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posted by martyb on Friday July 05, @03:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the Buck-Feta! dept.

On July 5th of 2014, SoylentNews was officially given approvals for its letters of incorporation as a Public Benefit Corporation.

This is a good opportunity to take stock of where we are. Read on past the fold for coverage of:

  • Fundraising
  • Site activity
  • Folding@Home
  • Journals of Spam Accounts
  • Submit Stories
  • Thank YOU

Fundraising: For the first half of 2019, the community came through with room to spare! Not only did we attain our goal of $2000, but we also received approximately $549.38 towards our stretch goal of $1000 more. I'll leave the current totals in the Site News slashbox for a few more days before resetting for fundraising for the second half of the year. Please feel free to Subscribe as any new amounts received will go toward our next funding period. In case you were wondering, we had about 100 subscriptions during this period with the largest amounts being $200(x2), $120, $100(x3), and $80; all the rest were for $50 or less. Though this is an all-volunteer organization, we do have to pay for servers, domain registrations, and a CPA to file our taxes, so these subscriptions are key to our being able to "keep the lights on". THANK-YOU!

Site activity: A quick look around the site reveals some interesting statistics. As of my writing this, our story count stands at 27,861 stories. To that, add the 4,178 journal entries that have been posted by the community. We currently have 858,117 comments posted. We have had, however, comparatively few comment moderations: 586,164. We have 8,225 registered users, too!

In case you did not see the follow-up story, we have not performed moderation bans for excess up/down moderations in well over a year. Any moderations by user1 of comments by user2 that exceed 4 per day are reviewed and are simply reversed if it is determined than a mod bomb or sockpuppet moderation is happening. This is in lieu of our implementing code that will automatically handle this in the future when our dev team can scrounge up some spare time to implement it and merge it in. I had my information incorrect in a story posted a while back and want to set the record straight. Remember, there are a few thousand other users on this site, it is not necessary for you to single-handedly moderate all the comments that need it; if it really is that bad or good, then surely someone else will share your perspective and be along before too long to do the same. And, if not, it is not the end of the world; this is a place to discuss stories; not to set the entire world on the right path. In other words: Login to the site and Use your mod points!

Folding@Home: This has not been mentioned in a while, but we do have a SoylentNews Folding@Home (F@H) team... currently ranked #231 in the world! (Based on current trends, we should be #230 within a couple days.) This is purely voluntary by members of the community who saw an opportunity, banded together, and just got things started. Hat tip to SirFinkus for the original impetus and early organizing that has helped us get to where we are today. The F@H client automatically takes advantage of idle time on your CPU/GPU. Once installed and set up, it requests a work unit, processes it, and return the results. These calculations help support research into fighting maladies such as Parkinson's disease.

Journals of Spam Accounts: We have observed accounts being created which have posted no comments, made no story submissions, performed no moderations, but have made postings of a commercial nature to their journal. These are currently blocked from appearing in the "Most Recent Journal Entries" slashbox that appears on the main page until the user has accumulated at least 10 Karma. This reduces their visibility to the casual reader of the site, but could be leveraged to help boost the search engine rankings of the affiliated enterprise.

Some numbers: Out of 4178 journal entries posted to SoylentNews since the beginning, 528 were posted by users who have less than 10 Karma. Of those 528 journal entries, only 26 have a Karma greater than zero. Further, the most recent journal posting from those 26 was in March of 2018 — well over a year ago.

My take on this is that the good name of SoylentNews is being used to advance the standing of commercial enterprises. We strive to be impartial in our coverage and have never taken any remuneration from any outside enterprise lest it give even the appearance of favoritism to what we publish on this site.

Rather than make an edict from on high, I prefer to hear what the community thinks. What, if anything, have I forgotten to look at? Is this even a problem? If it is a problem, what, if anything should be done about it? Require a minimum Karma of 10 to even post in a Journal?

Submit Stories: It is summer time in the northern hemisphere and most research facilities are running with reduced staffing so folks can take advantage of the weather. Also, most schools are on summer vacation, as well. The result is that much less research is performed now than would be during the normal school year. This period is sometimes referred to as the "Silly Season" where on-line publications (many of whom are also running with fewer staff) tend to run more fluff pieces. Please bear with us as we try to find and provide the community with stories of interest with an emphasis on STEM.

This is also a good opportunity to try your hand at submittting a story to SoylentNews. Please see the Submission Guidelines. If you have any questions, feel free to pop into the "#editorial" channel on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) and ask for help. As some of our staff may also be taking a vacation, there may not be someone there to immediately respond, so please bear with us. I well remember the thrill I felt when I first saw a story submission of mine accepted and posted to the site!

If the best you can do is submit a link, then do that. If you quote any text directly from the story, please enclose it in <blockquote> ... </blockquote> tags. Of course the closer the submission is to publication-ready, the less work is required of an editor, and the better chance that one of us will run with it. Most importantly, have fun and don't be afraid to try. We all had the experience of making our first story submission and are willing to help you get comfortable with the process, as others did with us.

Thank YOU: We are the little site that could. Splintered off from the non-listening corporate overlords at Slashdot, a bunch of PO'd folk got together and bludgeoned an out-of-date code base into a solid and responsive system. The community that has formed here... I regularly see people looking to find what they can give to the community rather than what they can take from it. We could not have done it without YOU. Providing story submissions. Writing comments and journal articles. Moderating comments. It is a group effort, and this is a group I am grateful to be a part of.

