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posted by martyb on Saturday May 30, @10:40AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the and-still-counting! dept.

One Millionth Comment!

On 2020-05-28 the SoylentNews community attained an amazing milestone: the posting of its one millionth comment!

First off, please accept my sincere thanks and gratitude to the community for all your contributions to the site to get us to this point. Never did I imagine in those first few days when comment IDs were 3 or 4 digits long that such a milestone was even feasible! I mean the site was crashing several times a day. Not an auspicious start, that's for sure! But we all pulled together, weathered some challenges, and got things pulled together.. and we're still here!

So, who was the lucky poster of comment 1,000,000? And who was the runner-up at comment 999,999 (which has a nice palindromic ring to it, wouldn't you agree?

The honor of the very first 7-digit comment fittingly goes to story-submitter extraordinaire takyon. Yes, not content to post comment ID 1000000 because that could be just a one-shot lucky break. No, he has posted (as of this writing) 18,731 comments. Oh, and as for submitting stories, he is unfortunately omitted from the "Most Active Authors" list on the SoylentNews Hall of Fame because he is also an editor. So, please join me in thanking takyon for submitting 5,852 stories! Oh! And as an editor, he has also pushed out 1,350 stories! Whenever I see one of his subs in the queue, I know it only needs a quick review before pushing it out to the story queue. He makes my job as an editor much easier and makes SoylentNews look good! Thanks takyon!

So who was our runner-up with comment number 999,999? Well, he wasn't just spinning his tires when he posted this comment. None other than our also-prolific Runaway1956! He is no slouch when it comes to posting comments, either, as he has posted 18,483 of them so far. He has taken an active part in comment moderation, too with 2,968 moderations of which 78% were upmods. As if that were not enough, he is also an active contributor to our Folding@Home team, sitting currently at 3rd place and making a hard run for 2nd place! (F@H investigates — via computer modelling — how proteins fold.) The F@H group's efforts have almost exclusively been redirected to understanding the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19 disease.

For those who may be unaware, SoylentNews is purely a volunteer organization. Nobody has ever been paid even one cent for their work. Further, we have never accepted any advertising on SoylentNews; the site is entirely self supporting through the subscriptions of the community. We run a tight ship and expenses run approximately $20 per day for everything.

Speaking of volunteers, it brings me great pleasure to call out another major milestone, fnord666 has now edited over 5,000 stories on SoylentNews! (See Most Active Authors.) Thanks so very much, fnord666, for all your hard work and sacrifices to make that happen!

Thanks everybody! Here's to many more years!

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday May 15, @08:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the can-we-talk? dept.

Back in the early days of SoylentNews, things were often fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants. We tried to plan ahead and anticipate future needs. In retrospect, I'd like to think we did pretty well, all in all. One early casualty was the choice of our discussion system. My memory is fuzzy on the details, but I seem to recall it was based on "phpBB Forum Software" (Corrections welcome!) That eventually was superseded by IRC.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC):
Yes, SoylentNews has its own IRC service. It's used for all manner of purposes. Ostensibly, it's for staff to communicate with each other about site plans, development, and operations. But, multiple "channels" are readily implemented, so we have a bunch of channels up and running. If you are new to IRC, the easiest way to get started is to use our web portal — just select a nick, accept "#Soylent" as the channel, and you're there!

If you have heard about IRC and are curious about our IRC service, please read on past the fold. Otherwise, a new story will be along presently.

Please join me in wishing NCommander a Happy Birthday!

Operating Systems:
One of the early missteps was the choice of CentOS as the operating system for one of our servers: beryllium. All of our other servers ran Ubuntu. That CentOS server, beryllium, became the server for all the other services that were not directly required for site operations. Quite frankly, it's a bit of a mess. For the curious, expand the following for a subset of what is runs there:

Charybdis, IRC server, - port 6667, 6697(SSL)
Atheme, IRC services
Iris, IRC web chat, - port 3989, forwarded from 80 by apache
Various IRC bots
ZNC, IRC bouncer for staff, - port 60000
Yourls, URL shortener service on - port 80
MySQL, used for Yourls

We are in the process of cleaning things up.

We now have 3 servers running Gentoo: lithium, magnesium, and our new server aluminum. Gentoo lets us custom build our servers so they are only running the services we need. That gives us better security (smaller attack surface) and better performance, too. Oh, and no systemd.

The Nitty Gritty: At this point, I'll turn the microphone over to Deucallion (aka Juggs) on what's happening with IRC on aluminum (lightly edited):

So far we have brought a new ircd (Internet Relay Chat - Daemon) into the network: "". The 2 crucial key points are:

  1. Moving services (NickServ, ChanServ, GroupServ, HostServ, SaslServ et al.) Those are all provided by one server side process (atheme), anyone not clued up won't really to know they exist as a separate thing and just interact with it to register a nick and then as the channel bots they see with all the daft names.
  2. Will be reversing DNS entries for irc1 and irc3.

If I do my part right, there will be minimal to no outage time caused by any of it.

Then there are all the ancillary bits and bots that do logs and stats and story subs and the like but they are not intrinsic to the main IRC infrastructure and just an inconvenience if they go away for an hour or so while ported across.

I announce to everyone here on IRC when I am doing work on something and anticipate a possible outage of some kind as TBH the only people who care if IRC goes down or is degraded in some form are the people using it at that time. As a user it is nice to know in that scenario that it is not your client playing up, nor your network, or your ISP etc. it's just gone for maintenance and sit it out; do not bother investigating. Same reason I announce when I stop messing with stuff so people know there are no works underway.

And for clarification the 3 ircds we currently have now are all classified as hubs, no leafs, they are peers in a network. There is no master-slave relationship in play. We think of irc. as being master because all the other ancillaries sit on it but they can just as well sit on irc2. or "". The ircds and services do not give a flying monkey what DNS name resolves to them, it is just convention to name the ircd that resides at "" or as it is "" - but it is just that, a name, a label.

This is specifically why I am going with "" for aluminum: it breaks that cognitive second guessing about "do I need to match the reverse DNS here or not" questions in my mind at least when I come back to look at it in a year or 2 or 3 or 5. Maybe I am just a simpleton with OCD or some such, but to my mind - a label should be a label, the DNS should be another thing. If they do not need to match, make them different for clarity.

Do keep in mind, this is all being done by volunteers from their (limited) spare time and at no charge. There's still much to do, but we are making progress. Our goal is that over the next couple months or so, to have all of our servers refreshed and moved over to Gentoo. There will be hiccups. Hopefully they will be minor, few, and far between. As always, we will keep the community apprised as to our progress.

So cross your fingers, and join me in thanking these fine folk for all their efforts: TheMightyBuzzard, Deucallion, audioguy, and NCommander!

(2020-05-09) Site Potpourri for Mother's Day [Updated]

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Sunday May 10, @04:31PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Hi-Mom! dept.

First off, on behalf of myself and the staff here at SoylentNews, here's wishing all the Moms out there a Happy Mother's Day! (For all mine did for me, I think it should last at least a month!) [Update: apparently this is for the USA; other countries have other dates. The sentiment, however, remains the same!)

Also, I hereby express the best possible wishes for our entire community as we try to navigate a path through the COVID-19 pandemic. Take the precautions you deem necessary to protect yourself, your loved ones, and all you meet. Please be careful out there!

Should you, or someone you know, be suffering at this time — be it from COVID-19 or any other reason — I can attest to the support I received from the community when I had a health-related situation last fall. You guys (and gals!) are the best!

Folding@Home: Our Folding@Home (F@H) team keeps chugging along! Historically, the F@H effort had been geared towards understanding Parkinson's Disease, Huntington's disease, cancer and the like. People donate their unused processing power (CPUs and and video cards) to perform simulations of how proteins fold. This, in turn, helps locate a way to interfere with the progression of a disease. For the past few months, the focus has shifted to the SARS-CoV-2 virus. In concert with that, there has been a huge increase in hardware donated to the cause. So, though our team rank has recently been slipping in the overall standings, I'm happy to report it's from the huge outpouring of support from around the world being brought to the cause.

Top place on our team is held by cmn3280 with just over 300 million points. Next we have LTKKane who just passed 222 million points. And not to be outdone, Runaway1956 has been running hard and is on the cusp of reaching 200 million points (and adding about 1.5 million points per day!) Pop into the #folding channel on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) or reply to this story if you'd like to join our team!

Read past the fold for info about the "Silly Season", subscriptions, site server issues, and plans.

Silly Season: It came a bit earlier than usual, but we are well into the "Silly Season". It's that time of the year when places of higher education close for the summer (in the northern hemisphere) and people's minds turn to summer vacation. Research reports are few and far between. To fill the gap, many publications turn to lighter fare for lack of anything better to publish. Compounded with the COVID-19 pandemic, what research that still continues tends to be slowed down by safety precautions.

What that means is we have less of a selection to choose from in trying to bring stories to the community for discussion. See something tech-related on the web that you think the community might be interested in? Please submit it to SoylentNews! It does not have to be the next "Great American Novel", either! Of course the more "publication ready" you make it, the easier it is for an editor to decide to run with it. On the other hand, if the topic is interesting, chances are an editor will see it and decide to run with it. If you have any questions, it's helpful to consult the Story Submission Guidelines. Also, a quick scan of stories that have recently been posted to the site should provide guidance as to story organization and layout. Lastly, we appreciate side comments within the story submission; for example: "Doesn't contain the links from the story." Sensational, spittle-spewing spouting soon sees silence. Try to stick with the basics of answering "who", "why", "what", "where", "when", and "how" and you'll be on your way!

Subscriptions: Thanks to a generous first-time subscription of $120.00, we just passed $2,100.00 towards our goal of $3,500.00 for the first half of the year (2020-01-01 through 2020-06-30). Thank you to all who have subscribed and helped pay for things like servers, taxes, and an accountant to prepare the taxes.

As you may recall, we made an announcement on April 19 concerning site subscriptions. Yes, coming down with the SAR-CoV-2 virus is bad. But so is having so many people out of work and and trying to make ends meet. We wanted to support people spending their money locally to support their community and the economy. Therefore, anyone who had a subscription that would otherwise have ended earlier was granted a free extension through 2020-05-30.

That said, we do still have bills to pay. If you are of a mind to do so and can afford it, we still are accepting subscriptions! Do bear in mind that Javascript needs to be enabled. We do not process the transactions directly, but instead invoke the API (Application Programming Interface) form provided by PayPal or Stripe. They, in turn, handle processing the payment and then deposit the payment (less processing fees) to our account.

Reminder: the indicated amount (e.g. $20.00 for one year) is a minimum for that duration. So, you can absolutely select a one year subscription and change the amount to, say, $100.00 from the $20.00 that was suggested. (For the record, the largest subscription to date was an extremely generous $1,000.00!) On the other hand, we have two Soylentils who subscribe for $4.00 — every month — like clockwork. It warms my heart every time I see their subscriptions arrive! It's one of the things I love about this community: everybody contributes in their own way and somehow it all comes together. And it has held together since February of 2014! Thanks everybody!

Servers, Part 1. Behind the scenes, TheMightyBuzzard spent the weekend setting up a new server, aluminum. We are gradually moving to a Gentoo Linux base for our servers. Rather than pre-compiled binaries that get downloaded and run locally, Gentoo provides source code for download that one compiles and builds locally. At the moment we have three Gentoo-based servers (lithium, magnesium, and aluminum), one server on CentOS (beryllium), and the rest are on Ubuntu. By moving to Gentoo Linux, we get a streamlined server with a smaller attack surface as only the things we need are built into the kernel. That lone CentOS server? It has been with us from the start and has been no end of a hassle. Several services "live" on it and these need to be migrated before we can retire it. The first stage of that process is underway as Deucalion has been working on bringing up IRC on aluminum. In turn, other services will be brought over. Then we can (finally!) retire beryllium for good! Next on the list are sodium and boron (aiming to have completed by June.) Along with that, there have been new (security and otherwise) releases of other services that site depends on. We intend to get those upgraded as we move to an entirely Gentoo platform. Please join me in wishing them well on the migrations and upgrades!

Servers, Part 2: We had a hiccup with Linode (our server provider) on Friday. Through it all, our servers stayed up and running! Unfortunately, the problem was with one or more network switches at Linode. (Cf: Bert & I on YouTube 😀) The front end (which processes requests for web pages) as well as IRC (and possibly other things of which I am unaware) were inaccessible for the better part of an hour. Given how frequently SoylentNews used to crash (several times each *day*), it is a testament to the hard work put in at the outset that this is such a rarity for us today. Our servers currently have uptimes in the range of 6-9 months... and it would be longer except for some behind-the-scenes work to take advantage of free storage upgrades made available to us by Linode. Remember all work on the site is performed by volunteers who give of their limited free time to keep things humming here.

Summary: Our Folding@Home team is helping to find a cure for COVID-19. Please send in story submissions. We are still accepting subscriptions. Our servers were NOT "Pining for the fjords". Server upgrades are in progress.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday May 08, @08:31PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

[20200508_220152 UTC: Update 2: "Monitoring - We've corrected the issues affecting connectivity to our Dallas data center, and we'll continue to monitor this issue to ensure that connectivity remains stable. If you are still experiencing connectivity issues, please reach out to our Support team by opening a ticket through the Linode Manager or by emailing

May 8, 21:57 UTC"]


[20200508_170527 UTC: Update 1: "Investigating - Our Dallas data center is experiencing additional connectivity issues, which we're investigating. We'll post additional updates as we learn more.
May 8, 20:49 UTC]


We are aware of connectivity issues with Linode, out hosting provider:

Linode Status Page:

Investigating - We are aware of connectivity issues affecting Linodes in our Dallas data center and are currently investigating. We will continue to provide additional updates as this incident develops.
May 8, 20:07 UTC


Monitoring - We've corrected the issues affecting the Linode Manager and our API, and we'll continue to monitor this issue to ensure that connectivity remains stable. If you are still experiencing connectivity issues with the Linode Manager or our API, please reach out to our Support team by opening a ticket through the Linode Manager or by emailing
May 8, 20:25 UTC

From what I could see, IRC dropped for a while as did access to our main page. There are reports on IRC that mail was down, too.

We are monitoring the situation and will update when we know more.

Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Sunday April 19, @03:36PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the economics dept.

So, COVID-19 (coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, whatever you call it) sucks a bit for your health but it turns out it sucks a lot for the economy. So we're extending any subscriptions that were going to expire before then out to June first (this may be extended a time or two depending on how well our savings hold up). Yeah, we know we're an extremely small cap entity and that's not going to make a whole lot of difference but it's something we felt we should do anyway for a couple reasons.

First, we as a corporation do not have paid employees. The only people we give money to are our hosts, our registrar, our CPA, and the revenooers. Which we're going to have to continue doing regardless and which we can currently afford to do for a month or two without dire risk of having to make infrastructure cutbacks. Putting money into us during this nonsense doesn't help much in directly putting food on someone's table or keeping jobs from going poof, so we'd prefer you guys put anything you were going to send us to work where it will help at least a tiny bit in keeping the businesses that your neighbors work at afloat. Which is to say, spend it locally.

Second, we're quite fond of the folks who've chosen to financially support the site and we don't want them to get dinged because of something that wasn't remotely their fault.

Now we're not shutting down the site's subscription functionality. If you feel a desire to contribute anyway, we're happy to oblige and we're not going to tell you that you can't. We're not the bosses of your wallets and it would mean extra work for me when I don't really have time to do much of anything code/admin-wise.

Also, we're only doing this automatically for current and new subscribers; we don't want to hit people who weren't interested with an unsolicited email about subscription expiration when we have to shut the extensions down. They may have quit subscribing or even frequenting the site and it's annoying as all get out to keep getting emails from sites you stopped doing business with on purpose. We're happy to handle it manually, though, if your subscription ended any time since the first of the year. Just drop a comment to this journal entry (NOT to THIS story!) and I'll take care of it as often as I have time (at least once a day).

That's all. We now return you to your regularly scheduled mix of discussion, debate, yelling at each other, and trolling.

(Oh, and you can still submit stories, too! Hint hint! --martyb)

posted by janrinok on Wednesday April 15, @10:11PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the rushin'-hacks dept.

[20200416_143747 UTC: Update 2: Added an Example to make clear what the problem was, and added 2 headings subsequent to the example to better organize the information. --martyb]
[20200416_005831 UTC; Update 1: Updated title and corrected spelling of balanceTags(). --martyb]

Ooops! Things should be working correctly, now.

tl;dr: Back on March 20th, someone tripped over a bug that appears to be in the balanceTags() routine in our Perl code. I found a way to made a quick fix to prevent its happening again, but the fix was missing a couple steps. I caught and fixed one of them, but only now just handled the other.

Workaround: When writing a comment, writing or editing a journal entry, or when submitting a story, use "DEL" instead of "STRIKE" to make text look like this.

This story is the result of something I learned in the process: properly notify the community of any changes to the site!

Symptom: It all started with a tag (i.e. HTML element) error in this comment in a user's journal where the user coded a <strike> tag, but neglected to provide a matching </strike> tag.

Example: Let's look back to the original comment which manifested this bug. Here's the latter part of it, after being corrected:

Looks who's projecting. Consider your phrase "steal jobs and send them overseas for cheap/free labor" (no such thing as free labor). That helps billions of poor people improve their lives. Yet here you are, selfishly obsessing over your developed world pricing power (with some very unempathic label spewing) rather than display the alleged empathy or morality that you claim to be concerned about.

Your empathy is nonexistent and your morals are bankrupt - definitely not the sort of person I should be taking advice from!

The problem is that there was no closing <strike> after the word "cheap", so it looked like this:

Looks who's projecting. Consider your phrase "steal jobs and send them overseas for cheap/free labor" (no such thing as free labor). That helps billions of poor people improve their lives. Yet here you are, selfishly obsessing over your developed world pricing power (with some very unempathic label spewing) rather than display the alleged empathy or morality that you claim to be concerned about.

Your empathy is nonexistent and your morals are bankrupt - definitely not the sort of person I should be taking advice from!

If that was all that happened it would be ugly, but tolerable. Unfortunately, every single character following it on the page was struck through, too. Not Good™.

Immediate Fix: To my knowledge there was only one way to rectify the immediate issue: manually go into the DB and insert the missing tag. This I was able to do quite quickly, but I still saw a problem.

More to Come: Anyone who saw this comment discussion, either at this moment, or who happened upon it later, would see an opportunity to intentionally leave a hanging tag and thus disfigure the site. Trolls gotta troll. So, I made the fix and noted same in this comment reply.

So, an instance of the problem was fixed, but now what? There's a "proper" way to do it, and there is another way to get the same effect that can be quickly implemented. I chose the latter.

Perl Code: Normally, such HTML errors in a user's comment or journal entry (or an editor's edit of a story!) are caught and handled by a routine in our Perl code: balanceTags(). The code looks though all the tags, with whatever nesting is present, detects where tags do not have a required closing tag,and silently inserts it into the text that makes it into the DB. It's rather hairy code because it also needs to handle: extra closing tags, mis-matched closing tags (e.g.: <b> bold <bold and italic> </b> </i>), mistyped or otherwise non-existent tags, restricting what tags are supported, and custom-created site tags! Whew!

Further, to fix it in the Perl code means going through the process of: checking the code out from GitHub, understanding the code, making the change, compiling the change, testing the change, (after rolling it out to our dev server), and then -- if all looks good -- rolling the change out to our production servers. And, of course, nobody was around at the moment who could support such activities even if it were an easy coding change (and it is not!)

Expediency: I realized there was another approach which would mitigate the problem -- not requiring Perl coding changes -- but could still prevent its recurrence: changing the value of a "Site Variable" (aka "site var").

Rehash Primer: Now I need to step back for a moment and explain a couple things. The code for is a fork of ancient Slashcode that was put up on GitHub. Slashcode was implemented using a Model View Controller design. There is a clear demarcation between what is done where and at what level.

