Paring Down

My “old” 2019 MacBook has had an increasingly rough time over the past quarter. Fans running hotter and hotter. Since I’d planned to sell it after my next upgrade sometime in the 6-18 month timeframe and the new 16″ MacBooks haven’t been announced yet, I’m upgrading early in hopes it’ll result in both a chance to sell it for a slightly better price and to get immediate relief for poor performance. (It’s a perfectly good machine, as far as I can tell. Its problems seem to be related to many years of migration from Mac to Mac, using Time Machine or the Migration Assistant. Too much old system and application cruft weighing it down.)

This time my upgrade is a size down. I’m in love with my extra-wide monitor (LG 34″) and find I increasingly wait to do some tasks until I can be using that extra space. So, having a large screen laptop isn’t really a priority (particularly since it’s a pandemic, I’m immunosuppressed, and I’m hardly going anywhere anyhow). I’ve gotten a 13″ M1 chip MacBook and it seems quite nice so far. It arrived on Thursday and my main project since then (apart from a lovely six-hour visit in person on the back porch with dear old friends), has been setting it up without dumping every single thing I’ve ever had on my old Mac(s) onto the new one.

I’ve figured out I can now do without TextExpander, instead entering the 30 or so key replacements (typing ssf to insert San Francisco, for example) in System Preferences > Keyboard > Text.

I’ve decided to phase out Evernote and instead have a new Scrivener project called File Cabinet with all the “I should hold on to a copy of this piece of paper” stuff. That’ll be a gradual project, which is fine because I’m paid through the year and Evernote doesn’t do prorated refunds. I’ve got 875 non-archived notes in Evernote to potentially migrate, but 250 of them are recipes I likely won’t want all of, so I doubt this will be particularly onerous to take on in batches of 25 notes or so.

I think I’ll skip Time Machine for backing up this Mac; I’ve gone years (probably over a decade) without starting from a clean install like this. It’s taken most of a couple days to get this new machine how I want it, but that seems a fair price for those years off from the task—and it’ll be easier the next time.

I’ve decided to take a wait-and-see attitude toward reinstalling Skype. I haven’t actually made much use of it since around 2016, I think.

With a salute to my past self, I’m also taking a wait-and-see attitude toward installing a code editor. I had Coda, which is now, I learn, Nova. Still looks like the one I’d want if I wanted one, but I’m not actually writing HTML/CSS anymore.

I’m wavering over Microsoft Office. I’ve had some frustrations with Pages and Numbers, for sure, and both Google Docs and Sheets have their limitations. But oh the cruft that comes with a massive install like that. And with great power comes great complexity to learn. Do I need either of those things in my life? Maybe ‘good enough’ really is? Going to try that out for a bit anyhow.

Which brings me to my other “is it worth it?”: Adobe InDesign. On the one hand, it’s an amazing tool which I can bumble around in OK already. It’s what I’d need to prepare quality documents for publishing, whether books (which I’m not currently working on) or game components. But, though I am making a game, I’m not a visual designer, so maybe I can just make do with lesser programs for my playtest purposes. That’ll let me avoid the CPU devouring Adobe Creative Cloud, at least until or unless I’m working with a visual designer.

I think the theme for my computer and my life is now: Less Cruft.

Oh hey, a well-regarded alternative to InDesign, Affinity Publisher, which can import InDesign files even, is on sale for $24.99. After a bit of YouTube review and intro watching, I’m going to give it a try. [Gave it a try, but had many many crashes on my first very simple document. Maybe it works great for some, but certainly not for me. Availing myself of a refund and reminding myself to always do the free trial if there is one to save me and the company time. Asked advice in a creative coworking group I’m in and had the good suggestion to explore Layout mode in Pages, the app that came with my Mac, and that’s working great.]

These are the apps I installed on the new machine. First, the everyday essentials.

  • OmniFocus
    My home for tracking all my tasks and someday-maybe ideas. I’ve been a big fan for years and use it every single day.
  • Roon
    Our household’s music management system of choice. It connects in to Tidal and Qobuz and has a good radio function, so there is always new music to explore. (I’m very grateful for Joe’s love of music, skill with system administration, and good taste for keeping this full of new sounds, running well, and looking great.)
  • Scrivener
    I write everything that isn’t email or websites or something on which I’m collaborating in Scrivener. Both my books grew up in Scrivener, my daily pages are in Scrivener, my gamemaster notes for running roleplaying games are in Scrivener, and all of the rules design for Kabalor started in Scrivener. Part of my baseline essential kit.
  • Dropbox
    These days I use this for one thing only: keeping Scrivener synchronized between all my devices. It’s so helpful to be able to add to something I’m writing from whatever device is closest to hand at that moment. (But if Scrivener had its own sync servers like OmniFocus does, I’d have skipped Dropbox.)
  • Slack
    Since I don’t do social media anymore, this “workspace chat” is where my group connection with friends takes place. I also use it for a volunteer gig.
  • 1Password
    This whole build-it-from-the-ground-up and log-in-again-to-all-the-things project has been made so much easier by this wonderful password manager. Super nice company and super good product. If you don’t have a password manager—you should—or your current one makes you sad, do yourself a favor and get some peace of mind.
  • Time Out
    My rest reminder software. This gets me to rest my eyes, brain, and wrists and is an essential health tool.
  • Zoom
    Vital for me to stay connected with friends and family—and where I gamemaster my ongoing roleplaying games.

Other stuff that I installed:

  • Affinity Publisher
    As mentioned above, tho’ I haven’t tried it out yet.
  • Steam
    My game platform of choice. Current game of choice: Wingspan, the online version of the bird-themed board game with magnificent game mechanics.
  • Arq
    For managing cloud backups of my files.
  • Firefox
    My secondary browser, handy for seeing if some issue is a Safari problem and for logging into alternate accounts without having to log out and back into my main one.
  • Kindle
    The desktop app for my ebook reader of choice. Though I rarely read ebooks on my Mac, it’s often easier to manage my ebook library on a bigger screen.
  • Pixelmator Pro
    I’ve been using Pixelmator for my graphics needs, which are almost entirely maps for my roleplaying games. I took the reinstall task as the opportunity to upgrade to the latest and greatest.
  • TweetDeck
    Every now and then I post something on Twitter in the Discardia account (very rarely any other), but since Joe’s account is private, this is the only way I can read his tweets now that I’m not on Twitter generally. 🤣

It really says a lot about a) the utility of the base set of apps that come on the Mac and b) how much I use browser-based apps that the above is the entire list of installs.

Onward to my de-crufted future! Happy Discardia. 😁

Now if only after my hard day of computer setup I could join the lovely Apple support person I chatted with this morning. She was going to do a Juneteenth crab boil with her family and oo does that sound delicious. But, in the absence of that, I’ll enjoy this baked potato with all the fixin’s and revel in the lack of noise of computer fan.

Low-Spoon Mastodon Migration

Probably you’re hearing about a less toxic social media environment you’d like to or are being encouraged by friends to try, but the idea of restarting in a whole new thing exhausts you. Don’t worry. You can save your spoons and take this in very, very small steps.

The first step is to know that it is your choice and you can do it if and when you want.

If someone you follow is moving to Mastodon, ask them for the URL to see their toots (the mascots are elephants not birds, so toots not tweets). It’ll look something like this: https://mastodon.cloud/@metagrrrl

Knowing that you won’t lose touch with friends who switch to Mastodon can really help a lot with taking this at the pace which is most comfortable for you.

Another step you can take is to watch this couple minute overview, so you’ll know what they’re talking about:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPSbNdBmWKE

Mastodon runs on many independent servers, called ‘instances’. I find it helpful whenever they say “an instance”, to hear “a community”.

Because each community (instance) sets its own rules, it is possible to find one which matches your values and, most importantly, values you as a member.

Everyone should base their Mastodon account in a community (instance) which will protect its users in the ways which matter most to them.

Finding the right community (instance) seems like a huge task, but it’s not that bad. It’s kind of like choosing your email host; yeah, it’s bit of a pain in the butt to change later, but it’s not the end of the world if you decide to do so.

A great way to start thinking about where you might want to have a Mastodon account is to look at the rules for the communities (instances) where your friends have theirs.

Remember: just like email hosts, you and your friend don’t have to be with the same one to communicate with each other.

Finding the rules for a Mastodon community (instance) is easy because they have a common URL style: just add /about/more to the end of the base URL.

For example, https://mastodon.cloud’s rules are at
https://mastodon.cloud/about/more

You can see some other communities’ rules at
https://mastodon.social/about/more
https://social.tchncs.de/about/more
https://cybre.space/about/more
https://mastodon.art/about/more
https://anticapitalist.party/about/more
https://mastodon.xyz/about/more
https://wandering.shop/about/more
Some place more restrictions on acceptable behavior, some fewer.

Next you might want to explore why this effort could have a payoff for you. Along with the opportunity to be in a less toxic community than Twitter, as far as the rules are concerned, there are some differences in the way things work which help to reduce or eliminate harassment and other negative experiences.

Perhaps the most subtle and important difference is between Twitter’s retweets and Mastodon’s boosts. Boosts don’t include text from the person doing the boosting. There’s no ‘boost with comment’, thus no performative aspect, avoiding “Heed, my followers, how I dunk on this fool!”

That doesn’t prevent someone sharing screenshots or linking, but because Mastodon’s reply functionality only broadcasts to people who happen to follow you both, one person’s massive follower count won’t unbalance the conversation.