In addition, there is the unheralded work of a small staff who volunteer their time to (try) and keep everything up and running smoothly. For example, Linode (our webhosting provider) recently rebooted 5 of our servers to handle an exploit that was making the rounds. Thanks to the excellent design and implementation, the site kept right on running uninterrupted. There was a minor glitch this morning that a restart of varnishd took care of. And that was it. No muss, no fuss. I count myself most fortunate to be working with such capable and talented people who give so selflessly of themselves to keep this all running so smoothly.

It has been a privilege to serve this community over the past 5 years and it is my fervent hope that we have many more years to come!

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday July 04, @03:47AM   Printer-friendly
from the forewarned-is-forearmed dept.

Updated (20190704_023935 UTC) Server reboots have completed. I am unaware of any issues from these reboots; please reply here and post to the #dev channel on IRC if anything is amiss. Original story follows with minor updates to mark all servers have been rebooted. --martyb

For those who might not be aware, SoylentNews operations run on servers from Linode. I have recently become aware of their plans to reboot servers:

To complete our mitigations against the recent MDS (ZombieLoad) CPU vulnerability, we will be performing maintenance on a subset of Linode’s host machines. This maintenance will update the underlying infrastructure that Linodes reside on and will not affect the data stored within them.

Here is the schedule for our affected systems:

fluorine (*)2019-06-25 05:00 AM UTC
beryllium (*)2019-06-27 09:00 AM UTC
helium (*)2019-06-28 03:00 AM UTC
boron (*)2019-06-28 04:00 AM UTC
hydrogen (*)2019-07-02 09:00 AM UTC
sodium (*)2019-07-03 02:00 AM UTC

(*) Completed.

Historically, there is a two-hour window for reboots to occur, but it usually takes far less time than that.

We will attempt to minimize any impact on site operations, but want to let the community know what was coming up.

posted by martyb on Monday June 24, @12:37PM   Printer-friendly
We are aware of issues when trying to access the site. First noticed at approx. 0300 UTC. Our servers look okay. It appears there may be issues with upstream connectivity.

Also, Linode is planning some server reboots over the next week or so. We will try to give advance notice and keep downtime to a minimum.

Update: Everything seems to have quieted down. Many many thanks to NotSanguine for jumping in and lending his expertise to help identify and isolate where things were borked.

Indications are that a bad BGP (Border Gateway Protocol) route was published causing a relatively small AS (Autonomous System) to have all traffic to/from a large fraction of the internet attempt to go through its routers.

posted by martyb on Tuesday June 11, @04:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the passing-the-word dept.

As many of you are aware, SoylentNews uses Let's Encrypt certificates to protect the vast majority (all?) of our networking connections.

Under the watchful eyes of The Mighty Buzzard and SemperOSS I have updated our certs and deployed them across our servers and services. At this point, all seems to be working fine. That said, I have a well-earned reputation of being able to break nearly anything, so it would not entirely surprise me if you find something awry. If so, please let us know! You can comment on this story and/or jump over to the "#dev" channel on IRC and let us know there.

For completeness' sake, the updated certs were rolled out at 20190611_140630 UTC.

NOTE: Do be aware it takes time for updated DNS records to work their way across the internet, so if you do encounter a problem, try clearing your cache and trying again before assuming things are borked.

Original Submission

posted by janrinok on Monday May 27, @03:45AM   Printer-friendly
from the easy-now dept.

Holiday Weekend: For our international readers who may be unaware, Monday 27 May marks Memorial Day in the United States, a remembrance of members of the military who have passed in the line of service. In reality, if has become the de facto start of summer which runs past Independence Day (July 4) until Labor Day.

Over this 3-day-long holiday weekend, a great number of establishments are closed or run at reduced hours and staffing. Stories appear on the internet at a reduced rate, and many more "fluff pieces" appear as filler.

I have heard quite clearly that, given a choice, the community generally prefers quality over quantity.

SoylentNews runs with approximate story spacings of a bit over 1.5 hours on weekdays and a little under 2.5 hours on weekends. We've been "feeding the queue" 24 hours per day, every single day, for over 5 years (still amazes me it has been that long!)

So, based primarily on those factors, I have suggested the eds adopt weekend story spacing for Monday (UTC) so they, too, can have a bit of a break.

Read on past the break for the rest of the site news.

Staffing: I would like to take this opportunity to formally welcome back fnord666 who had been on leave from the end of last year into early this year. Good to have you back! On the other hand, mrpg has recently moved and will be incommunicado until he is able to get situated again. Please join me in wishing him well! Our Editor-in-Chief emeritus is back in the saddle, too, though his circumstances may change at any time. He has many outside obligations and yet willingly gives of his very limited free time to SoylentNews. We are indeed fortunate to have him with us; thanks JR!

Outage: Well, it was not actually an outage, but on May 22, 2019 at approximately 2300 UTC, people started reporting issues with the site. Symptoms included some of the slashboxes on the side of the main page were not loading as well as some reports that CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) were failing to load causing malformed layout. I got wind of the issue just before midnight. It took me a couple tries to invoke the correct script to "bounce" the front-end servers (which basically just restarts apache on both our front-end servers and restarts the single slashd daemon). I promptly reported the outage and corrective measures to the community and it seems that all is functioning properly again. Please speak up in the comments if you are still experiencing any issues. But... be sure to clear your browser cache and do a hard reload of the site (e.g. Ctrl+F5 works on Firefox and derivatives) to make sure you are getting a fresh copy of all the files.

