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
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
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Whimsy Writing Life

Barns & other distractions

Did I need to research dairy barn restoration and collect architectural drawings of historical barn types yesterday & today?

TRICK QUESTION.

Checking my barn-related terminology for a single scene sent me skipping through Indian dairy farming advice blogs, across encyclopedia entries on cow breeds, and down a long sideline into the meaning of “Highline electricity” into power line work and voltage issues with server racks.

Fun facts: gawala means cattleman or head dairy worker in Urdu, at least according to two language sites I consulted after being puzzled by the term’s appearance in an otherwise all-English language paper comparing the efficiency of different cow configurations in milking barns. (Surprise, it was an INDIAN dairy industry publication. …which bounced me into a brief investigation of dairy farming in India.) Gawala may also be a kind of milk-based candy?

Highline vs lowline refers to the voltage carried by power lines. Also back in the day your builder needed to know whether your farm had highline or house plant electricity before drawing up plans for your barn.

And barn research totally relates to volcanoes, right? Okay, no, but I saw a news headline while I was closing a tab. Count on a geology/meteorology nerd like me to click on ANY link with a satellite photo of a huge ash cloud.

What happened in the Pacific last week will have global effects for a long time to come. Like every huge eruption, it’ll teach geologists a ton about what’s going on beneath the thin biosphere we inhabit. And like every huge eruption near humans, its toll will be expensie and heartbreaking. The videos and photos of the aftermath are incredible. The cost? Incalculable.

ANYway. Speaking of satellite photos, I’ve been watching US winter storms on assorted weather sites lately. The quality of the images is interesting (in a muttered curses way) because it pretty much indicates how blatant the site is about downgrading the available imagery to engineer subscriptions to the premium subscription strategy. Charging for something that should be a free public resource.

I recall my excitement a zillion years ago when my parents got cable television and a new TV with a remote. Not because we got HBO. Not because the TV picture was suddenly clear instead of getting fuzzy or staticky when it rained. Not because I could flip channels from across the room. Nope.

I was over the moon because I COULD WATCH THE WEATHER RADAR! MInd, this was not the amazing many-layered weather displays of today’s weather apps. It was straight-up regional Doppler precipitation radar on a 30-second loop. It still fascinated me. Weather patterns both local and distant shifted, grew, and passed right in front of my eyes.

I loved mentally connecting those trends to the conditions outside the window. My dad used to make fun of me for checking the television for the weather instead of looking outside (weather rock style) but matching screen to reality taught me tons about reading the sky for future conditions in just a few years. Priceless free education.

But I digress. The free imagery now available from modern satellites is MIND-BLOWING. You won’t find it on easily-accessible, fast-loading commercial weather apps, but it’s out there. Full-color, high-resolution visuals. Temperature gradients. Precipitation. Stills and animation loops for hours. Any time there’s a Big Weather or Big Fire event, I am up online ogling the imagery from space.

There are a lot of sites, but my favorites are https://www.star.nesdis.noaa.gov/goes/index.php for the US GOES-East & GOES-West satellites, and https://www.nhc.noaa.gov/satellite.php when I want Himawari-8.

That’s all for this episode of Research roundup. For your enjoyment, I am including a Weather Rock Photo.

Until later!

Oh, right. Obligatory “Hey, I Write Books” postscript: if you like my writing, please recommend my books to all your friends & enemies. They are wonderful books full of Good Things.

Science. Fiction. Love. Honor. Revenge. Knitting. Gardening. Thrilling escapes & cozy conversations. All that and more. Easy one-stop access: https://bit.ly/kmhlinktree

Categories
2. Worldbuilding nuts & bolts Writing Life

Recent research topics

By recent I mean “today.” This is a glimpse of what goes through my brain on a daily basis

–> Identification of red foxes versus coyotes (foxes are not necessarily red but reliably have black legs and a bushy white-tipped L O N G tail held out from body, so what we saw trotting down the sidewalk at midday was probably the neighborhood fox, not the neighborhood coyote)

–> Followup topics: are red foxes native to North America or were they brought over from Europe? (Recent genetic research indicates the populations are all native, contradicting long-held assumptions about gentry colonists bringing them over for game hunting.) Do people still raise foxes for fur? (Ew, yes.) Can you own a fox as a pet in Illinois? (Not legally. Indiana, yes, though) Look at all these cute pet fox videos…

–> Both desiccate and siccate mean dry–why have two such similar words mean the same thing? I knew the answer but double-checked the etymology before responding to someone who asked this online. (They differ in degree. Siccate means dried like you dry off after a shower or hang out wet clothes. Desiccated is dry like beef jerky or a mummy. Latinate words & fun Latin prefixes!)

–>Looked up the location of Tonga on a full world map because news maps annoy me. Followed that by playing “name that European country” on world-geography-games.com, and also “name that African country. Did not do well on either one, but slightly better with Europe than Africa, no big shocker there.

–> What are marshmallows made of? Why are they called marshmallows? What’s the traditional use of mallow? How and where does it grow? Does the flower have a scent? Is it considered an herb? What’s the difference between an herb and a spice? History of spice trade. Origin of National Geographic magazine. (Yes, folks, this is how my brain bounces 24/7/365.)

I love the internet. Yes, Wikipedia, I often start there, but the Smithsonian, the Library of Congress, the USDA. The NCBI.NLM.NIH site. Archives galore. Social media is a hellish time suck, but the internet? The internet is fucking amazing. Maybe it makes my writing better? I don’t know. It makes the process fun & makes time fly, that’s for sure.

my research assistant

That’s all for now. Until later!

Categories
Writing Life

Random brain bubbles

That would be another accurate title for this blog, huh? My sneaky plan to avoid getting caught in a sticky web of scrolling by writing posts here instead of onto social media–it’s working. I’ve clawed back HOURS of time by dropping every “Here be a funny/interesting/annoying thing” observation into a draft post instead of booting up a social media app that sucks me in.

I’ve forgotten to PUBLISH the drafts several times already, though. That is a strong indication my desire to share things is satisfied by writing them down. It also indicates I still suffer from some self-censoring problem of “but is that important enough to post?” avoidance.

Time to refine the strategy and formally assert that every few hundred words of something IS a post and publish it once any draft hits that goal. Which this one has! Here be 3 separate shortish snippets.

FIRSTEST.

I didn’t get around to doing biscotti yesterday. I wrote things and made BBQ baked beans + cornbread for oven exercise, but there was a LOT of laundry to slog through as well. Biscotti prep did happen–I diced TWO batches of dried fruit in the food processor, so there will be a bonus batch of cookies at some future date–but the main storyline got postponed in favor of several side-quests in the form of cabinet cleaning, drawer organizing, and a seasonal behind-a-the-things counter scrubbing. This is a typical chain of events for my kitchen adventures.

Cookie completion? Delayed. Sense of accomplishment? HUGE. I’ll take that trade-off.

SECONDEST.

“Chase Catmom” is currently First Among Favorites on the long list of Mister Pippin’s favorite games. It’s a recent spin on an earlier entertainment: Watch Mom Walk In Circles.

I pace around the basement at night when I’m feeling antsy but it’s too damned cold and icy outside to take a walk. (So, in my area, most of January.) The best spot for ‘taking a turn around the room,’ to use my Regency Romance phraseology, is a wide hallway about 25′ long, with a winding stair at one end and the game room at the other. If I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll open the cat gate to the gaming zone and add a circle around that to my route.

Pips always wants to be in the middle of any action, because CAT, and there are several excellent window wells and table perches. I get exercise, he gets cat TV.

A few days ago he leaped off the table and got underfoot when I turned at the game room end. There was much whuffling, many tail-flirts, and some foot dancing action. Never has there been a clearer invitation to play Chase.

“Seek & Pounce” being a critical element of the chase game, I hustled to the far end by the stair and hid around the corner. (I would say run, but it’s a wind-sprint distance, so I never get up to speed.)

Pips galloped along in my wake, mrrping excitedly the whole way, and he accepted pets and praise on arrival when he “found” me. Once I resumed my walking, Pips waited until I got halfway down the hall before charging up and past me in an obvious bid to do it all over again. So we did.

Best Game Ever.

He’ll sprint after me ten or twelve times before he’s thoroughly tuckered out. At the end of every lap he meows and chirrups and demands pets for his excellent conformation and speed. It’s adorable, and no, I am not doing video of it.

THIRDEST

Today in random investigations: Woodstock is much more common municipality name than I realized. Not quite Springfield, but it’s up there. I didn’t check all 50 states, but CT, IA, IL, IN, KY, MI, NC, NY, OH, PA, SC, TN, WI for sure all have a place called Woodstock. And now you know that too.

Postscript, sort of. Tags. My dislike of the tagging and categorizing aspect of blogging may also be holding me back. When I’m done writing, I want to hit publish & be done, not ponder the best subject headers & keywords. Adding internet cat tax photos to tempt folks into clicking is fun, and I don’t mind dashing off little teasers for the social media auto-shares, but my post-writing-the-post patience ends there.

I recognize tags are important Search Engine Optimization tools, but I gotta be honest: that’s a skillset I don’t feel like learning. From now on, I shall be doing few-to-no tags and ignoring WordPress’s little guilt-trip suggestion boxes about them. Easier is better, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

That’s all for now. I’ll do this again when next I have a few hundred words of random. Until then!