Updated 9 Nov 2022

Updated 30 Dec 2022

Updated 5 Jan 2023

(Here we are in the future debating the quality of our online social experience as opposed to 14 years ago when the debate was about whether online relationships can even be considered healthy and “real”.)

((Unrelated-but-related: this is my new account at Mastodon, the Twitter-like FOSS website.))

Back in Aug 2010 I had my eye on a website called Diaspora, which would be released two weeks later. Diaspora was/is(?) an open source platform that had all of the features of Facebook but, since it was federated, none of the… Facebook-ness. At the time I had been interested in the open source social media and social media-adjacent platforms that were being developed. And there were many. The primary reason for hosting my blog and my other web sites on my own servers is so that the semi-arbitrary pulling up of tent posts and monetary collapse of tenuous business plans didn’t degauss my entire web presence. I treat my web identity as my personal fidelity and Blue Check™, and control over the hosting server is the most basic way to do it.

(I understand the absurdity of the possibility of this approach being available to the general populace. <insert commentary on the techno-elite here>)

It’s interesting that the Facebook hate existed so long ago, even before insurrections made it a societal necessity. I think the general interest at the time was specifically that Geeks Hated Facebook, but it may have been more socially pervasive than within that one group. I know people today who still use FB and, though it’s reasonable for the non-technical, it’s baffling to me that people in my industry still do. However: sociologists never judge (to a fault) and I should instead be questioning why they continue affiliating with such a corrosive entity. The existence of activity justifies the reason for an activity. You can only investigate why it exists.

Back to Mastodon.

I really can’t add any insight to the Musk-buys-Twitter discussion than is already out there. He is and was a horrible person–let’s ignore of the fact that I praised his “quirky innovation” at times–and his treatment of people-as-people and as-workers is horrible. What he has done w/r/t Twitter post-purchase in such a short time is almost absurdist in its ineptitude. He has created nothing in his life and is merely ars gratia artis but with money replacing art. (It’s humbling to have so many individuals whom you once admired be unmitigated assholes).

Ok, now back to Mastondon.

I have no idea whether Mastodon is The One. Twelve years ago I had great hope that one of those many federated sites would be The One that would achieve the simple task of turning the underlying infrastructure of a social networking platforms into what email is. My email provider doesn’t restrict me from sending to another email provider. But it was not to be. At least in 2010 it was not.

A similar sequence of events happened with chat networks. AIM and MSN and ICQ and Skype should have been a frontend for their own networks but a client of a universal protocol. They garden-walled their protocol and the unfortunate, ultimate result was Slack. It glommed ICQ, Usenet, FTP, et al. into a proprietary protocol even as XMPP was being solidified as a universal protocol. I’m sick at the waste of potential that capitalism has corrupted within a free network.

I just today Tweeted (jesus christ what a failed proprietary network) a sentiment I’ve had for a while: “Everything Elon Musk does is another nail in the coffin of the optimistic, techno-utopianism of the early internet.” I honestly don’t know whether the internet is redeemable; but then are we redeemable. ?

Mastodon is that attempt, and I’m giving it a jaded, tepid chance.

Updated 9 Nov 2022

Tools and tutorials (I’ll keep adding as I find more that are valuable (at least to me)):

  • Using Mastodon
  • How to move from one Mastodon server to another: Moving or leaving accounts. You’ll need to export/import, but this will create a redirect from your old to your new.
  • Server – Mastodon – Like the old-timey web directories, but with Mastodon servers categorized.
  • Export
    • Download Twitter Followers – Very easy. “Export Twitter followers list for free (first 2,000 followers), Export Twitter following/friends list for free (first 2,000 followings). I had 1,032 so it was free and they emailed it instantaneously.
    • How to Export Twitter Following List to CSV/Excel? – Going through the process right now and it’s supposed to take 24 hours. Went back in to check the status and got this message (screencap below) when attempting to verify via 2FA: “You have hit the limit for SMS codes. Try again in 24 hours.” Hilarious. Either they didn’t pay their bill (likely) or tens-of-thousands of people are attempting to get out (also likely) or there have been so many fake accounts signing up that they hit the limit (?!?). Choose your dumpster file.
    • Debirdify – Finds people on you Twitter account that have a Fediverse account name included in their display name, bio, website, or pinned tweet and exports those account names to CSV.
  • Crossposting
  • User lists:

Updated 30 Dec 2022

Mike Masnick has a great writeup on Some Tricks To Making Mastodon Way More Useful that includes a good tutorial on getting started (though there are a million out there now, including from major publications) and a few tools to make the Mastodon interface a little easier. Mastodon’s in a formative state now so, like any website, it has much to improve on.

One area that both Twitter and Mastodon fail at is list management. To fix that for Mastodon (and because it’s based on the open source protocol ActivityPub it can be fixed) there’s the Mastodon List Manager. It is very basic but gets the job done.

Another area that is confusing is the process of following people from other servers. Most of the time, when you click Follow the page will display a dialog with a URL that you must copy and paste into the search box on your server’s page. Most of the time. (Although I follow many account, I haven’t figured out when this is and is not required). Anyway, there’s a browser extension called FediAct that simplifies the process. It also has several other utility functions. I haven’t yet used it, but I’ve heard new users struggle with the follow process or even abandon Mastodon altogether because of it, so it’s definitely needed.

Updated 5 Jan 2023

Teri Kanefield’s article Twitter v. Mastodon v. Post v. Other Possibilities is a comprehensive and insightful overview of the current state of Twitter-replacement social media platforms including Mastodon,, Counter Social, and Sproutable (I hadn’t heard of that). She is in on Mastodon primarily (and her blog), but cross posts to Twitter to support her followers there, with a wait-and-see on what Twitter becomes and how much migration occurs. has problematic owners and Counter Social has toxic administrators and members. Her criticisms of Twitter are the usual but well expressed: a capricious owner selling faux free speech and using algorithms to spread the most divisive of speech.

I have a slightly different take w/r/t the “divisiveness” caused by an influx of Nazis to Twitter. Our presence as passionate moderates legitimizes a social media site that’s in moral disrepair. Rational users allow defenders to declare “See! There are a range of views!” as the Nazis seed chaos. In a similar manner that TFG didn’t affect my life as a citizen but his toxicity was unbearable, Musk’s and his band of idiots may not affect me but for all who it does affect, it’s unconscionable to allow. The difference is that leaving the US is of farm more consequence than leaving a micro-blogging website.

Another good article is Journalists (And Others) Should Leave Twitter. Here’s How They Can Get Started from Dan Gillmor ( at Techdirt. His concerns include the capriciousness of a morally corrupted landlord, but he also emphasizes that communities, news outlets, corporations, and government agencies now have an opportunity to escape the walled garden of Twitter. Even though you can export your data in both Twitter (and I have) and Mastodon, the arbitrary rules of a single owner can be limiting, whereas since you/community/news outlet/corporation/government can spin up their own instance with Mastodon, you have absolute control over your data.

DALL-E and the re-creation of the artist

It’s an almost mundane trope now that DALL-E will obviate the need for visual artists and illustrators.

The most relevant counter to this is to look back at the advent of photography and its positive affect on artists, acting as a force compelling countless new approaches to visual expression. The effortless realism of photography changed the game–even if it was, at the beginning, crude realism. Artists came up with responses such as “vision”-base styles (Impressionism, Pointillism), psychologically-influenced styles (Symbolism, Expressionism, Fauvism), and then progressively further away from realism throughout the 1900s. Realistic and photorealistic works were still being created (Chuck Close’s work, certain periods of Gerhard Richter), but realism was now a choice. Influenced by the level playing field that photography provided, most anyone could afford their own portrait.

Driven by or co-incident with photography, “manual” visual artists also moved to more pedestrian subjects. Subjects such as boxing matches, picnics, and street scenes were added to the more rarified choices of portraits of the wealthy, scenes from mythology or religion, and the royal exploits such as hunting and whatnot. There were similar influences of subject matter prior to photography, but making realism almost effortless accelerated the direction of creativity in these areas. Rather than destroying the visual arts, photography prompted a Cambrian explosion of creativity.

Continue reading

The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

15-1/2 years ago I braved the early days of video streaming and its constant buffering to watch the transit of Venus in the middle of the night. Athens Greece was providing the video and the Exploratorium in San Francisco the science-y narration. I had first heard about the transit from, of all places, Thomas Pynchon’s book Mason & Dixon.

Continue reading The Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn

Egregious lies believed by those in technology

Over the past few years, probably longer, I’ve encountered in the tech industry many too many people who are technologists in name only who believe ideas that even 12-year-old me, wide-eyed at Erich von Daniken‘s wondrous mania (which fancifully inspires my music), would have been embarrassed to admit. These are generally older individuals, sadly my age, and not any of the new kids coming into tech. That’s cause for hope. But old white men are still force majeure and so quirky flaws are amplified.

Continue reading Egregious lies believed by those in technology

Home backup

One year ago, I had a major cleanup of my home computers and server. Part of that was to get good off-site backup and so a co-worker recommended IDrive. They worked fine, and for a good price, but for Ubuntu there was only a web-based UI and it didn’t save previous versions of the backed up files. Not horrible, but annoying.

A week or so ago I discovered that I didn’t have a crucial folder in the backup set (!) so I ran their local Python scripts to add it. Script spits out a generic Script error along with a message to upgrade to a new version. New version installed but was even more broken:

Use of uninitialized value in string ne at line 265.

I contacted them and after a few days (holiday season) they emailed back that I could schedule a time to get with their back end team. Again, not horrible, but it pushed me to look for a more home-grown solution.

Step 1: Copy local files to a network drive

Web server pages and wiki content gets copied daily to a backup folder on a Drobo DAS volume. Four 2 TB drives RAIDed to ~5-1/2 TB. Check their handy capacity calculator. I’ll need to upgrade to an actual NAS someday.

Step 2: Export databases to a network drive

MySQL databases exported with mysqldump every few hours, named with the hour and gzipped (hour_database.db.gz). The hour thing was used because IDrive didn’t give file history, so that can probably be skipped, but it’s nice to have quick access if needed.

Step 3: Generate versioned backups

I use duplicity to take the web server folders, database exports, and various document, photo, development project, and music recording folders and back them up to another location on the Drobo volume. First full backup is slow, subsequent incremental ones are quick.

Step 4: Copy versioned backups offsite

This is the goal. Duplicity can backup direct to an offsite location, but my initial set up uses rclone to do the copying. They support a billion types of storage (Amazon, FTP, Azure, …) but I decided to upgrade my Google Drive to 100 GB for ~$24 a year and use the rclone Google Drive commands.

Each step is a crontab-ed script with taged log output:

2019-01-02 05:00:29 [db_backup] Exporting database-a to 00_database-a.db.gz
2019-01-02 05:00:29 [db_backup] Finished database backup
2019-01-02 05:05:16 [www_backup] Backing up /var/www/site1 to /drobo/site1
2019-01-02 05:10:32 [www_backup] Finished www backup
2019-01-02 06:00:01 [duplicity_backup] Starting duplicity backup from /source to file:///dest

There’s room for improvement, but as a New Year’s upgrade I’m pretty happy.