I’ve started playing a bit more with Mastodon.

For some of you, Mastodon will be old news — I’ve had a Mastodon account for four years, but haven’t really used it before — but many more, I imagine, will be saying, “Mastodon? Never heard of it!” I think you probably will be hearing a lot more about it, though, very soon, so I wanted to make sure you heard it here first!

At its simplest, Mastodon is a social network/microblogging platform rather like Twitter. And it’s getting a lot of attention at present as people are leaving Twitter, or at least exploring alternatives, because they don’t like what Elon Musk is doing with it or what they fear he might do in the future. I’m reserving judgement on that for the moment, but Mastodon has apparently gained about a million users in the last couple of weeks.

So what does Mastodon have going for it, apart from not being under Elon’s control? Well, a proper answer to that would be really quite long, but here are a few key points:

  • Mastodon is not run by any single company. It is not driven by profit as its primary motivation.

  • The feed(s) you see are based purely on whom you follow, and not on somebody else’s algorithm. There’s essentially no spam or advertising, at least for now, and it’s much less likely in the future.

  • Mastodon is ‘federated’, meaning that it consists of lots of servers talking to each other. Many people sign up to one of the big ones like ‘’ — you can find me as — but there are lots of other options. Some servers (or ‘instances’) are built around particular interests or regions, others may be run by companies or other communities. Each server is moderated and managed by the people who run it, and one view you can choose shows you the new content from people on your instance.

  • But you can follow, and be followed by, people on any instance, not just the one you’re on. The best analogy here is email: a large number of people choose to use, but they can still send and receive emails to people on any other email server. You can choose to get your email service from Fastmail or Microsoft or Yahoo or you can run your own server. (Running a Mastodon instance — e.g. for your company — is rather easier than running an email server!)

  • You can have multiple accounts on multiple instances and switch between them easily. If you decide to move somewhere else, you can leave a forwarding address so people will find you, and you can even arrange that all your followers will follow you automatically. (Your actual posts are stored on the instance, though, so your history doesn’t come with you to the new place.)

  • For the technically-inclined, Mastodon instances communicate using an open protocol called ActivityPub, which is also used by other systems such as NextCloud and PeerTube, and I suspect we’ll see it adopted more widely soon. For example, I’ve installed a plugin for this blog, so it can publish using ActivityPub. As well as following me as, you can get notified of posts on this blog by following (Please do!) If all goes well, this post will be one of the first I publish that way! The feed will be entirely independent of any other organisation, but you can still choose to follow it through, for example, any Mastodon apps or websites.

What I like about this stuff is that, to me, it feels more like the way the internet was in the early days, and the way it should be: people running or choosing their own servers, and people reading and subscribing to content based on their own preferences and not on the profit-maximising algorithms of big American or Chinese corporates.

I hope it flourishes.


I’ve just started playing with one of those ‘trail cams’ or ‘camera traps’. You attach it to a tree or similar and it captures movement using an infrared camera sensor, and illuminates the scene with a number of IR LEDs on the front. These cameras are not particularly expensive, and I think it’ll be quite fun.

My first attempt in the wood next to our driveway didn’t quite have my subject facing in the direction I’d hoped! I also spotted several rabbits and a muntjac, but mostly I got clues as to where I should put the camera next to capture more of the nocturnal social life. Coming soon, I hope…

Morning, campers!

One of the great things about owning an EV — which, after seven years of electric driving, I tend to take for granted, until I get back in a dinosaur-fuelled vehicle — is the heating system.

Because it’s independent of the motor, you get heat more quickly as you drive off since you’re not waiting for big chunks of iron and radiators full of water to warm up in order to warm you.

More importantly, though, you can also run the heating (or cooling) without the rest of the car being switched on. Most EVs will allow you to turn it on remotely from an app, and if you do this five minutes before you want to set off, the car is always comfortable, and my old winter practice of pouring milk-bottles full of warm water over frozen windscreens before departure is becoming a distant memory!

In the Tesla, the climate control has various special ‘modes’.

The one we use all the time is “Dog Mode”, which keeps Tilly at a comfortable temperature whatever’s happening outside, disables the internal alarm sensors, and puts a picture of an animated dog up on the main display with a notice saying “My driver will be back soon! Don’t worry, I’m comfortable in here: the A/C’s on and it’s 20 degrees C.” This is to prevent people from breaking your windows to save the poor animal trapped inside on a hot day!

But recently I’ve been experimenting with another: “Camp Mode”. This is for people foolish enough to consider sleeping in their car, an activity made rather more pleasant by having your bedroom well-ventilated at exactly the temperature you want and without excessive condensation on the windows! But it’s still sleeping in the boot of your car. YouTube has no shortage of videos talking about how to do it and the expensive products you can buy to make it more comfortable.

So, for no better reason than that I have to try out all the functions on my gadgets, and it might prove more comfortable than my tent at this time of year, I’ve been giving it a go. More comfortable – yes. More spacious? Definitely not! (If you had a bigger and more expensive Tesla than mine, it would be a different experience.)

