12 Jun 2024 @ 8:13 PM 

The Fediverse continues to gain momentum, albeit slowly. Threads now let’s you auto-post from the Facebook app (seemingly not the Web site, though). More importantly, posts from Threads can be made available to read on the ActivityPub protocol. It’s publish-only so far, so no comments return to the parent post. Baby steps, I guess.

BlueSky keeps teasing federation plans, but what they’ve built so far is useless to normal people.

Meanwhile, the big ActivityPub instances continue to grow and develop new features.

I still have a difficult time breaking through the network effects on the new sites. I was never a Twitter user, so its self-immolation is mostly a spectator sport to me. But, none of the decentralized sites have anywhere near the critical mass of “people I know” yet.

So, I mostly still post on Facebook, and cross post shorter pieces to Mastodon, BlueSky, and Threads manually. Longer pieces tend to stay on Facebook alone, since the other three have character limits of about one or two paragraphs. Although Venera exists, since virtually nobody I know is using it, my account there is just a relay of what exists on other federated sites I actively post to.

How have you adapted to the new social media landscape, or have you not changed in the past two years of disruption?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 12 Jun 2024 @ 08:13 PM

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 07 Dec 2023 @ 2:43 PM 

People sure do talk about how they hate big corporations being in charge of their social media interactions, don’t they? But what is the biggest beneficiary of Elon Musk’s deliberate destruction of Twitter? Meta.

Network effects are a bitch. Threads launched with an automatic user base of “everyone on Instagram.” Since adding a functional web interface, it’s grown to become the de facto home of Twitter refugees. It’s easy to use, but is completely lacking in any kind of unique or distinctive features. Posts are limited to 500 characters, which is the default size of Mastodon posts as well. There is some rudimentary threading, albeit much less robust than Reddit or even LiveJournal circa 2001. Other features are just what everyone expects (blocking of individuals, accounts can be private or public, posts can have images attached, etc.). Honestly, it is entirely less robust than LJ in 2000 was (or Reddit currently is). Users can’t select post-specific privacy – your account is either wide open or friends-only. There’s no text formatting of any kind. There are no groups or pages (whatever terminology you want to use for community profiles).

In every way, Threads is less than what other services provide. It is even less feature-rich than Facebook, which makes me wonder why anyone would choose Meta’s Threads over Meta’s Facebook. I suppose at this point, Threads lacks the overwhelming advertising visible on Facebook, but you know it’s just a matter of time. There’s no way Mark Zuckerberg is going to release a useful product that he makes no money from.

I recently started trying to repost everything I share on Facebook to Threads, BlueSky, and Mastodon (IndieWeb specifically). The engagement on every site is negligible to non-existent, except on Facebook. Between Threads and Facebook, Meta is the big winner of Twitter’s self-immolation. And apparently people are okay with giving their personal data to an eccentric billionaire, as long as he doesn’t act too insane too publicly.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 07 Dec 2023 @ 03:08 PM

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Eleven

 
 11 Nov 2023 @ 1:01 AM 

At the 11th minute on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the armistice which was meant to end the War to End All Wars went into effect. As is typical, the guns didn’t fall silent at the appointed hour, and both sides continued shelling each other until sundown. The armistice was extended multiple times before the peace treaty was finally signed over seven months later. But the repetition of the numbers feels good and it’s the date we ended up with for Armistice Day, later Veterans Day. A day to celebrate the cessation of a horrific war has become a day to celebrate all the people who have served in all the military conflicts of all time. I’ll leave it to learned philosophers to ferret out some meaning in that transition.

I was born into a military family, as evidenced by my Spanish birth certificate and State Department form that has caused no end of confusion over the decades, in schools and later. I never intended to enlist, but the Reagan Recession changed a lot of plans for Gen X folks. Twelve years later, I finally left the U.S. Army, and wanted nothing to do with the military ever again.

Job searches proved that, despite my innate charm and dazzling intellect, I was not going to be given a millionaire’s salary right away. It turns out that an active clearance is worth about six figures to an employer who needs to fulfill certain government contracts, and thus began a series of events where I was never qualified for any position I ever attained. Thankfully, the ability to learn is the way to keeping the job that the clearance let me get.

Here I am, 22 years after getting out, and over five decades of holding a DoD identification of some kind. That’s pretty weird for someone on the left of the political spectrum (in the context of the rightward shift of the Overton Window in the USA), to some. I encounter people nearly every week that assume that all veterans are right-wing MAGA supporters, although that may also be because I’m in west Texas.

