Last month, I stepped down as an organizer of the Phoenix chapter of Freelance Spark. (Organizers in other cities stepped down as well.) I started volunteering with Freelancers Union in January 2015, holding my first event in February at GangPlank in Chandler. Soon, videographer Ita Udo-Ema joined me as a co-organizer, before I went solo in order to move the event to CoHoots in downtown Phoenix on October 2015 in hopes of drawing a larger crowd. Our June meeting would’ve been tomorrow (Wednesday) so I wanted to give an explanation.
From the beginning of my volunteer stint, I noticed two things. First, it became immediately apparent that the Freelancers Union staff (which doesn’t include many former or current freelancers) wanted to basically run the show with very little feedback from volunteers—even going so far as to provide “scripts” in each month’s material for us to read aloud, often to promote their own health insurance offerings or initiatives. And second, I noticed that this non-profit, whose goal is (supposedly) to help freelancers thrive and grow, was instead invested in how much additional work it could get from volunteers. What more could chapter leaders be doing? Early on, I remember leaving a Google Hangout for this very reason. It was exhausting.
At one point, Spark wanted to reprint one of my blog posts, and asked me for a photograph. When I asked for specs, they sent me a laundry list that would be more appropriate for a paid graphic designer or photographer to receive from a client: body turned towards camera, high resolution (non blurry/grainy), landscape orientation (not square), negative space–the more the merrier–around your entire silhouette (except for the bottom, no part of you touches the edge of the photo), minimum resolution: 72 dpi, minimum dimensions: 700 px tall, 900px wide, at least 300KB,” it read in part. Of course, they forgot to add a link to the original post until I wrote back in with a reminder. Priorities, amirite?
Freelance Spark seems to cater to fledgling freelancers, rather than established professionals, focusing its campaigns on things like legislation in New York (which wouldn’t affect many members) and a laundry list of unpaid invoices by its members that it’s titled “the world’s longest invoice” (in spite of the fact that pointing to plight of unpaid freelance work doesn’t exactly help the profession, or how it’s perceived by others). But it wasn’t lost on even the greenest attendees that the curriculum provided was of increasingly poor quality. Perhaps as a byproduct of material that wasn’t applicable to most of the people in the room, attendance to meetings dwindled. Even when many people RSVPed for events, only few would show up, and I got used to recycling unused material at the end of the night month after month. On multiple occasions, our gathering had just one or two attendees. I found myself wondering whether it was worth it, but discussing it with the Freelancers Union powers that be was pointless, as they provided little feedback or assistance.
Some of these issues came to a head in our Slack channel when a Freelancers Union staffer decided that we would all be charging for events going forward to prevent no-shows. Not all organizers were thrilled with the idea of asking members to pay for events we were hosting as volunteers, in space generously provided free of charge, but we were never even asked.
In response to growing conversation and actual feedback from its unpaid volunteers, Freelancers Union leaders decide to shut down the discussion and send out a survey. In response to my concerns with Freelance Spark meetups, I was sent an email and asked to hop on the phone with two organizers so that we could discuss my tone.
I had already been planning to resign because I didn’t feel like my volunteer work was making a positive impact, because the material seemed meaningless, and because–after months of this–I didn’t envision a possibility for change. But I was waiting for a scheduled happy hour (as a way to say thanks to our hosts) and for a session on security for small businesses, which I was asked to help develop curriculum for. Prior to being asked to create written material, I was asked to be on a panel (which never happened). As I was surveying chapter leaders for information to cover (something, incidentally, that Spark hadn’t really ever done when designing curriculum), a Freelancers Union organizer asked me to tack on information on IP and copyright, which is not only problematic for multiple reasons, but also out of scope. After agreeing to multiple requests to help with this session, I was then asked to hop on the phone to essentially repitch the idea. Later, the scheduled talk was quietly removed from the calendar.
How many freelancers haven’t had this problem? Someone asks you to do something, then when you agree, asks you to explain how you’re qualified and essentially pitch it to them? It’s annoying when it’s paying work, and honestly a little bit insulting for unpaid work. Freelancers Union relies on unpaid volunteers, and apparently views our time as expendable. I’m not sure how it distinguishes between “promoting the interests of independent workers” and promoting its own interests through the unused and unacknowledged (let alone unpaid) labor of independent workers, which is how I knew it was time to say goodbye.
After a year and a half of being dismissive of concerns, it’s hard to say whether Freelancers Union will be able to rebuild trust with its cadre of volunteers, or demonstrate that its staffers are familiar with freelancing and care about the needs of independent workers (beyond soliciting unpaid labor and trying to sell insurance). Running a successful remote group of volunteers isn’t easy even when it’s done properly, and I can’t even imagine how hard it would be when done wrong.
I did make some great connections through Spark, so not all was lost. And information wants to be free. In addition to teaching multiple workshops on online privacy and security for small businesses at my coworking space, and cohosting several events at another coworking space and the downtown library, I’ve already started organizing informal meetups for networking and troubleshooting sessions without forced curriculum, and without being asked to push a dismissive and out-of-touch organization’s agenda. Here’s to mutual assistance and the spirit of d.i.y., which drew a lot of us to freelancing in the first place.
It’s been a busy month for events! After attending RightsCon in San Francisco, I co-organized and participated in two CryptoParties here in Phoenix, one at Mod and one at the Burton-Barr Public Library. Missed them? Follow @cryptopartyphx on Twitter, and check out David Huerta’s slides on when ads stare back, Will Bradley’s Prezi on encrypted messaging, and my slides on basic operational security. (Jeremy Leung was our fourth presenter.) You can also check out my Mid-Week MindTweak at Co+Hoots on May 25th at 12:30 to get food truck food and learn some ways to keep your business secure.
Freelancers attending the Society for Professional Journalists Western Regional Conference in Phoenix this Saturday can catch me at the freelancer’s survival hack panel moderated by KJZZ reporter Carrie Jung, where I’ll be answering questions alongside fellow freelancers Jimmy Magahern and Maritza Felix. And, as always, Freelance Spark is the first Wednesday of the month.
As far as posts this month, I do have seven to share.
- Apple Bug Exposed Chat History With A Single Click (The Intercept) I’m excited about this one! Bishop Fox researchers discovered a security vulnerability in the Mac version of Apple’s Messages app allowed users to be compromised by malicious links, and I wrote it up for, uh, the best site of all time (with a fabulous editor)
- 5 Reasons You Should Stop Shortening URLs (Forbes) A recent paper published by Cornell Tech researchers showed that shortened URLs can be cracked to spy on people—but that’s just one reason to avoid bit.ly and sites like it. Here are five more. (And yes, do as we do, not as we say. I do my best to refrain from shortening links myself, but can’t speak for sites I write for!
- This Is The Easiest Way To Password Protect A Word Document (Forbes) How to protect a single Microsoft Office file with a password to stop others from opening and/or modifying it. You don’t even have to download anything. I wrote this post when a friend of mine asked for help and I didn’t know what to say.
- Security News You Might Have Missed: Microsoft Sues The Government Over Secret Cloud Data Searches (Forbes) I miss writing WIRED’s security roundup so much that I’m doing it for Forbes. Microsoft sues the Justice Department, Apple patches a Messages vulnerability but no longer updates QuickTime for Windows, Australian federal police admit to seeking a journalist’s metadata, a study shows that location data from two apps can identify you, and more.
- Security News You Might Have Missed: $1.3M iPhone Hack, Feds Want More Apple Data, More (Forbes) This week, the government revealed it paid at least $1.3m for tool to unlock San Bernardino phone, a transparency report revealed that US government orders for Apple user data quadrupled, the secret FISA court ignored a public advocate’s concerns over FBI access to NSA data for domestic crimes, NSAs were deemed legal (for now).
- Security News You Might Have Missed: Waze Stalking, Email Privacy Act Passes House, More (Forbes) Government requests for Facebook user data spike, awareness of mass surveillance led to plummeted Wikipedia traffic on entries related to terrorism, a former Tor developer now creates malware for the government to track Tor users, and more security news you might have missed this week.
- [Paywall] Community Gardening For Fun And Produce (The Performance Menu) Why and how to get started growing your own food in a community garden.
Less than 24 hours before its planned showdown with Apple, the FBI moved to vacate March 22nd’s hearing. The request was granted.
“On Sunday, March 20, 2016, an outside party demonstrated to the FBI a possible method for unlocking Farook’s iPhone. Testing is required to determine whether it is a viable method that will not compromise data on Farook’s iPhone. If the method is viable, it should eliminate the need for the assistance from Apple Inc. (“Apple”) set forth in the All Writs Act Order in this case,” the filing read in part. Government attorneys proposed filing a status report with the court by April 5th, 2016.
The hearing was meant to determine whether the government can use the All Writs Act to compel Apple to create a new vulnerability in its software, sign it, and deliver it to an iPhone belonging to a deceased San Bernardino shooter, so that investigators can peek inside the phone (in spite of the fact that it likely doesn’t even have anything of value on it). This came on the heels of a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn ruling that the government does not have the authority to compel Apple to unlock an iPhone using the All Writs Act.
The news was first reported on Politico.
I just realized I forgot to do this last month, so wanted to link to all of my December post before rounding up the ones for January.
Protect Yourself From Workplace Bullies (Dice.com) Tips from executive coach Michele Woodward, who presented an interactive webinar on the issue for the Harvard Business Review on this topic, and from Eylsia Lock on her own experience.
After 11 Years, FBI Gag Order on Warrantless Surveillance Is Lifted (Slate) With comments from Nick Merrill himself.
5 Generous Paleo-Friendly Holiday Gift Ideas (PAYWALL–Performance Menu) This one is serious.
8 Gifts Every Freelancer Will Love (The Freelancer) This one is tongue in cheek.
Beating the Odds: UFC 194 (Sherdog)
Inspired by both Susan Hires A Boss and Havi Brooks’ Very Personal Ads, I’ve decided to write up the criteria I select when choosing an editor to work with me. There are application instructions at the end!
All About the Job
Being my editor will be one of the most rewarding opportunities you’ll ever have. After all, not every editor gets to work with a writer who is obsessed with getting to the truth. A writer who’s passionate about covering challenging topics with nuance and complexity—and making them accessible enough for your readers to understand. A writer who’s obsessed with improving her craft and expanding her understanding, and okay with starting back at square one if something isn’t quite right. A writer who’s not afraid to ask hard questions and push back against obvious lies, but is also committed to being incredibly fair.
Being my editor may also be the toughest job you’ve ever had. I’ll need you to be my sparring partner while I bounce ideas off of you. I’ll need your patience while I strive for accuracy over speed, verify details with experts, or wait for those damned FOIA requests to go through. I’ll need your trust to let me look into things that might not make sense to you at first. I’ll need you to have my back when I ruffle feathers.
To apply for this job, you must meet the following requirements:
- Have a solid understanding of technology (or whatever I’m covering for you) and be a stellar editor
- Be responsive to pitches, even if that’s just a one-sentence email to tell me when you will respond. If you can’t get through your slush pile, this is not the job for you.
- Be generally accessible during business hours through text/Slack/some other means. I may need quick responses when I have pertinent questions or want to correct an error.
- Care more about writers seeking the truth and reporting it than you are about not upsetting government officials or corporate heads (or even readers). No walking back accurate claims for the sake of diplomacy, expecting me to ask softball questions, or rewriting accurate headlines at the behest of politicians or PR flacks.
- Treat writers fairly. That means paying on time every time. It means no scope creep. It means you won’t assign posts and then change your mind and then pretend they were never assigned.
- Be based wherever you are, as long as you’re cool with me being in Arizona (or wherever you live if you hire me full-time).
- Have experience editing without arbitrary word counts.
- See journalism as about creating systemic social change, not just about racking up pageviews.
- Prefer specialized posts that others might call “insider baseball.” Working to make posts accessible to a general audience is fine. Pretending a story is broader than it is, on the other hand, is not.
- Show me edits before posts go live, and be okay with me nitpicking grammatical and factual errors (real or perceived). We can discuss them.
- A sense of humor. You should be able to laugh at yourself. Or at least laugh at me. In a nice way.
- Share an interest with me. I have so many: botany, folk music, classic lit, riot grrrl zines, improv comedy, combat sports, Olylifting, Bougereau, lactofermentation, chocolate, cycling, Fables comics, Agents of S.H.I.E.LD, Mr. Robot… the list goes on and on. We’ll want to discuss things other than work now and again.
- Legitimately like working with freelancers. You’ll want to get coffee/lunch/drinks when we’re in the same town, send me a holiday card (or be excited about getting mine), verify GPG keys, and follow me back on Twitter, or at least put me on a writer list. Bonus points for tweeting my posts with my handle and trading dumb jokes semi-publicly.
Qualifications for the website or publication:
- Your site/company’s culture should be friendly and supportive. Edgy is great, but no assholes allowed. (That includes your star writers essentially bullying people they dislike on social media, even if you think it’s cute.)
- Have a solid track record of respecting sources, including their anonymity if they are at risk, and only covering controversial and possibly damaging stories if the public has a need to know. Bonus points for using SecureDrop or OnionShare.
- Have a solid track record of respecting marginalized groups in both your practices and coverage.
- Have a company culture that doesn’t expect employees or freelancers to be on call 24/7.
- Use good tools rather than roll-your-own-CMS which breaks and you need to keep replacing. Slack/Google chat and Trello/Basecamp are a good start.
- Care about the security of your readers. Please have SSL. No ad blocker blockers. No blocking Tor. (Cloudflare is okay.)
- Have a solid track record of treating writers well: paying on time, paying full fees if posts were killed for reasons outside of the writer’s control, etc. (Yes, freelancers do talk about you to each other, so if you don’t do this, I probably already know.)
- Oh yeah. Pay a decent rate. Nobody wants to spend weeks on a 2000-word feature for ten cents a word.
- Care about writers’ long-term professional development and continuing education, even if that just means forwarding an email about a great Khan Academy course we’d like.
- Offer some form of guidance or mentorship. We know freelancers come and go, but I’m looking for an ongoing relationship.
- Be excited about new, cutting edge issues that nobody’s really covered yet.
I live in Phoenix on occupied Tohono O’odham land with my amazing husband and our wonderpup. (She’s big on Instagram.) I’m originally from Israel and have lived all over the US, and spent a year studying abroad in Oxford. I went to Shimer College, a Great Books school with original source readings and small (10-12 student) seminar-style classes. The school’s informal motto was “Sex, drugs, and Socrates; we kick ass on GREs.” (I scored in the 93rd percentile in analytical writing and 95th percentile in verbal reasoning.)
I started self-publishing when I was 12 years old with my very own zine. I was a big Sassy reader and was influenced by the riot grrrl movement. When I turned 17, I started writing for Blue Jean magazine. I think I had a poem published in Highlights for Children once, too. I skipped my high school graduation to cook food for the homeless with Food Not Bombs, which I thought was more important.
I’ve visited treesit villages, volunteered as a street medic, and lived in a tent in the desert while learning about permaculture. I was a Tracker School student and a docent at the Botanical Gardens, and have dabbled with herbal medicine for eons. Once I got fired from a vegetarian café in England because I got the job before I really knew how to count the currency. I spent my spare time volunteering at Corporate Watch UK instead. Before freelancing full-time, I taught middle school English. Before that, I spent four years working at the front desk of a public access TV station, where I got to briefly meet Jeremy Scahill. He was nice.
I got obsessed with online privacy and security because of anonymous death threats. I was vehemently opposed to encryption. It took me about a week to change sides.
I’ve written extensively about health and fitness and mixed martial arts. And I do some behind-the-scenes work as a managing editor. I’ve turned down thousands of dollars writing about social media marketing because I got bored and thought our headlines were misleading, and walked away from many lucrative opportunities because they were unethical or didn’t have adequate source protection.
I love Brazilian jiu-jitsu, lifting heavy things, and hanging out at the bookstore or farmer’s market. Things I want to like but don’t include Evernote, Reddit, the whole zombie thing, distance running, and waking up early.
Sites and publications I dig that I don’t already write for include ProPublica, the Intercept (of course!), Ars Technica, Medium, Atlas Obscura, The New Yorker, Fusion, Good, and probably a few I’m forgetting. I used to be obsessed with Fast Company and Inc. and Entrepreneur but have mostly outgrown that. Sites I love not include the ones that will publish hit pieces about Anita Sarkeesian, or quote government officials anonymously. And Pando.
Where to find out more about me
Apply to be my editor
Don’t worry. It’s easy. After reading through this site and looking through my portfolio or some of my writing, please send me an email telling me a bit about you and why you think we’d work well together. I will respond within a week to let you know whether I’m interested in scheduling a call to see if we’re a good fit…and then we’ll take it from there.
Each December, I like to pause for a moment to take a look back at the entire year: what went well, what went horribly, and what my goals are for moving forward. I’ve been posting an annual review, as inspired by Chris Guillebeau’s, Although I kept my 2012 review private, you can see posts about 2010, 2011, 2013, and 2014. I often get feedback that my painfully transparent annual reviews are helpful to others, so here’s a long-winded look back at 2015.
What went well
In a word, work went well this year. I had 146 posts published in 2015, and worked with around 30 editors or clients, for about 23 websites or magazines and a handful of brands. I had my first bylines at WIRED, Slate, Forbes, ReadWrite, and Motherboard. I don’t get access to many analytics, and track what I can, and know I got over 75,000 shares on my combined posts this year, and that they were shared publicly by about 80 journalists. (I’ve shared my top 20 posts and 12 additional off-topic posts already.)
Last year, I wrote about how I was ambivalent about around 80 percent of the work that I did. This year, I’m pleased to say that number has been reduced to around 20 percent. I was only really proud of 32 stories I did last year and ambivalent about 118. This year the number of stories I’m crazy proud of is 87, and there were 36 others I was happy with. And yes, there were 23 I didn’t care as much about.
Steering my career towards work I really care about did have its disadvantages. I worked longer hours, cried a lot more, and took my first income decrease in six years of freelancing-which I believe will be around 9 percent. Still, I think the benefits far outweigh the downsides, and I’m thrilled with the progress I’ve made in focusing on work I find fulfilling and that I believe will make an impact in the world. I’m also consistently impressed by information I discover and grateful to interview so many experts. I’ve been balancing hard-hitting research-intensive reporting, which can be stressful in large doses, with really fun editing projects on topics I find interesting (home decorating! health and wellness!) as well as whimsical posts on one-off topics I find interesting.
It’s usually hard for me to gauge the impact that my work is having, but I pay attention to the Verjus Manifesto and think I have been serving readers vegetables, which is what matters. In addition to the work I published, I’m pretty proud of what I didn’t publish—and that’s all I’ll say about that! Oh, and I’m a new member of the Internet Press Guild. And even though I sometimes find myself leaving journalism meet-ups quickly since nobody will talk to me, I started hosting Freelance Spark events once a month, first at Gangplank in Chandler and now in Phoenix at CoHoots, which is great for meeting like-minded folks.
This year, I was on the 0311 Media podcast and Global Influencer podcast, was interviewed for a post on the Authors Guild website, got to talk to 10th graders about freelancing and writing for a living, and was a guest on the Tech News Today show.
Work this year has been amazing.
Debt and Boxes of Clutter, Oh My
I used to be embarrassed because I seemed to be posting the same goals year after year, but in some ways, a year is a pretty arbitrary period of time and just like some goals can be completed in days or weeks or months, some goals take longer than a year. I’m pleased with my progress towards paying off debt, and towards getting rid of tons of boxes cluttering my home. I filled up many a recycling bag, and sold dozens of old books or replaced them with Fables graphic novels. Even though there’s still more to do, for both, I’ve made significant headway.
“Sex, Drugs, and Socrates, We Kick Ass on GREs”
The above is a quote from an old chant at my alma mater. In any case, I’ve been toying with going back to school to study journalism more formally, and so I took my GRE. I managed to get in the 93rd percentile for analytical writing and 95th percentile for verbal reasoning. I won’t tell you what my quantitative score was, but it was above average.
Travel and Adventure and Family and Community
My relationship with my amazing husband has never been better. We spent our 1-year anniversary in Albuquerque, and it was fabulous. We just have a lot of fun together, even if we’re just hanging out at home binge watching some new TV series, and while I don’t imagine that ever changing, I don’t want to take it for granted, either.
I didn’t travel far this year, but I did travel a lot for both work and pleasure… I think I went to the Bay Area thrice (Digital Rights in Libraries! Mixergy! and a memorial…), went to Def Con and BSides/PasswordsCon in Las Vegas, traveled to Albuquerque and Minnesota (and hiked in Sedona and Flagstaff!) with my husband and Grand Canyon with my in-laws, and went on a lot of camping trips to California, New Mexico, and remote parts of Arizona with aspiring herbalists. And people got to visit us here, too–including the in-laws during Thanksgiving. I was also initiated into the ways of Ingress with a friend of mine from L.A. (who was my pen pal back when I was in middle school, before Facebook). Good times.
We moved from the outskirts to Phoenix proper, which is great for less driving and being closer to the heart of town. I had a fabulous birthday celebration this year (with Bridgett) and unlike last year, tons of people showed up. I dressed up for Halloween for the first time in ages, did an Escape the Room challenge (though didn’t really get the chance to participate much), saw Jake Shimabukuro and Jayke Orvis play (the same two shows I go to every year), and am ending the year with a batch of parties and events. It feels good to get invited to things. This year I met Swiss Miss and I met Twig the Fairy (at the Renaissance Faire). I had a lot of other great adventures, too. I even bought cybertwee cookies on the deep web. A Crimethinc panel discussion which brought together organizers from Latin America, the Balkans, Eastern Europe, and the O’odham reservation to discuss the significance of anarchist tactics and ideas in the 21st century was particularly inspiring to me.
What didn’t go well
Too much work: health and mental health as casualties
The flip side of work going so well this year is that I worked way too much. I felt like I was always on call, often canceling events at the last minute and feeling guilty whenever I went out for drinks, always feeling like I had to make it up by staying up later and working later. Obviously this lack of balance means a lot of things fell by the wayside. I didn’t work out or eat as well as I’d like to this year, and certainly sleep was one of the casualties as well.
Rest in Power
None of my friends were murdered or committed suicide this year (that I know of), but I did lose two loved ones. My grandmother passed away, as did my dear friend Bright. And I learned this year that Maria, who owned a café I loved to visit (Morning Glory café in Flagstaff), passed away six years ago, at the young age of 49. She used to let me wash dishes in exchange for food, but really it was like a party in the kitchen with great conversation, that made me feel like a human being again at a time I really needed it. So I was saddened to learn about that.
Unfinished projects, canceled plans, and other shattered dreams
There were other big fails, too, like all the grants I applied for but didn’t get. I also set out to learn all sorts of tech stuff and didn’t really get very far in my multiple attempts to learn Python, learn Linux, take Dan Boneh’s crypto course, finish a project I’ve been trying to hash out with a friend/mentor, etc.
I tried and failed to organize a crypto party (mostly just a lot of talk and no action) and never did organize a Library Freedom Project event, as I’d planned to. I missed Obscura Day, missed Dia de los Muertos, missed the Winter Street Fair in Tucson, missed Tucson Meet Yourself.
Some good things must come to an end
I had four posts killed this year. One I managed to place elsewhere, one is in purgatory, and two were completely axed. This happens every year, but I learned that the more I care about a piece, the more it hurts when it never sees the light of day.
And some of my favorite projects also ended their run this year. Access Tucson, the community media center where I worked for four years in my first real job after college, shut its doors at 124 E. Broadway earlier this year after a years-long funding battle with the city. Circa, my favorite news app, met its untimely demise, as did GigaOm, one of my favorite sites. Access Tucson is attempting to carry on parts of its mission in some form, but it’ll never be the same. Circa and GigaOm have been re-bought, but the magic is gone.
I signed up for an herbal medicine course in Tucson but apparently should have heeded warnings from past students. It ended up being a bit of a joke. Even the handouts we were given, which we were led to believe were original, were often ripped off from random anatomy courses online. The instructor was racist and overall unpleasant, and has some sort of 1950s ideas about women. Several students were kicked out or bullied into quitting, but I guess that’s between the instructor and their spouses! (See what I did there?) It’s always depressing to realize you put time and money into a course that wasn’t worth either, or to put your trust into an instructor who’s more dedicated to his backwards political agenda than educating his students.
This wasn’t the only disappointing event of the year–hearing Bill Nye speak wasn’t worth the cost of tickets, and Luminaria Nights in Tucson just wasn’t as good as I remembered it–it’s just the only disappointing course that I spent $895 on, but shouldn’t have. We did get to spend time outdoors with the plants, so it wasn’t a complete fail, but I’ll be writing a lot more about what I learned and didn’t learn in the future.
Looking forward to 2016
All Work And No Play Makes Yael A Dull Girl
The one big thing I want to work on in the Year of the Monkey (and beyond) is working less. I want to be able to get a drink with friends after an event without feeling like I need to “make up” for that lost time by going home and working more afterwards. I feel like a lot of my health goals (sleeping more, eating better, exercising more, etc.) stem out of this goal, so I’m hoping that once I address the root issue, the rest will take care of themselves.
Fun, fun, fun
I want to pursue hobbies outside of work, though I haven’t pinpointed which ones specifically. In the past I’ve dabbled in improv comedy, gardening, cycling, locksport, herbalism etc. and taught lots of workshops, and did a lot of volunteer work, so those are all possibilities.
One of my goals is to get a group together regularly to play games like Diplomacy and Eclipse Phase and Changeling and Wolf Among Us. I also have a game of my own I’m toying with.
I’m also working on rehabbing an old injury (finally!) and hoping to eventually start grappling again.
Old Goals, Revisited
And then of course I’d like to finish what I started w/r/t abolishing debt and continuing to go through boxes and creating a cozy home office.
Okay, but work
As far as professional goals, this year they’re not so much a list of bylines I’m shooting for like I’ve had in the past but more of a focus on the type of writing I want to do—which is investigative or adversarial. I admire the writing in the Intercept and ProPublica and Mother Jones, and also sites like Good. I’d like to continue down the road of doing work I care about rather than just focusing on making money.
I want to at least apply to graduate school programs again.
Ideally I’d like to find a podcast cohost and get that going again. And I want to figure out exactly which type of coding I want to learn, and then do it (and finish last year’s coding project). Plus there’s a book proposal hidden in here somewhere…
Oh, and I want to stop tracking on my website. I already disabled analytics, but still have some more trackers to turn off.
I’m resisting the urge to list off a batch of health-related goals in order to focus on the root issue, which is taking a bit of a breather (on a regular basis) instead of working non-stop. I really do think doing this will be pivotal. So instead of listing off have-to-dos, I want to focus on doing things that feel good (like eating real food and lifting heavy things and having creative side projects).
Time outdoors. Wilderness awareness. Finding a way to see Shakespeare this year. Maybe finish a zine I started with a friend. I want to make food seen in Miyazaki films. There’s a dream zine idea I want to toy around with as well… it may even be a good Tor Hidden Service if I can find a tool like Anonymouth to let people contribute anonymously… And we really want to get a puppy…
I hope that in a year as I look back on 2016 I’ll have fun adventures (and plenty of down time) to report instead of just long hours…
Writing about the eradication of our civil liberties is exhilarating, but also exhausting. I am so thankful that I can write about other random things as well. Here are my top twelve picks of posts I wrote in 2015 that are as off-topic as I could find.
I loved writing this piece because I know how awful shin splints are, and how preventable. As a journalist, I find that it’s difficult to gauge the impact of my work, but this piece is a bit of an exception. If one person prevents shin splints…well, that just makes me insanely happy. Special thanks to my friend Melanie for the intro to Francesca Conte. Before her, many running coaches told me that preventative movements/stretches/exercises didn’t exist, so I was thrilled to learn otherwise (both for Experience Life readers’ benefit and for my own.)
I saw Mike Olbinski speak at Creative Mornings in Phoenix, and saw some of his amazing photographs and timelapse videos of clouds and dust storms and lightning, and I knew that Made Man readers had to get a glimpse, too. Thus this OMG amazingly gorgeous slideshow was born.
My friend Will Bradley, who taught me how to use PGP, tweeted something about a non-profit that helped people find loved ones who they believe had died at the border, and I knew I had to write about them. Luckily, TakePart World was also interested. I plan to research this issue a little more in-depth, so look for more on this in 2016.
This Q+A for Men’s Journal stemmed from a meteorology conference I signed up to attend specifically because I knew Harris Corp. was tabling, and I wanted to pepper them with questions about cell site simulators (aka stingrays). Of course, none of them knew what I was talking about. Big company. Much technology. And the weather toys don’t have much to do with illegal surveillance. However, the EPA approached me about this interview…. and then a flak got extremely annoyed with the tone of my questions, which I thought were actually incredibly mild. This whole situation always makes me scratch my head a bit.
In my past life as a teacher, I was once bullied by the union rep. (I know; wrap your head around that one.) I felt like a lot of the conventional wisdom for how to respond didn’t take into account a lot of workplace politics. Luckily, I got to speak with Michele Woodward and Elysia Lock about this issue for Dice.
I don’t write about MMA a whole lot anymore, but when I started freelancing, it was a big chunk of what I did. In fact, I started covering fights so I could get free cageside seats back when I was still a teacher. In any case, I was thrilled to be the first to cover a months-old street fight. This wasn’t the first time I broke MMA news–I covered the Ultimate Women Challenge disaster, where the filming was plagued by a lack of foods, funds, and training, back in 2011 (about two and a half years before MMA Junkie picked it up). But I was pleased that Shayna and Jessamyn trusted me to tell their story for The Sports Post after someone alerted me about what had happened. Bleacher Report and many other sites linked to this piece.
When I heard that journalist Scott Carney was launching a Kickstarter campaign that was like Yelp for editors, I knew I had to get the inside scoop on it, so I did a Q+A for the Freelancer (which was reprinted on the Content Strategist and Media Shift as well). I’ll admit that I’m still scratching my head about this story and why it did as well as it did. Perhaps it was buzz from the project, or maybe readers had the same questions I did.
This post for the Freelancer didn’t get a ton of shares, and I don’t have access to traffic numbers, but I’m putting it on here solely because Mathew Ingram tweeted out the link. As for me, I used to read comments religiously and even engaged in discussion with commenters, but have since decided the benefits may not outweigh the cost. I like looking at this post because the perspectives of the star writers I interviewed are so diverse.
Sometimes the contracts you sign for work, whether as an employer or as a contractor, will bite you in the ass. Consider this post for Dice fair warning.
Another Dice post. Possibly useful.
Each year, I do a wrap-up of my favorite posts. In the past, I picked the ones that were most popular, based on whatever metrics were available to me. But this year, I decided to ignore analytics, because my Ashley Madison posts and even ones about bad TV shows did better than some of the pieces I thought people should be reading.
And even though I find how-to posts personally informative, I didn’t include the servicey pieces about disabling Flash selectively and selecting stronger passwords and taking steps towards online security and privacy, about teaching your folks how to use 2FA and a Yubikey and getting them on Signal, being a good online citizen in the wake of a tragedy, and even what very bright people would recommend for bridging the gap between UX and security. This year I even wrote and a digital hygiene course for Trollbusters which included a list of people finder and data brokers linked to by Feminist Frequency, and I’ve been writing weekly security news roundup posts for WIRED, some of which have garnered quite a bit of traffic (thanks in part to Reddit). But for the list, I wanted to focus on posts of mine that were either somewhat adversarial or particularly research-intensive, that had some investigative element, or were just too cool not to share.
For ReadWrite, I wrote about Wickr’s feature which lets people share photos on Facebook. I got to dig into the parts of the app’s marketing copy that I found misleading, and was interviewed briefly on This Week In Tech News about the app.
For Slate, I wrote about how disabling Samsung’s creepy smart TV could be a felony under these really awful DMCA laws you may have heard about when the two issues bubbled up in the media around the same time. I spoke with Software Freedom Conservancy president Bradley Kuhn and Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins for the piece, which was rehashed by Washington Times and multiple other websites.
As the Guardian was walking back accurate claims about Whisper–presumably for legal reasons–I spoke with Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team, about how the app collects enough info to pinpoint user locations, though it says it doesn’t use it.
I wrote about this clever asymmetric warfare against the surveillance state. This post received some criticism for making it seem like I didn’t like the concept, which was unintentional—I just am a bit skeptical. Oh, and I got to interview the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian and Calyx Institute founder Nick Merrill, who was one of the first Americans to legally resist a gag order related to a national security data request. (More on that later.)
I picked this post because it was based on documents I got from the FTC using a Freedom of Information Act request, following a lead from a tweet. It was also killed by two separate publications before Motherboard picked it up. Their legal team wrote the headline, which is “Online Marketing Leads to Inadvertent Revelations.” I’m not sure how well this piece did traffic-wise, but I think it effectively warns law firms against overzealous marketing copy. Sam Glover at the Lawyerist linked to it, too. It’s about ethics in law firms’ online marketing copy.
I spoke with Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, about a new ruling which signaled a better direction for search guidelines at the border, at least as far as the 4th Amendment and laptops and mobile devices are concerned. The piece was reprinted in Slate, mentioned on Security Weekly, and Naked Security linked to it as well.
This piece was about the FBI surveillance planes flown over the city of Baltimore in late April and early May in the aftermath of the Baltimore protests in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. A lot more has come to light since then, but I spoke with ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler about the issue, as originally reported in the Washington Post.
I wrote about web engineer, public records researcher and policy nerd Tony Webster’s lawsuit against the city of Bloomington after it refused to release a large amount of data–including metadata–in response to his public records request on information related to the Black Lives Matter protest in the Mall of America. This post was reprinted in TECHdotMN, quoted in the Democrat and Chronicle, and linked to by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and in CJ Ciaramella’s weekly FOIA Rundown newsletter.
I spoke with privacy and security researcher Runa Sandvik and security adviser Per Thorsheim about Facebook’s embracing of PGP.
I wrote about iCANN’s proposal to eliminate anonymity for commercial website owners. Thankfully, the idea of prohibiting businesses from shielding information such as addresses from public view was ultimately scrapped.
This piece for Wired, in which I looked at the tech tools used on the best hacking show on the planet, was probably my favorite of the year. Interviewing show creator Sam Esmail and technical adviser Michael Bazzell was a real treat. The post made TechMeme, and earned a backlink from a post on The Atlantic, which was syndicated on Yahoo! Tech.
I like this piece because I had to go to the library and inspect microfiche for it, and because I got to interview network security researcher Ethan Heilman, but I got the idea from a software engineer I met at DEF CON.
Could swiping left get you fired? I interviewed a woman who found all sorts of information about her Tinder contacts, who had used pseudonyms, when she received “People You May Know” suggestions from LinkedIn—you know, since LinkedIn solicits phone numbers from its users and pulls data from users’ phones. Although media pundits often go after Twitter and Facebook quite aggressively for privacy violations and poor UX, it seems that LinkedIn sometimes gets a pass for bad practices in the media, though it’s hard to tell whether that’s because it gives journalists (myself included) special perks for attending boring media trainings or because of the company’s hair-trigger PR team, but chinks in the armor are showing.
This Forbes post managed to draw attention both to Donald Trump’s deleted tweet and to a service that recorded tweets deleted by politicians en masse. I spoke with two policy analysts at Access Now. Slate and Silicon Beat both linked back to it. In late October, Twitter’s CEO mentioned Politwoops by name and promised to improve relationships with transparency organizations, but as far as I know, Politwoops still does not have access to Twitter’s API.
Just a little bit of piggy-backing on Thomas Fox-Brewster’s reporting and research by security engineer Tavis Ormandy, a member of Google’s Project Zero vulnerability research team.
This piece is a deep dive on ProtonMail’s security and who should be using it. The best part of researching this piece was sending about 575 zillion emails to technologist and all-out rockstar Micah Lee about 575 zillion emails. I also spoke with technologist Joseph Bonneau, lawyers Victor Vital and Alex Abdo, and ProtonMail’s CEO, and did a bit of research on some email applications (namely, Lavabit and Hushmail) since people learned the hard way that they weren’t as pristine as previously believed.
This post was based on a talk by security pro Kevin Tyers at the BSides Las Vegas conference. It discusses the many factors that go into a security clearance decision, based on 15 years worth of adjudication data. I like this piece because it gives a bit of a historical snapshot on industry decisions.
I’m pretty lucky in that I have a lot of people to turn to when I struggle with FOIA records requests. Jason Leopold, Michael Morisy, Dave Maass, and others have assisted me when I’ve had questions. But I tried to lay out all of the basics in one place in this post for the Freelancer, and I hope it’s useful to other reporters.
Not including @Snowden—with him it’s 38.
This is about a National Security Letter accompanied by a gag order served to then-ISP owner Nicholas Merrill, and what information the FBI was actually seeking.
If you just scrolled to the bottom because you aren’t at all interested in online privacy and security, you may want to check out my top 12 off-topic posts for the year.
It’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.
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.