Twitter “Fun”

So if anyone thinks I’ve been unusually quiet on twitter recently, while I have been, it’s not been my idea. My account was suspended because someone or some AI decided the following was a tweet threatening violence:

Satirical Self-Immolation is bad?

I’m working on appealing it. The irony is, I don’t particularly care about the tweet, and if all they want is for me to delete it, I’d love to. But I can’t. because my account is suspended.

Sigh.

Anyway, so yeah. That’s a thing. yey.

A Practical Guide to Phishing pt. 2


<okay, I started this about five years ago. Jesus. Pt. 3 may take some time, I never actually started it. I got busy.>

Wherein we look at a more clever example

So in part 1, we looked at a fairly obvious example of phishing. It had a lot of clues that helped us identify it as a phishing email, and so with a bit of skeptical thinking, we were able to see how a preponderance of evidence quickly accumulated and showed us that the email in question was in fact a phishing email.

Obligatory disclaimer: this is not to be thought of as anything other than me, and my personal opinion, wanting to give folks a resource. None of this is official FSU anything in any way, shape or form. I’m only using them because it’s a real-world place, and that makes the lesson more concrete than “company.com” FSU is pretty cool, and they, like everyone else, are trying to deal with phishing. So there’s some self-interest here: if this series helps people not get taken advantage of, then the jobs of the people I work with and for get muuuuch easier.


Email Headers, dun-dun-DUNNNNN

Before we get started on this bit, we have to do a bit of discussion on email headers. This can seem a bit intimidating, (IT people and programmers, stop getting offended, you already know this stuff. This is for people who aren’t you. Go find something to do if you’re about to kvetch that I’m insulting your intelligence. Or not, y’all get taken in by this kind of thing a lot more than you should), but it really isn’t. Headers can be complicated when there are a lot of them, but the basic concept is simple.

Any email can be, very basically, split in two parts: the message, or the content, which includes things like the body of the message and any attachments, and the headers, which are everything else. The from: address is a header, the to: address is a header…if it isn’t content, it’s headers.

Headers can be rather different depending on the email service being used to send and to receive. For example, here’s a set of headers for an email from my boss (real content removed, we only care about the header names in this instance):

Received: from <server> by <server> with <service>; <date & time>
From: Bossman <email address>
To: John <email address>
Subject: <some text>
Thread-Topic: <some more text>
Thread-Index: <a large gibbereshy number that helps with message threading>
Date: <date and time of message>
Message-ID: <more gibberesh to help with email sorting>
References: <still more gibberesh>,<comma-SEPARATED gibberesh>
In-Reply-To: <more gibbereshwilliteverend>
Accept-Language: en-US
Content-Language: en-US
X-MS-Has-Attach:
X-MS-Exchange-Organization-SCL: -1
X-MS-TNEF-Correlator: <this is Exchange/Outlook specific>
MIME-Version: 1.0
X-MS-Exchange-Organization-MessageDirectionality: <this is Exchange/Outlook specific>
X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AuthSource: <this is Exchange/Outlook specific>
X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AuthAs: <this is Exchange/Outlook specific>
X-MS-Exchange-Organization-AuthMechanism: <this is Exchange/Outlook specific>
X-MS-Exchange-Organization-Network-Message-Id: <this is Exchange/Outlook specific>

Exchange and Outlook have a lot of headers.

Gmail tends to have fewer:

Delivered-To: ME!
Received: <email server info>;<date and time>
X-Received: <more of the same>
Return-Path: <sender>
Received: from <sending email server> by <receiving email server> for <ME!> (<SSL info>);
Fri, 05 Jun 2015 14:45:37 -0700 (PDT)
Received-SPF: <SPF is used to help reduce spam and phishing. It sort of works>
spf=<more SPF stuff>;
dkim=<DKIM is also used to help reduce spam and phishing. It sort of works too.>
Received: <”my” email server> for <ME!>; Fri, 05 Jun 2015 14:45:37 -0700 (PDT) DKIM-Signature: <there is a lot of DKIM and SPF in Gmail>;
X-Received: by <”my” email server>;
Fri, 05 Jun 2015 14:45:37 -0700 (PDT)
Return-Path: <sender. Yes, there is a lot of duplication in email headers>
Received: <name & IP address of sender’s computer> by <”my” email server> for <ME!>
(<SSL Info>);
Fri, 05 Jun 2015 14:45:36 -0700 (PDT)
Date: Fri, 5 Jun 2015 17:45:36 -0400
From: <friend of mine>
To: John Welch <ME!>
Message-ID: <more server stuff with friend’s computer’s name>
In-Reply-To: <a large gibbereshy number that helps with message threading>
References: <another large gibbereshy number that helps with message threading>
<you guessed it! more gibberesh>
Subject: <yeah! something humans can read!>
X-Mailer: <name of email client used to send the email>

So still a lot, but not as much as Exchange. What you’ll notice is that headers are all information about the email message. Who sent it, who gets it, the subject, various bits of non-human-readable stuff for message threading, sometimes the name of the computer that sent the email, sometimes even the name of the email client that sent it.

If you don’t immediately fully understand email headers, that’s fine. What is more important is that you get the basic concept: email headers are what help you figure out who sent the email and who gets the email. There’s one more important part: with the exception of things like the DKIM/SPF info, email headers are trivial to fake. Literally, trivial to fake. It’s not even hacking 101 stuff, it’s too easy for that. All email headers are just bits of text in the message. They have no expectation of truthfulness, nor should they be used that way. 

But, over time, people (largely because people in my line of work allowed them to think this) have started to think of email headers as some kind of trusted info, that you can’t fake that stuff. Well, if you’ve been told that, you’ve been lied to. Most of it is almost effortlessly faked. I’ll repeat that because it’s important:

Email Headers are trivial to fake, and can lie to you with ease.

So, now, onto our actual phishing attempt!


This one, is actually pretty clever:

Someone put a bit of effort into this one

So unlike the rampant errors we saw in part 1, this one gets some things right. First, it’s coming from the right domain, with both a plausible name, (Webmail Help Desk) and email address (helpdesk@fsu.edu).

However, we can quickly see a few things that don’t pass the smell test. First, the To: field is blank. So as before, Strike one. Next, it’s addressed to “FSU.EDU Member”. This is not horribly incorrect, but it’s still wrong. While yes, I am technically a member of the fsu.edu domain, getting an email addressed to me that way is very weird. Also, this is coming, supposedly, from FSU. From the “Webmail Help Desk”. They have my email address, obviously since I got this email in my FSU email, so one would assume that my name is similarly available. (It always is for actual helpdesk folks.) So that’s strike two, and a fairly large one.

Now, let’s look at the first paragraph.

In an effort to keep our records up to date, please take moment to verify your personal information, we are carrying out upgrading with our anti-virus and anti-spam in our data base, We are sorry for any inconvenience this may cause you.

So, while this sounds plausible on the surface, after all, anti-virus and anti-spam software do need updating, it’s vanishingly rare that doing so would require every single person with an fsu.edu email address to personally verify them. It’s especially rare that they’d need you to send them your username and your password. For one, they already have your user name. It’s part of your email account record. It’s right there, available via a short script anytime they want. Secondly, if your email address were “invalid”, how would sending you an email help? If it’s an invalid address, you’d never get the email, the address they are sending it to is invalid

Also, if that address was invalid, they’d already know, as they control the assignment of email addresses, and would also see lots of bounces (Email that tries to go to an email address that doesn’t exist is “bounced” or returned to sender.) Also, everyone trying to send you email would be unable to do so. 

Finally, if your email address was indeed “wrong”, i.e. your name spelled incorrectly, wouldn’t you notice that oh, I don’t know, every time you typed it? You’d either work to get it corrected, or decide it’s not important and leave it alone. In any event, this is kind of a major strike. Strike three to be precise.

The password request fails the sniff test too. First, there’s no reason for email admins or helpdesk folks to have your password. They, literally, have no need of it. The password is either correct or not, and if you don’t have the right password, then you’re the one put out, not them. Also, if your password was wrong, exactly how would you get that email? 

Exactly. They’re trying to “verify” my fsu.edu email password by sending email to my…fsu.edu email account. I got the email, my password and user name are therefore correct, or I am at least using the password that works. So no need to reply, by getting this email at this account, I have successfully verified that I am in fact using the right user name and password.

Verification Accomplished

Also, Strike four. The last line is just there to gin up fear:

Note that failure to verify your identity immediately will leave us no other option than to deactivate your account from our database.

Again, you are successfully logging in and receiving email, a thing that can be checked at the email server mind you. So if they want to see if your email account info is correct, they’d just have to look at the proper server logs and they could see that you are in fact able to check your email, which carries the basic requirement that your user name and password are correct.

The physical analogy would be someone trying to get you to give them your car keys or fobto “verify they’re the right ones” in a way that requires you to drive your car to where they are. Did you unlock the car with the key or the fob? Did the key or fobwork to start your car? Congratulations, you clearly have the right one(s), no need to drive anywhere, go back inside and finish that Netflix binge!

I do like the “Warning Code” bit at the bottom, that makes it sound really “official”. Using a monospaced font so it looks like something a nerd would use is also a nice touch.

But now, for the clever bit. See the “from” address? That “helpdesk@fsu.edu” bit? You might be thinking “So what if I reply to the email with my user info, it’s going to go back to the FSU help desk, how is that bad?” Well, let’s hit reply and see what happens:

One of these things does not belong…

Wait, where’d THAT come from? How did an FSU email address suddenly turn into some random gmail address? 

Remember that first bit about headers, that you probably skipped through because honestly, it really is quite dry and boring? Well, there’s a header called the “reply-to” header, and here’s what it’s for, (From the actual standard that determines such things):

This field provides a general mechanism for indicating any mailbox(es) to which responses are to be sent. Three typical uses for this feature can be distinguished. In the first case, the author(s) may not have regular machine-based mail- boxes and therefore wish(es) to indicate an alternate machine address. In the second case, an author may wish additional persons to be made aware of, or responsible for, replies. A somewhat different use may be of some help to “text message teleconferencing” groups equipped with automatic distribution services: include the address of that service in the “Reply-To” field of all messages submitted to the teleconference; then participants can “reply” to conference submissions to guarantee the correct distribution of any submission of their own.

