Open Source, Decentralised, and Federated Social Media Alternatives

tl;dr: Join me in exploring some alternatives to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Discord, Slack, Zoom, Skype, etc. Only through trying them out and starting to develop a critical mass will we be able to free ourselves from these giant platforms that don’t have our best interests at heart.

When it comes to social media these days, we users are very definitely the product. We are bombarded with ads (or need to resort to ad blockers), censored for posting things that the platforms deem risky or not profitable (such as sexually explicit material or expressions about less mainstream parts of our identity), and at the same time are powerless to reliably get the platforms to remove content that is actively harmful.

To mainstream social media, we’re just marketing opportunities generating ad revenue. We stay, mostly, because these platforms have the critical mass of people with whom we’d like to connect. But what if we decided to go elsewhere?

OK, so I know that less mainstream or more niche platforms don’t have that critical mass, and as a result are less appealing. But I’d like people to consider them nonetheless, because that’s the only way we’ll actually get any sort of critical mass and have a hope of cultivating a social network on platforms where we have more freedom and agency.

I’ll explain what I mean by “decentralised” and “federated”, and go into some examples of each.

What is a Federated Platform?

A federated platform is one in which there is no single centralised authority or hub on which the system, platform, or network depends. The most prominent example of this is email. While most people these days have a Gmail address, we also have the option of instead using a Yahoo! or Hotmail address, or any other free or paid email service, or we could choose to host our email ourselves. (Incidentally, I personally pay for a Fastmail account because I’m the customer and not the product, and having worked for them in the past, I trust their security and values.) Regardless which email hosting provider you use, you aren’t siloed or restricted to communicating with others who use that email provider. A Gmail user can email a Yahoo! user, for example.

The key takeaway here is that while there are hubs through which communication and networking must occur, there are many of them, and you have a choice of which one you use, or whether you set up your own.

Federated Platforms and ActivityPub

Many federated platforms support ActivityPub. Without getting into too much technical detail, in the same way the SMTP protocol allows different email services (Fastmail, Gmail, Yahoo!, Hotmail) to talk to each other, ActivityPub allows some different social media platforms to talk to each other.

So, for example, if I was part of a Twitter-like social media site for people who love ponies, and a friend of mine was part of a Twitter-like social media site for people who hate pineapple on pizza, ActivityPub would still let me, on my pony-loving site, follow and interact with my friend on their pineapple-on-pizza-hating site, without each of us needing an account on each others’ community sites (which is a relief, because I’m definitely pro-pineapple-pizza!).

Not only that, but if I had a third friend (I know; I’m so popular!) who was on a Facebook-like site for people who want to try water-skiing, and both my Twitter-like site and their Facebook-like site support ActivityPub, I could even mutually follow and interact with them, even though the sites we’re using run different software and have different focuses. I’d see their Facebook-like posts as Tweet-like things in my timeline, and they’d see my Tweet-like things as Facebook-like posts on their timeline, and we’d be able to comment on each others’ updates from our respective websites. Pretty cool, huh?

Visual example of ponies/pineapple/ski explanation.
Federated social media example

Collectively, apps and sites that communicate with each other via ActivityPub are said to be part of the “Fediverse” (a portmanteau of “federated universe”). Each site (be it a pony site or a pineapple pizza site) is often referred to as a “server” or, more commonly, an “instance,” (as in, “an instance or server in which this particular software is installed”) such that in this context, these terms can all be used interchangeably.

Examples of Federated Platforms

Alright, without any further backstory, let’s dive into some examples. Many of the federated examples I’m listing below support ActivityPub (i.e. are part of the Fediverse), which means that if you join a site that runs any of those apps, you’ll be able to talk to people on any of the others (including me)!

Mastodon (Twitter alternative)

Screenshot of Mastodon's mobile web interface
Screenshot of Mastodon’s mobile web interface

Mastodon is a great alternative to Twitter. It has all the paradigms you know and love, with a few different names. Tweets are called Toots, and Retweets are called Boosts. Toots on Mastodon are usually limited to 500 characters, compared to Twitter’s 280 characters, and you can also include Content Warnings on your Toots, which will hide the Toot’s contents until the reader clicks on it (after they’ve read whatever content warning you provided), and will blur out any attached media by default too. There are even various services, such as Moa.party, which will let you post your Twitter Tweets to Mastodon, and vice-versa, if you wish.

If you head over to Mastodon’s home page and scroll down a bit, you can find a bunch of instances you can join to become part of the Fediverse, and communicate with anyone else who’s also connected. I personally am a member of Aus.social, a Mastodon server targeted at Australian folks. My friend, Aurynn, has also recently launched Cloud Island, which is targeted at New Zealenders, but is also open to Australians.

Cloud Island is a paid-for service (minimum $8USD/month, via Patreon), which helps to support the servers running the site, and the effort required to keep it going. It also has a well-defined and enforced code of conduct, meaning it’s well-moderated, and the site is entirely hosted in New Zealand, which means it’s pretty fast to access from Australia, and isn’t hosted with a big cloud provider like Amazon’s AWS (which I think is a Good Thing). You can find more information on the Cloud Island homepage, or the About section of its Patreon page.

There are iPhone and Android apps that support Mastodon too. On Android I use Tusky. I don’t have any recommendations for iPhone apps, but could probably hunt some down if asked.

A 2-minute Mastodon introduction video

Pixelfed (Instagram alternative)

Screenshot of Pixelfed's mobile web interface
Screenshot of Pixelfed’s mobile web interface

Pixelfed is also part of the Fediverse, and has a focus on photos and pictures, in the same way that Instagram does. I’ve not played around with it a whole lot, but it looks like they’re doing some really cool stuff. Head over to their list of instances if you’d like to join up and give it a shot.

Friendica (Facebook alternative)

Screenshot of Friendica's mobile web interface
Screenshot of Friendica’s mobile web interface

If you really want something that looks like Facebook, from what I’ve seen, Friendica is your best bet. You can check out their list of instances, or maybe try to come join me over on Nerdica. Friendica shows information in Facebook-style posts and comments (even if the conversation happened on another platform like Mastodon — yes, Friendica is part of the Fediverse too!), as well as supporting things like Events; one of the main things I keep Facebook around for.

PeerTube (YouTube alternative)

Screenshot of Peertube's mobile web interface
Screenshot of Peertube’s mobile web interface

If videos are your thing, give PeerTube a shot. You can filter their list of instances on various criteria, post videos, and watch other videos (from your instance or others). PeerTube has the added option that, while watching a video, you can share bits of the video (using a BitTorrent-style protocol) with anyone else also watching the same video, to reduce the load on the server hosting it! Furthermore, if you find someone who posts videos that you enjoy on PeerTube, and you’d like to subscribe to them, you can do this from any platform that supports ActivityPub, and see updates on your platform of choice whenever a new video is uploaded!

WriteFreely (Blogging/writing platform)

Screenshot of WriteFreely's mobile web interface
Screenshot of WriteFreely’s mobile web interface

WriteFreely is a really clean-looking blogging and writing platform that’s also part of the Fediverse. This means you can subscribe to WriteFreely authors from whatever Fediverse platform you’re a member of. If you want to give WriteFreely a shot, you could try out Write.As, from the folks who develop WriteFreely, or join another instance of your choice.

Element and Matrix (Slack/Signal/IM alternative)

Screenshot of Riot's mobile app
Screenshot of Element’s mobile app

Element and Matrix work together to provide a chat service, both for one-on-one chats, and for group chat rooms. Matrix is the name of the server-side (the service you connect to in order to interact with others), and Element is the name of the client side (the app you run on your computer or phone to connect to the network). There are other alternatives to Element if you’d like to connect to Matrix with something different. FluffyChat is one of them. It’s pretty cute and friendly, but I don’t think it’s quite as featureful as Element is just yet.

Screenshot of FluffyChat's mobile app
Screenshot of FluffyChat’s mobile app

If you want to give Element/Matrix a shot, I highly recommend creating an account on matrix.org using their instance of the Element web app.

Matrix are also doing some really cool stuff in an endeavour to support being decentralised, as well as federated. Check out their peer-to-peer Matrix blog post for more info.

Matrix is also great as an alternative to Signal, with the advantage that all the software is completely open source (while for Signal, you’re using the Signal servers, whose source code you can’t verify), and doesn’t require sharing your phone number with contacts. It does full end-to-end encryption, and has recently released a really simple verification tool with Element 1.6, meaning that if you’ve verified the Matrix identity of a friend in-person, you can be certain that you’re talking to them, no matter what device they’re talking to you from. It’s a really smooth experience!

Element also supports one-on-one video and voice calling, and, if integrated with Jitsi (mentioned below), can also do group video chats.

What is a Decentralised Platform?

A decentralised platform is one in which every participant is equal. There are no hubs that we need to interact through, and no contributor is more important than any other. The best example of this that I can think of is attending a social gathering in person. You might know some people there, and not know others. You find yourself in a group talking to some folks, one of whom is an astronomer. Later on in the event, you find yourself in a different group of people, chatting, and somebody mentions astronomy. At this point, you can mention that you were chatting to an astronomer earlier on, and potentially invite them over or connect them to this person later on.

In this example, no one person holds all the knowledge from all the conversations in the event space, or is arbitrating and dictating who can speak with whom. Every individual at the event is a free agent who can communicate with any other person, and can share information from other interactions they’ve had. This is what I mean by decentralised.

Examples of Decentralised Platforms

Decentralised platforms are still relatively new, and many of them aren’t particularly polished, but here are a few examples:

Secure ScuttleButt

Screenshot of Manyverse's mobile app
Screenshot of Manyverse’s mobile app

Secure ScuttleButt is probably one of the more predominant platforms right now. It uses what is known as the “gossip” protocol, in the same way that I described in my example of different conversations at a social event above. I hear information from my friends, and then I can “gossip” that information to my other friends as an intermediary, without each of my friends knowing each other directly. This has the advantage that there is no single point of failure, and anybody can pass on a message from one person to another, as long as they’re connected to both of those people. The disadvantage, though, is that anything posted to the ScuttleButt network is immutable (i.e. you can’t edit or delete what you post), and, with the exception of private messages, all your posts are publicly visible. (Private messages can be passed on from one friend to another, but can only be decrypted by the intended recipient.)

The other upshot of this model of not having any central servers are that you can make updates (e.g. a social media post) to your ScuttleButt journal from anywhere, even if you don’t have an internet connection at the time, and then as soon as you’re in range of a friend who also uses ScuttleButt, your devices can communicate directly (without needing to go via the internet), to share the information you’ve published, and then your friend can pass it onto others via the internet, or directly. This all happens automatically and seamlessly.

Further to the above, if you receive updates from your friends, your device will download all of those, and you can read them offline at your leisure. This does mean that your cache of ScuttleButt content can grow quite large (gigabytes, in some cases), and you may need to set it up to delete old content once in a while, with the additional disadvantage that you then won’t be able to pass this content onto others, or access it yourself unless you retrieve it again from a friend.

To get started with ScuttleButt on your computer, I recommend downloading Patchwork and following the ScuttleButt Getting Started guide. To get started on your mobile device, give Manyverse a shot. It’s worth noting that due to how ScuttleButt works, you can’t have the same identity on both your phone and your computer, but you can easily cross-link unoffically by mentioning your phone’s identity in your computer’s profile bio, and vice-versa.

Aether (forum-style platform)

I haven’t really played with Aether much yet, but it’s a platform that allows you to create and subscribe to forums on various topics. Like ScuttleButt, because it’s decentralised, you basically download all the information to which you’re given access, and then you share that with others you interact with. In order to keep the amount of information you download relatively small, the platform only allows sharing text data (though this data can contain links to other media such as images elsewhere on the internet).

IPFS (Distributed world wide web)

IPFS, the InterPlanetary File System, is a peer-to-peer file storage system. Their homepage likely explains how it works better than I, but in short, you and others store files you’d like to publish via IPFS, and then everybody who downloads those files becomes capable of sharing them with others.

Briar (messaging app)

Briar is an Android-only messaging app that works via peer-to-peer access direct between phones, or over the internet via the Tor network. It’s not particularly polished, and doesn’t have a bunch of features yet, but is designed to be secure and private, and for basic messaging, it seems to work relatively well.

Jitsi (Video conferencing platform)

Jitsi is one of the up-and-coming video platforms available these days as an alternative to Zoom, Skype, Microsoft Teams, etc. It’s completely free to create a video chat on their website Meet.Jit.si, and you don’t even need an account for it! They’re also working hard on getting end-to-end encryption up-and-running, and already have a proof-of-concept working! Meanwhile, if you’re concerned that their server can decrypt your video messages, you can run your own instance of the server that you control! Jitsi can run completely in-browser, but also has desktop and mobile apps for all major platforms.

Big Blue Button (Video conferencing platform)

As if having a single video conferencing alternative wasn’t enough, Big Blue Button is another one! I’ve not played with this a whole lot, but it’s also completely free, and seems to offer some more seminar-like tools that Jitsi lacks, as well as a collaborative note-taking space shared by everyone within a given meeting. Like with Jitsi, Big Blue Button can be installed on your own servers, so that you can control who has access to your data.

Summary

There are so many more cool apps that I didn’t mention here. All of the ones I have mentioned are completely open source, so the code for them is completely available for anyone to read, or install on their own systems so they’re not reliant on servers controlled by anyone else.

Of the services listed above, here are those that support ActivityPub and are part of the Fediverse, along with any accounts I have on them. I’m inactive on most of them except aus.social, so whichever platform you choose, that’s the best account to follow:

If you’d like to make contact with me on any of the other services I’ve mentioned, here’s where you can find me:

  • Matrix: @mattcen:matrix.org
  • ScuttleButt: @qAAoOWTZ9ynC/huIf9TplQujL4ccNUMGvUvQLxUa9xY=.ed25519

I know that switching away from our current familiar social media platforms that have all our friends on them is a big ask. I also know that some people think that the benefit of being able to easily connect with their social circle outweighs the detriments of giving your data to a big company, or of expending energy switching to a more free and liberated alternative and then trying to convince your friends to do the same so you don’t feel so alone there. I’m here to tell you that getting started on some of these platforms really isn’t that hard, and you don’t need to give up Facebook or Twitter right away. It’s easy to create a Mastodon account on Mastodon.online or Aus.social, and then use that to follow friends on those or other Fediverse platforms, either from a computer or smartphone. It’s equally easy to install Element on your smartphone or access its web interface on desktop, to create an account on Matrix.org and use it to chat with friends and meet new people.

All I’m asking is that you give it a chance and see how it works for you, and who knows, maybe we’ll be able to start such a trend that we create our own brand new community of pineapple-pizza-hating or pony-loving humans!

So, please join me. Let’s give some of these other freedom- and privacy-respecting social media tools a chance, and see if we can build a new friend network away from the Facebooks and Twitters of the world!

Autism assessments

A few months ago, I wrote this as a comment on a Facebook post of mine. It’s easier to share with people in the form of a blog post, so here it is.

For years I’ve struggled with things like non-verbal social cues, facial expressions, tone, etc. I was aware that these were traits of autism (which isn’t to say they’re only present in autistic folks).

After seeing my psychologist for a few months, having said in my first appointment that I was concerned about this and wanted to understand better how to manage the traits regardless of whether or not autism was the cause, I eventually went to a clinical psychologist at The ASD Clinic. They would have charged me $1020 for an ASD assessment (which includes a 90-minute IQ test followed by a separate appointment for a 2-hour life history to discuss developmental behaviours etc., and for which it could be beneficial to have parents/guardians/others who knew the patient growing up).

I spent about a month on their waiting list (after filling out the referral form on their website) just to get a call from them, and when I did and they gave me the details, I instead opted for a consultation with a clinical psychologist there ($240) to just talk things through and do a bit of a self-assessment based on the symptoms/traits they said were typical of ASD to see if I fit them. The psychologist showed me a slide-show of many common traits that can indicate autism. This included things like dysgraphia (which can manifest itself as poor handwriting, which I have; I just assumed I wasn’t trying hard enough or it was a symptom of my left-handedness), sensitivity to certain sensations like mild breezes, very high or very low pain thresholds, over-stimulation in noisy or bright environments, struggles with eye-contact, poor reading/response to social cues, etc. I have experienced most of these.

I am in the fortunate position that (a) I could afford these appointments and (b) don’t need a formal assessment for legal reasons/welfare etc. I personally was happy after the consultation that I didn’t need to do a formal assessment. The outcome was that the psychologist recommended a couple of online screening tests (RAADS-R and AQ from https://www.aspietests.org) as a general indicator for possible ASD. These are obviously very informal, but given I was just looking for peace of mind that I was probably on the spectrum to help me feel OK about identifying as such and interacting with the community in that way, it was good enough.

Further, I’ve had 30 years to learn how to cope with the traits I’ve been experiencing. As a result, a formal ASD assessment may not be accurate; I may manage my traits so well that I’m deemed “not autistic,” even when I might have been deemed “autistic” were I tested 20 years ago. An assessment is subjective and not black or white, even though the result is a binary yes/no outcome.

So, after the consultation and online tests, I’m comfortable claiming the label “autistic” in the knowledge that it will (a) help de-stigmatise autism and (b) allow me to feel more welcome in the community where I may find better support from other like-minded people with whom I may be able to trade useful coping mechanisms and resources etc.

Failures in productivity

This post is a form of procrastination. I’m not sure of its purpose, but it feels right to write it.

Possible purposes may be:

  • To distract me from other work
  • To foster some accountability
  • To share my experiences in the hope they help others, if only be showing them they’re not alone
  • To receive empathy from others
  • To get feedback from others with similar experiences

Whatever the case, here we go.

I woke this morning before 6am. I was stressed about work. My productivity has been quite abysmal of late. For my full-time job, I’ve been getting around 1-3 hours of productivity per my 8-hour day, rather than a more ideal 4-6 hours. I’ve been struggling to focus on and be motivated by my work, and allowing myself to be distracted by social media and other non-work-related things.

This is a recurring thing for me, and has followed me from previous jobs I’ve had. I go through phases where I am adequately, even incredibly, productive, but I always find that eventually I fall into bad habits again and my productivity plummets.

I’ve wondered whether it’s because I don’t enjoy my work enough, or if I’m just not good enough at it or not a good fit, or because I have a disorder like ADHD that hinders my focus. This last thing is something I’ve been reluctant to entertain because I fear I’m just using it as an excuse (that said, I haven’t raised this particular possibility with my therapist), and everybody struggles with focus sometimes, right?

I’ve tried various different methods of focus, including:

  • A piece of software that asks me, every 15 minutes “What are you doing?!”, to allow me to more accurately track my time (with the side benefit of being able to log this time in the work time tracking system for billing clients etc.). This is less successful at holding me accountable than it used to be, but I’m better with it than without.
  • Keeping clear lists of tasks I need to do, and prioritising them. I’ve tried paper, Google Keep, Gmail’s Tasks, and currently, Trello, but I also have two ticket systems for work (Jira and osTicket), as well as my email, and between all of the above, I tend to find that I have more lists than I can manage and struggle to consolidate everything into a single list that’s digestible.
  • Removing distractions from my work laptop by closing social media and chat apps. This can help, but requires self-discipline. I’ve eschewed technical methods of blocking these apps, because I’m a techy and very few of these techniques would take me more than a few seconds to disarm, so we’re back to self-discipline, which I don’t seem to have in adequate supply.
  • Working from somewhere other than home. This has had limited success, but motivating myself to leave and go to the library, a cafe, a co-working space, or a friend’s place is often a struggle.

