What Mastodon Needs

I’ve been on Mastodon for about two and a half months now, which I think is long enough to have formed some opinions about where it could use some improvement. (“Where Mastodon Could Use Some Improvement” is a less-catchy title than “What Mastodon Needs”, though.)

Things are starting to move a bit faster in Mastodonia, since Twitter has started blocking its third-party client APIs, which killed off my preferred Twitter client, Tweetbot, a couple of weeks ago. Consequently, I have barely logged into Twitter since then, since as I’ve written before, the official Twitter client just isn’t good enough. And not supporting Elon Musk: Space Nazi is a side benefit.

So like many others I have just moved my microblogging over to Mastodon.

Some people who fondly remember the early days of Twitter (n.b.: I am not such a person) are excited about this period on Mastodon because we’re starting to see more client apps appearing in app stores. For example:

Aaron Ross Powell (@arossp@mastodon.social) toots: I love that I have half a dozen #Mastodon client apps installed on my phone, they're all under active development, and they all have as many (or more) features as the official app. It feels like the early days of Twitter apps, but without even the possibility of the rug getting pulled out from under it.
Federico Viticci (@viticci@macstories.net) toots: What a time to love indie apps. Third-party Mastodon clients are bringing back a sense of curiosity and excitement I hadn't felt since the heyday of Twitter clients in 2009-2011.

What am I missing? Are you working on one not on shown here? I'd love to know.

Time to work on a story

While this is exciting, for people like me it’s also a little concerning: I’m not going to use or even try every client that comes out (probably ????). I’m going to settle on one, and probably fairly soon, and it’s going to be the client that provides the best user experience for me, and which has the features that aren’t part of Mastodon itself which I really want.

When I wrote my initial post about Mastodon two months ago, I was using Metatext as my iOS client. That app’s developer has stopped developing it “for a while”, so I switched over to Toot!, which I like a lot and which is under very active development. Meanwhile the situation on macOS is still quite dire. I’m still using Mastonaut, though I really tried to use Whalebird for a while, but it has a lot of polish issues which pushed me back to Mastonaut even though its dev has stopped supporting it (because he now works for Apple).

One of the problems here is that interoperability between these apps is only what the Mastodon server software supports, so switching back and forth between them is awkward at best. So I think it’s really important for the Mastodon server software to start ramping up significantly to add features which will be widely-used. I don’t have any real visibility into how often it gets updated, or how many people are actively working on it, but hopefully we’ll see a lot of movement this year.

With that as a preamble, here are things that I’m really missing in my Mastodon experience:

1. Remembering my reading position: John Siracusa summed this up well:

John Siracusa (@siracusa@mastodon.social) toots: I think all Mastodon client apps should at least have the option to resume reading your timeline from the last place you left off. A surprising number of them seem not to.
Some don't even preserve your position when tapping "load more" or similar when some posts are missing above your current position.

I know not everyone reads their entire timeline, but one of the advantages of a chronological, non-"algorithmic" timeline is that people (like me) who do want to read everything can do so in a straightforward way...provided apps track and respect my last-read position.

Also, I'm told that the Mastodon API supports a last-read position, so, in theory, this state could be preserved across Mastodon client apps. Instead, it's often ignored even within a single app, let alone across apps.

Toot! remembers your position in any given instance of its client, but it isn’t synced to your other devices using Toot!, much less to other clients. Toot! sort of helps with this by not showing you every single toot in your timeline as you scroll up from your last position, but letting you click “load more” as you scroll up. It’s the bare minimum, but it’s not enough. Mastodon should remember this on the server side and let all clients access it. And it should remember it for other timelines (Local, Federated, Trending, and Lists) as well.

(I have no idea how Twitter or its third-party clients handled this. I suspect Tweetbot remembered this position and synced it to other instances of its client via iCloud, but I don’t know. And it doesn’t really matter how it works, just that it should work.)

Toot! did add an unread count to the timeline recently, which is really nice, but still not quite enough.

2. Lists need a more prominent UI: Toot! has a pretty nice UI on the iPad for accessing lists:

Toot! app list UI for Mastodon

The lists are shown right in the sidebar, as are saved hashtag searches. Very convenient (or it would be if I actively used them – more on this in a moment). This might not scale if you have a lot of these things, but some sort of disclosure UI would probably do the job, and there might be even better ways.

By contrast, here’s the UI to access lists in the Ice Cubes app on iPad:

Ice Cubes app list UI for Mastodon

You have to click on the Home dropdown, click on Lists, and then select a list. This is so hidden that I’ll probably never use it. It needs to get rid of at least one click.

The UI in the Mastodon web interface is so bad I’m not even going to screenshot it. It’s not worse click-wise than Ice Cubes, but it’s much more obscure.

If Lists are going to be useful then they need to have a prominent UI. Each client should keep this in mind. I also like the model of pinned lists in both Tweetbot and the official Twitter client.

3. More powerful muting of users: This is a key feature to make Lists useful. Right now when you add someone to a list they also stay in your main timeline. If you mute them, then they get muted everywhere. This makes Lists basically useless to me: The whole point of lists for me is to disperse the people I follow.

In Tweetbot I did this with selective muting: I could mute a user from my main timeline, from lists, or from searches. Usually I’d mute them from my main timeline and show them everywhere else. It seems that Tapbots’ upcoming Mastodon client Ivory is going to have a “Filter User From Home” option:

Screenshot of Ivory's Filter User From Home option.

This will probably meet my needs, but it’s something else that the server software should handle. (I did a search a while back and found a commit to the Mastodon source from a couple of years ago which seemed to be exactly this, but it doesn’t work so it might have been backed out.)

And this is the sort of thing which is going to lead to client lock-in where people like me who rely on this functionality will not only not try clients which don’t support it, but will be reluctant to switch clients at all because we won’t want to spend time reconstructing our mute lists.

(As a small aside, Tweetbot had an annoying behavior when you turned off retweets for a user in that it would only apply to the main timeline and not to lists. This made for a pretty crappy experience for how I used lists and led me to unfollow some users who retweeted a lot. More control here would be nice, but “turn off boosts everywhere” should be the default behavior if we can only have one.)

4. Bookmarks should have a more prominent UI: Mastodon has separate “like” (called “favourite”) and “bookmark” functionality, which is great since it was never entirely clear on Twitter when you Liked something if you were expressing approval or just saving it for later. (I used Likes as bookmarks and rarely liked something I didn’t want to save to find later.)

