Patterico's Pontifications


Da Vinci Code Decision Code: A Lame Waste of Time

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 8:11 pm

I am sorry I wasted all of your time with this Da Vinci Code decision code nonsense.

It turns out that the solution was lame. The final message, “Jackie Fisher who are you Dreadnought,” had fully two typos in the space of only 31 letters, so that it actually read: “Jackie Fister who are you Dreadnough.” Even spelled correctly, who cares? What kind of stupid message is that?

Worst of all, the solution is, at the very least, inelegant: a substitution cipher based on the Fibonacci number sequence, with an unexplained deviation at the very third letter. If the judge hadn’t handed the London Times the solution on a silver platter, nobody ever would have gotten it, because it went off the tracks at the very beginning.

All details here.

All in all, as poorly conceived and proofread as the opinion itself — which at least got the result right, but with extremely poor writing.

Again, my apologies.

UPDATE: I have embedded my own message in this post, in honor of the judge.

Letters in Editor and Publisher Responding to Their Recent Lame Article

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Hiltzik — Patterico @ 6:26 pm

Editor and Publisher has published two responses to their recent (and lame) article on Michael Hiltzik, which I told you about yesterday, in this post. You can read them here. The first, a set of two letters, is from our old friend AMac, and duplicates two comments that AMac left on this blog yesterday evening, here and here. AMac’s initial letter reads as follows:

In [yesterday’s] column covering LA Times writer Michael Hiltzik’s blogging woes, you were kind enough to provide readers with links to the LA Times’ Editors’ Note, as well as to the NY Times story on the matter.

Readers would have benefitted from a link to the web-log that broke the story. They might then notice that blogger Patrick Frey’s charge was _not_ that Hiltzik used a pseudonym, a common practice. Rather, it was that he employed two pseudonyms to shill for himself, pretending to be two separate people in comments to his own and other blogs. That practice is neither common nor ethical.

It is unfortunate that Editor & Publisher has joined the Times in misstating the central problem with the actions that Hiltzik is alleged to have performed.

I hope that, after investigating further, you will consider amending your story to more accurately reflect the circumstances of this case.

Alastair Mackay
Towson, MD

and his follow-up:

It was just pointed out that I misread a sentence in your column. You wrote: “But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful.”

Your readers should be aware that this view is accepted by almost nobody in the blogging or newspapering communities. For example, academic John Lott got a world of grief from both erstwhile allies and longtime enemies when his use of pseudonym “Mary Rosh” to shill for his position and needle his adversaries became public knowledge. See this 2003 Washington Post article and its references for details of that case.

I think that the best reporting practice would be to explain the central allegation to readers before dismissing it as frivolous. I hope you agree.

Alastair Mackay
Towson, MD

Another letter-writer, Stuart Larson, wrote this:

I enjoyed [David Hirschman’s] article; you made some excellent points. Regarding the case of Michael Hiltzik, however, I think you perhaps missed the point: it’s not the fact that he used pseudonyms in his posts to the Times and elsewhere, it’s the dishonest way in which he did so — by pretending to be someone else, and by using anonymous postings to try to deceptively bolster his own arguments. It is reminiscent of the authors who anonymously write glowing reviews of their own books and post them on Amazon to sway potential readers to buy their books. Both practices are unethical. In doing so, Hiltzik also comes across as petty and childish, which. while not unethical, is certainly below what one would expect of someone who won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. The posts in question also severely compromise his credibility, which is perhaps the most important of all the issues here.

Stuart Larson

AMac and Mr. Larson understand the controversy much better than the author of the Editor and Publisher piece did.

More on the Da Vinci Code Decision Code

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 6:55 am

The post below about the message hidden in a court decision about the Da Vinci Code has been updated several times. The current status of the code to break is this:


It appears commonly accepted that “SMITHYCODE” means the code of Smith, the judge, which means that the portion that needs to be solved is this:


So what does it mean?

Power Line readers proved the Rathergate documents were fake in a day. You guys aren’t going to get showed up by them, are you?

The judge has said that this line from the decision is important: “The key to solving the conundrum posed by this judgment is in reading HBHG and DVC.” HBHG is “Holy Blood, Holy Grail,” whose authors were suing Dan Brown, author of DVC (The Da Vinci Code).

Now you know what I know. Don’t embarrass me.

UPDATE: More hints in this New York Times article about the embedded code. (Via Howard Bashman.)

[I]n a series of brief and ultimately frustrating e-mail messages during the last couple of days, the judge provided a series of intriguing clues. First he said that the different ways codes are broken in “Holy Blood, Holy Grail” and “The Da Vinci Code” should be considered. The idea for the italicized letters, he suggested, came from “Holy Blood, Holy Grail.”