For example, let’s say you’re putting on a wedding, and both the bride and groom are emailing invitations along with sending paper invitations, and rather than having some responses go to the bride and others to the groom, you want them all to go to “smithwedding@gmail.com”. To facilitate that, you’d set up an email message template with the reply-to address set to smithwedding@gmail.com, so that way, no matter who sends the email, any responses will come to smithwedding@gmail.com. 

Also, what happens when the from: and the reply-to: headers are different? Reply-to wins:

If the “Reply-To” field exists, then the reply should go to the addresses indicated in that field and not to the address(es) indicated in the “From” field.

If we look in our Bit o’ Spam, why what do we find?

From: WEBMAIL HELP DESK <helpdesk@fsu.edu>
Reply-To: <info.admindesk01@gmail.com>

Well look at that. You clever little sods, if someone just hit reply and filled in their account info without double-checking the email address they’re actually sending it to, they’d be properly screwed. 

That, by the way, is why even when it’s not obviously a phishing email, you still double and triple-check things. Because the jerks behind this crap are in fact, rather clever.

As we’ll see in the final installment, they can be VERY clever.

A Practical Guide to Phishing, pt. 1


<I actually started this some years ago, but it seems to still be of use>

“Just say no” is such a bad teaching method

This is not for my compatriots in IT or the computer biz. Y’all already know this, or should. This is instead for y’all to pass along to folks who just want to know how to not get screwed by their email. Also, this is long. Unfortunately, details matter, and this is teaching how to analyze, not click bait overview, it’s going to be long. So get comfy, and take notes. This part will deal with an attempt that is fairly easy to spot, as basic training for the more sophisticated versions.


What I am going to attempt in this series is to deconstruct some phishing attempts in a way that helps you avoid problems. I’m not going to do this via fear, or scare tactics or overuse of italics and capital letters. Instead, I’m going to do something my industry is regularly bad at when it comes to talking to people outside of the industry: I’m going to assume everyone reading this is smart, capable, but with a specialty in a different area, and good at things I probably suck at. So, just as y’all would teach me something you’re experts at, I’m going to go over how to properly analyze phishing emails in a way that will hopefully help you, via logicreason, and the application of skeptical thought.

Round one: Easy

So here’s one of a type you’ll see a lot, and it’s one that makes sense in a corporate environment, the “You have exceeded your mailbox space” email. The theory behind it is simple, and one that makes it fairly effective: we all know we have limited email space, and we may have even gotten “quota exceeded” messages before, so we’re all primed for this one:

This is a screenshot from my email client of choice, Outlook 2016 for OS X. But it’s going to look similar regardless of client, and for our purposes, the client differences aren’t important. Now, some background info: I currently work for the Florida State University…

Obligatory disclaimer: this is not to be thought of as anything other than me, and my personal opinion, wanting to give folks a resource. None of this is official FSU anything in any way, shape or form. I’m only using them because it’s a real-world place, and that makes the lesson more concrete than “company.com” 

…so any and all emails coming to me from someone at FSU will always end with fsu.edu, so, someone@fsu.edu or similarThat’s an important thing to remember. If you work for say, Apple, then (I’d guess) your email ends with some variant of apple.com. This will change with your company, but just looking at your own email address will provide you with this info.

So let’s take a deeper look at the email, its subject, and who its from. First the subject: Helpdesk. Okay, right there, that’s a flag. I’ve been in the IT business a long time, the number of emails I’ve sent to non-IT people with just the word “Helpdesk” in the subject, when the reason is that a person is over-quota on email may in fact be zero. I’m hardly in the minority here. In general, legitimate IT emails, even automatically generated ones will have a subject that gives you a real hint as to what the email is about. It’s important to us, we hate having to explain an email we just sent. Okay, so strike one: bad subject.

Secondly, who sent me that email? Well, according to the name, Camille Erin Chung. There’s nothing unusual about that in and of itself, but that’s not an actual email address. So now let us hover over the sender until we can see the actual email address:

Camille did not knowingly send this email.

Okay, BIG red flag here. Just like emails to me should have “@fsu.edu” or similar in the to address, emails from my someone working at FSU should have the fsu.edu bit in their email address too, right? But this doesn’t. Looking at it, it actually seems to be from a place in Canada, (the ca part. All countries have a country code. Things started in the USA, so we don’t end everything with .us, but yeah, country codes are a thing even on the internet.) A bit of digging, by which I mean “typing uwo.ca into a web browser” shows me pretty quick that this is actually an email address supposedly from Western University of Canada.

While it is always possible that FSU or any university might outsource their helpdesk, it is highly, highly unlikely that they’d do so to another university in Canada. Your company may have outsourced its email to say Google or Microsoft or some other company, but you should have an example of a legitimate email from your helpdesk folks available. Compare it to these kinds of emails, and if the last part after the @-bit doesn’t perfectly match, then the chances of it being a phishing email are climbing vertically. Strike two: bad sending email address.

Another thing to be aware of: the “from” address in an email is trival to fake. Literally, trivial. I’m hardly a scripting genius, but I could, with ease, crank out all kinds of emails from everyone you know, and they’d all have the correct from address and be completely fake. The validity of information is only as good as its reliability, and the from: address in an email is barely reliable. Also, generating a list of email addresses to send emails to is even more trivial. Really. Email addresses are as concrete as writing love letters in the sand at the waterline.

Next up, the to: address. This should be me, right? I mean, it was sent to me, it should have my email address. Yet, we see: blank. Look at the first screencap. Blank. Which means my email address was in the bcc: (blind carbon copy, the field you use when you want to send an email to someone or a lot of someones, but not have the person in the to: field know you did it, or reveal a lot of email addresses) field. 

Why would that happen? Barring lots of people having email quota issues, (and as it turns out, email servers are adept at automatically sending quota warning emails to people, one at a time, with their name in the to: field) there’s no reason for this, and really, even if it was a lot of people, still no reason for this. Another sniff test failed, another strike. Strike three: bad recipient/to: address.

So finally, the message itself:

This is an Email Service Alert from Helpdesk. This is to inform you that your mailbox has exceeds its storage limit, you will be unable to receive and send emails. To re-set your Account Space on our database, prior to maintain your INBOX from 20G to 20.9G. CLICK HERE to Activate

Okay, so people can be snotty and snobby about grammar, but it is vanishingly rare that a legitimate email about an email quota will be this badly written. That’s strike four: bad grammar.

Next, and this is kind of subtle until you think about it: “…you will be unable to receive and send emails.” Now, in a real over-quota situation, that’s correct. If you have hit your quota, you will in fact have problems sending and receiving emails.

So let us apply logic and skeptical thought. Ask yourself: “have I been sending and receiving emails today in a normal fashion?” If the answer is “yes”, bang, strike four: can still send and receive email even over quota. If the answer is “no”, has your email program been flashing you warnings outside of “Helpdesk” emails? They all will. Every common email program will fuss at you if you go over quota. I’m pretty sure even Pine and Elm will, and if I’m wrong, I’m sure within the first ten responses someone will correct me.

If you’re really over quota, your email program will become really strident about it. Annoying even. You’ll know, oh lord, you’ll know. So strike five: email program is not warning you about being over quota

Now, let’s look at the URL behind “CLICK HERE”:

Nice try, but no

Okay, so while that’s a nice touch, the “fsueduhelpdesk” part, seriously, no one does that in a URL. You might get “fsuhelpdesk”, but even then, the “.weebly.com/” part blows it out of the water. The only way it could be more wrong would be fsudoteduhelpdesk. So now, we have two strikes (we’re up to strike seven at this point)in just one URL. What is weebly.com? A website that lets you easily build your own website. Kind of like Tumblr or any other similar service you’ve heard of. 

The site itself is a form, complete with the FSU logo, (easily pulled off the real FSU website.) Logo/graphic abuse is endemic on the internet. It conveys no status other than “I can copy/paste an image”. The best part, (for me) is the name of the page: KINDLY FILL FORM CORRECTLY

It’s like a bit from “The Critic”. Strike eight: website form is really unprofessional. Also, strike nine, a website that is supposedly for FSU is on a domain/host that has nothing to do with “fsu.edu”

Note, I did actually contact Weebly about this. They have a very nice contact form specifically for reporting this kind of nonsense, and good on them for doing so. (Also, they’re FAST. Less than 5 minutes after I’d submitted the contact form, they emailed me back to tell me they’d shut down the site, and damned if that’s not exactly what they did. Good Job Weebly!)


Okay, so that’s nine strikes in one email that’s less than a paragraph. Even allowing for two of them (over quota behavior and the email program warning you about being over quota) not being absolutely reliable, that’s still 7–9 reasons to not trust this email, and it’s not even a full paragraph in length. It’s a phishing attempt, delete it.

VERY IMPORTANT WARNING

I also want to provide a warning about two things I did in this post, namely researching uwo.ca and weebly.com: I am a professional, do not do this if you are not me or in my line of work. 

Seriously, this is like the warnings about snake handling and driving a car at 200MPH. I know what I’m doing, and I also kind of knew about uwo.ca and weebly.com ahead of time. I know how to verify a domain is not loaded with gobs of malware that will further try to hose you when you go to that site, and I know how to avoid it if it is. (Or repair from it if I make a mistake.) 

There is literally no need for you to click on links in an email to evaluate it as I did. Nothing I did required that, I was just being thorough because I like to be thorough. If you get more than 1–2 strikes like we saw in an email, don’t click on anything in it, because that could be part of the scam. 

But again, if you look at how I went over it, if you evaluate the entire email, you see there’s no need to click on anything. Just by hovering your email over the link, (or pressing and holding in iOS. I’ll assume Android works the same way, or very similarly), you can see what the link is in a safe manner. If it doesn’t match what you think it should, even if the email looks “official”, delete it. If it’s a work email, call your helpdesk and ask them to be sure. (if you want to hear a helpdesk person almost weep with joy tell them “Oh heck no, Ididn’t click on squat. I just hovered over the links, and they looked totally janky, so I called you to be sure.” They’ll love you. LOVE. YOU.) 

If it’s from a bank or a store, call the store/bank (NOT with the number in the email. Go to their website and get their support number there) and call their customer support number. 

But there’s no need to be afraid or freaked out or whatever. You are all smart people. You can all do the things in this post and deal with phishing attempts in a logical, rational fashion, and you will find that the logical, rational approach is far more effective in the long run than blind fear.