I described this difference as subtle and important because when the design doesn’t enable and encourage pile-ons, people behave differently. Some of what makes Twitter so often unpleasant seems to be the default behavior of the tool, not necessarily that of the user.

That’s the subtle stuff, though, and there are big, obvious differences which are under your control in Mastodon, and which allow you to change your experience for the better.

You can adjust how public any individual message is.

A toot can be
• Fully public, appearing to your followers, the public timelines, anyone looking at your profile;
• Unlisted, appearing to your followers and on your profile, but not in the public timelines;
• Private, appearing only to your followers and people mentioned in it;
or
• direct, appearing only to people mentioned in it.

Also you can “lock” your account overall, requiring your approval for a new follower to be added.

Beyond that, on Mastodon you have much more ability (though less need) to hide things. Since it’s not commercial, you won’t see ads in your timeline. And your timeline is just messages as they come out from the people you follow and only that — no algorithm messing with what you see.

On Mastodon, if strangers are bothering you, you can block notifications from people you don’t follow. You can also block or mute individuals. You can even hide everything from a specific community (instance), so you don’t see them and any of your followers from there are removed.

Text filters are coming, but are perhaps less necessary than on Twitter because most Mastodon communities have a culture of using Content Warnings. And the content warnings actually mean something here, because of the way they are built into how messages are written and read on Mastodon.

As you write a toot, you just click the ‘CW’ at the bottom (next to where you’d add an image or set how public the toot is) and a separate field appears for you to write your warning. When the toot appears in anyone’s timeline, only your warning appears with a “SHOW MORE”/”SHOW LESS” toggle to reveal the rest of your toot.

What is purely delightful is that another part of Mastodon culture is the use of CW for all sorts of things, including jokes with the punchline hidden. 🙂

That’s not even all the hiding controls. You can learn more on this incredibly helpful page: https://blog.joinmastodon.org/2018/07/cage-the-mastodon/

You can try Mastodon without making any commitment to switching over to it. In fact, that’s what I recommend. Find a community with a set of rules that feel good enough for you to hang out at their gathering for a while. Go to the about page of their community (like https://mastodon.cloud/about) & look for a signup form & its big blue button. Create your account and personalize your profile just a little, probably making it match your Twitter account so it’s easy for friends to recognize you.

Then ‘toot’ something like, “Hi, it’s me. You may also know me over on the bird site as [your Twitter name].”

On Twitter, you can tweet something like “I’m playing with Mastodon a little. You can find me at [your new Mastodon page]” or DM that to friends. If you’re making a public announcement, you might want to put your Mastodon page in the bottom of your Twitter bio.

It is absolutely fine to just let that ride for a little bit. People join Mastodon all the time and if you don’t have connections over there at first, you will likely find them joining you over time. So that they know you are hoping to meet with them in Mastodon, you may want to toot a little something every now and then.

You’ll automatically be set up to follow the administrators of your community and some of them are quite fun. (Eugen of mastodon.social, for example, is an avid booster of cat pictures. Though my personal account is in a different community, I follow Eugen for the cheerful kitties.)

To find others to connect to, try searching for the names or usual usernames of people you know from other social media sites, or for hashtags of things you like. You can even save a hashtag as another timeline column in your view of Mastodon. (I have #mastoart there, for example, and so I always have cool art to look at.)

There’s a lot more you can explore—and I’ll link to some things below—but the steps I’ve described are plenty to dip your toe in the water and find out what this whole Mastodon thing is about.

Personally, though it took me a little while to find the spoons to get it set up, I find it so much nicer an experience that I have more spoons using it than I do using Twitter.


Bonus stuff:

You can learn a bunch more about Mastodon here: https://joinmastodon.org/

In a nutshell, the Mastodon interface is laid out in columns, with compose/search on the left and details (selected toot, user profile, search results, etc.) on the right. Between them are other columns with timelines, the leftmost one being the toots of all those you follow. You can add columns for hashtags you’re interested in by searching for that hashtag and then, when it’s the result on the right, using the controls icon (shaped like sound board sliders) to “+ pin” it. You can choose to have the local timeline (everyone from your community’s toots) and/or the federated timeline (local plus everyone they follow from other communities’ toots) visible, but frankly I find them way too busy to look at. If you’ve ever used Tweetdeck, Mastodon is going to feel pretty familiar. (There are other interfaces for Mastodon, but I haven’t explored any yet.)

One important thing to know about your privacy and Mastodon is that everything you post, even direct messages, are theoretically visible to the system administrators of that Mastodon community (instance) and any other community (instance) to which your toots or direct messages travel. This is not very different from email; odds are extremely slim that anyone would ever access it, but it is technically possible. Fortunately, because all the users of Mastodon are spread across many communities and thus for any community the ratio of users to administrators is much smaller, you can get to know your admins instead of them being some faceless employees of a distant, giant corporation.

