My opinion on the current batch of “AI” services based on Large Language Models continues to develop, but I realized today one analogy for how I currently feel.

I’ve begun to feel about LLM-driven AI bots the way I feel about sudoku puzzles.

Most people think of “sudoku” as a 9x9 puzzle with 17 or more given digits arranged so that when a person adds digits to make a finished grid that includes 1-9 in each row, column, and 3x3 box, there is only one possible arrangement. Given that definition, it’s pretty easy to write software that generates such puzzles, and many, many, many people have.

Books and magazines are published filled with computer-generated puzzles, websites generate them on demand or on schedule, and while there is a technical a finite number of possible starting grids (5,472,730,538 without mirrored or rotated grids), the set feels infinite.

While I had discovered a few variants (Killer Sudoku and Sudoku-X) long ago, it was only watching Cracking the Cryptic during the pandemic that I learned there is so much more to sudoku puzzles. Even if one is limited to “classic sudoku” puzzles fitting the definition I outlined above, there is still a vast gulf between a typical computer-generated puzzle and one hand-crafted to lead the solver along a path, finding telegraphed deductions in a certain order the bring joy.

LLM-driven AI chatbots are like computer-generated sudoku puzzles.

They meet the definition of conversational communication, and follow the rules, but they lack the spark and joy of hand-crafted human communication.

I won’t do computer-generated classic sudoku puzzles any more, because once I got into the hand-crafted variety, the generated puzzles seem like a waste of time.

I think reading well-written communication, fiction or non-fiction, provides the same result: once you’ve read a good article or book, the computer-generated stuff just falls flat.

With iOS 17, I was really impressed by how well my AirPods were handled. Gone were my frustrations of having the AirPods connect to a seemingly-random device, and having trouble manually switching to the one I actually wanted to use. With iOS 17, it seemed as if the AirPods would connect to multiple devices simultaneously, and just “move” to whichever one of them was generating sound actively. So I could watch something on my laptop while my phone sat inches away silently and my Mac mini sat a half-meter farther away also silently, and if I wanted to interrupt the movie to watch a YouTube clip, I could just hit ‘Play’ on the Mac mini, and the movie would pause on the laptop, while my AirPods started giving me the audio from the desktop. It felt magical!

A few days ago, I updated to iOS 17.2 If I could go back to whatever I was running before, I would.

Now the two computers still work the way they did before, but only if I manually disconnect the AirPods from my phone. Otherwise, the phone grabs the AirPods after about 30 seconds, despite the phone sitting silently in StandBy mode. It will pop up a widget so that I could play music if I wanted to, which I don’t. I have to manually connect the laptop to the AirPods again, which works. Then I have to hit Play on the laptop again, which works. And then about 30 seconds later: BOOM. The video pauses, I hear the tone that tells me I’ve connected to something new, and I see either the aforementioned paused music widget, or a little tiny indicator in the top center of the StandBy face indicating that it has audio output. It doesn’t. It’s silent.

It will do this at least four times in a row, which is how long it took me to give up and manually disconnect them from the phone.

This is worse than it was prior to iOS 17, which I was unhappy with at the time!

This is a pretty amazing video that demonstrates the state of the art of the leading LLM.

Wyatt Cheng is a Game Director at Blizzard Entertainment, so his results are based on what is visible in the video, as well as years of experience. Still, he was able to produce a working game without writing any code himself, relying on the Unity toolchain, ChatGPT-generated code, and his own experience and understanding.

As he says in the video, we’re still not quite at the point were someone with no ability or experience can create a game using Chat-GPT, but we’re very close. More to the point, I think this opens news doors for someone who “thinks like a programmer,” but maybe lacks C# experience and has therefore felt intimidated by Unity.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising that this seems to support my priors, but I continue to see these amazing LLMs more as productivity enhancers than as job destroyers. Not to say some jobs won’t be destroyed! Enhancing the productivity of developers means that any large enough team now needs fewer developers. It’s also more clear than ever to me that those who can communicate clearly and completely have an advantage in dealing with LLMs.

I think it’s reasonable to be concerned about the developer pipeline when junior-level work can be accomplished almost as easily as it can be described. How will junior developers ever become senior developers if they can’t get jobs doing junior development and building experience? I’m interested in how we will solve this challenge as an industry.

