Download: Episode 53.
This week Audrey and I chat about Amazon Alexa’s laughing bug, Google helping the military develop AI for drones, the crypto event that dosed its attendees with cannabis, and more. Enjoy!
- [01:37] The Responsible Communication Style Guide is headed back to the printers!
- [04:31] Issue 9: Hard problems – The Recompiler
- [05:06] Hire Christie!
- [06:39] Amazon has a fix for Alexa’s creepy laughs – The Verge
- [11:07] Episode 47: Legitimizing a Shoplifting-like Behavior – The Recompiler
- [15:46] The House That Spied on Me
- [17:02] Google Is Helping the Pentagon Build AI for Drones
- [28:06] At This Crypto Event, the Attendees Really Were High | WIRED
- [35:34] The Decentralist Perspective, or Why Bitcoin Might Need Small Blocks
- [47:36] Safety First PDX
- [49:58] Something mysterious has been happening to some clocks on the European continent.
The Responsible Communication Style Guide is headed back to the printers!
When we sold out of print copies of The Responsible Communication Style Guide last fall, we promised to do another print run in early 2018. We’re happy to announce that we’re ready.
If you’ve been waiting to pick up a printed book (or enough for the rest of the office so they stop filching your copy), this is your chance. Order now!
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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 53. This week Audrey and I chat about Amazon Alexa’s laughing bug, Google helping the military develop AI for drones, the crypto event that dosed its attendees with cannabis, and more. Enjoy!
Does daylight saving start this weekend?
AUDREY: I think it does because I saw a bunch of people complaining about it which is totally fair. Daylight savings is terrible.
CHRISTIE: I’d be complaining about it if I realized. It feels way early but I guess that’s still a product of the changes that…wait, did Bush too do those changes?
CHRISTIE: Okay, so they’re not recent anymore. I’m just holding on to…
AUDREY: No, we may not have fully accepted that we’re stuck with it because we change like two weeks before Europe does.
CHRISTIE: Right. Okay, so Friday March 9th. We’re live on the air. This is going to be Episode 53 of The Recompiler podcast. I’m Christie Koehler. This is Audrey Eschright.
CHRISTIE: And do you have any announcements for us, Audrey?
AUDREY: I do. We’re doing something that we’ve been talking about for a few months which is we’re reprinting The Responsible Communication Style Guide. Quite thrillingly. We sold through our first batch pretty quickly and we kind of put off doing a reprint because there’s a minimum order that we need to cover. And so now, we’ve kind of gotten our things in order and we’re ready to do it. And we’re taking pre-orders through April 15th.
CHRISTIE: Awesome. And are you going to slip any corrections or updates or anything like that in the reprint?
AUDREY: Yeah. The index, we’re re-indexing it.
CHRISTIE: Index seems like a hard thing.
AUDREY: It totally is. And actually, I just talked to Hawnuh, our visual designer, who’s also doing that and she said that it was informative but she’s just taking on a couple items at a time because there’s a lot there. But unfortunately after we printed the book, we discovered that after a certain point in the index, there’s an off-by-two error. It’s not so much that you won’t find what you’re looking for. We had to do a recall on this, obviously. Everybody gets a digital copy anyhow, so they can always search that way. But yeah, I wanted to make sure that if we’re reprinting it, that we got that fixed.
CHRISTIE: Awesome. I can tell you have a feline fan in the background.
AUDREY: Yeah. Can you hear Kirk?
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Hi Kirk!
AUDREY: I think Kirk is in the hallway and he’s got a toy in his mouth again.
AUDREY: That’s what he does when he wants to play.
CHRISTIE: Yup. It’s so funny. He and Puck does the same thing about 12 hours later.
CHRISTIE: Awesome. Okay, any other announcements?
AUDREY: I was just going to say that’s the main one because the CFP for our Love and Romance issue has closed.
CHRISTIE: Yes, that’s what I was going to say. So that’ll be cool. You and the editor will get to start going through those entries and putting together that issue?
AUDREY: Yeah. There’s a [inaudible] guest editor for this issue. And this means that we have three issues that are in some state of progress right now which is fun but a little bit juggling for all of us.
CHRISTIE: I remember that from when I worked in technology publishing that I always had, and actually from event planning too. You always kind of have like the thing you just wrapped up, the thing you’re working on now, and the thing you’re planning.
AUDREY: And when there are changes that you want to make, you’ve got to find an appropriate place in the cycle to do that which is part of why it was really good in terms of the publication, what we can do with it. It was really good that we took a break at the end of year two. It gave us time to evaluate those things and regroup and kind of think about how to best go forward.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. Awesome. And so, the current issue that people can buy in the shop is…can you remind me? Is it Hard Problems?
