View profile

Fox Populi - Issue #1 - Down with the blog!

Revue
 
Twitter bought Revue, then made all the paid features I needed free. I plan to let my WordPress.com s
 

Fox Populi

January 26 · Issue #1 · View online
Thoughts on art, life, culture, politics, and the places those things intersect.

Twitter bought Revue, then made all the paid features I needed free. I plan to let my WordPress.com sub lapse and change kyefox.com to a page pointing to all my profiles and this newsletter.
Fox Populi will basically be a longer-form version of my Twitter account. Some stuff just warrants expansion. Here are all the posts from the blog in one nice newsletter.


Support
Funding for the tools and time that goes into all my creative/hobby efforts comes from supporters on Patreon and Ko-fi. I’ll enable the paid newsletter feature here some time in the future, but for now, I’m on the “Founder” plan on Patreon and it costs the same 5%.
1. ActivityPub Could Be The Future
I’ll admit, I’ve spent the last several years disillusioned with technology. All the quirky little tools people made gave way to ad-fueled companies that refused to play well with others.
This is the first time I’ve been excited for a new technology in memory.
ActivityPub is to HTTP what HTTP was to TCP/IP. TCP/IP bridged disparate systems and allowed them to communicate reliably. HTTP allowed the various services built on TCP/IP to communicate with each other reliably.
ActivityPub goes one step further and provides a way for users on those services to communicate in a way that has the appearance of directness. I can follow, for example, Blender’s videos on PeerTube from my Mastodon account. Or I can use a blog platform that speaks ActivityPub and let people follow it from other services. It’s all the best features of Twitter with the flexibility of RSS. And unlike Twitter, your Mastodon profile will probably never lose its RSS feed in a company’s pursuit of profit. The main project already funds itself through Patreon, as do most of the larger instances.
It’s still early. We could be looking at a situation like Usenet and Gopher where neither ended up being The Thing because AOL soaked up the nascent public internet, then Facebook soaked up the nascent commercial web.
Right now the popularity of Mastodon carries ActivityPub while projects like Plume (blogging), Pixelfed (image sharing), and others work toward their potential.
I have noticed a tendency for people supporting older, similar protocols to wonder why ActivityPub got so popular while their own stagnated. We could speculate. If people knew Ostatus at all, they understood it as a protocol for making Twitter clones. XMPP spoke XML in an age of JSON, and it was perceived as an instant messenger protocol.
Both focused on liberating people from commercial silos. Mastodon had some press to that effect regarding Twitter, but people on there have come to care less as its native and diverse community grows to a self-sufficient level.
Twitter and Facebook are struggling to cope with their place in a massive cultural shift and shaky transfer of generational power. As I write this, Facebook has just lost 25% of its share price on the announcement that it expects weak growth.
I think the growing ActivityPub federation has a good chance. No one interacts with my tweets anymore. Meanwhile, I get response on Mastodon that reminds me of the early days of Twitter, before they betrayed their developer community and hired a legion of people to cut ad deals.

