A plane! In September 2020!
I exaggerate, of course. They’re rare enough to draw attention, but they’re pretty frequent. Like this plane, they are almost all carrying cargo, not passengers.
Most of the apple orchards around Orange, once the major growing region in Australia, have been converted into vineyards, or in the case of Mayfarm Flowers, a flower farm. Their crop of apples from the doomed trees was storm damaged in 2019, and so they opened them up for picking, with most of the apples being shipped to Sydney for donation, and pickers allowed to take away others for free.
Slack and other chat software tend to retain conversation history so that you can see and search what was said in the past. This can be very helpful for historical context and avoiding repeat conversations, but there’s all kinds of reasons why you don’t want to retain backlogs indefinitely:
Learn more in the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Slack privacy campaign: What if All Your Slack Chats Were Leaked?, Slack should give free accounts control over retention.
If you pay for Slack, you should use their message and file retention feature.
If you have a free Slack, you can do it yourself. If you are using the free plan, you can delete messages through the API. Here’s a really simple sample Python script any admin of your Slack can use, which will delete most messages posted more than 6 weeks ago. (Instructions.)
Alternatively, slack_cleaner2 is nicely flexible if you want to develop your own script. Or members could delete at least their own messages with eg the Message deleter for Slack 2.0 Chrome extension.
You will need owner or administrator access to your Slack instance (or else you cannot delete messages other users wrote).
The script operates with the credentials of the admin who runs it, and will not be able to delete other people’s messages in 1:1 DMs, or any messages in any private channel that admin is not in.
The script will not delete messages older than the 10,000 recent messages that free Slacks have access to (even deleting the newer messages doesn’t restore access to these). Yet these older messages are retained by the company and could be accessed if, eg, someone pays for the Slack in future or if a discovery motion is granted. Unfortunately, you will need to pay for Slack, at least briefly, to access these older messages for deletion.
Delete your free Slack backlogs! by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
NSW is encouraging all people with any symptoms of COVID-19 to be tested. Since I have what I assume are seasonal allergies, I meet the testing criteria and probably will continuously for months to come, so I’ve had a few tests. Curious? Here’s what you need to know.
Test access has got much easier. I’ve heard from several people that they don’t understand how to get tested, because a friend of theirs tried in March and their doctor flat-out declined to refer them without clear signs of pneumonia, so what is this stuff and nonsense about how everyone with symptoms should get testing?
If you want to learn about tests before you get one, try and find someone who got tested recently to share their experience. Here’s mine:
Check the date and location on anyone’s testing story before deciding testing sounds too hard and inaccessible.
You can get tested, in many places without a referral. Here’s the testing sites.
Here’s the testing procedure at the drive-through clinic I went to:
I asked them what they do with children and they said, as of late May, for children they are doing throat swabs rather than nasal ones.
They only acted a little bit startled when I reported that I had had a runny nose for 12 weeks. (Some guidance on how regularly to get re-tested with symptoms that don’t change would be handy!)
I’ve not been positive (and hope not to be prior to vaccine or effective anti-virals!) so I do not know what additional things happen if you are positive, presumably contact tracing and fairly high levels of health monitoring kick off from there.
If you do want a doctor to examine you, look for a “Respiratory Clinic” on the same page that lists the testing clinics. The respiratory clinics are clinics where the doctors are already wearing full PPE and have good patient isolation set up (eg, no waiting room, you wait in your car). This saves you and your regular GP considerable fuss around them needing to don full PPE and change their waiting practices for you, and are a good place to head with cold/flu symptoms this year.
Some employers are beginning to announce transitions to remote-friendly or all-remote workforces even after office work is judged safe again. This has a lot of potential upsides in reducing commutes, in increasing job opportunities outside of established tech centres, in giving people access to their preferred working styles.
But there’s also a lot of potential downsides where employees personally pay to recreate the parts of the office experience they need and nevertheless find that their career tops out early or that they’re summoned or semi-summoned back to a tech centre just as they’ve started to realise the benefits of remote work.
