Admin

Setting up new accounts suspended

Due to issues with spam accounts I have suspended the creation of new accounts. New members cannot sign up for an account at the moment. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Self.congratulate

So, LtU is 12!! I don't think this should go unnoticed. But as I was mostly quiet around here this year I am not qualified to offer a state of the lambda retrospective. Feel free to do so in the comments and, as they say, have some '(cake).

When Formal Systems Kill: Computer Ethics and Formal Methods

While ethics aren't normal LtU fare, it's sometimes interesting to see how our technical discussions fit into a larger picture.

In When Formal Systems Kill: Computer Ethics and Formal Methods February, 2012, Darren Abramson and Lee Pike make the case that the ubiquity of computing in safety critical systems and systems that can create real economic harm means that formal methods should not just be technical and economic discussions but ethical ones as well.

Computers are different from all other artifacts in that they are automatic formal systems. Since computers are automatic formal systems,techniques called formal methods can be used to help ensure their safety. First, we call upon practitioners of computer ethics to deliberate over when the application of formal methods to computing systems is a moral obligation. To support this deliberation, we provide a primer of the subfield of computer science called formal methods for non-specialists. Second, we give a few arguments in favor of bringing discussions of formal methods into the fold of computer ethics.

They also spend a good amount of time giving a lay overview of the practical, economic challenges faced by formal methods.

It's been ten years!

It has been ten years since LtU was launched. When I launched it I had no idea if anyone will read the site, let alone if people contribute new stories. The result exceeded my wildest hopes.

I got into the habit of writing a few words every year, a kind of "state of lambda" post. Somehow, this feels inappropriate for the ten year anniversary. I will possibly post something about last year later this week, but let's take a moment to celebrate our first ten years.

There are a lot of things that can be said, and a few things that perhaps should be said. I personally will say little. The thread is open.

For my part, I just want to thank all those how contributed to LtU over the years, whether by submitting new stories, by participating in the discussion, or with help with administrative and hosting issues. Some, of course, helped with any and all tasks.

It is great to see that some members that have been with LtU from its early years are still here. Some members that left have come back, and those that decided to move on to other things are still part of the ethos of LtU, as well as the archives, as we move towards the future.

The War on Spam

In recent weeks the volume of new spammer accounts has grown considerably. These accounts are sometimes used to post spam messages to the discussion group, but more often are simply used to game google by including spam urls in the user profile.

Due to the high volume of new spammer accounts I have implemented a new policy regarding new accounts. Given how things play out, it may become permanent:

1. New accounts are bocked by default, until released by an administrator. The user receives an email explaining this. While blocked, the user profile is invisible to anyone but the site administrators. They are also, of course, unable to sign in.

2. Accounts that seem legitimate, are released, while accounts that are clearly spam (e.g., from know spammers, include spam urls) are either deleted or put in the spammer category.

3. Accounts that we can't be sure about may be put in the "on probation" category. Members of this class can post, but their posts will appear only after being reviewed by an administrator. If the user turns out to be legitimate, it will be moved to the regular category, allowing the member to post directly.

4. Note that the "on probation" category is also used for members who are not spammers, but are considered or tend to post messages that are off topic. The messages posted by users that are on probation are in general reviewed by me before being allowed to appear.


New users are advised that by putting a short sentence or two about their specific interests relating to PL in their user profile, they will help us allow them to post sooner.

Scheduled downtime

LtU will be taken offline for some time tomorrow (Tuesday 9th) due to a data center move. The downtime could range from a few minutes to a few hours. The exact time this will occur is unknown, but you'll be able to tell because LtU will be unreachable. :-)

LtU turns 9: The year of the lurkers

Yep, it's that time of the year again: It was nine (!) years ago that LtU was born.

As is my wont, I am going to use this opportunity to say a few things in lieu a real life birthday party speech. Those of you with an historical bent may enjoy browsing the full set of birthday posts. Here they are: year one, year two, year three, year five, year six, year seven and year eight.

First, an apology. I am feeling a little guilty posting this, since I didn't post many substantive posts this year. I am still busy doing many things not directly PL related (such as this), and so have little to contribute. I prefer to lurk a bit and let others carry the burden (on this more, in a minute). I posted less home page items and more the discussion group this year, I think.

I find it hard to post as just one of the guys, a regular member of the community, however. Several times I made non-admin remarks about posts that I felt were not on topic for LtU, or - indeed - posted marginal items to the discussion group myself, only to be rebuked by many for misusing my authority or applying policies heavy handedly... So let me take this opportunity to respond from the pulpit... LtU relies on community moderation of posts. This was the mechanism we arrived when the issue of discussion quality came up. All the discussions about this are in the archives. There is no cabal. The solution was simple: members are expected to raise their concerns about problematic posts publicly, so problems and disagreements can be hashed out. Unless I or Anton post a message clearly marked as an "admin" note, which happens fairly rarely, my posts about policy issues have no more weight than those of any other regular member of the community. However, keep in mind that if I am rebuked, many others may conclude that they should refrain from voicing concerns and simply move to other sites. So instead of rebuking me when I voice my opinion - voice yours when messages are problematic (and when messages are particularly useful as well!). If you don't take care of LtU no one will.

So, the "bad news" is that many old-timers didn't carry their burden of policing, and some discussions may have suffered because of this. The "good news" is that this allowed more people to join the discussion. Not only new members (and people are signing up daily) - many people who have been lurking, sometimes for over a year, started posting regularly. This is great! Not only did this add great content, and move the discussion in new directions, it was really nice to see accounts that I presumed were dead come to life. Bet you know what's coming now, right? People who post regularly to the discussion group and think they can contribute to the home page are urged, as always, to let me know so I can make them contributing editors (that's the LtU parlance for members who post to the home page, nothing more; don't be intimidated by the title - you can post as infrequently as you want).

Another nice thing happened this year in terms of members contributing their efforts to the community. A few people volunteered to help deleting spam and spam accounts. I am not sure they want to be identified, but my thanks goes to them. I think we don't need more help on this front for the moment. Still, members should know that new spam accounts are created (and squashed) daily, and that this happens due to the efforts of several members besides the usual suspects.

The LtU "trademark" spread its wings a bit, from they days when LtU was just this blog. This happened without my involvement. Two things worth mentioning come to mind, but let us know if I forgot something important. There is a CiteULike LtU library (originally proposed here), and the a LtU twitter account (see here).

Indeed, it seems many LtU members have flocked to twitter. I am there (@ehud/@biocomputing), but as a late comer I don't have many LtU followers. Others who are better connected may speak up if they want... I am not sure if this a a good thing or a bad thing for LtU, but I guess it was bound to happen. Contributing editors should remember that LtU expects each man to do his duty and post new stuff here first!

Our tenth anniversary is coming up soon. How are we going to celebrate? LtU is a virtual community so maybe a virtual celebration is in order. Maybe we should think about planning a virtual event of some sort or another (guest bloggers, an online conference, or some other crazy idea). Alternatively, we may try to see if we can do something non-virtual... I've always found unconferences to be an appealing idea. Or maybe just LtU beer sessions around the globe... If anyone wants to pick up the glove and organize something, I am sure many here will be delighted.

Thanks again everyone. Let the nine-year long discussion continue!

P.S
I almost forgot... We had a very successful April Fools prank this year...

LtU: Forum not blog

Due to recent changes in the community which led to less interest in programming language, and the high quality of design discussions unrelated to programming language semantics, the LtU management team has decided to remove the blog portion of the site, and make LtU into a unmoderated forum about all things related to programming, computing, math, and humor.

The blog will migrate temporarily to the url: www.no-such-thing-as-plt.org, to ease the withdrawal pains of regular readers.

This is a good opportunity to thank all the contributing editors for helping the site survive so long by managing to find actual papers about programming language theory, a field that is rumored not to exist.

Urgent update: This message was an April Fools' Day prank.

Site problems

As many have noticed we had a few problems with the site yesterday. Thanks to everyone who emailed to let me know they were experiencing difficulties.

We think the problem has been solved, and that the site should be stable now.

Admin notes

Several changes in the discussion dynamics on LtU require attention, I think.

First, and most important, is that the core business of LtU - the home page blog items posted by contributing editors - have been dwindling. What is more, the discussion forum, whose goal was to support the blog, have become very active, and often only tangentially on topic for LtU.

I have received complaints from long time members about the declining quality of the discussions, and while I haven't done any serious comparative analysis I do know that I now regularly skip threads, especially highly active threads and threads that are dominated by only a few members. I think I am not alone in this. I encourage long time members to continue publicly pointing out when threads become un-LtU-like, and remind everyone that these notes should not usually serve as opportunity for meta-discussions about policy.

I urge the LtU contributing editors to make an extra effort in the next few months to post quality items to the home page. It seems that without more emphasis on the blog, LtU will lose its relevance. I call on all members to keep in mind the style and policies of LtU (do read the spirit page, if you haven't already), and move inappropriate discussions to other forums.

The second issue is - of course - spam. We are constantly bombarded by spam, most of which you don't see since me and Anton manage usually to block the spam accounts from posting, and when spam does slip through we delete it fairly quickly. Still, in the last few days some spam messages did appear on the site, and took awhile to delete, despite our continued efforts. I apologize for that.

In previous discussions of this issue it was decided not to require approval for all new messages (however, I do moderate posts from suspicious accounts). Spam does not survive a long time on LtU, since the site is active and threads that are posted to automatically appear in the tracker, and is thus not a great concern most of the time.

I don't think the last attack was enough of a problem for us to change our policies, or spend time writing code to support advanced spam handling (there are many more exciting things we can be doing for LtU). If someone wants to help with the process of identifying suspicious accounts, deleting spam, and blocking ips, please volunteer. Help with running LtU is always appreciated.

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