1. 3

    They built a rainbow table for the RNG, that’s a ridiculous and wonderful approach to botting Nethack. I appreciated that they wrote up the desynch issues - I’m blanking on references at the moment, but I’ve seen a number of postmortems of multiplayer games talk about crashing on the rocks of desynchs as one platform calls random() an extra time or unexpectedly branches on a machine-specific quirk. They’re hard to fix even when you are the game developer; doing so as an outsider with only the ability to change your client is a feat.

    1. 15

      Welp, guess Github just lost my business

      (because the one thing I was paying for is now free)

      1. 13

        I’d wager that most of GitHub’s income comes from companies who host their stuff there.

        I just checked, and we pay $1,182/month to GitHub. The few people that had $7/month subscription probably isn’t really worth it, as private repos are free on a number of other providers.

        In the long run, it might even be beneficial for GitHub’s income, as the more people that use GitHub for their personal stuff, the more likely they’ll be to use/recommend it for their business, too. Atlassian does something similar with their pricing for most products: it’s very cheap for small teams (<10 people), and then a massive price-hike if you’ve got more people.

        1. 4

          Most of GitHub’s income comes from enterprise users. This is generally true of every company with an enterprise offering, but we know it from a 2016 Bloomberg article (analysis). It’s reasonable to estimate GitHub’s personal plan was a single-digit percent of its revenue and only marginally profitable because of support.

        2. 5

          Usually works out the other way. That’s funny.

          1. 4

            Maybe it will work the other way around: Everyone moves to MSGithub now, and next year they start charging for private repos. :-)

            1. 7

              But everyone (basically) is already on MSGitHub. If anything this seems like an attempt to build goodwill. Maybe they’re a little concerned about the growth of alternatives as well. But I doubt they were making very much off of individuals paying for five private repos. The big money is in the corporate contracts.

              1. 1

                Good thinking. :)

          1. 1

            I believe the ‘show’ tag is appropriate when posting your own blog.

            Congrats on the blog and kudos to the dedication! I am personally really bad at blogging because I treat each post as an essay that has to perfectly and thoroughly convey my thoughts.

            1. 4

              To me show is to show projects or things you’re done more than to indicate a self-posting. This is already an information displayed by “authored by” next to the Lobsters who posted the link.

              1. 2

                This is correct.

              2. 1

                Thanks for the tip about the tag.

                It’s effectively hard to determine when your article is “ready”.

              1. 1

                The reactions on video of the thieves getting hit had me crying laughing. The hardware is pretty awesome, too. Chinese need to clone this thing to sell on the cheap. I’d buy it. GPS and video also helps in court for when police were being too lazy. :)

                1. 2

                  Yeah, that’s the power of good acting. And a good reminder that pretty much every time someone online tries to make you feel righteous, they’re manipulating you with lies.

                  1. 1

                    Wow… thanks for the links. That first one is incredibly thorough piece demonstrating how a combination of mountains of tiny details mixed with wider access to peoples’ data makes it hard to keep secrets. The second one has my reaction to the vid which was main reason for sharing it here: “everyone still agrees that the invention is a work of revenge art, and we all would like to know when and how we can get our own, put it out, and grab some popcorn.”

                    You’re right about more lies, acting, and manipulation online. People used to get at me for nitpicking all the bullshit in online vids. I found it wasn’t a good use of time unless it was strictly-informational content about important topics with major impact. Esp due to volume combined with proven effect that bullshit spreads further than corrections. For entertainment stuff, I shifted from assessing fakes to looking for stuff that will either be true or, if fake, at least fun in a way that teaches us or inspires us with something.

                    Seeing Glitter bomb, first thing I wanted to do with this thing is get a cheap, Chinese clone out there that folks can buy. Next idea was a fake package using fake phones off Alibaba or just broken stuff I acquire on the cheap with real trackers in them that work even when they look off. That info is fed to the police. Your links don’t change either effect the vid had on me. So, it’s further evidence I should keep not caring which of these viral vids is real so long as we get something out of them. What do you think of that philosophy?

                    Note about original vid: Much as I’d like to use it, I live in a murder capital full of thugs, some on hard drugs, that even go into the “safe,” suburban areas like where I live now. If this went off on them, they’d go back to that house to jack their shit all up. I’d never deploy this thing in Memphis, TN or surrounding areas. Unless, I thought, I could feed crime map data into it where the booby trap didn’t activate in hot areas: just video, audio, GPS, and a report for police. Nah, I’d still rather them just steal the package to be on safe side… gotta use prevention strategies…

                1. 23

                  I’ve been using plus addresses around ten years. Mostly I’ve caught bad code that doesn’t recognize + is allowed or doesn’t encode them properly in URLs.

                    1. 8

                      This is ginned-up a bit from the original blog post:

                      http://merltech.org/blockchain-for-international-development-using-a-learning-agenda-to-address-knowledge-gaps/

                      That is, it isn’t a “study” per se, it’s just a blog post in passing about something they did.

                      It rings true, however. I contact publicised blockchain stuff frequently asking for actual detail, and rarely if ever get details. This includes many interactions that go like this:

                      1. press release in my inbox with remarkable claims
                      2. contact PR person asking really obvious questions
                      3. they know nothing, refer question to tech lead, who is on tour/unavailable/in another dimension this month
                      4. tumbleweeds
                      1. 4

                        “Are there less-expensive, more appropriate, or easier to execute, existing technologies that already meet each group’s MERL needs?”

                        Like a free database running on cheap servers whose signed state and/or updates are checked by a few different people who can raise an alarm and/or sue for breach of contract. Total, monthly cost on tech side: about $5-25 a month per VPS per party checking things. Split jurisdictions and currencies using Prgmr, OVH, Vultr, etc. Use different OS’s and other components in hardened configuration for robustness.

                        Initial setup could cost something. I bet still cheaper than what VC’s are paying cyptocurrency startups. Volunteers and/or inexpensive people maintain it working at non-profits or public benefit companies chartered to behave well. Existing one’s might donate a little time from their staff. Still cheaper than about any other scheme with at least as good results as those methods already get.

                        1. 3

                          Digital Transformation Authority to Australian Senate:

                          For every use of blockchain you would consider today, there’s a better technology.

                          transcript (which goes into more nuance and “possible” use cases)

                          1. 2

                            If anything, they gave it too much credit. Regular databases with cross-checking, kind of like banks do, could handle every use case they mentioned. Glad someone was at least mentioning considering alternatives, though.

                        2. 4

                          Thanks, I’ve replaced the link.

                          Submitters: please prefer primary sources to breathless rewrites, especially from marginal sources like The Register.

                          1. 2

                            […] the payment card numbers were encrypted using Advanced Encryption Standard encryption (AES-128). There are two components needed to decrypt the payment card numbers, and at this point, Marriott has not been able to rule out the possibility that both were taken.

                            Ouch.

                          1. 2

                            Quite different but in the same neighborhood: Alki

                              1. 2

                                Deleted my original rant response because, as @sgreben rightfully pointed out, my rant was exactly the kind of thing i ranted about.

                                But, yes, I’d like to see a freeze in new users for a while, to avoid lobste.rs from collapsing under its own weight.

                                I’d also suggest:

                                1. Culling users who have been new members for X months and never posted (but once you post/comment once, you’re in for forever?)
                                2. Requiring more than one invitation for joining?
                                3. Moving to a subscription model. I get enough enjoyment out of this site that I’d be happy to pay for it.

                                But, that’s just my USD$0.02.

                                1. 15

                                  Culling users who have been new members for X months and never posted (but once you post/comment once, you’re in for forever?)

                                  I will note that there are people who primarily lurk in any online community. This site has a private message system and possibly other features of value to members who never post publicly.

                                  Original research I was privy to in my first moderating position suggested that about 20 percent of users were active participants who posted regularly or semi regularly, another 10 percent posted only once or very rarely and the rest lurked. Anecdotal observation suggests that these figures probably are fairly representative of other communities I have engaged in.

                                  1. 8

                                    Lurkers are harmful to communities like this, because they have influence in shaping the site but also don’t bother to engage beyond being a silent majority that can be pandered to (purposefully or not) they amplify any democratic issues the site might have.

                                    Better to purge them and leave control of the site (what little there is) in the hands of the people who bother participating.

                                    Edit: lurkers here being those who have accounts but don’t post.

                                    1. 7

                                      Hi friendlysock, I’m malxau and I’m a lurker.

                                      The reason I ended up like this is because the technology landscape is very broad today (and getting broader), and I have firsthand knowledge or experience with a tiny fraction of topics that get discussed. So the best way I can see to keep the signal-to-noise ratio high is to read about things that I don’t know, including comments from people more familiar with them, and avoid contributing to or moderating those posts.

                                      Occasionally there will be something I know, but something I deeply know and have firsthand knowledge of is still rather rare. (In my case, I’ve spent the last 14 years working in Windows kernel mode; I’m an active practitioner, but looking at submissions you’ll see why I don’t feel like I know the breadth of topics being discussed, including things like the Palantir thread.)

                                      Do you still think I’m a problem? Do you think the site would work better if I commented or moderated more?

                                      1. 4

                                        I can’t see your upvotes or flags, so I can’t comment on that front. That said, I think the site would definitely be improved by your participation and submissions of things relating to your background with Windows arcane programming!

                                        Thank you for giving your perspective here.

                                        1. 1

                                          Your site was refreshingly different since it covered stuff I don’t usually see on Lobsters. Doing low-level kernel stuff, I bet you ran into both content and lessons learned that Lobsters might have found interesting regardless of you writing on Windows. There’s also Lobsters on Windows. There’s also a lot of Lobsters that hate Windows.

                                          I have no idea how well your stuff would’ve been received. There’s a chance people might have found it interesting, though. If it’s Windows-like as someone said, an easy example is Minoca OS getting lots of appreciation. Another thread on its documentation had 10 votes. So, there’s potential.

                                        2. 6

                                          Hey there. That seems like a fairly strong opinion. Any research or data you can point me to? I’m not aware of evidence that lurkers are somehow harmful in most cases.

                                          1. 5

                                            Have you seen HN or Reddit? I’m serious. It’s called hivemind for a reason.

                                            People that care enough about a site to post content, or even comment, are, by definition, more involved in the site than users who maintain accounts but don’t do anything but vote up and down.

                                            Lurkers who just vote and flag look an awful lot like slacktivists. They’re freeloaders, contributing no content of their own and no discussion, but they can still screw up conversations by voting with a knee-jerk reaction.

                                            One of the things that sets Lobsters apart is that is made up quite largely of people that actually write code frequently (instead of, say, being growth hackers, or bloggers, or marketers, or bankers, or whatever else) and that those people are given transparency and tools for interacting with the running of the community. Lurkers run counter to at least the latter of those key characteristics.

                                            1. 11

                                              Yes, I’ve seen both HN and Reddit.

                                              I don’t think I’ve ever seen a forum that didn’t have a lot of lurkers. Do you know of any forums where “post or leave” is actual policy? Do you know of any research on this angle?

                                              I’m not making any recommendations here. I’m just seeing people saying “I think we should do X!” and the things I’m seeing don’t fit with my understanding of best practices. But I certainly don’t know everything, so I’m trying to share what I know concerning actual (pertinent) data and asking if anyone knows of any supporting research for their positions.

                                              To be clear, I’m absolutely not trying to tell anyone how lobsters should be run. I was given an invitation by a coder who wants to start a discussion board and he asked if I would consider taking on the role of lead moderator. I tentatively agreed.

                                              So I’m not actually a programmer, though I have some technical training and so on. I’m genuinely interested in learning if there is good data and research supporting the various proposals in this discussion because I’m looking for, among other things, stuff pertinent to the project I’m trying to collaborate on.

                                              I’m genuinely curious and open to seeing good information on such things. I’m aware these questions may be unwelcome here, both because I’m new and because people will tend to interpret my comments as intent to shape policy on lobsters the very day I joined.

                                              A best case outcome is that my comments and questions serve to be helpful and thought provoking for people here who are trying to shape lobsters while I get useful resources to support my project. But a less nice and more likely outcome is that people decide my questions are somehow bad behavior and I get told to gtfo of the discussion or something.

                                              1. 7

                                                I’ve never thought about how lurkers skew voting until this thread, but it seems commonsensical now. You end up with the posters performing for a silent audience, instead of interacting with each other.

                                                Maybe a half-measure we could try is giving people a pool of votes that’s replenished when you post, and you spend from that pool when you up or down a story or comment; one post (submission or comment) could earn you 10 votes or something. That way votes come from the people who are actually engaging with the site, but we’re not kicking anyone off for not being chatty.

                                                1. 10

                                                  Maybe a half-measure we could try is giving people a pool of votes that’s replenished when you post

                                                  No no no no no no no. That would result in users creating a large number of low-effort comments in order to refuel. It’s bad enough that internet users will do almost anything to make a number go up. It’s even worse when you attach actual incentives to that number.

                                                  1. 3

                                                    We could do something like requiring a comment/post have at least +3 or something before it counts towards your vote pool; that might be enough to frustrate a lot of the system-gaming, no?

                                                    1. 1

                                                      The low-effort posts on popular topics get lots of votes. Probably won’t work.

                                                  2. 2

                                                    I’ve never thought about how lurkers skew voting until this thread, but it seems commonsensical now. You end up with the posters performing for a silent audience, instead of interacting with each other.

                                                    This is an empirical question worth empirically validating before believing. There is also a plausible just-so story that older users feel more confident voting strategically to enforce their political opinions, etc. Form your hypothesis, write a query, decide how to interpret possible results, and then send it to me to run.

                                                    1. 1

                                                      That’s a neat idea and I’d be in favor of trying it. I don’t know to what extent that would affect the upvote/downvote dynamics of the site, but I’m interested in finding out, and I don’t think it’s an onerous requirement on people.

                                                      1. 1

                                                        a pool of votes that’s replenished when you post, and you spend from that pool when you up or down a story or comment; one post (submission or comment) could earn you 10 votes or something.

                                                        I think that this is great idea. Personally I would go with 1-2 votes per submission but whatever the number I think we should try it.

                                                        1. 1

                                                          Yeah; I originally said 10 because voting serves a real purpose, and I’d worry that only getting one vote per comment could reduce the quality of the front page, because people would hoard their precious votes. I’m no expert on this stuff, though.

                                                        2. 1

                                                          This idea sounds great. I’m not sure what the dynamics would look like, but it’s be interested in trying it out.

                                                        3. 6

                                                          but they can still screw up conversations by voting with a knee-jerk reaction

                                                          Yes, voting does screw up conversations. If I had my way, lobsters wouldn’t have votes on comments, exactly because I don’t think that meaningful conversations should be democratized like that. Lobsters isn’t a very good system for conversations in my very humble opinion (I keep linking to Discourse.org as the model to live up to for a reason). But I don’t think lurkers are necessarily any worse at knee-jerk voting than active commenters.

                                                          Lobsters is, however, pretty much the gold standard for link aggregation, for surfacing content from elsewhere. Voting, flagging, and submitting articles without ever commenting is something I think we should be encouraging, because that’s what the Lobsters software is actually good at. Less conversations, more stories.

                                                      2. 5

                                                        voting satisfies the “me too” impulse. absent that, I suspect you’d see a lot more actual me too comments.

                                                        1. 4

                                                          If you change the rules to ‘post or get out!’, I suspect you will see:

                                                          1. People who are slow to integrate into the community but will eventually post good stuff lose their connection to lobsters and go elsewhere instead of slowly ramping up from just looking to joining to voting to commenting/submitting.
                                                          2. Lots of comments along the lines of “I have nothing to say right now, I’m just trying to say something so I don’t get purged”
                                                          1. 4

                                                            Voting lurkers could indeed be problematic. Perhaps adding a min-karma-threshold for upvoting (similar to flagging), could be a useful experiment.

                                                            1. 1

                                                              Is the problem with vote lurking the up or down votes?

                                                            2. 3

                                                              Downvotes are inaccessible until a user reaches a certain karma threshold. Would it make sense to do the same thing for upvotes too, reducing the pool of users that can vote?

                                                              I don’t think outright purging users is very helpful, since reading for a while before posting is a common practice (and probably not something that should be discoraged). I agree having a silent voting majority is potentially quite harmful to a forum.

                                                              1. 1

                                                                reading for a while before posting is a common practice (and probably not something that should be discoraged)

                                                                You don’t need an account to read.

                                                                1. 2

                                                                  You don’t, but there are features that are useful for people who are only reading (tag filtering, hiding stories).

                                                                2. 1

                                                                  That inversion is worth thinking on more. The political folks currently do more upvoting of political stuff than submissions or comments. It isn’t limited to them. We see the same thing in the technical threads for some people or types of comments.

                                                                  1. 1

                                                                    I was under the impression votes were anonymous, is this not correct?

                                                                    1. 1

                                                                      The site won’t tell other users what your votes are, but it needs to know, both to prevent multiple votes and to show you what you’ve voted on. Obviously the site administrators, who have direct database access, can query that information.

                                                                      1. 1

                                                                        This is accurate, and I’ve written elsewhere in this thread about that access and the practices around it.

                                                                      2. 1

                                                                        They usually vote and comment together. So, you know who some of the likely voters are.

                                                                  2. 2

                                                                    how about limiting the votes one has? dota2 does that for reports to keep the reporting system valuable. one of:

                                                                    • fixed number of votes per time-unit (easiest, but limited impact i think)
                                                                    • votes per time-unit limited by karma, eg. votes * karma / maxKarma (could become a lobsters ingame currency)
                                                                    • votes per time-unit limited by submission count (facilitates spamming)
                                                                    • votes per time-unit limited by combined submission count and karma (i don’t have an idea for a good function to do that ;)

                                                                    this should at least limit the lurker influence. i for one wouldn’t care if i’d have to manage my votes a bit.

                                                                    edit: haldean had posted this idea before me, i should have read this thread more thoroughly :)

                                                                    1. 3

                                                                      If the intent is to limit the effect of upvotes, and avoid knee-jerk voting, one could also make it mirror the current downvote choices and simply make a user think about why they are up-voting a comment. So an upvote arrow should offer choices such as [technical|meta|..].

                                                                      1. 1

                                                                        Or “MAS” for “mutual appreciation society” ;)

                                                                    2. 2

                                                                      Wouldn’t that just cause stupid posts like “not lurker” or “first” to trigger account “lock in” – possibly even on very old threads.

                                                                      1. 1

                                                                        My concern with a negative eye towards people like myself who don’t post much is that it suggests posting is mandatory regardless of quality or relevance. I am a lurker, but only because I don’t want to clutter up threads with poorly informed or nontechnical content. I wish I had the depth of experience that some more frequent posters have; should I be excluded for being more of a generalist?

                                                                  1. 11

                                                                    (I think this is about the political threads. Disregard all this if not.)

                                                                    I don’t think we’re experiencing growing pains. New members run into flags or apathy. People use comments and private messages to help them out. I usually just encourage thoughtful, tech-focused submissions after just watching the site for a while to get a feel for it. They get into the flow of things.

                                                                    What you’re seeing yesterday and today is a battle between people that do or don’t want political activism and enforcement. It goes back at least to the Community Standards discussion. There were a huge number of people for and against these positions. The beliefs of new and old members, plus changes in participation on political threads, led to changes in what people are doing here day-to-day. We also have new admin and mods whose own decisions feed into these things.

                                                                    In short, folks who want it one way are butting heads with those that want it another way during a period of change. This is natural, social evolution of forums that bring in all kinds of people. We’re already talking it out. Stopping invites won’t change the need for that. Just add to whatever onboarding you’re doing for new people that they should stay clear of tags marked meta, esp if political, until they’ve been on the site a while. That they’re really for users that really understand our community’s norms. Then, tell them to just focus on interesting stuff that helps people out, preferably with depth.

                                                                    That’s what I’m doing now.

                                                                    1. 7

                                                                      Oh, is this about the Palantir thread, then?

                                                                      Personally I was disappointed in the non-technical direction that conversation took, and in the totalizing, non-negotiable conception of ethics assumed by some commenters. I’m not convinced limiting invitations would significantly improve the quality of discourse on such threads, however.

                                                                      1. 4

                                                                        I was disappointed in the non-technical direction that conversation took

                                                                        I think what I really wish is that a thread that gets overtly political under an interesting story could be marked by the community as political. Not as a downvote, not as an upvote, but as a categorization. Allow users to filter conversation threads the same way they filter out stories.

                                                                        1. 4

                                                                          The political people voted against it when we tried. They want no compromises except on the other side. I speculate they believe it would let people ignore their political outreach easily. Whereas, their goal is to force us to look at their side’s political claims, whether we want to or not, in an attempt to try to change our views to match theirs.

                                                                          1. 4

                                                                            Seeing ethics, politics, and tech as inseparable is not the same thing as thinking the response to the Palintir thread was okay. That dumpster fire combined digressions, virtue signalling, and passive-agressiveness in a way that should not be allowed here.

                                                                            Personally, I’d rather reclaim politics, to be able to have threads about it on here without the team sports dynamics. We have to be able to discuss politics without the team sports dynamics, considering we already have a culture tag, which is pretty much a more innocuous word for politics. Adding a politics tag would just create a ghetto, instead of actually solving anything.

                                                                            1. 2

                                                                              I agree about Palantir thread. I was saying they wanted the ability to do stuff like that per their votes and comments. It’s them you gotta convince, not me.

                                                                              Re team sports, it’s not gonna change. They see people not complying with their politics as harm remaining or going up in the world. They’ll weigh that against aggressive comments in some kind of cost-benefit analysis the target probably didnt agree with. While some are highly civil, many of the active ones prefer insults added to many on one rebukes (aka mobbing on folks). They also get lots of upvotes by onlookers.

                                                                              So, what you see is what we’ll keep getting in any political thread where they see a dissenter that replies to them. Limiting politics to specific threads at least lets Lobsters choose to filter it. If I can, I dont care if it’s a dumpster in that comment section cuz Ill be posting and reading technical stuff.

                                                                              1. 3

                                                                                Quarantining doesn’t work; Reddit’s experience with its hate subreddits proves that. Hardcore activists use the ghetto to collaborate and fire each other up, then they go out and brigade the more frequently-read areas because that’s what being a hardcore activist means.

                                                                                But what really annoys me about this discussion is that lobsters already extensively discusses politics, it’s just almost always office politics, OSS project management, and economics. When someone makes a culture tag topic about spreading tribal knowledge through pair programming, that’s usually based on a collectivist political view of the company. The distributed tag is pretty much synonymous with the anarchist/libertarian side of the political compass, and not only is that perfectly acceptable, but I’m able to post an opinion piece against it, and in both cases, the comments were user-centric and substantive instead of ideological and shrill.

                                                                                All of that is fine, because while this is all political, none of it falls into party politics. It seems like everything that political parties touch turns to shit, and by trying to bury it all in a politics tag ghetto, you are ceding that territory to them. We already have a politics tag; we call it culture.

                                                                                1. 1

                                                                                  You’re talking as if there would be no moderation. People ignoring the tag would have comments deleted, possibly a suspension for repeat violations, and so on. The political part can be moderated, too, in the way we’ve been doing it or with stronger practices.

                                                                                  Far as the rest, theirs is party politics, it’s the majority vote right now, only a tiny handful of us counterpoint them in most threads, and it happens on every thread they want. This is already their territory. Pushing their political evangelism into purpose-made, filterable threads would be gaining territory since more threads would be technical like my side wants. That’s also exactly why they resisted politics tag: they can’t occupy more threads that way.

                                                                                  1. 2

                                                                                    The fight to keep party politics in the correct tags is going to be just as ongoing and messy as the fight to get it off lobsters entirely. It’s not always obvious; the activists are always going to push the edges of acceptability as much as possible, especially since the division between politics and culture, as I’ve been saying the whole time, is actually kind of arbitrary.

                                                                                    Party politics gobbles up anything it can. Net neutrality didn’t use to be a partisan talking point; now it’s a part of everyone’s political platform, either in the affirmative or the negative. The same thing is in the process of happening to social media; eventually, you’re going to wind up banning all discussion of the algorithms involved in ranking posts on Lobsters itself, because they’ll be too politically charged to have a reasonable discussion about, unless we draw the line now rather than later.

                                                                                    Have you actually watched /pol/ eat a subreddit alive? They’re famous for spammy comment brigades, but those are mostly there to strengthen the existing base. What they did to /r/conspiracy was centered around posts that carry political connotations, but perfectly on-topic (think of posts on Lobsters that are about unionizing, or censorship-resistance, or small-business vs big-business), and upvoting the ones with a connotation they agree with and downvoting the ones they disagree with. In other words, frog boiling. Getting a sympathetic moderator in was just the final nail in the coffin: by the time /r/conspiracy started removing posts about “Russia-gate” instead of just downvoting them into oblivion (which, being a conspiracy theory, is clearly on-topic but anti-Trump) they already had an unstated right-wing voting bias that “everyone knew about”.

                                                                                    You can see other subreddits in various stages of the same takeover, too. /r/politics will heavily downvote anything that contradicts the overarching left-wing bias, but, like /r/conspiracy used to, will not actually delete your post or ban you. They will probably eventually get a moderator who starts doing so, at which point very few active commenters will complain (because, after all, those posts were already disappearing into the hole at the bottom of the page anyway). I’m not sure if Lobsters is as far along as /r/politics is, but I can tell you right now, because subreddit takeovers are less about what gets posted and more about what gets upvoted, putting in place an area where political activists can openly-secretly decide what to upvote and what to downvote is not at all a good idea.

                                                                                    1. 3

                                                                                      I should probably just say outright, now that I realize I never said it explicitly and have just been assuming everyone already knew:

                                                                                      Lobsters should be more worried about vote brigading than comment brigading. The latter is easy for a moderator to do something about. The former is much harder, because a post being upvoted because it’s being brigaded looks the same as a post being upvoted because it’s interesting.

                                                                                      1. 1

                                                                                        “the activists are always going to push the edges of acceptability as much as possible”

                                                                                        I don’t follow Reddit much since it’s comment quality sucks compared to HN and Lobsters. I have no doubt people are using those tactics since they go way back. I agree with you that people will try stuff here. We’ll have to evolve with them. Might need to replace the culture tag, too, for reasons you outline. Turn it into culture/politics or politics just includes it. The fact that people will try to abuse the rules doesn’t mean we go lawless.

                                                                                        “You can see other subreddits in various stages of the same takeover, too. /r/politics will heavily downvote anything that contradicts the overarching left-wing bias, but, like /r/conspiracy used to, will not actually delete your post or ban you.”

