Why playing this song has meaning to me

Every now and then, I get asked what music my dad listened to or what his favorite song was. Even up until his wake, someone asked. Unfortunately, I have no straight answer for it. But it does make for an interesting story.

His wife, Jeanette, will likely have a more definite opinion on this. But I have a feeling she had a significant influence over what dad listened to at that point in his life. A more accurate answer lies during the time when he had total control over what gets played in the car the old stereo we used to have at home. His tape and vinyl collection was made up of old standards and folk music which were already considered classics back in the 1980s and 1990s – Elvis Presley, Ray Conniff, John Denver, The Carpenters, Peter Paul and Mary, The Cascades, The Mamas and the Papas, ABBA, and a whole bunch of more eclectic music unfamiliar to me. He also liked local artists like Freddie Aguilar, Sampaguita and ASIN. He also liked contemporary and new age instrumental music – Kitaro, Enya, Yanni and a whole bunch of Celtic music. Those used to play non-stop in the car back when he was the only one in the family who could drive and when he was one of the bosses at UPOU who had a service vehicle assigned to him. I have an appreciation for all the above. But they’re not exactly the kind of music I would play for others to listen with me. And then there was the issue of him not having the same level of appreciation for the music that I like, lol.

It’s tough to pinpoint that favorite song, though. He’s the kind of guy who plays an album from start to finish, with hardly any exceptions. When he’s in a restaurant or bar and the house band starts taking requests, he routinely asked for Freddie Aguilar’s Anak. But I don’t think that’s his favourite. I think it’s more of a cross between a prank and him feeding his own curiosity. He certainly does not miss the opportunity to make that request in other countries to see if the band knows the song. But it leads me to the part that is more meaningful to me.

I myself started to have more interest in music in high school. And this was the time when I started sneaking in my own tapes in the car. I got more open with it when I started to learn how to drive. Predictably, if not disappointingly enough, he didn’t like nearly all of it. But he did like one album. It was my old tape of U2’s The Joshua Tree. I finally found the core of what little common ground we had with music. I tried getting him into U2’s other albums like The Unforgettable Fire, Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby!, but he always went back to the The Joshua Tree. I get it. To this day, it remains as one of my favorite albums of all time. He’d play that tape from start to finish and even ask me where it was, whenever I took it from the car. In that album, he had a clear favorite. Perhaps it was because of the mellowness it brings back right after the loudest track in the album. But mostly, my dad liked Running to Stand Still because of the lyrics which was filled with what I call Bono-isms – figures of speech and juxtapositions that were quite clever at the time.

Listening to myself now, I can imagine being worse back then, but I’m glad I got to perform this for him and our friends and colleagues at UPOU when he retired eight years ago. I believe that was also the first time that I told this story. Doing those back when he was still with us relieved me of what would have been another regret. But somehow I feel compelled to try and record this, at least for my own sake. My dad has passed on, but I hope this can mean something to those who knew him well enough.

DRAFT: On speaking in public and recording myself

In a course I’m currently involved in building, I’ve posted a number of articles that provide tips on how to do a better job with presentations and speaking in public. I’m sure you will also be able to find a lot of other resources should you look for them. But I also attempted to share the things that have helped me personally. I can hold my own as a writer. But speaking is a different matter. I’m not a natural orator. Words flow better from my mind to my fingertips than to my mouth. Worse, I was awfully shy and modest growing up. I constantly feared looking stupid in front of people. Talking when under pressure filled me with great anxiety. I dreaded oral presentations and exams as a student. I also remember my very first paper presentation in a conference in Vietnam. It was probably no worse than some other presentations, but the ordeal felt awful. Thankfully, I overcame a lot of these weaknesses in time. I’ll never claim to be a great public speaker. In fact, I remain highly introverted, not wanting to have to deal with talking to people too much. Speaking spontaneously, let alone doing so in public, remains a challenge. But I can manage my fears and anxieties better now. And I think that’s what many of you need to do as well. Looking back, I believe there have been a handful of things I kept in mind which have helped significantly, and I would like to share them with you here.

Practice

Yes, people do rehearse in front of the mirror until they get everything right. But I’m not so sure that it’s absolutely necessary to go that far. Even imagining yourself speaking can help. In that paper presentation in Vietnam, I had not realized that I prepared too many slides and ended up spending more time that was allotted to me. It got so bad that I used up all the unspent minutes by the previous presenters and still got cut off by the moderator. Not being able to finish your presentation for any reason is never a good thing. Practicing, even if it’s just in your head, can give you a good idea of how long it will take you to present your slides. I usually do this maybe twice or thrice as the day of presentation approaches. This becomes even more important to me if I’m not given a lot of time for the presentation. Even for a pre-recorded presentation, this can be helpful as it allows you to spend less time trying to edit your video, deciding what to remove so it meets the time limit. I learned that with my style, it typically wouldn’t be a good idea to prepare more than 10 sparse slides for a 10-15 minute presentation. Try doing the same and figure out your own pace.

Repetition

Compared to those in other campuses, we UPOU Faculty typically don’t often get to hold classroom sessions. I know I didn’t. So, for a time, I sought it out, offering every chance I got to hold face to face sessions because I wanted to get better. If you are a long-time follower of any online personality, be it a podcaster, reviewer or influencer (or perhaps you are one yourself), you would notice how their content improves over time. You can feel that they talk with more and more confidence over time. A bit of self-reflection and critique allows one to go back and assess their strengths and weaknesses, then adjust accordingly. Along with practice, this improvement over time is a function of repetition. Over time, you figure out what equipment works better for you, what mannerisms you need to manage, and what good attributes you have that need to continue to take advantage of. Repetition also helps build expand your comfort zone and be more confident in front of a microphone and camera. I’m not saying this is easy. In fact, those first tries will potentially be an excruciating experience. But as long as you keep going, if done right, chances are, it will get easier.

Get used to listening to your own voice

I remember the first time I ever recorded my own voice. I was around 14 years old. My mini stereo system (a gift from my parents for passing my high school entrance exam) came with a microphone. I was curious about using it. So, one day, I experimented with it and recorded mine and a few of my cousins talking. I was feeling quite good about it. I had a respectable singing voice at the time and was pretty sure I was going to sound good. Then I rewound the tape and pressed play. My cousins’ voices were the first to play and sounded fine to me. But then I cringed the moment I heard myself. My voice was starting to change at the time, but I still sounded a bit too effeminate for my liking. Yes, this was the early 1990s and I had very different sensibilities back then, like most kids of the same age. The point is, it was the start of my love-hate relationship with my voice. I didn’t mind singing and playing the guitar. But stick a microphone in front of me and I’d mentally fall apart.

Chances are, you have comparable stories. And in all likelihood, they’re also rooted in this dissonance between what’s called your inward voice and outward voice. This talk from Rebecca Kleinberger offers an easy to understand explanation for this:

I wish there was a sure-fire way of overcoming your disdain towards the sound of your own outward voice. Lately, I had been trying to overcome it by singing on stage and recording myself performing. But I honestly don’t know when the benefit repetition will kick in when the sound of my voice is pretty much set. In the Netflix documentary series, Song Exploder, an episode was dedicated to the R.E.M. hit, Losing My Religion. The band’s singer, Michael Stipe, was so effusive of his bandmates as he reviewed the instrument and backing vocal tracks of the song. But then he was also made to listen to a few verses of his lead vocal track with no accompaniment. He could not hide his discomfort as the camera zoomed in to the array of different pained expressions in his face as he listened. Perhaps we can look at that scene as a message that even the best and most accomplished share the same insecurities as the rest of us. It is a sign that it’s normal. And if we believe that it is normal, perhaps we’ll have an easier time trying to get used to it so we can move forward to do what we need to do – to put our voice on tape (or disk) and work on it without it being an excruciating experience

Do not start your presentation with an apology

I distinctly remember the most important lesson I learned in my undergraduate seminar class back in college. It wasn’t anything about whatever journal article I reported on. It was the feedback given to me by one of my classmates. Typical of me back then, I did not take it seriously. I randomly pulled a handful of journals scanned through them until I found something remotely related to my major. Then I haphazardly went through the article a few times and thought I’d be fine. Panic sunk in while listening to the earlier presenters who had clearly taken their time to prepare. So the moment I stood in front of the class, the first thing I said was to the extent of, I’m sorry I wasn’t able prepare enough, but I’ll try to do my best… and then I fumbled through the presentation. While we upheld this time-honored unspoken agreement of classmates not making things harder for each other in such situations, at some point we are forced to critique someone else. For my presentation, the proverbial straw was drawn by my former corps commander in ROTC. I didn’t know him well personally, but I instinctively respected him thanks to two years worth of military drill days.  And with little to no hesitation, he said that I should never apologize for shortcomings, or at least not at the beginning, as it immediately sets your presentation’s tone for the worse and recovering from it would be difficult. More importantly, the truth of the matter was that I wasn’t truly apologizing. I was making excuses. And it is embarrassing. Funnily enough, he apologized immediately after saying that if I found his words offensive. I had to smile to and be like… no, sir. It’s the most important lesson I learned throughout that class. I always want to be honest with my audience. Nut at the same time, there really are some things I should try to keep to myself.

Your slides are for bullet points. It’s not your script.

One of my peeves, which admittedly I was also guilty of doing early on, is presenters dumping long passages of text on their presentation slides and then proceed to reading all of them aloud in front of the audience. It’s a sign of lack of preparation or poor technique. It can also prompt your audience to just ignore whatever you’re saying and just read the slides themselves… and that is assuming they can. I’ve seen slides with text so small only the speaker who’s right in front of the projection or his monitor screen can read them. Keep the contents of your slides short and easy to read while you yourself talk about the details.

Loosen up and breathe!

It seems like a small and silly thing. But when anxiety starts building up as the time to speak in front of an audience to present your work draws near, I close my eyes and constantly take slow deep breaths. I also do a few stretches if I feel like it. I never want to start any presentation while I’m tense and stiff because it ensures an internal uphill battle. Breathing somewhat slows my heartbeat and calms my nerves. Even when I’m not nervous, it still helps. Ensuring I’m feeling loose and relaxed makes it easier for me to connect with my audience as I can put my attention to them more rather than myself. It also induces me to talk more deliberately, lowering my tendency to try to talk fast and stutter.

