5 Minutes of Fame tonight!

Tonight at Noisebridge, our lightning talk event, 5 Minutes of Fame! I’ll be speaking at 5MoF about Bad Inventions, going back over at least 20 years of my own horrible inventions, some of which came to fruition and some which have not (YET).

As if you needed ANY reminder, Five Minutes of Fame is Noisebridge’s ADD
show-and-tell, squashing octets of human awesomeness into an hour like
booleans in a packed byte.

This week’s seasonal supercompression will include, among others, barring ill fortune, but by no means limited to the following:

* The Internet’S IO9.COM’S ANNALEE NEWITZ on how to apocalypse-proof your city
* Roving cartographer and open wireless fiend SCHUYLER ERLE on galactic empire
* The Center for Applied Rationality’s JULIA GALEF
* The Amazing Inventions of LIZ HENRY
* The Battle for OMNIPOTENCE. Who will win? WOOL, MUSHROOMS, or HEMP?

Join us as we untar the future! Pkunzip the past! Huffman decode your mind!

Thurs, Dec 20, 8PM, Noisebridge, 2169 Mission St, SF, CA, Earth Prime

You can submit talks through the wiki page for future events or MAYBE even for tonight’s talks.

Five Minutes of Antichrist

Bad inventions: Dead mouse cat treats

I have two more bad inventions to add to the world, both cat-related!

Think how awesome it would be if we had cat treats that had the varied textures of dead mice! Pampered indoor cats could have the fun of chewing on the leathery outer skin made of meat jerky, crunching the fake bones, savoring the squooshy fake guts, and dragging the horrible fake mouse around by its meat jerky tail to leave it on your pillow as a gift. Dead mouse cat treats would be totally amazing and also the worst invention ever.

Except for … 80s sugar cereal cat litter! I thought of this yesterday while cleaning the litter box. We accidentally have an extra-rancid smelling brand of cat litter right now. Imagine a half assed attempt to make cat litter smell pleasant! It could smell just like Lucky Charms, or Frankenberries or whatever, and look like it too… the little blue odor-crystals would be the marshmallow bits.

Lucky Charms Cereal by laffy4k

The cat litter containing boxes could look excitingly like breakfast cereal boxes perhaps even with fun prizes inside for that ultra-hipster retro enjoyment of life… but the prizes would be FOR YOUR CAT.

As an extra bonus, you can combine both these inventions so that your box of Lucky Charms Cat Litter contains a Dead Mouse Treat prize.

Past cat-related inventions include Cat Eggs and the Catula. Other inventions from today: Feminist Bitcoins, the Social Justice Slot Machine, and the charitable causes first person shooter (“Give a hoot, shoot & loot!).

You’re welcome.

Bad inventions: Dog skates and conductive paint toilet seats!

From my notebook pages of ridiculous inventions and bad ideas, for your amusement. As I fiddled with a pot of conductive paint and thought about murals on the wall with blinky LEDs, I had the horrible idea of painting a toilet seat with conductive paint in such a way so that when you sit on it, your bare butt completes a circuit and lights up something on the wall. That should be enshrined in the bad inventions hall of fame!

Dog skates would take the idea of dog skateboards and wheelchairs a bit further. Basically you would take an old fashioned metal rollerskate and modify it to strap around the body of a small dog. Then, add a spring-powered suspension system between the body and the wheels, so the dog can easily bounce up and down between a walking and a rolling position. The skate could also be locked with a screw device in a wheels-up or wheels-down position to make the dog walk, or to pull it along on a leash like a little (live) pull toy. I don’t have a dog and don’t even like dogs, but thought of this while staring at other people dragging their reluctant chihuahas around San Francisco, and it made me laugh because it’s such a bad idea.

Gadget love

I found the best cable ever. It has ends for an iPad, miniUSB, and microUSB. Instead of having 3 heads on different necks like a hydra, the three ends plug into each other on jointed hinges. When you bend it, it looks like a cute little scorpion or like horrible alien mouthparts!

I love this cable!!!

The bits where it plugs into itself are very sturdy. The cable itself is thick and very short.