Finances: We have reached our funding goal of $2000 for the first half of 2019! Better still, we still have the rest of May and all of June remaining. I took the liberty of updating the "beg-o-meter" in the site news slashbox with a stretch goal of $1000. I am happy to report that we have already received $168.93 towards the stretch goal. I am so grateful for the support of the community for our efforts. For those who may be new or unawares, this is a purely volunteer organization. Nobody on staff has ever received any remuneration ($5 word for pay) for their efforts on this site. As I understand it, both NCommander and Matt_ incurred large monetary expenses in getting the site going and established legally as a Private Benefit Corporation based out of Maryland — expenses for which they have never been repaid. They have been more than patient and gracious in their insistence that SoylentNews become well enough established before getting repaid.

When you subscribe, some of the site limits are relaxed and you get a shiny star next to any comments you post. For the humble, you can turn that star's display off in your preferences.

If you wish to help out, click on Subscribe and select whether you want the subscription to start/extend your own subscription or you wish to make a gift subscription. If it is a gift subscription, specify the UID for the recipient. The default of UID==6 is that of Michael Casadevall (another nick NCommander used when setting up the site) or you may replace the UID with 2339 in memory of Michael David Crawford, or any other UID that you want.

Penultimately, select a subscription duration and amount (the suggested amount is a minimum; any in excess of that is greatly appreciated), and click on the Continue button. NOTE: Javascript needs to have been enabled for the following step to work. Lastly, choose your payment method of either Paypal or Stripe, fill in the requested details, and submit.

As I have mentioned before, this site has real expenses with server hosting fees, domain name registration, paying for a CPA to file our taxes, and the like. Those who support us financially help "keep the lights on." Thank You!

Submissions: This is not to take away from those who contribute to the site in other ways. Please accept my thanks to all of you who submit stories for the editors to poke at and bring to the community. Some of the community post stories to their journal which has led to many an interesting conversation. Above all, thank you to those who weigh in by posting comments. It is the primary reason for this site's existence, so please keep those comments coming!

Moderations: All comments are visible, but some have more visibility than others, thanks to moderation. For those who wish to see just the crème de la crème, set your comment threshold higher and give thanks to those who have performed moderations.

With respect to moderations, a user may moderate anywhere from 0 to 4 comments by another user. Any moderations in excess of 4 upmods or 4 downmods in a 24-hour period starting at 00:10 UTC will be reversed. It is our intention at some point to have the site impose that limitation automatically so no penalty is currently being imposed at this time. That means we need to monitor moderations and manually reverse those in excess of the limits. The short form of the moderation guidelines is "Don't be a jerk." On the other hand, 10 mod points are issued to every registered user at 00:10 UTC each day... please use them! Please try to focus on upmodding good (e.g. Funny, Interesting, Insightful, Informative) comments but don't be afraid to downmod (e.g. Offtopic, Troll, Flamebait) where appropriate.

When I moderate a comment, my thoughts are for the next person to come along; how can I help curate the discussion to best help them out?

Thank You! Thanks to all the rest of the staff who humbly trudge along behind the scenes to make it happen. We have posted over 27,000 stories and have received nearly 850,000 comments in the just over 5 years since SoylentNews was launched... here's looking forward to many more years to come!!

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday May 23, @12:30AM   Printer-friendly
from the insert-picure-of-big-haired-guy-saying-it-was-aliens.jpg dept.

We recently had reports of some 'wonkiness' on the site.

Reports started appearing in our #Soylent channel on IRC about 90 minutes ago. For example, the Main Page would load, but parts of the page (such as the slashboxes on the left-hand side) were missing.

I borked my first attempt, but on the second try successfully restarted apache and slashd on both of our front-end servers: hydrogen and fluorine.

All seems to be working correctly now. If this is not the case for you, you may need to clear the browser cache on your system and/or do a hard reload of the page (e.g. Ctrl+F5). If things are still not right, please reply in the comments and/or pop into channel #dev on IRC and let us know.

I'm not sure what precipitated the behavior; I'll leave that to TheMightyBuzzard or one of the sysadmin folk to investigate. I'm sure they'll fill us in on whatever root cause was found.

OTOH, one cannot entirely rule out a spurious gamma ray that flipped a key bit in memory that caused an avalanche of untrapped events.

You can now return to your usual, spirited discussions.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Tuesday April 23, @03:19PM   Printer-friendly
from the and-then-there-were-some dept.

We had a minor site hiccup today. All seems to be working, now.

We have always been open and upfront about the site, so in the interests of full disclosure here is a summary of the problem and steps taken to fix it.

tl;dr Comment counts shown for each story on the main page seem to have stopped getting updated since about midnight this morning; appears to be working now. Please accept our apologies for any who were inconvenienced.

Read on past the fold for details.

Problem: Comment counts on the main page showed "0" comments on recent stories, but opening a story showed the correct number of comments for it.

Actions Taken:

1.) Try bouncing the front-end servers to restart apache (This is a low-risk step that seems to fix a surprising number of issues).

No joy.

2.) Ask for help on the #dev channel on IRC.

Ncommander replied asking if slashd (an over-seeing daemon for the site) was running.

Looked through my log files and on the site wiki; determined that slashd should be running on server: fluorine

ps -AF | grep slashd | wc showed 32 processes

Ncommander suggested: killall -9 slashd

Try: killall -9 slashd

"No process found."

Inspection of output of PS -AF suggested this one-liner should do it:
$(ps -AF | grep slashd | awk '{print "kill -9 " $2}' )

Got most of the processes, but there still seemed to be some stragglers.

/etc/init.d/./slash stop
/etc/init.d/./slash restart


Looked like it might have worked... reloaded main page... see updated comment counts!

Looks like all is working again.

It's a credit to the staff here that the site has been running so smoothly and without crashing or hiccups for... I can't remember when we last had an outage. Given that in the early days of the site we had maybe a few hours of uptime between crashes, we have come a long ways!

I'm going to assume this is one of those "have you tried turning it off and back on again" kind of problems, and unless the problem re-occurs, assume it is solved.

Need to hurry to get to work, so I apologize for the brevity of this posting.


Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday April 01, @03:55PM   Printer-friendly

Staffing: We are fortunate at SoylentNews to have some extremely talented and hard-working people on our staff. It bears mentioning that all work done on the site is by volunteers — nobody has ever received any payment for any of the work done here. That includes maintaining the code, wrangling IRC (Internet Relay Chat), maintaining our e-mail servers, the databases, web servers, etc. It also covers editing community story submissions and posting them to the site as stories for the community to read and comment on.

So, it pains me to report that one of our staff has been having health issues and was in the hospital in February. The initial "event" has been handled, but one of the tests conducted there revealed another matter which is requiring some ongoing intervention. There's other IRL (In Real Life) stuff happening, as well. As he put it: "All in all 2019 is starting out as a major suck of a year."

I have instructed him to take whatever time he needs to take care of things — first things first.

I am sure this attention is somewhat embarrassing to him, but if I have learned anything at all from MDC's passing, is the wisdom behind this saying

You cannot do a kindness too soon, for you never know how soon it will be too late.
--Ralph Waldo Emerson:

Please join me in wishing a full, and speedy, recovery to Fnord666.

Finances: As alluded to above, it does take real money to run this site (paying for servers, domain registration, and filing taxes are the major expenses). Having just finished the first quarter of the year, I'm pleased to announce that subscriptions to the site have so far been on a trajectory to meet our funding goal for the first half of the year. As of this writing, we have raised $1143 towards a goal of $2000. Most people make ad hoc, one-time contributions. The amounts presented for the different durations are suggested minimums. The majority of contributions received are at the minimum suggested amount, but so far this year we have some generous contributions above that. We had 2 people at $200 (each), one at $100, one at $80, and a couple more at $25. We accept both PayPal and Stripe for payment processing. We do provide an option, should you so wish, to contribute a gift subscription. By default, we use UID #6 as the recipient, though you are free to choose any user on the site. If you run into any problems or have any questions, please post a comment here, post something on IRC, or send an e-mail to admin (at) and someone will get back to you presently.

What it gets you is a shiny star next to your name whenever you post a comment (which you can toggle on/off in your preferences), some relaxed restrictions on the site, and knowledge that you are helping us continue to provide a unique venue for discussion with a primary focus on science and technology. And, need I say it? Buck Feta! I find it hard to believe it has been over five years since this site forked off from Slashdot, and we have remained advertising-free the whole time!

Thanks: Many, many thanks to all who have subscribed!

If you would like to subscribe or to check your subscription status, please click to go to our subscription page.

Again, please accept my deep and genuine thanks to all who have contributed to this site in any way. Above all, please keep those story submissions coming, moderate comments, and (of course) post new comments, too!


Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday April 01, @09:30AM   Printer-friendly
from the not-a-joke dept.

As mentioned here on March 26, Michael David Crawford has passed away. One person in the SoylentNews community was concerned that MDC might, instead, be incapacitated and in a hospital somewhere. He spent a few hours calling around and reported back to me:

Just got off the phone with the Clark County medical examiner
"I can confirm that a Michael Crawford died on March 24th"

Further, we received news that there is an obituary page up for him.

Separately, takyon suggested in a comment to that story:

Maybe we can put a quote or two of his in the quotations thing.

"You say that like it's a bad thing."
"I Am Eternally In Your Debt."
"The Mind Simply Reels."
"Thank You For Your Submission. Our customer service personnel will respond to your request in the order it was received."

Both TheMightyBuzzard and I ran with the idea and independently posted journal stories asking to gather up MDC sayings.

I am happy to inform the community that, as of 2019-03-31 04:20:00 UTC this morning, SoylentNews now has 31 fortunes attributed to MDC in our fortune rotation. Note: fortunes are chosen at random from all of the fortunes we have, so this represents a very small fraction of those available. Point being that it could be quite a while before you actually see one pop up.

Now that I know how to create and update fortune files, it should be simple to add any additional quotes people suggest. Continue to post any sayings of his to either of those journal articles (with a link to the source for verification, please!) In another week or so, I'll take another look through and update the fortune file as needed.

[Updated 2019-04-02 18:29:28 UTC. MDC quotations can be provided us posting a comment to my journal entry or to TMB's Journal entry. Please provide a link to the source so we can validate it is genuine. Thanks. --martyb]

Original Submission

posted by takyon on Tuesday March 26, @04:20AM   Printer-friendly
from the News dept.

Mike Crawford Is Dead, Contributed to Mac System 7.5.X and Activist

Some of you might know him on the west coast. He worked for Apple fixing/debugging System 7.5.X and attended Cal Tech. He was an activist for the mentally ill and homeless. He was openly bisexual and open about his schizoaffective disorder. His Facebook page.

I had helped him with his project Soggy Jobs which is unfinished. It was his project he needed a business model for.

