Positive notes on which to start 2024

Greetings 2024!

I’d like to greet you with optimism and a story of gifts.  You see, I ended 2023 with some grim posts (1, 2) and would like to balance those out with some of what cheers me up.

2023 did actually give us some good news. There have been a spate of fairly unremarked-upon medical advances, from birth control to RSV, AIDS to Alzheimer’s and applied CRISPR. (Here’s a quick summary)

Humanity’s exploration of space continued to grow in what I think of as space race 2.0. The United States and China lead the way with human and uncrewed missions to Earth orbit, the moon, and Mars.  American probes also visited numerous locations across the solar system, while the two Voyager missions keep hurtling into the interstellar void.  Meanwhile, other nations have lofted missions into space: India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and more.

My pro-private enterprise readers will applaud how the private exploration of space has surged into a peer position alongside governmental work – indeed, leads the American effort by far. My pro-labor readers will appreciate a series of organization drives and successful strikes: UAW, Hollywood.

I continue to be impressed by the rapid decriminalization of cannabis. Added to this are signs of a similar reduction in the war on psychedelics.  I am delighted to see real improvements in people’s lives as a result of increased access to cannabis, such as pain and anxiety relief. I’m also hopeful for new research into these substances and their uses, such as for mental health treatments, now that simply doing science on the stuff is less likely to land a researcher in jail (one example).

Readers know my focus on climate change, and there were some positive steps there, despite what I outlined in my grim post from last week.  Renewables keep growing is use and efficiency. The COP meeting did show some progress.  People are using the courts on climate issues around the world and getting some traction.  Ecuador voted against fossil fuel extraction.  And maybe the record-breaking heat of 2023 nudged more people into climate action.

Now let me share a positive story about the digital world.

Last week I came across a series of Mastodon posts which intrigued me there. They were a digital story, and I’ve been teaching and researching digital storytelling for twenty years.  The plot concerned a young person going to a university for the first time, which hits my higher ed interest.  And it takes place in a solarpunk world; solarpunk as an optimistic climate crisis design approach is right in my wheelhouse.

Mastodon Lex solarpunk university thread start including the whole server interface

Big screen grab.

I read the story and wanted to share it here, but couldn’t find a way to embed the posts here. I couldn’t even figure out how to like, comment on, or share the posts, since they lived on a different server than the one I use for Mastodon (here’s my account).

So instead I prepared to make some screen captures and to share links to individual post, but then Alan Levine got to work.  Alan, a great educational technologist, brilliant photographer, grand spirit, and good friend, was the one who originally introduced me to Lex’s unfolding narrative. He does that kind of thing, both from native generosity, but also from our shared love of the open web.

Alan went off to work on the issue.  Then he posted about what he did on his blog.

That post begins with a description of the issue I just summarized, then offers a solution.  I didn’t know this, but Mastodon has an embed button for each post:

Mastodon embed screenshot

Useful!  But not for this blog.  See, the Mastodon embed generates a bit of HTML within iframe tags, which WordPress, the engine behind the site you’re reading, doesn’t support.

No problem.  Because Alan is brilliant, experienced, a devotee of the open web, and loves to make stuff, he quickly rewrote a WordPress plugin and uploaded it to Github.  In the blog post – and in notes at Github – he clearly explained what it was and how to use it. I followed directions:

  1. Downloaded the plugin as a zip file.
  2. Uploaded and installed it to this very WordPress blog.
  3. Copied the Mastodon link and pasted it here.  Behold:


This made me so excited I tried the thing again, adding more Mastodon posts from that thread:

And one more:

There are 21 posts in the story so far, but I’ll stop sharing ’em here and let you look and enjoy.

Not content with this act of creative assistance, Alan adds this:

And as a bonus, my Embed Extras gives you this one link embed option for content from Padlet, the Internet Archive, Vocaroo (audio), Sodaphonic Boombox (ditto), and Pixelfed.

So let me wrap up with two observations.

First, Lex’s story so far is very interesting.  The thread outlines classic solarpunk features: appropriate technology, high (robots, aerial wind turbines) and low (boats); agriculture; refurbishing and repurposing old (our) buildings; combining biology and silicon-based technology; solar power, of course.  What we’ve seen of teaching so far is hands-on student work in biology and technology.  There’s also that classic narrative of a person going to campus for the first time.  Intriguing!  I’d like to see more, please, Lex.

Formally, each post includes both text and an illustration.  The images aren’t sourced, but seem to come from across the web.  A couple are solarpunk classics, like one from Imperial Boy and a screenshot from that wild Chobani video.  They usually complement the text.

Second, bravo to Alan for taking the time to whip up a solution.  Bravo once more for sharing it on the open web, not just for me but for anyone who can ping a web browser.

It was a good learning experience for me, figuring out how to make the embed work. (I also learned, or learned again, how to interact with a Mastodon post on another server. You take the URL and paste it into your server’s search box, which is strange but works:

Mastodon search box with a URL crammed into it

Search box lives on the top left of my Mastodon Deck interface.  Mastodonodeck? Mastodeck?)

This is one example of how we make the digital world work well in 2024. People sharing and working together, in the open, so anyone else can play.  Who knows?  Maybe someone else will write another plugin or document their use of Alan’s. Someone else will share comments about Lex’s story or another person will write their own. That’s how this stuff can work.

Thank you for the gifts, Alan.  And happy new year, all!



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2 Responses to Positive notes on which to start 2024

  1. Phil Katz says:

    Thanks for sharing the story about Lex. Like too many exercises in futurism, I was disappointed that this one focuses almost exclusively on the value of STEM education: right from the start, we are introduced to a future world where engineers get the benefit of face-to-face education but most other college education is digital. Where are the people in this future world learning about the virtues of community, the power of art, and other humanistic insights?

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Good criticism, Phil. I would have thought the story’s theme of social justice and personal care would have led to some social science work, at least.

      The images also suggest care to the visual arts.

      (I hope I’m a rogue futurist with my eye on the humanities!)

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