The next post in this series will deal with a more sophisticated email that looks really good. (Spoiler: the techniques are very similar to what we did in this article.)

My Cousin Diane

<originally published on Medium on 25 June 2019>

So I see a link to this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6QjCenvI_zU in my twitter feed, and my first reaction was…whaaa? Because for most people, Diane Francis is a redonkulously smart, talented business writer/genius. And she is all that. She is honest to god smart. She has achieved…hell, I can’t list them all here. It’d take a year. She is all that and a bag of chips.

But, she is also my cousin. It’s a weird sort of cousin thing, because she’s like…well, the number is unimportant. She is older enough than me to have been an adult when I was two and breaking out of my parents’ apartment in Chicago. Her children are far closer to my age than she is. As she said to me once, “We’re from two different families, so it’s never going to be like that.” Some folks think that may be mean, but it wasn’t. It was honest and direct, and that is Diane. She’s not a mean person, at least never to me. But she is blunt. She is, in the words of my mother, who was so much like Diane…a tough old broad.

I can safely say that including the military, out of the top five or so ass-reamings I have had, Diane was the source of at least two, both well-earned. She is also the source of some, if not most of the very few purely happy moments I had in the first oh, thirty or so years of my life, most of them during one summer spent at her house in Mississauga. She was writing her first book at the time, so most of the day was spent with me finding shit to do to amuse myself, because even a hyper little fiend like me understood the danger of interrupting Diane’s writing. (Y’all, that woman’s death glare is real.) But most days, at lunch, we’d go to McDonald’s, me and her, and I would marvel at the difference in Canadian signage, and we’d get a Quarter Pounder with cheese, fries and a coke, then go back to her house where she’d write.

Her kids, Eric and Julie were going to some hippy summer camp, (Seriously, the counselors had counselor names like “Taiwanee”. SO HIPPY. And now I have that stupid “Titanic” song going through my head. Sigh) that I only went to a few times. The McDonald’s trips were…special. Like here’s this amazingly cool person who drove stick and could talk about cars and sports and everything and who taught me the trick of putting my fries in the upper half of the Quarter-Pounder box and all this other stuff, who just knew everything…and she was spending time out of her day with my ass, which at the time, Did Not Happen.

And yet it did. A lot. I also learned, and still remember the words to “O Canada”. Her and her ex-husband had these weekend parties, that us kids were Not A Part Of, wherein we (me, Eric, and Julie) would know were over because all the adults would start singing “Bye-Bye Blackbird”. For some reason, I couldn’t sleep during the parties. (Well not for some reason. Adults Drinking = Danger in my world, so I couldn’t sleep. Diane et al were the first people to counter that reality.) I would lay there, listening to the noise of people having fun, a little annoyed that there was so much happy noise, and listening to her laugh. I key in on how people laugh, it’s a thing with me. Diane has the laugh of someone who really enjoys it and does it a lot. Bit raspy, a lot of air behind it. They had a collie, named Robbie, as I recall, who was a good dog. Really cool to hang out with. They had a split-level house, and to this day, I can probably describe it in a stupid amount of detail.

They had a Lincoln Continental that I made her crazy with because it had electric seats and I would not stop fucking with the seat controls, because a) my parents hadn’t had a car in years at that point, and HOLY SHIT THE SEAT MOVED UP AND DOWN!! They also had a little Mazda hatchback with a rotary engine that was so cool to buzz around in. Diane taught me that if the oil light in the Mazda came on, you stopped then and there, so every time I rode in it, I was watching for that light, because if Diane said it was important, it was. There is also a very clear memory of her dancing around the living room to “I Was Made For Loving You” by Kiss. I’d brought my records with me. Why? Maybe because they were my only real posessions, so I wasn’t leaving them for months. Either way, that happened. It was pretty funny at the time, and even more funny now.

When her book was published and I got a free copy, I read it. Every page. Didn’t understand a lot of it, but I’d been around when she wrote it, so by fucking god, I was going to read it. It seemed…right, you know? Many years later, when I finally wrote my one solo book, I sent her a copy and she said nice things about it. A lot of people did, but Diane is blunt, and honest, so her saying nice things…that meant a lot.

There have been some odd, random visits over the years, coincidental mostly. Like she said, we’re from two different families. There’s not a lot of shared experiences there. But what there are, are very precious. Including a late-night phone call, wherein my family was being…itself, and I was trying to manage it because that’s what teenagers do when their families are falling apart, or falling more apart, and I was at the end of my rope, so I call her because she’s the only adult on the planet who would know what to tell me and she said “You can’t fix this. This is their problem. They have to fix it. You’re stuck with it and that is awful, but one day, you won’t be. Just put your head down and get through it.”

That literally changed my life. Didn’t know it at the time, and it took a lonnnnng time to dope out the depth of what she was saying, but that right there gave me hope, gave me a reason to believe that one day, I’d be in a different place, and if I was careful, and did some work, it’d even be a better place. So far, so good.

So watching that video, it made me realize that time keeps moving and one day, I won’t be able to say this to her (as it were, yes, I know Medium, but this will work) as a person any more, but as someone who was a person, and I don’t feel like waiting that long. (Although, given how long-lived our mothers’ side of the family tends to be, she could hit a hundred and I’d not be even a bit surprised. My mom’s family is stupidly long-lived.)

Diane,

Thank you. Thank you for being who you are, for showing me how things can work, even if they don’t always. Thank you for Quarter-Pounders and fries in the lid and that seagull shit is easily washed away, and how the metric system is not some weird thing, and that writing and thinking and “Bye-Bye Blackbird” are pretty damned cool and that being blunt doesn’t mean you have to be mean, that you can be kind, loving, and honest, and I really am sorry about the obsession with the seat controls in the Lincoln, and even though we did grow up in different families, and it is kind of different, I love you, and I am very, very glad you’re my cousin. You helped me when I desperately needed it, and I will never forget any of it.

Instead of More, I Give you Less

<originally published on Medium on 27 May, 2018>

Specifically, Less of Me

(A friend of mine said I should do this, so why not.)

First two pictures. First, me at 230–240lbs, on August 19th of 2014:

Now, me at 184 lbs as of May 27th, 2018:

Apologies for the schmutz, I am lazy about cleaning mirrors at best

While the shorts are different, that is in fact the exact same shirt. So yeah, 50lbs. A few folks have asked how I did it, and if you want the specifics, I’ll get to that in a bit. But that’s just technique. Technique is the relatively easy part here.

The hard part was getting to where I was tired enough of how I looked and felt to make one final change. Now, first, I exercise fairly regularly. Circuit training, walking, etc. Not nice and easy stuff. At the time that top pic was taken, I was hitting workouts 3–4 times a week that were weight-intensive and burned 400–500 calories a pop. And still I stayed at that weight. My diet wasn’t, well ideal, but it wasn’t awful. I’m 6’2″, 230–240 while not ideal is hardly morbidly obese.

My diet was fairly typical, lots of carbs, probably too much sugar, although not cake and pie every day. One pertinent point, I cannot eat:

  • broccoli
  • brussels sprouts
  • cauliflower
  • asparagus.

Attempting to causes me to violently puke everything I eat for three days. Dry heaves shit. I call it an allergy, although technically, it probably isn’t. (Spare me any ways to get around this. I detest the flavor of half of that list, and only asparagus has a flavor I could be said to like on its own. I’ve no interest in testing this, I’m a big believer of “it hurts when I do that, stop doing that.” It works really well.)

The point here is go to the store or a restaurant and see how many of those things show up over and over. Luckily, it’s not a peanut allergy. I have to eat a non-zero amount of those things to get to the “just kill me” stage. So I spend a lot of time quietly sliding things off to the side of my plate. Fortunately, people ignore that, because I don’t call attention to it. However, it does make certain kinds of eating tricky.

I am also “blessed” with a really slow metabolism, which has caused me weight problems all of my life. It takes me longer to tell when I’m full, so overeating is easy for me. I take longer to digest food, (this is highly annoying where alcohol is concerned), and left up to my own devices, my normal sleep period is 12 hours ± 1 hour either way. This is hardly practical, so basically, I’ve been sleep deprived for almost half a century. That part has been improved since about 8 months after that picture was taken and I was diagnosed with an underperforming thyroid. The medication has helped, I am now fully rested after 8 hours, ± an hour.

After it kicked in, I was marveling at this, to me, new sensation: regularly not being tired. Awake even. It’s kind of cool y’all. But that issue has never been a help to me.

Again, I wasn’t obese. I did the occasional 5K, I worked out, I’m reasonably active.

But I was not happy with how I looked and I’d realized a year ago, I couldn’t do it with exercise alone. I’d done that before exactly twice. When I was in the Air Force, which involved:

  • An extremely intense martial arts class 4–5 days a week. Sometimes more.
  • Lifting in the base gym 4–5 days a week.
  • Working outside in temps that were regularly -20 to -40ºF without wind chill
  • Working outside on an aircraft (B-1B) in a specialty (DAS) that required me to do a lot of overhead lifts of things that weighed between 80–130lbs.

That is not a really sustainable exercise schedule outside of that specific solution. The other time was when I was helping teach a martial arts class and was again, really active for 3–4 hours a day, 6 days a week.

Hard to sustain.

So the answer was modify my diet, but that was, for me, harder than it should have been, or perhaps, harder than I thought it should have been. The core “eat fewer calories” thing is valid, but vague. I’m not the best with vague.

So until June of 2017, the first picture was where I stayed. It wasn’t awful, but it kind of sucked. That extra 50lbs got in the way a lot. Ironically, the most while exercising. And, I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror. Even if I cleaned them regularly. This is not about overweight people being bad or less, so let’s not start that. I’ve been overweight almost all of my life. I was 5’6″ and 260lbs when I graduated high school. Being overweight is not a sign that you’re anything other than overweight.

And I was. Overweight that is. Body acceptance can sing hoseannas to the contrary, but I knew what I looked like when I was in the shape I wanted to be, and what I saw wasn’t that. Which is the important thing. I didn’t give a fuck about what society thought. I rarely have. I’m a dude with a hairy back who refuses to even care about it. I’m fine with ignoring other people’s stupidity.

But, in 2017, I turned 50. That’s a fact. It is also a fact that being overweight, even “just” 40–50lbs causes problems and those problems do not go away as one gets older. Diabetes, heart problems, all sorts of things. And the fact I couldn’t lay on my back in bed for long without my back muscles seizing up. And doing situps was way too hard, as were other forms of exercise impeded by a large ball of suet in one’s midsection.

