MontanaRon

An English teacher's blog about his travels and his digital art.

Tag: personal (page 1 of 27)

New Laptop

I found that I’d have some extra time at the school this term because a couple of my scheduled classes were cancelled due to low enrollment in those particular classes. The number of students we have in all classes is up a bit from last term; it’s just the luck of the draw that these two classes lacked students. I still have two classes to work, from 6:45-8:15 in the evening M-F and at 10:45-12:15 Saturday morning. But, because I’m still receiving my standard salary I have to act as a cover teacher, filling in if someone calls in sick for the early class from 5:00-6 and 9-10:30 Sat. If there are no absent teachers, then I have that extra time to do whatever.

I tried hauling my big laptop back and forth from home to the school so that I could work on digital art or whatever else I wanted to do, but that laptop is a bit too heavy and bulky to run around with, so I purchased a new laptop a few weeks ago to use at the school and keep locked in my office desk. It’s a Lenovo Yoga Slim7 and it’s a nice portable rig, with a 1TB SSD internal drive, 14″ screen, and a few other nice features. Cost about $1300, which, of course, is more expensive than buying the same outfit back in the ‘States. Naturally, after I got it, teachers started calling in sick, so I haven’t had much opportunity to make extensive use of it, but I’m sure I’ll get the opportunity now and then.

The new laptop–kind of looks like this.

New Term at School

I’ve had the last month off after the first term at Vientiane College finished on April 9th, but we start our next term on May 9th. While the school had enough students during the first term to keep the doors open, so to speak, we’re all hoping that registration increases this time around, though the admin people don’t expect to reach pre-pandemic levels until next year, probably. But, everyone has their fingers crossed.

For the upcoming session I’ve got three classes so far out of my usual four. I’m teaching one class for middle-school aged kids, one adult class and one class in our Diploma program. That one is a Creative Writing class, something I’m looking forward to. I taught another writing class just as the pandemic hit back in 2020 and we had to cut the term short, so we didn’t quite finish our classes. Since then, the writing class has been revamped by the teacher who taught it last term and it looks like it’ll be a lot of fun!

For my fourth class time slot, I’ll be a cover teacher, covering for others who might be out sick or can’t make it to class for whatever reason at that time. Hopefully, the classes will fill up so that I can have a regular class then, but being a cover teacher is fine with me. It doesn’t affect my pay or the time that I have to be at the school.

Anyway, only a few days left until it’s back to work, though we have a mandatory workshop this Friday at 2:30 p.m. More later.

Boring Update

Well, it’s been a while, but there’s not really much to write about, though that is debatable. Vientiane is still in lockdown, but the government has eased some of the restrictions and has told all pertinent interests to prepare for more reopening soon. That’s not because the number of covid infections is going down; on the contrary, it’s been skyrocketing. The last few days Vientiane has had over 600 cases of infection with no signs of slowing down. I think the government has given up trying to keep this delta variant in check and is just continuing to get as many people vaccinated as it can. I think I read that about 40% of the population has been double dosed and many others have had one of two doses of the various vaccines that are available.

Schools, of course, are shut down for now, and they have been since near the end of April. However, some schools are doing online classes, and Vientiane College is among those who are doing so. I teach one class a day from 5 to 6:30 p.m., and one on Saturday from 9 to 10:30 a.m. Teaching online has been fun and interesting, really. But, it’s sucking up my time like a black hole. I’m still learning and improving my ability to use Zoom and Google drive, classroom and other items from Google. It’s been somewhat of a steep learning curve, but I’m starting to get better at it. One of the major reasons I like teaching online is that I don’t have to ride my motorbike back and forth into Vientiane six days a week! But, if I want to go into the city to get groceries, there’s no problem doing that.

It’s left hardly any time to do any digital art for now, but I hope to get back into it soon. I miss being able to play around in Photoshop and other painting/compositing/etc. software. I could probably spare 30 minutes a day here and there, but I prefer to spend more time per session than half an hour. Hopefully, I’ll have some art to post here soon. I’ve got my fingers and toes and eyes crossed that we’ll be getting back to a near-normal state soon. More later.

Still Locked Down in Vientiane

Yeah, we’re still in lockdown here in Vientiane, even though there haven’t been that many cases of people testing positive for the covid virus. The Laos government has extended the lockdown in the capital until July 4th, at the earliest. They’ve eased some of the restrictions, but schools are still not allowed to open in Vientiane, and that includes Vientiane College (VC). Most of the rest of the country is doing fine and other provinces are not locked down. The government has previously stated that the lockdown won’t end until there are 14 consecutive days of no covid cases. If they stick to that rule, this lockdown in Vientiane will never end until everyone is vaccinated. Luckily, I received the second dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine on Wednesday last week, and, happily, I didn’t have any bad side effects from it like I did with the first dose. Also, many people in Vientiane have been getting either their first or second dose of the various vaccines that are available, so that’s a very positive sign.

Although it’s mostly closed, VC will be able to start some of the daytime classes this week, classes that are restricted to adults that have been vaccinated. These are mostly scholarship programs and government or military classes. The administration is sending a proposal to let the school start evening classes next week with the stipulation that only adults who have been vaccinated will be allowed to attend. Here’s hoping this entirely-reasonable proposal will be accepted. Because our younger students can’t yet be vaccinated, they will be excluded from classes for the time being. The school has also begun training teachers in conducting online classes, in case we’re put into a rigorous lockdown later on. So, adult students who sign up now will still be able to have classes without worrying about being forced to stop, even if face-to-face classes wouldn’t be possible.

A big shout out to the administration; they’re continuing to pay teachers for June even though we’ve not been working, and it’s been indicated that we might get paid for July also, even if we’re still kept from teaching. Beyond then, I’m sure that if we’re not able to open, there will come a point at which the school will be unable to pay us. I’m prepared for that eventuality. This lockdown is starting to get boring, so I hope I can start teaching again soon.

Good News Day

This is actually from my journal of May 31, so it’s a bit old.

It was a pretty good day. First, I went to my doctor to renew my high blood pressure meds, and he told me that they had a new test that checks for the presence of blood clots, so I took it. They took a blood sample, ran the test and reported that the results were good-no clots. Hurray! That’s something I worry about because I have a bad case of varicose veins, but he said they shouldn’t be a problem because of the anti-coagulant I’m taking for the blood pressure protects against blood clots.

As a side note on visiting the doctor’s office, the attendant always weighs me. I’m down to about 163 pounds (74 kg), down 5 pounds from a couple of months ago. Awesome!

I’ve had it in mind to look at buying a smartphone, my very first one. I took a survey from Vientiane College (where I work) that wanted some information about conducting online classes if we get shutdown in the future because of a lockdown due to covid concerns. We’re closed right now until June 21st (hopefully, it doesn’t get extended). Some of the questions concerned phone apps, like What’s App. I don’t really have a good phone; I’ve got my old Lenovo tablet, which is basically good only for reading on the Kindle app. It’s pretty lousy for anything else, so after seeing the doc, I thought I’d go to one of the big Samsung stores and look at the phone I had in mind, a mid-priced Galaxy A52, which seemed to check all the boxes as far as what I was looking for in a phone. So, I was just going to look, right? Well, I don’t have to look anymore-I bought it. $412. I’ve never had a REAL smartphone before, so I’ll be having fun with this for a while.

This, from today’s events, June 8th. The number of cases of covid in Vientiane has been dropping steadily, down to just a few or only one for the last couple of days. Today there were only two found in the city and none found throughout the rest of Laos. That’s great news, of course, and hopefully we’ll be able to open school on the 21st, as planned. More later.

Digital Art–Taekwando Nightmare Dream

Vientiane lockdown has been extended for another few weeks, up to June 4th. At the rate people are still showing up with the covid virus, this lockdown will never end, it seems. The school is scheduled to open on June 10th, and I certainly hope that happens. The administration was kind enough to pay everyone for the month of May, though we didn’t do any work, but if the same lack of work extends far into June and beyond, I’m fearful that there won’t be any income for a while. Got my fingers crossed.

So, what to do with all this time off? Create some more digital art, of course. Here’s one I’m calling “Taekwando Nightmare Dream.” I was originally just going to practice creating displacement effects in Photoshop, but my Muse had other ideas. All the photos are mine, except for the fellow delivering the flying kick on the right side, which I got from Pixabay; they were taken when I worked in Andong, South Korea way back in 2005, and they’re photos from a phys. ed. student demonstration, except for the photo at the upper left. That’s one I took of my former taekwando master showing off. I added some textures and a few other bits and pieces. Enjoy.

digital art

Vientiane Still in Lockdown

Yes, we’re still on lockdown until at least May 20th, but the way things are going it’s going to last longer than that. Though Vientiane had only one case yesterday, we jumped to 14 today; way too many for the city to end the lockdown any time soon. So, if it goes on, there will be no school re-opening any time soon, so no pay, either. Gotta watch my expenditures!

Haven’t been doing a lot with artwork lately, though I have been keeping up with tutorials. I’d also like to learn how to draw, so I found a couple of free websites that look very interesting–Draw a Box and Ctrl+Paint. I’ll have to give one or both of them a try.

I messed around a bit with painting ideas in Photoshop and Topaz Labs this morning and came up with this, made from a photo taken in my favorite place on earth, Glacier National Park in Montana. Enjoy. More later.

glacier national park

Saint Mary Lake, Glacier National Park

Vientiane in Lockdown

The Laos government has been doing a great job of keeping the covid virus out of the country, with only a few dozen total cases and none, really, for the past several months. That all changed a few days ago when a couple of fools decided to cross into Thailand illegally and cross back into Laos, again illegally. One lady went into Thailand just for cosmetic surgery, according to accounts. Another lady crossed the border to visit some friends and then brought them back into Laos with her. Unfortunately, those people all had the virus and were in contact with many other people here in Laos. The second lady was also, again unfortunately, a student at Vientiane College. After crossing the border, she came into the final class of the term on April 9th and was there for about an hour. Luckily, the other students and the teacher in that class tested negative for the virus, but the school spent a lot of time and money having the entire complex disinfected. Classes were supposed to resume on May 5th, but that date has been pushed back until at least May 10th. If the situation worsens, we could be under lockdown for much longer than that.

Due to the actions of these people, Vientiane and much of Laos is under lockdown until at least May 5th. After months of no one getting infected with the virus, there have been over the last three days 28, 65 and, yesterday, 88 people testing positive for the virus. People are supposed to stay at their homes, not go out except to buy food, and work from home, if possible. There are other restrictions and there is a large police presence on all the major roads to ensure that the rules are enforced. I think they are mainly out to check temperatures to find any one who might have the virus. I was thinking about trying to go to a market in the city, but I might wait a few days. I went out jogging this morning, and there were some Army guys setting up a roadblock in the small village that I jog through (I wear a mask), something that wasn’t done in last year’s lockdown. Of course, all restaurants (except for take out or delivery), karaokes, bars, etc., are shut down.

(By the way, I’m not the only one out jogging early in the morning. There are a few other runners and quite a few bicyclists, and I think, in my opinion, this isn’t a problem. We stay away from other people and wear our masks. I see very few people out and about while I’m jogging, and those folks aren’t anywhere near me. Also, I don’t look at jogging as recreation, but as a necessary part of keeping up my health. Since I have high blood pressure, exercise is very important, even though I’m taking medication to keep my BP near normal.)

There’s much more to this and events are unfolding quickly, but if you’re interested the Laotian Times is a good source for news. The numbers seem quite minuscule compared to the US or India, but it’s relative. For Laos, these are very bad numbers. Hopefully, as more people are tested and vaccinated, those numbers will go down. Until then, well, patience is a virtue.

P.S. I was vaccinated back on April 3rd with the AstraZeneca vaccine. I’m due for my second shot on June 28th.

Morning Pages

I started something new today, doing Morning Pages as ideated by Julia Cameron. As Julia puts it:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing,
done first thing in the morning. . . [they] provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and
synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put
three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

The activity is akin to meditation (which I also do) and it’s supposed to help with clear thinking, better ideas and less anxiety (something I’m not prone to feel too much). The main reason I’m doing it is to boost my creativity, another benefit which other people have mentioned .

I usually get up around 5:15 a.m. and go jogging around 6:30. The writing takes about 30 minutes, so I can easily do it before pounding the road. The idea is to write three legal-sized pages (about 750 words) of . . . whatever. It’s stream-of-consciousness writing, so whatever you feel like putting on paper, do it. I’m the only one who’s going to read it, and after I finished writing this morning, I crumpled up the paper, without reading what I wrote, and tossed it into the trash. (That’s one of the suggestions, not to read what you write until you’ve been doing the practice for a while.) Then, keep doing it every day.

I’m going to give this a try for a length of time. How long, I don’t know. Some people have been doing it for years and swear by it, saying they can’t start the day without doing their morning pages. So, hopefully this helps my “muse.” I’ll let you know what happens. More later.

My Now Page

If you look at the top menu, you’ll see a new page up there called Now. What is a Now page? The idea for it comes from Derek Sivers. The page lists things that I might be up to right at this point in my life, like what music I’m listening to, what books I’m reading, etc. “But, can’t you do that on social media?” you might ask. No, you can’t. Here’s how Sivers explains it on his about Now page:

What is a “now page”?

Most websites have a link that says “about”. It goes to a page that tells you something about the background of this person or business. For short, people just call it an “about page”.

Most websites have a link that says “contact”. It goes to a page that tells you how to contact this person or business. For short, people just call it a “contact page”.

So a website with a link that says “now” goes to a page that tells you what this person is focused on at this point in their life. For short, we call it a “now page”.

See examples by browsing nownownow.com.

Although it’s normal to make the web address “/now”, just like it’s usually “/about” and “/contact” in those other examples, the URL could be anything.

Don’t Twitter and Facebook updates do that?

No. If I wonder how someone is doing these days, it doesn’t help me to see that they went on vacation last week, are upset about something in the news, or even got a new job. That’s not the big picture.

Think of what you’d tell a friend you hadn’t seen in a year.

Like, “Still living in Dallas, though considering moving to Austin. Working at ABC. Really getting into cycling. The kids are age 3 and 6. I’m reading a lot of Pema Chödrön, and listening to a lot of jazz piano especially Brad Mehldau. I’ve stopped taking on web design clients, since I’d rather keep improving my back-end database work.”

That’s what a now page is for. You can’t get that big picture from any other outlets I’m aware of.

I’ll try to keep my Now page updated either every couple of weeks or perhaps only once a month, depending on what I’m up to. Check it out, if you want.

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