Category Archives: Computers/Internet

GPS Navigation Options We Need

GPS navigation options we need:

  • I know how to get to the freeway from home.
  • I know how to get home from the freeway.
  • Don’t send me down someone else’s narrow residential streets just to save two minutes.

If I’m trying to get somewhere other than home after work, I’ll use GPS to get an idea of the time remaining and the fastest route. Since I’d rather avoid the freeway during rush hour, it keeps trying to send me on these zigzag paths through residential neighborhoods to avoid backed-up arteries or just avoid busy intersections. I used to follow those routes, but after a while I started noticing other cars ahead of me that were clearly doing the same thing. It’s not just one car being added to that lumpy narrow road with lots of driveways, stop signs, kids on bikes and people taking out the trash. It’s a lot of cars. And of course we’re following the same apps drawing from the same data, so we’re all taking the same side streets, not spread out among all of them.

If there’s a big difference, that’s one thing, but for two or three minutes? What’s the point?

Of course the avigation app seems so testy when I decline to be part of the problem, and it has to keep recalculating…

Alternate Sharing Buttons (Now with Less Tracking!)

I’ve been trying out some alternate sharing buttons that don’t talk to Facebook, Twitter, etc. — or to a third-party button provider like ShareThis — until you actually click on the button. Facebook can track you across the internet when sites include the standard “Like” button hosted on their services. Same with Google and the +1. Even WordPress’ Jetpack buttons will call out to Facebook and Pinterest to display the share count. I want to reduce my contribution to ubiquitous tracking.*

Sharingbuttons.io is totally self-contained and doesn’t even use any JavaScript. You use their site to generate a set of buttons for a particular page, then copy the HTML and CSS to your site. Downsides: The HTML includes embedded SVG that has to be repeated on every page, and your page title and URL are repeated in each button within the page. I used this set on the old Alternative Browser Alliance site, replacing ShareThis. It’s only around five pages, so it was faster to repeat the generator five times than write a tool to template it.

Share42 uses locally-hosted JavaScript to avoid repeating the title and URL on every button, and a single image sprite generated from the set of buttons that you choose. You copy both files to your own site, so that it doesn’t contact a third-party server just by appearing. This also made it simpler to add to WordPress, because I only need to add an easily-templateable stub and enqueue a local script. So I put it on Speed Force, replacing Jetpack’s sharing module. I may put it on the old Flash reference site (which used to have ShareThis on it) if it seems like it’s worth it.

These are both topic-based projects. For my personal blog here, I’ve decided to just drop the share buttons entirely. I’m not sure how useful they are these days, anyway, especially on mobile, where sharing to an app is built into the system.

*Yes, I said reduce, not eliminate. I’m still using WordPress stats, for instance, though I’m phasing out Google Analytics on my personal sites, and of course anywhere you actually embed content from another site, the remote site can potentially track your visitors.

Mastodon: Welcome to the Federation

Mastodon is one of a newer crop of decentralized social networks that are trying to put the users first instead of building everything around ads, tracking, and attention-grabbing feedback loops.

It’s open source software run on a bunch of smaller networks, mostly volunteer-run, each with its own policies and moderators. (You can even run one yourself if you want!) These smaller networks can talk to each other behind the scenes, allowing you to follow and interact with people across networks (that’s where “federation” comes in). Each instance has a different community and flavor, and each is part of the broader community.

I’ve been on for a few months now. It takes a while to settle in, and it feels kind of like the early, optimistic days of Twitter, plus there’s an effort to learn from the past and make it better this time. You can find me at @kelsonv@mastodon.social (general discussion) and @kelsonv@photog.social (photography).

If you’re interested in trying it out, joinmastodon.org is a good place to start, and can suggest which instances might be a good fit. And this Brief Introduction to Mastodon goes into a bit more detail on how to use it and what the culture and etiquette is like.

Airplane Mode: Battery Saver!

I keep one of my old phones as a spare and for tinkering (to the extent that you can do that). I upgraded it to LineageOS and used it for a few days when my most recent phone died last month.

13 days ago I charged it, put it in airplane mode and put it in my laptop bag. Today it’s still at 34% charge. On a 5 year old battery.

Obviously it didn’t last that long with actual usage, and wouldn’t even just sitting in the bag with wi-fi and data sync. But I’m still impressed!

Flickr vs. Instagram / Who’s in Control?

Social media is a mess these days. Most of us follow too many people and organizations to keep up, so we need some way of narrowing it down…but the tools are typically built into each service, which has different priorities about what it wants you to see than you do. As they say, if you’re not paying, you’re the product.

I realized this is why I still prefer Flickr to Instagram: I’m still in control when I browse Flickr. With Instagram, the best I can do is pick from one firehose or another. Flickr has its issues, but I can find stuff there, and the timeline isn’t re-ordered to suit someone else’s priorities.

Ironically, I post more often on Instagram than on Flickr. Because I like Flickr more, I feel like I should take my time & curate my photos better. But I also end up posting many at a time on Flickr, and single photos on Instagram. I don’t feel like I’m spamming if I post twenty pictures to Flickr, but I do if I post that many* to Instagram.

I mentioned this on Mastodon, and my brother remarked that Flickr feels more like “adding to a collection,” while other sites are more “shoveling things at my friends/followers.” That’s true of most social networks: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, even Mastodon are all about now. Going back to look at someone’s history feels like an accident. Or stalking.

On Facebook, it would be really weird to go through someone’s old posts and comment on them. On Flickr, that’s totally normal. If Twitter is like shouting into the void, hoping someone will hear you, Flickr is like building a gallery and hoping someone will visit. When someone finally does,** they’ll see it, and look around. But that scream on Twitter is already fading on the wind.

Especially if Twitter thinks your friends would be more interested in seeing a sponsored post instead.

*Instagram does let you post multi-photo stacks, but the stack only ever appears as a unit. Only the cover photo appears in timelines or searches, and the whole stack shares one description and one set of tags. Flickr lets you group photos into albums however you want, and people (including you) can find any individual photo and go from there to the rest of the album.

**Not that Flickr isn’t subject to the siren call of now either, but the long tail still exists there.