Outdoor Class

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Wed, 09/23/2020 - 6:03pm

It’s a joke, how students will plead with their instructors to “have class outside today.” A Pandemic College, you can. In fact, you have to. On a gorgeous summery day like today, this is not a bad thing.

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Categories: Citizens

Pandemic! in the Men’s Room

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Tue, 09/22/2020 - 5:05pm

The old building where I’ve worked my whole time at Carleton is being renovated this year, so we’ve relocated to slightly less old building that boasts all of two restrooms. I dunno about the women’s, but the men’s has two stalls – done up in heavy, dark wood like a lavatory at Hogwarts – which under the new pandemic rules, has the capacity for just one, uh, user at a time. Barging in and knocking didn’t work very well to determine occupancy, so a colleague installed a four-phase system for using the restroom.

Phase I: Arrive and flip the occupancy sign to red:

Phase 2: Do your business and as you leave, let Uncle Sam remind you to flip the sign over:

Phase 3: Immediately forget to flip the sign over, but be reminded by the other sign, pinned to the bulletin board straight across the corridor:

Phase 4: Flip the sign back to green and walk away, wondering if touching the sign negated the 20 seconds of hand washing:

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Categories: Citizens

September 2020

Tom Swift - Untethered Dog - Tue, 09/22/2020 - 4:04am

21 Monday The placebo effect. When help is on the way. When fresh new notebooks arrive in the mail. Car rides with your little buddy. Walgreens runs. Winning without your best stuff. 20 Sunday Your dog. Your house. The wind at night. Balmy nights. Your breath. The struggle of your life. 1986. Stretch pants. Sam […]

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Categories: Citizens


Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Mon, 09/21/2020 - 3:09pm

Every day before going to work, I’m supposed to complete a short form to document that I don’t have any COVID symptoms. Sometimes I swing a little late, but so far I’m batting 1.000. It’s bizarre how satisfying I find that streak of “Green – Negative” descriptions. Proof of my virtue, or luck, or privilege, or something.

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Categories: Citizens

Join Me at a Free Virtual Book Festival

My Musical Family - Joy Riggs - Sun, 09/20/2020 - 11:50pm

What are you doing Oct. 3-4? I'm guessing you're not straying too far from home, in these COVID times, so why not join me at an online book festival? The Deep Valley Book Festival is going virtual this year, and it will offer a variety of panels and events over two days.

The keynote speaker, New York Times bestselling author Matt Goldman, is a playwright and Emmy Award-winning television writer (Seinfeld, Ellen, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency) who now writes the Nils Shapiro private eye series. Other participating authors represent a variety of genres, including nonfiction, fiction, children's, YA, and fantasy & sci-fi. 

You can even hear dead authors come to life, as living history actors portray five Minnesota authors from the past: Maud Hart Lovelace (one of my childhood favorites!), Sinclair Lewis, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Wanda Gag, and Laura Ingalls Wilder. 

I'm excited to be on both a history writers panel and a creative nonfiction & memoir writers panel (we recorded the discussions earlier this month). I'm also participating in a live panel discussion about writing and publishing. 

Here's where you can find me on the schedule:

Saturday, Oct. 3:

• 11 a.m.: Writing the Truth: Nonfiction and memoir writers discuss writing about real events and people, and some of the unique challenges posed by writing real stories. 

Panelists: Christine Bauer, Phyllis Cole-Dai, Mary Losure, Joy Riggs, Jonathan Sweet

Moderator Rachael Hanel

• 4 p.m.: Writing History: History provides rich fodder for stories, both real and fictionalized. These authors will discuss how they use history as the basis for their writing.

Panelists: Susan Hvistendahl, Terri Karsten, Joy Riggs, Bryce Stenzel, Dale Swanson; Moderator: Danelle Erickson

Sunday, Oct, 4:

• 4 p.m.: LIVE Q & A with Festival Authors: DVBF authors will be available to answer audience questions about the writing process, the path to publication, and the writing life.

Panelists: Raven Eckman, Julie Holmes, Terri Karsten, Thea Kvamme, Joy Riggs, Bryce Stenzel, Dale Swanson, Susan Stradiotto, A.J. Sullivan; Moderator: Rachael Hanel

Be sure to check out the website for the full schedule. You can also shop for books online, and purchase them directly from authors or from partner bookstores.

Although the event is free, a donation of $25 or more makes you a Festival Friend, which gives you access to additional benefits: you'll be entered into a drawing for a DVBF Friendship bag filled with autographed books, and you'll be invited to an exclusive conversation with the keynote author.

