Scribbler’s Saga #105 – Sign of the Times

Posted: April 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

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© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

I got Zoom-bombed! No that’s not really much in the way of a positive experience, but it is something about which to write. I’m officially part of the post-pandemic we’re-all-in-it-together club. Still…I was angry for a minute.

The bare bones of the incident. Two weeks after first launching myself online into the Zoom world (no Jitsi, No Discord and certainly no Google Hangouts), I sign up for yet another writers’ group. I go for the greet, write and brag about word count types of groups. I sometimes read at the end of the session. The full-blown critique groups can wait…

So anyway, this group originated from a Dallas coffeehouse and wanted to open up the online writing from home experience to everyone setting the attendance limit quite high. More like the limit Zoom promises when you agree to pay for a Pro account ($150/year), say about 100 guests. Links and passwords went out.

I had been at the tail end of a successful writing day where my space pirate that also serves a mean macchiato became progressively more mind-fucked as his day went along (a playing hooky project when I don’t want to work on anything closer to print). Banging out another page and a half in the notebook seemed like a good plan.

At least 60 people or devices showed up. The first sign of trouble was a douchebag hiding behind a picture of one of those bearded gentlemen from the Middle East with whom the West likes to yell at as high order performance art (Great Satan, Dirty Persian @&$*head, you get the idea). The guy yelled a bunch of obscenities. The host guided by another member who himself hosts other Zooms out of Los Angeles tried to use the tools already at her disposal to kick the Mullah-man out.

Then the Chat function went screwy. More obscenities. Despite the guidance from the off-duty host, the actual host lost the handle on keeping her head long enough to delete anyone just there to selfishly raise hell and she canceled the meeting. Pretty sure the Zoom-bomber(s) declared victory and went home laughing. Obviously, steps were taken.

First off, once a host lets in more people than we have in fingers and toes the risk of some angry douchebag getting in increases geometrically with about every four extra RSVPed guests over 20. I have friends who are better at technology than me who when fed enough beer will loudly proclaim that nine times out of ten the user got sloppy with their passwords causing the problem themselves.

The host learned her lesson, as reported by others, that she immediately lowered the attendance limit to a slightly more manageable (49) number. Presumably there will be all sorts of verification steps like registering and being total dicks about the six-digit password. Things will work out next week…probably.

I first heard of Zoom-bombing right at the beginning of the crisis by way of a Change.org petition in my email inbox. Apparently, a black PhD candidate defended his thesis by Zoom with his family watching from their own devices. The Zoom-bombing event described seemed really bad like you could plausibly use a Dresden or a “took out Rotterdam” metaphor what with frequent N-words and dick picks. The petition was worded in an understandably hurt “Zoom must do something” tone.

I would just log on to Zoom with a link or the similar Meeting ID number, youthful innocence. Then a few days later, the link needed to have the six-digit meeting password. A few hosts required registration where you tell Zoom and the host your name and email and if they don’t match the host doesn’t have to let you in. A few days later, waiting rooms popped up where you logged in with your link, Meeting ID and/or password. A few days after that link info would appear in emails from the host using Meetup.com’s email feature in an attempt to limit who saw the information that anyone could see in a Comment box on Meetup.

Part of the problem is the age-old problem that encryption can sometimes be too complex and thus lock out the legitimate user. Follow the registration link. Here’s the meeting link with the password. It adds steps, but certain things remain constant because the codling team at Zoom knows that certain measures will Night follows Day mess with the users that drive their business model.

For instance, writers are constantly in a variable state between craving the rigid order of “I have my writers’ group at Noon on Tuesday” and the freewheeling joy of “Holy Hell, it’s a re-run of NCIS, might as well pick up my phone to finger-tap.” After a few sessions we start going to the same groups and the link numbers and passwords don’t change because even for the security minded host the hassle of distributing a new link, password and registration page every week induces baldness the way Homer Simpson went smooth (tearing his hair out).

But in the case of this hacked and bombed meeting, I’m pretty sure that the host may have to create a completely new meeting taking place at the same Bat-time and same Bat-channel. The douchebags have the link and password emboldened by the success of ending the meeting the first time to try again – “wow, it was, like, so hilarious that the writers group shut down with the PC bitch host probably blew a gasket like a cartoon!”

Yes, there’s a nasty political undercurrent to some Zoom-bombing. The racist attack on the PhD candidate. And the fact here that the host said – “I’m shutting the meeting down and for next time will have to think long and hard before admitting people who don’t look PC.” – just before closing the meeting.

Which to me as a writer understanding that my Free Speech depends on everybody’s Free Speech, I heard that as troubling in the sense that pure PC is almost equally the problem as douchebags getting a laugh lashing out randomly. Besides, I guarantee that the Mullah-man douchebag heard that comment and took both victory and validation. He’ll try again.

Why was I angry if my liberalism doesn’t run to the Pure PC end of the spectrum? I don’t need politics to get pissed at people with too much time on their hands that like to lash out at people they could safely ignore. These fuckheads wasted my time…the single most grievous sin you can do to me in my moral universe.

At least one of my stories that explain why I infrequently write screenplays and almost never co-write involves a guy only slightly less annoying than these pair (same guy with two devices?) of douchebags. And don’t get me started on how I feel about other people wasting my time since Mom died. If I’m goofing off, I’m not wasting time, but doing something else almost as important as the words…for the moment.

And then there’s the sense of basic respect. Since I’ll get snippy about you wasting my time when I want to spend it working, I assume you’ll be the same way. Besides I can pull a book off my shelf or try to figure out the next three bars of my much-delayed Concerto for Harmonica in F to have things to do inside.

Of course, the I’ve heard variations on the refrain, “what is it with these people that need to do this? Even without being a writer there’s plenty of things to do in the average house!” – or the similar – “who has the time to do this?” – at least twice, once before the Zoom-bombing and once after. There’s no understanding it, some people need to lash because they think it’s funny to watch someone get angry. And there’s the nasty politics underneath, racist douchebags seem motivated enough to make the time. Being that racist and angry also sort of answers the first rant too, we don’t understand the emotion and for the immature among them we’ve forgotten how whiny we got when we were bored as kids.

Several plus sides though. It’s been the better part of five weeks that I have slowly increased my daily Zooms. Only one session has been Zoom-bombed so I’m ahead of the game. The host will figure out her game and life will go on.

And the other thing, Zoom has been a godsend for my productivity. I used to go to coffeehouses either alone and for the in-person version of these groups. I was productive. Measured by squares checked off on my to do list, my best weeks have doubled my before output and more normal weeks the increase runs more like 50-percent more. I just need to save up enough money for an espresso/cappuccino machine and maybe I never leave the house except to support a restaurant I like.

Anyway, I got Zoom-bombed. I took it personally for a minute and a half. I now have a story to tell my nephews – “back in the 2020 Lockdown, there was this one writers’ group that got Zoom-bombed, you shoulda heard what those assholes said…good times!”

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