Would we miss the Media Lab if it were gone? – gpgmail


A friend and MIT grad wrote to me yesterday, “I don’t know if the Media Lab is redeemable at all.” This in the wake of the bombshell Ronan Farrow piece in the New Yorker, reporting that the Media Lab under its director Joi Ito had covered up a much closer relationship with Jeffrey Epstein than previously revealed. Ito promptly resigned.

The Media Lab has always occupied a curious place in the tech world. According to itself, it “transcends known boundaries and disciplines by actively promoting a unique, antidisciplinary culture that emboldens unconventional mixing and matching of seemingly disparate research areas … In its earliest years, some saw the Media Lab as a house of misfits. Here, the emphasis was on building; the Lab’s motto was “demo or die.””

It ceased being viewed as a house of misfits a long time ago. Instead it has become perceived as a hyper-prestigious, creme-de-la-creme entity, a weird mixture of counterculture and patrician, seen as home to the best (and coolest) of the best, whose annual budget has tripled from $25 million in 2009 to $75 million in 2019. It seems fair to estimate that roughly a billion inflation-adjusted dollars have been spent on it since its birth in 1986.

While it’s an academic institution it has always been exceptionally business-oriented. “At first glance, much of the Media Lab’s research may seem tangential to current business realities, but for more than 30 years, the Lab has demonstrated that seemingly “far out” research can find its way into the most conventional—and useful—applications … The Media Lab has spawned dozens of new products by our members, and over 150 start-up companies,” to quote, again, them.

And yet. One can’t help but notice. Consider its basic ingredients:

  1. founded in 1986, as Moore’s Law began to hit us all, and tech began the exponential growth that has made it the world’s dominant force
  2. at the most prestigious technical university on the entire planet
  3. in a position to pick and choose from the brightest minds of its generation
  4. allotted $1 billion to spend over those thirty years of hockey-stick growth

Given all that, wouldn’t you have expected … well … a whole lot more than what it has actually accomplished?

Because that list of accomplishments is surprisingly scrawny. Take its spin-off companies. Here’s its list. Trivia question: how many Media Lab spinoffs have gone public, without merging or being acquired, in its 33 years of existence? As far as I can tell, the answer is one, and even that comes with a sizable asterisk: the Art Technology Group, which didn’t start building products until six years after it spun out (it was a consultancy), IPOd during the first dot-boom, and was eventually acquired by Oracle.

There are companies you’ll recognize on that list. Well, there’s one: BuzzFeed. Yes, really. There are a few others of note. Harmonix, makers of Rock Band. Makani Power, acquired by Alphabet six years ago. Elance, which became Upwork and then had its platform phased out. Jana. Formlabs, Otherlab, The Echo Nest, all of which I think are great, but none of which I would have heard of if not for some personal connections. One Laptop Per Child, a bad idea a decade ago and a forgotten one now. And, notably, E Ink, the Media Lab’s one definite, unambiguous big win … back in 1996.

It’s not nothing, but it’s so much less than you’d expect, given its ingredients. It’s certainly no Bell Labs, or Xerox PARC, or even Y Combinator, and I say that as someone who is less of a YC enthusiast than most of the Valley.

OK, I hear you arguing, but they’re a basic research facility! Spinoff companies are not their true measure of success! Sure. Fine. So let’s take a hard look at their own list of their top 30 tech products or platforms (PDF). Aside from E Ink — which, again, was 23 years ago — doesn’t that look a lot like a list of occasionally interesting, but fundamentally limited and/or niche, technologies? Doesn’t it seem rather utterly devoid of any significant impact on the world?

Wouldn’t you have expected so, so much more?

Criticisms that the Lab is more about style and sizzle than serious substance are not exactly new. Nor are they old: here’s a piece condemning its recent “personal food computer” as smoke and mirrors that doesn’t actually work. This “Hunter S. Negroponte” piece dates back to the 1990s. It’s satire, but if you read it, you’ll likely find you can’t help but raise your eyebrows and wonder just how far back the Media Lab’s systemic problems go.

Maybe if it hadn’t been a “plutocratic friendocracy,” to quote former Media Lab faculty, and it had actually systemically favored the best and brightest and most innovative, regardless of background or personal connection — maybe then things would have been very different. Maybe it would actually have been what it pretended to be for all this time.




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13 ways to screw over your internet provider – gpgmail


Internet providers are real bastards: they have captive audiences whom they squeeze for every last penny while they fight against regulation like net neutrality and donate immense amounts of money to keep on lawmakers’ good sides. So why not turn the tables? Here are 13 ways to make sure your ISP has a hard time taking advantage of you (and may even put it on the defensive).

Disclosure: Verizon, an internet provider guilty of all these infractions, owns gpgmail, and I don’t care.

1. Buy a modem and router instead of renting

The practice of renting a device to users rather than selling it or providing it as part of the service is one of the telecommunications industry’s oldest and worst. People pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars over years for equipment worth $40 or $50. ISPs do this with various items, but the most common item is probably the modem.

This is the gadget that connects to the cable coming out of your wall, and then connects in turn (or may also function as) your wireless and wired router. ISPs often provide this equipment at the time of install, and then charge you $5 to $10 per month forever. What they don’t tell you is you can probably buy the exact same item for somewhere between $30 and $100.

The exact model you need will depend on your service, but it will be listed somewhere, and they should tell you what they’d provide if you ask. Look online, buy a new or lightly used one, and it will have paid for itself before the year is out. Not only that, but you can do stuff like upgrade or change the software on it all you want, because it’s yours. Bonus: The ISP is limited in what it can do to the router (like letting other people connect — yes, it’s a thing).

2. Avoid service calls, or if you can’t, insist they’re free

I had an issue with my Comcast internet a while back that took them several visits from a service tech to resolve. It wasn’t an issue on my end, which was why I was surprised to find they’d charged me $30 or so every time the person came.

If your ISP wants to send someone out, ask whether it’s free, and if it isn’t, tell them to make it free or ask if you can do it yourself (sometimes it’s for really simple stuff like swapping a cable). If they charge you for a visit, call them and ask them to take it off your bill. Say you weren’t informed and you’ll inform the Better Business Bureau about it, or take your business elsewhere, or something. They’ll fold.

When someone does come…

3. Get deals from the installer

If you do end up having someone come out, talk to them to see whether there are any off the record deals they can offer you. I don’t mean anything shady like splitting cables with the neighbor, just offers they know about that aren’t publicized because they’re too good to advertise.

A lot of these service techs are semi-independent contractors paid by the call, and their pay has nothing to do with which service you have or choose. They have no reason to upsell you and every reason to make you happy and get a good review. Sometimes that means giving you the special desperation rates ISPs withhold until you say you’re going to leave.

And as long as you’re asking…

4. Complain, complain, complain

This sounds bad, but it’s just a consequence of how these companies work: The squeaky wheels get the grease. There’s plenty of grease to go around, so get squeaking.

Usually this means calling up and doing one of several things. You can complain that service has been bad — outages and such — and ask that they compensate you for that. You can say that a competing ISP started offering service at your location and it costs $20 less, so can they match that. Or you can say your friend just got a promotional rate and you’d like to take advantage of it… otherwise you’ll leave to that phantom competitor. (After all, we know there’s often little or no real competition.)

What ISPs, and, more importantly, what their customer service representatives care about is keeping you on as a customer. They can always raise rates or upsell you later, but having you as a subscriber is the important thing.

Note that some reps are more game than others. Some will give you the runaround, while others will bend over backwards to help you out. Feel free to call a few times and do a bit of window shopping. (By the way, if you get someone nice, give them a good review if you get the chance, usually right after the call or chat. It helps them out a lot.) Obviously you can’t call every week with new demands, so wait until you think you can actually save some money.

Which reminds me…

5. Choose your service level wisely

ISPs offer a ton of choices, and make it confusing on purpose so you end up picking an expensive one just to be sure you have what you need. The truth is most people can probably do pretty much everything they need on the lowest tier they offer.

A 1080p Netflix stream will work fine on a 25 Mbps connection, which is what I have. I also work entirely online, stream high-def videos at a dozen sites all day, play games, download movies and do lots of other stuff, sometimes all at the same time. I think I pay $45 a month. But rates like mine might not be advertised prominently or at all. I only found out when I literally asked what the cheapest possible option was.

That said, if you have three kids who like to watch videos simultaneously, or you have a 4K streaming setup that you use a lot, you’ll want to bump that up a bit. But you’d be surprised how seldom the speed limit actually comes into play.

To be clear, it’s still important that higher tiers are available, and that internet providers upgrade their infrastructure, because competition and reliability need to go up and prices need to come down. The full promise of broadband should be accessible to everyone for a reasonable fee, and that’s still not the case.

6. Stream everything because broadcast TV is a joke

Cord-cutting is fun. Broadcast TV is annoying, and getting around ads and air times using a DVR is very 2005. Most shows are available on streaming services of some kind or another, and while those services are multiplying, you could probably join all of them for well under what you’re paying for the 150 cable channels you never watch.

Unless you really need to watch certain games or news shows as they’re broadcast, you can get by streaming everything. This has the side effect of starving networks of viewers and accelerating the demise of these 20th-century relics. Good ones will survive as producers and distributors of quality programming, and you can support them individually on their own merits. It’s a weird transitional time for TV, but we need to drop-kick them into the future so they’ll stop charging us for a media structure established 50 years ago.

Something isn’t available on a streaming service? 100 percent chance it’s because of some dumb exclusivity deal or licensing SNAFU. Go pirate it for now, then happily pay for it as soon as it’s made available. This method is simple for you and instructive for media companies. (They always see piracy rates drop when they make things easy to find and purchase.)

This also lets you avoid certain fees ISPs love tacking onto your bill. I had a “broadcast TV fee” on my bill despite not having any kind of broadcast service, and I managed to get it taken off and retroactively paid back.

On that note…

7. Watch your bill like a hawk

Telecoms just love putting things on your bill with no warning. It’s amazing how much a bill can swell from the quoted amount once they’ve added all the little fees, taxes and service charges. What are they, anyway? Why not call and ask?

You might find out, as I did, that your ISP had “mistakenly” been charging you for something — like equipment — that you never had nor asked for. Amazing how these lucrative little fees tend to fall through the cracks!

Small charges often increase and new ones get added as well, so download your bill when you get it and keep it somewhere (or just keep the paper copies). These are really handy to have when you’re on the phone with a rep. “Why wasn’t I informed my bill would increase this month by $50?” “Why is this fee more now than it was in July?” “Why do I pay a broadcast fee if I don’t pay for TV?” These are the types of questions that get you discounts.

Staying on top of these fees also means you’ll be more aware when there are things like mass refunds or class action lawsuits about them. Usually these have to be opted into — your ISP isn’t going to call you, apologize and send a check.

As long as you’re looking closely at your bill…

8. Go to your account and opt out of everything

When you sign up for broadband service, you’re going to get opted into a whole heap of things. They don’t tell you about these, like the ads they can inject, the way they’re selling this or that data or that your router might be used as a public Wi-Fi hotspot.

You’ll only find this out if you go to your account page at your ISP’s website and look at everything. Beyond the usual settings like your address and choice of whether to receive a paper bill, you’ll probably find a few categories like “privacy” and “communications preferences.”

Click through all of these and look for any options to opt out of stuff. You may find that your ISP has reserved the right to let partners email you, use your data in ways you wouldn’t expect and so on. It only takes a few minutes to get out of all this, and it deprives the ISP of a source of income while also providing a data point that subscribers don’t like these practices.

9. Share your passwords

Your friend’s internet provider gets him streaming services A, B and C, while yours gives you X, Y and Z. Again, this is not about creators struggling to get their content online, but rather all about big media and internet corporations striking deals that make them money and harm consumers.

Share your (unique, not reused!) passwords widely and with a clean conscience. No company objects when you invite your friends over to watch “Fleabag” at your house. This just saves everyone a drive!

10. Encrypt everything and block trackers

One of the internet companies’ many dirty little deals is collecting and selling information on their customers’ watching and browsing habits. Encrypting your internet traffic puts the kibosh on this creepy practice — as well as being good security.

This isn’t really something you can do too much to accomplish, since over the last few years encryption has become the rule rather than the exception, even at sites where you don’t log in or buy anything. If you want to be sure, download a browser plug-in like HTTPS everywhere, which opts you into a secure connection anywhere it’s available. You can tell it’s secure because the URL says “https://” instead of “http://” — and most browsers have other indicators or warnings as well.

You should also use an ad blocker, not necessarily to block ads that keep outlets like gpgmail alive (please), but to block trackers seeded across the web by companies that use sophisticated techniques to record everything you do. ISPs are among these and/or do business with them, so everything you can do to hinder them is a little mud in their eye.

Incidentally there are lots of ways you can protect your privacy from those who would invade it — we’ve got a pretty thorough guide here.

11. Use a different DNS

Bryce Durbin / gpgmail

On a similar note, most ISPs will usually be set up by default with their own “Domain Name Service,” which is the thing that your browser pings to convert a text web URL (like “Gpgmail.com”) to its numerical IP address.

There are lots of these to choose from, and they all work, but if you use your ISP’s, it makes it much easier for them to track your internet activity. They also can block certain websites by refusing to provide the IP for content they don’t like.

gpgmail doesn’t officially endorse one, but lots of companies offer free, fast DNS that’s easy to switch to. Here’s a good list; there are big ones (Google, Cloudflare), “open” ones (OpenDNS, OpenNIC) and others with some niche features. All you need to do is slot those two numbers into your internet configuration, following the instructions they provide. You can change it back at any time.

Setting up a VPN is another option for very privacy-conscious individuals, but it can be complicated. And speaking of complicated…

12. Run a home server

This is a bit advanced, but it’s definitely something ISPs hate. Setting up your home computer or a dedicated device to host a website, script or service seems like a natural use of an always-on internet connection, but just about everyone in the world would rather you sign up for their service, hosted on their hardware and their connection.

Well, you don’t have to! You can do it on your own. Of course, you’ll have to learn how to run and install a probably Unix-based server, handle registry stuff, install various packages and keep up to date so you don’t get owned by some worm or bot… but you’ll have defied the will of the ISP. That’s the important thing.

13. Talk to your local government

ISPs hate all the things above, but what they hate the most by far is regulation. And you, as a valued citizen of your state and municipality, are in a position to demand it. Senators, representatives, governors, mayors, city councils and everyone else actually love to hear from their constituency, not because they desire conversation but because they can use it to justify policy.

During the net neutrality fight, a constant refrain I heard from government officials was how much they’d heard from voters about the issue and how unanimous it was (in support, naturally). A call or email from you won’t sway national politics, but a few thousand calls or emails from people in your city just might sway a local law or election. These things add up, and they do matter. State net neutrality policies are now the subject of national attention, and local privacy laws like those in Illinois are the bane of many a shady company.

Tell your local government about your experience with ISPs — outages, fees, sneaky practices or even good stuff — and they’ll file it away for when that data is needed, such as renegotiating the contracts national companies sign with those governments in order to operate in their territories.

Internet providers only do what they do because they are permitted to, and even then they often step outside the bounds of what’s acceptable — which is why rules like net neutrality are needed. But first people have to speak out.


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Made In Space is building satellites that build themselves – gpgmail


In a nondescript building near Moffett Field, still undistracted by any VC funding, an 80-person company named Made In Space is building tools for the next generation of satellites and space exploration, including most remarkably, the first self-manufacturing satellite, due for launch in three years’ time.

Building in space rather than on the ground, courtesy of 3D printers and automated assembly, comes with many advantages. You can save volume by sending dense feedstock for 3D printers rather than capacious constructed objects. More importantly, if you don’t have to build to survive the traumatic forces of launch, you can use more fragile designs, and hence less mass.

Made in Space’s 3D printers have already done several tours of duty on the International Space Station, “Five years ago, manufacturing in space was a dream,” says Andrew Rush, co-founder and CEO. “Now there are months we’re manufacturing so much stuff in orbit it seems almost pedestrian.”

“We have manufacturing, we have printing, now let’s get assembly, let’s get robotic operations,” concurs Jim Bridenstine, as behind him a robot arm loops wires onto a full-size 3D-printed reflector disk, in a headquarters decorated with classic Star Trek posters and the world’s largest 3D-printed object. (A 37.7-meter long tube of aerospace polymer. They stopped there because they ran out of hallway.) That breakthrough launch, targeted for 2022, is called Archinaut One.

It’s not that the entire satellite will be constructed in orbit from bricks of polymer and wire, obviously. But Archinaut One, for which NASA has awarded Made in Space $73.7 million, will manufacture two ten-meter-long wings of solar arrays rather than unfold the customary smaller panels, generating “as much as five times more power than traditional solar panels on spacecraft of similar size.”

The potential commercial applications are numerous. Most obviously, Internet-via-satellite solutions require bandwidth, and, basically, power equals bandwidth. Bridenstine, who extols how this work was done by a small business rather than by NASA proper, clearly prefers NASA as a customer of the private space sector, or better yet “one of many customers,” rather than owning / building new technologies itself. Archinaut One is in turn something of a prototype for eventual robotic construction of the controversial Lunar Gateway.

But whether you’re convinced by the Gateway architecture serious skeptic, Made in Space’s technology is genuinely exciting, and impressively multifaceted. They intend to recycle waste polymer on the ISS. They plan to manufacture optical fiber in space which would “greatly outperform” standard fibers. They do sheet-metal extrusion and are interested in 3D printing metals as well as polymers in space.

Most interesting of all is their approach to converting lunar and other regolith into 3D-printing feedstock and using it that to construct extremely strong, and airtight, structures. It turns out that 70% moondust can be mixed with 30% polymer nodules into a mix that can be heated into 3D feedstock for a remarkable one-thirtieth the energy cost of sintering. Their ridiculously awesome, ridiculously ambitious long-term plan to construct spacecraft from asteroids is called “Project RAMA,” presumably a nod to the Clarke novel.

That sounds a lot like the proverbial pie in the sky, but given their accomplishments to date, Made in Space has earned the right to be taken seriously. The company’s four co-founders met in Singularity University, talked NASA into giving them a dusty disused basement room as their initial office, and, despite being just a few miles from Sand Hill Road, have since grown to their current size without taking any dilutive funding — no less an achievement than their science and engineering feats to date.


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Crypto means cryptotheology – gpgmail


Cryptocurrencies are a religion as much as they are a technology. They almost have to be, given their adherents’ gargantuan ambition of fundamentally changing how the world works. This means they attract charlatans, lunatics, frauds, and false prophets, and furious battles are waged over doctrinal hairspliitting; but it also means they inspire intransigent beliefs which can, and do, unify many thousands of wildly different people across continents and time zones.

This occurred to me while I was rereading Gibbon’s Decline and Fall, as one does, and in particular its depictions of the early days of the Christian faith:

But whatever difference of opinion might subsist between the Orthodox [church], the Ebionites, and the Gnostics, concerning the divinity or the obligation of the Mosaic law, they were all equally animated by the same exclusive zeal; and by the same abhorrence for idolatry ..,. the established religions of Paganism were seen by the primitive Christians in a much more odious and formidable light. It was the universal sentiment both of the church and of heretics, that the daemons were the authors, the patrons, and the objects of idolatry.

For Orthodox church, Ebionites, and Gnostics, you can read perhaps, “Bitcoin maximalists”, “Blockchain not bitcoin,” and “Ethereum maximalists.” They disagree bitterly, but one view they all share is a disdain verging and frequently exceeding contempt for fiat currencies, untokenized assets, and most other aspects of money and finance as they are currently constructed. Instead they share a deep belief in the superiority, and inevitable supremacy, very different world.

