Bird Droppings

Random thoughts from a weird and queer bird

At this point in time, I would say my philosophy aligns with a sort of objective materialist or rational skeptic or IDK what the words are. However, I also think that there's a really weird thing that happens when humans come around with their language and society. Through sheer belief, humans seem to have the ability to get other humans to act as though something is real, even if it has no bearing on the physical substrate of reality.

Humans have this weird ability to “play pretend” about things. But they do it so much that they don't even realize they're doing it half the time.

I'm being reductive of course. It's a lot more complicated than that. The shared reality that humans build is a result of social contracts, agreements, beliefs, and more. In my experience, most of we interact with as humans is part of this shared “pretend” reality that exists only because we collectively will it to be so.

Take money for example. Currency. Numbers in a database or pieces of paper or coins. They have value merely because we will them to have such. Without those beliefs, they have no value. Yet we spend so much of our lives chasing money, struggling to get enough to survive, and so on. Much of our lives centers around it.

Some people confuse our “make believe” world of shared ideas, beliefs, and agreements with the solid substrate of reality. Some people think that how much wealth someone has is a real thing, just as real as a cloud or a tree or a rock.

It's not. If you went to a deserted island or a far away planet, disconnected from the rest of society, your money and wealth would cease to have any meaning.

But within this society that believes in it, it has real power to affect things.

In truth, the things we pretend are real... The things we make believe about... They have so much power, they can literally move mountains, reshape continents, move the planet. They can kill us or bring us joy. These mere ideas and beliefs shape us just as we shape them.

Here's where things get really exciting. The relationship between our identities and the shared fantasy of reality are complex, intricate and oh so interesting.

It's one thing to do psychological analysis or sociology on identity. It's another to realize that you have the power to reshape your identity at will. That the very things that define who we are as people are also stories we tell, fictions we create.

For example, to realize you don't need to participate in static binary gender the way you were told you had to as a child. You can change your gender, abstain from gender, or go deeper in it. You don't have to be heterosexual. You don't have to follow the narrative of finding a single spouse and getting married. You don't have to follow the narratives that exist in this culture.

The rules that you have to be these things and do these things are just like money... shared ideas that exist only because people say they do. They're not real like a cloud or tree is...

Going deeper, the ideas of who and what we are are also fantasies. The idea that you're an individual being with your own single separate and independent thoughts and ideas is a story you tell yourself.

What are you really? You're a collection of cells, some of which have neurons that fire in a complex pattern we have labelled a “neural network.” No part of that is you. You are a story that thing tells.

That's not to say that it's not a useful story. It can be useful to treat yourself as a single independent entity. But you could just as easily model yourself as a collection of independent entities or as part of a network of minds connected via sounds transmitted over the air and electronic signals transmitted over the internet.

You could do all of these at once, or none of them.

When you're free to write the story yourself... To create the model by which you interpret your own experiences... the power there is incredible. Singlet, plural, interconnected multi-body being...

We can even step away from trying to tell a story about what our brains are doing and just envelop ourselves in fictions and stories of our own making, instead of the overall collective story. We can tell a story about being a cat, or a bird, or a robot, or a dragon...

There's a reason that the Matrix was written by two trans women. Their story reflects a lot of these ideas. That when you see that so much of the world we exist in is a shared belief or fiction, you gain the ability to rewrite it and to work with it in a new way.

Sometimes, you need something, perhaps a preference for a different gender narrative, so strongly that it causes you to break the Matrix we live in and realize that we can do and be so much more than the stories that usually get forced on us.

I'm still a materialist. I don't believe that gods or angels or magic really exist in some of the ways people say they do. I don't think spells or prayers work.

But I think that shared human beliefs are incredibly powerful. I've seen the way that ideas can reshape people and landscapes. I've been a part of that.

It is there, in the space of what humans believe, and the powerful affects of those beliefs, that I do recognize the reality of magic.

I recently had the opportunity to “pitch” Mastodon to a couple wonderful friends of mine, and in doing so, got them excited about Mastodon and the fediverse. It caused me to reflect on what really excites me about Mastodon and the fediverse at large. There's a few things that specifically jump out at me.

  • Your service provider is a person or small group, not a corporation seeking to exploit you.
  • You own your relationships and can pick up and move anywhere in the fediverse without losing your relationships
  • There are many different services in the fediverse. You're not tied to one paradigm or social network. It's really many social networks working together.
  • Mastodon has locality. It has neighborhoods and spaces.

Let's look at each one in more detail!

Your service provider is not a corporation seeking to exploit you

Mastodon is a piece of software that enables anyone to create a social network. While a corporation could create such a network, most of the social networks that have been created within the fediverse have been created by individuals or small groups of people dedicated to serving a small community. Instead of a source of income, mastodon serers are typically paid for by their community or by the generosity of their administrators.

