#53 In The Desert

February 4, 2016

Strangers keep coming to Mike and Christina’s house looking for their stolen cell phones. Nobody knows why. We travel to Atlanta to find out what’s going on, in our thorniest Super Tech Support yet.

 

Further Reading

Kashmir Hill’s story about Mike and Christina.

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Show transcript

PJ VOGT: From Gimlet, this is Reply All. I’m PJ Vogt. And this week, Super Tech Support returns.

If this is your first time hearing Super Tech Super, Here’s how it works: someone on the internet has a problem, and no matter how big or small it is, we fix it. Well, Alex fixes it, because he’s good at computers. This week we pursue the thorniest computer glitch we’ve ever tackled. We learned about it from our friend Kashmir–

KASHMIR HILL: My name is Kashmir Hill, I am the editor of Fusion’s Real Future.

PJ: She’s a veteran tech reporter. Alex talked to her in the studios.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Also, I’m going to occasionally mute my microphone to cough like a madman because I have the worst cold in the world.

KASHMIR: Oh no. OK.

ALEX GOLDMAN: Hold on just a second.

ALEX: Kashmir told us a story about this couple in Georgia.

KASHMIR: He’s an engineer. She’s a journalist. But they just seem like normal, you know, twenty-somethings who have this weird tech mystery in their lives.

ALEX: Here’s how it started. They’d just moved into a house in Atlanta. They were settling in. And then a group of strangers knocked on their door.

KASHMIR: A family came to the house, and they were looking for a lost smartphone. And they thought it was just weird. And they were like, oh, you know you’re phone’s not here. And the family said, “Well our find my phone app says it is here.”

ALEX: The blue dot, the dot that tells you where your phone is, it was right on the couple’s house, but the phone wasn’t there. It was just some kind of fluke. But then —

KASHMIR: The next month it happened again. A group of friends came again saying their find my phone app said that their phone was in this house. And it kept happening.

ALEX: And so now, this has been going on for a year. People keep coming and knocking on their door, asking where their phones are. Kashmir interviewed the couple, she wrote a story about it, and she waited for someone on the internet to read that story and just announce the definitive solution to the problem. And a bunch of people tried. But nobody seemed to be able to figure it out.

PJ: So last week we decided to do what we always do in situations like this. . .

AIRPORT ANNOUNCER: . . .welcome aboard Southwest 2881 with service to Atlanta.

PJ: . . .unleash Alex on the problem. We decided we’d send Alex down to Atlanta he’d find out what was going on and he’d fix it.  Except, Alex’s actually cold got worse. He got extremely sick. And so instead, we had to send the junior varsity team. Me.

PJ in ATLANTA: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

PJ: So the couple, they live on this quiet, hilly street. I parked outside their house.

MIKE SABA: Hey.

PJ in ATLANTA: PJ.

MIKE: Nice to meet you, PJ.

PJ: Nice to meet you.

CHRISTINA LEE: Come on in.

PJ in ATLANTA: Yeah, thanks.

PJ: This is Mike and Christina.

CHRISTINA: Good.

MIKE : If you want, sure.

PJ: Christina’s a music journalist, Mike used to be one, that’s how they met. Their house is very tidy. It’s one of those places it just like smells clean and you feel like you should take your shoes off. We went inside. We’re sitting at a kitchen table and we’re maybe just like five feet away from the big window that looks out onto the street.

 

PJ: And what were you thinking with the first time it happened? Like, what were the questions you were asking yourself when that first family was just on your front porch?

CHRISTINA: What’s going on here?

MIKE: Yeah, honestly, I think like my first reaction was I wonder if someone in the neighborhood’s doing something shady, stealing phones or whatever. And it’s just accidentally pointing to here. Um, yeah, I definitely didn’t have any idea that it would turn into a thing.

PJ: This thing has slowly taken over their lives. Dozens of people, strangers, have showed up at their door in the last year. Often late at night. Like this most recent time that it happened, Mike was asleep on the couch.

MIKE:  So I had a fallen asleep on the couch watching Star Trek Voyager — as Christina will tell you, I fall asleep to Star Trek, on the reg from TNG, to Deep Space Nine, and now to Voyager. Anyway, so I was, I had fallen on the sleep on the couch, woke up immediately. And, ding-dong-ding-dong-ding-dong!

