Blog: December 2019

Most of these posts were originally posted somewhere else and link to the originals. While this blog is not set up for comments, the original locations generally are, and I welcome comments there. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Community-driven Q&A

I've been spending some of my free time working with two open-source projects that are building new, community-driven Q&A platforms. (Yes, two. We're cooperating, including on common interfaces, but have some different goals. We didn't know about each other right off.) I don't have useful programming skills to contribute, but I'm helping with other aspects, including functional design, some feature design, and general cat-herding (on the larger one). Also, one of them asked me to serve as doc lead. :-)

Codidact is a platform for networks of sites on specific topics, much like Stack Exchange is a network of sites. Lots of (current and former) moderators and users from Stack Exchange are involved. (No I did not start this project; I was recruited after it had started.) We're talking about better management of comments/discussion/feedback, and about answer scoring that takes controversy into account, and tying user privileges not to a single "reputation" number but to related activity on the site. We're also talking about allowing more per-site customization, the trick there being to support customization while preserving the sense of an overall network. We have a wiki, a draft functional spec, a front-end design framework, and a forum where we're hashing out a lot of the details. I hope we'll see a database schema soon.

As you can infer from all that, we don't have running code yet. However, we have one community that has been pretty much destroyed on its previous platform, and the Codidact team lead had previously built a prototype Q&A platform, so Writing has a temporary site now, as a stopgap and to keep the community together, while waiting for Codidact to be ready. (Site introduction.)

The team building the Codidact platform will also run an instance (a network of sites). Others are free to take the software and run their own instances if they want to follow different policies or prefer to have full control.

TopAnswers is being built by a few people from the DBA site on SE. They are being much more agile than Codidact is; they have a running site already, which gets improvements on a near-daily basis. Chat is tightly integrated; they actually built chat first so they'd have a place to coordinate building Q&A. They have an interesting voting model where people who've gained more stars (reputation-equivalent) can cast multiple votes on a post, essentially giving experts (to the extent that stars = expertise) optional weighted votes. They also integrate both meta posts and blog posts into a site's main question list instead of isolating those types of content elsewhere. I find this idea intriguing and am advocating it for Codidact too. (The link I provided is to the network-wide meta site. If you choose "Databases" from the selector at the top, you'll see what a "regular" site would look like.)

TopAnswers has a blog post laying out its high-level goals. I wrote some stuff too, from a "consumer's" perspective.

When some sort of incorporation is needed, both projects are planning on going the non-profit route (a la WikiMedia), so that the communities, not profit-seeking, remain central. Right now I think both are running on donated hosting.

Both approaches look interesting to me, and I can see some communities preferring one over the other. I'll be interested in seeing how things work out -- what ends up getting implemented on each, what lessons both positive and negative we learn from past experience, what changes stick, and where individual communities end up being active.

Chanukah in eight tweets

Day 1:
Neis gadol hayah sham. (A great miracle happened there.)

Day 2:
'Al hanissim v'al hapurkan v'al hagvurot v'al hat'shuot v'al hamilchamot sh'asita l'avoteinu bayanim hahem lazman hazeh. (translation)

Day 3:
Mi yimalel gvurot Yisrael,
Otan mi yimne?
Hen be'chol dor yakum ha'gibor
Goel ha'am!

Ba'yamim ha'hem ba'zman ha'zeh
Maccabi moshia u'fode
U'v'yameinu kol am Yisrael
Yitached yakum ve'yigael! (translation)

Day 4:
Ma'oz Tzur Yeshu'ati, lekha na'eh leshabe'ah.
Tikon beit tefilati, vesham toda nezabe'ah.
Le'et takhin matbe'ah mitzar hamnabe'ah.
Az egmor beshir mizmor hanukat hamizbe'ah. (translation and more info)

Day 5:
Ra'ot save'ah nafshi, beyagon kohi kala.
Hayyai mereru vekoshi, beshi'abud malkhut egla.
Uvyado hagdola hotzi et hasgula.
Heil par'o vekhol zar'o yaredu ke'even bimtzula. (continuation of the previous day)

Day 6:
Barchuni le-shalom malachei ha-shalom malachei Elyon,
mi-melech malachei ha-melachim ha-qadosh Baruch Hu. (translation)

(Lighting and posting before Shabbat, so you get Shabbat text today.)

Day 7:
לֹא בְחַיִל, וְלֹא בְכֹחַ--כִּי אִם-בְּרוּחִי, אָמַר יְהוָה צְבָאוֹת.

Not by might, nor by power, but by My spirit, saith the LORD of hosts. (Zechariah 4:6, from the Shabbat haftarah reading for Chanukah)

Day 8:
What is the memory that's valued so highly
That we keep alive in that flame?
We have come this far always believing
That justice would somehow prevail
This is the burden, this is the promise
This is why we will not fail!

Don't let the light go out! (From "Light One Candle" by Peter Yarrow; elision was to fit in a tweet.)

Eight nights of lights follow in photos:

Read more…

Stack Overflow update

Update: an agreement with Monica Cellio

Choral part-balancing

Overheard at last night's choir party:

Director: ...And I told (another choir's director) that we have five tenors now and quite a few basses too, and she was blown away. [Context: for whatever reason, SCA choirs and maybe amateur choirs in general have a lot of trouble getting enough tenors. Our choir has about 25 members and five tenors is considered very good.]

Transgender tenor: Some of our tenors used to be sopranos.1 She could suggest...

Other choir member: In the Debatable Choir we make tenors!

1 Two, in fact. There is also a woman in the bass section (who hasn't undergone physical changes thus far).