2. That time I got two defective refurbished Nikon D3400s from Adorama
I have long wanted to get serious about photography. (note: I’ve gotten a camera in the time since writing this. The review is in this newsletter!) I used a Canon PowerShot SX100 IS until it died on me, and quit photography. I just didn’t have the money for another camera, and phone cameras were inadequate.
One day, I finally saved enough to get a proper DSLR in the form of a Nikon D3400 with the kit 18-55 lens, plus the vibration reduced DX 70-300 lens. Adorama had a great deal on a refurbished camera and refurbished lens. Everyone said refurbs were as good as or better than new because they had special attention from a tech at Nikon. That turned out to be false. I don’t doubt that every blog post and comment stating this was from someone who had a good experience and believed it to be true, but either I got a bad run or something changed.
The first camera had a big line up and down every image. Bad pixels. Hot pixels. Dead pixels. I don’t know. Adorama sent me a return label, and I shipped it off for a replacement. I had to spring for about $5 in packaging since I was only sending the camera back and the box was sized for it and the big zoom lens.
A replacement arrived around midday. I took a lot of great shots, and then I saw it. The faster the shutter got, the more obvious it was I got another defective camera. The picture was unusable by 1/1000 and almost completely black by the maximum shutter speed. Obviously, it’s not Adorama’s fault the camera was defective, but their support person said someone would check it before sending. They obviously didn’t do a thorough enough check. I was out about $10 for packaging this time since I already sent the big box back with the first camera.
I sent it and the lens back, and decided not to try again until I could buy new. By then, I was already pushing the return window on the 70-300 lens, and I couldn’t risk getting another bad camera to go with a lens I couldn’t send back anymore. To Adorama’s credit, they processed the returns and refund without fuss. The only problem was with the first camera where they processed it as a refund instead of a replacement, added a new order for the same camera, and I had to ask them to suspend it for a few days so the money could get back in my bank.
Who failed here? I don’t know. I do know Adorama no longer has Nikon D3400s, refurbished or otherwise, in stock as of this writing. The lesson not to put too much weight on what people say online cost me $15 and some time at the UPS store, and I consider it worthwhile.
When it wasn’t obviously broken, I got enough use out of it to realize I would probably be happier with a mirrorless camera. Those are still much more expensive and fall short in some areas.
3. I listened to Joe Rogan’s podcast so you don’t have to
Here are all the things I’ve heard about Joe Rogan, mega-popular podcaster:
  • Nazi
  • Transphobe
  • Idiot
  • Genius
I finally gave in and had a listen to a few of his very, very long podcast episodes after Bernie Sanders called out his interview with Rogan.
The result is…he’s okay. Fine. Good. Doesn’t seem like a Nazi. Has some questionable opinions on trans women in sports, but isn’t quite on a level with people screaming slurs at trans women on Twitter. Some of his guests are, and I can’t mince words here, not good. I don’t believe in pure good and evil, but someone like Alex Jones tests that view. He practices malignant ignorance, and Joe has had him on too recently for him to claim ignorance.
It’s a value judgement. You have values, I have values. We all have lines we don’t cross. I suspect our lines and values are more similar than different. We can have a conversation here.
That’s what I don’t like about politics. Some people just refuse to own the fact that they have an ideology. “Trans rights are human rights” is, aside from being absolutely fucking true, an ideology.
And you know what? Even if you bristle at that slogan, I bet if we sat down and chatted about what it means, you would agree. We’re probably not that different once you get past the slogans and talking points.
I just don’t want to start this newsletter off by giving any impression to my many leftist friends that I wouldn’t stop a Nazi if they threatened any trans person. But I want everyone else to know that, despite some growing images of left-leaning people like myself, I don’t think everyone who holds an ignorant opinion on queer people (also like myself) is a goose-stepping fascist.
So this Joe Rogan guy, right?
He reminds me of Jack O’Neill, team leader on Stargate SG-1. Seems a little dumb, sometimes charges through good sense into bad calls, but his heart is in the right place. And he’s probably a lot smarter than he lets on. In another interview, I think the one with Penn Jillette, they talk about Joe’s past slide into conspiracy theories. He seems to be back to the fun, jokey-serious conspiracy theory nonsense of the ‘90s.
The kind that gave us Stargate.
But that’s not what most people care about in this post-Sanders endorsement world. People want to know if he’s a transphobe. In the strict, academic sense, his expression of his views on trans women in sports is transphobic. His words contribute to an environment that makes trans people unsafe.
