Portland Confidential: What It Means to Be a Hacker

Portland Confidential: What It Means to Be a Hacker

by Rose C.

Writing this at a time when sadly, I will not be able to stay in Portland, my chosen city, for very much longer. I won’t bore you with the details. My apartment has ventilation and habitability issues. I thought for a long time that I could mitigate the poor air quality with houseplants, fans, and open windows but it’s no longer practical. Not with winter coming on.

I hope to keep pdxlocal.net going strong, though. I will always be a Portlandian in my heart. One of these days I will get around to putting up formal writers’ guidelines. In the meantime, if you have a story, wherever you live, feel free to get in contact and pitch. Unsolicited submissions are also welcome although we don’t print every story that is sent our way.

Anyway, back to today’s chosen topic.

Lesson #1 – Hackers are never as cool as they think they are. As I once said to the leader of my hackerspace in an email, “Hackers think they are cool. Everyone else thinks they are dangerous criminals.”

Rami Malek notwithstanding. His character on Mr. Robot will always be cool, at least to yours truly.

Lesson #2 – Not all hackers are criminals. Ummm, probably not even most. We do tend to think that laws around media piracy are for other people, and freely share audio, video, game, and text files whenever we can. There is so much corporate censorship already in the world that we often feel justified in going down this road. As for me personally, I don’t steal media or make unauthorized copies. I am extraordinarily law abiding.

Hackers like me, who refrain from breaking the law, are sometimes known as “white hats.”

This has less to do with the chances of getting caught and more to do with the fact that I am an artist as well as a programmer. I believe that creative work should be compensated, and that creators deserve the opportunity to make a living. When only wealthy trust fund kids have the opportunity to write memoirs or play in bands, we know that something is wrong with our universe.

Lesson #3 – If you call yourself a hacker, you will get hacked. Certain people view the label as an invitation to test out your defenses. It can’t be helped.

It may not be anything bad. Maybe just a little spyware, or a Bitcoin miner hidden unbeknownst to you on your computer. Or it might be more severe. So be careful about using the term lightly. Many hacks can be prevented, but as long as people write new software, there will always be new vulnerabilities.

Back when I ran a web hosting company, I asked my sys admin what he thought about the slogan, “Your money back if you get hacked.” He wouldn’t go near it.

I don’t practice pentech, as hacking techniques designed to crack and illegally break open other peoples’ systems are known.

 

So if I’m not pirating music and movies, and I also don’t try to break into other people’s systems, why do I call myself a hacker?

 

Lesson #4 – Hackers hack. We really can’t stop ourselves. What I mean by hack is simple. I like to build things, electronically. I like to improvise and solve problems. For me it has nothing to do with money. I would do this even if I didn’t get paid. Honestly, I would probably pay good money just to have the opportunity to keep doing this type of work. Collaboration, and with it the ethos of Free and Open Source Software (or FOSS) is also key to our worldview. We have our own language, and our own “in jokes.”

Here’s one you’ve probably seen before. The only other form of creativity that comes even close to being this collaborative without being rigidly hierarchical is music. That is probably part of why enjoy see live bands and being part of the Portland music scene so much; unfortunately I can’t carry a tune or play an instrument so I had to learn to code instead.

Still learning, actually. And probably will be for life.

The New Yorker Protocol:

The New Yorker Protocol:

Surviving the Surveillance State.

by Rose C.

Portland ranks among the Top 10 Most Surveilled U.S. Cities, according to Cybernews. Atlanta tops the list.

We live in a world where surveillance is a fact of life. Any encrypted software product may be backdoored, and even if it is not, you have no guarantee that the person on the other end does not have spyware such as keystroke monitoring or screen video capture running on their system. Encryption enthusiasts and amateur hackers, no matter how valiant, simply cannot compete with a nation-state in this game. Cf Pegasus.

Sneak and Peek, or “No Knock,” Warrants have been around since the Patriot Act was passed in 2001, but they receive scant attention from the media. What they mean is that you may have your home searched, and items removed from your home, without any official notice from law enforcement. Ditto for electronic files. If you file a FOIA request and the investigation in which you are named is still ongoing, you will not receive any confirmation that a warrant exists. (Pat Eddington, Cato Institute)

The most frightening aspect of these warrants is the potential for planting false evidence. The second most frightening aspect is the potential for planting surveillance devices for tracking and listening — as if cell phones were not effective enough.

Nothing to Hide?”

