Blue skies over Mastodon

Erin Kissane:

During the big waves of Twitter-to-Mastodon migrations, tons of people joined little local servers with no defederation policy and were instantly overwhelmed with gore and identity-based hate. A lot of those people, understandably, did not stick around, and plenty of them went back to their other social spaces and warned others that Mastodon wasn't safe. For people who lucked out and landed on a well-moderated instance, finding fun people to follow was hard and actually following each of them often involved three separate steps, depending on which link you happened to click. [...]

I -- a nerd -- actually really like Mastodon most of the time, but I would like it so much more and feel like it was doing a lot more good in the world if it were more welcoming and easier to use. When I raise these points on Mastodon, I get a steady stream of replies telling me that everything I'm whining about is actually great, that valuing a "pleasant UI" over the abstraction of federation is shallow and disqualifying, and that that people who find Mastodon difficult don't belong anyway, so I should "go join Spoutible" or whatever. [...]

I haven't mentioned the simplest and IMO best critique of Bluesky and most other big platforms, which is that they emerged out of venture-capital galaxy brain, which has the moral sense of an AI chatbot. After the past decade or so on Twitter, "I won't touch anything Jack Dorsey has touched" is a reasonable reaction. "I will only put my social labor into platforms that can never benefit billionaires" is fair.

But the missing step, to me, is when people with principled objections to other platforms are unwilling or unable to make the alternatives of their choosing more welcoming to more people. And there are absolutely people trying to do the work, but they're dependent on the choke-point of what Mastodon-the-company decides is valuable. (Almost like something...centralized?)

I have a lot of complaints about Mastodon, but I'm sticking with it because I am 100% in the "I won't touch anything Jack Dorsey has touched" camp. That is absolutely and forever disqualifying.

This guy. This fuckin' guy: "Elon is the singular solution I trust. I trust his mission to extend the light of consciousness."

(If you're going to "well actually" me on your opinions on his level of involvement with Blewsky, just stop now.)

Also -- despite its faults, which, again, are many -- I personally find Mastodon about a thousand times more pleasant and interesting than I ever found Twitter.

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Half of Vinyl Buyers in the US Don't Have a Record Player:

One might think that the rise in vinyl sales would call for a corresponding rise in turntables. As it turns out, however, about half of vinyl LP buyers don't own a record player, according to a recent study.

Luminate's "Top Entertainment Trends for 2023" report found that of the 3,900 US-based respondents surveyed, "50% of consumers who have bought vinyl in the past 12 months own a record player, compared to 15% among music listeners overall." So -- feel free to double-check our math here -- that would indicate that 50% of vinyl buyers over the past year have no way to play those records at home.

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I always appreciate the payphone's community-contributed stickers.

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Section 31 and the Normalization of the Security State

"A Critical Division of Starfleet Intelligence"

There's no precedent for it in the franchise; nothing that its backstory is needed to unpack or explain. Indeed, it makes the whole thing more inexplicable: societies with unchecked, unaccountable black ops and secret police forces do not, typically, resemble paradises even on a surface level -- something that DS9 itself readily understood when it came to worldbuilding for the Cardassians. [...]

But one can, perhaps, forgive DS9 this particular indulgence; it came in the midst of a larger arc about what happens when you throw Gene Roddenberry's humanist utopia into a major war, and it can be read in the context of that story: To what extent is the Federation willing to sacrifice its morals to ensure its own survival? [...]

Which brings us, inexorably, to Picard season three. Here, Section 31 -- although mostly offscreen -- is as evil as it's ever been depicted [...] There's one glorious moment where Picard actually looks sick upon hearing the extent of Section 31's crimes; but then -- arguably in the face of thirty-five years of consistent characterization -- he and Dr. Crusher opt to compound them by executing a prisoner of war. This is never mentioned again. Just another day at the office, I suppose. [...]

There is, of course, a darker side to this merry jaunt through the last quarter century of Star Trek canon; namely, that it directly parallels the real-life growth of the national security state (that alphabet soup of government organizations charged with "ensuring public safety"), particularly in the decades following 9/11.

Looking at some of these bodies, it is remarkable how recently they were established: Homeland Security, ICE and TSA all date to after the turn of millennium. Like our fictional Section 31, these organizations are regularly accused of lawlessness, indifference to civil rights, and horrifying human rights abuses; like Section 31, they have become part of the wallpaper of daily existence: normal; natural; a part of the setting, as it were. Indeed, even in imaginary, far-future utopias where people can travel at thousands of times the speed of light and synthesize any material good out of raw atoms, the idea of living without such organizations is now apparently too radical to seriously entertain -- even when they are canonically heinous, ridiculously incompetent, and prone to making life worse for everyone.

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Parcel 36

Local ISP Monkeybrains and a preschool both feel entitled to free parking on a plot of land that neither owns, and are behaving like assholes about it.

A strange routine has sprung up at the hotly contested parcel 36.

Every week, someone from the Mission Kids preschool puts a new lock on the lot's west gate. And, every week, someone from the guerilla gardening group Mission Greenway cuts it off. [...]

Parcel 36 has given rise to a border conflict in the heart of the Mission: The seemingly unowned wedge of land, a forgotten slice of railroad that sits between 22nd and 23rd streets and Treat Avenue and Harrison Street, is claimed by several local groups -- none of which have legal ownership.


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Time Machine got weirder

Apparently if you put Time Machine on a USB APFS drive instead of HFS, it does crazy shit. I guess it's hidden in a secret partition, and when you list the volume, only the most recent copy is visible? Can someone explain to me the relationship between these directories:

  • /Volumes/Time\ Machine/*.previous
  • /Volumes/.timemachine/*/*.backup
    (mostly empty directories, but one is a weird mount point on the external disk)
  • /Volumes/
    (when do these get written?)

And more to the point, how do I access a file in an old time machine archive from the command line, e.g. to run diff on it?

Also... whyyyyyy? I know they had to extend HFS to allow hard links to directories to make the .backup bundles work, and that's why Time Machine archives on network drives are .sparseBundles impersonating a block device with an HFS file system inside, but did they just lose their damned minds completely when it came to APFS?

Update: Wow, it is all completely insane. Howard Oakley has written a lot on this, and someone made this index of his posts. So here's my summary of a summary of what's going on now:

  • Your system APFS disk makes hourly backups using "snapshots" which are a file-system-level checkpoint. Basically it lays down a marker at a timestamp and all subsequent changes are stored as deltas that can be rolled back.
  • These snapshots are read-only and are only accessible by mounting magic, and are normally left unmounted.

  • Your USB-connected APFS Time Machine drive also uses "snapshots". The backup process is to drop a snapshot marker on that drive, then copy over all changes. Maybe by copying files, maybe by copying a snapshot from the source disk directly.

  • The "/Volumes/Time Machine/YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS.previous/" directory is the most recent backup on the external drive, and previous backups are hidden within that as APFS file system snapshots. It gets renamed to the current timestamp as updates are made.

  • When you open your "/Volumes/Time Machine/" drive in Finder, it just lies right to your face. Finder synthesizes a list of available backups and conspires to mount the snapshots as you open the disclosure triangles.

  • Finder makes it look like "/Volumes/Time Machine/YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS/" exists. It does not. It is mounted by Finder as needed on "/Volumes/.timemachine/UUID/YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS.backup/YYYY-MM-DD-HHMMSS.backup/Data/".

  • Command line utilities are not granted the same background magic as Finder. If you want to access a file with diff or whatever, you first have to open its parent backup in Finder to get it mounted and find the real pathname. You could also mount by hand, but that's really complicated.

  • Even with all of these "advancements", it is still completely normal and expected for the progress indicator on a Time Machine backup to say "about 6 hours remaining" for 14 hours. If there is one thing at which Apple is the all time world champion, it is misestimating completion times to a truly pathological degree.

"The Aristocrats!"

