[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.

[Podcast] Monday Morning Dumpster Dive: The Latest Clinton Hack You Haven’t Heard Of

In our second episode, we spoke with Sean Gallagher at Ars Technica about  the latest hack targeting the Clinton campaign.

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

Stuff I Wrote: July 2016

800px-Skrifmaskin,_Blickensderfer-maskin,_Nordisk_familjebokThis month I got to take a trip to Minnesota to visit my inlaws, and ventured out to New York City for the HOPE conference. Still, I managed to get some work done… But first, an announcement: if you’re in Phoenix, please consider coming to Tales from the Cybercrypt: The Global Perspective From Jewish Technology Journalists. I’ll be speaking on this panel, moderated by Alan Zeichick, alongside Howard Cohen and Esther Schindler. Tickets are $18 for professionals and $10 for students. See you there? Meanwhile, please find a roundup of the eight posts I wrote that were published somewhere on the interwebs this month.

  • Not All Swastika Tattoos Are The Same (Slate’s Future Tense) I wrote about how algorithmic tattoo identification for law enforcement could have all sorts of scary consequences, drawing on data revealed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Thanks, as always, for reading. Your support means the world to me!



[Podcast] Monday Morning Dumpster Dive: Draft Data Sharing Legislation & Saudi Ties to 9/11

Jimmy Jenkins and I started a podcast covering Friday news dumps so they don’t get buried.

In our first episode, we spoke with Rachael Tackett about draft legislation that could impact how foreign governments gain access to data stored in the U.S. We also looked at recently declassified documents showing links between Saudi officials and 9/11.

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

Stuff I Wrote: June 2016

800px-Skrifmaskin,_Blickensderfer-maskin,_Nordisk_familjebokJune has been a busy month! Below please find a roundup of posts I wrote that were published this month, including my first-ever posts for The Kernel (Daily Dot) and Ars Technica.

  • 3 Tech Jobs That Didn’t Exist Last Decade (Dice Insights) I spoke with Daniel Burrus, an expert on global trends and innovations, about autonomous driving software engineers, augmented reality engineers and designers, and Internet of Things architects.
  • Expert Answers: Safe Rotational Exercises (Experience Life) I spoke with physical therapist Jamie Yang about ways to incorporate rotational exercises in your fitness routine while keeping your movements safe and stable.<(In addition to these two expert answers, the magazine also has a Q+A on blurry vision.)
  • The Workout: Spiral Power Qigong (Experience Life) Technically in the July/August issue of the magazine, this piece is a description and images of a grounding qigong routine that trains your body to move as an integrated unit — increasing mobility, enhancing mental focus, and building strength. It was designed by Mela Carreira and Frank Paolillo.
  • Oh! It’s not really an article, but I put together a quick tipsheet as part of a panel I was on, in which we discussed how journalists and hackers can work together on investigations.

That’s it for now. Catch you next month!

Stuff I Wrote: May 2016

Writing Fountain penThis month, I taught a MidWeek MindTweak at CoHoots on securing small businesses, which was a really fun session with a great audience. I also held my final Phoenix Freelance Spark event, and you can read all about why I stepped down if you’re interested. Next month I’ll be at the IRE conference in New Orleans–drop me a line if you’ll be there, too. Here’s to escaping Phoenix’s summer heat for… other cities’ summer heat!

It’s always hard for me to do a roundup of my posts for the month when I know I have some really good posts on the first of June, but I do have nine posts for you to check out. 

On Lockpicking, Sexism, And Your Tech Conference’s Code of Conduct (Or Lack Thereof) (Forbes)

There are no easy answers for sexism and sexual harassment at hacker conferences or tech events, but there are a few ways to minimize incidents and handle them when they arise. (Oh yeah, and nobody at the lockpicking village wants to hear your creepy handcuff jokes.)

How To Run A Gym Without Being A Classist Asshole (Performance Menu) (paywall, $5.99)

Don’t be that douchebag telling people who literally can’t afford a gym membership that they’re lying and will never get results, and other tips.


Reporter Plays Softball With Hardass (Medium)

This was my recap of the Society for Professional Journalists’ regional conference, in which Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini and the controversial Sheriff Joe Arpaio engaged in a keynote “interview” that not only more closely resembled amateur comedy hour, but was entirely devoid of substance. SPJ advocates for fearless journalism, believe it or not… I’d be embarrassed.

Complaining to HR Without Blowback (Dice Insights)

Complaining to HR should be your last resort, but if it’s your only option, these are some things to keep in mind.

3 BAD Food Combinations to Avoid and 6 Good Ones (LiveStrong)

I spoke with three nutrition experts to find out which food combining combos you should really avoid and some that can help optimize your health.

Security News You Might Have Missed: Criminal Risk Assessment Software is Racially Biased (Forbes)

Also, a security researcher was raided by FBI after pointing out a vulnerability in a dental database, anti-choice groups use smartphone surveillance to target “abortion-minded women,” an Israeli startup claims its tech can determine whether a person is a terrorist based on facial analysis, Chicago police use secret information to determine shooting perpetrators, Canary Watch sunseted, and more. Oh, and  it’s time to change your Reddit and MySpace passwords.

Security News You Might Have Missed: I Don’t Know Why You Say Allo, I Say Goodbye (Forbes)

Google’s new messaging app will offer end-to-end encryption, but not by default. Apple makes it harder for feds to unlock devices. LinkedIn finally resets passwords for users whose accounts were apparently compromised back in 2012. (Oops!) The Intercept releases the NSA’s juicy, top secret internal newsletters. And a new report takes a look at media use of the whistleblower platform SecureDrop.

Security News You Might Have Missed: If Math Is Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Do Math (Forbes)

Alleged British hacker wins court battle over encryption keys, Twitter bars Dataminr from sending alerts to intelligence agencies, federal agents planted hidden mics and videos at a courthouse, Senate contemplates reauthorizing the NSA’s controversial 702 surveillance, a government spy truck poses as a Google Street View car, and more.

Security News You Might Have Missed: Brazil Blocks WhatsApp, Stingray Parallel Construction, More (Forbes)

A roundup of security news this week, including Brazil’s short-lived WhatsApp shutdown, Maryland cops relying on Stingray tech for petty theft, parallel construction in Stingray use in Oklahoma City, Rule 41 changes to increase mass surveillance, and passwords being sold on the dark web.


Tips and comments are welcome at yael@yaelwrites.com (I do use PGP). I’m on Twitter@yaelwrites and on Jabber and Tor Messenger at yael@jabber.calyxinstitute.org. Additional ways to contact me securely are here: https://yaelwrites.com/contact/.

I Stepped Down as an Organizer of Phoenix Freelance Spark. Here’s Why.

11130240_10153232159101122_9081754209403817967_nLast month, I stepped down as an organizer of the Phoenix chapter of Freelance Spark. (Organizers in other cities stepped down as well.) I started volunteering with Freelancers Union in January 2015, holding my first event in February at GangPlank in Chandler. Soon, videographer Ita Udo-Ema joined me as a co-organizer, before I went solo in order to move the event to CoHoots in downtown Phoenix on October 2015 in hopes of drawing a larger crowd. Our June meeting would’ve been tomorrow (Wednesday) so I wanted to give an explanation.

From the beginning of my volunteer stint, I noticed two things. First, it became immediately apparent that the Freelancers Union staff (which doesn’t include many former or current freelancers) wanted to basically run the show with very little feedback from volunteers—even going so far as to provide “scripts” in each month’s material for us to read aloud, often to promote their own health insurance offerings or initiatives. And second, I noticed that this non-profit, whose goal is (supposedly) to help freelancers thrive and grow, was instead invested in how much additional work it could get from volunteers. What more could chapter leaders be doing? Early on, I remember leaving a Google Hangout for this very reason. It was exhausting.

At one point, Spark wanted to reprint one of my blog posts, and asked me for a photograph. When I asked for specs, they sent me a laundry list that would be more appropriate for a paid graphic designer or photographer to receive from a client: body turned towards camera, high resolution (non blurry/grainy), landscape orientation (not square), negative space–the more the merrier–around your entire silhouette (except for the bottom, no part of you touches the edge of the photo), minimum resolution: 72 dpi, minimum dimensions: 700 px tall, 900px wide, at least 300KB,” it read in part. Of course, they forgot to add a link to the original post until I wrote back in with a reminder. Priorities, amirite?

Freelance Spark seems to cater to fledgling freelancers, rather than established professionals, focusing its campaigns on things like legislation in New York (which wouldn’t affect many members) and a laundry list of unpaid invoices by its members that it’s titled “the world’s longest invoice” (in spite of the fact that pointing to plight of unpaid freelance work doesn’t exactly help the profession, or how it’s perceived by others). But it wasn’t lost on even the greenest attendees that the curriculum provided was of increasingly poor quality. Perhaps as a byproduct of material that wasn’t applicable to most of the people in the room, attendance to meetings dwindled. Even when many people RSVPed for events, only few would show up, and I got used to recycling unused material at the end of the night month after month. On multiple occasions, our gathering had just one or two attendees. I found myself wondering whether it was worth it, but discussing it with the Freelancers Union powers that be was pointless, as they provided little feedback or assistance.

Some of these issues came to a head in our Slack channel when a Freelancers Union staffer decided that we would all be charging for events going forward to prevent no-shows. Not all organizers were thrilled with the idea of asking members to pay for events we were hosting as volunteers, in space generously provided free of charge, but we were never even asked.

In response to growing conversation and actual feedback from its unpaid volunteers, Freelancers Union leaders decide to shut down the discussion and send out a survey. In response to my concerns with Freelance Spark meetups, I was sent an email and asked to hop on the phone with two organizers so that we could discuss my tone.

I had already been planning to resign because I didn’t feel like my volunteer work was making a positive impact, because the material seemed meaningless, and because–after months of this–I didn’t envision a possibility for change. But I was waiting for a scheduled happy hour (as a way to say thanks to our hosts) and for a session on security for small businesses, which I was asked to help develop curriculum for. Prior to being asked to create written material, I was asked to be on a panel (which never happened). As I was surveying chapter leaders for information to cover (something, incidentally, that Spark hadn’t really ever done when designing curriculum), a Freelancers Union organizer asked me to tack on information on IP and copyright, which is not only problematic for multiple reasons, but also out of scope. After agreeing to multiple requests to help with this session, I was then asked to hop on the phone to essentially repitch the idea. Later, the scheduled talk was quietly removed from the calendar.

How many freelancers haven’t had this problem? Someone asks you to do something, then when you agree, asks you to explain how you’re qualified and essentially pitch it to them? It’s annoying when it’s paying work, and honestly a little bit insulting for unpaid work. Freelancers Union relies on unpaid volunteers, and apparently views our time as expendable. I’m not sure how it distinguishes between “promoting the interests of independent workers” and promoting its own interests through the unused and unacknowledged (let alone unpaid) labor of independent workers, which is how I knew it was time to say goodbye.

After a year and a half of being dismissive of concerns, it’s hard to say whether Freelancers Union will be able to rebuild trust with its cadre of volunteers, or demonstrate that its staffers are familiar with freelancing and care about the needs of independent workers (beyond soliciting unpaid labor and trying to sell insurance). Running a successful remote group of volunteers isn’t easy even when it’s done properly, and I can’t even imagine how hard it would be when done wrong.

I did make some great connections through Spark, so not all was lost. And information wants to be free. In addition to teaching multiple workshops on online privacy and security for small businesses at my coworking space, and cohosting several events at another coworking space and the downtown library, I’ve already started organizing informal meetups for networking and troubleshooting sessions without forced curriculum, and without being asked to push a dismissive and out-of-touch organization’s agenda. Here’s to mutual assistance and the spirit of d.i.y., which drew a lot of us to freelancing in the first place.

Reporter Plays Softball With Hardass

America’s toughest sheriff struggles with real media questions. (photo: Gage Skidmore)

“America’s Toughest Sheriff” Joe Arpaio SPJ Regional Conference Keynote Interview Was Lacking

Last Saturday, I attended the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Western Regional Conference. The theme was “a thirst for news,” and keynote was a one-on-one interview with Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio conducted by Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini.

SPJ’s tagline is “improving and protecting journalism since 1909.” The organization is perhaps best known for its code of ethics, voluntarily embraced by journalists aspiring to hold themselves to high standards of integrity in their work. Having a sheriff–any sheriff–as a keynote speaker seems somewhat unusual. In contrast, other regions chose ESPN Films and Original Content VP and award-winning documentarian John Dahl, Washington Post reporter T. Rees Shapiro, Louisville Public Media executive editor Stephen George, University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism professor Robert Hernandez, and Times-Picayune/NOLA.com environmental reporter and Pulitzer winner Mark Schleifstein.

But SPJ advocates for fearless journalism. “Seek the truth and report it,” its code of ethics advises, as well as the admonition to “be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable” and to “give voice to the voiceless.” Surely a keynote interview conducted by a journalist in front of an audience of journalists would include something resembling journalism? That’s what I came to the conference expecting, but not what the keynote delivered.

Not only did Montini and Arpaio engage in an “interview” that more closely resembled amateur comedy hour, it was entirely devoid of substance. It began with Arpaio laughing about sending Montini anchovy pizzas–which, incidentally, doesn’t seem like a practice SPJ would recommend–its code of ethics advises journalists to “refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment.”

Montini repeatedly minimized the impact of Arpaoi’s policies, referring to them as “stunts” and trivializing his history of misconduct with comments like “you had this Justice Department stuff for a long time” before changing the subject. Arpaio, who once had a SWAT team set the house of an innocent man on fire, made dumb jokes about being Elvis in Las Vegas. Arpaio, whose staff mishandled or neglected ~400 sex crimes between ’05 and ’07, joked about how having a female chain gang was an example of equal opportunity. Arpaio, “America’s toughest sheriff,” waxed poetic about the good old days when he could buy reporters a cup of coffee and have an off-the-record conversation. Apparently doesn’t think being lobbed a series of inane softball questions at a regional conference for an organization dedicated to seeking the truth was good enough.

On April 3rd, Vice News journalist Tess Owens wrote a lengthy post about the mistreatment of mentally ill prisoners in Maricopa County, and, Owens wrote, “Arpaio and his staff did not respond to multiple phone calls and written requests for comment.” It’s too bad that a journalist who had him on stage in front of an audience with “a thirst for news” decided that hard-hitting questions were not appropriate for an audience of journalists.

After all, why would journalists possibly be interested in Arpaio’s unlawful enforcement of immigration laws, racial profiling, unlawful traffic stops, failure to investigate sex crimes, or election law violations? Why would they care about how cases involving him or his office have cost taxpayers upwards of $142 million in settlements, court awards, and legal expenses. Why would they care about Arpaio’s misuse of funds allocated for inmate services, when they could talk about Elvis and anchovy pizza instead?

Over Twitter, Montini said “Arpaio was a guest.” That he should get grilled for news stories but “this was more of a conversation.”

“I’d like to leave some time open for you to ask questions as well, and when you do, make sure to raise your hand, and one of the sheriff’s security guards will come up and tase you,” Montini joked at one point. It’s not funny. Mere hours after the Justice Department released its findings that the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office has a pervasive culture of discriminatory bias against Latinos, reaching the highest levels of the agency, one of Arpaio’s detention officers used a taser on Latino veteran Ernest “Marty” Atencio, who stopped breathing after he was stripped naked, severely beaten, and left alone in a “safe cell.” Atencio died days after the injury. Atencio was just one victim of Arpaio’s Maricopa County Jails.

You can see the “joke” in the video linked in Gardiner’s tweet above.

Although there were some real questions from audience members, including my own, Montini didn’t press Arpaio when he evaded questions, even helping him save face by pretending Arpaio wasn’t involved in ACLU’s lawsuit over the jails he oversees.

It’s hardly a surprise when a corrupt politician shamelessly shucks responsibility for his own misconduct. And perhaps a spineless reporter helping a corrupt politician save face for diplomacy’s sake isn’t much of a surprise, either. But it damn well should be.