I’m incredibly proud to be helping, in my small way, to produce the best-trained military intelligence people we can. I’m not in any way ashamed of my own military service, although I don’t think I accomplished a whole lot compared to so many others. I definitely wish the military wasn’t needed, but (looks around at the whole world), ya know.

Happy Veterans Day to all my fellow veterans, and long life and happiness to every one.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 10 Nov 2023 @ 04:39 PM

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GXAT

 
 08 Nov 2023 @ 2:50 PM 

From Jeff Gordinier’s “X Saves the World,” I present the Generation X Aptitude Test:

  1. Do you want to change the world?
    1. Yes, and I’m proud to say we did it, man. We changed the world. Just look around you!
    2. Yes, absolutely, and I promise I will get back to doing that just as soon as the interest rates return to where they’re supposed to be.
    3. Omigod, omigod, changing the world and helping people is like, totally important to me! I worked in a soup kitchen once and it was so sad but the poor people there had so much dignity!
    4. The way you phrase that question is so fucking cheesy and absurd that I am not even sure I want to continue with this pointless exercise.

That’s the only question, and you know what the correct answer is if you’re truly Gen X.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Nov 2023 @ 02:50 PM

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 03 Nov 2023 @ 3:40 PM 

There has been a lot of discussion about federation in the past year, and for the first time it actually starts to feel like a thing that may happen, as contrasted with previous news blips. Tumblr was one of the first of the legacy social media sites to promise future integration with ActivityPub, the protocol that undergirds Mastodon, Friendica, Pixelfed, PeerTube, Lemmy, and a variety of other fediverse platforms. It’s been a year since that promise, and it looks like it was actually bullshit.

Meanwhile, Jack Dorsey (formerly Twitter chief) finally launched his long-gestating new decentralized social media service, Blue Sky. Blue Sky is famously not going to support ActivityPub, despite AP being a W3C standard. Instead, Blue Sky will support the Authenticated Transfer protocol, which is open source but not an official standard of any unbiased group. Naturally, despite Blue Sky opening up membership to the point where even I have an account there, it is still restricted to a single site. It may be running on an open protocol, but there’s no way to tell that, since no other sites can federate with it.

Around the same time as Blue Sky launched via invites, Mark Zuckerberg’s micro-blogging platform Threads went wide. Threads is a subsite of Instagram, and recently its website became useful (previously, it was restricted to mobile apps only, much as Instagram was for a surprisingly long time). Threads is supposedly going to support ActivityPub one day. When? Don’t hold your breath.

The dream of a lot of older geeks is to go back to the days before SEO destroyed the egalitarian nature of the late 1990s web. But, the hazy memories inherent in nostalgic reminiscing obscure the problems that the old days of GeoCities and LiveJournal had. The barrier to internet entry back in the late 20th Century was significant. Now, with sites such as Facebook, it’s easy to get online and connect. It’s easy to write the longest rants you want, without needing to worry about coding. But, those easy sites are also incredibly limited. Facebook still, after more than fifteen years, does not support basic text formatting that LJ had in 1999. And, of course, we can’t forget that the various bots and employees of Meta can just randomly delete your post, or entire account, and there’s literally nothing you can do about it – it’s not your site. Here’s an interesting article about the promise of POSSE to own your own thoughts, but still connect to the greater social media world. I’ve attempted to use this paradigm myself over the years, with varying success – mostly failure.

Here’s the dream: I post here on AndySocial, and it gets reposted to all the places I want it to, and people can read my incredibly important thoughts no matter where they are. If the destination site has a character limit (and why do any have limits, are we using Nokia flip phones to access social media?), the syndicated feed could be just an excerpt with a link back to the original, or maybe automatically create a threaded series of posts. And then there’s the reality, which is much less functional.

Once upon a time, I could post here and it would repost to Twitter, Facebook, LiveJournal, and Medium. Any blogging platform that understood the RSS protocol (which was once dominant) could subscribe passively, and all would work great. The RSS feed is still there, but the death of Google Reader was just the most obvious sign of the death of people taking RSS seriously as a method of syndication. Facebook killed the ability to post to it from my site. Medium killed the ability to post to it as well. Twitter killed that ability almost as soon as Musk bought it. That leaves LiveJournal as the only site that I automatically reposted to for a while.

In the past few months, the owners of WordPress bought the clunky and barely-functional ActivityPub plugin for WordPress, and got it to be actually useful without requiring building things from source code. So, now I can automatically repost to any ActivityPub site. For me, that is my IndieWeb Mastodon account and my Venera Friendica account. Unfortunately, the number of people who actively use the ActivityPub-based fediverse is a tiny fraction of those on Facebook.

