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Sunday, August 31, 2008

The final Techdude post

I feel silly writing about so trivial a subject with yet another disaster poised to hit New Orleans. But a few readers have expressed an interest in the topic I'm about to address, and something tells me that I won't have another chance to deal with fluff for some time to come.

Most of you will recall the great Obama COLB (Certificate of Live Birth) controversy. The allegations became particularly wild when an alleged expert in digital forensics, code-named "Techdude," claimed to have discovered proof that the COLB ascribed to Barack Obama orignally belonged to his sister, Maya Sotero. By working his computer magic, Techdude was able to tease out stray pixels spelling Maya's name, which had been covered over by a piece of background pattern, cut and pasted into place.

Or so said the dude. Alas, his dramatic announcement -- which enchanted so many within PUMA-land -- had certain Big Problems:

1. He never provided a jpg proving the existence of the name "Maya." He gave us many other images, but not the important one.

2. No-one could replicate his work.

3. His "technical" explanations of what he did made no basic sense to anyone else versed in the ways of Photoshop.

4. His defenders kept pointing to his resume, as though that settled that. But the resume settled nothing, since no real-world name came attached to it.

5. The dude told a story of severe harassment (including dead rabbits!) that struck many as dubious. If the bad guys already knew his real name and location, why wouldn't he tell us?

6. His much-ballyhooed final report never showed up.

Techdude went into hiding shortly after it was learned that his resume exactly matched that of Adam Fink, who runs a firm called Collectech, a.k.a Missouri Forensics. An Obama supporter named Dr. Neal Krawetz -- a recognized expert in digital forensics -- accused Fink of being Techdude. Fink denied this identification during a phone conversation with Krawetz.

Was that denial a fib? Is Fink Techdude? Krawetz, I'm told, is still not sure. He seems to think that the imposture theory may yet hold water.

I'm quite sure, at this point, that Fink lied when he denied being Techdude. Adam Fink has used the email address Techdude@yahoo.com. Under that name, he provided webmaster services for an import company. Representatives of that company confirm that they dealt with Adam Fink (or so I am told by my correspondent, G). Texas Darlin', one of the dude's main online apostles, has pretty much admitted that she was dealing with Adam Fink.

Fink, I am told, won't talk to Krawetz any more. And he certainly won't talk to me. I've tried repeatedly to reach him.

Fink really is a member of at least one of the professional associations listed in his resume. This fact surprised me, since his writings struck me as amateurish.

For example, he said that his first step was to save the COLB jpg (available online) as a .png file in order to make sure that the image would not degrade further as he worked on it. But .png is a format designed for final output to the web. Anyone using Photoshop to work in layers would save an image as a .psd file, Photoshop's native non-lossy format, which supports layers. (Photoshop is the industry standard; I cannot imagine an expert using any other software.)

Why was the head of Missouri Forensics wrong about the image file format thingie? Ya got me!

Now we come to a more troubling question: Is Techdude/Fink the same person who writes under the name "Techdude" for the neo-Nazi website Stormfront? For present purposes, we will call the former AFTD and the latter SFTD.

AFTD has denied being SFTD -- but then again, Fink denied any kind of Techdudery in his dialogue with Krawetz, and I have just now shown the evidence indicating the contrary.

The writing styles of AFTD and SFTD are uncannily similar. They both use the same shorthand phrases and abbreviations. Word length, sentence length and vocabulary are all a good match.

Here we come to the most troubling aspect of our inquiry. In one post, AFTD used the spelling "G_D." This is characteristic of pious Jews. I've never seen a non-Jew use an underscore in place of the vowel.

(Side note: When did this practice start? Jews have avoided writing the tetragrammaton for centuries, but I don't recall seeing the G_D spelling until the late 1970s.)

The obvious question: If Fink is Jewish, would he write for a neo-Nazi website?

Oddly, the Stormfront Techdude has indicated that he himself may be Jewish. He has aroused some controversy on that site by his stated admiration for Jews. In his view, other races deserve to be treated as inferiors, but not Jews, who are just dandy. Needless to say, SFTD does not like Obama at all.