He then suggested moving on to “The Da Vinci Code” and applying one of the code-breaking methods used by its protagonists to solve the mystery of the jumbled letters. “Think mathematics,” he wrote at one point. He drew attention to his own entry in Who’s Who — in which he lists an interest in the history of Jackie Fisher, an admiral who modernized the British Navy, a possible reason that his e-mail address contains the word “pescator,” implying fisherman — and said that the date 2006 was significant.

He even mentioned a page number in “The Da Vinci Code” by way of trying to help. But he declined to go further, saying that “anything else gives it on a plate.”

Yeah, thanks for telling us that page number, Ms. New York Times reporter. You just want to be the first to solve it!

UPDATE: She wasn’t. Someone at the London Times was. Via a commenter comes a link to the story setting forth the solution.

UPDATE x2: This judge is a careless moron who 1) encoded a boring and meaningless message; 2) imported two typos in the space of 31 letters; and 3) bollixed up the code. Details here.

I apologize for wasting your time with what turned out to be utter nonsense.

For the Second Time, No Hiltzik Column

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Hiltzik — Patterico @ 6:09 am

As on Monday, the L.A. Times web site does not show a business column from Michael Hiltzik today. The column usually runs on Mondays and Thursdays.

UPDATE: Cathy Seipp says she hears that they’re deciding what to do with him this week. That makes sense. They can’t keep pretending that they have suspended only his blog, while his column doesn’t run in the print edition. My guess: look for a decision by Monday.

I hope they go easy on the guy — and I hope he publicly acknowledges the error and its importance. While I continue to believe that this was a minor infraction in the grand scheme of things, there is a significant group of people out there who believe I’m being far too kind. Hiltzik should not minimize the offense, as he did before. He should apologize, and pledge not to do it again.

UPDATE: Editors have discontinued his column. He will be reassigned. Details here.


Editor and Publisher Misses the Point on Hiltzik

Filed under: Dog Trainer,Hiltzik — Patterico @ 5:58 pm

Editor and Publisher mentions the Hiltzik suspension in this clueless article. In keeping with Big Media’s consistent misunderstanding of the facts, the Editor and Publisher article completely fails to mention downplays the reason Hiltzik’s use of pseudonyms was so dishonest: because he used them to shill for himself (or, as we bloggers say, he used them as “sock puppets”). From the article:

This brings us to the case of Michael Hiltzik, the L. A. Times columnist who recently lost his “Golden State” blog after it became apparent that he had been posting comments on his own and other blogs under pseudonyms. The paper said in a editors’ note that Hiltzik’s blog had been suspended because he has violated The Times’s ethical guidelines, which “require editors and reporters to identify themselves when dealing with the public.”

In posting to his own blog under a fake name, Hiltzik was clearly abusing the trust the paper had placed in him, and the Times has a right to protect the reputation that its brand depends on. But writing praise about yourself in pseudonym-ed comments is like a sitcom using a laugh-track; pretty lame, but not ultimately harmful. It just implies that Hiltzik isn’t confident enough in his own writing to let it speak for itself (surprising for a Pulitzer-winning journalist).

But even if he himself hadn’t written the fake comments, he could as easily have gotten a friend to write similar comments under a fake name, thus sidestepping the writer-dealing-with-the-public problem. Whose “crime” would it be then?

In posting to the other blogs — outside his L.A. Times home — under false names, Hiltzik’s “crime” is even less damning. Surely Hiltzik wasn’t the only person posting to these blogs under fake names. And in posting these false comments, was Hiltzik acting on behalf of the paper or simply acting as a citizen of the Internet whose right it is to engage in this kind of anonymous discourse?

I doubt that Hiltzik would be bound by the Times’ ethical guidelines for content in an online dating profile. Does his association with the paper automatically disallow him from fully participating in this not-totally-real aspect of the Internet? If so, then he’s likely a poorer blogger for it.

Sheesh. Bloggers do not require sock puppets to make their arguments. The author of this piece is obviously unaware of very flippant about the way Hiltzik used his pseudonyms as cheerleaders for his own arguments, and as attack dogs set upon his Internet enemies. Given his fundamental misunderstanding of Hiltzik’s transgression, I’m guessing that the author read about the controversy in the mainstream media, rather than on my blog (which he fails to link to).

L.A. Times editors must be thrilled at the way this is all being spun.

Isn’t Big Media great? Whenever you really know something about the facts of a particular story, that’s when they seem to screw it up worse than ever. And every person who experiences this thinks to himself: wow, it’s a good thing they don’t screw up other stories the way they screwed up this one.

UPDATE: I have corrected the post in response to a commenter, who notes that the piece actually does mention that Hiltzik “wr[ote] praise about [him]self in pseudonym-ed comments.” I had missed this even after reading the piece twice earlier, albeit rather quickly both times. What I had noticed was that the author seemed to think Hiltzik needed the ability to shill for himself:

Does his association with the paper automatically disallow him from fully participating in this not-totally-real aspect of the Internet? If so, then he’s likely a poorer blogger for it.

