Good: the Audioengine HD3s are clearly better speakers than the Studio Display. Less good: I don’t know if they have better bass. (Really wish I hadn’t given up my Audyssey media speakers, which punched way above their weight class.)

Predictably I gave in and ordered an iPhone 15 Pro, and a USB-A to C cable for CarPlay.

And I have bought a new Apple Watch, my first in stainless steel. This has shaped up to be an expensive week even before a new phone. (Contemplating an iPhone 15 Pro, not Max, in “natural” titanium. But, maybe not until another paycheck.)

After poking at cheap-but-not-too computer speakers, I’m getting Audioengine HD3s—mostly good reviews and a decent headphone amp. I was tempted by the iconically weird Harman Kardon Soundsticks, but putting all the inputs and controls on the subwoofer is bafflingly inconvenient.

I decided to move my big-for-computer-speakers Vanatoo Ones from my desk into my bedroom and added a Wiim streamer, and it’s great. And the Studio Display has solid speakers for a monitor. But after a month…I think I want better computer speakers again.

Incidentally, is it just me, or is it a lot nicer to use the web interface for on the iPad than either the official app or Gluon? They’re great phone apps, but…just great phone apps.

Back in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was born in Dallas, lived briefly in upstate New York, and grew up in Tampa Bay, but NorCal—and the Pacific Northwest at large—feels like home. I don’t know if I can afford to return here when the time comes, but Sacramento, or further up the coast…

Apparently I not only signed up for the “T2” waitlist, yet another attempt to make a new Twitter, but incredibly, T2 has survived long enough for me to get an invite. I think it’ll probably fall into the same bucket for me as Post and Threads: “I’m not actually there.”

I’m having the disquieting thought that I might be able to shake off my current feeling of ennui and isolation by getting a co-working space and “going into the office” one or two days a week. (After the current “uptick” in Covid cases goes back to being a downtick, at least.)

Part of me thinks my mythical story-structure program should be an Electron app, or even a web app, to be fully cross-platform. But Dramatica Pro was just bad at being a good Mac citizen despite being native, and their 64-bit version is still Coming Real Soon Now We Promise. So.

I’m at a brewery to write and completely flatlining, so instead I’m poking at a crazy Theory of Story, which is associated with an even crazier plan to learn enough Swift to write a story structuring program that could replace the moribund Dramatica Pro (based on its own crazy Theory of Story).

Very strange to go look up information about something in the dim past of the web (Joyent’s shutting down of TextDrive), finding a TechCrunch article about it, and discovering the TechCrunch article links to…my blog post on the subject.

Now that my “office” shares space with the den my A/V system is in, the computer may not need great external speakers—the Studio Display is surprisingly good for non-critical listening, and I can dig out my headphones when I want more. But now what to do with the Vanatoo bookshelf speakers? Hmm…

A year back in Florida

About a year ago, I moved away from the San Francisco Bay Area, back to Tampa Bay, Florida, where I’d lived for (mostly) all my previous life.

Florida is not the same place it was when I left. The metros feel more urban, more alive, than I remember. Some of that is undoubtedly on me, on my failure to explore them adequately back in the 1990s. But a lot of what I’ve been finding now simply wasn’t there two decades ago. St. Petersburg now has blocks of walkable downtown, starting from the waterfront museums and moving west through the Edge District, on to Kenwood and Grand Central, where they recently held one of the biggest Pride festivals in the country. Tampa’s downtown no longer feels like they roll up the sidewalks at five (a problem that San Jose struggled to solve for years as well). Just like St. Pete’s Central Avenue reminds me—a little—of K and J Streets in midtown Sacramento, smaller towns like Gulfport and Dunedin remind me—a little—of the smaller walkable towns back in California like Danville, Campbell, and Livermore.

Some of the areas that were truly nothing twenty years ago have become, well, something. The town I’ve moved to, Ridge Manor, is an unincorporated area a few miles north of still-tiny Dade City, on a state road that goes straight east-west between I-75 and Orlando. The next “big small town” over, Clermont, has blossomed from a near-abandoned downtown into a genuinely interesting suburb, even if it’s hard to figure out just what it’s a suburb of. Wesley Chapel, about a half-hour south along I-75, is a surprisingly large suburb of Tampa now.

A year ago, I wrote that you can find great coffee shops and craft breweries and cocktail bars in any metro area, and that’s true here, too. Dade City itself has a great craft brewery and a solid coffee shop, and there are far more throughout Tampa/St. Pete and Orlando. Great cocktail bars are the hardest to find here, I’ve found, but they are here.

Florida is not the same place it was when I left. It was, back then, a relatively purple state overall. There are still Florida liberals and leftists, but the Florida of 2023 is a one-party state. And, not to put too fine a point on it, Florida Republicans lead the charge to make that party indistinguishable from the far-right fascist parties plaguing Europe and Central America. Every day brings a new attack on the rights of people DeSantis and his supporters have identified as The Enemy. Trans people. Queer people. Drag queens. Immigrants. Teachers. Librarians. Disney.

A drive around rural Florida a quarter-century ago would have certainly taken you past houses and farms flying confederate battle flags; the state’s panhandle has long been an epicenter for the neo-confederate movement. On a similar drive today, though, the flags are almost exclusively for Trump. And there are many, many flags for Trump. Flags and bumper stickers and banners, and an ugliness I can’t remember seeing in America in my lifetime. When I left Florida, Jeb Bush had just won reelection; I’ve returned to a state where Republicans would consider Jeb too suspiciously liberal to elect him to a municipal utility board.

I am not in the same place in Florida as I was when I left. Politically and culturally, I’m more Left Coast than I had been two decades ago, to be sure—but I spent most of my previous Florida years in Tampa or its suburbs, or the wealthy, culturally rich city of Sarasota.1 As someone who presents as a cishet male, I have little to worry about in most interactions here yet—but that yet slowly gathers weight. I’ve been open about my beliefs, moderately open about my not-so-binary, fairly asexual identity. I write queer, often political, furry fiction under my own name. So far, this has only resulted in lost friendships, but the potential for worse is real.

Yet my worries don’t center on me. The majority of my friends are queer, too. Will any trans friend, including my BFF/partner, be safe here even for a visit? They’re certainly not going to move here. More and more, I’m hearing of people moving out.

I am not in the same place in Florida as I was when I left. All my adult life, both in California and previously here, I could reach dozens of choices for shopping, eating and drinking in under fifteen minutes; some were just a nice walk away in good weather. But Ridge Manor’s several thousand residents spread out over rural half-acre lots. A few businesses cluster in a couple of strip malls around the I-75 interchange. There’s a grocery store, three or four decent restaurants (and three or four fast food places), so-so Chinese takeout, and a few gas stations. Anything else is twenty minutes away at a minimum.

That might not sound like a big deal. It didn’t sound like one to me, either. I’d come home to this house every Christmas from California; I knew where it was. And, I’ve always enjoyed driving. For years, my BFF and I took Saturdays out, exploring towns hours away. How bad could this be?

The answer, it turns out, is worse than I thought. In all my adult life, I’ve lived where I could reach dozens of choices for shopping, eating and drinking in under fifteen minutes, often in places where some were just a nice walk away in good weather. Now, hitting even most standard suburban chains is no longer a whim, it’s an excursion.

Sometimes I’ve dreamt of living in a cabin in Big Sur. I don’t anymore. I want to be in walking distance of something, a short driving distance of anything. Markets, coffee shops, a neighborhood bar, an ice cream parlor. Ridge Manor is not a place where that’s possible, and despite the construction and development around the area, it never will be. Yes, it will get hundreds of new tract homes, but the people who move in there will find that they, too, are a half-hour away from everything.

But do I regret moving? No. I moved to be with my mother, to help take care of her and the house. Our relationship isn’t frictionless, but it’s good, better than many such relationships that I see among my own friends and, for that matter, among hers. I know her better now than I have at any previous point in my life. It’s not just a solid, loving parent-child relationship, it’s a solid, loving friendship. That’s invaluable.

I still take Saturdays out, albeit mostly by myself now, and I’ve discovered or re-discovered plenty of cool places, many of which weren’t here before and all which have changed. There are places I could truly feel at home in, if I lived closer to them, and if Florida’s politics ever become less fraught. And if I can still deal with Florida summers.

The what-ifs remain, though, no matter how much I try to shunt them away.

First what-if: My ability to carve out my own time has been markedly impaired over the last year, from writing to TV watching to reading. Perhaps I am not good at setting boundaries, or perhaps I am just not used to living with someone who wants a lot of attention compared to past, undemanding housemates. Would it have been better to live in the suburbs a half-hour down the road, drive up here a few times a week for dinner, spend the night every other week?

