Schrodinger's Cat Strikes Back

A “beginners” complementation to PhysicsOverflow?

PhysicsOverflow has always been, and will always be a site for physics and has always maintained, and will continue to forever maintain a minimum level or standard for questions. Specifically, every question posted on PhysicsOverflow must be at least at a graduate level. For example, in terms of theoretical physics, quantum field theory and advanced general relativity mark the bottom level for questions.

However, we have recently had private discussions with a user who has preferred to remain anonymous, about setting up a lower-level completion to PhysicsOverflow. I personally consider this to be an absolutely brilliant idea. When we first talked about starting a new physics forum or Question & Answer site, we immediately wanted to have a site at a higher level because we felt that a free, frank, and non-censorious environment was most needed for a site at a higher level as opposed to a site for basic physics. When we conducted our poll for the level of our site nearly last year, “graduate level” won the poll. However, now that PhysicsOverflow is up and running, we realise that every community that discusses a scientific discipline needs a free, frank, and non-censorious environment to develop.

First of all, let me note that we are NOT planning to allow lower-level physics on PhysicsOverflow. PhysicsOverflow shall maintain its level forever. Our plan is to set up an additional site at a lower level than PhysicsOverflow at a domain like beginners.physicsoverflow.org. They will get to use our software (since our software contains many additional plugins made by polarkernel to the freely available, open-source Question2Answer software). This was not the first time we have seen the lack of a free, frank, and non-censorious site for lower-level physics. Another user, whose preference for anonymity is unknown, has also previously expressed that there is no undergraduate-level counterpart for PhysicsOverflow. The plan is therefore to set up an additional site (PhysicsUnderflow?) at a subdomain of PhysicsOverflow, like beginners.physicsoverflow.org or underflow.physicsoverflow.org.

Will this positively affect PhysicsOverflow?

Yes, of course!

  • Post migration – This is the main positive impact of a “PhysicsUnderflow” on PhysicsOverflow. If a question is too basic for PhysicsOverflow or too advanced for “PhysicsUnderflow”, the question can be migrated between the sites. There is a Question2Answer plugin for this.
  • More contributors – I mean positive contributors. If someone enjoys participating on “PhysicsUnderflow”, they have a greater likelihood of participating on PhysicsOverflow, when they’re ready to participate on PhysicsOverflow.
  • Post diversion – Currently, we tell new users in their confirmation emails that PhysicsOverflow is a site for physics at a graduate-level and above; basic questions go here: physics.stackexchange.com. If we have a brother site, “PhysicsUnderflow”, we can tell users to participate on PhysicsUnderflow for lower-level physics.

How can I help?

The PhysicsOverflow team is unfortunately uncapable of providing our full attention to “PhysicsUnderflow”, since we all have long to-do lists for PhysicsOverflow itself. The “PhysicsUnderflow” project requires:

  • At least one Super-administrator. This is essential. A super-administrator’s tasks include: executing the will of the community and managing the site in general, importing of posts from StackExchange, if the PhysicsUnderflow deems this necessary.
  • It would be nice to have a Developer to assist polarkernel at least in the beginning for setting up this site. This developer would have to voluntarily support the development of a “PhysicsUnderflow”, i.e. to put it straightforwardly, we, as a very small team, are currently incapable of paying an additional developer for the development of a “PhysicsUnderflow”.
  • Most importantly, the site needs to have a Community. There are no minimum criteria for activity (unlike in some dystopic settings across the internet), but people who are interested in a “PhysicsUnderflow”.

If you want to make the idea of a “PhysicsUnderflow” a reality, then please try to help out.

I am willing to be a super-administrator on “PhysicsUnderflow”! What next?

The first step in setting up a “PhysicsUnderflow”, in my opinion, is to set up a public blog for organised disucssion on this matter, like how PhysicsOverflow set up this very blog as per John McVirgo’s suggestion. You are encouraged to use as structure similar to that of this blog when writing posts for comment discussion on this blog of a “PhysicsUnderflow”. So please tell us if you are willing (and have the time, capacity, and inclination) to be a super-administrator, and tell us the URL of the blog that you have set up so we can link to it from the top of this post.

How will PhysicsOverflow support PhysicsUnderflow?

  • Helping you install all the PhysicsOverflow software (including the Question2Answer core, all our plugins, our theme, admin panel code, and everything) on it.
  • Providing you with a list of our custom pages.
  • Telling you how we deal with community moderation, provide a list of our community moderation posts.
  • Advising you on managing a “PhysicsUnderflow”, etc., ; for example, do you think it that this beginners site would also need to import posts from SE? In that case, it would be a pretty huge burden on you, since there are a lot of basic questions on SE. Maybe you should just import questions with at least 10 votes and not graduate-level+.
  • Promote the beginners site on the tpproposal blog and on the meta of PhysicsOverflow (done)

Eventually, I hope to see more and more “*erflow” (where “*” could be “und” or “ov”) sites form, and eventually form some sort of a large “Erflow” network with each scientific discipline having two sites, one overflow, and one underflow. Like a chemistryoverflow.org, etc. Anyway, that will probably take years : )

We Have Liftoff!

Liftoff

PhysicsOverflow public beta is online now since 17 days. After a turbulent start with some database issues on our host and spam attacks, now the site is stable and working fine. After an ongoing and continuous improvement of details, the section with Q&A on physics takes now the main part of activity on the site. Since we have gone online at 4th April, more than 150 new users have registered on the site and many of them are already quite active. The number of visits per day exceeded the number of visits on Theoretic Physics on SE since the first day, as can be seen in the following graphics:

Visits_April_2014

This is great, since we aren’t even part of a huge network! Our questions per day is about 5.6 (excluding imported posts), which is a lot more than TP.SEs. However, as already stated, the site does not depend on these figures, there is no deadline, as it was on TP. Also the term beta does not mean that the site will go away, it means only that we have still much more ideas to obtain the full-fledged version of PhysicsOverflow.

Please Contribute

Now is the time where the site gets shaped. If you participate now with your votes, ideas, opinions, questions and answers, you contribute to build a site with contours as you like them. Don’t stay outside, have a look at PhysicsOverflow, register there if you like it, or contribute here on this blog.

Review Section

We are still a small team. However, we are working with full power to be able to leave the beta state and to complete the site, as intended. The main part for this will be the Review Section, as already announced in this blog. This is not only a reconfiguration of the site, it requires a considerable part of new development, because such a feature is not foreseen in the Question2Answer framework. In detail, the following main functionalities have to be developed:

  • Integration of new pages, called Submission and Review.
  • Two voting criterias, one for originality and one for accuracy.
  • New page design, enabling display of a score value from the votings.
  • Add feature to add multiple authors.
  • Redesign of voting mechanism, distributing votes to multiple authors.
  • Integration in the rep update and recount system.
  • Adding and managing the required database tables.
  • Increasing the category depth to realize hierarchical tagging system.
  • Integration of score as new sorting criterion.
  • Software for mass import from ArXiV.
  • Software for daily import from ArXiV.

We are on the way with all that and look forward to realize these steps within a reasonable time. Stay tuned!

 

Technical problems with the mySQL data base server :-(

Dear PhysicsOverflow community,

today we seem to face (for the first time within a time period of about  two months) some problems with the mySQL data base server on the host side. This lead to a short down time of PhysicsOverflow of about 10 min some hours ago, and to a new longer down time of an hour just now. This is very annoying, in particular as we have just started our public beta … :-/

So we apologize for this inconvenience, but all we could to is complaining to the administrators of our hosting provider, which is what Polarkernel did:

 

Hi
There seem to bee problems with the database on our host. Sorry, but I can’t change it. See here the transcript of my contact with our host provider (translated by Google):
Now talk to ‘Elodie’
Elodie: Hi – how can I help you?
You: I got today on my site “www.physicsoverflow.org” for the second time a “database connect error”. Can you figure out what’s going on?
Elodie: Yes, actually, there are some difficulties with the MySQL Server today.
Elodie: The technicians are already aware and working on it.
You: OK, I hope the issue can be resolved soon. I have opened my site tonight and it’s a shame, especially when such errors occur at the beginning.
Elodie: I see. I do not think it takes a long time. But at present we have not yet received any specific information from the technicians. Except to the confirmation that they know it and work on it.
You: OK, then I’ll wait. Thank you!
Elodie: No cause 🙂
polarkernel
Now PhysicsOverflow seems to work again for now
but new down times can not be excluded until the technicians of our host state that they have successfully resolved the issue …
We will report here as well as on the site itself as soon as everything is ok again.
But lets not hope that the worst is over now, I am so excited and happy about all the great nice wise people joining in so far 🙂
Cheers

Physics Overflow is going to go public!

Finally, a long-awaited announcement. Physics Overflow’s private beta will end next week at midnight on Thursday, i.e. at 0000 hours, 4 April 2014!

This means that the public beta, which is the fifth phase in the history of Physics Overflow is going to begin. The phases so far are:

  • The TRF thread
  • The blog
  • The offline site [Foetushood]
  • The private beta [Infanthood]
  • The public beta (will begin next week) [Childhood]
  • Site Graduation… (in late August or beyond) [Adulthood]

So Physics Overflow will reach it’s childhood at the age of one and a half months next week! Sorry, couldn’t resist from giving stupid analogies.

Seriously, these things remain to be done, with the deadline (I copy an answer of mine from Physics Overflow):


 

I think that the TP.SE question Public beta: Attracting users? is also relevant to us.

In my opinion, there are some plug-ins (a job for polarkernel) remaining to be installed as soon as possible, such as

These plug-ins are good to have, and the first one is almost a necessity. I wonder why Q2A does not incorporate it in it’s core.

The second one gives admins some great tools to see how well the site is faring at a glance. It could even be made public I hope.

Additionally, we also may want to decide on solutions for having a chat room. That somehow reminds me; we may also consider retaining the tpproposal blog as a (hopefully $\infty$) life-long blog for Physics Overflow. The chat room; I’m not sure if we should wait for the public beta to start or not, but I just thought of reminding everyone about it.

From the things you have listed the following need to be done by 0000 hours, [CEST]

  • Sunday:
  • Tuesday:
    • We should invite everyone listed in the blog post.
    • We should announce on the TRF thread and invite Lubos too. Dilaton will write a guest post on TRF.
    • We should obviously announce on the blog.
    • On the blog, user10001 (dushya) had the idea of promoting the site to various physicists in the world.
  • Wednesday: 
    • I (and anyone else who is interested) need to finish 14 and 15 of the FAQ.
    • The long users need to be corrected (I will do this).
    • The main page needs to be set to Q&A.
  • Thursday:  
    • Change permissions
    • Edit robots.txt (a job for polarkernel)
    • Changing all admin-added links (in the sidebar, navbar, etc.)

What to expect and do when Physics Overflow goes online for it’s public beta?

What to Expect?

When I posted my last post, we were under the impression that when going online, we will bring both the Q&A category and the Reviews (paper refereeing) category online together. However, we later realised that this is not possible, as bringing Q&A online will be (relatively) less work than bringing Reviews online. For bringing the reviews section online, we need to have a plugin for a new species of questions with 2 voting criteria. Then the ArXiV papers need to be imported by a bot (which means basically every ArXiV paper has a question with a link to the paper). Polarkernel’s first estimate for all this is about 3 months.

After this, we need to sort all these imported ArXiV papers into a hierarchical categorial system. If about 3 or 4 people help out in this during their weekends, giving it 6 hours a day, this will take around 2 months. Of course, I hope that more people than 3 or 4 could volunteer. Anyway, the development of the plugin and the recategorisation will together take about 5 months, so we expect the reviews section to go online around mid- or late- August.

But Q&A is going to go online sooner than that. We have to do the following things before we can bring Q&A online:

  • Elect our first moderators. (we just need Ron to agree to become a moderator)
  • Exclude the reviews section from the percentage of answered questions etc. (even though reviews is not going online so soon)
  • Expand the FAQ a bit, and mark the parts that can be expanded later. (simple)
  • Fix a bug with our notification box.
  • Have a plugin for community wiki posts. (may not be so essential)
  • Hide post revisions from search engines and other bots (simple)
  • Install a plugin that increases SEO.  (simple

Import of SE questions will go on for a while in the background.

So when we go online for our public, expect to see the Q&A and meta categories ready!

What to do?

If you participated on the Theoretical Physics Stack Exchange, or the Physics Stack Exchange, then your posts may already have been imported, so you may already have an account on Physics Overflow.  Please search for your account to check if this is the case.

Search to see if your account already exists

Enter your username, and press “Search”.

Enter your username

If you are lead to your profile, your account exists. Then you can regain access to your imported account. To do so, click on “Regain SE account” in the sidebar sidebox. Enter the email, username, and password that you used on TheoreticalPhysics.SE or Physics.SE.

Regain Stack Exchange account

Then press “Register”. You will then be logged in to your account, where you are recommended to change your password.

If your SE account is deleted, you can register as a new user and ask for your imported posts to be assigned to your account as described in the sidebar sidebox.

If you accidentally register as a new user, even though you have posts which were imported, you can ask for your accounts to be merged as described in the sidebar sidebox.

If you don’t remember your account particulars, you can ask an administrator to send them to you as described in the regain account page.

If you never had an SE account, or never had graduate-level posts on SE, just register as a new user.

Status of the Technical Private Beta

I thought that we should inform users not involved in the technical private beta about the current status of the private beta. IIt is of course natural that we are in private beta much longer than a typical SE site, because we have to sort out a lot of technical issues, the actual site issues can be sorted out once we are public. First let me add a few screenshots.

This is how the site looks, to an anonymous user:

Physics Overflow to an anonymous user

Physics Overflow to an anonymous user.

This is how the site looks, to a super-administrator:

Physics Overflow to a Super-Administrator.

Physics Overflow to a Super-Administrator.

The logo idea is that of user10001 (dushya).

A few important things:

  • TP.SE questions have been imported, and high-level P.SE questions are being imported using polarkernel’s “Import SE question” plug-in. It appears to me that this is quite time-consuming to check if each question has been imported, and then import it one-by-one. I don’t know it is possible to have a plug-in to import questions in bulk, e.g. from search results, tags, users’ posts, etc.
  • Users may regain their SE account or merge their SE account into a new account, merge more than one of their SE accounts, etc. through PolarKernel’s “SE Regain Account” and “Merge Accounts” plug-in. In case that they have forgotten their TP.SE login details, they may reset their account, too.
  • Most of the necessary plug-ins, if not all so far, have been installed. We still haven’t had much discussion about chat rooms, but there seems that there is a plug-in for this.
  • In the review section, it is being planned as per Ron Maimon’s suggestions that we have a bot pull all physics papers from ArXiV and put them in the reviews section. Each question will have two voting criteria; “Originality” and “Accuracy”, which will result in some final score, too. physicsnewbie has pointed out a similar site to take some inspiration from; http://selectedpapers.net . This has not been done yet, however, polarkernel thinks that this can be done through the “OAI-PMH” of ArXiV, without violating any of ArXiV’s policies.

There are a few things remaining to be done, before we can actually go public:

  1. The reputation settings must be changed so that the rep gained/lost in meta is 0.
  2. Interesting SE questions need to be imported.
  3. The FAQ needs to be expanded.
  4. We need to simplify the editor.
  5. We need a second system developer.
  6. We need a tree-structured tag system (I’m not completely sure on this one.).
  7. When we go public, the home page should not contain meta questions.
  8. Just before we go online, all the relative links should be changed to absolute ones, but with “physicsoverflow.org” as the root. Which means, href=”4912″, href=”?qa=4912″, href=”index.php?qa=4912″ should all be changed to href=”physicsoverflow.org/4912″, and then the URL structure should be changed to /123/why-do-birds-spit.
  9. [TOP SECRET] : – )

Other than these extremely necessary things, there are some design-related things, like:

  1. Having a better 404 page
  2. Having some nicer voting buttons
  3. Removing some shadow for the question, etc. pages

There is also a bug fix remaining, as the notification box seems to be broken.

An important issue is that the reviewing section would take a long time to take off, but the Q&A could go public sooner. So, the issue is if we should wait for the reviewing section to be complete, or whether we should take of the Q&A and secretly develop the Reviewing… I think we should take off soon, we have been waiting since a long time…

Fine Tuning

I know, everybody is impatient to see our site running and I apologize the delay. During several tests I found some issues to be corrected before new questions are entered in our database. However, in my opinion we will be faster like this, because otherwise we would have risked to have an inconstistent database or even to lose questions on repairing it. Preparing the test technical beta phase turned out to be more complicated than we thought. Additionally, Dilaton has been severely handicaped by an extremely poor internet connection, which made the communication very difficult. But now, we are very close! I assume we can go online for the test-users during the coming week. Dilaton will advice them in an email, how to connect to the beta site and how to contribute.

These have been the main issues:

  • The way Question2Answer handles access restrictions on plugins is vulnerable. A plugin may be set to be invisible for unauthorized users, but this does not really prevent the access. Therefore I had to add code to realize a strong proof of authority.
  • In the A51 import, several users had multiple (up to 4) accounts with the same username. This is not allowed under Question2Answer. I was not capable to resolve if these users with the same name have been really the same person. As a temporary solution I have manually corrected the database and renamed these users to USER_1, USER_2, … and so on. Actually I am developing a simple plugin “Merge User Account”. This will be very delicate and I am not yet sure if this can be really handled properly. Users with multiple accounts should please contact me directly. However, this plugin will not yet been required for the beta tests and therefore this issue will not slowdown our project.

The contact to register as test-user is still open!

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