Barriers to Entry

In my last post, and in an upcoming podcast, I discussed setting up barriers to entry for social networks as a way to prevent trolls from entering platforms. I was quickly reminded by my wife that, even though I was advocating for keeping “bad people” out, these barriers can often by used by people to exclude any group of people the community sees as unfit.

Money disadvantages those who can’t spare it. Technological requirements disadvantage those who don’t have the know-how. Personal vetting disadvantages anyone who isn’t part of your clique. It’s a short walk from there to excluding people because of gender, race, etc.

Ultimately, you end up enforcing the same broken systems that exist in real life social groups, and that’s not what we should strive for on the internet or anywhere else. Inclusion of all people, regardless of who they are, is what we should always aim for.

To be clear: my intent was not to suggest that we create barriers that exclude people in order to enforce bias. Instead, I was suggesting that having a cost-of-entry, however small, can create just enough friction to keep bad actors from bothering your community because they won’t want to expend the necessary resources to join.

The problem with this is that the available barriers are the same ones we’ve always used. How do we keep out the bad while letting in the good? How do we disenfranchise bad actors without accidentally disenfranchising someone who would enrich the community? How do we make sure that our definition of good isn’t someone else’s definition of bad and vice versa? Are some barriers more justifiable than others? If so, why, and according to whom?

As long as people are making these decisions, whether intentional or not, I believe the results will always be biased in one way or another. I’m afraid the idea of a pure community that’s open to everyone, where there are no barriers, where people who act out against one or all of the group’s members are dealt with in a way that’s agreeable to everyone inside and outside the community, will never exist. I’d like to be proven wrong.

Wil Wheaton Leaves Mastodon

I’m done with social media. Maybe I just don’t fit into whatever the social media world is. I mean, the people who are all over the various Mastodon instances made it really clear that I wasn’t welcome there (with a handful of notable, joyful, exceptions, mostly related to my first baby steps into painting), and it seems as if I was just unwelcome because … I’m me? I guess?

Folks are saying that community management is the solution. That if you have good tools in place, this sort of thing is avoidable. To that, I say: unless your community management system can scale to 7 billion users, it’ll never work. Technology can’t solve the problem; you’d have to change human behavior, and that’s not gonna happen.

An open-door policy means anyone can come in, and they will, and they’ll bring their hate and negativity and bigotry with them. Unless you control who gets in (either directly through moderation or indirectly through obfuscation or inserting on-boarding costs like fees or requiring certain technological know-how), the masses will show up. Some of them will bring their tiki torches.

This isn’t a solvable problem, at least not from a technological standpoint. It’s a problem inherent in who we are. People will always find a reason to dislike each other.

I think we should all follow Wil’s lead. Stop using social media. Delete our accounts. “Walk hand in hand into extinction. One last midnight. Brothers and sisters opting out of a raw deal.”

Or, at the very least, find some communities that are private or that present barriers to entry that trolls won’t or can’t cross. And then, when you’ve found a nice place to hang out, at least try to treat people decently.

Smart Home Is a Home That’s Always Spying on You

Om Malik:

I for one, refuse to use Alexa and Google Home in my apartment. I don’t trust them, much like I don’t trust Facebook. Apple seems to be doing a good job of keeping its nose clean, but who knows when they come under pressure from “activist” investors.

I can’t even trust Apple on this. My wife and I debated buying a HomePod, and we ultimately decided that no smart devices like this should ever be in our home. It’s a bit tinfoil-hat, but imagine the fun a government could have with these things. Tracking down illegal immigrants and dissidents could be as simple as tuning into a home’s always-on audio stream. No thanks.

Diversity and Inclusion at Micro.blog: Where We Are, Where We Want to Go

Jean MacDonald:

Micro.blog was built from the ground up to protect its users from the type of abuse so common on Twitter and elsewhere. In the Kickstarter campaign, Manton’s one stretch goal was to hire a community manager to be steward of this commitment. As our community takes shape, I feel strongly we have something to offer to those who have not felt welcomed on other social networks. For my part, I am reaching out to people whom I talked to a year ago and encouraging them to give Micro.blog a try, now that there is a fairly active community of users.

I’ve noticed more women signing up and actively participating on Micro.blog, which is really encouraging. I’m glad to see that inclusivity continues to be a driving force behind what they’re building.

One-Bag Travel

I just got back from a short work-related trip to Seattle. I’ve never traveled for business before, but–being somewhat obsessed with bags–I’ve absorbed a ton of information about travel, especially traveling light. I’ve always found the idea of hopping on a plane with nothing but a backpack interesting, so I thought I’d give it a try. While it’s still fresh, here are a few take-aways from the experience.

Special Gear

I didn’t want to blow a ton of cash to prep for the trip, so I tried to lean on stuff I already had. That said, a lot of one-bag travelers recommend having a truly bulletproof bag. For comfort, a backpack beats a shoulder bag, and I only own one backpack (and it has issues, including a lack of water resistance and, at 34 liters, being far too large).

One of the most recommended backpacks among one-bag travelers is the GORUCK GR1 due to its indestructible construction, ergonomics, weather resistance, and customizability. Sadly, this bag is horribly expensive. I’ve wanted one for years.

Thanks to some timely Reddit lurking, I found a person selling a brand new 21-liter GR1 (with the tags still on it!) for just over half the retail price. I jumped on it, and I’m very glad I did. This bag is amazing. It’s so good that I’m selling my other bags on Craigslist. I’d cover all the reasons why I love the GR1 so much, but that could (and should, at some point) fill a whole separate article.

I also picked up some Eagle Creek Specter packing cubes. They’re incredibly lightweight and hold a lot more than you’d expect. A set comes with a small, medium, and large cube. The medium cube comfortably held three pairs of socks, two pairs of underwear, a set of gym clothes, and pajamas. Amazing. I used the small cube to hold my wool mittens, beanie, and merino wool buff. Packing cubes aren’t necessary, but they definitely helped keep the inside of the bag neat and organized.

I also picked up some disposable ear plugs and an eye mask. More on this later. All told, I spent about $250 on gear.

Pain Points

My phone. I used my phone a lot more than I thought I would. I’m still using an iPhone 6 Plus. It has a new-ish battery that was installed last November, but the new battery hasn’t done much to help performance. iOS 11 slowed the device to a crawl, but performance has been getting worse as time goes on, and the battery still only lasts half a day under moderate use. I’m beginning to think the phone has some sort of hardware problem now. Bottom line: a phone that lasts a full day under heavy use is a must. Having to charge over and over sucks. On the flip side, my Anker battery/charging brick was absolutely wonderful. A++ would buy again.

Even though I gave United my KTN twice, my TSA Pre status didn’t show up on my boarding passes. Boooooo. Felt like I paid for nothing.

Hauling my parka around was a pain in the ass, too. Not horrible, but not fun, either. There’s no way it would fit in my fully packed bag, and I didn’t want to wear it constantly because I’d sweat to death. I solved this on the trip home by stopping by REI and buying some Velcro straps for $3 so I could lash the coat to the outside of my bag. I really didn’t think I’d use the molle on the outside of the GR1, but now I’m planning to use it for all sorts of things.

Oh, pro tip: scentless hand sanitizer. I’m not a germaphobe, and I usually don’t bother with hand sanitizer, but with this nasty flu going around, I’d be remiss if I didn’t try to protect myself at least a little bit. And I’d hate to bring it home to my family. Sadly, the container I brought with me had a weird, annoying fragrance that got all over everything I touched. Ew.

Finally, I took a red eye home and planned to sleep on the plane. LOL yeah that didn’t work. I slept for about two hours and woke up with blinding knee pain. Bleh. Having ear plugs and an eye mask was really nice, though. A pillow would have been good–I’d like to pick up Tom Bihn’s travel pillow for any future trips. It’s a tiny sack you stuff a sweater or hoodie into (instead of lamely balling up your sweater and trying to sleep on it like I did). When the pillow is empty, it takes up very little space, which is a big plus.

