Category Archives: Planet NoSocialMedia

Fans of the long form

Once again, an unfinished post because I worked (for work work, not book-related work) until the wee hours and then fell into bed.

That aside, I’ve seen rumblings for quite some time from people getting frustrated with the various social media things because it’s simply too difficult to write anything in a long form that will be seen all the time. By “seen” I don’t mean that no one will see the piece, ever, but that the piece will be seen by the intended audience for it. This occurred to me last year: even on Facebook, if you’re following someone, it’s entirely possible Facebook’s strange algorithms will prevent you from seeing everything that person has written unless you are specifically working to check what has been posted by that person. Even if you do see what someone has posted, if it’s long, it will be truncated and a “read more” link given – even for Facebook notes. For authors of the content, that is a bad thing: there are a fair number of people who will not choose to read the entire piece. A couple of paragraphs above the fold will be it, and they’ll toss a like on it, maybe offer a comment, and move on in the cluttered landscape of Facebook.

Twitter? Trying to follow some tweet thread/storm that someone has posted can be an exercise in patience or frustration, depending on how you look at it, as there’s a good chance that while the author is tweeting within the character limit, people may  also be commenting on any number of messages within the thread, disrupting the flow of whatever the author of the tweets is saying. In addition, many people follow hundreds, if not thousands of other people/organizations. It’s terribly easy to miss threads you might otherwise read from someone if you caught it in the firehose of content that is the twitterverse.

The same things go for any of the other social media outlets: sometimes, perhaps even a lot of times, the content creators find they are not reaching all of their followers, and the followers often miss out on what that creator has posted, because it gets buried in some fashion – most of the time, through sheer volume, because people just click “follow” without understanding it simply is not possible to get the content from every single person they’re following without being on the social media platform 24/7.

These things are why I’ve been seeing more and more people go back to basics, resurrecting long-dormant blogs so they can post longer content and ensure that one, their followers can find it, and two, followers can read the entire piece, without any interruptions by ads or “sponsored content” or trying to follow a thread down a rabbit hole. It’s terribly difficult to get the same nuances in long form writing when it’s being done on Facebook or Twitter or wherever else, as they simply do not easily lend themselves to that. There are plugins available that allow content on the blogs to automatically post to the various social media outlets, even if it’s just a quick snapshot of the title or first paragraph or so.

This is not to say I’m against social media. I firmly believe content producers should put their work out via any means possible, and if they manage to get peoples’ eyeballs on it within those social media circle, so much the better. But I am saying as more and more people realize what a time suck  (among other problems) social media is and move away from it (like yours truly) and with more people writing, worrying how much will be truncated by any particular outlet, or how many ads will be posted with it, or how many tweets they’d have to rapid-fire post  to get their content across,  the long form content writing area is coming back around. That, in my book, is an incredibly important -and good – thing.

Calling the season

After much thought – thinking on it for days and days, really – I decided to call it a season, garden-wise. I didn’t want to, and it pains me greatly to technically classify this as another lost season (i.e., a failure), but there has simply been far too many things going on, and I haven’t been well enough to keep on top of it.  I’ve elected to not do another round of tomatoes and cukes, as I had planned, and in fact, will not be doing any new rounds of anything at all, even brassicas like broccoli and cauliflower, which are much easier to maintain as they have fewer pests than other plants.

The peppers are doing well, as are the squash, so those will stay until they have run their course, because harvesting those and processing them is not terribly onerous, although it is time consuming to dry the chiles so they can be stored until the end of the season, nature-wise, in order to grind them into their respective powders.

There are two factors at work here: one, of course, and as my handful of readers know, is my health. I am still recovering from the rounds of pneumonia, and I have a lump on my neck no one seems to know what to do with. I also desperately need to gain some weight, which is a difficult task for me even under normal conditions. Thus far, every gain I’ve made this season is knocked back by work in the gardens – a vicious circle that has to be stopped if I’m ever to gain back even a fraction of what I’ve lost since last November through the various illnesses. When I’m healthy, of course, my body is not trying to burn calories to heal and burn calories for the grunt work that are the gardens here at the ranch. That double whammy is too stressful on my system, and beyond just gaining back weight, puts the removal of this feeding tube further out of reach.