Unfortunately Bookmarks in Mastodon have a pretty hidden UI. Most clients seem to only let you access them from your user page, and don’t have a button to bookmark a toot – it’s hidden under a “more functions” popup. I think Bookmarks are likely to be a desirable feature that lots of people will want to use and they should get a more prominent UI.

dougal (@dougal@mastodon.social) toots: I wish #Mastodon clients would make #bookmarks a first-class toolbar feature, alongside commenting, favoriting, reblogging, and sharing. One use case that happens for me a lot is to see a reference to an article I want to read. But I'm busy right now and I don't want to decide whether to star the toot until I've read the article. I want to bookmark it so that I can find it again later, so having that feature immediately available
saves me trouble and time.

(All of this might indicate that Mastodon clients will want to provide some sort of configurable interface so users can set things up so they can easily get to the features they want and put the ones they don’t behind a menu. For example I almost never look at the Federated timeline. We’ll see.)

5. Saved searches: As seen in the screenshot above, Toot! has a nice feature to save searches which as far as I can tell is exclusive to Toot!, and isn’t synced at all. This isn’t essential to me, but I used it sometimes on Twitter, and Mastodon’s hashtag-based searching is really handy in directing you to toots that are highly likely to be of interest, so I would love to see this get server support.

6. Filter by toot type or content: This was a nifty little feature of Tweetbot where you could filter whatever you’re looking at to see only tweets with media, or without replies, or various other options. I used it some and while it wasn’t essential, it was really useful when I did.

It’s definitely true that Mastodon – despite being almost 7 years old – both has a lot of room to grow, and is well-positioned to see many exciting and useful innovations in the near future. But I hope the server software authors and the app authors will keep these features in mind, as I think for many mid-range users like myself (and maybe some power users as well) there’s going to be a limit to how fully we’re willing or able to engage with Mastodon without features which significantly improve our ability to control what we read and when, and how much effort we need to put in just to get to the new material.

I expect we’ll see a lot of innovation and competition in the client space this year, but if we get to the end of 2023 and we haven’t seen at least one or two of the early items on this list knocked out on the server side, then I’m going to be pretty disappointed. And I bet there are other features I don’t even think about which are important to others to have on the system.

(P.S.: I despair that we’ll get a good Mac client any time soon. But I’d settle for an iPad client I can run on Apple Silicon Macs.)

Fifty-Four

I think it’s been a while since I’ve posted a photo of myself here, so that’s me up there, a few days after my actual birthday since I’m back-dating this entry. My hair has been doing some funky things in the front lately, it’s continuing to gray in little bits around the edges, and my face is developing those telltale signs that I’m not a young guy anymore. (The furrow between my brows is especially annoying.) I thought about being artsy and doing this in black-and-white, but that made me look terrible, so instead you get to see the color of my current favorite shirt. And my apparently larger-than-I-realized forehead.

Anyway, John Scalzi posts a portrait of himself each year on his birthday, so maybe I should do the same.

My birthday fell on Martin Luther King Day this year, which meant 3-day birthday weekend! Saturday we watched the 49ers obliterate the Seahawks in the playoffs (sad Pete Carroll is best Pete Carroll), and in the evening we went to dinner at Sundance the Steakhouse, which was as good as I’d remembered. We’d only gone once since the pandemic started – when they still had an outdoor seating area the winter of 2020-21 – and I’ve missed it.

Sunday we went over to visit our friends the Hoffmans, where Domino got to play with their pups, including their current foster pup who I think needed to get some orientation to other dogs. It has been raining like crazy in California for the last month, and there was more rain on Sunday, so everyone mostly stayed inside. I played Magic with their son D which was fun – introduced him to a different 2-player draft format – and then they made pot roast for dinner and a chocolate cake for dessert.

We had a quiet Monday, and Debbi made a cinnamon Chocolate Chip cake for dessert, which ended up especially moist and yummy. We ate some while watching Moon Knight as we’re still catching up on television series from last year.

I used to throw parties for my birthday, but even without the pandemic I think I’d enjoy having low-key ones, as I do in reality. I miss holding our summer open house parties, but otherwise I’m happy to see friends in smaller groups these days.

A Very Doggo Christmas

Debbi and I are both off work this week for the holidays. We haven’t really been feeling in the holiday spirit this year: It took us three weeks to put up most of our outdoor Christmas lights (in part because it rained two consecutive weekends), and we decided not to put up a tree. I’m not entirely sure why, but December has been a real slog for us.

I think the enduring memory of this holiday is going to be taking Domino to the park, which Debbi has been doing for a few weeks, and I started joining them in the afternoons the Friday before Christmas. We have a surprising number of dogs in the neighborhood, and many of their owners bring them over in the morning or late afternoon to let them off leash so they can run around. The park is completely fenced in (it’s a locked-gate school field during the school day), so it’s pretty safe for trained dogs to get off leash.

Training Domino to coexist for our three cats has been a big source of stress for us this year, and while he’s getting better, he and Jackson have some sort of antagonism going on, which has meant we’ve had to work to keep them segregated a lot of the time. He’s doing better with Simon and Edison, but not so we can leave them alone together.

The park is different. While he can be barky towards trucks, bikes, and joggers, at the park he goes around and says hi to every dog and human, and plays nice with pretty much everyone unless they’re a jerk to him. He enjoys chasing and being chased by other dogs, and while he sometimes wanders off a bit – sometimes even behind a building – he’s always come back so far. Debbi thinks he suddenly realizes he can’t see us and comes sprinting back.

Anyway, I’ve been enjoying these outings. We’re getting to know some neighbors – even if we only know them by their dogs’ names. I am still definitely more of a cat person, though.

Our black dog Domino in the park

Christmas Eve we went to Cascal for dinner, and then drove around looking at Christmas lights as we do every year. I noticed my car was struggling a bit to start at each place we stopped, and figured the battery might be nearing the end, and resolved to call on Monday to get it replaced.

We had a quiet Christmas Day. Debbi made very yummy cinnamon rolls for breakfast, and I made my traditional meatloaf and potatoes gratin for dinner. Last year I had a pretty stressful time making the meal, so this year I looked ahead to plan. Debbi suggested I could prepare the potatoes and hold them until I was ready to put them in the oven with the meatloaf, and it turned out that just starting the potatoes first made all the difference, because they had to boil for a while before baking, and I used that time to make the meatloaf. Anyway, it was all delicious as always, and I added the beet salad that I concocted for Thanksgiving dinner. We also called our families during the day.