Network effects are a bitch.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 03 Nov 2023 @ 03:40 PM

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 25 Sep 2023 @ 2:48 PM 

I’m in a bit of a waiting period for some scenario development at work, so I’m looking at my stupidly large boardgame library.

In the past six months or so, the question of “good games that play six or more players” has come up a few times. I checked, and my collection includes over fifty games that claim to work with more than five players.

Roll & Write games are the obvious way to go for many, because some of them allow essentially infinite players. The reason so many can play is that there is literally no player interaction. So, let’s set those to the side (although On Tour is a REALLY good roll & write which I have 12 USA boards for).

Another genre that often caters to large groups are party games, many of which are “two teams of any size” competitions. It’s easy to view all party games as “more an activity than a game,” but some actually do have some degree of strategy in them, such as the various Werewolf style games.

I’ve got a couple very light games that play up to eight, including Guns or Treasure, Chicken!, and Zombie Dice. Those are fun, but not something with any depth of play.

Robot Quest Arena can play up to seven, although I question the value of squeezing that many players on the board – the board is the same size for 2 or 7, after all. I think I’d consider this a four-player game, maybe five.

Illuminati plays up to 8, but it’s a pretty weird game that doesn’t appeal to a lot of people, despite being in print for over forty years.

Chez Geek plays up to 8, with decent player interaction (a LOT of “screw your neighbor” play), and light enough for anyone to learn very quickly. I’ll keep that one in mind for the future. The theme is fairly adolescent for anyone over the age of 25, but we are all channeling our inner children at game tables anyway.

Isle of Cats (both OG and the lighter Explore and Draw) plays six, and has a fun table presence. Project L is a bit lighter and also plays six, if you really can’t get enough polyomino action.

Card games often play up to six, include Gift of Tulips, Lunar Base, and the trick-taking game Enemy Anemone. We’ve played Valley of the Kings at six – it takes a lot of table space, but works even using the unsanctioned “every expansion at once” variant. I’ve only played Long Shot: the Dice Game with up to five players, but it might be tedious with the max of eight.

I really want to try Factory Funner with a big group – I imagine we’d decide very quickly if the “everybody grab pieces from the supply” option is desirable.

What games have you played with six or more players that really worked for your group?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 25 Sep 2023 @ 02:48 PM

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 17 Jun 2023 @ 12:28 PM 

This is a great interview with a person who is incredibly well-informed and erudite on the subject of national security materials and vulnerabilities. There are a couple points that I think can stand to be emphasized:
– Any potential release or compromise of documents as sensitive as these must be treated as if they WERE compromised. The sensitivity of some of these programs means that we can’t act like it’s a maybe – it’s treated as if it were confirmed that the files were read and copied and sent to literally everyone, because to assume they remained safe is to put people, sources, and methods at risk. Some of those risks are deadly, and some are misinformation. It’s likely that we will never know who, if anyone, read these files. But, if we continue to use certain sources and think they’re good, when they’re actually feeding us bullshit, we’re going to have a bad time. For more on this, read “Between Silk and Cyanide,” by Leo Marks.
– Our allies can no longer trust us with their secrets. We have a number of bilateral and multi-lateral sharing agreements and relationships. Why should any of them ever trust us implicitly again? This causes a significant constriction in our level of information available in areas where we don’t have (and in some places may never have) a strong presence of our own. We rely on our partners to let us know things. This level of cavalier mishandling of intelligence material jeopardizes literally generations of cooperation.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 17 Jun 2023 @ 12:28 PM

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 04 May 2023 @ 3:40 PM 

Once upon a time, I tried to get the WordPress plugin for ActivityPub to work. I spent weeks, and failed every try. The plugin author was stumped, other than, “shared hosting on Dreamhost with LetsEncrypt does weird things to the .well-known path.” And so I gave up.

It looks like a kind person on the internet was able to find a fix. It involves editing a file on the server, so requires a bit of geek power, but I run Linux and live on the command line at work, so no problem.

This is the test post. Does this populate to ActivityPub? Can I see it and “boost” it from my Mastodon and Friendica accounts? I’ve got my Friendica account set to auto-post anything from my blog, because that makes the most sense for long-form content. From my Mastodon account, I’m just following myself so I can choose to boost things if I want. Let’s see…

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 05 May 2023 @ 09:29 PM

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 07 Jan 2023 @ 1:22 PM 

After claiming that the voters chose to take the country in a new direction (ignoring the Senate races entirely, I suppose), Kevin McCarthy made some interesting (some might say laughably unlikely or vague) promises in his first speech as Speaker of the House:

  • Disagreements won’t be personal (good luck reining in the rest of your conference, buddy)
  • Unleash American energy (meaning oil)
  • Lower grocery, car, and housing prices (somehow)
  • Stop the rising national debt (something the GOP has never been interested in when they’ve been in charge before, but sure)
  • Cut regulations (not defined)
  • Repeal funding for IRS agents (the funding isn’t for agents, but rich people should not pay taxes)
  • Stop “woke indoctrination” in schools, somehow and maybe define it some day.
  • Cut spending (just, all of it I guess)
  • Investigate anything any Democrat ever did or touched
  • Attack the US Government
  • Subpoena everyone for everything
  • Open the Capitol for “all Americans” to visit (not really sure how that’s gonna work)
  • Hold a Congressional hearing on the southern border of the USA, because stunts are useful.

Honestly, after Hakeem Jefferies produced a speech with an alphabetical list of things the Democrats wanted to emphasize, including “quality of life over Qanon,” there’s no way McCarthy would be able to compete. But, still – he either cannot do these things, or they’ll be stupid or counterproductive. So, typical modern GOP.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 09 Jan 2023 @ 08:04 PM

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 21 Dec 2022 @ 2:50 PM 

Since Twitter continues to be a source of drama, and the formerly obscure Fediverse has become prominent enough to be front-page of the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post, maybe the current shakeup will continue for a while longer. This will inevitably lead to some issues with growing pains, including issues around a “business model” for social media sites or platforms.

There are a lot of perspectives regarding social media, including some who advocate for essentially moving back to a standards-based individualized model, akin to the RSS reader era, with everyone maintaining their own blogs on their own sites but interacting through RSS and web rings and such. That was clunky in 1998, and it’s clunky today. I think this is a bit of a non-starter in 2023.

The next big option is to run your own personal Fediverse server. Let’s pretend that federating your blog was easy (I’ve tried, and it’s not). If I’m running my blog here at my own site, and I federate with a hundred or so other individuals, I’ll be able to see them and interact with them in one interface, let’s say Mastodon but it could be Friendica or CalcKey or one of the other members of the Fediverse. But, finding other interesting people would be a chore, and more importantly, most people have no interest in being a system administrator, even for a site with only one user.

That leads to the currently trending approach – join an existing Fediverse instance and let someone else handle the maintenance and moderation tasks. Yes, every user can individually choose how and with whom they’ll interact, but if your local feed ends up being filled with spam, that’s a task for a system guy and not for the users. This seems to be working pretty well for most of us who are trying to build communities and communicate across the Fediverse. So far, this is mostly being funded by donations. People donate to Eugen Rochko to support the Mastodon software, and donate to Mastodon.Social (one of the biggest servers) to pay for the servers and administration. Can we truly count on voluntary donations to make all this work? DreamHost (my web host) does not work on a donation model, nor does Amazon Web Services (where many Fediverse servers store their static content). It’s not how we usually do things in real life or online – we have structure, not charity.

But, the Fediverse has a bit of a culture of being anti-commercial. That isn’t to say people cannot promote their own work, but that people don’t want to see advertising in the feed. I’d wager that any instance that started trying to support itself with ads would get de-federated by nearly every other instance, and would end up as a disconnected blog site. So, if ads are not going to work, what will? Would you pay a monthly fee to be a member of your local Mastodon or Friendica group?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 21 Dec 2022 @ 02:50 PM

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 21 Dec 2022 @ 2:44 PM 

A consortium including Porsche has built an installation that can make gasoline out of water and air. The process used “wind power to electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen is then combined with carbon captured from the air or industrial sources to synthesize methanol, which in turn can then be converted into longer hydrocarbons to be used as fuel.”

Porsche plans to use the initial output to fuel their race cars, but eventually scale it up to industrial levels. It’s wildly expensive now – about ten times the cost as producing petroleum-based fuels.

The big problem with converting CO2 into fuel is where to get the CO2 – it’s all around us, but not in easily convertible forms.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 21 Dec 2022 @ 02:44 PM

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 13 Dec 2022 @ 6:43 PM 

I tried to use the official WordPress app to post, and it claims the XML ROC endpoint throws a 403 error message. Strangely, I can access them XML ROC PHP file just fine, even from the exact same device. Magic. Meh, not worth tracking down the bug.

