We had to get a new router (and better internet)

Our house or something near our house got hit by lightening, which killed the wired connection to both of our computers somehow (it also blew a ton of fuses and somehow managed to break two of the lighbulbs above the stove, but nowhere else).  The wireless was still fine, but half the router was fried.  (Thankfully DH is super risk averse and has a very fancy surge protector on our desktops.)

On top of that, having 4 people needing to video conference at the same time was putting us dangerously close to our data limit and would occasionally cause DC1 to drop internet during things like exams (this was especially problematic after the lightening strike).

So we upped our internet plan to get unlimited data for an additional $10/month, which also doubled our speed.

After some searching, DH decided on this router, and this modem, though he got them from best buy instead of amazon (all amazon links are affiliate links).

It is great.  We haven’t had any data dropping problems since.  It does a much better job of covering DC1’s station in the breakfast nook and DC2’s station in the dining room.  Wireless is still about the same speed as before, but my and DH’s wired speed has doubled to just under 200 Mbps dl.  And we can walk around the house without losing and then picking up wireless again, which is a nice bonus.  DH says that’s because it switches between 5g and regular wireless automatically.

I had also tried to get a new webcam since DC1 needed DH’s for school and DC2 has commandeered my laptop.  Since March I’d basically been using my iPad Pro as a camera which meant I had to have two zoom windows open (not a problem for office hours when I need to switch between whiteboard and desktop so need both windows anyway, but a problem for some meetings).  But when we tried, they were all out of stock everywhere.  Just recently, DH’s relative’s kid, the only one in community college, needed a web-cam for remote school exams and looking for one made us realize that they were back in stock.  We got her a cheap $40 one and we got me a super fancy C922x Pro Stream by logitech.  (I think we would have made this same choice had we known DH’s company was going under at the time.)

If you want more information, here is DH back in September:

The recent storm damaged our current modem + router, the Arris SURFboard SBG6782-AC, such that the ethernet sockets no longer work, though the wifi does. This has 8 download channels and 4 upload channels (8×4).

I am going to buy a new modem and router, because I am worried that this one will eventually fail.

Our ISP says that any DOCSIS 3.0 compatible modem will work. That apparently includes DOCSIS 3.1 modems that are also compatible with 3.0, according to Amazon reviews of various modems.

I think I want to get a separate modem and router, instead of an all-in-one, because I want a better router that will reach across the house.

Puma chips are bad. https://www.classactionlawyers.com/puma6/

Meanwhile, Broadcom chips may be susceptible to the Cable Haunt exploit. https://cablehaunt.com/
The Netgear CM1000 is listed as vulnerable, as is the Arris Surfboard SB8200. But not the Motorola MB8600.

The Motorola MB8600 is Wirecutter’s “upgrade” pick, a 32×8 DOCSIS 3.1/3.0 modem. https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-cable-modem/

On the router side, wifi 6 (i.e., 802.11ax) has been released relatively recently, and though we do not have any devices that would take advantage of it, I would like to get it if possible. Tri-band is more important though.
I looked into mesh router systems, but they are expensive and they all seem to get seriously negative reviews. Our house isn’t that big (~2800 sq feet unheated area [Editor:  (!)]), so a single good router should be sufficient. Review sites recommend making sure the router has a good processor and RAM.

Based on the Wirecutter recommendation, and the price point of ~$200, I got the TP-Link Archer A20 (AC4000), which is a wifi 5 tri-band.
https://www.nytimes.com/wirecutter/reviews/best-wi-fi-router/

And here’s DH after purchasing:

I’ve really been enjoying the higher speeds, the higher reliability (and lower congestion due to the router’s two 5GHz channels, aka tri-band), the ability to get a good signal all the way at the other end of the house, and the router’s “smart connect” that automatically switches between the three bands.

The modem and router are somewhat overkill, because they could handle a 1Gbps speed, while our plan tops out at 400Mbps, but they work so well that I’m glad we went with these.
And they run a bit warm to the touch, but not hot like some modem+router combos we have used before.

Has your place ever been hit by lightening?  How do you handle internet problems?  What’s your internet situation?