Do keep in mind, however, that it might not be a good idea to breathe the same way when you’re already up there in front of the audience. Keep it deliberate, but don’t pause for that long deep inhalation and then let it all out quickly just before your next spoken lines. When you listen to good voice actors, podcasters or radio show hosts, sometimes you wonder how they keep the breathing noises to a minimum. Of course, you can make corrections and remove those noises in post processing. And yes, you can have a good amount of success with it. But like with a good general performance, a naturally quiet breathing technique makes your life much easier in post. This video does a much better job driving the point I am making:


Develop ways of recovering from difficulties on-the-fly

One big advantage for pre-recorded presentation is that if something goes wrong, you can easily go back and do another take, or at least do some edits. But when doing it live or if you’re in any other instance where you’re not in a good position to make corrections in post, you’ll need other ways to compensate. It’s tough to climb out of any proverbial hole in front of an audience. Dead air, bad video and sound are quite effective in ruining any sort of connection or engagement that you’ve already established with your audience. I’ve seen different ways of handling these, all of which seem to involve wit and humor. I usually resort to small-talk and making fun of both myself and whoever’s seated nearby. It’s hit and miss. However, one of the best that I’ve seen in recent memory in managing these mishaps is progressive metal artist Devin Townsend. For context, this is typical of what he’s capable as a live singer ang guitarist:

However, as a touring musician he is not immune to both technical and performance difficulties on the ground. YouTube has a lot of video clips of him and his band masterfully dealing with all sorts of difficulties, be it technical, such as this:

… or even mid-performance as he struggles with one of his own songs.

Despite that, in large part because of the way he handled matters, his audience loved him even more. Granted, the ability do pull this off does not magically come to you out of nowhere. It is important to make the time to build some connection with your audience, that is why, after everything I’ve already said here, perhaps the most important thing you can do is…

Care

I suppose that, in a way, this sums up everything that has been mentioned. Perhaps what separates good presentations from the bad is how much care was taken in creating them. How passionate are you with what you’re going to talk about in your presentation? To what lengths would you go to ensure that your audience stay engaged with you and your content? It’s not easy, especially for us and the type of content we are going for. Presentations dealing with academic or technical information require wit, rather than a pretty face or a hot body. But I will say this. Sometimes, you’re going to have a bad take or performance. You’re not going to do well in your presentation. But if your audience sees and appreciates what you’re trying to do, chances are, they could still look past your shortcomings and value your message. If you’ve watched Elon Musk do product reveals, you can easily surmise that he’s not a very good public speaker – which is quite common for people within the autism spectrum. He’s definitely no Steve Jobs. But it’s easy to appreciate how he powers through his weakness through sheer passion and wits. He mumbles and stutters making it harder to follow what he’s trying to say. But he is no less compelling than Jobs. We believe him and believe in him anyway. And isn’t that what we’re all ultimately after from our own audiences?

Again, let me lay out my disclaimer. This is totally an opinion piece. Perhaps later on, I can make my opinions much more informed. But I can attest that these things have helped me as an oral communicator. And it is my hope that these can be of some help to you.

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My most awful Lazada experience (so far). And also… Viewsonic monitor impressions.

(Originally written back in November 2020.)

One big thing I miss about being a kid is that I can just give up, cry and let my mom or dad save the day and tell me everything will be fine. Those days are long gone.

I remember my first Viewsonic issue several years ago. A unit was reserved for me at the old Rising Sun Computers over at Shaw Blvd. So, I arrive there at an agreed upon day. I remember the concerned look of my friend Rose upon seeing me, who worked there at the time. The monitor set aside for me was being inspected. Unfortunately, the monitor showed dead pixels, which may as well be a death sentence for brand new LCD monitors. The big problem was that it was the only one they had left in stock and they did not have any monitor of the same size from different brands either. It was really sweet for Rose to make so many calls to try and source out another unit for me. Any other 19 incher would have been fine at that point. It seems difficult to imagine now, but 19″ widescreen LCD monitors were larger than the usual 14 and 17 inchers and relatively rare at the time — definitely in high demand at the time. Ultimately, other than go home empty-handed, my only option was to drive to Gilmore at rush hour. Rose tracked down a Samsung 940BW in one of the shops there so I went for it. That monitor served me well for several years before being passed on to a nephew who himself got to use it for a little while longer before wearing out. That day, I also promised to myself I’d never try to buy a Viewsonic monitor again.

After like 15 years, I broke that promise. I wanted a 32″ monitor, which today is also not as common as the 24- and 27-inchers. I was initially looking at the Philips BDM3201FD, but it suddenly went out of stock in nearby PC Express branches. I was also on the fence about it still being an FHD monitor. I didn’t want to go to Manila for this, with the pandemic happening and me possibly not being fully informed about how things are over there. So, I reluctantly browsed Lazada for options. This is when I came across the Viewsonic VX3276-2K-mhd. Now, this monitor has a lot going for it — a 2K IPS screen that has a refresh rate of up to 75Hz, really thin bezels at a surprising price point. But… it’s a Viewsonic. Reading user reviews over at Amazon revealed issues — suspect quality control, bad customer service (at least in America), and being prone to backlight bleed. Those who know me would probably think that it’s doubtful I’d pull the trigger on this. I was really tentative, that’s for sure. But against what would have been my better judgment, I pulled the trigger during the Lazada 9.9 Sale. Despite worrying about alleged quality issues and having to trust a courier to deliver a large and fairly fragile device. The official Viewsonic Flagship Store in Lazada did not exist yet at this time. I chose to buy from a seller called Digi-Serv Solutions, Inc. (DSSI). I had purchased from them a few times before, and was pretty happy with them since they sell genuine items and ship fast.

My first post-purchase worry was how long the delivery was taking. It was projected to arrive here within a week. After a week of waiting, I attempted to contact the seller to ask for an update. This is when things started to go awry.

Now, the words and phrasing are sort of ok. But as a whole, to me, it sounded like they just washed their hands off this. None of this is their fault. This is not the kind of thing you say to potentially anxious customers. But I let it slide. After three more days — still nothing. So I sent another message. And this is where I got triggered.

Whoever is handling this is apparently copying and pasting from a list of canned responses. That, by itself is sort of ok and is common practice. But I didn’t like seeing this the first time and now this person had the gall to tell me to not give them a bad rating because it’s not their fault, AND suggest I go Like their Facebook Page. These are things you write to a happy customer, not someone who’s still anxiously waiting for a delayed delivery. This is when I started to be more confrontational. I do believe I was still being reasonable, though.

The monitor finally made it on September 22 — more than 12 days after its purchase. I would have really wanted this to be the end of the story. But sadly, it was just the beginning. Now, Lazada has a limited 7-day return policy from the date of delivery. It’s not the best, but it’s still better than having no protection at all. The monitor performed flawlessly throughout that time. But literally, on the 8th day, this started to show:

Funnily enough, at first, I thought I just inadvertently activated some cool Windows 10 effect. I was playing some music when I noticed this first and thought it was an EQ visualizer. The dread came when I saw it keep going even without any audio on. An image burn-in also happened a few times for good measure. At this point, it became clear that I definitely had a lemon in my hands.

Prior to this, I had already sworn not to deal with Digi-Serv again, but it looked like I had no choice. So I reported this to them, again through the Lazada chat. And this is their response:

I don’t want to bore you with the entire chat, but this particular exchange ended here:

I thought this was fishy. All the computer stores I’ve bought from have assisted me with RMAs in the past. This was the first time I’ve been told by one to go straight to a service center. The problem is the company handling service, Inno Vista, don’t give away the address of their service centers. But I was willing to put up with it, because again, I didn’t want to deal with Digiserv again. Unfortunately, emailing Viewsonic customer service yielded this:

I couldn’t believe it. I was just given the runaround.

What came next was a lot of angry messages to Digi-Serv and failed attempts to call Inno Vista’s phone numbers. I was legitimately angry. And I’m not sure how I managed to avoid using abusive language throughout this time. I won’t share the details, but I can pull them up if anyone’s interested. I managed to communicate with someone manning the Viewsonic PH page at Facebook. It seemed promising at first, but in the end, it didn’t amount to anything useful. What made it worse was that I was being told different things. Below are excerpts which is about a day apart. Keep in mind, I posted this cap in Facebook on October 20 — nearly 3 weeks after the monitor’s issue came up. And I was getting nowhere.

By this time, the monitor got worse and rendered unusable:

Yes. It’s ultimately a backlight issue, after all. My god.

The Viewsonic PH page tried to help by giving me Inno Vista’s numbers. Unfortunately, these were the same ones in the Viewsonic website which I tried before to no avail. However, as I had nothing to lose, I tried again. I finally managed to connect through one of the numbers. And this is when I finally found progress. After explaining the situation, the person I was talking to told me that he’s got a record of my issue. Now… in my head, I was like, so why the f**k am I not getting anywhere!? But I did not respond to that and let him sort it out. He called me back after in less than an hour to tell me it’s sorted out. Apparently, Digiserv didn’t want to handle the RMA because they didn’t want to spend for the courier charges to send the big monitor back and forth. I thought it was kind of BS, especially since I had already been asking about this. They could have been more upfront about it and I’d have understood.

It was when I brought in the boxed monitor to the nearest LBC branch when I fully realized the reasoning behind Digiserv’s dodginess. LBC will not ship a large box without a crate. Now, I can build a crate myself. The issue is that when I asked a rough shipping cost estimate, the LBC people said maybe P2,500-3,000, excluding insurance of 500 which only covers 10,000. The monitor is well worth more than that. So, that’s around 6,000-7,000 Pesos and 6-10 days transit time for two deliveries (to Digiserve and then back to me). That excludes time Digiserv could make me wait if they unilaterally decide to go through the standard 2-3 week processing time for claiming a warranty. I’d only need a quarter of that cost and presumably a single day if I drove there myself.

F**k that. Fine, I’m bringing the damn monitor in person. I told myself. This would break my avoidance of Metro Manila since the start of the quarantine, but it felt like this was my best option.

The only remaining question is whether or not the monitor would be replaced on the spot. According to Inno Vista through email, it should be. But I never got a clear answer from Digiserv. But I eventually made the trip last October 31 and hoped for the best.

The drive from my house in Los Baños, Laguna to Digiserv’s warehouse in Malabon, Metro Manila was not as big of a hassle as I thought, considering the distance and the road I needed to take. And thanks to Google Maps, I didn’t get lost or anything. Now, Digiserv is a large Lazada seller. And while their warehouse is nowhere near as pretty as the stores we see in malls, I couldn’t help but be impressed. I didn’t take pictures out of respect, but in the area I waited, there were like 8 or 10 people bubble-wrapping items non-stop, slowly eating away at a huge stockpile of boxes of IT equipment. At the same time, I really realized that from the looks of things, there’s little chance that an outfit like Digiserv would prioritize after-sales support for customers. But to be fair, the person who attended to me was fairly friendly. Whoever I was chatting with over the past month didn’t go to work that day. That was a little disappointing because aside from losing the chance to clear the air a bit, it risked breaking the continuity of the discussion and agreed upon terms, which turned out to be the case. At first, I was told to wait for 2-3 weeks for a replacement. I was ramping myself up for a heated argument just in case. But first, I explained to him that the arrangement with Innovista is that Digiserv will replace the monitor on the spot and showed him my communication with Inno Vista. So he went to the back of the warehouse to make some more calls. Fortunately, the Digiserv guy verified this and did not dispute. I said my thanks and left as soon as I could. I also made sure to send an email to the guy at Inno Vista to thank him. He’s the reason why I didn’t need to file a DTI complaint and didn’t have to wait for another 2-3 weeks for a replacement.

After more than a week of using and testing the monitor, I am hoping that this unit will continue to work properly within the foreseeable future. It’s not necessarily Viewsonic’s fault, but after being burned like this, I’m fairly sure I’m going to be more resolved when I say that I will not buy a Viewsonic monitor again. I will never buy anything from Digiserv again. And it will be a while before I purchase fragile electronic devices online again.

I am strangely undecided about what message or moral I can offer in the aftermath. To be clear, I don’t blame Digi-Serv or Vewsonic for my receiving a defective monitor. I know it happens. But I absolutely hate how I was given the runaround. I wasn’t demanding for a refund. All I wanted was a way to have the monitor repaired or replaced, as prescribed by the manufacturer’s warranty. And it took more than three weeks for me to get a clear answer for just that. We all have to be careful with online purchases. I consider myself to be a cautious, perhaps even a smart buyer in Lazada or any other online store. But this still happened. At the very least, if you’re intent on buying a monitor online, like I did, look at the official flagship stores first. As of this writing, Viewsonic actually sells the VX3276 cheaper than Digi-Serv, which already has a competitive price. You also get to directly coordinate with Inno Vista/Viewsonic in case issues arise. But perhaps most importantly, even at your angriest, it pays to keep cool. Things like this are bad, but hardly the end of the world as we know it. Stay rational and level-headed when trying to shift through BS, while at the same time stay aware of your rights as a consumer. In this regard, I am incredibly envious of other countries, but that doesn’t mean we’re completely powerless in the Philippines. We have some protection. Learn them and know when to invoke them. And you will be able to get through things like this.

UPDATE (April 27, 2021):

I held off from posting this blog for nearly six months. I thought it was a good idea to wait to check if I’d still be mad about the whole thing. And if I were, at least I have the opportunity to change the overall tone of this article. Nope, I still mean everything I wrote above. But it is also a good way to check how the monitor itself held up after months of continuous use. The screen itself is still fine. The issue backlight bleed along the edges is true, and may be a design issue that’s normal to see in this particular model. But it’s only barely noticeable in the dark so it’s not a big deal for me. I’m pretty satisfied with the performance whether I be working, gaming or just procrastinating over Facebook or YouTube. I do, however one big cause for concern. After building a new desk for myself, I got myself an articulating monitor arm and mounted my monitor on it. I got worried a bit during installation because one of the bolts did not screw in properly at the back of the monitor. But when it held fine during those first couple of weeks, I forgot about it. Recently, I inspected the back again and was surprised to see that although the monitor is still attached to the arm the way it was from the start, the back panel of the monitor itself seem to be bending, or worse, maybe even coming apart.

The arm attachment can’t be bolted flush to the monitor. But that’s not the only issue.

It would appear that this is a monitor you might not want to keep on an arm long term. This is what will now stop me from recommending this monitor to anybody. It is better to buy a higher quality 27″ monitor than this Viewsonic for the same amount of money. I wasn’t quite sure what I’m going to do about this. But it seems like my older monitor which my wife now uses needs to be replaced. Now, since it looks like this will be ok on its own stand…. this monitor might be better off on her desk. With a little bit of self interest and budget hocus pocus, this might not end up being a complete loss — and hopefully a win-win. Either way, I’ll be fine. But here’s some unsolicited advice for you. If you make use of your computer monitor the same way that I do, turned on everyday for extended periods and mounted on an arm, put up more money or get a smaller monitor. We tend to stop thinking about how much we spent for something when it ends up being a really good purchase in the end. But regrets over bad ones, we tend to remember and feel bad about for a long time.

Gratitude from the Librero family… and what comes next for us

What I saw this past week went way beyond professional courtesy. Despite my obviously skewed perspective in the matter, I can honestly that this does not happen for anybody, even among his peers. I can only imagine how farther family and friends across the globe, along with both UP Open University and UP Los Baños would have taken things had there not been a tightened lockdown looming over us. And for that, the Librero clan is eternally grateful.

What we refer to as the Librero clan is made up of the different families he had blood ties with. There is of course the Librero family itself. And then we have the Malupa and the Millan, then the Dinulos and Juanillas, and finally with the Garcia family. And on behalf of all these families, I would like to express our gratitude to everyone present here, as well as those who had wanted to be with us, but were unable to do so. I am also happy that most of the families considered to be part of the Librero clan are represented here today. My dad talked more about us to the people he worked with than he did to us about his work. Thanks to those who spoke, my family has heard first-hand accounts of his career achievements. I myself do not know all of it. I don’t think any single person does. He himself had probably forgotten a lot of them by the end of his life.

UPOU was kind enough to arrange for this. Unfortunately, the recent surge in COVID-19 cases has kept people from coming.


I do not remember to whom I should attribute this to… This was around 2004 or 2005. What I do remember is it was in Indonesia when my dad took me with him to attend a number of engagements across the country. It was in one of those dinners. He probably excused himself briefly to go to the toilet or something. And while he was away, someone referred to him one of the foremost experts in the field of development communication in the whole of Asia. Maybe some of his peers can, but me personally, I have never been in a position to judge for myself. But what I do know first hand is how he is treated by his peers. At home, he had always played host to people. Our house, whether it be that small apartment, or later on a larger house at Doña Aurora St. in UPLB to where I live now outside the campus, was constantly frequented by his friends, colleagues and students. Going with him in those overseas trips allowed me to see how things were the other way around. I remember that first time. It was 2001. I don’t remember being particularly excited about it, as it would’ve been an added strain to the family finances because of my mom’s medical bills. But it was she who convinced me to go. She told me it was high time I saw for myself how he was practically treated like a prince in other places. And true enough, right outside the airport’s arrival area in Bangkok was a former PhD student, himself already an accomplished university professor by then, waiting to pick us up and along with the rest of my dad’s other former Thai students, he made sure we were taken care of the whole time we were there. That tends to leave an impression on a young man realizing how little he knew about his own father outside his own household. And now, after hearing and reading all the tributes for themselves, I hope that the rest of my family are now having a similar realization of how well respected and loved my dad was, as I did back then.

I suppose the next question is where do we go from here. He did not really leave a lot of things hanging. When he retired, he could’ve said he’d already done everything he set out to do and nobody would’ve been able to argue. But there are a few things he along with his brother would probably want his family to do. For starters, we would like to put together all the tributes we have been showering on his name. He occasionally wrote on a journal, but not nearly enough to put together an autobiography. But all our words put together can perhaps be pieced together to come up with something close. He would also want us to find ways to continue helping students in any capacity we can. And that is what I would like to do. I would also welcome those who would be interested in joining me. But perhaps most importantly, he would want each and every one of us to continue the work he had started. And I am sure we will.

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Finding the best way to say goodbye

March 16, 2021 — My day was just about done. It was around 9:30PM and an email to my thesis supervisor was my final task before I can try and get some sleep. In between space-outs, I’d been getting paperwork done and contacting people. Calling people and sending messages induces anxiety for me, but I was fine the whole time. Then moments after sending that email, my son, sitting right beside me by the computer, suddenly said in that innocent tone of his…

Lolo died. Lolo went to Heaven…

That’s when I finally cracked… the way thin glass does with a hammer in full swing.

Although Aidan had always shown a distinct connection with his grandfather, he probably didn’t fully understand what that really meant. But in its bluntness was a purity of message and spirit. None of the grown-ups articulated the matter that way to me. It was impossible to remain unmoved by that. I cried right at that moment. I cried every time I tried telling that story to family the following day. Even writing about it here and now after the fact remains difficult.

I had been wondering if there is anything left that I wanted to write about my father. I thought I had written just about everything I wanted last time, and I am extremely thankful that I had done so while he was still alive to read it himself. But after letting the grief out, that moment of mine with my dad’s grandson also flipped my writer switch on and the thoughts started flowing through.

My father, Felix ‘Lex’ Librero, passed away just before the dawn of March 16, 2021. The documents will relate that he succumbed to liver cirrhosis. But without getting into a lot of details, he had been battling quite a few different ailments these past years. There was actually a lot of optimism in the days before. Despite how things looked, he was actually showing signs of recovery. Unfortunately, things took a sudden and unexpected turn, leading to where we are now.

I was hopeful he would be around long enough to witness more family milestones — finishing my doctorate or Aidan overcoming his speech deficiencies, for example. I had wanted to set up a solar power system big enough to run an air conditioning unit for my dining room this summer so he can comfortably spend more time here in his old house with his grandson — a persistent issue worsened by the pandemic. I wanted him to keep playing a central role in the Librero family. That said, this kind of sentiment, of regret, is hardly unique to me. Just about anyone fairly close to him would say how he or she had plans to do this or that with him and just waiting for a good time to do so. Unfortunately, these difficult times ruined all that. To those who knew him, Lex’s rather unexpected passing has left feelings sadness, frustration, and in a few cases, even anger.