Then I tried to post via email (a feature that I do remember working once). The post showed up with only a title and no body. Very strange.

Anyway, it looks like posting to AndySocial.com will remain something I do manually at home. Like an old man.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 13 Dec 2022 @ 06:47 PM

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 09 Nov 2022 @ 2:48 PM 

Every year, various companies show their patriotism pander to the masses by giving away free stuff for Veterans Day. Here’s what I’ve seen so far for this Friday’s iteration, specifically places in San Angelo:

  • Free Double with Cheese combo meal card from Freddy’s
  • Free hot dog from 7-11
  • Free meal from a “select menu” at Chili’s
  • Free buffet (only retirees and active duty) at CiCis Pizza
  • Free chicken fried steak or chicken at Cotton Patch (with military ID, so not sure how the veteran verification works there)
  • Free Grand Slam at Denny’s (with military ID or DD214, which we all carry with us)
  • Free meal at Golden Corral
  • Free entree (with beverage purchase) at Hooters
  • Free red/white/blue pancakes at IHOP
  • Free lunch combo at Little Caesars
  • Bloomin’ Onion with beverage purchase at Outback
  • Free shrimp meal at Red Lobster
  • Free chips and drink with sandwich at Schlotzsky’s
  • Free meal voucher at Texas Roadhouse
  • Free tall hot or iced coffee at Starbucks
  • Free lunch at Twin Peaks
  • Free breakfast combo at Wendy’s (requires military ID or Veterans Advantage card)
  • Free chili dog meal at Wienerschnitzel

Some of these seem a bit weak, and some are actually good for more than just the 11th of November. It’s obvious marketing, but if you don’t mind the pandering, you can get some free food at least.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 09 Nov 2022 @ 02:48 PM

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 01 Nov 2022 @ 3:04 PM 

Hey, remember blogs? It’s beginning to feel like they might be making a comeback. I’ve been around these here interwebs a long time, and social media has risen and morphed a lot in that time. Meanwhile, actually owning your own domain and putting up your own shit there has never gone away and has remained fully functional. My first iteration of the BunkBlog was on GeoCities, in the SiliconValley subdivision, maybe unit 7309? Anyway, it’s long gone but the Wayback Machine still has some bits and pieces of it. My oldest post I can find is from 1998, and was about rude assholes on the internet. Some things are just evergreen, aren’t they?

Early Connections

Once upon a time, it required actual effort to have an online presence. Pre-Web, the presence you curated was on individual bulletin board systems (BBS) that each had their own culture and rules. Most BBSes were just one guy with a spare computer, or in some cases one guy with a computer that he left available during specific hours of the day. Of course, most of those only had a single phone line attached, so everything was done asynchronously, and discussions were necessarily fairly slow, often taking months to reach a consensus. We were social, but very deliberate – when we really wanted to have a gathering, we literally gathered. I had BBS meetups at pizza parlors and public parks. BBSes weren’t just limited to local areas, though. There was a decent-sized protocol called FidoNet, which used a “store and forward” system to send batches of electronic messages around the world. With the speed of modems and the frequency of sending batches varying wildly between FidoNet nodes, it may have been many hours, possibly even days, before your message reached its destination, but it opened the world to computer geeks.

By the early 1980s, it was becoming obvious that home computers weren’t just a fad, and that people liked reaching out to form online communities. Some companies popped up, such as Genie and Prodigy and QuantumLink and AOL and CompuServe (I had a QuantumLink account with my 1200 baud modem on a Commodore 64). Each had their own forums and communities, and because they were on bigger computers with actual infrastructure, it was possible to do real-time chatting with other humans. Then, the internet became open to commercial users, instead of just government and educational users, gradually through the first half of the 1990s, until the NSFNet fiber backbone was decommissioned and it became the wild west in 1995.

Social Media

We started to look for persistent connections and build communities almost as soon as the internet became accessible to all. Web sites joined “rings” that were built on various affinities, and by 2000 there were a multiple new tools available. LiveJournal was a personal site that went big, producing a new generation of people who were logging their thoughts and connecting with each other. We had communities devoted to nearly any topic imaginable, and we could tweak the style of our personal pages within some limits, so our web logs became blogs became our means of expressing ourselves. LJ had privacy levels, it had (eventually) nested comment threads, it had groups and filters and introduced the term “friend” to mean “some person that I like to read on the internet.” LJ reached a height of a couple million users, and then the owner sold it to a company that sold it to a Russian company and now it’s effectively dead in the USA. Along the same time, Myspace rose, offering another customizable cacophony of colors and blink text. Myspace flamed out even faster than LJ, being bought by Rupert Murdoch and then essentially killed off for personal use. Bands stuck around for a while, but even they didn’t persist much past the rise of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and all the other sites we have today.