He was on CNN about the taking away of tax credit from software engineers.

His website is here.

He was a member here at Hacker News.

He had serious physical illnesses that made him suffer and he took his own life.

I was an online friend of his, and I too suffer from schizoaffective disorder.

His wish was not to be forgotten to be remembered through his works. To at least have a Wikipedia article written on him or some other Wiki. Wikipedia named him non-notable about ten years ago. But if you met him, he'd always show you respect and even if he disagreed with you he was nice about it.

takyon: Here is MDC's last post on Warp Life, and Last Will And Testament. User page. Twitter.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Thursday March 14, @02:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the certs-are-not-just-a-breath-mint dept.

With many thanks to The Mighty Buzzard riding shotgun and helping me through some misunderstandings, I updated the certificates (certs) for all of SoylentNews' domains. Our certs are now good through: Wednesday, June 12, 2019.

Everything seemed to go as expected. If you experience any issues, please mention them here, or pop onto our IRC channel using your favorite client or the web interface and speak up in the #dev or #Soylent channel.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Sunday February 17, @02:06AM   Printer-friendly
from the Happy-Birthday-to-Us! dept.

It all started when Slashdot rolled out a new, "Beta" user interface that was soundly disliked. In response, they posted a story calling us an "audience". That did not go over well. At all. Cries of "Buck Feta" were numerous and frequent. Then came a call for a Slashdot boycott — a "Slashcott" — scheduled for the week of February 10-17, 2014.

While the Slashcott was going on, a handful of intrepid nerds pulled down the (horribly out-of-date and unmaintained) open source code dump of Slashcode, forked it, and started whacking it into shape. This culminated in our announcement to the world: Welcome to the World of Tomorrow... Today!.

Now, one could argue as to the exact date of our birth. Was it when the domain "" was first registered? (2014-02-09T01:50:26Z) How about when the first user was registered to the site? (2014-02-12 06:00:06 "NCommander") Or, maybe, the very first story posted to the site? Welcome Testers ... (2014.02.11 21:28 UTC)

Whichever one of those you choose, it has now been at least FIVE years...


We've had hiccups along the way. Even the past year was not problem-free. Server reboots so our hosting provider, Linode, could roll out mitigations for the Spectre and Meltdown attacks. Then we had a server go down on us, which would not be such a big deal except its mirror had already predeceased it, so there was nothing to fail over to. A couple more issues with Apache and nginx going off to who-knows-where and needing to be restarted. Oh, and our mailserver decided to stop serving mail at one point, too. There may have been another couple of things which happened over the past year that escape me at the moment, but all-in-all I would like to think we are doing a pretty good job of keeping things up and running. Consider we are an entirely volunteer organization. Consider, too, that big-named sites like Wells Fargo, TSB, Google, and others all had site-wide outages in one or more of their services... we've got a good group here and it has been truly a wonderful experience to be a part of what keeps this site running.

A quick look around the site reveals some interesting statistics. That by week's end, we will have posted our 26,000th story. To that, add the 3,994 journal entries that have been posted by the community. We had our 800,000th comment posted to the site just this week. We have had, however, comparatively few comment moderations: ~540,000. We have 7,333 registered users, too!

Many thanks are in order to those who have helped keep everything up and running. Not just the sysops who lurk in the background, but also those of you who have opened your wallets and bought the subscriptions which pay the server bills, domain registrations, as well as the CPA for filing taxes, and the like.

Ultimately, this site is for you, the community. We focus stories on those which have a technical or science (aka nerd) angle with maybe a politically oriented story posted each day. And an occasional story that looks like it might engender discussion. There are plenty of other sites which cater to the latest Hollywood gossip, political machinations, recipes, and cat pictures... you've made it clear you don't want a bunch of that here. Submit stories. Make journal entries. Post and moderate comments.

Yes, we have had many accomplishments over these years, but we know nothing is perfect. We are overdue for a site upgrade, but it's likely nothing much will happen for a few months until TheMightyBuzzard can free up some of his time to work on it. Complaining is easy, but if you have concrete suggestions on what we could do better and how we might go about it, we can't promise anything (one man's drink is another man's poison), but we will certainly give it serious consideration.

If you should run into an issue with the site, please send details to admin (at) noting the date/time/timezone and any data you can provide to help us locate and isolate the problem. That includes the URL for the story or journal entry. If it pertains to a comment, then please also include a link to that, as well. (That is the link under the (#nnnnn) in the comment header). Fair warning: complaining in the comments about a story not being accepted or about the moderation of one of your comments is generally off-topic and often moderated that way. Exception: if you accidentally modded a comment as spam, or have had a comment of yours moderated as spam that you think is incorrect, please send an e-mail to the admin address and we will take a look at it. We are running a bit lean on staff ATM with several of us in the midst of time-consuming things IRL, so please be patient.

Thank you.

Thanks to all of you who have helped this site persevere all these years!

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Sunday February 03, @09:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the Aliteration++ dept.

Athletics: Though it may not rank as high in viewership as World Cup Soccer (Football to the rest of the world), the 53rd Super Bowl® is tonight and historically sports (heh!) the largest viewership in the US of any other television broadcast. The game is being held at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia and features the 2-point favorite American Football Conference (AFC) champion New England Patriots vying with the National Football Conference (NFC) champion Los Angeles Rams to be crowned the champions of the National Football League (NFL) for the 2018 season.