Thus, just as I’ve written before about questions you should ask when hired into an existing remote position, you should ask a similar set for a company or position transitioning to remote work, to make sure that it is invested for the long term and is clear about any career or financial sacrifices you will be required to make to be remote.
Are there limits on where employees can be located? It’s quite common for remote employees to be required to be based in certain timezones, countries, or states/provinces where the employer already has some kind of established presence.
Is this transition in fact permanent, or is there a review date? Moving away from a city is a very large investment, often in direct costs but definitely in opportunity costs. Best to make such a decision on a strong commitment from an employer to a long time frame.
Will compensation be adjusted downwards for employers who relocate to an area with lower cost of living (or lower market salaries)? There are some remote-first or remote-friendly employers who pay the same salary no matter where employees are located, but also many which pay against local cost of living or local market conditions.
Will all remote compensation be adjusted downwards on the assumption that everyone will leave high cost of living areas? Hopefully not! Because some people have substantial investments in their current area of residence, eg commitments to their partner’s career or to their local family or friends, or to the cultural scene or their hobbies, or to retaining the option to leave their current employer for another that will require them to be office-based.
Will employees who move to an area with less generous minimum benefits have their benefits cut? Eg, will they lose days of vacation or carer’s leave? Will their insurance be revised in line with their new residence’s minumums?
Will there be formal limits on which positions are available remotely?
Even in the software, creative, and research positions that can be done remotely, it’s common for companies to not allow all positions to be remote. Here’s some possibilities for what this might look like:
Best to know!
If the company is indeed open to all positions being remote, how are they going to ensure equality of opportunity?
If there are going to still be offices, it may in theory be possible to become an executive or a high level staff member while remote… but it eventually emerges that no one is actually doing those jobs remotely, that those folks are all office-based.
What does the employers plan for developing remote staff careers look like and how will they audit its success?
Will there be training and resources for workers transitioning to remote, for managers who are remote or managing remote workers, etc?
There are specific skills required to manage and be part of both all-remote teams and mixed-remote-office teams. Will these be taught to employees? Will there be trained support for specific situations that may arise (eg, it may be more difficult to reach remote employees in a suspected emergency)?
Will there be financial support for the costs of remote working?
Remote working passes the office maintenance costs onto employees, eg substantial extra energy costs (particularly in areas with very cold winters or very hot summers), additional space, need for office furnishings, higher Internet bills and larger mobile plans, IT equipment, etc. Will the employer reimburse these costs and to what extent?
Ideally this support isn’t too specific. Eg, “we’ll pay for a co-working space”: co-working spaces usually have open office plans and quite a few involve hotdesking (especially if you’re part-time). They’re thus generally not suitable for people who have a lot of sensitive meetings (ie most managers or HR staff), some people who need physical accommodations, or people who are unable to work well in open plan offices.
Conversely, “we’ll pay to fit out your home office”: establishing a home office requires that people have or can afford to move to a place with an extra room, and usually that there are only one or at most two people in the home who need a home office.
Flexibility is better.
Will business travel be mandatory or strongly encouraged?
Quite a lot of remote teams rely on an mandatory or near-mandatory all-hands in-person get together once or twice a year for team building purposes. This may be an easy trade for some to get the benefits of remote work, but it may not be for others, especially for primary carers.
This question may be especially relevant for people who are going to be one of the few remotes on their team and may be expected to travel to the office regularly; and also for managers, who are occasionally expected to travel out to each of their remote reports periodically.
Will there be allowed to be children/dependants in the house during working hours and are there restrictions on their care arrangements? At least when schools and daycares are open, it’s common for employers to insist that if there are children/dependants living with a remote worker, they must have a carer who isn’t the worker. It’s possible (jurisdiction dependent) for them to insist that the house must not have dependants present in work hours at all.