Like roughly 2/3 of the U.S. population, I reside within the 100-mile “border zone” where Border Patrol agents are granted additional authorities and the Constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment no longer apply. You may think all of this is irrelevant if you are a law-abiding citizen.

The problem is that who you know can get you put on a list. It can also make you a target. To put it another way, we all know somebody who has a cousin who is a drug dealer.

Laws in this country are changing, and not (in my opinion) for the better. Roe v. Wade is gone, and civil rights for gays and lesbians may soon disappear as this country takes a hard shift right. Remember ICE? Children in cages? Forced sterilizations?

Come 2024, they may all be back.

If you don’t feel like being a freedom fighter, if your first priority is keeping your family safe and saving for your children’s college tuition, I am not here to judge. Just remember that in a world where power rules in place of law, abuse of that power is an inevitable consequence.

Get in a traffic accident with somebody employed by the surveillance state? What if one of them rapes your daughter? Or your son? When a large class of individuals are above the law, nothing good will come of it. This is especially true when the same individuals fear consequences from their actions. They tend to lash out and do everything they can to harm and intimidate witnesses and injured parties.

I am not an America-hater. Far from it. The country I grew up in gave me 40+ years of freedom in its purest form: freedom to explore, to create, to love and befriend those I chose, to work as much or as little as I liked. Freedom to just be. I am a GenXer. I don’t mean to talk like a crusty old-timer, but I believe I’ve seen this nation at its absolute best.

Or maybe the best is yet to come.

Nothing is fixed. Nothing is certain.

The combined 2022 budget of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the 17 different United States spying agencies (of which CIA and NSA are only two) is over $150 billion. For comparison, that is roughly one fifth of the Department of Defense 2022 budget of $742B. But remember, the DOD budget covers submarines, fighter jets, aircraft carriers, helicopters, tanks, nuclear weapons, and anti-missile defense systems, not to mention an active network of bases around the world. That’s a lot of people and hardware.

What exactly are we paying for? This remains largely unclear. Marijuana is now legal in 19 out of 50 states, but the DEA’s funding continues to grow. If you were an officer monitoring wiretaps and running undercover operations in Colorado or Washington State, where and to what were you reassigned? And as far as truly terrifying threats to health and safety, the surveillance state could be doing a much better job. We read about mass shootings in the news practically every week. It failed to prevent the violent attempted coup at our nation’s capitol on January 6, 2021. 

Your tax dollars at work, my friends.

Government salaries range from $20K (GS-1) to $147K(GS-15) — much less than the equivalent in the private sector. If we assume that wages (including benefits) average $100,000 per year, we would expect that the surveillance states employs as many as 1.5 million people in the United States. Keeping in mind, that is not accounting for slush funds to be distributed overseas, or James Bond style gadgetry, server space, or the cost of buildings and operations. But if we slash that number in half, that is still one federal domestic spy for every 440 U.S. citizens.

And that’s a lot.

Regarding terminology, “federal domestic spy” includes FBI informers, often recruited under duress or experiencing economic hardship. It does not include state or local police forces.

I am an extremely law-abiding citizen. That has protected me to some extent, but not completely. Somebody who has cheated on their taxes or who runs a warez server with their friends is at high risk of being “turned” and pressured by law enforcement to inform on others and further widen the surveillance network.

If you wish to minimize the risk that a conversation will be overheard, consider the New Yorker Protocol.

The New Yorker protocol consists of three simple steps:

  1. Assume good intent. I am not interested in contact with people for purposes of criminal profiteering (drugs or other contraband) or with groups that instigate violence. My philosophy is nonviolence except in the case of self-defense. I am only interested in working with people who share these values.

  2. Confirm receipt as soon as possible. If somebody emails you asking to meet for coffee, say, “Hey, I got your email. Swamped right now! Will be back in touch to coordinate a time.” If somebody you know leaves a signed, sealed note taped to your front door with instructions to communicate only by dropping messages in yonder hollow tree, then by all means, drop them a note asking, “Did I get the right tree?”

  3. Allow up to 90 days when making a major decision. Depending on the stakes involved, this might be anything from agreeing to meet somebody for the first time for coffee to participating in civil disobedience or leaking a story to the news media. If you feel certain of your course of action sooner than that, of course it is ok to let the other person know. Likewise, if you know you are not down for whatever the person is asking, don’t feel that you need to respond at all. The basic courtesy of acknowledging receipt (Step 2) is enough.

