Feel Good By Doing Good

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If you're anything like me, the last several years have been a rough go.

The overturning of Roe V. Wayde was a blow to women's rights here in America. Please don't tell me about how it was bad law. From my perspective you're arguing over academics when countless women are suffering and, in some cases literally dying due to the narrow minded and in many cases bigoted laws being passed in many red states.

And then, when governor DeSantis in Florida signed a bill into law that made gender affirming care illegal, for me, that was the last straw.

I am a very firm believer in the idea that every society should be judged by the way it treats its weakest members, and by that measure we are failing miserably.

Between war, disease and strife in our own country, it would be very easy to just drown in a sea of negativity even when many of us lead lives of relative splendor, especially compared to just about anywhere else in the world.

So to that end, I was tremendously inspired by a post from someone whose work I very much admire on the Fediverse:

Not long after that post, I happened to be at a local Infosec conference where I saw a talk about Techs for Reproductive Justice.

Those folks are seriously awesome people and doing really great work, so I've been doing my best to help out there.

It feels good to actually do something. To move the needle as a result of your actions, even if it's only by an infinitesimal amount.

So I would humbly suggest that others do the same. Take that energy you might otherwise spend reading the news or doom scrolling and put it towards helping out with some charity or cause that inspires you.

Everyone has their own unique talents to bring to the table, and the amount of help needed across the board may well surprise you.

You'll thank yourself and maybe even me later :)

The EFF is Wrong About Kiwi Farms

Seeing a lot of people (rightly?) be up in arms about the @eff@mastodon.social's stance on Kiwifarms.

I will say that the situation has more subtlety and complexity than it seems on the surface, so while I won't condemn anyone for coming down on these folks for their arguably questionable stance, you should at least read their position statement on the topic.

My take? I think their argument contradicts itself.

They claim that ISPs should not become a choke point for censoring the internet because tier 1 ISPs represent a monopoly.

The monopoly aspect is true, but in the world we live in today ISPs are the ONLY mechanism we have for ensuring that content a vast swath of society finds morally repugnant can be removed.

What we really need (and what I maintain their argument is actually tilting towards) is for large ISPs to be regulated like utilities, and for their to be clear guidelines under the law for content that's beyond the pale and needs to GO AWAY.

It's a thorny one to be sure. I still love and support the EFF, but in this case I think they picked the wrong horse.

Substack Considered Harmful

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Editor's Note: I used ChatGPT to help me be less of a windbag. The intent, if not the exact phrasing, is entirely mine.

Setting The Scene

In my previous post I wrote about my waning interest in contemporary politics due to the disproportionate toll it takes on my time, energy and well being.

The terminus on that journey of realization turned out to be the simple concrete act of turning off a bunch of politics streams I had coming into my information feed. Among them were a number of Substacks.

The resulting mental breathing room enabled me to integrate a number of parallel trains of thought whose tracks might never have crossed otherwise.

As a technologist, I feel very strongly that ethics are important. It's important that as individuals we take personal responsibility for the ethical outcomes from what we build. I also think it behooves us as a community to at least be mindful of the ethical outcomes of what we build as a community.

You would have to be living under a rock not to have at least encountered the idea that many of the algorithmically driven social media platforms are having a net corrosive effect on our health, both as a society and as individuals. I recently read an excellent book on the topic entitled Social Warming: The Dangerous and Polarising Effects of Social Media. Far from being some kind of paranoid neo-luddite screed, this is a very thoughtful and erudite examination of how these algorithms mesh with the low level "herd" aspects of human behavior to disastrous effect. It's a compelling and accessible read that I recommend to everyone.

While the book and much of the modern discourse on this topic rightly surround platforms like Facebook and, sadly, increasingly Twitter, platforms like Substack which might seem to provide ready solutions may be causing some unique problems of its own.

Harmful, You Say?

So, let's talk about Substack. For the uninitiated, this is a platform where pundits, journalists, and generally anyone who wants to write can publish their short or long form work and have it be read by "subscribers". Most offer "tiers" where free tier folks get the occasionally throw-away post and paid subscribers get "The Good Stuff" which may include various perks.

