Episode 43: 70 days, 9 hours

Download: Episode 43

This week Audrey and I chat about algorithm accountability efforts in NYC, Reality Winner, sexual assault in the infosec community, and more. Content warnings for sexual assault are noted in the show notes in the relevant places, with timestamps so you can avoid those sections of the show if you prefer.

Show Notes


Community Announcements

New products in the Recompiler Shop!

There’s new mug and a new tote bag, just in time for holiday shopping.

Call for Contributors for Issue 10: Science!

For our second issue of 2018, we’ll be talking about science! From computers to data to social and natural sciences, it’s a way we explore the world and define our work.

Here’s a few ideas to get you started:

  • Connecting computer science fundamentals with everyday programming
  • How open source software tools power scientific exploration
  • Ethical data collection and use
  • Citizen science and ways of bringing non-specialists into our work
  • When is computing an art, a science, a craft?
  • Anything involving dinosaurs

We look for ideas that will be effective at an advanced beginner to intermediate level of technical knowledge, and that are grounded in the author’s personal experiences. We’re especially interested in work from people who are part of under-represented groups in technology. Contributors are paid.

Find the details and submit your ideas at https://recompilermag.com/participate/. Submissions are open through January 1.

Now Broadcasting LIVE most Fridays

We broadcast our episode recordings LIVE on most Fridays at 10am PST but on January 5th, we’ll be broadcasting at 1:30pm PST. Mark your calendars and visit recompilermag.live to tune-in.

We love hearing from you! Feedback, comments, questions…

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You can leave a comment on this post, tweet to @recompilermag or our host @christi3k, or send an email to podcast@recompilermag.com. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling (503) 489-9083.


CHRISTIE: Hello and welcome to The Recompiler, a feminist hacker podcast where we talk about technology in a fun and playful way. I’m your host, Christie Koehler.

Episode 43: 70 Days, 9 Hours. This week Audrey and I chat about algorithm accountability efforts in New York City, Reality Winner, sexual assault in the infosec community, and more. Content warnings for sexual assault are noted in the show notes in the relevant places, with timestamps so you can avoid those sections of the show if you prefer.

Yeah, so it’s been a year. Yeah. I don’t know. A lot of people are doing ‘best of’ posts or ‘what I accomplished this year’ and I sat down to write one and didn’t get very far.

AUDREY: I have one for The Recompiler that was supposed to go live on Tuesday. And I was enjoying my vacation too much to be willing to do work. So, it’ll go live whenever I get through my email.

CHRISTIE: I think that’s understandable.

AUDREY: Yeah. And hopefully, it won’t look too weird if on the first we’re like, “Look at what we did.”

CHRISTIE: I think that’s perfectly acceptable. Well, I’m excited because we’ve, with the exception of sort of a summer hiatus, we’re getting back to a pretty regular schedule of doing this weekly, which is more often than we were doing them before the summer hiatus. So, that’s kind of cool. And we’ll be starting up again with interviews. So, it won’t just always be me and Audrey kvetching at each other. And more experimenting.

We’re working on all kinds of improvements for the podcast for 2018. One of them is I’m putting together a little recording kit to send to people that we interview. Mic, headphones, and then sort of a checklist, so that we can have some improved audio quality in our interviews. So, I’m really looking forward to that. And if you want to contribute to that, as soon as I verify that the choice of mic that I’ve picked out, it’s about 20 bucks, is decent, we’ll need to purchase a few more of those and headsets to go with it. And then I just figured out how to actually do chapters in Hindenburg.

AUDREY: It looks pretty cool.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. So, I listen to a lot of podcasts. I subscribe to over 200, which when I tell people they usually look at me a little cross-eyed.

AUDREY: I do sort of wonder how many you listen to in a given week.

CHRISTIE: It’s a lot because I used to listen to the radio all the time. And because I got so tired of the news, I substituted that substantially with podcasts. It’s not all 200 of them. Some of them I look at who’s the guest or whatever. Actually, Pocket Casts tells you stats and I just looked at them. I forgot what it was.

Anyway, chapters like with audio books allow you to skip back and forth within an episode. And I also figured out how to make show notes from that chapter information, which is super exciting for me because I love doing the podcast and I love all of our listeners, but I hate doing the show notes. I don’t know, it’s one of those… Audrey, do you get this thing where you have to do something tedious and rote and it… I don’t know, it makes me itchy. Like…

AUDREY: Oh, yeah.

CHRISTIE: Like I want to crawl out of my skin and I, ugh.

AUDREY: I don’t think show notes would ever feel that way for me because there’s something about formatting text that I find relaxing.

CHRISTIE: Well, why didn’t you tell me that at the beginning? I could have had you been doing them.

AUDREY: Yeah, but how do you feel about contracts? Because that is always the point in our publication schedule where it takes me five times as long because I just don’t like doing it. I love that we pay people, we contract people. But something about having to fill in their names on every contract just really drives me up the wall.

CHRISTIE: I could see that. So, according to Pocket Casts, since June 1st 2015, I’ve listened for 70 days and 9 hours.


CHRISTIE: I don’t know what the math is on that. Yeah, so we’ll have hopefully some show notes. The show notes will now have timestamps. They’re going to be flattened a little bit but at least the timestamps will correlate with what we’re talking about and the links. And I’m hoping to eventually make it so that you’ll be able to jump straight to that part by clicking on the link. Well, I don’t know. I haven’t figured that part out yet. But that’s exciting to me.

AUDREY: So, people get a little bit more information about what they’re listening to.

CHRISTIE: Right. And we’re working on ways to improve some of the visual art that accompanies the podcast. Or, I guess I should say add some visual accompaniment to the podcast.

AUDREY: Right, yeah.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, so that’s all exciting stuff. And we’re going to keep doing our live broadcast here on Fridays as our schedule allows. So, I’m excited about that. Anyway, I didn’t mean to turn this into one big infomercial for the podcast.

AUDREY: Well no, it’s good though, to let people know what we’ve been doing, where we’re going with it. And to let them know that this live broadcast is going to be a consistent part of it.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. I’d love to eventually get some kind of backchannel going, IRC channel or something. Hopefully not Slack, if we can avoid it. But yeah. So, any announcements that you wanted to share, Audrey?

AUDREY: We still have the CFP open for the Science issue. And because I’ve been on vacation I haven’t looked to see what our submission pool looks like. But I assume what we have is good and we need more. I am going to extend it a little bit. So, I’ll probably, by about when the podcast is coming out I’ll probably have posted an announcement about having a few more days to get your entries in.

CHRISTIE: Okay. So, recompilermag.com/participate. And then we’ll also include a link to the CFP in our show notes. Cool. Anything else? Oh, I bought some of the new stuff from the shop.

AUDREY: Oh yeah.

CHRISTIE: I bought the mug and a tote bag.

AUDREY: And I saw the tote bag. It looked really good.

CHRISTIE: Yes. And I’ve been using the mug during the work week, too. Well, I didn’t have many working days since I got it. But it’s a nice, big sturdy mug.

AUDREY: It’s a concise work week. Yeah, it looks good.

CHRISTIE: In fact, I should just make it habit to make it my Friday morning tea mug so that I can be drinking out of it while we’re broadcasting. Cool. Alright. Any other announcements?


CHRISTIE: Alright. Well, first up I think we wanted to talk about this New York algorithm transparency accountability regulation thing.

AUDREY: Law. Not just a guideline, but an actual law for the city of New York.

CHRISTIE: Right. Although the law they ended up with doesn’t have much actual accountability to it, unfortunately.

AUDREY: No, no. It’s interesting that it went through the legislative process, you know? There’s a lot of ways. Cities can have a lot of guidelines and programs without a legislative requirement. So, I think it’s really interesting that they went through this process of talking about how the city could evaluate and potentially regulate algorithms use in government.

CHRISTIE: So, back in August, a city council member representing the East Bronx named James Vacca introduced a bill. And the New Yorker piece mentions that this person’s hitting their term limit and maybe that made them more bold. Anyway, introduced a bill about, let’s see. Once signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio, the legislation will establish a task force to examine the city’s “automated decision systems” – the computerized algorithms that guide the allocation of everything from police officers and firehoses to public housing and food stamps.

AUDREY: Firehouses.

CHRISTIE: What did I say?

AUDREY: Hoses.

CHRISTIE: Firehoses?

AUDREY: Which, algorithmic firehoses sound extremely worrisome.

CHRISTIE: Well also, in my defense, there’s only a one-letter difference between those two words.

AUDREY: You were very close.

CHRISTIE: Firehouses to public housing. But I didn’t say public hosing. And food stamps.

AUDREY: And food stamps. Yeah.

CHRISTIE: With an eye to make them fairer and more open to scrutiny. This was actually an effort I heard about I think much closer to when it was being introduced because a friend of Recompiler, Sumana, mentioned it to me. Because Sumana lives in New York and has been following this process and I believe gave testimony as well.

AUDREY: Mmhmm, yeah.

CHRISTIE: During part of the hearing. And actually, we’re going to link to at least one of her blog posts about it, which Sumana’s really good at explaining the nitty-gritty process behind something. And part of writing about her experience with this is learning how to use the system of her city council.

AUDREY: Right, yeah.

CHRISTIE: I think that’s pretty interesting. So when this bill first started out, it was much more specific and it had a requirement to actually publish the source code of the algorithms. And that got taken out of it, basically because of objections from city administration basically saying that… I’m looking for the quote here. So, I was reading these on my phone so I took pictures.

AUDREY: [Laughs]

CHRISTIE: They’re basically saying that we have to do business with companies and their work is proprietary. And we can’t…

AUDREY: I think I found the quote that you’re looking for.


AUDREY: “Publishing the proprietary information of a company with whom with contract would not only violate our agreement, it would also prohibit other companies from ever doing business with us, which would prevent us from trying innovative solutions to solve everyday problems through technology.”

CHRISTIE: Right, yeah.

AUDREY: So, they’re saying that it would destroy their relationship with companies that provide proprietary algorithms to the city. Which personally, I just feel uncomfortable with that in general, as a government practice, that it is a proprietary system. But I can understand that if you’re responsible for making those things happen, that you would see this as an impediment.

CHRISTIE: Right. And they’re not necessarily wrong, right? They would get substantial pushback from companies.

AUDREY: Mmhmm.

CHRISTIE: The argument that is presented in this piece is that well, New York, you’re one of the biggest, most valuable civic bodies that companies want to do business with. If you can’t summon the gumption to push back, who will?

AUDREY: Right.

CHRISTIE: And… So, they say… I think the person writing this is from the Cornell Tech Group and they say, “In our testimony at the October hearing, [we] warned the technology committee that the proprietary information argument might well thwart any attempt at algorithmic transparency, giving companies too much leeway to advance ‘broad and baseless’ claims to corporate secrecy.”

AUDREY: Well, and I think it’s really concerning that the city policy providing these things has not required that level of transparency. I don’t know how you would make a fair assessment of what you’re purchasing without that information.

CHRISTIE: Right. And they go on to say, “We proposed a qualified solution – less than total disclosure of the source code, more than nothing at all – with a particular emphasis on the data that drives the city’s systems.” Sort of like, I don’t know if you’d call it proof of concept or sample data in, sample data out.

AUDREY: But at least you could see the real effect and not be trained by that after the fact.

CHRISTIE: Exactly. And then the piece goes on to further talk about, let’s see, where is it? There’s ‘make the source code fully public’. There’s also a thing about basically… so, they backed down from the requirement to make the code public and they said, well, let’s… “In seeking to address these concerns, the final law introduces a couple of problems of its own. Currently, Vacca said, the Council is “impeded in doing our oversight function” by a lack of access to basic knowledge. There is no readily accessible public information on how much the city spends on algorithmic services, for example…” That blew my mind a little bit.


CHRISTIE: “Or how much of New Yorkers’ data it shares with outside contractors. Given the Council’s own struggle to find answers, the question now is whether the task force will do any better.” So now, the bill is basically a task force, to put together a task force to study this and give recommendations.

AUDREY: And because it doesn’t have any power to change what anyone does, that really limits its effectiveness.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. There’s no requirement to abide by the recommendations and providing the task force with information is voluntary. It’s not compulsory.

AUDREY: So you could have major departments that decide that they want to keep doing what they’re doing and just refuse to participate entirely.