Questions to ask of employers transitioning to supporting permanent telecommuting by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
When I was six, I was in a boring classroom, bored, and really longed to fast forward time until I was an age when things got really interesting. My guess was about three years would do it. I just wanted to look back on that whole time and only go through it hazily.
When I was nine or ten, I remembered this really distinctly and looked back with what I assumed was adult fondness on my baby self. And I never wanted it again, except for any weeks containing surgical procedures, and also now.
The ideal beginning to this story would be indulged innocence, where the West swanned around catastrophically drunk on our own inevitable but unforeseen stunning defeat, but in Sydney January was, of course, the season of fire and smoke. Just after New Year, Andrew heard wailing from the living room and assumed that V was hassling A, but found instead that I’d just told them our holiday was cancelled. Too much risk of being trapped, being burned.
We explained the entire situation in the context of other people’s lives, that one day they lived in a house and the next day they lived in an evacuation shelter under a red and black sky. Later urgent bulletins came from the school about respiratory safety, sudden changes to children’s sport. Folks burned themselves out on Twitter sharing information, people were uncertain whether they could ethically bring new children into the world.
My children never heard the estimate that a billion animals burned to death last summer, I think. I ran into a friend at a climate change protest who was hurriedly fleeing home with a distraught child because one of the speakers had mentioned it.
We packed the Sydney CBD body to body for many streets more than the police or the organisers had bargained for.
We heard about the Wuhan lockdown, distantly. I thought of it, not as the press would talk about it in March and April, as if I was surrounded by a deluded magical shield that would prevent me from getting diseases originating in Asia, but in relationship to the Xinjiang internment camps. A lockdown was like the camps and was something as big and terrible as the death of a billion animals, and it would cut my mind open if I thought about it too carefully.
January was perhaps the last month that I remember the Xinjiang internment camps receiving any coverage or commentary in Australian media at all.
Someone at work travelled to China for Lunar New Year for one of their very first overseas adventures, and came home early when everything was suddenly closed down. It was two weeks before they were allowed to return to our office. Someone else spent New Year in Singapore with their family, and their parents worried about what was later called COVID, but they did not themselves worry.
February was something of a blank around COVID, like it apparently was for Donald Trump.
It rained on the east coast of Australia to the point of flooding, but it was a catastrophe of a few weeks, not the years of drought and the months of fire. Fires whose names we knew like we were later to talk about R0, Gospers Mountain and others, were extinguished by the rain.
There were changes at work and I was up in my feelings about them. I cried at some point because I was becoming a full-time birthday party planner for everyone who lives in my house who isn’t me. I was managing 18 direct reports, about twice as many as is sensible to do, and I carefully planned a series of weeks off in March and April to recover.
On the 16th February Andrew and I went out for his birthday, had dinner at Bennelong and saw The Necks perform, and on the 23rd we took V and three other boys to Treetops in Western Sydney for them to climb in trees and ride ziplines. I was so proud of A for being able to do all the younger children’s rope courses. The boys threw rubbish at us from the back of the van as we drove them home and we were pretty angry.
I had no sense that these were the last weeks of anything.
I have work emails in late February about there perhaps being a few cases in the US.
I started to get nervous, I’ve always had a niggling worry when travelling internationally that the entire setup is awfully contingent. They could just stop the planes someday and then I’d be in real strife. I imagined this might happen in, say, the event of war.
I expressed a preference for not doing any work travel for a while.
By April, everyone had settled on quarantines and border closures as the only possible response to pandemics, but in early March they were unimaginable, including I think by WHO, or at least they were felt to be extremely unwise and impossible to actually do. I knew people were fleeing the north of Italy and being turned back by the military. I was horrified.
Italy was overwhelmed and its doctors were trying to warn the rest of the world. Twitter responded with its usual prescription for catastrophes, fresh from the bushfires. “Don’t look away, you must not look away, you are required to know every detail of everyone else’s pain, if you don’t know about this you are deeply complicit in it.”