AUDREY: Hard Problems.
CHRISTIE: And shop.recompilermag.com. And really subscribing is the best way that you can support what we’re doing here. So if you’re not a subscriber, it’d be great if you could check that out. You can do a digital only subscription as well as a print and digital subscription, right?
AUDREY: Yup, both options. And you can buy one for somebody else or get your office to buy one even.
CHRISTIE: Yes. Awesome. All right. Any other announcements, Audrey?
AUDREY: That’s it for this week.
AUDREY: I can’t really imagine you moving back to the Bay Area.
CHRISTIE: Oh no, definitely not. I mean, no. Ten years ago, I thought it was like, “Oh my God, this place is too much.” I’m happy to visit. My spouse has a growing practice here so I can’t. That’s way less portable than my job is.
AUDREY: Yeah, but I think there are going to be some good opportunities both in Portland and remote, like you said.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, I’m excited about it. In the meantime, we have plenty of time to podcast.
AUDREY: Yeah, we could do more.
CHRISTIE: All right. So first topic. A lot of people have been laughed at recently.
CHRISTIE: Awkwardly by the way by their…and unlike when we were first talking about this, my bot is on my desk, it’s muted right now. But Alexa apparently had been laughing randomly at people and kind of freaking them out.
AUDREY: Yeah. I think if any computing device in the room were to start laughing at me, I would be a little worried.
CHRISTIE: There’s not a lot like reporting on this. It’s basically that at a certain period of time, either earlier in the week or last week, it looks like the first person to report his experiences was February 22nd, so in the last couple of weeks, that randomly Alexa would laugh. And some people are even so disturbed by it that they unplugged their Alexa enabled devices. Amazon has since issued a statement basically saying the original command word to do this was, “Alexa laugh.” And now they’ve changed it to, “Alexa, can you laugh?” This didn’t happen to us. Although I did test the new version of it and she kind of goes, “Hihihi”. Have you heard it, Audrey, the new version?
AUDREY: No, I don’t think that you had…
CHRISTIE: Do you want to hear it real quick?
CHRISTIE: Okay, let’s see if this works. Alexa, can you laugh? “Sure, I can laugh. Hihi.” Is that loud enough for you to hear it all?
AUDREY: Yeah, just loud enough. That doesn’t sound anything like what I saw in the other videos.
CHRISTIE: No. So if they did change it then I think they also changed like that sound clip she’s playing or whatever.
AUDREY: I still have a lot of questions about this, though. For one thing, it seems like everybody, like you said, was reporting on it from a point of view of ‘here, we found 10 tweets’ which is how a lot of online reporting happens. But I don’t know. Just the way that Amazon explained the problem didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. It didn’t match what people were saying was happening.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I was also confused a little bit by the reports like the one video I saw from this CaptHandlebar person. It was a picture of a UE speaker and I don’t think they showed what it is attached to. So, that was a little weird. There’s a whole bunch of Alexa enabled devices so it could have been attached to that. So that just threw me a little bit. I think I have similar questions as you. I have experienced several times where Alexa will wake when we haven’t said the wake word. I can definitely see how that happens and I could see how such a short command like Alexa laugh. There’s a lot of room for error or variation in that. And then when you and I were first talking about this, I was wondering was someone experimenting with having Alexa laugh along with you? And so, were they also listening for laughter itself. And I thought about just all the different variation in how humans laugh. And that could potentially be like a hard thing to pattern match.
AUDREY: Right. And you might get a lot of false positives. There was one person though that said that they were just laying in bed falling asleep. And so there wouldn’t be a lot of deliberate noise at that point. Maybe if they were in an apartment building, you’d hear something next door. But either way that just, I don’t know, that sounded a little bit too random.
CHRISTIE: Especially because we just talked about that research that came out about how these home devices can be triggered with sounds that don’t sound like the commands that they’re given.
AUDREY: Yeah, that was actually what I wanted to say next. Because we know that there’s a lot of advertising based tracking, that happens using sound cues like that. I did wonder if…either way, it sounds like something shouldn’t have gotten deployed but did. But I wondered if it was something along those lines that Alexa was actually supposed to laugh in response to some other cue. That isn’t the one that they’re describing at all.
CHRISTIE: Right. And these things update themselves and you don’t really know when. I can’t remember if you go into the Alexa app if it tells you what firmware version it’s running. But even if it does, it’s not like I don’t think Amazon’s publishing detailed release notes about each of these.
CHRISTIE: And they’re updated over the air.
AUDREY: Alexa doesn’t turn on and say, “Hey, I’ve updated to a new software version. Here’s what’s changed.
