My agenda for the Great Isolation

OK, world, buckling down. It’s time to get a whole lot of course development done in a few days. This is supposed to be my vacation, why am I looking at a scary pile of work?

  1. I have to spell out the new course routine for my students. What that is going to be is:
    • New course video at the start of each week. This will be delivered as both video and as a text script for bandwidth-limited students. The goal is to clearly spell out the concept they must understand that week, and give pointers to textbook material that covers the subject. These will be short, 15-20 minutes.
    • The syllabus is going out the window. There will be less testing, and more regular assignments. These assignments will also be given at the start of the week, and will be due a week later — I’m going to try to accommodate the new demands on our students’ time, so we all have to be flexible.

    • Exams will all be open book, open notes, open internet essay exams. This could be wonderful, or it could be painful. We’ll see.

    • Our regularly scheduled class meeting times will now be used as optional office hours via Zoom. I’ll just be hanging out in front of a camera with a whiteboard.

    • You can’t do Zoom at home? Fine, I’ll be giving out my email (they’ve already got that) and my cell phone number. I’ll be accessible, I hope they are.

  2. My first video and text page will be #1, above. I’ll be working on that for both my classes today.

  3. My second video and text will be a recap of the semester to date, with explicit references to the textbook and the battery of pdf files already on Canvas. With this abrupt shift in narrative style I have to at least nod in the direction of continuity. I should have that done by the end of the week.

  4. Then, over the weekend, I have to assemble the first new videos+text. In my introductory biology course, we’ve just begun the basic genetics section, so this will be an overview of Mendelian problem solving; in Genetics, this will be an introduction linkage and linkage mapping. (Whenever I teach these two together, this is always a problem: I have to simultaneously teach a gentle review of the basics to first year students, and a full-on mathy in-depth deep dive to the seniors. I have nightmares about mixing them up.)

  5. I still have to work around the details of the online lab — the announcement of new restrictions on using the facilities on campus is making that a little tricky. I have homozygous flies growing in an incubator right now. The plan is next week to set up the parental reciprocal cross, photographing the phenotypes and putting those online. A little more than a week later, I’ll photograph representative F1 flies — the two crosses should produce different results, which will be presented without explanation — and set up the F1 cross. Maybe two weeks after that, I should have swarms of F2 flies, which I alone will have to sit down and score, for hours and hours (usually I can just crack the whip and have a legion of undergrads do the tedious work). I’ll post the numbers of each phenotype, again with little comment, and then the students will have to get to work interpreting the data and writing up a lab report describing what I did and what it means. They should have the background to understand what’s going on, since I described sex linkage last week and will be giving them all the logic of linkage next week, so it’s going to be more like a science puzzle they have to put together.

  6. I also have to unwind, so I’m also planning a little social hullabaloo on Wednesday evening with friends on YouTube. Maybe I’ll watch something on Netflix later, or read a book. I was going to use this week to get a draft of a paper together, but that’s another thing that’s going to be thrown out the window, to avoid burnout. Maybe next week, when I’ve settled into a new routine.

That’s my life for the next 6-8 weeks, at which time all the upheaval will be totally over and the sun will be shining and the birds will be singing and my wife will show up at my door and the spiders will be flourishing and the Revolution will be in full swing and we’ll all have happy normal things to do.


  1. Mrdead Inmypocket says

    And of course remember to keep scrubbing thoroughly, as if you just shook hands with the President.

    Ba dum tish.

  2. Erp says

    Students can also telephone into a zoom session which would allow them to hear others during the office hours/small section though they wouldn’t have video. They can (unless the phone is very ancient) also ‘raise hand’ by punching *6 (mac app users can do opt-Y and windows app users alt-Y, others can hit the raise hand icon) (I know it says webinar but it also means meeting)
    Note you as the host when viewing the participant list will see the list organized by who first raised their hand.

