Experiment: Second Life Artificial Meet-Up (SLAMU)

Second Life Artificial Meet-UpShortly after the Ratburger.org site was created on 2017-12-09, we signed up for and implemented a text chat system called CometChat on 2017-12-12.  This was nothing but bother, with update after update failing to install and the last straw being when, at the end of the first year’s trial period, they wanted us to pay US$ 50/month for a shoddy service which we’d never actually used.  I deleted the hunk of junk on 2018-09-30.

Still, it would be nice to be able to host real-time events, perhaps with more interaction than is possible on our existing Audio Meet-Ups.  For this, I have been exploring using a platform many consider passé, but technologically perfectly positioned to burgeon in the Roaring Twenties, Second Life.

Second Life is a virtual world which, as of the end of 2017, had between 800,000 and 900,000 active users.  When you visit it, you’ll typically find on the order of 40,000 people logged on.  In Second Life you can visit a multitude of interesting destinations built by denizens, buy or rent land, build your own Bond villain redoubt, and create new objects which you can sell to others within the virtual world.

My ambition for Second Life and Ratburger is very modest at present: I’m thinking about using it as a chat room and place for meet-ups which don’t run up phone charges for participants.  Assuming you’ve set up your computer properly, you can chat in text or converse in voice after meeting at a location in Second Life.

Some time in the next month, I’d like to schedule an experimental Second Life Artificial Meet-Up (SLAMU) at some time chosen to accommodate the crazy quilt of time zones of our members (probably the same time as the Tuesday RAMU, but on another day).  If you’d like to participate, here’s what you’ll have to do.

Create a new account on Second Life.  Click the “Join Free” button and fill out the form.  Note that your Username cannot be changed after you join, so in the interest of privacy, do not chose a Username which discloses personal information.  Choose an avatar of your preference; you can be anybody you like—use your imagination!

Download and install a viewer on your computer.  I prefer the Firestorm Viewer, which is available for Linux, Macintosh, and legacy Windows systems.  You will need a relatively recent computer with lots of RAM and a graphical processing unit (GPU) to run this software.  The official Second Life Viewer is an alternative, but is generally behind Firestorm in features and device compatibility.

Log in to Second Life from your viewer application.  You will generally be taken to a starting point for new users such as London City, which will let you explore things you can do in the virtual world.  It will take some time to become familiar with moving around, interacting with objects, etc.  From there, you can go to myriad other places.

If you want to use voice communication, visit the Voice Echo Canyon:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Voice%20Echo%20Canyon/128/130/23

(This is a Second Life URL which will not work in your browser, but works in the Second Life destination bar.)  Try speaking (use the middle mouse button to toggle speaking off and on, or the microphone button at the bottom in Firestorm) and see if you can hear the echo.  If you don’t see a white dot above your head, audio is not enabled on your computer. If this happens and you’re on a Linux system, let me know in the comments and I’ll send you a fix which worked for me.

Visit some interesting places, such as the amazing International Spaceflight Museum:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Spaceport%20Alpha/48/78/23

and see what people have built in this virtual world.

My user name is “Fourmilab” and my humble abode (and SLAMU clubhouse until we build something more imposing) is at:

http://maps.secondlife.com/secondlife/Cowell%20Farm/216/12/42

This year in cyberspace!

SLAMU: Ratburger clubhouse

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Ratburger First Anniversary, WordPress 5.0 Update

First birthday cakeRatburger.org opened to the public on December 10th, 2017, one year ago today, and the first member (non-administrator) account was registered on that day.  A year later, we have 143 members who have made 2,230 posts and 28,048 comments.  In the month of November 2017 (I cite the last full month, as partial month statistics can be misleading), the site welcomed a daily average of 1448 visits per day, with visitors viewing 9303 pages involving delivery of 24,745 files.

In the month of November, overall statistics were:

  • Visits: 43,450
  • Pages viewed: 279,101
  • Files transferred: 742,372
  • Total data transferred: 63.9 gigabytes

The site’s Access Statistics, updated daily, are available for anybody to view.

To celebrate, and mark how far we’ve come, I have just posted the never-before-published development logs for the site for December 9th and 10th, 2017 on the Updates Group, with this direct link.