The second factor? Time. I already gave up on the social media time sinks, just popping on to twitter briefly now and again, freeing up large chunks of time. But this season in the gardens, it has been taking me twice as long to do the things that are necessary and second nature to me than they do when I am healthy: I tire more easily, and since my lungs in particular have taken a beating, I can’t catch my wind well, as we say down here. For those of you not well versed in Southern-ese, it means I have a hard time catching my breath during exertion. Thus, the time that has gone into doing all the things that need to be done in the gardens, from starting and maintaining flats, to transplanting, to weeding, to bug patrol has skyrocketed, eating into time I need for other things.

So, the plan: the tomatoes are history, beaten down by too much rain in June, and too much pest and weed burden. Those plants will be pulled for the compost heap and the frames stripped of weeds. The frames where I had cukes and beans will be stripped, weeded, and covered as well. Where we don’t have commercial weedblock already in place, we’ll be putting down heavy mil black plastic to solarize the frames and kill off whatever still lurks in the top inches of the soil – pests and weeds both. The rows of tomatoes have weedblock in place, so will just need covering in the places the holes were punched for the plants.

When the peppers and squash have run their course, those plants will be pulled for the compost pile as well. The rows where the peppers are plants have weedblock, so it will simply be a matter of covering those holes as with the tomatoes. The asparagus rows need to be weeded, but those will not be covered; instead, we’ll use thick layers of straw there, to try to keep the weeds down. Ditto for the strawberries.

And so the rows will lie fallow this season, giving them a break from the constant use we’ve had going for the past however many years. In a month or so, we’ll pull back the cover, and put in some soil-feeding crop – some vetch, oats and winter peas is a good combination that I’ve used before, and I may put in some buckwheat and perhaps some clover as well. After those come up solidly, I’ll cut them off at the soil line, leave the cuttings right in place, and cover the rows up once more, letting it all die off. Before the spring, we’ll pull the covers back, top off the rows with soil and manure, and cover them once again. The rows where we only have plastic down we’ll swap out for weedblock right before transplanting begins. The rows that have bowed out sides from the pressure of soil have to be righted and braced better; that’s a cool weather job, as the edges have to be dug away so the sides can be returned to vertical and braced.

The time I’d otherwise spend in the gardens this season will instead go into the writing bank. I’ve been planning to work on this first book (of about 20, now) in my head since last year’s NaNoWriMo in November, but that got thrown out the window by illness and a bout with pancreatitis (note: the latter is painful as hell). So, I said, “I’ll start in December.” That also was derailed for the same reasons (note again: pancreatitis is a bitch!). I’d lost about 15 pounds over those two months, and headed into January swearing that 2017 would be better, and I’d be able to work on my writing. Enter the pneumonias, the surgeries, the ongoing issue with my neck, the further weight loss, and the time eating monster all of that created when I wanted to get the gardens going this year. The result: a big fat zero on the writing front.

I figure that by next year, when it’s time to get the gardens going once more, I will have regained some weight, which will help the overall health issues, especially when it comes to help keep something like pneumonia from landing me in a hospital bed with IVs in my arms, because my body will be in a better position to help fight stuff like that instead of trying to fight that sort of thing with little to no reserves available. That will also make keeping up the gardens not carve out huge chunks of time and instead return that to the more normal work time I associate with the gardens, leaving pools of time available for writing. This is the goal I’m working toward, and I do believe it is, ultimately, an attainable goal.