Corporate social networks and messengers like Twitter, Facebook, Discord, Instagram, etc. are designed to provide users with a free service in exchange for using their personal information to make money. Whether this is through advertising, selling products, or whatever, the intention is to make money. Frequently, these services wind up modifying the content users consume in order to increase their interactions with that service. This can lead to emphasizing emotionally arousing content, such as descriptions of people being awful to one another, etc. inadvertently skewing user's perception of the world and the people in it.

Mastodon based social networks typically don't engage in this behavior. While there's nothing stopping them from doing so, leaving a mastodon social network that is misbehaving is super easy, which leads us to our next benefit.

You own your relationships

One of the biggest problems I have with Facebook in particular is the fact that it holds your relationships hostage. If you don't have a Facebook account and follow their rules, you cannot interact with the people on there. If Facebook begins to engage in behavior you don't approve of, leaving Facebook involves leaving those relationships behind. Given the degree to which Facebook inserts itself into the social interactions people have with one another, this can result in such extremes as entirely losing contact with friends outside of Facebook, if social events and communication were predominantly done on Facebook.

(Twitter and some of the other social networks aren't as bad, allowing people without accounts to read public posts from users of their social network. But the problem still exists.)

This isn't the case when using Mastodon. As a decentralized collection of interoperating but independent social networks, for the most part if you don't like the policies or choices of the individuals that run your local server, you can move and bring all of your relationships with you. As long as you are using a social network that is compatible with Mastodon, you can talk to anyone that is using Mastodon anywhere in the fediverse.

For example, If you make a lot of friends on coolkids.chat, you could move to radfolks.city and still follow and chat with all of the friends you made on coolkids.chat. For the most part, there are no restrictions on who you can talk to. There are even tools for exporting and importing the lists of people you follow so that you can easily migrate to a new server.

Your relationships and friendships are never limited. You don't have to choose between your friends and your values if you don't like the values of the people running your social network. You can just leave and keep chatting like nothing ever happened.

(It is true that some servers fully block other servers in the fediverse. However, nothing stops folks from having multiple accounts with different server wide block lists, or finding servers that don't block the servers you want to interact with.)

The Fediverse is diverse

Sometimes when I first describe Mastodon to someone, they complain about the confusing nature of decentralization, asking “Why do they have to make it like that?” Lately, I've been wanting to turn that around and say “Why does the fediverse have to be Mastodon?”

Mastodon is NOT the whole of the fediverse. It's one piece of software for running a twitter like social network. There are many other free social network platforms out there that folks can get and use to run their own social networks. And the best part about those platforms is that they interoperate with Mastodon and every other piece of software that uses the common “ActivityPub” language.

Here are a few examples of other pieces of software, and the social media networks you can create with them.

  • Pleroma: Another twitter-like replacement
  • PixelFed: An instagram replacement
  • NextCloud: A Google Drive/Office/Talk/Etc. replacement with twitter-like functionality
  • WriteFreely: A minimalist long-form blogging platform like Blogger or Medium
  • Plume: A more fully featured blogging platform closer to Wordpress or Blogger or similar
  • PeerTube: A self-hosted replacement for Youtube

Even better, if you start on one platform and migrate to another, you can still follow and read all of the content being published by the users to used to follow on the previous platform. They're all (more or less) completely interoperable. If you prefer an instagram style interface, join a Pixelfed network. But you can still see videos posted by folks using PeerTube and “toots” by Mastodon users and long blog articles written by Plume users... All from within your Pixelfed account!

And more platforms are showing up every day!

The fediverse has locality

On many corporate networks, there is a single social network on which all of the users exist. All are subject to the rules and regulations of the single, centralized administration team. Discovery of new users to follow is done by following people you already know and seeing who they follow, through algorithm controlled high level recommendations, or through discovering off site, such as finding the social media accounts of celebrities.

While it's true that within the fediverse, any user can follow any other user anywhere in the fediverse, and could theoretically discover the fediverse addresses of public figures off site and follow them.... The fediverse has something else going on that creates some richer experiences.

Instead of being a single large pool of users, users are all located in smaller social networks that interoperate. This creates various levels of discovery. There is no central algorithm recommending users to people. Instead, you can use the local timeline to see users that are using the same server as you, and you can use the federated timeline to find users that are using servers that your server knows about.

That federated timeline can sometimes be hard to explain, so let me spend an extra paragraph on it. The federated timeline is a composite of all public posts from users follows by people on your local server, as well as all public posts from servers that share any relays your administrators have subscribed to. Put simply, it's all public posts from everyone “nearby” to your server.

This means that one server in the fediverse might have one kind of perspective on the larger fediverse, while a different server has a completely different perspective. In a sense, there are real “neighborhoods,” that you “live” in, and each neighborhood might look and feel entirely different.

Most importantly, each individual server in the fediverse is independently moderated. What kinds of speech, behavior, and content are acceptable on each server is completely determined by that server. There is no central authority to make decisions about what kinds of content are permitted overall.

Moderators on large corporate social networks apply a broad brush towards everyone, frequently disenfranchising marginalized groups of people or indirectly influencing political situations by banning certain kinds of speech. In the mastodon compatible fediverse, you can always find a server that will permit the kinds of content you want to talk about. At worst, you could theoretically create your own with your own rules.

The fediverse having locality means that different social network “neighborhoods” within the fediverse have different kinds of content. In one “neighborhood”, you might see radical folks arguing for violent revolution, but not allowing erotic content. Another “neighborhood” might encourage erotic content but not ban highly charged political content. Another “neighborhood” might be dedicated to free unfettered speech, while another might ban anyone that even remotely engages in bigotry or hate speech.

What's probably the most amazing about this is that servers can exist “in between” these neighborhoods. Even when two servers refuse to talk to one another, you can talk to them both so long as you don't run afoul of their rules of who they will and won't talk to. Perhaps you're a server dedicated to open source conversation and don't want to get involved in political arguments. Your users could theoretically follow users from servers dedicated to leftist dialogue as well as conservative dialogue, despite those two servers perhaps blocking one another.

Locality allows every server in the fediverse to make its own decisions about who it wants to interact with, instead of requiring everyone to adhere to a single arbitrary set of rules provided from on high.

Note

I've used the term server and social network interchangeable above. Outside of this post, people sometimes refer to these as instances. I am referring to the independent social networks that are created when a user runs their own social network software. In other words, a single mastodon server is its own independent social network interoperable with other social networks that run compatible software.

Seeing Jack on twitter talking to Trump about how to improve the degree of civil discourse on their platform strikes me as utterly absurd. Asking the person who is one of the least civil members of your platform for advice on how to improve civility is like asking the wolf that keeps eating your sheep how to do a better job protecting the sheep.

That said, I think I understand what Jack is trying to do, and to some degree I do applaud him for trying. But he's going about it all wrong.

My feelings on civility

I'm a huge fan of civility, respect, and mutual discussion. I myself have talked to conservatives to have difficult conversations about how to respect their beliefs better. I think it's really important to be able to have those kinds of conversations with people with whom you disagree.

However

I think one of the things that's missing from the conversation about civility is the conversation about ground rules FOR those civil conversations. Basically, a conversation can only be civil if all participants in that conversation agree to rules on how that conversation is going to go. And I think it is here that we are seeing problems in the state of modern discourse online and elsewhere.

Well, Actually and other forms of “rational debate”

In the atheism/skeptic communities I sometimes associated with, I sometimes see this attitude of “I am always open for rational debate” with folks. The idea seems to be that they are open to discuss any subject at any time. I think the reality of this is that they are not actually open to any subject at any time, but any reasonable subject at any reasonable time, where “reasonable” is an unspoken set of expectations they have of the ground rules for the conversation.

If I woke you up at 3 in the morning to debate whether or not the concept of ownership extends to the house you're living in and how I think I should have it instead of you, you might have a problem with that discussion. This is uncivil because it wildly breaks the ground rules of civil conversation you generally expect.

Where civility actually comes from

Real civility, in my opinion, comes from a place of mutual respect for one another's boundaries and limitations. It arises from establishing explicit ground rules for a conversation, and editing those ground rules as the conversation continues and new boundaries and limits are realized.

Ground rules change between different people and different contexts, as well as different days. When I've gone to schools and taught my “Trans 101” discussion, I'm perfectly willing to entertain and discuss really sensitive parts of my identity and even to some degree the validity of my experiences and the experiences of other trans people. That's something specific to that context, though, and outside of that context, those discussions are off limits. I get to choose when I'm open to those conversations, not others.

Ground rules enables everyone to have control in the conversation. Everyone gets to consent to it. If any party doesn't agree to those ground rules, then we don't have that conversation. THAT is a lack of respect and civility, when we don't permit others to set the terms of conversations that we would like to have with them.

This is why jumping into someone's mentions to “well, actually” them or start debating them is absurd. When the discussion is CLEARLY violating the ground rules of the people you're trying to talk to, continuing to push that conversation is a violation of civility. Not wanting to have a conversation on a particular subject at a particular time is not unreasonable or “irrational” of a person. It's good and healthy boundaries. It's good ground rules for conversations.

