A Response to “Slosberg The Shrewd Sleuth”

Two months ago, Steven Munatones posted an article about my investigation into the sabotage of Openwaterpedia. Most of what he said about me in the post is false. Here’s why.

On December 23, Steven Munatones published “Slosberg The Shrewd Sleuth” at Openwaterswimming.com. Most of the article consists of text that Munatones recycled from “Shameful, Simply And Sadly Shameful,” an earlier post about the Openwaterpedia vandalism. After the “Shameful…” parts, he adds a final paragraph about the nominal subject (me!) and how I…

set about to identify and helped stop this hacking. [Slosberg] was extremely helpful and brilliant in his approach. He was able to resolve issues on tens of thousands pages. His sleuthing was incredible and greatly appreciated.

Now, I’m grateful for praise as long as it’s for a genuine accomplishment. But pats on the back for things I didn’t do feel creepy and manipulative.

And that’s how “Shrewd Sleuth” felt. I did not help stop the hack. The sabotage ended in April, but I didn’t get my first inkling of it until October.

I was not “able to resolve issues on tens of thousands [of] pages.” I identified issues on about 3000 entries. Many of those issues have since been resolved, though not by Munatones. As of the publication of “Shrewd Sleuth…,” however, most of the damage to Openwaterpedia remained.

I’ll take “extremely helpful and brilliant in his approach,” though. But all I did (and continue to do) was examine Openwaterpedia pages and logs. Sometimes patterns appeared, like all of the sevens becoming sixes and threes becoming fours. (For details, see my last post, “How a Hacker Made Diana Nyad the Best Marathon Swimmer of the 1970s.”)

Or like the vandal substituting Cyrillic ѕ’s for the Latin s’s in “openwaterswimming,” thus almost-undetectably breaking tens of thousands of links.

The Macedonian alphabet. The Cyrillic Ѕ is obsolete in every language but Macedonian. See “Dze.

Other times, I’d just stumble upon mysterious entries. Just last week, I came across one for a phantom organization called the Florida Straits Open Water Swimming Association (or FOWSA, as per the entry),

…a volunteer-run, international organization dedicated to the organization, sanctioning, promotion, recognition and celebration of open water swimmers and relays that attempt to cross the Florida Straits between Cuba and the U.S.A. or Cuba and Mexico.

Munatones created the page in November of 2014. That was a little over a year after Diana Nyad walked ashore on Smathers Beach. And it was 2½ years after Ned Denison, the current chair of the International Marathon Swimming Hall of Fame, proposed just such a governing organization.

In 2018, Munatones inserted the organization’s history and backdated its founding:

The Association was created in 2010 to propose and adjudicate the rules and conditions under which Diana Nyad attempted her crossings of the Florida Straits and to authenticate the rules as written were followed.

A link to those “rules and conditions” would have been a nice touch. Unfortunately, that document remains at large.

Rules & Conditions, Take 2: Walter Poenisch, et al.

Just after finding FOWSA, I stumbled upon five entries in which Steven went out of his way to declare rules.

On October 6, 2013, a little over a month after Diana completed her Cuba-Florida crossing, Munatones finally added an entry for Walter Poenisch, the first swimmer to cross the Florida Straits under his own power. Also on October 6,  he added pages for Faye PoenischBendt LyngeGlenn Drummond, and James Marvin Mims — Poenisch’s wife, the captain of his escort boat, the boat’s owner, and his observer, respectively.

On the initial versions of every one of those entries, Munatones wrote that Poenisch “took breaks on his escort boat.” Steven had no reason to include that on any page other than the swimmer’s — unless he (Steven) was trying to discredit Poenisch.

Munatones deleted the phrase from more recent versions. In its place, however, he added the rules under which Poenisch swam — including the section about allowing time aboard the boat in case of emergency.

For a complete copy of the rules Walter Poenisch followed, see “Rules and Regulations for Ocean Swimming in the Gulf Stream.”

Undoing Openwaterpedia

Though I didn’t fix any damage to Openwaterpedia, I did suggest a way to do it: simply click “undo,” which undoes every change that the last editor made to a given entry.

Detail from the Openwaterpedia revision history of Cara McAteer’s page. Ned Denison later undid the damage to a sort-of-duplicate page under Cara Mcateer.
If the last editor was the hacker — voilà, page fixed almost instantaneously. Any site administrator could do it. For some reason, though, Munatones would not.[1]
    1. Steven eventually did click “undo.” On January 31, he clicked it twice, returning one page to its pre-hack state. He never clicked “undo” again.




The following detail from Ned Denison’s contributions log shows some of the over 400 pages that he fixed on January 30 by clicking “undo”:

Meanwhile, Steven’s log from the same day shows that he made about 50 edits, all to entries for members of his daughters’ high school water polo team and their coach. Here’s a snippet:

<°))̂)̖)><    ><((̗(̂(°>

I asked Munatones why he did so little to repair the vandalism. Over several emails, he gave me a list of reasons. Here’s a representative selection:

“Rollback edit does not work. The hacker set something in the system. I do not know what.”

Revert may not have worked, but “undo” did.

“I hesitate to go forward because the hacker will only continue to damage my other properties. He is not a forgiving person. The more that I clean up, the more he endeavors to hack away.”

No, the hacking was done by the end of April. What little sweeping up Steven did over the next few months received no response from the vandal.

“I am literally afraid he could decide to delete or change everything on a moment’s notice. He is a programmer and coder so he knows very well how to delete or change anything and everything as he wishes.”

He never gave me a decent answer for how he knew any of this — or how he knew any of the other specifics he gave me regarding the hacker.

When I asked Steven how many accounts were involved, he replied:

“I do not know them all. There are literally hundreds. I just correct individual pages as I can. It is a slow, no-win situation, but I do what I can little by little.”

