Thursday, August 21, 2014

Epic Reaganbook Fail

I recently posted some advice on how to save Reaganbook. Being the sort of guy who actually wants to help them, I decided to use Reaganbook's Contact Us form to let the admins know about my advice.
I'm a professional developer with over 15 years experience creating and maintaining online communities. Having examined your recent launch issues, I've written up a quick list of recommendations to help you get your site back on its feet. I've posted them at: http://blog.matthewmiller.net/2014/08/how-to-save-reaganbook.html I am not trying to solicit business, merely offering up some professional advice on how to address some of the technical issues that caused you difficulty. Good luck and God bless,
Nice, professional and to the point, don't you think? The real fun started when I hit "Submit" on the "Contact Us" page. Instead of a confirmation, I got the error message:

The admin has not set any email address to contact them.

That's right folks.They didn't even bother to set up the "Contact Us" form.


At this point I'm starting to think the site's configuration consisted of domain registration, signing up for a cheap-ass web hosting service, and two hours of diddling with the default PHPfox configuration. It's conceivable I put more effort into my article on how to fix ReaganBook then they put into deploying it.

Being stubborn, I decided to try one last time to contact the folks behind Reaganbook. A quick WHOIS on the domain name revealed it was registered by Janet Porter at "Faith2Action." I decided to try Faith2Action's Contact Us form instead. THAT form gave me the message:

Your message was sent successfully to Faith2Action. Thanks.
As tempting as it is to contact Ms. Porter through the email address on the domain registration, I've spent enough time on trying to give free professional advice to people for now.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

How to Save ReaganBook

In July of 2014, Conservative Christians launched "ReaganBook" a Facebook alternative for people who find Facebook too liberal. ReaganBook's "pre-release" lasted about a day before the site was put into "Maintenance Mode."

Running what appears to have been a stock copy of PHPfox, the site simply failed to handle the load it received when people found out about it. The site was also flooded with troll accounts posting offensive, satirical and blasphemous material.  The "Joe My God" articles linked above have a good write-up of the saga, and while the site's major public spokespeople appear to be blaming "hackers" for the death of the site, it actually failed because of slipshod deployment and inept planning. Here are just a few of the reasons the site failed:

1. Haphazard deployment. The "About" page was still lorem ipsum. Another page was lorem ipsum with a partial grocery list. If you tried to report a post you had only two options for the reason for your report: "Test" and "Test4." This shows very little effort was put into preparing the site for launch. A competently done beta or "pre-release" phase will offer a somewhat functional site to a limited audience. What ReaganBook did was not a "pre-release" but a public release of something that was nowhere near ready for public use.

2. Insufficient moderation. It's as if they expected the only people singing up to be like minded, polite members of their inner circle. That's an unrealistic expectation even with an invite code based signup, let alone an open sign-up like the one they had.

3. No email verification when creating a new account. This made it REALLY easy for people to create spoof accounts quickly. Remember, it was claimed this was a pre-release, yet it was left wide open to the public, not limited to a discrete base of testers.

4. No functions for reporting profiles, just individual posts. If they had a moderation staff, which I doubt, being able to report abusive, gag or pornographic profiles would be a very useful tool.

5. Left directory browsing enabled for image folders. People are going to eat up bandwidth indulging in curiosity alone. This isn't hacker-grade stuff either. The average 12 year old who surfs for porn will know to check for directory browsing being enabled in image folders. Even after putting the site into maintenance mode, the image folders still have directory browsing enabled:


http://reaganbook.com/file/pic/photo/2014/06/
http://reaganbook.com/file/pic/photo/2014/07/
 
6. Insufficient load testing.

7. Leaving unimplemented features in the site. An apps link for a site with no apps looks sloppy.


8. No Terms of service. Without a baseline for acceptable behavior moderation becomes haphazard and unpredictable. Yes, it's obvious that anyone posting explicit gay porn to ReaganBook should get banned, but things are not always that cut and dry. This is particularly problematic for a site like ReaganBook, explicitly founded to combat censorship but run by people who are probably among the strictest censors around.

Fortunately for the people behind ReaganBook, there's hope. Here are some steps they need to take to revive ReaganBook and bring it back from the dead.

1. Conduct an honest assessment of the technological reasons for the site's collapse. Don't scapegoat vague "hackers" as was done in the haphazard public statements during the one day of live activity.

2. Mirror Gmail's roll-out. For a long time, the only way to get a Gmail account was if an existing Gmail user sent you an invite code. This restricted traffic, restricted users and let Google add or upgrade hardware before performance issues became crippling, A similar invite code strategy would allow ReaganBook to restrict the early users to the social circle they trusted most, allowing them to address technological and social issues in stages instead of all at once. This would, in turn, allow volunteer moderators to arise from the early membership.

3. Disable directory browsing on image folders.

4. Add e-mail validation to the registration process. This is an incredibly useful tool for cutting down on spammers and trolls. It won't eliminate them, but it will reduce the number of garbage accounts people can create as well as slow down the more dedicated trolls and spammers.

5. Require unique email addresses. This will force people to use a different email account for each ReaganBook login. Since email accounts can be time consuming to create, this will further slow down trolls. As a bonus, it will reduce the number of people who accidentally create an additional account, especially if the registration process is combined with a notification that an email address is already in use.

6. Write Terms of Service. Run it past a lawyer and then assign the "report" feature's options based upon the kinds of behavior you don't allow on ReaganBook.

7. Accept that you will face accusations of hypocrisy from Liberals and Moderates. ReaganBook will be censored. There's no way the people behind ReaganBook will allow liberals to share their views with the freedom they do so on Facebook. Own up to it.

8. Actually FINISH the deployment and configuration of FOXphp. Don't leave it half implemented.

9. Remove the icons and links for features you haven't implemented or don't plan to implement.

10, Add the capability to report profiles, not just posts.

11. Hire full time moderators. If you use invite codes to keep the initial roll-out limited then you can get by with one or two at relaunch. Over time you'll need to add more as traffic and activity increase.

12. Stop being so precious and thin skinned. This is the Internet baby. There WILL be trolls. Many of them are trolling you not because of actual philosophical, religious or political diss agreements, but for the sake of trolling. If you get hysterical and rant about the trolls, you'll only attract more.

13. Focus. The vague goal of a censorship free Facebook alternative is a foolish one for Conservatives to undertake, because it means allowing uncensored posting of Liberal content or face legitimate accusations of censorship. Give up the pretense of being anti-censorship and embrace the fact that this is a deliberately, enthusiastically and sincerely conservative endeavor.

14. Get ready for the law enforcement calls. All this started because a conservative was censored by Facebook for posting threats. Regardless of how you explicitly you do or do not state it, you are deliberately inviting people who threaten violence to use ReaganBook as a social media platform. You need to know what you're going to do when the inevitable happens and the authorities come knocking over someone on your site posting death threats.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Nury Vittachi Makes Claims he Doesn't Support

Scince 2.0 has posted an essay by Nury Vittachi entitled "Scientists discover that atheists might not exist, and that’s not a joke." It's a bold claim to say the least and worth examining.The essay starts off with the statement:

Metaphysical thought processes are more deeply wired than hitherto suspected

That's not much of a claim. Saying any aspect of human psychology is more complicated than we previously thought is about as obvious as saying that quantum physics is more complicated than we previously thought.
WHILE MILITANT ATHEISTS like Richard Dawkins may be convinced God doesn’t exist, God, if he is around, may be amused to find that atheists might not exist.

Cognitive scientists are becoming increasingly aware that a metaphysical outlook may be so deeply ingrained in human thought processes that it cannot be expunged.

Now that we have a clear idea of the essay's thesis, Vittachi goes on to spend a few more paragraphs, which I won't quote here, restating it. He quotes Graham Lawton and Pascal Boyer in an apparent effort to suggest they agree with his basic premise. A reference is made to "studies" showing a cognitive bias in favor of religious thinking, but the studies are not mentioned by name, no citation is given. A new claim is made, but not supported, when he writes:
Scientists have discovered that “invisible friends” are not something reserved for children. We all have them, and encounter them often in the form of interior monologues. As we experience events, we mentally tell a non-present listener about it.

Again, no evidence is offered to support the claims. "Boyer of Washington University, himself an atheist" is quoted to support the assertion, but so far the essay has consisted of nothing but bald assertions commingled with appeals to authority. Eventually however Vittachi lets slip a reference to something we can check:

These findings may go a long way to explaining a series of puzzles in recent social science studies. In the United States, 38% of people who identified themselves as atheist or agnostic went on to claim to believe in a God or a Higher Power (Pew Forum, “Religion and the Unaffiliated”, 2012).
Taken at face value, this seems to counter Vittachi's claim. According to the quoted statistic, 62% of people who identified as atheist or agnostic do NOT believe in a higher power. The very USE of the statistic is suspect, as it lumps atheists and agnostics into the same group. Given the difference between the two, it's only reasonable to assume that a selection of agnostics will hold out hope for a deity. The dividing line between atheists, agnostics and deists can be a fuzzy one. Vittachi is using variation within the population to declare that a segment of the population does not exist. This is despite the fact that 62% of the people mentioned in the statistic meet the very criteria for the group Vittachi is arguing does not exist. Vittachi might as well be arguing that heterosexuals do not exist because he can find examples of homosexuals and bisexuals.

Vittachi's quoted statistic seems to come from the "Religious, Spiritual or Neither?" section of Religion and the Unaffiliated. the actual survey results includes 7% of people who identified as "Atheist/ Agnostic" as being "religious." While this reduces the 62% above to 57%, it still means over half of the people who identified as atheist or agnostic meet a criteria that Vittachi appears to be arguing does not exist.

The next line is even more absurd:
While the UK is often defined as an irreligious place, a recent survey by Theos, a think tank, found that very few people—only 13 per cent of adults—agreed with the statement “humans are purely material beings with no spiritual element”. For the vast majority of us, unseen realities are very present.
That's right folks, Nury Vittachi appears to be making the claim that being a minority means you don't exist. He also fails to provide a citation for the claim.

When researchers asked people whether they had taken part in esoteric spiritual practices such as having a Reiki session or having their aura read, the results were almost identical (between 38 and 40%) for people who defined themselves as religious, non-religious or atheist.
It's important to point out that pseudosciences like auroa reading and Reiki are called pseudoscience because there are word soup explanations for them that can trick a person into thinking there's a scientific basis for them. Babbling about Reiki being proof someone isn't really an atheist is a bit like calming that nobody who likes the color purple can really be an atheist, because of all the Biblical references to royal purple.

What follows are a few paragraphs of rhetorical wanking, more assertions and claims made without any evidence. For an essay that claims scientists may have proven atheists don't exist, it's shockingly sparse on references to the studies that one presumes support the thesis.  The closest the essay gets to a citation is a vague and mangled third hand reference to Einstein followed by the claim that Darwin found one atheist too "aggressive" and that he supposedly wanted his children to attend church services.

The rest of the essay meanders on and peters out in much the same way. A few half-hearted philosophical claims are made with a few vague quotes, but no real SCIENCE is offered.

The essay title implies there's some research, some evidence to demonstrate atheists don't really exist. The actual essay demonstrates that Nury Vittachi spews rhetorical BS about as well as a first year philosophy student while engaging in what may be the laziest and most inept demonstration of quote mining since Kent Hovind's dissertation.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

L'endroit à éviter au Cap-Ferret : Il Giardino

English:

Il Giardino in Cap-Ferret, France is apparently so bad that it has to sue people over negative online reviews.

Blogger Fined For Bad Review: There's No 'Point of Criticism If It's Only Positive'

A French blogger who was fined thousands of euros for writing a bad review online now tells Eater she stands by her critique. "I regret not having left the restaurant from the beginning and therefore never having written the article. That would have been easier," food blogger Caroline Doudet writes in an email to Eater (translated). "But otherwise, yes [I stand by the review], because it's still a lot of trouble for not much."
Last week, Eater reported that French courts demanded Doudet pay 1500 euros ($2,040 USD) for writing a negative review of Il Giardino, an Italian restaurant in Cap-Ferret, France in August of 2013. In the review (cached and translated) she wrote that the restaurant should be avoided and that the boss is a "diva."
Six months after the review ran, the restaurant brought Doudet to court. According to Sud Ouest (translated), the restaurant's lawyer claims the review caused "great harm" to his client because the negative review would come up as one of the first Google search results for the restaurant. The court asked Doudet to change the title of the post, which was "L'endroit à éviter au Cap-Ferret : Il Giardino" or "The Place to Avoid in Cap-Ferret : Il Giardino."
It'd be a shame if the wastes of skin at Il Giardino, the Italian "restaurant" in Cap-Ferret, France, learned about the Streisand effect.

The lawsuit forced the blogger to delete her scathing review of Il Giardino, but you can read a copy of it at the bottom of this post.

Français:

Il Giardino à Cap-Ferret, France est apparemment si mauvais que cela doit poursuivre les gens sur les commentaires négatifs en ligne.

Blogger reçoit une amende pour mauvaise critique: Il ya aucun "point de la critique si elle est seulement positif'

Un blogueur français qui a été condamné à une amende milliers d'euros pour écrire une mauvaise critique en ligne dit maintenant Eater elle se tient par la critique. "Je regrette de ne pas avoir quitté le restaurant depuis le début et n'a donc jamais avoir écrit l'article. Cela aurait été plus facile," blogueur alimentaire Caroline Doudet écrit dans un courriel à Eater (traduit). "Mais sinon, oui [je me tiens par la revue], parce que c'est toujours beaucoup de mal pour pas grand chose."

La semaine dernière, mangeur rapporté que les juridictions françaises ont demandé Doudet payer € 1500 ($ 2040 USD) pour écrire une critique négative de Il Giardino, un restaurant italien à Cap-Ferret, France en Août 2013. Lors de l'examen (en cache et traduit), elle a écrit que le restaurant devrait être évité et que le patron est un "diva".

Six mois après l'examen a couru, le restaurant a Doudet à la cour. Selon Sud Ouest (traduit), l'avocat du restaurant affirme la revue causé "beaucoup de mal" à son client parce que la critique négative apparaîtrait comme l'un des premiers résultats de recherche Google pour le restaurant. Le tribunal a demandé Doudet de changer le titre du poste, qui était "L'ENDROIT A EVITER au Cap-Ferret: Il Giardino" ou "La place pour éviter à Cap-Ferret:. Il Giardino"
Ce serait une honte si les déchets de peau de Il Giardino, le restaurant italien à Cap-Ferret, France, tirés de l'effet Streisand.

Le procès a forcé le blogueur de supprimer son rapport cinglant de Il Giardino, mais vous pouvez lire une copie de celle-ci au bas de ce post.


The Review that started this fracas (Courtesy of the Wayback Machine):
http://web.archive.org/web/20131204090140/http://leschroniquesculturelles.com/2013/08/24/lendroit-a-eviter-au-cap-ferret-il-giardino/
Aigreurs D'estomac
Il Giardino (aigreurs d'estomac)71 Bd de la plage
Cap-Ferret