Thoughts on academic journal editing again

  • I’ve gotten a couple of replies from authors I’ve rejected from the journal I’m an AE at thanking me and the reviewers for our excellent and helpful comments.  I didn’t know that was a thing people did.  (The last journal I was AE at the only replies I got were asking me to reconsider my decision!  I’ve only gotten one of those so far with this journal and it was a reject-and-resubmit in which there was a fatal flaw in the paper, none of the reviewers wanted to see a revision, and fixing it was doable but would create an entirely different paper and could fundamentally change the results… my letter specifically said that changing all the minor things was not enough, and yet, they sent back a response in which they fixed all the minor things and not the major and asked me to reconsider.  Don’t be those people.)  I think as editor I think a bit more fondly of the authors who have sent the thank yous than I did before they sent it… like it’s a little weird, but also, the reviewers and I *did* send super helpful comments in each of those cases.  So maybe I’ll start doing that, but only when the comments are helpful(!)  Though I’m pretty sure Larry Katz has already formed an opinion of me (the QJE provides the most helpful comments of any journal, in my experience).
  • I also didn’t realize until very recently that the journal I’m currently at doesn’t automatically send the final results to the reviewers, just the authors.  The last journal I was at did.  (They’re different systems with different pluses and minuses.)  So I went back and sent those out for everything I’d processed since December.  All the grad students I used replied with thank-you emails which I wasn’t expecting.
  • If you are an editor and you’re planning to send out to 3-4 reviewers, keep a list of graduate students and early assistant professors as you come into contact with them as well as their areas of expertise.  Reviewing helps them because generally they don’t have many journals listed on their cvs and if you send them the other reviews they learn about the reviewing process (also they’re more likely to say yes) and they tend to take it seriously.  For the most part they’ve done an excellent job in terms of comments.  I try to only have one or two though and have the remaining people with more direct experience with the topic of the paper.  I call my list, “Victims”.
  • My undergraduate advisor sent me a paper to review last month, so I sent her one this month.  She hasn’t accepted it yet.  I’ve started adding other editors to my victims list (not Larry Katz though!)
  • At the top field journal I edited for, people got reject/R&R about right.  At my current journal which is a lower tier journal, they over R&R by a LOT (we’re supposed to only R&R about 10% give or take– it’s not a hard and fast number, but if I just listened to reviewers I’d be R&Ring like 75% even when they note fatal flaws that might not be fixable and could fundamentally change the paper if fixable).  One of my colleagues who edits for a top journal says people reject too much.   I suspect there’s a nonlinear function that intersects at the top field journal level.  I know before I took this job I only recommended reject at this level of journal if I thought the paper was not publishable anywhere.
  • When I send to people with mixed experiences editing (so some with no experience and some at the journal I’m at, for example), I will often get nearly identical comments with completely different recommendations.  The words you use are much more helpful at the journal I’m currently at.
  • I like clearing my slate for editing as quickly as possible.  I worry that I’m getting sent more papers because of this.  :/
  • One thing I didn’t realize before I started editing is how draining just making the decisions in the process is.  Fortunately for this journal I don’t have to decide on desk rejects, but I do still have to decide who to send out to and then after I get their reports, how to translate them to whether or not the paper should be rejected.
  • I find it really helpful when reviewers explain in plain terms in their letter to the editor what the main concerns with the paper is (or alternately, why they think it should be given an R&R).  It’s much harder when reviewers only send the comments to the authors, because it’s harder to get a handle on which bits are the ones responsible for a decision of Reject (or alternately, why it should be revised if they don’t spend some time explaining that in the author letter).

Personal goals for my kids this summer

Huh… the summer is over and apparently I never posted this.  Let’s see how they did.

This summer I would like:

  • DC1 to learn to notice and do chores (like emptying the dishwasher) without being asked at all.  (Currently:  must be asked at least 3 times)  DC1 has NOT learned to notice without being asked.  We have added the rule that if zie has to be asked more than once, then zie has to also LOAD the dishwasher after.
  • DC1 to learn some more cooking and to cook at least once a week without complaint.  DC1 has learned more cooking and does cook once a week sans any but the most perfunctory complaint.
  • DC2 to flush the toilet after use EVERY TIME.  This still needs work.
  • DC2 to stop whining.  Full stop.  Just no more whining.  This has gotten better, but there’s still whining on occasion.  I have gotten better about just telling DC2 that I can’t work when zie is whining and zie needs to go to hir room to whine.
  • DC2 to be polite with goodbyes rather than just abruptly saying goodbye and leaving without preamble (both in person and on zoom).  DC2 thinks this is something of a game now.  Zie is a little better but now just does it this way to annoy me, somewhat similar to DC1’s complaining about cooking.
  • Both kids to pick up their dirty laundry from the floor without being asked.  This seems to have gotten better.  We’ve also ceded laundry control to the kids for their laundry and DC1 recently learned that if zie puts it off too long then they run out of towels.  I’m not sure if this lesson will stick. 