The superstitious observances of public or private rites were carelessly practised, from education and habit, by the followers of the established religion. But as often as they occurred, they afforded the Christians an opportunity of declaring and confirming their zealous opposition. By these frequent protestations their attachment to the faith was continually fortified; and in proportion to the increase of zeal, they combated with the more ardor and success in the holy war, which they had undertaken against the empire of the demons.

I think few will disagree that, similarly, many cryptocurrency devotees seek out and seize every “opportunity of declaring and confirming their zealous opposition” to government money, central banks, rival maximalists, and other features of the monetary, financial, and/or centralized status quo.

The careless Polytheist, assailed by new and unexpected terrors, against which neither his priests nor his philosophers could afford him any certain protection, was very frequently terrified and subdued by the menace of eternal tortures. His fears might assist the progress of his faith and reason; and if he could once persuade himself to suspect that the Christian religion might possibly be true, it became an easy task to convince him that it was the safest and most prudent party that he could possibly embrace.

Similarly I don’t think it’s controversial to note that prophecies of the hyperinflation and collapse of national currencies, the downfall of central banks and fractional reserve banking in general, etc., are not unheard of among some of the … edgier … cryptocurrency people. One might even refer to the notion of “preaching the gospel” of deflationary, censorship-resistant cryptocurrency, sometimes in the hopes of scaring everyone who hears this doomsaying into buying some Bitcoin as a hedge.

Of course the religious parallels do not end with Gibbon. Cryptocurrencies were given to us not by a known, living, breathing, flawed human being, but by a pseudonymous verging-on-mythical quasi-demigod. (Cf eg “Satoshi’s Vision.”) Mythically speaking, that’s easily analogized to Prometheus granting humanity fire, or Moses bringing the stone tablets down from Mount Sinai. They have real and false prophets. There’s even a “Bitcoin Jesus.” And all promise a better world tomorrow, while demanding sacrifices and inconveniences today.

My tongue is obviously in cheek here — but I’m not entirely unserious. Of course all money is ultimately backed by faith (cf “full faith and credit.”) But this is I think unquestionably more true of cryptocurrencies, especially because, a decade on from their creation, they have failed — so far! — to transform the world to a degree anything like their proclaimed potential.

Bitcoin itself is apparently going from strength to strength, as can be seen in its increasing dominance of total cryptocurrency market capitalization, but it’s still beyond tiny compared to the rest of the financial world. Its total trading volume as I write this is roughly ~$15 billion per day, which admittedly sounds like a lot, but compared to the $5.1 trillion a day for the forex market as a whole, it’s roughly one-quarter of one percent.

More importantly, Bitcoin continues to technically iterate (although I’ve grown skeptical about Lightning, which it seems to me will always suffer from all the end-user inconveniences of prepaid credit cards, with few balancing advantages) and has hovered near or above $10,000 in value for months now. But the uncertainties and investigations regarding Tether remain a threatening cloud on its horizon.

As for other cryptocurrencies, though — well, these are complex times.

Ethereum, the best-known and perhaps most interesting, has gone from a wave of DAO excitement shortly after its launch, which faltered, to a wave of ICO madness and “fat protocol” DApps (decentralized applications), which also faltered, to the latest wave and watchword, “DeFi” aka decentralized finance. This essentially aims to reinvent all of Wall Street and the City of London on the blockchain(s), in the long term.

Meanwhile, the technical underpinnings that would allow Ethereum to scale to Wall Street size, known as “Ethereum 2.0,” remain more notional than real. I’m a big fan of Ethereum (my own pet crypto project is built on it) and I don’t think DeFi is doomed to failure … but under the circumstances I can understand skepticism creeping in among those who are not true believers.

There are plenty of other technically interesting cryptocurrency initiatives: from privacy coins such as ZCash, Monero, and Grin, to the use of Tezos by Brazil’s fifth largest bank for security tokens (again, DeFi), to the growth and stabilization of Cosmos’s “internet of blockchains,” to Blockstack’s total-app-installs graph beginning to look a little more exponential than linear, albeit with still-tiny y-axis numbers.

However, I think it’s also fair to say that now that cryptocurrencies are no longer new, unknown, and fascinating, interest among both individuals and enterprises who are not true believers has waned considerably. The cultural whiplash one experiences when transitioning from a conference full of people convinced they are building a new technology that will transform the fundamental order of the world, to outsiders (even technical outsiders) remarking “oh, is that still a thing?” is increasingly sharp.

That was probably true of the Christians after they ceased to be new and interesting, though, and in the end the Christians conquered the most powerful empire in the world from within. I am definitely not prophesying the same outcome here. I continue to think cryptocurrencies will remain a financial alternative, albeit a very significant and important one, used only by a few percent of people.

But I am saying that seeming increasingly distant from the external consensus reality, being driven by intransigent and sometimes bewildering faith as much as rational analysis, and ongoing associations with a cloud of crazy scandal and hangers-on snake-oil salespeople — all of which would be catastrophic signs for, say, a traditional new startup — can actually be indicators of the strength, not weakness, of a strange new religion. Something to bear in mind as we move into the second decade of cryptocurrencies.


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The mainstream media have still not learned the lessons of Gamergate – gpgmail


This week the New York Times published a five-years-later retrospective on Gamergate and its aftereffects, which is chilling and illuminating, and you should go read it. It makes an excellent case — several excellent written cases, actually — that “everything is Gamergate,” that it and its hate-screeching online mobs were the prototype for all the culture and media wars since and to come.

Sadly, the lesson expounded herein by the NYT is one which they — and other media — do not yet seem to have actually learned themselves.

Let’s look at another piece which called Gamergate a template for cultural warfare, using the media as a battleground. This one was written back in 2014, by one Kyle Walker, in Deadspin, and its scathing, take-no-prisoners real-time analysis was downright prophetic. A few of its most important passages:

Gamergate is […] a relatively small and very loud group of video game enthusiasts who claim that their goal is to audit ethics in the gaming-industrial complex and who are instead defined by the campaigns of criminal harassment that some of them have carried out against several women […] What’s made it effective, though, is that it’s exploited the same basic loophole in the system that generations of social reactionaries have: the press’s genuine and deep-seated belief that you gotta hear both sides … that anyone more respectable than, say, an avowed neo-Nazi is operating in something like good faith

It is now clear to us all that that last statement is no longer correct … in that it is far too optimistic. Two years ago, the NYT made it apparent that they are in fact willing to assume “an avowed neo-Nazi is operating in something like good faith,” when they published a piece about “the Nazi sympathizer next door,” one variously called “chummy” (Quartz), “sympathetic” (Business Insider), and “normalizing” (NYT readers themselves, among many others.)