CHRISTIE: Nope. Although I haven’t asked what software version it’s running. I should go have a conversation with Alexa after this, ask her some more questions.
AUDREY: See what you can find out.
In the app, you can actually go through the history of what Alexa has heard and you can play the sound clips. Of course I didn’t look very hard but I haven’t found someone who’s like gone and looked for that and shared what Alexa actually heard that made her wake and laugh. And maybe that didn’t get recorded.
AUDREY: One of the people said that when they asked the device, it said, “I don’t know.”
CHRISTIE: Interesting. But did they look at the app?
AUDREY: No, I don’t think so. I don’t think I saw anybody report that. Just that the reason that people were able to do videos is that they said, “Hey, can you do that again,” or whatever the phrase is for that.
CHRISTIE: Right, I see what you’re saying. It definitely feels like an anomaly. Knowing that we’re going to talk about this got me to look through the Echo app which I hadn’t done in a little while. And I noticed that they had added routines which are basically you can either give it a custom phrase like goodnight or have it trigger a routine a certain time. And right now, you can’t do a whole lot. You can have it say the weather, you can have it do something with a smart home device which we don’t have any of. And you can have it play your news briefing but you can also have Alexa just say something and you have to select from a given selection and they’re all categorized. So, one of them is, “Good Night,” and it just says things like, “Sleep tight.” And then there’s another one that they suggest you connect to a routine that’s like, “I’m home.” And it says like, “Welcome home, you’re the best. The cat missed you.” Stuff like that. And it’s just so conversational.
I understand that they need to…if you want to roll out a feature as soon as you can, you’re going to have to build a certain amount of artifice around it so that you can do a whole workflow. But it’s interesting that…to me, it’s another step and then making this robot thing a part of your household. I’m amused by that and also a little unsettled by it because it is kind of fun to talk to the phone that talks back to you. And it’s nice to hear nice things about yourself, even coming from the robot.
AUDREY: Friendly, welcoming things.
AUDREY: It makes me think a little bit of a couple of Ray Bradbury short stories that were about this kind of interaction. Having the house robot that just knew things, understood things, helped care for the family.
CHRISTIE: Isn’t the end of that short story that everyone’s gone and the house is still doing all that stuff.
AUDREY: They got nuked, but yeah.
CHRISTIE: Pretty sure, we talk about that short story periodically. Anything else with Alexa laughing at people?
AUDREY: Just that it ties back to that article ‘The House That Spied on Me’ and how…we both are learning to take these things for granted and finding that their collective behaviors and integration is not really what we expected.
CHRISTIE: I was explaining the routine stuff to Sherri and I was like, “Hey, if we get some smart bulbs then we could just say Alexa good night and it would like turn off all the lights for us and we wouldn’t have to go out.” And she just kind of looked at me like, “No.” So I said OK.
AUDREY: Oh, it’s such a pain to debug, right? And certainly with the laughter, we have no insight. We’re just making guesses. If your smart bulbs aren’t all turning off or…just the debugging process on that’s terrible.
CHRISTIE: Yeah and I’m sure I will get really frustrated. Again, it’s that there’s so many ways that like it’s a great assistive device and especially when they add some of these features. I’m still figuring out how to balance that with the creepy surveillance. Okey dokey, good times.
CHRISTIE: So in less amusing, more decidedly, I think creepy.
AUDREY: Yeah. Way over the other end of the scale.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. I wasn’t exactly surprised reading this. Google is helping the Pentagon build AI for drones. Oh, I just realized this image! They’ve overlaid it, the Google G. So another edition of ‘Christie discovers things everybody already knows’. Do you want to intro this one, Audrey?
AUDREY: It really just started with this little snippet of information that employees had heard about this program that Google is participating in. Obviously, some employees who were doing the work would have already known. But there started to be this internal conversation about Google’s participation in a specific Pentagon project on image recognition. And somebody leaked it, quite reasonably, if you have these kinds of concerns. And so the gist of what we know is that there’s a program to try to get private industry to help them with image processing to be able to identify on the fly the difference between a car and a building and a person and all those kinds of things. They went out of their way to emphasize that this is to be used for non-offensive capabilities. But they’re still helping just with the enormous amount of photographic information that the defense operations have. They’re helping them process it faster rate and helping them process it in a way that the Pentagon admits they have no capacity to do.
CHRISTIE: The article talks about how the Department of Defense has basically developed really advanced sensor technology. So they’re collecting all this data and the data they’re collecting has far exceeded what humans can actually review. So they want to build out their AI machine learning capabilities to basically have computers look at this data and flag things for human review. The project’s code name is Project Maven and then it also has an acronym term – the Algorithmic Warfare Cross-Functional Team (AWCFT). I don’t know how you say that. I think you just say AWCFT. So that was established last year to accelerate DoD’s integration of big data and machine learning.
