Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Building soil during lockdown
Toad calling

(This is a personal post, mostly written for my future self. It gets long, so feel free to ignore!)

What does it feel like to begin our fourth week in lockdown? Surreal, knowing the world is imploding while (if I can get my head out of the news) my days are filled with beautiful hours of sunshine and garden and wildflowers and a perfect husband.

Mayapple leaf

The first week was the toughest. Warned by my tuned-in brother, Mark and I went into voluntary lockdown while our neighbors were still poo-pooing widespread issues arising locally from COVID-19. It was odd to watch the social unacceptability of our stance --- why are you standing so far away? why can't we come into your house? --- fade into fear as our forward-thinking governor put increasingly restrictive rules into place.

The change has been extreme. Mark and I moved to Ohio two years ago to take advantage of the excitement of a university town, with all of its educational events and sustainable initiatives. Now, it feels like we've been tossed back to our solitary lives in Virginia (albeit with more amenities and neighbors who stroll by on the road and say hi).

Tree yoga

I leave home once a day to go to the park, carefully choosing trails I'd already scoped out as having few or no people on them. My selection is due to the fact that park visitation is about four times as high as it used to be and passing a single person on the trail can be daunting if they're not tuned in to social distancing. I now have a face mask to pull on in desperate situations, although I haven't had to use it yet. Instead, I feel like an antisocial weirdo as I bushwhack eight feet off the trail...only to find, as I did yesterday, that the other hiker has a similar mindset and is grateful for my preventative action.

Chainsawing out a stump

Mark and I are also lucky on the food front, both because we stocked up on a month of frozen meat and non-perishables before the rush and because it's far enough into spring now that the garden would feed us the bare minimum vegetables without much fuss. We run out of fruit and salad toppings within a week, though, and figure out curbside pickup and even (surprisingly) delivery to our little homestead fifteen minutes from town. I'm scared to do even that, but Mark insists. Shortages result in strange substitutions while basic items like tylenol are only available online for exorbitant prices. We make do.

Delivery ends up costing only $10 plus tip (another $10), which seems like very little money for the delivery driver to risk her life repeatedly entering a building likely full of COVID-19. But, a few days into our statewide lockdown, she's one of the people poo-pooing the danger. Beginning as I intend to go on, I talk to her from ten feet away (social excuse --- on the other side of the garden fence, pruning blackberries). After she's gone, I laboriously wash every item in soapy water doctored with bleach, ending up with hands dry and bleachy smelling.

Eastern Towhee male

Hands --- that's one of the big changes from the last month. At first, before mandatory lockdowns, elected leaders just told us not to touch our faces and to wash our hands as often as we could. I didn't try to stock up on hand sanitizer (impossible to find anyway), and instead learned the real way to wash hands. Tops and bottoms, tops and bottoms, interlace.... Working my way through the various steps to the tune of Frere Jacque, my hands dried out fast.

But once we were in solid lockdown, I didn't have to lotion up quite so often to counteract endless handwashing (and I also stopped wiping down door knobs and light switches daily). I stopped waking up in terror, having dreamed I was touching my face.

Redbacked Salamander

The mail, though, remains a daily contagion point. I usually save it until I know I'm paying attention, then I'm careful to leave the door ajar as I go out so I won't have to touch the knob coming back in. Grabbing the mail, I carry it back up the driveway to the trash and recycling bins, shedding outer layers of packaging there along with junk mail. Anything I want to keep comes inside, paper set aside for a day while hardier items are washed in soapy bleach water.

All of this extra work feels like overkill when only three people in our county have been confirmed to contract the virus. But one of those people died, and I believe strongly that the it's better to assume COVID-19 is everywhere rather than lowering your guard and regretting it. Plus, Mark is ten years older than me and a man, which puts him in a higher risk group. I'm adamant that I be the one to touch anything dangerous and that we minimize all risk.

Black cat

Speaking of Mark, I feel like lockdown is a little harder for him than me. At first, I was the one melting down as I missed weekly joys --- dance class! neighbor twins invading with their mess and loudness! --- but my life was due for a little extra focus on home. Mark's was ready to expand, with new and old friendships at that precarious stage where you can't really connect other than in person. While I learned to video chat and started actually using facebook for more than "work," Mark was the one who began to admit to occasional dark days.

