Scary Reading Material – Courtesy of Wget

I want to show you how I use my computer.

It was this article that made me want to read some of the transcripts from the Chelsea Manning trial. All the transcripts can be found on this web page, but it’s about 70 PDFs, which isn’t convenient for downloading or searching. You could right-click-save the PDFs one at a time, but that’s tedious and I’m good with computers so I (gleefully) used wget. That’s a tiny program that just downloads files, same as a web browser but with some nifty options. I use it for things like backing up websites; downloading homework assignments; or getting software updated at my job as a programmer for Amazon. And it’s great in a pickle like this.

I opened up a terminal, and here are the commands I ran:

mkdir transcripts
wget -h
wget -r -A.pdf -P transcripts
pdfgrep -ric 'wget|w-get' transcripts | grep -v ':0'

For the millions of software developers, these commands should look totally trivial. For everyone else, they’re pretty opaque, so, line by line, they mean:

  1. Create a new folder named “transcripts” (see Wikipedia page for mkdir)
  2. Open up the help file for wget, because I can never remember how to use it. (see Wikipedia page for wget)
  3. Run the wget program. Tell it to open that web address, look at all the links, download any PDFs and save them in my shiny new “transcripts” folder.
  4. Use grep to search those PDFs for any mentions of “wget” or “w-get”  (see Wikipedia page for grep). The results of that search look something like this:


It turns out that wget, that program I just used to download the transcripts, gets mentioned a lot in the transcripts. It comes up in 19 of the documents. It was mentioned 156 times on the afternoon of July 18. Nine times in the verdict.

I use wget to send NPR podcasts to my music player, so why was this banal program coming up in the verdict of the Chelsea Manning trial?

Chelsea Manning had access to millions of military documents, copied lots of them, and released them to the press. That is indeed a crime, and she was convicted of it. But one of the several nonsense charges against her was that she “exceeded authorized access.” She was accused of “circumventing” or “bypassing” security mechanisms to get the documents, and the evidence used to convict her of this was that she used wget. Even though this program can only download files one already has access to, the court decided that use of wget amounted to hacking government computers, and Manning was convicted of an additional crime that added years to her sentence.

From any technical point of view, this is insane. Without that avenue for argument, the prosecution instead seemed to rely on scaremongering. Here’s an exchange between the defense attorney and a government witness eager to malign:

Q: Now, I just want to talk sort of generally about the big picture about WGet. WGet is a program that’s in open source?
A: Correct.
Q: And it’s not a program that’s known for being synonymous with hackers, correct?
A: It could be.
Q: It could be, but it’s not necessarily?
A: Correct.
Q: It’s used for purposes by a lot of different people?
A: Yes.
Q: And a lot of those people aren’t hackers?
A: Yes.

Then the transcripts are littered with bizarre statements like:

Chief Royer further testified that Wget can be used in spear phishing and social engineering attacks…

I guess the lawyers involved are most familiar with using a mouse, and so to do otherwise must be breaking some kind of rule:

And what WGet does is it bypasses the normal mechanism for access to these cables — click, open, save.


There is this running theme of pointing to computer literacy to make her sound like a hacker mastermind. Like, when I just used wget, I had to open the help file to figure out what options to use (line 2 of the commands). So, apparently, did Manning because that was thrown at her in court.

Manning, after downloading Wget.exe, had to program Wget. [It] did not have a graphical user interface or GUI, therefore it was not as simple as double clicking an icon….
Your Honor, explained here is Prosecution Exhibit 189, page 1. This is the help file Special Agent Shaver testified he extracted from PFC Manning’s computer. When I type in wget -h, this help file displays in an MS dot prompt. Because Wget is a command line tool, it has many options as displayed on page 1 here.
PFC Manning had to research how to program Wget and how to program it in order to harvest the entirety of US SOUTHCOM database of DABs.

