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Tag: covid-19

(Not Quite) Back To School

Here we are at the end of the summer. Along with other parents, I’ve been holding my breath as to whether we’re doing in-person schooling in the fall in the midst of COVID-19. After reflecting on last school year, it’s become more apparent that the distance learning didn’t work at all in our house – not for lack of effort by the school, our great teachers, or by the parents – we all gave it our best, but it just didn’t work for our first grader.

Now we’re T-minus 10 days from an already-delayed start of the school year. While our district has maintained that they will be doing in-person learning for elementary students, they’ve already walked secondary schools back to a hybrid model (rotating cohorts of 2 days per week). This week we’ve seen neighboring districts announce the suspension of in-person learning until October, with the announcements leaving a lot of ambiguity about the date.

During that time I’ve seen a lot of people take to social media (especially Facebook) to publicly express their concerns and fears about whether to return to schools, on both sides. While I’ve been thinking a lot about this subject, discussing it with my wife (who has been in logistical discussions all summer about how to safely open and operate a high school during COVID), I’ve purposefully avoided discussing this on social media. Facebook more and more just seems more toxic.

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COVID-19 at 3 Months: Zig Zagging Those Invisible Lines

This week will mark the third month of severe life disruption due to COVID-19. We’ve been one month into the “Safer At Home” transition, where things are trying to re-open and run at some limited capacity, but there’s still an emphasis on avoiding large gatherings – all along with the backdrop of 10+ days of major protests due to George Floyd’s murder.

Right now there is a sense of security that lies with being outdoors. The current belief is that virus spread is significantly lower when you’re outside, especially in this warmer weather. Watching these protests where thousands are gathered sets off alarms in my “socially distant conditioned” brain. Many are wearing masks, but it seems like all social distancing consideration has gone out the window. I know it’s for a righteous cause, but I can’t help but be concerned about whether we’re going to see super-spreader events that will manifest in the coming weeks.

One gets the sense that people are taking this less seriously as the weeks go by. It seems that every outing shows fewer people wearing masks. The mask-wearing seems to have devolved into a cultural issue, with people forgoing mask-wearing to make a political statement against being told what to do. There is a mixture of people cautiously taking the recommended precautions, while others are flaunting their disregard for them to make a statement. The frustration is definitely understandable as guidelines continue to evolve, as well as seeing a double-standard applied to the condemnation for people opening their businesses early, all the while thousands are chanting and screaming in the streets.

At home, it’s become difficult to explain the disparity of behavior to our kids, why we try to uphold certain standards when they see that others aren’t being as rigid. We struggle as we try to convey that the girls will need to continue to make adjustments and maintain awareness to do things they previously did before, but you do get a sense that they are also missing the normalcy. Clara, who always hates going shopping, told us that she misses going to the store.

There is quite a bit I miss about the pre-COVID life, but as things open up I’m still very reluctant to resume those activities. Despite missing people-watching in a coffee shop while I work, there’s no part of me that feels comfortable doing that (even if the opportunity arose). The same goes for my indoor spin cycle class, but in large part that I’ve become accustomed to biking outdoors on the trails. We do miss taking the girls on activities to the museum, library, and swimming pool, but the opening of those places seems to kindle apprehension about those activities.

My biggest hope is that Clara will be able to go back to school when fall comes, I’m cautiously optimistic, but we’ll see what occurs from the protests and whether we’ll see any epidemiological consequences.

Fingers are crossed, prayers are said.

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COVID-19 at 2 Months: Invisible Lines Everywhere

After two months with everything shut down, we’re all trying to creep towards “the new normal” of life with COVID-19. There seems to be an abundance of anxiety from all different places. There are those worried that things are being rushed open too quickly with efforts that will be met with sudden spikes of infection, hospitalization, and deaths. There are those who are anxious to get businesses open get the economy moving forward, impatient with the slow rate of progress. There also seem to be those who are not accepting “the new normal”, whether they think the reaction is overblown, or that current mitigation suggestions are not relevant.

As we creep out of lock-down, everyone is drawing their own line of comfort and risk, then see others crossing those lines – whether it’s by strangers, neighbors, friends, or even family members. We’re seeing a vast spectrum of comfort levels being disrupted. On one hand, there are those that feel we’re moving too fast in opening things up and don’t feel comfortable yet leaving the house. On the opposite end, we are witnessing performative virtue signaling in people proudly announcing that they won’t wear masks, actively supporting businesses that are defying the loosened restrictions. It comes across as a performative machismo coated in ignorance, that just seems gross.