WordPress 5.0

Unrelated to the anniversary (it’s just a coincidence), today Ratburger.org migrated to WordPress version 5.0, the first major update to WordPress released since the site was launched.  You may have heard some terrible things about this release, perhaps from me.  The WordPress powers that be have decided to introduce a new editor for composition of posts, which was originally called “Gutenberg”, but after user experience with it so poisoned that name, they decided to call it the “Block editor” in the version they finally released.  It is fully as bad as everything you’ve heard (shortly before the roll-out it had a user rating of 2.3 out of five stars, with 392 five star reviews and 923 one star reviews).  For details of just how awful, see Igor Ljubuncic’s post on why “WordPress Gutenberg will be the end of WordPress”.

The good news is that all of this is entirely hidden from Ratburger users, who may continue to use the “Classic Editor” in either Visual or Text (HTML/Quicktags) mode as they’ve always done.  WordPress have promised the user and developer community that the Classic Editor will continue to be available at least “through the end of 2021”, so there’s no immediate cause for concern.  If, by then, a viable alternative has not appeared, it is probable it will continue on into the foreseeable future.  If they, instead, decide to sink WordPress by forcing an unusable mess of an editor on their users, at least their competitors will have had adequate time to roll out alternatives in their products.

I have tested all of our local modifications against the WordPress 5.0 code base and found no problems.  (Other than the inclusion of the new editor, which we don’t use, the differences between 5.0 and the version 4.9.8 which we were running previously are actually not that great.)  If you encounter something that looks odd, that’s what the Bug Reports group is for.

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Knowledge Base: Citing Books in Posts and Comments

ISBN barcode 978-0-934035-63-7When you mention a book in a post or comment, with just a little bit more effort you can make it more convenient for a reader who might be interested in buying the book to find it and, at the same time, generate some revenue to support hosting the Ratburger site or line your own pocket.

Suppose you should mention my own classic and highly collectible 1989 book, The Autodesk File.  Note that the title of the book is in italic type (as book titles should be; magazine articles are in roman type surrounded by quotes), and that it has a link which, when clicked, takes you to the page on Amazon.com where you can empty your bank account buying a used copy.  Here’s how I did that, and how you can too.

First, you need the International Standard Book Number (ISBN) for the book.  If you have the book at hand, you’ll usually find it on the book’s copyright page and often the back cover.  This is a 13 or, for older books, 10 character code which looks like 978-0-934035-63-7 or 0-934035-63-6.  The punctuation is irrelevant, and may be ignored.  The last character of a 10 character ISBN may be the letter “X”.   If you don’t have a copy of the book, you can look it up on Amazon.com, which will give you, under “Product Details”, the ISBN-13 of the book, usually in the form 978-0934035637.

Now that you have the ISBN, go to the Fourmilab ISBNquest Web page.  Enter the ISBN in the field with that name and press “Query”.  You’ll get back a page with lots of information including, in the “Book Information from Amazon.com” section near the bottom, a link to the book’s page on Amazon, which will look something like “https://www.amazon.com/dp/0934035636/?tag=fourmilabwwwfour”.  For convenience, this link is “hot”, so you can click it to display the page or use your browser’s “copy link address” feature to copy it to the clipboard.  Now simply apply that link to the book’s title in your post or comment, and the title will take those who click it to the Amazon page for the book.

The “tag=fourmilabwwwfour” field in the link causes purchases made through the link (and subsequent purchases in the same session) to be paid a commission to Fourmilab’s Amazon Associates account, which is used to (partially) defray the costs of hosting Ratburger.org, which are commingled with those for Fourmilab.ch.  If you have your own Amazon Associates account, or know the account tag for a business or worthy cause you wish to support, fill its tag in the “Amazon associate tag” field in the ISBNquest request form and it will be used instead.  See the description in the ISBNquest page for details of the request form fields and results from a query.

(If you’re interested in reading The Autodesk File, don’t waste your money on a decades-old out of print copy.  The current Fifth Edition, with more than twice the amount of material, is available on the Web for free.)

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Is there interest in a late night audio meetup?

We are spread over many different time zones. Finding a good time for everyone is not easy. I was thinking we could start another called LAMU, Late Audio Meetup, for those in later time zones.  An Audio Meetup is a conference call.

My preference would be a Wednesday or Thursday night call.

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Growing a Site

First there is no such thing as “a site” it is people. People are the secret sauce. Getting the write people is what is important. (Pun intended.) Things grow because there is something to read and discuss. People don’t want to come to see empty air but something productive and interesting.

Here is my list.

  1. An interface that doesn’t frustrate and get in the way. (Merci infiniment, M. Marcheur)
  2. A mood that encourages a friendly back and forth.
  3. Variety of posts. That there is something for everyone.
  4. Change. When you come back an hour later something has happened.
  5. “Wow! I didn’t know that.”
  6.  Emotions such as joy, anger, fear, sadness.
  7.  Being complementary. (This is not “complimentary”)
  8. Fabric softener.
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Knowledge Base: Uploading Video and Audio Files

Since inception, Ratburger.org has allowed you to embed video and audio hosted on a list of public sites such as YouTube and Vimeo simply by including the URL for the item on a line by itself.  See the Knowledge Base article “Embedding Media in Posts and Comments” for details.  But this isn’t much help when you wish to include a video or audio clip of your own, for example the latest screwball antics of your pet iguana or the latest track by your kazoo and sitar band.  Sure, you could create an account on one of the public video or audio hosting sites, upload your content, and then include the URL, but that’s a lot of fussy work and you may not want to make the item available to the general public.

In addition to images, Ratburger’s Media Library allows you to upload video and audio in a variety of formats and include them in posts and comments (but not in groups, which are basically text-only discussion boards).  You include these items much as you do images.  Use the “Add Media” button, select the video or audio file you wish to upload, wait for it to upload, and then click “Insert into post” to include a player for the clip in the post or comment you’re composing.

The type of the media file is determined by the extension or “file type” of the file you upload.  Video files may have the following extensions which identify their formats (most people can ignore the technical details in parentheses).

  • .webm (WebM, vp8.0/Vorbis)
  • .ogv (Ogg, Theora/Vorbis)
  • .mp4 (MPEG-4, H.264/AAC)

Audio files are identified by the following extensions.

  • .mp3 (MP3)
  • .ogg (Ogg, Vorbis)
  • .wav (WAV, PCM)

Unfortunately, due to patents, proprietary squabbles among manufacturers, and other speed bumps and potholes on the Information Rutted Road, there is no single format which is guaranteed to work everywhere.  “Power users” can upload multiple formats and make them available in a custom video or audio shortcode entered in the Text composition tab or by editing the media player item in the composition window, but this is beyond the scope of this document.

Uploads are limited to 32 megabytes.  This is usually not a problem for audio, but video clips should be short and small.  This is a not a video hosting site: we have neither the file storage space nor Internet bandwidth for lengthy, high-resolution videos.  To post them, you’re going to have to use one of the public hosting sites.

For example, the following is a two minute video I recorded in July 2009 at a concert of our village brass band.  This was compressed into 360 pixel Ogg video format yielding a file of 6.9 Mb.

This is a an audio clip of the finale from the 1999 movie South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, which figured in my 2006 project CSI: South Park.  This is a 545 Kb MP3 file.

___________________________

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“Fairness” Doctrine for Social Media?

Private companies’ content censorship raises important public concerns of a magnitude meriting book-length treatment. Not here, however, and not by me. The left, for example, saw its near-absolute content control of most public media – print, broadcast, movies, education – as insufficient because of talk radio. Leftist radio programs fell flat while Rush Limbaugh, intolerably, soared to prominence. We know that tolerance has a very restricted meaning for leftists, thus their regulatory effort to quash conservative talk radio with the “fairness doctrine” was a case study in the use of state power in furtherance of their illiberal – totalitarian, actually – impulses and tactics.

The left never hesitates to enforce its rubrics, on pain of abusive name-calling (amplified by their “media”) or ruination at the hands of some public agency or other with enforcement powers. For instance, a Christian baker in Colorado is being singled out yet again.  All sense of proportion has been lost, to such an extent that definitions of basic language and process must be re-examined. Does what we have referred to as media up until now still qualify as media?

Are newspapers and TV newscasts merely  neutral means of communication for all or do they now zealously advocate one single worldview, to the vituperous exclusion of all others? It is no longer merely a medium when the New York Times “news” pages are blatantly editorial and read like daily DNC talking points. Do administrative agencies, whose rules are enacted at every level – federal, state and local – by leftist activists (who are the pervasive and permanent denizens of these administrative swamps) really represent the will of the voting majority? There are literally scores of thousands of such rules – many with huge fines or even prison sentences for non-compliance – at every level of government, so that virtually anyone could be ruined by merely coming to the attention of a “public servant” with an axe to grind – particularly vis-à-vis an uppity, outspoken conservative. Legislative or judicial oversight of such agencies, as a practical matter, is non-existent.

While it would be a terrible idea to attempt to impose a “fairness doctrine” on Silicon Valley, I am heartened that President Trump tweeted today on the subject of censorship of conservative viewpoints by social media and said “…we won’t let that happen”.  As a proponent of small government, I do not advocate promiscuous use of state power to right all wrongs. However, the situation today is intolerable. With the status quo – where we cannot even be heard to object – we can only lose our rights. The power of the state is being used regularly to stifle non-progressive speech and this is being perpetrated in part by state-sanctioned companies with monopoly power. Trump’s statements are useful push-back and very necessary, as the progre$$ive $ilicon Valley types have had a free ride up until now, doing as they like to squash our views.

