January 26, 2006

On Reddit

I first discovered Reddit through Paul Graham's website in May of last year. I ignored the link that was up on his site for months before finally giving into my curiosity. I wanted to find out what this "Reddit" was. I'm glad I did.

Reddit is sort of a webpage aggregator. It's similar to Slashdot and Digg, but it has several important differences. First is that any user can submit any page they like (even the about:blank page). Second is that any user can vote on whether they like or dislike a page (though only once). And, of course, anyone can become a user and registration is free.

The main Reddit page is the "hot page." Pages there are ranked on a semi-complex algorithm weighing how many positive votes they've received versus how long ago they were posted to Reddit. That page is heavily weighted in favor of new stuff, so a submitted page that gets a handful of votes (say five or six) has a very decent chance of showing up on the "hot" page. (I have my preferences set to show 25 stories on a page; I'm pretty sure that's configurable)

Reddit also has a "top" page where the pages which have receive the greatest number of votes over time are kept. This page has some really good stuff on it, in my opinion. After all, I have personally voted for ten of the top twenty-five (and only voted against one of them). I imagine this page could stultify, as the highest ranked pages may be too far ahead of any newly submitted page to be seriously challenged. However, there's a page posted only two days ago that's reached this exalted spot, so I imagine it hasn't stultified yet.

Supposedly the best part of Reddit is its "recommended" page. After you register and as you vote, you train your own personal filter that tries to guess what you individually will like and displays it on this page. Personally, I rarely look at this page, spending most of my time on the "hot" or "new" or "top" pages. As Reddit continues to grow, I may find this page more useful.

Oh, yes, the "new" page. This one is fairly straightforward — it has the links most recently posted. As Reddit has become more popular, this page continues to change very rapidly. I don't think we're quite at the place where one page is posted every second, but one per minute (on average) is probably low. This page (of course) has a much higher variation of quality than the others, but I've found a number of gems that never made it very high here. Besides, none of my submissions have ever been popular enough to make the top pages, so I owe it to others to help vote, even on the new pages.

You can accumulate karma at this site. Your popularity is determined by the balance of votes your stories receive (with a minimum of 1, thank God. I would have spent quite a while in the negative ranges before I managed to submit something enough people liked.). My karma is very low (as you can see), but it was nice to move off of the lowest rank.

Finally, Reddit also has comments for individual stories. Comments are still unusual and rather weak (nothing as powerful and useful as Slashdot's). The highest comment count I've ever seen for any link is under two hundred, and the majority of pages have no comments at all.

Reddit still has a small user base and a very good one (IMHO). It is very heavily weighted in favor of Lisp, Linux, Open Source, evolution, etc. It is very heavily weighted against Microsoft, the United States, creationism, religion in general, etc. What comments exist are often quite good (lightyears ahead of Digg) and the general taste of the community is very good. It is very much a "geek" community at present, though that will change as it continues to grow in popularity.

I like Reddit. I hope and trust you will, too. I imagine it'll change a lot as it grows, but at the moment it's a very nice website.

By the way, you might want to take a look at this thread of comments. Feel free to point out any glaring lapses in logic I stumbled into.

Posted by Leatherwood at 08:27 AM
This post has been classified as "Public Address"

January 19, 2006

Pacifists and Swordplay

Mitch and Rachelle Senti just started a coffeehouse here in Bellingham a couple of months ago. We've gotten to know them about as well as anyone since moving here; Nikki and Rachelle get along very well and I get along with Mitch splendidly. It helps that he enjoys swordfighting. This coffeehouse is sort of a Christian mission --- a fair bit of the funds for it were put up by churches in the area. The idea is to create a comfortable place for conversations to take place between Christians and non-Christians, with an eye to building relationships and leading people to Christ. It's a great idea, and the coffee is good.

As I was running errands downtown this morning, I noticed that tonight was going to be a "discussion night," the topic being "Pres. Bush and torture." Naturally, my interest was piqued. Besides, this past Sunday, Mitch suggested that I bring my swords with me to the coffeehouse and we could fight in the alley beside it. Armed with those two motivations, after eating dinner tonight, I went down to the coffeehouse a little after 7, bought a cup of a coffee, and prepared to enter the discussion.

The discussion was good. Liberal voices outnumbered conservatives, but that was to be expected and nobody was cruel. We started off discussing whether torture was appropriate in any circumstances, and what exactly constitutes "torture." The discussion sidetracked to the issue of what constitutes "terrorism" and if war is ever justified. It's not as much of a rabbit trail as it might first appear --- the essential question in torture is what interrogation techniques are ok, and our discussion of what constitutes "terrorism" revolved around the question of what tactics in war were ok.

The most disturbing thing was that at least half of the people there considered war and terrorism synonymous. To them, there was no essential moral difference between a person blowing himself up in a marketplace and a person dropping a bomb on a barracks. This disturbs me.

Most people there seemed to consider "terrorism" an empty word that is used to describe the enemy. "Terrorists" is what the big army calls the little army, essentially. There's some truth to this. As War Historian (thanks to Wilson for drawing my attention to this fascinating blog) discusses here (part 1 of 6), one of the reasons we've drawn up "rules of war" in the modern era was to "justify a sense that the enemy is demonic and restraint would be folly."

I don't think, however, that terrorism is an empty word. The best definition I've managed to come up with so far would be something like this: "Terrorism is the deliberate murder or torture of innocent civilians to further a political goal." Exactly what constitutes "innocent" and "civilians" and "torture" can be kind of sticky if you want to be a lawyer, but for a clumsy definition, I think it serves. I think there's a genuine difference between a soldier and a terrorist. I think there is a difference between bombing a barracks and bombing a marketplace (on purpose). By the way, after Wilson drew my attention to it, I think that the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki probably qualifies as terrorism.

After the discussion (it lasted until well past 10), I brought out my swords and tempted various people into fighting with me. Sword fighting (at least with the boffer sticks I've made) seems to appeal to everyone ... even pacifists :). It was fun. No injuries tonight.

Posted by Leatherwood at 03:19 AM
This post has been classified as "Musings"

January 09, 2006

Psalm 143 (ESV)

Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy!
In your faithfulness answer me, in your righteousness!
Enter not into judgment with your servant
for no one living is righteous before you.

For the enemy has pursued my soul;
He has crushed my life to the ground;
He has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.
Therefore my spirit faints within me;
my heart within me is appalled.

I remember the days of old;
I meditate on all that you have done;
I ponder the work of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.


Answer me quickly, O Lord!
My spirit fails!
Hide not your face from me,
lest I be like those who go down to the pit.
Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love,
for in you I trust.
Make me know the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.

Deliver me from my enemies, O Lord!
I have fled to you for refuge!
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God!
Let your good Spirit lead me
on level ground!

For your name's sake, O Lord, preserve my life!
In your righteousness bring my soul out of trouble!
And in your steadfast love you will cut off my enemies,
and you will destroy all the adversaries of my soul,
for I am your servant.

Posted by Leatherwood at 07:26 AM
This post has been classified as "Prayer"
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