Thoughts on the Ashley Madison hack

I’m irritated by this whole thing.

On the one hand, it’s interesting that this might be the first time where MEN are being targeted generally for revenge for sexual indiscretions, and that these indiscretions are actually far more indiscrete than taking nude selfies to share with consenting adults.

On the other, this hack is every bit as much of a violation for these men and women, though it seems mostly only the men are going to be targeted. It includes information about their fetishes, and it includes instances of every account that’s ever been created and since “deleted”-but-not-really. The hack of the information from the site’s database is horrid, and the intent from some quarters — political, anti-social-justice, etc — to pore through it to damn specific people over being in that database is really gross. It’s gross in the same sort of voyeuristic way that putting up revenge porn is gross, though maybe not gross to the same degree insofar as it’s damning them for, at best, THINKING of doing something unethical, rather than damning them for doing something totally normal and commonplace as sending nudies to consenting partners.

This amounts to an infidelity dragnet, and it’s bound to catch innocents who’ve only engaged in “thoughtcrime”, having CONSIDERED having an affair. People who had accounts at one time, but no longer. People who had accounts before even being married. Yes, the site is about married people looking to “cheat”, but I’m sure straight and lovelorn people have ended up signing up for accounts on Grindr before, so it’s bound to happen that people sign up for this site just looking to pull a date. Not to mention that poly folks could very well use this relationship-finder with the full knowledge of their partners. Or people who signed up to research the site, even!

Mind you, it is a bright line that I cannot cross, where I would never engage in any activity that anyone directly impacted by it — e.g. partners — would not consent to. I am an advocate of ongoing, active, informed consent, and abrogating that consent is gross and wrong. It is a breach of trust that absolutely could and probably should ruin relationships. An ethical thing to do on encountering this information about someone’s relationship is to tell them privately — not splash it all over the deep web and create searchable indexes so that 4chan can go digging for dirt on all their most hated Social Justice Warriors. Never mind that they’re the ones constantly claiming that feminists just hate sex (despite evidence to the contrary), giving them the narrative that proving they might want sex somehow makes them hypocrites.

And don’t even get me started on the fact that finally, FINALLY, Josh Duggar — who molested several of his sisters — is suddenly viewed as a bad guy because he had an account here. Admitted child molestation is not a less serious crime than planning on cheating on your wife with zero proof of follow-through.

Just an unstructured thought dump.

Batman: Arkham Knight on PC pulled from Steam (and a possible fix?)

Apparently, a bunch of folks are having a terrible time getting Batman: Arkham Knight for PC to work. It’s glitchy and unplayable to most. As a result, WB had it pulled from Steam until they could fix the bugs. They are also offering refunds.

Dear Batman: Arkham Knight PC owners,

We want to apologize to those of you who are experiencing performance issues with Batman: Arkham Knight on PC. We take these issues very seriously and have therefore decided to suspend future game sales of the PC version while we work to address these issues to satisfy our quality standards. We greatly value our customers and know that while there are a significant amount of players who are enjoying the game on PC, we want to do whatever we can to make the experience better for PC players overall.

Thank you to those players who have already given valuable feedback. We are continuously monitoring all threads posted in the Official Batman: Arkham Knight Community and Steam forums, as well as any issues logged with our Customer Support (http://support.wbgames.com/). If you purchased your copy of the game and are not satisfied with your experience, then we ask for your patience while these issues are resolved. If desired, you can request a refund at https://help.steampowered.com (Steam refund policies can be found here: http://store.steampowered.com/steam_refunds) or the retail location where you purchased the game.

The Batman: Arkham fans have continually supported the franchise to its current height of success, and we want to thank you for your patience as we work to deliver an updated version of Batman: Arkham Knight on PC so you can all enjoy the final chapter of the Batman: Arkham series as it was meant to be played.

I got the game for free with the laptop I just bought that has an Nvidia card that happened to be running a promotion. I encountered a bit of glitchiness when I first launched it, but I overcame that fairly quickly. Judging by reports, what I encountered may not be the only real issue at hand. Only a fraction of people seem to be complaining about what I was seeing. But what I did was fairly easy and fairly repeatable, from what I can tell.

The specific behaviour I saw was that when you launch the game, it would immediately minimize itself. Once minimized, if you click on the icon to bring it back up to the foreground, it would hiccup repeatedly to a black screen, exactly like this:

The solution for me was to use a gamepad, launch the game, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del to get to the security options in Windows. Choose Task Manager. You may have to do this more than once to get it to bring Task Manager to focus.

As soon as I managed that feat, suddenly the game in the background was running smoothly, with the Windows task bar and Task Manager in the foreground! Every time I clicked back onto the Batman window, though, it would revert to its buggy behaviour. So, I moved Task Manager out of the way, picked up my gamepad, and went into the graphics options, and tried selecting my current screen resolution (1920×1080), Windowed Borderless mode. Then I dared to click back into Batman — and it worked! It also works for subsequent launches. The issue appears to be with the fullscreen, and possibly with some bad window management as a result. It might be possible to induce this specific display mode through the command line launch options or some INI file, but I haven’t gone digging.

Seriously, if this turns out to fix all your problems, then it’s a shoddy implementation of windowing on Rocksteady’s third party PC porter’s fault, which should have been easily caught and (hopefully) easily fixed in QA — you DID do QA, right? It also only appears to happen with certain Nvidia cards, from all reports I’ve seen. And I’ve seen a number that report that over time, the game will eventually start crashing. I’ve only played through the first Batmobile AR mission, so I can’t tell if that’ll happen, but long-running games eventually crashing sounds a lot like memory management issues to me — some garbage collection isn’t being done, or something.

I still can’t get over the fact that this is a Batman game where you shoot tanks with missiles though. And where the first car you have to fire on actually does have a person in it, you make it flip, and it’s only through the grace of plot that the dude — a banged up wreck after being in a horrific missile-induced rollover — climbs out for you to interrogate.

VMware VM can’t be cloned, moved or backed up? No problem.

There are probably easier (or harder) ways to do this, but my back was up against a wall yesterday after a very important virtual machine was in a very bad state yesterday, after a series of hardware issues with the host, and basically one of those perfect storms of bad backup and bad host and bad VM happened.

Apparently, backups for this machine had been failing in a deceptive manner that didn’t clue us in that they were failing, and the host (VMware ESXi 5.0) was building new snapshots of the drive over and over again when Veeam tried to take a backup.

Worse, every time you tried to do a VMware level operation with the machine, it was complaining about the disks with something like “Error caused by file /vmfs/volumes/########-########-####-############/VM-Name/VM-Name-0000001.vmdk” and failing out. Little extra could be gleaned from SSHing into the host and checking dmesg, but it was plain the disk was being weird in a software way, not a hardware way. Luckily, the virtual machine itself could read the whole disk just fine, and it still ran just fine. So I was stuck with flaky hardware and no way to move the VM off of it.
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Busy, busy worker bee

You might have noticed that most of the work I’ve put into the blog lately has been to the end of promoting Geek Girl Con. This post is no different, save for a bit of complaining.

Honestly, I haven’t had much time for blogospherics lately, as work has had a series of disasters that I’ve had to mitigate, so I’ve been working my ass off. I’ve been venting my frustrations about current real-world events on Twitter in short form, because that seems easier to handle in the midst of jumping from one crisis to another with work, but the blog has lain fallow for too long, so I decided to cross-purpose a bit of work I did today. Why use something you’ve done once, when you can use it twice?

At Geek Girl Con, I’m going to be working in the DIY Science Zone, teaching a thing or two about randomness, especially as pertains to dice. I’ll be performing a few demonstrations of how humans don’t really grok randomness, including one where I’ll get people to draw fifty random dots on a piece of paper. I’ll then compare them to a better (though still not perfect) pseudo-random generator, a computer.

Then I’ll go on to talk about how this universe is deterministic and randomness really isn’t all that random no matter what we do to generate it, and pretend to be all smart and stuff. We’ll see how that works out.

I’ve written a little Python script to help with the first demonstration I mentioned above. Here it is. It uses the fairly standard Pygame init > run > terminate main loop you might see in other examples.
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The sophistry and revisionist history in Skeptoid Brian Dunning’s statement

My understanding of Brian Dunning’s cookie-stuffing scheme is fairly thorough at this point. I’ve read the articles in major news organizations about Dunning and Shawn Hogan’s scheme, and I happen to understand to a very high degree of fidelity the workings of the World Wide Web and cookies. So when I read the statement that he wouldn’t allow copying-and-pasting on, I balked. Not only at the lies, misdirection and obvious con-man level sophistry going on in the post, but that anyone who claims to have pulled off such a job might think that what they claim to have done is actually plausible.

Rebecca Watson has done a thorough job at deconstructing the statement for what it is: a great ball of chaff thrown up to confuse the radars of so-called skeptics who are evidently unable to recognize such tactics. But there’s some nuance I’d like to add, specifically because there are parts that appear to directly reference something I blogged about recently, which has bubbled up to very near the top of search results on the terms “Skeptoid” or “Brian Dunning”.
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The virtual radio silence on Brian Dunning’s fraud

Today, Brian Dunning of the Skeptoid podcast and brand, blogger at SkepticBlog, was sentenced to 15 months prison and three years supervised release.

Barely anyone’s talking about it, though (except, obviously, us Social Justice Bullies who will inevitably be accused of crowing about this news).
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Why I distrust Apple, in one short video

Okay, seriously. I know that WWDC is a sales pitch moreso than a tech demo. But this supercut of superlatives tweaks every nerve I have as regards manipulative language.

There’s not a lot of actual innovation in their new iteration, that I can see, just a nice coat of paint slapped on the same old stuff. “This changes everything” was true when iOS first got introduced, but now it’s all “this keeps everything the same except for a prettier wastebasket.”

Twitter blocked in Turkey; activists graffiti alternate DNS workaround

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey has instated a ban of Twitter ostensibly over concerns that it hosts pornography, but from all appearances actually in response to repeated leaks of damning recordings of government officials.

However, the way that the ban is implemented is very rudimentary — the government has forced all ISPs in the country to remove twitter.com from their DNS servers.

In response to this ban, activists have been graffitiing Google’s DNS servers:

Graffiti on a turkish wall reading 'DNS: 8.8.8.8 Alternatif: 8.8.4.4'

Picture obtained here, can’t find the original source — if you do, let me know.

It’s not clear how long this workaround will last, but there are other avenues. One could, for instance, switch DNS to OpenNIC, or if changing DNS no longer provides enough of a workaround and these ISPs are forced by the government to shut down all traffic to Twitter’s servers, then you could instead connect to Tor or some other anonymizing VPN or proxy service.

When people complain that they’re being silenced for being blocked or moderated on a blog, I have to laugh — that’s not in any way an abrogation of your freedom of speech. Having all access to the internet cut off by a totalitarian government, on the other hand, is most decidedly one, and is most decidedly something we all must fight.

Fraudster skeptic Brian Dunning’s shell game

It’s been known for quite some time that Brian Dunning is dirty. From 2006 to 2007, he and his brother set up their joint venture Kessler’s Flying Circus as part of the eBay affiliates program wherein you get commission from every sale if someone purchased something after clicking on a banner ad on your site. Two of Dunning’s other websites, WhoLinked.com and ProfileMaps.info were configured to “stuff cookies” for eBay — that is, to create persistent cookies in your web browser such that if you visited one of those sites, the next time you visited eBay it would imagine that you’d clicked on one of those banner ads. Basically, by going to the site, without knowing it, you were treated as though you’d clicked on the Dunning brothers’ ad campaign even if you’d never even seen that ad. And the cookie would persist such that all your purchases looked as though they came from that ad campaign.

He’d figured out to do this by reverse-engineering Shawn Hogan’s tools — Shawn Hogan being the top-most eBay affiliate, who had himself defrauded eBay of $30+ million USD.

In 2008, eBay filed a lawsuit alleging that Dunning and Dunning had defrauded them of $5,300,000 USD. Though not as big a fraud as Hogan’s case, the Dunnings were the number two affiliate, and this was not chump change. eBay was definitely not getting the advertising bang for their buck. In 2010, a federal grand jury indicted him on five counts of wire fraud in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343. The FBI issued a press release in April 2013 showing that Brian Dunning had pled guilty. He faces 20 years jail time for his crimes.

Given that his general defense to the FBI was that eBay had been “stupid” in the way they set up the program, it’s fairly self-evident he was not repentant of his crimes and thought he could fight the suits in a sort of characteristically Libertarian “if you can do it, then it’s okay to do” defense. Now that he’s pled guilty, it’s fairly evident that he could not fight this case with that method of thinking.

Dunning’s legacy, his skeptical podcast Skeptoid, has long been known to be a cash cow as well — with its own advertisements, and a kitsch store with huge markups on t-shirts and mugs and the likes. However, now that Dunning has pled guilty and is awaiting sentencing, Skeptoid’s fate is in question.

In May of 2012, Dunning filed to convert the Skeptoid Media, Inc into a 501(c)3 non-profit charity, removing the ads from the podcast and site. This is mere months after he’d been forced to publicly admit that the lawsuits were ongoing.

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This is a screenshot of the filing for non-profit status from the Department of Justice website.

It’s an easy leap to believe that this was done to protect it from fallout from his fraud; it’s an easier leap to believe that all he has to do to protect the money he stole is to donate it all to Skeptoid as soon as the non-profit status comes through. I am under the impression that Dunning is presently setting up a board for this non-profit entity prior to the status actually changing. I don’t think it’s possible, at this point, to consider the brand anything but spent and destroyed — any efforts made by any members of our community toward rehabilitating its image and disassociating Skeptoid the brand from Brian Dunning the imprisoned felon are, in my mind, wasted and themselves tainted efforts.

I’m certain that the FBI will not allow this shell game to happen, especially not with the scrutiny that’s levelled at Brian Dunning presently. But on the off chance that it does happen, that Skeptoid is allowed to use funds from the eBay fraud, and that it doesn’t die on the vine thanks to the ongoing support I see from numerous big-name skeptics in our community, at least it won’t have happened because everyone stayed silent.

I do not consent to the skeptical “brand”, insofar as there is one, being represented by malicious con-men and other ne’er-do-wells. The skeptical way of thinking is a toolset that supplements a person’s identity. Not every person’s identity toolset is complete — many people lack empathy or a strong moral compass, among other numerous lacks. The skeptical toolset has too long been associated with amoral Libertarian con-artists that comprise the big-name skeptics, like Dunning, and I’d very much like that to end now. We have enough of an image problem with so-called “honest liars”; no need to prop up dishonest con-artists as part of a package deal.

Speak up. Repudiate any efforts to resurrect the Skeptoid brand. Dissociate yourselves from it if you have ties. Dunning is an unrepentant con-man and none of us need to go down with his ship.

I say that as someone who got into movement skepticism with Skeptoid being the first podcast I ever listened to.

Much ado about cyber-nothing

I’ve been drowned in the world of tech over this holiday season. It is, after all, my lifeblood, as well as my hobby — it’s how I pay the bills and help keep this family afloat. So time has been in short supply for anything but work, and I’ve been choosing (as I mentioned recently) to spend most of my free time either playing Starbound (an absolutely incredible space sandbox game that’s still in pre-release — I’m going to write up a review ASAP), or working on learning Java and creating a procedurally generated platform game that will probably never see market because I suck at art.

Pictured: wanted cyber-criminal "The Hamburgler"

Pictured: wanted cyber-criminal “The Hamburgler”

Being drowned in tech as I am, the things I’ve been reading are mostly technology-related as of late. That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped being a skeptic or atheist — just that they haven’t been topics on my must-read list.

This particular piece in All Tech Considered made my skeptical and security-minded tech parts of my brain flip the hell out, and I figured I should share that feeling with you. The piece starts appropriately doomsday, extrapolating from the actual information at hand in a manner that makes me think the piece was written by a very experienced science journalist:

If your computer is infected with a virus or other forms of malware, disconnecting the machine from the Internet is one of the first steps security experts say you should take. But someday, even physically separating your laptop from a network may not be enough to protect it from cyber evildoers.

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