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This is both a wiki (a website editable by all) and a blog (an online diary about the stuff Alex Schroeder reads and does). If you’re a friend or relative, you might be interested in reading Life instead of this page. If you’ve come here from an RPG blog, you might want to head over to RPG. There are other similar categories to be found on the SiteMap.

Für Rollenspieler gibt es ebenfalls eine eigene RSP Kategorie.

2018-08-21 White

@Virelai recently wondered about white people not using white emoji.

Like me, I guess.

Recently used emojis showing plenty of brown skin
Three kinds of facepalm...

I feel like the emojis reflect my tan. And I compare myself to my wife and my sister and they’re both much lighter. Also, when given the choice between two skin colours with different hair colour, I find myself picking a more accurate hair colour.

My point is that white people might not think about it too much. They feel that there are whiter people around them and they think of their own tan or their hair color, and they don’t necessarily want to show solidarity with black people, nor do they want to prove that they’re not racist, nor do they feel that white emojis are underlining their whiteness. I’m projecting here, based on myself, of course. It does remain an interesting phenomenon.

There’s also a deeper current here in that whiteness as a construct is something that many white people don’t automatically pick for themselves and so the problem arises when light skin color and whiteness are confused. Many light colored people don’t feel “white enough”; instead they feel “French” or “German” instead of “white”. It’s not that a white emoji would be “underlining their whiteness” but rather “underlining a whiteness they don’t feel.” So they pick something more “in the middle” – a tanned emoji.

There were plenty of essays to find online, but they’re all on sites where you’ll be tracked so I don’t feel like linking to them. You’ll find them if you search them.

  • Dylan Tweney, The people who believe themselves to be white
  • Quinn Norton, How White People Got Made
  • Andrew McGill, Is It Okay to Use White Emoji?


Comments on 2018-08-21 White

This is brain pollution.

– Anonymous 2018-08-22 03:54 UTC

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2018-08-19 Reddit

I’m hardly ever on Reddit because I don’t get a sense of community when I’m there, plus the platform is no longer free software, and there’s ads on it, now. For posterity, however, let me list the subreddits I am subscribed to:

This post brought to you by @sjbrown asking about people being on rpgdesign, which I am not because I’m not interested in designing a new game. I’m basically happy with classic D&D, or Traveller, boring as that might seem.


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2018-08-19 Empty Hex Grids using LaTeX

@mcnees posted a Gist on Mastodon: “here is some LaTeX code with lots of different styles that you can customize. Fee free to fork and make improvements!” :)


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2018-08-17 No Repost

There is no way to migrate an account and take your old toots with you. You download those via the export function in Mastodon, or using Mastodon Archive, but you cannot import then back. The API does not allow it.

It also makes no sense to repost toots on your new account: you would be annoying everybody under the sun as the local timeline gets flooded and all the mentioned accounts get notified again. Even if you decided to post them all unlisted, notification would still be a problem. And all the timestamps would be wrong.

What currently works: account migration: Settings > Edit profile > Move to a different account.

  1. Your toots stay.
  2. Your followers get notified and might or might not follow your new account.
  3. You keep the people you follow so you won’t miss a thing.
  4. Their toots start populating the federated timeline of your new instance; this will help small instances get better connected to the rest of the Fediverse.


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2018-08-17 Direct Democracy

Since this came up twice now, in conversations with @simon_brooke and @fitheach, respectively, I decided to jot down what I wrote:

Direct Democracy doesn’t make people smarter – neither the elected nor the electorate. It is no substitute for education and a congress or a senate doing their job; it doesn’t protect against corruption, the secret service or the military; nor against populism or religious intolerance or xenophobia. It’s complicated. But it’s still better than the sort of systems that result in two party states. 😀

As an example of what I mean by complicated, check out the section on Wikipedia voting using list:

And as for stupidity, remember these:


Comments on 2018-08-17 Direct Democracy

It makes no sense, strategically, to fill one’s homeland with people from a different land.

This common sense stance is far too taboo.

– Anonymous 2018-08-19 03:31 UTC

That’s because you’re an idiot.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-08-19 15:44 UTC

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2018-08-16 Conversation Modes

From some toots of mine on the topic of conversations, in conversations with @deshipu, @ckeen, @saper, @loke, @skalman, and others.

Some people are weird. Somebody posts “I really love X and have been using X for many years”. Half the people replying: “Have you tried Y? I’m really happy with Y!”

What kind of conversation is that? What is the expected outcome? “No” – “Well, you should?” – “But I just said how I’ve been using X for years!” – “But I’m happy with Y! You should try it!” – I could go on. Don’t do this.

What if you think X is objectively worse?

The person is telling you that they love it and that they have been using it for many years. At least tell them that you also used it, and it was bad because of a list of reasons which you then provide, and recommend an alternatives, and provide a list of benefits. That is minimal viable response on this track, I think.

It also depends on whether change is a goal of conversation. There are of course many other reasons for conversation.

As a teenager I started calling this “conversations to learn about things” (um etwas zu lernen) and “conversations to learn about each other” (um sich kennen zu lernen). I really had to learn the difference because I was getting it wrong often enough.