In the meantime, I’m enjoying having ChapGPT write shell scripts and simple Go functions for me.

This is a really great summary of almost everything I’ve typed on the subject of LLMs in the last week or three, but the writer was much more concise:

Today is a day for posing puzzles to ChatGPT, I guess, but it’s not my first time doing so. I’d previously asked the classic river-crossing puzzle, changing the names of the traditional animals and vegetable to avoid triggering known sequences of words. Previously I had been using the March 14 public release of ChatGPT, but just now I regenerated with the March 23 public release, which might or might not be using the same underlying model.


Q. Suppose I have a blurple, a mantiple and a hoje, and I need to get them across a river. I have a boat that can only carry myself and a single other item. I am not allowed to leave the blurple and hoje alone together, and I am not allowed to leave the hoje and mantiple alone together. How can I safely get all three across?

ChatGPT: This is a classic river crossing puzzle. Here’s one possible solution:

ChatGPT: 1. Take the blurple across the river, leaving the mantiple and hoje behind.

ChatGPT: 2. Leave the blurple on the other side of the river and return to the original side.

ChatGPT: 3. Take the hoje across the river and leave it there with the blurple.

ChatGPT: 4. Take the mantiple across the river and leave it with the hoje.

ChatGPT: 5. Return to the original side of the river and retrieve the blurple.

ChatGPT: 6. Finally, take the blurple across the river to join the mantiple and hoje on the other side.

ChatGPT: This solution ensures that no two items that cannot be left alone together are ever left alone together.

While the answer claims to recognize and understand the problem, it gives a bad answer. At step 1, the hoje eats the mantiple, and at step 3, the hoje eats the blurple. Then at step 4, the hoje eats the mantiple a second time.

But let’s try again! Today’s answer is:

ChatGPT: This is a classic puzzle that requires careful planning to solve. Here’s one possible solution:

ChatGPT: 1. Take the blurple and the hoje across the river. Leave the blurple on the other side and come back alone.

ChatGPT: 2. Take the mantiple across the river. Leave it on the other side with the blurple, and bring the hoje back with you.

ChatGPT: 3. Leave the hoje on the original side and take the blurple back across the river.

ChatGPT: 4. Finally, take the hoje across the river to reunite it with the mantiple and the blurple.

ChatGPT: By following these steps, you ensure that the blurple and hoje are never left alone together, and neither are the hoje and mantiple. All three items are safely transported across the river.

Loud, exasperated sigh!

Compare and contrast the question, which includes “I have a boat that can only carry myself and a single other item,” with this answer, which starts “Take the blurple and the hoje across the river.” That breaks the rules in a new way, and goes on to still let the hoje eat the blurple in step 1. Meanwhile, the blurple is on both sides of the river at once after step 2.

Syntax and probablistic word association is far more powerful than I expected it to be, but these logic puzzles certainly don’t give any indication of that, at least not with this model.

Wow, it gets worse! I asked a third question (adding one to each of the colors, plus three to the total in the source puzzle):

Q. A man has 56 socks in his drawer: 22 identical blue, 16 identical black and 18 identical red. The lights are out and he is completely in the dark. How many socks must he take out to make 100 percent certain he has at least one pair of black socks?

ChatGPT: To make 100% certain that he has at least one pair of black socks, the man needs to take out only 3 socks.

ChatGPT: Here’s why:

ChatGPT: The worst-case scenario for the man is that he picks out all of the blue socks and all of the red socks before he gets to the black socks. In that case, he would have picked out 22 + 18 = 40 socks without getting a pair of black socks.

ChatGPT: However, as soon as he picks out the 41st sock, it will be a black sock. So, he only needs to take out 3 socks (the first two to get a different color than black, and the third to get a black sock) to make sure that he has at least one pair of black socks.

What? That’s… the correct answer is 42, not 3!

Is it going to get all of these wrong? That is not what I expected!

Q. The day before two days after the day before tomorrow is Saturday. What day is it today?

ChatGPT: If the day before two days after the day before tomorrow is Saturday, then today is Thursday.

