📚 Future Imperfect by L.A. Graf

51/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Part two of this trilogy involves a lot of time travel, or dimensional travel, or both, which occasionally makes it a bit difficult to keep track of who is where/when, but for the most part tracks decently.

The back cover blurb is somewhat closer to the plot of the book than with the first book in the series, but still has some notable differences. Maybe the blurbs were written much earlier in the planning process, before rewrites and editorial adjustments? The cover image also has no relation to the story.

Michael holding Future Imperfect

📚 Present Tense by L.A. Graf

50/2022 – ⭐️⭐️⭐️

Set directly after “The Naked Now”, the Enterprise decides to use their extra three days to do a low-stakes check on an away team on a boring planet. Suddenly, everything goes wrong! The first book in a trilogy, so nothing gets wrapped up here, but it’s the usual Trek adventures. Some extra points for having cave exploration scenes that were claustrophobic enough to wig me out a little.

Weirdly, the summary blurb on the back of the book (and thus, on this site) is entirely unrelated to the actual plot.

Michael holding Present Tense

Goodbye Twitter

I’d been debating it for a while, but as of tonight, I’m stepping away from Twitter.

Yesterday I downloaded my Twitter data archive (honestly, I have no idea how to process it or what to do with it, but at least I have it), and tonight, I’m using TweetDelete to wipe my Twitter history clean, and have updated my Twitter bio to point to my blog and my Mastodon account.

I’ll be keeping the account open, so that I can hold on to the djwudi username, as I’ve been using that handle consistently for decades, and I want to make sure it stays under my control. However, the account will stay dormant until I feel that Twitter has improved, or until it finally completely falls over, whichever comes first.

I joined Twitter in October of 2007, fifteen years ago, and posted somewhere over 23,000 tweets in that time — not nearly as many as some people, but not too shabby, either. And now, as Elon continues to run it into the ground and let the worst possible users run rampant, I finally hit the point where it’s just not worth continuing to either contribute content or preserve the content I’d contributed in the past. I also recognize the privilege I have in not depending on Twitter for any of the communities I’m part of.

It’s unfortunate…but here it is.

Travel and CO2

A day of travel, as “seen” by a Aranet4 portable CO2 monitor.

Reading this: basically, CO2 levels are a measure of how well a space is ventilated, and can therefore be a handy proxy for a rough idea of how likely it could be that there might be infectious particles (flu, COVID, etc.) in the air. Lower CO2 = better ventilation and less chance of any bugs in the air, Higher CO2 = worse ventilation, stale air, and higher chance of other bugs in the air. It’s not a one-to-one connection, obviously, as there are other variables, such as number of people in the area, but it can be a good way to get a rough measure of the ventilation.

So here’s how my day went (all times shifted one hour from what’s shown on the graph due to the time change).

A graph of CO2 levels over the course of a day. Marks on the graph separate it into sections: at the hotel (in the low range), at the airport (medium range), on the airplane (high range), and in a car home (low range).
Being able to see this change over the course of the day was fascinating.

Until about 8am, I was at the hotel. Levels stayed in the green and slowly decreased through the night, then increased into the yellow as I woke up and was active and moving around, showering, packing, etc.

8-9am, outside and on the light rail to the airport. Nice and green.

9-noon, in the airport, often in the midst of lots of people as I went through the TSA lines. Even in the large, high-ceilinged airport areas, with lots of room for air to move, levels were generally in the yellow. This is part of why crowded situations, even in large or outdoor areas, are still good places to be masked.

Noon-2pm, on the airplane. Lots of people in a fairly small, confined space. Airplanes might have “good” ventilation, but there’s only so much that can be done, and it was solidly in the red the entire time. I was okay with my KN95 through the airport, but switched to an N95 from just before boarding until after disembarking in Seattle, didn’t eat on the plane, and used a straw when drinking to minimize intake of unfiltered air.

2-3pm: Getting my baggage and taking a Lyft home. Right back into the green.

This was a handy little gadget to have with me this week. That, plus masking, plus vaccination and boosters, and I’m feeling pretty confident in my safety measures.

🎥 The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2018): ⭐️⭐️⭐️: Well, it’s definitely a Gilliam film, and I do tend to like those, even when I don’t entirely “get” them right off the bat. His tendency to slip in and out of reality at any given point always engages well with me, and this is no exception. I’m just not sure what the actual theme of this one is; I may just need to rewatch it again.

I will admit that, as much as I enjoy both Gilliam and Pryce, casting Pryce as a Spaniard is questionable at best. But then, Gilliam does fall into the realm of “problematic fave” for me, and this is one more instance why.

Accessing Higher Ground 2022

On this last day of the 2022 Accessing Higher Ground accessibility in higher education conference, I put together a thread about the week. Originally posted on Mastodon, this is a lightly edited version for this blog. Be warned, this isn’t short. :)

Me standing beside an AHG poster in the hotel lobby. I'm wearing a black shirt with green alien heads and a grey KN95 mask.
Me on my way to the first day of panels.

High-level thoughts from a first-time attendee: This is a really good conference. I haven’t seen much in the way of glitches or issues (discounting the occasional technical electronic weirdness that happens anywhere). Panel content has been well selected and planned; I’ve been able to put together a full schedule with few “this or that” conflicts. Some panelists are better than others, as always, but I haven’t seen any trainwrecks or other disasters.

I do wish the conference had more of a social media presence. The @AHGround Twitter account linked from the AHG website hasn’t posted since 2017, and the #ahg22 hashtag I only found on their Facebook page, and it wasn’t mentioned until 10 days before the conference. Unsurprisingly, this means that there was very little hashtag use (at first I seemed to be one of the very few users other than AGH itself using the tag consistently or at all; a few more people started using it as the conference went on).

The hotel is a Hilton. My primary other hotel experience is the DoubleTree by Hilton Seattle Airport (where Norwescon is held), and I was amused that in most respects, I prefer the DoubleTree to the Hilton Denver City Center. The room is a little smaller here, and I was welcomed at check-in with a room temperature bottle of water instead of a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie. But these are small and kind of picky distinctions; really, it’s exactly what you’d expect from a Hilton.

A standard Hilton hotel room with two queen size beds and a view of downtown Denver office buildings out the window.
Looks about like any other hotel room out there.

That said: This particular hotel has excellent ventilation. I’ve been carrying around an Aranet4 air quality monitor, and it has stayed comfortably in the green nearly the entire time; it has only gone into the low end of the yellow during one standing-room-only session in a smaller room. It did get into the yellow as it sat in my room overnight as I slept, but opening the window would bring it back into the green in just a few minutes (though at 20°-40° F outside, I didn’t do this much).

A graph of the CO2 levels for the past few days as measured by my Aranet 4 monitor. Most measurements are in the green "good" zone, with occasional spikes into the yellow zone. Handwritten notes emphasize that the yellow spikes are mostly when I was sleeping.
Being able to keep an eye on CO2 levels was nice, and helped make me feel comfortable with COVID-era conference travel.

As noted in an earlier Mastondon post, the weirdest thing for me has been part of switching from fan convention to professional conference: the lack of anything after about 5 p.m. I’m used to fan-run SF/F cons like Norwescon, with panels running until 9 p.m. or later, evening concerts or dances, 24-hour game spaces, and a general “we’ll sleep when this is done” schedule. Having nothing left for the day after about 5 p.m. is odd, and it feels weird not to know that I could wander out and find things going on.

For people who come with groups and/or have been doing this for a long time and have a lot of connections, I’m sure it’s easy to find colleagues to have dinner or hang out in bars or restaurants (at or outside the hotel) and chat with. But for a new solo attendee, it meant I spent a lot of evenings watching movies on my iPad in my room. (I did find a small group of other Washington-based attendees to hang with one evening, which was very appreciated.)