Back to Wagner in Deadspin:

The demands for journalistic integrity coming from Gamergate have nothing at all to do with the systemic corruption of the gaming media … The claims from what we like to call the “bias journalisms” school of media criticism aren’t meant to express anything in particular, or even, perhaps, to be taken seriously; they’re meant to work the referees, to get them looking over their shoulders, to soften them up in the hopes that a particular grievance, whatever its merits, might get a better hearing next time around.

How does it play out? Like this: Earlier this month, the New York Times covered Intel’s capitulation in the face of a coordinated Gamergate campaign, called “Operation Disrespectful Nod.”

Here’s that NYT piece from five years ago. It, in turn, begins:

For a little more than a month, a firestorm over sexism and journalistic ethics has roiled the video game community, culminating in an orchestrated campaign to pressure companies into pulling their advertisements from game sites.

That campaign won a big victory in recent days with a decision by Intel, the chip maker, to pull ads from Gamasutra, a site for game developers.

Intel’s decision added to a controversy that has focused attention on the treatment of women in the games business and the power of online mobs. The debate intensified in August, partly because of the online posts of a spurned ex-boyfriend of a female game developer.

Wagner’s inescapable conclusion:

The story continued in this vein—cautious, assiduously neutral, lobotomized […] Both sides were heard. And thus did Leigh Alexander’s commentary on the pluralism of gaming today get equal time with a campaign bent on silencing her. …Make it a story about an oppressive and hypocritical media conspiracy, and all of a sudden you have a cause, a side in a “debate.”

Gamergate, like so many bad-faith movements since, followed a variant of the “motte and bailey” strategy, which is

when you make a bold, controversial statement. Then when somebody challenges you, you claim you were just making an obvious, uncontroversial statement, so you are clearly right and they are silly for challenging you. Then when the argument is over you go back to making the bold, controversial statement.

Here, the motte is an ugly or vile cause — in Gamergate’s case, vicious misogyny — and the bailey is an entirely different purported argument — for Gamergate, “it’s about ethics in games journalism.” They work the latter argument for credibility, but entirely in bad faith, because it is tacitly understood, both internally and externally, albeit in a quasi-deniable way, that what they actually care about is their ugly cause.

This has become the playbook for so many modern disputes, because it continues to be a thoroughly effective way to manipulate the mainstream media. Arguments about purported “grievance politics,” or “the decline of America sanctioned by the elites,” or a manufactured, fictional “immigration crisis,” all continue to be treated by the media as legitimate grievances, and/or good-faith disputes, rather than a thin pretext for bald-faced racism and xenophobia.

Every so often the motte is accidentally revealed, as when the head of the USCIS said, just this week, that the famous poem which adorns the Statue of Liberty referred to “people coming from Europe.” But in general the pretense of the bailey is upheld.

Let me reiterate: the pretense. These are arguments knowingly made in bad faith. What’s more, the actual cause soon becomes apparent to those who investigate the subject with open and searching minds. Good journalists should not be willing accept such distorted pretenses at face value, nor assume good faith without evidence. The NYT clearly made that mistake, fell into that trap, with Gamergate five years ago. As Wagner put it then,

What we have in Gamergate is a glimpse of how these skirmishes will unfold in the future—all the rhetorical weaponry and siegecraft of an internet comment section brought to bear on our culture, not just at the fringes but at the center.

How right he was. And yet it is all too apparent that, in the heart and at the heights of the New York Times, nothing of significance has been learned. How else to explain how, five years after Gamergate, and two years after “readers accuse(d) us of normalizing a Nazi sympathizer,” the NYT continues to treat exactly the same kind of bad-faith arguments as if they are meaningful, important, and valid? Most visibly with its most recent headline debacle, but that is only the tip of the wilfuly ignorant iceberg.

In the aftermath of that headline incident, Dean Baquet, its executive editor, told CNN a remarkable thing: “Our role is not to be the leader of the resistance.” In other words, the publisher of this excellent recent Gamergate exegesis has learned nothing from it.

The NYT’s role should be to lead a resistance — not necessarily against any individual political party or figure, but a resistance of critical thinking, and searching analysis, against deceptive motte-and-bailey arguments. But they don’t seem willing to recognize that they are being manipulated by such bad-faith movements, much less accept that one of them has grown to occupy much of America’s political landscape. One wonders when the Gray Lady will finally open her eyes.


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The currency of acceleration – gpgmail


Imagine you’re a billionaire starting a new company. You’re happy to bet your entire fortune on it. As a result, capital is no constraint. How fast should you burn money?

You probably wouldn’t use the generic startup math of dividing your available capital by 18 months and burn $55.5 million a month — though it would be fun. So if capital is no longer the currency that determines how fast you go, what should?

It’s confidence, not capital, that should be the currency of acceleration at a startup — no matter if you have a million dollars or a billion dollars to burn.

Confidence is often misunderstood by those who feign it. It is not bluster or arrogance. It’s not “trusting your gut.” Competitors raising big rounds of funding shouldn’t change your level of confidence one way or the other unless they’re doing exactly what you are. Glowing press coverage helps team morale, but it shouldn’t color your assessment of readiness to scale up.

It’s also important to note that venture capital interest is a terrible proxy for founder confidence. VCs have different structural incentives than founders; in an easy money environment, placing a big bet in a hot category, backed by a good enough team, is a job well done for a VC. Remember that they have a portfolio of companies, you’ve just got the one.

So what should drive you to scale up spend? There’s no perfect answer, but if you consistently see strong customer response to your product, marketing delivering more qualified leads for less money, sales channels becoming better instrumented and more efficient, LTV expanding with product improvements and lower churn thanks to your customer success team, you’re probably in good position to accelerate investment.

Too many startups feel pressure to spend money based on hope, not confidence.

Compounding successes at all levels of the business should provide data points that give you the determination to plan out a more ambitious trajectory. The requirement for confidence shouldn’t be mistaken for conservatism. Startups need to take risks in order to thrive, but they should be calculated, not capricious. There is a limited speed any company should go based on what they’ve learned to date about their market and offering.

If you have a high degree of confidence that you can turn $1 into $2, or $10, you should invest immediately. If you don’t have that confidence, you should spend time, but limited capital, to build it. Unfortunately, too many startups feel pressure to spend money based on hope, not confidence.

Authentic growth

Startups appreciate in value through growth. This isn’t just another VC mantra: even bootstrapped startups or public companies become more valuable when they grow faster. Two $10 million companies where one is growing at 80% and the other 20% will be valued very differently. Even if the slower-growth company is generating some limited cash flow and the high-growth company is burning within reason, the high-growth company will usually be worth much more.