ChatGPT: Here’s why:

ChatGPT: “Two days after the day before tomorrow” is the same as “two days after today”. So, if the day before two days after the day before tomorrow is Saturday, then we can write it as:

ChatGPT: The day before (two days after today) is Saturday.

ChatGPT: Let’s work backwards from Saturday:

ChatGPT: If two days after today is Saturday, then today is Thursday.
ChatGPT: So, the day before (two days after today) is Wednesday.
ChatGPT: And, the day before Wednesday is Tuesday.
ChatGPT: Therefore, if the day before two days after the day before tomorrow is Saturday, then today is Tuesday.

I’d like the spend some time marveling at an answer that starts out wrong, and then gets wronger.

The correct answer is that today is Friday. ChatGPT says that today is Thursday, then in the course of explaining why, changes the answer to Tuesday, without even acknowledging the change. Wow!

Okay, I’m going to try one more. it’s a classic, so surely it will get this one right, right? RIGHT?

Q. This “burning rope” problem is a classic logic puzzle. You have two ropes that each take an hour to burn, but burn at inconsistent rates. How can you measure 45 minutes? (You can light one or both ropes at one or both ends at the same time.)

ChatGPT: Here’s how you can measure 45 minutes using the two ropes:

ChatGPT: 1. Light one end of the first rope and both ends of the second rope at the same time.

ChatGPT: 2. The first rope will burn completely in 30 minutes (since it takes an hour to burn and you lit one end).

ChatGPT: 3. The second rope will burn completely in 15 minutes (since it takes an hour to burn and you lit both ends).

ChatGPT: 4. At the moment the first rope burns out (30 minutes after you started), light the other end of the second rope.

ChatGPT: 5. The remaining half of the second rope will burn in 15 minutes (since it now only has half the length to burn).

ChatGPT: Therefore, the second rope will have burned for a total of 30 + 15 = 45 minutes when the remaining half burns out.

I genuinely thought it would do better than this by parroting syntax alone. I didn’t even change any words in the last two questions, so it’s possible or even probable that the source document was in its training data. Yet still spicy autocomplete gave answers that were literally nonsense.

Consider ChatGPT’s second bullet point: “The first rope will burn completely in 30 minutes (since it takes an hour to burn and you lit one end).” What? No. Just, no.

It’s clear that it was fed the classic puzzle in training data, as it uses words that suggest exposure to the question, but since it doesn’t understand the words its using, it’s literally putting out nonsense.

ChatGPT (March 23) is 0 for 5, or maybe 0.5 for 5 on the 50/50 question.

Now people are free to chime in and tell me that the March 23 model is just v3.5turbo, while v4 (currently available only to paying customers) gets all of these correct. Which I could easily believe! I expected syntactical clues and common training data to result in better than 0 for 5, certainly!

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More fun testing with the March 23 version of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. I tried a few logic puzzles I consider simple. In case the exact page I pulled these from were used in training, I changed “duck” to “fridge” in this one:

Q. There are two fridges in front of a fridge, two fridges behind a fridge and a fridge in the middle. How many fridges are there?

ChatGPT: If we assume that “a fridge” refers to the fridge in the middle, then there are a total of 5 fridges.

ChatGPT: There are two fridges in front of the middle fridge and two fridges behind the middle fridge, making a total of four fridges. Add in the fridge in the middle, and the total is 5 fridges.

This is, of course, incorrect. The fridge referred to as “a fridge” changes with each reference, which is why it’s “a fridge” each time, rather than “the fridge.” There are three.

Let’s try a different one:

Q. Peter is looking at Susan. Susan is looking at Freddy. Peter is married, Freddy is not, and we don’t know if Susan is married. Is a married person looking at an unmarried person?

ChatGPT: Yes, a married person is looking at an unmarried person.

ChatGPT: Peter is married and looking at Susan who we don’t know if she’s married or not. Susan is looking at Freddy, who is not married. Therefore, Peter (a married person) is looking at Freddy (an unmarried person).

I’m not sure whether to give half credit here, or not. It had a 50% chance of giving the correct overall answer of “yes,” but the of the answer is nonsense. The correct answer is yes because if Susan is unmarried, Peter is looking at Susan, but if Susan is married, Susan is looking at Freddy. But the answer from ChatGPT appears to apply a commutative principle and claims that Peter is looking at Freddy, which is nonsense.

