Mike Becky

Feature Archive

The Active User Narrative

Mastodon Project Website

Josh Nicholas, writing for the Guardian:

The number of active users on the Mastodon social network has dropped more than 30% since the peak and is continuing a slow decline, according to the latest data posted on its website. There were about 1.8 million active users in the first week of January, down from over 2.5 million in early December.

The article is titled “Elon Musk Drove More Than a Million People to Mastodon – but Many Aren’t Sticking Around” and the paragraph above is the lede. It paints a dire picture for Mastodon.

But then we get to this bit:

There were about 500,000 active Mastodon users before Elon Musk took control of Twitter at the end of October. By mid-November, that number climbed to almost 2 million active users.

Wait. Over the past three months, Mastodon went from 500,000 users to 1.8 million and they’re spinning this as a bad thing because it didn’t continue to climb or maintain its peak? That’s completely absurd.

There are going to be peaks and valleys. And you can’t expect any social network to maintain its peak number of active user when there’s a massive surge like this. Anyone could have told you that it wouldn’t last. But the important point isn’t that it didn’t maintain its peak. The important point is that the number of Mastodon users has grown 260% in three months.

That’s a tremendous accomplishment. And not just for Mastodon, but for ActivityPub, open source, and the health of the open web. That should be the lede.

Matt Hauger shared a couple of graphs charting Mastodon’s active user numbers. And it illustrates how the state of things looks drastically different depending on where the timeframe begins. And while I agree with him that I’d prefer to see the trend line curving upward, I think it’s dishonest to frame the situation with such a pessimistic bend like Josh Nicholas has.

When I first joined Twitter in 2007, there were less than 700,000 accounts on the platform. I have no idea how many of those were active — I could only find numbers that went back to 2010 — but given how early it was and the total user count, I would guess that the monthly active user number wasn’t too far off from the 500,000 that we had on Mastodon in October.

Compared to Twitter, Mastodon has a much higher barrier to entry. The competition is far more established than it was when Twitter launched and they don’t have the benefit of millions of dollars of venture capital to spur growth.

But here’s the thing, although I would love to see Mastodon and other ActivityPub-based services grow, I understand that what is already there is great. I had fun on Twitter in 2007 and I’m having a ton of fun on Mastodon now.

Mastodon doesn’t need to maintain the explosive growth it’s had in the wake of Elon acquiring Twitter. And for the long-term health of the network, it would be better for Mastodon to grow slowly, allowing developers to tackle the inevitable scaling issues with a steadier hand.

And it should go without saying, but it needs to be said — Twitter doesn’t have to fail in order for Mastodon to succeed.

Home Screens to Begin 2023

I haven’t been sharing my home screens as regularly as I’d prefer, so I thought I’d just publish screenshots from each of my current devices at the beginning of the year and plan to do the same each year going forward.

iPhone 13 Pro

iPad Pro, 11-inch

MacBook Air with M2

Apple TV 4K

Retroid Pocket 3

Apple Watch Series 5

Umbrel Node

Umbrel Node Dashboard

One of the gifts I received this year was a 2012 Mac Mini with 16GB of memory and a quad-core processor. It’s not too useful as a Mac at this point, Catalina is the latest version of macOS that it can be officially installed, but Apple is no longer supporting Catalina as of December 2022.

Instead of using it with macOS, I’ve installed Ubuntu and am running it as an Umbrel node. Umbrel, I believe, started its life as self-hosted server software that allowed you to run a full Bitcoin node. It’s advanced quite a bit since then — most notably introducing an app store with more general purpose software like Plex, NextCloud, and Syncthing.

I may explore some of those apps down the line, but my goal was to use Umbrel for the cryptocurrency features. And although I’m still fumbling my way through everything, here’s what I currently have installed on my Umbrel:

Bitcoin Node — This is a full Bitcoin node, which means I have a copy of the entire blockchain — it’s 507GB at the moment. I can connect my wallets directly to my own node and contribute to Bitcoin’s decentralized nature.

Electrs — This is an Electrum server, which is basically an API layer between the Bitcoin node and some wallet apps. I’m using this to connect BlueWallet at the moment.

Lightning Node — Lightning is a layer two solution for Bitcoin. Essentially, it allows for transactions to be abstracted from the actual blockchain. This lets individual transactions complete faster and with less fees than transactions that are completed on-chain. Lightning transactions are eventually settled on the blockchain in bulk, minimizing fees for individual transactions and allowing the whole system to run more efficiently.

Lightning Terminal — The Lightning network uses “channels” to connect nodes to one another. These are the pathways by which transactions are routed. So far I’ve used Lightning Terminal to help me determine what other nodes might be good for me to connect to.

mempool — a self-hosted version of mempool.space, which let’s you track and visualize transactions on the blockchain. This app is still a bit of a mystery to me, but so far I’ve used it to track a few transaction in real-time.

ThunderHub — An app for managing my Lightning Node. It offers a number of reports and charts that I don’t quite understand yet. But as I get more usage out of the node, I expect I’ll start connecting some dots.

Uptime Kuma — The only app that isn’t cryptocurrency-related. It’s an uptime tracker that I’ve configured to periodically ping all of the other apps, sites, and services that I maintain. I’m not sure if I’ll really find it useful long-term. I’m already using Jetpack for this on all of my WordPress sites, so maybe I’ll just use it for tracking uptime of my Mastodon and Pixelfed instances.

I still feel like I’m at that point where I don’t know enough about Bitcoin and Lightning to know what I don’t know. But I’m learning. And it’s a lot of fun.

Deprecating Micro.blog

Micro.blog is an excellent service and I think Manton Reece is doing great things with it — it has a very bright future. But I’ve made the decision to deprecate my personal Micro.blog account and the Initial Charge account. This is partly because I’ve shifted all of my social networking efforts to Mastodon and partly because the service has added top-tier support for ActivityPub.

I haven’t posted anything unique to Micro.blog since I migrated to Mastodon last year, but I kept the app around in case I received any replies from there. I think it’s time for me to let the service go, though. The two accounts that I have there will continue to publish updates using Micro.blog’s built-in cross-posting, but they will no longer be monitored and will likely stop receiving updates in the future.

The good news is, because of Micro.blog’s ActivityPub support, you can already follow Initial Charge and my personal Mastodon account from there. ActivityPub support is enabled by default for all new Micro.blog accounts, but if you have an older account and haven’t enabled it yet, you can do so by clicking on the “Set Mastodon-compatible Username” button in the Accounts tab.

Once you have a Mastodon-compatible username setup for your account, you can enter @mike@libertynode.net and/or @initialcharge@libertynode.net into the search bar within Micro.blog’s Discover tab to follow one or both of the accounts.

If you’re looking for more information about Micro.blog’s ActivityPub implementation/Mastodon compatibility, Manton has published an overview on YouTube. There is also some superb documentation that might be worth a look. It includes details about what does and doesn’t work — most notably content warnings, boosts, and direct messages.

Christmas Gift Guide

It’s been several years since I’ve published a gift guide on Initial Charge. But I thought it was a great time to bring it back. I’ve maintained a private wishlist site where my family and I post links to things that we want and we can all view each others’ lists. The site isn’t just for gift giving, though — I also use it throughout the year to keep a running list of things I want to purchase for myself.

I happen to have a number of items that I’m pretty excited about acquiring, though. So you can think of this as a gift guide for people who happen to share my interests.

Retroid Pocket 3+ — an excellent retro emulation handheld. I already own the Retroid Pocket 2+ and the 3, but the 3+ includes a pretty decent performance boost over the 3. It’s far from perfect, but the more powerful internals allow it to better emulate PlayStation 2, GameCube, Wii, and Nintendo 3DS games.

8bitdo Pro 2 — I love 8bitdo’s controllers and this seems like the one to get right now. I’d mostly pair it with my Retroid handheld for playing on a television, but I’d also use it with my Apple TV, MacBook Air, and Nintendo Switch.

Apple TV 4K, Wi-Fi + Ethernet — I’ve purchased every Apple TV iteration since the first generation. This one would go in the living room and the old one would be moved to the bedroom. The old bedroom one would likely get handed down to my in-laws.

20TB WD Red Pro — These are priced at $330 at the time of this writing, which is an unbelievable deal. The 8TB drives I’m currently using for media storage are nearing their capacity, if I’m going to upgrade, I’d want to go a lot bigger and this capacity offers the best price per terabyte from my preferred hard drive manufacturer.