My next step from here is to continue to try to adjust my schedule properly in order to get the novel work done first thing in the mornings. Without the worries and constant “I shoulds” intrusions, about the gardens, my mind be free of the stress and guilt over that, which will help my mindset on the writing front. I’ll still be writing here, too, of course, as this writing supports other writing and vice versa. It all also helps continue building and reinforcing the habit of writing on a daily basis: mornings for the main work in progress, afternoons for things like blogging, fleshing out the ideas that pop into my head for other novels, working on poems, and so on.

So that’s the plan, peeps. I hope you’ll continue to follow along for my musings – even if I’m not working gardens this year, I’ll still be thinking/writing about the things that we will be doing out there this year, my thoughts about what to plant next year (and where and why), and of course I’ll still be working my bees.

Until next time, peeps. Be well.

 

Hello, sports fans

It’s been awhile, yes. A big thank you to Damian, who noticed I had a script kiddie “hack” the site – not a hack per se, just a defacement, like a tagger on a building wall more than anything else, but annoying. If you’re running WordPress, you need to update to 4.7.2. This is pretty much their equivalent of a hair on fire announcement.

“WordPress 4.7.2 is now available. This is a security release for all previous versions and we strongly encourage you to update your sites immediately.”

So, thanks to Damian, I cleared out that defaced post and got this here blawg, plus the others I maintain, updated.

Speaking of updates, what’s been happening at the ranch? A bunch of things, bleeding over from the suckage that was 2016. Last year was rather a horrible one from every single angle: professional, personal, ranch. I was sick off and on most of the year, and late in the year I found a big lump on the right side of my neck. Those of you who have followed me know that the cancer back in 2005 was on the left side of my neck. This thing ballooned up so big that it finally burst – or, as the doctors say, “spontaneously drained”. There’s a very hard lump in there, surrounded by infection. At this time, since I have kept draining it (which is disgusting) it is much more contained at the moment, but still painful.

After five months, we are now heading toward surgery to remove it. Tomorrow. We’re not entirely sure ow long that will take, since even with multiple types of scans,  they can’t quite tell how large it is or how deeply it goes. We’ll see tomorrow – well, they will, and they’ll let me know afterwards. They have a 23-hour “observation period” which means I will be stuck in hospital overnight, dangit. No day surgery for this one, because, as I mentioned, there’s no way to tell how deep it is or how much they will have to cut if the pathologist says there’s something there and the margins are not clean. That means I’ll be hauling my laptop up and leeching off the hospital’s wifi, which should be at least marginally better than the sucktastic ISP I have now.

So what happened in 2016?  Pneumonia a couple of times, for one. General grue some others, including when my sister came back to the US for a visit, bringing whatever German germs they have over there. The garden was a disaster, since one of the times I was quite ill was around Memorial Day, when things are starting to go full blast in the gardens. I was sick for a couple of weeks, managed to keep the bees fed, and that was about it: everything else spiraled out of control for the most part. We had no significant harvest as we’ve had in years past, and only a handful of tomatoes.

(Insert four days here, as I did not finish this post on the eve of surgery on my neck. Surgery: done. Recovery: continuing. No hospital stay: hooray!)

At the end of the year, I go this lump thing going, and in the bee yard, I lost 20 – yes, 20 – hives.  I think some of that was due to the incredible weird weather we had deep into the year. In October, we were still seeing temps in the 80s, the queens had not been shut down by their respective bees, so they wanted to swarm and had to be split. I suppose I could have just continued to pile brood boxes on them, but I don’t think it would have made a difference in how things turned out: there simply would not have been enough bees to cover all of the brood as the 80-degree days suddenly snapped to low 70s and the overnights to 40-ish, in exactly the same way a swarm or split would not have enough bees for the same thing.

Another problem: absconding. I hesitate to call it colony collapse disorder, although at least three I know fit the conditions: plenty of food and pollen, no masses of dead bees, and the queen left behind with a tiny group of young bees. As in plenty of cases I’ve read about, there didn’t seem to be any problems inside the hive at all. They were healthy, not overly burdened by mites, beetles, or other pests, and then one day they were just gone. One, in fact, disappeared in the course of a day: I’d checked the hive the day before, and the next day, poof! No bees.