In June of 2017, my wife, Melissa decided to be more proactive about her body and what she saw in the mirror. My only input on such issues was “If something about you bothers you, then do what you feel is best to change it. You have to be happy with yourself.” So she did, she started doing the Keto diet. (I’m not going to get into the scientific issues here.) She decided to do it month to month, without some massive, unrealistic goal.

And it worked. There were plateaus, there still are, but I watched her lose weight and keep it off. I watched her go from barely being able to walk a mile to four miles through hilly terrain. I watched her go from someone who hated exercise to someone who gets twitchy if she can’t for more than a day or so. Who is now looking for more things to add into her routine. I watched her go from having only a couple of pairs of pants or shirts that she could fit into and like how they looked to…well the same thing for the opposite reason: instead of being too tight, everything was too loose. I also saw her feel better about herself because she was doing this.

I also saw that as diets go, it wasn’t awful. (Google it if you’re curious, it’s not hard to find.) Heavy on fats and proteins, no sugar, almost no carbs. I also saw that it really wasn’t hard to do. There wasn’t a lot to give up, and she seemed to genuinely enjoy the food she was “allowed” to eat. She wasn’t trying to eat a half-dozen eggs a day, she worked with the diet basics in a way that worked for her. She found ways to do things that worked. Swerve as a substitute for sugar, (y’all, it actually tastes good), etc. Halotop for ice cream. (Yeah, it’s not the best, but the caramel and sea salt is really fucking good.)

And it worked, pretty easily. So, since I had an example in front of me, which gave me a well-worn path to trod, I started with it in January. January 1st, 2018 to be precise. (I know, trite, right? But gotta start some time.) The results? Well, here, from my daily or damned close to it weight entries in MyFitnessPal:

It actually started at 232.5, so a bit under 50lbs. But still.

And I look like what you see in the second picture. It’s not been hard. I recently hit 185, which is what I called my “donut weight”, or the number were, once I hit it, I’d have one donut. I did. A glazed blueberry cake donut, and it was pretty good.

But it wasn’t better than it had been. It wasn’t OH SWEET MYSTERY OF LIFE I’M GLAD I FOUND YOUUUUU good. It was just…good. You know? Like “hey, that’s all right.” But I don’t crave more. They’re okay, and once in a while, I think I get to have one. That’s the thing I’ve noticed about this: I really don’t miss things. I mean, I like bread, I like things like jam, but Melissa and I, well, mostly her, have found ways to deal with that.

I love the shit out of peanut butter, so instead of staring longingly at the jar of Peter Pan my son uses, I got some all natural stuff from Costco (ingredients: salt, peanuts) and some Swerve confectioner’s (powdered) sweetner, and run that through a Kitchen Ninja (those things are COOL AS HELL Y’ALL), and I get to have peanut butter that tastes good and doesn’t fuck up my plan.

Note: I am probably not following the keto diet precisely. But what I’m doing works for me. That’s important. Again, I have data, 50 fewer pounds of body weight, and pants I haven’t been able to wear since 1993 that I fit into as my proof that my methods are working for me.

What I’ve noticed is that because what I’m eating is high(er) in fat and (very) low in carbs, and has no measurable sugar (sucrose version), I eat less and I fill up faster. Remember the metabolism thing? That’s been huge. I actually feel full before my stomach is literally full to bursting. So I eat less anyway. I eat a lot more salads, because it’s too easy for me (with my dietary limitations outside of keto) to accidentally not eat greens. So I’m eating a lot more salads, and they have lots of lettuce, and cheese and bacon and bleu cheese dressing and by the time I finish one, I’m about full. A bit ironically, I’m eating more greens now than ever.

We cook a lot more, and eat out less, not because we can’t find food that works within the diet, (we’re in the south y’all, I can find me some fuckin’ bacon) but because it’s just a bit easier to cook at home than eat out.

I guess the point is that a) this hasn’t been hard and b) for me, and I’m sure for Melissa, since we’ve talked a lot about it, this isn’t a diet. This is now how we eat. It doesn’t end, because it’s not a temp thing. If I go back to how I was eating before, I know exactly what will happen. Not gon’ do that. Besides, again, I really haven’t given up much.

And I’ve gained all the things you think about. Especially not carrying a 45-lb plate strapped to my ass (more correctly, my stomach.) I can sleep on my back and not be in pain or not much pain. Working out is so much easier. (Burpeeswere not the agony they used to be, holy shit!) It’s amazing, it really is, how not lugging that much unnecessary weight around helps.

I’m also happier. With what I see, with how I feel, with who I am. Maybe that’s shallow, but whatever. The important thing is, I’m happier with the results. I feel better, and I look, to me, better. It’s kind of cool.

I’m not saying “do this and you too will lose 50 pounds in six months!” Weight, body image, self-image, these are complicated and highly individualized things. This worked for me. But it took a lot of time to get to that place, where it could work. The biggest driver was I wanted to not cringe when I saw myself in the mirror. I don’t do that anymore. That was the driver. If you’re happy with yourself, that’s awesome, you’re doing it right. Seriously, that’s the only judgement that matters in the end. Losing weight but being miserable about it and hating what you have to do is a shitty way to live, as much as being overweight and hating what you see.

Life’s too short to hate yourself, you know?

So if this helps someone, however it helps someone, that’s great. if you want some specifics about how I do food now, I’m happy to discuss that in the comments or via email/whatever. And now I can point people who ask me how I did this at this post, and save my lazy ass some time, which is also important. 😛

Just This One Simple Request

<originally published on Medium on 4 April 2018>

I’d like to think this isn’t too much

With all the apps and platforms coming out to (rightfully) support mothers in the workplace, single and otherwise, I’d like, on behalf of a lot of single (and not single) fathers to ask this one thing:

When we (fathers) are at the playground or around other kids or shopping in the kid’s section or in the children’s section of the library or taking pictures of our kids and we don’t have large sandwich boards on both us and our kid(s) with secure enclaves that clearly indicate our relationship to each other…or even when we do…

Could y’all please not assume, on any level, that we might be, or must actually be pedophiles until proven otherwise?

Don’t need press. Don’t need apps. Don’t need platforms. And not everyone does it. But enough people do, and it’s horrible that it happens at all. Just stop doing that. Stop asking the verification questions that you’d never ask a mother of any kind. Stop giving us the looks that you’d never give a mother. Just stop. doing. that. shit.

That would be a huge thing, doesn’t need a lot of press. Doesn’t need any kind of actual action, in fact, it needs the opposite. A cessation of that specific action.

Single man near kids != pedophile.

K? Thanks.

Why I’m Getting Another iPhone

<originally published on Medium on 6 Mov. 2017>

You won’t like my reason

Why the hell do you care? Are you me? No. Are you someone who is in my family or circle of friends who would actually have a need to care? No.

No one, outside of a fantastically small group of people needs to know or care what phone I’m getting or why. No one. If you need to know, you already do.

You know what you should be doing instead of reading these kinds of monocellular clickbait articles? You should be like this kid:

This kid knows

He doesn’t know what phone I’m getting, he doesn’t care. He’s minding his business. This kid has his life in order. Toys, TV and snacks. That is a happy damned kid.

Why do you care what phone, computer or car I or anyone else who isn’t an actual friend of yours is getting?

As far as the people writing this nonsense: do you ever get tired of being the only person in your circle-jerk?

Thank You Diane

<originally published on Medium on 27 Oct. 2017>

Maybe We Should Stop Waiting To Say Things Post-Mortem

Here and now, an unseen something fleets by so swiftly an observer would probably never perceive her at all. A flicker, a shimmer, a passing thought in the endless silent ruminations of the universe, the USS Enterprise cruises through on patrol.

That was, I think, the fifth paragraph of The Wounded Sky, by Diane Duane, the 13th of the Pocket Books Star Trek series, and the first book that showed me just how much more those books could be than just an adjunct to the television show. Another bit, where Sulu and Chekov are demonstrating to some very angry Klingons why they are considered one of the best nav/helm teams in Starfleet:

But Enterprise wasn’t running her part of the battle according to the sensible, reasonable tactics they were expecting. Since nearly everyone in the Galaxy now had the Romulans’ “cloaking device” — making it almost impossible to initially detect a ship in realspace, let alone bring it to battle there-the methodology of starship-level warfare had changed in recent years. Ships running almost entirely on instruments ambushed one another in warp, where the cloaking device didn’t work, and fought whole battles there; or forced a ship in warp out into realspace, where running tended to be difficult for large ships and firepower was the determining criterion.

Enterprise, though, wasn’t following the rules. She would not fire. She would not duck into warp, however closely Kaza and his brother destroyers followed her. Instead, she swooped and soared and dipped and rolled through realspace as if a suicidal maniac piloted her. The Klingons’ battle computers didn’t have the necessary protocols programmed into them for this kind of realspace fighting; no one could get close enough for even hyperphaser fire to pierce those shields powered by the whole unreserved output of an undamaged warp drive. Anyone who tried soon enough heard the sound of screaming, overstressed metal in his ship’s structure, and fell back to a saner, straighter pursuit, swearing.

What a great visual, one that no movie or TV show has ever come close to.

That was the first thing I’d ever read by Diane Duane. Blew my mind, because it was the first time that Star Trek became what I thought it could be. It was the first time I’d seen the Klingons treated with some respect (duh, they have an Empire, they probably aren’t stupid.) It was also the first Star Trek book I’d read where all the crew, even the ones not on the bridge were treated like they were smart and well, a part of Starfleet:

Still working on her doctoral thesis, Jim thought. Uhura was busy working on improving universal translator theory, mostly by taking the old theory to pieces and putting it back together in shapes that were causing a terrible furor in academic circles on various planets. Jim vividly remembered one night quite a long time ago when he had asked Uhura exactly how she was going about this. She had told him, for almost an hour without stopping, and in delighted and exuberant detail, until his head was spinning with phoneme approximations and six-sigma evaluations and the syntactic fade and genderbend and recontextualization and linguistic structural design and the physics of the human dextrocerebral bridge.

Did you know that in the real military, before one decides to attack an enemy asset, one has meetings wherein a plan is devised, and that it’s not just 5 people all the time? That in said meetings, people think about things that might cause problems so that they might plan around them?

