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An open letter to the .us domain registrar

I attempted to send this message to the .us registrar’s contact form but they kept on throwing up unreasonable, hidden barriers; it required a full first name that’s at least four letters long (sucks to have a name like “Jay” I guess) and “must only contain alphabets” (i.e. no punctuation or spaces, sucks for anyone with apostrophes) and the text input must be under 500 characters, with no indication of how many characters you’ve written.

So, I’ve submitted a very edited-down version, but am reproducing my letter in full here:

Hi, I have a number of domain names registered under several different TLDs. Most of them allow anonymous proxy registrations, with the sole exception of .us.

The lack of proxy registration causes me to get quite a lot of unsolicited calls, violations to my privacy, and attempted scams from bad actors who are all making use of the WHOIS database.

When will .us allow anonymous/proxy registrations, as is standard for pretty much every other TLD?

The current policy is especially problematic for marginalized people who are subject to protracted abuse, harassment, and threats of violence, and this makes .us unsafe for use for all but the most privileged of people.

I absolutely implore you to revisit this regressive, unfair, and downright dangerous policy that does nothing to actually improve the supposed security of the .us registration database.

9/11+20

You know what I miss about the pre-9/11 days?

People being able to go to the gate to greet the traveler as they arrived.

It was always so nice to welcome people, or be welcomed. After 9/11 that little ritual went away, because now only travelers themselves were allowed beyond the security checkpoint, and nobody wanted to wait for their loved ones outside of the security checkpoint, so that very quickly made way to people waiting in the loading zone, which then turned into waiting in the cellphone lot, trying to make the whole greet-and-pick-up process as soullessly efficient as possible.

There’s a bunch of other stuff that changed so much that people are talking about, but this is a thing that I haven’t seen anyone else mention. Just this little bit of humanity that was part of the travel experience.

Then again, everything we’ve lost comes down to little bits of humanity, in the end.

Studio and cat updates

Studio

My basement studio setup is coming along slowly but surely. I ended up buying a used ADAT preamp to expand my existing audio interface (rather than buying a new interface/patchbay/etc.) and it mostly works great, although I’m going to see if I can hack an S/PDIF decoder into a word clock source for it so that the 18i8 can be master (which makes a couple of things easier to deal with).

For now I’m using my old MacBook as the recording computer. It only has a 500GB drive, though, and I couldn’t find the power adapter for my external HDD enclosure, so I decided to try just running Native Instruments off of my NAS over gigabit Ethernet. Nearly every install failed with a nonsensical “malformed XML document” error, which turns out to be a known issue with attempting to install to a NAS. Oh well. Hopefully that PSU turns up soon. I’m sure it’s in the bottom of whichever box I end up unpacking last.

(The PSU isn’t anything particularly exotic in principle, just a 12V 2A center-positive wallwart, but for some reason all the 12V center-positive wallwarts I can find can’t accommodate its extra-thick center pin.)

But anyway, today I finally got to the point where I could hook up my piano, and so I played piano for the first time since April, which felt nice. I can’t believe I let it be this long. I guess I really thought the backyard shed studio would go a lot more quickly!

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Indieweb vs. Fediverse

Indieweb

You get someone’s profile URL, example.com/bob. You put that URL into a browser, and it shows you a human-readable profile which also contains machine-parseable data. You add the URL to your feed reader, and it subscribes to their posts with full attribution. The content is presented in your feed reader in a freeform way which allows a high degree of expressiveness, and it’s easy to go to the original post in case there’s some missing nuance or visual context.

All subsequent interactions are either directly between you and the person in question, or are webmentions which only get seen by your direct subscribers if you put them in your public feed.

Fediverse

You get someone’s address, @bob@example.com. You put that into your web browser, and you get a warning that says, “You are about to log in to the site ‘example.com’ with the username ‘%40bob’, but the website does not require authentication. This may be an attempt to trick you. Is ‘example.com’ the site you want to visit?” You back out of the error message and try to manually reformat the address. example.com/bob? 404. Maybe it’s example.com/@bob? That doesn’t work either. You read a tutorial on Webfinger addresses and learn that you can load their “resource profile” by going to example.com/.well-known/webfinger?resource=acct:bob@example.com. So you put that into your web browser, which then downloads a blob of JSON text. Buried in it is the URL example.com/user/bob. Finally, progress.