Our gray-and-white tabby cat Jackson sitting in the middle of a pile of wrapping paper

Monday I made an appointment for my car for Wednesday, but it turned out my car didn’t start, so I figured I’d have to have AAA tow it in. Worse, late in the day we encountered a serious problem with our freezer: It had been having trouble closing at times, and now was both not opening all the way, nor closing all the way. I finally managed to close it after 15 minutes of tinkering, but we removed the important stuff to our chest freezer in the garage and decided to just leave the troubled freezer closed until it could be looked at.

Monday night Debbi ended up with what we think was food poisoning, maybe from one of the chicken pot pies we’d had for dinner after rescuing it from the freezer. It made her pretty miserable for a couple of days. We took COVID tests in case it was that, but they both came back negative.

On Tuesday Debbi made an appointment with a repair company for Friday – the fridge is still under manufacturer’s warranty, so we crossed our fingers that this would just be an inconvenience. Meanwhile I called AAA to tow my car, but the tow truck driver saw that I had a AAA-installed battery (from 2018) and that it would be a lot cheaper to do that than to go to the dealer. And indeed after a couple of phone calls (by him and me), we determined that it would be less than half as much, so I did that, and 30 minutes later the car was starting again. I cancelled the appointment for Wednesday.

Thursday we had our friends Chad and his son D over in the afternoon and evening for several hours of playing Magic together. Their family has also had a month, so I think they appreciated some downtime away from home. I gave D a playmat and some packs from The Brothers’ War as a late Christmas gift. We also picked up pizzas and subs for dinner from our nearby hole-in-the-wall place, which went over well. They were also Domino’s foster family and I think Domino really liked seeing them, even though I think he was confused that they were at our house and their dogs weren’t.

Friday we waited around for the repair guy, who arrived 3 hours into his 4 hour window. Fortunately it turned out to be an easy fix. The freezer had a number of cables inside which were getting twisted and blocking the track. I wondered why they’d have cables like that rather than just having the drawer be on the track, and it turns out – they didn’t. The cables were there to keep things from shifting around during transit, and they weren’t removed when the fridge was delivered like they were supposed to be. I don’t know why we were able to open the freezer at all, but the repair guy removed them all and it’s working fine now. The stupidity of the problem aside, it’s a relief that it wasn’t a problem with the freezer that could break again in another year.

Over the week I also watched the Watchmen TV series from 2019, which overall was excellent. I suspect people who aren’t pretty familiar with the graphic novel wouldn’t get as much out of it as people who are, but it’s well worth watching anyway. I’m not surprised the show runner decided not to do a second series, because it comes to a pretty definitive conclusion.

Finally, we’ve had a quiet day today. Domino has been going a bit stir crazy because it’s raining out and he doesn’t want to be out in the rain, but he doesn’t want to be inside all the time either. Debbi took him for a couple of walks, and then gave him a bath. I’ve mostly been hanging out on the couch. Tonight we’re playing games remotely with family and friends (probably Jackbox), and I’ll likely go for a walk after the rain ends since I haven’t gotten any exercise today.

2022 has been a pretty bumpy year, with a lot of ups and downs, and I suspect 2023 will be similar. But I’m hoping we don’t have to get as many things repaired.

Our black dog Domino in the park

Steven Brust: Vlad the Assassin

Last spring I read and reviewed Steven Brust‘s first novel Jhereg, which is also the first in his Dragaerian series of novels, most of which are about the human assassin Vlad Taltos living in the house-based Dragaerian empire. Despite its short length (though not really all that short for when it was published, in the early 1980s), I was really impressed with its scope and world building, while still having a lively and textured story.

I’ve read several more in the series since then (yes yes, I am a slow reader, but these are not the only books I’ve been reading), and reached what I think is a good point to review a batch of them. Spoiler: I don’t think any of them attain the height of Jhereg, though most of them are entertaining in their own way. Consequently I don’t have as much to say about each of them as I did about Jhereg, so I’m covering them all in this entry.

I’ll try to keep this spoiler-light.

Yendi, MMPB, Ace, © 1984, ISBN 0-441-94456-6

Cover of Yendi by Steven Brust

These early novels in the series are published out of chronological order. In Jhereg, Vlad is an established mid-level mafia boss for the Jhereg, he’s married to a woman named Cacti, and he has powerful Draegarian sorcerer friends. Yendi takes place a number of years earlier, when he’s a low-level boss, and gets into. turf war with a rival boss. The early chapters spend a lot of time on Vlad’s territory (including a map!) and organization, and it is, frankly, kind of dull.

It gets more lively when his rival starts trying to assassinate him, which leads to him meeting and falling in love with Cawti, while he’s convalescing from one attempt. The two fall head over heels in love (and into bed) with each other, and while I understand that this happens sometimes, it felt very abrupt and unlikely. I would have chalked it up to an awkward moment in the story which didn’t quite work, except that it unfortunately sets the tone for Cawti’s presence in the series: She’s not really there as a character, we never get a feel for Vlad’s relationship with or love for her – it’s mostly told and not shown. She feels less fleshed out than Sethra Lavode, who only appears in a few scenes across all these books.

The story otherwise is structured as a mystery/puzzle similar to Jhereg, but while the final conflict is lively enough, the reveal of who’s behind it feels not at all well set up. This is in keeping with the spirit of the Yendi house in Dragaera, but it doesn’t work well in a story of this sort.

While most of the Vlad novels are named after Dragaerian great houses, Yendi seems an odd choice of title for this one. Sure, the villain is a Yendi, but it’s such a small part of the book, and doesn’t even seem to capture the spirit of the story overall that it feels forced. This isn’t the first time I’ll feel this way about the title.

Brokedown Palace, MMPB, Ace, © 1986, ISBN 0-441-07181-3

Cover of Brokedown Palace by Steven Brust

This is not a Vlad novel, but takes place an indeterminate – but large – number of years earlier, in the Eastern lands of Fenario that Vlad’s human family hails from. Fenario is ruled by the eldest of four brothers, Kind Laszlo, with the middle two as his right-hand men. His youngest brother, Prince Miklos, has a strained relationship with him. The family’s difficulties are also embodied in the the decaying palace in which they live, problems which Miklos perceives but Laszlo feels defensive about, further straining their relationship. Following an especially violent falling out, Miklos spends a couple of years in the west, in the lands of Faerie – which we know are Dragaera – and returns to try to save his family and homeland.