I read story after story after story of doctors panicking in Italy and people being dropped off at hospitals and next seen by their family on Skype calls, dying.
I cried for hours most nights in the first two weeks of March about both Italy and Iran.
I accomplished absolutely nothing at all I am aware of by refusing to look away.
Perhaps when I write this story for the last time I will have learned to delete Twitter from my phone and memory at any point whenever no one has better ideas than “bear witness or be damned”.
By mid-March, I was clear enough on what was coming. V had played his final cricket games and I half wondered if they’d be cancelled. The weekend after cricket finished, V had the first training for his new winter sport (AFL) and by then I knew for sure that it would also be the last training allowed. It was like walking around behind glass: the coach and team didn’t seem to know this, we also ran into former soccer teammates who were enjoying their rugby season and seemed to think it would continue.
We started building expectations, bad ones, in the kids. We maybe think your tryouts for representative cricket will be cancelled (they were), it’s very unlikely our rescheduled-from-the-bushfires coastal trip will happen (it didn’t), skiing is unlikely this year (still unknown, but I can’t imagine it).
You won’t see your grandparents for a long time.
They cried. We explained the situation in terms of other people’s lives, doctors and nurses working long hours behind masks, people we saw every day in cafes and at school who don’t have jobs any more. One grain of rice, two grains of rice, four grains of rice, eight…
We bought a few tins of food at the shops each day, as the media was starting to recommend. Believing we were heading for a near-complete retail shutdown, I bought all our Easter eggs, a new microwave, and a bike for V in the same weekend. I fought for a while with my hatred of working from home but accepted that I needed to get a desk again. I heard an older child at a supermarket say to his mother “you’d better not get all weird about coronavirus.”
I work from my bedroom now, if I roll over too far in bed I will hit my head on my office. I tell people I’ve accepted it will be six months or more but I haven’t.
I tell myself I’ve accepted it will be three years or more before carefree international travel is available, and that’s assuming it’s affordable. But I haven’t.
In late March, the modelling for Australia teetered between “barely survivable” and “tears will outnumber those in Lombardy”.
Tears in my beloved New York began to outnumber tears in Lombardy.
For a few days in Australia, events of 500+ people were cancelled, then gatherings handfuls of people, and then anything but one guest in your home and only for a specific set of reasons. My recovery holiday from overworking lasted one day, and then the state premier advised us to remove children from school, and then from the second day I had two jobs. I cancelled half my holiday in April.
I had a pretty good idea of the economic implications. I cried at big layoffs, I cried removing my children from after school care knowing that they were going to stop giving all those smiling staff members any more shifts.
I was wrong about retail in Australia, although there were many many voluntary shutdowns and also many from economic necessity. But Easter eggs were available right up to the day.
I taught my daughter to ride a bike. Both kids were devastated about the cancellation of their extracurriculars, but very stoic about the cancellation of school, and more compliant with home education than any other story I’ve heard from parents.
In late March and early April, we waited patiently. The case numbers dropped noticeably, at first, over a weekend. The daily briefings were stern: less testing on weekends, less doctors open, we don’t expect these numbers to stay down, community transmission is happening and will only get worse from here.
The Australian numbers stayed down, week after weekend after week, into mid-April. First days with less than a hundred new cases in NSW. First days with less than twenty. We can’t get enough people to take tests because no one has a cough any more, they said. You can get them for the asking, they said.
And we waited.
Rachel Miller writes for Vox:
my guess is that if you are experiencing the sort of emergency or unique circumstances where the only solution involves leaving your home or interacting with others, you wouldn’t be asking for permission.The Answer to All of Your Social Distancing Loophole Questions Is No
Captain Awkward picks this up and adds:
Every time I say [not to call the police on neighbours if it’s avoidable] somewhere publicly, someone tells me about how they had to call 911 b/c of a fire or accident or some emergency, which goes back to the original point: If you needed to, then you needed to, it was an emergency, so why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob?Link: The Answer To All Your Social Distancing Loophole Questions is “No.”
