Fefe Research Institute

by Robert Jäschke and Frank Fischer

Ok, the headline is a joke, of course. But let’s start at the beginning. There are three things German computer scientists/IT guys must not miss: their Heise Online newsticker, their xkcd, and their daily Fefe.

Fefe is the nom de guerre of Felix von Leitner, a C programmer (check dietlibc), IT security adept and blogger, running his own speaker’s corner “Fefes Blog” since 2005. This blog is notorious for its “cut the crap” non-layout and his author for his brash comments on incidents in the broad field of IT security and their political implications, especially regarding the industry of mass surveillance. His reach is enormous and will surely beat that of many established newspapers (according to this 2011 post, anyway; newer numbers would be helpful, though).

We don’t know if pressing F5 at least three times a day in the browser tab reserved for “Fefes Blog” makes us part of the fan base. Either way, we couldn’t abstain from sneaking a peek behind the curtain and wanted to analyse some traits of Fefe’s characteristic style and tone. They are, in fact, so characteristic that he was even mimicked by the ultimate German satire magazine “Titanic”, which sure counts for something.

Before we get to it: There have been other attempts to analyse Fefe’s language, just take the inspiring 2012 blog post “Darüber lacht Fefe” by Joachim Scharloth. What we’re going to do is, in fact, something very basic, we’re primarily looking for word (and URL) frequencies and n-grams. For that purpose, we wrote a little Python script which does the following three things:

  • download the whole blog (easy on bandwidth, because, one: “Fefes Blog” really features the lightest HTML code imaginable, and two: time.sleep(random.randint(1, 10)) while scraping)
  • parse HTML files: extract date, post identifier and the actual post and put them into a single 3-column TSV file (this is really some of the cleanest data you can work with, what a feast!)
  • start analysis

After step two, the TSV file contained all blog entries from the beginning (March, 2005) to Mid-May, 2016, which is the cut-off time for our dataset.

Main Sources

These are the most frequent top-level domains linked to in “Fefes Blog”:

Rank TLD Frequency
1 spiegel.de 4042
2 fefe.de 3316
3 heise.de 2673
4 wikipedia.org 1319
5 bbc.co.uk 1102
6 tagesschau.de 1096
7 guardian.co.uk 1043
8 youtube.com 1010
9 nytimes.com 692
10 twitter.com 624
11 tagesspiegel.de 531
12 yahoo.com 489
13 rian.ru 485
14 zeit.de 475
15 faz.net 468
16 reuters.com 443
17 taz.de 408
18 sueddeutsche.de 400
19 cnn.com 376
20 washingtonpost.com 364

So this list shows Fefe’s main sources. Now, it’s part of his irony to urge his readers – in the subheader of the blog – to send him “fancy conspiracy links”. This, at least for some, leaves room for irritation and Fefe kind of clarifies this in the FAQ: “Why do you write ‘conspiracy links’ if your content is all normal news?” Reply: “Yes.”

Countries Mentioned

This list is a bit half-baked, since we’re only counting exact hits and only added synonyms for two countries (GB, USA). Wales, Scotland and England were, too, mapped to Great Britain. All a bit hasty, but anyway:

Rank Country Frequency
1 USA 1918
2 Deutschland 1506
3 Israel 997
4 Iran 927
5 Großbritannien 708
6 China 657
7 Irak 474
8 Afghanistan 354
9 Griechenland 298
10 Ukraine 294
11 Frankreich 287
12 Türkei 279
13 Japan 253
14 Syrien 231
15 Schweiz 222
16 Österreich 209
17 Polen 177
18 Pakistan 172
19 Italien 167
20 Schweden 158

We matched our dataset against the list of countries provided by datendieter.de. (Btw, it’s very probably that Daten-Dieter is a close friend of MS-DOS-Manfred, BIOS-Bernhard, Hardware-Hanspeter and Lötkolben-Ludwig, but that’s a whole different story.)

Countries Mentioned Over Time

We can also add time as a component, so we let Gnuplot draw a line chart showing Fefe’s interest in the 12 most-mentioned countries over time:

Mentions of countries over time in Fefes Blog.

This chart we can actually try to read out loud a bit: The Snowden year, 2013, marks the beginning of an increasing coverage of the USA and Great Britain. In 2014, Russia and Ukraine are peaking, for obvious reasons. One more interesting thing is the slow but steady decline of interest in Israel and Iran since 2005. Greece is starting to be covered in late 2009 with the beginning of the Greek government-debt crisis. So as can be expected from the list of his main sources seen above, “Fefes Blog” more or less mirrors mainstream media coverage.

Acronyms

Well, acronyms, or words written in capitel letters:

Rank Acronym/Word Frequency
1 USA 2332
2 CDU 1213
3 US 927
4 EU 926
5 NSA 800
6 SPD 723
7 WTF 556
8 BND 541
9 FDP 486
10 BKA 484
11 CIA 467
12 CCC 393
13 DAS 366
14 OK 341
15 FBI 313
16 DIE 277
17 BESTEN 253
18 IV 250
19 CSU 232
20 NIE 217

3-Grams

Let’s now look at some n-grams (we used AntConc for this). Attention, the lists were curated by us and only show the frequencies for self-contained phrases, which in our opinion are contributing to the typical Fefe sound.

Rank Frequency Phrase
1 863 in den usa
3 387 lacher des tages
28 209 das ehemalige nachrichtenmagazin
49 173 bug des tages
56 166 die amis haben

Runner-up among the 3-grams is “das ist ja”, and then we have “das ist ein” and “was für eine” ranking 4th and 5th. Sure, all these high-frequent 3-grams add to Fefe’s stylometric fingerprint, but since we’re not (yet) doing stylometry here, we decided to curate the n-gram lists a bit to not overthrow you with endless lists of boring syntagmas.