The all-volunteer organizing committee has worked tirelessly to make this a quality event, and I'm looking forward to spending two days celebrating books and connecting with other readers and writers. Hope to see you there!

Categories: Citizens

Pandemic Racing

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Sat, 09/19/2020 - 5:50pm

Today, I should have been in Marquette, Michigan, racing the Marji Gesick mountain bike marathon.

Finishing the race last year was just about the hardest athletic thing I’ve ever done, up there with the Arrowhead and perhaps only exceeded by the Fat Pursuit. I super eager to do the race again this year, but alas: the pandemic forced its cancellation.

Instead, I headed into the woods here in Northfield for a ninety-minute bike ride on our far easier but still fun trails. Riding the same bike I’d used a year ago at the Marji, I reflected on how much training for and riding in that race changed me as a bike rider.

Some of the changes are pretty trivial, ones I could have achieved with plain old hard work: I use my brakes far less often now than I did 18 or 24 months ago, and I’m far better at riding technical stuff with some speed. But other changes are more interesting, and probably more valuable as we look, as a society, down the long tunnel of this pandemic, work against social injustice, and a tumultuous election. I think they can be reduced to a willingness to be patient and to suffer quietly. Right now is not the time (no matter what the president and his supporters think!) for a white guy to whinge. Just like this night last year, but I have to (metaphorically) just avoid crashing and keep turning the cranks. Maybe donating some money to Democratic senate candidates would be a good start.

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Categories: Citizens


Carol Overland - Legalectric - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 7:08pm

Last night’s vigil in Red Wing:

Categories: Citizens

Good riddance, Donny!

Carol Overland - Legalectric - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 12:10pm
Categories: Citizens

Video Production: One Novice’s Workflow

Pegasus Librarian - Iris Jastram - Fri, 09/18/2020 - 10:58am

Like lots of us, my work pretty quickly shifted this year to emphasize remote instruction. And remote instruction means (among other things) instructional videos. And I have never made an instructional video or any other kind of video that wasn’t just pointing my phone at something cute my nephews or pets are doing and then sharing that with friends and family. So… I don’t know what I’m doing. Like, not at all.

Last spring I made a few videos using our institution’s lecture capture system, Panopto. (Insert shudder here about the panopticon…) Pros: I was able to get up and running with no-frills videos quickly, and I really appreciate any help I can get with accessibility features like captions. Cons: editing is extremely limited, and I just couldn’t get it to do some of the things I needed.

Me in full video-projection mode

So over the summer I watched some YouTube videos about making videos (very meta), and then I faced down almost a week of script-writer’s block, and then I spent a week writing a whole bunch of scripts. And I made myself a slide template so that my videos would have a consistent look to them, which I’m hoping will help me mix and match them for the various courses I’ll be supporting. And now I’m deep in the weeds of video production.

Here’s the process I’ve developed so far:

  1. Write a script (trying to get things down to 5 minutes or less means I can’t risk too many tangents, and making videos that people may need to watch more than once means I can’t risk too many stumbles, so scripts are where it’s at for me right now)
  2. Create slides in PowerPoint using my template
  3. Export the slides as large-ish JPEG images
  4. In QuickTime, record a “movie” of me going through the script. (I don’t use my face through the whole finished video, but if there’s any part of this where I want the video and audio synced up, it’s when my mouth is moving, so it’s easiest for me to just record this all and then overlay it with other stuff later where all I need is my voice.)
  5. In QuickTime again, record any screen captures I’ll need of me navigating through things or whatever.
  6. Sometimes I need screen captures of me drawing or annotating PDFs or whatever, and I do those on my iPad.
  7. In iMovie, edit the places where I stumbled or whatever, and then drop in the Slide images and screen captures (usually sped up to x2 or x4 speeds) where appropriate.
  8. Sometimes I need to do more voice-over work in iMovie.
  9. Export my movie to my computer
  10. Import my movie to Panopto
  11. Use Panopto to generate auto-captions and then go through and edit the captions as needed.

If the video isn’t super specific to a single course, I’ve added two more steps:

  1. Download the caption file from Panopto
  2. Upload the movie and the caption file to YouTube

Now I have two places where students can find my videos:

  • Panopto: easy to feed into their Moodle courses, etc, and familiar on campus for course-related viewing
  • YouTube: easier to stumble across or use for less formal work

And through all of this, one of the big things I’ve learned is that it is absolutely possible to be super corny and super boring all at the same time! Weeeee!