Templates: As part of its implementation, the SlashCode implemented "Templates" which generate the HTML pages that get sent to the browser and act as an interface between the code and the user. As far as I know, every page you see on the site comes by way of a template. Each template may, in turn, make use of other templates. Templates can make calls to underlying Perl code. This is where the site implements the heavy lifting of talking to the database (DB), creating e-mails, and other closer-to-the-metal activities. The template language (from personal inspection; I have yet to find an official document as to its syntax and semantics) presents what appears to be a simple, macro-capable language. The templates are stored in the DB and loaded into memory when the site is started. An advantage of this is that changes to templates can be made "on the fly" using a template editor (which is, itself, a template!) There is one caveat: for the changes to take effect, processes on the front-end servers need to be "bounced", i.e. restarted, so the changes are loaded into memory from the (updated) DB.

Site Variables: There are some parameters whose values affect the site's operations: Name of the site, domain name of the site, the name of the Anonymous User account, ... it goes on and on and on. There are no less than 750 site variables! And, as many things that grew beyond their initial construction, there is no simple way to look for what site vars might be appropriate to any given situation. One is just expected to know what they are and what they do and how they do it. Simple enough approach when they first started, I guess. A search capability would be very nice to have, but it will take some coding to make that happen, so it has become just another of the several changes that would be nice to make to the site.

So, back to the matter at hand, I knew about the "approvedtags" site var which lists all tags which are permitted to be used on the site. Sure enough, "STRIKE" was in there! And, I saw that "DEL" was in there, too. Does "DEL" have the same problem? I tried a quick test comment on our development server and it revealed that balanceTags() properly handled a hanging <DEL> without a matching </DEL>. Yay! I removed "STRIKE" from the "approvedtags" list, saved the change, bounced the front-end servers, and breathed a sigh of relief.

All was good, until someone asked in a footnote to a comment why do we still list STRIKE as being a permitted tag for comments? What? I double-checked and verified that "STRIKE" was no longer listed in "approvedtags". What is going on? So, I commenced searching and finally discovered another site var: "approvedtags_visible" which contains the list of tags that is presented to the user as being available. And, sure enough, "STRIKE" was in that list. Grrr! I removed "STRIKE" from "approvedtags_visible", saved the changes, and saw no further issues mentioned there. Finally!

Or so I thought. Did you see what was missed? The site vars were now correct and up-to-date. The changes were saved to the DB. But... those changes existed only in the DB. Still needed to 'bounce' the front end servers for the changes to take effect. So, that entailed a quick SSH to our servers, running the bounce scripts, and verifying that "STRIKE" was truly and properly removed from the tags presented to the user as being available for use, and that anyone trying to use <STRIKE>, anyway, would discover it did not work.

Conclusions: So, here are some lessons learned:

  1. When you want to use a <STRIKE> tag, use <DEL>, instead.
  2. There is no assurance that reporting a problem in the comments will be noticed.
  3. Please report site issues with an e-mail sent to admin (at) soylentnews (dot) org.
  4. In addition to sending an e-mail, mention it in the "#dev" channel of our IRC server.
  5. This particular issue should now be well and truly fixed. Please report any problems you may discover with it.
  6. When communicating changes made to the site, a mention in the comments does not suffice.
  7. --martyb

[Janrinok says: TL:DR Martyb fixed it, OK, OK, I have read it....]

Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Wednesday April 01, @01:02AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the automotive dept.

The Mighty Buzzard writes:

The 4/1 joke this year is on me. Working from home apparently doesn't get you out of working on your home, or in this case a church destined to shortly be my home. Which is what kept me from having time to annoy you lot with a terrible/goofy/whatever theme or some other silliness this year. Enjoy your lazy Wednesday and feel free to have a chuckle at my expense.

Side note: there are only sixty-one four-digit uids left at the time of this writing (the morning of 3/31) . Any of you long time ACs who think you might want to register before we hit five digits need to do it soon.

posted by martyb on Monday March 23, @12:23AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the going-places dept.

[2020-03-23 01:32:11 UTC Update 1:Ed. Note - updated to clarify location of the skip to comments button.--fnord666]

[2020-03-23 12:56:40 UTC Update 2: Changed link target from "#acomments" to "#commentwrap" per suggestion in:; added "Note-to-self". --martyb]

Thank You! Thanks to everyone who provided feedback on a new UI feature to the site; [Skip to comment(s)]" is now live on SoylentNews!

The SoylentNews' Main Page should function and look the same as before. The magic manifests only after a specific story has been opened. Code has been added to a site template so that "[Skip to comment(s)]" should now appear, right-justified, in the first of the two lines in the title bar that appears immediately below the story's title.

[Note to self: see in-memory version of template: "dispStory;misc;default" original implementation target fragid of "#acomments" changed to "#commentwrap" as of 2020-03-23 12:56:40 UTC--martyb]

Clicking the button will bring you to the comment header block. (That's where you can adjust Breakthrough, Threshold, and Threading preferences (either one-time-only, or save it away, permanently.)

Quite frankly, thanks to the community's feedback, it looks and behaves better than what I had originally envisioned!

Changing Site UI to Make Long Stories Easier to Navigate -- Input Requested [superseded; see update]
Skip to comment(s) -- Second Try [Updated: 2020-03-21 15:06:00 UTC].)


Original Submission

posted by martyb on Saturday March 21, @12:30PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the if-at-first-you-don't-succeed,-avoid-skydiving-or-making-immediate-changes-directly-to-live-systems dept.

