Stuff I Wrote: August 2017

It’s been a big month for posts! I interviewed one of my favorite comic artists, Evan Dorkin, who I first interviewed for a zine back in high school. My article on food deserts, which I’ve been working on for some time, finally went live. And, of course,  it’s always a good month when I get to write for The Intercept. Check out those pieces and a few links below.

  • Cartoonist in Hell (Folks) Drawing comics for a living isn’t all fun and games, says Evan Dorkin. Especially when you’re living with chronic pain.
  • No Pain, No Gain (Folks) Fitness instructor Leslie Nava teaches at a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu gym to spite the rare disease which runs in her family… and to inspire her son, who was born with it.

Stuff I Wrote: July 2017

Happy August! If you’re like me, you spent most of July out of town. I was traipsing around Minnesota visiting family and friends, spending time on the lake and eating Juicy Lucies. I’d barely had time for my head to land on my own pillow before I headed out to Las Vegas for Def Con, the quintessential hacking conference that left me with dozens of ideas buzzing around my head.Still, I managed to publish two articles and a blog post in July. Unfortunately, both articles are paywalled. I would recommend subscribing to the Performance Menu for thirty bucks a year for access to health and fitness information (with a heavy dose of weightlifting). The other article is supposed to be available publicly soon, and I’ll update this post with corrections to the errors published. Last but not least is a heartwarming podcast (or as heartwarming as can be expected in our political climate) about the uphill battle for public data.

Instead of just listing blog posts each month, I’ve been bouncing around ideas to make this blog more interesting and relevant to you. I’m not sure how long it’ll take to implement, but I appreciate you sticking around, and I hope you enjoy this month’s fare.

Under Siege: How To Protect Your Digital Privacy (Consumers Digest) I spent weeks on this post, which was meant to be an overview of digital privacy and security concerns and ways to mitigate them. Sadly, I was never given the opportunity to view the final copy before it was published (despite multiple requests). As expected, the published version was riddled with editor-introduced errors. Because this piece is still paywalled (though I was told it would be public today), I’ll have to wait to describe the errors that were not corrected. (I was informed that only a few were forwarded on to the managing editor.) Other reporters tried to warn me about writing for this publication, but I’d signed a contract before hearing all of the horror stories. In case you’re wondering, I would definitely echo their sentiments. (Oh, and I still haven’t gotten paid for this.)

How To Make Your Gym Accessible To Everyone (Rather Than Just Your Rock Star Athletes) (Performance Menu) Unless you’re running a small, elite club for a few select athletes you hope to hone into Olympians or world champions, you could probably use some more business in your gym—or you could at least stand to keep the business you have. One of the best ways to do this is to target not just super athletes, but regular everyday joes. There are far more normies than there are star athletes, after all. This post gives suggestions on making your gym friendly and accessible to the common folk. (Yes, it’s paywalled.)

Independent journalist Tony Webster talks about the fight for public records in Minnesota after the City Council in Duluth recently tried to raise costs.

Stuff I Wrote: June 2017

Since it’s a million degrees in Phoenix, I try to do most of my traveling in the summer. I was lucky enough to escape to Chicago for work and play, and shortly after heading home, I got to attend the Investigative Reporters and Editors conference right here in Phoenix. Here are four articles I managed to write amidst the whirlwind, as well as two podcast episodes from June.

Hacking Is The Least Ridiculous Part of ‘House of Cards,’ Somehow (Motherboard) Amber alert hacking, polyglots, and switching centers.

That One-Leg Monster (Folks) How K.C. Mitchell, a combat-wounded Army veteran, became the strongest amputee powerlifter in the world.

5 Steps For Dealing With Joint Pain And Inflammation (Performance Menu) It’s paywalled, so subscribe already!

Finding Work After Being Fired (Without Lying About It) (Dice Insights)

Stuff I Wrote: May 2017

Time Management Tips For Job Seekers (Dice) It’s easy to get burned out and discouraged while hunting for a new job. That said, you can have a productive and fruitful job search by following some guidelines.

Now You Can Pay People to Ferry Packages While They’re Traveling (Motherboard) You can also get paid to deliver random items—though most of them are abroad.

Unpopular Opinion: Yes, You Should Sometimes Get in Shape Before Training For a Sport (Performance Menu, paywalled)

Stuff I Wrote: April 2017

Last month I promised a backlog of articles, but a few are still in purgatory. That said, here are five posts, one video, and one podcast for your perusal.

What To Do When People Take Credit For Your Work (Dice Insights) That feeling of satisfaction after a job well done can easily fizzle when a co-worker or boss takes credit for your ideas.

Book Review: Wired to Eat (Performance Menu, paywall) If you liked the Paleo Solution, check out my review of Robb Wolf’s newest book.

Can The Cloud Save Retail? (Medium/Built to Adapt) Well, can it?

The Ultimate Fighter 25 Episode 1: Garbrandt and Dillashaw; Too Much Drama? (The Sports Post)

The Ultimate Fighter 25 Episode 2: Faber Joins the Bickering; Gordon/Gallicchio Face Off (The Sports Post)

VIDEO: Beyond the Fast Track Model of Fitness with OPEX founder James FitzGerald. Find it by downloading ZubiaLive (free) and searching in the fitness section.

PODCAST: Newsrooms Unite To Cover White House Financial Disclosures. Interview with Derek Kravitz, research editor at ProPublica.

Stuff I Wrote: March 2017

Can you believe it’s April already? March is my favorite month because of the signaling of spring, and it’s my birthday month. After a few months of visiting places, I just started training at a fabulous Brazilian jiu-jitsu gym in Mesa, which I’m so excited about, so this March was definitely a great one for me. I also spoke at my favorite arcade bar, Bonus Round, for Nerd Nite 29. Many thanks to those of you who came out to grab a cocktail and hear me speak about logical fallacies, alongside the amazing Kevin Flanagan and resident rhetorician Kathleen S. Lamp. I had an absolute blast and I’m so excited that Ty invited me. No speaking appearances this month, but I will be on a live video broadcast on Zubia, interviewing one of my favorite health and fitness experts. Details on that forthcoming.

I wrote four posts that were published in March. There will be many more in April, as a lot of my work this month is still going through the editing/revision process. We also have at least one great podcast planned for April, so tune in to KJZZ’s “The Show” on Monday morning, or listen on their website or on SoundCloud.

Meanwhile, here’s this month’s roundup:

My VPN post for Ars Technica, which is from June 2016 so pretty old for tech reporting, was quoted extensively this month, everywhere from The Verge to Motherboard. I’ll be writing more about personal privacy in the coming months.

That’s it for now! Expect a larger batch in April.


Stuff I Wrote: February 2017

February was a busy month for me, but I don’t have a lot of posts to share. Mostly I worked behind the scenes doing some editing and writing e-books, lead magnets, white papers, and podcast scripts for a number of clients. That said, I do have three articles and three podcast episodes to share with you!

This Music App Wants To Improve Your Hearing (Motherboard)

Earlogic’s TSC Music app uses “threshold sound conditioning” to improve your hearing capacity. (Or so they claim: I’m not entirely sure since they wouldn’t share the research study they promoted with the media.)

Swipe Right For Innovation (Medium/Built to Adapt)

For Valentine’s Day, I interviewed former Tinder CTO Ryan Ogle. Check out our Q&A.

How To Find The Right Massage Therapist (Performance Menu) (paywall)

There’s nothing like a good massage to help alleviate pain, prevent injuries, or just find a rare moment of Zen while lying on a table and remembering how to breathe. That said, a massage is only as good as the person giving it, and it’s always a bummer to put time and money into a crappy experience. If you’re about to make a first appointment, or are considering switching to a different massage therapist, these tips may help.

Enjoy, and I’ll catch you in March!

Stuff I Wrote: January 2017

Happy February! Here’s a collection of stuff I wrote in January about hacking, porn, passwords, phishing, volunteering, spam calls, resolutions, and more.

I’m also including links to four podcasts covering Friday news dumps ranging from election hacking to Trump’s Muslim travel ban.

Hacker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: The Future Is Cyberwar (Vocativ) We’ve seen data theft, energy grid hacks, and Stuxnet, but not open cyberwar — yet.

Porn Sites Should Be Using This Basic Security Feature (Motherboard) Your network traffic may actually implicate you in activity in that regime that is considered outright illegal.

2016’s Worst Passwords Are Just As Bad As 2015’s (Forbes) So please tell me yours is not on the list.

What To Do When You’ve Been Phished (Forbes) Clicked on a dodgy link and entered your password? Here’s what to do next.

How Tech Pros Can Volunteer In Fun Ways (Dice) Use your tech skills for good!

How To Stop Telemarketers And Robocalls Dead In Their Tracks (Motherboard) Burner, the mobile app that lets users create temporary phone numbers, is now working with Nomorobo to block spam phone calls.

Austrian Hotel To Replace Smart Locks With Normal Locks After Ransomware Attack  (Forbes) It also paid the ransom, which is not the recommended course of action!

Privacy and Security Stuff You Should Read: 1/31/2017 (Forbes) Russia’s arrest of top cybersecurity figures, what full-blown cyberwar would look like, security tips for anonymous Twitter account users, and more.

Now You Can Beef Up Your Security For Facebook (Forbes) Facebook has improved login security for its 1.8 million users by integrating the FIDO u2F Security Key into its platform.

Beyond Resolutions: 7 Things To Try In 2017 (Performance Menu) This one’s paywalled, but consider subscribing, especially if you’re into Olympic lifting!

This Is Why We Love Joe Lauzon (The Sports Post) There are plenty of reasons; honesty is just another one.


My 2016 Year In Review

Each December, I take a brief pause to look back at the entire year: what went well, what went poorly, and what my goals are moving forward. Inspired by Chris Guillebeau, I’ve posted an annual review in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015. I get a lot of feedback that my painful transparency is helpful, so here’s a long-winded look back at 2016.

This year I’ll be breaking things down by the core desired feelings I picked while doing a desire map for 2016. My words were joyful, organized, and whole.

What went well

Joyful (relaxed/ included/nature/balanced/playful/community)

This year I moved beyond workaholicism and focused on things that make me happy, and on spending more time with friends and with my amazing husband.
The most joyful thing this year: we got a puppy! If we’re friends on Facebook or Instagram, you’ve probably seen a million and one pictures of our adorable rescue, Bailey. She’s an athletic, rambunctious, playful, energetic Chiweenie and we’re SO excited to have her in our lives.

Other than being a full-time stay at home puppy parent (wink), I spent more time reading, hiking, and volunteering. I went on a lot of plant walks and made all sorts of herbal concoctions (bioflavonoid bombs, anyone?). I solved confusing puzzles over beer with friends (and my husband) at Puzzled Pint. We also planted an amazing garden. We saw a lot of Shakespeare plays. We hosted my brother for Thanksgiving. I met with writer friends and hacker friends, old friends and new friends, over coffee or food or drinks. I caught some live music, and spent some time working on lockpicking skills. I got some traveling in, too. Overall, it was a joyful year.

Organized (tidy, solvent, etc.)

“Organized” originally referred to me wanting to do a lot of tidying/organizing of stuff in storage, and to pay off debt. I did a good job with both of these, paying off all of my non-student-loan debt, though I still have some boxes to get through (once and for all) in 2017.

In spite of my focus on joy, and prioritizing health and fitness, I spent a lot of time focusing on work, and I guess this is the section to discuss it… This year, I had 95 blog posts or articles published in 16 different sites or publications, including my very first bylines at Ars Technica, the Intercept, Daily Dot, Yes!, and Reveal News. I also got to write for some old favorites, like Experience Life, Motherboard (Vice), Slate (Future Tense), the Freelancer, Dice, the Performance Menu, etc. I got a group of hackers together to recap Mr. Robot episodes, which was a lot of fun, despite all of the emails I got about Forbes’ ad blocker blocker (which, news flash, I don’t control).

This is actually considerably fewer posts than 2015 (I had 146 posts published then), which ties in with my pursuit of in-depth, heavily researched reporting, so I’m moving in the right direction.

My posts got over 38,000 unique shares, including at least 81 from fellow journalists. Some made the front page of Hacker News, were widely discussed on Reddit, were used in college classes, and made various curated newsletters and websites, including Boing Boing. (I’ve already listed my top 10 posts of the year.) But most of all I’m thrilled to say that I care a lot about the work I did, that I got to dig deeply into issues I care about and do some investigative reporting, but not so much that I was burned out or exhausted. I’m pretty happy with the direction my career is going.

Image by Angelo Pardo

I was interviewed for a high school project and a grad school thesis, spoke on two podcasts, and did a reading at a poetry event. I also got verified on Twitter. (I know, I know, but it’s a big deal to me!)

This year I also started a podcast with Jimmy Jenkins called Monday Morning Dumpster Dive. We look at Friday news dumps, and interviewing amazing guests on the weekend. We have recorded 14 episodes.

Other highlights include speaking at various events, including an amazing panel at the Investigative Reports and Editors conference in New Orleans moderated by Dave Maass, alongside Cora Currier and Jeremy Gillula. I also spoke on a Chai Tech panel called Tales From The Cybercrypt, and was on a freelancing panel at a regional SPJ conference. And although I wasn’t on any panels, I was thrilled to get to go to the HOPE conference in New York City, RightsCon in San Francisco, and CactusCon here in Phoenix.

I co-organized three cryptoparties, teaching people secure communication basics: two at the Burton Barr Central Library in Phoenix, and one at Mod, a beautiful coworking space. I also gave a short session at my coworking space, CoHoots, during their MidWeek MindTweak.

Photo by Ted Han

I don’t typically talk about content marketing unless my work is bylined, but I will say that I got to manage teams of writers for a couple of brands. Hiring, editing, and working with writers is something I’m passionate about, and even though some of these projects have sunsetted, I have a new content marketing gig I’m really excited about. I’m also still editing the Performance Menu, and it’s always a joy to work with some of the brightest minds in the fitness industry. Additionally, I spoke about blogging, storytelling, social media marketing, and do-it-yourself PR at various businesses around the Valley.

I was selected as one of the top 100 content marketing influencers by KPS Digital Marketing in the UK, which was cool, but I don’t know if I trust the list since Brian Clark wasn’t on it.

Best of all, I sent holiday cards or chocolate to all of my clients, which made me giddy. It’s so nice to be able to do that.

Oh, and I celebrated my 7th freelance-versary with champagne and cupcakes at Mod with David Huerta and Ty Fishkind.

Freelance-versary photo by David Huerta

WHOLE (healthy/fit/rested/abundant/etc.)

Now that I’m on my way back to fitness success, I wanted to share a bit about some of the struggles on my journey. This is probably the hardest thing to write about, since I started out the year in pretty bad shape physically, something I didn’t really want to publicly discuss as a fitness writer/editor, etc. (and with fitness being a huge part of my identity). Even though I’d tried some group fitness classes and gotten some Groupons and such in 2015, nothing really stuck, so this was a 2016 focus area for me.

First, I joined LifeTime Fitness and got some sessions with a personal trainer, which was nice at first, except that he was late to most sessions. We had planned to do a certain amount of private sessions a week (some of which I got for free–yay health insurance benefits), and a few where I’d just do workouts he’d programmed that I could do on my own with good form, to get the most bang for my buck. Unfortunately, the program he wrote me didn’t really match my goals (and wasn’t long enough to justify the time I’d spend driving to the gym). He was nice, though!

After that attempt at getting back in shape, I decided to bite the bullet and sign up for Precision Nutrition’s nutrition coaching. I had luck with it all the way back in 2008 or something, back when it was a six-month program that cost $99/month for six months (with $99 down). Now it’s a year-long program that’s been completely revamped and costs a heck of a lot more ($179/month for 12 months). It includes a workout program and nutrition habits as well as monthly check-ins on weight and other goals. I actually signed up a second time about a year before my wedding but ended up dropping out since I didn’t see results, and a money-back guarantee isn’t really sufficient when you can’t fit into your wedding dress. I ended up playing with intermittent fasting to get to my goal weight before that magical day, which was perfect, but I gained the weight back and then some.

I figured I could give Precision Nutrition another try since I was on less of a time crunch. But this third time, I had a pretty similar experience as my second time. Despite following the program to the hilt (I really did do everything as prescribed), I failed to get any real results after about five months. The coaches do set up video calls with some of us squeaky wheels—the only problem was that mine mostly reiterated habits I was already following rather than giving me recommendations I could use. (Sometimes she would ask me what I thought I should do.)  Precision Nutrition isn’t exactly scalable, and it seems that it’s easier for them to offer people refunds rather than help them when they do not see results right away, or to accuse people of “negative self-talk” when they point out that the program isn’t working for them. Boo hiss.

I’d made plans to get back into Brazilian jiu-jitsu, but hurt my knee the day that a new (uh, larger) gi I’d ordered arrived in the mail. (Precision Nutrition isn’t great at modifying workouts for injuries, either—the coaches are pretty overworked and can’t even remember who has what injury, and the modified versions of programs are often not appropriate for the people they’re given to. My coach gave me a list of random exercises that didn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason other than that they were types of movement that didn’t use injured areas.)

Luckily, Precision Nutrition giving up on me and opting to give me a refund instead of trying to help me get results meant that I could try a different approach. So I decided that even with my vast knowledge of health and fitness, myriad resources and programs and books, and past experience, that I needed to suck it up and get someone else to tell me what to do—especially since I wasn’t even sure what would work with my injury.

Enter OPEX. I’ve been a big fan of the owner, James FitzGerald, for eons, and almost joined the gym when I first moved to the Phoenix area. It offers individualized workout programs and monthly assessments both remotely and in person here in the Phoenix area.When you’ve spent a LOT of time in the gym and on the mats (I went to a CrossFit cert back in 2006!) and have some 7-odd years of experience as a health writer, it’s NOT easy to walk into a gym and admit you need help with your fitness and nutrition! But you know what’s even harder? Being sidelined with injuries that are keeping you from doing the sport you love and trying to ignore the fact that none of your clothes fit anymore.

So I signed up at the end of July. It’s not cheap, but I was able to make it work with the money I was saving from dropping the overpriced, ineffective Precision Nutrition program, canceling my membership at LifeTime, and making a few other changes. (I canceled my Stitch Fix subscription since it doesn’t make sense to buy clothes that fit now knowing I’ll be swimming in them a few months from now.)

The coaches are ridiculously knowledgeable. I’ve been working with Michael Bann and diligently following all of his workouts, nutrition suggestions, and lifestyle recommendations and gotten pretty great results. (The first thing we did was increase my calories as I was eating way too little under Precision Nutrition, and needed to rev my metabolism again.) In five months of training, I lost 6 percent body fat, dropped about 12.9 pounds of fat, and packed on about five pounds of muscle. I also got a 225 sumo deadlift, which is a personal best. In fact, I just got a 228 lb. trap deadlift by accident. (Next, I want my bodyweight front squat back.)

When you keep coming up just shy of your goals, it’s time to make a change and that’s exactly what @yaelgrauer did. Yael came to me awhile back wanting to get back into shape, lose weight, and start grappling again. She had pretty bad knee pain but always showed up with a smile and that’s all I require. After we dove into all her biomechanics we dove into the physiology and nutrition side of things. She’s an amazing example of what happens when you buy into the process. She started to prioritize sleep, and she focused on eating not only to her macros but also quality food. This lifetime deadlift PR and the fact that she just wore a dress she hasn’t been able to wear in ages is just the beginning for her. So many more awesome results to come. #BannWagon @opexfitness #IAmOpex #OPEXFit

A video posted by Michael Bann (@coach_michael_bann) on

Working with Bann is pretty cool (even though I hate him sometimes); he does a great job of answering all of my questions and putting up with my bullshit and keeping me motivated.

I try not to focus on weight, but this chart is pretty cool. Check out my rollercoaster weight prior to starting at OPEX and my steady weight loss August through December.

My coach also referred me to a physical therapist, Jeff Beran, to deal with movement imbalances leading to knee issues I’ve had for as long as I can remember. Being able to correct the underlying issue (which had to do with single-leg stabilization and glute and ankle activation) after just two sessions is amazing, and I really think coaches working with PTs (the good ones) is the way to go.

Images by my brother Eyal Grauer and I

In addition, I’ve also been eating better, focusing on sleep and gut health, getting massage, and so forth. And spending time at the gym has stopped me from working 60 to 80 hour weeks, luckily without taking too much of a hit financially.

I also ran (okay jogged/walked) a 5K with my brother on Thanksgiving without any training, which was cool.

And as I continue to work on underlying movement imbalances, not only is my pain pretty much gone, I’m happy to say that just a week ago I and even visited a jiu-jitsu gym for the first time in over a year. Getting back on the mats makes me so happy that I can’t even describe it, but it’s definitely a big win.

Image by Todd Butkowski

What Went Badly

I try not to be a big whiner on social media or this blog, but unfortunately, people sometimes think this means that everything is running smoothly for me, and this year was actually really hard in a lot of ways.

Yes, I met some professional milestones, but this year was hardly without its frustrations, and as part of my annual planning meeting with the amazing Pam Slim, we made a list of “bad client behavior”–editors that sit on your writing, don’t pay right away, are hard to pitch, edit errors into your work (and don’t let you do the final check), are guilty of scope creep, don’t pay well, have poor journalistic practices (such as pushing bad science, walking back accurate claims when responses are negative, or having a lack of integrity). These are all issues I dealt with this year, in addition to editors who assigned me work, had me work on revisions, and then pretended the piece was never assigned to begin with. (Yes, I had a contract, but it didn’t help.) I was also frustrated by too many meetings when they were mandatory, poorly planned, and included an expectation of forced happiness. And I was put in a position–multiple times–where I had to advocate on behalf of writers when unscrupulous editors wanted to slash pay, had unreasonable expectations, decided to kill work they’d assigned and call new posts “revisions,” and basically treated people poorly. I never want to be in that position again.

Other than that, my column at WIRED sadly came to an end, though the column lives on with in-house staff. This was a bummer, though, because I really liked that byline. And I got more rejections this year than I can count. I’m struggling to get grant money for an ongoing FOIA project I really want to work on, was rejected from multiple fellowships, and even from the Pro Publica Summer Data Institute (which made me super sad). Cash flow was a bit of an issue this year (due to unpaid, past due invoices), as were projects that just got sat on for weeks and months, but all eventually came to fruition. Cash flow issues (and not feeling like part of a team, and spending tons of time on admin work) were one of the reasons I decided to consider full-time employment this year all the way back in January (see Yael Hires An Editor [or Editors]) which led to a handful of job offers–but sadly, none of which I wanted. I did apply for dream jobs at the Center for Investigative Reporting and at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but didn’t even make it to the interviews.

I don’t want to go on and on about all the non-work-related things that stressed me out this year, so I’ll just touch on a few: driving in Phoenix is stressful because sometimes it feels like everyone is literally trying to kill you, dealing with incompetent businesses or service providers is stressful when the stakes are high, and communication issues don’t seem to get much easier as you get older. Also, having tools that continually break (whether that’s computers or cars) is never much fun. I definitely had more joy this year than last year (when I mostly just worked non-stop until I collapsed into bed every night at around 2 AM), but I also cried a lot this year. And even though I’m really pleased with progress I’ve made in my physical fitness journey, it’s been a bumpy ride.

Looking Forward to 2017

image by me, handwriting by Pam Slim

In 2017, I’m hoping to find more ideal clients, increase my income, examine my blend of content marketing and journalism,  prioritize health and fitness, and continue to work reasonable hours. I also want to finish a book proposal, read more, and do a lot of continuing education.

One of my goals for the year, after discussing this with Pam Slim, involves focusing on my mindset, and being more accepting of things that I sometimes think are unnecessary at work but which other people find extremely valuable (such as long meetings).

Some of it involves worrying less about some of my work frustrations by scheduling time for following up on past due payments, spending time following up on sources that are MIA, spending time working on really good pitches (so I’m not scrambling and sending off-target pitches out of desperation when I realize there’s an ebb in my flow).

This should free up mental energy to focus on the work I love with clients that edit my work well and make my writing better, are easy to pitch (come up with ideas, and don’t make me guess), are easy to work with (they’re problem solvers who communicate from the get-go, know what they want, and have my back if a source gets upset), pay well (and on time), give me useful feedback, share my work on social media, have a clear scope, and have a good brand. (Bonus if I also get to manage/hire/edit writers.)

Oh, and more cryptoparties would be fun!

I’m still working on a list of goals and my core desired feelings, which I’ll write about in another post.

I hope my long-winded annual recap helps you with your goals and planning–and would love to hear about it if you’re willing to share, either in the comments or via email.

If you’d like to do your own recap, I’d highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s model. And if you’re looking forward to next year, I’ve found Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map model extremely helpful.

In any case, here’s to 2017! Happy New Years!

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.