Categories
Authoring

New Shiny Part 2: Making Mastodon Comfy

TL;DR: some practical tips are bullet-pointed at the bottom. 

I can always tell I’ve started A New Thing way beyond my comfort zone when it shows up in my recurring dreamspaces.

Lately I’ve been dreaming a lot about the new social networking system I’ve joined. (It seriously isn’t social media in the commonly accepted sense, so in my stubborn way, I have trouble calling it that. BUT I DIGRESS.) 

I found a smaller “instance” or node or server on the network to move into: zirk.us, instead of Mastodon.social. 

Zirk.us is an instance dedicated to arts & humanities, poetry, photography and so on,  being run by folks who are transparent about the logistical costs of being online & growing the membership only as fast as it can add moderation & technical support.

And yes, I confess I migrated there in no small part because it’s called zirk.us, pronounced zerk-us, like circus, like Herkes, so how could I resist? (Answer, I couldn’t.)

Manipulative social engineering is the main reason I backed away from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram etc. Interacting with other humans is hard enough. Trying to make connections while simultaneously fighting a system designed to exhaust and use me was increasingly not worth the effort.

side note: Your Mastodon May Vary. the Fediverse is *NOT* equitably welcoming. I come at it with undeniable privileges. The Fediverse’s splintered, uneven nature and lack of institutional-level reporting & blocking system make many of its major instances hostile places, unsafe for people who are targets of exclusionary hate & institutional bigotry.

In contrast, my main issues are mental health and focus-related, and in those areas, the Mastodon software interface shines. It is beautifully designed for building defenses & supports.

I changed a bunch of things right away to cut back on information overload, doom-depression, & focus exhaustion.  I am now going to tediously go through all those things I did, because that way when I forget what I did, I will have a reference for myself.

And, maybe, possibly, it might prove useful to someone else somehow, someday. That said, ‘m doing this in my shorthand, there won’t be full explanations of which menu I was in or where I was looking on the screen, etc. 

First I tinkered with my profile settings through Edit Profile.

Adding a profile pic & banner are key to making myself knowable & demonstrating I am a Real Person. Filled out the bio & later edited to be kind to those using screenreaders: put hashtags at the end, not sprinkled throughout the text. 

PREFERENCES:

  •  Appearance 1: enable “enhanced web interface,” which enables multiple columns to be viewed & pinned in place. I’ve since learned this format  is too intense for some people, but I prefer my information to be in predictable, static places on the screen.)
  • Appearance 2: enable SLOW MODE.  Disables infinite scroll. I choose when I’m ready to access new posts. I love, love, LOVE this. But wait, there’s more.
  • Appearance 3: crop all images to a 16:9 the better for me to tune them out
  • hide sensitive media, again, again, conserving my limited visual attentiveness
  • Other: I selected English, so I wouldn’t be trying to parse my way through posts in other languages. 

FILTERS

 So easy to set up. So customizable. Easy to append. Easy to edit, if I decide I want to change where/if I want to look at the topics I’m filtering out. I set up three perma-filters before I made my first post. One for references to Twitter or Musk, one for Trump related material, and one for pandemic related keywords. I’ve added a couple more since then. 

There’s even the ability to decide how rigorous you want the filter to be, with warnings or hiding entirely, from just some feeds or all occurrences anywhere.

Filters complete, I went from Edit Profile back to the main screen.

Home, Local & Federated columns showed up automatically. I went up to the bar of icons at the top left & clicked on the bell to bring up a Notifications column too. Then I promptly started tinkering with all the column settings.

Column settings are tucked behind a little icon I think looks like an abacus. I unpinned the Local & Federated feeds immediately, and pinned the Notifications. I didn’t pin the Home feed, but I did toggle “Show replies” off so I wouldn’t get caught up puzzling through posts without context. 