The game is scheduled to start at 6:30pm EST (2330 UTC) and is being broadcast in the USA on CBS and, apparently, is also available for streaming on-line.

Advertisements: Over the years, it has grown to be a spectacle where the game play is occasionally overshadowed by the advertisements. An advertisement during this year's game sets a new record of over $5 Million for a 30-second spot. Some of the most memorable ads of all time premiered during the Super Bowl®. Who can forget the Macintosh 1984 ad or Michael Jordan and Larry Bird's game of "horse" where "nothing but net" became a meme?

An Experiment: In light of this opportunity, we are going to try something new for SoylentNews. We have set up a channel on our IRC (Internet Relay Chat) server especially for this game. The Patriots are favored to win over the Rams by two points, so the game may prove to be close... discussion about the game IS welcome. We are also offering a venue for people to discuss the ads that are broadcast, in real time. See an ad you thought was lame, say so! Laughed your butt off? Say that, too! The intent is to provide a shared space for the community to watch the game together.

Ground Rules: This is intended to be an enjoyable experience. In the sole discretion of the channel operators, ad hominem attacks, uncivil behavior, trolling, spamming, and politics are all grounds for getting kicked off the channel. Repeated violations will result in a ban from the channel and whatever other steps are deemed necessary to make it an enjoyable place for people to hang out and discuss the game and ads. In short, we are inviting you to our "living room" — have fun, but don't crap on our carpet. Let's put our differences aside and gather together for a shared community experience!

Sorry, no catering is provided, so you'll have to BYOB (bring your own... bacon =).

Details: Use your favorite IRC client or use the convenient link in the left-hand slashbox titled "SoylentNews". If you are new to IRC, these commands may be helpful:

# Pick a name for use on IRC:
/NICK mynickname

# Join the channel (be careful with the spelling!)
/JOIN #SuperBowlLIII

If you have any questions about getting connected, I'd advise joining an hour or so before the game; I'm sure folks will be ready and willing to help.

Lastly, have fun, enjoy the game, and may the best team win!

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday January 28, @01:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the if-at-first-you-don't-succeed,-stay-away-from-skydiving dept.

[Updated 20190129_204134 UTC. Added background on prior restrictions with respect to commenting and moderating in the same story discussion. Added background and link to explain the number of mod points going from 5 to 10. Clarified example of what happens when someone tries to perform more mods than they have mod points. --martyb]

I had some information incorrect in my prior story SoylentNews, Moderations, and You.

But, before I go into that I just want to say how impressed I am at the community's participation and discussion regarding the site. From that I see how much people value what we have here and do not want to see anything happen that would potentially degrade it. I saw a lot of passion expressed and it makes me all the more proud to be a part of what makes it happen.

I see my misunderstandings caused unnecessary anxiety in the community and for that I humbly apologize. I've learned to ask for feedback and verification before putting out a site-related story in the future (including this one!)

It was intended as a solicitation of feedback from the community. As in previous site upgrades we will put out a proposal, accept feedback, and if deemed warranted, give it a try. None of this is permanent; if it doesn't work out, it can be tweaked or rolled back.

Read on beyond the fold for corrections, history, and an expanded explanation of the current thinking.


First, I had the threshold for a "mod bomb" wrong. It is five (not four) downmods by one account (nick1) of another account (nick2) in one moderation period (i.e. from mod point issuance at 00:10 UTC until the next set of mod points are released 24 hours later.)

Second, there are plans to put programmatic limits that would block excess mods beyond the limits from taking effect. (This would be much like what happens when you have already used, say, 8 of the 10 mod points that are issued each day, and then attempt to moderate 3 more; the first 2 will be applied but the 3rd will just "drop on the floor" and be ignored. We may want to put up a message that a threshold has been exceeded, but I am unsure about how technically feasible that would be and how we would go about actually presenting that.)

Third, we haven't handed out moderation bans for a long while (many months, possibly even a year). Instead, knowing that #2 was planned, I understand that what has actually been happening is the excess mods got reversed and, when deemed warranted, an admin-to-user message had been sent making note of the excursion beyond the limit.

Fourth, Moderation affects the comment score as stored in the DB, but you can make changes in your user preferences to increase or decrease the apparent comment score for friends, foes, Funny, etc. I personally browse with a threshold of -1; there's lots of dreck down there but there's also an occasional mis-mod and I gladly use my mod points to try and rectify those. In case you were wondering, the admins here get the same number of mod points as everyone else: 10 points per day.

Ultimately, personal vendettas are what we are trying to deal with. Focus on the comment itself, not on who made it. If you would mod a comment differently if you did not know who posted it... you might want to ask yourself if the focus is on the wrong thing.

We are trying to catch the (fortunately) rare abuses of the moderation system. If you accidentally upmod or downmod someone beyond the guidelines, don't worry about that. We do not want to be in the position of handing out bans. It's the repeated abuses of the system which we are trying to address.

What's the point of all this, anyway?

NOTE: What follows is from my memory of things happening 20+ years ago; there may be some inaccuracies. Don't shoot me!

Background: When Slashdot first appeared (I was reading the site before they even had user accounts), it was a small community and the comments were not that numerous. I actually read all the comments on all the stories. As its popularity grew, so did the number of comments. It got to the point where one could no longer reasonably read all the comments. Some were real gems that greatly contributed to the discussion. As in any community, it was soon also visited by trolls and the like whose comments just added noise to the discussion ("frist post" anyone?). Several approaches were attempted, but challenges were discovered in their being able to scale up to the rapidly increasing number of comments. Community moderation was the ultimate solution. Let the community "police" itself. Users would upmod comments that were especially interesting or insightful to give them greater visibility and downmod comments that were less, umm, germane. They ultimately came up with a scale for ranking comments and instituted "karma" as a means of selecting who would be issued mod points.

Moderations of a user's comments affected their "karma". A "positive" moderation (Informative, Insightful, Interesting, etc.) added 1 point to a user's karma. A negative moderation (Offtopic, Troll, Flamebait, etc.) deducted 1 point from their karma. Accounts that had attained sufficient karma (and had been around for at least a month, IIRC) were, in turn, eligible to receive mod points. Unfortunately, abuses soon appeared. There were the accounts that racked up massive karma and then went on a trolling spree wreaking havoc throughout the site. That led to a "karma cap": any positive moderation beyond the cap were discarded.

So, each comment had a "score" associated with it. A logged-in user's comment started with a score of 1. If the user had garnered sufficient karma, they were eligible to use a "karma bonus" to give their comment greater visibility; those comments started with a score of 2. Comments posted by Anonymous Cowards (users who had not created an account and logged in), or by logged-in users who opted to "post anonymously", saw their comments start with a score of 0.

From that starting point, through moderation, comment scores can range from -1 up to 5, inclusive.

The point of all this is that a visitor to the site could select a comment score "threshold" and self-select what comments they wanted to see. Comments having the same score should be of approximately the same caliber. From a score of -1 (dross, a waste of your time) to +5 (crème de la crème, wow! That's amazing!).

Present Day:

SoylentNews got its start as a fork of the Open Source version of Slashcode that had been published several years prior. It was out of date and not maintained. (Translation: Did. Not. Work.) Lots of head banging and cursing was able to bring up a version of the site that ran, albeit poorly. A great deal of effort went into bug fixing, and while we were at it, extensions.

Originally, mod points were handed out based on an algorithm. A subset of the community got some mod points to use within a limited period of time; when the time was up they were gone. Some tweaking and experimentation led to SoylentNews issuing 5 mod points to everybody who was eligible to moderate. (User had an account, account had been active for at least 30 days, and the user had good enough karma.)

There were some restrictions on using mod points. For example, one could not participate in a discussion )post a comment) and then perform moderations in the same discussion. Similarly, posting a comment to a discussion after doing mods in it would cause those mods to be reversed. (My memory is cloudy on that one, but it was something along those lines.)

Things seemed to be going along pretty well until the site was hit by a slew of troll comments posted by ACs. In August of 2017, the number of mod points issued to eligible users was increased from 5 to 10:

Moderators: Starting a little after midnight UTC tonight, everyone will be getting ten points a day instead of five. The threshold for a mod-bomb, however, is going to remain at five. This change is not so you can pursue an agenda against registered users more effectively but so we can collectively handle the rather large uptick in anonymous trolling recently while still being able to have points remaining for upmodding quality comments. This is not an invitation to go wild downmodding; it's helping you to be able to stick to the "concentrate more on upmodding than downmodding" bit of the guidelines.

Mod points are currently issued at 00:10 UTC.

Some new moderations have been added to the ones we inherited: Spam, Disagree, and Touché.

Operationally, there is one important consideration that may not be obvious. One can select a moderation reason and immediately click the "Moderate" button, and thus moderate comments one-at-a-time. One can also select a moderation reason on multiple comments within a discussion and then click Moderate. In this case, several moderations are submitted at once. Here's an extreme and contrived example. I open a story and see it has 15 comments all of which are currently scored "1". (update: they need not be posted under a single nick; each comment could have been posted under a different nick) I have not moderated yet today, so I have my full complement of 10 mod points to use. I mark all 15 comments as "Funny" and click "Moderate". As I am trying to use more mod points than I have, only some of the mods take effect; 5 of those moderations just drop-on-the-floor and are ignored. No big deal. No penalties or anything; the excess is just ignored.

In short, comment scores and account karma are a means to an end, not an end in itself. As I see it, the focus should be on the discussion and what the comments bring to support it. The comment should stand on its own; who made a comment is far less important than what was said.

The intent of moderation limits (be they for mod bombing or sockpuppeting) is to restrict the amount of skewing that a personal vendetta can bring to bear. Complaining about moderation in the discussion is "Offtopic" and is often modded that way. We're still trying to find out what works best for these.

Lastly, stuff happens. I've made typos and I'm sure I have mis-modded a comment, too. In the grand scheme of things, an errant mod now and then is not going to affect things that much. So I don't get too bent out of shape should my karma drop. I trust that if my intention is genuinely for the betterment of the site, it will manifest in my comments and things will work out in the end. On occasion I post something bone-headed and get called to task on it. No biggee. I own it, accept it, and try to do better the next time.

NOTE: Spam moderations are handled a bit differently. The idea is that, when warranted, the community can bring a bigger hammer to bear on problematic comments. Commercial advertising. Exact same comment being posted verbatim multiple times. GNA posts. Penis bird. Marrying young brides. If you see one of those, go right ahead and help clean up the place for the rest of us. On the other hand, if you accidentally moderate a comment as Spam, please send an e-mail to admin (at) (along with a link to that comment) and we'll undo the mod with no penalty.

So, go ahead and use those mod points and make the site better for the next person who comes along.

PS: Thanks to all of you commented in the prior story. In general, the attitude I sensed was that the community did not want to mess up what was working well, the majority was against sockpuppet activity, was against mod bans being applied willy nilly (that was abundantly clear!), and the main disagreement was as to what the exact guidelines should be.