    Also you can share a window (perhaps containing a picture you want to discuss when answering a question during office hours) and then use Zoom’s annotate to get a pointer so you can indicate what in the picture you want them to look at. The student could also use the pointer (assuming they are using the desktop or mobile app not web or plain phone) and point to things on your picture that they have questions about though that might be too much to ask of them.

    Hope all goes well.

  3. Oliver Hollander says

    Ever try clicker training on your evil cat? Something to do when you’re shut in with him/her. Some cats respond better than others. Personality is still one of the mysteries behavioral scientists haven’t made that much progress on. You’ll need something that makes a distinctive sound and something the cat loves to eat.

  4. JustaTech says

    Exams: my undergrad had a range of exam options for the professors form traditional “sit in the lecture hall and write as fast as you can for 1.5-3 hours” to “open note,open book, 24 hours” exams. The second were always harder because they required far more in the way of demonstrating that you really understood the material. Also, that 24 hours, or worse “untimed” both ate into your time to prep for other exams/ essays/ end of semester projects, but meant you couldn’t say “I did the best I could with the time available”.

    I have to imagine that the open-everything exams were also harder to grade, since it wasn’t “did you get the right answer” but “did you think about this in the right way”.

  5. blf says

    You’ll need something that makes a distinctive sound and something the cat loves to eat.

    Safety Tip: Neither the clicker nor the food should be you, the desperate human.
    Nor should they be the same thing.
    Having one or the other be the evil cat themself does, the mildly deranged penguin points out, allow for some interesting possibilities…

  6. Rich Woods says

    for bandwidth-limited students

    I’ve met one or two of those over the years, and I’m sure they still exist in the digital age.

  7. unclefrogy says

    I too long for the last paragraph with modifications and have been for as long as I can remember
    uncle frogy

  8. magistramarla says

    Well, at least you have plenty of work to keep you busy while you are isolated.
    I’m still setting up, organizing and cleaning a new house, so I’m also overwhelmed.

  9. says

    Hi PZ– For items 4 and 5 (genetic linkage mapping), you might want to take a look at the GameteMaker genetic mapping sim: It’s a free, online, and “anatomically correct” simulation app that students can use to map Mendelian mutant loci in the genome of a novel rapid-cycling variety of Brassica rapa ( Full disclosure: the plant variety, FPsc, derivative mutant alleles and the mapping sim are my babies and I’m eager to push these new resources for genetics and genomics education into wider use. I’m happy to describe and discuss further, contact info is included in both links provided above.


  10. machintelligence says

    The sad thing about all of the measures we are taking to “flatten the curve” so as not to overwhelm health services will only extend the time that the virus will be a problem. Herd immunity will eventually kick in, but not soon.

  11. blf says

    The sad thing about not flattening the curve is the medical system will be overwhelmed (as has happened in N.Italy, and is now happening in Alsace (E.France)). Simply hoping enough people will get infected to establish an as-yet-unknown-how-effective herd immunity. The UK has finally(!) changed gears and is no longer hoping for herd immunity and instead going (albeit ponderously) for self-quarantining and social-distancing.
    (From It’s not exponential: An economist’s view of the epidemiological curve.)

  12. Akira MacKenzie says

    Earlier this week they surveyed our call center to see about the possibility of our call center workers working from home for the duration. Now it seems that plan is still born because not enough workers have home internet service. Now they plan just to space us our workspaces out more. Since I live with an older adult, I mentioned my concerns to my supervisors who gave me just two options: 1) I could take a few days off using vacation time, or 2) I could take a longer leave of absence with no pay.

    Oh, and the cherry on top of today was getting an e-mail from our CEO, telling us to wash our hands and carry on while he has chosen to self-quarantine and will continue to work from his multi-million dollar mansion home.

    Fuck capitalism.

  13. blf says

    (Related to the short-sighted absurdity related by Akira MacKenzie@13, and cross-posted from poopyhead’s current [Pandemic and] Political Maddess All The Time thread.)

