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Journal Journal: Keybindings in Discussion2 21

Since this is not yet documented, I figured I would mention this here now... we are experimenting with some very rudimentary keystroke navigation in the discussion2 system. We support both FPS style WASD keybindings, as well as the standard vi layout of HJKL. Down/Up will cycle you through next/previous comment chronologically... left/right will cycle you through next/previous in thread order. Holding SHIFT down while you press the navigation key will collapse the previous comment. And when you get to the end, pressing down or right will attempt to retrieve more comments if you want them.

What this means is that you can now use D2 to simulate most of the most popular viewing modes of the original discussion system. By dragging both the abbreviate & display sliders right next to each other you effectively remove abbreviated comments which simulates nested mode. By toggling comment retrieval order to 'Oldest First' and using up down, you can effectivel read the discussion from oldest to newest. And of course the default settings gives you the best comments first, providing a nice default view of discussions for most anonymous users (who rarely participate and we want to really show only the best comments).

You can also disable D2 in the comment prefs (the word 'prefs' in the floating dialog box) if you are logged in. Right now we're testing D2 for a large percentage of anonymous readers. As soon as we finish IE7 support we'll roll out D2 for the rest of the ACs.


Journal Journal: NYC graffiti law 1

I'd completely forgotten I wrote this three years ago:

Joshua Kinsberg has been released. But his bike and invention are impounded, at least until his court date on Friday (after the RNC is over).


NYC's anti-graffiti law is very strict:


"No person shall write, paint or draw any inscription, figure or mark of any type on any public or private building or other structure or any other real or personal property owned, operated or maintained by a public benefit corporation, the city of New York or any agency or instrumentality thereof or by any person, firm, or corporation, or any personal property maintained on a city street or other city-owned property pursuant to a franchise, concession or revocable consent granted by the city, unless the express permission of the owner or operator of the property has been obtained."

I wonder if the framers of that law realized they were banning kids from chalking hopscotch onto their schools' playground or onto the sidewalks in front of their houses. I wonder how many children have been arrested for chalking up a 4-square game.

One important point: the police did not see the chalk-spraying invention being _used_. So the inventor probably could not have been charged with the above law. But the only other anti-graffiti laws describe "aerosol spray paint cans," and the video of the arrest clearly shows the inventor explaining to the police that it uses chalk, not paint. Predictably, the New York Post gets that wrong, describing the invention as "a convoluted spray-paint mechanism": http://www.nypost.com/news/regionalnews/29532.htm

Earlier this month, a family was threatened with a $300 fine for their 6-year-old girl's drawing with sidewalk chalk.

On her own front step.

It's legal of course. The police screwed up. Notice the final clause from the law as of 2004 ("unless... permission of the owner... has been obtained") and the similar clause from the 2005 law Natalie Shea was threatened with (only if "not consented to by the owner").

But a street artist was later arrested for drawing on the sidewalk with chalk (while being filmed by PBS about his artwork!). And I won't be surprised if sooner or later some kid literally chalking hopscotch onto the sidewalk or a school playground gets arrested.

That's the law, after all. We had to make sure nobody chalked anti-Bush slogans while the RNC was in town. And the law's the law.

User Journal

Journal Journal: A2 Party, T-Shirts, California 4

The Ann Arbor party seemed to go great- lots of people packed Leopold Bros place, doing battle with barflies and football fans. It was somewhat bizarre watching obvious normal bar people try to figure out what this large crowd of 'different' people were all about. We handed out a ton of t-shirts, drank much alcohol, ate nachos etc. Our party had a great number of Slashdot and SourceForge staffers... all folks who have been with Slashdot for so many years it's hard to remember Slashdot without them. I'm not exactly sure how many people eventually showed up... a lot of our RSVPs didn't show, and a lot more didn't bother sign up at all, so I think the two balanced out.

For me personally these sorts of things are always difficult. I'm not very good at crowds. I can smile for a picture, but I'm perpetually nervous when surrounded by strangers who have certain expectations of me. There's a reason I live life behind a keyboard!

Further compounding matters lately is baby induced chronic sleep deprivation. Me want REM cycles. It's always nice to get out and have a beer. Kathleen & I get only so many hours "out" together now, gotta make each one count. The party attendees were all cool... and understanding that I was pretty tired.