The story has the feel of a lengthy fable, with characters which feel like archetypes rather than rounded people, and events which often seem arbitrary and portentous, leading to a climax which seems like it should be meaningful but felt empty to me. I’ve read that the book is pretty polarizing, so put me on the side of those who didn’t enjoy it so much. Many of the details of the setting show up in the later Vlad novels, so in that sense I’m glad to have read it, but I’d say it rates at the bottom of the books in the series I’ve read so far.

Teckla, MMPB, Ace, © 1987, ISBN 0-441-79977-9

Cover of Teckla by Steven Brust

Teckla takes place not long after Jhereg. Cawti gets involved with some revolutionaries in South Adrilankha – the section of the city where most of the Easterners (i.e., humans) live, including Vlad’s grandfather. Humans and the Teckla house are oppressed in Dragaerian society, and the revolutionaries want to end the oppression. Trying to keep Cawti from getting killed, Vlad gets tangled up with the Jhereg boss who’s attacking them, as well as the revolutionaries themselves, including their leader, Kelly, even as his marriage is disintegrating.

There are a lot of moving pieces to this one, but the overall impact is badly undercut by Cawti still being just a shadow of a character, and us having very little insight or investment in her and Vlad’s relationship. Their struggles feel very true-to-life – Vlad doesn’t understand Cawti’s behavior, he’s driven to try to protect her whether she wants it or not, and he makes some bad decisions as a result – but it’s just not a very good story. The thread of the oppression of the lower classes would be plenty on its own, maybe even better if Cawti wasn’t involved, or if they didn’t have such a big wall between them. But, it is what it is. The ending feels too pat, but I think this volume is largely about putting storylines in motion.

Taltos, MMPB, Ace, © 1988, ISBN 0-441-18200-3

Cover of Taltos by Steven Brust

Taltos again rolls back the clock and takes place even before Yendi, when Vlad is a fairly new member of the jhereg. It’s the most enjoyable entry since Jhereg, even if it is mostly filling in missing pieces to his background. The main story explains the origins of his friendship (or is ‘alliance’ a better term?) with Morrolan, Aliera and Seth Lavode. Interspersed are passages which detail his life from childhood to joining the Jhereg, about his father and grandfather and developing his hatred of Dragaerians.

Unlike earlier novels which have a “vexing puzzle to solve” structure, this one has a combination of coming-of-age and mythic-quest structure, which gives it a rather different feel. The coming-of-age part feels more organic and satisfying, while the later mythic-quest part feels a bit preprogrammed (as these stories often do – it’s why I don’t care for The Dark is Rising, which takes that fault to the extreme), though it does humanize Morrolan considerably over his previous appearances. In the aggregate it does a lot to tie together the different pieces of Vlad’s life and personality – all the pieces except his marriage, really. If anything his life as an assassin feels like it never got explored as deeply as it could have, which is a shame since that part of his life takes a sharp turn in the next book.

Phoenix, MMPB, Ace, © 1990, ISBN 0-441-66225-0

Cover of Phoenix by Steven Brust

This volume brings us back to the events following Teckla, but quickly head off in a surprising direction when the Demon Goddess of Vlad’s Fenarian heritage personally hires Vlad to kill the king of an island some distance from the empire. Vlad does this, but has to be rescued by Morrolan, Aliera and Cawti when he’s unable to get away – a good trick since most sorcery is blocked on the island, including most teleportation. The assassination leads to war between the Empire and the island, which in turn escalates the conflict between the Empire and Kelly’s revolutionaries, which in turn put’s Cawti at risk and forces Vlad to try to protect her.

The story jumps all over the place, and ends with one of Vlad’s more daring gambits to “solve” the problem. It also raises serious questions about the roles of deities in Dragaera (the risk when bringing gods into a story as characters is that you inevitably see them as having their own motivations and foibles, and we certainly get that here; they’re really just much more powerful characters. But perhaps that’s what Brust is going for, showing that the fable-like feel of Brokedown Palace isn’t really how things are). But it is definitely lively.

Phoenix seems to mark the end of the first phase of the series, as Vlad leaves the Jhereg and puts his old life behind him – or at least announces his intent to do so; I guess the book is called Phoenix is because he’s experiencing a rebirth. It feels like the end of the first act in a larger story, setting up whatever follows. (The house of the Phoenix plays no real role in the story.) I’m not really going to miss the Jhereg (other than Vlad’s lieutenant, Kragar, who is the most entertaining character in this slice of Vlad’s life), and Vlad’s role as a mafia boss has been feeling increasingly fraught for the nominal hero of the series (to be fair he was getting uncomfortable with his job a bit at a time over a few novels). Of course I won’t miss Cawti either (though I expect she’ll show up again). I bet we’re heading into more serious Dragaeran territory next, which means more of Morrolan, Aliera, and Seth Lavode. Which is fine with me as they’ve been the most interesting members of the supporting cast.

I think these novels feel more like an author’s early novels than Jhereg did, fumbling around a bit trying to figure out what their ultimate direction is, or maybe just the right way to head there. Despite their flaws, I’m looking forward to what comes next.

Short Ribs Day

For Thanksgiving Debbi and I went over to our friends Chad & Camille’s house, bringing Domino so he could play with their dogs.

There was actually a fair amount of prep involved: Camille was making the main dish and hors d’ouevres, but we bought the sides: Debbi made 10 pounds (!!) of mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon and maple syrup, and an apple pie, as well as bringing a pumpkin pie. I decided to try making a beet salad, with candied pecans. I also brought the makings of Aviation cocktails, since Chad and I are both gin drinkers. So Wednesday was mostly a day of cooking and baking at our house (followed by comic book night, of course).

Thursday morning I also convinced Debbi to give me a haircut, as it was getting uncomfortably long for me.

We’re having unseasonably warm weather this month – it’s cracked 70°F a few days this week. I almost wore shorts! The four of us and their kids H & D played games outside for a while before settling back to munch and chat. And that’s pretty much how the day went – other than revving up the dogs from time to time – through dinner, until we all collapsed in food comas. (And it got cold enough after sundown that I was glad I didn’t wear shorts.) The short ribs were fall-off-the-bone delicious. I put a little too much dressing on the salad but otherwise it turned out great.

Debbi and I have been doing Thanksgiving dinner by ourselves for quite a few years so this was a really nice change of pace.

Shorts ribs and gravy over mashed potatoes, green beans with bacon and maple syrup, and beet salad. Partly eaten.

Mastodon

A popular destination for participants in the Twitter diaspora has been Mastodon, which broadly resembles Twitter (you have a timeline of people you follow, you respond to their posts, like them, and add them to your own timeline) but is different in some key ways. The most important way is that it’s a distributed network, where people join a specific instance (the term for a server), but can follow people on that or any other instanced.