    OH FOR FECK’S SAKE (AND YES I AM SHOUTING), The tech execs who don’t agree with ‘soul-stealing’ coronavirus safety measures (Grauniad edits in {curly braces}):

    If we wish to maintain our productivity, we need to continue working in [our] offices, one CEO told his staff in an email

    Michael Saylor does not often send all-staff emails to the more than 2,000 employees at Microstrategy, a business intelligence firm headquartered in Tysons Corner, Virginia. So the chief executive’s 3,000-word missive on Monday afternoon with the subject line My Thoughts on Covid-19 got his employees’ attention.

    It is soul-stealing and debilliating {sic} to embrace the notion of social distancing & economic hibernation, Saylor wrote in an impassioned argument against adopting the aggressive responses to the coronavirus pandemic that public health authorities are advising. If we wish to maintain our productivity, we need to continue working in {our} offices.


    Saylor argued that the economic damage of social distancing and quarantines was greater than the theoretical benefit of slowing down a virus and suggested that it would make more sense to quarantine the 40 million elderly retired, immune compromised people who no longer need to work or get educated.

    In the absolutely worse case, the overall life expectancy worldwide would click down by a few weeks, he added. Instead of 79.60 years to live we would have 79.45 years to live. 1 out of 500 people will pass on a bit sooner, or not, or die from a celebrated disease instead of just old age, he added. We should continue to do our work, serve our customers, educate our children, cultivate our health, pursue our hobbies, worship our gods, enjoy our sports, cherish our friends, listen to our music, eat, drink, & be merry.

    Microstrategy did not respond to numerous requests for comment.


    Elon Musk, billionaire chief executive of Tesla and SpaceX, prompted considerable consternation when he tweeted, The coronavirus panic is dumb[] to his 32.3 million followers on 6 March. Despite widespread criticism of his message, which flew in the face of public health efforts to convince the general population to take the spread of the virus seriously, Musk has continued to downplay the threat.

    As a basis for comparison, the risk of death from C19 is *vastly* less than the risk of death from driving your car home, Musk wrote in an email to SpaceX employees, according to BuzzFeed News. There are about 36 thousand automotive deaths per deaths {sic}, as compared to 36 so far this year for C19.


    One Silicon Valley leader who is attempting to push companies in the other direction is David Heinemeier Hansson, the creator of Ruby on Rails and co-founder of Basecamp. Hansson has been using his Twitter account to “name ’n’ shame” tech employers who are not allowing employees to work remotely, going so far as to set up a dedicated email for employees to submit anonymous reports.

    Hansson has tweeted out the names of dozens of companies chastising them for not allowing employees to work remotely, and told the Guardian that he has “hundreds” more reports that he is still reviewing. He has said he will delete tweets if a company changes its stance.

    “If you’re gathering people in the office who could work from home, you simply have no excuse and you will eventually have blood on your hands,” Hansson said. […]

    By Tuesday afternoon, Hansson had tweeted a screenshot of the Microstrategy CEO’s email, though the excerpt he highlighted did not include Saylor’s peculiar views on public health.

    The current policies represent a threat to our civil liberties, economic liberties, & physical/mental health that far exceeds the theoretical benefit of slowing down a virus, Saylor wrote. They will bankrupt small and large businesses, eliminate jobs, destroy assets, impoverish multitudes. If our interest is the public health, then depriving the entire population of education, jobs, sports, recreation, entertainment, assets, exercise, bars, restaurants, museums, religious ceremony, group celebrations is certainly unhealthy to them.


    This Saylor genocidal maniac is clearly unfamiliar with the epidemiological curve ( from
    It’s not exponential: An economist’s view of the epidemiological curve), which is well-observed fact.

      † Whilst the eejit is correct in the sense panicking is unwise, that clearly isn’t what the fecking fool means.

    (Akira MacKenzie, you might want to try getting in contact with David Hansson; what you related sounds like what he is looking for.)