I’m also considering things like Pomodoro Technique, and Getting Things Done (GTD), the latter of which I’ve bought the book on, but not made time to read yet (ah, the irony!). In a timely event, yesterday I got an email newsletter from Trello that linked to a blog post about our penchant for switching productivity tools. It was slightly reassuring, but also a bit disheartening; I don’t want to have to keep switching tools to keep my brain engaged; I want to just find something that works and be able to stick to it.

This morning I have:

  • Done a little research on Pomodoro and GTD unsure if I’ll try either yet
  • Checked social media
  • Gotten up at 7am
  • Showered
  • Done a load of washing
  • Had breakfast
  • Cleaned the kitchen benches, sink and stove top
  • Hung out washing to dry
  • Cleaned my bathroom mirror
  • Cleared and decluttered my desk (moving some stuff into stupid places where I probably won’t find it when I need it, and from where I’ll eventually, in the fullness of time, need to move it from to somewhere more sensible. But the key is that it’s out of my way and I feel better about having a clean)
  • Started writing this blog post

The above indicates I’ve been shocked into motivation by my fear that I’m not performing adequately, and needed some easy wins to ease my mind and get the ball rolling.

So, the summary of this post is that I’m struggling with focus and self-discipline, and have done so on and off for years, unsure if it’s a disorder, insufficient passion/competency for parts of my work, or if I just need to suck it up and do the things I don’t necessarily want to do. I’m feeling inadequate and unproductive, which is a self-fulfilling prophesy, for which the only remedy I know is to just find a task and complete it in an attempt to boost my self-esteem and hope that sets me on a more positive cycle.

I would prefer people don’t offer me advice without asking permission first, because I don’t respond well to this, however I am interested in hearing from others who have experienced chronic failure to focus on work for a sufficient quantity of the day for their full-time jobs, and what’s worked from them. Maybe? I dunno.

Brains are weird. And sometimes frustrating.

Now it’s 9:33am and I’m late for work. I guess it’s time to just harden up, do some tasks and see how I feel. Here goes nothing.

How did I get here?

Over the last few of years, I’ve undergone a lot of changes, and taken some pretty huge steps in personal development. This post is an attempt to tell the story of how this all unfolded. Some of the details are a little fuzzy, but the general narrative is sufficient.

Content note: Non-specific discussions about sex and BDSM; more detailed discussions of polyamory/non-monogamy, and bisexuality. Fairly specific mention of my realisation of bisexual/polyamorous/kinky identity and coming out. A pretty deep dive into my brain.

Backstory

As of the start of 2014, I had led what I deemed a pretty ordinary, uninteresting (not to say unfulfilled!) life. I’d gone through primary school and secondary school without many noteworthy blips, except perhaps for the one that helped me realise the self-destructive nature of secrets, and the freedom of honesty, even when it means admitting you messed up.

Being involved with Scouts since I was 8 taught me a lot of life skills, including teamwork, leadership, independence, event planning, and a slew of other awesome stuff. I took a break from Scouts when I turned 18.

I spent 2 years studying an Advanced Diploma of Computer Science at RMIT TAFE, and then in 2008 I articulated into RMIT’s Bachelor of Computer Science. That same year, I began my first ever job, lasting 7 years, and I re-joined the Scouts as a leader to get me away from my computer screen.

And for 6 years, this was basically how things stayed. I finished my degree, and my life was basically work, scouts, hanging out with a small handful of friends, and having my introvert down-time at home on the computer etc.

An exception to this was that in 2012 I started attending Linux.conf.au , an annual conference on Open Source software. This was where I started making a few friends in the IT space, but I didn’t generally see many of them outside of conferences, because they were from all over the world.

Catalyst

And that brings us to January 23, 2014, and this tweet from a Linux.conf.au contact:

Not having heard of @OKFNau before, I did some digging:

This sounded right up my alley, so I went. Being shy and introverted around new people, I was relieved when a very energetic human intercepted me on entry and made me feel welcome, introducing me to many awesome people.

I had a ball, and kept attending Open Knowledge events.
Now: I overcommit and volunteer far too much. For this, I blame my Scout leader; a fantastic person and role model with a penchant for doing too much, and whose commitment I aspired match until I realised not all adults are involved with 3 or more organisations outside their full-time job, and that’s OK!
It was only 6 months before I was co-running Open Knowledge events.

Realisation

I’d hitherto not made time or space in my life for romantic, intimate, sexual, or otherwise non-platonic connections. I had not desperately needed or craved those types of connections. Sure, I’d been attracted to women before, but never enough to warrant overcoming the stress and anxiety of “making a move.”

I think Open Knowledge was the first time that I regularly interacted with people around my age, with similar values and interests. I realised I really enjoyed that sort of connection, and thought I was finally ready to also explore different, non-platonic connections.

I wasn’t necessarily attracted to anyone from  Open Knowledge, and in any case the idea of saying as much terrified me. So I turned to online dating. “There’s no stigma against this any more,” I reasoned. After some research, I created an OkCupid account.

OkCupid asked me questions that I’d never considered before:

  • What is your sexual orientation? (Straight/Gay/Bisexual)
  • What is your monogamy preferences? (Monogamous/Non-monogamous)

I’d assumed I was straight, because I was interested in women and femme-presenting folks, and bisexuality hadn’t occurred to me; nor had non-monogamy.

Brief consideration revealed that I had the capacity to be attracted to men and masc-presenting folks too. In the past I’d recognised that some men were attractive, but only in a general and objective sense, as opposed to a personal attraction to someone. I also did a little research and decided that just assuming that monogamy is the right choice for everybody is a ridiculous idea. Society tells us monogamy is the norm, but it makes sense to question this, and make an informed decision either for or against monogamy; I chose the latter.

Selecting “bisexual” and “non-monogamous,” I completed my sign-up, and started chatting to people.

Exploration

Before long I had a couple of dates lined up, with a man and a woman. I mentioned earlier about how high school strengthened my aversion to secrets. As a result of this, I decided to come out as “possibly bisexual” to my parents. I lived with them, but was financially independent, and didn’t really think they’d have a problem with this information, let alone a big enough objection that they’d do something as drastic as kick me out, like I’d heard other parents of queer people do.

Hey Mum. I’ve started online dating. Why? Because I want to meet people and am bad at doing it in person! Anyway, I’ve got a couple of dates lined up. One is with a woman, and… one is with a guy.

Their general response was along the lines of: “Oh. … OK.” which was pretty great as far as I was concerned. They’ve been really supportive!

Back to that energetic person I met that first night at Open Knowledge. At some point, I’d heard them mention polyamory (a term I’d encountered in my non-monogamy research), so I told them I was exploring this idea, and they gave me heaps of references, including Archer Magazine, The Ethical Slut, Opening Up, and Polyamory Victoria (PolyVic) – a group which runs regular meetups to discuss Polyamory. I did lots of reading, and joined the PolyVic community, eventually going on to co-run that as well.

In addition to the above polyamory/non-monogamy books, I eventually read More Than Two (that’s the book; also see their website, but also see this article as a caveat), and 3 books on communication: Nonviolent Communication, Crucial Conversations, and Never Split The Difference.

Even if polyamory wasn’t for me, I knew the communication and introspection skills I’d learn from considering it would be universally valuable, so I had no qualms about giving it a shot, with great success!

In the midst of all this, I had had relationships of varying durations and types with people of different genders, starting to explore sex, intimacy, and romance. I also started to explore parts of the BDSM scene, which, despite not spending much time in, I definitely have an interest in, and I’ve enjoyed the experimentation I’ve done in that space thus far. I’ve also started clubbing and exploring events and venues associated with the “gay scene,” which has been a little daunting, but also fun.

Conclusion

I don’t currently want to go into too many details of my sex life on a public post, but suffice to say, that from 2014 to 2017, I had crammed in a lot of theoretical and practical experience around communication, introspection, non-platonic relationships, non-monogamy, the queer community, sex, kink and the alternative/hippy community (in the form of alternative lifestyle festivals).

I keep an open mind, and am regularly inquisitive of the status quo or unfounded assumptions that society should be a certain way; I think this was attitude was integral to my journey.

So these days, I’m still doing the endless self-development thing. I’m working better on my communication skills, and pushing my comfort zone, going to events on my own, trying to meet new people, and get better at talking to strangers, especially those who I’m interested in or attracted to. That’s hard, but looking back on how far I’ve come, I’m reassured that I might get there one day. Who knows what the future will hold for me?

References

Non-monogamy Books:

Communication books:

Websites:

Improving diversity and inclusion at tech (and other) events

Over the years I’ve attended and organised various conferences, hackathons, and other events, and it’s been interesting to observe the ways in which each of them handle (or don’t handle) diversity.

This post is a collection of notes and pointers about the things I’ve noticed are some of the most important things to help increase diversity at events. When I say diversity, I’m largely referring to the diversity of the attendees at events. People from different walks of life, backgrounds, races, genders, abilities, etc.

Being inclusive at our events is important. If our events only have homogeneous attendees, the things they focus on will only be relevant to those attendees, and not useful to anybody else. As it turns out, not everybody is a neurotypical able-bodied heterosexual middle-class cisgender white male. Those of us who do fit or approximate this description often aren’t aware or appreciative of the issues experienced by anybody different from ourselves.

So, in no particular order, how do we improve diversity? This is by no means an exhaustive list, and there will be things I’ve missed, and perhaps some mistakes. Please check out the references section for more information. There’s also a summary at the end. (EDIT: The summary is also available as a lightning talk.)

Race

Be sensitive to and aware of non-white attendees. Ensure you call out racism in your code of conduct, and that you consider how you can be inclusive of and do outreach to various races and indigenous communities.

Accessibility

Have accessible venues. This means ensuring that all the important areas of your venue, including common areas, theatres, bathrooms and stages (speakers can have disabilities, too, and may have lots to say about them!) are wheelchair accessible.

If you think you may have people with visual or hearing disabilities at your events, consider a sign-language interpreter, or having a hearing-aid loop, so that these people can be involved in presentations too, and encourage presenters to be cognisant of this when making their slides (not assuming everybody can see what their slides say, for example).

Additionally, speakers should be mindful of using ableist language, or abusing terms like “OCD” to mean “fussy,” for example. Ensure your website is accessible for people with screen readers etc.

Dietary requirements

Ask for people’s dietary requirements upon registration for your event. You could have a set of check-boxes for things like vegetarian, vegan, gluten free, lactose free, FODMAP, etc. but regardless of whether or not you do this, you should include a dietary requirements free text field for people to explain the nuances of their situation; don’t assume they’ll fit into your boxes; people are complex.

Gender

There are more than 2 genders, and we want to be inclusive of them all. That means that beyond making our events more accessible to women, we should also be inclusive of trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming folks. This should include, wherever possible, gender neutral bathrooms.

If your event will have name badges, and you want to give attendees input into what goes onto their name badge, then instead of permitting a “Twitter handle” text box, have a “free badge text; use for Twitter handle, pronoun, GitHub profile, or whatever you like” field. The mention of pronoun here demonstrates to attendees that you acknowledge people’s pronouns may not match how they look (a femme presenting person may not use she/her/hers pronouns), and improves inclusion.

If you need to ask for gender ensure you allow a free-text field to specify their gender. Again, they may not fit in your boxes. Ask, though, why you are asking for gender? Identifying diversity (e.g. how many non-men do we have at this event) is a valid reason. An argument people have made in the past is that a free text field could result in: man, male, boy, masculine, guy, woman, girl, lady, female, trans man, trans woman, unspecified, etc. This is obviously a bit tricky to aggregate for statistics, so one option is to offer an auto-complete text field that auto-completes to “female” when the user starts typing “f” or other words, for example. This encourages users towards labels that make statistical aggregation easy for you, but lets them break out of your boxes if they wish, and type what they like.

Additionally, “unisex T-shirts” are not unisex. Unisex shirts are not designed properly to fit people with breasts or differently shaped chests. If you’re offering T-shirts, offer women’s cut shirts as well as unisex/men’s cut shirts. This may also mean thinking carefully about the design you print on your shirts to ensure the design looks good on people with larger chests, and that the design isn’t distorted etc. Consider subtle and unintentional use of gendered language, such as words like “guys.”

Names

Not everybody has a first name and a last name. Some have mononyms, other cultures display the family name first. When asking for people’s names on your registration form, have a single field for somebody’s full name. Don’t split it up. Ever. If you want a short or informal name (what we westerners may usually use a first name for), have an additional field for “informal form of address”, and explain this may be used for address in newsletters etc., so people have a context through which they can decide how to be addressed.

Socio-economics

Not everybody will be able to afford to come to your event. People from low socio-economic backgrounds may want to come, and have useful and interesting input and perspectives. We can’t afford to exclude these people. Offer grants or sponsorships to people who can’t afford to attend but wish to.

Childcare and youth programs

Some potential attendees will have children. Offer childcare or youth programs. Childcare is not hard to do, and demonstrates your desire to make your events family-friendly.

Newbies

Going to a new event can be scary. Include details on your event’s website that are easy to find and explain what to expect for your event, possibly offering a contact of whom additional questions can be asked. Once at your event, ensure that newbies are overtly welcomed, and that contempt culture is discouraged.

Code of Conduct

Have a code of conduct. There are plenty of great CoCs available (some of which I’ve mentioned in below in the references) off which you could base yours. It should include consequences for breaches, and details for who to contact if people feel unsafe or need to report an incident.

Summary

Additional references and further reading

See Carina C. Zona’s talk called “Schemas for the real world” for information on how to ask for information from users without squeezing them into boxes into which they don’t feel they fit. Check out the Contributor Covenant, Django Community Code of Conduct, the Hopper Fund’s guide to improving conference diversity, the Geek Feminism anti-harassment policy, and the anti-harassment policy developed by the Ada Initiative.

Regarding inclusive language, the Australian National LGBTI Health Alliance has an excellent guide to inclusive sex and gender diverse language. Feel free to extrapolate the guidelines for size, ability, education and ethnicity. The Australian Network on Disabilities also has a guide to inclusive language you might want to look at.

The risk and reward of difficult conversations with friends

tl;dr at the end.

Sometimes, when I express a mindset that I’ve adopted, people are intrigued by it and find it a useful way of framing certain thoughts. When that happens enough times, I figure it’s time to document the mindset for wider dissemination; this is one of those.

A while ago, I was considering my relationship with a close friend. I realised I was interested in exploring a non-platonic (romantic, intimate, or sexual) relationship with them. I wasn’t hung up on this idea; I basically wanted to float it and see what they thought, and I was happy to leave things as they were if the other person wasn’t interested.

I hear stories sometimes of people who have tried to suggest changes (some may call them “escalations”, though I don’t like that mindset) like this to a relationship, and are concerned that just the mere suggestion of these changes could destroy the relationship. What if the friend doesn’t think of you the same after you suggest, say, that you’re interested in them romantically? What if this knowledge means they’re not comfortable continuing your existing platonic relationship, because they might think they’re teasing teasing you by staying around but denying you the relationship change you suggested, because your feelings are unrequited? What if they are offended or insulted by your suggestion, for some reason? Perhaps you suggest a sexual relationship and they think you’re just desperate for sex and trying to use them to get it?

Here’s the big question: do you really want to continue a relationship (be it friendship or otherwise) with somebody who would react like this to a calmly raised suggestion, when you have stated that it is a suggestion and nothing more, and that you’re happy with things as they are? If you can’t be completely honest with this person and have them be anything other than grateful for your honesty and vulnerability, what’s the point? Wouldn’t you rather know that’s the case than brush it under the carpet and never find out because you didn’t make the suggestion?

So here I am, a while ago, wrestling with these thoughts about a friend: I am interested in exploring romance, intimacy, or sex with them, but I don’t want this admission to be reacted to negatively and damage our existing friendship. I thought it through, and I came out with three distinct possible outcomes:

  1. My friend will be keen to explore these other things with me and we see where it goes.
  2. My friend will respectfully tell me that they’re happy with our relationship as it is, and be grateful for my vulnerability in making this suggestion.
  3. My friend will struggle to digest this new information, and, despite clear and empathetic discussions about it and my assertions that it’s fine if they want to keep things as they are, will think that my unrequited feelings are something they can’t deal with (maybe because they think it’d be unkind to “tempt” me by sticking around), and elect to end our friendship. If this happens, it would be a really unfortunately loss of a great long-term friendship, but I’d also be pleased to know that we were both out authentic selves and I didn’t hide my feelings out of fear.

I realised that all three of these outcomes are acceptable to me. If (3) occurs, that’s a shame, but that’s life, and the fact is that I’ve known this person for years, so the likelihood of this outcome is very small. If we hadn’t been friends for long, and I made this suggestion, then (a) there’s less at stake; I have invested less in the relationship, and (b), I still would be grateful to learn that the friend would react this way sooner rather than later, and we can either work through that now, or go our separate ways.

I set out and wrote a big lengthy message, discussing my thought process and dancing around the message’s point. I wanted to do this in text because I can better and more articulately express my thoughts without feeling rushed, and once the message is sent, I can convince myself that there is nothing I can do until they respond, so there’s no point in dwelling on it or fretting. Hope for the best, express for the worst, but don’t waste your energy stressing about it. The message exceeded 400 words, but, halfway down, I asked, basically, if this person was interested in going on a date with me.

Then I waited patiently for a response. I’ll do you the courtesy that my friend did for me, which was to get unambiguously to the point early in the message so as not to keep me in suspense: they were happy with our relationship as it was, and weren’t interested in anything romantic. They also expressed that they appreciated my honesty.

And that was that. We’re still great friends; perhaps better, because I know I can feel safe having these hard conversations, and assume they’ll react empathetically and within my best interests.

So seriously, if you have you have high stakes conversation you want to have with a friend, just do it! The worst that can happen is they’ll show their true colours and not react well to the conversation, in which case that is valuable information that you have learned about each other; perhaps they could do with some research on communications, or, depending on the severity of their response, some therapy; there’s no shame in that.

Take the plunge!

tl;dr: If you’re worried about having a hard but respectful conversation with a friend because you’re concerned it’ll jeopardise/end the friendship, ask yourself if you really want to be friends with somebody who won’t give you the benefit of the doubt and respond compassionately and empathetically regardless of the outcome? What have you got to lose?

Commute delays, frustration, and empathy

“Keep the doorstep clear, please,” The tram driver intones over the PA for what must be the tenth time during my commute. The doorstep remains crowded, along with the rest of the tram. Standing, back against the window, occupying as little space as I can, I crank up my music and try to relax.

My day starts well: I wake relatively well rested with plenty of time to shower and breakfast before leaving home. Walking to the bus while texting a friend, I’m pleased to observe that the sun has decided to briefly grace me with its presence.

The bus is almost 10 minutes late. I could’ve walked to the tram instead, and maybe I’d have just caught the one I watched sail past as I disembarked my bus. How could I have known?

On a route with a usual frequency of 8 minutes, that tram was the last one for over 30 minutes. There had been a route disruption and the network was still catching up.

I catch the tram because, despite the extra 10 minute travel time, I can sit down and maybe get some productive work or recreational reading done, whereas the train is often so packed I can’t hold my phone in front of my face.

I should have caught the train, I tell myself as I await the tram. How could I have known? Well I could have checked the live public transport app that told me there were delays. But I didn’t; can’t change that now.

The sun has gone behind the clouds. My mood takes a hit. I’m frustrated. I’m going to be late. This isn’t a problem; I will still get my work done, and maybe I can get a head start once the tram arrives.

