TOTD 2018-04-14: Whence Ratburger?

This is a question of history.  I did some digging into the beginning of the site without particular success, other than revealing that Ratburger launched last December.   What prompted the rise of Ratburger?

Why the name in particular?  Please tell me there is a German co-worker named Herr or Frau Ratburger…

While I understand that this is John Walker’s server, is there any desire for additional support or assistance?  Is Chef someone from Ricochet?

Lastly, is this site open to people not ever associated with Ricochet?  How conservative do they need to be to ride the Ratburger?


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Ratburger: The Next Hundred

One of the principles of Ratburger.org since its inception is Radical Transparency—everything about the site, from its source code, updates, and access statistics—shall be accessible to anybody who is interested.  There are a few statistics which, due to the design of WordPress, are not generally accessible, which may be of interest.  Excluding administrators and accounts they use for testing various features on the site, we now have 77 members, the vast majority of whom are active and regularly visit the site, comment, and post.  Since the site went live (in stealth mode) on 2017-12-10, there have been 506 posts and 5,589 comments on them.  The software that runs the site, publicly disclosed on GitHub for anybody interested in setting  up a competing site, or one appealing to a different audience, has had 86 publicly-posted builds since Git management began on 2017-12-18.

With today’s release of browser-pull dynamic updates of notifications, I consider the site “feature complete” as I envisioned it at the launch last December.  With all of the local modifications, as documented in the Updates Group (available for anybody to read), it provides a discussion forum, interest groups, podcasts (we don’t produce them, but provide links to those to which our members regularly listen), private messages, a weekly free conference call, and on-line chat.  And all of this is completely free and devoid of advertisements and other intrusive distractions.

Did I mention that it’s free and there are no ads?

Now is the time to take longer strides.  I believe it is possible, before May 10th, 2018, six months after the launch of Ratburger.org, to expand our user community from its present 77 members to at least 200.  The software and hosting infrastructure can easily accommodate this, and such growth will not burden the site’s administrators if the new members are as responsible and interesting as our present audience.  And this will be not just a milestone, but a phase transition.  Legacy sites like to cite their number of members, but the most superficial investigation will reveal that those numbers include members with long-expired subscriptions, those totally inactive, and some banned for deplorable thought-crimes.  When you actually look at those who actively post and comment on such sites, you come up with an actively-participating audience of between 200 and 250 people.  So if we can get to 200, and most of them are as active on the site as our current membership, we’ll have a fulgurant conversation where people keep coming back every few minutes to see what’s happened since their last comment or like.

So how do we get to there from here?  It couldn’t be simpler.  I’ll bet that everybody on this site knows two or three people who are as engaged in the contemporary discussion as they, and would be intrigued by a place where they can discuss whatever they find compelling with a worldwide audience.  Tell your friends and, for that matter, your well-intentioned adversaries, to check out the site and, if they want to join in, to join.

Did I mention that it’s free and that there are no ads?

Now, unlike legacy sites, I’m not making this pitch to cover the bills.  The business model of this site is simple: you use it, and I pay for it.  The more you use, the more I pay.  So why am I promoting it and encouraging people to join?  I participated in the creation of this site because I believed there was a need for a place for civil, rational conversation on the Web without the filters, cant, and banning so many have encountered elsewhere.  In the 1990s, I imagined such a site which I called “The faculty club” (this was before the emergence of the toxic slaver monoculture in acdemia).  I’m willing to pay for that; the cost is modest compared to what I pay to host my main site, which is entirely my own work and admits no user interaction.  We can easily double or triple the traffic at this site without increasing my hosting bill, so I’m fine with doing that.

So, talk to your friends and associates, encourage them to visit the site and, if they like what they see, join and contribute.  Our sign-up procedure, necessary to protect against the constant assault of spammers, may be frustrating for users on legacy E-mail services, but if they have trouble, an E-mail to admin@ratburger.org will remedy that.

Thank you all for being early adopters of the site, and thanks in advance for welcoming others as we make this the most interesting and free locus of discussion on the Web.

