Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finished (Audiobook) - "We Are Anonymous: Inside the Hacker World of LulzSec, Anonymous, and the Global Cyber Insurgency" - Parmy Olson

"Anonymous" is a nice book - it certainly "sounds" like a realistic portrayal of the shadowy Anonymous "organization".  What makes me feel like this is a true depiction is that the members aren't protrayed as rebellious zealots or as heroes - the actions and motivations speak for themselves.

The loose-leaf nature of the organization reads true as well - alliances and interests form and dissolve easily, which seems reasonable among a group that is diverse in all aspects - geography, age, skills, interests - and a group that never knows the actual identity of more than a few of their closest allies.  Most are identified by consistent personas built up over years by individuals - all aspects of the personas can be built to suit - age, gender, nationality - all are "up for grabs" in a virtual world.

I hadn't really thought of the power of botnets, wherein hundreds, thousands and potentially millions of computers worldwide can be used to initiate a denial of service attack on a target.  As the book points out, botnets are what take an attack of individuals (at best, maybe a few thousand) and provide it the power to knock down a commercial-scale website.  Botnets are actually non-functioning viruses that can be programmed to "come alive" with commands from the botmaster to achieve goals (e.g. spam, attacks etc.) and those that control the botnets have a disproportionate influence on the activities.

The waning interest of the participants is probably the single-most reason that Anonymous hasn't lived up to the move vocal fear-mongering that was prevalent around the Wiki-leaks events.  Arrests, though very significant, probably aren't decisive in stopping campaigns, as for most of the participants, it doesn't seem like a real consequence - most, if not all, are convinced they are doing a service, just having fun, and are completely protected by the shell of anonymity they've created around themselves. The lack of organized structure shouldn't be a surprise given the medium, but I was surprised by the relatively small number of key players, and the semi-random organization.

All in all, a good book, however, not for the language-sensitive, as the harsh on-line language is used at times.

Learned a new term - "lulz" (lols), as in "Doing it for lulz".  Lol is short for "laugh out loud", and is used in texting to indicate humour or sarcasm, or a reaction to such, as emotion is sometimes difficult to portray with text-only.  Doing it for lols is basically doing it for laughs and fun.  This basically describes the motivation for even the most political campaigns - if you want to get a large, anonymous, online crowd, you must make the campaign intersting, short duration and "fun".

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Finished (Comic Books) - "Flashpoint" - DC Comics

I read the cross-over series "Flashpoint" by DC Comics (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flashpoint_(comics)), which is kind of a wrap-up on the existing DC Universe, leading into the re-launched "New 52" universe.  "New 52" is a complete company-wide overhaul wherein many series were concluded, and 52 brand-new comic series were launched.  The re-launch allowed for characters to be updated and revised, though bearing strong resemblances to their pre-52 versions - it allowed for clarity of character history and the ability to re-set the past (e.g. Superman has only been around for 5 years, not the 75 years or so anniversary he'd hit in 2014, which, if he was about 25 would make him a centarian).

Flashpoint was based upon the idea that one of The Flash's villians altered history and saved Flash's mother from dying.  The repercussions were profound as it altered the universe enough to avoid the Flash being created, Bruce Wayne (not his parents) was killed in the alley, Superman was captured by the gov't when he crash landed to earth (a similar, excellent storyline published by Marvel Comics involving their Superman clone - Hyperion, called Supreme Power).  Only a few folks remember the pre-Flashpoint universe - Booster Gold and the Flash, and both are slowly losing their connection to the past universe.

Aquaman and Wonder Woman's Amazons were at war with us regular folks, and each other (sinking Western Europe and raising up Great Britain to mountain status).  These fronts provides some magnitude to the story, but I didn't really feel that they "fit" very well in to the storyline - it would have been more contained and powerful to avoid that entire aspect.  The "Atlantis-Amazon" war was interesting, and would have made a nice story, perhaps coming out of either character's own books.

The depiction of Thomas Wayne as Batman and the handling of Superman were both excellent and well worth the reading of the series.  I'd like to seem more of the Wayne family from Flashpoint, perhaps a graphic novel or mini-series.

This was the first use of my iPad as comic-book reader - excellent device, very easy to flip through a series of that type.

Frank Miller - "The Dark Knight Returns" (1986) - DC Comics

I was re-reading "The Dark Knight Returns" and excellent Batman story from 1986 by Frank Miller (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Dark_Knight_Returns).

The story is basically a telling of Batman where he ages - in the story he's in his 60's and retired from the Batman life.  Gotham is being controlled by gangs and remains a pretty gritty and dark place.  A pop-psychologist is working to release long-time villains Two-Face (who's also benefited from new techniques in plastic surgery) and later, the Joker.

The pop-psychology theory is that Batman had an evil influence on weaker willed folks - his very presence created the disturbed criminals he fought.

Batman is upset at the way things are going, and almost by accident, starts down the path to come out of retirement.  The news media (a constant, narrating-type presence in the story) are showing the controversy surrounding his return - stopping criminal acts (though violently), and the effect on copycats in Gotham.

What is interesting, particularly give the Colorado shooting at the "Dark Knight Rises" recently, is that in "The Dark Knight Returns", one of the "effects" of Batman returning is that a psychotic teenager (with orange hair) goes into a cinema and starts shooting.  This was not a major theme in the book (there were several effects of Batman returning, some pro and some con), and this particular teenager only appears in a few panels.

It is unlikely that this was the genesis of the Colorado shooting, particularly given that the real-life shooter likens himself to the Joker, who was not yet involved very much in the comic storyline.  However, the presence in the story of a cinema shooting was startling.

"The Dark Knight Returns" is a masterpiece of storytelling, one of the few comic series I'd point to as approaching actual literature, with a depth beyond the typical monthly stories.  Miller's capture of the effects of media (in the comic the return of the actual Batman, in real-life the fascination with movies and stars) was uncanny.

iPad - Perfect Comic Book Reader

I received an iPad at work, which, of course, I've been using to read comic books.  The device is near perfect - I'd like a slightly larger screen size to match up to the printed comics, but the iPad interface (zoom etc.) is more than adequate to handle the odd times the default full-page reading mode is not appropriate.

The only other "trouble" I've had is the odd comic does not display on the iPad.  I'm using "Cloudreader" which recognized CBR and CBZ formats.  These are simply jpg files zipped or rared into archives, where the extension is changed from zip to cbz or rar to cbr respectively - cb being "comic book" - this format allows the reader to decide on how to organize his/her collection - the default is one archive file per comic issue, but there are certainly examples of storylines of multiple issues collected into a single archive.

I suspect the issue is related to either the resolution of the jpg images (e.g. too high res x too many files = too big a file to be resolved) or perhaps a mismatch in the archive formatting (e.g. a file labeled cbr when it is actually a zip file).

Overall, the app (Cloudreader) and the device (iPad) both work excellently and provide a great reading experience - very easy to run through an entire run of comics in a few hours.

The only other issue I have with the iPad is not unique - I'm not happy to be "tied" to iTunes - I find is slow and clunky - I'd much rather have the option to connect the iPad to the computer an bulk copy my files to the device.

Finished (Audiobook) - "Your Deceptive Mind - A Scientific Guide to Critical Thinking Skills" - The Great Courses

This course seemed to go very fast - the content was interesting, with lots of examples of mistakes in reasoning that people make, and an understanding of the arguments that sound persuasive to the "believers" in UFO-ology, astrology, Holocaust denial, global-warming denial and very polar religious believers.  All are, to some degree, failures to understand statistics, and/or the scientific method.  Confusion of scientific rigour (e.g. never accepting ideas/interpretations as 100% "solved", and keeping debates open and honest) with uncertainty.

The idea that having 99.9999% of all scientists believing something, and a small number disbelieving - how that is how science works - the onus becomes on the small group to illustrate (using scientific methods) how their unpopular idea is actually the correct interpretation.  This fact of science does not alter the basic paradigm - the 99.9999% are telling the truth as understood at the given time, using current techniques, and building on all science up to the present - this is not the same as a random choice between the 99.9999% and alternatives, nor is it any sort of popularity contest, nor is it appropriate to display the "controversy" as a debate among equals (the primary argument of Intelligent Design - "teach the controversy" when there really isn't any "controversy" to teach).

Definitely a good commute listen.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Finished (Comic Book) "Batman - Earth One" - Geoff Johns, DC Comics

"Batman - Earth One" was very entertaining.  It is a re-visioning of the classic Batman origin story.  Alfred is re-cast as a war hero friend of Thomas Wayne (Bruce's dad), who is "stuck" with the young Wayne after the death of the parents.

I like the "new Batman" stories, where he is learning to patrol and fight - sometimes there's a tendency to make it too easy for him - this story remembers that he doesn't have powers, he's just well trained (and at this point, not that well trained).

The characterization of James Gordon was interesting as well - he has some worries about his daughter Barbara since he suspects the criminal element(s) in Gotham murdered his wife.  This leaves him somewhat powerless to deal with the criminal element he feels has the upper hand.

A nice graphic novel, completed storyline, leaving you wanting more of that characterization, but all elements tied up nicely.


Friday, July 6, 2012

Finished (Audiobook) "Games People Play" - The Great Courses - Scott Stevens

I found the game theory course "Games People Play" one of "The Great Courses" given by Scott Stevens to be very interesting.

I knew/know little about game theory other than tidbits (Kissenger was into game theory though the Nixon years, partially responsible for the Americans deciding it was in their best interest if the Soviets thought Nixon was nuts, so their nuclear deterrent strategy would be seen as credible), and the sub-text of the John Nash story from the book/movie "A Beautiful Mind".

As I was listening while driving, I lost a little of the detail from the video version, or through the written materials, however, I found the examples and models interesting and compelling.  Stevens did a good job relating the very simple models that were under investigation to larger, real-world scenarios, which made the topic worthwhile.  The models (prisoner's dilemma, chicken etc.) all sound so simple in the abstract, come alive with relevance given real examples.

Finished (E-Reader): "In One Person" - John Irving

I'm a fan of John Irving,and I think I've read all his works to date.

Not a huge fan of "In One Person".  The topic material certainly had some potential - coming to grips with being gay/bisexual/transexual in a small town and private school setting.  But the story never really went anywhere.  The main character never really seemed to have any issues/problems or complications dealing with his bisexuality, the main "intriguing other", a student in the school lusted after by the main character and his close female friend was never either likable, nor particularly dislikable - it was hard to really care about him, even though his backstory had lots of interesting tidbits (odd mother, mainly), I never really cared enough about he character to be surprised/shocked/enlightened by any of the revelations.

The sadness of living through the first AIDS wave, when it was just being understood was touching, but as only marginally significant characters were involved, it lacked the "bite" that might have made the story more interesting.

Like all Irving books, there were quirks that made things interesting, but overall, not one of his best works.