So given that growth drives value, why shouldn’t every startup grow as quickly as it possibly can? With capital in hand, why not spend to generate more growth and therefore more value?

Capital without confidence shouldn’t dictate a startup’s acceleration.

Shattered confidence kills startups

Companies that misuse capital as the driver of acceleration cause irreparable harm to confidence. When a company over-accelerates and misses, it takes a painful amount of time to observe the mistake, admit the mistake, correct the mistake and rebuild confidence with the team and investors that you won’t repeat the mistake. Eventually, the company must undertake the inevitable process of taking a huge step back to try to rebuild that faith. This requires going much slower than a similar company that has never faltered.

If you spend a small amount of money on a pilot and it fails, you’ve helped home in on what your product should be, and you’ve not burnt any credibility with your team or investors. Spend 10 times that amount and you’ll have no more confidence in what to do next, far less credibility and a diminished balance sheet. Worst yet, the next time you want to lean in on a major initiative, the lack of confidence of key stakeholders will likely overwhelm what may well be the right decision.

Three startup currencies: Confidence, credibility and capital

Companies create value by compounding learning and therefore compounding confidence in their future. As confidence grows, companies will earn credibility inside the management team and with investors. Once you have both, it usually gets easier and easier to find the right amount of capital needed to fuel that confidence. Confidence is the most important currency, followed closely by credibility, and only then, cash. By way of contrast, driving up revenue artificially by burning capital with low return on investment is not sustainable and does not create long-term value. This will ultimately damage confidence and credibility.

You can buy confidence with capital, but it’s rate-limited and there’s no benefit to scale

Arguably, there should be little difference between the acceleration of two competitive companies that have the same amount of confidence but radically different capitalizations. If both are early-stage startups and one company has $10 million in cash and the other has $1 billion, they should spend their money with the same principle in mind: what does it cost to build confidence that our most important experiments are working?

Authentic confidence is the only real winning weapon at a startup.

For a company with a million dollars, this may mean hiring a single inside sales rep to test out a direct channel based on some early successes with a specific type of customer. A company with a billion dollars will likely make the mistake to open global offices to meet international demand, without first validating that they can make that single inside sales rep successful. In both cases, the confidence of the management team and their ability to execute should be driving the decision, not the available capital.

Credibility is earned, not purchased

If you spend like you’re headed to $20 million ARR and only hit $10 million ARR, your business is in a very difficult position. Not only because you sustained large losses, but also because you’ve damaged confidence in execution — team members and investors won’t believe in the company’s ability to achieve the target the next time it wants to hit the gas pedal hard.

Conversely, If you confidently hit $10 million in sales and have sight lines to $20 million, you will not struggle to raise more money to achieve your goals. The more the management team meets its goals, the more confidence grows and the pace of acceleration can be increased. Compound confidence and acceleration is boundless.

One of the biggest mistakes of the startup community, fueled by an overcapitalized venture market and an overhyped argument about winner takes all market dynamics, is the belief that capital is a weapon that will win the startup wars.

Authentic confidence is the only real winning weapon at a startup. Capital can fuel that weapon, but when used without confidence, it usually becomes a weapon of self-destruction.


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2020 and the black-box ballot box – gpgmail


One of the scarier notions in the world today is the prospect of American voting machines being compromised at scale: voters thrown off rolls, votes disregarded, vote tallies edited, entire elections hacked.

That’s why the nation’s lawmakers and civil servants flocked (relatively speaking) to Def Con in Las Vegas this week, where hackers at its Voting Village do their best to prove the potential vulnerabilities — including, in some cases, remote command and control — of voting systems.

There are several ways to help secure voting. One, thankfully, is already in place; the decentralization of systems such that every state and county maintains its own, providing a bewildering panoply of varying targets, rather than a single tantalizing point of failure. A second, as security guru Bruce Schneier points out, is to eschew electronic voting machines altogether and stick with good old-fashioned paper ballots.

But paper ballots don’t help much if you use machines to tabulate them, and those machines are compromised — so it’s especially worrying if those are, in engineering parlance, black boxes, i.e. machines which provide visibility only of their inputs and their outputs, not their inner workings.

A solution to this black-box problem is to either tabulate by hand, or instantiate a separate audit process after each election. That means independently sampling and hand-counting a small fraction of the votes, ensuring that the audit result is statistically in line with the overall tally — and if it isn’t, increasing the sample size, up to and including a full recount.

The election threat model is broader than you might think. Researchers can, for instance, transform ballot images so that votes move imperceptibly. Which is one of many reasons why paper ballots are so critical. I have some good news there: as Politico’s excellent voting machine interactive shows, most US states have and/or are moving to paper ballots (and most of the remainder were/are going to mostly vote for the party apparently opposed to democracy anyway.)

The audit situation, though, is … more complicated. Only 25 states require any audits of federal elections, for instance, and only some of those audits have teeth. Witness Verified Voting’s superb interactive explainers of post election audits and state audit laws.

I don’t want to minimize the significance of secure voting machines and the Voting Village hackers’ work. It’s as important as everyone says. But as any security expert will tell you, defense in depth is often even more important than the strength of any individual layer.

Secure machines, which generate individual paper ballots, to be hand-tabulated and/or audited — that’s the kind of defense in depth we want, and personally I’m a little concerned that the final moat, the audit, doesn’t get the attention it deserves. To quote, of all people, a Republican president: “Trust, but verify.”




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We’re all doomed, 2019 edition – gpgmail


Every year the great and good (and bad) of the hacker/information-security world descend on Las Vegas for a week of conferences, in which many present their latest discoveries, and every year I try to itemize the most interesting (according to me) Black Hat talks for gpgmail. Do not assume I attended all or even most of these. There are far too many for anyone to attend. But hopefully they’ll give you a sense of the state of the art.

First, though, let me just note that this post title is intended as sardonic. Yes, there is a lot of sloppy software out there, and yes, a lot of smart people keep finding holes, bugs, exploits, and design flaws even in good software, but we are not actually all doomed, and the belief that we are, and that anything connected to the Internet can be and probably has been hacked — an attitude which I like to call “security nihilism” — is spectacularly counterproductive.

In truth there is a lot of extremely good security out there, especially amid the big tech companies, and it keeps getting better, as the market for 0-days (previously undiscovered exploits) indicates. Most (though certainly not all) of the exploits below have already been reported and fixed, and patches have been rolled out. That said, much of the world has a lot of work to do to catch up with, say, Apple and Google’s security teams. Without further ado, the best-sounding talks of 2019:


Liveness Detection Hacking, from Tencent’s Xuanwu Security Lab, discusses how to trick “liveness” detectors for face or voice ID (or, perhaps, cryptocurrency KYC) by injecting fake video or audio streams, or, better yet, ordinary glasses with ordinary tape attached, which, best of all, they have named X-glasses.