CyberPower 1500VA UPS — My current uninterruptible power supply is maxed out in terms of power outlets. This model only adds two, but that should give me enough room for the new hardware I’m planning to add.

ThunderBay Flex 8 — This is a bit expensive, but the ThunderBay 6 I’m currently using will eventually reach capacity and I’ll have to move to something with more bays. The ThunderBay 8 only offers two more, but it also has a PCIe slot, which can be used for additional storage or accessories.

2012 Mac Mini, Quad Core — You can pick these up from OWC or eBay for under $200 at this point. I would install Ubuntu and run it as an Umbrel. And for the price, they offer pretty decent performance in a chassis that matches the rest of my server hardware.

Anker 40W, 521, Nano Pro — This is the charger I have in my laptop bag and I love it. I’d like another one to keep in the living room for more flexibility in our charging setup — we’re just using Apple’s 18W USB-C power adapter at the moment.

Ledger Nano X — I still dabble in cryptocurrencies and would like a hardware wallet for more secure storage, rather than keeping everything on an exchange. From what I’ve researched, this is the best option on the market.

M2 MacBook Air

M2 MacBook Air with Magic Mouse, Retroid Pocket 3, and HomePod Mini

Automattic has a pretty generous laptop replacement policy — there aren’t too many restrictions on what I can get. Essentially, we have a limit on the amount of storage and memory we’re able to select, but beyond that we have the option of ordering any of Apple’s notebooks. It’s an interesting position to be in.

With this much freedom, the major deciding factors (for me at least) are physical size and performance. The last go-around, I opted for a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. It was a nice machine and served me well over the past two years, but I was more than ready to upgrade.

This time, I ordered an M2 MacBook Air in silver with 24GB of memory, 10-core GPU, and 512GB of storage. I thought I’d share my thoughts on each of the major aspects of the new machine.

Physical Dimensions

The differences between the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020) and the M2 MacBook Air seem so minuscule. All Apple laptops are thin and light these days. But the M2 Air is about 12% lighter than the MacBook Pro, which is definitely noticeable in my bag and when carrying the machine around the house.

I was actually a little concerned about the difference in depth — the M2 Air is 0.26 cm deeper than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The backpack I use has a zipper compartment where you have to kind-of shimmy the laptop in from the side and it always felt like a snug fit for the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

I was a little concerned that it would be even worse for the MacBook Air with that additional depth. But I guess the thinner chassis more than made up for it. It’s actually easier to put the M2 in and take it out of my bag than it was for the Pro.

Two Thunderbolt and MagSafe

Moving from four Thunderbolt ports to two Thunderbolt ports plus MagSafe would likely be a deal breaker for others, but it’s made absolutely no difference for me. I don’t actually connect much to my laptop. On the rare occasion, an external drive or SD card adapter, but more often than not I’ll use the ports to top-off my iPhone or AirPods. Two ports are fine for my needs.

MagSafe is an interesting feature for me. Despite my affinity for it on older laptops, I haven’t even used it on the new MacBook Air and I’m not sure I ever will.

At my desk, I have a single USB-C cable running from a power adapter to the desk surface. I use that same USB-C cable to charge my MacBook, iPad, Retroid Pocket 3, and most other devices I use (since most charge over USB-C). It’s nice having just a single cable for all of this — I can just swap it to whatever device needs charging the most.

If I used MagSafe, it would be a dedicated cable only for use with my MacBook. That would mean I’d have to keep another cable around for charging everything else. But it’s not like I’d get any of the benefits of MagSafe at my desk. It’s not really possible to trip over the cord because of it’s positioning. It’s all downside.

Similarly for travel, if I took the MagSafe cable with me, it would be a dedicated cable that only works with my MacBook. I want the cables I bring to be usable by as many devices as possible. I’ve even gone so far as to buy little USB-C to Lightning adapters, so the cables I use for my iPhone and AirPods can also be used to charge everything else.

I would see the benefits of MagSafe while traveling, since it’s more likely I’d be in scenarios where the cable can be tripped over, the battery life on this machine is incredible. I can be strategic about when I charge my laptop to limit the chances of the cable being tripped over.

MagSafe just doesn’t seem worth it at this point when compared to the benefits of a universal cable.

