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Category: Technology


I’m pretty much hanging out over there now. Find me here if you have an account. I have spare invites from time to time so if I know you feel free to ask.

It’s imperfect. In particular the company leans more rationalist than I’d like, although I think a bunch of trans people and sex workers successfully nudged them towards the left in the first six months after it launched — thanks, y’all! However, it benefits from the scarcity effect; people are less likely to be total throwaway dicks if it’s harder to get a new account. See also Metafilter.

The feed technology is spectacularly good. Basically anyone with the necessary expertise can make a feed, which anyone can subscribe to. To make a feed, you apply an algorithm to the firehose of Bluesky posts; it can be as simple as “include any posts that have the word ‘filmsky’ or the words ‘film festival’ in them” or “include all posts from these users,” or as complex as “include all posts with the word ‘Seattle’ in them as long as they have more than 2 likes but fewer than 10 likes, and don’t include anything from these people.” So sort of a more powerful hybrid of Twitter lists and Twitter hashtags.

Communities form around feeds. You can get a good look at what there is at Goodfeeds, which is a third party tool. And for the less technical, there are a couple of third party tools which allow you to create your own simple feed.

Algorithms get a lot of bad press, for good reasons. But Bluesky feeds put the algorithms in the hands of users. If I want to write a custom feed that mutes popular memes because oh god I don’t want to see everyone’s ten albums that define them, I can do that. This is pretty cool.

So I like Bluesky. Also, Mastodon is losing its appeal for me. I’m not totally comfortable with the way my Mastodon instance is run; Sage is a good guy but I don’t like the benevolent dictator model for any social media node with more than a couple of dozen people on it. I was going to run my own instance, but I don’t want to deal with the complexity of stock Mastodon and the interesting alternatives are eternally six months away. Plus running a solo instance makes discovery even worse, and I live for discovery when I’m using social media.

And man, Mastodon has a cranky vibe. I think this is a federation problem, and I think Bluesky will have to deal with the same problem when they open up federation. (Which they will have to do.) It’s possible that feeds will generate their own cross-instance culture, and I kind of hope they do, but I’m unwilling to predict that one way or the other.

And finally Mastodon is not great for discovering stuff and I use social media primarily as an information firehose. It’s a personal need but it’s an important one for me.

Google Meet Transcriptions

I launched a new online campaign this week and with the consent of the players, I recorded the session for later reference. (One of them wrote a great summary, but it’s still nice to have the recording.) My original plan was to use Whisper to get a transcription but it turns out the built in Google Meet captioning system is plenty good enough. I did give Whisper a shot anyhow, and Whisper’s quality was higher, but the thing about Google Meet is that it adds speaker information to the transcriptions which is a huge difference.

Google One will cost you ten bucks a month, which gets you Google Meet sessions longer than an hour and transcripts, among other benefits. Worth it to me since I can afford it and I don’t like using my work Zoom for personal stuff, but YMMV.

Notes: 2022-12-20

Nah, I don’t do these on a schedule or anything.

James Fallows writes about word processors … in 1982. Paywall, sorry. Really good reminder of what computing used to be like. The Sol-20 he was using was a pretty important machine, historically speaking.

Do you interact with other human beings on a regular basis in any way? Read this piece. It’s aimed at engineers but it’s good general advice, which I can summarize as “learn to write well.” You know how you can always find the rough spot on a floor by walking on it barefoot? People notice bad writing, spelling, and grammar even if they don’t know they notice it.

Disney ran a booth at New York Comic Con to advertise the new Guardians of the Galaxy rollercoaster, and the whole thing was an interactive roleplaying experience with a lot of levels. Disney Imagineers have been exploring this area for a while; the high end version is the Galactic Starcruiser, for example. A lesser-known version was the Legends of Frontierland experiment. It’s interesting watching them try new things.

I am currently watching the classic movie serial Les Vampires on the Criterion Channel, and I’m looking forward to rewatching Irma Vep when I’m done, and then I’m looking forward to watching the new TV show also named Irma Vep. Olivier Assayas did a great interview with the LA Times about the interplay between them all. It’s meta, and I do love me some meta.

If you like fanfic and creepypasta and meta-discourse about the nature of fandoms, you might enjoy Northern Caves.

If you like housing developments, you might enjoy reading about Corviale. One kilometer long! It was completed about a decade late for my Delta Green Years of Lead game.

More on Apple Sing


The song coverage is more varied than I’d thought. For example, Warren Zevon’s Excitable Boy has all three levels of coverage. “Johnny Strikes Up The Band” has line-by-line lyric tracking, “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner” has no lyric tracking, and “Werewolves of London” has syllable-by-syllable lyric tracking.

“Werewolves of London” is in the Sing: Classic Rock playlist, for what it’s worth.

It seems more and more like the process that generates a Sing-compatible track is either manual, automatic but time-consuming, or costly in terms of licensing. Otherwise surely you’d want every album with a playlist song on it to be fully enabled, to give explorers like me the sense that there’s a ton of coverage?

A Brief Exploration of Apple Not-Karaoke

I am not a karaoke aficionado, for the record; I just like singing loudly to the music of my childhood.

So I updated my Apple devices today, as one does, and with the updates came Apple Music Sing. It’s pretty cool; like it says on the tin, for songs it works with, you can turn the vocals way down and the lyric display shows you where you are in the song — down to the syllable — and you can sing along. Nice.

You do not get any cool mixing, which is a shame. You kind of want to be holding a microphone and you want your vocals to get mixed into the backing music and maybe add a little autotune? I don’t know how that stuff works but I know I’m always flat. But it’s still fun. I just lost half an hour to it.

The question on my mind, of course, was “what songs work with this?” For starters, Apple has a bunch of playlists:

They’re what you’d expect. Popular fare, nothing too weird, certainly enough to make me pretty happy.

What about your own library? Not the streaming stuff, the actual library that only weirdos who used to buy CDs have? Welp, nope, this is an Apple Music feature so it doesn’t work with your antique library, even if you have Apple Match and you’ve synced with the cloud and all. I checked a couple of Boston songs which worked when streaming but not when looking at my library. Fair enough.

What about more obscure streaming stuff? It apparently depends, but here’s something interesting: there are two classes of song that support Apple Music Sing. More popular stuff supports the syllable-by-syllable tracking of the song lyrics:

But, say, “Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” from Fairport Convention’s Unhalfbricking only goes line by line.

And coverage is spotty: Richard and Linda Thompson’s Shoot Out The Lights doesn’t support Sing, but their I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight does. The former is licensed through Rhino and thus Warner, while the latter is by way of Universal — maybe that’s the difference? No, because Hokey Pokey is on Universal and doesn’t support Sing. So who knows?

There’s no way to tell whether or not a song supports Sing without popping it open, and you can’t tell whether it’s syllable by syllable or line by line without playing it.

All in all I like it.

Notes: 2022-11-23

Recovery from covid continues. Allow me to express the sentiment that wearing a mask is a very small price to pay for avoiding literally three weeks of reduced capacity, one week of which was complete downtime.

I installed an ActivityPub plugin for WordPress, so if you’re a Mastodon person you can effectively follow this blog at @Bryant. This works very well for me, because it means I can easily put my longer-form permanent thoughts here and everything I post on my main Mastodon account ( can be transient.

Tim Bray has an excellent article on practical uses of the blockchain. While he was at AWS, he was tasked with being part of a group that looked into whether or not AWS should provide blockchain services. Spoiler: they found no use cases that require a blockchain over a database. Distributed ledgers (which do not require blockchains) are handy.

The Man of the Hole is an absolutely wild story. He was an indigenous native of the Amazon rainforest whose tribe was wiped out by Brazilian settlers sometime after 1970 or so. We don’t know what his name was, because Brazil successfully avoided disturbing his solitary existence for over two decades. He died this August. I can’t imagine how lonely his life must have been, but apparently he knew there were people keeping an eye out for him and I guess he never showed signs of wanting contact. Read the article. The Wikipedia page also seems pretty good.

Interesting Rian Johnson interview (by Walter Chaw, who is great). I liked what he had to say about the meta-textual layer of an all star cast: what expectations does that create in the audience?

I want to invent a tabletop RPG mechanic around the Go First Dice. Follow the link for a deep dive, but the summary is that it’s possible to number four 12 sided dice such that when four people roll them, there will never be a tie and every possible ordering of the results is equally possible. In other words, everyone has an equal chance to roll highest, second highest, third highest, and fourth highest. (Second place is a set of steak knives, of course.)

Phew. Lots of backlog today.

I knew that Lagos was one of the biggest cities in the world, and growing fast. I did not realize that it’s the east end of a 600 mile stretch of coast that’s quickly turning into a megapolis.

Notes: 2022-11-08

Phew. No big Paxlovid bounce, thankfully.

This is what I thought of when I heard about Tesla engineers coming over to validate Twitter code. It’s both true that the author seems pretty savvy and that the culture over at Tesla is focused on velocity over anything. Good times.

Let’s get all the Twitter stuff out of the way!

  • Evelyn Douek has smart things to say about Twitter’s regulatory challenges. Not just in the US, not just in the EU — India’s going to be a huge headache.
  • This layoff guide for Twitter employees is worth reading for anyone who’s nervous about their job. Or anyone, really. Use your work laptop in a way which will enable you to execute on those precautions quickly.
  • One billion dollars in infrastructure cuts? This is already working out badly. Sympathies to the guy who just went on call for a bunch of systems he doesn’t know. Gergley has a good thread on the problems ahead. Here’s another SRE still employed by Twitter, and he thinks it’s gonna be ugly. Rakyll is a well-respected principal engineer in the reliability biz; she’s pessimistic and thinks people are leaving.
  • Tangentially related: Starlink is inevitably having to throttle bandwidth. Some math: Starlink wants $5K/month for 2 terminals with a total of 350 Mbps download. That’s cheap and cool but the existing mobile solutions can deliver bandwidth in the Gbps range.

OK, that’s enough horrified observation of the train wreck. Mastodon is treating me OK so far.

If I had to choose one word to capture the difference between engineering levels, I agree that impact is a good one. But there are a lot of different ways to have an impact. I kind of want to do career progression as a spider chart.

I like this story about enclaves and exclaves but what really caught my eye is the platform — this is apparently open to anyone to write this kind of post? In my copious spare time I wanna mess with it.

This program looks like a good entrance point to New Taiwan Cinema. I’ve seen Rebels of the Neon God and I liked it, although I’m not sure I have the right flavor of patience for this particular cinematic movement.

Twitter Layoff Thoughts

Still got covid but thanks to Paxlovid or my natural recuperative energies or something, I’m feeling much better than I did on Tuesday. Let’s see how this goes.

The report described severe staffing challenges that included large numbers of unfilled positions on its Site Integrity team, one of three business units responsible for policing misinformation. It also highlighted a lack of language capabilities so severe that many content moderators resorted to Google Translate to fill the gaps. In one of the most startling parts of the report, a head count chart said Site Integrity had just two full-time people working on misinformation in 2021, and four working full-time to counter foreign influence operations from operatives based in places like Iran, Russia and China.

Elizabeth Dwoskin, Joseph Menn, and Cat Zakrzewski: Washington Post

Elon Musk just laid off half of Twitter to save money, and he will need those lawyers and engineers if he wants to handle the regulatory challenges ahead of him. Maybe he didn’t lay off the really critical employees, like the people supporting the infrastructure. After all:

“Even a temporary but overlapping outage of a small number of datacenters would likely result in the service [Twitter] going offline for weeks, months, or permanently.”



Elon Musk has directed Twitter Inc’s teams to find up to $1 billion in annual infrastructure cost savings, according to two sources familiar with the matter and an internal Slack message reviewed by Reuters, raising concerns that Twitter could go down during high-traffic events like the U.S. midterm elections.

The company is aiming to find between $1.5 million and $3 million a day in savings from servers and cloud services, said the Slack message, which referred to the project as “Deep Cuts Plan.”

Sheila Dang, Paresh Dave and Katie Paul: Reuters

I’m feeling like I’m recovering, but boy do I ever feel for Twitter.

It’s too late for Twitter employees who were laid off, but I strongly recommend this guide. It’s valuable any time you’re thinking you might leave a company, under your own power or not.

Pay to Party

It’s reasonably well known that one path to a hospitable online community is charging people a fee to register. See Metafilter for the best case. They charge $5 to register and it cuts way down on drive-by assholes. The less good case is Something Awful, which charges $10 to register and is often a pit. But that’s because they don’t moderate all that hard.

(Something Awful is also the only pro wrestling discussion forum I know of where you’ll get raked through the coals for saying things like “Unfortunately abadon as an attractive woman would have a lot more success if her gimmick didn’t involve making herself extremely unattractive”. It’s a pit of contradictions. Anyhow.)

So what is Elon trying to do with this “$20/month for verified users” thing?

First off, if you assume that all 300,000 verified users will go for it, that’s enough money to make it worthwhile. $72 million a year is only 7% of the new debt load Twitter has to service, but that’s not nothing! If you told me I could knock off 7% of my debt by crunching for a week, I’d do it in a split second.

But this isn’t just for verified users. He wants to open it up to everyone.

Jason is making a couple of big mistakes here but he is close to correct. If Twitter charged $20 as a one time fee for using the platform, and then moderated, it would clean up pretty quickly. It would also get very small. This does not fulfill Elon’s dream, alas.

That’s the first mistake. The second mistake is making it a subscription; if you have to pay $20 a month whether you misbehave or not, it’s not a psychological sunk cost and you’re more willing to break the rules and get kicked off. On Something Awful, you can immediately re-register if you get banned, so banning people is an income stream. Again, this doesn’t work if the cost is a subscription.

Can’t wait to see what they come up with next.