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2021-07-22 12:14:55 ..
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2021-10-18 12:49:30 UTC --martyb

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posted by martyb on Monday November 02 2020, @12:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the Not-the-Things-made-by-VW dept.

It has been a while since I've written a site summary, and I've been meaning to do so for a while now. So, I'm just going to get started and hope that will motivate my getting it done.

As always, if this kind of story is not of interest to you, another story will be along before long.

Otherwise, read on below the fold for what's been happening.

  • Daylight Saving Time
  • Things are Difficult for Everyone
  • Digging out of my System Crash
  • System Outages
  • Staffing
  • Story Cadence
  • Statistics
  • Fundraising
  • Site Updates/Enhancements

Daylight Saving Time:
If you live in the USA, there's a very good chance that Daylight Saving Time ended over the weekend for you and you were supposed to set your clocks back. Consider this a friendly Public Service Announcement just in case you forgot. Please be aware that, historically, people tend to struggle with the time shift for a week or so.

Things are Difficult for Everyone:
Times are tough for many people right now. COVID-19 and lockdowns. Businesses closed or under limited attendance and hours. Many schools are closed, under restricted attendance, or a hybrid combination of online and in-person attendance. Parents are trying to juggle work-from-home, often while trying to watch over their kids.

Please be mindful that people you meet — on-line or in-person — may be struggling, just like you. Please take a moment to reflect on where they are coming from and not lash out at people, just as you might wish for others to be patient with you. Maybe even call up a friend and ask how the are doing. We can all do something to help make it a little easier on those we meet.

Also, Election day is Tuesday, November 3 in the US. You may have heard about the Presidential election, but there are a host of other races, as well. To cap things off, election results in many cases may not be known for several days after election day. I found this provided a nice summary.

Digging out of my System Crash:
I blew up my windows install and decided to use that as an incentive to switch over to Linux — Ubuntu Mate, still in progress. For those who want more details:

So, I tried to restore a file from a duplicate of my C: drive a couple weeks ago. I had an SSD which had an older, bit-for-bit copy of C: my drive. I mounted it in in an external USB enclosure, but Windows did not recognize the drive. So, I hibernated and awakened the laptop. Nope, still did not recognize there was a drive attached. Grrr. How about a hard restart? Nope, no joy. In fact, less than joy. Now I had a message from Windows that my copy was potentially invalid and that I needed to reauthorize it! A couple other tries at rebooting resulted in a BSOD. (I later realized my boot order was CD/DVD, external USB, then internal disk. Ooops!

I'd been meaning to move over to Linux for a long time, but had held off due to the 1,000+ batch and AWK scripts and some other programs I'd written over the years. Rather than trying to resurrect my Windows install, I decided to bite the bullet and force myself to make the switch. I am conversant with userland tools like grep, sed, gawk, du, df, diff, and the like. But, installing and configuring packages like email (Thunderbird), HexChat, ssh (replacing PuTTY), browser (Firefox after using Pale Moon) has been slow going.

It's still a work-in-progress, but I've made a lot of headway. Huge thanks to "The Mighty Buzzard", "janrinok", "Fnord666", "chromas", "Azuma Hazuki", "Runaway1956", and others who have been exceedingly patient with me as they've tried to help me get things working again! This is what got me into programming all those years ago: the selfless willingness to help others "learn the ropes". I can't thank you all enough!

System Outages:
Did I mention things were difficult for everyone? Only a few days after my system went sideways and now currently booted from an external Live Edition of Ubuntu, SoylentNews had a system outage. I had happened to wake very early and noticed the site was down with a 500 error. Was able to get onto IRC (Internet Relay Chat) through my browser. Discovered others were already aware. I offered a couple suggestions, but had no luck. I sent a text to "The Might Buzzard" (aka "TMB" and "Buzz") and settled in to wait for him to wake. Fortunately, TMB was able to quickly identify and rectify the (database) problem. In short order we were back up and running again. Thanks Buzz!

So, the next morning I woke up early (again), checked the site, and found we were down (again). This time it was because our certificate had expired. (Since I was without email at this time, I missed the reminders send out by Let's Encrypt.) Thanks go to TMB (again!) for making quick work of getting certs re-issued and deployed!

As you may have surmised, we are a bit short staffed. I do what I can to help on the systems side of things, but my skills are very limited in that realm. I'm better at writing tests, Templates, and Perl (in decreasing order of knowledge/expertise). Just over two years ago, "janrinok" stepped down and I took over the role of Editor-in-Chief (EiC). I count it a privilege to serve the community and do my best to: try and keep the stories coming, act as a liason for site issues, and offer guidance where needed to the other editors.

Please join me in thanking "Fnord666", our Alternate Editor-in-chief (AEiC), for his able efforts in getting stories out. Nearly half of the stories you see on SoylentNews are thanks to his efforts. Thanks Fnord666! Thanks, too, to "chromas" who occasionally pushes out stories (and often seconds stories before they make it to the main page). Not to stay entirely away, "janrinok" can often be seen seconding stories and occasionally pushing out a story or two. He's also an able mentor as I try and fill his shoes as EiC. Behind the scenes I've seen "takyon", "CoolHand", "Mrpg", and others occasionally pop in and lend a hand. (We had a surprise visit from mrpg on IRC on Saturday!) Thanks to ALL of you!

Ever wonder how this site runs? What happens behind the scenes? We can always use a helping hand. If you are interested, please reply to this story and/or send an email to admin (at) soylentnews (dot) org and/or pop onto IRC and let someone know. Every little bit helps! When I started off, I had never used IRC before, never edited a story, and was unfamiliar with our code base. Though nobody has ever been paid even one cent for their work here, I consider the things I've learned to be priceless. Especially the friendships I've made along the way. Highly recommended!

One thing that would be a HUGE help is having the community submit stories. Yes, we have bots that are a big help, but that means each story takes a bunch of work to get the gist of the material, extract a subset, look up any journal references, check links, and so on. OTOH, when I see a sub from "takyon" it's usually just a quick skim, schedule a time slot, and then on to the next one. See the difference? We only have so much spare time. It may not sound like much, but the time required for each story adds up! Just take a look at the number of stories pushed out so far. Yes, "fnord666" is fast approaching 5,800 stories! [and martyb is rapidly approaching 9500 stories, but he is too modest to say so --JR] Thanks and Congratulations!

Story Cadence:
We strive to keep a continuous stream of stories queued up for the community. We average just under a dozen stories a day on weekdays and about 10 or so on weekends (UTC). From the preceding section, you may have surmised we have a thin "bench" on the editorial staff and could use some help.

Quite simply, this rate of stories is not maintainable at current staffing and activity. "Fnord666" and I have been pushing out 4-6 stories a day for the past few months. Unless we get some additional help, we will need to cut back on the number of stories posted each day.

I took a look around and noticed that The Register (aka El Reg) stopped posting stories on the weekend last May. Ars Technica posts primarily during the day (USA hours). On weekends, Ars Technica cuts back to 3-4 stories per day, frequently reposts from other sources (primarily WIRED and Financial Times). Those publications pay their writers. We are unpaid volunteers.

I am not claiming we are on the same level as those publications, but I am finding it hard to justify our putting out 10 stories per day on weekends when they publish far fewer (or none at all). In short, I see no option but to cut back on our weekday cadence by a story or two per day, and cut back *significantly* on weekends. Unless we get some more help, that is. SoylentNews is People. We need your help — please volunteer!


  • Folding@Home just recently passed 2^31 points! Yes, well over 2 billion points! Way to go team SoylentNews!
  • We have reached about 1,072,000 comments.
  • Story submissions have now exceeded 45,130.
  • Posted stories are now past: 33,823

I am pleased to report we have a good start on fundraising for the second half of this calendar year. So far, we have collected approximately $1094.14 towards our goal of $3,500.00 (~31.3%). Thanks to everyone who has Subscribed!

Site Updates/Enhancements:
Barring any critical needs, site updates are restricted to minor template changes until "TMB" can finish his house remodeling work. There is a chunk of code he wrote waiting on my getting to test it, but see earlier and my system snafus. (Will 2020 ever end?)

Original Submission

posted by martyb on Friday October 16 2020, @03:15PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the if-it-were-still-down... dept.

We had an outage this morning -- "Internal Server Error" would appear when trying to load the main site.

I noticed this at about 0945 UTC from my mobile phone and immediately TXTed a message to "The Mighty Buzzard" (aka TMB) alerting him of the situation. Of course, it being 0545 EDT, he was sound asleep like any sane person would be.

I then booted up my computer and accessed "#Soylent" on IRC; discovered others were already aware. It appears to have been first noted at 05:42:57 UTC by "SoyCow8732". That was followed not long after by "c0lo" and "lld". Soon after, "chromas" was on the scene and tried bouncing the front ends, but no joy. He sleuthed around and concluded it was likely a mysql error, but our configuration is... interesting and it was non-obvious on how to restart things.

My hands were mostly tied as only a few days ago I managed to mess up Windows on my main system and would get a BSOD whenver I tried to boot it. I looked on from a system booted from a Ubuntu Live CD (well actually, a USB stick).

Eventually, TMB appeared, took stock of the situation, and was able to get things running again in pretty short order. Thanks Buzz!

Synopsis (AIUI) our installation of Mysql is setup so that there are redundant copies of the DB running on two different servers. The intent is to provide redundancy so that if one instance goes down, the other can take over and carry things along until the failing system is recovered. That's great in theory, but not so good in practice. Thankfully, it does [mostly] work. We are continuing to monitor the situation. Be assured this is working its way of the priority queue! I mean, who likes to wake up and debug server issues before their first cup of coffee?

So, that's my take on it. I'll leave it to TMB to add details/corrections should he deem it necessary.

Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Thursday September 03 2020, @08:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the silver-linings dept.

The Mighty Buzzard writes:

Congrats to the wannabe APK noobtard for advancing the site's codebase despite me having extremely limited time to play. I added three lines of code and now Spam modded comments (and comment trees) auto-collapse and you can still moderate a comment as Spam even if it's already at the minimum score. Honestly, the folks using any other downmod on obvious Spam annoy me more than the noobtard does but that annoyance at least is now history. Changes are to hot code only, I'll put them in the repo as part of my next pull request.

Suck it, noob. --TMB

posted by martyb on Monday August 31 2020, @10:00PM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

The month of August is winding to a close. Here are a few updates on site activity. If you are interested, please read on after the fold. Otherwise, a new story will be along shortly.

Server Updates:
As I write this, The Mighty Buzzard is in the process of rebuilding three of our Gentoo servers: lithium (our development server; hosts, aluminum (our eventual replacement for beryllium which is our sole CentOS server), and magnesium (which is one of our two load balancers; the other is sodium). All rebuilds are in progress and happening in the background. The only user-noticeable impact should be a brief outage when the dev server reboots. That is anticipated to occur later tonight (EDT). Thanks Buzz!

[TMB Note]: It's just installing boring old OS updates. Nothing you guys actually use should be impacted in any way.

Editor Activity:
First off, it's my pleasure to welcome Subsentient back to editing duties on SoylentNews after a bit of a hiatus. We look forward to his contributions to the site! Also, it gives me great pleasure to announce that chromas just posted his 1,200th story! And with that accomplishment, it also marks his moving up to 9th place among our Most Active Authors on the site's Hall of Fame! Congratulations! That represents a great commitment of time and energy in support of SoylentNews. (Not to mention his systemd bot on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) which offers several commands that make our jobs as editors so much easier. Thanks chromas!

Folding@Home (F@H):
Folding@Home is a distributed computing project that leverages spare computing resources on participant's computers. The majority of those resources are now being applied to better understand the SARS‑CoV‑2 virus which causes COVID-19. The current statistics reveal over 25 million cases world-wide with over 850,000 deaths. Note that many survivors have reported experiencing long term, debilitating consequences. Also, there is not just one virus. It has been mutating as it spreads, so continued monitoring and analysis is required to keep on top of things.

Back to F@H, it is my pleasure to report that Runaway1956 is now at the top of our team's standings with 396,857,185 Credits and 11,702 Work Units completed. That makes him the 2,461th-highest, single contributor in the world. Thank-you so much for your efforts in helping to fight this terrible disease!

We are two months into the second half of the year. So far, we have netted $744.16 towards our goal of $3,500.00 for site expenses... that's 21.3% of what we need to pay for the servers, business fees and taxes, accountant, etc. For those who have subscribed, please accept my genuine and sincere thanks! It bears repeating that nobody at SoylentNews has ever received even one cent for their contributions to the site. All staff freely volunteer their spare time and energy to keep things running.

Final Note:
Many, many thanks to the community who supports SoylentNews by submitting and moderating comments. Thanks, especially, to those who have submitted stories. YOU are what makes SoylentNews happen. It is a privilege to serve you. Thank you for supporting my efforts as Editor-in-Chief; I hope to continue to earn your trust in the days and years that lie ahead!

Original Submission

posted by The Mighty Buzzard on Sunday August 09 2020, @05:51AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]
from the SNAFU dept.

The Mighty Buzzard writes:

Yeah, so, failure to babysit the db node that was scheduled for a reboot on the 5th resulted in a bit of database FUBAR that left us temporarily losing everything from then to now. Fortunately we had a backup less than six hours old, restored from it, and appear to be copacetic now. Except for the missing five hours and change.

I'd usually make some sort of dumb joke here but it was already four hours past my bedtime when I found out about the problem. My brain is no work good anymore. Fill in whatever dad joke or snark about getting a do-over for a change strikes your fancy.

posted by martyb on Thursday August 06 2020, @12:23AM   Printer-friendly [Skip to comment(s)]

I recently received a message from our Treasurer and updated financial statements. I've taken this opportunity to put this out to the community. While I was at it, it seemed like a good time to take a look at things and provide an update to the community on where we're at and how we're doing. If you are not interested in this kind of stuff, a new story will be along before too long. Otherwise, more will be revealed after the break.

First off, I always hesitate when writing one of these stories. There are so many people who make SoylentNews happen and I know I'll leave someone out. These guys do so so much I can't keep up with all of it! If I've omitted anyone, it's strictly my mistake and I mean no disparagement to anyone's contributions! So, I extend my thanks to everyone who makes this site happen each and every day!

Hiccup: Worst things first, we had a "hiccup" on at about 03:00 UTC this morning (2020-08-05). Some pages loaded without CSS (i.e. bare text with limited or no formatting). Other pages would not load at all. Some people received "500 Server Error" messages. TheMightyBuzzard examined the situation, bounced the front-end servers, and restarted Apache. From what I can tell, it also took a restart of two of our servers (helium and magnesium). This seems to have cleared the gremlins that were interfering with site operations. Thanks TMB!

Spam: We recently experienced a couple bouts of "Spam" postings. Staff is not the "thought police". Obviously, we would have to abide by a lawful order like a DMCA notice. Otherwise, we provide the tools so the community can police things themselves. If you have registered a nickname on the site, you can customize your view of the comments posted here. If you want to see all comments except those that have been moderated as Spam, Give a "+1" moderation adjustment to all comments except apply a "-6" moderation adjustment for "Spam". Then set your "Threshold" and "Breakthrough" to 0 (zero).

Yes, we are aware that top-level comments still get expanded by default. Changing this behavior is near the top of the list of planned future enhancements to the site.

Finances: I received a report from our treasurer, Matt_, that I would like to share with the community:

I have just updated the books and prepared the attached financial statements (Balance Sheet and Profit and Loss Statement) for our Fiscal Year 2019 (July 1, 2019 through June 30, 2020). As you can see from the P&L Statement, whereas we ended the previous fiscal year with a net loss of $1,057.97, we ended FY2019 with net income of $1,348.05 (clearly much better, and if we can keep this up going forward, we should be in good shape). Turning to the Balance Sheet, we ended FY2019 with a total of $5,008.20 cash on hand, which gives us a runway of approximately 10 months, given our burn rate of about $6,000 per year. This, of course, assumes no significant change (increase or decrease) in our expenses going forward.

I have uploaded these to the Finances page on our Wiki.

It bears mentioning that our initial seed capital of $10,000.00 was contributed by Matt_ and NComander by way of equal share purchases of stock in SoylentNews PBC. So, we are still down about $5,000 from our starting balance. Still, I am most pleased with the improved cash flow situation and thank all those who have Subscribed.

Story Submissions: There have been over 42,500 stories submitted to SoylentNews, of which over 32,840 have been accepted. I cannot thank you all enough for your contributions to the site! I well remember a time when there were two editors on IRC tag-teaming on finding story submissions, pushing stories out, and 2nding them for the community. That made for many late and exhausting nights. For those who may be new here, all staff here are volunteers; nobody has ever been paid anything for their work on the site. We have the same kinds of demands on our time as everybody else: work, family, relationships, etc. From what spare time we have, we try to keep the site up and running with stories that we think will be of interest to the community. We are fortunate to have such highly-skilled and selfless people on staff who not only believe in SoylentNews, but make sacrifices to help keep it a going concern. I hereby express my gratitude for all their efforts!

Note Bene: There is an artifact on the "Most Active Submitters" section of SoylentNews' Hall of Fame page — it omits story submissions made by Authors (aka Editors) as well as those made by Anonymous Cowards. I generated a complete list of the top 20 for our site. I hereby publicly thank takyon for his continuous contributions. I know when I see a submission from him that it is "production ready" — just a quick review of links and it's good-to-go. Not content to rest on those laurels, he has also pushed out 1354 stories which puts him in 6th place on the Most Active Authors list. Thanks so very much takyon!