To this end, that's why a person wanting to have a “civil debate” about whether or not trans people are legitimate is going to find themselves yelled at and shouted at. It's not because of a “difference of opinion.” It's because they are not agreeing to a set of ground rules with the trans people they are trying to communicate with.

When civility is inappropriate

There's another layer to this. Civility is nice and all, and I very strongly appreciate it and hope to foster it in more and more of my interactions. But sometimes, civility is completely inappropriate.

When someone with power uses that power to harm you or others, it is reasonable to break the rules of civility to resist or fight back. I would even go so far as to say it is more than reasonable, but frequently necessary and vital for fighting back against that harm.

Civility pushed for by people already in power, using the ground rules they alone have established, is not a call for civility but a call for subjugation and a refusal to respect their own ground rules for conversation. It is precisely the opposite of civil discourse to engage in discussion that others do not wish to have.

Conversely, when those that are not in power fight back against power, they are not beholden to the rules of civil discourse, because civility has already been removed from the table. You have no obligation to be polite to a person that is threatening to harm you.

Content Warning: References to the Twilight Zone 2019 S1:E1

Content and Consumer

Content creation is a funny thing. Whether you produce jokes, art, music, software, games, thinkpieces, articles, reviews, videos, etc... When you create for an audience, there is a strange relationship that occurs between you and that audience. At first, the approval and delight of fans over what you've created is amazing. But as the audience grows, so too does your service to that audience. Fans that come to see you do one thing will be turned off if you do something different. A pressure to conform to your prior self comes into play. If you start to become concerned about growing your audience, you might seek more and more things that are likely to have mass appeal. The uniqueness of what you create may fade away as you polish and hone it into a reflection of the audience you desire.

Now, this isn't a bad thing. At least, not inherently. It's a description of some of the ways that content creation relates creator with consumer, performer with audience. To achieve success in finding and keeping an audience is a challenge whose accomplishment is the result of great luck and skill. It's also really important, because so much of our culture relies upon some individuals taking part in content creation of this nature, to mold, shape, reflect, and guide our communal cultures and subcultures.

Watching the first episode of the new Twilight Zone series, it really struck me that it was very much about some of the darker aspects of this. The fact that whenever you build an audience, the audience slowly lays claim to what you are. Deviation from that results in rejection, frustration, and an end to the praise and approval you had derived from creating what the audience had come to provide.

That's one reason why dissociating your content creation from your self can be so valuable. Maybe you produce music as a music act instead of as yourself. So one act could be the name you produce synthwave music under, while another act is your christian rock performance, while another is for your EDM experiments. This is also true of game development studios, review publishers, etc. The audience may lay claim to your act, band, company, studio, publisher, etc... But not to you...

Consumption of self

But the best art can often be found as a reflection of deeply personal experiences. A reflection and expression of you, your own self. . In the Twlight Zone episode, a comedian discovers he has the power to offer parts of his life to his audience to great results. But once he does so, those parts of his life vanish. Ultimately, he gives the audience the only thing he has left, his self... and thus he vanishes.

There's a reflection of this in reality, especially in modern social media. People continually fight for likes, shares, and subscriptions. Tokens of approval and praise. Opportunities for growth and larger audiences. This happens on youtube, blogs, microblogs, image sharing sites, etc. People are hungry to have large audiences for the content they produce. To find what content will draw a large audience and lots of approval. And often? That content is a reflection of their own self.

But as the audience lays claim to that self... What happens?

Youtuber Lindsey Ellis goes into some of this in her video YouTube: Manufacturing Authenticity (For Fun and Profit!)

Youtubers report tons of stress and anxiety about the whole thing. And multiple folks have talked about this experience of having their performer self being an alternate version of themselves. While they attempt to sell themself, they start to build a persona to sell instead.

This idea bothers me at a fundamental level. To see constraints on what one can create. To have an audience judge and demand you create something to fulfill their needs, in line with what you've created before... To see your own self consumed by your audience. It sounds exciting and horrifying at the same time.

Keeping a low profile

Throughout my career as a software engineer, as well as an activist, adventurer, game developer, musician, and more... one goal I've always had is to maintain a relatively low profile. I don't want to be noticed. I never want to develop such a large audience that I feel like I have to maintain consistency within myself to meet their needs. I value growth, change, and dynamicism too much. Even perhaps more importantly, I value freedom.

I grew up being effectively brain washed by my family members. Taught to follow precisely only the rules given. Taught not to ever experiment outside that. Taught to never draw outside the lines as it were, and if the lines were not apparent, to not draw at all. I was constrained and choked as a person and unable to live a full human life. When I transitioned, they literally blackmailed me, stalked me, harassed me, threatened me, and did other things to try to get me to stay within their world and under their control.

