Mastodon shows its stripes

There’s a new (2015) trans flag making the rounds over on Mastodon, an early ActivityPub platform.

The trans flag with a black stripe in the middle.

It was created by Raquel Willis in 2015 to raise awareness to the tremendous amount of violence black trans people face. Trans people in general have it bad, but it’s so much worse for them.

Some people on Mastodon, me included, pointed out that the black stripe replaced the white stripe. It was handled with as much tact as can be reasonably expected from people who feel like they’re being excluded. The context, I now understand, is that it’s there for black trans people to carve out space in an identity they’re made to feel excluded from.

Without context, it wasn’t clear this flag was an option for people who needed it, rather than an attempt at replacement. Yes, the former is the charitable thing to assume, but…well. My whole point here in this article is that something about the medium of short posts discourages charitable interpretations by allowing little room for context.

People reacted to these expressed worries about the misunderstood intent of the flag the way people do when strangers criticize something they like. I think this was inevitable and driven by the nature of the medium. People imported all their toxic behavior from Twitter, and so we get the same messes.

I did it too. Mea culpa.

Here’s the problem with Mastodon, and Tweet/toot-length posting in general: there is no room to build up to a point, so all you get is points. Punchy, context-free points.

“You can’t not know what the white stripe means!”

“Anyone who has a problem with the black stripe is blocked.”

“I always had my suspicions about them, and this confirms it.”

And on it goes.

There is a problem in the binary trans community of trying to exclude nonbinary people. It’s real. See: the whole ContraPoints fiasco. She didn’t mean to, but the unintended reads of her now evolved-away-from treatise on identity vs. perception (“The Aesthetic”) and some bad tweets (Never Tweet) led to a lot of binary trans people going mask off about what they think of nonbinary people. That’s the context we see the stripe change in lacking any other information.

So, lacking the context possible in a longer form medium, the gut reaction to seeing the nonbinary/gender-noncomforming representation on the trans flag replaced feels like an attack.

The nice thing about a spacious medium like a blog is I can reassure you that Raquel Willis is part of a writers’ collective for trans and nonbinary people and has said strongly pro-nonbinary things on Twitter. I have no doubt she’d have a problem with someone using her variation on the trans flag to exclude nonbinary people. I don’t think she meant to do what a lot of us worried about when we first saw it.

Without that context, though…

I can see why someone would get their hackles up. I sure did, and had to walk it back when I realized this whole thing might be impossible to discuss in a medium of short posts. And, you know, racism is a huge problem, and it was imported to Mastodon along with all the other toxicity, so people are on guard. Any criticism of the flag, no matter how well-intentioned, can look a little racist. In exactly the same way that swapping out our stripe, and that’s canon, can look a little sus.

It would be nice if people on both ends of it made charitable assumptions, but we’ve all dealt with enough people being exactly what we think they are that it feels dangerous to do otherwise. So it’s two groups within a group assuming the worst because they feel like they have to.

This whole situation on top of all the others made me doubt that Mastodon is going to end up much better than Twitter. I can’t decide if the toxicity that puts people on edge is endemic to the medium or if it’s just spilling over from Twitter refugees treating it like Twitter.

Anyway, black trans lives matter.


Bonbon: it’s not about the rat

Scary robot with red eyes in the dark.
Things are always scarier in the dark.

I thought one childhood was enough but, as an adult, I understand sometimes it’s worth voluntarily experiencing unpleasant things to explore new ideas and old feelings.

Bonbon seems like a monster at first, then a friend, then a threat. Then you realize it wasn’t Bonbon you needed to worry about all along. This game brought up some feelings I kind of knew went back a way, but the direct connection to childhood trauma was revealing in ways I don’t plan to explore out in public.

Bonbon is worth your $3 and 40 minutes. / Steam


Nikon D5600 in 2020: 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 burn 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.

Quarantine Rabbit

This bunny stopped just short of the minimum focusing distance on my 70-300 lens, but well outside social distancing guideline minimum.