I’m doubtful. The connections I’ve been making with my mom couldn’t have been made if we weren’t living together. Beyond that, I wouldn’t be here to be able to help with routine small things, and helping with large ones would be that much more challenging. She’d be markedly lonelier, and despite my penchant for solitude, I would be, too.

And there’s the cost of living. Despite the isolation, there are many things to like about this house—it’s on over an acre of wooded land, for a start—but the number one thing is, simply, that it’s fully paid off. A year ago, I wrote, “I won’t miss paying as much in rent share [in California] as I would pay for an entire two-bedroom apartment in Tampa.” That turned out to be optimistic; a decent one-bedroom, not two, apartment in Wesley Chapel would be hundreds more a month than my rent share in Santa Clara was. The median rent in Sacramento is, as of this writing, lower than both Tampa and Orlando.

Second what-if: my mother and I could move somewhere else, somewhere that checks off more of my boxes and, ideally, more of hers. She’d like to be closer to amenities, closer to medical care, closer to the water. We’re both concerned about the heat, too. As I write this, Florida swelters in record-breaking heat. The SF Bay Area and Sacramento are at unusual highs, too, but the old “it’s a dry heat” joke hits home. Sacramento’s projected high of 103°F tops our projected 94°, but our heat index hits 116° compared to Sac’s 104°—and our low will be 74° (with a heat index ten degrees higher), whereas Sacramento will make it down to a comparatively arctic 58°. If this is the new normal, it may be untenable for both of us.

Housing prices anywhere we’d want to live are likely to be challengingly high even with our resources pooled together, though, and I don’t know what place we’d both agree on. Stay in the state, or leave it? She thinks about going back to Baltimore, where she grew up, or around Asheville, where Floridians seem to be moving to when they want to leave this state. I have no personal affinity for Maryland or North Carolina, though; the places I do have affinity for—most of California and the Pacific Northwest, parts of the Southwest—aren’t places she does.

Beyond that, the thought of moving anywhere leads to uncomfortable thoughts of mortality—both my mother’s and my own. When will I find myself living alone once more? Will I want to stay where I’m living then? If it’s still here, still in this house, the answer is likely no. But if my mother and I move to a new place, she’ll push for a bigger house. I doubt I’d want a bigger house by myself, or even with a housemate. (And if it’s in Florida, the current politics all but ensure my trans BFF won’t be that housemate.)

Of course, maybe a bigger house still makes financial sense; with luck, having a more expensive house means I get more money if I sell it and do move somewhere else, ultimately. The money isn’t being lost. Objectively, I know that. But I don’t feel it.

So, where does this leave me? It leaves me with a loving parent and great finances; it leaves me isolated, frustrated with my inability to manage my own time, wondering why I’m even worse than I used to be at coordinating with friends. It leaves me in a good and bad place. It leaves me in limbo.

I’ll check back in after another year.

  1. Sarasota is now ground zero for not just Florida’s culture wars but all of America’s, as the home of the neofascist Moms of Liberty and epicenter of QAnon conspiracy nonsense. My college, New College, is the one that DeSantis is in the process of transforming from a nationally-recognized liberal arts school into a national laughing stock. [return]

Thesis: the people most likely to announce “I am leaving Mastadon for Threads” are also the people most likely to spell “Mastodon” that way.

One year ago today was my last day of living in Silicon Valley; next Sunday will be the anniversary of moving back to Florida. I feel like I should write a followup to “Thoughts on Leaving California”, but I’m not sure if I have it in me. We’ll see.

You know, I suddenly have reason to think it would just be super if there was a way to mute a thread on

The cool thing about crossposting between social networks is that if you have a controversial take that goes viral you can blow up your mentions across all of them at once

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This App Is About You: On Meta and Mastodon

Those of you not plugged into the Mastodon community may not be aware of the predominant reaction to Instagram Threads. This started when it was merely rumored, reaching a crescendo with reports that Meta had been talking to a few of the larger Mastodon instances under NDA, presumably to encourage them not to “defederate” with Threads when it came online.1 Let me describe that reaction for you, with only mild exaggeration:

Meta is coming! If Threads is allowed to become part of the Fediverse, it will destroy it! It will steal your data! It will inject ads onto your timeline! It will corrupt Mastodon into being everything you hate about Facebook and Twitter combined!

Let’s stipulate that Meta has a long history of doing demonstrably bad things, and that the argument I’m about to make—that Threads is not what people on Mastodon believe it is—should not be mistaken for an argument that Meta is just here to give everyone free cookies. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has written extensively about how Facebook wanted NSO spyware to monitor iOS users, produced their own spyware VPN and pushed it within their mobile app, and how Facebook’s “unknowable megascale” created “societal harm…as easy for anyone to see as the respiratory problems caused by smoking.” Threads is a product of that data-tracking, spyware-installing, society-harming Facebook, and it is not joyless unreasonable alarmism to keep that in mind when we evaluate how fun and interesting it otherwise may be.

Having said that, Threads is not an attack on Mastodon to subvert it for nefarious purposes.

How can I say that so confidently? Because Threads is not a Mastodon instance. It is its own self-contained, centralized social network with plans to let its users follow Mastodon accounts and vice versa.

The difference is not mere semantics. Mastodon doesn’t care what client software you use—or even what server software you use. Threads does. Threads needs you to use their app. It’s baked into the business model. Facebook and Instagram never killed their robust third-party client ecosystem the way Twitter and Reddit recently did, because they never had one. They understood their business model from the get-go.

When push comes to shove, Threads is Instagram. That’s how, as of this writing, it already has over 100M accounts created. If you have an Instagram account, you have a Threads account. If you get a Threads account, you get an Instagram account. Threads has zero-effort access to over one and a half billion users who, by definition, tolerate Meta’s privacy policies and Instagram’s monetization strategies.

By contrast, Mastodon is maybe two and a half million users on a network explicitly positioned as “social networking that’s not for sale”. The users are much less receptive to monetization strategies. And as Mastodon founder Eugen “Gargron” Rothko notes, the design of the network makes it effectively impossible for Threads to collect personally identifiable information on Mastodon users merely interacting with Threads users.

So, on one hand: a billion users who accept Instagram showing them ads, algorithm-jamming their timelines and hoovering up as much personally identifiable information about them as they can. On the other: two or three million users on an explicitly anti-corporate platform engineered to be highly resistant to leaking private data. I dare you to make a convincing business case for Facebook spending a single cent trying to capture a fraction of the second group, when it’s less than a percent the size of the first group.

Threads is not now, and never will be, about Mastodon. It’s not about embracing it, extending it, or extinguishing it. It’s not about it at all.

So if Threads isn’t trying to overwhelm and destroy Mastodon, why have ActivityPub support at all? Two answers. First, “Look, see? We’re open!” is not only perceived as a great talking point these days, it’s perceived as a regulatory relief valve. Look, see? ActivityPub! We’re open!

Second, remember that the business model for Threads is keeping you on Threads. If 95% of your friends are on Threads but 5% are over on that weird Mastodon thing, now you don’t have to use Mastodon to follow them! Just follow them from Threads! Woo! Will Threads be a good Mastodon client? No, but it just has to hit “good enough.” Will any Mastodon client be a good Threads client? Fuck no. They don’t want you accessing Threads from Ivory or Tusky or Elk, they want you accessing it from the Threads app, guaranteed to show you as many ads and gather as much data as possible.

The argument Mastodon is collectively mustering against Threads is, at the end of the day, “but Facebook is evil!” Again, no argument. But Mark Zuckerberg is evil in the way of a greedy, privacy-flouting tech bro, not in the way of Sauron.2 Not only would the “extinguishing” part of “embracing, extending and extinguishing” Mastodon be extremely difficult at a technical level, the plausible ROI on doing so would be minimal at best—and probably even counterproductive.

Yeah, but should people defederate?

The aforementioned John Gruber is bullish on Threads’s chances, and he wrote “Threads is the most fun, most interesting new product of the year” on Mastodon (while taking a swipe with “have fun over here in the library,” as if libraries are terrible sad stern places, a weird dig for a professional writer to make, John). Seriously, while I love the estimable Mr. Gruber’s writing, when I look at Threads what I see is an influencer-infested, brand-driven, algorithmically-jammed-up crapfest. A lot like, well, modern Instagram, without the silver lining of pretty photographs.

My point is that Threads and Mastodon are already really different culturally. Even when-slash-if the ActivityPub bridge exists, I don’t think many Threads fans will rush to follow us Mastodon users over here having fun in the library, nor will many Mastodon users be rushing to follow their friends on Threads through the Mastodon client of their choice. I predict the vast majority of people who want to use both networks will maintain separate accounts to do so.

Instagram has thousands of content moderators, and while they’re already making decisions that will make everyone mad, they’re clearly making decisions. While I doubt Threads will officially follow the Mastodon Server Covenant, in practice I suspect they’ll be more strict in some respects. Instagram has a puritan streak that Threads will carry through—there’s a non-zero chance that Threads may refuse to federate with your instance because, I don’t know, you allow titties and people who say “fuck”. The chances of Threads becoming a conduit for harassment on Mastodon are slim.

Personally, I would federate with Threads in “silence” mode: my instance’s users would be able to follow Threads users and vice versa, but posts from Threads would not show up in any public timelines on my server. I think, though, this should be a choice each instance makes with input from their users, and it is a little dismaying how many instances are perfectly happy making that decision unilaterally.

The truly toxic idea, though, is that Mastodon instances should not only refuse to federate with Threads, but they should refuse to federate with other servers that do federate with Threads. In other words, users should be punished for decisions they have no control over and may not even be aware of, made by the administrators of servers they don’t belong to. I am dead serious when I call this toxic. The default position must, must, be that breaking your users’ social graphs is a last resort against clear and present danger. A server explicitly welcomes Nazis, child porn, TERFs, and serial harassers? Block that fucker. But it’s absurd to insist that federating with Meta’s general-interest server presents the same threat level.

Look. At the end of the day, I’m a Mastodon partisan. But I don’t love its collective tendency toward self-important dogmatism. I’ve seen more than one friend get set up only to pull back, worrying there are dozens of unwritten rules about content warnings and alt text and linking and boosting they will constantly be put on blast over. I have never seen so many self-identified queer leftists reflexively drop into well, actually mode.

New users frequently get stuck on the “pick an instance” part of Mastodon’s signup, and we always say oh, it doesn’t matter that much, which is just not true. Some instances seriously up the unwritten rule count; some suck at moderation, and the admins go tinpot dictator when they’re called on it; smaller ones get their plugs pulled with some regularity.3 How much worse will it be when hundreds of small-to-medium servers decide they won’t federate with the largest servers—the ones new users who took our “don’t stress about picking your instance” advice ended up on—because those servers have chosen not to block Threads? That level of fracture won’t preserve the Fediverse, it will mortally wound it.

The truth is, Threads is not about Mastodon. It’s about Meta and only about Meta, and Mastodon isn’t important enough to them to spend the considerable effort that would be necessary to destroy it. It’d be awfully damn ironic if the Fediverse decides it’s become necessary to destroy itself to stop them.

  1. An “instance” in Mastodon parlance is one of the many distributed servers that comprises the network; Mastodon users have accounts on individual instances. Nearly all instances are “federated” with nearly all other instances, e.g., they allow their users to follow one another, but any instance can choose to “defederate” with any other instance. [return]
  2. Peter Thiel, however, is evil in the way of Sauron. [return]
  3. And let’s not get into how many asterisks there still are to “moving between instances is easy”: sure, as long as you remember to export the right things first, do everything in precisely the right order, and oh yes, don’t care about losing your entire post history. [return]

Mastodon’s collective understanding of Meta’s goals with Threads are so at odds with what I think they are that I’m increasingly tempted to write a post entitled “You’re So Vain, You Probably Think This App Is About You”.

In an acquaintance’s home for the holiday evening, and trying hard to resist the temptation to grab their TV remote, properly adjust the colors and turn off motion smoothing.

While my SwiftUI knowledge remains quite limited, the more I learn the more I suspect that “because it’s in SwiftUI” is not a sufficient explanation for why the new macOS System Settings app looks and behaves the way it does.

It’s still fun to go out with an iPad as my “ultra-lightweight” machine—in my case, a 2020 iPad Air and the Keyboard Folio. In some ways, it’s really hard to beat, although in other ways, it’s still irrationally frustrating. Definitely curious what iPadOS 17 will bring next week…

Me: I wonder if I should make my app subscription-based rather than a single purchase…

Also me: Maybe see if you can write the app before you worry about pricing models, hotshot

As much as I appreciate Hello Weather, I think I’m going back to Carrot. It has more detail, better widgets, and a much better iPad app.