The tram arrives. It’s a single-section Z-Class vehicle, rather than this route’s more regular dual-section B-Class vehicles. It’s packed, or near enough to that there are no seats. I consider awaiting the next one, but it’s another 7 minutes away, and I’m already late. I board the tram.

I’m jostling for space, trying to maintain balance as the tram accelerates and decelerates by turns. There will be seats after people disembark at the train station. Wrong. By the time we reach the station, more have boarded, and I can’t move. The pressure eases off with the station passengers’ departure, but still no seats. I shuffle from the aisle to the available space against the window, where I’m out of the way and reasonably well supported.

So much for the sun: it has started raining. Another hit to my mood. This is Melbourne, and I’m prepared with my umbrella to handle the practical aspects of inclement weather, but my brain has other ideas.

I hate everything. The current weather, my fellow passengers, the public transport provider, the tram driver and their insistent announcements about clearing the doorstep. I should’ve followed my instincts and worked from home like I was considering before getting out of bed. This is not how to set a positive tone for my day.

I stop.

I take a deep breath.

I consider the commuters around me. They didn’t ask for this. They’re just trying to get to work, same as me. Some of them may not work somewhere as flexible as I do, where being a little late isn’t a huge deal. They’re doing the best they can.

I consider the public transport control centre. Who knows what sort of disruptions they had to deal with today while I was still eating my breakfast? They’re probably frustrated, trying to get back on schedule, willing physics to bend the rules so they can get their trams where they’re needed in a timely manner. They’re doing the best they can.

I consider the tram driver. They’re just doing their job. Surely they have safety precautions to which they must adhere. They’ve possibly received instructions from stressed control centre folks, and are trying to make up time that they’ve lost. They’re dealing with trams that are packed far earlier in their journey than usual, and commuters standing in awkward places because there’s nowhere else to go. They’re doing the best they can.

We’re all doing the best we can, with the information we had available at the time. The world is deliberately trying to make our lives difficult.

Today will be OK. My office is warm and dry, with plenty of natural light, sun or no. My to-do list is manageable. I have things to look forward to.

Standing on the tram, I extract my phone from my pocket, and I begin to write.

“You’re awesome!” and giving good compliments

Tl;dr at the bottom.

I live in a social echo chamber in which giving compliments is quite common. Often in society we don’t know how to give or accept compliments and without feeling silly or embarrassed.

I receive quite a few compliments, and still struggle to receive them (showing gratitude but not shrugging them off due to embarrassment), but I try to give them fairly liberally. Recently, I received an unprompted compliment from somebody, reminding me that I was awesome. I really appreciate people taking time out of their day to say these things, and I expressed gratitude for it at the time, but I found myself thinking about it later, and I realised that I’d wanted to ask “what made you say this?” but had refrained from doing so because I don’t want to sound ungrateful or expect people to take more time to explain themselves.

To be completely clear, telling people you appreciate them, or that they’re awesome, is a great start, especially in this society where recognising people’s flaws is common, but recognise their achievements is rare. The trouble with this, is that telling everybody that they’re “awesome” or similar has the potential to devalue the term through overuse. “Awesome” is an unqualified judgement that can be nice, but ultimately not very useful. I am consequently endeavouring to take things a step further when giving compliments.

Recently I read Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B Rosenberg. In it, the author notes that gratitude is less useful than its justification:

The Three Components of Appreciation NVC clearly distinguishes three components in the expression of appreciation:

  1. the actions that have contributed to our well-being
  2. the particular needs of ours that have been fulfilled
  3. the pleasureful [sic] feelings engendered by the fulfillment [sic] of those needs

(That whole chapter on “Receiving Appreciation,” and indeed the entire book, is a fascinating read.)

So rather than a judgement of “you’re awesome,” perhaps instead one could say “I really appreciate this particular perspective you have on that topic; it’s great to have somebody to bond with over this opinion; it makes me happy.”

This approach both gives the recipient of the complement a better understanding of what they’re doing well so they can do more of it, and as a result, in my case at least, helps me to receive and appreciate the compliment more easily, because I feel I deserve it more.

I am not saying I expect anybody giving me a compliment to go to this effort. In certain situations, I might ask for clarification, but I appreciate that people are busy, and despite them taking the time to compliment me out of the blue, they may not have time to elaborate. All I’m saying is that I will endeavour to be more specific with my own compliments in future, and occasionally might respectfully request the same of others, when I deem it appropriate.

A respectful request might be phrased like this: “I appreciate you saying that nice thing, but would you mind taking the time to elaborate on why you think that? It would be far more valuable to me if you could give examples as to what I said or did, why it was valuable to you, and how it made you feel, so that I can (a) appreciate you’re compliment more fully, and (b) use it as an opportunity for growth, to do more of the things that prompted the compliment.” I realise this is very verbose, and depending on your relationship with the individual, it could be abbreviated as time goes on, but I think the above is one of the clearest ways to make this request without sounding self-indulgent or unappreciative.

Tl;dr: give more compliments; we don’t do this enough! In doing so, try to be specific as to what you’re complimenting, and why it’s worthwhile to you. This helps avoid judgements (which when used regularly can have diminished value). This can help the recipient receive the compliment more authentically.

On being offended

“Offence is taken, not given.”

There’s a school of thought that says that you can’t control whether or not somebody will take offence to your words or actions. In this world of “political correctness,” or, as I often prefer to call it, “not being an arsehole,” there are those that think language policing is going too far: that people should be less sensitive, get a thicker skin, and just deal with it.

Examples such as “women should just accept that when I say ‘guys’ I intend it to be gender neutral.” “When I say something is ‘gay’ I don’t mean to imply that gay people are bad.”

The flipside of this argument is that “intent is not magic.” Regardless of what you intend, you may hurt somebody’s feelings.

My question is: where does one draw the line? I, personally, am of the opinion that if making a small change to my language will have a smaller chance of me hurting or alienating a person or community, then I’ll take it as an opportunity for self-improvement, and just make the change. I occasionally find myself in discussions, though with those who think that they should not be responsible for others’ feelings, or who will change some of their language, but reach a point where they deem they’ve done “enough” to be inclusive. I want to be receptive to these perspectives, but also have a reasonable counter-argument.

So I ask you, internet: what is your stance on being empathetic to those who don’t want to put in additional effort to make some people more comfortable or included (on the basis that “you can’t please everybody”), while trying to explain that in general, it’s really not that hard?

Edit (2017-10-23): I just came across this cartoon I’d shared on Facebook a year ago about offence.

“Guys” isn’t gender neutral

I wrote this post because when I was looking recently, I couldn’t find a good article that communicated this point. Presumably my search-fu wasn’t working that day, because I’ve just found several, which I’ve referenced below.

The word “guys” isn’t gender neutral.

I don’t know many people who use “guy” singular, to refer to somebody who doesn’t identify as male. Yes. I know that progressive, descriptive dictionaries like Merriam-Webster state that both “guy” and “guys” are gender neutral, while Oxford still states that the singular form is male.

Yes, I know that many people treat it as gender neutral, even people who don’t identify as male. I am aware of plenty of women who will say “guys” when referring to a mixed-gender group. Some might even use it to refer to a group of all non-male people.

I invite you to consider this, though. Just because some, maybe even many, people who don’t identify as men consider “guys” to be gender neutral, that doesn’t mean everyone does. What if one person in that target group being referred to as “guys” does consider it to be a gendered term, and as a result, feels othered by your language? What if your language, to that individual (and there may be many of them in any given group), tells them “I assume that this is a male-dominated group and anybody else is an anomaly who isn’t important enough to be recognised or addressed?” There’s a good chance that person isn’t comfortable raising this issue themselves, so you have no way of knowing how many people feel excluded by the word “guys.”

I work in IT. Like many other fields, it’s male-dominated. If we want to diversify our workplaces (and who wouldn’t, given so much evidence that diversity is a Good Thing?), we need to stop using language that may make people feel excluded or uncomfortable. In my opinion, it’s a needless microagression.

So, let’s put aside the argument of whether or not you consider “guys” to be gender neutral, and ask a different question:

If you knew that your language, this single word, “guys,” was making a person you’re addressing uncomfortable, wouldn’t you want to change it?

It’s not that hard! there are plenty of alternatives:

  • folks
  • people
  • peeps
  • y’all
  • everyone

Those are just the few I came up with off the top of my head. I’ve just done a quick search, and found this blog post, which adds, among others:

  • friends
  • team
  • pals

(check out that post for more), and that post references Ways Men In Tech Are Unintentionally Sexist, which I’ve only skimmed, but which is an amazing resource and links to heaps of other amazing resources, such as A Guy Is A Man Is A Guy, and Geek Feminism.

If you still would like to be convinced that “guys” isn’t gender neutral, A Guy Is A Man Is A Guy offers three exemplary thought experiments:

Thought Experiment #1: Imagine a room full of men and women. Someone stands at the front and says, “I want all the guys to stand up.” What happens next?

Thought Experiment #2: You are with a woman. You tell her you think she’s such a guy, a great guy, the smartest guy you’ve ever known. Note the expression on her face.

Thought Experiment #3: You turn on cable news and the first thing you hear is someone saying, “Everyone knows it’s a guy’s world.” Picture in your mind what he’s trying to say.

I love these examples so much.

Now, back to the matter at hand: changing your language. Yes. It requires time and effort, to stop using “guys” as a collective noun for a group of diverse genders. I have largely settled on “folks” as my replacement word, and I still slip up after at least a year of trying. There are certain situations that I’m so used to saying “guys” in, that I have a lot of unlearning to do. But the important thing is that I’m trying, and after just a couple of months of conscious effort, 90% of the time, I was not using a term that some people may find exclusionary.

So pick a new word to replace “guys” in your everyday vocabulary. There are plenty of them. It won’t take all that long to get used to if you keep at it, I promise you, and most people won’t even notice the change.

But for those that do notice, it’ll mean the world to them.

That’s all, guys folks!

The pain of passwords

This post may get a bit rambly and is kind of self-indulgent, but some might find it an interesting story. There’s a tl;dr at the bottom.

I use a password manager to manage passwords to the majority of services and websites I have accounts with. Most of these sites have unique and complex passwords that I have no hope of remembering. I like it this way.

Password managers can’t help with everything. You still need to remember the password/phrase to unlock the password manager, and the phone and/or computer you access it from. If you host the password manager’s data file on a cloud storage service, like I do, you need to remember your password to log into that too. Further, given that, that in my case, my cloud storage service of choice, ownCloud, is self-hosted, I need to remember all the passwords pertaining to the server that runs that service. This includes local Linux passwords and SSH key passphrases.

Now, sure, I have a copy of the passwords on removable storage somewhere safe so I’m not dependent on all this infrastructure. But guess what? That copy is PGP-encrypted. With a passphrase. That I have to remember.

So let’s recap. The passwords I currently have to remember include:

  1. Local workstation computer password
  2. Smartphone PIN/password/pattern
  3. Password manager passphrase
  4. Cloud storage password
  5. GPG key passphrase
  6. SSH key passphrase
  7. Server login password

Now I’m going to put aside the questionable design decisions I’ve made here; I grant that I could just use a single encrypted password file on a USB key (with backups elsewhere), that I can plug into any computer I trust, and access my passwords. And that’s great for a fallback which I could easily implement, but it’s not exactly something I want to do on a day-to-day basis. Let’s say I simplified this system, though, so I wasn’t worrying about the cloud-hosting of the file. I’d still need to remember 2-3 passwords:

  1. Local workstation computer password
  2. Smartphone PIN/password/pattern
  3. Password manager passphrase

Yes, that’s better, and more manageable. Say, though, that I have multiple computers. Do I use the same passwords for all of them, or should I be a good security-conscious person and use different ones everywhere?

I will tell you right now that in the longer list of passwords above, several of those services shared a password. I hate remembering passwords, as everyone else does, so naturally, I try to remember as few as possible and put as many as possible in my password manager. It got to the point that the aforementioned shared password was one that I’ve used for a long time. By long, I mean at least 10 years. Now before you start yelling at me for being careless and insecure, in my opinion, it was a pretty good password. It was reasonably long, contained non-dictionary words and different character classes, and for the most part, the services that used it were not directly exposed to the internet, so you’d likely need possession of one of my devices to try to crack it.. I had no reason to expect that it was compromised.

Monday last week, I typed that password into a group chat. You know how it is; it could happen to anybody. You see your computer screen is blank, and, given how unlikely it is that you’re within the 5-second grace period, you assume your computer is locked, so you sit down, and blindly type in your password while your screen wakes up. You hit Enter, switch to the window you want to be in, and get on with your day. Then your colleague leans over quietly and says “perhaps you want to delete that message you just posted,” and, confused, you take a look at the channel, and feel the ground fall out from under your chair.

Not just because you remember that the password you’ve been typing from muscle-memory for a decade without really thinking about can actually be interpreted as a rather juvenile set of words that your present self would never use, but also because now you’ve got a problem: you have to relearn a new password or passwords, for the machine you type the password into about 50 times daily.

Bother.

Because of the nature of passwords, ones like this one have existed since before the jury came back on what a good memorable password looked like. My general passwords that I’d drop into a password manager look something like this:

$pyf|?u?'yB7pCNW~$y:yv;Kc*^<c,%U

The length I use has increased over time, as I’ve found less occasion to have to type these manually. There’s no way I want to remember a password like this, let-alone have to type it, fingers moving all over the keyboard, hitting Shift every second character. I don’t even want to contemplate having to regularly type something like this into my smartphone.

So after some deliberation, I took a leaf out of Randall Munroe’s XKCD comic

password_strength
Pictured: A comic contrasting the struggle of memorising low entropy passwords like “Tr0ub4dor&3” with high entropy passwords like “correct hors battery staple” (CC-By-NC Randall Munroe, XKCD 936)

This, combined with a handy shell script, written by a past colleague, which assembles a password from several words from Linux’s /usr/share/dict/words file, gave me a password that I just had to start remembering. I quickly set the password on my laptop, while storing it in my password vault accessible from my phone (which I could access with other, different passwords that I already knew and didn’t need to change right now) for the inevitable moments I forgot it.

I probably had to look it up about a dozen times, and about two dozen other times I had to sit at my computer for several seconds while I (a) typed my old password before remembering it had changed, and (b) remembered which words comprised the new one, getting it wrong the first couple of times. So all it all, it’s taken almost a week, but I think I’ve got it embedded in my memory now. I still want to have a backup of it somewhere safe in case I have a lapse of memory, but I’m pretty pleased.

There are still a couple of services that shared my old password that I haven’t changed yet (a reason I was reluctant to publish this post yet, but decided wasn’t a big deal), which I’ll do shortly, after I’m a bit more confident in my memory. My main remaining question is whether I get ambitious and try to use different passwords for each of these services. I suspect that if I leave some time between changing each one, I’ll be able to sufficiently remember them all, but it’s a bit scary to think that I could forget one of them and then be completely locked out. I will consider this further.

In summary: Passwords are hard. Brains are fallible. Computers are the worst.

Tl;dr: I typed my very old workstation password into a work chat room and had to go through the pain of choosing a method to generate and remember a new one, then change that password in all the places I used it.

2016 Highlights

2016 was a struggle for many of us, with some pretty unpleasant stuff going on all over the world. To combat the feeling that 2016 was nothing but a huge trash fire, several of my friends have published lists of their 2016 highlights, and reading them really warmed my heart, as I felt so pleased for them having some wonderful experienced (there was much compersion to be had!). So, in return, here is my list of things that were awesome about 2016. I hope next year is half as amazing!

  • Went to the Australian Scout Jamboree 2016 in NSW with 39 other awesome people for 10 days, and watched kids have awesome fun, and learn and grow as they took care of each other.
  • Quit my job, after 7 years, for a proper holiday that didn’t involve attending conferences or scout events!
  • Went to Linux.conf.au 2016 in Geelong, and ran a one-day Open Knowledge Australia mini-conference. I’ll get to do this again in 2 weeks’ time in Hobart!
  • Helped out with the Scouts Victoria Kangaree, getting about 10 hours sleep in 3 days, and generally being amazing. It was really gratifying.
  • Went to my first festival, Confest, in NSW. It was an amazing week in which I did too much volunteering, had very little mobile reception (which was the best!), and met awesome people!
  • Saw some awesome shows for the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, including Lisa-Skye’s “Spiders Wearing Party Hats,” which, between MICF and Fringe, I saw 3 times!
  • Experienced and participated in my first ever scene at a kink club, expanding my comfort zone. It was a fascinating experience!
  • Helped set up computers for Popup Playground’s Small Time Criminals, which is still running until February, and which you should totally book in if you haven’t already!
  • Went on my first overseas touring holiday to Europe. This was amazing, three weeks was exactly the right duration, and I absolutely loved it!
  • Did some awesome and fulfilling work with Invent The World, using Minecraft and other games to teach kids online empathy, problem solving, teamwork, and keyboard and mouse motor skills. Seeing these kids work together and learn was exhausting, but extremely rewarding, and I really hope to do more of this in the future.
  • Planned and ran GovHack Melbourne 2016, a weekend hackathon for about 100 people, with an amazing team of volunteers!
  • Attended my first PyCon AU in Melbourne, where I went to an education seminar, learned some awesome stuff from some even more awesome friends, new and old!
  • Went to Slut Walk Melbourne for the first time, and marched with hundreds of others against slut shaming and rape culture.
  • Attended HealthHack Melbourne 2016, as a participant, and not a volunteer, for a change, and, with my team, achieved second place for our hack!
  • Visited Adelaide for the first time, for the GovHack 2016 National Red Carpet Awards; a beautiful city!
  • Returned to Wellington, NZ, for yet another amazing KiwiCon, which ran in spite of the earthquake earlier that week!
  • Presented a talk about getting youth involved in tech at that fantastic BuzzConf emerging technology festival in Ballan, Victoria. A delightful, family-oriented feel permeated the event, and I met some of the best people!
  • Expanded my comfort zone further by attending my first ever gay clubs etc.
  • Went to the ever awesome Swingin‘ Bella Christmas, and sang and danced to the excellent music they play there every year!
  • Formed new relationships (from friendships to intimate partnerships) with some brilliant folks, while amicably ending some that had run their courses.

The experiences I’ve had and the people I’ve met this year have been unforgettable, and I’ll cherish many of them for years to come. Thank you to all of you who have made my life amazing simply by being a part of it.

Book Review: Fight Like A Girl – Clementine Ford

I don’t tend to write book reviews, but this is important. I’m not sure I’ve ever written one before,  so please bear with me.

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Book cover: Fight Like A Girl – Clementine Ford

Clementine Ford’s Fight Like A Girl is a book about feminism. It’s about a woman who has battled sexism, body shaming, and abuse all her life, and fighting like a girl who, surviving all this, has come out the other side strong, independent, and not giving a damn what men think.

Clementine talks about the ridiculous, contradictory, and often implicit and unspoken societal expectations of being a woman, the hateful names she’s called by men, who react with horror when they’re laughed at in response, as if that is the worst thing that could ever happen to them. She talks about perpetuation of rape culture, and contradictory suggestions regarding how women can avoid being raped, as if it should be their responsibility.

She discusses men’s assertion that feminists, particularly her, hate men so much, and how they wonder why, as she lists, extensively, the horrendous insults she’s received from these men online. Several pages of this chapter, Man-hater, were such a hard slog I had to put the book aside for a week to avoid just skipping them and denying them the attention they deserve. Men can be unbelievably awful.

