Category Archives: Highlights

SpaceX Rocket Launch Over LA

Yesterday’s Falcon 9 rocket launch from Vandenberg AFB, seen across Southern California.

I walked outside and saw a bright spot (presumably the rocket) moving across the sky, trailing an expanding shell of vapor.

I ran back inside shouting “come see this, fast!” and grabbed the better camera, but it wouldn’t focus, so I snapped the top photo with my phone.

The yellow light is a street lamp. The upper bright spot is the moon. I believe the lower left is the rocket, and the lower right is the booster stage. A ring of light pulsed outward from the booster stage at one point.

The vapor trail persisted for another 10 minutes after the rocket and booster were no longer visible, and it was high enough to continue reflecting sunlight, even though it was an hour past sunset.

How to Post to Mastodon From Anything Using IFTTT

I finally managed to hook up IFTTT to Mastodon to auto-post from another site! I use IFTTT as glue for linking several services together including sharing interesting links from Pocket when I’m offline: I can add a tag in the app on my tablet, and then when it syncs that tag up to the cloud, IFTTT will pick it up and create the share post on whichever service I’ve tagged it for.*

My main source was this post by It’s a bit out of date, but it pointed me in the right direction.

1. Set up IFTTT’s Maker WebHooks

On IFTTT, go to maker_webhooks settings. Make sure it’s active.

2. Set up Mastodon to allow IFTTT as an application

Go to Preferences/Development/Your Applications on your Mastodon instance (ex: on it’s here). Click on New Application. Enter the following:

Website: (at first I thought you needed the full URL from the IFTTT config, but it seems OK without it.
Scopes: read and write should be enough. Actually just write might be fine.

Submit the app.

Now open the new app you’ve created and look up the access token.

3. Create an IFTTT app!

Go back to IFTTT and create a new app. For example, I created an app triggered by Pocket, whenever an item is tagged share-mastodon. You could also set it up to autopost every time you blog with a specific tag, or every new item in an RSS feed, or all kinds of things. Even cross-post from Facebook or “the birdsite” (Twitter).

For the “then that” section, choose a Webhooks action.

URL: (paste your access token here.)
Method: POST
Content Type: application/x-www-form-urlencoded
Body: status=whatever-you-want-to-post

For example, to share a link from Pocket you might want the body to be

status={{Title}} {{Url}}

Or for posting from WordPress, you might want it to be

status=New blog post: {{PostTitle}}


Click on Create Action.

Add a title and click on Finish.

4. Test it out!

Go and post something that should trigger the rule, then come back and click “Check Now” on the IFTTT applet. Make sure it comes through the way you want it to. Adjust it as needed.

Update (Feb 2018): This method can’t upload images, because the Mastodon API needs the image to be uploaded before you post the status, and IFTTT apps can only take one action. If you want to cross-post between Twitter and Mastodon, you can use, which can handle image uploads. @outside_rs confirmed that you can use Twitter+Crossposter as intermediaries to get images from another service onto Mastadon, as in Instagram→ IFTTT→ Twitter→ Crossposter→ Mastodon. It’s roundabout, but it works! (Not sure when I’ll have time, but I’m thinking about writing a gateway script that you can hit directly from IFTTT that will upload an image and then post to Mastodon with it, removing the dependency on Twitter.)

You can follow me on Mastodon at If you’re not on Mastodon, but would like to check it out, start at It’s a quick overview of what Mastodon is, how it’s different from Twitter, how different instances work (think of them as different servers on an MMO game, or different email services), and how to pick an instance that suits you.

*The day after testing the Pocket-to-Mastodon connection with a few links, I discovered something interesting about IFTTT when it re-posted one of those links to Buffer. Apparently IFTTT doesn’t know which tags are new, only which bookmarks have been updated and what the current tags are. My new Pocket-to-Mastodon applet picked up the share-mastodon tag I’d just added, and my Pocket-to-Buffer applet picked up the old share-buffer tag that had been on there since I first shared it last month.

Straight-Party Checkbox: Bad Design Pattern

Putting a straight-party checkbox on a ballot violates a key design principle: The polling place and ballot should strive to avoid steering people toward specific choices. This is also why some places randomize candidates’ names or stick with alphabetical order.

The human brain would rather work on auto-pilot than think carefully. Give it an excuse to stick with auto-pilot, and it’ll happily do so.

Even if that means outsourcing your vote to the people who chose the slate and designed the ballot.

You can choose to vote a straight-party ticket, but the ballot design shouldn’t influence you to do it.

It’s amazing more email accounts weren’t hacked back in the 2000s

At a tech training session, I wanted to get access to some of my class-related email on the training computer. But I didn’t want to log into my primary email on an open network, or on someone else’s computer at all. I have no idea what they’re logging, whether they’re doing SSL inspection, whether there’s a keylogger on it — probably not, but who knows?

Heck, I didn’t even want to use my own device on the hotel Wi-Fi without a VPN, and that was at least secured by WPA2! (then again…)

I ended up forwarding the extra class materials to a disposable email account and logging into that one. No risk to other accounts if it got sniffed, at any level.

But I remembered how we all used to get at email when traveling back in the early 2000s, before smartphones, and before every laptop and every Starbucks had Wi-Fi:

Internet Cafes.

We’d walk into a storefront and rent time on one of their computers. Then we’d go to our webmail site and type in our primary email login and password over plain, unsecured HTTP without TLS.

I’d never do that today. Admittedly, I wouldn’t need to in most cases — I can access my email wirelessly from a device I own that I carry in my pocket. (Whether that’s a good thing remains up for debate.)

But more importantly, we know how easy it is for someone to break into that sort of setup. Even if your own devices are clean, someone else’s computer might have malware or keyloggers or a bogus SSL cert authority on their browser to let them intercept HTTPS traffic. An HTTP website is wide open, no matter whose device you use. And an open network is easy to spoof.

So these days it’s defense in depth: If it needs a password, it had better be running on HTTPS. If I don’t trust the network, I use a VPN. And I really don’t want to enter my login info on somebody else’s device.

Thread 1/

I don’t like Twitter threads.

In most cases, if something takes more space than one or two tweets to say, it’s easier to read as an article. It’s especially bad with very long threads, and those that aren’t crafted to make each tweet a unit. When sentences continue on from one tweet to the next as if they’re only line breaks, it makes it hard to pick out a statement to highlight, or where to start.

On the plus side: Tweets are more likely to be seen, more easily shared, and people can interact as they’re posted, like a live conversation. A thread that’s crafted to fit in 140-character chunks has a rhythm to it, like a daily comic strip collection vs. a comic book. And an unplanned tweetstorm gives both the writer a chance to get their ideas down quickly and the reader a chance to see them unfiltered.

Compared to an article, a tweetstorm provides immediacy, and any Twitter thread provides reach. But they’re still a pain to read.

Also written (of course) as this twitter thread.