Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Sunsetting of G+

If you read my blog, you probably get here from Google+ so you're probably already aware that Google/Alphabet has announced they will be "sunsetting" the social network, and you'll probably be aware of why that sucks. If you're not familiar with G+, you may be wondering why I care.

The obvious first point is that most of my blog traffic comes from there. This is because I only share links from G+, so I can easily enough share to other networks and that's fine. I love seeing the statistics that show people (like you!) are reading my blog, but I'm not looking to have a huge number of readers; that's not why I do this. It's just a nice side effect.

It's my favourite social network. I'm on others, but it's my favourite, and now I have to find a replacement, which has had me thinking hard about why it's my favourite, about what makes it special to me. I'm looking at replacements, and none of them meet my needs. I think the easiest way to try and explain what is special about G+ is by looking through these others.

This is going to be long.

MeWe is currently proving a popular alternative among roleplayers. There's some concern about the politics of the owner - strong libertarian with a belief in the kind of freedom of speech that isn't actually legal in my country, because it includes incitement to violence etc. And that doesn't sit entirely comfortably with a lot of people, but, contrarily, the site offers very robust tools to block and report hate speech and harrassers and anyone else. The site is intended for everyone, even those diametrically opposed to the owner's personal politics, and that is something I can respect. It is freedom of speech for all, not just those with the loudest voices.

As well as the quick and easy blocking and reporting and the good privacy protection that makes it less likely for issues to arise in the first place, it also has good support for groups, and one of the best things about G+ are the communities. They're diverse and welcoming and really easy to set up and moderate. There's loads of roleplay communities, which is where I mostly hangout, but you can find pretty much anything. MeWe have already made one change to groups, so that you can have a look at the group before joining it - that was frustrating to me, because people would invite me and I'd click the invitation only to discover I'd mystically joined a group that I had no interest in. That was never an issue on G+, but shows the MeWe developers are responding.

I like the way you can respond to a post or comment with a huge range of emoticons, even if the style of emoticon is more cartoony than the style I'm used to from using my phone to access G+. I like that G+ Refugees use the '+' symbol, but it's fun to see people interact imaginatively with other options too. That's something MeWe does better.

I don't like the interface, the main stream page. It's too bright, too cluttered, too like Facebook. There's talk that a dark version will be released, but there's going to be a charge for it and for me, with my fibromyalgia-induced hypersensitivity issues, it's about accessibility not preference: I can't tolerate the bright clutter for long. I object to being forced to pay even a token amount for something that, actually, might not fix the issue. I was cross when G+ switched the top bar from dark grey to red, kept feeding back to them that I wanted to have colour options, and that's what pushed me to use the app more than the desktop site. That red was difficult for me to process on the scale of a full screen, but is much preferable to what MeWe offer. The rest of the interface is clean: you can have multiple column display for your stream, or (like I do) one central column thatI find less distracting. There's a bar at the top that looks like you see at the top of most Google-based sites (and is no longer red but now white). To the left is a small menu; bottom right a button to do updates. And that's it. Loads of lovely, crisp, white space. No adverts. No annoying games. The only moving imagery is if someone has put GIF's in their posts. It's so, so good!

Other people dislike that MeWe doesn't have public posting. They're intending to bring it in, but it would be public within MeWe because for anything to be publicly visible on the net would breach MeWe's tightly enforced privacy controls. That could prove annoying for me occasionally, but doesn't bother me so much. It would be a problem for anyone who uses G+ as a public internet persona, though.

The MeWe developers are looking at bringing in things to satisfy those of us looking at moving over - the aforementioned change to groups, for instance, but also bringing in "pages" to replicate collections, and something akin to circles.

Collections are something I didn't think I'd like when they were introduced, but I make a lot of use of them now. They're a way of categorising your posts, making it easy for people to follow topics they're interested in and avoid things they don't want to see. My most popular collection is the one where I share circus videos - it has more followers than I do, because people can choose to just follow that collection. It's shared publicly, which means anyone who wants to can follow it. I have other collections that are shared to just my circles, or just specific circles. Only people I allow can see those collections, but they still have the choice to unfollow them and not have any posts from that collection show up in their feed. 