All the 4G Modules Could Be Hacked, from Baidu’s Security Lab, recounts the researchers’ investigation of 4G modules for IoT devices — the components which connect machines to the Internet via cell networks, basically. As their summary memorably puts it, “We carried out this initiative and tested all the major brand 4G modules in the market (more than 15 different types). The results show all of them have similar vulnerabilities” and ends with the equally memorable “how to use these vulnerabilities to attack car entertainment systems of various brands and get remote control of cars.” Extra points for the slide with ‘Build Zombie cars (just like Furious 8)’, too.


Arm IDA and Cross Check: Reversing the Boeing 787’s Core Network by Ruben Santamarta of IOActive talks about how, after discovering an accidentally public directory of sensitive Boeing information online(!), Santamarta developed a chain of exploits that could conceivably lead from the Internet to the “Common Data Network” of a 787. Boeing strongly disputes this.

I have considerable respect for Santamarta, whose work I’ve written about before, and as he put it: “Boeing communicated to IOActive that there are certain built-in compiler-level mitigations [author’s note: !!] that, in their point of view, prevent these vulnerabilities from being successfully exploited. IOActive was unable to locate or validate the existence of those mitigations in the CIS/MS firmware version we analyzed. When asked, Boeing declined to answer whether these mitigations might have been added on a later version … We hope that a determined, highly capable third party can safely confirm that these vulnerabilities are not exploitable … We are confident owners and operators of these aircraft would welcome such independent validation and verification.” Indeed. But hey, if you can’t trust Boeing, who can you trust, right?


Reverse Engineering WhatsApp Encryption for Chat Manipulation, from researchers at Check Point Software, described how to abuse WhatsApp group chat to put words into others’ mouths, albeit only in quote texts, and send private messages which look like group-chat messages. (Note however that this is post-decryption, so you have to already be a legitimate member of the chat.)


In Behind the scenes of iOS and Mac Security, Ivan Krstić, Apple’s Head of Security Engineering, publicly spoke about Apple security. That’s remarkable enough right there! In particular, it’s worth noting his exegesis of how Find My works while preserving privacy, and that Apple is going to start to offer rooted iPhones to security researchers.


Simultaneously, an organization almost as devoted to secrecy as Apple revealed more about their security practices too. Kudos! I refer of course to the NSA, who came onstage to discuss their reverse-engineering framework Ghidra, and how it came to be open-sourced.


In Critical Zero Days Remotely Compromise the Most Popular Real-Time OS, researchers from Armis Security explained how VxWorks, a real-time OS you’ve never heard of but which runs on over 2 billion machines including aircraft, medical devices, industrial control systems, and spacecraft, also boasts vulnerabilities in esoteric corners of its TCP/IP stack that could lead to remote code execution. So that’s not good.


Finally, in Exploring the New World : Remote Exploitation of SQLite and Curl, Tencent’s Blade Team (yes, Chinese researchers have been absolutely killing it this year) showed how we actually are all doomed. I kid, I kid. But while you’ve probably never heard of them, SQLite and Curl are two absolutely fundamental software components — an incredibly widely used compact single-file database and a command-line networking tool, respectively — and used an exploit of the former to successfully remote attack Google Home, and the latter to attack curl clients such as PHP/Apache as well as Git. Ouch.


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The Russians are coming! The Russians are … complicated!


Did you know that Russia’s security services, particularly those related to hacking / information security, have been in the throes of vicious high-stakes infighting for years? Did you know that the perceived Russian doctrine which informed much Western analysis of Russian strategies never actually existed? Did you know that the Kremlin’s secrecy has built an entire cottage industry of largely-unfounded rumors and conspiracy theories based on the few tantalizing details which do leak?

OK, you probably knew that last part. Everyone, or at least everyone who calls a social-media stranger with whom they disagree a “Russian bot,” is a Russian conspiracy theorist nowadays. And of course the evidence of widespread malevolent Russian activity, ranging from assassinations to hacking to social-media bombing, is copious.

But exactly which Russian organizations are doing what, and why — that’s a lot harder to establish. I’m reminded of old Cold War spy novels in which Kremlinologists analyzed the few public appearances of Politburo members, wrongfully reading great significance into who stood where and when, because they had little else to go on. Just like those bad old days, our instinct nowadays is to treat “Russia” as a single, well-oiled, tightly-orchestrated malignant machine.

Of course it’s nothing of the sort. Instead it is a complex, seething, tiered morass of many figures and institutions, often incentivized against one another, in a time of profound and rapid change. Today I attended a Black Hat talk by Kimberley Zenz, who opened with a plea for nuanced consideration of Russia and Russian activities. She’s right, of course, but sadly the Internet tends to be where nuance goes to die.

This nuance, though, is especially fascinating, the stuff of spy thrillers. In 2017 a slew of Russian intelligence officials and hackers — along with, inexplicably, Kaspersky Lab’s Head of Investigations — were suddenly arrested. One was “apparently forcibly removed from a meeting with fellow FSB officers — escorted out with a bag over his head” according to Stratfor. A case was eventually made against them for “high treason in favor of the United States.”

Four individuals were this year sentenced to up to 22 years in prison. (They are appealing.) Andrei Gerasimov, the longtime director of Russia’s Information Security Center, “a shadowy unit … thought to be Russia’s largest inspectorate when it comes to domestic and foreign cyber capabilities, including hacking,” resigned a week after this case emerged.

Stratfor again: ‘Because the charges are treason, the case is considered “classified” by the state, meaning no official explanation or evidence will be released.’ From this fog of secrecy, half a dozen different rumors and theories have emanated. Are the charges entirely trumped-up to eliminate rivals? Did someone leak to the US to attack their rivals, only to see this backfire spectacularly? Did the FSB turn a hacking group which then discovered something they really shouldn’t have about a powerful oligarch? Who can say?

Of course another conspiracy theory is the nuance-free “well-oiled malignant machine” one, in which this case is just an instance of said machine expelling a bit of grit from its innards. It’s remarkable how common this “monolithic Russian single-voiced hive-mind” analysis has become. Here’s Politico, for instance, after the above scandal broke: “Lately, Russia appears to be coming at the United States from all kinds of contradictory angles … Confused? Only if you don’t understand the Gerasimov Doctrine.”

That doctrine — named after General Valery Gerasimov, please note, not repeat not the now-disgraced former-FSB-director Andrei Gerasimov mentioned above — is used there to explain away all Russian activity, even that which appears self-contradictory, as a deliberately bewildering diversity of tactics used to “achieve an environment of permanent unrest and conflict within an enemy state.” It was cited yesterday in another Black Hat talk, which I was so unimpressed by I’ll diplomatically refrain from discussing further. It is consistently cited by Russian policy analysts to this day.

