Man-oh-man. When I chose a bowl of popcorn as the main image for my last blog story, I had no idea how interesting the story was going to get. No idea at all.
I mean, not a freaking clue.
It turns out that those Devil Mountain/exo.performance guys are wackier than I could possibly have imagined. In fact, the Devil Mountain guy quoted, for years, in all those InfoWorld, NetworkWorld, ComputerWorld, ZDnet articles (among others) … well, he’s a hoax. A fiction. A non-person. “Craig Barth, Devil Mountain CTO” never existed. He’s been Randall C. Kennedy’s sock-puppet for a decade or longer.
Larry Dignan at ZDNet has the full story, and if you’re interested, you should just stop now and go read it. They tell the story fully and well. They pull no punches, titling their story “Why we don't trust Devil Mountain Software (and neither should you).” And they aren’t even through digging yet.
Gregg Keizer at Computerworld (who had previously covered the Devil Mountain/exo.performance stories as though they were factual) now says “One of the more interesting people I've talked with in the last two years is a figment of his own imagination.” Keizer goes on to say:
"Craig Barth," the chief technology officer of Florida-based Devil Mountain Software, a company that makes and markets Windows performance metrics software, is, I have discovered, nobody. He doesn't exist.
Mr. Keizer may not be completely off the hook yet. Dignan’s ZDnet story repeatedly notes that Keizer has “frequently been first on the scene” with stories from the fictitious Craig Barth. It is left unsaid whether Keizer knew Kennedy personally, and should have more quickly seen through the deception (which went on for two years). We’ll see where that goes, if anywhere. From where I sit, it looks like Keizer was badly duped.
Meanwhile, Randall C. Kennedy no longer works for InfoWorld, according to chief editor Eric Knorr. In comments to the Dignan/ZDNet story, Kennedy claims he wasn’t fired, saying “InfoWorld didn't let me go. I resigned. In fact, up until Saturday afternoon they were still trying to salvage the situation. They didn't want to lose 2+ million page views per year, which is what the shock jock persona they developed for me delivered.” Chief editor Knorr’s article does not actually say why or how Kennedy left InfoWorld, though it seems as if Knorr has worded the story in a way that would allow us to assume Kennedy had been fired.
Still, Knorr also says that InfoWorld has removed Kennedy’s blog from their site, and that’s a pretty drastic step. It shows that right now, InfoWorld views this as a very serious problem.
In the same linked comment, Kennedy says that Knorr knew about the Barth hoax: “IDG knew. Galen Gruman, Executive Editor of InfoWorld knew. As did Eric Knorr.” And Knorr’s article expresses no surprise about the Barth sock-puppetry. Did Knorr know all along? If he’d been surprised by this debacle, wouldn’t he have said so? So now it’s not just Randall C. Kennedy with major credibility problems: it’s potentially all of IDG. Which potentially means all of these publications:
And more. And more. Although I do want to sound a loud note of caution here: we have only the word of one very belatedly self-admitted liar, Randall C. Kennedy, that IDG was in the know about Barth-as-sock-puppet. So I am hopeful that this is just another of his lies. If not, there’s a pretty serious problem over at IDG, and it will be interesting to see which if any heads roll because of it.
UPDATE: It looks like Knorr did know, at minimum, that Kennedy was the man behind the exo.performance network, and its clone product Windows Sentinel, which was offered directly by InfoWorld. Although InfoWorld (at the behest of Knorr?) is apparently trying to remove their historical links to the product, I was able (thanks to a Slashdot post linking it) to find Knorr’s announcement of the product, and the direct involvement of Randall C. Kennedy and exo.performance, in Google’s cache. Here it is. This is from Knorr’s own blog. Since I am not sure how long Google will keep it in cache, I’ve saved the page as a file and attached it to this article. Although the Google cache version is undated, here’s Knorr, in December of 2009, saying “Two years ago we launched Windows Sentinel…” So Knorr has known of Kennedy’s involvement with Devil Mountain/exo.performance for at least two years.