Part of what they did…the thing that stood out to me here is that they identified that they needed to work with private industry. And so they’re working with this Defense Information Unit Experimental, the department’s tech incubation program, and the Defense Innovation Board, an advisory group created by former Secretary of Defense Ash Carter to bridge the technological gap between the Pentagon and Silicon Valley. And guess who chairs the Defense Innovation Board?
CHRISTIE: Eric Schmidt.
AUDREY: That does seem like a useful position for him.
CHRISTIE: And it seems like one of the things identified as an immediate need is the need to basically create, they say, a clearinghouse for training data that could be used to enhance the military’s AI capability. What I thought interesting about this is that the article says that Google is not set up to handle classified data. So this particular project is declassified data. And I think they’re basically using that classified data set to train their models basically.
AUDREY: And then they can provide those models to the Department of Defense to use in an actual deployment.
CHRISTIE: Right. And they’re using the open source [inaudible]. So once again, open source is not magic.
AUDREY: I mean, these sorts of programs just have huge application and we can joke about like machine learning as sort of the special secret sauce but there’s just so much money in Department of Defense technology activities that it just only makes sense that this is the direction that it would go, in terms of the way that resources are applied to it.
CHRISTIE: Right. There’s nothing particularly surprising about that, I think, if you pay attention to how government and industry works and what’s been going on and sort of machine learning and data science in industry like it just makes sense to me. There’s this really awful quote from Eric Schmidt saying that it demonstrates the…first I was going to say cluelessness but I actually don’t think it’s cluelessness. He says, “There’s a general concern in the tech community of somehow the military-industrial complex using their stuff to kill people incorrectly.”
AUDREY: Yeah, I thought that was noteworthy. Of course, you wouldn’t be worried that they’re killing people, but what if they killed the wrong people.
CHRISTIE: Oh, this is just…so, there’s that. I don’t know if the direct quotes from spokespeople are paraphrased but that this is only for defensive use which I think has become another sort of meaningless term and that they are going to continue to develop policies and safeguards around its use.
AUDREY: It’s sort of the ‘no, we’re not creating’ work-around, like, “No, we’re not training robots to kill people. We’re just training them to know who to kill. We’re just training them to assess other pieces of information relevant to that.”
CHRISTIE: And if there are side effects like when did the machine start laughing at us or maybe start killing us or…
AUDREY: Sub-refinement over practice.
AUDREY: Yeah. It’s not that it’s clueless. It’s that it’s disingenuous and creepy and disregarding the actual ethics of the situation.
CHRISTIE: Right. It’s this statement that worries me very much like an ulterior motive.
AUDREY: We talk sometimes about those captchas, these machine learning training exercises that when it asks you to find every street sign or every address, what it’s doing is training the model. And if you start getting those from satellite photos, I would think about what that means in this context. They’re going to need some other input. They’re going to need some verification. So, we already have systems for providing that.
CHRISTIE: Oh, my God. I hadn’t thought about that. You don’t think they have enough people in the DoD to do that? You think they’d have to use their public user base?
AUDREY: I’m just saying it’s cheaper. I don’t know.
CHRISTIE: So if you start getting overhead satellite images like, “Pick out all the vehicles.”
AUDREY: Yeah. I would think twice about that. I mean, drone imagery won’t look like that but I don’t know. I think it’s just worth paying attention to what we’re being asked to do.
CHRISTIE: And it’s so easy because these captchas usually come up in the process of you trying to do something else, trying to log in or something to do a task or create an account. And so, I know when I’m just trying to get stuff done and a little yak pops up like that, I usually just take the most expedient route to shave the yak and move on. And that’s sort of how they get you.
AUDREY: Next time I get one, I should try the non-visual option and see what it gives me.
CHRISTIE: Oh, okay. I like that idea. Yes.
AUDREY: It could be another machine learning task for all I know.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, probably.
AUDREY: But I could try.
CHRISTIE: Well, this is gross.
AUDREY: I am curious what impact, if any, the in-play response will have. If you don’t have any engineers who want to work on it and that seems sort of unlikely to me, but you have to have engineers who want to work on it to actually do the thing within Google.
CHRISTIE: Well, or who don’t care.
AUDREY: That’s a pretty common pattern too though that people tell themselves, “Well, it’s just the technology. It’s just about the data.” I mean, like the data in the most abstract way. It’s not about the application of it. And that’s not a very ethical standpoint. And that’s actually something we have an upcoming Recompiler article on, too.
CHRISTIE: Awesome. Online or in one of the issues?
AUDREY: It will be in the Science issue.