I joined Mastodon briefly back in 2018 during some other scare over Twitter that I don’t even remember anymore, but the instance I joined is now defunct. With the Twitpocalypse apparently upon us I looked around for a new instance. I was reluctant to join one of the really big instances (like mastodon.social), though I’m now not sure why. Mastodon gives you a timeline of people you follow, but also one of everyone on your instance, so I decided to look for an instance with a community I might enjoy following, and ended up on sfba.social, and you can find me here.

Things are moving pretty fast and people are now recommending joining instances which are well-supported, able to handle the influx of new users, and have good moderation policies regarding the usual racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic and other shitheads. While I don’t think my instance has been put to the moderation test yet (though it does have a list of limited and blocked instances), they’re doing pretty well on the other scores – it was under 3k users when I joined, doubled that in a day, and is now closing in on 30k, and while there have been a few bumps they’ve been ramping up capacity and asking for donations to pay for it.

As a Twitter substitute Mastodon works pretty well, depending on what you’re looking for, and keeping in mind that it hasn’t yet scaled to anywhere near the size of Twitter. For example, you can’t limit who can reply to your “toots” (as posts are called there), and it’s not even clear how that would work in a distributed system like this. I also don’t think the Legion of Shitheads has yet descended on the Fediverse (as the collection of federated servers is called), so there hasn’t been a real trial of the agglomeration’s moderation facilities.

The web interface is serviceable, and there are some good apps for iOS out there – I’m using Metatext. macOS apps are more of a work in progress: I’m using Mastonaut there, and it’s okay, but (for example) it doesn’t support bookmarks. (I’ve also been using Metatext on my Apple Silicon Macs, and it’s really close as to whether I like it better than Mastonaut there. So far Mastonaut is winning.) I also just started using Toot!, as it released its first update in a couple of years this week and it has good word-of-mouth. (It’s not available for Apple Silicon Macs, though.)

There’s a lot of opportunity for UI innovation in these apps, because for the most part they’re fairly small refactors of the web UI. Maybe Tapbots will fill that space. I wasn’t really around for the era of innovation in Twitter clients over a decade ago, so this is a new experience for me. All the clients I’ve tried so far are superficially similar but can be very different in the details. UI design is hugely influential in whether certain features are discoverable and usable, and if people are using a variety of different clients then that could really impact how the system evolves.

Functionally, I appreciate that Mastodon separates favourites (a.k.a. likes) from bookmarks, as I mainly used likes on Twitter as bookmarks and so was somewhat stingy with what I’d like. I’m starting to use each differently on Mastodon.

I haven’t yet tried the lists feature. I use lists a lot on Twitter, but in an idiosyncratic way: Most people I add to a list I mute from my main timeline, but a few I don’t, and I don’t know if I can do any of that on Mastodon. Lists looks like it’s not yet a first-class feature, as it’s somewhat obscure in the web UI, really obscure in Metatext, and doesn’t seem to be supported yet in Toot! (though it might be coming).

One thing I really miss from Twitter is an unread count for my main timeline. I realize the distributed nature of Mastodon probably makes this a little tricky, but it seems like it ought to be possibly to provide a reasonable estimate. I also miss syncing my read location across my devices, something Tweetbot does really well for Twitter. I read social media across something like 7 devices (3 iOS, 4 Macs), so it gets annoying to always be scrolling up to find the last few toots I’ve read.

It feels like Mastodon is still in its honeymoon period, and I see quite a few tweets indicating that people are aware of that. The culture is a combination of what the software supports, enforces or guides users to, and the norms that long-time users have imposed. If the system continues to grow, I expect those norms will be gradually (and at times abruptly) transformed as newer users vote with their behavior for what sorts of norms they’re willing to follow, and what they want to encourage others to follow. For example, there’s currently a norm of putting a broad array of topics behind content warnings, which hides them until you click on it, and I have a hard time seeing that enduring at the level it is today.

Mastodon seems to have tipped into having a critical mass of users, so I’ve been hanging out there more often. (A few folks I used to follow on Facebook but who dropped off of that platform have also popped up there.) I think it has a lot of challenges ahead of it, though, perhaps as soon as this year. For example, once the shitheads show up en masse I expect there will be many blockings and bannings and evictions, and some sites “defederating” other sites so they no longer receive their content. I think it’s gonna be rough, at times acrimonious, and might take quite a while to settle into a steady state (which I bet will involve several largely-separate federations). And even then it will continue evolving, just as Twitter did, as users find new things they want to and can do with it, and the software maintainers encourage some of those things and not others.

(This doesn’t include the potential issues of the U.S. or E.U. governments turning their eyes to certain instances via – for example – DMCA takedown notices, or other potentially complicated liabilities. Social media in 2022 is not social media in 2010 or 2006 or 1999, as this thread makes abundantly clear (TW: stories of some pretty nasty things the poster saw while working at LiveJournal).)

So far Mastodon gets a thumbs-up from me, and I’ve been using it about as often as I use Twitter, sometimes posting to both places, and sometimes only to one. I can see some of the rough edges and the barriers to entry that it presents, especially to non-technical users. Hopefully its growth will lead to faster evolution of the platform, although as a largely volunteer endeavor there’s no guarantee of that. But it seems to have handled the early waves of the Twitter diaspora fairly well, so I’m optimistic.

San Fran Sunset

Debbi and I are both on vacation starting today (well, I was off yesterday also), so after a fairly lazy morning we drove up to San Francisco for the afternoon.

We got ice cream at Ghirardelli Square (sadly, they no longer validate parking in their garage), swung by the new location of Borderlands Books in the Haight, and then drove over to Ocean Beach just in time to see the sun set a bit before 5 pm.

A lot of driving for just a few stops, but it was fun.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean at Ocean Beach in San Francisco

Twitter

I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone reading this what a shitshow things have been since Elon Musk – or, as I like to call him, Space Putin – took over a couple of weeks ago. It’s been like watching Donald Trump try to run the Presidency: A self-important loudmouth who is either in way over his head, or who’s happily tearing things down for his own inscrutable reasons, or a mix of the two.

Basically: This guy is the brains behind Tesla and SpaceX?

I have no idea whether he’s really been the brains behind Tesla and SpaceX, or if he’s just been claiming credit for the brilliance of others. It’s entirely possible that he used to be a genius – or, at least, the right genius at the right times for those companies – and something’s changed. My guess is that Space Putin is a billionaire who’s been living in a billionaire bubble which has shifted until he’s mostly getting feedback from right wing nut jobs and doesn’t trust anyone else.