“Captain,” said Mr. Matlock, “one thing before we start …”
“Certainly.”
“Commander,” the dark young man said to Ael, “what color are the halls in that station going to be?”
“White, mostly, or bare-metal silver.”
“Captain,” Matlock said to Jim, with a faintly ironic expression, “I don’t think it would be wise for us to attempt a board-and-storm operation dressed in bright blue and black, or gold and black, or green and black — or especially orange and black. Everyone in the party would stand out like zebras in the snow; and as for my people, they might as well have targets painted on them.”
“Noted, Mr. Matlock. Order light gray battle fatigues for everybody.”
“Already done, sir,” said Matlock, just a little sheepishly. “Quartermaster’s working on it now.”
“Colin,” Jim said, “I have great hopes for you. Just be careful.”

Over and over you see this in her writing, this attention to detail. Diane Duane, along with her equally talented and amazing husband, Peter Morwood, has written some of the best Sci-Fi I’ve read. But more than just genre, she’s written some of the best books I’ve read, period. Her Rihannsu series, her other TOS books, a smaller number of TNG books, the Young Wizards series, some amazing marvel novelizations (her Spider-Man books get that character and all the others better than anyone else.)

The Young Wizards series is especially important to me (and to so many others) because like a lot of people, I see myself in the various characters she’s woven into that series. Including the cats. I first discovered that one via the Sci-Fi book club in the late 1980s and have been buying it ever since. I’ve bought copies for friends whose kids weren’t really into reading, because I knew that series would help. It did, by the way, help. The funny thing is, it wasn’t until about oh…10–15 years ago that I realized that series was considered “Young Adult” fiction. That was handy, because I’d always grumbled about how you could never find the damned things. I was always looking in the Sci-Fi section, it never occured to me to look anywhere else.

But really, the genre is unimportant. Ultimately, it’s the characters. The people. Diane makes you care about the people in her stories, even if they aren’t necessarily human:

“Oh, come on. Love? What would you know about that?” Nita was too pained to care about being scornful, even to the Master-Shark.

“And who are you to think I would know nothing about it? Because I kill without remorse, I must also be ignorant of love, is that it?”

There was a long, frightening pause, while Ed began to swim a wide circle about Nita. “You’re thinking I am so old an order of life that I can know nothing but the blind white rut, the circling, the joining that leaves the joined forever scarred. Oh yes, I know that. In its time… it’s very good.”

The rich and hungry pleasure in his voice disturbed Nita. Ed was circling closer and closer as he spoke, swimming as if he were asleep. “And, yes, sometimes we wish the closeness of the joining wouldn’t end. But what would my kind do with the warm-blood sort of joining, the long companionships? What would I do with a mate?” He said it as if it were an alien word. “Soon enough one or the other of us would fall into distress — and the other partner would end it. There’s an end to mating and mate, and to the love that passed between. That price is too high for me to pay, even once. I swim alone.”

Ed, by the way, is a shark. Imagine a megaldon or a great white. That’s around a hundred feet long. That’s Ed, or more correctly, Ed’Rashtekaresket. Ed the most fuckless creature to ever not give fucks:

“Sir,” she said, not “bowing” but looking him straight in those black eyes, “I’m Nita.”

“My lady wizard,” the Pale One said in that cool, dry voice, “you’re also terrified out of your wits.”

What to say now? But the shark’s tone did have a sort of brittle humor about it. She could at least match it. “Master-Shark,” she said, giving him the title to be on the safe side, “if I was, saying so would be stupid. I’d be inviting you to eat me. And saying I wasn’t afraid would be stupid too. And a lie.”

The shark paused for a moment: then laughed, a terrible sound — quiet, and dry, and violent under its humor. “That’s well said, Nita,” he said when the laughing was done. “You’re wise not to lie to a shark — nor to tell him that particular truth. After all, fear is distress. And I end distress; that’s my job. So beware. I am pleased to meet you; but don’t bleed around me. ”

A football field sized shark who’s a bit of a smartass. You are not supposed to like things like Ed. Yet, by the end of Deep Wizardry, you do. You genuinely like Ed. Even more important, you respect Ed, and his place in the world. That’s what Diane has done over the years. Every character in her books, even ones that might be throwaways, like random lieutenants in the Science department on the Enterprise are treated well, and with respect.

Which I guess is what I loved about her writing from the start. She respects her characters, she respects her readers. It’s little things, like how in her books, all the galaxies and stars she names are real. Paraphrasing, she once said “there’s so many real stars out there to use, why make up my own?” In a book (theoretically) aimed at young adults, she talks about Olbers’ Paradox, as if of course we all know about it, because obviously, we’re all smart people who read about such things.

That’s rare, to find a writer who cares that much about their readers and their characters. I’ve always felt I was lucky to have found her books, there’s something genuinely nice about reading one and feeling that respect, that caring.

It’s not all seriousness and giant sharks mind you.

“Indeed not,” said the Vulcan. “It is a classic error in thinking, particularly, if I may say it, of the human sort. The illusory or internally subjective nature of physical existence is perhaps its most important and revealing characteristic. When one remembers that, on most levels of consideration, one does not exist, such matters as the question before us today assume their proper aaaaaaaiigh!”

The gentleman had been so busy expounding on the illusory nature of matter that he had never noticed K’s’t’lk come softly down from the stage and walk down the aisle next to which he was standing. As for the rest of it — even a Vulcan will react when a silicon-based life form bites him in the leg.

“Fascinating,” K’s’t’lk said. “For someone whom on most levels of consideration doesn’t exist, you scream with great enthusiasm. And I heard you, too. Better have that looked into.”

Or:

“Naraht wasn’t being damaged, but he was angry, confronted with ludicrously imbalanced odds and doing whatever had to be done moment by moment, whether that meant barging about like a sentient tank, breaking things and people with the brisk efficiency he brought to everything. “Took you long enough to get here!” McCoy shouted at him across the room.

“Doctor,” Naraht said, ramming a firing guard into the wall, “let’s see you burrow through two hundred fifty-three miles of rock that fast.”
“And another thing,” McCoy shouted, “what happened to you? You’re twice your size!”

Naraht laughed, a sound so bizarre that several Rihannsu who had been about to concentrate their fire on him broke and ran away. “You’re the one who’s always twitting me about needing to put on some weight! So I snacked on the way. Besides” — and the artificial voice got unusually cheerful — “the granite here is very good.”

Naraht is a Horta, by the way. He’s also known as “Ensign Rock” a name given him by another character in “My Enemy, My Ally” Both are from the Rihannsu series of the Star Trek TOS books. Wherein Diane and Peter did such a great job with turning the Romulans into something far better than they had been, PocketBooks gave her a…pocket…universe to play with. The Rihannsu have never been canon. Pity, lord knows no one else ever gave them the love and attention they deserver. Certainly the movies didn’t. Remans. Really? Really?. Even J.J. Abrams missed the mark.

Over the years, through some serious fortune, I’ve been lucky enough to become, if not a friend, then a good acquaintence of both Peter and Diane. It’s kind of funny, around the house, if either Melissa (my wife) or I talk about something Peter or Diane said, there’s literally only one person who belongs to either of those names.

They’re both funny as hell, well-traveled, and as near as I can tell, know something about everything. They’re also genuinely nice people, so really, pretty much what you’d expect them to be based on their books. That’s something that’s often disappointing, right? You finally meet the person behind something or a lot of things that mean a lot to you, and they turn out to be right proper dickheads and even though you try hard to separate the art from the artist…it’s always a bit tainted after that. It is a sign that there is regularly good in the universe that Diane Duane and Peter Morwood are not only as awesome as you’d expect them to be in person, they are more awesome than that.

Since I started reading her books back in the mid-80s, they’ve meant a lot to me. They’ve helped me get through some tough times, they’ve been an escape when I desperately needed one, and they’ve been just this part of my life. When Melissa and I started dating, I sent her a copy of the complete Young Wizards set. It was kind of a “no, really, I’m kind of serious about you here” gift. It seemed to have the desired effect.

At one point, I couldn’t find some of my Young Wizards books, and then I realized my son had taken them all into his room. They were all across his bed, he’d read one, finish it, start another, fall asleep, then pick it back up the next day. So two generations in my family, all reading that series.

The subtitle of this piece is why I wrote it. Especially across 2016, when so many people who had been a huge part of my life (PRINCE) died, I realized that we so often, as people, wait to say “thank you” to the people who have helped our lives be better. There’s a lot of reasons why, it can seem silly, or embarassing, or whatever. But I realized, I would hate to give in to that fear and have either of them leave this world without once saying “thank you” to them for being who they are.

So Diane, Peter…thank you. Thank you for the words you’ve written, the words you’ve said, and the friendship you’ve shown. You have made a difference, a good one, in people’s lives, especially mine and my family’s.

Yeah Dude, you did that

<originally published on Medium on 25 Oct. 2017>

I got nothin’ clever to go here

So amidst the allegations, and really, really believable ones, given other witnesses, of sexual harassment against Robert Scoble, he finally released a statement.No, of that I’m innocent.
In the past week several news outlets reported that I had committed numerous sexual indiscretions against numerous…scobleizer.blog

I’m unsure how I feel. It’s equal parts rage and sadness. Rage, because given his behavior since I first started interacting with him, this kind of self-centered behavior is completely unsurprising. Disappointing, but unsurprising. Sad, because he does have a family, a wife, (who is, at least in my experience, the definition of a delightful human being, and in my wife’s opinion, is a living saint) and friends.

I get that when things are going down, it is easy to get so wrapped up in your own head that you will say things that are just flamingly stupid, that hurt people. I’ve done it, everyone has. But Scoble has done this same thing over and over. He says or does something that causes people pain for no real reason, and then when confronted with it, does the tap-dance that can be summed up as “not my fault.”

Except this time, it’s not about him being an asshole to a coworker or some random person at a company. It’s about literal sexual assault. It’s about him creating an unsafe environment in companies he worked at, and it is about his complete inability to own his actions. He can’t even start honest:

But, for the past 20 years I have made my living shining light on people, products, and issues. I am unwilling to not be that person just because people have made allegations against me. This advice from attorneys is one reason why as a community we can’t properly discuss the issues hitting our industry. When companies and individuals can’t speak out for risk that it opens them to a lawsuit it limits the responsible dialogue we can have.

