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.

Conscientiousness in a pandemic: a howto guide

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.

Chidi Anagonye is having a really hard time right now.

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:

  • believe that rules usually have a good reason for existing?
  • feel safer knowing and following the rules?
  • tend to reduce ambiguity or make yourself or others feel secure by making rules or otherwise systematising things?
  • prefer to be led by rules?
  • prefer to lead other people with rules?
  • have at least one dramatic story in your personal history that goes something like “and that’s why I didn’t call a doctor for a week” or “and so I was the one who ended up pleading guilty” or “and then I paid back her debt for her” where you’re still sort of slightly proud that you followed the rules right into hell?

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:

  • if you’re in an endemic COVID area, familiarise yourself with
    • the typical onset symptoms
    • the current testing criteria in your area, and where you would go for a test if eligible
    • the difference between “care at home” and “go to hospital” symptoms
  • have a plan for spending 14 days entirely inside your front door, eg an appropriate stock of food and painkillers, in Australia learn about Woolworths Priority Assistance and Basics Box etc
  • if you have a known health condition (including mental health!), have a guide to when you are sick enough that you need medical attention for it, and know where you would get such medical attention
  • find an authority you trust (in the best case some level of your government, but perhaps your personal doctor, a different country with a better government, etc) and follow their public health guidelines, not the strictest intersection of every guideline posited by every single epidemiologist, infectious disease physician, and random individual on Twitter
  • if you’re required to work outside the house, see previous point for specific precautions and also remember that physical distancing is a societal measure to slow disease spread that does not require the same thing of every individual person
  • consider #StayAtHome an excellent rule for most people for current circumstances (hopefully eventually in specific regions, very widespread at present!), not the new official way to be a good person forever

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.

5×2: more news from the organisations

I spoke to several more 5×2 organisations about what they’re working on (several of them, by waiting to call me, had the advantage of discovering the blog series):

UNICEF (day 4) is working to make sure that children receive other vaccines: measles vaccination campaigns have been (hopefully) temporarily interrupted and without good tracking and catch-up campaigns, they risk cohorts of children who go unvaccinated for other diseases.

The Haymarket Foundation (day 2) have worked to move many people who were sleeping rough in Sydney into hotels. They’ve also secured PPE so that they can visit these folks rather than have them staying all alone in hotel rooms indefinitely and have been able to distribute some to other agencies too. They’re working on supplying devices too so that people can access telehealth services. They’re not accustomed to donor outreach or publicity and are working on a way to connect with donors without compromising the privacy and safety of their community.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and ACON (both day 5) are both working to transition a very in-person based and community-centred service model to a one-on-one, low contact model, while working with community members who have previous traumatic experiences of confinement (asylum seekers) and pandemics (LGBTQ people).

The ASRC writes:

People seeking asylum are often denied the right to work and simultaneously denied the right to safety nets such as Centrelink and Medicare. Right now this means that thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia are being left stranded and forgotten by cruel Government policies. It is clear that people seeking asylum will be among the hardest hit by the impacts of COVID-19.

We are still open and this is why

ACON has a clearinghouse of resources for LGBTQ people during COVID and is providing information on drug and alcohol use in this context at their Pivot Point site.

If you have the capacity to support your community by finding frontline organisations working with Indigenous people, ethnic minorities, LGBTQ people, homeless people, people without food, disabled people, chronically ill people, children, elderly people, and other vulnerable and at-risk groups, please support them today.

Things you’re allowed to be sad about, an incomplete list

  • getting seriously ill, or having someone close to you become seriously ill or die
  • not being able to see them while they’re ill or before they die
  • choosing between two of your patients’ lives because you only have one ventilator
  • being unable to hold or attend a funeral for a loved one
  • needing urgent medical attention at a time when it’s less available or when you risk catching COVID-19 while receiving it
  • being trapped in a house with your abuser
  • losing your job in the middle of an enormous economic crash
  • losing your home or your possessions likewise
  • shutting down your business you sunk all your savings and time and dreams into
  • having all your savings evaporate
  • living in another country from your loved ones in a time of closed borders
  • planning labour, delivery, and early parenting without the guarenteed access to pain relief, Caesearean sections, midwives, or home support you’d been relying on
  • not being able to care for close friends or relatives in need of help
  • cancelling or postponing your wedding
  • getting uncomfortably ill, particularly if you don’t have good access to sick leave and medical care
  • living alone and dealing with the prospect of not seeing anyone face to face for weeks and weeks
  • not being able to see close friends or relatives for an indefinite period
  • needing to look after your children while holding down a full time job
  • needing to lay other people off and knowing that they face long-term poverty
  • listening to a bunch of people you trusted opine about how “only” sick people (like you) or elderly people (like you) are at serious risk
  • watching news reports about people who were happy and prosperous weeks ago dying alone in hospital corridors
  • being cooped up in your teeny, dark, noisy house for months
  • not being able to fix up problems with your house because handypeople aren’t essential services
  • cancelling your holidays, and telling your kids you cancelled your holidays
  • explaining to your kids that the new normal is that most days there will be bad news about schools, jobs, friends, holidays and you don’t know when the news will stop getting worse
  • cancelling your birthday party or regular board games night
  • liking Milan, or Rome, or New York, and not being sure whether or when you’ll be able to visit them again or what you’ll find if you do
  • liking cruising, and not being sure it is a thing that will exist in the world after this year
  • not being able to hook up with strangers
  • not being able to go to the beach during some of the best weather you’ve seen lately
  • being subjected to people on social media wanting to take whips to “juveniles” seen outside their houses, or wondering why you even bothered to have children if you aren’t thrilled to be locked in a house with them for a few months at a time at short notice

Yes, not all these things are created equal, the list is loosely ordered and of course you don’t want to complain about taking time off from surfing to someone who just missed their mother’s funeral.

But, at the same time, they’re all sad. You have the right to acknowledge if only to yourself and hopefully to fellow less affected friends that it sucks that your holiday is canceled and that you liked your regular board game night a whole lot actually.

This is important for two reasons, one is simply for peace of mind, insofar as such a thing exists right now. A whole lot has changed in the world in the last four weeks. You’re struggling to keep up and you’re grieving. It benefits no one, especially you, for you to pretend to yourself you’re suddenly all cool with anything short of imminent death.

The other reason is that eventually we want it all back. We want to be mostly free of the looming threat of infectious disease, and for hospitals to be safe, and to be allowed to leave our houses whenever we damn well please, and to have jobs (even if we have children!), and to be able to retire, and to see our friends, and to have new sex partners, and for people on social media to stop hating children so much.

Being deprived of all this is a really serious imposition on civil liberties and while we’re certainly called upon to go along with it for the sake of our communities, and it’s useless to be angry or sad about it non-stop or to heap stress on politicians and public health officials in difficult times, it’s also not a good idea to convince ourselves that we like it this way.

We don’t like it this way, and we’re not supposed to. It’s really really really sad.