It’s disheartening, to say the least, when you’ve busted your ass on 100+ degree days taking care of the hives only to find them gone. A few of the hives had dwindled to almost nothing and were holding their own, but eventually got robbed out by other, stronger, hives. That, too, is strange: the strong hives had plenty of stores, so didn’t need the piddly amounts that were in the weaker hives, and in one case, didn’t have anywhere to really store that excess anyway. It’s an odd life, taking care of bees.

One thing I tried in late 2016 was in-frame feeders. They take the place of one or two frames in a hive body, depending on what size body you’re running in the yard. These have a cap and ladder system that is supposed to allow the bees to go down and gather up the syrup the frames are filled with and crawl back up without drowning. I know a lot of people use them. They’ve had great success. The migratory keepers use them a lot. What I got? A bunch of drowned bees in some, and in other hives, a ton of drowned bees. I pulled every single one out of the hives. While they are convenient, holding a gallon (or two) of sugar syrup to reduce the number of times you have to make syrup and refill, the tradeoff in dead bees did not work for me. If I have to hump 50 jars out for feeding when it’s necessary, then that’s what I’ll do. Lesson learned, in that those types of feeders are not for my beeyard.

This year, I’ll be rebuilding the beeyard. I picked up four nucs from Jester’s down in Mims – almost two and a half hours from here, one way, and it was funny driving back two and half hours with the back of the car humming. All of those are doing great, as they should. Nucs, for those not in the know, are smaller versions of hives. They usually have five frames, with brood, honey, and pollen. The queen is in the box with her bees, and when you get them home, ideally you should swap them over into regular hive bodies. When I returned home that day, it was late and starting to spit rain, so they hung out in the nucs until the next day when I hived them. They didn’t seem particularly bothered by the delay, and I had to add second brood boxes already to all four of them. If you need bees, you’re a small keeper, and you live somewhere that isn’t too far away, give Jester’s a call – I’m pleased thus far with this group that I have, and I can’t wait to see how they perform once spring arrives.

I also ordered 15 packages from Rossman to rebuild the beeyard.  It’s a fairly big expense, but not an overwhelming one, and will get us back up to the numbers I want faster than dealing with splits would, especially since I don’t have a huge number of hives to work with relative to splits.

For the gardens: I have flats in the barn under the lights, and they are all up. In a couple of days, I’m hoping to have this neck thing not hurt so much so I can do the next round of flats. I also sowed carrot, radish, and beet a week or so before surgery, and was planning to do a successive round of those today, but that’s going to have to be pushed back as the flats have been. My goal this year is to have better succession planting and thus better management of what’s on hand and growing throughout the year. It would also help to not be seriously ill this year, and I’ve decided I’ll just have to start wearing a mask if I have to be out amongst large groups of people. In fact, my sister warned me yesterday that there is some kind of nasty flu-like thing making the rounds out in the world, and my brother in Orlando is ill, and says there’s something down there, too. So, masks it is. I’d rather look silly than be down for the count for three weeks and not be able to tend things normally.

For the log/online life: I got off facebook at some point in the middle of last year, and at the end of the year, I deactivated my account. That has freed up a lot of time, removed some stress and pressure, and in general has been one of the best things I’ve ever done. I maintain my author page via an account I created just for that purpose: that account has no friends, follows no groups or people, and never will. It’s just there to give me entry to the page I set up, which is not updated on a regular basis right now – because really, do you see established authors hanging out on facebook all day long? No. They are either there to post once in awhile, or they have assistants to take care of their social media. Seriously, the next time you’re on any of the social media stuff, start a timer and see how long you’re on them when you finally exit. It’s astonishing how much of a time sink they are. If you have other things you need to do (write words, repair the sink, do a workout) use social media as  reward – set that timer for 30 minutes or an hour or whatever after you’ve done the task you want/need to do, and when the timer goes off, you’re done. Close them out and go do something else. Maybe one of these days, people will once again appreciate the nature of long form exchanges, like this, instead of 140 character bites or the inanity (“I had nachos!!!”) of most of what people post on social media. Life is too short to watch bad movies, read bad books, or waste years of your life on social media.