Eventually, I made it to the epilogue. For some reason, possibly related to the poetic way it was written, I was compelled to read it aloud, and it literally brought me to tears. I bought the audiobook, just to hear Clementine read this, and it was amazing. The first paragraph does not do it justice:

This book is a love letter to the girls. It’s a letter to the bitches and the broads, the sluts and the whores. It’s to the troublemakers and the rebels, the women who are told they’re too loud, too proud, too big, too small.

Men, you should read this book. This book is not written for us. We are not its target audience, because if the patriarchy is to be overturned, women can nor depend on men to help, let alone lead the assault. It pulls absolutely no punches while detailing all the ways that patriarchy is perpetuated, how men can be awful, and women are second-class citizens. But this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, at the very least, stay out of the way an not make things worse, and call out bad behaviour when we see it.

This book is eye-opening, and heart-wrenching, and I’d have it no other way. This book is not written for men, but you should read it anyway.

Everyone should read this book.

“This book is a love letter to the girls.” And, given everything in the world whose focus is on men, so it fucking should be.

“Do you have a partner?”

NB: This post and Communicating and Living Authentically were my attempts to sort out some thoughts. I don’t think I quite finished sorting them, let alone express them clearly here, but this may still be useful information. It took me 2 days to decide this wasn’t too private to publish.

When somebody asks about “relationship status”, the default interpretation in monogamous, heteronormative society is “do you have a partner?” As someone who practices polyamory, my answer to this question is usually “it’s complicated.” The reality for me is that I perceive lots of different kinds of relationships that are difficult to label. Some approximate labels or descriptions are, in no particular order:

  • Acquaintances (People who I know but don’t really interact with outside the space in which we met, such as those from meetups)
  • Friends (Best described, I think, as people whose personal lives I actively take an interest in outside the context in which we met. I try to make an effort to check in on these people occasionally to see how they’re doing.)
  • Close friends (People who I might chat with weekly or more regularly, and who I can usually enjoy simply spending time with, with no expectations of conversation or other forms of entertaining each other.)
  • Friends with benefits (Friends with whom I have an occasional sexual relationship.) (EDIT 2018-05-07: Since writing this, I’ve realised “Friends with benefits” is a slightly problematic term, because it can imply that “friendship” isn’t sufficiently “beneficial” on its own. One alternative may be “sexy friend.”)
  • Casual sexual partner (This is a difficult term to find a synonym for, but Wikisaurus suggests “lover”, among others. I rarely consider this relationship type applicable to me, because in order to be intimately comfortable with someone, I tend to need to build some sort of friendly rapport first, hence “friend with benefits”.)
  • Romantic relationships (People with whom I feel I have a deep emotional connection and non-platonic relationship. This is probably the label that most closely approximates the “partner” definition in the original question. “Girlfriend” or “boyfriend” may also be used by the more heteronormative-minded.)

And then there are others, like live-in- and/or life-partners (people with whom one shares things such as a house or other possessions, finances, or children), and play partners (people with whom one has a BDSM-style relationship).

Now here’s the kicker: it’s possible that multiple labels may be applied to the same person. Additionally, some people may not quite fit into any of the above definitions exactly. So, returning to the question “do you have a partner?”… it’s complicated.

Often, the complication is due to the fact that, as a bit of a relationship anarchist, I’ve not necessarily had explicit conversations with people as to how they view our relationship; I just go with the flow, and take things as they come. Many of the above labels come with attached expectations (such as a certain level of time availability or other commitment), and as somebody who has lots of commitments already (e.g. to the multiple volunteer roles I’ve put myself in), and is, quite frankly, not sure of their ability to make too many further commitments, I feel guilty asking the same of others. This basically comes back to communication of wants and needs, like those addressed in Communicating and Living Authentically.

It’s complicated. Words are tricky. Brains are weird. Feels are hard.

Communicating and living authentically

NB: This post is dealing primarily with communicating feelings and emotions with partners/friends etc., rather than communicating/teaching  objective information.

I have difficulties with communication. It’s true of all of us, I think. We sometimes can’t adequately find the language to articulate our thoughts, or, worse, we’re afraid to do so, because we don’t want to admit how we feel (either to ourselves, because it’s too painful to think about, or to others, because we’re not sure how they’ll react or respond).

Communication tends to be most difficult precisely when it’s most important. […]
“If you’re afraid to say it, that means you need to say it.”

–Franklin Veaux and Eve Rickert, More Than Two, quoting Marcia Baczynksi

The above is a mantra that I attempt to adhere to, but it’s hard. I think it gets less hard, slowly, with practice, but I am not sure if it ever becomes easy. There is, however, often an amazing sense of relief, a weight lifted from your shoulders, after saying something you’ve been afraid to say, regardless of the outcome. Yet, despite knowing, objectively, that it’s better for somebody to accept or reject you for being authentic, than for them to accept an inauthentic representation of yourself, fear of rejection is still a hard hurdle to overcome.

mcfly-rejection.jpg
Pictured: George McFly (Back to the Future) looking horrified. Text: “I just can’t take that kind of rejection”

A big part of my struggle is communicating my wants and needs, and acknowledging that I am entitled to have wants and needs, and that I have a right to ask others for these, just as they have a right to set boundaries around what they are and aren’t prepared to offer. These wants and needs could be from anything as simple as “I need hugs”, to slightly more complicated requests like “I want to see you more often”, or “I would like you to occasionally be available to listen to me vent/rant/mope.”

These may seem straightforward, but I really hate the thought that I’m a burden on others, even though if I received such a request myself, I’d usually be happy to oblige, or respectfully say that I didn’t feel capable of meeting that need right now, and maybe negotiate something else, all despite the fact that I tend to keep pretty busy. I make time for those I care about, and it shouldn’t feel greedy or selfish to expect others to do the same for me, but it sometimes does.

This post, and indeed, this blog, is an attempt on my part to live more authentically, by sharing my thoughts, explaining who I am, and how I feel, without necessarily expecting anybody to read or do anything about it. So if you’re reading this, thanks for taking the time. I welcome constructive feedback, but reserve the right to ignore it.

Anyway, basically, brains are weird, and feels are hard.

Appropriation of “Spoon Theory”

In recent times, I’ve occasionally referred to how many “spoons” I have at my disposal. This mostly comes up for me in a context of interacting with other people socially, usually either in the context of going to an event where I’m meeting new people, or having a discussion with people (either in person or online) on something on which we disagree. As an introvert who attempts to avoid or avert conflict, these interactions often require a lot of energy or courage for me to participate, so often I’ll say “I don’t have the spoons for meeting new people today.”

I was recently reflecting on the origin of spoon theory, and went to re-read the original blog post of the person who coined “spoons” as a term. This person has Lupis, and physically can only do a finite number of things in a day, often less than are strictly necessary to live a life equivalent to an abled person.

This made me realise that my use of “spoons” isn’t the same as its original intended purpose, and caused me to reconsider whether using the term was devaluing it for those with disabilities like Lupis. It turns out I’m not the first person to consider this. Geek Feminism wiki says: “disabled people have asked that the ‘spoons’ terminology not be appropriated by abled people.”

OK, so I’ve learned something new. I will make an effort from here onwards to stop using “spoons” to refer to my social anxiety or discomfort, and start hunting for alternative terms I can use. Possibly simply saying I don’t have the “energy” or “impetus” is good enough (though I’m open to suggestions for alternatives).

I hope this post serves to inform others of the potential appropriation of “spoons,”, and causes people to question whether the term can rightfully be applied to their situation.

EDIT: I did not write this post to tell people whether or not they are allowed to refer to their “spoons.” I leave that up to each individual. The main purpose of this post, I think, is to acknowledge Spoon Theory’s origins, and be mindful of our use of it, to avoid cheapening its value. There’s no easy solution, and it’s not a clear cut case; it’s just an interesting consideration.

Wasting privilege

I’m a middle-class, cisgender, white, male living in the 21st century. This affords me a non-trivial amount of privilege. I was reminded of this tonight as I had “Call the Midwife” S04E03 on in the background and I listened to how the English landlords refused lodgings to the Irish, and how homosexuality was treated with oestrogen tablets, with unpleasant side-effects. Despite being a fictional show, I don’t doubt it reasonably accurately reflects the reality of mid-20th century England, and it made me extremely uncomfortable, but also glad that I life in a time and place where I’m not directly affected by this sort of thing.

I subsequently saw the following:

And read Rosie’s blog post in the referenced tweet, which really reinforced my middle-class-ness, hitting particularly close to home because it referenced the GovHack Red Carpet awards in which I was involved last year. Rosie’s post also references the Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union Conference from Tuesday, one of the sessions of which I caught the tail end of a video stream of, and was appalled by the circumstances the speakers have to endure.

Having now started to feel bad about the fact that I have spent a significant amount of time wasting my privilege  by not using it to help people less fortunate than me, I’m letting this serve as a reminder that we should be always evaluating where we decide to focus our efforts to maximise value while still bringing us joy and satisfaction.

I am passionate about plenty of social justice issues, from queer and trans discrimination, to feminism, to openness and transparency, and I’m only starting to see the tip of the iceberg on issues of unemployment, poverty, class, and racism. I need to remind myself that I can’t efficiently give my time to all of these causes, but I can carefully pick my battles, and do my best to make a positive impact, while listening to and amplifying the voices of those I’m trying to help.

Online privacy: a tale of irony and contradiction

This is the post that prompted me to start this blog a month ago.

I understand online privacy better than most. Unfortunately, privacy (and security; the two often go hand-in-hand) is often at odds with convenience. I have previously sacrificed convenience over privacy and security in many instances, because the latter two are important to me. Fair warning, this post doesn’t answer how to compromise between the above; it merely highlights my frustrations while trying to do so. Here are some of the more significant attempted compromises I’ve made, and the associated struggles:

Running free and open source software on my Android phone

I’ve had Cyanogenmod installed on my phone since shortly after I purchased it. For the past year or two, I’ve had it installed without any of the Google apps, such as the Play store, YouTube, Maps, Hangouts, Google+, and Gmail. Not having the Play store meant not being able to install any of the apps it offered. Instead, I made do with F-Droid, an app catalogue that exclusively contains free and open source apps.

This encumbered my ability to interact with other people, sites, and hardware. I couldn’t use common chat applications, some social media sites were clunky because I was limited to their mobile web page which is often a second-class citizen to their mobile app, and I couldn’t stream to my Chromecast. Eventually, about a month ago, I caved and installer the Google apps, because the disadvantage of missing out finally outweighed the advantage of knowing with reasonable certainty that my location data, contacts, and other private phone information was safe from third parties.

Facebook

I deleted my Facebook account in 2013 after it insisted on hounding me for personal information regarding my education institutions and place of employment. Initially, it was freeing. I had more time up my sleeve, and knew that even if Facebook didn’t delete the data for my old account, they weren’t getting any new data from me (though possibly from others; see Shadow profiles).

Again, though a couple of months ago, I’d gotten sick of the disadvantages. I’d occasionally get forgotten by people organizing events, because I wasn’t on Facebook to be invited. Many friends were difficult to get hold of because Facebook was one of their main communication media, and when I met somebody new in person and wanted to keep in touch, the first question I got was “What’s your Facebook”? My social life could be enriched, and so, with significant trepidation, I yet again forfeited my personal information to Facebook and started adding friends.

Gmail plus-addressing

I try to sign up to different sites with different email addresses (using Gmail’s plus addressing). This way, if i receive spam to a plus-address, I know which site disclosed that address (this, I admit, has never actually happened).

On January 21, a colleague and I were discussing various web services, and I mentioned that I used Gravatar, which serves up a picture for use as your avatar based on your email addresses, to any website that supports it. My colleague remarked that they were surprised that I, somebody reasonably privacy-conscious, used Gravatar. I considered this briefly. Gravatar works by asking you to supply all your email addresses, and upload one or more pictures, each of which can be associated with one or more email addresses. Then, when you sign up with one of those email addresses to a site that supports Gravatar, the site can send a request to Gravatar which includes your email address, and retrieve a picture that it can then use as your avatar or profile picture.

Gravatar is a free-as-in-beer service. They don’t charge members any money to use the service. Given this, they obviously need to make their money elsewhere, so it’s reasonable to assume they monetise their members, making members the product. Each request that a Gravatar-supporting-site sends to Gravatar likely contains a referrer stating which site made the request. This means that Gravatar could collect a huge database of all the email addresses associated with a member, and all the Gravatar-supporting sites they visit, then sell this information to the highest bidder. Because some of the sites I use plus-addressing on support Gravatar, Gravatar needs to know all thise addresses, making using Gravatar reckless, to say the least, because Gravatar can be used to unify my identities across all sites that support it. I signed up for Gravatar years ago, before I was quite so paranoid, so it hadn’t been subject to my now-more-stringent privacy analysis. Ironically, here I am blogging about Gravatar on a blog hosted by WordPress, who own Gravatar.

Solutions?

So how does one integrate with society while remaining reasonably private and secure? I’ve no idea, but I’m still looking, despite feeling a bit resigned to the reality that sometimes it’s all too hard.

To blog, or not to blog

For years, I’ve pondered the idea of starting a blog. It never seemed worthwhile, and there always seemed to be plenty of hurdles.

Hosting

Where would I host a blog? As a big supporter of data sovereignty and data liberation, I didn’t want to lock myself into a particular service and so considered self-hosting.

On the flip side, as a systems administrator, I didn’t really want go have to deal with the maintenance of yet another service on one of my servers, particularly something like WordPress with I get the impression needs regular updates applied, which aren’t necessarily available in a timely manner from my Linux distribution’s package manager.

Ultimately, after creating a WordPress.com account in 2012 to occasionally contribute to another blog and squat on my username, and subsequently determining that the site has an Export function which returns all content as XML, I decided that was Good Enough(TM) and made my blog publicly viewable and searchable.

Content and frequency

What do I have to blog about? If what I write is only of interest to me, I may as well keep a private diary. If you look at my Twitter feed, you’ll see a huge percentage of it is retweets of others, rather than original content. Do I really have anything to say?

Of course I do. Despite being busy out and about actually living my life, I still spent significant time reading and forming opinion on topics that are important to me (see my About page). Occasionally, there’s a topic I feel strongly and educated enough about to weigh in on with my own thoughts. Sometimes I do this on Twitter, however sometimes 140 characters just isn’t sufficient.

Is it worth setting up a blog, though, for the seemingly rare occasions I feel like sharing my opinion with the world? Well given I’m hosting on a managed service, the cost of maintenance is basically zero, so there’s no harm in having a site that is often dormant until I need it, and I have no obligation to set a schedule for how regularly I post content.

That said, I enjoy writing, and if I don’t strive for anything too close to perfection (e.g. in the form of ensuring I know everything about a topic before authoring a post on it), just the fact that I’ve got a space available to share my thoughts may lower the barrier enough that I do so more often than I’d expect.

Naming

Ah, the all important question. What do I call my blog? I wanted something unique (there are a lot of blogs out there, and many of the names I considered were in use) and memorable, while having a nice ring to it. “mattcen’s mumblings”, which occurred to me the other day, contains a username that is mostly only associated with me across the internet, and it alliterates nicely, so it’s as good a name as any.

Privacy

Privacy is, ironically, the topic that finally made me choose to write a blog post (that’s coming soon), so I won’t go into too much detail here. Suffice to say that, despite my privacy attempts being largely in vain, I am usually quite conscious about what I share on the internet so there’s little reason to share any more information than necessary. Time will tell whether I have any luck retaining any semblance of privacy.

Conclusion

So I have a blog. It may get lots of updates, or it may not. The posts may or may nor be useful or interesting to anybody. You’re welcome along for the ride to find out!

Upgrading from Mac OSX 10.6 to 10.7

Scenario

Over the weekend I decided to upgrade my MacBook from MacOS 10.6 Snow Leapord to MacOS 10.7 Lion, for no particular reason other than “it seemed like a good idea at the time”. I encountered a few minor issues in the process, but it was mostly painless except that my Time Machine backups stopped working. This post details some of the issues I encountered and how I solved them.

Performing the upgrade

Upgrading to MacOS 10.7 has been made quite easy. If you’re running Snow Leopard, you simply purchase Lion in the App store, and download the installer. Once the 3+ GB installer is downloaded and has begun, you can optionally burn the image to a DVD or write it to a bootable USB key.

Your next step is to actually perform the upgrade, which should be as simple as following the prompts for the installer. This will cause a reboot or two, after which the installation should be complete.

Fix anything that Lion changed against your will

Lion has some different defaults to Snow Leopard, at least 2 of which I didn’t like. These two were:

  • Inverted scrolling

    Apple, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the scrolling direction when using a trackpad was not good enough, and inverted it. This was a bit of a shock, so I went and inverted it. Depending on your setup, you may need this link, or the first point in this one.

  • Remembering window and application state

    In Lion, unless you specifically tell them otherwise, many applications will remember which windows and files they had open after you quit them, so that it can resume them later when you start it back up again. I didn’t like this behaviour, so I turned it off. The recommendation is apparently that you don’t do this, but instead disable it for specific applications… or something.

Configure Time Machine (again)

For those of you that don’t know, you can use a Linux server as a Time Capsule for Time Machine and therefore store your backups there. This required a bit of configuration for Snow Leopard, but for Lion, there were extra changes that needed to take place for it to work again.

Lion uses a newer version of the Apple File Protocol (AFP), version 2.2, and this hasn’t been packaged for many Linux releases yet, as it’s either deemed unstable, or has been until recently.

I followed this guide for how to reconfigure my Debian Squeeze server to talk to Lion, but instead of downloading the packages listed on the site, I manually downloaded the source code for Debian Wheezy and compiled it on my server. There’s a bit of information in the above guide’s comments about caveats with this (such as needing to install libacl1-dev on the machine doing the compiling, despite it not being listed as a dependency).

The basic gist of how to get the sources compiled and installed on Debian Squeeze is:

 mkdir netatalk
 cd netatalk
 wget http://ftp.de.debian.org/debian/pool/main/n/netatalk/netatalk_2.2.1{-1.dsc,.orig.tar.gz,-1.debian.tar.gz}
 dpkg-source -x netatalk_2.2.1-1.dsc
 cd netatalk-2.2.1
 dpkg-buildpackage
 # At this point you may be notified about unmet dependencies, such as:
 #   dpkg-checkbuilddeps: Unmet build dependencies: libdb-dev
 # Install these dependencies, whatever they may be:
 sudo aptitude install libdb-dev
 # Then try again
 dpkg-buildpackage
 cd ..
 sudo dpkg -i netatalk_2.2.1-1_i386.deb
 # Again, at this point there may be complaints about dependencies not
 # being met by this package. You should be able to resolve these by
 # choosing one of the resolutions offered by:
 sudo aptitude install

Now assuming you’re doing this from scratch, you should be able to basically take the config provided in the guide I linked to without too many requred changes.

I ran into issues because I was using a config file from the older release of AFP, and spend a long time trying to determine why it wasn’t working before realising that I needed the ‘tm’ option in the AppleVolumes.default file to denote that this share is usable by Time Machine. After adding this everything Just Worked.

Conclusion

So the process was more painful than I expected, and I suspect that if I’d known I’d have to jump through the above hoops to try and make the required changes in order to adapt (some of which I did until 3am Saturday night :S), I probably wouldn’t have bothered forking out the ~$30 it cost for the upgrade, given that so far I’ve seen very little benefit. Having tackled the problems I considered major now though, hopefully others can benefit from my experience.