Even More Walking Questions

Before I get into the questions, let me just say up front that I’m sure most of you are probably tired of hearing about walking by this point. It is, after all, just walking, and I’ve already written about it multiple times. At the risk of beating a dead horse, however, I am still getting questions every time I talk about hitting some milestone or other. And if I’m getting questions from some of you, it seems at least possible that there are others of you who had the same question but didn’t feel up to asking. Which is why I want to make sure not just to answer those questions, but to do it in a way that makes the answers available to anyone who wants them.

It also belatedly occurs to me that the people who are tired of hearing about walking probably just didn’t click through to read this in the first place, so maybe the entire above paragraph was unnecessary.

Regardless, the following are questions I’ve gotten publicly and privately from people who want to know more about walking, how it can fit into your life and so on. And as always, if there are other questions not answered here or in prior discussions, drop a comment and I’ll either answer it here or queue it up for a future post.

Q: How do you carve out the time in your day to take dedicated, intentional walks?

A: This or some variation of it is the most common question I get by far, which makes sense. Walking is intrinsically less efficient than alternatives like running and therefore takes more time to achieve similar results.

Tl;dr: it’s a big time sink.

I’ve talked about this before, and there are a variety of tactical approaches, the summary of which are:

  • Get up early in the morning (or late at night, potentially)
  • Breaking up a long walk into small walks
  • Work while you walk
  • Walking during work hours and making up the work at night

All of which is true. But the longer answer is that like anything else, you carve out time by making it a priority.

This was the problem I had with most prior workout routines. I’d do well for a time, but eventually I’d get busy, demotivated or both and my habit would slack off. And when I eventually had difficulty motivating myself to get to the gym and lift or to get out for a run, I’d get down on myself for not making the time for those activities.

The good news is that I’ve never, not once, had this problem with walking. Hot or cold, rain or shine, walking has been easy for me to do because it’s motivating for multiple reasons. I like getting outside, I feel good getting my work in, I enjoy listening to a game or an audiobook when I don’t have conference calls or talks, and even on days when the weather is miserable there’s a sense of adventure. Walking out in single digit temps or in the middle of a monsoon has a way of making you feel alive in a way that working out in a gym never did for me.

So the real answer to the above is that I choose to make the time for walking because I genuinely enjoy doing it.

Q: I know you walk for, what, two hours? Is that the bare minimum?

A: Absolutely not. The two hour mark for me was nothing more than an artifact of my goal to walk 40 miles a week for a year. In two hours, I can – depending on conditions – walk just under seven miles or so, which is roughly the distance I need to hit six days a week to hit a 40 mile goal. So first, the two hour thing is nothing but an arbitrary number of mine.

Second, annual goal aside, I’ve tried to walk more than two hours regularly because it helped me lose more weight faster. You very probably have less weight to lose than I did/do, so two hours may well be overkill in your situation.

Third, I’m privileged to have a job in which the hours have some flexibility to them. I’m not a doctor making rounds, for example, so if I’ve got a two hour window between meetings I can pop out for a walk and make up the time later that night or listen to a work call or conference talk. That’s not a common arrangement, so two hours may well not be feasible for you, at least all at once. This is particularly true for the parents of infants and toddlers I’ve spoken to: you’re doing great if you can get yourself out of bed in the morning, so cut yourself some slack. I didn’t really get my walking going until my kid was in kindergarten every day.

My best recommendation when people ask this question is to forget about the time: just go for a walk. When I started, some of my walks were literally 15 minutes. If walking is something you enjoy, you’ll find a way to make it work with whatever your schedule is and you will very likely walk more over time than you do when you start. But the important thing is that every bit counts, and that there is absolutely no “bare minimum” to hit.

Q: Could you share your walking routine, e.g., do you go a certain distance every day, at a certain time?

A: The funny thing is that outside of my routes, as I’ll get to, I don’t have a routine. It’s funny because in general, I am highly routine oriented. I have routines for everything: what I do with my wallet and car keys when I get home, how I get my daughter out the door in the morning on my days to drive her, when and how I get to the airport when traveling. And so on.

As much as I’d love a routine for walking, though, and hope to have one someday, it’s just not feasible right now given my work schedule. Instead, I have a “take what I can get approach.” Every Sunday I look at my work calendar, and try to determine what my windows are.