But, for your amusement, here’s my little camping video:

(Direct link)

One thing I neglect to mention is that just across the car park is a big building with nice loos and excellent showers. That makes a big difference!

I’ll be back there on Saturday night. You can envy or pity me as the mood takes you!

Quote du jour

My French friend Cyril receives Status-Q updates by email, and after yesterday’s post concerning hobbies, he sent me another quote about holidays:

“Les vacances, c’est la période qui permet aux employés de se souvenir que les affaires peuvent continuer sans eux”. — E.J Wilson

or, roughly,

“A vacation is the time that allows employees to remember business can continue without them.”

I love this. I learned a very important lesson many years ago as the CEO of a small, fast-moving technology startup…

I think the company was only about six or seven people at the time, and we were in that classic startup mode: working mostly from a garden shed, having conversations every other day with investors or potential investors, watching the cashflow very carefully while convincing potential customers of our robust credentials and our ability to deliver.

But I wanted/needed to take a short holiday. Having gone from one startup to the next, I hadn’t had one for quite a long time and for various reasons I needed to take it now to coincide with other family plans. But I was torn: could I really leave this small team without their leader at such a critical time? What would the investors think? And so on…

In the end, I did decide to go, had a wonderful few days’ break, and came back to the office in some trepidation to see what had manage to survive my absence.

“Hello everyone!”, I said. “I’m back!”

The team looked up from their desks, puzzled for a moment, and then said, “Oh, yes, you’ve been away, haven’t you?”

It was a humbling and enlightening experience, and I’ve never forgotten it. Nobody is indispensable. Even you.

Anyway, there’s a nice twist to Cyril’s message. When I looked at it more carefully, I realised that he hadn’t just found a nice quotation to send back to me.

It was the first line of his vacation email auto-response.

Quote of the day

“A satisfactory hobby must be in large degree useless, inefficient, laborious, or irrelevant… a defiance of the contemporary… an assertion of those permanent values which the momentary eddies of social evolution have contravened or overlooked.”

— Aldo Leopold


Not being well up on Italian hits of the early 70s, I only learned about this today, but I think it’s great.

In 1972, the singer Adriano Celentano released a single called ‘Prisencolinensinainciusol’. The words are gibberish, but intended to sound like someone singing in English with an American accent – or at least, how such a song sounds to a non-English speaker.

“Ever since I started singing”, he once said, “I was very influenced by American music and everything Americans did. So at a certain point, because I like American slang — which, for a singer, is much easier to sing than Italian — I thought that I would write a song which would only have as its theme the inability to communicate. And to do this, I had to write a song where the lyrics didn’t mean anything.”

(Here’s a direct link – your browser may give you a better viewer than the player above.)

According to Wikipedia, the song was very popular, reaching the top 10 in several European countries, and, if you search, you can find a couple of other versions featuring Celentano, and tributes by numerous groups since. But this is my favourite; I certainly found my foot tapping to its beat… and I thought the choreography with mirrors was great!

All of this reminded me of a trip to Indonesia in my youth, where I ended up playing guitar with a group of guys who thought that Eric Clapton sang about “Snog, Snog, Snogging on Seventh Floor”. (I wrote a post about this and about ‘Mondegreens’ a little while ago… let’s see… gosh! – even that post was more than 16 years ago!)

Anyway, today I started down this particular rabbit-hole thanks to Charles Arthur pointing me at a Twitter thread containing some other linguistic gems, including this clip of Sid Caesar’s performance at one of Bob Hope’s birthday parties sometime in the 80s. A five-minute comedic performance with almost no words that can be understood by anybody:


Wonderful stuff.

The dangers of a headline figure

If you believe my Twitter stream, there are a lot of people out there who think that the UK government has capped the energy bills so they can’t pay more than £2,500 this year. This is not at all true. But it’s been reinforced by the Prime Minister’s interviews on various radio stations this morning when she said things like “making sure that nobody is paying fuel bills of more than £2,500”. Either she doesn’t understand it, or she’s not very good at explaining things clearly.

The problem is that the media are so keen to feed people a single, simple number, that for weeks we’ve been hearing about what’s happening to the energy costs for the average household and referring to that as a capped number, when in fact, of course, it’s the price per kWh that’s been capped. (More info here.) If, say, you use twice as much as the average household, your bill could be £5000. Some not-very-smart people even think they can use as much as they like, because, hey, it’s been capped now, and they’re going to get a nasty surprise! And similarly, of course, if you use half as much, you can worry a bit less about that headline figure.

This desire to reduce things to one number causes problems in many situations. Remember when the only way most people had to assess the PC they wanted to buy was based on its CPU’s GHz? (Or MHz for those with longer memories?)

