Uncategorized #11 – Special Coronavirus Edition

March 15, 2020 in Uncategorized

Wow. Wow! WOW! What an insane week it’s been. I’m gonna divert from the standard format and just write, because there’s so much to write, and I just want to get it all out.

Coronavirus and the Giant Apple

First up, Coronavirus. It’s like hell week, but with social distancing. The week started out pretty ok. We went to the office as usual, we interacted with each other as usual. On Tuesday I sort of randomly decided to clean off my desk. I sprayed it down good. It was already disgusting. I put away all my papers and notes, and cleaned off my screen and keyboard and surfaces with some kind of spray I found in the cabinet. A number of larger companies, like Google had already announced they were going to have folks working from home through the end of the month. Things were beginning to heat up, but I wouldn’t call it a boil yet.

Wednesday night, everything went kind of sideways. The President made a really bizarre address to the nation. I could see the panic in his eyes. He just made things worse. Then Tom Hanks announced from Australia that he and his lovely wife had contracted the virus. Then the NBA cancelled their season. McLaren pulled out of the Australian Grand Prix,  the entire race was later canceled. And then, everything seemed to just start crumbling. 

Conferences have been pretty much canceled across the board, including the one I was supposed to go speak at this week in Sweden. In the museum world Museums and the Web in LA, and MuseumNext were both canceled. SXSW was canceled, Coachella (thank god) was canceled. And then museums started to announce they were closing doors, beginning with The Met, the Smithsonian and then pretty much every cultural organization followed shortly after, except for the Brooklyn Public Library, which is still open and making their staff show up for work—wtf?

Then, the panic. Companies all over New York and all over the country started to announce their employees would be working from home, and it felt like buildings were burning down as everyone started to frantically pack up their things and hope for the last Uber to come and drive them away. There was a crazy rush on grocery stores-—we decided to skip it and went the following day and stocked up as usual. Everyone’s hands are cracking from all the washing, and despite all the panic, people are still going out and being together at bars and restaurants and libraries, apparently.

Working from home

For our little studio, this was pretty simple. We are all pretty mobile. Meghan and I are usually situated at the office, so we just had to pack up our laptops and put a few things away. All of our files are stored on Google Drive, and we typically use Slack and Zoom to communicate, so we are already pretty used to the WFH life. Our engineers are already remote, and aside from our site visits, we typically interact with our clients via Zoom, so no big changes there. 

It’s been interesting following all the discussion on Twitter around folks who work in institutions preparing to work from home. The short story is, they’re all seemingly very unprepared, but scrambling to figure it out and make it work. Beyond the tech required to make work from home work well, there’s also just a bunch of soft skills and culture shift type things people have to be open to and aware of. Like understanding how to ride the mute button during large video conference calls and what the hell a stand up meeting is, and why you might want to have one. 

There’s also been just a LOT of chatter online about how companies need to offer paid sick-leave and time off and make it as easy as possible on everyone during this time. BK library, I’m looking at you!

The new normal

Meanwhile, we’re all learning to live like shut-ins and I can tell it’s not going super well in New York City so far. There’s so many life altering changes to make, and it’s kind of like we’re all just waiting for some leader type to tell us all exactly what to do, but unfortunately we don’t currently have someone like that, anywhere at all. 

I read two articles that seemed to be making the rounds this week. One was called Social Distancing: This is Not a Snow Day – Ariadne Labs – Medium” by Asaf Bitton, MD, MPH, and the other was What Does ‘Social Distancing’ Mean? – The Atlantic by Kaitlyn Tiffany from the Atlantic. 

They both tried to help explain how we should be living our lives in our “new normal” but one was just way more conservative than the other. Which do you go by? How do you know what’s right? Should we be taking our son to daycare? Should we be burning all our dishes each meal? Is this ever gonna end?

I think in a densely populated city like NYC it’s going to be nearly impossible to contain the virus through social distancing. It will certainly help, but there’s just not enough capability to quickly mobilize and educate everyone who lives here. Just go to the corner laundromat or Prospect Park on a sunny day (like yesterday) and you’ll see what I mean. People are just all over each other, as if nothing is happening, besides the strange desire to own all the toilet paper.

Before and after

So, we’re all at home, hunkering down like an invisible hurricane is on its way. What do we do now? For me, I’m mostly concerned with all of us remaining sane and making smart choices each day. I heard someone say that this will be one of those pivotal moments in history where there will be the time before and the time after. People will remember back to what it was like before Coronavirus, and people will compare that life to how life is now. I hope it’s not like that. I hope it just eventually goes away and we all go back to life as it was a few weeks ago, but who knows.

Back to reality

I mentioned last week that I wanted to start to re-design my personal website. Well, I found some time in-between the sanitizing and managed to get a site together pretty quickly. It’s not quite done yet, but I figure if you’ve read this far, you deserve a sneak peek. So, go check it out at https://micahwalter.net

For the new site I wanted to try a few things. First, I decided to build the site using Laravel and host it on Amazon via Laravel Vapor, which is a server-less deployment tool for Laravel and is super awesome and easy to do. Also, I’ve never really explored Laravel itself and it’s really nice, and I am having a ton of fun writing PHP again! 

Behind the scenes its using WordPress as a CMS, and on the front-end I decided to just use this nifty bit of CSS designed by someone who really seems to like Edward Tufte I also really like Edward Tufte, so I thought it would be a nice place to start.

Someone smart once told me that building a website should be a process of creating places to put things in the future. URLs as destinations for a future of information. That’s the approach I’m taking here. For example, right now there are URLs for each image. Eventually these pages will have all sorts of details about the images, but for now, it’s just an image and its title. Later, I’ll archive all my tweets on this site, later I’ll archive all these emails and all my projects and all sorts of things. For now, it’s just there, waiting to be populated and created. Feels good amidst all the crazy.

Let’s hang!

I also had an idea I wanted to share with you all. If you’ve made it all the way down to here, you can consider yourselves a select few who might actually like to participate. With all this work from home and isolation and fear and panic, I thought it might be nice for some human connection. 

  1. I’m gonna try and do a group chat Zoom thing each day. It will be open to anyone and we will discuss whatever comes up based on who’s in the room, but expect us to chat about museums, working from home, and the virus ?.  If you want to participate here’s the Zoom info and a handy calendar reminder! Google Calendar
  2. I’m gonna offer office hours Tuesdays through Fridays. You can book a one-on-one hour long session with me via this Calendly thing. If the times and dates don’t work for you timezone, just email me and let me know what would work better. I’m happy to chat about anything that’s on your mind. 

Ok, I’m so grateful for having you here. I need to go outside and find some sunshine, so I’m gonna sign off and put on my hazmat suit. I hope you all stay safe and comfortable, and please feel free to reach out if you need someone to talk to or if you are just bored and thing I might need the same!

And please, please please… have a great week!

-Micah


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