I have some preferences as well, like it would be nice for them to use soap when washing their hair This seems to have happened, or for DC1 to keep hir nails clipped to violin-length Still requires nagging.  But I feel like we shouldn’t ask for too much.

The whining though, that has to stop.  Seriously.  How am I going to make it through the semester?

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Finally got my dependent daycare refund!

When the quarantine started, congress let people stop contributing to their dependent daycare accounts.

However, as someone who gets paid over 9 months on the academic rather than calendar year, I only had two paychecks left.  I requested payments stop but somehow that didn’t work out correctly.

Then, later, near the end of April, I got an email from payroll saying that because of our unique situation, I could request a refund from all of our unspent DDA moneys.  By June 1st I had still not gotten any refunds and still had $1500 or so in the DDA account, so I asked what I should be expecting.  I was told it would come in a July paycheck (I don’t get paid in July).  In July, I got a refund for something under $700 with over $500 taken out in taxes.  My DDA account noted that I’d been reimbursed the $700, but I still had money in the account (they said I still had $1500 that I could spend, but if I dug into details, they just assumed they would be getting that $700 back from the university– the actual number I should have been looking at was the how much I had left in the account which was ~800.)  I was also really confused about the high tax rate (the exact rate was 83%).

So I emailed the payroll people who told me I could get the refund and they didn’t answer my question about the missing money, though they did say that $500 was because I have an additional $500 in taxes coming out of every paycheck (this is because the last time I did the tax calculator re: the marriage penalty and our expected dividends etc. we apparently needed to put away another $4,500 for taxes).  Even though this was a reimbursement it still counted as a paycheck.  So whatever.

I emailed again to ask specifically about the missing money and was informed that I needed to have requested that refund by some date in May.  And I was like, I requested it back on April 30th!  The woman was like, I don’t know what to tell you, it’s the government’s rules, not ours.  Once the money has been sent to your provider it can’t come back.  But I could still use it for after school care in the Fall.  So I emailed the person who originally emailed me about the reimbursement, who turned out to be her boss.  He responded that I needed to have requested it by sometime in May and it was too late now.  And I responded to *him* that I requested it back on April 30th, see below, (all of these emails were included in the email chain– it started with their email, then my request for reimbursement and asking what I needed to do to make it happen, then their response that my response was enough, then my questions asking when to expect my money).  Then I got an email from the boss saying that he had found an arithmetic mistake and I was owed $800.  Then the woman sent me a separate email saying that well, since I had requested it on April 30th the ticket was open and she could do me this favor and I should be getting $800.  Then the boss sent me an apology and said he’d make sure I got an out of payroll payment so I wouldn’t have to wait until October.  Then the woman sent me the math for where the $800 number came from and said she could do me a favor and request it out of payroll so I would get it in August.  They did not cc each other.

And then on July 31st it magically showed up in my savings account (minus regular taxes, but not minus an additional $500).  Yay!

So the moral here is:  Sometimes payroll makes mistakes and even if a deadline has passed, if it was their screw-up and not yours, if you keep poking at it you’ll probably get the money that’s owed to you.  Most government things seem to take into consideration the way that corporations screw up accounting from time to time and allow it to be fixed.

I opted to leave the DDA blank for this coming year.  I just won’t get the tax break for summer camp next year if we have it.

If you have kids who qualify for a dependent daycare account, are you using it this year?  Are your childcare costs going up or down or unchanged because of the pandemic?

Ask the grumpies: Can I Retire Early?

Middle class revolution asks

By the time you post this, I may already be out of a job. However, i can always use your money wisdom and that of your readers. I may also ask Frugalwoods but they want so many details.

Here is some background info about me and my family:

– Family = me (50), my husband (poor health), 2 young kids – one with special health issues and low functioning autism. We don’t plan to pay for college but want to support spec needs kid with a trust (from home sale?).
– My parents live nearby and currently offer babysitting help.
– We own a single family home in a high cost west coast state. It is safe, blue collar, ethnic neighborhood with so-so schools. Valued at $500,000 to 600,000. We are 2 years away from paying off mortgage. May do this sooner if possible.
–  I have a 401k, rollover IRA, Roth IRA totaling . My husband has no retirement savings. Total value of approx. $470,000 depending on stock market.
– I will get social security but don’t know amount.
– Husband earns approx $5k per month from state as our kid’s caregiver. I will take over this role. He can get health insurance thru this job but I don’t know how good it is.
– My income was $3k per month after taxes, 401k contributions and health care premiums.
– Currently spend about $4k per month. Want to reduce this.
– We own 2 cars and will sell one.
– We have no debts.
– We don’t have a will or life insurance (very bad, I know)
– Both sets of our parents are financially fine. His parents already gifted us to help buy our house. No inheritance expected.

I am resigning due to a bad work situation (horrible boss). I do not expect to find a similar job since I won’t have my boss as reference and I’m 50.

Did I make a horrible mistake? Will I end up eating cat food or worse?

Please advise!

With a low functioning disabled child, you need to get a will AND life insurance NOW.  This will probably be pricey if you’re thinking about a trust.  Along with the thinking about a trust, the law office will likely be able to recommend someone to think about the financial aspects of your plan for your child.  How much will they need after you are gone?

I always think that the FrugalWoods are overly optimistic about retiring.  I mean, I guess that’s their brand but also they haven’t lived it (since Mr. FW has never stopped working for an employer and Mrs. FW has her own business), so…

Looking at your numbers, with half your wealth locked up in your house and a low functioning child and spouse with health issues… I would not personally retire early.  If my job were terrible, I might leave that job, but I would definitely keep looking for another opportunity or get more education to switch fields or *something*.  I don’t think you have enough to safely retire because your life right now is highly dependent on the whims of a state government.  And we just can’t count on governments.

You should figure out social security amounts for you and your DH.  We used to get printouts from social security on a regular basis, but I think they’ve stopped doing that (possibly because they know the social security trust fund will be running out sooner than it should).  They have a retirement estimator on their webpage but the interface is not great.  I think you may be able to get it to do what you want by choosing “add a new estimate” after it gives you the stupid initial estimate that assumes you will work until 62/6?/70 and then telling it you want to work 0 at your current age.  I ran through it that way and if I stop working today (or age age 50), I will get about $900 less per month than if I keep working until 62, and 1900 less than if I keep working until age 67 (I’m guessing my big salary years are still replacing low income years in my work history).  Keep in mind that you will need more future dollars than you do now because of inflation.  (Low estimate:  2%, high estimate: 7%… any more than that and Social Security will have worse worries than keeping up with inflation because we’ve turned into a Banana Republic and nothing is safe.)

A big worry is that $5K/month won’t last.  That is extremely generous and it is likely that when your state hits financial difficulties in the future or gets a Conservative governor that this program will get trimmed if not cut entirely.  Even if it doesn’t get trimmed it could not keep up with inflation.  You cannot count on it as safe income.  Also, looking up the program, the amount you get depends on where you live, so it will be dangerous to tap into your house or to move someplace less expensive.

You’ll need to find out the costs of health insurance and what it doesn’t cover and what the copays are and so on and if the people your husband and child have been seeing take it.  Along with property taxes, that’s a big necessary expense.

I like this Nerd Wallet calculator.  Be sure to click on the “optional” so you can put in spending and retirement age and so on.  It’s not going to be perfect because social security will be hard to figure in there.

Yes, age discrimination exists.  Fortunately although it happens sooner for women than for men, there’s also a bump up in hiring for women at older ages, so you shouldn’t give up on finding a new job.  I don’t know if resigning your current job without a new one lined up is a mistake– if it’s affecting your health etc. sometimes just quitting is the best thing you can do.  But if you haven’t quit yet, I would like to encourage you to sweeten up your boss so you can get a good reference, explore other options within the company if possible (can you cut to part time?  are there other units within the company?), and so on.  Think strategically– knowing that you will likely quit, how can you put yourself in the best position possible for finding new work (possibly after the pandemic is over).  When you quit or get fired with cause you don’t get unemployment insurance unless the government steps in because it’s an emergency.  It might make sense to wait until the Heroes act has been passed (and call your senator to get it passed) to see if it covers unemployment for your situation.

Or you can hope to get laid off or negotiate a voluntary separation package with your company, since it’s difficult to fire people from middle-class jobs in those west coast states.  It might be worth talking to your management about this possibility.  Be strategic.  Or if they don’t actually want to lose you, they might be willing to fix some of the problems you’ve been having with your immediate boss.  Who knows!

So… bottom line, no I don’t think you can retire early in this situation.  If everything goes well, then you might be able to do it… a 60K/year income with a paid off house and health insurance might be fine even in an expensive city given savings and Social Security kicking in in 12-20 years.  But you can’t really count on the income increasing with inflation or not being cut, you can’t necessarily count on your property taxes staying put (and you need to stay where you are for the benefits), you can’t count on health insurance not bankrupting you, you can’t count on getting more than 70% of your anticipated Social Security claim, etc.  And your responsibilities (husband with health problems, low functioning child who will need lifetime help) are much too high to allow for you to cut expenses to the bone should things go wrong.

Update from Middleclassrevolution:

Family

– Me Middle Class: 50, good health, the one quitting her job ASAP.
– Husband: 60, declining health, home caregiver
– Kid 1: 10 years
– Kid 2:  9 yrs, Special health issues and low functioning autism.
– My parents: 80s, fairly good health but I am not counting on their babysitting help for much longer.

Assets (conservative estimate)

– Single family home valued at $500,000 to 600,000.
– $470,000 in various retirement accounts.
– $30k emergency fund
– Two cars (both owned 100%)

Income

– Me: $60k per year. Much of it goes toward insurance premiums and 401k contributions. Take home pay is closer to $2k per month.
– Husband: $4.5k per month income from state as caregiver. Income is not taxed.

Future Income

– Social Security: amounts unknown.
– No inheritance expected.

Liabilities

– Mortgage : We are 2 years away from paying this off but may do this sooner if possible.
– No debt
– No will, no will, no life insurance. (Bad I know!)
– Both sets of parents are financially sound and will not need our help.

Health insurance

– Three of us are covered by my employer’s high deductible plan.
– Special needs kid is covered by state programs due to health issues.

Career

– I plan to quit and take over the Caregiver role. This job does offer health insurance but I don’t know copays or premiums.
– Unlikely to find another job due to ageism and inability to get a reference from current boss

Spending

– Currently spend about $4k per month. Want to reduce this.
– We plan to sell one of the cars ASAP.

Other factors

– My husband is very impatient with special needs kid. He is good at stepping in when needed to get kid to change clothes, brush teeth, etc.. However on a daily basis, he tends to ignore him, [ed. deleted by request]. I never understood why my mom felt the need to help every other day (alternating with part time nanny). I thought my husband was capable of being sole caregiver. Now that I WFH, I am not so sure he can manage much longer.
– Without school for months and re-opening unlikely, special needs kid will continue to regress.

So… some of the numbers are different compared to when we gave our first advice and the husband [doesn’t sound as good].  If you really do need to stay at home with your child during the pandemic (a common story for many women, and not indicative of their underlying quality of workers), then maybe paint the leaving your job narrative that way and make sure that everyone else is on board with that narrative at the company because it is likely when you do try to return to the labor force (and you will likely have to) your former boss will likely be elsewhere and somebody else at the company will be providing a reference for you.  Hopefully your DH has some redeeming qualities or will be bringing home Social Security in a couple of years, [ed. deleted].  Though since he is close to 62, if he has Social Security benefits, it is unlikely that those will drop (though they may not keep up with inflation) and you may be able to transition to retirement with them, so figure out what they are.  He’s got to be useful for something once he’s no longer being paid to ignore your kid.

Also given your husband’s age and health, it’s probably not cost-effective to get life insurance for him, even term, so just get it for you.  But you can still look into costs.  You do need it for you.

Update:

No honestly he has good points too. He does most of the cooking and a lot around the house and yard. I am often impatient with my special needs kids too. The situation has taken a toll on us. I cannot manage both kids alone.

I realized that I changed 5k to 4.5k…I am not sure of exact amount so I lowered it. I guess that 500/mo makes a difference..

$6000/year when you’re not bringing in a lot does matter (as does knowing if your current take-home pay is 24K/year or 36K/year).  But more importantly, before you make your next move at work, you need to figure out the values of all of these numbers (including Social Security) so that you can make an informed decision.  30K in cash emergency fund does buy you some time, but will schools be reopened in 7.5 months?  It does sound very likely that you will quit this job, but before you do, get all of your ducks in a row.  It might be worthwhile getting all those numbers that the FrugalWoods want even if you don’t actually email them for advice.

Update:

I checked my husband’s monthly income and it is 5k , not 4.5k if that makes a difference.

Finally my son is already stronger than my me, my mom, and nanny. When he gets angry, he hits hard, scratches, twists our fingers and sometimes bites. It is probably when not if he will do more serious harm. Yes we are looking unto meds. Bottom line: I can’t physically manage him without my husband. I would like to keep my son home with us as long as possible.

Grumpy Nation:  Would you retire early in MCR’s situation?  What things should she be thinking about?  What questions would you ask?  Do you have any suggestions for how to best separate from a bad job when you’re in your 50s (especially a state with employer protections)?  Any other advice?

DH is getting furloughed again

DH’s company will be between grants/projects again.  So this time instead of laying everybody off, they’ve decided to furlough 20% and actually give time off, not just a paycut.  Everyone seems pretty happy about this solution.   It’s going to be Fridays starting this month.

DH promises he won’t use his extra day of weekend to do yardwork, which seems to be where his free time has gone in the past.  Given our lack of childcare, we’re not too unhappy about this state of affairs.  And, given the number of reimbursements we’ve received over the past few months for travel and summer camps and so on, I think it’s possible we won’t have to dip into savings at least until I start getting paid again in October.

They’re not sure how long things are going to last– the problem is that their next project money involves a lot of travel… and Covid has messed all of that up.  Even states allowing travel have had restrictions about who is allowed to visit the places DH would need to visit.

Hopefully the company will stay in business.  Otherwise, I don’t know, maybe it will be time for him to take an early retirement.  Or moving to Paradise.  Who knows.

Have you and yours been affected by the pandemic/recession?

No camp for DC2

It sounds like kid-to-kid transmission isn’t much of a thing, and that outdoor transmission with masks isn’t so bad, so we won’t negatively judge anybody who is doing summer camp.  DC2 is so energetic and so extroverted that summer camp has seemed like a necessity.

There are three summer camp options in town for 7-8 year olds.

The school-run camp doesn’t open until Mid-July and they are doing everything correctly.  They’re limiting the number of students at each campus, they’re putting them in groups of 5 that don’t interact, they’re requiring masks (except at meals) and they’re doing most of their camp outside.  Curbside pick-up and drop-off of campers only.  Problem:  it is already regularly 100 degrees outside so that sounds MISERABLE.  (Plus it’s so inexpensive and slots are so limited, I feel guilty taking a slot that someone who can’t work from home needs, though that problem could be solved by just waiting to sign up.)

On the other end of the spectrum, the Children’s Museum is making zero changes.  They’re doing their full programs at full size, indoors, masks optional.  The Children’s Museum itself will be open the same as usual with no mention of additional cleaning procedures.  That all sounds like a recipe for disaster on top of us feeling like zie had really outgrown it last year at age 6.

In the middle is the Science Museum, which is limiting each of their summer camps to 10 kids total, two groups of five.  Masks required. They’re only doing half-days, mostly indoors.  The museum itself will be closed during the camp (it will open for the general public after camp finishes).  The problem with this is that the two groups of five are separated by age with 4-7 as one group and 8-12 as the other group.  DC2 is 7 and grade-skipped.  They don’t expect kids to be able to say, read, in the younger group.  It seems like the benefit just wouldn’t be worth the risk.  (DC2 also isn’t interested in any of the topics from this camp this year.)

What are we doing instead?  DC2 is still going through workbooks and other chores.  Zie is zooming with hir friends (though some of those friends are signed up for the school’s summer camp and won’t be around in a month).  We’ve been working on getting them to be able to play minecraft together safely. (It looks like we can buy a subscription to a private minecraft server after signing waivers on behalf of our kids, but there are some wrinkles with there being different flavors of minecraft that don’t all talk with each other.  We’re hoping to work those kinks out soon.)  Zie is rapidly going through the kids’ collection of novels, manga, and comic books.  Zie is also allowed 2 hours of unsupervised screentime each day and has been watching Card Captor Sakura or playing several of a ton of switch games that DH bought recently.  There’s also bike riding (indoor or outdoor) and Ring Fit playing.  And 15 minutes of cleaning up their rooms.  But… there’s also a lot of whining and a little bit of sibling squabbling and quite a bit of parent shouting at them to knock it off and go outside if they can’t stop while we’re trying to work.

We still haven’t gotten reimbursed for our dependent daycare account– I thought that was supposed to happen last month, but I emailed and they said it would be in my “July paycheck” but this year I don’t have a July paycheck, so we’ll see what happens.  But even if we just flat out lose the money, I think we’re making the right decision not sending DC2 to daycamps here.

What do daycamps in your area look like?  What are other people doing with their kids?

 

Things I want at work to better help with the BLM movement

I’m a university professor.  Here’s places I think the university should be throwing resources.

  • Bystander training both for general situations for everybody and for what the professor can do in class.  I would very much like to expand my tool-box about what I can say when a student says something racist.  Especially when it’s something racist out of the blue.  I’m generally better at dealing with racist comments when I can guess what they’re going to be and am expecting them (like when I’m teaching something with common misconceptions that I can treat as such), but in the past I’ve been shocked at students out of the blue denying the fundamental humanity of immigrants, or interrupting a statistics lecture to go on a racist screed about Hispanic-Americans (that last guy has a restraining order against him and was escorted out by police the last time he visited the department and thankfully dropped my class before the midterm after not doing any of the homework meant he could not pass mechanically).
  • I want my colleagues to get training on how to make a comfortable environment for underrepresented people to speak.  Things like allowing time to write down the answer to a question before cold-calling.  How to sure cold-calls are evenly distributed, etc.
  • Another student climate survey.  The last one was done 4 years ago, generally every 5 years seems reasonable for these kinds of surveys, but so much has changed since then, it makes sense to do this one early.  Maybe even annually for a while.
  • A major problem is that there are a small number of faculty, mostly contract or untenured (but also me and one of my white male colleagues who just got tenured this year) who are getting the bulk of the emotional pressure from when our underrepresented students are treated poorly.  It is hard and we don’t get service credit for it and the contract and untenured folks are endangered by it.  I’m brainstorming with my chair and another chair they’re bringing in about this problem later this week, but either we need to spread this out somehow or we need to concentrate it into an ombuds-type position and give the faculty member service credit for it.
  • Before the Corona virus we’d had reports of several students across several sub-fields in several classes say horrific things that denied non-white-non-US-non-etc. their basic humanity.  (Things like, if it’s in the US’s best interests, shouldn’t the US government encourage dictators to genocide?  Also basic Fox news talking points about why children deserve to be in cages because their parents “broke the law” [sic].  )  When it gets to this level, it needs to be addressed somehow from a department-wide basis in order to show support for underrepresented students and to show bigoted students that their behavior is really not acceptable across the board (and not just in one class from one teacher).  But how?
  • Bringing in outside people as consultants who are not horrible, preferably minorities with consulting businesses who are probably going to (and should) be terribly expensive this coming year.  But it can’t just be “we brought in a consultant for a 3 hour training”– the training has to actually be more helpful than harmful.  And it shouldn’t just be an implicit bias training– our leaders need training on how to make systemic change, and we need advice on things like how to shut up white conservative Christians who have joined the student diversity committee to “provide the voice of victimized white conservative Christians” (have I mentioned again that we live in the heavily white Evangelical South?).  Given the Corona situation, I’m hopeful that some of these expensive consultants will make video trainings available, but we probably also need to have leadership talk with an expert about our specific situation.  And we need someone to tell the dean that having agendaless “conversations” to which everyone is invited (including white police officers?!) and given equal time is going to shut out underrepresented groups.
  • Getting rid of that last bigoted statue on campus and replacing it with the prominent black alum one they’ve been talking about since the 1990s WITHOUT requiring private donations to do it.  Come ON.  One of my colleagues just donated $500 for it and my dean wanted to make a big fundraiser among our faculty, but this is something the University should be doing.  I know we’re getting budget cuts and no raises for the foreseeable future, but this should have institutional weight behind it.  (That said, if an outside private donor wants to give the university a restricted donation, I’m aok with that.)

 

What else should I be suggesting?  What would help you at work to help your marginalized students/coworkers/etc.?

Ask the grumpies: Favorite apps for life/productivity

Leah asks:

Do you have any favorite apps for life/productivity?

This is a timely question!  This summer I have decided to try Trello with two of my summer RAs and Github for another project.  These are both project management apps and for myself I have a Trello board that I’m using like a to-do list (sort of kanbanish, but not quite).  I am liking Trello very much.  Github is more complicated but it can do more and has better integration with things our university owns, particularly in terms of file attachments.  After working with both for a few weeks, Github’s project management software is not very good, nor is it as well-integrated as it should be with the repo.

DH uses Pivotal Tracker for work and likes it.  My university doesn’t have it for free so I haven’t tried it, though it’s probably available in some limited fashion for free.  Jira is also popular, but the free version is limited to 10 people so I haven’t tried it.

Probably my biggest productivity app is the leechblock add-on for firefox.  This keeps me from reading twitter and other common sites except during scheduled breaks and outside of work.

I’m eager to hear what productivity tools people in Grumpy Nation have found helpful!  Three years ago it seemed like only a few people were using project management software (preferring low-tech things like google docs or to-do lists), but suddenly it seems a lot more common.

What do you all recommend or find not worth the effort?

How do I find a personal assistant: Ask the Grumpies

Houstonian asks:

I just got a huge raise at my corporate job and am now making $180K as a single childless person with two cats.  I have way more money than time.  I’ve heard of people hiring personal assistants to do things like wait for the plumber or figure out how to get someone to refinish the front door and so on, but I don’t know how to go about doing that myself.  Have you ever hired a personal assistant?  How did you find them?  How do you figure out what to get them to do?  Any recommendations for working with them once I’ve found somebody?

At first I was going to say that we’ve never hired a personal assistant, but then I remembered that’s not actually true.  We’ve had mother’s helpers do additional personal assisting stuff.  So… I guess the lesson there is have a kid, then find a nanny or mother’s helper, and then hire them for more hours.  Kidding!  That is very much not useful advice!  Kids suck away way more time than personal assistants bring!

My first thought is that you should ask around and see what your higher paid colleagues are doing for personal assisting.  (Hopefully not all answers are, “My wife takes care of everything.”)  If they’re using someone part-time maybe you could hire the same person.  You can ask around to other folks as well– you may find that you have friends of friends who would love to get paid to sit at your house waiting for the plumber so long as they’re allowed to take their child along.

Otherwise, you might have luck with some of the online services out there.  I know some people swear by care.com for nannies, and I’m pretty sure they also do longer-term personal assistants.  People talk a lot about upwork.com and taskrabbit.com for smaller jobs.  Possibly you could try one of those out with a smaller project and see where that goes.  Alternatively you could advertise at a local community college or university.  I bet there’s a lot of Sam Houston State students eager to do odd jobs for $15 or $20/hr depending on where you live.

In terms of how to figure out what to get them to do– we wrote a really long list of tasks we needed to get done that just weren’t getting done.  For us this was things like painting DC1’s dresser or getting rid of a bush in the front yard.  There were a bunch of small deep cleaning things as well and some web-searching.  Once we got someone to take care of things, all of a sudden we had a ton of other stuff we realized she could just take care of and we wouldn’t have to.  It was great!  (Sadly for us, but happily for her, she graduated and her husband came back from Afghanistan and she left us for a full-time job.  But by then our list of delayed chores was empty.)  Some people use personal assistants for regular tasks like grocery shopping or laundry.  There’s a ton of stuff that people can do for you in exchange for money.

In terms of working for people– make things clear up front.  Make sure you know what their limits are and they know what your limits are.  What happens if they don’t show up or if they’re late?  How and when should they communicate questions?  How much autonomy do you expect them to have?  You may need to make this clear generally or on a project-specific basis.  It’s probably not that different than any kind of management you do at your corporate job, except that they have a different set of job responsibilities.  Be willing to fire people if you need to.

Here’s one person’s experience with hiring an assistant.

Here’s another person’s recommendations— I especially like the cat litter rule (yes, you can have a personal assistant clean out the cat litter box).

Here’s an entrepreneur article.

Grumpy Nation– do you have any experience with hiring personal assistants?  Do you have experience with being a personal assistant?  Any advice for Houstonian?