Which brings me on to circles, my very favourite thing about G+. You can create a circle and add people to it. They used to be better: I could create a circle of inspiring artists, say, and not have them show up in my stream normally, but look just at that circle when I wanted. The ability to weight how much a specific circle is displayed died away, and I had to get rid of some circles because they overwhelmed my feed. All the same, I love having such precise control over who sees what, and I like the lopsided nature of circles: I can put someone in a circle, and they don't have to do the same to me for me to see stuff they're comfortable sharing publicly. Unlike other social networks, I've never felt any pressure on G+ to follow someone back just because they followed me. I'm already feeling that pressure on MeWe - partly the terminology, partly the fact that, at the moment, you can only see stuff by accepting contact requests. MeWe are looking to bring in circles, sort of. I suspect, though, that like their "pages" there will be a plan to charge a monthly subscription to use them, and the options will be "public" (within MeWe), "contacts" (which I assume will be equivalent to current set up) and "close friends". I have way more than that! I have family on G+, who don't get to see things that my friends do, and friends and family get more access to me than others. I have loads of circles to allow me to fine tune who sees what, and that's how come ended up making so many friends through the network. I had the control at every step. (Facebook have come to offer something similar, but G+ did it first and better.)

G+ let me share photos and videos for free and with no storage cap. MeWe expects photos/videos to be uploaded to their cloud and has a storage cap that I'm pretty sure I'd reach quickly if I start using it to share my circus stuff.

I get that MeWe need to charge for things. They make a big thing about how user data remains the property of the user, and there's no ads, and they're not part of a megacorp, so they need to get funding from somewhere, but I don't want to be charged for things I feel I need. I like paying for the fun extras. I'm the same when it comes to mobile games: if you need to pay to win or pay to play, I won't pay, but if you can play for free and get a good game experience, there's a good chance I'll ping a few quid into the game from time to time. MeWe is looking to charge for the things that would make it a sufficient replacement by itself, and that means I don't want to spend money.

I like the way groups (communities) are implemented, though, and a lot of communities are migrating that way so I will probably hang around for that. The mobile app is pretty good too.

Diaspora (Pluspora)
I'd heard of federated networks in a vague way before, but have done a lot of reading since. I've tried (unsuccessfully, due to bugs and overloaded servers) to sign up to Mastodon, and have signed up to Nerdica (part of Friendica), but haven't yet found anyone else there (I know a few people said they'd signed up, but I can't remember whom). The one where I've spent the most time so far is Pluspora, part of Diaspora.

I love the interface. The default is so similar to G+ in the early days, but there are options if that doesn't suit you.

It has circles ("aspects"). I haven't played enough to see how much they mimic G+, but the sharing seems pretty similar so far.

It uses hashtags instead of collections, which doesn't work as well: I don't think you can unfollow a hashtag. But then, you can apply multiple hashtags and you could only ever post to one collection at a time.

It doesn't have communities, which makes me a little sad.

Photos/videos are shared using a link and Markup language, but using links from Google photos (where most of my photos are held) doesn't seem to work very well. G+ sometimes uploads really low res versions and sometimes gets stuck uploading, but it works well overall. Pluspora shrinks the image and only displays a portion of it, which I dislike.

You can only "like" the original post, not any of the comments from it. Also, it uses "like". G+ uses the plus symbol instead, which I like better because you can use that to show solidarity without making it sound like you're glad your friend is in pain. 

You can't edit posts or comments. I didn't think that would bother me to begin with, but it really does now!

There's no app providing push notifications, so I don't remember to look at it. Despite how slow it gets, I like the G+ app.

Like MeWe, the founders of Diaspora have said they'd like to implement changes to make us feel at home. The problem is, they rely on volunteer developers so changes can be a long time coming. They use Ruby on Rails (which I've looked at but never used) and JavaScript (which is the one programming thing I've worked with but never managed too get my head around). I'm tempted to see if I can do any small tasks while I'm on maternity - would look good in my CV, if nothing else - but it does depend on the baby.

It's free. There's no ads. It seems popular with the writers, photographers (despite aforementioned issues) and non-gaming geeks I follow. I'll probably hang around there for the social side, but I do need to look into Nerdica more deeply, as that may resolve some of my issues and apparently Friendica and Diaspora talk to each other. 

Instagram
You'd be forgiven for thinking Instagram may solve my issue of how to share photos/videos. I do share a lot there, but its too public, and videos are capped at a minute in length and sometimes you're forced to turn the sound off because a song is playing in the background. I use it to admire my aerial friends' videos and to get inspiration for my own aerial journey and to admire the talent of various geeks who share RPG character art. 

And Facebook, why not?
There's been a few voices asking why individuals and communities aren't moving to Facebook. That's no good to me: I predominantly use it for family. Some people have suggested I create a second account to maintain that separation I value, but there are otherissues. I've had a second account before, and they twigged and shut it down and told me they'd close both my accounts if I did it again (and I need my main account for the messenger app, which is the primary way the aerial circus school communicates). The interface is even more cluttered than MeWe's. But the biggest issue is that I end up feeling like I have to read every single update since my last log in, and that's very dangerous for my mental health. It's because I wasn't in a great headspace when I was using the site a lot, and when I started using G+ I swore to myself I wouldn't do the same.

And I just don't like Facebook. G+ is closing because they found an issue that could have been exploited to cause a data breach (but doesn't appear to have been), whereas FB has had repeated breaches. People on G+ were aware of exploitation by Cambridge Analytica before it hit the headlines, but weren't similarly affected. Sure, Google owns a lot of my data, but I've given it to them willingly and comprehendingly.

Bleurgh.

I'll keep investigating. Twitter's not sufficient for my needs (and has the same historic issue of me thinking I need to read everything), but I'll play there to be sure. I want to look into Dreamwidth and maybe look at resurrecting my LJ. There's 10 months for me to decide, and I'm planning on clinging to G+'s heels as it's ridden into the sunset, until they kick me free.

Normal service to resume as soon as pregnancy symptoms allow. Just didn't want the announcement to pass by completely uncommented here.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Deadlands - The Asylum pt2

This is a chapter in our Deadlands game, told from the perspective of my character, Solomon Blackbird. For more of the story, check out the index.
~~~
 
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 
Every step further from the camp and towards the house fills me with dread.
 
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
 
I lose count of how many times I fight my instincts, telling me to turn and flee.  
 
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
 
The weight of my bowie knife is comforting at my waist; the words of the Psalms comforting in my mind.
 
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
 
I look toward at the house again, a silhouette knitted of shadow, barely visible against the black sky.
 
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 
 
I've reached the gardens. The only light is my flickering torch - there's not star in the sky.
 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. 
 
Surely... 
 
I skirt around the edges of the grounds until I reach the orchard. No fruit on the trees - they claw at the sky like skeletal hands. My torch light falls on a burial mound. I creep closer to read the name on the clean wooden cross: 'Tesla'. I fall to my knees with a gasp, find the soil is damp. This grave is newly dug. But more than that... My had sinks into the soil and I raise it to see blood. I yelp and scrabble away, catching myself before I fall into an open grave. The torch swings wildly, highlighting the clawed corpses in. Clawed and chewed, as if by a mountain lion. I manage not to drop the torch and recover my composure even as the horror sinks in. Raise my hand to my face to touch the scars across my eye, leaving a muddy, bloody streak. I've dreamt of this.

I've found my feet again, find myself running from the orchard to the house. Chin and Carson are more likely to be there than anywhere. My torch swings wildly, often in front of my eyes, destroying my night vision, but I manage to keep hold of it. Slow my steps and ragged breathing as I approach the building, looming larger than it did during the day. It's just the house, I realise: the admin building is missing.
 
My torch gutters and goes out as I reach the house. I drop the stick and again fight my instincts as I reach out and touch the wall. Close my eyes. Our Father, who art in Heaven. My lips move, but I find no comfort in the familiar words. Prowl around the building, fingers brushing the stone. There's no doors, no windows. It's a new floor that wasn't here before, warm as though the building is rising from Hell.

I've reached the start, I think, and carry on in a daze. 

Feels like... claw marks in the stone. Horizontal ones (are these mine?!) and ... vertical ones. Like some...thing trying to climb. I can't climb after - I have enough trouble scrambling up the cliffs with help from my companions - but I don't have any better idea of how to try to get in, and I can't do nothing. Maybe the scrapes will give me some purchase? My hand digs into the wall - I snatch it back: it felt like my nails had extended into claws that had managed to pierce the brick. Run the pad of my thumb over them - just nails. I close my eyes and press into the wall again, finding I can climb it as my hands and feet grip in that strange way, one overwhelming thought. That grave. Did I kill all those people?
 
There's a lintel, marking the start of what had been the ground floor. Climb - a gunshot rings out, shattering glass next to me - someone's shooting at me! Don't look around to see who, but dive through the window, following the broken glass, and fall far enough to realise it's too far... but manage to land on all fours, catlike.
"Hello?" The voice startles me.

"Hello..."

"Who's that?"

"Solomon"

"It's Carson." The voice sounds relieved, drained of tension - and still nothing like Carson. 
 
There's a light in the direction it came from, though. Not enough to make out my surroundings over here, so crawl there, over more clawed-up bodies. I'm nearly in tears by the time I reach him, but it is him. He doesn't know where Chin is and hasn't found any sign of Salazar or Bruce. Tell him about Tesla's grave, and then reach the question that's bothering me the most.

"Could I be a... a werecat? Puma?" As the words tumble from my mouth I realise I don't want to know, realise how frightened I am - I don't want to know, but I need to.

He doubts it. Realising I'm truly scared, says we can talk about it when we're somewhere safer. I take comfort in his words, especially the conviction with which he promises to talk later.

There's a clattering of shattering glass. We swing in the direction, Carson's lantern revealing a door. As we move towards it, he says it's the door he came in by. He also says he was the one who shot the window out, but the shot definitely came from outside...

We open the door, and immediately Carson slams it shut again, in the face of a Patchwork Man charging at us. It smashes through the door - I swipe at it while Carson unloads his gun into it, then switches to magic: balls of fire slam into it, leaving scorchmarks that fade as fast as they form. I mutter a quick prayer again - and this time find comfort in it. I still can't hit the creature, but get in the way of a couple of punches from it aimed at Carson to protect him as he finally does manage to take it down.

He's exhausted by the effort, so I start taking it apart to give him a breather as he retrieves the gun he discarded. The face... it's Salazar. Call Carson over, and he throws some more firebombs into it until it's not recognisable. He says he's seen evidence of Bruce too.

We go into the room behind the door - a lab, not the corridor Carson came in by. There's a lot of smashed glass and equipment, which has started a few small fires, and a door the other side of the room. That's all we have time to take in before Carson's lantern and the fires flicker out, leaving us in darkness. The door we entered by swings shut behind us, restored somehow. We pick our way carefully through the room to leave through the other door, which opens into a corridor. One end of the corridor is in darkness, but there's light at the other end so we go that way, to a door that opens to daylight!

It's dawn, and we're stood in front of the administration building. The orchard trees are bare, but there's no burial mounds.
 
We walk back to camp in a dazed near silence, hoping to find Chin there. We're both very, very hungry. We don't manage to find anything to eat on the way but there's the smell of roasting meat as we approach the camp. Not Chin, but Tesla, cooking a rabbit! We eat and sleep.

Wake to the smell of burning meat: Tesla's caught a coyote and is cooking it. Snatch at it from the flames before it becomes charcoal while Tesla talks. He doesn't remember much: when they took him from me, he was taken to a cell, then he was here. Carson's face is thunderous - fear masquerading as anger? - and he asks the Explorer's secret question. Unphased, Tesla replies correctly and asks what we saw in the place.

"I'm not sure." It's a weak answer, but the best I can give.

"Bodies" is all Carson will say. Tesla just nods.

Chin still hasn't shown up, so Tesla cobbles together something to try and locate him, using the same strange hat or headdress he used to try and track the Patchwork Man back in Shan Fan. He pulls it off his head and looks at us, a hint of confusion in his face and voice: "There's nothing"

"Nothing? What do you mean?"

"I found him, but there's nothing."

"You're sure you found him? It's not broken?" I look at the makeshift device, dubious.
 
"No! It works fine. There's just nothing. It's working fine." He gets defensive, starts talking technobabble I don't understand, sees the blank look on my face and puts the headdress on my head.
 
There's nothing. Not just no light, but no sound, no smell, no taste, no sense of temperature or pressure or even the air. I rip the headdress off and everything comes flooding back.

We pass the day waiting for him, hunting and foraging. I scrub with sand until I'm almost raw, trying to remove the blood from my skin, my hair, beneath my nails. Carson catches me, tries to calm me. 

"You didn't kill those people." His voice is calm but insistent.

"How can you be sure?" Mine's high, hysterical.

"You're not a monster." My face shows my doubt. He holds me. "You're not a monster. We'd have noticed by now." The care, the compassion in his voice reassures me.

"If you're wrong," I mutter against him, "will you... will you deal with me?"

"I'm not wrong."

"Promise!"

"I will. I swear it."

Tesla takes first watch; he and Carson must think I need to rest, because they don't wake me for a shift, and Tesla's taking another when I stir in the morning. Nothing weird happened overnight. Chin is still missing. We scuff around the camp, and head back to Perdition.

Sam's upset about his friends, of course, and, like us, worried about Chin. We tell him everything we can. He'll report back to the Explorer's for us: the asylum is beyond our capability, but maybe someone else can rescue Chin. Or at least find out more.

There's a new Good Intentions message for us, too:
The 'Children of Hasteli' - Indian cliff drawings painted in blood that never dries - have started appearing northwest of Perdition again. Someone is murdered, and the next day one appears.