PJ: And someone’s pounding on the door.

MIKE: I go to open the door. We had like two, three dudes standing up on the little stoop, and then another dude behind them who had like his hands in his jacket, like, which I was like, “Oooof.”  

PJ: Mike was worried the guy might have a gun. It’s a refrain I kept hearing in Atlanta — “Everybody has a gun here.” And they’re not being paranoid. In Georgia, more people die from gunshots than car crashes.

MIKE: And as soon I opened the door, you know, just immediately they started yelling in my face “Where is he? Where is he? Where is he? Where is he? Our friend’s here. Where is he? Where is he?”

PJ: They were looking for a person?

MIKE: Yeah.

CHRISTINA: Yeah.

PJ: Their friend had disappeared and they were using Find My Phone to try to and track them down. Christina’s in the bedroom but she hears this conversation and she comes running out.

CHRISTINA: Mike was talking to them. I turned on the porch light. I saw how young they were and the first thought that crossed my mind was, like, “OK, so they’re trying to find a missing person. They’re freaking the fuck out.” So I guess I had to very quickly put myself in their shoes. Like, okay, if they’re coming here looking for somebody who’s missing and maybe they’ve been searching for this person for a while, maybe they feel like they have a lead, how would I feel?

PJ: She kept calm. She took out a post-it and a pen and asked them a bunch of questions, in the hopes that somehow, these guys might actually provide a clue.

CHRISTINA: OK, this is the drill. What’s your name. What’s your phone number? Do you remember app you were using? What kind of phone you were looking for?

PJ: And this strange line of questions actually diffused the situation because these dudes found it so weird that the alleged kidnapper was asking them about their cell phone provider that they just calmed down. The situation got explained and they went home.

But it felt like a close call, and Mike is very worried about what’ll happen next time.

MIKE: Y’know, there’s always that fear that, like, an unreasonable person is going to show up everybody owns a gun. Somebody with a gun might show up. Like, yeah, it stresses me out just to think about it.

ALEX: Have they looked in their house? To try and find like a trove of cell phones?

PJ: That’d be crazy. And yes.

MIKE: I swept the house top to bottom looking for ever— a receiver, an antenna, a box full of, you know, stolen cell phones hidden somewhere, anything, anything. Nothing.

PJ: He showed me where he’s looked.

MIKE: Through here, you got a bathroom, Christina’s office, our bedroom, and then there’s the whole basement downstairs which I. . .

PJ: Their house is modern, recently renovated house. There is nothing about it that suggests that there’s some ancient secret room behind a bookcase. But Mike has looked anyway– he’s pried off air conditioner vents trying to find some secret stash of phones. He hasn’t found anything. It seems clear that whatever is sending people to their house, is not, like, an actual cache of phones buried in the basement.

So Mike has gone on the internet and he’s gone to all these message boards. And he’s posed this question to experts and he has cobbled together this other theory that he’s now kind of obsessed with. Okay, so your cellphone has a bunch of different methods to find out where you are on a map. But one of them is just as simple as pinging nearby cellphone towers and then triangulating your position based on how far away the towers are.

MIKE: Yeah, like on this map if you can see it, it’d be like . . .

PJ: Mike brought up a map of his neighborhood and he showed me something that was pretty weird. Their home is, like, surrounded by cellphone towers. They’re extremely close by.

MIKE: There’s one here, that’s where the T-Mobile tower is.

PJ: And that’s what, like, four blocks away from you?

MIKE: Yeah, right there. There’s a Sprint cell phone tower in this area. And then there’s another one half a mile to the southwest by the police station here.

PJ: Oh but it literally does draw out a triangle.

MIKE: Yeah, our own little Bermuda Triangle.

PJ: Mike thinks that it’s possible that somehow the fact that his house is in the middle of these three cell phone towers, that is screwing up everybody’s maps. That is what is sending everybody to his house.

So of course, he’s called the three different companies that own these cell towers and he’s tried to see if he can get them to come out and fix it. Like, T-mobile, he reached out to them.