My working theory is that Space Putin bid to buy Twitter for the LOLs, didn’t expect that he’d be forced to go through with the contract he signed, is upset that he was forced to go through with it, doesn’t believe that Twitter has any real value and therefore that his purchase is a sunk cost which can’t earn back his investment, and so he’s just taking out his frustrations on the company and its employees, and amusing himself along the way. That might not be what’s happening, but it’s a simple theory that fits the observable facts for those of us on the outside.

There are lots of takes and summaries of what’s been going on at Twitter. Here’s a pretty good one which runs through, well, this morning(ish). At which point Space Putin tweeted:

Elon Musk tweeted: Part of today will be turning off the “microservices” bloatware. Less than 20% are actually needed for Twitter to work!

Shortly thereafter people observed that two-factor authentication, while still active, was no longer sending confirmation codes when people tried to log in. And even more ominously, that tweets from locked accounts (that only their mutual followers should be able to see) were appearing in public searches:

Mary Robinette Kowal tweets: Apparently in the process of "removing bloatware," Twitter 2FA is now broken (email codes MIGHT still work, but I'm not testing it for obvious reasons). If you have 2FA and want to continue using Twitter, I recommend not logging out since you will be unable to log back in.
vrunt tweets:TWEETS FROM LOCKED ACCOUNTS ARE NOW SHOWING IN SEARCH RESULTS

if you are saying something on a locked alt that you do not want people to see, deactivate it now

A few days ago I thought it was pretty likely that Twitter would either file for bankruptcy or suffer a catastrophic failure by the end of the calendar year. Given how fast things are moving (and breaking), I think it’s entirely possible that one or both will happen by Thanksgiving.

It’s been a shitshow of epic proportions.

I remember first seeing Twitter back around 2007 (I think at my friend Emma’s annual Boxing Day party) and thinking it was kind of a waste of time. I joined it (my profile says) in June 2008. I didn’t use it a lot the first couple of years, but it grew on me. I’ve made over 37,000 tweets, which works out to about 7 per day. I used to forward all my tweets to Facebook, until Fb dropped support for that integration. Twitter has not been an integral part of my life. I haven’t really met any good friends there, although I’ve made a few, and connected with some people through it who I wouldn’t have otherwise. I use it to discover things like audio dramas, and comic strip artists, and to follow some creators I wouldn’t be able to otherwise, like J. Michael Straczynski.

It’s probably inevitable that almost every social media platform is going to either die or fundamentally transform in some way. Maybe some of the smaller ones, like Dreamwidth, can establish a steady state where they continue on unless something catastrophic and unforeseeable strikes them. But the big commercial ones are motivated – often forced – to keep growing, and they’re always going to hit a wall and have to figure out what’s next once the growth ends. Facebook is struggling with that existential crisis right now. We may be seeing the end of free, ad-supported social media as we know it, and something new will take its place, as it supplanted blogs as the dominant social media, and as blogs supplanted bulletin boards and mailing lists.

Anyway, I continue to write here from time to time. Maybe I’ll write a little more often. (Boy, if I had a dime for every time I said that, I might be able to buy Twitter from Space Putin.)

Meanwhile, other than here you can also catch me on Mastodon, the upcoming not-so-new hotness which many Twitterers are flocking to. I’m @mrawdon@sfba.social, spouting similar crap to what I spew(ed) on Twitter. Maybe I’ll see you there?

Falling to Boston Again

Debbi and I are back from a week in Boston – well, Massachusetts – visiting our families. I was there in July, but we decided that Debbi would come too, partly because she hadn’t seen her family in over 3 years.

Preparing for this trip was the most stressful part of it. While air fares have come down a bunch since the summer (I think we spent slightly more for both of us than I spent on just me in July), we also had to get to the airport (we decided to go with long-term parking at SFO, since 8 days is about the break-even point compared to taking a cab, Lyft, or Wingz), and also find a cat sitter.

This last part was the real point of angst: Our long-term sitter has basically retired to take care of her mother, and the woman who recommended her to use has been using Rover, which she says is okay but she’s not in love with it. We got a recommendation from one friend, and I picked up a recommendation from work. We also started learning that our regular sitter was a really great deal in the dollar department. The recommendation from work was promising, but not available during part of our trip, so she referred us to someone she knows, and we ended up going with her. Which worked out great! Thank goodness.

(Domino the dog, by the way, was already taken care of because our friends who fostered him were happy to take him for a week, so he could chase their husky around.)

We took a 10:45 am flight out, which meant we didn’t have to wake up at oh-god-thirty to drive up. Everything went smoothly, and we landed in Boston on time. The one hiccup is that it took 30 minutes for our bag to come out, but we got to my Dad’s house in time to grab a quick dinner at a taco place which is open late.

I had a couple more things to help my Dad with on this trip, and those all went smoothly. He was nice enough to let us use his car so we didn’t have to rent one (which was especially nice since rentals were starting at $100/day – guess that industry hasn’t entirely recovered from COVID yet).

We got to see the latest progress on the beach house remodel – a lot of work done in 3 months, and stuff more in the wheelhouse of our general contractor than the earlier structural work, so he was eager to show it off and know that we were happy with how things are going. And holy cow it’s all going to be awesome when it’s finished – hopefully early next spring, as winter is not far off up there. Also, he and Debbi got to meet, which I think was a big deal for both of them, as Debbi is the main person who talks with him.

We ate a bunch of good food on this trip, my favorites being return trips to Galley and Hops & Scotch, both excellent small-plates restaurants. One big difference is that we mostly ate inside, because it was too cold (and sometimes too wet) to eat outside. I was a little concerned about this, but not as much as when I was there in July. And from what I’ve read lately, COVID cases are quite low right now, and if you’re not prepared to eat inside now, it’s unlikely things are going to change for the better in the next 2 (or more) years. Granted, there are plenty of people who are likely prepared to not eat indoors (or even go out among other people much) for the foreseeable future (quite possibly the rest of their lives), but we decided that we’re not those people.

One night we went down to the North End to meet our oldest niece for dinner. Since we last saw her she’s graduate college and started working for Oracle, and is apparently kicking ass in her job. She seems very happy with life right now, which is great to see.

