Sometimes the project finds you…(part 2)

I intended to write this just after the events took place, but never go around to it.  Now that Soylent News is coming up on it’s third birthday, I finally put together a little bit of the back-history.  The following can be found as part of a third anniversary story on Soylent news.

In some of the pre-history of SoylentNews, here is some of the stuff that gets lost in the mists of time around the first coordinated development effort — running on a VM, on a laptop in my basement under the slashcott.org domain. The slashcott had been announced and was to commence in some number of days. A bunch of folks thought it would be an awesome idea to get an independent version of slash running in time for the slashcott — what could go wrong?

3 years and ton of life changes for me, makes some of this a little fuzzy, but I’ll do my best to put things together. I’ve relied heavily on my email archive of that time which helped spur a bunch of memories. Hopefully this will be a coherent tale. (Maybe for next year I’ll mine my personal IRC logs from when we were still on freenode).

At first there was a bunch of coordination in the ##slashcode channel on freenode, a bunch of emails were also buzzing around trying to coordinate some things and ideas. My first email to Barrabas was on 02/06/2014 about wanting to pitch in. The issue at hand was that “slashcode”, had been hastily open sourced 5 years prior, then pretty well abandoned. Not only did you need to build the perl modules from scratch, but it would only build against Apache 1.x. Once you managed to run that gauntlet, even compiled and installed, things barely ran and were pretty horribly broken. Anyway, it soon became apparent that robind, NCommander and myself (mechanicjay)were making the most progress on getting something running, as I recall Robin was the first to success in getting an installed running site, but his VM was stuck behind a corporate firewall.

In the meantime, I had gotten the domain slashcott.org registered while trying to build things myself. At some point, a bunch of us decided to combine forces, robind shipped me his VM, I got it running on my laptop (as it was the only 64-bit thing I had at the time), we got myself and Ncommander ssh’ed in and we started hacking. For some reason, RedHat vm’s were horribly laggy on my openSuse VirtualBox host and work was slow and painful, but progress started to be made.

The only bug I’ve ever fixed in the code base was a critical piece of the new account email/password generation stuff, as I recall the generated password wasn’t actually getting written to the DB. (sadly the evidence of my contribution has been lost, I think I shipped the fix to either robin or ncommander, so they have credit in the git history). Regardless, it was a critical piece – I have an email dated 02/08/2014 with my new account/password, which worked — it was a huge boon and let us start to let a couple people in to start hammering away to find front-end bugs (of which there were countless). The next big thing I see from mining my email is the first “Nightly stories email”, which came out on 02/11/2014 (from the slashcott.org domain). I think we ended up with about 50ish users on slashcott.org (gosh I hope I still have that vmdk stashed somewhere).

On the night of 02/11/2014 (or very early morning of 02/12/2014), after giving up and going to bed (I had a new born and was teaching an undergrad class on the side in addition to my regular 9-5 — I was beyond toasted after a week). The VM locked up hard (it had done this a couple times, but I was always available to poke it with a stick and bring it back. As I was unavailable and no one had exchanged important things like phone numbers yet, Ncommander made the executive decision to spin up a linode, which was great. The laggy VM on the laptop wasn’t meant to last forever, though I admit I had visions (delusions?) of hosting the site myself on some real hardware at some point. In retrospect, Linode has been an amazing way to run this site and absolutely the right decision.

I got my new account on the li694-22 domain, on the 02/12/2014, that new account email was for mechanicjay, UID 7 — which is where I live on the site to this day. I kept the slashcott.org server in sync with code changes for a bit, and was a pretty handy testing platform, until the “official” dev box came online on 02/14/2014. At some point during this week, we had landed on the soylentnews.org domain and that’s where we went live on 02/17/2014.

So there you have it, we went from a group of independent pissed off people with no organization and an abandoned broken codebase to launching an honest-to-goodness site in ELEVEN fucking days.

About Jason

Jason has worked in IT for over 10 years. Starting as a student manning the University Helpdesk to his current role as an Enterprise Systems Engineer, specializing in Web Application Infrastructure and Delivery.

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