Monday, April 27, 2009

Books I'm Reading 11) ENIAC by Scott McCartney

A few years ago while I was leaving engineering, trying to decide whether or not to pursue IP law, I was reading a story about a guy named Eckert who's name I recalled in relation to being the primary engineer on the first computer (ENIAC) but who's story I didn't really know. By chance I came across this book one day and was surprised how much of the narrative of Pres Eckery and John Mauchly that I didn't know.

I had always associated the first computer with John Von Neumann and didn't even recall the name of John Mauchly in the whole story. Reading this book the first time is something like revising history. But in a good way. There's something comfortable in the idea of computers coming about because of some eccentric scientists desires to predict the weather.

Overall the book is a well written historical narrative. There are pieces of the lives and stories of Eckerty and Mauchly that I think could be expanded to better understand the men, but given that the focus of the book is on their work, it's an oversight I can excuse.

As far as history goes, I actually came across this book because at the time I was looking at pursuing Intellectual Property Law and the patent case filed with regards to some of the earliest computers was an interesting case. Invalidated by the federal courts mostly because it was the right social decision at the time (for the newborn computer industry) and not really on the technical merits of the case, the patent lawsuits and the many indignities before and after would have made anyone bitter.

Overall a good book and one worth reading if you're in a computer field. Understand where you come from and it gives you a better idea of where you're going Pres Eckert was an astounding engineer and I'm astounded by how his predictions with computers have turned out.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Books I'm Reading 10) Catch Me If You Can by Stan Redding and Frank W. Abagnale

I've been on this crime thing lately. Reading a couple of books by con artists, social engineers, and some books on things like cheating, how to bypass locks. I have no idea why this current topic hold fascination, but it does. The social engineering aspect for some reason is holding really big on me recently. I think it's because as I've been doing security research as a side/off-hours thing for work, the consistent thing I've come across is that you can't secure anything against stupid people. You can encrypt the fuck out of your data but one nimrod with a bic and post-it note can nullify the whole process.

So anyway, I just finished Frank W. Abignale's book. You'll recall the name, if the not the title from the move of same title starring Tom Hanks an Leonardo DiCaprio (spelling??? fuck it, I'm too lazy to go look on IMDB). It's actually a surprisingly good read. In part for the stories which I find amusing, and in part for the understanding you can get by being in someones head like that. There's an angle to things that I never quite see that seemed to come inherently to Abignale and it's just damn impressive. I do have to say though that I did a quick Google image search and if even half the women he mentions are even half as hot as he portrays in the book time has not been a friend. He must have looked very different in the late 60's. Or everyone was still stoned. Either way.

The book itself is a great look at something that I can't quite put my finger on yet. It's delving into the mind of someone who just views the world differently. and he keeps coming back to this idea of the doing it for the challenge of it. I get that. You don't necessarily commit crime for the crime or the payoff. I mean some people do, but in general you do things because it breaks the rules, because you have to find a way around the systems. This guy was like the ultimate human pen tester and it's a fucking impressive story.

Somewhere in the back of my mind I also like to think he squirreled away cass somewhere that the FBI, Scotland Yard, and everyone else didn't find. That somewhere, like the box left in the field at the end of Shawshank Redemption, he's got some cash stashed away so he could have gone off to zihuatanejo.

As far as the quality of the writing, I'm not impressed but neither am I left wanting. The story is told as a story, As a grandfather might tell his grandchildren about the past, about reflections from years ago. And it's told in a way that gives you just the little tidbits that, even though they may not matter now, provide those little details that completely make the story one that you can't ignore. This ain't a college book, unless maybe your in sociology (which he once taught under false credentials which tells me that universities will fucking hire ANYONE) or criminology. Andd if you're in the latter subject this is a must read. It gives you a view of the world which you're not going to get from your future training officer or ASAC.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Books I'm Reading 9) State of War by James Risen

It's nice to have a book that's obviously critical. I mean really, you read this and have no doubt that Risen is not a fan of Bush. To be fair, he beats Clinton some too, and let's be honest, Clinton didn't exactly make all the right calls.

It's fair to say that this book isn't completely groundbreaking but it also brings to light a number of things I didn't know before. Some of the stuff, like operation Merlin were quite surprising and rather alarming. And there are a few other nuggets of rash neoconservative stupidity in the book. But overall I'm not overly impressed.

It's well researched but makes some large assumptions to the state of mind of some key people, notably the former President, that I think take away from the overall value. It's a good book, just a bit lopsided and that disappoints me.

It's easy to look back at past mistakes, and Bush II made a fuckload of them, but it's another thing entirely to understand the context and situation of the moment those mistakes were made. I like the fact that it provides good back story but it glosses over many of the mistakes made in Iraq proper during the months immediately following US troops taking Baghdad. I understand that's not the focus of the book; it's driven towards the broader implications of the Bush Administrations dealings, but so much of the book focuses on mistakes made post-911 with regards to the middle east that it misses many of the key issues that have broader implications. Global Warming, economic mistakes and the failure of the US economy to be effectively regulated, the US relationship to China, Korea and other Asian nations. And it's surprisingly lacking on ties to oil interests. I would have expected much more on that front. It covers some of the Saudi ties but does not delve much into them and glosses over US relationships to other OPEC nations.

All in all, it made for an interesting read that I got to finish while I had some downtime in the judges lounge at the debate tournament last night and it was worth the money but it's not really what I expected. Worth the read if you happen to pass it in the library though.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Renny Gleeson on - antisocial phone tricks

I almost constantly have my desk phone forwarded to my cell phone. I don't use SMS but I do use voicemail...a lot. So while I can't relate to all of the stuff in here, I do really like Renny Gleeson's TED talk on the sorts of antisocial behavior that occurs from this "always-on", always connected society that we live in now. I can't tell you how many times I've been sitting at a meal only to be interrupted by a text message or a call from someone who "just wanted to leave a voicemail" and it drives me fucking insane.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Ueli Gegenschantz and his badass wingsuit...and no, I don't know how to pronounce his name either.

Every kid has a dream of flying. Some kids want wings like Icarus, some kid want a jet pack like James Bond or the Rocketeer...and even when that's the only thing they ask for for Christmas and and incredibly heartbroken when they get a new boogie board instead, although I do have to admit a boogie board looks like a flat jet pack...but I digress. Ueli Gegenschantz is quite possibly insane but most certainly a fucking genius. He's got this wingsuit that is just incredible.

I have to imagine that it sjust about as close as people will come to trully flying. Or as Buzz Lightyear might say, "falling with style."

David Pogue on the convergence of the mobile phone and the Internet from

I work in telecom, it is that which I spend the majority of my awake time on. Well, telecom and drinking coffee...and masturbating...but I digress.

David Pouge has this short but neat TED Talk on the convergence of the mobile phone and the internet. He shows off some neat apps, like google mobile and GrandCentral (which I personally use and fucking love) and shows off some quite amusing musical skills.

Wired for War - PW Singer on

Have we learned nothing from Battlestar Galactica? Robots are fucking dangerous. Actually in PW Singer's 2009 TED Talk on the use of robots on warefare one of the smartest things he does it to tie together the distance and experience of robots in war. If I can blow up a building from 6000 miles away, then mentally, it's just a video game to me. And not something cool like Rock Band, but something fucking dangerous like Grand Theft Auto with the hot coffee mod.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

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