It’s the lawyer’s fault? No it isn’t. Lawyers didn’t create the problems at Uber or all the other places. Lawyers didn’t create your problems. Nor did lawyers prevent anyone from acting appropriately to stop those situations from getting worse. I am not a lawyer, but I’m pretty sure, based on my experience that they would have said “no, you should fire the hell out of that person who propositioned someone who works under them. Fire them now. Out of a goddamned cannon, because the go away check you’ll have to write them is nothing compared to what it will cost if you don’t fix this problem.”

I’m pretty sure the cost of firing Susan Fowler’s manager and buying her a leather jacket is not even a rounding error compared to what Uber’s corporate behavior has cost them.

The cluelessness that defines Scoble is almost incomprehensible, but he does us all a favor by showing it to us:

I recognize that these two organizations are basically just Gossip Blogs at this point, and that “If it bleeds it leads” is a way to generate click bait, but I expected more of them.

How many times in his career has Scoble’s response to being wrong been “It’ll get fixed in the comments”? How many times has he said his main priority is being first? Every once in a while, I’m worried that maybe he’s changed over the years, it’s been a while since I really talked to, or at him.

Robert Scoble has not changed.

Then there’s this:

Even the most rudimentary fact check by news outlets would have caught a few obvious things. If I were guilty of all the things said about me I would still not be in a position to have sexually harassed anyone. I don’t have employees, I don’t cut checks for investment. None of the women who came forward were ever in a position where I could make or break their careers. Sexual Harassment requires that I have such power. That is not to say that the allegations aren’t serious. I take them very seriously, but it is to say that, TechCrunch, Business Insider and others, in their rush to publish ClickBait were so obviously flawed that it is clear they no longer care about the truth or doing actual journalism.

It’s clear Scoble is not even close to listening to competent legal counsel. Because if he were, they would have told him some of the things on this page: https://sapac.umich.edu/article/63 which include:

The conduct unreasonably impacts an individual’s employment or academic performance or creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for that individual’s employment, education, living environment, or participation in a University community.

Or this:

Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive working or learning environment or is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects a person’s ability to participate in or benefit from a University program or activity. While a person engaging in harassing behavior most often has some form of power or authority over the person being harassed, that is not always the caseThe harasser can be a peer of the person being harassed. Sometimes the harasser is harassing a person who has power over them. For example, a supervisee can sexually harass a supervisor or a student can sexually harass a faculty member.

I can’t fathom a way Scoble’s never heard of this. I literally cannot. He’s been employed too long at companies like Microsoft who do things like sexual harassment prevention training to be that preciously ignorant.

Of course, he won’t speculate on their motives even as he spectulates on their motives:

Then there is the actual truth of the allegations. Each of the women who have come forward used grains of truth to sell false narrative. Perhaps because they felt peer pressure to join the #MeToo bandwagon, perhaps because they felt slighted for other reasons. I won’t speculate on their motives.

He’s literally playing the “bitter woman” trope here. Did Scoble join the red pill forums when no one was looking? Seriously, did he?

He literally accuses Sarah Seitz of blackmail and being a bitter vindictive…well, he doesn’t use the word “bitch” but he may as well have. But he’s not speculating on motives.

He’s so…so unaware of everything:

Another of the women who accused me, Sarah Kunst, is an African-American female entrepreneur. Kunst categorized a comment I made as racist at a conference we both attended. She took my asking “Why are you here” to be a question of “why are you deserving of being here.” That was not my intention at all. I tried to talk her down from this, but failed.

Given how he’s speaking here, is anyone suprised at that failure? But his shock and amazement that anyone could possibly misunderstand him is blown to hypocritical dust by this statement:

I appreciate that being an African-American female entrepreneur is hard. I also understand that many in the industry are skeptical or dismissive when they interact with someone who breaks two stereotypes of entrepreneurs [not being white or male]

If you walked up to a black woman at a conference as a white guy and asked her why she was there, (and having actually talked to Scoble in person, I can pretty much hear the tone he used), you cannot, can. not. be “surprised” that she would take great offense to that. How can anyone claim to be aware of the issues women, and especially women of color face as entrepeneurs, especially in tech and then say something as stupid as “Why are you here?” and then be surprised she was offended. What is he, Schrodinger’s Idiot? He is both an authority on “the future” and a blithering nincompoop at the same time and you don’t know which one you’re getting until you collapse the wave function?

Michelle Greer, who I worked with at Rackspace, was never in a reporting structure beneath me, and while we engaged in flirtations, the limits of the impropriety was that I was flirting with someone when I was married.

Again, no, it wasn’t. Have your lawyer explain sexual harassment law until you undertstand it. Maybe via pictures or a rebus of some kind. Oh, and this bit of backhanded victim-blaming:

We never had any interactions in a private situation and while that doesn’t mean that it is impossible for inappropriate behavior to occur, it demonstrates that at the time neither of us was ashamed of our behavior.

Out of the two of you, there’s only one person who should bear an iota of shame and it’s not her. Seriously dude, what kind of brain parasite did you pick up that told you writing that, writing any of this was a good idea. But now the creme de la creme, his version of what Quinn Norton wrote. Not his memories of what happened, but of what she wrote.

Scoble:

Quinn Norton, by her own account, physically accosted me. She didn’t call for conference security, she didn’t know the name of the woman I was making out with to know if we were engaged in a consensual activity. In her account of the night, she took it upon herself to decide in advance that she was going to warn me she was dangerous, and then physically attack me without knowing the story of my earlier makeout.

Norton:

One of my friends was getting a bit upset, and managed to break things up by starting a conversation with the woman, but before long the pair were back at it. He came back to me, on the verge of panic, and whispered in my ear. The woman was so drunkenly disoriented that she didn’t seem to understand what was happening, and the guy kept pouring drinks for her. It was quite possibly headed towards rape. He asked me what to do, and I realized the man in question was someone powerful. I blanked and said I wasn’t sure what to do, maybe try get them apart? My friend gave me a fantastic no-duh look and went back over to them.

At one point when they were separated the man in question was standing beside me at the camp fire. The person on the other side of me nervously decided to introduce us. It went roughly: “Robert, this is Quinn Norton. Quinn, this is Robert Scoble, he’s dangerous.” Scoble laughed and quickly said he wasn’t dangerous. I looked at him, keeping a blank expression, and said “I am.”

So right there, Scoble has misrepresented what Norton wrote. According to what Quinn Norton wrote, she didn’t just march up to him and cockblock him. In fact, it was another frend of hers that initiated separating them. The “I’m dangerous” line was in response to someone introducing Scoble as dangerous, and you know what? In that situation, I understand her response, because from her POV, he was not safe. So that’s her letting him know that fucking with her is a bad idea. She even acknowledges that her POV in that situation is messed up, but she felt it was necessary.

I had learned this attitude after many years working in tech, that knowing how to deliver pain and putting everyone on notice that you would, was a way to avoid harassment. I knew this was fucked up, but it had been my normal for years.

With regard to Norton physically attacking Scoble:

And then, without any more warning, Scoble was on me. I felt one hand on my breast and his arm reaching around and grabbing my butt. Scoble is considerably bigger than I am, and I realized quickly I wasn’t going to be able to push him away. Meanwhile, the people around just watched, in what I can only imagine was stunned shock. I got a hand free and used a palm strike to the base of his chin to knock him back. It worked, he flew back and struggled to get his feet under him. I watched his feet carefully for that moment. He was unbalanced from the alcohol and I realized if he reached for me again I could pull him forward, bounce his face off my knee, then drive it into the ground. (I knew this move because it had been done to me, then the martial arts expert who did it picked me up and apologetically showed me how to do it.) He laughed and rubbed his chin and said something like “I like this one, she has spirit.” I said this: “If you touch me again I will break your nose.” I could still feel his hands on me, his intentions, all of it. He laughed again, and I repeated, “If you touch me again I will break your nose.” He didn’t grab me again after that.

According to what she wrote, (the thing he is specifically rebutting here) that is self-defense. That is not her abitrarily decking him. That is him putting his hands on another human being and it working out really badly for him. I have zero sympathy for him. As I told my son when he got decked by a girl in his class after he decided that a) he needed to scold her for leaving gum under a desk and b) tugging on her pony tail was the way to get her attention, “Don’t look at me to feel bad for you. You’re lucky she didn’t know how to fight or she’d have laid your ass out.” To his credit, he agreed that she was in the right in terms of her response, and to my knowledge, he’s never pulled a stupid-assed stunt like that again.

When you lay your hands on people without permission, you get the response you get. He’s lucky Norton stopped when she did, I can think of a number of followups that would have put his ass in the hospital and Norton would have been justified in using any of them. He literally committed assault and battery (I think, I’m never clear on battery), and now he’s pissed that she hit him back.

But that’s not enough. Of course, it’s her fault for using…social media…to tell the tale, and of course, of course for waiting <some amount of time>:

Quinn, who is a reporter, didn’t report this story for years, and she didn’t run the story in her capacity as a reporter, she chose social media with no bar for truth, and requirement that her story pass a fact check. Quinn who purports to be a champion against sexism was strangely silent. She sat on her allegations for more than 5 years.

Because Scoble is such a well-known font of fact checking and not using social media to attack people.

I wasn’t going to meme this post, but holy shit, this one is too perfect not to use

It gets worse:

Most telling however is that she makes it clear that her assault of me was premeditated. She planned to separate me from the woman I was making out with, she planned to scare me, and she planned to use her martial arts training to injure me.

In order:

  • No it wasn’t.
  • Yes she did, although not to “preserve the sanctity of marriage” as Scoble said, but to prevent someone unable to give consent from getting raped. Big difference there.
  • She only hit you after you attacked her, you shapeless nincompoop.

I have been trying to internalize that as someone who has been abused that I have behaviors that are part of my survival tactics and I work to change those behaviors. I am attempting to recover from my addictions, but with regard to the immediate allegations from the article the inaccuracies make it hard to be apologetic.

Stop it. Being abused, even sexually as a child doesn’t excuse this. I have any number of friends who were, or abused in other ways, and truth told, so was I. (ain’t going into details, those who need to know do.) But when we’ve been assholes or done fucked-up shit, that was on us. We did that. Not other people. Own. Your. Shit. Same thing with addictions. The eeeeeeevil alcohol did not take an innocent angel and force him to be whatever the hell it is Scoble became when he was drunk. That was already in Scoble, the alcohol, clearly, just gave him an excuse to let it out to play. Denial is no one’s friend here.

And then, in the pinnacle of “it’s all about meee”, what does he do? In this post, what does he do? He. Pimps. His. Ride.

As part of working on myself and repairing the relationships with my family, and unrelated to the recent events, I have been working to launch a new business, and a new career. Social Media has been my life for nearly 20 years, but it encourages a lifestyle that is not healthy for me or my family. I am transitioning into a job where I can work from home much more, and travel much less. This will give me more time to spend with my wife and kids. You can learn a bit about this here: http://lightpitch.launchrock.com/

He just can’t resist it. He cannot stop doing this. Everything he writes is always about him. Which begs the question: was this really an answer to allegations, or just some long-winded stupid way to pimp his next gig?

I honestly don’t know. But I know that reading this, Scoble is still in deep denial, and until he isn’t, nothing will change.

(not) Working in spite (because) of its best efforts

<originally published on Medium on 24 Aug. 2017>

Pokemon Go is just a damned mess, maybe Lord of The Damned Mess

So while I am possessed of a love of hyperbole, I have to say that in many ways, Pokemon Go is one of the worst UI/Accessibility experiences ever. As in barely better than Lotus Notes. (Those of you who know me understand the depths of my hatred for Lotus Notes, an app that once had the copyright symbol in a menu as a command-key equivalent.) (Also, I take that back. This game is far worse than Notes. Notes at least performs its core competency in a reliable fashion that is buggered by an awful UI. Pokemon Go is incapable of reliable operation for more than a few hours at a time.)

In the interests of clarity and transparency, I have no formal training in either UI/UX design, nor accessibility. But I have decades of experience dealing with applications as an IT person, aka helping others use them. I’m also, for the purposes of this post, going to use UI/Accessibility somewhat interchangeably, because if your UI is hard to use for people with no special needs at all, then the chances of it being nice to use for people who need a bit more help are pretty slim.

I just celebrated my 50th birthday, so accessibility issues that weren’t pressing some decades ago now have greater meaning to me.

Also, I play the hell out of Pokemon Go. In spite of its best efforts to make me stop. Aside from the early days of “we don’t know how to size a server farm”, which has by and large been fixed, it is remarkable how relentless this game is in making one hate the physical act of playing it, of interacting with it. Every interaction with Pokemon Go is an example of what I like to call “being nibbled to death by baby ducks”.

In addition, none of this is based on “inside knowledge”. This is just a list of things I see and experience regularly, if not constantly, while playing this game, coupled with a couple decades of knowledge from being a sysadmin. I don’t work on Pokemon Go, but I’m not new to “the biz” as it were.

Finally, I am well aware that Niantic et al have, to their minds, good reasons for every thing I’m about to complain about. But that doesn’t make it okay. That just means there was at least, in theory, some thought behind the decision. The difference is important. Oh, and this is all based on the iOS version of Pokemon Go. No idea about the Android version whatsoever.

Failing Gracefully is for Suckers

One of the most egregious annoyances of Pokemon Go (aka “PokeGo”), is how it is completely and utterly incapable of handling network transitions gracefully. If you are in a situation where you’re walking in and out of WiFi coverage on a regular basis, say a college campus, you’re experiencing the minor hell that is the white spinning pokeball of “you’re not doing anything”.

Venonat Sups On Your Screams

Tap on a pokestop while it’s up? Yeah, right, nothing happening. Try to get into a gym? Right, not happening. Even better, you get “network error” red bars because for some reason, PokeGo just cannot handle the idea that on a mobile device, the network environment is changing constantly. It’s even worse if the WiFi in question is slow or heavily loaded. (Even better? The game queues the “network error” messages, so even when you’re in a stable environment, you’ll get 2–3 more because…reasons. Error messages they can cache. Nothing useful, but that? Sure.)

This is not hard to manage, other apps, even Facebook manage this issue with far more grace than PokeGo. I cannot remember the last time I saw an app so incapable of handling reality in a mobile environment. YouTube handles this better. In fact, PokeGo is literally incapable of functioning sans an active, fairly clean network connection. Don’t believe me? Put your phone in airplane mode. You cannot interact with it at all. You can’t even pivot the screen. Whatever is on the screen stays there, and it gives us a guess as to what is cached. But you can’t tap, touch, drag or do anything. You can’t even pull up your own statistics.

As to why? The only guess I can come up with (after a fascinating Twitter convo about this), is that for as much space as PokeGo takes, it’s basically a very complicated web page. As we can see by PokeGo’s behavior when disconnected and by some other things, this is not the worst theory ever.

PokeGo may be a “fat” app, but it acts like a very rotund web page.

But really, this is one of those “I don’t care why” things. PokeGo runs on a phone. Phones are mobile, the networking environment is dynamic as all get out, heck, there are people living in places where GPRS is luck, much less LTE. Given all the local data Niantic has available to it for almost any player in the US, if not the world, it’s just ridiculous that this game is so dysfunctional when it comes to network issues.

Then there’s the “network error” hell. That’s where you’ll be battling at a gym, or just walking around, good strong connection over WiFi or Cellular and…“Network Error”. As best I can tell, there is no way to recover from this. None. The best you can do is restart the game until the error stops. This may take a few minutes, it may take days. As I write this, I’m in a multi-day version.

For a game so completely dependent on a network connection, I’m agog at how fragile that code seems to be. I’m unsure how Niantic tests any of this, and at this point, I’m 50% certain they never actually test in the real world. They just pass the Agile tests and release. Microsoft Outlook 98 handled network issues better.

Where in the hell am I?

I feel we can’t talk about PokeGo without talking about it’s inspired use of GPS. By which I mean constant, to the point that I wonder if they’re getting paid by the packet. I really wish it was easier to track what apps are doing in iOS, because I’d love to see PokeGo’s network traffic. As near as anyone can tell, and again, this is conjecture, but not completely uninformed conjecture, PokeGo seems to ignore Core Motion and rely exclusively on Core Location and the GPS, and it beats the GPS like it was a lippy British sailor sailing on “The Bounty” right after Capt. Bligh discovered he was out of jam.

People complain about Facebook draining a battery, hah! PokeGo doesn’t just drain a battery, it murders it. Drags it down to the basement, dresses like a clown and murders it. If the great merger between computers and humans ever happens, PokeGo will be the most wanted criminal on 5 continents, and as near as anyone can tell, it’s this constant banging on the GPS that’s doing it. Which means that PokeGo is literally, and deliberately doing this wrong. Because there’s no need.

How do I know this? Because I can sit at my desk, and watch my avatar, at random, suddenly run at high speed across an area that is about 3 miles in diameter. My wife can sit in the theatre she works at and watch her avatar run five miles down the road, hang out long enough for her to hit nearby pokestops before running back. That’s a GPS, because it can’t be anything else. The phone would have to be in motion for it to be anything else.

Let us pretend that PokeGo was not a wrapper around an overcomplicated web page. Here’s how this should work. When the game is launched, or returns to the front after <some time> in the background, PokeGO gets an initial location via GPS to set up the initial map. From there, it stops talking to the GPS and starts using Core Motion. If the various motion sensors don’t indicate any movement, there’s no need to hit the GPS, the device has not moved. Minor movement, say, within a few hundred yards can all be handled via Core Motion.

Basically, this is all inertial navigation, and inertial navigation can be very accurate, ask anyone who flew planes prior to GPS. The best part is, it doesn’t require GPS at all. As long as you know exactly where you’re starting from (which is the initial GPS hit on app launch or coming back to the foreground), inertial nav., (the other INS), will handle your location just fine, and if you’re in a building or there’s really bad weather, it will actually be better than GPS. It will also reduce the “run o’er the land” thing that happens with PokeGo. I’ve gotten, while sitting perfectly still, the “YOU’RE GOING TOO FAST” dialog that one should only get while in the car.

It should, from what I can tell drastically reduce the battery hit. What gets me is that it’s not like PokeGo needs GPS to achieve the desired level of accuracy. Doesn’t need that at all. Maybe someone decided “until all are one, we shall only use the GPS”? Dunno, and at this point, don’t care. It’s something that makes the game less enjoyable than it should be. Case in point. I pick up my phone and move it the 4″ needed to play the game and interact with a gym. PokeGo’s amazing location system decides I have in fact just walked ten yards. Location tracking, UR DOIN IT RONG.

You Get Nothing, Good Day Sir!

The worst part about PokeGo’s dependence on network connections, GPS, and the awful implementations of the same is that at no point does any of that make things better for the player. It actually makes it worse. As I write this, I’m in the second day of nigh-constant network errors that make doing anything other than walking around impossible.

“Oh a Pokestop…network error”
“Oh, a gym…network error”
“Oh, I’m in the middle of a battle…network error”

That last one doesn’t even make sense. Why do I need an active network connection for a gym battle to work at all. At the beginning? Sure. At the end? Okay. You could even make a case for needing one after an individual battle (in a series) is over. But why the hell do I need a network connection to have something throw rocks at something else? Battle information can ALL be cached. It’s just entries in a database, and given the size of PokeGo anyway, the worst that would happen would be that it would needfully bloat the app.

The GPS thing doesn’t make anything more accurate, in fact, it makes it worse. There’s no valid reason that I can even remotely begin to see for any of the behaviors I’ve listed above other than it allows the highest level of codebase reuse. Since Android phones are notoriously unreliable in terms of featureset, by removing as many platform-unique features as possible, you can run on the widest number of devices. But it that’s what you’re going to do, then screw it, make it a web page with minimal local caching and be done with it.

None of the above makes the app better to play. None. of. it.

But wait, there’s more, because now it’s time to dive into the bog of infinite stench that is PokeGo’s interface.

UX and UI are for losers

So yeah. The UI. God, where to begin. Well, lets start with how it actively lies to you. No, really, it shows you things that are not true. For example, according to this, I am standing in a featureless plane with some roads and no pokestops or gyms anywhere:

Hello? Is there anybody in there.

This of course, is a lie. Here’s another view of the same damned area, only after a restart of the game:

I See You Teddiursa

Remember what I said about PokeGo’s misuse of network connections for its functionality doesn’t actually help? Yeah, that’s a prime example. There’s actually a few things in that screenshot, but we’ll get to that later. Here, another example of the Game UI lying to you (apologies for how busy the picture is):

NO POKESTOP FOR YOU

For those of you unversed in PokeGo (and why ARE you reading this if you have never played, it must be dreadful boring), that white circle is critical, as it’s the limits of your “effect” as it were. If a gym or Pokestop is inside that white circle at it’s farthest expanse (it pulses out as you play about once per second, like how people think radar works) you can interact with it, i.e. get stuff, battle, that kind of thing. If it is not, then you can’t.