Sounds good, right? There needs to be a platform where independent journalists, deplatformed pundits and others can exercise their constitutionally granted rights of free speech. That IS good, at least on the face of it.

I see a number of problems, ranging from the merely annoying to potentially quite serious.

Frankly My Dear, You Still Need an Editor

Traditionally when a writer submits their work for publication, whether to a newspaper, magazine, or even an organization's blog or newsletter, an editor carefully proof-reads the piece, both for obvious problems like grammar and spelling errors, but perhaps even more importantly for conciseness and suitability to task. Does the piece live up to the name on the masthead? Will it repay the reader for their contribution in time and effort?

These are important questions, and I often find myself wondering if many Substack writers as them of themselves at all anymore.

I don't really care what manner of fun T-shirts you're wearing these days, or that you feel persecuted by the mainstream press who unfairly cancelled you. These are commiseration best performed with friends over a beverage of choice rather than broadcast to a larger audience.

Am I saying that every substack writer suffers from this? No. I know of at least 1 or 2 who don't, and I suepect that either they've retained an editor or the have an in-built talent for it themselves.

Amplified Echo Chambers Are Not The Answer

One of the problems that's been much discussed but to my mind poorly understood is the tendency for many modern social media platforms to create hyper-polarized tribes or herds, all engaging in certain very self similar brands of rhetoric.

While Substack does in fact reduce the size of each group, it does nothing to combat the information bubbles that people form around themselves and their tribe.

Creating a multitude of cults of personality, each complete with its own mimetic megaphone and echo chamber seems like a recipe for trouble.

Only this time,everyone thinks they're being open minded and erudite.

More Commons, Fewer Megaphones

One of the gifts the early internet bestowed upon its participants was an appreciation for how beautiful communities can be in the small.

In those early days, forums like USENET and bulletin board systems created safe spaces where people could interact with people of all walks of life without regard to their political or religious beliefs.

While Substack might appear similar, I maintain that there are some very crucial differences, most particularly the one way nature of the platform. Sure, readers can participate and comment on what's written, but the entire enterprise is centered around one person. One mind. One set of beliefs and tribal alliances.

let's Build Small, Beautiful Communities!

As technologists, we have a unique opoprtunity to help shape the nature of online life. I'm not suggesting that we resurrect the old models, but instead build new ones that actually work for our users and don't destroy society in the balance.

Slack and Discord are actually great examples of this, as are blogs. I look forward to finding other creative ways to help build a better world one tiny community at a time through technology :)

The Only Winning Move Is Not To Play

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I have always in my heart of hearts been an idealist.

I spent most of my young life lost in my own head a bunch of the time, escaping from whatever bothered me through books.

So I suppose it should come as no surprise that I came into the world as an singularly naivé adult.

And I paid for that naivéte over and over, though I wasn't self aware enough to see it that way at the time.

I'll admit that I didn't actually think very deeply about politics. I was liberal because my tribe was liberal, and I saw our side as the open minded, kind hearted side that stood for open mindedness and egalitarian principles.

I still believe those things about myself. I don't care what color your skin is, how you self identify, or who you like to sleep with. If you're a person of good character and care about your fellow man, you're my kind of person.

But in the lead up to the 2016 election, I realized it was time to stop just voting with the crowd and parroting what people I thought were in the know. I needed to grow my own thoughts and opinions if I was going to be able to look myself in the eye and say I'd done my bit as an American who cares about the country and the society it embodies.

So I read. A LOT. And not just the New York Times or HuffPo either. I made a point of broadening my sources to include notable conservatives. I devoured everything I could get my hands on from both campaigns, and even, much as it pains me to say it now, kept an open mind for as long as I could about Trump. It will come as a shock to no-one that I voted for Hillary in that campaign, and I have no regrets about that choice. I didn't and don't love everything about her as a politician, but from my perspective, the choice was and is clear.