Battery Life

Speaking of battery life. It’s amazing. I’ve had a few days where I’ve tried working my entire day from battery alone and ended at around 30% each time. None of those days included any Zoom meetings, but I didn’t make any adjustments at all — no dimming of the screen or avoidance of apps, it was just a normal day for me.

I’m pretty confident that, even on days with meetings, I’d be able to make it through without much trouble at all.

The Notch

It stinks. It really does. Hopefully Apple will find a better way. Maybe the Dynamic Island will make an appearance in future Apple laptops, but even that is a stop-gap measure until they eventually find a way to hide all of that tech seamlessly behind the display.

Until then, I’m using Boring Old Menu Bar to hide the notch. With a black menu bar, I forget that the notch even exists. Until I open Thunderbird and notice the massive gap between the “Window” and “Help” menus. Or my mouse cursor disappears underneath it.


The last two laptops I’ve used were of the Space Gray variety. It was time for a change. Silver is classic and looks better as it ages. It doesn’t show scratches as easily, which tend to accumulate around the ports especially.

No Touch Bar

The Touch Bar was not a good feature. The idea of having a specialized interface for each application sounds like a neat idea on paper, but in practice, I would just rely on the keyboard, mouse, and trackpad for interact with my apps. Eventually, I switched the Touch Bar to displaying the exact same interface regardless of what app was running and everything it contained just mimicked the functionality of a traditional function row.

There is one single feature that I miss about the Touch Bar, though — an indicator for Fast User Switching.

For those unaware, you can actually use Touch ID to quickly switch between user accounts on your Mac. I have a user account for work-related tasks and a separate one for personal tasks. This way I can remain focused while working and have a separate environment when I take breaks and want to check in on Mastodon or something similar.

With the Touch Bar, I could rest my finger on the Touch ID sensor that’s associated with my personal account and there would be an indication displayed that I can press the button to quickly switch accounts. This same functionality exists on Macs without Touch Bars, but the indicator isn’t present.

This can cause some annoying results. Touch ID can, in some instances, misread your fingerprint and then when you press the button, you’ll just be kicked back to the Lock Screen where you’ll have to select “Switch User” and then login to the other account. This never happened with the Touch Bar because the system would indicate when it was ready to switch to the other account. Now I just have to set my finger on the sensor, wait a moment, and then press it, hoping that it will switch to my other account like I want it to.

I wish Apple would add an indicator of some kind on the system’s main display to mimic the Touch Bar’s functionality in this process. It would do a lot to smooth out the rough edges.


It’s incredible how fast this machine is. And that Apple was able to build it without any active cooling system. It’s faster than any computer I’ve ever owned in my life and is completely silent under full load.

For comparison’s sake, here are the Geekbench 5 results I received on the M2 MacBook Air alongside the results from a few other devices:

Single CoreMulti-core
MacBook Air (M2)18868620
iPad Pro (M1)17157245
iPhone 13 Pro17374683
MacBook Pro8873980

I’m not sure if there’s all that much to say beyond that in regard to performance. It can handle everything I’ve thrown at it and then some. At this point, the performance of my machine isn’t a limiting factor for my workflows.


I love this machine. Great performance and incredible battery life in a thin and light chassis, what more could you want? The notch is really the only blemish of note and there’s ways to hide that with software to minimize it’s annoyances.

Unless you really want a larger display from the MacBook Pro or you need to save $200 with the M1 MacBook Air, this is the laptop to buy.

Migrating From Twitter to Mastodon

Mastodon Website

I started moving away from Twitter early last year, first using Micro.blog and then eventually settling in to the Fediverse with my own, self-hosted instance of Mastodon. Micro.blog is an excellent service and I love a lot of what they’re doing for the open web, but the mobile apps always left something to be desired.

Coming from Twitter, I was incredibly spoiled by Tweetbot, which is one of the most polished apps I’ve ever used. Mastodon’s apps aren’t quite as good, but there are a lot of options that are in active development — it feels like the early days of Twitter in that regard. It’s exciting.

I left Twitter because it felt like everyone had the same opinion about everything and it had evolved into a place where people just go to complain and argue. I wanted something new and I wanted something that wasn’t controlled by a single, centralized entity — something I could truly own.

But there are plenty of other reasons to leave Twitter — some that are trendy and some that aren’t. Whatever your reasons for looking elsewhere, we’ll be happy to have you on the Fediverse.