The best cable ever!

Here it is in action plugged into my phone! It is a “Magic 3-in-one” cable made by Innergie and handles data as well as recharging. As long as I manage not to lose this beast, I’m going to do away with carrying 2 or 3 different cables in my backpack (and never having the right one). If it ever falls apart at the hinges, I’ll still have the useful converter plugs.

<3 <3 cable love

Cruise control hack on my scooter!

My mobility scooter has a lever which when pressed moves the scooter forward or backward. There aren’t any brakes; I stop by taking my hand off the lever. So in order to keep moving I have to keep pressing this lever. Over time, that hurts my hand and arm. It’s also just tedious! So I wanted to copy what my friend Zach had done and build a switch that would keep the scooter moving. He said it was pretty easy. I took the front casing off my scooter dashboard to see what it looked like in there. Kind of scary, a tangle of wires. If I messed it up, I’d be stuck. I put it back together unwilling to experiment till I talked with someone who knew what they were doing.

scooter wiring

When Zach and I looked at it we took that cover off again and set it aside. The wires were in clusters of three with easily detachable connectors, labelled CN1, CN2, CN3, and so on. CN3’s cluster of wires went to the keyhole, which I could see is very simple. In fact I would bet I could stick an audio jack or some other piece of round metal into the hole and start the scooter. CN2 went to the potentiometer that sits between the levers for forward and back. In other words that lever moves a precision screw that goes into the potentiometer to change the resistance going from the battery to the motor. CN1 went to the forward and reverse lever, and that’s where we wanted to put my switch. We labelled some of the connectors with a Sharpie.

power supply wires

The existing potentiometer was 5k Ohms (it said this on the bottom of the part.) There were three wires going to it; white, yellow, and blue. Yellow went to the forward lever. Blue went to the reverse lever. White was the wire they had in common. Between the white and yellow wire we measured 800 ohms. Between White and blue we measured 4K8 ohms. We would need to duplicate that with the new switch.

IMG_1705

Rummaging around in the hack shelves and bins and tiny drawers in Noisebridge we found two potentiometers with tiny screws that Zach pointed out were very finely adjustable. Precision trimmable potentiometers or trim pots. We ended up using one for the 4K8 and one for the 800 side of our switch.

Here are the tiny drawers and bins we looked through! Imposing, aren’t they?

IMG_1714

And the Pile O’ Junk that overflows from the hack shelves:

IMG_1715

We found several switches, none ideal, and none that looked easily mountable on my scooter’s dashboard. Jake, who is great at electronics stuff and builds robots, immediately found us the right thing, a single throw double pole switch. The switch looks like a little bug with 6 legs — the connectors we soldered wires to — and the flippable part of the switch sticking up from its back. Here it is all wired up, before the hot glue went on.

new switch with potentiometers

We replaced one of the duplicate blue wires with white. (Which I found by rummaging in the hack shelves and bins.)

We realized at some point that the resistance didn’t match up perfectly because we had measured it all while the trimpots and switch was unmounted from the wires but we needed to measure and adjust the trimpot screws while it was connected.

Before we hot glued and mounted everything we put a 2×4 under the center of the scooter to prop it up for testing – so that the wheels could spin without the scooter going anywhere. It worked great when we flipped the switch! Very exciting!

We then dabbed hot glue over the switch and some of the other connections with a glue gun. The glue is kind of rubbery and would peel away easily. It should stop the solder from jolting loose, though.

When we went to mount the switch, we realized it stuck out further back than we had room for in the plastic casing. But it would fit really well in the area for the keyhole mechanism, which was shorter. We ended up drilling a new hole for the key hardware on the lower right of the dashboard, and enlarging the former key area to fit the switch. This took a little bit of adjusting and re-drilling with the dremel while we held the front of the plastic case in place. It was very useful to have four hands. My extremely bright LED flashlight came in handy at this stage.

scooter hacking

Along the way we also replaced and added some washers to hold everything in securely. It was great to have access to all the tiny bits of hardware that Noisebridge has free for the hacking and to all the tools in the shop and electronics lab.

