Thursday, 18 February 2010

Stack Overflow

I like the idea of Stack Overflow, and often when I need answers I find them on Stack Overflow in the googled results of a query. But the fact that it only allows you to participate if you use OpenID, has prevented me from joining in and helping others out.

My experience

Today, after I received a Google Alert that was a Stack Overflow question about Stackless Python, I gave in and went through the OpenID process. It felt unclean, but I proceeded to add an answer for the question.

In order to give context to my answer, I linked to around ten different wiki pages, source code files and documentation pages. Having written as much detail as I could get together, I submitted the answer to the site and was promptly told that I needed to earn points before I could use more than one link in my post. So I deleted the links and submitted an inferior answer.

Then I suddenly earned a teacher badge. What is this? I haven't done anything yet other than submit an answer, and now I am getting spammed by worthless things being attached to my account? I can't work out how to turn these badges off either.

Reflecting for a few minutes on my experience so far, being given unearned worthless awards and being required to earn points, it felt like my efforts were being bought with worthless beads and trinkets. When I help someone out with knowledge or code, I do it because I want to help. Doing it within a system where there are barriers to being able to do it, and token rewards that are at best condescending, takes away from my effort to help someone. I didn't feel good about using Stack Overflow.

So I deleted my answer and went looking for how to delete my account. Apparently, you need to edit your profile to indicate you want your account deleted and then you need to email them. Even Facebook has an account deletion mechanism. That you need to jump through hoops, to get away from Stack Overflow is not an honest approach. But it fits in with the token rewards, and arbitrary limitations to what you can do that seem to be based on giving value to the point system.

My conclusion

It surprises me how well Stack Overflow does, considering that it is not a place I feel comfortable participating in. And I do participate in a wide variety of mailing lists and forums. But it also surprises me what a scam it feels like.

The points system does not add any value that I can see. It constrains what I can do as a user in arbitrary ways that seem like they are solely designed to give value to points. The answers I saw from users with high points, and high upvotes, were incorrect and weak.

The badges mean nothing to me, they are good in computer games where I want to know about my accomplishments, but on a site where I might help others to be given them for no reason makes the experience feel cheap.

In this day and age, the ability to easily delete your account lends credence to the respectability and trustworthiness of the site you have the account with. That Stack Overflow puts an arbitrary barrier between users being able to delete their account, can only be an intentional way to prevent people from leaving it. It comes across as untrustworthy.

I will continue using Stack Overflow as a resource for getting answers I need, but there is no way I can participate in it. But that's okay, there are a lot of other forums that do not cheapen the experience of trying to help others, and I can stick to those.

The incomprehensibility of OpenID

Whenever I see OpenID in use, it confuses me. What does it mean? How does it work? It isn't intuitive. This is why I never sign up for, or log into a site which uses it.

One site that strangely insists on using it as the only method of authentication, is Stack Overflow. Often I have been tempted to participate, but the lack of an understandable form of authentication prevents me from doing so.

But today, there was a question about Stackless there. I gave in and clicked on the OpenID buttons. Stuff happened, I don't particularly understand what, and suddenly I am authenticated. I'm still confused.

Creating an account with a username and a password, or even just a password linked to your email address, is simple and comprehensible. Whatever this is, it is neither of those things.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Homebrand Licorice Pieces

I've always like licorice since I was a kid. My grandfather used to buy it for me and my siblings when we travelled down to the arse-end of New Zealand to visit him and my grandmother. He however, used to buy "Black Knight" licorice, which looks like a professional brand. "Black Knight" is still available today, but it is generally twice as expensive as this budget brand. And the ingredients look like they have cheapened and become less natural and industrialised over the years, where rather than sugar they use "glucose (from corn)."

When I used to go to Walmart to shop for groceries in the USA, I used to look at the back of the packets and if there were industrialised ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, I wouldn't buy it. Generally, the more natural the ingredients, the less that were listed. Anyway, the end result was that there were very few things that I could buy. Out of whole bread aisle for instance, there was maybe one brand of bread I could buy.

Homebrand licorice pieces only have something like 0.7% licorice extract in the mix, but they still taste okay for the price, and the list of ingredients looks natural (based on my consumer's eye).

2010-02-16 - Homebrand Licorice Pieces - 01 - Bag

Only one "piece" came in the bag.

2010-02-16 - Homebrand Licorice Pieces - 02 - Piece

The previous two times when I have bought this, the pieces have had a texture I can only describe as slimey! Eww. Thankfully this time, they had the rubbery texture that licorice normally has. I'm trying not to leave the packet on the desk so that I just eat them all without noticing this time.

Price: $2.89NZ

Home-made yogurt

Last time I took photos of my home-made yogurt, I forgot to take a photo of what it looked like after it had sat.. erm, yogurtifying or whatever they call it.

2010-02-02 - Home-made yogurt - 01 - Yogurtified

Generally, the yogurt solid looks like a big solid round lump under the whey. When I make this, I generally use a 2L bottle of milk, cleaning the bottle. Then I eventually pour the resulting yogurt into the cleaned bottle its milk came from. Because another ingredient is an amount of yogurt that provides the cultures for the yogurtification, I pour an equal amount of whey down the sink at the end, so that the remainder will fit back in the bottle. The whey is mixed back into the yogurt, giving a thin milky lumpy liquid. I leave this sitting in the fridge for at least 24 hours before touching it.

As I make more and more batches of yogurt, putting an amount of the previous one into the next, the yogurt is slowly getting thicker. The whey has stopped separating so much as well, which happened with the early batches, although that might be related to slight differences in how I made it.

I'd recommend making your own yogurt, it is a little time consuming, but it's well worth it.

Pavillion Gluten Free Christmas Cake

There are still Christmas leftovers on the shelves at the supermarket, and liking Christmas food, I was taken in by this gluten-free cake. Very cheap and sounding healthier than the other brands, I thought I would give it a shot.

2010-01-30 - Pavillion Gluten Free Christmas Cake - 01 - Box

The first warning sign was that the cake was attached to the box.

2010-01-30 - Pavillion Gluten Free Christmas Cake - 02 - Cake

The next was the shape of a "slice."

2010-01-30 - Pavillion Gluten Free Christmas Cake - 03 - Slice

I think the lesson here is that people do not eat gluten-free because they want to, they eat it because they have to. This cake was a dry crumbly mess, with an unappealing flavour.

Woolworths Stem Ginger Cookies

I gave in to buying some more biscuits, in the hope that they would be good ones, despite all experiences indicating that this was unlikely. This time I bought some stem ginger cookies from FoodTown.

2010-01-30 - Woolworths Stem Ginger Cookies - 01 - Box

The cookies look pretty unspectacular.

2010-01-30 - Woolworths Stem Ginger Cookies - 02 - Cookies

My criteria for a good biscuit is they taste like something someone might have made at home, rather than like some abstraction of what might have been produced in a factory. And they tasted pretty good. The ginger flavour wasn't the strongest, but on the other hand, it wasn't so weak as to make the biscuit a waste of time.

I won't be buying them again though. I imagine I could make a better version of these at home, and the price was a little too high.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Complete MUD-Dev mailing list archives

MUD-Dev started in 1996 and lasted until 2006. I downloaded the early archives that were made available, although they only covered up until 2002. After I uploaded those, someone else made available a more extensive archive of web pages that covered up to 2004.

I've recently realised that my mirror contained empty files, so I needed to regenerate it. However, rather than regenerating it, I decided to get the more extensive archive (1996-2004) and create a new mirror. Davion from MUDBytes mentioned he had the mails covering from 2004 to 2006 in his gmail account. He kindly provided them to me in an mbox archive.

By parsing the web pages, reordering the mbox, combining the two while filtering out duplicate posts and finally making a Linux mailing list archive generator work on Windows I have produced a new mirror. This was not something I wanted to spend time on, but it was one of those projects that I knew would be eating away at me until I got it over and done with. And now that it is completed, here's hoping I never have to do more than browse these archives ever again!