Stuff I Wrote: December 2015

Writing Fountain penI 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 ( 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.

Security News This Week: Facebooking At Work Can No Longer Be Charged as “Hacking” (WIRED)

Security News This Week: The Government Really Doesn’t Seem to Like Encryption (WIRED)

Security This Week: Peek Inside the Government’s Spy Gear Catalog (WIRED)

Beating the Odds: UFC 194 (Sherdog)

Yael Hires An Editor (Or Editors)

Expenses calculationInspired 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.

Desired Qualifications

  • 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.

Desired Qualifications

  • 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.

About Me

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

This website. My portfolio. My top 20 favorite posts of 2015 and my year in review. Twitter. LinkedIn, if you must.

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.

My 2015 Year In Review

2013-Desktop-Background-Free-1024x640-300x187Each 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.

care chart

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.

Caveat emptor

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.

More Play

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…

My Top 12 Posts in 2015 That Aren’t About Privacy or Surveillance or Anything

220px-The_sun1Writing 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.

Fitness Fix: Preventing Shin Splints

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.)

This Wedding Photographer Also Shoots the Most Amazing Storm Pics You’ve Ever Seen

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.

Migrants Gone Missing: Healing and Closure, Thanks to Forensic Science

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.

Checking in With Gina McCarthy, Obama’s Environmental Watchdog

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.

Protecting Yourself From Workplace Bullies

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.

Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler’s Gnarly Street Fight

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.

This Startup Will Piss Off Publishers-And Make Freelancers Happy

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.

Should Writers Respond to Comments on Their Articles?

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.

Staring Down A Non-Compete Clause

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.

Finding Software Jobs When You’re Over 50

Another Dice post. Possibly useful.

My Top 20 Posts In 2015

blue_star_backdrop-300x199Each 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.


Wickr’s Time Feed (Not Quite Steganography)

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.


Stopping a Smart TV From Eavesdropping On You Could Be a Felony

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.


Whisper Says It Doesn’t Track Your Exact Location—But It Still Could

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.

Meet Canary Watch, A Way To Disclose Gag Orders Without Disclosing Them

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.)


Perkins Coie’s Web Copy Reveals Its Client,, Was Under FTC Investigation

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.

Ruling May Stop Willy-Nilly Gadget Searches at US Borders

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.


Report: Government Surveillance Planes Spotted Over Baltimore Protests

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.

Metadata Doesn’t Lie: Is That Why Governments Are Withholding It?

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.

Facebook Is Now Pushing For Stronger Encryption

I spoke with privacy and security researcher Runa Sandvik and security adviser Per Thorsheim about Facebook’s embracing of PGP.

Website Owners Deserve the Right to Stay Anonymous

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.


A Peek Inside Mr. Robot’s Toolbox

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.

When It Comes To Encryption, Our Policy Makers Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Thomas Jefferson

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.


Awkward! How One Woman’s Tinder Dates Popped Up As Professional Suggestions On LinkedIn

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.

Donald Trump’s Deleted 9/11 Tweet Shows The Need For The Politwoops Service Twitter Killed

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.

Anti-virus Software Could Make You Less Secure Because Vendors Are Ignoring Security Best Practices

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.


Mr. Robot uses ProtonMail–But It’s Got A Couple of Problems…

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.

Why You’re Rejected For Security Clearances

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.

Filing Public Records Requests: A Quick and Dirty Guide

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.

37 Whistleblowers You Can Follow on Twitter

Not including @Snowden—with him it’s 38.


Court Lifts NSL Gag Order on FBI Warrantless Surveillance 11 Years After It Was Issued

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.

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.

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.


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!