If you ask Googs, it says a primer is “an elementary textbook that serves as an introduction to a subject of study or is used for teaching children to read.” An introduction. A place to start. Training. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when there is a lot happening – pandemic, protest, violence, political incompetence. Sometimes it has been a relief to divert my attention to automated document assembly and sometimes it has been just as overwhelming.

Welcome to the world of…

A very poor rendition of a very famous logo.
Tweets flying through majestic digital skies, Quip scales keeping the beast organized, GitHub cat/octopus and Docassemble cat crowding out the forest of Slack chatter.

I may, or may not, have spent an inappropriate amount of time creating a parody logo… out of logos. Why? Because over the past few months, I have been inundated with tools. They are a cluttered mess, just like the abomination above. There has been a distinct absence of primer. Below, I’ve drafted an overview of what the heck each of these things are, how I’ve used them, and what I still don’t understand. Because it’s a lot.

  • Zoom
    • How I’ve Zoomed: video calls, live chat, hand raising, polling, white boards, screen sharing, break-out rooms. It is almost ready to form a committee to solve homelessness.
    • Zoom Success: First Generation Support Group sessions! We’ve been able to continue meeting regularly despite pandemic, relocation, and summer employment. I look forward to seeing everyone each month. We all have no idea what we’re doing and we keep showing up and struggling along. They keep me going!
    • Zooming Questions:
      • Do I currently have end-to-end encryption or not? “We plan to begin early beta of the E2EE feature in July 2020.” So, not yet? Read more on Zoom blog.
      • How do I setup a meeting so that people can add it to their calendars?
      • If private chat messages aren’t viewable to the host, why do my classmates think they are?
      • How did Skype, Hangouts, and all the other virtual conference/webinar platforms whiff so mightily? What happened?
      • Virtual Meeting Etiquette? The Googs returned over 4 million results (versus only 1.4 million for “uranium contaminated groundwater”). People! Prioritize!
Raise the white flag of defeat when it comes to staring at a screen all day.
Zoom Fatigue. Look for it in the DSM-VI.


  • Slack
    • How I’ve Slacked: team and group communication, email alternative, access to archive of prior communication, access to network outside of organization roster, managing multiple “workspaces” feels awkward at the user level.
    • Slack Success: I really like having access to the prior communication. Want to catch up on a project? Just read through what Jenny posted last year. Gives helpful context to framing questions, especially when just starting out.
    • Slacking Questions:
      • Why would I ever want to enable notifications? Yuck.
      • Is this an efficient way to communicate or just a different way?
      • Can I have a slimmed down version? Ideally, one feature. A tutorial mode to unlock other features. Otherwise, it’s very much deep end of the pool.
      • How are these communications stored/archived/logged? How are the data used by the company? When am I going to receive targeted adds for Champlain College online?
Beaver drinking Fizze, eating flavored corn chips, and playing a video game console. It is marvelous.
Note: this is not the official branding for the tool. I think they really lost an opportunity. Plus, now I know this beaver also enjoys flavored corn chips.

At this point, I’ve only briefly highlighted two of them. I’m exhausted. I also wrote down Quip, GitHub, Documate, Docassemble, A2J, and Twitter, but this is starting to get cumbersome. I don’t think a blog is the right place for a primer.

Welcome to the Alaska Court System Self-Help Service’s web page. With just one click, anyone can travel back to the internet as it was in the 1990’s (if only it had an animated GIF).

Alaska Court System Self Help Services Webpage

The thing is, they know it isn’t great and they want to change it. But that’s not my project.

Back in 2016, Alaska developed their Justice for All project. It aims to create justice for all Alaskans by building an ecosystem of justice services. My project focuses on automating the debt collection forms, so when I read the report, I paid special attention to those sections.

Close to 99% of the cases involved lawyer representation1.

Great. Why is this a problem?

Almost all the lawyers represented those trying to collect the debts: 92% of the cases had only the debt collectors represented2.

Okay. But, this isn’t necessarily problematic.

Our efforts to positively address the consequences of debt will involve building out the network of resources available to debtors; debtors may be more likely to engage in services in a preventative fashion before the issues result in a debt collection matter, or respond to a debt collection action in court, reducing the likelihood of a default judgment and additional amounts added to the judgment3.

What? Who are these lawyers even collecting debts for?

Most civil cases today are brought by businesses against individuals for money owed. The most recent national data available show that, as the overall volume of cases has declined, business-to-consumer suits, particularly debt collections, mortgage foreclosure, and landlord-tenant disputes, have come to account for more than half of civil dockets4.

Professionals are bringing suit against people without representation on behalf of debt buying companies. The amount of money grows from what is set out in the complaint and may not even actually apply to the person, but default judgment forgoes the need to figure this out. 

Debt collection is out of control. And this isn’t new. If I was swanky enough to afford an HBO subscription, John Oliver could’ve gotten me riled up about this over four years ago:

Hello, Alaska. Welcome to The Now!

Summer Reading: