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Haystack and the Myth of the Boy Wizard 127

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the something-to-think-about dept.
Jamie sent in an interesting writeup about The Myth of the Boy Wizard. No, it's not about Hogwarts, but rather about Haystack and its creator, Austin Heap. Last summer the media covered the programmer, the software, and its supposed effect on Iranian censorship. But as is often the case, truth is less interesting than reality. What happened is that the story managed to press some magic buttons, and the media ran with it. This one is worth a read.
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Haystack and the Myth of the Boy Wizard

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  • Not surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hedwards (940851) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:05PM (#33601484)
    Journalists tend to be bad at covering tech news. It's not really surprising that they'd get it this wrong. Perhaps rather than having people cover everything at various points, they should move individuals around within the realm of technology. At least that way they can get some expertise in the subject.
    • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MozeeToby (1163751) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:11PM (#33601548)

      Even the journalists that focus their entire career on tech subjects often don't gain any appreciable expertise in the field. Besides, journalists aren't meant to be experts, they're meant to know exactly enough that they know when they should be asking questions. That usually isn't that much but for whatever reason (maybe they don't want to look stupid, maybe they don't want to appear to be dumbing down the article) journalists are quite reluctant to do so when it comes to technology issues.

      Look at it this way, if someone had claimed to have invented something that... I don't know, neutralized the pepper spray that the riot police were using to break up the demonstrations. Do you really think that the journalist would have just taken them at their word, published stories to the effect that they were saving the world from tyranny? They would have wanted pictures of it in use, to talk to people who had used it successfully, maybe even interviewed a local chemist for his take on it. For whatever reason, technology stories just don't get the same level of scrutiny that other topics do.

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:21PM (#33601664)

        Look at it this way, if someone had claimed to have invented something that... I don't know, neutralized the pepper spray that the riot police were using to break up the demonstrations. Do you really think that the journalist would have just taken them at their word, published stories to the effect that they were saving the world from tyranny? They would have wanted pictures of it in use, to talk to people who had used it successfully, maybe even interviewed a local chemist for his take on it. For whatever reason, technology stories just don't get the same level of scrutiny that other topics do.

        Yes they probably would take his word for it. The level of scrutiny in mass media is less than the level of scrutiny on Wikipedia. The mass media doesn't care about "following up" on stories, they just want to tell you that (in the words of Ross Noble) "Bad Shit is happening in the world, there's loads of shit happening in the world". They don't care if you understand it, Americans are so used to seeing fancy things on TV and then forgetting about it. It seems like every month there is some new breakthrough that "cures cancer" that we never hear another word about.

        The masses have a really, really short memory.

        • by D Ninja (825055) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:40PM (#33601916)

          The masses have a really, really short memory.

          No we don't. It's really a product of the media capitalizing on... ...wait...

          What were we talking about again?

        • All 3 of ye seem to think this is a "lack of technology knowledge" issue.

          The real problem is that journalists DON'T do research any more. Like an amateur blogger, they just take whatever press release is fed to them, and read it over the air in order to be first on the "scoop". Our 24 hour-a-day news cycle has turned reporters into gossipers, and nothing more. They don't double-check anything to verify its veracity.
          --

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

        by morgan_greywolf (835522) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:57PM (#33602144) Homepage Journal

        But the problem in this case isn't with engineers that don't know tech, it's with journalists that don't know journalism. Consider what the article's author asked Newsweek:

        In your article "Computer Programmer Takes On the World's Despots" you appear to have taken the author of the supposed Haystack program at his word. There are no quotes from people who've used the software, nor from people who've seen the software. How do we know that Austin Heap is telling the truth, and, more importantly, how do we know that the software works as advertised?

        Surely, it's very basic journalism to have talked to more than one person about this subject.

        There John Graham-Cumming hits the head right on the nail: they spoke only to Austin Heap and failed to get a second source. That isn't a failure to understand tech, that's a failure to understand Journalism 101.

        • That isn't a failure to understand tech, that's a failure to understand Journalism 101.

          I for one welcome our faith-based journalists.

          After all, they have used barely warmed-over corporate and government press releases as the basis for news stories for decades - why should high tech be different?

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Interesting)

        by nbauman (624611) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @01:36PM (#33602616) Homepage Journal

        Even the journalists that focus their entire career on tech subjects often don't gain any appreciable expertise in the field. Besides, journalists aren't meant to be experts, they're meant to know exactly enough that they know when they should be asking questions. That usually isn't that much but for whatever reason (maybe they don't want to look stupid, maybe they don't want to appear to be dumbing down the article) journalists are quite reluctant to do so when it comes to technology issues.

        I'm one of those tech journalists. You're right that the job is to ask questions, even when they sound stupid.

        The simple solution to getting your facts right (the Principia Mathematica of journalism, as it were) is to check your facts with an independent expert in the field (preferably more than one).

        There are single-source stories and multiple-source stories. If a dermatologist claims at a scientific meeting or in a journal article that his method cures baldness, I want to call another dermatologist who treats baldness and get his reaction. Even if the first guy is basically correct, the second guy can usually add some important qualifications. In the ideal situation, after I've interviewed 3 or 4 experts, I usually have a reasonably good understanding of the story. Then when I talk to the *next* expert, I can usually ask him really good questions. I may not be able to get the truth, but I can get as close as humanly possible by deadline.

        When I decide whether a news source is worth reading, the first thing I look for is whether they quote a single source, or get a reaction from a second source. Why should I waste my time reading an article that's wrong, when I can read an article that got its facts right? Why should anybody?

        I once gave a journalism course and told my students to look up stories in the New York Times. For example, here's a science story http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/earth/14fuel.html [nytimes.com] Did they just take the promoter's claims at face value, or did they check with an independent expert?

        One of the magazines I worked for would pay me $50 extra for every additional source I interviewed, up to about 2 or 3 sources. That reflected on the quality of the story, and the effort required, pretty well.

        The big problem today is that the pay for these stories has gone down. You used to have reporters on staff who could spend a full week working on a major story. Now newspapers have laid off half their staff and doubled up the work for the remaing staff. Freelance writers used to get $1,000 or more for a 2,000-word story that would take a week, and give them time to read the literature and interview a lot of people. Now they're lucky to get $500, and sometimes $150. You can't interview a lot of people for $150.

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DragonWriter (970822) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @02:09PM (#33603020)

        Even the journalists that focus their entire career on tech subjects often don't gain any appreciable expertise in the field. Besides, journalists aren't meant to be experts, they're meant to know exactly enough that they know when they should be asking questions.

        The problem here is that you are saying that they are supposed to be ~A but B, when ~A -> ~B.

        Being able to understand new events in a field well enough to explain them usefully to non-technical audiences requires both skill at communication and substantial expertise in the field. The job of a journalist is essentially to act as a teacher without the luxury of substantial lead time to develop a lesson plan, and usually via a static medium where there is no feedback from the audience.

      • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Informative)

        by WillDraven (760005) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @11:14PM (#33607378) Homepage

        Look at it this way, if someone had claimed to have invented something that... I don't know, neutralized the pepper spray that the riot police were using to break up the demonstrations.

        This is largely unrelated to your point, and I'm going to disappoint you by not providing any sources, but there is a common remedy for pepper spray. It is, somewhat ironically, called LAW, which stands for Liquid Antacid and Water. Basically mix one part unflavored (as in not mint!) Maalox (or equivalent) and one part water. Apply liberally to the affected mucous membranes and skin. I try to keep a couple water bottles full of it on me when attending protests.

        Of course it would be better to find a preventative solution but at least this provides some quick relief from the horrible burning once you've been sprayed.

    • Re:Not surprising (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Darkness404 (1287218) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:12PM (#33601550)
      The problem is then the people in management don't understand it so they force the tech people to "dumb it down" to the point where it becomes essentially false. For example:

      Cookies can store data about where you have been and what ads you have seen. Therefore, cookies can be used to track you.

      Soon becomes:

      Cookies track data about people.

      Eventually becomes:

      Cookies are a privacy threat.

      Which gets read by the masses as:

      Cookies are viruses.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by laederkeps (976361)
        Posting to undo an accidental "Redundant" mod. Really meant +1 (Sad but true).
      • by meerling (1487879)
        Yes, but the way the comprehension and quality has been decaying at virtually all publications on any subject just exasperates the situation with tech and science.
        (How many times this year have you seen headlines that were completely false? I'd bet it's at least double digits.)
        • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

          Journalism isn't decaying. It's ALWAYS been terrible.
          • by tehcyder (746570)

            Journalism isn't decaying. It's ALWAYS been terrible.

            Journalism follows Sturgeon's law like most things. The point is whether the percentage that is not absolute crap has decreased.

        • How many times this year have you seen headlines that were completely false? I'd bet it's at least double digits.

          For me, I'd guess more like triple digits... and I basically only read Slashdot. I am continually frustrated by the Slashdot editors not bothering to even do the most basic fact-checking on a headline or summary (or both) before posting someone's submission.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        Don't blow the ending in the headline. Do it like this:

        "Are Cookies Infecting You?"

      • by euxneks (516538)

        The problem is then the people in management don't understand it so they force the tech people to "dumb it down" to the point where it becomes essentially false. For example:

        Cookies can store data about where you have been and what ads you have seen. Therefore, cookies can be used to track you.

        Soon becomes:

        Cookies track data about people.

        Eventually becomes:

        Cookies are a privacy threat.

        Which gets read by the masses as:

        Cookies are viruses.

        Which then gets read as:

        You'll get sick from eating cookies.

        Which is true, if you eat enough I think.

      • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

        by gorzek (647352)

        In fact, I see this sort of thing all the time. There are some people I deal with who are really big on privacy issues and they view all technology information through that lens. Rather than having any kind of nuanced opinion on technology, they just assume every new bit of techno-gadgetry is an insidious privacy threat and will inevitably be used to track you and then oppress you.

        The point being, I guess, that people will see what they want to see, especially if they are ignorant and unwilling to be educat

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        Cookies are a privacy threat.
        Which gets read by the masses as:
        Cookies are viruses.

        But in some people's opinion cookies are worse than viruses because they don't do any obvious damage.

    • I don't think that word means what you think it means.
      We don't got no steenkin' journilists!

      Well, not in many years.

      For far too long those claiming or paid to be "journalist's" or "new's" people have been indistinguishable from commentators or zealots.,

    • I think that sadly this is not just limited to tech articles. I've seen pieces from a wide-range of topics that appear to be un-sourced, Wikipedia sourced or single-sourced. All of these are substandard both for academia, professional work-related technical writing and any effort of journalism. Otherwise, one may as well relegate these stories/articles to opinion/editorial sections.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      No they're not. They're good at what they do. The problem is that the goal of journalism today isn't correctness. Instead, they're desperately trying to create content that draws people to read it.

      A story about a kid claiming to have found a way around censorship that probably doesn't work since it hasn't been through any peer review from anyone of repute in the security community is unreadably boring. One about a wunderkind who was so moved by the plight of the oppressed people in Iran that he hacked out a

    • by gilgongo (57446)

      "Journalists tend to be bad at covering tech news. "

      Actually, if you ask anyone in any industry to comment on the quality of journalism as it relates to their field, you'll hear the same complaint.

      The basic problem (not the only one though) with journalism is that it suffers from chronic and crippling lack of time. A journalist has to pick up on, research, spin, write and edit a story in a matter of hours sometimes. Most, if not all, news is going to suffer badly by that process.

      If anyone here has ever read

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Darinbob (1142669)
      But this wasn't "tech news" per se. There was a whole lot more to it that was interesting to journalists. Journalists don't care about a new type of encryption or a sneaky way to hide data, but they care about the application of that tech or responses to it. Ie, bypassing censorship, countries forbidding Blackberries, etc.
    • Whenever I read a comment like hedwards, I wonder if it's for real, or a comment by a bot with a natural language interface? I mean, in the USA, virtually every hyper-churned "news story" is spewed forth by the Pew Research Center (oil money funded....oil money funded) like it's sacrosant!