The trick, I've found, to dealing with the darkness is to expand the accessible brightness in your life while taking the rest one day at a time. I'd never explored the far reaches of our property in the two years we'd lived here, but now I pulled out a deed, compass, and flagging tape and found the boundaries. I dove deep into iNaturalist bioblitzes, both of local nature preserves (very lightly trafficked) that had requested citizen identification sprees and of our own land. And the garden, of course, rewards me daily with both food and spring grace.

Shoveling manure

After the first week, I started sleeping better and my brain started letting me write again without strain. Mornings spent the way I always spend them --- lost in fantasy worlds --- ease my way into the new normal.

Mark's first lockdown project was his not-really-teardrop camper, hooking up a solar cell to a battery and radio. On the other hand, the film class he was taking at the local university extended its spring break then turned into an online class...and after much hassle and consideration, he dropped it. Like me, he's coming to realize that it's not worth pounding your head against a wall at a time like this. Better to focus on easy and fun.

Green Frog eye

Because, even though the world is fighting a physical illness, those of us hiding from the virus have to focus on our own mental health. The hardest part right now is fear for other people, who either refuse to acknowledge the danger, are unable to wrap their heads around changing their lifestyles, or are financially/ethically unable to do anything but continue going to work.

A gardening mindset helps me move forward. I imagine lockdown the same way I would imagine nurturing a young peach tree. You plant and mulch and weed and prune, dreaming of future joy while knowing there will be bugs and fungi to knock your aspirations off track. Even if you end up cutting the tree down after realizing spring frosts plus summer rot wipe out 99% of the fruit, you'll still have rich soil in which to grow something else.

For now, I'm building soil.

Posted
Joey
solar powered waterfall controlled by a GPIO port

This waterfall is beside my yard. When it's running, I know my water tanks are full and the spring is not dry.

Also it's computer controlled, for times when I don't want to hear it. I'll also use the computer control later on to avoid running the pump excessively and wearing it out, and for some safety features like not running when the water is frozen.

This is a whole hillside of pipes, water tanks, pumps, solar panels, all controlled by a GPIO port. Easy enough; the pump controller has a float switch input and the GPIO drives a 4n35 optoisolator to open or close that circuit. Hard part will be burying all the cable to the pump. And then all the landscaping around the waterfall.

There's a bit of lag to turning it on and off. It can take over an hour for it to start flowing, and around half an hour to stop. The water level has to get high enough in the water tanks to overcome some airlocks and complicated hydrodynamic flow stuff. Then when it stops, all that excess water has to drain back down.

Anyway, enjoy my soothing afternoon project and/or massive rube goldberg machine, I certainly am.

Posted
Joey
DIN distractions

My offgrid house has an industrial automation panel.

A row of electrical devices, mounted on a
metal rail. Many wires neatly extend from it above and below,
disappearing into wire gutters.

I started building this in February, before covid-19 was impacting us here, when lots of mail orders were no big problem, and getting an unusual 3D-printed DIN rail bracket for a SSD was just a couple clicks.

I finished a month later, deep into social isolation and quarentine, scrounging around the house for scrap wire, scavenging screws from unused stuff and cutting them to size, and hoping I would not end up in a "need just one more part that I can't get" situation.

It got rather elaborate, and working on it was often a welcome distraction from the news when I couldn't concentrate on my usual work. I'm posting this now because people sometimes tell me they like hearing about my offfgrid stuff, and perhaps you could use a distraction too.

The panel has my house's computer on it, as well as both AC and DC power distribution, breakers, and switching. Since the house is offgrid, the panel is designed to let every non-essential power drain be turned off, from my offgrid fridge to the 20 terabytes of offline storage to the inverter and satellite dish, the spring pump for my gravity flow water system, and even the power outlet by the kitchen sink.

Saving power is part of why I'm using old-school relays and stuff and not IOT devices, the other reason is of course: IOT devices are horrible dystopian e-waste. I'm taking the utopian Star Trek approach, where I can command "full power to the vacuum cleaner!"

Two circuit boards, connected by numerous
ribbon cables, and clearly hand-soldered. The smaller board is suspended
above the larger. An electrical schematic, of moderate complexity.

At the core of the panel, next to the cubietruck arm board, is a custom IO daughterboard. Designed and built by hand to fit into a DIN mount case, it uses every GPIO pin on the cubietruck's main GPIO header. Making this board took 40+ hours, and was about half the project. It got pretty tight in there.

This was my first foray into DIN rail mount, and it really is industrial lego -- a whole universe of parts that all fit together and are immensely flexible. Often priced more than seems reasonable for a little bit of plastic and metal, until you look at the spec sheets and the ratings. (Total cost for my panel was $400.) It's odd that it's not more used outside its niche -- I came of age in the Bay Area, surrounded by rack mount equipment, but no DIN mount equipment. Hacking the hardware in a rack is unusual, but DIN invites hacking.

Admittedly, this is a second system kind of project, replacing some unsightly shelves full of gear and wires everywhere with something kind of overdone. But should be worth it in the long run as new gear gets clipped into place and it evolves for changing needs.

Also, wire gutters, where have you been all my life?

A cramped utility room with an entire wall
covered with electronic gear, including the DIN rail, which is surrounded by
wire gutters Detail of a wire gutter with the cover removed.
Numerous large and small wires run along it and exit here and there.

Finally, if you'd like to know what everything on the DIN rail is, from left to right: Ground block, 24v DC disconnect, fridge GFI, spare GFI, USB hub switch, computer switch, +24v block, -24v block, IO daughterboard, 1tb SSD, arm board, modem, 3 USB hubs, 5 relays, AC hot block, AC neutral block, DC-DC power converters, humidity sensor.

Full width of DIN rail.

Posted
rstidyman (Richard)
PERMA and Character Strengths
  1. Brief overview of PERMA
    1. Read a short article explaining the acronym.
    2. 5 minute video with brief explanation. The longer video is here. 
  2. Access your character strengths to maximize your well-being
  3. What are your character strengths.  Take the assessment. (You must register first)
    1. Short Survey
    2. Longer survey
    3. Description of character strengths and the virtue category they belong to. 
    4. Optional (but in reality, it is all optional) This looks like a good video on why operating in your character strengths improves your satisfaction in the areas of PERMA.
  4. Discussion
    1. On a scale of 1-5, with 1 being non=existent and 5 being “the best it could be”
      1. Positive emotions (fun)
      2. Engagement (flow)
      3. Relationships
      4. Meaning (sense of purpose)
      5. Sense of Achievement
    2. Times in your life when you were scoring 4-5 in each of those areas.  Take a walk down memory lane and stir up some pleasant thoughts.
    3. What do you do now that gives you the highest levels of satisfaction in each area?
    4. What are some things that you are not doing, or could be doing to increase your level of satisfaction in each area?
    5. How could using your character strengths improve your satisfaction in your life?  Work? Home?  
    6. What’s getting in the way of your taking steps to increasing your sense of wellbeing?  E.g. fear, shame, physical limitations, time, money, etc. What are creative ways you can still operate in your character strengths and experience higher levels of satisfaction in the five areas of PERMA?
  5. I’m looking forward to hearing what you come up with. 

 

Posted
git-annex devblog (Joey devblog)
day 620 emergency mode

I'm only working on git-annex a day or two a week at present. Like everyone, dealing with the covid-19 crisis taking up a lot of my time. Some days I can't concentrate, some days I am dealing with basic needs, and other days I am rushing to develop other software targeted at this crisis. (See my personal blog.)

I remotely attended the MONII conference a week ago, with lots of researchers doing things with software related to git-annex, some in the health field, and something that struck me was a mention that it's important that scientists continue their work, even if it's not directly related to the crisis. All kinds of fields are going to be important in the time ahead beyond saving lives.

So I am prioritizing anything scientists need to use git-annex, and anything those working on the crisis might need. If that's you and you need something, you can use the new "priority" tag on bugs and todos, and it will go right to the top of the roadmap. Do bear in mind that I have limited time/resources/attention right now, so only use it when you really need something urgently.

Posted
rstidyman (Richard)
For Teachers: Change your Career and Your Life

I’ve been on both ends of the spectrum of teaching.

Image result for kids loved at home come to school to learn

At first, I hated it.  Was overwhelmed not only with the managing the logistics but my own fears of incompetency, fear of judgement, and loss of control of the classroom.  As it turned out, I relied on my child rearing models of crowd control.  Threats, manipulation, pleading, yelling, and shaming.  I did some damage, I hurt many a kid, and some responded with anger, others slinked away, and many grew to hate me and refused to learn. Not all of them.  The good students and I got along.  The challenging ones and I battled it out.

Fortunately, life has a way to teaching us what we need to learn.  About halfway through, I learned about Love and Logic. And then with time and more reading completely changed my beliefs, and then my practices, and then my habits.  I believe I ended on a high note. I learned to love the kids, even most of the challenging ones.  And even the hardest, I could hold space for them to be themselves, within healthy boundaries, and the lessons I learned myself, I passed on to the kids, like communication, appreciate, attitude, and so much more.

How different was it from the early to the later years?  Here is a clue.  In the earlier years, I never bought a year book.  I didn’t believe many students would have interest in leaving a sentiment, and fear several with markers to write hateful things.  In the last few years, not only did I buy year books, but students filled the pages with kind, fun and loving sentiments.

Must of what I learned can be summarized here and if it appeals to you, there is plenty of more information.

Brene Brown and “Daring Classrooms.” 

To really get into the info, explore her website with lots of resources for yourself and classroom.  https://brenebrown.com/daringclassrooms/  Great books too.

You owe it to yourself to have the greatest career, to give yourself a break, learn what is really important, and revolutionize your classroom  Your are in a powerful position  to do either great good, or psychic trauma.  I’ve feel like I’ve done both.  Create a classroom, no matter the subject matter that kids want to go to, where they feel accepted, and even cherished, and learning will become easier for them and easier for you to teach.

Are their other resources.  Yes.  I’ve integrated Growth Mindset, and concepts from other positive psychology experts.  But Brene Brown is in my opinion is the best.

 

 

 

 

Posted
Joey
quarantimer: a coronovirus quarantine timer for your things

I am trying to avoid bringing coronovirus into my house on anything, and I also don't want to sterilize a lot of stuff. (Tedious and easy to make a mistake.) Currently it seems that the best approach is to leave stuff to sit undisturbed someplace safe for long enough for the virus to degrade away.

Following that policy, I've quickly ended up with a porch full of stuff in different stages of quarantine, and I am quickly losing track of how long things have been in quarantine. If you have the same problem, here is a solution:

https://quarantimer.app/

Open it on your mobile device, and you can take photos of each thing, select the kind of surfaces it has, and it will track the quarantine time for you. You can share the link to other devices or other people to collaborate.

I anticipate the javascript and css will improve, but it's good enough for now. I will provide this website until the crisis is over. Of course, it's free software and you can also host your own.

If this seems useful, please tell your friends and family about it.

Be well!


This is made possible by my supporters on Patreon, particularly Jake Vosloo.

Posted
Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Homegrown Humus free (and garden update)
Homegrown Humus

To give folks an easier entrance point to self-sufficiency, I enrolled most of my books in Kindle Unlimited for the spring season. And one of them --- Homegrown Humus --- is free today!

This book, full of tips on improving your soil with cover crops, has sold over 10,000 copies since it launched in 2013. If you've been gardening for a while, you'll understand why. The idea of turning your garden soil black through the application of a few seeds is like magic. I hope you'll grab a copy and work some magic today.

Worm bin

Speaking of black gold, I finally delved into our two bathtub worm bins to see how they fared over the winter. The bin we'd left alone had a few large worms in it --- perhaps enough to recolonize the half-composted manure by summer. The bin in which Mark had installed an electric heat pad on low, though, was so full of worms of all ages that we could have seeded a dozen more bins!

Since we don't have that infrastructure in place at the moment, I instead raked the finished castings to one side and filled the other half of the bin with semi-fresh horse-stall leavings. Hopefully the worms will migrate over, leaving uninhabited castings for me to spread on the garden in a few weeks. (I also scooped some of the worms over into the other bin to get that composting process moving a bit faster. Experiment is complete --- time to make double the black gold!)

Cat with kale

March is the season when our garden really gets going, and this year's coronavirus outbreak has made me more serious about the task than I have been since our move. Luckily, the winter was mild, so a bit of overwintering lettuce and spinach plus masses of kale are all available to keep us healthy without hitting grocery stores.

Leafy greens do get boring after a while, though. That's why we have new lettuce and peas coming up, lots of seedlings inside, and are planting potatoes for the first time in quite a while.

