Just another day of being an asshole on the internet

TL;DR:

  • Hunter.io is a service that email marketers use to get huge email lists.
  • Go to their email finder to see if you’re in their list of 200+ million addresses (you probably are).
  • Go to their claim email address page to (attempt to) remove yourself from their database.

I get a lot of emails. An overwhelming amount, in fact.

A lot of the time, I have myself to blame: they are from lists I signed up for (intentionally or otherwise) or places I have made purchases. Most of the time there is an unsubscribe link at the bottom and I just need to muster enough energy to go through the hundreds of emails and hit that link.

But sometimes, the emails are more personalized — like, actually written by a human being, not a robot — and those are far more difficult to get rid of. Here’s how an email like that might go:

Hi Chris!

I read your article https://jazzsequence.com/category/ministry-of-music/ and was really impressed! I have a site that has similar content and since you write about music, I think it might be relevant to your readers.

Can you take a look at my article at http://totallyfakemarketingwebsite.com/music-therapy/ and, if you like it, link it from your article? If you could that would be great! Looking forward to working with you!

Now, on the internet, when you are confronted by an unsolicited email or private message, you basically can do one of two things: ignore it, and hope that it goes away, and respond to it (either positively — “absolutely, I will definitely link to your content!” — or negatively — “hell no, take me off your list”). If these were sent by a robot, ignoring it would have no consequences. You could happily delete the email and go on with your day. But these aren’t sent by a robot, they are sent by a human. And dealing with it in any way other than an outright “go to hell” will result in a followup email.

Hi Chris!

I was wondering if you had a chance to read the email I sent you last week. Looking forward to hearing from you!

I want to not feed the trolls, but, it turns out, these content marketers aren’t trolls

It’s at this point that the internet rule “don’t feed the trolls” shows cracks. I want to not feed the trolls, but, it turns out, these content marketers aren’t trolls — they are some other kind of creature — and not feeding them, doesn’t make them go away. Because continued, conscious ignoring and deleting of the emails they send will just result in more emails…

Hey Chris!

Just checking in to see if you had considered my offer. Let me know what you think!

I haven’t tested how long these will go on unchecked. I usually give in and respond after the second or third iteration. Sometimes, I forget and it’s the fourth or fifth. But I haven’t found a point at which they don’t keep sending followup replies. At some point, if you want this person to stop emailing you, you’re going to have to hit the reply button.

Don’t call me a Monopoly player

It was one such exchange I had this week. I got an email from one of the two partners running gamecows.com. Now, looking at their site, I can’t tell what their business model is. Maybe it’s through affiliate links, although I don’t see any. Maybe they are just trying to build up a collection of list-icles to go on their resume for future writing gigs. There’s no advertising on the site, just a newsletter you can sign up for (and I’m not signing up for the newsletter just to test this experiment).

Whatever it is, I got an email from them that linked to my games list page. Now, this is not a post. This is not an article. This is literally  just a list of all the games that I own. It’s an experiment, and it’s a demo of my Games Collector WordPress plugin, and it’s a way for people to see what I have already, so if they wanted to get me something I don’t already have, there’s an easy way to figure out what I do have (that was the original reason I built the plugin, other features just expanded from there). There’s no content to speak of, and there isn’t even anything relevant to link from — the only links that are on the page are to Board Game Geek as a way to provide more information about a game. I suppose I could link to them in one of those, but I’m not trying to link to a review, I’m linking to a game description. I could link to Amazon if it wouldn’t then look like I was trying to profit from the game. I could link to the game’s website, but then I’d have to track down every game publisher. BGG has out of print games in its database, which makes it a much easier and more central place to get information about games. And much less biased, given that any reviews that appear on BGG are from people who’ve actually played the games and aren’t trying to profit in some way from their review. The more popular games have multiple reviews.

Anyway, this isn’t an ad for Board Game Geek. I digress.

The email was asking me to link to their review of Dominion (see what I did there?), a game that’s definitely one of our favorites. But, again, even if I did want to link to them, I have nothing relevant to link from. Not on that page. It wouldn’t make sense to link to their review of Dominion from my listing of Dominion in my game collection, it would be more confusing because it would be inconsistent with the other games on the page. Plus it wouldn’t be impartial.

I might have originally intended to respond, just because it was about games and I like games, but I didn’t. And so, sure enough, the second email comes. Except this one comes with a bite.

Chris, did you get my last email? If I don’t hear back, I’ll assume you’re more of a Monopoly person. Nothing wrong with that of course. ;)

Woah boy.

Now, it should be obvious that I’m not a “Monopoly person” just by looking at the page they linked to. If I was, there’d probably be several incarnations of Monopoly on the list. There are not. I have distinct memories of losing horribly and being angry at my Dad for winning so overwhelmingly and feeling like a failure at the game and as a human being as a result of Monopoly. Monopoly is not a fun game. Unless by “fun” you mean one person wins and makes everyone else’s lives miserable — which describes a lot of board games of the past, Risk is another great example of this. I make it a point to avoid games like these at all costs.

What’s more, if you look at the history of Monopoly, it wasn’t supposed to be fun. It was designed to illustrate the evils of capitalism, not how great capitalism is. According to Wikipedia “it was intended as an educational tool to illustrate the negative aspects of concentrating land in private monopolies.” Even their own about page mentions “the family-destroying dynamics of a ‘friendly’ game of Monopoly.”

I was angry at yet another of a long series of unsolicited emails from which there is no unsubscribe

This was an obvious baiting tactic, and one that, I felt, was particularly offensive, given that it was coming from someone who claimed to like games, directed to someone who (I should think, given that there are 100+ in our collection) also likes games, and is very much not a “Monopoly person” — something that should be obvious if you actually read the page you’re requesting a link from. So, like a chump, I took the bait. And I wrote a nasty email. Because I was pissed at the implication and I was angry at yet another of a long series of unsolicited emails from which there is no unsubscribe.

A possible solution

Here’s where the story shifts from the norm. Normally, I would respond to one of these (nasty or otherwise) and never hear from them again. In this case, that didn’t happen. On some days, I would be even more exasperated, but in this case, I made an implication that “if you just write good content, the traffic will come” which I know, really, isn’t the case. But I also know that emailing me, is not going to give them a bump in their traffic. My site doesn’t get traffic. You’re better off soliciting, well, Board Game Geek for one, to get links to your site. Or Geek and Sundry. Or, I dunno, anything else, really, because I hardly get hits on this site, and definitely not enough to make an incoming link from jazzsequence.com result in a higher ranking on Google. You’d be just as good building your own site, call it sequencejazz.com and write your own incoming link for all the good my Google juice would do you, which is the other reason why these emails exhaust me.

So they apologize for striking a nerve and I apologize for being an asshole and I said something like “I wish there was a ‘do not call’ list or something for these emails…” And this is where the real nugget of wisdom happens.

They shared with me the name of the tool that they — and many other content marketers — use to gather emails: Hunter.io. By all appearances, this seems like a fairly legit way of gathering lists of email addresses to spam send your wonderful emails to. They boast 200+ million email addresses in their database, all tested for sendability and ranked with a score. They have a search tool right on the front page their site where you can search by domain and get a list of results (with parts of the name blocked out, although with some social engineering you can figure them out a lot of the time). Go ahead and try your own (assuming you don’t have a Gmail account) — you’re probably in there.

You can even find the sources for the email addresses, and here’s where it gets really interesting. Their email finder lets you type in a full name (first and last) and a domain and it will give you the matching address. This is easy and you can do it right now to get an actual individual’s email address from, basically, anywhere, provided you can give those two things. But the sources, for me, were the most revealing. Two of my results had the tag “Removed”. I don’t really know what this means, perhaps just that my address no longer appeared on those pages. Those were my ancient ReverbNation page and a tag archive for the term “art” on jazzsequence.com! (And not just any tag archive, but, in fact, page 2, randomly.)

Hunter.io results for Chris Reynolds

My email address got entered into their database because I committed a piece of code. That code is open source and includes my email address and this is considered fair game.

The remaining (not removed) public listing of my email address is on Trac. Yes, plugins.wordpress.trac.org. So, to summarize, my email address got entered into their database because I committed a piece of code and standard practice for copyright and GPL notices in code is to put the author’s email address in the code. That code is open source, and therefore exists on the internet, and because that code is on the internet, and the code includes my email address, this is considered fair game to add me to a database of 200+ million other people who can be spammed receive unsolicited emails be emailed by this company’s users.

Hunter.io has a contact address — [email protected] — but when I emailed it, I got an auto-response that it couldn’t be delivered. The message response was, get this, “Leave failed, not a member.” This seems to imply that, because I am not a member of the service, I can’t email their public email address. Fabulous. Isn’t that fabulous?

Claim your address on Hunter.io

I did a bit of digging and, through a FAQ on their site, found that the Claim page on their site is how you can (attempt to) remove your address from their database. By entering your address into the form, you are “claiming” that address, and you can then either edit the preferences on the address or request that it be deleted entirely. Alternately, it’s entirely possible that you’re just adding your email back into their database, I guess time will tell.

At any rate, I claimed all of my email addresses, even those that didn’t come up when I searched for them. I don’t think it will block them from being added again in the future if they get indexed again, but hopefully it will null the existing matches.

If you get these emails, too, go to Hunter.io and claim your address. Bookmark the damn page and do it again in six months. I’d recommend writing a nasty letter to them, but I tried that and it bounced, so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

With low expectations, you create your own dismal reality

I’m reading an article in December’s WIRED (look at that, 2017 Goals ? ) about the three days in a row last summer where there were 3 fatal shootings in a span of 72 hours, each of them livestreamed via social media. During the protests following the first two, police approached the protesters in riot gear. There is a quote from a police officer that I wanted to respond to:

If something happens in Baton Rouge and Minnesota, millions of people are finding out about it instantaneously with the video going out. You get a reaction much quicker. With that mob-type mentality — we want to do something — sometimes it’s to do some harm to those in law enforcement. We become a target again and again and again.

Here’s the thing, Frederick Frazier, Vice president of the Dallas Police Association, what you expect to happen shapes the outcome of what actually happens. If you send out an officer in a SWAT uniform to confront a crowdfull of angry protestors, you better believe they are going to react strongly to that. They are going to feel like they are being attacked. If you send out an officer in plain clothes or a regular uniform, who never touches his weapon, you can have a conversation. You may be sending in your officer in riot gear because you expect him/her to be attacked, but that expectation is going to create that reality. The officer will be looking for an attack because they are expecting it to happen. That’s what leads to a black man being shot for reaching into his glove box to get his wallet.

It’s like this: there are a lot of LEGOs that my kids have left out on the floor for several days. Any parent anywhere will agree with me that LEGOs on the floor is a bad thing because you end up stepping on them or breaking things or whatever. If I, as a parent, walk into the room where the kids are, sigh heavily, and say “can you guys pick up the LEGOs, please?” without helping them do it, expecting that they won’t actually clean them up in the time I want it done or to the degree that I would like, it’s absolutely going to go exactly the way I expect. I will walk into the room 2 hours later and nothing observable has been done. I am creating that reality by a) expecting that they aren’t going to do the thing I asked them to do and b) not providing the tools or support to help make the reality that I would like to actually happen.

It’s hard to do. I struggle with it. Somewhere along the way, I decided that it was better to set my expectations of people very low and be surprised when they are exceeded rather than having high expectations of people (and occasionally being disappointed). Having low expectations is a generally miserable place, let me tell you, because I guarantee you will always see the worst possible outcome. And maybe you tell yourself “well, at least I was prepared”, but where does that get you, really?

When the results started coming in for the 2016 election, it was easy to see where the trajectory was going fairly early on. There was an SNL skit that ran afterwards that showed a bunch of white people (and the token black guy) constantly going back and saying “well, if Hillary just wins here, we’ll be fine” and continuing to pat themselves on the back for being so empathetic and supportive towards various marginalized groups. As the skit progresses, they get more and more panicked as the scenarios for Hillary winning become more and more far fetched. And the punchline at the end is “are we really that racist?”

I didn’t feel that way on election night. Sure, I wanted Hillary to win, but once the results started swinging in Trump’s favor, they never really swung back. You could look at the 538 or a million and one different reports about how Trump has no chance but historically, people did that the whole campaign and he did have a chance and he continued to defy expectations. He was a blind spot for half of the country who believed he couldn’t stand a chance. But it doesn’t take a data analyst to see the pattern, which was, every time we expected he couldn’t do a thing, he did it. A dark part of me started considering what would happen under a Trump presidency, even while I hoped that Hillary could turn it around.

And here’s the real “hindsight is 20/20” thing: many of us who supported Hillary heard what the Bernie supporters were saying about “this may be the only time we can elect someone like this, with ideas for radical change like this”. We heard you. But the thing is, we didn’t expect that to work. Government is slow, he would be fought on every decision by the GOP every step of the way. Every time he tried to make something happen he would get shot down. It would be as hard or harder as it was for Obama. Yes, Obama was a black man but a lot of what Bernie wanted to do was more drastic than anything Obama actually set in motion. And then there’s the fact that the President doesn’t really do a whole lot on their own. They don’t write laws themselves, for example. They can’t just pass amendments to change things. They make appointments, they set things in motion and they approve or deny bills. Would Bernie have had a better shot at getting things done than Hillary because he’s male? Probably, but we’ll never know. The point is, this whole thing maybe could have had a different outcome if some of us had a different set of expectations. Maybe. The point is that if we expect the worst, we won’t be disappointed. The point is, expecting to be attacked will make you more likely to be attacked or see a possible attack where there is actually none.

The point is we should expect better of ourselves and of humanity.

And to nod back to my last post about resolutions and goals for the new year (and to not end this post on such a down note), maybe the reason we so epically fail at our new years resolutions is because we never actually expect to accomplish them? Maybe if you are doing NaNoWriMo and you are focussed on the impossible task of writing 50,000 words in 30 days you won’t do it. But if you expect to be able to accomplish that goal, maybe you have a better shot at it. That’s the theory I’m going to have going into RPM next month. I have no idea how I will manage work and making music enough to compose an album in a month but I know I’ve done it before and I know I can do it again and I will expect it to be an achievable goal and so it will be.

 

On Trans, Gender, and Body

I tweeted out a post on Mashable this morning and then, after it went out, I wanted to elaborate on why it’s important. This is the tweet:

Gender is not a binary thing

It would be easy to look at that headline and switch off. I don’t care about trans-anything. Those people aren’t like me. There’s nothing for me here. That’s the nice version. The not-so-nice version might get into the mental states of transpeople or the “right-” or “wrongness” of a 14-year-old taking estrogen for hormone replacement treatment. Having met a trans kid who was living as one gender in kindergarten and first grade and then publicly coming out as the opposite gender the next year, I’ve had to take some time to evaluate my own feelings on whether it’s a nature or nurture thing, of whether we are pushing things, and our own agendas onto kids and that this is a decision rather than a part of who they are.

Despite what you may have been told, gender is not a toggle switch. It’s not Green for male and Red for female (see what I did there?). The reason why there has been a marked increase in articles about transgender individuals and issues and more transgender people in the media is because this is a human thing. This is a thing that exists in the grand scope of human existence and it is normal.

It’s a thing that we just accept as a given that people are different. No two people are alike. “Everyone is a unique snowflake” and all that. So why do we assume that the same does not apply to things like gender, like mental health, like sexuality, like autism? There’s more to it than just XX or XY chromosomes, but even within those, there are more variations than just those two. None of these things are on/off, you-have-it-or-you-don’t things. Like everything else that it means to be a living creature on this planet, it’s a spectrum. And it’s that spectrum, that variety, that makes things interesting.

Speaking from a place of extreme privilege

Look, I’m well aware of how easy things are for me just to exist in our society. I will never know how hard it is to be a woman walking down the street, let alone what it means to be a trans woman walking down the street. I’m white, male, cisgendered and (more or less) heterosexual. I have it easier than most, so it’s important to me to take advantage of that privilege and add my voice to these types of issues.

…and so…why that post is important

I have never experienced the feeling of not knowing/understanding/trusting/feeling comfortable in my own skin. I have maybe experienced mild gender dysphoria but it had nothing to do with my identity and everything to do with the expectations and cultural values assigned to men. Men are supposed to be muscular, drink beer, watch football and shoot guns. They harass women, rape, and are physically and emotionally aggressive. They are villains but they are also heroes. They are the center of the story. They are the ones who rescue the princess. They make the rules and run the show. They are presidents, CEOs, prime ministers. I am not, nor will I ever be, any of those things, or those things I might be because of my gender, I do not accept. Ergo, I must not be a “real man.” It was later, after doing an intense study on gender and transgender issues, that I realized that none of that mattered, really, because society’s expectations are stupid and don’t define any of us. But I digress.

The point is, I don’t know what it’s like to be a teenager who feels like she is trapped in the body of a boy and I never will because that’s not me. I only know what it feels like to be a teenager and young adult who has a lot of self-hate having to do with what it means to be the gender that I was born as. But I don’t have to have that common ground to watch that video and realize what just happened. And what’s happening every. single. day. that posts like this and others are published and more awareness is spread around the existence and acceptance of women and transpeople as human beings deserving of equal rights, respect and privilege.

I am well aware of the demographics of my followers on social media and the sorts of folks who will stumble across my blog. Very few of them are around because I talk about gender equality or gender issues. Mostly it’s nerds like me, or people who follow me because I write about soccer or WordPress. And that’s part of what makes it so important that I also talk about stuff like this. Because maybe someone who would never have looked at that video of a transgirl getting her first hormone treatment from her mom and breaking down in tears of gratitude will be able to see it for what it is — a real, human experience, real joy and acceptance. And the more stories like this there are, the more real, human experiences from transfolk and women and people of color we see, the closer we get to a world that I want to live in. One that accepts you for the person you are. Not for what you look like, not for what society expects you to be, not for the things you like or the way you style your hair or your tattoos or piercings or clothing or money or where you live or where you were born or what god you put your faith into or what the motherfucking scale says. Just you. That’s where I want to live.

The single greatest contribution to open source by WordPress is documentation

I’m going to throw an idea out there, and that is that the single, most important contribution that WordPress has made to open source software as a whole is documentation.

When I first started using WordPress 8 or so years ago, that was the biggest difference between WordPress and other platforms. You could search for something and actually find the answer. There was even a huge wiki dedicated to how to use — and modify — the platform: the Codex. With other open source web application software platforms at the time, documentation was always scarce. The first Magento project I worked on, I had to teach myself how their theming system worked. Likewise for ZenCart and Joomla!. This self-education takes time, and this is the whole reason we say “I am a WordPress developer” as opposed to “I am a web developer.” Sure, I have skills that extend beyond WordPress, but I know WordPress in a way that I don’t know other platforms. I am much more able to work on the fly on something I’ve never tried before in WordPress than I am on a roll-your-own platform or some other CMS. And the availability of documentation plays a huge role in this.

The two WordPress-specific businesses I’ve worked for — Event Espresso and WebDevStudios — both have had their own, internal documentation based (at least in part) on the WordPress Codex. That’s in addition to the user documentation that’s readily available for most premium plugins. The docs may not always be complete — and they may not always be good — but they are there and you can usually find answers. Plugin developers specifically are motivated to provide good documentation to eliminate the amount of support requests they get via support forums. These support forums are a form of documentation, too. I asked a question on a Magento forum a few years ago and I don’t think I ever got a satisfactory answer back. If that happened on a WordPress forum, the hounds of hell would be unleashed on the plugin author or, at the very least, everyone would start to avoid that plugin. If it was a WordPress core component, a Trac ticket would crop up pretty quickly with a long discussion about how best to solve the problem and, eventually, a fix would get built into WordPress core.

WordPress people are always talking, always communicating, and this is part of what helps WordPress grow. The first blog platform I used was sBlog, which had little-to-no documentation and a very small community around it. If you’ve never heard of it before, that’s because it doesn’t exist anymore. A slightly better platform I played with for a couple years (which does still exist) is Ampache, a web-based music player where a lot of discussion and documentation happened in the forums or else in the IRC channel on Freenode. But because there aren’t blog posts about “I built this awesome thing with Ampache” — and because there isn’t the amount of documentation for Ampache to help developers build awesome things — not many people know it exists.

And that’s part of the reason why I was initially lured into the Docs contributor team. WordPress documentation is a huge part of how I got where I am today, it’s what sets WordPress apart and helps it grow, and it’s vitally important to the continued success and growth of the software. But what I’ve noticed in those years since first toying with Joomla, Magento ZenCart, sBlog, and Ampache, is that other projects now have more documentation available, and put more of an emphasis on documentation. Look at HTML5 Boilerplate or Bootstrap. Look at Git and jQuery. Spend some time on StackExchange. There are tons of answers out there now, answers that weren’t there for us 8 years ago. I feel like the success of WordPress has brought with it the rise of better documentation — and those platforms that fail at documentation get passed over by ones that have documentation. And that documentation increases in relevance and quality as things like MediaWiki have cropped up and allowed for the crowdsourcing of said documentation so that anyone can be an editor or an author of a tutorial or code reference. Yes, I credit at least some of this to the popularity and rise of WordPress as a publishing platform, and I suggest that it is the most valuable contribution by WordPress to open source software. Even if WordPress someday fades, its’ footprint will be left by the emphasis on — and prevalence of — good documentation.

Is it possible that my glasses are rose-tinted because of my involvement in the WordPress community? Sure. But the thing is, WordPress is the most common CMS in the world. More than 20% of the web is built on WordPress and the percentage of new sites using WordPress is even higher. So, one way or another, other projects will need to learn by the example set by WordPress if they want to stick it out and become a viable platform that people can pick up and use without having to dig through lines of code to figure out how.