Now to follow them. You try putting the user address into your feed reader. Error. You try putting the profile URL into your feed reader. Error. You see a “Follow bob” button. It brings up a “remote follow” page which requires you to put in your own Fediverse username. You think you have a Mastodon account, so you try putting that in. It starts to initiate a weird three-way handshake, but fails.

You go back to your Mastodon instance and try searching on @bob@example.com. Nothing comes up. You try to figure out why. No users from example.com appear. You search through both your instance’s and example.com’s blocklists, which are hidden deep in their respective “about this instance” pages. It turns out that five years ago one admin on one server said something mean to an admin on a completely different server and that led to a widespread level of discourse that resulted in a bunch of instances blocking each other, and others joining in solidarity.

Finally you dig up an Atom feed for the user via finding a HOWTO that someone wrote seven years ago. The feed shows no posts, because the instance admin decided to disable Atom because it allowed blocked people to still follow the person who blocked them and they don’t understand Internet privacy. But it turns out it wouldn’t have mattered because this particular instance is set up so that the only way that posts appear on other peoples' timelines is by push notification.

You give up and get an account on their instance so that you can participate in the conversation. Now you have another instance to check all the time. 90% of your notifications are random spambots following you. The other 10% are you either getting tagged into random conversations by mistake, or some random person on another instance replying to something you said totally out of context and attacking you for their interpretation of a thing that had nothing to do with anything you were talking about. They get downright abusive, so you report the user. It turns out that the abusive user is also one of the admins of that instance so the report just goes to them anyway. They start posting anime memes about you. Your blocklist grows exponentially.

Finally you find some thoughtful long-form content. All of the posts are displayed in the form of a block of unformatted text followed by up to four badly-cropped images; no images can be inline, and even basic text options like bold and italics are unavailable, and web links either only appear as bare URLs, or aren’t obviously links because your instance’s stylesheet removes all formatting from them. You try to see a post in its original context, and it takes you to your instance’s view of their profile, which looks the same. You finally figure out that you can click on the date and that shows you the post on their public timeline. It looks the same, except now there’s no widget to let you automatically unfurl every CWed post in the thread for some reason like there was on your instance’s local view. But the instance’s local view is missing the first half of the thread because it happened before you subscribed to them.

One month later your timeline gets flooded with random unordered posts from 3 years ago because some forgotten instance’s Sidekiq queue suddenly got unjammed.

Finally setting up a recording space

I’ve been trying to make music in my small second bedroom/office, but it’s ridiculously constraining in here, and kind of frustrating. My long-term plan is to build a separate studio building in the back yard, but that’s slow-going and there’s a lot of barriers to it, and in the meantime, ever since I upgraded my house’s furnace to a ductless minisplit system, my basement actually seems to have enough space for my recording setup, so I’ve been looking into moving it down there.

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Setting up Postfix + Mailgun for multiple outgoing domains

For quite some time I’ve been having trouble with Gmail categorically classifying most of my outgoing mail as spam purely on the basis of my SMTP host being on a Linode VPS. No matter how much care and feeding went into my SPF+DKIM configuration, the Almighty Google would just arbitrarily decide that no, my email is not to be trusted after all. (This is pretty much the biggest reason why email is bad.)

After a brief kvetch about this with David, he pointed me at Mailgun, an enterprise-level SMTP relay (among other things). I’d looked at SMTP relays in the past but most of them are ridiculously expensive, but Mailgun has one very compelling feature:

It costs 80 cents per 1000 outgoing emails.

I send about 50 emails per month, so that means Mailgun will cost me a whopping… 4 cents per month.

I think I can afford that.

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Songs of Substance preorders live

Every few years I’ve tried to do an album of my Song Fight! back catalog stuff. In 2009 I released foodsexsleep, in 2011 it was Love and Monsters, and in 2014 was Radio Ready. And then… nothing, for a while.

Many of my albums since then have had one or two Song Fight! songs on it (for example, 2015’s Refactor had two Song Fight! songs on it and one Circle of Titles, and a couple of Novembeat albums picked up some Song Fight! songs that I did as part of Novembeat), but due to a combination of not doing as much for Song Fight! anymore and rethinking a lot about how I made music, I kept on putting off another Song Fight!-heavy album.

Anyway, lately I’ve been getting the itch again, and my most recent entry finally sparked me enough to work on releasing an album while the fire is hot. Plus, I’d been meaning to properly release my covers of “Space Cadet” by Brother Machine and “A Problem of Perspective” by King Arthur for ages, and Charles (of King Arthur) had a recent health scare, so I wanted to release this while he still had a chance to appreciate it!

Ever since Good Luck Charm I’ve known that this album was going to be called Songs of Substance. Preorders are open now, and I hope to have the album ready for purchase by October 1.

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Song Fight! Live fight

Hey folks, the Song Fight! Live livefight is happening tonight (just 3 hours after this entry goes live) and I’m going to have a song and video in it. I would greatly appreciate if folks would watch the live stream and vote for the songs they like, in real time! (And hopefully my song will be one of them. As usual I entered as Sockpuppet.)

UPDATE: The livestream link got janked, see the new one above!

Deactivated my Nextdoor again

My second experiment with trying out Nextdoor has come to an end, after I gave it an even fairer shot than last time.

I won’t go into the details of what happened because I really don’t want to even think about it, but here’s my “suggestions for improving the site” on my deactivation form:

This place sucks and every time I try it again, it turns out to be irredeemable. Any technical fix I can think of is minor compared to the deep-seated social issues which come about from everything about both the site structure and the moderation model, and it doesn’t help that once you become the focus of toxicity there is no way to escape it.

At the very least, hiding notifications about a post should also hide notifications about people replying to your comments on that post or the like.

All I was doing was letting folks know that a racist word is racist, and I’ve had an unending barrage of people spewing hatred and ire at me for it. I muted the worst offenders but there’s just so, so many.

This feeds into my greater disdain for modern social networking, and every time something like this happens (as well as an ongoing situation on Mastodon that is, again, something I don’t want to really get into right now) all I can say is: I miss blogs, and if you want to follow me, the best way is with a feed reader.

Song Fight! Apart and Together 2021

In a few hours will be the first night of Song Fight!’s annual live show (done not-quite-live again this year, thanks delta variant). Please give it a watch!

My individual set will be posted to the music section after the show. But watch everyone’s stuff and also join in on the chat. It’s a good time.

Dangit Fiona

When I adopted Fiona, Werner was grumpy about it but Fiona was so optimistic that she won Werner over pretty quickly.

Now that I’ve adopted Tyler, Fiona is being grumpy and hostile, while Tyler is trying to be optimistic about making friends. It’s such a weird change in attitude from a cat who previously seemed to be friendly and happy about others.

I mean I know I’m being overly-optimistic here. She’s mostly only seen a single other cat for the last 9 years, and her best friend died 5 days ago. Change is hard. She might miss Werner, and I definitely miss Werner. I can’t help but feel like this was a mistake to readopt so quickly, but on the other hand, Fiona was definitely feeling lonely being the only cat around (and she’s been getting frustrated with how Werner hasn’t wanted to play for the last year or so anyway), and it’s not like she’d be likely to get any friendlier to new cats as time passed with her being the only cat around.

I’m definitely sticking with this decision, even if I’m feeling kind of awful about making it. But I also felt awful about putting Werner through stress when I adopted Fiona (right after the stress of moving to Seattle!), and I also felt awful about “replacing Chris” so quickly and impulsively when I adopted Werner.

Tyler hasn’t even been here for 12 hours yet, and it always takes time for anyone to adjust to change. I’m optimistic that they’ll be friends soon, even if not right away.

I remember it took a month or two for Toby to warm up to Shooby, and then they were the best of friends. Every cat pair has a different dynamic which emerges on its own timeline.

I just want Fiona to be happy, even if that means she’s very upset for the next little while.

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Hello, Tyler!

It hasn’t even been a week since Werner died, but Fiona was clearly in need of another friend, and I figured that I should get her one while she still had a chance of retaining her mothering instinct which made her get along so well with Werner.

So, I went to the Burien animal shelter and asked to see a couple of cats, Tyler and Wasabi, and explained the situation. The person there said Tyler would almost certainly be a perfect choice while Wasabi would have posed some problems. I met them both, and Tyler immediately got extremely affectionate and friendly to me, while Wasabi was a bit more murdery.

Anyway, right now Fiona is upset that there’s another cat in the house, but not so upset as to actually fight him. She’s hissing at him a bunch and occasionally growling, while Tyler is behaving the same to her as she did to Werner. It’s an interesting dynamic. (And, of course, Tyler is the same age that Fiona was, and Fiona’s the same age that Werner was.)