What in the world?? Hiltzik is a poorer blogger for the inability to use phony sock puppets as a chorus of cheerleaders and defenders?

This author is a bigger idiot than I’d thought. He knows what Hiltzik did, and still defends it as necessary and a blogger’s prerogative.

No wonder I misunderstood him the first time.

Amateur Cryptographers: Help Break the Da Vinci Code Decision Code [UPDATED]

Filed under: General — Patterico @ 5:24 pm

Via How Appealing’s Howard Bashman (blogging at a new address!) comes a link to the judge’s decision in that bogus copyright case filed against Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown. According to Howard, the judge has said that the decision itself contains a coded message, which he will “probably” confirm to the first person to break it.

Let’s do it. If you want to try to figure it out entirely on your own, be my guest. In the extended entry, I’ll tell you what I know so far and seek your help.


L.A. Times: Mary McCarthy Not an Ideologue

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 6:53 am

This is outrageous. The L.A. Times continues to hide from its readers what media critic Howard Kurtz has called “absolutely relevant information” about Mary McCarthy: her web of connections to prominent Democrats, including sizeable monetary contributions. This, despite the fact that the paper considered analogous information, regarding prominent Swift Vet John O’Neill’s contributions to Republicans, to be worth placing prominently in a story. What’s worse, today’s story positively seeks to portray her as a pure creature of conscience (my emphasis):

Former colleagues described her as cautious and respected. “I thought she was a competent, quiet, good intelligence officer,” said Richard J. Kerr, a former deputy CIA director who worked with McCarthy. “She was certainly someone you had respect for and saw not as an ideologue or someone who would end up putting herself in this position.”

That quote is not accompanied by even a whisper of McCarthy’s ties to Democrats.

These people are just unbelievable.

UPDATE: Letter writers say that she must have followed her conscience. Maybe. Or maybe politics was mixed in there, too — but you’d never know it from reading this newspaper.


No Double Standard Here!

Filed under: Dog Trainer,General — Patterico @ 6:30 pm

Tom Maguire links a Howard Kurtz quote in which Howie says that McCarthy’s campaign contributions are “[a]bsolutely relevant information.”

Yet the L.A. Times has reported not one word of this absolutely relevant information, since their initial article on Saturday.

Maybe the L.A. Times agrees with another Washington Post staff writer, Dafna Linzer, who justified the Post‘s decision to omit mention of McCarthy’s donations with this:

But we are living in partisan times and people want a partisan, political motive and explanation for everything. I don’t think that’s reasonable.

(Via Stephen Spruell.)

Exactly. Newspapers like Linzer’s Washington Post, or my hometown L.A. Times, simply don’t need to report campaign donations from controversial figures making politically charged allegations. For example, when the Swift Vets made their allegations, I don’t remember the L.A. Times running a story about John O’Neill’s political contributions. Do you?

Oh, right. That story.

P.S. Allah tries to make sense of the confusion regarding whether Mary McCarthy was the source for the “secret prisons” leaks.

UPDATE: The Commissar has a graphical “web of connections” between Democrats and McCarthy. It reminds me of another “web of connections” I once saw, with two differences: 1) the other “web of connections” purported to show Swift Vet ties to Republicans, and 2) it didn’t appear on some conservative blog, but in the New York Times.

Nope, no double standard here!

Kurtz: Tony Snow Accepts White House Press Secretary Position

Filed under: Blogging Matters,General,Politics — Patterico @ 6:19 pm

In tomorrow’s Washington Post, Howard Kurtz will report that Tony Snow has decided to accept the White House Press Secretary position — contingent only on positive results from a CAT scan, showing no recurrence of cancer. [UPDATE: And, via Xrlq, we have word that Snow has a clean bill of health. Excellent.]

I think it’s a great choice. He’ll do a much better job than Scott McClellan did. And I’m not just saying that because Tony once praised my blog.

UPDATE: A great quote from the Kurtz piece:

In a December 2000 column in the Washington Times, he referred to “Democrats and journalists (but I repeat myself).”

Heh. By the way, does Howard Kurtz seem to be everywhere lately, or is it just me?

Patterico on Ace’s and Goldstein’s “Hoist the Black Flag” Radio Show

Filed under: Blogging Matters,Dog Trainer,Hiltzik — Patterico @ 5:27 pm

You can listen by going here and clicking on the Hoist the Black Flag icon. It’s on at 5 after the hour every hour for the next 20 hours or so.

Ace held up his end of the bargain and didn’t come on to me — at least during the show.

Tell me what you think.

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