MIKE: So when I got in touch with them they said, “Oh well, these towers are all run by contractors  so we don’t handle questions about this. You need to reach out to the contractor running this cellphone tower.” And that, you know, is some generic email address that I emailed three times and nobody got back to me.

PJ: Even if Mike’s right about his Bermuda Triangle theory, he’s still screwed, because none of these phone companies are gonna talk to him. In fact, nobody wants to talk to him about this.

MIKE: I tried to get in touch with AT&T who makes our wireless router, they said, you know, “You gotta talk to the FCC about that.” When we reached out to the FCC, they said, “No, you need get in touch with carriers and the device manufacturers.” Everywhere we’ve gone, government entity, corporate, you know, business, local law enforcement, everywhere we’ve gone it’s just been a lot of shrugs, a lot of, “That’s not our problem. You’ve got to go to somebody else.” Nobody wants to take ownership of this problem.  

ALEX: Maybe this is like a simplistic solution but have they thought about just moving?

PJ: That’s exactly what I said to them. That if were me, I would just move. But they can’t. They live in this house because they can afford to. They’ve been priced out of neighborhood after neighborhood.  And they’ve landed here, where they can afford it. I mean the neighborhood’s basically just them and a lot of, like, older folks whose kids moved out and never came back. Plus if they did try to move they’d likely have to disclose this insane our-old-house-is-haunted-by-technology story to a potential buyer.

ALEX: I mean I wouldn’t buy that house.

PJ: I wouldn’t either.So they’re definitely stuck here. Leaving is not an option. So, we talked for awhile, and it was one of those conversations where you keep suggesting things, like, did you try this did you try this? And they’d tried all the things. And I felt useless.

So finally, at 3pm, with no solution in sight we decided to take a break.

I went to get a slice of pizza. I thought about the house.

We’d spent all this time talking about this problem that was literally invisible. Like something was beaming from somewhere and landing in the wrong place. It was frustrating. It was so intangible.

So I drove back to their house and I parked the car. And I just started to wonder about the block itself. Was I missing something? Was the answer somewhere in these houses? So I got out of the car and started walking around.

And here’s what I saw. Two thirds of the block was just houses like Mike and Christina’s.

These nice 1 or 2 story family homes. Small, well kept yards. But then every, maybe, fourth house was just utterly destroyed and abandoned. Like, missing roof, missing exterior walls, copper stripped out. And then you’d look next door and you’d see, like, a nice house with some really cute lawn ornaments. Next house, foreclosure papers nailed to the wall. It felt like two neighborhoods were trying to happen at the same time. So for example, the house three doors down from Mike and Christina’s.

PJ in ATLANTA: So this is the house 3 doors down

PJ: There were stone steps up from the curb and I walked up the steps and immediately I was, like, knee high in this big, overgrown yard.  

PJ in ATLANTA: The front yard is all brambles

PJ: And then I get to the front door. . .

PJ in ATLANTA: The front door’s just been kicked in. The windows are boarded up. There’s like some shoes and a bag that is filled with what I think is just feces.

PJ: And then there was a middle room …

ALEX: Wait! You went into the house?!

PJ: Whoever had been there had moved on. Like it didn’t seem like somebody had slept there last night. But yeah, there was not a great reason for it, but it was weird because I was in the house. I was super creeped out. And I saw like, there was the front room I was in and there was this middle room where a lot of the floor was gone. It looked really unsafe so I didn’t want to go in there.

PJ in ATLANTA: Oh, wow, there’s a lot of holes in the floor.

PJ: And then past the middle room there was this shut door.

ALEX: God this is like a horror story.

PJ: And I wanted to, like, I wanted to see what was behind the door and I didn’t want to open the door because I could like hear horror story music in my head. But the other thing was I was just picturing a room that would just be like teeming with, like, gleaming new cell phones and iPads.

ALEX: That was obviously the answer right? You just went into the room and…

PJ: It was not the answer. I did not go into the room. I was too scared. For all I know, it is filled with cell phones.

ALEX: But that’s still not the answer to this problem.

PJ: No. But, hang on because things are about to get weirder. After the break.