If you are someone who’s been a victim of harassment, you may want to limit how public your posts are and “lock” your account so that you can be aware of the rules of the communities where your followers are before you approve them, allowing your posts to appear in the federated timeline for their community (which is made up all the toots from those in that community plus the toots from those they follow, thus potentially you).

In general, people use content warnings in the traditional sense for “US politics”, “violence”, “injury”, “hate speech”, “self-harm” (including suicide because even the word suicide is a drag, so lumping it under “self-harm” is helpful), as well as for “alcohol” and “food”. They also will use the CW feature to be kind to others by hiding very long toots—Mastodon allows messages up to 500 characters—under a short description, and, of course, to hide spoilers relating to shows or sports. (I’ve been especially grateful for that cultural norm as it means I don’t have to wade through pontificating about shows I don’t watch!)

My favorite description of the subtle design decisions on Mastodon is this from https://fosstodon.org/@codesections, “Mastodon makes it as easy as possible to talk *to* other Mastodon users, while making it harder to talk *about* other Mastodon users.”

Oh, and yes, Virginia, there are friendly, funny, and pretty bots still on Mastodon. Not as many as there were on Twitter, but with the recent API changes over there, I expect increasing migration. My favorite, which I heartily encourage you to follow to make your timeline visually nice every day with lovely old illustrations of fruit, is https://botsin.space/@pomological.

no algorithm I’ve seen could come close to the subtlety of actual human interactions

That said, we don’t trust systems to understand what “best” means.

Just like Tay can’t tell what not to model its responses upon, no algorithm I’ve seen could come close to the subtlety of actual human interactions.

As an example, sometimes there are friends or family who are fairly passive with a social network, but whose activity—which a bot would interpret as uninteresting—is our way of keeping tuned into their level of depression. Sometimes we act on their messages but often just seeing them is enough (particularly when our primary social activity with them happens outside the feed).

Often there are inside jokes a bot wouldn’t get.

Algorithmic feeds which use activity level on a post/tweet/image are inherently biased against quieter relationships and smaller networks.

I follow high-signal folks like Anil Dash and very low activity folks who are important to me in the same stream. Algorithmic feeds don’t get the subtle differences and fail to put those folks on an even footing.

So, no, no matter how nice the folks are and how best damn product what they’re making is supposed to be, I will continue to reject algorithmic feeds and instead tune my follow activity to just what I can handle.

[my comment on a comment by Ev Williams on “Instagram and the Cult of the Attention Web: How the Free Internet is Eating Itself” by Jesse Weaver on Medium]

category: tweets

Me rejecting algorithmic feeds again: “That said, we don’t trust systems to understand what ‘best’ means.” https://t.co/DxKYrkS9io
@MetaGrrrl

Buh-bye, Facebook.

Last June I quit using Facebook both personally and professionally. I'd been feeling pretty queasy about their creepy terms of service switcheroos already, but pile on real name policy problems and ever-increasing revenue-generation interference with having your posts actually seen by your followers and I was pretty dubious already. But it seemed necessary. "You've got a brand! How can you not be on Facebook?!" So I held my nose and stuck with it, at least for my Discardia and Art of the Shim social media presence.

The turning point came when news broke that the Facebook app was going to start quietly recording background sound while you worked on a post. WTF?! Ostensibly to identify music or TV and include it in the post, but really? Facebook, do you think we don't know you're not going to sell that marketing info and let the NSA listen in? How dumb do you think we are? 

That was it. I posted an announcement with a link to a video explaining why everyone should be leaving Facebook and I deleted the apps from my devices. No more social media posts via Facebook.

You know what? It did absolutely no damage to my brand. It didn't affect my sales. It didn't reduce my reader interaction as an author/publisher. 

Turns out, Facebook needs us waaaaay more than we need Facebook. And we don't need it at all.

 

Over the past year I've been duplicating all the content from my Facebook accounts onto my own sites and today I finally made time to copy over the last of it. Time to permanently delete my account. Ahhhhh, how nice!

For posterity, and an illustration of just how much a professional account contains attempts from Facebook to get you to spend money to reach your own followers, here are screenshots of the page as it now appears. Amusingly, because the last thing I posted was the 'Delete Facebook' video, all the automatically mocked-up ads they want me to buy use that graphic.

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Facebook's constant clawing for additional personal information is very visible in my old personal account:

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 7.26.23 PM

 

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-03 at 7.28.18 PM

I am opting out of sharing so much through Facebook

There is just not enough control over interrelated data re: my social network, what we find interesting, and what we look at on the web. My relationship with Joe Gratz or with any of my friends or with products I recommend has not changed. It's just you, Facebook, that I now find too much work to maintain a close relationship with.

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