By that definition, we’re all transphobes. I laughed at the “she’s a man, man!” scene in Austin Powers when I was younger and stupider. I laughed at the transphobia in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. Like Joe, I realize now how transphobic it was. I don’t find this definition helpful outside contexts where everyone knows and agrees with it. You have to meet people where they are if you want to move them.
Complex human. Calling out transphobic nonsense. Not giving in to all the people yelling “transphobe!” and sticking to trying not to be one. Look past the ableism in the way he expressed it. We’ll all come around on not calling things insane some day.
This human is a conduit for ideas with no filter. He has lines and values that come into focus as I listen to episodes. My impression is that, by American political standards, he’s more left than liberal, and far from right wing.
I can see the appeal. His revised interview with Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter, adds Vijaya Gadde and Tim Pool. This was probably one of the best interviews I’ve heard.
Vijaya Gadde is Twitter’s main law/policy/community person. She made a strong case that Twitter is listening, trying to do right. Jack stayed out of the way a lot, saying she needed to be at the front more on this subject as the person responsible for Twitter’s community.
Tim Pool is one of those people I would normally dismiss as an asshole. Asshole, probably, but I heard him. He’s your typical free speech absolutist. He has his lines, and those lines are informed by his ideology. He thinks, and Joe generally agrees, that removing people and content from platforms prevents people from making informed decisions.
He cites an example where a friend of his was going down the alt-right rabbithole by way of a right-wing personality. He wanted to reference a video on YouTube from that personality to show how bad they really are and where his ideas went, but the video was gone. He admitted he didn’t know why it was gone, but the point held: the video wasn’t available as evidence to steer that friend away.
That was actually kind of persuasive. A point of agreement! We might disagree on the solution. I think it’s better to demote the content and people and provide some informed commentary, then provide a path to the full force of their ideas with the benefit of that context. In the same way, I wouldn’t send someone to Joe’s podcast without pointing out some of the troubling people he has on. Context. Lines. Ideology.
I don’t think I would have understood all the viewpoints involved here without the format. The episodes are long. This episode (#1258) is three and a half hours. So long that everyone got out the usual BS, realized they kept repeating themselves, and chilled out enough to hash out their differences and similarities for a couple of hours before calmly conceding they wouldn’t fully agree with each other, but at least understood each other’s positions.
As I do, now.
4. A yarn about software development culture
Richard Stallman resigned and/or was pushed out of the FSF, depending on your alignment.
People put up with his behavior because he helped start the free software movement. But after a point you have to wonder: how many potential contributors were put off because software development as a culture makes excuses for great men with underdeveloped interpersonal skills?
I have a theory that people in tech who tolerate this behavior can’t imagine doing anything else. Dealing with this kind of behavior takes time and energy, and risks becoming a pariah. So they optimize! They live and breath code, and can’t imagine that someone would be drawn to it and not feel such a pull that they would put up with anything to be a part of that culture. From that perspective, avoiding difficult conversations—minding that their interpersonal skills might also be lacking even if they see the problem and want to say something—is a rough optimization so they can focus on code and intellectually stimulating conversations.
Unfortunately, like all premature optimizations, avoidance of conflict leads to more problems than it solves. Not everyone who would make a great developer sees it as their only option. Many see the culture and run off to the less toxic cultures around one of their other hobbies. Like knitting: oft-mocked by toxic people, but just as technically challenging as any software project. If you think debates over code licenses get loud, try knitting pattern licensing.
This culture put me off going further into tech for a long time because the pull wasn’t strong enough to make the value proposition compelling. Instead, I went to music. I put up with irritating EDM bros because I love listening to and making electronic music even if it drives me to want to quit sometimes. And, I’ll admit, I avoid taking people aside to talk about their behavior because I’ve been burned so many times doing that. I could be better about this.
This kind of situation is even bad for a person pushing people away. Making excuses for their behavior denies them the opportunity to grow and learn to make sharp critiques in a way that makes the recipient learn and feel better about the work they did in the process of making the subject of critique.
Time for a personal story!