The current thinking is that some kind of limit would be established (maybe per day and per week) where attempts to exceed that would be ignored. Say the daily limit was 4. Much like the contrived example above with an attempt to perform 15 Funny mods, any attempt to moderate beyond the daily limit would just be ignored. The moderations up to the daily limit would take effect. If you think I've been especially witty today and try to upmod 5 of my comments, I will get 4 of those and I'll just have to wait for someone else to come along, recognize my incredible sense of humor, and leave it to them to take care of that additional moderation!

I'm looking through moderations performed last year and am getting the sense that 4 per day looks good. If there were to be a weekly cap, it's not yet clear to me what that should be. Seat-of-the-pants guesstimate suggests 20 should be safe and we would probably be okay (few if any users hitting the limit) if we went with 15 per week.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday January 25, @01:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the getting-along-with-others dept.

[Update 20190127_200249 UTC: corrected number of downmods to qualify for mod bomb from 4 to 5. Clarified that no mod bans have been handed out in a long while. --martyb]

Our primary goal at SoylentNews is to provide a forum for the community; In as much as is reasonably possible, we try to take a hands-off approach.

The infrastructure provides a means by which the community can (among other things) vote on polls, publish journal articles, submit comments, and perform moderations.

There are, however, some things that require an active role by the admins.

One of these is dealing with moderation abuse, something which can come in different forms. See the FAQ for some background. Addressed there are "mod bombs" and "spam mods". A mod bomb is deemed to have happened when one user (user1) has performed 4 5 or more downmods against comments by another user (user2). Upon review, if a mod bomb has been found to occur, then the moderator (user1) gets a 1-month mod ban on the first occasion; 6 months on the second and subsequent times. Mod bans have not been issued in a LONG while; extra mods are reversed.

Sockpuppets: And now we come to the focus of this article: there is another form of moderation abuse: sockpuppet accounts. Wikipedia has a suitable description:

A sockpuppet is an online identity used for purposes of deception. The term, a reference to the manipulation of a simple hand puppet made from a sock, originally referred to a false identity assumed by a member of an Internet community who spoke to, or about, themselves while pretending to be another person.[1]

The term now includes other misleading uses of online identities, such as those created to praise, defend or support a person or organization,[2] to manipulate public opinion,[3] or to circumvent a suspension or ban from a website. A significant difference between the use of a pseudonym[4] and the creation of a sockpuppet is that the sockpuppet poses as an independent third-party unaffiliated with the puppeteer. Sockpuppets are unwelcome in many online communities and may be blocked.

Right here I'll admit that I was sorely tempted to take unilateral action. Name names. Apply mod bans. And... you get the idea. Instead, I'm trying to take the high road. So, instead, I chose to present what I found to the community, solicit input, and then see what, if anything, needs to be done.

There may well be other cases, but the one I have discovered shows this history of upmods. Out of the 100 most recent moderations performed by "user1", 80 of those have been upmods of the same user "user2". And of these, there have been 10 upmods on January 21, 10 more on January 22, and yet 10 more on January 23. (For those keeping score that is 30 points in 3 days).

I cannot imagine in any way that 30 upmods in three days by "user1" on "user2" is reasonable or desirable.

This would be purely academic except that comment moderation affects a user's karma. All registered users start with a karma of 0. Submitting a story that is accepted on the site earns 3 points. Each upmod to a comment of yours earns a point. Similarly, each downmod deducts a point from your karma. Get enough karma and when posting a comment you can give it extra visibility so that it starts at a score of 2 instead of at 1. (Comments posted anonymously or by ACs start at 0.) Get a low enough karma and you earn a "timeout" against posting comments for a month.

Inasmuch as "user1" was able to perform 80 upmods of "user2" in 19 days ("user2" had hovered near the karma cap of 50 when this all started), that means that "user2" received approximately 80 downmods from the community. Excluding the actions of our sockpuppet ("user1"), "user2" should have been in negative karma and thus in a month-long "timeout".

What I see is that the community has spoken (the comments posted by "user2" are not of the kind the community wants to see on the site) and that has been intentionally countered by the sockpuppet activity of "user1".

Rather than the admins taking a unilateral action, I am asking the community what should be done in this case (and any others like it that may come up)?

I offer a proposal that is analogous to our handling of a "mod bomb."

What is a mod bomb? Four (4) or more downmods in 24 hours by "user1" against comments posted by "user2". qualifies as a mod bomb and earns "user1" a 1-month moderation ban (initially; subsequent mod bombs earn a 6-month mod ban) It's been a long time since mod bans have been issued..

Proposed: Four (4) or more upmods in 24 hours should also be considered a mod bomb (sock bomb?) and should receive the same treatment.

The point of moderation is not to bestow karma points, it is to help improve the visibility of well-written comments and reduce the visibility of the lesser ones. The karma is simply an incentive to actually perform the moderations.

I've toyed with various values for number of upmods per unit of time (4 per day? 20 per week?) I keep coming back to the same metric we use for our existing "mod bomb" definition: 4 down mods in one 24-hour span that commences when mod points are handed out at 00:10 UTC.

So, now it's your turn. I'd appreciate your feedback and thoughts on this. If we should choose to implement it, it would probably have a soft launch with any "violations" being met with a warning.

Ultimately, it's your site. How do you want us to deal with sockpuppets?

Original Submission