NOTIFICATIONS & COLUMNS:

  • I also moved the Notifications column to the far left using the little arrows to the right of the pin/unpin toggle. Pinning eliminates the ultra-distracting badge in the Getting Started column.  Being able to rearrange the visible columns to match the day’s brain order: priceless
  • enabled “show all categories”  It defaults to only showing “all” & mentions, but I can’t keep up & like to go through replies, favs, boosts individually t my own speed. (Again, some find that to be *more* distracting. My love of static information sources is showing.)
  • turned off all the sound alerts & half the other alerts.

Then I went to the Getting Started column on the right & clicked on Lists so I could fine-tune my various info sources.

LISTS.

Like Filters, Lists are similar to features of Twitter & FB, but they’re implemented as readily-accessible, highly-visible elements, proving they’re integral to the experience, not post-hoc additions buried three menus deep & requiring multiple moves back & forth to set up.

Lists are my besties. My tolerance for different types of input varies radically with my mood & energy level. 

  •  a *very* small “Frenz” list for people whose posts I can almost always handle
  • my Writing Community List
  • Interesting Strangers
  • Fun Bots, for days when automated cat pics or astronomy photos are all I can stand
  •  And one more for News–which includes people who mainly post or boost only politics or current events.

The “Interesting Strangers” is by far the largest. Sometimes people move from that to Frenz, sometimes the other way — It’s EASY to change people’s list status. There’s a single menu for adjusting all your interactions w/each person. 

And I can put people on multiple lists, too so I don’t miss friend posts if I’m only in the mood for skimming news, or looking for book recs, f’rex.

Once I tailored my notifications & made lists, I could start adding people, which brings up the last best things: Notes & Muting & Hide Boosts.

FOLLOWING

Following best practice: IMMEDIATELY click on the 3-dot menu & add the person to a list or lists. Since I rarely have Home, Local, or Federated up, this is critical to seeing someone’s posts at all. (If I had to wait & do it afterwards, I would forget. If I had to click into sub-menus, I wouldn’t do it. This way, it’s *done.*)

 I can also hide that individual’s boosts right then & there, if a quick look indicates they post interesting things but also a high proportion of boosts I don’t care about–OR I CAN CHANGE THAT SETTING LATER just as easily. 

Ditto for the mute function — if I want to follow someone so I can find them later, but don’t have a lot of interest in their current posts/boosts, I can simply mute them. 

And Notes? Notes is the ice cream on the hot, fresh slice of fruit pie. It’s a memo line in the profile I see where I can to leave myself an explanation for “Why Am I following this person?”  I can’t say it’s private bc the instance admins see everything, but it doesn’t show up to that person, and that’s all I could ask.

I regularly & randomly lose important contextual connections, I seriously conflate people & places, and I am horrible about keeping track of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey time. Did a thing happen last year, 5 years ago, or when I was 14? I DUNNO.

Basically all the people I have ever known have always been with me everywhere I go. On Twitter & FB, where it’s hard/impossible to design & edit lists on impulse, I got used to doing a lot of looking blankly at posts & stressing over “where do I know them from? Why am I following them? Should I reply? Should I scroll on?” 

I reserve notes for people outside the “Interesting Strangers” list since that label is an explanation all by itself. But when I’m surfing through Writing Community, (f’rex) or my rare jaunts through the Local or Home feed,  it’s a huge relief to see my reminder “on a panel w/ them at WorldCon” or “cool person I bought a book from,” “Person who said a kind thing the first day on Mastodon” etc.

Notes, lists, filters, muting, etc — none of these are necessary for being in the Fediverse. But they do make it a lot easier for me to navigate it without losing my mind or using up all my energy.

Bottom line: there’s a lot about the interface that’s familiar, but the ways the familiar have been revised makes all the difference. It’s wild how much improvement the small changes in design have made.


This post comes to you by the magic of copy/paste & cross-posting from my blog on Patreon. Please consider becoming a regular patron if you like what I write & help me smother my impostor syndrome with pocketbook votes. Otherwise stay tuned to this channel for the next installment.

Categories
3. Other Things Authoring Media Consumption

New Shiny Thing…what the heck is it?

(crossposted from a public post on my Patreon)

Okay, so, Mastodon. 

I’m “on Mastodon” now.

