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Journal: I think they're trying to kill Slashdot. 12

Journal by Just Some Guy

I seriously believe that someone is trying to sabotage Slashdot by making it decreasingly pleasant.

Exhibit A: the new-and-busted discussion system. I actually like it more than the old way for reading comments, but for writing comments it's almost maliciously bad. The new system's preview button is much slower than the old way, and the mandatory waiting time between posting comments is a lot longer than it used to be. The net result is that whenever you're eventually allowed to click the "Submit" button, if your comment doesn't go through immediately, you're stuck staring at a pink error message until the countdown is finished. The only thing keeping this tolerable is that you can middle-click on "Reply to This" to open the old-style comment form in a new window, but I don't know if this workaround is going to be left in place long-term.

Exhibit B: Idle. This is truly the worst interface I've ever seen on Slashdot, from the painful color scheme to the tiny fonts to the difference between the markup used in comments between Idle and the rest of Slashdot. For example, the <quote> tags are treated like <p> in Idle, so there's no visible difference between text you're quoting and your own words. I don't even mind the content so much because it can be an amusing diversion, but wow, the implementation is just terrible.

No, I contend that the new changes are deliberately designed to drive away readership. I don't think that the Slashdot admins are incompetent, so I'm convinced that this is on purpose.

User Journal

Journal: Avoid the Ramada 5

Journal by Just Some Guy

This isn't tech-related in the least, but my family just got back from staying at the Ramada Inn in Kearney, Nebraska. It wasn't pretty.

Not that Kearney is a likely destination for Slashdotters, but for those who might find yourselves there: you've been warned.

User Journal

Journal: Tuning Slashdot, part 1: Relationship CSS 11

Journal by Just Some Guy

Refactoring relationships

Right now, relationships are embedded into the comments section of story pages with tags like:

<span class="zooicon"><a href="//science.slashdot.org/zoo.pl?op=check&amp;uid=198669"><img src="//images.slashdot.org/fof.gif" alt="Friend of a Friend" title="Friend of a Friend"></a></span>

This is ugly for a few reasons. First, it's a mess. Second, it means that every visitor has to have their own custom-rendered comments sections so you can't apply aggressive caching to the page-generation code. I would replace this with per-user CSS.

First, create a CSS file for each user like this:

/* Default class */
a.relationship {
background: url(neutral.gif);
width: 12px;
height: 12px;
display: inline-block;
text-decoration: none;
}

/* User-specific values start here: */

/* Friends */
a.user3352,a.user42 { background: url(friend.gif); }

/* Foes */
a.user666 { background: url(foe.gif); }

Next, replace the HTML in the comments section with generic relationship information such as:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="relationships.css">
[...]
<p>by neutral (1234) <a href="bar" class="user1234 relationship">&nbsp;</a> on 2008-01-20</p>
<p>by Just Some Guy (3352) <a href="bar" class="user3352 relationship">&nbsp;</a> on 2008-01-20</p>
<p>by foe (666) <a href="bar" class="user666 relationship">&nbsp;</a> on 2008-01-20</p>

All "a" tags with the "relationship" class get the default CSS values. If there is also a corresponding "user*" selector in the visitor's stylesheet, then the values in that selector override the defaults. For a sad user with no friends, this means that everyone gets the neutral.gif icon. As that user accumulates more specific relationships, those CSS definitions are applied instead.

This benefits Slashdot because suddenly they don't have to generate a brand new comments section for every visitor. The per-user CSS would also be extremely simple to generate. In any case, it would be no more difficult than the current method of embedding all that information directly into the comments section.

Finally, those CSS files could also be cached very easily. Since they would only change whenever a user's relationships are modified, Slashdot would no longer have to query that information every single time it creates a page.

There are two drawbacks to this idea. First, there are no more alt attributes on images, so users don't see a "Friend" popup if they hover over the relationship button. If that's a problem, replace the icons with little smiley or frowny faces as appropriate. Second, it would take slightly more work to support putting users in multiple categories at the same time ("Friend" + "Freak"). The fix is to create a whole set of graphics like "friend_freak.gif" and "foe_friendoffriend.gif" and corresponding CSS classes. There aren't that many categories, though, so it would require only minimal extra work to cover every possible combination.

How 'bout it, Taco - could you use something like that? Less code, less bandwidth, and less processing should be pretty easily reachable goals.

User Journal

Journal: Get over it, UbuntuDupe 4

Journal by Just Some Guy

UbuntuDupe screwed up an Ubuntu installation almost two years ago. He still hasn't gotten over it.

UD, let me give you some free advice: move on. Really. You don't even have to admit that you were wrong. Just stop yapping about it and move on.

Do you notice that every time you bring this up, everyone opposes you? It's not because we don't like you, but because even if you were in the right (which you weren't), after two years we simply don't want to hear it anymore. Stop embarrassing yourself and let it die already, OK?

User Journal

Journal: NSFW? Fark off. 1

Journal by Just Some Guy

Fark: Is read by your boss.
Slashdot: Is read by the weird guy in the server room.

Fark: Tries to be corporate friendly.
Slashdot: Links to Tubgirl.

Fark: Garfield.
Slashdot: Doonesbury.

Quit whining about "oh noes this is not teh NSFW!" If you want Fark, read Fark. This is Slashdot.

User Journal

Journal: I've been mod-bombed - yay! 9

Journal by Just Some Guy
Within a five minute period yesterday, 5 of my comments got modded down with "-1: Troll". They were in different stories about completely different topics, but they were my most recent posts at that time.

I noticed that I've been building up a nice little list of liberal extremist freaks lately. It seems pretty clear to me that one of them happened upon some mod points and decided to spend them by modding me into oblivion.

I'm kind of flattered in a way, because they must have felt that I'm pretty important to spend their points against me. Even better, though, is this reminder that the favored tool of the liberal is silence. It's not enough to ignore opposing viewpoints, since someone else may hear them and be influenced. No, their response to someone who doesn't buy into their propaganda is to steal their voice.

On Slashdot, at least, they're limited to moderation. That's a lot better than in reality, when they'd probably scream "racist!", or "sexist!", or "capitalist!" in hopes that I'd run for shelter. That's not quite as funny.

User Journal

Journal: I Am Not This Serious. Seriously. 2

Journal by Just Some Guy
I think I may have to take a break from Slashdot.

Why? Is is because it's eating into my work? Nah - I have plenty of long compiles that allow me to waste a few minutes here and there. Is it because I'm actually building a "Freaks" list? No way! The fact that some people find my honest opinions too insulting to bear is kind of amusing.

No, it's because I've started Acting My Age and becoming way, way too serious.

I am not at all like my Slashdot persona. I mean, my opinions and beliefs are the same - I've never once misrepresented those - but my personality is completely different. I'm a nice guy who likes to laugh, enjoy life, and have fun. I'm almost never this intense or serious in day-to-day life, but put me in front of a comment box and I go uber-professional and detail-oriented. Those are OK traits, sure, and it's nice to know that I'm capable of logical and serious discussion, but that's still not who I am.

I even get along brilliantly with people I disagree with. Although I'm a very staunch conservative, one of my long-time good friends is a deliberately homeless tree-hugger (I mean it - literally!) who's typically into paganism, environmentalism, socialism, and a lot of other isms that I don't really want any part of. We get along great, though, and although we disagree on pretty much everything we always have a fun time in the process. Not here, though. Oh, no. For some reason, I seem to lose the ability to parse gentle sarcasm when I come here and just have to respond in a pedantically exact manner.

So, why is that? I kind of blame Slashdot itself, and its "coverage" of the 2004 elections in particular. Despite our differences, we used to all pretty much get along before then. Now our little green corner of the 'net is hyper-politicized and angry, and you can't ask for a recommendation of a nice IDE drive without being lectured about the evils of magnetoresistive manufacturers and their harm to the third-world environment.

I'll make you a promise: if you promise to lighten up and begin enjoying the humor inherent in a population of nearly a million crotchety geeks from across the world, I'll do the same. In fact, as a token of good faith, I'll be the first to try. On the other hand, if I can't pull it off, then I'm out of here. Seriously. I enjoy life too much to be sucked down into a swirling pit of Seriousness and Thoughtful Deliberation.

Let's have fun again, shall we? Wish me luck.

