Site Update: Course Syllabi and Assignments Added Under Teaching Section

Over the weekend, I added new pages under the Teaching menu option for the courses that I have taught, am teaching, and will teach. Each course page includes descriptions, syllabi, and assignments arranged chronologically by school:

If any of these materials might be useful to your course and assignment design, please feel free to adopt or modify as needed.

While assembling these pages, I discovered that some assignments and supporting materials were missing. Of course, it is best pedagogical practice to reflect and archive these kinds of materials for reference, improvement, and growth.

Living in the Present with Vintage Computers, and Reading the Past as a Netrunner: On Reading William Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties

Having just finished William Gibson’s All Tomorrow’s Parties (1999) and thus concluding his Bridge Trilogy, I cannot say with anything resembling certainty that I have read or not read these novels before. As I said when I began writing a few notes on my blog about Virtual Light and Idoru, I have a creepy feeling of having been in these novels before, of having read them sometime and some place. If I have encountered these novels directly before, the memory source for those encounters is locked away in some inaccessible part of my memory. Anyways, if I did read them before and there should be some memory, I am hopeful that it is still there and simply inaccessible to my mind’s eye in the present and not eradicated by some biological injury.

Despite my memory’s misgivings and uncertainty, I can certainly say that I enjoyed this vision of the future/present/near past illustrated in the fast and sharp language Gibson lays down in these three novels. In All Tomorrow’s Parties, we experience Laney’s virtuosity as a netrunner who builds alliances/buys alliances that out maneuvers the 0.001%er Harwood. Laney’s ability as a psychopharmacologically enhanced cyborg who can see the flows of data, understands what we have all just recently learned about the power of metadata, and seizes the accreting eddies and currents of information, narrative, and inevitability leading to something bigger, powerful, and otherwise unseen–an undertow of history.

Laney as netrunner seems an analog of what we have all become in one way or another. We manage our flows of information with RSS feed aggregators, news readers, the Facebook wall, the Twitter feed, the timeline, hashtags, tagging, Friend lists, Google+ Circles, subscriptions, etc. Before all of this, there was talk in the magazines about creating intelligent agents–small programs that would scour the Internet for the information and news that we would like to learn more about (perhaps through keywords and other coded instructions)–that helped manage what we read and saw while also managing our precious pre-broadband bandwidth.

It is worth noting that in both cases, watching the firehose of feed data now or harvesting news bits with intelligent agents, all data written by someone for the info consumption of others is a practice of historic preservation, archivization, observing what has come before. Taken one step further, none of us experience the present due to our biological senses and cognition systems that delay our experiencing the world beyond ourselves. Thus, the netrunner (and ourselves as modern netizens) are a further step away–observer experiences, reports multimodally over the Internet, we experience the multimodal report. To go further on this point or digress on the transformation of these experiences by the media and modal channels involved would likely cover several volumes, so I will end the digression here.

There are times when I feel like Laney must have felt in his dank cardboard hovel in the Japanese train station. Surrounded by his own filth and barely holding on to life with a ritual of cough syrup and sugars to keep his body barely operational but well enough that he could remain plugged into the data feed via his VR eye goggles. Trying to keep up what is going on in the world, going on with family and friends, going on professionally via the numerous and multiplying channels of social and broadcast media is daunting. It is a burden–a heavy one at that. Any attempt that I make at streamlining, modulating, organizing, and taming these never ceasing feeds of information makes me feel overwhelmed, lacking control, and otherwise wasted. My own compulsion to try to keep up, to interact, and to communicate in kind leaves me feeling dread over joy more often than not.

At least in Laney’s case in All Tomorrow’s Parties, he is working toward a goal of swinging the nodal point away from Harwood and towards something different, perhaps altruistic and thus the many Rei Toei’s are born of nanotech assemblers in the many Lucky Dragon establishments.