      I mean, catch a clue, doods! Virtually 90% of all the "news" in Amerika derives from think tanks, foundations, research centers, phony wire services, trusts, etc., owned by either one of two sociopathic billionaires: Da

    • by Dthief (1700318)
      Those who can do.....those who cant write articles that distort the facts of what those-who-can did
  • I'm still not sure what exactly the fatal flaw was in the test version that got everyone all in an uproar. This article clears up some things but not that.
    • Re:OK So... (Score:4, Informative)

      by gstoddart (321705) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:24PM (#33601716) Homepage

      I'm still not sure what exactly the fatal flaw was in the test version that got everyone all in an uproar.

      I've just re-checked the linked articles from Tuesday [slashdot.org] ... nobody explicitly says what about the software is flawed.

      This post [slashdot.org], however, contains a much more detailed description of the issue. Essentially, the techniques it employed didn't work the way they said it did, and it wasn't -- and those using it were a lot more vulnerable than claimed.

      It appeared that Haystacks administrator did not or could not effectively track unofficial users and that the methods he believed would lock them out were ineffective. More brutally, it also demonstrated that the CRC did not seem able to adequately monitor nor administrate their half of the live Haystack circumvention service.

      When you're skirting around a government like Iran's doing things they don't like, broken security is a very risky undertaking.

      From the sounds of it, this got over-hyped, never adequately reviewed, and people just ran with it believing it was secure.

    • Summary: it didn't do what it said it did. Kinda like when I wrote that Perl script that cured cancer.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by jpmorgan (517966)

      The fatal flaw was the same as the one in my Lion Repelling Rock. The software was flawed at a fundamental level, because it more or less assumed that censorship is based on people going through firewall/proxy logs by hand. In real life, grep doesn't get bored.

      • grep doesn't get bored

        I hereby nominate this for meme of the month. "grep doesn't get bored." Nice.

      • by PylonHead (61401)

        Yeah, there was the implication in one of the posts that basically said he was trying to obscure your surfing pattern by simply generating other random requests and mixing them in. I have trouble believing anyone who can program a computer would be naive enough to think this offered any sort of protection. But from the attitude of the people who know the details, it sounds like it really was that bad.

  • The Media (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sonicmerlin (1505111) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:09PM (#33601520)
    Getting the media to "run with it" isn't much of an accomplishment in this era of 24 hour news cycles. I don't assign a great deal of respect to their integrity or seriousness.
  • hypocrites (Score:3, Funny)

    by Mike Kristopeit (1900306) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:10PM (#33601526)

    This one is worth a read.

    But as is often the case, truth is less interesting than reality.

    • by Haffner (1349071)
      great catch! I missed it. As did (I'm assuming) all above posters.
    • by Art3x (973401)

      But as is often the case, truth is less interesting than reality.

      What's the difference between truth and reality?

      • that is why they are hypocritical... i think they are equating "reality" with "the lies that a significant percentage of the populace is aware of and does not disagree with"...

        if you believe the media is powerless, then it is.

  • by Ltap (1572175) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:13PM (#33601572) Homepage
    Another example of why I take network news no more seriously than I do blogs, /., BoingBoing, etc.
    • I take BoingBoing even less seriously than that. At least on network news I don't get useful 'stories' like "Little brother translated into Albanian" or "Little Brother turned into play by Mrs. Reid's third grade class."

      If BoingBoing is the model for web 2.0, then we can just shut it down now and replace it with a cardboard cutout of Jay Sherman saying "Buy my book! Buy my book!"

      • by Pharmboy (216950)

        But the local version of the network news has just as many fluff pieces, including many that are only about pushing the local farmer's market/fair/business under the guise of 'local events', instead they are pushing them, not just reporting them. The local nightly news has gone from being about hard information to infomercials for local businesses, with enough blood and guts to scare you into watching it tomorrow.

    • by grub (11606)

      Another example of why I take network news no more seriously than I do blogs, /., BoingBoing, etc.

      Everything on /. is true.

      I've been reading /. for longer than I care to remember and /. has yet to steer me wrong.
      From the fascinating stories that seem to run every April 1st to insightful commentary about the original iPod ("No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.") to incredible links which, oddly, get modded down.