Also, we’ll have a solution. Okay, stick around.

 

THE BREAK

 

PJ:  So after I’m done exploring the neighborhood I go back and I meet Mike and Christina for dinner. It’s 6 p.m.

CHRISTINA: Did you want any water?

PJ: We’re at the kitchen table. We’re eating takeout–quesadillas from La Fonda. And then there’s this knock at the door.

CHRISTINA: Are you David?

DAVID MAYNOR: Yes, I am.

CHRISTINA: I’m Christina. . .

DAVID: Hi. . .

PJ: David.

CHRISTINA: Nice to meet you.

PJ: David Maynor.

DAVID: Sorry I’m late, the traffic. . .

CHRISTINA: No. . .

PJ: PJ. . .

CHRISTINA: I literally. . .

PJ: So David is this guy. He’s a cybersecurity expert. And just that week he had tweeted at Christina and he’d said, “Seriously, I might really be able to solve your problem. I own the right gear.” And Alex, I have to say, David looks exactly like you. Like eerily like you. Just more muscular and with better posture.

ALEX: Oh, OK.

PJ: So you with better posture.

ALEX: So  I’m a short formless Goldman and he’s a tall, muscular one.

PJ: This is guy is your best qualities. And none of your bad ones.

ALEX: So he’s like Arnold Schwarz. . . Basically what you’re describing is an Arnold Schwarzenegger, a tall, muscular guy, who has all of my qualities, and I am the Danny DeVito in this equation?!

PJ: Yeah!

ALEX: Oh god, this is horrible.

PJ: Yeah! It is. Anyway he immediately just sweeps through the den, into the kitchen, and as he’s walking in he’s saying he’s pretty sure he solved this whole thing in the time it took him to walk from his car to the house. So he starts pulling  out all these gadgets. You know how you always have your backpack with your computer in it?

ALEX: Mm Hm.

PJ: He’s got two backpacks.

ALEX: Oh my god, it really is like me.

PJ: So, what, what is this? It’s like a translucent box around a circuit board-looking thing?

DAVID: This is a software to find radio.

PJ: And what’s this?

DAVID: This is a spectrum analyzer.

PJ: So we are now all huddled around the kitchen table. The quesadillas have been cleared to the couch and David has seven different devices laid out plus his laptop. And right off the bat, he has a couple theories. So he powers up one of his devices, this little gray box with a long antennae, and he starts scanning. Christina, Mike,and me, we are transfixed but also a little bit confused. And so to explain, David opens his laptop and he shows us this graph. It looks like one of those heart rate monitors at the hospital. Like, it’s a line that’s squiggling and it has a few very big spikes on it.

DAVID: So, see how it’s peaking at 738?

PJ: Yeah. It’s like a line graph.

DAVID: Yeah. That’s gonna be Verizon. So there’s something Verizon-based really close.

PJ: This peak over there, that’s a local Verizon’s cell phones tower. This peak over here, that’s a local AT&T cell phone tower. David’s trying to make sure that there’s nothing broadcasting nearby that shouldn’t be. I asked him how he knows which spike actually belongs to who, and he asks me if I have an iPhone. And then tells me to dial this phone number on it.

DAVID:  * 3 00 1

PJ: 3001.

DAVID: Pound.

PJ: And now I type 1, pound.

DAVID: one, two, three, four five.

PJ: one, two three, four, five.

DAVID: Pound, star.

PJ: Pound, star.

DAVID: Dial.

PJ: Whoa! It didn’t go to a phone call; it went to field test.

DAVID: Yeah.

PJ: This is a secret menu.

ALEX: What?!

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: Come on.

PJ: Yes.

ALEX: That is some James Bond shit.

PJ: And I was like, “Are there other secret menus?” And he was like, “There’s tons of secret menus.” And I was like, “Like what?” But he’s like, “You wouldn’t understand any of them.”

DAVID: So this will tell you information about the tower that you’re connected to.