Impressions of Denver: Hard to say, really. It’s been pretty cold this week (20s to 30s most days), and since a lot of panels caught my eye, I didn’t take time to go exploring beyond going to the 16th street mall to find food. The little I did see in the immediate area is nice enough; maybe I’ll see more if I get to come back to AHG in the future.

Looking down a section of Denver's 16th street mall, a pedestrian commercial area with shopping, restaurants, and bars.
Though I haven’t taken German or been to Germany in years, my brain kept labeling this a “Fußgängerzone”.

Colorado itself, I have to say, didn’t give me the greatest first impression. The trip from the airport to downtown Denver is a 40-minute light rail ride through flat, brown, high desert with lots of scrub brush, punctuated by aesthetically unpleasing industrial and commercial areas. Maybe it’s nicer in the summer, but in the winter? The SeaTac-to-Seattle light rail ride is much prettier. (My apologies to Coloradans for snarking on their state.)

The Colorado landscape between the airport and Denver. The ground is flat, sparse, and very brown, the sky has lots of high, wispy clouds.
Denver has mountains in the distance, they were just out the other side of the train. All I saw was flat.

My least favorite part has been the humidity, or lack thereof. Coming from the Pacific Northwest’s pretty regular 50%+ humidity, having Colorado’s humidity hovering around the 20% level has been horrible on my skin. Even with lotion, I’m itching like crazy, to the point where it’s been difficult to sleep, and my hands are so dry that the skin of my knuckles is cracking and I look like I’ve been punching walls. Whimper, whine, yes, whatever, it’s unpleasant.

But anyway! And now, brief (500-character or fewer) overviews of the sessions I attended while I’ve been here:

InDesign Accessibility (full-day pre-conference session): For a long time, I’ve had a basic impression that PDFs are crap for accessibility. Turns out that PDFs can be made quite accessible, but it takes a bit of work and the right tools, and InDesign is a powerful tool for this sort of thing. While I don’t use InDesign much, I learned a lot about PDF accessibility and how to effectively prepare documents, and many of the concepts will be translatable to other programs. Very useful.

Addendum: I’m also going to take some time to see how many of these techniques and InDesign’s accessibility features are also available in Affinity Publisher, since I’m a fan of Affinity’s alternatives to Adobe’s big three tools (Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign). I have no idea how much of a priority Affinity puts on accessibility (either within their tools or the final documents), but it could be an interesting thing to poke around with.

Using NVDA to check PDFs for Accessibility (full-day pre-conference session): Another really useful day. While I’ve known about screen readers as a concept for some time, I’ve just started experimenting with NVDA over the past year, and as a sighted user who doesn’t depend on it, it can be an overwhelming experience. This day gave me a ton of info on tips for using NVDA (including the all-important “shut up for a moment” command), and I’m going to be much more comfortable with it now.

Keynote: Oh, also: The keynote speaker, Elsa Sjunneson, was excellent, speaking about her experiences as a Deafblind person, student, parent, and author. Her statement that “disability is a multiverse” resonated with a lot of people. Plus, it was a treat to see her speak here, as I know of her from her paneling at Norwescon and her Hugo nominations and wins.

Elsa Sjunneson on stage at the conference keynote. An ASL interpreter stands beside her. Both are also shown on a large video screen to one side of the stage.
Elsa and her interpreter during her keynote speech.

Publishing and EPUB 101: An introduction to EPUBs and an overview of some of the better creation tools. I’ve experimented a bit with creating EPUBs here and there in the past, and am familiar enough with the basics that this one was a slightly below my knowledge level, but it still gave me some good tips on methods and tools for preparing documents to be output as accessible EPUB files for distribution.

Math and STEM: Since I’m going to be training STEAM faculty on what they need to know to make their courses accessible, which can have some extra considerations to be aware of, this seemed like an obvious choice. It ended up being basically a demonstration of TextHelp’s Equatio equation editing product, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Equatio does do a lot of neat stuff and our campus already has access to it, so I did learn a lot from the session, even with the single-product focus.