HD wallpapers:



Japanese Beetle Breakfast

I couldn’t get the light right to show off the shiny greens and reds Japanese beetles are famous for. So I got rid of the color entirely. I took these in the same day as my squirrel story experiment.

These bugs are technically pests, but they’re so cool to look at.


Eastern Gray Squirrels At Play

I’ve learned a lot about photography since my lucky shot. Technique, lighting, editing. But more importantly, I learned about storytelling!

A still photo can be nice. A still photo can tell a story. But it’s a lot harder. This is an experiment with storytelling using a series of pictures.

It’s a start! They’re very active this time of year, so maybe I’ll get another chance. It seems like the local wildlife gets closer the more it sees me out with my camera.


Night In The Woods: I expected way more crime

A screenshot from Night In The Woods. The gang is at band practice. Mae says to Gregg: "Oooh! Crimes!!!"

You’ve seen it. Probably. Crimes! Cups on ears!

It sounds like a dig to say the game didn’t live up to expectations, but it’s actually a good thing in this case. I had no idea it was this deep. I have not cried or felt much since splitting with someone I thought was a friend about a year ago, but I did a lot of the latter and a little of the former over the course of this game.

Night In The Woods isn’t just memes and Gregg being adorable. It shows that all the weird, hard stuff in life is normal. All the weird brain stuff. All the weird life stuff. They made a whole game about it!

It feels good. It feels bad. It feels normal. I feel normal. Space cat is a jerk, but they’re right. Atoms. Just atoms. And that’s okay, because we make our own purpose, us little creatures. Thanks space cat.

You should grab Night In The Woods from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality while it’s still $5 with 700+ other games and see how it makes you feel.


Can I offer you a moon in this trying time?

I used to have a cheap telescope that could get close to this level of reach, but the moon being the moon, it would move out of view almost as quick as I could find it. When I could.

That was not a good telescope. It couldn’t do much with stars, and it couldn’t do much with large stuff in the solar system. And it had no camera attached!


The thing that gets you to the thing

Music as I treated it the last several years was a series of stepping stones to what I really wanted to do: photography. An album sale here, a patron there, and recently members here.

There’s a quote in one of my favorite TV shows, Halt and Catch Fire:

“Computers aren’t the thing. They’re the thing that gets us to the thing.”

Joe MacMillan (played by Lee Pace), Halt and Catch Fire

Music was the thing that got me to the thing: photography. I had a lot of hobbies and interests, but picked music to carry that weight because:

  • I’m good at it.
  • I’m fast.
  • I don’t burn out on it easily.
  • Selling it doesn’t bother me the way it does for other hobbies.

And that worked out…mostly. Even after all that, it finally took a lot of gifted money to finally get there. I was burned out, ready to give up. But you know what? Had I paced myself and paid attention to my physical and emotional state, it would feel less like a Pyrrhic victory. I got the camera, but now I can’t look at my music tools without wanting to curl up into a little ball.

I mainly got the MIDI keyboard for the Lite license. Once I seriously burned out, I just couldn’t touch it. Opening Live filled me with dread. Even going back to the roots to play with LMMS or Reaper with some cheesy free software synthesizers just made me sad.

The burnout will pass. I hope. I miss making music right up until I try. Right now I’m focused on learning to use this camera while using this blog to turn my experiences and perspective into something useful for others.

If you ever decide to follow my path and turn one of your easy to sell hobbies into money to get you somewhere else, be prepared for the possibility that it’ll take longer than you expected. I had to bust my butt at it for years releasing hundreds of hours of music just to have enough saved from it to even think about buying a camera. Now I’m absolutely fried emotionally on the subject of music.

Don’t do it the way I did it. Don’t get desperate. Don’t pump out 30 things a week for a month every few months hoping something clicks enough to make it all worth it. Pace yourself. You don’t want to be ruined for that hobby on the other side.


Squirrel Surprise

This squirrel ran out in front of me, quickly realized its mistake, then ran off. But not before I got a few photos. I saw some of its friends playing nearby, but they were too far away and in too much shade.