Dad with my son in 2018. His 75th may have been one of his last years when he was in truly good health. I wrote of him at greater length back then in this blog entry.

On the other hand, I do have to put this in perspective. With the above being said, Lex had lived a full productive life. From a hard post-war childhood in one of the most remote parts of the country, to the gradual establishment of his place in the university, to happy times raising a family, to his first brush with death, to losing the love of his life as he reached the pinnacle of his career, and to finding love again late in life, in what is nearly a 78 year lifespan. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s impossible for me not to be impressed. But honestly, it’s also kind of annoying, whenever I think about it. It constantly feels like it’s a standard that has been implicitly set for me and I don’t know if I can ever meet that.

I don’t think I bear this stigma alone, though. I am his only son. But he has also been a father or brother figure to so many people over the years. Some of you who are reading this now probably count yourselves as one. For whatever reasons, many of you, like me, actively and continually sought his respect and approval. This drive might not result to being a university chancellor, but it gives us the chance to achieve excellence in different shapes or forms. And it will always mean being better versions of ourselves. Family, friends, colleagues, mentees… we have all been made better with him being part of our lives. His legacy is not really represented by the achievements listed in a curriculum vitae that has more pages than my undergraduate thesis. It surely isn’t in the form of Pesos in his bank account. It lies in the quality of the lives he’s touched. And as much as part of me would like to be selfish and have it all to myself, the truth is I am proud to share his legacy with a lot of people… and if you’re reading up to this point, most likely, I share it with you. In a way, through him, we are brothers and sisters.

He made people around him better. There are not a lot of qualities a person can appreciate more in others. Those who regard my father as such will need some time to mourn. But at the end of the day, Lex is a man whose life is to be celebrated and warmly remembered and thanked for in the years to come.

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Kitchen island build

I had initially thought about doing one of those build videos which I have watched non-stop for several months now. Then I realized that there isn’t much of a point to it. It takes a whole lot of time and focus away from what really matters to me, at this stage: learning and avoiding as many screw-ups as I possibly can. However, I was able to take a few pictures along the way and I think those will give me enough help in trying to recollect the entire experience here.

As I have alluded to, I took inspiration from a lot of builders and DIY’ers from YouTube. For this particular project, I wanted to be a bit more realistic and went for a relatively simple design. This was among the walkthroughs which I opted to study… intently:

However, I wasn’t keen on having two lower levels. One was enough, just to help keep the base solid. Somehow, I doubt even that will get used. Instead, I wanted to have two drawers just below the tabletop, for some storage that’ll be protected from dust. I’ve never made drawers before, which made this arguably the most intimidating part of the build. I also wanted the island to be mobile, much like what’s seen here:

While we have a fair amount of open floor space, I wanted the ability for it to be moved around at our convenience. This implied two things. First, I’ll need to add a fairly large set of casters, which will add to the height of the island. The size of the island will also be influenced by the need for mobility. After doing a bit of thinking and measuring of the house’s kitchen countertop, I figured that the build will be 35 inches high with a top that’s about 2 feet by 4 feet… or something close. Then I drew up an awesome and easy to understand plan along with a bill of materials on my favorite little notepad :-D:

Without the tools that can make it easy for me to joint and mill wood, I made it a bit easier for myself and bought two stair steps and hoped they’d be straight enough to be glued together with no issue. Unfortunately, that didn’t turn out to be the case, so I had to shave off a bit from both pieces. Even then, the joint was not perfect. But it sufficed. The rest of the island was build using pine 2″x4″ planks and plywood. The plan I drew up required 3/4″ plywood, but I ended up using a 1/2″ sheet instead.

Along with jointing the stair steps, the first task was to glue up some of the 2″x4″ planks for the legs. In hindsight, it probably was not absolutely necessary, but I really wanted this to be sturdy. Hopefully, it’s more than enough to compensate for my shitty joinery skills (or lack thereof).

I put the frame together using pockethole screws and glue. I originally intended to glue or screw 2″x4″ or 1″x2″ planks for the lower level. But after deciding the frame will be painted, plywood made more sense and would give a cleaner look in the end.

I cut up more of that half-inch thick plywood for the drawers.

Making the drawer faces required a bit of thinking. I didn’t have a plank of the right size and buying more wood was out of the question at the time. So what I ended up doing was use this old 1″x4″ scrap of pine which was luckily long enough for two faces. Then I glued some edging on the top and bottom of the what would be faces, like so.

I like working with solid wood partly because of the look of the grain. That is why I default to using stains and transparent/translucent finishes. Unfortunately, I wasn’t feeling it with the frame. I thought the wood I used had for too many imperfections. And since the joinery wasn’t all that good either, solid color paint made more sense. Black was of course, an early candidate, but it wouldn’t match the look of my house’s kitchen and dining area. So, I opted for a medium to a matte dark gray finish. While a bit surprising at the same time, it was a relief that the wife agreed. I even got her and my boy to help paint.

After waiting for the enamel paint to dry (which is quite a while), I installed the casters, which pretty much completed the frame/base, as seen here:

The table top and the drawer faces were obviously going to receive a different treatment. A clear finish was non-negotiable. But I did go back and forth as to whether or not to apply a stain. Eventually, I decided not to, thinking the clear finish can add enough tint on its own. I applied a clear flat lacquer finish. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to take pics while spraying as I was too busy worrying about how to control the gun. I hadn’t sprayed with my air compressor in more than a decade. And having no full control of it’s pressure, it wasn’t a graceful process. I was just relieved I got through with it and made a mental note to just get a cheap dedicated HVLP sprayer since I’ve become a fan of lacquer again. The flat lacquer hardly had any tint to it. But still being nitrocellulose based, I suspect it won’t be too long before it starts yellowing to give a bit of an aged look since this will be placed by the stove.

The last task I needed to do was to put the remaining parts together. Doing the drawers was headache-free. The faces aligned just fine and I didn’t screw up when I drilled the holes for the handles. The top, however, was a different story. Centering it proved more challenging than I thought. This was also were my attempt to cut costs came back to bite me in the ass. Using the cheap sliders instead of the ball-bearing variety meant that the drawers can’t be installed or removed with the top attached. I only realized that after I attached the top the first time (with significant difficulty, if I might add). The tight spacing also led to the drawers not sliding properly as the inside was getting snagged by the brackets used to fasten the top. I had really hoped that the most frustrating stage would not come near the end…

After some negotiating, the whole thing finally came together adequately. I won’t deny that looking at it continues to bring a feeling of satisfaction. I was ready to move it to the garage and use it as my work table just in case the wife doesn’t want to use it. But like our son, as seen here, she seems to approve. Nearly two weeks in and it hasn’t moved from the kitchen.

Again, this isn’t a real tutorial. It’s more of me sharing my experiences and relating the difficulties and mistakes I had to deal with. But I hope that you, having endured the entirety of this blog post, still found something useful if you intend to build your own table. If not, maybe you could still post comments or questions below. I’ll try to respond to the best of my abilities.

Thanks for reading!

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‘Fixing’ social media? (Part 1)

I spent an entire week in Siargao some months ago, before the pandemic became a big thing. And while it may as well be the closest thing I’ll have for one this year, it wasn’t a vacation. Or at least, it wasn’t mostly fun and relaxation. I was invited as a facilitator in ColLaboratoire 2020. With pristine blue waters and colorful horizons as backdrop, I was assigned to work with a handful of fellows whose task was to cover the challenge of fixing social media. It was a peculiar theme, implying that social media as we know it today is somehow broken. But is it?

Try as I might, much to my own annoyance, I could not help but constantly think about the need to ‘fix’ social media amidst sunrises, sunsets and inviting waters.

As the fellows went about their business coming up with some project proposal to enact this fix, I found myself weighing the question on my own. It occupied my mind that entire week. On one hand, social media has been the ground upon which some of the most egregious displays of bad behavior have prospered. It has provided a platform for malicious intent with a reach not thought possible a few decades ago. On the other hand, at its base, social media is essentially just a means to an end. It’s essentially the same argument as something like gun control. And I think it’s apt. After all, social media in recent years had been weaponized in the sense that it has been the venue with which people are being heavily influenced en masse. For example, while I cannot prove it, there is word that the Duterte campaign and subsequent administration employed a troll army to muddy the waters not just for the benefit of Duterte and his supporters, but just as importantly, the detriment of his opposition. The documentary, The Great Hack, thoroughly tells the story of how Cambridge Analytica clandestinely mined personal data from Facebook users and used it for the benefit of the Trump campaign in 2016 without the knowledge, let alone consent, of said users. And I don’t want to start on how social media has become the main battlefield of an on-going Culture War. I’ll save that for later.

Perhaps it would be prudent to figure out what being broken means in this context. To me, being broken means being shattered into multiple smaller pieces, to the point where a thing can no longer function as it was meant to. So, in that sense, is social media broken? I’ve tried coming up with a simple answer and failed. Asking other people’s opinions yielded various answers. It occurred to me that people look at social media differently. Or perhaps more accurately, people focus on different aspects of social media when they talk about it. That means I had to deconstruct the question in order to come up with a clearer answer. I hope you can bear with me on this.

When I think of social media, I see three aspects to it.

  • the concept of social media
  • technology
  • users and content

Social Media as a concept

When we see try to define social media, we immediately think Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Twitch, Discord, Tiktok and the like. But these are social media platforms (which we’ll get into that later). What social media is at the conceptual level has often been taken for granted. Trying to come up with a definition without doing a Google search will require significantly more effort from most of us. Do a Google search and you’ll still have to deal with several ways of defining it. The first article cited by Wikipedia wasted no time defining social media as something that employs mobile and web-based technologies to create highly interactive platforms via which individuals and communities share, co-create, discuss, and modify user-generated content (Kietzmann and Hermkens, 2011). It’s ambiguous, making it possible for just about anything operating under the Web 2.0 paradigm qualify. The same goes for derivatives of this definition. But perhaps it’s just as well, if it’s important to hold on to a definition that can remain valid for a long time in the face of rapid technological obsolescence.