Two years! It is possible that the entire time, Knorr was unaware of the way Kennedy used his sock-puppet Barth in articles written by Gregg Keizer at InfoWorld’s sister publication ComputerWorld. But somehow doubtful.
Meanwhile, Kennedy is still posting snarky comments to the ZDNet article, claiming that he is independently wealthy, that his job at IDG was ‘just for fun’, that IDG developed his “shock jock persona” which delivered 2 millions hits on their website per day, that this whole thing is a Microsoft-sponsored “hit job”, and that he has retired to the tropical, Indian Ocean island of Mauritius. And he’s selling a house in Florida, for nearly a half-million dollars. We can only wonder why.
Paul Thurrot has this to say about Randall C. Kennedy: “Put simply, Kennedy is one of the craziest guys I've ever met and I state that with no sense of humor at all; the guy is nuts. Like, actually crazy.” (The emphasis is Thurrott’s.) Of course, Kennedy felt the need to fire back at Thurrot from the comments section of the ZDNet article, calling him a shill for “the Microsoft devil.”
And just as I was finishing up this story, Randall has published another exo.blog article: When Microsoft Attacks … Again. In it, he does far more than hint that the exposition of his sock-puppet Barth was performed at Microsoft’s request. Although the title hints that this isn’t the first time MS have called for Kennedy’s head, the text claims “The parties in question only loosed their dogs after this project, the exo.performance.network, hit a bit too close to home. It was our research into Windows 7 performance that prompted Microsoft to call in its chips.” Kennedy seems to be having trouble keeping his story straight.
Identity-swapping: isn’t it okay, sometimes?
Now, stepping back from the muckraking aspect of all this, I should say, I have a little experience with this two-face phenomenon. I suppose many of us do, in an increasingly wired world. As I have noted in many of my older posts here, I’ve posted stuff online under other names. I’m using one right now: ITchef. And in the past I’ve used quux, and mota, and probably one or two others in my more than 25 years online (I go back to BBS days). I’ve also used my real name: Bryan Lockwood. I can honestly say, though, that I’ve never used any of these names in a journalistic context, and have certainly never used one name to report on another name’s professional or business interests.
(In case you’re wondering: while I try diligently to faithfully represent the facts as I know them, I do not consider this article nor any part of this website to be journalistic efforts. What you’re looking at right now is, at best, an opinion piece.)
One of the times I did that, I acquired my very own stalker, who liked to call me in the middle of the night and play weird recordings, and make terrible claims about me in IRC chat channels. Because things like this can happen, many of us are more than a little bit cagey about revealing our true identities online. Some folks go further than just hiding their true identities: they embroider on the truth. They add or change things about themselves. Thomas A. Anderson, boring real-life programmer, becomes the online Neo, uberhacker extraordinaire.
So, identity in an online world is getting more fluid. Does this excuse Kennedy’s actions, even a little bit?
Form your own opinion, but keep in mind, Kennedy was a journalist reporting in the third person about his other identity (Barth). Journalists are supposed to have codes of ethics. Kennedy clearly did not exercise those ethics when he made up a persona, formed a company around that persona, duped a colleague at his own company (Keizer/IDG) into reporting on that persona, and profited from the results. I am no lawyer, but it seems likely that Kennedy has made himself criminally and civilly liable for a number of crimes in the process.
And what about those Windows performance claims?
Oy, the headaches. Back at exo.blog, Kennedy (whose name is suddenly prominent, as of yesterday) has removed his original post rebutting Ars Technica, and replaced it with the following text:
“Thanks to an industrious reader, we finally have outside confirmation that our understanding of this issue was dead on. Yes, Virginia, this means we were right and you were wrong. So before you go posting yet another idiotic comment parroting yet another clueless blogger from yet another obscure corner of the Internet, please read our editorial titled “What took you so long?”
The remainder of this post has been retracted due to it being superseded by the above linked follow-up post.”
Luckily, I had a suspicion that Devil Mountain would be backpedalling on this issue, and I saved the original page’s comments view, which includes full text of the article, at 9:35 AM on Friday, February 19th. It is attached here, if you care to read the original. Be sure to click the ‘Show Original Post’ link at the top; the original text of the article will then display (ordinarily it’s hidden in comment view, but is apparently included in the html).
In the comments to the later Exo.blog article Editorial: What took you so long?, the now-unmasked Randall C. Kennedy is still debating technical points with Ars Technica’s Peter Bright. Mr. Bright has admitted that he was mistaken in his original comments about SuperFetch being reported as Committed Memory, but is still (rightly, in my opinion), defending his overall thesis, which is that exo.performance is vastly over-reporting the number of Windows 7 machines that are short on RAM.
Until sometime today (the times and dates on the exo.blog are a bit off, claiming stuff written earlier today, Feb 21 was in fact written tomorrow, Feb 22), Kennedy was still defensive in comments to his exo.blog articles, but seemingly beginning to entertain the idea that perhaps the the Devil Mountain client gave a, quote, “bogus reading”, unquote, when it was run on Mr. Bright’s system. I’m guessing Mr. Kennedy found little time to continue that discussion once ZDNet broke their story about the fictitious Craig Barth.
In the end, I do not think the Devil Mountain/exo.performance/Craig Barth/Randall C. Kennedy arguments are going to hold up. They have already made at least two changes to their original article (which, alas, I did not save a copy of), and I will not be surprised if they make more (I do have a copy now – 11:50 PM Pacific time on Sunday, Feb 21). But the article is still under its original misleading title: WCPI: 85% of Windows 7 PCs are Underperforming. It still makes the claim that 86% of Windows PCs are in a chronic “low on RAM” state. It still makes the alarmist claim that “Microsoft’s latest and greatest is well on its way to overtaking Moore’s Law.”
Meanwhile, Microsoft’s Brandon Paddock, posting to his own personal blog (which bears the disclaimer that words written there do not represent the views of Microsoft, his employer) has blogged about the proper way to measure memory use in Windows 7. It differs with the account at the Devil Mountain blogs in several key respects.
Bottom line, Windows 7 is the most warmly received operating system out of Redmond since those crazy days of Win95. Devil Mountain is alone in proclaiming Windows 7 to be (their words) “running out of memory” on a majority of PCs where it is installed.
And still, in multiple places, Kennedy’s exo.blog still labels anyone who disagrees with them as “idiotic,” “Windows fanboys,” “Ill-informed zealots,” and “equally ignorant ‘expert’ bloggers.” I myself have posted several comments to the exo.blog articles, using another online name, “quux.” Ironically, in one comment (before I knew that exo.blog = Randall C. Kennedy), I suggested that exo might want to tone down the unprofessional labelling of naysayers as idiots and the like. Soon after, Kennedy came out from behind his mask, and responded, “And as for your other comment, I'm stating for the record that we will pull no punches in our coverage. If we're besieged by legions of ill-informed zealots parroting equally ignorant "expert" bloggers (Peter Bright, I'm talking to you), we'll call it like we see it.” Apparently that boxing glove does not fit well on the other hand, since Kennedy now considers the exposure of his own duplicity to be a “hit job” sponsored by Microsoft. (Which Larry Dignan flatly denies.)
Today was the day Randall C. Kennedy and his company Devil Mountain, crashed and burned. A weirdly fascinating, yet simultaneously sickening event in the tech world. Folks, you just couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried!
Anyway. I’ll return to technical and strategic sysadmin stuff now. ITcookbook is normally not about blogosphere BS like this, but here was a case I started on because it did have a performance monitoring angle, and there was interesting stuff to say about not being overconfident in one’s interpretation of data. And then this happened, and it was a little too morbidly fascinating for me to stay mum about. I’ll try to keep these ‘morbid fascination’ articles to a minimum, I promise.