Over the weekend we made a couple of trips to visit the rest of Debbi’s family, spending one night down there. These trips are generally a hang-out-with-everyone experience for me, so there’s not a lot to report, except that I went walking around their neighborhood for about 40 minutes to look at Halloween decorations. Maybe not the smartest thing on a semi-rural road at night while wearing a black jacket, as sister-in-law mentioned, but oh well!

We made time to watch the final episode of Jodie Whittaker’s tenure on Doctor Who amidst all this. (It was okay.)

We had good weather on the trip – a little nippy a few nights with lows around 42°F, but a couple of days of highs near 70. And autumn in Massachusetts is quite pretty, with the fall colors in full display. There’s also something about Halloween displays outside the old east coast buildings at night that give them some extra punch. Plus I managed to avoid a repeat of the mishap of my last fall trip to MA!

Our flight home on Tuesday left around 5:30 pm, since for some reason JetBlue has either early morning or late afternoon flights from Boston to San Francisco. So it was a hecka late night for us, but we made it, and the cats were very happy to see us. We took Wednesday off and picked up the dog, who was also happy to see us. Maybe the first time he’s been left with our friends and had his owners come back for him, since he’d been surrendered three times. Now we’re trying to figure out if he’s enjoying the relative quiet of our home, or missing the constant wrestle opportunities at our friends’.

Our first COVID test today came back negative for both of us, so hopefully we’ve managed to dodge that particular bullet, and can look forward to going on a few more trips in the future.

Some Favorite Current Audio Dramas

A few years ago I wrote about a number of audio drama podcasts I was listening to, as I’d just gotten into the medium as a vehicle for fiction. Today I listen to even more audio dramas than I did then – and I wanted to write about several I’m really enjoying. All of these are currently releasing episodes or will resume doing so soon, so this is a good time to jump in and catch up on any that sound appealing to you.

Badlands Cola

You’ll find that I enjoy a lot of weird mystery stories, and Badlands Cola might be the weirdest mysteriest of all of them (including its name!). Private detective Sunny is hired to go out to the Canadian badlands where cult leader Jasper Moon grew up. Moon was arrested just recently following the deaths of several of his followers. The town is known mainly for its dinosaur fossils, and its large dinosaur replicas around town. Sunny meets local radio host Strathcona (what a name! Apparently named for several places around Canada) who has some connection to Moon and his sister Melinda, as well as the closed paleontology center. Sunny pokes around trying to find out what Moon was up to, but there’s a lot more going on here than meets the eye.

Renee Taylor Klint’s show is built around Liz Morey’s performance as Sunny – who seems increasingly out of her depth as a not-so-hard-boiled but determined detective – and the ubiquitous Briggon Snow as Strathcona – a traumatized yet strong-willed man caught between his past and the present. The show has an atmosphere of bleakness, of Sunny being stuck out there on her own with only this one weird guy who doesn’t even like her to have her back. It’s nearing the end of its first season and looks like it’s building to something big and ominous, and the fact that it’s building to anything at all – as opposed to Sunny just getting the perpetual runaround from the locals – is only revealed a bit at a time.

Boston Harbor Horror

This is flat-out Lovecraftian horror based in and around New England. It focuses mainly on Coast Guard Petty Officer Alex Devereaux, who finds a mysterious artifact and gets caught up in the machinations of a cult. While he finds allies in Professor Matthew Alvarez and Special Agent Kerri Stone, Alex doesn’t quite make it through the first season unscathed – but he does make it through. In season two he investigates a particularly brutal murder, while season three (in progress) has been split between Agent Stone investigating strange events in Antarctica, and a group of sailors trying to rescue a drifting ship in the Atlantic.

Creator Mike Gagne voices Alex – one of three shows here where the creator also voices the lad character. I have very little insight into what goes into making audio dramas, but it’s pretty impressive that all three creators do fine jobs in both roles.

Fans of The White Vault ought to enjoy Boston Harbor Horror, though it’s more overtly horrific than TWV but it has some of that slow-burn feel at times. It steadily improves season-over-season, and I’m looking forward to the rest of this season playing out, although it’s been slowed down a bit because of Gagne’s work situation (internet at his current posting is not great). If cults and ancient artifacts crossed with the realistic (as far as I can tell, anyway!) modern maritime procedures are your jam, then this one is for you.

How I Died

Dr. Jon Spacer is a forensic pathologist with a unique talent: He can see and talk to the dead. This is pretty useful in his job – working for the police department of the town of Springfield – except that his boss, Sheriff Fran Crowley wants him to stick to examining the bodies and not solving cases, and of course no one knows what Jon can do. On top of this, the now-defunct Springfield Corp research lab experienced a weird event back in 1989 whose effects are still being felt – but only Jon perceives them. And on top of that there’s a serial killer.

Creator Vince Dajani voices Jon and does a lot to carry the show, as Jon is often caught between doing the right thing, keeping his secret, and investigating the deeper mysteries of the town. Shaina Waring is an effective counterweight as Crowley, who goes from finding Jon annoying, to suspicious, to… well, any more would be spoilers.

Now in its third season, How I Died reminds me of Babylon 5 in structure, in that each season has a significant change to the status quo (and a new arrangement of the theme music, too!). Overall it works really well as both a mystery and a character drama. I might quibble that sometimes Jon’s actions seem a little too reckless, and sometimes other characters are too conveniently willing to overlook his weird behavior, but it’s easier to just go with the flow of what the show is doing than try to poke holes. It has some things to say about death and being a good person. It can be a very intense show at times, and doesn’t shy away from some gruesome crime scenes, so be aware.

90 Degrees South

Part police procedural, part eccentric character drama, with dashes of weird fantasy mixed in, 90 Degrees South had me looking forward to it every week of its first season. After a scientist is murdered at Amundsen Research Station in Antarctica over the winter, U.S. Deputy Marshal Bass Marlowe is sent to investigate. Under immense political pressure, Marlowe finds allies and friends on the station to balance out the suspicion and wariness he inspires in others. He also finds a smattering of supernatural occurrences which might be relevant – or maybe not.

The show has a surprisingly small cast despite a large number of characters: Marlowe and most of the male roles are played by Trent Shumway, which I had no idea about until I saw the cast list on the show’s web site, because many of them are extremely different from one another. While the few – the two IT geeks and the janitor, for instance – are obviously played as very broad caricatures, others are straight dramatic figures. It’s an impressive set of performances.

90 Degrees South revels in its eccentric characters, even as Marlowe is engaged in a very serious and potentially deadly hunt. But there are also some very touching moments as characters learn or confess things about themselves. And then there are the moments of outright weird, starting with the man who claims to be a demon lawyer.

