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Ready for My Close-Up: Better Online Meetings

I confess, I am not “camera-ready” and I completely understand why many of my students prefer blocking their video feed during regular online sessions. However, in general, seeing the other person does make life online less tedious and more social. And these tips may also make things a bit more tolerable.
Prologue: Before You Begin
1. Have all attendee’s phone numbers available.

2. Have your smartphone or iPad available. Text, phone or FaceTime can be a quick backup if the internet disconnects.

3. Share a GoogleDocs file with all attendees. Not only will these notes document the session, but everyone can view them separate from Zoom if the Zoom video resolution is not high enough or if the internet disconnects.

4. Before booking your Zoom online meeting, check that all attendees have the proper technology and internet bandwidth during the session. If several people in the house are also making online video calls, and Netflix streaming, and playing computer games, well…chaos ensues.
A Clean, Well-Lighted and Quiet Place
1. Find a quiet place with no distractions, preferably with a door to shut out other household noises. Barking dogs, screaming siblings, parents washing the dishes or vacuuming the house are quite loud, even from across a large room.
2. Avoid eating and moving excessively when on a video call. If you must, do so with the mute button on. The microphone amplifies noises next to it such as shuffling papers, clicking pens and clinking coffee cups.
3. Keep your background tidy. Remember, we can see everything right behind you. Find a room with a simple background, like a blank wall or uncluttered bookcase instead of your unmade bed or posters with scantily-clad women. Consider draping a light colored sheet over your background if needed. Or switch up your digital backgrounds using the Zoom settings.
Can You Hear Me?
1. Use a good quality headset with a microphone, like iPhone ear buds. Do not rely on the internal laptop or computer mic as these are often poor quality and sensitive to changes in distance. If you wear a mic, you don’t have to worry that your audio will drop off every time you lean back in your chair. Nothing makes an online meeting more tiresome than poor audio quality.
2. Learn how to quickly mute and unmute yourself. Post a note (out of camera view) to remind yourself to mute or unmute. In Zoom, The Push to Talk feature allows you to mute the meeting while holding down the space bar which allows you to quickly unmute and talk. Remember, if you forget to mute yourself, everyone else can hear you drinking, chewing or yelling.

Ready for My Close-Up

1. Arrange the laptop or computer camera at eye level. A low camera angle is the most unflattering. No one wants to see a close-up of your nasal cavities or the inside of your mouth.

2. Look directly into the camera pin-hole lens and not into your screen where the other attendees are displayed. By looking directly into the camera, you will make eye contact with everyone else.
3. Check your hair and clothes in a mirror prior to an online meeting, especially for professional settings. Wear dark, solid color tops and avoid narrow stripes, busy patterns and neon colors. Wearing appropriate pants are suggested. If you forget to wear pants, remember not to stand up in front of the camera (unless this is part of your business model).
4. Check your online video conference appearance by Zooming a friend to make sure your camera angle, lighting and background are fine. This is especially important for professional meetings. You don’t want weird fluorescent lighting or a lamp pole jutting from the top of your head to ruin your on-camera moment.

650 words

2 min clip Singing in the Rain.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OTFCctdiS04

35 sec video, Norma Desmond, finale of Sunset Boulevard. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIcC8YJrevQ

The Hardest Thing to Write

Many of you know me as a writing teacher, but I am also a mother of three children. My youngest child, Gregory Lazich, recently died on May 14, 2019, after a four-year struggle with cancer. He was just seventeen.
Below are my two different obituaries for him. This is the hardest thing to write as a mother. If you did not know him, I hope these words will give you a glimpse of what he was like and what his family and friends have lost.

Obituary #1
Gregory Tsay Lazich

 

Obituary #2

Gregory Tsay Lazich

October 12, 2001-May 14, 2089

Mr. Gregory Tsay Lazich of Menlo Park, California passed away May 14, 2089 at the ripe old age of 87 after a long and happy life filled with family and friends.

Gregory was born to parents Michael Lazich and Jennifer Tsay on October 12, 2001 in Palo Alto, CA. The youngest of three children, he attended Adelante Spanish Immersion School, Hillview Middle School and Sequoia High School. In high school, he played clarinet in Jazz Band, was a member of the robotics team and played right field on JV and Varsity Baseball.

E-sports was Greg’s true calling and by 2017 he was ranked in the top 100 of the North American League of Legends players. UC Irvine gave him an e-sports scholarship but after his freshman year, Greg stopped out and became a professional gamer.

In his twenties, he played on the North American Team Solo Mid and participated in the 2021 World Championships held in Seoul. He eventually fulfilled his lifelong dream when the top South Korean team SKT recruited him, nicknaming him “Young Faker.”

In 2024, Greg returned to UC Irvine earning his degree in computer science. In 2028, he played on the first US Olympic e-sports team at the Los Angeles Summer Games. E-gaming allowed him to travel the world and he visited South Korea, China, Singapore, Malaysia and Spain.

Although repetitive stress injuries forced him to retire by the age of 30, Greg continued his love of e-gaming by working at Riot Games and later Tencent. He also co-founded Sriracha Games, later acquired by Amazon-Disney and was able to retire by age 45.