As a result, I never want to go back to that. I hunger for the ability to choose my own path as much as possible. Of course, no one can fully do that... It's only by cooperating and working with others that we can live well and happily, and to work with others is to continually compromise and negotiate. But I choose those contraints. I enter into agreements with others to live with those constraints in exchange for our mutual interaction. Partners and I are together for mutual support and love in exchange for having to work towards ensuring one anothers emotional comfort and fulfill one another's needs. Etc.

The parasocial relationships that develop when you've gained even a modicum of fame are terrifying to me. They sound positively awful. To be a figure instead of person. To have people consuming your self without the ability to directly and explicitly negotiate what that self is.

For me, my digital social self must be social, not parasocial. If my relationships with others aren't individually negotiable, I don't want to have them. I don't want to ever achieve or do anything that would result in tons of people knowing who I was and having a parasocial relationship with me where I couldn't negotiate the terms of that relationship back. And I think that is an inherent consequence of building a large enough audience and trying to attract attention, approval, likes, shares, and subscriptions. A modicum of success in having an audience results in this relationship being broken.

Well that was fun! We flew out to Portland yesterday in our plane and... I'd say that was both the most harrowing, most fun, and most exciting flight I've ever done!

Planning the trip

For the past month, I've been trying to figure out how and when to visit my friend Amy up in Portland. I planned this trip

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KRHV to KPDX via KRDD KMFR KRBG

But the problem with that route is that the Oregon weather was having none of it. I originally planned on flying out there for Easter, but the weather forecasts looked bad for it, so I tried the weekend before that looked better. It looked nice for a few days in the forecast, and then the forecast changed again. For an entire month, I kept going back and forth before settling on this weekend.

Unfortunately, the weather for even this weekend started to look bad. Looking at the weather of the course above, it looked like it was going to be overcast throughout most of Oregon. Now, the clouds DID kinda maybe look like they were going to be high enough to safely fly under... But we had to come over mountains first... Was there going to be a way in under the clouds? Only time would tell.

After talking through the plan with my pilot friends, I decided the best course of action would be to fly up to Siskiyou and evaluate the situation from there. So that's what we did!

Onto the flight

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One of the other problems with the flight was that there were some NASTY headwinds, especially at altitude. I tried going up to 8500, but was getting maybe 100kts ground speed. So I dropped down 2000 ft to 6500 and that was much much better. You can see me do that in this chart:

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Moderate Turbulence

At 6500, there was some very light turbulence, but nothing too major. However, when we got to Redding, things changed.

See, north of redding the terrain gets... bumpy. Here look

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And uh, there's also this big boi

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So like... Normally in that area, I want to be going around 10500 to have enough clearance and stay out of all the thrashing winds that hit you down below... But that wasn't really a good option here. So on we went at 6500ish.

As soon as we got north of redding, the turbulence starting throwing the plane about near constantly. I was focused on the controls and physically fighting the winds tossing the plane around. Avery described it like being on a speedboat. I'd been in turbulence like this before, but this was definitely up there.

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Just south of weed, though, we hit some sort of downdraft worse than anything I've ever experienced. For a moment, it felt like we were in free fall. Everything in the plane went flying. My passengers bumped their heads on the ceiling, even. It was intense.

Luckily... That was the end of it... After that, it calmed down and by the time we hit Siskiyou, it was over.

Decision point

Now we had the difficult decision of which direction we could go. To the north east was remote terrain, far from major roads and cities, but current weather reports were indicating clear skies. To the northwest was major roads and cities, always a comfort when flying a single engine prop plane, but lots of clouds. The northeast route would take us an extra 30 minutes and have us landing just after sunset. And it would, of course, need some extra fuel.

To weigh all these factors, I was furiously using my iPad to pull up current METARs in as many places as I could along both routes while we were coming up to Siskiyou. As I read through the weather reports, it was clear that the northwest route was a LOT clearer than forecast. Still plenty of big ol clouds, but clear enough to fly.

We went northwest.

Amidst the clouds

With smooth air around us, now we had a new challenge “Dodging clouds.” I'm a VFR pilot and as such I must maintain a distance of 500 feet below, 1000 feet above, and 2000 feet abreast of any clouds. At first, the clouds were just above us around 7000 feet. But as we continued north, the clouds were showing up lower and lower. Near the end, they got down to 4000 feet or so.

So this became one of those VFR pilot moments where you really have to keep your eyes outside the cockpit, watching where the clouds are around you. Navigating to the sides of them or dropping altitude as needed to maintain VFR cloud clearance. It wasn't really dangerous or harrowing. It just required vigilance.

The sights we saw were beautiful though.