The first season brings its main story to a close, but also ends on a cliffhanger, and leaves several threads unresolved. I’m hoping that some of the smaller weirdnesses will be explored and/or explained and not just be transitory color. In any event I’m very much looking forward to season two.

Palimpsest

Palimpsest has two characteristics that I’m not usually into: It’s an anthology series – each season is a new story – and it’s a single-narrator fiction series – Hayley Heninger narrates Jamieson Ridenhour’s stories. But in fact it all comes together nicely: Full-season stories get into enough depth to satisfy me, and Heninger gets into each of the main roles convincingly, while adding some color when other characters speak up. The stories are all written as diaries or reminiscences of the main characters, which further sells the approach.

The show’s tag line is “embrace what haunts you”, and “haunt” is the right word: There’s some horror here, but the stories are more creepy and haunting, rich with atmosphere and setting. I think my favorite season is the third, about a woman who worked for the British code breakers during World War II, but all four are excellent. The show is currently running a set of single-episode vignettes between the fourth and fifth seasons.

Spectre

This one reminds me of Becky Chambers’ novel A Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet: Both are found-family stories that take place on starships with small but diverse crews. A key difference is that while the main character in the novel joins the ship voluntarily, in Spectre the lead character of Rho (voiced by creator Stef Howerton) has escaped from a facility and ended up on the ship because it was one she was able to get on. Fortunately, the Spectre is a crew of good people – even if they do take jobs as mercenaries, albeit ones trying to work for the right people.

Rho has also lost her memory and has no idea why she was in the facility, though it turns out she had been augmented with fantastic abilities – which might be great if she could just control them (just what you want when you’re on a tin can in space). Not that the crew of the Spectre doesn’t have secrets of its own, starting with its mysterious captain.

Nearing the end of its first season, Spectre has been focusing mainly on Rho, so the large cast of characters feel a bit thin, as does the backdrop. Hopefully these details will be filled out in future seasons.

Unwell

Lily Harper moves to the small town of Mount Absalom, Ohio to help take care of her mother Dot, who runs a historic boarding house, is recovering from an injury, and has the early stages of dementia. Which all sounds like a bummer of a show, except that Unwell actually has some of the liveliest and funniest dialogue of any audio drama, with off-the-wall characters and secrets and mysteries galore. Lily befriends the long-term lodgers in Fenwood House as well as some of the locals, and starts to peel back the curtains hiding what’s been going on in Mount Absalom for centuries.

Unwell feels to me like it takes place in perpetual autumn. It’s not horror per se, but is genuinely creepy at times, and the creepiness is sometimes played for comedic effect and sometimes not. You never really know what direction an element of the show is going to go in. All the characters have their flaws and their own motivations, making them all – even the more sinister ones – pretty complex.

The show just wrapped up its fourth season, and it sounds like the fifth will finish the story. Much like How I Died, it feels like Unwell has changed so much since the first few episodes, but in its case it’s been a gradual evolution, where characters end up in places that make perfect sense, and it’s only on reflection that you realize that a couple of seasons ago they wouldn’t have been in those places at all.

Within the Wires

My favorite audio drama from the Night Vale Presents network, Within the Wires features a different story each season in its alternate universe where things went in a very different direction in the early 20th century, where the First World War didn’t end until the Great Reckoning in the 1930s, resulting in the formation of the New Society, a global government with radically different approaches to families and raising children, and many apparently hallmarks of autocratic states.

But the series is told obliquely, through found footage audio relics dating from the 1950s to the 2000s, with a different narrator for each one. The first season started slowly – to be honest I didn’t warm to it at first, only going back to finish it when I got into the second season – as a series of relaxation tapes, which we eventually learn are being used in a center run by the New Society. The second season are a series of museum audio tapes from the 60s through 80s about an artist named Claudia Atieno. But I think the series really hits its stride in seasons 3 (dictaphone notes from a doctor involved in setting up the New Society in the 1950s), 4 (audiocassettes by a woman involved in resisting the family planning of the New Society in the 1990s), and 5 (a series of voice mails told backwards from 2008 to 1997 by an artist at the fringes of the New Society in England). The sixth season is about a young nurse who arrives to care for an elderly woman in rural Ireland in the 1970s and is a sort of ghost story, which I felt didn’t entirely deliver on the promise of the strange things it chronicled. Season 7 is coming out shortly, and there’s also a novel, You Feel It Just Below The Ribs, which is a quite good chronicle of the Great Reckoning and early days of the New Society by a woman with a unique insight into those events.

The series often feels claustrophobic and dark, its characters trapped by their circumstances even if they’re not physically confined. You’ll find a little bit of multiple genres as you progress through the series, and the nature of the New Society is gradually revealed. But as I said we see most of this only obliquely, as few of these people are involved in shaping or running the New Society, and some of them stand in opposition to it. You can take it as a commentary on how ordinary people try to live their lives within such a framework, or a commentary on our own society – or just take it for what it is, a series of stories about people. However you take it, it’s very good.

Bonus Recommendation: An Episode of Archive 81

Archive 81 was a horror podcast that ran for three seasons from 2o16 to 2019, and whose first season was adapted into a single season of television on Netflix. Each season was radically different from the previous one – and it goes steadily better, as well.

While not a “current” series like the ones above – although apparently they hope to produce another season sometime – I only caught up on it earlier this year, and I was blown away by one episode in the third season. The third season features a pair of half-siblings, Nick (Peter Musante) and Christine (Kristen DiMercurio), trying to complete a mystical ritual left to them by their late father. The season plays around with various tropes of the genre – for example, Nick is initially portrayed as weak and somewhat subservient, while Christine is outspoken and strong, but both have more depth than that.

In episode 28, “Exist in the Place You Are Currently Occupying”, Christine goes on a dream-quest to acquire an ingredient to complete the ritual, and ends up falling in with a crew on a sailing ship who help her pursue her quest. The episode shows Christine living an alternate life as an adventurer, as told in a series of smart, self-aware vignettes as she and the crew make their way across their world and become friends and trusted companions. It’s a tour-de-force piece of drama, and I think would stand well on its own even outside the context of the larger story. (It’s also an adventure story and not a horror one – which the rest of the season very much is, so be warned if you decide to listen beyond this episode.)

Wikis

Fandom.com hosts wikis for many different interests, including many audio dramas. The better ones can be useful for refreshing your memory of previous episodes, clarifying plot points, or connecting pieces that you might not have connected while listening to episodes across many weeks. Here are a few wikis for audio dramas above: