1. Identity in the Fediverse

    I (like many people) have been paying more and more attention to distributed social networks over the past several weeks. For the uninitiated, these networks (hereafter referred to as “the Fediverse”) are individual instances running software which communicate with each other over standard protocols (mostly ActivityPub). A user on one instance can follow and interact with users on other instances in a mostly-transparent way, somewhat similarly to e-mail.

    The general philosophy, I think, seems sound: by decentralizing things, you reduce the influence — and potential damage — of any one entity. If a particular Mastodon instance is behaving in bad faith, users can stop supporting that instance and migrate to a different one while still participating in the broader federated network.

    But one thing that keeps eating at me is the lack of a persistent identity across the Fediverse. Sure, a user can switch to using a different instance, but that involves creating a new account and leaving all of their followers behind (it’s not uncommon to see “I’m moving to new instance, so re-follow me at name@new-instance” posts, which really isn’t ideal). Your identity in the Fediverse is inextricably tied to a specific instance, with no way to transparently migrate to a new host.

    The structure of the Fediverse also encourages holding multiple accounts across different types of software. For example, Mastodon is generally optimized for Twitter-style microblogging, while PixelFed is geared towards Instagram-style image sharing, and so on. If one wants to microblog and post photos, it seems like the best bet would be to microblog on a Mastodon instance and share photos on a PixelFed instance. But if you do that, what should interested followers do? Follow you twice? Throw a PeerTube account into the mix for a third follow. And so on.

    To be fair, this is true of the traditional, centralized social networks too; if you want to follow someone’s tweets and photos, you need to independently follow them on Twitter and on Instagram. But the cross-network interoperability of the Fediverse makes this feel more awkward to me. If I want to follow someone on Twitter and on Instagram, I need to separately follow them from both my Twitter and Instagram accounts. But for federated networks, I can theoretically follow someone’s microblog, photos, videos, and more from a single account. And if I have multiple accounts across the Fediverse, from which account should I follow others? If I want to follow someone’s content on FunkWhale (where, in this hypothetical example, I don’t have an account), which of my N accounts makes sense to follow from?

    Philosophically, I think Micro.blog probably has the best story for persistent identity, encouraging people to put their content behind a domain name which they own. Micro.blog doesn’t federate over ActivityPub (by design), but the general idea seems applicable to federated content.

    Technically, there’s nothing to stop someone from hosting their own single-user Mastodon instance on their own server, resulting in a yourname@yourdomain.com handle which other Fediverse users can follow. But, doing so brings us back to the “use the best tool for the job” sentiment behind using (for example) Mastodon and PixelFed simultaneously — there’s no precedent or pattern (that I’ve found, at least) for a single username sitting in front of multiple underlying ActivityPub implementations.

    That feels like what I’m really after here: a single ActivityPub-federating endpoint which consolidates an arbitrary number of underlying services or instances. This would hypothetically let us:

    1. Present a single, unified identity across the Fediverse
    2. Post different types of content using the best tool for the job
    3. View the content posted by people we follow in a UI which is ideal for the content in question

    Maybe someone will build such a thing someday, as (or if) the Fediverse continues to grow.

    Or maybe I’m just overthinking all of this. The fact that I originally intended this to be a ~250 character note means that’s probably the case…

  2. Star Wars movie idea that started as a joke but I am now 100% serious about: a The Fast and the Furious-style movie featuring the seedy underworld of illegal podracing.

    It’d also justify another followup to Star Wars Episode I: Racer!

  3. Avengers: Infinity War

    I was pretty worried that this movie would turn out to be a complete mess. As much as I was excited for the spectacle, I couldn’t see how Marvel would possibly juggle so many leading characters without turning the whole thing into a disorienting mess. I’m so happy to be wrong.

    This movie ably handles its approximately 37,000 characters, making some really smart choices about who to pair up with who. Rather than jumping back and forth between different characters every minute, Marvel lets the movie breathe a bit with a narrative structure that treats each group of heroes like a little episodic mini-movie. Eventually, the narratives obviously start to converge and overlap, and by the time the movie reaches its climax, it really does feel like most characters have gotten much more development and screen time than you’d expect given the movie’s runtime.

    As a villain, Thanos is great. The movie gives him reasonably-compelling motivation (certainly better than the “I’m in love with Death, so I will kill lots of people to impress her” motivation he has in the comics), and Josh Brolin turns in a solid performance. Thanos isn’t the most interesting, complex character ever written, but he’s a huge step up in terms of MCU villains (where the strong contenders are pretty much Loki, and… um… Loki).