Now, let’s assume that the above definition is generally accepted. I would argue that for social media, as a whole, is to be considered broken, it should no longer be able to function as stated. Is that the case? I don’t think so. Concepts can be flawed, but they’d never come even close to getting applied in real life if they were really broken.

The technology of social media

Again, the platforms are what people tend to think of first at the mention of the term social media. Platforms, like any other piece of technology, can and will break at some point. Also, platforms, like any other information system, are always subject to purposeful attempts to compromise system stability and data from the outside. We popularly identify it as hacking. I personally prefer to call them attacks.

Indeed, websites, including our favorite platforms deal with attacks on a regular basis. For example, while rare, we experience crashes in Facebook. I forget when exactly, but there was this one time late at night when it just stopped loading for a number of minutes. I actually froze with eyes on the monitor and fingers over the keyboard and mouse, not knowing what to do. Then I just laughed at myself a moment later, telling myself, you soft and whiny idiot... Just wait patiently and it’ll be fine. True enough, Facebook went back online shortly thereafter. When I checked my newsfeed, lo and behold… a bunch of angry and frustrated posts greeted me. I could only smile and shake my head. Facebook has, of course, been subject to far serious incidents, such as the data breach back in 2018, which reportedly affected around 50 million users. On a different front, a huge scandal erupted in 2015 when Ashley Madison, an adultery site, was hacked and compromised the personal information of over 30 million users, much of which were leaked in public. The most recent high profile incident, as many of us know, is the Zoom fiasco. As an online teacher and student, Zoom had already been important to me early on, as it provides powerful videoconferencing capabilities through free or reasonably priced professional accounts. It didn’t surprise me one bit when its user base ballooned in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. I won’t get into the technical details in this blog. Suffice to say that accounts were compromised. Uninvited users were able to intrude into meetings (coined as Zoombombing). And at a time where distrust is at a high level, Zoom was forced to admit and apologize for its data being coursed through China, claiming it was a mistake committed in their scramble to cope with the surge of their platform’s usage.

I can probably dig up many other cases, but I think the above are enough to prove the point that social media as a technology works as it should. However, it is and probably always will be vulnerable. I think that’s an important distinction to be made. Any IT expert can tell you that such is the nature of any information system in existence. While you can build it as sturdily as you can, it will inevitably have problems at some point. The good news is that with competent people working on a soundly designed system, solutions are likely to be formulated with relative expediency.

Users and content of social media

Here’s where it gets messy.

The Web 2.0 paradigm under which social media operates still works as it should, as evidenced by the plethora of platforms available to us. However, regardless of whether or not you believe the concept or any specific platform is technically, it is undeniable that there are any issues in social media that need to be dealt with. And yes, there are a LOT of them, some of which continue to have a huge impact in our lives as netizens.

This is where things get really messy, and as I thought about it more, I decided it would be a good idea for me to stop here for now and dedicate an entire blog for this part next time.

Please stay tuned!

References:

Kietzmann, J., & Hermkens, K. (2011). “Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media”. Business Horizons (Submitted manuscript). 54 (3): 241–251. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.005

Lord, N. (2017). A timeline of the Ashley Madison Hack. Retrieved from https://digitalguardian.com/blog/timeline-ashley-madison-hack

Morris, D. (2020). Zoom meetings keep getting hacked. Here’s how to prevent ‘Zoom bombing’ on your video chats. Retrieved from https://fortune.com/2020/04/02/zoom-bombing-what-is-meeting-hacked-how-to-prevent-vulnerability-is-zoom-safe-video-chats/

Neal, D. (2012). Social media for academics : A practical guide (Chandos information professional series). Oxford: Chandos Publishing.

Obar, J., & Wildman, S. (2015). Social media definition and the governance challenge: An introduction to the special issue. Telecommunications Policy, 39(9), 745-750.

Perez, S., & Whittaker, Z. (2018). Everything you need to know about Facebook’s data breach affecting 50M users. Retrieved from https://techcrunch.com/2018/09/28/everything-you-need-to-know-about-facebooks-data-breach-affecting-50m-users/

Wood, C. (2020). Zoom admits calls got ‘mistakenly’ routed through China. Retrieved from https://www.businessinsider.com/china-zoom-data-2020-4

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Reaction to The Planet of the Humans

Interviewer: Is Al Gore a prophet?
Al Gore: [chuckles awkwardly]
Richard Branson: ummm … ah… how do you spell prophet?
Al Gore: [more awkward laughter with the other two men]

Climate change is such a complex issue that seems to be beyond the full understanding of alarmists and skeptics alike. And yet, it is hardly the only environmental issue which we need to tackle. So, I don’t understand why we are so fixated on it, rather than more acute issues where the science is more solidly laid down, like deforestation, desertification, solid waste management, water pollution… the list is pretty long, and in all likelihood, is tightly linked to climate change, anyway. And then it occurred to me how climate change has been forcefully associated with carbon emission — fossil fuels, or more specifically, how we produce and consume energy. That’s where the big money has been in the last century or so. And to think people and organizations I had looked up to appear to be complicit or turning a blind eye to the whole thing… well, it’s been a while since I watched a documentary with a clenched fist.

The film’s timeline is vague. It definitely covers events within President Obama’s first term, but beyond that I’m not sure. This sort of explains the criticism about it’s alleged datedness. Nevertheless, Planet of the Humans poses uncomfortable, but relevant questions about renewable energy which I have wondered about for a long time now — questions you’d be in danger of being demonized and branded as a climate denier if you dare to ask them openly.

I know greenwashing is a big issue. But I still underestimated how deep and pervasive it has become and how the ugly side of capitalism has subverted, or rather, appropriated the green movement. If Gibbs’s allegations are true, then we really are better off with coal and oil plants, at least for now. And while he doesn’t touch on the topic, nuclear power right now may as well be the available technology with the smallest carbon footprint and demands serious consideration even by those who vehemently oppose it. But no matter what the right answer is, it would only be a band aid solution when one looks at the big picture. Energy is not the only resource we consume. On top of maintaining the integrity of our ecosystems, until we seriously deal with the issue of overpopulation, or at least our overall efficiency with all resources (not just fuel), then civilization may really be in for some drastic unwanted changes in the not too distant future. Maybe not in 10-20 years and not as drastic as mass extinction, as the most fanatical alarmists want us to believe, but possibly close and hard enough for our children and their children to possibly live long enough to see and experience.

* featured image taken from https://planetofthehumans.com/media/

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Another year of raising a son with autism

It’s Aidan’s 6th birthday. It was supposed to be part of an extended stay with my family in the UK which I had been planning for since early last year. Unfortunately, the trip had to be cancelled. Instead we are over a month into the quarantine of the Philippines, thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. We didn’t even have a gift wrapped for him. Thank goodness, I was still able to have some food delivered. In any case, since being cooped up in the house, there hasn’t been a day where I was not concerned about how he’s able to cope. He doesn’t really understand what a quarantine is or how dangerous the coronavirus is. I break a little bit inside whenever he asks to go out or go to school. Maybe, when this is over, I can look back and write about it. For now, I have this.

I wrote and almost finished this blog back in January. But it had to shoved to the backburner as I wasn’t sure how to close it. More importantly, there were other matters that needed my attention. Today seems to be a good day to log in to my website, finish this blog, and put it out.

What prompted me to write this

A while ago, I came across this animated short story in Facebook. I’m not a fan of its melodrama and how it sugar-coats the issue of raising a child with autism. Reality is neither as simplistic nor as pretty. Levitation is so much cooler than many of the real world symptoms it’s supposed to metaphorically represent in the video. Nevertheless, the clip struck a deep, resonant chord which hit awfully close to home as a father who has struggled alongside his son.

Autism

Share it and spread the awareness. Wanting to be free. Wanting to be me. Trying to make people see. And accept the real meLike the page and share : https://www.facebook.com/Dr.ArifKhanconsultantpediatricneurologist/#autism #awareness

Posted by Dr. Arif Khan on Sunday, January 26, 2020
The melodrama touched a nerve.

Where we’re at

My son is now at an age where some parents would broadcast how awesome their kids are. They’d posting pictures in social media of their kids taking all sorts of lessons, performing on stage, and earning medals in prep school. I am years away from that. I’m at the stage where hearing Aidan speak a full coherent sentence or using the toilet on his own as cause for celebration. That is my reality as a father of an autistic child.

Aidan is not dumb. He has smart and inventive ways of going about things. And much to my own chagrin, those include subverting just about any measures I take for his safety and guidance. I love how he is never burdened with indecision. He doesn’t have a hard time figuring out his wants. Expressing it is another thing altogether, though. More importantly, he has speech and behavior issues which have proven challenging to correct. Now, with that said, I never had the problem of comparing my son to those of others. It’s the standards I had set for myself which proved difficult to let go. It took me a lot of time to understand, and more importantly, accept that hardly any of the more conventional wisdom I took to heart in preparation to raise a child does not likely apply anymore.

Last year was a big step for us. Hour-long occupational therapy sessions helped immensely in the past. But in late 2018, we felt like Aidan’s development had plateaued. We also couldn’t ensure regular contact with other kids his age anymore. We therefore had to take things a step further from therapy sessions to a full intervention program. I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to be able to afford it. But I was eventually convinced that this was the way to go. And indeed, almost one year after, the payoff has been well worth the time, effort and money. His life skills have significantly improved.

While there are still times when I’d have no idea what’s in his head, with his improved communication skills, it’s now become easier to understand him.

What I realized

In one of the seminars my son’s school hosted, the school director brought up something interesting. She emphasized that it’s not just the children who have bad days. Parents have them, too.

I had months’ worth of bad days last year. And it took a while for me to admit that to myself.

I can list down a number of excuses. Indeed, 2019 was a year that tested me thoroughly and took its toll physically, mentally and emotionally. There were days when I had wanted to just pretend I didn’t have to worry about anything or anyone other than myself — that I didn’t have a challenged son to take care of. But in the end, there simply is no good reason to vent out frustration or anger towards my then five year old because rules I had set for him kept getting broken. While I was not abusive, I certainly made Aidan less comfortable and secure in his own home a few times. I felt horrible when his teacher caught signs of the consequences of my actions in school, looking awfully shy and insecure, especially in the face of his more advanced classmates. My son developed self-esteem issues and I was part of the problem. That was unacceptable. And I felt guilty and ashamed because of it. I had to make adjustments. I had to watch myself – my actions, the words I use and how I use them. But perhaps most importantly, I had to be conscious of the emotions that drove all of the negativity I harbored. The bottom-line is that while I won’t go so far as to say my son is never the problem, I need to reset my approach to raising him, for both our sakes.

