Our finale for the year! We solve some unsolved mysteries, call up some of our favorite people, and answer questions about stories listeners are still wondering about. Plus many weird surprises.

Episodes Referenced

#82 Hello?
#102 Long Distance
#104 The Case of the Phantom Caller
#84 Past, Present, Future 2
#109 Is Facebook Spying on You?
#77 The Grand Tapestry of Pepe
#99 Black Hole, New Jersey
#83 Voyage Into Pizzagate
#107 The Skip Tracer
#98 The Fog of Covfefe
#88 Second Language

Show transcript

PJ VOGT: Alex Goldman.

ALEX GOLDMAN: PJ Vogt.

PJ: Phia Bennin.

PHIA BENNIN: PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman.

PJ and ALEX: (laughs)

PHIA: So, you guys remember the “Hello” episode that we did last year –

PJ: Mmhmm.

ALEX: Yeah.

PHIA: And, in it, you guys took calls for 48 hours. You experienced a lot of misery, and then at one point this woman named Laura called and she just like, made everything lovely by playing a lot of musical instruments for you and giving like you a breather?

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: It was great.

PHIA: So the way we’re going to start today’s episode. I have her phone number. We’re going to give her a call.

PJ: Cool

ALEX: Alright.

[PHONE RINGS]

LAURA: Hello?
PJ: Hi, Laura?
ALEX: It’s PJ and Alex.
LAURA: Hi! Hi guys!
ALEX: How’ve you been?
LAURA: Good! This is so, (laughing) this is like so strange that you guys are calling me. I’m at Warner Brothers today. We’re recording for a movie called Game Night.
PJ: Really?
LAURA: Hold on, everyone say hi.
OTHERS: (faintly) Hey.
ALEX: Who–who is?
LAURA: Those are famous musicians.
ALEX: (laughs)
LAURA: (laughs) I’m at lunch, right now, so–
PJ: That’s wild.
ALEX: So, uh, this is the episode where we catch up with people who we’ve talked with over the past year or so, and we were wondering if you could play us some tunes on the french horn.
LAURA: Ok, uh. I have to go- let me- let me go into the studio. (whispering) This is uh, I have to be very quiet. Let’s see who’s in here.
ALEX: How are you going to play the french horn if you’re going to be very quiet, if you have to be very quiet?
LAURA: No, they’re gonna just think I’m like warming up or something.
ALEX: Ohhhh.
LAURA: (whispering) Cause, there’s people, just like–. We’re on our break, so they’re just checking their phones. Hold on, I’m walking. There’s not very many people in here. And I have like, salad in my teeth. Hold on, I’m going to put you on speakerphone in the studio, ok?
ALEX: Ok.
PJ: Ok.
LAURA: Ok, I’m just going to play my french horn.
ALEX: Alright, jam out.
[LAURA plays]
LAURA: Hey Gary.
GARY: Yeah?
LAURA: Can you oompa over there? This is for my friends.
ALEX: What is an oompa?
LAURA: You’ll see. ALEX: (laughs)
[GARY and LAURA play delightful music]
PJ: Ah, oompa! God, that makes me so happy.
LAURA: There’s–(laughs). This is very embarrassing.
GARY: (laughs) Ok.
PJ: Do you still remember the melody for the Reply All song?
LAURA: I sure do.
PJ: How does that one go?
LAURA: Ok, let’s see.
PJ: Oh yeah.

[MUSIC: Laura’s Reply All jingle]

PJ: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt.

ALEX: And I’m Alex Goldman.

PHIA: And I’m Phia Bennin.

PJ: This is our last episode of the year. And so, we’re going to solve some of our unsolved mysteries, we’re gonna call up some of our favorite people we got to talk to, update some episodes people still had some questions about. We’re going to do a bunch of other weird stuff, and then we’re going to take this year, stuff it into a garbage can, and set it on fire!

PHIA: Perfect.

PJ: Um, what are we doing first?

PHIA: Ok first up! Episodes 102 and 103, Long Distance

ALEX: PJ?

PJ: Alex?

ALEX: Remember when I–I went to India?

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: (laughs) That was such a weird intro.

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: Um–

PJ: Somebody tried to scam you.

ALEX: And I tried to become their friend.

PJ: And that went on for, like, a year.

ALEX: Eh.

PJ: And they said in a polite and off handed way, “Hey if you’re ever in India if you’re free to hang out.” And then you took him literally and went there to try to understand like basically what happens inside a scam call center. Like, the businesses that call Americans and pretend to be Apple computer when really they’re scammers.

ALEX: Right.

PJ: And the company’s called Accostings.

ALEX: Accostings Infotech Private Limited.

PJ: God, just a great series of words. … So what’s the news? What’s happened?

ALEX: So the first thing that happened after the first episode came out is that many of their websites shut down.

PJ: Like, they were hiding.

ALEX: Yes. But, what I will say is that people say they are still getting calls like the one that I received. Your iCloud’s been compromised, it’s a Robocall, etc. etc.

PJ: Which doesn’t necessarily mean that Accostings is doing it.

ALEX: Right.

PJ: But you didn’t–your reporting didn’t–not only did it not like destroy the ecosystem, like obviously, but like people are still doing this.

ALEX: Yes, I definitely did not destroy the ecosystem. But, I was curious in the five months since I reported this story, if anything had changed specifically at Accostings. So I decided to call Kamal, who was like the manager of Accostings, and the person I had most of my interaction with.

PJ: The guy who you had a telephone friendship–ehhh–relationship with.

ALEX: Telephone relationship.

PJ: Yeah.  

ALEX: And to my surprise, I called his cellphone, and he picked up!

PJ: Which is surprising, because your guy’s relationship ended in a bad place.

ALEX: It didn’t end in a great place.

PJ: And what did he say?

ALEX: I said “Hey Kamal, it’s Alex!” And he was like “What can I do for you?”

PJ: Huh.

ALEX: And I said, “We’re doing our end of year episode, where we update our stories.”

PJ: (laughs)

ALEX: What’s going on with the company, how ya doing? And he said “I don’t want to participate, thank you.” And he hung up.

PJ: I’m surprised it got that far, honestly.

ALEX: I am too! I can’t believe he picked up. So the next thing I did was say “I wonder if I, me saying the name of their company and their address on the radio 15,00 times made it enough for them to move?”

PJ: Like are they still above, because they were above Headphones, the headphone bar.

ALEX: Mmhmm.

PJ: So are they still there?

ALEX: So I called Headphones.

PJ: And?

ALEX: And I said, “Hey, is there like a tech support company above you guys?” And the guy who was working there told me it was his first week. And that they had had a party there the night before.

PJ: The Accostings crew?

ALEX: Yeah. I mean, it seems that way. It was the call center above the bar.

PJ: Wow. Did they burn an effigy of you?

ALEX: (laughs) I have no idea.

PJ: So they’re still–everything–the world spins.

ALEX: The world spins. The only other thing I have to report is shortly before the first episode came out, I went to Kamal and said, “Hey Kamal. I just want you to know, this is what’s going to be in the episode. If you have any complaint about the way that I’m describing this, now is your chance, on the record, to clear it up.”

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: And he wouldn’t answer any of my questions, but one of the things he took exception to was me saying that I figured this all out because of the WhoIs records on the websites. He was like “Anybody can put anything they want in the WhoIs records. It doesn’t make a difference.”

PJ: What do you think it meant that that was the thing he took objection to?

ALEX: I think he was just trying to give himself plausible deniability. He’s like “Yeah, someone put a bunch of websites up in the name Kamal Verma.”

PJ: But you don’t know it was me.

ALEX: But you don’t know it was me. And then, right after the first episode came out, one of the many websites in the constellation of websites associated with Accostings, a place called AMPC Support.com, changed the registration on the site so that the registration name was Alex Goldman.

PJ: (laughs)

ALEX: And they put my phone number on there.

PJ: Ah! (laughs) Wow. I appreciate their cheekiness.

[MUSIC]

PHIA: Next up, episode 104, The Case of the Phantom Caller.

[MUSIC]

PJ: You remember this one, Alex?

ALEX: The one where you solved what seemed like an impossible mystery.

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: I was really impressed with you.

PJ: Thanks Alex.

ALEX: Sounded patronizing — meant it sincerely.

PJ: Yeah, I was trying to figure it out. That was like, replaying in my head. Um, so one of the thoughts that I–has like been lingering in my head since we broadcast that was how, basically like whoever is behind those calls, like, they’re scam is they call people on the phone and they play them audio and they try to make it so the audio is captivating in a way where the person keeps listening.

ALEX: Right.

PJ: Anyway, so I was thinking about these calls, and I was thinking about how the person who is making them, or persons, their job is actually kind of similar to our job.

ALEX: Are you putting out a call to hire them?

PJ: (laughs) No, I’m not putting out a call to hire them. So I had a different idea, actually.

ALEX: Mmm. Disappointing.

PJ: Uh, I wanted to see if you and I could come up with better spooky calls because we’re professionals, and like, our job is to make audio interesting. So I was thinking like, “Ok, we’re going to have a competition. Both of us gets to go home tonight and try to make the best spooky call that we can. First thing tomorrow morning, we’ll come in and we’ll call people we know and see which one, which one of these spooky calls keeps people on the line for longest.”

ALEX: (clears throat)

PJ: How do you feel about that?

ALEX: And are–we’re competing?

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: You worried?

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: Really?

ALEX: Yeah!

PJ: Why?

ALEX: I’m worried because so much of what we do is implicitly framed as competition, to explicitly frame it as competition, is just going to be you being like, “Well, I won, I won.” And I’m already assuming that I’ve lost.

PJ: Wow! Well, I mean I assume that you’re going to lose too, but I didn’t think you would.

ALEX: (laughs) Who are we going to call?

PJ: Phia, have you worked this out?

PHIA: Yes. I know who we’re going to call, but I’m going to tell you guys when you come back tomorrow.

PJ: Ok.

ALEX: This is such a weird idea.

PJ: Do you have an idea of what feeling you’re going to try to give the person you’re calling?

ALEX: I mean, I can’t think of anything other than deeply unsettling. I want to give someone a deeply unsettling feeling.

PJ: You do it for me all the time.

So, tomorrow morning, we’ll make some phone calls.

ALEX: Sounds good.

PJ: Ok.

[MUSIC]

ALEX: (clears throat) Hi, PJ.

PJ: Ok, so.

ALEX: It’s sensational to see you.

PJ: It’s sensational to see you as well. We’ve had time to build our own spooky calls. I’m very curious what comes from the mind of Alex Goldman.

ALEX: (laughs) Well. Um, I–I don’t know how good I feel about this.

PJ: You feel good about it!

ALEX: Here’s, here’s what happened–you told me on Monday night. You said, ok, come back tomorrow with a spooky call! So I woke up at 5 in the morning, I dragged a bunch of extension cords into my attic, and–

PJ: Extension cords?

ALEX: Because I needed to plug a bunch of things in.

PJ: Oh, this is already weird.

ALEX: And, I tried to make a spooky call. I took some lessons from the, the episode, and hopefully I incorporated them in a way that–

PJ: And what was your theory about, in the episode–what, what did you feel like the spooky caller was doing right that you wanted to emulate?

ALEX: Um–

PJ: Tell me about your work. (laughs)

ALEX: I wanted to feel like it, there might be a thread to follow here. But um, it’s unclear what it is.