Anyway, thanks to everyone who showed up... I've still got the california party later this week. Hopefully my throat heals up by then. The only real problem with this location was the acoustics... I had to shout to be heard, and stick my ear in front of people to hear them (baby crying has done some amount of hopefully temporary ear damage). My throat is raaaaw from yelling. Sucking on cough drops helps.

As for other parties, boxes have been shipped. Hopefully they have arrived to most places on time, although I think they were shipped on a slowish shipping option so I'm not sure. I know some folks got shirts on friday, but I'm sure the others will arrive monday or so. Also, keep in mind that we only had 700 shirts and 2300 attendees from 136 parties with more than 5 attendees. So obviously not every party is getting a box... when we sent out the bulk mail, we had over 100 replies, and I'm sure there was nowhere near enough to fill even that.

But shirts or not, I hope your parties go well. Remember to submit videos or pictures or whatever to anniversary at slashdot dot org for your chance at the $1k ThinkGeek gift certificate grand prize.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Announcing the release of my new book 22

This feels like a mega-spam entry, and I'm very self conscious about posting it, but I'm excited about this and I wanted to share . . .

I just published my third book, The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I mention it here because it's all about growing up in the 70s, and coming of age in the 80s as part of the D&D/BBS/video game/Star Wars figures generation, and I think a lot of Slashdot readers will relate to the stories in it.

I published a few of the stories on my blog, including Blue Light Special. It's about the greatest challenge a ten year-old could face in 1982: save his allowance, or buy Star Wars figures?

After our corduroy pants and collared shirts and Trapper Keepers and economy packs of pencils and wide-ruled paper were piled up in our cart, our mom took our three year-old sister with her to the make-up department to get shampoo and whatever moms buy in the make-up department, and my brother and I were allowed to go to the toy department.

"Can I spend my allowance?" I said.

"If that's what you want to do," my mom said, another entry in a long string of unsuccessful passive/aggressive attempts to encourage me to save my money for . . . things you save money for, I guess. It was a concept that was entirely alien to me at nine years old.

"Keep an eye on Jeremy," she said.

"Okay," I said. As long as Jeremy stood right at my side and didn't bother me while I shopped, and as long as he didn't want to look at anything of his own, it wouldn't be a problem.

I held my brother's hand as we tried to walk, but ended up running, across the store, past a flashing blue light special, to the toy department. Once there, we wove our way past the bicycles and board games until we got to the best aisle in the world: the one with the Star Wars figures.

I'm really proud of this book, and the initial feedback on it has been overwhelmingly positive. I've been reluctant to mention it here, because of the spam issue, but I honestly do think my stories will appeal to Slashdotters.

After the disaster with O'Reilly on Just A Geek, I've decided to try this one entirely on my own, so I'm responsible for the publicity, the marketing, the shipping, and . . . well, everything. If this one fails, it will be because of me, not because a marketing department insisted on marketing it as something it's not.

Of course, I hope I can claim the same responsibility if (when?) it finds its audience . . . which would be awesome.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Parties 10

So if you only count anniversary parties with 5 or more attendees, we have 128 venues with a grand total of 2366 attendees. The largest parties include Pudge's in seattle with 129, mine in Ann Arbor with 194 and Hemos's in CA with 197.

I'm sure that there will be many RSVPs that no show, but still, that's still an awful lot of interest. We'll be shipping shirts to a good number of those parties, but we have triple the attendees to shirts available, so we'll see just how far we're able to spread the love. Emails will be going out to party planners in the next couple days to get postal addresses.

User Journal

Journal Journal: A2 Party Venue Change

As we're nearing 100 signed up people for the A2 Slashdot anniversary party, we've changed the venue to Leopold Bros... it's just a block south from the other place and they can handle us. I've also got word that we'll be printing a few hundred extra shirts since there was already like 50 parties with 5+ people in attendance. We certainly won't have enough for everyone, but we'll make a good dent in it.

I will of course put this information into a story next reasonable chance I get for a story, but I figured at least I could get the word out there. The anniversary party entry on the official page has been updated with the new location & address.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Anniversary Parties, Important Notes 6

The A2 party already has like 70 signed up. We're going to have to rethink venue or time I think if we really have that many people. Wait a few more days and see what we can work out. Keep reading in the party forum for info. We have 500 shirts to print and hand out... it'll be fun to see where they go.

more info as I get it. There will be notes on future stories as days get closer.


Journal Journal: Attention iPhone Users! 20

If any of you are using an iPhone and are willing to help test out some Slashdot handheld crap, shoot me off a note... my email is the same address as always, and if you can't guess it, you probably can't help anyway ;) I've built a stylesheet and Tim put together a few little options that we think will make a few bits of Slashdot look nice on an iPhone (or really most lower resolution displays) but unfortunately none of us actually HAVE one yet... so anyway, let us know. Or if you work at Apple, send us freebies dammit!

Journal Journal: i need a new computer - advice? 29

Simple tasks like switching between Firefox and Thunderbird are driving the load on my machine up over 4, and if I'm trying to run Amarok at the same time, it drives it up to 8. In fact, my machine frequently climbs up into the 7-9 range, bringing my apps to a crawl and frustrating the hell out of me.

So I've decided it's time to buy a new computer. I'm going to replace my aging Sony Vaio desktop machine (which runs Linux) with something newer that has more RAM, a faster processor, and a bigger hard drive.

The thing is, I'm not entirely sure where to start looking. A quick walk through Circuit City a month or so ago lead me to believe I can get a rather "big" computer for as low as five hundred bucks, which further leads me to believe that if I were to buy something online, I can get a huge pile of RAM, a fast processor, and a big honkin' hard drive for even less.

I run Kubuntu, and use KDE as my desktop (though I occasionally switch to Gnome when I get bored) and I mostly use Firefox, Thunderbird, OpenOffice.org, Amarok, and run PokerStars in wine. I'm looking for something that can do all of that without slowing my machine to a crawl.

Anyone have any suggestions on where to start looking?

Edit: I don't think I have the patience to build my own machine out of individual parts. I also don't have any real loyalty to any particular company or architecture. New Egg has lots of machines with AMD processors, and though I've always had Intel processors because more things seemed to run on x86, that's not as much of an issue as it once was, right?

User Journal

Journal Journal: Christmas Slashdot Functionality

The discussion2 system had 2 notable changes in this weeks code refresh that I'd love to hear feedback on (use email if you can't post here). The first is Scott's very excellent new draggable slider control. Everyone mostly figured out the slider tool before, but it was very unresponsive... but no longer! It has some layout niggles under some browsers, but it functions properly in most of them.

Equally exciting is new dynamic updating... the old code actually transferred the full discussion and displayed/hid content as requested by your settings. Thew new code properly requests comments as needed, and when needed. This cuts page sizes dramatically for people reading with filters turned up very high. It also puts us a few stone throws away from a 'refresh' button which can just add newly posted comments in place. There's some work to be done yet, but it's made a lot of progress. I hope you like it.

We've tested everything under most of our most common browsers... if you're curious they are very roughly FF2 38%, FF1.5 19%, IE7 8%, Safari 7%, Opera 3%. Missing from our compatibility list is IE6 with 13% of our traffic. Fixing IE6 is non-trivial and we'd certainly take patches... but since the IE6 population lost a point or two last month anyway, and fixing the code is pretty substantial, we'll probably be focusing our development time on the larger and growing platforms (FF2 and IE7 obviously being the most important).

Anyway, merry-whatever-you-believe to everyone out there. I'm spending my holidays the same as always- driving from family gathering to family gathering. Roads suck but the person I like being with most is in the car too, so it doesn't matter.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Experimental Threading Test

If you have enabled the Discussion2 beta, you will notice a number of confusingly titled links appearing in comments. These control expansion/contraction of threads in several different ways. They are confusingly titled because we want you to try each of them and let us know which ones you like best without concerning yourself explicitly with how they work.

You can email your feedback to me (try d2 at cmdrtaco dot net) or some of you can actually post here.

I think next week will have a patch with a number of D2 changes (including some results from this experiment hopefully) so your help is really appreciated.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Firefox, Tabs, Gmail and Quicksilver

As web applications grow more and more featureful, I slowly find myself replacing desktop apps with web apps. This really makes a lot of navigation on the desktop a real pain in the ass. Example: Gmail. It's probably open in a tab right now. Not sure which one... occasionally we accidentallly close tabs. But if I use quicksilver to open 'gmail' it will open a NEW tab every time. Same if I use the gmail notifier.

Applications each open individually, and they know that they get focused when activated/launched whatever. But effectively firefox may (or may NOT!) actually encapsulate 2-3 different applications... spreadsheets, email, or say, the bookmarks that I use to maintain Slashdot's submissions bin.

I'm not exactly sure how to deal with this. I imagine this problem will only grow if good web applications continue to replace desktop applications.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Why My Job Is Wierd

one of the many emails I get on an almost daily basis is email requests to be included on the slashdot supporters list. I read these emails, and every few weeks filter out the junk links (SEO spam etc) and add a few to the list. I try to include only links that look like they are actual people. I'm not crazy picky, but I don't include really obvious stuff. Some folks get annoyed if I don't choose there link, but here's a recent one that really kind of blew my mind. I won't tell you the domain name for obvious reasons, but this guy emailed me 3-4 times over the course of a few days. Finally today I got this one:

Subj:Please don't fuck people around, thanks

Now he rambles a bit, but regardless, I don't need rudeness in my inbox, so I finally reply to this guy. He'd send me like 4 messages, so I figured I'd tell him to stop it. I simply wrote

I am not going to link you back. that is very rude.

This was like 4 hours ago. And keep in mind that the preceding message was the only one I wrote. These all came from him in rapid succession:

Yes thanks,
how about not naswering on my prevoius e-mails ?

How about FUCK DMOZ.ROG ?
But i don't know any more who is more Crude, or Rude
any way thanks for your answer ...

followed by...

Thanks, your button has been removed.
At least i don't need to play a prostitute in order to get a link on your

And minutes later he links me one of the entries on the supporters page that his site is better than. But then the truth comes out:

If i did not wrote that subject would you answer me than ?
I apologize, i stop smoking now in 5 weeks :-)

Ok, so that explains it. He quit smoking. That sucks. Must be rough. But then he needs to further clarify:

I'm on the web since 1997 ...
I'm sorry ...
I'm 43 years old (married + 4 children)
I have stopped smoking last 5 weeks, this might have reduced my patience ...
Thank You.
This is my last e-mail and i will be not bothering you.

Now I actually kind of feel bad about all of this. I mean, not like baby punching bad, but at least an aww thats unfortunate. Until I get...

OK i understand, you hate muslims ...

WTF?! Muslims? When did that come into it? It's pretty clear that this guy's english is not his first language, but who am I to judge? My english is my first language and I'm barely literate. But somehow this guy has determined that I hate his religion, even tho I didn't even know what it was. But wait, that's not all:

OK i think you are a Spam filter not a human right ?
If I use "Fu*ck" word you react directly ...
OR are you Serbian and hate Albanians ?

and most recently:

Probaly you don't know what APOLOGIZE is.

Poor spam filter.

Mind you all of these messages were sent minutes apart- when I was out picking my car up from the shop! But it doesnt' end. While writing this journal entry I got

OK i see you hate Jews,
I'm half jewish ...
but i can't hep

Now wait a minute, I thought he was muslim. And I was serbian? I'm very confused as to who I hate atm. But I'll end this with his last message

Hmm in no way i can trigger any other answer ?!

I guess this is the closest thing to triggering any answer I can think of.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Col. Tubesnake 1

Over the last few months, the office has become home to a variety of creatures. It started when samzenpus brought in a turtle. He found this poor creature stuck in road tar. He saved the thing from certain death, cleaned the tar off him and dropped him in an aquarium. Soon after Hemos brought in an old tank to put in some salt water fish. Not to be outdone I finally fulfilled a childhood fantasy by getting a pet Ball Python that i have named Col. Tubesnake.

He's doing well. He's been eating his mice like a good little snake. This morning he didn't seem interested in the mouse tho, which i understand. I've been giving him frozen feeder mice from the pet shop which don't seem to do much for his hunter instincts. This time I warmed the thing on my coffee cup heater thingee and got it a lot warmer then before and tossed it in the tank. He struck almost before the mouse hit the ground. Snakes kick ass. The question is who will be the first to get a scorpion or tarantula.

Random popular culture notes: Aaron Sorkin's new Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip premiered earlier this week and has a lot of potential. Good cast, and of course since Sorkin is basically my jesus, I really hope the show comes together. Tonight is the premiere of The Office. Not much else on network TV worth watching this season, which I guess leaves me time to farm for herbs and raid in warcraft and wish the expansion would come out.

