Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Do they hate kittens too?" (you probably won't get anything if you click, which is the sad point of my post) is my gateway to swimming open water.

I've praised it before as the only thing that got me out there among the wild waves.

Who knows where I'd be without it? High and dry, I'm guessing.

Alcatraz Island unswum. Mountain lakes uncrossed. Races and ice swims untried, night swims unlit, a 24-hour relay swim unconceived.

Adventures aplenty, delayed or denied. is a website that helps clubs and groups worldwide organize and communicate their activities. It's the closest I'll get to what you young folks call "apps."

Through it, I found a group swimming Lake Natoma in the coldest time of the year four years ago, and I'm still swimming because of it. Click its site, click for its calendar, look at the map, tap a message, RSVP, and off I went. Off I go still, several days a week

Now is gone, at least at the time I post this. It's worse than gone: It's somewhere in the great cyberspace beyond, extant but frustratingly unavailable.

Someone hacked a week ago, hacked it good. Or bad. It's been down a week.

You may not have heard of this if you don't use the site. I'm surprised it's not in the news, though; I've read about other websites I'd never even heard of that stirred paroxysms of global news panic when they went offline for a few hours.

This is seven days and counting, and you have to hunt for any news of it, finding it overseas and on tech-y sites. Considering boasts of hosting more than 126,000 groups and clubs worldwide, and has been down so long, I'm surprised and disappointed it's ignored.'s CEO, Scott Heiferman, said the bad news began when he received this email last week:
A competitor asked me to perform a DDoS attack on your website. I can stop the attack for $300 USD. Let me know if you are interested in my offer.
DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service), apparently, is a way of swarming a site with so many phantom requests the site collapses under the attack. Heiferman said refuses to pay the extortion fee, low though it may be, because it may be a ruse and would render and other sites vulnerable to similar attacks. communicates now through its facebook site and a blog, updating its progress out of this nightmare. I imagine its staff plucking stubborn weeds with tweezers from 100 square miles of lawn. I figured they'd be done by the weekend, a pizza in one hand and tweezers in the other, night and day, night and day.

But many nights and days later, the site still produces no more than "Problem loading page" when I try to call it up. The site, reports, got hit by multiple of these DDoS attacks.

The lead organizer of our swim group, the awkwardly named Sacramento Swimming Enthusiasts, says she can get to the site and post swims. But it's moot if other members can't reach the site. A quick glance at the facebook site shows many others from all over still cannot use the site.

(By late Thursday, despite the cheery email from Scott Heiferman — meetup is back! see what's new — meetup is not back and I still can't see what's new, can't even contact to tell it so.)

At the news of the hack, someone tweeted:
Who does a DDoS on @Meetup? Do they hate kittens, too?
Which gets to my point better than I could. The cynic in me can't overcome my belief that is a force for good. It was born in the wake of 9/11 to give people a way to create and nurture communities. last week congratulated groups for meeting despite the loss of their convenient online tools.

The cynic in me looks for culprits.

Maybe a competitor is at work, crumpling its foe, taunting with its cheap ransom, discouraging users like me. Someone asked on's facebook page, "Are there any other programs like meetup?" while others have begun carping at each other in the wake of the shutdown.

Maybe a competitor is trying to drive down's price tag or sweep it away.

Round up the usual suspects.

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