While I am not thrilled with use of state power generally, one of its necessary powers is to “secure” our fundamental rights – like freedom of political speech. Maybe we ought to recall Obama’s rejoinder that, “You didn’t build that…” These huge companies, to some extent after all, exist at the sufferance of the entire public and the state functionaries which represent us. It is unacceptable for companies with monopoly power to censor speech with which they disagree and to do it by subterfuges such as “offensive” or contrivances like “hate speech”.  Although they are private companies and do have substantial commercial rights, such rights are not without limit and may not legitimately be used to infringe fundamental personal (and essentially political) freedom of speech rights of millions of individuals. To say otherwise is to make the Constitution into a suicide pact for conservatives and libertarians..

It is high time these behemoths began to fear negative consequences for some of their business practices, including censorship. If he chooses, President Trump can make their lives difficult and their bottom lines shrink by executive actions (and not necessarily executive orders). It is time, I think, to set the Department of Justice about the task of examining antitrust aspects of the business practices of Google (YouTube), Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Apple, etc. The exercise will likely prove salutary.

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Knowledge Base: Excerpts

When you write a post and publish it, by default only the first two paragraphs will appear on the Ratburger home page.  To read the balance of the post, a reader needs to click “[Read More]”, which will display the complete post and its comments.

This is done to allow visitors to the site to skim through the titles and start of posts and decide which they want to read in their entirety.

The definition of “paragraph” is, as with most things in WordPress, a brutal hack based on looking at the text and guessing what constitutes a paragraph.  The way the code is implemented, a heading at the start of the post or a photo is considered a paragraph.  This means, for example, that if you start your post with a heading and a photo, visitors to the home page won’t see any of the text of the body of your post without clicking “[Read More]”.

You can avoid this infelicity by placing an explicit excerpt mark in your post.  This indicates the portion of the post which should be shown on the home page and which subsequent material should only appear if the user clicks on “[Read More]” or the post’s title to read the whole thing.

Post composition toolbar with excerpt marker highlighted

To place an excerpt mark, click on the line which marks the break and click the “Insert Read More” icon (which looks like a two lane road).  It will put a break in your post where the material above will be shown on the home page and that below only to those who “read the whole thing”.

For example, in my Monday Meals post for 2018-08-13, I have a heading, image, and first paragraph which I want to appear on the home page, so I inserted a “Read More” break after the first text paragraph.  If I hadn’t done this, the automatic excerpt generator would have shown only the heading and photo, which would have been less than ideal.

WordPress “shortcode” features which are used for such things as spoiler warnings and including mathematics in posts do not work in home page excerpts.  If your post contains such things, you can use explicit “Read More” breaks to ensure those who visit the home page will not see them.  When a user clicks through to the full post, they will be displayed correctly.

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Programming Question

How easy would it be to exclude one category from the regular view?

I am trying to be proactive. There is usually a topic that gets a million posts. People get tired of seeing those. Of course, people could just skip over them but they don’t. If there was a button to filter these out, I think people would like that. It seems at most there is only one or two of these issues. The power is given to the user to filter so it is a bottom up decision.

I am asking this publicly to find out if people are for it and in keeping with our openness policy.

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What is Ratburger?

“What is Ratburger?” is a good question but it was not high on the priority list when we started. The big thing was just to see if something would work. John got the site up on his test domain. And it just so happened his test domain name was Ratburger.org. My first thought was “RATBURGER.ORG?!!!!” (I often think in capital letters with four exclamation points.) Then I realized the name was in line or is it online with my thinking. I wanted something memorable and down to earth. Something with a smirk and fun in it. Well, it does that, doesn’t it?

I have talked to John on a conference call weekly for a few years. (It is rumored he used to have a full head of hair before he started talking to me.) I got to know him so I knew a site done with him would be technically good and be interesting. He has always been open to the ideas of others and even has some ideas of his own.

I think of John like this.

The old joke:

Boss: Jump!

Employee: How high?

The John Variant:

Me suggesting: We need to go higher.

John: I have built an elevator. What floor? BTW, I think making an express elevator is not needed at this time but if we do need one the perpetual motion model is economical.

What is Ratburger.org? It is just a site trying to get off the ground. It is a site that doesn’t want to take itself too seriously but does want to allow serious discussions without all the crap. Hopefully, it is a site you will want to come to not to get angry but to smile.