      Nay, and I mean this with all due respect, you, good sir, have the problem, not sla
    • by Darinbob (1142669)
      Well a major reason that I don't take network news seriously is because they take blogs seriously.
    • Another example of why I take network news no more seriously than I do blogs, /., BoingBoing, etc.

      that's because you know they're wrong here. if you work in several domains, you'll notice quickly that news are wrong in each and every domain they're reporting about.
      Yet if you're not intimate to the said domain, you can't easily figure out they're saying a lot of wrong stuff. Usually it sounds consistent.

      One can then only figure out that if 3/3 news items of one day of the 3 domains he's specialized in are reporting wrong stuff, the other domains are most likely all wrong, too.

      You've to take a good distan

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      Another example of why I take network news no more seriously than I do blogs

      You must be fucking joking.

  • Why Is He Upset? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by quangdog (1002624) <quangdog@@@gmail...com> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:14PM (#33601578)
    The author seems shocked to read a news article that did not receive enough research from the reporter before being published. Why is he upset about this? It happens all the time.

    Maybe I'm just jaded, but I always approach news stories as only containing a grain of truth, with a heavy slant towards the agenda of the reporter / reporting agency.
    • The author seems shocked to read a news article that did not receive enough research from the reporter before being published. Why is he upset about this? It happens all the time. Maybe I'm just jaded, but I always approach news stories as only containing a grain of truth, with a heavy slant towards the agenda of the reporter / reporting agency.

      Why is this being modded insightful? Did you completely ignore the last bit? From the article itself: "It's not just bad journalism to take someone at their word and publish glowing articles, in this case it's downright dangerous. Real people inside Iran could have been endangered by this over-hyped piece of software."

      • by Inda (580031)
        And I though the article was OK until that last line.

        Sensationalist, over opinionated, rubbish.

        Even the punctuation quality dropped off at the end. Was he rushing to get it finished? Are those not his actual opinions, but ones he added to create some outrage?
    • by Prefader (1072814)

      Why is he upset about this? It happens all the time.

      I think you answered your own question.

  • Reason (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    It wasn't clear to me that JGC knows specifically what the vulnerability is, though it seems to be related to random number generation [jgc.org].

    In this post [jgc.org]: a tweet [twitter.com] is referenced as well:

    never been angrier than right now. I can't actually describe how broken @haystacknetwork is, because to do so would put people at risk.

  • Really? (Score:1, Funny)

    by Esteban (54212) *

    "as is often the case, truth is less interesting than reality"

    • by meerling (1487879)
      Say what?!?! Reality is Truth. Even though there are a bunch of duplicitous scum that will improperly claim various beliefs, ideals, or flat out lies as truth doesn't change what truth, or reality, actual happens to be.
      • by cdrguru (88047)

        Modern thinking is that concensus forms truth and that perception is reality.

        This pretty much comes down to "what I see is real, what you see is irrelevent to my reality".

        And then in keeping with the Wiki concept, if 100 people agree that white is black, then we can all share a common reality where white is black. The fact that you perceive white as not black is significant to you, but it doesn't change the truth that white is black to our group. Your truth is just a little different but the two are not m

    • by ch-chuck (9622)

      Perception is reality

    • Yeah, I actually broke /. tradition and read TFA looking to understand what exactly "truth is less interesting than reality" is supposed to mean, but I'm no more enlightened than I was before.
  • What is this phrase supposed to mean, exactly? Would the author of the fine summary please fill us in, because I can't parse it at all. Thanks.
    • Re: (Score:1, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward

      The truth is just a small set of boring facts, mostly about frogs and Arthur Dent. Reality is much more interesting.

      Read about Prak [wikipedia.org].

    • Yeah, makes no sense. At first I assumed the poster made a mistake, but I'm wondering if he thinks that sentence actually means something.
  • by YesIAmAScript (886271) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:27PM (#33601746)

    Actually a very boring article. The author spends most of this time just telling you that he's smarter than the press. Including a mea culpa for "letting" the Guardian get away with misreporting without falling under his wrathful hammer.

    The sole piece of information here that isn't self-aggrandizement is a nice little whiff of info explaining what the metaphor of "The Boy Wizard" means. This part is nice, but it gets drowned out in the "I told you so" parts.

