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Added section about garden hacks

Kenneth John Odle 8 months ago
  1. 47


@ -220,7 +220,52 @@ I know that the usual dictum is ``show, don't tell''. But what's really happenin
Although I thoroughly enjoyed teaching this class, nothing good can last forever. A new Republican governor was elected and he slashed funding for community education and adult education programs. (A less-educated populace is easier to control, I guess.) I taught this course for a year, had a great time, and would gladly teach it again, even with the miserable wages. Hell, I'd do it now as a volunteer. Knowledge should be shared, not horded and sold.
\chapter{Is This Really a Hack? \\(Or is it something even worse?)}
Way back in issue \#1, I took a look at cooking ``hacks'' and wondered if these were really hacks (i.e., ``an appropriate application of ingenuity'') or if they were merely being marketed as a hack because in the past few years, hackers and hacker culture have become a trendy thing to talk about, even though the public really has no idea what those words actually mean.
\textit{You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.}
---Inigo Montoya, \textit{The Princess Bride}
It really bugs me that the words ``hack'' and ``hacker'' have become associated with ``cool'' and ``must have'' thanks to marketers. (It also bugs me that a whole class of employees exist whose only purpose is to convince you to buy things that you probably don't need.)
So I decided to attempt this quest again, but instead of cooking hacks, I decided to look at gardening hacks, as I know quite a bit about gardening. I went to the $\Gamma$oogle, typed in ``garden hacks'' and jumped into the first result that came up.
\item \textbf{Use newspaper as a weed barrier} --- That's right: just lay some newspaper down on the ground, throw some dirt over it, and go to town planting your garden. This is definitely not a hack, it's more like a \textbf{gimmick} that is actually \textbf{really bad advice}. Newspaper will break apart quickly, and is not effective against perennial weeds unless you lay down a really thick later. Besides, the advice was to put dirt \textit{on top of the newspaper}. What's to keep wind-blown seeds from just landing and sprouting on \textit{that} dirt? Save your money and just buy some mulch.
\item \textbf{Use plastic bottles as mini-greenhouses} --- I've seen this so many times and its popularity seems to rely on the fact that people somehow think of greenhouses as magical boxes. The point of an actual greenhouse is to let light in. The watering is still up to you. So yeah, you can cut a bottle in half, fill the bottom with soil, plant your seeds, and throw the top on to keep moisture in until the seeds sprout, but it seems to me it would be easier to just plant the seeds in the bottom and make sure to keep them watered. There is nothing magical about a transparent top, and thus this isn't a hack, but a mere \textbf{gimmick}.\footnote{I suppose this is popular because people can then say ``hey, look at me, I'm recycling!'' but you aren't recycling, you're \textit{reusing}. And the end result is a dirty bottle that \textit{can't} be easily recycled.}
\item \textbf{Punch some holes in the cap of a gallon milk jug and use it as a watering can} --- This is definitely a \textbf{gimmick}. Why not just leave the cap off and pour water directly out of the jug the way you do milk? Is that not simpler? The \textit{real} hack is to drill a few small holes in the \textit{bottom} of the jug, fill it water, and set it next to your plants. This is a great way to keep tomatoes and other large plants watered during a hot dry summer without constantly sprinkling them with water.
\item \textbf{Place a kitchen sponge in the bottom of a pot to soak up extra water and avoid root rot} --- The problem with this \textbf{gimmick} is that sponges absorb water and hold onto it until it evaporates (and not a lot of evaporation is going to happen if it's been buried). If you give your potted plant too much water, the ideal situation is to have something large---stones, for instance---that don't lock together that will keep the dirt in while letting the excess water out.\footnote{Or you could just learn how to water your plants properly.}
\item \textbf{Use wine corks with a toothpick as plant labels} --- This \textbf{gimmick} was described as a great way to recycle, but I don't know that our landfills are overflowing with wine corks. Corks are just oak bark, and will naturally, if slowly, break down in the soil or in a compost pile. Just use some popsicle sticks and let the kids use the corks in their craft projects.
\item \textbf{Use toilet roll cores as seedling pots} --- Most people just throw out the core from a roll of toilet paper, but this is a true \textbf{hack}, as it uses up something that you are just going to end up throwing in either the trash or the recycling anyway. And it will break down in your soil and add some organic matter, as well.
\item \textbf{Use seeds from store-bought vegetables (e.g., tomatoes and peppers) to start your own garden plants} --- This is just \textbf{bad advice}. Most supermarket vegetables are hybrids anyway, and won't come true from seed. Also, starting plants from seed is really hard work! If you're going to go through all that work, you might as well fork out for some high quality seeds.
\item \textbf{Use ordinary table salt as fertilizer} --- This is just \textbf{really bad advice} because excess levels of salt can damage or even kill most plants. Maybe they were thinking of \textit{Epsom} salts, which can be used as a fertilizer when properly diluted, because it contains high quantities of magnesium. (Nope, they actually list that one further down the list.)
\item \textbf{Make homemade weed killer with vinegar, table salt, and dish soap} --- This one would actually probably work, because again, salt is really bad for plants, and vinegar will kill the leaves. But it won't kill the roots, which is I suppose why they are including salt. Also, in lieu of the previous ``hack'', is salt going to kill your plants or fertilize them? Leave the salt out and I'd be willing to call this a technique, but I'm not sure why weeds are even a problem, what with that thin layer of newspaper you put down all over the place. Again, this is just \textbf{bad advice}.
\item \textbf{Make fertilizer tea from your weeds to feed your plants} --- This \textbf{gimmick} is just silly: take the weeds that you've just pulled up, put them in a bucket and cover them with water, wait for a few hours, get rid of the weeds and then water your garden with this miraculous, nutrient rich water. For one thing, you're just going to get that many nutrients out of freshly picked leaves in a few hours. This is more like putting some leafy greens in a water bath to perk them up. Second, you still have to get rid of the weeds. It would make more sense to just put the weeds in a compost pile, which is probably where this idea came from because compost tea is a real thing.\footnote{Although if you're going to go through all the trouble of making compost, you may as well just apply it to the soil and let your garden make its own compost tea every time it rains or you water it. Why are you going through extra steps?}
\item \textbf{Make holes to plant your seeds in by putting corks on the end of a garden fork} --- This is not a hack, it's not a gimmick, nor is even just a ridiculously terrible idea, it's also \textbf{physically impossible}. Most garden forks have tines that almost as wide as a wine cork is, so there's no way you're going to be able to stick a cork on there. (It's notable that even though this ``hack'' was accompanied by a picture of a garden fork stuck in the ground, there was not a wine cork to be seen anywhere.) And even if you could, this would just become bad advice because 1) not all seeds should be planted the same width apart, and 2) how difficult is it to make a hole in your garden soil to drop a seed in there? If your soil is that hard, you've got bigger problems and all the winecorks in the world aren't going to solve them. For what it's worth, here's the entire process, in all it's ridiculous glory:
\textit{Sowing your seeds just got simpler! Rather than digging individual holes all along your garden bed, enlist the help of recycled materials to turn a garden rake into a makeshift sower. Just press an old wine cork onto each prong so that it's just just} (sic) \textit{ as long as you'd want your holes deep, then push the tool into the dirt. When you pull it back up, you'll be left with a row of holes ready for seeds.}\footnote{Yes, this comes from Bob Vila's website. I know that there used to be a Cult of Bob Vila who thought he could do nothing wrong, but I beg to differ. The byline on his website is ``Tried, True, Trustworthy Home Advice'', but this bit of advice has not been tried and is definitely not true, which makes me question just how trustworthy the rest of the advice on his website is.}
And that's it. There are plenty more examples, but I am out of space. This has actually been kind of fun, but I don't know if I have it in me to do another one of these, because there just aren't that many things that I know enough about to decide if something is an actual hack or not.
Sadly, a lot of this stuff comes from ``lifestyle'' sites where if something doesn't work, it really doesn't matter. You might be out a few bucks and a few hours of your time, but in the end does it really matter?\footnote{In that way, these lifestyle sites are a lot like religion: you sell a big promise, but when it fails to come about, you conveniently get to blame the user for doing it wrong.} Probably not. It is notable, however, that if you $\gamma$oogle ``brain surgery hacks'' you won't get anything that involves wine corks or toilet rolls.
What I've learned from this:
\item Ordinary people don't really know what is meant by the terms ``hack'' or ``hacker''.
\item Marketing people (who also don't understand what these terms mean) use them to sell stuff to people who want to feel like they are riding a trend.
\item Most things on the internet that are described as ``hacks'' are really just examples of really poor journalism.
\chapter{Music (\twonotes) in \LaTeX{}}
@ -1005,6 +1050,6 @@ somewhere \textit{after} the start of the page.
\item If you want to add a degree symbol to inline text, the simplest way I've found (so far) is to just pop in and out of math mode with this: \verb|$^{\circ}$| which gives you this: $^{\circ}$
\paragraph{I almost forgot to add:} If you are interested in seeing this, you can view it and download it at \href{}{\texttt{}}.
\paragraph{I almost forgot to add:} If you are interested in seeing this project, you can view it and download it at \href{}{\texttt{}}.