CHRISTIE: Okay, cool. shop.recompilermag.com. I think these systems are so complex that I think you could be contributing to building this and actually not necessarily know it.
AUDREY: For sure.
CHRISTIE: Okay. Well, that’s depressing.
AUDREY: No, it’s scary. It’s scary because we’re so far in and there’s just a lot of things that seems like a good idea that turn out to have really horrible applications.
CHRISTIE: And I think it’s just becoming clear like we continue to have case after case that demonstrates that there are unintended consequences in dealing with these complex systems. So not even the ones that are intended but also the unintended ones.
Okay, speaking of maybe unintended and intended consequences.
AUDREY: Really bad ideas? Speaking of extremely bad ideas?
CHRISTIE: Okay. So there was a…Thursday afternoon, so it must have been last week. There was an event, a conference called Crypto Sanctum in New York in the Flatiron neighborhood. I don’t know where that is. Do you know, Audrey?
AUDREY: I don’t know. I’ve never actually been to New York. I know what the Flatiron building is but…
CHRISTIE: Is that in New York?
AUDREY: Yeah. It’s got a distinctive shape.
CHRISTIE: Wait, is that the one that’s like triangular.
AUDREY: Kind of a wedge, does some weird stuff when the wind goes by.
CHRISTIE: Is it like wing like?
AUDREY: It makes noises. There’s a Wikipedia page for this section.
CHRISTIE: Okay, cool. Anyway, I’m going to extract it. So, they had this Crypto Sanctum conference and…
AUDREY: And it’s about Crypto currencies?
CHRISTIE: Yes. The event promised to connect people with right opportunities in the fast moving crypto and block chain space. And it had an interesting catering menu. And this company called Magical Butter provided the catering. They are not a catering shop, so I think they paid for it arranged or arranged for it. Anyway, a bunch of people felt pretty funny.
AUDREY: Because they’ve been drugged.
CHRISTIE: Because they’ve been drugged specifically with cannabis. So much of the food provided was infused with cannabis and the menu was not super clear on this, like I could really see how people wouldn’t have known. And also my experience at events is that the labeling is usually pretty crappy.
AUDREY: Well, most people aren’t looking for it if you are an omnivore with no food allergies, maybe you just eat what’s there.
CHRISTIE: I was just going to say they were using cutesy terms like “magically infused” and stuff like that.
AUDREY: It didn’t say upfront, “This food has THC in it. You might want to be cautious about your intake.”
CHRISTIE: I also think you’re using cutesy terms like that and even if you say that it’s…I mean, not everybody is up to speed on what cannabis actually does and how it’s going to affect you. And also, the menu made it seem like there was a lot of things. And it’s really easy to ingest way too much cannabis when you eat it because it takes so much longer to hit your system. I know this from personal experience. I had a very bad incident with a brownie and then was stoned for 24 hours. I don’t recommend this to anybody. It sucks.
There’s a couple of things that were fascinating about this to me. First was just like what a terrible idea. And not just terrible but like really consent violating and not at all respectful or mindful of people’s health and mental health and physical health.
AUDREY: Dangerous. Such a dangerous thing to do.
CHRISTIE: I believe it’s a form of assault to drug people like this. There’s also a kind of gratuitousness about it because cannabis is not inexpensive, so that’s weird to me. I looked at this company Magical Butter. You got to go to the site, Audrey. Basically, Magical Butter makes this, it kind of looks like a travel coffee mug and an Instapot had a baby.
CHRISTIE: I’m not kidding. I think that’s a pretty good description.
AUDREY: I will have to go look.
CHRISTIE: And basically, you put your butter in it with some kind of fat and it does the thing you have to do by melting the butter and putting the cannabis in and heating it to get your cannabis infused butter, like this thing does it automatically.
AUDREY: So, it is a very specialized Instapot?
CHRISTIE: Yes. Or as they say, the world’s first countertop Botanical Extractor (TM), designed for creating fantastic recipes, infusing the essence of healthy herbs into butter, oil, grain alcohol, lotions and more! For only $175.
AUDREY: Are they VC backed?
CHRISTIE: I did not go that far. There’s a lot of trademark signs all over this. Also, if you keep scrolling down, how do I know this company or this product is any good? And they talk about all the headlines they’re making. And they’re like, “We have 420K likes.” And I’m thinking that’s not an accidental number. So, it’s amazing how much in the whole website that’s entirely geared towards cannabis extraction, they don’t mention cannabis at all..
AUDREY: Like with the pipes, right? That they are for generic smoking.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, but they have a recipe site. And I was thinking, what other herbs would you like? What are the other herbs? Bergamot, or it’s not really an herb, is it? Or spearmints.