    • by Galestar (1473827)
      +1 spot on. Everyone needs to read this comment, instead of RTFA. TFA in this case is a load of horse-shit.
    • by Angostura (703910)

      Moreover the author provides no evidence that "boy wizards" are actually a myth. I'm shocked, shocked that the summary writer took the author's assertion at face value.

      As far as I am aware, there are good examples of fairly young, talented coders actually creating some rather special applications that do take the world by storm. Heap may not be a wizard, but that doesn't mean the whole things is a myth.

    • by Darinbob (1142669)
      Any blog that starts with the author's name in large letters at the top, hosted at a sight named after the author, is a blog to be suspicious of. Well, better just to distrust all blogs as a best practice. Blogs are almost always from someone who feels that they're long winded comments aren't being taken seriously and this is their way of getting their words to the top of column (sort of like starting your own /. so that you can have ID number 1). Every view, whether or not the article is read, is an adv
  • Tor (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Tor is what most of those people are using to get information out of Iran.

    Help out and setup a relay. Just make sure you aren't doing anything illegal as there is a small risk involved (Kiddy Porn is the #1 excuse the pigs use to pressure relay operators).

    http://torproject.org

    Also check out Freenet (http://freenetproject.org)

    • TOR has boilerplate legal responses on their website. Running an exit relay also gives you plausible deniability for any traffic. That doesn't help if you do have kiddy porn on your hard drive, of course. Or if you call Dear Leader a prick.
  • Aleks Krotoski [guardian.co.uk] meet Gregg Keizer [slashdot.org].
    • Any honest "hall-of-shame" for contemporary journalists would be more efficiently represented by a list of who is not on it. (and no kids, it is not necessarily the case that the hall-of-shame and hall-of-fame are complements).

  • Way off the mark (Score:3, Insightful)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater@g[ ]l.com ['mai' in gap]> on Thursday September 16, 2010 @12:32PM (#33601808) Homepage

    From TFA:
     

    Journalists deal with people pushing stories and press releases every single day. Part of their job is to look through the claims and dig out the reality. That didn't happen for Haystack.

    Today the press is reporting the opinion of computer security experts, why didn't they ask when the story first broke? The answer, I think comes in the form of The Myth of the Boy Wizard.

    TFA's author misses the mark in two big ways;
     
    First, like pretty much everyone he's very confused about what journalists do. Journalists write news stories, and the need to feed the public's (including much of Slashdot, though they think otherwise) unending gluttony for input. Seriously, the exceptions are rare and notable - the horsecrap about "what journalists are supposed to do" is a fantasy right alongside Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I can't understand how anyone over the mental age of twenty can continue to believe in any of the three.
     
    The second miss is in understanding why the media leapt all over the story of Haystack. It has nothing to do with the Boy Wizard - and everything to do with the public's (especially[1] including much of Slashdot, though they think otherwise) uncritical desire to hear about anything related to 'fighting back' against Iran. Like a five year old with a bowl of ice cream, they stick their faces in it and pig out. And also like a five year old, you take away the half eaten bowl, give them a new bowl with a different flavor, and they go right back to pigging out - the old bowl forgotten with the first mouthful of the new.

    [1] I single out the 'Slashdot demographic' (young, hip, wired) for especial scorn because they're the worst of the lot - ever willing to 'amplify the signal' because it makes them feel like they're Doing Something without actually having to do anything. They'll forward, share, and re-tweet endlessly because it makes them feel better. Until the next shiny outrage meme comes along, then whatever they were previously outraged against vanishes forever down the memory hole.

    • I do agree that people wanted to hear that people were "fighting back", and the Boy Wizard in this case was allegedly making it possible. In the Boy Wizard world, evil government is an old person problem, Haystack was the young wizard solving it.

      I disagree it is the media's job to repeat incorrect info. Good journalism has fact checking and such. Take that away and you're just a blogger repeating "common knowledge" regardless of truth.

    • by Ash Vince (602485) * on Thursday September 16, 2010 @02:32PM (#33603318) Journal

      First, like pretty much everyone he's very confused about what journalists do. Journalists write news stories, and the need to feed the public's (including much of Slashdot, though they think otherwise) unending gluttony for input. Seriously, the exceptions are rare and notable - the horsecrap about "what journalists are supposed to do" is a fantasy right alongside Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I can't understand how anyone over the mental age of twenty can continue to believe in any of the three.

      Maybe this is widely accepted as being the case where you live, but here in the UK a great many people still cling to the belief in the concept of journalism. This is especially true of all the Grauniad readers I know since it really does have the image amongst those on the left in the UK as being the last bastion of journalistic integrity.

      So why some unknown English paper did not check its facts might be a non-question to someone who has never heard of it (are you American?), but to many people in the UK it is an interesting question. Personally I have not bought the Guardian in years but I do come from a family of ardent fans so will be using this as a stick to beat them with as soon as an opportunity arises :)

      The second miss is in understanding why the media leapt all over the story of Haystack. It has nothing to do with the Boy Wizard - and everything to do with the public's (especially[1] including much of Slashdot, though they think otherwise) uncritical desire to hear about anything related to 'fighting back' against Iran.

      The full full article made great mention of the Guardian running this story because it is completely unlike your description. It is generally far more Iran friendly then much of the English press. It spends far more column inches on the "evil US of A" and how Iran desperately needs nukes to defend itself from the "terrorist state of Israel". Please note the quotation marks, I am not stating an opinion on Israel at all in this post as it is so far off topic its not even funny.

      The only thing you may get slightly right is that the Guardian is apparently popular amongst young techies but since I have not been one of them in many years I am not really qualified to say.

      Finally, if you have such a problem with the Slashdot demographic, then just leave. Delete your account and do not come back. Maybe you were just trolling for a million angry responses from the young people you describe, but if that is the case you should try and do more research about things first as the best trolls often know something about the subject.

      The full article was less about Haystack, and far more about the Guardian and BBC's coverage of Haystack. Both of these are widely respected news sources in the UK and hence this sort of basic journalism failing is actually worthy of comment, although maybe not to people outside the UK.

      • First, like pretty much everyone he's very confused about what journalists do. Journalists write news stories, and the need to feed the public's (including much of Slashdot, though they think otherwise) unending gluttony for input. Seriously, the exceptions are rare and notable - the horsecrap about "what journalists are supposed to do" is a fantasy right alongside Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I can't understand how anyone over the mental age of twenty can continue to believe in any of the three.

        Maybe t

        • by Ash Vince (602485) *

          This has to be one of the most laughable things I've read all week. You think you're saying that people in the UK are different, but you're actually saying they're exactly the same.

          Actually I was saying the UK media is different to the US media. Subtly different but still different.

          Once again, you delude yourself. The Guardian is held up as but one example among several, and actually receives very little of total verbiage.

          It is mentioned an awful lot. He mentioned the Guardian first and last, although he does talk about Newsweek in the middle for one paragraph.

          Really though, I just picked up on the fact the author was English. Interestingly enough I also just confirmed this and found out he freelances for the Times, a different English newspaper that is considered to be the Guardians more conservative counter part.

          By the way, you completely failed to answer my question. If you hate the slashdot demographic so much then why do you bother reading and posting here? Just do us all a favour and leave.

    • by Godai (104143) *

      Seriously, the exceptions are rare and notable - the horsecrap about "what journalists are supposed to do" is a fantasy right alongside Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. I can't understand how anyone over the mental age of twenty can continue to believe in any of the three.

      Unless I'm misunderstanding you, I have to disagree. It absolutely is the job of a journalist to fact check. That's what's supposed to elevate them above a crazy person on a street corner screaming about stuff he overheard in a pub.

      If a journalist ran into a guy selling TVs out of the back of a van, you think he'd be doing his profession credit if he wrote an article that proclaimed that Panasonic had cut TV prices by 80%? Or do you think that he should be professionally obligated to just maybe inquire abou

    • 'the 'Slashdot demographic' (young, hip, wired)' - really? Are you thinking of Digg or Gizmodo perhaps?
  • truth is less interesting than reality

    Did he really write that? Did George Bush get a job in journalism now?

  • I'm betting that the whole thing was a propaganda op by our very own CIA, and now that it's unraveling, they're pinning it on a scapegoat.