What I needed to do

I had to earn back my son’s complete trust, or rather as much he is able to give as possible. While I worry that it might backfire later on, I’ve also allowed him to develop a stronger sense of assertiveness. On the other hand, I cannot forego discipline and firm guidance either. However, with Aidan’s erratic development, balance has been a moving target and striking it is a constant struggle. I’m learning how to be more deliberate with the tone of my voice whenever I’m speaking to him. I can never do the high pitched, almost melodic tone his mom or his teachers use, but I can be effective in my own way. His understanding of the concepts of yes and no, as well as his then new-found ability to make little decisions for himself were game changers. While we’re still far from having real conversations, even this most basic two-way communication has been of immense help and has eliminated a good chunk of the guess-work with him.

I would rather have given him something sturdier and maybe cheaper as a Christmas present. But that would’ve been about me. After making it abundantly clear that the RC Lightning McQueen (Disney’s Cars) was what he wanted as a Christmas gift, I thought it best to concede.

We also did what we can to increase the time he spent with his grandparents’, both from my side and my wife’s. Even though it can get annoying when he does so non-stop in my ears, I think it’s sweet that he would regularly ask to visit them. Perhaps we can expand this to relatives and friends in the future, particularly those closer to his age.

How I see things right now

Don’t get me wrong. We are far from done with his intervention program. And he has a LOT of bad habits which need to be corrected. He’s awfully selective with what he pays attention to. He still doesn’t know how to be careful with the things in the house. Hell, just this morning, I got mad at him for stomping on my foot for no reason. But I do believe these are solvable issues, many of which one can even attribute to being typical of little boys his age. Our approach to dealing with them simply needs to be a bit less conventional.

The casualties of rough play continue to pile up.

Someone asked me if it was true that children with autism possess special skills. I wanted to say yes. It is certainly suggested by some people, including the teachers in Aidan’s school. But the truth is that I really don’t know. Savants in the world are extremely rare. More realistic levels of giftedness are apparently more common, but autism is no guarantee for it. Aidan has tendencies and interests, but they’re nothing more than just those right now. And I do not want expect anything. I don’t want to encourage it in the face of other parents either. That said, I haven’t stopped watching for anything, at least passively. Maybe, just maybe, something manifests. But again, I wouldn’t be disappointed if it doesn’t.

We are now well into this year. With this pandemic disrupting everything, I honestly don’t know what to expect right now. I don’t know what the immediate future holds for Aidan. But no matter what, he will have his family behind him the whole way. And with any luck, he won’t have to deal with as many bad days from his dad as before.

With me and his now battered toy.

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Learning journal excerpts from the last three months

For the second module in my PhD programme, one of the activities was to write a learning journal. I wasn’t sure how to handle that. Some in my cohort took a rather analytical approach to it. But I was one of those who took a less formal style. At the end of the module, I shared some excerpts, which I am pasting here in this blog:

July 4: As of this writing, I am tasked to write a literature review paper. I’ve never done one before, so this will be an interesting experience. But hopefully, I won’t be as clueless as I was with the autoethnography paper in the first module…

— As it turned out, I was.

July 23: … never before have I been bothered so much by health issues when it comes to writing. For two or three weeks have been dealing with migraines, sinusitis and tinnitus… It has been extremely difficult for me to focus…

I didn’t get hospitalised. But I had grossly underestimated the effect of hearing issues. On top of that classic ringing sound we associate with tinnitus, any sound I hear gets partially washed out by what I describe as someone peeing on the toilet from different angles… all day. I can sort of tolerate it now, but I had no idea it would affect me that badly these past few months (I need to go see a doctor again…). I didn’t even want to listen to music or play guitar. It was awfully depressing.

July 31: … not happy with [my draft]. I just hope Alex and Daniel doesn’t get too confused with the whole thing, lol.

— They were very kind despite seeing all the flaws. And of course, so was Sue. I couldn’t incorporate all the suggestions to my final output, but their guidance was extremely helpful. And yes, a draft below the minimum word count did help. I do feel a little guilty because it felt like I was gaming the policy.

September 12: I’m going to miss the deadline, probably by a day or two. Looking back now, I am second guessing my decision to try something new (literature review on MOOCs) rather than play to my strengths (mini-project continuing my work from Module 1). Regardless, it has been a great learning experience.

— I probably should qualify why I ended up being late. The most basic way of putting it is that I needed to write my assignment more like a literature review! I had to scale back on context and overhaul everything to make more sense than before. And the only way I thought I could do it is that instead of discussing how my home university’s framework in handling MOOCs would stack against what is being done everywhere else, it had to be turned upside down. And since we’re thin on published articles about our work, it made better sense to do a review on one major aspect of developing MOOCs and draw out what my university (or any other institution for that matter) can learn from others. The inclusion-exclusion criteria helped a HUGE amount and gave me more direction. But I only figured how I wanted to do this late in the game. I could have sent something sort of incomplete like in Module 1, but I didn’t think I’d get a passing grade this time.

It was a brutal three months and I’d probably do things a bit differently if I had to go back. But like in my excerpt. It was indeed a learning experience which I won’t soon forget. And if anything, when I go back to studying communities of practice, I think I can figure out how to be more effective in my research. 

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Educate before you advocate

These past few weeks, I found myself in face to face forums and discussions about green living. I wouldn’t be motivated to attend of my own accord. But I did so to support my wife, who was part of these talks. She is currently into conducting natural hand dyeing workshops, which would be a fascinating topic for another blog. But today, I’m writing about the open forums where people had a lot to say about green living in general. And I bit my lip for the entirety of the talks.

The wife’s first conference presentation since Hanoi in 2016.

Back when I was a graduate student taking up Environmental Science, I often wondered why my professors weren’t really part of any environmental advocacy movement. They did extension and consultancy work. But they’re never at the forefront of any advocacy, which to my limited exposure and mindset back then, seemed like a no-brainer.

I thought about joining Greenpeace Philippines, but never got around to actually doing so. The reason for my being deterred seemed pretty shallow, though. I just happened to arrive late for their orientation. Traffic wasn’t good and I got lost trying to find their headquarters. By the time I found it, people, most of whom were much younger than me, were already filing out. I talked a bit with the guy who probably facilitated the orientation, but that didn’t amount to much. Maybe he was tired and didn’t have much patience left for some late-comer. Maybe he saw me getting off my old gas-guzzling 1991 Mitsubishi Galant and wasn’t impressed. I don’t know why I expected a warmer reception. But not receiving it cast a wet blanket over my enthusiasm. And that was it. Almost.

Despite that, I still regularly visited the global online forum of Greenpeace. There weren’t a lot of actual volunteers among them. But a lot of people from all over the world visited, which I found exciting. I was eager to be more aware of what’s going on outside my backyard, so to speak. However, as time went by, I noticed tension among its constituency. Much of the activity in the forums was generated by a minority of alarmists and pseudo activists. Moderates such as myself simply tended to go with their flow. While on the other end, were the supposed trolls, contradicting the alarmists. I still haven’t forgotten how a particular Norwegian dude kept posting about his refusal to subscribe to the popular sentiments and how tasty whale meat was. Boy, were the alarmists triggered. At first, I found the whole thing distasteful. I didn’t understand why he even bothered. But in the end just shrugged my shoulders snickering to myself. He was a bona fide troll and not worth taking seriously.

I also had my own tussles in that forum. For example, one time, someone started a photo contest, which I eagerly joined. It was simple enough – send in pictures of birds. Now, I wasn’t much of a photographer back then. This was my pre-DSLR days and I knew next to nothing about photographic exposure. But I was confident enough to say that my work back then could hold its own against anything else that were submitted. I lost. Do you know why? It wasn’t because my pics were bad. Well, they’re not that good by my current students, but trust me, the others I saw were worse . It’s because the judges and the rest of the vocal members didn’t like that one of the birds I shot was tied to a perch. They immediately assumed the birds in my pics – a Philippine Hawk-Eagle, a serpent eagle and a kestrel – were pets. I explained that they were in a bird sanctuary, so I was able to shoot up close. More importantly, these birds were being taken care of with the intention of being re-introduced to their habitats. It hardly mattered.

I got myself in another argument later. I don’t even remember what it was about. But I was calling for a less-lopsided and more evidence-based discussion on whatever environmental issue the topic was. Remember, I was still an impressionable environmental science student at the time. All I got for a response was this rant that didn’t even address my point. Then it finally occurred to me… much of the vocal crowd were driven by emotions, rather than a scientific or factual understanding of how the environment works. I suspected that I was in the virtual presence of arm chair activists, judgmental vegans and neoliberals – the makeup of what we know today as the social justice warriors. They hated people like me. This was all but confirmed through interviews with former Greenpeace members I read, including one of its co-founders. I just got tired of the constant hatred for humans, so I logged off one final time and didn’t look back. We can’t come up wth sensible solutions to dealing with environmental issues in contempt against humanity. Like it or not, we ourselves must factor in the solution and therefore cannot be ignored. It’s been years since I have intently browsed through the Greenpeace website.

Dr. Patrick Moore

Little did I know that this was but one of many battlegrounds for the prelude to the post-Gamergate culture war that we are experiencing today. It certainly changed the way I think about global issues such as climate change and how I approached any sort of discussion. And then and there, I understood why my professors weren’t big environmental advocates. We have a different calling – to properly educate people by making them aware of the many sides to each issue and let them make up their own minds. And yes, that includes us, too. There is still so much we do not understand about this planet. Saying anything definitive about how and why there is climate change is something I will leave for people better than I.

