Garden Defense

Slugs and snails are a big challenge for gardeners in my area. Some of last year’s Basil went down to slimy defeat, even though it was in a raised Earth Box. I’m trying lettuce and chard this year, which is like hanging out a blinking Neon “Free Buffet!” sign. What to do? Investing in Sluggo wasn’t appealing. Copper is supposed to repel slugs and snails, but wrapping copper tape around an Earth Box seemed like overkill. All you really need to do to keep the slugs and snails out is surround the wheels under the box…

Looking around the hardware store, I hit on the idea of wrapping copper tape around 4″ PVC drain filters, then setting the Earth Boxes wheels in the filters. (Drain plugs were cheaper, but filters avoid having standing water.)

Construction was trivial. (The alcohol was to wipe down the plugs to give the tape a clean surface to stick to.)

Behold, a well-defended Earth Box!

Total cost: $7.50 per box. It would have cost less (about $4.50 per box) to just wrap each box in one strand of copper tape, but the extra few dollars were worth it for aesthetics and fun.

Update, on year later: Did it work? Yes. I found one snail in one box, but no evidence of others.

A Word About Hospitals and Flowers

The dread “____ is in the hospital” call came in early February. I spent parts of that month on airplanes, doing bedside duty, and taking care of things away from home. A few long weekends disappeared from the calendar, and a bunch of stuff I’d wanted to get done either went *poof* or caused cascading delays. Meanwhile, other, smaller emergencies didn’t get the memo about waiting their turn. It’s taken most of March to get back on top of things.

If you have friends and family, at some point the same might happen to you. One moment your life is chugging along, and the next you’re sitting in a hospital keeping someone company, or just being there for them while they go through a miserable, painful experience.

One lesson from this is that it’s important to have a way to quickly contact people who may be expecting things from you, so that they can know you’ll be unavailable and can make alternate plans. A quick exercise is to list all of the things you’re involved in, and who might be left hanging if you had to suddenly disappeared. Do you have their contact info, or contact info for someone who can let other people know? Can you reach them if don’t have net access?

The other lesson has to do with flowers.

The florist industry has spent a lot of advertising money conditioning us to send flowers when someone we’re close to goes into the hospital. From what I’ve seen hanging around a large hospital, that advertising paid off. Arrangements too large for one person to carry getting wheeled in; Roses and daisies by the dozens; a large, heavily tattooed Yakuza wannabe carrying a dainty little arrangement in a tiny vase for his sick mother.

There are at least three problems here.

First, there’s not a lot of room in many hospital rooms. Surface space is at a premium. There’s no place for the flowers to go that doesn’t displace something else, and often that something else is medical. So expensive arrangements end up on the floor in the corner, out of the patient’s sight.

Second is the issue of pollen and smell. You’d think that people (or florists) would know not to send a mass of allergens into confined places where people might be having, say, respiratory problems. But it happens. And you don’t want the patient going into a sneezing fit when they’re hooked up to a bunch of tubes, or when they’re in traction. And we link smells to events. It isn’t nice to associate the smell of, say, roses with having an IV needle changed and being woken up at all hours for blood pressure checks.

Third is the “no flowers” policy in some wards that will leave you stuck with a bill for flowers that the florist couldn’t deliver, or which a nurse immediately redirected to a trash can outside. An expensive gesture, wasted.

So when someone you love goes into the hospital, think twice about sending flowers. If you can, coordinate and send one small, neutral arrangement. Cards are good. Send cards.

A Travel Tip

If you habitually run out of space trying to bring new stuff home from trips, try this: On the outbound leg, wear an old set of clothes that you’re about to get rid of anyway. Discard (or donate) them when you arrive. You’ve just regained several tens of cubic inches of luggage space. And that paperback you finished on the plane? Leave it in the hotel lobby, or at a local coffee shop that has a bookshelf.

Refilling the newly available luggage space is left as an exercise.

Email triage

0:00:00
It’s time. Grab the stopwatch, pack the laptop, and head out the door.
0:09:21
Sit down at a local coffee shop (one without wireless) with a cup of coffee and a muffin, and inventory the damage. Starting point: 63 emails in the inbox, 32 in @followup. The largest clump of messages (23) is from two weeks ago, which is when things got really bad. I’m fairly aggressive about dealing with emails “above the fold” (i.e., the new ones), but when they slip into need-to-scroll land, they risk getting stuck.
0:13:35
Catch myself in the trap of spending time giving thoughtful responses instead of triaging. The inbox is at 54. Re-commence filing and discarding.
0:38:26
Inbox is at zero! @followup now has 40 messages, the outbox has 2, and I’ve scribbled down 4 action items on paper. Not as bad as I’d expected, at least so far. Now to cull @followup.
0:50:55
After applying the “is there really a next step here that I care about taking?” test to everything in @followup, the count is now at 15. A few emails represented possibilities that had expired. One message is two years old, but it’s an outlier that really should go on a “someday, maybe” list.
1:02:49
@followup is down to 13, with 2 more emails in the outbox. Of what’s left, half require network access. Two are requests that I’m conflicted about, but will probably say “No” to. The remaining stuff in @followup represents 2-3 hours of work. Not as bad as I’d expected.
1:41:23
Finished a second cup of coffee, and some other laptop cleanup. I must have zoned out for a while; it doesn’t feel like a half-hour has passed.
2:00:55
Back at home, with wireless connectivity. 8 new emails; 7 are spam. The other requires a few minutes of investigation before dispatching.
2:12:52
One @followup was to renew a domain registration, which required shuffling through some paperwork. I won’t have to worry about that one for another 5 years.
2:17:49
One @followup was about an updated PDF for the Pragmatic Programmer’s Rails book, which required digging up my customer number. Meanwhile, the emails that I sent 17 minutes ago have already generated two responses. Doesn’t anyone have a life? Reply to one of them.
2:25:14
Filing expenses on-line rocks. Down to 11 in @followup.
2:29:29
Catch myself web surfing. Bad Dave. Meanwhile 2 more spams got through the filter.
2:37:18
Started to deal with another @followup, but it’s one that needs some thinking before I can decide which way to go, and I’m out of time this morning. The @followup count is still at 11.

Distraction Removal

Before:

Desk with distractions

After:

Desk with distractions removed

The blank wall is a bit stark, so I’ll probably put something up to replace the boards. The trick will be to find something that’s not distracting. Perhaps Monet’s Water Lilies, or an Ansel Adams print. I’m open to suggestions.

Planning vs. Working

“Going Meta” is one of my favorite coping strategies when there’s some piece of boring work in front of me that I’d rather avoid. When you aren’t working the work, kick the abstraction level up a notch and work on working on the work. A great way to fool yourself into thinking that you’re being productive. Works almost every time.

So there I was, sitting at my desk, actively avoiding some particularly boring paperwork task, when I started pondering the problem of having the problem of being stuck on the task. Usually, this goes nowhere, but tonight I think it paid off.

The “duh” answer to my stuckness is that I was letting myself get distracted too easily. The slightly deeper, but still pretty shallow answer was there there where too many distractions within my range of vision. As I sat there, looking at what was in sight, I realized that much of what was directly visible in my work area was planning artifacts. On the wall behind my desk are two magnetic boards that are covered with index cards. Most of the cards are about various projects and other stuff that needs to get done. When my eyes wander off of the screen, they invariably land on some reminder of something else that’s not done (or not even started), and my attention gets drawn into planning, and away from whatever concrete task I was intending to make progress on. I’ll eventually snap out of the planning trance and get back to work, but the next time my eyes drift, off I go into the planning again.

Tomorrow, the magnetic boards get moved to a different wall. I still need them for planning, but they have no business interfering when I’m work mode.