Another interesting image for me and my work as a researcher of our shared digital culture is the Bad Sector shop on the San Francisco side of the bridge. Chevette finds Tessa outside the Bad Sector shop working on her tiny video drone, God’s Little Toy (an increasingly ubiquitous and problematic technology today ranging from privacy violation to public safety in the air and on the ground). Later, Rydell goes to the Bad Sector to obtain two cables for Rei Toei’s holographic projector. Inside the Bad Sector shop, Gibson describes its Jurassic technologies–lingering on audio recording media going back to the beginning and vintage personal computers–particularly those encased in beige. Of course, the shop’s name refers to a bad sector on computer readable magnetic media–a physically unreadable or damaged location on the media platter–floppy or hard disk.

For media archivists, the bad sector is like a burned or rotted page in an ancient manuscript. There is the possibility that the data might exist copied by the manipulations of digital technology far more quickly than that by a human scribe, but if no copy or backup exists, the bad sector–depending on the type of magnetic media, its data density, etc–could leave some information permanently inaccessible. Although, I can imagine a bad sector can, in some very particular circumstances, tell us things about how technology-as-culture was developed and continues to develop (the physicality of drive mechanisms, error correction algorithms, the application of scientific principles to avoid physical destruction of the drive media, the deformities or problems with a given writer’s computer setup, how that writer’s computer influenced the development of cultural works–lost drafts, overwritten work, etc.). So, the bad sector can be seen as a loss on the one hand and potentially a gain for understanding on the other.

My office at City Tech (and the previous labs of vintage computer that I have built up, sold off, donated over the years beginning at my childhood home in Brunswick, GA, my flea market booth at Duke’s Y’all Come Flea Market in Darien, GA, my home in Norcross, GA, the Special Collections of Georgia Tech’s Library Archives, and now my college in Brooklyn, NY) is kind of like the Bad Sector on the bridge. It is cobbled together. It is incomplete. It is bricolage. It is pieced and held together with equal parts ingenuity and duct tape. Unlike the Bad Sector in All Tomorrow’s Parties, it is mine and not something bought and sold by off-bridge investors. Like the bridge in the novel, my vintage/retro computing lab is a community effort–I get and give, others get and give. I work on it and at it to remember where we have come from and to reflect on how our past innovations inform and continue to speak to our current digital culture. I want its archive to provide testimony about who we were and who we have become as human beings and thinking organisms. It is part of my research and pedagogy.

William Gibson’s Bridge Trilogy (Virtual Light, Idoru, and All Tomorrow’s Parties) is an impressive vision. My deja vu or amnesia–depending on your point of view–about the novels might say more about how much like the present some themes and images in Gibson’s novels speak to the way things were and are in the real world.

A Note on Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown

Bruce Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown: Law and Disorder on the Electronic Frontier (1992) is a book that I should have read back when it was first published. In fact, I’m rather let down with myself that I did not know about this book back it was published at the same time that I was beginning high school and transitioning from an Amiga user to a PC/DOS enthusiast (if you can imagine such an animal).

Sterling’s journalistic account of the Hacker Crackdown of 1990 and its immediate aftermath is as enlightening as it is enjoyable to read. He chronicles the passage of the BellSouth E911 document, the targeting of the Legion of Doom, the criminal case against the publisher of Phrack magazine, the  hentanglement of Steve Jackson Games (creator of GURPS Cyberpunk), and the launch of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

Sterling had my attention from the get-go, but I was really jazzed when he writes about FLETC (Federal Law Enforcement Training Center) and my hometown, Brunswick, GA. He visited FLETC to speak with Carlton Fitzpatrick about computer crime.

Around that same time, I was delivering auto parts to the FLETC repair shop. I was out there at least every few days–virtually free to roam the facility in my Toyota pickup truck emblazoned with “Ellis Auto Parts” on its sides. Sterling might have been touring the facility when I was dropping off distributor points or a new starter.

Also, around that  time, I was learning about DOS, Windows 3.1, and PC gaming. I had a Commodore Amiga 2000, but I was the only person besides my cousins who owned an Amiga. Of course the Amiga was a more advanced and capable computer than most IBM-compatibles, but I knew many more people with PCs and PC software. So, for a time, I indulged a hobby in PC computers (at least until I discovered the Apple Macintosh SE/30 and the computing universe that represented in Mrs. Ragland’s drafting class).