Now, going back to the Unconference, I kept quiet because while I definitely have my perception and opinions, I didn’t know these people. Where they come from is easily apparent. But how they are as people… I didn’t know. I wanted to avoid any risk of starting arguments with strangers. I had no intention of making a scene while my wife was in front of everybody. But I will say that such discussions can be helped immensely if more people well-versed in the known science are part of it. The Google search engine is an incredibly powerful tool, but I don’t think we should rely solely on it for knowledge. At the same time, the scientific community could do a better job spreading the knowledge. There is never a shortage of studies in universities. But how much of their findings actually trickle down to the general public? Papers are published exclusively in journals which, aside from people doing research themselves, hardly anybody would read. And even then, many of these papers are behind pay walls, which I honestly, would not bother with unless my university already has access.

Academics and scientists doing local grassroots work need more support and exposure. While I’m not saying there is a total disconnect, the divide is certainly significant. And in some cases, it’s toxic. Smart-shaming has unfortunately become a thing, likely a negative reaction to how some of the more intellectually gifted people behave. As they say… with great enlightenment comes great arrogance. I see it a lot in the Internet and it is miserable. But it is a relief to see that it’s not like that in my immediate physical reality. That’s why there is still much relevance in face to face open forums. You can’t beat the sharing of knowledge and experience that happens in them.

I would like to see the divide bridged someday. Advocacy needs to be tempered by balanced thorough knowledge and academic pursuit guided by positive purpose. I get the value of being emotionally driven, but without the proper compass, it can be a dangerous path to take.

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Grinding in isolation

Every now and then, I write something for my blog which snowballs into a huge personal rant that exposes me emotionally in manners that I might regret. I end up not posting these blogs. Even before I started typing this, it somehow felt like this was going to be another one of those. But I really want to have something new in my blog. This is, after all, my birth month. So, I will try my best to frame this into something that might be relevant to students, colleagues, friends and family who might actually spend time reading. I’m also going to break them down into parts with headers. That way, people can just read the parts they’re interested in and ignore the rest.

My birthdays… they are almost always depressing. Reasons vary each year. I never look forward to it, even when I was young. Anything nice that happens right around it, to me, is happenstance. It’s why I don’t like making a big deal about it. I almost never do anything special for myself. Contrary to what a few people might be suspecting, I still don’t believe I’m clinically depressed. I want to avoid even the remote chance of insulting those who actually deal with depression on a daily basis. But there really are days, like these recent ones, where getting through each day is such a chore, I wonder why I bother getting up in the morning.

This gloom is not what I want to write about, though. Instead, I would like to remind myself of the things I have set out to do and how I intend to have something to show for. And there are a lot to write about.

My studies

I am now six months into my PhD studies at Lancaster University. And there are at least another 42 to go through. I am lucky to have been allowed by UPOU to focus on this. But those first six months were rough. I didn’t feel like a real student until last month, with all my non-academic issues finally resolved. And even then, I do feel isolated from everyone else until now. It has had a significant effect on my academic performance. It’s funny. In my previous stints as a student, I found working with groups challenging. I was a bit anti-social and tended to keep to myself. Today, I find that behavior a liability.

My brilliant cohort at Lancaster University, all of whom are halfway across the world from me.

As of this writing, I am tasked to write a literature review paper. I’ve never done one before, so this will be an interesting experience. But hopefully, I won’t be as clueless as I was with the autoethnography paper in the first module, for which I just received my final score. Yes, I passed. I got a score that’s actually a bit higher than I anticipated — nearly earning distinction. That’s the good news. But I could have done much better, like many in my cohort. I found a critical flaw in my work. Fixing it would have allowed me to do a better job at tying everything more neatly. I only realized that literally hours before the deadline, so I unfortunately submitted and had no choice but to simply brace myself.

Again, I passed. But it wasn’t satisfying. Frustrating, yes, because I was on that line between doing good and doing great. But I’ll live. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. Looking back, I’ve always been a slow starter. I’m never among those who make the best first impressions. But I always make it to the finish line. And that’s where I intend to be after 42 months.

At work

I realized that I’ve never really taken the time to read my colleagues’ papers. The good news is that my studies have given me a compelling reason to finally do so. And I’m going to start with IJODeL this month. I will also willingly attend a round table discussion on how UPOU will proceed with its MOOC-related endeavors. As long as it can be tied into my studies, I will always be open to do something here and there at work, even if I am on study leave. Just no administrative work, please.

My affiliations

I’ve been neglecting my affiliations with communities that I am supposed to be a part of. I probably should tie these loose ends. I can’t attend ICEM this year in Memphis, but I have to find a way to ensure my joining next year in Portugal. I still intend to help bring ICEM to the Philippines at some point because I believe there is a huge potential for a productive partnership with UPOU. I don’t even know if SEAD still considers me as a member. If I am, I’ll have to find a way to be more active. If not, the least I can do is thank Angelo Vermeulen for the opportunity to be part of it before I move on. On the other hand, I will always be a member of the UP Animal Science Society. I can never completely let go. I worked too damned hard for it when I was in college and then some. But I will have to ask for my brods and sisses’ pardon if I continue to lay low. Many of them, I consider friends, but I’m too out of place, as far as profession and even mindset are concerned.

My courses and students

I thought I would miss my classes. Perhaps in those first few weeks after stepping away, I did. But now, I fully realize how much I needed a break from it. The stressful grind of repetition was already getting too much for me to handle without compromising my sanity. I was admittedly distraught back in January and February. I was in the middle of dealing with my paperwork for Lancaster University and I felt there was a legitimate chance my enrollment might get suspended (which is a long story). I was also still coming to terms with the shortcomings of the last project I had undertaken with my current and former students, The Digital Collective.

However, I will promise that The Digital Collective will be revived. I’ve even started posting in its Facebook Page again. The process will be slow, and I doubt I will get all of the old band of students back together for this. But there will be progress. That, I can promise. I still believe it can do some good in UPOU. And the thing is, my continued pursuit of this will actually help me with my own studies in the coming years, as I had come to realize through my autoethnography PhD assignment. The best part of this is that I’m actually looking forward to it. Again, I don’t expect most of my former volunteers to return. But I do hope at least a handful of them will. We have at least one major production assignment to get back to.

We’ll be getting The Digital Collective back on track.

Finally, I need to find time to make revisions to my manuals in Photography and Audio. The courses themselves, I believe I’ve been able to let go, for the most part. But the manuals are mine and ensuring their relevance will always be my responsibility. Initially, I had hoped to release a community edition of these manuals with the help of The Digital Collective. But it’s become apparent that in order to accomplish anything related to these manuals in a timely fashion, I have to do it myself.

Personal interests

Photography has sort of taken a back seat in my life. It doesn’t excite me as much as it did before. Going out to shoot has become more of a chore, even during my most recent travels in Finland, Taiwan and England. So, it’s strange that in spite of that, I still think about acquiring a full frame DSLR camera. It probably won’t happen anytime soon. But still…

While I haven’t regressed, it feels like something’s missing in my most recent photography.

I think I’ll be able to get by without selling some of my guitar gear, which is a relief. Aside from the sentimental value of those actually worth selling, I really don’t want to go through the actual process of having to sell. My overall previous experience hasn’t been good. I don’t want to add to that. Well, actually, I have sold something – an LAG acoustic to one of my nephews. I sold really low. But hey, that’s family. I also wanted to make sure that he gets the best out of how much his dad is willing to spend. Not that this particular guitar is the best ever, but it is good enough to make learning how to play more pleasurable. The problem with cheap pieces of shit guitars is that they aren’t well made, painful to play and poorly intonated. All of them take away from the total enjoyment a person gets out of playing music. And following that same logic, I doubt I’ll hold on to the RJ mini-guitar I bought last year. My son deserves to play on something better, should he actually develop an interest in playing later on. I don’t think it’s worth selling, so who knows… I might give it away.

My nephew is the new owner of this one.

What I would like to do right now is to finally sit down on work on the songs that I’ve had in my head since I was a teenager. If I can sit down and record two of them this month, then I’ll be pretty happy. They’re not hard to play, so I’m not worried too much about my guitar chops (or lack thereof). It’s the singing which I dread. I haven’t been a decent singer since my 20’s. I’ll just have to see if I can still do anything presentable with my vocals. I would also like to record the short sound and music clips I had intended to make available through The Digital Collective — things people in UPOU can use.

I’ll be squeezing these little audio projects in while studying.
Result of the mix above.

I’m also starting to get back into reading books again. By this, I mean materials outside the required readings in my PhD. I already have a huge backlog thanks to Humble Bundle. Them being eBooks doesn’t make things more conducive for reading, but they are pretty convenient. I’m currently halfway through Sword of Destiny from The Witcher series and started with Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life. I’ll get to the design books from Humble Bundle after.

I should seriously remind myself that, after some refreshing and brushing up, I am still an environmental scientist and ecologist. I’m never going to be able to do that within UPOU, but maybe I still can somewhere else.

I haven’t done any carpentry recently. The house is in need of a bunch of repairs and modifications, which I think I can do on my own. I just need the funds.

Family

Aidan’s progress, while not insignificant, remains erratic. One of his school’s teachers said something important a few weeks ago. The child will have bad days, yes. But so will the parents. I’ve had so many this year and I hate myself for having them. The slow grind of repetition and erratic development gets to me everyday. Any father of an autistic child would understand. Any loving father of an autistic child would find a way to soldier on.

His compulsion to act on his curiosity is relentless, which a parent must match with patience and vigilance to keep him (and everything else!) safe.

Perhaps I’m feeling the grind more, not just because Aidan is getting bigger, faster and stronger, but also because I have attempted to take some of the load off from my wife. She has finally started anew doing her own thing, with her workshops. I’m still heavily involved, though… as financier, driver, porter and babysitter. Just a bit more than I initially bargained for, to be honest. She also has found herself in an environment-conscious crowd, which was what spurred memories of mine as an environmental science student. Maybe one day I will engage with that crowd more actively. But for now, I’ll be staying in my lane. More autonomy for my wife from me would also be nice, I think.

Vanni at the Green Unconference at Taguig last June 8.

I’ve also started preparing to bring my family to the UK next year with me for maybe a month. It’s a bit challenging as my income decreased significantly when I went on study leave. I can barely get by as it is. But next year will be the best time for them. I’m fairly sure I already have the plane far covered. But if anyone has tips on how to make the actual stay cost effective (the accommodations alone will be murderous), I’d love to hear them.

