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Blackmail fail (gwern.net)
203 points by a3voices on Dec 23, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 72 comments



I would recommend against having dealings with the obviously mentally ill. I'm not sure in what sense you might be legally liable (for a civil suit) if they happened to commit suicide a week later and mentioned you in the note. Also, psychiatrists may be in many cases working off falsified doctrines just like any other doctor, but also like any other doctor, they really do know important things layfolk don't. Leave the clearly crazy to the professionals.

Though if this is your first real crazy caller I could understand where the fascination came from. About... 15 years ago...? I got that email from someone who insisted that all I really needed to know was the Periodic Table of the Elements in which all answers were contained. It took me a while to get that this was not someone I could save by argument.


> Though if this is your first real crazy caller I could understand where the fascination came from.

You know, thinking about it, I think Jack is the first crazy person I have seriously dealt with at length on the Internet. Oh, I've seen plenty of crazy people online - I've laughed at Timecube, I've looked over HN's own resident Losethos (with a sense of 'there but for the grace of god'), I've watched other people argue with crazy people - but I think I've either never actually dealt with them or quickly flipped the bozo bit on them and disengaged. Under normal situations, on normal topics, I have no reason to talk with them at length and grandiloquence is unjustified....

At least part of the problem here is that in the crazy mirror land of the blackmarkets and Bitcoin in general, sanity is hard to distinguish from insanity, there really are key bits of information random parties can have, not everyone talks straight, blackmail does payoff, and there really are hidden millionaires & billionaires walking around in plain sight. (As an example of the mirrors of insanity, I invite anyone to read the Silk Road 2 forums and parse the SSBD/Inigo/Libertas, the DPR2 key rotation, the Cirrus announcement, Raoul's quoted message from DPR2, the posts by Defcon, the 'accidental' access to the admin forum, Ormsby's comments, Oracle's insinuations, the Tormarket quote from the vendor forum, etc etc etc, and parse it into a single coherent sane narrative. And consider what Satoshi's estimated fortune is at any moment.)


Y'know, I completely understand your want to get the information out, to solve the puzzle, to unlock the mystery of why this guy thinks whatever it is he thinks. I don't have a moral, ethical, or any other kind of problem with that, nor do I think that any reasonable court would hold you accountable for anything of the sort (that said, courts are seldom reasonable, so beware)... what I do worry about though, is the idea that by even vaguely admitting anything even remotely of the sort that you might be Satoshi could get you implicated in something else.

This line, for example

> I think that you do not have a solid case that I am Satoshi, and that you are hoping I will pay you a large sum

I read it how you meant to say it, but thinking through every episode of Law & Order, Matlock, et al that I can remember, the guy who says "Oh yeah? Prove it. You got nothing on me copper" is always the guilty party. In the absence of anybody knowing who the real Satoshi Nakamoto is, let's say the feds decide to arrest somebody, and this happens into their field of view, so they settle on you, and you find yourself in front of a jury of your peers with a document that, if read the right way by the prosecutor, makes you sound like Bugsy Malone.

I'm sure it's a remote possibility, and I'm sure that there are plenty of other happenings in your life to provide you ample alibi -- or at least, I hope there are. As a telecommuter that lives in the suburbs, I probably get out less than I should... I don't know how well that represents you, but I can imagine a scenario in which my alibi is the ever-faithful "I was at home. Yeah, my wife was there the whole time".

I'm sure things'll be fine, but be careful. Innocent people do go to prison all the time, especially in America. We damn near pride ourselves on that fact.


I wish we could do something for losethos. "There but for the grace of god" captures it perfectly.


As I recall, losethos's situation is that he's already on disability, diagnosed, and part of a national health system (isn't he British or something?); it's just that his meds either aren't working or he isn't taking them. What can be done for him has been done.


I did some minor whois snooping into templos.org; I seem to remember something about Sunnyvale, CA. I live in the Bay Area...


You ask "Who is Sunny". I believe they refer to "Sunny King", author of Peercoin and Primecoin. Some people seem to think Sunny is Satoshi.


Yes, that's the suggestion on Reddit too. It would make sense given his other allusions.


I suspect that 'Jack' might be a non-native speaker of English. I get the feeling that the first language of 'Jack' is probably highly idiomatic and frequently uses allusion and/or euphamisms. Also using the threat of the government power, rather than direct force (mafia et alia who more frequently carry out blackmail), while simultaneously engaging in clearly illegal behaviour. I would suspect this means this person's origins would be a country with high levels of government corruption and/or dictatorship. All together I would hedge that this person came from China (linguistical match, corruption match, huge population, national interest in Bitcoin), Vietnam, or maybe Laos or Cambodia. Obviously this is all conjecture of the highest order.