    After a decade of buildup, it’s super-entertaining to see it all pay off.

  4. Barack Obama

    I believe that the decision to put the JCPOA at risk without any Iranian violation of the deal is a serious mistake.

    It’s not every day you see a former President directly criticizing the current administration.

  5. Parenting is nothing if not dignified. Just spent 30 minutes straight making fart noises with my mouth. 🤣

  6. I’m constantly amazed at how poorly-publicized it is that tons of local libraries have current ebook and audiobook content available for free, accessible via Libby.

  7. Pitch Perfect 3

    I was pleasantly surprised by the first Pitch Perfect, which makes this franchise’s steep decline all the more of a bummer. This movie begins with a stark reality check, with all of our characters out of college and leading fairly disappointing lives. I’d have loved to see the movie embrace this a bit more — leaning in to the idea that nobody in the real world cares about your college a cappella group’s glory days, while not groundbreaking stuff, could have taken this movie in a refreshing direction.

    But while the movie touches on these ideas, it doesn’t ever really do anything with them — the “real” bands the group is competing against are initially unimpressed by our protagonists’ amateur act, but then immediately participate in a riff-off with them. Throughout, the movie calls out clichés and tropes, but then immediately leans into them without actually saying anything interesting about said tropes. The story ends up hitting the same story beats as the previous films without really bringing anything new or interesting to the table.

    It’s interesting that these films have followed a similar trajectory to Glee — both had a surprisingly-strong initial showing, but quickly became stale and paint-by-numbers once the writers had a chance to hear the first set of feedback. I don’t know if it’s something intrinsic to the genre, or to the fandom, or neither, but it’s certainly disappointing.

  8. Thrawn

    By Timothy Zahn

    Growing up, I read a lot of Star Wars books. Like, a lot of Star Wars books. It all started when I stumbled upon a copy of Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire on my father’s bookshelf when I was around 8 years old, and I proceeded to read pretty much every piece of Star Wars literature I could find for a couple of years after that.

    It’s been about 20 years since I last read anything set in that universe, and having been out-of-the-loop of the canon for over a decade made the prospect of wading back in too daunting.

    But then Disney bought the Star Wars franchise, and declared that all of the Expanded Universe stories were no longer canon — the EU would start over, and only books published post-acquisiton would be canonical. Throwing away over 20 years of stories has angered some longtime fans, but they’ve at least left the door open to bringing some characters from the old EU into the new canon. They’ve done just that with fan-favorite villain Grand Admiral Thrawn, originally introduced in Heir to the Empire, and that piqued my interest enough to take a look at Thrawn.

    The story follows the future Grand Admiral as he becomes acquainted with the Empire and rises through its ranks. Accompanying him in his adventures is fellow naval officer Eli Vanto. Narratively, Thrawn and Eli make a good combo, as each can serve as a sort of excuse to have things explained to the audience without it feeling forced (Thrawn, as someone new to the Empire, needs frequent explanations as to how the Empire works, and Eli gives Thrawn a good excuse to explain his thought process and tactics).

    I found the story to be compelling, even when it turned towards the politics and bureaucracy of the Star Wars universe (which the Prequel Trilogy famously struggled with). The battles are exciting, and Thrawn’s cunning, tactical mind really shines.

    The main miss for me were Thrawn’s monologues, talking to no one in particular and about nothing in particular, that account for the beginning of most chapters. I imagine they are supposed to provide more insight into the character’s head — and indeed the first couple of them were fine in that regard — but by the end of the book they were just tedious.

    Thrawn is very much complementary to the (excellent) animated series Star Wars Rebels, the later seasons of which introduce Thrawn as a recurring antagonist. In additional to following Thrawn’s rise through the Imperial navy, the book also spends a significant amount of time detailing the life of Arihnda Pryce, who ascends to become the Governor of Lothal (the home planet of Rebels’ protagonist). While Rebels definitely isn’t required viewing in order to enjoy this story, I definitely felt like the book added additional depth to the series and vice-versa. Without spoiling Thrawn or Rebels, one revelation in particular about Thrawn’s motivation makes the character’s situation at the end of Rebels especially interesting when considering where future media may take the character…

    I listened to the audiobook version of Thrawn. Marc Thompson does an excellent job, giving each character a distinct and recognizable voice, and his Thrawn voice is close enough to how Lars Mikkelsen voiced the character on Rebels to not be jarring. Coupled with the traditional Star Wars soundtrack and sound effects, it really feels like listening to a radio drama. This was a really enjoyable way to experience the story, and I definitely think I’ll prefer the audiobooks for future Star Wars books.