Closing

This is a lot. I’d be surprised if I manage doing them all within the year, let alone this month. But hopefully, the learning experience, as well as the reward of finishing these tasks, will be incentive enough for me to get up from bed during those bad depressing days.

I write not to ask for sympathy, advice, or any sort of assurance that tomorrow will be a better day. But I would like to somehow be better connected with you. All these things I plan on doing or getting back into is pretty much a reaction. Going on study leave to purse a doctorate degree online has brought about a sense of isolation that is not quite like anything I’ve experienced in the past. I’d like to combat that. And I would be grateful for any help.

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Digital Collective Autoethnography Study Blog 3: Peer feedback

I was able to get a few of my cohorts to provide some highly valuable feedback regarding my one-page proposal, which I posted here.

The level of discourse has so far been higher and more focused than what I have grown accustomed to in my own courses at UPOU. Limiting discussion posts isn’t something I would enforce myself, but I can see the benefits, provided the entire class is all in. But I digress. Below are the highlights of the feedback I received.

The concept of change management

As far as I know, the Digital Collective project is the first of its kind in UPOU. There is certainly nothing of its kind within the BAMS program. The idea of students themselves being a resource is not exactly new, given our efforts towards ePortfolio-based learning. However, students becoming active participants towards the production of new resources and the betterment of existing ones is entirely new. One can argue that this would undeniably bring about major changes to how we approach learning. I had focused acutely towards the production aspect of the project. I may not have given enough care for the human element.

Directly inviting/recruiting participants vs. volunteerism

I realize that self-motivated active volunteers are arguably the best kind of participants one could have in a project such as this. But such people are exceedingly rare in UPOU. That is why I went with the other approach. However, I had not thought much about how hand-picking participants would pose its own set of potential issues. Did it cause participants to see it as more of an obligation because they somehow felt like they owe me something, rather than an opportunity to enhance their learning experience in the university? Did they see it more as a distraction to their studies, rather than a means to actually be of help to it?

Dissonance of perspectives between me and the participants

As an online teacher and with experience managing the BAMS program, I have an opinion of what the community needs in order to thrive. That said, I remember my assumption that students would agree with that opinion cracked the first time when I discussed the BAMS program’s trimestral schedule. I hate it. But much to my surprise, there is an indication that majority of the BAMS students might actually prefer the trimestral schedule, rather than the conventional semestral schedule of UP. While I still disagree with them, looking back, I do understand why. Beyond ourselves, we as teachers/administrators need to account for the needs of the students and the university. Students, on the other hand, only need to look after themselves. And when the popular primary goal is to graduate at a quicker pace (something I do not share), as currently allowed by the university, then yes, the trimestral schedule could potentially allow that.

The point is, with all of my preaching about how the Digital Collective benefits everyone in the UPOU community, I did not seriously broach the question of whether or not the participants honestly cared as much as I did, or at least care enough to want to be a part of the project long enough to provide a meaningful contribution.

Facilitating vs. Managing

According to a cohort:

From my understanding of what you’ve written, you were not facilitating the project but managing it. To facilitate the project is to remove the obstacles for students to run it themselves, and I think this follows from the point about ownership. OER is (are?) excellent for autonomous learning, though it is something that needs to grow organically.

An excellent point. My purpose was to facilitate, however, what I did was management work. But to my partial defense, I believe it was necessary, as the project was an entirely new thing for everyone. I had to be particularly hands-on at the beginning. Letting go of the project to allow the students to run it themselves was an end goal. Unfortunately, we failed to meet that goal. I honestly don’t know how to allow this to organically grow in an ever-changing online community. That’s why I don’t think I can do away with managing the project. On the other hand, I probably should have had a conversation with the students about them taking over at some point.

Exploring student motivations

As already alluded to, I should have been more conscious about the motivations of the participants. Sharing motivations really was a one-sided affair, with me seeing little more than fairly passive agreeing by the students. I need to understand their personal motivations and agendas better, so as to allow students to better align their needs and wants with the project. It will help them develop that sense of ownership that is crucial for their sustained involvement.


I had been given a LOT to think about. I am impressed at how much my peers were able to catch just be scanning through my one-page proposal. In the coming months, I am going to find out just how valid these points are and how they can help answer what are to be my finalized set of research questions. And perhaps by then, I can think about rebooting The Digital Collective project.

Hopefully, I’ll still have people with me when the time comes…

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Digital Collective Autoethnography Study Blog 2: One-page proposal

We were required to submit a 500 word proposal. Below is my submission, word for word, along with paraphrases of our professor’s comments.


Enhancing student engagement in an online university: successes, failures and how to move forward

Submitted February 17, 2019
ED.S821: Research Methods in Education and Social Science Settings: Philosophy, methodology, techniques and tools

For the past few years, I have been working on and off with an idea to leverage technology and know-how learned in class to enhance student engagement and benefit different sectors in the university. I was allowed by my office to start a project to test the waters, so to speak. The project was centered on the idea of student co-creation of content that they can add to their portfolios, and at the same time, share the content as open educational resources (OER) with the greater learning community in my university. The goal was to build a self-sustaining community that can enable co-creation that will span multiple cycles.

I hand-picked a group of students whom I believed would be deeply interested to lay the groundwork for the project. Unfortunately, getting even those students to buy into the idea and then actually do work had proven to be more challenging than I had expected, leading to the project stalling at its infancy.

In light of the setback, I would like to look back to the efforts exerted by myself, as well as colleagues and students who were on board at the time. In intend to find answers to lingering questions in my mind:

  1. Have I overestimated the worth of this project to the students? If so, how much incentive do students need to take more active roles? (A more exploratory question, rather than one that can be answered by a simple yes or no.)
  2. What were the roadblocks that students faced in trying to participate? (Being an autoethnography study, the central focus needs to be me, rather than the students.)
  3. Was my approach ineffective? If so, how can I improve as a facilitator? (Our professor remarked that this may be too personal and difficult to draw out useful information from. On the other hand, I had a peer who finds it interesting. As of this posting, I still not need to further understand what our professor meant.)

Admittedly, at the time, my main focus was on the production aspect of the project. In my faith towards my hand-picked volunteer students, perhaps I had unwittingly had not paid as much attention to their circumstance as I should have. This study ought to provide an answer for that. It would especially be a huge oversight as nurturing a learning community is something I had studied in the past. I will most certainly have to revisit that.

A subjectivist approach will likely be taken. However, my suspicion, or to a certain extent, fear, is that this would be a good fit for attempting to apply complexity theory , as the subject project, is a (pseudo)community of individuals with a diverse array of circumstance which need to be accounted for. I will still have to study this intently before finalizing.
As far as data collection is concerned, my likely course of action will be to interview as many of the involved students as I can. I just need to come up with proper questions. It may require a significant amount of effort, but the group wasn’t that large. I think it’s doable.

Autoethnography will undoubtedly be an effective tool for this study, due to my role as the main proponent of the stalled project. Detaching myself will not be possible. How it moves forward still depends on me and how I deal with the other moving parts. I will be dealing with matters of human perception, behavior, and interaction which might be best presented through narratives.

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Autoethnography study blog 1: The Digital Collective

So, I’m nearly a month into my PhD studies. I started off pretty good, then got derailed by a bunch of things and am now trying to catch up. I’ll manage that, but I just had a thought. The depth and structure of the discussions we are expected to participate in class has been challenging, even by my standards. And now, I just realized that each post is actually substantial enough for me to re-post as a blog here, especially with the nature of the discussions at the moment. I wasn’t quite expecting to get into autoethnography, but it has proven to be intriguing. And it will definitely help me produce material for my personal website.

In this post, we were asked to write about a difficult or uncomfortable experience at work or school in the past which I would like to study further. Hahaha… I have quite a selection. But the most intriguing of them is my recent efforts in establishing the Digital Collective, which has definitely led to a high level of frustration and disappointment. I wasn’t expecting to get more mileage out of the experience so soon. But lucky me…

Below is my post word for word…

It was actually late last year, just before the start of the program, where I had a profound experience. I had been teaching in my university for more than 10 years, half of which I have spent dedicated to an undergraduate program, BA Multimedia Studies. Unlike in graduate programs, many of my students were quite young, ranging between 16-25. My belief is that they had needs and concerns which weren’t necessarily important for older students anymore. They need, or at least they claim to need causes and interests to foster, which are related, but not necessarily ingrained in their program’s curriculum.
So, I had this idea the channel their energies to help fulfill their wants, while at the same time, practice the knowledge and skills they have learned from their program, while at the same time, allow their output to benefit the greater learning community of the university. Hence, the birth of what I called the UPOU Digital Collective.

I had it all planned out, down to the part where it will eventually factor into my PhD studies here. This was actually my pitch during my discussion with one of the faculty members prior to applying.

Anyway, one of the key steps was to get a select group of students together — those whom I felt I could rely on. Our task was to produce an initial set of multimedia content as a proof of concept, as well as to map out their future tasks and what they need from the university to fulfill them. So, I worked to get a budget to get these students, as well as a handful of alumni to convene face to face for a two day workshop. I did my best to make clear what the expectations were, to which they agreed to. I also consulted with them to ensure I was meeting their own expectations and the project can fit into their own agenda, if any. I thought I did. It was tiring, and yet it felt fulfilling. I thought I had succeeded and my project was on its way to a successful start.

I was wrong.

I hardly heard anything from them again regarding the deliverables. It was particularly disheartening because I gave them everything I could. I know it’s not right for me to do so, but I even harbored thoughts of betrayal because I trusted them and perhaps it did not help that I believed this would impact my own studies. I was like… well, now what!?

At best, it was a major roadblock. At worst, it was a complete failure. But perhaps I can salvage this and write about it in Module 1. I would like to have a clear understanding of what happened. I cannot relate this with any specific principle or theory right now, but I would like to figure out what I did wrong, or did not do enough of. How can I do a better job at engaging students and motivate them well enough to produce, whether or not the project has a direct impact in their grades. As much as this was a downer, I still refuse to believe that this is simply the nature of our undergraduate students and we as teachers and mentors cannot do anything about the whole thing.


Copyright 2018 Al Francis D. Librero © All Rights Reserved.

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