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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

posted by martyb on Thursday January 10, @06:07PM   Printer-friendly
from the we're-baaaaaack! dept.

[Updated to correct time of neon CPU's spiking. --martyb]

We experienced an unexpected outage of the site this morning (20190110 00:15-07:45 UTC). At shortly after midnight approximately 0415 (UTC), CPU usage on neon suddenly pegged at 400% and things went downhill from there. Am not sure at this point what happened between 0015 and 0415.

Root cause is being investigated, but for now it seems the site is back up and working. Please let us know if you have any issues.

Note: you may need to have your browser ignore its cache (e.g. refresh with Ctrl+F5) and bring down everything fresh.

FWIW, system came back up after we rebooted neon (using the Linode manager page), and then bounced varnishd on fluorine and hydrogen (/home/bob/bin/bounce on each.)

Many thanks go to SemperOSS and cosurgi for problem determination and steps to rectify and FatPhil for his cheerleading!

[Update: TMB] So, the deal was that some unknown time in the past the ndb database node on helium had gone down. This wasn't a problem since we run a clustered database but nobody noticing it was. Then last night something caused neon to lose its cheese. Since it hosts the other node of the db, we had no db for a while. Bytram(martyb) has sysadmin powers for when unpleasant substances of various types hit the fan and thankfully he knew enough to get the neon db node back up and bounce apache/varnish on the web frontends, so kudos to him and all the folks who were backseat driving at the time due to lack of admin perms on their parts.

My brain's currently fried from going from asleep to OMGWTFBBQ without so much as a cup of coffee and a cigarette first, so I'm not going to dig into the root causes until it unfries itself but as a stopgap we have four more staff with shiny, new admin access that I'll be emergency bootcamping in the very near future. There's also going to be some monitoring reimplemented very soon so we notice this kind nonsense before it blows up in our faces again. I'll either update and bump this story or post a new one if we manage to figure out what the root causes were but at the moment the logs aren't being particularly helpful.

Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Wednesday January 09, @12:59PM   Printer-friendly
from the better-late-than-never dept.

While shutting down terminal windows to the SN servers this morning, one of them had the create table syntax for the comments table still on screen. I gave it a read through just because it was there and noticed that there wasn't an index for the opid (top level comment id for speeding up entire thread pulling) column. So I got some before numbers, added one, and ran some After tests. Heavily commented stories show a 50-150% pages-per-second speed increase in threaded views. Low hanging fruit FTW.

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Tuesday January 08, @04:32PM   Printer-friendly
from the spit-and-baling-wire dept.

After a morning of slow query logging and cussing, a misplaced "GROUP BY" that was turning a 0.04 second query into one that took over fifteen seconds has been fixed. I'll leave the slow query log running overnight though just to make sure I didn't miss any less common ones. If you're still seeing any serious site slowdowns, let us know.

posted by martyb on Sunday December 30, @03:00PM   Printer-friendly
from the what-we-had-here-was-a-problem-to-communicate dept.

First off, it's been a week since we published Meta: The End of the Year is Nigh; End-of-the-Year Summary and Subscription Request and I am pleased to report we have received nearly $1000 in site subscriptions. Please accept my sincere and heartfelt thanks to all who have contributed! We are looking for another $1000 to make our funding goal. If you can help out either by starting a subscription, or extending a current one, that would be greatly appreciated! We have had a few people subscribe for $100; any amount you can provide will mean a lot.

As for IRC: it was brought to our attention a couple days ago that there was an issue in gaining access to SoylentNews' IRC securely.

tl;dr: Secure access to IRC should be functional; please reply in comments (with steps to reproduce) if you are still having issues. Read on for the scoop.

TheMightyBuzzard recently updated our Let's Encrypt certs across all of SoylentNews as they were set to expire on December 27. (Certs are issued with a 3-month duration.) Everything seemed to be working fine, so he took off on a much-deserved, week-long vacation.

I saw messages on IRC that there were issues in attempting to gain secure access to IRC. I thought that was strange as I was having no difficulty accessing it using HexChat on my PC. I tried the link on the SoylentNews home page: IRC and was also able to connect without issue. As the reports I'd seen were of the form "IRC is broken", and it was obviously working for me... now what? Pushed back asking for more details on steps to reproduce.

Some back-and-forth discussion (on IRC) isolated the problem to being involved with the recently-installed certs. They were in the correct location. They had the correct file permissions (read/write/execute). The irc daemon was running.

What could it be?

Kudos to audioguy who dove in and via guidance from Deucalion (our IRC master who was also on vacation and who was answering questions without benefit of being able to see what audioguy was looking at) was able to isolate the problem to incorrect Access Control List (ACL) settings for irc. AFAIK, nowhere else on the site do we use those — let's just say that IRC is a strange beast and leave it at that.

So, audioguy got the ACLs straightened out... yay! But it was unclear how to get ircd to actually use them. (There is a script for that but we didn't know it at the time) I had a chat (on IRC!) with chromas which worked out the command needed to restart the irc daemon (sudo kill -hup $irc_PID) and... voila! Back in service!


Oh! Anybody wondering how some of us were having no trouble securely using IRC through all this? Figured it out? Up until the move to Let's Encrypt, we used self-signed certs. I, as well as several others, still had those loaded on their system and they had not yet expired. Also, many of us were accessing irc using a 'bouncer' which would hold the connection to the daemon open and buffer transmissions between the server and our client. Connections to the bouncer were, thankfully, unaffected.

NOTE: We still have our alternate irc server, creatively named irc2, to bring forward but that can wait until staff is back from vacations.

P.S. Here's wishing all of you a Happy New Year!!!

P.P.S. When I wrote this, the fortune appearing at the bottom of the page read: "All is well that ends well. -- John Heywood".

Original Submission