When the smoke cleared and the pundits and pollsters were wrong, I redoubled my efforts because I wanted to try to understand the mindset of the kind of voter who would elect Trump as president.

I want to be careful how I phrase this, because it could easily come off as an abandonment of my duty as a citizen and voter, and I am absolutely not doing that.

But what I learned did in fact achieve one goal I had at the outset. I woke up.

I learned that even my beloved democratic party is governed by monied interests which control several key media outlets which vend talking points and a constant stream of memes to a vast swath of the populace who treat them as black and white and feed them to a public addicted to outrage and ever more willing to de-humanize and villain-ize the other.

And despite the protestations of well meaning friends and acquaintances, I was utterly unable to read anything from conservatives without tripping over either overt or covert bigotry and mean spiritedness. If I ever have to read another rant on the evils of "gender fluidity" I may have a personal protein spill.

After countless hours of reading and study? What have I gained? Absolutely nothing except for perhaps the one insight that will come as a surprise to no-one. There are no white knights. Good guys and bad guys are very rare indeed, and most of the world is painted in shades of gray.

So how do I take this new found understanding of the world and parlay it into remaining clear eyed about reality and yet still be capable of living a full, productive and perhaps most importantly happy life?

For me, the answer is simple: Stop trying so hard.

I will make sure to not surrender completely to living in my bubble. I'll be sure to continue to read sensible conservative voices, but I won't subject myself any further to thinly veiled bigots and racists, no matter how good their ideas may be.

I'll read the news. I'll do my functional research when election time comes, and pick candidates to vote for who I think will vote in line with my conscience on critical issues like marriage equality, health care and a more equitable model for wealth distribution.

But that's it. Beyond that I intend to focus my time and energy on things that bring me joy like spending time with my wife and rescue dog or indulging my endless passion for the more whimsical side of technology.

That's the compromise I've come to. Life's too short to fixate on everything that's terrible, and there's only so much one person can do about it anyway. I'll exercise the minimal power that I have responsibly and beyond that to heck with it. I'm done.

To be clear, this doesn't mean I plan on laying down to die. There are issues that are important to me, and I intend to keep fighting for what I know in my heart to be right.

This is more about limiting the amount of toxin I ingent so I can stay healthy enough to fight another day :)

Two Years Of Lockdown Aaaaand Now COVID-19!

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For the last two years, we have stayed 1000% locked down. Masks, minimal contact with anyone outside our household, all of it.

But hey, things are opening up, right? Time for us all to take on a BIT more risk, go out into the world and live a little.

Last weekend we visited friends in New Hampshire. We ate lunch and dinner with them at two separate breweries (I like a good beer now and again :)

And as a result this morning I tested positive for COVID-19. I am honestly in a quandary around how people are expected to confidently go out into the public and live their lives when what they can expect in return is, even for people who are vaxxed and boosted to the max like myself, a positively miserable experience.

I THINK I'm over the worst of it - maybe? This weekend was awful. My whole body turned into a giant block of ice and I couldn't warm up no matter what I did (I finally made myself somewhat comfortable with 4 layers of clothing and 2 stout blankets).

Today I'm just left with sore throat, cough, runny nose, and a diminished sense of taste (and probably smell. Can't tell. Too congested.)

I understand that economic exigency means we all need to get over our fears and go back into the world but at what cost?

Like I said, there are no deep thoughts here. I'm just sick and a little irrationally angry. We worked SO hard to stay safe all the time, and the moment we relax I get the plague :)

Stay well everyone!

This is Mine.

My Dog Cookie Lounging With Her Tongue Logging Out

This is my blog. There are many like it, but this one is authentically mine.

I wrote the content, I (badly!) chose the colors, styled the pages. All of it.

My skills in the area of web design are nascent at best but I hope to grow them over time.

I also plan to use this site as a jumping off point for other experiments in technology and thought.

But mostly, I want this to be a place to play :)

In that spirit, the picture attached to this post is my adorable rescue dog Cookie, hanging out with Winnie The Pooh, for no other reason than it makes me smile :)