Now, the headline figure for every electric car is the number of miles it can do on a charge, when lots of other factors will affect how easy it is to use in reality, like how fast it charges, or its drag coefficient (which affects how its energy use varies with speed). For many people, long journeys are relatively rare, and the important question when embarking on one will actually be something like, “How fast will this be able to recharge at the type of chargers available about 150-200 miles from my house?” And even that question is much less important if the chargers happen to have a nice cafe or restaurant next to them!

The kind of gamification that reduces things to a simple score is always appealing. But whenever you see things being compared with just one number, remember Ben Goldacre’s warning: “I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.”

This bowled me over!

Have you ever wondered how the machines at the end of a bowling alley work? Well, probably not very much, because you’ll have other things on your mind like defeating your friends and family.
But it turns out that they’re terribly cunning.

(Direct link)

I’m not sure who impresses me more: the inventors of the machines, or Jared Owen, who created this animation explaining them.

Row, row, row your boat…

At the Southampton Boat Show yesterday, I spotted lots of fun things that, while I might not purchase, I would certainly like to try!

One of them was an inflatable boat with a proper sliding seat for rowing. But the oars had a funny mechanism in the middle that I couldn’t quite fathom.

Was this so they could fold up? To give them a higher gearing? To put the handles at a more efficient angle…?

Than I realised. It means you can face forward.

(Direct link).

Le mot juste

I like the instructions on a French device I’ve just bought:

  1. How to put the battery?

1) Turn the lid of battery’s room counterclockwisely and remove it.

If counterclockwisely isn’t a word, I think it should be.

May flights of angels…

While I don’t really have very strong feelings about whether or not we should have a monarchy now, I do believe that if you’re going to have one, then ours has been about as good as you could get! It’s not at all clear to me that countries that have got rid of theirs have, as a rule, received something much better in exchange.

So with that in mind, and being aware of history in the making, I settled down to watch some of Her Majesty’s funeral today, and got hooked… and gosh, it was rather well done, wasn’t it? It’s very pleasing to think that, after recent embarrassments like Brexit and Boris, there are some things of which we as a nation can still be proud. The combined ranks of the BBC, the Crown, the Church of England and Their Majesties’ Armed Forces can pull off some impressive stuff when they set their minds to it.

My mind, of course, also kept drifting to the technical achievements. The wonderful camera angles, with no other cameras in view. The enormously long but very slow zooms vertically down from the ceiling of the Abbey. The shallow depth of focus on the jewels atop the crown. The very great depth of focus over Winston Churchill’s shoulder as his statue looked down on the passers-by below. The synchronisation of marching video and drum-beat audio, when the cameras must often have been far enough away to delay the audio by a noticeable amount. (I realised after a while they probably had radio mics near the drummers so as to transmit the audio at the speed of light instead.) It’s hard enough for most of us just getting the audio levels right when recording a single bagpiper. To pull off this kind of production at any time is quite a feat, but to do it live, spread across an entire capital, and pretty much flawlessly… well, count me impressed. If the Duke of Norfolk didn’t already have a duchy, he would have deserved one for organising this! But this was mostly the achievement of thousands of anonymous and very skilled people.

Then I wondered, too, how many bytes of data iPlayer had to cope with today, and took my hat off again to whomever was responsible for keeping those millions(?) of livestreams going for hours on end. It really wouldn’t have been the time for unexpected network load to crash your routers, or for sudden reboots caused by unexpected software updates. I bet the technical team are breathing a sigh of relief tonight!

This was the first occasion I had actually sat down and watched any live TV in a very long time. The last time, I think, might have been when the armoured cars started rolling into Iraq in search of those weapons of mass destruction… So that would have been… 2003… nearly 20 years ago. Gosh again! I do watch lots of things on a television screen, but they’re almost all movies, or recordings or streamings of shows that other people discovered a decade ago and we’re only just getting around to binge-viewing now! We’ve been in this house for five years and I haven’t got around to connecting the TV to the aerial yet, so we watched today’s events on iPlayer — which was probably higher resolution anyway — and it looked fabulous rendered by AppleTV on our nice 4K TV.

And that’s remarkable in itself. The last event of its kind — the funeral of George VI — was the first royal procession to be broadcast on television. Grainy, black-and-white, low-resolution cathode-ray-tube- & valve-powered television… and so few people owned a receiver then that almost everybody would have had to follow in audio-only form on the radio, and then read about it a day or two later in the papers. How things have changed, in one reign.

I wish King Charles a long and happy life, but when his time does eventually come, I expect we’ll be viewing it in some sort of fully-immersive holographic projection. Though, as my friend Tim pointed out when I suggested it on Twitter, fully-immersive holographic projection will probably turn out to be just a fad. Remember 3D TV?

But in either case, I hope it’s still produced by the BBC.

Morisson’s Law of Holiday Busyness

A couple of years ago, my friend Richard Morrison posted this graph, which I now think about whenever I go on vacation:

One way to increase the height of the second bump is to write lots of blog posts when you get back, but it’s a welcome distraction from the process of getting my unread emails back down to double-digits. 🙂

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser