On September 29, 2023, Robert F. Godec, Ambassador of the United States to Thailand, visited Mahasarakham University to open a new wing of the American Corner, at which Mina and I have been helping run open conversation classes.
If the ambassador’s social media ninjas happen to see this post, please convey a message to him that I was unable to complete when a VIP entourage suddenly appeared: The best historical book in English regarding the Issan region, and Mahasarakham in particular, is The Far Province by Francis Cripps. There are several editions; try and get one with photos and you will see how much this town has developed in 60 years!
Terrific visit to the American Corner @MsuUniversity Wonderful to speak with the students and faculty and learn more about amazing Isaan. Had a great time sharing career experiences, favorite books, & inaugurating the new Reading Corner. And Isaan cuisine is “sab e-lee”!! Yum!!! – Ambassador Robert F. Godec
I guess you could say this was taken at our new (side job) workplace. Mina and I have been brought on as facilitators for Chit Chat Corner, a program sponsored by the American Embassy in Bangkok aimed at providing an English language conversation space for the community at Maha Sarakham University’s American Corner.
We have a bunch of new projects coming up at both my uni and Nam’s. I signed up for the premium trial of Canva and it’s saved me quite a few hours in Adobe… The built-in AI brush effect is pretty fun, too.
The whole country is flooding from the heavy rains of the past week (a result of Typhoon Noru which had a completely different name in the heavily ravaged Philippines), but we are safe so far. Usually, our neighborhood floods when there’s heavy rains, but the drainage systems just in our immediate area have worked well this time around. There’s supposed to be more opening of floodgates upriver (mainly at the Ubolrat Dam in Khon Kaen) in the coming week, so it may get worse. For now, there are a lot of volunteers filling sandbags in preparation of more rain and rising rivers. My students coworkers haven’t lost their sense of humor, either.
I’m brushing up on my Minecraft, Roblox, and Fortnite skills because I’ll be teaching in each of these soon. I went down this path a few years ago to each at our learning center, but then COVID came and shifted everything online. It’s taken too long for me to get back on track with this.
When I started out as a copywriter in a medium-sized translation office in Miyakojima, Osaka, I had more translation and technical writing jobs than anything very creative… but in that first year, a huge job landed on my desk, unbeknownst to me. The job was simple, the client wanted a rewrite and “native check” from a random gaijin on staff – me. The original headline was a single sentence, roughly worded. Something like, “We can see the future on this LSI.” Of course, nobody knew (and to this day, nobody knows) what an LSI was, so: “Large-scale integration (LSI) is the process of integrating or embedding thousands of transistors on a single silicon semiconductor microchip.” In semiconductor manufacturing circles, it refers to a specific kind of microchip.
I tried to convince the client to replace “LSI” with “microchip” for a few hours, but to no avail – the nomenclature was set in stone. So I suggested “The Future is on LSIs,” and promptly moved onto the next job. I was used to knocking out several quick jobs a day, so I didn’t really give it a second thought. Until I was watching TV one day half a year later and saw Jeff Goldblum, in the desert, with a spiky haircut, speaking words I had written:
It was my proudest day as a copywriter.
Later in my career, I would work with advertising legends like Leo Burnett on hot accounts like Sony Vaio, Virgin Records, and the Honda Insight, but I would always be drawn back to that hot day in the translation office in Osaka.
A new dialog popped up in Classroom today with some very welcome changes, the most welcome of which is the first:
Teachers or co-teachers are always meeting hosts: This is what has been needed for years now. Until now, unless an admin made some obscure setting changes across the whole institution, there was no reliable way to ensure a teacher would be the meeting host. The biggest problems caused by this was the entire meeting closing when the randomly-assigned host dropped from the meeting, and the ability to record and location of saved video file also being assigned to that person (usually a student).
Students will be sent to the waiting room until a teacher is present in a meeting: I would actually prefer this to be optional since there are times when I want the students to work without me before I join. I also let students practice presenting in our designated meeting room when I’m not there. I guess they can do it in a different room, but why not make the software more flexible and accommodating to as many situations and users as possible?
Video participants outside of your class can ask to be admitted by the host: This might be convenient once in a while, but honestly, it makes things less secure (because before this change, nobody could get in my university’s online classes without a university email address), and I suspect it won’t be trouble-free, either. Permissions problems across all systems are just too common.
The next improvements I really want to see for Meet are breakout rooms, more admin controls, and improved latency… Zoom still functions much better and is less laggy. The real improvement many need for Google Classroom is the Gradebook – this needs to be more directly editable and downloadable in a useful spreadsheet with everything contained therein. The way it works now is like a beta version of a janky ad-supported website built by a three person company on the weekends, not the big G.
The biggest COVID wave so far spread through Maha Sarakham from a couple months ago, so my university postponed the new term until this week. I’m teaching four Public Speaking classes per week online. This is what a typical class looks like, with about 2/3 the students:
I tell them they only have to turn on the camera when they speak because some of them are on weak connections or are connecting through mobile data plans, and it might save them money as well as improving performance. Thailand has good connectivity, though, and a lot of businesses share free wifi, so I use the first week to pinpoint who has internet problems and suggest they find a better hotspot or solution.
There are a lot of problems teaching online at a Thai university. The biggest problem is net connectivity and speed. The second biggest problem is that the university staff and teachers are horrible at teaching and doing their jobs. Doing it online just compounds the issues.
One of my current side hustles is teaching teachers how to teach online and helping them get set up at home. Some of these teachers are still doing grades by hand (even when teaching online with every grading management tool available), so you can imagine that the transition is rough. The IT staff are so bad at their jobs, they can’t keep our website up for everyone to register for classes or make class changes, haven’t figured out how to install a security certificate in the ~20 years they’ve had the domain, and can’t even issue student ID numbers or email for freshmen before the term starts (which are necessary to register for classes and to attend online classes). There are also problems on the student side, but now, well into the second year of online classes and lockdowns, most have figured out how to at least attend their teachers’ pathetic online lectures, and that online classes are actually a good way to try and get their parents to pay for an iPad (definitely not required).
Nam and I love teaching online, though. Before we started, I had already set up a Twitch streaming system for Mina with condenser mic and various cameras, so we adapted that and added to it over time. This is what my setup looks like now.
On the vaccine front, I went in to get a Astra Zeneca jab at the vaccination center set up at my university a few weeks ago, and was told at the last stage (there were 3 stages to navigate), “no foreigners!” So, fuck them and their jelly vaccine shots, I guess (a bad batch of vaccines in Thailand was recently found to have turned into gel). Nam and I have paid a private hospital the full price for 2 Moderna jabs each – 3,400 baht/person. No telling when the government will get off its ass and actually get these vaccines delivered, but we are told, “as early as October.” Looks like all of my classes this term will be online!