For those that aren’t as familiar with Mastodon and the Fediverse, here is how I described them in my piece on the topic late last year — using the protocol name “ActivityPub” instead of the colloquialism “Fediverse”:

Mastodon is open source, distributed social networking software. It’s most similar to Twitter in terms of core functionality, but what sets it apart is the ability to setup your own instance or join one that fits your interests. Mastodon takes advantage of ActivityPub, allowing users on the service to follow others from separate instances.

And because ActivityPub isn’t Mastodon-specific, you can follow users from instances that aren’t even built on Mastodon. It’s compatible with Pixelfed, PeerTube, Pleroma, and more — as long as it uses ActivityPub, you can follow it through Mastodon, at least in my experience.

Mastodon is like taking Twitter’s short-form, approachable publishing mechanism and combining it with email’s distributed, protocol-based system. And while that’s cool for nerdy folks like you and me, I understand that it can sound a bit intimidating. Honestly, you can also just sign up for an account and start using it without ever knowing about those underlying technologies.

If you’re migrating from Twitter, though, you might benefit from some of what I’ve learned along the way. Here’s my recommendations for migrating and how you can get the most out of it:

  • Find an instance and create an account. If you know someone that already uses Mastodon, that might be a good place to start when considering what instance to join. But you can also use a service like instances.social to find a good fit. Or, if you want a bit more control and are so inclined, you can run your own instance. I run mine through Cloudron on Linode, but there is also Masto.host — both of which simplify the process.
  • Upload a profile picture, fill out your bio, and add links/field information. This is mostly self-explanatory, but if you want others to follow you back, it’s good practice to have a completed profile. It’s worth noting, Mastodon doesn’t have “link” or “URL” fields for your profile, instead you have fields that can contain any arbitrary data. They are often used for links, but can also be used for your location, email address, or whatever your heart desires. If you do add a URL, though, you can add a link back to your Mastodon profile from that URL with rel="me" and that will “verify” the link with a checkmark.
  • Publish an #introduction post and, optionally, pin it to your profile. It’s common practice to publish a post with a bit of an extended bio using this hashtag. It often gets boosted by others (like a retweet) and many Mastodon users will follow that hashtag to find new users to follow. It’s a great way to increase your visibility in the Fediverse. Pinning this post is optional, but can help with visibility too. When interacting with users from outside of your instance, Mastodon doesn’t pull in their entire post history, but it will pull in any posts pinned to their profile.
  • Feature a hashtag or two on your profile. If you have topics that you’ll likely be posting about frequently, featuring their related hashtags on your profile will help others find out what you discuss. I have #music, #screenshotsunday, and #til featured on my account, but you can also go with some Fediverse favorites like #caturday or #followfriday.
  • Install a mobile app. I’m less familiar with the options on Android — honestly, on that platform I just use the web app, but you could also go with the official app if you wanted something that wasn’t web-based. On iOS, I use Mastoot. It’s excellent. But you could also consider Metatext or the official app.
  • Find people to follow. You can check your instance’s profile directory page, local timeline, federated timeline, the For You section of Explore, the featured hashtags, or check the following list of others. I would recommend doing this regularly as there are new people joining all the time.
  • If you have a blog, setup an auto-poster. If you’re using WordPress, you can implement ActivityPub on your site with a plugin or you can automatically post to a Mastodon account each time you publish with a different plugin. I’ve setup the latter and you can see the results on @initialcharge@libertynode.net. There are still options if you don’t use WordPress, though — this guide shows how to post to Mastodon using IFTTT, which can be triggered by almost anything.

The above are recommendations that can apply to just about anyone joining Mastodon, while the ones below are more specific for those that are moving from Twitter to Mastodon:

  • Setup cross-posting to Twitter. You likely still have some folks on Twitter that you’d like to share your posts with. For that, you can use a cross-posting service. I use the Mastodon Twitter Crossposter, but Moa Party is also quite popular.
  • Follow Twitter accounts through BirdSiteLive. You will likely have some Twitter users that you’d like to continue following. This is where BirdSiteLive comes in. It’s a bridge service that allows you to follow Twitter users through ActivityPub. When I first joined the Fediverse, this was essential for me — I probably followed around 20-30 people with it. Since then, I’ve slowly whittled it down to just a single user (who I really should just convince to join). You can find an instance to use on FediDB.
  • Stop checking your Twitter timeline. Since you’re already following the most important accounts to you through BirdSiteLive and utilizing automated cross-posting, stick your Twitter app deep within a folder on your phone and rely exclusively on notifications. There’s no need to check in regularly unless you see a mention/reply that you want to interact with. Optionally, consider configuring these notifications to show up in your Scheduled Summary, which will further limit your exposure to the service and minimize the chances of you checking in throughout the day.