Had I read this book back then, who knows what I might have done? I imagine myself taking a detour on one of my delivery missions to the auto shop–and its interior office walls emblazoned with centerfold girls–to drop in to meet Mr. Fitzpatrick. A detour taken while driving and learning a little bit more about computers and computer security could have taken my life on its own detour from where it is now.

Had I seen computers and networks as an end in themselves–more than I did building, optimizing, and fixing them–my life would have been detoured.

As it happens, my life detoured in other, unexpected, and interesting ways. At the time, I was focused on learning about plasma physics, and in my off time, the physics of consciousness. I wound up at Georgia Tech, but I quickly learned that I was better at writing about science than doing it full time. During that time, I fell in love with science fiction–especially the New Wave and cyberpunk. I studied how to make art with new media online with HTML and Adobe Flash, and for performance with video production. I worked with James Warbington on two 48-Hour Film Festivals, and I made DVDs for Poetry at Tech (Georgia Tech).

It is own weird way, the detour comes back around so that I study the relationship between computers and the human brain, science fiction and computers, and writing pedagogy and digital media.

While things have worked out remarkably well for me despite the weird turns on my life’s road, I still consider the “what ifs,” and sometimes, I try out the “what ifs” by incorporating the “what ifs” into my daily practices. One way besides creating what I tentatively call City Tech’s Retrocomputing Lab in my humble 64 sq. ft. of office space, I decided to take my enthusiasm with computers into the Linux realm. I’ve used different distros in the past on separate partitions or in virtual machines, but this time I wanted to go all-in–perhaps after getting riled up from reading Sterling’s The Hacker Crackdown, which isn’t a story about Linux, but it is in large part about the margins and despite Linux’s successes, it is still on the margins when it comes to the personal computer desktop.

To follow through on this, I took Uber rides back and forth from Microcenter in Brooklyn (my first Uber rides–necessitated by the heat more than the distance–when the weather’s nice, I enjoy walking to Microcenter from where I live). I had discovered they had a Dell XPS 12 marked down from about $1000 to $450. I purchased one, created a backup of the Windows 8 installer (yes, it had Windows 8, not 8.1 installed), and nuked-and-paved it with Ubutu 14.04 LTS Trusty Tahr (now that I’ve fixed my cursor jumping problem initially encountered by simply turning off touchpad taps/clicks, I might venture into one of the newer versions).

Of course, I am no more a hacker than I am a neurosurgeon (this latter point, my dissertation director Mack Hassler enjoyed reminding me of despite the subject matter of my neuroscience-focused literary dissertation), but I enjoy exploring, learning, and playing. Occasionally, I do hack things together. I make things–albeit, usually simple things put together with Deckmate screws and duct tape–and I would like to make things using the computer in ways that I have not really done before. Sure, I’ve taken programming classes before, but I created what I was told to make instead of what I wanted to make. This was a lack of imagination and inspiration on my part, and I do not want to continue making that mistake. So, here we go!

Retrocomputing at City Tech: Vintage Computers Organized on New Shelves

My Retrocomputing Office Space
My Retrocomputing Office Space

Thanks to City Tech’s Stanley Kaplan, I now have a substantial new collection of early personal computers including IBM PCs, Radio Shack TRS-80s, a Commodore PET, Texas Instruments TI-99s, ATARI 800, and a number of other computers and peripherals in my office in Namm 520. Some of the smaller items are locked in my filing cabinet, but as you can see from the photos included in this post, I have the larger items arranged around my desk and on a new set of Edsal steel shelves that I purchased on Amazon.com. Now, I have to make some additional room for a large, removable magnetic disk from a TRIAD Computer System (c. late-1970s~early-1980s, the drive that reads this disk was about the size of a washing machine) and an Apple Macintosh Centris 650, which I shipped to myself from Brunswick when I recently visited my parents. In the coming months, I will catalog these machines, see what works, and plan how to use them (research, pedagogy, and exhibits). If you have older computers, disks, or user manuals and would like to donate them for use in my research and teaching, please drop me a line at dynamicsubspace at gmail dot com.

