2016’s Greatest Hits: My Top 10 Posts Of The Year

This year, I wrote 95 articles or blog posts for 16 different sites or publications, including my first bylines at Ars Technica, Daily Dot, the Intercept, Yes!, and Reveal News.

Here are the top 10.

10. Apple Bug Exposed Chat History With A Single Click (The Intercept)

I’m including this post because I couldn’t not include my first byline at the Intercept, since I’m obsessed with the site. The story behind this post is pretty funny, but basically a miscommunication led me to believe the piece was exclusive right before a press release was posted. (D’oh!) I was working on the piece over the weekend anyway. I figured the risk was worth taking because, duh, it’s the Intercept, but referred to the piece as “Schrodinger’s Post” because I had no idea whether it would get published or not. I also had a moment where I was driving to Tucson, got some information I needed to finish the piece, pulled over into a gas station, tethered my laptop to my mobile phone, and sent an encrypted email to my editor. (I don’t have GPG on my phone.) Yay.

9. The Impossible Task Of Creating A “Best VPNs” List Today (Ars Technica)

I spent close to a year researching and working on this story, which I originally pitched as a “VPN shaming” post (looking at the worst VPNs and poor security practices). It was assigned as a top-10 list, which I set out to do, but it turns out the task is complicated. I was thrilled that my editor was so understanding and we agreed to pivot a bit, hence this piece. Unfortunately, people really do just want a list of VPNs they could use, as evidenced by Wirecutter writer Mark Smirniotis linking to my post in his VPN piece before adding his recommendations, many of which engage in the very same practices I criticized in the article. Le sigh. So if you insist on needing a list of VPNs to check out, read my post to see why you should ignore his recommendations. (Hint: pre-shared keys). Here’s mine: Cloak. SurfEasy. Mullvad. FreedomeRiseUp. Streisand (mentioned in the article) if you’re extremely tech-savvy.

8. Meet the Plaid Parliament of Pwning, One Of The World’s Elite Hacking Teams (The Kernel [Daily Dot]

I wanted to write a post bringing the Capture the Flag hacking competitions to life, which wasn’t an easy feat because I’m not that great at writing narratives, especially when I’m interviewing everyone by phone about events that already took place. Luckily, I had a very patient editor, and PPP players who spent a lot of time recounting visual details and responding to countless emails.

7. This Tabletop Game Forces You To Confront Humanity’s Future Threats (Motherboard [Vice])

I’m pretty thrilled that I get paid to write about post-apocalyptic sci-fi/horror tabletop roleplaying games with transhumanist themes, and it was also really cool to get to interview Eclipse Phase co-creator and lead developer Rob Boyle (even if it was over email). Now I just need to find a group to play with…

6. Peerio Co-Founder On Why He Left The Company (Hint: It Had To Do With Admin Backdoors (Forbes)

It’s not easy to do investigative reporting for Forbes. Their editors don’t exactly edit, and writing for the site definitely doesn’t pay the bills. (Plus people blame me for the site’s decision to block adblockers… not my choice, people). But the good news about a site that’ll let you hit publish on your own is that you can get stories out that others won’t touch (or want you to make hyper-accessible, rather than writing to a niche audience). This was my first investigative post of 2016.

5. How To Trump-Proof Your Electronic Communications (Future Tense [Slate])

This was the first piece I wrote after the election results came in and it made me feel a bit more empowered knowing that there are ways I can help people take steps to protect their electronic communications–even if they should’ve been doing so all along. I didn’t realize this was a solid piece until I started looking at the amount of shares (especially from journalists) and the comments I was getting from people who said it helped them. Even technologists I know said they appreciated the detail and nuance.

4. Interview: Meet Kor Adana, The Man Who Keeps Mr. Robot’s Hacks On Point (Forbes)

I got some of the smartest hackers I know in a Semaphor chat room to discuss each Mr. Robot episode every week, which was a blast (even with the hours of editing). Interviewing Kor Adana, Mr. Robot’s tech producer and a writer on the show, was even more of a blast. I hope I get to meet the guy one day.

3. Why Cheap, Outdated Android Phones Widen The Digital Security Divide (Reveal News)

This post came out months after I started working on it, due in part to me totally over researching. I was jazzed at how it turned out: accessible, timely, and relevant. It’s nice to collaborate with solid editors that can give direction and push a story forward, and I love that this piece helped people understand the issue when they otherwise wouldn’t.

2. Not All Swastika Tattoos Are The Same (Future Tense[Slate])

Delving into the potential negative consequences of algorithmic tattoo identification was so fascinating, and this post also talked about unethical research, scrubbed websites, and other research-related problems (like the fact that the prisoners and arrestees whose tattoos were included in the massive database were likely not able to give consent).

1. Dark Patterns Are Designed To Trick You (And They’re All Over The Web) (Ars Technica)

When something makes you absolutely boil with rage, it’s good to dig deep into the problem and write a post about it, which may be why this was my most popular and widely shared post of the year. It made Hacker News and Boing Boing, and I heard from people I haven’t seen in decades (including an old high school friend) who came across it. Whether businesses will think twice about deliberately designing user interfaces to trick users remains to be seen, but in any case, at least more people are now aware of it.

Stuff I Wrote: December 2016

Can you believe it’s the end of the year already? Soon, I’ll be recapping 2016 and posting my most popular articles of the year, but for now, here’s some stuff I wrote this month.

Why Cheap, Outdated Android Phones Widen The Digital Security Divide (Reveal News)

Millions of Android users are running out-of-date software that leaves them vulnerable to a whole host of publicized security flaws.

This Tabletop Game Forces You To Confront Humanity’s Future Threats (Motherboard)

The horrors of the future, from nuclear proliferation to plagues, are on full display in Eclipse Phase–a post-apocalyptic sci fi/horror tabletop role-playing game with transhumanist themes.

7 Bold Burgers To Try Before You Die (Made Man)

These burgers from Shamrocks Irish Nook, Solly’s Grille, Esme, 821 Cafe, Taco Bamba, Crown Burgers, and The Anchor Fish & Chips will blow your mind.

A Meditation Primer (Performance Menu, paywalled)

Meditating can be one of those annoying things that you already know they should do, but never get around to doing, like flossing, or changing your oil. But since you’re a Performance Menu reader, you are of above average intelligence, and likely already take great care of your teeth and car. Add some meditation to the mix and you’ll be all set.

[Podcast] Monday Morning Dumpster Dive: College Football Edition

Violence against women, drunken coaches, and good old-fashioned cheating. For the college football-themed episode of our podcast, we spoke with former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe about the disturbing video of Joe Mixon punching a female student, Steve Sarkisian getting hired on as a coach despite some baggage, and the Wakeyleaks scandal.

[Podcast] Monday Morning Dumpster Dive: Russian Interference in the U.S. Election

We spoke with Ethan Heilman, Network Security Researcher at Boston University, about the latest.

 

[Podcast] Monday Morning Dumpster Dive: Friday Night Flight Dump

We spoke with Melanie Zanona about Norwegian Air operations in the U.S.

7 Years of Freelancing; 7 Things I’m Thankful For

1280px-chocolate_cupcakes_with_raspberry_buttercreamToday is my seven-year freelance anniversary! That means that it’s been SEVEN YEARS since I took the plunge and became an independent journalist.

On my four-year freelance anniversary, I shared 20 things I learned the hard way—and they’re still just as relevant, especially if you’re looking for tips to stay afloat financially (without losing your sanity). The following year, I wrote about defining success for oneself, and how even unpaid work that feels meaningful can be more fulfilling than high-paying work in odds with your own sense of integrity. Last year, I focused on the underbelly of hard stuff about freelancing that people don’t often talk about.

This year, I’d like to focus on seven things I’m thankful for.

Amazing Clients

When I first started freelancing, I was not at all selective about clients. Over time, I developed pretty stringent standards for the type of people I like to work with. Still, it can be hard to drop high-paying clients offering steady work even when their values don’t align with mine and they’re draining to work with. This year, I finally broke the curse and can say that I truly love every one of my editors and clients.

Editors that have your back when companies push back against accurate reporting are worth their weight in gold. How clients react when you negotiate contracts will tell you everything you need to know about them as people. And, interestingly enough, some of your dream publications may not be all that. Some have poor working conditions, editors that are consistently late with revisions (but don’t change your deadline), unreasonable expectations, toxic power dynamics, and scope creep. Others are everything you’ve ever dreamed of. I’m thrilled with all of mine.

Having clients that you’re super stoked to work with makes all the difference in the world.

Amazing Writers And Sources

I’ve had the opportunity to edit dozens of writers over the years, and am always impressed with their creativity and expertise. And being able to pick people’s brains–whether on the record or on background–has not only improved my work but given me an increased understanding of the world.

Strong Support Networks

Having friends to connect with to discuss freelancing challenges and goals has been invaluable. I have two amazing friends (waving to Elina and Susan) who I connect with regularly over email and we talk about our struggles and our goals. I call them my Jedi Council. With their support, I’ve dropped awful clients, negotiated for better contracts, and gotten a handle on balancing non-work goals while maintaining the quality of my work. They are also quick to offer a bit of tough love if I’m about to make poor choices.

I’ve also connected with local freelancers at various meetups and in my coworking space, over countless Slack and Semaphor channels, and at conferences across the country. And I’ve networked with hackers and privacy experts and some of the smartest minds in the fitness industry over the years, which is a nice job perk.

Whether it’s online, in person, or a combination of the two, finding support outside of harried/overworked editors is crucial.

Making My Own Schedule

For many years, freelancing to me was about staying up until I could barely keep my eyes open—2AM or so—and then waking up and hopping on my laptop before even thinking about breakfast.

But this summer, I realized my health was beginning to suffer from my insane schedule. After an injury kept me from swinging by evening classes at a Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym (as I’d intended to do), I joined an amazing gym and started training three days a week—during prime time. Between the driving and the training and my dilly-dallying, I probably spend 3 hours during the day on each of these days just focused on my own fitness.

The surprising thing for me was that switching from working 60-80 hour weeks to around 40 hasn’t really impacted my income. I’ve also noticed that I’m far more productive during the hours I do work if I’m not burning the candle at both ends. And I don’t mind working a few evening and weekend hours if it means I get to block off time to go to the gym or even attend events during the day.

Freelancing allows us the luxury of making our own schedules—good to take advantage of it!

Apps & Tools

I don’t know where I’d be without Basecamp, my favorite project management tool. Freshbooks is a god-send when it comes to invoicing (and even sending out reminders for past-due payments). Strict Workflow helps keep me on task. I just started using Grammarly, which can be really helpful. And I’m very grateful for free tools (like Privacy Badger, HTTPS Everywhere, Do Not Track, Signal, and even PGP) and paid tools (password managers and VPNs) to help me keep my information secure.

Caring Less

A lot of writers I know don’t read the comments on their posts, which is a shame—sometimes there are corrections in there. In fact, many of the sites I write for have turned off comments since they can be a bit of a cesspool (and since everything’s moving to social media anyway). I’m one of the writers who reads every single comment, and I sometimes even scan Twitter and Facebook and Reddit to see what people are saying. At some point, I stopped caring so much because I ran out of energy to care. (I call it “Better living through exhaustion”.) Now I can look at comments in a more detached, objective way—which is probably a lot healthier.

The Opportunity To Remake Myself

A few years back, I decided to move away from health and fitness writing and towards investigative reporting on technology (specifically, privacy and security). This year, I’m moving a bit back towards fitness. I also decided I wanted to balance heavy-hitting work with stuff that’s less exhausting, including a bit of brand work. And I started a podcast. Sometimes I don’t approach events as a journalist—I’ll go to a hacking conference just because. Sometimes I’ll come across something that’s not in my beat and report on it anyway, because it’s fascinating. Being able to remake myself at whim is one of my favorite things about freelancing.

These seven years have been an amazing ride! Here’s to seven more.

Stuff I Wrote: November 2016

800px-Skrifmaskin,_Blickensderfer-maskin,_Nordisk_familjebokCan you believe it’s already December? It’s hoodie weather in Phoenix, and has been a long time coming!

 

If you’re in Phoenix, there are a few events coming up you should know about. First, I’m celebrating my 7-year freelance-

First, I’m celebrating my 7-year freelance-versary at Mod Phoenix today (December 1st), so swing by for champagne and cupcakes at noon if you’re around.

Second, we are hosting a crypto party at the Burton Barr (Downtown Phoenix) library this Sunday from 2:00 to 4:00pm. I’ll be presenting some basics on operational security and threat modeling, Jordan Savoca will talk about VPNs and Tor and secure email systems, and David Huerta will give a PGP crash course. For more information, check out our event page on Facebook and on CryptoParty.IN.

Also, here are four posts and one podcast I worked on in November.

A Third-Party App Helps Walmart Workers Understand Company Policies (Vice/Motherboard) The app Walmart doesn’t want its employees to download.

How To Trump-Proof Your Electronic Communications (Slate/Future Tense) A nuanced, common-sense guide to electronic security in the upcoming administration.

Apple’s New Touch Bar May Present Usability Challenges For Blind Users (Vice/Motherboard) I take a closer look!

Tips For Visiting A New Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Gym (Performance Menu, paywall) Whether you’re on the road or just dropping in.

[Podcast] Trump University Settles For $25 Million (Monday Morning Dumpster Dive)

I still have four posts in purgatory, and will hopefully be able to link to them next month. For now, happy holidays, and here’s to you finishing your year out strong!

Stuff I Wrote: October 2016

800px-Skrifmaskin,_Blickensderfer-maskin,_Nordisk_familjebokIt’s a short and sweet roundup of posts I wrote that were published in October. (There are about five more in purgatory, though, and I have a half dozen assignments on top of that so November should be a doozie!)

Why Scribd Changes Copy-Pasted Text To 104-Point Comic Sans (Motherboard) I noticed this while cutting and pasting from a legal document to prep for a podcast, and had to investigate.

Figure Out The Best Training Option For Your Unique Circumstance (Performance Menu, paywalled) If you want to get your sweat on but can’t decide between following a workout program from a book, signing up for group training, splurging for personal training, and so forth, this article will help you figure out the best option based on your specific situation.

Podcasts

Texas Withdraws From Federal Refugee Resettlement Program (Interview with Dylan Baddour, reporter for the Houston Chronicle)

The CIA’s Not-So-Covert Plan For (Cyber)War With Russia (Interview with Trevor Timm, executive director at Freedom of the Press Foundation, and columnist for the Guardian)

Friday Buyouts From The Wall Street Journal (Interview with Jennie Phipps, independent writer and editor and the owner of Freelance Success)

But First, Coffee And Puppies

I was also a guest on Episode 31 of the This Makes Me Happy podcast.

Stuff I Wrote: September 2016

800px-Skrifmaskin,_Blickensderfer-maskin,_Nordisk_familjebokLast month was so busy that I somehow forgot to hit “publish” on this post!  In September, I brushed up on business skills at a bunch of classes at K’e, and then turned around and taught a series of classes on copywriting and social media marketing and storytelling for a handful of local businesses. I cranked out two new podcast episodes with Jimmy Jenkins, about the Clinton email saga continuing, and about the EPA saying that Roundup is not a carcinogen. I also wrote nine posts for five different sites. Check those out below.

Overcoming Gender Bias In Job Hunting (Dice.com)

Women who feel that they aren’t getting job-hunt traction because of their gender might consider the following tips and techniques.

Has Arizona Found a Solution to Gerrymandering? (Yes! Magazine)

Sixteen years ago, Arizona stripped state lawmakers of the right to draw electoral districts. Many lawsuits later, democracy is stronger—in some ways.

Expert Answers: Natural Pain Relief (Experience Life)

Consider these remedies for post-workout pain. (Unfortunately, the edited version of this conflates DOMS with systemic inflammation, but many of the tips are still solid.)

What Happens In The Gym Stays In The Gym Part 2: Technical Tips (Performance Menu, paywall)

In the second part of a series, I shared some nuts and bolts steps you can take to keep your gym private and secure.

Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 9: Rubber Duckie, You’re The One (Forbes)

We discuss the Pwn Phone, whistleblowing, and so much more.

Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 10: The Chickens Come Home To Roost (Forbes)

This week we spoke about cell phone location tracking, antenna extenders, Spokeo, and more.

Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 11: Twin Peaks Edition (Forbes)

Bitcoin, kidnapping, and the DEF CON 22 badge challenge.

Mr. Robot Season 2, Episode 12: The Grand Finale (Forbes)

This week we wrapped up the season finale, and talked about FBI interrogations, revenge strategies, binwalk, Phase 2, shred, Fry’s Electronics, and Mr. Robot cosplay.

What To Do When Facebook Says Your Apple Computer Is Infected With A Virus Or Malware (Forbes)

The anti-virus software link it sends you to won’t help. Here’s what to do instead.

Stuff I Wrote: August 2016

800px-Skrifmaskin,_Blickensderfer-maskin,_Nordisk_familjebokThis month, I spoke at Tales From the Cybercrypt,  a Jewish tech journo panel moderated by Alan Zeichick, alongside Howard Cohen and Esther Schindler, and Arizona Jewish Life wrote a post about me before the event. Monday Morning Dumpster Dive, my new podcast with Jimmy Jenkins, made it to KJZZ’s podcast page! Check out our old episodes on our page there.There’s also an RSS subscription. My husband and I beat the heat with a quick trip to the White Mountains (hiking! cabins! unplugging due to poor WiFi!), and I started training at an amazing gym with an amazing coach. And yet, I somehow managed to get some work done… Here are nine posts of mine from five different sites that went live in August.

  • Building An MVP That Works (Dice Insights) Determining the right time to release a minimum viable product isn’t easy. You have to be careful not to pack in too many features.

[Podcast] Grab Bag Edition: Manafort, Starr, Nilson, Arpaio, Loop 202

Jimmy Jenkins and I started a podcast covering Friday news dumps so they don’t get buried. We almost got buried since there were five (count ’em) news dumps last Friday. In our fifth episode, we looked at Manafort’s resignation from the Trump campaign, Ken Starr’s resignation from Baylor, Arpaio being recommended for criminal contempt charges, Baltimore terminating its contract with a government lawyer accused of past neo-Nazi ties–and the man who hired him resigning, and the latest on South Mountain Freeway expansion court battle.

Make sure to listen, and please help spread the word.

[Podcast] Brendan Dassey Conviction Overturned

Jimmy Jenkins and I started a podcast covering Friday news dumps so they don’t get buried. In our fourth episode, we spoke with attorney Aaron Williamson about a federal judge overturning the conviction of Brendan Dassey for the murder of Teresa Halbach.

Make sure to listen, and please help spread the word.

 

[Podcast] Monday Morning Dumpster Dive: Tesla Troubles & Trump’s Change Of Heart

Jimmy Jenkins and I started a podcast covering Friday news dumps so they don’t get buried. In our third episode, we spoke with NPR Business Correspondent Sonari Glinton about Tesla’s Gigafactory woes. We also discussed Trump’s endorsement of Paul Ryan and John McCain.

Make sure to listen, and please help spread the word.