Using IFTTT to post to Mastodon

On moving from Twitter to Mastodon as my main microblogging platform I was keen to set up a couple of integrations via IFTTT (If This Then That) – one to automatically post my public Flickr photos (with the description as the image description aka alt text) and another to post when I blog.

Unfortunately the former isn’t possible (yet?) as apparently posting an image to Mastodon is a two-stage process and IFTTT automation can only handle a single step. However I’ve managed to set up a simple post with the title, description and a link to the image page on Flickr, and a similar new blog post notification from this WordPress site.

Full disclosure: very little in this post is original! I highly recommend Matthias Ott’s post on Syndicating Posts from Your Personal Website to Twitter and Mastodon [Syndicating to Mastodon section] which got me most of the way there, and the post he referenced by Kelson Vibber (How to Post to Mastodon From Anything Using IFTTT) covered the rest.

Rather than replicate their work in detail, first I’ll very briefly outline the steps as covered by them, then say a bit more about formatting the post itself.

Linking IFTTT to Mastodon

  1. Set up IFTTT Webhooks and look up the full URL of your Webhook via Webhooks Settings.
  2. Use your Webhook URL to add this application to your Mastodon account via https://[your instance URL]/settings/applications/ – only tick 'write:statuses', it doesn’t need access to anything else.
  3. Copy the access token this generates.
  4. Set up a trigger for your IFTTT applet as usual and when choosing the ‘then that’, select Webhooks.
  5. Use the following settings:
    • URL = https://[your instance URL]/api/v1/statuses?access_token=[your access token]
    • Method = POST
    • Content type = application/x-www-form-urlencoded
  6. Body – this is where it gets interesting!

Formatting your post

First click ‘Add ingredient’ to see what fields are available to you. Whichever you add, it seems best to surround any of them with <<< >>> which escapes any special characters to ensure they display correctly.

At a minimum, start the body with status=<<< {{your ingredient of choice}} >>>. You can do more e.g. use a content wrapper/warning using 'spoiler_text=', just remember to put an ampersand (&) between each part of the post. Kelson’s post gives some nice examples.

For Flickr I ended up with the below – the yucky-looking variables were easily inserted via ‘add ingredient’.

spoiler_text=Flickr crosspost - <<<{{Flickr.anyNewPublicPhoto.Title}}>>>&status=<<<{{Flickr.anyNewPublicPhoto.Description}}>>>  <<<{{Flickr.anyNewPublicPhoto.FlickrUrlShort}}>>>

For WordPress I used the following (with the WordPress integration rather than RSS):

status=New blog post: <<< {{PostTitle}}>>> <<< {{PostUrl}}>>>

Testing

I’m a free IFTTT user and found the ‘check now’ button to try and run the applet straight away didn’t seem to do much. In the end I published a new blog post/uploaded a photo and had to Just Be Patient! First time round the widget didn’t fire at all; I suspect because I went in and edited the settings after doing something that would trigger it, but before it had fired. Second time round all went very well :) You can enable notifications when applets run in IFTTT so you know when to check your Mastodon posts.

Final thoughts

Matthias discusses the etiquette of cross-posting at all, and Kelson mentions the importance of only doing this with triggers that you control. Otherwise you’re essentially creating a bot account and need to use an appropriate instance, consider the ethics of doing so, etc.

I’m not sure how useful it is to post a link to Flickr rather than the image itself; longer-term I ought to check out Pixelfed but I have a huge archive of photos on Flickr now.

I’m also wondering if there’s cleverer and more sophisticated uses of this integration. There’s a syntax to post a draft for manual editing/publishing which could be a nice way to set up a workflow for more selective sharing. In fact I just found that adding a blog post to Feedly’s ‘save for later’ list is a possible trigger which is very interesting, but IFTTT integration requires Feedly Pro at $8 a month. Now where have I heard that price point recently?!

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Healthier news habits

With Twitter on the wane, I’ve been thinking about how to keep in touch with news and current affairs while protecting my mental health.

Context: I am very privileged as I can take a break from many issues without them imposing on my everyday life. I also have a habit of caring a lot about everything, getting overwhelmed and then doing very little about any of it. On Twitter it is easy to get sucked into the daily ‘main character’ discourse and engage shallowly on many issues.

Here’s what I’m trying out:

Continuing

  • No breaking news alerts from anyone, anywhere (I highly recommend this).
  • When at home of a weekday evening, watching BBC London News and Channel 4 News for a general update. Maybe 2-3 days a week.
  • Following the RSS feeds (yes I’m old-school) via Feedly of local SE London news outlets/bloggers – currently 853 and From the Murky Depths. I also give each a small amount of money monthly as local news is important to me.
  • BBC Radio 6 Music news – this is kinda forced on me because I listen regularly. I find the framing of stories very interesting including how they evolve through a show. Also a good way to get an impression of what ‘most people’ are hearing about news in the UK.
  • Podcasts (via Pocket Casts on Android) – the only fully topical ones are the BBC’s More or Less, The News Quiz and The Grenfell Tower Inquiry Podcast (latter nearing its end). Radiolab and BBC Seriously… venture into some news/current affairs.
  • Very occasional browsing of The Guardian app.

New / newish

  • Reading the daily Sensemaker on weekdays from Tortoise, and dipping into their other reporting. I got a free year’s digital membership from them after going to a music/talks festival they ran in Oxfordshire in June. Just saw how much this costs so will have to see how my finances look when the renewal comes up!
  • Reading Folded with Adam Bienkov for general British politics.
  • Adding a couple of new news feeds to Feedly – Gal-dem (I used to rely on their Twitter to hear about new articles) and The 19th for when I want to dip into US news (partly because my friend Ben now works there!).

Cutting down / quitting

  • Getting news from people I follow on Twitter. I’ve recently set up a Mastodon account and will see how this pans out for finding out about news without the overwhelm. Maybe exactly the same thing will happen. My main worry about cutting down is being cut off from hearing the voices of marginalised groups, particularly outside the UK/US.

Closing thoughts

Writing this all down has been really interesting – it’s made me realise that actually I am already consuming a lot of news and current affairs content (and a lot of that is BBC-provided!). Other than the concern about picking up things outside the mainstream media, perhaps I’m expecting too much of myself…

Mastodon tips for Twitter users

Well look at me, blogging like it’s 2009 or something.

I spent a fair chunk of time over the weekend learning about Mastodon then signing up for an account as an insurance policy in case Twitter goes permanently south under the stewardship of Elon Musk. Now I’m on there I’m wondering how much to stay on Twitter even if it recovers as so far Mastodon / the Fediverse is a pleasingly retro experience.

Anyway, I thought I’d share a few useful things I learned about Mastodon along the way. One or two could seriously catch out people used to how Twitter works. Caveat: it’s quite possible I’ve got things wrong and welcome any (polite) corrections.

If you’re starting from scratch with Mastodon and the Fediverse like I was last week, I *highly* recommend fedi.tips for a user-friendly guide to getting started.

Choosing a server

I really don’t have the answers on this one! I’ve seen arguments for choosing big and small servers (in terms of user numbers) – the former is less likely to close down and lose your data, the latter more likely to be able to cope with moderation etc. Personally I went for a smallish server with a few thousand users.

I mostly stuck to servers listed at JoinMastodon.org as these have agreed to give three months’ notice before closing down. I also checked the code of conduct wasn’t too loose or too strict, and that they had blocked other servers with notoriously bad-behaved users. Some servers seem very strict on content so this is worth checking out. Finally I looked for some way to contribute financially as feel very nervous that server admins asserting ‘we’re fine, we’ll keep this running’ might not feel the same post-influx!

In case it helps, here is my entirely unscientific list of English-language servers that I considered joining based on the criteria above:

Cross-posting

I’m using Moa.party which feels vary bare-bones but seems to work well with just a slight delay. You log in with your Mastodon and Twitter accounts, choose your options, then their server automatically crossposts based on your settings. You can post from whatever interface you like.

Privacy is set per-post, not per-account

This has two important consequences:

  1. You can’t lock down your whole account at once. You can turn on follower approval at any time but your old posts will remain public, unless you always posted at ‘followers-only’ privacy level. To create the equivalent of a locked Twitter account you’ll need to do both from the start. Like on Twitter, you can mute conversations so that may be a way to silence an unwelcome viral post.
    Read more about post privacy on fedi.tips
  2. The equivalent of DMs are posts set to be visible only by those tagged. So if you only tag one person, only they can read it (plus the server admin, but that’s true of literally any service that isn’t end-to-end encrypted). But if you mention someone else in your message and tag them, they can see the message too, and I assume are notified of it! 😱 Thanks to Kieran Healy for highlighting this.

Design choices to reduce negative interactions

There are several design decisions which I found very surprising having come from Twitter. They are at least partly aimed to improve the typical user’s experience:

  1. Search only finds hashtags and doesn’t do full-text post searching
  2. There’s no such thing as a quote tweet equivalent to avoid people getting piled-on
  3. It’s very easy to put a post behind a content warning which is a great way to let people choose if they want to view or engage with certain content. Apparently standard etiquette is to do this with anything ‘political’ and certainly when sharing the awful. I get it for the latter but have Thoughts about the former – who gets to decide what is political and whose voices may be hidden? It’ll be interesting to see how this develops as the community expands and includes more journalists and others posting nothing but political content.

Data loss risks

Your posts are all stored on the server you chose when you signed up. You can migrate your account to a new server, keep your followers, set up a redirect from your old account, and easily export and import who you’re following. However your old posts stay on your old server and if it goes down, so do they. As a result I think you either need to treat your content as ephemeral, or download an archive regularly.

In addition, if you decide to delete your account, there’s no going back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone, and no-one can reuse your old username on that server. That includes you.

Four questions, 2 May 2020

A dear friend Ben is working on a project to automate answering four questions regularly as prompts to record details of everyday life in pandemic times. In the meantime I thought I’d give them a go.

1. What did you do today?

Saturday so no work! I keep waking up early with blocked nose/sinuses even when I’ve gone to bed late – today around 7.45am. Scrolled on my phone (read some blog posts, not just endless Twitter/Instagram/FB) until I felt more awake. Then did some Japanese vocab and kanji flashcards (Anki / WaniKani) plus listening exercises, gentle restorative yoga routine using the Yoga for Beginners app that a friend recommended, then listening to podcasts/writing this until P wakes up.

Bit of housework/cooking. Later P did the crossword on video chat with a friend (Z) while I crocheted mask ear adapters and chipped in occasionally. We had a short walk round a few small local parks which was the first time we’d properly left the flat since Monday.

Dinner was amazing home-delivered fish and chips. Evening was a Zoom party for P’s mum’s birthday which went well – they managed to come up with quite a few games that work over video chat, including a scavenger hunt round your home and the ‘adverb game’.

2. What did you enjoy?

Fish and chips obvs, and both yoga and Japanese are good distractions. Seeing the heron flying around the local park for the first time ever, and the coot chicks that are now nearly as big as their parents. The party was good considering how weird the whole format is!

3. What did you find difficult? 

This particular day was a good one, so only staying awake right at the end of the party after an early start. I’m finishing off this blog post the next evening and can report Sunday was a bit harder, I was lacking energy and motivation.

4. What has changed?

Until recently I’ve been social distancing etc because I was worried about who I might infect if I caught the virus, not my own health as I am relatively young and healthy, and excess death rates for under-60s are incredibly low. Now I’m also selfishly worried because there are increasing reports that covid-19 can cause blood clotting issues. I have a genetic mutation which makes me slightly more prone to blood clots, discovered after my massive pulmonary embolism two years ago. There is no clear research I am aware of that any inherited thrombophilia is a risk factor for getting severe covid-19, but it doesn’t seem like a good combo, y’know?


And just one bonus question (I’m biased as I suggested it to Ben)

5. When did you last laugh?

As of this morning, on a video call with H&L last night after we’d simul-watched the Parks and Rec special in our respective homes. It was so good – perfectly pitched and managed to make something that worked with social distancing in place. There were laughs at the party too.