AUDREY: I don’t think you would mix spearmint and butter, but yes some other spicy things.
CHRISTIE: You can definitely like make infusions of different things from botanicals but do they all require fat or alcohol? Or is that unique to cannabis?
AUDREY: I think plants kind of vary by whether an oil or water extraction is most effective.
CHRISTIE: That’s what I thought, yeah.
AUDREY: And I can’t think of any good examples offhand.
CHRISTIE: No, I guess we’re kind of, that’s off…
AUDREY: We’re getting way off into herbalism podcast.
CHRISTIE: Right. But to me, it’s this weird intersection of all the weird things about cryptocurrency and the weird things about cannabis industry. And the other thing is who made these decisions is a question I start to think about. And so, the event was organized by a group called The Decentralists and a crypto project called IOVO. It’s really unclear. No one really knows who The Decentralists are, though I have some ideas. And this crypto project, if you go to their company website, there’s no names on it. You have no idea who runs this company. They have a white paper with no authors on it. They were able to identify some of the people involved in this Wired article. So, they talk about this Francois Sinclair person as the event’s main organizer. A Wired UK article describes Sinclair as one of the two assistants to Brock Pierce who is a former child actor, who is director of the Bitcoin Foundation.
CHRISTIE: And leader of a movement to create a crypto utopia in Puerto Rico.
AUDREY: I clearly have not been paying enough attention to this.
CHRISTIE: Okay. So I was like, “Brock Pierce.” Do you know what movie Brock Pierce was in? I had to look it up.
AUDREY: I have no idea.
CHRISTIE: The main one was The Mighty Ducks.
AUDREY: Oh, okay.
CHRISTIE: So he started in Disney’s Mighty Ducks movie and then you grow up and you get really into cryptocurrency, then you are on the board. I didn’t realize that Bitcoin had a foundation, for one thing. But also this Brock started a bunch of other companies or sits on the board of a bunch of them. So, the CEO of this IOVO company was basically like first they said, “The incident had a significant impact on us, and some of our own team were so affected that they were unable to stay to the end. And it’s the same reason I wasn’t able to give the presentation.” So they’re basically saying. “All of us were dosed.”
AUDREY: So they tanked their own event.
CHRISTIE: Right. And then they deny basically any responsibility. They say, “Even though IOVO contributed to the overall program of the Crypto Sanctum conference and provided its website, we were not engaged in any executive services.” So, they didn’t pick the food and drinks.
AUDREY: They didn’t use their oversight.
CHRISTIE: So I’m starting to get this a little bit of schadenfreude of like you all really love the anonymous aspect and lack of centralized oversight aspect of cryptocurrency, and then you kind of got totally bit by it. And furthermore, I was like, “The Decentralists. What is that?” I started googling around. That doesn’t seem to be an actual coherent group but I found this article in Bitcoin Magazine that identifies a group of decentralists. And Audrey, I don’t know if you remember. But in some of our previous conversations about Bitcoin, I’ve talked about how…we didn’t exploit too much. We’re talking about Bitcoin, I was like, “Okay, there’s some disagreement among the Bitcoin people and the size of the block and how it’s working.” The Decentralists are part of that. There’s a group of people that think that the blocks needed to get bigger and there needed to be certain kinds of specialization or a little more, I don’t know if it’s centralization or oversight, but changes more in that direction. And then there is a group of people that are vehemently against that and wanted to keep the block small in part because increasing the size of the block would affect the ability to do anonymous transactions and specifically like [inaudible] because latency starts to become an issue. So it’s another one of those. The Decentralists are people that want to preserve anonymity and decentralization as like their utmost priority.
AUDREY: I don’t think that drugging people is a very good way to make a case for that.
CHRISTIE: No. And to me, it’s an example of unintended consequences.
AUDREY: That they might want that anonymity and decentralization for some specific personal reasons that aren’t actually very collectively useful or might be completely the opposite.
CHRISTIE: I think it’s very possible that no one specifically made a positive decision to dose everybody at the conference. I think it’s more of a case that these folks value decentralization anonymity, because part of that is avoiding liability and avoiding accountability. I don’t know. Maybe we’ll get a bunch of feedback telling us otherwise. But I haven’t seen full mechanisms for like mechanisms of liability and accountability when systems are super decentralized and anonymous.
AUDREY: It’s tough. It takes a lot more collective work to come to agreements about how you interact. And it is going to create clusters of alliances.
CHRISTIE: So someone had to presumably sign agreements with this Magical Butter company or maybe Magical Butter was like, “Hey, we’re going to do this thing.” And the person or people who are organizing catering were like, “Great. That’s checked off my list.” And then handed it over.