> I suspect that 'Jack' might be a non-native speaker of English.

If he is, he's done a hell of a job learning English. I think I'm a very good writer, but in some respects I don't match Jack, which is impressive for a native but astounding if he's ESL. Plus he makes references to US things like referring to MA as being 'east', which suggests he's physically located i the US, which is more likely if he's a native speaker.


The reason I think he isn't a native speaker is that the nuance of his words miss the mark way too often (hence the purple prose); almost like he is choosing words from a thesaurus rather than from his day to day repertoire.

I say this from the background of having attended a number of international schools around the globe as a teenager.


The pattern of his errors suggests a native English speaker to me.


> "I would recommend against having dealings with the obviously mentally ill. I'm not sure in what sense you might be legally liable (for a civil suit) if they happened to commit suicide a week later and mentioned you in the note. ... Leave the clearly crazy to the professionals."

> "Though if this is your first real crazy caller I could understand where the fascination came from. ... It took me a while to get that this was not someone I could save by argument."

Here's a bit of Hacker News "empathy" that I find fascinating. Likely in the same sense that you find the mentally ill fascinating.

The comment reads like some kind of bizzaro water-cooler advice on how to deal with that neighborhood "crazy caller" problem. Like when someone commiserates with Jane from accounting when she tells them she's worried because she can't keep the neighborhood kids out of the family pool.

On the surface, it's empathetic: "If this is your first... I can understand..." In fact, the comment does (correctly) assert that professionals are better inclined to help the mentally ill than the lay-person. But underneath, the comment reeks of an unseemly attitude that suggests the mentally ill are a burden to be cast aside at all costs (with the requisite sigh).

Perhaps it's a bit unfair of me to parse out those bits of your comment and infer so much. But, seriously?

Have we really reached the point where we are calculating the likelihood of "sav[ing] someone by argument" vs. the risk of civil liability?

Are these people merely objects of amusement and fascination?

I wish I were a better writer, so I could flesh out exactly why your comment bothers me. I think it has something to do with the clinically detached tone and the casual implication that the mentally ill are at best a passing amusement; and, at worst, a liability to be avoided.

Maybe I just need to take a break. I must be misunderstanding your comment.


I think you're arguing with the tone, but not the advice -- reading gwern's post, by the end of it I had a pretty strong feeling that he was being unwise (and somewhat cruel) in the way he carried his side of the exchange. Taunting the mentally ill (and intentionally encouraging their delusions) just to eke out a bit more "purple prose" is a bit mean at best, and could be quite damaging to them at worst.

I suppose you might take issue with the word "crazy" generally (that's fair); but the real point is that there can be real-life consequences to pressing the buttons of the mentally-ill that can be way out of whack with your actual interaction -- e.g., with a more balanced person an internet argument is a minor diversion and possibly an annoyance. With a mentally-ill person it could be the same, or you might set them back months in therapy, or they could commit suicide, or they could harm others.

Have we really reached the point where we are calculating the likelihood of "sav[ing] someone by argument" vs. the risk of civil liability?

Option one is futile waste of time; option two involves real-life permanent damage (first to the ill person, incidentally to you) -- basically, don't wade into an exchange that will be (1) and best and (2) at worst.


A large portion of my comment was a response to the tone. I shouldn't have done that.

Something about the original comment really bothered me. And I can't quite put my finger on it. I'm not a good enough writer to flesh out what bothered me without responding to the tone.

I do feel pretty strongly that it's wrong to casually talk about mentally ill people as objects of fascination. And then to advise against engaging them because it might be a liability to yourself, as if that's the only concern. e.g.: "...[if they happen] to commit suicide a week later and mention you in the note."

I think I'm perceiving a lack of empathy in the linked article and the top comment. Or something. I think I just need to stop commenting.


No worries, I agree with your comment on the tone -- it does come across as cold-blooded to even think as far as lawsuits when "you might induce someone to commit suicide" is a possibility.

Just saying "someone might be unstable enough to harm themselves or others" is more than enough for most people, I hope...

I think the tone comes from the reality of so many unstable people wandering around the internet, some of them extremely obnoxious. How far does basic empathy go in the face of delusional extortionists, hate-spewing bigots, etc.? ...but still, falling back to "I should avoid doing evil even to evil-seeming people" is better than some of the alternatives.