Retire the PDF: An intentionally hyperbolic title, this was a call to consider EPUBs as an alternative to PDFs when distributing documents. As long as you’re not absolutely wedded to the visual layout and presentation of a document, EPUBs do have a lot of advantages over PDFs by giving the end user more control over the display (fonts, sizes, reflow to varying screen sizes, etc.) and better screen reader compatibility (especially when compared to poorly constructed PDFs).

Educational Alt Text: A particularly good session on how to think about writing alt text for images, with an emphasis on doing so for an educational context. Thinking about not simply describing the contents of an image, but creating alt text that conveys the meaning and what information the reader needs to get from the image separate from how the image appears, and how to craft effective alt text and (when technologically possible) long descriptions with more information about the image.

Going Further with EPUB: This session got deeper into the innards of EPUBs, looking at how they’re constructed (essentially self-contained XHTML websites), examining a few different tools for creating, editing, checking, and validating EPUBs for full accessibility. Again, much of the basic info I knew, but the collection of tools and verification options will be very handy to have.

Accessible Math Roadmap: Presenting an in-progress reference document on the state of accessible math and the various tools out there for creating and interacting with equations in accessible formats. As noted above, this is an area I’m trying to learn the basics of as quickly as possible, so I’ll be digging into the reference document itself in more detail in the coming days as I continue preparing to help train faculty on how they can do all this for their classes.

Trending Tech Tools: This is apparently the latest in a recurring series of presentations at this conference, going over major developments in accessible technology over the past year, recent updates to a number of widely used tools, and a peek at things coming down the line in the coming months. Particularly for someone new to the field, this was a nice way to get a snapshot of where things stand and what to be aware of.

Advanced VPAT Techniques: Voluntary Product Accessibility Templates (VPATs) are a way for vendors to declare how accessible their products are (or aren’t); this session discussed how best to approach talking with vendors about their VPATs, particular things to look for, and ways to guide discussions with vendors to get more precise information about issues that may be noted when reviewing the VPATs during the pre-selection product investigation and review phase.

Accessible Videos: Covered what needs to be done to make videos accessible, for both the videos themselves (using high-contrast text within the videos, including correct captions, transcripts, and audio description tracks) and the video players themselves, which need to be accessible and allow full access to all features for all users (which most players, including YouTube’s, aren’t very good at doing). Got some good pointers on automated-caption correction workflows and tools as well.

Integrating Tech in Communication: Through no fault of the presenters, this ended up being the least directly useful to me, as while it was about ways to use tech to communicate with students, it was presented by people on a Microsoft-focused campus, and was essentially a rundown of many of the features built into Microsoft’s applications and how they’re using them on their campus. Not bad info at all, just not as useful for me as it obviously was for others in attendance.

So that wraps up my week at Accessing Higher Ground! It was well worth coming, and I’m very glad I was able to come. If I only get to go to one conference next year, it will probably be the big AHEAD conference (along with ATHEN, one of the two parent organizations for AHG), as they’ll be in Portland, but if we have the resources to send me to two conferences, I definitely hope to come back to AHG again. Thanks to the organizers and all the presenters and attendees for such a good conference week!

🎥 War of the Worlds

War of the Worlds (1953): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: Holds up incredibly well. I mean, sure, part of that is the charm of early ‘50s sci-fi (weird red-hot meteor lands, so of course the local service station guy whacks it with a shovel, and when the scientist’s Geiger counter clicks like mad due to radiation, he casually says they might want to think about keeping people a little further away). But it’s also really tightly written, and still pulls me right into the story. Absolutely a classic.

🎥 Repo Man

Repo Man (1984): ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️: It had been decades since I’d watched this, which was great, because there was so much I’d forgotten. Gloriously weird, with a killer soundtrack. It’s one of those films that is really good, even though in many objective ways it’s really bad, but it’s not a “so bad it’s good” situation, it’s just a superimposition of the two.