Expand below for details:

mysql> SELECT          COUNT(*) AS c, users.nickname
    -> FROM            stories, users
    -> WHERE           users.uid=stories.submitter
    -> GROUP BY        users.uid
    -> ORDER BY        c DESC LIMIT 20
    -> ;
| c    | nickname                |
| 5699 | takyon                  |
| 5656 | Anonymous Coward        |
| 3425 | Phoenix666              |
| 2401 | upstart                 |
| 1439 | MrPlow                  |
| 1436 | Arthur T Knackerbracket |
| 1114 | AnonTechie              |
|  894 | martyb                  |
|  731 | Papas Fritas            |
|  586 | Fnord666                |
|  539 | canopic jug             |
|  400 | lhsi                    |
|  317 | RandomFactor            |
|  310 | tonyPick                |
|  301 | butthurt                |
|  246 | frojack                 |
|  240 | janrinok                |
|  217 | n1                      |
|  205 | c0lo                    |
|  148 | mendax                  |
20 rows in set (16.73 sec)

Editors: Also known as "Authors" (no, I don't know why). We are the more public face of the site. We have taken on the task of reviewing and selecting story submissions and then editing them to try to provide a consistent "feel" to the site. SoylentNews' founding was based, in part, on the powers-that-be at Slashdot failing to listen to the community and insisting on rolling out a "Beta" version of their site. We take our responsibility to provide a consistent look-and-feel seriously. Yes, we've made mistakes along the way, but we try to learn from them.

Our Alternate Editor-in-Chief Fnord666 has been pushing out about 5 stories a day, every day, for a long while now. I'd hate to imagine where we'd be without his continued and selfless contributions! Thanks Fnord666! I'd also like to recognize chromas' editorial contributions. It takes a while to build confidence as an editor and to face the potential backlash of mistakes being put in front of thousands of intelligent (and opinionated) nerds and geeks! An extra story a day makes a big difference and I want to take this opportunity to publicly thank him for his contributions. But, there's more! Behind the scenes, chromas is quick to conjure up and refine IRC tools that make our jobs as editors so much easier. His IRC bot makes it so much easier to submit stories, perform searches on Google and YouTube, and generate journal citations. I'd hate to imagine continuing on without them! Thanks chromas! We occasionally get visits from mrpg on IRC and some 2nding of stories which is much appreciated. Our editor-in-chief emeritus, janrinok, is on a sabbatical while providing medical support for a family member. He wishes he had more free time to contribute to the site and sends his best wishes to all. It bears repeating, here, the numerous contributions of takyon. He's a solid and constant contributor and I can't thank him enough for all his hard work!

Lastly, if I've counted correctly, this marks my 9,000th story on SoylentNews. It has been a distinct privilege and honor to serve the community as your Editor-in-Chief. I am ever reminded of the adage: Standing on the shoulders of giants. Those who originally got the site up and running. Who set the tone and established the procedures for running the site. Who did the necessary legal work to get us established as a Public Benefit Corporation (PBC) so that we could accept subscriptions and thereby fund our continuous operations. And the list goes on and on. We have come a long way since we went live on February 14th, 2014!

I have learned so much from the staff here, from all the stories we've published, and the comments that the community has provided. I try to do my best each day to fulfill the trust you've placed in me; I hope my efforts have been acceptable.

In a word: teamwork++

Folding@Home: "Folding@home is a distributed computing project aimed to help scientists develop new therapeutics to a variety of diseases by the means of simulating protein dynamics. This includes the process of protein folding and the movements of proteins, and is reliant on the simulations run on the volunteers' personal computers."

SoylentNews has a F@H team which is currently ranked "317 of 254,500". When it was announced that F@H would pivot to help with research of the SAR-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19, many heavy hitters joined up. Names you'd recognize like like AWS, Microsoft (Azure), Oracle, SAP, and many other large compute services brought their spare compute capacity to bear. Summit, one of the largest supercomputers in the world, has even been set to the task.

In light of the increased competition, it's all the more amazing how our team has held up! Here's another view of the team's status. Our current points production leaders are Runaway1956 and NCC74656 who are running neck-and-neck with each producing over 2.2 million points a day! Thank you!

Original Submission