At least the saving/helping part is existent in his calculation of actions. A lot of people, most notably the ultrarich like the Zuckerbergs, would think it's not even worth their time to deal with "crazy people".

But anyway, I didn't think Eliezer's comment seemed especially objectionable. Life is all about making compromises and finding the right balance. Looking out for yourself can be, and should be a part of the process when you're deciding to help out something. If only for the chance to save the next person after you save the first one. :)

Whereas you were, I don't know, shocked by Eliezer's cavalier attitude, I was touched that he at least tries to reason with people who can be reasoned with. I do think you should take a little bit of break. :) Be well, and take care!


I've thought about it, one part of what "shocked" me about it was the hubris inherent in the statement: "...someone I could save by argument.". As though those that cannot be "saved" are merely a passing fascination, not to be bothered with for fear of liability.

I wasn't "shocked" by the way. However, I was largely responding to the tone- which I shouldn't have done.

>"...most notably the ultrarich like the Zuckerbergs, would think it's not even worth their time to deal with 'crazy people'"

I don't know the Zuckerbergs nor any other ultrarich people, so I suppose we'll have to take your word for it.

> "Life is all about making compromises and finding the right balance. Looking out for yourself can be, and should be a part of the process when you're deciding to help out something."

I mostly agree with this.

I want to make it clear that I was responding to the attitude I saw in the comment (or at least what I perceived to be the attitude) that the mentally ill are objects of fascination until they expose you to civil liability.

I think a bit more empathy is in order.

> "I do think you should take a little bit of break. :) Be well, and take care!"

Yeah, I think I'm done commenting on Hacker News. Take care, as well.


>I've thought about it, one part of what "shocked" me about it was the hubris inherent in the statement: "...someone I could save by argument.". As though those that cannot be "saved" are merely a passing fascination, not to be bothered with for fear of liability.

I read a completely different meaning from that statement. "not someone I could save _by argument_". I.e. no point arguing, even though there might be other ways to help them.


"If someone has a false belief but is otherwise logical, for example someone with different political opinions that they merely haven't thought about, then it might make some sense to enter into a debate. After all, at least one of you must be wrong, otherwise you would agree. But in a situation where someone's false beliefs are a result of mental illness, delusions, no amount of arguing will bring their worldview to a place that could be considered consistent with what is commonly known about objective reality."

At least, that's how that sentience unpacked into my brain.


There aren't enough professionals. Also, fear of civil suits from the potentially suicidal is rarely a particularly noble reason to refuse to talk to them.


Nobility or honor has little to do with it. I am not convinced the fear of a lawsuit is grounded, but either way that is a pragmatic concern, not some argument about what is honorable.

I would caution people against it if only because it will very often be a waste of time and quite possibly a source of unnecessary stress.


Is just showing some basic empathy. Pragmatism doesn't need to get in the way of being nice to people.


> Pragmatism doesn't need to get in the way of being nice to people.

You're right, it doesn't. 'gwern could politely break off the conversation when it becomes apparent that the person has some issues to work out, or he could simply stop responding. You don't have to break off the conversation rudely.

This said, he hardly owes anybody trying to blackmail him a polite response. If somebody is trying to blackmail you and you are pretty sure they are way off-base, it is probably best to make a general policy of /dev/null-ing their messages.


Wasn't meaning this specific case so much as Eliezer's rather blanket advice to not deal with the mentally ill, just in case they top themselves and someone then sues you, which seemed more than a little bit harsh.


I agree. The best response to this nonsense would have been to not respond.


"Forget the complete absence of the evidence I asked for, this seemed like it was written by someone in the throes of full-blown psychosis or mania or schizophrenia with meaningless plans to somehow revolutionize the world."

Realizing that this actually is a distinct possibility is important for anybody interested in talking with random people on the internet. Mental illness is prevalent, and there is little keeping the mentally ill off of the internet.


The dead comment below seems unusually relevant.


For anyone interested, the deaded comment below isn't a random attempt to prove that mentally ill people abound on the internet: he's a regular who posts similar things all the time. It's a pity, because in his moments of lucidity he seems pretty smart.


For more info on losethos, take a look at http://www.templeos.org/ - this is an OS he apparently wrote without assistance.


I also recommend watching this video where he demos the operating system: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpujlg-XhEs

Losethos's real name is Terry Davis. His video had me awestruck, laughing (he can be pretty funny and relatable), and just all-around amazed at the man's sheer brilliance. I cannot begin to fathom the dedication that it must have taken to create such a piece of software, especially in the face of constant rejection from people on the internet because of his schizophrenia.


Watching the video almost made me sad that his effort is going by unrecognised. Even more so because the OS appears to have documentation and plenty of tips built in, but nobody but him will ever use it, so it's all in vain.


Could Terry Davis end up being the William Blake of OSes?


This is amazing. He's come up with completely new ways to do graphics on modern CPUs. This is genuinely impressive stuff and the breadth of it is mind blowing.

It's upsetting how dismissive of his work he can be, he deserves to be proud of this, I certainly would be.


Couldn't you write up some of the more impressive parts? If he can't do it for himself, and it's really that mind-blowing, it'd be a shame to let it go ignored.


I've been meaning to properly check out TempleOS for myself. I'd also be interested in looking at the source code, written in his own dialect of C (Holy C).


You're right about him being funny - when he's demonstrating all his half-finished games it reminds me a lot of Carrot Top's prop comedy.


Wow, that's really impressive.


Another good reason to stay anonymous and never use your real name online.


Absolutely. Before I began divorcing my online identity from my 'real' identity^, I had several nutters try to reach out and effect my life 'in the real world'. Dredging through old posts, calling ex-employers, etc. All because they felt slighted for various absurd reasons.

Normally when you have problems with a person like this, you can go to the police and get a restraining order. It becomes harder when it is online because you have to weight the possibility that anything that you do to defend yourself might get them closer to finding you.

These days I find myself being fairly sensitive to 'craziness', whenever I get the slightest whiff of it I break off the conversation completely. I'm not a professional who is trained in how to deal with people with these sort of problems, so I am not going to attempt it.

^ Technically I was not using my real name, but a pseudonym that was unique enough to only return results relevant to me when googled. I've since taken to using names of characters from history or fiction as my pseudonyms, and picking new ones at least once a year.


> I had several nutters try to reach out and effect my life 'in the real world'.

They might not have had any mental illness, and might have just been unpleasant people.

> These days I find myself being fairly sensitive to 'craziness', whenever I get the slightest whiff of it I break off the conversation completely.

I am crazy. I've had treatment for a long term, severe, mental illness, from specialist mental health service providers. That illness has caused some admissions to general hospitals. My illness has sometimes affected my posts to HN. (Although I'm pretty good at setting noprocast when needed).

I know many people who have spent time in mental health hospitals for severe and enduring mental illness.

I let you know so that you can adjust your filters accordingly.


> Another good reason to stay anonymous and never use your real name online

I suppose thats a good plan, until someone decides that you'd make a good subject to use to "emphasize to the whole world that privacy is really important because anonymity is highly limited & breakable for even the most competent and motivated person".

(I'm quoting Gwern's comments about his own initiative to unmask Satoshi.)


"prevalent"? Do you know more mentally-ill people than sane people?

Common, maybe. Probably underestimated in number, sure. Prevalent, I do hope not!


Apparently it depends on which dictionary/thesaurus you check, but "common" seems to be a reasonably well accepted synonym of "prevalent".


Prevalence does not imply majority.


It probably did at one point. Oxford has "predominant" (which would imply majority) as an archaic meaning: http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/us/definition/american_eng...


hmm, I would have thought that's exactly what it implied. Isn't the root 'prevail', which is more or less 'to win'? That would suggest a majority.


This isn't pretty. Gwern doesn't look good here, messing with someone that was clearly mentally ill. Even at the end when he breaks this opinion he positions himself in a smugly superior way, insincerely offering this analysis.


I disagree that jack0fnone is mentally ill. I see him as a 14 year old. It's perfectly understandable that a 14 year old might go through a bitcoin phase, be awestruck by gwern.net, daydream up these crazy ideas.

Kids go through crazy phases and still mature into stable, reasonable adults.

Edit: To me, the writing style seems very teenager-ish as well, though I don't have a good baseline for mentally unstable writing.


It struck me as someone who was earnestly trying to appear more educated than they are, or someone who'd recently (re)read "A Confederacy of Dunces".

That said, the thought occurred to me that it might be someone aware of how easily one would otherwise be able to match up their linguistic patterns and identify them to another online persona, and that perhaps they were actively trying to combat that.

The former scenarios are completely contrary to the former, and it shouldn't be forgotten that this is all very recent, and not something that concluded years, months, weeks, or even days ago, so it's possible we haven't seen the last of it.


The delusion that many people are actually one person recurs in mental illness, there's probably even a name for it.

Coupled with insecurity, it might lead to paranoia and feelings of persecution by a powerful puppet-master. Here it seems paired with grandiose delusions, perhaps because the person is otherwise intelligent & high-functioning, or using drugs which create a sense of invulnerability. Either way, there are strong indicators of mental illness.

I would put joking (or trolling) as-if-mentally-ill as a second-place possibility, and teen-daydreams as a third-place possibility. But maybe all three in different proportions.


It's possible (personally I don't think it is likely) but either way I think that it is best to not engage with this person. Either they are a teenager who has some learning and growing up to do, or somebody who needs to be treated.. but the end result is the same.


Dear Gwern, I very much appreciate everything you write. Your blog is in my top 3 quality blogs, nay, if not top 1!

But the posts are long. It's not something I say proudly, but often I read the first 3 pages but then lose focus and willpower. Maybe it's because English is my second language, maybe it's because there's so much to do in a day.

Not saying dumb-down. But if say 15% of readings end like they sometimes do for me, that's a big loss. Both for your reach and for the readers, who like me fail to get all the good stuff in there.

So as a fan giving feedback: a bit terser would not be wrong. I'm trying, and I'm using programs that let me 'save' my progress in a long text and get back after a coffee, but it's sometimes hard.

(Ironically, this is a big-ass 4 paragraph comment, haha)


I'm not sure what I can do about that. My posts aren't long (I think) because I spend a ton of space using sesquidealian and periphastic circumlocutions; what is there to cut?


Not to mention paralipsis.


Sorry, but you can handle this much better. Aka not engaging. You aren't sending any message, except trying to show that you're sophisticated enough to mess with some spammers.

I said this in a comment to you on reddit, but this line was just fluff: "Hence by backward induction, there is a clear decision-theoretic verdict against paying you any sum."


> I said this in a comment to you on reddit, but this line was just fluff: "Hence by backward induction, there is a clear decision-theoretic verdict against paying you any sum."

My reply to this off-base criticism: http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/1thnq3/i_am_not_sat...

(At least you got the quote right here.)


As someone who knows little about encryption or who this gwern guy is, this was still a fascinating read.

It's like hearing a joke or seeing a 'funny' picture that someone finds absolutely hilarious but just doesn't affect you in any way. (In that, someone could have such a different state of mind that it seems almost incomprehensible)


I have seen occasional highly voted posts with write ups on effects of various drugs. They are generally pretty interesting. Seems like a cool guy to have a conversation with/have a beer with, I would read through his site a bit more, you might like it.


Am a little lost. Can someone explain the background of this post? What are these extortion messages and why is he receiving them for usernames of a site etc.?


I feel like mocking and toying with someone clearly mentally ill is pretty unethical.


Random fruit cake blackmail is nothing new. I KNOW UR THE PRESIDENT anybody who's posted on shady forums full of drug addicts will get these laughable bm attempts. Stringing them along is the worst possible solution just ignore them and they find a new conspiracy. Now this nutjob will never cease to harrass Gwern because he knows he will get attention.


The prose is strange enough in some of the earlier messages that I wondered if there's steganography being used.

Although since it seems like jack is simultaneously trying to blackmail and become a disciple of gwern, I suppose it's more likely that he just wanted to write something he thought would impress & intrigue him.


Minor pangs of irony seeing Gwern whine about being accused of being Satoshi while he's been concurrently been stalking and accusing people of being Satoshi himself. ... complete with a misuse of "we" and claims of secretive methodologies.


Gwern responded unfavorably to a similar comment I made on reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/Bitcoin/comments/1thnq3/i_am_not_sat...


> complete with a misuse of "we"

'Misuse'? That's a fascinating claim. How could you know that to be a 'misuse'? I've collaborated with at least 4 people on various points; does that not justify a 'we'?

> and claims of secretive methodologies.

No, the methodology is not very impressive, it's just that if I explain the method, the result is easily figured out.


> The ransom value decreases over time following exponential decay with a half-life of 365/2=182.5 days.

It's obviously someone taking the piss.


Wayback link, since gwern.net is down right now: https://web.archive.org/web/20131223023402/http://www.gwern....


Amusing read.

Not sure I agree w/ the mental illness diagnosis though.

Sounds more like a person (who maybe should lay off the stuff) taking wild guesses and hoping to score. In his mind - big upside, little effort/downside risk.


This sounds familiar:

I am but an impoverished writer who barely makes ends meet...


Regarding dead dog, I wonder if this is related: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnfPH6zQbXo


This guy clearly rode the crazy bus to crazytown.




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