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Radio Shack Color Computer 3s, Zenith Data System, Odyssey, TRS-80, and PET Printer.
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TRS-80, Texas Instruments TI-99s, and Toshiba Laptop.
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Victor Computer and TRS-80.
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Commodore 64s, TRS-80, and Various Floppy Disk Drives.
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IBM PC, IBM PCxt, Kaypro, and AT&T Desktop.
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ATARI 800 and Compaq Portable PC sans case.
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Pentium 233 MHz PC, i7 PC, i7 Dell (office standard issue), and Commodore PET.

My SFRA 2015 Conference Presentation: The Cyberspace Deck as a Mechanism: Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy as a Voyager Expanded Book

The presentation that I will be giving tomorrow afternoon at 1:00PM at the annual Science Fiction Research Association Conference (this year at Stony Brook University on June 25-27, 2015) will be nothing like the title and abstract that I submitted earlier this year, but that’s a good thing. Over the past several months, my reading and research has focused on one small corner of that original abstract: The Voyager Company’s Expanded Book Edition of William Gibson’s Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive (1992). I began to see the cyberspace deck as an important image and mechanism connecting Gibson’s fictional world with our contemporary shift from written to digital culture.

Above,  you can watch a demo video that will accompany my presentation as a backdrop to my talk, and below, you can find my paper’s abstract, useful links, and my works cited list for reference. I will have handouts of this information available at the session tomorrow, too.

Title:

The Cyberspace Deck as a Mechanism: Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy as a Voyager Expanded Book

Abstract:

Instead of focusing on the epistemology or ontology of cyberspace, this paper explores the cyberspace deck in William Gibson’s fictions as a mechanism of inscription. It does this by charting Gibson’s inspiration in the Apple IIc, his comparison of it to the first Apple PowerBooks, and the publication of his cyberspace deck-infused fictions as the Voyager Company Expanded Book edition in 1992. Through discussing these connections, it addresses other issues of importance for the current shift from written culture to digital culture, such as the effect of reading on screens as opposed to print, and the effect of digital culture on the human brain.

Useful Links:

Conference Demo Video (embedded above): http://youtu.be/fU8K2DuTfeE

Google Glass, iPad, PowerBook 145 Demo Video: https://youtu.be/-XrIqLdx3EU

Mini vMac Emulation Software: http://gryphel.com/c/minivmac/index.html

Emaculation Emulation Community: http://www.emaculation.com/doku.php

Works Cited

Casimir, Jon. “Voyager Seeks to Improve Thinking.” Sydney Morning Herald (23 May 1995): n.p. Web. 18 May 2015.

DeStefano, Diana and Jo-Anne LeFebre. “Cognitive Load in Hypertext Reading: A Review.” Computers in Human Behavior 23 (2007): 1616-1641. Web. 22 June 2015.

Gibson, William. “Afterword.” Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Santa Monica, CA: Voyager Company, 1992. n.p. 3.5” Floppy Disk.

—. Burning Chrome. New York: EOS, 2003. Print.

—. Count Zero. New York: Ace, 1987. Print.

—. Mona Lisa Overdrive. New York: Bantam, 1989. Print.

—. Neuromancer. New York: Ace, 1984. Print.

—. Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Santa Monica, CA: Voyager Company, 1992. 3.5” Floppy Disk.

—. Package. Neuromancer with Count Zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive. Santa Monica, CA: Voyager Company, 1992. 3.5” Floppy Disk.

Kirschenbaum, Matthew G. Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008. Print.

Markley, Robert. “Boundaries: Mathematics, Alientation, and the Metaphysics of Cyberspace.” Configurations 2.3 (1994): 485-507. Web. 23 June 2015.

Matazzoni, Joe. “Books in a New Light.” Publish (October 1992): 16-21. Print.

Mazlish, Bruce. The Fourth Discontinuity: The Co-Evolution of Humans and Machines. New Haven: Yale UP, 1993. Print.

Sellen, Abigail J. and Richard H.R. Harper. The Myth of the Paperless Office. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002. Print.

Virshup, Amy. “The Teachings of Bob Stein.” Wired (April 2007): n.p. Web. 5 Jan. 2015.

Wolf, Maryanne. Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain. New York: Harper Perennial, 2007.

Social Media Workshop on Professionalization and Pedagogy, May 12, 2015, 3:00-4:00PM

Twitter_logo_blueToday, I’m leading a workshop on social media as a tool for professionalization and as a tool for pedagogy. I am including some of the details from the workshop flyer below. You can download the flyer here: ellis-jason-socialmedia-workshop and my workshop notes here: ellis-jason-social-media-workshop.

Social Media Workshop on Professionalization and Pedagogy

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

3:00PM-4:00PM

Namm 321 Conference Room

Organizer: Jason W. Ellis | Email: jellis at citytech dot cuny dot edu | Twitter: @dynamicsubspace

Social media is an increasingly important communication tool for our students and us. We are integrating it into our daily practices, and it, like any new communication medium, is changing the way we think and connect with others.

As scholars, we can leverage social media to promote our research, share ideas with colleagues, and collaborate on projects and network building. As educators, we can guide and mentor our students in responsible and meaningful ways of using social media.

In this workshop, we will discuss several popular social media platforms that we can use in our professionalization and pedagogy, and develop rhetorically grounded strategies for using social media as scholars and educators.

Some of the professional strategies discussed will include: sharing and promoting our work, and establishing and maintaining professional networks. Some of the pedagogical areas addressed will include: composition, and professional and technical writing.

Please bring your questions, ideas, and experiences, or if you can’t make it, let’s continue the discussion online!

Discussion topics and other resources are listed on the reverse side.

Some Topics for Discussion:

  • Rhetoric and Multimodality (WOVEN: written, oral, visual, electronic, and nonverbal)
  • Audience(s)
  • Network Building (breadth versus depth)
  • Risk Assessment
  • Online Identity, Metadata, and Commodification of the Self
  • Managing an Emergent Online Identity
  • Social Media Assignments for Composition and Technical Communication
  • Personal versus Professional Spheres, or Is There a Division?
  • Assignment Ideas
  • Reflection Exercises

Some Social Media Platforms Discussed:

Resources Discussed:

Spring Recess 2015: Reading, Exploring, and Making

Spring Break reading list.
Spring Break reading list.

I had a fun and productive time during this year’s Spring Recess in our new home of Brooklyn. I read three brain-related books: Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid, Michael Moskowitz’s Reading Minds, and Antonio Damasio’s Looking for Spinoza. I took the subway to Manhattan twice with Y and Little My to visit Kinokuniya Bookstore, Sun Rise Market, Uncle Sam’s Army Surplus, the New York Public Library, and Washington Square. I picked up an M65 field jacket and put together an EDC kit. I walked to Microcenter twice–each time scoring a free 16GB flash drive thanks to a new coupon promotion. To cap the week off, I completed a draft of my PARSE documentation for advancement at City Tech and posted assignments for tomorrow’s classes on OpenLab. Now, I feel ready to see this semester through to the end.

A question for my students: how did was your week away from the college? Are you ready to see things through?

Teaching at City Tech, Fall 2014, Syllabi for ENG 1101 and ENG 3771

For my first teaching assignments at City Tech, I received two sections of ENG 1101 English Composition I and one section of ENG 3771 Advanced Career Writing (a professional and technical communication course for students in these majors: Legal Assistant Studies, Communication Design, Electrical Technology, and Telecommunications Engineering Technology). I created syllabi that meet and exceed the outcomes defined for these courses while carefully considering the material conditions of my students in and out of the classroom. You can find copies of my Fall 2014 syllabi here: ellis-jason-eng1101-syllabus and ellis-jason-eng3771-syllabus.

We are entering the fourth week today, so we are picking up momentum and getting good work done. Students in ENG 1101 are working on a brand new take on my “Writing the Brain” assignment, and the students in ENG 3771 are building job application portfolios while getting plenty of time to interact with one another and cooperate on the revision process. With a strong start, engaged students, and stimulating projects, I’m looking forward to what I believe will be a great first semester at City Tech.