I have that same help file on my computer. Millions do. And I, too, have read it. If I had asked the Internet how to use wget, the Internet would have collectively yelled back “rtfm,” and then I’m back to the help file. In Manning’s case, that help file was entered as evidence against her. It is meant to sound like she was overcoming major technical hurdles to get at these military documents, when really, she just read the manual. She was using computers the way the people who use computers use computers. That was sufficiently scary and confusing, and she was convicted of this extra charge.

These transcripts are filled with things like the judge asking for definitions of “webpage,” “website,” and “webserver” — and how those things might be related. The prosecution gets to exploit this ignorance and equate “computer knowledge” with “computer infiltration.” The defendant gets painted as a “hacker,” like an updated version of the “Mad Scientist” trope. And people make important decisions about technology they know nothing about.

And personally, all this has been a nice distraction from studying for the LSATs. But I’m suddenly feeling energetic, and it’s not too late. One more round.

Oh, shit, another Logical Reasoning section. NM. Bedtime.

I like it here

So I’m living in Seattle for six months, I’m halfway through, and I like it here. One thing that’s taking some getting used to, though, is everything is a little too laid back for me. Back East, I’m more used to living in places that have a ubiquitous enthusiasm/anxiety pulling me through the days. One part of that attitude (which, for me, is setting Seattle apart) is how I’ve seen people relate to their hometowns. So, some examples from places I’ve kinda lived:


This is one of the most common tattoos I saw from my time in Chicago, especially among the bike messengers I was hanging out with:


Apparently, it was common enough, I never thought to take a picture. Though, I did get a picture of this guy’s tattoo on a bike rally through the Loop and out to Cicero:



He got me in touch with a bunch of people who did drunken, midnight-madness bike rides. Next weekend’s theme was, of course, “The Blues Brothers,” so we all put on black suits and sunglasses and biked around the city singing “Sweet Home Chicago.” When equally drunk pedestrians asked us what we were doing, we’d all yell: “We’re on a mission from God!”


I hope Philly is filled with town pride. Otherwise, those guys in the tricorne hats would start to seem kind of creepy. In other cities, you might call the authorities on chatty old men claiming to be Ben Franklin.

And oh, and how they do love their Philly teams. Even William Penn roots for the Flyers, and he died well before the ’67 NHL expansion.


As an example of their enthusiasm for local teams, look at their willingness to turn any sport into a blood sport. There are people from Philly who find this clip hilarious but only after being told its a joke:


More tricorne hats; fewer Ben Franklins. In fact, yeah, get away from “Ben,” that’s a little weird.

Here you’ll see a lot of people wearing their town pride, at least because it probably says “Boston” somewhere on their college hoodie. And you can get a sense of the city’s self-obsession when you stop to read a plaque every 20 feet.


A lot of Bostonians are also willing to be proud of things they maybe shouldn’t be so proud of. Like Charlie stuck on the MBTA. Or an accent that’s part Lincolnshire, part Dublin, and part seagull. They rooted for the Sox, undeterred, for the whole of the 20th century. Honest to God, in Boston, they cheer for their polluted river. And they don’t care. They own it.

New York (Fuckin) City

Pointing out cultural examples of how New York is in love with itself is like shooting fish in a barrel in Chinatown. Sure, you could easily do in twenty with one shot, but it gets excessive and nobody feels well afterwards. Or, you could take aim for one and still make your point. So, forget that New York has dozens of songs written about it. Forget that just Manhattan has dozens of songs written about it. Forget that people even write songs about outer boroughs. Just consider that this government-housing/beach-resort at the far end of Queens has a song written about it:



And finally, Seattle. The reason I bring any of this up in the first place, is I stumbled upon Seattle’s version of local bravado:


These people are so chill, they just let their sentences end-ish.

That’s fine. I do like it here. Plus, there’s nothing great about a mindless allegiance to one’s home town, or the delusion that people in certain areas are better than others. It’s just the bullshit I’m used to.

But still, I’ve mentioned my awesome new coffee mug to people. Right down the line, locals have no idea what I’m talking about, and East Coast transplants think it’s hilarious. And it led me to hear about the best slogan for this city. A guy who had lived here for decades was asked what what he thought of Seattle, and he really talked it up: “Well, it’s bigger than Vancouver, and really, probably just as good.”

“This is What Democracy Looks Like!”

Packing is really boring, but going through all my forgotten personal stuff is a lot of fun.

Here are some scribbled notes, I think from the Occupy Wall Street May Day event a few years back. There is a typical call-and-response chant at these marches which goes “Show me what democracy looks like!” — “This is what democracy looks like!” So I started looking around the crowd and thinking about different people’s subtexts to these words. I still think the last one could be used as a really effective threat.

“Show me what democracy looks like!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“In a crowd this size you know that some of us are armed!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“Our music is better than your music!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“Fuck your republic!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

“If you screw over the next generation, your daughters will date us!”
“This is what democracy looks like!”

The Consequences of Running a Tor Exit Node From My Apartment

For a couple of years I’ve been donating all my spare bandwidth to the Tor network by running some intermediate relays, including one in my apartment. A little while back I decided that, as a social experiment, I’d flip the switch and turn my home internet connection into an exit node. I knew I’d have to abandon the experiment after a couple of weeks, because I was sure that the consequences would be some subset of the following:

Imagined Consequences:

  • Someone uses Tor to DDOS a government website, it looks like it was my wrongdoing and I have to explain myself to the feds.
  • The IP address at my home gets blacklisted as a notorious spammer and no one lets me connect to their servers ever again.
  • <ISP redacted> starts throttling my connection and blocking ports because I’m clearly abusing their terms of service.
  • No one cares about DDOS, spam, or excessive bandwidth use. However, <ISP redacted> throws a shit fit at the scores of of DMCA complaints they’ve received, so they threaten to cut off my service, beat me up, and get me deported.
  • It all goes on my permanent record.

There is a lot of advice for running an exit relay, but I only took two precautions. First, I put up the Tor exit notice, and second, I set an exit policy which ought to block bittorrent. So, the experiment lasted more than two weeks. Actually, it’s now been 6 months and I can report:

Real Consequences:

  • Yelp blocks Tor by IP address, so I can’t use Yelp from home.

That’s it.

Just that. No police, no throttling, no angry letters. Just, every once in a while I click a link to Yelp, they tell me I can’t get there from here, so I don’t. And in the meantime, my home internet connection keeps facilitating private, anonymous, and secure traffic. Like, 2 terabytes per month. (I’m kind of surprised no one from <ISP redacted> has contacted me over that one, and don’t really want to push it.)

Used to be the family computer. Now it's a tor exit node.
Used to be the family desktop. Now it’s a tor exit node.

The only other thing to consider is that there is now one more hybrid category of consequences:

Real/Imagined Consequences (Apt Paranoia):

Love That Dirty Water

I’ve moved around enough that every city feels like it’ll just be temporary. No place before has ever felt much like home. But Boston has seemed different for some reason.

And this week Boston and I got to do some really intense bonding. The shitty kind. Because you can’t just be in love when things are going well. The shit finally ended tonight and I walked straight for the Common, because that’s been the meeting place since 1634. That’s the People’s place, and lots others showed up. Someone got in the Arlington Street Church to bang out “Ode to Joy” on the church bells. There was a swarm around the bandstand chanting “I Love Boston.” Friends passed around bottles in brown paper bags. Exhausted, relieved folk hung back and bummed cigarettes. People were yelling “USA,” while other people were sarcastically yelling “USA.”  It smelled like a lot of them had started 420 a few hours early. And all together the crowd started singing “Sweet Caroline.”

So, yeah, Boston’s home. What a great town.

Flowers on Tremont
Flowers on Tremont

Software, videos, ramblings, and confusion from Ritchie Wilson.