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User Interface Changes: 2018-02-11

HeaddeskI have made a number of changes to the Ratburger user interface today.  As always, complete technical details may be found on the Updates group.  This post is intended to be more user-oriented and accessible to a general audience.  There have been no dramatic changes, but several adjustments which are intended to improve the user experience.

Editing Posts

Previously, the only way to edit a published post was as described in the Knowledge Base article “Editing Published Posts”: you had to revert the post to a draft, edit it, and then re-publish it.  Now, if you’re the author of a post, you’ll see an “Edit” button below the author information for the post.  Pressing it will take you to the Post Editor where you can edit the post in Visual or Text (HTML) modes and, pressing Update, directly update it on the site.

The previous method of revert to draft continues to work as before, but may be removed in the future in the interest of reducing the amount of local modifications we must maintain from release to release.

Composing Comments

The comment composition editor has been reconfigured from its previous bare-bones settings to allow you to use the “Add Media” button to include images within your comments without the two-step described in the Knowledge Base article “Including Images in Comments on Posts”, which is now obsolete.

This is not yet entirely functional: image alignment settings are ignored for images included in comments, but you can specify links on images and resize them, which you couldn’t do previously.

Editing Comments

You can now edit your own comments on any post using the standard WordPress comment editing facility, which is much more general than the plug-in we previously used (which, for the moment, you can still use, but which I may remove in the interest of maintainability).  Click “Edit” in the header of a comment you’ve made, and you’ll be able to edit it in HTML (but not a visual editor; that’s not something WordPress implements).  You can also, from the comment editor page, delete your own comments.

Fix: Quote Post for Guests

If a guest (not logged-in) visited the site, they’d see a “Quote” link for posts.  Pressing this would cause a harmless pratfall, since guests cannot comment on posts.  This link will no longer be displayed.

These changes retire a substantial part of the wish list for user interface changes.  As always, making any change to Babylonian tower of kludges and hacks which is PHP and WordPress runs the risk of detabilising things.  I have tested these features both from member and administrator accounts on the Firefox, Chrome, Brave, and Chromium browsers and they appear to be working correctly.  If you encounter any problems, first try clearing your browser cache (you shouldn’t ever have to do this, but incompetent implementation of browsers makes it occasionally necessary) and reloading the page, and if the problem persists please report it in the comments below or in the Bug Reports group.


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WordPress Update Installed

I have just installed the WordPress update to version 4.9.2.  This update contains security, bug fixes, and support for a new audio format.  There should be no user-visible changes.

WordPress is, along with BuddyPress, the software foundation upon which Ratburger.org is built.  Ratburger has a number of features which require changes in the WordPress core code, so I have integrated these changes into the new release.  It’s always possible, of course, that I may have fat-fingered something, so if you notice anything which seems amiss (the update was installed at 22:20 UTC on 2018-01-17), please note in a comment or in the Bug Reports group.  I will leave this post at the top of the main page for around twelve hours.

If you notice something funny, please try clearing your browser cache and reloading the page.  This update includes some JavaScript files which your browser will probably store locally, and if they conflict with changes in the core code, may produce odd results.  The Web is designed so flushing the cache shouldn’t be necessary, but shoddy browser implementations don’t follow the rules, so it’s often necessary.


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I Know, You’d Never Even Think: Ratburger’s Got the Podcast Links

Here at Ratburger, the foremost site for civil discussion on the Internet, unencumbered by  adverts, pop-ups, glacial page loading times, and censors, we don’t (yet) have our own podcasts.  But we listen to them, from time to time.  And now, you can find all of your favourite podcasts right here, without frequenting legacy sites.

There’s a new drop-down on the Activity item on the main menu, “Podcasts”.  It displays a page (or pages, depending upon how many are shown), with links to the most recent two episodes of podcasts followed by Ratburger members.  When you click on the link, you’ll be taken to the site which hosts the podcast; each site may have its own interface to play, download, or otherwise consume its content.  Once you click, it’s on them, not on the rat on a bun.

I have populated this list with podcasts to which I regularly listen.  If you have other podcasts you’d like to add to the feed, please include them in the comments.  In order to be included, the podcast must have a publicly-accessible RSS feed.  Most podcasts do, but it can be challenging to find it.

If this feature proves popular, I may make it more visible than its present state of buried in a sub-menu.


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Knowledge Base: Drop Caps

Would you like your posts to use drop caps as in  beautifully typeset documents of yore?  Yes you can, as long as you’re posting at Ratburger.org!  To use a drop cap in your post (it’s available only for main posts on the site, not comments or messages and comments in groups, which are informal conversations), simply wrap [dropcap] and [/dropcap] shortcodes around the first word of the paragraph you wish rendered with a drop cap.

This is best if used sparingly.  Use a drop cap at the start of your post and after breaks between main sections of long posts.  They indicate to the reader they’re moving from one part of the text to another.

Are they optimally beautiful?  No…that would have required the Web to adopt \(\TeX\) as its markup language which, sadly, never happened.  The kerning of text around drop caps is less than ideal and sometimes bug ugly.  But it often does the job, and works typographically in long, formal documents.


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Ratburger.org Code Base Repository Now On-line

The GitHub repository for the Ratburger Code Base is now on-line and accessible to anybody.  The code base is a live mirror of the software and documents which run the site, less its content (the posts, comments, uploaded images, etc.)  Here is the README file for the repository.


Ratburger.org is an online community where a wide variety of topics are discussed in a civil manner among an international membership whose only common denominator is their distaste for the sewer that so many Internet fora and comment sections have become.

Anyone can read all of the content at the site. By joining, which is free, users can write and publish their own posts and comment on the posts of others, and participate in discussion groups on various topics and create their own new groups. A chat room is available for real-time conversations. There are no advertisements on the site. Members whose behaviour is deemed not in keeping with the goals of the site may be banned at the sole discretion of the administrators.

Ratburger.org is built upon the foundation of WordPress and BuddyPress extended by a number of freely available plug-ins to those packages and site-specific customisations.

This repository represents the code on which the production Ratburger.org site runs. The site also uses a few proprietary plug-ins (for example, the CometChat package for the chat room and the BuddyDev Editable Activity plug-in to allow users to edit posts and comments in groups. These packages, whose source code cannot be redistributed under the terms of their licenses, are excluded from this repository.

To bring up a site similar to Ratburger, install this repository in the Web document home of a HTTP/HTTPS Web server. The MySQL database used by WordPress and BuddyPress is not included in the repository; you’ll have to create your own, adding users and passwords for administrators. Also, since Git does not preserve file permissions, there are several directories into which the server needs to write for such functions as image uploads on which you’ll have to manually set the appropriate ownership and permissions. See a WordPress installation reference for details of these matters.

About the Name

The name Ratburger was dreamed up in November 1984 by a bunch of Autodesk old-timers having dinner in a Las Vegas casino buffet after a long day working our booth at Fall COMDEX 1984. We envisioned it as the name for a screen-oriented text editor we’d developed and briefly sold under the name AutoScreen and then set aside when AutoCAD took off, leaving us no time to pursue other products. We continued to use the editor in house, and thought it might still attract users if made available at an affordable price with a catchy name. We further thought about bundling the editor with a number of other in-house tools, such as a diff utility that ran on MS-DOS, as RatPack. Nothing ever came of this.

In 2004, remembering this, I registered the domain name ratburger.org, which I subsequently used as my own equivalent of example.com in software and documentation, but the domain was otherwise unused. While setting up the prototype of the new discussion site in December 2017, I used the domain as a placeholder while testing the prototype of the site with the co-founder and a few bleeding edge early adopters. Although it was originally a joke, we found the name to curiously grow upon us, lending itself to numerous humorous spin-offs. So, when the time went to go live, Ratburger it was.

The name, and the site, has nothing whatsoever to do with the eponymous children’s book, which was published thirty years after we coined the name and a decade after I registered the domain ratburger.org.

About the Repository

The main purpose of this repository is to implement the principle of radical transparency which I adopted for the site’s implementation, to serve as a worked example and “code mine” for those wishing to set up similar discussion sites, and a means for code-savvy members of the Ratburger community to chip in and help improve the site’s user experience.


Contributing to the Ratburger.org Code Base

You’re welcome to use this repository as the starting point for your own online community site. If you find and fix any bugs or make extensions which might be useful for users or administrators, you’re welcome to submit them via a pull request for incorporation into the Ratburger site and this repository.

The design goals for Ratburger are speed, reliability, minimalism, and ease of use. Consequently, the site deliberately eschews features which require contacting dozens of other Web resources and downloading hundreds of files to display a simple page. These gimmicks may be superficially attractive, but they result in frustratingly slow page load times and render the site vulnerable to points of failure all over the Web. You’re welcome to adorn your own site with such frippery, but Ratburger isn’t interested in it.


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Knowledge Base: Including Mathematics in Posts

Ratburger.org supports MathJax, which permits including beautifully typeset mathematics in posts and comments (but not, at present, in group posts or comments).  For example, here is Einstein’s gravitational field equation:

\(\displaystyle R_{\mu\nu} – \frac{1}{2}g_{\mu\nu}R + \Lambda g_{\mu\nu}= \frac{8\pi G}{c^4}T_{\mu\nu}\)

To display this, in the post composition window I wrote:

[latex]\displaystyle R_{\mu\nu} – \frac{1}{2}g_{\mu\nu}R+ \Lambda g_{\mu\nu} = \frac{8\pi G}{c^4}T_{\mu\nu}[/latex]

where the text within square brackets are WordPress “shortcodes” which indicate the text they enclose is mathematical notation written in the LaTeX document preparation language.  For information on how to write mathematics in LaTeX, see chapter 3 of The Not So Short Introduction to \(\LaTeX 2_\epsilon\) [PDF].

The “\displaystyle” in the equation definition above causes it to be typeset to appear on a line by itself in large type.  If omitted, the equation is set in in-line style, suitable for inclusion in a line of text.  For example, here is the quadratic equation \(x = {-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac} \over 2a}\) which was specified by the code:

[latex]x = {-b \pm \sqrt{b^2-4ac} \over 2a}[/latex]

Note that you can use the [latex]code[/latex] facility for simple things like superscripts and subscripts, as in \(_{~~55}^{137}\rm Cs\) for the isotope of Cæsium with atomic number 55 and weight 137, produced with:

[latex]_{~~55}^{137}\rm Cs[/latex]

(The tildes are to right-justify the atomic number, as chemists do.)


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RatChat

You may have noticed a new item in the main menu at the top of the page: “Chat”.

This will take you to RatChat, Ratburger’s integrated chat system, implemented using CometChat.  When you click the link, you’ll be taken to a chat page already logged in to the “Ratburger” chat group, which is for general discussion among members of the site.  Other groups may be added for general topics or special events, but with the current paucity of members, it doesn’t make sense to further subdivide the number of people participating in chat.

There is a full-screen interface to chat, not currently linked on the site, which allows you to create groups or enter into one-to-one chat with on-line members.


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Some Prehistory

My thought a few weeks ago was to start an online Conservative community. Why? The reason was I saw a need that was not being met properly. I wanted a simple, stable, and secure site.

I talked to a few friends. One friend, Stu in Tokyo, told me about his woodworking community. I thought I would use that model and use the same forum software package. Before I started I wanted to run the idea by John Walker.

John Walker surprisingly was thinking on similar lines. As we were exchanging ideas he offered to put up a basic installation with server connections. My understanding it would take a couple of weekends. (I will let you know when those couple of weeks is up.)

The decision to start the site happened on December 9th. I thought it would have little functionality but usable. I thought it would take months to be presentable. I dreamed of major problems and setbacks. I was wrong.

Originally I thought of calling the site some variation of Lint Trap. It was to work off of the Sock Puppet motif. I had no idea that John was the founder of www.ratburger.org. I was surprised by the Ratburger name but have grown to like it.

I write this because I like history and love to know how things come about. Who knew less than a week ago we would be here?

A Member sent me a PM saying Christmas came early this year by having this site. I think that sums things up nicely.

 

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