It helps that I don’t commute any more, and it also helps that I don’t have to get in a car and drive to start my walks – I literally just walk out our front door. But basically I look for pockets in my calendar where I have a two hour open window, or a window with one to many briefings in which I’m not required to participate verbally. A lot of days, there isn’t such a window and instead I get up at 5. But if there is, I look at my queue of briefings, talks to listen to or even posts to write (walking can be very good for thinking through arguments and cases to be made) and slot those in if necessary.

But basically my only routine is “how much time do I have?” Some days it’s less, some days it’s more. When we had four day work weeks this summer, for example, and my daughter was in camp, I’d walk for four or more hours. Short or long, however, it all adds up.

It has been helpful to me, however, to have default routes that match my available window. I have one route for an hour, another for an hour and a half, another for two and so on. This helps keep things simple: my available window dictates my route and I don’t have to think much about it. I don’t have a single routine, then, but I do have a standard approach depending on my schedule on a given day.

Q: How do you deal with work pressures?

A: There are a couple of different angles here. Most obviously, with respect to the general pressures of business, helping to run a company and so on, walking is nothing but beneficial in that regard because it reduces my stress. On the days when I’m dealing with, say, a difficult person, the best part of my day is putting on my shoes, putting on an audiobook, walking out of the house and forgetting said person exists for a while.

Where walking and work becomes more difficult is the zero sum nature of time: while you can do some types of work while walking, at some point the two compete for your time. There’s no simple answer to this. There are strategies as mentioned above to working around your particular schedule and available windows or time, but there’s only so much you can do. If you’re working sixty plus hours a week, for example, something has to give – that time has to come from somewhere.

The only thing I can tell you there is to think carefully about your priorities, and ask yourself where your own health stands in that equation. If you’re working so much that you can’t fit even a half hour of walking in, it might be worth asking whether your schedule could use some adjustment.

Q: You live in Maine, right? Do you walk year round? How do you deal with weather?

A: I do live in Maine, and I do walk year round. Some of it is acclimation, obviously: we’re used to cold weather up here. But most of it is clothing. As mentioned before, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing.

Here are ten things I’ve learned about how to dress for bad weather:

  1. Layering: it’s a cliché, but it really is all about layering. If you wear a thick coat, for example, it’s a binary on/off switch. That’s not ideal. Between the variability in the weather you’ll be walking in and your own internal temperature as you walk, layering affords you the flexibility to take layers off to cool down or put them back on to warm up. Or, as is the case frequently with me, add rain protection if Poseidon realizes you’re out and starts dumping on you.
  2. Storage: related to layering, the ability to add and subtract layers is dependent on having somewhere to store them. Because most of my walks are a half day or less, however, I don’t need or want a big heavy pack, so instead I carry this LL Bean ultralight pack when I need to carry extra layers. I barely notice it’s there, but in the case that I need to hurriedly throw on raingear or have somewhere to stash gloves I no longer need it’s perfect.
  3. Fabric Weights: one of the things I’ve invested in over time is different weight fabrics to give me more options depending on conditions. I have two different hoodies, for example: a midweight and a heavyweight. The former is better for cooler days as I won’t overheat, the latter is preferable when it’s actually cold. Similarly, I have two different winter hats: one that’s lighter weight for most cool/cold weather, and a heavy, thicker hat for when it’s legitimately freezing. The more conditions you encounter, the more apparent it is that one size – or fabric weight – does not fit all.
  4. Fabric Material: when I started walking last fall, I would go out in cotton t-shirts, cotton boxers, my cotton Carharrt hoodie and my insulated leather work gloves. This was fine until I started sweating, and then it got cold, fast. These days basically everything I have from socks to underwear to t-shirts to hoodies to hats to gloves is merino wool. It wicks moisture well, doesn’t stink after I’ve sweat in it and keeps me warm even when it’s wet. But merino isn’t good enough for some conditions, which is why I have raingear (as I’ll come back to), a soft shell (for cold and higher wind), a hard shell (for heavy wind / snow) and more. The point is that over time I’ve assembled an arsenal of different clothing options to protect myself from whatever weather I’m facing, but I’ve put more thought into what it’s made out of than I used to.
  5. Weather: speaking of weather, knowing what it is and what it might be is absolutely critical to dressing appropriately. It’s not enough to know the temperature; you need to pay attention to windspeed, dew points, humidity, “feels like” temps and so on. All of these will help you make an informed decision about the appropriate level of clothing for a given walk. Oh, and pay attention to thunderstorm warnings. Hearing a massive boom of thunder overhead while you’re out walking isn’t all that fun.
  6. Cramp-ons: this isn’t complicated: if you’re going to walk in the winter, and it gets cold enough to freeze where you live, you need cramp-ons. They’re awkward and not fun to put on, but after breaking my ribs last winter I’m not going to have to learn that lesson again. Take it from me: unless you enjoy not being able to cough or roll over in bed, you need cramp-ons. These are what I have.
  7. Raingear: when I started the only raingear I had was an old delaminated raincoat. This kept me dry under heavy rain conditions for around ten minutes. My lower half, on the other hand, had no such protections and would be soaked immediately – to the point that my shoes would fill up with water and overflow. Over the past year I first remedied the raincoat situation by getting a new one (Patagonia Torrentshell) and then invested in a pair of rain pants (Grundens Trident). Between those and my waterproof Hoka Anacapa boots, I can walk in a heavy rain and remain mostly dry. This is useful in all conditions, but is particularly important when it’s cold. Being cold is one thing. Being wet and cold is miserable.
  8. Shoes: the more and the further you walk, the more that you’ll care about your footwear. When I got started and was carrying more weight than I am now, I was worried about foot injuries in particular. So I Googled “best cushioned running shoes” and Fleet Feet recommended a brand I’d never heard of before – Hoka – so I bought a pair. Six pairs of Bondis later and I’m sold. I love my Hokas so much I went out and replaced a not yet worn out pair of Salomon hiking boots with the aforementioned Anacapas because I wanted the same cushioning and light weight while hiking that I got while walking. Whatever you end up getting, however, my own experience suggests that cushioning is a good thing. I once walked about seven miles in flip-flops and got plantar fasciitis as a result and struggled with it for months. Two plus thousand miles in Hokas later and I haven’t yet had a repeat.
  9. Headphones: I was gifted these, but the Airpod Pros my brother got me for Christmas last year have been very helpful. Unlike the Jabra headset I had previously, the Airpods will read out Slack messages or texts to me, for example, while I’m walking so that if there’s something urgent I need to weigh in on while I’m out I’m made aware of it.
  10. Apple Watch: one last minor item: if you have an Apple Watch and you’re out in the rain, be aware that if your raincoat gets wet, the soaked material can pause your workout without alerting you. The solution is to either pull the sleeve up beyond the Watch so that there’s no contact – which works fine if it’s not cold – or to have a sleeve or glove layer underneath to prevent the wet coat from making contact with the Watch screen.

Hopefully all of this has been helpful, but as always, if there are questions that I didn’t get to, feel free to drop them in a comment or post them to me in some other way and I’ll answer them when I can.

Cheers, and happy walking.

Twitter, Mastodon and the Fediverse: I Have Questions

Just under sixteen years ago, I joined Twitter. I did it reluctantly, because initially it seemed both trivial and self-important. Which was both right and wrong, as it turned out. Since that time, a lot has happened. The business I helped found has grown – thanks in part to Twitter. I met and married a girl – not thanks to Twitter, but also not in spite of it. And we had a child whose exploits and repeated ownings of me are objectively speaking the most popular things I’ve posted to that service.

I’ve got some history with Twitter, is what I’m saying. It’s why like a lot of people I’m sad about how completely, appallingly and predictably unqualified the new owner is to run it, and how shocked I am in spite of all of that that he’s driven a service widely regarded as a global town square to the brink of ruin less than three weeks after acquiring it.

If you’ve read any history, you’ve come across accounts of people wandering through abandoned cities. Once thriving population centers, they were where thousands, tens of thousands or millions lived out their lives. Fast forward some period of time – in some cases a very brief period of time – and they were ghost towns, emptied of people, trade and history. The most interesting and unanswerable question wasn’t when the city had been abandoned, or even why. The question was who was the last to leave.

No one necessarily expected to be asking that question about Twitter in November of 2022, at least until it became clear that the eventual acquirer had pushed his trolling too far and would be forced by courts to complete the acquisition lest even more embarrassing texts come to light, but here we are.

I’ll save the elegy for Twitter for another time. It’s not dead yet, after all, and it might feel like going for a walk. Like others, I can’t see it coming back from all of this, but it certainly wouldn’t be the first time one of my predictions missed the mark.

Instead I want to talk briefly about the primary proposed alternative, at least in my circles: Mastodon, and the distributed network it powers, the Fediverse. I’m not going to write a primer on that – numerous outlets have already done that, e.g. Wired – but I do have questions. And given that some friends are scheduled to chat about all of this tomorrow at noon ET, I thought I’d throw some of these questions out there for discussion. I’d ask them myself, but given that said discussion is smack in the middle of a consult I’m not able to attend.

As I consider the Fediverse, then, and Mastodon, I’m less focused on the experience and what it’s like for me personally than I am occupied with questions. Questions I’m trying to answer to understand what the future of both might be, and therefore whether and how to invest my time accordingly. Here are a few of those.

How accessible is the Fediverse?

If you’re a technical user looking to communicate largely with other technical followers, this may not be an issue. The technically savvy can probably traverse the gap between the world in which you just sign up for Twitter and the one in which you have to pick an individual server from one of dozens.

But speaking as someone who follows a lot of different communities on Twitter ranging from my technologist peers to baseball writers to shark researchers to meteorologists to historians to national security professionals, it’s not clear if all or even most of these populations will be able to make this jump seamlessly, if ever.

The difference between “go signup at twitter.com” and “here are a choice of different servers with different communities and rules” might not seem insurmountable, but it’s certainly not ideal. So I’m curious as to how the on ramps will be bridged over time.

What are the impacts and costs of a federated network?

While no expert on the Fediverse, in spite of having been a nominal member of it for five years or so, a couple of things have jumped out about the network during my usage.

  1. There are UI costs to a federated, decentralized network. In some cases, I can click a button and follow a user. In other cases, I have to cut and paste an identity URL into a search box, and click through twice to follow a user. In still other cases, I have to do the above, but first enter a URL of my own to follow a given user. None of these, again, are unsolvable UI problems. But they are highly likely to be discouraging to the casual user, particularly those accustomed to centralized services like Facebook or Twitter.
  2. One of the founding principles of the Fediverse is that each server can have its own culture, norms and expectations. Centralization is no panacea when it comes to content moderation, of course; Facebook, Twitter and the like are regularly referred to as cesspools, and with good cause.

    The Fediverse’s reaction to this, apparently, has been to allow individual servers to determine their own policies on content moderation. Which seems like an improvement, until it is more properly revealed as a tradeoff. In one example that is preventing people I know from joining the Fediverse – policies intended to limit the impact of racist discussion and behaviors as a means of protecting sensitive users from harm in practice have meant that People of Color (POC) are prohibited from speaking freely about their own lived experiences with racism, because non-POC don’t want to have to see it. That’s not the intent, but the intent doesn’t matter. It’s bad.

    More subtly, there are policies like this one from fosstodon.org:

    “Do not “shitpost” – while humorous posts are allowed, and actually encouraged, there is no place for “shitposting” on Fosstodon.”

    On the one hand, as someone who doesn’t particularly enjoy shitposting, this sounds good on paper. On the other hand, it begs the question: who is determining what is and is not a “shitpost?” Another question: who has the time to evaluate all of the posts on a given network to determine whether it’s shitposting, and are all of the accounts likely to be evaluated similarly?

    In many respects, the idea of federated cultural policies reminds me of the situation with alcohol in the United States. Because alcohol is regulated not at the federal but the state level in the US, the laws vary. Some states allow spirits of any kind to be shipped. Other states allow wine, but no other spirits. Other states prohibit anything from being shipped. I went to college in a state that did not allow alcohol to be sold on Sunday, so instead we drove across the border to a state next door that did. Some states have a maximum on the alcohol content by volume of a given beer; per the Sam Adams website, for example, their Utopia beer is illegal in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Missouri, Mississippi, Montana, North Carolina, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Utah, Vermont and West Virginia.

    Regardless of whether one drinks alcohol (I do) or Utopias (I don’t), the mishmash of conflicting rules and regulations seems both arbitrary and problematic for everyone involved to navigate.

    But in a federated world, this is the reality.
  3. Processing the deltas in expectations between federated servers might be challenging as an individual. What further complicates matters is the fact the behaviors of others on your server may be held against you. If someone else on Twitter behaves badly, other than a general sense that it makes Twitter a less pleasant place to be overall, the impact on my account is zero. I learned this week, however, that because the instance I joined five years ago lacks content moderation resources (we’ll come back to that shortly), my posts may be de-emphasized or even outright banned from other servers

    The good news is that the Fediverse makes it possible to up and move from one server to another with no loss of followers. But while I might be willing to undertake that given the right incentives, how many ordinary, less dedicated social media users would be?

    And given that servers are largely community run and thus – as pictured above – likely to be short on moderators, how long will it be before getting particular servers de-federated becomes weaponizable – with bad actors descending in concert on a targeted server with the express goal of having it become uninhabitable and defederated?