Second Donation to Georgia Tech Library Archive’s Retrocomputing Lab: Power Macintosh 8500

Me and the Power Macintosh 8500/120 in the Georgia Tech Library Archives.
Me and the Power Macintosh 8500/120 in the Georgia Tech Library Archives.

When I met with Georgia Tech Library Archives’ Department Head Jody Lloyd Thompson and Digital Collections Archivist Wendy Hagenmaier to donate three vintage computers (a Dell Dimension 4100, Apple Performa 550, and Apple iMac) and other computing hardware a week and a half ago, I noticed that they had room for one more computer, so I pitched them the idea of my making another donation to fill the gap between the Performa 550’s 68030 processor and the iMac’s G3 processor:  an Apple Power Macintosh 8500/120. They agreed to accept, so I set about preparing the computer for them.

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My Power Macintosh 8500 was in very good shape, but like many vintage computers with persistent clocks, it needed a new lithium battery.

To replace the Power Macintosh 8500's on-board battery (upper left corner of photo), you have to remove the motherboard.
To replace the Power Macintosh 8500’s on-board battery (upper left corner of photo), you have to remove the motherboard.

I replaced the battery, installed Mac OS 7.5.5, a number of different software titles (including Apple’s Plaintalk Speech Recognition–I threw in a Plaintalk powered microphone, Project X/Hot Sauce, and Cyberdog). I discovered that the plastic inside the case did not age well. The PowerMac 8500 has a lot of plastic components that are held together with flexible tabs or clips. When I applied a small amoung of pressure on the tip of these clips to release them, most of them would break. Luckily, the case ties together very well, so I only had to piece some parts back together with clear tape (the power button/light assembly) and metal duct tape (one drive plate cover on the front of the case). To help dissipate heat, I  added a rear slot fan made by Antec.

I made a video demoing the finalized system, which I’m including embedded below (I apologize for the flicker, but my digital camera doesn’t have enough adjustment features to match the refresh rate on the Apple 14″ Color Display).

In addition to the Power Macintosh 8500, I gave the Archives a box full of software and late-1990s/early-2000s video games for Macintosh. These might help facilitate more connections around campus (Computer Science, Media Studies, and Game Studies).

As I’m leaving soon for City Tech, I believe that we can do more together in our work with vintage computing. I floated the idea of a symposium, conference, or some other kind of connected project. Also, from what little I have learned so far, there’s a lot of investment and interest in computer technology in NYC (and Brooklyn in particular). I am looking forward to making new connections with others studying retrocomputing and New Media. I know that many opportunities await.

New Job, New Students, and New Friends in New York City

Signing the letter.
Signing the offer letter!

I waited until I had signed the offer letter to announce the good news: I accepted a tenure-track position at the New York City College of Technology (City Tech) in Brooklyn!

I’m incredibly stoked to join the City Tech team. I’m looking forward to working with students, colleagues, and the surrounding community.

While I’m sad to be leaving Georgia Tech and the Marion L. Brittain Postdoctoral Program two years into my three year term, I could not pass up the chance to work with students and colleagues at City Tech. It is the kind of college where I believe that I can make great contributions to its learning environment, support its operation through service, collaborate with top notch colleagues, and contribute to my discipline through scholarship, and work with the New York City community that I will join.

Even though I am looking forward to the future, I have a number of things to conclude here in Atlanta before I leave: I am teaching Science Fiction at Georgia Tech through the end of July, I am giving a presentation on teaching Science Fiction at this weekend’s Atlanta Science Fiction Society meeting, I am completing the curriculum guide for Georgia Tech’s Project One (formerly, First Year Reading Program), and I am working with the Georgia Tech Library Archives to inaugurate their Retrocomputing Lab.

Y and I have a lot of practical matters to attend to as well: finding a new place to live, listing our house in Norcross for sale, moving to New York with our piano and two cats, and saying our goodbyes to family and friends.

I look forward to new students, friends, colleagues, possibilities, and opportunities in our new city!