I’ve been having a blast on the service over the course of the past 15 months or so. And in that short time, I’ve nearly matched my peak following on Twitter — a service I joined in January 2007. At my current rate, I should surpass it by the end of the year. If you’d like to help me reach that, you can follow me @mike@libertynode.net. It shouldn’t matter to me, but in a way, it’s my way of proving that Mastodon is a viable social network.

That should be self-evident — it’s over six years old and has significantly more users than Twitter did back when I first joined in 2007 — but the naysayers are vocal nevertheless. And it’s perfectly fine if they’d prefer to stay on Twitter, we’ll be over in the Fediverse having more fun.

My Computing Hardware

Kev Quirk and ldstephens recently wrote about their collection of Apple devices and I, coincidentally, had already drafted a quick idea in Ulysses to document and share a list of my current computing devices. If only so I can better wrap my head around what hardware I’m using and what I use each device for.

iPhone 13 Pro: My true, primary, general purpose computing device. There’s very little that I can’t do from my iPhone, but it’s often more comfortable to perform the more intensive tasks from devices with larger screens. But it’s always with me, so it’s my main camera and gets used more often than any other device I own.

iPad Pro, 11-inch (3rd generation): Like my iPhone, but with a larger display. And that’s generally how I use it — for the majority of my computing tasks, but a little less mobile. It’s also my go-to device when I want to watch media outside of the living room — at the kitchen table during lunch or to have in the background at my desk during the work day, for example.

MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020, Four thunderbolt 3 ports): My work laptop. It’s used for a lot of writing, email, Slack, RSS reading, and app testing. I also have another user account on the machine if I need to do any personal tasks and don’t have another device handy. This is mostly with the intention of leaving my iPad at home when I travel for team/division meetups.

Mac Mini (2018): My main home server. It houses our Plex library, stores local copies of our photo library, runs Channels DVR, is used as a backup server for all of the non-iOS devices in our home, rips CDs, DVDs, Blu-ray Discs, archives a few YouTube channels for my son, and acts as a general purpose file server.

Mac Mini (Late 2014): The latest addition to my computing setup. I got it fairly cheap from OWC and it runs Steam on Windows for streaming games to our Apple TVs and Retroid Pocket 2+ using Steam Link. It’s not particularly powerful, so it won’t run the latest games at high settings, but it’ll run run plenty of indie games like Untitled Goose Game, Celeste, and older titles like Half-Life 2.

Mac Mini (Mid 2011): This machine serves a very specific and singular purpose — it runs TunesKit M4V Converter (still available under a different name) to remove DRM from iTunes purchased content. This software only works on older versions of macOS with an outdated version of iTunes. Since I still purchase content from iTunes, but prefer to watch through Plex, this bridges the gap.

Retroid Pocket 2+: Mostly used as a gaming device using Launchbox, RetroArch, Steam Link, and various emulators, but is also occasionally used for media playback — Pocket Casts, Plex, and Channels.

Google Pixel 3: This is a test device for work, which is used for trying out new builds and attempting to recreate user-reported bugs in our Android apps.

It would be great if I could simplify the home server setup a bit. I made an attempt at this with virtual machines, but gaming just wasn’t stable enough — I ran into a few games that simply wouldn’t run — and TunesKit M4V Converter requires that the system be able to playback the video it removes DRM from. Since there’s no way to use HDCP within a virtual machine, I was only able to remove DRM from standard definition iTunes content — running it natively is the only option for high definition content.

There will be some changes to my hardware soon, though. I’m expecting to receive a Retroid Pocket 3 soon to replace the RP2+ — I got my shipment notification yesterday. And I’ll likely be ordering an M2 MacBook Air in the next few months to replace my current MacBook Pro.