PJ: So this menu that David had me bring up on my iPhone, it showed him all this information about the local AT&T cell phone tower that my phone had connected to. And he could look at that information and he could say, “In this neighborhood AT&T is supposed to be broadcasting at this frequency. And all along his chart he knew where each cell phone company was supposed to be. AT&T is at 300 hertz. It checks out. Verizon’s at 600 hertz. Checks out. There’s a radio station. Okay, that’s supposed to be there. He wanted to make sure that everything made sense. That there weren’t any rogue signals. That nothing is showing up that’s not supposed to be there.

ALEX: Oh my god. Is anything showing up that’s not supposed to be there?

PJ: Yes!

DAVID: Wait, there’s something weird here at 979. And I’ve never seen that before. This is it right here.

PJ: So there’s this spike, and it’s a big spike at a frequency where nothing is allowed.

ALEX: Wait, wait, like how big? Like are we talking bigger than the other ones?

PJ: Like the size of a cellphone tower.

ALEX: Oh, my God, this is getting so good.

PJ: It gets better. So David says that this rogue signal, this spike? This could actually be the FBI. The FBI has a device called a Sting Ray that basically impersonates cellphone towers. They use it to spy on people’s phones, but because GPS uses cell phone towers to locate people, the Sting Ray can have this side effect of basically confusing everybody’s blue dots.

DAVID: If you had the FBI outside faking it, your phone looks up and goes, “Oh hey, I’m actually here.” And you look at it and you’re like, “But I’m nowhere close to it, why am I here?” Well it’s because the tower is telling you, will give you bogus information.

PJ: So that was like one possibility that you would drive up and there would just be a van outside.

DAVID: Yeah. Like a pizza delivery van or something.

PJ: So the spike looks really suspicious, but David says just to be sure, he wants to double check using a different scanner. So he checks

PJ: And the thing’s gone. It’s a false positive.

David: And there’s obviously no van in the front. I mean, I looked. Twice.

AG: Now what?

PJ: He has another theory don’t worry.  So now, David shows us another sort of map on his computer. Alex, you know when you’re picking a wifi network on your laptop, and you get a list of all the other wifi networks around you?

ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: So David can access the full list. Like if you imagine a mile radius around your apartment, every single wifi network that’s broadcasting–it’s like a staggering amount–David can see that. And so he brings up this website called wigle.net, and he showed us like for instance where he lives. Just this typical Atlanta neighborhood. And it is nuts.

PJ: So these are Wi-Fi networks downtown?

DAVID: This is, this is where I live.

PJ: And it just, it looks like a million sentences scrawled on top of each other, like, you can’t, it’s just a total mess.

DAVID: Right.

PJ: I had never, it’s like I knew it intellectually, but I’d never thought about the fact that, like, everything that’s wireless is sending out these tiny little zigzags waves that we can’t see in the air and there all around us and all through us. It made me feel insane, honestly. Like, I felt like I was sitting in a room where all this invisible stuff was being made visible and I realized, like, I had no idea how secure any of it was.

ALEX: Did it feel like the end of The Matrix?

PJ: No.BUT HERE’S WHAT’s really crazy. So David is holding one of his three phones up.

PJ: How many phones do you have, by the way?

ALEX: One?

PJ: Basic. So he shows up pulling one of his. . .

ALEX: How many do you have?

PJ: I’m not you. But he is you. But he’s super you.

ALEX: No no no, but he’s. . .oh, gawd. This sucks.

PJ: He had three phones on him, but he owns more phones than that.

ALEX: It sucks to, it sucks that this guy exists.

PJ: I was like, how did you even learn all this stuff? Like what is the major? And he’s like, “Oh, I taught myself. I was interested in it.”

ALEX: Ugh, all right. Keep going.

PJ: OK so he pulls up this app on his device and it lets him, like, enhance and show just the wifi devices on a very tight radius around the house. Like just about their block. He can see, potentially, anything that is broadcasting wirelessly. So like, the neighbors’ wireless routers, but also, stuff in Mike and Christina’s house. Like, my Apple watch could show up, or if they had like a Next, like a smart thermostat, or an internet TV, that would show up. Any device in range that is sending out beams of internet can show up.

David: And as you can see, there’s like one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve access points, like, visible in the neighborhood.

CHRISTINA: Wow.

PJ: Wait so are you saying that there’s only ten people who have Internet in this neighborhood?