In 2030, Greg married Heidi Turner. They had three children and divorced amicably in 2050. In his sixties, he met the love of his life, Sheila Broflovski, at the bar mitzvah of his grand-nephew. Greg and Sheila got married and honeymooned on Artemis, the first lunar city. His family and friends attended services via the Tesla self-driving rocketship and spent two memorable weeks at the Elon Musk Dark Side of the Moon Suites.

Greg is survived by his widow Sheila, his daughters Aubrey (Tyler), Lesley (Daniel) and Kenny; his stepchildren, Dwight, Angela, and Jim; his sister Ariana; four grandchildren, his nephews Devin and Jason and his niece Aiyana.

He is preceded in death by his first wife, Heidi Turner, his parents, Michael and Jennifer and his brother, Alexander.
__________________________________________________________

That is the story Greg’s family wishes could be told. But cancer stole away his story, both his present one and his future one.

In June 2015, Greg was diagnosed with Stage IV Alveolar Rhabdomyosarcoma (ARMS), a rare, aggressive, stem cell muscle cancer. He had just graduated from Hillview Middle School. The average lifespan of ARMS patients is 4 years from diagnosis and Greg survived 3 years and 11 months.

For 47 months, Greg stoically endured chemotherapy, radiation, relapses and surgeries. He also participated in clinical trials and one compassionate use of an experimental combination drug therapy. During his brief remissions, he was able to attend some of his sophomore and junior years of high school and travel to Disney World and Hawaii. He even managed to rank in the top 100 of the North American League of Legends players in 2017.

The family thanks the doctors and nurses at Kaiser Pediatric Oncology and Kaiser Hospice. We are also grateful for the researchers at CC-TDI who have dedicated their careers to finding treatments for rare childhood cancers like Greg’s.

Please join our Celebration of Greg’s Life, Sunday June 30th from 2-6pm at the Redwood City Women’s Club, 149 Clinton Street. Greg’s favorite foods will be served from 2:30-5:30pm. A short program will start at 3:00pm. Come anytime to share memories of Greg. RSVPs appreciated but not required. Casual dress. Please wear his favorite color blue.

Instead of flowers, Greg’s family requests donations to:

  1. Children’s Cancer Therapy Development Institute (CC-TDI): https://consano.org/projects/gear-up/
  2. Tyler’s Grace Foundation: http://tylersgracefoundation.org/waystohelp/

 

Now Hear This! Podcasts for Summer Listening

Summer is almost here and what better place to listen to podcasts than on a long car or plane trip. As a kid, I remember listening to old radio broadcasts like the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. The voice actors and sound effects would let my 10 year-old imagination run wild but not be as frightened as actually watching a horror movie. And now with a smartphone, your kid can listen to a podcast and play Two Dots or Candy Crush at the same time.

Below, I’ve listed a few of my favorite podcasts in alphabetical order including links and suggested age ranges. Parents and teachers may want to listen to these episodes beforehand, especially for younger children. You can also find these in your podcast app.

I sometimes play various clips for my students as examples of the power of story and as a way to experience oral storytelling which precedes writing and film. By middle school, many classrooms no longer listen to stories read out loud even though listening to stories improves reading and writing by bolstering vocabulary, articulation and sequencing.

So, this summer, plug in a podcast and encourage your kids to listen to a story. They will be enriched while being entertained.

  1.  More Perfect. Ages 12 and up.

Jad Abumrad of the podcast RadioLab (also a recommended podcast) started this series based on the US Constitution and its Amendments. This series is a must-listen for high school students studying government and a terrific refresher on what makes the US Constitution and the American experiment so unique. In addition to teaching about the specific amendments, Abumrad, a creative writing and music major from Oberlin, recruited various singer-songwriters and bands to write and record songs inspired by a specific amendment. It’s like Schoolhouse Rock with an indie-pop vibe.

  1. Serial. Season One. Ages 13 and up.

I binge-listened to the first season where intrepid reporter Sarah Koenig investigates the 1999 murder of high school student Hae Min Lee. Did her boyfriend 17 year-old Adnan Syed kill her? What Sarah finds results in more legal wranglings over whether Syed deserves a new trial because his defense and the state’s prosecution botched things up. Season One of Serial was the first podcast to win a Peabody Award for reporting.

  1. Spooked. Ages 8 and up, depending on the story. Some stories are more appropriate for older kids.

Glynn Washington is the host and producer of another podcast called Snap Judgment, an edgier version of This American Life. Every Halloween, Snap Judgment devotes an episode to supernatural tales and Washington has now posted these in his separate podcast Spooked. Among my favorites is “My Special Friend.” Baywatch actress Donna D-Errico tells her childhood encounter with a lonely girl from beyond.

  1. This American Life. Ages 10 and up.

First aired in 1995, this radio show started the genre of narrative journalism by choosing a theme for each episode illustrated by personal stories. It also launched the careers of writer David Sedaris and humorist Mike Birbiglia. Host and producer Ira Glass has expanded This American Life into TV and film, but audio, whether via radio or podcast, still seems best suited to present these quirky, personal stories.

Bonus link: CBS Mystery Theater hosted by EG Marshall. Ages 8 and up, depending on the story. Some stories are more appropriate for older kids. For parents and teachers, this website has an index of famous short stories and novels adapted as radio plays.