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
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
3. Other Things Authoring Writing Life

Not busy.

Didn’t sleep well, for no particular reason. Woke slow & groggy, couldn’t get any mental traction. After puttering around to no good effect, I resorted to my usual backup plan: when in doubt, clean something out.

I went through my WordPress posts folder & deleted a bunch of old drafts I wrote to vent and never intended to publish. So I get to say I cleaned something. And some of the titles made me smile. There were not one but two labeled as “Ranty McRanty Post.” And then there were these two:

  • Batshit I am not touching with a 10-foot pole.
  • Not enough facepalms in the world.

I have to find new topics to go with those headings, because I like them that much.

The cleanup puttering eventually developed into a writing groove, and I logged another scene about Serena and her unruly pack of emotion-dogs. So now the short story starts with her as it should. I need to finish that and trim a bit of description from one spot so I can glue it in where it belongs. Then I get to write the most-fun part, where Parker teaches her some basic tricks. Good times!

But tomorrow is reserved for digging into a Big Revelations scene in Ghost Town. Arson & fisticuffs! Mysteries unearthed! Cats rescued! Should also be fun.

Another highlight: it snowed big fluffy snowflakes from noon ’til sunset, but barely any of it stuck, so that was lovely. I felt for all the folks who had to be out driving in the muck and slick wet, but it sure did look lovely outside the window while I sat with the cat by the fireplace.

In other doings, I worked a quiet shift at the ‘brar, then settled in for a couch evening (re)watching Princess Mononoke with Spouseman & Pippin. It’s still an amazing movie. A thing I noticed for the first time this viewing: how much its soundtrack reminds me of themes from The Lord Of the Rings score.

And that was the day.

Categories
3. Other Things other things Writing Life

Baking my way through the snow & cold

I hate being cold. Hate-hate-hate-hate-HATE it. But I also hate heating a whole house full of rooms to a comfortable temperature when I can only occupy one at a time. It isn’t a rational objection, nor–thanks to circumstances I am daily thankful to live in–is it a financial problem. It’s strictly a philosophical reluctance of the “NOOOOOO, THIS IS RIDICULOUS!” kind.

In practice, this philosophical struggle results in me turning the house thermostat way down & finding ways to heat small parts of it to toasty, tropical levels. Some methods are straightforward. For example, due to the way the house is ducted, closing my office door will keep it 10º to 15º warmer than the rest of the second floor. And the gas insert in the living room fireplace makes it the world’s most decorative, highly-efficient space heater.

But when the outside temperature drops into negative numbers (negative in Fahrenheit, yikes!) I have to get really creative to keep things warm without cranking up the heater. Keeping the oven going is my go-to method for raising the temp in several neighboring rooms.

Warm rooms AND hot food. It’s a win-win.

Below, is a list of my favorite foods for cold, snowy days, chosen as much for their cooking requirements as for their tastiness. Listed in no particular order, most with links to past blog posts where I did recipes & suchlike. Looks like I should blog my soup & baked apple experiences and make this a complete list of Greatest Recipe Hits. Something for the future.

  1. Kitchen Sink Biscotti. These require TWO bakes at moderately low temps. Twice the baking, twice the warm. They’re fantastic for dipping into hot drinks too, so it’s a triple win.
  2. Ham & bean soup. From scratch with dry beans. It cooks in a dutch oven at 250º for hours & hours. The house will fill with mouth-watering smells. This year I tested out a BBQ baked bean variant too. It is delicious.
  3. Oven Eggs. Like scrambled eggs with cheese & veggies, only poured into a baking dish & cooked in the oven for a long time.
  4. Oatcakes. Add milk, oil, salt, baking powder & a little flour to oatmeal to make a smooth batter, spoon it onto baking sheets, and bake until the rounds are dry and crisp. It takes an hour per sheet or more. And they’re yummy.
  5. Breads. All kinds, any kind, but no-bake loaves with an overnight cool rise and second proof after shaping is the BEST kind. First, there’s the no-fuss “just let it rise” part, then the “proof in a warm oven” part, AND the hour of baking part. My fancy new oven even has a proof setting, which makes it all delightfully easy & indulgent.
  6. Pantry casseroles. Vegetarian-style shepherd’s pie & chicken-rice pan-bakes are super easy to whip together from on-hand frozen & shelf-stable ingredients in less than 15 minutes. But they COOK for an hour or more.
  7. Swedish butter cookies. Another sliced bar cookie like biscotti, only even simpler.
  8. Baked apples. SO EASY. Peel. Quarter. Core. toss with cinnamon & cook in a covered dish at 300-325 for an hour-ish. This fall I had too many apples to cook or process, so I threw a bunch of peeled & quartered ones into the freezer. Turns out that they bake up EVEN BETTER after being frozen first. Kinda like an apple version of casseroles or soupos being better the second night, after cooling & reheating.

That’s it for the main post.

In Other News, I’m implementing proof corrections on my manuscript this week, then files go up to Ingram & Amazon, and then pre-orders go live!

FINALLY The First-Ever Official Dawnrigger Email Newsletter will be going out soon. Once pre-orders are live, in fact. Newsletter subscribers will be extra-special spiffy exclusives like early peeks at character art, so you’ll definitely want to sign up for it, if you haven’t already.

That’s all for now. Until later!

Categories
Detours Writing Life

Squirrel gardening: a tale of time lost

This is a thing I’m writing while most of my brain is occupied with uncooperative idea pieces I need to weave into a different post.

It’s a story about a day earlier this spring when I had two simple activities planned. One: salvage vintage hardware from three, nasty old interior doors that were cluttering up my screen porch, so I could toss the panels into the trash. Two: plant some flower bulbs I’d purchased.

Here’s how that went. <cue Law & Order sound effects>

First I put on my headset and started my music. That part will be important later, so make a note of it. See, my endurance is about two hours, but once I get going on…well, anything… it’s easy to ignore the passage of time, data from senses not directly engaged in the task, and yes, even pain. And if I push past three hours of physical labor, I’m physically wrecked for a couple of days.

I lean on audio input as an attention filter, so my solution is a 2-hour playlist with a short catchy jingle that repeats at half-hour intervals and plays 4 times at the end to assist in breaking hyper-focus. It isn’t perfect, but it works better than an alarm I can turn off without ever noticing. If nothing else, the silence eventually nudges me back to reality.

So. Out I went, rocking my tunes, tools at the ready.

The door part went as well as I could hope. Doors were wrestled out of their winter storage corner in The Screen House, bashed with hammers, scraped with razor blades and liberated from four generations of screws by four different screwdrivers. All manner of knobs, screws, backplates, and hinges were collected into bags for unspecified future crafting project fun.

I brought in the hardware, announced victory to Spouseman (working from home) then went out the front door to check the dirt in the front yard. The clay was soft enough for digging & also a flower was blooming! I pulled out the phone & went down on one knee to immortalize the momentous occasion. Then remembered I was wearing new jeans & would get filthy dirty planting bulbs. Time to go inside & change into old clothes from the wash basket.

Outside again, retrieved shovel & gloves & digger tool from the garage, can’t find bulbs. Moment of doubt. Did I buy them or just consider doing so? (This happens.)

Wait. I have the receipt on my phone. YES. I bought bulbs.

Went to the back door so I could to go inside and find Spouseman, who might remember where I put the bulbs. Multi-tasking win, right?  I could also ask where he thinks the bulbs should go.

Except the back door was locked. And the keys were in the pocket of the jeans I took off.

I went around to the front door. Removed dirty shoes to go through the house to the office at the back. Minor win, on the way, I remembered where the bulbs were & consulted with Spouseman anyway to discuss placement.

Back on track. Outside again. Dug into the untouched flower bed against the back of the house. Hit root. Not unexpected; upon moving in, we removed three large suckering trees that had been unwisely allowed to grow RIGHT UP AGAINST THE HOUSE. The stumps are too close to the foundation to grind down, and the stump-killer didn’t actually soften things, just killed them.

So I tried a new spot. Dug in. Hit root again. Moved to a different section. Shoveled. HIT BIGGEST ROOT YET. Muttered expletives, went back to the garage in search of loppers and pruning saw to aid in the digging process.

Loppers and pruning saw are both MIA. A bunch of gardening stuff went into The Screen House in the fall. Search for loppers & saw continued in new location for some time.

You may think the whole planting plan was well off the rails at this point, but no. THIS was where everything really went over the precipice into the Chasm Of Distraction.

A LOT of Things went into the screen house in the fall. More was added when the basement had to be emptied for renovations. Here’s an incomplete list: sofa, loveseat, folding picnic table plus benches, multiple coolers, metal trash can, multiple 5 gallon buckets of gardening tools, all the yard ornaments and solar lights, three vintage wood panel interior doors in various stages of disrepair, and sundry other bits of flotsam & jetsam.

I’d braved the clutter zone earlier when I moved the doors, but that was early on, when I could still power through the Valley of Temptation by using the “Ignore All The Things, Stay On Task, Stay On Target,” mantra.

Concentration failed this time. I just HAD to move the couches. And then organize the garden tools. And put out the bird feeders. And place the bird bath. And…and…and…

Three hours later, the screen house was cleared, organized & swept, ready to enjoy, the loppers and sundry other tools had all been located and given summer housing, the gardening-related shelves in the garage were clean, and I’d found the seed packets I bought way back in January & promptly lost…along with the loppers I’d originally wanted.

But the bulbs were still in their bags. And the music was over.

(I told you the music would come up again.)

I had no business opening up those bulb packages & seeds, or spending another hour or two digging & planting. I should’ve gone inside & washed up. But I didn’t, because I really am a squirrel sometimes, and there were holes still to be dug!

Yeah. I did use the big shovel and the loppers instead of the little digger tool I usually use for planting. And yeah, I was wrecked by the time I finished, but it also started raining as I was wrapping up, which is kinda like the universe saying, “Good job, you did a right thing.” All in all, it was worth the aches & pains.

And there it is. That’s my tale.

Eventually I will write about the Black Lives Matter rally I attended yesterday. That’s what I originally sat down to write today, but it was not to be. Every sentence was gibberish. See, sometimes my thoughts and feelings are so big and so knotty I need more time and better tools to cut them into wordable forms.

What I’ll do is keep writing other little posts while my squirrel brain hunts around for its figurative loppers. But make no mistake, I never stop thinking about the important stuff.

Until later!