What’s that mean? Damn, I wish that was an easy question.

I’ve had my account** on Mastodon dot social for a month, which in no way makes me an expert, but the way I process new information goes like this:

  • Discover new thing, by which I mean “Dive in heedless & headfirst”
  • Research new thing exhaustively
  • Write. Everything. Down.

I’m in stage 3, which means so I need to hammer out my thoughts for myself to organize them, & that means leaving them lying around where anyone can stumble across them. Lucky you, huh?

I’ll be doing more than this one post. It’s a BIG new thing. This time around, I’m offering meandering general impressions.

Vital Disclaimer: These are all my impressions & mine alone. YMMV. (Your Mastodon May Vary) All my information sources come from the internet & thus suspect. Some of the data might be wrong. I hope not, I’ve done due diligence, but no guarantees.

Also, there’s no particular *point* to this. I’m just moving the new mental furniture around in my head until it fits better. So. Here goes.

——————————

The main thing that’s intriguing me about Mastodon is this: it isn’t what many people seem to want it to be. It definitely isn’t what most people think it is. 

It isn’t a social media platform like Twitter or Facebook, or an online blogging community like Tumblr or LiveJournal,  or evenan interconnected, interacting collection of individual online communities,” which is a mouthful of a description I remember seeing somewhere but unhappily forgot to bookmark for later linking.

Mastodon isn’t a thing at all.

It’s open source server software that can be used anyone with the hardware, the know-how and the energy to make an online community (hereafter called an instance)  and also connect with people in other such communities if you want.

A lot of the think pieces I’ve read about people leaving Twitter for other places use “Mastodon” as shorthand  to describe the larger, overall interconnected internet presence of all the instances running Mastodon or other open-source software.

This is driving me buggy because there’s already a word for the world-wide collection of interconnected open-source servers. It’s called the Fediverse, and it’s been around lots longer than Mastodon software. Check Wikipedia for a fairly decent if technical history and a list of other server software types supporting Fediverse communities. 

I get why media explainers are conflating the two. 

Mastodon is a catchy name, and Fediverse…isn’t. “Mastodon is the new Twitter” makes a catchy headline even though it’s wrong from every possible perspective. 

It’s still driving me buggy. Any time people jam square words into round holes, it grates on my nerves.

So to me, what I’ve joined is the Fediverse not “Mastodon,” and the Fediverse is too sprawling, too complex, too multi-systemic, to be encompassed by the word “platform,” too active to fit under the umbrella term “media,” social or otherwise. 

Even if I only look at the instance where I’m currently roosting, Mastodon.social (one of the largest) it’s nothing like Twitter. Or Facebook. It’s not even like even LiveJournal or Usenet, which I feel at least share neighboring evolutionary branches.

This is a whole, huge, new WORLD.

I picture Mastodon.social as thecyberpunk megalopolis spaceport, all neon & noise, flashy crowds, 24/7 parties, trash, and clutter.  But! The Fediverse is a whole world, remember? There there are also quiet neighborhoods in the same city, and farms, and communes, and even little homesteads of one person alone (if you have the hardware & a domain address, I’m told you can self-host your own little “instance” aka server) There are party islands & mountaintop retreats.

And! I can get to know people in those other places! Best of all, it’s easy for me to close my doors & windows, so to speak, and not have to see anything. There’s nothing encouraging me to click one more thing, no trending topics, no suggested posts, no damned algorithims or endless scroll. I have the tools to find quiet even in the city. 

Someday I’d like to move somewhere quieter in the Fediverse, where I can talk tea & books & cats with likeminded souls locally and not have to hide my home feed &  the local instance to avoid overwhelm. 

(Next post will be about how I set up my account so it would NOT be the pointless, empty timesuck Twitter & Facebook were. Sorry, friends who found friends & community on Twitter, I never felt like anything but a rejected, shunned, & unvalued nobody there.)

ANYway. I comprehend, intellectually, why many new arrivals to the Fediverse don’t like it. Setting up an account is simple, but it isn’t frictionless the way getting started & finding people on Twitter & Facebook is easy. Very little is immediately obvious or familiar. There’s a reason for that, though.

