Today I screwed up

Published on 2024-03-17

Earlier today I really "got out of the house" for the first time in a while and went to a Social Event with Real People. It was loud, and I was surrounded by people I don't really know, so I was pretty nervous. Though there was this one person who had caught my eye.

I don't know them very well, but I recognize them because, for whatever reason, I seem to have an encyclopedic knowledge for faces. I suppose they're someone whose work I respect, and who I'd be interested in getting to know. And for whatever reason, near the end of the event, they walked up and started talking to me.

I was probably already a little checked out, and I had absolutely no idea what to say. My brain sort of went on autopilot, and I said some things that don't really make sense, but ostensibly I made it through the brief interaction, and now all I have left to do is beat myself up for it.

A few hours earlier, I was working on setting up a pubnix server for some friends. I wanted the server to provide hosting for Gemini capsules as well as websites. The server I use--Agate--doesn't support userdirs to the best of my knowledge, but Gemserv, used by a few Tilde communities, does. So, I decided it was time to finally migrate off Agate.

I had Agate generate my capsule's certificates automatically. Unfortunately, using those certificates with Gemserv wasn't exactly plug and play. Further, after messing around with it for a few hours, it seems like there isn't exactly a straightforward way to convert them to a format Gemserv will accept.

Well, "straightforward" is kind of a subjective word. I suspect it is indeed straightforward to some--namely, people who know anything about OpenSSL, but I'm not one of those people. For me, working with encryption often feels like waking up in the bathroom in the pitch dark and trying to make yourself a peanut butter sandwich. Abstractly, I know what steps I have to take, but in the strange, disorientating context I've found myself in, I have no idea how to articulate that will into meaningful actions.

I kept trying, searching things up online, struggling to apply the information to my situation, until after a while it became clear that I simply would not be able to figure it out without figuring out everything else I'd been hiding from. OpenSSL, for whatever reason, is a black box that I wanted to keep... well... black.

The black box

I closed my laptop, hoped on the bus, and plugged in my headphones. Undistracted, I once again had the head space to allow myself to be tormented by whatever silly thing I'd said to this person I decided I wanted to impress.

As I rode through the city, it slowly occurred to me that none of this really mattered.

Last year, I decided I would finally sit down and figure out GPG. Admittedly, and I'll often tell this to anyone who gets a confusingly encrypted email from me, I still haven't "figured out" GPG, per se. GPG, like OpenSSL, is a black box. I do, however, know how to work with it a bit. I've figured out how to import my keys into Thunderbird, and for a while I even had an up-to-date Keyoxide page. If you were to look it up today, however, you'd probably notice that it's succumbed to bit rot.

In the end, I just couldn't be bothered. Having all aspects of my life tied together with a GPG key just didn't bring enough material value into my life for it to be worth my time in upkeep.

Earlier this year, I migrated to a self-hosted Git forge and adopted a new "professional" email I'd just recently linked to my GPG key. When I did, I could immediately see how much this shift had upset the system because all of a sudden all my commits went from having the little green lock beside them to a scary-looking, unlocked red lock.

This distressed me quite a bit, and I wasn't sure how to quantify it exactly until later in the day when I tried explaining the problem to a friend who doesn't really know anything about Git or GPG: the problem was that in using GPG in all my work, I was signalling to a certain group of people that I'm cool, and the red padlock on Forgejo told those same people that I'd screwed up.

It was embarrassing.

Absolutely nothing had changed. My commits weren't in "danger." They just now told those people I spent all those hours trying to impress that I'm not as smart as I may think I am.

Hopefully it goes without saying that this is completely absurd.

The stakes of me letting down a bunch of encryption nerds on the internet are about as high as me failing to flawlessly navigate the dialogue tree with a cool stranger in public--that is, not very high at all. If anyone even notices (and that's a pretty big if), they will almost certainly hit the "okay" button without a second thought.

I've written a lot this year interrogating the way we understand each other, and I do think this problem can indeed be high stakes, but the reality is that it's usually not. I think I've always known that, but I'm coming to internalize it much more slowly. Slowly, but surely.

In a way, it's pretty liberating.

If you didn't notice any certificate issues when loading this page, that's because my goal of making Gemini userdirs on my pubnix encountered a whole bunch of other issues and wanting at least one working Gemini server, I nuked it and went back to Agate, which handles my certificates flawlessly. Maybe I'll have more time to figure it out in the future.

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