I expect it’ll be a few days before things settle down, but hopefully they will without too much bloodshed. And hey, they’re already hanging out under the bed together. Ish.

Meanwhile, I need to remind myself that I’m not replacing Werner, I’m just continuing the chain of affection.

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Planet Planet

On IndieWeb chat, a question recently came up, namely the origin of the term “planet” when it comes to a news-aggregating site. I was a little sad to see that nobody else in the chat remembered!

Back in the day, there was a website, Planet Quake, which was a hand-curated collection of all the news about the game Quake. This led to a bunch of other gaming-related “planet” sites (such as Planet Dreamcast), and then the company behind it, CriticalMass Communications, eventually got into other areas of reporting. Eventually they sold to GameSpy, which in turn eventually got bought out by IGN1.

At some point, a couple of other sites emerged with the name “planet” as what I believe was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the “planet” gaming sites. Planet Debian is the first one I remember seeing but I have no idea if it was the first to exist. Many of these sites were built using auto-aggregation from the then-new RSS protocol. This joke ended up spreading pretty far and wide and at one point there was even a “planet planet” to keep track of all the planets2 (although it seems to have gone down sometime in 2017).

A fun side note, Something Awful was originally a spinoff of Planet Quake; at the time Lowtax claimed it was because of a “falling out” but that may have been an attempt at satire. In retrospect, he might have named it “Planet Awful!”

Another day

People keep on reaching out to me about Werner, which I greatly appreciate. I feel like I had gotten most of my grieving out of my system during the two months leading up to his death, though. Ever since I buried him yesterday I’ve felt, for the most part, fine. A certain clarity, a fog has lifted, and all that. I think my worry about Werner had been weighing me down greatly and now that he’s resting forever and at peace, everything is fine. Or at least better.

I’m still sad about his absence, and when I think about his final moments or look at any of the mementos I tear up a bit. But they’re mostly tears of joy, I think.

Fiona’s also gotten a lot happier too. I think she was spending a lot of time worrying about him and trying to take care of him, and it was wearing on her. Today she was extremely cuddly and affectionate with me for the first time since… well, since Werner got sick, I think. And she had a lot more energy for playing than in recent memory, too.

Today I stopped by his little grave and said some words to him, and Fiona came over too and sniffed a bit and rolled around. I think she can maybe smell him in there. Of course I’m going to visit him every day or so in order to water the hydrangeas, and I’ll probably be saying hi to him each time for a while, but as with all things that’ll probably fade. But I had put a Werner pin on the fence behind him, just a little reminder of him to see each time, at least until a raccoon steals it for being too shiny.

(Okay, thinking about visiting him makes me cry too.)

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Health updates, mine and cat’s

fluffy’s health

My new doctor has already proven himself to be way, way better than my last doctor. He’s really diving into my records and gathering insight to confirm my suspicion of hEDS. Meanwhile he’s put me on muscle relaxants “as needed” and I was taking them a couple hours before bed for a few days and started to feel a lot better. But I haven’t been taking them for the past few days, and I’m feeling worse. Go figure. So, muscle tension is definitely a factor, which I think goes along with hEDS? Like, reducing my muscle tension gives my shitty connective tissue a better chance to actually heal.

I also finally got an appointment with a new dentist. It’s towards the end of September (I really should have gotten on this sooner, as I’m due for a cleaning in, like, a week) but I’m really optimistic about the new dentist; her intake form is incredibly inclusive regarding gender stuff (with an open-ended selection for pronouns, and gender checkboxes that include non-binary!) and neurodivergent things (questions about a whole bunch of dentist-specific anxiety triggers to avoid, whether a blanket or weighted vest helps, whether it’s okay to be lectured about dental health, etc.). Also, she’s a PoC. I’ve never had a dentist who wasn’t a white dude before, and maybe that explains why it’s always felt like dentists don’t care about privilege or diversity or, y'know, taking care to make people feel comfortable.

Werner’s health

Little dude is definitely slipping away more and more each day. By the rubric he’s probably past the point where I should consider euthanasia, but he doesn’t seem to be in pain and he’s enjoying pets/skritches/sitting with me/eating (especially stealing my food) so for now I’m going to just let it ride.

If he starts expressing pain I’ll have to make a tough choice, but for now he’s basically just getting progressively drunker and sleepier all the time (except when food’s involved). I really hope he just drifts off one time and never wakes up (although every time I check up on him he ends up waking up and gets excited about the prospect of food).

He’s having trouble staying steady while standing or walking, and Fiona’s started to interpret this as him being a lost kitten. She tries to pick him up by the scruff, even though he’s nearly as big as her, and he has none of it. So Fiona gets pretty confused by this.

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Night Court has a transphobia problem

I have fond memories of the show Night Court growing up. In particular, I have a fondness for the episode “Best of Friends”, which I’d remembered being a surprisingly progressive episode about trans issues.

I have been rewatching the entire series from the beginning, for the first time since the series ended in 1992, and “Best of Friends” was in fact surprisingly progressive for the era. It still had problems, though; it put the burden on the trans woman for having hurt Dan’s feelings, rather than on anyone else for not respecting her, and her new husband was seen as some sort of freak for daring to support her. But in the end, Dan more or less comes around and realizes that Charlene has done what’s right for her.

But oof, there is so much unnecessary, downright mean transphobia in the rest of the show. For example, in the episode “Hurricane,” there’s a few jokes about a baby being “transsexual” due to a miscommunication (which also involved Brent Spiner’s bumpkin character), there’s a common undercurrent of perpetrators wearing dresses for the sake of man-in-a-dress jokes, there’s some ridiculous gender-essentialism on display in “Bull Gets A Kid,” and in the episode “Rabid,” there’s a gag in which two Swedish women (of course) turn out that they “used to be men,” which they feel compelled to disclose in response to Dan saying he might have rabies — and them being transsexual is treated as far, far worse than said disease.

As a kid I remember a bunch of later-episode jokes about big burly men wailing that they are a “woman trapped in a man’s body” but I’d always chalked that up to 1990s edgelord humor, during a decade when every other episode of a sitcom would involve some joke about a woman being “really a man” or just generally being shitty. But no, this show ended up having it all the way throughout its entire run.

Sometimes I wish I could get the ear of the writers and producers of TV in this era and see how they feel about how they treated gender-diverse people.

And of course it’s not just the transphobia. In the first couple of seasons, this show is generally pretty gentle, and optimistic, and treats quirky people as the wonderful diversity of life in New York, but as time goes on, the humor just gets meaner and meaner. And even Harry Stone, perpetual boyscout and optimistic truth-and-beauty-seeker, joins in on the punching-down.

I’m about halfway done with the show, but I’m not sure if I want to finish it.

And just as I was writing this, the episode “Caught Red Handed,” which I was already not looking forward to due to some well-remembered blatant hypocrisy regarding sexual harassment, is making fun of feminism, with Christine going on a feminist rant, and then she gets pulled out of it — by a trans woman agreeing with her.

Some recollections of working in the games industry

From 2004 to 2005 I worked at a new Ubisoft studio. Technically it was “Guillemot Entertainment” at the time (before it was renamed to Longtail Studios, and then later moved to Halifax and became Ubisoft Halifax), but it was basically Ubisoft; we used Ubisoft corporate letterhead, our QA and publishing went through Ubisoft, our paychecks came from Ubisoft, and so on. And, most importantly, our studio head was Gérard Guillemot, one of the Guillemot brothers. Notably, Yves runs Ubisoft as a whole, and Michel ran Gameloft, which was (at the time) Ubisoft’s foray into mobile gaming.

Because it’s relevant to the current discussion around the games industry and its rampant toxicity, I have a few stories to share.

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Various updates

fluffy health

So, I had a very bad experience with my doctor with this latest chronic pain flare (and the short-term disability leave situation), and with encouragement from my therapist I am switching to a different doctor. The doctor I’m switching to specializes in LGBT healthcare (and apparently 10% of his patients are trans) and also has a specific interest in treating chronic conditions, which is what I need.

I’ve also gone back to my self-determined physical therapy regimen. You know, the one that my GP and the pain doc and physical therapist she referred me to all think will cause more injury, even though it’s always helped me in the past. So far it feels like I’m actually making progress on recovery.

Said regimen:

  • Frequent powerball sessions
  • Upper-body stretching and partial chin-ups using a chin-up bar
  • Playing DDR (okay I haven’t resumed that yet but I’ll probably be starting that again soon, and I’ll be streaming it when I do)
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