One abiding feature of the old online communities was moderation, via humans who either were paid or volunteered to police each forum for rules violations. Most would offer a warning or two for scofflaws, and if they were ignored the offender got chucked out the metaphorical airlock. Sadly, moderation does not scale very well, as we see in the modern social media sites. Trying to automate moderation produces nonsense. In multiple instances, I’ve seen people report or flag content that is offensive or violates a site’s terms of service (Nazi symbiology is the most obvious and flagrant), and the person reporting the content gets their account suspended, while the Nazi remains on the service. Robots are bad at making judgment calls.

It seems that lack of good judgment is not a problem to the owners of the modern social media sites, because they are not actually in the business of providing communities. They are in the business of providing demographic data to advertisers and data miners. As the saying goes, if you’re not paying for a service, you’re the product and not the customer. Facebook and Twitter don’t give a shit about you and your desire to reconnect with high school classmates – they just want that advertiser gold.

Profit Motives Suck

There are many things that capitalism has proven good at, with the appropriate level of regulation and oversight. I think many people have realized that monetizing human interactions is not a great thing for the humans. Various alternative social media platforms have come up over the years, attempting to break the network effect problem that keeps people on Facebook and Twitter. Mastodon appears to be the protocol that may actually finally beat the profit-focused social media world.

Mastodon is more a set of communication standards than it is a web site or platform. The main site, mastodon.social, has reached its capacity long ago. When I created my first Mastodon account, in 2017, they were already telling people to join mastodon.cloud for general-purpose uses, or to find one of the other instances that had already popped up. I’m not going to reiterate what others have written about the service, but the federation and deliberate nature of connecting, and the non-profit nature of the entire fediverse (get used to weird terminology), really seems like something that may take off.

There are thousands of Mastodon users, broken into different servers with different communities, but they can all (within limits) link together. If you’re tired of Mark Zuckerberg’s robots telling you that pointing to the hate speech is worse than hate speech, or if you’re tired of Elon Musk spreading misinformation on his personal web site, maybe check out Mastodon. It’s a slower, simpler, more social media site.

Oh, and read Cory Doctorow. He’s pretty damned clever.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 01 Nov 2022 @ 03:13 PM

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 08 Oct 2021 @ 6:43 PM 

There are going to be some spoilers for parts of the season, but I’m going to avoid specifics of the finale itself. You have been warned.

From the very first episode, the way that Nate has been portrayed in season two is at odds with the way his character was established. He was full of himself and rude to people in episode one, and then he got so froggy he kissed Keely (seriously, does everyone on this show want that woman?), and then of course the big story from the final two episodes.

By the beginning of the finale, Nate somehow has developed gray hair, which I don’t remember being a thing in the rest of the season at all. This is just the most obvious visual example of my perception of his character development – none of it feels earned. There’s nothing in the season that serves to truly explain why he’s gone from being a loving team member to a raging narcissist.

Bill Lawrence has said that the show was meant to have a three-season arc, so that final season is going to be a challenge to write and make us feel good again.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 08 Oct 2021 @ 06:43 PM

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 29 Sep 2021 @ 5:54 PM 

Apparently Tesla cars in autodrive mode keep running into emergency vehicles. In the highlighted case, the car drove into two police SUVs at 70 MPH. Apparently the flashing lights make the vision system fail to recognize the cars.

I am curious what the vision algorithm thinks “a whole lot of flashing red and blue lights” means. Even if it doesn’t recognize it as a car, bedazzled with flashing lights, should it not at least realize that it’s not empty space? A modern police light bar is as flashy as a 1990s rave, so maybe steer away from that?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 29 Sep 2021 @ 05:54 PM

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 29 Aug 2020 @ 12:55 PM 

I had the latest and greatest version of Facebook’s interface force-updated recently. Like so many recent website updates, it appears that the intended audience either can’t see very well, or is using the website with a touch screen. Here’s my standard home screen under the old theme:

This is what it looks like on a 1080p monitor if I maximize the browser. Obviously, I never maximize the browser for Facebook – it wastes half the width of the screen. But, you can see over a dozen links on the left, including my curated list of shortcuts, and you can see one full post from a group I belong to, and the beginning of another. Here’s that same data, with the new theme:

It still wastes some space if you maximize it, but it isn’t quite as egregious. What is egregious, though, is that Facebook now decides that I need to see “Stories” (a feature almost nobody uses on purpose) and provides the option to create a random group (a feature almost nobody understand the purpose of). Those aren’t optional, and they waste a lot of vertical space. Meanwhile, the “contacts” list, which was collapsible in the classic mode, is just there all the time, providing visual clutter.

