Of Mondays past, by Mike Lang
Bleary-eyed, I climbed the stairs leading up to the third floor on my way to the first grad blog meeting of the semester. “Hi Rob, ready for the new semester?” I muttered, passing by his office. “Gotta be,” he replied. Ain’t that the Truth. After a winter break where the only part of morning I had really experienced was the ‘midnight to 4 am’ part, Monday at 9 o’clock hurt.
I opened the door to Harmeet’s office to the sound of water boiling merrily in the electric kettle next to the computer. A plate of City Bakery croissants, a stack of napkins, and three coffee mugs adorned with ornate blue elephants on matching coasters sat neatly on the desk. Without thinking, I sat down in the chair farthest from the door and took off my coat. Settling in as Harmeet filled me in on his break, I reached into the yellow box of spicy herb tea which customarily cuts through my Monday-morning brain fog and spotted the variety tea tin where the French press loaded with freshly ground coffee beans normally abides. The first blog meeting without Nicky, and already the tea touters had turned the tide. Without Nicky to uphold the old guard’s preference for coffee, the French press was tucked away in some lonely spot. I guess a few subtle changes are inevitable.
Ken entered the office and took the seat to my right. Well aware I could no longer rely on Nicky’s notes for meeting minutes, I pulled out my tablet. I’ve never been self-conscious about my note taking before, but after witnessing a semester of Nicky’s notes, the kind of notes featured in commercials for office supply stores as the exemplar of how a notebook can change your life, I was a little worried. However, the worry extended beyond just note taking. Nicky has always been the model of organized efficiency. Once we needed to reschedule the blog meeting so Nicky could attend a conference. We moved the meeting from 9am to 8am, and when we concluded Nicky had 15 minutes before departure. Never wasting a minute she bounced over to the grad lab and managed to post the write-up for that week’s brown bag. I often think that she is pretending to be human.
Like most Monday meetings, the discussion began with the upcoming blog post. Ken looked to me the same way I had looked to Nicky in August, when I first started on the blog team. Ideas normally flow quickly and naturally, but finding the right story and the right angle takes some time. In prior semesters, Katie and Nicky tirelessly worked on establishing the blog’s mission and style. In a department as big and diverse as ours, the range of research interests and sheer number of people make it difficult to have close relationships with everyone. The blog seeks to remedy that fragmentation. As Nicky says, the blog facilitates conversation. It gives folks in the department something to talk about other than the weather. As such, the goal of the blog has been to capture the department’s human side, to create a space for individuals to share stories about themselves as human beings. When talking about how to approach a story, or illustrate a point, the terms “texture” and “layers” tend to work their way into conversation frequently.
After a semester on the blog, I can attest to the extra sense of dedication Nicky would often allude to when talking about her blog work. A few tweaks here or there can make an opening shine; a well-placed joke can bring a story to life. Most importantly, the stories we tell aren’t our own. They belong to you. We are honored to hear them and even more honored that you trust us to retell them.
With our blog post in mind, Ken and I gathered our coats, drained the remainder of our tea, and bid adieu to Harmeet. What better way to go forward, than to honor those who came before.
Looking back and thinking ahead, by Ken Rosenberg
Starting from the ground up can be intimidating, but continuing a legacy is perhaps even more frightening. Maintaining enthusiasm isn’t too difficult, but neither is dashing a reputation. Limitless, yet precarious – such is the dualism of change and potential. The future of the blog now rests on slightly different shoulders. Bereft of its founders, how will it continue? As Santayana famously stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (not a bad thing, in case of our blog). Before I could remember, though, I needed to learn about the past iterations of the blog. Meeting at Soma (pictured above), we four bloggers (Katie, Nicky, Mike, and myself) decided to turn anecdotes into canon.
The blog has a relatively short history. But, for those two who forged this now-integral face of the Telecom department, the past two years have been monumental.
“I don’t think that even Harmeet could have seen what the blog would become,” Nicky said. “It’s ‘warm fuzzies,’” she remarked, grinning. Many weeks, long after the ten allotted hours had been spent on scheduling interviews and shooting video, Nicky found herself making final last-minute touch-ups. “That’s when the blog went from a job to being a joy.”
Katie recalled her feverish checking of WordPress over lunches on Mondays, the refresh button of the browser being pummeled into answering her request for the most current data on viewer hits (Most of the views show up on the blog metrics on the first afternoon after the publication of a new post). The blog’s viewship numbers have been climbing. They increased from “7 full 747s” in Fall 2010, when the blog started, to “7 NYC subway trains” in 2011. These amusing WordPress metrics translate into 12,500+ views over the life of the blog. For a student-run, part-time endeavor, that’s quite an accomplishment.
In the very beginning, though, it was difficult to envision any such accomplishment. As the theory of evolution explains, survival is one of the first objectives for any burgeoning form. The first assignment for Katie and Nicky was the 2010 graduate student orientation. In those very early days, “stayin’ alive” was more than a catchy disco tune – it was a thematic overtone for the overwhelmed bloggers. Every activity was mentioned, every session covered. In one week, they shot five videos in an attempt to provide, as Nicky put it, a “grand introduction to the department.”
“Orientation was hell,” Nicky recalled. Before the first class session – and well before any of their colleagues stepped into the classroom as AIs – she had put in more than twenty hours, most of them spent shooting and editing video. “The blog was very video-heavy in those days,” Nicky said. Even after that week, the issue of video recording plagued both her and, more broadly, the image of the blog. “I was carrying around that camera everywhere, and that was scaring some of the faculty,” Nicky said. “They weren’t pleased about being on video.”
“They didn’t want us to get up in their faces about it,” Katie said. Touring offices was one thing, but the invasive lens of a video camera proved disconcerting for some faculty members. Still, it was the stories from the faculty that sustained the blog for its fledgling posts, with a 3:1 ratio of coverage for faculty versus students. And, after some time, the faculty became the blog’s biggest supporters. “I claim a personal victory with Annie,” Nicky playfully touted. “In terms of the blog, we warmed her soul.”
Nicky and Katie worried that they were losing a balanced focus on the department, so they began to make more of an effort to contact students. Another topical boon was the department’s athletic troupe; the blogging duo lost count of the number of times they covered Telecom soccer team. Fortunately, talking to the team led them to more stories, like Matt Falk’s unique socks. While Faulk was the first student to make it into the annals of the blog, the honorific title of “student most covered” belongs to Travis Ross. “We must have covered him about ten times,” Katie said.
Video coverage declined, faculty enthusiasm rose, and a tone has been set; most obstacles have been surmounted. The reality is that as long as the blog’s staff roster remains fluid, some problems will never disappear completely. Take Katie’s assessment of the publishing tool: “For awhile, WordPress was the bane of my existence.” Then there were troubles recording the discussions at T600, the “brown bag” seminar hosted on Fridays. Equipment failed, and was replaced. Programs were learned; files were converted. And, at the end of an endlessly long Friday, Katie, devoid of both frustration and elation, recalled being filled merely with resolute satisfaction: “I did it. I saved the blog.”
With a newly-promoted leader and a brand-new partner, there is a renewed possibility of technical malfunction and human error. Fingers crossed, we will avoid repeating those tumultuous parts of history. But, with just as much hope (and even more fervor), there is a great bit of the blog’s character that should be persevered. While the names have changed and the tone will undoubtedly shift, the underlying motivation to contribute remains the same. “The little emails you get, the letter from the faculty, the thank-yous from students,” Nicky began . . . Katie continued, “people coming up to you and saying (now both, in unison) ‘That was really funny!'” They looked at each other and smiled. More than anything else, this seems to be the biggest reason that three –make that four – students agreed to wake up so early every Monday.
A Special Thanks, from Mike
We would like to extend our big thanks to Nicky and Katie for all their hard work. Their effort and determination laid the path that we now walk. I would personally like to thank Nicky for showing me the way. From tips and tricks, tutorials, calm answers to panicked emails, and the most incredible work ethic and sense of organization I’ve ever witnessed, she has made my blogging experience infinitely more manageable and enjoyable. I’ll do my best to pick up the slack left in her absence, but hers are big shoes to fill. If nothing else, I hope she enjoys the extra sleep on Monday mornings.
However, as students come and go, the blog machine continues to churn. Ken and I will do our very best to provide you with the quirky lunch break fare you have grown accustomed too. We’ll try to reign in the sports, video games, and beer talk but we can’t make too many promises. Left in the hands of two nerds without a female presence the blog is a slippery slope away from Wayne’s World. We’ll make sure to get as much mileage out of Nicky and Katie’s hard work as we can before going down in flames. In all seriousness though, we appreciate your readership and look forward to providing you with another semesters worth of water cooler talk of the Telecom kind. Thank you for indulging our self-indulgence. We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.