AUDREY: I can totally, totally imagine that. Catering is kind of a pain for people who aren’t used to doing it, and even if you are.
CHRISTIE: When I’m doing business, I try to have explicit agreements, but I know a lot of people don’t. And so, I’d like to think for them to even rent the venue, some person needs to sign a contract and take on liability. I’m not even sure that happened here. But if it did, it’s another example of how like…because I think the other thing that happens with these sort of ad hoc communities is that usually just interact with the sort of regular business world, someone has to be connected to it personally.
AUDREY: It is difficult, I’d say, to get yourself a venue without somebody taking it on as a responsibility. Whether anybody else can find that out is another thing. I’ve definitely…this kind of disgusts me about tech events sometimes that you’ll go and look at the About Page and it doesn’t give you a single name. It doesn’t give you a single contact person. It’s just like, “Yes, we’re a group of people who really love functional programming,” or really love whatever, internet infrastructure and you’ll see that. I mean, I’ll see that and I’ll think, “Well, even if you have a Code of Conduct, how do I know what’s going to happen there?” Because I know nothing about the people, I have no point of contact that isn’t very generic and anonymous. That can be really common and people often don’t ask questions about that because it’s, I don’t know, we all want to assume good intent, good intentions. But in the case of…I mean, this is part of where that can go.
And I also think that there’s just a thing around startups and technology and non-technology startups where the butter or the dosed food, I don’t know, things get kind of shoved under the same umbrella. And maybe the cannabis industry and the cryptocurrency industry don’t necessarily want to share an event. But there’s just something about the logic of the startup world as like this big umbrella that sometimes put stuff together in that way.
CHRISTIE: Yeah, they’re also kind of both. And I think I didn’t use the greatest adjective earlier. I don’t remember if I said weird or whatever, but there’s a fringe aspect to both. And I think that can create partnerships.
AUDREY: Some people might be seeking out edginess together versus establishment authoritativeness.
CHRISTIE: I also think there’s an overlap with the infosec and security and hacking communities and the cryptocurrency folks, and those are boundary pushing sort of problematic consent communities. I think if that’s a community that is not really thinking about consent, it’s not going to be in the forefront of their mind. It’s pretty clear what Magical Butter is all about. It’s not asking anyone to make a really big leap to be like, “Okay, you’re not going to dose all of our attendees.”.
AUDREY: I think this is kind of going back to some stuff we’ve talked about already today that each individual piece might seem okay on its own. But it’s when you put it together in the entire collection that you definitely have problems.
CHRISTIE: I definitely think they have a case for legal action here, either criminal or civil. The question will be if they start to do that, it is just going to turn into one big finger pointing contest between all these different people involved.
AUDREY: Yeah. It can take some work to demonstrate who exactly is is liable under these circumstances. But if I were involved in any way, I’d be looking at the venue’s responsibility, the organizers’ responsibility, whoever placed the catering order, the catering company itself.
CHRISTIE: I think it’s funny they immediately took down the website and they tried to like clear the internet of any information about the event. To me, that shows they know that something went really wrong.
CHRISTIE: So the lesson there is don’t put cannabis in your catering that you’re providing to conference attendees.
AUDREY: Don’t be so anonymous that you show no responsibility for what’s going on around you. And if you are an attendee, I really hope that you’ll look at the About Page and figure out if you can point to anybody who you can talk to you if there is a problem.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. This is a thing though that is really mainstream, like that was one of my big criticisms of the Never Again Tech Pledge. That was pretty much presented as like an anonymous effort, and I know that it wasn’t.
AUDREY: If you have insider knowledge and you know, then that’s one thing but a lot of people won’t.
CHRISTIE: And it’s one thing to sort of have intuitions and it’s another thing to know, you know what I mean?
CHRISTIE: I think we’re on to our favorite segment of the week, or at least. I don’t know. The most uplifting one. Things we liked on the internet this week. What have you got, Audrey?
AUDREY: I have something that I worked on. There’s a program that we have here in Portland that helps people with Code of Conduct implementation and enforcement. So it helps people, back to this whole don’t drug your attendees, helps people understand good ways of having a policy for how you treat each other and for enforcing that policy. And I just went and took a lot of resources from our workshop and put them on a website so that people can make use of it and take advantage of our templates for reporting forms and for instant response plans to start to build their own.
CHRISTIE: Awesome. What’s the URL?
CHRISTIE: All right. We will link to that. That’s exciting stuff. I think it’s exciting.
AUDREY: Yeah. I think there’s a huge need for this. A lot of communities have a code of conduct but even if they’ve kind of had to deal with some difficult situations, they often don’t have a routine for it, like I said, practices that they know how to follow every time. And a big part of increasing the safety of your community and increasing the health of your community is having a practice that is reliable and repeatable.