CHRISTIE: Right. So, there’s this link to this thing about qualified transparency which I didn’t read but I’m curious. That talks more about that middle ground of not sharing the source code but sharing something about it. And this reminded me of that. We talked in an episode recently, we talked about that DB2, I think it was a DB2 database that is the NYPD’s asset seizure database.

AUDREY: Right, yeah.

CHRISTIE: And how they couldn’t…

AUDREY: They couldn’t access it.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, yeah. And it’s not exactly the same but it’s another example of paying a lot of taxpayer dollars for IT services not really knowing what you’re getting, if it’s high-quality. Not having any way to hold those services accountable.

AUDREY: And this kind of outsourcing is really problematic in that it gives over control from the government to companies that just may not have the same intentions, even if the different intention is to keep you on contract. [Laughs] That may not actually be in the public interest.

CHRISTIE: Right. Anything else stand out to you? There’s another pitch for Cathy O’Neil’s “Weapons of Math Destruction” which I recommend.

AUDREY: I think it’s really interesting that this did go through a legislative process, that there was testimony, that it raised the profile of the issue for New Yorkers. And like you said about Sumana, getting involved and getting to see inside it, I think that’s often a missing aspect of civic engagement, you know? That most of us don’t give testimony, don’t go to city council meetings. And if this is something that brings another part of the city into that process, I think that’s really good just on its own, even if people aren’t getting the result that they want right now. It brings more people into the workings of the government.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. I was reading through it and my first response was a little bit of disappointment at having such a watered down result. But then I remembered that these kinds of changes are always very slow. And progress is glacially incremental. And that there is value in having a process and that this work sets the stage for further work, right?

AUDREY: Yeah. And because what got them there is a series of purchasing decisions, there’s another aspect of it. The control over the budget. And so, even if they just are able to document some part of what’s going on in terms of what they’re spending money on, where it’s coming from, that also creates another lever. Because again, part of what city governments do is they create budgets and they vote them in. Does that make sense?

CHRISTIE: Mmhmm, yeah.

AUDREY: That’s another way, another angle on accessing what’s going on here.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. And I think the key to remember is that people have to be willing to engage and put their energy towards this stuff. Sumana notes in her blog posts, “So those of us who want to keep momentum going on this issue will have to note who’s been appointed, submit testimony when the opportunity arises, and find a way to sustainably pay attention to it.” That really stood out to me.


CHRISTIE: And I think there’s also something like, okay, New Yorkers didn’t get legislation to have the algorithms be published, the source code be published, but Sumana’s been writing about this process. Other people have been writing about this process. All of that is freely shared, right? So, there’s some knowledge-sharing that’s going on that I know it’s not exactly the same, but it’s… I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Do you know what I mean?

AUDREY: Yeah. They’re documenting the process, in a way that they could only do if they had participated and had the… not the knowledge, but had the reason to share it, right?

CHRISTIE: Mmhmm. And…

AUDREY: There are a lot of strategies people could employ, but the fact that people got out there and tried it and talked about it is important, too.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, and talking about what you did and writing it down like this means that the next time, if you’ve got something else to pay attention to in your life at that moment, the information is there for someone else to work on. It’s a group effort. And I think to me, that’s really important we’re talking about social change and civic action and citizenship. That individual engagement is really important but it’s also balanced across where people are individually at. And that it’s okay to share the burden.

AUDREY: Yeah, and there’s in terms of having an impact on city government and city governance, there’s a relationship building aspect of this that I think people often overlook on their first encounters. But the fact that there was a council member that was willing to make a stab at this, it also provides a point of connection. That there are people in government that might move forward if they have access to information, if they have an awareness who cares about it, if they see that their constituents are interested, then building those kinds of relationships is also how you move forward.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, and anybody can work on building those relationships. And city government is probably the most accessible government to you as an individual that there is. And I admit, this is something I struggle with because my professional life is so globally-oriented, because I’ve been working in open source for so long and I work remote that it is a very big context switch for me. I try to keep up with what’s going on here in Portland but it’s not the primary community that I have all my interaction with, which sounds weird. But if you’ve never gone to a city council meeting or whatever the equivalent is in your locality, oh maybe that’s a first step. Find out what is the structure of your city government, right? Find out who represents you at the city level. Find out how you can talk to them.


CHRISTIE: Or talk to one of their staffers.

AUDREY: There’s a peskiness aspect of it that…

CHRISTIE: You mean like squeaky wheels sort of?

AUDREY: Just one of the things that I’ve discovered about watching what Portland City Council does is that there are people that are notorious for being there at every single meeting. And it’s not always… it doesn’t always get them what they want. But it is a source of pressure.

CHRISTIE: It does help if you own a sportswear company.

AUDREY: [Laughs] There’s a lot of different ways to have access. But I mean, there are activists that show up at every single council meeting. And they have very specific agendas. And at least, it’s hard for the council to walk away and not acknowledge that, even if they don’t necessarily do what we’re asking.

CHRISTIE: Right, yeah. Alright, well I feel kind of inspired. I think I should figure out how to, I don’t know, go to a meeting or at least look at the meeting agenda or something. Maybe I’ll take that away as my homework.

AUDREY: They broadcast them here.


AUDREY: Mmhmm.

CHRISTIE: All of them?

AUDREY: I think so.

CHRISTIE: Goodness.

AUDREY: Because they started [Chuckles]… Oregon, most places probably had these public meeting laws that say that you can’t have a council meeting without people being allowed to attend. And one of our points of contention in Portland has been because some activists are a lot rowdier than others, they’ve started closing the council meetings sometimes to physical access. And so, they’ve been arguing that having a live broadcast has the same impact, which I don’t actually believe. [Laughs] But so, I know that they both post their agendas in advance and there’s a live stream.

CHRISTIE: Alright. See, I’d be curious to hear from listeners about their own experience interacting with city government. And I should also check in with Sumana about this, to see if she has any other comment beyond what’s in her blog post.

AUDREY: But yeah, there are lots of ways or lots of aspects of government where having technical expertise to share and those insights can be really valuable.

CHRISTIE: It’s amazing how locality really matters too. Like every system is going to be different. When I was down in San Francisco visiting my family the other week, Mayor Ed Lee died suddenly. And it just… I didn’t see the tweets about Ed Lee. First I first saw the tweets about they had a new acting mayor. And it reminded me that I had… I was suddenly realizing I remember how city government works here, because I’d been gone 10 years now. Anyway, anything else you wanted to mention about algorithmic accountability stuff?

AUDREY: I think this shows a lot of, just a lot of reasons that we care about it. And a lot of the ways that it’s very difficult to have an impact on it because we don’t know. We can’t see inside the box. And yeah, I hope people in more places will take a stab at just even having access to this kind of information.

CHRISTIE: When you’re dealing with entrenched systems, you have to start somewhere.

AUDREY: Mmhmm.

CHRISTIE: So, you shared with me this piece in New York Mag about Reality Winner. And I really enjoyed reading this. It made me a little sad. It’s called ‘The World’s Biggest Terrorist Has a Pikachu Bedspread’.

AUDREY: [Laughs]

CHRISTIE: Is Pikachu the yellow one that is one of the most common ones?


CHRISTIE: “Not every leaker is an ideological combatant like Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning. Reality Winner may be the unlikeliest of all.” I do want to say in this they do use Manning’s deadname once. Let’s see. So, what stood out for you about this, Audrey?

AUDREY: Well, we talked about when she was first arrested because we didn’t know a lot at that point. We understood generally what she was being accused of but also that her family and her community had reflected this, this idea that she wasn’t somebody who had necessarily gone in to blow things up. And I was really struck by her optimism, that she had acquired skills and acquired expertise and taken work that she really hoped would make a difference. And it can be very disillusioning to have the ability to change something and to not see that happening.

CHRISTIE: Right. And there, I’m actually surprised how thorough this portrait seems to be given that it’s pretty clear Winner hasn’t been able to actually talk to journalists. So, this must all be gleaned. I’m guessing this is gleaned from talking with her family. And from court.

AUDREY: Yeah. Well, some of the specifics are communication with her sister from before she was arrested.

CHRISTIE: Right. And I got the sense that they might be looking at court records, too.

AUDREY: That would definitely make sense.

CHRISTIE: And when I, right ahead of starting our broadcast I tweeted that we’re going to be talking about this and someone sent me a site that is “Stand with Reality”. And it looks like there’s a link to the court documents in the case, which I didn’t have time to click through before we started.

AUDREY: Yeah, I saw that she has been denied bail twice. She’s being held in a county jail.


AUDREY: And I don’t think the trial starts until March.


AUDREY: So, she’s going to be spending some time in there.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, she’s at a county jail with no bail.

AUDREY: On federal charges.

CHRISTIE: It is weird how detainment works in these things. One thing that did stick out to me was that there were a number of compounding factors. I don’t know if they contributed to her decision to leak the documents but they were around that time, and that her father died. And there’s a quote in here about that he was really an outlet for her for some of these frustrations about not being able to help more and that she felt understood by him. And that him dying I think removed some of that outlet or at least had… even just the grief, right? So that, and then they cite specific numbers in here of… so basically, it sounds like she has a gift for languages and learned several Afghan languages in addition to Farsi and Arabic. And so, she would listen to conversations in those languages, surveillance. And it sounds like sometimes it was realtime to assist in drone missions.

AUDREY: And she found that traumatic.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, and these numbers…

AUDREY: Her work was being used to kill people very specifically.

CHRISTIE: Right, yeah. It says “As a matter of record, she helped kill hundreds of people. A commendation she received in October 2016 praises her for ‘assisting in geolocating 120 enemy combatants during 734 airborne sorties.’ She is commended for ‘removing more than 100 enemies from the battlefield.’ She aided in 650 ‘enemy captures’ and 600 ‘enemies killed in action.’” I mean, these are like huge numbers.


CHRISTIE: And so, the piece talks about how she really was committed to combatting ISIS and helping not just Americans but the people that live in the countries where ISIS has a presence and is committing violence.

AUDREY: The article notes at one point that she had made donations in support of the White Helmets in Syria and yeah.

CHRISTIE: Right. And then what she really wanted out of her Air Force career was to be in those areas interacting with people and doing more directly humanitarian work. And I lost my [inaudible] to that a little bit. But yeah, I think… so, this thing that happened with the pilot, where did it go? I just lost it. Oh, the Jordanian pilot. Anyway, this is terrible. But… And the other thing that really stood out to me and that touched upon what we had talked about when the news first hit was her motivation for leaking the particular document. And it was not in an area that she worked. So, it was interesting that, it’s always interesting to me that people have access to these things.

AUDREY: Right.

CHRISTIE: Because to me, that…

AUDREY: Yeah, I guess we had talked about that some, whether [chuckles] this was a fairly significant security loophole, right? It wasn’t related to her work. It’s interesting that she had access to it. And it doesn’t sound like… It’s not like she hacked the system to get access. This was something that her login would provide.

CHRISTIE: Right. And it doesn’t sound like it was a case, it wasn’t a case like Edward Snowden where he is an administrator. And it sort of makes sense for him to have access to a broad range of access.

AUDREY: Yeah. So, the contractor that she worked for, are they being investigated? I haven’t seen anything about that. But it seems like not handling secure information correctly would be kind of an issue.

CHRISTIE: Right. And…

AUDREY: I knew like with medical data [Laughs] you can’t just go and look at a different department’s thing without a reason.

CHRISTIE: Right, and that’s another thing that the article talks about, is the structure of the intelligence state and just how much money is funneled toward intelligence and how much of that is funneled through contractors and subcontractors.


CHRISTIE: And just like with the algorithm stuff, there isn’t much transparency or accountability into what all is happening. And it’s like, the excuses go beyond proprietary business, whatever. It’s like espionage. And yeah, so it touches a little bit upon what we, this thing we’ve been calling the deep state. This quote I did [inaudible], it says “If your definition of ‘deep state’ cannot accommodate an idealistic 25-year-old CrossFit fanatic with unmatched socks, you’ve underestimated both the reach and scope of American surveillance.”

AUDREY: Yeah. And I like that the article got into that scope and just the sheer number of people that are involved in this kind of work. That it’s not like it’s a fully automated process. And that’s something that comes back to those algorithms too, right? That there’s people in the process and so people have an impact on what happens, how things get determined. And the stuff that they’re doing, the work that they’re doing has an impact on them. It’s not a neutral thing to be translating for drone operators. And it’s not a neutral thing to be looking at some of those kinds of information.

CHRISTIE: And there’s this interesting thing, some sort of classism and access to education also plays into this.


CHRISTIE: So, as she looked for work outside of the Air Force, even though she spoke multiple Afghan languages, was fluent in them, she couldn’t find a way to get out of basically this intelligence work. And the article supposes that this is because she didn’t have a college degree. She was accepted to one of the Texas schools with full scholarship but wanted to get right to work. And so, it says “Reality did not have a college degree, but she was one of 1.4 million Americans with Top Secret clearance, which is to say that she had something to sell. Contractors are sometimes called body shops, and the bodies they want are security-cleared, readily found on sites like ClearedConnections.com, which Reality frequented. Augusta was full of contractors paying good money for cleared linguists, and Reality accepted a job with Pluribus International, a small operation owned by the son of a former CIA operative.”

AUDREY: And there are a lot of these contracting companies, yeah.


AUDREY: So, that’s kind of an interesting aspect of the process, though. It was her military experience that got her the clearance, right? And she could have gotten that by working from a government agency, too. So, they’re getting a pre-cleared person that the military has already assessed and then yeah. I don’t know, sort of exporting that expertise.

CHRISTIE: I wonder what Eisenhower would say if we woke him up.

AUDREY: [Laughs]

CHRISTIE: Because I feel like this is just a military industrial complex, like to this really absurdly logical extent.

AUDREY: Oh yeah, yeah. No, it’s like a country within a country.

CHRISTIE: Can you imagine doing 12-hour shifts where all you’re doing is listening and translating?

AUDREY: It sounds exhausting.

CHRISTIE: I [sighs] I mean, when we did our telethon, 3 hours in I was like, “Oh my god. I need to sleep for two days.”

AUDREY: Well in general, interpreters in civilian work are not put on the job in that way. People’s ability to work and be accurate degrades pretty quickly when you don’t get breaks off of that.

CHRISTIE: Okay. So, back to her motivation. So, she had listened to a podcast from The Intercept. I’ll be honest, at this point I have muted Glenn Greenwald and The Intercept from Twitter because I just… I appreciate Greenwald’s role in the Snowden leaks but I just… the weird support of Assange and… I mean, they’ve had a lot of denial about the Russian interference in the election.

AUDREY: Yeah. No, I don’t find them very reliable or trustworthy anymore and I think how they handled this leak is still very disappointing.

CHRISTIE: Right. So, she heard a podcast where they basically were like kind of handwave-y about the Russian interference and basically said, “Yeah, there’s stuff out there.” Oh, here’s the quote. “’There is a tremendous amount of hysterics, a lot of theories, a lot of premature conclusions being drawn around all of this Russia stuff,’ said Scahill on the podcast in March. ‘And there’s not a lot of hard evidence to back it up. There may be evidence, but it’s not here yet.’ But Reality had tumbled across some evidence.


CHRISTIE: And in part, I think it sounds like the article makes it out that she was, it was somewhat boredom that led her to poke around.

AUDREY: That she wasn’t necessarily looking for secrets. [Laughs] That could do some damage. Well again, like I said, the internal security at this contractor, it seems questionable to me that she could do this.

CHRISTIE: The article makes it…

AUDREY: Because it was so far outside of her assigned area of work.

CHRISTIE: Right. I mean, there’s that… it’s just a security principle that you have access to just what you need to have access to, to do your job.


CHRISTIE: But we all know that in practice, that’s much harder because then you’ll have to be able to categorize what stuff is. And…

AUDREY: Yeah. Well, and I don’t know. I just find something really painful about the amount of money that we’re spending [Laughs], if that makes sense. We’re spending so much money on such a [sighs] ineffective process, on so many levels. And I think this gets back to what happened with her, too. That she comes in with a lot of idealism and optimism and sees that it really is just this machine that grinds things to a pulp and not, I don’t know. [Laughs] And not very effective or enlightened or anything.

CHRISTIE: And I think something happens to people when you put them in a system where they are disconnected from, oh I don’t know, disconnected from decision-making and being engaged and whatnot. Yeah, so it says “The classified report on the Russian cyberattack was not a document for which Reality had a ‘need to know’, which is to say she wasn’t supposed to be reading it in her spare time, let alone printing it, and were she to print it for some reason, she was required to place it in a white slatted box called a ‘burn bag’.” This combined with the article information about the ‘insider threat’ training which is the… it sounded like it started under Obama, about training people to recognize potential leakers, it says “Reality…”

AUDREY: It doesn’t, oh it just doesn’t sound effective. [Laughs]

CHRISTIE: No. It says “Reality characterized her own insider-threat training as ‘five hours of bitching about Snowden’.”


CHRISTIE: Yeah, so she folded up the doc and then mailed it to The Intercept. And again, we talked about this when the source came out, and I believe at the time we were thinking that The Intercept really did not handle this well.


CHRISTIE: And basically put her, exposed her. And I don’t know that she would not have been caught had they not done this. But it says…

AUDREY: This made it very, very straightforward.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. It says “The reporters decided, per standard journalistic practice, to contact someone who could verify its authenticity. What is less standard — what Thomas Drake calls ‘abhorrent’ and Tim Shorrock calls ‘just shameful’ and investigative journalist Barton Gellman called ‘egregious’ — is for a reporter to provide a copy of the document itself, which could help reveal precisely who had provided it.” And that’s exactly what it did, because of those, what do they call them again, the dots?

AUDREY: Yeah. The printer dots that identify it.

CHRISTIE: Right. I thought this was interesting. “The Intercept declines to comment for this story, though its parent company is contributing to Reality’s defense.”

AUDREY: [Laughs] So, somebody might be feeling a little bit bad.


AUDREY: About that. Yeah. And well, the defense is interesting, too. She pled not guilty and I imagine that intent is part of this, not just whether they can prove that she had the document, but that she would have intended to use it in a harmful way.

CHRISTIE: I think I read something that said intent actually doesn’t…

AUDREY: Doesn’t matter in these charges?

CHRISTIE: Well, okay, a couple of things.

AUDREY: Oh, Wikipedia’s got a link.


AUDREY: Gathering, transmitting, or losing defense information. Okay yeah, that would make intent separate, or the…

CHRISTIE: And what’s worse is they are spinning her journals and private communication with her family as… there’s a lot of character shaming that goes on, it sounds like it’s going on.

AUDREY: Yeah, which is why a profile like this is really important for us to see what she may have intended, where she’s coming from. Again, [Laughs] if she’s a number one terrorist, she’s one who likes Pokemon, eats kale, and really wanted to do good.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, it says “In recent Espionage Act cases, prosecutors have successfully argued that the intention of the leaker is irrelevant, as is the perceived or actual value of the leak to the public.”

AUDREY: Right.

CHRISTIE: Which I find really depressing.

AUDREY: Yeah, yeah. This is one of those weird things about classified information though, that even if everybody knows this, and I think the article mentions this about her defense, that even if everybody knows it, it’s been in the news, if it’s classified, they’re still not allowed to use it.

CHRISTIE: Right. It’s a [man name] game.

AUDREY: And I get this impression that she’s kind of caught in the middle of these two systems. Again, she had access to something that wasn’t officially her job that was classified. And everybody knows it now. [Laughs] And there were lots of other things that revealed very similar information. So, she’s caught in this weird collision between those two things where she had access, it’s possible, it happened. And yet nobody will accept that as the actual reality of the information. Reality [Laughs] You know?


AUDREY: But yeah, right? That seems pretty painful to be right in the middle of that. And that that can happen to somebody.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. One document, too.


CHRISTIE: She can do a really amazing wheel. There’s this photo of her exercising.

AUDREY: Oh, her yoga pose.



CHRISTIE: So [sighs], okay. We’ll link to the New York Mag thing and StandWithReality.org with all kinds of information about supporting her and updates about the trial which is scheduled to begin March 19th in Augusta, Georgia. And there’s that link to the court documents, too.

AUDREY: Yeah, yeah. And I wish her the best.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, me too. Okay. I get a little nervous talking about it though. Even expressing support, like, draw negative attention, you know?

AUDREY: Yeah. Wow.

CHRISTIE: Too late now.

AUDREY: [Laughs] No, I’m just… I’m thinking it goes back to what we were talking about with transparency and ability to evaluate things. If we don’t know these things and if we don’t talk about these things, they can’t get better. If we hope to have a reasonable discussion and something actually happen about Russian hacking [Laughs] of election systems, then we have to know that it’s happening. We have to have that information. And it’s not okay to squash that, to deny that, to punish people for shedding light on it. And so yeah, we shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable that we care about this and that we talk about it.

CHRISTIE: Well, at some point degree of impact or relative impact has to start coming back into these things. And not just the letter of it, especially…

AUDREY: Well, and I’m also thinking with this congressional hearings. Our Senator Wyden is really an expert at telling us what he knows he’s not supposed to say by asking for testimony [Laughs] on things. He really has a knack for this, saying “Well, I’d really like to know what we know about ,” indicating very clearly that he’s heard something classified that he thinks we have a right to know.

CHRISTIE: Mmhmm. So, there are ways to do it.

AUDREY: When you have the right kind of access, the right kind of power. [Laughs] It’s very different for a senator to sit there and do that, than a contractor.

CHRISTIE: But Wyden’s an outlier in that, is what I mean.

AUDREY: Yeah. Oh yeah, yeah. No, I like our senators a lot because they do that kind of thing.

CHRISTIE: Ugh. [Chuckles] Exhausted talking about this stuff. So, Sarah Jeong has a piece in The Verge from I guess right before Christmas called ‘Vulnerabilities and Exploits’. What happened when the infosec community outed its own sexual predators. When I read through this I’m like, “Is this a regular reporting article? Is this an op-ed?” It read to me kind of like, I don’t know what that’s called, a summary/overview piece, like “Here’s where we’re at.”

AUDREY: Yeah, yeah.


AUDREY: Well, and it’s situated in these different contexts. The ‘me too’ conversation that’s been happening over the last several months about harassment and abuse in a variety of industries. Our understanding of infosec and security industries, which ties back to what we’re talking about with government contractors, and The Intercept. [Laughs] Intercept is a part of this because of who they’d hired and who they advocate for. And yeah, I don’t know. These things are… it’s very timely. These things are all tied together in a lot of different ways.

CHRISTIE: Did The Intercept hire one of these people in this article?

AUDREY: I think, if I remember correctly, the security researcher I think had worked for them.

CHRISTIE: I thought he worked for SysLab…

AUDREY: Am I mixing up publications?

CHRISTIE: I don’t know. Who knows? There was a different organization that cut ties with him.

AUDREY: Maybe I’m just thinking about The Intercept supporting Assange.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. I mean, it… Yeah, I’ll have to look that one up.

AUDREY: No, I’m right. Sorry, I found it on Wikipedia. Yeah, he was a contributing writer at The Intercept.


AUDREY: Marquis-Boire? It doesn’t actually have the pronunciation here.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, I don’t know how to pronounce his name either. Yeah, so it traces… it starts with talking about Jake Appelbaum and Tor and how that was very, even though Appelbaum is well-known to be problematic, the moment was a controversy, not a reckoning. And then we had the Weinstein stuff. I thought this was a good point. “There is nothing inherent in men to make them sexual predators; sexual…” I’m going to have to content-warning this damn podcast now. I guess we should… we’re live. I forgot. Content warning. Ugh.

AUDREY: Something for us to work on.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. Okay. “There is nothing inherent in men to make them sexual predators; sexual harassment, particularly of the kind that is being revealed over and over again in this moment, is a systemic cultural failure where men are repeatedly given a pass when they don’t deserve one.”

AUDREY: Yeah. And she talks about that more in the context of DEFCON and infosec events, that the burden gets placed on women and people who might be at risk of assault to be aware instead of [Laughs], instead of making it the other direction. [Inaudible]

CHRISTIE: Right. And she draws a parallel that there’s this big thing in infosec culture with, if you get hacked it’s on you because you were warned. So, if you get assaulted, you were warned.

AUDREY: Yeah. You should have just somehow protected against that, instead of not having the power to stop it. There’s this really gross thing that happens at events like that in terms of the hacking. Like, shame on you if you brought a phone [Laughs] that you were actually using that was susceptible to these things.


AUDREY: It doesn’t create room for beginners, for newbies, for people who don’t have access to information backchannels, networks, whatever.

CHRISTIE: No, and that culture of hacking is based on one that routinely violates consent. Who gets consent to hack into a system?

AUDREY: Yeah. And part of why I wanted that kind of hacking to always be part of The Recompiler is because I think there’s a different way to approach it. I think there are good ways for us to talk about this kind of education that don’t start there.

CHRISTIE: There’s a different way to approach hacking.

AUDREY: Yeah. Well, and to learn it. It doesn’t have to be about violating consent, about causing harm. We can be exploring things together.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, there wasn’t really new info in this article for me. I think it’s a good summary. I thought it was interesting that it came out right before, what is the event, Chaos Computer Congress?

AUDREY: Yeah, C3.

CHRISTIE: Is is Chaos Computer Congress?

AUDREY: Oh, I always forget because they do two things. There’s a camp in the summer. Chaos Computer Club is the organization. And…

CHRISTIE: Chaos Communication Congress?

AUDREY: Something like that.

CHRISTIE: Okay. Anyway, C3. I think most people just say C3. This came out right before that started. And right as it was getting going, someone posted about how, someone who had been a subject of assault by another attendee, brought it to the organizer’s attention. And basically, they didn’t want to deal with it. And the person was allowed to attend. And it’s just another… I heard… C3 is one of those things that sounds interesting but the number of things I’ve heard about it and given the fact that it’s in a country whose primary language is not English, I would just not feel safe going.

AUDREY: Yeah. And it’s… oh, this is one of the things that just really [Laughs] it really drives a lot of my work. But there are great talks that happen there. There are great conversations that happen there that we don’t feel like we have safe access to it. Again, it limits who gets to know these things, to have these things, to participate, to be a part of communities. And it’s egregious.

CHRISTIE: When we had a little bit of back and forth about this as stuff was getting posted and you had mentioned yeah, given the fact where C3 is and not having a lot of close connections in the German hacking community, I wouldn’t feel safe. And you mentioned that there’s a portion of the German hacking community that is actually taking these things very seriously and [inaudible]…

AUDREY: Yes, yeah.

CHRISTIE: Set up alternatives, bases that are safer. And then is Ida Nowhere the space? I’m in trouble pronouncing this.


CHRISTIE: [Inaudible].

AUDREY: Oh, yeah. They have… hold on, let me click on this. So, I heard about Berlin CryptoParty because I think they’re using some of the same Code of Conduct materials that we helped develop. I’m clicking on that too to check the attribution. I think we had had a chat about this at some point. Berlin Code of Conduct. Yeah. There’s a couple of different things that have come into it. Yeah. Okay. Berlin Code of Conduct is based on the code of conduct that we helped write. They got it from the Portland Ruby Brigade, which is really interesting, this chain from Open Source Bridge to Portland Ruby Brigade to the Berlin hacking group and from there to the Berlin CryptoParty.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. If I could go back and do a little better with the method of citation for the Citizen Code of Conduct, I would, because when I search for phrases from it I find a lot of people using it that aren’t crediting us. They are often crediting someone down the line, which is fine. But just something I hadn’t really… I wasn’t really prepared to think about that time. I don’t think any of us were. We were busy running our own conference and non-profit.

AUDREY: Yeah. Well, and it migrates as people interpret it, too. And it’s been really cool to see what communities it has an impact on. But in any case, there is a parallel thing going on in Berlin right now with this other group that’s offering a space where they have very explicitly kicked out certain people. And they’ve made a lot of public statements about what isn’t acceptable. And so, there is some place for people to meet and to be a part of the hacker community locally without having to go to an event that they may consider harmful.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. And I think it’s a really important reminder that if you, and again this takes resources and energy and all that, but if you’re not getting what you need from the existing community, you can form others.

AUDREY: And sometimes we just all have to get out there and shout [Laughs] to find the people that are on our side so that we can do these things together.

CHRISTIE: And I have found that when you make the brave decision to be like, “We’re going to have a code of conduct. This is how it’s going to be,” some people are going to complain. Some people are going to ignore you. But there’s going to be people that have been waiting and thirsting for that and want to build it with you.

AUDREY: I was just having a conversation about this yesterday, how I feel like there is this shift that’s happened where we don’t have to make time for people who are going to sit there and say, “Oh, we don’t need that,” because enough people have gotten out there and tried the opposite, tried to have spaces that do better. And so, it’s possible to start from that standpoint of, we care about people’s safety.

CHRISTIE: Right. I think that’s a really good point, that you don’t have to process everybody’s objections. It’s okay. And we’ve been outlining the second edition for the event planning book. I was thinking about, I can’t remember if this is in there already or not, but I really want to include information about what we’ve learned about feedback over the years. Like, how to solicit it, how to incorporate it. The fact that there’s a certain set of feedback that you’ll always receive that you don’t need to do anything with, because it’s not aligned with your goals. And it’s okay to be like, “Okay. Heard that,” and then set it over here and not spend energy on it.

AUDREY: Yeah. And I guess one of the things that I’ve learned that, if you are doing it right [Laughs] and by right I mean you’re doing something that’s healthy for your community, if you are doing that right, then people will come along and disagree with how you’re doing it and disagree with your goals and say they’re going to go off their own way. And if what you’re doing really is listening and respectful and caring, then they don’t have anywhere to go. [Laughs] You’re throwing a better party. So, those things tend to fizzle out. It’s where there are institutions of power that continue to protect harmful people, that’s where it doesn’t work. And that’s why the kicking and screaming is so important, because there’s no reason for C3 to continue like this. There really isn’t. And I hope that speakers will be evaluating their participation in that.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. Because there’s still quite a few people in my timeline who were there. Mostly men, I think. Sage Sharp had a good tweet thread about code of conduct smells that we should link to with this.

AUDREY: There’s a blog post. Yeah.

CHRISTIE: And a blog post, yeah. We’ll link to that. And yeah, just a reminder that people including Sage Sharp and Audrey, you do a bit of this, do code of conduct incidents training. And that is a thing that you can get help with.

AUDREY: Yeah. You could hire people to help you implement your code of conduct, to be trained on how to respond to these kinds of things. I’m working on a follow-up training, because we do this initial thing of, “Here’s your incident response plan then here’s how you take reports.” There’s a second level, and Christie you definitely appreciate this, that’s around accountability and governance. So, I’m starting to work on a training around that to help people understand. And this is something that the infosec community is having to confront head-on, that it isn’t always as simple as just an average member of your community doing something one time. Sometimes you have very entrenched abusers. And you have hard decisions to make about who you protect and how you protect them.

CHRISTIE: Right. And that’s exactly why in my work, I’ve really chosen to focus on the higher level of governance and structural things because what I… well one, I just got burnout on the other stuff. But I found that so many problems that come up are a result of not paying attention to governance, or bad decisions or whatever, that allow problems to happen in the first place and then allow no mechanism for dealing with them.

AUDREY: Yeah. Organizers sometimes, and communities, sometimes put themselves in the position of having very little power over what’s going on. And again, that’s why these parallel spaces exist, why they get created, because of that.

CHRISTIE: And it’s also easy to create those parallel spaces. And if you haven’t done that work, to find yourself with different sets of problems.

AUDREY: But stuck in the same position.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. Okay. So, your favorite thing on the internet this week. You told me about it.


CHRISTIE: It involves NASA.

AUDREY: It does involve NASA.

CHRISTIE: And dolls.

AUDREY: And dolls. Oh, yeah. [Laughs] So, something I don’t put on my professional resume is that I am into American Girl, the dolls. I think they have a really cool universe of these characters and how they’ve developed it. And they do a thing every year called the Girl of the Year. And they expose girls to different hobbies and different potential careers, different lives, backgrounds. And I am so excited that the 2018 Girl of the Year, and there’ll be a doll and a movie and a bunch of books, is about a girl who wants to be an astronaut.

CHRISTIE: Awesome.

AUDREY: That is so really cool. [Laughs] I mean, I don’t know. This is just one of those things that I’ve loved since I was personally 11 years old and thinking about astronauts. And so, it’s very cool to see that actually happen. It looks like she’s going to get a space suit.


AUDREY: Oh, this is so cool. Yeah. No, I mean I would have killed for this when I was 11.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. This stuff was few and far between when we were young. So, it’s nice to see more of it. Yeah, it would be a good complement to the NASA, the Lego NASA Women set that came out.

AUDREY: Yeah. I haven’t assembled mine yet. But I’m going to.

CHRISTIE: My favorite thing on the internet, this is a weird one, but I’m teaching myself how to play guitar. And I played trumpet as a kid. And so, my favorite thing on the internet is kind of very old technology in terms of internet years, but it’s the fact that the books come with mp3 tracks that you can play sometimes directly in a website and you can slow down the tempo, speed it up, loop certain parts of the song, things like that. And I was using one of this learning a track and I just really, really appreciate because I flash back to trumpet lessons when I was 10 or 11. And what my instructor would do was I had a cassette tape and put the cassette tape in the boom box and he would play a bit of the thing I was trying to learn and then send me home with that. And there was no… the quality was shitty because it was the same old cassette tape over and over again. And there was no speeding it up, slowing it down. And I guess if I had a more fancy tape recorder, maybe I could have done that.

AUDREY: But in general, you listen and you do your best.

CHRISTIE: Right. It means you fumble along with it at the tempo that it’s at, yeah. So, I was just really appreciating the amount you can teach yourself now because of online access. And so, not only access of instructional material but even just something as simple as mp3s that you can change the playback speed of and loop and things like that.


CHRISTIE: That’s what I’ve been appreciating.

AUDREY: Are you going to play for the podcast sometime?

CHRISTIE: If… sure, once I am actually playing recogni-… well, I can play…

AUDREY: [Laughs]

CHRISTIE: I can play very simple versions of ‘Ode to Joy’ and ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘When the Saints go Marching In’ and I’m practicing ‘Greensleeves’ right now.


CHRISTIE: And I know three chords that sort of sound like chords. So yeah, but I’ve only been at this 10 days or so.

AUDREY: [Laughs] So, you’re making some progress.

CHRISTIE: Yeah. It’s really weird because when you’re learning stuff that requires your body to do stuff, it’s like, I really have to set the rational mind aside. Because it’s not a super rational process. It’s like, my fingers aren’t doing what I want them to do. I can be mad at them but being mad at them isn’t going to help. You just have to spend 30 minutes trying to do it and then put it aside until the next day. And then 30 more minutes the next day. And then after [inaudible]…

AUDREY: It takes time to integrate that, yeah.

CHRISTIE: Right. But it’s not… I don’t realize I’m integrating it. It’s just the next time I pick up the guitar it’s like, “Oh, I can actually play that chord without wanting to rip the strings off the guitar.”

AUDREY: [Laughs]

CHRISTIE: So, if you’ve learned an instrument or doing some kind of mind/body practice recently, it’s probably not surprising but it’s been interesting to observe in myself. And it’s been a really nice thing to do to just set aside 30 minutes a day to do that. Sort of gives my overactive mind something, just a way to calm down.

AUDREY: Yeah, that’s really cool.

CHRISTIE: Alright. I think that’s our show for the week. Thanks Audrey. Thanks everyone for listening. Happy new year to everyone. And I believe we’ll be, I’ll be posting last week’s episode today. And then this one…

AUDREY: Today being the 29th.

CHRISTIE: Yeah, today being the 29th. And then hopefully I will publish this episode Tuesday the 2nd. And then…

AUDREY: Alright. We’ll be…

CHRISTIE: So, we should be recording…

AUDREY: Broadcasting live again in the 5th.

CHRISTIE: On the 5th, yes. That’s where I was going with that. Cool. Alright, thanks Audrey. Thanks everyone for listening. I think we’re going to sign off now.

AUDREY: Great. Thank you.

CHRISTIE: Bye-bye.

And that’s a wrap. You’ve been listening to The Recompiler Podcast. You can find this and all previous episodes at recompilermag.com/podcast. There you’ll find links to individual episodes as well as the show notes. you’ll also find links to subscribe to The Recompiler Podcast using iTunes or your favorite podcatcher. If you’re already subscribed via iTunes, please take a moment to leave us a review. It really helps us out. Speaking of which, we love your feedback. What do you like? What do you not like? What do you want to hear more of? Let us know. You can send email feedback to podcast@recompilermag.com or send feedback via Twitter to @recompilermag or directly to me, @christi3k. You can also leave us an audio comment by calling 503 489 9083 and leave in a message. The Recompiler podcast is a project of Recompiler Media, founded and led by Audrey Eschright and is hosted and produced by yours truly, Christie Koehler. Thanks for listening.