and regular cases) about how dark and long is the night. Raised doubts, small questions about seeing another day, and those questions can grow from one hour to the next. This was not quite an “oh shit, I might die” scenario, but it played out at a narrower edge of self-attentiveness than I’ve dwelt at in some time.
  4. About the symptoms: most were erratic, clutching and releasing from one hour to the next, then redoubling and doing the same with rangy intensity for the messiest 72 hours of the ordeal. Peak temp was 101.7F/38.72C. I don’t have a scale here in Michigan, but I’d guess I shed 5-8 lbs./2.3-3.6kg (from my usual weight of 213lbs/96.6kg). O2 was from Saturday through Monday between 92-95. One reading of O2 came in at 87 on Saturday. The morbilliform-like rash was the most unfamiliar and unpredictable symptom. In varied densities, it appeared everywhere except my hands and feet, with especially dense clusters on my torso. But it was only faintly uncomfortable; more like my skin reporting that something deserving of a fever was brewing on the inside.

I think that’s it, just about everything worth sharing.

Shifting Online

The global pandemic (COVID-19) has universities deciding to shift classes from in-person to online quicklyquickly ranging from overnight to something like three weeks. Shorter than a couch-to-5k, in other words. As rapid changes like these spread through higher education, people speculate, wondering what it means, how long such changes will last, whether anyone (students and faculty alike) is really prepared, and so on. Everyone’s doing their part to make sense of an unfamiliar phenomenon, and that sense-making takes a variety of shapes–blobby, tentative, many temporary. A medical doctor in this coffee shop just walked in and said to me oh, hey, VT (coffee mug gifted from a former grad student gives it away); “this is gonna be okay; there’s a 97% survival rate.”

Insofar as the generally altruistic goal of social distancing as a measure to reduce human to human contact and thereby to slow rates of transmission, campuses are un-bunching themselves, emptying the dorms as much as possible, interrupting residential and study abroad programs, adjusting. Just yesterday afternoon I was emailed a fair forewarning heads-up–come up with a plan for supporting teachers in the Composition Program if and when this shift happens. I had a call with the program’s associate director, opened a Google Doc, and we generated with help from others on the leadership team a six page document: 1) key principles guiding modified teaching in Spring 2020, 2) reasonable and appropriate curricular adjustments, 3) allowances for the labor involved with adjusting a class initially designed to happen in-person, 4) a caveat about how this is not an effort to forge at overdrive clip through elaborate training in Online Writing Instruction, and 5) a modest collection of resources for re-orienting instructional staff to the university’s LMS. I don’t know if this is the right approach. It is a lean approach–minimalist, humane, focused as narrowly as possible on the problem before us as an eight-week problem, a getting-to-May-6 problem. COVID-19 and social distancing efforts may continuing into summer and fall, but we will think together about appropriate pedagogical responses to those terms later. If and when we get the email to go ahead, we will circulate the Spring 2020 plan with what we believe will suffice for now in its honoring student and instructor well-being; urging flexibility and direct, timely communication; and extending again the forms of support we can make available (responsiveness to questions, openness to working through specific problems, general and continuing availability, administrative reassurance, etc.). No magic beans; no more warrants for drama or anxiety than the pandemic has already touched off.

In talking through the shift to online and upon witnessing quite a bit of buzz about what such a shift presumes about the work of teaching and learning, the planning involved, or the nimbleness of faculty–conceptual, communicative, and technological nimblenesses varied and intersecting as they are–there’s been a (at risk of sounding mildly judgmental, I’ll say it) clumsy differentiation between face-to-face and online teaching. True, at its crudest, some teaching happens with human bodies in the same room at the same time and some other teaching happens with human bodies not in the same room at the same time. We’re at the cusp of a pivot from one model to the other. But that other model–the one where human bodies are not in the same room at the same time–need not measure itself against the intricate and expert apparatuses now long established informing online pedagogies. That is, for now, in this switch-over, we don’t have to lug out the longest-scrolling web pages or the heaviest volumes on online instruction. We don’t have to school everyone new to teaching in online environments about the intricacies and affordances; getting to May 6 is a make-do goal. With this in mind, I’ve been partial to framing this not as a full, frenzied move to online writing instruction (OWI in a hurry), but instead as an ad hoc Spring 2020 modification in which we do our best to solve a short-term problem, respecting novice-ness as genuine (and vulnerable) and exercising scope restraint. Rather than touting this as a full and comprehensive shift online, I’m advocating for something more like online-lite, a minimalist approach cast perhaps a bit more in the shadow of correspondence courses than media-rich and daresay over-produced LMS-sparkled palaces. We can in time make sure everyone knows about the scholarly traditions informing such well-designed, well-made online courses, and, to the extent that pandemic-motivated social distancing becomes more world feature than world bug, we can get better at tying in our programs with that important body of work. But for now, for this moment, a spare approach will suffice:

  • communicate with students (promptly and supportively)
  • express clear and as-stable-as-possible dates and times for drafts and intervals of drafts
  • let existing course materials (curriculum maps and textbooks) do the work they were set in place to do
  • build in constructive interactions, focused as much as possible on uncertainties, opportunities for developing the draft (feedback-oriented stuff whether with peers or instructor led). Also, check out Bill Hart-Davidson’s “Feedback Cultures – A Guide For Teachers Thinking about Moving Student-Centered Learning Online” at https://youtu.be/B4Fe_rS8208
  • err on the side of being positive, constructive, encouraging, and reassuring with students, with colleagues, with administrators working fitfully to unpick snarled problems, but especially with students.

For right now, for this moment, that’s enough.

Blank Screen, Ultimate Boot

The three-year old HP Slimline started acting up on Monday evening. Eventually the whole works seized, locking up stiffer than an ice fishing zombie dangling a line in Coldwater Lake in late January. I mean, frozen st-st-stiff.

Now this is the machine D. uses for everyday stuff: work documents, email, trafficking photos of Is. The last piece–baby photos–explains why this freeze-up was an Instant Crisis: three years’ worth of digital images aren’t backed up anywhere.

Because the usual solutions (Ctrl-Alt-Del) weren’t working, I had no choice but to unplug the frozen PC. When I rebooted, it cycled through the HP welcome screen (with the full spread of startup function-key interruptions available) and the Windows XP startup screen before landing on a blank screen. The blank screen included the mouse cursor, but nothing else, none of the desktop icons or navigation options.

Various troubleshooting forums reported this problem is fairly widespread. Lots of people have suffered through Windows XP booting to a blank screen with a mouse cursor. And yet, the supposed causes were numerous: viruses, flawed hardware, glitchy service pack stuff, and so on. I had a PC Doctor CD burned, and I ran it through its cycle to at least confirm that all of the hardware checked out.

More than anything else, I needed to gain access to the baby photos, access that would permit me to back them up before I attempted to run Windows through a repair process. After talking through options with my brother, I used my VAIO laptop (along with µTorrent and InfraRecorder) to download Xubuntu and burn its .iso image to a CD. Xubuntu worked fine, but it wouldn’t give me access to the Windows files.

I rooted around in more forums, and I found that, unlike the lighter Linux OS, Ubuntu running from a CD would allow me to access all of the computer’s files. I downloaded it, burned the .iso to another CD, booted the troubled computer from the disk, and easily navigated to find the precious files. Next, I simply connected the Maxtor external hard drive I typically use to backup the aging VAIO, created another folder, and dropped 23GB of stuff from D.’s HP onto the drive.

With the data rescued, I only needed to restore the operating system. I could manage this either by A) reinstalling Windows XP or B) (a long shot) following instructions for a Registry Restore Wizard available as part of Ultimate Boot CD for Windows, which I read about in a forum as a solution to the blank-screen startup in XP Home. Figured it was worth a try.

Seems miraculous in retrospect, but option B went smoothly. I downloaded the UBCD4Win .exe, also copied the contents of the XP installation CD into a folder, then ran the UBCD4Win executable, built the .iso, and burned the Ultimate Boot CD. Within a few minutes, I was able to run the Registry Restore Wizard, pick a restore date from two weeks ago, and reboot the HP Slimline as if today was October 15 and nothing ever happened.

Of course, I went ahead and cycled through a few more steps, running cleanups and virus/ad-aware scans. AVG found a virus called “Defiler,” which may or may not have been the culprit. I didn’t bother to search beyond the “lazy 1-10” Google results for a backstory on the Defiler virus. Had no trouble assigning it to quarantine and, thus, putting an end to Windows XP “defilings” for the near future.