Yep, potatoes. When I feel insecure, I stock up, and potatoes are an easy way to ensure we'll have calories in a few months no matter what. Plus, the more time I spend in the garden, the less I'm listening to the news. Win-win!

Posted
Anna (Anna and Mark: Waldeneffect)
Social distance with a garden

Effects of social distancing
It was a tough call given that there is only one community-spread case in our state as of yesterday. But deeper reading suggests what we are seeing is only the tip of the iceberg. While I'm at very low risk from coronavirus, each person who contracts the disease spreads it to three other people and mortality rates skyrocket each decade for folks over 60. Between us, Mark and I could be responsible for a grandmother's death.

So we're going into social-distancing mode. We stocked up on a month's worth of non-perishables earlier in the week and voted early yesterday. The only reasons to leave home now are optional.

I'm keeping some of those optional outings. Hikes at the park seem very safe, playing in my garden safer yet. Letting the neighbor twins come down (with new, strict handwashing procedures they reluctantly agreed to comply with, plus new surface-cleaning protocols after they leave) seems like a worthwhile risk now that school is out and their worlds are smaller. I'll likely still go down the road to buy eggs from another neighbor, although we'll chat outdoors and keep our distance.

It feels a bit silly at this stage...but all of the experts I've heard in the last week explain that social distancing is most effective when it feels silly. If we wait until the ax looms, the health-care systems will be in danger of being overwhelmed. (Don't forget that 5+ day lag between getting sick and showing symptoms!)

Broccoli sets

So what am I telling you to do? All of the obvious stuff mentioned above...and maybe also hurry up planting your spring garden.

Don't know where to start? Take a look at your region on this soil-temperature map, then compare it to the minimum germination temperatures for crops here. Easy and fast crops at this time of year include lettuce, radishes, and most leafy greens.  These will be great for keeping the monotony of beans and rice at bay!

High-calorie crops that can be planted now --- in case your stored staples don't last the length of the outbreak --- include potatoes and carrots and peas. For us, now is also the time to start a lot of summer crops inside to jumpstart the frost-free date. Our broccoli sets are at the two-leaf stage and I'll be filling a flat with tomato, basil, and pepper seeds today.

I know that many of you can't simply hunker down in place. But if you can stay home, just think how much more fun it will be to social distance within a vibrant, food-filled garden.

And don't forget to wash your hands!

Posted
rstidyman (Richard)
Connect at the Heart Level First
Brene Brown talks a lot about courage, vulnerability, fear, resilience and leadership. But we soo too many people who may be discouraged or hopeless that any effort on their part will make a difference. “Why bother”, which is just another way of saying it won’t matter anyway. Nothing will change, I’ll still be the same old so and so, an I’ll still be alone, ultimately unloved and unlovable. 
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I know that feeling. I grew up questioning my worth. It appeared to me that I was just another mouth to feed, and that my existence added to the family’s hardship. I hustled for a way to make myself indispensable, and became quite the people pleaser, always ready to lend a hand, fix this, do that. To this day, at times, I struggle with the feeling that my value is what I do, not who I am. Old habits die hard.5a1c7f5bffbc430df856e25900f68b61
 
As a teacher, I learned late in my career the difference a caring teacher can make. “Love and Logic” introduced me to the idea that it is okay, even necessary to connect with the kids as human beings, as valuable in their own right, unique, talented, capable, lovable and worthy of the investment of our time as teachers. Love and Logic said “fall in love with your kids” and they will do work for you that they wouldn’t do for themselves.
 
I posted a sign where I could see it, “Kids don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. Over time, I hope they will have the inner strength and history of success if  provided some impetus from a caring adult.
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I should have known. Left to my own devices as a teen and young adult, it was often a concerned friend, or my mom, though tired and struggling herself, saw in me something I couldn’t see. She encouraged me to do things, to try for something a little bigger or better. When I didn’t care, the fact that someone, my mom, a friend or caring adult, did care kept me going.
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You often see articles where classrooms adopt an animal, and even dogs. Kids love dogs. And dogs love kids. I wonder if we could get some kind loving grandmotherly and grandfatherly types to volunteer in classrooms to be that adult that helps when needed, but mostly just provides unconditional love and caring and a reminder that kids are worth the effort. It would help the old timers know that they still matter, but just as importantly, that the kids matter.
Posted

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