Later on, I learned that the vandal used six accounts.

I asked Munatones if he had sought help.

“If I had the money, I would pay for a WikiMedia consultant. Everything that I have done in the open water either takes me time or money.”

Which goes to show that he didn’t try very hard. One can learn plenty by searching out knowledgeable people who are often happy to answer a few questions free of charge. You’d think Steven would be a little curious about who, why, and how someone vandalized one of his most valuable “online properties.” As far as I know, though, Steven never asked.

“It is a laborious process.”
“I wish it were as easy as one click.”

For the majority of the vandalized pages, it was.

Four-Ways to Sunday

Munatones did fix a few items between April and October — between when the hacking ended and when I began giving him details about the vandalism. The changes he made during that time are telling. He seems to take action only when leaving the sabotage alone would risk exposing it to a broader audience.

For example, take a look at Openwaterpedia’s English Channel entry. About halfway down, you’ll come to a brief list of monster swimmers, those who have completed English Channel 3-ways: John Erikson, Philip Rush, Allison Streeter, and Chloë McCardel. (You may notice that someone’s missing. We’ll get to her in a minute.)

Since the vandal changed threes to fours, however, the sabotage resulted in—as of March 3—a profusion of 4-way crossings.

Given the list’s distance down the page, it’s doubtful that anyone would notice all of those quadruples—except in the unlikely event that a swimmer completed an English Channel 4-way. So, for six months after the hack, Munatones did nothing about the 500 or so errors on the EC entry.

On September 2, he visited the page and fixed two vandalized distances but left all the other damage intact:

Left (in yellow) is the page revision from August 31, 2019. Right (in blue) is the revision from September 2, 2019.

Then, on Sunday, September 15, he revisited the entry. When he left, most of the damage still remained—with a cluster of exceptions: He had moved all the 4-ways back to 3-ways.

The image below shows details from three versions of the page: before the hack, after the hack, and after the fix:

That last edit represents one of the few times before November that Munatones changed fours back to threes. Usually, he just turned sixes back to sevens, a curiosity that I plan to address in a later post.

Most fascinating, though, is the timing.  Just after midnight local time on the 15th, Sarah Thomas waded into the water off Samphire Hoe Country Park, below a section of the White Cliffs of Dover, to begin her attempt to complete the first 4-way crossing of the English Channel.

Twenty-four hours and two crossings later, she returned to Samphire Hoe, touched a wall, and headed back to France to begin crossing number three.

About four hours after that, at 03:55 local time on September 16, or 21:55 Central Daylight Time on the 15th, Munatones returned the 4-ways to 3-ways.

Detail from Steven Munatones’ Openwaterpedia contributions page. All Openwaterpedia timestamps give Central Daylight Time in September.

As of the day I publish this—Friday, February 28, 2020—the EC entry looks almost exactly like it did after Steven’s September 16 update. Despite having made over 6,500 edits since then, he has yet to add Sarah Thomas to either the 3- or 4-way sections.

Below “Four-way Crossing,” Chloë McCardel’s 2017 quadruple attempt remains the only swim Openwaterpedia lists. Check that off as another passive-aggressive swipe at two of Diana Nyad’s betters.

><((̗(̂(°>    <°))̂)̖)><

So why did Munatones slather me with unmerited praise? He must have gathered from our post-vandalism correspondence that I suspected an Openwaterpedia insider—perhaps Munatones himself—of instigating the hack. Maybe he figured that the accolades would keep me from writing about my suspicions.

The ploy worked—until we exchanged emails after my last post. In that post, I suggested that the vandal passed over Cindy Cleveland and Penny Dean because Steven had trained with them in the 1970s and because Munatones idolized Penny. (Also, Penny had coached Steven, but I didn’t learn that until recently.)

Excerpts from our emails:

SM, Jan 17: Penny – and Cindy and everyone else in the IMSHOF – are my heroes and heroines.

DS, Jan 18: Then please explain to me how you can continue to support and enable someone who tries to erase from history Penny and Cindy and Tina [Bischoff] and Sandra [Bucha] and Lynne [Cox] and Des [Renford] and Kevin [Murphy] and all the rest of the legitimately great swimmers you say are your heroes?

SM, Jan 18: You have pissed on my opinions and observations for years. You endeavor to hurt me and my reputation.  But, I am continuing to move forward as I have done – even before you got involved in the sport.

I don’t do this to hurt anyone or damage anyone’s reputation—except Diana Nyad’s. She doesn’t deserve the high esteem in which much of the public holds her, so I consider Nyad’s reputation fair game.

I have a single goal: expose Diana Nyad as the fraud she is. Someone sabotaged Openwaterpedia to help Nyad, possibly with her knowledge and support. A few months after the sabotage, Steven visited Nyad’s entry and retroactively ratified her Cuba-Florida escapade.[2] Uncovering the facts about those episodes may expose uncomfortable truths about her enablers, but Nyad remains the sole target.

  1. On August 14, 2019, Munatones edited Nyad’s page to read that the Cuba-Florida crossing “has been long recognized since 2 September 2013 by the World Open Water Swimming Association….” However, the same entry also states that Nyad’s claims “have yet to be independently verified by any swimming organization.” Go figure.

As for “even before you got involved in the sport,” I completed my last long swim in 1978—for details, see the final paragraph of “Shrewd Sleuth.” Munatones swam his first long swim in 1982.

But maybe I misunderstood his point. And I don’t want to get into another pissing match. Steven has done a lot of good for marathon swimming, but he has a blind spot the size of the greatest scoundrel the sport has ever seen.

For now, I’ll just leave it at that.

Image via SLINKY.

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