For the record, these were back-to-back questions in a fresh session, no cherry-picking. Try it yourself at

I’ve been posting comments frequently on Hacker News recently, mostly on threads related to ChatGPT.

I find myself incredibly impressed with ChatGPT, even the 3.5turbo version (aka Mar 14) currently available at It is an incredibly useful tool that surprises me regularly with amazing responses. I completely understand why so many people anthropomorphize it, and ascribe reasoning skills to it!

It also completely fails on a near-daily basis in my testing, and in odd ways, reminding me regularly that it’s mathematically-driven spicy autocomplete.

If you’re a skeptic, set your skepticism to the side for long enough to try it out, and see if you aren’t impressed.

If you’re a true believer, step back a bit. I think you’re falling into a very human trap, one which ChatGPT probably won’t, ironically.

If you’re fearful, don’t be! These are impressive tools, but they still need to be used by someone, and you can be that someone. If people end up losing their jobs because of ChatGPT, it will be because oligarchs decided to cut costs, not because spicy autocomplete took your job.

I don’t have well-polished arguments for anything related to the fediverse, but I have some impulses and instincts. They might be wrong, of course. But I see fears and concerns popping up that seem to be borne from some common fallacies, so I suspect those fears and concerns are not well-founded.

One example I keep seeing is resistance to large mastodon instances, that they’re antithetical to federation, that it is just re-inventing centralized social media to use them. We’d all be better off, some claim, with single-user instances! In this case, I get the concern about concentration of control, truly. Google seems to have damaged email as they’ve grown to more than a quarter of email use. That said, the nature of federation is complex, and it is not clear that very large instances are going to cause more problems than the fediverse already has. Which is not saying they won’t cause problems, just that avoiding them hasn’t helped avoid problems.

Already some of the largest servers around are blocked by a large number of smaller servers. For example, is the largest server currently, and it’s widely blocked. There are even a couple of well-known mastodon servers out there that make no attempt to federate with others whatsoever, for which most people are grateful. As I’ve posted before, some server admins are very, very quick to block and very, very unwilling to ever consider the possibility that they’ve misjudged a server. That’s their right! It’s frustrating to people aware of the issue, but has no known effect on people unaware of the issue, so that’s the system working as designed.

Let’s consider two hypothetical futures. One is a future in which the fediverse grows to more than 100 million active users, but no server has more than 200,000 active users, a number I picked as slightly higher than’s current active users. In this potential future, most people are on very small servers, even individual servers. There are at least a half-million servers, maybe millions. Each of them federates with… well, only with servers used by people someone follows, right? Which would make timelines seem desolate, since that’s the weakness of smaller servers. In fact, very smaller servers often rely on relays to deliver the wider fediverse, instead of having to rely solely on the follow list of a few users, or one. Of course, that puts quite a bit of load on the relay servers, making them somewhat expensive to operate, so I suspect there would be only a few very large relay servers, operated by larger organizations, and… wait a minute! Doesn’t this just shift the problem of control and concentration to the operators of relay servers? I think it does. What they choose to relay or not becomes near-synonymous with “what is mastodon,” and the fact that some smaller servers use smaller relays, or eschew relays altogether, won’t matter. Once the majority of servers uses relays, relays are the norm, and once one of those reliable and well-moderated relays grows to, say, 25% of servers, that’s the same position Google is in with email now. Call that scenario 1A.

The alternative scenario 1B might be that even with most of us on smaller servers, we don’t use relays. Instead, every server relies solely on federation with other servers. Of course, since popular users are spread around many different servers, that means each smaller server federates with a long list of popular servers, which eventually results in articles written in breathless tones about how mastodon has finally eclipsed pirated and adult content in terms of bandwidth, because now there are thousands of copies of all popular posts and images and videos, tens of thousands! The scaling issue and administration work involved would be incredibly limiting, with an obvious solution at hand: relay servers. Now we’re back to scenario 1A again, and back to similar issues to what we face today, with some relay servers attempting to provide every possible post from every possible server, while others are essentially opt-in and very focused, with a variety of relay servers in between the two extremes.