I used to make a lot of bad, lewd puns every time a chance presented itself. A friend pulled me aside and said they appreciated my humor, but felt like my misses took away from the hits because I had no filter, no standards. By realizing they were right and doing the work to step up my pun game, I was happier and made a lot more people groan.
Richard Stallman had to leave in 2019 because people made excuses for his behavior for decades. This could have been prevented anywhere along the way. Genius doesn’t matter if the vessel for that genius repels equal geniuses who feel like they have better options.
5. Nikon D5600 in 2021: still worth it?
Short answer: yes. You should get it.
Slightly less short answer: it’s good enough in enough situations that the main thing holding it back is the glass you plant on the front and, to a lesser extent, the technique and experience of the person on the other end. Given what I’ve done with its more advanced 39 point autofocus, it’s for the best that I never got that D3400.
I could not find a use for the included 18-55 kit lens. It’s a fine lens. It takes good pictures, focuses fast enough, and would probably cover most of the needs of most photographers. But next to the refurbished vibration-reduced non-kit 70-300 lens I bought with it, the kit 18-55 is completely useless. Absolutely pointless. I could have saved $50 and put it toward another lens.
The D5600 with a normal-person lens in the sub-pro category performs best with plenty of light. That’s true of any camera, but especially true of a camera with a crop sensor where most people will use it with lenses with apertures that, at best, open to f3.5. Lenses in the same price range that open wider are also generally 100mm and wider primes, so you lose versatility in exchange for more light.
But it also shoots in 14 bit raw. That’s trillions of colors, and gives you a lot of wiggle room on an underexposed photo. Here’s a photo of a sunset I took when the Sahara desert belched some dust across the ocean in June 2020.
With this, I pushed the limits of raw, then pushed a little more. It still looks okay because they’re clouds. Clouds are soft no matter what you do, because they’re clouds. Anything else and you’ll wish you had a long zoom with, at worst, f/4 across the range. What I’ve had to accept is it’s not going to shoot birds on a cloudy day. That’s fine, for me. I got this lens with birds in mind, but quickly found it was better for bugs and plants and textures. Some day I’ll have $1200 to invest on a 200-500 with a fixed f/4 across the range. Some day.
But you get enough light, and you won’t be able to tell the difference. Aside from very, very tiny things.
It’s fine. Not great. Not bad. But it’s also not quite as big as I would like. I had to crop it way down, and none of the details on the insects are clear. I have a 58mm close-up filter set on backorder and have no idea when they’ll arrive. I’ll review the 70-300 lens after I have some time to experiment with magnification.
This is more a product of insufficient reach than anything about the quality of the lens. All zoom lenses perform worst at either extreme, so a 300mm lens (450mm @ 35mm) at 300mm will struggle and a 500mm lens (750mm @ 35mm) at 500mm will struggle, and both will do worse when the subject occupies a smaller portion of the frame. A better auto-focus will help here, but only so much.
You can see what I mean with a bigger subject at the same extreme in even worse light. The D5600 had an easier time nailing the focus with more subject to think about. The tiny bug was barely bigger in the viewfinder than the square that indicated the autofocus point.
I won’t try to tell you it’s fine and good enough for all purposes like some reviewers, but what you can do with it is good enough that most people are better off spending the premium on a better body on a D5600 and better glass instead. You can rent that better camera and an above-average lens for much less than the premium you would spend on a D5600 and a better lens to know for sure, but I can guess how that would turn out.
There are some nice-to-haves it lacks that I’ll look for in the future when I move on to mirrorless. After I get all I can out of the D5600.
  • Presets: Most higher level bodies have two or more presets on the mode dial. You select it, set it, and everything returns there when you select it. I use manual mode a lot, and would like to have a preset for taking pictures of birds in the sky and for taking pictures of birds and bugs on plants. The ideal shutter speeds are at opposite extremes, and the automatic modes make some questionable decisions. A more expensive focusing and metering system on a more expensive camera would probably help with that.
  • More wheels: I can access all the settings like ISO, aperture, and shutter speed from any semi-automatic mode or manual mode by pressing a button and turning the dial. This is slow enough that I often miss shots.
  • More cross-type autofocus points: The D5600 has 11 out of the 39 total. The difference in precision stands out when I move to one of the old-fashioned contrast focus points at the outer edges. I avoid them when I can because they struggle on too many things.

Did you enjoy this issue?
If you don't want these updates anymore, please unsubscribe here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue