What I learned over a year of growing with Soil Biology

It’s been just over a year that I completed Elaine Ingham’s Life in the Soil classes. It seems a good time to take stock, as we go into the colder part of the year when practical fieldwork winds down. So what have I learned?

The polytunnel with the tomatoes
The polytunnel with the tomatoes

There is certainly promise in the end results – very visibly in the case of the beans, and noticeably in the improved taste and productivity of the tomatoes. We only have one polytunnel for the tomatoes in 2016, but we got almost as much yield this year from this one than from two polytunnels of tomatoes [ref]We have three polytunnels, all of the same size and colocated[/ref] in 2015.

I know of no way of quantitatively analysing taste, but several of our CSA members observed the much better flavour of our tomatoes compared with shop bought ones. However, one other thing we changed across the years was have a dedicated CSA member Ann look after the tomatoes, pinching out all the offshoots and training the stems along the frames. Because we could not afford a control plot with the tomatoes, the almost doubling of yield could be the result of her extra care and attention to detail, or a combination of the her work assisted by the compost extract.

The compost extract was used in the polytunnel with the tomatoes in July 2015 and some of what was left over was also used in polytunnel 1 which was where the beans were planted, with the ribbon tied to the frame to show the extent of the coverage, the left behind compost after extraction also went into the tomatoes in polytunnel 2.

The beans at the back show very noticeably more vigorous growth and had a much higher yield, and this coincided exactly with a ribbon showing the limit of the compost extract.
The beans at the back show very noticeably more vigorous growth and had a much higher yield, and this coincided exactly with a ribbon showing the limit of the compost extract.

Not every attempt showed success – last year we tried some outdoor tests on defined plots in the sweetcorn crop. This crop was lost to the initially wet and dull start to 2015 and not enough manpower for weeding. I felt there was some difference in one of the plots, but not enough to make a clear picture and not enough to redeem the crop.

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yet another cloud problem – getting my data back from last.fm

I used last.fm for scrobbling music plays, because it’s nice to see what I was playing. Last.fm did do a decent job of occasionally finding new stuff I’d like. Which is great – the best time for discovering new music was at university for me, because I was thrown together with a bunch of bright people who had come from different backgrounds. That was an analogue world, and last.fm is a digital form of that, although it is also a filter bubble, unlike university. Sometimes you need to seek out things outside the comfort zone, to be able to find new material – serendipity is a wonderful thing at times.

I don’t find that much wrong with music now, but there is a lot wrong with the process of finding it. The internet has destroyed the gatekeepers. In theory that’s a great thing, but I kinda miss A&R who listened to so much crap so that the rest of us didn’t have to. Serendipity works well enough when you’re faced with a universe of stuff that somebody liked well enough to risk money on, but it doesn’t work in a world where you have a multimedia firehose of stuff that is only qualified by the fact people can upload it to Youtube. The signal gets lost in the noise. But then the music industry and artists probably miss us paying them, so we have mutually assured destruction by improved choice. That seems to be why radio is still relevant – this Guardian article sums up the problem:

There is simply too much music out there as the industry tries to throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks. In 2010, Nielsen reported that 75,000 new albums were released that year, a number unlikely to have changed much this year. Spotify and iTunes boast of catalogues of more than 30m songs. We are drowning in music and most of it will go unheard.

And I hate the Cloud for its unreliability, not day to day but the way firms go bust or metamorphose into doing evil, the way it sells my data and claims ownership. Last fm was one of the things that cloud did well, but it seems to have gone functionally much less useful since getting bought by CBS. And it has several years history of mine that I’d like to extract. I am not that troubled my them owning all that data, although I want to move to libre.fm sometime. But they can’t sent a signup email, so at the moment I have the choice between minor evil and dysfunctionality 😉

How to get your scrobbled data from Last.fm

I used lastexport.py from hereapparently originally on gitorious, which is yet another example of why you shouldn’t rely on cloud, because it’s been shuttered.

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10 Reasons for getting out of the Cloud

The Cloud is convenient, it’s easy to set up, it’s often free. What’s not to like? Well, after I’ve been on cloud services for a while, I’m getting sick of some of the serious issues associated with investing time and effort on platforms run by other people for their agenda. Which is why I am on my own damn site, paid for by me, under my control. Since I toted this as a listicle, here are 10 reasons to avoid Cloud services.

Cloud: All Your Base (data, work, time, thoughts)  Belong to Us
Cloud: All Your Base (data, work, time, thoughts) Belong to Us
  1. All your data belong to us. Facebook is the poster child for this, but it’s the age old problem, if you aren’t paying for the product then you are the product. This is the biggest issue with cloud services – the surveillance and advertising model is the original sin of the Web.
  2. It’s easy to set up but surprisingly hard to maintain. In one short period Pachube became Cosm which became Xively, and I get to change my code and learn new, poorly documented APIs
  3. Cloud providers come and go. They’re just plain unreliable. I’ve been hit by several – UK Intuit’s Quicken XG, Google Reader, the Vox blogging platform, Pachube, Flickr ratcheting down functionality before Marissa Meyer sorted it out
  4. Cloud is for the moment, not for the long-term. If it’s all done and dusted in a year or less, cloud is great. Crowdfunding, broadcasting an event, running a survey, printing a book – great. Building relationships, building a brand (musicians on Myspace, f’rinstance), lifelogging or even expecting to pass your baby snaps to the parents of your grandchildren in 50 years? Don’t expect the Cloud to do it. Will there even be a Dropbox or Flickr in the 2060s?
  5. The wrong sorts sticking their nose in your business, From Gmail reading your mail (and mine too, because I don’t use it but know people who do) and narrowcasting ads to you all the way to all the Snowden stuff. How the heck do people sleep at night using Mint, for instance – and what is it with Intuit and bad ideas?
  6. The hostage to fortune business – when free becomes paid and you’ve invested a lot of work in the platform. All the work you get to do again, even if you can get hold of your data.
  7. The freemium/in app purchase issue. Apps seem to be classics here – they start off useful in the free version but after a while they are either upgraded to exclude the useful feature you were using or simply don’t support your version of iOS, which seems to be how Apple enforce hardware upgrades!
  8. Data loss or theft. If Jennifer Lawrence’s pics weren’t on iCloud then brute force hacks or no, you have to get up close and personal to nick them from her phone. Sure, it’s convenient to have your Stuff available everywhere, but some things should be hard to get to 😉
  9. You don’t get to control your stuff – how long it is up, who it is sold to, how it is used. That’s how all the papers get a free photo of any miscreant nowadays – they used to have to send a runner to pap them at the courthouse, but it’s so much easier to get it off Facebook. Presumably a nice little earner for the company, too. The credit often says ©Facebook
  10. Upgrades that break stuff. Sure, you get these all the time without the Cloud, though the likes of Debian and MS seems to get this to work most of the time. Sun Tzu says make the battle at a time and place of your choosing – you can upgrade when your system is quiet, or at least when you are ready to fight the consequences.

One Ring to bind the all – the one that sums it up:

Facebook - for the moment, not for ever

One word. Facebook. It embodies both what is great about the Cloud and what is so evil about it – all at the same time. It does the ephemerality of Cloud so well, Facebook couldn’t even exist without the cloud, it’s the quintessential cloud app. It could take the Mission Impossible approach to your messages after a month or so:

Facebook needs this
Facebook needs this

but then stashes everything you say to use it against you in the future with Minority Report advertising.

The cloud rolls up form, function and purpose. And very often my purpose is at odds with that of the Cloud provider. The Internet is a means of communication and publishing. I put up my first web page about 20 years ago. It isn’t there any more, but if it had been important to me I could have seen to it that it’s still there. If it’s important to me then I can make sure this is still here at this URL in 2034, Although I can’t even take back something said on the Internet, if I want it not to be available here in a year’s time I can fix that too. Whereas if it’s on somebody’s else’s information space or real estate I can’t. Nothing I could have done would have preserved my Vox blog, or the information I imported to Quicken XG[ref]I only used it for a week before the awful reality sank in that I was renting the use of the program, not owning it. If I want to run Quicken 2004 in 20 years time, I can run a XP machine disconnected from the Internet and still use it.[/ref]

So I’ll use the cloud – but for things that don’t matter or that have no requirement for longevity. Cloud is about fire and forget – Twitter is a fantastic cloud application because a tweet has no value after a few days. Dropbox is fabulous to share files with a pal, or even temporary backup files as long as I don’t mind various governments taking a look. I won’t use the Cloud for anything strategic. That means anything I want to be there for more than a year, anything to do with personal finances, and anything I’d like to depend upon or look back on in ten years time or more.

The journey starts with the first step – bringing my own audio home, so 2014 scarpering Swifts is now native mp3 audio, not embedded from Audioboo(m) any more.

In all fairness to The Cloud, that means I take a fair few hits for freedom. I get to worry about my own backups and maintenance, and I lose out having everything available everywhere.

Facebook Is For The Moment Not For Ever

Ah Facebook, can’t live with it, can’t live without it. Too many people are on Facebook that I’d like to be able stay in touch with. Jennifer Golbeck has a point, however.

Social media in general should be about the moment. [ref]where a moment is about a month, maybe a year if you stretch it[/ref]  It’s a stream of consciousness, not a diary or a novel, or even a Captain’s Log. Think about it – most social media is a ‘hey guys look at this’ There’s no need for it to become ‘evidence that may be used against you in future’ or ‘material that supports Facebook’s business model when we can work out how to monetise it’

The solution is relatively simple. Go to the Timeline and erase everything that’s older than three months. It’s not so easy to do, but it is fascinating to read the absolute banality of your Facebook status updates from years ago. There’s no reason for much of it to persist. Never mind Facebook, even I’d use it against me – every day you live is a day you won’t see again. What exactly made posting that fat cat picture such a great use of my time 🙂

As a side effect icing all that banality makes your FB timeline much tighter and cleaner. The banality is fun at the time, but the time has passed ‘ere six months are gone. I’m not so naive as to believe Facebook deletes the associated meta-data, so there’s a case to be made for reducing the dross proactively. It’s what a blog is for – so you can own your data. There’s a difference between disseminating information and giving up the rights to it – while you can’t unsay anything on the Internet, you don’t have to give it away for resale.

IEE CEng interview

Travelled down by train for this, slated for 12:15. It really was about time I sorted this CEng lark. I have been an AMIEE ever since my BBC days in Designs in 1987, when they supported the accreditation route for their design staff. I need to shape up or ship out. Lots of paperwork, and the final hurdle of an interview.

Getting Chartered status is a lot easier to do working for a big company where there are other C Eng colleagues who can do the whole sponsoring and seconding lark rather than after moving on, where it will all get a bit more difficult.

The IEE had the air of a gentleman’s club. The wood panelling.and centrepiece of a mahogany bust of Lord Kelvin.

When you measure what you are speaking about and express it in numbers, you know something about it, but when you cannot express it in numbers your knowledge about is of a meagre and unsatisfactory kind.

Ah, the raffish headiness of Enlightenment certainty. I liked it – tickled me. The two retired old boys who did the interview were of the same kind – now , one ex BT and one ex Cable & Wireless. The interview seemed to go okay – hope it did, as I’m all out of ideas how to press my case under SARTOR3 where I practically have to have a PhD. Only get to find out end of Jan.

ed – it went fine