There’s another future, though! The future that some are afraid of is that companies like Medium and Mozilla and worse come along and build up gigantic servers. That more than 100 million active users means not 5 million servers, but 50,000 at most, with more than 10 million users each at a few of the biggest servers. To support more than 10 million users takes a lot of resources, so only large companies can afford that, and now, in scenario 2, we have most users using one of Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Medium, and Mozilla. Together they support more than half of the 100 million active fediverse users, giving them outsize control over the fediverse. What they say goes. It’s a disaster, right?

I think to answer that question, it might server to explain what’s wrong with Google’s outsized impact on email. It has definitely made some things easier! For example, a gmail address is so common that “” is an option on some kiosks. I don’t have to repeat or spell out anything after the at sign with a gmail address. People know what I mean. Google keeps most spam at bay, although the junk mail that sneaks through ebbs and flows, despite Google’s extensive efforts. They deliver a decent service that most people don’t have to think about, and they do it at no out-of-pocket cost to most users. Of course, there are downsides. If Google decides your mail server doesn’t take spam seriously in exactly they way they do, no more and no less, they may decide not to deliver your email to any gmail user. You’re a peer, but not really a peer, since Google is so much larger. If Google decides they don’t like you as a user, you’re hosed. You lose access to everything, not just your email, and there is basically no recourse or appeal. You do have alternatives, of course. You can start over with a or address, for example. Or you can upgrade to or take a step sideways with But it’s not pretty, and the more services they bundle together, and the more users they have, the uglier it gets.

So if Google’s hypothetical future mastodon server decides your server doesn’t do something in exactly the way they want, no more and no less, they may silence or block your server, so your posts don’t reach any “” user. If Google decides they don’t like you as a user, on either this or any other service they offer, you are very thoroughly hosed. You lose access to everything, email and mastodon included, without recourse or appeal. It’s really ugly.


But you do still have alternatives. If your favorite mastodon server focused on artists blocks the Google mastodon server, and they definitely would, you can create an account directly with that favorite mastodon server focused on artists, or any other non-Google mastodon server they don’t block. You can switch every time they block a server you’re on, and they do love to block servers.

This is how the fediverse is unlike single companies such as twitter, or facebook, or even spoutible. Even large servers aren’t re-inventing centralized social media, not as long as federation still exists. If the owner of twitter decides you don’t belong on twitter, that’s it. The same is true of facebook or spoutible. Some might be more or less likely to kick you off, but once you’re kicked off, that’s it. In contrast, there is no owner of the fediverse, nor of mastodon. If the primary developer of mastodon decides you don’t belong on the server he controls, then you’re kicked off of But you have currently tens of thousands of other options, and you can spin up a new one just for yourself at any of a number of hosting companies for around $6 or €5 per month. I could even install one on the NAS in my house, and might eventually. That will still be true even if the server you’re kicked off of serves more than 20% of the entire fediverse. That still leaves another nearly 80% for you, which is 80% more than you have with a centralized option.

I fear less a future in which big companies operate big fediverse servers, and more a future in which mastodon growth is limited by scaling issues with network bandwidth (in the case of too many servers trying to federate) or human bandwidth (because server moderation is a thankless job, and currently largely unpaid), or both.

Bring on the big players. I will probably stick with smaller servers that federate with the big players. The good news is that you have a choice! If you hate the very idea of the fediverse being for everyone, and want it to stop growing already, you can easily block any new servers that come online and start to grow. You can use your server-wide blocklist to maintain a tiny little bubble not much larger than those of gab or the server associated with the insurrectionist former POTUS. You can make your view of the fediverse as small as you want it to be, but you can’t stop others from making it ever-larger. It’s a great wide world out there, and I’m looking forward to seeing it.

I think Google’s current behavior is finally enough for me to commit fully to the @fastmail account I’ve been using for years now. I’ve been using @DuckDuckGo for years as well, and everything sent to my gmail address ends up in my Fastmail account, but email still goes through their servers first, because that’s the address I give people to reach me.

The thing that’s hard to give up is Google Docs. Buying Writely and XL2Web, then extending both products, they seem to be far and away above all competition in the space. But my loathing for Google keeps growing, maybe I’ll accept less to avoid them completely.

I kept reading this article, thinking about how none of the apps seemed useful or interesting to me, and suddenly there was one of my most-used and favorite apps, right there: @overcastfm!

I’ve been critical of Siri in the past, but over the last few days I’ve had several interactions with Siri that impressed me.

While driving, I asked Siri who owns Fiat. I expected to be told it couldn’t display information while driving, but instead Siri audibly told me that according to Wikipedia, Fiat is owned by FCA. When I asked, with an eyeroll, who owns FCA, Siri further explained that it’s a joint European-American company, Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles.

Later I said something like, “Hey, Siri, give me directions to 13353, no, wait, I meant 13553…” It was a foolish act of faith that I even finished giving the address, rather than aborting the process, but It rewarded my faith when it responded by giving me directions to the corrected address.

I just checked Wikipedia, and apparently FCA has been absorbed into Stellantis, so Siri’s version of Wikipedia is slightly out of date. Still, Siri was tracking context enough to know that when I asked about FCA, I mean the one it had just told me about, not any one of the other dozens of things those initials could stand for.

More importantly, I’ve had negative experiences related to both of those use-cases in the past, so there have clearly been recent improvements to Siri’s language-parsing.

The remaining area in which I get the most hit-or-miss results is playing music. Sometimes I am very clear: “play the song with the lyrics ‘correct lyrics,”” for example. Sometimes I give incorrect lyrics, and it’s usually okay with that, too. But every now and again I’ll ask for a particular song or album and it will offer up something that suggests that Siri occasionally imbibes in recreational drugs to excess. Just bizarre responses, not at all what I asked for, presumably related by some tangential path via lyrics in songs I don’t know. I haven’t been asking Siri to play things for weeks now, after a particularly-frustrating exchange, but perhaps I should give it a shot.

None dare call it a regression, but I was once able to use /me in iMessage on MacOS and it would handle that as IRC servers do, turning it into a reference to myself in the third person.

/me misses that feature

would become, in italics, centered:

pwinn misses that feature

I’m not afraid of MacOS becoming “too iOS-like,” because I think Apple correctly recognizes the differences between them. But I am sad that when they standardized the code base between the two platforms, MacOS lost /me handling, rather than iOS gaining it.

Mastodon’s federated nature makes it highly-resistant to takeover by oligarchs, and even more highly-resistant to destruction, but it does have its downsides.

One is localized shutdowns. A very popular mastodon server (, 17k active) is shutting down completely because the owner is tired of dealing with the messages he’s been getting, and doesn’t want to pass control to anyone else, since he pledged absolute privacy for existing members. Another popular server (, 6.5k active) announced a shutdown, but has apparently been rescued by someone who is operating it in what he calls “no-new-users mode.” In both cases, three months notice was given, and mastodon allows people who move from one server to another to take their following/followers list with them, but not their post/comment history.

So that one is a negative with some positive aspects (90 days notice, partial migration options).

The other is defederation. Again, there are positives and negatives to this. More positives than negatives overall, but definitely negative for me personally. On the one hand, it’s very easy to block bad actors at a high level so that individual users need not even be aware they exist. On the other hand, server owners can defederate from any other server at any time for any reason, and there is no recourse or appeal for anyone involved. I happen to be on a server with an admin who seems to rub people the wrong way. While some very active blockers acknowledge that my server shouldn’t be blocked on that basis alone, others have decided that since this server’s admin doesn’t defederate as much as they would like, he should himself be defederated.

It’s clear that this server is an edge case for some people. Strict policies against racism and hate speech and so on seem to be enforced, and nobody can seem to point to any examples of bad actors whose accounts haven’t been suspended, but the owner insists on using the “academic free speech” label, which is one word longer than a label used by people fond of hate speech, and his attempts to get people to look closer and realize it’s a well-moderated server sound suspiciously like the sea-lioning people fond of hate speech frequently engage in.

A more principled person might stand their ground and insist that right is right, and pressuring people into defederating is intolerant bullying, but honestly, if I had known it was going to be such an issue, I’d probably have switched servers before writing and boosting 850 posts, many of which are longer than the maximum length allowed by most mastodon servers.

Now I’m in this spot where, during Black History Month, I’m boosting @mekkaokereke’s daily posts about white history, but he doesn’t know that, because his server limits mine. I’ve recommended that people follow him, but I myself cannot, because he is set to approve all followers, and he’ll never see my request because, again, his server limits mine. I’ve posted comments in response to his posts that have picked up some engagement, as people have starred and boosted my comment far and wide, but he’ll never know that. In fact, although does not actually appear on the list of blocked (defederated) servers, it’s clear that server has limited mine. That means that I can see his content when others boost it, but he can’t see mine unless he follows me, which he won’t because he doesn’t know I exist.

I noticed just today that one of his recent posts has five responses I can see on my server, including my own, and also has five responses on his server, including one I can’t see on my server. His server doesn’t list my popular comment, but does list a comment from another server that completely blocks mine.

And that’s weird! It’s confusing if you don’t understand what’s happening, and a definite downside that people who probably agree on everything are blocked from seeing each other because of disagreements at some other level out of their control. I do have some recourse: I could switch servers. I probably will someday. But that recourse is not without downsides itself.

I could switch to a single-user instance, and then I would be nobody’s mercy. But I would also have to work hard to build up the view I have now, since my local feed would be only me, and my federated feed would reach no farther than the servers I already know about. I could switch to another big instance, but even they don’t seem to be immune to shutdowns or defederation, as (8k active) blocking (146k active) demonstrates.

I could have picked a different starting server, but I was told over and over that “it doesn’t really matter,” and this one has a lot of upsides along with this downside.

Ultimately, the federated web is messy, and I don’t think there’s a solution that doesn’t make things worse for those on the receiving end of targeted harassment. I’d rather deal with this than be subject to the whims of a single owner, but at least I’m aware – and now you are aware – that there are some downsides.

I started this Black History Month with a plan to posting something every day about Black History, and boost Black people doing the same. After all, I went through what I once called an “awakening” as an adult, but since “woke” is now a word that means “anything Republicans don’t like,” I guess I’d say my eyes were opened, instead. If I can help other wypipo open their eyes, that’s good, right? And most of us could use a reminder of things we already know, which is why we have annual events like birthdays and Black History Month.

Boosting is easy. Mastodon depends on people boosting posts, and I follow a lot of Black people already, and I’ve started following more this month. My list of follows has a lot of nerdy people, since I’m heavily into myself, but also writers and teachers and just people living their lives.

I’m not sure how well the “Black History for wypipo” approach is going, to be honest. Every day I post things I think are interesting or educational, and shortly before or after that, I witness a masterclass in How to Do It from @mekkaokereke, who was previously on my list as a nerd, but it turns out is so, so much more.

I don’t want to center this on myself, which is why I’m avoiding talking much about my own history of learning Black History. I took an embarrassingly long time to learn what I should have learned in elementary school, and I think many other wypipo could say the same. I’ve read a lot of books, and I have some very patient and well-educated Black friends who haven’t pointed and laughed like they had every right to do, but have instead patiently recommended more books and pointed out areas of my staggering ignorance. In our modern age, it’s amazing what you can learn for free online, and there are books on almost everything that can be delivered right to your door!

So maybe I’ll recommend some books I’ve enjoyed, but I’m just a wypipo who has read some books. I hope others might chime in with books they recommend, and then I won’t have to talk too much about many times I’ve bought Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, because I keep loaning it out and not getting it back!

The unrelenting pervasive nature of white history as the default leads to most people forming unconscious ideas about roles we can each play. It is incredibly and sadly common for people to believe that white European society is the pinnacle of civilization, as evidenced by… [waves all around] Never mind that Steve Jobs’ father was Syrian, clearly white people invented technology, right? Never mind that mathematics was developed far from western lands, to the point that we now study algebra, or الجبر al-jabr, developed while Europe was mired in tribal warfare.

It’s a vicious cycle: if you believe that everything you see was invented by white people, then you believe that white people invented everything, because each set of false information reinforces the other.

Wypipo, open your eyes! Here’s a popular meme image of just a few things invented by Black people, and the full list is so much longer. This list is so long mastodon won’t let me put the entire text description in the alt tag, so I’ll add it as a reply to this post.