What about verification?

One of the dumbest decisions of the new Twitter owner’s tenure has been to mess around with account verification – the inevitable result of which has been chaos. See, for example, a random account temporarily shaving $15 billion off Eli Lilly’s market cap with a single tweet.

This is a theoretically solvable problem in a centralized universe such as Twitter – at least if you’re smart enough to not light it on fire because you haven’t thought things through. How this would or could be solved in the Fediverse is unclear, however. Registering a household brand name on any given server is a trivial thing, as is registering that brand name on lots of them.

How should users determine which identities they can trust? Should that burden be on them in the first place? Or is the idea that the Fediverse isn’t a network for brands at all – in which case, how do I actually get somebody like Comcast or Spectrum to respond to a support request? Because while Twitter’s good for that at present email sure as hell doesn’t work.

What are the economics of the Fediverse?

I remember talking to a friend working in the investment space many years ago about open source software. He could not comprehend or even believe in a world in which groups of software developers, often working without compensation on a volunteer basis, could possibly create something that would outperform a competitive project produced by a commercial entity. While I understood his skepticism, that model did not then and never has confused me. Obviously the monetary investments into open source software are and have been foundational to its ascent, but the intellectual challenge of solving interesting problems is something that has and presumably always will attract the interest of software developers, whether they’re paid for the work or not.

In my experience, however, this is not the case for the more mundane, and often thankless, task of operating that software on an ongoing basis. After the novelty of spinning something up wears off, it becomes tiring to run and maintain software. Which is why in most scenarios in which software needs to be relied upon, someone is paid to do the job of running it.

As a side note, if you’re reading this and objecting – “but I run my own email server!” – that’s great and I respect your dedication while questioning your priorities, but it is my sad duty to inform you are the exception that proves the rule.

Regardless, this is why I’ve been curious about the Fediverse and Mastodon’s financial footing. The software development, as far as I can tell, has been mostly crowd sourced. Which, ok. Maybe that can be made to work. But who is running all of the federated Mastodon servers? Will they keep running them? Why will they keep running them? What if they don’t keep running them?

Also, besides the cost of the time spent keeping the software up and running, there is the expense of hosting. I haven’t run a Mastodon server myself, but every indication I have seen to date by those that have suggests that it is likely to be non-trivial in cost for anything sizable.

For most social media historically, the cost of the service has been indirectly born by advertisers. Ad-based models are self-evidently problematic for any number of well known reasons. But user funded services come with their own set of tradeoffs, most obviously by privileging those able to pay for a non-critical technology service ultimately resulting in a less diverse user base.

I understand, for better and for worse, the business model of ad-based social networks. What is not clear to me, at least at present, are the economics of the Fediverse. And I’m not the only one with questions on that subject:

And what about funding?

Andrew Couts [WIRED senior editor of security]: I don’t actually know the answer to that. It’s a nonprofit, so I believe it’s mostly crowdsourced funding. I know they have a Patreon page, and so that’s who you would be giving to. You would be giving to the main Mastodon nonprofit. But besides that, I’m sure that there are Patreon pages for individual servers, individual instances, and it’s mostly just a crowdfunded thing. Nobody owns it, so there’s nobody to pay or anything of that nature. You’re not going to be charged $8 for using Mastodon. And if you were, you could move to another Mastodon server and ignore that.

Even if you wanted to monetize Mastodon in traditional ways, its federated nature might act to limit the ability to generate revenue. Much as the asinine decentralized pools of subsets of the population that represent regional health care networks here in the United States limit their respective ability to negotiate with suppliers and in so doing drive up costs, so too do the smaller pools of federated users constrain the economic potential of any given Fediverse server versus the centralized populations of Facebook, Twitter, et al.

Which might sound perfectly acceptable and even attractive if you don’t want to see ads ever, but then you need to figure out who’s going to pay for everything if it’s not advertisers. Because even if the software development costs can be figured out, the hosting and operational costs – not to mention things like content moderation, trust and safety, security and so on, which are both hard and expensive – have no clear solution from where I’m sitting.

So even if I want to believe, and I do want to believe, my fundamental question is: how is all of this going to work economically?

Last question: “Toots?”

Really? Toots? Toots? And I thought “tweets” was silly.

All of the above said, if Mastodon could import my Twitter archive, I’d definitely do that because skeptical as I am, I’m rooting for it – “toots” notwithstanding.