CHRISTIE: I like that you’re using the word ‘practice’ because it’s not like there’s a set of situations that you can learn, and responses that you can learn and then apply. It’s way more dynamic than that.
AUDREY: And there are recurring things that you want to learn how to say. Dealing with microaggression, it’s very helpful to practice just some good ways to push back or to disarm those. But yeah, the bigger the community, the more time that goes by, the more people are involved, the more complex situations that can come up. And that’s where you especially need a framework for figuring out what to do about this.
CHRISTIE: Yeah. My experiences with this stuff is that the situations you prepare for never match the situations you encounter. Some are closer than others.
AUDREY: Yeah, and we can learn from past incidents.
CHRISTIE: Okay. SafetyFirstPDX.org/resources. My thing I like on the internet this week is this Twitter thread from John Hyphen and I’ll just read the first tweet and then you can all check it out. First, there’s a picture of a phone that says 15:59, you know 3:59. And then the phone is in front of a microwave that says 15:57, 3:57. It says, “Something mysterious has been happening to some clocks on the European continent. From Portugal to Poland, from Denmark to Turkey, some clocks have been running slow. And it’s all because of a row between Serbia and Kosovo. A thread.” And then it goes on to explain how different devices keep time. So, things that aren’t plugged in use a quartz crystal. And then things that are plugged in actually use information about the electricity. And so, it depends on how the electrical grid is functioning.
AUDREY: Right. The frequency of vibration or of the electrical grid determines how the clock keeps time.
CHRISTIE: Right. But the power grid is constantly influx. And because in Europe, all these different countries are connected, the different power systems are connected. Anyway, go check out the thread.
AUDREY: And this dispute can lead to everything running slow.
CHRISTIE: Right, because there’s missing energy. And so that’s basically creating a thing that’s messing up. Go check that out.
AUDREY: I saw this and I thought it was super interesting. Not just that it’s timekeeping but also because I had this thing happen to my microwave.
CHRISTIE: Oh, really?
AUDREY: Yeah, last year. Do you remember when I was having all those electrical problems and we got a bunch of work done in a hurry thankfully because it could have started a fire? The first thing that told me that we had a problem and it was actually our power line outside. We were not getting the full amount of power coming into the house. The thing that told me first was that the microwave was acting very weird.
CHRISTIE: I remember you had some work done. I didn’t know or had forgotten about the microwave. So, that’s fascinating.
AUDREY: For about two weeks, I thought the microwave was broken.
CHRISTIE: Because it was running slow or was it doing other wacky things, too?
AUDREY: Yeah, it was running at like less than full power.
CHRISTIE: And was that clock messed up or just the…?
AUDREY: I don’t remember the clock. I mean I stopped using the microwave and stopped looking at it.
CHRISTIE: Right. Put a tarp over it.
AUDREY: Try not to think about what a pain this was going to be. Yeah, until more things started not working correctly.
CHRISTIE: So I guess that’s a good tip is if electrical appliances start behaving oddly, maybe call in an electrician because it could be a significant safety issue.
AUDREY: And to bring it back around to our Alexa issue. At first, it really did feel like the house was haunted because the things that were happening were so weird and it didn’t seem connected to anything else I could observe.
CHRISTIE: So the common denominator was the power source?
AUDREY: Yes. As it turns out, it was.
CHRISTIE: Which we’re pretty used to taking for granted in this country, at least in our cities that we live in.
AUDREY: Yeah, which people in Europe might not really know, have a reason to think about why the clock is running slow. You might just blame the thing that’s plugged in.
CHRISTIE: Do you remember some of the other weird things?
AUDREY: I think there was something with the…oh yeah! Okay. So, the first stage was just I thought that the microwave was broken. But then I was using the toaster and the microwave at the same time, like I kept trying the microwave to see if it was just temporary, like if there’s something that’s only partially wrong, and sometimes it works correctly. So, I was using the toaster and the microwave at the same time, and the microwave suddenly started doing the correct thing. It suddenly went back to full power.
AUDREY: Yeah. It turns out if a tree is starting to cut into the line coming to your house, you can end up with…there’s like two wires two feeds. So you can end up with one of them that’s giving you like less than the full amount of power and one that’s overcompensating. And that’s why it was a fire hazard.
CHRISTIE: Right, okay. Good times.
AUDREY: Yeah. Find out whether it’s your grid or your house.
CHRISTIE: Oooh, I love story time on the podcast. All right. I think that’s a wrap. Thanks everyone for listening. We’re going to sign off now.
AUDREY: Yeah. Bye. Thanks.
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 email@example.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.