Oh, consequences of my own inaction, why are you inevitably here at my doorstep, costing my $9.2 million each day?

I mean, not my inaction, but someone’s inaction. And since it’s not my inaction, it’s fun to watch.

I was not aware before this week that Apple, like Spotify, makes on-demand audio shows available to subscribers without making them available as podcasts, and yet audaciously calls them “Apple Podcast Subscriptions.” This is bad behavior, antithetical to the spirit of podcasting, and Apple should know better.

I learned about it via Hacker News from Matt Basta:

I don’t use the Apple Podcasts app, because @overcastfm is really great, and most of the Apple’s podcast-related web pages seem to be focused on the usual podcast stuff, same as they have been since 2005 or so. Little did I know that things changed in 2021! That is apparently when they launched this:


I get the appeal of the pitch for podcasters. If you have an existing podcast and are tired of paying $5/month or more to host the audio files, you might hear about “Apple Podcasts Subscriptions” and see that they charge only $20/year, and you aren’t required to charge for a subscription. It certainly isn’t clear on the publicly-available pages I’ve seen that this is going to break your podcast, making it no longer freely available everywhere! Instead, even if your show is free, it will be encrypted with DRM and there will be no feed for clients not owned by Apple. They have many lawyers, so it’s probable that this disclosure is buried somewhere in the fine print as you sign up, but it’s still bad behavior.

A podcast is on-demand audio available in any podcast client via a syndication feed. Usually this means MP3 files via RSS, but M4A files via Atom would still fit the description. It’s possible to offer subscriptions to podcasts, and even charge for them. Even on Apple’s own list of “Podcast hosting providers” they list four providers that do so, but the normal way to handle that involves either HTTP Basic Authentication or tokens in the Feed URL, not DRM and proprietary clients.

Once you take away the feed and lock down consumption to only your apps, you’re not producing a podcast anymore. You’re producing a proprietary on-demand audio show. That Spotify and Apple use the word “Podcast” in their product descriptions is deceptive, but co-opting popular labels is somewhat common, and reasonably-aware people should be able to see through that.

I understand the appeal of this for Spotify and Apple, too. They can both say, “using our app, you can listen to any podcast ever made anywhere, PLUS a bunch of shows exclusive to us!” But of course, Spotify’s exclusives can’t be listened to in Apple Podcasts, and “Apple Podcasts Subscriptions” can’t be listened to in Spotify, because they’re not actually podcasts at that point. It’s a short-sighted approach with lasting damage.

Shame on Apple for playing this losing game.

The more I dig into GoodReads exports, the more I realize how utterly broken they are, almost to the point of uselessness.

Assuming I manually edit the CSV file to eliminate the corrupt data from the GoodReads database, I’m still left with a file which contains “date completed” but not “date started,” and nearly every “date completed” is wrong. Usually off by one, sometimes by more.

I’m not sure which is worse, the missing data or the wrong data, but both require me to manually look up each book. Which I wish I had done before the very-recent rollout of the new book page, because I seem to recall both dates being visible directly on the book page, while now they require scrolling, clicking, and clicking again. It’s possible the new book page is more usable for people who want to keep using GoodReads, but it’s abysmal for people trying to leave and realizing the GoodReads export function is no good.

On the positive side, it’s easy to add missing books to Bookwyrm, and some have turned out to not be missing, just missed while importing.

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Bookrastinating update: I imported my completed books from 2021 onward, 269 books. Of those, 35 items failed to import, and a few more are missing cover images. 12 of the 35 which failed have ISBNs, so those failures were somewhat surprising, although most of them are either very old (first published in the 1920s), or clearly Amazon-only (the entire Hollywood Alphabet series by M.Z. Kelly makes up 20 of the 35).

For all of the faults of GoodReads, I’m not sure I’ve ever tried to add a book to my library that it didn’t already know about, other than the book I wrote myself.

It is in the nature of open platforms not owned by corporate behemoth’s to require a bit of effort, so I’ll add cover images for the books missing them. I’ll also poke around this weekend to figure out how to add the 35 books it apparently doesn’t know about, which I note includes a book by Erle Stanley Gardner, author of the Perry Mason series of books. It’s not a Perry Mason book, though, it’s another series of his.

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