User Journal

Journal Journal: Discussion2

More than half of yesterday's discussion revolved around IE support. We PLAN IE support, we're just not knocking ourselves out to get that done while everything else is in flux. IE7 is definitely a priority. Not sure about 6. It really depends on how far we get, and when IE7 comes out, and how busted their javascript really is. patches would rock- this is all client side stuff and I bet someone with IE and a debugger could get some compatibiltiy in for any browser without that much effort, none of us are IE experts tho, so I'd rather we spend time on new functions.

The way D2 was rolled out for testing was that we actually had two discussion systems in place for awhile. One was a University of Michigan Research project written by nate. We used that as a rough framework to build our system. Subscribers got our system. Odd numbered users got our system, even got ours. Nate's system was given to a few hundred users, while ours was given to an ever growing number of readers that we rolled out over the course of a couple months. This is how we roll out many functions that aren't ready for prime time. Giving everythign to everyone all at once has performance issues for us. A slower rollout makes sure that we can work the kinks out before we give it ultimately to anonymous users.

If you use the handheld/low bandwidth options, the floaty control widget can cause problems. We know. It's on the list, but since only a tiny percentage of users are using those modes, it's not a top priority. The fix is relatively simple: the floaty needs a toggle from top to side. The code has a widget for a top floaty, but it's an older version. Basically I want to make the side floaty work properly (drag & drop instead of clickable for example) then redesign it to work up top and add the toggle. But that problem is easy to solve.

A VERY key point that a few users got is that this doesn't solve the problem that the old system has in favoring older threads. There is no good solution to this, short of randomizing top level comments. The REAL solution is to rework the scoring system to re-value threads with more granularity then -1..5. That of course is the plan.

As for one-click moderation, this is a baby step for us. The new moderation system is vastly different then the old one... and in-place moderation was critical to make it work.

A number of readers commented on the highest comments first not existing in this system... thats true, but you can fake it reasonably well. By setting the threshold fairly high, and hiding a good number of comments you can easily filter to score:4 or score:5 comments. Admittedly that doesn't give you 5s then 4s then 3s, but for mature discussions there are already dozens of comments. The new moderation will aim to address this problem in more detail, but I think a high enough threshold is BETTER then simply sorting by score becaause it's possible for you to navigate up or down without a page load when you do find a comment that you think might be worthy of further research.

As for patches, tf23 and a few others noted that we don't provide much in the way of direction. Well thats kinda true- the SF project page has tons of feature requests. If you emailed me and asked for my opinions on any of those features i'd tell you. I simply reject all feature requests that are worthless. Some of them are low priority, or things that I just wouldn't use for Slashdot. I read the mailing list- although I have little to say there. I've learned that if I'm not paying people, I don't usually get what I want for Slashdot, and thats fine. Code what you think works for your stuff. But if you want it on Slashdot, ask me how it should work or if it's crazy. Sometimes I reject ideas becasue our hardware can't handle extra queries. Other times I reject them because they have serious social issues or I decide that cluttering the UI isn't worth it for a tiny percentage of users who want a function. But there's a lot of fairly obvious stuff that could be fixed. I mentioned a number of things in the story I posted yesterday too. And a lot of that stuff is totally in the javascript- no downloading and installing slashcode to test even required.

Anyway the feedback on D2 is mostly favorable. I'm disappointed that the bulk of the discussion yesterday focused on the fact that we've chosen to beta test on the single browser used by most of our readers and worry about compatibility later. It meant I got less real feedback then I might like. But I think that's always the case- if there is one glaring issue, readers can't see past it to talk about the hundred other issues that are honestly more helpful...

What's interesting to me is figuring out how users can navigate this datastructure intelligently. What does it MEAN to expand a thread. To collapse a thread? Do I need siblings? Do I need expand-all? I don't want 35 buttons... where is the line between needless clutter and the necessary UI? Interesting problems to solve. Fun stuff. What's tough is that some readers want everything and the kitchen sink, but most users will find 3-4 buttons sufficient (and others will think 2 is intimidating). We have to balance minimalism, functionality, and hardware limitations. I find it enjoyable.

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