Twitter & Facebook are corporate-owned worlds, to bend my own analogy a little. Everything is tightly controlled, because their success is measured in users, data gathered from users, and ad revenue generated by users. They profit from making things simple & doing everything they can to keep people from leaving. It takes a lot of energy to escape those gravity wells.

The Fediverse isn’t about profit, it’s about existing. Humanity is complicated.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of people who’ve been on their servers for YEARS. Servers have their own cultures. People have developed community standards & traditional Ways Of Communicating. Some of these are shared by most or all servers. Some are not.

It’s worth mentioning that lot of early servers and the core norms of the Fediverse were established by queer, disabled, and otherwise marginalized members of the tech community. Inclusion is A Thing. 

Are all these cultures and traditional norms healthy? Ha. No. Truth.social is an instance, for example. It’s an island practically no one else connects to/federates with, but it exists. But there is a foundation level commitment to trying to make space and center marginal voices.

But.

When any existing inhabited space gets flooded with new arrivals who have their own ways, their own needs, their own ways of doing things, friction is bound to result. When the influx outsumbers the existing population by multiple orders of magnitude…there’s all kinds of culture clashes going on in the Fediverse right now.

Grief makes us crave the familiar, the comfortable, the known. Many people arriving from Twitter are grieving, involuntarily bereft of connections and communities they spent years building, escapees from a walled city being torn apart at the whims of an asshole billionaire.

Problem is, in the Fediverse, there is no One Way & it isn’t all One Big Place. What’s acceptable behavior on some servers is unwelcome on others. That’s disconcerting. It’s frustrating. It’s not welcoming, the same way The World can be an unwelcoming & confusing place.  

That brings up another factor of discontent: all the pains and frustrations of being in a strange new place get amplified for people who start off in instances that are not a good fit for them or the way they want to interact.

Differences in communication norms shouldn’t lead to flaming rows over fragile, institutionally racist liberals silencing marginalized voices, but those fires are already lit. It’s happened multiple times, in multiple instances, large & small. Some high-profile newcomers have declared with conviction that “Mastodon” is not a good community and may never be safe for them.

Which is…a conclusion I am not qualified to judge.

There are some seriously robust protocols for reporting bad actors locally & across the Fediverse, but it’s hard to tell whether they’re enough or not when there literally aren’t enough moderators to keep up with the incoming flood in many instances right now, and when mods only human, are new, make mistakes — or in some instances may indeed be intolerant bigots. 

Bottom line, there’s no effective difference between hostile fire & friendly fire when you’re the target of it, and people are finding themselves targeted when they are at their newest and most vulnerable.

I expect there will be a lot of instances slamming defensively shut and others being defensively blocked in the days & months to come. I hold out hope it will all settle in time. A lot more listening & work needs to happen, that’s for sure, and there’s definitely room for changes and improvement.

But. Um. I still like it here a gazillion times better than any online outlet for creativity I’ve used since LiveJournal. (I still miss LJ, sigh) I’ve gotten more response & feedback in my 3 weeks on Mastodon.social than in two years on Twitter. Not even joking. And despite still feeling like the biggest no-talent loser kid in the writing world whenever I post, I feel less that way, plus I don’t get sucked into depressive doomscrolling.

I suspect a lot of Twitter migrants will migrate right back out as soon as they can find a singular platform that’s more like the social media they’re accustomed to, one offers them the safety and comfort features they know, want & need. 

Me, I will keep hunting for a little house somewhere far from the Big Server noise and clutter here in the Fediverse. I like it here. People say nice things about my cat pictures.

—————————————

** Minor disclaimer/digression (because I am made of digressions) I am not exactly new to Mastodon. See, I opened an account way back in 2017, invited by a friend who was on a very small Mastodon-based server. I never did much other than set up an account & follow that server’s local feed, though. The friend died later that year, I never logged in again, & sometime between then & 2022 the server went dark & took the account with it.

Categories
Cons & Appearances Writing Life

Windycon 2022 is a go for launch

It wasn’t clear until quite recently how many days I would be attending Windycon this year, if I could go at all.

But! The stars aligned, my schedule cleared itself, and I’ll be in Lombard this coming weekend November 11-13.

This will be the first con in 8 years that I’ve attended without a vendor table to hide behind. That’s shaking things up a bit, my nerves most of all, because the last time was very much Not Fun.

It’s a growth thing. I’ll be fine now that I know more about how cons work. Right? RIGHT.

The plan is to be on some fun panels, attend other fun panels, hang out with friends, look at the art show, and perhaps do some gaming. Laid-back, relaxed, good times. I hope.

Here’s the places I’m committed to being:

Making the Most of the Public Library Friday 18:00 Lilac BD

Your local public library can certainly arrange for you to check out books, music, or films, but it offers so much more, from e-resources to cultural events to maker spaces. Our panel of librarians won’t be shushed when it comes to announcing the ways you can take advantage of the services on offer at your local branch.

Pets in Space 21:00 Friday Lilac AC

Can you really have a pet on a spaceship? Can it be an ordinary earth pet, like a dog, cat, bird or must it be something adapted to space (and what would that be)? What purpose would pets serve in space?

Writers Workshop Saturday 9AM to 1 PM

Ludlow Charlington Charity Anthology Reading Saturday 15:00 Boardroom

Authors read from their work from the Ludlow Charlington anthology published to raise funds for Chicago Shelters.

How to Build a Science Sunday 10:00 Lilac BD

How to introduce the historical development of various sciences in your work? How were sciences actually developed in different areas of the world?

Categories
3. Other Things Authoring Writing Advice

Learning Lessons

Originally published on my Patreon in June 2022. Become a Patron!

My 2nd-favorite convention button* reads, “Oh, no, not another learning experience!”***

One lesson I still have not mastered is this one:  “When in doubt, say no. If you aren’t bedrock-solidly sure you should say yes, say no. In fact, default to saying no, and you’ll rarely go wrong.”

I say yes more than is good for me. Good intentions are listed among my many reasons, plus a high capacity for rationalizing my way into corners. I tell myself writing outside my own worlds will hone my writing skills and build self-discipline. (It does) Taking on creative work other than writing will recharge my energy for my own writing. (True)  Sharing and collaborating are personally affirming and help build community. Etcetera and so on.

Saying yes always makes sense when I agree to it, but roughly 50% of the times I’ve taken on extra projects since I became a professional writer, saying no would’ve been the wiser choice.

Great stats for a baseball player. Not so great for, say, bridge engineering. I don’t know if it’s good or bad for a writer.

Some projects turn out to be a bad fit emotionally, some became outrageous time-sinks of scope creep, and others bogged down in the mire of “great concept, not-so-great organization.” Some managed to be all three things at once. Even projects that were wholly enjoyable came with a high cost. Time and energy are my most limited resources.

Being a champion overthinker, I routinely revisit all the disastrous, exhausting, costly yes-es in my past and question my judgment. Was saying yes worth it when things worked out so badly, so often?

The answer, in a word, is Yes. (I bet you saw that coming.)

No matter how much wiser saying no would’ve been, I never regret having done things. I’ve benefitted in some way from even the most frustrating & joy-sucking “shoulda said no” experience. Each one taught me a new life trick or two, most taught me new writing or writing-adjacent skills–or refreshed & polished my existing ones.

I don’t make the same mistakes. Every time, I find new ones.

All that said, here’s the latest incarnation of my ever-evolving list of Important Things To Do If You Must Say Yes.

1. Decide your limits & engrave them like stone in your own mind.

2. Write down everything you’ll be expected to do. Go over this information up front with the person or people you’re saying yes to.

2.5. Make absolutely everyone understands this is the absolute limit of what you expect to be asked to do.

This is not quite the same as “get it in writing.” This isn’t about contractual obligations. It’s about the fallibility of memory & the inevitability of misaligned expectations. It’s about making sure you have a record of your own expectations for yourselfbefore you become entangled & invested in the project.

3. Pull out your written list & consult it whenever you’re asked to do more things, other things, or feel like you’re being pressured to renegotiate your role.

4. If you have to remind someone of the agreement more than twice, it’s 3-strikes-and-out, DTMFA, walk away time. Sunk-cost fallacy will be hard to fight (really, REALLY hard) but seriously? If someone creeps across the line twice, they’ll just keep asking until they wear you down or you bite their head off.

I’m good at the snap & bite part. Doesn’t make it fun.

My final words in this  Say No 101 refresher course: remember that small favors turn into big problems if you don’t protect your boundaries like a mama mockingbird defending her nest–and sometimes even if you do.

You can keep your shields on full, charge up your orbital lasers and your asteroid cannons,  have all your best spells locked & loaded & ready to cast–and still get ambushed by a bad situation.

It still won’t be a total loss as long as you find something worthwhile to learn from it.

That’s it until next time I feel like ranting, venting, or musing.

And here is a random image of carp in the Chicago Botanic Garden lagoon, photo taken on a recent visit.

***Oh-ho, you’ve found the footnote!

My favorite button reads, “There are very few personal problems that cannot be solved by a suitable application of high explosives.”  It appeals to me for complicated reasons and remains my fave despite the quote coming from Scott Adams, whose sociopolitical stance proves he’s  more like Pointy-haired Boss than nerdy Dilbert.  I would’ve included a photo of both buttons on this post but I can’t find my button collection at the moment.

Categories
Writing Life

Baby Clover Sighting!

happy patch of clover in struggling grass lawn

This is an exciting moment in the short history of my lawn diversification project. When I reseeded the lawn back in March, the turfgrass sprouts were visible in a week, just like always, but the the fancy (expensive) clover seed I spread at the same time was a MIA. So I figured it was a total bust.

NOPE. Clover patches are popping up all over the lawn now, front and back. Turns out clover comes up as ultra-tiny sprouts that stealthily spread along under the taller turf grass and take their sweet time establishing themselves.

Why am I deliberately infesting my lawn with a plant people routinely nuke into obliion with herbicides? Short answer: because turfgrass is a boring, expensive, high-maintenance monoculture.

Long answer…

Clover builds a better topsoil layer than turfgrass by rooting deeper & fixing nitrogen, requires much less mowing because it’s naturally shorter than turfgrass, and it blooms below mowing height to provide pollinators with nectar for three full seasons.

Clover also stays green throughout the summer, unlike turfgrass that goes dormant in hot weather unless heavily watered. Which I don’t do.

All that leads to the question, why would ANYone plant a species that requires constant intensive maintenance when you can plant something that doesn’t need nearly as much care but fills the same niche? (namely, “low, soft, walkable surface on which to do other outdoor activities without damaging plants or being baked to death from reflected heat like on concrete.”

People who sell herbicides, insecticides, lawn care tools, and even whole services long ago convinced the American Public that a turfgrass lawn was The Best Thing Ever. <major side-eye at the Lawn Maintenance Industry, which isn’t really a thing, exactly, but it exists as a concept.>

But it isn’t. It’s an ecologically questionable timesinking money pit.

So in due time my lawn will have not only clover, but also violets & plantains & wood sorrel & other native ‘weeds’ galore. Dandelions? No, but only because they don’t play well with the others. There’s even an oficial phrase for this kind of lawn: “Pizza lawn”

Who doesn’t love pizza? (Rhetorical question.)

I understand many people feel the “attracts pollinators” aspect is a bug (HA!) not a feature, but I am not among them. Bees are not mysterious monsters. They’re pretty tolerant of people as long as you avoid stepping directly on them. So if you avoid stomping around your lawn in the early morning, you’re fine. And all your garden veggies will produce better, too! (if you have a veggie garden.)

Anyway. That’s my clover post. Until later!

Originally published on Patreon 6/14/2021 Become a patron to get posts as soon as I write them: Patreon.com/kmherkes