Two of these three steps come directly from the New Yorker writer’s guidelines for submitting unsolicited short fiction manuscripts. I was so taken with these guidelines (in particular, their clarity and brevity) that I submitted a short story almost on the spot. I don’t expect that it will get published, but I do appreciate that 90 days after sending it in I am free to re-submit wherever I like. I also appreciate that immediately after emailing my story as an attachment, I received an auto-responder email acknowledging receipt.

The New Yorker protocol should by no means be restricted to clandestine activities. I consider it an effective strategy for social and business networking as well.

Creating an expectation to observe and respect these simple guidelines is an essential first step to initiate an effective communications process that is platform- and technology-independent and minimizes surveillance risk.

 

 

Bluetooth Vulnerability

Bluetooth Vulnerability

November 26, 2022. By Rose C.

I am concerned because while I was in Phoenix, AZ earlier this month I encountered a dangerous piece of malware allowing an outside entity to take control of a phone.

The thing that complicated matters was that my cell phone locked up on me. Nobody ever touched it — I hadn’t clicked on any links recently or installed any new apps. It just went dark, with a tiny bit of purple visible. Occasionally it would come back to life, but not reliably.

The source of this vulnerability is almost certainly Bluetooth. I recommend turning off Bluetooth on your phones as a precautionary measure.

A Space for Healing

A Space for Healing

Did you know domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women? Rose Haven is a trauma-informed day shelter for women, children, and marginalized genders. Its new space opened on March 8, 2022, after nearly two years of operating from tents in the COVID era.

PDX Local interviews Liz Starke, Development Director for Rosehaven.org.


As a day shelter, what services do you offer?

Rose Haven is a safe place designed with a trauma informed lens where you can go during the hours when many overnight shelters are closed. We offer a secure mailing address, access to meals, showers, restrooms, clothing, first aid, financial assistance and one-on-one advocacy for our guests. Most importantly, we offer community and dignity to a population facing extreme stigma and isolation. Currently, Oregon has the second highest rate of literally unsheltered people in the country- that is our neighbors living outside, in cars or in tents. All of the night shelters are full with wait lists, so we play an important role by bridging the gaps in services and offering help to all those folks not lucky enough to get a shelter bed. For example, if we had 40 beds that would mean we could help 40 people, in our model we are able to serve thousands of women and children a year.

 

Rose Haven Day Shelter for Women and Children
 
What is the story of Rose Haven? How did it get started?

Rose Haven has been an important resource for women and children experiencing trauma in Portland for 25 years. We were founded in 1997 as a program of Catholic Charities after our founding director, Sr. Cathie Boerboom conducted a survey where she walked the streets of Portland and asked women what they needed. The overwhelming response was a safe place to go during the day, where they could take their children and access resources. Twenty-five years later we are still offering programs based off of our guests’ self-defined needs; offering a low-barrier and accessible community resource center where women can meet physical and emotional needs, access social services and find community. Although not a religious organization, Rose Haven operates under the Good Shepherd value system which embodies “Compassion”, “Individual Worth”, “Reconciliation” and “Zeal”.

 

Rose Haven Day Shelter for Women and Children

What special challenges do women and children face when they are homeless?

For women, it is especially dangerous to live outside and constantly be exposed. Women are sometimes referred to as “the hidden homeless”, because they go to great lengths to stay out of sight and not look vulnerable in order to stay safe. Domestic violence is the leading cause of homelessness for women, and unfortunately once they are outside they are even more likely to experience violence. This is why a sanctuary specifically for people marginalized by their gender is so important, because otherwise these women have to face their predators just to receive help in a co-ed space.
 
How have your mission and service offerings changed in the era of COVID?
COVID made our jobs really hard, but ultimately forced us to move into our dream home. Prior to the pandemic, we were functioning out of a very cozy ( some might call it cramped) church basement…where we were serving about 3,700 people a year- about 100 people a day! Needless to say we couldn’t socially distance in that space – so we had to make the really hard choice to push supply distribution to the sidewalk in order to keep our guests safe. For nearly two years we served up meals and clothing on the sidewalk, even doing first aid under a tent. Our guests only came inside to use the restroom, take a shower or meet one on one with a social worker – and for many this was their only opportunity to come indoors at all, as many agencies closed entirely during the lockdown. We knew Rose Haven was needed now more than ever before, and we had to expand. We launched a grassroots fundraising campaign and with the support of the community we opened our new home for the haven on March 8th 2022. We now have a beautiful 10k square ft facility that was designed with a trauma informed lens so our guests can feel at ease and heal when they are here. The visibility of our new location has brought attention to the issues our guests are facing and given them a home they can feel proud of.
 
What is the number one thing that people in Portland can do to make life better for our neighbors without homes?
Be compassionate. The most dangerous thing our guests face is stigma and isolation. They tell me they feel invisible and on display at the same time. It is so much easier to walk right past a person that is starving in front of you if you think of them as “other” than yourself. For example when you think of someone who is going through a hard time as a homeless person, rather than your neighbor that does something on a subconscious level to separate you from them. Unfortunately as more people are displaced, more of us know someone in our personal circle who has fallen on hard times, but we are not defined by our worst moments. I think the more we can do to bust myths (such as the magnet myth- which is the idea that people move out here to become homeless, when the truth is more than 80% of chronically homeless folks in Multnomah county went to high school here) and humanize our houseless neighbors, the better off we will all be. Just be kind to each other, and don’t be afraid of people if they are sick or hungry. Sometimes a smile can really change someone’s day, especially for someone who is used to being ignored or having people cross the street to avoid them.
 
And of course, support your local nonprofits however you can! Donate money or supplies, or volunteer your time. We can’t do this work without the support of the community!

 

Rose Haven Day Shelter for Women and Children

 
Get involved at www.rosehaven.org.
Portland Confidential: Coming Out as Genderfluid

Portland Confidential: Coming Out as Genderfluid

Still pretty femme here.

This post first appeared on Medium on January 3, 2017. It has been edited from the original version.

 

Gender nonconforming while a Scorpio

by Rose C.

I went to a queer support group here in Portland and, for the first time ever, asked the people in the group to call me Jack.

And they did!

And I was blown away. It kind of made my night. I was inwardly beaming. Having trouble paying attention to others’ heart-rending stories, I was so inwardly thrilled to be recognized as Jack.

Me, a large-breasted girl with painted fingernails, longish hair, full lips, and a sweet, heart-shaped face. I was Jack! I had claimed some essence of my masculine self, and people had listened.

Not sure what to do about pronouns and the rest of it. Genderfluid and trans. “They/them” works nicely, for those that bother to ask. I’m not getting tied up in knots about this. I mean, I still carry a purse.

Where this goes next, I have no idea. But here is a bit of backstory.

Last Monday night I decided to try an experiment. There was this young dude (30, great body, worked out all the time) who had expressed an interest in me that was more than purely professional. About a month and a half ago we ended up making out past 2 AM in some downtown bar whose name I don’t even remember. We took an Uber to his place but stopped just short of having sex.

I wanted to think through my current relationship, long distance and already polyamorous in theory, and decide whether I really wanted to open it up to somebody new. I also figured I should get re-tested for STDs, just to be safe.

The answer I came to was emphatically, yes. So last week I sent Young Dude a text to see if he wanted to catch the Warhol exhibit in town. Four hours later, we ended up eating vegan mozzarella at a punk rock dive bar, then singing karaoke (my performance was unimaginably bad), then back to my place. The night was comically ill-timed (the smell of burning rubber alerted us that the tea lights were melting the blinds, even though not directly in contact) and a cold shower almost gave my date hypothermia.

The interesting part of the experience was that even though I knew I might be getting laid that night, I made no special effort to femme it up. Legs remained unshaven. I wore out the same bulky black hoodie that I wear everywhere. This was intentional (even though I did clean up the apartment some, with the thought that somebody might be coming back).

I decided, just that once, to act like a man — which is to say, just be me.

No special outfit, very little makeup.

This is me at 40, folks. I wanted to not apologize for it or cover it up. I wanted to see what would happen. No regrets.

Face it: my body will probably never look the same in lingerie as it did five years ago. I lost a lot of weight after my divorce — got to experience about seven years of having pretty much my ideal body. But then one day, metabolism and time catches up with you. You start to wonder, what exactly does the future hold in store for average looking women in their forties and fifties who don’t have kids?

I am viewing this unavoidable process of aging as an excuse to explore my more masculine side. Which is weird, because I really love my body. I can’t imagine having chest surgery. I could fantasize about a deeper voice, chest hair, all the other effects of “T”. (And yes, I’ve done the research about transitioning in midlife.)

I have no idea how other people experience gender. I just know that I almost never feel like a girl. Even when I did femme it up, it felt like a costume, or a video game avatar. A really fun and sexy costume, but something contrived and separate from the essence of who I was.

I know that I’m also a very nurturing and empathic person, and that those traits put me in the bucket of “feminine.”

But then… this is also me. Leader. Builder of things. Entrepreneur. Somebody who prefers to call shit like it is and isn’t afraid of conflict. Somebody with an unflagging code of loyalty to my peeps, even when they don’t return the same. Somebody whose idea of a perfect evening is just having two beers with a buddy. Really. That’s it.

Interests: comics, rock and roll music, computers, science fiction.

I think about why I have so many more guy friends than female friends, and it’s easy to just chalk it up to women being busy with children and partners, or women’s internalized jealousy and mistrust of other women.

But sometimes I wonder. Maybe something is clicking for me on a deeper level. I’ve never been a tomboy, never been super butch although I did shave my head in my early 20s. I’ve only ever been with two women in my life.

I feel dorky for embarking on this “voyage of self discovery” at the cusp of middle age. But I also feel like to try and fit a mold I outgrew sometime in the last few years might be literally dangerous to my health.

I had plenty of years to play the “cute girlfriend.” Am I now going to be the “less cute girlfriend?”

I guess for me the essence of masculinity is being perceived for my talent, strength, and ability rather than for how I look or my relationship to others. It has very little to do with having a penis or chest hair. And yet, projecting this self while outwardly feminine can be threatening to some.

I have thought about this shit for years, but never expressed it publicly before. I don’t know where it will lead. At this point in my life I am used to feeling like an outcast, even while deftly maneuvering professional and social situations and keeping casual acquaintances at arm’s length. Adapting a less traditional gender presentation might change that. It might make me, finally, a bit less closeted in my multifaceted “otherness.”

And honestly, that might be a change I am looking for.

Portland Confidential: Part One of Several

Portland Confidential: Part One of Several

Hello, there.

I would like to explain what is confidential about this series. First and foremost, it is my name. I have an unusual first and last name combination, and I have had stalkers. For the purposes of this blog, I go by “Rose C.” That’s short for Rose City.

Here is my avatar:

Rose C.

If you don’t like it, I’m sorry. It was a public domain vector illustration that I adapted. People have many good and legitimate reasons for wishing to protect their privacy. To give just one example, this blog post gives advice to parents about how their children can avoid rape. It is based on personal experience.

The second reason I am using a pseudonym is that I may occasionally piss people off or cause strong reactions. I know we had over 600 unique visits on this site in the last week. Some of those may be ‘bots. Regardless, it appears that even though we do not advertise and rarely post on social media, real people do from time to visit our site. As a writer and creator, this makes me happy, I’d like to encourage it!

But you can’t be an honest journalist and never report anything negative.

For instance, right now I am typing this blog entry at Old Town Pizza in downtown Portland. So far, the experience has been only positive: good beer, a good slice, a comfortable corner booth to write at. It’s really nice, honestly, to find a space that’s not a strip club or a cabaret and still has affordable food and beverage in this neighborhood on a Sunday evening. Portland’s downtown isn’t what it used to be. It needs all our help to come back and thrive once more.

But perhaps something will go horribly wrong at this restaurant before I sign for the check! I cannot imagine what that might be, but I reserve the right to write a critical restaurant review if circumstances demand. That is another reason I choose to remain Rose C.

Something else you should know about PDX Local, if you have not visited before:

We have a number of different writers, and we welcome volunteers. We are not advertiser-supported. We accept donations, but to be honest there are a lot of other local organizations that can probably benefit more from your hard-earned cash. I will try to profile some of these in the weeks and months to come. Suggestions welcome.

We are free and independent media. We are here by choice.

Yours truly (that is to say Rose C.) has a contract job at a large and well-known corporation, but I would not call myself rich. Not by a long shot. I have a lot of credit card debt to pay off. Some of that is medical debt. Some comes from taking my ex-partner and his child along with me to South Korea on a business trip. Some comes from travel back to the East Coast to see friends and family. A lot comes from simply using credit to pay for all of life’s daily necessities (including groceries, utilities, and transportation) for approximately ten years, while I was toiling away as a startup founder, with enough money to pay my employees (including the aforementioned ex-partner) but not myself.

Do you hear the world’s tiniest violin playing here?

I don’t.

It’s been the ride of a lifetime, and it’s not over yet.

If my job vanished tomorrow (and I hope it doesn’t) I would go back to doing deliveries—driving for DoorDash and UberEats.

Restaurants are so important to our local economy. If they go away, I don’t know what Portland will become.