Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Oct 23

“Genre” Movies, the #MeToo Movement and Megan Fox

Posted: under Blogs, Digital Migration, new media, Video.
Tags: , , , ,

Horror and sci-fi have always been ways for society to talk things that society can’t talk about

From Invasion of the Body Snatchers in the 50s (fears of lurking commies next door) to the first televised interracial kiss (Capt, Kirk and Uhura on Star Trek) to Gen-X feeling suffocated by Reagan-era complacency (Nightmare on Elm Street, They Live) to the current re-imagining of Halloween about the effects of inter generational trauma — pop culture throws allegories at us that tell us what we’re thinking about in that place we don’t want to acknowledge exists.

I was struck today by a re-assessment of the decade-old horror movie Jennifer’s Body, and how the entire story around the film resonates in a different way, given recent events.

The marketing department did what marketing departments do, and melded sex with danger.

The movie is being re-examined by reviewers all over the web right now, possibly because it’s in heavy rotation on HBO right now. Why?

Well, the “origin story” of the movie – that is, how the monster becomes a monster read some wood differently in light of current events. Here is a nut graph from the VICE review

The attack on Jennifer is one of the film’s most powerful and uncomfortable scenes. There’s no sexual assault, but the imagery is clear. Even if it wasn’t, Jennifer meekly asks the members of Low Shoulder if they’re rapists once she notices something isn’t right in their tour van. What follows is the sacrifice of Jennifer by a group of men who are casual and practiced, cracking jokes and singing songs as Jennifer cries and begs for mercy. It’s chilling and should stand out to anyone watching what has otherwise been a darkly funny movie so far. If Ebert’s reading is the norm, no wonder Jennifer’s Body barely registered.

The story is a twist on monster movies, in that the pretty, vulnerable cheerleader becomes the dark, unstoppable force.

… teen girls everywhere in America were told earlier this month by their president and elected senators that whatever their male peers do to them in their youth doesn’t really matter.

For once, the pretty girl is covered with someone else’s gore. Which really made the guys in their letter jackets out on dates squirm uncomfortably in their seats.

It takes something really shocking and in-your-face to knock current American cultural dialogue out of its comfortable ideological trenches – the debates over hot-button issues like abortion, immigration, violent video games, rust-belt jobs disappearing, etc. etc. – have all descended into “hot takes” that mostly serve to confirm the tribal identification of the people yelling past each other in comment threads on Facebook. 

This is the function of good art. 

Here’s Vox’ take: 

 

Watching that moment in 2018 brings up unavoidable echoes of Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony about Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged assault on her when she was a teenager, of the phrase “Indelible in the hippocampus is the laughter.” Jennifer’s pain is funny to these men. For them, it’s a lark. But for her, it’s a moment of trauma that is going to change her forever.

What Jennifer’s Body offers up in response to the trauma and tragedy of what happened to Jennifer in the van is the cathartic fantasy of what happens next, of Jennifer turning her trauma against her attackers, of her using her victimized, violated body to wreak bloody vengeance on the patriarchy.

And lo, suddenly Jennifer’s Body is not a sex fantasy — it’s a revenge fantasy.

The past two years have seen the uncorking of decades of rage from women across the age spectrum, from older “First Wave Feminists” who carry signs saying “I can’t believe I have to come out to protest this shit again…” 

Source: WikiCommons

… to Gen-Z women suddenly realizing that a lot of things that they really didn’t ever question are now suddenly on the table, and realizing that they have been trained since first logging onto the internet (what a phrase that is these days) that they have been trained to connect, organize, and craft compelling memes that reference pop-culture touchstones. 

Source: WikiCommons

And here’s where I get to the point of this essay: in looking at the photos of the protest marches, the speeches, the demonstrations, something jumped out at me. It wasn’t just the blend of all age groups – although if you look at the faces of the women in just the two photos above, you can see that there are multiple generations at work here. 

No, what’s new to me is the memetic media loop that is being adopted and slyly subverted. Much as Jennifer’s Body subverts the expectations of straight male horror movies, the signs and chants of the women in these marches has a different tone to it these days. Check this out: 

Source: WikiCommons

These are not the flowers and peace signs of the Summer of Love hippie chicks, nor are they the “Riot Grrl” movement that so focused on establishing identity that it fragmented into warring factions, and is mostly remembered these days as a musical style aimed at liberating white middle class punk girls from mean guys in the mosh pit. 

To me, the inclusion of familiar pop culture references, like the Game of Thrones shout-out in the “Winter is Coming” sign, to the Jay-Z song and the self-identification as a “b!tch”, tells me that this younger generation “gets” media attention and provocation at a level that is only possible for people utterly marinated in media every waking second. 

It’s long been remarked that there are very few things that knit our fractious society together any more (which is why advertisers still pay insane premiums for Super Bowl spots). Those few things that do – hit TV shows, songs that everyone can sing along with, movies that become cultural touchstones – are now part of our political protest movements. 

They are part of how we have conversations with ourselves at a time in which the mere mention of a political subject sends everyone scurrying, or eye-rolling, or shouting in hair-trigger reaction. This kind of cultural appropriate is going to have to carry a lot of weight in the years to come, as we work our way out of our national nervous breakdown. 

It’s asking a lot of the scriptwriters, video-game engineers, music producers and graphic artists to supply us all with the ammunition to fight our way out of this dead-end; to give us the powerful images and sounds we’re going to need to agree that Mean Something. 

Parables by their nature aren’t about the thing that they’re about. If we’re forced to only have indirect discussions about the friction points in our cultures, it’s going to be a while before we can circle our way around to having a more direct discussion of what’s really at stake. 

Of course, by that point, Gen-AA (what else comes after Gen-Z? Do we call them the “Battery Generation”?) will probably have come up with a really kicky virtual reality meme to mock us all. 

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Jul 18

Quirks of the Internet in Myanmar

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Conspiracy Theories, Politics & New Media.
Tags: , , , ,

No TOR, but Rule 66 instead

I’ve been in Yangon for more than two weeks now, and I’m starting to run into the outer edges of what is allowed here on the internet.

First, Netflix and Apple Music work here. So I’m able to (pretty much) update the apps on my iPhone and download & watch movies. Which is nothing short of amazing, really.

However, connecting to the TOR network seems to be blocked; the login process looks a lot like this:

TOR network connections in Myanmar

It gets about 1/3 of the way to connected, and then it just … stops.

I don’t know if this is a temporary of a permanent condition. However, in talking to the locals, there is a lot of controversy over a Telecommunications Law, that is known as Rule 66. This basically holds that if you “defame” someone on the internet, that is a crime and you go to jail.

The nefarious thing is that not only can the person claiming they were defamed go running and get someone peremptorily locked up…

… but any third party can denounce someone else. So basically, if I see that you’ve said something – anything – online that might be construed as negative, EVEN IF IT’S NOT ABOUT ME, I can go running to the authorities and have you locked up.

From FrontierMyanmar.net:

The previous parliament approved the Telecommunications Law in October 2013 to liberalise the sector and encourage private investment. While the law has certainly achieved that aim – billions of dollars of investment have been pumped into telecoms since licences were awarded to the country’s first two foreign mobile operators in 2014 – its provision on defamation has also been used to stifle comment online, particularly on Facebook.

Section 66(d) of the law forbids anyone from “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any telecommunications network”, and carries a possible prison term of three years.

The section is a stark reminder that the Telecommunications Law is as much a product of the military regime as the Thein Sein era. Reports from as far back as 2008 indicate that the junta wrote the initial draft.

Find the flaw in THAT law. Sheesh.

The good news is that there are a lot of people here that are realizing that the current law, as written, is unwieldy and wide-open to abuse.

The bad news is that rather than junking it, the effort underway seems to be to instead replace it with something that is more narrowly construed to target the press.

Oy.

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Apr 22

Lesson from Reddit and the Boston Bombing — Don’t Stop Experimenting with Crowdsourcing

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Conspiracy Theories.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Is every crowdsourced “let’s catch the Bad Guys” effort inherently doomed to wind up as a witch hunt?

For a while last week, as we were all caught up in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, I was cheered up a bit by the efforts of Reddit and 4chan to try to figure out what they could do to assist in a positive way. It seemed like they were doing all the right things, in a sincere effort to help law enforcement by crowdsourced the efforts to determine who had planted the bombs. Right up front, Reddit said that racism, trolling, idiocy of any kind would not be tolerated. They even had as a “sticky” post up at the top of the page, a notice reminded everyone of the sad story of Richard Jewell.

For a while, it seemed like they might actually be able to contribute something. That maybe having tens of thousands of sharp-eyed internet sleuths poring over the mountains of photos, videos, and eyewitness reports might lead to what the pros call “actionable intelligence.”  Noted internet provocateur Jason Calacanis went so far as to say,

“Twitter is where all the smart and important people in the world spend their time, which means  instant coverage of these horrific events unfolds there in real time. Sure, there are spammers and idiots on Twitter, but smart people favor Twitter over any other social network by far.”

(snip)

Yet folks say, ‘Don’t speculate’?!

Ummmm, that’s exactly what we need to do!

Sometimes the rules change. Sometimes dogma needs to be flipped: ‘Shut up and let the cops do their job’ in the case of a terrorist attack is EXACTLY wrong.”

But very quickly, the idiot side of the internet took over, as 4channers started inserting “Where’s Waldo” into the photos and mocking the efforts to sift through the assets to find something of use, while outlets like CBS started wringing their hands over the fact that hordes of people on the web had self-deputized, and were now possibly (because who knows? It’s the unruly internet, after all!) out of control.

CBS news doubts the effectiveness of amateur internet sleuths

CBS news was not a believer.

But the apology today from Reddit makes it clear that whatever clear intentions we started out with, no matter the warnings posted to try to ward off the kind of unthinking, hysterical shaming/assumptions of guilt … at the end of the road, we wound up at the same old familiar virtual lynching tree.

reddit boston bomber thread taken down

Like two vast and trunkless legs in the sand, this is all that remains of the once-great campaign to find the Boston Marathon bombers.

A few years ago, reddit enacted a policy to not allow personal information on the site. This was because “let’s find out who this is” events frequently result in witch hunts, often incorrectly identifying innocent suspects and disrupting or ruining their lives. We hoped that the crowdsourced search for new information would not spark exactly this type of witch hunt. We were wrong. The search for the bombers bore less resemblance to the types of vindictive internet witch hunts our no-personal-information rule was originally written for, but the outcome was no different.

Of course, the traditional media is now pretty much hanging on the rim, whooping it up over the mistakes made on Reddit, Twitter, Facebook, etc. And the digital media are firing back at the well-publicized errors at CNN, the NY Post, AP, and Fox News (whose coverage could have had poor Zooey Deschanel wondering if she was about to be sent to Gitmo with a sack on her head).

From 4chan to the front page. Not such a short journey, after all.

So what’s the real takeaway here? Well, the hard fact that I keep coming back to is that there were hundreds of thousands of people spending hours of their lives, obsessively poring over photos and videos. In some cases, this can lead to killers being found, mysteries being solves, and the innocent being set free.

In this case, it did not.

That does not mean that we should slam the door on crowdsourcing and leave everything to “the professionals.”

Look, we’ve got The People Formerly Known As The Audience no longer willing to sit passively and just let “news” wash over them. They want to be involved. They want to react. They want to DO SOMETHING. Send money, travel to New Orleans and man a bass boat with a rescue crew, build tents in Haiti, pepper their congressman with Tweets … whatever.

Philly-reddit apologizes for Boston witchhunt

This generation grew up playing video games. You push the buttons on your digital device, and stuff on the screen in front of your face reacts. This paradigm is powerful. That’s why kids, including me, back in my [*wheeze*] youth loved playing them. They make you feel involved, empowered, in charge, filled with agency. Pick a phrase.

This genie is not going back into the bottle. No matter how much all the scolders tut-tut, the impulse of human beings to get off their asses and do something when they see something that moves them deeply, is going to continue. It will continue not just in the safe and societally acceptable channels of sending money/volunteering (and I think the mountains of teddy bears sent to the parents in Sandy Hook are misguided). This impulse is inevitably going to continue to play out in the digital realm, where we increasingly spend so much of our attentionshare.

Nobody really covered themselves in glory this past week.

Nobody really covered themselves in glory this past week.

The genie is not going back into the bottle. Nor should it.

Our jobs as journalists/media professionals are to figure out how better to make this impulse actually turn into something productive. I give Reddit a lot of credit for actually pitching in and helping.

Apropos of this: over the weekend, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome was at the Los Angeles Book Fair, plugging his new book “Citizenville,” all about Government 2.0. He answered questions about what he thought the intersection of technology and society can and should do and told a great story about the virtue of trying. Paraphrasing here:

“I own a hotel in Reno that was built back in the 60s. It’s old-school, so it has no air-conditioning. In the summer, to keep it cool, we open the doors to let the breeze flow through. The problem is, the mosquitoes also come in.

“Well, we had a night clerk. He was a little … strange. Like you’d pretty much expect from a guy who chooses to work the 2 a.m. shift. So he comes up with an idea to try to solve the mosquito problem. He goes out and gets a whole bunch of catfish and stocks them into the ponds surrounding the hotel, that were the breeding grounds for mosquitoes.

“A day later, I get a call from one of the managers. He’s freaking out – ‘There’s blood everywhere! Blood and meat and torn flesh in the hallways! Something terrible happened here! I gotta go!”

“And then he hangs up. I’m freaking out. Wondering if the Manson Family somehow got loose and went Helter Skelter all over my hotel.

“And then I get the callback. Turns out the catfish really didn’t feast on the mosquitoes the way it was planned.

“But the raccoons? They feasted on the catfish. They went into such a frenzy, they were running through the halls of the hotel, ripping apart and eating the catfish they were easily catching out of these ponds. Looked like a massacre.

“The manager says, ‘So we fire him, right?’

“I said, ‘Hell no! Give that man a raise! At least he tried to solve the problem. He didn’t sit around, waiting for someone else to try to solve things. He saw a need and he jumped in and tried to fix things.’

“Granted. His solution didn’t work. But at least he tried something new and different.

“And that’s how the award for ‘Best Failure’ was born.”

 

That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about not only the attempts by ordinary citizens to help find the Boston Bombers … but the fact that Reddit is trying to work out the acceptable rules for how to run a crowdsourcing project that adds value to the response to a tragedy. If nobody tries anything until we have it all perfect … then nothing will ever get done.

If you want a more formal response to media coverage of the Boston bombings, you can check out the Poynter “4 Takeaways” list.

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Jan 12

NMX – Blogger Tools

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs.
Tags: , , , , , ,

The blogging community is notoriously hard to please. Check out the vitriolic tweets directed at the poor victims who dared to sit onstage at the close of the NMX convention, talking about “Inventing the Future.”

Check out the silvery television-headed robots:

20130112-143237.jpg

Despite the rather ugly tone at the end, there were some creative attempts at serving the pajama-clad tech nerd lynch mob:

First, there were the somewhat shellshocked crew behind the counter at the BlackBerry booth. They were apparently laboring under the misconception that there are actually talented developers in the world that, given a choice, would pour their time and energy into creating an app for their platform.

20130112-141307.jpg

If there is a clearer indication that upper management at BlackBerry is delusional and out of touch, I haven’t seen it.

The signs plaintively exhort the fictional mobile developers to “blog about it!” Not sure if publicly acknowledging that you’ve just wasted your time & effort on a platform that’s got one foot in the gave and the other on a banana peel should be seen as a complicated cry for help, or a confession of bad business judgement.

Next, the folks at Readz, promising “Simply Beautiful Tablet Publishing.” I’ve been grinding my mental gears on the various tablet-publishing solutions for the past two years, most recently with Atavist, iBook Creator, and the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. What I’ve learned is that these tools promise much, but run headlong into the contradictions inherent in this chaotic new space.

20130112-141617.jpg

For example, there are the crazy quilt screen resolutions, video formats and typographic specs. Ad then there’s the whole horizontal/vertical screen orientation layout problem. IBook Creator is particularly ugly and opaque on this issue — your layout will look fine one way, but flip the iPad the other way, and some elements will show up and others … won’t. No rhyme nor reason to it either.

Meanwhile, the InDesign files churned out contain such spaghetti code that you are directed to open them in Dreamweaver to clean up the CSS3 and HTML 5.

I’ll give Readz a spin, even though they inexplicably have “Wilson” the volleyball from Castaway as part of the booth decor.

20130112-141902.jpg

I did like the quirky spirit displayed by the WordPress “Happiness Bar,” where they touted the fact that the WordPress platform is being used by everyone from giant corporations to “your dad’s book club.” The folks there were talking about vague plans for better ecommerce plugins.

If someone were to come up with an open-source PayPal, that would really rock a lot of worlds. The challenges would be enormous – whenever there’s money involved on the web, you WILL get haxxors. It’s inevitable. Then again, getting out from under a corporate monolith that is vulnerable to pressure (such as in the Wikileaks case) would be a step in the direction of international press freedom.

20130112-142015.jpg

Next up, Raven. I’ve been looking at them for a while – they’ve been struggling for a long time, trying to compete with Radian6, Crimson Hexagon, et al. They seem to be engaged in a re-branding pivot, trying to go to the low-end blogger side of the spectrum, to sell us indie freaks the long-awaited way to monetize our audience(s).

They’re offering a 30-day free trial, and that alone differentiates them from the competition.

20130112-142155.jpg

UStream was one of the big sponsors for the conference, and they (allegedly) worked to fatten the backhaul pipes so that the bloggers in attendance could all either upload live streaming video of themselves, or download everyone else’s livestreams. Which is kind of a strange thought-exercise: an entire conference room full of people all looking at themselves looking at each other on their ubiquitous tablets.

I’ve worked with clients over the past few years to use UStream to give their fanbase and users access to live events. Where it starts getting tricky is when you want to archive the events and make them available to the audience later, or even store them on your own site’s multimedia library.

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Jan 08

Inventing the Future at BlogWorld

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , ,

Somehow, I expected more of a mad scientist’s lab, with chortling henchmen. Or hench-Americans, as I hear they prefer to be addressed….

20130108-164940.jpg

It is always dangerous to give a group of bloggers (should that be “a flamewar of bloggers”?) a stage and a microphone, and dare them to get pretentious about predicting The Next Big Thing.

UPDATE: the always irascible bloggers have deemed the event a FAIL because of the lack of interactivity. Also: keyboard pants?

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Nov 22

Real-Time Coverage of Nerve Gas Rumors (via Storify)

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Digital Migration.
Tags: ,

Once again, I’m using the social media-aggregation tool Storify to work up a story using the Twitter feeds of reporters & protesters on the scene. This time, it’s in Tahrir Square, where the confrontations between the police and the citizens (fed up with the emerging military dictatorship) are taking a darker turn.

 

I put this together in about 5 minutes, after following the increasingly alarming messages coming out of #Tahrir via @acarvin. Knowing what I do about nerve gas (VX and/or Sarin) and mustard gas (whose effects I saw myself in the wheezing of my great-uncle Pete St. John, who had gotten a dose on the Western Front in WWI), it freaked me out that the Egyptian military may have taken such a drastic step.

It turns out that they were perhaps using some kind of new tear gas – one that is invisible, but that still stings like a sonofabitch. If you’ve clicked the link above, you were taken to a page of clinical data from autopsies of British soldiers killed by gas in WWI. Grim, grim reading. Basically, the gas causes chemical burns all over your body, and you die from choking on the ragged, torn-up lung tissue that you cough up as you drown in your own blood.

Yeah. Fun times. There’s a reason we as a species have reacted with horror at anyone using these kinds of chemical weapons ever since.

Anyway, the rumor mills flew into hyperspeed on Twitter & social media, and you could see the rise and fall of the meme (fostered by a Twitter account purportedly belonging to Mohamed El Baradei) of chemical weapons use.

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Jun 24

Applause lines and final thanks

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , ,

Here’s a short audio file i recorded at the close of the Civic Media conference this week at MIT. I’d like to add my own thanks to the sentiments expressed herein; thus was a fabulous antidote to the general malaise afflicting so many of our traditional media brethren…

http://audioboo.fm/boos/395702-final-thoughts-and-thanks-at-civic-media-conference-at-mit-media-lab

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Apr 21

How to Fix Your Hacked WordPress Blog (part 2)

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs.
Tags: ,

A 12-step program to get your blog so’s it can go out in public again

…when last we left the hacked blog, it had managed to delete the phony users and admins, and the permalinkspam was gone.

Jump ahead to last week, when I noticed that my Google AdSense boxes were always full of creepy advertising for boner pills.  I have been playing with all kinds of plug-ins lately, trying to find something that will work well to “mobilize” this site.  I wondered if any of them had done something to my header, so I clicked on “View page source” to see …

evil javascript code

The list of links to sites underneath the noxious javascript ran for page after page. No woder my site loaded so sluggishy!

Great. Just great.

I know enough about Javascript to recognize when someone is being deliberately tricky about what they’re doing. The code in the window above uses the “Array” function, where all manner of short codes are stuffed in there to make nasty function calls and run a script that pulls in content and hides it out of sight in my header.  This code then puts in the hypertext links such as the ones shown above (to some poor sap at a school whose computer is being used as a relay station for porno-pharma traffic).

Time to move to the next step in the program:

8. Made a list of all the plug-ins and started deleting them one by one

One of the really good rules for trying to fix something going heinously wrong on your computer is to start backtracking. Figure out what the last thing you did was, and try to undo it.

In this case, it was the plug-ins. I figured maybe someone had either gotten hacked, their plug-in was the way for a ‘sploit (hacker-speak for an “exploit” — a vulnerability in the software that they can worm their way through) to get into my scrupulously up-to-date blog.  So I cacked all the plug-ins, and the next morning, opened up the Dashboard to find that the evil code was back in the header file.

9. No amends – only more evil code in the header

This happened two more times. It was time to start going through the PHP code line-by-line to try to figure out what the hell was going on.  I used the editing tools that are integrated into the Dashboard on WordPress — to little avail.

I was starting to really wonder if the infection had reached the core PHP server, which would be epically bad news.  I fired up my FTP program and started going through the library files. And there, I worked the next step:

10. I inventoried the files in the php-admin folder and admitted I had missed some pieces of the infection

I had to go through all the images for my blog postings, month by month, to find these little files.  Even so, I damn near missed them – except that their edit dates were out of step with the dates that I uploaded the images.

Deliberately misspelled -- but fiendishly close enough to actual words so that you might just miss them.

Check it out – they spelled “footer” as “fotter.php” so that it kinda blends in, but won’t break the blog. Like any good parasite, it knows that if it kills the host, then the blog won’t be up and functioning, and the little baby tapeworms won’t get to feast on the ill-gotten pharamaspam revenues that come from the links stuffed into my blog.

I also found a .gz file deep in a totally separate subdirectory under my wp-admin folder.  I won’t show you the screengrab of that one, since it has some other identifying information in it.  But again, as you look through all your folders and subdirectories, just keep an eye out for something that looks like it doesn’t belong.  Think of the method that astroners use to find comets: they alternately flash big pictures of the sky, and look for the little dots that are strobing.  Those are the points of light that are in slightly different positions from one frame to the next.

The problem also goes a bit deeper into some of the files on the PHP server; the links in the previous post will take you to pages that explain, far better than I could, how you can search for the vile infected strings of Javascript. Part of the problem is that they take advantage of a “reverse” function – where the commands are spelled out backwards, and then the server is instructed to read them that way. It looks again like gibberish to human eyes, but to a machine, it means “Stuff the trojans in here!”

Look for files that are wildly differing in size than they should be.  If you do open them up, do it in a Text reader – not a Word document. Word probably won’t execute the Java code if it’s just pasted into a page as pure text, but man, with this stuff, it pays to be careful.

11. Prayed and meditated that I had at long last, cleansed the scourge from my blog

At this point, I’ve spent more than three days in all, fine-tooth-combing my blog and all the associated PHP, HTML and image files, folders, subcategories and god knows what all. I’m beat. Either I’ve gotten it or I haven’t, and it’s time to call in someone who is better at this than me.

And then on Sunday – I opened up the blog in my browser and hit “Page Source” … CLEAN!

And now for the last step (and I have tried to keep these steps at least vaguely in line with the instructions for AA and other 12-step programs):

12. Having had a blogging awakening, I try to carry this message to other bloggers, and practice the following principles with all my WordPress installs

I hope you’ve managed to get some learnings out of this strange screed. I know the presentation has been a bit quirky, and to be honest, about halfway through I realized I was pretty much beating the metaphorical dead horse into goo. But the point of all this is that I could have avoided all this pain, not had about 6 months of blog postings tainted and probably really awful Google page-rankings, if I had just kept the site properly updated.

When WordPress or other software does a critical release – for God’s sake, download and update it. The thing is, when they do a major release and bugfix, they have to publish exactly what bugs they are fixing. Which is like a paint-by-numbers for the hackers out there. They know exactly where and what the hole in the software was, and can start churning out botcode to take advantage of updating sluggards (like me).

Well, I have seen the light. no more slacking off on updating – and no more willy-nilly experimentation with fancy plugins on a site that I use for my business.

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Apr 20

How to Fix Your Hacked WordPress Blog

Posted: under Blogging, Blogs.
Tags: ,

A 12-step program to send your out-of-control blog to rehab

If your blog has been hacked, your first indication is when it starts acting like it’s in the late stages of particularly noxious drug addiction. Your once mild-mannered blog is a now a nasty Hollywood tart, reeling around, blowing toxic breath in random stranger’s faces, accosting people in the street and making depraved sexual suggestions, showing up at high-society events and flashing its naughty bits, and letting complete strangers fondle its database and cram noxious javascript code into its secret places.

Disgusting!

At this point, you can either choose to slaughter and revive your blog (i.e. delete everything and do a clean re-install), or roll up your sleeves and start hunting down the rogue bits of code that are turning your blog into Britney/Lindsay/Paris. No matter what, you should back up your WordPress blog by using the WP-DB-Backup plugin.

However, there is no guarantee that even if you go for the nuclear option, that the virus snippets won’t have wormed there way somewhere into your database, and will just pop up again (which is what they did to me – repeatedly) when you restore from the backup. This is why I reluctantly armed myself with some PHP manuals and started digging around in the guts of my blog.

If your blog has been infected for a while, it may have already affected your Google page rankings; in some of the links above, you’ll see that they started getting de-listed by Google because they looked to the bots like pr0n0 spammers. It can take quite a while to recover from that; the whole thing reminded me so much of the by-now ubiquitous Hollywood paradigm of getting clean & sober that I broke it down into a 12-step program.

Step 1: Realize that we have a problem; then admit that we are powerless over what our blog is doing, and that is has become unmanageable

The first notice I got that some of the WordPress blogs that I use (and administer for others) had been hacked was when this strange code started showing up in the permalinks.

Kinda strange, right? Looks at first glance like some little bug with the extended permalinks function...

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Usually, when you choose long permalinks, that’s to give Google’s bots the chance to find & index your content correctly.  But no prob, I thought: just go on in to Edit Post mode, and delete the code and re-save it.

Curious. I saved it with the real permalink and it turned up with some strange gobbledygood at the end anyway. Wonder if that’s having any kind of effect on the blog. Better check it in Google Reader.

Step 2: Come to believe that we are going to have to take serious action to restore the blog to sanity

Holy Sh-Nikes! Where did this come from?

Man, you never want to see this associated with your blog. This is screaming sirens, flashing lights, all spelling out "VIRUS ALERT!"

If you don’t get a jolt of adrenaline at seeing something like this where your blog contents are supposed to be, you don’t understand the gravity of the situation. This kind of pharmaspam is absolutely deadly; it usually comes from Eastern European hackers, and it means that the infection is serious.

Step 3: Made a decision to appeal to the higher powers – Google (and the WordPress codex, as we understand it) to find the answers

One of the first things that I found was a long thread about how hackers register themselves as users.

Sure enough, look at the number of users. Also look at the number of admins.

Step 4: Made a searching and fearless inventory of the renegade users

I went through page after page, hoping that I would be able to figure out which were the responsible, decent users, and which ones were the identities of the various spambots that were using my blog like a passed-out sorority girl in Satan’s frat house.

A lot of them were easy to spot – they had the various names for the erectile dysfunction drugs as their “@blahblah” addresses.

5. Admitted to ourselves that we had been remiss in updating the blog

OK. I admit it. I was afraid to update the blogs because we’d installed some customized plugins, and I didn’t want to have to futz with them if they broke. Saved some real time, eh? Now I was spending hours going through my blog(s) trying to figure out what had happened.

As you can see, I started this whole process back when WordPress was still at revision 2.8.4.  Oh, the shame!

6. Became entirely ready to get rid of these freeloaders

Cry havoc! And set loose the delete function!

7. Ruthlessly removed the false admins

These were where the hackers put their admin identities. All the way down at Z, where I had to trudge through hours of checking and deleting the other users to get to them. While I was in here, the hackers were trying to get back in to add more users. It was a race to see who was faster...

I couldn’t believe that the hackers were trying to add more users to the pile, to slow me down. I managed to delete enough of them to get down to the Z’s, where their admin identities were hidden. And then I deleted those. Success!

…or so I thought.

CONTINUED IN PART 2…

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Jan 30

Bailout Cash for Newspapers? A Cure That Would Only Worsen the Underlying Disease…

Posted: under Blogs, Digital Migration, New Marketing, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Politics & New Media.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

I posted this as a comment here, already, but it bears repeating.

While the concept of a bailout for newspapers (and allegedly for good journalism) seems attractive at first blush, I fear that in practice, the billions in bailout funds would suffer the same fate as the billions bestowed upon the banking industry.

That is, they would be swiftly pocketed in the form of “well-earned bonuses,” and only a few crumbs would make it down to the level where the money would actually do any good.  While I’m not in the “burn baby, burn” camp the way many other digital triumphalists have been (and there’s at least a faint whiff of that hereabouts), I think that dumping fat stacks on media conglomerates will not solve the underlying problems of the crumbling of business models.

Now then – a Manhattan Project (of sorts) to build solid business models to support quality journalism? That would = the hoary “teaching a man to fish” paradigm.

I know faith in The Invisible Hand is in short supply these days (and where it can be found, it’s usually being in the stocks in the town square, being pelted by posters on Angryjournalist.com), but the fact is that there is a demand for something to perform the function of information dissemination that newspapers do/have done. If the Drug Wars have taught us anything, it is that where there is a demand, and money is attached to that demand, there will correspondingly be a supply.

This is all growing out an essay on the op-ed page of the NY Times and chittering in the Twiterverse, as the nervous journalists see the vultures staring downward, and big guy in the hood with the scythe striding through the newsroom.

By endowing our most valued sources of news we would free them from the strictures of an obsolete business model and offer them a permanent place in society, like that of America’s colleges and universities. Endowments would transform newspapers into unshakable fixtures of American life, with greater stability and enhanced independence that would allow them to serve the public good more effectively.

o-rly-2Well, allow me to respond to that one.

Not to get all Reagan on you, but that is complete and utter madness. Newspapers are so important, so crucial to our lives, that it is the duty & obligation of the government to preserve them?

Wow.

OK, it’s a given that journalists have something of a Messiah Complex.  You have to have something else going on psychologically to get into this low-pay high-stress field. But this is really crossing the line. And making an unfortunate conflation between the newspaper industry and good journalism – yes, it gets done at newspapers, and there are some magnificent examples of this. But the industry is asphyxiating itself, and dumping wads of cash on it will not solve the underlying problems.

Government intervention here would create more problems than it would solve. Allison Fine is onto this issue:

So, the fundamental premise of the need to endow newspapers and preserve them at public expense is that false information exists on the Internet? Of course it does, as it does on TV, on the radio (should we also consider endowing Rush?) in magazines, and in many, many newspapers. Which media would the authors like to choose as being least likely to contain false information? And which medium do they think did the best job of  bringing the lies and corruption of the Bush Administration to light — hint, don’t look at newspapers, Josh Micah Marshall and his Talking Points Memo website would be a much better bet.

So, the fundamental premise that only newspapers can hold government accountable is specious. But that isn’t my biggest issue with the article. It is the naive assumption from those outside of the nonprofit sphere that 1) nonprofit status is intended for companies that don’t have a viable business model, and 2) raising billions of dollars in endowment funds is doable, particularly in today’s economy.

If anything, the effect of billions spent on preserving the newspaper format as it is, without any changes, will mean that we’ll all be getting print products dumped on our doors that are increasingly ad-free.  Yeah, there will be a number of advertisers who will still be there because the eyeballs are there.  But the trends of readership of mass print products are not heading up (niche and community newspapers are another story).

Worst of all, the preservation of a business model that is clearly no longer functional will suck the oxygen out of the room for the products that should (and are, in some cases) being developed to do the job that newspapers have done.  Artificially propping up newspapers in their current form will stifle the innovation in the marketplace, and long-term, only make the inevitable collapse worse.

We’re kinda seeing that take place in the real estate and credit markets right now. The government artificially propped up the economy for eight years with crazy spending and stupid low interest rates.  Instead of hard work & ingenuity to produce real growth, it was Free Money Day Every Day, as real-estate speculation in areas like Scottsdale, Las Vegas, Miami & L.A. led to the “$30,000-a-year millionaire” who made $10,000 in arcane mortgage kickbacks every time he/she signed his/her name to a loan document.  The results of that are the global economic meltdown we see occurring right now.

Meanwhile, driven by the market economics, ESPN is starting to experiment with setting up a disaggregated local blog network to cover sports at a granular level.

ESPN sees the writing on the wall. In their industry they need strong stories to promote sports and strong sports to drive interest to their stories.  A fan that is underserved by his newspaper is less interested in following his team on ESPN.  Additionally, there is big advertising money for ESPN if it can become the resource for local sports.

This is a long term proposition, however. Even the mighty ESPN cannot yet afford to hire 30 beat writers to cover each NBA team. Instead it is working towards its goal by teaming with independend bloggers in a win/win/win proposition.  The bloggers have a chance at monetizing their efforts, ESPN can become the central resource it wants to become and fans can get the information they want as a new, viable local sports media business model starts to thrive.

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