I am on Mastodon now

Those who know me, are aware that I am some sort of Hipster. As such, I of course have to be ahead of all the latest trends and topics de jour. In social media, that means that I of course need to have a Mastodon handle. In case you haven’t heard of Mastodon, here’s a short summary:

  • Mastodon is a microblogging service based on GNU-Social
  • Everyone can set up their own instance and then federate with other instances to create a global network
  • Identities are only unique within their instance. Same as email really, where you can have the same name on several domains.

So, what makes this different than, say Identi.ca, Diaspora and similar things? For once, it already looks much more polished than Diaspora. And then it also manages to overcome quite a lot of the shortcomings that are inherent to the Twitter-clones:

  • There is an expanded limit of 500 characters for each „toot“. That is wordy enough for me.
  • There are two extra timelines that you can see – everyone on the same Instance and everyone else who is somehow connected to the people in your instance. That ensures that you see things happening and get connected to folks right from the start.
  • The federation system gets rid of the pesky free-speech vs moderation clash. More on that later.

So, what is it with the three timelines and the federation system? The basic setup is this: You have a home timeline, which shows everything from those folks you actively follow. You can follow users on your own instance, as well as those who are on any instance that is federated with the one you’re on. That basically means everyone, unless their instance is viewed as so toxic and bad that your admin has decided to get rid of them altogether. In effect, the Home timeline is what you’re used from all the other social networks.

On top of that, you have a „Local“ timeline. That list shows all the activity from everyone who is a user on the same instance as you. This immediately shows one reason why it is important to choose the correct instance to have your account in: If the instance you join is full of gaming nerds, you will have a very different experience than if it would be full of artists or political activists.

The third timeline is the Federated one. Here you basically see everyone who isn’t local or in your home stream, but somehow connected to one of those people. Friends of a friend so to speak. The exact rules are a bit more complicated, but that is the gist of it.

I really cannot stress how useful I found these extra two timelines. While I have no idea how many people are on the same instance as I am (octodon.local, chosen because the about page is simply spot on to my worldview.),  it apparently is exactly the right size: The local stream is busy, but not too busy. And as a result, people take the time to chime into conversations there and answer open questions. On other social networks, those questions would probably either not be seen, or drowned in the sea of everything else.

Now, with every new tech project, there are of course immediate philosophical differences: One of them is the use of FollowerBots. Those are bits of software that simply follow every person on a different instance that they learn of, making sure that the activity of those people becomes visible in the instance of that bot. As an end result, the bots aim to change the behaviour of that Federated timeline from showing friends-of-friends only to showing everyone. Personally, I am not yet sure if I like this. The upside is that if this bothers you, you can for example join an instance that blocks those bots.

The other issue seems to revolve around censorship and free speech. My own stance is that you can say what you want, but not everyone is required to listen to you. And the federation system of Mastodon allows for exactly this: Everyone can set up their own instance, and everyone can give being heard a good shot. But if you spout stuff that upsets people, they can make sure that you don’t show up in their timeline.

(You should be aware though, that the whole Mastodon concept is not very privacy-oriented. There are lots of loopholes and pitfalls, and server admins can usually read everything on their instance if they absolutely want to.)

Still, the whole Federation system allows for a wide variety of needs on the whole free-speech-vs-censorship spectrum. And that allowance in turn fosters a discussion about these very things, with the results of that discussion ending up in the code and settings of the various instances. (keep in mind that the whole thing is open source after all!)

I think I’ll use Mastodon for most of my daily status update needs for a week or so now, to see where I end up with this. See the results here: https://octodon.social/@JollyOrc

Why I don’t identify as sysadmin anymore

I used to be a sysadmin. And I like to think that I was pretty good at my job. These days, my work is much more managerial with a strong emphasis on communication. The command line and I only meet occasionally, and I have to get help whenever I do something more complicated with regular expressions. Still, I apparently have retained enough skills that the Head of Cloud Operations at my current workplace occasionally says things like „oh, you can do that?“ in a positively surprised tone. But I usually do know my limits and what not to touch.

This is the story of when I failed to recognize my limits.

Knowing that I’m not an admin, this webpage resides on a server that is run by a webhosting company. They worry over security patches, uptime, sensible database configuration and so on, because I know that I’ll probably screw this up. I am allowing myself to change database tables, tinker with some of the htaccess settings and… DNS. That is one of those things that I don’t touch a lot, as there is no need for this on a daily basis.

And thus, I completely forgot about the SPF record when changing the MX entries to support my G Suite setup when I switched hosting last year. As a quick recap, let me quote Google what it’s about:

The purpose of an SPF record is to prevent spammers from sending messages with forged From addresses at your domain. Recipients can refer to the SPF record to determine whether a message purporting to be from your domain comes from an authorized mail server.

Quite the important and nifty functionality. I actually knew of it already, but didn’t realize that the new webhoster had this implemented as a standard. So while I successfully switched all the MX entries, I overlooked the SPF setting.

Alas, there are a lot of email servers that happily ignore a faulty SPF setting, even Google kept receiving emails despite the wrong setting. And you don’t really get an error message on the senders part, because no one talks back to (even only suspected) spammers. So nearly everything seemed fine: I was sending and receiving mails on a daily basis and this configuration error wasn’t discovered for nearly half a year. Only when I started to worry that one email recipient didn’t answer at all and a friend who actually is an admin looked into the matter for me.

So, the lesson here is: The Dunning Kruger effect is sometimes closer to home than you think. Whenever you do something only occasionally, maybe talk to someone who does it regularly, to make sure that technology hasn’t advanced past your own experience in the meantime. And if you use G Suite, here’s how to set the SPF correctly.

Das kannste schon so machen…

shirt Zwei rollenspielspezifische Diskussionen laufen derzeit durch meine Timeline. Zum einen zur X-Card, zum anderen die Sache mit Romantik, Liebe & Sex und, daran angehangen, die zur Sprache.

Das T-Shirt an der rechten Seite dieses Textes fasst die Aussage der Diskussionsbeiträge quer über alles meiner Ansicht schön zusammen. Und genau das nervt mich daran.

Es sollte doch so langsam Konsens geben, dass es nicht „die eine korrekte“ Art von Rollenspiel gibt. Da gibt es Hilfsmittel, die für die einen ganz knorke sind, und für andere als komplett sinnbefreit angesehen werden. (Ich werde z.B. nie die Sache mit den Dicetowern nachvollziehen können.) Und das ist völlig in Ordnung. Muss ja nicht jeder das gleiche mögen, wäre ja auch langweilig.

Was mich gewaltig stört ist die Tatsache, dass das abweichende Ideen häufig genug entweder als Ausdruck einer Charakterschwäche angesehen oder einfach als grundlegend albern abgelehnt werden. Eine Aussage wie „Ich bin erwachsen und reif, und brauche das nicht“ zielt eben nicht auf einen selber, sondern auf diejenigen, die das anders sehen.

Ich bin ein großer Freund von Zaks Beiträgen. Zak schreibt sehr polemisch, aber eines macht er nie: Behaupten, dass etwas die Falsche Art von Spaß [tm] sei. Er zeigt auf, wenn jemand sich selbst widerspricht, und nennt die Leute Dummköpfe, die Meinungen als Tatsachenbehauptungen verkaufen wollen.

Und diese Tatsachenbehauptungskiste ist genau das, was in den oben genannten Diskussionen viel zu häufig passiert: „Das kannste schon so machen, aber dann isses halt Kacke.“

Statt: „dann isses halt nicht mein Ding.“

Davon ab: Ich persönlich spiele übrigens ohne X-Karten, will aber niemanden absprechen, mit diesen zu spielen. Und wenn die jemand zum Spieltisch mitbringt, dann stehe ich auch nicht sofort auf. Generell gilt: Nur weil jemand irgend etwas an den Spieltisch bringt, ist das noch lange kein Idiot. Die Frage ist, was damit und daraus gemacht wird, und wie sich die Person dabei mir gegenüber verhält.

(Übrigens: „Falsch“ Rollenzuspielen ist einfach nur eine andere Sorte von Spaß zu bevorzugen. Andere Leute pauschal abzuurteilen und auszugrenzen, oder über Versuche inklusiv zu sein einfach drüberzutrampeln (Stichwort: „Das hammer schon imma so jemacht!“) – das ist meiner Ansicht nach tatsächlich einfach nur Kacke.

10 things you didn’t know about rape, RPG and – ach, screw this!

A few days back, this thing made the rounds: Games sure are classy. In case you missed it, here’s the summary: Someone was selling a game module on DriveThruRPG that was named „Tournament of Rapists“. Someone else got upset about this and complained to DriveThruRPG, who… showed a remarkable inability when it comes to a) understanding the issue and b) how to handle this sort of complaint.

They got a lot of flak for this, so, after the weekend, they went into full defence mode:

Their new policy states: „If a reported title looks questionable, then we will suspend it from sale while we review its content internally, and we will speak with its publisher to determine the fate of the title on our marketplace. Our default will be to suspend titles rather than our prior default of letting titles stay public.“

They also state „We are no longer a wide-open marketplace.“

Which then made James Raggi from Lamentations of the Flame Princess fear for his income. Understandably so, as his products are quite controversial in some circles. I mean, they include walking penis demons and violence and sexual imagery. So he decided to go on a forward defence and used DriveThruRPGs messaging system (the only way to reach his customers there IIRC), to tell those who bought his stuff there how to not get screwed in the case of a pulled product.

Which in turn got someone elses panties in a bunch.

My take on this

First off: Bards and Sages Publishing is right on one thing: Pulling the Tournament of Rapists was, at that point in time, a sane thing to do for DriveThruRPG, and the wording of their policy indeed is more liberal than, say, Amazons. But the difference is that Amazon has a team that is comparatively well-schooled and professional when it comes to reacting to internet shitstorms.

DriveThruRPG has just shown that it completely fails in that regard. They completely missed the point of the initial complaint, they then tried to sorta-defend the thing, they didn’t go out and explained their points in a way that the wider audience will get that message, and then hastily set up a new policy without soothing the legitimate fears of the merchants.

And that is why James Raggi is probably right with his decision to set up precautions.