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Re: Question for Sam Hocevar

On Sat, Mar 03, 2007, Russ Allbery wrote:

> You seem to be a frequent contributor to a site associated with GNAA,
> which is a trolling organization that has had past run-ins with Wikipedia
> and other volunteer projects.  Could you clarify, first, whether that's
> actually true or whether it's just a case of mistaken identity?

   I don't know what site you are talking about. If you are talking
about lastmeasure.com, I have never touched it and I don't even have any
idea who hosts it or how it is managed.

   It is true however that I set up an SVN repository for that piece of
free software. As far as I remember I only did the initial import, which
hardly qualifies as "frequent contributor". I also forked it to create
"softmeasure", a version of lastmeasure that had pictures of carebears
and other plush animals instead of the other Internet memes. However
juvenile that piece of software may be, I will not accept criticism
about it until Debian stops distributing software that encourages
stoning women and children, cursing homosexuals or enslaving daughters.

   On second thought, maybe the "site associated with GNAA" you are
referring to is Slashdot. I feel bad for contributing to Slashdot, but
you may notice that I posted three comments in 2006 and only one so far
in 2007, so I'm pretty clean here as well.

> If it is true, could you comment on the degree of your involvement with
> GNAA?  In other words, do you just find this one site, not related to
> their other activities, interesting and have ignored the other things
> they're doing?  Do you think they're unfairly maligned?  Did you not even
> know who they were?

   I have not ignored the other things they're doing.

   I have approached the GNAA at a time when I was doing computer vision
research about CAPTCHAs. I knew they had scripts, bots and open proxies
to ruin Slashdot or other blog engines and I wanted to collect CAPTCHA
samples, which they gave to me. For the record, I cracked most of these
CAPTCHAs but never distributed my decoder (I set up a proof of concept
web service but it had flood control and was never abused).

   I also approached professional spammers and other "black hat" hackers
for the same reason and I do not think there is anything wrong with
that. It is fascinating how they work and use their skills and there is
much to learn from what they do (including in terms of protection or
retaliation, of course).

   I stayed on the GNAA IRC channel when they became "interested" in
Wikipedia, so as to keep an eye on their actions, and I think I managed
pretty well to dissuade them from ruining Wikipedia. I have not taken
part in any of their destructive actions or hate propaganda floods,
which I find quite questionable (and are illegal where I live anyway).

> More broadly, could you give your feelings on the impact of trolling,
> attempts to shock and offend people, and similar forms of humor on
> volunteer projects with a huge variety of participants?  Do you think that
> such humor would be appropriate on, say, Debian mailing lists or IRC
> channels?

   Short answer: it's bad and no, it would not be appropriate.

   However I am well aware of the state of self-denial Debian is in. We
are so terribly convinced that we are the best and/or that we are doing
it in the best way that we are not accepting criticism. Please look at
http://www.gnaa.us/pr.phtml?troll=gnaa-sarge and tell me there's not
some truth in every sentence. Again, I am not advocating such offensive
material, it's just that when I read it the first time I thought "wow,
they pretty much got the point, we should try to suck less in this and
that areas" instead of dismissing it as "trolling", and the project as a
whole could help with more self-criticism.


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