Look at the “classic” theme again, and you’ll see small numbers next to some of the shortcuts on the left. This shows, at a glance, how many posts or comments are unread in specific groups or pages. The equivalent information in the new theme is just all clumped together in the fourth icon on the top row. That claims there are six groups with new comments or posts, but I don’t know which group unless I click that icon. Maybe some groups are things I care about deeply, and others only casually. Too bad – they’re all the same now.

Over in the chat and notification drop-downs, we have more insults to efficiency. I’m not going to show screen shots, because I don’t want to blur out everything repeatedly, but you can conduct this experiment on your own. In the chat menu, at the bottom of the legacy view, is “Mark all read.” Boom, now the slate is wiped clean and you are all caught up. That option is completely missing in the new view. In the notification menu, the legacy mode shows “mark all read” right at the top, very easy. The new view hides it under a menu of other options that you’ll likely never use.

There are a number of other minor annoyances. Even if you can’t use plugins (like Social Fixer that you can see in my screen shots), the legacy view allows you to switch from the much-reviled default “top stories” view into a “recent” view that is vastly more intuitive. The new view doesn’t have that feature on the “news feed” menu option (because that option is missing), and instead it is under the down-arrow in an option called “recent” – at least it’s there, but it’s more work to get to. When reposting a link, in the classic view, we have the option to “include original” which would repost the link and the commentary from the person’s post where you found it. In the new theme, there is no option — your new post will include the link to the source and nothing else.

Why does Facebook want to make using their service more tedious?

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 03 Sep 2020 @ 10:18 AM

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Categories: Geek, Musings, Personal

 04 Jan 2019 @ 12:07 PM 

People are increasingly amazed and sometimes aghast that I do not carry a cell phone and do not own a smartphone. “Gary, you’re such a massive geek, how do you not have a pocket computer welded to you at all times?” Well, let me tell you a tale of technology and pragmatism when living where I do and working where I do.

I live in a small city which is about 100 miles from the nearest slightly-larger city, and hundreds of miles from a real metropolis. I’m trying to pay down long-term debt and build up some savings so that we can leave this city when an opportunity arises. To that end, I’m not going to spend money on a piece of cool technology that I can’t use to its full potential. If I’m not traveling (which I’m not), the use for the smartphone would be to use it around town, at work, at home – essentially all the time. I used to carry a PDA, sixteen years ago. I know how useful it is to have a brain extension with you at all times. It’s less useful if you can’t use it most of the day.

And the reason I can’t use it leads to the place I work. I cannot take portable electronic devices with cameras, microphones, cellular radios, or most other things that are more advanced than a CD player into my work place. The option most people who do own smartphones take is to leave their expensive pocket computer in the car while they are in the building. This links with “where I live” to become a bad idea. It’s hot here in the summer, and summer is about 8 months long some years. If it’s 115 degrees outside, how hot is the interior of your car? How does that affect the ability of your phone to operate or be held by a normal human hand, or not explode? I’m not gonna risk it, just so I can use the phone in my car and my home, while still not using it at work because I’d get fired if I tried.

So, car use is out, work use is out. That leaves home use. Sure, I have had a tablet for years, first the Xoom, then a Shield, Nexus 9, and now a Kindle Fire. I’d use a better tablet if someone would make one that wasn’t over $1000. Clearly, I could replace a tablet with a phone. But, a tablet has an 8″ or larger screen, and I’m not 20 so bigger is better in some cases. And, the tablet doesn’t need a monthly fee to keep working. Meanwhile, I also have a gaming PC. This is a not-insignificant expense, and I’d much rather prioritize replacing that box every five years than a less-powerful phone every two. I also have a home phone. I have a phone in my office. I am not hard to get in contact with, and I do not feel any need to be contactable at a moment’s notice 24/7.