equipment

Thanks so much to Zach for the awesome tutorial on potentiometers and resistance in circuits, and for the hacking help! You can see part of his super slick dashboard here, with cruise control switch, usb port, and other useful charging ports as well as a cute Totoro keychain.

totoro keychain

By installing “cruise control” I basically bypassed a crucial safety mechanism of my scooter. I am trying, each time I flip that switch, to repeat to myself over and over, TO STOP, FLIP THE SWITCH. Three times now in the past few days I have forgotten it is on, pressed the lever automatically with my right hand while cruising; then taken my hand off the forward lever only to be unpleasantly surprised that I don’t stop. (Until I crash into things.) On day 1 I was super careful. On day 2 I was lifting up my backpack while stopped, and the backpack strap caught on the switch. I went barrelling forward to crash into Noisebridge’s media cart and a lot of chairs. Everyone laughed. NOT GOOD. Luckily, only one thumb and my dignity were wounded. Day 3, I had my hand on the forward lever and was stopping on the sidewalk. Except I didn’t stop! I was about to hit both a curb and a knot of pedestrians and all I could do was crash myself into a pole. That worked and I yanked out the key and flipped the switch in a giant panic. So, after that I did a lot more deliberate practice with a “the switch is on” mantra. Any time I am near people, or an intersection, I go back to manual control.

I also plan to build a little shield for the switch from Sugru to prevent accidentally flipping it. It needs labelling as well; when I took my scooter on the airplane yesterday I spent some time explaining DO NOT USE THE SWITCH to the airline cargo laoders at the gate until they were so scared of my “TURBO MODE” that they gave me back the key and carried the scooter onto the plane.

scooter hacking

Next I want to move the keyhole to a spot on top of the dashboard instead of under it, and stick some LEDs and an arduino in there with its usb port sticking out for programming, and some sort of complicated dial so I can make different things happen with blinky lights on the front of the scooter….

My latest terrible invention

Instead of explaining about all the posts I mean to write and haven’t, about WisCon and my ankles and all the books I’ve been reading, I bring you my latest terrible invention, to go with the Catula, Elboff, the Beer Hat Neti Pot, Cat Eggs, and the Sockerchief.

You know how there are Chia Pets of many varieties? Wouldn’t it be brilliant to have… the Chia Butt?

It would be a ceramic butt, with little holes all over for the seeds to sprout, creating a fascinating conversation piece you can tend and love… a green, hairy, butt.

CHIA ABE

This made my son laugh very hard and then I further sent him into the throes of laugh-trigger asthma by explaining why underwear should have pockets. I have invented… UNDERPOCKET!

Right, so back to the semi-serious blogging about something of substance that isn’t my painful bilateral achilles tendonitis with bursitis thrown in as a bonus and sciatica and bad knees. And peripheral neuralgia that no one can explain. For the last 6 months. I miss walking, driving, bike riding and my dramatic supercrip Journey Out of the Wheelchair. Now I’m very familiar with the beeping lift things that scoop you onto buses. Though I will say that I love my electric scooter and imagining the Thunderbirds Are Go launch theme as I come out of the automatically opening garage door, scooting. OMG… yes. Scooter power!

Excellent books read recently:

Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Women, friendship, social class, airplanes, Gestapo, epistolary, AWESOME. Read this immediately.

Meeks by Julia Holmes.

Dystopia! gender! social class! Kickass writing that didn’t make me want to hurl (as most “literary fiction” does) Beauty and despair.

WondLa by Tony DiTerlizzi

Fabulous kids’ book about a kid in an underground survival pod with a robot named MUTHR. It has great illustrations and is very fast paced in the beginning so I suggest it as especially good for kids under 10 who get bored at exposition.

Promise of the Wolves by Dorothy Hearst

15,000 years ago, a fierce brave wolf cub watches her brother and sisters die, outcast from the Pack! OMG! Wolf Ayla! The Greatwolves are up to something and the 2 leggers or whatever they were called are sort of the companion animal they long to soul bond with (but it is FORBIDDEN.) I got this for Danny’s daughter as it looked like a better and more sophisticated Warriors style book about fierce animals, with mythology and hunting, then I started reading it and couldn’t stop till I was done.

Into the Wise Dark by Neesha Meminger

Surly psychic teenage girls! No vampires! Indian-American family complexities, mums who Mean Well, and creepy therapists who totally don’t! Female friendship and working together with MAGIC… time travel… Goddess stuff… a hot boyfriend back in time, tending the goats of the village… Very enjoyable. There was a scene it it where she was in these bubble things in space in isolated space prison cells and I could SWEAR I have read something else that was like that a long time ago. What was it? Anyway, this was great and I loved how it sneaked some space and future into what is usually focused around “paranormal” and history. Keep sticking those silver jumpsuits in there Neesha!! Yeah!

Palimpsest by Catherynne Valente.

Sex, desire, creativity, aesthetics, ummm fantasy? way out there! To get into this amazing ultimate Virconium city or Amber or Utopian weirdness world you have to have sex with someone who also has a piece of the map tattooed on them. This book has a lot of scenes of people having uncomfortably casual sex and freaking out about it. I am only halfway through and at first wasn’t sure what the hell was going on and if I was like, too far into Cat Valente’s Id Vortex to feel comfy and then I got really into it and felt the lid was off and let’s just go with the flow.

Habitation of the Blessed duology also by Cat Valente

Extremely good! Bears thinking about! Easy to read and lovely and packed with history and beauty and I especially love the bits that are the butterfly’s and the blemmye’s stories. I can’t remember their names and lent the books out already. If you bounced off the massively deep layers of nested stories (or the purpley prose) of Orphan’s Tales give this a try – its structure is more accessible. I really get blown away by how good and great and geniusy Valente’s books are. Bite on that Gene Wolfe. Stuff it Orhan Pamuk. These are the massive storytelling epics I’ve been waiting for and without the cognitive dissonanance of having to work around all the fucking heinous unnecessary sexism that I have to cope with while reading Wolfe and Pamuk.

Report to the Men’s Club – Carol Emschwiller.

Short stories which left me with the impression of first contact hermity mountain women of the 19th century; if you liked Souls by Joanna Russ you’ll like this… the little known first contact nun genre!

Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord.
A great speculative novel set in west africa. Magic and gods and chaos – I want a Chaos Stick! I loved this book and will look for her next one. This story made me think a bunch about scoping out the parameters of woman centered hero tales.

Notes on sockpuppetry and astroturfing

Mischi says in comments,

The fallout from this whole Amina/Paula Brooks mess has really spooked me. I’m starting to wonder how many other individuals on my twitter or facebook feeds might be equally “unreal”.

So, I have to ask: are there any clues or patterns one should be particularly careful to pay attention to?

Also, what are the different kinds of motives that might compel someone to create sock puppets that have such a long and involved online presence (as both “amina” and “paula brooks” seemed to have). Some people here are suggesting they could be motivated by a desire to gather intelligence and/or disrupt activist organizations… but surely there must be other reasons? I mean, “Paula Brooks” wrote about surfing — what was the motive here? I’m just confused, and more than a little bewildered.

Anyway, it would be nice to get more insight into the world of sock puppets (a term which until a week ago I had never heard of, but now can’t stop thinking about!). Again, thanks!

Good questions Mischi – we could talk about that all day.

I think that members of long-standing organizations and communities often have developed the discernment to recognize likely instances of people who are not quite who they say they are, *and* the difficulty and offense of proving that. People who percieve themselves, also, as being in a less powerful situation or in danger have to hone their judgement.

Growing up in the 80s in Texas, I learned how to have good gaydar. People who are online a lot, who live out important parts of their lives socially online, have good sockdar.

Sockpuppets galore

Just as there’s no one motivation for masking or fictionalizing identity, there’s no one tip-off for who is real, and how far they’re trustable.

In most cases, I don’t care — and I don’t have to care — if a person is representing themselves with complete accuracy. Your situation might be different and you need to know you’re not being Facebook-friended by your abusive ex-boyfriend or some weird lying person from your past or an International Woman of Mystery or an FBI agent who just infiltrated your animal rights activist group.

Anonymity and pseudonymity can help people to have a public voice who might otherwise find it difficult to make their thoughts known. Not everyone can be out of the closet! So, while it’s legitimate to worry about who you’re talking to, ask yourself perhaps — does it matter? If it does, how would this conversation change?

If you care a lot about it, you could video chat with them briefly, or verify from someone you both know that there’s been a face to face meeting.

If I want to know, and I care, then I’ll just ask. It’s okay to be rude. If someone’s identity is a bit thin, and it’s reasonable to want to know who you’re speaking with, and they’re real, they should understand why you need to ask. If, on the other hand, they come up with reasons why it would be outrageous to ask, or know — maybe that should be unacceptable to you. If the person keeps missing your meetings and the excuses get more and more strange, that’s another clue!

I think we see here also in this entire fucked up mess that asking your friends for help is a great technique to triangulate on reality! Look at the great stuff in the comments . . . People are still working together to figure out who Graber is, and who he’s fooled, and what damage has been done. Because of that, more people will be protected against him in future. (And maybe he’ll get some kind of of real help, if he’s helpable.)

People have been asking me — what’s a sockpuppet? What’s astroturfing? Astroturfing is “fake grass roots” — many shallow fake identities created to give an illusion of popular support and interest. Astroturfing could be lots of voters from different IP addresses with different logins, gaming a voting system, or many people talking about how great a product is. Because of astroturfing’s volume and potential sophistication, it may be best detected by building good software tools. People who think a lot about botnets and spam-fighting are probably best equipped to talk about astroturfing — though as Mechanical Turk and other tools are used more often for astroturfing, this will get more difficult.

By “sockpuppets” I usually mean a persona of some depth. (Picture a person wearing a sockpuppet and having a conversation with it.) Wikipedia pages are often places where you can easily find a pattern of unsophisticated sockpuppetry. Several new accounts spring up to edit the same article. If they’re all from the same IP address, that’s a dead giveaway.

Sockpuppets are there to talk to each other. Writers make sockpuppet friends or enemies, drama-filled relationships, or conversation partners. Ms.Scribe would make a somewhat obvious sock to accuse herself of not being real. Someone else would then expose the attackers. Ms.Scribe would become more solid and look more more important. I’ve seen Wikipedia edit wars where several people follow a pattern of argument. Alice will propose something outrageous, Bob will come along to disagree by saying something even more outrageous, challenging Alice; Alice refutes Bob and then Bob admits Alice was right after all. They make puppeets to debate with about why the sky is green.

Plain Layne on the other hand looked to me like a “literary experiment” gone wrong over time. There I saw that the specific locality of Layne’s blog and how she described her life led to the other bloggers in her town to expect to run into her. In the earlier days of blogging, people didn’t think that they would be noticed, or found, or develop real life friendships. Some of us might know better these days. MacMaster didn’t.

The story of Victoria Bitter shows some very interesting patterns that remind me more of Paula Brooks and LezGetReal than of Amina’s hoax. Amy Player/Victoria Bitter/Andy Blake shifted identity several times in real life and went through a gender transition. They also defrauded people of money – and somehow, all this tragically led to a triple murder-suicide in May 2011. As the documenters of Victoria Bitter point out, Andy Blake is still around and is still – amazingly quickly after his friends’ deaths – playing out the same patterns of asking for money and engaging with communities that care about LGBT issues and about fiction.

It seems difficult for identity-performing people to resist *engaging with themselves*. I think they also get very tempted to engage directly with people who are beginning to get suspicious about them. It must be like taking a dare, or pushing one’s experiment to its logical extremes. How far can it go? Maybe it’s a power rush, like the feeling of power a fiction writer gets as they move their characters around inside a story. The sense of psychopathy people talk about when they have been involved with sockpuppets may relate to this feeling of power and manipulation.

But I remember the story being more complex as I think of Plain Layne. She would reach a crisis in her life, or would be challenged by a commenter who’d say she couldn’t be who she says. And I’d intervene and comment myself, saying, “But she *could* have had crazy great sex on her first date because…” or “Well, you are all saying she shouldn’t take in her teenage cousin’s baby — but I’d admire her if she did” and then what I predicted *would happen*. Layne’s author would take suggestions or cues from commenters, and would play them out. We all had, now and then, the pleasure of feeling we were right in our advice, or our predictions of how Layne would feel about her choices and why.

With fictional personas of less well established boundaries, I think that kind of thing can have feel like talking with a person who’s schizophrenic and who incorporates anything you might mention into their fantastic ramblings. It feels *off*. There can be a pattern of boundary violation. Some sockpuppet hoaxers, like Bill Graber, seem to have incredibly bad boundaries right from the start. I mean, I don’t have the most fabulous boundaries either, and not a lot of instinct to stay away from drama, or I wouldn’t have kept on poking into this entire mess — but I’m actually nice, and exist, and have a life, and all that.

I’ve been thinking for the past few days about science fiction fandom and its online communities. Fans who write transformative works have been using pseudonyms, and developing chains of trust and reputation based on those pseudonyms, for a long time. In other words, if you make vids about characters who are owned by someone else, and build up your reputation with that as your art, you have good reason to hide your identity, because you don’t want to be sued.

For sockpuppet detection, it’s important to document the process of unravelling a hoax — the red flags, dead ends, and all the threads and evidence. Investigators screengrab and archive chats and photos or copy entire websites, which might turn out to be crucial traces of a sockpuppetry nexus or a Very Complex Internet Drama — before the perpetrator or a community moderator deletes the evidence. They’re archiving events and documenting extended public conversations. That’s a skill and a way of thinking that’s still evolving very quickly.

You can also look at people’s IP addresses, times they come online and go offline, and so on.

If you’ve been in activist groups of any kind it seems fairly usual for someone to point a finger at someone else who is a bit disruptive and accuse them of being an infiltrator. That can be a destructive process in itself, unfortunately.

While there do seem to be various patterns of behavior I think part of the sockdar we have at our disposal – especially as sophisticated readers – is about the use of language, being in the same register of formality, and speaking the same way. There are also differences in what sites a persona joins. A skilled hoaxer can fake those things of course! I’d like to know if other people notice particular things that affect their judgement of a person’s real-life existence or their sincerity?

I’ve got to stop writing for the day [ETA: I wrote this 8 hours ago and thought I posted it, but it was still in draft!] but I’d love to hear what others have to say on this topic. There is plenty to say as well about literary hoaxes (going back to JT Leroy, Nasidjj, Margaret Jones/Peggy Seltzer, and so many others). How do you smell a rat? Have there been situations where you have figured out someone’s real or not real?

[Also ETA to add, I am still researching and thinking about who the hell Bill Graber is, but needed to stop and write this, partly because it is what everyone calling to interview me is asking. Will post tomorrow about Graber and so on. Who the hell is Graber? Is that really his name? Does he have some overall agenda? Is he just independently kind of . . . not sane, having maintained an alternate identity for years and then totally melting down? I don’t buy the theory that he’s a secret agent of a government.. but it’s more plausible that he could be a disrupting agent of conservative/anti-gay organizations.]

Bad invention: The Sockerchief!

Imagine you have to blow your nose. You don’t have any pockets and no tissues are handy. But wait! You’re wearing your Sockerchiefs!

Sockerchiefs, the latest in my line of horrible and pointless inventions, would be a handkerchief attached to your sock with velcro.

Reach down, rip off the top half of your socks, and blow your nose. Then simply re-attach the hankie to the Sockerchief.

This is possibly even more disgusting than the Beer Hat Neti Pot! It’s extra cringe-worthy since no one would want velcro on their handkerchief. And since it’s easy enough to tuck your handkerchief into the top of your sock if you don’t have pockets (along with your money and ID) it’s also quite pointless. But I’m recording all my bad inventions because I’m still bitter about predicting the cat-ear hat trend back in 1993 or so and then failing to make millons of dollars when people started wearing animal ear hats for real. 20 years from now when the Sockerchief or Cat Egg industrial empire rules the world I can at least point here and say “I told you so”.