Thursday LinkFest (7/23)

Technology and Science!

  • You’ve heard that light is both a particle and a wave. Scientists have figured out a way to photograph the dual nature of light.
  • Take a free course in “Poker Analytics and Theory” from MIT. The math is pretty heavy, be forewarned: poker is not a game for the innumerate.
  • Check out this wonderful talk on “Web Design — The First 100 Years”.
  • Crows are scary smart. Crows might be smarter than you are.
  • Self-described “experts” may not be as smart as crows: they’re more likely to believe things that simply aren’t true. Researchers from Cornell and Tulane found that a little competence turns into a big case of Dunning-Kruger syndrome.
  • We’re hearing a lot about how self-driving cars are going to “make things better”, but I’m unclear on how cars whose cost will exceed the US median income are going to help anyone but the plutocrats who make them, and their minions who can afford them. And we’re seeing proofs-of-concept that while they may cut down on accidental traffic fatalities, there’s a distinct possibility that they might facilitate some deliberate ones.
  • A new species of firefly has been identified in Southern California. Yeah, we have fireflies out here, but a vastly smaller population of a very limited number of species, they’re not nearly as flamboyant as the ones back East. Bright, flashing fireflies pretty much stop west of Kansas, no one really knows why.
  • Does cold-brewed coffee have more caffeine than hot coffee does?
  • A study just published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that extreme poverty may affect physical brain development, particularly in the areas responsible for things like learning. Another argument in favor of a guaranteed minimum income.
  • Boas, anacondas and other “constrictors” don’t kill their prey by asphyxiating them: they actually stop the blood flow in their prey’s body, according to new research.

Society and Culture

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  • What happens when a paleontologist takes issue with pop-tart Kesha for manhandling a triceratops fossil he worked to restore? Nothing good.
    Also, bonus ageism:
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  • Age discrimination at Google? Gee, ya think? A woman has joined a class-action suit against the Goog alleging that she was recruited no fewer than four times, had excellent interviews, and failed to get hired.
  • What do a shyster lawyer, nine million missing dollars, and several boxes of extremely rare comics books have to do with one another? Here’s a great story that will tell you.
  • When Twitter, a company where nine out of ten tech employees are dudes, throws a themed party, what’s the theme? Frat house, obviously.
  • The Timmins Public Library in Ontario started a robotics club, yay! But it’s only for boys, boo! But nine-year-old Cash Cayen’s mom didn’t take that sitting down, she got a petition going on Change.org, collected 27,000 signatures, and got the mayor to open the program to anyone who wanted to participate. Even girls.
  • The cop who stopped Sandra Bland did not have the right to tell her to put out her cigarette, nor to order her out of her car for no reason, nor did she have to do anything other than identify herself to him, nor could he “yank” her out of her vehicle, nor could he object to her recording this encounter with her cell phone, nor could he threaten to “light her up with a Taser”. It looks like your rights don’t matter much in the face of some Barney Fife’s aggrieved privilege.
  • Meanwhile, it seems increasingly likely that there are some shenanigans going on with the “now you see it, now you don’t” video of Sandra Bland’s traffic stop. Chicanery is being alleged.
  • A journey into the purring heart of Japanese Internet cat culture.
  • A robot is hitchhiking from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts to the Exploratorium in San Francisco. What adventures will our plucky little droid encounter?
  • Sound engineering is “the grumpiest profession in the world”. As an occasional audio engineer, I can confirm this.
  • Am I wrong to find it horrifying that the Smithsonian Institution is reduced to panhandling on Kickstarter — and giving Kickstarter a healthy percentage of the proceeds — to restore and preserve a unique and important artifact of American history?
  • The brilliant thinkers over on r/adultery have some great ideas for how to explain your having a “Ashley Madison” account to your (dumb) wife.
  • Louisa Lim, author of The People’s Republic of Amnesia, wants to know how China managed to completely forget that the Tienanmen Square uprising ever happened.
  • “I gave up Ayn Rand for Bernie Sanders” — a journey back to sanity.
  • Speaking of Ayn Rand, here’s a nice piece on how she became the “Libertarian Sociopath Pixie Dream Girl”. Also, some hair-raising quotes from her newly-published-for-no-reason-whatsoever bad novelization of her very bad stage play, Ideal. Believe it or not, this is a quote: “He felt as if there was something—deep in his brain, behind everything he thought and everything he was—which he did not know, but she knew, and he wished he did, and wondered whether he could ever know it, and should he, if he could, and why he wished it.”
  • Why is Congress handing over Apache sacred lands to a British-Australian mining company?

Security

Everything Else

  • No words are necessary. Just watch.
  • Ambient sound in movies — particularly the sounds you never notice but would absolutely miss if they weren’t there — is what “foley artists” and “soundscape designers” do.

The Internet is Broken: Jason Christopher Hughes, the “Extinct Marsupial”

I tried to provide an overview of what online harassment actually can become, and how it actually can ruin people’s real lives. I mentioned that, in USENET days, even the most vituperative flame wars didn’t really rise above the level of name-calling and “saying mean things”. Participants in flame wars just hoped to “rustle people’s jimmies”, by and large, and that was as far as they typically went.

But, as I also said, there were a few notable exceptions, and one highly notable exception in particular. This fellow may turn out to be the Ur-Online-Harasser. He’s been at it for twenty years now.

Charla Williams

In 1995, a COBOL programmer from Seattle named Charla met a guy named Chris. She went out with him a time or two, and decided there was something a little “off” with him and declined to see him any further. Chris was rather disappointed. To put it mildly.

Rather than getting over his hurt feelings and moving on, Chris decided to spend the next four years attempting to destroy her life, through USENET. He enacted this campaign by posting to a wide range of USENET groups — all of them related to where Charla lived, such as talk.seattle and seattle.eats, or to her professional career like comp.lang.cobol. And when I say “posting”, we are talking about hundreds and hundreds of posts, as a search on Google Groups still shows, twenty years later.

In a 1999 post to a number of law-enforcement-related USENET groups, Charla relates her story:

I have been cyberstalked for sometime now by a couple who I have every reason to believe are J. Christopher Hughes < pr...@linuxstart.com > and his wife Vanessa < abortre...@yahoo.com >. Chris sent me a private email threatening to post this kind of material to Usenet before the harassment began and some of it has been posted from his wife’s email account to Usenet as well. Usually they hide behind DejaNews accounts.

Chris is somebody who I dated very briefly 4 years ago.

I would like to know what various types of legal address I have. Most recently their tactic has been to take what I post and then repost it attributing it to me but mangling my words. I will include below an example of this. First my original post and then what they posted in reply. I believe that what they have posted in my example below may fall under the category of a hate crime.

They also continue to say I use drugs and that I have a cocaine and/or meth habit. This is ludicrous and untrue. Among the Usenet groups they post this to are professional computer newsgroups which I frequent. I am a computer programmer by profession and have been for 20 years. I believe they are attempting to interfere with my livelihood with their postings to professional newsgroups.

They are also calling me a prostitute and posting vile sexual material. Does this fall under some category of sexual harassment?

Briefly, Chris’ claims included that Charla was a prostitute, a crack cocaine addict, a witch, mentally unstable, and wanted “rough” anal sex from strangers. He’d post to programming groups that she used a “crystal ball” and “Tarot cards” for writing COBOL programs. He referred to her as a meth-using “Yeti”. Sometimes, dozens of times a day. For years.

If any of this is sounding vaguely familiar in general outlines, go look back at the previous installment and reread the description of “Anna Mayer”‘s online harassment.

Some people simply don’t handle rejection well, and Jason Christopher Hughes handles it even less well that that.

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Livejournal

I first encountered Hughes — or thought I had, it took me a little while to connect him back to his decade-earlier USENET activities, and I was astounded when I did make the connection — in 2003, when I maintained a Livejournal under the user name “stonemirror” and Hughes had one under the ID “antisense”. At the time, he was using Livejournal to harass a 19-year-old woman posting under the ID “acidexia”. According to him, she’d stayed at his house, pissed in his bed, and stolen a bottle of vitamins, but — as with Charla Williams — even if you believed the claims to be true, the abuse he was directing at her was grossly disproportionate.

His vendetta at one point spilled over into the comments of my Livejournal postings, and I made it pretty clear what I thought of his harassment and of him as a generally poor excuse for a human being. At that point, I became another one of his targets.

At first, his claims were mainly that I was a pedophile. He downloaded a photo of me holding up a sign, taken from my Livejournal, and ‘shopped a pro-pedophilia message onto it, posted claims that I had an “Asian houseboy”, and other absurdities. After a few weeks of this, I brought the situation to the attention of Livejournal, and Hughes was permanently suspended from the site.

(Hughes was, in fact, involved in so much harassment, of so many people on Livejournal, that the support team there actually had a nickname for him, based on his apparent fondness for the no-longer-extant thylacine — the tattoo on his upper left arm represents this creature. They referred to him as the “Extinct Marsupial”.)

His suspension, and the loss of his journal, enraged Hughes. He not only created a series of quickly-suspended sockpuppets on Livejournal to attack me, under clever names like “stonedmirror”, “stonermirror”, “sconemirror”, etc., but began taking his abuse to the broader Internet.

Work-related Harassment

In 2005, I was working at Palmsource, the newly-spun-off software division of Palm, Inc., where I had been a manager since the beginning of 2001. A popular web site at the time relating to Palm handhelds and Palm OS was PalmInfoCenter.com (no longer online). At one point, a number of comments were posted by a variety of throw-away, Whack-a-Mole sockpuppet IDs, with names like “scone_mirror” claiming that I was a pornographer, a blackmailer, a Satanist, a drug dealer, a serial killer, and a number of other things, and demanding that readers contact Palm to insist on my immediate firing, before I could single-handedly destroy the company and the platform that readers of that site were fans of.

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Palm HR also received regular phone calls from someone identifying himself as Jason Christopher Hughes, demanding that I be sacked; these only stopped when he started getting forwarded to the Corporate Counsel, who made it clear that he was skating on very thin ice indeed, and if he wasn’t looking for real trouble, he should find another hobby.

The online harassment, however, continued. In 2007, I had the honor of being invited to present at the Ottawa Linux Symposium, one of the oldest and most “academic” of Linux conferences. I mentioned this in a blog posting, only to get comments from Hughes about how “security” at OLS “was probably non-existent”, an obvious attempt at intimidation. I mentioned this threat to the organizers when I arrived, and went on to do my presentation without incident.

As with most online harassers, Hughes is an extreme coward in real life, from all accounts. I’ve had multiple reports that he refuses to enter the state of California at all, out of fear of running into me. Nevertheless, his efforts to defame me on a variety of sites related to my professional career, such as LWN.net and LXer.com, continued non-stop, and continue to this day.

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Impersonation and Claims of Pedophilia

I had maintained a website on the domain stonemirror.net for a number of years. In 2005, having seen that the .org domain was unregistered, I expressed an intention in a blog posting to go ahead register the domain stonemirror.org for some other plans I had, and went to bed. I woke up the next morning, went to actually register it, and discovered — to my amazement — that “someone” had not only beaten me to it while I’d been sleeping, but had registered the domain for ten years.

I went to see what was on the domain, and found this:

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Many of the photos used on that site were, in fact, taken by me on my first trip to Tokyo, and had been stolen off of my blog, where I’d posted them. Taking a closer look at the WHOIS information on the domain registration, I discovered that the domain had been falsely registered to a non-existent address in Billings, Montana — Hughes’ hometown, by the way — with a non-working telephone number for contact. I alerted ICANN to the illegality of this registration.

ICANN’s response in cases of falsified registrations like this is to demand an immediate correction, and if one is not received in short order, the domain is locked and rendered useless for any purpose at all. The domain stonemirror.org was locked for seven years, until 2012, when it was re-registered in the name “Aaron Bohannon”, also fictitious — that’s the nickname of one of Hughes’ known associates, Aaron Rossetto, now the ex-husband of Chris’ previously-mentioned “wife”, Vanessa “niwi” Rossetto.

Between 2003 and 2009, Hughes changed his name (semi-)legally, first to “Luis Manuel Arsupial” in Texas, and then to “Michael Rudra Nath” in Washington state. In both cases, he committed perjury on his affidavits to the courts by listing a mail drop as his “residence”.

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Harassing My Family

I finally grew tired of this — I had been in increasing contact with a surprisingly large circle of Hughes’ other victims, who’d received similar treatment, many of whom had known him personally and provided me with photos of him. With the Livejournal support team’s nickname for Hughes in mind, I registered the domain extinct-marsupial.org, and put up a site detailing Hughes’ exploits and giving details on his harassment.

Having his face publicly visible online and out of his control gets Hughes, well, out of control. He attempted in every way he could think of to have the site taken down. He filed DMCA infringement complaints on every one of his photos; I replied to each of his complaints with a counter-complaint, basically daring him to sue me. None of the photos were taken down for more than the two weeks the DMCA process demands, and when no response was received they went right back up. (I have a different hosting arrangement now: you send a DMCA complaint, I get it directly. I expect this posting will make him apoplectic: it contains considerably more detail than my “Extinct Marsupial Appreciation Society” site did.)

Having failed in this effort to get the site removed with dozens of DMCA complaints, Hughes went on to target my wife, who was getting close to the end of her seven-year-long ordination process as a pastor in the United Methodist Church at the time. He emailed her directly and incessantly, demanding that she make me take the site down, and promising dire consequences if she didn’t comply.

I configured her email to simply forward me anything from a Hushmail address — he must have had about three hundred of them before the service became unusable for him by demanding an SMS confirmation of the user’s identity to set up an account in response to criminal abuses of the service, go figure — and deleting it from her Inbox.

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He then threatened to alert “300 Methodist Churches in California”, or maybe “9000 Methodists” — I don’t think he ever used the same figure twice — to my “crimes”, and actually followed through on this threat, to at least some degree. The message he sent out accused me of the usual things, as well as a few new ones — the attempted murder of his “elderly grandmother”, for example — and questioned how the Methodist Church could put up with someone who was married to someone like me. Most email clients will simply treat a Hushmail address as junk, but a few got through — one made it to the office of the Bishop of the Northern California/Nevada Conference — and we did indeed get some questions.

Typically, they went something like, “Who is this obvious lunatic, why is he so insanely angry at you, and what can we do to help?” Despite the lack of the response Hughes had clearly hoped for — she was ordained right on schedule — the entire thing was understandably upsetting for my wife, but not as upsetting as the threat he apparently didn’t carry out: he sent her an email with a photo of her face, along with a fairly grotesque pornographic photo, threatened to Photoshop the former onto the latter, and send it to even more “Methodists”.

In response, we made a criminal complaint against Hughes with the Merced County Sheriffs Department. It didn’t get very far, for the usual reasons: lack of expertise on the part of law enforcement, a low priority being assigned to such cases, compounded by the difficulty in actually locating Hughes. Hughes, as I’ve mentioned, goes by multiple names. He’s also developed a facility for fleeing for the hills when things get too hot.

One of my biggest motivations for putting up the “Extinct Marsupial Appreciation Society” site was having Google Analytics on a site that was guaranteed to capture Hughes’ interest — and Hughes monitors his targets obsessively and compulsively. Truth be told, the site was not heavily visited, but there was somebody who was viewing it scores, even hundreds, of times a day, every day, without fail. I watched Hughes go from Austin to Seattle, back to Austin, then to New York, and was able to keep a pretty good fix on his current location in this way.

Meanwhile, Hughes was busy working at harassing my ISP, an effort that ultimately proved successful, more thanks to his endurance than to the correctness of his position.

I was told by my tech support contact that Hughes was calling them dozens of times a time, shrieking and cursing at whomever answered the phone over their refusal to force my site offline. Finally, they decided that, while there was no legal issue with the site itself as far as they were concerned, the incidental toll it was taking on their support staff wasn’t really worth the thirty bucks a month I was paying them, and I could either host that site somewhere else, or close my account.

So, I took that site down, and ultimately let the domain expire. Apparently the moment that it did, it was bought up by an “M. R. Nath”. Any record of my site has also been scrubbed from the “Wayback Machine”. (Hughes is going to have a fit over this posting. Good.)

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Today

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As long as this post is — over 3000 words — believe it or not, this only represents the high points of Hughes’ attempts to harass me. He’s still harassing “acidexia” — her efforts to do a Kickstarter were shut down thanks to his trolling them, and the story made the Daily Dot. Unsurprisingly, Hughes weighs in in the comments section, under the ID “na_koja_abad_don”.

Currently, he’s using this Twitter ID, under the name “David Powell” for purposes of harassing me, and probably others as well. (The “David” is in reference to me; “Powell” is the last name of another of his victims, not otherwise mentioned here.)

In November 2013, while Hughes was living in Austin at Aaron and Vanessa Rossetto’s residence — he seems to have since fled from there — someone set his car on fire while it was sitting in the driveway, reducing it to cinders and twisted metal — Hughes sent me a large photo gallery on Facebook. Hughes is certain I’m behind it, and accuses me repeatedly of being responsible, although how I could torch a car in Austin from California remains unclear.

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It’s also evidently unclear to Lt. Jack Garner, an arson investigator with the Austin Fire Department, with whom I had a phone chat of about forty minutes around the time of these events and whom I’ve never heard from again. Garner admitted to me that there were “way too many potential suspects”, that “Hughes seems to make an awful lot of people very angry”, and also that Hughes’ accusations “didn’t make a lot of sense” — he was “identifying” me as the ringleader of a gang whose “members” were in Indiana and New York, and who had somehow conspired to have his car immolated 1500 miles from any of us.

I commented that, to my knowledge, Hughes went by three different names, and Garner replied, “Yeah. ‘Raymond Johnson”, too.” So far, no arrests have been made in this crime, but Hughes is happy to tell anyone who’ll listen that I’m “guilty” of arson. (I’ve challenged him to sue me; he hasn’t taken me up on the offer. I’d happily sue him if I had an address to serve a subpoena.)

The threatened “real law enforcement attention”, not to mention “real attention from the FBI”, has completely failed to materialize.

Despite that, he continues his harassment and his accusations, anonymously, of course, on places like Tumblr, where he maintains a number of sites. Here’s one dedicated to “acidexia”.

Here’s a Disqus ID created under the name “Melanie Saffka” — he seems to have some sort of fixation on this 1960s singer/songwriter, in spite of not knowing how to spell her name — purely to demand that Disqus support shut down my account for posting “illegal revenge porn” of “her” “husband”. When Disqus declines to take his complaints seriously, they’re told that they’re “totally unprofessional, uncaring and indifferent to abusive and illegal use of its system”.

Here’s an ID he set up on Reddit for no other purpose than to post a single harassing and defamatory comment:

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Here he’s set up an ID on Amazon (using the nickname of yet another one of his own stalking victims) to post a negative review of “acidexia”‘s book (since deleted — he was conspicuously not a “Verified Purchaser”):

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Here’s a Tumblr site dedicated to a completely different target (and note that he uses a “David Powell” Twitter ID here as well, since suspended).

Just to show how low Jason Christopher Hughes is willing to go in his harassment, during his USENET career, he had multiple altercations with Tim Maroney, an Apple co-worker, a friend, and a well-known occultist. Tim, tragically, died very suddenly in his early forties in 2003.

In response, Hughes sent multiple emails to his long-time girlfriend, crowing over Tim’s death and even claiming responsibility for it, via a “death curse”. He pulled similar shenanigans on another one of his stalking targets whose girlfriend had been killed in a motorcycle accident, again claiming “credit” for her death, commenting that she “had finally found a way to get thinner”, and including multiple photos of graphic motorcycle accidents.

Hughes leverages Google heavily: as I’ve said, he’s not only obsessive about keeping on top of what his victims are doing, but he also uses it as a offensive weapon: his activities are calculated to create an impression that his victims are, in fact, victimizers. His efforts turn out to be largely in vain in my case — I share a name with a former chief editor of Reuters, and unless you search on a pretty specific set of keywords, you’ll find him and not me (and not Hughes’ various lies about me). He wants his victims to have results for a name search, but he wants those results to be the ones he’s created. His goal is for a search on my name to return results creating at least the superficial impression that I’m an arsonist, a pedophile, and so on.

So, that’s what we’re talking about here. Through his anonymous sockpuppetry and his propensity to run and hide, Hughes remains at large, and has never been arrested for his activities, in spite of criminal complaints against him in (at least) California, Washington, Texas and New York.

His victims — I’m personally acquainted with no fewer than two dozen, I’m certain there are others I’m unaware of — continue to hope to see him brought to justice.

[This is a third of an ongoing series on the “Broken Internet”; part one is here, part two is here. In the next installment, I’ll discuss what I see as the core design flaw which enable monsters like Jason Christopher Hughes to get away with this sort of thing for two decades: online anonymity.]

Quick Note: Solving an OS X Terminal Weirdness

I had something that started up a few days ago where my attempts to connect to any server via SSH in Terminal simply stalled, after the key exchange had successfully taken place. Not really sure what was wedged, but the solution turned out to be to first remove openssh with brew, then reinstall it, with keychain support:

brew remove --force openssh
brew install openssh --with-keychain-support

Next, we want to modify the LaunchAgents plist for openssh:

sudo sed -i '' 's/\/usr\/bin\/ssh-agent/\/usr\/local\/bin\/ssh-agent/' /System/Library/LaunchAgents/org.openbsd.ssh-agent.plist  

We can add a little helper script to ~/.bash_profile:

eval $(ssh-agent)
    function cleanup {
        echo \"Killing SSH-Agent\"
        kill -9 $SSH_AGENT_PID
    }
    trap cleanup EXIT

And finally, set up the system to use the updated ssh, rather than the OS X stock one, universally (some apps will look for ssh in /usr/bin, rather than respecting $PATH settings.

sudo mv /usr/bin/ssh /usr/bin/ssh_old
sudo ln -s /usr/local/bin/ssh /usr/bin/ssh

Seems to be working fine again now.

Wednesday Linkfest

ETHICS!

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  • Columnist Dan Savage asks the entirely reasonable question, “Why are people horrified at Gawker for outing one cheating dude, yet gleeful over hackers outing 37 million of them?”

Security

  • After Hieu Minh Ngo was convicted of a massive series of identity thefts, a class-action suit has been instituted against credit bureau Experian, which is accused of violating the Fair Credit Reporting Act, among a variety of other things. The plaintiffs want to force Experian to contact anyone who may have been affected by Ngo’s activities, to offer them a full year of free credit monitoring, to disgorge any profits Experian may have realized from Ngo’s scheme and to establish a fund to reimburse people affected by Ngo’s activities.
  • AshleyMadison CEO Noel Biderman made an effort to pitch Robert Scoble on how incredibly serious they were about security. You’d think they might’ve considered encrypting their databases.
  • A possible breach at PNI Digital Media, providers of a widely-used online photo management platform, has had the effect of causing CVS, Rite-Aid, CostCo and a number of others to shut down their photo-processing services.
  • The Federal Trade Commission is taking action against putative identity-protection firm Lifelock, for lying about its services, a charge it has faced in the past. Additionally, the FTC has charged that LifeLock failed to implement a meaningful security program (STOP ME IF YOU’VE HEARD THIS ONE BEFORE!), falsely claimed that it offered consumers protection comparable with that of major financial institutions with regard to their own data, and had failed to meet the record-keeping requirements of the company’s $12 million, 2010 settlement with the Commission and 35 states’ attorneys general.

Technology

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Drones, Drones, Drones

Society & Culture

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  • If you talk with your co-workers about your salaries at Google — discovering all sorts of untoward things in the process, evidently — your manager will give you a hard time about it, in spite of the fact that doing so is completely illegal in California.
  • Breitbart chucklehead and Donald Trump impersonator Milo Yiannopoulos doesn’t believe women should be involved in tech. No one’s got time for that kind of stupid, especially not Margaret Hamilton, who led software development for the moon landing and coined the term “software engineering”.
  • Speaking of “Breitbart chuckleheads”, editor Ben Shapiro has filed assault charges against transgender reporter Zoey Tur after she put her hand on his neck and called him a “little man”. Why so serious, Ben? Feeling…inadequate…?
  • A young iOS developer hurls herself to her death from a 20th-floor rooftop bar in Manhattan’s Flatiron district. Other patrons, attending a “corporate event”, are unperturbed and just keep on drinking.
  • A study by researchers at the University of New South Wales and the University of Florida has found that the worse a guy is at games the more likely he is to make negative comments toward women gamers. U JELLY BRO?
  • Remember how people used to “run away to the Big City” to make their fortune? Got a median income? Here are all the big cities you can’t afford to live in, and when they became unaffordable. San Francisco crossed that line in 1982.
  • A 6-foot 4-inch 260 pound South Carolina construction worker has been arrested for slapping a waitress (on whom he had 120 pounds and 13 inches) when she took issue with his racially harassing a black family while they were trying to have dinner. Reportedly, he was under the impression that the family “didn’t mind” being abused.
  • Been bitten by a rattlesnake? Expect an enormous hospital bill. ObamaCare has improved things, but the American health care system is very broken.

Other Stuff (and #CannibalismInTheNews!)

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  • A burglar manages to take a selfie by accident while stealing an iPhone from the apartment he’s broken into. Venice, California police are requesting help in identifying this dolt. Guys like this are the reason “crime doesn’t pay” — they bring down the average.
  • “Pot polish” — the rounding of broken bone edges when they’ve been cooking in a pot — as well as cut marks on the bones show pretty conclusively that the doomed Franklin Expedition of 1845 did, indeed, resort to cannibalism.
    Relatedly, Dan Simmons’ book The Terror is a terrific fantasy novelization of the privations and demise of John Franklin and his two ships full of hapless, doomed explorers.
  • Missed yesterday’s Festival of Links? Check it out here.

    The Internet is Broken: The Trolls

    Back in the day on USENET, we had trolls, although they were relatively mild (for the most part—there are distinct exceptions, and you’ll get to meet one in the next installment). We also had a reasonably effective way of dealing with them: we sent them to alt.flame, USENET’s own little “basement”. It worked reasonably well, mostly through force of tradition and peer pressure; there were certainly no technical measures to enforce it, nor could you “throw someone off USENET”. It wasn’t a “site”, it was a distributed system of servers which synchronized with one another, and there was no notion of “membership”, you simply posted things to a group.

    Mostly, trolling amounted to name-calling. Some of it was clever, some of it was dopey, but it was a rare case that ever went beyond that.

    (And just to demonstrate how far South things have gone, a Google search on “alt.flame” turns up numerous references to something called “alt.flame.niggers”.)

    Today, we hear—from folks like the denizens of ChanLand and its territories, like #GamerGate—that people who complain about online harassment are just “getting their jimmies rustled” over people “saying mean things on the Internet”.

    Anyone who believes that needs a swat upside the head with a clue-by-four, and then to read this story, once they’ve regained consciousness. A cabal of anonymous trolls literally drove a man almost to suicide and terrorized his family in Virginia. If that’s not enough, read how Nazi harasser Andrew “weev” Auernheimer (in our “featured image”) drove Kathy Sierra off the web.

    If you need more evidence of how out-of-control this can get, I strongly recommend Danielle Keats Citron’s Hate Crimes in Cyberspace, which is a pretty chilling read—at least if you couldn’t have written a bunch of it yourself. Here’s a very partial extract of some of the harassment experienced by a grad student Citron refers to by the pseudonym “Anna Mayer”.

    Over the next year, the attacks grew more gruesome and numerous. Sites appeared with names like “Anna Mayer’s Fat Ass Chronicles” and “Anna Mayer Keeps Ho’ing It Up”. Posts warned that “guys who might be thinking of nailing” her should know about her “untreated herpes”. A post said, “Just be DAMN SURE you put on TWO rubbers before ass raping Anna Mayer’s ST diseased pooper!” Posters claimed she had bipolar disorder and a criminal record for exposing herself in public. Racist comments she never made were attributed to her. Posts listed her professors email addresses, instructing readers to tell them about Mayer’s “sickening racist rants”. Someone set up a Twitter acount in Mayer’s name that claimed she fantasized about rape and rough sex. Hundreds of posts were devoted to attacking her.

    I want you to keep this in mind, especially when we get to the next installment, which will go over my experiences having an online stalker for (so far) over a decade. You’re going to see some similarities.

    However, I want to relate the specifics of why I’ve “gotten off” Twitter—actually my account is now protected, and I’m limiting the people who have access to it. As I’ve mentioned, I’ve got some strong opinions about GamerGate, and I haven’t been terribly shy about expressing them, forcefully. This has been going on for several months, but in the last few weeks, the response from GamerGate went from name-calling to actual harassment.

    One form this harassment took was the posting of photographs of members of my family by a GamerGate-r, @rustBeltExpat. I reported them to Twitter, and learned a couple of things about how “seriously” Twitter takes harassment. First, it seems to have taken them about three days to get to dealing with my report; at least that’s how long it took to get a response on it. Second, I was informed that if the harassing user takes down obviously privacy-invading material before Twitter looks at it, it “doesn’t count” as harassment.

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    Another form was the creation, and subsequent deletion—over a period of maybe ten or fifteen minutes apiece—of numerous new Twitter IDs impersonating various members of my family, again with photos. These were used to bring my attention to their existence by favoriting or retweeting various defamatory posts I was mentioned in. The bottom line here is that Twitter is a great deal less than serious about its commitment to dealing with harassment on its platform.

    When I say “defamatory”, I’ve been accused of being a arsonist, a Satanist, a blackmailer, a “revenge pornographer”, an attempted murderer, and a pedophile. That’s fine, I don’t worry too much about stuff like that, particularly when the “evidence” is nothing but anonymous comments somewhere that link to other anonymous comments somewhere to provide a façade of “support” for the claims.

    In spite of this apparently-lengthy criminal record, I’ve never heard from an actual representative of law enforcement on any of these very serious charges. Go figure.

    When uninvolved third-parties who have absolutely no horse in the race get dragged into things to be used as a blunt object, that’s a strong sign that someone out there is valuing their viewpoint a little too highly. And since Twitter only offers lip service to its “concern” about its users being attacked (and attacked and attacked), this represents my “strategic retreat” to “higher ground”. We’ll see how things proceed.

    In the interests of fairness and balance, I need to point out that trolling — at least of the milder, name-calling sort — is not limited to #GamerGate partisans. At around the same time this was all going on, I had gotten involved in the usual sort of heated #GamerGate discussion in which one of the other participants was #GamerGate critic Sarah Nyberg. It should be noted that Nyberg has herself been subjected to harassment by #GamerGate as well over the past six months, much of it in the form of accusations that she’s a “pedophile” and a “dog-fucker”. (In a similar vein, ggblocklist ccreator and OAPI executive director Randi Harper has been accused of selling her child for methamphetamine.)

    Nyberg effectively issued me an order that I untag not her, but an unspecified “us”, from the conversation at one point. I pointed out to her that she wasn’t the boss of me, and that if she wanted something from me, she could ask nicely and say “please”. Her response to this was to block me and start tweeting about how I was “the archetype of a problematical male ally”, along with the help of about a half-dozen of her minions.

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    Of course, #GamerGate happily picked this up, and has been broadcasting the news that the (actually non-existent) “aGG” — the monolithic block of “Social Justice Warriors” they’re crusading against — had “excommunicated” me.

    No worries, I’ve been declared a heretic before by much more impressive groups.

    In the next installment, I’ll talk about my own personal stalker, a fellow with more names than most people have housekeys and a very sad excuse for a human being who’s managed to be a pothole on the Information Highway for two decades now.

    His given name is Jason Christopher Hughes.

    This is the second of a series of articles; the previous installment is here.

    UPDATE, 7/22/15: Apparently Twitter went back and took a closer look at @rustBeltExpat; the account has now been suspended for “abusive behavior”.

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    Tuesday Linkfest

    What I’m hearing from people is that they’re going to miss the raft of links I typically would post on Facebook about the news and other stories that had caught my interest. Here’s a first stab at providing something as a replacement.

    Discussion in the comments. (Comments are moderated, get over it.)

    Security

    • AshleyMadison.com, a site which purports to enable one to have a “discreet affair”, got hacked and badly. As many as 37 million users are at risk of having their personal data—including ther “kinky sexual fantasies” posted online. A group calling itself “Impact Team” is taking responsibility, and it all seems to be over an issue of not scrubbing data after hitting up customers for $19 to do so.
      What astounds me here is the moralizing in the comments. A site with your medical or financial records, or lists of purchases you’ve made that you might not want your boss to know about, can be hacked just as easily as a cheating-on-your-wife site you despise. The blue-nosed “YOU DESERVE THIS!” tone of the attackers’ taunts suggests to me that Chansters are behind this somewhere. They’re all about ethics, you know.
    • From the “Stop Me If You’ve Hurt This One Before” desk, Android is again being called out as a security risk owing to the tremendous amount of fragmentation in the platform. This time, security researchers have written a paper on it (link in the article).
    • After discovering that one of the zero-day exploits they sold to hacking team had in turn been sold to human-rights-violating regimes, Netagard has shut down its controversial Exploit Acquisition Program. Again.
    • Completely aside from the potential impact on jobs and the economy, there’s a side of those “self-driving cars” that’s not getting discussed in all the excitement. Here’s a story relating a demonstration of hacking a Jeep on the highway, and taking it over. We’ve already seen drones spoofed with fake GPS; while robot cars may well reduce accidental traffic fatalities, I’d bet any amount of money we’ll see some deliberate ones. You know: for the “lulz”.

    Technology

    Society & Culture

    • Yesterday was the 46th anniversary of the first landing on the moon. I remember sitting in my dad’s apartment, watching it on a tiny black-and-white TV. Here’s a story of someone the same age as I, who was watching it while I was, and how it affected his life.
    • According to this story in Salon, instant rāmen noodles are an environmental disaster. Instant rāmen noodles are fried to creates “holes” in the noodles that let them cook in three minutes; the frying is done with palm oil. Lots of palm oil. So much palm oil that it’s destroying entire habitats and endangering orangutan populations in Borneo and Sumatra.
    • Astoundingly, it’s being reported that Google’s targeted advertisement algorithms are doing things like showing higher-paying jobs to men than they do to women. Further detail at the MIT Technology Review.
    • Robert W. Gibson, who wrote a number of issues of “Captain Harlock”, has passed away at age 55.

    Other Stuff (and #WhiskeyTangoFoxtrot!?)

    • Ever wondered how you’d portray a mute on stage, or write a blind character in a story, or any number of things? This wonderful reference site is an objet trouvé from the wonderful Mordant Carnival.
    • And from the “Tech Geniuses of Silicon Valley” desk, a “wiccan witch” (?) has apparently gotten a business going protecting company’s computers and networks through sorcery.

    The Internet is Broken: An Introduction

    This is a departure from my usual content.

    I’m getting off Twitter and Facebook. I want to talk about why. It’s going to take a while, I’m afraid, but I’ll be doing it in, not easily-digestible perhaps, but step-by-step chunks.

    I’ve felt for a long time that there were some real problems with what’s happening with the Internet, and they manifest most obviously in “social media”—which I believe, thanks to a combination of misdesign, mistaken beliefs, and the active exploitation of those factors by, roughly, the Worst People In The Entire World, is actually “anti-social media” more and more frequently.

    I refer you to Reddit, where the female CEO was just thrown under a bus for a decision that was forced on her, and in terms that were misogynistic, racist and vile beyond belief—the featured image (depicting a Chinese-American woman in what looks like a North Korean uniform in front of a World War 2 Japanese battle flag) is a very mild example. In its efforts to reform itself, the new CEO has come up with a scheme whereby Nazis, racists, and trolls of all persuasions will be provided with an ad-free, subsidized platform, a “basement”, if you will.

    As Chuq von Rospach has observed, running an online community is like running a sports bar. If a pile of bikers come in and start getting rowdy in the basement, you’ve got two basic choices before you: you can either toss the bikers out, or you’re running a biker bar.

    I’ve written about data-mining the GamerGate “controversy”, and I have some distinct opinions about it. Whatever this “movement” or “hashtag” or “consumer revolt” or “independent individuals” claims to be about, it’s associated with a lot of harassment, and in fact, that’s documented in a study by Women, Action, and the Media.

    The study collected a number of harassment reports, and among other things, checked the allegedly harassing IDs to see if they happened to be on a “GamerGate blocklist” created by Randi Harper. The blocklist is totally simple-minded: if an ID follows more than two of a small set of IDs involved in GamerGate and known to have harassed people—one example was Slade Villena, who was banned from Twitter for making death threats (but who turned around and immediately set up a new ID, despite this)—you’re on the blocklist.

    (This is only one possible approach, but it seems to work surprisingly well. A different approach to generating a blocklist is described here, with some Python to fool around with.)

    Despite this, close to one in eight, 12%, of the harassment reports in the study were linked to IDs on the blocklist. Why is this significant? As I’ve said, the blocklist is a very broad brush. GamerGate, en masse, can’t possibly represent more than 0.01%, one-ten-thousandth of the population of Twitter. The biggest estimate I’ve seen from anyone involved was a frankly absurd 170,000. That’s one-one-hundred-thousandth, 0.001%, of Twitter’s active user population of about a quarter-billion users. But let’s go with an estimate of 1.7 million GamerGaters on Twitter.

    Let’s further assume that the WAM! report overstates the involvement of GamerGate in harassment in general by an order of magnitude. That would mean that GamerGate was involved in, not twelve percent, but only 1% of overall harassment reports.

    This winds us up in a situation where one user in ten thousand is generating one harassment incident out of every hundred. That is two orders of magnitude out-of-kilter, one hundred times as many reports as one would otherwise suspect, all other things being equal. And that’s giving GamerGate the benefit of significant doubt, both in their numbers and their involvement.

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    (For contrast, the worst case, taking the unrealistic-but-smaller 170,000 estimate of GamerGate’s size and sticking with the 12% incidence of involvement, you have 1/100,000th of the user base generating a staggering almost an eighth of the harassment reports, meaning they’re creating ten-thousand times as many harassment reports as you’d expect.)

    Houston, we have a big problem here. The WAM! study understates their findings here by noting that 88% of the reports they studied were not associated with GamerGate—a factoid you’ll hear GamerGaters happily quoting—but not noting the disparity between likely population size and likelihood to be tied to a report of harassment. You can download a copy of the full WAM! study from here.

    The Internet is broken, the trolls are in control, and GamerGate is only the most recent manifestation. The facts pretty much make it clear that, rather than having anything to do with ethics, journalistic or otherwise, GamerGate is a Chan “op” that was simply a lot more viral and successful than their previous attempts, and it built on their successful “#EndFathersDay” troll.

    So, back to where we started: I’m getting off Twitter because GamerGate finally decided to make the harassment personal. I’ll get to the specifics of that in the next installment.