One of my goals this year is to post regularly here – ideally, I’d like to do that daily, even if it’s just an image from wandering around the gardens or bees. Notice that I did not say resolution, but goal. I’d like to make it into a habit, and I suppose this post is the beginning of making that habit.

Speaking of habits, I stumbled across a gamified (how I can’t stand that word) habit creator/to do application. It’s over at Habitica.com – it’s free and it’s fun. Some of the functions are not things I’m using (battling monsters with friends, for instance) because I simply want the to-do portion of it. I do still like Todoist, but I find Habitica the one I turn to more these days.

And now? Time to get back to doing some work – work work, as I’m not quite ready for the other work for the gardens and bees just yet. I’m getting there, though.

Hope your new years are falling into place for you, my handful of readers.

Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 6

I’m closing in on a week without the usual social media haunts of mine, and I have to say: it feels pretty damned good. I hit up the headlines on a handful of sites just a couple of times a day, and STAY AWAY from the comments.  Today I didn’t actually check the news until mid-afternoon, and that felt pretty fine, too. I’m quite happy to have avoided all the gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the last few days especially.

What have I been doing instead? Writing! Mostly. I’ve also pulled a bunch of weeds, sorted out some things on my desk, cleaned out my inbox piece by piece, done some reading, worked (of course – something has to pay the bills until the writing does), and in general have been quite productive without the whirlpool of suck that is social media.

If you have it in you, and you want to get more done without the stress various social media outlets create (yes, they do) or just want to relax and do nothing, you could do worse than significantly scaling back the time spent on those. That isn’t to say there should be none in your life – after all, most people are not like me, content to live in their own heads most of the time – but I bet if you timed how long you’re on, you’d be astonished at the reality of the amount of time spent there versus what you think you spend there. I was. Real life is much more delicious with less of that particular seasoning.

 

Exploring Planet NoSocialMedia, Day 1

Some months ago, I told myself to pare back on the timesink known as facebook. I’d been doing really well, too, although I’d not gotten around to doing some of the things I planned to do, which was the reason I dropped facebook in the first place.  I don’t count this as a total fail, because I did get some rather deep introspectional type stuff done to clear up some things in my head that will help me forge ahead with these other things I want to do.

However, I wound up back on facebook as a place to vent after a few events (one of which was the horrifying massacre of 49 people and the wounding of scores of others at a gay nightclub in Orlando) and got sucked in again, resulting in more and more time there, wasted.

But! During the last few days of June, I made it known that I was going to live on Planet NoSocialMedia for the month of July, and perhaps even longer.  It’s slightly easier for me, as the only ones I actually participate on are twitter (not much), instagram (not much except pics from the ranch), and facebook, the ultimate alien-like, face-humping, time-wasting monster.

Today is (still, as I type this) July 1. I have not ventured off Planet NoSocialMedia today. I also have not written anything today. I think this will be all right, though, as I had to get some other things cleared out of the way after having a couple of days of forced rest thanks to some physical issues that cropped up.

Now, we head into Day 2. The goal: continue to work at things that need to be done at the ranch, but also meet a very basic step in the workout to rebuild those writing muscles. A mere 250 words, or about one page of a typeset book, is the target. We all learn to crawl before we can walk, and walk before we run, after all. I firmly believe that trying to start off with some huge goal, right off the bat, after years (ok, decades) of not pursing my art would be like the people who make resolutions to go to the gym, show up on January 2, vastly overwork themselves even though they are not used to working out, then find the next day they can barely move, so they wind up not going to the gym as they resolved to do, slipping back into old habits, only to do the same thing again the next year. I don’t want that, so that is not the way I’ll pursue it.

More to come, my dear readers who swing by every so often. Take care of yourselves.