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DNA Lounge: Wherein we're doing more 21+ events

We're trying something new: starting in April, most of our Friday and Saturday dance parties have transitioned to 21+.

Live concerts will still be all ages, and we will still do 18+ dance parties on weeknights; and we're making an exception for So Stoked, our monthly all ages candy rave. But generally, we're now targetting our large weekend dance parties at grownups.

The reason is the one that you can probably guess: we're making less money at the bar, and that's how we pay our bills.

Before COVID, our weekend dance parties were running around 80% over 21, but when we re-opened after lockdown, some parties dropped to 60%, some as low as 40%.

And another side effect of this is that we started hearing from more of our grownup customers that they didn't want to be partying with teenagers, which may have led to a feedback loop, causing more of the grownups to stay away and lowering percentage even more. Those anecdotes might be meaningless bluster ("nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded") but it's hard to know.

There are other ways to tackle the problem, but they're all bad. For example, you can charge under 21+ customers more for tickets. But a grownup is going to spend $20 or $25 at the door, and then another $20 or more at the bar. Someone under 21 spends approximately $0 at the bar. You gonna try to charge someone $40 at the door if they're under 21? Not gonna happen. Next someone will suggest, "Oh, you should make mocktails!" Sure buddy, someone's gonna drop $14 on a plastic cup of fruit juice. You might also assume that the under-21 crowd eat just as much pizza as older folks do, so surely our restaurant is age-resistant. I assumed that! Turns out, nope. Grownups spend a lot more on pizza, too.

DNA Lounge had been exclusively 21+ from its inception in 1985 through 2008, when we converted to all ages. Making that switch was an enormous and expensive legal battle but we eventually prevailed.

The reason we chose to have that awful fight was for live music. It's hard to book bands in 21+ rooms; the demographic fact is that concert-goers are 18 to 25. And the agents know that, so they will offer the shows to your all-ages competitors instead.

Having adjusted our licenses for the sake of live bands, we eventually started doing under-21 dance parties as well, because we could. That worked out fine for many years. Under 21 dance parties cost us more in security staffing, since at a 21+ party you don't have to worry about catching under-age drinkers, and they're just better behaved in general; but despite those downsides, it arguably helped overall attendanace, since there is a large cohort of 21- and 22-year-olds out there who travel in packs with their 20-year-old friends, so if the friend can't go, none of them go.

But it seems like the needle has swung, and that now it may be doing us more harm than good. So let's see how this works out.

Anyway, as an Old Person who still attends all of these events (albeit for different reasons than most) here are a couple of stories. I swear that these stories had no influence on this decision, I just think they're funny, and maybe you will too.

First story:

    The year was 2013 and we were hosting our very first So Stoked. It was, I believe, our first all-ages event that wasn't a live band. When I heard that we were hosting a candy rave, I completely misinterpreted what the event would be. I assumed it was going to be a nostalgia party, where all of the attendees would be in their 30s or 40s, re-living the glory days of their teens and 20s. We had hosted a bunch of "rave"-oriented events of that sort in the past. But no, this was a legit candy rave, full of teenagers living the life just like people did in the 90s, sneaking out of the house and squatting down between two parked cars to change into mom's stolen lingerie.

    I was sitting on the bench in the lounge, amused and charmed by watching all of this go by, when a girl who could not have been a day over 18 sat down next to me and struck up a conversation. "What brings you out tonight" was, I'm sure, her way of asking, "Why is this old dude here?" I told her who I was, and added, "I haven't seen anything like this in years. I did not know this kind of thing was still going on."

    She misheard or misinterpreted that and thought that was I said was, "I have never been to a rave before, please explain them to me." I just let her continue, and kept nodding, because it was adorable.

    Eventually she concluded with: "I used to be really shy and introverted, but raving really brought me out of my shell. I've been raving for almost THREE YEARS now!"

Second story:

    This was just last month, at Death Guild. I was at the bar chatting with a bartender when a girl, early 20s at the latest, came up to me and said, "Hey, I really like your hair!"

