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posted by NCommander on Tuesday September 12, @11:56PM   Printer-friendly
from the the-joy-of-VPSes dept.

Just a quick heads up to the SN community. As we previously announced, Linode is migrating customers to a new data center. We already did the first stage of migration with most of the production servers two weeks ago. Now we're working our way through the remainder of the servers. As of this writing, we've migrated both webservers, both DB servers, our development server, and the fallback load balancer.

Tonight at approximately midnight EDT, we're going to migrate beryllium, which hosts our IRC server, wiki, and mail server, and boron, which is our redundant KDC/internal DNS server. During this process, IRC and email from SoylentNews will be unavailable. The site itself will stay up during this process.

After this migration, we'll only have our primary load balancer to migrate, which we will likely do over the weekend. Thank you all for your understanding.

~ NCommander

posted by Fnord666 on Thursday August 31, @01:42AM   Printer-friendly

[Update 1]: Fluorine (the web front end) has been back in the rotation since last night and we'll be checking on and bringing up Neon (the db node) tonight. Cross your fingers because if we can't get Neon up and happy by Friday 10:00 PM EDT[*], we'll have to temporarily down the site and copy the db over to our dev server to even keep the site online until we can get a db node back up.

[Update 2]: NC: I successfully CPRed neon, and was able to bring the DB cluster back into sync. I've stopped helium's database services so we're running on neon only now, and getting ready to migrate it after installing updates and such. With luck nothing blows up.

[Update 3]: Nothing blew up. All should be copacetic except for needing to update Neon tomorrow sometime.

* That's the deadline they've given us to move Helium (our other db node) over to the Dallas 2 facility, or they'll do it automatically themselves.

As most of you are already aware, Linode is our web hosting provider. A recent email from them informed us:

We recently announced our new Dallas 2 facility. Over the coming months, we'll be migrating all Linodes to this new, state-of-the-art facility. We're reaching out to let you know your Linode has been entered into a migration queue to move from Dallas 1 to Dallas 2.

We were informed in a separate email that the neon and helium servers were scheduled for an automatic migration. Manual migration was possible, if preferred. That's no big deal as we have redundancy on those servers. The site should continue functioning without a hiccup.

About an hour ago, we received another email saying that fluorine (one of our two web front ends) was also scheduled for migration. That one is a bit more interesting as that server also runs ipnd1 and slashd2 — daemons for which we have no redundancy.

Well, NCommander, TheMightyBuzzard and I happened to be on IRC at the same time as the fluorine migration notice arrived. No time like the present! So fluorine has been migrated. While we were at it, why not migrate neon, too? About 10 minutes later and that was been completed, as well. We discussed whether to migrate helium as well, but decided to hold off.

We did not anticipate any problems... but we found some pages loaded slowly and we were occasionally getting 403 and 503 errors. There are some issues with slower communications between the data centers than what we had within the same data center. Thanks to redundancy, it is not critical we get everything back up and running for the site to run, but it would definitely be best to not run in this configuration indefinitely.

The current state of the world? "one web frontend and one db node are shitting themselves. we're limping along on one of each but with backups in case of emergency." and... "fluorine is technically up but not in the rotation for serving up pages. it's just doing slashd and ipnd."

Hat tip to NCommander and TheMightyBuzzard -- I really enjoy watching these guys in action -- they know their stuff and we are truly fortunate to have them volunteer on SoylentNews.

[1] Instant Payments Notification Daemon
[2] The Daemon that makes it all work

Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Friday August 25, @11:26PM   Printer-friendly
from the we're-really-big-time-now dept.

Welcome, new trolls! We're pleased as punch to have you aboard, unfortunately as you may have noticed our moderators are unable to give you the moderations you've been working so hard for. Since we can't really do much about people not moderating more, we're going to be giving out more points so that the ones that do can give you the attention you so desperately crave.

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.

Also, this is not a heavily thought-out or permanent change. It is a quick, dirty adjustment that will be reviewed, tweaked, and likely changed before year's end. Questions? Comments?

posted by mrpg on Tuesday July 11, @11:00AM   Printer-friendly
from the where-are-we? dept.


This is a meta post concerning Soylentnews' background, finances, operations, staffing, story scheduling, and a conclusion. If this is not your cup-of-coffee++ (or tea, etc.), then please ignore this story — another will appear shortly.


In February of 2014, a group of ticked-off Slashdot users got together, said "Fuck Beta!", and launched an alternative web site focused on the community. It started with an out-of-date and unmaintained open source version of slashcode which was promptly forked and renamed 'Rehash'. We incorporated as a Public Benefit Corporation. We experienced site outages, questions of leadership, and faced predictions of failure. Thanks to persistence, dedication, many late nights (and some very early mornings), we persevered and are still here today.

Soylentnews is a place for people to engage in discussions about topics of interest to the community. Not all topics are of interest to everyone, of course. In large part it is up to the community to submit stories — the large majority of these do get accepted to the main page. This is all the more important during the "silly season" &mash; summer in the northern hemisphere — when many people are on vacation and fewer scholarly articles are published.


We are still an all-volunteer organization. Nobody here has made a profit off this site. In fact, Soylentnews is still in debt to the founders who put up the funds required to get us up and running. I am happy to report that we have finally made enough progress that some payback to the founders may be possible.

Here are the unaudited numbers from site subscriptions for the first half of our fiscal year (2017-01-01 through 2017-06-30):

Base goal: $3000
Stretch goal: $2000
Subscription count: 133
Gross subscription income : $3795
Net subscription income: $3645 (estimated - after payment processor fees)
Net over goal: $645

So, thanks to all you Soylentils who have donated, we have a surplus at the moment. The ultimate decision is up to the Board of Directors, but the current sense is that we should build a prudent reserve of some months' operating expenses before paying back the founders. In light of the foregoing, we are aiming for the same fundraising goals for the second half of the year... $3,000 base and $2,000 stretch goals. More in line with business norms, however, these are now being presented in the "Site News" box as quarterly goals: $1,500 base and $1,000 stretch goals, respectively.


We've been forthright and upfront right from the start and it is our continued commitment to keep you informed of any issues in the site's operations.

To wit, we recently received a notice from our web-hosting provider, Linode, that one of our servers had been reported as having been added to a spam-blocking list. Staff immediately responded and found a misconfiguration in our link-shortening service. (It was only supposed to shorten links originating on, but was accepting links for other domains, as well.) A dump of the database was taken, non-SN sites were purged, the shortening service was updated to correctly implement the restriction to only shorten links from, and Linode was informed of these actions.

We also recently experienced a problem with our slashd daemon which, among many other tasks, hands out moderation points each night. This fell over on us for a couple of nights leading to our handing out mod points manually to all users. This seems to have been rectified — please let us know if you see a recurrence.


Lastly, one of the senior editorial staff has been on hiatus to deal with major illnesses in his family. His dedicated efforts in helping them has brought ill health upon himself, as well. I ask you to keep janrinok and his family in your thoughts and, if you are of a mind to do so, in your prayers.


There have been discussions in the past as how we should best handle circumstances when there is a dearth of acceptable stories in the queue. Do we post something marginal just to fill the time or should we hold out and only publish when we have enough suitable material to publish. Past efforts and comments have suggested the majority prefer we avoid posting stories just to fill time slots. In short: quality over quantity. Further, staff cannot work 24/7/365 without a break either. We all need a break sometimes and summer is a good time to take one. In other words, we have been running with reduced staffing for the past couple of months and will continue to do so for the next few months as well.

The result? Over the past month or so, we have experimented with further spacing out stories on holidays (Independence Day in the USA) and on weekends. Instead of the usual cadence of a story appearing every 90 minutes or so, we have tried slowing to posting a story every 2 hours or even every 2.5 hours.

My perception is that this has worked okay. At least I have not noticed any complaints in the comments. It could well be that I had missed something, too. So I put this question to the community: How has the story spacing been working out?


Please keep those story submissions coming, please continue to subscribe (you can offer more than the minimum suggested amount), and — most importantly — please keep reading and commenting! Discussion is

Original Submission

posted by n1 on Thursday June 29, @12:43AM   Printer-friendly
from the you've-got-a-point-there dept.

[Update: It looks like the slashd daemon which was scheduled for 2017-06-29_00:10:00 failed to run again. We are investigating.]

We ran into a problem with the process which hands out moderation points each night.

We received a couple reports that people had no mod points. A query of our DB showed that fully 80% of our users had the full complement of 5 mod points. That seemed strange — we have a daemon that runs every night and that, among many other things, replenishes your supply each morning at 00:10 UTC. Apparently that process fell over and went toes up. Complicating matters, if you had mod points left over from the prior day, those were still available to you.

I put out the call to the devs as I tried to sleuth out what was going on. Many thanks to mrpg who played guinea pig and offered a fresh perspective as we tried to isolate the issue. With the information that was gathered, TheMightyBuzzard and paulej72 quickly figured out what happened. Further, rather than wait for tonight's process to run, TheMightyBuzzard manually updated the DB and handed out mod points to everyone.

(Debugging was complicated by the fact that there was another issue that was clogging up the logs which made it doubly hard to determine what happened. Debugging efforts are continuing on that matter.)

We anticipate things should be back to normal tomorrow. We'll check in on this story first thing in the morning so if you run into any issues with this, please post a reply with details.

P.S. I remember in the early days of this site when more than 12 hours of continuous up-time was an accomplishment. It's a credit to the staff here that we are now at a state where a system issue is a rare event, rather than an everyday occurrence.

-- martyb

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Monday May 22, @12:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the community++ dept.

SoyentNews is staffed by volunteers who give of their time and knowledge to provide a forum where people can discuss stories submitted by the community. We have no outside funding source.

Per our advance announcement on Saturday, May 20th, we completed our site update... one day ahead of schedule! And, even more amazingly, the community came together and we had over four dozen people subscribe since then! THANK YOU! Read on for more details.

The Site Upgrade: I am happy to report things went smoothly. So smoothly, in fact, I didn't even notice the upgrade was being rolled out! I was on the site at the time, following along on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), and didn't even realize the updates they were discussing were not on some support server... these updates were on the main site! (Given that I have a long background in QA/test, that's high praise indeed!) Many thanks to The Mighty Buzzard, NCommander, a surprise visit in IRC by "NC|FromTheFuture", and the rest of the SN staff waiting at the ready to help out should things go sideways.

IRC Server Updates: As mentioned in the earlier article, we are continuing apace with moving to Gentoo for our base OS across all our servers. Before we update the OS, all of the facilities and services underlying SoylentNews need be ported over. To that end, Deucalion has been working diligently to port our IRC servers to run on Gentoo and to do so in a 'multi-server' arrangement. (Behind the scenes, SoylentNews staff primarily coordinate our efforts using IRC. Should something go wrong, we do have fall-backs in place, but they are much less efficient.) We will keep you informed as to our progress.

Folding@home: Our progress has been slower and competition has been greater as we reach the higher ranks. We are currently still on track to be one of the Top 300 F@H Teams in the World by May 28th, 2017 — barely fifteen months since we started! To put this in perspective, there are over 226,270 teams behind us. Please consider helping us in the fight against many debilitating diseases such as Huntington's, Parkinson's, and Alzheimer's. (Original Announcement.)

Site Suggestions: The prior story brought a wealth of comments. Several suggestions for the site look to be both helpful and reasonably feasible to implement.

One proposed change is to provide a means for a user to set an explicit time (or a reference comment) for which comments newer than that would be flagged as *new*.

Several people shared how they had failed to notice their subscription had expired. One suggestion recommended dimming the "Site News" box which shows the site funding status, based on your current subscription status. Dim the box (user preference) when your subscription is up-to-date; display full-intensity when your subscription has expired (or you are an AC). Another suggested we add a banner at the top of the main page to keep folks appraised as to their subscription status (and a link to re-subscribe).

Separately, when viewing an article which appears in a nexus other than "The Main Page", some of the links on the page are particular to just that nexus, and not the site in general. This story, for example, is in the "Meta" nexus.

Staffing: It is my pleasure to introduce a new member of our staff, Xyem, who came on board on May 16th and has already made contributions to our code base! Please join me in welcoming him aboard.

Funding - In a word: WOW! The actual dollar amounts deposited into our accounts remain to be tabulated, but the current estimated tally, (as shown in the Beg-o-meter on the main page in the "Site News" slashbox) tells the tale. As of the time of writing this story, we have reached our base funding goal!

It bears mentioning that the base funding goal only covers our ongoing operations expenses. We have no prudent reserve should something goes sideways. Further, when SoylentNews started, there were setup expenses that were funded out-of-pocket by our founders. That was over three years ago and they have more than graciously allowed us to continue operating so far without insisting on getting repaid. Sadly, this all went down so long ago I don't recall the exact amount, but I believe it was on the order of $5K, total, that is owed two to people. It would thrill me to no end to know that they have been made whole. It is also important, as a Public Benefit Corporation that we be beholden to noone so that we can continue an an entity that provides a forum where the community can have open discussions on topics of interest. The community submits the stories, writes the comments, and moderates the comments. We are here for you.

It bears mentioning, for those who might not be aware, one is able to subscribe multiple times and/or specify a larger amount on the subscription page than the amounts offered. So far this year, NINE people have subscribed at $100.00 and one especially generous person subscribed at $250.00! Oh, and thanks to this upgrade, we have regained support for subscriptions via Bitcoin!

So, we have a stretch goal of $2000.00 which, if we were able to reach it, would allow us to make a significant step towards making the founders whole and allow SoylentNews to stand on its own.

Funding tl;dr: For tax and accounting purposes, all values are based on actual transactions to our bank account. Entirely separate is what we record internally to the site based on user's interactions with the UI, and there are some historical issues which we are addressing. The amounts appearing the "Site News" slashbox are, therefore, close approximations.

[*] We just discovered a few days ago that PayPal charges different fees depending on your local currency. For example, Alice (in America) subscribes to SoylentNews for one year with the suggested amount of $20.00 US using a credit card drawn on a US bank. G√ľnther (from Germany) also chooses to subscribe for one year and at the suggested amount of $20.00 US. He, too uses his credit card, but it is drawn from an account denominated in Euros. You can see where this is headed, right? It appears there are additional fees charged for the conversion to $USD. See PayPal's merchant fees page for the low-down. Pay special attention to the fact that the additional fees are denominated in the user's local currency, not in $USD.

PayPal does inform us of the actual amount requested, the fees charged, and the net amount we receive. (We get similar info from Stripe, but of course, in a different format.) That information is now stored in our site database. But it wasn't always this way. In the very early days, we were mostly just trying to keep the site from crashing because the code on which this site was based had not been supported in several years and was rife with problems. As things stabilized over the ensuing months and years, we could finally bring our attention to other areas of the code. Since accounting was performed strictly by what happened through our bank account, there was little concern about what was happening internal to the site's inherited accounting code. And wouldn't you know it, the historical data had the gross subscription amount, but failed to accurately account for fees. Net amount was set to be the same as the gross amount. We are in the process of rectifying this, but it will take some time. Hence, the amounts shown in the "Site News" slashbox are an approximation.

To summarize, the site upgrade went smoothly, we have one of the top folding@home sites in the world(!), we are still working to improve the site, the community has been amazing in meeting our ongoing funding needs, and we are hoping we can start repaying our founders.

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Sunday May 21, @02:24AM   Printer-friendly
from the site-status-smorgasbord dept.
[Ed Note: I goofed. The upgrade is (roughly) 00:00 on 5/22/2017, no 5/21. Sorry for the screw up. - cmn32480]

[Ed Note 2: Damn devs have made a liar out of me... moved it back to the original schedule noted below. - cmn32480]

[TMB Note: Site update complete. Bumped so folks will notice.]

It has been a few months since we last updated SoylentNews, and we've not been content to rest on our laurels. Our next site update is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, 2017-05-21, depending on staff availability. We'll update this story when we know for sure when it will take place.

Since this post was started, other things have come to light, so there's a bit of everything in here. Read on for the full scoop:

Web Site Changes

In this latest update (scheduled around 00:00 UTC on 5.21.2017, but we are flexible), we have made the following improvements:

  1. Supported subscription payments made with Bitcoin [again].
  2. Fixed a bug which blocked non-whole-dollar bitcoin subscriptions.
  3. Provided immediate feedback of theme changes.
  4. Added button that, when clicked, marks all comments in a story as "unread".
  5. Added support for "<s>" and "<strike>" tags.
  6. Fixed bug where a plus sign "+" in a user's nickname made their user page inaccessible from site links.
  7. Removed unused Javascript code.
  8. Made minor, non-user-facing changes (code cleanup, etc.)

Backend Changes

As always, we appreciate constructive feedback. Reply with a comment to this story, join us in #dev on IRC (Internet Relay Chat), or submit a bug on GitHub.

Separately, the team has made great strides in moving to running on Gentoo. We are taking this step very methodically, making sure we have a solid foundation in place on one server before we even think of rolling it out to the rest of our systems. Yes, that means we will be free from systemd. Kudos to NCommander, Mechanicjay, Audioguy, TheMightyBuzzard, Paulej72, and Deucalion.

SoylentNews' Folding@Home Team Update

It's amazing how spare compute cycles add up! SoylentNews has a Folding@Home team which is helping researchers find a cure for diseases such as Huntington's, Alzheimer's, and Parkinson's — among many others. Our team was launched on Feb. 12, 2016. In just over 15 months, we have amassed well over 300 million points which places us at Team 304 out of 226564! Barring any surprises, and continuing at our current rate, we are on track to break past 300 and into the 2xx's on or about May 28th, 2017.

We are always open to receiving new team members. Contact Sir Finkus for more information, either via email at this site, or via the #Soylent or #folding channels on our IRC -- Internet Relay Chat server.

Accounts Milestone

New account creation has been relatively consistent and steady over the past year averaging out to a new account pretty much every day. It is a pleasure to inform the community that, on May 18th, account number 6600 was registered on the site.

Funding Shortfall

Lastly, it is my sad duty to inform the community that our cash intake has been seriously deficient so far this year. Our budget for the six-month period of Jan 1, 2017 through June 30, 2017 is $3,000 and we are currently at approximately half that, with less than 6 weeks to go.

We have in excess of 100 users who have been active on the site within the last 30 days whose subscription has lapsed. It is easy enough to do — I have failed to notice my own subscription's end on more than one occasion!

Plain and simple, the site needs to pay its bills. Please look at your subscription page and consider making a contribution. The dollar amounts shown in the text-entry fields are the minimum amount required for that subscription duration. We've had a few users anonymously contribute significantly more than that in the past.

Some have chosen to give a gift subscription to NCommander (UID: 2) as a sign of support. However you choose to make a contribution, please do so now.

-- martyb

posted by NCommander on Thursday April 20, @06:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the backporting-is-not-a-maintainable-process dept.

Two months ago, I polled the community for advice on the underlying operating system that should power SoylentNews (SN). After reading comments, and some recent experiences in my personal and professional life, we are migrating to Gentoo as the operating system of choice. As of right now, we've already migrated our development box, lithium, over, and using it as a shakedown to see how painful the overall migration will be. I'm pleased to report that, aside from varnish (an HTTP accelerator), the process went relatively smoothly.


For those who weren't here for the original article querying the community (linked above), let me recap the situation. At the time that I wrote that article, SN was mostly standardized on Ubuntu 14.04, with a single CentOS 6.7 box lurking in our midst. In the course of testing updates and other projects, the staff and myself felt that Ubuntu (and Debian) had lost a lot of the advantages that had made it a rock solid choice for the last three years of powering SN, combined with the fact that the upgrade process would not have been trivial due to the systemd migration.

Though greatly disliked by all of us, systemd being part of Ubuntu 16.04 LTS (Long Term Stable) was not a deal breaker. More importantly was the perception that the release lacked stability and we had a serious sense that the upgrade would be problematic. I felt it was time to reopen the scenario to see if we were better off migrating to a different distro, or abandoning Linux entirely. As such the original article was penned to see what the community's feelings on the subject were. The overwhelming consensus was that I was not alone with my feelings on the latest LTS, and many thought FreeBSD would be a good choice for us. Ultimately, we decided to trial Gentoo over FreeBSD for four reasons

  • FreeBSD's upgrade system with ports/core isn't anywhere as robust as I would like
  • We would lose Linode's backup services, and be fully dependent on our own self-rolled backup system
  • Trying to backport security features is ultimately a losing battle
  • Gentoo had overwhelming support from the staff

I'll break these first three item by item

FreeBSD Upgrades

FreeBSD is divided into two parts, the core system which has basic utilities, and the ports collection which has all the add on software like Apache and such. In theory, these two components can be updated independently of each other allowing a stable base while migrating to newer software versions with relative ease. Ports can be installed from binaries, or manually compiled to suit one's taste in a relatively automated fashion bringing together the best of a binary and source based distribution. On paper, it looks perfect.

In further research, I've found that port upgrades are fragile at the best of times. Unlike Debian's APT which has strict package dependence and shared library management, port upgrades are very much upgrade and pray and its possible to hose a system in this way. The situation is similar to using EPEL on CentOS, or using Slackware that port upgrades can leave artifacts, and there's often considerable manual intervention to keep things chugging around. This is compounded by the fact that the version of Kerberos we need is in the ports collection due to incompatibility between MIT Kerberos V (which we use) and Heimdal Kerberos which ships out of the box. For those of you familiar with Active Directory, this is roughly on par with the effort required to rebuild AD from scratch along side a pre-existing forest. This meant unless we rebuilt the entire Kerberos domain (a drastic and painful option to say the least) that we could easily break a node because a ports upgrade went sideways.

Furthermore, mixing binary and source ports also have several ways it can go wrong which is problematic. To ease our system maintenance burden, its long been a goal of the admin team to have rehash and its dependencies built and deployed through package management instead of the rather horrorifying script+rsync that we use now. While we could have technically achieved this with Ubuntu by running our own buildd (or using a PPA), the sheer amount of dependencies combined with the pain of rebuilding the world ultimately doomed this to the "would be nice" pile list of ideas.

On top of this, the split architecture of FreeBSD would also mean that upgrades are no longer "one command and done" as they are with Ubuntu and Debian. Instead it becomes a matter of determining what, if any, core system upgrades are available, deploy them, then deploy/rebuild ports as needed. None of this by itself would be deal-breaking, but when compounded with the other reasons it tipped me away from this option.

Linode Backups

For any production website, having backups is the thing you must have, not the thing you wish you had. With the exception of our development box, all our systems are backed up to off-site storage on a machine called oxygen via rsnapshot nightly (and yes, we do test our backups). However, due to the way SoylentNews is situated, there is the possibility that if an attacker ever successfully breached SN, its possible they may be able to gain access to oxygen, and rm -rf / everything.

For this reason alone, we used two separate sets of backups in case of system failure or node compromise. As mentioned many times before, SN is hosted on a number of VPSes by Linode who I continue to highly recommend for anyone's VPS needs. One very useful and handy feature of Linode is that they offer snapshotting and node backups as part of their hosting services for reasonable prices, and critical system boxes are backed up with them as a second-level of defense. Unfortunately, Linode's backup services require that their system understand the underlying filesystem format used by the OS so they can snapshot it easily. As of writing, they do not support FreeBSD's UFS or ZFS. A migration would mean we'd have to sink additional costs in a new backup system to supplement oxygen.

Backporting Security Features is a Losing Battle

I'm going to get flamed for this reason, but recent events have sort of drilled this home for me, both at SoylentNews and as my work as a freelancer. During the last round of security updates, I've been fighting to get several of CentOS's security issues fixed. Red Hat (and CentOS) offer ten year support for their products but in many ways it is the wrong approach to system stability and security. A real-world issue I ran into with CentOS's support is that they ship rather old issues of dovecot, a relatively popular IMAP server.

Now, in theory, as long as security patches are backported, this shouldn't be a problem. In practice however, it means you're essentially tethered to the security features as offered at the time of the release. For example, a good number of our users are likely familiar with the Logjam attack. The mitigation for Logjam is to regenerate DH parameters to larger sizes, and change to a non-common prime. Relatively straightforward, right?

Well, not so much. Dovecot 2.0 (which is what CentOS 6.7 ships with) doesn't allow for setting of custom DH parameters, or even tweaking anything beyond the most basic TLS settings. To a lesser extent, we also had this problem with Postfix (we can't disable client side negotiation). The solution in both cases is to upgrade. That would be great, if we could in-place upgrade CentOS, or reliably upgrade the RPMs without hosing YUM at a later date. In practice, we've been forced into doing a number of arcane hacks to get most of the survey tools to report anything better than a "C" grade, with the situation worsening as time goes on. Before people say "well that's a problem with dovecot", and not CentOS, you can't get OCSP stapling (which is an important security feature to help fix SSL's revocation system) with Apache out of the box. You need to either patch Apache 2.2 in place, or upgrade to 2.4.

This problem also has shown its head on Ubuntu. To Canonical's credit, their security team actually has gone through the work of mainlining newer security features in popular products; Ubuntu 14.04's Apache 2.2 supports OCSP stapling because they patch Apache in their binaries. However this practice only goes so far. Deploying CAA records to SoylentNews in the last round of tweaks was an exercise in frustration because only the most recent versions of BIND knows how to handle the CAA record type. Once again, we're in serious voodoo territory if we tried to upgrade BIND outside of a distro release.

This brings me to my final point: trying to follow industry best-practices falls apart if you can't easily update your stack. Release based distros at best (with Ubuntu) update once every six months, or once every year or so for longer term support from other distros. That's a very long time in the security world. Furthermore, each major upgrade is an event and a large time sink in and of itself. As such I've (grudgingly) come to the conclusion that if you actually want to have real security, you need to update frequently. Furthermore, by having smaller upgrades at a given time instead of them in one large pile, you have a better chance of not getting overwhelmed at those release points.

Why Gentoo

Gentoo ultimately won by being both rolling-release based, and source based. It meant that we could easily upgrade the entire stack (including rehash's special dependencies) as a single emerge world, and then deploy. It also edged out the other options by not forcing systemd on us (and OpenRC is an absolute pleasure to debug and maintain in comparison). We've also discussed the issue at length and have determined how we're going to approach the rather daunting task ahead of us.

The Steps Ahead

The first step, which was already completed, was to migrate our development system over to Gentoo to get an idea of how much pain we're going to be in. This was accomplished by booting the system in rescue mode, moving "/" (i.e. the root of our filesystem) to "/old-rootfs", extracting a stage3, cooking the kernel, and rebooting. audioguy and TheMightyBuzzard worked out the correct set of USE flags for our environment, and I used the serial console to do the actual changeover. Aside from Varnish breaking, the migration was actually relatively smooth if time consuming. Right now, we're still wrestling with varnish, but after kicking MySQL cluster's init scripts and copying configs, it sputtered to life and popped back onto the internet.

The next steps is to create ebuilds for hesinfo (a Hesiod support tool that Gentoo doesn't ship in their hesiod package), and then to create a custom stage3 with our kernel config and base system with catalyst. We're going to work out the set of packages we need and configure lithium to work as a binary package source for portage. In effect, every package we need will be compiled once on lithium, then published via a private portage repository. Other machines will simply be able to emerge world and download the pre-tested and compiled binaries in one fell swoop keeping the software stack across SoylentNews consistent across the organization. As an added bonus, we can now easily migrate our custom set of compilation scripts to ebuilds and have sane package and dependency tracking for the entire site infrastructure.

Since most of the site infrastructure is fully redundant, we don't expect too much downtime or breakage as we begin migrating other boxes from Ubuntu. As usual, we'll keep the community apprised of our status, as well as if we need to schedule actual site downtime during this period. While some of us might thing we're insane, I will just note for the record we took a similarly drastic step of migrating to a IPv6-only backend two years ago in the name of administration sanity, and serving SN needs best. As always, I'll be reading and commenting below.

~ NCommander

posted by NCommander on Monday April 17, @06:20PM   Printer-friendly
from the removing-old-ciphers-is-like-taking-old-yeller-behind-the-barn-... dept.

In the continuing saga of website tinkering and people's love of update posts, I'm back with some backend configuration changes. Right now, things have been relatively quiet on the backend side of things. We've got some good news, and some bad news in this update. That being said, we've made a few small updates over the weekend. Rapid fire style, let's go through them:

CAA Records

CAA records define which certificate authorities (CAs) are allowed to sign your domains. They essentially act as a CA whitelist, and the most recent revisions of the Certificate Authority/Browser Baseline Requirements mandates that CAs check for CAA records and respect them. In line with this policy, we've white-listed Let's Encrypt and Gandi's CAs to issue certificates for SoylentNews for the time being as these are the two CAs currently in use here.

In a fun bit of fail, this is the second time I've tried to deploy CAA, and fortunately managed to succeed this go around. The problem stems from the fact that many versions of BIND except the very latest don't recognize the "CAA" record type, and cause the zone file to not process correctly if it's present. As we're still using an older version of BIND as our master server, I had to manually create TYPE257 records as seen below: 3586 IN TYPE257 \# 16 0005697373756567616E64692E6E6574 3586 IN TYPE257 \# 22 000569737375656C657473656E63727970742E6F7267 3586 IN TYPE257 \# 35 0005696F6465666D61696C746F3A61646D696E40736F796C656E746E 6577732E6F7267 3586 IN TYPE257 \# 12 0009697373756577696C643B

Both and show that the CAA records are properly encoded, and show an additional green bar that they're in place.

Postfix LogJam

Almost two years ago, the Logjam attack on the DH key exchange was discovered and publicized. As part of our general hardening of SoylentNews, we regenerated all the DH parameters to prevent logjam from being a viable attack vector. Unfortunately, we overlooked the mail STARTTLS services on, and only caught it when I was checking various security things. The DH parameter files have been regenerated. Under normal circumstances, Logjam can't be exploited unless the underlying SSL cipher is relatively weak. As part of previous hardening, we kicked SSLv3 and many insecure ciphers to the curb, but unfortunately RSA_CBC_IDEA was accidentally left in place as a valid protocol for STARTTLS transport. Based on my understanding of the logjam attack, 1024-bit ciphers like RSA_CBC_IDEA are still difficult to exploit, and its likely only a nation state could successfully have breached it.

Given only SN staff have mail accounts, and that users are encouraged to change their passwords after creating an account, I think its safe to assume that we're relatively OK as far as data security and integrity go since email in general at best is opportunistically encrypted, and should always be assumed to be monitor-able (via a STRIPTLS attack). That being said, if you haven't changed your password from account creation though, it's likely a good idea to do so now.

We discovered our IMAP server has been serving a self-signed certificate during this check as well. We'll be replacing this with a properly signed certificate within the near future. I have other things on this topic that will be noted in a future post, so keep a look out for that.

Disabling HTTP Methods

A routine check of the site's security headers showed that we were accepting HTTP TRACE and other methods we don't need on production. The configuration for nginx has been modified to put a bullet in this behavior. We're still checking to make sure we got this everywhere, but we should be good on at least the production servers for now. This has bumped the site security rating up to an A on the HTBridge; we're still missing the referral security header, but we need to check to make sure there's no user impact before deploying it.

3DES Put Out To Pasture

As always in the world of encryption, various algorithms eventually become insecure and weakened as cryptanalysis gets more and more advanced. A few months ago, the SWEET32 attack against 3DES was discovered which drastically weakens the security of 3DES via the birthday paradox problem. In practice, SWEET32 requires a second exploit to even be usable as SoylentNews only allowed 3DES connections as a last resort if AES wasn't supported. As every major browser has supported AES for years, we decided to put 3DES out to pasture and have removed it from the allowed list of ciphers for SN.

Not too much to note in this round of administration games, but we're working to make overhaul changes to the stack to allow the potential for HPKP key pinning in the near future, as well as deploying TLSA/DANE support for both HTTPS and SMTP on SN. As part of this process, we'll also be enabling HSTS across subdomains, and reissuing our SSL certificates to enable OCSP Must-Staple. We'll keep you guys updated as we move towards that goal!

~ NCommander

posted by charon on Saturday April 01, @08:25AM   Printer-friendly
from the strange-days dept.

If you haven't noticed already, today is April 1st, otherwise known as April Fool's Day.

Writers are a creative lot and very occasionally use this day as an excuse to let their creative juices flow — as they are often granted some discretion by those who watch over their work.

In years past, I've had times where I decided I'd just give up on surfing the web at all, given the plethora of nonsense that got posted. "Sure, it might have seemed funny when you wrote it, but it sure didn't do much of anything for me." I know I am not the only one who has felt this way. Once in a while, though, I do stumble upon a real gem that makes me bust out laughing.

Given all the noise of the half-baked stories out there, the well-crafted prank stories can be hard to find. Let's use this story to post links to the best April Fool's Stories. Funny stories are, of course, desired. So too are bizarre, but genuine, stories. Bring it on!

Original Submission

posted by paulej72 on Sunday March 19 2017, @12:15PM   Printer-friendly
from the kill-one-bug-find-another-must-be-cockroaches dept.

So the Dev Team has been hard at work fixing up issues with with the 17_02 release. We compiled all of your comments from the 17_02 Meta stories into a large bug and feature request list. We have been working on getting these issues fixed as soon as we can.

You may have noticed some changes over the last week that went out to fix some issues, and we just released some more fixes today.

Here is a list of the major fixes since the last story:

  1. Comment titles now act to trigger actions as well as the buttons.
  2. New icons for the buttons that are bigger and spaced out a bit more.
  3. Removed extra spacing for some of the modes when buttons are hidden. (Still needs some more work, but much better than before.)
  4. Changed how we set states for hidden threads so that the individual comments are not set hidden as well. This will lessen the number of clicks needed to open a comment in this case.
  5. Flat comment mode will now show a comment's children when look at comment (cid is set).
  6. Temp fix for Content Security Policy eating CSS when not on
  7. Domain Tags now show in comments.
  8. Fixed broken messages when looking at them from
  9. Fixed for @user: shortcut links that would eat a character after the ":".

And here are the latest updates:

  1. Editor fixes: added new lines to story editor and fixed topic tree popup issue.
  2. Fix for black on black text boxes in Grayscale theme
  3. Added SVG icons for buttons and CSS fixes to enhance look.
  4. Mod Points now back to UTC 00:10.
  5. Add # of children to collapsed thread title.
  6. Fix comment details to bring in the correct data which broke email and journal links.
  7. Add time to collapsed comment title.
  8. Fix select all button in
  9. Redirect returns to correct page after moderating.
  10. Updated CSP to fix issues. We still need to search for some inline JS that may need to be purged or rewritten to work correctly.

Continuation of:
Site Update 17_2
Comments Redux
Site Update: The Next Episode
Site Update - Taking a Breather
Outstanding Issues

So if you see any new bugs that you think are related to these changes, or just want to let us know about an ongoing issue, please feel free to comment below.

Here are the currently known bugs that we are working on:

  1. FIXED: When viewing the list of messages you have received, the "Select All" checkbox has stopped working because we removed Javascript.
  2. There are still features of the old "Nested" display mode that are not reproduced in the new "Threaded-TOS" / "Threaded-TNG" display modes.
  3. TESTING ON DEV: Issues with Expand/Collapse comment tree versus Hide/Show comment tree. New expand all in tree button.
  4. MOSTLY FIXED: We are aware of issues with our (stricter) Comment Security Policy (CSP) support; especially accessing the site from TOR/Onion and from the deprecated URL — one should use: instead, but we are still trying to handle that automatically.
  5. Pagination and Redirects; there are known issues with implementation of the "&page=" parameter in the URL, especially when "&cid=" is also specified. For example, I have my page size set to 20 comments, someone else has the default of 100 comments, and I refer to a comment on my page 4, which is still on page 1 for the other person.
  6. In URLs, we currently use "&noupdate=" to toggle when the "*NEW*" flag and comment dimming take effect. has knock-on side effects that were not anticipated. Are planning to change to the reverse sense: "&update=", instead.
  7. Lost functionality during upgrade: Sort order by comment score.
  8. FIXED: User Journal link missing in details bar
  9. Pick sane default for AC mode and for Threshold/Breakthrough
  10. Some people are still having issues with previously-seen comments' dimming. Not so much that they are dimmed, but in how they are dimmed. Maybe dim the only the title? Maybe change the color?
  11. Spoiler tag needs to be triggered by text.
  12. Buttons on phones might still be too small since mobile browsers like to resize the text larger making everything else too small
  13. SOMEWHAT FIXED: Bug chrome/android phone when previewing comment messes up text size in edit box -- actually, slashboxes on RHS disappear after submitting comment or performing comment moderation. Resulting display area is much wider, so displayed font size is reduced by approximately 40%.
  14. FIXED: Possibly add date and time to collapsed comment title.

And here are the feature requests:

  1. Create moderation feedback as a modal dialog box via CSS (med term project).
  2. <code> tag support and styling.
  3. Edit after post (with limits).
  4. Markdown support for comments. (long term project)
  5. Button to reset all comments to unread (should be a quickie).
  6. New tags should not display for the first time a story is shown (may be a complicated issue to resolve).
posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Monday March 06 2017, @10:59PM   Printer-friendly
from the post-bills-here dept.

Okay, we've all had our weekends and I at least am ready to jump back onto the coding horse. Refresh my memory of what we still have that's either properly broken or is otherwise behaving in an entirely unsatisfactory manner. I think Flat-mode links to individual comments are still broken. I know we need to replace the "noupdate" behavior with explicit "update" behavior. I'm thinking I can get the colors on "*NEW*" comments' subject bars brightened up so that you can ditch dimming and still have easy visual feedback if you like fairly quickly. I'm considering (nearly (can't do "N replies below Threshold)) precisely replicating Nested and adapting the old javascript to it if you care to run it. But what am I forgetting?

Discussion to a minimum here, please, so it doesn't distract from having an all-in-one-place list of things from this release that still need addressed.

posted by martyb on Thursday March 02 2017, @03:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the gasping-for-air dept.

Martyb here once again with today's update on our site's update. I apologize that this is not as well written as my prior updates as exhaustion and outside issues are demanding of my time. I ask you to please bear with me.

Quick Recap: As you may recall, our servers were getting melted trying to serve up highly-commented stories. Further, this made for an unacceptably long delay between the time one would request a story and when it would finally get returned for display. Our devs have implemented alternative display modes, "Threaded-TOS" and "Threaded-TNG" which use a much more efficient means of processing comments and getting them to you. These changes went "live" on Saturday, February 25.

Like anything new, we expected there would be issues. We very much appreciate your patience as we tried to work through these as they were reported. And did you ever let us know!

Paulej72 (aka PJ) and TheMightyBuzzard (TMB) have been laboring mightily to keep up with the issues that have been reported as well as a few they found independently. Similarly, as their fixes have gone live, our community has had to deal with a changing landscape of "what happens when I do this?" To add to this, comments being such a major part of the site's purpose, there are "knobs" in several places where users can customize which comments are presented to them and how they appear. The permutations are many and wide-raging. As bug fixes have been made, the impact of changing these has had different effects over time.

I've been astounded at how much the community has been supportive of our efforts, how well problems have been described and isolated, and how quickly the devs have been able to fix bugs as they have been noted. Even more impressive was the discussion in our last update story on possible alternative means of implementing the <spoiler> tag. I'm proud to be part of this community — you rock!

Stories: While all this activity has been happening, stories have still been posted to our site for your reading and commenting pleasure. We are working with a reduced editorial staff at the moment. Us long-timers have been posting as we can, but I would like to personally thanks our new editors fnord666 and charon for their heroic efforts getting stories posted, and takyon for his continued efforts at providing well-written stories. I have noticed submissions from new folks as well, and the heartens me immensely! (Note: I hesitate to call out people in particular for fear I will overlook someone; any omission is purely my fault and I would appreciate being called out on it if I have failed to list your contribution.)

Plans: This development blitz has, however, come at a cost. For those who were with this site at its inception, there was a "day of rest" imposed on the developers who had worked basically non-stop trying to get our site up and somewhat stable. I have suggested a similar break to our dev staff. Recall we are all volunteers doing this in our spare time. PJ has plans coming up and will be unavailable on Friday and Saturday. From what I've seen, TMB is well nigh a crispy critter at this point and most certainly needs a break. And, quite frankly, I've put a lot of personal stuff on hold while working on this update and could use a break, as well. In short, we are tired.

So, PJ is around for a bit (in his free time while at work) for today and TMB is getting a well-deserved breather. NCommander is nearing burnout has been tied up with an outside project that demands his full attention and has been unable to help much. I'll poke in from time to time, but I really need some time off, too.

What I ask from the community is that we do something similar. Step back for a moment. Look at the forest and not just the trees. Play around with the different display Modes. Try setting a different "Breakthrough" and/or "Threshold". Things should be much more stable today, so that will make it easier to gain a "mental model" of what does what.

The other thing I would ask is for the community to pull together and try to address issues together. Someone posts an issue about struggling with having to click on all the little chevrons? Inquire about their user preference settings, and suggest a different value for Threshold/Breakthrough. My sense is that some are more adept at using the new features and they can help others to get a better understanding of how things work. With those issues addressed, we can more clearly identify and isolate underlying problems and focus our energies more productively.

tl;dr We're not done yet, we truly appreciate your patience and forbearance during this transition, we need a break, and you guys rock in helping others in the community understand and use the new stuff. As always, keep our toes to the fire — we are here for you — let us catch our breath and we'll be better able to move forward.

Continuation of:
Site Update 17_2
Comments Redux
Site Update: The Next Episode
Site Update - We're Getting There!

posted by martyb on Wednesday March 01 2017, @03:30PM   Printer-friendly
from the moving-on-up dept.

Martyb here once again with an update on our progress with the site upgrade.

Our development team (paulej72, TheMightyBuzzard, and NCommander) have been hard at it trying to isolate and quash the bugs that have been reported. Having looked at some of the site source code (Perl) I can attest there are places where the comparison of Perl code to line noise is an apt description. Also, some of the code we inherited was written by, um, creative people who did not write the most readable code. Further the code documents what it does, but is just a wee bit short on the why. Translation: we have an amazing dev team here who have slogged many many hours trying to isolate and correct the issues that have arisen. If you've ever been bleary-eyed after a several-day coding sprint, you have an idea of things. I hereby express my personal thanks to the brain-numbing hard work these guys have put in for this site. And now on to where things stand.

We had an issue with getting a single comment to display correctly in "Flat" mode which appears to have been caused by issues with specifying the correct page it appeared in. Also, there was a rewrite of this code so things should be better, but watch out for regressions.

There are known issues with accessing the site via TOR most likely because we added a very restrictive Content Security Policy.

The new comment viewing modes "Threaded-TOS" and "Threaded-TNG" have been tweaked.

There is a strong voice to replicate the old "Threaded" behavior and it appears that may be feasible, now that we better understand how the community used it in the past. No promises, but it is being looked into.

We are close to making some changes for the defaults for Anonymous Cowards (non logged-in users), so if you have a preference, please speak up and make your voice known.

Oh, we have had reports of seemingly random 503 (Site Unavailable) errors. If you should experience one, please reply to this story with a description of what you were doing and a copy/paste of the entire error message. That will greatly help in our identifying, isolating, and hopefully fixing whatever gremlin is in the gears.

We have not forgotten about replacing chevrons with single/double plus/minus, but had some fires to put out that postponed action on these.

I expect I've left out a thing (or three) — please reply with a comment to (gently) remind us if you see a problem persisting, or if you find something new. it is most helpful to provide your user nickname, the date/time (and timezone), steps taken to cause the problem, and (ideally) suggestions on how you expected it to behave. Reports so far have for the most part been amazingly detailed and helpful — thanks!

Penultimately (I like that word!), I must express my sincere appreciation to the community who has been amazingly supportive and helpful in this transition. One benefit of the upgrade is you should see quicker page-load times on highly-commented stories. Our servers are experiencing a much lighter load to serve up those pages, too. Speaking of servers, I noticed that several of you have renewed your subscription to the site which is the primary way we can afford to keeps the lights on. Please accept my sincere and heart-felt thanks! The "Site News" slashbox has been updated to reflect our current situation.

Lastly, I must express my sincere gratitude to the community. I continue to be amazed at the breadth of knowledge that is freely shared here. Nary a day goes by that I don't learn something new. And many days when I am just blown away. Some long-held ideas have been challenged, and in some cases changed, thanks to what I've read here. Thank you!

Dev Note: Deployed a fix tonight for broken comment links that was due to yesterday's deploy. Alos deployed a partial fix for Flat comments and single comments. TMB will be working on getting it fixed up fully but I thought we needed what we had out now. -- paulej72

Continuation of:
Site Update 17_2
Comments Redux
Site Update: The Next Episode

posted by martyb on Tuesday February 28 2017, @05:53PM   Printer-friendly
from the reset-button dept.

Hi there. Martyb again with an update of our progress on issues arising from the site update. (The new comment grouping and display code was necessitated by huge server loads as well as long delays on constructing and returning highly-commented articles.)

First off, please accept my sincere thanks to all of you who made the time to comment in the prior stories and/or engaged us on the #dev channel on IRC. Really! Thank you for your passion and willingness to provide steps to reproduce and ideas for overcoming the issues that have been found.

ACs: If you access the site as an Anonymous Coward, be aware that we have NOT forgotten you. We are still trying to ascertain what features work best for the most people and are holding off changing (and rechanging and...) settings until we have a better idea of what to change those settings to be. So, please speak up on anything that you continue to find problematic and help guide us to making a choice that works the best for the most.

Scrolling Within a Comment: From what I saw in the reports from Monday, one of the key issues had to do with the scrolling within comments. We heard you. Oh, did we ever! Scrolling within comments was quickly removed and replaced by setting a limit on how long a comment could be submitted. This was especially problematic on mobiles and tablets.

Display Modes: Another of the often discussed issues had to do with "Display Mode." This can be set in your preferences (for logged-in users) and ad hoc when you load a story.

Display Mode - Defaults: If, prior to the release you had chosen "Flat", then you were transitioned to "Flat" (Doh!) If you had anything else as your selection for "Display Mode", you were transitioned to "Threaded-TOS". That mode was intended, as best as we were able to do using only CSS, to replicate the behavior previously supported by the old "Threaded" mode. You CAN change this. Many have reported that changing "Threaded-TOS" to "Threaded-TNG" and setting a lower value for "Breakthrough" (in this mode, "Threshold" is ignored) seemed to do the trick.

Display Mode - ad hoc setting: For the ad hoc case, just load the story as you normally would. Below the actual story text and before the comments is a set of controls. If you are having issues with the current default of "Threaded-TOS" click on that text and change it to "Threaded-TNG". if you find you have way too many icons to click in order to read comments, choose a smaller value for Breakthrough (-1 displays all; in this mode Threshold value is ignored).

Spoiler: Another popular topic of discussion was the way the new <spoiler> tag was implemented. We've heard you, but have not as yet decided on a course of action on how to update its functionality... Stay tuned!

*NEW* and/or Dimming: A surprising (to me at least) number of folks had issues with how we flagged old/new comments. For logged-in users, again go to the "Comments" tab of your "preferences" page, scroll down a little, and there are checkboxes that you can toggle:

Highlight New Comments [ ] Highlight new comments with *NEW* tag
Dim Read Comments [ ] Dim already read comments

Please give those a try and see if that works for you. Our first implementation of "Dimming" was a bit too strong for most folk's liking - this has been reduced so as to be less jarring. As for the "*NEW*" text, there were several positive comments that on mobile devices especially, one could quickly search for the text and rapidly navigate comments to find out what was new. There was a suggestion that uppercase-only looks like YELLING. Yes, it does. On the other hand, whatever text is selected for display has to be a reasonably unlikely string to appear in the normal course of reading comments. (False positives, anyone?)

There were some suggestions on changing the color of the comment title to flag it as new. This sounds pretty simple, but the devil is in the details. We have some in our community who are color-blind and others who have very limited vision, if any at all. For them, any color changes could be well nigh invisible. But it gets worse. On the "Homepage" tab of the "Preferences" page, there are currently 11 different themes that one can choose as your default. Setting a new comment to have a lighter (or darker) title bar would not work across all of those disparate themes.

Chevrons: And as for those chevrons that control the display of a single comment and of a comment tree, yes we heard you. Work is underway to see if we can replace those images with single/double plus/minus characters.

Penultimately, I would like to add a call-out to Paulej72 who took point yesterday (giving TheMightyBuzzard a well-deserved respite) and worked tirelessly into the night to address the issues that were raised.

Lastly, again many thanks to you, our community, who have guided us through this transition. Your feedback matters. We listen and for those who have been following along, I hope you can see the changes and the progress. We continue to strive to earn your trust and support. Thank you!

Dev Note: Currently there is an issue with Flat mode and viewing single comments such as It just came to our attention and we will be working on it to fix it. This issue will cause you to get a server error. Workarounds are to either switch modes to anything other than Flat or avoid going to single comment views.

Continuation of:
Site Update 17_2
Comments Redux