Diary of a Network Geek

The trials and tribulations of a Certified Novell Engineer who's been stranded in Houston, Texas.

9/30/2008

Review: Little Brother

Filed under: Deep Thoughts,Fun,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Linux,News and Current Events,Review,Things to Read — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Hare which is in the early morning or 7:18 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is a New Moon

I finished Little Brother by Cory Doctorow this weekend.

I cannot recommend this book enough. It is so, so worth braving the Young Adult section of the bookstore or library to get and definitely worth getting for your own young adults. Don’t be put off by the fact that it’s geared toward a younger audience, because there’s actually a bit more sex in it than most science-fiction I’ve read this year! Seriously!
Little Brother, in short, is about the Department of Homeland Security. Not quite the way it is now, but where it might be going if we’re not careful. The story is about a somewhat precoscious teen named Marcus who’s a bit of a geek. He plays live-action role-playing games and works with computers and subverts his school’s security measures to get out of class to play alternate reality games. But, he and several of his friends get caught up in a bad situation while doing this one day. In the story, terrorists blow up the Bay Bridge in San Francisco while Marcus and his friends are skipping school. And, the DHS sweeps them up with other questionable people and interrogates them.
Frankly, the interrogation techniques are probably what you’ve read about already. Simple humiliation by not being allowed to use bathroom facilities, sleep deprivation, isolation, aggressive and extended questioning sessions, you know, the usual. The kinds of things that are used all the time to get information out of alleged terrorists. Only Marcus isn’t a terrorist and he hasn’t even been charged with a crime. The DHS is only questioning him because he seems a little suspicious and out of the ordinary. You know, the usual. The usual nightmare that anyone in the wrong place at the wrong time just being a regular, normal citizen might go through because we’re handing over our freedoms with the idea that we might gain security in exchange.

Well, they release Marcus and two of this three friends. Marcus got the worst of the questioning, but all of them are worried about their missing friend. Only Marcus, he’s gotten angry at how he was treated. Much the way I imagine many otherwise innocent people have gotten angry at how they’ve been treated or “questioned”. So, Marcus decides he’s going to get back at the DHS. And, thanks to his talents as a young computer hacker, he does.

I won’t ruin the story by telling you all that happens, but it is a gripping read, not lessened by the fact that it’s something which could happen right here in our country. In fact, some people feel it is happening. One of the many things I liked about this book was how accurate the computer security was. Doctorow really researched this well and even called in contacts like the infamous Bruce Schneier to help get it right. As a matter of fact, they get it so right that I’d recommend this book to anyone interested in getting the basics of computer security. They explain public key cryptography, protocol tunneling, and several other key concepts in modern computer security that, frankly, are somewhat hard to explain.
If you’re worried about the future of your country, or just the future of your children, I encourage you to read this book. If you want to encourage the next generation to be politically aware and have a good understanding of the issues, buy this book for them.

I may not always agree with Cory Doctorow’s political agenda, but Little Brother is a great book and will provide many topics of discussion for interested classes and families.
Read this book!

10/9/2007

Survival Kits

Filed under: Advice from your Uncle Jim,Calamity, Cataclysm, and Catastrophe,Deep Thoughts,Life, the Universe, and Everything,Personal,Red Herrings — Posted by the Network Geek during the Hour of the Tiger which is terribly early in the morning or 5:53 am for you boring, normal people.
The moon is Waning Crescent

I’m of two minds on these.

When I was in Boy Scouts I earned Wildernes Survival Merit Badge. One of my Merit Badge Councellors at the time mocked survival kits saying that it seemed to him when he most needed such a thing, it would be no where to be found. So, mostly, I learned to make do with what I carried in my pockets. I think that was about when I developed the habit of always carrying a pocket knife and a lighter, come to think of it.

In any case, with hurricane season growing ever longer, and all sorts of terrible disasters looming on the horizon, according to the television press, I suppose it’s not a bad idea to have something a little more substantial around. Cetainly, I’m not the first blogger to talk about survival kits, nor will I be the last. And, I have to admit, I have other reasons for thinking about this. Not only am I a bit of a survival nut from way back, but I’ve been reading a book called The World Without Us that’s set me to thinking about this sort of thing.
Earlier this year, Wired Magazine reviewed several emergency survival kits, and after a lot of searching, I managed to find a link to it. (Scroll down, past the speaker reviews to the survival kits.) More recently, however, Wired ran an article on making your own kit from scratch and building the “smarter emergency kit“. That article makes a great supplement to the suggestions made at the Department of Homeland Security sponsored site, Ready.gov. They’ve got a whole list of emergency preparedness documents, in PDF format, including a list of suggested emergency supplies. Incidentally, that was what Wired Magazine rated as the best emergency survival kit, the one you made yourself following the Ready.gov guidelines. Keep in mind, though, the advice my Merit Badge Councellor gave in his smarmy way… Make the kit portable and keep it near you in case of emergency. (If you want to include food in your kit, you could do worse than using stuff from Mountain House. But, make sure to rotate it out every couple of years!)
Also, for you fellow dog owners, you might make a kit for your best friend, too. Again, from the Wired blogs, there are pre-made dog emergency kits. But, mainly, I just keep extra dog food on hand and allow additional drinking water.
Another idea for readers who are, like me, very digital in nature, having a spare laptop in an emergency “bug out” laptop kit isn’t a bad idea at all. In fact, now that I’ve got a spare laptop, and a bit of time, I may just make that myself!

(Don’t forget to check out the pictures in the last post and vote!)


Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"Why not go out on a limb? Isn't that where the fruit is?"
   --Frank Scully


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