Here’s the thing: Miller is wrong to guess that everyone knows what emergencies and unique circumstances trump public health right now. We know this, both because people are not seeking hospital care for life-threatening emergencies and because abusers are successfully telling their victims that one of them for sure has the virus, or that they will surely die if they go outside, etc.
I have a bunch of experience with being conscientious to a degree that is sometimes dysfunctional. (Hot tip by the way: never phrase something this way to your boss, because while you may think you’re helping them understand you better, they are thinking “wow, ‘conscientious to a degree that is sometimes dysfunctional’ is such a neat way of phrasing things in a performance review!”)
I’m fine making rules. I’m fine following rules.
What I’m not good at is breaking rules. I definitely do not personally come equipped with good intuitions about which emergencies or unique circumstances should cause me to break rules and if someone finally talks me into following their intuitions I have a huge struggle with it.
I have a specific and dramatic illustration of this. One day several years ago, in fact the 1st September 2012, I was starting to feel “fluey” while trying to fit my toddler son for shoes (he kept running away screaming and I was soooo tired). I asked my husband to walk home, I admired the new baby spring leaves on the trees in the park as I walked past them and said suddenly “you know, I think I’m about to get really sick, let’s get home now.”
Reader, I did indeed get really sick. I spent the next week in bed drinking apple juice and watching the shadows of leaves dance on my windows. I didn’t bathe because I was too tired and sore. I cried all the time because my all muscles hurt so much.
And there was this spot on my inner left thigh that was especially painful to the touch, like a really bad bruise. Weird.
We didn’t have a thermometer, but if we had, we probably would have found that my temperature was stable at around 40°C for much of that week.
I get ill fairly often, and had a kid in daycare so it was especially true at that time. The preceding year, I’d gone to the doctor to report that I’d been dry coughing until I vomited and that I couldn’t breathe for coughing.
It’s interesting that COVID survivors often call this out as a really abnormal and alarming thing, because my GP told me that day that “it’s just a widdle viwwwwwus, Mama!” and that it was really normal and I should wait it out. (Doctors often address mothers accompanied by young children as “Mum”, or “Mama”, and often baby talk to them.) After that, I inferred that, among my many existing rules about not bothering people, that “coughing until you’re choking” and any symptoms of similar severity are not a sufficient reason to bother doctors.
So, I wasn’t coughing, but I was similarly uncomfortable. Every day on the phone, my mother begged me to see a doctor. Every few hours, my husband begged me, increasingly in tears, to see a doctor. But I didn’t, because that was my rule: doctors don’t like viruses and don’t want to hear about them (Mama).
To be clear I’m not normally remotely that dysfunctional about rules. I assume being in terrible pain and running a fever that was much higher than we realised had pushed me to my absolutely most irrational degree of rule following. But these are the emergencies and unique situations that people will need to navigate.
Finally I reluctantly agreed to call a triage line, and they told me that high fevers and muscle aches are non-specific signs of severe illness, are not specific to viral infections, and also that having a really tender spot on my leg did not suggest influenza. They very strongly recommended I find out more specifically what severe illness it was that I had.
And so I went to the GP at around the point where the spot on my leg became so painful I couldn’t stand to walk far. I had an ultrasound that showed that it was a massively swollen lymph node, and also that my entire left leg was filled with other swollen lymph nodes. I went to another GP the following day to review the results, I asked if I could maybe lie down to talk to her, and she told me to immediately go to hospital. By that point my leg hurt so much I needed a wheelchair and I was so dehydrated that they ran an IV immediately.
I spent 6 days in hospital running a fever that was closer to 41°C while a couple of layers of skin peeled off my entire inner thigh due to the incredibly aggressive bacterial skin infection that it turned out I had. (It was never cultured, they assumed it was staph.) I refused to eat for almost all that time and for several days I also refused to drink at all and needed IV fluids and painkillers (along with antibiotics).
