24 Feb 2023

Starter Pack

I now have a starter pack I send to welcome BIPOC people, especially femmes, who are questioning whether they might be autistic, filled with essays, memes, hashtags, and online assessment tools. Many people with all kinds of disabilities are doing the same thing, even when we also pursue an official diagnosis—the first hints we had POTS or EDS or fibro or Chiari formation or OCD often came from other disabled people with those body/mind conditions.

–Leah-Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, The Future is Disabled (14)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote lately and the idea of a “starter pack” for disabled and chronically ill friends, colleagues, students. Since Diminished Faculties has come out I’ve had a steady stream of emails from readers. By virtue of teaching disability — as a course, as a topic in courses, and just being out in the classroom — I also regularly hear from students who are thinking about their experience in new ways. I’m slowly assembling a modular starter pack. Right now it’s more on the academic side of “disability studies 101” — my latest undergrad syllabus if they’re not already students in the course, recommendations for some basic readings (Kafer, Price “time harms,” Samuels if they have an invisible disability or chronic illness, Piepzna-Samarasinha, Mia Mingus, etc), and then it depends on the person. New “cancer friends” who are also profs often want career advice or need to navigate the institution; some people want to know where the “community” is (I don’t feel like there’s a single community here); others need to sort out dealing with the local medical system.

If you’ve got something like a “starter pack” I would love to hear what’s in yours.

Killing Prosthetic Metaphors Dead

This came up in my grad seminar this week. Media studies is still full of prosthetic metaphors: where technologies “extend” senses or agency in one way or another. Writers also occasion use the opposite–amputation. The problem with all disability metaphors (see “blind” “deaf” etc) is that they metaphorize stigmas attached to the positions, not the actual experiences of people who use prosthetics, are blind, or are d/Deaf. So what does one do? The answer is of course find other metaphors. Labour metaphors are great because often we are talking about semi-automated processes that have a labour component in them. Writers like Madeleine Akrich and Bruno Latour will talk about “delegation” which is also interesting (though in Latour’s case separated from real labour politics that perhaps should be considered). There are plenty of other metaphors out there in the sea–go troll for some.

Hybrid Education, or, why I miss the media cart

I receive a pitch from business students who are starting a company to offer students the opportunity to attend class remotely while wearing VR headsets. I am very strongly in favour of hybrid education and have been doing it since before the pandemic. But there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. We need better infrastructure in classrooms–especially around sound–as well as better technical support. People with real access needs should be the priority as well, which has not been the case thus far, at least not at my university.

This term I’m teaching two seminars, and I’ve been using a Meeting Owl that the dept was able to buy with some funds from an associate dean. It sits in the middle of the seminar table, plugs into my laptop as the camera, mic, and speakers, and the remote students are visible to me but I don’t project them on the screen. One could, but the projector in my classroom has a loud fan that I don’t want to listen to for 3 hours, and it also shines a blue light in my eyes. (It would also require connecting what I have come to call “the media hose,” which barely reaches my computer). It’s not perfect, and like many such devices, the Owl’s video is better thought through than its audio, but it has been very helpful. I haven’t magically become not immunocompromised since returning to campus and this allows me to tell students to stay home if they’re sick. Also, sick students can attend class.

Fall’s lecture course used a classroom recording system that’s ok. The only problem with all this tech is I have to set it up and take it down. I am the wrong generation for the “media cart” with a giant CRT TV and VCR on it, but I had teachers roll those things into classes, and I kind of wish it was that simple to set up.

Anyway, here’s my reply to the VR query.

I’m very curious about the university administration’s response to this.  A number of immunocompromised students sought continued remote learning accommodations due to the ongoing pandemic and were refused.  Will the admin even allow this kind of remote learning, when existing and adequate Zoom options are currently policed and disallowed?  It seems like if there are tech issues with this setup, you’re also putting extra troubleshooting on the shoulders of faculty in the absence of any kind of institutional support for it (see also: online teaching during the pandemic).  The problem isn’t getting the tech into classrooms.  The problem is keeping it working.  W120 Arts was a shining new example of cutting edge instructional design a few years ago.  A student told me the speakers all crackle and some of the mics are broken.  What’s your plan for infrastructure and maintenance?

I should be the target audience for something like this — I’ve been an early adopter of new instructional tech since the 1990s.  I was at conferences with Second Life in the 2000s when they were trying to get profs to have online classrooms full of avatars.  (Look them up — they tried your business plan).

Honestly, I can’t imagine anything I want less than a VR classroom.  I love my students, but I have less than zero interest in teaching in a VR headset or seeing my students as shitty airbrushed-looking cartoon avatars with no legs.

If I can’t see my students, I’d rather they just put pictures of their pets in their Zoom windows, which this is what we actually did during online teaching in the pandemic for those who did not want to appear on camera.

Sometimes lower tech solutions are better solutions.

Invented Scales

One of the fun things about Volte, my instrumental post-rock band, is that sometimes we write music in “invented scales.” I mean, we probably didn’t invent them because I imagine there’s music in pretty much every arrangement of 12-tone-equal-temperment notes by this point. But sometimes the notes of a piece will not fit on any particular scale I know. We’re heading into the studio in early April, so I need to nail down a solo I have been playing, as I haven’t been happy with what I am doing. So I sat down and just tried to figure out all the notes I could use with it to construct some new melodies, and had one of those “wow, so I guess I’ll just use this weird jumble of notes for it and they sort of work” experiences. Now to actually make the melody.

Capitalism is Theft (this category used to be called “Impotent Rage at Telephone Customer Support”)

We were zonked last night and ordered a bunch of food from Chu Chai through Skip the Dishes. Somehow, the app decided we wanted it delivered to an address in Outremont, even though we live in Villeray. I was very tired so I didn’t catch it until the order went in. There was no way to contact the driver through the app to fix it. I couldn’t get through to tech support. So it was delivered to someone in Outremont. Carrie hops in the car to go get it. When she gets there, the person at the address says “I refused it, and the driver took it away.” The driver never even tried to call us. Meanwhile, I finally get through to support (an hour or so after the first try) and am told “it was delivered, if it wasn’t delivered, it was your own fault, and we have a picture of the food on the porch.” So they gave us 50% of the price in “Skip Credits.” I’ll be contesting the charge on the credit card when it shows up, but it should not have been that difficult. We wound up just making the same order and Carrie picked it up from Chu Chai (we had to pay again but it’s not the resto’s fault). Obviously, we would have had an easier time if we’d just cooked something.


Last week I was in Minneapolis visiting family — I basically stole time away for the trip since we didn’t go over the holidays. Next week I’m on vacation at an undisclosed sunny location for spring break, so this space may be quiet again.