    The media has two options:

    A) Reveal they were betrayed by this kid, and lose only a teeny amount of credibility
    or
    B) Reveal that they were betrayed by our government, and lose their access to any and all such stories going forward

    There is, of course, no evidence. But I'm buying this before any 'Boy Wizard' romantic bullcrap any day.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Fantastic Lad (198284)

      I'm betting that the whole thing was a propaganda op by our very own CIA, and now that it's unraveling, they're pinning it on a scapegoat.

      Close, but actually, this is one of those win/wins.

      Remember the primary objective: "Demonize Iran to hoodwink the public into releasing the funds for another catastrophic religious/resource war."

      This story pays out twice. Once when it announced defeat over the "Bad Guys", and then again when it turns out that the Bad Guys were not defeated after all. End result? More pent-up frustration which the Western Populace has been trained is most easily released through gun fire.

      A propaganda wet-dream, and I agre

  • by trb (8509)
    Haystack boy genius should set up a play date with wall-climbing Spider-Boy [slashdot.org] genius (who ripped off an idea from a BBC TV show [youtube.com]).
  • NPR: On The Media (Score:2, Informative)

    by mackertm (515083)

    NPR On the Media covered this last week with a pretty good story: http://onthemedia.org/transcripts/2010/09/10/05 [onthemedia.org]

  • The only way you're going to make browsing innocuous is by using stego. There are only so many ways you can hide 2-way communication in stego with http and if the software falls into the hands of the authorities you can guarantee they'll find out what they are.

    The details on haystack are hard to come by so this is pure speculation but something that read encrypted cookies or flash shared objects would suit the bill. If these were issued by some ubiquitous ad site then you could be browsing virtually anywh

    • by NevarMore (248971)

      Hmmm escape the scrutiny of an oppressive regime by embedding information in advertisements or have a good experience on the web with AdBlock.

      It seems that the only way to win your game is not to play.

      • by Lehk228 (705449)
        the goal isn't to win, you cannot win you can only lose, you lose whenever you remember the game whenever you you lose the game you have to announce that you have lost after you lose you cannot lose again for thirty minutes.
      • by DrXym (126579)
        Well don't forget you wouldn't actually be seeing the ads. Your requests would go through Haystack which would decrypt the payload inside the ad's cookies / shared object and show that to you.

        Of course it's all speculation how Haystack works since they've hardly been forthcoming. Perhaps it uses another kind of backchannel.

  • The Boy Wizard is a potent image for the media because tied up in it are our own fears of aging and our hopes for salvation. The idea that the young are smarter than the old, and that the young will somehow save the old from their own problems, makes a wonderful subtext that draws readers in. Who hasn't read a story about a youthful genius and shaken their head and thought: "He's so young!" or "I could never have done that" or even "I wish I had the free time to do that"?

    Huh ? I thought we said old peopl

  • It it were about Septimus Heap it would definitely be a story about a boy wizard.
  • Worth the read? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Frizzled (123910) on Thursday September 16, 2010 @01:41PM (#33602694) Homepage

    The Slate write-up was much better:

    http://www.slate.com/id/2267262/ [slate.com]

    • by _Sprocket_ (42527)

      It's a good write-up. Although... I thought it was a bit weird when the article started blaming the entire affair on the US Government. I get the author's point. However, I find the US Government being duped by a fast-talking kid with the right message at the right time to be another part of the overall story - not the core plot line.

  • First, it wasn't last summer, it was this summer (it's still summer); or more precisely, last month.

    http://yro.slashdot.org/story/10/08/17/1953211/From-Slaying-Dragons-To-Dictators [slashdot.org]

    Slashdot at least didn't join the hype. Although the discussion got sidetracked into whether Iran should be called a dictatorship, and whether America is evil, the technical comments were generally quite skeptical. Haystack was accused of relying on security through obscurity, and in the end that proved to be the case.

  • I'll just mention we still don't know what's technically wrong with haystack. such articles are just feeding the news mob. No technical content, just stuff that will create views / ad clicks. Quick! I told you so blame the boy blame other medias ! Oh you wanted real info? Not happening!
    Yay.

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