In our community, you see people trying to be responsible to an extent. People out walking or biking may not be wearing masks but seem to be trying to keep an appropriate physical distance. However when you go to a store or another public place, you see nearly everyone wearing a mask – now mostly by mandate, but before those dropped I would say 85% of people work a mask during my weekly grocery store run.

Our own neighborhood has been interesting. You see more and more kids out co-mingling, mostly in small groups, but you get this sense of the social bubble expanding as people are now having tertiary social connections through their expanded encounters. I can’t help but still feel a sense of nervousness when I see it.

Our own kids have been back at in-home daycare for over two weeks now, and we’ve felt that was a pretty big expansion of our social connections (going from our own family to now having connections with four other families). The girls are also playing with another neighborhood friend, as well. At this point, that’s been the limit to expanding our bubble, through small baby steps.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that these lines and bubbles are all relative. Colorado now has people able to go back into office settings at 50% capacity, and I’m seeing some of my friends on social media back in those settings (albeit with masks and trying to maintain the social distancing). Then it’s important to remember that we have essential workers that have been in the thick of it all along in the form of grocery workers, delivery drivers, and workers in other services that never shut down and have been living in this tension for months on end.

Everyone has their own backstory, their own circumstances, their own risk assessment, their own way of dealing with it. Right now it’s too easy to pass judgment on people without having the full story. We’re seeing a lot of public shaming going on in social media, with people jumping to conclusions. Sometimes it is warranted, but it does seem that much of it is uncalled for. The reality is that everyone is trying to do what they can to get by and figure out the new normal – or at least the new normal for now.

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You’re Doing Video Wrong

When a pandemic hits society and forces everyone to retreat into their homes, video technology has transformed from a novelty to a necessity. For the last two months, people are relying on video conferencing, broadcasting, and live-streaming to replace their face-to-face interaction.

In my 20+ year career working in the technology sector, spending the majority of it working in global remote teams, I’ve spent countless hours in teleconferences (and video conferences) and tried many different technologies and methods to collaborate. Watching those around me try to grapple with the same problems at a larger scale has me offering some suggestions about how to approach video in your daily life.

Your video conference likely unnecessary

There’s a dirty secret about video conferencing, especially for work meetings: 95% of them are unnecessary, usually creating more problems than they solve.

I get that many are trying to fill the void left by abruptly ending face-to-face interaction, and video can help, but only to a very short extent. When sitting around a table in a conference room, you’re not looking at everyone in the face simultaneously, yet that’s the experience that a gallery-view video meeting. This backfires on concentration efforts, where participants become far more concerned with their own appearance, surroundings, and demeanor, rather than focusing on the content of the meeting. This is especially true for larger meetings.

Unless it’s critical that you get non-verbal feedback to your meeting content, keep the camera switched off. While the risk exists that there may be more multi-tasking (which is a fancy term for “not listening”), it’s part of the reality of remote meetings. You’ll also be grateful that meeting attendees can manage their distractions on mute, especially if you have parents with their kids at home. As a presenter, you do get a sense that you’re yelling into an empty cavern without much feedback, but it will feel better over time.

The other important consideration for video is bandwidth usage. With many working from home right now, household bandwidth usage has grown significantly. Your video conference may be clogging the internet pipes in your own house, as well as in your community. Especially if you’re challenged for bandwidth, you may be better off just keeping that camera turned off when you can.

Use a headset if possible

If you’re going to be home for the foreseeable future, invest in a USB headset if you can, or if you’re doing a lot of one-way video lectures, a decent USB mic would do as well.

Having a headset will not only make the audio better on your end (blocking out background noise), but it also improves your listening experience as well. When I was on teleconferences in a crowded office I bought this gaming headset that completely covered my ears, eliminating the background noise.

You might get some comments about looking goofy on video, but your coworkers will secretly thank you for the decent audio, and may even be secretly jealous.

If you’re a musician and looking to do live-streaming, the best thing you could do to stand out has decent audio, especially if you’re going to be playing something louder than an acoustic guitar. If you happen to already have a Shure SM-58 (or another vocal mic), investing in an audio interface would take the inputs from your microphones and port them to your computer, giving a superior audio experience.

Lights and your camera

If you’re lucky enough to have an abundance of sunlight and windows where you work, be mindful of where they’re positioned in relation to you and your camera. Avoid having the windows and sunlight to your back, as the lights are going to wash you out. Ideally, you want the light source to be behind the camera, or lighting you from off to the side so that your face can be the brightest object on the screen. It may be necessary to turn off your background lights as well.

There are the fancy LED rings and studio lights (which are in short supply right now), but the reality is that even a desk lamp placed correctly would be sufficient for most people.