I keep thinking of some esoteric trivia I once heard: helping other people only ever works if they ask for it. Extending this to other kinds of situations helps me navigate the “unwelcome advice” problem people sometimes experience. It was also good advice for me in my relationship, haha. 😅

Anyway. I’ve become very careful (or anxious?) about jumping into conversations with strangers. If it looks like they might be venting, for example, that’s an instant red flag. I think it’s a legitimate use of the platform but it’s on us to read the bird flights and goat entrails, however. 😇


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2018-08-16 Biomass

Humans just 0.01% of all life but have destroyed 83% of wild mammals – study – “The world’s 7.6 billion people represent just 0.01% of all living things, according to the study. Yet since the dawn of civilisation, humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.”

The biomass distribution on Earth has a good visualisation of the current numbers:

Image 1

Also relevant: The Average American Ate (Literally) A Ton This Year (2011). But think about it: one day eight billion people (nine?) might be eating a ton per year, with cattle also eating plants and all that, so how much of the biosphere is being “used” in order to feed us, even if we don’t eat it all ourselves? Bill Gates writes a review of the book Harvesting the Biosphere: What We Have Taken From Nature by Vaclav Smil and says:

Smil tries to figure out what portion of the biosphere’s primary productivity—the amount of plant life generated each year by photosynthesis—is consumed by humans. He estimates that we will harvest roughly 17 percent of what the biosphere grows this year—mostly plants. (He admits it could be as little as 15 percent or as much as 25 percent.)
Humans are Using Up Earth’s Biomass

@dredmorbius has the following to add:

HANPP aanswers that question: human appropriation of net primary productivity.
Measured by use of carbon-fixation capacity, it’s about 20% presently.
Fossil fuel use counts for another 20%, roughly, of biomass equivalent, though it’s based on a vastly larger store of ancient stored growth.
Each year presently humans consume about 5 million years of petroleum and natural gas accumulation. This from Dukes’s Burning Buried Sunshine paper.

And later, also on Mastodon:

See Jeeffrey S. Dukes, Burning Buried Sunshine (2003). One of Smil’s sources, FWIW.


Comments on 2018-08-16 Biomass

2018-08-12 Trunk for Mastodon

So the last two days I’ve been working on Trunk. Trunk allows you to mass-follow a bunch of people in order to get started with Mastodon. Mastodon is a free, open-source, decentralised micro-blogging network.

I’m imagining something like Google+ Circle sharing. Remember that? If you had a good bunch of people you wanted to share, you did, and others could subscribe to all of them in one go. At first I thought Mastodon Lists could serve the same purpose. But then people told me that public lists can be a means to harass people: put victims on the same list as know idiots, put victims on lists with an insulting name, point followers at a list and invite them to tell victims off, etc. But I still want a list of cool people to recommend for newbies to instantly follow. So now I’m trying to find a compromise. Trunk is a web app based on a public, curated list for all to see and maintain. Does better accountability solve the problem? I hope so!

  1. people need to volunteer for the list, I don’t want to put anybody on a list without their consent
  2. as a person, I’m going to try and make sure we don’t have any spammers, idiots, or sinister figures on the list
  3. I also want these to be quality lists, so I’ll check the timelines of suggested accounts to make sure that (at least at the time I added them) they actually posted on topic

I know this “tagging” of accounts is weird. I personally also don’t like too many accounts that just post about one topic. But when I was new, things were different. I had some topics I knew I was interested in: role-playing games, Emacs, pictures. I would have loved to find a way to quickly follow a few dozen accounts and fill my timeline with stuff I cared about.

Also, the list management interface for the Mastodon web client is atrocious. Perhaps I’ll turn Trunk into a kick-ass list-management tool for Mastodon. 🙂

I’ll be collection ideas on the Software Wiki.


Comments on 2018-08-12 Trunk for Mastodon

Ugh, about two days if implementing this stuff – famously the first 80% are done in 20% of the time, of course – and then another two days of basically updating lists, manually. This is time not well spent. If only there was a way to automate this!

Perhaps a kind of bot with a conversational interface? “hey bot, please sign me up to Javascript and Lisp!” and it would do just that? But surely spammers would then abuse the system. So we’d need a review system? A rollback and ban mechanism? In the end it would mean using a wiki backend, perhaps? Or version control?

I like ephemeral data, of course, so a wiki that kept forgetting old revisions but kept some around, just in case, that might make sense.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-08-14 14:55 UTC

Well, I added the ability to add more lists and to add people to lists via an admin interface and two people volunteered to do this! Yay! Thanks! And now I’m off to a break.

– Alex Schroeder 2018-08-15 13:50 UTC

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2018-08-11 Packages have been kept back

The dread of weird messages: run sudo apt update and sudo apt upgrade and find yourself staring at the cryptic message.

The following packages have been kept back:
  bind9-host dnsutils libbind9-160 libirs160 libisc169 libisccc160 libisccfg160 liblwres160
0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 8 not upgraded.

I don’t know how I ended up in this situation. I found something related on Ask Ubuntu.

sudo apt install bind9-host dnsutils libbind9-160 libirs160 libisc169 libisccc160 libisccfg160 liblwres160
sudo apt-mark auto bind9-host dnsutils libbind9-160 libirs160 libisc169 libisccc160 libisccfg160 liblwres160

The first one forces Debian to install the newest versions and resolves dependencies, but it also marks the packages as manually installed. You typically only want this for the tools you use yourself. That’s why the second command marks all the packages I just installed as installed “automatically”. If no other package needs them, they can be auto-removed.


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2018-08-10 Podcasts

I subscribed to a bunch of new podcasts!

@simon_brooke recommended the following, all from the BBC:

@frankmeeuwsen recommended the following:


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