When my temperature finally went down, the infectious diseases specialist, who tended to address me at all times as a rather dim medical student, dropped by (on a Sunday, in his civvies) and said conversationally “it’s cases like this that really remind us that, even with antibiotics, these things can be very serious, and sometimes even fatal!”
So, it’s indeed safe to say that I’m in the group of people who need to do some work around identifying the emergencies and unique situations where we should take care of ourselves! It is not safe to rely on me recognising my needs and not asking for permission.
But I do have some tips for being slightly safer about this.
Are you a conscientious person? The first step is know this about yourself. Do you:
You might be a conscientious person! And it might not always be an entirely helpful way to be.
Understand that not everyone is like you. Quite a lot of people don’t like doing what they’re told, don’t believe that rules are generally a good idea or that rules are usually abusive, believe that they are a smart person who does the right thing naturally and that rules are only for those other losers, or use rules as means of having power over other people.
Many of those folks have their own excellent reasons for being that way; if you’ve been abused by rule-making a lot, you likely won’t end up in the “rules make me safer” camp, for example. (I think it’s also worth noting that conscientious types aren’t all good people either.)
Rules are often written to allow for all these responses. Rules are thus often very absolute and strict, because the framers assume that everyone will do 50% more than the rules allow (often recursively so). Rules are backed by the power of the state both because some people won’t respond to anything less, and because the state loves power. Etc.
And so if you’re highly conscientious, statements along the lines of “you wouldn’t be asking for permission [if this was actually bad]” may not apply to you. Those statements are aimed at another group of people. If you always need to ask for permission to take care of yourself, that won’t have suddenly changed since February.
Reflect on the purpose of rules. Pandemic rules are a tool for public health and safety. Know that there are other serious threats to health and safety and they may also happen to you.
If you’re a conscientious type, it could be a good time to engage with civil liberties organisations to make sure framing of the rules is proportionate to risk, and makes clear exemptions for, eg, escaping abuse, seeking treatment for other medical conditions, and getting fed. Help your community out against the abusive or unimaginative conscientious or power-hungry types!
Make a plan. Depending on your relationship with anxiety, extensive worst-case scenarios can be a bit risky to play with. But you can cover the major bases and use your affinity for rules to save yourself some decisions later on:
Be generous to others. You can’t save the entire world by calling the cops on folks’ parties. Captain Awkward’s post, for all that I’m using it as a jumping off point for “it’s not about you”, has some great tips for more sustainable interventions.
There’s plenty of stories about of people screaming “I see you out there every day! Stay at home! Murderer!” out their windows to people who are on their way to work, at a hospital, because they are a nurse, in a COVID ward. Make a rule to not be that person!
Do something good. Many conscientious people struggle with beliefs they are a bad person. Some of the policing is because people want to actively be good and the only way they can think of is to yell out their window at nurses.
Do some real good: donate some money, or become a civil liberties activist, or let nurses stay in your AirBnb for free, or start working on your plan to go to med school, or send a thank you postcard to hospitals, or join a mutual aid group, or phone a friend.
Work on your dysfunctions. Some of these patterns revolve around overfunctioning and anxiety disorders. Consider therapy or other management techniques.
Manage your own conscience. This is some of where Captain Awkward’s “why are you telling me about it, Edge-Case Bob?” comes from. Some Bobs: “haha, I trumped you in an argument, alleged Internet expert, gotcha!” Other Bobs: “please please, apparent authority figure, reassure me that I’m a good person even though I did a bad thing that was against the rules.”
You have to have better boundaries than this, and a more functional conscience. The rules can’t tell you if you’re a good person or did a good thing, and neither can advice columnists. (I guess I just outed myself as not a deontologist, huh?)
You need to figure it out case by case, and stand by it, and manage your own guilt. Much rule-following is about outsourcing your conscience and self-esteem and you need to stop doing that.