For these reasons, I began to suspect that the two Techdudes may indeed be one and the same.

Then a problem was brought to my attention.

In older posts, written long before this controversy flared up, SFTD revealed that he is a high school football coach in Virginia. The "Tech" part of his name comes from Virginia Tech. This biography cannot be reconciled with what we know of Adam Fink of Missouri.

Is it possible that the Stormfront Techdude created a false persona for himself? I suppose that someone posting to that site might not want to reveal the actual details of his life.

But the simplest explanation is usually the best. And the simple explanation is that Adam Fink is not the Techdude who posts to Stormfront. I do not believe that those two men are one and the same.

I do believe, however, that Fink is the Techdude who corresponded with Texas Darlin' and who made some silly assertions about the COLB.

The Great Techdude Challenge -- revealed! In an earlier post, I challenged our fine dude to discover the "hidden" text in an image I prepared. I covered the words -- a Shakespeare quote -- using the exact same technique that, in his imagination, was used to hide Maya's name. If the dude's computer magic could tease out that name, then surely it could tease out the words of William Shakespeare.

(Think about it: Why not?)

In my initial post, I gave two clues: I said that the quote was obscure, and that it was the meanest line Shakespeare ever wrote. Later, I gave this clue: "Twain - Tchaikovsky - Shaw - Voltaire - Brecht - Bresson."

All of those artists, as one of my well-read readers noted, created works about Joan of Arc. (I'm a Johannaphile from way back.) Thus, the play is Henry VI: Part 1, because that's the one in which Joan shows up. I'm afraid that young Shakespeare treats her unfairly; the French/English rivalry was still going strong in his day.

The hidden quote is this:

Strumpet, thy words condemn thy brat and thee

These words are said to Joan by the Duke of York in Act 5, Scene 4. By this point in the story, she has been taken prisoner. Her captors ready her for burning. She tries to escape her fate by claiming to be with child. York wants to fry her anyways.

(That is not how it happened in real life, by the way.)

Shakespeare wrote many cruel lines. But I know of none crueler than this one: He obviously meant the audience to applaud as a a pregnant woman was tossed to the pyre.
Comments:
Hi Joseph,

I didn't realize that you'd be posting the column yet.

There's a lot more here than meets the eye.

Just one thing I'll mention for now. The football biography actually is a fabrication.
Across his various posts, SFTD has given substantial purported biography, particularly as relates to football. This includes the claim of playing for Virginia Tech (a reference he's made multiple times).

Actually, he's given enough detail that it's possible to check if any such human exists. For example, one can exhaustively examine the rosters of Virginia Tech players, at the time he claimed to be playing for Virginia Tech, to see if anyone matches his claimed biography.

The result - no such person exists. And that's definite. Moreover, you can't even get a match by allowing a small error in self reporting - no actual person really comes close.

There are also linguistic indicators of deception (BTW there's been some interesting research done over the last decade on detecting deception in a texting context).

Many of the posters at Stormfront are from small Southern towns, where (as Techdude actually notes) football, and especially high school football, are revered. So, if you're trying to be accepted at such a forum - and especially if you're making pro-Jewish comments on such a forum - you need a palatable identity. The choice might also, in part, be compensatory (the individual in question had a history as a high school geek, and at one point, somewhat oddly, SFTD complains that all anybody at his high school cared about was football - an unusual complaint for a self-professed high school football star).

Interestingly, SFTD stopped posting at the same time that Texas Darlin's Techdude disappeared. SFTD finally popped up again this week, when someone posted a 'joking' Obama threat on Stormfront - SFTD apparently felt compelled to surface, warning the people at Stormfront about the consequences of openly making such comments on the forum.

There's also much more on the linguistic forensics front, but I won't go into that here.
 
I'm not well read with those guys. It was more a matter of being a little clever with Google. I do, however, have some James Fenimore Cooper and Shelly waiting my attention.

Anyway, I find myself wondering if techdude was paid for his work in this matter, and if so, by whom. Likely we will never know what the intention was.

New Orleans: I long for the days when our country and the world will have hard and soft infrastructure in place to better deal with the effects of natural disasters on people.
 
Thank you for your work, Joseph. Mighty interesting.
 
G~ I thank you also for your research.
 
Joseph said "I feel silly writing about so trivial a subject..."

The issue of false or bogus material posted on 'the internets' isn't trivial, it's dangerous.

Rooting it out can be challenging, complicated and time-consuming, as you very well know.

Digging for facts and presenting them to the igorant or credulous is important work.

Each individual will make his/her own judgement of course, but better judgements will be made when facts are available.
 
Joe, the mysterious "G" provides a compelling narrative, but no links.

If he truly had something to tie the two TechDudes together, links to verify his claims are a must.

So "G," where are those links? I'm the one who found the football coach reference, and I found others that supported it.

Find us all that razzle dazzle stuff you write about!

John
SluggoJD
 
Thanks for the sleuthing, Joe.

But you probably shouldn't have called your post the FINAL Techdude post.

Clearly, the persona of Techdude is like Freddy in Nightmare on Elm Street. He's too much fun to let go of, and is sure to come back in sequel after sequel.
 
John,

Well, if you start looking at Techdude's Stormfront posts, here is some of the self-professed biography that you'll find.
He grew up in a small town, and played high school football there.
He played college football for Virginia Tech. Specifically, he played wide receiver, and sometimes safety.
The last year he played for Virginia Tech was 2001.
He then played professionally (for two teams), but injured his knee and retired.
By late 2004, he was teaching phys ed and coaching high school football in a small town.
He lives in Richmond, Virginia.
SFTD is white (as opposed to being African-American; this eliminates a lot of possible football players).

Then, for example, you can look online at the rosters and other information for the Virginia Tech team. They're called the Hokies. One useful source of info - documents on
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/
But to get sufficient info, you'll have to use other sources as well (e.g. Googling, Intelius, etc.).

As I began reading the SFTD posts about football - I began to conclude that I must be wrong. With such a biography, he couldn't be Fink.

There were a few things that bothered me though. For example, playing at Virginia Tech the years that SFTD supposedly did, he would have overlapped with Michael Vicks. But when the Vicks scandal came up, SFTD wrote posts that didn't sound like he had personal knowledge of Vicks. Also, SFTD didn't know the number of Division A-1 football teams (odd for someone with his professed biography). Someone else at Stormfront expressed apparent skepticism at his claim of playing both wide receiver and safety (since so few players can do so). Also, it seemed odd that a phys ed teacher generally couldn't spell the word 'exercise' properly. etc. etc. etc.

But still, I tentatively concluded that I must be wrong (as Joseph said, the simplest explanation is usually best). Then I began tinkering around with checking the biography against actual real-world players.

For the AF high school geek reference - you can look him up on www.classmates.com (his middle name is Howard - you'll need that to find the right AF). Grew up in Fort Lee NJ (on the outskirts of NYC). If you look, you'll find references to NJ and NYC in the SFTD posts that indicate personal knowledge of this area (and there's a passing reference to NJ in one of the Texas Darlin Techdude posts as well).

By the way, I've never argued that SFTD is definitively AF (though I do lean in the direction of believing that they're probably one and the same).

Here's a link containing info about some of the earlier linguistic forensic analyses that I tried. It's posted as a comment at No Quarter.
http://noquarterusa.net/blog/2008/08/14/eligibility-challenge-state-by-state-act-ii/
(You'll have to scroll way down to find the comment - look for the term 'Chi-squared').
More thorough analyses are in progress.
 
Joseph,

Sometimes, I think you jump the shark with your ideas....but ALWAYS you follow up with what you know to be the truth as the facts have played out. I really do salute your integrity. It keeps me coming back, and of course you are in my bookmarks!

Thanks!
 
Some starting points for verification (regarding football history):
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/MG2000/Players.pdf
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/fb2001spring.pdf
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/mg2001/mg2001players.pdf
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/2002MG/04Players.pdf
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/mg2001/mg2001pros.pdf
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/2002MG/12ProPlayers.pdf
http://www.hokiesports.com/football/2003MG/pros.pdf
minor corrections for last post:
transposition error - Division 1A
spelling - Michael Vick
 
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