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I got to see a big ol cumulus cloud up close as we came over Eugene:

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That big boy had a TON of stuff going on inside it, despite its calm exterior. We made sure to give it a WIDE berth.

Portland

Portland was probably the most covered in clouds out there.

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Still high enough to fly under, but dark and forboding. Portland, btw, is on the right side of that picture far in the distance. Near the end of that mountain ridge.

This picture from one of my passengers really shows off how dark it was under there.

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PDX tower had us come over the tower, then told us those delightful words that every pilot wants to hear

“You're #2 following a 737, caution wake turbulence”

Gaaaah. Wake turbulence! And a 737!

The trick with wake turbulence is to watch the winds. Either give it enough time that the winds blow the turbulent air away, or land beyond where the big jet landed, staying above their glide path on the way in.

I did both to some degree.

I gave them a wide berth, stayed high on the glide path initially, then carefully descended to land just past the numbers with a beautiful picture perfect gentle-as-hell landing.

Taxiied over to Atlantic, parked the plane, and we were there!

So back about a decade ago, I was hanging out with a bunch of neo-hippies all the time, trying various mind-altering substances and attending illegal raves in the woods. It was an exciting, fun, and heady time in my life.

So it came to pass that during one such visit way out in the Santa Cruz mountains that I decided to join my friends in trying ecstacy for what might have been the first time.

Now, my friend had gotten the E in powder form and had measured it out into pill capsules for us to use. Basically like a couple doses per pill. A nice strong double dose.

Back in those days, I wasn't drinking a lot of water. I was kinda perpetually dehyrdrated. It was also super late at night, so my throat was super dry. We all took the pills at the same time, but mine got stuck on the way down.

It kinda lodged itself part way down my esophagus, and sideways or something. My friends told me I was imagining it, but I was sure that it was down there.

It definitely seemed to be the case when, half an hour later, they were all starting to come up on the E, and I was sitting there still completely sober.

They were sad for me and offered me more, but I knew the pill was still in there and didn't want more. AAAAnd we managed to not bring water with us. OOPS.

So I'm sitting there for a bit, listening to the music, totally sober, while my friends are all getting really excited about how amazing everything feels and whatnot.

And then the cops showed up.

If you've ever attended underground raves like this, cops breaking up the party is a pretty common risk. It was one of my first times experiencing it though, so I was really anxious and scared.

They were letting everybody leave, but now I had a problem.

Driving under the influence is bad. It makes you a danger to others, AND it makes you susceptible to being put in jail. We were a bunch of trans-feminine/trans-women fleeing a broken up rave, and my other friends were as high as kites.

Luckily, I was sober. So... I became the designated driver.

But I was a designated driver with a time bomb in my throat.

At some point, that pill would dissolve and I'd get high.

But we've gotta get outta there to avoid the cops. A bunch of trans-feminine folks are not going to necessarily be on the good side of the cops.

So I drove. The traffic was terrible. I kept worrying about that pill in my throat while my friends comforted me in their drugged out ways.

I don't remember exactly when, but I'm pretty sure somewhere along the road, I stopped feeling like the thing was in my throat.

So I'm driving home and I'm like, “If I start coming up, we're pulling off to the side of the road and I'm gonna just rest here or something”

I'd love to end the story with an exciting tale of racing home as the effects of the drug were affecting me or something like that, but this story ends without too much more excitement.

The E finally entered my system some time during the drive, and I began feeling the effects around the time we got home. We wound up having a nice night in.

About 7 years ago, I used to do something that I call “Astro-Camping” all the time. This would involve driving out to some remote, dark location on a moonless night with my telescope and looking at the stars, galaxies, and more. I would do this about once a month and it was nearly a religious experience for me, in many ways. Seeing the universe laid out before me, the stars, galaxies, and nebulae that make up the tapestry of the sky. The history of all matter and energy.

I always try to involve as many people as I can in the things I love to do. Sometimes, things I do aren't accessible to others, so I modify what I'm doing to try to make it more accessible.

Camping in the wilderness was, at that time in my life, something I was pretty comfortable with. I spent several nights sleeping under the stars with nothing more than a coat as a blanket and the grass as a cushion. I was always pretty chill about this stuff, but not all my friends were.

One friend I knew had health issues that would prevent her from being able to participate in more extreme camping. So on this particular camping trip, I rented one of those big RV camper things so she'd have a real kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom to hang out in, away from the elements.

It was pricey AF, but it got her and her BF to come along and check out the stars with us!

Our campground would be Corn Springs Campground, roughly 10 hours of driving south of us.

The camping was amazing, and we all had a blast making breakfast, looking at stars, etc. I even got to see the spiral arms of the spiral galaxy that time! It was amazing!

