Connected then/today

I had an interesting conversation with my wife yesterday.

Remember when our high school was closed for that big winter storm? How did we know when we could go back?

My mind went down a rabbit hole trying to think of the answer. After all, we didn’t have that interwebthingy back in the day. A big snow storm hit our small community – today we’d be getting reports about lake effect snow or something – and so the first thing that you’d do, as a kid, would be to wonder if the school was closed.

This was in the days before 24 hour news networks so I remember that day just walking over to the school. As it turned out, the school never actually closed. They just didn’t run the buses. There was an attempt to run classes – why, oh why, didn’t I stay home? – but with less than a third of class in attendance, not much happened. Some teachers weren’t there and so classes were combined to make sure that we were supervised. It was like “just in time” multi-level classes.

In fact, after lunch, the school was invited to the gym where all the phys ed classes had been doing square dancing pre-storm and we just danced. At the end of the day, we just walked home while the storm continued. School was kind of off and on during the next week with no buses running. We used the opportunity to snowmobile to school and come and go at will.

The thing that still sticks with me is that so many of us actually went to the school building and I can only attribute it to a need for a sense of community and to be connected with friends. I feel badly now not paying attention to what the teachers were doing. I know that some of them didn’t make the commute from London as Highway 4 can be brutal during a storm. After a week or so, the roads got ploughed and we were back in the business of education. And, we kind of became proficient at square dancing which had previously drawn lots of groans from us.

Fast forward to today and the sense of community takes a different turn. There is a bit of “hi, how are you” when grocery shopping but that’s the total of the interactions. There’s a sense of urgency to get in, get your stuff, and get out. There are lots more waves to neighbours and people driving by but that’s about it.

A big difference lies in the interwebthingy. I had some concerns going into this because, as you know, internet access is pretty rough here. This morning’s test.

But it’s working surprisingly well.

And we have so many options and, depending upon who we’re connecting to, the options are put to use.

Google Hangouts

This has been pretty much the default for checking in with family. We all have Android phones so it’s just natural. It’s been an incredible way to remain in touch.


My wife wanted to connect with her sister who had never used Google Hangouts – no gmail account – so they wanted to Facetime. But you need Macs on both ends so Skype was the breakthrough technology for them.


Until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t heard of this but it’s now a popular choice. I’ve been attending a university Computer Science Department meeting on Fridays for a refreshment with friends. In addition, a group of us that would normally socialize at CSTA events are getting together to catch up. Technology knows no borders. Canada – United States – Honduras


I’ve had a couple of calls with friends using the Facebook technology. It excels when you’re having a back and forth text chat-a-thon and realize that you’re just a click away from a conversation with a real person.


This superlative conferencing environment also lets you make “phone” calls. The same concept, microphone and camera, work just as well there.


This is the tool that I use to connect with Stephen Hurley for the Wednesday This Week in Ontario Edublogs show. It currently only does audio but Stephen claims that video is on the way. But, for a radio show and podcasting tool, it’s awesome. I even was interviewed by Beth Lyons for an upcoming podcast and Zencastr was the tool.


At the bottom of the list is the old reliable technology from days gone by! I didn’t know whether to list it first or last but it seems to fit in nicely last. It’s a communication technology without a camera. It’s surprising how just that one feature drops it to last.

Every morning, I like to take some time to sit back and read the news and technology stories. A day doesn’t go by where there isn’t an article comparing one of the video conferencing tools to another. We’ve all seen how Zoom has had kind of a rough go recently. Now, Google is making Meet available to every one and there are people now comparing Hangouts to Meet.

In these comparisons, there might be some obscure feature on one that isn’t on another. I’ve lost interest in reading those stories.

From my perspective, they’ve all performed admirably even with my slow connections. They all have a “free” level and they’ve all done wonderful jobs and have helped to make the connections with others a reality.

Since we’re not getting out much any more, they’ve been a wonderful way to remain connected to those things that matter.

I know that there are the devotees and fan people that will only use one service. I’ve been going with the flow and the tool matters so much less than the satisfaction of making the connection and subsequent conversation.

Author: dougpete

The content of this blog is generated by whatever strikes my fancy at any given point. It might be computers, weather, political, or something else in nature. I experiment and comment a lot on things so don't take anything here too seriously; I might change my mind a day later but what you read is my thought and opinion at the time I wrote it! My personal website is at: Follow me on Twitter: I'm bookmarking things at:

4 thoughts on “Connected then/today”

  1. Good morning Doug!

    I know I’ve written before about the sounds that came from the kitchen when I was a kid waking up. My dad’s morning routine had a number of audible signals that were almost like a countdown timer to the morning “rise and shine” breakfast call: the sound of filling the kettle, his footsteps to the bathroom, his razor tapping on the sink, his footsteps back to the kitchen, and the morning radio.

    If I was still dozing, it was normally the morning radio that would finally get me, and then the morning breakfast call would come shortly thereafter. However, if the radio announcer mentioned that there would be bus cancellations coming up, the pending call to breakfast would sometimes be delayed. On those mornings, the radio took on a completely different importance for me. Back then, the announcer could go on for perhaps a good five minutes reading off all of the different bus numbers associated with the different schools within the radio’s broadcast area.

    If it was a short list, then it was unlikely that my bus would be canceled. If the announcer sounded like he was settling in for the long read, however, the chances were quite good. Once in a while the announcer would take a pause before beginning, and then almost dramatically (it was certainly dramatic to me) would announce that “all buses,…“ and by the time he got the word “cancelled,” I knew that the day was going to be different from the norm.

    Once I started teaching, but before the Internet became a thing, it was the television and the weather screen on the local cable company that became part of our morning routine. If the blue weather screen had a big chunk of red on it, then that meant the weather was problematic and that would then precipitate a check with the local radio station. In my early years I tended to teach at rural schools, where bus cancellations meant we had more time to spend with the kids that did arrive, and combined classes in the gym would invariably get organized partway through the day. For the latter part of my career, I taught in town where the kids either walked to school themselves or were walked to school by their parents, and so we were normally able to carry-on pretty much as usual.

    In this new pandemic-shaded (and classroom-retired) world, I use the cable company for my Internet, but no cable TV. I tend to start my day oblivious to major weather and bus cancellations. I look out the window to see what the day is like (the sun just came up, it looks like a nice one), and listen to the CBC News The World at Six to find out how the day has been for the rest of the world.

    In between the sunrise and the 6 o’clock news, however, it is the likes of Zoom, Slack, Meet, Teams, (Calendar), and some email that keep me connected. Hopping in and out of various conferencing platforms certainly keeps me on my toes in terms of making sure my microphone settings are correct. Ending one call so that I can connect to the next one can make for a very busy day. I’m still working at giving myself a five-minute breather in between. Maybe that’s why I have a Pomodoro timer sitting on my desk?

    Once in a while (very infrequently) I use my phone as a phone. It’s been 13 years since Steve Jobs announced the first iPhone, and although the function of a phone is still there, more than 95% of the time I don’t use it as a phone. The breakthrough Internet communications device is truly what the iPhone has become. Making phone calls with is just one of its many capabilities — something that happens once in a blue moon.

    Staying connected in these very unique times is so important, and it is wonderful to know that we have so many options to call upon when the need arises. In this day and age, there really is no excuse for a breakdown in communications when it is so easy to call upon any of these tools — Email, Twitter, phone, Slack, Zoom, Meet, Teams, Facebook, … the options are there.


  2. I first started teaching in 2000 in a place that didn’t get much snow. We had a “snow tree” – the principal called 2 people, they each called 2 more, and so on. Snow days were also announced on the TV and radio.


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