Streaming vs Hosting – it’s not either/or

I’ve seen a lot of people doing live streams on Facebook, from musicians to fitness classes, to public institutions. Facebook does make it easy to Livestream, especially if you’re using a mobile device, and it also rewards you by prominently showcasing your video in everyone’s feed. As nice a job Facebook is about live streaming, it’s awful about rebroadcasting and archiving your video. If you have a fitness class, for example, their interface makes it pretty hard to find the video, burying it deep in your page.

Facebook is also the most draconian about copyright claims. If you are playing music in the background of your video, YouTube will try to identify copyright holders and get them compensated. Worst case, you won’t be able to monetize your own video. With Facebook, however, that same music will get your video taken down, as they aren’t equipped to compensate copyright holders.

The fix is easy: if you Livestream on Facebook, great – but be sure to download the video and upload it to your YouTube channel as well. I would condition people to also go over to YouTube as well. YouTube will reward you (socially and maybe even monetarily) far more than YouTube will, plus you have a place you can refer people to outside of Facebook. If you’re doing something where you’re trying to build an audience, use an email list service like Mailchimp to correspond with them.


Ultimately it’s important to remember that each situation is different and it is easy to go overboard depending on what you’re looking to do. If you’re looking to dip into live streaming or giving long-form video lectures, your level of investment may be more than someone who is just doing a weekly video checkpoint for school. While streaming video is an incredible tool, it’s also most effective when used sparingly.

Do you have any video tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

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COVID-19: 7 Weeks In, Wearing Thin

As we’re into our seventh week in this COVID-19 shelter-in-place/stay-at-home/quarantine, life has really become a mixed bag of circumstances, consequences, and emotion.

Above all, it’s important to count our blessings: we are still healthy, gainfully employed, and luckily not in dire financial straights, and are lucky to have relatively few struggles compared to many others who have much to worry about. We’re also lucky that we haven’t seen the scary scenarios that were being predicted nearly two months ago.

That said, one word sums up our predicament: uncertainty. It seems that there’s more we don’t know than we know, and the lack of knowledge has forced people to make tough choices between bad options, with no potential good option in sight.

Our own daily lives are encompassed by doing the best we can with what we have, but it becomes difficult to ignore the consequences of the situation. In our own lives we’ve found the rhythm of a daily routine staying mostly at home. Aided by the nice spring weather, our daughters have grown accustomed to lots of independent play outside while we work, but also with more screen time than we’d care to have under normal circumstances. We’re getting by and keeping our sanity in tact.

We do greatly miss school, however. The remote learning that everyone does their best at is a poor substitute for the educational clamoring of a young first grader. While Clara still gets excited about learning, transitioning from play into school is still a struggle, and we can’t help but concede that our own best efforts as working parents fall far short of the quality of education at school. As with all young kids, we’re seeing educational stagnation, but accept this as a necessary short-term step to keep our societal health at bay. This is the way the rest of the school year will play out, all four weeks left of it. Going through pictures from past Mays reminded me that our “last day of school” picture is going to be an interesting one this year.

Colorado itself is transitioning from a “stay at home” order to a “safer at home” phase. The reality is that “safer at home” is basically “please still stay at home”. There are businesses that are starting to open up, trying to balance their own need to ensure the survival of their livelihoods, finding ways to be able to serve customers mitigating as much risk as they can in a sea of uncertainty. For the most part, however, people remain reluctant to venture out. Every time I get groceries or run errands (typically once per week) there’s a prevailing sense that you’re taking your life into your own hands, with the stores filled with a general sense of unease. For the most part, people are trying to follow the government’s directives of maintaining a 6-foot social distancing barrier, as well as wearing a mask. I’m very deliberate in not touching my face, sanitizing my hands right after I get in the car, scrubbing my hands the minute I get home.

It’s not clear whether this is the no normal (for now), or in a weird transitional state towards the new normal – back to the uncertainty. It seems that our town, state, the country is collectively holding their breath to see what’s coming next, but getting a little light-headed along the way.

I don’t mean to paint a grim picture of despair. On the contrary, we are taking the extra time at home as opportunities to work on different projects (like re-doing our garden area), play with our kids, and enjoy our time together as a family.

Our garden work

However, aside from being strategic in our meal planning (to avoid excessive trips out), we’ve had to learn with not having a plan that extends beyond a day – in large part because our options are limited, but also because we’re not quite sure what’s coming next. Right now there’s little we can do besides count our blessings and try to be optimistic about the future, but ready to begrudgingly accept setbacks.

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