    Me:   Oh, thank you.
    Her:   I think it's really great when someone who's obviously going gray is still making an effort.
    Me:   ...Wow.
    Her:   Like, I think it's really inspiring that someone your age is still trying to be a part of The Scene.
    Me:   ...WOW.

    At that point I left the club, walked North until I reached the nearest fjord, boarded an ice floe, and waited for my bones to turn to dust. The ocean sequesters my carbon now.

By the way, So Stoked, the aforementioned candy rave, is happening tonight. Do stop by! I promise you won't be the oldest person there.


Facebook owes you money

How to claim your share of $725 million Facebook privacy settlement:

The class-action suit began after the 2018 Cambridge Analytica scandal but eventually added a litany of other alleged Facebook data dealings, alleging that the platform broke the law by enabling third parties to access users' personal content and information without users' authorization. Facebook admitted no wrongdoing by agreeing to the settlement and says it has changed its user privacy practices. [...]

How much will the settlement's individual payouts be? That depends on two things: how many people submit claims and how long a claimant had an account on the platform. The settlement will distribute "points" to claimants for every month they had an account between May 24, 2007, and Dec. 22, 2022, and then split the money (after lawyers' fees of up to 25% and cash for the class representatives) based on those numbers.

These shitheels make you use PayPal or submit banking info to receive your money. No option for a mailed check (suitable for framing).

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"I'm the Googlebot. I'm here to index you. Please hold still."

Let's see how much my copyrights have been infringed within the ChatGPT training data:

Rank Site Tokens Percent

Hey, I outrank Stormfront and 4Chan! So at least there's that.

See the websites that make AI bots like ChatGPT sound so smart:

Tech companies have grown secretive about what they feed the AI. So The Washington Post set out to analyze one of these data sets to fully reveal the types of proprietary, personal, and often offensive websites that go into an AI's training data.

The three biggest sites were;; and No. 3, a subscription-only digital library. Also high on the list:, a notorious market for pirated e-books that has since been seized by the U.S. Justice Department. At least 27 other sites identified by the U.S. government as markets for piracy and counterfeits were present in the data set.

Some top sites seemed arbitrary, like, a World of Warcraft player forum;, a product for beating burnout founded by Arianna Huffington; and at least 10 sites that sell dumpsters, including, that no longer appear accessible. [...]

The data set contained more than half a million personal blogs, representing 3.8 percent of categorized tokens. [...] Social networks like Facebook and Twitter -- the heart of the modern web -- prohibit scraping, which means most data sets used to train AI cannot access them. Tech giants like Facebook and Google that are sitting on mammoth troves of conversational data have not been clear about how personal user information may be used to train AI models that are used internally or sold as products. [...]

The Post found that the filters failed to remove some troubling content, including the white supremacist site stormfront, the anti-trans site kiwifarms, and 4chan, the anonymous message board known for organizing targeted harassment campaigns against individuals.

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Technological Antisolutions

A Technological Antisolution is a product that attempts to replace boring but solvable political or social problems with a much sexier technological one that probably won't work.

Technological Antisolutions are everywhere because they allow us to continue living an untenable status quo. Their true product is not the technology itself, but the outsourcing of our social problems. They alleviate our anxiety and guilt about not being active participants in political change, and for their trouble, founders and investors are richly rewarded. [...]

There is perhaps no better example of technological antisolution than the self-driving car. American transit is a political crisis on so many levels. [...] This twice-daily society-wide masochistic ritual destroys the air quality in our cities, the psychological well-being of its participants, the physical spaces we inhabit, and the only wet rock capable of sustaining human life in an otherwise cold and unwelcoming universe.

We all instinctively know this is madness, and into this breach steps the self-driving car industry. They offer to leave our lives and our cities completely intact. They offer the status quo, but perfected. They offer convenience in exchange for political apathy and patience. Perhaps NPR can give you some tips on how to deal with your traffic-anxiety while you wait for self-driving cars.

Self-driving cars in which you sit in a personally owned consumer vehicle with no steering mechanisms and continue your life as before are a lie. They are not coming.

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