The Pokestop that has the white circle cutting through its base is in what a player would recognize as “ready” position. The one at the top of the image, that’s about a half-mile away in the real world is not. So, in theory, I tap on the closer Pokestop, the one in “ready” configuration, and I should be able to use it to get stuff, right?

Nope. Here’s what you see when you try:

Your mom wants to use a Pokestop

Nope, you’re not close enough. Why? Because the base of the pokestop is not completely in the white circle of interaction. Here, a closeup:

Well, that’s as clear as mud

See how the circle cuts through the base? No Pokestop for you. In and of itself, that would be fine, but the Pokestop is showing “ready”, not “you’re too far away. If the avatar isn’t close enough, don’t show the Pokestop as ready when it clearly is not.

This kind of thing is astoundingly frustrating, and it’s not just here. Keep in mind, tapping on things is the only way to interact with them. Now, another shot of that same gym and pokestop, but from a different angle:

Oh, this again

(Told you there was more than one thing in that screenshot)

Now, if you want to interact with the gym, you’re going to tap on the center of mass, right, aka the middle of the spinning red thing. That will bring up the gym.

Hah!

What will actually happen is that because there is something behind it, the game will decide you really wanted to tap on the Pokestop behind it (the light blue bit you can barely see), and that is what you will access. The only reliable way to access the gym in this situation is to tap the base of the gym (aka the tiny red circle). How do you know this? Nothing in the UI tells you, it makes you think that tapping the body of the gym will work, because when there is nothing behind it that you could also be tapping on (i.e. it too is “under” your finger), tapping the body of the gym works.

Again, the UI has lied to you. Oh, good luck tapping on that teddiursa or the spinarak beneath the pokeball. You mightbe able to get to teddi without pivoting your view or moving, but that spinarak? Man, the pokeball intercepts all taps.

Two instances of the same thing (object B “underneath” object A as it were, and they behave in the exact opposite way. Because whomever did the UI coding either didn’t test for consistency of behavior, or just didn’t care. But either way, the UI here is lying to you, twice in one screenshot! I mean, it’s efficient, but it also makes you hate the game, which one would think is not the actual goal here.

Tap detection and discernment are just awful throughout the game, and it’s pretty obvious that z-axis collisions are not even close to a priority for PokeGo. No really, here:

What we got back didn’t live long…fortunately

Were this Star Trek, this would be an example of a transporter accident gone horribly wrong. For the uninitiated, what my avatar is looking on at, in horror just before the non-euclidian horror beast in front of him drives him forever mad, is a teddiursa right next to, (and I mean RIGHT next to) a Sentret and a Spinarak occupying the exact same space. (The Sentret is the flying squirrel looking one. It evolves into a ferret-looking thing. Pokemon is weird AF.) So, what happens if you tap on the beast with two bodies?

Dunno. You may have to try to catch the Sentret, you may have to try to catch the Spinarak, hell, you may think you were tapping on the thing from beyond, but actually, as far as the game is concerned, you were tapping on the teddiursa, or, the game may display the ever popular “error” message, and you discover that one or both of the Dunwich Horrors there weren’t even supposed to be there, but thanks to the game’s amazing use of the internet for literally everything, the game hadn’t gotten around to actually removing them.

I lost track of how many lies in one screenshot. But there’s a few there. However, that screenshot lets me segue nicely into the next complaint: The UI is kind of useless at being a reliable indicator of what’s going on. For example, we don’t actually know what’s going to happen when we tap. There’s too many options, and only one will be “correct” for our needs. Unfortunately, there’s no good way to tell. Here, another example:

Which one will you get? Beats me!

So in this screenshot, there’s only one thing you can tap on with any reliability, the Pidgey kind of standing off by itself. If you tap on the base of the Pokestop and aren’t precise enough, well, you may get the Pokestop, you may get the Natu (the green bird), you may get the Bulbasaur (Frog with very large tumor. There’s a lot of cancer in Pokemon), hell, if you tap high, you may even get the gym, and there’s no reliable way to know without being VERY precise.

Because in a game that lives and dies by the tap, who needs good tap detection!

Oh, wait, this just happened. So just now, I picked up my phone to get another screen shot, and I’d been in the gym feeding my Pokemon (it’s a thing in the game, if you don’t play, that’s not important.) When you do this, you tap on the fruit icon on the left, then on the fruit to feed your Pokemon. So it looks like this:

I’m obviously a Beavis & Butt-head fan

So I leave the gym and come back to keep writing this thing, and I pull up PokeGo for a second and I see this:

SHIP IT!

This literally should never happen. It’s two completely different modes of the game. The game is now crossing the streams. Why? How? beats me. But then I see a pokemon I want to catch, so I tap on it:

Hey, Skarmory RULES

So this sort of looks like the “feed the pokemon you’re trying to capture a candy to get better results” screen, except in that case, you shouldn’t see the pokeball. Oh, and also at this point, the UI is now completely unresponsive and I have to restart the game.

I caught the Skarmory after the restart, so that’s okay.

If this was the only bug in PokeGo, given it’s the first time I’ve seen it, I’d not care. But it’s not, not even close, so screw it, I’ll sledge the game with this too. It’s not like Niantic seems to care either way.

Okay, so going back to the tap detection bit, this brings up yet another serious issue with PokeGo: It’s pretty much unplayable if you have any problems with precise motor control.

Accessibility? If you’re not perfectly able, we don’t want you playing

Wait, no, not “pretty much”. Completely. It’s an accessibility mess.

Take a look at the tap issues I highlighted earlier. Those are a pain to deal with when you have good motor control, correctable vision, etc. Take away any of those? Good. Luck. It’s even worse catching a pokemon. Hold on, another screen shot:

you wish you could throw this straight

So here’s the basic capture screen with a Rattata (aka “JESUS CHRIST, DID THE RATS EAT ALL THE OTHER POKEMON?”) The ball in the bottom is the thing you’re throwing. The icon on the left is for throwing fruit at the Pokemon to modify their behavior, (make them easier to catch, less twitchy, get more candies. Admittedly, you hit me in the face with a raspberry as big as I am, I’m going to be real easy to catch.) The icon on the right lets me choose different pokeballs to presumably make it easier to catch the Pokemon. Good luck on that, it’s a random dice roll. I miss more, per capita, with higher end balls than I do with the generic Pokeballs. I can’t even rant about that, it’s just too depressing, but the tl;dr is none of this really matters, it’s all luck. The different candies and balls are just a way to get you to give Niantic money.)

Note the red arrow. that’s the only path that will get you a “straight” throw, i.e. one that doesn’t curve off to one side. It’s not a wide path, and I may have actually drawn it wider than it really is. Now, curves are not bad, if you capture a Pokemon with a curve, you get more experience points. The problem is, it’s ridiculously easy to curve. Too easy, especially given the tendency to play PokeGo one handed.

Rattatas are pretty easy even then, because they’re so “close” that curves don’t really affect much. But something like a Zubat that you have to fling a ball into practically the next county to catch? Yeah, then the overly restrictive “straight” is not your friend. Nor is the amount of speed you need to fling a ball at a more distant Pokemon. The faster you drag your finger, the more likely it is to not be a perfectly straight drag.

So again, people with not great vision and especially people who have less than amazing fine motor control? Yeah, good luck on that. And it’s never been fixed or even improved. Niantic may not directly say “we only want perfectly-abled people playing”, but the design of the game; janky tap targets, the UI lying to you, the no margin for error Pokeball throwing all send that message loud and clear.

The worst part is, there’s no reason for the curves to behave that way, there’s a dedicated gesture for curves. Seriously, you put your finger or whatever digit you use on the ball and twirl it. After a few spins, you’re in curve mode, you even get little sparkles to show you that. The really odd thing is that this gesture is actually pretty-well thought out. You don’t have to spin it fast, you can spin in rather wide circles, the curve sets nicely to how much you spin, etc. It’s such a well-though-out option that I’m surprised it made it into the game or hasn’t been brutally nerfed to suck as much as the rest of the UI.

If you need accessibility consideration, this is not the game for you.

What To Do

None of this is unfixable.

  1. Stop machine-gunning the GPS and use Core Motion properly. Battery life will improve as will the playability of the game. Inertial Nav works really well, use it. The number of stupid annoyances this will fix are not small. No game designed around walking needs that many GPS fixes.
  2. Stop making this game completely non-functional without a network connection. It is not unreasonable to say, on game load, to cache everything within say an eighth of a mile of the phone. The game servers have all that data, this is not some impossible task. It won’t make the game usable at full capacity in a non-networked situation, but it will at least be usable. Then just update it periodically if the phone moves. It’s not like this game is small now. At least this way, some of that multi-hundred-megabyte code will make the game nicer to play.
  3. In a mobile environment, network connection transitions are real and common. Being unable to gracefully deal with this common thing is completely inexcusable.
  4. Stop. Lying. To. The. User. If a Pokestop is not usable, don’t make it look like it is. Fix the friggin’ tap interception code. Read up on axis collision avoidance and stop dropping multiple Pokemon in the same place. Don’t show Pokemon that aren’t “really” there.
  5. Make your game playable to more users. There is no reason a game like PokeGo can’t have better usability for all users, regardless of how able they are. Make the game better to play one handed. Accessibility isn’t just the right thing to do, it makes you money. (Estimated numbers. 1.3 million legally blind people. 400,000 with MS. 764,000 folks with Cerebral Palsy. 1 in every 7250 males between 5–24 years of age have some form of Muscular Dystrophy. There’s a lot of people y’all are excluding via bad design and play mechanics.)

Now, before it starts, none of this is “easy” in the “takes ten minutes” sense. It’s not even vaguely impossible, but it’s not easy either. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be done all at once. The ocean doesn’t need to be boiled here. Fix this issue, then fix that issue and eventually, you’re running low on issues. Isn’t that the idea behind all this Agile joy?

I mean, I’m really sure the people coding PokeGo want people to enjoy playing the game, and more people playing period. Maybe it’s time Niantic actually focused on that.