                                                                                        That’s what the leftist activists do to their opponents currently on Lobsters. Especially to me. Sometimes they go further with a brigade of downvotes which I’ve avoided by investing tons of energy into being more civil than many of them in how I word things. Their strategy works since there’s little action by people on the other side, either votes or comments. There’s definitely a ton of resistance in what our side prefers. Just little to no action. That apathy toward the problem sends a signal to onlookers, old and new (esp new), that what the leftist activists are doing represents the site’s consensus. Again, you’re talking about a hypothetical future which is actually the present of Lobsters working best for leftist, activists’ goals.

                                                                                        “putting in place an area where political activists can openly-secretly decide what to upvote and what to downvote is not at all a good idea.”

                                                                                        They’re already doing it here. Since we can’t see their names, it’s not clear how organized they are, who always downvotes on what points, etc. All I know is one group is actively policing the comment sections while the others are much, much, much more apathetic. The result is the one group wins by default. Your future is my present along with anyone else that’s resisted.

                                                                                        Maybe I missed it, but you still haven’t told me what your solution is if the other side is 100% into party politics allowed, even encouraged, in any thread they can with current rules allowing that and active resistance to any changes. What do you think will let those of us wanting peaceful Lobsters to see no politics at all in technical threads without tagging or rule changes about politics in technical threads? They already got no tagging and politics is allowed with key members maybe quitting if second one changes. So, start with that and work your way up to a solution. I have my own, too, which I may do after holiday months are over.

                                                                                        1. 2

                                                                                          Maybe I missed it, but you still haven’t told me what your solution is

                                                                                          The type of comments that you would have put into the politics tag (that is, partisan politics) should be banned outright.

                                                                                          We should probably continue to allow non-partisan politics, and continue using culture as the preferred euphemism.

                                                                                          I have no idea what to do about vote brigading. I assume @pushcx can see who votes on what?

                                                                                          1. 4

                                                                                            The site shows moderators the reasons + usernames of story flags and comment downvotes. It looks like “+6, -3 incorrect (alice, bob, carol), -1 troll (dave)”. This breakdown doesn’t appear for a mod’s own comments; I haven’t checked if this is intentional or a bug because I figure it helps keep mod blood pressure down. User profiles show an admin (so, only me) the last 10 votes on stories/comments the user has made. I look at this to more-quickly figure out where the battle lines are being drawn when I step into a heated thread, or when I’m trying to figure out if an account is active or not. So there’s not really any way to look at or click on a comment and see who upvoted it.

                                                                                            Off-site, of course, there’s direct database access. (@alynpost also potentially has this because he has root on the server, but I doubt he’s used it.) I’ve used it five or six times to look at who’s voting on what in response to specific allegations by users. I’ve poked around for patterns of people upvoting or downvoting stories, comments, or users. I’ve haven’t found it. Even the couple times I’ve had to en-masse message stern warnings or disable invites for the tree of employees of a spammy company they weren’t particularly organized about upvoting their own stuff, and that spammer who tried three times to establish with a dozen sockpuppets wasn’t very good at it. I think the invitation system unintentionally helps a lot here.

                                                                                            If someone thinks brigading is happening, I’d appreciate if they’d start writing the queries they think would prove or disprove it, in part because it’d force them to explicitly define what they mean by brigading and how they’d differentiate it from users who happen to share opinions tending to vote in similar ways.

                                                                                            I’d especially like to see folks writing queries to produce evidence for beliefs regarding us sinking into an eternal september or otherwise failing to acculturate new users, because it seems to be growing in popularity as an explanation despite nobody presenting reasons for it and the query I’ve thought to run) looking like weak evidence against it being a problem. It’s a plausible explanation, but I’d like to see it supported before I believe it.

                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                              Off-site, of course, there’s direct database access. (@alynpost also potentially has this because he has root on the server, but I doubt he’s used it.)

                                                                                              I do have root access to the server, and therefor direct database access. I do not use that access to exceed my lobste.rs account authority, which would include ad-hoc queries to see who upvoted a comment.

                                                                                              The Systems Administrators’ Code articulates the duty of service a systems administrator has in dealing with private, confidential, sensitive, or secret information. I was given it orally, early in my career, as an oath, when being instructed on my responsibility to my users attendant to my level of system access.

                                                                                              It appears in written form on usenix.org: System Administrators’ Code of Ethics, where it is also signed by LISA and LOPSA.

                                                                                            2. 1

                                                                                              Oh, OK, well banning politics was one of my preferences. IIRC, @Irene said she’d leave if that happened. I figured that meant it wouldn’t happen. From there, an ability to filter was my next option. I prefer your solution. I’m fine with other as compromise to see what happens. Non-partisan politics probably won’t happen since majority of votes on any political thread is already partisan.

                                                                                              Far as vote brigading, it will be harder to assess or deal with since many are probably voting in good conscience about stuff that represents their political beliefs. Some might work together or consistently hit specific opponents. We do have some activists here that were involved in coordinated or just pile-of-folks-show up hits outside of Lobsters. Otherwise, it appears to be a natural consequence of so many people having similar beliefs. Also, as I said, people on our side being far less active and/or leaving. Which I know they are since many told me.

                                                                                              @pushcx has said stuff that’s closer leftist activists than to our position. He seems to be doing what he sees as good for community based on our feedback. Other side is majority, though. So, the voting patterns are democracy in action from people participating the most who he won’t and probably shouldn’t punish. If anything, I expected him to read and deliberate on comments before rewarding some of them with his personal vote and no action as Sysop past sharing his opinions so long as folks behaved well. He did the second (idk about votes).

                                                                                              I don’t know positions of @alynpost and @kyle on these rules. Of the two, alynpost seems to be more active recently. I will restate there’s two positions that a significant subset of leftist-activist opposition might agree with:

                                                                                              1. No politics on Lobsters period. Just the deeply-technical stuff like in @friendlysock’s What Lobsters Is. I have little confidence this will happen.

                                                                                              2. For this site (not all), a politics tag or other rule that forces it into threads that are specifically inviting such discussions. This lets unwilling participants filter that stuff to have at least one place with high-signal, low-noise ratio for technical stuff. And more peaceful. Again, from an activist guy that risks his job on a daily basis to help consumers, minorities, etc. who sees value in a focused, peaceful site dedicated to tech discussion without political fights and judgment.

                                                                                              EDIT: I just looked at recent comments. I see two from pushcx interesting for this discussion. One is he wants it to be tech-focused but not miss out ethical issues/opportunities. That’s not surprising at all based on previous discussions. Having dedicated threads for politics gets closer to that. The other comment is here where he confirms my intuition with actual numbers that a vocal minority, about “5-9” people, do most of the downvotes. I still can’t say how good, bad, or biased that is. Just that it’s far from the overall vote count in metas regardless of political position showing most folks aren’t that active. It’s less than two hands worth of people dictating the perception on that most of the time with an auditorium’s worth debating the big metas with most wanting politics here in any thread.

                                                                                              1. 5

                                                                                                The big problem with wanting to entirely eliminate discussion on “politics and ethics” (I’m using this shorthand to try to encapsulate the debate) is that deciding what is political is itself political.

                                                                                                An example – the discussion on whether women are biologically less predisposed to be good at computer science is, in my opinion, a stalking horse for people who prefer that women have a segregated or unequal position in society. Now, holding that opinion openly does not give you much traction in debating in most liberal democratic countries, at least not on a policy level. But shifting the window of the debate does help advance the position.

                                                                                                So, people who have these opinions talk up, or sponsor, or perform, or find research that supports their position. If someone challenges their motives, they will respond “oh, we’re just raising questions, expanding research, doing science. Why are you bringing politics into this?” And if someone tries to challenge the results by pointing to external factors (such as structural practical discrimination against women or other minorities) they will respond “that’s actually not interesting in this case, we’re only looking at a sample group, conditions in country A and entirely different from country B”, etc.

                                                                                                In this case, the argument is made, and objections will be countered with the reason they are not addressing the argument, they are “political”.

                                                                                                Therein lies the danger in defining what’s political in nature, and banning it. The people who hold deeply unpopular beliefs are experts at skirting to “rules” of normal discourse, and we should not make their lives easier.

                                                                                                Does this mean that Lobsters should be a free-for-all? No! We still have tags, and rules for what is on-topic or not, and it’s up to us as a community to police ourselves. People who try to hijack or troll a thread with political rhetoric should be censored, but politics should be allowed to be expressed on the site when it’s appropriate.

                                                                                                1. 2

                                                                                                  You’re taking a guess at my positions, so, in the interests of not being coy and misinterpreted: I don’t generally talk about my politics online, I never have, and I’m very unlikely to start. I think “You Just Don’t Do That” is one of those family beliefs I absorbed growing up without ever thinking about. When I worked as a journalist I was in a culture that valued “no cheering from the press box”, as my boss put it, and that reinforced my reluctance. This attitude has turned out useful as a mod: if my opinion is private, there’s a better chance I can be perceived as the impartial arbitrator I try hard to be. I guess that also shows that I don’t feel so confident and righteous in my political positions that I’m seriously tempted to try to enforce them (though very little of politics is close enough to on-topic here to come up).

                                                                                                  To expand on the other comment you linked, here’s a raw tally of how many users have given how many downvotes in the last 90 days:

                                                                                                  MariaDB [lobsters]> select count(*) as n_users, n_votes from (select count(*) as n_votes from votes where vote < 0 and updated_at >= (now() - interval 90 day) group by user_id) totals group by n_votes order by n_votes desc;
                                                                                                  +---------+---------+
                                                                                                  | n_users | n_votes |
                                                                                                  +---------+---------+
                                                                                                  |       1 |     471 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |     207 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |     112 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |     102 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      92 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      77 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      73 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      57 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      49 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      46 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      45 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      43 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      41 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      40 |
                                                                                                  |       2 |      37 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      36 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      35 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      34 |
                                                                                                  |       2 |      31 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      30 |
                                                                                                  |       4 |      29 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      26 |
                                                                                                  |       4 |      24 |
                                                                                                  |       3 |      23 |
                                                                                                  |       1 |      20 |
                                                                                                  |       4 |      19 |
                                                                                                  |       2 |      18 |
                                                                                                  |       3 |      17 |
                                                                                                  |       4 |      16 |
                                                                                                  |       3 |      15 |
                                                                                                  |       3 |      14 |
                                                                                                  |       3 |      13 |
                                                                                                  |       2 |      12 |
                                                                                                  |      10 |      11 |
                                                                                                  |       8 |      10 |
                                                                                                  |       9 |       9 |
                                                                                                  |      11 |       8 |
                                                                                                  |      13 |       7 |
                                                                                                  |      17 |       6 |
                                                                                                  |      16 |       5 |
                                                                                                  |      20 |       4 |
                                                                                                  |      46 |       3 |
                                                                                                  |      80 |       2 |
                                                                                                  |     130 |       1 |
                                                                                                  +---------+---------+
                                                                                                  44 rows in set (10.46 sec)
                                                                                                  

                                                                                                  As I mentioned there’s a judgment call as to whether some of the folks at the top of the chart vote this often because they’re trying to punish perceived foes, or because they’re reading nearly every comment, or because they just set the bar a lot lower than the typical user. Though now that I think about it, maybe the first situation could be differentiated from the latter two by counting how many distinct stories and authors they’ve downvoted.

                                                                                  2. 1

                                                                                    when we tried

                                                                                    A similar idea was pitched? I couldn’t find it, any more information on it / links?

                                                                                    their goal is to force us to look at their side’s political claims

                                                                                    I think it is fair and reasonable at this point to crave apolitical spaces. As politics starts to get crammed into every little corner of our lives, I think the value of being able to have (or create via filters) an apolitical space is growing in importance. Also, I sincerely believe it doesn’t take anything away from those who still want to engage in political discussions, even interwoven with existing stories.

                                                                                    1. 2

                                                                                      I dont have a link. They say it in different ways in every meta on this. Look at the last one to find several people saying they want tech/politics to be inseparsble, want it in any thread, etc.

                                                                                      I voted for Lobsters to be tech-focused with politics on other sites or tagged for filtering. We lost every time. Plus, several people kept threatening to quit if Lobsters was apolitical. My side lost over time.

                                                                              2. 6

                                                                                I agree wholeheartedly with this. As a relatively new user, it took me a while to get the hang of participating constructively on this site, and it was you and a few others who helped me to get onboard with this site’s culture and ettiquette. One thing I’d note is that during registration, a new user is encouraged to invite other users. Maybe delaying that privilege (and others) until a user has accrued a certain amount of reputation would help to moderate the growth of the site and give new users some time to acclimate - more like the StackOverflow model.

                                                                                1. 10

                                                                                  One thing I’d note is that during registration, a new user is encouraged to invite other users

                                                                                  Yeah, that weirded me out. I don’t know that the privilege needs to be delayed per se, but being immediately prompted with a form telling me to run right out and invite new people seemed off. “Invitation only” (to control quality here) and “Please promptly spread the word, promote the site, grow the site, We Need You To Grow It!!!” just seems at odds on the face of it.

                                                                                  The second is the purview of cheesy, growth-at-all-costs projects. It just seems like immediately taking me to an invite form full of boosterism language doesn’t at all fit with an ethos of “Invite only” combined with holding people accountable for the behavior of the people they invite. That is the opposite of encouraging people to first get to know the culture themselves and second do some vetting before sending invitations.

                                                                                  I just joined yesterday, so that impression is fresh. Seems like there’s some value in sharing it, though I’m self conscious about doing so having said yesterday that there’s no intent on my part to try to shape lobsters immediately upon joining.

                                                                                  Edit: I will add this is probably a case of “victim of your own success”. It probably was done at the start when it actually made sense and then no one ever thought about again particularly, in part because it only happens when you join, which helps make it an invisible thing. Now that there are 10k members, it would make sense to revisit it.

                                                                                  Having gone to brunch and had time to think about it, I’ve concluded a delay in receiving the privilege probably makes sense.

                                                                                  1. 6

                                                                                    That is probably an accurate characterization of how and why it appeared and lingers. It was added ~6 months after I signed up, so I think the only time I’ve noticed it was when merging this PR in March for the sister sites and it slipped out of my head.

                                                                                    I see how this is kind of dissonant, maybe there’s some better text to put on that page. I ran a query to see if we’re seeing an influx of users who are invited off that form, and it doesn’t appear to be the case, so I don’t think removing or postponing it is likely to be a significant step. (For context below, it was added in 2013-02.)

                                                                                    MariaDB [lobsters]> select extract(year from new.created_at) as y, extract(month from new.created_at) as m, sum(timestampdiff(day, exist.created_at, new.created_at) < 1) from users exist join users new on exist.id = new.invited_by_user_id group by y, m;
                                                                                    +------+------+---------------------------------------------------------------+
                                                                                    | y    | m    | sum(timestampdiff(day, exist.created_at, new.created_at) < 1) |
                                                                                    +------+------+---------------------------------------------------------------+
                                                                                    | 2012 |    7 |                                                             8 |
                                                                                    | 2012 |    8 |                                                            39 |
                                                                                    | 2012 |    9 |                                                            92 |
                                                                                    | 2012 |   10 |                                                             3 |
                                                                                    | 2012 |   11 |                                                             5 |
                                                                                    | 2012 |   12 |                                                            10 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    1 |                                                             3 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    2 |                                                             1 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    3 |                                                            10 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    4 |                                                             3 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    5 |                                                            10 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    6 |                                                            14 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    7 |                                                            11 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    8 |                                                             5 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |    9 |                                                             3 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |   10 |                                                             7 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |   11 |                                                             8 |
                                                                                    | 2013 |   12 |                                                             9 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    1 |                                                           137 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    2 |                                                            57 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    3 |                                                            27 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    4 |                                                            44 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    5 |                                                            26 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    6 |                                                            13 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    7 |                                                            18 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    8 |                                                            22 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |    9 |                                                            11 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |   10 |                                                            16 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |   11 |                                                            14 |
                                                                                    | 2014 |   12 |                                                            13 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    1 |                                                            35 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    2 |                                                            16 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    3 |                                                             8 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    4 |                                                            27 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    5 |                                                            18 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    6 |                                                             8 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    7 |                                                            32 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    8 |                                                            15 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |    9 |                                                            11 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |   10 |                                                             8 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |   11 |                                                             6 |
                                                                                    | 2015 |   12 |                                                             8 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    1 |                                                            10 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    2 |                                                            16 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    3 |                                                            10 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    4 |                                                             7 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    5 |                                                            16 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    6 |                                                             6 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    7 |                                                             7 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    8 |                                                            13 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |    9 |                                                             3 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |   10 |                                                            13 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |   11 |                                                            20 |
                                                                                    | 2016 |   12 |                                                            10 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    1 |                                                            58 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    2 |                                                            16 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    3 |                                                            10 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    4 |                                                            12 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    5 |                                                            13 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    6 |                                                            28 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    7 |                                                            26 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    8 |                                                            17 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |    9 |                                                            11 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |   10 |                                                             7 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |   11 |                                                            14 |
                                                                                    | 2017 |   12 |                                                             7 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    1 |                                                            18 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    2 |                                                            13 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    3 |                                                            13 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    4 |                                                            22 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    5 |                                                             5 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    6 |                                                             5 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    7 |                                                            14 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    8 |                                                            12 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |    9 |                                                             6 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |   10 |                                                             8 |
                                                                                    | 2018 |   11 |                                                             3 |
                                                                                    +------+------+---------------------------------------------------------------+
                                                                                    77 rows in set (0.04 sec)
                                                                                    
                                                                                    1. 5

                                                                                      I don’t remember the exact details of the form. I’m not surprised you aren’t seeing significant numbers related to the use of the form per se.

                                                                                      But I’m not really a tech person. I’m more of a social creature. If it were my forum, and it’s not, my reasons for changing it would be related to the psychosocial impact.

                                                                                      My first thought was that I simply wouldn’t take people to that form when they first join, but I wouldn’t change the privilege. They could still invite people if they desired, but the messaging would be different.

                                                                                      I’m kind of on the fence at the moment whether delaying the privilege is a good idea or not. Seemed like a good idea after brunch. Seems less clear and unambiguous now.

                                                                                      But the messaging has a psychosocial impact and that’s the sort of debugging I get into.

                                                                                      Which isn’t an attempt to convince you to do anything whatsoever. It’s just an attempt to communicate my thoughts on the subject as clearly as I know how.

                                                                                      And thank you for replying.

                                                                                      1. 4

                                                                                        I should’ve thought to link the source for the page you’re talking about, and the users/invitationform it includes.

                                                                                        And it case it wasn’t clear, I ran that query because I read your comment because you might have recognized an important factor we’re not considering. I posted the query because maybe I made an error or someone will suggest a better way to express that or another similar question, and I posted the full stats because it’s the foundation of a productive discussion.

                                                                                        I think we’re on the same page about the importance of good messaging. If you poke around the “app/views” folder there you can read almost all of the site’s messaging. (“Almost” because the about page lives in another repo for historical reasons.)

                                                                                        1. 4

                                                                                          “This community can only grow when members invite new users, just as <%= @user.invited_by_user.try(:username) %> invited you. Take a moment and invite someone you know.”

                                                                                          At a minimum, I would update the wording to something more neutral. I would not literally ask someone seconds after they joined to “Take a moment and invite someone you know.” I might be inclined to frame it as “Now that you are a member, you also have the ability to invite new members that you think would be a good fit for the forum by filling out this form.”

                                                                                          One reason I am hesitant to say there should be a delay in receiving the privilege is because some people will be a better fit and just “get it” much more quickly than others. If someone is an actual programmer, spends a lot of time in other online forums that are similar, already knows multiple members here, etc they may not need much time to readily fit in. So I would be inclined to generally let members decide for themselves when they feel acclimated.

                                                                                          But the boosterism language seconds after joining a forum I’ve been curious about for years but didn’t feel I had the right connections to get into really rubbed me wrong.

                                                                                          And that’s perhaps a can of worms that would be socially problematic to try to open here wrt getting into my personal situation as an example of a thing. But most likely your early members had fairly strong connections to each other and joining a small forum is fundamentally different socially from joining a large one. And my suspicion is that those things are highly pertinent to the outbreak of concerns I happened to step into on day one here.

                                                                                          1. 4

                                                                                            Thanks, I’ve deployed new language for this page.

                                                                                            Invites, yeah, another topic. Feel free to message about personal stuff The very short version is that experiments with removing/weakening it have resulted in immediate, significant spam attacks so it’s unlikely to leave, but the biggest downside to it is that it’s a significant barrier to newbies and people who otherwise don’t have a low Erdős_number to the site’s founder.

                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                              Looks good.

                                                                                              I think Erdős number adequately sums up what I was trying to get at and my personal stuff isn’t pertinent to your needs as admin at this time. But, thanks.

                                                                                  2. 7

                                                                                    “One thing I’d note is that during registration, a new user is encouraged to invite other users. Maybe delaying that privilege (and others) until a user has accrued a certain amount of reputation would help to moderate the growth of the site and give new users some time to acclimate - more like the StackOverflow model.”

                                                                                    @pushcx that sounds like a must have idea. Maybe three to six months delay. I say that based on my own experience where the slow movement and low comments led to me taking about that long to start understanding the community. Maybe being in IRC would’ve sped that up. Seems like there’s sort of a parallel community over there, too.

                                                                                    Anyway, a delay makes a ton of sense given people might send invites to different kinds of people if they only invite after grokking what the site is about.

                                                                                1. 13

                                                                                  Thanks @friendlysock for bringing it up. I also found that thread appalling for its level of cheap potshots and general rudeness. Like, to the point where I’m already looking around for a better alternative.

                                                                                  Why wasn’t the off-topic flag used more?

                                                                                  Because it’s ineffective. In the post I just linked, the “top” (most upvoted) comment is from a moderator taking a side in the debate. I’ve said it before and will probably say it again: our Reddit-style voting system encourages Reddit-style behaviour.

                                                                                  1. 7

                                                                                    Because it’s ineffective. In the post I just linked, the “top” (most upvoted) comment is from a moderator taking a side in the debate.

                                                                                    That moderator took a side not as a moderator but as a human being, with personal opinions. I agree that the post friendlysock mentioned had some cheap potshots, but what you’re doing here isn’t different.

                                                                                    I do however agree with you about the voting system.

                                                                                    1. 5

                                                                                      what you’re doing here isn’t different

                                                                                      Can you elaborate? The difference seems pretty clear to me.

                                                                                      All moderators, hat on or off, are human beings and as such probably have opinions. I’m asking what responsibilities pertain to that role. If the answer is “none really”, then the role itself is not of much use. I would expect a moderator who is deliberately stepping out of that role to at the very least see that another mod actually moderates the discussion. @Irene, care to comment?

                                                                                      How many downvotes (raw numbers, or relative to page views or upvotes, or whatever) do you think should be required before a moderator takes action?

                                                                                      1. 4

                                                                                        the act of moderation deals with knows bads. A particular comment, account, thread, or story where evidence is available, a complaint can be levied via reference to those facts, and the matter settled by any necessary restitution: clarification, apology, demand for cessation of activity, or deletion.

                                                                                        By focusing on what actually happened you (hope, intend, ensure to) remove appeal to intuition, opinion, or preference and focus instead of parsimoniously resolving the matter at hand.

                                                                                        1. 4

                                                                                          Ok, so maybe @friendlysock and I are just unclear on the procedure. When 25 users flag a story as “off-topic”, are you saying that someone has to additionally and explicitly call for a moderator and file a complaint? Where is this procedure written down? It sounds like you’re quoting some manual of conduct that I’ve never seen.

                                                                                        2. 2

                                                                                          Can you elaborate? The difference seems pretty clear to me.

                                                                                          Thank you for asking, you just made me realize that a) my statement was very ambiguous and b) that I was actually doing exactly what I wanted to condemn, mainly discussing the person and not the topic/post. I personally do not think the ethical discussion is the problem, in fact I’m very much for having ethical discussions, but my problem is with attacking people instead of arguing the ideas. That’s why I saw your comment also as a cheap potshot, because you didn’t provide much to why you think that comment was a problem, instead you focused on the human behind it, and that they were a moderator. This is also why I realized thanks to your question that mine wasn’t different.

                                                                                          All moderators, hat on or off, are human beings and as such probably have opinions. I’m asking what responsibilities pertain to that role. If the answer is “none really”, then the role itself is not much use.

                                                                                          The responsibilities can be none with the hat off, that doesn’t mean that they’re also none when the hat’s on. Are you of the opinion that every opinion a tech worker has should be considered the opinion of their employer? how is it different in this case? You can argue that moderators should be role models to the community, but I think that’s not necessary if the moderators can still be judged according to the exact same criteria as other users when the hat’s off.

                                                                                          How many downvotes (raw numbers, or relative to page views or upvotes, or whatever) do you think should be required before a moderator takes action?

                                                                                          Thanks for asking, I’d like to actually hear your opinion on this? I don’t wanna engage in any direct recommendations, because the last time I did, I felt very unwelcome.

                                                                                          1. 4

                                                                                            I’ll be as clear as I can: I was responding to one of @friendlysock’s original questions, and suggesting that Lobsters users, and especially users who have been around long enough to see how things actually work here, don’t use the “flag” (aka “downvote”) feature very much because they have very little evidence that it ever results in moderator action. In practice, it’s a “disagree” button with a little bit of extra ceremony.

                                                                                            1. 3

                                                                                              For flagging: ‘Already Posted’ flags very often result in a merge; ‘Bad Link’ is new but I hope it will usually result in the submitter editing in or resubmitting a working link before a mod gets the chance.

                                                                                              I’ve been deliberately reluctant to remove stories that get ‘Off-Topic’ flags because the ‘hide’ link on stories also hides the comments from /comments and other pages, so it’s easy for someone to effectively remove it from their view. The site has never had an definition of topicality more specific “if no tags apply, it probably doesn’t belong”, so most of what I’ve removed for topicality is news and gossip about tech companies (the mod log has the full list, of course).

                                                                                              The invite system has done a lot to prevent spam, so the ‘Spam’ flag doesn’t get used much. I’ve removed out-and-out spam, but because we get so little it seems to be mostly used as a more vehement “Off Topic” flag. But that’s me reading into it from my perspective; I haven’t messaged to ask. The use of spam flags has increased a bit this year:

                                                                                              MariaDB [lobsters]> select *, n_spam_votes / n_stories * 100 from (select extract(year from updated_at) as y, extract(month from updated_at) as m, count(*) as n_spam_votes, (select count(*) from stories where extract(year from stories.created_at) = y and extract(month from stories.created_at) = m) as n_stories from votes where comment_id is not null and reason = 'S' group by y, m) q;
                                                                                              +------+------+--------------+-----------+--------------------------------+
                                                                                              | y    | m    | n_spam_votes | n_stories | n_spam_votes / n_stories * 100 |
                                                                                              +------+------+--------------+-----------+--------------------------------+
                                                                                              | 2012 |    9 |            4 |       436 |                         0.9174 |
                                                                                              | 2013 |    2 |            1 |       150 |                         0.6667 |
                                                                                              | 2013 |   10 |            1 |       216 |                         0.4630 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    1 |            3 |       576 |                         0.5208 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    2 |            1 |       467 |                         0.2141 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    4 |            9 |       519 |                         1.7341 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    5 |            2 |       509 |                         0.3929 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    6 |            1 |       482 |                         0.2075 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    7 |            6 |       623 |                         0.9631 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    8 |           14 |       482 |                         2.9046 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |    9 |           11 |       435 |                         2.5287 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |   10 |           11 |       396 |                         2.7778 |
                                                                                              | 2014 |   11 |            3 |       443 |                         0.6772 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    1 |            1 |       509 |                         0.1965 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    2 |            5 |       454 |                         1.1013 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    3 |            9 |       584 |                         1.5411 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    4 |            5 |       490 |                         1.0204 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    5 |            3 |       424 |                         0.7075 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    6 |            7 |       422 |                         1.6588 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    7 |           12 |       608 |                         1.9737 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    8 |            7 |       541 |                         1.2939 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |    9 |            2 |       549 |                         0.3643 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |   10 |           11 |       737 |                         1.4925 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |   11 |            3 |       791 |                         0.3793 |
                                                                                              | 2015 |   12 |            6 |       761 |                         0.7884 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    1 |           18 |       972 |                         1.8519 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    2 |           12 |       849 |                         1.4134 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    3 |            1 |       736 |                         0.1359 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    4 |            4 |       739 |                         0.5413 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    5 |            6 |       786 |                         0.7634 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    6 |           16 |       798 |                         2.0050 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    7 |            5 |       812 |                         0.6158 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    8 |            5 |       797 |                         0.6274 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |    9 |            5 |       731 |                         0.6840 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |   10 |            9 |       779 |                         1.1553 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |   11 |           12 |       835 |                         1.4371 |
                                                                                              | 2016 |   12 |            6 |       852 |                         0.7042 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    1 |           10 |      1037 |                         0.9643 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    2 |           13 |      1068 |                         1.2172 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    3 |           28 |      1194 |                         2.3451 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    4 |            4 |       947 |                         0.4224 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    5 |           18 |       979 |                         1.8386 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    6 |           10 |       941 |                         1.0627 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    7 |           31 |      1109 |                         2.7953 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    8 |           22 |      1111 |                         1.9802 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |    9 |           24 |       974 |                         2.4641 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |   10 |            5 |       985 |                         0.5076 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |   11 |           13 |       924 |                         1.4069 |
                                                                                              | 2017 |   12 |           10 |       922 |                         1.0846 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    1 |           10 |       961 |                         1.0406 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    2 |            7 |       846 |                         0.8274 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    3 |           20 |      1058 |                         1.8904 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    4 |           33 |       983 |                         3.3571 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    5 |           37 |       982 |                         3.7678 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    6 |           22 |       886 |                         2.4831 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    7 |            9 |      1017 |                         0.8850 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    8 |           18 |       985 |                         1.8274 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |    9 |           21 |       869 |                         2.4166 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |   10 |           16 |       918 |                         1.7429 |
                                                                                              | 2018 |   11 |            8 |       563 |                         1.4210 |
                                                                                              +------+------+--------------+-----------+--------------------------------+
                                                                                              60 rows in set (0.83 sec)
                                                                                              
                                                                                              1. 2

                                                                                                That’s an interesting point. Up until recently I was under the impression that flagging isn’t used often so that things that actually get flagged are in fact dealt with. Specially since there’s a wiki on how and when to downflag, whereas there’s nothing regarding upvotes.

                                                                                        3. 5

                                                                                          Its baffling to me that the idea that a company that does what Palantir does, and that people who choose to work there should somehow be treated with some abstract notion of dignity, is so prevalent. I’ve lost work, years of work for refusing to do things I thought were unethical. It drove me into homelessness. I have yet, really, to financially and emotionally recover. I have no sympathy whatsoever for individuals who choose to check their morals at the door. And similarly, I have no sympathy whatsoever for the attitude that we should police comments and whole tech communities into a tortured abstract “technology is science and science is value free thus any imposition of moral considerations is authoritarian mob mentality”. Its attitudes like that, a reluctance to confront the effects and interrelations of what we do that allowed me to be driven out of a very real community and out of digital labor generally.

                                                                                          1. 6

                                                                                            “ I’ve lost work, years of work for refusing to do things I thought were unethical. It drove me into homelessness. I have yet, really, to financially and emotionally recover. “

                                                                                            Same here minus homelessness from that. Sorry to hear it came to that. Had to be rough. Im actually about to drop that policy soon since stuff is so pervasively evil that Ill have to work with evil companies or practices to do good in certain areas. Depressing.

                                                                                            Just remember that many of us are not talking about entire tech scene ignoring politics, us getting jobs at Palantir, and so on. We’re talking about people who, under a range of politics, want one site to not have it or keep it in politically-tagged threads. One. Site. Some of you keep making a quantum leap from one site to saying we want no politics anywhere. No, this site or tech threads staying tech focused while politicking continues elsewhere.

                                                                                            A break, more focus on stuff that might benefit folks, holding activists to account on doing work where it helps the most… many reasons to keep one site free of political fights even for a person that does politics. I voted no politics since Im a union guy doing activism in a company that’s an uphill battle with other sites, friends, and family always doing politics. Am I evil because I want a distraction or break in between political things I do? And one that’s consistently relaxing?

                                                                                            And if I am, why are leftist Lobsters constantly telling us nice, relaxing things they do during the week or weekend that dont involve letting their political opponents call them out, say theyre racist/sexistwhatever, advise them to quit their jobs, and so on? They’re fine with doing non-political things or staying in political circles they like but think we reading papers on Lobsters must read shit that bothers us or some despise simultaneously? And here’s the kicker: they think something positive politically will come out of that instead of fights and metas that resulted for years. Telling them to 180 all their beliefs saying theyre evil sure doesnt work but telling us to will?

                                                                                            Id rather us be a peaceful, technical community with a section dedicated to politics. That’s a long tradition on forums that let both types do their thing. Wont happen here but wouldve blocked a lot of damage.

                                                                                            1. 4

                                                                                              You’ve changed my mind.

                                                                                              I was reluctant to open lobster.rs this morning, because I was being afraid of more of this instead of more threads about monads and cool ipfs hacks.

                                                                                          2. 1

                                                                                            I cannot find the comment you are referring too (possibly because it’s in a subthread that’s hidden by default due to downvotes). Can you provide a direct link to the comment in question?

                                                                                          1. 10

                                                                                            Can we separate (on voluntary basis or administratively) comments about ethical concerns into a separate mirror of the post discussion, explicitly marked so? Everybody would be free to continue discussions on ethics in a separate post without forcing anyone to read it along with the technical discussion. Not sure how practical this idea is, though.

                                                                                            1. 5

                                                                                              That was actually one of the ideas for 2019 I alluded to in my comment. Ill be brainstorming on how to implement it conveniently with minimal burden to admins/mods. It’s a low-priority item to me, though, with stuff like search improvements being more important. Maybe tie-in to a feature improvement.

                                                                                              1. 7

                                                                                                Can’t we have tabs for the comment section?

                                                                                                Technical | Related | Other | Off-Topic

                                                                                                And switch through them if one wants to.

                                                                                                1. 4

                                                                                                  Relatedly, we did previously have a feature called “dragoning”. A mod could click a comment and that tree would be collapsed and sorted below its siblings regardless of score. Users could click to expand the thread and interact normally, but anytime they reloaded the page they’d have to do it again. (This predated the Replies pages, so it was a deliberate inconvenience.) It was only used a few times on political/ethical threads before it was removed.

                                                                                                  1. 3

                                                                                                    I like this idea, almost like shadow comment threads instead of outright shadowbanning like Reddit. Since a comment thread could go off-topic anywhere, it would need to be a property that is inherited by any child comments as well.

                                                                                              1. 73

                                                                                                Ethics are inseparable from technology, since technology enables and inhibits actions, which are subject to ethical consideration; ergo, the creation of technology is an set of actions subject to ethical judgements.

                                                                                                1. 34

                                                                                                  I’d go even further than that, attempting to exclude “ethics”, broadly construed, has helped to enable a social environment within technology circles that has legitimated a great deal of what people are now rightly reacting to, the surveillance, the effects the brain of using gambling machines as a design template for websites, the unwillingness of corporations to take any responsibility whatsoever for the effects that their products have on society at large, Uber (all of it), and on and on.

                                                                                                  1. 14

                                                                                                    I agree with both of you. On the other hand, I also kinda see the point of wanting a space that’s focused in technical aspects, and understand OP’s fear of ethical/political discourse dominating this forum. And in the other other hand, I also feel that not speaking about the ethics of technologies, and actively discouraging this kind of discussion, is, in and of itself, a way of speaking about it, agreeing with it.

                                                                                                    So, yeah, that’s hard. I got no solutions.

                                                                                                    1. 8

                                                                                                      Regarding the “fear of ethical/political discourse dominating this forum”—I understand, but we wouldn’t have to have all of these discussions if people would just stop being unethical :-) The more discussions we have now on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future. But if we don’t talk about it then, as you point out, things are only going to get worse.

                                                                                                      1. 13

                                                                                                        I think there’s a bit of a difference between discussing the ethics of a company and aggressively attacking a person.

                                                                                                        The main top comment raises some points and actually encourages discussion, which admittedly doesn’t really happen in that thread. A large portion of the top upvoted comments are people chiming in and (essentially) saying “me too”. The top comment responding to a maintainer is incredibly aggressive towards the maintainer who stepped forward, only tangentially relates to the parent comment, is arguably a personal attack against that person and discourages discussion through the tone. Yet it’s more upvoted than the technical comments below.

                                                                                                        In addition. it’s easy to forget that there are people on the other side of these usernames. It reminds me quite a bit of This is Phil Fish, a case study on how people can associate people with something larger, sometimes in damaging ways. It’s not quite the same, but I see similar parallels in how the community tends to treat employees of certain companies (yes, like Palantir… but Google also comes to mind).

                                                                                                        I’d like to see more comments that encourage discussion, like the most upvoted top-level comment, and less comments saying “me too”, “I agree with this”, or borderline attacking the poster, like the most upvoted response to the maintainer.

                                                                                                        1. 10

                                                                                                          The more discussions we have now on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future. But if we don’t talk about it then, as you point out, things are only going to get worse.

                                                                                                          That’s an interesting theory. I haven’t seen any evidence to support it on any of the other discussion forums I’ve used, but I suppose it might be true somewhere. I think friendlysock’s take is more accurate: by encouraging (tolerating? normalizing?) aggressive and reflexive positions on non-technical issues, we will get more of them here, not less. And eventually, the “bad money” will drive out the good, just like it does everywhere.

                                                                                                          1. 6

                                                                                                            Indeed - I think we have a plethora of examples of politics taking over, and few (none?) of political discussion settling debate so that everyone can move on.

                                                                                                          2. 8

                                                                                                            The more discussions we have no on this topic, the fewer we’ll need to have in the future.

                                                                                                            I disagree with this in so many ways. We cannot possibly come to some end resolution where everyone agrees on a certain set of ethics, and even if that magically happened, we cannot all agree on the best way to act upon those ethics. Political conversation already permeates way too much of society. I don’t need to see it in a forum for technical discussion. If we’re going to try to think of ways for technology to be abused, we’re not going to produce anything. Further, I think we’re totally dismissing all the great things that same technology has done and can continue to do because it can be abused. If someone wants feedback on their submission, I don’t personally want to see politically-oriented discussion around it in this particular forum.

                                                                                                            If the broader group of folks here wants this to become a political-friendly abyss, I’m fine with stepping away. But I don’t get that feeling right now.

                                                                                                          3. 4

                                                                                                            This is basically my opinion, too.

                                                                                                            (I haven’t posted more in this an the other meta threads this week because I’ve been very busy starting a new job, but as I’m catching up today I’ve really appreciated all the thoughtful discussion exploring these questions that don’t have easy answers.)

                                                                                                            1.  

                                                                                                              I didn’t see this at the time, thanks for taking a moment to add to the discussion.

                                                                                                        2. 36

                                                                                                          I think you have a point here that is both truth and lacking utility, but may be getting upvotes because hey, who wouldn’t upvote ethics in technology?

                                                                                                          Here are some of the practical issues with supporting debates about “ethics”.

                                                                                                          First, what do we mean by “ethics”?

                                                                                                          Are we just wanting to talk about right and wrong? That’s often a matter of aesthetics. When I was born, it was pretty commonly held that homosexual acts were Evil, that psychoactive drug usage was Corrupt, and that democracy was unquestionably Good. None of those things are unerringly true anymore.

                                                                                                          You might say “But friendlysock, those are matters of morals, as opposed to organized systems of beliefs that are analyzed in the context of practicing agents!”, and I would agree. That being the case, what is the point of having discussions that end up going basically:

                                                                                                          • “You’re immoral!”
                                                                                                          • “No, you’re immoral!”
                                                                                                          • “You both act in clear hypocrisy of your professed morals!”

                                                                                                          That discussion leaves everybody angry, takes up a lot of space, and doesn’t teach anybody anything. Worse, it breaks the operating regime of the site, because people will inevitably just blindly upvote the folks whose aesthetic matches theirs, and downvote or flag those that don’t–or worse, devolve into namecalling.

                                                                                                          Okay, well, what about big-E Ethics?

                                                                                                          So, we skip out on thinly-veiled callout threads and we’re just gonna limit ourselves to talking about big-E Ethics. Academic/philosopher stuff like meta-ethics and normative ethics and subtopics like utilitarianism and virtue ethics and state consequentialism and so forth.

                                                                                                          And those are really fun topics. We have problems with those as the basis for subthreads though:

                                                                                                          • Hardcore philosophy (despite our having a tag by that name, since that usage is looser) is off-topic.
                                                                                                          • Most users (myself included!) are completely underskilled to talk big-E Ethics without a lot of clarifying back-and-forth and education in threads. Even assuming we have the skill to do all of that in a subthread (we don’t) and that we avoid falling back into moralizing (we won’t), such conversations suck all of the air out of the room for the technical discussion. That Palantir thread had us scrolling to the very bottom to get anything involving code or tech.
                                                                                                          • We’re gonna end up having the same discussions over and over again, as the big-E Ethics questions are, rather famously, undecidable.

                                                                                                          Okay, fine, what about professional ethics?

                                                                                                          Sure! If people want to talk about how a given thing violates professional ethics, then I think that is healthy. Here is the ACM Code of Ethics. Use that as a starting point in a subthread.

                                                                                                          Note though that we still don’t have professional organizations in the sense of, say, Professional Engineers. Our profession isn’t organized enough for that. So, talking about “professional” ethics is kinda hard.

                                                                                                          ~

                                                                                                          Overall, I just don’t think that the “ethics” discussions are what people are actually after here. I think people want to callout and shit on other folks, and that they want to show to their friends solidarity in an aesthetic. This damages one of the only good venues for safe technical discussion on the ’net today.

                                                                                                          And I won’t stand for that.

                                                                                                          1. 30

                                                                                                            I would, gently, point out that adjucating morals to aesthetics (the study of beauty, and of which the current post-Romantic admits a separate aesthetic for each individual) is not a stance that is particularly admirable.

                                                                                                            Simply keeping “Lobsters about tech” is a big E ethics decision, with ramifications that ripple out.

                                                                                                            If you want to demand that people treat other people well, that is a stable ethical choice that is supportable and relatively decidable.

                                                                                                            ~

                                                                                                            But to be clear, working for Palantir - or other major enabler of violence & repression that generates widespread sideeye, is both a technical and an ethical choice; pointing this out and pushing back against consuming technical material from such an enabler seems perfectly reasonable.

                                                                                                            We can debate whether working for Palantir is ethical - it probably also enables benefits to LEOs working complex cases and addressing real social harm. Many times on other social media sites, employees of ethically tangled companies will comment and discuss the complexity and reality of working in these environments. There is a very real debate, it’s not an open and shut thing where some group of activists come in and screams.

                                                                                                            I reiterate: technology and ethics are intertwingled. While some contexts are more neutral than others, very few are pure neutral.

                                                                                                            1. 12

                                                                                                              @pnathan I didn’t want to wade into this muck, but you seem genuine. In my mind is not whether debates about ethics is good or bad, but rather what is lobste.rs for? There are PLENTY of places on this big internet to get on a soapbox and yell about whatever gets your goat. I want a quiet corner where I can just read about technical things. Code, decisions behind code, some PLT, some math and the occasional bit of humor. Perhaps the people here saying, well Kaushik, its time to go away somewhere else because that’s not what lobste.rs is for any more, and I will join the stragglers as we exit out of yet another refuge inundated by the loud and obnoxious soap box crowd.

                                                                                                              1. 10

                                                                                                                I’m 100% with you here. I see way too much soap boxing and bickering pretty much everywhere else on the internet. This was a safe haven for technical discussion without the political theater. If it’s going to become that, I’ll be happy to leave and try to form yet another community where we are trying to avoid this kind of stuff.

                                                                                                                1. -2

                                                                                                                  leave and try to form yet another community where we are trying to avoid this kind of stuff

                                                                                                                  I’ll wager that ethical questions will inevitably follow you there, as they are inextricably part of the human experience, whether or not the primary topic is tech.

                                                                                                                  1. 4

                                                                                                                    I’m not trying to avoid them entirely, I just want a forum for technical discussion. Not everything has to be polluted with other topics and agendas

                                                                                                                    1. 1

                                                                                                                      You might find the more focused discussion you seek in a special-interest forum. General-interest fora will attract general topics of conversation.

                                                                                                                      1. 11

                                                                                                                        Lobsters has been that forum for me until recently.

                                                                                                                        1. 0

                                                                                                                          That’s interesting. I hear many voices in this thread expressing the same. I never saw this website as something like that, I just saw it as a place where some relatively niche computing topics are aggregated.

                                                                                                                          1. 8

                                                                                                                            You’re also relatively new here compared to some of us, so that probably feeds into it. The site has grown quite a bit since I joined.

                                                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                                                              I was reading this website for a long while before I got an invitation, but it is fair to say my account history is relatively new. When I started reading, most posts seemed to get an average of 1 or 2 comments. It’s hard for me to reconcile this—some folks are lamenting that recent discussions are not in keeping with the historical tone of the site, but the site has been historically silent on most topics.

                                                                                                                              1. 5

                                                                                                                                Try looking at it from a different perspective. Perhaps the absolute level of good quality comments hasn’t moved too much, but perhaps the absolute level of low quality comments has increased. If that’s true, it increases the signal-to-noise ratio and can lead to the “we used to have more good quality content here” observation.

                                                                                                                                1. 2

                                                                                                                                  I was being very generous with the comment count. Even today, when I posted that comment, half of the front page articles had zero comments. Perhaps the signal level is just too low to begin with. Maybe there’s no consensus on what the signal is.

                                                                                                                2. 4

                                                                                                                  you seem genuine

                                                                                                                  That’s one of the nicest things someone not my wife has said to me for some time. :) Thank you.

                                                                                                                  My basic thought is that I also want a corner where we can seriously talk about highly technical things, but we should be aware and also talk about the broader ramifications of our work, because we have the technical background to get the implications of our work and be correct about how it works, and to talk about the ethical implications of how a specific capability works/doesn’t work (whereas I have deep suspicions of an arbitrary op-ed columnist whinging about tech and begging for regulation).

                                                                                                                  To ask for a soapbox free zone seems completely ok - to ask for an ethics-free zone is an ethical choice that selects for specific social choices (as non-obvious as that may seem). To be specific: I’m not sure discussing the ethics of a new compiler gets us anywhere, but if its produced by Dr. Evilheart Murder Enterprises, maybe we need to discuss if using it supports D.E.M.E., and if we can redeem the technology from its production in the context of D,E.M.E. I don’t think that this is some lefty social justice agenda I’m asking for…. Maybe I’m wrong.

                                                                                                                3. 12

                                                                                                                  I acknowledge the intertwingling, abstractly. But it seems you’re not addressing friendlysock’s actual concern. Is an announcement thread by a new user who happens to be the maintainer of an open source project an appropriate place to have the “very real debate” about whether working for that person’s employer is an ethical choice? When a commenter on that post engages in a blatant personal attack and is rewarded with upvotes aplenty, is the “very real debate” being furthered?

                                                                                                                  1. 10

                                                                                                                    I would say so: it’s an opportunity for the software developers of Palatir to make a case that they are acting in an ethical fashion, that the world is complex and they are producing a net good. When I worked for a Famously Bad Reputation company, we were encouraged to defend the company. This would have definitely been a place where the maintainer could have defended themselves - if company policy allowed, of course.

                                                                                                                    One of the interesting bits of social psych is conformity matters. If the general community shuns X group, to the point where its a permanent black mark on the record generating firings/no-hirings and it’s not something anyone is comfortable around at church, marrying family members, etc, then the X group diminishes into the fringe. Whether you are conservative or liberal, you wind up having a conformity and a social order. I’m not personally sure where to draw that line and place the mark, but Palantir is a popular target for placing that mark.

                                                                                                                  2. 8

                                                                                                                    I would, gently, point out that adjucating morals to aesthetics (the study of beauty, and of which the current post-Romantic admits a separate aesthetic for each individual) is not a stance that is particularly admirable.

                                                                                                                    Why not? There’s a huge variation in morality within our own culture, let alone looking across cultures. You can find people that believe that it’s immoral for two people with the same groin-endianness to get married, and others who think that it’s immoral for to accumulate a large amount of money. You have people who think that allowing dictators to abuse their people is immoral, and others who think that intervention is a bigger evil. You have people who think that it’s important to protect the freedom of users with copyleft licenses, and people who think that copyleft immorally restricts commercial use of software. You have fights between which supposedly divinely inspired book written thousands of years ago by uneducated sheep herders/traders/warriors/… is the primary authority on how to live your life. The list goes on, and all of them have people who believe one thing or the other.

                                                                                                                    The shifting scene of prevailing ethical thought really does make it more like aesthetics than people are often comfortable admitting. Yes, it has longer term effects on people’s lives, and yes, it’s got some underlying principles, but it’s certainly not some sort of fixed beacon of truth.

                                                                                                                    Why do you think that there is a universal set of ethics that people subscribe to? And if you don’t, do you really want this site to be either the battleground for deciding this, or a community of yes-men who boringly signal that yes, they are indeed a part of the in-group?

                                                                                                                    There are lots of valid and interesting discussions to have on these topics, but to me, they detract from lobste.rs.

                                                                                                                  3. 2

                                                                                                                    The book that revived virtue ethics as a viable project, MacIntyre’s After Virtue, points out how (and explains why) contemporary ethical debates have a peculiarly shrill and interminable character.

                                                                                                                    1. 2

                                                                                                                      This is a weird use of “aesthetics”. I don’t really know what you’re trying to say.

                                                                                                                      1. 2

                                                                                                                        I read “aesthetics” as, roughly, “something that a group of people has decided to call ‘basic human decency’, with the various external trappings this entails”.

                                                                                                                    2. 21

                                                                                                                      Yet I somehow suspect if I ask “What are the ethical implications of creating a webassembly backend for ocaml?” that I won’t receive quite as many upvotes.

                                                                                                                      1. 6

                                                                                                                        If the answer to the question “What is it built for?” is “for missile guidance systems”, we are in a different territory pretty quickly, though! Nothing technology lives without context.

                                                                                                                        To turn this into something more tangible: when DARPA invested around 10 million for https://c2rust.com/, it definitely raised some eyebrows and sparked a couple of discussions.

                                                                                                                        1. 9

                                                                                                                          ARPA/military were behind the Internet, GPS, Tor, and (via defense contractors) majority of contributions to Linux kernel. Yet, most people discuss them without warnings or ethical debates in threads.

                                                                                                                          It’s just specific things that are also talking points in liberal media.

                                                                                                                          1. 2

                                                                                                                            You are making it seem like these things have not been discussed, which is definitely not the case. Also, we’re not liberal media, we’re a community.

                                                                                                                            1. 2

                                                                                                                              Most of the statements read like they were pulled out of the liberal media. Pop-culture politics. People that actually care about popular politics here, say inclusion of under-represented groups, would have people from those groups, esp women, in the main teams (eg Rust compiler/libraries), be submitting work from such underrepresented people here to Lobsters instead of white/asian males, linking to write-ups by the same in the comments, and so on. There’s just one or two people doing that consistently off the top of my head.

                                                                                                                              Inclusive politics here mainly equals writing comments and language policing to such people, not actually highlighting work by or bringing in underrepresented. Aka what they’d do if it really mattered. Same with employers, eco-friendliness, etc where someone could call out an OP in the majority of threads every day about the ethical ramifications of what they’re submitting. They only do on specific, popular, talking points, though.

                                                                                                                              I make an exception for you since your community work probably does a lot of good in inclusion. A lot of good period. On Lobsters, though, most people voting for prioritizing politics for social justice certainly aren’t boosting minorities or even ethical suppliers. So, I call BS on it really mattering to them past ego value from social signaling, virtue and shaming.

                                                                                                                          2. 9

                                                                                                                            So if somebody builds a webassembly backend for missile guidance and puts it on github, is it ethical to use it for protein folding research? Or is it forever tainted?

                                                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                                                              That’s a different question, and yes, it’s an interesting one. It’s also not like things on Github are just there. They still have a maintainer, a hosting organisation, and a leadership.

                                                                                                                          3. 2

                                                                                                                            Thats a cute non-sequitur, given that no one is inserting ethical implications into things like that. Seeing as this thread was sparked by the discussion around the ethical implications of software labor being used to further the work of a surveillance contractor, its not just a worthless message-board retort, its actively muddying the waters around issues that are inseparable from ethical questions.

                                                                                                                          4. 18

                                                                                                                            You’ve got to go about asking these questions in a way that actually enables the OP to respond. Instead, we got a massively passive-aggressive jab at the OP’s company:

                                                                                                                            I guess it may be possible to work at a seedy company and still do good stuff […] Regardless, thanks for releasing this as free software.

                                                                                                                            After which, the top commenter is hailed as a hero, and, to no one’s surprise, the OP didn’t respond.

                                                                                                                            A reword that might have actually elicited a response might have started with “Thanks for releasing this as free software!” rather than the “yeah, your company sucks, but thanks anyway” angle.

                                                                                                                            1. 9

                                                                                                                              the creation of technology is an set of actions subject to ethical judgements

                                                                                                                              Assuming that it is true - is it possible to have a small place (e.g. lobste.rs) which is for discussing technology without ethical implications and all the rest of the net for discussing whatever you want (also ethical aspects of technology)? Is this something you can imagine being possible or do you think that such place can’t exist? (this is a serious question)

                                                                                                                              1. 32

                                                                                                                                That’s certainly an important question.

                                                                                                                                I think that it’s certainly possible to mention technology without explicitly mentioning ethics. I also think that engaging in that way is an ethical position. You can separate them at the surface level of discussion, but not in the substance.

                                                                                                                                That said, I can certainly imagine a community in which technology is discussed but ethics is never explicitly mentioned. I would not want to be part of such a community; I would find it deeply unsettling. I do think that some people might like it, and there are a variety of reasons for that and I wouldn’t want to make assumptions about any particular person’s reasons.

                                                                                                                                1. 7

                                                                                                                                  I think the problem with ethical discussions on a technical forum is that there’s not really a shared basis for those discussions. We might have a bunch of members from various religions and cultures who subscribe to widely different ideological frameworks and ethical principles. These different backgrounds are likely to be incommensurate, incompatible, and irresolvable.

                                                                                                                                  In that way it’s similar to discussions like “Are static types good or evil?” or the famous editor wars—so called “religious flame wars” which are known to ruin communities if left to fester.

                                                                                                                                  So indeed it is a kind of ethical decision about the norms of the community—whether ethical claims and disagreements ought to be encouraged in comment threads. There are pretty good reasons against.

                                                                                                                                  Let’s say I’m a committed socialist or communist or anarchist. There are many such people who are programmers. Now I have very good reason to enter threads about commercial activity and ask the involved people to justify their clearly immoral participation in the tyrannical, plutocratic, deeply unjust system of capitalism. I would of course encounter a bunch of dirty capitalist apologists trying to argue against my ethical position… and we could go on for a long time… almost certainly to the detriment of the community.

                                                                                                                                  1. 5

                                                                                                                                    “I think the problem with ethical discussions on a technical forum is that there’s not really a shared basis for those discussions. We might have a bunch of members from various religions and cultures who subscribe to widely different ideological frameworks and ethical principles. These different backgrounds are likely to be incommensurate, incompatible, and irresolvable.”

                                                                                                                                    You nailed it. That isn’t hypothetical: it happens in every political thread. The ending, minus rare exceptions, is everyone ends up believing what they already believed with some shunning their opponents in some way. Lobsters doesn’t work for political discussion that’s about actually changing people’s mind.

                                                                                                                                    Of course, many of you are starting with the foundation that people wanting politics want a political discussion. They mostly don’t as evidenced by their comments in such threads. If you’re curious, I just described here the evolution of politics and behavioral patterns on this site from when I first came to where we’re at now. Given the same environment, political discussion is and will continue to be impossible because the dominant group intends for it to be. They want compliance and conversion, not discussion.

                                                                                                                                    1. 3

                                                                                                                                      I don’t necessarily know that changing people’s minds should be the goal, but I also don’t know that it’s impossible. I think you’re describing what happens when everyone reacts defensively. It’s indeed not possible to change someone’s mind if they aren’t willing to open up and have a real conversation, so I wish the world in general would be more open to interacting in ways that aren’t so resistant to real dialogue.

                                                                                                                                      I’m an optimist, and I believe that when people try, they can engage with the goal of at least leaving each other with something to think about.

                                                                                                                                2. 6

                                                                                                                                  I’ll suggest this (mainly tongue-in-cheek) but it might be a good solution: for every submission provide another link next to ‘reply’ called ‘ethics-reply.’ The links go to two separate discussion areas. That way, people can dip into the tech or ethics discussions as they like.

                                                                                                                                  1. 6

                                                                                                                                    If such a place did exist, I think you’d have trouble finding a lot of people who would want to hang out there. I’ll just jump immediately to the most extreme possible example: if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion? Would you want to spend a lot of time talking to other people who would be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                                                                                                    1. 14

                                                                                                                                      if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                                                                                                      I am a jew who was raised by holocaust survivors. My answer is yes. In fact, I think it’s the only way that one could have a discussion about the technology used by the Nazis that wasn’t immediately dragged off topic.

                                                                                                                                      And, honestly, an ethical discussion would either be abhorrent or boring, since a vibrant discussion implies a difference of opinion, and anyone who has significant differences in belief with me on the ethics of systematic mass murder is someone that I don’t expect to have a productive discussion with.

                                                                                                                                      1. 12

                                                                                                                                        Yes to both, to be honest. I did a bit of research for a point the other day, and something occurred to me.

                                                                                                                                        Technology, especially computing, is all about solving problems at scale and efficiently. For the most part of the 19th and 20th centuries, the domains that actually had the scale to justify theoretical work and practical development tended overwhelmingly towards things like military applications (standing armies tending to be some of the largest organized groups around) and demographics/census/taxcollecting work.

                                                                                                                                        For better or worse, note that IBM was really good at tabulating census data, something that the Nazis took advantage of. I personally would be happy talking about techniques for tabulating that data and managing it, in hopes that it could be applied to more positive uses. Similarly, I’d be happy to learn about rocketry from von Braun, even though most of what he learned he learned by dropping explosives on British civilians.

                                                                                                                                        1. 5

                                                                                                                                          Let’s take the specifics. Is Palantir stuff that remarkable to be worth the inevitable fallout in the comments and personal ethical compromises? Is it really that seminal and groundbreaking?

                                                                                                                                          It is a dilemma when we talk about say an SS officer who also happened to run the US Moon programme. But Palantir is adtech’s meaner sibling, what is there that makes it worth picking the turd pile?

                                                                                                                                          1. 9

                                                                                                                                            The drop in the level of technical discussion is the issue, not the company being discussed. I’d prefer to let posts on unethical companies die in silence, rather than make this site a worse place to discuss technology.

                                                                                                                                            1. 2

                                                                                                                                              Another reason is highlighting the bad gives you less time to create the good. Most people that care can look up a company to see if there’s anything messed up. The bad or at least going with the flow are also the majority. If we’re talking companies, I’d rather people put more effort into highlighting ethical ones with useful tech or products. Basically, anything that can be a fit here on technical grounds with them also mentioning in a comment that the person, company, product, etc is good/beneficial for (reasons here). Maybe they mention some bad examples with it if trying to shame companies. Just optimize to promote more tech and examples of public benefit over just calling out bad companies who are the perpetual default.

                                                                                                                                              Easy example: Prgmr.com over Digital Ocean, AWS, Google, or Azure if fits use case due to ‘straight-forward offerings, great service, some nice people, and freely hosting an excellent site for deep, technical discussion.” The submission might even be about something else entirely that’s merely hosted on the ethical product/service. Then, they add a quick note about it that barely distracts from the focus on technical content. Just all flows together for the reader.

                                                                                                                                            2. 8

                                                                                                                                              the inevitable fallout in the comments

                                                                                                                                              The fallout is not “inevitable” - it is not a force majeure. Actual, specific, individuals CHOOSE to make it about the “ethics”. You’re asking people to appease these individuals.

                                                                                                                                            3. 2

                                                                                                                                              Would you be also ok to discuss methods of performing deadly medical experiments on people with Nazi concentration camps staff? Would you be ok to advise them how to improve the scale and speed? Would you still want to keep such discussions ethics-free? How about diacussing effectiveness of guns with the Zodiac Killer? Or advising Ted Kaczynski on bombs?

                                                                                                                                              edit: Please note my intention here is not to seed outrage; I’m sincerely interested in your answer, as I find it hard to imagine setting really no ethics limits, so I’m curious to gauge where would you actually set them? Or would you really want no limits?

                                                                                                                                              1. 6

                                                                                                                                                I’ll pick on your first example, because I don’t see benefit in addressing the others (I read you as making the same category of point, with those added for emphasis).

                                                                                                                                                Would you be also ok to discuss methods of performing deadly medical experiments on people with Nazi concentration camps staff? Would you be ok to advise them how to improve the scale and speed?

                                                                                                                                                Let me turn that around on you:

                                                                                                                                                Would you prefer they do them inefficiently, if you knew they were going to do them regardless? Would you prefer that the innocent lives lost in the nominal science of these experiments be done in vain because somebody screwed up their data collection? Would you prefer that, for the same data, they use extra prisoners because they suck at statistical power analysis?

                                                                                                                                                I don’t support immoral behavior, such as mass murder and torture. I do recognize that whether such things are legally or ethically permissible (again, not morally) is something that transcends individual opinion, and that where those acts fall is a function of the zeitgeist of the times. Sloppy engineering, science, and math will always be sloppy, aesthetics of the time be damned.

                                                                                                                                                We can’t get to identifying and fixing/discouraging/pillorying that sloppy behavior if we can’t engage with it. We can’t even get close enough to try and reclaim those lost souls if we can’t engage with them on (nominally objective) material civilly.

                                                                                                                                                1. 6

                                                                                                                                                  Thanks for the interesting reply! So, I think in shortest words I could express what I think about this the following way: I would indeed prefer for them to do this ineffectively - I’d say that is the principle behind sabotage. As far as I know, sabotage works. And that’s indeed what I’d hope to be able to say I’m doing against actions I believe to be significantly unethical. (Though trying to keep my own integrity in means employed to that end.)

                                                                                                                                                  1. 9

                                                                                                                                                    I’m not sure sabotage always works the way one hopes. When you destroy the results of human experimentation, the data is recreated by repeating the experiments on a new set of humans. That seems like a bad outcome for those involved.

                                                                                                                                                    I think the problem is we too often define success as hurting the bad people, and yes sabotage hurts them, but we too should consider the collateral damage of our actions.

                                                                                                                                                    1. 6

                                                                                                                                                      It’s not about hurting bad people. It’s about making their evil work harder and less efficient at actually hurting good people, while also trying to convince evildoers to not do the evil in the first place, and preferably do good instead and thus become good people. If doing evil is easy for them, it won’t make them do less of it, but rather more of it. They will always invent new experiments to do on a new set of humans anyway. Appeasement policy did not work on the onset of WW2. A bully must be stopped, not let continue the bullying. A child doing bad things must be reprimanded and informed/educated about bad consequences of their deeds, not spoiled.

                                                                                                                                                      1. 1

                                                                                                                                                        Well put.

                                                                                                                                              2. 5

                                                                                                                                                if someone posted an article about the technology used by the Nazis to organize the Holocaust, but discussing the attendant ethics was strictly forbidden, would you be happy participating in that discussion?

                                                                                                                                                Interesting example - you are asking if I would be interested in (discussing) e.g. technological aspects of IBM products around Second World War. Yes, this might be very interesting. I can also imagine other Nazi tech related topics that I wouldn’t find interesting (but see no reason for others not to be interested in) and in such cases I would use the hide button. Hopefully such place wouldn’t be all war tech from Nazi Germany or modern day USA ;)

                                                                                                                                                1. 4

                                                                                                                                                  I would absolutely be hanging out there. That was kind of how this place has been for the most part.

                                                                                                                                                  As to your question about Nazis, yes I would want to discuss the technology, and I’d be happy to discuss it with people in those threads. If it were completely neutral politically, there is the potential to have great technical discussion.

                                                                                                                                                  1. 3

                                                                                                                                                    I think you’d have trouble finding a lot of people who would want to hang out there

                                                                                                                                                    I agree, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? This is not some sort of mass movement.

                                                                                                                                                  2. 0

                                                                                                                                                    s it possible to have a small place (e.g. lobste.rs) which is for discussing technology without ethical implications and all the rest of the net for discussing whatever you want

                                                                                                                                                    No. Even if it were, this would not be it.

                                                                                                                                                    1. 1

                                                                                                                                                      Even if it were, this would not be it.

                                                                                                                                                      How do you know this?

                                                                                                                                                      1. 0

                                                                                                                                                        Because this site is full of intelligent people.

                                                                                                                                                        1. 9

                                                                                                                                                          Ah. You’re implying that “discussing technology without ethical implications” is exclusive to stupid people. Do I understand you correctly?

                                                                                                                                                          1. 2

                                                                                                                                                            I’m chewing on my keyboard right now!

                                                                                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                                                                                              Discussing technology without coming up against ethical issues is impossible. I don’t think intelligent people would just skirt around them when they come up.

                                                                                                                                                    2. 5

                                                                                                                                                      Do you have an example of an action that would not be subject to ethical judgements? In trying to understand your claim, but I don’t sufficiently understand the definitions you’re using to determine whether you’ve made a falsifiable statement or not. Will you spend a little time describing the limits of your statement or what empirical observations support it?

                                                                                                                                                      1. 6

                                                                                                                                                        I would argue that there is a class of actions, e.g., selecting one knife over another in the kitchen for cooking, that has neither inherent ethic or no ethical consequence. Now, the ethic selected for consideration will affect whether you consider something to be of consequence. If, e.g., there is an ethical judgment on the Proper Utensils To Use, then that becomes of ethical consequence. Generally, societies consider actions such as killing adult humans to have inherent ethics.

                                                                                                                                                        Suppose we choose gcc or clang - then you are supporting, ever so mildly, one development philosophy & license over another. Those licenses are widely considered to have ethical entailments. The FSF has very strong ethical stances about licensing.

                                                                                                                                                        Now, with respect to empirical observations, I suggest weapons systems: they are an obvious technology which carries ethical implications. Other technology might be: AirBNB (affects housing), Uber (affects taxi operators), factory robots (replaces factory workers). Each of those affects jobs and thus the ability of many members of society to be fed and housed, a clear ethical question.

                                                                                                                                                        I hope those presents samples that adequately points towards the answer you are looking for.

                                                                                                                                                        1. 7

                                                                                                                                                          I would argue that there is a class of actions, e.g., selecting one knife over another in the kitchen for cooking, that has neither inherent ethic or no ethical consequence.

                                                                                                                                                          Interesting. Why do you believe that the methods that knife companies use to exploit their workers and the labor conditions of their employees would not be something to discuss? Do you believe that the environmental implications of importing knives from China rather than buying them locally has no ethical impact? What about the historical implications of Western expansion and influence in Japan, and the resulting western style Gyuto knives supplanting Sujihiki style kitchen knives? In fact, not only are there ethical implications, there are deep historical forces involved in your selection of kitchen knives.

                                                                                                                                                          Of course there are ethical considerations in picking kitchen knives. But you might not want someone to bring them up every time you try to discuss paring potatoes, because they may be considered to be off topic by some.

                                                                                                                                                          1. 4

                                                                                                                                                            Ah, this is the problem with language: I was contemplating grabbing one knife out of my kitchen bin versus another. “Selection” is a polymorphic verb over multiple objects dispatching… and yes, actual purchasing of knives exercises an ethical choice regarding the supply chain and who gets my infinitesimally small dollar choice.

                                                                                                                                                            It’s a bit tiring, as a friend said to me once, there is no ethical consumption under capitalism(even if you disagree with my Lefty friend there, you can get the spirit of the statement) - sometimes you do just need to get the Thing done. One has to care the appropriate amount, and respond in the proportional manner.

                                                                                                                                                            1. 10

                                                                                                                                                              there is no ethical consumption under capitalism

                                                                                                                                                              I’d go one step further: There’s no such thing as an unquestionably ethical action. The economic model doesn’t matter – everything is an ethical trade off. With that realization, it becomes clear that ethical debates can be shoehorned in anywhere, which is why a space where discussions on ethics are deemed off topic can be valuable.

                                                                                                                                                              (Edit) High quality discussion on ethics would be interesting, but quality is subjective, and discussions are prone to turn into flame wars and shaming, especially in today’s internet climate, so I’d rather have them declared off topic, at least in this little corner.

                                                                                                                                                              1. 8

                                                                                                                                                                If politics is encouraged in every applicable thread (it is now) and I wanted to join that practice (I don’t), I could be calling folks out in many (sometimes most) threads here each day on ethics around employers, code maintenance, energy use, disposable products causing environmental harm, using tech that’s non-inclusive cuz few understand it or CPU/RAM requirements price out the poor, and so on. It would be ridiculous even when true since it distracts so much from the kinds of technical submissions that brought many people to Lobsters in the first place. Especially those actually building interesting stuff vs just submitting.

                                                                                                                                                                It’s why I was for either ban on politics or a tag so it would be in specific threads folks could filter. Both got shot down. Here we are.

                                                                                                                                                      2. 6

                                                                                                                                                        You’re absolutely correct.

                                                                                                                                                        Hell, Portland State University’s CS program even has a requirement class “CS 305 Social, Ethical, and Legal Implications of Computing”[0]. I suspect this is not an anomoly..

                                                                                                                                                        1. https://www.pdx.edu/computer-science/cs305
                                                                                                                                                      1. 4

                                                                                                                                                        Is there any evidence at all that the perceived recent negative trend (in all its forms, be it low-quality submissions, uncivil commenting, bad-faith up/downvoting) is at all coming from recent users?

                                                                                                                                                        If so a ban might be considered constructive.

                                                                                                                                                        If not, it’s just blaming a lot of innocent people, whose only characteristic is that they haven’t been members here for long.

                                                                                                                                                        I’ve invited a lot of users over my time here, mostly because I’m active on IRC and have the time to do minimal vetting. As far as I know there haven’t been bad behavior associated with them.

                                                                                                                                                        For what it’s worth, I’d be cool if there was a hard cap on how many invites a member can send over a set time period.

                                                                                                                                                        1. 3

                                                                                                                                                          Speaking of evidence, this is a good place for me to leave a comment that, as noted on the about page, I’ll run queries to help produce the evidence.

                                                                                                                                                        1. 9

                                                                                                                                                          Hey Crustaceans,

                                                                                                                                                          I’m against this.

                                                                                                                                                          I’m also tired of these outrage-based threads.

                                                                                                                                                          What about:

                                                                                                                                                          1. Setup a reply cooldown: let say we have to wait for 2 hours before posting again to a same story thread. It could prevent heated argument and would oblige people (I include myself in this set) to act a bit more rationally.
                                                                                                                                                          2. Disable upvotes for newcomers and activate them when the user reach X karma point. A bit like what we currently do with flags.

                                                                                                                                                          [edit]: I’m willing to write the code associated to both of these proposals.

                                                                                                                                                          1. 8

                                                                                                                                                            I don’t think #1 is so broadly right; I ran a few queries and it doesn’t look like the average time from a reply to its parent is dropping. A quick reply isn’t necessarily bad like this rule implies; we often have excellent, deep back-and-forths between individuals.

                                                                                                                                                            If we want to only put it in place where a thread is catching downvotes, hm, there’s a handful of users who regularly downvote things they disagree with. Like most activity this is a logarithmic distribution so it really is like 5-9 users who do most of this, but it takes human judgment to tell it apart from a really active user… so it’s a mod messaging them rather than easily algorithmic.

                                                                                                                                                            For #2, as you offered to write code - want to take a pass at a query or queries to get at whether new/low-karma users upvoting “outrage-based threads” is a problem?

                                                                                                                                                            1. 3

                                                                                                                                                              For #2, as you offered to write code - want to take a pass at a query or queries to get at whether new/low-karma users upvoting “outrage-based threads” is a problem?

                                                                                                                                                              Very good idea! I’ll update my local install and come back to you with the query.

                                                                                                                                                            2. 2

                                                                                                                                                              I’m also against this, but support this open approach to trying to solve perceived problems.

                                                                                                                                                              As for these two proposals, I think the disadvantages of #1 outweigh the potential advantages. The whole point of a forum is to foster discussion, and I do not believe adding friction to those discussions is an acceptable solution to personality conflicts.

                                                                                                                                                              #2 seems reasonable, but it’s not entirely clear to me how it would help. I suppose I would need a better understanding of the problem.

                                                                                                                                                            1. 15

                                                                                                                                                              Users have never had a limited count of invites. It used to be universal but became boolean.

                                                                                                                                                              1. 3

                                                                                                                                                                For the reverse, there’s the classic paper Can a biologist fix a radio?.

                                                                                                                                                                1. 42

                                                                                                                                                                  This is what running a VM in Microsoft Azure means. Microsoft controls the underlying datacenter hardware, host OS, hypervisors etc.

                                                                                                                                                                  There is no defense against sustained physical access.

                                                                                                                                                                  1. 10

                                                                                                                                                                    I think the difference raymii is making is between online and offline access - yes, they can unrack the servers and look at your disks with a magnifying glass, but online access where they can log in live to your running instance is a different threat model. If you rack hardware somewhere, sure, they have your hardware, but they most likely don’t have (an equivalent of) the root password. This story surprised me.

                                                                                                                                                                    1. 18

                                                                                                                                                                      But we’re talking about virtual machines here, right? So you don’t need to unrack anything; your magnifying glass is just /proc/$(pgrep qemu)/mem (or whatever the hyper-v equivalent is), to peruse at your leisure, online, from the host.

                                                                                                                                                                      (And even in the case of rented physical servers, there are still probably BMCs and such in scope that could achieve analogous things.)

                                                                                                                                                                      1. 2

                                                                                                                                                                        But that is still more work than just executing commands via an agent that’s already running. You still have to do something to get root access to a specific machine, instead of being able to script against some agent and accessing all machines.

                                                                                                                                                                        Leaving your door unlocked is one thing; setting it wide open with a sign “Enter here” is another.

                                                                                                                                                                        1. 2

                                                                                                                                                                          On the plus side, though it is “easy” it also appears to be logged and observable within the VM, which is the part most obviously unlike actual backdoors.

                                                                                                                                                                      2. 13

                                                                                                                                                                        There is absolutely nothing to be done from within a VM to prevent the host flipping a bit and backdooring it arbitrarily, or snapshotting it without shutting it down and doing the same. I’d be very surprised all the big names don’t have this functionality available internally – at least Google support live migration, which is the same tech.

                                                                                                                                                                        There are open toolkits for doing arbitrarily nasty poking and introspection to a running VM, e.g. volatility framework

                                                                                                                                                                        Hard to point fingers at Microsoft here

                                                                                                                                                                        1. 3

                                                                                                                                                                          Moreover, Live Migration of VM’s is a functionality available in widely deployed VMware ESXi software since 90’s. I suppose even longer than that on Big Iron.

                                                                                                                                                                        2. 2

                                                                                                                                                                          They can access the memory. That is equivalent to a root password. IMHO CPU supported memory encryption like Intel SGX is snake-oil at most, if you are targeted by the phisycal host of your VM.

                                                                                                                                                                          Hosting in the cloud is a matter of trust and threat analysis.

                                                                                                                                                                        3. 5

                                                                                                                                                                          I’m really suprised, it seems that everybody thinks it’s common knowledge and they seem to think it’s normal. I don’t like my hosting provider having this level of access to my data and machines. We are smart enough to find a solution to this, hosting infrastructure without giving up on all security…

                                                                                                                                                                          1. 26

                                                                                                                                                                            With managed virtualized infrastructure, “this level of access” is completely unavoidable. They run the virtualized hardware your “server” is running on; they have complete memory and CPU state access, and they can change anything they want.

                                                                                                                                                                            I guess it makes backdooring things marginally simpler to write a guest-side agent, but their actual capabilities are totally unchanged.

                                                                                                                                                                            This is something that ought to be common knowledge, but unfortunately doesn’t seem to be.

                                                                                                                                                                            1. 1

                                                                                                                                                                              The risk of your provider taking a snapshot of your disk and ram is always there with virtualization. But, you could encrypt the disk, which would make it harder for them (they have to scan ram for the key, then decrypt). But just an agent with root privileges… what bothers me the most I guess is that it is not made clear. A note in /etc/issue or motd with “we have full root acces in your vm, read http://kb.ms.com/kb77777 for more info” would make it clear right from the get-go.

                                                                                                                                                                              1. 10

                                                                                                                                                                                (they have to scan ram for the key, then decrypt)

                                                                                                                                                                                Not even that, just put a backdoor in the BIOS, boot loader, initramfs, or whatever code is used to unlock the encrypted disk to intercept key entry.

                                                                                                                                                                                1. 3

                                                                                                                                                                                  Do you know of any isolated / trusted vm like solution? Where provider access is mitigated?

                                                                                                                                                                                  1. 12

                                                                                                                                                                                    No. Even the various “gov clouds” are mainly about isolation from other customers and data center location.

                                                                                                                                                                                    The cloud providers are executing the cpu instructions that the VM image provided by you (or picked from the store) contains. There isn’t any escaping that access level.

                                                                                                                                                                                    The only option is to actually run your own physical hardware that you trust in an environment you consider good enough.

                                                                                                                                                                                    1. 4

                                                                                                                                                                                      In my comment about host and TLA resistance, I had a requirement for setups resistant to domestic TLA’s that might give orders for secrets to be turned over or use advanced attacks (which are getting cheaper/popular). It can be repurposed for an untrusted, host setup.

                                                                                                                                                                                      “If it has to be U.S. and it’s serious, use foreign operated anti-tamper setup. The idea is all sensitive computations are run on a computer stored in a tamper detecting container that can detect radiation, temperature changes, power surges, excessive microwaves, etc. Tamper detection = data wipe or thermite. The container will be an EMSEC safe and the sensors/PC’s will always be located in a different spot in it. The system is foreign built and operated with the user having no control of its operation except what software runs in deprivileged VM’s in it. Status is monitored remotely. It helps to modify code so that most sensitive stuff like keys are stored in certain spot in memory that will be erased almost instantly.”

                                                                                                                                                                                      The clouds aren’t built anything like this. They have total control like those in physical possession of hardware and software almost always have total control. They can do what they want. You won’t be able to see them do it most of the time without some clever detection mechanisms for security-relevant parts of the stack. That’s before we get to hardware risks.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Bottom line: external providers of computing services should always considered trusted with full access to your data and services. By default. Every time. It’s why I encourage self-hosting of secrets. I also encourage pen, paper, and people for most confidential stuff. Computers aren’t as trustworthy.

                                                                                                                                                                                      1. 3

                                                                                                                                                                                        What is your threat model?

                                                                                                                                                                                        There is something based on selinux for Xen https://wiki.xen.org/wiki/Xen_Security_Modules_:_XSM-FLASK which can by design prevent the privileged “dom0” from reading the memory of nonprivileged guest domains. But that assumes you trust your provider to actually implement this when they say they do.

                                                                                                                                                                                    2. 7

                                                                                                                                                                                      A note in /etc/issue or motd with “we have full root acces in your vm, read http://kb.ms.com/kb77777 for more info” would make it clear right from the get-go.

                                                                                                                                                                                      I think this is a combination of “common knowledge, so not worth mentioning specially” for users who already know this and “let sleeping dogs lie” for people who don’t already know. I mean, why press people with their noses on a fact that the competitor is equally mum about? Seems like a bad PR move; you’d get clueless people all alarmed and leaving your platform for reasons that are totally bogus, as any competitor has the same kind of access.