Unexpected Surprises

My Draplin Stuff Sheath got a lot more action than I thought it would. It’s super convenient for catching boarding passes, receipts, etc. You can stash it in your back pocket and throw all your pocket scraps in it. Super cool.

One of my longer flights involved a plane with non-functioning WiFi. I had some cached media (podcasts, music, books, Instapaper articles) on my phone, which saved me from being completely bored. Oddly–and this happens to me on every trip–I always end up wanting to listen to or watch something that I didn’t bother to download. Brains are dumb.

Also surprising: I barely saw my iPad during the entire trip. I ended up with a lot less free time than I expected, so it stayed in my bag. I could have brought it out during layovers, but it felt conspicuously large.

My friend Jason reminded me that I own a Qlipter, so I brought that, too, and it was a badass addition to my setup. I hooked it to the grab handle on the top of the GR1 and used it to hang the bag on hooks under bars and on bathroom stall doors when no other hooks were available. In that last scenario, you can flip out the Qlipter’s hook and use it to hang your coat on. It’s two hooks in one. Super handy!

What I’d Change

There’s the aforementioned hand sanitizer and travel pillow, and I’d upgrade my phone. I’d also bring a reusable ripstop grocery sack for carrying things onto the plane like gifts, bottled water, and other things I picked up. You can avoid plastic bag fees at O’Hare that way, and you also avoid the guilt of using plastic bags.

That’s…that’s about it! I didn’t feel like I was missing anything critical, and I didn’t feel like I overpacked. Any annoyances I encountered were easily fixed, and none were show-stoppers.

I’m pretty happy with how it went, which is great, but now I’m not sure where to go next with my setup. I know some folks would switch to cutting weight by buying expensive, lightweight gear, but that seems silly since the pack wasn’t terribly heavy to begin with. I think the only way to find any possible improvements would be to carry the same load again on a few more trips to see if any cracks emerge. But in the short term, I’d rather just stay at home with my family for a bit.

January Badges

January is a big month for winning fake awards from my Apple Watch. On deck for this month:

  • Perfect Week (x4) – close your activity rings every day for a week
  • Ring in the New Year Challenge – at least one Perfect Week in January
  • January Challenge – burn 16,830 active calories this month
  • Perfect Month – close your rings every day for a month
  • Longest Move Streak – my previous longest streak is 36 days, which I could break on January 31 if I also complete the Perfect Month challenge

It’s going to take a lot of work, but I’m going to try to complete all 8 of these goals this month. I’ve already gotten 2, so I’m off to a good start, and I haven’t missed a day yet.

The personal monthly challenges in watchOS 4 managed to get me motivated again. I’ve completed all of them since last October. Sure, it’s just a silly picture of a fake badge on a screen, but it works for my dumb brain. Whatever algorithms they’re using to automatically gin up plans that push you to work just a little bit harder seem to be pretty good. Really enjoying that feature so far.

A letter about Google AMP

A message from the open web to Google:

AMP keeps users within Google’s domain and diverts traffic away from other websites for the benefit of Google.

This isn’t new. Back in the day, we used to call this “content framing,” and it was A Thing You Are Not Supposed To Do. And you still shouldn’t. Shame on Google.

The Air Porter from Waterfield Designs

Joe Cieplinski wrote an incredibly detailed review of the new Air Porter bag from Waterfield.

Waterfield never fails to sweat the details on design. The Air Porter is no exception. Waterfield’s usual quality is evident everywhere when I look at this bag. The stitching is clean. The materials are of quality and free from defect. You even get a nice personal note in the box from the people who made your bag. This all adds up to a customer experience that is second to none. And no matter how many times I’ve ordered products from this company, that has never failed to be the case.

I’ve always considered Waterfield to be the Apple of bag design. Over the last fifteen years or so, I’ve ordered at least a dozen products from them, and I’ve always been beyond satisfied with the bags, Waterfield’s attention to detail, and their customer service. Just a great company.