My main other take-away is that need to figure out a teleprompter situation. Right now I’m not very happy with the fact that my eyes are always just slightly down from camera even though I’ve pushed my script up as high as I can on my computer screen. Recommendations for good set-ups are welcome!

Categories: Citizens

Online Sidewalk Yoga

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Thu, 09/17/2020 - 5:26pm

Tuesday, I looked out my office window around 10 and saw a young woman, dressed in athletic clothes, lying perfectly still on the sidewalk below. I started, thinking something was wrong. But she had a laptop next to her, and after a second, she sat up and assumed a yoga pose. Ah, okay, she’s doing yoga. Outside. On concrete. In the open spot between one academic building and another. Okay.

Today, I happened to get a cup of coffee at about ten, and as I walked back to my office, I nearly stepped on her, again lying perfectly still on the sidewalk. This time, though, I could hear a yoga instructor giving directions through laptop. Ah, okay, she’s in a yoga class. A physical education yoga class. Online. The kid is doing her required PE class via Zoom. Outside. On concrete. In the open spot between one academic building and another. Impressive. Sad. Impressively, sadly normal.

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Categories: Citizens

A Cure for Anxiety

Tom Swift - Untethered Dog - Thu, 09/17/2020 - 7:47am

Get calm. Whatever you need but the body must register your arrival. It is, therefore, a great conduit. Engage the concern. Aim for proactive, seek meaning, don’t grasp for answers.

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Categories: Citizens

Socially Distanced Stoop

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Wed, 09/16/2020 - 3:34pm

This week’s New Yorker cover by Chris Ware nails the autumn’s neighborhood mood, right down to the tangled flag:

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Categories: Citizens

Wider View

Tom Swift - Untethered Dog - Wed, 09/16/2020 - 8:44am

Yet my peace has been disturbed by a fuller awareness that one of our two major political parties is -- at best -- indifferent to democracy.

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Categories: Citizens

COVID Debris

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Tue, 09/15/2020 - 4:05pm

I was just thinking as I rode home tonight, “I haven’t seen any discarded masks in a while.” Turn the corner and…

No way I was picking up that thing!

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Categories: Citizens

Time out!

Carol Overland - Legalectric - Tue, 09/15/2020 - 1:08pm

There’s a lot to be said for taking a “Time Out!” First trip of the year was up to Tettegouche for solstice, and it was too crowded and people were uniformly non-observent of COVID precautions. After that, we declined two camp hosting gigs, no way was I up for dealing with people and cleaning and stocking bathrooms in that situation.

I am on several camping lists, one of which is the North Dakota State Parks, which sends out a list of weekend sites available. Little Missouri State Park ALWAYS had sites. It looked interesting, was a horse camp with 2 assigned corrals for each site (!) so I called, and horses aren’t required. So I grabbed the best site starting after Labor Day – 13e!

Site 13e in the background, from the road into the park (photo taken by someone in my camping group who was there the week after I’d booked our reservation. on the way… Flaring at sunset… Flaring in the distance – 15+ visible at night.

Sunset, right? Well, it is that time, but that’s an oil well flare. The campground was surrounded by oil wells (satellite view here).

North Dakota oil production on the upswing again but may plateau this fall

Some nights, they were audible, both a sound like a jet taking off and a very high pitched whistle. That was countered by the coyotes yipping and howling at sunset and an hour before sunrise.

Little Sadie loves to travel, and she’s learned to be cool around strangers and wildlife.

We took a trip to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, South Unit one day, North Unit the next. Campgrounds are closed at both. From the looks of it, the wildlife is benefiting from not having people around.

The picnic ground was FULL of buffalo!

The buffalo walking along the road found a snake, and stomped it but didn’t kill it, and they took turns checking it out, the snake opened its mouth wide, hissing, they’d dance away, and come around again for a look-see. It was as if it was bison school, to learn how to recognize danger and what to do about it.

And the joys of zooming on the internet!
Categories: Citizens

Physical Distancing on Campus

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Mon, 09/14/2020 - 4:41pm

With the return of students to campus last week and the start of classes today (finally!), signs about masks, about hand washing, about COVID symptoms, and about physical distancing* have flowered everywhere: walls, doors, windows, bathroom stalls, floors, pillars… I guess I haven’t seen any on trees or ceilings, but maybe those will show up tomorrow.

And anywhere two people can queue up, the floor is marked with traffic-flow arrows, spacing dots or x’s, reminders about the magical six feet (“2M,” if you’re metric)…

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Categories: Citizens

Covid Riding

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Sun, 09/13/2020 - 10:41am

I had a fun little gravel ride today with two friends.

