Apple picking, Mayfarm Flowers, April 22 2019

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.

Sunflower harvest, Mayfarm Flowers Storm damaged apples, Mayfarm Flowers Crate of apples, Mayfarm Flowers Storm damaged Granny Smith, Mayfarm Flowers Apple crates, Mayfarm Flowers Apples, Mayfarm Flowers Granny Smith crate, Mayfarm Flowers Sunflower before bloom

Delete your free Slack backlogs!

Why delete Slack backlogs?

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:

  • people who join some time after the Slack is formed may find themselves being discussed in backlogs in terms that are uncomfortable now they can see it
  • the relationships of people in the Slack may change over time and previously friendly conversations may be weaponised by members
  • any malicious person who gains access to your Slack (whether by hacking or by being invited) gets the entire history of everything said there to bully or blackmail people with
  • the contents of the Slack might be subject to legal discovery at some point in the future and be used to win a lawsuit against members or owners of the Slack, or else simply dumped into the public record

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.

How to delete Slack backlogs.

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.

Script caveats

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.

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Delete your free Slack backlogs! by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Getting a COVID-19 test in NSW, as of May 2020

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:

  • no referral is required
  • testing is readily available and swiftly administered
  • results are often available same-day

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:

  1. drive up
  2. a person in full PPE approaches the car and takes your personal details: name, address, phone, email, symptoms, employment status (do you work in health or aged care, or no?), risk factors (recent travel, contact with known or suspected cases)
  3. you drive forward to a second person who reads the details back to you
  4. that person does the deeply unpleasant thing you’ve probably seen videos of where they put a swab up your nose and into your sinuses, wave it around, and withdraw it a couple of seconds after it becomes really really difficult to tolerate
  5. you drive away
  6. you are asked to behave as if you are positive until you get that result. This means strictly staying at home and minimising contact with household members.
  7. later that day you get a text message asking if you opt into result-by-text and if you do, usually some hours later you get your result.

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.

Questions to ask of employers transitioning to supporting permanent telecommuting

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:

  • you can’t become an executive if you’re remote
  • you can’t become a people manager at all if you’re remote
  • you can’t do security-sensitive or personnel-sensitive work if you’re remote
  • you can’t achieve a certain job level if you’re remote

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.

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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.