Stuff I Wrote: September 2015

Writing Fountain penHappy autumn! Here in Phoenix we are thankful that the temperature is finally dipping down into the double digits, and getting ready for the beautiful fall and winter temperatures (as opposed to the intolerable summer heat). Anyway, I have a huge batch of stories for you to peruse this month. Enjoy!

Online Privacy and Security

Tech News

Security News This Week

This weekly column for WIRED runs down security news each week that WIRED didn’t cover in depth, but deserves your attention nonetheless…


Your Career


Health and Fitness




Stuff I Wrote: August 2015

Writing Fountain penIt’s been a really busy month for posts, so here’s a round-up of all of ’em.

A Peek Inside Mr. Robot’s Toolbox (WIRED) Just in time for the season finale. I spoke with show creator and executive producer Sam Esmail and tech consultant Michael Bazzell and did a heck of a lot of research on ten tech tools used on the show. Faraday cage not included. (P.S. This post hit Techmeme.) (P.P.S. My husband came up with that excellent title.)

When It Comes To Encryption, Our Police Makers Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Thomas Jefferson (Forbes) I actually went to the library and broke out the microfiche while researching this puppy. I also got to quote Ethan Heilman, which was cool.

So You Found Your Name (Or Your Executive’s) In The Ashley Madison Data Dump. Now What Do You Do? (Forbes) I spoke with a crisis management consultant, a security adviser, and even a relationship coach for answers on this hairy topic.

That Fired Facebook Intern Explains The ‘Marauders Map’ Extension That Cost Him His Gig (Forbes) I got both sides of this debacle.

Tell Us Which Companies Crushed It In Response to Security or Privacy Issues This Year (Forbes)

Watch Out For Phishing Scams Like These (Forbes)

Security News

Security News This Week: Oh Good, The Weaponized Police Drones Are Here! (WIRED) I also wrote about GitHub getting DDoS’ed, Oakland cops’ new retention guidelines for license plate data, Baltimore cops tracking cellphones, AT&T injecting ads on HTTP traffic through airport Wi-Fi, and India shutting off mobile internet for 63 million people.

Security News This Week: Police Use Mobile Cell Phone Trackers to Avoid Court Orders (WIRED) I also wrote about mobile supercookies, a secret email Ed Snowden sent NSA, the IRS hack, and some Google news.

Security News This Week: US Admits It Uses Predictions, Not Data, to Blacklist Flyers (WIRED) I also wrote about an Android bug, a security flaw Volkswagen kept hidden for years, spies in China reading U.S. officials’ private emails, a software engineer harvesting Facebook user data using cell phone numbers, attackers hijacking Cisco networking gear, Lenovo injecting its software into clean installs, and government requests for Twitter user data skyrocketing.

Security News This Week: The Pentagon Got Hacked While You Were at Def Con (WIRED) I also wrote about a Firefox exploit found in the wild, a court ruling against warrantless release of cell phone location data, and about tearing down cyberwalls, whatever they are.


We’ve got you covered if you’re looking for a job in tech: Finding Software Jobs When You’re Over 50 (Dice), Hacking Job Interviews (Dice), and 5 Big Interview Mistakes To Avoid (Dice) have some words of wisdom from people who are a lot smarter than me.

Stuff I Wrote: July 2015

Writing Fountain penIt’s been quite a prolific month of writing for me, so I’ve divided it into more sections than usual. I’m also thinking of sending this out weekly instead of monthly, and will be surveying RSS subscribers to see if you’d prefer a weekly (or biweekly) newsletter to this. But for now, here are links to 17 articles or posts I wrote for WIRED, Forbes, Experience Life, Made Man, the Freelancer, and the Sports Post in/for July.

Security News This Week

This is a weekly roundup of security news I write for WIRED; each headline is just one story of seven to 10 that I link to and summarize.

Your VPN Probably Isn’t Private (7/2) (WIRED) Also XKEYSCORE, NSA spying, WaPo encryption, and some new malware named after your favorite cartoon characters.

The Crypto Wars Ain’t Over (7/11) (WIRED) From Dutch spying to German spying to more U.S. spying, the crypto wars ain’t over. Plus spoofing in Chrome, financially-motivated hackers, cyber war games, and more.

Laura Poitras Is Suing the Government (7/18) (WIRED) An emergency UK spy bill deemed unlawful, an ACLU lawsuit, issues with RC4 ciphers, a Java 8 exploit, a Hacking Team client feeling the sting, and an identity thief getting 13 years in the slammer.

Anonymous Says It Hacked the Census Bureau (7/25) (WIRED) The U.S. Treasury intelligence service is vulnerable to hackers, Facebook can’t challenge search warrants, it may be easier to sue over data breeches, Microsoft says goodbye to revenge porn, Malaysia censorship, Pakistan spying, and more.

Online Security

The Five Online Security Measures You’re Probably Doing Wrong (Forbes) Google compared security tips made by experts and non-experts, and I spoke with the amazing Micah Lee to make sense out of them.

Security Made Simple–In Photos: Five Online Security Measures You’re Probably Doing Wrong (Forbes) A slideshow with five action steps for securitizing your shit; kind of a simplified version of the post above.

What You Can Learn From the Ashley Madison Hack (Even If You Don’t Want to Cheat on Your Spouse) (Forbes) Some strategies for online security when visiting sites you maybe don’t want people to know you’re on, with tips from Fred Jennings (who is not your lawyer) and Jessy Irwin.

Why Did A Security Form Mysteriously Ditch a ‘Privacy’ Product? (Forbes) A bit of speculation on ProxyHam.

Not Ready To Disable Flash? Try Click-To-Play Instead (Forbes) I spoke with technologist Garrett Robinson on ways to protect yourself from Adobe Flash’s rotating door of 0days without breaking everything or ruining your internet experience.

For Social Engineering Scams, The Best Security Patch Is Education (Forbes) A story about losing my ID while I was traveling in California…

Why You Shouldn’t Freak Out Over Windows 10’s WiFi Sense Password-Sharing Feature (Forbes) I explain why WiFi Sense isn’t the worst idea in the world.


Fitness Fix: Preventing Shin Splints (Experience Life) Some great exercises from Francesca Conte.

Expert Answers on Exercising With Your Dog (Experience Life) Dawn Celapino talks about how to include your dog in your workouts.

Expert Answers On Why Your Face Turns Red When You Exercise (Experience Life) A dermatologist explains it all.


Should Writers Respond to Comments on their Articles? (The Freelancer) I spoke with Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Cyrus Farivar, Monica Guzzman and Maryn McKenna on whether journalists should read and respond to comments.


This Wedding Photographer Also Shoots The Most Amazing Storm Pics You’ve Ever Seen (Made Man) A really fun slideshow with some of Mike Olbinski’s best stormchasing photos.


Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler’s Gnarly Street Fight (The Sports Post) This exclusive story explains what happened in the parking lot hours after a seminar…

A Very Personal Ad For Project Co-Conspirators

two friends kittens dancing and speaking isolated on white background

After a five-and-a-half year hiatus, I wrote a Very Personal Ad last month, in which I was looking for a new desert home. It worked so well that I thought I’d try it again. Invented by Havi Brooks, Very Personal Ads are a way to practice getting better at asking for things and getting clarity about our desires by asking for what we want. Sometimes the things happen, and sometimes they don’t, but the point is to learn about our relationship with the thing we want.

Wish #1: A Podcast Collaborator

I’ve been running an intermittent podcast called The Elephant in the Room, in which I pick a theme and an amazing guest and pepper them with the questions everyone else has but is too afraid to ask. (Or sometimes I just ramble a lot and they say smart things.) I’d love to find someone to work with on this project. Ideally this person would be into the parts I’m not as focused on, like audio editing, but I’m open to a co-host as well. I only want to do one episode a month, or so.

I want it to be someone who would really benefit, personally or professionally, from helping me work on this project and who would be really excited about it. Part of me feels like I should be hiring somebody, but I want a collaborator, not an employee. I want it to be someone with strong opinions who’s not afraid to share them, but who I would work with well together.  We do need to have some shared interests, obvs.

Wish #2: A Top Secret Game Project Collaborator

I’m working on an educational game that people interested in privacy and security for activists, journalists, etc. would be really excited about, and I’d love to work on the gaming part with someone else who can help me hash out the nitty gritty details and is as excited about the project as I am. It would ideally be someone who’s really analytical but also grew up reading comics and playing AD+D. It’d be someone who would help me build on my ideas rather than tearing them down.

Ways This Could Work

I could meet someone who’s interested in one of these projects through an event or at a cafe or coworking space. I could meet them online. Maybe the right people are reading this. Maybe they’ll be introduced to me by someone reading this. Maybe it’s someone I know already.

My Commitment

I commit to being really open to potential people to work with, and to sharing credit, and to putting a lot of love into the project. To drop my own ego and be open to critical feedback. These really are labors of love and not for profit, so my commitment is to their overall excellence, despite the amount of time they take.

Progress Report

We have signed a lease for a new place to live in a safe area with a good vibe. It’s got a washer/dryer (so we’re giving away ours!), is pet friendly, has parking and central air, is in our price range, has a patio, and recycling, and a pool, and is near a cafe I like, and they’re letting us move in a day early–so it’s got pretty much all we wanted. It’s a relief to get to stop looking.

Feminism has a racism problem (and so do I)

800px-Ostrich,_mouth_openDisclaimer: This post addresses privilege, racism, gender politics, and other issues. It’s based primarily on my own experience, and I didn’t attempt to cover all potential scenarios and angles. I’m sure I left a lot of valid points out, and am hoping people who see my own blind spots will contribute to the conversation with their own writing if they feel moved to.

There’s this sentiment in many feminist circles that if someone feels uncomfortable, it’s likely due to some type of gender discrimination. And often, that’s true. Women for so long have had to deal not only with harassment and sexism, but with other people telling them it’s in their own head.

This is why feminist women’s groups can be so gratifying. Finally you can have the “am I crazy, or is this person being creepy?” discussion with people who support you. We’ve passed around copies of Amanda Hess’ post on “grey rape” and had nuanced, thoughtful discussions, sharing our own experiences without feeling the need to dredge up old memories or justify our clothing, our body language, or our existence. In a world where many of us find ourselves constantly put on the defensive, it’s refreshing.

But this isn’t just about validation. Plenty of women’s circles and groups I’ve been in have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince women that yes, the specific manifestation of non-consensual sex they’d described is rape, and no, it wasn’t their fault. That yes, their employer was harassing them and no, smiling didn’t make it okay or magically shift responsibility from the perpetrator to the target. That they’re not terrible people for reporting it or for not reporting it. That they can get help and things can get better.

I’ve wiped the tears of a woman who was drugged and raped but thought it was her own fault because she’d smoked pot earlier in the day. I’ve  made tea for a teenager who thought she led her stalker on and felt bad getting a restraining order because she thought it’d be too mean; this was someone she cared about.

Those justifications seem ridiculous to us but didn’t to those people at the time until they got a reality check from supportive friends. The combination of societal victim-blaming and high degrees of shame and guilt associated with sexual violence create a potent cocktail of self-blame, and as I’ve hopefully demonstrated, meeting with a group of like-minded women can be helpful for recalibrating one’s perception of reality. It can also be incredibly gratifying to be surrounded by people who aren’t trying to discredit your emotions and in fact view your experience through the lens of systemic inequality. Part of yelling and screaming that something wasn’t our fault is because a tiny part of us might believe that maybe it was. Fragmentary recall and difficultly making sense of what happened, among other things, can do that to a person.

But there’s a dark side to this, too, and it has to do with privilege. Almost every feminist group or women’s group I’ve been in has skewed predominantly white and predominantly financially privileged, and I think this really colors the dialogue and what we get from the groups in a way that may not be immediately obvious.

There’s this pervasive feeling in feminist circles that anytime someone feels uncomfortable, she’s being harassed. And there’s a tendency to erase white-on-white harassment from history. But feeling uncomfortable, no how you slice it, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being harassed. A very lonely male friend of mine once sent me an email that initially, instinctively made me feel uncomfortable. After giving it some thought I realized that not only were they not, in my estimation, doing anything creepy, that if anyone was contributing to an unfair power dynamic, it was me.

At some point embracing feminist rhetoric can extend beyond finding a group of supportive people who trust your stories as you tell them instead of invalidating them, which is problematic in and of itself. It can lean women towards a warped view of the world in which one views anything that makes her feel uncomfortable as harassment, and even fixates solely on gender issues while ignoring all other forms of systemic inequality.

What does this look like? It looks like Abby Dawson, a white Kennesaw State University academic advisor, telling black student Kevin Bruce that waiting quietly until an adviser was available was harassment. I, of course, don’t have a mirror into Dawson’s soul…but if someone equates feeling uncomfortable with being harassed, this is what it looks like. And I think it’s worth acknowledging the possibility of white feminist women thinking that they are being “harassed” because they are uncomfortable… and that they’re uncomfortable because they are racist.

But enough about Dawson. Let’s talk about me.

I was walking to a restaurant for an evening of bachelorette party festivities when some rando started yelling something or other at me. This is always an uncomfortable situation, but his funny and charming friend told him to stop, which made it all better. Right?

I mean, who the hell is anyone to yell things at me on the street? Getting all dressed up for a night on the town with my girls–an incredibly rare occurrence, I might add–isn’t an invitation to street harassment. The guy’s friend stepping in fit seamlessly into the “best party ever OMG!” narrative I was trying to create, and I could tell you all about why my very classy non-trashy bachelorette party was better than everyone else’s. I shared the video widely, and then forgot about it.

Until #BlackLivesMatter entered public consciousness, drawing attention to the death of unarmed black men by police officers…something that has been happening for decades but has suddenly gotten a lot more media play because there was video so it was harder to sweep under the rug or accuse people of lying.

The man in my video told his friend that harassing people was never worth it because the consequence could be a violent reaction by the state. I suppose one could argue that institutionalized violence in response to street harassment is unlikely since catcalling is pervasive and it’s not like we’re all calling the cops or waiting around for them to show up, anyway.

But it’s pretty damn hypocritical of me to say that rape jokes aren’t funny but police beating the shit out of black men? Oh, that’s hysterical.

I would like to stop street harassment in part because of the implicit threat of violence. But I don’t think that a heightened threat of violence towards harassers would stop this cycle.

In addition to a long history of police brutality that disproportionately affects people of color, there’s a long history of black men dealing with organized racism and excessive violence for committing the crime of flirting with white women. Perhaps you’ve heard of Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year old black teenager who was murdered in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a white grocery store clerk. The woman’s husband and his half-brother beat Till, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head and threw his body in a river. A grand jury declined to indict the men who did this. Justice was not served. Till was a human being and his life mattered.

Rewriting this narrative so that the female grocery store clerk is a victim of sexual harassment and Till is not a victim would be sickening. Rewriting a narrative so that I’m a victim of catcalling while ignoring police harassment of people of color is kind of missing the point.

Some guy pointing out that his friend could get tear gassed and arrested for harassing a white woman isn’t really funny in that historical context, is it?
I could come up with a convincing excuses for my own self-absorption: feeling a wee bit narcissistic on the day of one’s bachelorette party is hardly inexcusable, right? In reality, I am constantly coming face to face with ways that I manifest my own privilege without even being aware of it—often fighting tooth and nail to defend what I think is mine when it slowly dawns on me that I was once again stuck in my head and ignoring the systemic inequality around me. I like to think I want to confront the ways I contribute to systemic inequality, but I’d be lying if I pretended this is a smooth and seamless transition. In reality, time and again I’ll find myself fighting it kicking and screaming.

So what’s my point? My point is that we need to unpack and deconstruct our own narratives of harassment, or at least acknowledge the possibility in our own minds that we’re not always victims.

I felt so powerless as a kid that it was hugely surprising to me to realize that actions I took had an effect on others–and not always a positive one. Reflection is crucial.

At some point we have to stop blaming our own self-absorption—I have to stop blaming MY own self-absorption, that is—on gaslighting and fear culture and a history of abuse, on patriarchy or rape culture or societal norms that oppress women. We as white women should acknowledge that we have an enormous amount of privilege and take special care to not create narratives that discount intersectionalism and the experience of others.

And we need to find the strength and reflection to analyze our own victim narratives with the same level of fervor and commitment that we use to unpack violence towards women and the many ways it manifests.

Because it really isn’t just about us.


Stuff I Wrote: June 2015

Writing Fountain penHere is a collection of links for posts I wrote this past month for WIRED, TakePart, Slate, Experience Life, Performance Menu, ReadWrite, and Dice this month!

Border Politics

Public Records Requests




My Blogathon Analytics

1554349_675284659272230_4493339880744803822_nI don’t typically pay much attention to Google Analytics, since this blog is mostly for fun and not at all for profit…though I do sell the occasional ebook or video course and use it as a repository for my work. However, since the 30-day Freelance Success/Word Count blogathon is coming to a close, I thought I’d take a look at the analytics and share the results. Here’s what happens when you go from blogging once or twice a month to every day.


I’ve never had enough subscribers for anything happening with my email list to be statistically significant, since the vast majority of page views I get come from social media, but every time I do the blog challenge, I always lose subscribers. This year I lost eight, going down from 170 to 162. (Yes, total, not 162o or 16,200. I have a feeling a lot of people have as few subscribers as I do but are ashamed to admit it. Honestly I’m thrilled that 162 people subscribe to updates, especially since I don’t market to you guys and my blog is inconsistently updated and doesn’t even have a specific focus.)

Sessions and page views

Sessions increased by around 35 percent, which 23.86 percent more users. Page views shot up 42.27 percent (from 3617 to 5146), and unique page views went from 1690 to 2446. The average session went from 38 seconds to 1:03, and my page views went up from 2.34 pages per visit to 2.46. The average time per page rose from 28 seconds to 43 seconds. My bounce rate increased by 1/4.

Specific posts

My most read post this past month was a poem reprint, which got 727 page views. My home page got 628. Of the posts I wrote in June, the winner post on how to make more money writing got 466 page views. Other popular posts were my very personal apartment hunting post, the one listing all the creepy things I do, and one on how not to make a public records request. I also wrote about comments, anonymity protections for bloggers, a terrible restaurant not worth mentioning… I listed stuff I wrote in May, had a couple of food slideshows, wrote about small claims court and asking smart questions, about the Supreme Court decision, and about processed food. Those got the highest views, though a couple of filler posts (two weekly wraps, a scrapbook image piece, and music suggestion) got hits as well.

Some of my best posts are old ones that have gotten people’s attention, somehow–an outdated post on Pandora alternatives, some BJJ and Paleo and fitness posts and reviews of gyms, books, and DVDs… old posts on tree sitting and travel hacking and press releases and emoji and the Tarahumara, and even some on physical therapy and root canals (fun!) and things I learned the hard way.

As usual, the posts I didn’t promote on social media did incredibly poorly. This has always been the case–because I haven’t committed to blogging about one specific topic, my traffic is heavily reliant on social media. Some posts I didn’t share anywhere got less than ten page views!


I’ve always had a pretty ambivalent relationship with blogging, and trying to do so every day meant that the past month had a lot of meaningless filler interspersed with posts I enjoyed writing and got interesting feedback from. I think I’d like to update more (and am actually working on a minor redesign) but nothing crazy like this past month… though I do hope you enjoyed the posts!


Yael Writes’ Weekly Wrap

10329203_484081391725892_2009436025575136953_nYael Writes’ Weekly Wrap

Blogathon Posts From This Past Week

Around the Web

I also wrote the “Fitness Fix” and “Expert Answers” section of the July/August issue of Experience Life. Link forthcoming!

Music To Write By

41JQJXQWF2LThis week’s selection of music to write by is actually a 2002 album by Swedish duo Club 8 called Spring Came, Rain Fell. Perhaps I appreciate the sentiment since it’s the middle of summer in the desert, with our ten-day highs ranging from 106 to 111. Think dreamy/floaty, laid-back, melancholy and melodic…with sweetly wispy vocals. The perfect background music for writing up a storm.


We Won!


Today, Supreme Court delivered an historic victory for advocates of gay (er, human) rights when it ruled 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry, no matter which backwards state they happen to live in.

Remember when Obama invited known homophobe Rick Warren to deliver an invocation at his historic inauguration after rallying LGBT supporters for the vote? Things have really changed.

The Obama administration certainly is imperfect, with its war on whistleblowers, an unprecedented lack of transparency, and a near-obsession with drones.  And the queer community faces inequality in a myriad of ways, ranging from transphobic violence to housing discrimination. In many states, you can still get fired from your job for being gay.

But sometimes it’s nice to take a moment to celebrate just how far we’ve come, so here’s to incremental progress and savoring the victories!

Lead photo by Guillaume Paumier