PJ: Right. Like, tell a little bit of the story. Ok.

ALEX: Alright, here we go.

PJ: Ok.

[Alex’s spooky call plays]

PJ: Oh, it’s so weird. And that’s Harvey?

ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: Wow.

ALEX: I’m trying to help.

PJ: Oh this gives me the stomach ache feeling.

ALEX: Just listen to me for a second, I’m trying to help.

PJ: It sounds like all the years of a divorce happening at the same time. Like time slip. What are the sounds?

ALEX: (laughs)

HARVEY: [talking indistinctly]

ALEX: You want to wait?

HARVEY: Yeah.

ALEX: It’s going to take a long time.

PJ: (laughs) Oh god, I hate this so much. It’s stressing me out so bad.

ALEX: I know, I’m just trying–I’m trying to talk to you. I’m trying to talk to you about this. It’s not a big deal.

PJ: Ok. Enough! Enough!

ALEX: It’s going to be a long time. You want to wait a long time?

PJ: No more. Please stop playing it. (laughs). I listened, too. Like, even knowing that it was a trap, I fell into it.

ALEX: My thought was like a half-heard conversation between a father and son, would be like, tantalizing kind of. And then I also pretended to be like, having half of a phone conversation over it.

PJ: Wow–you’re–which is like, a fighty conversation?

ALEX: Which is like a fighty, unpleasant conversation.

PJ: And then what are all the of the weird swirly sounds?

ALEX: Uh, there’s a little bit of droney synthesizer in there. Um, and then the sort of like, echoey banging as I turn the reverb all the way up on my amplifier and just grabbed it and dropped it on the floor.

PJ: Alex, you’re good at making sound art.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: Ok, do you want to hear mine?

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: Ok. I’m very impressed with yours. This is fun. This feels like arts and crafts. For creeps.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: Ok. You ready?

ALEX: Yes.

MALE VOICE: Would you hold on just a minute please?
MALE VOICE 2: Yeah, is Lefty there?
MALE VOICE 3: He’s across the street, Lefty. There’s a lion in the truck. (laughs)
MALE VOICE 2: (laughs) He’s got the lion in the truck?
MALE VOICE 3: They gotta get rid of the lion.
MALE VOICE 2: He wanted–you know what he wanted to do? He’s crazy. He said, uh–
MALE VOICE 3: What?

ALEX: What is this?

PJ: Mobster wire taps.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: It’s a conversation about a mobster getting their lion confiscated from them.

MALE VOICE 2: A lion, can you imagine that?
[Phantom screeching noise]
MALE VOICE 3: There’s no question about it.

ALEX: What was that?

PJ: That’s whale song.

ALEX: (laughs)

MALE VOICE 2: Marone–

ALEX: Marone.

LYNDON JOHNSON: Now, another thing, the crotch, down where your nuts hang is always a little too tight. So, when you make ’em up, giving me an inch so that I can let out there.

ALEX: What is this?

PJ: It’s Lyndon Johnson ordering trousers.

LYNDON JOHNSON: These are almost, these are the best that I’ve had.

ALEX: How do you get that?

PJ: It just exists.

LYNDON JOHNSON: Let’s see if you can’t leave me about it–an inch from where the zipper (burps) ends, right, right under, back to my bunghole. So I can let it out there if I need to.

ALEX: What the fuck?

PJ: It’s just a guy with a bunghole who wants his pants to fit.

LYNDON JOHNSON: And if you get those to me, I will sure be grateful.

ALEX: I don’t like Lyndon Johnson because of this!

PJ: (laughs)

MALE VOICE: Hello?
MALE VOICE 2: Yeah?
MALE VOICE: Donny.
MALE VOICE: Yeah, Donny.

PJ: Ok.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: How long is yours total?

ALEX: Five minutes, I think.

PJ: Mine is 11, but that’s really optimistic.

[MUSIC]

PHIA: Ok, so, now we are going to pit your calls against each other. It is time for spooky caller faceoff. I am going to call the parents of people on the Reply All team, they have no idea we’re calling, and we’ll see who stays on the phone the longest. Sound good?

ALEX: Yes.

PHIA: First up, PJ we’re going to try your recording on Alex’s Mom.

PJ: Ok. How long do you think your mom will stay on?

ALEX: 45 seconds.

PJ: That’s a lot.

ALEX’S MOM: Hello? [Spooky call plays] Hello?!

ALEX: (laughs) Maybe we overestimated our ability to be riveting.

PHIA: Now, Alex, you’re calling Tim’s dad.

TIM’S DAD: Hello? Hello?!
[Spooky call plays]

PHIA: And now, my mom.

PHIA’S MOM: Hello?
[Alex’s spooky call plays]

PJ: What a listener cannot see is that whole time that was happening you were fist-pumping in the air?

ALEX: (laughs) That was 30 seconds!

PJ: Jesus.

PHIA: Alright, it’s time for our last call. PJ, your time to beat is 30 seconds.

PJ: Ok.

PHIA: So for this one, we’re calling Alex’s dad.

PJ: Got it.

[Phone rings]

ALEX’S DAD: Hello? [pauses] Hold on for what? [who?]
[Hangs up]

PJ/ALEX: (laughs)

ALEX: Alright, I think you made it about six seconds, but he actually responded to it.

PJ: Oh, god.

ALEX: That felt really good.

PHIA: Alright, ok. So–clocking in at 30 seconds, tricking my mom, and winning this: Alex Goldman.

ALEX: (singing) I’m the king of creepiness, I’m the king of creepiness. Got a real spookiness, I’m the king of creepiness.

PJ: I hate to give it to you, but I do think you’re the king of creepiness.

ALEX: (singing) I’m a little creepy boy creeping around.

PJ: Nice job.

[MUSIC]

PHIA: Next episode is Episode 84. And, I think one of my favorite people that we talked to for this episode was Susan.

PJ: I remember Susan.

ALEX/PHIA: Yeah.

PJ: Susan called us, it was last “Past, Present, Future.” She was the best.

PHIA: So a year ago.

PJ: A year ago. And it was that, we were talking about like things people were looking forward to in the next year I think.

PHIA: Mhm.

PJ: And she called in because a bunch of her friends had started a soap company.

PHIA: Well she called in ’cause she’d had like, just a miserable year.

PJ: Oh yeah!

PHIA: She’d had like the toughest year ever. She’d like gotten a divorce, she had ended up having to move into this freezing cold airstream trailer. And so, it was just sort of like, good riddance to 2016. And then the thing she was looking forward to, yeah, was that like she had this group of friends that had started a soap company. It was, like, going kind of rocky, and she was worried about them, but she really wanted it to work out.

PJ: They were, they were Muslim. It was like right after Trump was elected.

PHIA: Mhm.

PJ: She felt like worried for them, basically.

PHIA: Yeah.

PJ: I think the soap company is ok because I know Alex keeps ordering soap from them.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: Um, but I like actually over the past year I keep wondering about her, I keep wondering how she’s doing now.  

PHIA: So, do you want to give Susan a call?

PJ: Yeah, let’s do it.

SUSAN: Hello?
ALEX: Hey Susan, it’s Alex and PJ!
PJ: How’s it going?
SUSAN: Hello!
ALEX: How are you?
SUSAN: (indistinct) I’m okay. How are you?
ALEX: I’m good. It’s nice to hear your voice. What’ve you been up to for the past year?
SUSAN: Oh gosh. Oh dear.
ALEX/PJ: (laughs)
SUSAN: Well I should warn you that as soon as I get on the phone my dog makes noises, so you might hear my dog. I got a dog! There’s something.
PJ: That sounds pretty good.
ALEX: It seemed like 2016 wasn’t the best year for you. I’m wondering if you’re … in a better place.
SUSAN: (sighs) Well I’m getting to a better place. I’m quite literally in the same place. Uh, I’m still in this Airstream trailer, believe it or not.
PJ: Really?
SUSAN: Yes, well. I did at least manage to buy the Airstream outright. I own my own home! (laughs)
PJ: (laughs)
ALEX: Good work. So last year we were, we asked you what you had to look forward to in 2017 and now I’m interested to know what you’re looking forward to in 2018.
SUSAN: The one thing that I’m looking forward to is I’ve decided to very actively embrace winter in Indiana. You know–
PJ: What does that look like?
SUSAN: Well, what it means is, okay so the sky is the color of a blank sheet of paper and it makes me want to die inside, —
PJ: (laughs)
SUSAN: — fine. But it also means that owls are much easier to spot. So I’ve been getting into owls in a big way. Um, I go out in the woods just about every day and there’s one owl in particular who I see almost everyday in her tree and I named her Beatrice and I visit her, but not too close. But I’ve been collecting owl pellets. I bet you don’t know what that is.
PJ: No I don’t
SUSAN: Well, they can’t digest the fur and the bone of these little animals that they eat and they cough up these compact, tidy little, perfect pellets and they’re impossible to find. It’s like finding the Hope Diamond if you find one. I found one the other day, I was so excited. And now the three guys are like, “Are you a wit–a witch?”
PJ and ALEX: (laugh)
SUSAN: Or, “What’re you up to? Why do you need these bones?” But then, at the same time, they also just said, “Hey, we, we found you a really cheap used toaster oven so you can sanitize your owl pellets.” So it’s like they’re teasing me but then they’re also supporting my weird habit now too, which is very sweet.

[MUSIC]

SUSAN: (whispering) Okay. I’m here at my favorite woods. We have tons of parks and stuff and this one is a, kind of a well-kept secret. So let’s see: I have my, my binoculars, and my stick, and a knife and some mace ’cause you never know. So anyway I’m gonna look for Beatrice, my little owl friend.
God, I don’t know how they stay warm out here, it’s colder than a witch’s tit. Okay we’re coming up on Beatrice’s tree and the owl-iest part of the woods. That’s her tree … Wow not only is Beatrice home, she’s looking straight at me with her eyes all the way open like, “Fucker, what’re you doin’? Get outta here.” (laughs) Yes ma’am.
[Owl sound]
Holy shit!

[BREAK]

[MUSIC – Laura Whistling]

PHIA: Next up, Episode 109, “Is Facebook Spying on You?

PJ: Ok, so Alex.

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: So in 109, you were trying to figure out if Facebook was listening in on people using the microphones on their phones so they could show them ads. And we learned two things: One, they’re probably not doing that. Two, it’s basically impossible to convince anybody who believes that Facebook is doing that, that it’s not the case. We opened up the phone lines, and we found out that either people are just not convincible or at least definitely they are not convincible by you.

ALEX: Definitely not by me!

PJ: You–it was–it was something to behold.

ALEX: It felt terrible.

PJ: It was–not to watch. But, like the most sort of, the like, the-the-the like, real, the part where it really devolved was this woman Julia called and her thing was like, “They’re listening in on me, not to give me ads but to like suggest different friends to me.” And that, like, the idea that she was asking a slightly different question for some reason like, destroyed you. Um, I have tape of that.

ALEX: That’s true.

PHIA: (laughs)

JULIA: –And it was both of us that got the recommended follow, and you don’t get the recommended follows that often. So, it’s definitely listening to me.
ALEX: PJ’s- PJ is smirking at me because he thinks that I can’t answer this.
PJ: No, I’m just smiling because your face is covered in flop sweat.
ALEX: And you’re absolutely right that I can’t answer this one.
PJ: (laughs)
JULIA: (laughs)
ALEX: Because ad targeting and the “people you may know” data sets are totally separate. I don’t- I haven’t been researching this. I have no idea. I have–I can’t answer this one.
JULIA: I do it tells you though that the microphone is definitely listening.
ALEX: Uh- I-
ALEX: PJ can’t- PJ can’t keep it together. He’s losing his mind. He thinks this is so funny.
PJ: (laughing) I just think it’s funny because Alex had a lot of confidence (laughing harder, barely audible) he would have all the answers, and would be able to explain it to people.

ALEX: That feels bad to listen back to.

PJ: Yeah.

ALEX: Why did you say it like you’re enjoying listening back to it?

PJ: No! It felt bad.

ALEX: Um, but, since that episode has aired, I have learned more about how Facebook recommends friends to people, in the way that it recommended them to Julia, and I feel like I can confidently call her back and explain what is going on in this situation.

PJ: Ok! Let’s call her.

JULIA: Hello?
ALEX: Hey Julia, it’s Alex and PJ.
JULIA: Hey!
PJ: We’re back.
ALEX: Julia, last time you called, things didn’t go great as far as me convincing you. But I’m back, and I’m armed with more information, and I think I can convince you that Facebook is not listening to you.
JULIA: Ok. Well I had a conversation after the episode aired, and I also have an alternate non-microphone theory but I would, I would like to know why you think this happened to me.
PJ: Wait, I’m curious about this other theory. So, what is it?
JULIA: So this is the theory: Both me and my friend had either Instagram or Facebook open, and had location services turned on for at least one of them. And Facebook could see that we were both in the same place, and like, were therefore actually very good friends. And would have way more things in common, then sort of like your average two users who may be Facebook friends that are never physically in the same place.
PJ: Because basically they would’ve been able to say, “Okay we know you’re friends–we know you’re close friends–and we know like that you’re in a friendship circle that includes all these other people who are friends with this guy that you’re not friends with so now we’re gonna suggest him to you.”
JULIA: Yeah.
PJ: That seems credible to me.
ALEX: Yeah, that does seem credible.
JULIA: Yeah. Seems like that could be it, but like, that still sucks.
PJ: Oh, it totally still sucks.
ALEX: Well I have another idea about how Facebook would know to recommend this guy to you. And it comes from Kashmir Hill who is a reporter at Gizmodo.
JULIA: Oh I read the shadow profile story.
ALEX: Oh ok.
JULIA: Which also contributed to this theory a little bit but, but tell me more.
PJ: Alex, does the person we’re talking to know less than you do about this or the same amount or more?
JULIA: (laughing)
ALEX: I would say Julia knows about as much.
ALL: (laugh)
JULIA: But yeah, sorry. So sorry. Alex, tell me, tell me more. What do you think?
ALEX: Oh, this is so humiliating. (laughing)
PJ: (laughs)
ALEX: But PJ doesn’t know.
PJ: Uh huh…
ALEX: So PJ–PJ will learn something.
PJ: Ok.
ALEX: So, in addition to knowing a ton about, um, about you based on your Facebook profiles, Facebook also has a set of information that they use to target your friends to you that Kashmir calls a “shadow profile.”
PJ: And like, as the only person in this conversation, apparently, that doesn’t know what a shadow profile is: What’s a shadow profile?
ALEX: Basically what it is, is. Ok, so you set your– you set Facebook up on your phone or computer, and it says like, “Hey, we want to find friends for you. Why don’t we go through your contact list and we’ll find friends for you?”
PJ: Uh huh.
ALEX: It will take all of that information.
PJ: Like it basically just hoovers up your phone book.
ALEX: But it keeps that information, and anytime someone else adds their, their phone book, their address book to Facebook, and there’s a new piece of information, it adds that new piece of information to its database.
PJ: So, like, even if I didn’t give Facebook my home address, if you have my home address and it’s in your phone book, and you synced your contacts, they now know my home address.
ALEX: Exactly.
PJ: Got it.
ALEX: The fact that Facebook knows, Facebook figures out the connections based on who has who in its address book, there might be like a third person who has this guy and both Julia and her friend in the address book, and it’s like “Oh well, there’s only like one degree of separation between these two people and this guy, let’s give this person to them as a ‘Person they might know.'”
PJ: OK.
AG: So Julia, was there a particular reason that you were talking about him?
JULIA: Not really, no. It was like, I think her friend had started dating one of his friends, and she was like, “Oh, like, I ran into him the other night, it was so weird.” And I was like, “I haven’t seen him in 10 years. That’s so crazy.”
PJ: But her friend is dating one of his friends would be a thing that maybe Facebook would know about. Would be like shadow profile information.
JULIA and ALEX: Yes.
JULIA: True, true.
ALEX: Yes.
PJ: Like, they’re sort of like, they can tell that his social circle is inching a little bit closer to yours, and so they’re like “Hey, what about this guy? You want to be friends with him? Or you wanna follow him on Instagram?”
JULIA: Very true.
PJ: It sounds like, perhaps, like you have convinced yourself that Facebook is not spying on you using its microphone.
JULIA: Yeah, well, I will say this: I still think it is possible.
ALEX: But, on a scale of 1-10, like, how likely do you think that it is?
JULIA: I would maybe say I’m at a 3. I think it is still a possibility. But I do think there are other things Facebook knows and like is, is listening in on while not necessarily actually listening in on.
PJ: And would you say, I mean so you, you felt 1000 percent before and now you feel like a 3 out of 10. Was, was Alex pretty helpful as far as–
ALEX and JULIA: (laughing)
PJ: — getting you from one to the other?
JULIA: Um, yes. Sure.
ALEX: Well look, someone convinced someone. I’m gonna just go ahead and chalk that up as a victory.

[MUSIC]

PJ: So, obviously one of the people that we wanted to check in with, get an update from, is Breakmaster Cylinder, the mysterious person who does a lot of the music, including the theme song for our show. Even though they are currently trapped in space.

ALEX: With no internet!

PJ: With no internet. We asked them for an update. This is what we got.

Breakmaster Cylinder: Hi Reply All. 2017’s been wildly hailed as a sad sack of crap so I’ve travelled back to 1902 where the future is looking bright. For white men. And I hear next year we’ll all be getting as movie theater. And Scarlet Fever. Great scott.
[Ragtime piano plays with mob crowd sounds]
The whole town is gathered here to kill me so I’m on my way.
I’m headed to New York where I’m going to bury this tape right where the Gimlet building sits in 2017. I hope you find it.

PHIA: Now it’s time for the lightning round.

PJ: Are you sure?

PHIA: I’m completely sure.

PJ: Ok.

PHIA: Are you guys ready?

ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: Uhhhhhhhh yes.

ALEX: Yeah!

PHIA: Ok, so I’m going to put a minute on the clock. You guys are going to take turns providing updates. It’s who can–who has more updates within a minute.

ALEX: Ok do you want to flip a coin to see who goes first?

PJ: Yeah, that seems right. Phia do you approve of that?

PHIA: Yeah, I’m ok with that. What kind of coin do you have?

ALEX: I have a quarter. Call it in the air.

PJ: Heads.

ALEX: Tails. So who goes first?

PJ: You get to decide.

ALEX: (sighs) I’m going to say you go first.

PJ: Ok, cool.

PHIA: I’ve got a minute on the clock. On your mark, get set–PJ, go!

[MUSIC]

PJ: (talking quickly) Ok, you remember that whole story about how scientists are trying to figure out how to contact aliens?

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: They have a new theory which is that the aliens may be out there but hibernating.

ALEX: Huh. You know the grand tapestry of Pepe where uh, the alt-right took over this frog this cute frog —

PJ: Yup. Yup. Yup.

ALEX: — cartoon character? Matt Furie, the creator of Pepe, has sent cease and desists to a bunch of places who are using it including the Donald subreddit and he actually filed a lawsuit against the guy who wrote an Islamophobic children’s book starring Pepe. As part of the settlement, the guy had to donate all of his profits to the Council on Islamic-American relations. Go ahead.

PJ: Uh, ok. The phantom caller switched to silent calls for a while but no one really knows what’s going on post that story.

ALEX: Brinna, from the Black Hole NJ episode who got her watch taken by scammers, some benevolent person got her a new Apple watch.

PJ: Um, Enes Kanter, the basketball player who got sort of owned on Twitter, he lost his check mark but was then given it back and he doesn’t know why.

ALEX: The guy who went into Comet Ping Pong, the Pizzagate pizza place with a gun, got sentenced to four years in jail.

PJ: Seems reasonable. Temporary protected status visas, the thing that the guy had in Skiptracer, Trump has shut that down for people from Haiti and Nicaragua and this month he’s supposed to announce whether or not he’s going to shut it down for people from El Salvador.

ALEX: Longmont Potion Castle came out with three new albums this year.

PJ: Uhhhh, the dog rates–the dog rating account, there’s now a Brent and Brant character in the new Sims expansion who I think are married to each other.

ALEX: So you know how Facebook follows you everywhere you go around the internet?

PJ: Yes, yes.

ALEX: Safari recently came up with an update that allows you to block that right in the browser and you never have to worry about it again.

PJ: Uhhhhhh do you have any more? I have —

ALEX: No I’m done.

PJ: Oh, Flash the tortoise! Is doing fine still.

ALEX: (laughs)

PHIA: Time!

PJ: I think I beat him every single way you could count, actually.

PHIA: He talks slower than you.

ALEX: (heavy breathing)

PJ: That doesn’t help you win. Alex, it’s ok. Second place is like the first loser.

ALEX: It actually doesn’t have to be a competition. It could just be a fun thing where we shout stuff at each other as fast as we can and I just happen to shout it slower because I talk slow!

PJ: So it would be a–a together race?

ALEX: Yeah, exactly–

PJ: It’s like going for a jog?

ALEX: — it would be, think of it as a potato sack race, where we’re both in the potato sack and we’re bouncing around together.

PJ: Have you ever been in a potato sack race? (laughs)

ALEX: But it doesn’t have to–it could be fun. It could be a thing like where we learn to work together and we’re both better as a result —

PJ: Thank god we live in this potato sack together.

ALEX: –we win the race.

PJ: And also, then against who because we’re all–?

ALEX: A potato sack race is not people who live in a potato sack.

PJ: You said our whole working experience could be like a potato sack race. And you also said it could be non-competitive, like a potato sack race. Which to me makes me think you think when two people love each other, they live in a potato sack.

ALEX: (laughs)

PJ: Your metaphor for collaborating is a potato sack race.

ALEX: Right, which is a thing where people are uncomfortably thrown into a hot sack–

PJ: And they fall over.

ALEX: –and they do their best to work together to win the race.

PHIA: Why is it hot? (laughing) Why is the potato sack hot?

ALEX: I just think of it as like, a thing that you do on a hot day, like a field day. I feel like I’m being ganged up on.

PJ: I feel like you’re going to confess to a murder in like three seconds, you’re so losing it.

ALEX: I didn’t want to, ok.

PJ/PHIA: (laughing)

ALEX: But they wouldn’t–he wouldn’t help me win the race–

PJ: He wouldn’t come in your potato sack?

ALEX: — I kept falling over and he wouldn’t cooperate.

[MUSIC: Laura Continued]

PHIA: Next up: Episode 88. Second Language.

PJ: Ok so Second Language was about this guy Eric Valor. Eric has pretty advanced ALS, he communicates through a computer that tracks his eye movements–but he’s able to get a lot done–including, like, he actually helps with ALS research. He sent us this recording about what he’s up to.

ERIC VALOR: Hi. Sorry for the delay. The only real update worth mentioning is that after some unavoidable delays, my latest drug research project is coming to a head. The next month is the critical one where we find out if my theory is sound. I am hoping Santa brings me 24 wiggling mouse noses. So far they appear to be in good shape, but the disease is a little bit like falling off a cliff–when they go, they go fast. Needless to say, I would be biting my fingernails if my arms and hands worked.

Eric Valor, he also told us he now has a podcast which you can find on his website, that’s ericvalor.org. V-A-L-O-R.

[MUSIC: Matt Farley’s “The Future”]

PJ:  Ok so in last week’s episode we asked people to call in because we wanted to hear their predictions for the future. We are now going to take those calls. Are you ready?

ALEX: I am.

ALEX: Hello?
PJ: Hello?
CALEY: Hi!
ALEX: Who’s this?
CALEY: This is Callie Burke. From Florida
ALEX: Hey, Callie!
PJ: Where in Florida?
CALEY: So I’m currently at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island in Florida. About an hour east of Orlando.
PJ: Wait, you’re at the space center?
CALEY: Yes. I am your rocket scientist fan, or one of them
PJ: Oh, did we talk to you before?
CALEY: You have talked to me before, yes
PJ: How’s it going over there in rocket science?
CALEY: Things are going well.
ALEX: What have you got for us in 2018?
CALEY: Uh, I’m launching a rocket to Mars, so.
PJ: (laughs)
ALEX: What?!
PJ: Done. You win. No more calls. You’re launching a rocket to Mars?
CALEY: Yes.
PJ: So, say more.
CALEY: So the Insight mission is a Mars lander. It’s going to measure Mars-quakes, cause they have those. And it’s going to go down about —
PJ: Right, it’s not an earthquake.
ALEX: It’s not an earthquake. I was going to be like “Don’t they just call them Mars earthquakes?”
CALEY: (laughs) They call them Mars-quakes is what I’ve heard. I think that’s the technical terminology. I’m not a scientist. Like my job is to make sure that the spacecraft is dropped off at the right place and it can get itself to Mars from there.
PJ: And then how long does it take to get to Mars?
CALEY: So it’s going to land on November 26. No matter what day we launch, we’ll launch some time in May or beginning of June, and then we’ll arrive on November 26.
PJ: Cool.
ALEX: Good luck.
CALEY: Thank you.

[MUSIC]

AG: Hey this is Alex and PJ what is your prediction for 2018?
MAN: Well, I predict that I’m going to win the soap box derby, the Portland Adult Soap Box Derby. I’m going to make a secret car. I usually place about seventh or eighth place and this year I’m looking for number one.
PJ: Ok, first of all are you a little bit far away from the phone right now?
AG: He just hung up.
PJ: Wow. He had one message and he made it.
AG: I won’t be taking any questions, thank you. (laughs)
PJ: A lot of soap box derby listeners are going to be rattled.

[MUSIC]

PJ: Hello?
AG: Hello?
MICHAEL: Hello?
AG: Who is this?
MICHAEL: This is Michael Avery, is this PJ and um … wow, this is  —
AG: And, and who?
PJ: Nobody.
AG: PJ and who?
PJ: Hello Michael Avery you have great taste in hosts on this show.
MICHAEL: Sorry, I just woke up and I’ve been trying and I’m sorry I’m such a big fan of the show. Alex Goldman is a true hero too.
AG: Do you know how many emails a week I get that are like, ‘Dear PJ and Adam Goldberg, I would just like you to know that I think your show is fantastic, I listen to every episode and I know exactly who you are: PJ and Adam.’
MICHAEL: This is such a Goldman Gripes moment, I love it.
PJ: (laughs)

[MUSIC]

ALEX: Hello?
JOSH: Hello. Hey.
PJ and ALEX: Hey.
PJ: Who’s this?
JOSH: This is uh Josh. How you doin?
PJ and ALEX: Good
ALEX: How are you?
JOSH: Good I was just calling in–saw the post of Facebook and I was callin’ in talking about big things for next year.
ALEX: Yeah. Whatchat got?
PJ: What’s your big thing?
JOSH: So currently I’m finishing up a 20-year career in the Coast Guard.
PJ: Woah.
JOSH: And uh. Came in 10 days after high school. So this is all I really know. But uh, just last week I got an offer letter for another government job, uh, being an electronic technician hopefully for a 3-letter agency.
PJ: When you say a 3-letter agency…?
ALEX: CIA, FBI, NSA.
JOSH: Yep.

[MUSIC]

PJ: What were your exciting days on the job like?
JOSH: Oh shit. I have a–I was a boarding officer on a speedboat down in the Caribbean chasing down a 33 foot gofast full of drugs that we busted.
PJ: What?!
JOSH: That was when I was kid. I was like 21.
PJ: What’s a gofast?
JOSH: A gofast is a vessel used by, uh, uh–narcotics smugglers. And basically they’re custom built fiberglass boats with a lot of engines. And we had to shoot out it’s engines and everything and uh…
ALEX: Oh my god.
JOSH: They all jumped off the boat.
PJ: You were shooting out the engines and you were 21?
JOSH: The guy behind me was shooting out the engines. I was the boarding officer, he was the gunners mate that was on board. And we couldn’t stop the boat and they had jumped out of it so it wasn’t safe to go across so we had to shoot out the engines in order to shut it down.

[MUSIC]

PJ: Hello?
VOICEMAIL: — trying to reach is busy and cannot take your call. Please leave a message after the tone.
ALEX: Alright, go ahead and hang up.”PJ: Wait, I think there’s a person there.
[CALL NOISE]
PJ and ALEX: Hello?
MICHELLE: Hello?
PJ and ALEX: Hello?
MICHELLE: Oh hi! It just played a message.
PJ: I think we’re somehow on someone’s voicemail.
ALEX: Yeah, I guess this is all recording.
MICHELLE: Oh, ok. Hi someone’s voicemail!
PJ: Who is this?
MICHELLE: Uh, my name’s Michelle. Hello!
PJ: What’s gonna happen next year?
MICHELLE: Well, ok. So next year I’m going to be moving across the country to —
[Beep]
PJ: I think that’s the end of someone’s voicemail message.
MICHELLE: Oh, okay (laughs) um. Well then after my summer job ends–
VOICEMAIL: Thank you. Your voicemail has reached its maximum duration–
PJ: (laughs)
ALEX: What is happening?
ALL:: (laughing)
VOICEMAIL: To send your message, press 3 or hang up.
MICHELLE: Wow.
VOICEMAIL: To delete your current message and record a new one, press 1. To listen to your message, press 2.
PJ: (laughs) Oh, This is such a mess!
VOICEMAIL: To mark your message as urgent, press 6.
ALEX: I’m worried that if we do anything, it’s just going to hang up on you.
VOICEMAIL: … press the star key.
PJ: Well, no.
MICHELLE: It’s still going.
PJ: Try pressing six.
MICHELLE: Ok, I’m pressing six.
[BEEP]
VOICEMAIL: Your message is now marked as urgent. To send your message, press 3 or hang up.
PJ: Alright, press 3. Press 3.
MICHELLE: Ok I’m doing it.
VOICEMAIL: To delete your message and record a new one, press 1.
[BEEP]
VOICEMAIL: Your message has been sent. To access the voice portal —
PJ: Ok I think we have to kill the call and start a new call.
MICHELLE: Aw, bummer
PJ: I’m sorry. Well, what’s the summer job?
ALEX: Say it quick before-
MICHELLE: Uh, it’s working for a truck company out in Portland, and then after that I’m moving to France.
VOICEMAIL: … is not valid. Please try again.
PJ and ALEX and MICHELLE: (laugh)
PJ: Ok, good luck in France, bye!
ALEX: Bye!
MICHELLE: Thanks guys, bye!

[MUSIC]

AG: Hello?
MAN 2: Oh, hey. Ok. The line is working. Hi! (laughs)
AG: Hi, this is Alex and PJ, what is your prediction for 2018?
MAN 2: I am a researcher about sexual assault and how students, like college students, handle that.
PJ: Uh huh.
MAN 2: Before this year it felt … honestly, it felt like tackling an impossible problem. But this year we’re finally starting to see accusers that people have known about for decades get punished …
PJ: Yeah.
MAN 2: … and I think in 2018 we’re going to see a huge wave of scandals on college campuses revolving around the way administrations and institutions handle that. And specifically how they don’t handle it.

[MUSIC]

PAIGE: (fading in) …I got their mom into it too so I have it hidden in her room.
PJ: So ok, just to make sure I understand, I want a visual picture of this.
PAIGE: Yeah.
PJ: There, your device that you have, it broadcasts to their normal radio, it’s like, you basically have the world’s tiniest little pirate radio station. So they can tune their normal radio–right?
PAIGE: Yeah, it’s supposed to be used in cars that don’t have like, aux cords. And then I hid the radio in their house and just left it there, and currently it’s playing a loop alternating between static and home Christmas videos from the 1980s that I found on YouTube.
[CLIP]
PJ: How, how old are you?
PAIGE: I’m 18.
ALEX: So is the thing that you’re looking forward to in 2018 just like, totally bewildering and frightening your friends?
PAIGE: Yeah. I mean–that’s one of the things. That’s one of the things I’m looking forward to. But the other thing that I was calling about to tell you guys is I’m actually planning on coming out as trans next week.
ALEX: Congratulations!
PAIGE: Um. Yeah. So that’s pretty exciting. I’m looking forward to that.

[MUSIC OUT]

PJ: Thanks for everybody who took the time to call in, and dealt with our hold system. Whenever we open the lines we always end up feeling like the world is filled with way more nice and interesting people than maybe it feels like on the subway ride to work. So thanks.

That is our last episode of the year.

One last thing before we go, we got some sad news today, which is that Reggie Osse, who hosted Mogul here at Gimlet, as well as his own podcast, the Combat Jack show, he died this morning of colon cancer. He was 48. Reggie in real life was actually as great as Reggie in his work. He was extremely funny and extremely smart. And when you talked to him just like normal, outside the studio smalltalk, he had a kind of curiosity that most people are just not able to have about other people full time. We were really, really lucky to work alongside him, even just for a little bit. And we’ll miss him.

Ok, that’s it for this show, that’s it for this year. We’ll be back in January, thanks for hanging out.

Reply All is hosted by me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. Our show is produced by Sruthi Pinnamaneni, Phia Bennin, and Damiano Marchetti. Additional production help this week from Khrista Rypl and Anna Foley. Fact checking by Michelle Harris. Our editor is Tim Howard.

Also next year, Tim is going to be working remotely from Berlin, which means if you’re a reporter in Europe who wants to collaborate, you should find him on Twitter. He’s @newtimhoward. That’s new, not nude. We were mixed by Kate Blinski. Our theme music is by the mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. Special thanks this week to Andrew Pseudonym, Kashmir Hill, Mia Dahlgren, Matt Furie, Matt Farley, Kathleen Sloan, David Steele, Laura Brenes, and Adam Quinn. Matt Lieber is the day that everyone brings their extra baked goods to the office. You can visit our website at replyall.limo and you can find more episodes of our show on Spotify or Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen. Thanks for listening, we’ll see you next year.

View full transcript

Subscribe

Subscribe to the show feed here

You can also subscribe to the show newsletter