But the problem with the Gerasimov Doctrine as a cornerstone of modern Kremlinology is that — according to the very person who coined the term! — it never actually existed. (Ironically it stems from a conspiracy theory on General Gerasimov’s part: that the CIA instigated the Arab Spring.) Instead, rather than a campaign informed by a unifying doctrine, Russian activity is

largely opportunistic, fragmented, even sometimes contradictory. Some major operations are coordinated, largely through the presidential administration, but most are not. Rather, operations are conceived and generally carried out by a bewildering array of “political entrepreneurs” hoping that their success will win them the Kremlin’s favor

That sounds like an awfully important distinction to make, and it leads to the most interesting thing (to me) about Ms. Zenz’s talk; her mention that “the Russian government considers Russian cybercriminals to be a strategic asset,” and that one side effect of this treason case is that it has greatly chilled information sharing and cooperation between Russia and the West regarding online threats.

Does this strategic status in turn mean that Russian hackers are likely to be government operatives, and/or Russian infosec companies in bed with their government? I am no Kremlinologist, but it seems to me more that the very question is wrong and should be unasked. Rather, the relatively sharp differences between “private sector,” “government,” and “criminal,” defined in nations with a strong rule of law, don’t really exist in a nation like modern Russia where those distinctions can, and often do, blur together.


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Indie developer flooded with racist, misogynist abuse after announcing Epic partnership – gpgmail


The two developers of an indie game called Ooblets have been subjected to “tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands” of abusive messages following their decision to put their game on the Epic Games Store. It’s a worrying yet entirely unsurprising example of the toxic elements of the gaming community and their strangely unlimited hatred for Epic.

Ooblets is a game by a husband and wife team that looks like a sort of farming/dancing/collecting simulator with a fun, cute style. They’ve been developing it for a couple of years now with the help of Patreon supporters, and are getting closer to release.

In the process of lining up where and how to sell the game, the two entered into a contract with the Epic Games Store, which in exchange for near-term exclusivity would guarantee the developers the income they might have gotten if they’d decided to launch on multiple storefronts.

This practice adds some stability to what can be a very unpredictable sales environment, and as a side effect gave the two a fund upfront to finish development without having to rely on their Patreon supporters — whom they told about the new deal and consulted about what should happen next.

To be clear, the game will still be able to be bought and played by pretty much everyone on PC, just using a different storefront. Like if the chips you prefer started being sold at 7-Eleven instead of AM/PM. Except you can go to either one just by clicking your mouse.

But when they announced the news to the broader internet, it drew down on Ben and Rebecca Cordingley the ire of the easily provoked gaming world, specifically those who believe that Epic’s purchase of exclusives for its nascent gaming storefront is an affront to all that is sane and good in this world.

Immediately the two were inundated with messages “on every conceivable platform” telling them to die, swallow bleach, get raped, and both accusing Ben of anti-Semitism and mocking his being Jewish. Some, he said, went so far as to doctor video to make it seem like he had posted something then deleted it.

Horrified and taken aback by this massively disproportionate response to two people deciding to make a deal that should benefit their game and not affect their supporters (their patrons on Patreon were never promised the game, let alone on a specific platform), Ben wrote a post with his thoughts on the matter. You can read it here, along with some rather disturbing excerpts of the attacks on him and his wife.

These attacks are likely ongoing — in fact, the new post has probably just stoked the fire, and the two can look forward to a few more weeks of being told to kill themselves or that someone is going to find them and assault them.

The backlash against Epic over the last year has been perplexing to watch. The new storefront was created in the wake of Fortnite’s success to act as a dark horse challenger to the reigning champ of the PC gaming world, Valve’s Steam. Releasing on Steam has been a foregone conclusion for most PC games for years, but recently that practice has been challenged as companies like Epic and Ubisoft created their own launchers and game stores.

Flush with Fortnite cash, Epic has relied on two things to grow its storefront, which began (and remains) rather lackluster compared to its more mature and popular competitors. First, it has simply picked a number of games each month to give away for free, no strings attached — and not shovelware either, but actually great games that people want. Second, they’ve arranged for upcoming games to release exclusively on their platform.

Paid exclusivity is of course by no means new, especially not in the gaming community, where exclusivity among platforms has been the rule since the ’80s, when it was Mario versus Sonic, to today, when it’s Halo versus Destiny or a hundred others. Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and many others pay huge amounts to lock in developers for years, sometimes buying them outright so their games will be released exclusively on a certain platform. Epic seems to be joining a fairly large club.

Steam has many features Epic doesn’t, it is true. The community of recommendations, mods, forums and gamified purchasing on Steam is unmatched anywhere else. But for the purpose of buying and launching a game, the two are pretty evenly matched. It’s understandable that people might be upset when a game they are looking forward to disappears from their wishlist on Steam, or that they have to download another app in order to launch some games. But this inconvenience is, let’s be honest, minimal.

It’s sad reading not just the initial outrage at the pair’s decision — which, as they explained, is helpful for them as developers and lets them finish the game with less financial uncertainty — but at the justification that many have put forward that by joking about how angry people get about the Epic thing in the original post, Ben was inviting the abuse he received. These “they should have known” or “they were asking for it” people seem to want the developer’s perceived tone to have equal importance as the thousands of death threats they received subsequently.

From Ben’s post:

I’d challenge anyone to be on the receiving end of this for a few minutes/hours/days to not come to the conclusion that a huge segment of the broader gaming community is toxic.

There’s a strange relationship a segment of the gaming community has with game developers. I think their extreme passion for games has made them perceive the people who provide those games as some sort of mystical “other”, an outgroup that’s held to a whole set of weird expectations. These folks believe they hold the magic power of the wallet over developers who should cower before them and capitulate to any of their demands. You can see this evidenced by the massive number of angry people threatening to pirate our game in retaliation to any perceived slight.

It’s hard to see the effects or scope of what a massive mob of online harassment is doing to someone until you’re on the receiving end of it. It’s also really hard to realize when you’re unwittingly part of a harassment group because you’ve been so convinced by the mob mentality that your anger and target are justified.

Ben and Rebecca are far from the first to be the target of this type of mob, and let’s not forget that 8chan got its start as a refuge for “gamergate” diehards who had been ejected from other platforms. The original toxic gamer outrage factory is now known for being an incubator for white nationalist terrorists. Threats from the collective fragile internet ego are manifesting in bullets and taking lives with frightening frequency.

If you’d like to support the game and developer, which I already intended to do before this unseemly furore, you can follow the developers and see the latest over at Ooblets.com.


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