As we began the journey back, we were all filled with wonder and delight and happily smiling to ourselves after spending a night in the wilderness looking at shiny pretties.

We were traveling north on I-5, climbing up the southern side of the Grapevine. For those that may not know, this is the road up into the mountains that line the northern part of the valley that Los Angeles exists within.

It was night time, and we were in the right lane, as we had this big ol' RV thing we were driving. In front of us was a Uhaul driving slowly in our lane, even more slowly than us. I moved left a lane to pass it.

I noticed something... sparks? IDK... while we were behind the Uhaul, but I couldn't really tell what it was until we pulled up alongside it.

The uhaul was towing a small car behind it, and sparks were shooting out of its rear driver's side wheel.

I was focused on driving, so I didn't think of what to do, but one of my friends ( @LesDragon@beach.city actually) looked out the window, saw the sparks, and screamed “Their car is on fire!”

She rolled her window down and yelled at the folks that their car was on fire and tried to wave them down. They didn't seem to get what was going on. So... I made a quick decision and ran them off the road.

Basically, I pulled in front of them and forced them to come to a stop. We all jumped out of the RV and ran towards them screaming about their car. It was around this time that I finally got to see what was really going on.

I learned later that the car had been sitting for a long time. And as a result, the wheels had somewhat rotted. What we saw is that the tire had deflated, and they were dragging the car on its rim. The sparks had ignited the tattered remains of the wheel, and the entire thing was on fire now.

While they tried to figure out what to do, I ran into the RV and grabbed the fire extinguisher that came with the RV. I gave it to the folks so they could try to extinguish the flames.

The fire didn't change. There was too much going on. As we watched, the flames grew and grew. The car went up faster than I could imagine. We kept stepping back more and more.

The couple was terrified. As the flames grew higher, they explained their situation.

They were a young couple recently married, leaving behind a dead-end life in Las Vegas to move to Oakland and start anew. Everything they owned was in that Uhaul. The car was a wedding gift from their in-laws.

They had never done anything like this before, so they had the old tires and a full tank of gas in the car. And that full tank of gas was clearly not helping things, as the car rapidly was engulfed in flames.

The poor couple was so distraught. Everything they owned was in there, and they kept trying to run back in to rescue some property or something. But the speed with which the flames were growing was so fast. If they ran back in, it could spread and hurt them.

My friend physically restrained them from running back multiple times saying “Your life isn't worth it! Don't do it!” They listened, thank goodness. And they didn't run back in. We just sat there helplessly watching as the flames grew and grew.

Eventually, the car was a roaring fire, and the uhaul itself started to catch on fire. It was at this point that I noticed that the grass around us had started burning.

I recently learned about how fast grassfires could spread, and I knew that the burning grass had potential to make the situation even worse. I sprang to action and shouted for everyone to get on the RV and I drove us a few hundred yards away so that we'd be safe in the event the fires suddenly spread further and caught us and our RV off guard.

It was around then that the fire department finally showed up and started putting things out. We slowly walked back to the scene.

The fire department put out the fire and got everything under control. It was around this time that I learned about the full tank of gas. The car was a wreck, and the uhaul had been damaged, but their stuff inside was mostly safe.

With everything under control, we left them by the side of the road, them tearfully thanking us for helping them out.

We drove away to the next rest stop, pulled off, and all of us just started crying together from what had just happened.

Things I learned:

  • Always put new tires on your car if you're towing it any long distance.
  • Always empty the gas tank when towing a car any appreciable distance.
  • RV companies will not charge you for using a fire extinguisher in an emergency

In the end, we were all rattled, but we felt good knowing that we had probably saved these folks from losing all the stuff in their uhaul in addition to their car.

I need to see

Everything around me falls apart Even though I’ve tried, I’ve done my part The terror the heart I see around me goes But in this place I know I know..

Here I am I see you calling back to me Everything I am we feel in all we see Reaching out to touch that part of me inside Everything I know I need I wish… I could hide.

Ohhhh I need to see Oohhhh I need to be Ohhhh I need to see Oohhhh I need to be

Sinking in the feeling of this place Falling in the fears around I must face Darkness is the soul I’ve always known Facing down the truth that it’s my own.

And now I see I need to go out there Looking farther than I’ve ever dared to stare Dreaming dreams beyond my highest destiny It’s not for you, It’s not for them, It’s just for me

Bridge

I need to see the parts of me you cannot see Walking down this path I need me What’s the meaning of this all? Can I even make the call?

Never tear me away from myself again Ripping tearing sense of what I am Burning deep inside it calls to me The answer to my dreams my heart, my me

Ohhhh I need to see Oohhhh I need to be Ohhhh I need to see Oohhhh I need to be

A friend of mine, who joined my server beach.city, asked me the other day about concerns around privacy regarding Mastodon and similar decentralized volunteer-run software solutions. One of his biggest concerns is who can read what, and what the implications of that could be. We talked for a while and ended the conversation that day, as it was on New Year's Eve and the ball was dropping and all... But I thought I should go into more detail into my thoughts and understandings around privacy and similar issues related to mastodon and whatnot.

Let's start by talking about what Mastodon privacy currently looks like, after which we'll compare that to corporate social media, then consider some possible scenarios regarding privacy violations, how they might occur, and what the consequences would be for the admins.

What Mastodon's privacy looks like

Mastodon, as you may know, is a decentralized social network. Each individual server (or “instance”) of Mastodon is completely self-contained and owned and operated by a volunteer individual or group. The implication of this is substantial. A Mastodon instance runs on a server owned by the instance administrator, and that server stores all your private DMs as well as all the images that you share

That means that an administrator could, if they really wanted to, read your DMs and look at your pictures. However, it's not easy to do that. All of these images and private messages are all stored in databases and hidden under various user ids and stuff. In fact, the standard Mastodon software does not permit an admin to do this using that software. An admin would have to create their own software in order to gain access to this content, or know the right commands to execute on the database and what files to hunt down.

This concern is multiplied by the fact that this is the case for any server that you interact with. If @alyx@beach.city sends a private DM to @kris@yiff.life, both myself (The admin of beach.city) and Sky (the admin of yiff.life) have access to that DM, should we dig into the database/files to find it.

How does this compare to commercial social networks?

Pretty much any twitter/instagram/Facebook employee (with appropriate access credentials) could gain access to your private messages in much the same way that admins at a particular Mastodon instance could do so. The company itself can also use its access to your private messages to determine your demographics and interests for targeted advertising.

Both corporate and non-corporate social networks have the common risk that you're turning your information over to another entity. The question you need to ask is “Who do you trust with your information?”. With private, volunteer-run social media, you have to ask yourself if the admins, and their surrounding communities, are trustworthy. With corporate social media, you have to ask yourself if the company is trustworthy.

I frequently look at motivations to answer that question. Corporate social media is profit driven. They want to make money off of your personal data, and off the opportunity to advertise to you. Private admins in the mastodon community are often motivated by contributing to the larger mastodon community.

Both private and corporate social media are subject to the laws and regulations where they are located, as well as international law in the case of users and admins in different jurisdictions. Any violation of your privacy by the owners of a social media network can potentially be redressed via the local legal system(s), where applicable and appropriate.

Where they differ regarding this is in the extra layers before legal redress. In the case of a corporate social network, the company can take action against bad actors inside their company, such as firing an employee that abuses their access. In private social networking, the extra layer is really the meta-layer social network between network administrators. That is, if it is revealed that a mastodon administrator is abusing their users' privacy, other administrators can block access to that server to protect their users and isolate that admin away from themselves.

These are different, and neither is really better than the other. Personal and community bias are more likely in the private case, whereas impersonal bias is more likely in the corporate case.

How it might play out

The problem with the corporate case is that what I'm calling “impersonal bias” is really their inability to understand the needs of small groups of people or to adjudicate in conflicts. Without understanding the nuances and cultural context, a fight between TERFs and trans people can be difficult to understand who is wielding power and who is not, for example.

The private social media case enables moderators and admins to have better visibility into the particular social issues that plague a particular group. Moreover, groups are capable of self-selecting who they do and do not want to be interacting with, which can allow peace between groups that have toxic interactions. Of course, the challenge with this is that personal biases, such as not liking the right fan fiction slash pairing, can wind up coming into play if an admin has strong feelings about that, and there's no corporate team around them protecting folks from that.

However, one saving grace from this is the community aspect of moderation. If an instance administrator is moderating things in a way that other admins deem inappropriate, or worse, is violating people's privacy, admins that find out will suspend or ban that instance. We've already seen multiple examples of this, where an instance admin was not moderating well, where an instance admin was talking about violating user privacy to mine data, and more. In every case, admins highlighted the behavior, shared it with other admins, and collectively blocked access between that instance and their own.

Final thoughts

For myself, I am of the opinion that Mastodon is a safer social network than the corporate social networks. I trust a community of individuals far more than I'd ever trust a corporation to make good decisions for my community. I know that the admins I work with aren't trying to make money off me. They're not selling my data for a profit. They're not abusing my privacy. And I know that they'll understand more nuances about my demographic situation if and when a conflict arises.

If I suggest that replies should mention @pandora_parrot@beach.city, will that work here? Because otherwise, I don't think replies will reach me at all on this platform.