4-Grams

Rank Frequency Phrase
3 214 kommt ihr nie drauf
10 115 stellt sich raus dass
13 109 oh und wo wir
38 75 kennt ihr den schon
39 75 was für eine farce
49 68 wie arsch auf eimer
61 61 einmal mit profis arbeiten
67 60 wir werden alle störben
69 59 wer hätte das gedacht

5-Grams

Rank Frequency Phrase
21 62 habt ihr das auch gehört
42 45 bei uns ist kernkraft sicher
50 40 bei uns ist atomkraft sicher
58 37 was kann da schon passieren
81 30 was kann da schon schiefgehen

6-Grams

Rank Frequency Phrase
2 89 oh und wo wir gerade bei
7 65 die polizei dein freund und helfer
10 60 na dann ist ja alles gut
13 52 da weiß man was man hat
17 41 update mir mailt gerade jemand dass
25 35 das geht ja mal gar nicht

7-Grams

The 7-grams are simply a class of their own and prove to be real Fefe earworms, don’t they?

Rank Frequency Phrase
1 85 also damit konnte ja wohl niemand rechnen
2 76 die besten der besten der besten sir
3 63 das wird euch jetzt sicher genau so
4 52 kann man sich gar nicht ausdenken sowas
5 48 aus der beliebten kategorie bei uns ist
6 38 man sich mal auf der zunge zergehen
12 33 aus der beliebten reihe bei uns ist
13 33 aus der beliebten serie bei uns ist
15 31 wo kämen wir da auch hin wenn
24 25 beste demokratie die man für geld kaufen
30 24 da fühlt man sich doch gleich viel
33 21 gar nicht so viel fressen wie man

Fun Part I: Given Names of German IT Guys

When Fefe posts a link, hint or story that someone sent him, he gives due credit, the pattern being “(Danke, [name].)” So we also looked into 2-grams starting with “danke”, and while the result was somehow predictable, it is still quite funny, isn’t it? It not only sheds a light on who Fefe’s fiercest audience is, but also shows the opulence of names given to German boys in the 1970ies and 1980ies.

Rank Frequency 2-Gram/Name
1 237 danke mathias
2 220 danke frank
3 183 danke christian
4 176 danke thomas
5 164 danke stefan
6 135 danke andreas
7 135 danke michael
8 106 danke martin
9 106 danke peter
10 100 danke daniel
11 100 danke klaus
12 95 danke matthias
13 94 danke florian
14 94 danke jan
15 91 danke rop
16 84 danke jens
17 73 danke timo
18 73 danke tobias
19 65 danke sebastian
20 64 danke markus
21 59 danke alexander
22 55 danke johannes
23 55 danke jörg
24 54 danke kris
25 49 danke ralf
26 45 danke lutz
27 45 danke sven
28 43 danke julian
29 42 danke christoph
30 39 danke philipp
31 39 danke stephan
32 37 danke gerry
33 37 danke hans
34 36 danke simon
35 35 danke bernd

Somebody suggested to put the names in a word cloud, but we hate word clouds. :)

If you happen to know some of Fefe’s friends and colleagues, you can surely guess who is behind some of the credits pinned to a name (disclosure: we, the authors of this article, have been thanked at least twice, too, if we recall correctly).

Fun Part II: Using Markov Chains to Generate Fefe Texts

And now, this: Let’s generate some pseudo random Fefe text by using Markov chains. For this experiment we quickly forked dellis23’s markov.py script and adjusted it, the chain size we worked with is 3 and gives us results like this:

Ziegen fickt”, erklärte drastisch US-Präsident Harry S. Truman einem nachdenklichen Kongressabgeordneten. “Wenn er aus und das Ende des Tages: Die Belegschaft sagt, dass die Behörden so 2009 herum angefangen, missliebige Mitbürgern nach allen Regeln der Kunst auseinandernehmen. Ich weiß, welches T-Shirt ich ab jetzt haben, wo sie den Hartz IV kürzen will, stürmen noch schnell und lautlos miterledigen. Keine weiteren Fragen. Die Mühlen der Full-Disclosure-Fraktion bei Sicherheitslücken: Der Jeep-Hack neulich wurde noch der Presse. Erstens: Nachtsicht- und GPS-Geräte kaufen -> 3 Jahre Haft vorgeschlagen. (Danke, Marcel) Die Russen sind schlauer als der losredete, war das in der Türkei.

This is far from being anything worthwhile and the mere result of toying around with this juicy corpus. But alright, let’s generate another one:

Mit Terrorismus hat das mit Cyberangriffen deutlich anders aus, Stichwort Lawful Interception. Wieder was gelernt, diesmal über amerikanische Studenten: Ich habe ehrlich gesagt nicht so aus, dass der vor Gericht erstreiten muss, kann ich nur mit Adblocker nicht zu uns, denn in westlichen Demokratien wie der öffentliche GNU-CVS-Server, furchtbar überlastet ist, und daher muss auch sein Lebensunterhalt direkt davon abhängt, dass er jetzt alles seine Ordnung” um. Denn die Labels daran zugrunde gehen werden. Francesco-Parisi-Universität Styrum — endlich mal was tun diesmal! Sonst lassen die Regierung mit den Nazis damals funktionieren. Zweitens: Wir merken es oft nicht gelöscht würden.

The code is quite simple and can sure be optimised in many ways, but for today the Fefe Research Institute pulls the plug.

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