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Changing the Paradigm: Ref

Most of us came from a place with Moderators. I don’t like the term. I don’t like it for three reasons.

  1. It sounds pretentious.
  2. It gives the wrong impression.
  3. Most people have never dealt with a Moerator before.

I propose Ref as in referee as the correct term. For at least these three reasons.

  1. It sounds more down to earth.
  2. It explains the job better.
  3. Most of us have had experiences with refs.

I know this might sound like semantics but it is important. A Moderator will call a game it seems at a drop of a hat. A Ref would never do that. A Moderator will give a speech where a Ref makes the call and leaves the field. A Moderator tries to influence the debate. If a Ref does they need to be fired.

Fouls and penalties are part of the game. There is no need to be particularly ashamed of them. A Ref doesn’t humiliate players. They don’t add snark to the call. They respect the players for they love the game.

Booing the Ref is also part of the game. Whether it is fair or not close calls are seen differently. No one penalizes a captain of the team for voicing objections to the call.  Refs do the best they can and make mistakes. It is an art more than a science and the Ref is appreciated for upholding rules impartially. Everyone expects lousy calls but want to see them on both sides.

A Ref does things in the open. They don’t have a private conference with the player. The judgment is made from public knowledge. The spectators, the players, and offender see the reason for the call. Players don’t get penalized for things said in locker rooms. No hidden disappearances.

A Ref is not a star. No one remembers even the names of most refs, right?They do their jobs without chips on their shoulders. They keep the ball in play and don’t pick fights with players. They can throw a player out of a game but they don’t have the power to suspend or ban. That is made higher up.

What I like about a Ref is everyone can agree “I was robbed.” and not lose sleep over it. And a Ref doesn’t call you on your cell phone after the game to reprimand you.

What do you think?

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Hey, it’s free.

“Hey, it’s free.” has been at the top of Ratburger.org from the beginning. This site’s desire is to have free and open discussions with as little as possible restrictions. It is family friendly not to restrict speech but to have the discussion be able to reach the most people possible. It also sets us apart to the “excrement excrement copulate copulate genitalia” sites.

Oh, by the way we don’t charge. We don’t track. We don’t clutter your screen with advertisements.

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General Thoughts on Comments and Posts

Ratburger.org is a place to exchange ideas and debate issues. Since we are not all the same, our views differ. You get to disagree with others and they get to disagree with you. In that disagreement negative words are often used. Why? Because people think their ideas are better therefore your ideas are bad. Mild negative words will often be used such as strange, crazy, illogical, fallacious, etc. This is normal. Take this in stride.

The general idea is not to be unkind to others but to clearly state different views. After that, it is expected for people to defend their views. Back up views with reasons, facts, and life experiences. Listen to others as they state their reasons. Let them try to find faults with your reasons as you try to find faults with your reasons.

Just because someone does not see it your way they are not bad or lacking in knowledge. More often than not they have a different perspective and might even be right.

As much as possible try not to offend people and try not to take offense too easily. (This is for me as much as anyone.)

Enjoy the site!!!

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Knowledge Base: Following Posts

When you publish an article on Ratburger.org (on the main page, not in a group), you will automatically be set to “follow” that post.  This means that when people like your article or comment on it, you’ll receive notifications which, when clicked, will take you to the post or comment.

When you comment on a post, you will also automatically be subscribed to notifications when people like your comment or make additional comments on the post.

Once you have been subscribed to notifications on a post by either of these mechanisms there is, at present, no means to unsubscribe.  However, most Ratburger posts scroll off the attention span of members within around a day, so it’s unlikely your notifications will be cluttered with likes and comments on posts  dating back to the Silurian period.

A new feature allows you to follow activity on a post without making a comment visible to other members.  If you wish to be notified of new comments on a post but don’t have anything to say at the moment, simply post a comment consisting entirely of the text:

follow
or c4c

(The latter, adopted from other sites, is an abbreviation of “comment for comment”.)  Upper and lower case is ignored, as is leading white space and trailing white space and sentence ending characters.

Such a comment will cause you to follow the post and receive notifications for subsequent comments, but will not appear in the comments when others view the post, nor in the “Recent Comments” in the sidebar.  When you view the post yourself, you’ll see your own follow comment; this allows you to delete it should you wish to cease following the post.  Other users will not see your follow post.  Note that if you’ve followed a post this way and made a subsequent comment, deleting the follow post will not unfollow you, as the latter comment will still mark you as a follower of the post.

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