We kept pretty good distance between us, not that it matters that much in the open air when we’re mostly moving at 15 mph. A couple times, I thought about other rides on these particular roads – at least once, with one of today’s riders – and struggled to remember, at first, why we could have every ridden in a pack, or clustered around the guy who had a flat, or camped in a tiny little cabin in a county park.

This resetting of older memories is getting more and more frequent for me, a phenomenon that I’ve talked about with many people. Masking and distancing have permeated public life so deeply that it’s hard to remember that they’ve only been around for us since February, and only really common in Minnesota since late July (when the governor mandated masks in public places).

I guess it’s a nice demarcation in our shared personal histories: things we did before the pandemic, things we are doing in it. I suppose there will be a whole set of things that we’ll do after the pandemic, too (ubiquitous masking in health-care settings?) – or not (salad bars are over, right?). For now it’s enough of a challenge to remember that we weren’t being foolhardy eight years ago when ten of us rode in a tight paceline down a rutted, muddy road – we just didn’t have to worry about COVID.

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Categories: Citizens


Carol Overland - Legalectric - Sat, 09/12/2020 - 10:19pm

Association of Freeborn County Landowners had filed a Complaint against Public Utilities Commissioner John Tuma and Chair Katie Sieben:

AFCL files Complaint against Tuma & Sieben

They filed their response and shipped it off to Office of Administrative Hearings for an investigation (note statute says “hearing” … oh well…):

AFCL Complaint forwarded to OAH for hearing

Here’s the result, hot off the press:


There’s no requirement of public participation? Minn. Stat. 216E.08, Subd. 2. And parties? No mention. What’s the point of being a party? And following that Office of Legislative Auditor report, guess it doesn’t matter, no one is paying attention.:

Public Utilities Commission’s Public Participation Processes – OLA-Report

Notice of a new topic on the agenda isn’t required? Yeah, I guess the notice statutes don’t matter.

Talking to a participant is not ex party contact? The County is indeed a participant…

Next step is that it goes to the Commission to rubber stamp it.

Who cares? Listen to this:

Categories: Citizens


Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Fri, 09/11/2020 - 4:43pm

I have, I think, eleven masks. I have one stashed in each car, two hanging from a hook in my office, one or two on the hat rack at home, and the rest… Uh… Most of them are in my backpack, I think, but maybe a couple are stuffed in handlebar bags on my bikes.

Today, I headed off to the coffeeshop before work without one around my neck. “No problem,” I thought as I rode along, “I’ll dig one out of my backpack before I go inside.” Nope. Nothing there. I zipped my jacket up as high as I could, just under my nose, and went in. “Do you have any spare masks?” I asked. Luckily, they did, and the barista slid one over the counter to me. Crisis averted. When I got to work, I found the two on the hook, one on the cabinet where I leave my bike helmet, and one on my desk. They both went into my backpack for Monday.

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Categories: Citizens

Who was that masked student?

Blowing and Drifting - Christopher Tassava - Thu, 09/10/2020 - 2:45pm

I had my individual meetings with my four first-year advisees today – nice young men and women,* all suburbanites, all student-athletes, all excited about college. None of them took me up on my offer to have our meetings by video call, and each of them commented in one way or another about being “Zoomed out” after a disrupted senior year of high school, a summer spent looking at a screen, and now orientation that includes a lot of activities on Zoom.

So I enjoyed talking face to face with them, or mask to mask, eight feet apart. I found it taxing to listen to someone that far away whose mouth is hidden by the masks they all dutifully wore. Nonetheless we had some great conversations that covered a lot of ground I’d expected and needed to cover (general education requirements, Carleton as an institution, Northfield as a place) as well some topics that gave me a better sense of them as people – G, who worries about finding enough time to pursue all of his interests; I, who wants to know the best restaurants in town; B, who has already planned out her major; and S, who wants to meet more people already!

All in all, the meetings were refreshing reminders of what Carleton is all about and that the kids are going to do pretty well despite the world we’ve forced them to live in.

But sill: it’s insane to me that everyone – today, literally every person on campus! – is wearing a mask. Disposable ones, Carleton-branded ones, fancy ones, plain ones, pattered ones, solid-colored ones. 2020: the year we couldn’t see anyone’s mouth, and learned to recognize each other by eyebrows and noses.

* After 14 years at Carleton, I feel like I can almost start calling them “kids,” but I remember feeling So Grown Up at 18…

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Categories: Citizens
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