The weird world of ovarian dermoid cysts

Well, I did call this blog ‘multifaceted’…

I’d never heard of teratomas or dermoid cysts until April, when I was diagnosed with a large cyst on my left ovary during investigations after I suffered a massive pulmonary embolism out of the blue with no known risk factors. [side note: the NHS is amazing and saved my life – thanks Lewisham Hospital]

The gynae doctor who gave me the diagnosis sensibly told me enough to stop me doing too much online research – basically it is a type of cyst that is almost always benign and is made from a variety of tissue, most commonly including skin, fat and hair but often also bony material. Around 10-13% of ovarian tumours are dermoid cysts (source).

Once I was on the mend I did do some cautious research of course (I am a librarian after all) but didn’t delve too deeply until my cyst was removed at the end of July. I found I could stomach (sorry) the whole topic rather more once I knew there wasn’t a cyst pressing on my internal organs and blood vessels in a potentially life-threatening manner, and had an incentive to do research as friends and family had lots of questions – how big was it? How much did it weigh? How long had it been there? Where on earth did it come from?

Once I’d learned enough to have a go at answering those questions, I thought it only right to share the fruits of my brief literature search with the wider world. I hope you enjoy my little annotated bibliography safe in the knowledge that you’ll only see disgusting images of cysts if you click through to links that I’ve indicated have them – an advantage of my list over researching this topic via a search engine or Wikipedia!

Read to the end for the most clickbaity journal article title I’ve ever seen; to my great surprise the payoff was justified.

[and yeah, I have been very lazy and not made proper citations, sorry folks…]

Overview

Management of giant ovarian teratoma: A case series and review of the literature
[includes images if you scroll down enough]

On reading this I learned that my cyst was officially GIANT (20cm – giant cysts are anything over 15 cm). 30% of people with giant cysts did not report any symptoms [I hadn’t really noticed anything before my embolism]. This article focuses on how to manage giant cysts (basically whether to remove via keyhole surgery or open surgery) but has some useful general info too and some slightly gross images.

Weight

Mandible like structure with fourteen teeth in a benign cystic teratoma
[links to images at end but not embedded]

Ok, so this is maybe the time to disclose that when the doctors opened up my cyst they found a small malformed jawbone with five teeth on it. From the scans I’ve seen I think they look like premolars or molars which tallies with the article on teeth below. The doctors were pretty gleeful when they told me about my cyst (having checked I wanted to know!) as none of them had seen a jawbone in one before, including the head of the department!

Anyway, the patient in this article had similar cyst contents to me (14 teeth on a jawbone plus the usual other stuff). Their cyst was slightly smaller (18 x 16 x 15 cm) and weighed 1.8kg. So my best estimate is that mine weighed around 2kg, and this seems about right based on my own weight loss since the cyst was removed.

Growth rate

The growth pattern of ovarian dermoid cysts: a prospective study in premenopausal and postmenopausal women

Typically *very* low in the group studied (mean average 1.8mm a year, highest 16.8mm a year) but this is a study which excluded any cysts growing at over 20mm per year so is not terribly helpful.  My cyst must have grown much faster than their average rate else I wouldn’t be old enough to have one that size.

Origin

Ovarian Mature Cystic Teratoma Containing Homunculus: A Case Report
[link is to abstract; article PDF includes images]

“Despite a number of conflicting theories (7-10) to explain the histogenesis of teratomas, the most probable ones are misplaced blastomere and parthenogenetic development of a germ cell.”

A blastomere is a cell originating from division of a fertilised egg. Parthenogenetic development is basically asexual cell reproduction (I think of it as an unfertilised egg going rogue) and seems to be the dominant theory.

I can’t really move on without mentioning that this article discusses a fetiform teratoma ie a cyst containing a homunculus, something with enough differentiated and organised tissue to resemble a human form. Around 24 had ever been reported at time this article was written. *shudder*

Pulmonary Embolism and benign cysts

Suprarenal vena caval thrombosis and pulmonary embolism associated with a benign ovarian cyst
[first page only; includes scan images]

This is the only article I could find that documented a PE caused by a benign ovarian cyst but for all I know it may not be unusual enough for articles to be written about it. There’s no evidence I had a thrombosis in my vena cava as I had typical DVT symptoms (calf pain) before my PE.

Unusual cyst contents

Dental structures in benign ovarian cystic teratomas (dermoid cysts): A study of ten cases with a review of the literature
[abstract only]

This article looks at teeth found in dermoid cysts and found they are most often pre-molar or molar. Generally neither baby nor adult in form but between the two.

“The teeth within a tumor tended not to form normal morphologic sequences. It is concluded that dental structures in ovarian teratomas are products of normal genetic/epigenetic events modified to a greater or lesser degree by unknown factors in the tumor environment.”

Benign Mature Cystic Teratoma Mimicking Normal Mandibular Development
[includes images]

“the excised teratoma showed a well-formed mandible with bone, teeth, skin, and hair”

Giant mature ovarian cystic teratoma including more than 300 teeth
[abstract only]

300? Really?! That’s just showing off.

Lactating breast tissue in benign cystic teratoma
[abstract only]

Blimey.

Benign cystic teratoma of ovary containing a homunculus
[includes very grainy images]

Another homunculus aka fetiform teratoma.

And finally…

Unusual dermoid cyst with surprise
[abstract only, includes photo; my god what a photo]

HELL YES IT WOULD DEFINITELY BE A SURPRISE IF YOU FOUND THAT GROWING ON YOUR OVARY.

What I learned this week about intersectionality and privilege

Two events this week have really helped me think about these related issues and the privilege I hold as an urban, middle class cis white woman without disabilities.

First, Natacha Kennedy gave a powerful talk to my local Labour Party on International Women’s Day about trans rights.  All the below is my understanding of what she explained.

There are two choices when a child discloses that they are not the gender they were assigned at birth. Acceptance or nonacceptance.

Trans people face a serious threat of street harassment and violence, even worse than what cis women face.  There’s an extremely high rate of mental health issues, self harm and attempted suicide among trans children and adults.

Changes are planned to the Gender Recognition Act to streamline the process of changing legal gender, making it cheaper and less demeaning. Self identification has been legislated for in several countries already including Argentina and Ireland. Emerging evidence in Ireland of a dramatic drop in mental health issues for trans people after this law change. There is NO evidence ANYWHERE that this law change has happened that men have pretended to be trans in order to enter women only spaces and carry out abuse.

***

The second event was a conversation between authors Reni Eddo-Lodge and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as part of the Women of the World Festival in London at Southbank Centre.   Chimamanda shared an anecdote:

A white feminist actor was asked about her feminism. “Oh it’s not about me,” she replied, “it’s about the women of colour who are being oppressed.”

No! Both women found this deference to black women weird and false.

Better to say:  “This, this and this have all happened to me because I’m a woman in a patriarchal society. Now imagine how much worse it would be if I was black, or disabled, or trans.”

Trans women are women.  But women are all different and bring different life experiences to their feminism. This applies to trans women too, who have a deep experience of transphobia and oppression that cis women cannot experience for themselves.

This is what Chimamanda says she meant when she said trans women were different from other women. My only criticism is that I think she should have acknowledged the power imbalance by prefacing her remarks with a clear acceptance of trans women as women.

Chimamanda hates reading theory and finds it boring. She loves literature and memoirs; people’s stories; and has read a number of trans people memoirs.

I appreciated Chimamanda acknowledging her own class privilege (and cis privilege) and sharing that she felt a prickle of defensiveness when either issue is raised, which gave her some empathy with white people’s reactions to discussing race. She admitted it is hard to acknowledge privilege and harder still to act to lessen it.  I definitely feel that defensiveness and need to be aware of it and not project my feelings onto others or blame them for pointing out power imbalances and injustices. I will always make mistakes so want to get better at acknowledging them and doing better the next time.

Work links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.