from the long-and-winding-road dept.
Two of SoylentNews' staff submitted stories noting our three-year anniversary; one a site summary of where we are and a summary of what we've done, and the other a detailed presentation of the very early days and how SoylentNews got started.
Three Whole Years -- Thanks to You!
Three years ago, today, SoylentNews announced its presence to the world. Much has happened along the way of our providing a place for a community to grow and to engage in discussion.
It started as a fork of five-year-old, open-sourced code which had suffered under benign neglect. Perl, Apache, MySQL, and other products had continued on. So we had to deal with dependencies on unsupported and back-level versions of code. A great deal of effort went into bringing the site up-to-date with current versions of that base. See below for mechanicjay's illuminating first-hand account of how that all got started.
Those of you who were with us then can attest to the fact that site outages were a regular occurrence. Bugs were found and eradicated. New bugs were made, and found as well. We invited the community to vote to name the site. We created documents of incorporation and had them dutifully filed. On July 4th, 2014 we received notice of officially becoming SoylentNews PBC. But I get ahead of myself.
Not content with just running a clone of the old code, the staff embarked on a large number of improvements to the site. Support for Unicode characters (via UTF-8) was an early improvement. Refinements to moderation took place — you could now moderate and comment in the same story. Moderation points were issued to every registered user every single day. An API was written and made available. We have our own Folding@Home team (currently ranked 314 of 226132 teams in the world) which contributes spare compute cycles to help find cures to maladies such as Huntington's Disease. (See the Main F@H site and our team page.) We sent out a call for new editors to help our beleaguered editing team which was approaching burnout; several of you answered the call and we are greatly enriched by their viewpoints and their questioning of the status quo.
And what have we wrought? Our own place on the world-wide web, supported and run entirely by the community. For the numerate in our midst, here are some statistics for the site. As of the time of this writing (20170217_002919 UTC), SoylentNews has:
- conducted 96 polls
- posted 2098 user journal articles
- registered 6496 user nicknames
- published 15660 stories
- received 18611 story submissions
- posted 462690 comments
- had 52699108 hits on stories
But that's not all! Unwilling to rest on their laurels, our development team has been hard at work bringing improvements to the site — along with some bug fixes. If you want to play with the current, in-development, subject-to-change-without-notice version of the site, hop on over to our development server. Do be aware several specially-crafted stories were created and posted there so as to evoke certain test conditions, so please respect the admonitions stated on those stories. Have an observation, question, or found a bug? We'd love to hear your feedback in the #dev channel on our IRC server.
We could not have done it alone — a great many of you have contributed to the site. There is the administrative tasks of paying the bills and handling legal obligations. Sysops support to keep our boxes up and running. Writing code and patching bugs (while minimizing the bug writing). Suggesting and testing new code/features and providing constructive feedback. Making financial contributions by signing up for subscriptions. Submitting story submissions for the editors to poke and prod at. All of this in support of a goal to provide a place where people can submit comments and engage in discussions with other interesting and intelligent people on the 'net. As with any community, there have been some 'heated' discussions. And most refreshing of all, are those discussions where nuggets of wisdom and brilliance appear — and make the whole effort worthwhile.
So, on behalf of the rest of the all-volunteer staff here at SoylentNews, let me say thank you. For your support, engagement, and questioning — we are a better site because of you. May we continue to earn your trust and support for many years to come.
In the comments, please feel free to mention anything significant that happened over these years which were inadvertently omitted as well as to tell us what we can do better.
So, to wind this up, I have one last question: "emacs or vi?" =)
Reflections on our First Days
For our third year, I have some Reflections on our third day.
In some of the pre-history of SoylentNews, here is some of the stuff that gets lost in the mists of time around the first coordinated development effort -- running on a VM, on a laptop in my basement under the slashcott.org domain. The slashcott had been announced and was to commence in some number of days. A bunch of folks thought it would be an awesome idea to get an independent version of slash running in time for the slashcott -- what could go wrong?
3 years and ton of life changes for me, makes some of this a little fuzzy, but I'll do my best to put things together. I've relied heavily on my email archive of that time which helped spur a bunch of memories. Hopefully this will be a coherent tale. (Maybe for next year I'll mine my personal IRC logs from when we were still on freenode).
At first there was a bunch of coordination in the ##slashcode channel on freenode, a bunch of emails were also buzzing around trying to coordinate some things and ideas. My first email to Barrabas was on 02/06/2014 [6 Feb 2014 for our non-US readers]. The issue at hand was that "slashcode" had been hastily open sourced 5 years prior, then pretty well abandoned. Not only did you need to build the perl modules from scratch, but it would only build against Apache 1.x. Once you managed to run that gauntlet, even compiled and installed, things barely ran and were pretty horribly broken. Anyway, it soon became apparent that robinld, NCommander and myself were making the most progress on getting something running, as I recall Robin was the first to success in getting an installed running site, but his VM was stuck behind a corporate firewall.
In the meantime, I had gotten the domain slashcott.org registered while trying to build things myself. At some point, a bunch of us decided to combine forces, Robin shipped me his VM, I got it running on my laptop (as it was the only 64-bit thing I had at the time), we got myself and Ncommander ssh'ed in and we started hacking. For some reason, RedHat vm's were horribly laggy on my openSuse VirtualBox host and work was slow and painful, but progress started to be made.
The only bug I've ever fixed in the code base was a critical piece of the new account email/password generation stuff, as I recall the generated password wasn't actually getting written to the DB. (sadly the evidence of my contribution has been lost, I think I shipped the fix to either robin or ncommander, so they have credit in the git history). Regardless, it was a critical piece - I have an email dated 02/08/2014 with my new account/password, which worked -- it was a huge boon and let us start to let a couple people in to start hammering away to find front-end bugs (of which there were countless). The next big thing I see from mining my email is the first "Nightly stories email", which came out on 02/11/2014 (from the slashcott.org domain). I think we ended up with about 50ish users on slashcott.org (gosh I hope I still have that vmdk stashed somewhere).
On the night of 02/11/2014 (or very early morning of 02/12/2014), after giving up and going to bed (I had a new born and was teaching an undergrad class on the side in addition to my regular 9-5 -- I was beyond toasted after a week). The VM locked up hard (it had done this a couple times, but I was always available to poke it with a stick and bring it back. As I was unavailable and no one had exchanged important things like phone numbers yet, NCommander made the executive decision to spin up a linode, which was great. The laggy VM on the laptop wasn't meant to last forever, though I admit I had visions (delusions?) of hosting the site myself on some real hardware at some point. In retrospect, Linode has been an amazing way to run this site and absolutely the right decision.
I got my new account on the li694-22 domain, on the 02/12/2014, that new account email was for mechanicjay, UID 7 -- which is where I live on the site to this day. I kept the slashcott.org server in sync with code changes for a bit, and was a pretty handy testing platform, until the "official" dev box came online on 02/14/2014. At some point during this week, we had landed on the soylentnews.org domain and that's where we went live on 02/17/2014.
So there you have it, we went from a group of independent pissed off people with no organization and an abandoned broken codebase to launching an honest-to-goodness site in ELEVEN fucking days.
I feel that its fitting to post this today on July 4th, Independence Day, given the mission and unique history of SN. I'm going to do a follow-up post on Monday with more information on where we go now. Until then, have an awesome Independence Day, and a great weekend :-)
It is my great pleasure to announce that SoylentNews has just celebrated four years of service to the community! The very first story on the site appeared on 2014-02-12 and actually went live to everyone 2014-02-17.
It all started when a story on Slashdot made reference to its "audience" which ticked off quite a number of people. Soon after came a boycott of Slashdot — aka the "Slashcott". While this was in effect, an intrepid few people somehow managed to take a years-old, out-of-date, unsupported, open-sourced version of slashcode and somehow managed to get it up to speed to run on much more recent versions of Apache, MySql, etc. Recurring crashes and outages were the norm. (See last year's anniversary story for many more details!) Further, on July 4th, 2014 our application to become a Public Benefit Corporation was approved — this set the stage for us to be able to accept funding from the community.
By the time you read this, we will have posted 20,980 stories to the site to which over 639,907 comments have been made!
We could not have done this without all of you. You (the community) submit the stories for the site. You write the comments... and moderate them, too. You made recommendations for improvements to the site. You are SoylentNews.
It has been my privilege and honor to work with a great group of folks who have done the behind-the-scenes skunk-work which has kept this site running. It does bear mentioning that this site is entirely staffed by volunteers. Nobody here has received even a penny's worth of income from the site. Like you, we have home and work responsibilities, but in our spare time we still strive to provide an environment that is conducive to discussions of predominantly tech-related matters.
Having said all that, I must add that income to the site has dropped recently. Having let my subscription lapse in the past, I know how easy that can be. Take a moment to check your subscription status. We have on the order of 100 people who have subscribed in the past, have visited the site in the past month, and whose subscription has expired. If your subscription is up-to-date, please consider either extending it or making a gift subscription (default is to UID 6 - "mcasadevall" aka NCommander). NB the dollar amounts presented are the minimum payments required for that duration -- we'll happily accept larger amounts. =)
If financial contributions are infeasible for you, we always appreciate story submissions. Submit a link, a few paragraphs from the story, and ideally a sentence or two about what you found interesting and send it to us. Any questions, please take a look at the Submission Guidelines.
Of course, the comments are where it's at. Thoughtful, well-reasoned, well-supported comments seem to do best here. Inflammatory histrionics garner attention, and usually down-mods, too. Speaking of which, if you have good Karma, and have been registered with the site for at least a month, you are invited to participate in moderation. Unlike other sites that up-mod or down-mod to infinity, we have something more like olympic-scoring here. A comment score can vary from -1 to a +5. This is how I look at scores: -1 (total waste of your time), 0 (meh), +1 (okay), +2 (good), +3 (quite good), +4 (very good), +5 (don't miss this one!).
Don't worry; they'll make more.
[Editor's preface: SoylentNews has a Folding@Home team (#230319) As of this writing, SoylentNews.org is ranked at number 210 in the entire world! My current Core 2 Duo laptop would do little to support the effort compute-wise, so I assist as best I can by cheerleading, communicating our team's progress, and similar activities. We have a channel on our IRC (Internet Relay Chat) server "#folding" where there is sporadic discussion about progress. Check out the list of previous stories at the bottom of this story... to get involved, just mention it in the comments and come join our team!
If you are a Folding@Home (F@H) contributor, you may have noticed that you aren't getting your normal allotment of work units. It appears to have started some time Friday, March 13. The root cause? Schools shutting down around the United States.
Looking for Work [Units]:
Kids are scared (some more, some less) of the Coronavirus, they read something somewhere about efforts such as F@H that are working on curing various diseases. Those kid's gaming rigs are exactly what F@H and other similar research groups need. And, some of these kids have machines that most of us would envy! A well-built gaming machine is simply awesome!
That forum is filled with "newbs" trying to figure out how to set up F@H on their machines, and then complaining that they can't get a work unit.
This post, specifically, explains that the huge influx of volunteers has depleted the available work units. https://foldingforum.org/viewtopic.php?f=24&t=32424 Apparently, on Friday, the staff filled the WU servers' caches with the normal weekend's amount of WU's and they were gone by early Saturday morning. Someone volunteered to work on Saturday to refill the caches, which were promptly emptied out again.
One of the posts on the F@H forum suggests that F@H has about 4 times the number of folders that it had a week ago.
What to do?
If you find yourself unable to download a WU, take a look at the log. You will probably find complaints,
"No WUs available for this configuration" and/or "Port 8080 unreachable, trying port 80" and/or "no http service available".
Those and more are all related to the fact that the servers are being hammered by half a zillion school kids who are looking for something useful to do with their time, and their computers.
Be patient, and just let your client work through it. It will eventually download a work unit, crunch it, and return it.
Straight from the F@H project: Coronavirus – What we're doing and how you can help in simple terms – Folding@home
On the occasion of the site's sixth anniversary, I thought it fitting to mention some of the many ways that fellow Soylentils contribute to our community. This also seems like a good opportunity to mention some of the site's history, relate some staffing changes, mention other contributions by the SoylentNews community, and to wrap things up with some site statistics.
Please accept our thanks:
These thanks go out to all of you: my fellow members of the SoylentNews community.
To the Anonymous Cowards who post comments to our site (be they inciteful or insightful). To our registered users who not only post comments, but are also the only members who can moderate comments. No matter how long you have been here; whether you have just arrived (Welcome!) or have been with us from the very start... Thank You!
Speaking of which, thanks go to our staff who bludgeoned and duct-taped an ancient unmaintained open-sourced version of the code underpinning slashdot into some sort of basic functionality, and who have since made it the site you are enjoying today. Thanks, too, to our behind-the-scenes staff members, who keep the underlying services we depend on, running 24/7. Other staff members are more visible, like the editorial team who spend several hours every single day processing the stories that get posted to the site.
And let's not forget the members of the community who purchase subscriptions and thereby fund the operations of this site. We do have real world expenses: paying for our servers, domain registrations, and paying a CPA (Certified Public Accountant) to do our taxes.
Read on past the fold for all the rest!