[2020-03-21 15:06:00 UTC: Update 1:
(1) Reminder: this has so far been implemented only on our *development* server (; it has NOT yet been rolled out to this (the production) servers.
(2) The control (now a simple text link, no longer a button) no longer defaults to taking up a whole physical line immediately above the first comment.
(3) Please note that in certain corner-cases, it is possible that screen size limitations may cause an overflow onto the next line.
(4) And the control should now appear aligned-right in the story header. =)

[2020-03-21 15:42:00 UTC: Update 2: Fixed typo in the first of the above two links to our dev server. --martyb]

This is a follow-up to: Changing the Site UI to Making Long Stories Easier to Navigate -- Input Requested.

Wow! Thanks for all the positive feedback to the previous story! I knew the implementation was a bit rough around the edges, so I very much appreciate the positive, constructive feedback that was provided!

Based on your input -- primarily displeasure in having a single button take up a whole physical line -- I have modified the in-memory template on our development server to now provide a textual link in the story header right after the printer icon. It should only appear when viewing the story by itself; there should be no indication of this on the main page.

To repeat, this is only on our development server so far; it is not yest implemented on our production server (i.e. what you see here).

In short, should this get rolled out to production?

  1. Yes.
  2. Yes, with these suggested changes.
  3. No.

Please refer to the previous story (linked above) for test scenarios and reply with any issues you may find!


Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday March 20, @03:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the putting-our-heads-together-from-a-distance-seems-like-it-should-be-easy-but-it's-MMMMMMMMMMMMMM-not! dept.

[20200320_184315 UTC: Update: Made the dept. line longer to better demonstrate space [un]availability.--martyb]

[20200320_202305 UTC: Update: Added topics: "/dev/random", "Code", "Software", and "Answers" topics to better illustrate their use of space in a story. --martyb]

[20200321_175412 UTC: Update: superseded by: Skip to comment(s) -- Second Try --martyb]

First: Please accept my best wishes to everyone during SARS-CoV-2 / COVID-19 / Coronavirus pandemic. Please take all necessary precautions to keep yourself and those around you safe!

Second: I should not have been surprised, but I must confess my admiration at how the SoylentNews community came together in support of each other in response to SoylentNews Community -- How has SAR-CoV-2 (Coronavirus) / COVID-19 Affected You? As of my writing this, there are over 300 comments! community++ This is what I had hoped for when SoylentNews started over six years (Wow!) ago, and so validates my giving of my time to this site!

Third: (and the focus of this story) our virus roundup stories are... long. An AC posted a comment: thanks to eds:

Thanks editors for pulling together this summary. SN for the win!

One comment--it is kind of long to scroll down through, to get to the comments. Perhaps next time some of the longer stories could be put inside the spoiler tag?"

This was quickly acted on by a member of staff, but that was not universally embraced as a "Good Idea". Both Soylentils, to my eye, had good points. If I am visiting an active story again, I have already read the story (both the "Intro Copy" and the "Extended Copy"). Why should I have to scroll through a wall-of-text to get to the comments? The suggestion of using <spoiler>...</spoiler> to bracket the contents of each of the merged stories seemed like a reasonable suggestion. But, when you have a hammer... Right idea, but maybe not quite the right tool.

Aside: If I am reading a review of, say, a movie, then a spoiler is an appropriate way to hide plot details from those who have not yet seen the movie. That is not the situation here. Why hide details of a story about the pandemic? Hmm. A good first try, perhaps, but it looks like we need something different in this case.

Idea: what if there were, say, a button at the top of the story that I could click and be brought immediately to the comment section of a story? Hey! I can do that!

Acknowledgements: At this point, I hereby express my sincere thanks to AndyTheAbsurd for constructing some CSS which allowed the conditional display of a button, and to FatPhil for his testing efforts. Thanks guys!

Read on past the break for details on the implementation and a request for assistance before I attempt to roll it out to production.

So, I hacked up something that I hope addressed the initial concern: "kind of long to scroll down through". I'll be the first to admit the implementation is crude. We can go for pretty later. (The perfect is the enemy of good enough, right?) I think the ideal would be to have a separate nexus for virus-related stories. That way we would not feel compelled to gather a bunch of story submissions into a single story. We could process each submission independently and release each on its own. Unfortunately, there is much more to it than just adding an entry to the site DB.

It has been implemented on our development server: and I hereby solicit feedback from the community on how well it works. It was implemented with one addition to an in-memory copy of a single site template (dispStory;misc;default).

For the curious, see Original and Updated Versions of Template: "dispStory;misc;default" ("Skip to Comment(s)" button), but do be aware that rehash replaced tabs with spaces, so what you see is NOT an exact copy of the sources.

Now what? Feedback! This is your site. I am well aware there are Soylentils who have a much better grasp of HTML and CSS than I do, and am hereby soliciting supportive feedback.

Test scenarios:

  1. Does the "Skip to comment(s)" Button not appear on the main page?
  2. Does the "Skip to comment(s)" Button appear on the story page?
  3. Does it work?
  4. Is the appearance consistent across all of the available themes?
    1. Site Default
    2. BadA55
    3. Chillax
    4. Grayscale
    5. Black IcIcle
    6. Night Mode
    7. NV
    9. SoylentNews
    10. Vomit
    11. VT100
    12. VT220
  5. Is the layout consistent other homepage settings?
    [] Simple Design
    Simplifies the design of Dev.SN to strip away some of the excesses of the UI.
    [] Low Bandwidth
    Reduces the size of pages for people with slower network connections
    [] No Icons
    Disable topic icon images on stories.
  6. Which of the preceding homepage settings would be better served with just a simple anchor?

    <a href="@acomments">Skip to Comment(s)</a>

  7. Other, what did I miss?

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday March 06, @01:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the alliteration++ dept.

I have a couple things to bring to the attention of the community concerning site funding and comment moderations. As always, if you are not interested in these matters, feel free to skip past this one; another story will be along shortly. Otherwise read beyond the fold for an update.


A recent comment to a journal article about SoylentNews now having a privacy policy prompted me to pursue something that had been nagging at me for a long while.

In short, I have learned it costs more to run this site than I had estimated. We have actually been operating at a loss for the past couple years. I have, therefore, provided a revised fundraising goal of $3500.00 for the first half of this calendar year in the "Site News" slashbox (that appears on the right-hand-side of the main page).

I have been advised our current funds on hand can support the site for just six months.

For those who have been around for a while, it will come as no surprise to learn that I try to keep a handle on subscription income for this site. Further, I have been maintaining what we affectionately refer to here as the "Beg-O-Meter' that appears in the "Site News" slashbox. It provides a running tally of our financial goal for the period and how far along we are towards attaining that goal. Lastly, I have posted stories in the past apprising the community as to our progress towards those goals.

We are an entirely volunteer organization (no staff member has ever been paid anything for their work on SoylentNews). All funding for the site comes entirely from the community (we have never run advertisements and are strongly resistant to any suggestion to do so). The vast majority of our funding comes from subscriptions.

My prior estimates of $4000.00 per year were based on the only information I had available at that time. Our monthly web hosting costs ($260/month), the fact that we needed to file and pay taxes, and that we paid an accountant to prepare them. Twelve months at $260/month works out to $2160 per year. I reasoned a goal of $3000 for the year would give us about $840 for those other expenses... that should do it, right?

Apparently not.

Thanks to the above-referenced comment, I reached out to a member of our board of directors and inquired as to our financial status. In very short order I received a pile of PDF files. A separate file for each fiscal year's Profit and Loss Statement and a separate file for each year's Balance Sheet. It took a surprising amount of effort, but thanks to the concerted effort of a few staff members, these have been uploaded to our Wiki and can now be accessed through the SoylentNews Finance page.

A couple things bear explanation. You may notice that there are expenses associated with subscriptions. The amount of a subscription made to SoylentNews is a gross amount. From that, Stripe or PayPal charge a processing fee for each subscription. These fees do add up and amount to the aforementioned expense.

Also, why is a Delaware company paying Massachusetts state taxes? I reached out for an answer from a board member, and here is his reply:

We pay Massachusetts income tax (since we are not profitable, we pay the minimum amount of $456 each year, but if we ever become profitable, we will have to pay more) because we are physically located in MA (through me). A physical address was required to open our checking account with BoA[*], and for various other things. For example, we need a physical address to sign the engagement letter with our accountant every year. Note that we are not required to pay Delaware income tax because we are not physically located in DE. The tax that we pay to Delaware each year is technically a franchise tax that we pay for the privilege of being incorporated in Delaware (allowing us to be a Public Benefit Corporation, among other benefits).

[*] BoA - Bank of America.

I will keep the community appraised should I learn anything more.


We had had a discussion on the site a few months ago about moderation on the site. I have been pursuing a possible implementation of one of the suggestions raised there: adding a "-1 Ad Hominem" moderation. Discussion among staff has suggested we would need a counter moderation should a "-1 Ad Hominem" be perceived to have been in error. That wold mean the addition of a "+1 Not Ad Hominem" moderation, too. (In proper geek fashion, they nicely abbreviate to: "-1 AH" and "+1 NAH"!) There is more to its implementation than just adding these options to the moderation table; coding changes would also be needed. This, in turn, would require the modifications be submitted through GitHub as a pull request, then testing, and finally a rollout to the community. It is important to note that this would be on a trial basis! If it proves to NOT be workable, we need to be able to roll that back. This is easier said than done! The previous moderations will need to remain in the system (what's done is done) but future moderations must be able to be blocked... and the code is not designed for this at all.

It bears mentioning that our goal is to provide a forum for the community to comment on stories and to moderate those comments. We strive to be as hands-off about these matters as we reasonably can.

In short, this is mostly an announcement that AH moderations have not been forgotten, design work is in progress, and that when time and developer availability permits, we hope to be rolling this out for a test run. I would not expect anything to happen in the next month, but wanted to provide as much advance notice as to the intention as possible so as to encourage any feedback, discussion, etc. that could help inform our implementation.

<Note class="TMB">

s/next month/next few months/

Contractor woes (just because I technically can do everything doesn't mean it's always the wisest idea) wound up pushing move-in date on the church I've been remodeling back a couple months (end of April is what we're currently shooting for as a best case scenario) and I don't want anything hitting production servers that hasn't had at least two weeks worth of testing on our dev server after me calling it done, because I'm quite often wrong about that. The end of May is the soonest anything is likely to hit production servers, with some time in June being far more likely.


Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Sunday February 23, @03:20PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the anything-not-illegal-is-compulsory dept.

Bleh. Apparently not caring what you do on other sites or even requiring any personal information isn't good enough for the state of Confusion^WCalifornia, so we have a shiny, new, temporary Privacy Policy posted on every page and linked at the top of the nav bar.

If you feel like prettying the language, layout, or whatever up before I get around to it, feel free to do so and submit a pull request.

posted by martyb on Sunday February 16, @09:09PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the cake-time! dept.

Thank You!

On the occasion of the site's sixth anniversary, I thought it fitting to mention some of the many ways that fellow Soylentils contribute to our community. This also seems like a good opportunity to mention some of the site's history, relate some staffing changes, mention other contributions by the SoylentNews community, and to wrap things up with some site statistics.

Please accept our thanks:

These thanks go out to all of you: my fellow members of the SoylentNews community.

To the Anonymous Cowards who post comments to our site (be they inciteful or insightful). To our registered users who not only post comments, but are also the only members who can moderate comments. No matter how long you have been here; whether you have just arrived (Welcome!) or have been with us from the very start... Thank You!

Speaking of which, thanks go to our staff who bludgeoned and duct-taped an ancient unmaintained open-sourced version of the code underpinning slashdot into some sort of basic functionality, and who have since made it the site you are enjoying today. Thanks, too, to our behind-the-scenes staff members, who keep the underlying services we depend on, running 24/7. Other staff members are more visible, like the editorial team who spend several hours every single day processing the stories that get posted to the site.

And let's not forget the members of the community who purchase subscriptions and thereby fund the operations of this site. We do have real world expenses: paying for our servers, domain registrations, and paying a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) to do our taxes.

Read on past the fold for all the rest!

Some History:

The history of this site has been well documented in our prior birthday announcements.

I've collected links to them for those who would like to take a walk down memory lane or to learn of how we got our start. It is worth mentioning here that preceding the creation of SoylentNews was a SlashCott, a boycott of the slashdot site where participants pledged to not access slashdot at all during the week-long period of February the 10th through the 17th. The first paragraphs of our 5-year anniversary post describes things quite well... Enjoy !

  1. Welcome to the World of Tomorrow... Today!
  2. SoylentNews is One Year Old!
  3. Happy Second Anniversary to SoylentNews!
  4. Three Years In - What Has Happened and How we Got Here
  5. Happy Birthday to SoylentNews -- Four Years Old!
  6. SoylentNews is... FIVE YEARS OLD!


I am happy to announce our editorial team has a new member spiraldancing who has been getting up to speed and has already posted several stories. And... we have two more who will be going through training as soon as some free time appears in their schedule.

Helping Others

SoylentNews is not just all about ourselves. Several members have joined together to help medical researchers examine the causes of protein misfolding which is of interest to medical research into Alzheimer's disease, Huntington's disease, and many forms of cancer. Please see my Journal Entry for details on what has been done and how to sign up!


Since this site went live, over 950,000 comments (WOW!) have been made to over 30,700 stories and 4,760 journal entries. Along the way, the community made just shy of 650,000 moderations to those comments. We now have over 9,500 registered nicknames, too.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 31, @01:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

Who has noticed anything new at SoylentNews these past couple days?

We have a new editor who has just come on board and has posted his first two stories to the site (one each for the previous two days).

You may recall that I posted a request for help a little over two weeks ago. I am happy to report that we had a positive response to the request... and a new editor has been in training starting a few days later!

Please join me in welcoming spiraldancing to his new role as an editor on staff. He is not new to the site as he created an account here a bit over 4 years ago. He worked his way through training on our development server. (Under the watchful eye and guidance of janrinok. JR not only walked SD through the mechanics of how to post a story, but also a goodly amount of what to be mindful of during the whole process. It is all too easy to make a mistake... which I can attest from personal experience!)

I look forward to seeing him bring his perspective and input to our team.


Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Sunday January 19, @03:40PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the lingere dept.

Well, crap. I have no idea why or when it happened but the Threshold setting when using Threaded-TOS appears to be non-functional at the moment. It's supposed to set the value below which a comment and any of its subcomments will be collapsed, unless a subcomment is over the Breakthrough value which should cause that comment only to be expanded. Right now it's functioning as if Threshold were set to 6. I never noticed it because I have both settings set to -1.

I can't monkey with it right this second but I'll see if I can get it fixed some time this weekend. Just a hotfix patch to the live code not a full site update.

Beats doing construction work in the rain I suppose.

Update: Okay, I can't fix something that ain't broke and TOS is functioning as intended. I just forgot that Threshold applied only to top-level comments, all subcomment trees should be collapsed by default, and Breakthrough was the setting for subcomments to show up no matter what. This doesn't make sense to me but then I'm not the one who decided it should function like that and I don't use TOS. If you lot want it to function differently or want a new mode that's similar, drop your insipid inspired ideas here and if there's enough demand I'll put it on the todo list.