User Journal

Journal: Why you're my foe

Journal by Just Some Guy
I use my "Foes" list to manage the people who've established a pattern of saying things far beyond my threshold of tolerable stupidity. It's not that I dislike these people personally but that they detract from intelligent conversation to the point that they make themselves a nuisance. I'm not going to spend mod points to silence them, because that goes against my principals (and because I'd rather reward good conversation than attempt to "punish" the bad), but I personally have no interest in what they have to say and don't want to be bothered with it.

So, I think it's only fair to tell people why I've added them to the list. I'm not going to bother with prior entries, but I will be explaining all new ones.

The first recent addition is killjoe. I've disagreed with some of his postings, but this quote is what pushed him from "people I sometimes disagree with" to "people I don't want to listen to":

As for me I think the days of the peaceful liberals are over. It's time we adopted the republitard tactics. Yes that means dragging them behind cars and crucifiying them alongside the highways.

As far as I'm concerned, people who make comments like that are ineligible for civil conversation.

User Journal

Journal: Authenticated anonymity on Slashdot 4

Journal by Just Some Guy

Want to post anonymously but verifiably? That is, do you want to be able to say things that you don't want traceable back to yourself, but you do want interested parties to be able to verify that multiple posts originate from the same person?

Right now, Anonymous Coward (AC) posts are stored without any identifying information. This means that while you may divulge some important information, another person can reply to your post, claiming to be you, and contradict your statements. Example:

You: I have proof that my company is making toxic waste.

Reply from twit: And no matter what you hear, I was not fired from my last job for making false accusations!

With common software, this is almost trivially easy. The idea is to post as an AC but always sign your messages with the same GPG ID. The advantage is that you can still be an AC when it's important, but interested observers can verify whether other a given set of posts come from you.

If you want do this, here's how:

  1. Generate a GPG key.
  2. Submit your key to a public keyserver.
  3. Write your Slashdot text in an external editor.
  4. Sign the post with your "anonymous" key.
  5. Use <ecode> tags to encapsulate your signed message.
  6. For added obscurity, add "no-version" to you gpg.conf file. If you're using GPG on Linux, that string may not narrow the field of candidates too much. If you hand-compiled it on your TI-85 calculator, and you've explained to your boss in great detail how cool it is to run crypto on your calculator, then it may reveal more information than you want.
  7. Be sure to click the "Post Anonymously" checkbox!

Now people interested in such things can verify that all of your posts originate from the same person, even though they can't determine who that person is.

This isn't exactly a brilliant invention on my part; all of the pieces already existed in usable form. However, I've never seen anyone actually do this, and I thought it might be a useful idea for someone.

Caveats:

  • Assume that your IP is logged by Slashdot and the public keyserver and available to whomever you're trying to hide from by posting as an Anonymous Coward.
  • Be darn sure that you remember to check the "Post Anonymously" box or your cover is definitely blown in a big way; the people you're hiding from can now trace a whole batch of incriminating posts back to you. For example, when I first tested the idea, I made that mistake and forever ruined a key with a clever name (IMHO).
  • This method can't prove that a post did not come from you. In the example above where an anonymous twit is trying to negate your statements, your best course of action is to post a signed reply to him stating that the reply post was not from you.

A Note To Slashdot Editors

I'm not writing this to be a pain in the butt, honest - this seems like a legitimate need that I think needed to be addressed. This specific implemention relies on the idea of <ecode> tags keeping the contents in pristine condition. If people start using this, please don't change ecode's functionality so that old signed posts are broken.

A giant extra helping of karma to the authors if you add code to detect signed messages, keep a list of key IDs that've been used, assign a serial number to each one, and print that serial number in the message header of each signed message. Then, casual visitors could see that a string of messages were all signed by "Slashdot authed AC #243", although responsibilty for actual verification would still lie with interested end-users.

User Journal

Journal: Ditch "Overrated" already! 4

Journal by Just Some Guy
Would-be moderators, get this through your head: "Overrated" should almost never be used! If you think that something moderated as "Funny" isn't very humorous, then accept that other people enjoyed it and move on. If something is marked "Insightful" but you don't agree with it, then move on. Get the point?

I always kill "Overrated" in meta-moderation. Always. Keep that in mind, would you?

The relative importance of files depends on their cost in terms of the human effort needed to regenerate them. -- T.A. Dolotta

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