To summarize, I do not own a smartphone because the only place I’d use it is at home or when traveling. I have better toys to use at home, and my wife has a smartphone that we use when traveling. In the massively unlikely event I need to travel alone, I do maintain a Tracfone. It stays in the car, and costs me about $100 per year to keep it from expiring. I think it has 1500 minutes right now, because I literally never talk to anyone.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 04 Jan 2019 @ 12:07 PM

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Categories: Geek, Personal, Random Thoughts

 07 Nov 2018 @ 12:01 AM 

It’s been twenty years since the first post on this blog, the still-topical Rude Online Bastards piece. While I have one of the oldest blogs still extant among my acquaintances (John Scalzi has me beat by a few months), the traffic definitely dropped some years back. The rise of LiveJournal and MySpace didn’t change things much, and in fact helped to drive traffic around the entire web. But, Facebook has really crushed the standalone web log (as it was once known). I did eventually learn to not cringe at the neologism “blog,” and now it’s essentially a relic. Ah, well.

Meanwhile, there are still trolls and jerks online, and twenty years of progress has not reduced their numbers in the slightest.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 07 Nov 2018 @ 03:51 PM

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 27 Jun 2018 @ 1:28 PM 

There have been a number of articles written over the years about the relative size of different generations, and their respective power dynamics and interest in change.

The Baby Boom Generation (born 1946-1964) is about 29% of the US population. They were more numerous than the generation before, and once they rose to positions of authority in the business and political spheres, seem to have little to no interest in ever letting go. They are known for a lot of protesting and fostering some large changes in society, and then as they grew older, resisting any further changes. Also called the “Me Generation” for the perception of conspicuous consumerism, the Boomers are also known for prioritizing “hard work” (read: long hours) over productivity. They displayed great loyalty to the corporations that dominated the country during their early work years, and have a mindset that one career could be at one company for decades.

Generation X (1961-1981, yeah, there’s overlap – generations aren’t really solid blocs) is about 18% of the US population, and came of age during the multiple recessions of the post-Reagan years. Being a smaller group, they’ve struggled to attain any lasting influence, not helped by being labeled “slackers” when they were in their 20s. Gen X were the first generation of “latch key kids.” Due to the multiple hits of the Reagan recession, welfare reform, cutting funding for education, and the Dot Com Bubble, Gen X is the first generation that has little chance of doing better financially than their parents. Gen X is known for prioritizing merit and “bang for the buck” in business and politics. Downsizing and “right sizing” and offshoring have made Gen X assume a more mercenary approach to corporate loyalty, constantly prepared to jump ship if need be or if a great opportunity comes along.

Millennials (1981-1994 or maybe 2000, depending on who you ask) are another big generation, approximately 27% of the US population. While the parents of Millennials were known as “helicopter parents” to a great degree, the children they raised are more idealistic and less bigoted than most previous generations, in general. While Boomers and Gen X created the internet, Millennials grew up with it as part of the background. They are generally more comfortable with uncertainty and change in economic situations (see the gig economy) than previous generations. They also see the massive dump that Boomers took on the economy over decades in power and are pretty unhappy about it. Millennials generally look for people making a meaningful contribution in business and politics, rather than more objective measures of success.

In the business world, we see a lot of examples where Boomers are running the show, and the Gen X employees are biding their time, waiting to take over if the Boomers will ever fucking retire. And now, as Gen X is middle-aged, Millennials are entering the market at a high rate, and their energy is making them the up-and-comers. Gen X has more debt than income, and now it increasingly looks like their bosses will be their own children.

Meanwhile, over in politics, we see something similar. Look at the US House of Representatives. It’s like a senior citizen center over there. Nancy Pelosi is 78, her lieutenant Steny Hoyer is 79. Neither seems interested in retiring. The Senate is just as bad. Mitch McConnell and Bernie Sanders are both 76, and Dianne Feinstein has been legally dead for three years. There are a few Gen X folks in there, like Paul Ryan and Ted Cruz, but overall – pretty damned old. The House averages 57 years old, and the Senate 61. Gen X seems to mostly have given up on politics, because we’re trying to dig out of debt before we start drawing Social Security.

Nancy Pelosi doesn’t seem to believe that there has been a demographic and enthusiasm shift within the Democratic Party. Young folks are energized. Look at the primary in New York, where a 28 year-old woman, an avowed Democratic Socialist, just beat someone who has been in office since she was in 3rd grade. Pelosi’s response: I’m sure it’s nothing. The rise of the various street protests and online activism, leading to the surprisingly good showing of Sanders in 2016 and the lack of enthusiasm from the Democratic faithful during the general election, should have been some kind of wakeup call. Ignoring the energy and passion of Millennials is not a wise move.

On behalf of the forgotten middle child of generational warfare, may I say to the Millennials – go get ’em.

Posted By: Gary
Last Edit: 27 Jun 2018 @ 01:28 PM

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Categories: Economics, Political





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