DAVID: Well no, that have wireless Internet. Like they might not have wireless Internet. But it’s really, I mean…

PJ: That’s. . .

DAVID: I’ve never seen a place in a city with this like few, like, wireless access points. It’s—

CHRISTINA: Insane dude. Especially like a place as heavily populated as Atlanta.

DAVID: Right! I mean, and I was driving around here, and I saw, like, a couple of boarded up houses but nothing that would be like, “this is the Wi-Fi desert of Atlanta.”

ALEX: Oh. Can I throw out a theory?

PJ: Yes, you can.

ALEX: There are so few wireless access points in that neighborhood that it is inadvertently, that when people, that, how do I even describe this? Ugh.

PJ: I will tell you that you are warm as hell.So there are actually two problems that are interlocking with each other here. And before we even get to the part you’re talking about, we have to explain problem number one, which David also figured out. So computers, as you know, have IP addresses and you can look up somebody’s IP address and it’ll say this IP address originates in, in New Jersey or New York or a small town or whatever.  

ALEX: Yes.

PJ: And so some small company keeps track of IP addresses and the towns that they describe.

ALEX: Yeah.

PJ: And that small company feeds their data into a medium sized company and they feed into a bigger company. It’s like how there’s, local and national yellow pages. Anyway, one of these local databases in Atlanta made a mistake. They had a big list of cell phones and computers and other devices that connect to the internet.  And the company wrote down, the wrong, like real world address for these devices. Your laptop, my cellphone, that wireless router. The company said they were all at the same arbitrary point on a map. An arbitrary point that just happened to be down the street from Christina and Mike’s house.  David drove out to see the arbitrary point, and he said – it’s just a random intersection…  

DAVID: And there’s like four houses. I thought it would be like a data center or like a little building where like all the network connections like would terminate to or something. But it’s just four houses.

MIKE: So for lack of a better location, these companies have just said, “This spot here, in the center of southwest Atlanta.”

PJ: So that’s problem one.

ALEX: Ok.

PJ: Problem two, that’s where like the “wifi desert thing” comes in. Because locating someone on a map with an IP address is actually pretty imprecise. It doesn’t get you, like the blue dot on the house. It gives you the general area that the blue dot should go in. And so when the “Find My Phone” app or whatever boots up it wants to tell you, like, exactly where that blue dot belongs. And so it says, like,”Broadly, like, I know that you’re in this neighborhood, but where exactly are you in this neighborhood. Let’s just look at all the wifi networks in the neighborhood and we’ll use them to sorta like triangulate.” So it tries to do that. And it assumes that there are tons of devices broadcasting. But, Mike and Christina have the absolute, crazy bad luck of being like the one, lone spot of activity in this internet desert. So this GPS over corrects and send everybody to this one shining spot of activity, Mike and Christina’s house. So everybody ends up getting sent to their house.

ALEX: That’s so crazy.

PJ: Yeah. At least that’s David’s theory

PJ: How sure are you?

David: I would make a Vegas bet on it.

MIKE: Really?

David: Yeah.

PJ: What’s a Vegas bet?

David: I’d bet money in Vegas on it.

PJ: OK.

David: If you could get a casino to carry this bet, I would bet on it.

PJ: It would be a very specific casino.

DAVID: Yeah.

PJ: So, what now?

David: Well. We. . . I don’t actually know.

ALEX: Wait he doesn’t he doesn’t how to fix it?

PJ: No. It’s not that he doesn’t know how, it’s that it’s such a hopelessly complicated bureaucratic mess that you can’t actually fix this without getting politicians involved.  Like, multiple poiticians, at many levels. And then teaching those politicians the finer points of IP address arcana. But weirdly,  Mike and Christina, they are extremely jazzed to get this news. They are so grateful to David.

PJ: So, how do you feel?

CHRISTINA : I mean, I feel great, because this is like the first really solid direction in which we can head because like…

MIKE: Actual evidence to back it up.

CHRISTINA: Right. Exactly.

MIKE: And not just our guesswork. Yeah.

CHRISTINA: Once we made the story public we’ve been bombarded with potential, you know, theories like what could be causing this. Like literally before he was coming over, like, our plan was just kinda sit down and list everything that everybody on the internet has said about what could be potentially causing this and just, you know, drawing a game plan for, I don’t know, the next six months or something?

PJ: That does not sound fun.

CHRISTINA: No. This is much better. And we appreciate you. Thank you so much for coming over.

PJ: They’re happy because at least now their problem has a name. They know what they have to do next.

ALEX: Right.

PJ: But it’s weird because like when I was down there I kept feeling really frustrated. It was like, “What have we done? In, like, this modern world where we build technology that’s so complicated, like, we don’t understand it. It’s ruining these people’s lives.” You know what I mean?

ALEX: You sounded like, kind of like a grumpy old man.

PJ: Yeah. I felt like a grumpy old man. But then I was thinking about it and I realized, like, it is literally always been like this. Like the moment we  discovered technology we start using it. We don’t wait to figure out  how it works or how it can go wrong. The person who discovered fire was like, “This is awesome. It provides heat and light.” And then only like a week later did someone accidentally burn themselves horribly and be like, “What?” And the guy was like, “I don’t know. We haven’t worked out all the bugs, yet.” Like it it’s always like that. We move too fast; we figure it out later. But what is cool is that in that period of time where we’re using stuff that we don’t understand that well, the people who somehow get it, like the people like David, they feel magical. Like when he came in and he solved whatever was going on in that house it felt as much like an exorcism as it did like someone doing really complicated technical work.

ALEX: Yeah, I have to say that when he appears in the story I got really excited.

PJ: Yeah, and I think he would’ve understood it better than I did.

ALEX: Also, I just love this crap. So the other week, I have a weird wifi password at my house.

PJ: What’s your wifi password?

ALEX: [sighs]

PJ: We’ll cut it out.

ALEX: Uh, it’s “big perverted.”

PJ: Ew. Why?

ALEX: It’s part of the lyrics of a song.

PJ: Ok.

ALEX: And. . .

PJ: You’re going to get arrested.

ALEX: And so we had a babysitter coming over in a couple days ago and Sarah’s like, “This babysitter’s in high school. You need to change your wifi password.” So like, I was like, great. I love resetting routers. I’m having a very fun time doing this.

PJ: You really feel excited about restarting the router?

ALEX: I really was like, “I I wanna go and look and see what kind of old stuff do I have lingering around in my settings on this router.” Because I’ve had it for 10 years. So I was like excited to go take a look at it.

PJ: I can’t identify with that feeling at all.

ALEX: And like I just would’ve loved to see his utility belt. Not that I would ever approach that level of technical know how.

PJ: But you’re more equipped to appreciate it.

ALEX: Yeah. It’s like how I’m sure there are a lot of people in art school who can’t paint like Rembrandt but really like looking at Rembrandts.

PJ: I want to make fun of you but I think that’s totally right. Huh. Okay. How about this. Next time there’s an opportunity to go see, like the Cistine Chapel misconfiguration problems, I promise you do the story not me.

ALEX: Oh, thank you so much. I promise I’ll never get sick again if I can go do that.

PJ: Okay.

ALEX: I would laugh, but I’d cough.

PJ: Reply All is me PJ Vogt and Alex Goldman. We were produced this week by Tim Howard, Sruthi Pinnamaneni, and Phia Bennin. Our editor is Peter Clowney. Production assistance from Mervyn Degaños. We were mixed by David Herman. Matt Lieber is person that can fix the things that are broken and complicated. Special thanks to Dana Reilly. Huge, enormous continental sized thanks to Kashmir Hill for first finding this story. If you’d like to hear her reporting about it, which is excellent, you can find it at fusion.net. We’ll also have a link in the show description for this episode .Our theme song is by the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder, and our ad music is by Build Buildings. You can find more episodes at our website, replyall.ninja, or on itunes at itunes.com/replyall.

Next week all of Gimlet is going dark. The radio factory is closing as we work together on weird secret projects. People from different teams are going to be doing different roles. It’s going to be very strange. But for you, the important part is that we will not have an episode. Or at least we’re not supposed to. Who knows. Sometimes we break the rules here.

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